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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bosox, Bills fans, and karma

First of all, let me say that I like Boston.  I like the city.  I like its history.  I like its restaurants.  I love going to a game at Fenway Park.  I just think Boston is one of the best cities in the country.
I even like the sports fans there.  Well, except for Patriots fans.
So when I heard that the Red Sox’ epic collapse was complete…..blowing a nine-game lead in September, and blowing a ninth-inning lead in the last game of the season to lose out on a wild-card playoff spot, my first thought was to feel sorry for their fans.
I mean after all, who understands better what it’s like to have your guts ripped out by your favorite sports team than someone from Buffalo?  We know what it’s like to have a tough night.  Or month.  Or decade.  Or lifetime.
And then I thought about sports and karma, and how cosmic forces line up, and I wondered if somehow I played a role in this.  Okay, that sounds ridiculously egocentric….but if you’re a sports fan, that’s how you are.  Let’s face it, we all know that failing to wear our lucky shirt (or washing it) can cause our team to lose.  Don’t we control their fate?
If that’s the case, then maybe the story I wrote last week listing five reasons why the Bills HAD TO beat the Patriots had a ripple effect on the Red Sox.  After all, I did list times when cosmic karma clearly was on Boston’s side.  And one of those times did involve the Red Sox.  (If you missed it, I pointed out that Boston was a last-minute addition to the original teams when the American League was founded.  Bumping out a franchise from another city.  Buffalo.)
So maybe, just maybe, somehow the sports gods got wind of that.  And took another look at the Sox.  And decided it would be fun to torment their fans one more time.  Wasn’t the curse enough?  Wasn’t Bill Buckner enough?  When the Red Sox finally broke through and won the Series in 2004, snapping their 86-year drought, their fans had to think the heartache was finally behind them.
But no.  That’s how sports is.
And sometimes, it just takes a moment.  One that doesn’t just affect the outcome of that game….one that can change the direction of a team, of a city, of a generation of fans.
If Scott Norwood makes that field goal, who knows what happens in the next Super Bowl.  Or the next one.  Or the one after that.
Patriots fans might understand that.  If the officials didn’t blow the “tuck rule” call and Tom Brady’s fumble (which really was a fumble) was ruled a fumble….the Patriots don’t go on to the Super Bowl.  Which they barely won.  Do they become a dynasty?
So Red Sox fans, if somehow I played a role in your latest heartache, I'm sorry. 
Oh, one more thing.  The Sox weren’t the only team to lose out on the playoffs last night after blowing a big lead.  So did the Braves.  Who moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966.  After moving to Milwaukee from Boston in 1953.
Yep, it’s all karma.

Monday, September 26, 2011

We're Bills fans. C'mon, get happy!

I finally figured out what’s different about today.  The day after a Bills game.  I’m happy.  As a longtime, long suffering Bills fan. I’M ACTUALLY HAPPY.   
Not just relieved, or optimistic, or hopeful….although I’m feeling those emotions as well.
Nope, I’m happy.  Emphatically and unequivocally happy.
Not just because the Bills beat the Patriots.  But don’t you just love saying that?  The Bills beat the Patriots.  The Bills beat the Patriots.  The Bills beat the friggin’ Patriots.
It’s the way we beat them.  We won the kind of game THEY would have won (and did win) numerous times during the now-ended 15-game losing streak.  We got four interceptions.  (Four!  On Brady!)  We came back from a 21-point deficit.  We got some lucky breaks (An interception in the end zone called back because of pass interference?  That’s Brady’s kind of break, not ours)  Our players didn’t commit stupid penalties at critical moments.  (Hello, Vince Wolfork)  An instant replay actually worked in our favor.  Our coach DIDN’T have a temper tantrum.  Our coach DID manage the clock brilliantly at the end of the game.
Admit it.  When the officials called that penalty on Byrd (a really, really bad call….the kind they usually make against the Bills when they play the Patriots) we thought it was coming.  The refs were giving the game away.  The Pats were going to do what they always do against the Bills.  The streak was going to continue.
But who’d have thunk that Brady would throw an interception ON THE NEXT PLAY.  That’s when it was clear.  This year is different.
Think about it.  When was the last time we could say we’re happy?  You know, giddy?  Jubilant?
I gave that some thought and concluded the last time I felt that way as a Bills fan was when this happened:
Yep, 20 years ago this year.  51-3.  We were on top of the world then.  We were going to our first Super Bowl.  And we knew….we just knew….we were going to win it.  But that was before the phrase “Wide Right” would symbolize much more than a missed field goal….it would symbolize an entire cosmic alliance against Western New York.
After that first Super Bowl loss, and the three blowouts that followed, we went from happy and hopeful to praying the Bills wouldn’t get back to the big game again….or at least not embarrass us.
After that...what did we have to be happy about?  Flutie gave us hope, but that didn’t last.  Bledsoe?   Not even one full season of optimism.  Wait….there was the time the Bills started out 4-0 in 2008, and we thought Trent Edwards might be the guy….but we crashed back to earth harder than Edwards’ head hit the turf in Arizona.
Nope….mostly it’s been disappointment, anger, embarrassment……mixed with resignation that things might never get better.
We all know that in the NFL as in life, good things don’t always come to those who wait.  And 3-0 in September could lead to 0-4 in November.
But it’s good right now.  Real good. 
So thank you Freddy & Fitz, the no-name receiving corps, and the sticky-fingered defensive backs….thank you Chan and Buddy….even Ralph.  (Yeah, why not?  I’m in a good mood)
It’s happy time.  And doesn’t that feel good?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Niagara Falls: daredevils, drama, and death

I love Niagara Falls daredevil stories.  LOVE THEM.  I used to tell them all the time when I was in college, and had a summer job as a Niagara Falls tour guide.  If you had a good group of people on your tour, and you kept them entertained, the tips could be pretty good….so I worked hard on my daredevil stories.
I was thinking about them when I heard that Governor Cuomo has signed legislation allowing one of the Flying Wallendas to perform a tightrope walk over Niagara Falls.  If Canada also gives its blessing, then next June, Nik Wallenda will walk nearly 2,000 feet on a two-inch steel cable, high above the falls.
Whether he succeeds or fails, Wallenda will join the long list of daredevils who have been attracted to Niagara Falls for centuries.

The Great Blondin
It all starts with the Great Blondin.  His story dates back to before Abraham Lincoln was president.
His real name was Jean Francois Gravelot.  Born in France in 1824.  At the age of five, trained as an acrobat.  At the age of six, he began performing in Europe, known as “The Little Wonder”.  In 1855 he came to the United States, and thrilled American audiences.
But his biggest claim to fame was yet to come.
Blondin became obsessed with crossing the Niagara River on a tightrope.  And in 1859,  he did it.   June 30, 1859…..Blondin crossed above the rapids beneath the falls on an 1,100 foot rope, three inches in diameter.
But he wasn’t done.  Far from it.  Blondin performed his death-defying act EIGHT MORE TIMES that summer.  Once, he did a somersault.  Once, he did it with his arms and legs shackled.
But one of those crossings topped all the others.  And still ranks as one of the top achievements ever at the falls.  Blondin walked across that tightrope CARRYING HIS MANAGER ON HIS BACK.
Blondin was back in Niagara Falls the following year for more crossings, in front of hundreds of thousands of sightseers.  In one of them, he pushed a wheelbarrow across the gorge.
Blondin truly was great.  He was the first to cross the Niagara on a tightrope, he’s still considered the best….and more than 150 years later, he’s still the most famous of all Niagara Falls daredevils.

The Great Farini
Another great one.  Like Blondin, the name sounds foreign.  But he was American.  Actually, he was from Lockport….the other end of Niagara County from the falls.  His real name was William Leonard Hunt.  He was among the many who saw Blondin cross the gorge in 1860.  But he did more than cheer.  He turned to his girlfriend and said “I can do that”.   So he quit his job to pursue his dream.  The job, by the way, was working for his girlfriend’s father, and when he quit she dumped him….but if you have a dream, you have to pursue it.
Farini’s dream came true later that summer.  And talk about a daredevil act.  He pulled off a stunt for the ages.
Farini made it halfway across the gorge, then LOWERED HIMSELF to the Maid of the Mist boat, 200 feet below.  While there, he had a glass of wine (who wouldn’t?) and then climbed back up.  He underestimated that part of the stunt and barely made it, nearly falling several times.  But he finished his crossing.
He never tried the boat stunt again, but crossed the gorge several more times that year, each time trying to outdo one of Blondin’s stunts.  He balanced on his head, he hung by his toes, he carried a woman, he carried a washtub…..many of his acts were more daring, but Farini never achieved Blondin’s fame.

Annie Edson Taylor
This was my favorite daredevil story to tell tourists.  Because when you think of daredevils and Niagara Falls, you think of barrels.  And when you think of people going over the falls in a barrel, you think of men….young men….dashing young men.
The first person to do that wasn’t a man.  And wasn’t young either.
Annie Edson Taylor was a school teacher from Michigan.  A widow….her husband was killed in the Civil War.
She decided that becoming the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel would be her ticket to fame and fortune.
So on October 24, 1901…her 63rd birthday…she climbed into a wooden barrel, and over the Falls she went….surviving with only minor cuts and bruises.  But the fame and fortune thing?  That didn’t quite work out.  People had a hard time believing this matronly widow actually conquered Niagara Falls.  Her manager took off with her barrel.  At one point an attractive young woman pretended she was Annie….and more people believed her!  Taylor died penniless 20 years after her stunt.  Want to see her grave?  It’s in the “Stunters section” of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, NY.
She never achieved fortune….but Annie finally did achieve fame.  Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see it.  But no story of Niagara Falls daredevils is complete without her.  Annie Edson Taylor will always be part of the legend of the falls.

George Strathakis
This is another one of those stories that prove God has a sense of humor.  George Strathakis survived his plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  But he still died.
Confused?  I’ll explain.  But first, here’s a little background.  Strathakis was a Greek immigrant who worked as a chef in Buffalo.  So naturally challenging the falls was his next career move.
On July 5, 1930 Strathakis climbed into a wooden and steel barrel, and over the falls he went.  The barrel survived intact.  So did he.  Just one problem.  As the barrel bounced and bobbed in the middle of millions of gallons of water, it ended up stuck behind the falls.  For 22 hours.  Strathakis only had an eight-hour supply of air.  By the time the barrel came free, rescuers recovered it, and pried it open…..Strathakis had suffocated.
But the news wasn’t all bad.  Strathakis took his pet turtle with him.  It survived. 

Jessie Sharp
This one is relatively recent…..Jessie’s brush with Niagara Falls immortality happened about 20 years ago.  The reason he’s on this list is because….even though it’s wrong of me to speak ill of the dead….Jessie Sharp was a moron.  An incredibly, dramatically, overwhelmingly stupid person.  He’s not just the dumbest daredevil ever to challenge Niagara Falls.  He may be the dumbest person ever to VISIT Niagara Falls.
You see, Jessie decided to go over the falls in a kayak.  
He planned it for three years.  Then on June 5, 1990 he climbed aboard and paddled off into the upper rapids, while his friends videotaped his journey.
He didn’t wear a helmet because that would have covered his face in the video.  He didn’t wear a life preserver because that might hamper his escape if he got caught under the falls.  No helmet, no life jacket, just Jessie and a kayak.  Did I mention he planned this for three years?
The video of Jessie paddling away was the last anyone ever saw of him.  His body was never recovered.  Not even part of it.

So assuming Canada goes along with New York and approves Nik Wallenda’s request, next summer he’ll be the next name on the list of Falls daredevils.  Will it be triumph or tragedy?  Either way, next year’s tour guides should have a good story to tell.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Buffalo's serial killer: an anniversary we can live without

Today Western New York is marking a grim anniversary.  One that not too many people remember, or are even aware of.  But if you lived through it, you remember.  You remember the fear, you remember the anger, and you remember wondering if it would ever end.
On September 22, 1980 we entered a very dark chapter in our history.  WNY was about to become part of something we wanted no part of.  A serial killer’s killing spree.
He became known as the 22-caliber killer.  Joseph Christopher.  A racist who targeted African-Americans.
It started small…like serial killings usually do.  One murder.  The victim, a 14 year old boy.  Glenn Dunn was shot and killed as he sat in a car outside a supermarket in Buffalo.  It was a big story on the news that night….how often is a 14 year old murdered?  But it was an isolated incident.  Or so we thought.
The next day, Harold Green was shot and killed at a fast-food restaurant in Cheektowaga.  And it didn’t stop there.  That night, back in Buffalo, Emmanuel Thomas was gunned down while crossing the street….just blocks away from the scene of Glenn Dunn’s murder.
Three murders in two days.  Unusual, but not unprecedented.
Then another one, the next day.  This one in Niagara Falls.  Joseph McCoy shot and killed.
Four murders in 48 hours.  All the victims were black, and we quickly learned this terrifying fact.  All were killed with the same gun. 
Western New York was in a state of terror.  The 22-caliber killer had people living in fear.  Not to mention racial tension.  The victims were all African American.  Buffalo’s black community complained about lack of police presence, lack of protection, lack of support.   
Imagine something like that happening today.  Internet.  24-hour cable channels.  Western New York would be under siege by the media as well as the killer.  We wouldn’t be able to walk down Main Street downtown without bumping into Anderson Cooper or Nancy Grace or one of the 42,000 other internet or cable or print journalists who would descend on this area.
Back then, it was different.  The local TV stations and radio stations and newspapers covered the story….and devoted a lot of time and resources to it….but it wasn’t wall-to-wall coverage.  People called talk radio, but had no message boards or forums to light up like a Christmas tree.
A lot different than it would be today.  But that’s how it was in 1980. 
And then, after the first four murders, there was a break in the bloodshed.  The killings stopped.  But only for a while.  And when they resumed, the nightmare was even worse.
Two weeks later….October 8th….Parler Edwards, a black cab driver, was found in the trunk of his car in Amherst.  His heart was cut out of his body.  The next day, the same thing in Tonawanda…black cabbie Ernest Jones found near the Niagara River, his heart cut out and carried away from the scene.
Now there were six murders.  Two of the victims found without their hearts.  What kind of sadistic killer was stalking black men in our area?  Was it ritualistic?  Was it Satanic?
Western New York was in a full-scale panic.  People were afraid to leave their homes.  Buffalo was like New York City during David Berkowitz’ murder spree.
But then the killings stopped again.
Until December.  And now….it was New York City’s turn to once again be terrorized.  The 22-caliber killer had moved to Son of Sam’s territory.
He didn’t use a gun this time.  He used a knife.  He used it often.  December 22, 1980.  Five blacks and one Hispanic were stabbed in less than 13 hours  Four of them died.  The New York media called the killer the Midtown Slasher.
But after those five attacks, the slasher was done with New York City.  But he wasn’t done killing….and he wasn’t done with Western New York.
Between December 29th and January 1st, five more stabbings took place in Buffalo and Rochester.  Two of the victims died.
A few days later, police dropped this bombshell.  They believed all the killings….the shootings in Buffalo, the stabbings in New York City, the stabbings in Buffalo and Rochester….all of them were the work of one person. 
12 murders.  All of them blamed on one serial killer.  The 22-caliber killer.
But the killings ended.  This time for good.  And the reign of terror was about to end.
12 days later, a break in the case.  At that time, Joseph Christopher was an Army private in Georgia.  He was arrested for slashing a black soldier.  Police searched his former home in Buffalo….where they found 22-caliber ammunition and two sawed-off rifle stocks.
Now investigators looked into the timing of the killings, and whether Christopher could have done them.  It turned out he could.  It turned out Christopher had enlisted in November, after the first wave of killings.  He was on leave from December 19th to January 4th.  And he had taken a bus to New York City.
Still no charges were filed against him.
But then, a few months later, Christopher was in the hospital for self-inflicted wounds.  He bragged to a nurse about killing blacks in Buffalo.  Four days later, he was arrested.
Christopher was convicted of three of the murders.  He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.  But it ended up a life sentence.  He died in prison.  Not killed by another inmate, like his fellow serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.   Joseph Christopher died of cancer.  A rare form of male breast cancer.  He was 37.
Let’s face it, we’re fascinated by serial killers.  When we hear of one, we can’t get enough information.  And we always say to ourselves, “Thank God that didn’t happen here.  Something like that couldn’t happen here”.
But it did once.  It was a terrible and terrifying time.  And it all started 31 years ago today.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


We Know when it comes to the Bills playing the Patriots, the Bills are the patsies.  The last time the Bills won a game against New England was the 2003 season opener.  15 straight losses since then.  Closing in on the NFL record for consecutive losses by one team to another….which as we all know is the 20 straight times the Bills lost to the Dolphins in the 1970's.
Will “son of the streak” end this Sunday at the Ralph?  Will the Bills finally get a “W” instead of a walloping?
It could happen.  If Chad Henne could pass for 400 yards against the Pats’ defense, I like Ryan Fitzpatrick’s chances.  The Patriots’ offensive line is letting Tom Brady take some hits, and we know he doesn’t like that.  The Ralph will be rocking.  Chan Gailey won’t be intimidated by Bill Belichick.
Those are reasons why it could.  I’ve come up with five reasons why the Bills NEED TO WIN.

 Of all the embarrassments of the Dick Jauron era, this was the most embarrassing.  Of all the pathetic performances, this was the most pathetic.  Of all the times he should have been fired the moment a game ended, this was the top of the list.
November 18, 2007.  Sunday night.  Prime time.  Nationally televised on NBC.  The Bills were coming off a four-game winning streak.   It ended in humiliating fashion.
The Patriots came to Ralph Wilson Stadium and stomped the Bills. It was Buffalo's worst defeat since the War of 1812.  
Yes, 2007 was the year the Patriots went undefeated and Tom Brady & Randy Moss had record-breaking seasons and the Patriots were really, really good.  But the Bills played really, really badly.  They were tentative.  They were uninspired.  THEY PLAYED SCARED. 
Brady threw five touchdown passes….four of them to Moss.  The Patriots scored touchdowns on seven straight possessions.   It was the worst loss in Bills history.  And with all the bad losses the Bills have had over the years, that’s saying something.

To make up for Drew Bledsoe
 I know, I know….we were all so excited when Tom Donahoe made the bold move.  Trading a first-round draft pick to the Patriots for Bledsoe.  Finally, a real quarterback for the Bills.  Yeah, Flutie was exciting, but Bledsoe was the real thing.  An all-pro.  A rocket arm. 
Belichick was going to regret trading a great quarterback to a division rival.  And it started off so well.  The first half of the 2002 season, the Bills averaged 30 points a game and were headed for the playoffs with a 5-3 record.  But reality set in, and the team finished 3-5 in the second half, averaging only 17 points a game.  Defenses figured out that Bledsoe wasn’t very mobile and he got sacked a few times.
Still, the 2003 season opener gave us hope.  A 31-nothing thumping of the Patriots.  But the team ended up 6-10.
But things were going to be better in 2004.  And in the season finale, all the Bills needed to do was beat the Steelers, who were playing a bunch of backups & third-stringers, and playoffs here we come.  They lost.  And the Bledsoe era/error was over.

The phantom foul
If you’re old enough, you remember the Buffalo Braves, our NBA expansion team that came into existence the same year as the Sabres.  Like all expansion teams, they started out slowly, but in the 1973-74 season they made the playoffs for the first time.  They went up against the powerful Boston Celtics.   Led by Bob McAdoo, Ernie DiGregorio, and Buff State’s Randy Smith, the Braves hung tough.  With the Celtics leading three games to two, Game Six was played at the Aud.  The Celtics led by four points in the final minute, but the Braves tied it up with seven seconds left.  When Jo Jo White missed a last-second shot, it was headed to overtime.  But wait.  Referee Darrell Garretson called a foul on McAdoo.  The kind of foul call that’s never made in that situation.  White made two free throws and the Celtics led by two.  But the Braves got hosed one more time.  When White fell, there was one second left on the clock.  Time for one more shot by the Braves.  But the refs decided the game was over.  End of game, end of season for the Braves.  Owner Paul Snyder pounded on the referees’ dressing room door, screaming “You can’t throw me out of here.  I own the place.”  Even White said the Braves should have gotten one last shot.  The team filed a protest with the NBA, but needless to say that went nowhere.  The Celtics went on to win the NBA title. The Braves made the playoffs the next two seasons.  They lost to the Celtics again in the 1975-76 season.  That was their final playoff appearance before leaving Buffalo two years later. 

John Y. Brown
Speaking of the Braves, it’s a foregone conclusion that eventually we would have lost the team.  NBA teams have moved from city to city faster than Kobe Bryant could say “the sex was consensual”.   Buffalo wasn’t going to be a big enough market, and the Braves were never going to top the Sabres in fan support.
But we didn’t have to lose the team as early in their history as we did.  And we wouldn’t have if Paul Snyder hadn’t sold out to John Y. Brown, the former owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Brown bought KFC from its founder, Colonel Sanders, in 1964.....built the company up, and sold it for a mega profit in 1971.  He did the opposite with the Braves.  Instead of building the team up, he tore it down.  In their last two seasons in Buffalo, stars were sold off, the team’s record dropped, and so did fan support.  Which helped Brown, because there was a clause that said their lease with the Aud could be broken if they didn’t sell 5,000 season tickets.
Irv Levin owned the Celtics back then.  He wanted a team in California.  But there’s no way the league would let the Celtics move out of Boston.  So Brown and Levin worked out a swap.  Brown got the Celtics, Levin got the Braves, and Buffalo got screwed.  The league approved the deal and Levin moved the Braves to San Diego, where they became the Clippers.  (The only consolation for Braves fans is that the Clippers have been one of the worst franchises in all of professional sports for decades)
To this day, die-hard Braves fans won’t eat at KFC. 
Brown didn’t own the Celtics for long.  He went on to become elected Governor of Kentucky in 1979.  He failed to move the state capital to California.
The Red Sox
Wait a minute.  What does Boston’s beloved baseball team have to do with Buffalo? know how Buffalo was in the running for a major league expansion team but they gave it to Florida instead….and Marlins tickets are about as popular in Miami as a thong on a hairy European at the beach?  And we keep thinking we’re such a great minor league baseball town we should be in the majors?  Actually, we were.  Until we got hosed.
Let’s go back….way back back back back to the late 1800’s.  The Buffalo Bisons were in the National League.  In 1886 they moved into the minors, as an original member of the International League.  In 1899, they moved to the Western League, which in 1901 became the second major league, the American League.  So Buffalo going to be back in the big leagues.  Except for one thing.  The league decided to include a different team instead of Buffalo.  A team from Boston.  They were called the Boston Americans.  Soon to be known as the Red Sox.  Yep, the first “Major league sports screws Buffalo” story.
You know that Red Sox curse which lasted for all those years?  It wasn’t because they traded Babe Ruth.  It was because Buffalo baseball fans put a hex on them.

Over the years, there have also been some good Buffalo-Boston memories.  Jim Schoenfeld checking Wayne Cashman through the Zamboni entrance.   OJ running for 250 yards against the Pats.  In fact, until the current 15-game losing streak, there have been plenty of Bills-Patriots games that turned out just fine for the Bills.    
I say it’s time for that to happen again. 
Go Bills!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Buffalo & the Emmy Awards

Hey, the Emmy Awards are tonight.  Will you be watching?  Probably not….last year’s show was one of the lowest-rated ever, and the Emmys have lost a lot of their luster.  But every once in a while, something interesting happens on the show.  And every once in a while, Buffalo plays a role.
From Buffalo Bob Smith and Lucille Ball right up to tonight’s show, Western New Yorkers have been nominated for countless Emmy awards.   Some of them have won a bunch of Emmys…and they deserved them.  Some are well known for their ties to the area…some not so much.
But here are a handful of reasons why Western New York & Emmy go together so well. 

Kyle Chandler
I bet you didn’t know the star of Friday Night Lights is from Western New York.  He was born here.  He didn’t spend much time here…his family moved to Chicago when he was little, then to Georgia when he was eleven….he grew up in a small town there named Loganville.  But we’ll take him as one of ours.
If there’s any justice, he’ll win the Emmy for best actor in a drama series tonight.  It’s the first time he’s been nominated for his role as coach Eric Taylor on FNL, which is a crime.  It’s also the last time he’ll be nominated, since the show is now history.  And since Chandler is from Buffalo (even briefly) he’ll probably finish second.  But we can hope.
Wendie Malick
Betty White is up for best supporting actress in a comedy….and let’s face it, it’s Betty White’s world right now….but no one would have been surprised if one of the other stars of Hot in Cleveland had been nominated instead.
Wendie Malick may be the best scene stealer in Hollywood.  She more than holds her own with White.  In fact, whatever her role, whatever the TV show, she stands out.  She’s funny….really funny.  She absolutely owned the sitcom Just Shoot Me.  Playing Nina, a neurotic former model struggling with middle age, Malick received two Emmy nominations and won one Golden Globe.  She won four Cable Ace awards for her role as Judith Tupper Stone in the quirky HBO comedy Dream On.  She had recurring roles on Frasier, Kate & Allie….and Baywatch (!)
She’s a graduate of Williamsville South High School.
Trivia tidbit: Malick, who was in the movie The American President,  has real-life politics on her resume.  She worked for Congressman Jack Kemp.  Must have been one funny office.

The writers
People from Buffalo have created some of the best television shows ever.  David Milch, a Nichols School graduate, was the co-creator & Executive Producer of NYPD Blue and the creator & head writer of Deadwood.  Tom Fontana, who graduated from Canisius High School and Buffalo State College, was the brains behind St. Elsewhere (one of my all-time favorite TV shows), Homicide: Life on the Streets, and Oz.  Diane English, another Buff State grad (she’s a Nardin Academy alum) created Murphy Brown.  These three created some of the most memorable shows, memorable characters, memorable moments….and incredibly memorable dialogue….in the history of television. 

Buffalo Bill
No, not the real Buffalo Bill.  The sitcom about a TV talk show host working in Buffalo.  What, you never heard of it?  It only ran for part of two seasons in the early 1980’s.  But both years, it was nominated for best comedy.  It received a total of eleven Emmy nominations.  And it should have won a bunch of them.  It was groundbreaking.  It took chances…imagine a show today using a baseball fantasy game to determine if a character should have an abortion!
But most of all, it was hilarious.  Dabney Coleman starred as Bill Bittinger….egotistical, mean, totally unlikable….and ranked #42 on TV Guide’s list of the 50 greatest TV characters of all time.   A great supporting cast including Geena Davis.  Former NBC programming genius Brandon Tartikoff said canceling this show was his biggest mistake ever.

Nancy Marchand won multiple Emmy awards for Lou Grant and should have won one for The Sopranos.  Wolf Blitzer won an Emmy for his coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing.  Christine Baranski won for her role on Cybil.  Ron Silver (not from here, but a UB grad) was nominated for his role on The West Wing.  William Fichtner (did you know he’s from Cheektowaga?) hasn’t gotten a nomination yet, but got rave reviews for his role on Prison Break.
The list goes on.  What role will Kyle Chandler play on that list?  As they say on TV every day…stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Big stick, big anniversary

 You know that “bully pulpit” that we hear so much about?  We heard it just last week when President Obama gave his jobs speech.
You know who coined the phrase?  That’s right, the president known for saying “bully” when he thought something was great.  Teddy Roosevelt.
Who became president 110 years ago today.
Right here in Buffalo.
Yep, September 14, 1901 was quite a day in American history, and the history of Buffalo.  You remember your history, don’t you?  Back then, Buffalo was the 8th-largest city in the country.  And that year, the city went all out.  It played host to the Pan-American Exposition….kind of like a world’s fair, only bigger.  It was huge.  Spectacular buildings were built for the event.  Lit up at night….they called it the “City of Lights”.  Many visitors were seeing electricity for the first time.
And in September, the president of the United States came to town.  William McKinley.  Unfortunately, so did an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz.  Who…on September 6th, as the president greeted the public at the Exposition’s Temple of Music…..fired two shots at McKinley.  One just grazed him, but the other went through his stomach, pancreas, and kidney.  At first, doctors thought the president would survive….but on September 12th he took a turn for the worse.
Roosevelt, who was vice president, was rushed to Buffalo.  But in those days, rushing didn’t mean quite what it does today.  McKinley died at 2:15 am on the 14th.  Roosevelt arrived about 12 hours later, and was sworn in that afternoon.
At the age of 42, he was the youngest president in history.  He may have been young…he may not have been elected….but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of our greatest presidents.
Siena College, which periodically surveys presidential scholars to rank all US presidents, had Teddy number two on its last list, behind the other Roosevelt, FDR.  Teddy has been in the top five on that list every time.
I’ve always been a big TR fan.  Not just because of the Buffalo connection, and not because of the Teddy Bear thing.  Because he was an interesting president.
He helped settle a United Mine Workers strike, with the workers getting more pay for fewer hours.  He believed in regulation….passing the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act to protect Americans from unsafe food.  He believed the government should regulate interstate corporations.  He believed in conservation.  He believed in the “Square Deal”…a fair shake for everyone.  In other words, he was a progressive.  Oh, did I mention he was also a Republican?  Imagine what he would think of his party today.
And imagine what he would think of the presidency today.  Remember, Teddy was known for the phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick”.   When was the last time a president did that?
Imagine Teddy Roosevelt dealing with John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell.  Compromise?  Bipartisanship?  He’d give them a rough ride.
Back to Buffalo for a minute.  There are those who say the McKinley assassination was the beginning of the city’s downturn.  A lot of bad things have happened to Buffalo since then.  Who knows….maybe if McKinley had lived, the Bills might have won one of those Super Bowls.
And who knows…maybe President Obama can channel a little Teddy.  Maybe he can find that big stick. 
So happy anniversary TR.  Bully!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Republicans: We see dead people

Hey, I think we finally found those death panels Sarah Palin was talking about.  They’re attending the Republican Presidential debates!
Have you heard the crowds at the last two debates?  For a party filled with people who call themselves “Right to Lifers”, they certainly like the prospect of people dying. 
At last night's Tea Party debate, when Wolf Blitzer was asking Ron Paul a health care question….a hypothetical case involving a 30 year old uninsured man with six months to live….and when he asked if the man should just be left to die, the audience answered for him. “Yeah!”

But this was pretty tame compared to last week’s debate at the Reagan Library. I’m sure you’ve seen this clip. Brian Williams wasn’t even finished asking Rick Perry a death penalty question….but when he said Texas has executed more death row inmates than any other state, the audience cheered. Louder than they did for Nancy Reagan.

So I’ve come to three conclusions.
First, if Sarah Palin liked to shoot people from airplanes instead of wolves, she wouldn’t just be the frontrunner….she’d be the Republican nominee by now.
Second, when Dick Cheney shot his hunting buddy in the face, IT WAS NO ACCIDENT!
And finally, speaking of vice presidents shooting people, maybe Aaron Burr had the right idea. Maybe the Republicans should scrap all the remaining debates, and all the primaries, and begin a series of duels to the death. You think Bachmann is gunning for Perry now? Wouldn’t people cheer at that? It would be just like “Spartacus” without the sex & nudity.