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What We Can Learn From The Maya Rudolph Show

Maya2A few Monday's ago, NBC aired The Maya Rudolph Show. I'm always interested in new attempts at prime-time variety shows. These days networks are so anxious about variety shows, they will only allow these one-off specials in order to test the waters. If ratings do well, they promise a series. So far, none have made it. 

Remember 2004's The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour? Then there was Rosie Live, The Osbournes Reloaded, recent specials by both Carrie Underwood and Lady Gaga.

Cher’s first show in her solo series was ostensibly a "special" too but it seemed understood by all that her show would make the schedule. In fact, Cher aired as regular programming starting the very next week.

I love variety shows and feel we've been enjoying many good ones over the years on late-night television (SNL, Mad TV and SCTV). Our last successful prime-time skit show was In Living Color.

So I watched The Maya Rudolph Show hoping for a breakthrough. Maya's is a very talented comedian and I thought maybe she might share Cher's vaudvillian abilities.

Unfortunately, all I ended up with was a list of reasons why Cher TV shows of the 1970s were so much better.

1. You need a self-deprecating and friendly host. Sonny filled this role on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and Cher filled it herself on her solo show. Maya's opening was too much Gen-X irony with a number called “My Show” where Maya sang about my-show-this and my-show-that. Aside from the now-clichéd status of such meta-ironic narcissism, it's just not very host-ly. You need to be more welcoming. You don’t have to go overboard, but some kind of gesture is required vis-à-vis tone. In a variety show, it really isn't all about you. And courteousness here isn't a virtue. It makes the show work.

Maya12. You need some extra-special bling. Maya's show reminded me of Cher's as she threw off one set of clothes for another in her opening number (a number that went on way too long). In fact, Maya changed outfits many times but, sad to say, they clothes did not meet variety show bling-bling standards and they didn't flatter her figure. The show needed a Bob Mackie, more fashion risk-taking, more outrageousness. The show Viva Variety understood more of what variety needs in the way of flair, even if it was just a spoof. (Finally, pieces of this show are starting to appear Vvon the YouseTubes.)

3. The host must exhibit a combination of conversational naturalness while simultaneously "owning it." For the most part, Maya's performance seemed too self-conscious. Hosts need to take charge and connect with the audience. They need the kind of common-ness that connects with middle-America but also the specialness that makes them a star.

3. The audience was too big and thus overpowering the stage with their cheers. It felt too SNL. In fact the skits seemed entirely SNL. The Garmin sketch was funny but I was reminded too much at all times of SNL, a show with a definitive tone. It is possible to come from SNL and break from its tone. The show Portlandia proves this is possible. But I am beginning to wonder if you sign on with SNL, are you indentured in servitude to Lorne Michaels for perpetuity?

4. The original music was mostly song jokes (again of SNL/Adam Sandler ilk). There were too stagey. They would have been helped by some dancing or animation or something. Joke songs make good records but bad TV.

5. Variety shows were awesome then and now because they brought together unlikely combinations of celebrities to see what would happen. Maya's show was populated primarily with guests who were too much like her. Where's the variety there? In Strong Enough, Josiah Howard talked about how challenging this was for the writers of Cher's show. They had to write skits that would work for diverse artists. It does sound hard. But that's why the payoff is so good.

It was charming when Maya oozed happiness at the end of her show, saying "Oh my God, this was fun!" But it wasn't as much fun for the audience. As a variety show host, you have to think beyond the my-show-ness. Secondly, good variety takes money. I wonder if any networks are willing to put bank behind that kind of risk anymore...for anything besides singing competitions. 

If a network could combine that kind of The Voice-song-excitement (real feel-goodness) with edgy Portlandia-like skits and truly a variety of music and performers, they would have a winning show.

Watch The Maya Rudolph Show on Hulu

  


Cher in Entertainment Weekly & Random Cher Thoughts

PinkcherThe Bullseye page of the magazine Entertainment Weekly has always interested me as being the barometer of what people are talking about week to week in U.S. pop culture. You don’t typically see has-beens there unless they've done something worthy of the proverbial water cooler.

In the May 23 issue Cher is referenced twice in Bullseye, once for the news about being on the secret Wu-Tang Clan album. EW jokes she’ll go by “Sparkleface Killah.” And two for Liza Minnelli and Rosie O’Donnell appearing onstage at one of her NYC shows during Cyndi Lauper’s opening set. EW makes a Hot in Cleveland joke.

Last weekend I caught up on some Oprah’s Master Class shows. I don't know why I love these but I find them all pretty moving and/or informative.

SarandonSusan Sarandon: I always sensed tension between Cher and Susan Sarandon during Witches of Eastwick interviews back in the 1980s. At least they didn’t seem as friendly with each other afterwards as they were with other cast members. But watching Master Class, it would seem Cher actually has a lot in common with Susan Sarandon, who talked about the art of relationships in the rational way Cher does. She talked about the issues of aging in Hollywood and how she deals with it. She also makes a good case for celebrity political activism. She said something I've hear Cher say often, how it’s the things you don’t do that you regret and not the things you do. Interestingly, she now owns a ping pong franchise.

CrawfordCindy Crawford's episode also impressed me much more than I anticipated it would. She talked about leaving her cell phone out of situations of personal interaction because, she says, you can’t multitask presence. She also talked about being on a retreat and being asked to come up with her core passion. Interestingly, this is not necessarily a job description. She chose something open-ended like Communication. I thought about this and wondered if my core passion might be Organizing. I love to sort things. Is there a job description for that core passion?

The Vivian Vance Museum

VanceOkay, it wasn't a whole museum. But it was a room in a museum. Mr. Cher Scholar and I visited our local art & history museum. That's right. Albuquerque conflates the two so that the museum is neither fully a good art museum or history museum. Wandering around in there, we came up an entire exhibit devoted to Vivian Vance. Apparently Vivian got her start in Albuquerque (although she was born in Cherryvale, Kansas--Mr. Cher Scholar country). The museum was full of news clippings, awards and memorabilia from I Love Lucy days. The exhibit gave me plenty of ideas about the future Chersonian Institute: interpretative plaques, track lighting, security guards scolding patrons to not get too close. Pamphlets. Oohh...I love museum pamphlets!

Vivian's sister is selling scrapbooks and homemade memory books. Visitors could grab a postcard and mail in an order.

  


Florida Concert Reviews and New Dates Added

ChandcostumeReviews

Jacksonville, Florida

"certainly more Broadway than it was rock concert...You just never knew what was coming next. She’d sing a song or two in some outrageous get-up, generally made up of flesh-colored material and a few strategically placed scraps."

Orlando, Florida

"featuring Cher in a groovy red mini-skirt. Sonny’s video cameo in “I Got You Babe” was less creepy than other such technologically generated collaborations. Maybe that’s because there’s plenty of heart in Cher’s spectacle, enough humor and shoot-from-the-hip candor to humanize the flashy excesses.

...a formidable catalog of hits"

SelfieNew Concert Dates

Last week tickets went on sale for some new East coast dates.

For more information, check out:

Cher also made a Today Show appearance, granting a rare tour-bus interview with Tamron Hall. They talked about Cher's shyness. Tamron talked Cher into doing a selfie, something she claimed she's never done. It's toots adorbes!

Watch the interview

     


NYC and East Coast Concert Reviews

AngelsmakeCharlotte, North Carolina

"...Cher isn’t just any artist. At 67 (she’ll be 68 later this month), she’s the oldest female artist currently touring a full-scale arena show. But when she wore the floor-length Native American headdress and stick-straight black hair during 'Half-Breed,' it was as if time had stopped in 1973.

...So how does an AARP-card-carrying diva rule an arena for almost two hours and 17 songs? She paces herself, and takes a couple inches off her stilettos.

....[She] soared through the crowd looking as if she’d stepped from a Raphaelite painting during the closer of 'I Hope You Find It.'

...As much as Cher played the over-the-top Vegas diva, what fans really like about her is when she gets real. For all the plastic surgery, skin, men, and incredible acting credits, Cher came off as pretty normal.

Raleigh, North Carolina

"For 'Half Breed,' she donned a Native American headdress and little else. (The recent kerfuffle involving the Flaming Lips, the daughter of the governor of Oklahoma and a native American headdress was clearly not an issue.)

I hadn't heard about this. Here is the story, the latest controversey involving American Indian appropriation. I still wonder how Cher gets away with this without similar critique.

...During a montage of Cher movie moments, a fan could be heard exclaiming appreciatively, 'Silkwood—now that’s my shit!'"

New York City

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas at the show

The New York Daily News

"Rosie O'Donnell, Liza Minelli make guest appearance onstage during Cindy Lauper's opening set ahead of Cher's 'Dressed to Kill' performance in Brooklyn Friday.

...It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Cher!

...The unkillable star swooped into Barclays Center on Friday with all the oddity and wonder of a superhero, if not a UFO.

...After more than half a century of media exposure, it’s still hard to prepare for the sight of a 68-year-old woman teetering on a sky-high platform, while crowned with a multitiered headdress of feathers, looking like nothing so much as the Queen of the Peacock People.

...Needless to say, Cher gets the joke in all this better than anyone. But sometimes it seems like she gets it too well. The star can claim a seriously catchy, and impressively varied, trove of thrilling hits — from “The Beat Goes On” right through the new “Woman’s World.” And her vibrato-heavy, pansexual vocals have a timbre, and a style, like no other singer.

...Of course, much of the show's joy, and even its poignancy, came from its mission to defy common notions of taste, age and even self-parody. The lazy would call it camp. But it’s beyond that. Ultimately, it can only be described as just so incredibly Cher."

The Daily Mail Online

This article has really good pics and a trailer for the show. Another page on the show.

The New York Post

The Examiner

"Cher still rules.

...Unlike Lady Gaga, Cher isn't giving away hundreds of tickets in order to make her shows look full. Unlike Madonna, she isn't starting her shows two hours late."

Atlanta, Georgia

"Some musical events are concerts. Some are shows.

...But Cher always crafts her live outings as something completely unique – spectacles that are embellished to the point of excess. A concert within a show within a Broadway production.

...Cher planted her empowerment flag and let it fly for the night.

...While chatter will inevitably focus on the glitziest showpieces – the ginormous golden horse that opened to reveal a blonde-wigged Cher for the dance floor popper 'Take it Like a Man,' the well-produced Cher-as-vampire video preceding 'Dressed to Kill' – some of the show’s most memorable moments came without the razzle dazzle.

...And while the glitzy neon-clad dancers that pumped up 'Believe' were fun to watch, it was far more meaningful observing Cher close out the night with the new ballad, 'I Hope You Find It,' as she flew over the crowd while belting the poignant song."

 


Wu-Tang, Sheena Easton and Freeman & Murray

WutangThe big news last week was that Cher is to be featured on the new Wu-Tang Clan album. Quite a few people sent me this news, even my Billboard-watching friend Christopher. This was a pretty big deal. Cher was credited in early press releases as Bonnie Jo Mason, a nod to her first pseudonym.

If you listen to the video, you can hear one of Cher's clips. Frustratingly, the album may never be released. One copy will be sold to the highest bidder and then the album may tour as part of museum exhibit. Is this a publicity stunt? Stay tuned.

Read about it here: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/cher-wu-tang-collaborate-for-two-songs-on-secret-album-20140507

SheenaToday my iPod shuffle served up this 80s-perfect and under-appreciated Sheena Easton tune "You Could Have Been With Me." Watch the video to remember what a great song this was.

I've always felt the intro was "I Got You Babe." What do you think?

 

 

 

FreemanlangstonThe book Strong Enough tipped me off to the existence of the Freeman and Murray (Freeman King/Murray Langston) comedy album, "featured on The Sonny & Cher Show. I scored a copy from overseas. It came yesterday and I was afraid I'd have to go out and re-buy a turntable to listen to it.

Fortunately today I found clips on the yousetubes:

 

The back cover contains quotes from many of the people who either worked for Sonny & Cher (David Brenner as their concert opening act) or who were guest stars or big stars of from that time: Sally Struthers, Rob Reiner, Redd Foxx, Mark Spitz, Tennessee Ernie Ford, David Brenner, Ted Zeigler, Harvey Korman, Jean Stapelton, and Don Adams.

I haven't listened to much from the links above, but from what I've seen on the cover and have heard so far, I like their casual yet full-throttle foray into racial comedy and stereotype-busting. Very progressive-sounding (then and now).

The liner notes are odd, using the convention of being personally written but there is no author identified. They describe King as an athletic drop-out from Plahatchie, Mississippi, and Langston as being from Montreal.

   


Cher in Elle Magazine

ElleI went out last Monday and the Elle Magazine issue with Miley Cyrus was already on the shelves. I am terrible at breaking news.

Anyway, the piece is a disappointing single photo with only a quarter-page of text. But Elle does a lot with that little bit of text. First of all, Cher the only artist in the spread who didn't start a career decades ago, (unless you count Neneh Cherry from the 1980s). This is a list of young upstarts including Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande, Jetta, Warpaint, Lilly Allen (a new Mr. Cher Scholar favorite), Banks, Kacey Musgraves, and Foxes.

It's also interesting that they focus on the idea of Cher not liking the words legend, icon and diva. They then go on to describe why she is a legend, icon and diva.

It is comforting to know Cher doesn’t go around her house declaring she’s a diva. But this is a good time to note the difference between Cher the person and Cher the product/media image. The person is one thing, a private person we may never know. But as a media product, as a brand…Cher is a legendary word. Even if she distances her self personally from the word (which sounds like a healthy move to me), I hope she can take pride in the company name.

   


I Walk Alone Remixes and Concert Reviews

FaceTour Review

Philadelphia review with Philly with Patti LaBelle in attendance!

The reviewer comments on sitting next to Patti LaBelle and white-guy dancing observed at the show and the fact he thinks Cher needs to sing more. He says the show is worth seeing with tickets as low as $25 in some cities. "That's just over $2 per costume."

Another Philly review

"Cher. Just. Is. The singer/actress, now 67, has been her own singular brand of spectacle since Sonny & Cher of the '60s. Her long career has embraced, in turn, Phil-Spector-style pop, thumping '70s kitsch, disco, hair-rock, mod burlesque, and Auto-Tuned house music, yet seldom in a manner you've heard elsewhere. Her quirky take on those genres and musical mood-swings was on full-feathered display Monday at Wells Fargo Center -- to the delight of a packed house, which was equally delighted by Cher's supporting act, the indestructible Cyndi Lauper...Actually, much of the show felt as if it was more a series of schmaltzy set-and-costume changes and Cher-chatter, with occasional songs thrown in. Luckily, her voice was delicious, filled with deep, long vowels, even when iced-over by Auto-Tune robotics during the techno-tronic 'Believe.'"

Columbus, Ohio, review

"Cher and Cyndi Lauper, two iconic singers, dazzled a packed Nationwide Arena audience last night in a concert that was impressive both musically and as a spectacle...[including] a mind-blowing, ground-touching Indian headdress of pink, blue and orange feathers for Half Breed."

Cleveland, Ohio, review

Reviewer comments on the danger of the pedestal entrance and Cher's comment about it: "What’s my safety compared to your happiness?” Reviewer concluded, "At 67, she’s still the diva to beat."

Cleveland.com also did a profile of Cher

The article is reverent and has a very funny description of Cher in a headdress backstage. Also Cher gives more information about the genesis of Laverne, including influences from All in the Family's Edith Bunker. Most interesting are Cher's comments about not being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as she's basically making these comments in the Hall of Fames backyard.

Two things are interesting to me about this scandal: one, that Cher continues to champion Sonny as being snubbed along side her (when you could argue that her recording career has surpassed  not only many of the current inductees but their career as a duo in sales--as the Cleveland.com article mentions--and breaking Billboard records, not to mention setting trends)...but that she feels so strongly that Sonny should be a part of it; and two, that people are really, really behind her. Many interviewers ask her about this. Not just the Cleveland site alone, but David Letterman and others. It's starting to look like a glaring error on the Hall of Fame's part. She has a lot of support from interesting corners.  

Cher I Walk Alone Because I love this CD single cover so much, I figured out a way to make a physical version of it for my shelf. If you buy this CD through iTunes, you can use the File/Print feature to print out your own CD cover. This includes the front picture and a track listing for the backside. You need your own plastic CD cover case but you can get a package of these at Best Buy or Target or other fine stores.

Incredibly, I've never worked-out to a Cher song. Not in aerobics or at the gym. I know! It's bizarre. I got on the treadmill yesterday to the first remix on the CD and it was a wonderful thing. Cher's voice somehow gets you to walk really assertively.