Arts, Entertainment, Living

'Charlie' writer pitches in on Pittsburgh project

Thursday, 01 December 2011 12:00 AM Written by

GLCIC_blogIt may not seem like it from afar, but Hollywood is actually a pretty small community. That's especially true when it comes to writers.

So when a writer or actor friend has a new project, it's not unusual to pitch in. That's just what "Good Luck Charlie" co-creator Phil Baker, a 1984 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, did when his friends Steve Byrne (an actor) and Rob Long (a writer/producer) were filming the TBS pilot for Pittsburgh-set "Sullivan & Son" last month.

Baker, who is also an executive producer on the new Disney Channel film "Good Luck Charlie, It's Christmas" (8 p.m. Friday), previously worked with Long when both were writers for "Cheers."

But his biggest shock while working on "Sullivan" was when he foud himself sitting next to someone who looms large in TV memories for many Americans, especially around Christmastime. Read more after the jump. ...

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Star Trekkin' across the universe...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011 12:00 AM Written by

Trek_NationA documentary about "Star Trek" and "Star Trek" fans is not new. It's been done before. But "Trek Nation" (8 tonight, Science Channel) comes at "Star Trek" from a slightly different angle.

Rod_RoddenberryThis docu-feature follows Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry (pictured at left), son of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, as he tries to gain an understanding of the phenomenon, which he admits, "I just didn't get."

Rod Roddenberry's journey began years ago -- early footage shows him at a Las Vegas "Star Trek" convention in 2002 -- and it includes an interview with Rod's mother, Majel Barrett (AKA Nurse Chapel), who died in 2008.

Read more after the jump. ...

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The Chicago blues scene; American Pie

Wednesday, 30 November 2011 12:00 AM Written by

I ran across an interesting article the other day in the Chicago Tribune, looking at the state of blues music in the Chicago club scene, expecially as it relates to the older blues clubs, and the newer, more touristy venues.

The writer makes this point, among others:

"That's how it goes in Chicago, a blues nexus crisply divided into separate, unequal halves. A sharp racial divide cuts through the blues landscape in Chicago, just as it does through so many other facets of life here, diminishing the music on either side of it."

It makes me wonder who will be listening to the music in another 25 or 50 years.

It's not exactly the blues, but "American Pie" is one of those songs that's part of modern music history -- and there is a reference therein to the "girl who sang the blues." For years the locals in Saratoga Springs, NY, have claimed that Don McLean wrote his famous song in a bar in that town. But in a recent interview, McLean sets the record straight, and the award for the city where he wrote it goes to -- Philadelphia.

Just thought you'd like to know. Now you can continue arguing about what the song means.

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Tekken Hybrid - review

Tuesday, 29 November 2011 09:59 PM Written by

The year was 2000.  After almost a year of anticipation, the release day of the Playstation 2 had arrived.  I pre-ordered the $300 system at the now defunct K-B Toys and picked it up that evening.  It was the next chapter in gaming, a taste of the future.  The first game I put in the disk tray and played was Tekken Tag Tournament.  The first match would’ve floored me if I hadn’t already been sitting on the floor.  The graphics, sound, and detail at that time were mesmerizing.  It also marked a time when console games looked comparable, if not superior, to their arcade counterparts.  Tekken Tag Tournament marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Now, Tekken Tag Tournament is getting the HD remake treatment in Tekken Hybrid, a console generation later for the PS3.  Tekken Hybrid is a misleading title.  From the sound of it, it sounds like a completely new game for the Tekken franchise.  It’s called “Hybrid” because it’s half movie, half game.

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Mister Rogers and Autism

Tuesday, 29 November 2011 03:04 PM Written by





I had promised myself I would take a break from using "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" as metaphor for everything Pittsburgh, but but yet another Fred Rogers connection came up recently when an intern at my office, Bridget, brought to my attention special “sensory friendly” screenings of films at AMC theaters for children with autism spectrum disorders. At these screenings the lights are turned on, the volume is lowered, and moviegoers are able to make noise and get out of their seats. I found this program really interesting, even more so in light of my increasing awareness of the special connection that Fred Rogers and the Fred Rogers Company have to the autistic community.

I first became aware of this connection at an early screening of our film My Tale of Two Cities at the Sonoma Valley Film festival. After the film had been shown, there was a Q&A session with the audience and the first hand to go up with a question was that a young girl who seemed very shy.  The moderator called on her, but she seemed momentarily frozen, and so the moderator delicately asked her to come up front and asked her question directly to her. It seemed like almost five minutes passed before she actually whispered her question, and when she did, it was not into the microphone, but into the ear of the moderator. The moderator turned to me and repeated her question: “She wants to know if you think this movie could really change things?” I was so moved by this I was a bit frozen myself. I didn’t know what to say, but eventually ended up blurting out, “If you could come up here and ask that question, I think anything is possible,” I think I would have remembered this moment as it was, but what really cemented it in my mind is that after the event the girl’s parents came up to me. “I can’t believe our daughter did that,” her mother said to me. “She never does things like that…she’s autistic”.

Fred Rogers thought that everyone was special just by being them, but over the past few years, I've become increasingly aware of the special relationship his program has with some from the autistic community in particular. In addition to his message to kids of appreciating diversity, "Mister Roger’s Neighborhood’s low key production and lack of hyper stimulation made it more accessible to autistic children than other children’s TV programming. In particular, his habit of starting and ending shows the exact same way and repeating activities like putting on his shoes has made the show resonate for some autistic children, many of whom benefit from routine. One of my students at Pitt even wrote a paper on this, after consulting with the Fred Rogers Company which, with the help of a grant from FISA, a foundation based in SWPA, is getting ready to release special DVDs of selected episodes and bonus materials designed specifically to benefit children with autism spectrum disorders.

On the Fred Rogers Company website it says “There are many file folders here at The Fred Rogers Company filled with letters from parents of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. We hear time and again that watching and reflecting on episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood helps children in numerous ways, such as decreasing anxiety and excitability, improving listening and speaking skills, increasing attention to learning tasks, and building capacity for imaginative play.”  You can read more and sign up for their wonderful newsletter at 

Fred Rogers devoted his life to the idea that television could change things, and Pittsburgh, his company, and many of its neighbors continue to build on his legacy to take this idea to heart for a community that holds on to hope for a brighter future.  

Another great site for those working with children in Pittsburgh to make this the best place in the world to grow up is:

And I recently had the privilege to be part of a wonderful conversation about Pittsburgh last week with Fred's wife Joanne Rogers as part of a special 4802 for WQED before the premiere of My Tale of Two Cities with Paul O' Neill, Franco Harris and Dok Harris, Michael Bartley, and Grant Oliphant, each of whom had a great stories about Fred.  Afterall, while the program remains timeless, Pittsburgh still remains the real life "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."   Click here to watch. 








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TV Land introduces 'The Exes'

Tuesday, 29 November 2011 12:00 AM Written by

The_ExesTV Land continues its foray into original scripted programming with “The Exes” (10:30 p.m. Wednesday), the network’s best sitcom effort since “Hot in Cleveland,” which returns for new episodes Wednesday at 10.

With a cast of sitcom-of-the-past all-stars, the series follows three divorced roommates: Clingy newcomer Stuart (David Alan Basche, “The Starter Wife”), smooth player Phil (Donald Faison, “Scrubs”) and weird homebody Haskell (Wayne Knight, “Seinfeld”). They’re brought together by their divorce attorney/neighbor, Holly (Kristen Johnston, “3rd Rock from the Sun”), who towers over her diminutive assistant, Eden (Kelly Stables, “Two and a Half Men”).

“She looks like someone threw a hot chick in the dryer,” Phil says of the petite blond.

Read more after the jump. ...

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Just as we were stuffed a few days ago, we're going to stuff this post with three recent CDs from some very soulful, bluesy singers.

They, and their albums, are: Sharon Lewis, "The Real Deal" (Delmark Records); Kay Kay Greenwade, "The Best of Kay Kay & the Rays" (Catfood Records); Jackie Johnson, "Memphis Jewel" (Catfood Records).

51cpjd-keuL._SL500_AA300_They are all similar, in that they are all tough, tender and soulful as the music demands -- powerful, big-voiced singers filled with the tradition of great music.

Sharon Lewis is Texas-born and a Chicago resident since 1975, and her band Texas Fire is joined here by guitarist Dave Specter and harpman Billy Branch for a set of originals and covers (including a smooth, soulful and slightly raggae "Ain't No Sunshine").

Her vocals are rich and powerful, and the band crackles along behind, living up to its name. A worthy addition to any soul-blues collection.

51kDwtbjI1L._SL500_AA280_Kay Kay Greenwade is another big, beautiful voice out of El Paso, Texas, and the album is a collection of tracks from the three CDs the band has recorded -- "Kay and the Rays Featuring Abner Burnett" (1999), "Texas Justice" (2001), and "Big Bad Girl" (2003).

The music is a passionate blend of funk and soul, and Kay's original lyrics lean to social commentary. The opening track, "Texas Justice," is all about capital punishment and how it thrives in the Lone Star State. Greenwade is no longer active due to health problems, but this CD should keep her big voice and spirit alive.

51GGPvwC3TL._SL500_AA300_Jackie Johnson is a Memphis-based soul singer who's absorbed styles from New Orleans to funk to Motown, and offers a slick set here that showcases her vocal versatility and pure soulfulness.

The band features members of the Rays, mentioned above, and there's a sparkling duet with soul singer Johnny Rawls. Another tribute to Motown is a fine reading of "The Tears of a Clown." Johnson is another fine and unheralded singer, and the CD title is an apt description.

Here are some videos (alas, I couldn't find one for Johnson):

Sharon Lewis

Kay Kay Greenwade

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'Hate' is a strong word but it applies to new sitcom

Monday, 28 November 2011 12:00 AM Written by

IMTDThere’s exactly one funny moment in the dreadful Fox sitcom "I Hate My Teenage Daughter." It involves actress Katie Finneran, who deserves much better than this dreck, a pie and a comparison to an animal.

Other than that? “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” (9:30 p.m. Wednesday, WPGH) is a complete disaster.

Unhip moms Annie (Jaime Pressly, “My Name is Earl”) and Nikki (Katie Finneran, “Wonderfalls”) do not care for their teen daughters. One calls her daughter a rhymes-with-witch. And who can blame them, the daughters are pretty terrible: Spoiled, cranky and unkind. This leads both moms to be terrified of their daughters’ disapproval. It’s a vicious cycle.

Read more after the jump. ...

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