Tag Archives: television

friday five: five launchpad projects for entertainment superstars.

Before we start, let me preface this by saying I intentionally omitted sketch comedy shows from this list. In my mind, sketch shows like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show and The Sid Caesar Show are supposed to be launchpads for budding talent. We could have a separate list for this category to cover the many great sketch shows throughout television history that launched careers. But that’s not what we’re covering in this list.

I’m focusing strictly on films television and music that, intentionally or not, were incubators of talent and unforeseen future success long before any of those who were involved were A-listers. Perhaps it was pure coincidence, but I’d like to think these projects are what got them noticed and kickstarted their massive success.

School Ties (1992)
school-tiesPut it this way: Matt Damon was a supporting actor in this Brendan Fraser vehicle. I think we know how he’s done since then. School Ties, a 1960s boarding school period piece, featured a slew of young, male actors who would go onto bigger things. While it’s easy to forget, Fraser’s star hadn’t risen yet, prior to this movie. He would go onto become a 90s actions movie star in the Mummy flicks as well as play a major role in the 2004 Academy Award winning film, Crash.

Who else was in School Ties? Chris O’Donnell, Ben Affleck and Zeljko Ivanek, to name a few. Ivanek certainly didn’t rise to the level of movie stardom like Affleck and O’Donnell, but this film was really the starting point of a long and ongoing career for Zeljko as the wormy guy you hate in virtually every TV show created. And it all started in School Ties.

As for Affleck and O’Donnell, think about this: they would go on to play Batman and Robin in separate franchises of the DC Comics characters. Who saw that coming???

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Fast TimesThis classic is somehow forgotten in the pantheon of 80s high school movies; probably because it’s not a John Hughes film. Nevertheless, Fast Times may be the best of that era, of that genre. It’s not a stretch to say it launched the careers of Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold and Jennifer Jason Leigh. But start poking around the supporting cast and you stumble across a couple of Oscar winners: Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage, along with Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards and Taylor Negron.
Fast Times Forest
Fast Times Cage
Lest we forget its writer, Cameron Crowe. This was his maiden voyage. And oh yeah, you might’ve heard about a certain scene involving Phoebe Cates and a red bikini.

American Graffiti (1973)
American Graffiti_3The cast, at the time, boasted a few working actors and maybe one or two known commodities. Sure, everyone knew Ronny Howard (yes, that’s how he was billed) as Opie on the Andy Griffith Show, but this was one of his first “grown-up” roles. I think we know how it turned out for him.

Harrison Ford in American Graffiti.

Harrison Ford in American Graffiti.

Beyond Howard, look at who else was in the cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Mackenzie Phillips; even Suzanne Somers had a small, but meaningful part in the movie. And there was this guy named Harrison Ford in a bit part. I wonder if he ever turned into anything.

And oh yeah, who co-wrote and directed American Graffiti? George Lucas. His next film was Star Wars. Gotta wonder if he even gets to make that movie if American Graffiti isn’t a hit.

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton (1988 Ruthless Records)
NWATwenty-seven years ago almost to the day, this groundbreaking hip hop album was released. It is not hyperbole to suggest it changed everything. When N.W.A. burst on the national scene in 1988, they were “gangsta rap.” They were real-life street kids who turned their experiences into a monster-selling album. They were dangerous. And people couldn’t get enough of them.

Without N.W.A., there is no hip hop scene like we see today. True, N.W.A. wasn’t the first hardcore rap act to break out, but they busted down the door and everyone followed behind them.

Beyond the music industry influence, look at where founding members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are today. One is a successful actor and film producer and the other is an executive with Apple and is widely regarded as one of the best music producers in the business. Nobody saw any of that coming the first time they heard Straight Outta Compton.

As a hip hop act, N.W.A. was short-lived; splintering apart and eventually breaking up in 1991. There were public feuds in the intervening years (which largely came to a halt when founding member Eazy-E died in 1995), but N.W.A. as an act were pretty much done. Their collective time as a group was brief, compared to other influential music artists, but there’s no denying Straight Outta Compton is the birth mother of Cube’s and Dre’s careers as well as an entire genre of music.

Mean Streets (1973)
Mean StreetsAlternate title: When Marty met Bobby. Unlike other projects mentioned here, Mean Streets does not boast a plethora of young actors and actresses who broke out after this film’s release. But Mean Streets is pivotal because it was the first time a budding young director named Martin Scorsese worked with an actor by the name of Robert DeNiro. Truly, the rest is history.

Scorsese and DeNiro have combined for some of the greatest American films of the 20th century, and it all started with Mean Streets. What came next?

Taxi Driver. Raging Bull. Goodfellas. Cape Fear. Casino.

It is not an overstatement to call Scorsese the greatest living American filmmaker and DeNiro the greatest living American actor. Their résumés—both collective and individual—speak to that. But their greatness is not defined solely within their work. They, too, have elevated the careers of many other actors and filmmakers over the years. Undoubtedly, Joe Pesci, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and many, many more have benefited from working with Scorsese and/or DeNiro. And the flashpoint for it all was Mean Streets. Oh yeah, do you know who else was in that movie? A guy named Harvey Keitel. I wonder if he ever went on to do anything substantial.

Honorable Mention
Freaks and Geeks (1999 – 2000)
Freaks and GeeksInitially, I was going to say Knocked Up was the launchpad, but it wasn’t. Before Judd Apatow and co. went on to massive careers after that 2007 comedy movie, there was Freaks and Geeks; a canceled-too-soon TV show that gave birth to many successful Hollywood careers. Apatow wrote and directed several episodes. We know the rest of his story. But what about the cast? Jason Segal, James Franco and Seth Rogan all have become Hollywood A-listers. Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Samm Levine, Busy Phillips and Martin Starr all have found steady work on a slew of highly successful television shows.

No matter how well everyone continues to do, Freaks and Geeks fans still feel cheated out of what could’ve been a great series.


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day 455: the day i gave up and surrendered to my dvr.

Survivor. Mad Men. Game of Thrones. There’s just too much pop-culture nonsense going on right now for me to keep track. Just went I had my DVR capacity down to manageable levels, along comes HBO and all their TV shows! I gave up. I surrendered; cried “uncle!” into the face of my DVR. It just laughed at me and kept recording shit I’ll never get around to watching. Therefore, I did what I had to do to set my mind at ease: hit the DELETE button.

With the push of a button—well, more like a series of buttons you have to push…over and over and over and over—I deleted a truckload of unwatched television shows. The anxiety was too much, so I threw in the towel. See, it was turning into credit card debt for me. You know how it feels? When you’re dangerously close to your maximum limit on your credit cards; afraid that burrito at Chipotle is going to be the one that sends you over your limit? I couldn’t take it anymore.

Fare thee well, Battle Creek. I never watched you. Same goes for you, Blackish. You both look great, but I’ve already got more than enough DVR commitments to juggle. But not you, Alex Trebek! You are going nowhere!

You heard me. Jeopardy! is the one show I never allow to fall behind. Yes, I DVR Jeopardy! Why? Because with my current work schedule, I don’t get home until it’s usually halfway over. I can’t walk into the show when it’s already in the Double Jeopardy around. That’s just foolish, man! So, I DVR it. Dino and I settle in each night and get our dose of Alex and the contestants. I can’t get enough of Jeopardy! Although, if they ever bring that insufferable jerk Arthur Chu back on, I refuse to watch. I don’t dislike the guy for his strategy. Sure, the strategy can be somewhat obnoxious, but Chu himself is obnoxious. He was a joyless, soul-sucking black hole of twerpiness, to say nothing of his horrendous positions on “gamergate” and other pop culture topics. So, yes to Jeopardy! No to Arthur Chu.

I’m going to start writing about Survivor again this week. It really doesn’t get interesting to me until the merge, when the individual game takes over. I’ll handicap the remaining field and, before the season’s out, I’m also going to review past seasons for some interesting lists of contestants. Yeah, I know. I still want to be on the show.

I also want to be on the Amazing Race because it would be a blast. But I need to get in seriously better shape before I embark on either of those journeys. Yes, I’m working on it.

Sorry for the whirlwind tour through the pop culture center of my brain. I just wanted to get all that out there before bed.

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the local side of csi.

Having been a local resident of Las Vegas for nearly a year, I’d say I’ve gotten myself familiar with more than half of the city. I knew this before I moved here, but once you get away from The Strip, the city itself is relatively quiet…unless you’re on the eastside. It’s a bit dicey over there. I was talking to a dealer at O’Shea’s a few weeks ago while playing blackjack. I used my drivers license to get rated (didn’t have my players card).

“What are you doing down here?” he said to me, inquisitively.

“Visiting friends from out of town,” I said. I was lying. I was there to get Christmas gifts (in the form of cheques from the casino for my family when they visit). But I understood why he was asking me that: locals don’t go down to the Strip very often.

We got to chatting. He asked me what part of town was home. “Over in Summerlin,” I told him. “Oh, we’re practically neighbors!” he replied. He was joking. Turns out he lives near the intersection of Lake Mead and Pecos. I know exactly where that is: almost completely opposite from where I live. Summerlin is west of the Strip. Lake Mead and Pecos is northeast. “It’s a rough area,” he admitted. I played dumb to that statement, but he’s not lying.

One thing I’ve noticed lately while watching CSI—one of my favorite TV shows—is either they’re mixing in more subtle local references to the episodes or I’m just able to pick them out now. Sure, anyone can watch an episode of CSI, or any other Vegas-based TV show, and get a reference to the Strip, the Fremont Street Experience, McCarran Airport and Hoover Dam. What I’m referring to, specifically, are elements the writers have included that you probably wouldn’t really notice unless you lived in Las Vegas.

csi_pickup_blogIn a recent episode, one of the CSI’s was questioning a murder suspect who was also running an escort service. The suspect, played by Sharon Osbourne, feigned shock, “Are you telling me there’s no prostitution in Las Vegas?!?!” The CSI glibly responded, “This isn’t Nye County.”

Some people don’t realize prostitution is illegal in Clark County, which is where Las Vegas is located. The Nye County reference is rather clever because prostitution is legal there. Pahrump, in Nye County, is home to several brothels.

In another recent episode, the CSIs are investigating a murder in one of the seedier parts of town. The character Sara looks at one of the witnesses and says, “What is she doing down here in the alphabets?” A year ago, I would’ve had no idea what that meant. She was referring to an area just northwest of the Fremont Street Experience where all the streets are named after letters: A Street, B Street, F Street, etc. And yes, it’s a rough part of town.

In an episode that took place at the Clark County Detention Center, they used an exterior shot of the Regional Justice Center (courthouse) overlooking the Detention Center. While the set itself was not the Detention Center, using the RJC in the shot was good attention to detail, since they’re right across the street from one another.

On a side note: I used to work downtown. My parking garage was right next to the Detention Center. I had to walk three blocks to get to my building, so I’d walk past the center’s exit doors. Each morning, I would try to determine which ones were locals and which ones were tourists who got picked up for D & D. I miss working in that part of town.

Other local fixtures are fairly well known but have been used a few times in the show: Mt. Charleston, Nellis Air Force Base, the flood control tunnels (where homeless people live). Despite using shots of the Strip and Fremont Street in between scenes, they almost never mention the resorts by name. I’m guessing the owners don’t want grisly murders associated with them. Also, CSI refers to the local police as Las Vegas PD, which isn’t exactly accurate. It’s actually Las Vegas Metro PD; usually just called “Metro,” I’ve learned. While the show never mentions UNLV by name, they do use a local university quite often in episodes; only it’s called WLVU.

Anyway, it’s kinda fun watching a TV show that is set in the town where you live. I used to enjoy it when CBS had a show that took place in Indianapolis. The producers of that show didn’t delve into too many subtle nuances of Indy, but they got a few things right. With CSI, I’d say they’ve gotten it right, too. And seriously, I’ve already got the series finale halfway written. If only the producers would give me a call.

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for the love of the water cooler conversation.

people drinkingThe Super Bowl is a uniquely American holiday. If, by “unique,” you mean people gather around a television to eat pizza and drink beer. Kidding. Super Bowl Sunday is a little bit Thanksgiving, a little bit New Year’s Eve and a whole lot of pop culture fun. It’s one of the few moments all year long when Americans are in perfect sync with one another in terms of what they’re watching on television. In an era of Netflix, earbuds, iPads, and DVRs, we as a society have very few water cooler events to discuss. The Super Bowl is one of the few remaining relics of a past era.

Tomorrow morning—or, today, for some of you—people will go to work and already know the topic of discussion: “Did you see that one commercial?” “What did you think of Beyonce?” “The refs missed that pass interference call at the end of the game!” The day after the most watched television event all year in the U.S., it’s a safe bet you can make these remarks without people recoiling and shrieking, “Whoa! Spoiler alert!” Unlike that season of Homeland still languishing on your DVR, the Super Bowl is truly an in-the-moment event.

And I love that. It’s music to my ears.

Thanks to technology, our society is more and more isolated in our consumption of entertainment. We watch and read and listen on our own schedules. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is all but giddy at the prospects of a society consisting of nothing but binge viewing subscribers. We already know about 60 percent of the so-called Generation Y either don’t have cable TV or are considering dumping it in favor of the Internet. About that same amount (maybe slightly more) would sooner watch TV shows and movies on their computer screens than a television. The living room has been replaced by a laptop.

“Why would I pay $500 for something that only does one thing,” a Gen-Y aged person said to me, about televisions.

We’ve become a society of isolated, earbudded multi-taskers, Internet narcissists and gadget addicts. The notion of shared, interpersonal social experiences is a dinosaur. Fortunately, the Super Bowl is invincible to this rising trend. Well, mostly invincible. While you will more than likely spend time at work talking about the game tomorrow morning, Twitter and Facebook were blowing up last night with everyone’s stream-of-consciousness. That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

I am not a technophobe by any measure. I usually embrace and adapt to change. But it’s nice to know we haven’t completely morphed away from idle chit-chat with co-workers and friends. We still have something to talk about, not text.

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watching the watchers.

One of my dorky passions—ingrained in me around seventh grade, thanks to USA Today—is crunching the Nielsen Ratings numbers. If you look at the most recent numbers (for the week ending 11 April 2010), there are a couple glaring trends:
* Four of the top ten most-viewed programs are scripted shows.
* How many NBC shows are in the Top 25? One. Law & Order: SVU.

It’s really something to see what a juggernaut CBS has been, American Idol notwithstanding.

See for yourself.

So how is it people watch everything but NBC until 11:35 p.m. and religiously switch over to Leno? Like him or hate him, it’s something of a testament to his audience loyalty. Despite these numbers, I’m still a Dave/Craig Ferguson guy.

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