Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus in the Crowd

Hollywood loves to remake movies. Why watch the 1948 classic, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” with Cary Grant when you can now see “Are We Done Yet?” with Ice Cube? So sooner or later they’ll get around to remaking Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s brilliant “Face in the Crowd”. In that film, a scathing look at America in the late 50’s, Andy Griffith plays folksy minstrel Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic performer who captures the imagination of the country while off camera shows himself to be a hateful, evil, dangerous egomaniac. At the end of the movie (50 year old SPOILER ALERT) he trips up, the nation sees him for who he really is and his career is ruined.

This is how I imagine a conference between a Hollywood studio exec and the screenwriter assigned to update “Face in the Crowd”:

STUDIO EXEC: Loved your first draft. Couldn’t put it down…other than for that NCAA championship game. Damn, I was rooting for Rutgers. What heart those gals had. Someone should option them. Anyway, loved it, it was great. Just had a few thoughts. Lonesome Rhodes was such a folksy name. I don’t know if “Don Imus” gives us that quality.

WRITER: You said to make it more urban. And there’s the subliminal message – Imus … “I’m us”.

STUDIO EXEC: Jesus, that’s brilliant. I didn’t see it. And I pride myself on that sort of thing. Hey, I bet Don is a subliminal message for “Dawn”, right?

WRITER: What?

STUDIO EXEC: He’s a morning man on the radio. Gets up at “dawn”.

WRITER: Huh? Oh. Right. Yeah.

STUDIO EXEC: Subtext. I love it. Okay, so I’m good. Now, the script itself. (leafing through pages) Talk talk talk, lots of stage direction here, hard to wade through – just a note for the future. No one in this town wants to read a book. (more leafing) He makes it big, steps on people along the way, screws over the girl – nice. Oh yeah. He’s kind of a son-of-a-bitch right on the air. Wasn’t Andy Griffith more like…uh, who am I thinking of? … Andy Griffith?

WRITER: You said this was for Pacino but okay. I’m sure Al Pacino can play Andy Griffith.

STUDIO EXEC: We put him in Levi shirts. Maybe give him a farm. He’ll be great. Now my one big problem: the ending.

WRITER: You don’t like the ending?

STUDIO EXEC: It doesn’t work. He doesn’t say anything inflammatory enough.

WRITER: Calling the Williams sisters “animals better suited for National Georgraphic than Playboy” wouldn’t piss people off?

STUDIO EXEC: Nah… not really. It should but no.

WRITER: (thrown) Okay. Well, I was going to have him just call Arabs “ragheads” on the air but thought that might be too much.

STUDIO EXEC: Too much? Try not enough.

WRITER: Are you serious?

STUDIO EXEC: These are cynical times, my friend.

WRITER: Okay, how about this? He calls his Jewish management “money-grubbing bastards”? Look at what happened to Mel Gibson.

STUDIO EXEC: Forgotten. Over. He apologized to both Diane Sawyer AND Barbara Walters. He could run for Pope. Hey, there’s one girl on Rutgers who could block a Kobe shot. Did you see her?

WRITER: Oh oh oh. What if Imus says about the Rutgers team, “That’s some nappy-headed ho’s there.”?

STUDIO EXEC: Hmmmm. Maybe. That’s promising. (beat) I dunno. He’d probably just get a suspension for that.

WRITER: For calling lovely, dedicated, hard working African-American women prostitutes? That doesn’t send out a message of extreme racism?

STUDIO EXEC: Oh, I see. Subliminal again. Like his name. But do you think the audience would really make the connection?

WRITER: Uh…YEAH! They’d protest. Sponsors would bail. Guests would bail. This would be a big deal. He’d be fired for sure. I mean, how could people possibly let him get away with saying something that vile?

STUDIO EXEC: I don’t know but okay. Try it. I don't think a big broadcasting company would ever can a guy who makes them money, but who knows? It's movie magic.

Tomorrow: a tribute to Stan Daniels

36 comments:

GWG said...

That was actually very, very good. And apt. And i've always loved "Face"... how great was Matthau in that? (And who would play that role today... if anyone still could relate to a skeptical/cynical journalist these days at all, I mean.)

Did you mean to type "Stan" Daniels?
looking forward to that!

Phillip said...

How about remaking "Rear Window", but with young people? I hear that Shia Lebouf is popular with the kids.

Diane said...

"For calling lovely, dedicated, hard working African-American women prostitutes? That doesn’t send out a message of extreme racism?"

Extreme sexism too. Most women athletes have very little chance of playing sports professionally. They aren't playing college ball as a short cut to the NBA, (or the WNBA), they are playing for the love of the game and because it is a means to obtain a quality education.

They deserve better than to be attacked by Don Imus. Good riddance.

Anonymous said...

"Ice Cube" in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House"... "Cedric The Supposed Entertainer" as Ralph Kramden in "The Honeymooners"... and of course, who can forget "Dr. Dre and Ed Lover" in "Car 54, Where Are You?...

Hmmm, and all of those movies, based on very popular original films or TV shows sucked horribly and were completely rejected by the public. I wonder why...

D. McEwan said...

"They deserve better than to be attacked by Don Imus. Good riddance."

And good riddance to that pesky old Freedom of Speech thing. Lonesome Rhodes insulted HIS AUDIENCE, and they stopped watching him, and his ratings plummeted - boom - off the air.

Imus, whom I am not and never have been a fan or listener of, revoltingly insulted a basketball team, and was fired for his speech, without any loss of ratings. And the folks who got him fired were on the TV this afternoon making lists of who they're going after next. They've got that "We licked Free Speech" veins in their teeth and they're hungry to trample more people's rights.

You know, the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect UNpopular speech. Popular speech doesn't need protecting.

But now we're all free to say whatever Al Sharpton allows us to.

You know they didn't fire Isiah Washington. Oh, yes, he only repeatedly insulted fags. THAT'S still protected. Glad there's no double standard

They muffled Don Imus and I didn't say anything. Soon, I was not allowed to say anything.

Anonymous said...

Al Sharpton is possibly the most dangerous man in America. In case it's been forgotten, his statements of racial hatred are responsible for the death of an innocent Austrian Jewish student in the Crown Heights Riots in NYC.

And his statements of racial hatred in 1995, also in NYC, caused a man to burn down a building killing himself and 7 others.

And what he did in the Tawana Brawley case to that district attorney and those cops in NYC, is beyond contempt.

Why can't the media see that Al Sharpton is the worst of the worst when it comes to not only being racist, but in making a living off of being racist.

He makes Don Imus seem like a very small pimple. Al Sharpton is a very large cancer on this country and on the relations of all decent people of all races.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

The United States does not need another witch hunt. It caused enough trouble in the '50s.

I always doubt that the country as a whole has enough sense, but I hope people eventually see the bullshit of all of this.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

But then earlier tonight I watched one of Bill O'Reilly's "political whores" emit hate-filled vitriol (I work on my writing on the computer in the living room since it's the only one we have and my dad keeps it on without understanding what the channel actually is) and what little hope I always had keeps trickling away.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Oh by the way Ken, briefly off topic: I started reading Rob Long's book, "Conversations with My Agent," am already on page 69 and it's an incredible tonic after a long day. And I was in shock over one sentence:

"All the Mike Ovitzes and the Barry Dillers in the world can't change this essential bedrock truth: writers like to sleep late, they like to read the newspaper slowly, they like to have long lunches, and they hate to write."

Circa 1997, when the book came out, I was in the midst of 7th grade, but now, it's unsettlingly accurate. I'm not one for long lunches, but I do putz around on the Internet on news sites and the rest is so very true as well.

Ian said...

Really a spot-on post tonight, Ken, and interesting comments too. It's not easy to be funny and insightful at the same time, but you did it. Oops, almost wrote "inciteful."

I won't miss Don Imus, but have to agree with the comment that called Al Sharpton "dangerous." I'd like to add "scary" to that, too. I'm waiting for the day that Sharpton goes toe-to-toe with Gloria Allred. That would be one hell of a celebrity smack-down.

How's this for a sit-com pitch: A disgraced former radio talk-show host decides to start a new life as the coach of an inner-city girls' basketball team, aided by his sidekick, a diminutive, fright-wig wearing former music producer with a taste for firearms and prescription drugs. I'm calling it "Don & Phil."

Dwacon said...

I-man kind of got railroaded a bit. But hey, it has been quite a long run!

I reminisced about him in my blog dissing Amy Grant and Madonna... but also in the VH1 days I-Man made a comment about some city (I think Cleveland) as being rated number one place to live... FOR MUSLIMS.

That didn't get him fired either... but the N-H-H's comment nuked his career.

Hmm...

Rory L. Aronsky said...

How's this for a sit-com pitch: A disgraced former radio talk-show host decides to start a new life as the coach of an inner-city girls' basketball team, aided by his sidekick, a diminutive, fright-wig wearing former music producer with a taste for firearms and prescription drugs. I'm calling it "Don & Phil."

I'd watch it.

la guy said...

"And good riddance to that pesky old Freedom of Speech thing.

Freedom of speech is what got him in to trouble in the first place.

He was free to say whatever he wanted, people are free to pressure sponsors and sponsors are free to spend their money as they see fit. No sponsors, no show.

Characterizing this incident as a first amendment issue is way off the mark in my opinion. There was nothing redeeming about his remarks and, unfortunately for him, no one censored him.

I do find the hypocrisy of people who went after Imus but don't draw attention to the injustice in the Duke rape case hard to take.

While the comments about the Rutgers team were tasteless and inexcusable, the damage done to the three Duke students will never be undone. I don't recall hearing any condemnation from any of the usual suspects about that injustice.

Ken Levine said...

Oh I must agree. As reprehensible as Imus is, he's NOTHING compared to Al Sharpton.

The fact that this man's opinion is sought about ANYTHING disgusts me.

Let's hope his day comes too. And SOON.

Willy B. Good said...

Good sketch Ken and if you or any other comedy writers are interested I have a Don Imus nappy headed ho sketch on my blog too.

Steve said...

Funny stuff, Ken. Guess I need to take the Face in the Crowd DVD out of my Controversial Classics box set and finally get around to watching it.
I'm interested to see what you think of the movie The TV Set when you see it.

Anonymous said...

If Al Sharpton is so concerned about racist comments having no place on our airwaves, why isn't he attacking a real hate-filled medium - Rap "music?"
Rap inflames emotions DAILY on thousands of public airwaves.
A sample from Menace Clan, Da Hood, 1995, Rap-A-Lot Records: "...kill whitey all night long...the white man is the devil...the CRIPS and Bloods are soldiers I’m recruiting with no dispute; drive-by shooting on this white genetic mutant... let’s go and kill some rednecks..."
One sad example from the double-standard we have come to accept as normal in this country. There is an endless supply of this hate-speech on radios everywhere, as the FCC looks the other way...

Hawise said...

Imus knows his medium.
Let us recap- Imus said something reprehensible about a women's basketball team. He was called on it.
Here is where the real trouble starts, he makes a quasi-apology designed to throw the blame off of himself and onto something else. Basically- I know what I said was wrong for a white man to say but the rappers say it all the time. Like lemmings on the march, the lazy-ass media calls on their go to race relations guys, Sharpton and Jackson. Why? Because those two will show up on 15 seconds notice. The black community mostly tunes them out but the whole media argument is off of Imus and onto the double standard given to black artists except... try as the Imus apologists work there is a second group out there who have the clue that no one else was getting. Imus never really apologized because he DOESN'T understand what he really did. And you know what, some of us are tired of giving clueless celebrities a break for their so difficult multi-million dollars trials and tribulations.
He needs to get a clue and take responsibility for his own actions. The audience is waiting.

45 is the new 30 said...

Regarding any supposed violation of Imus' First Amendment rights:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

CONGRESS. Not "CBS", nor even "MSNBC". The first amendment protects our rights, as US citizens, from the *government* interfering with our right to free speech. What happened to Imus was more of a result of a free-market economy: Sponsors were afraid of boycotts and other economic repercussions, so they pulled their ads from his show.

FTR, I, too, am sick of Sharpton, Jackson, and their posse. The only thing that made this incident blow up to the magnitude that it has is that the firepower behind the NAACP is unparalleled when compared with that of any other advocacy organization. If Imus had made a similar comment about female Jewish basketball players, for example (and yes, I know that some would consider that an oxymoron!), it wouldn't have been even a blip on the radar because organizations such as the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) just don't have the muscle, and the media-savvy, of the NAACP/Sharpton/Jackson crew.

From what I've read, Imus HAS in fact made disparaging comments about other minorities over the years. As Mel Gibson discovered, in such instances the MOST one is expected to do is apologize, maybe attend some type of 12-step meeting or check into rehab for a few days, and move on.

I abhor the vitriol that Imus spouted, but I have to defend his right to say it. The fact that radios and TVs come with "on-off" switches and channel selectors is a VERY good thing in this instance.

Great blog post btw, Ken - sorry to have gone all soapboxy here!

benson said...

Prediction: As soon as regulators approve the XM/Sirius merger, Imus will re-appear via satellite.

VP19 said...

If Imus had made a similar comment about female Jewish basketball players, for example (and yes, I know that some would consider that an oxymoron!)

Shay Doron, of the 2006 NCAA champion Maryland Terrapins and a New York Liberty draft pick earlier this month, and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman say hello.

Anonymous said...

What Imus said was actually heinous. But shouldn't Al Sharpton also be censured for constantly pushing for a lynch mob mentality in racially charged cases. Look what he helped do to those Lacrosse players at Duke. The only thing they were guilty of was being rich, white, good looking, horny, frat types. That may make them stupid, insufferable, and obnoxious, but it doesn't make them guilty of rape. Their lives were all but destroyed by the racial politics of the crime they were charged with. If the same charge had been levied by a white stripper without evidence, witnesses, or even a consistent story, the case would have never been filed. But because a black woman was involved and rich white boys were involved, Sharpton and Jackson turned it into a racially charged case, pressuring the weasel DA to push for conviction. It seems to me that Imus owes a real apology to some young women, but Sharpton also owes an apology to some young men. If I were the father of one of those young men, I would hire a lawyer to pursue legal action against Sharpton and all of the other race-baiting prejudgers.

Diane said...

Imus is free to speak his mind, just as consumers are free to boycott the companies with which he is affiliated, and the employees of CBS and MSNBC are free to demand his ouster. There are repercussions in life for the choices one makes; just ask the prosecutor in the Duke rape case who is facing disbarment for the statements he made about the Duke lacrosse players during the investigation.

Anonymous said...

Ken have you ever had a skit go bad I honestly believe it was a poor joke that had raciest overtones but it was a joke his initial apology was for a bad joke not the start of W.W. III he definately got railroaded

45 is the new 30 said...

"Imus is free to speak his mind, just as consumers are free to boycott the companies with which he is affiliated, and the employees of CBS and MSNBC are free to demand his ouster. There are repercussions in life for the choices one makes"

Absolutely Diane - that was my point, as well. You summed it up beautifully. There are consequences for every action, and - as an "at-will" employee - Imus got his. However, the "violation of the First Amendment" argument that has been popping up doesn't hold water.

Sorry, VP19 for the inadvertent insult; ironically, I was just trying to head off the snarky comebacks to my reference to Jewish basketball players that I was anticipating. You are absolutely correct, and I thank you for jumping in to make that point.

Paul said...

This isn't a free speech issue, folks. Free speech doesn't apply in the workplace.

Mike Barer said...

I am not that familiar with Imus. I do know the genre though. I think Imus got caught in a catch-22. His employers want him to be provocative.
He had that job because he had listeners.
I wonder if Tom Leykis and Rush Limbaugh are also going to fall soon!

Seymour said...

"He was free to say whatever he wanted, people are free to pressure sponsors and sponsors are free to spend their money as they see fit. No sponsors, no show.
Characterizing this incident as a first amendment issue is way off the mark in my opinion. There was nothing redeeming about his remarks and, unfortunately for him, no one censored him."

People ARE free to pressure sponsors, and sponsors to sponsor what they chose, and not sponsor what they choose. However, he was fired before other sponsors had a chance to fill the gap, as they would have, because his ratings weren't about to dip. If anything, with all the publicity, they would have spiked, and there's plenty of advertisers out there who don't care what he says as long as someone's listening.

He wasn't fired for losing his audience and his sponsors. He hadn't lost the former, and he would have had others of the latter. He was fired because the networks feared the chilling power of the witchhunters.

And, oh here's an interesting coincidence, as the LA Times pointed out today, in losing Imus, we've lost a major sympathetic platform for liberal politicians in the ever-increasingly conservative radio world. President Bush is smiling.

As for there being nothing redeeming in what he said, that's true but irrelevant. The whole "Social Redeeming" concept is a dodge invented to have a wedge to try and create a nonexistent divide between the rights of sexually explicit expression and more widely-accepted forms of expression. No where in the above-quoted First Amendment is the factor of being "Redeeming" mentioned. Imus should be free to be non-redeeming.

That last remark "unfortunately for him, no one censored him." UNFORTUNATELY? Censorship is NOT a GOOD thing! It is an evil, an attempt, always and in all cases, to control other people's thinking.

What was unfortunate for him was that this time he got black people, and feminists united in a remarkably McCarthyesque national atmosphere to railroad him off the air. As has been pointed out, Imus has said much worse things over many, many years, as is his right, and as his audience apparently likes.

"If Al Sharpton is so concerned about racist comments having no place on our airwaves, why isn't he attacking a real hate-filled medium - Rap "music?"

You must have missed the press conference from The Laugh Factory" yesterday as the smugly victorious coalition of media bullies announced their intentions to make rap artists their very next target as they set about the business of controlling what Americans are allowed to say or hear. I saw my former friend, the very talented Paul Mooney, up there among the smug New Censors. Made me sick. The witch-hunt has begun, and the double-standards are in play.

Isaiah Washington is still employed by ABC. Had TR Knight used the N-word to describe him, he would have been fired well before now.

Nancy Grace is still employed, using "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" for toilet paper.

Welcome to the New Order. Herr Sharpton is on the march.

Emily Litella said...

If he's been fired, why are they STILL calling their little cable network IMUS-NBC?

Oh.

Nevermind...

Sam said...

Hi, Ken. First time reader, long time show watcher.

Anonymous said this:

What Imus said was actually heinous. But shouldn't Al Sharpton also be censured for constantly pushing for a lynch mob mentality in racially charged cases.

No, in my opinion, he shouldn't be. Sharpton has been trying to get rappers to try to change their ways for a long time now, but it hasn't been talked about on a more natioanl level until now. Some folks may that it would be a double standard if he's now doing this, but this has been brewing for a long time and very quietly, I'm sad to say. I hope that he does get more press on the matter and musicians pay attention.

By the way Ken, you have been the only other person I've noticed online that has brought up "A Face in the Crowd" and the Imus situation in the same breath. I was wondering days ago when anyone else would make the corellation.

Darshan said...

Great piece!

I'll be the first to admit I generally despise remakes of any sort. Especially considering how many first rate original stories never end up seeing the light of day.

However, I have one sort of "acceptable" remake. The unknown classic. The movies that few have seen and where the case of a remake offers to shine a light on those films which are known by limited audiences.

The remake should update, but not grossly rethink the original concept. Not like Disturbia's "updating" of "Rear Window" or "Hey! Let's take Network, remake it, and set it in the world of Reality TV!" As far as I am concerned, both of these films are hands off.

I once thought about doing a remake of John Frankenheimer's classic Seconds. Not because the film isn't amazing as is, but it is even more relevant today than it was originally. The film would have a clear sense of homage, rather than simple re-framing. Don't think Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" or even Jonathan Demme's "Manchurian Candidate". Think fresher and more relevant.

I think your idea for a remake of "Face in the Crowd" would be perfect. And remakes of this sort, should be done pre-emptively, to prevent lousy, derivative, and cheapening remakes from being done by others with no respect for the source material.

What say ye? I think you should go for it! Yeah, I know, there's still the Studio Exec who won't get it.

Thanks again for this great and relevant post!

D. McEwan said...

Sometimes remakes can bring fresh ideas to a piece, or you just want to see someone's new performance. HAMLET has been done several times, and few people say "Oh no. Don't remake HAMLET!" Ame with PETER PAN.

And leave us not for get that THE MALTESE FALCON with Bogart was the THIRD film of that story. THE WIZARD OF OZ with Judy Garland was a remake. Hitchcock remade himself when he reshot THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH again in 1956. Last year's CASINO ROYALE was the third time around for that book. Sometimes it takes more than once to get it right.

Which is not to say that Kazan's A FACE IN THE CROWD isn't just fine as it is.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you must really feel bad about that NBA post a few months back. Trying to get back your non-racist creds?

Anonymous said...

Let's refresh everyone's memory about what Ken thinks about NBA players:

Here's what the average sports fan sees when he comes across an NBA game: mean, arrogant, scary looking, tattooed, prison inmates.

NBA men are scary looking, tattooed, prison inmates, huh? But now all of a sudden he thinks the tattooed girls from Rutgers are "lovely". Um, sure.

Darshan said...

To D. McEwan's. . .
And leave us not for get that THE MALTESE FALCON with Bogart was the THIRD film of that story. THE WIZARD OF OZ with Judy Garland was a remake. Hitchcock remade himself when he reshot THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH again in 1956. Last year's CASINO ROYALE. . .

Absolutely not saying there isn't room for remakes, only that a certain amount of thought should be applied when approaching a film, and reverence for certain films which are great. Hamlet or really any of the Shakespeare works are fair game. I am probably one of a small group who dislikes The Maltese Falcon. Hammett describes Sam Spade like a "six foot tall blond Satan", so you cast Bogart? I love Bogart, but physicality aside, I just don't see it. And Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaugnessy is closer to my Mother than the femme fatale in Hammett's book.

I guess for me, there if a remake should be done, there is a way to do it, and a way not to do it, and when it tries to capitalize on selling a great story to ignorant audiences, I think it damn cheap, and dishonest.

So here's a question. Why doesn't anybody remake books?

Anonymous said...

US President Tim Kalemkarian, US Senate Tim Kalemkarian, US House Tim Kalemkarian: best major candidate.