Larry David: The power of positive quitting


For most of the "Seinfeld" years, reporters never even got to see Larry David. We talked to Jerry Seinfeld (often) and his co-stars; David was back at the office, presumably fretting or grumbling.

Now he's moved, reluctantly, into the spotlight. Here's a story I sent to papers about a David appearance Thursday on cable's Showtime:

By MIKE HUGHES

You could call it “creative
quitting.” It's worked wonders for Larry David.

The “Seinfeld” co-creator talks
about that – and much more – on the latest round of Showtime's
“Inside Comedy,” with his friend David Steinberg. “He's the
kind of guy who you just want to confide in,” David told reporters.
“You want to tell him secrets.”

The men share the Jewish tradition of
verbal wit. “They seem to have a look at life that is totally
different than we Irish people,” said Tim Conway, another “Inside
Comedy” guest this year.

That humor can seem natural. “My dad
and my uncle were always funny at dinners,” Steinberg said.

For Larry David, however, the process
was tougher. “It doesn't occur to me that anything I can do would
be successful,” he says on the show.

His mother suggested he be a mailman.
David had few options – his only skills, he said, are whistling and
parallel parking – and tried comedy. He spent two years on
“Fridays” (ABC's “Saturday Night Live” clone) and a year as
an “SNL” writer, getting only one sketch on the air.

After one of his sketches was pulled,
David angrily told “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels he was quitting.
He later realized he couldn't afford to; he came to work, pretending
nothing has happened.

Quitting became a career move after he
co-created “Seinfeld.” He quit after NBC insisted a veteran
producer work on the pilot; he quit again after NBC disliked most of
the plans for the first season.

Both times, Seinfeld stepped in. The
problems went away; David un-quit. “This saying-no thing is so
powerful,” he tells Steinberg.

David stayed (quitting often) for all
nine years of “Seinfeld”; he's done eight, so far, of “Curb
Your Enthusiasm,” a show he does his way. There are short seasons –
10 episodes last year – and no scripts; Steinberg directs some of
the episodes. HBO makes no rules; if it did, David might just quit.

– “Inside Comedy,” 11 p.m.
Thursdays, Showtime; reruns at 1 a.m.

– Larry David episode debuts Feb. 24;
it reruns at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and then Wednesday night at midnight
(technically, 12 a.m. Thursday)

 

"The Simpsons" turn 500


Twenty years ago, Matt Groening was walking around the Twentieth Century Fox lot with a grin and an air-freshener.

It was a Bart Simpson air-freshener. For Groening -- who had known the quiet existence of an offbeat cartoonist -- this was new.

Now "Simpsons" keeps thriving, with its 500th episode Sunday (Feb. 19). Here's the story I sent to papers; also, please read the preceding blog, which has updated the list of Whitney Houston coverage, including expanded funderal coverage.

By MIKE HUGHES

Back in 1989, two young comedy writers
were hired to help turn short cartoons into a TV series.

“The job was only two days a week,”
Al Jean recalled. “It was turned down by several people.”

Still, this was decent part-time
employment – and turned out to full-time. Now – more that 22
years later – Jean is the show-runner of “The Simpsons”; on
Sunday, it airs its 500th episode.

No, he didn't expect that back then.
“If I (had) said I'd be here answering questions about Episode 500,
they would have locked me up.”

That episode includes some offbeat
touches – an odd guest voice (Julian Assange of Wikileaks), an odd
story (Simpsons banished from Springfield), long opening credits
reflecting the 500 episodes and a terse closing note. Still, in many
ways it's sort of like the other 499.

“I've jokingly said, 'Why not 1,000?
Why not 2,000?'” Jean said.

The lone hurdle appeared last year. Fox
officials said the show's budget had crept too high and insisted on a
cutback for the voice actors. “Had they not signed, we would've
stopped the show,” Jean said.

A final episode was written, viewing
the Simpson family in the future. “Had we ended the series, that
would have been the last episode,” Jean said.”We were prepared to
do that, but … I don't think it ever really got close to that.”

The actors signed and “The Simpsons”
seems semi-eternal. That didn't seem likely in 1989.

Matt Groening, creator of the “Life
in Hell” comic strip, had created short “Simpsons” cartoons for
“The Tracey Ullman Show.” Now he and James Brooks – a star
writer-producer since the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” days – wanted
to expand that to a series.

“I liked 'Life in Hell' very much and
it was a chance to work for Jim Brooks,” Jean said.

He and Mike Reiss began working on the
adaptation. Former Harvard roommates, they were in their late 20s and
had written for several other comedies. Reiss went on to other shows;
Jean helped create others, but now is the “Simpsons” executive
producer, alongside Groening and Brooks.

Why has the show lasted? “It is just
such a rich universe,” Jean said. “(And) the fact that the
characters don't age is key. I think if Bart was really 40 and living
on his parents' couch, it would be too sad.”

The toughest parts, he said, have been
thinking of:

– The basic stories. “Once you get
the idea, we have 20 great writers and you can really develop it in a
way that I think is funny and emotional.”

– Things for Bart Simpson to write on
the chalkboard. If the story runs long, that is skipped.

Still, Bart has chalked some important
things. When “The Simpsons Movie” finally came out in 2007,
making a fortune, he wrote that the show wouldn't take as long for a
second one.

“The first movie came 20 years after
the shorts began,” Jean said. “We still have about 15 years
left.”

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m. Sundays,
Fox

– 500th episode is Feb. 19

– Also, frequent reruns on individual
stations; the movie and past seasons are at video stores

 

 

Cable and TV add moreWhitney Houston specials


With Whitney Houston's funeral scheduled for noon Saturday (Feb. 18), TV and cable channels keep adding more coverage.

There have already been documentaries all week, but here's what's still coming:

-- Friday (Feb. 17): "NAACP Image Awards," 8-10 p.m., NBC. A
Houston tribute is being added. That's followed at 10 by a "Dateline" that includes Al Roker interviewing Aretha Franklin about Houston.

-- Friday: "One Moment in Time: The Life of Whitney Houston,"
9-11 p.m., ABC. This is a "20/20" special that includes Diane
Sawyer's interview from 10 years ago.

– Friday: Cable's “Encore” has added a Houston double
feature – “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) at 8 p.m. and “The
Preacher's Wife” (1996) at 10:05. Houston is one of the “Exhale”
stars and sings background songs; she has the title role in “Wife,” brightened by gospel music from a cast that also includes
Gregory Hines, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Houston and Cissy Houston,
Whitney's mother. 

-- Saturday: Some channels plan to carry the Houston funeral. BET and E plan to start coverage at 11:30 a.m., CNN at 11; HLN, an arm of CNN, says it will start Houston-oriented coverage at 9 a.m. The funeral will also be streamed on the Intrnet, including www.cnn.com/live. Also, the TV Guide Network will rerun "Whitney Houston: An Icon Remembered," from 11 a.m. to noon.

-- Saturday and Sunday: "CNN Presents" will have a magazine hour, hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Randi Kaye, with three stories on Houston. That airs at 8 .m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. both days. 

-- Saturday: "The Bodyguard" (1992) and "Biography: Whitney Houston," 8 and 11 p.m., Lifetime. "Bodyguard" was Houston's first movie, the one known for her rendition of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You." Lifetime, which hurriedly aired it Monday, repeats it here.

– Sunday: "Bodyguard" airs at 5 p.m. on Lifetime; "The Preacher's Wife" is at 5:55 p.m. on Flix, repeating at 9:35 a.m. and 8
p.m. Feb. 25.

– And more: Extensive coverage continues on the news networks,
plus www.eonline.com
and www.mtvnews.com.

 

Grammy awards: Greatness and excess co-exist


I'll do some sniping in a moment, simply because ... well, because I'm like that. But first, let's make it clear that this was a truly great Grammy awards show.

It was great because we could believe the sincerity of LL Cool J when he asked for a prayer concerning the late Whitney Houston ... We could believe Stevie Wonder when he said, "we love you, Whitney" ... This didn't have that hollow feeling of, say, "Titanic" director James Cameron asking for a moment of silence for people who had drowned 80-plus years ago; it was sincere emotion for a great talent who had just died.

And the show was great because it was stuffed with classic moments -- Adele, back from vocal surgery, singing beautifully and winning a pile of Grammys ... spectacular turns by Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, the Foo Fighters and Chris Brown. The Beach Boys and Glen Campbell medleys ... and, of course, Jennifer Hudson's sensational "I Will Always Love You," done as a tribute to Houston.

It was a splendid night, but I'll still snipe that:

-- Foster the People was a kind of a weak link in the Beach Boys tribute. The Beach Boys, alas, were a weaker link.

-- Lady Gaga should stop trying to top herself. This time, she spent the entire show with a net over her face. Of course, if killer bees had been loose in the auditorium, she would have had the last laugh.

-- Please don't tell Sir Paul this, but McCartney's new love song isn't very good.

-- After winning a Grammy for something they recorded in a garage, the Foo Fighters emphasized that we should have fewer gimmicks and more attention to the music. If only the Grammycast would listen. Often, it seemed determined to overwhelm us with sheer excess.

A simple musical question of "Won't you stay for a little while" hardly requires massive clockwork pieces in the background. Nicki Minaj's number was filled with wild overkill, sort of giddy-Gaga.

We were sometimes reminded -- by Adele, by Springsteen, by Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood, by Hudson and memories of Houston -- that a simple, straight-forward voice is more than enough. Tonight, however, we got flames, cranes, even melting ice statues. We didn't need those on a great music night.

 

 

Facing crime, eye-to-eye


I have to admit I'm really not a fan of verite-style documentaries.

Those are the ones that simply have a camera follow around, hoping to capture something. They have their moments, but can't compare to the crisp power of the great documentaries of PBS' "American Masters," "Frontline" or "American Experience."

So I have misgivings about the fact that Tuesday's "Frontline" has a verite documentary, "The Interrupters." Still, it's a fairly interesting film about a very interesting subect. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

For Ameena Matthews, this was just
another intervention, Chicago-style.

“The mother (said), 'My son is
loading up the gun and he's going to go up there and shoot these guys
that beat up my other son,'” she said. “We got into the head of
this little, young guy and his mom.'”

He didn't shoot anyone. Today, Matthews
said, he's a junior at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Matthews – featured in a PBS
“Frontline” film Tuesday – is used to this. “Everybody has
different attributes,” she said, “and mine is communication. Some
… may say that I communicate too long.”

She is, indeed, given to a blur of
words. Then again, she knows the subject.

These days, Matthews is a “senior
violence interrupter” for a Chicago program called CeaseFire.

“You have to have the ability to
intercept whispers,” said Tio Hardiman, the CeaseFire director.
“You have to come from that lifestyle, to a degree …. This work
is not for the faint of heart.”

And yes, Matthews comes from the
lifestyle. That's partly by:

– Family. Her father, originally name
Jeff Fort, co-founded the Blackstone Rangers, merging 21 Chicago
gangs. He received praise and federal grants; he also has several
convictions (including conspiring with Libya for domestic terrorism)
and is in isolation in a federal prison.

– History. She grew up mainly with
her grandmother, she says in the PBS film, but spent six years with
her troubled mother, “being abused physically, emotionally,
sexually from age 9 to 15.” After retreating to her grandmother,
she said, she “got caught up in” the crime life.

All of that is part of a strong resume
for interrupters. “They're in the streets every day,” filmmaker
Steve James said, “actually dealing with it on a day-to-day basis,
person-to-person basis.”

James captured a cheerier side of
Chicago life with his Oscar-nominated “Hoop Dreams.” This time,
he linked with award-winning author Alex Kotlowitz (“There Are No
Children Here,” “The Other Side of the River”) to trace the
“interrupter” program.

“We were there right at the height of
the foreclosure crisis,” Kotlowitz said. “We saw blocks literally
change as we were filming. It's clear that jobs – lack of jobs –
had an enormous impact.”

That's crucial for some people,
Hardison said, but not for others. “People need to work and they
can begin to get on with their lives …. But some of the people that
I've worked with, their job is violence.”

Hardison knows the turf. His
step-father committed suicide in front of him, he says; at 14, he
became a small-time street hustler. He went on to a master's degree
in inner city studies. Now CeaseFire has 26 sites; last year, he
said, it did “constructive shadowing” with 1,100 people.

One key, Kotlowitz said, is quick
intervention. “There is a lot of anger out there, but the anger
isn't a permanent state of mind.”

He and James saw a first-hand example
with one angry man. “He's got a pistol in his waistband and he's
ready to go off,” he said. “And it didn't take very much for Cobe
to pull him off.”

That's Cobe Williams, who spent 12
years in prison. The film focuses on Williams, Eddie Bocanagra and
Matthews. It also focuses on Hardison, who still gets involved with
individuals.

“About a year ago, a guy told me he
would put me to sleep if I kept getting in his business,” Hardison
said. “I was trying to save the life of an 18-year-old kid. To make
a long story short, I'm here today; the kid's life was saved.”

– “Frontline: The Interrupters”

– 9-11 p.m. Tuesday, PBS (check local
listings)