Day 5 of the Winter 2001 TCA Press Tour felt mildly anticlimactic after the previous day, with its strong focus on entertainment-related panels. I still maintain my “PBS rocks” mantra, but all things being equal, it might’ve been nice if they’d mixed up the proceedings a bit more, maybe putting Jeff Bridges and the “Best of ‘Laugh-In'” panels on different days.
Instead, we started with a panel for “PBS Newshour,” moved into a via-satellite appearance by Placido Domingo for his “Great Performances” special, and then slid into several panels in a row which, God bless them, simply weren’t as scintillating overall as one would’ve liked them to be. “Black in Latin America” did had Wyclef Jean on hand, which was kind of cool, and I’m very intrigued by the concept of “NOVA: Smartest Machine on Earth,” about a computer that’s going to compete on an episode of “Jeopardy,” but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that either kept me riveted from start to finish. Ironically, though, a panel I’d planned on skipping – “American Experience: Freedom Riders” – turned out to be so fascinating that I stayed ’til the bitter end, thrilling to every word. From there, we got a few sneak previews of future PBS projects, most notably Ken Burns’ look into Prohibition, and had a long-winded but still entertaining panel from highly underrated talk show host Tavis Smiley, but after that, the triple-threat of “Frontline: Are We Safer,” “Where Soldiers Come From,” and “StoryCorps” was more than sufficient to leave me wishing and hoping for the evening event to arrive sooner than later.
Finally, the event did arrive, and, boy, was it worth the wait. “Great Performances: Hitman Returns – David Foster & Friends” features the imminent songwriter performing his songs with vocal help from several other artists, and we’d been forewarned that at least one of them would be turning up and joining him onstage for his TCA performance, but believe me when I tell you this: it’s one thing to know that Donna Summer’s going to be in the house, but it’s quite another to actually have her belting out “Last Dance” only a few feet away from you. The woman turned the Langham’s Venetian Ballroom into a discotheque, and it was fucking spectacular.
Best moment of the tour…? Try one of the best moments of any TCA tour ever.
And, now, on to our quotes…
1. “The world of conventional television recording has pressed down the length of a report from three minutes to two and a half minutes, to two, to one and a half, to now one minute and 10 seconds, becoming more like a radio spot on a lot of the network news, there are actually stories that need telling that can’t be told in a minute and 10. Sorry. You just can’t. You could be a clever journalist. You could be a good writer. You just can’t do it.
The (PBS) Newshour is a great place to do that, but also, because of the new online opportunities, a place to bring the tremendous cargo that you come back from the rest of the world with in your reporter’s notebook, in your camera, and find another way to tell ancillary stories, to tell stories that didn’t make it into the main report, to start a dialogue with viewers, and really to do the other part of coverage that you can’t necessarily do on television. And also because a flight from Maputo, Mozambique, takes 31 hours, you’ve got a lot of time to work on your reporter’s notebook on the way back.” – Ray Suarez, PBS Newshour
2. “You live almost a life of tragedy constantly on the stage and you are rehearsing those big dramas, but, of course, you concentrate at the performance and even in the rehearsals, but doesn’t have to touch you. I know many people, many actresses, that were having problems after playing ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ for instance. And I believe that, after all, you are acting. You cannot let yourself in the suffering. That’s the reason I am a happy person.
Of course you have your sad moments in life, like we all have, like tragedies, losing dear people, dear relatives, parents, friends. But you live optimistically a life, which I like to live. But as I say, I love to be happy, but I love to suffer on the stage. On the stage it’s wonderful, the suffering. I like also the comedy, but I am better at suffering.” – Placido Domingo, “Great Performances: Placido Domingo – My Favorite Roles”
3. “As Watson’s developed over the years, it’s had a lot of silly answers. There’s quite a variety of them. I guess one of my favorites is we asked it what do grasshoppers eat and the answer was ‘kosher.'” – David Ferucci, “NOVA: Smartest Machine on the Planet – Can A Computer Win on ‘Jeopardy’?”
4. “It was in Parchman that I had that decision that I asked to be arrested. That was when we arrived in Jackson, and we were getting off the bus. And I was up front, and I started to get off because I had to go to the bathroom. Because we had come all the way there with the bus going 60 and 70 and 75 miles an hour. And so I was waiting for that opportunity. But then, those who had gotten off the bus told me to be the rear guard because we needed to have someone of influence to make certain that everyone was off the bus and that no one was attacked from behind right without everybody else knowing.
I was in the restroom some time. By the time I came out, everybody had been arrested, Captain Ray had put everybody in the wagon, and so I tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned around and he looked at me. And I said, ‘I’m with them.’ And Ray turned. He straightened he turned back around, but I could see the other side of his face. He was just straightening out because he was smiling. So then he got his face straight and he turned back around and he said, ‘Get in there.’” – Dr. C. T. Vivian, “American Experience: Freedom Riders”
5. “Harrison Ford hates being interviewed. He got sick years ago of all the Calista (Flockhart) questions because the stuff is so predictable. So Harrison Ford walks on — he didn’t even walk on the show. He just kind of shuffles onto the set. I can tell by his body language that he doesn’t want to be here, he hates doing this. He sits in the chair. He crosses his leg. I’m sitting over here. He leans away from me. So his body language is…I just met this guy for the first time, and I’m prepared to have a great conversation with him, but Harrison ain’t trying to talk to me because he hates doing this. And I just decided out the gate — once I said good evening to him, he gave me a barely audible ‘Nice to be here.’ And I said to him, ‘You don’t really mean that.’
“He leaned forward. I said, ‘You don’t really mean that it’s nice to be here, because I know, because I’ve been told by anybody and everybody who has interviewed you, that you hate to be interviewed. So I know you don’t really want to be here. So why don’t we just get that out of the way first. I mean, you’re such a huge star. You’re such a huge star, and people love you. They respect your work. You’re an icon in this town. Why do you hate being interviewed so much? I mean, you ought to revel in this. You ought to love the fact that people want to talk to you, they want to hear from you, they want to be a part of your world and have you share with them. Why do you hate this so much?’
“He says, ‘Let me tell you why I hate this.’ And he leans up, and before I know it, we’re into it. And that conversation took off because I followed him. I listened to his heart. I tried to get inside his head and where he wanted this conversation to go, which initially was that he didn’t even want to be there. And by the time we got through doing that conversation, that clip that you saw, at least his face, Harrison Ford — and I remember this only because it was so moving for me — at the end of the conversation, he said to me, ‘This is perhaps the best television conversation I have ever had. I appreciate your candor. I appreciate your authenticity. I appreciate your honesty. I look forward to coming back on your program.’” – Tavis Smiley, Tavis Smiley
Okay, there’s your top 5 quotes. Now for that great anecdote…
First, a bit of back story: in addition to my duties as an associate editor with Bullz-Eye.com, I’m also an occasional contributor to Popdose.com, and within the site’s stable of writers is a gentleman named Terje Fjelde. Terje, bless him, took a bullet for all of us that, while it arguably never really needed to be taken in the first place, resulted in a really great column with a premise as simple as it is horrifying: one man spending one year listening to nothing on his iPod but songs written and produced by David Foster.
Fast-forward to the TCA Press Tour, the second night of PBS’s evening events. David Foster is sitting onstage. It’s my turn to ask a question.
As he sips from his water, I speak into the microphone.
“David,” I begin, “a friend of mine wrote a column where he listened to nothing but David Foster songs and productions on his iPod for a year…”
At this, I watch David Foster perform an actual, honest-to-God spit take.
“I heard about that!” he shouts.
“And,” he adds, with a grin, “I understand he killed himself at the end, is that right? You know, I don’t take elevators, and the reason is I’m afraid I’m going to hear my own music in there.”
“Well, he made it from Celine Dion to Jaye P. Morgan,” I say. “But he wanted to know if there’s any obscurities that you think he should have checked out, or even some that you may have apologized for, maybe from the early years?”
“Well, like all of you who probably read some of your reviews from 20 years ago, some of them you look at and you go, ‘Holy shit, that could have been written yesterday, it’s so fantastic,’ and others you just wish they would just go away,” Foster says. “In particular, I produced Alice Cooper in 1979, and I had a great time producing him. It was a wonderful time. When I hear that album, I cringe, not because of him, but because the production is so dated-sounding. And, yet, in that same year, I produced and co wrote ‘After The Love Has Gone” for Earth, Wind & Fire, and I hear that record, and it sounds like it could have been done yesterday. That was me in the same year doing two different projects. One I couldn’t stomach to listen to, and the other, you know, I like a lot.”
After the panel, I catch up with Foster as he’s literally running out the door, remind him who I am, and ask him to offer a quote about the column.
“I thought it was awesome,” he says, laughing. “How could not love that? It was me, me, me!”
That I could confirm for Terje that David Foster not only knows of his column but, indeed, thinks it’s awesome…? That may go down as my favorite accomplishment of the tour.