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25 June, 2012

The Newsroom

A few thoughts on HBO's new show, The Newsroom  

  "It's Not. But it can be."

   I am a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin's work. The West Wing is my favorite TV show of all time. So when I heard Aaron Sorkin was working on a show for HBO about life in a newsroom, I was giddy.
   My biggest fear for the show was that as an "insider" on life in a newsroom ( I worked local news in Orlando as a producer for four years before moving on to ESPN in 1994. So, while every experience is different, I certainly have a good sense of what life in a newsroom is like), I would spend too much time saying "That would never happen," and not find the show enjoyable. I've been here before. Remember the gawd awful film Up Close and Personal, with Robert Redford and Michelle Pfieffer?
In that movie, Pfieffer is a reporter taping interviews inside a prison cell when a riot breaks out. When news of the riot reaches her tv station, they ask her to go live from inside the prison. Never mind that you can't just flip a switch on a camera and be live. You actually have to run cables, power up your live truck, etc., so you would think in a movie about broadcast news, that wouldn't happen, yet it did. Imagine you were watching an episode of ER and the doctor didn't have a scalpel so he said "Tire iron!" and performed surgery with a tire iron. Same thing. So I was prepared to watch episode one of Sorkin's latest work with a skeptical yet hopeful eye.

   One of the thing's I love most about Sorkin is what I call his stamp speech. It's the speech in an episode when a character says "Here I am, in a nutshell, this is all you need to know about me." It grabs your attention, tickles your senses and makes you say "Damn, I am all in on that guy." The character is putting his stamp on the show.  Sorkin didn't wait long on this show, giving Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) a stamp speech in the opening scene. McAvoy drops a CM Punk-style pipe bomb on his his college crowd audience, grabbing the viewer by the collar and telling us what is at his core.
Mission accomplished.

   I saw a headline the other day that read "Will McAvoy is not Olbermann." I didn't read the story because I didn't want to learn anything about the show without having seen it, but having seen it now, there is a lot of Keith Olbermann in Will McAvoy. I produced the 11pm SportsCenter for a few years at the end of Keith's tenure. My experience with Keith was this; he is a brilliant writer, a really smart guy, extremely passionate about his job and incredibly loyal to those he cares for. He also struck me as a guy who wasn't happy unless he was unhappy, overly concerned about things that were out of his control and capable of being difficult to work with. The hours in the day leading up to the show could be difficult, but the hour on the air was almost always memorable and enjoyable. It was hard for me to watch Will McAvoy and not think "that's Olbermann!" By the way, Keith had an inner-ear problem stemming from an accident and couldn't drive a car, so when McAvoy claims "Vertigo medicine!" for the reason for his rant, I couldn't help but think of Keith.

   My friend Pete hated The West Wing because "no one ever talks that way." That was one of the reasons that I loved it. I like to think that there are people who talk that way. Occasionally, I talk that way and my friends talk that way, only when I do it, people think I'm a smartass. When it's done properly on TV, it's elevated dialogue. Episode one of The Newsroom had more than it's fair share of those conversations, none of which lessened my appreciation of the show. It's a Sorkin staple and something I miss from my TV viewing experience. Welcome back, elevated dialogue.

    I liked the way the show captured the "buzz" of the newsroom when a story breaks. Everyone does get a little excited, your heart rate does kick up a bit, we do run around trying to figure out who is doing what and what the next steps are going to be. It's fun, it's exhilarating and one of the reasons working in a news room can be very rewarding. Tip of the cap to Sorkin for capturing that.
   I also noted the way the show was edited. The West Wing had it's staple, never-ending stedi cam shot, where many scenes were shot with the perpetually moving single camera look. The Newsroom featured quick cuts, occasional rack focus shots and had a rougher feel to it. Certainly different from The West Wing but it felt right.

   Sorkin has always been about political messages. I've never been one to get worked up about that. Frankly, most of that discussion is over my head anyway, so while people might feel like this show was too message heavy or too politically driven, it's not a lane I drive in. One of the reasons I don't care is that Sorkin always does a good job of picking the right person to deliver his message. Besides Daniels (who is excellent) the best conduit for Sorkin may be Sam Waterston. Waterson is a hoot in his role of  Charlie Skinner, McAvoy's boss. A little drunk, a little fatigued and perhaps a few pixels short of an HD picture, Waterston may end up being the voice of Josh, Toby and Leo all rolled into one.

    So was it true to life? Was it an accurate depiction of a news room? Yes and no. Obviously things need to be enhanced or glamorized to make it entertaining TV. If you go into your local ER, it's not going to look or feel a lot like the ER we've seen on TV. So yes, the dialogue is at a higher level, the pace and substance of what happened in this episode within the news room was stretched beyond what you might normally see, even on a busy day. Would an assistant be promoted to Associate Producer by accident? Unlikely. The biggest stretch was easily the new executive producer and her senior producer basically taking over the newsroom and producing the nightly news on their first day. That was the tire iron equivalent in this episode. Some of the control room stuff (like the producer giving the graphics operator phoner panels to build, or the statement from BP) was very accurate. In the end, the "enhancements" didn't diminish my enjoyment of the show, but they did raise an eyebrow.

   There are a few red flags for me after one episode.  
   They gave us six characters of substance to get to know. McAvoy and Skinner are the only two I'm in on right from the start. The fact that two of the story lines presented have romantic implications is discouraging. They weren't needed in The West Wing and hopefully they won't be needed here.
Also, given that this show is on HBO, there wasn't much differentiating it from a network show, save for a few F-bombs.
   In the opening scene of the show, McAvoy is going to bite his tongue when asked "Why is America the greatest country in the world?" but he thinks he sees his former producer/girl friend in the crowd holding up signs that say "It's not, but it can be." This prompts McAvoy to unleash his stamp speech.
After watching the first episode that answer also applies to this question, "Is this a great TV show?"
   It's not, but it can be.                

(if you like Sorkin, you'll enjoy this

19 June, 2012

Scared Sh%@less

   That was the sound of me exhaling this week with the news that Ladainian Tomlinson was retiring.
   Granted, Tomlinson's best days have been over for a few years, but few players have scared the s*#t out of me more than him. All of this got me thinking about a favorite topic of mine, the Scares Me to Death guys. As fans of sports, we all have them, the guy on one of the teams your team plays frequently that makes you hold your breath, just praying that he isn't going to shred your team, and your hopes, to pieces. As a Broncos fan, Tomlinson was that guy for me. Here's my list of NFL, NBA and MLB players as well as the guys who are taking the mantle.

NFL: Ladainian Tomlinson
   This is a case where one game, early in his career, may have set the tone for the rest of his career.
In Tomlinson's second year and his fourth career game against Denver, he carried 37 times for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns. After that day I took a deep breath every time Tomlinson was on the field against Denver. I watched his carries through the spaces between my fingers with my hands pressed over my eyes, like someone watching a horror film. For his career, Tomlinson played 19 games, rushed for 1,540 yards and 22 touchdowns. After that 220 yard game, Tomlinson only had four more 100-yard games against Denver, but that didn't lessen the fear. In 2006 he had two, 3-TD games against the Broncos. In December of that year, when he was closing in on the single-season touchdown record, there was no doubt he would do it against Denver. He did, with 3 scores. Tomlinson was fast and strong and dynamic and every time he played against Denver, he scared the crap out of me.

Honorable mention: Bo Jackson. Mostly just because he scared everyone, but in five games against Denver, Bo rushed 54 times for 308 yards (5.7 per carry) and scored 5 TD's.

Now: Jamaal Charles.
Charles has played six games vs. Denver and has 492 yards on 81 carries. That's 6.07 a pop, with three TD's. He also has 14 receptions for 119 yards and seems like a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands.

MLB: Chipper Jones (who else?!)
   The numbers speak for themselves, .316/.412/.556  48 HR, 156 RBI in 820 ABs.
   In the 7th inning or later, Chipper hit .346 against the Mets with 12 HR, 34 RBI and 46 BB in 222 ABs.
   Chipper was especially good at delivering the dagger. When leading by one run, he hit .374 with 9 HR and 17 RBI in 99 ABs. When trailing by a run, .341 with 8 HR and 22 RBI in 85 ABs.
   The best/worst part of baseball is the "looming" part of a lineup. As innings unfold and rallies are underway, you can count the batters until "that guy" is coming up. It's like seeing the killer coming with the knife, or hiding behind the curtains. Thankfully, like the Halloween sequels, Chipper is finally going away.

Honorable mention: Mike Schmidt.
   As a younger baseball fan, Schmidt was the first great opposing player I saw on a regular basis.
His power was terrifying. He hit balls so hard, cows cried for their fallen comrades. In 851 career ABs against New York, Schmidt hit 43 HR with 143 RBI.

Now: Bryce Harper.
   This kid is only 19. That means there's a good chance he'll be terrorizing the Mets for the next 15 to 20 years. I'm going to have to eat a lot of roughage for all the crap Harper is going to scare out of me.

NBA: Larry Bird
   I was a HUGE Dr.J fan as a kid, so this is pretty obvious. Unfortunately, I can't find splits or game logs for Bird vs the 76ers until 1984, which excludes much of the damage he did against my guys. This rivalry was heated, bitter and nasty. Bird was a ruthless killer who could get you in so many ways, I just cringed every time the ball was in his hands in a big spot. I honestly don't think I've ever hated a pro athlete more than I hated Bird in those days. I was 12-17 years old during the height of the rivalry, so my sports fans emotions were as out of control as my hormones. NBA games weren't on TV every night like they are now, so when Philly and Boston played, it was often the game of the week, making it feel like an even bigger deal. Doc and Bird had their famous fight. There was the back-to-back years of the 76ers and their 3-games-to-1 series leads going to a 7th game. It was just gut wrenching seemingly every time they went at it and Bird was the horrifying slasher stalking my hero every step of the way.

Honorable mention: Sydney Moncrief.
   The Bucks were the third man in the ring during the years Boston and Philly were going at it. Moncrief was an extremely gifted player on both ends of the floor. He was the killer you never saw, just lingering, quietly going about his business and then BAM! an axe to the back of the head that makes you scream like little girl.

Now: I'm no longer a diehard fan of the NBA, so I don't really have one.

  So there are the guys who scared me to death when they played my teams. Who are yours? Put them in the comment box.

07 June, 2012

Owner of a Broken Heart

  **Special contribution from Steve Bunin**

So a good friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, but whose name rhymes with Bus and begins with a G, and who knows my Seattle heritage well, asked me today: “How do you feel about the Thunder getting to the NBA Finals?”

Bitter, angry, sad, helpless, frauded (is that a word?), despondent, lost, crestfallen ….

And I didn’t even cheat by going to  Okay, now I’m gonna cheat:

Affronted, annoyed, antagonized, chafed, cross, displeased, enraged, exasperated, furious, incensed, indignant, inflamed, infuriated, irate, irritated, maddened, offended, outraged, resentful, sore, sullen, sulky.


Watch the award-winning film Sonicsgate (at for the story of how the team was stolen from Seattle, but in a nutshell, there’s plenty of blame to go around (current owner Clay Bennett and his cronies, previous owner Howard Schultz – no I won’t ever have a Starbucks latte again, the Seattle government, the local and national media, commissioner David Stern) and the people who actually supported the Sonics for 40 years are left with the most pain.  As usual, the fans get the short end of the stick.

It’s been hard to watch the Thunder, or as Bill Simmons honorably calls them, the Zombie Sonics over the last four years.  At first, I hated seeing them, then the next season, and the next, I still hated seeing them.  This season, whether it’s the passage of time, or the potential promise of a team coming back to Seattle, I’ve eased up a little bit.  But it’s simply impossible to root for the team that I rooted so hard for my entire life, and that is just a weird feeling to try to convey. Frankly, it’s a feeling I hope nobody else ever goes through.

Yes, it’s somewhat comparable to what Browns fans may have felt when the Ravens won the Super Bowl, but it’s NOT the same.  Not at all.  So much more went into the stealing of our team than an owner simply up and moving... And remember, Seattlites went through this over and over with the Mariners in the 80s and 90s before they finally decided to stay for good.

Every time I watch the Thunder play, the emptiness in my heart swells again.  At this point, it’s not like I’m actively rooting against them anymore.  It’s just … sad.  Hard.  Nauseating.  God forbid they win, and they call it the “2nd NBA championship in franchise history”?  That will be insufferable.  That’s my team over there.  Or at least, it was my team, and it’s hard to watch somebody else claim them.  Had Seattle not supported the Sonics (and lord, did we support them, through Robert Swift and Johan Petro and Jerome James and I could go on but I’d rather skydive with no parachute onto a bicycle rack), I could understand outsiders questioning our continuing anger.  But just imagine YOUR team getting stolen out from under you, after years of ineptitude, and then finding success with “great story” guys just four years later…  You’d feel this way, too.

 (you can follow steve on Twitter @stevebunin)

02 June, 2012

Funny video

Broncos fans (and perhaps Colts fans) should enjoy this.


   I truly never thought it would happen. I had put it out of mind. Buried it along with thoughts of being an NBA player, inventing the flying car and marrying Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. The Mets were never going to throw a no-hitter. Our greatest pitcher ever, one of the games best ever, Tom Seaver, couldn't do it for us. He came excruciatingly close, but couldn't do it in a Mets uniform. Seaver and six others have done it AFTER leaving the Mets, but in over eight thousand games the Mets have never had one of their own do it.  The baseball gods seemed to enjoy rubbing it in our faces.
      Doc Gooden, Jerry Koosman, David Cone, Mark Clark, John Maine, Tom Glavine. The list goes on. The Mets have had 35 one-hitters in their history. According to the web site, the Mets have lost 68 no-hitters in the 6th inning, 23 in the 7th and 15 in the 8th to go along with the 3 Seaver lost in the 9th.
   Many a Met has flirted with Destiny over the years. She's the game's great temptress and has toyed with the emotions of Mets fans like the proverbial cat with a ball of string. The only difference is the ball of the string doesn't know it's being toyed with.
   When the Cardinals/Mets game began, the focus was on Carlos Beltran's return to New York. I got home from the gym at 6:53, jumped in the shower and sat in front of the TV in my living room in time to see the first pitch. Beltran's first time up, Santana got him with a change up and Carlos peaked out at Johan with a slight smile on his face. "You got me, pal," he seemed to be saying.
   As the Mets hit in the bottom of the second, my wife came into the room and whispered "If the boys go to bed early tonight, you may get lucky." Did she already know what was going to happen??!!
   The Cardinals came into the game as the best offense in the National League. First in average, runs per game, home runs, OBP% and SLG%. This was not the San Diego Padres lineup that Santana had shutout in his last start. When Beltran lined out to end the third, leaving the Cardinals hitless through three, I certainly wasn't ready to get the shovel and dig up my thoughts of a no-no finally happening for the Mets.
   When the top of the fourth began, I was reminded by my sons that I had promised them Dairy Queen for dessert, so I jumped in the car and put the game on the radio. As I pulled into the bank to grab some cash for the ice cream, David Wright had doubled and Danny Murphy tripled, giving the Mets two runs in the bottom of the fourth. "Good," I thought, "Johan has some room to work with." By the time the woman at the drive through window was handing me my Blizzards, Howie Rose was announcing that Rafael Furcal had lined out to left and the Cardinals were hitless through five. "Hmmm....."
   I got home and passed out the treats, trying to figure out the best place to watch the game. My oldest son was in the den, my wife and youngest were in the living room. Those are the two rooms in the house with the HD TV's, but the trade off of watching SD in the basement was the peace and quiet that would come with it. You know, just in case... By the way, it's the same SONY big screen I bought in January of '98, right before the Broncos won their first Super Bowl. Karma?
   The Cardinals came to bat in the 6th as I settled onto the couch,  M+M Blizzard in hand. As I dug into my ice cream, I started to dig up "The Thought." "This is Johan, after all. It's not like he's incapable of doing it." No sooner than I think that and Beltran smokes one down the third base line... "Oh no! Wait, it's foul."
   Replays show it wasn't foul. The ball hit chalk.
   "Too bad, Carlos! The ump called it foul, so it's foul."
   At this point I, along with probably every other Mets fan, shifted into mental overdrive. "We got a break? In a potential no-hitter? That's a good sign right?? I mean it was Beltran who hit it. And Wainwright, the guy who altered Beltran's Mets legacy forever is on the mound for the Cardinals. Are the baseball gods setting us up or is this all pointing toward the unthinkable??"
   Beltran hit another hot shot, but this one right at Wright, who threw Beltran out. Holliday struck out,  Craig popped out and now it's serious.
   Since I was a teenager I've had a running joke about how a pitcher working on a no-hitter is literally "flirting with Destiny," personifying Destiny as a woman in a bar that the pitcher is making the moves on. When a no-hitter gets broken up, there are a myriad of jokes to be made about the pitcher being hung out to dry. Conversely, there are a bunch of jokes about the pitcher and Destiny hooking up if the no-hitter happens. So as we entered the 7th inning, Johan had a seat at Destiny's table and the two had struck up a nice conversation.
   Unfortunately for all Mets fans, Destiny has a whiny, bitchy, nag of a roommate named Pitch Count, who was at the table too and was a serious threat to convince Destiny to get out of the bar and go home because they have to be up early tomorrow. Since Santana is coming off major shoulder surgery and a complete game in his last start, the Mets have set a pitch count for him in this game of around 110. Through six innings Johan is up to 91. Talk about a wet blanket!
   Over Easter weekend this year, Jon Niese was flirting with a no-no. My dad was visiting and the thought crossed my mind that it would be amazing to see the first Mets no-no with my dad. It didn't happen. The next day I did a podcast with Bill Simmons and he asked me about a combined no-hitter. I told him I'd rather have the Mets not get one than to have the first one be a combined effort. With Santana's pitch count apparently an issue, I wondered if I was going to eat those words.
   After Freese popped out, the dreaded Yadier Molina came to the plate. The same Yadier Molina who broke our hearts in 2006. Karma? Molina ripped one to deep left on an eerily similar trajectory to that '06 blast, but as Mike Baxter raced back toward the wall, it looked like he had a chance...
   Baxter reached out to snag the ball moments before slamming into the wall, and held on for the second out in the inning. Mike Baxter, born in Queens and grew up a Mets fan, drafted by the Padres (the only other MLB teams without a no-hitter) saved the day. I got your karma right here!! Baxter was down and in pain. He had to leave the game but did so to probably the biggest ovation he'll ever receive in the major leagues. It reminded me of the hero in a movie who takes one for the team and tells the guys "Go on without me!!" Baxter joins Endy Chavez, Ron Swoboda and Tommie Agee on the Mount Rushmore of Best Catches in Mets History.
   Santana ended the 7th without a ground out to first and now, as the great Jim Ross would say, business is picking up. My wife called down to me, asking if I could help her put our 4-year old to bed. I declined, telling her "I'll put him to bed twice tomorrow night."
   My 9-year old, Jack, came into the room. I rewound the DVR to show him the Baxter catch. "Six outs away," I told him. Jack settled onto the other couch and I instructed him not to move. I have not uncrossed my legs since the last out of the 5th. As I finished my ice cream I wondered if I should eat slower to try and make it last all the way to the 9th.
   The Mets put together a rally in the bottom of the 7th. The inning lasted about 18 minutes and as it  unfolded, the broadcast team wondered if the length of the inning could be harmful for Santana. All I knew was it was killing me. The butterflies in my stomach were performing some kind of X-games stunt. I thought about calling my dad to make sure he was watching, but I couldn't risk it. Karma. I prayed he was watching.
   As the top of the 8th started, my emotions had me near tears. I was nervous, I was exhilarated, I was imagining the joy I might feel if it happened, the jubilation I would share with my baseball-loving son, but also the despair if it didn't. I reminded myself how great it is to feel this way, how much I love baseball and sports in general for taking me to this place.
  After two outs, Santana walked Furcal, missing badly with a change up for ball four. Mets manager Terry Collins jogged toward the mound to a sea of boos, but he is just there to make sure Johan is OK. Of course he is. Collins returned to the dugout to a sea of cheers. Up next, who else but Carlos Beltran. When the count got to two strikes, I hoped Beltran would do what he did against the Cards in '06, and go down looking. He swung and hit a soft liner toward second that Daniel Murphy raced in and snagged.
   "Oh Lord, we're really three outs from this happening."
   During the commercial break Jack asked me if I'm crying. "Not yet," I said, "but if he gets it, I probably will." I thought about explaining to Jack that the tears would be for the moment he and I would share as much as for the no-hitter itself, but I'm not quite sure he'll understand.
   No-hitters are wonderful things, but as I told Simmons on the podcast that day, I'll still take playoff  and World Series appearances if it means a life without a no-hitter. That said, I've been a Mets fan for 39 years and the thought of this happening, with Jack sitting by my side and us experiencing this together, well let's just say it raised the dust level in the basement.
   The 9th inning started. Jack, upon orders from me, returned to the couch in his previous position. I remained on my back, left leg crossed over right leg at the ankle, iPhone resting against my right forearm (Twitter makes this whole experience even more entertaining). I took a deep breath as though I was about to jump off a high ridge into a swirling river. Pitch Count had long since left the bar and was back home watching FRIENDS on TBS. Johan and Destiny had left the bar, too. They had gone back to his place.
   Here we go.
   Matt Holliday lead off. On the first pitch he broke his bat and blooped one toward center. Off the bat I thought "Crap, that's going to fall," but it didn't. It hung in the air... almost as if the inhaling gasp of the Citi Field crowd sucked it up into the night air a little higher, allowing center fielder Andres Torres to come running in and snag it. One out.
      Next up was Allen Craig. The SNY cameras cut around to the faces of the Mets defenders behind Santana. They all looked as scared as first timers in a brothel. R.A. Dickey was on the bench with a towel tightly wrapped over his head. He resembled a 5-year old hiding behind the curtains, afraid to look out because there might be a monster in the room. When Craig lofted Santana's pitch to shallow left, the crowd made a noise like they were watching a child run into the street. Like Holliday's ball, this one had a sniff of a Texas league hit, but not quite as terrifying and Niewenhuis made the catch. Two outs.
   David Freese strode to the plate. He of the October heroics.
   Santana fell behind 3-0 on with Molina lingering on deck. "Please, not Molina," I plead. Karma. Johan fought back to get the count full. I pumped my left fist saying "Come on, Johan! Come on." Jack giggled nervously. Santana fired his 134th pitch of the night, a dastardly change up that carried the hopes and prayers of Mets fans everywhere on it's seams. And perhaps it was that weight, the burden of 8,019 games without ever throwing a no-hitter, that pushed the ball closer toward the dirt and below the futile swing of Freese for strike three.
   Jack jumped in my arms. I cried. He cried. I screamed. He screamed. We hugged for about thirty seconds before I told him I had to call my dad.
   It's only one game, one win, the Mets weren't crowned champions tonight, but this game gave me and so many other Mets fans a championship feeling. Clearly the wait (39 rooting years for me, 45 for my brother, 51 for my dad) made this moment more special.
   There are a few sports scenes that make me giggle with delight every time I see them. It's a suppressed giggle that comes with a quick tearing of the eyes as the wave of the joy of the moment, the memory, washes over me. The ball through Buckner's legs. Elway's helicopter against the Packers. Mobley batting down the last pass of Super Bowl 32. Endy's catch. Tebow to Thomas. And now this.
   While I am on the phone with my dad, Jack grabs two plain white t-shirts and some markers and makes t-shirts to commemorate the event.
  I've waited my entire life for this moment, and now Jack and I have a memory for the rest of our lives.