CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #76


And so on we go to Fandango’s provocative question of the week which, I must admit, isn’t as provocative as usual.

To answer this properly, I need to describe yesterday. It was the day after taking Bonnie to the vet and i wasn’t feeling like feeling. I had to get up very early because a valve was leaking in the bathroom and the plumber was coming. So it was 7 in the morning, I didn’t want to be awake at all, but I was. I didn’t feel like feeling anything because I was pretty sure whatever I felt wouldn’t feel good.

So after the plumber left and the bill was small enough to pay without going into debt — we have a really GREAT plumber — I turned on the television and started watching year two of Boston Legal. James Spader before he found his inner darkness.

Garry eventually got up and joined me and together, we watched an entire year of Boston Legal, front to back. Somewhere in there, I managed to cook dinner.

I had been smart enough to set up most of the posts for today because I kind of knew I was not going to want to do anything. I was right. Today, though, I had to get my act together. The Duke is sitting in corners staring at walls and Garry was watching a movie about the Klan killing black people in southern prisons which I finally insisted he turn off or go somewhere else to watch it.

He turned it off.

Today i spent all day on line trying to find one of four items that I don’t need:

  1. A real wooden Xylophone
  2. Tuning forks
  3. Something that would make a noise so I can tune my ukulele by ear rather than electronically. Yes, i know the electronic thingies works, but I need to hear the sound. I can’t tune something without hearing the sound against the sound. Tuning isn’t just getting the right vibration. It has to mellow properly with the other strings.
  4. I wanted a marimba. Couldn’t even afford to look at them and where would I put one anyway and besides, that’s a LOT of money, so I looked at Xylophones. The good ones I couldn’t afford either and I realized that no one seemed to know the difference between a glockenspiel and a xylophone … and does anyone even sell a vibraphone?

Finally, I bought a Scottish tin whistle. I know of at least one guy who used to banish ghosts with a tin whistle. I also discovered, in the course of events, that the price of a few tuning forks is more than the price of several instruments. Oh, and I also spent $12 on a very small piano so I have something that makes a noise to which I can tune something.

I am looking forward to the tin whistle. If I can’t banish the ghosts of the dead, maybe I can banish hulks of some of the living. Is anyone really happy about life right now? This isn’t the year to feel satisfied with life. I’m hoping next year will be better. Actually, I’m hoping next year will be great.

AND THAT’S WHY I LOVED LUCY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve got the blues. I need to perk up.

LUCILLE-BALL

Melancholy. Melancholy Serenade. Serenade of the Bells. The Bells of St. Mary. A silly word link game I play to lighten things. Suddenly, it reminds me of another time, an assignment more than three decades ago.

The assignment? To cover Lucille Ball’s arrival in Boston. The nation’s favorite red-head was visiting her daughter, Lucy Arnaz, who was opening in a pre-Broadway show.

It was pushing 9 pm, another long day. I had the end of summer blues.  Lucy finally arrived at Logan Airport, surrounded by her entourage and a gaggle of media.

I hung back, beckoning with my TV smile and waited for things to quiet down. I was looking down at my feet for a long moment when I heard the familiar voice. “What’s the matter, fella, long day?”, Lucille Ball inquired as I looked up, face to face with that very familiar face.

We smiled at each other. Real smiles. Not the phony ones. I didn’t realize it but Lucy had already cued my camera crew and things were rolling along. I’m not sure who was doing the interview.  Mostly we chatted about the “glamour” of TV, celebrity, long working days and Boston traffic.

I signaled the crew to shoot cut-aways, beating Lucy by a second. She winked. We shook hands and Lucy gave me an unexpected peck on the cheek … and another wink as she walked away with her entourage.

Lucy showFast forward to the next afternoon and the end of a formal news conference. Lucy seemed tired as she answered the last question about the enduring popularity of “I Love Lucy” reruns.

I was just staring and marveling at her patience. She caught the look on my face and gave me a wry smile. As the room emptied out, Lucy beckoned me to stay.

We waited until all the camera crews left. She offered me a scotch neat and thanked me for not asking any dumb questions during the news conference.

I asked if she’d gotten any sleep and she flashed that wry smile again along with a “so what’s the problem?” look. I muttered something about being burned out and a little blue because summer was fleeting. She laughed. A big hearty laugh. Her face lit up as she pinched my cheeks.

Lucy showed me some PR stills from her “I Love Lucy” days and sighed. I showed her a couple of my PR postcards and she guffawed. Another round of scotches neat.

Lucy talked quietly about how proud she was of her daughter. I just listened. She smiled as she realized I was really listening.

A PR aide interrupted and Lucy looked annoyed. We stood up. I reached out to shake her hands but she hugged me. She pinched my cheeks again and gave me that smile again as she walked away.

The blues just vanished. How about that!

HOLLYWOOD AND MORAL CHARACTER – Marilyn Armstrong

Blitzen Trapper

How stupid are we? This post in its various permutations has gotten nearly 5,000 hits. Not recently, but in the first few years of posting.

For several years, whenever I got more than 1000 hits in about half an hour, I knew that they must be rebroadcasting the eighth season’s first episode of Criminal Minds. I’ve written more than 10,500 posts, but this one always got the most hits.

So, it must be the perfect time to re-post this piece. The question is whether or not the plot used in the premier show of season 8 of “Criminal Minds” is based on a song by a group named Blitzen Trapper, whose lead singer/lyricist is Eric Earley. This comes up each time the show airs, which is how come I get all these hits on that post.

To settle the issue, one of my correspondents was a producer on Criminal Minds. He assured me the group is being compensated and nothing underhanded is going on. I’m grateful to discover things are not as bad as they seem. It’s rare. Usually, whatever is going on is worse than I imagined.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from people who seem otherwise intelligent yet against all reason think conglomerates would never take advantage of we “little people,” and certainly would never commit (gasp) plagiarism.

What makes this belief bizarre is that the corporations under discussion are run for and by people in show business. Unless my correspondents are living on a different planet than me, why would they think this? Have these people displayed such high moral character that they are incapable of illegal or immoral behavior? Could anyone be that naïve? Remember Harvey Weinstein? Or for that matter, Jack Warner? And lord knows how many casting directors for television and movies.

Apparently yes, they really are that stupid.

Big corporations spend millions of dollars on public relations and advertising campaigns designed to convince us they have our best interests at heart. They are entitled to give it their best shot, but why would anyone believe them? In what way has any corporation ever shown itself to be on any side but its own?


As for show business folks? These are not people famous for moral turpitude. They are sexual predators, so plagiarism is nothing to them. I don’t know a writer with hopes of breaking into “the business” who hasn’t had a piece of work stolen. Here’s how it works.

You go for an interview. You bring your story idea, your script, manuscript, lyrics, arrangement, proposal, whatever. You present it to the person to whom you hope to sell it. You make your pitch, praying this is the big score you’ve been waiting for. Alas, it is another rejection. You’re used to rejection. It comes with the territory.

A few months later, a new television series is introduced that has an identical storyline to the one you were trying to sell to that very production studio. A few relatively minor details have been altered, but you recognize it and so do all your friends.

What shall you do, eh? You’re going to sue the studio? Take the network to court? Bring suit against the record label? You have that kind of money and clout? If you were pitching your material, you are probably broke. They’ve got armies of lawyers. You’ve got your paycheck and tips from waiting on tables while you try to get into the business. Only in the Bible does David win. In the big wide world, Goliath always wins.

There is a great deal of plagiarism in television and movies, so much that the relevant lawsuits rarely make the news anymore.

In the software world, accusations of intellectual property theft have reached the point where, after endless legal battles between Microsoft and Apple, every major manufacturer is suing every other manufacturer for copyright infringement. Who wins? Since everyone steals from everyone else and everyone is guilty to some extent, the winner is the company with the best lawyers or the most political influence. And of course, who paid off who.

Oh no, that doesn’t happen, you cry! Our legal system can’t be bought and sold. Right. And the tooth fairy left you a buck under your pillow last night. No really, she did. Honest! My congressman told me, so it must be true.

Public servants are as honest as the day is long. Corporations care about you and me. Hollywood and television executives are persons of the highest moral character. The moon is made of green cheese. Tomorrow I’m going to sprout wings and fly.

Just when I think maybe we aren’t as dumb as corporations think we are, I get letters from readers proving that too many people really are that dumb, or at least that naïve. I find this scary. These people are allowed to vote!

My signature line on email uses the following quote:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
– Robert Hanlon

In this case, for this show, I may have attributed to malice that which was in fact adequately explained by stupidity. That’s their excuse, but what excuse do you have for believing propaganda paid for by people who would squash you like a bug without a second thought?

I don’t get it. Maybe someone can explain it to me,

ONCE UPON A TIME, WE HAD A GOVERNMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

For the past couple of weeks, Garry and I have been watching (again) all 7 seasons of “The West Wing.” Aside from being a brilliantly written show, it clarifies where we are as a nation. That we are fighting exactly the same battles today we were battling 10 years ago. They are using the same words on the show we are using now. They are fighting the same “refusnik” Senate we have been fighting. Maybe it’s worse now, but it was not much better then.

As you watch the show, it produces a lot of responses:

  1. Realizing there were actually some good television shows with great dialog.
  2. Recognizing the mistakes Democrats made, mostly by trying to be everything to everybody and never being themselves.
  3. Failing to recognize issues which needed to wait until another day would become life and death issues in less than a decade. For example, all those environmental issues they ignored or avoided because it would anger contributors or Republicans or their own members.
  4. Never really confronting the gun issue or immigration.
  5. Often doing half a job and never completely dealing with major issues.

The show is so well written that you see how and why they fail and why even the successes aren’t really successful, how many bills were essentially toothless.

Middle of the road is not a safe place to drive and this show has a liberal president who is essentially afraid to be the liberal he really is. He’s always trying to placate someone and the results leave you wondering if he really accomplished anything. When you drive in the middle of the road, you are very likely to crash into another car or truck or pedestrian.

The show is so well written you feel as if you are actually participating in a government. Our government. Because whatever is wrong with their televised version of “The West Wing,” it is a government. They try very hard to do the right thing. Even though they often don’t get where they should go, they do the best they can. They work very hard. Win, lose, or partly succeed, it was a government, though I think people on it were a bit more clever and witty than they are in real life.

It’s playing continuously on Netflix. These days, because we have been down the Obama and now the Trump path, we know where those decisions lead and why it wasn’t the right way to go. We watched the whole series during the last few weeks and when we ran out of shows, we decided to watch it again. It fills a gap in our lives. It makes us feel that somewhere in the ether, a better government awaits us.

WORLD SHARING IN A TIME OF PLAGUE – Marilyn Armstrong

WORLD SHARING IN A TIME OF PLAGUE

Questions:

If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make them?

Just because we learn from our mistakes doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to avoid making mistakes. Trust me. You and me will make plenty of mistakes without working at making more or failing to worry about it.

How do we know that pleasure is good and pain is bad?

Pain hurts. Pleasure doesn’t.

What problem or situation did TV/movies make you think would be common, but when you grew up you found out it wasn’t?

I never thought I’d have to clean my own house. On television or the movies, houses are always perfectly clean. No dust bunnies. Everything is bright and shiny.

Don’t you just love the whole “housekeeping” outfit?

Eventually, reality banged me on the head. Not only was I going to clean, but I wasn’t going to do it while wearing high-heels and makeup.

If you drive, do you speed when no one is watching?   Have you ever run a red light late at night on purpose, particularly if it doesn’t seem to change very quickly?   If you don’t drive, what minor law may you have broken?

I used to speed. Now I don’t drive or at least, haven’t had to drive. I haven’t done anything illegal in years. I find that terribly depressing.

BRAIN SNOBS – Marilyn Armstrong

It isn’t just culture that divides us into classes. What we watch on television, see in the movies, and read also puts us into a category, often unfairly by people who don’t “get” why we like what we like.

72-ct-books_05

I read a post about how dreadful — yet gripping — romance novels can be. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that anyone who reads them is probably not too bright. While it’s true that romance novels are the potato chips of the literary world (bet you can’t eat just one) that’s not the point.

double dip in bookcase

As a former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I assure you that research showed readers of romance novels are better educated than most readers.

They read romance novels because they are pulp. Those readers aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down, and forget. If life gets in the way, they can just never finish the story — without regret.

72--cook books_07

I read each 3-book volume, every month. Three romances: 2 modern manuscripts with a Gothic novel sandwiched in between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would prefer people to read, many people (including me!) don’t necessarily want to read “good” books. I void “good” books. I don’t want to go where that book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it. Don’t enjoy the subject matter. Don’t need to be further depressed by the ugly realities of life or history.

Good books can be too intense, too serious, or for too educational for this moment in time. Too close to reality. I read to be entertained. I’m not seeking enlightenment through literature. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment through literature. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

75-Books and stuffNK-1

The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many. Enough genres, themes, and styles for everyone. An infinity of literature. No matter what your taste — low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

75-BooksHP

I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too.

Snobs suck the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s okay with me. I love reading about vampires and witches. I’d be more than a hypocrite to act as if your taste is inferior to mine.

old favorite books

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for anything serious — except maybe a conversation. Tastes change over time. Life has been a very serious business for too many years. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I want to escape, Reality will still be there when I get back.

Finally, my favorite professor at the university I attended — a man I believe was profound and wise — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was much truth in those books. I believe for him, there was.

BYE BYE GAME OF THRONES. THE PARTY’S OVER – Marilyn Armstrong

Again, I tried reading “A Dance With Dragons” by George R.R. Martin. It is book five of an interminable series called “A Game of Thrones,” the most violent, grim, and repetitive — and long — series ever written. It makes “Lord of the Rings” look like a short story.

Originally, I gave it three stars, but I’m dropping it one. I disliked the books and hated what little I saw of the television show. The books are dark, long, and monotonous interspersed with periods of horror.  The series may go on forever, but I will not be there for its conclusion.

The first time I encountered a 40-page description of the food at a royal banquet and drifted into a coma, I thought “Hmm. Filler.” Shortly thereafter,  Mr. Martin began to knock off any character to whom I felt anything resembling affection or empathy, leaving only the characters I would have happily killed on my own. That didn’t give me any warm fuzzies either.

To enjoy a story, I need to feel some kind of positive relationship with at least one character. In these books, I dislike everyone and relate to no one, I lose interest through boredom, but the distaste comes first. Reading a very long series when there’s no character I like or respect is like going to a  big party that goes on forever … but you have no one to talk to. I don’t usually go to parties for exactly that reason.

Science fiction/paranormal/fantasy/alternative reality fiction is my favorite reading arena, the one in which I spend most of my literary hours. The problem is not a lack of familiarity with the genre. I just don’t like this series.

It is long and slow. The plot never seems to advance. The situation never changes in any substantial way. Just one set of machinations replaced by another in an endless cycle of nastiness, back-stabbing, murder, and intrigue. I guess I need more than plotting and murder to hold my interest.

Does its placement in an alternate reality improve the story? Not for me. These days reality is alternate enough.

This is a popular series. I own a bunch of volumes because I optimistically assumed I would like it. Big mistake. I was glad the series ended although I was part of a very small minority who was relived it finished. Apparently, people enjoyed it. Why? I do not know. Good acting doesn’t improve and the storyline. Ironically, this was a series that apparently followed the original books pretty well.

Garry and I watched the first quarter of the first show. It was enough. The rest I learned about on talk shows. And of course, by reading a couple of the books hoping that I’d discover I like them.

I didn’t happen and I’m pretty sure it never will. Oh well.

SORRY, WRONG NUMBER – By GARRY ARMSTRONG

People of a certain age will recall the title from a popular radio drama that became a film noir classic with Barbara Stanwyck as the damsel/wife in distress and Burt Lancaster as the spouse with mayhem on his mind.  You can also dial “M For Murder” with the same theme: the telephone as a nefarious device and weapon.

A friend just wrote a piece, extolling the virtues of the telephone as a personal link in the impersonal age of social media. Good point. You need to be able to talk, hold an intelligent and coherent conversation on the phone.  Social media doesn’t require those basic skills.  Courtesy is also another trait required on a phone conversation even when you’re dealing with unpleasant matters.

My wife, Marilyn, rises to heroic stature dealing with insufferable customer service, health care reps, local business people who lose the check and fail to show up. Credit card hackers who’d love a little personal information and the idiots who’ve dialed the wrong number but keep redialing anyway.

I hate the telephone!  It stems from all the years of unwanted calls from the TV station that employed me for 31 years. Three o’clock in the morning calls demanding I grab my gear and immediately report to the scene of a grisly crime, awful weather, deadly fires, criminals running amok, traffic accidents with myriad, mangled bodies and the latest gangland or drive-by shooting with multiple victims.  All breathlessly awaiting my presence to round up the usual suspects for eye-witness accounts and/or to go banging on doors asking parents “how they feel” about the recent death of a loved one.

Hey, how do you feel, Pilgrim?  All of this hurled at me in fleeting minutes once I picked up the phone and heard a familiar voice with the phony excuse of waking me up out of my warm bed.  I usually cursed myself if I answered the phone.

Marilyn normally took the calls because of my hearing problems.  I couldn’t blame her. Nor could I hurl expletives at the person calling.  You can’t shoot the messenger in the TV news biz.  Being called into work goes with the territory.

Instead, I blamed the inanimate object.  The telephone. Outraged, I yelled obscenities at it.  Meanwhile, the telephone sat there quietly,  probably mocking me. After all, the phone was just doing its job. Nothing personal.

Statehouse on Beacon Hill

During my bachelor years when I had to take these calls, I frequently hurled the phone across the room during my tirades against the telephone company, its employees, executives, and Alexander Graham Bell who I imagined as Don Ameche from the old biofilm.

Why did they seemingly always call me?  Why was someone always picking on me?  Frequently, I’d envision conspiracies to target me. Racism? Envy because I was on the tube every day, outshining other folks? Political target?  I had an ‘attitude’ with some local pols. It was me against the giant telephone conglomerate.  I was riffing Dwight Eisenhower’s warning.

Truth time.  Early on in my Boston TV news career, I let it be known I was ‘always available’ for major, breaking news stories.   I envisioned the scoop on that major story that would shoot me to stardom and a mega-contract.  I put myself on the spot that assignment editors love. An eager-beaver young reporter with stars in his eyes and experience not yet absorbed.

Veteran reporters scoffed at my enthusiasm even as I sauntered around the newsroom full of myself at landing big stories that had me prominently featured on every newscast of the day from sunrise to midnight.

In my glee over the big stories I always forgot how it began.  Always the damn phone call.  During my saner moments, I knew I was my own worst enemy. That logic didn’t sit well with me.

During long lunches as everyone congratulated me with my face and story on all the monitors, I realized I was in a catch 22 scenario.  Hero of the hour absorbing lots of congratulations while my brain kept reminding me that it was that early phone call that made all of this possible. I continued blaming the phone for interrupting my sleep. I would go on shooting the messenger for years.

One time I lived up to my vow to avert the phone call-to-arms.  I answered the call. Heard the voice and slowly said, “Sorry, wrong number.”  I grinned to myself, returning for a good night’s sleep.

I was still smiling as I awoke and turned on the radio in the morning.  The all-news station was frantically blaring out details about a massive fire, building collapse and the loss of many lives.  It was such a big story that the networks were in on coverage.

My smile turned to a scowl. The potential ‘story of a lifetime’ had been lost to my erstwhile, “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

Oops.

LYNN NOVICK: “BASEBALL” – Marilyn Armstrong

This piece was published in Planet Vineyard in September 1998. It was a short-lived magazine. Long on great writing, short on paid advertising. I realized that hardly anyone ever saw this piece. It is based on my interview with Lynn Novick who was the co-producer of “Baseball” with Ken Burns. Since we are watching the series again, I thought, “Gee, why not publish it where someone might actually read it?”

So, here it is. Because before I was a blogger, I was a writer.


Lynn Novick Profile

by Marilyn Armstrong


Take a passion for American history and mix it with a handful of Hollywood star-dust. Add a generous pinch of altruism. Spice the batter with a measure of luck. Bake for three and a half years in the oven of hard work. Voilà, meet Lynn Novick, co-producer (with Ken Burns of Civil War fame) of the upcoming 18-1/2 hour PBS mini-series, Baseball.

It’s a breezy, crystal clear day on Martha’s Vineyard. As she unwinds with her husband Robert and daughter Eliza in their summer home overlooking the sea, Lynn Novick emits bursts of energy you can virtually see as well as feel. The enthusiasm is contagious, even if you think that baseball has nothing to do with you. Though Baseball is “in the can and ready to go,” she remains a passionate advocate of America’s Pastime and what it means to the people of this nation. Making this mini-series was arduous, but it was a labor of love.

It’s difficult to get Lynn to talk about herself. She wants to talk about Baseball. She wants to tell you how the game encapsulates America’s history and cultural development. She wants you to know how well it illustrates our changing values and shows as we really are, both good and bad.

“Baseball,” she says, “is our link to a collective past. It connects all of us, no matter where we come from, to the American experience. It’s our common ground, a historic thread woven into the fabric of our culture. The history of baseball is our history.”

Strong words, you think. She must have grown up a dedicated baseball fan.

“Actually,” confesses Lynn. “I was just a casual fan. My parents enjoyed baseball. My father was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan … he never quite got over the Dodgers’ move to the West Coast. I grew up believing that Ebbets Field was sacred ground. My dad taught me to throw and catch, but I wasn’t a little league player or even a committed fan. I started out with an affection for baseball and a belief that the Yankees are the enemy. Everything else I picked up in progress. Now, I could go head-to-head with any baseball expert. Just try me.”

Lynn Novick with Ken Burns

Lynn Novick with Ken Burns

Lynn has had a total immersion baseball experience. Since 1990, she has lived Baseball. She dreamed it, planned it, read about it. She met heroes out of legend. The editing process alone consumed two and a half years. She was the architect of all sixty-five interviews and conducted more than half of these herself. She spent endless days and weeks on research, filming, and organizing every detail of the production.

Baseball has given Lynn Novick an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport.

“It’s had some interesting side effects,” she muses. “Baseball has turned out to be the key to the men’s room, so to speak. I find myself having serious discussions with all kinds of men, all ages, all professions. When they realize that I know my stuff, it’s instant acceptance. It’s a misconception that sports are a ‘guy’ thing, though. I’ve met plenty of women and girls who are serious fans, too.”

Lynn did not grow up yearning to be a film-maker. She never thought of herself as especially visual and had no pretensions of becoming the next John Ford. Until the day she decided she wanted to make documentaries, Lynn Novick never considered film-making as a career. From Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where she grew up, she earned a bachelor’s in American Studies at Yale in 1983. The child of two academics, Lynn intended to follow in their footsteps. Her first job was at the Smithsonian Institute. But museum work didn’t “do it” for her.

“I needed something more hands-on, more engaging. Academia was too theoretical, too out of touch. I’m not sure how I decided I wanted to make documentary films. I think it was a combination of things. I’ve always loved the movies. I study history. I need my work to have social value. Making documentary films brings all the strands together. I can bring history to life.“

With the Giants in San Francisco

With the Giants in San Francisco

Once she decided what she wanted, she didn’t waste any time. She moved back to New York, interviewed at PBS. Shortly thereafter she began working on the Joseph Campbell series.

“That’s where I learned the basics of production,” she says. “How did I move on from there? Fate. Luck. Both probably. I knew someone who was working with Ken Burns on the Civil War project. She wanted to quit but didn’t want to leave him in the lurch. So she introduced me to him, told him she was leaving and said. “but look, here’s someone to take my place.” Ken was in the middle of the project. He didn’t have time to go looking for someone else, so he hired me as an associate producer.”

Luck may have played a part in her first collaboration with Ken Burns, but talent earned her the co-producers slot on Baseball. Tapping into her extraordinarily high energy level, she worked flat-out for the duration of the project. She supervised a million details. She viewed hundreds of hours of film over and over again throughout the seemingly endless editing process.

In the middle of the project, Lynn became pregnant. She continued working throughout her pregnancy. After giving birth to Eliza, she took four months leave.

baseball-boxed-setHer personal choices made the transition from new mother to film producer less stressful. Rather than give Eliza over to caretakers, Lynn chose to bring the little one to work with her. Eliza made a delightful addition to the Baseball staff. If early environment is an indicator of future development, look for Eliza among the next generation of filmdom’s luminaries.

Right now, Lynn Novick and family are enjoying a well-earned time-out on a Chilmark hilltop. The home originally belonged to her husband Robert’s parents and is now owned jointly by Robert and his sister. The two families share the premises with ease.

“I’ve been coming here for eleven summers,” says Lynn. “Even though the place belonged to Robert’s family, it’s a very special place for me. I can’t imagine summer anywhere else. Even more than Robert, this is where I want to be. There’s something about the air here,” she smiles.

What’s next? “I don’t know yet,” says Lynn. “This is my time to get to know my daughter, reconnect with my husband and myself. There’s a kind of ‘postpartum’ down period after a production finishes. One day you’re working full tilt, the next day, suddenly, there’s free time. It’s quite a shock.”


You can often stream Baseball on Amazon Prime. You can buy the series on DVD from PBS and other places. The Major League Baseball Channel is running it right now and it shows up reasonably often on various cable channels.

If you have not seen it, whether or not you are a baseball fan or any kind of sports fan, this series so beautifully written and produced, it’s worth your time.

VIOLENCE, VIOLENCE! – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My husband is a sweet and gentle man. He is not aggressive and doesn’t have a violent bone in his body. Yet he spends hours a day watching violence on TV, in movies and actively participating in it with video games. What is going on? His appetite for onscreen blood and gore is unfathomable and unsettling to me.

He says that it’s all make believe, that none of it is real. But my problem is that to me, it’s all way too realistic. I have no tolerance whatsoever for any kind of on screen blood and guts. I can’t even watch realistic operating room scenes on my TV medical shows. The sight of someone getting an injection makes me cringe, let alone someone being sliced and diced, even by a pretend doctor. I am a total wuss.

I may have become more sensitive as I get older. Or maybe it’s just that the entertainment industry has taken onscreen violence to another level. It’s more extreme and more gruesome these days. It’s also more graphic and much more realistic looking.

Onscreen violence used to be more suggested and less in your face. When someone got shot or hit on the head, they just fell down and maybe bled a little. Now, wounds are gaping, flesh is torn, internal organs are everywhere and blood is all over everything.

I can’t handle it. I could deal with pretending that someone’s hand was cut off. But in a recent episode of my favorite show, “Outlander”, the cutting off of the hand looked so real I almost lost my dinner. This is true everywhere in the mainstream now, not just on the military, underworld, superhero or shoot ‘em up shows.

There is so much fighting and brutality on TV and in movies. People seem to be more inhuman to each other, and also more creative in their violence. Torture is portrayed, again realistically, all the time. People don’t just shoot each other or stab each other, they use more inventive and sicker ways to inflict pain and suffering.

The world is portrayed these days as a much more brutal place. Man’s inhumanity to man is front and center and perverse sadists are everywhere you look. Many shows are very dark. They are dark in theme as well as lighting. I can tolerate some, like “The Blacklist” and “Blindspot.” But some — like “Gotham” — are over the top for me.

They portray the underside of life, the worst of the worst, the ugliest of the ugly. The public’s appetite for darkness, crime, and plain meanness seem boundless.

Close to half the shows my husband watches on TV, he watches without me. I can’t stomach them. If I did try to watch them, I think I’d be depressed and anxious all the time. I know there is horrible stuff going on out there. But I can’t focus on it or wallow in it. I can’t even bear to read stories about cruelty to animals or children. If I think about it, I become obsessed with awful images and I literally feel sick.

I need to spend most of my time dealing with the normal and the positive. I get enough angst from reading and watching the news. I don’t need to add to that by watching sadism and butchery as entertainment. There is enough crazy and destructive going on in the government, I don’t need to watch pretend craziness and destruction on television in my downtime.

Please let me keep some of my illusions about people having common sense and caring about each other. If I can’t keep some of these fantasies alive, I don’t think I’ll ever make it out of bed.

WHAT’S THAT SHMATAH YOU’RE WEARING? – Marilyn Armstrong

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

 

The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “duh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one.

More weird is when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the plot. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking. Or running from or after serial killers while wearing 4-inch spike heels. My feet hurt looking at them.

A pair of red shiny leather stiletto heels with gold heel-pieces

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in the wardrobe probably came from some second-hand source or other.

72-Garry-NCIS-Uxbridge_01

Everyone dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing, both on TV shows and movies is common. I understand why.

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice.

My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They don’t want to spend money on a wardrobe. They figure if you and I notice, we won’t care. In any case, we’ll keep watching. And they’re right. It’s a bottom-line world. A wardrobe is one area where corners can be easily cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming.

Open closet

It’s not just costumes, either. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors. Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

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You notice it on long-running shows that originally had good scripts and editing, but not anymore. The quality of the show slides. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in. Obvious to a normal person, but apparently incomprehensible to network executives. Disrespect for viewers is at the root of much of the illness besetting the TV industry.

They should be nicer to us. We’re, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT – Marilyn Armstrong

THE END OF INNOCENCE, THE BEGINNING OF THE NIGHTMARE

Last Friday was the day. Now, fifty-six years later, I feel like that was the beginning of our national nightmare. At the time, everyone remembered exactly where they were and what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated. Then came 9/11 and now, 18 years afterward, kids don’t remember it and their parents don’t tell them. And of course, we’re grandparents and no one listens to us.

That day in November was the beginning of a nightmare. We didn’t see it then. We thought things were looking good, but really, they were getting worse. We didn’t know that the little scuffle that started while Kennedy was President and continued through Lyndon Baines Johnson who, had he avoided Vietnam, might have been one of our best presidents.

Then there was Nixon. All of this has coiled around and begun to choke us.

I was 13 when Kennedy was elected. I watched the inauguration on television, the first of many inaugurations I would watch. It was the greatest inaugural speech. I was naïve enough to believe he wrote it himself. I was impressed by his hair, the best hair of any President before or since. Especially after 8 years of President Dwight D. Eisenhower — who was very bald.

John-F.-Kennedy

In 1963 I turned 16. I started college. Kennedy was shot in November and somehow, the world tilted slightly and it all changed. I’m sure every person old enough to know anything would remember where they were when they heard the news. It was a landmark event, a turning point in American history. For many of us, it was as if we’d bungee jumped and the elastic snapped. Then there was a long fall downward. I think it was the beginning of our national depression. Note that now we have a national case of high blood pressure. No, really. It’s true.

I was in the cafeteria at Hofstra University. I had a cup of tea in my hand and was about to sit. The public address system in the cafeteria went on. There was a lot of noise, but gradually it grew quiet. It was a news report and it took a few minutes to recognize what they were saying, to form a context and understand that this was real. Someone had shot our President.

A few minutes later, everyone fell silent. Hundreds of students, sitting or standing. No one moving, no one talking. I stood at the table. Frozen. I never sat. I stood in the same spot for over an hour, holding that cup of tea, cooling in my hand. Until the voice on the loudspeaker said “President Kennedy is dead. The President is dead.”

Gradually, everyone drifted away. Subdued. Silent.

I found my boyfriend. We wandered around for a few hours. We didn’t do anything. Just roamed the campus, dazed. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen, not in the United States. Eventually, when it was dark, I went home. My mother wanted to know where I’d been and I said, “Just wandering around.” She didn’t believe me but after a few hours of news, she did.

Kennedy was “our” president. He was young, attractive. So different from who we’d had before. I hadn’t been old enough to vote for him, but I was old enough to know what was happening. I watched the debates — the first ones on television. My friends and I discussed it. It was exciting. My mother kept referring to him as “such a young man.”

At thirteen, a 43-year old guy didn’t seem young. Those were the days, eh?

For the better part of the next week, all the channels on television — there were only seven — 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 — had wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral. Endless replays of the assassination. The subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. The beginning of the conspiracy theories that still swirl around this piece of history, though at this point I don’t care whodunnit 50 years ago. There are many unsolved crimes in history. Just add this to the long list.

I went to hang out with a friend. We took long walks to get away from the endless, morbid reiteration of the life and death of John F. Kennedy.

The assassination

Gradually, life returned to normal, whatever that is. Lyndon Baines Johnson was in office. It was all about civil rights and Vietnam. I finished college, got married, wound up in the hospital and had my first near-death experience. There would be a lot more assassinations in the near future. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. I never got used to them, but I stopped being shocked. Which is shocking. It’s like getting used to people shooting children at schools. You get numb after a while.

The 1960s were not about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. This was the decade of war, the draft, anti-war protests, and civil rights. This is when flunking out of college meant you were going to Vietnam and maybe wouldn’t come back. Strange how quickly we forget and replace history with mythology.

November 22, 1963, was the end of our political innocence, Democrats, Republicans, everyone. An abrupt turning point. The beginning of the road we find ourselves on today.

A president — our president — had been assassinated. Kennedy wasn’t the only U.S. President to be assassinated, but he was the first in modern times. The first TV president. A young, handsome guy. Especially important to my generation, a symbol that the torch really had passed to a new generation. We took that call to arms seriously.

LBJ Sworn In As PresidentIt’s hard for me to look at politics today, see how petty we’ve become. Kennedy’s assassination was an end and a beginning. He was the last President to get a pass on his personal life. The first president to use electronic media to win an election. It was the beginning of a political divide that keeps getting deeper.

Politics isn’t about real issues anymore. It’s all about character assassination, insinuation, innuendo, lies, and rumors. How narrow-minded and hateful we’ve become. I want to believe it will pass. Supposedly, all things do. But when? Will I be alive when it does?


POSTSCRIPT: HOW LBJ INHERITED VIETNAM BUT GOT ALL THE BLAME

The history of Vietnam is enormously complicated. It actually began with the French who invaded it and were tossed out. At that point, Eisenhower was president and he sent “advisors” in and then came Kennedy who sent in a lot more advisors who were more like troops, but it wasn’t officially a war. Actually, it was never officially a war.

It was a military “intervention” which is a war without the title. LBJ inherited the war from Kennedy and he didn’t like it, didn’t want it, wanted to get out, but all the military guys told him he couldn’t do that, so he stayed and politically, it destroyed him. Which was a pity because he was a brilliant president — everything our current Bloated Orangehead isn’t. But the good stuff – Medicare and Medicaid and the Civil Rights amendment — got lost under the gigantic mess in Vietnam.

Nixon basically won the next election by telling everyone HE would end the war, but he didn’t. In the end, he did exactly what Trump did in Syria: he declared a victory and pulled our troops out leaving thousands of Vietnamese who had fought with us to be slaughtered by the North Vietnamese — which was exactly what my mother had predicted would happen. She said that’s what we always do. We go in, and when it’s obvious we can’t “win,” we declare a victory and leave. The difference between what Nixon did and what Trump did is that there were years of pointless negotiations before we pulled out the troops and left. Otherwise, it was the same story.


There were many thousands of refugees desperate to get out of there. Israel took in a few thousand and we got our first really good Asian restaurants as a result. They were such nice people. I’m sure they still are.

I remember when we first went into Vietnam and my mother, who was politically very sharp, said “The French just got whipped there and left. What the Hell do we think WE are doing there?”

Garry actually talked to LBJ about this when he was in Vietnam. See these two stories:

https://teepee12.com/2019/11/27/the-rest-of-the-story-garry-armstrong/

https://teepee12.com/2016/02/18/1967-campfire-with-lbj-in-vietnam-garry-armstrong/

He was a great president, but he buried himself in a war in which he didn’t believe. He was right. We didn’t win it or even come close to winning — and used up every bit of political clout he had to get the Civil Rights Amendment, Medicare and Medicaid passed through congress. Other than Vietnam, he was probably the first really great president since FDR. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. No one was noticing the good stuff he was doing … just Vietnam. Since then, we’ve had endless pointless unwinnable wars and I swear, no one really cares anymore except for the guys who have to fight them and the parents who get to bury their kids. There’s much more to it.

Ken Burns did what I’ve heard is a brilliant documentary about Vietnam (PBS). I have not watched it. Too close to the reality I lived. Maybe one day I will, but not right now. I think it would just remind me of how we turned into the disaster we’ve become.

This piece started as a comment, but I’ve always felt that Vietnam is presented without any context. I don’t think most people realize LBJ didn’t start the war. No one reads history. We think everything we do is unique. Which is what happens when you don’t know the history.

OLD ACQUAINTANCES – Garry Armstrong

We meet once a month.

I slug the Google calendar with “Ol’ Farts Luncheon” to schedule the event, time, and location.  We usually meet at 12:30 pm and wrap maybe two hours later. It’s an event full of old war stories and a few well-worn memories as we eventually go our separate ways.

Our group is mostly retired broadcast news people — predominantly cameramen as well as a reporter or two, and a few newspaper folks.  We all used to cover the mean streets of Boston, from the last days of non-electric typewriters and film to current day electronic media. We’ve all been around from old Remingtons to mini-cameras emitting images that air instantly while watching the rise of social media and purported news writers who post stories that are raw. Unchecked for truth or validity.


Our friendships date back half a century or more. Once, we were the young Turks, ambitious and breathing fire to bring fresh air and relevance to television news we thought was maybe too stiff and formal.  The old guard regarded us with suspicion,  annoyance and I suspect, a little envy because they’d been the same way a mere few decades earlier.

We’ve shared triumphs, tragedies, marriages, divorces, births, and deaths. Lately, we’re bonded by attending too many funerals of people who used to attend our lunches. We know that sense of mortality we so casually dismissed to the old guard in earlier years.  Now, we are the old guard.

It’s interesting to follow the thread of how our lives have changed in retirement,  away from the daily spotlight of events on the center stage of public life.


A relatively small gathering for our latest luncheon.  Nine very mature gents around the big table. Seven of these fellows are retired (or semi-retired) cameramen, video technicians, van maintenance, and uplink pros.  All have worked at least 40 years in the TV news biz.  That’s at least 280 years which is a pretty a conservative tally — untold days, nights, weeks, months and years. Collectively, we’ve covered just about all the major news events over the past half-century.

Although Boston-based, we’ve followed stories around the world.  We were there when the Vietnam War became an awkward part of history, when Watergate brought down a president, and when the Berlin Wall tumbled. We were there when Three Mile Island became a national scare,  when sexual abuse scandals ripped through the Catholic Church (including a prominent local Archbishop), and when court-ordered school desegregation put Boston in a very uncomfortable international spotlight.

All of us were there for these events that, like a thousand tiny paper cuts changed our world, our neighborhood, and how we view ourselves.  Their cameras delivered images that have become part of history.  History not often covered in textbooks — paper or electronic.

Most of these unassuming fellows have taken home multiple Emmys, Pulitzer Prizes, Murrow Awards and other honors recognizing their bodies of work, most of which they have done their work in relative anonymity.


One suit, with typical executive lack of respect, called them “button pushers”.  That suit’s tenure was relatively brief.  Ironically,  we worked for many suits who simply did not respect the quality of the work or dangers faced by pros “just doing their job.”

Preserving anonymity, one of my colleagues dealt appropriately with a suit who endangered all the lives of techs and talent in a TV remote van.  The suit, in the middle of a thunderstorm with huge bolts of lightning, insisted the signal rod be kept upright so the van could transmit a news report.  If the exec’s order had been followed, there was an excellent chance that lightning would blow up the truck with everyone inside.

So one of these fellas ignored the suit’s order, suggesting that lives were in jeopardy and, perhaps the suit would like to come and put up the rod himself.  Newsroom applause drowned out the suit’s expletives as he stomped back to his corner office.

Another of these “gents” braved jail time with his reporter rather than reveal a source for a high-level story.  Like some of the Pols on the Impeachment Inquiry, the suit didn’t grasp the meaning of “confidential source’.’  He didn’t comprehend that the source and his family’s lives would be in jeopardy if he was identified.

So “the button pusher” and his reporter opted out for adjoining jail cells rather than yield to high pressure from yet another suit who probably should’ve been working at a car wash.  The suits and the company lawyers blinked.

There are multiple, similar stories around this table. I was around for many of them.  Often, I hid behind them as they took the brunt of self-serving, second-guessing suits who seemed oblivious to the complicated life on the streets.


It bears repetition that these under-appreciated news people — reporters without microphones — are responsible for most of the hardware I’ve taken home.  I’ve always felt obligated amid the warm applause at award ceremonies to thank the folks behind the cameras for cleaning me up, straightening me out, and making sure we always had the full story.

It’s a joy to spend time with them.

ALL WRAPPED UP IN IMPEACHMENT — Marilyn Armstrong

I have to admit that we are hooked. We are both news junkies and though Garry tried denying it, one day he just broke down and it’s been news ever since. He is particularly incensed at the way the press is getting beat up.

The news was his life. This isn’t casual chatter to him. He has three Emmy’s and dozens of other awards for his work in the business. To Garry, this is personal. Very. Personal.


So, that’s what we are doing. We are watching. The last time I was this enthralled politically was Watergate. I was working as a writer and editor at Doubleday Publishing in New York. I carried a little radio and earplug with me so I wouldn’t miss a moment of testimony. Then, when I got home, on went the television.

I was thrilled when Nixon resigned, but I missed the hearings. It was as if they had canceled a favorite drama.


I think this is probably what I’m going to be doing as long as these hearings last. I thought we were the rare Americans watching this, but these hearings are getting huge ratings. Apparently, everyone is glued to their televisions.

Things that have gotten to me: McCaine’s daughter saying how deeply shocked and horrified she is by the spineless Republican party and how ashamed she is of people she believed were family friends … interviews on the street and on the late-night comedy shows of people who were Republicans and now say they don’t even understand what has happened to their party and how humiliating it is.

I’ve never been a Republican, but I never thought that being a Republican meant being a traitor. We disagreed, sometimes angrily, sometimes with humor, but they were Americans. They believed in this country as I did, but their ideas of how to manage this country were different.

Now, they don’t even act like Americans. They don’t care about the  American people. They have lost touch with what has made this country great. Now it’s entirely about money and greed.

Shame on them, and shame on anyone who voted for them. They are everything we have deplored through our years on this earth.

Aside from having a bloated moron as our president, this is the most shocking part of this entire process. That all these supposed honorable men have become spineless jellyfish, unwilling to stand up to this idiot president or their own beliefs, is nauseating.