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I May Destroy You: Trailer

Video    BBC    24 April 2020


From BAFTA award-winner Michaela Coel comes

I May Destroy You,

a fearless and provocative drama

exploring the question of sexual consent in contemporary life.

Coming June to BBC One and BBC iPlayer.






















Video    The Slap Trailer    3 November 2011


Based on Christos Tsiolkas' international best-seller,

The Slap is a provocative and compelling eight-part drama series

that traces the shattering repercussions of a single event

upon a group of family and friends.


It is a searing portrait of middle class life,

and modern, multi-cultural Australia.





















Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy) with his trusty tricorder

in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The Guardian        Technology        p. 6

6 September 2007
















small screen        UK












television        UK










television        USA










telly        UK


















a pîece of television        UK / USA












trash TV
























television viewers        USA










audience        UK


















stream        UK










stream        USA










streaming        USA










binge watchers        USA










viewing figures        UK










ratings        USA

























reality television / TV        UK








reality television show        UK






reality TV        USA






reality TV show        USA








reality court show > Judge Judy        USA






reality television show > Big Brother








reality-TV star > Jade Goody






show        UK





























TV shows, shows, series        USA












The Ed Sullivan Show        USA










live show        UK







BBC music show > Top of the Pops        UK






Jon Stewart  > The Daily Show        USA








The X Factor        UK









host        USA












Britain's Got Talent > Susan Boyle        UK










The Tonight Show >  Jay Leno        UK






show > The Apprentice        UK













game show > Wheel of Fortune        USA






I'm a Celebrity








































TV comedy legends the Smothers Brothers        USA

folk-singing duo’s groundbreaking TV show

Tom Smothers   1937- 2023
























Tony (Norman Antony) Hart

television presenter and artist    1925-2009













The Tonight Show > Ed McMahon        USA

















The Tonight Show > Johnny Carson        USA













Ed McMahon >

talent competition "Star Search"        USA










Ed McMahon >

"TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes"        USA










Ed McMahon >

ABC comedy quiz show, "Who Do You Trust?"        USA










Ed McMahon >

local Philadelphia shows > "Strictly For The Girls"        USA


















drama        UK






quality TV drama        UK






dramedy        USA






TV comedies        USA






cult comedy        UK






mainstream        UK
























documentarian        UK










documentarian / naturalist > David Attenborough        UK




















docuseries        USA


























Emmy awards / Emmys        UK / USA

















































take top honors        USA










red carpet        USA










on the red carpet








a big winner of the night


















added 23 July 2008















TV series / shows        UK / USA

















an eight-part series        UK










TV series / series        UK









series        USA










prequel series        USA










five-part miniseries        USA










rerun        USA







The Encyclopedia of Television


The Encyclopedia of Television

includes more than 1,000 original essays

from more than 250 contributors

and examines specific programs and people,

historic moments and trends,

major policy disputes

and such topics as violence,

tabloid television

and the quiz show scandal.


It also includes

histories of major television networks

as well as broadcasting systems around the world

and is complemented by resource materials,

photos and bibliographical information.


publicationssection.php?page=520 - broken link








two pieces of television
















instalment        UK






in the pilot episode of N        USA






episode        UK








final episode        UK
















final season        UK






Bob Spiers    UK    1945-2008

television and film director






televison show























rom-com        USA










The state of British TV: Comedy        UK
























































situation comedy / sitcom        UK / USA
















































workplace sitcom        USA










USA > US sitcoms        UK










sitcom > I love Lucy        USA










sitcom > Bewitched        USA


















soap        UK
















soap opera        USA










hip-hop prime-time soap opera > Fox > Empire        USA

























cast        UK










character        UK










character actress        USA










iconic villain        USA

























tune in        UK


1031212.html - 23 November 2008








fan            UK










review        USA










riveting        USA
















Children's TV        UK






Blue Peter        UK











Wallace & Gromit's World of Invention        UK






Sesame Street        USA








Alexander Anderson Jr.    USA    1920-2010



who first drew Rocky the flying squirrel

and his buddy, the bumbling moose Bullwinkle,

television characters who captivated

young baby boomers in the early ’60s






Oliver Postgate,

author and animation film-maker    UK    1925-2008

The Clangers, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine












animated children's television show > Postman Pat        UK











Corpus of news articles


 Arts > TV series / shows / documentaries




Peter Falk,

Rumpled and Crafty Actor

in Television’s ‘Columbo,’

Dies at 83


June 24, 2011

The New York Times



Peter Falk, who marshaled actorly tics, prop room appurtenances and his own physical idiosyncrasies to personify Columbo, one of the most famous and beloved fictional detectives in television history, died on Thursday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 83.

His death was announced in a statement from Larry Larson, a longtime friend and the lawyer for Mr. Falk’s wife, Shera. He had been treated for Alzheimer’s disease in recent years.

Mr. Falk had a wide-ranging career in comedy and drama, in the movies and onstage, before and during the three and a half decades in which he portrayed the unkempt but canny lead on “Columbo.” He was nominated for two Oscars; appeared in original stage productions of works by Paddy Chayefsky, Neil Simon and Arthur Miller; worked with the directors Frank Capra, John Cassavetes, Blake Edwards and Mike Nichols; and co-starred with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis and Jason Robards.

But Mr. Falk’s prime-time popularity, like that of his contemporary Telly Savalas, of “Kojak” fame, was founded on a single role.

A lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department, Columbo was a comic variation on the traditional fictional detective. With the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe, he was cast in the mold of neither — not a gentleman scholar, not a tough guy. He was instead a mass of quirks and peculiarities, a seemingly distracted figure in a rumpled raincoat, perpetually patting his pockets for a light for his signature stogie.

He drove a battered Peugeot, was unfailingly polite, was sometimes accompanied by a basset hound named Dog, and was constantly referring to the wisdom of his wife (who was never seen on screen) and a variety of relatives and acquaintances who were identified in Homeric-epithet-like shorthand — an uncle who played the bagpipes with the Shriners, say, or a nephew majoring in dermatology at U.C.L.A. — and who were called to mind by the circumstances of the crime at hand.

It was a low-rent affect that was especially irksome to the high-society murderers he outwitted in episode after episode. In the detective-story niche where Columbo lived, whodunit was hardly the point; the murder was committed and the murderer revealed in the show’s opening minutes. How it was done was paramount. Typically, Columbo would string his suspects along, flattering them, apologizing profusely for continuing to trouble them with questions, appearing to have bought their alibis and, just before making an exit, nailing them with a final, damning query that he unfailingly introduced with the innocent-sounding phrase, “Just one more thing ....” It was the signal to viewers that the jig was up.

It was also the title of Mr. Falk’s anecdotal memoir, published in 2006, in which he summarized the appeal of the show.

“What are you hanging around for?” he wrote, referring to the viewer. “Just one thing. You want to know how he gets caught.”

Mr. Falk had a glass eye, resulting from an operation to remove a cancerous tumor when he was 3. The prosthesis gave all his characters a peculiar, almost quizzical squint. And he had a mild speech impediment that gave his L’s a breathy quality, a sound that emanated from the back of his throat and that seemed especially emphatic whenever, in character, he introduced himself as Lieutenant Columbo.

Such a deep well of eccentricity made Columbo amusing as well as incisive, not to mention a progenitor of later characters like Tony Shalhoub’s Monk, and it made him a representative Everyman too. Off and on from 1968 to 2003, Mr. Falk played the character numerous times, often in the format of a 90-minute or 2-hour television movie. Each time Columbo, the ordinary man as hero, brought low a greedy and murderous privileged denizen of Beverly Hills, Malibu or Brentwood, it was an implicit victory for the many over the few.

“This is, perhaps, the most thoroughgoing satisfaction ‘Columbo’ offers us,” Jeff Greenfield wrote in The New York Times in 1973: “the assurance that those who dwell in marble and satin, those whose clothes, food, cars and mates are the very best, do not deserve it.”

Peter Michael Falk was born in Manhattan on Sept. 16, 1927, and lived for a time in the Bronx, near Yankee Stadium, but grew up mostly in Ossining, N.Y, where his father owned a clothing store and where, in spite of his missing eye, he was a high school athlete. In one story he liked to tell, after being called out at third base during a baseball game, he removed his eye and handed it to the umpire.

“You’ll do better with this,” he said.

After high school Mr. Falk went briefly to Hamilton College, in upstate New York, before dropping out and joining the Merchant Marine as a cook. He later returned to New York City, where he earned a degree in political science from the New School for Social Research before attending Syracuse University, where he received a master’s degree in public administration.

He took a job in Hartford as an efficiency expert for the Connecticut budget bureau. It was in Connecticut that he began acting, joining an amateur troupe called the Mark Twain Masquers in Hartford and taking classes from Eva Le Gallienne at the White Barn Theater in Westport. He was 29 when he decided to move to New York again, this time to be an actor.

He made his professional debut in an Off Broadway production of Molière’s “Don Juan” in 1956. In 1957 he was cast as the bartender in the famous Circle in the Square revival of “The Iceman Cometh,” directed by José Quintero and starring Jason Robards; he made his first splash on screen, as Abe Reles, a violent mob thug, in the 1960 film “Murder, Inc.” That performance earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor and a moment of high embarrassment at the awards ceremony. When the winner was announced — it was Peter Ustinov for “Spartacus” — Mr. Falk heard the first name and stood, only to have to sit back down again a moment later.

“When I hit the seat, I turned to the press agent and said, ‘You’re fired!’ ” Mr. Falk wrote in his memoir. “I didn’t want him charging me for another day.”

The next year, newly married to a Syracuse classmate, Alyce Mayo — they would have two daughters and divorce in 1976 — Mr. Falk again earned a supporting-actor Oscar nomination for playing a mobster, though this time with a more light-hearted stripe, in the final film to be directed by Frank Capra, “Pocketful of Miracles,” starring Bette Davis and Glenn Ford.

From then on Mr. Falk, who was swarthy, squat (he was 5-foot-6) and handsome, had to fend off offers to play gangsters. He did take such a part in “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” alongside Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Sammy Davis Jr., but fearful of typecasting, he also took roles in comic films like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “The Great Race.”

He returned to the stage as well, as Stalin, the title role, in Paddy Chayefsky’s “Passion of Josef D,” which earned him solid reviews in spite of the show’s brief run (less than two weeks). Mr. Falk played Stalin “with brilliant, unsmiling ferocity,” Howard Taubman wrote in his largely positive review in The Times.

His life was forever changed in 1967 when, reportedly after both Bing Crosby and Lee J. Cobb turned down the role, he was cast as Columbo in the television film “Prescription: Murder.” The story, about a psychiatrist who kills his wife with the help of one of his patients, was written by Richard Levinson and William Link; they had adapted it from their stage play, which opened in San Francisco and Boston in 1964, and which itself was an adaptation. Mr. Levinson and Mr. Link first wrote the story in 1960 for a series called “The Chevy Mystery Show.” It was in that show — the episode was titled “Enough Rope” — that Columbo made his debut as a character, played by Bert Freed.

But it was Mr. Falk who made him a legend. During the filming it was he who rejected the fashionable attire the costume shop had laid out for him; it was he who chose the raincoat — one of his own — and who matched the rest of the detective’s clothes to its shabbiness. It was he who picked out the Peugeot from the studio motor pool, a convertible with a flat tire and needing a paint job that, he reflected years afterward, “even matched the raincoat.”

And as the character grew, the line between the actor and the role grew hazier. They shared a general disregard for nattiness, an informal mode of speech, an obsession with detail, an irrepressible absent-mindedness. Even Columbo’s favorite song, “This Old Man,” which seemed to run through his mind (and the series) like a broken record, was one that Mr. Falk had loved from childhood and that ended up in the show because he was standing around humming it one day, in character, when Columbo was waiting for someone to come to the phone.

Three years passed between the first “Columbo” movie and the second, “Ransom for a Dead Man,” which became the pilot that turned the show into a regular network offering. It was part of a revolving wheel of Sunday night mysteries with recurring characters that appeared under the rubric “NBC Mystery Theater.” The first set included “McCloud,” with Dennis Weaver, and “McMillan and Wife,” with Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James.

In between, Mr. Falk made “Husbands,” the first of his collaborations with his friend Cassavetes. The others were “A Woman Under the Influence,” in 1974, a brutally realistic portrayal of a marriage undermined by mental illness, directed by Cassavetes, for which Mr. Falk’s co-star and Cassavetes’s wife, Gena Rowlands, was nominated for an Academy Award; and “Mikey and Nicky” in 1976, a dark buddy film directed by Elaine May in which the two men played the title roles.

In 1971 he once again returned to Broadway, in Neil Simon’s angry comedy “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.”

In later years Mr. Falk starred in several notable films — among them “Murder by Death” (1976), “The In-Laws” (1979), “The Princess Bride” (1987), “Tune In Tomorrow” (1990) and “Wings of Desire” (1987), in which he played himself, contemplating his acting career — and in 1998 he opened Off Broadway in the title role of Arthur Miller’s play “Mr. Peters’ Connections,” a portrait of an older man trying to make sense out his life as it comes to an end. By that time, however, Mr. Falk and Columbo had become more or less interchangeable as cultural references. Mr. Peters, Ben Brantley wrote in his review of the play in The Times, “is as genuinely perplexed as Columbo, his aggressively rumpled television detective, only pretends to be.”

Mr. Falk, who began sketching as a way to while away time on movie sets, had had many gallery shows of his charcoal drawings and watercolors. He is survived by his second wife, the former Shera Danese, and his two daughters, Jackie and Catherine.

For all the mysteries Columbo solved, one remains. Many viewers claim that in one or more episodes Columbo’s police identification is visible with the first name “Frank” visibly scrawled on it. However, the character was initially created without a first name; an exhaustive book about the television show, “The Columbo Phile,” does not give a first name, and Mr. Falk, for his part, was no help in this regard. Whenever he was asked Columbo’s first name, his response was the same.

“Lieutenant,” he said.

Peter Falk, Rumpled and Crafty Actor in Television’s ‘Columbo,’ Dies at 83,






Stephen J. Cannell,

Prolific TV Writer,

Dies at 69


October 2, 2010
The New York Times


Stephen J. Cannell, one of television’s most prolific writers and series creators, whose work encompassed the “The Rockford Files” and “Wiseguy” to “The A-Team” and “The Greatest American Hero,” died Thursday at his home in Pasadena, Calif. He was 69.

The cause was complications from melanoma, his family said.

For 30 years, beginning in the early 1970s and extending through the 1990s, television viewers could hardly go a week without running into a show written by Mr. Cannell. His writing credits include more than 1,000 episodes of various series, primarily crime dramas, and he is listed as the creator of almost 20 series — some long-running hits like “The Rockford Files,” and “The Commish,” others quick flame-outs like “Booker. ” At one point in 1989, Mr. Cannell’s company was producing five series on three networks. One of them, “21 Jump Street,” introduced a future Oscar nominee to public acclaim: Johnny Depp.

But that was not unusual. Mr. Cannell’s shows often opened doors for emerging actors. Jeff Goldblum gained his first wide notice in a short-lived but well-remembered Cannell series, “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe.” And “Wiseguy” gave another future Oscar winner, Kevin Spacey, a chance to stand out in a memorable extended turn as a villain.

Mr. Cannell, who regarded his writing less as an art than a craft to which he was both committed and devoted, never writing less than two hours a day, shifted late in his career to crime novels and again proved he had a popular touch. Several of his 16 books, many featuring the detective Shane Scully, were best sellers.

“Most of my things strike to the same theme,” Mr. Cannell said in an interview this year in Success magazine, “which is not to take yourself so seriously that you can’t grow.”

In many ways Mr. Cannell’s own success mirrored the formula he repeated in so many of those episodes. It was a three-act, feel-good story of overcoming debilitating flaws.

Born Feb. 5, 1941, in Los Angeles, to an affluent family (his father owned an interior design business), Mr. Cannell suffered from extreme dyslexia, which went undiagnosed and all but ruined his school years. Despite inheriting his family’s intense work ethic, he failed three grades and was unable to retain a football scholarship to the University of Oregon because of his academic record.

But a professor there recognized his writing gifts and encouraged him. Once he tried to break into television writing, Mr. Cannell quickly found he had a knack for its basics. He was fast and dependable. From early work on shows like “It Takes a Thief” and “Toma” he graduated to more serious efforts, like a script for the notoriously demanding “Columbo.”

He was successful and happy, unlike many of his Hollywood writing contemporaries. He married his grade-school sweetheart, Marcia Finch, in 1964. She survives him, along with two daughters, Tawnia and Chelsea; a son, Cody; and three grandchildren.

It was while banging out a script for “Toma” that Mr. Cannell created a character named Jim Rockford. Like Rockford, Mr. Cannell often pointed out, his lead characters were flawed men who somehow found a way to get the right thing done.

Rockford was an ex-con turned reluctant detective who would rather crack wise than fight. The series, which was a hit for seven seasons, has since been credited with helping to signal a cultural shift away from the perfect physical and moral specimens of the movies and early television and toward more realistic heroes, the kind viewers had come to expect, given the harder-edged reality they saw on the evening news.

“Culture changed, and as that happened, so did our need for a hero,” Mr. Cannell said in a 1999 interview. “That square-jawed good guy began to look like an idiot to us.”

Rockford also introduced another staple of Mr. Cannell’s best work: humor. His shows tended to be leavened either with wry comedy, which so fit the performing style of that show’s star, James Garner, that he seemed inseparable from the role, or extremely broad comedy, typified by “The A-Team,” the loud, seemingly mindless action series that ran for five years in the mid-’80s, all but saving the NBC network in the process. That series included big set-piece action sequences with explosions and crashing vehicles — and people were hardly ever killed.

Critics and viewers often questioned how a show like that, and other Cannell titles like “Riptide, “Renegade” and the late-night series “Silk Stalkings” could spring from the same mind that created a complex, groundbreaking crime drama like “Wiseguy,” which has often been cited as a forerunner to “The Sopranos” (though David Chase, creator of that HBO series, never actually saw it).

Mr. Cannell shrugged off such puzzlement, saying he didn’t know why his work ranged so widely. “But I do know it’s easier to think of me simply as the guy who wrote ‘The A-Team,’ ” Mr. Cannel told the Associated Press in 1993. “So they do.”

“I’m generally a very happy guy, because I’m doing what I want,” Mr. Cannell said in the Success interview. “I’m willing to tell you that there are people who are much better than I am in writing. I don’t have to be the fastest gun in the West.”

    Stephen J. Cannell, Prolific TV Writer, Dies at 69, NYT, 2.10.2010,






Joe Mantell Is Dead at 94;

Played Sidekick in ‘Marty’


October 1, 2010
The New York Times


Joe Mantell, a character actor who, nearly 20 years apart, delivered two of movie history’s more memorable lines, one to Ernest Borgnine and one to Jack Nicholson, died on Wednesday in Tarzana, Calif. He was 94 and lived in Encino, Calif.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said his son, Robert.

Mr. Mantell was a familiar figure on television beginning in the 1950s, appearing in guest roles on numerous series — dramas including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Defenders,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Lou Grant”; and situation comedies like “My Three Sons,” “Maude” and “Barney Miller.” In the early ’60s he had a regular role on the comedy “Pete and Gladys,” and in the late ’60s he had a recurring part on the detective drama “Mannix.”

In the movies he appeared in “Onionhead,” with Andy Griffith, and “The Sad Sack,” with Jerry Lewis. In “The Birds,” Hitchcock’s classic horror film about avian madness in a California town, he played a traveling salesman who advises, “Kill them all!”

But he was probably best known for playing a couple of sidekicks. In “Marty,” the Oscar-winning 1955 film adapted by Paddy Chayefsky from his own teleplay about a lonely Bronx butcher (Mr. Borgnine) and his search for love, Mr. Mantell played the title character’s best pal, Angie. Angie began almost every conversation with the same question — “What do you feel like doin’ tonight?” — and always got the same answer: “I don’t know, Ange. What do you feel like doin’?”

For Mr. Mantell, who was nominated for an Oscar himself for best supporting actor, it was actually a reprise; in the television play, broadcast live in 1953, he had played Angie opposite Rod Steiger.

In 1974, Mr. Mantell appeared in the celebrated nouveau-noir sleuth film “Chinatown” as Walsh, an associate of Jake Gittes (Mr. Nicholson), a private eye who becomes embroiled in a complex mess involving water rights, incest and murder. It was a small role for Mr. Mantell, made notable by his final line, also the final line of the film, which was set in the Los Angeles of the 1930s. Gittes, shaken by the violent conclusion of events (which takes place in the sorry neighborhood that gives the film its name) is encouraged to go home and take it easy.

“Forget it, Jake,” Walsh says. “It’s Chinatown.”

Joseph Mantel was born in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn on Dec. 21, 1915. His parents were immigrants from Poland who ran a butcher shop. He served in the Army during World War II and, some time between his discharge and his film debut, in 1949, he changed his name, adding an “l” and altering the pronunciation from “MON-tle” to “man-TELL.”

In addition to his work onscreen, Mr. Mantell was also a stage actor whose credits included a Broadway musical, “Buttrio Square,” in 1952. Two decades later he appeared in a post-Broadway tour of “Twigs,” a play by George Furth that starred Sada Thompson in a Tony-winning performance.

In addition to his son, who lives in Lancaster, Calif., Mr. Mantell is survived by his wife, Mary; two daughters, Jeanne, of Encino, and Cathy, of Studio City, Calif.; a grandson and a step-grandson.

    Joe Mantell Is Dead at 94; Played Sidekick in ‘Marty’, NYT, 1.10.2010,






David Dortort, ‘Bonanza’ Creator, Dies at 93


September 9, 2010
The New York Times


David Dortort, a television writer and producer whose idea to create a western drama based not on shoot-’em-ups but instead on the travails of a loving family resulted in “Bonanza,” one of the most popular shows in history, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 93.

The cause was uncertain, but he had a history of heart problems, said his daughter, Wendy Czarnecki.

In 1958 Mr. Dortort, an experienced television writer, had also become one of the first writer-producers in television drama. He was serving both functions on a successful half-hour western, “The Restless Gun,” starring John Payne in the traditional Hollywood role of a roving gunman who settles the conflict in each episode — and establishes right and wrong — by shooting the bad guy.

The show was broadcast on NBC, and that network asked Mr. Dortort to develop a western for NBC itself to produce, an opportunity that Mr. Dortort, who studied American history at City College of New York and believed his familiarity with the subject was the equal of that of anyone in Hollywood, seized upon to combat what he called “the myth of the lone gunfighter.”

He pitched a show set on a Nevada ranch on the shore of Lake Tahoe after the 1859 discovery of the gold and silver deposits known as the Comstock Lode in Virginia City. Rather than focusing on a single hero, the show would have four: a father, widowed three times, and his three sons. The idea of “Bonanza,” as the show came to be called, was to depict the story of the American West — “one of the great migrations of all time,” he called it — with accuracy.

“The gunfighter played a small, inconsequential role in the story of the West,” Mr. Dortort explained in a 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television. “The true history of the West is about family, pioneers.”

Because the show was to be partly shot on location, and because color television sets were on the verge of being readily available to consumers, Mr. Dortort urged the network to film “Bonanza” in color, and it became television’s first full-hour western in color, which helped distinguish it from competitors like “Laramie” and “Gunsmoke.” It starred Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright, the family patriarch (whom Mr. Dortort named after his own father), and, as his sons, Pernell Roberts as the eldest and the most intellectual, Adam; Dan Blocker as the sweet-tempered giant Eric, better known as Hoss; and Michael Landon as the impetuous, hotheaded Little Joe.

“Bonanza” appeared for the first time at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 1959, opposite “Perry Mason” on CBS. Two years later it moved to 9 p.m. on Sunday and became a dominant hit, running for 14 seasons — including three years, from 1964 to 1967, when it was the most-watched television show in the country.

Mr. Dortort oversaw production of the show for most of its run. In addition to telling stories based on historical events involving the Comstock Lode and the oncoming Civil War, the show dealt with themes like racial prejudice and religious tolerance. Mostly, though, its drama, and its popularity, were because of its focus on the Cartwrights and their tightknit bond.

“What is the message?” Mr. Dortort said. “Love is the message.”

David Solomon Katz was born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe on Oct. 23, 1916, and grew up in a neighborhood famous for the gangsters of Murder Inc., a milieu he mined for one of his two novels, “Burial of the Fruit” (1947). His second book, “The Post of Honor,” came out two years later. His father, Beryl Dortort, who came to this country, according to family lore, to avoid going to rabbinical school, changed his name to Benjamin Katz and became a successful insurance salesman.

Young David graduated from Boys High in Brooklyn and City College, where he studied not only history but also creative writing and was a writing-seminar colleague of Alfred Kazin. He met his future wife, Rose Seldin, an accountant, after he graduated. They married in 1940. It was she who persuaded him to change his name back to his father’s original one.

Drafted after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he served in special services in Torrance, Calif., starting a newspaper and arranging for performances by Hollywood entertainers at an Army hospital. “Burial of the Fruit” was optioned for a film, and he was hired to write it, but it was never made, an experience that made him determined to learn how to write for the screen.

His early movie credits include “The Lusty Men” (1952), a western, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Susan Hayward and Robert Mitchum, and “A Cry in the Night” (1956), a police drama about a kidnapping, with Natalie Wood. His television work included episodes of “Racket Squad” and “Lassie,” and adaptations of the Walter Van Tilburg Clark novel “The Ox-Bow Incident.” In 1967 Mr. Dortort turned his primary focus away from “Bonanza” to create a second western drama, “The High Chaparral,” set in the 1870s in the American Southwest and starring Leif Erickson as the head of another fragmented ranch family. That show ran for four years.

Mr. Dortort’s wife, Rose, died in 2007. In addition to his daughter, who lives in Petaluma, Calif., he is survived by a brother, Elliot Katz, of Marlboro, N.J.; a son, Fred Dortort, of Berkeley, Calif.; and a step-granddaughter.

    David Dortort, ‘Bonanza’ Creator, Dies at 93, NYT, 9.9.2010,






Helen Wagner,

Longtime Actress

on ‘As the World Turns,’

Dies at 91


May 3, 2010
The New York Times


“Good morning, dear,” the character Nancy Hughes said to her husband from her twin bed as the cameras rolled for the premiere of “As the World Turns” on April 2, 1956.

The world has turned more than 19,700 times since the actress Helen Wagner uttered those first words for what would become one of the most popular and — until CBS takes it off the air in September — the longest-running daytime drama on television.

Ms. Wagner, who portrayed the straitlaced Mrs. Hughes for all of those 54 years, died on Saturday at her home in Mount Kisco, N.Y. She was 91. The cause was cancer, her nephew David Laing said.

Proper and unassuming, Ms. Wagner’s Nancy Hughes stood for old-fashioned values — and never wavered. She was admired, and not only by housewives who, like Nancy, were striving to maintain a home while raising children. Well into the ’60s, Ms. Wagner received fan letters from young men saying she reminded them of their mothers and grandmothers.

But times change, and gone are the days when thundering chords from an organ underlined the discovery that Nancy’s grandson had been caught stealing change from his father’s trousers.

The citizens of the fictional town of Oakdale, outside Chicago, continued to have their feuds and affairs. But in recent years issues like incest, AIDS, drug and alcohol dependency, euthanasia, teen suicide and Alzheimer’s have laced the scripts.

Ms. Wagner’s Nancy lasted precisely because she remained solid; she wouldn’t join the country club because she considered it elitist, and insisted on cleaning her house because she felt uncomfortable being bossy.

Last December, however, CBS announced that after 54 years “As the World Turns,” at one time No. 1 in the daytime ratings, would broadcast its last episode in September. Ms. Wagner made her final appearance on April 5.

In 2004, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Helen Losee Wagner was born on Sept. 3, 1918, in Lubbock, Tex., one of two daughters of Charles and Janette Tinker Wagner. She studied music and drama at Monmouth College in Illinois.

Before signing a 13-week contract for “As the World Turns” in 1956, Ms. Wagner had been a singer and stage actress, sometimes working as a church soloist to pay the rent. She had roles in “Sunny River,” “Oklahoma!” and “The Bad Seed” on Broadway.

In 1954 she married Robert Willey, an actor and theater producer. He died last year.

    Helen Wagner, Longtime Actress on ‘As the World Turns,’ Dies at 91, NYT, 4.5.2010,






Frances Buss,

Pioneer of Early Television,

Dies at 92


February 4, 2010
The New York Times


Frances Buss, who at the dawn of commercial television parlayed a job as a temporary receptionist into a pioneering career as a director whose work helped establish the talk show, the game show and the cooking show as television staples, died on Jan. 19 in Hendersonville, N.C. She was 92.

She died a few days after having a stroke, said Mark Spencer, her great-nephew.

On July 1, 1941, by declaration of the Federal Communications Commission, the era of commercial television broadcasting began, and it was that same month that Ms. Buss, an aspiring actress in New York, took the temporary job at CBS. By dint of her skills at drawing and mapmaking, and because of the poise she had developed as an actress, she was asked to stay on, assisting in the production of what was then rudimentary news and features programming.

“I was put on the air almost right away,” she said, in a 2005 interview for the Archive of American Television, a video library compiled by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation. “I was capable on my feet, my voice was audible — and I had good legs.”

Ms. Buss was the prototype for Vanna White; she held props and kept score for television’s first regularly broadcast game show, “CBS Television Quiz.” She was the M.C. — or “femcee,” in the showbiz lingo of the time — for a series of instructional shows demonstrating first aid; she was a dancer on “The Country Dance,” a sort of antediluvian “American Bandstand.”

On Dec. 7, 1941, she rushed to the studio in the Grand Central Terminal building to help with the news broadcast of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“We didn’t have a decent map of the Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific Basin,” she recalled in a 2007 interview with the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio). “Those of us who could helped draw crude maps and letter place names so that Richard Hubbell, our newscaster, could go on the air.”

CBS suspended its programming for a time during the war, and Ms. Buss took a job working on Navy training films. When she returned to CBS in 1944, she was assigned to the control room, first as an assistant director, later as director and producer.

According to the Paley Center, Ms. Buss was the first woman to become a full-time director at any network. A spokesman for CBS News, however, could not confirm that Ms. Buss was even the first at CBS, saying the network’s records do not go back that far, though a press release from 1949 referred to her as “CBS Television’s only full-fledged woman director.”

In any case, by the time she retired in 1954, Ms. Buss had directed TV dramas, including “Sorry, Wrong Number”; other game shows, including “What’s It Worth?,” a progenitor of today’s “Antiques Roadshow,” in which people’s heirlooms were appraised; sports events including amateur boxing bouts, horse races and a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball game; a pre-Julia Child cooking show known as “To the Queen’s Taste”; a talk show, “Mike and Buff,” starring Mike Wallace, later of “60 Minutes” fame, and his wife at the time, Buff Cobb; a daily interview show, “Vanity Fair”; and a children’s series, “The Whistling Wizard,” in which original fairy tales were enacted by the well-known puppeteers Bil and Cora Baird.

And in 1951, after an F.C.C. ruling that the CBS system of broadcasting in color would be the industry standard (this turned out to be temporary), she was a co-director for the celebratory opening show, called “Premiere.” Experimental programming in color had preceded it, but “Premiere” was the first regular network color television program.

Frances Martha Buss was born in St. Louis on June 3, 1917, and grew up there and in Dallas. She attended Washington University in St. Louis and performed in local theater before moving to New York.

In 1949, she married William H. Buch, a chemical salesman, and after she left television to be a homemaker, she was known as Frances Buch, which is pronounced to rhyme with nuke. They lived in Demarest, N.J., until they moved to Hendersonville in 1988. Mr. Buch died in 1998. In addition to her great nephew, Ms. Buss is survived by a sister, Mary Buss Keating, of Hilton Head Island, S.C.

In interviews Ms. Buss was remarkably modest about her vanguard role in a male-dominated profession. “I was a camera director, primarily,” she said in an interview in 2005, adding, “I moved people around so cameras could show off what needed to be seen to best advantage.”

    Frances Buss, Pioneer of Early Television, Dies at 92, NYT, 4.2.2010,







Frank Deasy

Scriptwriter whose work for television included

The Passion and Prime Suspect 7


Sunday 20 September 2009
18.45 BST
Ronald Bergan
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 18.45 BST on Sunday 20 September 2009.
It appeared in the Guardian on Monday 21 September 2009
n p35 of the Obituaries section.
It was last updated at 18.54 BST
on Sunday 20 September 2009.


While plays in the theatrical sense by living writers have more or less disappeared from British television over the last half century, the prestige of writing drama series conceived in fully televisual terms has increased tenfold, thanks in part to writers such as Troy Kennedy Martin (obituary, 16 September). Frank Deasy, who has died during an operation to give him a liver transplant at the age of 49, was a beneficiary of the preceding generation. He had reached the pinnacle of his profession, having won an Emmy for Prime Suspect: The Final Act (2006), and had received much acclaim for his four-part television series The Passion (2008).

His crime series Father and Son, set in Manchester and Dublin and starring Dougray Scott, was shown on RTÉ earlier this year, and has still to be shown in Britain by co-producer ITV. Deasy was working on the screenplay of Gaza, a BBC feature starring Helen Mirren as a secular Jewish doctor in the Middle East. And so much more was promised.

Deasy, who was born in Dublin and brought up in the northern suburb of Artane, studied at Trinity College before working as a child social worker for Ireland's Eastern Health Board. He began making videos in the mid-1980s before writing and co-directing his first film, The Courier (1988), in Irish Gaelic and English. One of the rare Irish features at the time, it starred Gabriel Byrne as a reformed drug user attempting to crack a drug-dealing operation.

Deasy delicately adapted his screenplay for Gillies MacKinnon's The Grass Arena (1991) from the powerful and moving autobiography of John Healy (Mark Rylance), a boxer who became an alcoholic but who finds salvation in chess. Captives (1994), directed by Angela Pope, was a taut erotic thriller in which dentist Julia Ormond, who works part time in Wandsworth prison, has a torrid affair with prisoner Tim Roth.

Deasy, having now moved to Glasgow, wrote the thriller Looking After Jo-Jo (1998) for BBC Scotland, which starred Robert Carlyle as a petty thief turned drug dealer. It was clear from these screenplays that Deasy's forte was writing gritty, intelligent atmospheric dramas with street cred. Also for the BBC were Real Men (2003), about abuse in a children's home, and England Expects (2004), about racism in the workplace.

On the strength of these, Deasy was offered the chance to follow Lynda La Plante and various other writers on Prime Suspect, three years after Prime Suspect 6. The two-part, four-hour finale proved to be vintage television with Mirren giving a magisterial valedictory performance as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison. "Don't call me 'ma'am'," she says to a colleague near the end. "I'm not the bloody queen."

The Passion, the gospel according to Deasy, which the BBC screened at Easter 2008, seemed in contrast to his other work, except for the strong human values. "What I personally was fascinated by was the duality of Jesus in his divinity and his humanity," Deasy told Christian Today. "This is essentially a mystery, but his humanity has to be total, otherwise he is somewhat of a tourist in his own Passion. I've tried to find a human truth that feels real and that is not always the same as a theological truth, and so I would hope that people would be open to the fact they are watching a piece of drama rather than a theological treatise."

Deasy had already been diagnosed with liver cancer four years previously when he underwent surgery to remove the tumour. Sadly, it was found to have returned in January this year. In the Observer of 13 September, Deasy wrote about his wait for a transplant. "I am only one of thousands of patients on organ transplant lists in Britain, living on our own, invisible, death row … I take the kids to school, we celebrate birthdays and argue over whether they're old enough to walk to school on their own. They probably are but the one thing I know for certain is they're not old enough to be without their dad."

The article prompted an hour-long interview with Deasy on the RTÉ radio chatshow Liveline last Monday. As a consequence, more than 10,000 Irish people have signed up to carry organ donor cards, and health minister Mary Harney has urged further discussion of the issue.

Deasy married Marie Connolly, a criminal lawyer, in 1996. He is survived by her and their three children.


• Frank Deasy, writer, born 1960; died 17 September 2009

    Frank Deasy obituary, G, 21.9.2009,






Troy Kennedy Martin:

scriptwriter of Z-Cars and The Italian Job


September 16, 2009
From The Times


Troy Kennedy Martin was responsible in large part for two pieces of television which have become classics. In the early 1960s he had a central role in the creation of Z-Cars, which challenged the traditionally cosy notion of the police series, while in the 1980s his nuclear thriller, Edge of Darkness, was a nightmarish warning about the dangers of ecological disaster.

He wrote much else for television and made regular forays into the cinema, most successfully with his screenplay for The Italian Job.

He enjoyed a full career but it was one that rarely moved in a straight path, partly because he was reluctant to compromise a forthright approach to his craft but also from choice, as when he left Z-Cars only a few months into its run.

After the critical and popular success of Edge of Darkness he should have had the television world at his feet but the rest of his career was something of an anti-climax. He became disenchanted with television’s growing surrender to accountants and did not help himself by leaving projects unfinished. He also had tax problems which forced him to accept inferior assignments. But his best work places him among the finest writers for the medium.

Francis Troy Kennedy Martin was born into a Catholic family and named Troy after a Father Troy who had been a friend of his Glaswegian Irish father. His mother, a teacher, died when he was 15, leaving his father, who had been out of work, to bring up four children. The family moved south, where Troy attended Finchley Catholic Grammar School, and to Ireland as Troy won a place at Trinity College Dublin to read history.

He spent his National Service as a subaltern with the Gordon Highlanders in Cyprus, as part of a peacekeeping force in that divided island. He drew on this experience in his first television play, Incident at Echo Six (1958), which was set in Cyprus and followed a platoon of young conscripts under fire. It was transmitted by the BBC in December 1958.

At this time he also wrote a novel, Beat on a Damask Drum, which was set in Indochina in 1954 during the loss of Dien Bien Phu, which signalled the end of French colonial rule. Favourable reviews, including one from Graham Greene, caused Kennedy Martin to wonder whether going into television was a downward step.

But Incident at Echo Six was well received by viewers and critics and on the strength of it Kennedy Martin was offered a job with the BBC script editors’ department. Here he found himself in the company of an extraordinarly talented group, including John Hopkins, John McGrath, Kenith Trodd and Tony Garnett, who, like him, were to make a distinguished mark on BBC drama.

As a script editor Kennedy Martin did little more than hold other writers’ hands and he learnt far more about his craft from doing adaptations of novels and stories by Greene, Somerset Maugham and Raymond Chandler. He regarded it as ideal training for while he had to stay true to the spirit of the original there was scope for seeing what would work in the television medium.

The credit for thinking up the idea for Z-Cars, a police series set in the north and based on patrol cars, is disputed. Elwyn Jones, from the BBC drama department, had already worked with the police in Lancashire and was keen to set a fictional series there. Kennedy Martin claimed to have had the idea while recovering from mumps and listening to police patrols on VHF radio.

Whatever the origins of the project, Kennedy Martin did more than anyone else to develop it and give it shape. He visited Lancashire more than once, went out with the police and observed the often difficult relations between the force and the community, particularly in working-class areas. The Z-Cars format was his, he held the copyright and he was paid a fee for every episode.

He wrote the first episode, which went out in January 1962, when he was not yet 30. It immediately signalled a new departure for police TV series, introducing a degree of realism never before seen. The police were seen as fallible, smoking and gambling while on duty and being violent towards their wives, He wrote several more of the early scripts and supervised others. But while the series was critcially acclaimed, and drew large audiences, Kennedy Martin soon became disillusioned and left. He felt that Z-Cars had moved away from his original intention of using the police as a device to explore people’s lives.

In 1964 he delivered a forceful attack on naturalism in television drama in the magazine Encore and argued for a different mode. He tried to put this into effect in Diary of a Young Man, which he wrote with another Z-Cars pioneer, John McGrath. The six-part series followed two young northerners to “swinging London”, and used voiceover commentary and still pictures to break the naturalistic mould. It was a bold, but flawed, experiment which had little lasting influence.

By this time Kennedy Martin was going through one of his periodic financial crises, and when his brother, Ian Kennedy Martin, offered him work on Weavers Green, an ITV soap opera about country vets, he was glad to have the money. But he invented the pseudonym Tony Marsh to hide what might have looked like a comedown after Z-Cars and Diary of a Young Man.

In 1967 Kennedy Martin moved into the cinema to write the screenplay for The Italian Job, an enjoyable bullion heist comedy, with Michael Caine as the criminal mastermind and a climax of a Mini Cooper chase through the streets of Turin. After this promising start, his next film, Kelly’s Heroes, was a disappointingly conventional action adventure starring Clint Eastwood.

In 1970 he returned to television, making an excursion into situation comedy with If It Moves, File It, an ITV series starring John Bird and Dudley Foster as filing clerks in Whitehall. Unusually it had no audience and therefore no laughter track. He was probably happier contributing episodes to The Sweeney, which had been created by his brother, Ian, and revolutionised the television police series as Z-Cars had done in the 1960s.

By the mid-1970s his personal life was in disarray with the acrimonious collapse of his marriage. In addition, despite his high earnings from television and films, he was being pursued for arrears on income tax and VAT and forced to exchange a large London house for a two-room flat. In 1978 Z-Cars finally came to the end of its run, and Kennedy Martin wrote the final episode, in which he brought back several of the original characters.

In 1983 came his five-part television adaptation of Angus Wilson’s novel The Old Men at the Zoo, starring Marius Goring and Andrew Cruikshank, and Reilly — Ace of Spies, set in the early part of the 20th century and based on the exploits of the Russian-born British agent, Sidney Reilly, played by Sam Neill.

But neither of these admirable projects had the impact of Edge of Darkness (1985), a dense, enigmatic thriller which started with a policeman (played by Bob Peck) trying to track down his daughter’s killer but went into the murkier waters of a conspiracy to convert nuclear waste into plutonium. The six-part serial, which also had a charismatic performance from Joe Don Baker as a CIA agent, was first transmitted on BBC2 and immediately repeated on BBC1.

It turned out to be Kennedy Martin’s last personal project. He was given the freedom to write up to the last minute, thereby keeping the narrative fresh and avoiding interference from above, an indulgence that few other writers would enjoy again as television entered a multichannel and ratings-chasing environment.

He continued to be busy but only a fraction of what he wrote after Edge of Darkness made it to the screen, a sad waste of an unusual talent. Intriguingly, one of the casualties, dating from the late Eighties, was a drama about global warming.

In 1988 he co-wrote Red Heat, an action thriller starring Arnold Schwarzengger, but it was routine stuff. There followed the frustration of abandoned projects until Hostile Waters (1997). Made for the US cable channel HBO, it dramatised a real incident from 1986 when US and Russian submarines, both nuclear-powered and carrying ballistic missiles, collided off Bermuda.

Due to political sensitivity in the US the script went through ten versions. Screened on the BBC, it was Kennedy Martin’s first work to appear on British television since Edge of Darkness 12 years before. In 1999 he adapted Andy McNab’s bestseller, Bravo Two Zero, with Sean Bean leading an SAS mission during the Gulf War. He had just finished scripting an ambitious six-part TV work on global warming called Broken Light for HBO, based on the writings of James Lovelock.

Kennedy Martin’s marriage in 1967 to Diana Aubrey, an actress, was dissolved. They had a son and a daughter.


Troy Kennedy Martin, TV and film scriptwriter, was born on February 15, 1932. He died of liver cancer on September 15, 2009, aged 77

    Troy Kennedy Martin: scriptwriter of Z-Cars and The Italian Job, Ts, 16.9.2009,






Is it time to kill off Big Brother?

It's 10 years since Channel 4 broke new ground
with the first series of Big Brother.
Surely it's now time to close the door
once and for all


Friday 24 July 2009
The Guardian
Mark Lawson
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk at 00.05 BST
on Friday 24 July 2009.
It appeared in the Guardian on Friday 24 July 2009
on p7 of the Comment & features section.
It was last updated at 07.28 BST on Friday 24 July 2009.


Anyone who compiles or takes part in quizzes soon realises that the reliably killer question involves the identity of any of the participants in Big Brother or its Celebrity spin-off, apart from the late Jade Goody, Shilpa Shetty or, if there happen to be some TV stattos in the room, just possibly "Nasty Nick" Bateman. He helped to make the Channel 4 show famous by being thrown out of the opening series, of course. Bateman's offence – manipulating the voting process – now seems absurdly quaint in comparison with the racism, bullying, sexual exhibitionism and desperate craving for fame that subsequent contestants have displayed over the last decade.

This rapid amnesia about what happens in one of Britain's best-known TV programmes – does anyone now remember Rachel Rice, the 2008 winner? – is a sign of the crisis affecting the franchise. Part of the power of the show is that it had achieved the rare trick of being visible even to those who don't watch it, through coverage elsewhere.

But, for the first time in a decade, anyone who is not a dedicated viewer will have little sense that the 2009 contest is even proceeding, as previous media cheerleaders ignore the current tussle between "Dogface" and the other wannabes. This is significant because newspapers largely try to anticipate their readers' interests, and so the silence reflects an impression that the door of the house is closing.

Admittedly, as commissioners discover when they attempt to remove any regular item from the schedule, most programmes retain a basic hard-core audience to the end of their days and even beyond. Big Brother still has a very stubborn rump of viewers (between 1.8 and 2 million since the 10th series began on 4 June) and it is still possible that a dramatic twist – homicide, suicide, or swine flu sweeping the house – could make the numbers jump. But BB is now frequently beaten by rival offerings on BBC2 and its graph is clearly downward: the third series, for example, averaged 5.8 million viewers.

The biggest contributory factor is simply the passage of time: the fact that the show is now 10 years old. More than any other art-form, television is driven by audible ticking. If someone has an idea for a movie, a stage play or a radio programme that has to last for four hours, producers can accommodate this project if they want to. TV, though, is run on a largely inflexible grid system, in which programmes are allocated segments of an hour. Big Brother, for example, was conceived as what's known as a "x 30" but eventually settled as a "x 60" , with extensions to "x 90" or "x 120" for the introductory and concluding programmes of each run.

Beyond this, however, there's a strong suspicion that there is also a clock running on how long a successful programme can hold the audience's attention. And statistical evidence compellingly suggests that, for an entertainment format, the limit is eight years.

Changing Rooms and Ground Force – market- leaders in the home make-over genre that was the telly sensation in the decade before incarceration game-shows – ran from 1996 to 2004 and 1997 to 2005 respectively. Another 90s phenomenon, Noel's House Party, in which Noel Edmonds presciently invited the inter-active participation of both viewers and celebrities, also served exactly two American presidential terms.

So there may be something prime about the number eight, and almost any TV phenomenon you choose seems to illustrate this. The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing have currently been running for five years and there is already a feeling of age, as shown by the nervous reshuffling of judges on both programmes. Intriguingly, Big Brother's steepest and most sustained ratings dip happened after the eighth year. And, with this series, the feeling that a television shelf-life has been passed is greatly increased by the withdrawal of support from the media.

Although it has officially been sponsored by a succession of corporate brands – currently, Lucozade Energy – the most important patron of the format has been reporting. Big Brother's success was encouraged, from early on, by unusual levels of publicity. Most of the popular press, but the Sun, News of the World and Heat magazine in particular, were willing to give headline coverage to the housemates and their departures, both from the show and the rules. This symbiotic relationship with a TV format was not unique – it had begun with soaps, the red-tops regularly splashing on plot-lines and cast-changes in EastEnders and Coronation Street – but the remarkable aspect of this stage of the game was that such attention was being given to a series transmitted on a minority network, Channel 4.

The reasons why newspapers chased the housemates reflected changes in the conduct of journalism. Traditional reporting became more difficult: first because of budget cuts and then as a consequence of both celebrities and members of the public being given greater protection, by regulators and the courts, against invasion of privacy. Conventional stars also became less willing to cooperate with the tabloids: the set of EastEnders, for instance, became more resistant to journalists after a string of stories about performers, including Leslie Grantham, that exposed areas that the publicists would have preferred not to be seen.

In this context, the housemates were a Red Cross food parcel dropped on to the battlefield of Wapping. They willingly behaved badly in the public domain, their actions were recorded quite legally and consensually on tape, and they were unlikely to have lawyers or PR companies trying to spin their stories in a kindlier light.

Their names and faces were also immediately recognisable to readers in a way that would take a pop or movie star at least several months to achieve, and anticipated the later explosive fame, in another reality TV genre, of Susan Boyle and others. In fact, curiously, the combined readership of the papers reporting on Big Brother generally exceeded the size of the Channel 4 audience, so that some people clearly knew these fresh celebrities purely from the news coverage of them.

Nor was this fascination a purely populist phenomenon. For the first few series, I or another Guardian TV critic would be hired to cover the most significant episodes of each run on the news pages: the ejection of Nick Bateman was a headline splash in every paper except the Financial Times. Recently, though, the black-tops have cut back or abandoned their analysis, having come to the conclusion that what began as an interesting psychological project has become a forum where morons audition for fleeting celebrity.

This year, the red-tops have also opted out, partly because of a conviction that the show is finished – critics such as Ian Hyland of the News of the World and Ally Ross of the Sun have almost ostentatiously ignored the show – but also because the 10th series has had the misfortune to coincide with a news cycle of unusual intensity. Big Brother had previously benefitted from running in the summer when there are usually pages waiting to be filled, but, this year, a succession of fantastic happenings – parliamentary expenses, the death of Michael Jackson, swine flu – has sucked the oxygen of publicity away from the show.

Perhaps symbolically, the first of these outbreaks of media hysteria involved the death of one of the 2002 Big Brother runners-up, who came to eclipse all the winners in fame. It is given to few people to take a whole section of life with them when they die: cricket survived the loss of Don Bradman, popular music the demise of Frank Sinatra. But there seems every chance that the obituaries of Jade Goody will also be the death notices of housemate game-shows.

As with Goody, it's important to acknowledge that the span included commendable aspects as well as detrimental ones. The first series of Big Brother and the debut of its Celebrity sister were brave and innovative programmes, achieving a height of naturalistic interaction and depth of psychological insight that have rarely been equalled on TV.

But, like a young child invited to perform an encore of a cute song, the show rapidly became too knowing and desperate to be noticed. Big Brother became a perfect illustration of a frequent television paradox: the idea with a long economic life but a short artistic one.

Its effects on both television and wider society, however, were immense. Its biggest impact was to make power more precarious.

In recent years, beleaguered prime ministers, relegation-threatened football managers and CEOs facing hostile shareholder meetings have all complained about the rise of a "get them out" mentality, in which the public expects swift revenge on anyone who offends them, regardless of contracts, electoral mandates or previous performance.

During a football commentary last season, distinguished former manager Jimmy Armfield made a direct comparison between reality and talent shows and the increasingly brutal job insecurity of coaches: "Now, it's one bad Saturday and they want you out." Gordon Brown, in his various tributes to Jade Goody, may also have reflected that the mechanism of her success was a factor in the constant cloud of failure hanging over his premiership.

The consequences of Big Brother for television were equally profound. One repercussion was welcome: several actors have told me that they were encouraged to change their performance styles by the remarkable artlessness of the early series featuring real people. Seen beside the home-video spontaneity of the first housemates, conventional acting looked like overacting.

The popularity of the mock-documentary format in comedy and drama – in the semi-improvised dramas of Dominic Savage, The Office, The Thick Of It and others – can also be attributed to the presence of this benchmark of realism in the schedule. In a recent interview, Russell T Davies, saviour of Doctor Who and creator of Torchwood, argued provocatively that the rise and fall of Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent was, whatever moral concerns it raises, the greatest drama of the year and challenges the makers of fiction to come up with stories that engage the public and the media at such a level.

But, less beneficially for the medium, executives saw, in real-people formats, a cheaper way of delivering the pleasures of drama and documentary, with the additional advantage that economy could be dressed up as democracy. Those who argue that Big Brother has ruined Channel 4 are too apocalyptic – its comedies, documentaries and dramas have continued to out-perform larger broadcasters at the Bafta awards – but there has been a devastating shift in the perception of the network. A broadcaster set up to bring variety and innovation to the schedules is now most associated with a single brand that specialises in giving deranged wannabes a brief television career. Many producers feel that C4 put all its eggs in a basket that has turned out to be a basket-case.

It seems likely that shows in which strangers share a house or a tropical rainforest will turn out to have been a temporary genre, like makeover programmes, rather than a permanent format such as soap or news or drama. But the results of this 10-year experiment will hang around like radioactivity. The fact that the next television novelty after incarceration game-shows was the revival of talent contests (The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent) suggests that "real people" will remain the medium's favoured working material: partly because it is cheaper but also because television has become addicted to verisimilitude, or at least the appearance of it.

In both television and newspapers, there will be an attempt to reduce the cruelty and glee that have been central to both the production and the coverage of reality TV but, here as well, you wonder if the poison is in the water and nastiness – with inter- mittent outbreaks of sentimental guilt – is now a part of what we do. There is, with all due respect to the dead, a word for the state in which 10 years of Big Brother has left television – Jaded.

    Is it time to kill off Big Brother?, G, 24.7.2009,






Farrah Fawcett Dies of Cancer at 62


June 26, 2009
The New York Times


Farrah Fawcett, an actress and television star whose good looks and signature flowing hairstyle influenced a generation of women and, beginning with a celebrated pinup poster, bewitched a generation of men, died Thursday morning in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 62.

Her death, at a Santa Monica hospital, was announced by her spokesman, Paul Bloch, The Associated Press reported.

Ms. Fawcett had been battling anal cancer since late 2006, and to an extraordinary degree the fight was played out in public, generating enormous interest worldwide. Her face, often showing the ravages of cancer, became a tabloid fixture, and updates on her health became staples of television entertainment news.

In May, her cancer battle was chronicled in an NBC prime-time documentary, “Farrah’s Story,” some of it shot on home video. An estimated 9 million people viewed it. Ms. Fawcett had initiated the project with a friend and producer, Alana Stewart, after she first learned of her cancer.

Ms. Fawcett’s doctors declared her cancer-free after they removed a tumor in 2007, but her cancer returned later that year. She had been receiving alternative treatment in Germany and was hospitalized in early April for a blood clot resulting from that treatment, according to her doctor, Lawrence Piro. Her cancer had also spread to her liver, Dr. Piro told The A.P.

Ms. Fawcett’s career was a patchwork of positives and negatives, fine dramatic performances on television and on stage as well as missed opportunities. She first became famous when a poster of her in a red bathing suit, leonine mane flying, sold more than twice as many copies as posters of Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable combined.

Ms. Fawcett won praise for her serious acting later in her career, typically as a victimized woman and notably in the television movie “The Burning Bed.”

But she remained best known for the hit 1970s television show “Charlie’s Angels,” in which she played Jill Munroe, one of three beautiful female private detectives employed by an unseen male boss who (in the voice of John Forsythe) issued directives and patronizing praise over a speaker phone. Her pinup fame had led the producers to cast her.

Ms. Fawcett and her fellow angels, played by Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson, brought evildoers to justice, often while posing in decoy roles that put them in skimpy outfits or provocative situations.

“Charlie’s Angels,” created and produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg for ABC, was a phenomenon, finishing the 1976-77 season as the No. 5 network show, the highest-rated television debut in history at that time.

Ms. Fawcett was its breakout star. Although she left the show after one season and returned only sporadically thereafter, the show’s influence — among other things, it inspired two much later feature films starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu — was so indelible that she was forever associated with it.

The series, whose popularity coincided with the burgeoning women’s movement, brought new attention to issues of female sexuality and the influence of television. Commentators debated whether the show’s three athletic, scantily clad heroines were exemplars of female strength or merely a harem of pretty puppets doing the bidding of a patriarchal leader.

As the show’s most popular star, Ms. Fawcett became another sort of poster girl, for the “jiggle TV” of the ’70s, and a lightning rod for cultural commentators. Chadwick Roberts, writing in The Journal of Popular Culture in 2003, described her “unbound, loose and abundant hair” as marking “a new emphasis on femininity after the androgyny of the late ’60s and early ’70s.”

In 1978 Playboy magazine called Ms. Fawcett “the first mass visual symbol of post-neurotic fresh-air sexuality.” She herself put it more succinctly: “When the show got to be No. 3, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be No. 1, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.”

Ms. Fawcett acknowledged that her sex symbol status was a mixed blessing. It made her famous, but it often obscured the acting talent that brought her three Emmy nominations, most notably for “The Burning Bed,” a critically acclaimed movie about spousal abuse.

“I don’t think an actor ever wants to establish an image,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 1986. “That certainly hurt me, and yet that is also what made me successful and eventually able to do more challenging roles. That’s life. Everything has positive and negative consequences.”

Ferrah Leni Fawcett was born in Corpus Christi, Tex., on Feb. 2, 1947. Her father, James, worked in the oil pipeline industry; her mother, Pauline, was a homemaker.

After dropping out of the University of Texas, Ms. Fawcett moved to Hollywood to pursue acting. She soon found work in commercials for Wella Balsam shampoo and Noxzema shaving cream, among other products. A Noxzema commercial in which she shaved the face of the football star Joe Namath was shown during the 1973 Super Bowl.

Ms. Fawcett also found acting work in television, landing guest roles on “I Dream of Jeannie,” “The Flying Nun” and other sitcoms. She appeared in four episodes of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” whose star, Lee Majors, she had married in 1973. When Ms. Fawcett was cast on “Charlie’s Angels,” she had a clause written into her contract that allowed her to leave the set every day in time to prepare dinner for Mr. Majors. She was billed as Farrah Fawcett-Majors until 1979. She and Mr. Majors divorced in 1982.

The poster that ignited Ms. Fawcett’s career was shot at the Bel Air home she shared with Mr. Majors. “She was just this sweet, innocent, beautiful young girl,” said Bruce McBroom, who took the photograph. Searching for a backdrop to Ms. Fawcett in her one-piece red swimsuit (which she chose instead of a bikini because of a childhood scar on her stomach), he grabbed an old Navajo blanket from the front seat of his 1937 pickup.

After leaving “Charlie’s Angels” to pursue a film career (she came back for guest appearances for two more seasons), Ms. Fawcett made three forgettable movies in quick succession, then salvaged her reputation by returning to television. In 1981 she starred in the mini-series “Murder in Texas,” as the wife of a doctor who is subsequently accused of murdering her; in 1984 she made “The Burning Bed,” a portrait of a battered wife.

Both movies were shown on NBC, and both performances received strong reviews. In “The Burning Bed,” Ms. Fawcett was one of the first prime-time actresses to forgo cosmetics in favor of a convincing characterization.

In 1983 she played another victimized woman who fights back — a vengeance-seeking rape victim — in the Off Broadway production of “Extremities.” She took over for Karen Allen, who had replaced Susan Sarandon. Ms. Fawcett went on to star in the film version of the play in 1986.

Other roles followed in film and television — she won praise again in the searing 1989 television movie “Small Sacrifices” — but throughout, Ms. Fawcett tended to attract more attention for her looks and personal life than for her professional accomplishments. Her 18-year relationship with the actor Ryan O’Neal, with whom she had a son, kept her on the gossip pages long after her television work had become sporadic. This month, interviewed by Barbara Walters on the ABC program “20/20,” Mr. O’Neal said he had asked Ms. Fawcett to marry her and that she had said yes.

In 1997 Ms. Fawcett negated much of the respect she had earned as an actress when, during an appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman,” she promoted a bizarre body-painting Playboy video and appeared ditsy to the point of incoherence.

But later that year she appeared in the acclaimed independent film “The Apostle” as Robert Duvall’s long-suffering wife, and her critical star rose again — only to be dimmed by publicity about a court case involving a former companion, the director James Orr. Mr. Orr was convicted of assaulting Ms. Fawcett and sentenced to three years’ probation.

Ms. Fawcett is survived by her father, James, and her son, Redmond James Fawcett O’Neal.

Though her career was volatile, Ms. Fawcett’s fame never diminished after “Charlie’s Angels.” She tried to capitalize on her celebrity with the 2005 reality series “Chasing Farrah,” but it was a critical and ratings flop. Writing in Medialife magazine, Ed Robertson described the series and its star as “a living example of a talented actress whose career has been turned into a parody by poor decisions.”

Ms. Fawcett herself described her career succinctly. “I became famous,” she said in her 1986 Times interview, “almost before I had a craft.”

    Farrah Fawcett Dies of Cancer at 62, NYT, 26.6.2009,






Ed McMahon,

America’s Top Second Banana,



June 24, 2009
The New York Times


Ed McMahon, who for nearly 30 years was Johnny Carson’s affable second banana on “The Tonight Show,” introducing it with his ringing trademark call, “Heeeere’s Johnny!,” died early Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 86.

His publicist, Howard Bragman, told NBC that Mr. McMahon died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center surrounded by his family. Mr. Bragman did not give a cause of death, saying only that Mr. McMahon had a “multitude of health problems the last few months.”

A person close to Mr. McMahon, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to release information, said Mr. McMahon had bone cancer, among other ailments, The Associated Press reported. In February he had been hospitalized with pneumonia, Mr. Bragman told CNN.

With his broad, genial, regular-guy features, Mr. McMahon had the face of someone you would buy a used car from. Indeed, for decades he was one of television’s most ubiquitous pitchmen, selling everything from boats to beer. He also took a few acting roles and in later years was the host of the television talent show “Star Search” and wrotesome popular books, includinghis memoirs.

But it was in the role of the faithful Tonto to Carson’s wry Lone Ranger that Mr. McMahon made his sideman’s mark. After he rolled out his introduction like a red carpet for the boss, and after Carson delivered his nightly monologue, Mr. McMahon, in jacket and tie, would take his seat on the couch beside the host’s desk, chat and banter with Carson a bit before the guests came on and almost invariably guffaw at his jokes, even when he was the butt of them. When the guests did arrive, he would slide over to make room and rarely interrupt.

The work paid handsomely — some reports said $5 million a year — and it made Mr. McMahon a familiar face, and voice, in millions of households. “The Tonight Show” became the country’s most popular late-night television diversion, and the “Heeeere’s Johnny” introduction became a national catchphrase.

“I laugh for an hour and then go home,” Mr. McMahon once said. “I’ve got the world’s greatest job.”

Off camera he and Carson were friends and occasional drinking buddies, although Mr. McMahon noted that Carson, who died in 2005, was not terribly social. “He doesn’t give friendship easily or need it,” he said. “He packs a tight suitcase.”

Mr. McMahon rarely ran the risk of upstaging Carson. “To me, he’s the star and I’m on the sidelines, just nudging him a bit,” he said. But early in their association he slipped up.

It happened one night when Carson was telling the audience about a study concluding that mosquitoes preferred to bite “warm-blooded, passionate people.” Before Carson could deliver his punch line, Mr. McMahon slapped his own arm, as if crushing a mosquito. The audience roared. Carson coolly produced a giant can of insect spray from under his desk and said, glaring at Mr. McMahon, “I guess I won’t be needing this prop, will I?”

It was a rare flare-up in an association that began in the late 1950s, when Carson was the host of the ABC comedy quiz show “Do You Trust Your Wife?” and Mr. McMahon was hired to announce the show and read the commercials. (The title was later changed to “Who Do You Trust?”) In 1962, when Carson moved to “The Tonight Show,” replacing Jack Paar, he took Mr. McMahon with him.

Mr. McMahon warmed up the studio audience, read commercials and served as Carson’s straight man until Carson left the show in 1992. Though Mr. McMahon sometimes projected the image of an amiable lush and got laughs for it, the cup that was always before him on “The Tonight Show” held only iced tea, he said. Years later, he said he had missed only three tapings in 30 years, because of colds or the flu.

Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr. was born in Detroit on March 6, 1923. His father, a vaudevillian, had to move a lot to find work, and young Ed had attended 15 high schools by the time he was a senior. Edward Sr.’s career was so erratic that one year, awash in money, the McMahons lived in the Mark Hopkins hotel, atop Nob Hill in San Francisco; another year, flat broke, they existed in a cold-water flat in Bayonne, N.J.

As a boy in Bayonne, Mr. McMahon recalled, he dreamed of becoming an entertainer and did imitations of stars, using a flashlight as his microphone and his dog, Valiant Prince, as his audience. He shined shoes, sold newspapers, dug ditches, sold peanuts, worked as an usher, labored on a construction gang and sold stainless-steel cookware door to door.

At his request he spent his last high school years in Lowell, Mass., where his grandmother lived. By the time he was 18 he had been a traveling bingo announcer in New England and had sold a gadget called the Morris Metric Slicer to tourists on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and in Times Square. He also took elocution lessons at Emerson College in Boston.

Mr. McMahon enlisted in the Marine Corps toward the end of World War II and became a fighter pilot, but did not see combat. After his discharge he attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1949. He then landed a job at a Philadelphia radio station and began appearing on television as, among other things, a clown and the host of a cooking show.

But his budding television career was interrupted when he was recalled into military service during the Korean War. He flew 85 combat missions in 15 months, winning six Air Medals, and remained active in the Marine Corps Reserve afterward.

Returning from the war, he resumed his television work in Philadelphia while traveling to New York hoping to break into network television. He also pursued a separate career as a businessman. By the time he made it as an announcer, he had acquired a stationery company, a company that made knickknacks, two television and film companies and a talent agency. He also speculated in real estate.

Even when he got his big break with Carson, he never let up on his business activities. Carson would tweak him about them on “The Tonight Show,” suggesting that after that night’s show was over, Mr. McMahon would be selling jams and jellies in the elevator.

Over the years Mr. McMahon became a paid spokesman for many products and companies, including Budweiser beer, Alpo dog food, Chris-Craft boats, Texas Instruments, Breck shampoo, Sara Lee baked goods and Mercedes-Benz. His name and photograph were fixtures on the form letters mailed by American Family Publishers announcing sweepstakes winners. He marketed his own brand of liquor, McMahon Perfect Vodka. Most recently, he and the rapper MC Hammer promoted a gold-buying business called Cash4Gold.

And for more than 40 years, Mr. McMahon appeared with Jerry Lewis on Mr. Lewis’s Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon over Labor Day Weekend. He did some acting as well. Among the movies he appeared in were “The Incident” (1967), in which he played a passenger brutalized by young thugs on a New York subway train; “Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off” (1973); and “Fun With Dick and Jane” (1977).

After leaving “The Tonight Show,” Mr. McMahon appeared in summer stock and kept his hand in television. He was the host of the talent show “Star Search”; he joined Dick Clark on “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes”; he was Tom Arnold’s sidekick on the short-lived sitcom “The Tom Show.” For the USA Radio Network, he broadcast “Ed McMahon’s Lifestyles Live” weekly from his home.

There were books, too, most recently the best-selling “Here’s Johnny! My Memories of Johnny Carson, the Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship” (2005). Others were “For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times” (1998), written with David Fisher; “Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion” (1969); and “Here’s Ed, or How to Be a Second Banana, From Midway to Midnight” (1976).

Despite his many business ventures, Mr. McMahon encountered hard times in his last years. He was forced to sell his Beverly Hills mansion last year after falling behind in payments on $4.8 million in mortgages, and a former lawyer sued him for nonpayment of fees.

Mr. McMahon blamed two divorces, bad money management and bad investments for his woes. “I made a lot of money, but you can spend a lot of money,” he said by way of explanation.

He was plagued by health problems as well, undergoing a series of operations after breaking his neck in a fall in 2007.

Mr. McMahon married Alyce Ferrell during World War II. They were divorced in 1976. They had four children, Claudia, Michael, Linda and Jeffrey. His second marriage, to Victoria Valentine, in 1976, ended in divorce in 1989. They adopted a daughter, Katherine Mary McMahon. Mr. McMahon and his third wife, Pam Hurn, a fashion designer, were married in 1992.

Mr. McMahon regarded his friendship with Johnny Carson as a marriage of sorts. “Most comic teams are not good friends or even friends at all,” he wrote in “Here’s Johnny.” “Laurel and Hardy didn’t hang out together, Abbott and Costello weren’t best of friends.” But, he added, “Johnny and I were the happy exception.”

”For 40 years Johnny and I were as close as two nonmarried people can be,” he wrote. “And if he heard me say that, he might say, ‘Ed, I always felt you were my insignificant other.’ “

William Grimes contributed reporting.

    Ed McMahon, America’s Top Second Banana, Dies, NYT, 24.6.2009,






Reality TV Star Jade Goody Dies

After Cancer Fight


March 22, 2009
Filed at 3:00 p.m. ET
The New York Times


LONDON (AP) -- Jade Goody's family asks for ''privacy at last'' after the death at 27 of the brash former dental assistant who turned her tumultuous life and struggle with cervical cancer into a one-woman reality show.

Mocked as a slob, then celebrated as an everywoman, Goody lived one of the world's most public lives, with cameras capturing everything from her racial slurs to her cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy.

Goody gained fame in 2002 at age 21 when she joined the British version of the reality television show ''Big Brother,'' in which contestants live together for weeks and are constantly filmed. She became a highly divisive star and something of a national touchstone who sparked debate about race, class and celebrity.

During filming of an Indian version of ''Celebrity Big Brother'' in the summer of 2008, Goody received a diagnosis of cervical cancer by telephone from a doctor in Britain. The camera captured the deeply personal moment, which was shown repeatedly on TV.

The progress of her illness was chronicled in detail in the tabloid press and weekly magazines. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy in the public eye -- filming part of the experience.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who heads the Church of England, said Goody showed a brave side in the face of death.

''If in her earlier career it was all about her, then I think at the end it was about something else,'' Williams said.

Bald and frail, Goody married fiancee Jack Tweed last month in an elaborate event staged at an elegant countryside hotel outside London. The wedding was shown on television and the photos were sold, prompting criticism.

But Goody, who grew up in a poor London neighborhood, defended herself -- saying she wanted her two young sons to have a better life than she had. Goody's father was a heroin addict who served jail time for robbery and died in 2005; her mother was a former crack addict who lost the use of an arm in a motorcycle accident.

''People will say I'm doing this for money,'' she said. ''And they're right, I am. But not to buy flash cars or big houses -- it's for my sons' future if I'm not here. I don't want my kids to have the same miserable, drug-blighted, poverty-stricken childhood I did.''

Goody's publicist said last month that the cancer had spread to her liver, bowel and groin.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Sunday that Goody used her fame to help others.

''She was a courageous woman both in life and death, and the whole country have admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children,'' Brown said. He also praised her for her efforts, after her diagnosis, to raise awareness about cervical cancer and the need for screening.

Though many praised Goody in recent months for the way in which she handled her illness, she was often mocked in the press during her stint on ''Big Brother'' for her weight, her big mouth and her apparent lack of general knowledge. She branded the English region of East Anglia ''East Angular,'' and asked whether it was abroad.

She didn't win the show, but she earned millions through television and magazine appearances, an autobiography, a perfume and a series of exercise videos.

Goody was labeled a racist bully for her treatment of another contestant, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, while filming the British version of ''Celebrity Big Brother'' in 2007. Goody bad-mouthed Shetty's cooking of Indian food, mocked her accent and referred to her as ''Shilpa Poppadom.'' While complaints against the show skyrocketed, so did ratings.

Goody's treatment of Shetty sparked anger in India and Britain -- even becoming the topic of debate during a House of Commons question-and-answer session with then Prime Minister Tony Blair. A major sponsor suspended its advertising deal with ''Celebrity Big Brother,'' and a chain of perfume shops pulled a Goody-endorsed fragrance, ironically named ''Shh...''

After television viewers voted to evict Goody from the show, Goody -- herself of mixed race -- insisted she wasn't a racist. ''I argue like that with everybody. It wasn't just because of the color of her skin that I was that aggressive,'' she said during an interview on Britain's GMTV.

Shetty and Goody eventually reconciled. On Sunday, Shetty told the BBC, ''I am deeply saddened, but I am glad Jade is out of pain and that she died peacefully with her family around her.''

After Goody was evicted from the ''Celebrity Big Brother'' house, the Indian Tourism Office invited Goody to travel to the country. She did, visiting charity projects and later agreeing to appear on the Indian reality show.

''The people of India have only seen a small part of me, and I'd like to show them that there is more to me,'' Goody said. ''I'm a mother of two, a businesswoman. I can't be all that bad.''

Goody is survived by Tweed and her two sons, Bobby and Freddie, with an ex-boyfriend, television presenter Jeff Brazier. She also is survived by her mother, Jackiey Budden.

Budden told reporters Sunday: ''Family and friends would like privacy at last.''

    Reality TV Star Jade Goody Dies After Cancer Fight, NYT, 22.3.2009,






Times Are Tough on Wall Street

and Wisteria Lane


March 12, 2009
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — Full-time moms are being forced to take part-time jobs, and corporate executives treat themselves to expensive wine after asking for a government bailout. Foreclosure signs are going up in the most familiar neighborhoods. Three neighbors, laid off and their houses foreclosed upon, take the chief executive of their mortgage company hostage, and out-of-work investment bankers have to stoop to low-level jobs as corporate interns.

The economic meltdown has come to prime time. While each of those situations seems real enough to have resulted from the global financial crisis, they are plotlines of recent or coming episodes of popular prime-time television series, including “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty” on ABC, “The Simpsons” on Fox, “Flashpoint” on CBS and “30 Rock” on NBC.

Popular entertainment often takes the form of escapism in tough economic times. But a growing number of broadcast network shows have recently incorporated more real-life issues into their stories — a reflection, producers say, of how widespread the current financial troubles are.

“If everyone in America is thinking about it, that means every writer in Hollywood is thinking about it,” said Marc Cherry, the creator and executive producer of “Desperate Housewives.” “I know people tune in to ‘Desperate Housewives’ for a bit of escapism and a bit of fun. But here you have fairly well-off people living in a fairly well-off neighborhood, and this time the financial crisis is hitting everyone.”

So, on Wisteria Lane, Susan Mayer has been forced to take a part-time job to help her ex-husband, a plumber who works 16-hour days, pay for their son’s private-school tuition, and the Scavos’ pizzeria is threatened because people are dining out less.

Although police dramas like “Law & Order” have long sought to present story lines that are “ripped from the headlines,” and medical dramas like “ER” have invoked actual cases as the basis for plots, those “actual” events — double murders or rare tropical diseases — are usually far removed from the daily lives of most viewers.

Now, however, the real-life financial situations being used for scripts stand out for their directness in addressing the economic plight of average Americans.

“We’ve never really been an issues-driven show,” said Mark Ellis, a creator and producer of “Flashpoint,” which follows the efforts of an urban police department’s elite Strategic Response Unit, a SWAT-like team that also employs the techniques of talk therapy in hostage negotiations.

“But we’ve all witnessed people close to us who have experienced the loss of their home or job or the depletion of their savings account, and seen how destructive that can be,” Mr. Ellis said. “These are tragic times, and we wanted to explore the repercussions of that on a personal basis.”

In the Feb. 27 episode, titled “Business as Usual,” a mortgage company executive who had received a $22 million bonus as his company foreclosed on hundreds of homes was taken hostage by three former customers.

It never hurts when there is a convenient villain, of course, and television writers have found plenty of them in the current crisis. On “Flashpoint” the mortgage company chief is described by one of his foreclosed-upon victims as “a guy who’s got four houses already who booked a five-star Caribbean resort with his buddies to brainstorm how to make the most of these troubled times.”

Two coming episodes of “Lie to Me,” the new Fox hit, fit the pattern. One focuses on a Bernard Madoff-like operator of a Ponzi scheme, and another features a contractor who, pinched by the slow economy, cuts corners on a construction project, resulting in a building collapse.

“What’s happening in the economy is very relevant to the substance of our show,” said Samuel Baum, the show’s creator and executive producer. “We’re looking at what lies people are willing to tell, and at what cost to their co-workers, to maintain their own financial security.”

Depictions of the financial crisis have seeped into comedy as well as drama. On an episode of “30 Rock” last month a fictional group of former Lehman Brothers investment bankers resorted to jobs as interns at NBC. And Sunday night on “The Simpsons” Homer Simpson faced foreclosure.

Because of the months-long delay between the genesis of a television plotline and its broadcast, fictional series rarely make direct reference to current events, lest they risk seeming stale by the time an episode makes it to air. The episodes being shown now were conceived last summer or fall and filmed early this year, meaning they have benefited from the extended economic downturn.

Networks are even considering entire series based on the recession. Fox is developing a comedy titled “Two-Dollar Beer” that features a group of friends living in Detroit who are trying to weather that city’s worsening financial condition, and ABC Studios is developing “Canned,” a situation comedy about a group of friends who all get fired on the same day.

“Television serves as a crucible for exploring and tapping into real emotions,” said Gary Newman, chairman of 20th Century Fox Television, the studio that produces “Lie to Me” and “The Simpsons.” “When our characters are dealing with things that are relatable to our own lives, it can become more meaningful.”

    Times Are Tough on Wall Street and Wisteria Lane, NYT, 12.3.2009,






Bob Spiers

Director of some of the best British TV comedy
of the late 20th century


18 December 2008
The Guardian
Bob Chaundy


Bob Spiers, who has died of cancer aged 63, was one of Britain's foremost directors of television comedy. His credits are a roll-call of popular sitcoms from the 1970s onwards, from Dad's Army and Fawlty Towers to Absolutely Fabulous. He was twice a Bafta winner.

Born in Glasgow, Spiers was a national junior tennis champion before moving to London at the age of 13. He developed a love of acting at Southgate college, north London, and later became involved in youth theatre, touring Britain with various drama groups.

He joined the BBC as a junior in 1967. One of his favourite moments occurred early on while working as a broadcast assistant on Top of the Pops. He received a call from John Lennon, one of his heroes, demanding that Yoko Ono should be granted a spot on the programme to plug her new single. The request was turned down.

Spiers's creative talent was soon recognised and he was fast-tracked through vision-mixing, floor management and production assistant until he had learned all the skills required to be a director. He began with Seaside Special and comic dramas from David Croft and Jimmy Perry such as It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Dad's Army. He was then chosen to direct the second series of Fawlty Towers in 1979. Among the episodes under his charge were Waldorf Salad, Basil the Rat and Kipper and the Corpse.

The scripts, by John Cleese and Connie Booth, made great technical demands of the director, including continuous action sequences and inventive camera angles. Colleagues recall how draining the schedule was, yet Spiers had by then developed a reputation for acute concentration and the ability to make scenes appear more visually interesting. He won his first Bafta for Fawlty Towers.

He continued to produce series such as Are You Being Served? and The Goodies, whose zany brand of humour chimed with his own. He turned freelance in 1982, feeling that the BBC did not grant the same kudos to sitcom directors as those working on dramas or in film. The growth of the independent sector also offered creative opportunities, with less accompanying bureaucracy.

His friend Peter Richardson, the actor, writer and director, hired him to direct The Comic Strip Presents … for Channel 4. By then, his marriage to Annie, a leading make-up artist, had failed. While on the set of one of the Comic Strip episodes, A Fistful of Travellers' Cheques, a spaghetti-western spoof, he met Sophie Richardson, Peter's sister, who would become his second wife.

From 1989 to 1993, Spiers directed the entire run of Press Gang, ITV's children's series about a youth newspaper, which was written by Steven Moffat. His collaboration with Moffat continued with Joking Apart.

At the same time he was lured back to the BBC to direct nine episodes of French and Saunders. By then, his reputation was that of a perfectionist. Crews loved working with him because he challenged them creatively, and brought out the best in them. French and Saunders led, via Murder Most Horrid, Bottom and A Bit of Fry and Laurie, to the Absolutely Fabulous series, for which Spiers directed every episode from 1992 to 2001. Jennifer Saunders regarded him as the best sitcom director, and one who never put style over content. She recalled how he would remove a tile from a set just to offer up another camera angle, and that his mental ability to determine camera sequences was so acute that he was once able to edit out a whole character from a scene without having to re-shoot. He won his second Bafta for Absolutely Fabulous in 1992.

Spiers's reputation spread to Hollywood, and in 1997 he was hired by Disney to direct the film That Darn Cat, starring Christina Ricci. He and Sophie took up residence in Nichols Canyon, California, where they counted Julia Roberts and Stevie Wonder among their neighbours.

His next film, in the same year, was Spice World: The Movie. He had not heard of the Spice Girls but Saunders advised him to take it on. When he was first introduced to them at a Los Angeles bar, Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, told him that she wanted the group to become "as famous as washing powder". The film was panned, though Spiers received praise for the direction.

He made one more movie, Kevin of the North (2001), a comedy shot in Canada starring Skeet Ulrich, Leslie Nielsen and Rik Mayall.

Spiers's subsequent career was blighted, first by a drink problem and then by cancer. When told that he required a second round of chemotherapy, he decided to endure it in more pleasant surroundings, in the sun and by the sea. He knew a friendly hotel in Acapulco, Mexico, once owned by John Wayne, where he went to convalesce. But after six months with no recovery, he returned home to Devon.

Spiers was a private man who had few interests outside work, save for a love of Arsenal Football Club.

Annie died in 2007. He is survived by Sophie, his stepdaughter, Coral, and his daughter, Sienna.


Bob Spiers, television and film director,

born 27 September 1945; died 8 December 2008

    Bob Spiers, G, 18.12.2008,






Jack Narz, 85,

Genial Host

of Television Game Shows, Dies


October 17, 2008
The New York Times


Jack Narz, a mellow-voiced television host who, though blameless, became ensnared in the quiz-show rigging scandal of the late 1950s but who made a comeback with a five-year run in front of the big puzzle board on “Concentration,” died Wednesday near his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 85.

The cause was complications of two strokes, said his friend Steve Beverly, a professor of broadcasting at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a game-show scholar.

The slim, jet-black-haired Mr. Narz was host of a syndicated version of “Concentration” from 1973 to 1978; the original version was broadcast on NBC.

Peering at that puzzle board, contestants would call two numbers; if the tiles bearing those numbers matched after being turned, part of the puzzle behind them would become visible, and the contestants would be eligible for prizes if they solved it. Gradually, the board would reveal graphic, rebus-like clues to, for example, a song title.

Mr. Narz would intone, “Can you tell us what the puzzle says?”

Nearly 200 “Concentration” shows were produced each year, all taped within nine weeks, seven a day on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “Jack would say, ‘After 21 shows in three days, I was ready for the golf course,’ ” Mr. Beverly recalled.

Not that he didn’t appreciate his success. Mr. Narz had been an announcer on prime-time variety shows when he was chosen to host “Dotto” in January 1958. It was a combination of a quiz and a connect-the-dots puzzle. Contestants answered questions to earn dots; the dots would connect to reveal a celebrity’s face, which contestants would try to identify.

“Dotto” came to a dramatic end after only eight months. Early in the summer of 1958, a standby contestant found a notebook containing answers on the desk of that day’s winner. He showed the notebook to CBS executives; an internal investigation was started. By mid-August, the network concluded that “Dotto” had been rigged and pulled it off the air. The night-time version on NBC, also starring Mr. Narz, was also pulled.

“That really launched the quiz-show scandals and the subsequent federal grand jury investigation,” Professor Beverly said.

Eventually, about 30 shows were investigated and about 200 contestants and producers were called before the grand jury. Most of the big-money quiz shows — “The $64,000 Question,” “The $64,000 Challenge,” “Twenty-One,” “Tic Tac Dough” and “Dotto” — were canceled. A federal law made the rigging of quiz shows a felony.

Mr. Narz was subpoenaed and required to take a polygraph test; it indicated that he knew nothing about the fraud.

“Jack told me that it was the most frightening time of his career,” Professor Beverly said, “because, as he said, ‘It didn’t take a genius to know that this was going to be a major black mark for television.’ He wondered whether he would ever work in television again.”

After an 18-month layoff, he was rehired, the start of 20 years as host on seven other game shows: “Top Dollar,” “Video Village,” “Seven Keys,” “I’ll Bet,” “Beat the Clock,” “Now You See It” and, finally, “Concentration.”

John William Narz Jr. was born in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 13, 1922, one of three children of John and Ado Narz. Game shows became a sort of family business. In 1956, his brother Jim took the professional name Tom Kennedy; he went on to fame as the host of “Password Plus.” Jack Narz’s future brother-in-law was Bill Cullen, the original host of “The Price Is Right.”

Besides his brother, Mr. Narz is survived by his second wife, the former Delores Vaichsner; his sister, Mary Scully; three sons, John, Michael and David; a daughter, Karen Feretti; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His first marriage, to Mary Lou Roemheld, ended in divorce.

Mr. Narz, a fighter pilot in World War II, received the Distinguished Flying Cross for missions in the China-Burma theater. Afterward he went to broadcasting school in Los Angeles and was hired as an announcer at KXO, a Los Angeles radio station. He broke into television doing commercials as “Jack Narz, the man from Barr’s,” a men’s store.

His career never stopped paying off. In 1951, Mr. Narz narrated the opening episode of “Superman.” At the end of the show, with his voice crescendoing, he said, “Join us every week for the adventures of Superman!” He was paid $150.

Almost every year thereafter he received a residual royalty check of $1.98.

    Jack Narz, 85, Genial Host of Television Game Shows, Dies,
    NYT, 17.10.2008,






28 January 1926

Seeing by wireless

From The Guardian Archive


Television, or the transmission by wireless of moving pictures, seems at last to have arrived. The experiments given in public in London this month by Mr. J. L. Baird, the young Glasgow electrical engineer who for three years has been concentrating on this invention, have now reached a point at which expert observers are satisfied that the wonder is accomplished.

The device has been taken over by a company called Television, Limited. The Postmaster General has given permission to broadcast. Receiving sets, which in the meantime will cost £30 each, are to be put on the market forthwith, and it is hoped that transmission will begin next week.

The international race to reach this stage in the use of electricity has been a keen and quick one. America for some time past has sent photographs capable of newspaper reproduction over long distances in the course of a few minutes, but land lines have been used for the purpose.

In France M. Edouard Belin was commonly reported to be almost as far advanced with the process as Mr. Baird now seems to be; while in Germany Count Arco recently explained that only technical difficulties delayed the firm with which he is associated in reaching a similar result. Amongst them these inventors should not be long in perfecting the appliance and making it possible for all of us to evoke the lineaments of singer, speaker, or actor, as we now can the voice, by simply "tuning in." Whether in all cases that will be a blessing is more doubtful.

Quite often those songs are sweeter far in which the singer is unseen. One has, indeed, always been doubtful of the wisdom of "Aunts" and "Uncles" whose mellifluous tones had conjured visions of perfection rare in human form venturing, as they often do now, upon public platforms and revealing themselves as quite ordinary folk.

Moreover as electricity is harnessed to attack one after another of our five senses we shall tend to become steadily more critical; and the B.B.C., which has trouble enough as it is with our arguments about what we should hear, may well be distraught to cope with more complex tastes. Meanwhile, however, all congratulations to Mr. Baird. If this complication to life had to be, at least it is something to have stolen a march on competitors.

Prince of Wales's Escape

While the Prince of Wales was hunting with the Belvoir Hounds yesterday, his mount fell dead under him. The Prince escaped injury. He was riding a favourite hunter, "Oh, Dear", a valuable animal and splendid jumper. "Oh, Dear" fell dead, as a subsequent veterinary examination showed, of a ruptured blood vessel.

    Seeing by wireless, G, 28 January 1926, republished 28.1.2009, p. 30,
    http://digital.guardian.co.uk/guardian/2009/01/28/pages/ber30.shtml ,






Is this the best TV series ever made?

It started as a cop show about drug gangs in Baltimore,
and grew into an epic, shifting portrait of a city
in the grip of poverty and crisis.
But The Wire - now in its final season and acclaimed
as the most accomplished TV series ever -
is not the work of regular screen writers but an ex-journalist,
an ex-detective and an elite team of novelists.
We asked our own panel of crime writers to explain its appeal


Sunday July 20, 2008
The Observer

Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter acclaimed for his gritty depictions of Scottish working-class life. His novels include Trainspotting, Filth and Porno.
His latest, Crime, is out now.

My pal and screenwriting partner Dean Cavanagh is the master of the download and he seems to get everything before everyone else. He was going on about The Wire a few years back. Now I think it's the best thing on TV. By far. Nothing's close to it. A lot of things interest me about the programme: the huge ensemble cast and the fact that there are no stars, the sheer honesty of the writing. It makes just about all of the writing on British TV look absolutely shit. It maddens me that BBC or ITV put out crap after crap after crap and they don't pick up something like this. We don't know what to do with quality. We wouldn't recognise it if it bit us in the arse. All of the HBO stuff shows up how poor and puerile we are, and how our TV people completely patronise the public. Guys in housing estates in Britain go crazy about The Sopranos but programmers assume they just want shit like The Bill. A real revolution in programming is required in British television.

It's significant that none of the writers on The Wire came up through TV and that quite a few are crime novelists. There's a big difference between a proper writer and someone who's learned how to write scripts. We've got a big culture now of screenwriting and telling people how to structure things. Anyone can learn to write a three-act script but what they don't tell people is how to tell stories. The guys on The Wire are proper storytellers.

Of course you get good novelists who can't do scripts. F Scott Fitzgerald was one of the great writers of all time but he couldn't cut it in Hollywood. He couldn't get down to the crass discipline of doing three-act structures and plot points and foreshadowing. I had dinner with David Simon [the show's creator] a few weeks back and I was asking him how they managed it. He's just so careful about selecting the writers. That's the most important thing to him. It's very, very hard to get a job writing on The Wire

Simon has created a whole alternative Baltimore in the show. If you take a train from New York to Washington DC, you pass through the city and you can see all these places. Large swathes of north Baltimore are [made up of] all these beautiful old Victorian small houses that are completely derelict and overrun. You can see the kids standing on the street corners. Basically the whole of north Baltimore and parts of the south are like a big empty derelict film set for The Wire. It's like an alternative universe, with the politics and the school boards, but it's very close to the reality of the city in many ways. They use great local actors too. The guy who plays Proposition Joe is a well-known theatre actor who trains all the young kids. The whole thing is very much a local industry.

I find the character of Omar particularly interesting. He's an outsider's outsider, this Robin Hood type of guy who steals from the drug lords as well as the police. He's an isolated figure, completely against everybody, and one of the few homosexual characters in the show, but he always seems to be one up. The guys in the police department and even the smooth characters like Proposition Joe are always a hop behind him.

Simon is normally very brutal about killing his darlings but Omar seems to have a different set of rules. Looking at the writing of The Wire, he's right out of kilter with the other characters. He is this hyper-real, fantastical character - a sort of mysterious phantom, almost super-powered - whereas the others are all very realist. If he were a realist character he would have been dead a long time ago. It's a tribute to the writing that this never hits a false register. It works as grammar, adding something rather than weakening the plausibility of the show.

My advice to anyone watching The Wire for the first time is to stick it out. The first two episodes in season one are actually pretty sketchy. They're a bit rough and ham-fisted, and it doesn't look as great as it actually becomes, but it kicks in around episode three, and when it starts to pull together it's really fantastic.




Michael Connelly
American writer Michael Connelly is the author of the acclaimed Harry Bosch series, about a Los Angeles detective. His next book, The Brass Verdict, is due in October.

If you look at The Wire in shorthand, it's a story about drug dealers and cops trying to catch them. That just doesn't sound interesting. But somehow they got inside these people and their neighbourhoods and the bureaucracies they work in to a unique degree. I have never seen anything like it on TV before. I've watched The Wire from the first night it aired, largely because I have a friend, George Pelecanos, who is a writer on the show. Also, David Simon [the show's creator] and I come from a similar background: we were both police reporters on a newspaper.

I've dabbled unsuccessfully with screenwriting - I had a TV show on the air eight years ago but it only lasted six episodes - so I know a little bit about it. I know in particular about the difficulty of moving from writing a book to a screenplay and how completely different they are. In a book you can explore what's going on in someone's head but you can never do that in a script. Instead you go for broad demonstrations of character, which often means that bad guys are all bad and good guys are all good. That's what you see most of the time in TV and movies but you don't see that in The Wire. The achievement of the series is that it has captured the humanity of every individual in it, whether they are a good person by trade or a bad person. In some cases it goes further by showing the nobility of the characters, be they drug dealers or even killers.

It's a fabulous accomplishment that the writers on the show, like Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane and Richard Price, have somehow been able to stay away from the stereotypical script. I had the opportunity to sit next to Simon at Lehane's wedding earlier this year and I asked him how they managed to do it so well. He said: 'It's my show but I trust these writers. I love their books. I love other scripts they've written. So I allow them to do their thing. I trust that they're good storytellers and they know what's important.' He provides the framework and the beat points - what has to happen in each episode - and he lets them wing it.

HBO deserves a lot of credit too. In the early years the ratings were pretty lean but the channel believed in the show and let Simon do his thing - pretty rare in TV, in America at least. They didn't have the ratings of The Sopranos. Maybe they could have had if they'd made the show more simplistic and focused on a core group of five or six mobsters, but this thing is all over the place. It's risky. I applaud that. I like to work for my entertainment. I like to put two and two together. I don't like to have everything handed to me on a plate.

There's a sub-theme in the final season about the declining newspaper business in the US that is so important and so accurate. I loved all the seasons but this one connected with me the most because that's where I came from, and because I also happen to be writing a novel about a newspaper reporter.

If you read a good book you get glued to your chair and have a visceral reaction to it. This was happening every week on The Wire. I'd say it's one of the five best shows I've ever seen.




John Williams
John Williams is best known for his Cardiff trilogy of thrillers, set in the city's criminal underworld. His most recent book is Temperance Town.

I didn't watch The Wire till around halfway through series two, delayed by the fact that I'm one of those people who steadfastly ignore things that everyone tells them will appeal to them ('snobs', I think, is the technical name). When I did succumb it took a little while to get my ear tuned in enough to start picking up the dialogue, but not much longer to realise that this was remarkable TV, a crime series that actually aspired to tell the truth about the way we live now rather than simply bamboozle us with an insanely complex whodunit or entertain us with 'ironic' brutality. And, to be honest, I was kind of annoyed.

Why annoyed? Because here was a TV show, a product of the most commercial industry you can imagine, and it was taking bigger risks than anything I'd lately encountered in the world of fiction, especially anything in crime fiction. That was saddening for me as I'd spent a fair bit of time over the past couple of decades championing crime fiction as the one art form that really tells it like it is.

Some time in the 1980s it struck me that mainstream contemporary fiction was doing a woeful job of reflecting what was going on in our modern-day cities. Meanwhile, in the world of crime fiction, writers like Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, Sara Paretsky and the late, great George V Higgins were turning out books that married social realism to energetic storytelling. They, and others who followed in their footsteps, such as Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos, successfully conveyed the notion that out there on the streets was a world that Miss Marple and Hill Street Blues were never going to set right, a world that Amis and McEwan, or McInerney and Ellis, barely seemed to realise existed.

I was so enthused by this notion that I wrote a book called Into The Badlands in which I roamed America, talked to its great crime novelists, and fleshed out my case. And for the next decade or so I suppose I mostly still believed in it. But as I went on reviewing crime fiction in the Noughties, I felt an increasing sense of disappointment at the prevailing lack of ambition to do anything more than entertain. Everything people always used to say about crime fiction - isn't it just a formula? - seemed to be true. There was a plague of serial killers, pathologists and profilers, cops with bad marriages and drink problems. Lumbering plots with saccharine endings. I couldn't deny it any longer: the world of crime fiction had ceased to interest me.

Then I watched The Wire. And there was everything I'd liked in the work of Higgins or Leonard or Pelecanos: the inventive dialogue, the characters etched in shades of grey, the prevailing mood of moral ambiguity and profound cynicism as to the motives and efficacy of the forces of law and order. There, in particular, was the sustained attack on the war on drugs - a war that makes the Iraq adventure look well thought out - that neither our newspapers nor our novelists (with the shining exception of Richard Price) seemed able to make. There, in a nutshell, was the revival of American social realism: the Steinbeck/Hammett/Algren tradition that seemed to have been lost in a welter of postmodernism, post-colonialism and pure unadulterated schlock.

So I watched The Wire, and watched it some more, and nodded my head in respect as it widened its brief to take on education and politics, becoming positively Zola-esque in its detailing of the ways in which the rich and the powerful fail and exploit and madden the poor and the powerless and - in Baltimore at least - the black.

My one consolation, I suppose, in finding a TV series that is so much better than contemporary crime fiction is that much of the series is actually down to writers - not screenplay writers but book writers. Its progenitor, David Simon, made his name with a wonderful non-fiction account of policing in Baltimore called Homicide. And the show's regular writers include the aforementioned George Pelecanos and Richard Price, as well as Dennis Lehane.

Which is perhaps why, for me, The Wire is so satisfying. It's got all the advantages of a great series of crime novels, plus moving pictures - and for once there's no one telling the writer that it'll only sell if they stick a serial killer in the middle of it. So hurrah for smart literary TV; and boo to dumbed-down crime fiction.




John Harvey
John Harvey is the author of the Charlie Resnick novels, following the exploits of a Nottingham police officer, and has been awarded the Crime Writers' Association's Diamond Dagger award for a lifetime's contribution to crime writing. Cold in Hand is his most recent novel.


A little over a week before writing this, the same evening I read the news that another young Londoner had been killed - the 18th fatality on the streets so far this year - I watched Final Grades, the last episode of series four of The Wire.

For those of you who don't know, this series took public education as its theme; as well as showing the police continuing their struggle to hold the lid on mainly drug-fuelled crime, we follow a former police officer, now retrained, into one of the local schools for his first term of teaching.

Ed Burns, David Simon's principal co-writer on the series, had earlier followed the same course: police squad room to classroom. He knows.

Aside from how kids think and how they talk, how cops and teachers get through their day, Burns knows that in education, as in the justice system, it is all too often the system itself that is the biggest hindrance to achieving the kind of goals decency and common sense demand. One of the things The Wire is superb at - and which becomes possible because of its structure - is showing how politics and finance both underscore and overwhelm decisions taken on the ground.

An initiative to take those most likely to end up in a life of drugs and violence out of the normal classroom and educate them separately, in ways that try to give them an element of self-knowledge and pride, is stymied both by a lack of funding - itself due in no small part to political hubris and chicanery - and the necessity of forcing each pupil blindly through the rigidity of state testing.

I used the word 'kids' earlier, but that's not quite accurate. These are youths struggling, too soon, too close to the beginnings of their lives, to become adult, to become men; forced to do so by poverty and family breakdown, by peer group pressure, by the lack of opportunity and expectation.

What is so chilling, so heart-rending, about the young men whose short lives we follow in The Wire is that, despite their bombast and the brash fuck-you exterior they present to the world and largely to each other, in some ways they are still children. In brief moments, unguarded, you can see it in their eyes.

Talking to McNulty, the cop who has kept him out of prison, one of these kids says: 'I been out there since I was 13... This game is rigged... we're like the little bitches on the chessboard.'

'Pawns,' McNulty informs him. A scene or two later, the same kid is shot dead on his corner, a bullet to the head.

Of the vulnerable youths that the teachers and cops have made special efforts to save, one is sent to a group foster home where he's beaten up as a snitch, another - perhaps the sweetest of all, the one for whom you had the most hope - is back on the street again, dealing drugs. Even the bright youth who's been taken in by the ex-policeman and his wife has not lost his connection to the life.

Despite a few gestures towards closing on an upbeat note, this final episode of series four leaves you feeling shocked and forlorn, but caring. After getting to know these characters, week after week, even if you try not to, you care. Last night I watched a programme about the black power salutes at the 1968 Olympics: we wanted to draw attention, one of the athletes said, to the lives of black people in our country.

There's The Wire, holding up its fist. And casting a shadow now on this country, too.




Dreda Say Mitchell
Dreda Say Mitchell is best known for her novel Running Hot, a gangland thriller set in the East End, for which she was awarded a Crime Writers' Association Dagger Award in 2005. Her latest novel, Killer Tune, is out now.

From Dickens and Balzac to Z Cars and Lou Reed, portraying 'street life' has been a staple of drama, music and fiction, but it's not often that artists get it right. Most of us are wearily familiar with the pitfalls - the stereotyping, the authorial finger-wagging and the leaden political and social 'messages'. And they're often written by people whose only experience of the 'street' has been a few months slumming in a squat. The success of The Wire has been to transcend the usual format of social dramas to give us a panoramic view of modern urban America. It's all here - from the politicians in City Hall to the good cops who are really bad and the bad cops who are really good.

In season four it follows the experiences of four teenage boys. In a typical morality drama we would know what to expect: education will be a good thing, missing school will be a bad thing. And perhaps we can look out for an idealistic white teacher from the suburbs. But instead, in The Wire, we see the dynamics of the ghetto apply in the school system the same way they apply everywhere else, with the same devastating results. Meanwhile, up in City Hall, it's election time. Perhaps not: there are votes to be won, and it's not going to be pretty. The West Wing has its fans but if we really want to see the underbelly of American democracy, these episodes do it better.

British society has increasingly followed the US model and now we're confronting the same range of social problems. Many are looking to America to see what answers they've come up with. The narrative of The Wire suggests there aren't any. There may be solutions for individuals, occasionally, but there are no solutions for communities. If viewers want to see The Wire as a searing indictment of free market capitalism or the effects of liberal welfarism, they can, but the programme doesn't take a point of view. That's not to say, though, that it doesn't have a message, and it's that this kind of TV drama still works. When it's well written, well acted and portrays its characters without sentiment and without moralising, TV drama can still be a powerful artistic force.




Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham is the author of the Tom Thorne series, about a tormented DI in the Metropolitan Police. He won the 2003 Sherlock Award for Best UK detective novel for Scaredy Cat. His latest novel, In the Dark, is published next month.

To seek out novelists as members of a show's writing team is extremely rare but just such a forward-thinking policy - specifically the use of a triumvirate of America's finest urban crime novelists - has played a major part in making The Wire into the most acclaimed and groundbreaking TV drama in decades. George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and Richard Price are the perfect writers for a show that is anything but a conventional crime series. As with their critically lauded novels, The Wire is able to deliver the genre goods while at the same time painting a deftly nuanced portrait of a city - in this case Baltimore - where the social fabric has been systematically degraded by those entrusted with its welfare.

With what David Simon has called a 'murderers' row' of writers on board, the show was further able to develop the novelistic approach which makes it so unique. With each episode a 'chapter' in a novel that lasts a season, The Wire makes no concessions to its viewers. This is not a show you can pick up halfway through.

Pelecanos, Lehane and Price each write with the precision that can only come from a novelist's research, and their work has an enviable economy. Theirs is fat-free storytelling, with each able to nail a character in a few key lines of razor-sharp dialogue without the need for back story or clumsy exposition. Though the plot moves along quickly enough to satisfy those used to less ambitious projects, the writers have been given the freedom to let themes and story-strands develop at their own pace. Characters are brought to life during seemingly innocuous conversations in bars or in police cruisers, each relationship as important as any other in a narrative arc that is not constricted by a ticking clock or the need for action sequences.

It remains to be seen if the righteous fury of The Wire's vision has been the wake-up call it should be, but at the very least those responsible for TV drama in Britain should take a hard look, and perhaps be a little braver.

· Season Five of The Wire begins on FX tomorrow at 10pm

    Is this the best TV series ever made?, O, 20.7.2008,






Forget Gossip, Girl;

the Buzz Is About the Clothes


July 8, 2008
The New York Times


Since its debut last fall, “Gossip Girl” has always been more than a television series about its overt subject, the social machinations of Manhattan private-school students.

It has also presented a cavalcade of fashion, its primary viewership of teenagers and young women tuning in not only for the plots, but also to render judgment on the clothes. The extravagant wardrobes of the stars — a clash of piped blazers, tiny kilts, dueling plaids and festoons of jewelry — have inspired countless posts on fan Web sites, and magazine features about the female leads.

Now the show’s sense of style is having a broader impact, in the retail marketplace. Merchants, designers and trend consultants say that “Gossip Girl,” which is in summer reruns on the CW network before returning Sept. 1, just in time for back-to-school shopping, is one of the biggest influences on how young women spend.

Fans stride into boutiques bearing magazine tear sheets that feature members of the cast and ask for their exact outfits. Or they order scoop-neck tops and hobo bags by following e-commerce links from the show’s Web site.

“The show has had a profound influence on retail,” said Stephanie Solomon, the fashion director for Bloomingdale’s, adding that it appeals not just to teenagers but also to women in their 20s, the daughters and the younger sisters of the generation that made “Sex and the City” requisite viewing for aspiring glamoristas.

Although the series has had only middling success in the ratings, in stylistic terms it “may well be the biggest influence in the youth culture market,” said Stephanie Meyerson, a trend spotter for Stylesight, a trend forecasting company. The show has given an unexpected mass appeal to patrician staples like crested blazers, layered polo shirts and kilts. When cooler days approach this fall, some retailers are predicting a run on argyle sweaters, knee socks and high boots.

Thanks to the point-and-click shopping on its Web site and the fees it charges some brands to be featured in the series, “Gossip Girl” has been able to profit from its power to generate trends. It is not the first show to collect revenues from product tie-ins, but it probably is the first to have been conceived, in part, as a fashion marketing vehicle.

“We tried to launch trends from the get-go,” said Eric Daman, the show’s costume designer, whose résumé includes a stretch working with Patricia Field on costumes for “Sex and the City.”

Now some fall designer collections will also bear a “Gossip Girl” influence, a trend first seen in February on the New York runways, when the series ignited “a pretty huge resurgence of ritzy, preppy and collegiate looks,” said Amy Astley, the editor of Teen Vogue, citing punky school-girl styles from Marc by Marc Jacobs and Henry Holland, and crested blazers at Ruffian, among others.

Stefani Greenspan, a New York designer whose youth-oriented line, Priorities, is sold at Macy’s, Dillard’s and Bloomingdale’s, acknowledges that “Gossip Girl” was “definitely part of my inspiration” for a line of trim blazers lined in men’s tie fabric, oversized cardigans and ruffled plaid shirts with gold buttons.

“I like that whole upscale collegiate feeling, mixed with a pair of Louboutins,” Ms. Greenspan said. Sales at her eight-year-old company have doubled in the year since “Gossip Girl” made its debut, she said.

In its 18 original episodes through May 19, the series attracted an average of about 2.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. But its clout as a cultural and shopping influence is amplified by the Web, including the show’s own site, which lets viewers identify the brand of the clothes and accessories in each episode and click through to buy them.

“We probably have 50 percent more of our traffic — close to one million viewers each month — going into ‘Gossip Girl’ than into any other show,” said Travis Schneider, the founder of StarBrand Media, which handles the e-commerce connections for the series, along with other shows and films including “She’s the Man” and “America’s Next Top Model.”

Covet the top that the character Serena van der Woodsen wears in Episode 12? It’s made by Generra, available for $68, according to the links from the CW Web site — or it was, before it and many other items seen on the show sold out.

Mr. Daman, the costume designer, conducted his fashion research at private schools in Manhattan.

“I saw how edgy those girls were, how forward,” he said. “They wore their school uniforms a little shorter, a little tricked out, definitely tailored to fit them perfectly, and they took liberties through their tights and bags.”

The show is a soap opera about the indulgences of super-rich teenagers, whether drugs, sex or Balenciaga, as told by the unseen Gossip Girl of the title, who blogs about the other characters. Devotees generally fall into two camps: those taken with the worldly nonchalance of Serena (Blake Lively), the show’s queen bee, and others fixated on the fussier style of Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), who is given to layering on brooches, pearls, scarves, a shrilly colorful blazer and patent leather pumps, topped with a frilly headband.

Rachel Grinney, the manager of Intermix in Washington, part of a chain of hip boutiques, said many of her young customers scour the store for variations on Serena’s haute bohemian mix of lithe leather jackets with loose-fitting T-shirts and knee-high boots.

Purists dismiss Blair’s look as visual clutter (“You don’t see headbands worn with brooches and necklaces,” scoffed one 16-year-old in the December issue of Teen Vogue), but admirers praise the show’s relative sophistication. “It represents a stylistic departure,” said Sari Sloane, the vice president for fashion merchandising of the 24-store Intermix chain, “a move away from a Hollywood look that was very casual and improvised, to something more polished, more big-city chic.”

Some like the deft mingling of mass and class, through a smorgasbord of merchandise culled from stores like Barneys New York, progressive boutiques like Opening Ceremony in downtown Manhattan and cheap chic chains like Urban Outfitters. “The style is not alienating,” Ms. Meyerson said. “Girls can look at these characters and feel like they can emulate them.”

Grown-up women, too. Leigh Luttrell, 26, who works for an advertising agency in New York, would like to buy a party frock with a plunging back she recently saw on the show. “I loved that style; I’ve actually been looking for it,” Ms. Luttrell said.

The series has become a profitable showcase for certain designers. “Do you like my new Nanette Lepore?” a character inquired in one episode. Ms. Lepore, a New York designer, reports that “within days after one of our dresses appears, the store gets calls.”

“Younger girls come in,” she added, “they know which piece was featured and they look for it.”

Ms. Lepore said she did not pay to have her brand mentioned or be included in the wardrobe, although some brands do, said Paul McGuire, the vice president of network communication for the CW.

The designer Tory Burch, already a favorite with the private-school crowd, has found that having an item on the show “translates to sales,” she said.

“We have girls coming in with magazine tear sheets of Blake Lively or Leighton Meester, from location shootings or from everyday life,” Ms. Burch said.

But even those fans have some qualms. Julia Sledge, 26, an administrative assistant in New York, who wears a mix of Marc by Marc Jacobs, Rebecca Taylor and Theory, and is a fan of “Gossip Girl,” said the fashions could strain credulity. “Sometime you see these girls from Brooklyn carrying Valentino bags that cost $3,000,” she said. “That makes the show a little irritating.”

“Still,” she said, “it’s good eye candy.”

    Forget Gossip, Girl; the Buzz Is About the Clothes, NYT, 8.7.2008,






Dody Goodman, 93,

Television Actress,



June 24, 2008
The New York Times


Dody Goodman, an actress who combined a dancer’s grace, a strawberry blond mane and exquisitely timed scatter-brained humor to create television legends, first as a fey foil to Jack Paar and later on the soap-opera parody “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” died Sunday in Englewood, N. J. She was 93, older than she often said.

Victor Goldsmith, a receptionist at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, confirmed the death and age.

Ms. Goodman’s distinctive voice was once described as sounding “like a Tweetie Pie cartoon bird strangling on peanut butter.” Her sweet face, Kewpie-doll mouth, supple tongue and teasing way of pausing before speaking were familiar to two generations.

“I just opened my mouth and people laughed,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 1983.

Miss Goodman was a show-business ingénue when Mr. Paar invited her to be on his second episode of “The Tonight Show,” on July 30, 1957, and she became a regular. He wrote in his memoir that her “wackily endearing quality” made her his “first big hit.”

But she was hardly deferential. When Mr. Paar once remarked, “Give them enough rope,” she blithely replied, “And they’ll skip.”

Mr. Paar dropped her from the show in 1958. He wrote that he felt “like the announcer on ‘The Dody Goodman Show.’ ”

On “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” a cutting satire of TV mores in 1976-77 that retains a cult following, Miss Goodman played the title character’s mother. She talked to plants and had an affair with a hot-air balloonist who crashed through her kitchen roof. Her crackly voice intoned the show’s title during opening credits.

Dolores Goodman, who left no immediate survivors, was born in Columbus on Oct. 28, 1914. She came to New York and danced in the ballet company of Radio City Music Hall and on Broadway. Imogene Coca, with whom she had acted, steered her to comedy and she was soon doing televised humor sketches.

Her subsequent career included appearing on the television show “Diff’rent Strokes”; in the movies “Grease” and “Splash”; as the cartoon voiceover in “The Chipmunk Adventure”; and in a wide range of live dramas.

Miss Goodman appeared in several roles in “Nunsense,” an off-Broadway musical farce, which opened in 1985, and in its sequels. The show’s creator, Danny Goggin, said in an interview with Playbill magazine that at 85 she could still lift her leg over her head as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “Nuncrackers.”

Dody Goodman, 93, Television Actress, Dies, NYT, 24.6.2008,






George Carlin, 71,

Irreverent Standup Comedian,

Is Dead


June 24, 2008

The New York Times



George Carlin, the Grammy-Award winning standup comedian and actor who was hailed for his irreverent social commentary, poignant observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and groundbreaking routines like “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” died in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday, according to his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He was 71.

The cause of death was heart failure. Mr. Carlin, who had a history of heart problems, went into the hospital on Sunday afternoon after complaining of heart trouble. The comedian had worked last weekend at The Orleans in Las Vegas.

Recently, Mr. Carlin was named the recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He was to receive the award at the Kennedy Center in November. “In his lengthy career as a comedian, writer, and actor, George Carlin has not only made us laugh, but he makes us think,” said Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Kennedy Center chairman. “His influence on the next generation of comics has been far-reaching.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Jack Burns, who performed with Mr. Carlin in the 1960’s as one half of a comedy duo, said “He was a genius and I will miss him dearly.”

Mr. Carlin began his standup comedy act in the late 1950s and made his first television solo guest appearance on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1965. At that time, he was primarily known for his clever wordplay and reminiscences of his Irish working-class upbringing in New York.

But from the outset there were indications of an anti-establishment edge to his comedy. Initially, it surfaced in the witty patter of a host of offbeat characters like the wacky sportscaster Biff Barf and the hippy-dippy weatherman Al Sleet. “The weather was dominated by a large Canadian low, which is not to be confused with a Mexican high. Tonight’s forecast . . . dark, continued mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning.”

Mr. Carlin released his first comedy album, “Take-Offs and Put-Ons,” to rave reviews in 1967. He also dabbled in acting, winning a recurring part as Marlo Thomas’ theatrical agent in the sitcom “That Girl” (1966-67) and a supporting role in the movie “With Six You Get Egg-Roll,” released in 1968.

By the end of the decade, he was one of America’s best known comedians. He made more than 80 major television appearances during that time, including the Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show; he was also regularly featured at major nightclubs in New York and Las Vegas.

That early success and celebrity, however, was as dinky and hollow as a gratuitous pratfall to Mr. Carlin. “I was entertaining the fathers and the mothers of the people I sympathized with, and in some cases associated with, and whose point of view I shared,” he recalled later, as quoted in the book “Going Too Far” by Tony Hendra, which was published in 1987. “I was a traitor, in so many words. I was living a lie.”

In 1970, Mr. Carlin discarded his suit, tie, and clean-cut image as well as the relatively conventional material that had catapulted him to the top. Mr. Carlin reinvented himself, emerging with a beard, long hair, jeans and a routine that, according to one critic, was steeped in “drugs and bawdy language.” There was an immediate backlash. The Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas terminated his three-year contract, and, months later, he was advised to leave town when an angry mob threatened him at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Afterward, he temporarily abandoned the nightclub circuit and began appearing at coffee houses, folk clubs and colleges where he found a younger, hipper audience that was more attuned to both his new image and his material.

By 1972, when he released his second album, “FM & AM,” his star was again on the rise. The album, which won a Grammy Award as best comedy recording, combined older material on the “AM” side with bolder, more acerbic routines on the “FM” side. Among the more controversial cuts was a routine euphemistically entitled “Shoot,” in which Mr. Carlin explored the etymology and common usage of the popular idiom for excrement. The bit was part of the comic’s longer routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” which appeared on his third album “Class Clown,” also released in 1972.

“There are some words you can say part of the time. Most of the time ‘ass’ is all right on television,” Mr. Carlin noted in his introduction to the then controversial monologue. “You can say, well, ‘You’ve made a perfect ass of yourself tonight.’ You can use ass in a religious sense, if you happen to be the redeemer riding into town on one — perfectly all right.”

The material seems innocuous by today’s standards, but it caused an uproar when broadcast on the New York radio station WBAI in the early ‘70s. The station was censured and fined by the FCC. And in 1978, their ruling was supported by the Supreme Court, which Time magazine reported, “upheld an FCC ban on ‘offensive material’ during hours when children are in the audience.” Mr. Carlin refused to drop the bit and was arrested several times after reciting it on stage.

By the mid-’70s, like his comic predecessor Lenny Bruce and the fast-rising Richard Pryor, Mr. Carlin had emerged as a cultural renegade. In addition to his irreverent jests about religion and politics, he openly talked about the use of drugs, including acid and peyote, and said that he kicked cocaine not for moral or legal reasons but after he found “far more pain in the deal than pleasure.” But the edgier, more biting comedy he developed during this period, along with his candid admission of drug use, cemented his reputation as the “comic voice of the counterculture.”

Mr. Carlin released a half dozen comedy albums during the ‘70s, including the million-record sellers “Class Clown,” “Occupation: Foole” (1973) and “An Evening With Wally Lando” (1975). He was chosen to host the first episode of the late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live” in 1975. And two years later, he found the perfect platform for his brand of acerbic, cerebral, sometimes off-color standup humor in the fledgling, less restricted world of cable television. By 1977, when his first HBO comedy special, “George Carlin at USC” was aired, he was recognized as one of the era’s most influential comedians. He also become a best-selling author of books that expanded on his comedy routines, including “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?,” which was published by Hyperion in 2004.

He was “a hugely influential force in stand-up comedy,” the actor Ben Stiller told The Associated Press. “He had an amazing mind, and his humor was brave, and always challenging us to look at ourselves and question our belief systems, while being incredibly entertaining. He was one of the greats.”

Pursuing a Dream

Mr. Carlin was born in New York City in 1937. “I grew up in New York wanting to be like those funny men in the movies and on the radio,” he said. “My grandfather, mother and father were gifted verbally, and my mother passed that along to me. She always made sure I was conscious of language and words.”

He quit high school to join the Air Force in the mid-’50s and, while stationed in Shreveport, La., worked as a radio disc jockey. Discharged in 1957, he set out to pursue his boyhood dream of becoming an actor and comic. He moved to Boston where he met and teamed up with Jack Burns, a newscaster and comedian. The team worked on radio stations in Boston, Fort Worth, and Los Angeles, and performed in clubs throughout the country during the late ‘50s.

After attracting the attention of the comedian Mort Sahl, who dubbed them “a duo of hip wits,” they appeared as guests on “The Tonight Show” with Jack Paar. Still, the Carlin-Burns team was only moderately successful, and, in 1960, Mr. Carlin struck out on his own.

During a career that spanned five decades, he emerged as one of the most durable, productive and versatile comedians of his era. He evolved from Jerry Seinfeld-like whimsy and a buttoned-down decorum in the ‘60s to counterculture icon in the ‘70s. By the ‘80s, he was known as a scathing social critic who could artfully wring laughs from a list of oxymorons that ranged from “jumbo shrimp” to “military intelligence.” And in the 1990s and into the 21st century the balding but still pony-tailed comic prowled the stage — eyes ablaze and bristling with intensity — as the circuit’s most splenetic curmudgeon.

During his live 1996 HBO special, “Back in Town,” he raged over the shallowness of the ‘90s “me first” culture — mocking the infatuation with camcorders, hyphenated names, sneakers with lights on them, and lambasting white guys over 10 years old who wear their baseball hats backwards. Baby boomers, “who went from ‘do your thing’ to ‘just say no’ ...from cocaine to Rogaine,” and pro life advocates (“How come when it’s us it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelet?”), were some of his prime targets. In the years following his 1977 cable debut, Mr. Carlin was nominated for a half dozen Grammy awards and received CableAces awards for best stand-up comedy special for “George Carlin: Doin’ It Again (1990) and “George Carlin: Jammin’ “ (1992). He also won his second Grammy for the album “Jammin” in 1994.

Personal Struggles

During the course of his career, Mr. Carlin overcame numerous personal trials. His early arrests for obscenity (all of which were dismissed) and struggle to overcome his self-described “heavy drug use” were the most publicized. But in the ‘80s he also weathered serious tax problems, a heart attack and two open heart surgeries.

In December 2004 he entered a rehabilitation center to address his addictions to Vicodin and red wine. Mr. Carlin had a well-chronicled cocaine problem in his 30s, and though he was able to taper his cocaine use on his own, he said, he continued to abuse alcohol and also became addicted to Vicodin. He entered rehab at the end of that year, then took two months off before continuing his comedy tours.

“Standup is the centerpiece of my life, my business, my art, my survival and my way of being,” Mr. Carlin once told an interviewer. “This is my art, to interpret the world.” But, while it always took center stage in his career, Mr. Carlin did not restrict himself to the comedy stage. He frequently indulged his childhood fantasy of becoming a movie star. Among his later credits were supporting parts in “Car Wash” (1976), “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989), “The Prince of Tides” (1991), and “Dogma” (1999).

His 1997 book, “Brain Droppings,” became an instant best seller. And among several continuing TV roles, he starred in the Fox sitcom “The George Carlin Show,” which aired for one season. “That was an experiment on my part to see if there might be a way I could fit into the corporate entertainment structure,” he said after the show was canceled in 1994. “And I don’t,” he added.

Despite the longevity of his career and his problematic personal life, Mr. Carlin remained one of the most original and productive comedians in show business. “It’s his lifelong affection for language and passion for truth that continue to fuel his performances,” a critic observed of the comedian when he was in his mid-60s. And Chris Albrecht, an HBO executive, said, “He is as prolific a comedian as I have witnessed.”

Mr. Carlin is survived by his wife, Sally Wade; daughter Kelly Carlin McCall; son-in-law, Bob McCall, brother, Patrick Carlin and sister-in-law, Marlene Carlin. His first wife, Brenda Hosbrook, died in 1997.

Although some criticized parts of his later work as too contentious, Mr. Carlin defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society. “Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”

Still, when pushed to explain the pessimism and overt spleen that had crept into his act, he quickly reaffirmed the zeal that inspired his lists of complaints and grievances. “I don’t have pet peeves,” he said, correcting the interviewer. And with a mischievous glint in his eyes, he added, “I have major, psychotic hatreds.”

Anahad O’Connor contributed reporting.

George Carlin, 71, Irreverent Standup Comedian, Is Dead,










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