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Culture Briefs

- - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bad TV model

"['The O'Reilly Factor'] model is often little more than contrarian theatrics substituted for real analysis and debate, but this is no reason to get sentimental about the [Larry King/Oprah Winfrey] model of soft dialogue. It was toxic in its own right.

"It was, for a start, contentless — the mechanical application of the human-interest angle to everybody, regardless of their station or their substance. And it was an exercise in voyeurism, treating politicians like celebrities, prodding them with personality questions and giving them free rein to project their best selves. Of course, the success of the King-Winfrey formula is owed in part to the fact that it was designed for the purposes of promotion and public relations. …

"Ideally, an interview requires a certain distance … though it need not be adversarial, some skepticism is always good. But, when it came to famous people, both King and Oprah were hopelessly sold. As 'Larry King Live' and 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' both leave the air, their legacy is the same in one major respect: They taught the American viewing public deference to celebrity in all its forms, as pop stars and world leaders were handled with the same blend of nosiness and awe."

Laura Bennett, writing on "The Legacy of Larry King and Oprah," on Jan. 17 at the New Republic

Conservative tube

"But how about conservatives? They should love ['Chuck'] too — whether they happen to be nerds or not.

"The show, now into its fourth season, sets a consistent tone of sacrifice, patriotism, and love of country. Of course, this is an action-comedy series, so there are plenty of laughs, winks, and nods, and nothing is taken too seriously. But the members of the core spy team — Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), John Casey (Adam Baldwin), and Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) — have an unmistakable love for this nation, and are willing to risk and sacrifice all for each other and for the American people. …

"Then there's John Casey, who has become one of my all-time favorite television characters. A former Marine and now a 'Commie-hating, gun-loving' NSA agent, Casey has photos of President Reagan that he periodically salutes. The character has served up some laugh-out-loud lines. For example, in a flashback scene to 1999, Casey describes a mission to Iran as follows: 'We are under strict orders from President Clinton to seal this place up. While I might not like him, or his mouthy wife, those are the orders.' Good stuff."

Ray Keating, writing on "Why Conservatives Should Love Chuck," on Jan. 17 at National Review

Hi-de-ho

"Few cinematic cameos have been more galvanizing than Cab Calloway's in 'The Blues Brothers.' In the 1980 film, he plays a janitor who suddenly dons white tie and tails, gets up on stage in front of an admiring group of long-haired rock and soul musicians, and proceeds to steal the show not only from its stars, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, but also from James Brown, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin, all of whom made cameo appearances of their own. How? By singing 'Minnie the Moocher,' a swinging lament for an opium addict he had written a half-century earlier.

"Calloway, who was 73 years old in 1980, was little more than a name to the baby boomers who were seeing him for the first time. They had no idea how famous he had once been, or that the big band he led throughout the '30s and '40s was one of the most successful jazz groups of its day. Even those who were aware of Calloway's triumphs as a bandleader had mostly been inclined to deprecate him. Only a limited number of his 78s had been transferred to LP by 1980, and it was common for jazz critics to dismiss him as a flamboyant clown, a zoot-suited purveyor of novelty tunes like 'A Chicken Ain't Nothin' but a Bird.'"

Terry Teachout, writing on "The Case for Cab Calloway," in the January issue of Commentary