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In principle, when it comes to English-language remakes of successful foreign-language films, I'm not as militantly opposed to the idea as some critics. With the right balance of respect and initiative, a reinterpretation can often stand proudly beside the original. William Friedkin's "Sorcerer" (a remake of "The Wages of Fear"), Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia," Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning "The Departed" (a remake of "Infernal Affairs") and, soon to be in theaters, Jim Mickle's ingenious gender-flip of Mexican horror hit "We Are What We Are" are among the notable exceptions to a subset of cinema that is, admittedly, crammed with such embarrassments as "Diabolique" and "Swept Away."
Welcome to what is, for now, the longest Firewall & Iceberg Podcast ever, featuring exactly one new series ("Graceland") and no listener mail at all, but lots of segments that required lots of discussion, including the WGA list of the 101 best-written TV shows ever, the "Orphan Black" finale, a pivotal "Game of Thrones," a new "Mad Men," and the start of our summer pilot project with "The Sopranos." Speaking of which, next week's pilots are "Cheers" (on Netflix) and "Taxi" (on CBS.com).
"The Borgias" canceled after 3 seasons -- Showtime didn't want to do a movie wrap-up
"The Borgias" was originally supposed to last four seasons, but its creator didn't have enough material for 10 more episodes. So he proposed a two-hour movie, which Showtime rejected as too expensive.
Conan O'Brien to host "Carson On TCM"
Starting in July, Conan will host a weekly show delving into five Johnny Carson interviews. Conan did get to speak with Johnny in 2004, the year before Carson died, soon after Conan was announced as the next "Tonight Show" host.
A "South Park" movie sequel may be in the works
According to The Hollywood Reporter, a future "South Park" movie was part of a deal worked out between Warner Bros. and Paramount.
"Hot in Cleveland" going live with William Shatner and Brian Baumgartner
The June 19 episode will be live on the East Coast only.
Blake Shelton goes on a profane "Voice" Twitter rant against music critic
He didn't like what one critic said about Holly Tucker.
Joan Rivers will take over E! next week
It's all part of her 80th birthday celebration.
Barry Manilow sad about "Smash's" cancelation -- "I loved it"
"I more than liked it, I loved it," he says.
"Top Chef Masters" guest judges will include Mindy Kaling and Busy Philipps
Kathie Lee Gifford, Ali Larter and Lindsay Price, Curtis Stone's fiancee, will also guest-judge this season.
We're just over a week away from one of the year's most anticipated movies, Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel." With Marvel Studios drawing the map for successful superhero franchises as of late, DC Comics is looking to catch up, and in the wake of Christopher Nolan's self-contained Batman trilogy, the way into developing that world on film -- after the stumble of "Green Lantern" -- is surely the Boy in Blue. But what of the Superman mythos has been tapped for this new vision?
James Wan is having a big year.
Right now, he's gearing up for "Fast & Furious 7," whatever they end up calling it, which is the biggest film he's ever made if we're just talking about budget and scale. Before we see that film, though, two films that he's already finished will be released.
The first is this summer's "The Conjuring," which is a tremendous piece of entertainment, smart and sleek and scary as hell. That one's based on the true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who made their reputation as paranormal investigators. Patrick Wilson stars in that one as Ed Warren, and it's starting to look like Wilson and Wan are building a great relationship as actor and director, since "The Conjuring" will be followed up this year by the September release of "Insidious Chapter 2," hitting theaters on the appropriate date of Friday the 13th.
J.J. Abrams to adapt Rod Serling's final screenplay as a miniseries
Abrams has acquired the rights to "The Twilight Zone" mastermind's " The Stops Along the Way," details of which are being kept under wraps.
"The Colbert Report" sets a 1-hour music special with Paul McCartney
McCartney will sit down with Stephen Colbert then perform on next Wednesday's show.
Ricky Gervais: I'd host the Oscars if asked -- with no strings attached
"On the one hand I would be incredibly flattered and whatever you think of those sort of things, it would be a thrill and an honor to be asked," says Gervais. "On the other hand I doubt the job offer would come without some strings attached."
"America's Next Top Model" returns in August with "Guys vs. Girls"
Cycle 20 debuts on Aug. 2.
HBO announces a 15-minute "True Blood" pre-show before the premiere
Cast members will answer questions from Twitter on "#TrueBlood: Live from Set."
Kim Zolciak pregnant 9 months after giving birth
The Bravo star is reportedly expecting her 5th child nine months after giving birth.
Howard Stern disses The Spice Girls on his 1st "America's Got Talent" show with Mel B
The shock jock told one dismal act: "You remind me of the Spice Girls." To which Mel B responded: "Oh my God! Stop that!"
In “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” back-up singers step out of the shadows into the spotlight. It’s an illuminating, if not totally satisfactory, look at their lives on and off stage.
The Morgan Neville-directed documentary, which premiered at Sundance this January and opens in theaters June 14, takes a look at the history of the modern back-up singer and what it is like to live life in proximity of fame.
Just like the underscore in a movie, great backing vocals are often integral to the finished product, but the listener’s mind doesn’t consciously register them until they are stripped away and emptiness remains. Think about Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” and how it would sound without the “Doo do doo, doo do doo doo do doo,” or the wailing refrain of “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” during The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” or “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles.
In the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, as rock and roll blossomed, back-up singers transitioned from the polite, demure vocals sung by bland white girls to the gritty, full-throated singing made famous on Phil Spector’s productions.
The story really starts with Darlene Love, lead singer of the Blossoms, and one of the all time great cautionary tales in music. Love was repeatedly screwed over by Spector, who would use her vocals, most notably on “He’s A Rebel,” but credit the song to his latest girl group (in that case, The Crystals), who would then lip sync the song. She could never get out from under his thumb. She eventually working as a maid, until in a Cinderella moment, she was cleaning a house when her signature song, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” came on the radio and she knew she had to go back to singing even if it broke her heart again. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, a grand acknowledgement of her accomplishments that had been long denied.
That lineage goes through other greats such as Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer and several others up to Judith Hill, a contestant on “The Voice” this season. Hill sang back up for Michael Jackson on the ill-fated “This Is It” tour and became a break-out star after singing at his memorial service. Eager to make it as a lead singer, Hill’s efforts to transition from the background to the foreground, in a story whose ending has yet to be written, frame much of the film.
If history serves as an example, Hill has a hard row to hoe. Few make it to the front lines with any great success, in part because they may possess great voices, but they don’t play instruments or write their own songs and aren’t self-contained artists. Sheryl Crow and Luther Vandross are the notable exceptions in the film who went from support to main attraction. While there’s no footage of Crow singing back-up for Michael Jackson with hair as high as heaven, there is magnificent film of Vandross singing backing vocals for David Bowie on “Young Americans” in 1973 as well as footage of Vandross, then a star, working with his backing vocalists: his nebulous instruction to them: “Can you give me more air?”
But for the most part, these singers either don’t want the pressure of carrying the lead role and everything that comes with it, such as the responsibility of being a boss. Or they tried and failed, such as Tata Vega, who now tours with Elton John, or Lisa Fischer, whose excellent solo album received rave reviews and a Grammy, but she was never able to follow up. Instead of being a star of her own, she retreated to being a superstar among backing vocalists. For the last 20 years, she’s toured with The Rolling Stones.
As much as the documentary is about singing, it’s also about race and gender. The vast majority of the back-up singers in the film, as in real life, are African American and they learned to harmonize by singing in church choirs. Clayton talks about the conflict, as a black woman, of singing backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyd’s seminal southern anthem, “Sweet Home Alabama.” However, she brings up the very nuanced (so nuanced that most folks missed it) “boo, boo, boos” that follow the line “In Birmingham, they love the governor,” as a sign that the song is actually anti-racist. There’s unmined gold there in not developing the race issues further, especially for the singers in the ‘60s as the civil rights movement was coming to the fore.
Additionally, the overwhelming number are also female and that phenomenon goes unquestioned. To be sure, there are a few of male backing vocalists —the documentary includes David Lasley, who sings with James Taylor, but not the astounding Arthur McCuller (he’s the powerhouse voice you hear at the end of “Shower The People”). Why is that? Are women’s voices better suited for backing vocals? Are men not willing to take a backseat and prefer to be the lead?
What’s missing from the film is the actual process. The backing vocalists talk about “the blend,” the magical moment when all their voices mesh to create something greater than the individual parts, but we rarely see background singers working out their parts, showing us how it’s done. There are scant footage of a producer or artist giving direction, but the movie focuses way more on the love of singing than the nuts and bolts.
Furthermore, instead of hearing major artists like Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Stevie Wonder talk about the role of backing vocalists, it would have been far more instructive—and entertaining—to have one of them break down a tune and explain how and why they decided to add backing vocals. There is one scene with Sting rehearsing with Fischer on “Hounds Of Winter” and encouraging her to vamp and then the film cuts to her wailing on the song in concert as Sting totally cedes the spotlight to her. The film would have been a much richer experience with more behind-the-curtain scenes such as that.
While it sounds like I didn’t like the film, I did, but it left me wanting because there’s so much potential in the topic.
Many of the singers are still patching together careers, going from song to song as hired guns. There’s a fun segment where the Waters Family talks about the odd jobs they’ve done, including vocalizing birds in “Avatar,” or African chanting in “The Lion King.” But others tired of the road or with too many obligations to tend to have switched to more stable careers. For example, Lennear has taught Spanish for the last 15 years. “I never said it wasn’t for me,” she says of singing, still slightly heartbroken that she is no longer on stage, even if the spotlight was never on her.
TBS brings Keith Olbermann back to TV -- at least for 1 month
Olbermann, who will anchor TBS' postseason baseball show, says of his new gig: "My season is about a month long. And if you check, if you go through the 37 pages of my resume, you'll see that every one of my jobs has lasted at least one month."
Is Katie Couric's talk show in trouble?
"Katie" already has been renewed for Season 2, but Fox News reports that ABC has been disappointed in Couric's ratings and its sources say they don't expect "Katie" to be around for Season 3.
"America's Got Talent" returns to its lowest premiere
Despite topping the night with new additions Heidi Klum and Mel B, "AGT" was down 16% in the key demo vs. last year's premiere. PLUS: Female comic appears on "AGT" and "Inside Amy Schumer" on same night.
Pregnant Jennifer Love Hewitt gets engaged
She and "Client List" co-star Brian Hallisay are set to marry.
"Parks and Rec's" Nick Offerman coming out with his 1st book
"Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Principles for Delicious Living" is due out Oct. 1.
John Oliver gets tips from Letterman on how to interview actors
"The Daily Show" correspondent, who fills in for Jon Stewart beginning next week, has no experience interviewing actors.
"Psych" books Vinnie Jones, Olivia d'Abo, Kali Hawk
All three will guest in the 3rd season.
Meet your new "Top Chef Masters"
Here's the lineup for Season 5.
A successful undercover cop show, like a successful undercover police operation, requires patience. You need time to establish your characters, develop a relationship with their target, and plausibly get in deep enough for the real action to take place.
Most undercover cop shows — like most of the TV business in general — don't have that patience. They want instant gratification, and throw their heroes into new identities and operations with such speed that it's hard to believe in or care about anything that's happening. Every now and then you get a gem like "Wiseguy" (the '80s classic featuring lengthy guest arcs built around villains played by the likes of Ray Sharkey, Jerry Lewis and a young Kevin Spacey) or "Sleeper Cell" (the great but short-lived Showtime drama about an FBI agent infiltration an extremist Muslim terrorist group), but more often you get completely forgettable dramas like "Prince Street" or "The Handler" or "Dark Blue," where the cops tended to slip in and out of assignments so quickly as to not be worth the bother.
"Graceland," the new USA drama debuting tomorrow night at 10, is attempting to split the difference — just as it's trying to both embrace and expand upon the familiar USA "blue skies" formula.