Archive for December, 2009

MY LIFE AS A RESEARCHER

December 30, 2009

I’m working out of my home this week, as I fulfill my duties as the researcher on ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” While the three writers of the show are freezing in New York City, I’m handling their research requests right here in my bedroom. I thought I’d give you a rundown of the kind of things I have to do for the job.

When I first started work on the show a few weeks ago, the first order of business was to put together some montages with such themes as the biggest music hits of the past year and the biggest films at the box office of 2009. Of course, thanks to the huge holiday movie attendance this past week, I can tell you that our original pick for number five has changed places with the former number four biggest hit of the year. Since we knew there was a chance of that happening, the editors put together two versions of the movie montage. Let’s just hope “Avatar” doesn’t make it to number five before New Year’s Eve. Keep your fingers crossed!

Anyway, after tracking down trailers for the movie montage (not too hard to do thanks to the free trailer section of Itunes) and music videos for the music hits montage (many of which were already in house from the American Music Awards), I just had to obtain some photos for a third montage that I won’t name but that you can see during the 10:00 hour of “Rockin’ Eve.” The theme of the montage actually changed four times on the last day we had to complete it. Some of the ideas you won’t be seeing: the most searched for celebrities on the internet and the greatest gadgets of the past decade. Fortunately, we went back to our original idea, for which I already had collected most of the photos we needed, but not all. Thanks to the Christmas holidays, some of the stars I needed photos of were either on hiatus and had closed their offices or were too busy taping their final shows of the year to okay photos, which is why two hours before the deadline, I was driving around Hollywood visiting photo shops to buy what I needed. Fortunately, Hollywood Book & Poster came through and I was able to drop off the photos with the editor in time to get to a screening of “Sherlock Holmes” afterward.

Although I breathed a sigh of relief thinking the hard work was done, it didn’t take long for me to realize it had hardly begun. Since the writers arrived in New York late last week, I’ve been bombarded with questions about things they wanted to include in the script. First I gathered some fun trivia and updates about guest stars Jennifer Lopez and Daughtry that could be included in their introductions and dialogue with host Ryan Seacrest. Next up was the updating of facts about New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Things like changes to the Famous Ball (288 of the  Waterford Crystals covering the Ball have been replaced with newly designed ones) and how much confetti is dropped (over a ton). The writers also wanted to know things like who were some of the honorees who in the past helped push the button that starts the Ball on it’s downward journey (Christopher Reeve, Muhammad Ali and last year Bill and Hillary Clinton) and how big is the cleanup crew that tidies up Times Square after the big event. Well, I’m still waiting for the New York Department of Sanitation to call me back with the answer to that one, but for the most part, I’ve found the answers on the internet or by asking the very helpful staff at the Times Square Alliance, the organization which is responsible for promoting Times Square.

My deal with the show says I have to be available for questions right up until midnight New Year’s Eve. That’s East Coast Time of course, so I have time to go out and celebrate if I want to. But I’ll probably stay in and watch the show and clap when my name shows up in the credits.

To you and yours, have a Happy New Year!

TOP TV SHOWS OF 2009

December 25, 2009

While I see a lot of movies thanks to my job covering movie junkets for the Interview Factory, the truth is I enjoy the TV shows I watch more than all but just  two or three of the movie I see each year. Here’s what I loved in 2009 (and you’ll notice I loved so many shows, I made the list a Top Twelve):

12. “PSYCH” – I just started watching this show in the last year. It has a lot of things going for it, with the fast talking chemistry between stars James Roday and Dule Hill first and foremost. I first got hooked thanks to a terrific tribute to slasher movies, and have since been impressed by some of the mystery plots, which are actually a challenge to solve.

11.  “CRIMINAL MINDS” – I stopped watching this show early on during the first season and only recently tried it again… if by try, you mean watching it non-stop thanks to the omnipresent re-runs on Ion and A&E. The show is the television equivalent of the thriller books I read, and does a good job of coming up with varied plots week after week. This is the kind of show where the actors could easily get bored and you have to admire the way they bring their A game every epiosde. And one more thing: producer Edward Allen Bernero is the Joss Whedon of serial killer thrillers. Whenever he writes and directs an episode, the show is at it’s best.

10.  “AMERICAN DAD” – As much as I love “Family Guy,” “American Dad” pays more attention to each week’s plots, making the show more reliably funny. The fact that I can actually remember the plots (including a hilarious satire of “Apocalypse Now” set at a golf course recreation of Vietnam) proves it.

9.  “FRINGE” – Here’s a show that’s really improved in it’s second season, thanks to making Joshua Jackson’s Peter a full partner to Anna Torv’s Olivia. With John Noble’s Walter Bishop the most enjoyable to watch eccentric genius on TV and a new focus on the show’s mythology driving the action, “Fringe” should keep rising up this list in the years to come.

8.  “HOUSE” – While some critics and viewers haven’t enjoyed the revolving door changes of House’s staff, I haven’t minded it, as it gives House a different cast each week to bounce ideas off of and bother. Add in more time for fave characters Wilson and Cuddy and the continued great writing of House’s quips and you’ve got a show that continues to be a lot of fun every week.

7.  “MONK” – In recent seasons, the mysteries may have gotten easier to solve, but the writers continued to find interesting situations that forced Monk to battle his phobias. But this is on the list for the perfect way “Monk” ended, giving closure to one of the most likable casts on TV. Seeing Adrian wear something different  in the final scene warmed my heart.

6.  “CSI” – Thursday night at 9 is TV’s biggest battleground. I watch three shows at that time, so I’m glad that “CSI” is on Hulu. Yes, I miss Gil Grissom as much as the next fan, but every week the show serves up an intriguing mystery with great production values.

5.  “AMERICAN IDOL” – This year’s exciting duel between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert made “Idol” more exciting than ever, but the real surprise was Paula Abdul’s final year as a judge had her making the most sense on the panel.

4.  “24” – “24” tried a new format this year. Rather than trying to string a threat along through too many episodes, the show became almost a series of mini-movies (my favorite: “Die Hard” in the White House). “24” also seemed to have fewer stupid plot points with even the White House intrigue and the coming of Kim Bauer adding to the fun.

3.  “BURN NOTICE” – While this is one of USA’s top rated show, I often run into people that have never heard of it, and that’s a shame. “Burn Notice” has a retro feel in that it mixes the plotting of “Mission Impossible” with the likable cast and tropical feel of “Magnum P.I.” Just pure fun…

2.  “SUPERNATURAL” – Here’s my nominee for most improved show. While it’s always mixed exciting horror movie type plots with outstanding comedic episodes, the past two seasons have seen the show raising it’s game with the rising of Lucifer and subsequent battle against the devil. And in the midst of all the end of the world seriousness, they haven’t stinted on the comedy with recent episodes showing the Winchester brothers visiting a “Supernatural” fan convention and surviving being trapped inside various hellish TV shows.

1.  “LOST” – Not just my favorite show of the year, but perhaps my favorite show of all time (oh “X-Files,” what could have been!). I probably spend more time reading about “Lost” on the internet than I spend watching other shows! Let’s just see if they can stick the landing this coming year.

I’ll admit the fifth season brought us some illogical plot turns like why Juliet, Sawyer and Kate got off the sub or the method the 815’ers used to get back to the island, but it also brought us the usual great acting from Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson and company, interesting time travel conundrums and yes, answers! But while I think I finally have a handle on what’s been going on these past five seasons, I don’t think the surprises are over yet. Bring it on, Darlton!

TOP SONGS OF 2009

December 22, 2009

While it usually takes an interesting lyric I can relate to for me to like a song, this list of my faves from the past year shows that a catchy melody certainly helps. As usual, country hits lead the way, with six of the ten showing at least a hint of twang.

10.  HER DIAMONDS – Rob Thomas

Heard this once while driving through Pennsylvania and started singing along with the chorus immediately.

9.  PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME – Pink

Like it came through a wormhole from the eighties!

8.  PLEASE DON’T STOP THE RAIN – James Morrison

A friend of mine always buys the CD’s that come out under the “Now That’s What I Call Music” banner in England. Unlike the American versions, the British ones are two CD’s and usually provide either a great dance remake of an old song or some fun unheard in America blue eyed soul, like “Dream Catch Me”  by Newtin Faulkner from 2008 or this gem from the singer that previously scored with “Wonderful World .”

7.  “DIDN’T YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVED YOU” – Kellie Pickler

I’ve loved this song since 2006, when it appeared on Kellie Pickler’s first album. It was never released as a single, but Kellie gave the song another shot on her latest album and it finally become the hit it deserved to be all along.

6.  “THEN” – Brad Paisley

While Brad has been churning out clever hits about such up to date subjects as the internet and tabloid celebrity, he hasn’t forgotten how to write an affecting love song, and here’s the proof.

5.  “I RUN TO YOU” – Lady Antebellum

Just a catchy fun song that’s great to sing along to.

4.  “KISS A GIRL” – Keith Urban

Another country star who’s superb on both rockers and ballads, this showed the uptempo side of Keith’s personality.

3.  “FALLIN’ FOR YOU” – Colbie Caillat

I found Colbie’s “Breakthrough” to be a big step forward from her debut album, with this song leading the charge and bringing back the sound of California rock to the radio.

2.  “FIFTEEN” – Taylor Swift

For those that complain Taylor just isn’t country enough, try to remember that great country songwriting is in the details, and no writer this year has put more of the details of real life into their songs than Taylor. Plus she’s no slouch at coming up with a memorable melody. I can’t wait until her songs catch up with her age and take on a more adult perspective.

1.  “BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE” – Kellie Pickler

A song I never got tired of hearing. And what do you know, Taylor Swift had a hand in writing this one too… as well as “You Belong With Me,” “The Best Day,” and a number of others that make this without a doubt the year of Taylor Swift…

TOP TEN POP CULTURE MEMORIES OF 2009

December 21, 2009

Credit where credit is due: Whitney Matheson of USA Today’s Pop Candy blog put together a list of her Top Ten Pop Culture Memories of the past year, which included parties, screenings and concerts.  Loved the idea,  so I copied the idea. Here we go…

10.  “THE AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS”:

Not quite as fun as the 2008 version, when I hung out during the show with friends who were hunting autographs and photos to impress their kids in the dressing room hallway. We  spotted such stars as Mariah Carey, the Jonas Brothers and Coldplay, who were more than happy to pose.

Still, the AMA’s make the list because this is the year I realized that with a Production Pass, you could just take an empty seat in the back of the hall during the show. But that wasn’t good enough for one of my friends who used to help coordinate the audiences for big events like this. He asked one of the staff to sit us in the front row for a while, and while we only made it to the third row (they were saving the empty front row seats for Marc Anthony as his wife Jennifer Lopez was about to perform), we still were darn close for J. Lo and Whitney Houston…

9.  “THE AMAZING RACE”:

I had the chance to spend a week in Dubai this year, so I loved seeing the two episodes of the Race that were shot in the Emirates. Like the contestants, I visited the Burj Dubai, the Gold Souk, the indoor ski resort Ski Dubai and the Madinat Jumeriah resort. I didn’t make it to that fateful water slide, but unlike Mika, I would have went down it if I had…

8.  “THE ACM ALL STAR JAM”:

While I was in Las Vegas to work on the event you’ll read about at  # 2, I got a chance to attend “The Academy Of Country Music Awards.” And while it was a great show, the real winner was the one that wasn’t on TV. Every year the ACM hosts an informal concert right after the Awards in a ballroom at the MGM Grand. And while I missed an appearance by Kenny Chesney because of a late dinner, I really enjoyed what I did see, including John Rich, the Zac Brown Band and best of all, the newly crowned Entertainer Of The Year, Carrie Underwood in the most no holds barred performance I’ve ever seen her give…

7.  THE “TERMINATOR SALVATION” PRESS DAY:

For years, I’ve been filling a copy of “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” with the autographs of everyone who has added to the legend of the Dark Knight, whether in comics, movies or television. So far I have fifty autographs (including the late Bob Kane, the creator of Batman who was the first person to sign the book) and not one person has personalized it by writing “Thanks, Brian” or anything like that. I’d like to keep the book pristine in that way, but it bothers me that I might have to skip getting someone’s signature for that reason. Which brings me to Christian Bale…

I’ve never seen Christian Bale sign anything without asking for a person’s name to personalize it. I brought my “Batman” book to two previous interviews with Mr. Bale, yet never brought it out for that reason. But there I was sitting beside him at the “Terminator Salvation” roundtables and I decided to chance it. Sure enough, he asked who he should make it out to. I said, “If you wouldn’t mind, could you just put your name?” Christian said, “How do I know you won’t put this on E-Bay?” Fortunately, one of the other interviewers piped up and said that would never happen, as I’ve been getting the book signed for years now. So Christian actually signed it and I breathed a sigh of relief. Now let me point you to my auction on E-Bay… Never!

6. THE “AMERICAN IDOL” FINALE:

This was just a great day, starting with lunch with Neil Sedaka and my friend Fred Bronson, great seats for the finale at the Nokia Theater (with the Kiss appearance and the announcement of the winner being the highlights) and ending with the “19” party which featured appearances by not just this year’s contestants, but many from past years. I especially enjoyed the moment when Kris Allen’s father was telling us about how people were already leaving messages on their porch for Kris and David Archuleta piped in and said, “That’s nothing. We have people walking right into our house!”

5.  TERRY FATOR AT THE MIRAGE:

This year I went to my first Cirque Du Soleil show, “O,” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In spite of all the raves I’ve heard over the years, I certainly wasn’t bowled over. I found the show unfocused, meandering and not all that exciting. But that same week, I did see a show I loved, Terry Fator at the Mirage. I had never seen Terry during his winning season on “America’s Got Talent,” so I was amazed by his ability to sing without opening his mouth. Terry proved to be a master impressionist and a great singer all at the same time, combining great music with plenty of laughs…

4.  “STAR TREK”:

I have been a “Star Trek” fan since high school, and while I wasn’t too worried that J.J. Abrams would screw up the reboot as I really liked his work on “Mission Impossible III,” I never imagined this new “Trek” would be so well done, so exciting and respectful to what came before. I literally had tears in my eyes watching it, because I was so happy the movie was so good…

3.  THE “LOST” SEASON FIVE FINALE:

I love “Lost” more than anything else in pop culture right now. The Season Five finale was a true game changer, with answers revealed in the opening scene, and one of the biggest “Lost” shockers ever when we learned John Locke wasn’t quite John Locke. I can’t wait for Season Six to start…

2.  “GEORGE STRAIT: ACM ARTIST OF THE DECADE ALL STAR CONCERT”:

I was the researcher on this show and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed working on a project so much. First I got to stay a week in one of my favorite places, Las Vegas. Then I got to attend the rehearsals by each performer as they worked out their songs with the house band. It was like having a private concert by the greats of country music, including Brooks & Dunn (Ronnie Dunn’s voice in person is amazing!), Alan Jackson and Keith Urban.

I was especially pleased when Taylor Swift arrived at the rehearsals and read her script for the show. She was extremely happy with it, and after she learned it was because I had done a phone interview with her about how George Strait had changed her life, she came over and gave me a hug.

But as nice as that was, it was nothing compared to sitting in the audience at the concert and watching performer after performer show their love for the man known as King George. They did it through their words and they did it through their music.  Truly an unforgettable evening…

1.  THE “LOST” PANEL AT COMIC-CON:

It was exciting enough that I actually made it into the “Lost” panel without staying overnight in line, but I never would have guessed how entertaining it would be. Kudos to the “Lost” production staff for working so hard to make this a special occasion for the fans, complete with funny videos, revealing videos and great guest appearances by the actors. Michael Emerson’s interruption of Jorge Garcia was probably the funniest thing I’ve seen all year, and it may have been topped by Nestor Carbonell’s Christian Slater impression. And it bears repeating: I can’t wait for Season 6! I wonder if anything will be able to beat out the “Lost” season finale for number one on this list come next year…