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‘Sopranos’ Premieres, City Life Pauses

Alan Alda tells the story — or at least we're pretty sure we've read someplace that Alan Alda tells the story — that he first realized the tremendous cultural significance of M*A*S*H when he went driving in Los Angeles during the broadcast of its famous farewell episode in 1983: The freeways, in that pre-VHS era, were empty. We can report that at about 8:30 last night, a half-hour before the final Sopranos premiere and usually a prime burgers-and-beer hour, you could walk into the Corner Bistro and immediately be seated. Related: The Loneliest Soprano [NYM] Earlier: Daily Intel's coverage of The Sopranos.

Conan O'Brien Owes His Career to a Crank

Four things about Conan O'Brien and his show that we're pretty sure haven't been published before, which we learned last night at his rare public appearance — with four of his writers — at the Museum of Television and Radio: • The character "Preparation H Raymond," played by Brian McCann, was originally conceived because the Preparation H people sent a box of their signature product, for more or less no reason, to the Late Night offices. It was the holiday season, and McCann walked through the office distributing samples, calling himself “Preparation H Santa.” The writers decided to put the bit on TV, but it didn’t come to fruition until January, hence the replacement of “Santa” with “Raymond.” Raymond/McCann later contacted Preparation H about filming a segment at their factory. “They wouldn’t even return our calls,” he said.

Hail Helvetica!

The crisp Swiss typeface Helvetica turns 50 this year, and to mark that occasion it's becoming the first typeface to enter MoMA's permanent collection, in the shape of an original set of 36-point lead letterforms. (The museum, however maintains its own official type, "MoMA Gothic," a variation on Franklin Gothic.) Today, MoMA opens "50 Years of Helvetica," a design show including vintage New York City subway signs, an excerpt from Gary Hustwit's 2007 documentary Helvetica, and, yes, an American Apparel ad. What makes this neutral font (not to be confused with Microsoft's pale imitation, Arial) so universally beloved, showcased on everything from the Crate & Barrel catalogue to nineties house-music album covers?

The ‘24’ Absurd-O-Meter: Bonus Michelle Dessler Edition

We ran into Reiko Aylesworth, who used to play CTU agent Michelle Dessler on 24, at a party for the new Philip Seymour Hoffman play, Jack Goes Boating, recently. And so we realized we had a perfect opportunity to get some expert insight on our 24 Absurd-o-Meter, which she confessed she hadn't seen. Did you ever read a script and just blurt out, "What the hell?!" Oh, we would do that, probably every other day. There's a lot of stuff that gets to us, and we say, "Oh, come on." And it actually doesn't even air. There were things that they wanted to do with my character … Like what? Oh, like, suicide. Within the course of 24 hours, I become suicidal.

Steal This Album

If the current Google-versus- Viacom clash of the titans didn't already convince you that the very notion of copyright is sinking, here's another leak it sprung. Egged on by Apple chief Steve Jobs, EMI has become the first major label to chuck copy protection in its digital dealings. The music company — which controls music by Pink Floyd and Coldplay (and the Beatles, still conspicuously absent from iTunes) — will sell its wares on Jobs's virtual record store as straight-up MP3s, without the annoying add-ons that make the files playable on a limited number of devices. In the short run, this will create an unholy mess of mixed-format libraries. In the long run, it's a victory for the progressive Googlethink encapsulated by Clive Thompson in this week's magazine: "If everything is promiscuously available digitally, and easily findable, this will be a cosmic win-win for everyone."

Tribeca Film Festival: Pricey

Our little Tribeca Film Festival is all grown up — and about to start charging some very grown-up prices to prove it. The fest's 2007 edition will see a 50 percent ticket-price hike, to $18 per screening, from last year's $12. This brings it more or less in league with the heavyweights like Sundance ($15) and way past uptown's picky New York Film Festival ($10 for regular screenings) — which, compared to the Tribeca glitz blitz, is slowly beginning to look like a night out at the Anthology Film Archives. The difference, of course, is that Tribeca overbooks wildly — this year's roster is some 200 movies — and most of its picks end up in regular release within minutes of the red-carpet premiere. So, while the price hike makes the fest feel like more of a big-ticket event, it also makes it just a teeny bit of a nuisance. Tribeca Ticket Prices Jump 50% for Upcoming Fest [Indiewire]

‘Times’ Couplets: A Rebellion in the Food Chain

Wherein we arrange times couplets in verse to bring you secret messages from the paper of record. Communing With Nature on a Grand Scale The Way the World Ends, Vividly Imagined? No Pet Left Behind: Rats in His Sights, and in His Backpack, Too Maple Leafs Fall, Crosby Lifts Penguins, A Featherless Audubon Menagerie Romping With Henry and His Rat Pack. Bulls Clinch Berth in Playoffs With the Greatest of Ease; Unusually Good Food at an Unusual Hill May Lower Scallop Population. The Vicious Victim, Pork Goes to War. —Lizzie Skurnick

The Multitalented People of ‘Curtains’

The just-opened Kander and Ebb musical Curtains is, as you know, the famed music-and-lyrics duo's first collaboration with writer Rupert Holmes. (Fred Ebb died while working on the show, and Holmes helped John Kander finish it.) It's also the first collaboration of stars David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk, though not of Pierce and co-star Edward Hibbert, who both appeared on Frasier. And we noticed a funny thing flipping through our Playbill the other night: In an unexpected U.N.-McSweeney's-Sopranos twist, Curtains is undoubtedly the first Broadway collaboration of credited company members John Bolton, David Eggers, and David Chase. A triple threat, indeed. Related: She's a Man, Baby! [NYM]

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About ‘Sopranos’ Whackings

Because no aspect of the Sopranos phenomenon should be left unexplored in the publicity blitz leading up to next Sunday's premiere of the final season, midtown's Museum of Television and Radio last night hosted “The Whacked Sopranos,” a panel discussion at which we gained yet more perspective on the show from five of its late and lamented. The big lesson: Even though they lost paychecks and prominence, the actors who played the whacked characters understand that they needed to go. “Whadaya gonna do,” asked Vincent Pastore, who played "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, “put him in witness protection? That’s NBC.”

Bravo Scrapes Bottom

Those Bravo ads that have popped up on virtually every available bus shelter and subway-station wall in the last week or so? Yeah, they're a sign that the ever-reliable supplier of gay-themed broadcasting and James Lipton close-ups is officially scraping the bottom of the barrel. They're advertising the channel's latest reality TV competition, Shear Genius, which will feature twelve hairstylists tested on technical and creative capabilities. (It premieres April 11, immediately following the season finale of Top Design.)

Jenny's Party: No Celebs, But Four Songs

When we arrived at the listening party for Jennifer Lopez's much-touted new Spanish language album, Como Ama Una Mujer, at the new Times Square venue Spotlight last night, excitement was in the air: Will Smith had RSVP'd! And maybe some other celebs would make "cameos"! Two and a half hours and several mini "Iron Chef burgers" later, it turned out said cameos only included La Familia Lopez (sister Lynda and mom, plugging her ears while attempting to talk over the blasting eighties remixes), umbrella-less umbrella man Farnsworth Bentley, and hairstylist Ken Pavés. But all was not lost — at 10:40 on the dot, four pensive young women in blousey half-shirts and booty shorts knelt onstage. J.Lo was on her way! And she was wearing … a head-to-toe netted, sparkly black serape? (Is this really what she wears on the block?) While her leggings and equally sparkly bikini top may not have been what we expected from she of that Versace dress, at least her famous posterior was clearly visible (and shaking admirably) during the four songs she performed. "I wanna see clappin' and actin' a fool!" Jenny squealed. "I know y'all drunk!"

New ‘Onion’ Fake News: Actually Fake, Not So Funny

Here's the remarkable thing about the Onion News Network, the satire stalwart's first foray into video content: It's the first televisual product to literally fit the wrongheaded moniker "fake news." The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which are regularly saddled with that descriptor, don't fake the news; they fake the format. ONN — as of this writing, less a network than a Web page with four clips and a Dewar's ad — finally takes that extra step. Its news items are, indeed, mocked-up rather than simply mocked. This means that both the anchors and the subjects are played, hammily, by actors, and the "news footage" is as scripted as the banter around it. Sadly, though, it is not particularly well scripted, nor particularly amusing.

Arcade Fire Is Coming Back to New York, This Time Way Uptown

Arcade Fire played five shows in a Greenwich Village church last month, and now the band is set to announce tomorrow that it's coming back to New York at the beginning of May — and to an equally head-scratching venue: the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights. The former movie palace at Broadway at 175th Street — currently home of the Reverend Ike's Christ Community United Church — will start hosting rock shows next week, when Bloc Party becomes the first band to play the way-uptown venue. And Modest Mouse, Björk, and Iggy and the Stooges are booked there in the next few months. (Okay, fine: Arcade Fire is doing a Radio City show in May, too.)

Pfizer Whistleblower Sells Another Book

Pfizer executive turned whistleblower Peter Rost is back doing what he does best: skewering his erstwhile industry. Rost was notoriously banished from Big Pharma after exposing tax fraud at Wyeth and illegal marketing at Pfizer; his tell-all The Whistleblower came out last year. His new project, a novel called The Wolfpack, was sold last week to Pagina AB in Europe. (It's now being shopped to several publishers in New York.) "I wrote the story because I wanted to reveal the thinking inside a corporation, using the thriller format," Rost says of his "Grisham-style" crime drama. The story follows a fictional drug company that develops a biological weapon and murders its enemies. Although Rost insists none of the characters are based on former colleagues, the new book is about "just how far corporate executives may be willing to go and what happens when one guy stands up to them." Fiction, huh? —Jake Whitney

John Bolton Goes on the ‘Daily Show,’ Sort Of Convinces Us

Did you catch John Bolton — you know, the U.N.-hating former U.N. ambassador so unpopular Bush could never get him approved by the Senate — on the Daily Show last night? Here's something we never thought we'd say: He was pretty good. First, we'd give him big points for even showing up. Second, he gets even bigger points for sounding calm and reasonable up against a host and audience who clearly can't stand him. But he gets biggest points of all for reducing Jon — granted, never the most astute political theorist — to a series of talking-point non sequiturs while making some entirely sensible points of his own. Shouldn't an anti-U.N. president put in an anti-U.N. U.N. ambassador? Is that the whole point of the democratic system, that the voters picked Bush, so give them what Bush believes in? Whoa. Our minds were blown. The mustache still looked silly, though. Ambassador John Bolton [ComedyCentral.com]