Late Night TV Bandleader/Sidekick: Part II

THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDENThis morning I posted this week’s Video Fridays installment, in which I touched on the late night TV talk show Host, Bandleader, and Sidekick roles, in response to the announcement yesterday that Jon Batiste will be Stephen Colbert’s bandleader on the new Late Show, coming this September.

My post was never meant to be an exhaustive exposé on the subject, and so my references to late night TV talk shows were far from inclusive, leaving out two shows in particular: Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Late Late Show.

In my post, I mentioned that some late night shows have a bandleader AND a sidekick, while on others the bandleader doubles as the sidekick, and by coincidence, shortly after I posted that, I came across a piece on Salon.com this morning with the headline:

Reggie Watts, the weirdest guy on late night TV: How “The Late Late Show” bandleader is redefining the sidekick role

If you aren’t familiar with Reggie Watts, it is well worth your time to go on a YouTube binge, or check out back episodes from the show Reggie is leaving, Comedy Bang! Bang!, seasons 1-3 of which are now on Netflix.

And, since it’s still Video Fridays, and since we’re on the subject of late night TV talk shows, here’s a clip of Reggie doing his thing on Conan:

Video Fridays: Welcome to Late Night TV, Jon Batiste!

Jonathan Batiste and Stay HumanThere are traditionally, with a few exceptions, three primary personality roles in the late night talk show format: Host, Sidekick, and Bandleader.

Sometimes there’s a sidekick and a bandleader, like Ed McMahon & Doc Severinsen, from the Johnny Carson era Tonight Show; Conan O’Brien‘s Andy Richter & Max Weinberg; or Steve Higgins and Questlove, from Jimmy Fallon‘s Late Night and Tonight Show, but sometimes the bandleader is also the sidekick, like Paul Shaffer from David Letterman‘s Late Night and The Late Show, and Fred Armisen from the Seth Meyers incarnation of Late Night.

However these duties are allocated, it is an enduring formula for sure, and hosts, sidekicks, and bandleaders are high-profile gigs that, for many who have held these positions, marked career peaks.

With the departure of Late Show host David Letterman, we’ve known for over a year now that Dave would be replaced as host by former Colbert Report star Stephen Colbert, but today it was announced that Paul Shaffer’s replacement as bandleader will be…

…um, who the HELL is Jon Batiste?!

Embarrassingly, before today, I’d never heard of Mr. Batiste: embarrassing, because he’s a Julliard-trained member of a distinguished New Orleans musical family, and his music, a typically bluesy-funky New Orleans-style jazz, is something I enjoy VERY much.

It’s a huge boost in exposure for someone who has already garnered considerable critical acclaim, and the only downside is that Jon Batiste and his band, Stay Human, will be on The Late Show at the same time as The Roots are on the Tonight Show, forcing viewers to choose one over the other … or DVR one or the other on a regular basis.

I can’t embed it here, but Batiste’s appearance on The Colbert Report gives a nice preview of the chemistry they have together, and the videos I do have here, for this week’s Video Fridays installment, include today’s announcement, and a clip of a Jon Batiste & Stay Human performance that is guaranteed to get you excited that they will be on TV on a VERY regular basis starting in September.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: R.I.P., Leonard Nimoy

mr-spockWow. I’m shocked by the passing this morning of Leonard Nimoy.

I’d gone years without watching any Star Trek: The Original Series, or any of the movies featuring the original cast, before I decided recently to do a series of Video Fridays posts on a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth, a lineup that included Star Trek, and I published my post on Star Trek just two weeks ago.

In preparation for writing that post, I watched many episodes of the TV show, reconnecting with what I loved so much about it. And then, this past week, I was home sick in bed for two days and binged on more Star Trek, including the movies.

That Leonard Nimoy should die today, frankly, creeps me out as much it saddens me.

I think it must be nearly impossible to grow up Jewish in the late 1960s, 70s, 80s, etc., and NOT know, with enormous pride, that the two main characters in Star Trek, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Nimoy), were played by Jewish actors.

Years later I learned that the Vulcan salute (seen in the photo above), was derived by Leonard Nimoy from a blessing bestowed by Rabbis, where the hands form an approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, shorthand for the Hebrew word Shaddai, one of numerous Hebrew names for God.

As an actor, I think the best compliment one could give would be that his portrayal of Mr. Spock was defining and masterful. While Gene Roddenberry may have dreamed up the character, Leonard Nimoy brought him to life and was always believable as that half-human-half-Vulcan caught between the competing aspects of his nature.

While I was very impressed by Zachary Quinto‘s performances as Spock in the recent reboots, Quinto’s was an act of imitation and Nimoy’s an act of creation.

I couldn’t pick just one video to accompany this obituary, and so I’ve included two. The first is perhaps the most moving scene from all of the TV episodes and movies, a scene that epitomizes Spock’s Vulcan logic, as well as his very human emotional bond to Captain Kirk. The second is a compilation of clips from the TV series that highlight Spock’s human-Vulcan conflict, often to comedic effect.

As my fellow Jews say, upon the death of a loved one, “May his memory be a blessing.”

Rest in peace, Leonard, and thanks so much for the many years of thought-provoking entertainment.

Live long, and prosper.

Video Fridays: The Twilight Zone

twilight-zoneEver have one of those days, when everything seems to go wrong; when, as Hamlet said, the time is out of joint; when things just seem off; when you’re not on your game; when you woke up on the wrong side of the bed?

I believe it is not at all an exaggeration to posit that most people who grew up on television, where and when I did, think of the following when we’re having a day like that:

(Queue the haunting theme music by Marius Constant…)

You’re traveling through another dimension.

A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind.

A journey through a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.

That’s the sign post up ahead!

Your next stop: The Twilight Zone.

— Rod Serling

This week I conclude my series of nostalgic Video Fridays posts, wherein I’ve reminisced about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

Having covered The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H, and Star Trek: The Original Series, it’s time now to enter…The Twilight Zone!

Thanks to the 1:00am airing time, it’s safe to say that, of all of these shows, I saw The Twilight Zone with less consistency, unless you include the many times I fell asleep in the middle of an episode.

And yet, when I did watch I was captivated and very often creeped out, thanks to the late hour and the often mysterious, mind-bending, and even scary stories.

The Twilight Zone resembled two of the other shows in particular ways.

First, like The Honeymooners, it was in black and white, and while not dating back quite as far — the last episode originally aired in June 1964, a few months before I was born — it was a terrific time capsule, offering up a charming glimpse of the clothing, furniture, appliances, and vehicles of the time, as well as many no-longer used colloquialisms.

Second, like Star Trek, The Twilight Zone often featured science fiction stories, including even more dated and, to our modern CGI-trained eyes, cheesy props and special effects, but always focused on human drama and ethical dilemmas rather than on action.

The Twilight Zone, unlike Star Trek, was mostly a half-hour show (season four featured hour-long episodes, but it returned to a half-hour for the fifth and final season), and I’d argue that this time constraint (actually 25 minutes without commercials) speaks to the show’s primary greatness, for each episode was a masterpiece in miniature, with solid story arcs, tight scripts offering a mixture of humorous and dead serious dialogue, incredible casting, deeply committed acting, and gorgeous photography, employing experimental techniques that were quite radical for the time.

In preparation for writing this post, this past week I re-watched numerous episodes, starting from the pilot, continuing in sequence through much of the first season, then skipping around amongst the remaining four seasons, and I was particularly struck by how good the show was right out of the gate.

In fact, the eighth episode of the first season may be the most famous one of all, titled Time Enough To Last, and starring the late great Burgess Meredith as a book worm, so distracted by his obsession with reading that his marriage and job are in jeopardy, until one day, while taking his lunch break in the vault of the bank where he works, a nuclear apocalypse goes down, and, after recovering from the shock and coming to the realization that he may be the last person alive on the planet, he discovers the rubble of the public library, enough books to last a lifetime, and time enough at last to indulge his reading obsession without interruption, only, as he’s about to dig into the first book, his super-thick eyeglasses, without which he can barely see a thing much less read, fall to the ground and smash completely, unusable.

It’s devastating and awesome.

And yet, this is not the episode I’ve chosen to include here. Rather, I’ve selected episode 21 of the first season, because it shares common ground with the episode I featured in last week’s Star Trek post.

Titled Mirror Image (the Star Trek episode was titled Mirror, Mirror), like it’s counterpart, it explores the possibility of a parallel or alternate universe, a copy of the one we exist in, only…different.

But, rather than me rambling on any further, let’s just get to the video fun!

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: I apologize that, due the video having been rendered in a different aspect ratio than the original, parts of the image are cut off throughout, especially noticeable during close-up dialogue.)

Video Fridays: Star Trek

star_trekSpace: the final frontier…

Man, every time I saw that star field and heard the opening tones of Alexander Courage’s theme music, and then William Shatner‘s voiceover…well, pun intended, it transported me.

Continuing with my series of Video Fridays posts, reminiscing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth…

…after having covered The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, and M*A*S*H, this week it’s all about Star Trek: The Original Series.

By this time in the evening, midnight, I was really pushing it in terms of my bedtime. As mentioned in my first post in this series, I would have to keep the volume as low as possible, sit ridiculously close to the tiny TV I had in my room, and even throw a blanket over me and the TV trying not to get caught by my parents.

But, boy was the risk worth it. Star Trek was awesome.

When I first started watching, it was post Star Wars, and while Star Trek seemed campy and low-fi in comparison, I was able to see the two as very, very different from each other, and I enjoyed them each in their own way.

What I loved about Star Trek was how it resembled the science fiction I had just started to read. The stories seemed to explore the drama of situations and dig deep into ethical questions. There was this sense that the central purpose of the show had very little to do with entertainment. Rather, it was an effort to fully consider what life might be like in the future, to imagine the possibilities of human beings giving up war and exploring the universe on a mission of peace.

I had no idea at the time that Star Trek would go on to spawn numerous TV series and movies, and I never became a full-blown Trekkie. And though I have seen all of the movies, LOVED Star Trek: The Next Generation as much, if not more, than the original series, I’ll always feel a fondness for the Shatner-Nimoy era, and it’s been great fun, watching episodes over the past few days in preparation for writing this.

Now, onto this week’s video, one of the most famous episodes from those mere three seasons, titled Mirror, Mirror, notable for its parallel universe plot, and for alternate-universe-Mr. Spock’s rad goatee.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: M*A*S*H

radar-capSeveral years ago, one of my student employees came to work wearing a cap, like the one you see in the photo here, and the following Abbott & Costello-esque interaction occurred:

Me: Nice cap, Nick! Very Radar O’Reilly!

Nick: Thanks, but what?

Me: Very Radar O’Reilly!

Nick: What’s that?

Me: Not ‘what’ … ‘who’! Radar!!!

Nick: What?!

Me: Radar O’Reilly! From M*A*S*H!

Nick: Oh. I’ve seen commercials for M*A*S*H reruns, but I’ve never watched it.

This made me feel very old.

Anyway…for this week’s Video Fridays installment, I continue my series of posts, reminiscing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

…and, after having covered The Honeymooners and The Odd Couple in previous posts, let’s move on to M*A*S*H.

MASH-movieAs mentioned last week, The Odd Couple was based on a play and movie of the same name, and M*A*S*H was similarly based on prior works: the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman.

Another similarity, because I didn’t see either movie before I’d already seen many, many episodes of the TV shows, when I think of M*A*S*H, I will always think first of Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, Wayne Rogers as Trapper John McIntyre, McLean Stevenson as Henry Blake, Larry Linville as Frank Burns, and Loretta Swift as Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan from the TV show, despite great performances by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Roger Bowen, Robert Duvall, and Sally Kellerman from the movie, in those same roles respectively.

I love the Altman film and always will, but to debate the relative greatness of the movie and the TV show doesn’t seem appealing, given they’re so apples:oranges. Whereas the film is an experimental, absurdist, anti-war satire, the TV show, though also anti-war, was a 1/2-hour sitcom that employed writing and directing more rooted in the television tradition, an element that became more and more pronounced, and some, including myself, would say for the worse, starting about halfway through its 11-season run.

Continuing on that last point, I’ll be honest and say that of all of the shows from that late night lineup I was so fond of, M*A*S*H was the only show that declined so much in quality over the years that I have an extreme prejudice, preferring the first three seasons SO much more than the subsequent eight that I don’t have much of a desire now to re-watch anything but the first three seasons. Those early seasons retained MUCH more of the qualities of the movie that I like so much, but it all ended with a jarring loss of two of my favorite characters.

In the last episode of season three, we learn that Henry Blake has been honorably discharged and he prepares to head home. But, instead of this being the setup for just another U.S. Army screw-up, where in the end Henry would be told that, for some reason, he has to stay, he says his goodbyes, and the episode ends with news that his plane was shot down and he was killed.

And the first episode of season four begins with Hawkeye returning from a week of R&R, only to find that Trapper had been discharged and had left for home.

Henry Blake was replaced by Harry Morgan’s Col. Sherman T. Potter, Trapper by Mike Farrell’s B.J. Honeycutt, Frank Burns left at the end of season five and was replaced by David Ogden Stiers’ Charles Emerson Winchester III, Gary Burghoff’s Radar O’Reilly left near the beginning of the eighth season, and the change that many fans felt was the last straw, when Jamie Farr’s Corporal Klinger, upon taking over for Radar as Company Clerk, stopped dressing in drag, I’d argue, marked the loss of the last remaining element in the show that had any relation to the absurdism of the show’s roots, specifically the Altman film.

I hate to end on such a downer note, so let’s get to this week’s Video Fridays videos. Since I’ve extolled here the virtues of the earliest seasons of M*A*S*H for their closer resemblance to the film they were inspired by, I bring you a great, wacky episode from season one, and for kicks the trailer from the movie.

So, enjoy! Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: For some annoying reason, possibly to avoid draconian copyright enforcement, the episode is sped up, and so it sounds like it was filmed with the entire cast inhaling helium.)

Video Fridays: The Odd Couple

odd_coupleTwo weeks ago, as a Video Fridays installment, I took a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane, writing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

In writing that post, I decided to do a separate Video Fridays installment for each of these shows, and I chose The Honeymooners to start off with.

This week, it’s The Odd Couple, and what a fantastic show it was!

That it was based on Neil Simon‘s play and movie of the same name highlights common ground between two of the other shows from the lineup. M*A*S*H was based on the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman of the same name, and Star Trek, created for TV, went the opposite direction, spawning numerous movies and spin-off TV series.

There were SO many things about The Odd Couple that I loved: the basic premise of two mismatched divorced men living together, one an anal-retentive neat freak and the other a manchild slob; the wonderful New York City humor; the groovy 70s clothing and decor; the goofy supporting characters; and consistently great writing over five seasons.

And yet, similar to The Honeymooners, the best things about the show were it’s primary actors, Tony Randall as Felix Unger, and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison. To fully appreciate these two, consider the monumentally big shoes they had to fill. Neil Simon’s play opened on Broadway with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney (who, as mentioned two weeks ago, played Ed Norton in The Honeymooners) as Felix, and in the movie Matthau again played Oscar, while Jack Lemmon played Felix.

I never saw the original Broadway show — I was just shy of 3-years old when it closed — and I didn’t see the movie until I had already been watching the TV show for years. So, for me, Jack and Tony are the Oscar and Felix I always think of first, which really is a testament to how well they took over these roles, established as they had already been by other great, great actors.

Of course, the heart of the show is the clash of opposites in the pressure cooker situation of having to share an apartment. And so, as I tried to pick just one episode to include here, I searched for one that really highlighted their domicile. But, this search paralyzed me with indecision, as there are SO many greats to choose from.

Finally, thanks to my longtime buddies from New Jersey, Mike and Keith, mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles (one case in point), our collective effort yielded the perfect choice!

So, here’s episode 69, the 22nd episode of the 3rd season, it’s titled Take My Furniture, Please, and it revolves around Felix’s efforts to redecorate their apartment, despite Oscar’s protestations, and while Oscar tries to work on a book he’s writing. Naturally, hilarity ensues.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!