MY TOP MOVIES OF 2012

December 27, 2012

I didn’t see as many movies as I have in previous years, although that mostly means I saw less bad ones. Here’s the cream of the crop…

10.  “ARGO” – I didn’t love this as much as many of my friends, because I felt the “everything that could go wrong, almost did” of the final moments was overly manipulative, but I did enjoy the tense setup and the Seventies feel of the movie, thanks to evocative production design and cinematography (and mustaches… don’t forget mustaches!).

9.  “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” – One of the most overlooked movie stories of the year was the lack of successful romantic comedies. This was the best one by far.

8.  “TED” – How could this movie be the biggest surprise of the year when Seth McFarlane has been making us laugh for years?

7.  “ZERO DARK THIRTY” – An exciting, engrossing film that shows the strike on Bin Laden was even more courageous because the government didn’t know for sure he was there.

6.  “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” – While I prefer my Batman movies to have a little more Batman in them, this was still a fitting end to what is sure to stand as my favorite movie trilogy.

5.  “FRANKENWEENIE” – Loved the shout-outs to old monster movies, but mostly I liked it because Sparky the dog was so cute.

4.  “FLIGHT” – Even more than the tense emergency landing scene, the plight of Whip Whitaker trying (or not) to overcome his addictions has stayed with me since I saw the film.

3.  “JACK REACHER” – I’m a big fan of the Lee Child source novels, so it was a huge relief to see Tom Cruise pull off a believable portrayal of my favorite righter of wrongs. But more than that, the film was the kind of action movie laced with humor and mystery that we don’t see enough anymore.

2.  “LINCOLN” – My pick for Best Picture and needless to say Best Actor. Like “Zero Dark Thirty,” you knew how the story ended (in this case, with the passing of the 13th Amendment)  and yet it was still thrilling.

1.  “THE AVENGERS” – The most fun movie of the year. Writer/director Joss Whedon made the challenge of blending the six stars look easy. The final battle set a standard for superhero action that will be hard to top. Your move, DC!

My Top Songs Of 2012

December 27, 2012

After a few years where country music dominated my listening hours, pop music came back this year and took all but one spot on my yearly top 10.

10. Of course, that’s because I don’t consider TAYLOR SWIFT country anymore. Taylor rocked out on “Red” with songs like “State Of Grace” and the title cut, but my favorite was a character study called “THE LUCKY ONE.”

9. You might not know it, but year after year, RICK SPRINGFIELD puts out albums full of great rock and roll. His latest, “Songs For The End Of The World,” is highlighted by “OUR SHIP’S SINKING.”

8. The “Now” series makes it easy to collect pop music’s most popular singles. One of my friends buys the English version of the series, “Now That’s What I Call Music.” While many of the songs have typical house music oriented arrangements, I usually find a few future pop classics that haven’t been released in the U.S.yet. This year, my discoveries included Little Mix’s “Cannonball,” Jessie J’s “Domino” and this song that’s just breaking in the States, “PICKING UP THE PIECES” by PALOMA FAITH.

7. How could I not love a song called “SPRINGSTEEN”? While there’s not a lot about Bruce in it, this country smash by ERIC CHURCH was melodic and nostalgic.

6. Here’s a song I missed out on until I heard it thanks to my job as a researcher on “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2013,” where KARMIN will be performing their Top 20 hit, “BROKENHEARTED.”

5. “American Idol” alumni brought us some great music this year. I loved Phillip Phillips coronation song, “Home,” and Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away,” but the original was still the best, as KELLY CLARKSON dominated the airwaves with “STRONGER.”

4. Another one of my “Now That’s What I Call Music” discoveries, this artist is finally getting some attention in America thanks to his hit, “The A Team,” and an upcoming tour with Taylor Swift. But wait until you hear “LEGO HOUSE” by ED SHEERAN!.

3. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN wrote it to commemorate the closing of Giants Stadium, but to me this song came to symbolize the tough times people have faced this year, but still fought on. “Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got, bring on your WRECKING BALL!”

2. The spirit of Motown lives in the English girl group STOOSHE’s “BLACK HEART.”

1. It was one of the most popular and most played songs of the year, yet I never got tired of it. Who didn’t sing along with this in the car? The catchiest chorus of the year came from CARLY RAE JEPSEN’s “CALL ME MAYBE.”

DICK CLARK: A TRIBUTE

April 18, 2012

I wrote this for my blog in January, 2008…

THE MAGIC OF MR. CLARK

The comic character Wolverine often says, “I’m the best at what I do.” Well, whenever I hear that quote, I think of the one man I’ve known who’s always been the best at what he does, and that’s Dick Clark.

I remember once when I attended the taping of a pilot for a new talk show Dick was producing. Before the show got underway, Dick came out into the audience and asked everyone to be quiet for a moment. Suddenly you could hear a buzzing noise coming from one of the lights. Dick was the only one who noticed it, but you know it would have shown up on the tape if he hadn’t.

I’ve worked for dick clark productions on and off for the past twenty years. The first thing you learned about Dick was that his most precious commodity was his time. He was always involved in so many projects as a host, producer and businessman that he was literally scheduled for every single minute of the day.

One of his rules was never to offend any segment of the public by giving his opinions on politics or even music. He didn’t want anyone to have an excuse not to want to watch his shows. Dick played to the broadest possible audience, which is why when he did a show full of clips of say famous teen idols, he never showed the stars in chronological order but mixed them up instead to make sure whether you were young or old, you didn’t get bored.

He also never praised one star over another because you never knew who you might want to ask to guest on a show in the future. While some might say it made him bland as a personality, I think it helped add to his longevity as a performer.

So did his sense of humor about himself. He certainly didn’t take himself seriously on camera. You can see that in the promotional photos he took for shows like “Bloopers And Practical Jokes” with his eyes popping out of his head and a goofy grin on his face.

Dick was also a great interviewer. He always listened carefully to whoever he pointed that famous microphone at, whether it was a teen in the bleachers at “Bandstand” or one of the hottest stars in music. Many interviewers put the spotlight on themselves, but that was never Dick’s way.

None of this is to say Dick was the perfect boss. He certainly had a temper, although I was fortunate enough never to see it. Once when I was working as a researcher for “American Bandstand’s 50th Anniversary” TV special, I was supposed to fax Dick (who was in New York at the time) some research on what happened to the various Bandstand dancers over the years. About an hour later, one of the producers on the show called me into his office and said Dick had just yelled at him because he didn’t receive what he had expected. I asked why Dick hadn’t called me himself and the producer said Dick had to yell at somebody and didn’t want it to me (as it turned out, the fax machine didn’t print out all the pages I sent. I re-sent them and this time Dick got them all).

I got to spend some quality time with Dick when my friend Fred Bronson got the job of co-authoring with Dick a book on “American Bandstand.” Dick agreed to give us three interview sessions of two hours each, which was a huge allotment of time in his busy schedule. It was very special to hear Dick reminisce about his career and the many music stars he crossed paths with over the years. He even finally admitted what his favorite music was: disco!

The last thing Dick ever said to me was at the backstage offices of The American Music Awards a few years ago. He asked me to close a window. Even though I had known him for years, I still marveled that he actually remembered my name.

Not long after that, Dick had his stroke and pulled back from his on-camera duties. But he’s still there every New Year’s Eve, and as long as he is, I’ll still tune in and silently thank him for all the chances in life I’ve had because of him.

BACKSTAGE AT ACM PRESENTS LIONEL RICHIE & FRIENDS IN CONCERT

April 13, 2012

NOTE: I’ve placed a list of the performers and their songs at the end of the article for those that are looking for that information!

Usually each year I write an article called “Backstage At The ACM’s,” but I didn’t this year because while I was backstage at the show, I didn’t really pay much attention to it. That’s because I was so entertained by the rehearsals for the show the Academy of Country Music and Dick Clark Productions were taping the following night.

Like most music fans, I’ve always liked the music of Lionel Richie, through his time with the Commodores and during his solo career. I even saw him in concert once in Philadelphia during his tour supporting “Dancing On The Ceiling.” I’ll always remember the bungee jumpers featured during “Dancing” as back then, seeing people bouncing around on huge rubber bands was something new.

But I wasn’t sure basing a show around Lionel’s music in 2012 was the path to big ratings. If you listen to a recent Richie album, you’ll find he’s kept up with the times with a bit of house here and some silky R&B there but very little of his classic piano based ballads and no sign of the country stylings of songs like “Easy” and “Stuck On You.” But there’s no doubt Lionel’s new “Tuskegee” album brings it all back home, enlisting some of country’s biggest stars to join him on his greatest hits.

I was hired to work on “ACM Presents: Lionel Richie & Friends In Concert” as the researcher, and after last year’s “Girls’ Night Out” featured tributes to a long list of country divas, a show where we just featured the music of one star was like a vacation. Fortunately Lionel’s record company, Universal Nashville, had filmed an excellent interview with Lionel as well as lots of footage of Lionel recording with the various country stars, giving me a big head start on the job by the time we got to Las Vegas.

As in past years, while the rehearsals for the ACM Awards take place on the big stage in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a band of Nashville pros led by Music Director Edgar Struble gathers in one of the large rooms in the arena hallway and one by one (and in this case, sometimes two by two when there was a duet with Lionel that needed to be rehearsed) the stars come in and work on their song.

Luke Bryan was first in on Thursday, performing one of Lionel’s more rocking tunes. Friday brought the first appearance of Mr. Richie, who sat in with some of country’s biggest stars like Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, who both appear on “Tuskegee.” You could immediately see what a great entertainer Lionel is, as he told stories about his career (including how he once performed with Eric Clapton and Clapton’s crew pranked him by pretending that Eric was mad Lionel had walked in front of him onstage) and sang directly to the various staff members watching to make sure everyone was having a good time.

As always, I was amazed by the vocals of Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts. He may sound great on records and on stage, but there’s nothing like hearing him sing in a small studio.

Saturday included the rehearsal of one of the numbers that brought down the house at the show, as Marc Anthony and Sara Evans worked out their duet on Lionel’s classic, “Endless Love.” Marc made us laugh when he walked in and saw the staff seated at a long table that reminded him of the judges table in the audition room of a certain TV show. He faced us and said, “I’m Marc, 15, from the Bronx.” Then the vocal fireworks began between him and Sara…

Afterward, I saw that Sara had left her lyric sheet that she had written notes on of where she should sing. I was going to keep it as a souvenir, but I thought she might need it and so I gave it to her talent escort. Sure enough, she was holding it during her rehearsal in the arena, so I’m glad I gave it up!

Sunday was probably the most fun rehearsal. It started with Lionel playing the songs he’s performing solo on the show. No matter how many times he’s performed a song like “Three Times A Lady,” he still brings emotion and heart to it. We were then joined by another powerhouse vocalist, Jennifer Nettles, who will duet with Lionel on one of his number one hits, “Hello.” Next up was Kenny Rogers, who immediately started ragging on Lionel. It was like watching a great comedy team with Lionel the straight man. Kenny even stayed through the remaining rehearsals, just so he could offer complaints about the big hits that Lionel promised him that he never got to record, like “Endless Love” that he said Lionel played for him once and then somehow he could never get him back on the phone! You’ll get a taste of Kenny’s sense of humor on the show, as he gave a no holds barred commentary on the origin of his platinum hit, “Lady.”

The final rehearsal featured Big & Rich performing one of the Commodores biggest dance hits. The band got the soulful sound just right and the singers proved they could front any bar band in the U.S.

Monday, we moved to the big stage in the Grand Garden Arena for the dress rehearsal. I was busy working on getting materials for a montage in the show and stayed in the production office for most of it. Besides, I knew I would be watching the show that night!

While the ACM Presents concerts have been a big success in the past three years they did them, this year was something special, as the audience had a lot more energy, getting up to dance at every opportunity and handing out standing ovations whenever they could. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Rogers get such a warm welcome as he’s been under the radar a bit the past few years (although he is working on a new album).

I didn’t even mention such great performers as Martina McBride, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker. It was a terrific show to see in person and I know you’ll enjoy it if you watch it tonight at 9:00 on CBS… even if Lionel didn’t sing my favorite of his songs, “Oh No.” Oh well, there’s always “Tuskegee 2”!

List Of Performers:

Big & Rich: “Brick House”

Blake Shelton (with Lionel): “You Are”

Darius Rucker (with Lionel): “Stuck On You”

Jason Aldean: “Say You, Say Me”

Jennifer Nettles (with Lionel): “Hello”

Kenny Chesney (with Lionel): “My Love”

Kenny Rogers (with Lionel): “Lady”

Lionel Richie: “All Night Long (All Night),” “Three Times A Lady, “Easy”

Lady Antebellum: “Truly”

Luke Bryan: “Running With The Night”

Martina McBride: “Still”

Rascal Flatts (with Lionel): “Dancing On The Ceiling”

Sara Evans & Marc Anthony: “Endless Love”

The Band Perry: “Penny Lover”

Tim McGraw (with Lionel): “Sail On”

POP CULTURE HIGHLIGHTS OF 2011

December 28, 2011

Here’s my annual list of what excited and entertained me in the world of show biz this year:

10. What was my most exciting surprise star sighting of 2011? Was it running into Mark Pellegrino in the hallway of the Convention Center at the San Diego Comic Con and asking him to sign my “Lost” DVD (if I had known then how much I would enjoy his work on “The Closer” this year, I would have embarrassed him with praise!)? Was it standing in the buffet line at the after-screening party for “Take Me Home Tonight” and slowly realizing that the guy in front of me in line was Zac Efron (hey, he had a buzzcut, so he wasn’t that recognizable)? No, the most exciting surprise sighting was exploring the huge ballrooms at the Rio in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker, walking along aisle after aisle and not spotting anyone famous, only to stop at a table and realize I was staring at Phil Hellmuth, the bad boy of poker! I didn’t see any tantrums though, as Phil seemed to be in a good mood, talking and laughing with his fellow players. Must have been the lack of TV cameras…

9. I have long wished that Barry Manilow would put out one more great album with the kind of varied music of his classic seventies albums. I had to wait through five straight CD’s of covers, but on his latest album, “15 Minutes,” Barry did just that, and included a soaring ballad that belongs with his best called “Bring On Tomorrow.” And let’s give an honorable mention to Richard Marx, who also released some great new songs on his “Stories To Tell” album, “When You Loved Me” and “Loved.”

8. This year I was hired to write a TV show, “The Greatest Duets: It Takes Two,” for PBS. The show was hosted by Kenny Loggins and I got to have lunch with Kenny, an artist whose music I have enjoyed for years.

7. Another artist whose work I have enjoyed for years is that of my friend Ernie Halter. It was great fun this year watching as Ernie added to his fanbase, thanks to Justin Bieber! First Justin covered Ernie’s song, “Come Home To Me,” at a concert and then he attended one of Ernie’s shows and sang it with him. And thanks to the spotlight Justin gave Ernie, Ernie gained a lot of new fans, including just under half a million followers on Twitter. Pay it forward, indeed!

6. I was very happy to see USA bring one of my favorite authors’ books to TV with the movie, “John Sandford’s Certain Prey.” More please!

5. While I always enjoy attending the finale of “American Idol” each year, this year had special significance, even though no one knew it at the time. It was the final performance by saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who was featured on Lady Gaga’s “The Edge Of Glory.” I listen constantly to my Springsteen CD’s and Clarence was a huge part of making Bruce’s music come alive. RIP, Big Man!

4. Another one of my musical heroes is Elton John. While I have never interviewed him, I did get a chance this year to ask him a question at a press conference promoting a film he produced, “Gnomeo And Juliet.” And I was rewarded with a long thoughtful answer about Elton’s influences and his constant search for great new music.

3. Another big Comic-Con highlight came at a panel hosted by Entertainment Weekly’s “Lost” writers Dan Snierson and Jeff Jensen. They were interrupted by a guy in a stormtrooper’s uniform, who was revealed to be “Lost” producer Carlton Cuse, who was soon joined by the second half of the Darlton team, Damon Lindelof. Between a long Q&A and the reveal of a hilarious “lost” “Lost” scene, it was a grand goodbye to a great show.

2. While I may never see another show I love as much as “Lost,” I have to give props to all the great series on FX I discovered this year. First I got into the second season of “Justified,” which was full of great acting and engrossing plots. Then a few months later while on vacation, I was up late and saw a few episodes of “Louie” and instantly loved the show’s surrealistic brand of comedy and drama. Truly amazing. And just a few months ago, I saw “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” for the first time and thanks to reruns on FX, Comedy Central and syndication, I’m already caught up with every episode. “Seinfeld” but with even worst people? I love it! Now if FX would only greenlight “Powers”…

1. I took my annual trip to Las Vegas to work on the Academy Of Country Music Awards as well as the special “Girls Night Out” and was wowed by Carrie Underwood’s one-two punch. First she did a surprise duet with Steven Tyler at the ACMA’s on “Walk This Way” that was the highlight of the show and then turned around and topped that performance the next night with her stunning rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” I also have a few more personal highlights from working on the shows, including meeting the great John Fogerty (okay, he just thanked me when I got him some water, but still!) and getting to speak to another of my favorites, the shockingly tall Vince Gill, when I happened upon him sitting outside the rehearsal room. Do I now have some Vince Gill autographed CD’s? Of course!

My Comic Con 2011

July 25, 2011

Once again I headed down to San Diego for the extravaganza known as Comic Con. While movies like “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Immortals” were getting the big push from the studios (judging from the wraps done on the sides of the big hotels), I was more focused on the TV shows being promoted.

 

We arrived too late on Wednesday night to do little more than a walk through of the exhibit hall, which followed the layout of the previous year. Thursday I spent haunting the DC Comics booth, where writers and artists show up to meet fans, autograph books and sketch for free. I always hang around the DC booth much more than Marvel’s because while Marvel will have just one line featuring a few of their stars each hour, DC will have three or four going at once, keeping the lines manageable. My thanks to Dan Jurgens, Jeff Lemire, Norm Rapmund and Rafael Albuquerque for the additions to my sketchbook.

 

Of course, my number one priority at the Con was adding autographs to my various books. For instance, I have a book on the history of DC Comics signed by over 130 writers and artists that have worked for the company. I also have books on Marvel Comics, television and Batman, my favorite as I started with the signature of Batman creator Bob Kane 25 years ago and have been adding to the book with the autographs of people that have worked on Batman in comics, TV and movies ever since. Somehow though, one autograph has always eluded me… the signature of comics legend Frank Miller! Once again, I tried and failed, as they capped the line for Frank before I arrived at his signing. Oh well, there’s always next year…

 

But any sadness over that missing signature was washed away by my success at adding autographs to my “Lost” Season One DVD box. I was in time for the signing by Nestor Carbonell, who’s in the new CW show, “Ringer.” It’s a good thing for me Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t sign, as I’m sure the line would have been around the block! Then Saturday, I added three more “Lost” actors to the box. To participate in Warner Brothers signings, you had to draw a winning ticket from a bag. If you did, they gave you a wristband, which got you into their booth at the appropriate time. I was lucky and got a ticket for “Person Of Interest,” enabling me to get Michael Emerson’s autograph and say a few words to him. I felt bad though, as I was planning to have the other stars of the show sign my TV book, but the security at the booth insisted I only have one item signed, even though it meant I would only have one actor sign for me. Well, the “Lost” DVD came first, of course. When I left the booth, the two guys in front of me in line commented on how badly the security guy had treated me and added that another actor from “Lost,” Mark Pellegrino, was standing near the booth. Unfortunately he had moved away by the time I looked around, but I later saw him in one of the upstairs hallways and he was happy to sign the box right then and there. Finally I had noticed that Daniel Roebuck, who portrayed the not long for this world science teacher Doc Artz on the show, was scheduled to sign free autographs at a booth, so I hightailed it there and added signature number four to the “Lost” box. Dan also gave me an autographed photo of himself (on which he wrote “Kaboom!” which I made me laugh) and spoke of a family film he has coming out called “That’s What I Am.” He’ll also be seen in an episode of “The Mentalist” next season.

 

Of course, my “Lostapalooza” didn’t end there, as I attended the  “Lost: One Year Later” panel and enjoyed the surprise appearance of “Lost” producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. Kudos to EW writers Jeff Jensen and Dan Snierson for turning over their panel to Darlton for the duration. Of course, the highlight was the showing of a never before seen “Lost” scene they code named The Marbled Rye. Check it out online if you were a fan of the show. Very funny!

 

Still, the one thing about Comic Con is making choices. Did I err by attending that “Lost” panel and skipping the “Green Lantern” animated series panel hijacked by Conan O’Brien, who answered questions and told jokes for 45 minutes? Should I have attempted to attend a panel in the gigantic but usually packed Hall H, which this year may have had a few empty seats, for the chance to see Steven Spielberg? Maybe, but it doesn’t matter. Because the truth is the thing that keeps me going back to Comic Con year after year is the chance to hang out with my friends in a city that’s full to bursting of people who love the same things I do!

GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT: COUNTDOWN TO THE SHOW!

April 4, 2011

Today rehearsals for tonight’s “Girls’ Night Out” show began at 10:30 AM, with Vince Gill working up his rendition of “Jesus Take The Wheel” with the house band in a rehearsal room. I’m a longtime Vince Gill fan (he was at his peak of popularity about the time I got into country music and his songs of heartache matched my state of mind perfectly back then), so I was very glad he finally participated in the ACMA festivities, as he hadn’t attended since I started working on the show.

In “American Idol” parlance, Vince “made the song his own,” and I realized how important his guitar sound is to his music.

After running through the song a few times, Carrie Underwood arrived and they worked on their duet (from this point on, I won’t mention the songs, as I see the spoilers have been picked up here and there on the web). Around this time, the performers who were scheduled for rehearsal afterward all started to arrive, with Reba, Rascal Flatts, Jennifer Nettles and Ronnie Dunn all adding to the star power and hanging out in the room at the same time. One thing about country music: everyone knows everyone else and they all get along, with the singers not rehearsing all bobbing their heads to the music and singing along. They were especially impressed by Carrie’s singing on her duet with Vince, with everyone clapping at the end.

As the other acts ran through their songs together, I was busy watching for my chance to get Vince’s autograph, but he was busy conversing with the various musicians hanging around. I thought I had lost my chance because I thought he’d left, only to see him a few minutes later sitting in a chair alone in the public hallway, listening to Carrie’s version of “Jesus Take The Wheel” on his phone, still working on his performance. I took my shot and Vince was more than happy to sign a few CD covers I had brought to Las Vegas. I told him how he was one of the artists that got me into country music and he joked how he ruined me for life and thanked me. As super nice as expected, and surprisingly tall. Taller that me anyway!

Rehearsals have now moved to the big stage in the arena. Time to take a look!

BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE ACMA’s 2011: SHOWTIME!

April 3, 2011

So I haven’t had any time to write a post until now, just two hours before showtime. The dress rehearsal looked great, at least what I could see on the monitor in the production office. I’m looking forward to finding out the identity of Carrie Underwood’s surprise guest for her performance. Many people online were guessing Steven Tyler. I was thinking it might be Celine Dion, at least until I read Britney Spears was seen in Las Vegas this weekend. That’s who I would put my money on, but we’ll see!

Most of my duties have been preparing for the show they’re taping tomorrow, “Girls’ Night Out,” which will be broadcast on April 22nd on CBS. The reason I’ve been so busy is we keep changing things on the show to make them better, right up until the last possible minute. Mostly we’ve been improving the tribute packages, which are a glimpse into the early lives of our honorees. I’ve been asked to find photos of their hometowns, their families, and their early performances. Some of my favorite material came from Carrie Underwood’s management, who sent us footage of Carrie performing in a school assembly and even on a Tulsa Oklahoma TV station when she was in the seventh grade. Turns out she was a seasoned performer even then!

My favorite moments so far occurred at the rehearsals for the “Girls’ Night Out” show. As always on the second show, the house band sets up in a small room and the artists drop by to work on their songs. The great John Fogerty is performing two songs, including a duet with Wynonna Judd on one of his Creedence classics. Yesterday, John spent some time rehearsing his performance of a Judds song, followed by a run-through of “Proud Mary.” First the band did it like the original record, which sounded great. But then John announced that was the first time he’d played it that way in 40 years and that he’d taken a tip from the Tina Turner version and sped it up a bit, so they played it that way and that’s the way you’ll hear it on the show. And did I mention that John spoke to me? Sure, it was only to thank me when I got him a bottle of water, but still! Just observing him, you could see he was the nicest, most humble rock star you would ever want to meet.

Enjoy the show!

ACMA’S 2011: THE COUNTDOWN IS ON!

March 28, 2011

This year’s run-up to my annual trip to Las Vegas to work on the Academy of Country Music Awards has been especially hectic. It seems just when I think I’m getting close to the finish line, they move the end of the race a few miles further!

You’ll remember that the past two years have featured tribute concerts taped the night after the ACMA’s, both of which I’ve been the researcher for. Two years ago, they celebrated George Strait winning the Artist of The Decade accolade, while last year, the concert commemorated the careers of Brooks & Dunn on the occasion of their last hurrah together. This year, one act wasn’t enough. The Academy decided to pay tribute to seven artists at once, with Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, the Judds, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert and Reba McEntire all getting the star treatment on “Girls’ Night Out: Superstar Women Of Country.”

“Girls Night Out” is a bit more intricate production wise than the past two tribute concerts. Rather than just have an artist come out and talk a little bit about the honorees before performing one of their hits, we’ve prepared tribute packages about the artists. In some cases, we even sent crews to their hometowns to talk to people that knew them growing up. In fact, one of my first jobs when I started on the show a few weeks ago was to help organize the shoots and get in touch with the people we wanted our crew to interview.

A few of the tribute packages include glimpses of our honorees as children. It turns out that every one of these artists were dynamic performers long before they became superstars. I especially enjoyed the footage of Jennifer Nettles with her high school 4-H group, Clovers & Co., as well as Carrie Underwood performing at an Oklahoma TV station while she was still in seventh grade.

In addition to organizing shoots and gathering footage, I’ve also been pitching in trying to locate photos we can use in the background screens during various performances. You’d think that would be as easy as just entering someone’s name in Google Images, but it’s more complicated than that. First, you need photo files big enough to fill the screens, and then you have to be able to clear the photos. What this means is we need to get permission for every photo and bit of footage we use. Naturally we try to use video from past ACMA shows, but you also get sent material by the different management companies of the artists and every single thing you use, you have to identify where it came from, find out who owns it and get them to sign off on using it. It’s a really big job and Dick Clark Productions has a clearance department to handle it, but as I’m the person who’s getting the stuff in, it’s up to me to keep track of everything!

But don’t cry for me, country music fans! Tomorrow I’m off to Sin City for a week of hanging out with the biggest stars in country music… although I have to admit I’m more excited about some of the non-country performers. No, not presenter Robert Pattinson! I’m eager to try and meet James Taylor, who’s performing with the Zac Brown Band on the ACMA’s, as well as another rock legend who’s not officially booked yet for “Girls’ Night Out,” but I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m also psyched to see Vince Gill, who will be singing a Carrie Underwood classic on “Girls’ Night Out.” This will be the first time he’s been on one of the ACM country shows since I’ve been working on them, and he’s one of the first performers I really liked when I started listening to country music.

Keep your eye on my blog for more backstage scoop from Las Vegas later this week!

POP CULTURE HIGHLIGHTS OF 2010

December 25, 2010

Here’s my year end wrap-up of what I really enjoyed this year:

1.  “NCIS”:  Back in March, I helped out my friend Chuck The Movie Guy by filming a few of his interviews on the red carpet at the Paley Television Festival. I joined him to cover “Flash Forward,” “Cougar Town” and “NCIS,” and I never would have imagined that a few months later the latter show would become my biggest pop culture obsession of 2010 (which is another way of saying my biggest obsession).

My friend Brad had gotten obsessed with the show a few months before me and had soon seen every episode, a goal made easy by the fact they constantly show old episodes on USA Network. Based on Brad’s recommendation, I caught a few shows while visiting my hometown, and just like Brad, I soon devoted my free time to seeing every episode. Well, almost every episode. I have two more to see. I should have known this would happen. From “Magnum P.I.” to “Quantum Leap” to “JAG,” there hasn’t been one long running show created by Donald Bellisario that I haven’t loved.

2.  “LOST”:  Many were disappointed at the way the show wrapped up, but I liked it just fine all the way to the end. Maybe “Lost” was never as complicated as we viewers thought while trying to puzzle out it’s mysteries through the years, but the revelation of the meaning of the alternate universe still packed a punch. I never thought there would be another show as important to me as “The X-Files,” but this was it.

3.  “BROOKS & DUNN: THE LAST RODEO”:  So many reasons this is on the list. My annual week in Las Vegas working on the show that tapes the night after the Academy Of Country Music Awards is always a joy. The week included such highlights as sitting in on an interview with Carrie Underwood, my first look at City Center and hanging out just a few feet away from great performers like Keith Urban and Jennifer Hudson as they ran through their songs. Then there was the ACMA show itself, the always fun after-party where act after act goes onstage and does a song or two (I loved Laura Bell Bundy singing Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary” exactly like Tina Turner, complete with choreography and backup dancers) and “The Last Rodeo” itself, enlivened considerably by the hilarious Kix Brooks.

4.  COMIC-CON:  I only decided to go the week of the show and I’m glad I did, as I got to meet some of my favorite stars, including Pauley Perrette of “NCIS” and Elizabeth Mitchell of “V,” which allowed me to add another signature to my “Lost” DVD box.  Sure, I had to wait in some long lines, but it was totally worth it. And then there was the moment Saturday night as I was packing to leave and suddenly fireworks started lighting up the sky across the street over the convention center. Magic…

5.  The “American Idol” Finale:  While I have to admit I wasn’t too excited by Lee DeWyze’s win, I did enjoy the parade of guest stars like the Bee Gees, Chicago and Hall & Oates and was amazed by Bret Michaels’ appearance so soon after his hospital stay. The show was followed by the always enjoyable after-party, highlighted by Siobahn Magnus’ joy at meeting her idols, the brothers Hanson, as well as catching up with some of my Idol favorites from past seasons.

6.  “Mad Men”:  This was the year I finally really got into the show. “The Suitcase” was the best hour of TV I saw this year.

7.  “The King’s Speech”:  My favorite movie of the year. I was into it right from the very beginning. Funny and touching in equal measure.

8.  Gary Oldman:  My favorite interview of the year came during the junket for “The Book Of Eli,” as Gary admitted he chooses his roles these days around his life as a single father, explained how he turns on the emotion for his angry scenes and admitted he was having such a good time, he didn’t want to leave the room.  We didn’t want him to leave either.

9.  “Inception”:  The only movie this year I couldn’t wait to see. I vote the top keeps spinning!

10. “Sherlock”:  A superb BBC miniseries shown on public TV here in America. Not that I didn’t enjoy the Robert Downey, Jr. version, but this was the Sherlock I grew up knowing.

11.  “Heartbreaker”:  The French show the Americans how it’s done. A great premise and likable leads remind us that a great romantic comedy need not be just a flick for chicks.


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