TV or Not TV

howie mandel

“Certifiably Jonathan”

Certifiably Jonathan” is not a bad movie, but much like the subject of the film, it is more than a bit bipolar.

The flick begins as a straightforward documentary about veteran comedian Jonathan Winters as he attempts to break into the world of modern art. There is a little bit of biographical information given, including a few classic moments from Kack Paar’s “Tonight Show,” but this is not a career retrospective (much to the chagrin of Roger Ebert). The thing is: It is also not a documentary.

Shot over a period of seven years, the movie is an opportunity — possibly the last opportunity — to document the improvisational style of the master himself. At a certain point the movie stops documenting fact and begins to document — and even stage — fiction.

If I had to point out a flaw in the film (and isn’t that the role of any critic — to be critical?), it is that the staged elements are not as good as the stream-of-consciousness improv. Winters gets the opportunity to play opposite a stellar cast of characters, including Robin Williams. I have a low tolerance to the style of Robin Williams, but the film contains exactly the right amount of him. Also included in the “cast” are Jeffrey Tambor, Ryan Stiles, Rob Reiner, Jim Carrey, Howie Mandel, Tim Conway, every famous person named Arquette, and Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman (shot when the two were still an item). Each of the celebrities get to improvise with Winters and the results are memorable.

This movie didn’t necessarily need a narrative thread, but it has one: the world of modern art. As Winters attends various gallery openings and has his paintings reviewed by dealers and art critics, it is decided that what he really wants (or wants for the purposes of the film) is to have his artwork on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But when one of his paintings is stolen, Jonathan Winters sinks into depression, believing he has also lost his sense of humor as well. Again, the narrative isn’t needed, and audiences would be better served by not worrying too much about it, which is my way of saying the plot is not what makes the movie worth seeing. In fact, it is best not to think too much about the storyline and just enjoy the comedy.

The movie opens in Los Angeles on April Fool’s Day in Beverly Hills. My hope is the DVD will include unseen footage. I’d like to see more of Howie and Jonathan at Target, for instance. In any event, check it out when you are ready to laugh hard.

Kevin and the Peacock – Part Four

Here is the recount of my last days as an NBC Page, but bear in mind these were not my last days at NBC. No, Burbank was not done with me yet. Not by a long shot.

NBC Page (conclusion)

Taken during my final days of pagedom

Taken during my final days of pagedom

As March of 1999 fast approached, I realized my days as a page were numbered. Leaving the program after a year was a hard and fast rule. I started asking the people I’d gotten to know on the lot, but alas the network wide hiring freeze was still in place. My job situation was becoming a source of concern. The tone of my tours changed dramatically.

Many of the afternoon tours consisted of nothing but closed doors, which meant it was largely the personality and charisma of the page that kept the tourists from complaining and/or revolting. As the months went by, my tours had less to do with television and more to do with what was going on in my life. It was like a group counseling session, only the leader was the only one who ever got anything off his chest. For reasons I’ll never understand, the tourists responded favorably to this. I think it had something to do with them feeling as though they had been made privy to the inner workings of someone in TV (in their eyes, I was someone in TV).

Occasional job postings would be posted on the bulletin board in the page lounge. I remember applying for a job with Bob Hope Enterprises. I was offered the job, but told the job would end almost immediately after Hope’s death. Well, the man was older than God at the time. Who knew he’d outlive my days in the industry (almost twofold)?

A flier was posted one day advertising a small production company called Three Ring Circus with an opening as a runner. They offered pay was $10.00 an hour plus benefits. I also interviewed for a job at Walt Disney Studios, down the street from NBC. They needed someone to work in their publicity office. They were paying more than the production company and had a better benefits plan. It all came down to a week in February.

For some reason, I knew I was going to be offered at least one of the two jobs. I was hoping for Disney because it paid better and seemed more stable. Naturally, I did not get the job at Disney because that would’ve been easy. That’s not the way things happen for me.

My last day as an NBC Page was memorable. My last tour was legendary. It was so good, one of my bosses approached me less than five minutes into the tour to threaten to fire me. It was so good, virtually the entire Tonight show production crew came to their studio to heckle me one last time. It was so good, I kidnapped another tour group.

I decided to make my last tour one that I would enjoy, even if nobody else did. It was a full group of about 20 people. Standard tour procedure was to seat them all in a room and subject them to a 10 minute video presentation about the history of NBC with quotes like, “the pictures at first were fuzzy, but there they were… magic.” I informed the group it was my last tour and gave them the option of either watching the video and proceeding with a standard tour, or letting me take off the training wheels and have some big fun. We were off to the races.

My last tour group... good people

My last tour group... good people

I told them there was a rule that no one could take any pictures at any time on the tour. If they did, it was my job as a page to confiscate the camera. At that point I handed out a few disposable cameras to the tourists and told them to take pictures of me, and that I’d confiscate the cameras after the tour. (more…)