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  • RIP, David Cassidy

    RIP, David Cassidy, aka Keith Partridge. My wife, Jill, and countless others are mourning your passing.

    In honor of "The Partridge Family" star, here's one of my favorite covers by one of my favorite artists: Paul Westerberg's version of "I Think I Love You."

    And here's another I found while looking for the Westerberg cover: Cassidy and his brother, Shaun, doing a duet from the Broadway show "Blood Brothers." Wish I'd seen this one.

     
  • Shadows by the TV Light

    Several years ago, before my father died, we were tweaking each other about politics, something that happened on a semi-regular basis. Somewhat joking, he asked how I turned out the way I did.

    My response: Saturday night television.

    Between All in the Family, Maude, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Good Times, and Carol Burnett — all of which aired Saturdays on CBS at one point or another in the early to mid 1970s — I was doomed. Call it the curse of King (Norman) Lear.

    By the late 1970s, however, many of those shows had either ended their runs or were winding down (M*A*S*H being the exception). Sitcoms were becoming increasingly dumb and — having reached the ripe old age of 13 — I had matured enough to look for something more.

    First up was Lou Grant, the MTM spinoff that took one of our most beloved sitcom characters and put him in a dramatic newspaper setting. It was thanks in part to that show that I became interested in writing and, especially, in reporting.

    The second show was The White Shadow, which ran on Monday nights from 1978 to 1981 and told the story of a former NBA player trying to coach a group of high school students in urban Los Angeles. Anchored by Ken Howard (himself a 6-foot, 6-inch former basketball player), The White Shadow was the first show that truthfully used sports, and the struggles teens from difficult environments face while trying to escape their surroundings, to such telling effect.

    Friday Night Lights is my all-time favorite TV series, but The White Shadow was its forefather. Between Howard and FNL’s Kyle Chandler, you had two tough, moral, flawed, and kind people in the center square. (Interestingly, both were referred to more often as “Coach” than by their character’s real names.) Both characters are people that you can admire, and even aspire to be more like.

    I had not thought about The White Shadow in some time, then read this morning that Ken Howard had died. Immediately, I saw his character interacting with Salami, Coolidge, Gomez, Reese, Thorpe, Goldstein, CJ and Vitaglia.

    But mostly I thought of the lessons that Coach taught me as a young, impressionable viewer. I then thought of my dad and the lessons he taught me, and then of the dad that I’ve tried to become.

  • Newsies at the Newseum

    Several members of the “Newsies” cast invaded the Newseum on Friday to promote fun and different ways that students can lead healthier lifestyles through dance. Part of Disney’s “Get Up and Go” initiative, cast members taught middle school and high school students parts from the “Seize the Day” number and participated in the making of a short video that captured their day at the beautiful Washington, D.C., museum.

    The cast also was interviewed on Fox5, which broadcast live from the Newseum for three hours. Dan DeLuca and Stephanie Styles performed a number and cast members taught the anchors part of the dance as well.

    “Newsies” is based on 1899 strike by newsboys against Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. The show is at the National Theatre through June 21.

    Check out this video shot by the Newseum:  

    For Fox 5's coverage of the event, go to this link.

    For more of my photos, check out my Facebook page here.

  • Jill on Comcast Newsmakers

    Look who is on the front page of the Comcast Newsmakers website. You can see the interview here: http://comcastnewsmakers.com/2014/09/23/school-counselors-2.

  • TV, Football & Live Musicals

    Switching between live theater and football, here are six (hopefully) constructive things I learned while watching television tonight:

    • TV needs more productions like "The Sound of Music" that employ actors, directors, orchestras, and technicians — not more reality shows. Bravo to NBC for trying something different, even if it wasn't perfect. (Note: Anything live usually isn't.)

    • The Texans-Jaguars game should have been pre-empted by a special broadcast of "Heidi."

    • Carrie Underwood is the Phil Bengston of musical theatre. (For you non-football fans, Bengston replaced Vince Lombardi as the coach of the Green Bay Packers — a no-win situation if there ever was one.) She has a nice voice, but won the role as a ratings draw, not for her acting skills.

    • The Broadway pros on stage (and off) brought some real class to the production, although there were some sound issues that made it difficult to hear. An audible hum seemed to run through our TV set all night. (See the end of my first bullet point.)

    • The Texans are in real danger of getting the #1 pick in the draft, not something anyone would have anticipated at the start of the season. (Losing twice to Jacksonville? Really? Jacksonville?)

    • I'd love to see another live musical on TV soon. How about "Ragtime"? Very relevant. Great music. Wonderful opportunities for staging. I know just the people to do it, too.

  • Parenthood (Not the Show)

    "How would you describe parenthood so far? And I don't mean the show."

    Emma, in case you haven’t noticed, cuts to the chase.

    We were watching “Parenthood,” the new show that premiered tonight on NBC. I loved the movie on which it was based, the cast is terrific, and the show runner is the same guy who is in charge of “Friday Night Lights,” my favorite show of the past decade. Plus, it has the added advantage of coming on at 10 p.m. thanks to the network’s decision to shun Jay Leno and his yuk-yuk humor to late night again.

    Normally, 10 p.m. is Emma’s bedtime, but she has her father’s nocturnal nature. Contrast that to Katharine’s ability to be shot out of a cannon between 5:30 and 7 every day and you now know why I never sleep.

    I decided to let her watch the show, and while I lay on the floor, she snuggled under the covers of my bed amid the pile of unfolded laundry.

    “So,” she said during a commercial, then asked her fateful question.

    I decided to go for the complex answer, something such a perceptive comment deserves. “Challenging,” I said. “It’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced.”

    “Is that it?”

    “Rewarding,” I said. “I’ve learned so much from being a parent.”

    “Uh huh … And?”

    Nothing like being put on the spot. I hoped that the limited commercial interruption would end soon.

    “Fun sometimes. Hard, too. But it’s always worth it.”

    She nodded, letting me off the hook. The commercial ended and we were quiet through the rest of the show. When it ended, she leaned down and said, “That was pretty good. Not bad." Then, "I love you, Daddy.”

    She kissed me on the head, leaned on my arm and said her prayer — the same one we’ve done for the last nine years — and walked toward her bed.

    At that moment, parenthood was great.

  • Dimming the ‘Lights’

    It’s fitting that my favorite television show is ending its run with episodes tonight and next week, and I won’t be there to watch it. After all, I have seen only two or three episodes of “Friday Night Lights” in real time any way.

    And that’s OK, because I never really wanted to watch the show when it started.

    I’m a big fan of H.G. Bissinger’s 1990 nonfiction book, which told the story of a northwest Texas and the obsessive fans who rooted for the Odessa Permian football team. I also enjoyed the 2004 film based on Bissinger’s book, but had no interest in a fictionalized TV version.

    I didn’t, it turns out, want to go home again.

    My family is scattered across the state, from the petroleum-fueled Gulf Coast to the barren West Texas town of Albany to Longview’s piney woods in the east. Football was, is, and forever shall be the center of everything in many of these tiny communities.

    That last statement is overly simplified, of course. It's just like the one from the person who says, “The only reason you have December, January, and February is to celebrate Jesus’ birth and to mark the time between the playoffs and the start of spring practice.” (I know that statement isn’t true because I spent almost a decade in North Carolina, where people live for December through February because that’s the heart of ACC basketball season.)

    Texas was my home state for 28 years, and for much of that time, the town I grew up in felt stifling. Why look at fiction when I could recall my reality in bright, living, humid color?

    The show’s pull loomed large, however, as its first season ended, appropriately when I was traveling back and forth to Texas to see my dad, who was dying of cancer, So I purchased the first season on DVD, but never could watch it. I couldn’t commit.

    Then, two months after my father died, I saw a few minutes of the Oklahoma-Texas game at a restaurant and thought immediately of him. He refused to miss any UT game that was on, sitting in his chair in his Longhorns coat, a football fan until the end.

    After Oklahoma won by 7, I thought again about growing up in Texas. The next night, I went and found those DVDs. Four bleary eyed days later, fueled by insomnia and the fictional Dillon Panthers, I was ready for season 2.

    Fortunately, that season was cut short by the writer’s strike, in part because it had an ill-advised plotline that everyone agrees was a mistake. Still, even in its most ludicrous moments, the show had passages that were absolutely sublime.

    The beauty of “Friday Night Lights” is that it’s not just about football, but life in a small town. It is not afraid to deal with issues of class, economics, and race — all of which are facts of life in any small community.

    Most of all, it captures the little details so beautifully – the rebellion, confessions, religion, community, mistakes, and connections between neighbors, family, and friends. The marriage between the coach and his wife feels real. The other characters, all with flaws and redeeming qualities, sometimes in equal measure, are archetypes of those we all know.

    I know this now having watched all 76 episodes in marathon stretches, always after it has been released on DVD. I usually buy the season on the day it becomes available, intending to watch right away, but inevitably I repeat the season 1 pattern. I dance around it, then watch in a single gulp.

    Because season 5 was released before the show started this summer on NBC — its last three seasons were a split arrangement between the network and DirectTV — I’ve already seen the final episode that ended the series run in a typically classy fashion. As the last two episodes approach on television, however, I’ve continued to reflect on “Friday Night Lights” and what it has meant to me. Why does it make me cringe with memories and smile privately at the same time?

    I guess, because when I’m watching from a couch 1,500 miles away, I have a little piece of home — the home where I grew up — with me. As I raise kids of my own, I’m finding more and more that that little piece is a big thing.