Classic Movies · Movies · Stuff You Should Know · Television

“Something tells me this is going to be one of those ‘I don’t have a post’ posts…”

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…and you would be right. Here’s the thing. The time that I usually spend catching a classic movie or two has been occupied instead by reruns of a sitcom showcasing the smartest and wittiest ensemble in television history. That’s right, my box set of NewsRadio: The Complete Series arrived last week and the other day I decided to put a show or two on because I was really in need of a good, healthy chuckle. Unfortunately, when I dabble in this sort of entertainment I don’t have the will power to stop at just an episode or two…I end up going through as many as I can like cocktail peanuts.

What’s worse is: the NewsRadio DVDs feature extensive commentary from many of the cast members, writers and producers—so once I watch the episode I re-watch it to eavesdrop on some insightfully funny conversations. In one of the commentaries—specifically, the one that accommodates the episode “Big Day”—cast member Stephen Root (who played the eccentric billionaire who owned WNYX, Jimmy James) remarks that he had two catchphrases on the show: “I gotta go” and “We’re waaay over budget.” This prompts his former co-star Dave Foley to return: “My catchphrases would be ‘But, Mr. James—these people work hard for you’ and ‘What is it, Matthew…?’”

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The cast of NewsRadio

For those of you not familiar with “Big Day,” it’s one of my all-time favorite NewsRadio episodes. The plot has station owner James deciding that new station manager Dave Nelson (Foley) will be in charge of handing out the employee bonus this year; he stipulates that each employee will receive an extra $400—with the exception of one employee who will net a bonus of $3000 (which he calls “the big bonus”) and one who will get nada (“the shaft”). Matthew Brock (Andy Dick), the station’s resident spaz, just knows he’ll be getting “the shaft” again this year—as do fellow employees Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) and Joe Garelli (Joe Rogan), who engage in this dialogue exchange:

BILL: Joe, who’s the black undercover dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks?
JOE: Why, I believe that would be Shaft, Bill…
BILL: Mmm-hmm. And who’s the cat who won’t cop out when there is danger all about?
JOE: Once again Bill, you are referring to Shaft…
BILL: Damn right…
JOE: You know, they say that Shaft is one bad mutha…
MATTHEW (interrupting Joe): Just shut up, you guys…
JIMMY (entering the room): What’re you guys doing?
BILL: We’re just talking about Shaft…
JIMMY (as he walks past): I can dig it…

That bit still cracks me up, fifteen years after the fact. Another amusing facet of the commentaries is that everyone involved is obsessed with talking about everyone’s wardrobe, which is attributed to the fact that NewsRadio won its one and only Emmy for Outstanding Costuming for a Series. (The series was never acknowledged with nominations for either directing, writing…not even Outstanding Comedy Series—though the late Phil Hartman did get one nom in 1998 for supporting actor in a comedy show. Tell me that’s not a tragedy.)

This article announcing the reopening of the Universal N.Y. Street backlot (which was torched in the studio’s fire in June 2008) has a blurb about über director Steven Spielberg that reads: “Another memory from that morning which resonated with Spielberg was the sight of firefighters hauling out film cans from the Universal vault, preserving negatives of classic films as well as, quipped Spielberg, ‘several titles that should have burned.’”(Oh, this is too easy… Always [1989]… Hook [1991]… Minority Report [2002]…I’ll stop now before I get into serious trouble. Note: Mr. Shreve, as a dedicated cineaste, is not suggesting that any movies be set on fire regardless of how bad they are—so please refrain from questioning his parentage in the comments section.)

Mark Evanier at newsfromme reports that we lost another comic strip artist in March—Don Sherwood, creator of the Steve Canyon-like Dan Flagg (1963-67). Flagg may not have been a staple of too many “funny papers” but I have to admit that Sherwood’s history as an artist makes for an interesting read. R.I.P, Mr. Sherwood—you will be missed.

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June Lockhart…Facebook friend.

In my never-ending quest to boost some badly-needed esteem here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, I thought that you might be interested to learn that even when I receive junk e-mail about movies or magazines that I’ll more than likely never get around to seeing—I’m always greeted with the utmost respect. One such electronic missive addressed me as “Kindest Ivan G Shreve Jr. of Edward Copeland on Film,” then proceeded to tell me about…well, it’s not really important. I was just impressed with the level in which they did the sucking-up. But wait, there’s more—I had the honor of being “friended” on Facebook by none other than…drum roll please…June Lockhart! You read that right—I am now chummy with Lassie’s mother! (We’ll probably go clubbing later.)

TDOY commenter jnpickens (who was nice enough to recommend the 1931 Alfred Hitchcock curio Rich and Strange to me) blogs at Comet Over Hollywood (I like that name) and has a very funny post about Katherine Hepburn. Now, I cannot stress this enough: if you are a major Kate fan—do not go over there to read it; you’ll just be asking for trouble. As for me…well, I’ve built up a bigger tolerance but she had me on the floor when she wrote “…it’s hard for me to choke down a Katharine Hepburn movie. I’d rather watch Mickey Rooney over her, and that says a lot.” (I’m sure I’ve stated previously that child stars give me a rash, but Rooney—we’re talking a major case of prickly heat.) Now I’m curious as to whether she went out and purchased any of the stamps.

woodyIn 1960, comedian Woody Woodbury was riding high on the Billboard Album charts with LPs like Woody Woodbury Looks at Love and Life as part of an avalanche of comic talents like Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Bob Newhart, and “Brother” Dave Gardner charting big with a golden age of stand-up recordings. Kliph Nesteroff wrote an essay on this seemingly forgotten comedian for WFMU’s Beware of the Blog back in December 2006…and had a chat with him two years earlier which has been transcribed at his Classic Television Showbiz blog. It’s a great discussion of some of his fellow laugh practitioners, and as always Kliph asks the right questions.

In closing, I want to thank—in the most profuse manner that I can summon—my good chum Stacia for the wonderful gift she sent me that arrived at the doorstep of Rancho Yesteryear this afternoon. (Surprised the hell out of me—I thought my father had returned, having forgotten something.) It was a most generous gesture, and as soon as I can get this NewsRadio monkey off my back I plan to hie to the nearest DVD player and watch it with plenty of snacks by my side. Thanks, Stacia—you are an absolute treasure.

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