Michigan J. Frog

My grandson and I agree that the Warner Bros. cartoon One Froggy Evening is the funniest cartoon ever made. Until this year, you could stream it on Max. Then, the idiots there, in a cost-saving move, deleted Looney Tunes from 1950-2004, including “What's Opera, Doc?”, “Feed the Kitty,” “Rabbit of Seville,” “Duck Amuck” and “One Froggy Evening.” As I said, idiots. Most of these cartoons you can find on Itunes for 99 cents or 1.29.

In case you don’t remember it, One Froggy Evening  is the template for Mr. Ed. There is a singing and dancing frog (later the spokescartoon for the WB network) who only performs when he is alone with his owner. The rest of the time he just croaks. Unlike Wilbur, this owner ruins his life trying to make a buck off the frog. Directed, of course, by Chuck Jones.

It is on the DVD Looney Tunes All Stars, Volume One. You can buy an electronic copy of Froggy Evening alone on Itunes for 99 cents. You can buy it on Amazon Prime for $2.99, or you can buy the DVD for about $30 on EBay.

See it again, or for the first time. You’ll enjoy it.


What We’re Watching

While I have been keeping you apprised of my books and music (well, at least my own music), I have been remiss in sharing my TV habits with you. In no particular order:

Only Murders in the Building/Hulu

They had me at Steve Martin and Martin Short. And they didn’t lose me at Selena Gomez. Intrepid podcast murder hounds do an Angela Lansbury on a building in Manhattan that seems to have a Cabot-Cove like rate of murders per capita. Hysterically entertaining.

Lessons in Chemistry/Apple

The book was amazing, the TV series is even better (and probably won’t be back for a second season, says the creator). If you think women are treated like shit now, get a load of 1952.

The Holdovers /Amazon

Another great Alexander Payne movie, this time featuring Paul Giamatti at his most Paul Giamatti-ish. Fantastic, entertaining, moves right along. If you hate predictability, this it the movie for you. A 50% unsatisfying ending, very odd for an American movie, but that in itself was refreshing.

 The Crown/Netflix

If you’re not already watching this, let me help you pick the wallpaper pattern for the cave you’re living in. I suggest starting with season one if you haven’t seen any yet.

The Original 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special/You Tube

I haven’t watched it yet, but after years of references in the Sally Forth cartoon strip, I am anxious to see it, as you should be too.

 

A Murder At The End Of The World/Hulu

A version of a locked-room mystery with a billionaire, and all the snow Iceland (either real or on a Hollywood back lot) you could ask for.

 

Life On Our Planet/Netflix

Planet Earth III /Amazon

You pays your money and takes your chances. Morgan Freeman or Richard Attenborough.

 

Schmicago Apple TV

Extremely impressive pastiche parodies in the style of various eras in the Broadway musical.

 

The Patient/ FX on Hulu

There’s a term for this: a two-hander. The series consists almost entirely of Steve Carell―in a career defining role―trying to calm down a patient who has locked him in a basement in order to force him to provide therapy. The ending is not obvious until the very last moment. From the people who brought you The Americans.

 

Galaxy Quest/Apple TV
Groundhog Day/Amazon

And then two of the greatest movies ever, which I have written about so often that I feel they need no introduction. Just a reminder to watch them again and bask in their perfection.


To Script or Not To Script?

That isn’t really even a question. I’ve been told I should be speaking from notes. I previously noted that I did not manage that trick during my last concert MC job. Then, I realized I had done an entire half-hour radio broadcast of my love songs, since my come-to-Jesus moment with my friends, sans script. Not even the opening, and I have been scripting the openings of my live broadcasts since I was 14. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. As we used to say in the old days, Honk Honk, Waddles The Goose.


Getting Paid To Read The Paper

I’ve been a New Yorker subscriber for 50 years. For the first 20 years, I read it cover-to-cover every week. Sometimes that was a difficult task. When my mother heard about it, she said “No one’s paying you to read it,” so I stopped.

It suddenly occurred to me recently that for the five years after I graduated from MIT, I was paid to read the paper. AP and UPI obviously required the local papers to be scoured for news items. At Bank of America I was in the PR department, and was assigned to read the San Francisco Examiner every day from first page to last. At the Oregon Journal it was required that we read the Oregonian cover-to-cover every day. In addition, it was strongly advised that we read a few out-of-town papers from elsewhere in Oregon, looking for uncovered news.

Then in 1979 I joined the trade press fraternity, where we were encouraged to read the local newspapers, but only the front page and the business section―looking for Silicon Valley news.

I enjoyed being paid to read the newspaper and sometimes I miss it, even the Hartford Courant.


Family Newspaper Ownership

The family that owns the Seattle Times makes me continue to wish that the Jacksons still owned The Oregon Journal (and that Newhouse hadn’t shot it in the head), the De Youngs still owned the Chronicle and that the Grahams still owned the Washington Post. Vulture capitalists and rapacious, penny-pinching chain ownership (HELLO NEWHOUSE) are destroying a public service industry I once served and loved. When this slow-motion train wreck (or controlled flight into terrain) was just underway, a venerable Texas journalist had the right idea:

I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying-it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.
-Molly Ivins


Loud

There is a Computer Chronicles story I have been dining out on for decades, especially any time I am being micced up for a TV appearance. My voice is loud and booming. During a sound check, a Chronicles sound engineer once said, "Paul, the reason you wear a mic is so that you don't have to speak directly to the people at home. Could you bring it down a little?"


After 143 years, Possibly The End Of The Tech

[Note to regular linear readers: You may have already noticed the version of this item placed between the end of the September 4 column and the start of the August 28 column. I needed to post it as background for a meeting. So, if you’re the kind of person who flies off the end of the runway, you can skip this one.]

The Tech is MIT’s student newspaper, offering continuous news service since 1881 (hence the slogan that starts my column every week). In 1973-74 I was editor-in-chief of Vol. 93; I also helped pay for, arrange and publicize the Centennial Celebration in1981. I fear there will not be a bicentennial in 2081 or maybe even a newspaper this year. The headlines: drenched and depowered servers. Very little staff in the Covid aftermath. Expenses exceed revenue, Read more about The Tech’s Existential Opportunity.


About Writing 3: The Stylebook in My Head

(Length Warning)

There are many writing stylebooks; too many to mention.

But there is only one I was simultaneously paid and ordered to memorize, and chastised severely and publicly for failure to follow: the AP/UPI Joint Stylebook, circa 1975.

For example, (I may have mentioned this before): there is almost no sentence in which the word “that” cannot be removed. “He said he remembered that he had done it,” is shorter and means the same if it is “He said he remembered he had done it.” I have spent four decades pruning the word “that” out of my copy and that (oops!) of others.

“Only buses and trains are due,” said my UPI boss. “The company failed due to management incompetence,” a frequently recurring trope, should be expressed as, “The company failed because of management incompetence.”

Never imply causation. “Meanwhile, elsewhere in Boston,” was almost always intended to imply causation or connection. If you can prove either of those things, explain WHY you have added the “elsewhere” information. Or be more direct: “As a result of the fire, trains were stopped.”

On the more informal radio wire, you could say “Jones said the budget was over three million dollars in the red.” But on the more formal newspaper wire, “There was a deficit of more than $2.97 million,  according to Jones.” Now, even the New York Times has given in, and allows “over” as a synonym for “more than.”

 UPI’s Don Davis must be rolling in his grave, picturing a bag of money floating in the air, an image he frequently invoked when chiding writers for violating the rule.


About Writing 2: Inverted Pyramid

There are some shibboleths in journalism. The first sentence should answer the four w’s: Who, What, When and Where. Great ledes (that’s how we spell it, to prevent confusion with the molten lead once used to set type) also include Why, when available.

Another is that the story should be an inverted pyramid: the most important information first, the least important last. This was done so that illiterate press operators (yes, there were such) could cut stories in the pressroom without editorial intervention.

It is still done because a busy reader may not finish the story, but should walk away with the most important information.

Pardon me if I have told this story before (perhaps even recently). When I worked at the Bank of America in 1977, memos were a thing. Generally, they were written like good paragraphs. Topic sentence, information, concluding sentence. Action requests came at the end.

I wrote mine as inverted pyramids, starting with what I wanted done. Most important information first, least last. This so impressed several of the senior VPs I worked for that they asked me to write memos for them and teach their assistants how to do it.

Memos, I feel certain, have gone the way of Dodos, but the inverted pyramid is not a bad idea for your emails either. Start with what you want done, then explain how and why. You could throw in When and Where if you like