Monday, February 15, 2010

Tavis Smiley on PBS

If I had a TV talk show I'd have on smart people and some laughs. Tavis Smiley, who follows Charlie Rose on PBS in New York, accomplishes this most nights from a studio in Los Angeles. It's not surprising he has a radio background because when I watch him, I'm taken back to an era when literate men ruled the AM radio waves, such as Barry Gray, Barry Farber, and Long John Nebel. Johnny Carson used to have authors on regularly and Travis carries on this tradition.

I caught up with a typical episode, from Cablevision On Demand. Tavis had on Joel Kotkin of Chapman University, author of THE NEXT HUNDRED MILLION. The book is an optimistic look at the population growth projected in the U.S. in the next forty years. Rather than the usual gloom and doom over our depleted resources and teeming cities, Kotkin noted the benefits of energy savings for a population that can increasingly work at home (I did it twice last week thanks to the Internets). He also said that working at home is great for parents and involvement with their children.

Improvements in farming have resulted in more open land; cities such as Detroit are depopulating. Kotkin pointed out that this creates more room for the extra population.

The social climate will also continue to improve. As an example, he cited a survey that showed that the attitudes toward interracial dating have changed from intolerance in all previous surveys to 90% tolerance in young people today.

Tavis's next guest was directory Garry Marshall, director of the new release VALENTINE'S DAY. He plugged the movie and also talked about his ubiqutous on cable classic, PRETTY WOMAN. This prosty-makes-good movie was the feelgood rom com of 1990.*

He told a story about going to see Martin Short's Broadway show. Marshall called the show and asked if he could get tickets for a Wednesday performance. "Wednesday is great," the voice on the phone told him. There was a bit in the show each night where Marty would notice a celebrity in the audience, then invite on stage for shtick. Marshall was asked if he would take part in the bit. "You must have a bigger celebrity than me," he said to the booker. The booker replied "Not on a Wednesday."

If you haven't seen Travis Smiley on PBS, give him a shot. If I see one more lame late-night bit where the host asks the director to roll a taped bit, I'll Elvis the screen. Turn off Jay, Dave, Conan, Jimmy, Jimmy, and the Seinfeld repeat and learn and laugh with this underrated throwback to good talk late at night. He asks smart questions, fawns sometimes, but with L.A.'s A-list guests it's forgivable, and lets the guest talk, never one-upping, or ruining the rhythm of a good storyteller.

*Hector Elizondo was a standout as the concierge. Hector got off one of the all-time lines at an old Emmy awards show. He came out to the podium with Sam Waterston, and before reading out the nominees looked up at Sam and said, "I always wanted to work with Lincoln."

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