Archive for the ‘TV’ Category


Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

LAFD Captain Rick Brandelli and A. Wayne Carter graciously accept their award for First Place in the 2011 Las Vegas Film Festival short screenplay competition for their TV pilot script, “Sunset Fire.”

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What’s on the DVR – Spring 2011

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

“Game of Thrones” on HBO

Sword-slashing power grabs, decapitated heads, randy dwarves, busting bodices, psychic wolves, tattooed horsemen, incest and bastards … It’s Sunday night in the family room, but this is definitely not The Ed Sullivan Show or America’s Funniest Videos. But wouldn’t you just love to hear the wrinkled, square Ed introducing these acts? “Tonight, on our really big sheew … we have a brother fondling his sister’s breasts before offering her in marriage to a barbarian hun, a lusty queen getting it doggy-style from her brother … and for our big finale … a monkey-climbing kid prince shoved to his death off the castle tower. But first …  those brash young new sensational White Walkers from the North … Let’s hear it for … “The Beheaders!”

But you have to dig it. It’s the new Sunday night on HBO and this is their medieval version of The Sopranos.

“The Borgias” on SHOWTIME

An hour later you have the 15th Century Roman Catholic costume version of The Sopranos, where the Pope is the scheming variation of the godfather. And when he goes, “Say hello to my little friend,” before dispatching his enemies, he’s not talking about a multi-round shotgun, but a small vial of poison. No one wants to get any blood on the lovely ornate gowns and vestiges the pope and his cardinals fashion about in. It’s too bad. By the time you’re done with Game of Thrones, your appetite for true blood can only be satisfied by something like, well, True Blood. Returning soon, we expect. Showtime always tries harder, but hasn’t quite got the color, consistency, and sticky thickness of True HBO down yet.

“Nurse Jackie” on SHOWTIME

But Showtime has Mrs. Soprano herself, Edie Falco, playing a drug-addicted, adulterous-but-saintly emergency room nurse. And they took the show to the edge of complete meltdown in the second season last year, where Jackie’s infidelity and addictions were exposed and exploded. And then …ffftttttt. They pretended like it never happened. No evolution, no new direction, no redemption, no pay-off. It all just got rebooted back to square one where all the characters were when they started the series. Huh? If I wanted to watch a formulaic, predictable sit-com, I’d turn on that Charlie Sheen Tiger Blood shit on CBS.

“The Killing” on AMC

As if all that wasn’t bleak enough, our other offering is a thirteen-week series on the week-long investigation of the killing of a popular high school girl who was raped and tortured before being drowned in the trunk of a car driven into a Seattle lake. It’s Twin Peaks without the backward-talking, slow dancing dwarf or the cherry pie. Or a thirteen-hour episode of Law and Order as directed by Ingmar Bergman.  It’s a dark, drizzling, plodding, realistic crime procedural without any make up or smarmy partner wisecracks. But maybe it’s moving too slow, because I start thinking about things like … what a miserably hard acting gig it would be for the two actors playing the grieving parents of the murdered girl to have to stay in that first week mood of shock and tragic loss for the entire thirteen or so weeks of the production schedule. I know, maybe I’ve been in the business too long thinking about such production details, but it’s easier than thinking about what the reality of that situation would really be like.

Okay, I admit it. My DVR has seriously got me depressed now. And this from a writer who used to worship Edgar Allan Poe as a kid. It seems like the culture has finally and completely caught up with the moods or obsessions of melancholy 10 year-olds. It’s no wonder I’m scrambling for the 1964 escape innocence of a classic series like The Andy Griffith Show on DVD. The most depressing thing that ever happened in Mayberry was Opie accidentally killing a bird with his sling shot (or was it Gomer with a B-B gun from behind the grassy knoll?) and getting a tensed eyebrow and a long hard lecture from his ‘Pa.’

Back in 1964, I actually was Opie, and life was so magnificently boring and innocent, we over-thinkers had to find our escape in the dangerous visions of Eddie Poe or Alfred Hitchcock. Today, swamped in dangerous visions on the news and without any escape in our entertainment programming, I find myself longing for mindless, happy nonsense.

Which is the only explanation why I’m all over American Idol by Wednesday night.

— A. Wayne Carter

P.S. Hands down, the best show on this Spring was Justified on FX, but it was so damn good, I took it off the DVR schedule and had to watch it first run every Wednesday night.

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Kate’s big uncover up

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011


Name a film where Kate Winslet doesn’t get naked.

Go ahead … I’m waiting.

Her best actress Oscar-winning performance in The Reader … Naked.

Revolutionary Road … Naked

Quills … Naked

Holy Smoke … Really naked.

Hideous Kinky … I don’t remember. Probably naked.

Heavenly Creatures … Never saw it. Sounds like she got naked.

Titanic … Tastefully naked enough to get a PG-13 rating so your kids can go.

Kate even played Ophelia naked in a 1996 film version of Hamlet. I don’t remember that scene from when I saw the play in high school. According to the nude-scene-tracking website, Kate has graced us with nude scenes in 12 movies, which is more than a third of her performances. The site gives her sheer volume and quality of nude scenes its highest rating of four stars, and grants her immediate induction into their Nudity Hall of Fame (eat your heart out Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).

So I’m watching Kate’s latest performance in the depression era mini-series Mildred Pierce on HBO and I’m wondering, “Hmm. Dowdy, working class mother sacrificing for her spoiled child in a role previously played by unsexy drag queen icon Joan Crawford? Not exactly a ripe character for nudity.” Forgetaboutit … Naked. You’re barely into the second episode (out of five) before she’s being peeled and Pearced. Guy Pearce-d, that is. Third episode: Well, there’s some serious Pierce’s behind business but … wait for it … Yep, there drops the dowdy slip and Kate’s naked again.

Now Kate is a serious, big time award-winning actress (59 or so nominations), who probably could have a no-nude clause in any contract she wants just by the virtue of her status in the pantheon of leading actresses. Julia Roberts never got fully naked … even when playing a prostitute in Pretty Woman. I read it was in her contract that any nudity would be done by a body double. Now you can easily tell Kate never uses a body double because, by now, we pretty much know every square inch of her naked body by mammary- er, by memory.

Now, I’m not griping. I have nothing against a gratuitous lead actress nude scene … unless, of course, it’s Kathy Bates (yes, there WAS one, don’t ask me where). But I can’t help but wonder if the abundance of bareness on display from Kate’s roles go beyond what serious actresses on display call ‘integral to the part.’ In other words, maybe she just loves flashing her ta tas on camera.

Now she did happen to remain clothed throughout her turn as children’s book author J. M. Barrie in Finding Neverland, but I suspect there are a few deleted scenes where she flies naked with her fictional creation Peter Pan in an erotic dream sequence. I also suspect there is a clause in her standard studio contract where her directors must shoot her doing at least one scene naked … If only to keep up with Helen Mirren.

Helen, according to, has done 16 nude roles so far,  and is also a previous four-star Nudity Hall of Famer. And I believe Helen originated the must-include-nude-scene clause in her contract and has honored it for most of her career. One of her very first roles in Michael Powell’s Age of Consent (appropriately named) had her running around starkers at seventeen as a free-spirited island girl for half the movie. And she was still doing the occasional nude scene well into her fifties (and still looking pretty damn good). Just last year she played the non-fictional brothel owner of the Mustang Ranch in Nevada. I didn’t catch that performance, but tell me she didn’t feel the need to show the girls how it’s done at some point in the story. (I just checked and … She did. Naked. At 65!) The entire British Commonwealth and I were relieved to find she felt no such impulse to expose her royal crown jewels when she played the Queen Mother in The Queen.

Is there something in the early training of English actresses that promotes a less uptight or more free-spirited approach to nudity in a role? In any role? Is it some competitive drive from being so close in proximity to notoriously naked-loving France? And why do so few American actresses share this need to literally bare all for every role. And how do we get Harvey Keitel to stop?

I’m enjoying Kate Winslet’s performance as Mildred Pierce in the HBO miniseries, but ironically it’s not because of the nudity. Industrial strength girdles from the 1930s are no big turn on. Neither are bread lines, massive unemployment, and FDR on the radio warning of “a host of unemployed citizens facing the grim problem of existence,” “unscrupulous money changers,” “the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success,” “the tragedy of the growing loss, through foreclosure,” and “conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.” But, come to think of it, if Kate Winslet getting naked can momentarily distract us from experiencing these same events and exploitations all over again, God bless her. And God bless her ta tas.

— A. Wayne Carter

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A time of confidences

Thursday, March 24th, 2011


If you were alive and aware in 1969, you know it was anything but a time of confidences. I remember being 15 and getting tear-gassed at the Washington Monument in the middle of an angry war protest on the Fourth of July among 250,000 people … and I was just there to see Bob Hope and the Beach Boys. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated the year before. Cities burned down during the riots afterward. The daily news was a parade of body count numbers from Vietnam. The country was torn between Nixon supporters, anti-war protestors, hippies, radicals, John Birch conservatives, poverty, racism, and migrant and other abused workers struggling for decent working conditions through collective bargaining (oops, bye bye). But in total counterpoint to the chaos came a sound as pure and serene and … confident as humanly possible. Two friends who had been singing together since they were 11 year-old pups were just now hitting their peak with “Bridge Over Troubled Water;” an album that captured lyrical, vocal and engineering mastery beyond measure.

There is no fill on the album. Nothing mediocre. It launches you into the stratosphere on the opening title cut and never lets up. It’s one sustained mood of mixed emotions brilliantly recorded after another. No mere “Greatest Hits” album by the same duo could ever match the level of sustained inspiration woven here. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel knew it. They split up after this. How could it ever by topped? Well, there are still some surprises left for us in the seen-and-heard-it-all 2011, and this 40th anniversary edition comes not only with a remastered version of the album, but a Simon and Garfunkel CBS television special that originally aired in 1969, PLUS a new documentary interviewing the key players on the making the of the album. And every moment is revelation.

Simon and Garfunkel had four of the top five chart albums at the time and were so popular that a one-hour network special on CBS gave them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. So they did a wandering meditative tone poem of moving images on America featuring John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy’s funeral train while “Bridge Over Troubled Water” played over. That featured young couples in love contrasted with violent and fiery war images from Vietnam while “Scarborough Faire” played. That featured widow Coretta King talking about poverty over disturbing images of diseased and starving children. And they ended (big sigh of relief from the network), with a brief on stage concert. Naturally, millions of shocked viewers choked on their nightcap cocktails and tumbled out of their easy chairs to switch the channel over to the Peggy Fleming Ice Skating special on ABC. When director Charles Grodin (yes, THAT Charles Grodin), screened the Coretta King voiceover poverty section to the network brass, they asked him if he could adjust the audio on it. “How do you want it?” he asked. “Inaudible,” they replied.

The original sponsor dropped out, but Alberto VO5 stepped in (hey, there was a lot of hair on young viewers in 1969), and the show aired as produced. Try watching it in the context of 1969, or shit, even prime time network television TODAY, and you will gasp at what they got away with. And if you can watch Robert Kennedy’s funeral train pass through the countryside by waving mourners as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” reaches its crescendo, and without crying, you need to check the dose level of your anti-depressants. You just might be catatonic.

Take a deep breath after the television special, thinking you’ve struck unearthed gold never seen since 1969, but here comes a fantastic new documentary about the making of the album (and the special), and nirvana kicks in. If you care about music at all, or how it is created or inspired, or recorded, you will be entranced. Paul Simon reveals the gospel music he was listening to when the inspiration struck for “Bridge,” which he readily acknowledges is beyond any rational explanation. Art Garfunkel convinces him to add the third verse taking it even higher. Their genius engineer, Roy Halee, master of finding the perfect echo, records the “li li li” chorus of “The Boxer” in a stone church chapel to get the right haunting tones. He records the drum crescendos for “Bridge” outside the elevators at CBS to the shock and awe of departing passengers. Garfunkel and Simon playfully slap their hands on their denim-covered knees in a hotel room, roll the Sony recorder, create a one-minute loop, and inadvertently come up with the entire rhythm backing for “Cecilia.” And on and on. I don’t know about you, but I always get thrills from hearing artists describe their moments of inspiration. That’s my crack addiction. The joy of invention, of innovation, of seeking that perfect sound infuses everything they did or discuss here. And you share that joy of discovery with them. Unless of course, your lithium dosage won’t let you.

Troubled outer times call for a stillness of inner peace. Simon and Garfunkel somehow sensed that delicate balance in 1969 and distilled a sound for the ages with this masterpiece. Witness the creation of that same masterpiece 40 years later to understand how the silences within these sounds are needed more than ever.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Getting my kicks on Route 66

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011


A brief appreciation of a classic television series (and L.A.) from my ‘blog’ around 1988.

route 66I’ve been watching the old Kerouac-inspired show every night on Nick at Night with a passion. Stirling Silliphant, the principal author, is a brilliant character writer and scenarist with a poet’s heart. He always writes about people on the edge; alcoholic women drowning out their failed loves, children suddenly forced to grow up faster than they deserve, adventurers beginning to feel vulnerable to the presence of the grim reaper – people walking on tightropes at critical turning points in their lives.

Young bucks Tod (Martin Milner) and Buz (George Maharis) cruise into a new town each week and sweep us into the story. One’s a preppie (conscience and reason), one’s a street kid (instinct and volatility), and they act as a catalyst to the story, but quickly recede into the background for the telling. Silliphant used to go to some town, hang out for a week and get the feel of it, then hole up in some cheap motel for two days and write a script. The production crew and cast would follow the next week and, presto, a series is made with hip episode titles like “Hell is empty, all the devils are here,” or “Bird cage on my foot,” (with Robert Duvall as a heroin addict), and lines from children’s poems, etc.

So I get hooked on this vicarious traveling to the point where the show is really helping me through a dull period. I’m craving to leave L.A., but I’m trapped by economics, so this show becomes my way out. It inspires me. I start writing again. I’m 64 pages into a new script but, dammit, I still hate living in L.A. at this time. One night after work, I agree to meet a couple buddies in a new chi-chi bar/restaurant near the beach in Santa Monica. I get there at eight, my buddies don’t show up – but who does instead? … Buz (George Maharis), 25 years later.

I can’t resist but to go over and talk to him. We get into a nifty conversation about the show. I’m asking him about the writing of particular episodes and he’s getting off remembering and wondering about the actresses’ names – “What was her name… Audrey… something…” I go, “Totter.” His eyes light up. “Yeah!”

I ask him how old he was when he did the series. He says 25. I tell him he must have been on top of the world. He smiles and tells me he’s 59 now (which, I got the feeling, was my cue for me to say, “Wow, you look great for 59 – he was obviously very vain with a finely-coifed toupee and a fancy-trimmed sailing jacket). Then I realized the ages didn’t tally. If he were 25 years old when he did the show, which is what the character was supposed to be, he’d only be 49 now. But why would he lie ten years UP? Then I realize he must’ve lied ten years DOWN for the age he was doing the show at the time. The conditioned lie was that, when he was 34 and doing the show, he told everyone he was 25. My wife and I figured out from his physique that he was definitely in his 30s for the show. That’s an odd twist for Hollywood vanity; tell the truth about your current age and lie about something 25 years past.

Anyway, he goes to dinner, I go home to catch the 11 p.m. episode. I’m driving home feeling pretty excited. I ask myself what this encounter meant – what this was an omen of – the one night I go out in weeks I run into this particular character. The answer was obvious; this couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Only in L.A. can you have an experience like this.

— A. Wayne Carter

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11 things that saved summer

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Summer … That desolate stretch of networks dumping cheaply-produced, mind-numbing reality shows to substitute for any worthwhile programming.  That action less void of sports TV, except for golf (yawn) and baseball (double play yawn). That miserable oven of heat and humidity (hey, this is Florida) that saps the very will to budge from your mind or body.

But here were 10 signs of relief:

11) Capping the goddamned oil well leak. Oh my god. Was there anything else for the news to cover non-stop for more than three months than this tar ball cluster fuck? And the only real story was, “It’s still leaking.” Okay, we got it; just let us all know when it’s done. THAT will be news again. But there was one ironic and funny side story. Small business fisherman who despise the government and avoid paying taxes by operating on a cash-only and no-records business were suddenly whining for a bailout and full compensation on lost wages … but got caught with their pants down by having NO RECORDS to prove what their wages actually were. “I swear I pulled a 100k last year, BP and mister government man, just write me a full check, okay?”

10) Crowded House at the Hard Rock Live. The band Crowded House played their farewell concert in Sydney, Australia fourteen years ago to a crowd of about 250,000 fans singing along to every song. My son and I enjoyed this ‘comeback’ tour from 7th row dead center at a venue holding less than 2,500. America, unlike the rest of the world,  never fully ‘got’ Crowded House, which is perplexing, because front man/singer/songwriter Neil Finn is as close as you’ll ever get to John Lennon’s biting lyrics and hard rocking and Paul McCartney’s great voice and soothing melodies wrapped together in one performer. “Don’t Dream It’s Over (Hey Now)” may have been their only big stateside hit, but going by the enthusiasm of this show and the audience love sing along, this ‘dream’ band is very much alive.

9) “The Ghost Writer” on Pay per View. What a nifty, old-fashioned spy thriller. Hitchcock would approve. The story involves a hack writer (Ewan McGregor) hired to rewrite the memoir of a controversial former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan), whose previous ghost writer died mysteriously. Needless to say, our hero soon finds what a scary, deep shitstorm he’s gotten himself into. Roman Polanski is a master director who just knows how to shoot a well-told story with a compelling, non-stop sense of unease. I shudder to think what the Hollywood studio version of this would be (loud and noisy and jerky and short of attention span – in other words; Vantage Point). And please folks, separate the art from the artist. If you removed all the music, movies, paintings and books created by assholes, jerks, criminals, misanthropes, misogynists, perverts, addicts, or just damaged egomaniacs, there’d be very little left of any worth. Sometimes it’s what they’re escaping from (the ugliness of who they really are or how they feel) that drives them so relentlessly toward crafting something beautiful, pure and masterful.

8 ) Blue Rodeo “The Things We Left Behind” on CD. Canadian folk rock band Blue Rodeo have been around for a long time, but unlike many bands who produce a few great albums early on and then coast on mediocrity, this double CD finds them still reaching for musical nirvana, and achieving it. If you like early acoustic Pink Floyd or the Eagles when they were still hungry, here’s your perfect soundtrack. It’s the only thing I’ve heard all summer that keeps finding its way back to my car CD player. There are lilting 10-minute suites, and perfect 3-minute pop chestnuts. And just try to escape the haunting mantra of “Don’t Let the Darkness in Your Head” from, well, haunting your head. It’s a chant we all need embrace to escape the bleak moods (or news) we either get stuck in, or find the strength to overcome. This beautiful double album summons that strength.

7) Mad Men on AMC. Nothing pops through the bleakness of summer television like the return of this gourmet feast for lovers of sophisticated and engrossing television. And where else (besides The Sopranos) can you find a more sympathetic heel than Don Draper, who disgusts you at the same time he compels you to root for him? That takes writing AND great acting, which this show has in spades.

6) Louie on FX. Speaking of miserable heels; Louis C.K. is to a New York comedian’s life what Larry David was to Los Angeles on Curb Your Enthusiasm. You squirm watching his embarrassing social gaffes and inevitable self-loathing, but the difference is that Louis is aware of his loser status, is trying to overcome it through fatherhood, and actually struggles to find a way to connect to other humans, whereas David is forever stuck being the inconsiderate lout who basically doesn’t seem to care beyond his own needs in the end. Louie got soul. And some awesome New York supporting actors.

5) The Virginian, Season One on DVD. Nothing provides a better escape from the reality of the present than a good, old fashioned classic television show from the past.  I always liked the 90-minute NBC show The Virginian (which ran from 1962-1969) featuring my early childhood hero Trampas (and later Hollywood ‘pal’ Doug McClure), but watching this show now I’m surprised at the good stories and great actors. Each episode is literally a mini-Western movie. Some with A-listers like Bette Davis, Robert Duvall, and Lee Marvin, and some by feature directors, such as Sam Fuller. Plus, this show was largely shot on location and not some fake outdoor set like Bonanza. If you like Westerns, hitch a ride and be transported to a time and place where old-school values and first class stories roamed and ruled.

4) Red Dead Redemption on Xbox 360. Speaking of Westerns, I bought this game for my 13 year-old son (or actually myself – it’s “M” rated) in May, and here we are three months later still not finished the main single player campaign. The graphics are realistically awesome to the point where you literally ARE transported into the old West (with some modern day gore and language) becoming part of the story. You can play the game honorably; completing the missions, saving people in distress, and only killing the bad guys. Or you can play the game as a roaming ruthless outlaw, with each version having its own consequences (it’s made by the same company that did Grand Theft Auto). I was immensely relieved to discover my son (having played hours and hours on his own) taking the ‘good’ path and achieving the highest honor rating possible. His dad, on the other hand, was not so honorable. There were a couple of scumbag unarmed villains I had to shoot even though they were already captured and hogtied.

3) Schlotsky’s Deli at the Austin Airport. We used to have five Schlotsky’s franchises locally, but they vanished years ago and the closest one is 90 miles away. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from driving there for lunch. A great vacation visiting my sister at her house south of Austin was bookended by scoring my family’s favorite round sourdough bread and minced meat sandwiches on the way in and on the way out. Schlotsky’s Deli is headquartered in Austin and part of the normal fast food landscape there, but like all treats in life, you appreciate them only more so when they’re gone.

2) “Inception.” Thank God there was one movie this summer not based on a comic book, a previous movie, television show, Disney ride, or candy wrapper. You actually had to invest some functioning brain activity to follow the plot and keep up with four simultaneous finales going on at the same time within different dream levels. And the ending was open to your own feelings or interpretation. Was he still in a dream or not? If you were still on board and paying attention, you may have noticed Leonardo’s character didn’t really care at that point, so why should we? It was a fun ride.

1) “Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed” by Robert Sellers. A writer better damn well include a book on this list, so why not one that lets us vicariously enjoy the most outrageous and salacious adventures of the best party animal actors that ever lived? Personally, I don’t think my own constitution could have matched or survived any one of these incidents or activities of mass alcohol consumption, barroom destruction, or insatiable sexual conquest. But if you read my previous blog (“Two Weeks at War”), you know I tried … God knows I tried.

— A. Wayne Carter

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What’s on the DVR: Spring 2010 edition

Friday, April 9th, 2010

The Pacific on HBO

At the risk of getting fragged, let me state up front that I thought Band of Brothers was no masterpiece. By the time you sorted out the characters and cared for them, they were either dead or the series was nearly over. I’ve seen much better personal stories on episodes of the 1963-66 series, Combat, which also showcased a lone platoon or band of brothers single-handedly winning World War II. Band of Brothers looked and sounded great, though, and was suitably realistic (guns jammed and ran out of ammo), and gruesome (soldiers got mutilated).  The Pacific narrows the focus to the journeys of three individual soldiers fighting the Japanese, so it’s easier to know the characters, but they’re not together and the narrative jumps back and forth between them. And it’s also gruesome, with depictions of naked soldiers going crazy in the jungles and eating their pistols, Japanese getting mowed down by machine-guns or flame-throwers, parasitic-caused bed-wetting, dysentery and foot rot. I wonder what men like my uncle, who fought as a Marine in the Pacific, would think of this show; which dwells less on the mission, and more on the misery, confusion, guilt and PTSD. Would they really want to visit that side of the conflict again? There’s a reason why all the movies done in the immediate wake of the Big War starred ‘noble’ icons like John Wayne and glossed over the horror. Now, revisionist productions make subsequent generations wallow in it, not so much because we need it to understand the sacrifice our fathers and grandfathers made, but more, I suspect, because we’ve come to expect it after being so desensitized to gore or violence on screen and in video games. The rallying cry of war depicted on film used to be “No guts, no glory.” Now, it’s “All guts, all gory.”

Nurse Jackie on Showtime

Normally, I avoid medical shows like the plague (you just never know what you’re going to catch watching one), but this show is stacked with great characters played by some terrific NYC actors. Watching Edie Falco stay calm in the middle of the ER-trauma-ward storm in her professional life, and self-destruct as a pill-popping, sack-hopping disaster in her personal life somehow provides a soothing medicinal balm for any viewer who thinks THEY’VE got problems.

Justified on FX

Elmore Leonard always understood how low life criminals making terrible decisions, botching robberies, kidnapping the wrong people, and turning on each other whenever there’s a dollar to grub like caged and starving pit bulls … makes fun entertainment. And cable television finally caught up with being able to feature most of this shit without turning the camera away during the good parts. Who doesn’t want to see a skinhead neo-Nazi redneck have his face shoved into a steering wheel obliterating his nose? (Especially if it were Jesse James!) Timothy Olyphant doesn’t exactly rock the acting Richter scale (he goes from a steel-eyed half grimace to a steel-eyed half smirk), but it’s about the closest we’re going to get to having Clint Eastwood cloned or recycled. And, if fast draw gunfights or slow drawl dialogue zingers are your thing, minus the horses, cattle and BULL, this modern day Western will … make your day.

Two hit men (one veteran, one rookie) watch a crime scene from their car,staking out their intended target – Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens:

VETERAN HIT MAN: He’s the one in the hat.

ROOKIE HIT MAN: The tall one?

VETERAN HIT MAN (after a blank look and a pause): The one in the hat.

(This just may be my new favorite show)

Fringe on Fox

God I miss The X-Files (at least the first five seasons). But until the blu-ray season sets come out and I watch them all over again, this show will have to do. And it has dramatically improved in its second season and is worth watching for John Noble’s wacky Walter alone.

Damages on FX

It’s uncertain we’ll get a fourth season at this point, but it’s definitely been worth the ride. This third season has basically been the story of tracking down the money scammed off investors in a Ponzi scheme by a Bernie Madoff-style character who kills himself before going to prison. But cast Lily Tomlin against type as the button-lipped society wife, Martin Short as the creepy and loyal lawyer, and Campbell Scott as the ruthless son, and you’re already cooking a bitches’ and bastards’ brew of tasty and unexpected drama. Glen Close plays Patty Hewes, the powerful but ethically dubious lawyer going around and below the law to recover the money for her plaintiffs. My dad was a county attorney who came from the Atticus Finch breed of idealistic and ethical upholders of the law, and would cringe at the greedy sleazebags who often demean his chosen profession, but he also enjoyed a gripping yarn, and this one grabs you in the same place Patty Hewes is grabbing the poor schmucks who defy her.

Parenthood on NBC

Based on the beloved Ron Howard movie of the same name, but having nothing to do with that film, those characters, or real life, this show tries to walk the line between either being poignant or cute, and comes off just cute. Tough, no nonsense Maura Tierney (Rescue Me last season) was originally cast to play the Lauren Graham role, and I can’t help imagining how that might have changed the whole tone of the show, but with Graham it tilts too much from believable drama to sit-com shtick. Also, listen carefully to Monica Potter as Kristina Braverman and imagine her with brown hair and a trademark giggle and you have the perfect Julia Roberts clone. It’s just something to do while passing the time enjoying an uncomplicated show that doesn’t require any heavy thinking.


Leave all the heavy thinking to LOST. Doc Jensen, Entertainment Weekly’s online recap columnist, regularly spends up to 12 pages interpreting each episode. That’s 11 pages of arcane references to existentialism, philosophers Locke or Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, Egyptian mythology, quantum physics, magnetic thermodynamics, wormholes, Chaos Theory and the Old Testament. And one page devoted to what actually happened in the episode. Here’s a typical sentence from one of his recaps: “Seen in the abstract, with the castaways representing a singular entity, the scene was a metaphor for existential consciousness: fragmented, argumentative, double-minded, self-referencing but non-reflective, inert to the point of paralysis, compelled to action only by crisis.”

I love a program that can stimulate more than 1,000 posts every week (with sub-posts) on one site debating the meaning of every single moment, reference or character. But I can’t help but suspect the show itself was all concocted by writers huddled around a hookah smoking awesome Moroccan hash, giggling incessantly, and throwing out stream-of-consciousness ideas in random moments of eureka, then starting to freak out realizing they had to somehow cobble it all together before the buzz wore off.

Breaking Bad on AMC

This show had me long before the decapitated head of the Mexican drug henchman exploded on the back of a huge walking tortoise taking out several Border patrol officers. Or before the voiceless, near-quadriplegic uncle of another drug lord began incessantly pushing a hotel bell to warn his nephew he was about to be poisoned by our meth-cooking series ‘hero’ Walter White. Or when the stolen ATM machine fell over and crushed the skull of the same lowlife who hijacked it. In between these insanely dark, tense and morbidly funny moments lays the tale of a family man/high school teacher and the American Dream going horribly sour.

— A. Wayne Carter

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And here’s to you, Mr. Robinson

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Robert Culp died yesterday at 79 after suffering a heart attack on a walk near his home. I don’t do obituaries (I used to do the police blotter for a newspaper), but this actor was one of the special ones for me.

I first saw Culp in the gothic-horror-science-fiction television series The Outer Limits in my favorite episode, “The Architects of Fear,” in 1963. He played a scientist who drew the short straw among a group of peace-minded conspirators who had decided the only way to bring together the Cold War enemies of Earth was to create a threat from … outside of Earth. Culp, as Allen Leighton, would be slowly and surgically transformed into a ‘scarecrow’ alien from another world, who would land in a rocket, address the U.N., and frighten the people of the world to unite against a common enemy. Of course, the plan backfires, he lands off course, and a couple duck hunters shoot him. Dying, he makes his way back to the lab where he was transformed, only to be confronted by his wife, who had been told months ago that her husband had been killed in a car accident. As she watches this monster die before her, he makes a ‘sign against evil’ with his finger that she recognizes could only be made by her late husband, and the tragic consequences of these frightened men’s scheme unravels before her tears.

What a mind-blowing impact that story and Culp’s amazingly sympathetic performance had on me at nine years old. His performance must have had the same impact on the producers of the show, because they brought him back a few episodes later for “Corpus Earthling” to play another character dealing with space rocks that morphed into soul-stealing parasites. And, they brought him back again for still a third character, Trent, in the forever classic episode from the second season written by Harlan Ellison, “Demon with a Glass Hand.”  Trent wakes up in the future with no memories, aliens trying to kill him, and a glass computer hand missing fingers needed to complete the data base required to provide full information about where the missing six billion humans of Earth have disappeared. Imagine his surprise when he ultimately discovers they’ve all been transposed onto a copper wire embedded in his own chest circuitry – he’s a robot. And the human chick he was just starting to emotionally connect to? Not so interested anymore. Bummer.

Culp played characters that, undoubtedly like his own personality, were instantly likeable, instantly empathetic. They could connect with the deep pathos required of any role, but there was also great levity. Even in the direst of circumstances, he could find amusement or absurdity in the situation. Sure, life is serious business, but what’s the point if you can’t blow out the fun on the other end? And who wouldn’t want a buddy like that? To be sure, he played the ultimate buddy when he was teamed with comedian Bill Cosby as world weary spies in I Spy from 1966-68. Culp played U.S. spy Kelly Robinson, whose cover was a tennis player on tour. Cosby played his trainer, Alexander Scott. This show was not only notable for being the first dramatic television series to cast a black man in a co-leading role, but it showed what remarkable chemistry and improvisation both actors could create and enjoy together.  Again, it was deadly serious business, but these guys always found a way to enjoy the journey and have a blast. And so did we. They set an impossibly high standard for what the perfect buddy relationship was all about.

Culp went on to direct television episodes, star in some memorable movies, and build a whole new television generation fan base with his role on The Greatest American Hero. But, for me, those iconic early 60s roles are the ones that glisten; the ones I connect to; and the ones I still get such a kick out of every time I pop a DVD in and see that classic glint in his eye: A glint that seemed to include us as it winked, “Isn’t it great to be a thinking man in such a silly business? Wish you were here.”

You brought us along, Robert, you brought us along. Thank you. Now go in peace.

— A. Wayne Carter

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My top 10 for the next 25

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Columnist Michael Ventura, who writes the excellent Letters at 3 a.m. column for The Austin Chronicle (and used to write for the L.A. Weekly), suggested this ‘exercise in know thyself’ for the New Year:  “List the Top 10 cultural artifacts that shaped you most. Be honest and unembarrassed. That’s the dare.”

Here’s mine for the second 25 years of my life (in no special order):

I-Ching-Workbook110) The I Ching Workbook by R.L. Wing
I can’t count the number of times this brilliant and brief meditative journal has delivered me from anxiety regarding a life situation and preserved my sanity in the process (actually, I can count – I’ve consulted it more than 391 times in the past 25 years).  The “I Ching” is an ancient Chinese philosophy on coping with change that remains spot-on today, but is greatly misunderstood by Western standards: You toss three coins, combine a couple Trigrams and come up with a number and situation corresponding to where you’re at, and where you’re headed (e.g.;  Nourishing – Advancement). How could something so seemingly random produce such profoundly personal insights? The answer is simply … it doesn’t: You do. The process gets you to actually sit down and focus your own mental energy and inner wisdom toward accepting change or resolving conflict. These inner resources are always present, but we seldom take the time or trust ourselves to look for them and listen. Someone brilliantly pointed out that prayer is like asking God for something, but mediation is about actually listening to God. The I Ching puts you in a place to listen to God resonating within yourself to provide your own best counsel. It directs you to an answer, and you provide the meaning relevant to your situation. Writing that meaning down in the workbook is powerful therapy toward acceptance or resolution, and inner peace.

9) “GROUNDHOG DAY” I doubt director Harold Ramis ever set out to deliberately make the perfect Zen movie, but he did.  Bill Murray plays a cynical weatherman doomed to live out the same mundane day over and over again. Anyone who’s ever held a regular monotonous job or been stuck in any kind of life rut can identify with that, right? Plus, it’s Bill Murrary, for crying out loud. He IS the Everyman. But what finally snaps him out of this ‘doomed’ existence? One day, perhaps day 1,002, he finally tries a different attitude and decides to embrace every single moment of the day no matter how banal or excruciating (an insurance salesman!), and that shift – to embrace each moment – is what ultimately delivers him from his ‘hell’ on Earth. It doesn’t get more Zen than that. But the fact that enlightenment arrives in the form of this goofy comedy instead of some inscrutable Buddhist koan is what makes it … perfect.

8. “SIX FEET UNDER” on HBO Death (and dealing with death) comes out of the closet. A funeral director dies prematurely (he’s hit by a bus), and for five seasons (2001-2006) we explore the emotional fallout of his surviving widow and three adult children (six feet under, get it?). Perhaps because my father died the same year this premiered, and my mother the year after it ended, the themes of loss, coping and healing speak volumes to me. But this show is so finely tuned to the human condition, the writing so pure, the presentation so jolting, and the acting so phenomenal, anyone can find some intensely felt connection with the events or emotions of these characters during their life journeys. You laugh, you weep, you marvel, you cringe, and you bear witness to 60 unbelievably awesome hours of television, and the best finale every aired.

7) “IN MY TRIBE” by 10,000 MANIACS I haven’t heard an album this immediately interesting and catchy since, well, since this first came out in 1987. And I’ve been listening carefully ever since, believe me. Hanging out with Jack Kerouac and the beat poets. Warning your brother not to become a gun nut now that he’s joined the Army. Listening to a haunting Verdi opera playing in the guestroom next door at your family’s beach vacation. Wondering about the madness behind a child-abusing neighbor. Trying to talk sense to an alcoholic. Lamenting what a circus the city of Los Angeles has become.  It all sounds so depressing on the lyric sheet, but is positively infectious with melody, great hooks and some of the most sparkling electric guitar shadings you’ll ever hear on CD. Delivered with Natalie Merchant’s passionate and unique vocals, you have a classic that will survive any time capsule as a knowing glimpse of “our tribe” toward the end of the twentieth century.

6) “THE POWER OF NOW by ECKHART TOLLE There’s nothing new about the concept of “be here now.” We’ve all heard a hundred variations of this theme from self-help books to religious texts, and from mystics to little league coaches. But for those of us either blessed or cursed with a rational mind, this book speaks clearly, profoundly, and easy to grasp. Hell, even Oprah ‘got it.’ Once you understand that all fear is your mind’s projection of an outcome, event or piece of information that isn’t even real yet, you start to get a sense of the forces within ourselves that trap or hold us back from truly enjoying any given moment. I read this book again and again whenever I feel stuck. Or I listen to the CD to get a good laugh, because Tolle reads his own words, and he must not have been happy with the sound of his own voice because he had the tape slowed down to give him a lower, more ominous pitch. It’s a little bit creepy, but surprisingly effective, and it never fails to crack me up.

5) YOGA Okay, this is beginning to sound like a list of every New Age fad you are required to believe or buy into once you start living in California; which is fair dig, since the second 25 years of my life were mostly spent there. But two decades on from my first exposure to a Kundalini Yoga class, and it’s still an essential part of my health and exercise regimen. Oh, sure, I don’t touch my toes to the floor behind my ears while lying on my back anymore or make my head come out of my ass like the guy in this picture, but that was never really what it’s about anyway. It’s moving or stretching in ways that bring (and burn) energy to those inner places (and organs) that other exercises often ignore. Yoga translates as “yoke” or union with God, or Atman.  The poses can be a form of meditation. But you don’t have to betray Jesus or buy Buddhism to benefit. I just say, “If it feels good, do it.” Namaste.

4) “AFTER ECSTASY, THE LAUNDRY” by JACK KORNFIELD Okay, so you’ve had your great moment of enlightenment, your life-shaking epiphany, your cosmic orgasm of understanding, or maybe just the LSD has worn off; what do you do for an encore? Once you’ve peeked behind the veil of mere physical existence, how can you ignore the experience long enough to function with the daily, mundane tasks and concerns this Earthly existence requires? And how do you imbue those tasks with any meaning beyond the now drearily ordinary? Why even bother? Well, I make no claims to having meditated long enough beneath a Bodhi tree to discover everlasting nirvana, but Kornfield took the fearless leap, walked the walk, and includes a bonanza of inspiring and reassuring wisdom from some masters and teachers out there who talk the talk. And who provide enormous comfort to those of us who thirst enough for insight to listen, and who are willing to let go of the ego that separates us from God and one another. This book will never leave the shelf closest to my reach.

3) ROY ORBISON Speaking of epiphanies, I’ve never seen an audience instantly levitate from their seats and respond more ecstatically than they did to k. d. lang when she channeled the spirit of Roy Orbison singing “Crying” at a tribute concert to him at the Santa Monica Civic Auditoreum in 1989 shortly after his death. Bob Dylan was there, the Byrds reunited; all the musical icons in the constellation came to pay tribute. Because Roy Oribison’s voice came from a place not of this lowly Earth; and his songs about loneliness and yearning and the sheer jubilation of when the “pretty woman” turned and walked his way can stir your heart and rip your soul. Orbison’s first success arrived during 50s, when he shared rock n’ roll’s infant airwaves on the radio with Elvis Presley. But many of us didn’t come to discover or appreciate his ethereal gift until he was re-introduced in the 1980’s through David Lynch’s use of “In Dreams” in Blue Velvet; Or Chris Isaak’s entire repertoire of Orbison-influenced songs; Or George Harrison , Dylan and Tom Petty forming the Traveling Wilburys with him; Or lang making the hairs on the goosebumps on the back of my neck stand up that magical night of ghostly-inspired music.

2) CDs, DVDs and BLU-RAY I was an early adopter for all of these superior sound and video compact media storage systems, having one of the first Sony CD player models back in 1985. I immediately began trading in my scratched and popping vinyl LP collection and never looked back (though I saved a few choice LPs for the over-sized cover art ,or for sentimental reasons). I never collected movies on VHS because it always seemed a bulky, primitive system, with tape that would tangle and a format you had to fast forward or rewind to get anywhere. I love DVDs, and now Blu-ray for the experience of convenient, relatively cheap (remember laser disks?) and superior image on the movies I treasure and watch over and over again. Younger consumers claim to be less interested in actually owning stuff like we were, and have no qualms about downloading individual songs in compressed audio quality MP3 formats, or waiting for the inevitable streaming HD movies they can play on their computer-merged television. I still relish the feel of a newspaper in my hand at a café, or a handy hardback book on my library shelf, and love to browse the titles and art on my DVD/Blu-ray collection to find exactly what suits the mood.

1) “DEADWOOD” on HBO In the immortal words of saloon/brothel owner Al Swearengen, “Any of you cocksucking motherfuckers have a problem with this?”

— A. Wayne Carter

(Not the same performance as the tribute concert, but around the same time)

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My Top 10 for the First 25

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Columnist Michael Ventura, who writes the excellent Letters at 3AM column for The Austin Chronicle (and used to write for the L.A. Weekly), suggested this ‘exercise in know thyself’ for the New Year:  “List the Top 10 cultural artifacts that shaped you most. Be honest and unembarrassed. That’s the dare.”

Here’s mine for the first 25 years of my life:

mad magazine10) MAD MAGAZINE “The usual gang of idiots” introduced me to the wonderful world of parody at an impressionable age (9-14), and showed me how to laugh out loud at the absurdities of the world and the way people behave. This was the earliest influence on my satirical brand of humor, and I have done my part to ‘pay it forward’ ever since, with no sacred cow un-tipped.

9) PERU Okay, not technically a cultural ‘artifact,’ but definitely a cultural experience that changed my life. At 17, I left a very coddled home life to spend several months as a foreign exchange student in Peru living with a family that spoke no English and lived in conditions Americans (but not Peruvians) would call poor.  Not only did it open my eyes to the wide world out there, and how other people live, but it proved to me that I could live away from home, adapt, survive and seek adventure (I spent two weeks hitchhiking through the Andes with my Peruvian mother just to go 500 miles from Lima to Cuzco and Machu Picchu). When I got back, I knew I would leave my hometown and ultimately seek my fortunes and adventures … out there.

8. STANLEY KUBRICK’S “A CLOCKWORK ORANGE” I saw this (also at 17) just before going to college at the University of Miami and it cemented my direction toward a career in film. As cinema art, this film was the perfect combination of bold story, stunning cinematography and awesome music.  The fact that it was about a 15 year-old gang member who terrorized future London with acts of rape, murder and ‘ultra-violence’ shocked audiences so much that it was banned in England for 20 years, and I remember people angrily storming out of the theatre at my first viewing. But that only inspired me more to believe in the power of film to go beyond mere entertainment and provoke a visceral response, even if it was disturbing. Now, if I had only had the good sense at the time to realize it was an extremely poor choice for a ‘date’ movie, I might have gotten luckier earlier.

7) TRAMPAS ON ‘THE VIRGINIAN’ Trampas, as played by Doug McClure on the mid-Sixties television series The Virginian, became one of my earliest role models. He was a hard-working cowhand on the Medicine Bow ranch in Wyoming in the late 1800s, but as hard as he worked, he played even harder. His joy for life was infectious, and the fact that he maintained an innocent spirit in the face of every obstacle or adversary was somehow even more appealing. I wanted to BE Trampas. Imagine my thrill when a mutual friend introduced me to Doug McClure (and his fifth wife) 18 years later at his Beverly Hills Four Seasons suite and I discovered … he WAS Trampas. We hung out and he wanted to party non-stop, and he had the attention span of a kid desperately seeking the next distraction. It was exhilarating at the time, but at a burn-out pace, like a ride best enjoyed in short bursts – but that was how he was 24/7, and no doubt what contributed to his early death. So, in life, the experience that was Doug McClure totally matched Trampas. But it also taught me the potential costs of just living to do as you please from moment to moment without ever thinking about ‘the big picture.’

6) MARVEL COMICS ‘SILVER AGE’ These were the great titles from the Sixties, where Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, the Avengers, and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos were first introduced and became the heroes of my childhood reading. These superheroes differed from their DC counterparts like Superman or Batman because Marvel heroes had hang-ups and were emotionally vulnerable to their situations. They were more like the angst-ridden teenagers we were all becoming. My mom would stop at the local Drug Fair every week on my way to get an allergy shot so I could pick up the latest issues at 12 cents each. I collected almost every title from number 1 to number 50. This was before collecting comics in preservative bags went mainstream and rendered comic collections ever since not worth much (because they just aren’t as rare). I had X-Men No. 1, which eventually reached auction prices up to a staggering $18,000. I sometimes wonder what my entire Marvel collection would have been worth today and where I could have retired comfortably to for having sold them now. But I sold the entire collection for about $400 during my freshman year in college to buy an awesome pair of speakers … which I still listen to today. So, at least in some way, though I’ve grown past my comics age, they are still entertaining me.

5) PLAYBOY MAGAZINE At the same time comics began losing some of their steam, my libido was quickly swelling with it.  I can still remember buying my first Playboy at the Aspen Hill 7/11 at age 15. To accomplish this extremely intimidating feat at the time for an underage kid, I also purchased a comic book for me … and a “To Dad” birthday card. It was a brilliant strategy. And Playboy offered the ultimate male fantasy of life that every James Bond-loving teenager could imagine; filled with high tech gadgets, sexy cars and naked women. And since this was before video, you had the advantage of never having to listen to these bimbos actually speak to ruin the fantasy. The very first writing job I was ever paid for in Los Angeles was creating potential cable television specials for Playboy Enterprises. What a fantastic gig! I even ran out and bought a great silk bathrobe just like Hef would wear. But then I found out I was not to be invited to the Playboy Mansion because the 50 year-old has-been actors who hung out there didn’t want any competition for the 22 year-old playmates from guys the same age as the girls who could relate better and keep their ‘attention’ up longer. Now that I’m in my 50’s, the invention of Viagra doesn’t make that predatory scenario any more appealing or less creepy. But Playboy and I were both born the same year, and it still holds a nostalgic value for what I yearned for as a horny young kid, and what I’ve evolved to be as a horny old man. But if Playboy ever wants to get its former readers back, it should stop featuring playmates shaved bare, which makes anyone lusting after them feel like a pedophile.

4) EDGAR ALLAN POE Long before there was Playboy (around age 7), there was the melancholy of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and poems. Maybe it was the women of Playboy that later cured this melancholy. But I believe every young kid is either born with, or experiences a period or tinge of melancholy. Perhaps when we first discover that people – and people we know or love (such as ourselves) can actually die. Or maybe it’s just genetic. But Poe speaks to that dread in all of us in a language dripping with melancholy in all of its manifestations – and perhaps helping us to purge some of it at the same time. I can’t say I was obsessed with Poe as a young reader, but I read everything he wrote many times, and I knew that he died and was buried in the very city (Baltimore) that I was born. So I rode that tenuous connection through a lonely period of my youth where everything unspeakable and unfathomable to what my normal Leave it to Beaver home life was really like, spoke to me from the other side.

3) “ROCKET MAN” BY ELTON JOHN/BERNIE TAUPIN If there is a song that best describes that melancholy born of the ultimate aloneness we all … share, it has to be Rocket Man; which, to me, in 1972, was an instant revelation of what a fantastical mood, melody and lyric could produce. What budding creative artist would not feel an affinity to the metaphorical lyric of being a space explorer as your regular gig, nine to five? Of sometimes feeling like you’re ‘burning out my fuse up here alone?’ I heard Elton sing that one phrase over and over again as he improvised his way through a stunning, extended version of the song live at the L.A. Amphitheatre in 1979, and the autobiographical depth of the song hit like a ton of bricks. Elton may be gayer than Richard Simmons with a pink curling iron at a hair salon, but never forget that hetero cowboy Bernie Taupin writes the lyrics. Elton is merely the melody, and he always does melancholy better than anyone (just start with Candle in the Wind, Funeral for Friend, Daniel, and Sacrifice for beginners). Taupin articulates the mood by writing the lyrics first, and Elton later interprets it to a melody. My mom’s generation had Rodgers and Hammerstein for this perfect synergy of talents. We have Reg Dwight and Bernie Taupin.

2) THE OUTER LIMITS While we’re on the subject of melancholy and outer space, how about the most original and never equaled version of gothic horror science fiction to ever air on television? This show has influenced more creators in the field of science fiction media than anyone (except perhaps number 1 below). James Cameron copped the episode “Soldier” to create The Terminator. Alan Moore’s Watchmen stole the whole premise from”The Architects of Fear” (but at least acknowledged it). This show terrified me for the two meager seasons it aired from 1962-63 (and my son 47 years later), and I adored every minute. So much so that I later wrote the writer Joseph Stefano to thank him for his fantastic work and influence, and I even called the composer Dominic Frontiere in his Beverly Hills home from my college apartment in Miami to rave to him about his beautiful, haunting themes. Skip the revived version of the show that could never capture the perfect B&W film noir of the original, which added to the mood. But remember the ‘control voice,’ which reminded us over and over that our very next experience would be beyond our control. Shit, was he ever right.

1) ROD SERLING AND “THE TWILIGHT ZONE” Okay, so I watched a lot of television as a kid, and still do. But here was the single greatest inspiration for me to pursue a career in writing for television or film. Rod Serling wrote about soulful, important, moral issues with an unbridled imagination that often disguised their target or impact but, ultimately, never their human message. These 156 timeless episodes of The Twilight Zone are nothing more than the Aesop’s Fables for our generation; the moral nuggets covered with a chocolate mystery surprise that delight our taste buds, but also nourish our souls. Who else in 1962, before the Civil Rights Act was ever passed, could get away with a story on national television where a black man unjustly convicted is to be hung at dawn … and the sun never comes up? Or my favorite episode, Walking Distance, where a super-stressed man from now somehow takes a train ride back through time to the idyllic town of his youth, confronts the trouble-free kid version of himself, tries desperately to reconnect to him on a carousel and stumbles, is warned by his own father back then that there’s “only one summer to a customer,” and returns to the present newly crippled from the experience. Nostalgia CAN cripple our ability to live in the now and to look forward in our lives no matter how hard we want to avoid the stresses we face every day. But every once and a while, like this list or yours, we just need to go there.

Later … Top 10 for the Next 25 (the grown up years)

— A. Wayne Carter

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