August is weird, so more summer movies.

I’ve gotten to the point of summer-induced restlessness that going to the movies is a form of release, an escape from this never-ending August and a stifling apartment. This week, I saw my first-ever film at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, which is a gem of a theater – it’s near Lincoln Center, one of my favorite parts of the city, and shows smaller, independent films. And while at most big theaters – your Regals and AMCs – take you up, up, up (I do love the escalator ride to a high-level theater at the Times Square AMC) there is something wonderful about going underground to the theaters at Lincoln Plaza. The box office is right on the street, and all the theaters are inside, below.

I saw the new documentary “Best of Enemies,” and I just got the feeling that most of us in the audience were there for some kind of summer escape. Probably 50% of us were there alone, and while I have no idea what brought each individual to the theater that night, I like to think it was a combination of not having a partner willing enough to sit through such a micro-niche film, and just wanting to get out of damn house.

If you have a love for retro TV graphics, you’ll adore “Best of Enemies.” Actually, there are a lot of other reasons to love it, but that was what I found initially attractive. The 60s were so crazy! The documentary explored the William F. Buckley vs. Gore Vidal debates staged by ABC after each night of the 1968 nominating conventions. It was a genius programming idea at the time – something to boost ABC in the ratings and separate it from the other networks doing the same wall-to-wall convention coverage.

They had a great range of talking heads coloring the conversation – the one I found most interesting was a linguist from Columbia University who shed light on Buckley and Vidal’s voices. They spoke in an educated tone, bordering on a British accent, and it would be unthinkable for an intellectual voice like that to be taken seriously on TV today. I thought that was an interesting element to highlight.

There were interesting anecdotes from their personal lives, as well. I went into it knowing the names Buckley and Vidal, but didn’t really know concrete things about them, and now I do. It was interesting to hear about their personal and political sides, from biographers, writers and my personal favorite, Dick Cavett.

The documentary paints the Buckley-Vidal debates as the direct cause of today’s proliferation of talking heads and debate surrounding political conversation, which I don’t know if I entirely buy, but it raises some interesting points. Right before I saw the film, I listened to John Powers’ review on Fresh Air, and I found Dick Cavett’s contributions as a talking head especially interesting in light of what Powers said: “In the grand historical sweep, the Vidal-Buckley encounter’s true meaning isn’t really political. Rather, it marked the end of the days when literary figures and public intellectuals still had prestige. Days when writers like Vidal, Buckley, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and James Baldwin – all men, you’ll notice – could actually be regular guests on the Tonight Show.” Even if today’s media debate doesn’t directly descend from Buckley-Vidal, it’s at least interesting to view it in light of the idea.

And speaking of late-night, the other best piece of media I consumed this week was GQ’s Stephen Colbert cover story. I can hardly wait for September 8 now, when his Late Show begins. I mourned (well, still mourn) Letterman’s departure but this story has turned my curiosity about what Colbert’s show will look like into excitement over what it could be.

I never watched The Colbert Report, save for a few clips here and there, and I kind of regret that I didn’t get into politics before the Colbert-Jon Stewart era was nearing its end. BUT. Colbert is fascinating. This was a great profile and it was also Colbert letting it be a great profile through what he revealed and how he revealed it. He was disarming.

“Here. Look at this. The Death Mask of Agamemnon.”

Letterman and New York

I was babysitting some old neighbor kids in the summer of 2008. That summer I was also going to New York with my family.

One afternoon, probably a week before our New York trip, I took the kids to a free summer concert or show or something at Bridgeport Village, an outdoor shopping center in suburban Portland. I remember my dad calling me to say he’d won tickets to a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman for one night during our New York visit. I freaked out. I had an iPod touch at the time, and remember furiously trying to connect to whatever Wi-Fi network Bridgeport might have in order to research who the guests might be.

I would go with my dad to the taping. I turned 18 a few weeks before so I was just barely old enough to even attend; plus, my mom and sister, Hope, had plans to see some Broadway shows together when we were in town, so my dad and I would do this.

I remember how excited I was at the prospect of seeing Letterman live. The excitement stemmed from multiple sources: The fact that I was just barely making the age cutoff made it seem especially thrilling, like I was really getting to do an adult thing. I loved New York even then, and the idea of going to a Big Cool Event like that in the city seemed incredible. And, there was the guarantee of seeing at least one or two celebrities in person.

And then there was Letterman. I know at 18 I didn’t fully appreciate Letterman’s greatness, but I knew he was a big deal, and I knew he was hilarious. My parents did not religiously watch late-night TV, but they certainly had Letterman on every now and then. Never Leno or anyone else.

Letterman always made me laugh, even when I was little and didn’t get the joke. I knew enough to know I wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) get the joke. I have a very clear memory of being in a hotel room with my parents and sister when I was little, pretending like I was asleep but actually laughing at whatever Letterman was saying on TV. I vaguely remember it being about the 2000 Presidential election, but that could be wrong. Even when I’d watch it with my eyes open, it became the show that I maybe wasn’t supposed to watch, but that I loved being part of.

I may be overstating this, as I didn’t sneak away to watch Letterman every day of my childhood; nor do I have very clear memories of specific guests or segments (besides “Will it Float,” which I loved). But I think that sense of this is for adults but I’m in on it stuck with me and contributed to my excitement about getting to see the show in 2008. It released some pent-up reminder of how subtly influential Letterman had been in my life, up to that point.

The guests that night were Donald Trump and a comedian whose name I do not remember. There may have been a guest between Trump and the comedian, but I do not remember him/her, either. Our show was being taped to air the night of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies, so I know there were some broad jokes in the monologue about that. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had just died and there was also some gag about inappropriate Solzhenitsyn book titles. I can’t remember the theme of the whole thing, but one of the fake titles was “Slut Beach,” and I’m not really sure why that’s the only specific thing I remember from this episode.

Actually, I remember one other thing: The song playing over the loudspeakers as they loaded the audience. It was Maroon 5’s “Won’t Go Home Without You,” a song which ever since has made me think of New York.

The Letterman taping was something of a seminal moment for me. It made Letterman more real (as I imagine anyone who sees a show or celebrity in person may feel). A year later, Paul McCartney appeared on the show and I loved being able to imagine where I had stood in relation to where Paul stood atop the Ed Sullivan marquee.

Since moving to New York after college, my Letterman appreciation has deepened – partly because my understanding of the TV landscape and Letterman’s place in it is deeper, and partly because it feels pretty cool to turn on the Late Show and know it’s all unfolding 40 blocks away from me rather than from the opposite side of the country.

Superstorm Sandy happened four months after I moved to New York City and while I suffered no personal damage or discomfort from the storm, it hit the city hard, disrupting a routine I was just getting used to. I was alone in my apartment watching Letterman the night he played to an empty audience.

It was a weird end to a weird day at a weird transitional time in my life, but Letterman was a comforting presence. I’ll always associate that show with the storm and my early days in the city.

When Letterman announced last year that he was retiring, I was devastated, primarily because he was the last tie to childhood I had on late night TV. He wouldn’t be around for me to feel cool about watching. It was all changing.

The only major upside to his departure is the natural opportunity it’s created for people to share their best memories and stories of Letterman.

I, for one, had no idea Norm Macdonald had been such a fixture on the show. He re-entered my consciousness thanks to his Twitter poetry after the SNL 40th anniversary special, and his final interview appearance on Letterman not long after was equally brilliant. (He asked Ken Tucker of Yahoo! to live-tweet the appearance and his reflection on the whole endeavor was a great reminder for me of what is unique and necessary about Letterman.)

As far as reflections go, it doesn’t get better than this Times interview, which features too many good Letterman lines to count (“You don’t find yourself filled with some kind of emotional longing? Are we emotionally stable?”).

And while written too early to be a tribute, this short story by David Foster Wallace, recently reposted by Vulture after originally appearing in Playboy in 1988, is my favorite Letterman reflection. I love stories like this that put fantasy characters into reality situations, and this story, imagining an actress’ appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, proves Letterman’s importance and channels his persona (I think the imagined Letterman-Paul Shaffer banter is especially spot-on).

I stayed up to watch tonight’s show, with Bill Murray as Dave’s final guest. It was a typical wild and weird Bill Murray appearance (favorite line, when Letterman asked how he’d been: “I’ve been all kinds of ways. Which ones would you like to hear about?”) but it was also a sad reminder. Only one show left.

At Least One “Late Night” Host Survives LA

Did you watch the Emmys?

What was your favorite part? Did one of your favorite actors or shows take home an award? What did you think of Jimmy Fallon as host? (His homage to Conan O’Brien made me laugh: “NBC asking the host of ‘Late Night’ to come to Los Angeles and host another show. What could possibly go wrong?”)

Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, wearing her signature track suit.

I loved comedian John Hodgman’s (“The PC” from the Mac ads) little voiceovers that played while winners walked to the stage. Rather than the typical, “this is so-and-so’s eighth nomination and fifth win,” he added some background about the person that was informative and often hilarious.

My two favorites:

For Jane Lynch, who won Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester on Glee: “Jane Lynch’s character on Glee has created over 62,000 jobs in the polyester track suit industry.”

For Jim Parsons, who won Best Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as the nerdy Sheldon on Big Bang Theory: “As Jim Parsons walks to the stage now, nerds across America are taking to the streets in joy.” (There was also something about nerds and inhalers, which was hilarious, but I couldn’t catch it.)

The evening’s great triumph was this song-and-dance video that opened the show:

It’s unfortunate that the talentless Kate Gosselin was allowed to star alongside legitimate celebrities like Tina Fey and Jane Lynch, but the number was inspired. (And even though I don’t watch Project Runway, I loved Tim Gunn’s cameo.)

So, what did you think of this year’s awards? And who else got excited when Jane Krakowski talked about the live episode of 30 Rock that will air on October 14th? Let me know!

(And if you didn’t watch, you can read this recap from TIME magazine’s TV critic, James Poniewozik. Since his writing is fantastic and he once replied to one of my tweets, I feel obligated to share his Emmys wrap-up.)

Apparently, Primetime Didn’t Have it Coming.

The picture below was inserted in the 30 Rock season 3 DVD set I received for Christmas:

Those words in the middle say “Primetime had it coming.” Apparently, primetime didn’t have it coming. NBC did.

NBC has faced quite a public relations dilemma with this situation (which TIME’s TV and media critic James Poniewozik has termed the “Jaypocalypse” and NBC’s “Conanundrum”).  There are several Facebook groups supporting Conan, and in the interest of full disclosure, my Facebook profile picture is a picture of O’Brien with the caption “I’m With Coco.”  Groups like “Team Conan O’Brien” have tweeted their support for Mr. O’Brien and have encouraged others to tweet pictures of themselves at Conan support rallies.

To make matters worse, NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker is patting himself on the back for his handling of the situation. “I think it’s the sign of a leader to step up and say, you know, when something’s not working, to have the guts to reverse it,” he told the New York TimesMedia Decoder blog. That is a quality of a leader, but I would also argue that a leader must keep his word. A leader doesn’t offer job security and then pull out seven months later. Granted, Zucker is the boss and he has a business to run, but this awkward cut-off of “The Jay Leno Show” and sudden termination of O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” run seem to suggest that poor business decisions were made somewhere along the way.

NBC has taught us that the media landscape is changing and unpredictable. Just because people loved Jay Leno at 11:35 did not mean they’d love him at 10:00. Just because previous “Tonight Show” hosts held the gig for 10+ years did not mean Conan O’Brien would have the same longevity. Just because Jeff Zucker demonstrated leadership abilities does not mean he can stop people from plastering their Conan support all over the web.

I may be on Conan’s side, but I’m interested in other perspectives. Do you see it from Jay Leno’s point of view? Why? What do you think this debacle means for the future of television, specifically network TV? If Conan moves to another network, whose show will you watch?

Also, a couple of spot-on articles considering the Jay/Conan/NBC issue from a PR perspective:

An Open Letter to NBC Universal President & CEO Jeff Zucker by Keith Trivitt, published in the PR Breakfast Club newsletter.

This post from the Media Decoder blog, which discusses the most recent happenings and discussions at NBC regarding the issue.  The Jeff Zucker quote noted earlier comes from this post.

Thank-You Notes, 2009 Style

As 2009 draws to a close, I’d like to copy Jimmy Fallon, my favorite late-night TV host, who does a segment every Friday night in which he writes “thank-you notes” to different people, events, objects, places, etc.  They’re irreverent, sarcastic and hilarious.

Jimmy writing a thank-you note to Simon Cowell.

Since I can’t get a full video embedded into this post, here’s a sample of the thank-yous:

Thank you, Oprah – for hosting a Christmas special at the White House this Sunday.  Not everyone gets to sit down with the undisputed leader of the free world…so I’m sure Obama’s really, really excited.”

“Thank you, screensaver that popped up while I thought I was doing work – for reminding me that, not only have I made zero progress, but I haven’t made a single keystroke or gently nudged my mouse for the past fifteen minutes.”

Now, a la Jimmy Fallon, I’d like to write my own thank-you cards for 2009:

Thank you, Liz Lemon – for being my new source of inspiration.  Since I started watching 30 Rock this summer, you have helped me embrace my inner nerd and not feel guilty about eating five donuts in one day, dressing up in a Princess Leia outfit to avoid jury duty and calling people “apple-faced goons.”  None of which I have actually done, but might be more inclined to do because Liz Lemon did it first.

Thank you, Oregon Ducks – for winning the Civil War and going to the Rose Bowl.  I can’t think of anything more wonderful than screaming my lungs out at one of your home games.  You’ve turned me into a huge college football fan and I can’t wait for next season.

Thank you, Twitter – for more or less changing my life – or at least the way I live it.  Now, when something cool happens, my first thought is how to condense awesome occurrences into 140 characters.  You’ve allowed me to connect with people all over the country and have forced me to come up with an explanation for why I use “tweet” in my daily vocabulary.

Thank you, skinny vanilla lattes – for always putting me in a good mood.  Also, thanks for giving me a good way to rationalize spending money; buying all these lattes, I have to be boosting the economy, right?

And last, but certainly not least, Thank you, my family – for giving me life advice, an education and for taking me on cool trips to places like New York City and Disneyland.  I mean, there’s more, of course, like food and a roof over my head, but I don’t want to get too sappy.

What thank-you notes will you be writing as 2009 comes to its end?  There are many more I could write, but I had to keep it relatively short.  I have to go finish my Christmas shopping.