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A decade before ‘60 Minutes’, ‘The Mike Wallace Interview’ defined intelligent TV

“My role is that of a reporter.” – Mike Wallace on the debut of The Mike Wallace Interview
With the death yesterday of TV journalist Mike Wallace at age 93, we’ve already seen many remembrances of him as the man who—along with producer Don Hewett—created the American institution we know as 60 Minutes in the tumultuous American year of 1968. It’s impossible to short-change Wallace’s 38-year legacy as both gate-keeper of that show and pioneer of the “gotchya question” interview technique that defines much of our current news media landscape.

But it behooves us to also have a good look at the man’s stint as the host of The Mike Wallace Interview, the spartan and penetrating late-night program that broadcast nationally from 1957 through 1960. Wallace was 18 years into a broadcast career (mostly as a radio announcer and game show host) as he launched the show based on Night Beat, a similar and more groovily-named program he’d hosted locally in New York a couple of years earlier. During the show’s tenure, he brought a fascinating array of folks to the American public eye, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Pearl Buck, Eric Fromm, Lily St. Cyr, Aldous Huxley and many others.

Besides its solid bookings and now-surreal-seeming live-ads for its benevolent sponsor Philip Morris, TMWI distinguishes itself with a bare-bones visual setting to focus viewer attention on the substance of the personalities interviewed. Dare I say the only two journalists I can think of who’ve truly adapted the show’s black-background format with similar grace and talent are Charlie Rose and Dangerous Minds’ own Richard Metzger.

Do yourself a favor and check out the digitized collection of interviews from the first two years of the show that Wallace donated to the Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Meanwhile, here’s Wallace throwing down with a 54-year-old Sal Dali on death, religion, politics and the fact that “Dali is contradictory and paradoxical in any sense.”

After the jump: more Wallace vs. Dali…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
UK’s Channel 5 screws up over Whitney’s death

Of all the national TV broadcasters in the UK, Channel 5 has the worst reputation. Its content is sensationalist and downmarket (it’s where the declining Big Brother show has gone to die) but this advert-scheduling screw-up really takes the biscuit. The fact they had a documentary on Whitney’s life and death barely a week after her passing says a lot, but what’s even worse is that nobody at the station seemed to think the two adverts featured here might clash just a tiny wee bit

Thanks to Rod Connolly!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Ren & Stimpy creator John K animates The Simpsons

Ok, so it’s just the sofa section of the show’s opening, but as a huge fan of both The Simpsons and Ren & Stimpy I just had to share this. Those two shows were the high watermarks of the 90s golden age of mainstream animation, and very influential on an entire generation of young, impressionable minds. So in a way this is the cartoon equivalent of the Beatles jamming with the Stones - but much weirder. A lot of people won’t like this (and some would say it’s a good fifteen years or more since both were at their peak), but it’s still great to see John K’s dark and twisted take on America’s first family. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I detect a subtle swipe at the character’s roles here, and Is that a hint of bitterness I can taste in the his rendering of their front room in such gloomy colors?

You can see a lot more of John Kricfalusi’s work at his blog.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Miles Davis talks about his art on Nile Rodgers’ ‘New Visions’

The great Nile Rodgers has started uploading clips from his old TV show New Visions to his new YouTube account. This short clip gives a fascinating insight into the artwork made by Miles Davis, of which there is an example above, called “The Kiss”.

Here Miles talks candidly about the shapes and colours in his work and what they mean to him, in his wonderfully gravelly voice. It all seems very sexual. The only downside is that this video is agonisingly short - Nile, if you have the full length version of this episode then you HAVE to put it online for the whole world to see!

Another clip from New Visions, this time featuring guitarists John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana, Robert Fripp and more:

Previously on DM:
Nile Rodgers: Walking On Planet C
Nile Rodgers dishes the dirt on Atlantic Records
Miles Davis Quintet skateboards
Miles Davis: Louis Malle’s ‘Elevator To The Gallows’ recording session

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle: genius or garbage?

British stand up comedian Stewart Lee has returned to the BBC with a second series of his opinion dividing show Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. A ratings flop on its first run, it seems like a small miracle that it has made it back to our screens at all. Not least because a lot of hardcore comedy heads just don’t like it - and that includes some of our own writers here at DM, who have turned off episodes of the show in the past.

Lee was one half of the hip 90s alt comedy duo Lee and Herring, who starred in the cultish TV shows Fist of Fun and This Morning with Richard Not Judy. Since parting with Herring some years ago, Lee has followed a more polemical route without resorting to agitprop or being in-yer-face. He also took a very long hiatus from TV before returning in 2009, and seems to have ironed out some of the flaws from the first series of Comedy Vehicle. The involvement of Chris Morris, Arnold Brown and Armando Iannucci has perhaps helped too (worth particular mention are the interview cut aways featuring a very spiteful Iannucci and a deflated Lee).

In comedy terms this is very much an acquired taste. If you are happy to be a passive consumer of lowest common denominator observational humor, then this is not the show for you. If you are a fan of slapstick or rapid fire gags, Lee does neither. Even if you consider yourself a comedic connoisseur and you get what is is that he does, you still might not like it. And I’m not going to lie, Lee can be very hit or miss. But when he hits he hits hard - to answer the question in the headline I think he might actually be a comedy genius.

Watching the first episode of series two, which is ostensibly about “Charity” but is actually about Lee’s fictional grandad’s love for crisps, I felt like I had never seen anyone perform comedy that was this self-reflexive yet this funny before. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time, and in the right frame of mind but Lee manages that incredibly rare, almost magical feat of signposting a joke from miles away yet making the journey to the punchline, and the payoff itself, very funny indeed. See his grandad’s “crisps”/“crips” confusion (and even the repetition of the word “crisps” itself). This had me in stitches - contrary to the suggestion by some critics that his style will inspire a smirk rather than a belly laugh.

Stewart Lee manages to deliver comedy about comedy that keeps an audience engaged and laughing, without resorting to crudity or obviousness. He walks the thin line of being very knowing, and also knowing that we know he knows, without (completely) disappearing up his own arse. The viewer definitely has to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate Lee’s tangental, mumbly approach but if you’re willing to invest a bit more attention to a stand up comic than normal, it is richly rewarded.

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle - Series Two, Episode One “Charity” - Part One

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle - Series Two, Episode One “Charity” - Part Two

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Does Henry Rollins pass the ‘Man Test’?

Man Test was a British TV program where famous people are asked a series of questions on their private lives, and asked to rate their feelings on certain topics from one to seven. The overall score will determine whether a person falls more into the “masculine” or “feminine” category. Where do you think Henry Rollins lands? The answer may surprise you.

Richard recently stated that it was vogue-ish to hate on Rollins. About as vogue-ish as it was to idolize him in the 80s and 90s? Personally I have mixed feelings about Hank - I do like him, but think he is also capable of massive dick moves. The infamous clip of Rollins “confronting” a group of young people (known in some particular circles as “hipsters”) in a NY café is a great example - his confrontational stance makes the situation much worse and he makes a lot of unjustified assumptions about these kids, assumptions that could very easily apply to him too. Being over-tattooed is definitely one.

On the other hand, I’ve only just recently watched The Henry Rollins Show, as it never aired in the UK as far as I knew. To my mild surprise I like it and him. He comes across well, though that would be the point of having your own TV show I guess. But Rollins is an excellent interviewer, holding back on inserting his own ego into conversations and good at creating rapport with his guests. The Werner Herzog and Steve Buscemi interviews are good examples. I don’t even mind his rants on the show, which is more surprising as I am not a fan of his stand up. It’s hectoring, and not as insightful or as clever as he thinks it is.

Man Test gives some surprising insights into Henry Rollins’ character. The show, from 2000, asks him some direct questions about his love and family life, which he is not afraid of answering openly. Rollins is not a man who wears his intelligence lightly, which works against him sometimes, but he is definitely an interesting character. Personally, I would like to know if he is a fan of TLC’s “No Scrubs”?
Henry Rollins - Man Test Part One

Henry Rollins - Man Test Part Two

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
New BBC TV children’s show ‘Rastamouse’

Something tells me this is going to cross over far beyond the 4-11 year olds market.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
“The whole world becomes kaleidoscopic”: Birthday Boy Marshall McLuhan Meets Norman Mailer

Marshall McLuhan would have turned 99 years old today, and his status as the god-daddy of media studies still seems pretty rock-solid. I wasn’t previously aware of how often the Canadian theorist appeared on TV, and was especially unaware of his November 1967 duet with New York novelist Norman Mailer on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show The Summer Way, bravely moderated by Ken Lefolii.

Recovered from recent treatment for a benign brain tumor he suffered while teaching in New York, McLuhan gamely tugs at a few of Mailer’s pretensions. Mailer is recently back from levitating the Pentagon with the Yippies, with the siege of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention in his future.

McLuhan pops off a bunch of gems, including:

The planet is no longer nature, it’s now the content of an artwork.

Nature has ceased to exist…it needs to be programmed.

The environment is not visible, it’s information—it’s electronic.

The present is only faced by any generation by the artist.

Communications maven Michael Hinton goes speculative on his hero’s televised meeting with the Jersey-raised boxer-novelist, but of course it’s best to just check the thing out yourself.

More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment