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A few dozen good things in pop culture in 2015

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 31, 2015

I tend not to do top-10 lists. For one thing, it’s almost impossible to see everything in a single field, and even more so when you’re scattered across media the way my work is. But I do make lists of things I found enjoyable, valuable or both in pop culture in a given year. Sometimes I just call it the list of stuff that made me happy. Either way, here are some items from 2015, unranked but offered.

“Spotlight.” Not only a good movie, but one that recalled what journalism could achieve with dedicated reporters, smart editors and decent resources.

“The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” Comedy Central. There was and is a lot of good in late-night: Colbert in Letterman’s old spot, the inspired silliness of Fallon, the bite in Kimmel, Stewart before he left us. But I am singling out Wilmore because his comedy is so artfully fueled by a rage against injustice that he needs to be listened to for the same reasons as Stewart – there’s meaning under the laughter. Also, he’s funny.

“The Big Short.” Infuriating because of what it says about American business and banking, but fascinating in the way it explains the horrors of the 2007-8 mortgage crisis. And anyone who thinks this can’t happen again should just consider for a moment the laissez-faire attitudes of many current politicians.

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Monday notebook: Steve Harvey, potatoes, "Star Wars," more

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 21, 2015

As you probably know, Cleveland's own Steve Harvey was part of a major snafu at the Miss Universe pageant when he announced the wrong winner. This has me thinking of all sorts of Steve Harvey jokes. Tweeted some, including:

Gov. Kasich says he is leading in presidential polls. Steve Harvey told him so.

Correction to "Star Wars" grosses. It made $3.70. Previous numbers came from Steve Harvey.

Lindsey Graham suspends his presidential campaign. Claims Steve Harvey told him he could win.

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"The Force Awakens": A Delight, Old-School Attitude and Flashy New Effects (Updated)

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 16, 2015

Below is my let-it-rip review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," written early this morning. (Reviews were embargoed until 3:01 a.m. today.) I have written a longer version, with some revisions and more about the plot, which you can find here.

Briefly: Yes, I am seeing it again.

I saw "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Tuesday at a press screening wrapped in Disney/Lucas secrecy. By the time I had gotten home I was ready to order tickets for a screening this weekend -- partly so my wife could see it, but also because I was ready for a second viewing.

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Steve Harvey to host Miss Universe pageant

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 10, 2015

Because, apparently, it was the only job in television that Steve hasn't done.

Seriously, the official word:

Emmy Award winner Steve Harvey will host “2015 MISS UNIVERSE®,” it was announced today by The Miss Universe Organization and FOX. The three-hour annual event will air live from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas Sunday, Dec. 20 (7:00-10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed) on FOX.


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HBO renews "Leftovers" for third and final season

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 10, 2015

The official word: – HBO has renewed the critically acclaimed drama
series THE LEFTOVERS for a third and final season, it was announced today by Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming. Created by Damon Lindelof (Emmy® winner for “Lost”) and Tom Perrotta (Academy Award® nominee for “Little Children”), the series is produced for HBO by White Rabbit in association with Warner Bros. Television.
“It is with great enthusiasm that we welcome back Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta
and the extraordinary talent behind THE LEFTOVERS for its third and final season,” said Lombardo. “This show has proven to be one of the most distinctive HBO series and we are extremely proud of its unrivaled originality, which has resulted in such a passionate following by our HBO viewers. We admire and fully support Damon’s artistic vision and respect his decision to bring the show to its conclusion next season.”
“I have never, ever experienced the level of creative support and trust that I have
received from HBO during the last two seasons of THE LEFTOVERS,” says Damon
Lindelof. “Tom, myself and our incredible team of writers and producers put tremendous
care into designing those seasons as novels unto themselves…with beginnings, middles
and ends. As we finished our most recent season, it became clear to us that the series as
a whole was following the same model…and with our beginning and middle complete, the
most exciting thing for us as storytellers would be to bring THE LEFTOVERS to a
definitive end. And by ‘definitive,’ we mean ‘wildly ambiguous but hopefully megaemotional,’ as all things related to this show are destined to be.
“On behalf of our incredible crew and superb cast, we are all tremendously grateful
that HBO is giving us an opportunity to conclude the show on our own terms…an
opportunity like this one rarely comes along, and we have every intention of living up to it.
One more thing. We are blessed by the unwavering support of our fans and the incredibly
powerful voice of the critical community. We feel absolutely privileged to heat up one last
helping of leftovers.”
In the second season of THE LEFTOVERS, the show expanded on the original
concept of The Rapture that was explored in Tom Perrotta’s bestselling novel of the same
name, continuing to focus on the ways ordinary people react to inexplicable events.
Season two told a tale of two families, the Garveys and the Murphys, whose lives
intersected in surprising ways, following the Garveys from New York to eastern Texas,
where one small town, nicknamed “Miracle,” and its residents had been spared during
The Departure.
The finale of the second season of THE LEFTOVERS debuted Dec. 6 on HBO.
Among the critical praise, the New York Times hailed THE LEFTOVERS as “outstanding”
and referred to it as a “master class,” while deemed the show “TV’s best
drama,” as well as “powerful, immersive.” The Hollywood Reporter said that “every
performance is superlative,” and hailed the series as “breathtaking,
audacious, innovative.” Season two has been included in many Best of 2015 critics’ lists,
while has lauded THE LEFTOVERS as “one of the great dramas in American
Season two series regulars included Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher
Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, Margaret Qualley, Chris Zylka, Regina
King, Kevin Carroll, Jovan Adepo and Janel Molone

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No end to LeBron's entertainment empire; latest deal could add $15.8 million

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 4, 2015

Every time we turn around, it appears that LeBron James has added to his non-basketball holdings. The latest deal, announced this week, has his company with Maverick Carter joining forces with Time Warner "to raise $15.8 million in new financing" for their sports lifestyle network Uninterrupted. (See complete Warner announcement below.)

To most of us $15.8 million sounds like a lot. To LeBron, well, consider this from back in March: "James remains the biggest endorsement star in the sport with estimated earnings of $44 million this year off the court, and he is still the king when it comes to moving product. Nike sold $340 million worth of James’ signature shoes in the last 12-months through January, up 13% from the prior year, according to SportScanInfo. It is nearly double the amount of the NBA’s second best seller, Kevin Durant."

But, you know, $15.8 million here, $15.8 million there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.

The Uninterrupted announcement:

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You love "Star Wars." But how are you on the details?

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 1, 2015

The Los Angeles Times has posted a detailed style guide to the world of "Star Wars," which you can find here. According to Poynter Mediawire, where I saw this linked, the guide runs more than 8,000 words. But if you want to settle all arguments on spelling and other "Star Wars" topics, this appears to be the place to go.

The newest movie, by the way, opens Dec. 18. And if you have read this far, you already knew that.

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Ellerbee more than once showcased local folks

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 1, 2015

As I mentioned earlier, Linda Ellerbee is retiring. But I thought I'd mention a couple of installments of "Nick News" where she highlighted local folks. 

This one, from 2006, is actually a look back at an earlier segment, with Danielle Flickinger of Hartville and Kent State:

Every now and then, Danielle Flickinger of Hartville will be going about her day at Kent State University when someone will say, "I think I saw you on television."
They're right. And they'll see her again tonight.
In 1998, Flickinger appeared on an installment of Nick News With Linda Ellerbee. A portion of that show, as well as an update about Flickinger, will be in a Nick News 15th-anniversary special airing at 8:30 tonight on Nickelodeon.
The new material was shot over a day in March, showing Flickinger on campus and with her friend and sorority sister Megan Kolher.
Now majoring in psychology and justice studies at KSU, Flickinger is planning to become a court psychologist working with children. She was just 14 when she first appeared on Nick News.
The show was called What Are You Staring At? and dealt with people with disabilities. Flickinger has cerebral palsy and is legally blind. She was excited to be on the show because "I was a regular viewer," although she recalled recently that she did not know about Ellerbee's long career in TV news outside Nickelodeon.
Still, she said, "Linda Ellerbee is an amazing woman, not just for what she's done but for the kind of person she is." She remembers Ellerbee's sincere curiosity about her guests and her willingness to admit when she did not understand something.
Also on the show was Christopher Reeve, whom she remembers as "a very interesting person" though not someone she got to know well.
Traveling to New York City to tape the show gave her an off-camera thrill, too.
"I loved the shopping," she said. "What 14-year-old wouldn't?" She is still getting through Ohio winters with "the red fuzzy earmuffs that I got at Saks."
When the show aired, she said, the reaction did not just include those occasional looks from other students.

"People thought I was incredibly articulate, that I spoke my message very well," she said.
Although it was her first time on national television, she had been in the public eye for years before that. Beacon Journal articles about her go back to 1989, when she was 4 1/2 and received a trip to Disney World through the National Alliance for Ill Children. A 1992 article noting her appearance on a local Easter Seals telethon says she "has been involved with the Tri-County Easter Seals Society for most of her 7 years."
"My father and mother (Craig and Michaele) raised me that if you're able to give back, you should," Danielle said. "There are probably as many articles about my (activist) mother as there are about me. . . . She asked me once to help with a speech. I think I had one line, but that's all it took.

"No matter how many issues I'm facing, there's somebody facing more."

From 2004, this piece about her (and yes, she was at one time called an "anchor babe"), which notes she included two Copley-Fairlawn students in a telecast.

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Linda Ellerbee retiring; her "Nick News" show ends Dec. 15

By Rich Heldenfels Published: December 1, 2015

I am posting two things. The first is Ellerbee's retirement announcement, followed by details about the last "Nick News" telecast.

Ellerbee's official word:

Outspoken television journalist Linda Ellerbee, who spent half her career reporting the news to adults and the other half explaining the news to children, announced her retirement as of January 2016, forty-four years after her first job in journalism.

“I’m a lucky woman,” said Ellerbee. “I saw the world, met many of the world’s most interesting people and was well paid to do so. Now I choose to go, and I go smiling. I’ve had a great time. And thank you for asking, but, no, I don’t intend to mellow.”

A pioneering female in broadcast news and award-winning producer, writer and anchor, Ellerbee, 71, is also a best-selling author, sought-after speaker, cancer survivor, mom, grandmother, and, as she puts it, “one more proud, loud, storytelling Texan.”

Ellerbee is most known for anchoring and writing the late-night news program — and cult favorite — NBC News Overnight in the early 80s, and the children’s news and documentary series Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, produced by Ellerbee’s company, Lucky Duck Productions, and airing on Nickelodeon for 25 years — TV’s longest running children’s news show ever. Ellerbee announced she would retire after the final edition of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: “Hello, I Must Be Going!” an hour-long retrospective of the series, scheduled to air on Nickelodeon at 8pm (CDT) on December 15, 2015.

She began in print journalism. In 1972, Ellerbee was hired as a reporter by the Dallas bureau of the Associated Press, but was fired after writing a chatty personal letter on the AP's word processors and then accidentally sending the letter out on the national newswire. “I was fired,” says Ellerbee, “only because the AP lawyers told my bosses they couldn’t shoot me, which they all thought was a better idea.” The letter brought her to the attention of the News Director of the Houston CBS television affiliate KHOU, who told her she “wrote funny,” and hired her in January 1973. Within a year, she was recruited by New York's WCBS-TV as the “hard news” reporter for its 11pm newscast.

In 1974, Ellerbee moved to NBC News, where she spent four years covering national politics before joining Lloyd Dobyns as co-anchor and writer of the weekly prime-time news magazine, Weekend. Dobyns and Ellerbee alternated closing the show, but both signed off with the phrase "And so it goes." In 1982, Ellerbee was again teamed with Dobyns (and later Bill Schechner) on NBC News Overnight, and again, the anchors ended each broadcast with a short, usually wry commentary, signing off with "And so it goes," (which later became the title of Ellerbee’s first book). The show’s working assumption that the audience was smart — and its trademark attention to good writing — led to Overnight being cited by the Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Awards as “possibly the best written and most intelligent news program ever."

By 1986, despite awards and critical acclaim, Overnight had been cancelled and Ellerbee had moved to rival network ABC, where (with Ray Gandolf) she wrote and anchored Our World, a weekly primetime historical series. She won an Emmy for her writing in 1987, the same year the show was cancelled. Following that, Ellerbee and producer/director Rolfe Tessem quit ABC to start Lucky Duck Productions, a New York-based company that produced news, documentaries, specials and series for broadcast and cable.

In 1991, Lucky Duck Productions began producing the series Nick News with Linda Ellerbee for Nickelodeon. Ellerbee also wrote and anchored the series, which earned honors traditionally associated with adult programming (in 2009, Nick News made history as the first children’s television program ever to win the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Network News Documentary for the show, Coming Home: “When Parents Return from War.” Known for the respectful and direct way it spoke to children about important national and international issues, Nick News also collected three Peabody Awards (including one personal Peabody given to Ellerbee for her coverage of the Clinton impeachment), an Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award, and ten Emmys for Outstanding Children’s Program of the year. In 2011, Ellerbee received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Children’s Television at the annual Banff International Media Festival.

“My goal,” said Ellerbee, “was never a nation of kid news junkies. I am more subversive; I wanted to grow a nation of rowdy citizens.”

For 29 years, Ellerbee’s work has been seen all over the television universe as Lucky Duck Productions has produced specials for ABC, CBS, HBO, PBS, Lifetime TV Network, MTV, Logo, A&E, MSNBC, SOAPnet, Animal Planet and TV Land. In 2004, Ellerbee and Lucky Duck Productions were honored with another Emmy, this time for the series, When I Was a Girl, which aired on WE: Women’s Entertainment Network.

Ellerbee’s first book, And So It Goes (1986), a humorous look at television news, became an instant best seller. Her second, Move On (1991), stories about being a working single mother, a child of the ‘60s, and a woman trying to find some balance in her life, was also a best seller — as was her third book, Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table, (2005) an account of her love of travel and food and, according to Ellerbee, “oh, just making trouble in general.” In her eight-part series of books for children, Get Real (2000), two middle school girls start a school newspaper and discover both journalism and life are more complicated than they imagined.

As part of the first group of women to work as TV journalists, Ellerbee, (who once said, “If men can run the world, why can’t they stop wearing neckties?”) had a front-row seat to gender discrimination: “Network executives would say to me, ‘If you take time off for family-related matters, we’ll know women aren’t serious about this work.’ What? You’ll fire all the women in journalism if I take my kid to the dentist this afternoon?”

In 2011, at the Gracie Awards, the Alliance for Women in Media recognized Ellerbee’s work with its Tribute Award, the organization’s highest honor. On presenting the award, former CNN anchor Aaron Brown said to a ballroom of a thousand women, “The two most important women in the history of television news are Barbara Walters and Linda Ellerbee. Barbara Walters made it possible for you to be on television news; Linda Ellerbee made it possible for you to be you on television news.”

Ellerbee says she never thought of herself a maverick. “I thought I was normal; other people were a little weird. But if not doing everything the way everybody else did makes me a maverick, what the hell? Only dead fish swim with the stream all the time.”

Ellerbee is often said to have been the inspiration for the TV sitcom, Murphy Brown. (In 1989, Ellerbee guest-starred on the series as herself, and would do so twice more. The storyline in the episode, "Summer of '77," is that Ellerbee has auditioned for the anchor job which eventually goes to Murphy. Also, Murphy accuses Ellerbee of stealing her sign off, "And so it goes," from Murphy.) Regarding rumors that she was the real Murphy Brown, Ellerbee says, “I don’t know if Murphy is based on me, and don’t much care, but a series about a television news anchorwoman whose mouth constantly gets her into trouble? What’s not to like?”

Despite winning almost every honor TV has to give, Ellerbee says the richest rewards have come from Rolfe Tessem, her partner of 30 years in life and work; Joshua Veselka, her son, who owns Eagle Pass Productions, a London-based international media company; Vanessa Veselka, her daughter, a novelist whose book, Zazen, won the 2012 Pen Prize for Best First Novel of the year; and her four grandchildren, Violet, Ruben, Gabriel and Milo, who are noisy. Ellerbee and Tessem live in New York City and Massachusetts with their two Greek rescue dogs, Daisy and Dolly.

When asked what she planned to after she retired, Ellerbee said she was thinking of becoming a shepherd.

And here is the "Nick News," uh, news:\

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