Tag Archives: television

Late Night with Stephen Colbert (?)

13 Apr

late-night-talk-show-hotsI subscribe to the New York Times on-line. Twice this week I received notifications that there was breaking news. My fear was that the “Breaking News” was something about the United Soviet Socialist Republic restructuring and that the Ukraine was now part of the New USSR — shades of Uncle Joe Stalin.  But, no. The breaking news was that David Letterman had announced when he would retire from Late Night with David Letterman.  This news was then followed up a few days later that Stephen Colbert was the appointed heir apparent.

So now we have witnessed two major late night television shows that have recently replaced their hosts.  I have nothing ill to say about either Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert. What does sadden me is that we have all now experienced continued white heterosexual male domination in who we can see for late night television. Was there a dramatic shortage of  LGBT folk and women and of people of color, thus the only population to pull from to fill these two spots was white heterosexual men?

I am exceedingly sad here because I can think of a number of amazingly talented and exceedingly witty potential hosts who are black and or women.  Why not replace Letterman with Arsenio Hall? He already has a proven track record as a host of late night TV.  Why not give the phenomenally talented Mo Gaffney a try? I am hard pressed to think of someone who is equally witty.  Speaking of witty and amazing, what about Whoopi Goldberg?  What about Julia Sweeney — another personal favorite of mine, or Chelsea Handler who is leaving her late night show on E. I wonder if either network even thought about giving one of these shows to our Margaret Cho? Even the charming Neil Patrick Harris was floated as a possibility, but I guess gay folk only get to host daytime talk.

Sadly, NBC and CBS have already made their respective decisions — decisions that have demonstrated that Late Night Television is reserved for white heterosexual men only. I wonder when this glass ceiling will be broken.

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Women’s History Month 2014: Rosie O’Donnell

21 Mar

RosieToday I would like to wish a happy 54th birthday to a woman who has always used the power and voice of her celebrity status for social justice. Rosie O’Donnell was born in Commack, NY, the third of five children. She was popular in high school, known to be outgoing and funny. She began exploring comedy with Gilda Radner impressions and took that passion with her to college.

After stints at Dickinson College and Boston University, she left college to build on her promising standup career. She got a slot on Star Search and won several weeks in a row, giving her a national profile. O’Donnell built that opportunity into a series of TV and movie appearances. After 15 years of increasing success, she launched her own daytime talk show. The Rosie O’Donnell Show (I really loved this show) quickly took over, with her outspoken, open personality and sense of fun capturing the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.

During this time, O’Donnell became a foster parent, adopting her first child, Parker, just before her show took off. A strong advocate for children’s rights and quality foster, adoption, and care programs, Rosie always took time to share her views and her dollars to support these causes. She gained additional fame in 2002. After appearing as a lesbian single mother on Will and Grace (fantastic episode), she announced at a comedy show to support Ovarian Cancer Research, “I’m a dyke!” While her coming out was not a huge surprise, she was among the first of the early 21st Century wave of celebrities to come out.

Once she was out, she became a strong vocal advocate for the LGBT community, building on previous quietly visible support. She especially focused on the challenges of LGBT parenting, notably shining a harsh light on Florida’s rabidly anti-gay adoption laws (and others like it). After ending her show in 2002, she wrote a book and launched a magazine, donating significant proceeds to children’s charities and cancer research. She also started a family-friendly LGBT travel company, increasing her focus on parenting for all.

Rosie joined The View in 2006. Somewhat ironically for a woman called “the Queen of Nice,” her outspoken views and willingness to speak truth to power ruffled many feathers. She regularly spoke out against the tragic residue of the George W. Bush administration and made sure the chats on the show were informative and thought-provoking. As a former Catholic and strong supporter of children, she came under fire for speaking out about the abuse scandals in the church. Undeterred, she famously observed,

I hope the Catholic Church gets sued until the end of time. Maybe, you know, we can melt down some of the gold toilets in the Pope’s Vatican and pay off some of the lawsuits because, the whole tenet of living a Christ-like life, has been lost in Catholicism.

She also gained attention for questioning Donald Trump’s attempts to assume a position of moral authority when his Miss USA Pageant faced scandal. Never mean but always willing to be honest and direct, her approach eventually led to her departure from The View — a significant loss.  Thank goodness they at least have our Whoopi!

Rosie O’Donnell is very present in the public eye with her wife and children, helping put a familiar, human face on LGBT parenting. She donated all the proceeds from her second book to her children’s charity and continues to spend millions on improving the world for the vulnerable and marginalized. She also donates her talent, helping headline Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours tours.

A strong voice, a fierce advocate, a caring parent, and a great example — Rosie O’Donnell is an easy woman to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Rosie, and thank you!

Happy Birthday, Leslie Jordan

29 Apr

LJordanToday I want to celebrate a person who makes the world more delightful by his presence. Fifty-eight years ago today, Leslie Jordan was born in Chattanooga, TN. Growing up small — his adult height is 4’11” — and effeminate in the South was no picnic, so he learned to use humor to cope. With a personality and sense of joy far larger than he looks, he eventually burst free and moved to Hollywood where he began his very successful career.

Jordan is notable for being openly gay since he got started, something pretty unusual in the early 80s. He’s also been happy to portray gay characters, preferring to have fun with a role than worry about stereotyping. By being himself, he’s made a wonderful success based on integrity as well as talent, thus opening the door for LGBT youth to see themselves represented in the media.

As with many, my first encounter with Jordan was in his Emmy-winning role as Beverly Leslie on Will & Grace. As Karen Walker’s charming, co-dependent nemesis, he was one of the brightest spots on the series. He and Karen traded barbs in an amazing style; one of my favorite lines is this greeting:

Why Karen Walker! I thought I smelled gin…and regret.

Jordan amazed and amused me again when my husband and I saw Sordid Lives, one of our favorite films. His turn as Brother Boy is a testament to the challenges of being true oneself. That he manages to make the character strong rather than pathetic is a testament to Jordan’s talent (and perhaps his love of Tammy Wynette).  If you have not seen Sordid Lives, I strongly urge you to rent it from the Netflix. It also stars Olivia Newton-John and Delta Burke.

I was fortunate enough to see his delightful one-man show, Like A Dog On Linoleum, in Atlanta a few years ago. I laughed ’til I cried and then had a chance to meet him in person. He is gracious and witty with or without a script.

In his many wonderful performances, his autobiography (and second one-man show) My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, and his willingness to be honestly and unabashedly himself, Leslie Jordan has made the world a better place. Happy Birthday, Leslie, and thank you!

Women’s History Month 2013: Melissa Harris-Perry

27 Mar

harris-perryToday we honor and celebrate another wonderful voice for equality. Many thanks to my friend and regular TSM commenter Christine for recommending Melissa Harris-Perry. Melissa is multi-racial, having  a black father and white mother.  She is originally from here in the Northwest, Seattle. The family moved to Virgina when she was young, with both parents involved in education.

Harris-Perry is an author, scholar, and professor as well as host of a successful, thought-provoking program on MSNBC. She received her B.A. in English from Wake Forest University and her PhD in political science from Duke. Due to her interest in the influence of the black church on political movements, she also received an honoris causa doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School and was a Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary.

While at Wake Forest, she encountered her mentor, the wonderful Maya Angelou.

As her student I watched as she influenced public discourse, taught students, and shared ideas in a way that seemed to truly matter for people’s lives.

Harris-Perry taught political science at the University of Chicago, then moved to Princeton where she was an associate professor of politics and African-American studies. She is currently a professor of political science at Tulane, where she is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.

She is the author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought on the methods African Americans use to develop political ideas through ordinary conversations in places like barbershops, churches, and popular culture–sounds like good social work to me. Her book won the 2005 W.E.B. DuBois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and the 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

After years as serving as a commentator, she was offered her own MSNBC weekend show a year ago. She looks at the program as a way to expand her education career, focusing on issues of politics and equality.

All I’ve ever wanted to be is a teacher. Phil Griffin and MSNBC are giving me the chance to have a much bigger classroom.

She is also an outspoken advocate for gay rights and marriage equality. Her work in this area won her an Ally for Equality award from the Human Rights campaign last month.

As a biracial woman with a passion for education and a fascination with religion, Harris-Perry has a firm understanding of the intersections of oppression. She has made it her mission to share that understanding with others with a firm commitment to social justice. Thank you Melissa Harris-Perry for being such a strong advocate and ally!

Women’s History Month 2013: Rachel Maddow

18 Mar

RachelMaddowToday we honor and celebrate Dr. Rachel Maddow, a woman who is trying to bring real discussion back into television journalism. Maddow was born in California in 1973. While a freshman at Stanford University, she was outed in a campus paper interview before she was able to tell her parents. I always love papers that out people just for the sake of outing them–my what code of ethics does that follow?  Fortunately, they were supportive, and she has been out and proud ever since. After receiving her degree in public policy from Stanford, she was awarded a Rhodes scholarship, becoming the first openly LGBT Rhodes scholar. She received her Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University with her thesis entitled HIV/AIDS and Health Care Reform in British and American Prisons.

These early events clearly hinted at her outspoken nature and her dedication to open discourse. She won a contest to become a radio announcer shortly after returning to the U.S., launching her broadcast career. She worked in radio for local Massachusetts stations and then joined Air America. Unabashedly liberal, she has observed the rightward drift of this country’s politics with the quip

I’m undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I’m in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform.

While still on Air America, she began regular guest spots on MSNBC’s nightly programs. Soon she was offered her own show, a TV version of her radio program, The Rachel Maddow Show. This made her the first openly LGBT host of a major prime-time news show in the U.S. She also routinely has her network’s most highly rated show–in what still remains a “white hetero male dominated” industry.

Her program is a wonderful mixture of straight news, opinion, and interviews–all offered through a social justice lens. In fact, I’m not sure there are other national programs that stand in such solidarity with those that are marginalized and oppressed by those in power and charged with the task of representing all Americans.  I love that Maddow holds these hypocrites’ feet to the fire. She has no tolerance for liars or people who put talking points above reality. Her no-holds-barred approach to discussing critical events is very refreshing. The media need more people who stand up and say “that’s not right!” Hooray for Rachel Maddow for showing that caring about the truth can still matter to the viewing public.

Women’s History Month 2013: Valerie Harper

15 Mar

Valerie_HarperToday I would like to honor another remarkable woman who has been a big part of my life for the past 40 years. As regular TSM readers know, I have always loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Part of me wanted to be Mary, but I’ve always had a lot of Rhoda in me. I actually put this in my essay when I applied to the school of social work. Her bold, outspoken nature and very human insecurities made her a wonderful character, and no-one could have brought her to life other than the incomparable Valerie Harper.

She was born in Suffern, NJ in 1939; her family moved frequently for her father’s work (including a couple of years here in Ashland, Oregon). When they left NJ, she moved to New York to pursue her dream of dancing. She obtained her degree and began chorus work, rising to lead roles and eventually moving into television after a bit part in the film version of a Broadway show she had appeared in. The casting agent for MTM saw her and knew that she had found her Rhoda. Nine years later, Harper had four Emmy awards, one Golden Globe, and seven nominations for her groundbreaking role.

More significantly, she had shown another kind of independent woman. Unlike Mary’s clear career path, Rhoda was always more of a free spirit. She had her own life and lived it proudly. She also went through one of the first prime time divorces, showing the difficulties of relationships in an honest way while retaining her quirky charm and joy. Harper also notes proudly that she was one of the first actors to use the word “gay” on prime time network television, on one of my favorite episodes of MTM, My Brother’s Keeper–a must see episode!

While acting on stage and television, she was also a strong advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s rights. She was as outspoken as her famous television persona and helped put a familiar face on these important issues. She also co-founded L.I.F.E. with Dennis Weaver, an LA organization that provided meals for the underserved and marginalized. In recognition for her work, the Women’s Film Institute awarded her their Humanitarian award in 1987.

Sadly, Valerie Harper is back in the news for tragic reasons. A lung cancer survivor, she recently discovered that the cancer has returned in a rare and nearly untreatable form of brain cancer. Rather than retreat, she is using her personal struggle to encourage others. In print and television interviews, she stresses how lucky she has been and encourages everyone to live their lives to the fullest while they can.

Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral!

She also notes how lucky she is to have great health care through her union. Never shy, she reminds everyone that universal health care should be a right and expectation and that unions work hard to create a level playing field for all workers. Yes, it is obvious I love our  Valerie Harper.  I am confident that she will prevail.  I  thank you for your great work and thank you for allowing me to celebrate you during Women’s History Month!

Women’s History Month 2013: Soledad O’Brien

6 Mar

soledad-OBrien-Today we honor and celebrate a woman whose recent push to restore journalistic integrity to cable news may have cost her her job. María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien was born on Long Island in 1966. Her parents — an Afro-Cuban mother and Australian father — met in the Washington, DC area a decade earlier. They lived in Maryland, which did not allow mixed-race marriages, so they wed in DC and soon moved to New York. Soledad is one of six children (all of whom received degrees from Harvard).

She began her television career as an associate producer and news writer in Boston. She joined NBC in 1991 and worked a variety of on-camera and production jobs over the next decade. She settled into regular roles on MSNBC and as co-host of Weekend Today. She contributed reports to NBC Nightly News, honing her desire to move away from soft news.

Soledad joined CNN in 2003 as co-anchor of their morning news program. Smart, likeable, and possessing good journalistic instincts, she helped that show rise above standard morning fare, even as the rest of CNN began to devolve into FOX-light in a desperate ratings grab. Confused network executives moved her out of the morning show in 2007 and she spent the next few years contributing reports to other CNN programs and doing In America documentaries. When CNN scrambled to re-re-redesign their morning show in 2012, they brought Soledad back to host the two-hour news program Starting Point.

A stark contrast to most CNN programming and other morning “news” offerings, the show featured engaging conversations and showed her strengths as a real journalist. Numerous guests complained about their treatment (including the odious John Sununu), a sign that she was actually doing her job rather than letting them spew talking points. Sadly, that success — even combined with good ratings — seems to have been too much for CNN to take–JEERS to CNN. Ms. O’Brien was the only reason I watched CNN. The new network President, Jeff Zucker (who spent the previous decade destroying NBC) wants his soft news, so Soledad is out.

Her new documentary, Latino In America, will be out soon. After that, Soledad O’Brien will find her next role in broadcast journalism — not, as she put it, “cooking salmon and doing fashion shows.” Wherever she lands, her colleagues will be lucky to have her talent and mature confidence in doing journalism right.  I hope NPR is able to secure her journalistic prowess.

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