Monday, April 27, 2020

TV: Journalism isn't supposed to be melodramatic or provoke belly laughs

Last week, two long running series came to an end -- one a drama, the other a sitcom.  Somehow though, the biggest drama came on the so-called news channels and, sadly, so did the biggest laugh.


EMPIRE wrapped up its disappointing sixth season with more nonsense.  As Stan has repeatedly noted at his site, there never should have been a sixth season and the show should have ended with season four.  That was the last time the series had any coherence at all.  Lucious was struggling with who he was (after surviving the hit that his son Andre had carried out on him).  Nurse Claudia (Demi Moore) shows up to help him but she's not there to help.  Cookie's dating weak, mama's boy Angelo (Taye Diggs) whose mother (Phylicia Rashad) is soon plotting to destroy Cookie.  Forest Whitaker and Nicole Ari Parker had joined the cast as Eddie and Giselle Barker.  Nurse Claudia terrorizing Lucious and Cookie would be real tension.

Lucious fighting some gangster in the final episode didn't produce tension.  It was badly staged and made it look as though neither Terrence Howard nor Wood Harris (Damon Cross) had ever been a fight in their lives --  let alone acted out one.  To offer some perspective, we haven't seen a fight scene staged so badly since ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.  In fact, the opening fight scene on the beach in that film was was the scene that neither George Lazenby nor his career could ever recover from.

And EMPIRE never recovered from bad writing nor from Jussie Smollett.  Jussie played the sympathetic and likable character of Jamal who was supposed to be a breakthrough by proving being gay was a choice.  Lee Daneils, Jussie explained, like Jussie, was attracted to women from time to time.  Oh, how f**king sweet.  That should have been called out from the get-go.

We saw that 'fluid' back in the day.  ABC couldn't take that Steven Carrington was gay.  Al Corley complained about the nonsense of ABC's homophobia and the constant trying to pair gay Steven with a woman and they responded by firing Al Corley.

EMPIRE was not a break through for gay characters.  Lee Daniels may need to examine his own homophobia.  Any major character that was presented as gay on the show tended to actually be bisexual.

There's nothing wrong with being bisexual.  But stop presenting it as "gay."

Presenting bisexual -- people who are attracted to both genders -- as "gay" reinforces the lie that being gay is a choice.

Daniels and Smollett both insisted -- lied -- that they were demonstrating that sexuality was fluid.

Of course, sexuality is fluid.  Pauline Kael was writing about that decades ago.

Help us out, though.  If sexuality is fluid (and we believe it is) and that was the message Daniels wanted to get across, why Jamal?

Why not have Lucious fall in love with a man or Cookie with a woman?

Isn't sexuality fluid, Lee Daniels?

Or is just fluid for the gay characters?

It's bad enough that EMPIRE trafficked in homophobic tropes like the killer lesbian (Naomi Campbell's Camilla kills lover Mimi portrayed by Marisa Tomei).  But a time when 'conversion therapy' still exists (quack science claiming you can 'cure' homosexuality), to take the only main cast character who is gay and repeatedly have him attracted to women was disgusting and offensive.

Again, there was no effort to use a 'straight' character to demonstrate the 'fluidity' of sexual attraction -- not by Lee Daniels.  Using a straight character, could have addressed fluidity but this wasn't about that -- this was about someone who's gay and their personal shame over being gay influencing storylines.  Lee Daniels has a career, he needs to examine his own homophobia before he creates anything else.

Jussie Smollett has no career.

Americans loved him as Jamal.  Jamal was a good character who was pushed to the limits by his parents -- even when they were unethical, he still loved them and tried to support them.  Jamal was someone America rooted for -- rooted that Lucious would truly accept him, rooted that Jamal would end the relationship with the man who battered him, rooted that love would win out for Jamal.  Jamal could also sing and America rooted for him to record what he wanted and not what Lucious tried to bully him into doing.

Then, in season five, Jamal became a problem.  That's when the actor that played him, Jussie Smollett, claimed he was attacked by Trump supporters early in the morning in Chicago while getting a Subway sandwich.  They told him, he said, that he was in "MAGA country" and snarled racist and homophobic words at him while tossing a substance on him and putting a rope around his neck.

Jussie, tearfully explained to the media, that he fought back.  He did so, apparently, with one hand because despite fighting off two men who were able to put a rope around his neck, he was able to arrive home with his Subway sandwich still intact.

Maybe, before he fought back, he said, "Hey, guys, ground rules -- sandwiches are off limits"?

It was all a lie.  Two friends of his (brothers) who had worked on EMPIRE were the 'attackers.'  They say Jussie paid them.  Jussie denies it.  He can't explain, however, why he couldn't recognize these men he knew, worked out with, went to the bath houses with, texted constantly, etc.  He can't explain why he couldn't recognize them or why these brothers from Nigeria were able to sound like White men.

Jussie is a liar.  He is a disgrace.

And once that became obvious, FOX (in the process of being bought by DISNEY) should have hired a spin-control expert for their property -- the TV show.  FOX refused to do so.  You had Lee, Taraji P. Henson and assorted others making statements of support for Jussie even after it became clear that Jussie was lying.

Even after Jussie cut a deal -- which was an admission of guilt. He lied to the public -- and was allowed to -- about the deal.  But you don't forfeit your bail money unless you're pleading guilty.  Innocent people don't forfeit their bail.

Even after that, Taraji was still shooting her mouth and looking like a hood rat.  The result was that she destroyed her film career.  When promoting 2018's PROUD MARY, she said she thought it would be a hit but she had other films coming out and they were strong films.  She was sure that she'd have a big hit in at least one of the films released over the next two years.  Then came Jussie's January 2019 lie and Taraji's constant lying for him.

WHAT MEN WANT was supposed to be a blockbuster.  Blockbusters, in the 90s, were defined as films that crossed the $100 million mark domestically.  $54.6 million is how much it took in (US and Canada).   Opening one week after Jussie's 'attack,' the film debuted at number two.  As America realized Jussie was lying and as Taraji continued to lie for him, the film sank.  Week two, it fell to number four, week three, it fell to number six. Then it went to number nine, then to number ten.  Then out of the top ten.  Five weeks in the top ten.

It wasn't a blockbuster.  You can argue that with the $20 million shooting budget and the $15 million on advertising and prints, it really wasn't even a hit.

Then came THE BEST OF ENEMIES which was supposed to be Oscar bait.  Supposed to be.  Instead, it was just a flop.  With a ten million dollar shooting budget, grossing ten million did not make it a break-even because the studio also spent millions on prints and advertising.

At 49-years-old, the moment has now passed for her to be a leading actress and that's why the industry now defines her as a "supporting actress."  Lee Daniels keeps talking about a Cookie spin-off of EMPIRE but he seems not to realize how hated Cookie and Taraji have become.

Jussie's lying was so against everything his character Jamal believed in and espoused.  There was no way he could ever return to playing Jamal and the fans felt betrayed.  FOX should have hired a spin guru to explain to the cast that there was no return to the show for Jussie and that their remarks about how he was innocent (he wasn't) were dragging the whole show down because the fans didn't want to hear it.  They were angry and they felt betrayed by Jussie.  They didn't want to hear Taraji lying that he was innocent.

All of this led to the destruction of the show.  The final season's storylines did not help either.  It was another season of Cookie's a dog.  Here's the ball, Cookie, here's the ball, go get the ball, go get it!!!

Every season Cookie is over Lucious and every season Cookie then realizes she loves Lucious.

It is the same damn storyline and it is tired.  It's also offensive when it's repeatedly dressed up in false talk of empowerment and growth -- this season ridiculously found Cookie going to therapy.  We say "going" and not "entering" because most therapy patients aren't bullying and threatening and cursing their therapist in session after session.

Terrence Howard maintained his dignity and managed to rise above the bad, bad, really bad storylines.  Trai Byers (Andre), Nicole Ari Parker and A.Z. Kelsey (Jeff) deserve praise.  They made every scene believable in spite of the bad writing.

Bad writing?

The same storyline again for Cookie was bad writing, absolutely.  But there was so much more.  Far too much to mention.  But we will note Giselle and Becky.  Giselle's brother shows up.  He gets hurt and we learn he is her son.  And then?  He has an argument with Giselle (who he doesn't know is his mother) and that's it.  He disappears.  What was the point in wasting time on a new character in what everyone knew was the final season if that storyline isn't even developed?  That's how it was over and over.  And poor Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) looked like a damn fool over and over.  Giselle took money from Damon Cross to keep BOSSY from going under.  Giselle and Becky started BOSSY and later took Cookie on as a partner.  When Cookie finds out that they owe Damon, she tears into Giselle in front of Becky.  Does Becky defend Giselle?  No, she lets Cookie fire her.  That firing made no sense.  It doesn't work in reality -- they had no grounds to fire her without going public about Damon which they didn't want to do.  It doesn't work for the story either.  Giselle had Becky's back and Cookie never did -- not before BOSSY and not after.  Becky ended up miserable.  It was her own damn fault.  The storyline rendered the character stupid.  Later, when she was attacking Porsha (Ta'Rhonda Jones)  and snorting cocaine, who gave a damn about Becky anymore.  The last episode tried to band-aid Becky by having her apologize to Porsha but it was way too late for that.

Most episodes were disappointing and dull and that was especially true of the final episode which opened with Taraji looking really unattractive in bizarre make up and a bad wig for a sequence that had nothing to do with the actual episode.  The episode worked -- when it worked -- due to the musical performances.  Sadly, it tried to do more than music.  And the suspenseful climax was Cookie realizing, as she's told Damon is about to kill Lucious, that she loves Lucious so she goes racing to his home (they divorced this season and Cookie moved out of their home) as Lucious and Damon engage in that badly staged fight we mentioned earlier.

More drama was provided on 'news' network CNN.  That's where 'journalist' Anderson Cooper plies his trade.  In the video below, Anderson is shown brushing up on his 'skills.'

Yes, Anderson's resorting to his moist and damp journalism again.  On Friday, he spoke to Katie Coehio, widow of Jonathan who had died from the coronavirus, and Anderson began his dramatics again.  He'd read the note from Jonathan previously, off air.  That was during his prep time and, apparently, he prepped for his tears then as well.

When Anderson's pulls this b.s., CNN should borrow this screen shot from AMERICAN DAD.


Anderson's not doing journalism, he's doing theatrics and it doesn't belong on television.

We'll come back to Anderson in a moment but let's move over to comedy.

NBC brought back WILL & GRACE and it did well.  So people were upset with NBC when it was announced that season three would be its latest.  NBC clarified that they were not the ones ending the series.  What killed the show?

What we knew would.  Back in 2017, we offered "NBC has a hateful bitch problem on their hands" and Debra Messing proved we were correct.  Megan Mullally wasn't in the mood to keep playing Karen on a show with Debra Messing.  And when that became public, we covered it in "TV: Truth in television?"

Megan has explained that she didn't like working with a bully (Debra).  That when she finally confronted Debra, it didn't make things better or easier, Debra just got more abusive.

Sadly, Megan got no support from her co-stars Eric McCormack and Sean Hayes.  We get it, it's hard to work with a bully.  And standing up to one can make you the focus.  But it was also cowardly of Eric and Sean to pretend they were 'neutral' when, in fact, they were enabling Debra's ongoing bullying.

It was worse than cowardly for Eric to lie to US that there were no problems, no feud between Debra and Megan.

In terms of acting, we're happy to note that Debra achieved her best moments as Grace (best moments during the three season revival) in this final season.  Megan and Sean were outstanding in all three seasons and Eric McCormack was just a damn disappointment.

Once upon a time, the asexual Will was a TV breakthrough.  ELLEN had been cancelled by ABC the previous season.  Asexual Will was tentative and played by a straight actor.  Will didn't get to kiss forever and a day.  And he got to draw a line between himself and Jack by noting Jack was more of a "f*g" (season one's "WILL WORKS OUT" which aired April 22, 1999).   The show returns in 2017 and he's still the prissy and safe character.  Times have moved on but Will hasn't.

Equally true, Eric has been a gross disappointment in his post-WILL & GRACE career.  Debra's at least tried different roles -- often failed in them, but she tried.  She can't carry a show and that's been the main revelation of Debra's career in the years since WILL & GRACE first ceased production.  Sean hasn't really acted all that much -- he moved into production.  When he did, he played Jack regardless of the name of the character.  Megan?  She's the only one working to create actual characters.  Her Tammy on PARKS AND RECREATION was different than Karen, so was her Bev on 30 ROCK, her Dana on HAPPY ENDINGS, her Franny on WEB THERAPY, her Margaret on THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE, her Chief on CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL, etc.

Megan's a real actress and she's carved out a career as a result of that.

If NBC wants to do a spin-off, it's KAREN.  She's got the acting chops.  Karen's got the storyline.  Vanessa Bayer has been a great sidekick for Karen as Amy.  With Karen owning the minor league baseball team, you've got your setting.

Thursday, two episodes of WILL & GRACE were served up.  The first thirty minute one was an actual episode.  It was also pretty damn disappointing.  Eric being pensive is not a storyline.  Too much time was wasted on his character who did nothing -- he didn't even speak to the surrogate carrying his child.  But he was given a ton of lines and way too much time to show that he's never grown as an actor and never will.  Sean Hayes got a storyline with Jack debuting on Broadway.  Grace went into labor.  Karen?  They gave her a storyline where she reunites with Stan.  Stan's never seen in any episode (the closest was when Jack was with Stan in a steam room years ago).  So it was pretty pointless.  Karen was much better when interacting with Jack.

The whole episode was pretty weak.  But it was better than the original ending.  That ending had Will and Grace destroying friendship and the goodwill the audience had for the show. (We reviewed that episode May 21, 2006.)

The episode that followed was pure garbage.  Eric McCormack hosted a clip-show.  He was the host, as Eric, not as Will (but is there a difference?).  And as he prattled on in his boring manner, we were left to wonder why Sean Hayes wasn't hosting the clip show instead?

Sean would have brought energy, to be sure.  But, more to the point, if we're going to talk about the series being groundbreaking -- as Eric did -- than why is Sean not the host?  Sean Hayes actually is gay.

He was 'in the closet' when WILL & GRACE first aired.  He'd already appeared in BILLY'S HOLLYWOOD SCREEN TEST --  but, in addition to that, Cher outed him by accident after filming the episode "Gypsies, Tramps and Weeds" (aired November 16, 2000) when speaking to the gay press -- she didn't realize he wasn't out of the closet.    Sean is out today.

If you want to get credit for breakthroughs for the LGBTQ community, why aren't you going with Sean Hayes who is gay?  Again, there's also the fact that Sean would have brought life to the episode.  It's as though the producers of WILL & GRACE, like Will in "Will Works Out," feels Sean Hayes is too much of a "f*g" for viewers to relate to.

That's disappointing.

So was the lack of strong laughter from either episode Thursday.  The big belly laugh that WILL & GRACE should have delivered came Saturday on, you guessed it, CNN.  That's when CNN finally discovered the Tara Reade story and uttered the words "Tara Reade" on camera for the first time.  It was NEWSROOM and Anna Cabrera was tossing to MJ Lee to discuss a video segment that bolsters Tara's allegations.  "And, first off, MJ, can you bring us up to speed on the allegation itself."  March 24th, Ryan Grim reported on the allegation for THE INTERCEPT, March 25th found Katie Halper posting her interview with Tara Reade.  One month later, CNN finally discovers the story and before they can cite themselves -- that's probably the only reason, the segment aired -- Anna has to offer, 'And, first off, MJ, can you bring us up to speed on the allegation itself."  You know, the one that they never previously reported on.

Better late than never.

But some honesty would have been appreciated.  The segment was about how Tara's mother had called into CNN's LARRY KING LIVE in 1993 and talked about her daughter's problem with a US senator.  Tara had already said that happened.  But no one wanted to do the work to find the clip -- including CNN.  They reported on the clip Saturday . . . one day after Ryan Grimm had reported on it.  Ryan was not mentioned in the CNN segment.

From Ryan's report:

In interviews with The Intercept, Reade also mentioned that her mother had made a phone call to “Larry King Live” on CNN, during which she made reference to her daughter’s experience on Capitol Hill. Reade told The Intercept that her mother called in asking for advice after Reade, then in her 20s, left Biden’s office. “I remember it being an anonymous call and her saying my daughter was sexually harassed and retaliated against and fired, where can she go for help? I was mortified,” Reade told me.
Reade couldn’t remember the date or the year of the phone call, and King didn’t include the names of callers on his show. I was unable to find the call, but mentioned it in an interview with Katie Halper, the podcast host who first aired Reade’s allegation. After the podcast aired, a listener managed to find the call and sent it to The Intercept.
On August 11, 1993, King aired a program titled, “Washington: The Cruelest City on Earth?” Toward the end of the program, he introduces a caller dialing in from San Luis Obispo, California. Congressional records list August 1993 as Reade’s last month of employment with Biden’s Senate office, and, according to property records, Reade’s mother, Jeanette Altimus, was living in San Luis Obispo County. Here is the transcript of the beginning of the call:

KING: San Luis Obispo, California, hello.
CALLER: Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington? My daughter has just left there, after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
KING: In other words, she had a story to tell but, out of respect for the person she worked for, she didn’t tell it?
CALLER: That’s true.

King’s panel of guests offered no suggestions, and instead the conversation veered into a discussion of whether any of the men on set would leak damaging personal information about a rival to the press.

Tara's charges against Joe have always rang true and she just ends up with more and more proof as time passes.  It's strange that people spent so much time avoiding this story.


COUNTERSPIN -- FAIR's weekly look at the media -- still hasn't found the story.  Last Friday?  Instead of covering Tara -- even in the 'recent headlines' segment -- FAIR elected to air . . . a 2019 repeat of COUNTERSPIN.  Now we don't pay that much attention to the show anymore.  We lost interest in 2006 when we discovered that they had more male guests than female ones.  And their refusal to cover sexism in the 2008 campaign (one sentence does not qualify as coverage) didn't help either.  Nor did their faux-rage that Barack Obama was asked about being friends with Bill Ayers -- who had been wanted by the US government.  FAIR went into overdrive telling you that was out of bounds.  A strange stance when you consider that FAIR routinely attacks any right-winger for being friends with this or that person.  They're just a joke.  Which is why we've lost interest.  But we do not remember FAIR ever doing a repeat episode of COUNTERSPIN.  Apparently, in order to avoid covering Joe Biden's alleged rape of Tara Reade, they'll even resort to airing repeats.

They're a joke and they're not the only ones.  Anderson Cooper?  Baby Cries A Lot got called out on FOX NEWS by Tara Reade.  She explained she'd lost "total respect" for Anderson after he interviewed Joe twice since she made her charge and Anderson refused, both times, to raise the issue with Joe.  Maybe 'news' should leave comedy and dramatics to the arts and try instead to practice journalism?

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