Go get ‘em, Keith!

Keith Olbermann, one of my favorite commentators — one who’s neither far right nor far left — has now become a target of “Focus On The Family.” God bless him, he’s fighting back and refusing to be labeled as a heathen just because he dares to disagree with Dobson.

A question of attire

While I was at church last night helping cook the annual steak dinner (a fund-raiser for our men’s club), I got a call from my parents.

Dr. Beryl West, a psychology professor, Baptist preacher, and close friend of my father’s, has laryngitis. Could I speak at his church Sunday morning? Dr. West (who has been on numerous mission trips to China) let my father know that it would be OK for me to talk about my mission experiences rather than try to prepare a sermon on such short notice. I happily agreed.

Last night, I had all but decided to wear my African tie-dyed shirt — hand made for me by Grace Mbithi’s clothing shop — as a conversation piece. But this morning, not knowing anything about Dr. West’s church, I have chickened out and decided that I need to wear a suit.

News item of the day

The new TV series version of Doctor Who has been delayed because of “a shortage of dwarf actors,” according to this news item from a British web site. “Doctor Who” wanted them to play “little blue aliens,” but most of the available talent is already busy working on the “Willy Wonka” remake, “Charlie and the Chocoloate Factory.”

To Tell the Truth

GSN (the former Game Show Network, now known only by its initials) is paying tribute to Johnny Carson this Saturday morning with old black-and-white episodes of game shows, including “To Tell the Truth” and “What’s My Line?”, for which Johnny was a panelist.

I am too young to remember the old Bud Collyer “To Tell the Truth,” which is what they showed, but the Garry Moore / Joe Garagiola version from the late 1960s and much of the 1970s was one of my favorite TV shows as a child. There have been a couple of versions since. There was a 1980 version which I’ve never seen, hosted by Robin Ward, and then a 1990-91version which I never saw in its original run, but which used to turn up on GSN from time to time. That version had no less than three different hosts — Gordon Elliott, Lynn Swann and Alex Trebek. There was a late 1990s version hosted by John O’Hurley (best known as J. Peterman from “Seinfeld”) with Meshach Taylor and Paula Poundstone as regular panelists. O’Hurley, Taylor and Poundstone were all fine — Taylor, who most people remember as Anthony from “Designing Women,” was a terrific questioner with a broad base of knowledge who could quickly shoot down unprepared impostors. Poundstone, on the other hand, didn’t take the game seriously at all — but she was so funny it didn’t matter. But that version of the show seemed intent on competing with the sleazy daytime talk shows which were all the rage at the time; the guest bookers seemed obsessed with sex and tabloid-inspired topics, and that (ironically) made the game sort of monotonous.

I think most of my readers are probably old enough to remember one version or another of this show, but just in case: “To Tell the Truth” was a celebrity panel game show. There is a panel of four celebrities. For each game, three contestants are brought into the studio, all of whom claim to be the same person. (For this example, we’ll borrow the name “Miller Todd” from the lead character of my recent speed-written novel.) The real Miller Todd has an interesting story to tell — an occupation, unusual experience, or perhaps a relationship to someone famous. The host of the show reads aloud an affidavit written and signed by the real Miller Todd. The celebrities then ask questions of the contestants (whom, to avoid confusion, they call “Number One,” “Number Two” and “Number Three”), attempting to figure out which one is the real person. The real Miller Todd has sworn to tell the truth (hence the title) and must answer all questions truthfully; the two impostors can think on their feet and make up whatever sounds plausible.

After each celebrity has had a chance to ask questions, the celebrities vote on which contestant they think is the real Miller Todd. The host then utters the famous phrase (it originated with this show), “Will the real [Miller Todd] please stand up?” Sometimes, the three players would have a little fun with this process, fidgeting and faking before one of them actually stands up.

The team (the real Miller Todd and the two impostors) earns a set amount of money for each wrong vote. In some versions of the show there was an added bonus for fooling all four of the celebrity panelists.

If you don’t think you ever saw this show, but it has begun to sound familiar, you may be thinking of the opening scene of “Catch Me If You Can.” The movie started with a real clip of Frank Abagnale appearing on the Joe Garagiola-hosted version of “To Tell the Truth,” only replacing the real Abagnale with Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Abagnale in the movie.

You’ll find this silly, but I’ve often daydreamed about producing classy, literate versions of “To Tell the Truth” and “Password” — my two favorite game shows — for an outlet like A&E.

Alert the amphibious squadron!

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Widescreen Special Collector's Edition)If you were paying attention back in September, you would have noted that

a) I had been very much looking forward to “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”

b) I was quite pleased when I got to see it in the theater.

The movie got mixed reviews — some critics, like Roger Ebert, liked it, but others hated it. It opened strongly but did not, in the long run, do well at the box office.

Even so, I liked it, and I rushed out today to buy the DVD which went on sale earlier this week.

This is not, repeat NOT, a movie for someone who picks at plot holes, anachronisms, historical inaccuracies or what have you (unless you enjoy picking at those things, in which case you might have a heck of a time). But any movie which features a flying aircraft carrier is obviously not aiming for gritty realism. This is a movie that attempts to recreate the goofy, non-stop derring-do of old “Flash Gordon” serials, pulp novels, or old comic books. It’s intentionally, brazenly outlandish. But if you’re so inclined, it’s also 106 minutes of giddy, non-stop fun. I, for one, think that heroism — in the form of larger-than-life storytelling — is an important part of popular culture. Just as there is social value to gritty cinema verite, or to high-class Merchant-Ivory literary adaptations, there is social value to Superman and the Lone Ranger and Sherlock Holmes. They help us to dream, to imagine, to aspire.

Visually, of course, “Sky Captain” is a stunner, and it’s a shame you didn’t get to see it on the big screen. (Unless you did, in which case you know what I’m talking about.) The stars of the movie — Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Giovanni Ribisi and Angelina Jolie — and the other human beings are real, as are things like hand props. But all of the sets, locations, backdrops, vehicles and what have you are completely computer generated. The movie is a triumph of art-deco design and has a sepia tone meant to suggest its black-and-white inspirations without actually being black and white.

Did I say all the human stars were real? Yes, with one caveat. Sir Laurence Olivier, through carefully manipulated stock footage, audio clips and photographs, appears in this movie even though he passed away long before it was even thought about.

Rent the DVD, pop the popcorn, and put logic on hold for a couple of hours. You can thank me later.

Checking in

Sorry for the lack of posts. Monday night I had a meeting to cover for the newspaper followed by a church committee meeting, and tonight I had to go to Nashville for a Mountain T.O.P. board meeting. My brain is fried, and I have nothing particularly wise or meaningful to say to you tonight.

“But John,” you say, “that’s never stopped you in the past.”


Johnny Carson

It seems funny that just a few days ago, I was posting the news item about Johnny Carson feeding jokes to Dave Letterman, and now we are all saddened at the news of Johnny’s passing.

He was a remarkable entertainer, one who could appeal to a wide variety of ages, education levels and parts of the country. CNN just read a statement from Letterman expressing Dave’s sorrow and his gratitude to the man who gave him a big break. The last two lines of the statement: “He was the best. A star and a gentleman.”