Hat's off to them for tackling the subject and in such a fascinating way.
Burger King just released an awfully-impressive 3-minute anti-bullying spot online. It starts off pretty odd, but then takes a strong turn.
Hat's off to them for tackling the subject and in such a fascinating way.
Last week, I went to Galco's Old World Grocery. I hadn't been there in probably eight years -- not because I wasn't impressed enough (in fact, I was bowled over by how absolutely wonderful it was), but it just isn't convenient to get to. It's in area called Highland Park, which is a convoluted 30-35 minute drive for me, a ways northeast of downtown Los Angeles. And that's a long distance to go for a grocery store. Though in fairness this is unlike any grocery store you've been to. (Something I feel confident saying, whoever "you" are.) I've always intended to go back, and even have had a reminder in my Outlook, which I keep moving forward in the calendar, so that I will "someday soon." Eventually I got tired of someday and said "to heck with it" and went.
Galco's truly is not a typical grocery store. It was once -- it's been around over 100 years -- but no longer sells the basic groceries you'd find in your supermarket. Mainly, it sells soft drinks. Yes, soft drinks. Small, local, uncommon brands from across the country, and some from around the world. Brands you may have grown up with and thought they'd long-since gone out of business. Over 200 brands and over 750 varieties. (Its website is sodapopstop.com.) They also sell uncommon beers and interesting wines, and have a similar candy section and some sandwiches -- but mainly, it's soft drinks.
Trust me, this doesn't do it justice. The place is the Disneyland of soft drink stores. Keep in mind, too, that if you saw a layout like this in your local supermarket, 90% of these bottles would be from Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up and Dr. Pepper, since they control shelf space. These, again, are from 200 different brands.
(And yes, they also have Coke -- but not the Coke your supermarket will most-likely have on its shelves. Theirs is from Mexico, which still makes Coke with cane sugar, not corn syrup.)
It just goes on and on and on. A wonderland of soft drinks. And yes, they're all in bottles.
I first became aware of the place around 2009 when host Huell Howser did an hour-long episode about Galco's on his Visiting with Huell Howser show on local L.A. public television, where he went around finding fascinating places throughout the Los Angeles area. (For readers of Mark Evanier's website, yes, this is the Huell Howser he was waxing eloquent about and calling the "cheeriest person on the planet" a couple of weeks ago in several postings, like this one here.) And yes, Galco's is so wonderfully interesting and fun, Huell Howser was able to fill a full hour on it, a grocery store that largely sells soft drinks. As a result of that show, I was so taken with the store that I had to make the trek and track the place down. It was as joyous as I hoped -- but as convoluted to get to as I feared.
But even when you do come here, even if you live close by, that's not the real challenge at all. The problem with coming to Galco's is that you don't know where to start. Do you take one bottle of each interesting-looking brand? Well, that alone would empty your bank account since there are SO many brands that are interesting. (Most individual bottles -- and yes, you can buy just a single bottle -- cost in the $1.50-$1.80 range. Some may be more, I came across one that was over $3; a few less, I bought one under a dollar.) Or instead you can pick a particular flavor and try all the ginger ales or all the wild cherries or all the root beers, lemon-limes, colas, orange or orange creams, or on and on and on to compare them. But that risks your wallet, too, since there will be a dozen or two dozen of each, if it's a normal flavor. (No, they don't have a dozen cucumber sodas. Though it's worth nothing that they started stocking Mr. Cucumber five years before it was named Soft Drink Flavor of the Year -- or whatever its award was.) And if you decide to go this way get just one flavor it leaves out all those rare varieties, it's hard not to try.. At the very least, you can get all the different flavors of one brand alone to check it out. That's workable -- most brands with multiple varieties may only have three or four -- but which of the 200 brands do you want to try? O what to do??!
And when I say "on and on and on" with the flavors, seriously, I'm not kidding. There's peach soft drink. And espresso coffee soft drink. And sarsaparilla. And there was huckleberry soft drink. And...and...okay, you get the point.
Yes, that's mint julep soft drink.
And as you shop, wafting through the air is music from the '50 that helps put you in the proper frame of mind to wander the aisles here.
But Galco's doesn't even limit itself to these 750 varieties -- there is a "make your own soft drink" stand where the combinations are near-limitless. And by "near-limitless" I'm not exaggerating. There are about 30-40 bottles of syrup which you can use separately or combine to make your own special flavor. You get a bottle, fill it three-quarters of the way with either light fizz or heavy fizz soda (your choice) and then take 8-9 pumps of whatever syrups you want. (If you want single pumps of nine different syrups, that's fine. Hence me saying "near-limitless.") Then, take it to the bottle capper on the far right of the area, and finally add a label for your personal soft drink.
I made a banana-strawberry soft drink, with light fizz. I haven't had it yet, going through a few of the bottled brands first, as a sort of control. But I can't wait. (When I went to check out, the knowledgeable guy there -- he said he's tried about a third of the product in the store -- was curious what flavor I'd made. I could tell he was wary, since I assume so many people probably make either one-flavor or exceedingly weird combos. When I told him -- strawberry-banana -- his eyebrows raised. "Oh. That sounds good!" So, here's hopping.)
But the real expert there is John Nese, whose family has owned the store for a great many decades, back when it was a regular grocery store, and he's the one who turned into it the "Soda Pop Stop" in 1995. He's also the fellow I saw on that Huell Howser broadcast and who stopped me in the aisle when I finally showed up at his palace eight years ago. Seeing me almost bewildered by the choices, he came over, "Can I help you with anything?" And his love of his store and its product was palpable. He spent almost 10 minutes talking with me about all the brands and flavors, and where they came from, their history, and who the packer was, and more and more details that was like a joyful history lesson of Beverage University.
And he was there last week when I showed up -- and again asked me, "Can I help you with anything?" when he saw me wandering. And yes, I took him up on it. Because I knew how much he seemed to love what I was doing -- which I told him, adding how I had been there about eight years earlier and spoke with him. He saw I had Green River in my cart (a brand from Chicago) and happily said that it was much better these days since they went to a new packer a couple years ago who uses the original formula and explained the differences. He asked what flavors I like, and pointed out several brands that he thought were particularly good. I mentioned how I wasn't a fan of orange soda, even though I love the fruit itself, but my last time at Galco's I'd decided to try some orange cream soda which was delicious. He couldn't believe I didn't like orange soft drink (as opposed to orange cream) and showed me a few brands I had to try. (I got one.) And then took me over to the refrigerator section where he stocked Bundaberg's Blood Orange. I was tempted, since it was his recommendation, but I said I really don't care for blood oranges -- I find it too bitter -- however I did get a Bundaberg's Peach. He said you can't go wrong with anything from Bundaberg's.
It is a heavenly, joyful place. In fact, in one news video about Galco's that's embedded on the site, John Nese comments that people regularly come up to him and say, "'You know, you have the happiest customers I've ever seen.'" -- and then he adds on camera with a big smile, "Everybody's happy!." They are. It permeates through the store. The few people I spoke to were quite simply in the cheeriest moods, happy to come over to ask about brands or flavors they'd found or were looking for. I was in a cheery mood, too.
Happy though I was, I unfortunately won't be back soon -- it's still that trek -- but I got enough bottles to last me a while, since I don't guzzle soft drink, though now that they're back home it's been hard not just swig them all down over a weekend. But now that I'm more comfortable knowing the drive there after two trips, it definitely won't be eight years before I return. Once a year perhaps, or at least every other year -- I hope.
This is just a small sample of the 14 bottles I ended up getting.
It's probably a great place to take kids, for the sensory overload, the overflow of history, the fun of seeing all the artistic labels and unique beverages. The problem, of course, is that your children would likely be on a sugar high for the next year from just one trip. (They do have some diet soft drinks here, it should be noted.)
Galco's Old World Grocery is otherworldly and unique. Alas, most people can't get there, but you can at least check it out online, and watch the great many news story videos about the place I mentioned that they have embedded there.
In fact, here is that original hour-long Huell Howser show that introduced the place to me. (If you read about him on Mark's site, this is your chance to see him in action at his up-beat best.) If you don't want to watch the whole thing, jump to the 7:30 mark, past the pre-soda history of the place and get directly to John Nese in his enthusiastic glory. (That's him below in the yellow shirt.) And all of Huell Howser's intricate details about the place and its various sections (including the sandwich-making that Nese's mother does, and has for 50 years) that he digs out.
One note: in the video John Nese refers to the "aisle" with soft drinks. Big as that aisle is, it's more than just one aisle. There are at least two, though one is smaller, plus all the boxes sitting out, plus the soda creation booth.
And if you want to watch something shorter, here's a six-minute piece on Galco's that MSNBC did when they used to have a business-hour show. It's very good, and focuses wonderfully more on John Nese from a business perspective and his philosophy: "Not fewer suppliers, less choice. No, no, no, no. More choice. Just overload 'em, continually overload 'em...and you'll win. Simple." But if you watch this MSNBC one instead, do at least also check out a few minutes of Huell Howser's enthusiasm for the place, too...
This latest news story of the Russian money-launderer, Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze, attending the Russia meeting with Don Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort gives significant support to my long-held belief that what is most-likely to get Trump is not a conspiracy with the Russian government -- though clearly that's something he could still go down for, but it's hard to prove and so evidence will be needed connecting the intricate dots -- but activities far easier to track: financial.Illegal dealings with Russian oligarchs in money schemes, as well as laundering money from the Russian mob and even for terrorists.
For something like that there is likely a paper trail -- and a long one, and a clear one, including contracts in some cases. Indeed, we already have a lot of it on the public record. Not necessarily as proven evidence of illegal activities, but the surface deeds which the FBI and Special Counsel Mueller are most-certainly looking into. Keep in mind that we know that there was a long period where Trump had a very difficult time raising money and was in desperate need of funds, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy (again). U.S. banks wouldn't lend to him, and European banks wouldn't lend either. All reports have long been that the only place he could get money was from Russia.
So, that takes us to things like Trump buying property in Florida for $40 million and then selling it just a few months later to a Russian oligarch he never met for $100. Or the major story in the New Yorker magazine written brilliantly by Adam Davidson about a hotel Trump built in Azerbaijan which was in the middle of nowhere and was almost impossible to get to. The facility appears to have been financed with money from Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which is a terrorist organization, and done in conjunction with known-corrupt Azerbaijan officials, the Mammadov family, an apparent massive violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- and all done with no vetting or due diligence. Even a Trump lawyer acknowledges the rampant corruption. (“I’m not going to sit here and defend the Mammadovs,” Alan Garten is quoted. But, from a legal standpoint, the lawyer argues, the Trump Organization was blameless -- something contradicted and explained in minute detail by the dean of George Washington University law school, who is an expert in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which doesn't even require fore-knowledge, but just participation.) Further, an inside Trump executive is quoted in the article as saying that this was the way business was done at the Trump Organization. When asked if deals like this were at least unusual, the executive laughs. "“No deal there seems unusual, as long as a check is attached.” So, it seems the Trump company is littered with illegal deals like this.
It's a great article, riveting to read, filled with remarkable detail. (For instance, the Trump lawyer actually let author Davidson read the Mammadov contract.) You can check it out here.. But the important thing is, if a reporter from the New Yorker magazine can track down this one story...you absolutely KNOW that a) the FBI can too and will be following up on it, and b) the FBI can and will be following up on all the other rumored, corrupt deals the article references -- and can and will find more. They're the fricking FBI, after all (the official term). Not a guy writing an article and hoping for the best.
And all of these things are on the public record, as well as others reported in the news, like two, odd airport events when Trump's plane and one from a Russian oligarch happened to be landed on the tarmac at the same time, each occasion for less than two hours, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Las Vegas.. Both apparently by pure chance. And maybe it was, both times. It's possible. Though the Russian's claimed "he was just there on business with someone else" has never been explained what that business was. Perhaps it was to talk about adoptions. Which brings me back to my original point --
I am sure the FBI and Mueller are investigating into Trump conspiracy with the Russian government, and may well be able to find vast proof of illegal acts -- but -- I believe that the way they are most likely to find evidence of illegal actions by Trump with Russia is through financial dealings. Not only do I believe that they exist, but that they have being going on for a great-many years.
Which brings us back to the admitted Russian money launderer, Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze, being the eighth person in that meeting with Don Trump Jr., Jerod Kusher -- one of Trump's top advisers and his son-in-law, and campaign head Paul Manafort.
I do not believe the story of this meeting ends well for Trump. And that's just the meeting.
I can't begin to express how absolutely thrilled I am that Ann Coulter -- who wrote an entire book on people supposedly whining about being victims and slammed the man who was abused by United Airlines when he didn't want to get bumped from a flight -- was still tweeting and whining half a day later about having to move two seats over on her Delta Airlines flight. For all I know, she's still tweeting and complaining about it, a day later. (I don't have it in me to check.) And it doesn't seem unreasonable to think, given her past record, may well continue doing so when the spirit moves her. I just dearly love this.
I haven't spent much time writing about Ann Coulter in half a dozen years or since she has ceased to be even annoyingly interesting, largely because her "outrageous" statements about others seemed to be intended solely to get an outraged reaction, not because there's any substantive meaning behind them. But this is different, this is not her making some outrageous statement to outrage people -- this is her whining about herself because she had to move her seat from the aisle to the window, and seemingly being unable to stopping whining.
Delta publicly offered to refund the $30 she spent on the special seat she booked. She whined in return that she actually spent "$10,000" of her valuable time booking the seat, researching airplanes and checking back to see her reservation. Now, assuming that this figure is true -- not a reasonable assumption -- the realty is that one can certainly sympathize with anyone's loss of time (again, assuming what Ann Coulter says is true, never a safe assumption), but the amount Delta owes her, as it would owe anyone, is...$30. If she actually does feel that deeply aggrieved -- not a reasonable assumption -- she is welcome to sue for the remaining $9,970, of course, and hope the law agrees with her. But forgetting the court system, since that shouldn't be the lengths one has to go to correct a wrong, let's just look at that claimed wrong itself. And to be fair, let's also be wildly generous and say that Ann Coulter makes as much as $1,000 an hour. That would mean she spent TEN HOURS booking a seat. (And 20 hours to book the seat if she "only" makes a still-whopping $500 an hour...) If that's how long it actually, really truly took -- it explains a lot in Ann Coulter World.
Then there's the matter of Ann Coulter tweeting out a picture of the private citizen who did absolutely nothing wrong other and merely sat in the seat the airline assigned her that Ann Coulter wanted. If the young woman seems less then happy in the photo, wouldn't you be, too, if you had to sit in the same row as a whining Ann Coulter for an entire flight? But worse, wouldn't you even more be upset if you knew that Ann Coulter, a public figure who is taking your picture to tweet it to the world knowing it will make national news, has previously called for a presidential candidates to be assassinated. (I won't remind you of who, since just the thought of it is so despicable.) And quipped about poisoning Supreme Court justices she didn't like.
And of course, then there's the the tweet where Ann Coulter called Delta "fascist" for one of their responses which called her public actions "unacceptable." Because, as we know, a company trying to defend the privacy of their private-citizen customers is so-very what fascism is all about. Fascism?? How pathetically whiny and demeaning to all the actual fascists out there who have spent a lot of effort becoming fascists. Of course, the reality is that Ann Coulter most certainly knows perfectly well what real fascism is. After all, she "waved" at it in her salute to the nominee-booth during the recent Republican National Convention.
It speaks volumes that Ann Coulter's tweetsorm meltdown has done the near-impossible -- made most of the public sympathize with an airline. Mind you, I have no idea why Ann Coulter was asked to move two seats over. Maybe the airline had a great reason, maybe a lousy reason. But Delta did offer to refund her $30 for the inconvenience of moving her over two seats. However, since we don't yet know why it was done and since this clearly is a problem of monumental proportions from all the whining tweets sent out, my hope is that if Robert Mueller has the time he also please look into the case of Ann Coulter being moved two seats over.
I could go on, but that would be oh-so Ann Coulterish. And besides, that's about as long as I can bear writing about Ann Coulter.
But I sure am enjoying her whine relentlessly about being a victim for having to move two seats over.
The other day, I posted a song I like from the musical Shenandoah, which opened in 1975 and was a big hit, running for 1,050 performances, which is about 2-1/2 years. I came across a fun video related to the show, which I thought I'd pass along.
As I mentioned at the time, Shenandoah was written by the same team that had written Purlie a few years before, -- music by Gary Geld, with lyrics by Peter Udell, -- and was an even bigger hit. It starred John Cullum, who won a Tony Award for his performance as Best Lead Actor in a Musical, though he's probably better despite all his stage work, for playing "Holling Vincoeur" on the TV series Northern Exposure.
(Three years later, Cullum won his second Best Lead Actor Tony for On the Twentieth Century. Early on at the start of his Broadway career, he had been in a small role in the original production of Camelot),
This is a series of three TV ads that they made for Shenandoah at the time, The first and last feature Cullum, while the middle ad is that song I posted the other day, "Freedom." Rather than set their ads on stage, the producers decided to give them more a sense of what the show is -- and a sense of its roots, as a classic film that had starred James Stewart. So, they filmed these all outdoors.
I suspect that because most people only know of John Cullum through his TV work, they have no idea that he has such an impressive Broadway musical career -- including the male lead in the big hit, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. And no idea what a glorious singing voice he has. (My friend Jeff Melvoin -- the aforementioned "First Father" of new L.A. School Board member Nick Melvoin who I wrote about earlier today -- was a writer and producer of Northern Exposure. He told me once that they all knew what a great singer Cullum was and dearly wanted to figure out ways to get him to sing in the show, but they insisted that they would never do it until there was an absolute necessity for it in the story. They refused to just toss in a passage for him to sing for the heck of it. The result was that Cullum didn't sing much in the series, but -- there were two episodes I recall where they wrote things such that singing was an absolute necessity. And they were great.
Anyway, for people who don't know John Cullum can sing -- here he is, about to knock your socks off. Plus that "Freedom" song again.
You may have read about John Oliver being sued (along with HBO and Time-Warner) by the very litigious Bob Murray of Murray Energy over a long segment that the comedian did on the coal industry.
Good news for you! We have it here below.
Among the issues that Mr. Murray sued were Last Week Tonight's "intentionally, falsely, and outrageously" erroneous claims that Murray had no evidence that an earthquake caused a mining disaster, and that the show ignored other evidence and used quotes out of context. It should be noted that the evidence Oliver does present is a U.S. government study that says an earthquake did not cause the mine collapse.
The show also presents an outrageously funny story on how Murray Energy was founded -- a story that the company insists is not true...though the story comes from Murray himself, and Oliver repeatedly says he too does not believe the story.
The suit contends, as well, that the show presented "meticulously planned" and "ruthless character assassination" for financial gain and to hurt his mining company.
Watching the segment, these appear to be massive hurdles to prove, though no doubt they'll provide their side or the argument. But given that Oliver and Company knew going in that Murray was highly litigious (as the host explains) and that they had even received a "cease and desist" letter before airing the piece, I suspect they were incredibly careful to get their i's dotted and t's very-well crossed, and vet the thing through corporate lawyers and then re-vet it.
Besides which, it would seem they made it more difficult to prove damages to the business and Mr. Murray himself since they sued only days after the piece appeared. Add to that the burden that, as much as Last Week Tonight presents material in a news-story way, at heart they are a satiric comedy show which, while it doesn't let them off the hook at all, does provide a much, much much higher bar to prove damage, especially against a public figure -- which Mr. Murray is through his many TV and public appearances.
HBO has released a statement standing by the program. After watching the piece, it's easy to see why.
And not only is it very strong, it's also extremely funny. And in the best tradition of Last Week Tonight, do be sure to stick around and watch to the very end.
My pal Mark Evanier has a terrific article here about the history of WGA strikes and current negotiations that are leading towards a strike authorization vote. (As he notes, a strike authorization vote is not a vote to strike -- just telling the leadership whether you support their negotiation platform, and offering, hopefully, a show of strength.)
During the last Writers Guild strike which began in November, 2007, I remember participating in an online writers board for WGA members and getting into a debate with a very famous writer, one of the guys who had written Pirates of the Caribbean -- I think that it was Ted Elliott, who either had or was about to run for Guild president, I don't recall which at this point -- who was chastising me for an article I'd written about why I thought the strike would end in February. By the way, the strike ended in February.
I wrote a long, weekly series of "Primers" for the Huffington Post during the strike, 26 of them in all. Several are memorable to me. The most notable was the piece "Understanding Misunderstanding" in which I explained what the AMPTP was misunderstanding about the Writers Guild and therefore thinking members would fold anytime soon. I had more Guild members come up to me on the picket lines after that one article than any others (and I had a lot during the strike).
Two other article exchanges stand out because they were confrontational. One got me into an online Huffington debate of sorts with the actor Alec Baldwin, who in his own Huffington Post blog was criticizing WGA leadership from a perspective that was woefully misguided, often (wrongly) comparing it to how the Directors Guild so-wonderfully managed negotiations while avoiding strikes. (In reality, the way the directors "managed" negotiatons was usually, "Let's not ever strike, which management knows we won't do, so they can always low-ball us, but then reap the benefits of whatever the WGA gets after it strikes." At one point, Mr. Baldwin singled me out by name, how my "quips" were killing him, in his piece here.
What had brought that about is I wrote a long reply "Primer" in the middle of our exchange that was an appreciation to actor, since writers and actor were natural enemies on a movie set, but that it was impressive how strongly supportive actors had been during the current WGA strike. In explaining the historic conflict between writers and actors, I told a story about unnamed actors who infamously had publicly slammed the legendary Neil Simon on the set of the movie, "The Marrying Man" by shouting out loudly so that everyone could get every word, "Doesn't anyone here know how to write comedy??!!!" Simon took such offense that he stopped coming to the set after that or even doing rewrites, and the film ultimately flopped. What I intentionally left out in my article was that the actors in question were Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger who he later married. I left it out from politeness, not wanting to publicly ridicule him, but also -- since I knew he was well-aware who I was referring to -- so that he would know I understood exactly who he was. To my surprise in his response, he outed himself. (I guess, give an actor a chance to talk about himself, even if it makes him look arrogant and whiney, and he will...) I decided not to keep debating, since I'd made my point and also -- remembering my friend Nell Minow's wise admonition that situations occur where you realize "Someone has to be the adult in the room, and that it is you," and I knew it would have to be me. (What was amusing was reading all the comments to Mr. Baldwin's blog and my articles that came from his adoring, fawning fans. I wanted to write them back, "You do realize that as much as you suck up to him, he's not inviting you to his house for dinner.")
I do recall one of his chides against me. It was that apparently I thought writers were gods and couldn't dare be criticized, even the Great Neil Simon. It took a great deal of self-control for me not to answer -- since as I said I chose not to keep debating him there -- but I was chomping at the bit. What my clenched fingers so dearly wanted to type in return was, "This has absolutely nothing to do with not criticizing writers. Writers can be criticized all the time, as can actors. The point is not that Neil Simon couldn't ever be criticized...he can be, and has done so himself...but rather how insanely stupid it was to shout out in public to an entire movie set that Neil Simon -- the most successful playwright in the history of Broadway, author of 'The Odd Couple,' 'Barefoot in the Park,' 'Plaza Suite,' 'Prisoner of Second Avenue,' 'The Goodbye Girl,' and much, much more, including and especially later on with the 'Brighton Beach' trilogy and 'Lost in Yonkers' that won him a Pulitzer Prize -- didn't know how to write comedy!! That's what was so stupid, childish and offending, and why it made national news. But beyond even that, if the movie script was so terrible to begin with from someone who seemingly didn't know how to write comedy...why on earth did you and his co-star agree to be in the movie in the first place??"
But I didn't write that. Well, okay, until here.
The other memorable exchange was a series of articles back-and-forth with a WGA member named John Ridley. He had a fairly high profile at the time, which has become even more so after writing the film, 12 Years a Slave" and creating a TV series and other films. Back then, he was appearing as a period guest on NPR and also (I believe) as a semi-regular on ABC's "Good Morning, America." So his words held weight with a national audience. Unfortunately, his words were more often than not idiotic. Not just in interpretation, but factually wrong. But as galling as all this was, it didn't come close to touching how reprehensible he was when he went "Financial Core" during the strike.
"Financial Core" is looked on with great scorn by Writers Guild members. It allows someone to quit the WGA, yet retain all the benefits of Guild membership. But as much as it's anathema to those in the Guild at any time, it's an explosively deplorable, selfish, mean-spirited act during a strike. It's an "I want to get mine, screw you" action, where a writer can go off and sign a contract during a strike. And it goes beyond the level of scabbing, because that's usually done by someone on the outside. This was someone who is a fellow-member, who will benefit from the sacrifice his compatriots are going through in the strike, some losing their homes, while he dances off to sign contracts and make money.
Yet Mr. Ridley was always seen in his public appearances as a supposedly-thoughtful Guild voice, when he was anything but. He was, in fact, often utterly imbecilic. Okay, I know that sound hyperbolic, but here's just one example that I remember, because it really stood out. I and others had challenged him about what he would suggest was a better tactic than the one he was regularly slamming Guild leadership for. He came up with his bone-headed suggestion -- he wrote that the Guild should show how much it didn't need the AMPTP (who the Guild was striking against) by pooling its own resources and making a blockbuster movie that would become a huge hit.
Without even knowing anything about the Writers Guild or film industry, I'm guessing that most people reading this can see immediately how numbingly foolish this "idea" is. At its most basic level, there's no guarantee that such a movie would even break even, let alone be a blockbuster, and could even be a disastrous flop having nothing to do with whether the movie was good or not, and so you could therefore risk bankrupting the Writers Guild and ending its existence. Further, blockbusters cost over $100 million to make -- the WGA didn't have anything remotely close to that in its bank account. Whatever they had, they could probably only finance something at the level of what's known as a small "indie." Then there's the question of distribution, blanketing the film across the country on a national scale, which a blockbuster needs and studios are specifically set up to do, but not many others, including the Writers Guild. But far above that is the critical, indeed #1 concept of deciding what script you would actually use. There are 12,000 WGA members -- each of whom has what they believe is the world's most brilliant script that the Guild show use. How on earth was the Writers Guild supposed to decide on ONE??! But the thing is, none of that is even the worst, most stupid problem in the wise, thoughtful John Ridley's suggestion. It's that IT WOULD BE ILLEGAL. There are actual laws that forbid a union from using its money to pay a member for work. (Otherwise, the doors would be wide open for massive corruption.) I've written freelance articles for the WGA in-house magazine, and was not allowed to be paid for them. Imagine someone writing a Guild check to a member for writing a major motion picture screenplay!!! It was an appallingly bad, naive and ignorant suggestion from John Ridley, the wise and thoughtful fellow, national analyst, and yet when challenged it was the best thing he could come up with after criticizing Guild leadership for their battle plans. Before he then went Financial Core during the strike.
As you can see, even after all these years, the fellow still galls me. You can read a final article I wrote about him during the strike here, which goes into even more detail, specifics from the time.
And no, I have still not yet found it in me to see "12 Years a Slave," or the TV show he created, or any of his movies, including one that is being promoted now as we speak.
So, that's a bit about the Writers Guild and striking. And you have a reading list of links on top of it. Whether a strike will take place this time around, I have no idea. From all I've read and discussed with people, it seems like it will, though that's separate from how long or short it might be. I hope there isn't one, and matters are settled to everyone's satisfaction. I'll only add an agreement with Mark Evanier's post linked above that a strike is not something most Guild members ever want, but are sometime pushed into a corner by the studios and networks. (To anyone who doubts this, imagine if your company offered you and your fellow-employees a new contract, and it cut your salary by 30%, offered no money for overtime work, eliminated inflation protections, got rid of several of your important health benefits, and trimmed your pension. Would you sign the contract? Take it or leave it. Or strike?) And also, as Mark notes -- contrary to many people's wrong impression -- many issues at stake for writers are not about money.
In honor of April 15th Tax Day, here is a video of Stephen Colbert going undercover to work with H&R Block, training and then dealing with customers, preparing background information for their accounts before sending them on to the accountants.
It's at his best during his training, and I find the actual undercover work a too-far over-the-top, but it's all pretty enjoyable.
Not to make this Bill O'Reilly Day (or Bill O'Reilly Off-Day), just a quick update on my article this morning that said at least 15 companies and maybe more had pulled their ads from sponsorship of The O'Reilly Factor.
I spoke too soon. Though the "maybe more" part turns out to have been spot on. The total is now up to 40.
Not all of the companies had released public statements about them dropping the show, but many have. And all did confirm that they were cutting their ads on The O'Reilly Factor.
When Trump proclaimed it "Sexual Assault Awareness Month," who knew that The O'Reilly Factor would take that so literally...
Here's a list of companies that have cut ties.
Yesterday, Mercedes-Benz announced that they were dropping their advertising from The O'Reilly Factor show on "Fox News." While that alone got a great deal of attention, what was almost as noteworthy -- and which has gotten little attention -- is that they announced it.
When most companies drop their advertising from a TV show, they...well, simply drop it. They don't put out a press release to announce it to the world. But that Mercedes-Benz thought it was critical enough to publicly disassociate themselves from O'Reilly and his reported $13 million worth of sexual harassment payouts by Fox speaks loudest of all.
And it's not just that they announced they were pulling their ads, but explained why, in blatant, critical terms. "“The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now."
(It's important to note, as well, that this story is far more problematic than just to Bill O'Reilly, but to "Fox News" itself. If the investigative report is true -- and we know for a fact on the record that at least some of it is that has long-since been made public -- it means that Fox hid significant payments of $13 million from shareholders of the parent News Corp....and over sexual harassment charges, which were kept hidden from shareholders, as well. That's never a good thing)
What I said about this action by Mercedes-Benz to a friend, too, is that it's not just the announcement and ad withdrawal by itself that is so important, but that this gives cover now to all other companies to drop out. Not only do most companies not like to be first with such things -- especially when risking "offending" viewers of a top-rated "news" show -- but to have that first company to do so be one as pronounced as Mercedes-Benz makes the protective cover all the more substantive.
Well, now comes the deluge.
Mercedes-Benz flung the door open wide and gave its imprimatur. And so now, advertisers are fleeing O’Reilly. As of this writing, 15 companies have pulled their ads from the show. (At least 15, the number is a bit uncertain with some reports at 18.)
In the broadcast world, this is known as Not a Good Thing.
And also Not a Good Thing is when at least 15 companies pull their ads from your most high-profile show and then many of them also publicly explain why they are doing so. And the reason turns out to be for really blunt, critical reasons, too. As when Hyundai explained --
"Hyundai currently has no advertising running on The O'Reilly Factor. We had upcoming advertising spots on the show but are reallocating them due to the recent and disturbing allegations."As a company we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions."
How "Not good" this is for Fox can be seen by the channel feeling compelled to put out their own press release (and from the sales department, no less) to handle the fallout, while specifically and openly making clear the reason for the problem with advertisers. This is the sort of thing you often do when you're considering throwing the problem under the bus. "We are working with them [the advertisers] to address their current concerns about the O’Reilly Factor,” the network’s executive vice president of ad sales Paul Rittenberg wrote. In a later tweet, he added a clarification by noting that these companies were all still advertising on Fox.
While that sounds good -- except for Bill O'Reilly -- that the advertisers are still with Fox, keep in mind that there are only so many minutes a day that can be used for advertising. So, if at least 15 companies are having their ads moved to different parts of the Fox schedule, then other ads may well be dropped out, which likely makes this move an economic wash. Moreover, there are most probably contractual obligations for both the companies and Fox to "make good" on the placement of ads, which is why the advertisers are sticking around, rather than being because they're good sports. Furthermore, the ads rates for other shows are certainly less and probably much less than what was being charged on the primetime, top-rated The O'Reilly Factor. And additionally, this says nothing about the holes that now exist in the O'Reilly show where ads have been pulled. Indeed, if other ads have been plugged in quickly, they might be at lower prices, for all we know.
This is Not Good for Fox and O'Reilly.
The loudest thing about this current situation is the silence that the usually verbose and belligerent Bill O'Reilly offered on his show after the news story and Mercedes announcement. Not a word.
The next loudest thing was a tweet sent by CNN anchor Don Lemon in response to an ill-advised slam O'Reilly had made against him that very night on The O'Reilly Factor. O'Reilly had accused Lemon of not covering the (pointless) allegations about former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice supposedly leaking the names of Trump officials, of which there is no evidence. Lemon sent out a tweet --
"False. I did not refuse to cover the story. But I did cover your sexual harassment allegations. Did you?"
None of this is to say that the sexual harassment story, reports of payments, and sponsor fallout means that Bill O'Reilly will be fired from "Fox News." But it would be unreasonable to think that those discussions aren't at least being held in the company's boardroom.
The question is whether The O'Reilly Factor will weather the storm -- this is Fox, after all, where sexual harassment is a way of life -- or instead cease to be much of a factor...
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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