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Preview: WGBH News: Pop Culture

WGBH News: Pop Culture

Pop Culture News from WGBH, Boston

Published: Sun, 02 Dec 2012 12:14:00 EST


Thank The Patron Saint Of Bakers For This Cake Today

Wed, 16 May 2012 15:29:00 EST

Pictures of Saint Honore or (Saint Honoratus) from church iconography reinforce his baker background. He's holding his wooden peel, often with a few delicious-looking loaves of crusty French bread nearby.We here at The Salt usually ignore food festivals and those "Celebrate Whatever We're Eating Now" Days. They're a bit precious, no? But this one was too good to pass up: Today is the day the French celebrate the Feast of St. Honoré, the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs.And since the French hold their corner bakery right up there with the Catholic Church, the celebration is not complete without a big bite of the complicated confection named for the saint in question. More on the cake a little later.First, the history: Honoré, also known as Honoratus, became bishop of Amiens in Northern France in the sixth century. Sources disagree over whether he was a baker, but when he was named bishop, a baker's peel - the flat wooden paddle used to move loaves to and from a hot oven - was said to have put down roots and transformed into a fruiting tree, much to the surprise of the incredulous woman holding it.After his death, processions in his honor reputedly stopped both droughts and deluges, ensuring good wheat harvests and, consequently, winning him the hearts of bakers. Pictures of St. Honoré from church iconography reinforce his boulanger roots. He's holding his wooden peel, often with a few delicious-looking loaves of crusty French bread nearby. But according to historian Steven Laurence Kaplan of Cornell University, who wrote The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700-1775, for many years St. Honoré had a rival in the battle for bakers' patron.Initially, bakers organized around both Honoré and St. Lazare, the latter of whom had a reputation for defending against leprosy. Bakers of the time, with their physically demanding profession and rudimentary understanding of disease, were especially afraid of leprosy, Kaplan tells The Salt.Eventually the French bakers' guild settled in favor of Honoré in the 17th century, subsidizing a chapel that became the central point for the gatherings of their confraternity, a sort of religious arm of the guild.Fast-forward to the 19th century, and Parisian bakers began bringing glory to the saint's name in the best way they knew how - with a fabulous confection. (Given the historical division between bread bakers and pastry chefs, the latter probably had little connection to Honoré, making this more a worshipping of butter and sugar than of a patron saint.)The St. Honoré cake was developed at the legendary Chiboust pastry shop on Paris' Saint Honoré Street, which, alas, no longer exists. It started out as a ring-shaped brioche filled with pastry cream, which Chiboust lightened with an airy Italian meringue to create a new kind of filling. That fussy filling became known as crème Chiboust, which is still used by French bakers and even has its own Facebook page. According the book, Desserts, by Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé, one of Chiboust's bakers, August Jullien, came up with his own version, replacing the ring of dough with a ring of little cream puffs. By the late 19th century, the St. Honoré cake had taken its present form, incorporating a pastry disk filled with Chiboust cream, topped with a crown of cream puffs dressed up even further with a crunchy cap of caramelized sugar, and draped with swags of whipped cream.The plain version of the cake - simply flavored with vanilla and the bittersweet notes of burnt sugar - is most common, but you can find fanciful seasonal variations, showcasing everything from tropical fruits to green tea.It's a sort of "master class" confection, because it contains all of the fundamental elements that pastry school students need to conquer in one package: puff pastry, pâte á choux, pastry cream and caramelized sugar.In modern-day France, the feast of St. Honoré still survives as a time to appreciate all sorts of breads and pastries. Baker Dominique Geulin who grew up in Normandy, fondly remembers how bakers (including his pare[...]

'Kickstart Shakespeare': Of Sonnets, Beer, And Online Fundraising

Wed, 16 May 2012 15:15:00 EST

"It was written for the masses," says the director of a New York organization raising money to bring Shakespeare's work to new audiences.The New York Shakespeare Exchange says its goal is "to encourage an enthusiastic appreciation of classical theater and to expand the reach of the art form within new and existing audiences." More specifically, it's interested in the question of "what happens when contemporary culture is infused with Shakespearean poetry and themes in unexpected ways."What, exactly, does that mean?The founder and artistic director of the company, Ross Williams, told me that in large part, it means exploring "how we can get Shakespeare to work for a new generation, for new audiences." And they're serious about changing up the setting where necessary: their projects include a Shakespearean pub crawl, where at each location, a scene breaks out. They call it ... Shakesbeer. (C'mon. Wouldn't you?) Here's the video from one of their past events.At the moment, their mission means the same thing it means for a lot of artists and arts organizations trying to come up with funds for small, medium-sized, and large projects. It means taking their plea to Kickstarter - a plea that ends Thursday night at 11:00 p.m.The effort resides, logically enough, at It's a drive to raise $45,000, in large part to support a pair of upcoming undertakings. The first, called the Sonnet Project, means to create 154 videos of 154 actors reading 154 of Shakespeare's love poems in 154 locations in New York. The idea is that they'll look a little like this prototype.That's Vince Gatton, who appeared in the 2011 Shakespeare Exchange (or NYSX) production of The Life And Death Of King John, a Shakespeare play there's a decent chance you don't know much about and an excellent chance you've never seen performed.For the sonnets to come, while Williams stresses the Sonnet Project is not intended to be a parade of celebrities, they've signed up a few folks more likely to be known outside New York, like Michael Urie (Ugly Betty's delightful Marc St. James), Austin Pendleton (who has been in ... everything), and Patrick Page, currently the Green Goblin in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. The hope is that during the run of the project, if you have the app, you'll get a new minute-long sonnet reading to look at every few days, and sometimes, you might see someone you recognize.There are ambitious plans for the release of the videos at a rate of two or three per week over a year leading up to Shakespeare's 450th birthday (or thereabouts) in April 2014. There will also be walking tours, special features, and plenty more. (The words "Sonnet Project mobile app" probably sum up what's going on here about as well as anything could.)The money raised will also help pay for the production of Island, an original comedy written as a riff on Shakespeare's style and most commonly encountered elements. Here's the plot synopsis for Island as the company describes it:When a ferocious tempest shipwrecks two girls from 21st century America onto an island inhabited entirely by Shakespeare's greatest tropes and archetypes, a hilarious clash of cultures ensues. An enchanted island; an ineffectual king and his usurping younger brother; a band of bumbling constables; a lovelorn, melancholy prince; a shipwrecked, cross-dressing lover in search of her twin; and plenty of other Shakespearean familiars come face-to-face with modern sensibilities as the mayhem of Kevin Brewer's classically-entrenched psyche comes to gut-busting comedic life.Well, naturally. It's not Shakespeare without cross-dressing and royal power struggles.Kickstarter fundraising has been a "crash course for everybody," Williams says, in raising money for an organization that's only two years old and isn't as steeped in fundraising experience as other companies might be.It has a catch, though: you only get the money if you make it to your goal. (As of this writing, they're at a little less than $34,000 out of their $45,000 target with 32 hours to go.) But Wi[...]

ABC's Fall Schedule: Reba McEntire, Country Music, And Satan The Landlord

Wed, 16 May 2012 12:00:00 EST

ABC's new schedule features some old favorites, a return to an old comedy structure, and two different country-themed shows.

ABC unveiled its new fall shows yesterday as part of the ongoing circus/party/ad campaign that is the 2012 network upfronts.

It's rolling out three new dramas with completely different tones. Nashville, starring the enchanting Connie Britton as country singer Rayna James, whose long career is a little tricky in the age of crossover superstars like bitchy young thing Juliette Barnes (Hayden Pannettiere).

I already like the music in this show better than the music in Smash, and frankly, if I get to see Connie Britton smack people around every week, that's TV wish fulfillment as far as I'm concerned.

The goofy-looking 666 Park Avenue is kind of expanding on the modest success of Once Upon A Time. In it, a young couple manages Satan's apartment building. Okay, that's not exactly true, but it's mostly true, and Vanessa Williams kind of plays Mrs. Satan, and TERRY O'QUINN IS SATAN, and honestly, it's a pretty good idea for a probably terrible show. It's the second fall in a row for a new ABC show starring Rachael Taylor, who was in Charlie's Angels last year, so maybe they're just going to keep trying.

The third drama is Last Resort, from Shawn Ryan, who created or co-created The Shield, The Unit, Terriers, The Chicago Code, and lots of other stuff. It involves the rogue crew of a nuclear submarine, and frankly, you're better off just watching the trailer.

There's a lot to like in this cast - Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman, Robert Patrick, Max Adler - and Ryan is always an interesting, challenging writer. But this is a really odd fit on ABC Thursdays, leading off an evening it will share with Grey's Anatomy and Scandal. It's opposite the NBC comedy block, but it's also now opposite both The Big Bang Theory and Two And A Half Men on CBS's newly rejiggered schedule. That's uphill, but quite honestly, ABC doesn't really have anything better to match it with. The time slot is a concern, but I'll be watching for the pilot.

On the comedy side for the fall, ABC is moving Tim Allen's Last Man Standing to Fridays and pairing it with the new Reba McEntire comedy Malibu Country, about a woman who leaves her bum husband in Tennessee and moves to California with her keeee-razy mother, played by Lily Tomlin (!). This is a nice, mushy Friday night, quite reminiscent, as many immediately noted, of ABC's old TGIF comedy block that featured shows like Full House and Family Matters.

The network also picked up The Neighbors, a broad comedy (or so it appears, and ... really must be) about people living in a community of aliens. This looks very, very, very silly, but ABC exec Paul Lee has been straightforward at times about the fact that sometimes, he just puts on stuff that makes him laugh. That's basically what he said about the awful and mercifully short-lived cross-dressing comedy Work It last year, and I'm willing to bet that's what happened here.

There will be more to come at midseason, as with the other networks. There will be Mistresses, a drama ABC proudly calls "salacious" (seriously), Zero Hour, a mythology-driven mystery series about old clocks (seriously), a comedy about a family hardware business called The Family Tools (SERIOUSLY), and more. We'll talk more. Seriously. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Yul Kwon, From Bullying Target To Reality TV Star

Wed, 16 May 2012 11:38:00 EST

Korean-American Yul Kwon went from being bullied in school, to being named one of People magazine's 'Sexiest Men Alive.' The Yale-educated lawyer catapulted to stardom when he won the reality TV show Survivor. He talks with host Michel Martin about his efforts to change the game for Asians and how they're reflected in media.May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. All month, Tell Me More is featuring guests who trace their heritage to that part of the world and who have changed the game in everything from science to sports, pop culture to politics.Yul Kwon first earned his game-changer status when the Yale University-trained lawyer put his career on hold to compete on the CBS show Survivor in 2006. He became the first Asian-American to win that show's $1 million prize. That led to work as a special correspondent for CNN, a lecturer at the FBI Academy, and deputy chief of the Federal Communication Commission's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.Kwon currently hosts the news program LinkAsia on LinkTV, and recently finished hosting PBS' America Revealed, a mini documentary series about agriculture, transportation, energy and manufacturing.He was also once named to People magazine's list of "Sexiest Men Alive."Being A Target Of Bullying Kwon's early life involved a host of challenges. He was born in 1975 in New York to South Korean immigrants. He tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin he had a severe lisp as a kid, so many people assumed he was a foreigner who could not speak English properly. Kwon says he grew increasingly quiet to avoid being teased or beaten up."But as people who've been bullied are well aware, the more quiet you are, the more you attract bullies," he says. "And it started to be a real problem for me. I started to develop a number of social anxiety disorders."Kwon says these issues continued for many years, partly because he did not see many role models from his community. He watched a lot of television (as a way to learn English), and in the rare times when he did see Asian-Americans onscreen, they were portrayed in negative stereotypes."If you're a guy, you're either a Chinese cook, or a gangster, or a Kung Fu master who could kick butt but can't speak English, or a geek who can't get a date," says Kwon. "And so, over time, I think I just internalized a lot of these images and I became that quintessential Asian-American."Despite a difficult childhood, Kwon went on to earn a bachelor's in symbolic systems from Stanford University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He also earned a juris doctorate from Yale Law School, where he served on the editorial board of the Yale Law Journal. He worked in law, politics and business, then made what some would consider a surprising shift to television.Becoming A Star Of 'Survivor: Cook Islands' Kwon says he never imagined that television was an option for someone like him, but one day, he received an email from a Survivor casting agent who was seeking Asian-American contestants."It turns out that the reason they wanted to do this was because they had a twist to that season," he says, "which was they were going to divide the contestants into racial tribes and have a war of races."Kwon initially was not interested in participating, but then he thought back to his hunger for positive role models as a child. He says that if he had seen them, it might have helped him build courage, confidence and an image of himself as a potential leader."The great thing about a reality show is that it's not scripted, so I don't have to play a stereotype, I don't have to play a role where I'm speaking with an accent," he says. "And so I thought if I did well on the show, I could potentially be the kind of role model that I didn't have when I was growing up."Kwon surprised even himself by winning the show, a victory he attributes to fair play. He says he wanted to apply all the things he learned from working in law, politics and management consulting, and to play an intelligent game th[...]

Long-Term Investments On Shaky Stocks: 'New Girl' And 'Smash' End Their Seasons

Mon, 14 May 2012 16:06:00 EST

Commentator Marc Hirsh considers the viewer investment required to let an uneven pilot develop as a series, and how that process went very differently for two of this season's most hyped shows.As the networks are currently rolling out their plans for the future courtesy of their upfronts, it just so happens that they're also winding down the current season of shows, the ones that they touted last year at this very time. It's a good time for television viewers to reevaluate the investments we've made in the shows we bought into at the beginning of the season.Television watching is ultimately an act of faith. So is all entertainment, of course; you plunk down $10 for a movie, or $50 for a concert, or $125 for a Broadway musical, and you pray that your money and time will be well-spent.But even disregarding the cost of cable and/or an Internet connection, television asks for a heavier investment. It pretends to ask only 30 or 60 minutes of your time, while actually asking you for a year or two or three or ten. What it wants is for you to subscribe. And it can be tough to figure out when to pony up for a full subscription.Matt Zoller Seitz recently talked about this on Vulture, when he evaluated the mess that was this past season of The Office. There's a big difference, however, in sticking with a show that you once loved dearly that seems to have fallen on hard times (and that you hope will rebound) and keeping your fingers crossed for a show that you have no history with.Which brings me to NBC's Smash, which airs its season finale tonight, and Fox's New Girl, which ended its first season last week. Both freshman shows have been renewed for a second go-round. And both debuted with problematic pilots.Right there, that's a risk. If a show's first episode is strong - think Lost, Arrested Development or Glee - then it's obviously easier to buy in right from the start. The show might make good on that promise or it could fall apart or it could fall somewhere in between (I leave it to you to figure out which is which in this example). But at the moment when promise is all that's available, it's not hard to hop on board, at least for a little while.Smash and New Girl, on the other hand, both required an entirely different calculus. Neither one was fully formed by the time their pilots aired. In New Girl's case, major casting decisions were still to come, as the character of Coach needed to be immediately eliminated (thanks to the fact that Damon Wayans, Jr.'s show Happy Endings -- another series with a terrible pilot - was somewhat unexpectedly renewed for a stride-hitting second season) and replaced with Lamorne Morris, who stepped in as new roommate Winston in the second episode.Casting uncertainty aside, New Girl had issues at the start. All of the characters were unformed, none more so than Zooey Deschanel's Jess, whose quirkiness (or "quirkiness," depending on how much you were willing to indulge the show's marketing) and naivete were particular lightning rods for criticism. The show's tone was also uneven, generally positioning Jess as the sunshiny medicine that her new roommates didn't realize they'd needed all this time.Smash, meanwhile, gave the audience an intriguing premise for a show in the premiere: the development of a Broadway musical from the ground up, complete with the various people who would be thus involved. It, too, didn't seem to quite know what to do with its characters, positioning Katharine McPhee's wide-eyed Midwesterner as the heroine of the show when Megan Hilty's cynical, ambitious and far more charismatic Ivy had immeasurably more star quality. And Smash's own tone bordered on hysterical right at the start.Two new series, two pilots that had as much going against them (or more) than for them. Sticking with either one (or, as might be the case with some people, or so I've heard, both) was an act of pure optimism. It could come only from a Jess-like belief that whatever flaws they started with,[...]

Johnny Carson Gets The 'Masters' Treatment

Mon, 14 May 2012 12:23:00 EST

Monday night on PBS, American Masters presents a two-hour biography of Johnny Carson. Carson retired 20 years ago this month, and vacated a throne that TV critic David Bianculli says no one has managed to claim since.Johnny Carson walked away from The Tonight Show, after 30 years at the top of the late-night ratings, of his own volition. And except for a few fleeting TV appearances after he retired, he never looked back - and never went back. When filmmaker Peter Jones would send an annual letter to Carson, asking for his cooperation in a TV biography of him, the answer was always no. One year, Carson went so far as to explain why: Let the work, he said, speak for itself.Well, after Carson's death, Jones contacted Carson's relatives - the ones entrusted with his video legacy - and eventually got their cooperation instead. He also interviewed just about everyone he could get, from comics and biographers to Carson's former producers and spouses, to paint as complete a portrait as he could.The result, airing on American Masters on PBS, is called Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. It's impressively thorough in its research, and contains more than enough rare family photos and early TV clips to make it a valuable addition to the Carson canon.But the funny thing is - funny, here, being a relative term - is that Carson, after all these years, comes out the victor. Even after two hours of everyone else talking about him, we don't really know the real Johnny Carson that well. And that, he made clear, was just the way he wanted it.About the closest he comes to explaining himself is in a vintage Tonight Show clip, in which he's talking to celebrity interviewer Rona Barrett. She takes the opportunity to ask him questions - which, for a while, he answers with surprising honesty. But then, when she asks one too many questions and gets too close, he reaches for a punch line to change the subject and deflect the spotlight. Humor was his biggest gift - but also the most reliable weapon in his arsenal.Filmmaker Peter Jones tries to get around the evasive nature of his subject by coming at him from another direction. Specifically, he borrows the structure of the classic Orson Welles movie Citizen Kane, hunting around for Johnny Carson's equivalent of "Rosebud" - the childhood secret that explains the man. Jones finds his Rosebud, too, and it's a pretty good one. But it doesn't quite carry the same force. In the movie, "Rosebud" was the famous media baron's very last word. Carson didn't provide even that tiny a clue, leaving those behind to attempt to do the explaining.And it's quite a gathering of interviewees here, from Carson's peers, such as Don Rickles and Bob Newhart, to those whose Tonight Show exposure launched their careers, such as David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld, who ended his own show on his own terms years later, understands more than most what Carson really meant to late-night TV."For my entire career, I've heard comedians in bars debate, 'Who do you think is going to get the Tonight Show after Johnny leaves?' What nobody realized is that when [he] left, [he was] going to pack it up and take it with [him], which is what he did. Because that show never existed again," says Seinfeld. "There never was a Tonight Show. It was Carson."Similarly significant insights are offered by Steve Martin and Carl Reiner, by David Steinberg and Mel Brooks, and by producer Peter Lassally, who knew Carson better than most - and who was responsible for capturing one of the best moments from Johnny Carson's 30-year reign. That was on the penultimate show, when he ordered up an extra camera to capture Carson's reaction as Bette Midler sang him a special version of one of his favorite songs: "One for My Baby, and One More for the Road."It wasn't the end of The Tonight Show - there was one more program to go - but it could have been. And maybe should have been. It's certainly the best way for me to end - [...]

Pounding Away At America's Obesity Epidemic

Mon, 14 May 2012 11:42:00 EST

One third of Americans today are obese, and another third are overweight. Nearly one-third of our children are obese. The dramatic growth of obesity in the U.S is the subject of a new HBO documentary series called The Weight of the Nation.The numbers are staggering: One-third of Americans are obese; another third are overweight. Some 26 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes. An additional 79 million more are pre-diabetic. Thanks to these figures, the children of today have a good chance of becoming the first generation of Americans to die at younger ages than their parents.A new HBO documentary series, The Weight of the Nation, explores how our country got this way and what can be done to tackle what has become a growing national health crisis. Divided into four parts - "Consequences," "Choices," "Children in Crisis" and "Challenges" - the series looks at the public health challenges posed by an increasingly overweight population, as well as the public policy debates around trying to solve the epidemic. It also profiles regular folks across America who have tried - and tried again - to lose their excess pounds."Very rarely do you hear the human stories [behind the epidemic,]" says psychologist Kelly Brownell, who is featured in the documentary and directs the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. "There are medical consequences to obesity, but there are also psychological, social and financial ones that matter, that really bear down on people and can really make their lives very, very unhappy."Brownell tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that only part of the issue in dealing with obesity is preventing it."The other part of it is also making our environment more accepting and welcoming for obese people, to eliminate biases against them," he says.The number of obese Americans soared during the 1980s and 1990s, doubling among adults in the U.S. and tripling among children. Sedentary lifestyles and changes in eating habits have contributed to weight gain, as more Americans work at desk jobs, use electronic devices and get served increasingly larger portions at restaurants."More than 50 percent of the food dollar is spent outside the home now, and that's a big difference [from] what it was several decades ago," says Brownell. "People are eating outside because they're on the move, they have crowded schedules, they want to take the family out for a treat - and there are so many restaurants out there now to cater to this need. ... The problem is when you go out, you tend to eat more and you tend to eat worse than when you eat at home."The excess weight has dire consequences for our bodies. Obesity is associated with a slew of medical ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. That means more visits to the doctor - and increased health care costs."Health care costs are estimated now at $150 billion a year, and about half of that is born by public funds for Medicare and Medicaid," says Brownell. "So all of us who may or may not be affected by the problem ourselves - and may not even have family members affected by it - have our wallets affected by it, because we're paying for a good share of the health care costs."Interview HighlightsOn changes in the food environment"We could count 100 ways or more that the environment has changed in ways that I call toxic. Serving sizes have increased. What used to be the large size at McDonalds is now the small serving of fries. A muffin used to be smaller than a baseball, now it can be as big as a softball. And this gets multiplied by many products in the food system. Marketing of unhealthy foods is out of control completely. The industry is doing a very poor job of policing itself in that respect. And kids are targeted in a predatory way by the industry."On marketing to children"As an example of how much marketing there is, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is now, by far, the[...]

NBC Upfronts: Six New Shows, And 'Community' On Fridays

Mon, 14 May 2012 10:10:00 EST

We look at what's ahead on NBC this fall, including another attempt to reboot Matthew Perry and a show taking the position that men raising kids is inherently hilarious."What are the upfronts, exactly?"People who write about television get this question a lot. And we're getting it a lot right now, because this is upfronts week for the major networks.The primary purpose of a network's "upfronts" presentation is to announce its fall schedule and get advertisers interested in buying time on the new shows. Unlike press tour - which happens in late July - upfronts isn't a time when journalists raise concerns or questions; it's a pure marketing blitz from the network. It used to be really primarily for advertisers, but more and more, it's also PR aimed at journalists and viewers. That's why, to many of us, it's not nearly as interesting as press tour, but the fact remains that this is the first glimpse most folks get of the fall shows. Not full pilots - those won't arrive for a while, even for critics. But at least you get a look at what each show is, and particularly how it's being marketed.NBC kicked things off yesterday, and frankly, the biggest news it made from the perspective of television fandom was that Community, which currently has only a 13-episode order (about a half season), will be moving to Friday nights in a block with Whitney, perhaps NBC's most critically reviled show (of those that are returning).Fridays are typically considered an absolute dead zone of television, but NBC likely doesn't expect to expand Community's existing audience very much, and its fans are so loyal that they'll probably find it - if not live (and probably not live), then on DVR or Hulu or whatever. It's probably as close as I've seen a network come to keeping a show on the air clearly having almost no interest in how many people sit down and watch it when it's on.But it's also important to remember that Fridays haven't always been, and aren't in all cases, dead zones anyway. That's where Fox tucks away Fringe, also a show not very many people watch but a certain number of people absolutely adore. It's also a show where, in the past, CBS was able to make money on shows like The Ghost Whisperer. (Not that there seems to be much of a match there demographically, but the point is: where you're placed isn't necessarily destiny.) Questions remain about whether this will be Community's last season, and about whether Dan Harmon will return as showrunner (he's not yet signed) but the biggest takeaway is that it's still going to be on, despite several past cancellation scares.As for new shows, they rolled out four new comedies and two new dramas for fall.Revolution (drama)Revolution is the next show to try to get a piece of whatever people originally liked about Lost, although honestly, its DNA seems to be more a split of the space-dinosaur drama Terra Nova and the militia-dystopia-something-something drama Jericho, neither of which survived as long-running classics. There's certainly some talent kicking around (including Giancarlo Esposito), but hardcore serialized stuff like this appears to still be an uphill battle for networks.Chicago Fire (drama)Chicago Fire is from Dick Wolf, who did not call it Law & Order: Big Flames Unit. There's no game here; it's about Chicago and fire. And specifically, it's about firefighters and paramedics. This is a kind of show Wolf has brought to air a bunch of times with varying degrees of success, but we'll see what happens here. A note for the delicate and/or easily overheard: the trailer contains an unbleeped expletive. No idea whether they're going to leave that unbleeped when it airs on NBC. They presumably could, since it's on at 10:00.The New Normal (comedy)The New Normal is a comedy about a gay couple (played by Andrew Rannells of The Book Of Mormon and Justin Bartha of The Hangover), who hire a surrogate to hel[...]

How TV Brought Gay People Into Our Homes

Sat, 12 May 2012 16:30:00 EST

From Will and Grace to Modern Family, studies show getting to know gay characters on television has changed Americans' attitudes toward homosexuality. One researcher says it's an effect that could snowball.One of the most talked-about moments from the hit TV show Glee was never seen.Blaine, played by Darren Criss, declared his love for Kurt, played by Chris Colfer, and then - they kissed.Glee is just one of many popular shows on television right now that feature gay characters. Those characters aren't just entertaining us, they're changing Americans' attitudes towards homosexuality.In five separate studies, Professor Edward Schiappa and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota have found that the presence of gay characters on television programs decreases prejudices among viewers."These attitude changes are not huge," he says. "They don't change bigots into saints. But they can snowball."Schiappa tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that indeed, as Vice President Joe Biden said last Sunday, that the hit TV show Will and Grace really did help America get to know gay people."With the emergence of the extraordinary Will and Grace show, more and more Americans, sort of from the safety of their armchair, could learn a bit about gay people who they might not otherwise have learned from real life," Schiappa says.That was a turning point, he says, even though there were gay characters on TV before Will and Grace premiered in 1998."I think that was a turning point simply because of two factors: One is it was enormously popular, so the popularity of that show and the fact that there were two major gay male characters who were very different, allowed the show to do what I call important 'category work'" Schiappa says."What I mean by that is there were some critics who said, 'Well, Will isn't gay enough, and Jack's too gay.' Well, actually that's great, because you learn that there's diversity within that category that you had in your head before of gay men," he says.Viewers met straight-laced Will, an attorney, and his friend, the flamboyant Jack - characters who were likable and could even be identified with in some way, no matter if viewers weren't gay or didn't know gay people. Schiappa says his research found two key ingredients can lead to attitude change."Are they likeable? Or are they trustworthy? Are they attractive - there's research that says if they're attractive it can influence your attitudes," he says."The other part of the mix is are you learning things through their behaviors and observing them that you didn't know about that category beforehand?" he says. "If so, then the more complicated your category of whatever it is - lesbians, gay men - the less likely you are to reduce them down to a stereotype."Modern Family is now the most popular TV show in the U.S. today. It not only features a gay couple - that gay couple is in the process of adopting a second child. Schiappa says the idea of a gay couple with children is much more mainstream now.It must be: Modern Family has actually won awards from Catholic organizations. Even Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he really likes the show."There's no question that that show is doing what I just described before as category work," Schiappa says. "It's changing our understanding of what gay men are like, particularly as parents."More and more gay married couples are showing up on TV these days, - like Grey's Anatomy, for example - making something of a trend. NBC plans to roll out more programs with gay married couples next season. Whether these shows continue to build a positive image of gay people depends on how they'll be portrayed, Schiappa says."If they continue to be sympathetic, [it] will only contribute to that larger sea change that we see - across society, really - in terms of the attitudes towards gay marria[...]

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Of 'Avengers' And The Other A-List

Fri, 11 May 2012 12:48:00 EST

With Linda on vacation, an all-boys lineup discusses a big movie, bigger stars and happy things.

Our intrepid host, Linda Holmes, is wrapping up her self-imposed isolation in the mountains of North Carolina, so the rest of the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was forced to soldier on without her for one harrowing episode. And, given that we just did a No Boys Allowed episode two weeks ago, we figured we'd fill the room with dudes - you know, men's men.

So Glen Weldon, Trey Graham and I - already a veritable murderer's row of pure testosterone - invited in our colleague Matt Thompson (no relation to the other one in the room), who works in some sort of editorial-product-development-synergy-management capacity here at NPR, but who also wrote his senior thesis on Joss Whedon. So, you know, our kind of people, and just the agreeable sort to bring in for a discussion of Whedon's octillion-dollar super-blockbuster The Avengers. We're very proud of ourselves for offering a handful of insights beyond, "When that thing happened, I really liked that thing, which happened."

We then move from The Avengers to the idea of the A-list - not The A-List, tempting though that might have been - and the idea of superstardom in an age of media Balkanization. It may be easier than ever to hop on the D-list, but is there a modern-day equivalent of a Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor? What makes an A-list celebrity, anyway?

Then, as always, it's on to what's making us happy, which - for those who wish we'd actually provide links when we say we're going to - include this and this from Matt, this and this from Trey, this from Glen, and this from me. As always, we invite everyone to join our happy community of nice folks on Facebook, and to follow me, Trey, Glen, special guest Matt, and esteemed producer Mike on Twitter. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Obama Heads To Hollywood; Conservative Group Mocks 'Celebrity President'

Thu, 10 May 2012 12:37:00 EST

On Thursday, some of Hollywood's top stars and deepest pockets will congregate at the Studio City, Calif., home of actor George Clooney to mingle with and raise money for President Obama and his re-election campaign. At least one conservative group is deriding Obama as a "celebrity president."On Thursday, some of Hollywood's top stars and deepest pockets will congregate at the Studio City, Calif., home of actor George Clooney to mingle with and raise money for President Obama and his re-election campaign.It also will include at least a few non-celebrities. In a fundraising and attention-getting online promotion, the campaign cast the Clooney event as a lottery of sorts: a $3 donation included the chance to win "a free trip to L.A." and attend the star-studded reception.Four years ago, Republican presidential candidate John McCain derided Obama for his celebrity friendships. But as the Los Angeles Times reports Thursday, some of those friendships have been strained over the past three years:"As Obama's term has progressed, though, some Hollywood liberals have expressed disappointment that he has not been more forceful on issues such as the environment and closing Guantanamo Bay. And one policy important to many in the entertainment industry - legislation to curtail online piracy - has so far failed to find support in the White House."Obama's campaign expects to raise as much as $6 million from the generally small online donations connected to the event, and millions more from those who are spending $40,000 each to dine with the president at Clooney's home, according to the Hollywood Reporter."One of the important reasons that celebrities have become more involved in politics has been their capacity to attract a crowd, and attract a crowd that's willing to put in whatever it is, ticket price or something more," said John Street, a politics professor who studies the phenomenon of celebrity politicians at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. "The fact that you're seeing George Clooney ... is almost more important than anything else, and that's what those stars offer, a reason for the cameras to be there."A recent attack ad from conservative superPAC American Crossroads - "Cool" - asks: "After four years of a celebrity president, is your life any better?"Street says politicians have to walk a fine line between celebrity and leader."There is a strong belief in a sense that this is undignified behavior, that this sort of stuff is in a way dumbing down politics and is trivializing the office," said Street. "Overplaying the celebrity hand can lead to embarrassment as much as it can lead to popular cool success."In 1992, Bill Clinton perhaps set the standard for politicians capable of embracing the celebrity spotlight when he appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show playing a saxaphone.Like Clinton and many politicians, Obama can be a bit of an entertainer when it serves his purposes. He showed that during his first run for the White House, from dancing onstage with Ellen Degeneres to campaigning with Oprah Winfrey.Street - who calls Obama "one of the biggest celebrities on the planet at the moment" - notes that he is "always able to put a distance between himself and whatever performance he's giving. He knows he's playing a game. He knows this is a bit of light relief, a bit of entertainment but he keeps his dignity... and that seems to me a very clever trick. It speaks to him as a very sharp political operator."Of course, using show business for political gain is a nonpartisan phenomenon. Before the 2008 election, the complete Republican ticket, McCain and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, appeared on NBC's Saturday Night Live.And in March, Mitt Romney played vice presidential word association with Jay Leno when appearing on NBC's The Tonight Sho[...]

What Inspires Singer Simone

Thu, 10 May 2012 11:59:00 EST

Actress and singer Lisa Celeste is better known by her stage name, Simone. She's the daughter of the late legendary singer Nina Simone, and she's appeared on Broadway in musicals such as Rent and Aida. As part of the series, In Your Ear, she shares the songs on her personal playlist.

'Dark Shadows': The Birth Of The Modern TV Vampire

Thu, 10 May 2012 02:57:00 EST

When it comes to monsters on television, vampires have the market cornered. And so popular are TV vampires that opening this weekend is a movie based on the grand-sire of all vampire TV shows: Dark Shadows. Elizabeth Blair takes a look at the evolution of a TV character that will never die.When it comes to monsters on television, vampires have the market more or less cornered. Think about it: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries ... Vampires' enduring popularity on TV may not be eternal, but they have been appearing on the small screen for decades. Mark Dawidziak, who's written books about vampires and teaches a class at Kent State University on their appearances in film and TV, says that part of the way vampires have remained a force in popular culture is through their evolution on TV."The great innovations, as far as vampire characters go," Dawidziak says, "always have come from either the printed page or television. Television has contributed as much if not more than movies ever have."Let's do a little TV vampire-hunting through the decades. They've been in comedies like The Munsters, on Sesame Street, and of course sexy nighttime dramas like True Blood. But before any of those, there was Dark Shadows.Eerie theremin music, the dulcet tones of Victoria Winters, along with crashing waves on a rocky coastline, marked the beginning of Dark Shadows, the gothic soap opera that ran every weekday afternoon on ABC from 1966 to 1971, for a grand total of 1,225 episodes. But if you watch any of the first 200 installments, you won't see vampires.The show was set at Collinwood, a creepy old mansion on the Maine coast that was home to the wealthy Collins family. While the show had supernatural elements from the start, they were mostly suggested, not seen."And the show was going down the tubes," according to Dan Curtis, the late creator of the series. In a commentary on a special-edition DVD, Curtis says that ABC was ready to cancel the series. Curtis' kids told him, "At least make it scary."So he - and the special-effects shop - introduced a ghost you could see."From that moment, the ratings started to climb," Curtis said. "And they got higher and higher the crazier we got."So Curtis added more ghosts - and then a vampire.Wearing a cape, and stiff as a board, Barnabas Collins arrived on the scene to claim his former ancestral home as his own. He was played by the late Jonathan Frid, who wasn't really a pretty boy like today's TV vampires."But housewives, college girls, everybody just fell in love with him," says Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played Maggie Evans on the show. "You can't imagine the mail he got - some of it pretty erotic."Jonathan Frid's Barnabas was so popular, in fact, that the show's producers couldn't drive a stake through his heart at the end of his 90-day contract as originally planned. Instead, he became the star of Dark Shadows."The genius of the Barnabas Collins character," Dawidziak says, "was that Barnabas is the first vampire who questions his own nature. Barnabas said, 'Do I have to be like this?' "By giving Barnabas a conscience - and relationships - Dark Shadows opened up all kinds of possibilities for vampies, says Dawidziak."And this," Dawidziak says, "is where the vampire is going to become increasingly humanized, sexualized, sensualized. They're going to become younger. They're going to become more vital."More than four decades later, just about every vampire on TV still owes a debt to Dark Shadows, right down to The Vampire Diaries on The CW. The show is also a gothic soap opera - but with two big differences: significantly better production values; and its vampires are mostly teenagers.The show's co-creator Julie Plec says the coming-of-age idea is something t[...]

Hairstylist Vidal Sassoon Was Fashion Revolutionary

Wed, 09 May 2012 16:59:00 EST

The British hairstylist who rode the Mod scene in London to international fame and fortune has died. Vidal Sassoon created the short, angular haircuts that became a rage in the 1960's. His personality and fashion sense helped him create a hair care empire.

10 Things I Hate About 'American Idol' (Besides The Singing And The Judging)

Wed, 09 May 2012 15:29:00 EST

As we near the finale of the current season of American Idol, a look at some of the show's annoyances, great and small.Ryan Seacrest's double/triple/quadruple fakeouts. Our host used to screw with the contestants by teasing the results before throwing to a guest performance or commercial. Now he gives those results using sentences so convoluted, with so many double-backs and twist-arounds, that you need a white board to diagram them and unpack their actual meaning. Frustrating the singers, yes. Confusing them entirely, no.That half-hidden, slightly elevated lip-ramp at the front of the stage. Someone's going to wipe out on it, I just know it. It's like a trap, hidden in plain sight, just waiting to be sprung and claim its first victim. Sometimes I can barely concentrate on the performance, so worried am I.Wikipedia Randy. Okay, this is technically about the judging, but it's really more Randy Jackson's unwavering drive to be liked by somebody, anybody, for any reason at all. In particular, his tendency to pepper his comments with factual information that nobody requested, just to prove that he knows it. Here's him responding to Steven Tyler's unfamiliarity with "Bleeding Love," which Hollie Cavanagh had just performed: "This was a really big song written by Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic, huge hit for Leona Lewis..." This sort of thing happens all the time, usually under even flimsier pretenses.TMZ visits. They've done this twice now, which says that not only don't they realize what a horrible, gross mistake it was last year to toss the contestants - who are, remember, still essentially average Joes and Janes untutored in public-image coaching - into TMZ's offices and hope for the best, they've decided to flat-out embrace it. At least last year's contestants had the presence of mind to look disgusted at basically being told "We're here to show you what kinds of bottom-feeding gossip-hound scumbags you should be careful to avoid out there. It's called providing a service." The current batch seem to have been told to play along.The limited screen time given thus far to Hollie Cavanagh's family. Father, mother, brother, it doesn't matter. They are, to a person, pretty much the most cutest thing ever. They're easily the best Idol family since Elliott Yamin's mother, and they've been put in front of the camera maybe twice. Unacceptable.Two-hour shows, apparently now and forever. Time was, performance shows would gradually shrink with the number of contestants, first to 90 minutes and then to an hour. But why do that when you can double and triple up the performances, slap together some duets and trios, none of which work very well, and maybe bring in an outside act or two? Idol has always been stuffed with a brutal amount of filler (when it hasn't been insanely rushed, and sometimes when it has), but this is the first season it's used that to show active contempt for its viewers.Yawn-inducing Ford commercials. Sure, they used to be incredibly cheap and jaw-droppingly cheesy. But at least they weren't boring.Shipping. It's one thing if fans hope amongst themselves for contestants to pair up and get all kissyface with one another. But when Seacrest keeps pestering Colton Dixon and Skylar Laine about whether they're a couple (despite their increasingly vocal insistence that they are certainly not), we tip into weird territory for a show that has almost zero backstage component that's not directly advertising-partner-related.The steadfast belief that words have no meaning. For one thing, there was the theme of "pop songs from Great Britain" that Seacrest was determined to keep calling "Britpop," despite the two not being synonymous and the latter actually [...]

Maurice Sendak, 'Really Rosie' and The Intelligence Of Children

Tue, 08 May 2012 15:12:00 EST

On the passing of Maurice Sendak, a look at Really Rosie, his collaboration with Carole King and one of the greatest children's albums ever.I'm sure that my first exposure to Maurice Sendak was Where The Wild Things Are. The book is such a fundamental necessity for any child's upbringing that it's been a staple of my So it seems you've had a baby gift pack for years.You get Where The Wild Things Are, you get The Cat In The Hat, you get The Very Hungry Caterpillar and you get Make Way For Ducklings. You might not need them right away, but you will need them.To many people, that was the book that came to mind when they heard that the author had died at 83. To others, it was his recent (and rippingly funny) two-part interview with Stephen Colbert. But for a music nerd like me, it was 1975's Really Rosie.Really Rosie was one of those movies that always seemed to pop up in school at the slightest provocation. It was short enough - having originally been a half-hour TV musical - that teachers could slot it in just about whenever they wanted. It was ostensibly educational, with its core songs serving as lessons about counting ("One Was Johnny"), the alphabet ("Alligators All Around"), good manners ("Pierre") and the calendar ("Chicken Soup With Rice").And it had Carole King. Stuck with what was surely a limited supply of acceptable movies to show elementary-school students - and the knowledge that they'd have to see them over and over - I can only assume that my teachers all breathed a small sigh of relief whenever they circled back around to the cartoon scored by one of the greatest songwriters of all time.It's a cute movie, with a hint of subversive genius in the fact that it's about little more than a bunch of kids who are bored. But the soundtrack is brilliant. King wrote music to go with Sendak's words (some repurposed from earlier books, some brand new). She brought in her kids to sing terrific backup (her own stroke of genius; just listen to Sherry and Louise Goffin's youthful yearning as they sing "Believe Me" in the title track). The result was her strongest album not called Tapestry.The songs that aren't in the movie expand on the setting in which the characters live, but they're not about going on new adventures. Instead, they articulate their worldviews, taking in what they see and letting us in on how they think. What they never do, not once, is treat the children as stupid, even when they're being bad.And then there's "The Ballad Of Chicken Soup." In the movie, it's perfectly clear that the story is being told specifically in the most dramatic, gruesome manner possible, as bored children will do. But stripped of the comically exaggerated visuals (and the kids playing dead immediately afterwards), it becomes the greatest utterly terrifying children's song I have ever heard.With a perfectly sinister piano part ticking away underneath, King recounts Sendak's tale of choking to death (...on soup). As the title character reaches his inevitable demise, King lets out an agonizing shriek, dies with a horrific moan and then snaps back to an entirely matter-of-fact tone as she brings to a close the event on such an ordinary day. You know, like today. Pleasant dreams.Really Rosie was Sendak's lone foray into pop songwriting. Unlike Shel Silverstein, he didn't seem interested in pursuing music as a parallel sideline, and he certainly didn't feel the need to get raunchy the one time he did it. It wasn't necessary. On Really Rosie, he gave us a character who was a child pretending to be a adult - and by assuming that not only was she as smart as any grownup, but his audience was as well, he and King created one of the greates[...]

What HBO And iCarly Can Do To Get Kids Psyched About Veggies

Mon, 07 May 2012 15:09:00 EST

As part of efforts to spotlight obesity, health officials are betting that HBO and Nickelodeon entertainment companies can teach kids it's cool to form healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.

We've all seen the scary headlines about the obesity epidemic. And there are no shortage of initiatives aimed at getting Americans - particularly kids - to eat right.

The tricky part is making eating right cool and the sort of habit that kids will want to do for a lifetime.

So what do the earnest health officials who are always talking about this do to get their message to break through? Enlist HBO and iCarly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kicked off a conference today here in Washington called Weight of the Nation. And HBO is debuting a multi-part documentary of the same name next week. (You can see the trailer above.) It's not a coincidence.

But HBO is also working to get 100 salad bars up and running in selected schools across the nation by September. We asked HBO's John Hoffman, Executive Producer of the documentary, why salad bars? "Well, when kids reach for it (healthy food) themselves, and opt in, then consumption levels go up." Hoffman told us. And he went on to discuss the science behind the consumption data.

Wait, isn't HBO an entertainment company? I ribbed Hoffman for sounding more like a public policy nerd than an entertainment executive.

"I'm glad you're bringing this up!" Hoffman told me. "We're filling a space that needs to be filled." Hoffman says by turning their lens to this issue of obesity and using the HBO platform for public health, he hopes to really engage audiences around the country. "These campaigns need to be conducted," he says.

Another healthy campaign being launched this week is also a vegetable-eating one.

Who better to convince kids and tweens that eating vegetables is cool than the stars of Nickelodeon's iCarly? That's the plan Birds Eye announced as part of a commitment announced by the Partnership for a Healthier America (The group formed to oversee private sector commitments to the First Lady's Let's Move campaign.) The company says it will spend at least $2 million per year for each of the next three years to market and advertise this campaign on Nickelodeon and other outlets.

"We're not into nagging," Sally Genster Robling, president of Birds Eye Frozen Division told us. "Instead of pushing things at them (kids), we've got to put them in control." And along the way , Genster-Robling says, kids will be invited to help Birds Eye create new veggie products just for kids. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Ready To Step Into Your Favorite Superhero's Shoes?

Mon, 07 May 2012 11:50:00 EST

The movie The Avengers broke box office records this weekend. That's just one sign of the growing interest in comic book heroes, science fiction, and other fantasy genres. Host Michel Martin speaks with writer George Gonzalez about covering a recent convention for die-hard fantasy fans.

Lena Dunham Addresses Criticism Aimed At 'Girls'

Mon, 07 May 2012 11:13:00 EST

Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO's new series Girls, addresses the growing backlash against the show, which follows four twentysomethings as they navigate the ups and downs of life in New York City.Lena Dunham was just 23 years old when her second feature film, Tiny Furniture, won the best narrative feature prize at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The movie's success led to Dunham's striking a deal with HBO for a comedy series about a group of twentysomething girls navigating New York City.Girls, which Dunham writes and also stars in, premiered on HBO in April. Critics immediately heaped praise on the comedy for its voice and colorful storylines; The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman called the show "one of the most original, spot-on, no-missed-steps series in recent memory." A New York Magazine cover story called the show revolutionary - and USA Today noted that "Dunham is clearly a talent to be reckoned with."But not everyone was so enamored. Within hours of Girls' premiere on April 15, a backlash started growing online, with critics charging that the show was narcissistic, lacked racial diversity and showcased whiny, privileged millennials complaining about topics only relevant to whiny, privileged millennials.On Monday's Fresh Air, Dunham talks about creating the show, as well as her own experiences navigating life in New York City after graduating from college. She also addresses some of the criticisms lobbed at Girls, and details how she came up with the ideas for many of the scenes in the show. Interview highlights are below.Interview HighlightsOn the criticism Girls has received about a lack of diversity"I take that criticism very seriously. ... This show isn't supposed to feel exclusionary. It's supposed to feel honest, and it's supposed to feel true to many aspects of my experience. But for me to ignore that criticism and not to take it in would really go against my beliefs and my education in so many things. And I think the liberal-arts student in me really wants to engage in a dialogue about it, but as I learn about engaging with the media, I realize it's not the same as sitting in a seminar talking things through at Oberlin. Every quote is sort of used and misused and placed and misplaced, and I really wanted to make sure I spoke sensitively to this issue. ..."I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP and I wrote two Jews and two WASPS. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if for example, she was was African-American, I feel like - not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn't able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me. And only later did I realize that it was four white girls. As much as I can say it was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, 'I hear this and I want to respond to it.' And this is a hard issue to speak to because all I want to do is sound sensitive and not say anything that will horrify anyone or make them feel more isolated but I did write something that was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I can't speak to accurately."On twentysomethings who still live with their parents"I am a working woman out in the world, but I still live with my parents half the time. I've been taking this long, stuttering period [...]

The Serious Comic Art Of Daniel Clowes

Mon, 07 May 2012 02:49:00 EST

Comic artist Daniel Clowes never expected to see his cranky, rebellious characters in a museum - in fact, he often uses them to poke fun at the world of fine art. But that didn't deter the Oakland Museum of California, which is now hosting an exhibition of Clowes' work.Comics used to be seen as cheap throwaway entertainment for children and teenagers. But over the last few decades, comics have grown up; they're even released in longer formats, on nice paper with hard covers, as graphic novels.Daniel Clowes is one of the artists cited for turning the form into serious art - in fact, the art has gotten so serious that his work is now in a museum. Clowes is one of the best-known comic artists working today, with two of his books made into Hollywood films: the Academy Award-nominated Ghost World and Art School Confidential.Clowes never aimed to be the kind of artist museums collect. But now, the walls of the Oakland Museum of California are covered with his drawings. It's "quite embarrassing," he laughs.After a stint as an art student at Chicago's Pratt Institute in the 1970s, Clowes tried unsuccessfully to get work as an illustrator. Sitting around drawing comics on his own, he decided to send a strip to underground publisher Fantagraphics. He was expecting rejection.Instead, "they called me up and offered me a monthly comic book, and I felt like I hadn't earned anything," he says. "You know, it's like all of a sudden, you're being made president after you've been like, you know, on the city council in Cleveland."Clowes rose to the occasion - or some might say sunk. In 1989, he created the comic book series Eightball, which he billed as "An Orgy of Spite, Vengeance, Hopelessness, Despair, and Sexual Perversion." His main characters were unmotivated and cranky. His work skewered everything, from televangelists to fashionistas.Enid Coleslaw, the reluctant heroine of Ghost World, is classic Clowes. She's an outsider. She doesn't like to play by the rules, she doesn't want to get a job, she doesn't want to go to college and she speaks her mind. "Enid, if she knew about Ghost World, she would just hate it," Clowes says. "She'd be like, 'This book is, like, so horrible.' You know, my characters are like the worst customers I could imagine."Original drawings of Enid and dozens more of Clowes' eccentric characters adorn the gallery walls. David Boring is on a quest for the perfect wife. Then there's The Death-Ray, a super hero spoof about a guy named Andy who gets special powers every time he puffs on a cigarette. And Wilson, who stars in Clowes' most recent work, is an unemployed, divorced, grumpy loner. He talks to people in public places in a desperate attempt to make some kind of human connection."I certainly share a lot of the anxiety and the world views of a guy like Wilson," Clowes says, "although he's a much less palatable version. He's me at my worst moment. He's like me in my moments of road rage, when I'm safely inside my car and I can say what I feel."But, Clowes adds, he's actually trying to bring out the nobility in characters like Enid and Wilson. "[Wilson] really just wants to connect with people by being his exact true self, which is something none of us ever do, and he's not interested in changing himself to connect with people, which is what all of us do do. It made him seem much more noble when I figured that out about him."Curator Susan Miller discovered Clowes' work more than a decade ago in the adult section of a comic book store in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. "There was some pornogr[...]