Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tim Russert, we'll miss you

I wrote the following for Variety, but wanted to share with my blog readers. I've been watching the coverage of Tim Russert's death all weekend and it leaves me just absolutely heartbroken.

Life can be so freakin' fleeting.

I know I'm supposed to be a hardened journalist and not let news — both good and bad — affect me, but I can't help but feel devasted by the sudden and tragic loss of Tim Russert (pictured with his wife, writer Maureen Orth, and son Luke, who just graduated Boston College), who died at only 58 years old.

There's an old adage that we feel a special connection to people we see on television all the time. Much more so than in film, as those on TV are in our living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and everywhere else we watch.
And even more than that, Russert was on in the mornings on the "Today" show, in the afternoons occasionally as a political analyst on MSNBC, in the evenings on "Nightly News With Brian Williams" and then Saturdays on his conversational talkshow and, of course, the political big daddy, "Meet the Press" on every Sunday ayem.

What a tragedy. I still can't believe he's gone.

Russert was the booming political voice of NBC, and I'll always remember him with his dry erase board on election night in 2000, telling everyone how important Florida was going to be in determing whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would be president. "Florida, Florida, Florida" he reiterated over and over again. And was he ever right.

Just an hour before I heard the news Friday, I received my weekly email blast from NBC, which lists the guests on this Sunday's edition of "Meet the Press." And last night I set my Tivo for "Tim Russert," which I watch every Saturday. Tivo never disclosed who the guests were on his talkshow, so it was always a surprise if he'd be chatting up a public figure hawking a book -- Barbara Walters and Steve Martin were recent guests -- or a couple of politicos trying to get a sense of the presidential race.

Last week on "Meet the Press," Russell had what he called the "NBC political dream team" -- folks such as Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory, Chuck Todd and others -- figuring out what Obama's ascension as the Democratic presidential nominee meant, and where does Hillary go from here. He had such enthusiam for this stuff. His arms would wave, his voice would fill the room and full-throated discussions would ensue.

And then there was the family side of him. His first book, "Big Russ and Me," about his relationship with his father, and their relationship with Buffalo, N.Y., was a bestseller, and his affection for Dad was out there for all the world to appreciate.

His second tome, "Wisdom of Our Fathers," was also an homage to family, and to those men — sometimes quiet, sometimes boisterous — who took care of their wives and children, sometimes under trying circumstances, in the best way they knew how.

I interviewed Russert several years ago. He was at work, at the NBC studios in Washington, D.C., in the middle of a crazy news day, but took time to talk about his job, life and what it meant to be a political journalist. That conversation takes on added meaning to me now.

We'll elect another president in November, and there will be plenty of discussion of all things politics between now and then, but this election just won't be the same. Can't be without Russert.
I'm already missing the dry erase board.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It's Showtime … again

It may not be the '80s anymore, but I'm feeling very Showtime this week.
As in the Showtime Lakers, who used to regularly meet the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals a few decades ago. The real champs — that would be the Lakers, of course — won most of those battles after the Celtics handed it to them in the '60s on a regular basis.

As we get set for the first game Thursday (June 5) from what they used to call the Boston Gah-den, ESPN and every sports radio station here in town is doing nothing but talking about this storied rivalry. It was our best five -- Kareem, Magic, Worthy, Rambis and Byron Scott -- versus theirs, or what I would call good vs. evil.

I actually attended one of those Final games at the Fabulous Forum -- before Great Western bought the naming rights -- and watched the Lakers lose on a last second shot by Boston guard Dennis Johnson. It was a tough loss but a great game.

So make sure you root for the purple and gold over the next week or two. Or, hopefully, for only four games as the Lakers work on a sweep!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

And down the stretch they come

It's still two weeks away, but I'm starting to get excited about the thought of Big Brown winning the Triple Crown if he can capture the Belmont Stakes.

The last time it happened was exactly 30 years ago when Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Back then, winning the Triple Crown didn't seem all that difficult as it happened three times in the decade: 1978, 1977 with Seattle Slew and, of course, 1973 when Secretariat won the Belmont by an astonishing 31 lengths -- footage we're sure to see a few dozen times as the race on June 7 approaches.

I'm a horse racing guy. I went to the track as a little kid with my grandparents in Queens, N.Y., and amused myself by looking for winning tickets thrown on the ground. Never happened, but it was still a grand day.

Much later in life, I got a job as an editor at the Racing Times, where my colleagues and I would write and edit copy based on the horses running at the local Southern California track at the time of year (Santa Anita, Hollywood Park or Del Mar) or the big races around the country.

We would handicap races and debate the merits of some of the best horses as they would race against each other. The paper eventually got sold and we all had to find new work, but it was one of the best jobs I ever had.

Anyway, thoroughbred races has taken some hard knocks the past few years -- lower attendance, less interest among the casual sports fan, losing gambling dollars to the casinos, the deaths of Barbaro and, most recently, Eight Belles — but it's still a great game.

For nothing more than to give the sport a lift, I'm hoping Big Brown gets to the winner's circle at Belmont safe, sound and then runs for years to come.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Coming soon to a TV near you

With the networks announcing its new shows this week in New York -- an annual ritual called the TV Upfronts -- now's the time to take a look at the series I might want to check out.

Many looked interesting, but some more than others. There's the new J.J. Abrams series "Fringe" on Fox (above) and CBS has a series called "The Mentalist," with Simon Baker, that many people are high on.

Truth be told, though, it's some of new cable entries that are whetting my appetite more than on broadcast.

TNT is introducing a new show called "Truth in Advertising" with Tom Cavanagh ("Ed") and Eric McCormack ("Will & Grace") that looks very intriguing, about those who toil on Madison Avenue. If the concept sounds familiar, yeah, "Mad Men" on AMC is one of the best series on TV right now, so this might be a pale imitation. But we'll see.

On HBO, you have the new miniseries "Generation Kill" from David Simon, creator of "The Wire," and a vampire drama from "Six Feet Under" creator Alan Ball. And September marks the beginning of the last season of FX's masterful cop drama "The Shield."

So lots to look forward to. Now I've just got to find the time to watch everything.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Cannes 2008: Au revior mon amis

A bunch of my colleagues leave for Cannes tomorrow for the festival that takes over every inch of the small southern French city that rests on the shores of the Mediterranean. The crowds, as seen in the photo above, can become overwhelming.

I went last year but won't be attending this time around, which is absolutely OK. Lots of stuff to do at work here in the office and as glamorous as it sounds, spending 12 days at the fest is an exhaustive experience.

Since we put out a paper every day, you're stuck in the office for 12 hours --usually 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. -- with a skeleton staff: four editors, two designers and a small handful of reporters. And that's all you have to put out a 100-page paper during the first few days of the festival. As the fest winds down, the papers get smaller as well.

After work, many of us go to dinner together, and dinner in Cannes for parties of four or more never runs less than 2 hours. So by the time you settle back in at your apartment -- it's more cost effective to rent apartments than stay in hotels -- you don't get to bed before 1 or 2 a.m., depending on how many bars and latenight spots you want to hit up.

Then get up at 8-ish and start the cycle all over again. For 10 straight days. It's a great experience, but wearing nonetheless.

So to my friends heading over there during the next few days: safe journeys, get as much rest as possible, and be sure to see at least one movie… if you can squeeze it in.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

All caught up on Tivo

'Cept for the last two episodes of the HBO miniseries "John Adams," I caught up and watched everything on Tivo this weekend.

Yup, two episodes of "Back to You" -- not sure why I'm still watching, but I feel obligated to finish the season out and finish what I started -- plus two episodes of "ER" and my usual weekend contingency: "Ebert and Roeper at the Movies," ESPN's "The Sports Reporters," "CBS Sunday Morning" and "60 Minutes." I'm feeling very accomplished now.

I even was able to catch "Cloverfield" on DVD, which I somehow missed in the theater. I thought it was a fine thriller, with a big-ass monster heading up and down Manhattan. The hand-held camera, which has never bothered me in such stellar shows as "Homicide," didn't do me any favors, though, and I honestly felt a little nauseous at the end of the movie. If I'd seen it in the theater, I would've had a hard time keeping my Raisinets down.

I caught "Lost" on Friday night -- a day after its broadcast airing -- and I absolutely love the show but I don't invest as much time and thought into it as others, who suss out every possible theory as to why Ben does this, why Jack does that and everything in between. I just enjoy it for its pure entertainment value, and showrunners Damon and Carlton always outdo themselves on that front.

It was a good weekend to stay inside, as the temperatues in L.A. hit near record highs. It got toasty playing golf Saturday morning in Burbank, though our 7:30 starting time made it quite bareable. If we had teed off a couple of hours later, we would've fried.

I'm looking forward to seeing a couple of movies this week that I've heard great things about. My Variety colleague Eddie Cockrell, a great film critic out of Australia, saw a small film called "Shotgun Stories" a year ago while we were at the Berlin Film Festival and gave it a rave. It's now just opened in the States and I'm going to try and catch it on Wednesday.

Tomorrow night is "Iron Man," the Marvel Comic-turned-feature film, which has gotten great -pre-release buzz. It needs to be a big box office winner, too, as I choose it in my summer box office pool. Go Robert Downey Jr.!

Friday, April 18, 2008

R.I.P. Danny

The E Street Band has given us in the Bruce community so much joy over the past 30 years, it's like we feel we know the folks on stage better than we actually do.

Really, we only connect with them through their music and the occasional print or TV interview, but when E Street organist extraordinaire Dan Federici passed away yesterday, it felt as if we lost a dear friend, and in many ways we did.

Federici, pictured here a few years ago in Florida with my good friend and fellow scribe Pete Kerasotis, was never center stage in concert, always to Max's right, playing away with such ease and professionalism that we barely gave it much thought. But that was Danny's gift. He made it look so easy that he never received the proper credit he deserved.

While other members of the band — with the exception of Garry Tallent — have much more showy roles, Danny blended in and helped create the legendary E Street sound we've loved and appreciated since that first listen we all heard way back when.

The E Street family has become so ingrained in us, that when I texted a friend upon hearing the news -- saying only DANNY DIED -- there was no one else who my friend could've imagined had passed away. For us who've made the trek around the country more than once, more than twice even, there's only one Danny, as there's only one Roy, Steve, Nils, etc.

Our heartfelt prayers go to Danny's family, friends and those who've played with him on E Street for the past 40 years. Here's hoping he's strapping on the accordion for one hell of an encore somewhere in the great beyond.