Yet as I got swamped by year-end round-up articles, I realized -- not only am I still catching up on early episodes of Homeland -- I haven't written a post since the Charlie Sheen Roast, which was so long ago that one of the roasters has since passed away.
Along the way I posted on Facebook -- frequently -- about things like the NY Times' egregious overkill on the tragic Stamford fire. A blogger can get lazy when there are more readers and respondents there than here.
But the self-taskmaster in me says it's time to catch up. My nominees for heroes of 2011 -- in a moment. First, some thoughts on the vexations of Blogging, which most people warned me had to be "branded" (i.e., single-topic) and needed a consistent publishing date and frequency for it to ever amount to anything. I got the most page views when I wrote about my past experiences with cult figures -- Terrence Malick and Albert Brooks -- but I didn't want to get stuck writing rehashes of pieces I had sworn off writing in the first place.
|Spitzer & Parker (sans dog)|
And when I was enlisted to write the show blog for ParkerSpitzer, my very first entry got me in trouble -- all I did was describe Eliot tripping over the gate on Kathleen's office door protecting her blind rescue dog. My boss thought it was fine. Eliot and Kathleen thought it was fine. But I got called on the carpet. Turns out there was some sort of corporate policy against any pets at the office that Kathleen had skirted; I had unwittingly provided an exposé. I was relieved of my show blog duties.
Beverly Hills Cop 2 was coming out, Rolling Stone assigned me the Eddie Murphy cover story.
But before I could meet Eddie, I was told his manager, Bob Wachs, wanted to "vet" me. He told me he had rejected another writer because he didn't think Eddie would get along with her, mainly because she was a woman and "Eddie always runs around in his underwear" and his posse asks questions like "Did you fuck her." I somehow passed THAT test but then was told I also had to interview the film's producers first.
|Simpson & Bruckheimer|
At one point I mentioned the fact that Eddie had a team of two managers, Wachs and his Comic Strip co-founder Richie Tienkin, and asked them about their own partnership and how things were divided.
After this meeting, I found out that, unbeknownst to me or anyone else, Eddie's two managers were in midst of a fractious split-up, and that Jerry and Don had decided I was doing an exposé. The interview with Eddie was cancelled.
After ten years away from such maneuverings, I hoped to be able to write a blog that -- even when looking back at such pieces that I had been happy to leave behind -- would shed some insight into showbiz, TV writing, journalism, parenting, divorce, and anything else that moved me.
But even after leaving CNN in August, I found myself again having to be a cautious blogger, because my new job -- writing for Aaron Sorkin's HBO series set in the world of cable news -- is also closely guarded.
Meanwhile, rabid fans are already circulating old versions of the pilot script, which has led to a lot of frustrating misinformation in the blogosphere -- including even the name of the series, the name of the fictional network, and the last name of the anchorman played by Jeff Daniels.
What I can tell you is that the challenge of the show ideally will be what will make it pay off. Unlike The West Wing, The Newsroom is set in the real world -- i.e., instead of fake Senators and Presidents and Supreme Court Justices, we're dealing with the real ones, and the news that's being covered is from recent history. The pilot takes place on the day of the BP Oil Spill; by the time the series airs, that will be more than two years in the past: long ago enough for the details to now be murky -- and to add some perspective -- yet recent enough for it to still have relevance. Some days in the writers room our brains explode but when it clicks, it's beyond rewarding.
There's my roundabout transition to bring me to my own take on recent history: the people who for me gave 2011 oomph and hope amidst a dismal economy and troubling political grandstanding.
1) JESSE LAGRECA (pictured up top)
It started out with an iPhone video. An unassuming guy at Occupy Wall Street being interviewed by a Fox News reporter, trying to get the OWSer to criticize Obama and the alleged "lack of message" provide the kind of soundbyte Fox would air. Instead he schooled the Fox guy so thoroughly that the interview didn't air. But a bystander's recording of the interaction wound up on YouTube and turned Jesse LaGreca into an articulate leader for a leaderless movement. He ended up on NPR (at one point appearing on a panel with Spitzer), speaking at the Capitol and elsewhere and gave me hope that something might actually come of the sit-ins. If nothing else I hope he runs for Congress.
2) LOUIS CK
The best episode of TV I saw this year was utterly unclassifiable -- Comedy? Drama? Documentary? Political statement? And then the guy who did it also funded his own stand-up special, sold it for $5 download via the Internet, made a million bucks -- and donated the bulk to charity.
The comedian Louis CK achieved every comedian's dream -- a sitcom based around his persona, on HBO, no less. But even though Lucky Louie was really funny and smart (check out the link) -- it was staged on an obviously artificial Honeymooners-style set but dealt with modern issues and language -- it lasted only 13 episodes. Most comedians would figure, that was my shot, and go back to stand-up.
But Louis is one of the hardest-working and self-challenging guys in showbiz. He went back to the drawing board. and cut a unique "just deliver episodes for this budget, no notes" deal with FX that has inspired jealousy from not just every other comedian -- but every other TV creator.
The series, Louie, hit a peak with the episode "Duckling" (it's mature-audience content on the web, so you are required to register to watch) in which he goes to Afghanistan to do a USO-type show for the troops (and actually filmed there), with a baby duckling in his backpack that his daughter made him bring along as a kind of good-luck charm. Along the way Louie allows himself to look bad in several ways that most lead actors and actresses just don't. And the way it played out was charming, moving, and inspiring.
3-4) WAEL GHONIM and ETHAR EL-KATATNEY
America likes to put faces on history. Even though the Arab Spring was a mass movement helped along by Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, the biggest rallying point was the Facebook page called "We are all Khaled Said," named after a young Egyptian tortured to death by Alexandria police. The page was administered by a Google executive named Wael Ghonim who, two days after the massive January 25th protest, was detained by authorities for 11 days. After his release, his emotional and articulate speech -- and his refusal to take credit -- made him a sought-after US TV guest. On 60 Minutes he said:
"Our revolution is like Wikipedia, okay? Everyone is contributing content, [but] you don't know the names of the people contributing the content... Revolution 2.0 in Egypt was exactly the same. Everyone contributing small pieces, bits and pieces. We drew this whole picture of a revolution. And no one is the hero in that picture."In stark contrast to most of our political figures. That's what makes him a hero.
On a smaller scale, Ethar El-Katatney, a remarkable 23-year-old award-winning Egyptian blogger and TV journalist educated at the American University of Cairo, provided CNN's audience with an articulate, youthful view of the revolution that helped make it tangible to us.
After Mubarak's initial speech at which he didn't resign, she said she felt "Punk'd." She described the freaky dissonance between Eqyptian State TV and reality. In order to stay awake till 4 a.m. to appear live on our New York based show, she would stay awake by watching reruns of Grey's Anatomy.
Happily after graduating she got a grant to tour America and speak to journalists around the country here, and has since appeared (thanks to some of my former CNN colleagues) on Charlie Rose and MSNBC's Up with Chris.
5-6) BERNIE AND BARNEY
When you work on a cable news network for a year, you quickly learn a lot about our elected officials. Some of them play hard to get (John Boehner), most of them are, or turn out to be, full of themselves or full of crap (Sorry, Anthony Weiner), and there are only a couple of truth-tellers remaining not kowtowing to PACs and other special interests.
Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, the Senate's only true independent, and retiring Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, were always a joy to have on the show, because they saw what was happening and didn't varnish it.
|The very frank Barney|
7) JEFF TWEEDY
The anti-hero hero.
For a while I was addicted to Aimee Mann. When I met her I told her she was the patron saint of my divorce. She asked "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Now I know what she means. Having moved on from her bleak view of relationships, I needed a new guru, and I found one in Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who is every bit as jaded but somehow more of a romantic.
In June I dragged my kids through a downpour to bear witness to Wilco at Mass MoCA for the Solid Sound Festival; I brought my girlfriend to see them in Central Park in yet another wet outdoor show. But the musicianship and spirit of the band and crowd kept us all warm.
And -- speaking of weather - in December Tweedy showed up to help out the meteorologist at WGN while doing five shows in the band's hometown of Chicago, and even that he did with his inimitable laconic existential panache.
8) SHAILENE WOODLEY
I didn't love the movie The Descendants, as much as I wanted to. But as the father of two teenage daughters, I was totally mesmerized by the performance of Shailene Woodley, who was nineteen when she filmed it and previously mostly famous for the cable series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which I had not seen.
I pray her career flies more Emma Stone than Lindsay Lohan.
9) DON LEMON
My first reaction to meeting Don Lemon was that he was too young to possibly be a national news anchor. But he just looks that way. Damn him.
a memoir about being gay, in an era when many of his peers clearly think that's not the way to go.
But what made him my hero were his attempts to point out and push back on politicians' stock talking points, and his inability to tow the line when he was asked to be silly in the way that news anchors sometimes are.
Jon Stewart first called attention to these latter moments, but Lemon has not backtracked, instead embracing them fully. On a network whose new slogan is "The only side we take is yours," trying to thread the needle between Fox and MSNBC, Lemon has made the third party seem more human and honest.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|CNN Anchor Don Lemon Appears Not to Care for CNN|
10) ELIZABETH WARREN
You know maybe I spoke too dispiritingly about noone replacing the Barney Franks of the world. Elizabeth Warren, like Louis CK, refuses to give up. After she took on Tim Geithner, all of DC seemed to unite to stonewall her from becoming head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,
But Warren then decided to take on Masschusetts Senator Scott Brown, and anyone else who tries to stop her.
Ron Paul called her a socialist -- there's no higher mark of honor. And at a public meeting, a Tea Party member called her a "socialist whore" to her face.
I call her a good end point for the first post of 2012.