With this week’s column, I celebrate 39 years writing about television for the Daily Times and now its related newspapers.
Television has changed so much since Stu Rose hired me to write about it, and Trisha Cofiell honed the myriad subjects I wanted to broach into a cohesive column.
I can go into detail about the amazing difference between television now and in 1983, or even 1977 when I wrote my first daily TV column for the bygone Philadelphia Journal.
Instead, I’ll hit on the highlights.
The main change is moving from a three or seven-channel world into one of seemingly infinite possibilities. It was 39 years ago, in a conversation about ratings with Wally Kennedy and Marilyn Phister that the growth and potential of cable, and even computer games, was discussed as a now-serious threat to the dominance of the traditional network system.
Baby, look at cable now. And streaming. And podcasts. And everyone having his or her own show on his or her, or their, own platform.The effects of Norman Lear’s “All in the Family” and Grant Tinker’s “Mary Tyler Moore Show” remained prevalent in 1983. So were silliness of “Happy Days” and its spinoffs.
One big change was in talk shows. Phil Donahue altered the formula from celebrity visits and cooking spots to looks at issues and underlying societal problems. What Donahue began I think has gone too far, but that’s a story for another day.
Dramas like “Hill Street Blues” paved the way for the “The Wire” and the great work HBO started and Netflix and other networks continue. (That doesn’t mean I don’t glory in reruns of “Perry Mason.”)
What I like best about the advance in television is the great variety, even if with it comes dilution, mediocrity, and Real Housewives. What I miss most is variety shows of the Garry Moore and Carol Burnett-type.
What I lament most is the collapse of TV news from a pinnacle presided over by Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, David Brinkley, and Tim Russert to a gossipy, partisan side show you can’t trust.
What I’ve enjoyed most is the leeway I’ve been given to write about all that relates to TV.
There have been many proud moments, my favorite being when I revealed what would happen on “Dallas” a week ahead of when the episode that was kept so top secret was going to air.
Thanks for being there to read newspapers all this time. Writing for you is a joy.
Bryant gets top spot for WRTI
After some great fill-ins from Josh Jackson, Ms. Blue, Bob Craig, and others, WRTI (90.1 FM) has given its critical 6-9 p.m. jazz leadoff spot to Greg Bryant, who has a varied background and comes to ‘RTI from doing jazz overnight and a lauded podcast in Newark. N.J.
Bryant replaces long-time early evening jazz host Bob Perkins, who retired from his daily gig at the end of June but can be heard doing his “Sunday Morning Breakfast” show on – when else? – Sundays.
Bryant has a broad background in jazz, and music in general, as a radio personality, a recording connoisseur, and a performer.He responded to his broadcast and performance callings early, beginning both careers as a teen in his native Nashville.
Listening to his parents’ records made Bryant interested in jazz. Their collection included LPs from all the classic entertainers of the genre and some lesser figures that Bryant was able to discover and enjoy.
Collecting great jazz music did not skip a generation in Bryant’s case. His ‘RTI bio says he enjoys haunting sites that sell old vinyl in any city he visits. (I know the feeling. I have some gems I fished out of bins in record shops that I’d swear were operating in condemned property. One features Katharine Hepburn in her lone musical, “Coco” – bought mint for 30 cents in some Atlanta dive.)
In terms of performance, Bryant is an electric bassist who continues to play in clubs.
As mentioned, he come to WRTI from WBGO, Newark, a wonderful station that carries me from Manhattan to about Hightstown when I’m on the NJ Turnpike. His program there was “Jazz After Hours. He also did an award-winning podcast, “Jazz United.” with one of today’s premiere experts in jazz, Nate Chinen.
While writing about WRTI, I sadly mark the passing of two local entertainers whose work is frequently heard there, jazz organist extraordinaire Joey DeFrancesco, who died this week at the way to early age of 51, and song stylist and jazz historian Monette Sudler, whose age has been listed in various sources as ranging from 68 to 73. Whichever it was, Monette is another who is gone too soon.
DeFrancesco was born in Springfield but, from his teen years on, brought joy and some of the best music going to audiences around the world.
Singlehandedly he brought jazz organ into its own in the 30 or more years he played professionally, receiving international acclaim and leaving behind a prolific trail of recordings, many played frequently on WRTI.
I was lucky.
I was able to see Joey DeFrancesco when he was an adolescent taking lessons and performing in recitals at the Settlement Music School on Queen St. in South Philadelphia.
Chubby even in his youth, DeFrancesco would practically dance at his keyboard, sometimes a piano but mostly an organ, smiling and making a variety of grimaces and happy faces as he went through his exciting riffs.
Seeing him at 14 was early enough this guy was going to be a star.
And he was.
Monette Sudler was another I saw early one. Not so much now, but in the ’70 and ‘80s, Philadelphia had a lot of clubs or restaurants you could relax in late at night, sipping a cocktail and winding down.
These places had live bands that featured some of the area’s best singers. My two favorites were Wendy Simon and Monette Sudler.
I’d see them at boites around 2nd and South and always marvelled at the good fortune of being able to enjoy this music for the price of a couple of drinks. (And a tip to the band, if a hat or fishbowl indicated gratuities were being accepted.)
Although in clubs, Sudler primarily sang, her lasting role in the jazz world was as a meticulous guitarist who found the wonder in tunes, some of which she composed, in their simplicity. Or their essence since her work could be quite complex.
Sudler was often heard in many of her knowledgeable and artistic capacities on WRTI, especially on recent programs hosted by Ms. Blue.
Radio silence for Phillies?
The Eagles and I had the same dilemma on Saturday night.
Neither of us could win.
In my case, the Eagles were the villain.
Not because they so pitifully lost their pre-season playoff game, 48-10, to the Miami Dolphins, but because they kept getting in my way.I turned on the radio, then went to a restaurant with several televisions to find the Phillies.
Remember them, a professional baseball team that is not in pre-season but is in strong contention for a post-season playoff spot?
A team that is winning their games and keeping rivals such as the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres at bay for this particular while?
I started to watch the Phillies, who won 6-0, on my computer, then decided to get something to eat.
That’s when the Eagles started to plague me, on and off the field.
I turned on my car, then moved the radio dial from 90.1, its usual location, to 94.1, WIP, to hear the Phillies. My favorite player, Alec Bohm, should have been coming to the plate.
I’d never know. WIP was playing the Eagles.
I was driving my car, which, illustrating one of the debacles of modern times, won’t let me change stations while I’m moving, a particular curse for a driver like me who hates to stop…ever.
Besides, I’d have to get out my phone to find out the radio station on which the Phillies landed.If they landed at all.
Then I get to the restaurant, the one with the five TVs, all of which – all – were tuned to the Eagles game, a debacle of another sort consider that Miami was trouncing our guys. Mercilessly.
Being of the lemons into lemonade persuasion, I derived some good from this comedy.
Merrill Reese and Mike Quick are artists who make listening to them fun, even if the game at hand is a disaster.
Reese is not only knowledgeable – He’s been at the Eagles mike since most of the current team’s parents were in swaddling cloth – but he’s funny and critical. Both of himself and the team doing such a horrendous job
Talking about the quarterback used for most of the doomed game’s downs, one whose name I never caught, Reese quipped that Eagles coach Nick Sirianni must really not like one of the other contenders for the third QB spot behind Jalen Hurts and Gardner Minshew because he’s leaving this guy in and not taking a look at the other one.
When it appeared the Eagles had, finally, managed a touchdown, Reese followed his TD call by saying. “Whoops, it’s being called back.” “Not so fast,” Mike Quick added. A penalty had occurred that nullified the score. And then there was the laugh about two Eagles wearing the same number, one on offense, one on defense. Thrift, Horatio!
So finding the Eagles wasn’t a total loss. Reese and Quick were as entertaining as the Phillies radio announcers, Scott Franzke and Larry Anderson, and much better than the Phillies TV crew, who I have to confess I rarely hear because I find them dull and prefer muting them and listening to Franzke.
Kudos by the way to Gregg Murphy, a true veteran of the local broadcast wars, for the great job he did filling in while Franzke took a brief vacation.
Here’s the bigger problem.
It’s baseball season.
Yes, football has its pre-season games, most of which are meaningless because the “A” players remain on the bench and newly devised plays remain hushed while people who won’t be on the team next week take the field.
Baseball is in its prime, the time when important matters like playoff spots are being determined for teams that aren’t assured berths, such as the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, Astros, and even the Braves.
As I mentioned, the Phillies are in the thick of the playoff chase. They will most likely end up in the one-game winner-take-all playoff, but that’s a victory considering they’ve experienced more than a decade of playoff drought.
Local broadcasting should make room for both teams and, I think, give preference to the Phillies if they are playing a game that counts, and the Eagles are just marking time until they get to Detroit to play in earnest on opening day, September 11.
The least WIP could have done was to have cued Merrill Reese to regularly say, “If you’re looking for the Phillies…”
All of you have to do is listen to WIP and see that thoughtfulness is not the station’s strong suit.
No one at the restaurant knew how to change the channels or where to tune in the Phillies.
So football it was as football it soon will be.
I know football is now the dominant game in America, but it would be gracious if broadcasters could figure out some plan for parity while baseball comes nearer to its playoffs and World Series.
Neal Zoren’s television column appears every Monday.
Source: Berkshire mont
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