Saturday, February 27, 2016

Leaps of Faith

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): As a matter of fact, this day only comes around once every four years. You know, it's like a free day — a gift. We should do something special — be bold. It's leap year. Take a leap!

Martin (John Mahoney): You know, I was just about to say the same thing to you.

Monday will be Leap Day — the 29th day of February, a day that only rolls around every four years.

1996 was a Leap Year, too, and, in an episode that premiered on this day in 1996 ("Look Before You Leap"), Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) was challenging his radio listeners to take a leap of faith outside their comfort zones. He encouraged his family and friends to do the same.

It all began on the morning of Leap Day when Frasier uncharacteristically took Eddie for a walk. The weather was unseasonably warm, and it inspired him to urge his family and friends to take a leap, be bold, step outside their comfort zone.

He started with his father (John Mahoney) and Daphne (Jane Leeves). His father had a friend, Jimmy, who was born on Leap Day so he only had an actual birthday once every four years. It had been a ritual for Jimmy's friends to gather on Leap Day to celebrate, and Martin wanted to go, but it was in Montana. Frasier encouraged him to go. He said he would go if Daphne would also take a leap. She was always wondering if she should change her hairstyle. Martin said he would pay for it if she would just do it and stop whining about it. She said she would do it if he went to his buddy's birthday bash.

Niles (David Hyde Pierce) came over all bubbly. Apparently, his estranged wife Maris had let him know that she was in the mood for some lovin', and Niles was more than ready. He confided to Frasier that he had not had sex in six months.

"You've only been separated for three," Frasier observed.

"And your point would be?" Niles asked.

Frasier told Niles that what he and Maris really needed to do was talk through their problems. Sex would only cloud the issue, and he advised Niles not to do it. Niles was the only person who was not urged to take a leap for Leap Year.

A Leap Year challenge was born — and so was an idea. Frasier decided to challenge his radio listeners to take a leap.

He got things rolling with Roz (Peri Gilpin), his producer who was captivated by a young man she met on a bus. They had started to chat but then were separated before they could exchange phone numbers. Frasier thought Roz might be able to re–connect with this fellow if she told her story during his show, but she didn't want to — until Frasier observed, on the air, "Did you know that a woman over the age of 30 has less chance of getting married than of being killed in a terrorist attack?"

Roz capitulated and told the story of her chance meeting on a bus. She let it slip, though, that "I really liked you and thought you were cute" and was horrified at herself for saying she thought someone was cute. "Who am I? Marcia Brady?" she asked Frasier when they were off the air.

But Frasier's ploy seemed to work. Roz's young man came to the studio, with a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and things seemed to be going very well — until he let it slip that he was married.

Then Roz started hitting him with the bouquet.

Frasier had witnessed most of their reunion through the glass window separating the sound booth from the hallway, but he had turned away to talk into the microphone and missed seeing Roz strike her beau with the bouquet.

That was really the first clue that, like so many other times in his life, Frasier's advice was going to prove disastrous to those who heeded it.

Later, when Niles was helping Frasier practice for the challenging operatic aria he had promised to perform at the PBS Fundraising Drive, Martin came storming in. The plane he had been riding to his friend's birthday party had to make an emergency landing after a flock of geese flew into one of the engines. Martin described a harrowing 5,000–foot fall, followed by the passengers' hasty exit via emergency slide into a "sea of foam," as Martin described it.

That got Frasier to thinking that maybe his advice to people to take a leap had been ill–advised. And he started thinking that the aria might be a disaster, too.

At that point, Daphne came in. She was in tears. Her new hairstyle hadn't worked out. At all.

"Tell me the truth," Daphne said between sobs. "Is it as bad as I think it is?"

"How bad," Frasier asked haltingly, "do you think it is?"

Daphne was so upset she could only blurt out a couple of words at a time. "Mr. Maurice ... hair design ... 'trust me' ... children pointing ..."

She glared at Frasier. "Your fault!"

Niles had been wavering, but Daphne's experience was enough for him. He wasn't going to follow Frasier's advice. He was going to be with Maris.

"No one who has followed your little take a leap philosophy has ended up even remotely better," he told Frasier. "I'm going to Maris."

"You will rue the day," Frasier told him.

"I don't care," Niles replied. "Niles gotta have it!"

By that time, Frasier was almost convinced. He was convinced when he was at the PBS studio and became aware of just how challenging his own leap was going to be. So he retreated to his familiar "Buttons and Bows," the song he had sung at the fundraiser for a couple of years.

His problem was that he forgot the words, and his performance was its own cautionary tale for a Leap Year challenge gone awry.

The last thing the viewers saw was Martin and Daphne sitting in the living room watching a video tape of Frasier's awful performance — and having a good laugh over and over. Until Eddie ran off with the remote.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Blue Moon Over the Pacific

I was just a child when I saw reruns of Gilligan's Island for the first time, but even at that tender age, I can remember wondering how the castaways could get along so well all the time. I found that remarkable — and specialists in human behavior no doubt would find it remarkable, too, that seven people with such different backgrounds, likes and dislikes could live so harmoniously. Whenever one was threatened in some way, the others were sure to provide support. It was all for one and one for all.

Well, I guess anything is possible on TV.

I figured that it would be more likely that, given the confining nature of their situation, the castaways would turn on each other, argue and fight. That, it has been my observation, is more common behavior among humans. It is rare to find one person who empathizes with his/her fellow man — let alone all seven who happen to be on board a pleasure cruise that gets swept off course by a storm and runs aground on a postage stamp–sized island.

No matter how well most humans try to keep their negative impulses bottled up, it has been my experience that eventually it will bubble over.

And that seems to be what happened on Gilligan's Island on this night 50 years ago in the episode "Ship Ahoax." They began to bicker with each other. Gilligan (Bob Denver) and the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) went so far as to draw a dividing line in their hut. Each was to stay on his side of the hut. The problem with that was that the door was on the Skipper's side. The Howells (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer) were arguing with each other, and Ginger (Tina Louise) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) were bickering as well.

Mary Ann stormed out of the hut, nearly running into Gilligan, who had found his way out of the hut without setting foot on the floor and entered the girls' hut, where Ginger, dressed as a fortune teller, began predicting his future. Like most of us would be, Gilligan was skeptical — until Ginger predicted an earthquake and a few seconds later, the ground began to shake. It was an earth tremor that shook the hut. Ginger was tipped off that one was coming because small items in the hut began to shake just before the tremor hit. It happened "all the time," she told the Professor (Russell Johnson).

(A flaw in the logic of the story. If tremors really did hit the island frequently, as Ginger told the Professor, wouldn't Gilligan have been aware of that? Wouldn't they all?)

Nevertheless, Gilligan was convinced and he told anyone who would listen what Ginger had predicted for him.

Yes, Ginger's act convinced him. Trouble is, it convinced Ginger, too — eventually.

The Professor was the only one who appeared unaffected by what he called "island madness," and he conspired with Ginger to convince everyone, as she had convinced Gilligan, that she had a gift for predictions. He removed the batteries from the radio so it would appear to be broken, then while he "repaired" it, he and Ginger listened to the news to get topics for her predictions that would be confirmed for the castaways later when they listened to the news.

The Skipper was persuaded that she was legitimate when she predicted that Army would beat Navy in football, and Mr. Howell was persuaded when she predicted that a heretofore worthless stock suddenly skyrocketed in price — both events that had long since happened.

(Another flaw in the logic of the story. While weekday college football games are commonplace today, they were almost nonexistent in the 1960s, outside of games played on holidays, like Thanksgiving or New Year's Day. Most games were played on Saturdays. The stock market is only open on nonholiday weekdays. It is highly unlikely that both events would have come to pass on the same day.)

The castaways were all convinced that she had the gift of premonition, and she got a little carried away with herself, predicting a fleet of rescue ships would be in the vicinity shortly. And, indeed, the radio did report that a fleet of rescue ships was on its way to search for a missing ship.

The castaways rejoiced. Their salvation seemed to be at hand.

But shortly thereafter the radio reported that the ship had been found, and they were all on their way back to port.

Ginger was ready to give up her charade, telling the Professor that "I'm through conning myself and them," but he encouraged her to continue, saying that she was helping morale. So they came up with a plan for a seance. Each of the castaways would be given a piece of paper on which the message "Please don't tell anyone I'm a fake" would be written. The castaways were told to write down what they wanted to ask Ginger on supposedly blank pieces of paper, but when they read the note, they all retreated, saying they already knew what they wanted to know.

Gilligan didn't look at his piece of paper. He just blurted out his question. He wanted to know when they would be rescued.

"Not soon enough for friends so true," Ginger told him. "Look for the ship ... when the moon is blue."

Back at their hut, Gilligan looked at the piece of paper he had shoved in his pocket and compared it to the one the Skipper had. They both said the same thing.

"What an honor," Gilligan said to the Skipper. "We're the only ones she trusts."

"That's right, Little Buddy," the Skipper replied. "And we're not going to let her down."

With that, the two retired to their hammocks, satisfied that they had been loyal friends to Ginger. They didn't notice that the moon that night was blue.

Or that a ship was passing by their island.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

An Offer You Can't Refuse

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): [Maris] drove up on the sidewalk, and when the police ran her name through the computer, they found quite a little backlog of unpaid parking tickets.

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): What else would you expect from a woman who thinks her chocolate allergy entitles her to park in a handicapped space?

When the episode "A Word to the Wiseguy" premiered on Frasier on this day in 1996, Niles (David Hyde Pierce) was excited.

In fact, he was elated because, for the first time since his separation from his never–seen spouse Maris, she needed him to do something for her. Need is the key word here. It wasn't, as Frasier said, a case of Maris wanting something from him, and Niles made that distinction.

(Now, before I proceed, I should say that I have always thought the writing on Frasier was one of the sharpest I have heard on television, but the dialogue in this episode was especially clever.)

"This is my chance to show her how necessary I really am to her," Niles said, "and all I have to do is fix one small problem."

"What's the problem?" his father (John Mahoney) asked.

"She's wanted by the police," Niles replied.

Maris had been driving past a shoe store when she saw a pair of shoes that caught her eye — and Niles casually reminded the family of the influence such a sighting could have on Maris' hand–eye coordination. She veered onto the sidewalk. A police check of her name found an apparently considerable number of unpaid parking tickets.

Maris hadn't appeared for her summons so a warrant had been issued for her arrest. By asking him for help, Niles believed he saw an opportunity for reconciliation in Maris' predicament.

Maris had always called her father "Commodore." No problem was too great for him to resolve. When Maris spoke to Niles about her legal problem, she asked him, "Will you be my Commodore?"

Niles needed his father, a former policeman, to square things with his buddies on the force. Martin, however, wouldn't go along.

So Niles had to resort to more drastic measures — which meant conferring with a "fixer" who had been recommended to him by Roz (Peri Gilpin).

The three of them — Niles, Frasier and the mobster — met at the cafe at midnight, and Niles showed the fixer a list of Maris' arrest charges.

"Ignoring a summons, speeding, reckless endangerment," the mobster recited. "Your wife sounds like a very carefree lady."

"She's ounces of fun," Frasier said in yet another reference to Maris' weight.

The fixer fixed the matter, and Niles asked him how much he owed. The fixer said there was no charge. "I was in a position to help you," he said. "Perhaps someday you'll be in a position to help me."

Niles didn't realize how soon the wiseguy would be seeking that favor.

Well, I guess it was soon. The viewer never knew how much time had elapsed, only that Niles and Frasier came in to Frasier's apartment after apparently competing in a squash match — to discover that Jerome (Harris Yulin) was chatting amiably with Martin and Daphne (Jane Leeves).

Jerome was there because his fiancee of eight years refused to set a wedding date. He was upset about it, Jerome said. "It also upsets my mother, whose comments on the subject are frequent and vivid."

Jerome wanted Frasier to talk to her and persuade her to marry him. Frasier wasn't sure he was comfortable doing that. After all, Frasier was concerned — as always — about his ethics.

"I've heard your show," Martin told him. "One more piece of half–assed advice isn't going to kill you. Jerome, on the other hand ..."

The mobster's girlfriend called Frasier's show. She recited a laundry list of her complaints before going right to the heart of the matter. She had always wanted to be a "career woman," but Jerome wouldn't permit her to work. She begged Frasier to tell her what he thought "because I really, really respect you."

And ethically minded Frasier could not tell her to marry Jerome. "Run," he advised her. "Save yourself. Do not marry this man."

Then, after concluding the conversation, Frasier told the listening audience, "This is Dr. Frasier Crane saying 'Good night,' and see you, God willing, tomorrow."

Later that day Frasier went to the cafe, and Niles joined him.

"I heard you on the radio today," Niles said. "I thought what you did was noble."

Then after a pause, Niles asked, "To what South American nation will you be fleeing?"

"Oh, like I'd tell you," Frasier replied. "One minute of interrogation and you would crack like a Jordan almond!"

About that time Jerome showed up. He did not think Frasier had been noble. He was displeased and ordered some hot milk.

"When I'm displeased I get acid in my stomach, Dr. Crane," Jerome explained.

"Believe me," Frasier replied, "the last thing I want to do is displease you ... or to hear the words 'acid' and 'Dr. Crane' in the same sentence."

But how could he have advised otherwise, he asked. Jerome's girlfriend had said that he cheated on her.

Jerome pointed out that she had said she suspected him of cheating, but he insisted he hadn't cheated.

Frasier then brought up Brandy's complaint about not being permitted to work. Jerome acknowledged there was truth in that. It was also true that he had called in favors from friends to get Brandy employed at more than a dozen jobs over the years.

"She lost all of them," Jerome said.

"So you're saying she's had trouble finding her niche?" Frasier asked hopefully.

"I'm saying she's a dodo," Jerome replied. "Now you may love a dodo. You may think the dodo is beautiful. You may even wish to marry the dodo. But you do not encourage a dodo to fly."

Losing jobs, Jerome said, made Brandy unhappy. "So for her sake I said, 'No more jobs.' But now in order to convince her to marry me I've had to reverse this policy."

She had agreed to marry him if he got her a job, Jerome told Frasier. But it couldn't be any job. "A job that she can never lose. A job where, if she burns the place down, they will apologize to her for having made it so flammable."

And it was decided that Niles had to be the one to offer her such a job.

I guess it was only fair. Jerome, after all, had done the original favor for Niles, not Frasier.

The viewing audience got a glimpse of the results as the episode drew to a close.

The setting was Frasier's apartment. Frasier came into the main area wearing his bathrobe. Daphne told him Niles had called to tell him their squash court was reserved for 11 a.m. Frasier said he had told Niles he wasn't available until noon and started to call Niles' office. Martin told him to put the conversation on speaker. The audience soon found out why.

Brandy was answering the phone at Niles' office, complete with the pronunciation puh–sychi–atrist.

Frasier identified himself, and Brandy said she would put him on hold. The next thing the viewers heard was a dial tone.

What Friends Are For

"It's like they say, 'Once burnt, lesson learnt. One mistake, better cake. Once bit, best forget.'"

Barney (Don Knotts)

Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) enjoyed teasing people, but he always seemed to stop before he crossed the line from teasing to humiliating.

That was probably one of the qualities of his character that appealed to me the most. We have probably all known people who kept picking at others long after they should have stopped. If one has been on the receiving end of such abuse, it is hard to forget — or forgive. For that matter, it can be pretty hard to forget or forgive if one has merely witnessed such abuse.

So when you see someone like Andy Taylor who knows where the line is and refuses to cross it, you tend to appreciate his decency — especially if the person who has been teased made an honest mistake in a sincere attempt to carry out a task. It doesn't seem right to me to pile on such a person. Andy Taylor seemed to know that, too.

And that was what was at the heart of the episode of the Andy Griffith Show that premiered on this night in 1961 — "Andy Saves Barney's Morale."

Andy was off to spend the day in a nearby community testifying in court, and Barney (Don Knotts) was left in charge. Andy was only gone for eight hours, but when he returned to Mayberry, he found the village to be strangely quiet, virtually deserted. Andy was pleased — until he went inside the courthouse and found half the town incarcerated in the jail's two cells. Among those in the jail were Andy's Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) and his son Opie (Ron Howard). The mayor of Mayberry had been jailed as well.

In his zeal to show Andy how much he could depend on his deputy, Barney had gone overboard and made all of his arrests based on very flimsy legal logic. But he hadn't been authorized to fill in as justice of the peace in Andy's absence so he hadn't been able to process them. That had to wait until Andy returned.

Now, Barney often went overboard. That was one of the running jokes of the series. And this episode provided plenty of material.

Technically speaking Barney's arrests were justified — but extreme. He arrested Aunt Bee for unlawful assembly and inciting a riot because she had gathered with other ladies in front of the courthouse, where, as Andy observed, the ladies of the community had been gathering to chat for years. When Barney tried to disperse them, Aunt Bee resisted and one of her friends raised her umbrella at Barney.

See, going strictly by the book, Barney was right. But any rational observer knew that the situation was not what the charges implied.

Neither was it justified when Barney charged an elderly man who could hardly speak above a whisper with disturbing the peace for allegedly shouting at his adversary in checkers.

The same logic was at work when Barney charged the mayor with vagrancy and loitering.

And, as a result, Barney was in for more than his fair share of ribbing from the folks in the town. He took it good–naturedly for awhile, but then it crossed that line, and he became noticeably despondent and told Andy he was going to quit the force.

Andy didn't tease him about any of it. He did, however, come up with a brilliant way to put the issue to rest.

He laughed along with the townspeople when they made their jokes, then casually dropped the bombshell on them that he was going to be getting a new deputy. After all, he pointed out, he couldn't have a deputy on the force who was the butt of so many jokes. Such a deputy, he said, has lost the confidence of the people.

That really made an impression on the folks in the town, who all gravitated back to the jail and incarcerated themselves, just as Otis the town drunk had been doing for years, and scolded Andy for not realizing how serious their "crimes" had been.

Otis, by the way, had been one of the people Barney arrested earlier — and he had been charged with a perfectly plausible crime, considering Otis' history — being under the influence of alcohol.

But, as with all the others, Barney had been carried away. The fact was that, when Barney asked Otis to walk a straight line, Otis said, "What line?" not because he was drunk but because he didn't have his glasses with him.

But you didn't need glasses to see the wisdom of Andy's tactic.

Friday, February 19, 2016

R.I.P., Harper Lee, I Wish I Had Known You

"You see, more than a simple matter of putting down words, writing is a process of self–discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer."

Harper Lee, 1964 interview with Roy Newquist, Counterpoints

There haven't been many famous people I have really wanted to meet — and, in my career as a journalist and journalism professor, I have met some famous people. Most I have met in the course of my work — and probably wouldn't have wanted to meet otherwise.

If I had to compile a list of the famous people I did want to meet, I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that they are (or were) writers all. Even if they were famous for doing something else, they wrote about whatever it was that they did.

I would have liked to meet Mark Twain or H.L. Mencken.

You know those conversations people often want to start, the ones in which you're asked to identify the four — or six or eight or however many — people from throughout recorded history you would want to have over for dinner? Many people would probably say Jesus or Mahatma Gandhi, but I would start my list with Twain and Mencken. I know they would have something clever to say, and the conversation — whatever it was about — would be lively.

I guess it would depend on the kind of dinner conversation I wanted to have, though. If I wanted it to be theological, Jesus and Gandhi would be obvious choices, but I have a feeling that would be a rather somber conversation.

But taking dinner out of the equation, nearly all the famous people I would want to meet, as I say, would be writers — and not necessarily the obvious ones, either, like Shakespeare.

I'm a journalist, and I have always wanted to meet Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. In fact, I have achieved half of that goal. When I was teaching journalism at the University of Oklahoma, Bernstein came and delivered a lecture one evening. I attended — with my hardback copy of "The Final Days" — and introduced myself to him when his lecture was done. I even got him to autograph the book.

Well, Woodward is still alive so there is still a chance I could meet him and get him to autograph that book, too, but so many of the writers I would have liked to meet — Ernest Hemingway, James Michener, Theodore H. White, J.R.R. Tolkien, Allen Drury — are gone, and I will never get to meet them.

Add one more to the list. Harper Lee died today. She wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird," which earned her the Pulitzer Prize of 1961. She spent the next half–century largely avoiding the spotlight, rarely giving interviews.

When she died, she apparently died quietly — in her sleep. If we could have our druthers, as Li'l Abner used to say, I expect most of us would like to go that way.

That's how my grandfather died. I assume he went quietly. My grandmother wasn't awakened and had no idea anything was wrong until she tried to rouse Grandpa the next morning.

I always wanted to meet Harper Lee. It would have been great to interview her if I could, but I would have been happy just to sit down and have a conversation with her about writing.

I've kept a copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird" on my desk for years. Last summer I purchased and read her second (and, as it turns out, final) book, "Go Set a Watchman." It, too, rests on my desk; I keep them both handy because there are times when I want to refer to them.

I grew up in a Southern town that, I suspect, was much like the one in which Harper Lee grew up in Alabama — and I found a lot of country wisdom in the pages of her books.

If I substituted some of the names, I probably could have told the story of my hometown in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Not necessarily word for word or event for event but certainly with some relatively minor changes. Perhaps that is why "To Kill a Mockingbird" has always had such a hold on me.

I would have liked to have had a conversation with her about the people and the culture of the South. I'm sure she would have some intriguing insights to share.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Greatest Hits Album That Darn Near Everyone Had

I don't know when CD technology was developed, but it wasn't the way recordings were packaged and sold when I was growing up. I was raised on vinyl records that eventually wound up with scratches and cassette tapes that eventually got snarled in the gears of the tape player. It's how we rolled.

In those days, I had some greatest hits albums in my collection — not many, though, probably because the capacity of records and tapes was so limited. Most albums were about 30 to 40 minutes or so when you added up the lengths of the tracks on both sides. (You can get at least twice as much material on a CD.) Double albums really were better deals, but most bands didn't have enough material that qualified as hits for a two–record greatest hits collection.

Besides, if I liked a band well enough to buy its greatest hits album, odds were I already had several of that band's albums in my collection, and the greatest hits package would merely duplicate most, if not all, of the material I had — while depriving me of a band's lesser–known works.

It occurred to me the other night that I have many more greatest hits on CD than I ever had on vinyl — probably because it is possible to get so much more information into the digital format — but one of the greatest hits albums that I did have in my vinyl collection hit the music stores of America on this day in 1976. I am speaking of the "Eagles Greatest Hits."

I never owned many Eagles albums when I was growing up. I liked them. I liked their hits. I just never owned many of their albums. I still don't even though I have completely transitioned to CDs now. I own, as I always have, "On the Border," one of their early albums, and a two–CD collection called "The Very Best of the Eagles" — which is basically the "Eagles Greatest Hits" plus the bonus tracks of the Eagles' post–1975 hits.

("On the Border" was a great example of what I meant when I spoke of a band's "lesser–known works" of which I would not want to be deprived. My favorite Eagles song, "My Man," is on it, and it was never a hit.)

The concept of bonus tracks didn't exist in 1976 although I guess one of the tracks on "Eagles Greatest Hits" would qualify as something of a bonus track. "Tequila Sunrise" was the only song on the album that did not crack the Top 40, but the album would be altogether different without it. It would still be a great collection, but listening to it would be a much different experience.

All the hits prior to 1976 were in the package — "Take It Easy," "Best Of My Love," "Take It To The Limit," "One Of These Nights," "Desperado." There were 10 tracks in all.

And everyone, it seemed, had the album. Even folks who already had most if not all of the Eagles' albums in their collections. Turned out that wasn't my imagination after all.

A week after "Eagles Greatest Hits" was released, it became the first album to receive the Recording Industry Association of America's platinum award recognizing 1 million shipments in the United States. In 1999 it was certified 26x multi–platinum, making it the all–time best–selling album.

Note that the latter was achieved long after CDs had overtaken vinyl in the commercial music market. It was certified 29x multi–platinum in 2006; that was 30 years after its release.

To date Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is the only other album to be certified 29x multi–platinum. It was released in 1984, and I'm sure Jackson's death spurred sales of all his albums. That's what happened when Elvis died, when John Lennon died, when Frank Sinatra died. I guess it happens when most famous singers die.

Eagles co–founder Glenn Frey died nearly a month ago, but I haven't heard if any of the Eagles albums, particularly the greatest hits package that was released 40 years ago today, has had a boost in sales as a result. Maybe the difference is that the artists I mentioned were perceived as solo acts (except for Lennon, of course, who was a founding member of the Beatles but had been a solo performer for a decade at the time of his death).

But maybe that doesn't matter after all. Frey had a solo career, too, and it was pretty successful, with hits like "The Heat Is On," "You Belong to the City" and "Smuggler's Blues." I guess he will always be remembered, though, for his work with the Eagles. The surviving Eagles, with Jackson Browne, performed a fitting tribute to Frey at the Grammys Monday night.

Of course, "Take It Easy" — the Eagles' first big hit, back in the summer of '72 — was a highlight of Monday night's tribute. Browne and Frey wrote it; appropriately, Browne sang it at the awards show.

And the greatest hits album that was on music store shelves 40 years ago today undeniably would have been incomplete without it.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Clearing the Air

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): She's back. The scourge of my existence!

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): Strange, I usually get some sign when Lilith is in town: Dogs forming into packs, blood weeping down the wall.

Frasier: I'm talking about ... Diane Chambers!

Niles: (to the intercom) Lucille, send Mr. Carr home.

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) could be very philosophical, capable of deep thoughts. It was one of his better traits.

I always thought he proved that when, in the first season of the Frasier series, he tried to console a young widow who couldn't come to terms with the sudden death of her husband at a young age. After agreeing that it wasn't fair that some people who are in excellent physical shape nevertheless die young while others who smoke and never eat appropriately live into their 80s and 90s, Frasier told her that all one can do is live for the little joys that life affords us.

That was one of those moments when Frasier was wise and articulate. His words were poignant, and they seemed to explain the unexplainable. As a psychiatrist, I'm sure he was proud of his words. They were words he probably should have applied to his own life more often — like, for example, in the episode that aired for the first time on this night in 1996, "The Show Where Diane Comes Back."

Diane, of course, was played by Shelley Long — as she was originally in the series Cheers! that launched Frasier in 1993. Frasier was a character on Cheers! I believe he was originally intended to be a guest on a few episodes, but he was so well received that the producers made him a regular. That didn't set well with Long. She didn't like the Frasier character and lobbied to have him removed. Obviously, she didn't succeed.

Allow me to digress for a moment — but not entirely because this relates to Frasier's observation about living for the little joys that life affords us.

One of the little joys that life affords me is the work I do with journalism students who staff the weekly newspaper at the local community college. This semester I have been talking with one of the reporters who is discovering the Frasier series because of things I have told him about it. I don't know if he has seen the episode that made its debut 20 years ago tonight, but I know he is familiar with the image you can see at the top of this post. It was the moment when Frasier first saw Diane at the radio station.

He went racing across town to his brother's office — where Niles was in the middle of a session. Niles tried to help Frasier confront some of the demons that had tormented him since Diane left him at the altar many seasons before — but Frasier could only obsess about how he was going to rub his success in Diane's face when he had her over to his apartment for dinner.

But Diane threw him a curve. No matter how Frasier tried to impress Diane — with the fabulous view from his apartment or the expensive wine he served — she managed to top him in an almost casual manner.

When Frasier offered her a glass of an expensive (and, therefore, exclusive) bottle of wine, her response was, "Oh, good, I always keep a bottle of that around myself."

If you have seen many of the Cheers! episodes, Diane and Frasier were never really on the same page even though they liked to tell each other that they were. They had many of the same tastes, liked many of the same things. But they were seldom truly in harmony.

Nothing had really changed when they were reunited in Seattle. Diane came to Seattle not to rekindle the relationship but to seek Frasier's financial assistance with the production of a play she had written. Frasier, on the other hand, was obsessed with the past, having several unresolved issues, many of which stemmed from times when he jumped to false conclusions — and anyone with any familiarity with Frasier's character knows how prone he was to jumping to conclusions.

I guess that was always a problem for Diane and Frasier. They always assumed things about each other and, in the grand tradition of assumptions, were almost always wrong in their assumptions. It was that way in Boston, and it was still that way in Seattle. They never seemed to be direct with each other; on the rare occasions when they were direct with each other, they were direct long after they should have been.

In this episode — which Kelsey Grammer says allowed him to mend some fences with Shelley Long — Diane was pretty direct, considering that she didn't think (or said she didn't) of their romantic history — or what Frasier might have been thinking when she popped up out of the blue.

I guess Diane and Frasier really weren't any different from most people. It has been my observation that most misunderstandings, most assumptions could be avoided if people took a few minutes to mentally put themselves in the place of the other person. What would I do if I found myself in his/her shoes? Situations aren't the same for everyone. Nor are motivations. Or perspectives.

That is one of the first lessons one learns in the newspaper business. It's probably the same for police officers and judges — heck, anyone who has to deal with people, I suppose, which means just about everyone.

More often than not, there are more than two sides to a story.

And folks who were familiar with Cheers! story lines knew how many sides there were in Diane's life's stories. In fact, the play she wanted to produce in Seattle was autobiographical, based on her experiences at the bar in Boston. And in Diane's eyes, she was the center of everything in the bar.

In most ways, the play was more than a little literal. All the characters were duplicates of the characters at the bar in Boston, but their names had been altered. They were still recognizable, though. The character who was modeled after Frasier was named Franklin. The character modeled after Sam the bartender was named Stan. Norm was named Ned. Carla was named Darla. Diane's character was named Mary Anne.

But there were some obvious things that demonstrated vividly how Diane falsely perceived her relationship with her environment. For example, Norm was the one who was greeted by a unanimous "Norm!" from everyone in the bar when he came in. In Diane's play, Ned received no such greeting. In fact, Mary Anne was the one who was greeted with a resounding "Mary Anne!"

Whether in real life or on the stage, Diane falsely perceived herself to be at the center of everything.

Frasier could barely contain himself when he watched a dress rehearsal of the play.

Especially when he saw the on–stage reference to Diane's decision to leave him at the altar.

Mary Anne mentioned it to Franklin, who told her, "You know I hold no ill will toward you for that."

At that point, the actor playing Franklin told Diane he felt awkward with that part of the dialogue. How was he supposed to feel about being left at the altar?

Frasier stood up and attempted to enlighten him, wrapping up by telling Franklin that his character had "made a pact with Beelzebub — and her name is Mary Anne!" Frasier turned and strode resolutely toward the exit with the sound of the cast's applause ringing in his ears and a chastened Diane watching

Frasier returned to the theater later and had a rare heart–to–heart conversation with Diane in which she tried to apologize for misleading him, and he told her that wasn't necessary, that he had misled himself.

"The things I said just needed to be said," he told her. "In retrospect, I'm reasonably sure that you are not the devil — although he does have the power to assume pleasing shapes."

It was another great episode in a season that was filled with great episodes. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I am inclined to believe that Frasier's third season was its absolute best.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Silliness for Adults

When I was a boy and I watched episodes of Bewitched, one of my favorite characters was Uncle Arthur. He was played by Paul Lynde, who was kind of like his generation's version of Robin Williams, I guess — kind of manic.

They were different personalities, of course, Robin Williams and Paul Lynde, and I can't say that I know much about Paul Lynde outside of his work on Bewitched and, later, Hollywood Squares — although I do know that he made guest appearances on many TV shows in the '60s and '70s. He made 10 appearances in all on Bewitched, the first time as Samantha's rather jittery driving instructor. He was so well received that the character of Uncle Arthur was written especially for him.

Forty–five years ago tonight, Paul Lynde made his final appearance on Bewitched.

I don't know if he did much standup, or how spontaneous his wisecracks were. He had some salty one–liners on Hollywood Squares, always delivered in Lynde's signature snarky style.

Uncle Arthur was a practical joker, but in the episode that debuted on this night in 1971, "The House That Uncle Arthur Built," Uncle Arthur was in love with a witch who didn't like practical jokes — so Uncle Arthur gave Samantha's house custody of all his practical jokes. He was going on the wagon.

In the process a torrent of practical jokes was unleashed on Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Darrin (Dick Sargent) — and anyone who happened to be in the house. That could be kind of difficult to explain.

The house, it seemed, simply could not stop. For Uncle Arthur, it was a funhouse (complete with a barrel full of monkeys). For Samantha and Darrin, it was a house of horrors — especially when one of Darrin's clients came over with his wife.

And Samantha was incapable of doing anything about it. As devotees of Bewitched knew, there was a weird kind of Wiccan logic to the rules for witches. One rule was that a witch could not interfere in the spells cast by another witch. Uncle Arthur was the one who cast the spell, and he was the only one who could remove it.

With some witches, like doddery old Aunt Clara, it was merely a nuisance. Like as not, she had forgotten the spell and, therefore, could not reverse it.

But, as I say, that was merely annoying.

Uncle Arthur and certain other witches, like Samantha's mother and cousin, would refuse to reverse spells. That went beyond annoying.

As was often the case with Bewitched, the story was silly, slapstick, strictly for laughs. That alone should tell you what things were like when Darrin's client and his wife came over.

As a child, I found it entertaining. And sometimes I think that adults still need some of that silliness in their lives. Lord knows, there's plenty of another kind of silliness in adults' lives. We need something to balance it out.

Yes, Paul Lynde reminds me a lot of Robin Williams. They both would do or say just about anything — to get a laugh. If all else failed, Lynde would lapse into his rather nervous laugh, and you couldn't help laughing with him. Darned if you knew what you were laughing about, though ...

I guess that wasn't really an issue with Robin Williams. I always knew what I was laughing at with him. Lynde was far more ambiguous in that sense. His humor was less topical, more physical. Slapstick.

But he served the purpose. He brought that silliness into the lives of the viewers.

Good thing, too.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

A Super Bowl Story

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Later today the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will meet in the 50th Super Bowl. I plan to watch it with my father.

I've been thinking lately about some sitcoms' Super Bowl–themed episodes — there have been a few of those, although they haven't been as numerous as, say, Christmas or Thanksgiving episodes. Of course, there is more of a time crunch. In theory, you have all year to plan an episode for Christmas or Thanksgiving. We know those holidays will be coming up every year.

Of course, we know that the Super Bowl will be played each year as well, but if you want to do more than a generic Super Bowl episode — you know, if you want to actually mention the names of the teams that will be competing in the game — you only have two weeks between the conference championship games (in which the participants will be determined) and the big game itself.

Some episodes actually have mentioned the names of the teams that were playing. I can only presume that the script had been written in advance, and the writers merely had to fill in the blanks. A few of those come to mind, and my memory is they were entertaining episodes.

But the one I have been thinking about lately never mentioned the participants. It was on Frasier in January of 1999. Now, normally I write about movies or books or songs or TV episodes that are marking anniversaries with a five (i.e., 25th) or a zero (i.e., 50th) in them. This one doesn't fit either, but I still feel compelled to write about it today.

Why? I don't know. I just do.

I guess because it underscores one of the funniest aspects of Frasier — at least as far as I am concerned. I'm talking about the conversations he had with the listeners on his radio show. They were usually played by celebrities whose voices were known to most people, and I always enjoyed watching the closing credits to see if I had correctly identified them.

The episode was about Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Roz (Peri Gilpin) trying to set up their parents on a blind date. The Super Bowl was merely the backdrop to the story — and that was set up by a conversation Frasier had in the show's opening with two radio listeners, a husband and wife played by real–life husband and wife Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue.

Thomas' character called in and told Frasier her husband was having some friends over to watch the Super Bowl, and she thought it would be nice — and fair — if she invited some of her girlfriends over. Frasier agreed and told Donahue that he sided with Thomas.

"That just proves you don't know the first thing about football," Donahue replied.

Frasier started to protest that his knowledge of football was irrelevant, and Donahue interrupted.

"OK, how's this," he said. "My wife's friends can come over if you can answer even one little football question. Like ..."

Frasier tried to protest again, and Donahue cut him off again.

"You're down by six, you're on your own 40, three seconds left, what do you do?"

Roz got Frasier's attention from the control booth.

"Well, all right, you would ..." Frasier said. Roz held up two telephone handsets. "Line up your receivers ..." Roz made a throwing motion. "... and throw a pass ..." Roz made a throwing motion for a long pass. "... a long pass."

"Yeah, and what's the name for that?" Donahue asked (technically breaking his own promise by asking a second question).

Roz knelt, crossed herself and struck a prayerful pose with her eyes cast skyward.

"A Hail Mary," Frasier replied.

Having won that conversation with Roz's help, Frasier told the listening audience, "I hope you enjoy the game. In the meanwhile, this is Coach Crane saying, I'm listening."

When they were off the air, Roz told Frasier, "I'm impressed you're so good at Charades."

"I'm impressed you could mime a virgin," Frasier replied.

I hope you all enjoy the game.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

A Marvelous Night for a Moondance

I always felt that Frasier's Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) were the most unlikely of couples. Their courtship seemed way too improbable to me. I couldn't figure out why a dweeb like Niles would be able to snag a sexy dish like Daphne.

If I had to narrow it down, that was probably the one plot development in the series that was most responsible for driving me away — and, consequently, preventing me from enjoying some truly entertaining and creative episodes in the second half of Frasier's decade–plus on the air. I did eventually enjoy those episodes — but well after the first times they were shown on the air.

The episode that aired 20 years ago tonight, "Moon Dance," was shown a few years before Niles got up enough nerve to finally tell Daphne how he felt about her. Things hadn't veered into what I regarded as ludicrous territory. Not yet.

So I saw this one when it first aired. And, for a long time, I thought it was the best episode of the series.

It was in the episode that made its debut 20 years ago tonight that Daphne and Niles went on what could be considered (in hindsight) their first date — although Daphne really had no idea that was what it was.

Ultimately, I suppose, the Niles–Daphne relationship was testimony to the belief that many people have that love doesn't care what people look like or how much older one may be than the other or any of that superficial stuff. Love has its own ways, its own rules and its own schedule, which are different for everyone and not easily understood by many (perhaps most, if not all).

Sometimes love is sparked in unlikely ways. I guess it shouldn't be surprising when that leads to the bonding of unlikely couples — as it apparently did 20 years ago tonight.

As the episode began, Niles saw a newspaper picture of his wife, from whom he was now separated, on the arm of another man at a social event. His father (John Mahoney) encouraged Niles to get out as well so Niles decided to invite a yogurt heiress to a society event, a winter dance called the Snow Ball.

She accepted but then had to bow out — which was OK with Niles because he had realized after asking her out that he didn't know how to dance. Daphne offered to teach him, and she had been giving him some lessons just before his cell phone rang.

Daphne was out of the room when the yogurt heiress called so she was unaware that the date was broken. But Martin knew about it, and he watched as Niles agonized over whether to continue with the dance lessons even though they were no longer necessary.

He did, however, want to be alone with Daphne.

Martin encouraged Niles to tell Daphne the date was off, and he wouldn't need her to give him any more lessons. Niles started to dig in his heels. Martin warned him that going ahead with the dancing lessons was asking for trouble.

"You don't think I see the way you look at Daphne?" Martin asked. "You're sticking a fork in a toaster here."

"Well, my muffin's stuck," Niles replied.

But he knew his father was right so he did tell Daphne that the date was off and he didn't need to learn how to dance. He was overjoyed to hear Daphne say that she would like to be his date, if he didn't mind. It would be a rare evening out for her; it would be an answer to a prayer for him, and he accepted her offer without hesitation.

So the date was made, and Niles showed up at the appointed time to pick up Daphne — who really did look stunning in her new red dress. Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) had been out of town and had only just returned, unaware of what was about to happen.

In case you're wondering why Grammer played such a small role in this episode, that was only in front of the camera. He played a rather significant role behind the camera. He was making his debut as director, and I guess he felt a little uncomfortable about directing himself so he kept his on–camera work to a minimum.

This episode gave Niles and Daphne their moment in the spotlight, and the screen practically crackled with the sparks they created. And, together, in this episode, Niles and Daphne altered the course of one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. If they hadn't had such powerful chemistry together, I suppose the folks behind the Frasier series would never have permitted the relationship to bloom.

But they did.

Niles apparently felt the relationship had that kind of potential. He even thought his date with Daphne was the beginning of a different kind of relationship — which, in hindsight, it was, although you couldn't tell it from the way Daphne reacted. She apparently had been motivated to silence those who whispered about "poor Niles" who was all alone now that his wife had left him.

It was a noble gesture on Daphne's part, but Niles could barely conceal his disappointment.

For his part, Niles had gotten carried away by the moment and expressed his true feelings — precisely the thing his father had warned him about. But Daphne didn't seem to realize that his words had been true.

"I knew you were a good dancer," Daphne said triumphantly, "but I had no idea you were such a good actor!"

"Actor?" Niles asked.

"'Daphne, you're a goddess. Daphne, I adore you.' We fooled everyone, didn't we?" Daphne said.

"We certainly did," Niles replied, observing that, under the right circumstances, anyone could be fooled.

In the context of what came later in the series, that moment said so much.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A Midsummer Night at M*A*S*H 4077th

"As of last Tuesday, our C.P.A. is a certified public enemy — having been incarcerated on five counts of fraud, two counts of embezzlement and countless counts concerning accounts for which he cannot ... account."

Charles (David Ogden Stiers)

I don't think it is necessary to have seen very many episodes of M*A*S*H before it occurs to you that the South Korea of the M*A*S*H universe was always either bitterly cold or brutally hot.

That is probably a bit of an exaggeration — but only a bit. The Korean weather was frequently the subject of jokes on the series, occasionally running for entire episodes, like the one that first aired on this night in 1981, "No Sweat."

Now, I have never been to Asia, but I understand that winters can be quite cold and summers can be hot and humid so that part is accurate. I also gather that the spring and fall months can have their pleasant moments, just as they do in this part of the world.

In other words, South Korea has its extreme moments weatherwise — but, really, doesn't every place? South Korea may have more of those moments than many places, but, come on. I live in Texas. As Gen. Phil Sheridan reportedly said, "If I owned Texas and hell, I would rent Texas and live in hell." We know all about heat here.

And folks in Canada know all about the cold and snow. I guess there are a couple of thousand miles between Texas and Canada, but we do have our bitterly cold snaps here during the winter, and Canadians have their brutally hot snaps in the summer. No place is immune, but few places go careening from one extreme to the other all year long.

In this particular episode, the folks at M*A*S*H were experiencing a severe heat wave, the kind that keeps you awake at night. Now, I'm the kind of person who can't sleep when I am hot and sweaty, anyway, so I could sympathize with the M*A*S*H folks, who were perspiring a lot in this heat wave — especially Margaret (Loretta Swit), who had developed a bad case of prickly heat on her derriere. She needed a certain kind of lotion to ease her suffering, but there had been so many cases of prickly heat that the camp was out of the lotion.

Everyone was affected by the heat, though, and the whole camp was up in the wee hours of the morning, looking for ways to fill the time. I have had my issues with insomnia from time to time as well, and I know how it feels to be up because it is so hot. As I said, I find it difficult to sleep when I am hot and sweaty, and it wasn't hard for me to project myself into their situation. I sure have been there. Been there, done that, don't want to do it again — but, as I say, I live in Texas. It is inevitable that I will be overwhelmed by the heat at some point.

(I have been so desperate to find a way to fill the time when I have been up with insomnia that once I mopped the floors in the kitchen and bathroom at about 2 or 3 in the morning. I guess I was hoping it would make me tired enough to fall asleep. Didn't work. I worked up a good sweat, but never fell asleep.)

Corporal Klinger (Jamie Farr) was up tinkering with the camp's P.A. system. He aspired to be a TV repairman when he went home, and he was getting in some electronics repair practice. Col. Potter (Harry Morgan) came into the office to fetch a sleeping pill. He was sure it would work because it always put him under, but he didn't want to grow dependent on them, which is why he kept them in his office, not his quarters.

Across the camp Major Charles Emerson Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) was trying to sort through his family's financial affairs. The family accountant had been convicted of fraud, embezzlement and, as Winchester put it, "countless counts concerning accounts for which he cannot ... account." Thus, his family had sent all its financial paperwork to him to sort through. He was in the mess tent, using the tables to spread out all that paperwork. Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) found him there and offered to make some lemonade.

More than the weather had B.J. (Mike Farrell) stewing. He was stressing out over a letter from his wife. Their house's gutters were clogged, and she was going to have to resolve the issue. His imagination was running wild. He had himself believing that these clogged gutters inevitably would drive his wife into the arms of a muscular handyman in their neighborhood.

A wounded soldier was brought in, and that took precedence over everything else. A helicopter was needed to take the soldier to a hospital after the surgery was done, but only Col. Potter could authorize that so Klinger was dispatched to rouse the colonel and have him order the helicopter. The pill had, as Potter predicted, really put his lights out. When Klinger finally got him to the office, he prodded the colonel to place the order for the morning. The colonel began placing an order as if he were staying in a hotel and ordering room service — asking for poached eggs and prunes.

"Order a helicopter," Klinger whispered.

"No, thanks," the out–of–it colonel replied. "I'm not that hungry."

Well, Klinger got Potter to place the order and took him back to bed.

But that was just the beginning. It seemed everyone in camp suddenly needed Potter for some purpose, and every time he was summoned, he had managed to catch up to the previous interruption of his sleep. I guess it was one of those situations where real–world interruptions simply weave their way into a person's dreams.

Winchester was the first to call upon Potter after Klinger got him back to his quarters. Winchester needed carbon paper for his financial paperwork, and the carbon paper was kept in a safe. Only Potter knew the combination.

In Potter's condition, I always wondered how he managed to provide the right safe combination, but somehow he did, and Winchester got him back to his quarters.

Then Hot Lips, upon learning of the helicopter, decided to order it to bring the lotion that would ease her painful itching. Once again, that was a job for Colonel Potter, whose overburdened mind had to balance the two previous visits to his tent and Hot Lips' account of her need for the lotion.

"Medicine? Who's sick?" Potter inquired.

Hot Lips replied that no one was sick, but she had a severe inflammation on her buttocks. In his condition, Potter began reminiscing about a time when he got what he called "rump rots" during World War I when he was pinned down all night in a wet foxhole. Comparing his experience to Hot Lips, he observed, "That cute little caboose of yours must be red as a beet."

As it turned out Klinger had just finished putting the P.A. system together again, and the conversation had been broadcast all over camp.

Now everyone knew Hot Lips' little secret — except Potter, who would have no recall of that interruption — or any other interruption — of his pill–induced slumber the next day.