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Wednesday Notebook

By admin Published: January 23, 2008

If you did not see my Oscar notes in today's Beacon Journal, they're here. "American Idol's" latest controversy, Fred Thompson (and another Fred, MacMurray) and Lois Nettleton, after the jump. ...

-- "American Idol" is taking a whipping this year for what appears to be some considerable loosening of its rules regarding singers' professional experience. Latest example is the boring, tattooed singer from Tuesday's show. TV Tattle has links to a couple of stories about her musical work, which among other things led to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

-- Fred Thompson has dropped out of the presidential race. While the campaign analyses have mentioned questions about his ideas, a recurring theme is that he didn't want the job badly enough to campaign hard. (One piece about his withdrawal suggested he was a far more promising candidate in theory than when he actually ran; he may have expected a coronation instead of a campaign.)

Not the first time a politician has been accused of a lackluster approach to campaigning. Henry Cabot Lodge was called too laid-back as Richard Nixon's running mate in 1960, so much so that he had to answer the laziness charge in 1964 when he seemed ready to run for the top job.

"He concedes that even under the pressures of a national campaign, he was relaxed enough to settle back on a sofa and snooze for 20 minutes or so," Time magazine reported in '64. "But he sees nothing whatever wrong about that. Instead, he often told his aides: 'Two things are vital in any campaign. You have to stay well, and you have to stay in character.'

"Lodge makes no apology for the cutback in his campaign schedule," adds Time. "He simply saw no sense in trying to hit every hamlet and crossroad in the U.S."

Well, what comes to mind re Lodge and Thompson is the Warren Zevon line: I'll sleep when I'm dead.

Thompson did not have to work hard to pick up a nice check. Those "Law & Order" gigs weren't heavy lifting. It looked as if he could have come in for a couple of days, shoot a bunch of office scenes for different episodes and move on.

(Fred MacMurray was widely reported to have an extreme version of such an arrangement on "My Three Sons." Here's the description from the Museum of Broadcast Communications' Web site:

This so-called "writer's nightmare" stipulated that all of MacMurray's scenes were to be shot in 65 non-consecutive days. All other actors had to complete their fill-in shots while MacMurray was on vacation. Practically speaking, this meant the series had to stockpile at least half a season's scripts before the season ever began so that MacMurray's role could be shot during his limited work days. The repercussions of this schedule were enormous. Guest-stars often had to return nine months later to finish filming an episode; MacMurray's co-stars had their hair cut weekly so as to avoid any continuity discrepancies (MacMurray wore a toupee); and any unforeseen event (a sudden growth spurt, a guest-star's death) could cause catastrophe. Often times, the producers were forced to film MacMurray in scriptless episodes, and then construct a script around his very generalized monologues. Frequently, to avoid complication, the writers simply placed his character "out of town," so that there are an inordinate number of episodes in which Steve Douglas communicates to his family only by telephone. Despite the hardship on writers, directors and co-stars, the MacMurray method was adapted by a number of film stars (Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda) as a conditional requirement for their work in a television series)

But I'm not thrilled by the return of Thompson and his character, Arthur Branch. Moving McCoy into the top job made for some interesting TV, given his long paper trail. Bringing Branch back might create some fireworks -- McCoy having to report to a boss again after being the boss himself -- but I prefer the current arrangement.

-- Back when I was a TV-watching goon beginning to put names to faces, one of the names I remembered was Lois Nettleton's. She was seemingly omnipresent in TV, sort of like Sheree North, and a good actress. Now she has died. If you don't remember the name the way I do, the L.A. Times story at that link has a picture. And you can see her formidable screen resume here.

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