Whodunnit?

Ready, set, deck!

There are good things about working at home. And not as good things. Slippers and gym shorts. The ability to put your feet on the furniture without someone shooting you the skunk eye. Being able to get some household chores done during breaks from work. All good things. Knowing the TV is so close, as is the treadmill and the bicycle. And the deck is inviting, now that the temperature is starting to drop. All things that can pull you away from work. Still and all, it’s nice to be able to respond quickly to work orders.

Because I’ve got a little extra time around the house, and because I don’t want to let the TV rot my brain, I’ve been reading a little more lately. I had a half-read John Lennon biography by Philip Norman that I was finally able to finish. Interesting man, good musician, kind of a jerk at times. I’m blaming the heroin for that. I went through a couple of good autobiographies too. Jimmy Webb, the writer of classic hits like “MacArthur Park” and all those great Glen Campbell hits, paints a fascinating picture of the music business in L.A. in the Sixties and Seventies. “The Cake and the Rain” uses a one of his more memorable lines as a title. He talks about his own recording career, which sort of strikes me like an ongoing vanity project. Great songwriter, middling singer. Webb also talks about growing up in Oklahoma.

Bret and Bart

James Garner, one of my favorite actors, also had an interesting childhood in Oklahoma. And he used one of his greatest hits to suggest a title for his autobiography, “The Garner Files.” When his hit TV series, “Maverick,” launched in 1957, Warner Brothers came to the conclusion that it couldn’t produce enough episodes with Garner to meet the production schedule, so they added another unit and another Maverick brother, Jack Kelly. While many of the WB shows were able to get along with a single star, they used the multiple lead actors gimmick in several of their shows in the 50s and 60s, most notably their detective shows (77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Surfside 6, etc.). The addition of Kelly didn’t make the show’s sponsor happy (back in those days, a single company would cover much of a program’s production costs ). It was good for Kelly, who ended up appearing in all five seasons of the show, unlike Garner, who left in the show’s third year (although Garner had the much better career).

Anyway, Garner also played TV detective Jim Rockford. which brings me back to the point – I’ve been reading a lot of detective novels. After seeing “In the Heat of the Night” on TCM for about the millionth time, I noticed it was adapted from a novel by a writer named John Ball. Apparently, he wrote a series of stories featuring Virgil Tibbs, who, in the books, was a Pasadena, California cop, not from Philadelphia (in the first movie, or San Francisco in the next two). Over the course of 30+ years, Ball wrote 6 Tibbs novels. In an interesting touch, the writer had his character have to deal with the fact Sidney Poitier had played him in a fictionalized film version of one of his cases. Ball was also involved in martial arts and was a practicing nudist – both things that worked their ways into his stories. While the character and basic story were enough to launch a film series and a long-running television show, I wasn’t knocked out by these stories. Tibbs in the books is smart, but not very interesting.

I also went through Chester Himes’ “Harlem Detective” novels. Those are the stories of hard-boiled black NYPD detectives Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. Eight novels and one unfinished story. Three films, including “A Rage in Harlem” and “Cotton Comes to Harlem” (loved Godfrey Cambridge as Gravedigger in two of the movies). Himes knew crime, spending some time in the Ohio Penitentiary, a prison that used to take up a lot of real estate in my hometown. And was also home to another writer, O. Henry. While his stories paint an interesting picture of Harlem in the 50s and 60s, I never felt that I understood the rage that fueled his police officers. Not as well as I should have to appreciate why they did what they did.

On the other hand, I got into another series after seeing “Devil in a Blue Dress.” Walter Mosley has the ability to create a world that is fascinating, scary, suspenseful and even mundane when it has to be. The thing I enjoy about the Easy Rawlins series (14 books – one prequel, one collection of short stories and 12 novels) is how Mosley has advanced the Rawlins character, beginning in post-war Los Angeles in 1948 and carrying him through time and the changes in the world up to 1968 in the most recent book, “Charcoal Joe.”

Each novel title is based on a color, but I’m fascinated by how the stories incorporate the color of the people involved. Most of the hard-bitten detectives you see in movies and TV are all Robert Mitchum types. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are other worlds out there, and these stories capture a black world that few other series do.

I had read “Devil,” but it was years before I picked up another Rawlins story – and almost kicked myself when I did. I was traveling, and saw a Mosley book (“Blonde Faith”) in a bookstore in Boston’s Logan Airport in 2008. Great story, but Easy drives off a cliff at the end of the book. Great, I thought, I get back into the series and now it’s over. Six years later, a new story, “Little Green” was released (he survived, but I won’t say how). That gave me an excuse to get every book in the series I didn’t have and start at the beginning and binge-read the entire series.

Of course, once I was finished, I couldn’t wait for the next book in the series, but who knows when Mosley will get around to that. Fortunately, he had an alternate series that featured another black detective. Leonid McGill works in New York, has family issues and an entirely different set of problems. Including a father who had been fascinated by the Soviet Union (which is how he ended up with the name “Leonid”). That series started in 2009 and has had five novels through 2015. I’ve binge-read those too, so have had to turn to another one of Mosley’s series.

There are three “Fearless Jones” mysteries, even though the “Fearless” character isn’t the actual protagonist of the stories. Paris Minton is a meek bookstore owner who’s large, charming and fearless friend keeps pulling into scrapes he barely gets out of alive.

Mosley has other books, including science fiction. I’ve been through a couple of them, but am waiting for the next installments his main series. While I’m waiting, I’ve picked up James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet (“The Black Dahlia,” “The Big Nowhere,” “L.A. Confidential,” and “White Jazz”). The reason I enjoy series is watching the continuation of characters by the authors who create them. Those seem to work better than a new set of writers trying to crank out a sequel for money. Plus, the film version of L.A. Confidential was so good, I want to see what Ellroy did with Dudley Smith, Edmund Exley, Bud White and Jack Vincennes in the first place.

And even though I have no plans to write my own detective story, as I’ve told interns, students and new reporters for years, the way to become a good writer (or better writer) is to be a good reader. And reading is fundamental.

 

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The “Owls” Have It

It’s not that I watch too much TV; it’s that I pay too much attention. Particularly to the commercials. Probably since until recently, part of my job was making commercials. So I sometimes notice the little details. Like when Stella Artois used a 51-year old song by a French singer named Liz Brady.Liz Brady

The spot, called “Party Trick,” is interesting, but the song, called “Palladium,” which was a remake of a song called “The Hip” by an American group called “The Sparkles,” is the highlight of the commercial. The beer maker has another spot I enjoy, “Three Apples.” I’m not sure either ad will make me buy their products, but I like the spots.

The other thing, and I’m not the first to notice it; but there have been a lot of owls showing up as commercial pitch-birds lately. I don’t know that there’s a reason for it except that some ad guys decided on the “hey, owls are wise, so using them in your spots will convince people these products are a wise decision.” And several clients decided to go along. Somebody actually put together a reel of owl commercials on YouTube.

WGUThere’s the wise owl that’s pitching higher education for Western Governors University. You know it’s a smart one, since he’s talking about going to school and all. And WGU is serious about the imagery – they use the owl in their logo. The WGU owl even has a little owl that provides comic relief. I guess the levity makes people want to get that degree they hadn’t gotten around to getting yet.

Americas BestThen there’s the reassuring owl that wants people to see the world around them better. This owl sells eyewear for America’s Best Eyeglasses. This one is pretty smart too; he’s wearing glasses. The comic relief in his spot is provided by an over-caffeinated woman who just got a great deal on two pair of glasses. I get it, but wouldn’t an eagle be a better bird for selling glasses? Eagle eye and all.

XyzalEyewear, in the form of a monocle, is important for another TV owl. This one has a faux British accent and is concerned with your health. Xyzal is another allergy remedy, but I guess telling folks they’re going to breathe easier isn’t enough. They must have thought an owl in a library (with a monocle) would be better than a doctor or somebody wheezing while trying to make their way through a field of grass.

Trip AdvisorThe last one is also smart. Smart enough to get out of Dodge. The Trip Advisor owl is wise enough to know where to find the best deals on travel. This company also uses an owl in their logo, and I get the sense that this old bird is a little bit of a player. After all, he’s sitting on the edge of the bed in a bathrobe (c’mon in my dear…). I wonder if he’ll get as long a run as the Triavago guy (actor Tim Williams, who you might spot if you can find old “Cosby Show” reruns on a station near you).

I’m blaming the sugar industry for all this.

Mr. Oliver OwlBecause, they started telling us back in the 1960’s that fat was bad for us, and got us eating more stuff with sugar in it. That includes candy, and that takes us around to the first owl I remember trying to sell me something. That damn Tootsie Roll owl (Mr. Oliver Owl) that ate the kid’s Tootsie Roll Pop while trying to count the number of licks it took to get to the center. No, it wasn’t three, you bastard.

 

So, What is it About Sam Elliott?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Sam Elliott. I think he’s a fine actor. He was one of the best things in “Road House.” I enjoyed “Lifeguard” and thought he was charming in “The Big Lebowski.” Pam and I made a special trip to see his latest movie “The Hero.”

The Stranger

The Mustache

Not only do I think he’s a good actor, I’m in awe of that mustache.

Here’s the thing. I started doing voice over work earlier this year. Coming from a news reporter background, it can be a challenge to avoid sounding too “announcer-y,” although that’s what some clients want at times. There are a lot of requests for “conversational” and “regular” guy. “Urban,” and “street” mean they want you to sound black, which is actually a challenge for me. I don’t have an obvious racial sound, plus, when I read the scripts that ask for African-American sounding voices, they’re asking for something a bit stereotypical. Plus, there is character work, which asks for accents or actual character portrayals.

There are a few ways to do voice work. It is like acting or other types of performing arts, meaning you can get an agent who will refer you for jobs. I pretty much had my fill of that when I was in the news business. The agency I worked with at the time wanted clients to have their paychecks sent to the agency so they could take their 10% off the top.

Voice over booth

Can You Hear Me?

There are several companies that connect people needing voice work with people doing voice work. Production houses and others needing voice work send information on jobs to Voices.com or Voice123.com (there are others, but those are the big ones). Artists pay for memberships and can check lists of voice requests and send in demos for jobs they’re interested in. Companies pay the services and the services send artists their cuts. I used both when I was a producer and found good voice over people through both.

I’m on the other side now, so I check my page in the morning and spend a hour or so doing 10 to 20 demos and submitting them online. After that, I wait to hear back from folks who actually want to pay to hear me talk.

Anyway, there are a lot of requests for voices overs that sound like… Sam Elliott. If you’ve heard his Coors commercials or seen him act, you know how distinctive his voice is. His incredible voice is a major plot driver in “The Hero.” There’s a request right now on the site I use for “MALE SIMILAR TO SAM ELLIOTT” for a regional TV spot.

So, why not just track down Elliott’s agent and hire him? Well, he is a internationally known actor who commands top dollar for his work. I don’t know what he charges, but I know what clients want to pay and those numbers are miles apart.

If you Google “Sam Elliott” and “voice over,” you will not get links to Sam’s agent or his own web site (I don’t know that he has a web site). You will get links to a number of voice over artists who promise they “sound like” Sam, do a “dead on” Sam, provide a “perfect impersonation” of Sam.

Wade Garrett

Just called Swayze “mijo”

And while even I can speak with a deep, gravelly grumble, I don’t know how many of us actually sound like Sam Elliott. To me, he has a very one-of-a-kind sound. Of course, there was a guy right here in Memphis who sounded just like Morgan Freeman (a former co-worker used him as a sound-alike). He was good enough that eventually, his price jumped high enough to be out of reach (not as much as Freeman himself charges, but a lot). So, while I think people hearing a sound-alike will think “ooh, that sounds like (whoever),” they’re not thinking about whatever it is the spot is trying to sell. They’re just distracted by the actual or attempted quality of the voice over person. But, while I might think that, I’m pretty sure producers and clients will keep trying to find someone who sounds like Mr. Elliott (or another celebrity), without costing them major celebrity dollars.

In the meantime, if you need a voice over artist (who may or may not sound like Sam Elliott), you can find me here.

Next time: The Owls Have It

Sweatin’ with the Oldies

There’s one good thing about working in TV news (no, not the free lunches at Kiwanis and other meetings in small markets, although that is a sweet perk). It’s the friends you make. I know you make friends in any job, but even with the often transitory nature of the news business, you’re spending time with a lot of like-minded people.

In the past few months, I’ve had the good fortune of encountering some former news friends. A couple of the meetings were CNN-related.

Mike Scully worked at the Nashville Tennessean when I was the managing editor at WTVF. A couple of years after that, we were both writers at CNN. If it weren’t for Mike, I wouldn’t have know there was a giant Civil War cyclorama at the Atlanta Zoo. He’s shaping young minds as a college professor now.

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Mike Scully, College Professor

When CNN hired Soledad O’Brien to anchor their morning show, she spent a couple of days at the Atlanta HQ, mostly meeting with execs and filling in paperwork. In 2003, the network was still in the midst of mega-coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the production of many of the shows was still being done in Atlanta, so show teams (writers and producers) were spread out wherever there was desk space. My team was stuck in some office space away from the newsroom, a couple of desks away from where they had O’Brien filling in forms.

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Me & Soledad & Soledad’s cocktail

Fast-forward to the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Awards in 2016. Since FedEx is a sponsor, Pam gets to go, so she dresses me up and takes me along. O’Brien was a recipient that year. After the award, but before the dinner, I reminded Soledad of the 5 minutes we spent together at CNN. She was very nice about it (although I could tell she had no memory of it).

Back in April (the 22nd), Pam and I rented out the Halloran Centre (next door to the Orpheum) for our wedding and reception. We were joined by family and friends, even though some invitees couldn’t make it (they were heading to Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters convention). We still had a good gathering of former WREG co-workers.

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We could start our own newscast!

Doug-Pam-3My wife (who I met when I got a TV job in 1990) recently had to go to Phoenix for work. I had some time, so I went out to join her after she was done with work. While we were there, we drove a ways out of the city to visit my good friend Lynda (who I met in J-school at Ohio State in the 80’s). The TV courses at OSU were like lab courses – you worked with a partner. You worked the camera for their story, they did the same for you. So she and I spent a lot of time working together to get into the business – and only managed to lose one piece of equipment (a light and stand, and we still have no clue what happened to them).

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Lynda, Me, Pam & Kevin

We both worked our way around the country, doing news, until we found better things to do (we both married people we met at TV stations we worked at). Her husband and my wife had to listen to me and Lynda reminisce about our time growing up in Central Ohio. It’s always good to see old friends (although I’m much older than she is).

I’ve mentioned her work before. Not her bodybuilding (which took me by surprise). Lynda is one of those people who enjoy picking through other people’s junk at garage sales (yes, I’m being judgmental). But, she’s found any number of great deals for herself and even did a newspaper column for several years, She calls herself “The Garage Sale Gal” and turned her knowledge into a book (that I’ve mentioned before): “The Garage Sales Gal’s Guide to Making Money.” Go to her site and check your online bookstores, I’m sure there are still copies out there.

Lynda-Doug

Beauty & the Beast

It was hot in Phoenix. It was a dry heat, but damn, it was still hot.

Speaking of hot, I wanted to get some work done at the house. I had some landscaping done last year, and they put in boards on the deck. I was saving for the wedding, so I didn’t have enough to have balusters put in.

Open desk

Unfinished Deck

 

The best man at my wedding, former WREG stalwart Joe Larkins, flies a lot (he’s a pilot), but is at home when not in the air. He also works with wood (Not Jeff Woods, whom he used to work with, but woodworking).

I had been over to his place to help him document his rib grilling technique (he and his brothers put that contraption together). Anyway, he had recently put some balusters in on his deck, so I called and asked him if he could swing by and give me a hand. Neither of us knew how much free time we’d have later, so we decided to do it the following week.

Turned out to be about the hottest week of the year in Memphis. We estimated a half-day, but the heat was so intense that it nearly took the entire day. We had a fan and lots of water, but there were still heat cramps. Yes, there was a lot of sweat, but the deck looks a lot nicer. And it will eventually be cool enough to actually use it.

Beating Your Head Against a Wall

I began this blog as a place to talk about what life is like when you’ve lost a job. That was in 2009. I kept it up for a while, even after I started working again. It seemed I spent as much time carping about local politics as anything else. But, with Mayor Herenton in office, that was an easy thing to do.

It got to the point that the job and my girlfriend kept me busy enough to not have as much interest in keeping the blog up – and since there wasn’t much of an outcry from readers (no outcry, actually) – I just sort of stopped.

Well, since then, Herenton left office. Wharton came and went, Obama came and went. My job came and went (yes, I lost another job). I also got married. Had a great honeymoon, went to Coronado Island near San Diego. Beautiful.

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Honeymoon Central: The Hotel Del Coronado

Came back, worked three days, got called into the boss’s office and was let go. This is what I’ve learned about severance agreements: there’s always a clause that says in exchange for the money they give you, you agree not to say anything bad about the company. That’s why I never said much about FedEx when I started blogging. I really didn’t think they’d track me down and ask for their money back, but why take the chance? I doubt anything I’d have to say would make much difference to my last employer, but again – why take the chance?

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Again!?

Now, on to other things. Being a former media type, I suppose my politics are a little left of center. Studies have suggested that’s the case among most ink-stained wretches. Could be education, could be experience, who knows? However, I have known my share of people who are center-right in the media too. I say that to say I see all stripe of political comments on my Facebook feed (I’m old, so I spend more time there than Twitter or Instagram). I enjoy watching some of my friends with media background go on about their political points-of-view. The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue seems to encourage comment. From Bush to Obama to Trump, I have noticed how rock-solid people have become in their political viewpoints. Some folk hate Obama to this day and are convinced that nothing good occurred in this country during his two terms in office. It’s cute to see all the Twitter traffic “calling out” Obama for not taking quicker action when Katrina hit NOLA and comparing that to Trump’s masterful handing of Harvey hitting Houston. I guess Bush II has kept such a low profile that some of the current president’s supporters have completely forgotten that Bush served 8 years as president.

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Take Your Pick – Take Your Chances

Anyway, yes, it may seem easy to poke holes in people’s beliefs, but it doesn’t matter how masterfully done, people are not going to change their minds. I have a couple of Facebook friends (one a former print journalist, the other a former broadcaster) who are going on about the recent Nazi invasion of Virginia and the support of Confederate monuments scattered around the South. Both make excellent points about what’s right in this argument and what’s wrong. But again, both are preaching to the choir. People who agree with them already. People who don’t, won’t. Although, I have to say on the monument thing – if the “it’s our history/legacy” folks start supporting statues of former slaves and African Americans of note going up around the South, it’d be easier to listen to them.

Not that anyone wants my advice, but stop fussing. Stupid is as stupid does (or stubborn is as stubborn does). Folks are going to be the way they’re going to be. I remember people who thought the world was going to end when President Reagan was in office. And I know people who were sure that President Obama was the antiChrist. I’m not even going into what people thought about either of the Bushes. It’s like the back and forth going on over Joel Osteen and whether his Houston church was accessible or not, or closed or not, or open or not in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Bottom line, he’s still fabulously wealthy and people who support him will keep supporting him. So stop beating your head against the wall.

brick_wall_stock_by_pahakarhuz

The loose bricks are where my forehead hit