While Still “Dirt Poor,” Ulysses Grant Freed Slave Given to Him by His Father-in-Law

(p. 7) . . . like the Chernow book, “Grant” gives its subject his due for having fought ferociously as president against Southern Democrats, pursuing the Lincoln agenda, furthering the cause of Reconstruction, protecting blacks in the South and for crushing the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1870s.

He had been a champion of enslaved Americans long before the Emancipation Proclamation. Grant’s wife, Julia Dent, came from a slave-owning family; Grant’s father, Jesse, was a rabid abolitionist. While living with his in-laws, Grant invited the enmity of neighbors by laboring alongside his father-in-law’s field workers and, as explained by the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, freeing the enslaved person his father-in-law had given him—thus relinquishing his greatest financial asset at a time when he was otherwise dirt poor. He later saw that black troops would be an asset to the North and used them to deadly effect.  . . .

For all its warfare and violence, eloquent interviews and gorgeous photographs, viewers will discover that the real star of “Grant” is the character of the subject himself.

For the full television review, see:

John Anderson. “TELEVISION REVIEW; A Warrior’s Wisdom and Weaknesses.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 22, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the television review has the date May 21, 2020, and has the same title “TELEVISION REVIEW; ‘Grant’ Review: The Wisdom and Weaknesses of a Warrior.”)

The book, mentioned above as the basis of the “Grant” television mini-series, is:

Chernow, Ron. Grant. New York: The Penguin Press, 2017.

“The Better the Person, the Crumbier the House Is Going to Look”

I smiled at Jerry Seinfeld’s comment below that good people are too busy doing good to spend enough time for their house to look fabulous. (Admission: I have never been known for having a neat office.)

(p. C4) I like wearing the suit and having the crowd and the energy and the crackle — I like the magic. I don’t want to know who you really are. I don’t want to see how you really live. We’re all just sick of people’s houses. They’re all so depressingly normal. And the better the person, the crumbier the house is going to look. Because they’re too busy to do anything. The only people that have fabulous, fabulous places, stink. They’re horrible at what they do. They’re spending their money on the house instead of focusing on their art.

For the full interview, see:

Dave Itzkoff, interviewer. “He’s Now ‘Post-Show-Business’.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 5, 2020): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 4, 2020, and has the title “Jerry Seinfeld Is Making Peace With Nothing: He’s ‘Post-Show Business’.”)

“The Traveling Loner Who Helps Locals Fight off Bad Guys”

(p. A9) The Mandalorian is an inscrutable masked mercenary who wears a blaster on his hip, rides speeder bikes and giant lizards across desert landscapes, and has a bit of mysterious theme music, like the trill that once announced Clint Eastwood’s “man with no name” gunslinger on screen. All this helped endear the spacefarer to viewers who grew up with a lot of characters from the same template.

“I enjoy the hell out of it,” says 72-year-old Dennis Burdick of Las Vegas, who has deep-seated memories of watching shows like “Have Gun Will Travel” during the peak of the genre, when 31 prime-time Westerns aired in the 1958-’59 TV season alone. “They weren’t really great guys, they were just great with their guns. Same with the Mandalorian. He’s not looking to save anybody, but he’s there, and he can and he will,” Mr. Burdick adds.

Among TV tropes, the traveling loner who helps locals fight off bad guys has been a sturdy one.

. . .

Finally: Baby Yoda. That, of course, is the nickname the internet immediately bestowed on the breakout star of “The Mandalorian” after it appeared in the first episode’s final moments. The Child, as characters in the show refer to it, is a half-century-old toddler because of the slow aging process of its species. The bounty hunter was initially paid to capture or kill it, but something beneath his chest armor melted at the sight of the wrinkly green creature in a floating baby pram. Mando broke the code of his profession and became Baby Yoda’s protector.

For the full review, see:

John Jurgensen. “Old-School TV Tactics Propel ‘The Mandalorian’.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 26, 2019): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 25, 2019, and has the title “The Old-School TV Tactics That Make ‘The Mandalorian’ Tick.” The last sentence quoted above appears as in the print version, and not as in the slightly longer online version, of the article.)

The Creative Destruction of Broadcast TV by Streaming, Increases Variety

(p. B4) It has been on a steep upward trajectory for years, and in 2019, it finally happened.

There were more than 500 scripted television series in the United States last year, a high. The estimated number: 532 comedies, dramas and limited series that were broadcast or streamed, according to the research department of the cable network FX, which tabulates and releases the figure every year.

It marked the first time the 500-show threshold had been crossed, representing a 7 percent increase over the number of scripted shows in 2018.

The 2019 total was 52 percent more than the 349 shows that existed in 2013, the year that streaming started to become a habit for many viewers, with the debut of “House of Cards” on Netflix. And it’s a jump of 153 percent over the 210 series available in 2009.

For the full story, see:

John Koblin. “It’s Not an Illusion: Peak TV Is Showing No Signs of Slowing.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 10, 2020): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 9, 2020, and has the title “Yellow or Blue? In Hong Kong, Businesses Choose Political Sides.”)

Baseball Immigrants Learn English by Watching “Friends”

(p. D1) When he returns home from the stadium, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis often gets into bed and watches reruns of “Friends.”
. . .
For at least one generation of Americans, “Friends” endures as a cultural touchstone, a glowing chunk of 1990s amber. But its runaway popularity stretched far beyond the United States, and for some Latino baseball players it is something more: a language guide, a Rosetta Stone disguised as six 20-somethings commingling in a Manhattan apartment.
And also just a funny show.
“Now that it’s on Netflix, I always put it on and watch it,” said Mets infielder Wilmer Flores, 26, who is from Venezuela. “When I get up in the morning, I turn on the TV, and whatever episode is there I’ll watch and keep watching. I stop it when I come to the stadium. When I come home from the stadium, I pick up where I left off.”
What has the sitcom done for his English proficiency?
“It’s near perfect,” said Flores’s teammate, Jerry Blevins, who is from Tennessee. “When he doesn’t know something, it’s surprising.”
. . .
(p. D2) For Galvis, the English-language broadcast with Spanish subtitles on Venezuelan television, was an excellent learning tool. “You can compare what’s going on that way,” he said. “If they say ‘happy,’ you see he’s happy and the subtitle says ‘feliz’, then you can learn. You might not learn 100 percent, but you’ll learn to associate.”
. . .
Like Flores, Galvis is evangelical about “Friends.” He tells young Spanish-speaking players that he is living proof that consuming popular culture in English can help. And although he is now a capable English speaker, he still watches “Friends” with subtitles in Spanish so that his wife can learn English.
Marta Kauffman, one of the creators of the show, said she was delighted to hear about its unlikely and unintended impact on certain players. She compared the phenomenon to how Viagra was originally designed to treat heart problems but later was embraced for a very different purpose.

For the full story, see:
JAMES WAGNER. “For Some Major Leaguers, It’s Always Great to See ‘Friends’.” The New York Times (Mon., SEPT. 18, 2017): D1-D2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “‘Friends,’ the Sitcom That’s Still a Hit in Major League Baseball.”)

People Root for Billionaires If They Believe They Also Could Become Billionaires

(p. 22) “Billions” manages the feat of making you want the guy who has everything to have even more.
“People still root for billionaires because it reinforces the idea that they can do it too,” Mr. Kirshenbaum said recently. “People don’t want to be in a place where there’s not a lot of magic left in the equation.” Political analysts have long given this explanation for why poor or working-class people vote against tax increases for the wealthy: They want to believe that some day they, too, will have assets to guard.
. . .
Like the TV series, the film “The Big Short” puts you in the position of wanting the investors — or at least the investors depicted on the screen — to win. The movie channels your anger at the banks that came up with the perilous financial instruments that devastated the economy, but it leaves you no room to despise the charmingly eccentric rogue geniuses who made hundreds of millions of dollars shorting the housing market. All that hard work, the culling of documents and the fact-gathering trips to endangered Sun Belt real estate markets — it would be so wrong if they didn’t triumph in the end. Institutions are greedy; people are merely obsessed.

For the full commentary, see:
GINIA BELLAFANTE. “Big City; Rooting for the Robber Barons, at Least Those Onscreen.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MARCH 20, 2016): 22.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 18, 2016, and has the title “Big City; Rooting for the Robber Barons, at Least on the Screen.”)

Disney Used Money from His Cartoons to Fund the “Audacious” Breakthrough Snow White

(p. C2) The 1920s were no doubt a time much like our own, full of people who could see ways to advance and exploit new technologies, and Disney was one of those. But plenty of people have ideas; only a few manage to make them reality. Like many an Internet entrepreneur, Disney was able to do so because of a combination of serendipity and tenacity. You can read a lot into that sketch of a mouse he came up with.
“He doesn’t have the financial backing to support what it is he’s doing,” Carmenita Higginbotham, an art historian who teaches at the University of Virginia, says of his early career. “He wants to be a bigger voice than he is. And it’s a perfect metaphor, him being this small mouse, this seemingly insignificant figure or individual within this big industry that he wants to break into.”
The parallel to the Internet age is also evident in the speed of his ascension. His “Steamboat Willie” cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse in effect went viral after its premiere at the Colony Theater in New York in 1928, propelled by its innovative merging of image and sound.
That gave him enough credibility and money to try something audacious: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” a project that, we’re told, he outlined to his staff in 1934 by calling a meeting and enacting all the parts himself.
“What Disney was proposing had never been done, never even been tried: a feature-length, story-driven cartoon,” says the narration, read by Oliver Platt. There followed a typical Hollywood story of cost overruns and jeopardized deadlines — the animation technique used required more than 200,000 separate drawings.

For the full review, see:
NEIL GENZLINGER. “The Mind that Built the House of Mouse.” The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 12, 2015): C1-C2.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 11, 2015, and has the title “Review: PBS’s ‘Walt Disney’ Explores a Complex Legacy.”)
(Note: Genzlinger is reviewing the two part documentary on “Walt Disney” that aired on the “American Experience” series of PBS on Mon., Sept. 7 and Tues., Sept. 8, 2015.)

Producer of “The Godfather” to Make Six Hour TV Version of Atlas Shrugged

(p. D1) LOS ANGELES — It took a while — more than 40 years, actually.
But Albert S. Ruddy, a movie and television producer who does not like to quit, has landed rights to make his passion project: a screen version of “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s Objectivist bible.
Mr. Ruddy, whose canon includes films as varied as “The Godfather” and “The Cannonball Run,” almost had a deal back in the early 1970s, when he wooed Ms. Rand personally while sitting on a small couch in New York.
But Ms. Rand, who had left the Soviet Union in the 1920s and feared the Russians might acquire Paramount Pictures to subvert the project, wanted script approval; Mr. Ruddy, as adamant as she was, declined. “Then I’ll put in my will, the one person who can’t get it is you,” Mr. Ruddy recalls being told by Ms. Rand, who died in 1982.
. . .
The main thing, Mr. Ruddy said, is to honor Ms. Rand’s insistence on making a film for the future. That means redrawing its capitalists and creators, who go on strike against creeping collectivism, as figures more familiar than the railroad heiress and industrial titans who figured in a book that was first published in 1957.
“When you look at guys like Jeff Bezos, he’s not only doing Amazon, he wants to colonize Mars,” Mr. Ruddy said. He spoke by telephone last week of his plan for a mini-series in which an Internet blackout led by Bezos-like figures might shut down cellphones, banks and almost everything else.

For the full story, see:
MICHAEL CIEPLY. “Film Producer Lands Rights to ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Novel.” The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 2, 2015): B8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 1, 2015, and has the title “Producer of ‘The Godfather’ Lands Rights to ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Novel.”)

Feds Allow Hollywood to Use Drones

(p. B1) LOS ANGELES — The commercial use of drones in American skies took a leap forward on Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014] with the help of Hollywood.
The Federal Aviation Administration, responding to applications from seven filmmaking companies and pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America, said six of those companies could use camera-equipped drones on certain movie and television sets. Until now, the F.A.A. has not permitted commercial drone use except for extremely limited circumstances in wilderness areas of Alaska.
Put bluntly, this is the first time that companies in the United States will be able to legally use drones to fly over people.
The decision has implications for a broad range of industries including agriculture, energy, real estate, the news media and online retailing. “While the approval for Hollywood is very limited in scope, it’s a message to everyone that this ball is rolling,” said Greg Cirillo, chairman of the aviation practice at Wiley Rein, a law firm in Washington.
Michael P. Huerta, the administrator of the F.A.A., said at least 40 similar applications were pending from companies beyond Hollywood. One is Amazon, which wants permission to move forward with a drone-delivery service. Google has acknowledged “self-flying vehicle” tests in the Australian outback.
“Today’s announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial use,” Anthony R. Foxx, secretary of transportation, told reporters in a conference call.

For the full story, see:
BROOKS BARNES. “Drone Exemptions for Hollywood Pave the Way for Widespread Use.” The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1 & B7.
(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014.)

Insider Reports on Crony Journalism at CBS and ABC

You hear a lot these days about ‘crony capitalism’ which no-one, including me, much likes. (The version I like is entrepreneurial capitalism.) But we too often forget that adjective “crony” can modify other nouns besides “capitalism.” Here are a couple of examples of crony journalism.

(p. A11) . . . skip to the second part, which is mostly a memoir and almost all about journalism. It includes one of the toughest critiques of television news ever written by an insider. From 1977 to 1989, Mr. Lewis worked for ABC News and then for CBS’s news program “60 Minutes.”
. . .
The most acute of Mr. Lewis’s frustrations came when Hewitt, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” refused to broadcast a Lewis report on former government officials profiting as U.S. lobbyists for foreign interests unless the name of Hewitt’s good friend Pete Peterson, then chairman of the Blackstone Group, was excised from the script. In the story, a photograph showed five smiling Blackstone executives, all former federal appointees, in a Japanese newspaper advertisement seeking business for their lobbying efforts. Mr. Peterson was singled out by name in the voice-over narrative. Correspondent Mike Wallace, for whom Mr. Lewis worked directly, implored him in a shouting match to remove Mr. Peterson’s name, to no avail. But Hewitt was more subtle, simply refusing to schedule the piece for airing. Mr. Lewis bitterly relented to Hewitt’s implicit demand and quit the day after the story was broadcast.
As for ABC, Mr. Lewis reports that its legendary news chief Roone Arledge killed a tough story on tobacco at the request of “the Corporate guys,” who were fearful that the network could complicate its position in a libel suit that Philip Morris had already filed against the broadcaster.

For the full review, see:
RICHARD J. TOFEL. “BOOKSHELF; Media Manipulation; At ABC News and CBS’s ’60 Minutes,’ producers would regularly kill stories critical of the powerful and connected.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 16, 2014): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 15, 2014, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘935 Lies’ by Charles Lewis; At ABC News and CBS’s ’60 Minutes,’ producers would regularly kill stories critical of the powerful and connected.”)

The book being reviewed is:
Lewis, Charles. 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.

Television Improved Test Scores

GentzkowMatthewChicagoBatesClark2014-04-26.jpg “Economist Matthew Gentzkow found media slant to be a function of audience preference.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A2) An economist known for pioneering work on slanted coverage in the news media won the John Bates Clark Medal, one of the profession’s most prestigious honors.

Matthew Gentzkow, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, on Thursday was awarded the Clark medal by the American Economic Association, which every year honors the nation’s most promising economist under age 40.
. . .
A big theme in Mr. Gentzkow’s work is finding innovative ways to tackle questions that expand economists’ tool kits.
. . . , in 2008, he and Mr. Shapiro examined the fact that different parts of the U.S. got access to television at different times to gauge TV’s effects on high-school students in the 1960s.
The economists found that children who lived in cities that gave them more exposure to TV in early childhood performed better on tests than those with less exposure. The work also suggested TV helped American children in non-English-speaking households do better in school.

For the full story, see:
NEIL SHAH. “Economist Honored for Work on Media Slant.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 18, 2014): 12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 17, 2014.)

The Gentzkow and Shapiro paper on the effects of television, is:
Gentzkow, Matthew, and Jesse M. Shapiro. “Preschool Television Viewing and Adolescent Test Scores: Historical Evidence from the Coleman Study.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 123, no. 1 (Feb. 2008): 279-323.