January 5, 2016

Closer magazine Proves that Millennials Aren't the Only Demo Buying Celebrity Mags

It's no secret that the entertainment industry has traditionally been fixated on the youth market.  There is some reason for that: first, young people typically spend much more (collectively) on entertainment than do other segments since entertainment is often the main priority for them whereas other groups have other responsibilities.  Also, the youth market has been such a large market segment for years, starting with the Baby Boom, and more recently, with Millennials, which makes it possible to focus on youth and basically ignore just about every other segment.  That may not sound altruistic, but entertainment is an industry like all others.  Music (vinyl records, tapes, CDs and now MP3s) and television and movies (including home video, such as VHS cassettes, DVDs and increasingly, digital/cloud-based content) tend to rely heavily on the youth market for both sales and profits.

It's therefore not surprising that the supermarket celebrity gossip magazines including publications like the Enquirer, Star, People and others all tend to focus primarily on what the youth market is interested in, although youth aren't necessarily in supermarkets buying up celebrity gossip magazines -- their parents are.  Indeed, many older shoppers (including many people with children) complain that they don't even know who the people pictured in the celebrity gossip rags are, therefore they no longer buy these magazines, and who can blame them?

During 2014, there was an acknowledgement (of sorts) that the publishing (and media) mantra of youth at the expense of all else had left some largely untapped opportunities, which represented an opportunity for profit.  Specifically, the Bauer Media Group USA, whose parent company is a global company based in Germany, reached this conclusion and acted upon it.  In the U.S., Bauer publishes a number of magazine titles that are sold primarily via supermarket checkouts across America (some their titles include In Touch and Life & Style magazines, as well as Women's World, Soaps In Depth and a few others).  They concluded that the older market was being ignored by traditional publishing staples, and therefore represented a sales opportunity for them.  The company cited Gen X specifically in their new title's mission statement, although no doubt the new title they came up with was aimed at a market that was larger than Gen X exclusively, even if the Gen X target is likely to be more enduring than the Baby Boom will be, hence naming Gen X in the mission statement.

What was their new title?

Some recent Closer weekly covers
The Closer weekly, which began distribution in mid-2014 in some markets, but was officially launched nationwide in November of that year once the company had penetrated the retail channels completely.  The main point of differentiation is that the covers of Closer weekly doesn't dare feature the likes of Justin Bieber, Miley Cirus or Kim (or Khloe) Kardashian.  Instead, the publication features pictures of older celebrities (including deceased celebs).  Several recent covers featured a young Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, the cast of The Golden Girls as well as celebs who are not (yet) living-impaired including Suzanne Somers, George Clooney, Sally Field & Burt Reynolds and others.

The company says that the Closer weekly merges the feel-good nature of celebrity with the practicality of service for the underserved Generation X demographic, which Pew Research once referred to as "America's neglected 'middle child'" (see http://pewrsr.ch/1xbLAxe for the article).  It features 100% positive editorial (although news of celebrity deaths have been featured) on the A-List celebrities its core readers grew up with.  In addition, it says Closer offers a concise, sophisticated take on the home, health, food, diet and beauty information.  The vast majority of its buyers (for all its publications) are all women, by a fairly substantial margin.  To be sure, the Closer magazine's current demos suggest more than Gen X is buying the publication, as the median age of its readers is 54, while virtually all definitions indicate the oldest Gen Xers just turned 50, as this edition of the Epoch Times Weekend indicates (get the Adobe Acrobat version at http://ow.ly/XnfwU).

Epoch Times featured an article on Gen X turning 50
(click image to open article)
But, right now the fact is more Gen Xers and younger Baby Boomers are still in supermarkets each week, while the same cannot be said about all Millennials, plus the Gen Xers' household incomes are higher, too.  The Closer's content is supposed to be more uplifting than other celebrity magazines, which often focus on divorces and extramarital affairs, although news of death isn't exactly uplifting, positive editorials might be.

Is this strategy working?

So far, what limited public data that's out there suggests yes.  For example, in 2014, the Closer won both the "Hottest Magazine Launch" by trade publication Media Industry Newsletter (MIN) as well as Adweek's "Hot List" Award.

Whether other big titles will adopt this strategy is unclear.

For example, People, the Star and the Enquirer all tend to have a broader focus on celebrities in general (but they may rely on more negative news, including divorce and the like), hence on one issue, the cover may be an older (but not living-impaired) celebrity, while the next issue will feature a younger celebrity.  Whether that drives sales at supermarket checkouts is less clear, although some titles (like People) can afford to rely more heavily on subscriptions and need not be as focused on retail sales as Bauer's publications do.

Regardless, it's clear that titles focused on older celebrities can still generate magazine sales if Bauer's 2014 launch of the Closer weekly is any indication.  The question remains whether print will continue to be the driver, or whether digital will have a bigger focus for the relatively new publication going forward?  Increasingly, the driver for tablet sales has expanded beyond the affluent and youth markets, with older and less affluent consumers driving more sales of iPads and other tablet devices.  While some of Bauer's publications are focused more on print, we could see a more digital focus for publications like the Closer weekly, which may position the publication to continue to serve the large Baby Boomer population who may not be as mobile as they once were.  But for the time being, it would seem that the launch of the Closer weekly is here for a while.

December 18, 2015

Richard Simmons: Former Fitness Guru Tries to Enjoy Retirement (Without Media)

For people who grew up in the 1980s, Richard Simmons was kind of a staple of daytime television, with his own syndicated TV show known as "The Richard Simmons Show" (which ran in syndication from 1980-1984 (which in 1981 was nominated for an Emmy Award) and all-too-frequent appearances on the daytime television circuit including various talk shows of the day such as those hosted by Phil Donahue, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin.  He also appeared on TV game shows like Hollywood Squares, he was on TV’s Circus of the Stars, and he even guest-starred on the top-rated soap opera “General Hospital” -- as himself!  He represented the idea that people could do pretty much what he did; lose weight (as a formerly obese guy) by using his self-help methods, and maybe feel good about themselves in the process.

1982 People Magazine Cover
Mr. Simmons was somewhat unusual during the era he was in his prime.  For example, his faith background was/is atypical.  His father was Episcopalian and his mother Jewish; but Simmons later converted to Catholicism for reasons that are unclear.  But the story he likes to tell is that he grew up in the French quarter of New Orleans (where he says lard was a food group and dessert was mandatory) and he weighed 268 pounds when he graduated high school.

After starting college at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, he later transferred to Florida State University. While enrolled there, he studied as an exchange student in Florence, Italy. He graduated with a BA in Art.  After graduation from college, he moved to New York City where he worked in advertising, as a waiter and for the Revlon and Coty cosmetics companies among other things.  In 1973, he then moved to Los Angeles, and his persona and his fitness business grew by filling a previously unmet need in the market, namely fitness for people who weren't already thin.  The now 67-year-old Beverly Hills fitness guru taught not only fitness, but also self-acceptance and personal empowerment.

Richard Simmons said in 2010 that he had kept off his own 100+ pound weight loss for 42 years, had been helping others lose weight for 35 years, and that during the course of his "fitness career" (as he calls it), he estimates that he helped humanity lose approximately 12,000,000 pounds (see the Dr. Oz story at http://bit.ly/1mrB3wW for more).

Sweatin' to the Oldies
Mr. Simmons later rode a wave of VHS (and later still, DVD) home videos, perhaps most famously producing "Sweatin' to the Oldies" along with some of his peers like Jane Fonda whose workout videos were best-sellers back in the day, and even sold a direct-mail innovation called "Deal A Meal" which gave users a deck of special meal cards in which people would play cards representing things they eat throughout the day and when their hand had been fully played, their eating for the day was done.  In 2013, The New York Times observed (see http://nyti.ms/13MtUgd for details) that Richard Simmons was known as many things: "... author, pop culture war horse, late-night talk show piñata, dyed-in-the-wool eccentric, motivational speaker, survivor of nearly four decades in the spotlight."

However, in the article, the NYT also observed "Like a lot of older people in show business, Mr. Simmons has been kind of slow to fully grasp social media.  He got famous the old-fashioned way: he released VHS tapes and DVDs (65 in total), gave radio interviews and trotted the talk television circuit.

Hollywood does it quite a bit differently now.

The web is increasingly where new stars are minted and aging ones are rejuvenated. Mr. Simmons and his shtick haven’t changed, but the way that fan bases are cultivated has.

But if his [relatively] new William Morris Agency endeavor and his new social media managers have their way, he hopes to add another line to his voluminous resume: 'Internet star.'"

Indeed, until quite recently, Mr. Simmons had never completely disappeared (in spite of his age now making him eligible for both Social Security and Medicare) from the pop culture scene, and his relatively new online persona did bring the aging star back into the spotlight again, even if it wasn’t on syndicated or cable television as he was accustomed.  One of his first online videos (on YouTube) was known as “Hair Do” in which Mr. Simmons appeared -- in drag -- to promote himself in the daring new (to him) world of social media, and the new jam was all about hair, which ironically enough, Mr. Simmons seems to be losing these days!  Check it out below, or by visiting http://youtu.be/XEbVq8pb3QE

Yet the reality is that Mr. Simmons, at age 67, is hardly the picture of the future anymore, or even the present.  He’s a picture of the past, in spite of how relevant that past may be today with American obesity levels now at record highs.  True, nostalgia is still a viable option, and although it's hard to analyze the profile of someone’s followers without data, at least a few are, well … older folks themselves.  However, that group is very, very large — Baby Boomers alone constitute one of the largest demographic cohorts now in existence.

The money that Mr. Simmons spent with the William Morris Agency seems to have helped him to accomplish at least some of what he was seeking; staying (at least somewhat) relevant with a newer audience (as of the date I am writing this posting, he counted more than 229,400 followers on his YouTube channel).  By adopting social media, he’s also managed to gain almost all of his new followers on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, but beyond that, exercise classes at his Beverly Hills studio, which in recent years had seen a shortage of new patrons, are now filled again (he isn’t necessarily teaching the classes himself anymore, but more on that in a minute).  Even more important, social media seems to be a way for him to connect with a new audience, the Millennial population who never witnessed him in the early years on TV, as well as his loyal older fans, and in that regard he brings something valuable to social media, where he combines comic value with genuine values.

Interestingly, in June 2013, around the time of his social media launch reported by The New York Times, he abruptly stopped teaching classes personally at his Beverly Hills studio and he has been shunning public appearances.  Evidently, the Beverly Hills police conducted a welfare check at his home in January 2015 and they confirmed that he was perfectly fine — he was just taking a break from being a celebrity and enjoying the solitude.

"I just want to spend time with myself," he reportedly told them at the time. He said he keeps in touch with the people who matter most, and that the staff at his fitness studio are more than capable of running the show in his absence. "I don’t need to be there," he said.

He's "happily living life outside the public eye," the rep told TMZ (see http://bit.ly/1RqY1ku for details on that), adding that Richard is working "behind the scenes" on charity projects and is committed to helping the "obese and overlooked."

Richard Simmons Today
Interestingly, in spite of avoiding public appearances (such as TV), his William Morris Agency investment is still being used.  Richard remains very active on social media even if he’s staying out of the limelight, he's Tweeting to people and commenting on and doing Facebook posts, with particular interest in people who are trying to do what he did: lose weight.  His online social media involvement takes place almost daily.

Just how relevant Mr. Simmons is online is unclear, he certainly isn't as big as some of the younger YouTube stars, for example, but the important take-away is that he, like many others, sees the future is online.  For example, before she passed away, comedienne Joan Rivers (see my post on her at http://goo.gl/0oP59 for more) had her own YouTube channel (the archives are still available online) and a very entertaining YouTube show called "In Bed with Joan [Rivers]".  Mr. Simmons joined the ranks of other former stars who found new life on the internet, including sex guru (who once hosted a top-rated syndicated radio show, and later a television show) Dr. Ruth Westheimer (see http://www.youtube.com/drruth), who now counts several hundred thousand followers of her own on her own YouTube channel (more on her some other day).

As for Richard Simmons, he seems to be trying to enjoy his retirement, although his presence on social media proves that he isn't quite ready to disappear completely.

June 21, 2015

TV on the Net

On March 4, 2013, the New York Times featured article entitled "Don't Touch That Remote: TV Pilots Turn to Net, Not Networks" which can be found at http://nyti.ms/15ydEwf. It was how the traditional model for show pilots over the airwaves had been disrupted by the internet with new players like Netflix now playing an important role. In that article, the Times wrote:

"Internet-delivered TV, which until recently was unready for prime time, is the new front in the war for Americans' attention spans. Netflix is following up on the $100 million drama "House of Cards" with four more series this year. Microsoft is producing programming for the Xbox video game console with the help of a former CBS president. Other companies, from AOL to Sony to Twitter, are likely to follow.

The companies are, in effect, creating new networks for television through broadband pipes and also giving rise to new rivalries - among one another, as between Amazon and Netflix, and with the big but vulnerable broadcast networks as well."

However, at its core is something I've been saying since I began this blog: Internet-delivered content, combined with the dramatic reduction in content production costs (inexpensive, high-definition video cameras, for example, can be had for a few hundred dollars these days) could soon challenge big media's dominance of TV. Indeed, what we think of as TV may already be changing. These days, many people watch shows on their tablet computers, phones, and just maybe, a traditional television, though that is not as common as it once was.

Content quality for stuff distributed online, on the other hand, is literally all over the map. Some stuff is truly phenomenal, while other things are utterly disposable. Then again, the same can be said about stuff on traditional TV (I have almost no use for so-called “reality TV”). What has changed is that instead of content we watch being firmly controlled by its self-anointed gatekeepers at big media companies, there's been a much-needed democratization of sorts. Today, anyone can produce content and post it on YouTube. And, you can probably watch it on your TV if you really want. Or your laptop, tablet, smartphone or iPod (which many more are doing anyway).

Incidentally, the trend of WHERE we watch TV being redefined isn't limited to the U.S. Sweden, the European country perhaps best known for progressive taxes and the one with the highest quality of life in the world (not to mention the highest levels of affluence in the world, including the über-wealthy Wallenburg family), has taken the bold step of having the TV tax assessed on taxpayers to fund Swedish state television not only on physical television sets, but now includes mobile devices like iPads and tablet computers (see http://on.wsj.com/14uSJHX for details) in recognition of the fact that more and more so-called “TV content” is now being consumed on those devices. That’s unlikely to ever happen in the U.S. where there is hardly any public support for state-funded television (PBS being a notable exception, and what exists doesn't fund anywhere near the network’s full operating expenses), but the point is that we’re no longer required to watch content on TV sets anymore. The Swedes rely on an honor system, but the fact that the Swedes are now including devices suggests where things are going.

While I'm not sure we can yet say that Netflix is necessarily the next ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox or CW, we can say that we’re approaching a point where "broadcast" no longer means over the airwaves exclusively. As the lines between TV and online content blur with new TVs and devices like Roku players, we may also soon reach a point where content could be managed from our desktops rather than our cable boxes. We’re not quite there … yet.

"These are the very first lab tests in a very grand experiment," said Jeff Berman, the president of BermanBraun, a media company that makes programming for NBC, HGTV, AOL and YouTube, among others.

As he suggested, the competition from online content has really only just begun, but the distributors are companies including Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft and maybe Google's YouTube.

To be sure, it's still pretty early. At this point, I can safely say that managing all that online content is still a VERY, very cumbersome process, and frankly, Apple's “Apple TV” device does nothing to make managing all that content any easier, it’s just another TV input and it does nothing to help organize all of the disparate content on DVDs, DVRs and online. Google did a bit better with its inexpensive Chromecast dongle (priced at just $35), but a host of others including Intel and Amazon are pursuing similar set-top box (or plug-ins) concepts.

On Wednesday, March 6, 2013, the NPR show "The Takeaway" with John Hockenberry had an interesting show entitled "More Reasons to Cancel Cable" about how soon, Netflix would have more competition from the likes of Amazon and Microsoft's X-Box (although Microsoft’s studios in Hollywood later shut down), as well as other providers. It discusses the aforementioned New York Times article and more. That can be listened to below, or by visiting http://bit.ly/ZgMy7w:

Brian Stelter, media reporter for The New York Times, says that online programming is very likely the future of television -- and that cable networks should be very wary. (Note: one of my previous posts featured an interview with Brian Stelter, see http://goo.gl/3Ic0S for details).

What streamed content offers is a few things, including no need to worry about editing content that would be unable to be broadcast, as well as programming length. For a half-hour broadcast sitcom, they must allot for several minutes of commercials, which means that the programming is limited to 22 or 28 minutes. That limits what can be covered in each episode. Pay cable programming offered a way around that, and now streaming does, too.

That’s one reason many top producers are actually drawn to do programming online on services like Amazon Prime or Netflix. Co-creator and producer Marta Kauffman said that was one of the things she really liked about doing a series for Netflix (her previous work includes the sitcom 'Friends'). She was speaking about the Netflix series 'Grace and Frankie' (which stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson and the series was just picked up for s second season, catch my blog post on that at http://bit.ly/1BvWByS for more background)

"What's lovely and what worked so well being able to work at Netflix is if a story can only bear 28 minutes that's fine, and if it needs 37 minutes that's fine. So it allows the story to tell you what it wants. That's pretty awesome, that's a great way to be able to write. I'm sure novelists have that ability to be as long as they need to be (see the interview at http://ow.ly/OB9zX for more details). 

The other thing is that content can be more refined to reach particular audiences. That’s created a whole new environment where niche programming can be created cost-effectively without even having a network. No longer limited to traditional confines of television production, the web has enabled a variety of shows to find audiences that way, ranging from immigrant groups, to religious groups to lesbian and gay audiences.

Leon Acord who produces the web series 'Old Dogs & New Tricks' which is now entering its fourth season, told Huffington Post reporter Brad Liberti (see http://huff.to/1I8t8MT for the article) that the experience of doing a web series had its origins in regular television, but the validation was that producing a web series' had fewer of the restrictions than regular TV does, which makes it very alluring for would-be content producers. That suggests we are still in early stages for web series generally.

Acord had been watching a lot of TV comedy with his father, something they’d often bonded over when Acord was just a kid. We loved 'All in the Family.' Now it was 'Two and a Half Men' in particular that his dad enjoyed, and while the Chuck Lorre half-hour comedy wasn't exactly known for its diversity and or sophistication, it did affirm one thing for the budding writer: "I had fantasized about doing a web series, but I guess I always, in the back of my head, thought, 'No, this kind of stuff you couldn't get away with,' and then watching 'Two and a Half Men', I was like, 'Oh, my god, this is raunchy and on network!'"

In the meantime, sifting through all of this disorganized digital content grows ever more challenging every day. So far, Apple has done little to enlighten or turn this around. Apple TV is, at best, an Apple-branded Roku box offering no major advantages but has its characteristic higher prices. For the moment, a basic PC seems to be the best way to manage content. Maybe we’ll see some innovation in the future. However, the good news is that there’s no shortage of exciting new TV content out there for viewers.

February 11, 2015

Rhinestone Cowboy Takes on Alzheimer's Disease

Anyone old enough to remember the late 1960s and early '70s is probably old enough to remember Glen (Travis) Campbell.  His radio hits included such famous melodies as "Rhinestone Cowboy", "Southern Nights," and the "Wichita Lineman" to name just a few.  His roots, of course, are in country music.  Yet he was also one of the first artists to crossover from country to pop, landing hits on both Billboard charts.  As of 2015, Glen Campbell was 78 going on 79 years old, and he’s still alive as I write this, but he has completely left public life and he’s also left the recording industry which made him famous.

Glen Campbell, circa 1970
Its perhaps no small irony that in the 2015 Grammy Awards, Glen Campbell also won a sixth (and in all likelihood, final) Grammy of his career, as he was honored with Best Country Song at the 2015 Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony, which is the presentation of the off-camera categories not included in the  regular broadcast. "I'm Not Gonna Miss You," is a bittersweet tune he co-wrote with Julian Raymond for a 2014 documentary called “Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me”, and his new song managed to trump songs by Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert and Tim McGraw with Faith Hill.

What happened to Mr. Campbell may well be his most enduring contribution to pop culture.  Before I get to that, some basics on who this man is or was may be relevant.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Glen Campbell was relatively good-looking, being both clean-shaven and clean cut (the antithesis to where popular culture was in those days, and especially among fellow country artists at the time), perhaps a comparison could be made to someone like today's country star Luke Bryan.  Campbell was native of Arkansas, so could make a legitimate claim that he had country bona fides, plus he was also a high school dropout, not uncommon among country music artists of that era.  But he left Arkansas (and more than 10 brothers and sisters) at age 16, staying for a time in New Mexico before settling in Los Angeles, where he struck it big in the music business.  Note that I previously addressed country crossover artists in a post I did on Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton which you can catch at http://goo.gl/9Lstp.

Remember, this was in the days before country had gone mainstream.

Before Kenny Rogers.

Before Tim McGraw.

Before Keith Urban.

Before Blake Shelton.

Aside from Patsy Cline, who became more famous posthumously than she ever did when she was alive, hardly anyone in country had even considered going mainstream.  Only a handful achieved crossover success (and usually by accident), including Johnny Cash.  It was kind of an unspoken rule of Nashville music producers (and record labels went along -- as long as artists were selling records) that crossing over was not something the country music industry saw as appropriate or supported.

But Glen Campbell didn't let any of country's traditional taboos stop him.  In the process, he won five (now six) Grammy awards, seven Academy of Country Music awards, and three American Music awards, and sold over 50 million records worldwide.  He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.  He may well be one of the first crossover artists, and was unapologetic about that, unlike some country "purists".  He even once had a TV show "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour", in which he used his commercial clout and down-home Arkansas charm to give face-time to lesser known artists he personally admired, such as Willie Nelson, who was best known for his scrappy beard and generally unkempt appearance.

As part of his crossover appeal, Mr. Campbell once toured with The Beach Boys, and even acted in a few movies – including 'True Grit' with screen legend John Wayne.  But over the years, his story was more one of tabloid fodder, including multiple failed marriages.  In fact, in the late 1970’s, Campbell and rising teen country singer Tanya Tucker began a tumultuous affair which did not end happily if the tabloids were correct.

But in 1982 Campbell married Kim Woolen, who helped lead him to sobriety and stability, though he suffered a relapse in 2004 when he was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to ten days in jail. His problems with alcohol and drugs became headlines for tabloids like the National Enquirer back in the day, but ultimately, he found a spouse who got him to clean up his act.  Supposedly, that also caused him to find God, whatever that means - "finding God" has become a true cliché that many celebrities use, so its unclear what that means.

A Diagnosis With Alzheimer's Disease

In 2011,  in the liner notes to his then-new album, entitled "Ghost on the Canvas", Glen Campbell wrote that this is "the last studio record of new songs I ever plan to make."  At the time, some industry observers noted that listeners could tell his voice really wasn't what it used to be, and that he was showing signs of age.  But they were missing an important part of the story.

When he did his national farewell tour, Mr. Campbell had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, therefore he fully expected he'd be unable to record or perform his music ever again.  Today, Glenn Campbell is living in a Nashville long-term care facility that has people on staff who can care for him around the clock.  Like all Alzheimer's patients, he likely has brief periods of recall, followed by long periods where he doesn't remember anyone or anything at all.  Most famously, former President Ronald Reagan also had Alzheimer's at the end of his life.  In 2004, wife Nancy Reagan said famously at a dinner sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF):

"Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain. I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this."

Mrs. Reagan was, of course, speaking about embryonic stem cell research, something both she and the JDRF both supported.  The term "embryonic" is a misnomer; it involves blastocysts that are created in-vitro (in a laboratory), many created for the sole purpose of reproduction, but which are ultimately discarded as medical waste, usually because the fertilization procedure was successful, although some owners may choose to donate them for the explicit purpose of research.

Mrs. Reagan was extremely critical of then-President George W. Bush's decision to limit Federally-funded stem cell to a only a dozen or so stem cell lines, some of which proved to be unusable, created by the arbitrary date that he announced the policy, but he and his advisor Karl Rove was eager to make a key voting constituency happy.  That type of restriction was championed by social conservatives, yet it retarded a promising scientific avenue.  (California voters took matters into their own hands by starting the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine [CIRM] http://www.cirm.ca.gov/ which is not dependent on the vicissitudes of Federal policy driven by political ideology, but is funded by the State of California, which ranks as the world's seventh largest economy in its own right).  Those initial research restrictions placed on cell lines President Bush were subsequently expanded a bit after President Barack Obama took office, but because this type of research remains controversial in the eyes of some, it remains in a precarious situation because of politics, not because of the science.  For the record, I don't believe Mr. Campbell ever went on record as to what his view on the issue of stem cell actually were.

Back to Glenn Campbell's Alzheimer's diagnosis ....

Glenn Campbell was not shy in acknowledging his new reality, so he felt his farewell tour was bittersweet, both for him and his fans.  Knowing his diagnosis, in his farewell tour, Mr. Campbell allowed cameras to follow him throughout the tour, including behind the scenes.  The result became a feature-length movie called "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me" [http://glencampbellmovie.com/] which opened on October 24, 2014.  The trailer can be viewed below, or at

Interestingly, I suspect Mr. Campbell's (and his family’s) transparency about his diagnosis with Alzheimer's could be an even more enduring societal contribution.

During his final tour, he agreed to let cameras follow him to show how Alzheimer's was impacting his day-to-day life, the result being a movie which was released in late 2014.  For example, during that tour, the lyrics were put on a teleprompter so he didn't have to worry about forgetting them.  The movie was created by filmmaker James Keach, with his and his family's permission, and aims to use Glen's illness as a platform to campaign for more and better Alzheimer's research.  While the movie is meant to be a biography of sorts, it spends a great deal of time discussing his new reality which includes Alzheimer's Disease.

In 2012, the Federal Government announced several plans to try and address Alzheimer's, including a move by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to launch a broader BRAIN Initiative, which is a large-scale effort to equip researchers with fundamental insights necessary for treating a wide variety of brain disorders including Alzheimer's, as well as autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and traumatic brain injury.  Its not limited to Alzheimer's, but that is an important part of it.

Under the program, four federal agencies — NIH, the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — stepped up to a "grand challenge" and committed more than $110 million to the Initiative for fiscal year 2014. Planning for the NIH component of the BRAIN initiative is guided by the long-term scientific plan, "BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision" [http://www.braininitiative.nih.gov/2025/index.htm] that details seven high-priority research areas.

Keep in mind that none of this is likely to help Glen Campbell himself, who has been checked into a long-term care facility in Nashville where his family is still able to visit him regularly but is cared for around the clock, but the publicity and the attention this has brought to Alzheimer's Disease may help people in the future, much as Mr. and Mrs. Reagan's public disclosure did a number of years ago.

For their part, Mr. Campbell and his family seem to be taking things in stride and are not allowing the diagnosis to bring them down too much.  Although Mr. Campbell is now living in a care facility that has people on staff to care for him all the time, the movie, which launched on October 24, 2014, could well do for Alzheimer's what other celebrities including Melissa Etheridge did for breast cancer.

February 3, 2015

Helen Reddy, Who Gave Modern Feminism the Anthem "I Am Woman", On Her Own Legacy

Around 1972 or so, a pop song turned feminist anthem propelled a singer/songwriter, who already had a string of hits behind her, into super star category. That person was Helen Reddy, an Australian singer who hit it big in the U.S. and elsewhere with her song "I Am Woman" as well as other songs like "Leave Me Alone", "Delta Dawn" and "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar". Ms. Reddy was the first Australian to win a Grammy Award, paving the way for others such as Olivia Newton John, Kylie Minogue and others to do the same. She also performed on Broadway and in London's West End.  Here is her classic performance of "I Am Woman" (see http://youtu.be/Gpu_PV3BTfI for the video):

During the height of her celebrity, Ms. Reddy appeared on TV as a guest star on the then-popular "Carol Burnett Show", but she also guest starred on another popular show of the day known as "The Muppet Show" where she arguably co-starred with a feminist of another sort named Miss Piggy (see a clip at http://youtu.be/lWHnz46VVA4). Both guest appearances are available on DVD for each of those respective TV shows, although the Carol Burnett episodes were sold by Guthy-Renker and are sometimes harder to come by. She also appeared in movies, including roles in Disney's movie "Pete's Dragon", the Beatles' movie "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", and "Airport 1975".

However, like many musical stars, Ms. Reddy grew tired of singing the same few songs over-and-over-and-over, ad nauseum. She told CBS News:

"I have very wide-ranging interests," she said. "So, singing 'Leave Me Alone' 43 times per song lost its charm a long time ago."

In fact, it was her biggest song "I Am Woman" that ultimately inspired her to retire. Its not that Ms. Reddy disappeared - exactly. But she only decided to return to performing after being buoyed by the warm reception she got when she sang at her sister's birthday party. Ms. Reddy, who had cataract surgery in 2012, said she was in a "very good place" at the time.

She basically returned to her native Australia and retired, living relatively modestly compared to others who lived extravagantly, only to lose everything when their fifteen minutes of fame was over. In 2002, the singer-songwriter gave up on show business and started her new life in Australia. She got her degree in clinical hypnotherapy, and for the last decade, she's lived modestly in Sydney. Ms. Reddy is now approaching age 73, and she only recently ventured back into public singing again, but she did so on her own terms.

For example, in 2012, she returned to the U.S. do some singing before a live audience again in San Diego and another performance in Los Angeles. But unlike during her heyday, Ms. Reddy didn't want her performances to be yet another a greatest hits collection singing a handful of songs repeatedly, rather she chose to perform some some of the songs that she originally recorded and loved but just never managed to get much airplay back in the 1970s. She did an interview with an Australian TV show several years ago that is worth watching (see http://youtu.be/1xhVxpx7aCQ):


One of the reasons that I'm coming back to singing is because I'm not doing the greatest hits," Reddy explained. "I'm doing the songs that I always loved. So many are album cuts that never got any airplay, and they're gorgeous songs." In the end, while her song "I Am Woman" endures as a feminist anthem, Ms. Reddy prefers to let a new generation do covers of her old song. She's content to look back at her life in the spotlight and her own unique role in the history of feminism. "That was one of the reasons that I stopped singing, was when I was shown a modern American history high-school textbook, and a whole chapter on feminism -- and my name and my lyrics (were) in the book," she recalled. "And I thought, 'Well, I'm part of history now. And how do I top that? I can't top that.' So, it was an easy withdrawal."

Don't expect Ms. Reddy to want to doing any big tours or performances or even do any recordings again, rather she's been very selective about how much she is willing to do or even wants to do. She says:

"I'm still very active, physically. I walk four miles a day. And I love the fact that I don't care so much about things -- things that were so terribly important when you're younger, they don't matter when you get older," she said. "And it's such a sense of freedom."

In 2006, she published the autobiography, "The Woman I Am." Still, for a brief window of what the United States (and a good part of the developed world) looked like some 34 years ago, have a look at Ms. Reddy's original and most widely-played performance of her song "I Am Woman" (see above).

In the end, Ms. Reddy says "I don't care if I'm remembered or not.  The important thing is that any good that I've done lives on."

September 9, 2014

From "Nine to Five" to "Grace and Frankie"

A few months ago, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I was home channel surfing and I ended up watching a (relatively) modern classic movie on TV, which was the 1980 film "Nine to Five" starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dabney Coleman and Dolly Parton.

I actually saw "Nine to Five" on the big screen at a movie theater back in the day.  I was only like 11 or 12 years old at the time, so maybe that gives you an idea of my true age!  I also saw "Nine to Five" on Broadway a few years ago, and was sorry to see that show had closed on Broadway, although I believe that show saw new life in touring the U.S. if I'm not mistaken, so it may have left Broadway, but the show is still around.

A Modern Classic Movie

The basic story of the film ("Nine to Five") was a work-related friendship that develops between three working women.  In 1980, when the film premiered, even though women were certainly no strangers to the workplace, they still tended to work primarily in administrative jobs (after all, they still used typewriters back then), and many women struggled with overtly chauvinist attitudes from fellow male employees and/or superiors in the workplace.  "Nine to Five" was about three women who worked in the office of a large American corporation known as Consolidated Industries.  It was a classic big corporation with offices around the country and around the world, as the script suggests.  The boss was Franklin Hart Jr. (played by Dabney Coleman) who was a chauvinistic, sleazebag boss (who hits on his female staff, makes them get coffee for him, has his administrative assistant spy in the restroom on his staff, and also embezzles money from his big employer, Consolidated Industries).

The original cast of "Nine to Five"
Newcomer Judy leaves the office when a colleague is fired for a seemingly minor infraction (discussing her salary), so Judy looks for her supervisor Violet at the neighborhood gin joint "Charley's", who is there commiserating with another Consolidated employee, Doralee.  The three spend the afternoon drinking cocktails and complaining about what a jerk their boss is.

Jane Fonda played Judy Bernley, a naive, new-to-the-employment world new-hire at Consolidated, and a recent divorcee whose husband left her for his secretary.  Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) is a widowed woman working to support her four children on her own who has worked for Consolidated for over 12 years.  She also deals with her oldest child, a 15-year-old boy, whom she catches with marijuana and confiscates the joint from him, but without thought, she keeps it in her purse.  Violet is the supervisor of a department at Consolidated, and she happens to be a longtime employee who knows more about what's going on than nearly anyone else at the company.  The other main character is Doralee Rhodes, a busty, bleached-blonde Southern belle who is Mr. Hart's personal secretary.  Mr. Hart is lying to his colleagues, claiming that he's been sleeping with Doralee (even though she's continued to say no to his advances, telling him that she's a married woman), consequently, the women in the office treat Doralee like a pariah because they think she's such a tramp for "banging the boss".

However, things change one day when Mr. Hart passes over Violet yet again for an important promotion, even though her ideas are good enough for him to pass one off as his own and take all the praise for it.  She protests to Hart that he passed her over for another promotion because she's a woman, and Hart bluntly tells her that the company would rather have a man in the position, so Violet becomes enraged, storming off on her own (to the bar across the street), but not before revealing to Doralee that her supposed "affair" with Mr. Hart is common knowledge around the office.  Doralee, who's been confused and upset about the way she's been treated by her co-workers, snaps and also rages at Hart, threatening to use her gun on him the next time he makes an indecent proposal.  Newcomer Judy witnesses a fellow secretary lose her job over a minor infraction and she, too, becomes enraged.

The three women storm out to a bar near the Consolidated office to drown their sorrows, and the three of them later return to Doralee's house and smoke the marijuana cigarette that Violet realizes is still in her purse, prompting each of them to have a detailed fantasy about how they'd kill Mr. Hart if they had the chance.  The meeting proves to be a bonding experience for the three women.  But things take a sudden bizarre turn the next day when each of the women's fantasies comes true in some way.

An Unexpected Hit Among Many Demographic Groups

“Nine to Five” was a box office hit not only with working women of the day, but as the producers later learned, several other demographic segments (notably teenagers and kids), each of whom liked the movie for different reasons.  One reason for the film's popularity with teens was the infamous "pot" scene, in which the 3 women share their fantasies for killing the boss, Mr. Hart.  In any event, the fantasy scene featured some really humorous examples of the women turning the tables on their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical" boss, Mr. Hart.

Although each of the women's fantasies for killing the boss are funny and integral to the story, I think Violet's proved to be one of the most memorable, as a fairy tale in which she's dressed like Snow White and when Mr. Hart demands that she get him coffee, in that scene, Violet is a live character surrounded by animated, Disney-esque animal characters who support her (one reason even kids liked the movies).  At the end of this sequence, after the boss is killed by Violet, the three women are heralded by all the employees of Consolidated, as their shackles fall off and they all are thankful for Violet's fairytale end to their miseries with Mr. Hart.

The trio had very good on-screen chemistry and audiences loved it, and the film grossed over $3.9 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. (and that was back in 1980), and the total domestic gross was over  $103.3 million, ending up as the 20th highest-grossing comedy film.  It also turned Dolly Parton into a movie star, as she ended up doing more films including “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, “Rhinestone”, “Steel Magnolias” and more recently, “Joyful Noise” just to name a few.

The show also prompted Sherwood Schwartz (of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch” fame) to produce a short-lived TV sitcom which began as a fill-in, but then ran for two more seasons on network television (I believe it ran for three seasons in total on ABC, see http://ow.ly/ZWxYq for more).  Although none of the original cast members was in the TV series, Ms. Parton’s own sister (who shares a very strong family resemblance) Rachel Dennison played Doralee, with Rita Moreno playing Violet and Valerie Curtin playing Judy on the series.

TV (on Netflix!) Reunion for Tomlin and Fonda (No Word Yet on Parton)

Fans of the film have always asked for a reunion and given that all of the main cast members are still active in show business today, its not inconceivable.  As I understand it, the three female cast members remain friends, which isn't always the case.  But it looks like there might be a reunion of sorts on the small screen.  Consistent with the direction for television in recent years, this isn’t slated to air on network or cable television, but on Netflix.  Dolly Parton once commented that a new version of the film would probably need to be called 24/7 given the non-stop nature of work these days and the fact that people always have access to their email and phones thanks to mobile devices.  Periodically, talks of a new version of the film have come up, but apparently Fox hasn’t been been interested, although Ms. Parton acquired the rights to the screenplay when she prepared the Broadway musical version, so in theory, another studio could produce it if it was a good script.

But on March 19, 2014, Hollywood Reporter, Variety and various other entertainment industry trade publications reported that Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin would co-star in a 13-episode series to be called "Grace and Frankie" from Skydance Productions to air on Netflix.  Tomlin and Fonda will co-star in a 13-episode series called "Grace and Frankie" from Skydance Productions.  The basic idea for the new series is about two women whose lives are turned upside down when their two husbands announce they are in love with each other and plan to get married.

The two women, to their own dismay, find that their lives are permanently intertwined.  However, to their surprise, they also find they have each other and the series focuses on their relationship.  As I understand it, big Hollywood names including Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston (playing the husbands who plan to marry one another) will be featured in the program.  The comedy, which is scheduled to debut on May 8, 2015, is created and written by "Friends" co-creator Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris.

Although there is no word that Dolly Parton will appear in the series, its not inconceivable that she could potentially appear in a guest role if she was asked (and interested).  Although initially planned for just 13 episodes, depending on viewership, it’s also possible that more could be added at a later date.  Having the new series delivered online means there could be different production schedules that may prove more accommodating to actresses and actors who may not be up to a typical television series production schedule (television is more demanding than movies, for the record, Ms. Tomlin is 75 years old, and Ms. Fonda is 77 years old).  The new Tomlin/Fonda Netflix series sounds entertaining enough and certainly has a lot of big names in Hollywood involved, so time will soon tell.

For Netflix, “Grace and Frankie” joins a growing list of original programming including "The Killing", "Hemlock Grove", "Lilyhammer", the critically-acclaimed "Arrested Development" and the second season of "Orange Is the New Black" which has received a number of Emmy nominations.

"Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are among the funniest and most formidable actresses ever and it's an incredible privilege to give them the opportunity to run riot on Netflix," said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos. "The show created for them by Marta and Howard is warm, very funny and anything but wholesome. We can't wait."

Author P.S., May 2015:  The show officially goes live on Netflix on Friday, May 8, 2015.  A trailer for the series is available on YouTube, which can be viewed at https://youtu.be/CDv6PRi1SgQ.  NPR's "Here & Now" program had an interview with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin which you may listen to at http://bit.ly/1Pv4PIt.  The Hollywood Reporter indicates (see http://thr.cm/bJCUXq) that Netflix has renewed the series for a second season which begins May 6, 2016 (and now a third season!), which is good news for viewers!  On August 13, 2015The Hollywood Reporter also indicated that Dolly Parton expressed interest in appearing on Grace and Frankie, so it seems likely to be a question of "when" rather than "if" the Nine to Five reunion takes place!

In the meantime, the original movie “Nine to Five” remains available on DVD as well as occasional television reruns (it was re-released on DVD a few years ago).  Its well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already or want to catch up on old times.  Catch the original “Nine to Five” movie trailer and an excerpt from that movie below, or by visiting http://youtu.be/aOYDV3IIWFQ.

April 26, 2014

Cooking With Dead Celebrities

This particular blog post started by accident.  A few months ago, I bought the entire series of "Mama's Family" on DVD (I have a massive collection of classic television on DVD so I'm not dependent on cable).  Previously, only Season 1 had been released by Warner Home Video back in 2006, and that only contained the episodes from the short initial season of the program based on the skits of "The Family" that were often seen on "The Carol Burnett Show".  However, the spinoff "Mama's Family" series had an impressive six-season duration on television, although only the first two seasons were aired on network television, but the show was subsequently rebooted (and quite successfully) in syndication after that.

Regardless, episodes after Season 1 weren't available until recently.  However, StarVista/Time-Life finally acquired the original broadcast masters for the first two seasons (the NBC-aired ones, before the show went into first-run syndication) which featured Vicki Lawrence (Mama), Ken Berry (Vint), Dorothy Lyman (Naomi), Beverly Archer (Iola), and Allan Kayser (Bubba).  It included the full episodes from every season, including the later seasons which ran in syndication as well as some extras including a reunion of the cast from the syndicated seasons, and interviews with some notable guest stars including Betty White (who played Ellen Harper).  I should note that the first two seasons also featured Rue McClanahan as a cast regular (she played the uptight, spinster Aunt Fran), but both she and Betty White left the show at the end of 1983 to do a different show that went on to become a television smash hit The Golden Girls (catch my post on that at http://goo.gl/DD3pCP), so the end of Aunt Fran in Season 2 was definitely missing from DVD.  Also, Vint Harper's 2 children Buzz and Sonia were also written off the show after NBC dropped it, replaced by Eunice and Ed Higgins' delinquent son Bubba.

In any event, the DVD acquisition prompted me to visit Vicki Lawrence's personal website at http://www.vickilawrence.com/, where she shares some of her favorite recipes (see http://www.vickilawrence.com/Recipes2013.html).  She wrote about a recipe called "Meal in a Meatball Soup" which was from the late Dinah Shore.  She observed:  "I have never cooked anything of Dinah Shore's that wasn't wonderful. She was a fabulous cook and a super nice lady. I miss her."

That was interesting enough (the recipe wasn't half bad, either), but it got me to thinking that daytime talk shows with celebrities actually cooking as guest stars (Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas, Phil Donahue, etc.) during that era wasn't especially unusual.  In fact, it was kind obligatory from a PR perspective back in those days.  Remember, until the 1970s, most women in the U.S. were stay-at-home housewives who kind of really consumed celebrity recipes.  Magazines and newspapers once routinely published celebrity recipes that doting housewives could make for their families, giving their ordinary meals some Hollywood magic.

Which brings me to today's post.

Frank DeCaro, the former movie critic for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and current host of The Frank Decaro Show on Sirius XM satellite radio (just to name a few of his pop culture credentials) has released two cookbooks.  In addition to his own TV appearances, he has appeared in a few movies himself, including in the Lucky Duck Productions "Inside TV Land: Tickled Pink" produced for cable network TV Land in 2005.  But his most recent contribution to the American pop culture scene may well be his two fairly recent cookbooks.  There's a website for his books at http://www.deadcelebritycookbook.com/.

The title of Mr. DeCaro's original cookbook is "The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen" (he followed that up with a sequel called "The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents Christmas in Tinseltown: Celebrity Recipes and Hollywood Memories from Six Feet Under the Mistletoe") which contains the favorite recipes of "living-impaired" Hollywood icons including Lucille Ball, Liz Taylor, Joan Crawford, Liberace, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson, Dean Martin, Alfred Hitchcock, and Humphrey Bogart among others.  There's Patrick Swayze's Chicken Pot Pie, Elizabeth Taylor's Chicken With Avocado and Mushrooms, and Farrah Fawcett's Sausage and Peppers Supreme, but what really makes the book is the fact that its laced with Mr. DeCaro's pop culture insight and commentary.

Mr. DeCaro says that all of the recipes in these two books were in the public domain (sourced from old newspapers and magazines, even in manuals for microwave ovens), he's just the one to assemble them, but what makes the books so great is he adds his own pop culture insight, organizing the recipes thematically and giving some clever names).  He admits that not all of the recipes in his book were good, adding there were a few celebrity recipes he thought were just plain gross, hence he didn't even want to try making them for himself  (which makes you wonder why he included them?), and he also says he did not make or eat all of the recipes, but had definite opinions on the ones he did make.

The recipes range from gourmet to garbage, if that tells you anything.

Not all dead celebrity's recipes are worth celebrating, and he admits to having sampled only about a third of the recipes, admitting that he really had no inclination to make some of the recipes, even noting that some of them were kind of vile (which makes me wonder why he included them?  "I made a third of them before the book went to press. It's not 'Julie and Julia.'" he was quoted as saying.

"There's a recipe in the new book that's just downright creepy," Mr. DeCaro said, describing something like jelly consomme flakes in avocado.  He made a retching noise over the phone as he described the recipe.

Another recipe he wasn't fond of was Isabel Sanford's (she played Louise Jefferson on TV's "The Jeffersons") Boston Chicken.  He says:  "The recipe I always make fun of is Isabel Sanford's Boston Chicken. The recipe's sauce calls for Russian dressing, onion soup mix, pineapple and apricot jam."

He has gone on record as saying "It was vile."  He told another interviewer "We call it Chicken a la Barf."  But he later added "I feel so bad, I've been slamming her all over the place. Isabel Sanford's Boston Chicken is pretty yucky. I'm not convinced it's a good idea to spread your chicken with a combination of apricot jam, Russian dressing and onion-soup mix."  But he added that it didn't change his love for Isabel Sanford.

Other recipes that weren't exactly culinary masterpieces included one called Lucille Ball's "Chinese-y thing."  He said that just because you're a great entertainer, doesn't mean you're a great cook or culinary innovator.  Indeed, I would dare say that some of the recipes were probably just public relations released by a publicity executive, although some celebrities actually did cook ... at least occasionally.  The further you go back in time, the more likely that (cooking among celebrities) was, so some celebrities in the 1950s were often cooks at home - if we are to believe the PR created by publicity agents and studios!

The Dead Celebrity Cookbook
The recipes are cleverly organized into thematic chapters, including "Talk Chow" with dishes from now deceased talk show hosts, another called "I Lunch Lucy" with recipes by Lucille Ball, and he calls the last chapter in the non-holiday book "Thank You for Feeding a Friend" with dishes by the three deceased stars of "The Golden Girls": Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan (catch my previous post on that show at http://goo.gl/DD3pCP) to name a few, and Mr. DeCaro includes a short, summary of who the dead celebrity actually was, and some information about the careers that actually made them celebrities.

New York's Village Voice newspaper described it this way (see http://bit.ly/1g1fmd8 for details):

"While [today's] celebrities now get their food fixes at trendy restaurants like L.A.'s Koi or Nobu, once upon a time they actually cooked. Eartha Kitt made a mean chicken wing, Gilda Radner whipped up a sumptuous apple cake, and Johnny Cash fried okra to perfection."

Christmas in Tinseltown
Mr. DeCaro told Columbia University's The Protagonist newspaper (see http://nypress.com/the-protagonist-dead-celebrity-cookbook/) that the two dead celebrity cookbooks were more about promoting great performers than capitalizing on their deaths.  The mission is to keep the celebrities' names out there and share pop culture history.

But other recipes in the cookbooks were absolutely fabulous.

Among culinary successes was one from the late pianist Liberace, which he calls Liberace's Sticky Buns.  "They start out with crescent rolls from the refrigerator case. They end up tasting so good that you never want to go in Cinnabon again. I made 24 and I ate nine before they were cool enough to handle" said Mr. DeCaro.  (see the recipe below, or at http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Liberaces-Sticky-Buns-368173).  Readers of this blog may recall that I blogged about the 2013 Steven Soderbergh movie about Liberace called "Behind the Candelabra", see http://goo.gl/Wjek4g for the post.

There were other good ones, too, ranging from Patrick Swayze's Chicken Pot Pie to Bea Arthur's Vegan Breakfast that not only tasted great, and were actually healthy, too.

For the record, one of the gems noted is the recipe for Liberace's Sticky Buns, which is as follows:

Liberace's Sticky Buns
Liberace Cooks

  • 1 cup golden raisins (Note: these raisins are made from dried Thompson seedless grapes rather than traditional red grapes.  They're much less common in supermarkets today than they were 25 years ago; feel free to replace them with regular raisins instead, they will taste just as good!)
  • 1/4 cup light rum
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup whole pecans
  • 3 tubes refrigerated unbaked crescent rolls
  • Nonstick baking spray with flour for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray two muffin pans with nonstick baking spray.

Combine raisins and rum in a small bowl and warm in microwave on high for 45 seconds. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt butter and then stir in brown sugar and spices. Cook, stirring frequently, until it becomes a bubbling syrup.

Put a teaspoon of syrup and a few whole pecans in each muffin cup. Unroll one package of crescent rolls on a piece of parchment paper. Pinch seams together to form one flat piece. Drizzle a quarter of the syrup over the dough. Sprinkle a third of the raisins and a third of the chopped pecans on it. Roll it jellyroll style. Cut into 1-inch-thick pieces. Place one slice of dough, cut side up, in each muffin tin. Repeat with each package of crescent rolls.

Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately flip the buns onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Replace any nuts that may have stuck to the pan and serve warm.

Makes 24

Mr. DeCaro says that other recipes, such as Harriet Nelson's Chicken Casserole are also very easy to prepare.  You take rice and mix it with three kinds of cream soups: cream of chicken, cream of celery and cream of mushroom.  Then, you add cream and butter, because it's not rich enough with 3 creamy soups, and you add the chicken on top. He said "You don't need a defibrillator yet.  It's very 1950s-tasting and very comforting."

Regardless, this cookbook (indeed, both this one, as well as the holiday-themed one he released containing celebrity Christmas recipes) does accomplish what he set out to do.  Whether its fine dining, or even healthy dining, is another matter.  The real gem here is the accompanying commentary and the way he organizes the cookbook itself.  That makes it entertaining reading even if you don't make the recipes themselves.

To be sure, a number of the recipes are very much products of their era (after all, the celebs are now dead, so at least some of the recipes are more than a few years old), and for a variety of reasons, the recipes themselves haven't always stood the test of time, as Harriet Nelson's fat-laden Chicken Casserole best exemplifies (even if it tastes good).

Culinary perfection was not the point of DeCaro's book, which features more than 145 recipes from as many deceased celebrities.  Helping a new generation of pop-culture fans rediscover them and their work was his goal.  Each recipe is accompanied by a brief, cleverly written biography and a description of what distinguishes the particular featured dish.

Perhaps for the next cookbook, Mr. DeCaro will consider having a celebrity chef like Rocco DiSpirito try to modernize them, or even follow the model that popular television show "Recipe Rehab" does so they're a bit healthier than the original magazine recipes so common in 1950s and '60s magazines aimed at homemakers of the day were?

He told one reporter "One thing that's better about having recipes from dead people is, if you change them, they can't complain."

Aside from Liberace's Sticky Buns, there were a few others worth trying.  For example, a chapter called "Thank You For Feeding a Friend" is all about the Golden Girls being healthy (before taking dirt naps).  PETA supporter Bea Arthur's Vegetarian Breakfast, Rue McClanahan's Non-Dairy Cheesecake, and Estelle Getty's Baked Chicken Fingers recipes are included. So far, Betty White, who is still with us and acting on "Hot In Cleveland", isn't included since she's still above ground.  Bea's vegetarian breakfast is incredibly easy (if a bit bland), it was featured in People magazine at http://bit.ly/1i6xTtl.

Recipes, of course, are a matter of taste.  I rather liked Patrick Swayze’s Chicken Pot Pie and Eva Gabor's Hungarian Goulash was pretty darn good, too.  Its hard to believe she once routinely made completely inedible food on the sixties TV show "Green Acres"!!

These books were discussed on BlogTalkRadio and American Public Media (an NPR affiliated organization) "The Splendid Table" radio show, both can be found below.  The discussions, much like Mr. DeCaro himself, is pretty entertaining and worth listening to.  I've included the radio clips below.  The books themselves are available in hard-copy as well as Kindle editions, so you can download instantly.

January 5, 2014

Golden Girls Still Golden, 3 Decades Later

Television's "The Golden Girls" sitcom, was first introduced to the world on September 14, 1985 and ran on NBC from 1985-1992.  The show was set in a (fictitious) ranch house owned by the character Blanche Devereaux, at least until Season 7, Episode 4 ("That's For Me to Know").  In that episode (S7/E4), Blanche supposedly shared ownership of the house with her two longtime roommates (Dorothy Zbornak and Rose Nylund).  The decision to share ownership was prompted by Blanche's plans to install a hot tub, but she gets more than she bargained for when a city inspector (whom Rose notified) tells her that she either has to lose a renter or make modifications to her home which would cost more than $10,000, which she said she couldn't afford  without raising the rent.  Dorothy suggests selling her and Rose a share of the house as a way of getting around the burdensome zoning restriction.  Blanche finally agrees to make Dorothy and Rose co-owners of her house in order to skirt the law, although nothing more was made of the change of ownership beyond that.

The address for that home was supposedly 6151 Richmond Street, Miami, FL (although no such Miami address exists in the real world, hence no real-life zip code exists).  Viewers must therefore speculate on the actual Miami neighborhood where the home was supposedly located.  We know it was not in Miami Beach, because the girls decide to stay in a Miami Beach hotel as their regular home was fumigated for termites in Season 2, Episode 2 (S2/E2) in the episode entitled "Ladies of the Evening" (in which the girls are mistaken for prostitutes and arrested).

Several different episodes mention various Miami locations, including Biscayne Boulevard, arguably a major north-south avenue transversing the entire city, while another episode mentions Pompano Drive, and in yet another, Rose asks Dorothy and Blanche if they’d like to go to Coconut Grove for lunch (her treat) to celebrate their friendship.  These clues suggest a house located somewhere between Coconut Grove and the affluent suburb of Coral Gables.  However, the reality is there was never a stated area of town they live in, and the homes in the area are neither particularly grandiose, historic, nor is the neighborhood particularly ethnic (ruling out neighborhoods such as Little Havana or Little Haiti).

In real life (at least in the first season), the exterior scenes of the home were filmed at a real house located at 245 North Saltair Avenue, (West) Los Angeles, CA 90049, in the hills of Brentwood (see photo above), although the landscaping of the house is known to look a bit different today. (Its located just west of the 405 highway and just north of Sunset Blvd.)  From the second season onward, exterior shots were actually filmed at the Walt Disney World Hollywood Studios theme-park in Orlando, FL (see photo below) where they built an exact replica of the house, which also became part of the studio tour there, at least until it (the replica) was torn down in 2003 and replaced with a new attraction.

Source: Flickr Partyhare, from Disney Hollywood Studios

Tearing down theme park attractions is a fairly routine matter; Universal Studios Orlando once featured a full-scale reproduction of the "I Love Lucy" apartment set at the park.  Although the retail store still existed for my last visit, it had been downsized considerably and I believe could be removed to make room for future attractions (if it hasn't been done already).

6151 Richmond Street House Layout Subject to Some Dispute

"The Golden Girls" home layout is also the subject of some dispute, since the actual set routinely only focused on just 2 rooms: the living room and the kitchen.  Occasionally, some episodes featured a bedroom, a bathroom or even a garage, yet those rooms were never part of the show's primary set.  One thing is clear: until "The Golden Girls", the Hawaiian term "lanai" (defined as a veranda, particularly a furnished one) had never become mainstream in the American English language.  At best, people knew of "Aloha" and maybe "Mele Kalikimaka" (Merry Christmas, which was made famous by singer Bing Crosby), but thanks to "The Golden Girls", a new Hawaiian term entered the American lexicon.  Scenes from the actual lanai were relatively few but occasional appearances emerged during the show, including the first season.  But the location of the lanai is, shall we say, open to debate?

Indeed, much like the actual Miami neighborhood, the precise layout of the house was never made clear.  Now, before I get too far, I should note that the actual house layout has been the subject to considerable debate due (in part) to discrepancies observed throughout the series.  The best discussion of these inconsistencies is observed in The Golden Girls' Wiki, which can be found at http://goldengirls.wikia.com/wiki/6151_Richmond_Street.

Different people have come up with varying ideas of the floor plan based on descriptions of the house from the series itself.  Even that can be subject to debate, although people can generally agree on how the rooms looked inside.  Occasional discontinuities are more likely to happen when a show runs for so many seasons.  I've placed several layouts below, or at http://bit.ly/1appwkQ.

For example, in the opening scene (Season 2, Episode 1 [S2/E1], "End of the Curse") shows the outside of the house, and the garage and driveway are on the left side of the house, whereas in the show's intro, the garage is on the right side.  In that episode, the girls raise minks in the garage, which is accessed from the back corner of the kitchen, hence the garage is actually on the opposite side of the house.  Furthermore, the lanai seems to be surrounded on 3 sides by the house, but the hallway leading to the lanai (and the way the girls enter from the left) would put it on the very front corner, surrounded by nothing.  There were also references in the show from Blanche that she could sunbathe in the nude on the lanai without any neighbors noticing.  Among the other inconsistencies include the following:
  • The door in the kitchen that supposedly lead to the "garage" was really a passageway to the back hall (where the Girls' rooms were located) to get backstage
  • Blanche's room, if you look back at the end of the hall in some episodes, was actually a door to backstage
  • In the Pilot episode, the Lanai is located right in back of the living room and Blanche's room is back off to the left beside the lanai
  • In other episodes, the Lanai is back off to the left of the living room, and Blanche's bedroom is at the end of the hall
Inconsistencies aside, the fictitious house feels like a second home (much as Lucy & Ricky's apartment did) for an entire generation of viewers.  We know for a fact it was a Hollywood set, as the photo below shows:

Photo of the studio set for "The Golden Girls"

Now, 30 years later, the show's decor seems dated (although a search through Flickr shows that some have found similar furniture for sale, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/skinnytie/4643140232/sizes/z/ for details); it was supposed to be themed like Miami during the 1980s, although wicker was popular nationwide at that time.  In Season 1, Episode 2 (S1/E2, "Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding?"), we see our first glimpse of the lanai when Dorothy confronts her ex-husband Stanley and tears off his toupee while out on the lanai, with occasional scenes in different episodes also out on the back veranda.

2012-2013 Era: Artisians on Etsy.com Bring "The Golden Girls" Home

During the summer of 2013, a scale model (scaled at 1:72) of the main set was made available for the primary set on Etsy (see http://www.etsy.com/listing/108583630/golden-girls-house-scale-model-6151).  The producer got a lot of positive reviews, and came back with several more, which were available for sale about a month later.  The producer sold out quickly on both the original and the subsequent items, suggesting he could find it lucrative making reproductions of the house, although it also suggests that the market for commercial producers could potentially mine for gold with old TV set miniatures, although its unclear whether Disney or any toy companies have much appetite for it.  He has since started selling reproductions of Lucy & Ricky Ricardo's apartment.

Source:  http://www.etsy.com/listing/108583630/golden-girls-house-scale-model-6151

Shortly thereafter, another budding craftsman created a set of Lego people (see http://bit.ly/16Ey8Ij for the news) with the four main castmembers of "The Golden Girls" and sold in on Etsy.com complete with a wicker purse for Sophia, a coffee mug for another, and a Lego cheesecake for all of them to share.  Although the Lego Golden Girls were cute, the price was  higher than the scaled version of their ranch house in Miami, though the scale model of the house sells for more now than it did originally.

Both are selling briskly, suggesting that the market is still healthy for these items.  The point is that these are evidence the show has touched several generations and is therefore likely to remain around for a while longer.

This show, perhaps more than others of the same era ("Family Ties" comes to mind, catch my post on that show at http://goo.gl/DRmhw) seems as timely today as it did nearly 30 years ago when it premiered.  Some of the reason can be attributed to the fact that it has never left the TV airwaves.  Few shows aside from "I Love Lucy" can make such a claim.  The show's origin is attributed to former NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, who Parade magazine said (see http://ow.ly/scb2r) got the idea for the series while visiting an elderly aunt. His aunt's neighbor was also her best friend, and he was amused at how they constantly bickered with one another, yet they always remained pals.

Origins for "The Golden Girls"

However, it was really "Soap" creator (not to mention "Benson" and a few others) Susan Harris who actually brought the idea of "The Golden Girls" to life for NBC television.  Harris was already an experienced sitcom writer who had previously written scripts for "Love, American Style", "All in the Family", and "The Partridge Family" to name a few.  She also wrote the groundbreaking abortion episode for the Bea Arthur-starring (and Rue McClanahan) series "Maude" in the 1970s which won Harris the Humanitas Prize.  She and her then-husband started a company in Los Angeles to create television programming on behalf of networks.

Ms. Harris had a reputation for being difficult to work with (and for), although her involvement was somewhat limited once the show was turned over to the network.  Susan Harris also had a reputation of creating shows and then leaving them, and she admitted to a reporter:

"It's true. I'm the first to admit that.  My [then] husband has referred to me as a creator-deserter."

However, she added some of the reasons for that.

After "Soap," for which she was constantly writing, she said "I vowed I would never do that to myself again. But it doesn't mean I just write the pilot and take off", adding "I write notes, read scripts. I'm around."

But the show's success can really be attributed to the writers and the cast.

Core Audiences for "The Golden Girls": Beyond Middle-Aged Women

Regardless of the show's origins, it drew audiences from well beyond the core, middle-aged women it was originally intended to target.  For example, a 2005 study by Simmons Market Research determined that more gays and lesbians watched "The Golden Girls" than the general population in any given week.  The show touched on homosexuality more than once: Blanche's brother came out as gay in one episode (and later came back with his soon-to-be husband in another episode), In another episode, Dorothy's college friend was a lesbian who fell for Rose.

Actresses Rue McClanahan (Blanche) and Betty White (Rose) and one of "Golden Girls" writers Marc Cherry revealed what they thought made the show so appealing to the gay community in a meeting at the Paley Center in Los Angeles several years ago (Rue McClanahan passed away on June 3, 2010).  You can catch that short video clip below, or by visiting http://youtu.be/EeW-G1vBKkY:

Taking "The Golden Girls" Off Broadway

"Thank You for Being a Friend: The Musical" was an UNauthorized musical parody inspired by the beloved TV sitcom "The Golden Girls" which premiered in New York back in 2009 and starred a cast of drag queens, but and ended up being pretty successful for an off, off, off Broadway production. (see http://goo.gl/GJmhLo for more background on the show itself).  In fact, there is news that "Thank You For Being A Friend", the unauthorized musical based on "The Golden Girls", will return to the New York stage for several weeks starting on January 8, 2014 until February 12, 2014 (see the news at http://ow.ly/sbP8I).

The parody show is/was unapologetic about the fact that it was borrowing from the original, although it took creative license which also makes it immune to most legal challenges.  For example, the characters' names were Blanchette (described as the varicose-veined vixen) instead of Blanche, Dorthea (described as the brainy ball-buster) instead of Dorothy, Roz (described as the lovable airhead) instead of Rose, and Sophie (described as the wisecracking spitfire) instead of Sophia.  They’re spending their golden years together in a Miami bungalow, and Sophie recently left a nursing home known as "Shady Oaks" (instead of Shady Pines).

The storyline goes as follows: When a closeted, gay (former) pop superstar (originally, it was Lance Bass, although the more recent version supposedly features Ricky Martin; both of whom have since come out publicly) moves next door, and his loud, outdoor sex parties keeps the quartet of cheesecake-loving retirees awake at night. The solution pits the gays against the girls at the Shady Oaks annual talent show: if the women win, then no more sex parties; if the gays garner top prize, the sassy seniors must serve as the party's clean-up crew.

The website for the show (http://www.goldengirlsthemusical.com/) has several YouTube clips, including the opening song number, which can be viewed at http://youtu.be/dTO7HkndFLk or below:

To be sure, the New York parody featuring drag queens as the Golden Girls is not the only one.  Similar shows have been produced in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston and elsewhere.  Clearly, this is an audience that appreciated the show, but never got to see the reunion they were hoping for.

There have been periodic talks of rebooting the show (including a funny cartoon version featuring the Superfriends, catch my post on that at http://goo.gl/aZkMS for details), but none have yet come to fruition!  While variations of shows featuring four primary castmembers have already been very successful on TV (for example, "Sex and the City" followed the same pattern back in the 1990s), there are now talks that ABC television is looking into developing a new comedy about a few (three) older guys (e.g. retirement age) rather than girls.

The Golden Guys?

At this point, the show is still untitled, but is being developed by "The Neighbors" creator Dan Fogelman and "The George Lopez Show" co-creator Robert Borden.  It revolves around three long-lost basketball teammates who reconnect in their 60s and discover they still have a lot to learn about love and friendship.  The news was released on Deadline.com (see http://bit.ly/1iuNhjK).  My personal thought is they may need to find a fourth castmember to make it work (for whatever reason four, rather than three, castmembers seems to work best if other TV shows are reliable predictions), but that's relatively easy.  With a large number of individuals (Baby Boomers) in retirement, the audience is certainly large enough, even if Boomers aren't spending as much as their younger counterparts.

If TV Land's successful 2013 reality show "Forever Young" is any indication, not to mention the fact that "The Golden Girls" original castmember Betty White is still working at age 90+ on "Hot in Cleveland", we can expect to see more future sitcoms to include different age groups.  But it was really "The Golden Girls" that paved the way for less youth-focused sitcoms to be successful on television.