I’ve been doing a lot of radio interviews to promote the publication of The Long Way Home. One of these days I’ll create a page that has my appearance schedule but for now I’d just like to mention that I’m scheduled to be on with my old friend and all-around righteous dude John Gambling this coming Tuesday, February 9, at 8:40 AM eastern time. John does the morning show at New York’s WOR NewsTalk Radio 710 where I used to work as a news writer in the 80′s. But our association goes back longer than that, before either of us was born, in fact.
John’s father, also John, also had the WOR morning show back in the day – “Rambling with Gambling” it was called – and used to vie for first place in the ratings with my father Gene, who was half the morning team of Klavan and Finch over at WNEW. After my Dad left WNEW, he went over to WOR in the afternoon slot and he and his old rival worked together for a brief period. (The link will take you to a series of 1978 TV ads, one of which is for the Klavan/Gambling combination.)
Now after a while, the present John Gambling began to do appearances on his father’s show in preparation for taking over. By then, my father had retired. One day, I took my then baby daughter to see WNEW, the radio station where her grandfather used to work. When we got there, I was shocked to discover that the entire building had been torn down. There was now just a big hole in the ground where WNEW used to be.
That was when I realized I had been born into the wrong radio dynasty!
Washington and Hollywood are both experiencing a similar phenomenon: a complete disconnect between the so-called elites and the rest of us. Just as our lawmakers are creating programs and policies that have nothing to do with what the people want or need, so our filmmakers are making more and more pictures that no one is going to go see. They’re working wholly for themselves in both cities and then both celebrate themselves as being too far above the masses they despise to be understood and appreciated by them. Ptui.
Which brings me to the Oscar nominations – increasingly a consolation prize given in lieu of audience appeal. I mean, much as I dislike Avatar for the childish stupidity of its worldview, it deserves a nod as a technological marvel and as a crowd pleaser. And I even have no problem with the occasional you-missed-it-but-we-loved-it critics’ choice like, say, Hurt Locker. But Precious for best picture? Did anyone see Precious? No, really, did anyone even in the Academy see it? This is the film that John Nolte over at Big Hollywood called “porn for people who confuse wallowing in depravity with some kind of important existential statement about life, or worse, art.” And Nolte’s not like me. He’s actually a nice guy. I got a free screener DVD of Precious and I’m using it as a coaster for my beer while I watch the post-season football. Works pretty well, too. Maybe it should’ve gotten a nomination for Best Coaster.
On the positive side, it’s kind of nice Sandra Bullock got a nod for Best Actress in The Blind Side. Given the field, there’s a chance she could actually win – which would mean the Academy would be giving an award to a movie star who is actually a movie star, by which I mean an actress the public enjoys watching. Because of the elite/human being disconnect, most current “movie stars” aren’t really movie stars at all. They’re just people the media like and write about. If you take a look at one of those lists of biggest money-making actors, you’ll see, say, George Clooney as number four. Then take a closer look. They’re adding together the take from Up In The Air, which few people saw, The Men Who Stare At Goats, which no one saw, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a cartoon in which Clooney did voice work. Two bombs and a cartoon all added together and Clooney is a money-maker, sort of, as long as you don’t subtract production costs and what-not. Of course, by this logic, the extra who played Evil United States Marine #5 in Avatar was the biggest money maker of the year.
Someone should explain to industry insiders that stars are people we like not they like, that, in fact, the job of movie makers is actually to entertain us not each other. Giving Oscars to films no one wants to see is like giving Barack Obama a Nobel Peace Prize. And who would do a ridiculous thing like that?
I’ve been saying for some time that this is the second golden age of television. Shows like The Wire, Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Shield, even the early years of House are simply better than anything you’re going to see in a movie theater. The rise of TV was caused, I believe, by two connected events. The advent of cable opened the possibility of niche and adult programming. And the trashy treatment of writers in the movie business made the move to TV appealing to the best writing talent. I mean, listen to the dialogue in any of the shows listed above. When do you ever hear that kind of intelligence and wit at the movies?
There’s a trickle down effect as well. That is to say, not only are the richest, deepest most complex onscreen entertainments on TV, but those TV shows that are simple, straightforward entertainment are also better now than they ever were. A case in point is Spartacus, which is Starz’s attempt to build a signature show in the style of 300.
Now 300 was, to my mind, one of the best movies of the last ten years and the first two episodes of Spartacus couldn’t compare. But boy, were they fun! I mean, really fun. Big bloody swordfights, sinister Romans, heroic Thracians and some of the hottest sex scenes I’ve seen in a long time. What’s not to like?
On a weekend during which I saw both Spartacus and the massively expensive film Sherlock Holmes, I can safely say that – despite the always brilliant Robert Downey Jr. – Spartacus was far more entertaining.
Today, as the news section over to your left should announce, is publication day for my new Young Adult thriller, The Long Way Home. To celebrate, I sat down with the illustrious John Miller of National Review Online fame for one of his likewise illustrious series of NRO author interviews Between The Covers.
Miller, of course, is an author in his own right and his historical thriller The First Assassin is fine, exciting stuff.
So listen to the interview and then drop by Amazon and pick up a copy of The Long Way Home. This isn’t like a tip jar, you actually get something for your money: a very exciting read for young adults, I promise. Though tips are also appreciated.