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Threadgill Weaves Together Musical Threads from Around the World.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews "Where's Your Cup" (Columbia) the latest release by musician and composer Henry Threadgill

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Other segments from the episode on August 12, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 12, 1997: Interview with Gregory Hines; Interview with Robert J. Thompson; Review of Henry Threadgill's album "Where's Your Cup."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 12, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081201np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Gregory Hines
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

I'm usually the TV critic here, but today while Terry's away, I'm filling in as guest host.

One of the people I wanted to interview was Gregory Hines, who's not really known for his TV work, but pretty soon, I bet, he will be. "The Gregory Hines Show" premiers next month on CBS and Hines stars as a widower with a 12-year-old son played by Brandon Hammond (ph).

It's one of the warmest and best family sitcoms I've seen in years, and the on-air relationship between father and son is something truly special.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE GREGORY HINES SHOW")

BRANDON HAMMOND, ACTOR: See, there's this girl at my school, and she's my lab partner.

GREGORY HINES, ACTOR: Mm-hmm.

HAMMOND: And we kind of like each other.

HINES: Really?

HAMMOND: The other day, she came over and when she left, we kind of kissed.

HINES: Really?

HAMMOND: No, not really. She kissed me.

HINES: Oh, she kissed you?

HAMMOND: Yeah. I didn't know what else to do, so I kissed her back.

LAUGHTER

HINES: Really? Really?

HAMMOND: Now, every time I see her, every time I'm near her, I get get kind of stupid. Is that normal?

HINES: Yeah. Yeah, what you're going through is perfectly natural. No, man, I -- first time I ever laid eyes on your mother, I just became a complete idiot.

HAMMOND: Oh. So you're saying it never goes away?

LAUGHTER

I can remember mom's kisses.

HINES: Yeah, me too.

HAMMOND: Oh, man. You thinking about kissing me, aren't you?

HINES: That's right. That's right. That is right. Yes...

BIANCULLI: Gregory Hines has starred on Broadway and in films, but never before has he appeared in a weekly TV series. During his lunch break, Hines took time to talk about the show and his new workload.

HINES: Well, it's nothing like I thought it would be like. I thought it was going to be a lot harder, and it's not. It's been very enjoyable. The tempo that we set last week, I think, in terms of the production and the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday work week was very relaxed, and it even feels more relaxed today in our second week of production.

So I'm actually having a really good time, Dave.

BIANCULLI: So actually, second week of production means you're working right now on what will be the third show taping?

HINES: Right. Right.

BIANCULLI: I'm surprised that you aren't complaining about it being harder. I mean, what is the workload compared to, say, doing Broadway and "Jelly's Last Jam" or movies and tap?

HINES: Well first of all, nobody ever listens to me when I complain, Dave, so I stopped complaining. And in terms of Broadway, I mean Broadway is very hard. Eight shows a week is hard. For me, I had to live a spartan existence to do those eight shows in Jelly's Last Jam for the '92-'93 Broadway season.

I loved it. It was a great role and I was very happy on stage, but it -- a week's work took its toll and one day off was never enough, and we went back at it again. And I'm very happy that I was in the show, but I was ecstatic when I finished after a year.

No, this is completely different, and with this, it's like rehearsing all week at a very easy tempo...

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

HINES: ... and then there's like a reward at the end of the week, that we do the show and we do it in front of a live audience, which for me is where my roots are, on the live stage.

So it's somewhat like making a film, because we are working in front of cameras, but it's also somewhat like performing live on the stage because of the live audience. So for me, even though we've only done two, and this is our third one, I really feel like I'm into something that I want to stay in for a long time.

BIANCULLI: Now, you have not been averse to doing television, but you've been waiting, I guess, for years until you found something that you really wanted to do?

HINES: Well, you know, I don't -- I have said that, but I don't mean it to sound like I was just waiting. I mean, I was involved in the development of many different ideas and scripts and concepts with a number of different networks, and we just were never able to come up with the right thing.

And then, these were all talented people and going in, we thought we had good -- a good concept with which to build the show around, and we were just never able to do it. I mean it's very hard to do, and to do it with quality and to do something that one can be proud of.

So this is -- this is something that came to me. You know, I didn't have any part in the development of this script at all, the concept of this show. And I'm just so happy that it did.

BIANCULLI: Now what was the farthest afield thing that was pitched to you or brought to you before you decided on this one? Was there an idea that just made you cringe?

HINES: No. No. I mean, you know, the process of it was getting involved with a network; then getting involved with a studio that wanted to produce the show; then meeting writers. And all the writers that I met, at every turn, they were all talented and they were all -- they all came up with interesting concepts.

At one point, I was trying to do an African-American "Mad About You."

LAUGHTER

At one point I was going to be, like, a lounge singer. They were all interesting concepts, we were just never able to then get a first-draft script that was good enough to go to pilot.

BIANCULLI: I may be wrong about this, but I feel that the part that you're in right now -- three, four shows into a brand new series -- is maybe the most exciting time for a cast of actors, because the writers are beginning to see what you all can do, and writing for you accordingly, and everybody's finding out about everybody else. Is that really the way that it's working?

HINES: Dave, I feel like we're on the honeymoon. I really do. After we did the pilot, of course, everybody went their separate ways and we found out we were picked up, and we all communicated with each other. We were all very happy.

But coming back together again, now, on our own set as opposed to, you know, they built the set and then they tore it down because they didn't know whether we were going to be picked up. Now this is our set. You know, we have our own parking spaces on the lot. You know, everybody is just so happy to see one another again and know that we -- we are here. We are definitely here and we're shooting episodes.

It really feels like a honeymoon.

BIANCULLI: We've actually talked around your show without talking directly at it and describing it. I've seen the pilot. I love it as a family comedy. You've been seeing many more scripts and acting in more. You tell me what the show is about.

HINES: Well, it's about Ben and Matty Stevenson (ph). Ben Stevenson is the part that I play. Ben is a widower of about two years, and he feels like he's ready now to try to find love again. Having been childhood sweethearts with his deceased wife, he doesn't really have skills. He doesn't know how to go about finding love, and he's somewhat intimidated by women.

Matty is 12 going on 13, and the testosterone is starting to fill him up and he is interested in girls. So the two of them are actually going through very similar experiences at this point. There's a terrific supporting cast.

Ben is a book publisher, and he's in business with Alex, played by Mark Temtichon (ph), who has an ex-wife, Nicole, played by Robin Reicher (ph), who has her own restaurant. My secretary is Judith Shelton. She played Angela, who is a little bit wacky, but adorable. And then there's my father, who is Matty's grandpa, James, who's played by Bill Cobbs (ph). And then rounding out the cast...

BIANCULLI: You did a great job with this, by the way.

HINES: ... is Wendell Pierce (ph), who plays my brother, Carl, who is a very successful lawyer who is also a very interesting guy.

BIANCULLI: Now, it seems that there are so many relationships here that can play off your personal life. I mean, you are a famous brother of a famous brother, and you are the son of a famous dad, and you yourself have a son. But this was all rounded out and just handed to you?

HINES: Yeah. It was written and I didn't want to read it because they said it's like "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." And I thought, eh, you know, I don't want to do something like that. So I didn't read it. But the second time, when I read it, I was thrilled and it had -- it wasn't -- it was written white. It wasn't written for me. It was written for anybody.

And if I had passed on it, somebody would have done it because it's great.

BIANCULLI: Now, did you -- had you seen and not liked Courtship of Eddie's Father?

HINES: Well, it wasn't so much that I had seen it and not liked it. I never was a faithful watcher of that show. I saw it every now and then. I just didn't want to do a family show like that. I didn't want to do another single father show. That's something that's been done, a lot. And I guess people like to see that kind of thing. I guess they like to see a single man trying to raise a kid or kids.

BIANCULLI: Well, I would guess, and I'm only guessing from my own viewpoint as a critic, is that the reason why the name "Courtship of Eddie's Father" is coming up is because it's been that long -- almost 30 years, since you've seen a relationship on television that is so natural and so loving between a father and son.

So it's not so much that it's derivative. It's -- if you've gotta go back to the last thing that reminds you of that.

HINES: I see.

BIANCULLI: You gotta go back a quarter of a generation, or a whole generation.

HINES: Well, I tell you -- since, since shooting the pilot and so many people saying, you know, it reminds me of The Courtship of Eddie's Father, you know, I now take that as a very high compliment because even though I didn't see that show and was not a fan, so many other people were. And I have gotten many testimonies from people about how much they loved that show, and how this strikes a very similar chord.

And so, you know, Courtship of Eddie's Father having been such a successful show, you know, I can only hope to try to come close to that success.

BIANCULLI: My guest is Gregory Hines. He's starring in a new TV series that premiers next month. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Gregory Hines. He's in production for his new TV series, which premiers on CBS next month.

Do you consider your own upbringing as being a showbiz kid or a normal kid?

HINES: Well, both -- but in the best sense of the word. I was certainly working when I was a kid, but my brother and I had an act and we weren't so successful that I didn't have a childhood. I mean, I went to school with Patty Duke, who at the time I went to school with her, she was -- we were in the elementary school and she'd already won a Tony Award. First year in high school, she won an Academy Award.

And she had no life. She had no -- she was picked up from school every day and brought to the -- her manager's office and then brought to the theater for a performance. And she just missed out on the whole thing.

And, you know, I read -- sometimes I read about Michael Jackson and how, you know, how the Jackson Five were so successful, he was just working his whole childhood.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

HINES: We would work during the summer, on a good summer. And during the winter, we would work periodically up in the Catskill Mountains on the weekends. I lived in New York. And I had a childhood. I played sports. I played -- I had a neighborhood life. I had neighborhood friends. I had school friends. I had a childhood.

And ultimately, when I look back on it, traveling and working with my family, it was great. It was really great because even though I was in show business, I still had that solid nuclear family surrounding me.

BIANCULLI: OK. What father-son moments do you look at, or have you seen on TV, either when you watching as a kid or as a grownup or just cribbing to do your own show -- I mean, what father-son moments on TV do you remember working for you?

HINES: Well, you know, I'm a sucker for those kinds of things anyway. Anytime there's any kind of a father-son emotional thing, I mean I can start bawling at a rerun of "Bonanza," you know...

LAUGHTER

... when Ben, you know, he can't find Little Joe and Little Joe is lost in the desert, and they finally see him laying out there, and Ben jumps off his horse and starts running -- "Little Joe!" -- and he picks Little Joe's head up in his arm and he takes the canteen and drops, you know, just a few drops of water on his chapped lips, and Little Joe's eyes open up. He says: "Pa!" And they hug.

You know, everything from that all the way to "The Bill Cosby Show," I love it. I love to see that. You know, my father wasn't able to be affectionate with me physically until I was a man -- 'til I was around 25 or 30, because, you know, it -- he came from a different generation and it wasn't, you know, men were a little hesitant to be affectionate.

So whenever I see it -- now he is. Now he's very affectionate, but whenever I see it, it just moves me so much. So, you know, I love to see that.

BIANCULLI: Are you being serious about -- I mean, I know that's an actual episode of Bonanza...

HINES: Oh, I am.

BIANCULLI: ... that you described. But you're...

HINES: Yeah. You remember that episode?

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

HINES: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: I think they did it like every year. There had to be a canteen somewhere.

HINES: Well, I mean once a year, Little Joe would, you know, he'd come up missing and they'd have to track him down and get there just before he died.

BIANCULLI: But you're not going to do any western episodes of The Gregory Hines Show?

HINES: Well, we may fantasize over a western episode.

BIANCULLI: Oh, but this is the good question. I mean, you've -- are you tapping into any sort of fantasy elements or dance...

HINES: No pun intended?

BIANCULLI: ... or music? Yes, no pun intended.

HINES: Oh, yeah. I'm going to dance.

BIANCULLI: Yes.

HINES: I'm definitely going to dance. We'll have the fantasy sequence where I either fall asleep and, you know, the suggestion of dance is there and I imagine that I am a great tap dancer, and that I -- in the dream, I challenge Savion Glover (ph) to a tap challenge. And I beat him.

BIANCULLI: Wow.

HINES: Which would really be dreamy. That would be a dream, boy.

BIANCULLI: Oh, now. You brought him up when he was just a little guy.

HINES: I know, but he's gotten so fast, Dave. I mean, you know, in order for me to steal his steps, I have to put him on tape and slow it way down. And even then, you know, I -- it's very difficult.

BIANCULLI: What do you see on television or on stage right now? Savion's probably a really good example of the next generation of very exciting talent of the kind that you love.

HINES: Well, you know, I would have to say Savion, because -- and this is not to, you know, disregard all the other young, talented people that are coming up -- but I would have to say Sav because he is -- I see him as like Coltrain, and Miles Davis.

You know, he has redefined the art of tap dancing. Tap dancing can never be the same. You know, he is, as far as I'm concerned, he is the best tap dancer I have ever seen, and I have seen, you know, while I might not have seen them all, I know what I'm talking about.

And he can do things that have not been done before. I mean, you know, when I grew up as a kid, Elgin Baylor was my guy. You know, Elgin Baylor was the first person that I saw who could go up in the air and do a couple of things with the ball, and then put it in before he came down.

And -- but Elgin Baylor knows, as do the rest of the people that play basketball, that there is nobody to compare with Michael Jordan. He's over here. Everybody else is over there. And this is not to defame Elgin.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

HINES: You know, Elgin is still great. But Michael Jordan is over here. And that is the way it is with Sav. When all the tap dancers get together, everybody talks -- we -- all we do -- we talk about women and Sav. Everybody's got a Savion Glover story. Every tap dancer -- we all have our story about the time we saw him do this step and it was so amazing. I mean, he really is the genuine article. He is -- there's nothin' like him.

BIANCULLI: Do you have any idea what makes him that way? What makes him so driven or so special?

HINES: Well, you know, he's a freak. He's a freak of nature. I mean, that's what these kinds of people are, you know. There's a lot of talented people around. There's a lot of great tap dancers around. And you know, I've had the good fortune to watch Savion develop, and you know, when he was 15 years old, he could do things that I couldn't do until I was 30. You know, he could tap -- if he wanted to when he was 15, he could tap like me. He could tap like Jimmy Slye (ph). He could tap like Buster Brown (ph). He could tap like Honey Coles (ph). He could tap like Ralph Brown (ph).

And, you know, a lot of kids want to try to tap like all these guys, but they can't. And he could do that. By the time he was 17, he was doing things that none of us could do. And we were all, you know, looking at each other and saying: you know, you saw it, right? I mean, I just saw what he did, but you saw it too, right?

And it's just -- you know, I mean in terms of tap, which is, you know, so close and dear to my heart, I feel like tap is in good feet right now. We've got a real champion.

BIANCULLI: All right. I have -- I know you have to get back to the set. I have one last question for you, if I can.

HINES: Please.

BIANCULLI: I was out at the press tour last month when you sort of officially launched your show in front of critics in Pasadena. And the whole thing went fairly well in terms of questions and answers, but there was one critic there -- I didn't know her -- but she kept getting on you about your earring.

HINES: I know.

BIANCULLI: How -- I've really wondered...

HINES: I think she -- I think she secretly had a thing for me.

BIANCULLI: She just kept asking about the earring: are you gonna wear it on the show? Really? Are you gonna wear it?

What -- how do you walk away from something like that? And what do you think it might mean about this role model stuff?

HINES: Well, you know, I was so happy and I am so happy that, you know, it didn't really affect me. It seemed to affect everybody else. You know, I found it a sensible question, a reasonable question. You know, and I said, you know, yeah I'm going to wear the earring and you know, I don't have any problem with being a role model, because I don't attach that much importance to it in terms of how I'm going to act and how I'm going to move around in this world as an artist.

I want to be a good role model for my children. The other children, you know, what they're getting is just me and, you know, I'm hopeful that, you know, that I can help them in some way, in a second-hand way. But I feel that that is the responsibility of a parent; that it is the parents' responsibility to be a role model.

So, you know, I feel like wearing an earring is an OK role model.

BIANCULLI: Well, I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but I agree with you completely.

Listen, thanks very, very much for taking the time out. And I hope that you get to have a nice tearful final episode of The Gregory Hines Show in about 2005.

HINES: Thanks, Dave. That's very nice of you.

BIANCULLI: Gregory Hines is starring in the new TV series The Gregory Hines Show, which premiers on CBS in September.

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

Here's Gregory Hines from the original cast recording of "Jelly's Last Jam."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, GREGORY HINES PERFORMING IN BROADWAY HIT "JELLY'S LAST JAM")

HINES SINGING: Hello, central, give me Dr. Jazz
Got glory all around him, yes he has
Come on -- on your feet, and swing with the row
Feel that rhythm rippin' through ya
Right down to your soul

So spread the word wherever you may go
You've seen the light tonight, now you know
Blaze his name across the sky
Flamin' letters ten feet high
J.R. Morton, Dr. Jazz

SOUNDBITE OF TAP DANCING

Dateline: David Bianculli, Philadelphia
Guest: Gregory Hines
High: Actor Gregory Hines has performed on the stage in numerous shows including the hit, "Jelly's Last Jam," for which he won a Tony award. He has also been in films such as "Waiting to Exhale" and the upcoming "The Tic Code." Now he stars in his own television series, "The Gregory Hines Show." Hines plays a widower raising a twelve year old son and attempting to resume his own social life. The show premieres this fall on CBS, Fridays at 9:00.
Spec: Media; Television; Broadway; Gregory Hines
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Gregory Hines
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 12, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081202np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Professor of Television
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

Robert J. Thompson is professor of Television at Syracuse University. That means he teaches TV at a college students. And during class time, shows episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "The Love Boat" and other stuff not usually considered part of a well-rounded college curriculum.

It's a controversial area of academic study, and it was even more controversial back in 1988, when Thompson wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education describing his classroom. I asked Thompson to begin by reading the opening paragraph of that article.

BOB THOMPSON, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR STUDY OF POPULAR TELEVISION, PROFESSOR OF TELEVISION, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: When I show the opening of The Beverly Hillbillies in my class, my students all sing along. When I read "Ode on a Grecian Urn," they don't. They whistle the song to "The Andy Griffith Show." They snap their fingers after the first four notes of the introduction to "The Addams Family." And they recite the opening narration of "Star Trek," but no one chimes in when I read a soliloquy from "King Lear." In fact, when I mention Lear, most of them think I mean "Norman" -- the guy who created "All in the Family."

BIANCULLI: Thompson takes his TV very seriously. He is the author of several excellent books, and his latest one, "Television's Second Golden Age," will be released this fall in paperback by Syracuse University Press.

I asked him whether his students today take TV just as seriously, and whether their interest has changed over the years he's been teaching.

THOMPSON: Two years ago, I suppose, was the first group of freshmen I ever had that grew up in a world that -- they never knew a world without multiple channel cable packages. So you know, you and I would come home from school and we would learn the history of television by default. There would be news on three channels and reruns of Andy Griffith on the other channel, and we would watch Andy Griffith because we didn't want to watch the news.

And you know, by the time we reached high school age, we had had a pretty good sense of what television had presented in the past, and we'd seen a lot of episodes enough times that we could recite dialogue and sing along with the theme songs and all of that.

And that was true of my students up to a few years ago. If I could ask at the beginning of class: who had never seen an episode of All in the Family or The Andy Griffith Show or something like that, no one would raise their hand. Now, only a few years later, when I ask that same question, virtually everybody raises their hands.

And I think the reason is that even though cable has given so much more of the history of television right to our living room, fewer people are in fact watching it, because they've got so many other choices. And when you're flipping through your channel remote control and you're seeing the glossy films on HBO and Showtime and kid's shows on Nickelodeon or sports on ESPN, the tendency to stop and actually sit through an entire kind of old-fashioned looking, maybe even black and white TV series, is not a very tempting one.

And I think a lot of my students probably turned on MTV when they came home from lunch in third grade one day, and probably left it on until they left for college. And they've never had to be forced to do the studying that I was forced to do, in watching television simply because there weren't any other choices.

BIANCULLI: Well, where does -- where does "Nick at Night" and "TV Land" (ph) -- where do they fall into this?

THOMPSON: I think people my age are watching Nick at Night and going into these Proustian nostalgic tailspins over it. I don't think its audience is nearly as large among a younger group of people -- college-age people who never -- those programs never meant anything to them in the first place.

You know, I knew a major sea change had occurred this past semester when I had to put episodes of "That Girl" on reserve in the library for people to watch so they'd know what I was referring to when I was talking about more contemporary things.

BIANCULLI: You're teaching That Girl?

THOMPSON: When you start putting That Girl on reserve in a major research university library, you know the world has changed in a very fundamental way.

LAUGHTER

BIANCULLI: So let me ask you: when -- where are you in terms of your semester right now? Beginning? End?

THOMPSON: I'm at the end of the summer semester and the new semester's about to begin. But I still have to go back and answer that snide "you're teaching That Girl" question.

BIANCULLI: Oh. OK. If you'd like -- if you'd like another -- we're going to leave me. We will delve in to the sorts of things that you are teaching, but right now I want to know: what are the papers like that are turned into you? How critical do these students get by the end of the term?

THOMPSON: They get very good at it. I mean, I think in every one of us there is a real latent ability to be literary critics or media critics. And because this is not -- they're not writing about something that was on a syllabus and they were forced to consume, but they are essentially writing about the culture in which they've been consuming by choice, for their entire lives -- seeing that culture, then, put into a larger context immediately allows them to become very, very sophisticated.

There is a sense to which -- this was much more the case 10 years ago than it is now -- that I do walk in every day to a classroom that's a professor's dream. You have students who are anxious to learn about this topic. They have watched an awful lot of television, even though it may not be across the whole historical spectrum. And that's a very useful thing to have -- to teach things.

After all, what is liberal arts education about? It's teaching people to think analytically and critically. Unfortunately, we usually teach liberal arts skills like that with very unfamiliar texts, and try to teach an unfamiliar skill with an unfamiliar thing, and people are probably not going to learn it.

Try to teach an unfamiliar skill with things that they feel very comfortable with, and I think you're in business. I really believe that the study of television and popular music and even comic books might be the last great hope of true liberal arts education, in America because people learn the skills because they're not afraid of how they're learning them.

BIANCULLI: When you're teaching not facts and not the chronology of TV history, but when you're analyzing shows for them and giving them what you read into, I don't know, "Gidget" or something, do they believe you?

THOMPSON: You've read my Gidget article?

BIANCULLI: No, I haven't. But I mean, do they believe you? What's it like?

THOMPSON: Well, at first there's a real tendency to, you know -- "this guy has to to be kidding." Because very early on, we'll look at a program like The Love Boat and we'll really start looking at it in terms of some very traditional ways one looks at drama and art, and we talk about the media and aesthetics and all this.

And invariably, there'll be someone there who will say: "well, you know, you've got to be kidding. I heard you mention Shakespeare and The Love Boat in the same paragraph, and of course, that's blasphemy. That's ridiculous."

And generally, if you have a conversation...

BIANCULLI: Well, they're right.

THOMPSON: Well, but -- that may be true. But they don't know they're right. And they don't have the right reasons they're right.

LAUGHTER

And here's what I will generally asked them. I'll say: well, what is so great about Shakespeare that you don't want it mentioned in the same paragraph as these other things? Is it the way the rhyme scheme works? Recite your favorite soliloquy. Is it the way it scans? The way he uses iambic pentameter? Or abuses iambic pentameter?

And generally what I will find out is they have read and seen very, very little Shakespeare. The only things they can recite is things like -- are things like "to be or not to be," "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?" And it's not because they've seen those plays so many times, but it's because they've seen the "Romeo and Juliet" episode of The Brady Bunch; the Romeo and Juliet episode of "Family Ties;" the Romeo and Juliet episode of "You Name The Sitcom" of the 60s and 70s.

BIANCULLI: This hurts. This hurts.

THOMPSON: And then, so...

BIANCULLI: Although I am thinking, as you say this, of the musical "Hamlet" version on "Gilligan's Island."

THOMPSON: Well, and I'm also thinking of an experiment I did as a graduate student, where I went to Grant Wood, the "American Gothic," at the Art Institute of Chicago, and had a tape recorder and taped the entire day of comments. And this was on a day that you had to pay to get in, you know, get on the El, get down there, have babysit -- you know, people who are committed to culture.

And over 63 percent of the people said something to the effect of: "oh, there's the painting from "Green Acres."

BIANCULLI: Ooh.

THOMPSON: These are patrons of the arts. Anyway, the same is with Love Boat. I'll say: well, so, OK, you don't really know why you like Shakespeare, short of the fact that everyone has told you from childhood on that you should. Why is it that you think Love Boat is so below these kinds of things?

And then they'll say: well, that's easy. It's so unrealistic. All the endings are happy. The characters are two-dimensional.

But let's talk about Shakespeare: realistic? Two people of different genders switch tunics and are mistaken by their own spouses as the other person. That's not terribly realistic. "All's Well that Ends Well," any of the comedies -- those are certainly happy endings. They also end with double and triple marriages, as do the last scene saying goodbye to the captain on The Love Boat.

And Shakespeare, while he's got some very three-dimensional, sometimes six-dimensional characters, has got certainly a number of comic characters that are deliberately very, very flat and they remind me of Gopher and Julie and Doc and all the rest of them.

BIANCULLI: But there's no Gopher in Shakespeare. Not in any of the 37 plays. There's no Gopher.

THOMPSON. Now here's the point. Don't get me wrong. I wake up every morning glad to be in a world that there is a Shakespeare and a Jane Austen and a Michelangelo, and the great canonized artists. And, yes, if you put me against a wall, I suppose I would admit that in the end, they're right. It is ridiculous to mention Shakespeare and Love Boat in the same sentence. They're incomparable in all kinds of different ways.

On the other hand, I think most people have that prejudice without the knowledge of either one of those things, to deserve having that opinion. And you know, if we make a judgment on someone based only on their gender or only on their race, we call that sexism and racism.

And I think there is a type of thinking that goes on in America where we despise certain types of things only because we're told to despise them, and in many ways only because they're popular. How could this be any good if so many millions of people like it?

And I think that's a very dangerous way to begin to think. And I think it teaches us how to think in other ways that might be even more dangerous.

BIANCULLI: My guest is Robert Thompson and we're talking about taking television seriously. Thompson teaches Television at Syracuse University.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Robert Thompson. He teaches Television at Syracuse University.

Let me ask you: what's the goofiest thing that you teach in your course? And, how do your kids respond to it?

THOMPSON: Oh, that's a good question. It all sometimes seems so goofy. I think things get strangest in my history course when I try to make a correlation between what was going on on prime time television in the 1960s -- Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, you know, all in the top 10 -- with what was going on in the real world and on the news at 11:00 during the 1960s, which was of course this entire redefinition of our cultural identities.

And slapping together a quick episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, where Granny is waving a Confederate flag and saying "I'll have no Yankee talk in my kitchen" and bopping Jethro over the head with an iron skillet; with a documentary like "Eyes on the Prize" for example, which are exact contemporaries; or footage from the Ole Miss riots, which happened within days of the debut of The Beverly Hillbillies.

That is really a disturbing and bizarre and surrealistic experience, and I also think it's a very important one -- that everyone who lives in this country and every citizen have at some point -- to see that the relationship between what we watch by choice and what the real world is is a very, very complicated one.

BIANCULLI: I have a pop quiz for you.

THOMPSON: Oh, no. I'm really bad at these.

BIANCULLI: No, I think as a professor you deserve to have your own pop quizzes.

Pick a pro...

THOMPSON: That's why I became a professor -- so I could give them, not take them.

LAUGHTER

BIANCULLI: Pick a program that's on the air right now, and just take a minute or two and teach us something about it that most of us might not know.

THOMPSON: There's a new show on HBO called "Oz" by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, who also do "Homicide, Life on the Streets, and Tom Fontana had done "St. Elsewhere" before that.

And on one level if you were to look at that program, it's got a TV-MA rating. It's filled with more vulgar language than any other TV series in the history of the medium has ever had before; on camera homosexual rape scenes -- really a tough and tumble, down and dirty sort of presentation, and one that a lot of critics have called down-right ugly. Matter of fact, I think the critic in TV Guide this week called it that.

But that's a program that I think if you look at in terms of regular criteria that you would look at any other art form besides television -- not in terms of the ones that we generally look at television at, which is: is this violent? And is it dirty? And if it is, in that case, it's a bad thing and it's another example of, you know, the horrible things that media is doing to our children's minds.

And it's a program that's doing a whole number of things that TV has not done very well. One of which is the treatment of religion.

BIANCULLI: If I can just interrupt to set it up...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: I have watched every episode of that, and been more impressed as the episodes go on, and you have a Catholic priest trying to minister to some people. You have a prisoner who is a militant black Muslim trying to do the same thing from a different level. And there are lots -- there is lots of talk of religion.

THOMPSON: Here, I think we have a program that is really trying to address moral issues in ways that we actually have to confront them ourselves in the waning days of the 20th century. Yet Oz gets no attention for that, and "Touched by an Angel," with this kind of "I can walk again" melodramatics, is being hailed all over the place as the, you know, the renaissance of moral values on American television.

And if we learn how to deal with morality by watching Touched by an Angel, the day we turn seven we realize of course that the world is a very different place, and a show like that has certainly not armed us for that debate.

BIANCULLI: Tell me why you love St. Elsewhere so much?

THOMPSON: It was so extraordinarily carefully done. I'd remembered studying poems in college where a teacher would go through and show how every little thing was exactly where it belonged, and it had five different levels of meaning, and by the time you had gone through that lecture, that poem had really become something you swelled up with happiness that even existed.

And St. Elsewhere is one of those programs, I think, a masterpiece the likes of which American television has never before or since created. And it was just that it worked so perfectly. It was so carefully done. It -- the details from a little tiny mention in dialogue in episode one, six years later would be woven back into the dialogue. I guess I...

BIANCULLI: Give a specific example.

THOMPSON: Well, there was a time in the first season where a person -- his wife has died, and he's going into a doctor's office and asking her -- asking the doctor to make arrangements to have his wife shipped back home. He was on vacation.

And they had this little talk about a plant poster, as they're doing the small talk before getting to the sad business of the day. And he mixes up -- he says: "oh, there's -- Johnny Jumpups" (ph). And the doctor looks at it and says: "no, I think those are Footsteps of Spring." That's it. That's the dialogue -- a little exchange about a mixed up identification of plants on a flower poster.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

THOMPSON: Four seasons later, Dr. Philip Chandler, played by Denzel Washington, is getting all ready to get back with his girl friend who's come back to the hospital after a long hiatus, and he's in the florist shop and he says to his friend: "well, I hope Roxanne likes Johnny Jumpups." And his friend says: "oh, well too bad, because those are Footsteps of Spring."

Now, of course, big deal -- you'll be the first in your neighborhood to come up with this tiny trivial detail that stretches over four seasons. However, woven into the rest of how that show worked -- how those flowers worked as metaphors for death and life and springtime and the start of a new relationship and the end of an old one and all of that sort of thing -- and you know, you're talking about the exact same kinds of things my college teacher was talking about when they were, you know, reading me Wordsworth and Whitman and all the rest.

And lastly, I think I like it because it pays off the work that I give it. If my job is to watch television carefully, a lot of programs, no matter how hard you shake them up -- not much spills out of them. I can study "Night Rider" really, really hard and there's only so much I could say about it.

The harder I study St. Elsewhere, the more I find, and it's still an art form. It's still a series that is way more intelligent than I am. And that's satisfying. I think it's why most people study Shakespeare instead of studying Night Rider.

BIANCULLI: All right, I promised you we would get back to That Girl, 'cause I gave you a hard time about why in the world you were teaching it in your classroom. So...

THOMPSON: Oh, right.

BIANCULLI: ... why in the world are you teaching it in your classroom?

THOMPSON: Why is That Girl currently sitting in reserve in our library?

BIANCULLI: Yes.

THOMPSON: We were talking about, in class, these contemporary, very realistic classy award-winning kind of literate dramas like "NYPD Blue" and Homicide and those kinds of programs. And in order to understand any of those cop shows, you've gotta go back to "Hill Street Blues," which kind of gave birth to that whole genre of literate, classy, hour-long, both cop shows, doctor shows, and everything else.

And Hill Street Blues, of course, is part of this company -- MTM Enterprises -- which was named after Mary Tyler Moore, which provided this renaissance of classy, excellent programming in the '70s and the 1980s. People will remember "The Mary Tyler Moore" show, "The Bob Newhart Show," "Lou Grant," "The White Shadow," "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere," "Remington Steele" -- all MTM products.

And the brains behind NYPD Blue was an MTM alumnus; the brains behind Homicide, an MTM alum. There's -- practically every critically-acclaimed show on the air could be traced back to this company. Of course, MTM got started with a very revolutionary sitcom known as The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

And to really understand what The Mary Tyler Moore Show was doing, you've got to go back to what The Mary Tyler Moore Show was reacting against, and that, of course, was That Girl -- the first of these kind of single, professional women trying to make it on their own, and fluffing up their hair and throwing up their hats and living in the big city and all of that.

BIANCULLI: Oh, I get -- OK. I get it. It's the word "against" that saves you through all this.

THOMPSON: Right. It's the -- That Girl is the irritant that made things like Hill Street Blues and therefore Homicide and NYPD Blue possible. As a matter of fact, I never thought of this before, but maybe the second golden age of television can all be traced to That Girl.

BIANCULLI: When Bob Thompson isn't talking about That Girl, that guy is teaching television at the University of Syracuse.

His new book, Television's Second Golden Age, will be released in paperback this fall.

Dateline: David Bianculli, Philadelphia
Guest: Bob Thompson
High: Director of the Center for Study of Popular Television and Professor of Television at Syracuse University Bob Thompson. He discusses his curriculum which includes shows like "I Love Lucy," "Leave It to Beaver," and "The Brady Bunch."
Spec: Media; Television; Education
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Professor of Television
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 12, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081203np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Where's Your Cup?
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: Composer, saxophonist, and flutist Henry Threadgill is a man of the world. He came up in the Chicago avant garde jazz scene; broadened his horizons in New York, where he got greater recognition as a serious composer; has played lots of jazz festivals around the world; and recently has spent a fair amount of time in India.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the payoff is in Threadgill's music.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "WHERE'S YOUR CUP")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Henry Threadgill's music is informed by a lot of different cultures. His last regular band, "Very, Very Circus" (ph), had two tubas and two electric guitars connecting with brass bands and with African pop.

On the debut CD from his quintet with accordion "Make a Move," you can hear traces of jazz and droning harmonies and swirling textures from the music of India and also guitar-oriented rock. The one holdover from Very, Very Circus is guitarist Brandon Ross (ph).

The music also echoes tango and reggae, and Louisiana's accordion-based zydeco music, itself a hybrid of French-language folk tunes and R&B.

Threadgill doesn't isolate those styles to highlight the contrast. He blends them into something new and plausible, and still retains his own identity. Any fan will recognize as typically Threadgill his meandering "Where's Your Cup?" -- the title track from his new CD. Critics like to call such pieces "dirges." Threadgill once said he thinks of them as love songs.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, SONG "WHERE'S YOUR CUP?")

WHITEHEAD: That's Tony Sedrus (ph) on accordion and J.T. Lewis (ph) on drums, and Henry Threadgill on flute. It's not enough for Threadgill to hear how different musical languages can fit together. He also had to make his band hear it. That takes a lot of work, and a lot of time spent mulling over a few tunes. My Western ears would prefer more pieces and less extended improvising.

Most of the seven tracks on this CD are nine minutes or longer. The catchiest by far is "100 Year-Old Game," but even there, Threadgill takes his time just on reeling the melody.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "100 YEAR-OLD GAME")

WHITEHEAD: The leisurely pace of Henry Threadgill's new album reflects his exposure to other cultures. Time moves at a speed other than what Americans are used to. Threadgill would surely object to being associated with the silly term "world music." Me, I never heard any music from Mars.

But it is true that musicians are slowly getting better at playing cross-cultural music -- in part, due to smart folks like Threadgill. It's also true that in the history of cross-cultural music, Indian modes and tambours and ornamentation and micro- and macro-rhythms were already an inspiration in the '60s, when Coltrain played his stretched out improvisations and Jeff Beck imitated ragas on electric guitar with the "Yardbirds;" and George Harrison played the sitar on "Norwegian Wood."

Henry Threadgill's music takes some effort, but if connections like that make sense to you, maybe you should check out what he's up to.

BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead's book on Dutch jazz is about to be published. He reviewed What's Your Cup? -- the latest by Henry Threadgill.

Dateline: Kevin Whitehead; David Bianculli, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews "Where's Your Cup," the latest release by musician and composer Henry Threadgill.
Spec: Music Industry; Henry Threadgill
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Where's Your Cup?
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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