Archive for May, 2011

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The “Lost Bohemia” Of Carnegie Hall

May 26, 2011

A documentary doesn’t have to be technically perfect, but if it has compelling personalities and is emotionally honest, well,  those stories win me over every time.

“Lost Bohemia” is one of those documentaries, now playing in a limited release.

It chronicles the accomplished, eccentric, spirited singers, dancers, photographers, musicians, actors and myriad other artists who lived and worked in studios located above Carnegie Hall…some for 40 years and longer.

Until, Carnegie Hall wanted them out.

Photographer Josef Astor, one of the residents, started filming his most colorful fellow tenants after he moved into the studios in the 1980s. He didn’t know then that 20 years later they would all be embroiled in a landlord-tenant dispute with Carnegie Hall that would last several years and result in each and every artist being evicted. Despite a charter by Andrew Carnegie himself providing for artist space above the incredible hall.

The documentary is worthwhile if only to see the charismatic photographer Editta Sherman, who held out as the last tenant until age 97 or so.

I saw the doc Sunday at IFC on 6th Ave and  I was reminded how this story has played out again and again: artists, who find affordable space and a supportive community, end up getting kicked out when there’s just too much profit to be made or efficiencies to be had, by the corporate ownership.

For at least three years I covered the battle between artists working (and a few living) in a warehouse on the waterfront of Jersey City, New Jersey. 111 First Street. I was there covering the case so much, in fact, I got asked by a couple artists  if I wanted to move in “off the lease.” But that would have put me in a conflict of interest.  But it was an intriguing idea.

In the 111 First Street saga, the warehouse was in terrible shape, a relic of the city’s industrial past and of no use except to the artists who did flourish in the gigantic studios and cavernous exhibit spaces. And it was located in a part of town no investor wanted to touch for decades. Until the 1990s when the local economy took off and 111 First Street became prime real estate for posh waterfront redevelopment.

So, the fight was on with the owners wanting the artists out and the artists claiming the demolition and gleaming hi-rise planned for the site went against the city’s arts district master plan.

It ended as well for the 111 First Street artists as it did for the ones in Carnegie Hall. In March 2005, I was there as the very last tenant turned in his keys and told the manager he hoped the big hi-rise someday collapsed on her head. Or something like that.

What makes “Lost Bohemia” stand out is the larger than life personalities of the artists whom most of us would never have known without this film. Some died over the years of filming.

I wonder how many artists are living this same story in cities and towns across the country right now?

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New York NATAS And The Board of Governors For The Emmys

May 18, 2011

Recently I was honored to find out that the New York chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) nominated me to serve on the Board of Governors. Now members are voting on the tremendous group of professionals who work in the wide spectrum of television and digital media, to decide which of us will provide insights and innovation to NATAS over the next two years.

It’s been great hearing from members I’ve met at NATAS events including the Emmy Awards and from some of the  folks who attended my presentation at the Academy in September about the personal journey of creating my show, “ON THE SCENE.”

But some members might be interested to know more about me and how I could contribute to the growth and vibrancy of NATAS.

I’m somebody who plunges in… ideas first. Because television is in such evolution right now, I have a lot of thoughts about programs to help members through professional transitions, network, how to benefit from the latest trends in our industry,  and even to set some new trends

There’s an incredible energy that we can generate at NATAS that can be a spark for all of our membership, whether it be professionals working in news, entertainment, music or the many other specialties that comprise NATAS.

Check out my site http://www.johnbathke.com or click my homepage here on the blog for more about my work.

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Meeting The Dalai Lama

May 13, 2011

He’s from Tibet and must crave the cold. That’s what we decided while covering the Dalai Lama. The air conditioning in the hotel ballroom where he was about to hold a press conference intermittently plunged into the freezing zone.

But I also appreciate a chill in the air. I think clearly and feel sharper. And when you’re about to meet the Dalai Lama, clear and sharp is what you need to be.

The Dalai Lama is in Newark, New Jersey to participate in a conference on global peace and he took questions from journalists Thursday before the launch of the peace summit.

I asked the Dalai Lama if it’s ever ok for someone to be killed in the name of justice, like Osama Bin Laden. The Dalai Lama made some comments in California last week that left people feeling he believed Bin Laden’s death was justified. In his answer to my question the Dalai Lama said he feels Bin Laden was already a “defeated” man and believes his death at the hands of the U-S military was wrong. He also acknowledged all of the people who disagree with his thinking.

After 45 minutes of answering questions…The Dalai Lama left the stage and as he did, looked my direction, paused, gave a quick bow of his head and shook my hand.  It was an extraordinary moment that I will remember the rest of my life.

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Daytime Emmys: What’ll Be Left To Nominate?

May 12, 2011

When they announced the Daytime Emmy Award nominations today, I had to wonder: what’s going to be left to nominate in  a couple of years? It’s clear the soap opera is fading fast from the television landscape.

And unlike the characters of daytime drama, these shows aren’t coming back from the dead.

ABC is pulling the plug on “All My Children” and “One Life To Live.” Last year CBS canceled “As The World Turns” and the year before that the network flipped the switch on “Guiding Light.”

Soon the Daytime Emmy awards broadcast will devote more time to farewell segments for canceled soaps than it does to handing out statues.

Does the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences even offer an Emmy when we’re down to one or two soaps? Will matriarchs Jeanne Cooper of “The Young And The Restless” and Susan Flannery of “The Bold And The Beautiful” be dueling it out for best lead actress in a daytime drama…when they are the only two soaps left on the air?

That’s something the Emmys will have to figure out. But audiences have already decided: daytime drama is no longer a genre worth watching. The days of appointment viewing for a soap, the endless hoopla over “Luke and Laura’s Wedding,” the cultural relevance of the soap opera…are gone.

The drama people want now…outrageous, unbelievable, absurd, over the top…is found in reality shows like “Jersey Shore.” Who needs  the feuding Mrs. Chancellor and Jill Abbott when you’ve got Snooki and The Situation smashed and looking to fight?

Networks, in fact,  seem likely to find it cheaper and better for ratings to replay primetime reality competition shows in the daytime…”Biggest Loser,” “Survivor”…and re-air reality shows produced for first run on cable entities owned by a network…the way NBC runs episodes of “The Real Housewives” franchise originally aired on the network’s Bravo cable channel.

Soaps have lost their audience by attrition for the better part of the last two decades as fewer people were home during the day to watch and as younger viewers turned to cable for more hip, fast paced shows.

While the audience doesn’t mourn the death of soaps they’ve long ago stopped watching, there is one thing I do find disappointing about it: the jobs lost.

I was on the set of “Guiding Light” twice, in 2008 and 2009, interviewing cast members for “ON THE SCENE” first about the show’s change in production model,  and the second time about it’s cancelation. (The shaky cam reality look it was going for didn’t work out so well.) But I remember all the actors and crew members… the make-ups artists,  photographers,  sound technicians, prop managers and others, some of whom had worked on “Guiding Light” for 30 years. Where are they now?

When a genre goes down, it takes a lot of good jobs with it.

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The Time I Interviewed Arthur Laurents

May 6, 2011

“The cords, Mr. Laurents. Be careful of the cords. Mr. Laurents look out!”

My last words to Arthur Laurents.

It was April 2009, I had just finished taping an interview with him. He was leaving the Cabaret room of George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and the feet of this 91 year old legend had gotten tangled in a mass of microphone and light cords.

He appeared not to hear me and he kept trying to step his way out of it.

Teetering, he looked like he was about to hit the floor. There were a lot of cords and we needed to untangle them.  But Arthur just wanted to get to dress rehearsal.

“Goddammit, stop walking!”  I wanted to yell at him by this point.

If you knew Arthur Laurents, you know that’s what he probably would have responded to, and appreciated the humor in it.

When I heard today that he had died, of course it made me think of our interview, but also of his incredible longevity and body of work. He wrote the books for the iconic musicals “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” the screenplay for “The Way We Were” and also for the Hitchcock classic, “Rope.”

And he kept writing till the end.

He was debuting a new play, “New Year’s Eve,” starring Keith Carradine and Marlo Thomas when we met. I also interviewed Thomas that night. She talked to me about his attention to detail, the seriousness of his craft.

Arthur Laurents had a reputation for being caustic and tough on actors. I asked him about it and he shot right back, “I don’t know where you got that but you were misled. There is not anything that I have directed where the actors did not love me. For one simple reason: when you give love you get love.”

A few weeks later it was reported he had reamed the cast of the “West Side Story” revival on Broadway for too many sick outs and cast replacements soon followed.

He also peppered our interview with sexual references. I remember during edit sessions for “ON THE SCENE” laughing as we watched his comparisons between going to the theatre and having sex, which I made sure were included in the final piece.

“People are so afraid they’re going to do something wrong. Have a good time, have sex. Go to the theatre, enjoy the show, don’t worry about what anybody says.”

Arthur Laurents was colorful, opinionated, talented, and it seems to me did everything he ever wanted to do in life.

I’m honored that I had the chance to interview him…cords and all.