61 Years After the Legendary Vast Wasteland Speech

Posted on May 9, 2022 at 8:09 am

Copyright 2016 TWH
Sixty-one years ago today, on May 9, 1961, my dad, the 35-year-old Chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, made three significant appearances. In Washington, he gave his famous “vast wasteland” speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, telling them that while “when television is good, nothing is better,” he expected them to do more to uphold their statutory obligation to serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Then he went back to the FCC office, where he met with Elizabeth Campbell to sign the original license for WETA, the first educational television station in the nation’s capital, now the producer of the Ken Burns documentaries and the nightly Newshour. And then he flew to Chicago to attend the father-daughter dinner for my Brownie troop.

I often thought about how those three events defined his character: inspiring those around him to do better, supporting the visions of people making enriching cultural content and reliable news sources widely available, and always putting his family first. Over the next decades this was reflected in his efforts as a founder and board chair of PBS, a director of CBS, helping to create the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), where he served as vice chair until this year, working to require the V-chip and closed captioning, helping to get the start-up funding for “Sesame Street,” and arguing for the rescission of the radio license of a station that broadcast virulently racist and anti-Semitic programming. His countless awards include more than a dozen honorary doctorates, a Peabody, and the highest honor for American civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Barack Obama (who met Michelle when they were both working in my father’s law office). Our family’s favorite “honor” might be the sinking ship on “Gilligan’s Island,” named as an insult to my father for his criticism of television by producer Sherwood Schwartz. They later had a very cordial correspondence.

He appeared on Chicago’s PBS station last month to talk about the RNC’s announcement that they would not participate in the Presidential Debates.

Today Cornell law professor Robert Hockett recognizes the anniversary of the speech with a proposal my sister endorsed in her book, Saving the News (with an introduction by my father titled “From Guttenberg to Zuckerberg”), a “public option” for social media.

Mike Leonard’s documentary about my dad has some wonderful stories.

I talked to my dad about some of his formative experiences, including the words from Bobby Kennedy that inspired him to focus on telecommunications, what he will advise the new FCC Chair, and why he told President Kennedy the first telecommunications satellite was more important than putting a man on the moon.

He is the world’s best dad and grandpa. We are so lucky.

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Nell Scovell Talks About The Groundbreaking Sabrina, The Teenage Witch

Posted on October 4, 2021 at 12:13 pm

Copyright 1996 Viacom
It was 25 years ago that “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” premiered as a part of ABC’s “TGIF” line-up of family-friendly shows. The character was based on the Archie comic book series, but it was showrunner Nell Scovell who gave her a last name and a subtly but unabashedly feminist spin. In a 25th anniversary interview, Scovell told Elle that what made it fun for her was a twist on the magical female stories like “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” Those characters had to hide their powers. Sabrina, who only discovers her powers when she turns 16 and is thus still learning how to use them, is encouraged to make the most of her gifts. She had some of Scovell in her as well. “The revolutionary idea of Sabrina is she’s a good kid. She doesn’t want to be a cheerleader popular. She, like me, wanted to be good in school, and a good person.”

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Schmigadoon!

Posted on July 15, 2021 at 4:06 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Strong language and explicit references to anatomy
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Mild comic peril, gun
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 16, 2021

Copyright AppleTV+ 2021
“Schmigadoon!” is a loving parody and an even more loving tribute to classic Broadway and Hollywood musicals, from “Oklahoma” to “The Music Man,” “The Sound of Music,” and the musical that inspired this title, “Brigadoon.” Each of the six episodes of around 30 minutes has Broadway-level singing and dancing, with tuneful, clever songs performed by some of the biggest stars from the Great White Way. The more you love musicals, the more you will love “Schmigadoon!”

Cecily Strong (“Saturday Night Live”) and Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “Keanu,” “Prom”) play surgeons who meet by a hospital candy machine and fall for each other. A few years later, their relationship is under some strain when they go on a couples hiking retreat. Lost in the rain, they happen on a cheerful 19th-century town where the citizens burst into song and elaborately choreographed dance numbers. They’re told by a magical leprechaun (Martin Short) that they cannot leave until they find true love.

The people they meet include Mayor Menlove (Alan Cummings), whose name could be a clue to his clear discomfort in a heteronormative community. Further discomfort could be the result of his dominating, judgmental wife Mildred (Kristin Chenoweth). (Compare them to Mayor Shinn and his wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in “The Music Man.”) There’s the rapscallion carny Danny Bailey (Aaron Tveit). (Think Billy in “Carousel.”) and the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse, who lives with her lisping little brother (similar to Marion and Winthrop Paroo in “The Music Man”). Later on, they meet a beautiful blonde countess (Jane Krakowski) (compare to the Baroness in “The Sound of Music”) and a handsome, widowed doctor (Jaime Camil, a bit of Captain von Trapp). And there’s a pappy with a shotgun that he uses to protect his nubile young (how young?) daughters, including Dove Cameron as Betsy (maybe Daisy Mae in “Li’l Abner”).

Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul are clearly the nerdiest of theater kids at heart and every bit of the series is imaginative, tuneful, thoughtful and detailed. Look behind the schoolteacher at the schedule of parent-teacher conferences on the blackboard. All the names are famous musical-creators. Some of the musical numbers are in direct conversation with classics, like Mildred’s solo, a witty riff on “Music Man’s” “Trouble.” Others are romantic or just pure fun.

Whether you are a theater nerd who can trace the history of the first act “I Want” song from “Show Boat” to “The Little Mermaid” or are just looking for a clever, warm-hearted, romantic adventure filled with supremely talented people giving their all, “Schmigadoon!” is one of 2021’s most delicious delights.

Parents should know that this movie has sexual references including out-of-wedlock pregancy and explicit language about reproduction and body parts, as well as relationship stress, strong language, and some alcohol.

Family discussion: What’s your favorite musical and why? What did Josh and Melissa learn about love?

If you like this, try: the musicals that inspired it as well as others like “My Fair Lady,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Bells are Ringing,” “West Side Story,” and “The Pajama Game”

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Hysterical on FX: Press Conference with Female Stand-Up Comics

Posted on March 29, 2021 at 7:00 am

Copyright 2021 FX

Hysterical” is a new documentary about female stand-up comics premiering April 2, 2021 on FX. Director Andrea Nevins (Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie), journeys backstage and on the road with veteran comedians, rising stars and novices to discover how an intrepid group of boundary-breaking females are changing the game and exploring what it takes to become the voices of their generation and their gender, featuring Kelly Bachman, Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch, Bonnie McFarlane, Sherri Shepherd and Iliza Shlesinger.

I was lucky enough to attend a press conference with Nevins and some of the comics featured in the film, where new talked about “cancel culture,” hecklers, turning real life into comedy, and why no one should film their acts with their phones. Some highlights (lightly edited for clarity):

Adapting — or apologizing for past jokes that are now considered inappropriate:

Judy Gold

It was way different, and I think it’s because we thought differently then. So, things that were funny then, because of the way we’ve evolved, aren’t as funny now. If you take the way we think now and apply it to some comedy from 30 years ago, you’ll say, “Oh, that’s not funny. Why are they laughing?” It was a different world. I personally never really edited myself, but my rule is that you can talk about anything, any topic no matter how horrible as long as it’s funny. You have to craft a joke about it. You can’t just spew racial epithets or stereotypes. You need to use them wisely. And, also, if you are talking about something horrible that happened and you are crafting a joke about it, it doesn’t take away the sadness and the horror. It actually acknowledges that it happened, and you are sort of finding — a joke is a buildup of tension and then a release, and oftentimes people — you know, I think it’s going to happen with COVID — people are so tense, and they want a release. They want to laugh. They want to say, “Oh, I needed that.” It doesn’t make it — it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t cheapen whatever, you know, the topic is.

Copyright FX 2021

Bonnie McFarlane

I think everybody has jokes that you feel guilty about. I have a joke where I say “tranny,” and it still gets played on Sirius, and it makes me cringe so hard. But it wasn’t, like, negative in that way,
but it’s still using a word that I would never use now. So, we learn. We grow. You are making jokes about the times that you are living in, and that’s all you can do. You can’t see into the future about what’s, you know — maybe there will be a time where we are not allowed to make fun of dogs.

Sheri Shepherd

I mean, what I find is very hard is, in the past — you know, it’s always an evolution of being a stand-up comic, and in the past, you said what you said in the past because that’s where you were then. What I find very troubling now for comics is we are not allowed to say anything. You get on that stage, and that was the thing. With comics, we were the one that told the emperor that he was not wearing any clothes, and we were the ones that were allowed to get on stage and say something. Like Judy said, as long as it was funny, go ahead and put it out there. But now, as a comic, getting on stage, what I am tired of dealing with is “Oh my gosh. That was offensive to me.” “Oh my gosh. You said this.” Look, I’m a comic. The way we view the world is in a very skewed — through a very skewed filter. That’s what makes us get on this frickin’stage every night and say what we say. So that’s what I find
troubling for us in what we do today in this world, that if you say something, you’ve got to be scared that now you are not going to get booked or that TV show is going to come on, and you are going to go, “yeah, you know, you offended three people, and now they are writing letters.”

Jessica Kirson

I don’t feel guilty for material I’ve done in the past because I know it always has come from a loving place and because, at the time, I felt like it was okay. And there’s things I don’t do now or say now because I don’t feel it’s right and it feels wrong, and I don’t do it anymore. There’s times when I’ve said stuff to audience members where I felt guilty because I felt like I was too harsh or said things that I regret, but I’ve said things at the time that I felt were appropriate. And, again, there’s things I censor myself with now because, in my gut, it feels wrong to say them.

Bringing your painful experiences to the audience

Sherri Shepherd

When you are going through something painful or difficult and you bring it up on stage, there’s a chunk of the audience that can relate to it because they’ve gone through it. My husband cheated on me and the girl got pregnant. And I talk about standing over him, and I was ready to bash his head in with a lamp, but because I got it from Target, it wasn’t heavy enough to kill him. And that’s when I realized, that’s why white people buy antique lamps, because the base will actually crush a skull.

The sheer number of women that came up to me and went, “I hurt so bad from infidelity, and the fact that you were able to talk about it and make me laugh about wanting to kill my husband and what I’m going through,” I think it’s freeing for some people to be able to laugh at it. And the more authentic you are about your life, the less people can steal your stuff because it’s authentic to you.

Carmen Lynch

New York is great too because we are all in therapy. So, it’s a very therapy-centric place. So, we just take that stuff, and we throw it on stage. And it feels good, but it’s also original material, and people can relate.

Marina Franklin

It’s also very healing. It’s a healing journey. I mean, for me, that was the first time I ever had to talk about the fact that I could possibly die . But it was moments like that that you realize that you were always meant to be a comedian too because when you have real intense moments like that and you can make people laugh with it and it makes you feel good and it makes them feel good — because you constantly go through this stage of wondering if you are actually that comedian, and moments like that, it self-validates. I don’t know if that’s a word, but that’s what it felt like. And it was amazing to have a young woman approach me and say, “Thank you for doing this because people don’t know that people going through breast cancer and treatment, that they laugh and that we need laughter. And I brought my friend to your show just so she could see it.” And, so, it becomes this community that can laugh with you.

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