Web Series: ‘Distance’

Whoa. At last a web series that’s truly ambitious.

Distance is the story of a long distance relationship from two entirely different perspectives. Instead of being one creator’s take about the effect of such a relationship on those in it, this series uses two different directors – a man to tell the man’s story and a woman to tell the woman’s – and shows each episode in two distinctly different ways.

Watch the trailer and you’ll see what we mean:

What can we say except, “We love this?” Oh, wait, of course. We can add a question to this conversation, so it comes out as:

“We love this. Do you?”

Just trying to get your perspective….

Distance is HERE

Latest from the WGAW on Sexual Harassment

Received this email yesterday. In a word – okay, two and a half words – “We’re trying.”

For which all of us I’m sure are grateful. This is a hell of an important and very complex issue, but I for one am confident that more improvements will come.

Larry Brody: Does Anyone Remember Uncle Miltie?

by Larry Brody

NOTE FROM LB: Last week’s paean to Howdy Doody was so much fun that I can’t resist a few words about the first adult show I ever saw on TV. (Um, for the record, “adult” back in 1948 “adult” didn’t mean what it means now, so don’t be expecting too much, okay?)

Television wasn’t always the cultural giant it became.

But it didn’t take long – only a few years  – for it to bestride the country like the Collassis of Rhodes.

All because of Uncle Miltie.

AKA Mr. Saturday Night.

And, later, just plain Mr. Television.

Howdy Doody sold tons of Bosco in the course of his career, but Milton Berle sold flatcar-loads of TV sets.

His popularity made advertisers and pundits, reporters and social critics stand up and take notice. Television is real. Television is here to stay.

Yes, Virginia, back in the early days of TV Luddites and naysayers abounded. They said television was a fad people would soon tire of. They said the audience would return to its “proper” sources of entertainment–radio and, of course, theatrical films.

Milton Berle, whose televised behavior often looked more chimp-like than human made monkeys out of them all.

Texaco Star Theater starring Milton Berle moved from CBS radio to NBC television in June of 1948. I was introduced to the show a few months later, at the home of my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle George.

Aunt Dorothy and Uncle George have never struck me as the pioneering type, but they were the first people I knew who had a TV set and my first television viewing experience was in their living room after a family dinner.

My cousin Janie and I were either playing together or fighting with each other. (It’s difficult to remember which because our families were very close and we spent so much time together that the two activities were interchangeable.) Suddenly Aunt Dorothy’s voice broke through our noise. “Oh my God! It’s seven o’clock. Somebody turn on the TV!”

Uncle George took up the cry. “Hurry! Turn it on! Turn it on!”

Janie’s sister Ila, who was several years older than we were and closing in on teenage-hood, joined in. “What’re you waiting for, Larry? Turn the television on!”

I didn’t know what she was talking about, but Janie did. “I’ll do it!” She shoved me aside and ran to a big box up against the wall behind me. I hadn’t noticed it before, but now I saw its looming presence and, in its center a tiny screen.

At one end of the room someone switched off the overhead light. At the other Janie turned one of the thick dials below the screen with a ka-chung and slowly but surely the TV screen rezzed to life, its darkness replaced by the illuminated man who created what two generations later was called “Must See TV.”

How can I describe this iconic presence?

How about this:

A hulking troglodyte in a long blonde wig, his face heavily rouged, his lips darkened and made enormous by thick lipstick, his body covered from chest to foot by a ruffled evening gown whose design emphasized padded breasts that strove to create an illusion only a starving baby hippo could love.

Yep, that was Uncle Miltie in drag. Traipsing around and smacking people. Being smacked and tripping and falling and bouncing back onto his feet—-just in time to catch a pie with his monstrous parody of a woman’s face while the studio audience howled.

If Howdy Doody was to become my childhood saviour, then Milton Berle for me was the Anti-Christ. The terror I felt later at the sight of Froggy the Gremlin was a pale shadow of the sheer horror struck into me by my first look at television’s first major star.

But all around me my family was laughing. My mother, my father, Aunt

Dorothy, Uncle George, Cousin Janie, and Cousin Ila were having even more fun than the folks in New York City who were at that very moment, live, falling out of their tiered seats.

I’d never seen anything like it. A grown man acting dumber than any dumb kid, doing things that if I had done them would’ve resulted not in gales of laughter but in a spanking.

Even though I was grossed out I was fascinated. There was something truly mesmerizing about the experience. Every mind in my vicinity was captured in a way I’d never seen before. Everyone I loved most was being sucked into the Texaco Star Theater world, along with a whole crowd of strangers.
What power!

What excruciating delight!

“Delight” because for the first time in my short but alienated life I saw a way to belong. I didn’t have to be alone. All I had to do was let go of my fear and let myself become part of the Milton Berle Overmind and I’d be one of the family, finding comfort and hilarity as a member in good standing of the greater whole.

I admit it. I succumbed. Not even in kindergarten yet, and I was already selling out. I sat down between my parents and giggled and chortled and barked.

Two weeks later the Brody family had a TV set of its own.

Literally millions of people across the country were introduced to television this same way and bought sets of their own so they could introduce others. Apocrypha based on Uncle Milie’s popularity abounds. No, it was more than mere “popularity.” It was total dominance.

Restaurants in cities across the U.S. closed Saturday nights because no one was going out to dinner. Instead they were staying home to watch you know who.

High schools switched basketball games from Saturday night to Friday night for the same reason. No one wanted to leave the house.

Movie theaters came up with outrageous giveaways to try and lure film fans in after five or six in the afternoon on Saturdays. And failed.

Saturday night bridge parties were either cancelled or held with the TV set on. Businesses that had used being open Saturday nights to gain an edge over the competition gave up the attempt. Even crime, it was rumored, went way down.

Bottom line: For three hours every Saturday (an hour before the show to settle in, the hour of being caught in the spell of the show, and an hour afterward to unwind) America stood still.

And it didn’t end there.

On Sundays friends talked to each about Uncle Miltie’s antics the night before, sharing their impressions and feelings about what they liked most. These conversations were held before Church. After Church. In Church.

On Mondays co-workers went at it, reminiscing and acting out their own versions of the skits in which Uncle Miltie, ever the victim, performed pratful after pratful for our sins.

On Tuesdays everyone was still feeling the reverberations of the latest show.

And making plans to watch together the coming Saturday night so that those poor unfortunates who didn’t yet have TV sets wouldn’t be deprived.

To be sure, variety shows weren’t new. The basic format of stand-up comedy, skits, songs, dances, and more comedy and skits (and songs and dances) was as old as the English Music Hall and a staple of American vaudeville and even radio.

But never had this kind of entertainment–or any other, succeeded on such a large scale.

The country usually referred to as, simply, America, became in all ways cultural, truly the United States.

And even a terrified little kid named Larry Brody was delighted to at last feel part of the crowd.

‘Kids Pitch’ Reveals the Behind-the-Scenes Process of TV Development

Stephen Colbert strikes gold, thanks to a cast of brilliant 8-year-olds:

This TVWriter™ minion is thinking that it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all for these kids to be in charge.

Larry Brody: Of Course TV is Childish. Here’s Why.

by Larry Brody

NOTE FROM LB: Another heartwarming tale, both personal and otherwise, from Turning Points in Television, the little history book that could’ve but didn’t. Enjoy!

Chicago. A blustery December day in 1948.

One year to the month after a People-and-Puppet Show that was renamed The Howdy Doody Show after its first week on the air, a four year old boy sat on the floor of his living room, looked up at the tiny (but oh, it seemed sooo big screen of his family’s TV set), and watched Clarabell the Clown sneak up on Bob Smith (who hadn’t yet become the legendary “Buffalo Bob”), and get ready to blast him–and anything or anyone else within range–with seltzer water.

Also watching the action, but from his vantage point on the puppet stage that was part of the set, was the marionette star of the show, Howdy Doody himself. Howdy’s mouth opened. He was about to shout a warning. But Clarabell put his finger to his lips and shook his head as though pleading, his entire demeanor wordlessly saying, “No, please, let me do it, just this once…”

It was Big Decision Time for Howdy, but he never had to commit. Because from the “Peanut Gallery” of kids from toddlers through pre-teens who comprised a live audience that was also part of the show, shouts went up. “Look out!” “Duck!” “Oh no!” and Bob Smith whirled and saw what was about to happen and did look out and duck–just in time for the spray to shoot out over his head and almost hit Howdy!

The Peanut Gallery went wild, and on the floor of that Chicago living room the four-year-old looked up at the ceiling and prayed. “Please, God, don’t make me get older than four. Because when I’m older I won’t like Howdy Doody anymore. And I love him so much I don’t ever want to lose him!”

That’s how much this seminal television children’s show meant to that four year old boy.

That’s how much it meant to me.

But although The Howdy Doody Show had a huge effect on its viewers, it had an even bigger effect on television, an effect that’s still reverberating through the medium–and our culture as a whole.

The Howdy Doody Show was one of those legendary rarities, an instant success. Starting as a one-hour show on Saturday mornings, it soon became a half-hour show on every weekday afternoon from 5:30 to 6:00 Eastern Time. This made it the first television show ever “stripped,” as this kind of programming is called in TV Land, by NBC, and it couldn’t have found a better time slot.

Children had the perfect activity to engage in while waiting for dinner. What could be better for any kid than watching–no, hanging out with, because that’s what it felt like–a bunch of crazy folks like Howdy, Mr. Bluster, Dillydally, Flub-a-Dub, Princess Summerfallwinterspring, and the rest of what became known as the “Doodyville Gang?”

And moms had the perfect babysitter so they could get that dinner made. What could be better for any dedicated homemaker (we’re talking late ‘Forties and ‘Fifties here, don’t forget, when being a housewife was an honored profession, with no mockery or irony along for the ride) than to bear down on your pot roast knowing your child was safe, sound, and delighted–and quiet!–in the living room while you worked?

An argument might even be made that Howdy, who was created and voiced and owned by Buffalo Bob, was the lynchpin in a Sociological Turning Point: The much-mocked and even more abused grand tradition of parking your kids in front of the TV set so you can get a few moments respite from the responsibilities of parenthood.

Other offshoots of the popularity of the show are easier to pinpoint. The Howdy Doody Show proved that television commercials worked, with the sales of its best-known sponsor, Bosco (a chocolate syrup to be added to the kids’ milk) skyrocketing. Especially direct, personal commercials, integrated into the show and featuring its puppet star.

The FCC later banned this practice on children’s shows, acknowledging that four-year-olds like Little Chicago Brode were defenseless prey. However, The Howdy Doody Show also proved that prey or not, we, the youthful Baby Boomers, had more than our share of marketing muscle. Looking back at my beloved show I see it as the beginning of what became a regular Baby Boomer practice –the manipulation of our loving parents into buying whatever we wanted.

The Kid Clout of the time was so obvious that in the early days of Mad, before it became and magazine and was still a comic book, the group the masthead called “the usual gang of idiots” ran a parody called Howdy DoIt, featuring a commercial where the camera moved in ultra close on Howdy’s freckled, All-American face as he exhorted his viewers to scream and shout and hold their breaths and make their parents “BUY!!!”

Modern merchandising, the morphing of TV shows into products, began with the Doodyville Gang as well. There were Howdy Doody coloring books and Howdy Doody dolls and clocks and drinking glasses and mugs. My personal favorites were the inexpensive little marionettes based on the puppet characters.

My collection today, inconveniently stored at the bottom of a pile of boxes in a shed on my property, consists of Howdy, Clarabell, Dilly Dally, Flub-a-Dub, and Princess Summerfallwinterspring. Are these pristine-in-the-box-collectors’-specials?

Hell no. They’re used. Played with. Faded. And beautiful nevertheless.

Oh, and if anybody has one, I still long for an affordable version of Mr. Bluster!