Sunday, March 31, 2013

Seth Harris on Raising The Minimum Wage

On my America Weekend show today, I talked with my brother, Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, about his trips around the country meeting low-wage employees and promoting President Obama's proposed increase in the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $9/hour. Seth shared stories from the people he's met and debunked some of the myths still being promulgated by opponents of giving them a raise. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/31/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include barking cops, a hooker who's not dead, and an enormous amount of tea. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Jonah Berger, "Contagious"

I'm fascinated by Jonah Berger's new book, "Contagious: Why Things Catch On," so I invited him to join me today on America Weekend. We discussed how things gain word of mouth, whether companies can be successful by planning to create something viral, why Budweiser's "Whazzup" campaign worked better than Geico's "Caveman" ads, and why Rebecca Flack's annoying song "Friday" racked up a couple of million views on YouTube. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Why You Shouldn't Trust Online Reviews

Ever seen a product given five-star reviews on a website, but when you buy it, you find out it doesn't even deserve one star? As Jack Vonder Heide explained on my America Weekend show today, the problem is the large number of fake reviews that are being posted online every day on Amazon, Yelp, and other sites. Many of those "reviewers" have been paid to say good things about a product -- or in some cases, to say negative things about a competitor. Bottom line: you probably shouldn't believe those reviews at all. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

How The Supreme Court Works

Jim Bennett used to be a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, so I asked him to join me on America Weekend to explain what it's like behind the scenes when The Court is hearing major arguments like those in the two gay marriage cases this week. He explained the real reason behind the questions the justices ask the attorneys, the role the clerks play, whether Kennedy considers himself the swing vote, and the truth about the real Highest Court In The Land. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Leila Schneps, Math On Trial


This week, an Italian appeals court overturned the decision that let American college student Amanda Knox go free a couple of years ago, and ordered that she be tried again for the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2009. Mathematician Leila Schneps reviewed the court's decision and concluded that the judge made a serious error because he doesn't understand probability and statistics. She has written about this case (and others) in her book, "Math On Trial," so I asked her to join me today on America Weekend to explain. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Angela Giampolo on SCOTUS & Gay Marriage

Angela Giampolo is an attorney and advocate for the LGBT community. With the Supreme Court hearing two cases on gay marriage this week, I invited her to join me on America Weekend to analyze the arguments, what the outcome could be, and the effect the court's ruling could have on gay couples across the country. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Paying More To Fly Fat

A Norwegian economist has proposed that airlines charge passengers based on their weight, just as they do for luggage. The concept raises more questions than it answers, as I discussed today on America Weekend with Peggy Howell of the National Assocation to Advance Fat Acceptance. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Checking Your Background

When you apply for a job, your potential employer wants to know as much about you as possible, so they turn to people like Phil Brandt to check up on you. Brandt is CEO of AAIM Employers Association, a firm that does background checks and drug tests on job applicants. As he explained on my America Weekend show today, companies want to make sure that what you've told them about yourself is true, and find out some things you didn't tell them too. What kind of information can they dig up about you? Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Scott Sherman on SCOTUS & Gay Marriage

On my America Weekend show today, attorney and legal analyst Scott Sherman analyzed the arguments about gay marriage that were heard at the Supreme Court last week by invoking some of the court's precedents that he thinks the justices should consider in rendering their decision. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

America Weekend Sunday

Some of the guests I'll speak with today on my America Weekend radio show:
  • Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, on efforts to raise the federal minimum wage;
  • Attorney Scott Sherman, analyzing the gay marriage arguments at the Supreme Court;
  • Jack Vonder Heide, on why you shouldn't believe online product reviews;
  • Jonah Berger, author of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On"
You can listen to me on America Weekend between 8am and 11am CT via the live stream from this affiliate.

Carson's Last Monologue

With all the talk lately of Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, and the other current late-night hosts, let's take a moment to look at the final monologue by the guy who owned that daypart for three decades. Here's Johnny Carson -- but this is not from his last "Tonight Show" in May, 1992. This is from an NBC special a year later, honoring the 90th birthday of Bob Hope (who had a contract with the network for almost twice as long as Carson). Though Johnny did make a couple of appearances on David Letterman's show in subsequent years, this May 14, 1993 broadcast was his final televised monologue...


While we're on the subject, Dick Cavett remembers how Carson struggled in his early days on "The Tonight Show," getting less-than-glowing reviews. Cavett also explains why he believes a certain Comedy Central star should be the eventual successor to David Letterman.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/30/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a box of eyeballs, a PBJ sandwich, and a hellish time on Disney's "It's A Small World" ride. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Phil Ramone

Sorry to hear of the death this morning of Phil Ramone, one of America's greatest music producers, from complications related to an aortic aneurysm. His 2007 book, "Making Records," was a wonderful memoir of working with such performers as Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, and Ray Charles.

That short list doesn't even come close to displaying the scope of the man's career. Take a look at his discography and be amazed. Here's part of the Phil Ramone obituary from The Hollywood Reporter:

In 1977, he produced [Billy] Joel’s "The Stranger," which kicked off a seven-album, decade-long relationship with the Long Island-raised singer-songwriter. He and Joel were "both lunatics," he once said.

For the screeching tires on "Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)" from "The Stranger," Ramone recorded bassist Doug Stegmeyer’s Corvette peeling out, taping a microphone to the tailpipe. He also added a bit of echo to Joel’s whistling throughout the album.

“There’s nothing like the challenge of devising and reproducing an effect you’re looking for,” Ramone wrote in his 2007 book, Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music, “Sometimes that chase is more exciting than the catch.”

Ramone won the record of the year Grammy for Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” from the album (after removing a “cha-cha-cha” background from the song), captured album of the year for the follow-up "52nd Street" and was named producer of the year in 1980 after guiding the rock-infused "Glass Houses," which featured Joel's first chart-topping single, "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me."
On Oct. 1, 1982, "52nd Street" became the first commercially released compact disc, and Ramone later received a Technical Grammy for his lifetime of innovative contributions to the industry.

Harris Challenge 3/29/13

Play along with my Harris Challenge, which includes the categories "Easter Munchies," "A Pretty Good Friday," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Airborne Electronics

NY Times tech columnist Nick Bilton says the FAA may be ready to stop forcing airlines to tell you to turn off your electronic devices during takeoff and landing. There's never been any solid scientific proof that phones, Kindles, iPods, etc. interfere with the plane's avionics or other controls, yet the agency has nonetheless kept the rule in place.


That could change by the end of the year, which would be a good thing, as long as they don't simultaneously decide that passengers should be allowed to talk on their cell phones while in flight. I don't want to be jammed into my aisle seat next to someone yammering to a friend for minutes on end, in a conversation that will always start with, "Guess where I'm calling you from? The airplane! How cool is that?"

It's not cool, it's annoying to everyone around you, especially since you're not using your indoor voice. 

Those of us who remember when there was an AirFone in the back of the center seat in each row remember experiencing this agony. At least then, the cost of the calls -- for which you slid your credit card through a slot -- was prohibitive enough to deter long conversations. But imagine sitting next to someone with an unlimited talk plan, who uses the onboard wifi connection to have an extended conversation or FaceTime/Skype session.

If the FAA allows cellphone calls at the same time it allows small knives onboard, there will be a lot of use of the latter to cut down on the use of the former.

Midnight Rider Mistake

GEICO is using the Allman Brothers Band's song "Midnight Rider" in its new ad for motorcycle insurance, but I have to wonder if anyone at their ad agency knows that two original members of the band -- Duane Allman and Berry Oakley -- both died in motorcycle accidents, in almost the same place, about a year apart in the early 70s. If the agency didn't know, shame on it for not employing anyone over the age of 50. If it did know, it should change the ad to also sell combined motorcycle and life insurance to bikers with the message, "You never know when your midnight ride is going to end tragically. Take it from the Allman Brothers."

America Weekend Saturday

Some of the guests I'll speak with today on my America Weekend radio show:
  • Attorney Angela Giampolo, on the impact of the gay marriage arguments at the Supreme Court;
  • Jim Bennett, former law clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy, on how The Court works;
  • Alexis Glick of the GenYouth Foundation, on its Wellness Impact Report;
  • Leila Schneps on how justice flunked math in the Amanda Knox case.
You can listen to me on America Weekend between 8am and 11am CT via the live stream from this affiliate

Friday, March 29, 2013

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on the 3-6pm CT show today at The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis with a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News® and your chance to play along with my Harris Challenge. Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • A profile of the only guy permitted to create visuals of Supreme Court proceedings -- courtroom artist Arthur Lien.
  • Odd story of a guy who sold shares in himself and let shareholders make all the big decisions in his personal life.
  • Q: What do we want? A: Something new to chant during protests! Q: When do we want it? A: As soon as we get you away from the microphone!

Best Kid's Room Ever

A father in Finland painted this wall and built this tree-fort loft bed for his kid, who will get to start each day with a slide...


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tim Minchin

If you missed the extremely clever Tim Minchin's Royal Albert Hall concert on Showtime last month, here's a clip. It starts with him describing an encounter with a guy who makes a religious claim, followed by Tim's musical response...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wolfgang's Vault

I have enjoyed an app on my iPhone for several years, but haven't written about it here. I have no financial interest in it whatsoever, but I'm a fan, so I'm recommending it to you.

The app and site used to be called Wolfgang's Vault -- named not after Mozart, but after Bill Graham, who was given that nickname as a boy by his family in Germany. Graham eventually became one of America's greatest concert promoters, booking the biggest acts in the world as well as important up-and-comers at his venues -- the Fillmore West in San Francisco, the Fillmore East in New York, and Winterland. He was the man behind the Watkins Glen concert in 1973 (at the time, the largest concert ever held, with a paying crowd of 600,000). Graham promoted the Rolling Stones world tours in 1981-2. He handled the American end of Live Aid in 1986. The list goes on and on.

From 1965 to 1999, his company, Bill Graham Presents, recorded almost every concert they promoted, and it's those recordings that became the basis for Wolfgang's Vault. Since then, a dozen other collections -- including the classic King Biscuit Flower Hour radio concert series -- have been added, expanding the roster to include blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass, and country performers at venues all over the world, as well as interviews and concert videos. The app and site have been renamed simply Concert Vault.

Having access to all that historic live music is pretty cool and helps me pass a lot of time on the treadmill. In the last few days, I've listened to:

  • Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark of The Byrds at the Bottom Line in 1978;
  • The Who at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1982;
  • Stray Cats at Metro in Boston in 1982;
  • The Kinks at The Orpheum in Boston in 1972;
  • The Fabulous Thunderbirds in Austin in 1987, with guest appearances by Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray.
Much of the material is free to stream with the Concert Vault smartphone app. There's also a streaming radio feed for each format. The rest of it requires a paid membership, and the site also sells concert memorabilia and downloads.

I consider it a must-have for any classic rock fan.

Worth A Link

  • That e-mail you got at work with the picture of the adorable kitten? Here's why you shouldn't open it.
  • Once again, those who predicted economic doom from tax hikes have been proven wrong, says Rick Newman.
  • Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano doesn't use email at all. Here's why that's a big mistake.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Listening To SCOTUS


I just finished listening to the audio feed of today's Supreme Court arguments about gay marriage and California's Proposition 8. I'm not enough of a legal mind to know which way the justices will rule, but since is the first SCOTUS case I've taken the time to listen to in its entirety (slightly over an hour), I was struck by how different the proceedings were than what I expected.

The justices jumped in and started asking questions before one of the attorneys had gotten the first sentence of his argument out of his mouth. From then on, it was almost nonstop, with all of them jumping in to interrupt (except Clarence Thomas, of course, who seems to have taken a vow of silence since he first joined The Court). The lawyers who were trying to make their cases for both sides -- two of whom are former Solicitors General, the federal government's representative at The Court -- certainly knew to expect these interrogatories, but the constant questioning made it difficult for any of them to make their point at length, for there was always something else being tossed at them.

I thought of Professor Kingsfield in "The Paper Chase," admonishing his students that they should never think they have reached the correct answer, because he would always have another question.

Much of what will go into The Court's decision will come from the briefs that were submitted by the parties and the "friends of the court," and the majority of the points raised during oral arguments were well above the heads of most of us. Still, I wish the justices would remove their longstanding ban on cameras in The Court. Let all Americans see how the supposed greatest legal minds in the country handle their business, instead of a select few dozen at a time, many of whom spent days sleeping outside the building waiting to reserve a seat inside.

In the past, some justices have complained that allowing the public to see these sessions via a live video feed might lead to grandstanding -- but based on what I have heard, that horse left the barn a long time ago, with the justices in the saddle.

A Joke For Your Seder

Did you hear about the Jewish NRA member? When Elijah showed up for Passover, he shot him under the Castle doctrine.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ellis Henican on Training Navy Seals


On my America Weekend show today, I spoke with Ellis Henican about "Damn Few: Making The Modern Seal Warrior," which he co-wrote with Rorke Denver, former head of training for Navy Seals.

We discussed how someone is chosen and then what they have to go through to become a Seal, why the US has been relying more on Seals and other special forces over the last decade, and how they've handled some of their missions. I also asked him why we have so few (around 2,500) Seals, and what it's like for them when they return to civilian life. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Where Are The Butterflies?


One of the most beautiful events in nature is the annual migration of millions of monarch butterflies from Canada and the US to an area near Mexico City. Butterfly experts have gathered there each year to witness and chronicle the event, and have noticed something disturbing -- the number of monarchs has been dropping dramatically, and this year's total was a record low.

To explain why, I invited Lincoln Brower, the world's foremost authority on monarch butterflies, to join me on America Weekend. He explained the impact of pesticides, genetically modified crops, and climate change -- and why we should even care about these tiny creatures. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/24/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a man trying to impress a woman, a ring that wouldn't come off, and a driver being chased by aliens. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Patient Privacy Rights

Last week, CVS Pharmacy told its 200,000 employees that, in order to remain in the company's health insurance plan, they'd have to have a doctor verify their weight, height, body fat, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. -- and give permission for that information to be turned over to the outfit that provides benefit support to CVS. Any employee who refused would be fined $50/month.

This didn't sit well with patient privacy advocates like Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of PatientPrivacyRights.org, who joined me today on America Weekend to explain her outrage at CVS and the growing number of corporations who are doing the same with their workers, despite continuing problems with the security of our personal health information (even at our own doctor's office).

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Joe Adalian on Leno and Fallon

Joe Adalian, west coast editor of Vulture.com, thinks NBC is making a bad decision in replacing Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon as host of "The Tonight Show" in the fall of 2014. On my America Weekend show, I asked Joe to explain, and for his thoughts on Arsenio Hall re-entering the late night landscape, where Leno might go next, and what NBC should put in Fallon's current "Late Night" slot.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Pregnancy Shame


On the heels of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to ban sodas larger than 16 ounces, New York has launched another public health campaign aimed at keeping teenage girls from getting pregnant.

The message is the same one that responsible parents should be telling their daughters, and I have no problem having the city reinforce the message, considering the amount of tax dollars that have to go towards helping women who became mothers too early and thus don't finish school, or can't work fulltime, etc. But critics charge it's more nanny government, and even Planned Parenthood doesn't like the billboards.

Today on America Weekend, I discussed the campaign with Richard V. Reeves, who has written about it in a NY Times op-ed. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Comic Strip


The Comic Strip is one of three iconic New York comedy clubs that launched the careers of people like Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld. Jeffrey Gurian has compiled a book about The Comic Strip's 35-year history ("Make 'Em Laugh") and joined me today on America Weekend to talk about it. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/23/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a mouthful of tadpoles, some odd book titles, and a few Kwikies. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Worth A Link

  • Op-Ed Of The Day: The GOP's Michelle Bachmann Problem.
  • Harvard didn't just bust your March Madness bracket. It also cheated on a national academic quiz tournament.
  • Want a vinyl mono copy of The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's" album? It'll only cost you $90,000 (probably more) at this auction.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Henry Winkler


Henry Winkler will always be known for his long run as The Fonz on “Happy Days,” but his career also includes movies like “Night Shift,” “The One and Only,” “Click,” “The Waterboy.” He has produced such series as “Macgyver,” “Hollywood Squares,” and a couple of “Dallas” reunions. He’s written some 20 books for kids, including the very popular Hank Zipzer series. In recent years, he’s been a cast member of “Children’s Hospital” on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, and had recurring roles on “Royal Pains” and “Hero Factory.”

This weekend, he's appearing at the Wizard World Comic Con at America’s Center – first of its kind in St. Louis! -- so he joined me on my KTRS show to discuss:
  • Returning with the rest of the cast of "Arrested Development" for a new season on Netflix;
  • Why he decided to play against type in "Night Shift" and let Michael Keaton have the break-out role;
  • His motorcycle connection with Steve McQueen in "The Great Escape";
  • What he wants from a director on a television series or movie set;
  • How he directed showbiz legend Alan King in "Memories Of Me";
  • Response he's gotten from dyslexic kids about his series of Hank Zipzer books.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on the 3-6pm CT show today at The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis, with Henry Winkler as my guest (he's appearing at Wizard World Comic Con in St. Louis this weekend), plus a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News® and your chance to play along with my Harris Challenge. Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

Please Hold, The Internet Is Busy

Look at what's happening every minute online (click the image to enlarge)...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

More on Late Shift, Round Three

Larry Gross e-mails:

Great overview of the current late night situation. I’ve been listening to Kevin Pollak’s podcast from the beginning for several years. I’m an older guy so I like him and his references, but I think he is not only older, he is old school show biz for the most part. Going along with that, it’s also kind of a boys’ club. Of the 164 podcasts he has done, women have been guests only seven times. Unlike network hosts, podcast hosts only have to interview people they’re interested in. I would see him being as bored as you characterize Letterman is these days with interviews. And as happens with all impressionists, Pollak’s great ones are getting a little stale, and the people he does will be leaving the landscape. That happened to Dana Carvey.

You are right about Letterman phoning it in these days. He gave a round of interviews surrounding his Kennedy Center honor, and he more or less said he’s taking it easy, doing a different show at 65 than he did at 35. Trouble is, there’s nothing fresh about it. So, I started watching Kimmel. I think he has the most show biz savvy and is young enough. I think he will rise to the top of the late night time bunch. Fallon is really talented, but like others, aren’t these people being rewarded with a job that doesn’t play to their strengths?
Larry is 100% correct about both Pollak and Letterman. As for Kimmel, he can be clever, and is doing the best of the Los Angeles-based late night show, but he relies too much on Guillermo and similar shtick. Also, his timing in the monologues is too quick – almost as if he can’t wait to get each joke over with, or he doesn’t have enough faith in the material to wait for the laugh.

Fallon is the first late-night host who can sing and do musical parodies, handle himself in sketches, and show genuine joy in some of the guests on his show. If NBC doesn’t force him to change (as they did Conan), he could be around for a long time. That said, the reverence so many hold for “The Tonight Show” is because they still think of it as Johnny Carson’s. It’s been more than 2 decades since he retired, which means most in the 18-34 demo never saw him as the host. For them, it’s always been “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and that’s not nearly as impressive as it was for the previous generation.

Truth is, the best work being done in late night is at Comedy Central with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. For years, they have owned topical comedy in a way the monologists and SNL’s Weekend Update can’t touch. It will be interesting to see the impact of Jon Stewart’s 12-week hiatus this summer, when “The Daily Show” airs 4 weeks of repeats and 8 weeks with John Oliver in the anchor chair. Meanwhile, Colbert continues to do something remarkable every night – improvising in character when he has a one-on-one with his guests.

Perhaps NBC's next post-"Tonight Show" option isn't a traditional talk show at all. They should consider other forms, such as a combination sketch-and-music show with its own repertory company of comedians/actors/improvisers with the kind of platform for stand-up comedians and bands that the other late night shows rarely offer. As long as Carson Daly isn't involved, anything could work.

Tanner Colby Doubts Bob Woodward

A couple of weeks ago, during an interview with Politico, Bob Woodward claimed he'd been threatened in an email by a "senior White House official" for daring to reveal certain details about the negotiations over the budget sequester. The White House responded by releasing the email exchange Woodward was referring to, which turned out to be nothing more than a cordial exchange between the reporter and Obama’s economic adviser, Gene Sperling, who was clearly implying nothing more than that Woodward would "regret" taking a position that would soon be shown to be false.

The incident raised questions about Woodward, and rang a bell with Tanner Colby, who has had doubts about Woodward's accuracy since 2004, when Colby was hired to co-write a biography of John Belushi with Belushi's widow Judy, and found that what Woodward had written about the comedian 20 years earlier in "Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi" wasn't strictly true.

After Colby wrote about those doubts in a Slate.com column, I invited him onto my America Weekend show to discuss the points of contention and lay out his case against Woodward.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!


Also on Harris Online...

Museum Of Math


There's a new museum in New York devoted to a subject many people think they don't like -- math. I say "think they don't like" because they haven't been exposed to math in a way that stimulates them, or somewhere along the line, their math education got mired in things they'd never use in real life, like calculus. But with the US falling behind other nations in science and math education, it's important that the math phobia of adults is not passed along to kids. Engaging them at a young age is crucial.

That's why I invited Cindy Lawrence, associate director the The Museum Of Mathematics, to join me on my syndicated show, America Weekend, to discuss the museum, its exhibits, and its appeal.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Late Shift, Round Three

It looks like NBC is going to keep firing Jay Leno until they get it right.

Bill Carter (the NY Times correspondent who has done some of the best reporting on the late night wars) just posted a story saying that NBC has made a deal for Jimmy Fallon to take over "The Tonight Show" no later than the fall of next year. That's when Leno's latest contract is up, but this time the network's not moving him into primetime -- they're apparently pushing him out the door, even though he's still number one in the ratings.

With the exception of "Nightly News with Brian Williams," I don't think NBC is dominant in any other daypart (primetime is a disaster without football, and "Today" lost the morning crown to "GMA" months ago), yet this is the one they're obsessed with fixing. I'm not a big fan of Leno's "Tonight Show," and I think Fallon's done some very clever stuff on his version of "Late Night," but it's only been three years since the Conan O'Brien debacle, so I'm surprised they're pressing the same buttons again so soon.

Speaking of Conan, he seems to have disappeared completely from the pop culture landscape since moving to TBS -- there hasn't been a viral clip from his show in so long I almost forgot he was still on the air. When Fallon takes over, "The Tonight Show" will return to its original home at 30 Rock in New York, leaving Conan to battle with Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson for west coast guests.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Ed Sullivan theater, Letterman's staff must be developing a plan for who will take over when he hangs it up in a few years. He's already lasted longer in late night than Johnny Carson, and if he keeps his show on the air past Leno's finale, he won't have much else to play for, other than having someplace to go and do the same old thing every day. With rare exceptions, that's all he's done for the last few years -- and it must kill him to have to suffer through guests like Selena Gomez, who he clearly didn't care about when she appeared with him earlier this week.

Is Craig Ferguson the heir apparent at CBS? Five years ago, I would have said he was, but his show has also devolved into a predictable mess. His interviews have turned boring because he doesn't ask questions that encourage his guests to tell good stories, his regular bits and skits have worn out their welcome, and his monologue is no longer as warm, engaging, and funny as it used to be.

So, after Fallon replaces Leno, NBC will still have to find someone new to take over the fourth generation of "Late Night," and CBS will be searching, too. Don't even bring up Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who have carved unique niches for themselves in the late night landscape and shouldn't consider leaving their current perches at Comedy Central.

Who has the skill set to host an hour-long network talk show? There aren't many, but to begin the speculation, here are two names I'd throw into the mix:

  • Kevin Pollak. As an actor, he's worked with everybody. As a comedian, he can handle a monologue and knows his way around a TV studio. As a host, his online interview show (Kevin Pollak's Chat Show) has included some fascinating conversations.
  • Mark Maron, another successful internet interview entrepreneur. His "WTF" podcasts have a large following and a great guest list, made all the more impressive by the fact that he usually records them in his garage.
The problem for both is their age -- Pollak is 55, Maron is 49. The networks will be looking for someone who can attract 18-49 year olds, so a deal with a host older than the target demo would be a tough sell. That's why Leno is being nudged to the curb again.

I'd love to see a woman break the late night glass ceiling, but who? Ellen DeGeneres is too busy being the Queen Of Daytime TV. Chelsea Handler is right where she belongs on E! Kathy Griffin makes me want to throw up. None of the panelists on "The View" or "The Talk" or the sob-fests (Wendy Williams, Ricki Lake) could do the job.

Who else ya got?

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Nothing says spring has arrived quite like the sound of gas-powered leaf blowers in the neighborhood first thing in the morning. Especially when it's 32 degrees outside.
  • I won't be entering any March Madness office pools this year. I've already lost too much money betting on spring training baseball. Those intra-squad games are hard to handicap!
  • President Obama's limousine broke down today at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv after being wrongly filled with diesel instead of gasoline. The valuable time lost getting a new limo flown in is going to hurt his team's chances of winning "The Amazing Race."
  • Last night, ABC debuted "Splash," a show in which "celebrities" take a dive. Who says the mob doesn't control TV?
  • One of the celebs on "Splash" is 410-pound Louie Anderson. When he hit the water, coastal communities were given a tsunami warning.
  • As if that's not dumb enough TV for you, yesterday afternoon Fox Sports Midwest broadcast a dodgeball match from one of those trampoline-floor places in the St. Louis suburbs. I almost missed it because I had set the DVR to record The Ocho.
  • MGM has announced that the next James Bond movie will be out in 2016. That gives me just enough time to forget how disappointed I was by "Skyfall" and it's recent predecessors and get sucked back in to believing Bond can be good again.

Explain It Like I'm Five

Don't understand what's going on in Syria? This should clear it up...

Not As Luv-Able

Earlier this year, I wrote about how Southwest Airlines seemed to have lost its sense of humor, with its flight attendants no longer joking around during onboard announcements. Now a NY Times report says the airline is dropping its humorous ad campaign in favor of a more straight-laced approach.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Movie Recommendation


I'm often disappointed when movies I can't stand have big opening weekends (e.g. "Oz The Great and Powerful" and "A Good Day To Die Hard," which are both terrible -- click those links for my reviews) while movies that I've enjoyed struggle at the box office. The latest in the latter category is "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," the first movie in a long time to make me laugh out loud.

Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi play magicians in the Siegfried-and-Roy mold, who have been doing the same stale act on a Las Vegas stage for a decade. The routines never change, have no pizzazz, and aren't pulling in a crowd any more.

I have witnessed this in person. While I never saw Siegfried and Roy, I did go to Lance Burton's show at the Monte Carlo several times with different people, and while his close-up stuff was terrific and his rapport with young audience members was nice, the bigger illusions were all of the hey-it-disappeared-wait-it's-over-there genre. David Copperfield suffers from the same problem -- the grander the attempt, the less impressive -- and the pasted-on smiles of the magical assistants didn't help.

At the same time Carrell and Buscemi's characters' careers are waning, Jim Carrey's is on the rise. He plays a street magician in the David Blaine/Criss Angel mold, with TV cameras following him as he performs in the midst of a crowd. Like Blaine, Carrey quickly moves from magic to exploits that aren't illusions, but blatant publicity stunts. Carrey isn't on camera a lot, and that's a good thing, because it allows his character to be outrageous without wearing out his welcome. Where Blaine spent a week in an ice block or on top of a pole for TV specials, Carrey ramps things up by lying on a bed of hot coals overnight or going a week without urinating.

It's also good to see Carrey being funny again. While he's done some good dramatic work ("Truman Show," "Man On The Moon"), this is a return to the Carrey of "Liar Liar" and "Ace Ventura," and it's refreshing to see. The "Incredible Burt Wonderstone" cast also includes Alan Arkin doing his usual solid supporting work (as a Harry Blackstone Jr. old-school magician who was Carrell's hero as a boy), plus Olivia Wilde as the obligatory female sidekick/magical assistant and James Gandolfini as a casino boss.

It's not a great movie, but for anyone who has seen too many guys in tuxedoes disappear from the stage only to re-appear in the midst of the audience, "Wonderstone" is funny and entertaining -- and a helluva lot better than James Franco's wizard.

Picture Of The Day

Martha Hardison of Popular Science said this about video of a bridge being demolished in Texas this weekend...

I love how the first two passes of the video -- real-time and semi-slo-mo -- it's difficult to see exactly how the demo goes. But the third time, look closely under the bridge. You can totally see the detonator cords burning up ahead of the ignition of the shaped charges that brought the trusses down. The video also clearly demonstrates the difference between the speed of light in air and the speed of sound in air -- the flashes from the charges are long gone by the time the sound waves make it to the filming location.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Minority Rules

The final point in Bill Maher's "New Rules" this weekend was about the ridiculous complaints Geico got for one of its commercials, which the complainer -- clearly someone with no sense of humor or proportion -- claimed would encourage bestiality. In response, Maher explained that while the complainant purported to represent a large number of people, in reality there were very few...

I only bring this up because the Christian pressure group responsible for protesting these ads is called "One Million Moms," and they are an example of a much larger problem we need to deal with, a problem I call "Sh**-kicker inflation." Which is the phenomenon of all things conservative being portrayed as way bigger than they really are.

To wit, I looked up "One Million Moms" on Twitter, and the number of followers they have is 2,258. That's how many my Aunt Marjorie has, and she's got one post, and it says, "Is this thing working?"

And "Million Moms" are not alone in pretending they're not alone. The Catholic League is another group constantly in the news because they also love to get freaked out about nonsense that would make even Pat Robertson go, "Oh, for Christ's sakes, relax!"

Now, a recent study found that politicians in both parties consistently thought that their constituents were much more conservative than they actually were. And that's because there's a relatively small group of very shrill people devoted to and succeeding at convincing us that this is a much more conservative and religious nation than it is.
There are plenty of these organizations that are very good at getting their talking points publicized because they issue "press releases" to the e-mail address of every media outlet in the country, most of which don't bother to check on who they are or how many members they have.

There was a publicist in Pennsylvania named Alan Caruba, who created The Boring Institute and issued regular proclamations about the Most Boring Celebrities and other nonsense, many of which were repeated verbatim in the press as if they were from actual institutions. Another publicist named John Wilson created The Golden Raspberry Awards for the worst movies in 1980, and his Razzie nominees and winners have been dutifully reported every year since. There's a corporate management company that each year sends out a press release about how much productivity American businesses lose because of March Madness office pools, and their name gets mentioned every time (I refuse to give them a free plug over their dubious conclusions).

They're all experts at manipulating public opinion by creating the impression that their view is shared by a huge number of people, but they are nothing compared to the political hacks, fear-mongers, and rabblerousers -- mostly in DC, but well-represented everywhere else -- who can actually effect the way important issues are covered by making it seem that there's a vocal majority of people opposed to (or in favor of) something.

From Jerry Falwell's Silent Majority that wasn't to the NRA's membership of less than a mere 2% of Americans to "astro-turf" organizations that look like grassroots campaigns but are actually funded by a corporation, a trade group, or some other backer with deep pockets and their own agenda -- e.g. climate change deniers funded by oil companies -- they're all playing the same game. They're ginning up opposition and creating controversy where it doesn't exist, with the media's willful assistance.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Best read of the day: the comments from reviewers for this product on Amazon -- a 55-gallon barrel of lubricant.
  • Mike Mika hacked Donkey Kong so, when his daughter played, the hero was female.
  • A profile of Jim Gaffigan turns into a treatise on comedians who work clean.
  • She was The Beatles’ secretary, but never talked about her years with them, until now.
  • How could this guy get probation instead of jail time for waterboarding 4 teenagers?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/15/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a speeding ticket for not speeding, the wrong body in the casket, and a guy passed out in a plate of french fries. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 3/15/13

Play along with my Harris Challenge, which includes categories about St. Patrick's Day, the Ides of March, and Jim Carrey. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Brian Regan on Pop-Tarts

Yesterday's post about Jerry Seinfeld's Pop-Tarts routine vs. Paula Poundstone's Pop-Tarts routine wasn't meant to imply that no other comedian can tread on that topic. In fact, Brian Regan has his own classic bit about those delicious rectangular breakfast pastries, made even better by his physicality and facial expressions...

Friday, March 15, 2013

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on the 3-6pm CT show today at The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis, with a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News® and your chance to play along with my Harris Challenge, plus Joe Hipperson and I will review "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

A Very Expensive Ride

If you had a medical emergency and needed to be airlifted to a hospital, you would not be thinking about how much the trip would cost you, just how quickly the helicopter can get you someplace you'll be taken care of. But later, when you got the bill, you'd be shocked to discover that you'd been charged over $10,000. Craig Cheatham of KMOV-TV-4 has been reporting the story and joined me on KTRS to explain how one air ambulance company justifies those outrageous invoices and share the story of one guy who was charged when he wasn't even in the helicopter!

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Fulltime Cop, Parttime Marijuana Lobbyist

Sgt. Gary Wiegert is a three-decade veteran of the St. Louis Police Department, but he got in trouble recently when he started doing some lobbying for Show-Me Cannabis, a group that advocates for lighter punishment for people caught with marijuana. The cop hierarchy didn't like that, so they told Wiegert to knock it off, but since he was doing it on his own time -- and they had approved his working as a lobbyist -- he's fighting back. Unfortunately, he's under a gag order, but attorney Albert Watkins isn't, so he joined me on KTRS to explain his client's side of the disagreement and why he doesn't think the police department as the right to silence Wiegert.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Two Years For This?

In a December magazine profile, Jerry Seinfeld explained how he puts a joke together, sometimes working on it for two years until the verbiage is exactly the way he wants it before adding it to his act. The example he gave was a bit he was constructing was about Pop-Tarts which, as I pointed out, is a comedy topic that Paula Poundstone has pretty much owned for over two decades. When I interviewed Paula in January, I mentioned that Seinfeld was working on a Pop-Tart routine and she wasn't happy.

Nevertheless, Seinfeld apparently got the wording the way he wanted it, because he did it on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" Wednesday night...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

KTRS Thursday


I'll be back on the Noon-3pm CT show today on The Big 550 KTRS. My guests will include:
  • Merv Block, author of "Weighing Anchors"
  • Albert Watkins, attorney for a St. Louis cop who was told to stop his pro-marijuana advocacy.
Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

A Freak In The Atlantic

I have written about and talked to Todd Robbins, who proudly calls himself a sideshow freak. Now he's been profiled in The Atlantic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Case You Missed It -- Papal Edition

From my Twitter feed...

  • The new pope got the job because he raised the most money on Kickstarter.
  • Can't wait to hear Beyonce sing the Vatican national anthem.
  • When do they start throwing beads from the St. Peter's balcony to the women below?
  • Matt Lauer just announced that it's not his fault that Ann Curry wasn't named pope.
  • The new pope should've started his speech with a joke -- a cardinal, a priest, and a nun walk into a bar...
  • After the pope's speech is over, I wonder if CNN, Fox, and MSNBC will carry coverage of the rebuttal.
  • To celebrate the new pope, the Entenmann's outlet store near the Vatican has put up a sign, "Habemus Pop'Ems!"
  • I wish they'd picked a black pope, just to see the crowd in Vatican Square react like the residents of Rock Ridge when Cleavon Little showed up.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Billy Joel's Generous State Of Mind

Billy Joel was doing one of his Questions-And-Answers evenings at Vanderbilt University when a student named Michael Pollack -- a fellow Long Islander -- asked if he could accompany Joel on "New York State Of Mind." Joel said yes, so here they are...

Before getting onstage, Pollack mentioned having played a few times with Richie Cannata, who was Joel's saxophone player from 1976 to 1981, but contrary to some online reports, this was not a setup.

Here's how Pollack described the experience to the Vanderbilt student newspaper:
I decided I was gonna go see Billy Joel right when we found out he was coming, and as a childhood idol of mine, right away I knew what I wanted to do when we went there. My roommate and I decided that we would try and find a way to get a question to be asked, and see if we could get on stage. And the day came, I put together a question, and I was raising my hand, and my friends to the right of me kept pointing to me, and finally after a few questions he picked on me and I hesitantly said how “New York State of Mind” was my favorite song, and how I had performed it with his saxophonist Richie Cannata in the past and wondered if I could go up and play it with him. And then he thought for a little — he took a second — and then he just said “Okay.” Which wasn’t quite convincing, but it was good enough. I walked up, we spoke about the arrangement for about 15 seconds — he just went through what he wanted me to play — and then from there, it was just … foggy. It’s hard to remember. I just started playing. I had practiced it a little bit thinking maybe I’d get the chance to go up … I kind of lost myself playing. Then afterward he said to me … he said that I was great, where are you from … and I said, “I’m a Long Islander just like you.” He was like, “Cool.” Then I walked off, and that was it … It was probably the greatest moment of my life, up to date.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • I'm wrong again. I was positive the Cardinals would choose Daniel Day-Lewis on the first ballot.
  • Seems odd to see Ryan Seacrest in Rome asking Cardinals as they enter the conclave, "Who are you wearing?"
  • Groucho Marx's grandson Andy remembers the day he saved all the copies of "You Bet Your Life" from being burned.
  • The funniest thing I've read today is Ken Levine's piece revealing the REAL story behind Ann Curry's firing.
  • Frank Abagnale ("Catch Me If You Can") says it's much easier to be a con man and check forger now than in his day.
  • You won't believe what some idiot bid $105,000 for, but you'll be sorry you clicked this link. You've been warned.
  • In a world of Kardashians and Honey Boo Boos, let's remember that there are still really smart kids like these.

Fred Schneider of the B-52's


Here's my conversation with Fred Schneider, lead singer of the B-52's, who are still touring, although he's in St. Louis without the rest of the band to perform this weekend with the Gateway Men's Chorus. We discussed the group's origins, how hard it was to get on radio at the beginning, how long it took to get a record contract, why MTV wouldn't play their videos, and more.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

KTRS Tuesday


I'll be back on the Noon-3pm CT show today on The Big 550 KTRS. My guests today will include B-52s founder Fred Schneider and Gilbert Gottfried (eclectic enough for you?). Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lauren Drain, Ex-Cult Member

The cult that calls itself the Westboro Baptist Church is one of the most hateful and hated in America, mostly because of the pickets its members have staged, with virulently anti-gay messages on placards, at the funerals of soldiers and others across the country.

Lauren Drain was a member of that cult, dragged into it as a teenager by her abusive father, but as the group became more extreme, she eventually outgrew the hatred, began questioning the group's beliefs, and was banished at age 22. Five years later, she has written of her experiences in "Banished: Surviving My Years In The Westboro Baptist Church," which she discussed with me today on KTRS.

I asked her how the cult brainwashed her, whether she thought she was doing a good thing at those pickets, how other kids in high school treated her and other young members of the group, and where the money comes from to fund their extremist road trips. Since she's not the only young member to have left in the last decade, I asked if she believes there to be a generational divide within the cult. She also explained how she has talked to some families of those dead soldiers since the book was published earlier this month.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Are Google Glasses Good?

On KTRS today, I talked with Todd Bishop of Geekwire about some of the concerns being raised about Google Glasses (which haven't even gone onsale yet!), including:
  • privacy issues regarding being recorded in public without your knowledge;
  • Google and other companies using facial recognition software to add to the large amount of data they already know about you;
  • the annoyance of trying to have a conversation with someone paying more attention to the image in their lens than to you;
  • the Seattle bar that has already banned customers from wearing Google Glasses on the premises.
I also asked Todd about Samsung's new phone screen which will watch your eye movements and scroll accordingly, and whether the Bezos Beep will replace the Galaxy bump.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!