The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett steps out of the elevator, hangs a right, and strolls into the lobby of the Beverly Hilton, a man on a mission: to participate in the promotion of a PBS documentary which premieres on August 8 at 9 PM EST/PST: Dick Cavett’s Watergate, an examination of the Watergate scandal and its effects on Richard Nixon’s presidency that’s structured around archival clips from Cavett’s late night talk show.

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After introducing himself, Cavett can’t resist making an observation about the familiarity of his surroundings: “You know, this is the same lobby where I stood when I was out here for two weeks auditioning to be a writer on The Jack Paar Show.” As has been the case for Cavett on more than few occasions during the course of his half-century (and then some) in the TV business, this observation proves to be only the first sentence of an anecdote.

“I came into the hotel one night and I heard singing,” continued Cavett, glancing and vaguely gesturing at the entrance to a nearby ballroom. “I opened a big door, and Judy Garland was onstage. The lights came on, and there were George Burns, Jack Benny, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, and about a hundred more. It was a huge charity thing. You couldn’t see any face that you didn’t know!”

With this brief recollection, Cavett immediately confirms that at least one of his lines during his memorable appearance on The Simpsons was absolutely spot-on: he really does have some wonderful stories about famous people that involve him in some way.

Who came up with the idea of viewing the Watergate scandal through the prism of your show?

You know, I think (executive producer Robert S.) Bader did. I’m almost certain he did. Yeah, he’s the one who’s most up on tapes that I had and stuff like that, so I don’t think it could’ve been anyone else. He just went through the stuff. I think initially he looked at 350 Cavett shows to make the (Shout Factory) DVDs, and then he just finally had to stop looking at them and start making them! But I was stunned to find how much stuff we have. It’s going to be a strain to make it only an hour. There’s so much good stuff. That’s a luxury, because there are so many shows that are a strain to make even an hour.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Joe Mantegna (“Gun Stories”)

Fans of CBS’s “Criminal Minds” have been watching Joe Mantegna on a weekly basis since 2007, but for the past few years, the man who plays FBI Special Agent David Rossi has been keeping busy during his downtime by hosting the Outdoor Channel series, “Gun Stories,” which recently returned to the network for its third season. Mantegna took some time to talk to Bullz-Eye about how he came about the series and what he’s learned in his time as its host, but he also discussed his work on “Criminal Minds” as well as how much fun he’s had giving voice to Fat Tony on “The Simpsons.”

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Bullz-Eye: So how did you first fall into the Outdoor Channel’s gravitational field?

Joe Mantegna: [Laughs.] Well, you know, it was nothing more complicated than them sending me an email. I got an email that Michael Bane and Tim Cremin, the two fellas who produce, direct, and write the shows, and…they sent it to my website, and my assistant, Dan, came to me with this email, saying, “You know, these guys from Outdoor Channel are interested in doing a show,” and he kind of spelled out basically what they had in mind. And they must’ve read somewhere that, throughout my life, I’ve had an interest in the shooting sports. So it was just one of those things where it hit enough of a hot button for me that I said, “Well, you know what? Let’s just see how serious this is!” You know, that it’s not just some weird scheme by somebody out there who’s pretending to be somebody. [Laughs.]

So we contacted them, and they flew in from Oklahoma and Colorado, respectively, and met me at my trailer at “Criminal Minds” one day, and we talked it out, and I said, “You know what? It sounds interesting.” And it’s kind of funny because…Tim tells a story now about how we did our first shoot at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, and how, after I flew in, when he saw me walking towards the museum, the first thing he thought was, “Oh, my God, he actually showed up!” [Laughs.] It was, like, right up until that moment, I think everybody was not sure whether it was going to happen or not. But that was three years ago, and I’ve had nothing but a good time with everyone involved, and I’m enjoying it. It’s been kind of a great way to spend my hiatus from my day job.

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The Light from the TV Shows: TGS: 30 Great Shows (That Don’t Actually Exist)

With “30 Rock” departing the airwaves after a not-unrespectable seven seasons – a particularly incredible achievement when you consider what an incredibly off-the-wall, insider-y sort of sitcom it was throughout its run – it seemed only appropriate to offer up some sort of tribute to the show in this week’s column. Unfortunately, since everyone else seems to have swiped all of the good angles that are 100% show-specific (indeed, I actually wrote a piece on the 30 best “30 Rock” guest stars for the “Today” blog, The Clicker), I had to think a little bit outside the box, but since a key aspect of the series was its show within a show, “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable concept to spotlight 30 of TV’s great fictional TV series. Lord knows these aren’t all of them, of course. Hell, even limiting myself to a one-fake-TV-series-per-real-TV-series rule…with the only exception being “30 Rock,” which seemed only fair, given the reason for the list in the first place…there are still thousands of omissions, so feel free to offer up your personal favorites that didn’t make the cut, “Family Guy” fans. (There’ve been so many on that show, I didn’t even know where to start.)

1. TGS with Tracy Jordan (“30 Rock”)

For those who can remember back to the pilot of “30 Rock,” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) was originally in charge of a not-terribly-great sketch comedy series called “The Girlie Show,” but when GE’s new Head of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming, Jack Donaghy made an executive decision to add the completely unpredictable Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the show, the comedian’s ego necessitated a change in the show’s title to feature his name more prominently. 136 episodes later, we’ve scarcely seen a single “TGS” sketch in its entirety, and what bits we have seen have rarely been funny (at least not intentionally), but the shenanigans surrounding the series have been consistently hysterical.

2. The Alan Brady Show (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”)

Dick Van Dyke has discussed on many occasions how many TV writers have come up to him over the years and told him that the biggest reasons they decided to break into the business in the first place was because Rob Petrie and his cronies on Alan Brady’s variety show made it look like one of the most entertaining occupations in the world. Strangely, he hasn’t spoken nearly as much about how many of those writers finished their comments by yelling, “Thanks for nothing, you big liar!” I’m betting it’s about 50/50.

By the way, although “The Alan Brady Show” wasn’t real, the folks at MeTV talked Carl Reiner into doing a promo for the addition of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to their line-up where he reprised the character. Funny stuff.

3. Invitation to Love (“Twin Peaks”)

If you’re not a David Lynch obsessive, you may not remember this soap opera, but those with keen eyes will recall that it turned up at least once in each of the first seven episodes of “Twin Peaks.” It’s also worth noting that “Invitation to Love” pointedly features identical-twin characters played by the same actress, which – in no way coincidentally – was more or less what Sheryl Lee did as Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson.

4. The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (“Spongebob Squarepants”)

The best bit about this cartoon-with-a-cartoon was the fact that the “Spongebob” show runners reunited former “McHale’s Navy” co-stars Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway to prove the characters’ respective voices. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

5. The Terrence and Phillip Show (“South Park”)

Disproving a longstanding theory that Canadians can’t be funny while cementing the not-really-in-question suspicion that farts are always funny, it need only be said that Terrence and Phillip are a stone-cold gas. Sadly, this clip is from their movie, “Asses of Fire,” rather than their series, but it’s basically the same thing. Y’know, except filthier. Much, much filthier.

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A Chat with John Landis (“¡Three Amigos!”)

There’s no point in writing an intro for our conversation with John Landis when we’ve already given a perfectly serviceable synopsis of the man’s life and times on his page within Bullz-Eye’s Directors Hall of Fame – which you can find right here – but we will say that we’ve been looking forward to chatting with Landis for quite some time. Although his publicist regretfully informed us that he didn’t have time to talk when we were pulling together the Hall of Fame, we’d kept our fingers crossed that we’d get an opportunity to talk to him one of these days, and at last that time has come, courtesy of the Blu-ray release of “¡Three Amigos!,” which hits shelves on Nov. 22nd.

Bullz-Eye: First of all, in case you haven’t heard, I should let you know that we put you into our Director’s Hall of Fame last year.

John Landis: Oh, thank you very much!

BE: Our pleasure. After all, we’re a guy-centric site, and it would be fair to say that you’ve made a few movies that have been appreciated by many a man over the years…including, of course, “¡Three Amigos!”

JL: [Laughs.] So did you get a chance to watch the Blu-ray, then?

BE: I did. It looks fantastic.

JL: Yeah, I was able to restore it to the way it’s supposed to be seen. I’m very pleased with the way it looks.

BE: I was actually going to ask you about that process. I presume there’s at least a little bit of difference when it comes to restoring a comedy for Blu-ray versus, say, a full-on special effects extravaganza.

JL: Actually, no. [Laughs.] That would be an untrue presumption. I mean, every picture’s individual, and it depends on the look you were going for with that particular movie. When they made the Blu-ray for “Animal House,” I was upset. I thought they made it much too bright and clean. “Animal House” is supposed to look dirty and funky. [Laughs.] I remember the technician, when I had to check it, he kept writing on his chart, “Image degraded per director.” But every movie you make, you try – or at least I do, anyway – for a different kind of look. On “¡Three Amigos!” I was really trying to go for those beautiful westerns that Hollywood used to make in the ‘50s. The Technicolor pictures. We wanted the colors to be incredibly vibrant. You know, the old DVD wasn’t even the correct aspect ratio. So I’m happy that I got the chance to restore it.

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A Chat with Billy Corgan

As I type this very sentence, I’m in prep mode for the Smashing Pumpkins concert tonight at the NorVa, in Norfolk, VA. Yesterday, however, I was in conversation with the man who fronts the Smashing Pumpkins: Billy Corgan. The opportunity to chat with Corgan came up at the last second, so I’m in debt to my friends and fellow writers who stepped up to the plate and provided me with a few questions, but I managed to slip in a few of my own invention as well. During our conversation, we discussed the current state of the Pumpkins (as you probably already know, he’s the only original member in the line-up), their new music, why he gets frustrated with fans who can’t get exited about his attempts to move forward, and the chances of seeing him playing alongside Jimmy Chamberlin, James Iha, and D’arcy Wretzky again anytime soon. Hint: it’s about as likely as world peace.

Billy Corgan: Hi, Will!

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Billy, good to talk to you!

BC: Thank you!

BE: Well, I know you guys are on tour at the moment, but I actually wanted to kick off by asking you about something from the studio. How did the release of the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. 1 EP go for you? Was the reaction better or worse than you expected?

BC: It was…probably in the range of expectation, which I have to admit wasn’t real high. (Laughs) Because I knew that I was doing something kind of different, and I thought it would take awhile to put across the different ideas. Not just musical, but, y’know, “Why free? Why have a limited edition?” All of these types of things. I think that part’s gone okay. Musically, I’ve been more focused on trying to figure out a sort of musical way to connect and how that’s going to work over the long range in keeping myself and fans interested. I’ve been sort of more focused on that.

BE: Of the songs I’ve heard thus far, I think my favorite song is “A Stitch in Time.”

BC: Oh, thank you! That’s funny, I was just talking about that: some of the hardcore Smashing Pumpkins fans don’t think very much of that song, and I don’t understand why. I think it’s a very strong song.

BE: I mean this in the best possible way, but…it’s very much a pop song.

BC: (Hesitates) Yeah, but I also think it fits well with some of my other acoustic material, like “Disarm” and things like that. It’s very hard to write an acoustic song that has a narrative just within the acoustic form, if that makes sense, where the song can just hold up as an acoustic song and not just be, like, a nice song that you’re playing acoustically. I sort of look at them differently. And I see it in that way. Maybe people don’t like the production on it, I don’t know. But, yeah, I really like it. It’s one my favorite songs.

BE: So will these songs be collected in the future, a la The Aeroplane Flies High?

BC: Yeah, the plan is to ultimately create a full box that would include all the released material, hopefully some unreleased material, and then maybe, like, a DVD or a documentary. Some kind of reason to get the whole thing all at once.

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