Thanksgiving TV: It starts with paraders and dogs

This is an overcrowded TV week, filled with dogs, linebackers and marching bands. Please catch my previous blogs on "iCarly" and David Geffen; coming next is a full-scale list of Christmas TV. First, however, here's the story I sent to papers, looking at Thanksgiving Day TV in general and the National Dog Show in particular:



Most of us kind of know about dogs.

In fiction, they catch crooks, save
babies from fires and notify authorities whenever Timmy falls in a
well. In real life, they'll sit up or roll over, if it's convenient
for them.

But our best real knowledge comes each
Thanksgiving. On a day overrun with parades, football, music and
more, NBC has what it calls “The National Dog Show Presented by
Purina.” We hear from:

– David Frei. A former owner of
champion afghans. He's hosted this since it started a decade ago. “He
really is a one-man data base,” said John O'Hurley, his NBC

– O'Hurley, who brings an air of
authority to everything. “Hearing John say something, I'm thinking,
'I'm sitting next to J. Peterman,'” Frei said.

On 20 “Seinfeld” episodes, O'Hurley
was the elegant Peterman. He ended up doing public appearances with
the real guy and becoming co-owner of the J. Peterman Catalog.

He's played other authoritative types.
A scan of his credits finds O'Hurley playing a councilman and two
mayors, a lieutenant and two captains, a president and four kings.
And eight doctors.

Tall (6-foot-2-and-a-half) and
silver-haired, O'Hurley fits the roles. He's had a lifetime of

His dad was an ear, nose and throat
surgeon. “I grew up around men who were successful,” he said.

O'Hurley did all the upscale things –
prep school, golf, tennis, classical piano. He majored in theater at
Providence College and has always been able to play the elegant types
he knew from childhood.

He's also had dogs since his first
boyhood dachshund. So when an NBC sports producer started the dog
show, he called O'Hurley, whom he'd known from golf.

Indeed, many things come to O'Hurley's
life through golf. He met Lisa Mesloh when she was a golf marketing
executive. Married for eight years, they have identical handicaps
(five) and a son nearing his 6th birthday. “I'm a much
better father in my 50s” than he would have been earlier, said
O'Hurley, 58.

They have an apartment and two small
dogs in Manhattan, where O'Hurley has been doing the flashy Billy
Flynn role in Broadway's “Chicago.” He also zips around the
country for concerts and to Philadelphia for the dog show, where he's
become a semi-expert. “There was the time I was able to spot the
winner early …. I have a much better working knowledge than I use

But nothing like Frei, who knows the
175 breeds accepted by the American Kennel Club, including the
newest, the tree walker coonhound. “The dog shows are for everybody
…. We can have the poodle out here and we can have (six breeds of)
coonhounds,” Frei said. “It spans all boundaries.”

And it draws a crowd, on overcrowded TV

Our TV set seems determined to keep us
away from family and friends on Thanksgiving. That includes:

– Parade: 9 a.m. to noon, NBC and
CBS. NBC gets the best camera spots, plus special performances by
Broadway casts. This year, that includes “Bring It On,” “Nice
Work If You Can Get It,” “Elf,” “Annie” and the
Rodgers-and-Hammerstein “Cinderella”; CBS has “Once” and

– “National Dog Show Presented by
Purina,” noon to 2 p.m., NBC.

– Football: A tripleheader leaves no
time in between for turkey. It's Houston at Detroit at 12:30 p.m. on
CBS, Washington at Dallas at 4:15 on Fox and New England at the New
York Jets at 8:20 on NBC.

– Music: This starts early, at
football halftimes. Kid Rock is in his home town, singing “Detroit,
Michigan”; Kenny Chesney is in Dallas. There's more music: Fox has
“X Factor” results (plus British teen Cher Lloyd) at 8 and “Glee”
at 9. ABC has “Bad25,” Spike Lee's compelling portrait of Michael
Jackson's “Bad” album, 25 years ago, from 9:30-11 p.m.

– Rerun marathons: History has its
“Hatfield & McCoys” miniseries, from 6 p.m. to midnight,
preceded by a documentary at 4. Animal Planet has
pseudo-documentaries, claiming to find dragons and mermaids, at 7 and
9 p.m. And Syfy has 20 hours of James Bond, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30

– Classic movies: Ion has “The
Fugitive” (1993) at 7 p.m.; AMC has “The Godfather” (1972) at


"iCarly": Kids-and-camera comedy ends a six-year run

This is a busy TV week, so you'll see lots of fresh blogs here now. That includes a strong time for PBS -- the previous blogs are on brilliantly crafted films on the Dust Bowl and on show-business magnate David Geffen -- and an interesting weekend for Nickelodeon: On Friday, it concludes "iCarly," it's comedy about a fictional teen Internet star; on Saturday, it debuts "Marvin Marvin," starring Lucas Cruikshank ... who was a real-life teen Internet star.

Here's the "iCarly" story I sent to papers. Coming up are a Cruikshank story and two longer pieces -- a Thanksgiving TV overview and a mega-list of TV Christmas specials that start Friday.


Something special seems to happen, when
a kid gets a camera.

Dan Schneider recalls his first
videotape set-up, when he was 11 or so. “It was a big, bulky
thing, but I loved using it,” he said. “I was shooting Legos and
toy soldiers and Monopoly pieces.”

Decades later, that was a basis for
“iCarly,” about a girl whose videos becomes an Internet hit.

Now the show has its hour-long finale
Friday. For Miranda Cosgrove – who has spent most of her teens as
its star – that brings strong emotions. “It's kind of the end of
my childhood,” she said.

It was a playful childhood, boosted by
the kids-with-a-camera theme. “We do so many crazy things,”
Cosgrove said. “Dan likes to shoot it first the way it's written
and then he'll let us (improvise).”

Schneider, 46, had grown up with that
sense of fun. He left Harvard after one semester, worked in a Memphis
video store and acted in a movie. He was a “Head of the Class”
star, then began writing and producing kid-friendly comedy series.
“I'll have my eighth one on the air in 2013,” he said.

The fourth was “Drake & Josh,”
about mismatched step-brothers. Playing the bratty little sister was
Cosgrove, then 10 and quite serious. “I would follow people around
the set all the time,” she said.

She had a contemplative nature, she
grants; you'd expect that from someone who was an only child, without
constant playmates nearby. But she also liked to show off; a talent
scout discovered her when she was singing and dancing around a
restaurant table at 3.

Her parents (who own a dry-cleaning
business) co-operated. Cosgrove did commercials at 3 and went on to
bigger things. “In 4th grade, we were out on the
playground and all the kids were talking about 'Drake & Josh,'”
she said. “That's when I realized, 'Wow, people really watch it.'”

As that show was wrapping up in 2007,
Schneider came up with a show for Cosgrove: Carly Shay's dad (a
military officer) is away and her older brother in charge; she starts
taping sketches with her friends and becomes an Internet star.

The show brought Cosgrove fresh fame,
even as a pop singer. Two singles (including the show's theme song)
barely hit No. 100 on the Billboard chart, but another was No. 54 and
her album was No. 8.

Still, she's mostly been able to go out
in public. “I love Disneyland,” said Cosgrove, 19. “I probably
go there every two weeks. Sometimes I wear a disguise, but not

Eventually, Schneider realized that
“iCarly” had to conclude. Teen shows do well in reruns and tend
to stop at 60-65 episodes, but this was heading close to 100. What
would the end be?

“I wanted it to seem like a finale,”
Schneider said, “but also leave an opening” in case there's a
movie. He turned to a question of whether Carly's dad could get home
in time to take her to the dance. “We'd never met Colonel Shay ….
As always, it should be funny, but there should also be a strong

The emotions began, Cosgrove said, as
soon as the cast read the last script. “That was our last
table-read. We decided we had to stop calling everything our last.”

Now she's a University of Southern
California freshman, freshly moved into her first apartment. “For
the first time, I'm right in Los Angeles …. It's a little quicker
to go out with my friends.”

Still, it's only a 45-minute drive from
home and her mother showed up every day to help her set up. There's
no reason for a childhood to end too abruptly.

– “iCarly” finale, 8-9 p.m.
Friday (preceded by reruns from 5-8 p.m.), Nickelodeon; final episode
also airs 7 p.m. Saturday (preceded by reruns, 5-7 p.m.) and 6 p.m.

– More reruns include: 6-7 p.m.
Thanksgiving; 9 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. Sunday; 5 p.m. Dec. 1;1-4 p.m.
Dec. 2; 7-8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Dec.3.


Geffen: This Brooklyn kid has a boat, a billion and a bundle of memories

So David Geffen flew in one day from Sardinia, talked to reporters for an hour, then flew back. Subsequently I learned: a) Where Sardinia is. (It's a long ways away and he has a boat there); b) Geffen has had key roles in the history of music, movies and more; and c) It's sometimes nice to be a self-made billionaire.

PBS has a compelling "American Masters" portrait of Geffen on Tuesday -- right aftr its superb "Dust Bowl" documentary Sunday and  Monday. Here's the Geffen story I sent to papers; the previous two blogs look at "The Dust Bowl."



David Geffen spent large chunks of his
Brooklyn childhood at the movie theater.

He needed to be in show business, but
that required talent or brains. Geffen assumed he had neither.

“I really did very poorly in school,”
he recalled. “I thought I was dumb. And I think other people
thought I was dumb.”

They were all wrong, it seems. This is
a quick, slick thinker. Susan Lacy – who directed a compelling new
“American Masters” portrait – calls him a “billionaire
entertainment power-broker (who) has helped shape American popular
culture for the last four decades.”

He grew up modestly, the son of Jewish
immigrants who had a corset shop. Geffen tried college briefly, then
heard sound advice: If you want to be in show business without
talent, be an agent.

That brought him to a William Morris
Agency mailroom job in 1964, Lacy said. “He lied about (graduating
from) college and then had to make sure he was there when the letter
came in saying he didn't graduate.” He arrived early each day,
intercepted the condemning piece and replaced it.

This was a career launched by skillful
lying. “I'd hear these agents on the phone,” Geffen said. “And
I thought, 'Hmmm, they (BS) on the phone. I can do that.'”

Geffen was passionate about
singer-songwriters Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and more. He started his
own management firm, then met Jackson Browne. “I heard his songs
and thought, 'Wow, this guy is really great.' (But) other people
didn't hear it.”

So he started Asylum Records in 1971 –
with Browne, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and more. People soon
considered him a great judge of talent, a notion he disputes.

There was the time he heard Paul Simon
and Art Garfunkel in a small folk club. “Artie Garfunkel pulled me
aside (and) said to me, 'What do you think? I'm in architecture
school …. Should I give it up and go into show business?'“ I said,
'Stay in school.'”

Still, Geffen was often right. In
his 20s, he had sold two companies and became a movie executive.

He floundered, was fired, started the Geffen Records label
(half-owned by Warner Brothers) in 1980 and floundered anew. In 1984,
he asked Warner chief Steve Ross for another $5 million. “I don't
think he thought it was going to succeed. And I think that opinion
was shared by many people.”

Instead of providing the money, Ross gave up Warner's half of the
label. And then, Geffen said, “everything we put out was a hit. I
mean, the company just exploded.”

He ranged from Guns N' Roses to Kylie Minogue to a revived
Aerosmith. A sale of the label in 1990 brought stock worth $750
million. Warner had lost out on $375 million; Geffen was a

The label's low point had been when Geffen, who is gay, was
consumed by he AIDS crisis. “I did not really focus on my record
company,” he said. “Friends of mine were dying left and right.”

And the surge came after he was tested and cleared. Geffen's focus
was back. He produced movies (“Risky Business,” “Little Shop of
Horrors”) and Broadway (“Dreamgirls,” “M. Butterfly”). In
1995, he joined Steven Spielberg and Jeff Katzenberg to launch
Dreamworks, personally raising the $2 billion in financing. “And
David did it in a week,” Lacy said.

This is a man who twice thought his life was ending. The first was
from a misdiagnosis of cancer – “I thought, '(I've) made all this
money and didn't have any fun …. I'm going to get high and get
laid” – the second was during the AIDS crisis. He decided he
prefers to work, but also found new interests.

Geffen backed the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns; he
donated massively, especially to AIDS, art, education and medical
causes. He gave all of his Dreamworks shares to his foundation.

At 69, Geffen takes it semi-easy. “David is up about 5:30 in the
morning,” Lacy said. “He's read every newspaper before anybody
else has had coffee and (he) wants to talk about it at great length
with his friends.” The high-energy Brooklyn kid has learned to
slow down, but only a tad.

– “American Masters: Inventing
David Geffin”

– 8-10 p.m. Tuesday, PBS (check local

"The Dust Bowl": A potent look at a dark decade

"The Dust Bowl" is everything you expect from a Ken Burns documentary -- intelligent, passionate, beautifully crafted. Here's one of the stories I sent to papers; right after this, there's a box and then a second story, viewing that dark decade through the eyes of one former cowboy kid:



For a decade, dust storms in the
American mid-section blackened farms, destroyed crops, ruined lives.

Some people died; many quietly
persisted. “They'd stopped talking about the story, because people
didn't believe them,” said Timothy Egan, author of “The Worst
Hard Time.”

Modern Americans are used to the
horrors of a one-day tornado or a one-week wind storm. This was much
more, said Ken Burns, whose “The Dust Bowl” debuts Sunday and
Monday on PBS.

It was “a 10-year apocalypse,” he
said, “punctuated by hundreds of terrifying black blizzards that
killed not only farmers' crops and cattle, but their children too ….
It was an epic of pain and suffering.”

And it started with good times.

The 1920s brought fresh prosperity and
soaring grain prices. The federal government pointed toward regions
that had previously been abandoned after droughts.

“The government was saying, 'Please
move here,'” Burns said. “Reputable scientists were saying …
the climate was undergoing a permanent shift toward (rain), that this
was a new Eden.”

For a while, the rain did come; so did
speculators. “Suitcase farmers, who didn't live there, bought lots
of land and paid others to plant it,” Burns said. “They took this
buffalo grass that sent its roots down five feet into the ground and
turned over this soil …. We plowed up millions and millions of
acres, in a kind of speculative agricuture and real estate bubble.”

This was massive, said Dayton Duncan,
the“Dust Bowl” writer. “By the time the inevitable drought
(came), they had plowed up a place the size of the state of Ohio and
left it exposed to the winds.”

In the 1930s, the winds took control.
Dust blew to Chicago and beyond, Burns said. President Franklin
Roosevelt “was able to swipe his finger on his desk in the White
House and come up with Oklahoma.”

Mostly, it hit farm houses. “The only
clean place, when you woke up after a dust storm, was the underneath
your head on the pillow,” Burns said. Kids could “draw a picture
... in the dirt that just fell.”

Parents worked tirelessly to stop the
dust or clean it out, with little effect. Some people survived
despite dust in their lungs; some didn't. “There was a randomness
about it,” Egan said.

Egan was working on a book about
small-town America, when he heard stories of the Dust Bowl. One day,
six women talked to him for hours. “I went back to my motel and I
wept,” he said.

Only one-fourth of the people in the
Dust Bowl moved out. These were determined people, Egan said, whose
families had never before been land-owners. They'd been “sort of
kicked around to different places and finally, they had a piece of
dirt in the center of the United States.”

So they stayed and they persisted.
Usually fiercely independent, they asked for government help.

Civilian Conservation Corps workers
planted 220 million trees, Egan said. The government paid farmers to
cull their herds and restore some of the grassland.

These efforts, Burns said, were “able
to save people from starvation or just abandonment of their property
…. The United States government – an important agent in the folly
that created the Dust Bowl – also became the single most important
force in its abatement.”

– “The Dust Bowl,” 8-10 p.m.
Sunday, PBS, repeats 10 p.m. to midnight (check local listings);
concludes at the same times Monday

– Key books: “The Dust Bowl”
(2012, Chronicle Books), Dayton Duncan; “The Worst Hard Time”
(2006, Houghton Mifflin), Timothy Egan.



Growing up amid dust and dismay

What was it like to grow up amid the dark dismay of the Dust Bowl? This story tells it from the viewpoint of a former Colorado kid, now a retired teacher at 88. It's one of two stories I sent to papers about Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl," Sunday and Monday (Nov. 18-19) on PBS. The other story and the box should be right above this one:



He was a cowboy kid on the Colorado
prairie, living the only life he knew.

These days, Calvin Crabill is 88, a
University of California, Berkeley grad and a retired teacher; he's
one of 25 survivors featured in “The Dust Bowl,” the Ken Burns
film that debuts Sunday, with a local preview event Thursday. Long
ago, he knew the sound of the storms.

“Suddenly,” Crabill said, “you
had silence on the plains. (Then,) when that roller hit, all hell
broke loose. It was deafening …. You couldn't see or hear.”

Still, he did his job. He rode his
horse three miles to school; then rounded up the cattle afterward.

One day, when he was 8 or 9, a dust
cloud was already forming and the teacher closed school early. “She
said, 'Go home, children.' But I had to get the cattle in.”

As the storm encased him, he recalled
church lessons. “I just assumed it was the end of the world.”

His father, Crabill said, “assumed I
would not be so stupid as to go after the cattle when this big storm
was coming.” Then, through the dust, his dad saw a riderless horse.
“He thought, 'I have lost my boy.'”

He could have, Burns said. Often “kids
rounding up the cattle never came home. (They were) found tangled in
barbed wire, suffocated to death, choking. This is an apocalypse that
is so hard to fathom.”

But Crabill – at that point, walking
his horse with the cattle behind them – pulled through. He kept
doing that. “Survivors like Cal are the most astonishing people on
the planet,” said Timothy Egan, whose “The Worst Hard Time”
chronicles the era. “They not only lived through this horrible
respiratory exposure, but nutritional things.”

And emotional things, too, especially
when his life changed abruptly.

Crabill was 10 when, midway in the dust
decade, his family moved to Burbank, Cal. He had been in a school of
three kids; now he was with 600 or 700. “I've been in culture shock
ever since,” he said.

His family, luckier than most, still
had $500 when it reached California. That was enough to rent a modest
house while his dad – once a successful rancher –looked for labor

“I never invited anybody into my
house,” Crabill said. “Only two friends, in all the years that I
lived in that house, did I invite …. One was a person I later
married; I suppose I trusted her.”

Even in the Depression, the dust-storm
kids seemed different. “I felt that I was the poorest kid in the
high school,” said Crabill, who later learned “there were a
couple others that were just as poor.”

There was resistance to these
newcomers, Burns said. “These were unwelcome job-stealers ….
Wherever they were from, (they) were called Okies. And there were
signs in movie theaters saying,'Okies and N-word, upstairs.'”

Later, Crabill learned how long that
resentment would last. At his 55th high school reunion, he
was the moderator and mentioned that one woman was the daughter of
the people his family rented from. “She grabbed the mike from me
and she said, 'Yes, these people were 'Grapes of Wrath' people. They
were terrible. They were old and poor.'”

She and other classmates would
apologize to him, but 15 years later, that remains a vivid memory.
“It sticks,” Crabill said. So do other memories of being
swallowed by a deafening cloud of dust.