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Half a Season on, a Look at What TV Shows Are Living Up to Their Promise

A few months ago, critic David Bianculli identified five shows to follow this season. Of them, he says "Sports Night" is the best.


Other segments from the episode on December 21, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 21, 1998: Interview John Powers; Review of the television show "Sports Night"; Review of Burt Bacharach's CD box set "The Look of Love"; Interview with Kirk Jones…


Date: DECEMBER 21, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122101np.217
Head: John Powers
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Most of us have two three-day weekends coming up. You might spend some of that time at the movies, so we asked our film critic, John Powers, to join us and tell us about the new ones opening for the holidays.

JOHN POWERS, FILM CRITIC: Well, I think, you know, the most awaited film, in some sense, is "Thin Red Line" which is a World War II film about Guadalcanal made by Terrence Malick who is sort of a (unintelligible).

He made two films 20 years ago, "The Badlands" and (unintelligible), and then basically dropped out. And as often happens when you leave something, your legend only increases. So, this is his first film in 20 years, and everybody has been really curious to see it for all sorts of reasons; not least because it seems to be some sort of bookend to "Saving Private Ryan."

GROSS: Is it good?

POWERS: I don't know in all honesty. It's extremely strange. It's based on James Jones' novel about a company fighting at Guadalcanal, and the novel by Jones is very very down to earth and prosaic, and dirty and grubby. It's perhaps the most realistic account of fighting, and the psychology of fighting, that I've ever read.

What Malick has done with this story is to turn into sort of a metaphysical drama, so it's a kind of Zen war movie, if that makes any sense. Whereas Steven Spielberg in "Saving Private Ryan" basically sort of mythologized the Normandy landing, and the people who landed at Normandy, what Malick does is he uses this war film as a sort of way of making a meditation on the nature of life.

Darkness versus light and all the rest. So, it's a very strange kind of undramatic film filled with very powerful negative battle sequences, and lots of complicated psychology, and lots of interior monologues by lots of different characters. All of whom sort of reflect on the meaning of life.

It's one of those films that I'll actually want to see again before I actually know whether it's good. At the moment I was simultaneously impressed and kind of put off, because it's not very emotionally engaging, and yet in some ways it's an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.

GROSS: How is the cast?

POWERS: Well, the cast is sort of lavishly famous. Early on you see John Travolta and Nick Nolte, then you have Sean Penn, you have John Cusack. It seems like wherever you turn some familiar face is doing a cameo as a member of C Company or Charlie Company which is what you're following in the film.

Certain people are particularly good, I think Nick Nolte as a kind of overly aggressive military leader gives a really wonderful performance. And he's actually had a very good year. He's got another film coming out called "Affliction" where I think he gives a really brilliant performance.

So, he's particularly good, and actually Sean Penn gives quite a restrained performance. But what's interesting to me in this film is that in transforming Jones' novel, Malick has to find some sort of figure who's his figure. Because in the Jones novel, there's a character played in the film by Adrien Brody who is the kind of writers alter ego.

That character has been basically written out of the Malick film. But there's another character who's sort of a coal miner, AWOL guy who's been pumped up in the Malick film, and he's kind of the Zen consciousness of the film. It's clear that Malick has invented this character who somehow represents his consciousness.

And so, in the same kind of way that in "Saving Private Ryan" the coward is sort of this Spielberg figure, in this film the kind of Zen master, heroic guy is the Malick figure.

GROSS: We should mention that "Thin Red Line" is really only opening in New York and Los Angeles for the holiday season for academy award qualification, and the rest of us will have to wait to see it in the new year. What's opening nationally on Christmas Day?

POWERS: OK, I think the big national opening on Christmas Day is a film called "Step Mom" starring Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts which is being much buzzed about in Hollywood. There's lots of talk of Oscars, it's being presented as this huge prestige film.

And basically it's a story about Susan Sarandon as a wife -- an ex-wife in her 40s, and Julia Roberts plays the girlfriend of her ex-husband. And the question is how are they going to negotiate dealing with the kids? And so it's basically about their sort of rivalry which then turns into a kind of respect and friendship over time.

GROSS: How is it?

POWERS: Well, in all honesty I don't think it's very good. Out here they're acting as if this is a very classy, serious dramatic film, but it's very much in the sort of "Terms of Endearment" and "One True Thing" thing. It's actually another film where the great dramatic resolution is provided by somebody getting cancer.

It's actually kind of funny, because if you go to see the trailers of "Step Mom" you would think you're going to see a kind of cheerful romp, because what they don't tell you in the trailer is that about halfway through the Sarandon character gets cancer. I mean, the joke I keep making is that the title of the film should probably be called "You've Got Cancer," because it's -- they're trying to keep it cheerful and upbeat, yet really it's not a cheerful and upbeat film.

GROSS: Well, there's another illness movie opening for the holidays, I think it's opening for the holidays, "Patch Adams" with Robin Williams as a doctor who is a sensitive man of conscious who heals us with his humor.

POWERS: I keep trying to get myself to be willing to go, but I have skipped this film a lot of times in the screenings. I like Robin Williams, but this is the kind of role I think I don't really want to have him play anymore. Where basically he is the heroic healing figure, and everything he does is funny and heroic and charming.

So, there are lots of shots, and you can see this even in the trailer which is one reason why I'm so reluctant to see the film, of basically him cutting up and then you see a reaction shot by some old person in their hospital bed or a young bald child with cancer applauding and laughing merrily at Robin's antics.

And there is, as you can tell once again from the trailer, the evil doctor who doesn't want to have doctors and patients exist on the same human level. And then of course, you know, the Robin Williams character triumphs.

It's really -- I find it kind of discouraging because Williams is an extraordinarily talented person, yet he somehow is getting himself too often into this particular kind of sentimental heroic role that, you know, I frankly, don't want to see.

GROSS: I'll tell you, I've thought often, while watching these coming attractions, what it would be like to be stuck in bed in a hospital. And you have a doctor come in with, you know, a banana nose and a balloon nose, and just like one bad sight gag after another. I think it would just be appalling.

POWERS: What's funny is that in person Robin Williams is a very shy, charming, intelligent person who is sort of effortlessly funny but not in the way that they are showing in the film so far as I can tell.

GROSS: Yeah, the patient's sweating a fever and the doctor has flop sweat because the jokes are so bad. And so, that's opening for Christmas?

POWERS: That's opening wide for Christmas. And to be fair to the film, since I'm essentially reviewing the trailer, it has tested very well for the company, and a lot of people seem to like it.

GROSS: What about "A Civil Action," I think that one is opening up for Christmas too.

POWERS: Yeah, "A Civil Action" is only opening in New York and L.A. on Christmas Day. It's a story of a very familiar sort of Oscar grabbing kind. John Travolta plays a personal injury attorney who, more or less, is cynical and greedy and preening and all those things. And then he gets involved in a case in a town where a bunch of people -- a bunch of kids have gotten leukemia and various diseases because of something befouling their water.

So, he takes on a suit for these families in the small town, and over the course of the film is -- becomes more obsessed and ennobled by his desire to help them. What's interesting to me in the film is that it was the directorial debut by Steven Zaillian who wrote "Schindler's List" for Steven Spielberg. And it's essentially the same story, where you start off with the selfish guy who then is sort of redeemed by helping other people.

GROSS: So, you don't like it very much.

POWERS: No, no. It's not a terrible film, it's a very familiar kind of film. John Travolta is sort of -- his performance is sort of up and down in the film. He's -- I think he's often not at his best when he's supposed to be playing overly sharp people. I felt some of the same things here that I felt in watching "Primary Colors" was that he has many many virtues, but one of them is not really being able to convey razor keen intelligence.

I don't know whether he's personally intelligent, but I think somehow he is better at sort of more emotionally expansive kind of roles. He just doesn't strike me as my image of a legal sharpy. If I think back to the Richard Gere film, "Primal Fear" you actually could believe that Richard Gere was a smart cold calculating attorney. And you don't quite feel the about Travolta. So, his performance is sort of up and down.

One final thing, I just want to mention this particular hobby horse of mine, is Hollywood has got to stop doing one particular thing, Terry, which is sticking in useless and annoying cameos into their films. So, at the end of "A Civil Action" the final scene is more or less in a courtroom -- I'm not giving anything away to say that because it's a court film -- in a courtroom.

But basically in the last three minutes of the film a new judge appears, and it's Kathy Bates. She's never been in the film at this point, and what happens is you're at the climax of the film, and every one is saying, is that Kathy Bates?

The same thing that happened in "Beloved" when, in the climatic scene when the Oprah Winfrey character is reaching her great moment of truth, and the character of Beloved vanishes, because of the appearance of a liberal white man --- a decent liberal white man. The problem is the decent liberal white man is played by Jason Robards, and this is the climax of the film. And when I saw screening virtually everyone in the theater turned to the person next them and said, is that Jason Robards?

GROSS: I had that experience in the middle of "Saving Private Ryan" when all of a sudden I started saying, wait, wait it's what's his name from "Cheers."

POWERS: Yes. That's precisely the problem. For some reason -- you even have a bit of that in "Thin Red Line" as well, because they're so many people in the cast. So, suddenly you've gone all through this film, and at the very the new company commander arrives and it's George Clooney.

GROSS: My guest is film critic John Powers. We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is FRESH AIR film critic John Powers. We're talking about new movies opening for the holidays.

Now, there are a few big animated films for the holidays, "Prince of Egypt," "A Bug's Life," I think "Ants" is still in theaters. Oh, the "Babe" sequel, any of those that you recommended?

POWERS: Easily the best of the bunch is "Babe." I think one of the sad things is that at this point "Babe" has been declared a flop because it got crunched at the box office by "A Bug's Life," and various heads have role at Universal and all sorts of things. But of those four films, the most inventive, magical, best directed and best made film is clearly "Babe."

It's a slightly darker sequel to the original "Babe" which was a very light and charming film. This film is kind of, probably, more fairy tail like and more Dickensian. It has slightly more haunting images. People, I think, are worried about taking their kids to it. Although I think there's nothing half as traumatic in "Babe" the sequel as there is in say, "Bambi."

I mean, that was the first film I ever saw, and even now I shudder at the thought of Bambi's mother being killed. Whereas there's nothing in "Babe" that's like that.

As for the others, "A Bug's Life" is a very entertaining corporate film. I mean, each new character that's introduced you can sort of think, I can see how they're going to market that one. It's like a very skillful collection of on-screen action figures.

And then there's "Prince of Egypt" which is some sort of a labor of love for Dreamworks, and contains two genuinely remarkable sequences in its depiction of the life of, I guess, the young Moses. There are two scenes that are absolutely extraordinary. There's a dream sequence that will not your eyes out, and there's a scene where all the first borns of Egypt are being killed that's really kind of haunting and eerie.

But as for the rest, it's simply -- it's boring and kind of preachy. And contains some of the worst music I've ever heard. I left the theater talking to friends, and we are all thinking, back in the old days Disney films had great songs. You know, the Disney films -- Disney films had such good songs that people like Miles Davis would play them.

Now the songs are so rotten you leave a movie that's filled with songs, and you can't think of a single line from the songs or a single melodic bit from the songs. It's a Hans Zimmer score, and its as undistinguished a piece of musical writing as I've ever heard.

GROSS: So, they don't sing "The Ten Commandments of Love" in it, huh?

POWERS: Well, no. Because it's a slightly more upbeat film than that, you know, Moses never really gets to the point where he delivers the Ten Commandments which I think might kind of bum people out because it's like, there's Moses, the Prince of Egypt, who's liberating his people is also telling them all sorts of stuff they can't do. So, you don't get to that point. You just get to the point where he basically leads people to freedom, and then the film stops.

GROSS: Any other holiday movies you want to talk about?

POWERS: There are a couple of films that aren't opening nationwide, but that do deserve mention just because I think they will make their way into lots of 10 best lists and receive lots of awards. Neither of them are very large films, but I think they're actually very good and interesting films.

The first is called "Hillary and Jackie" which is the story about the relationship between two sisters, one of them is Jacqueline Dupree (ph) who is the famous cellist -- the English cellist who got MS and died of complications from that at a very young age. She was a great cult figure in England.

And the story is about her relationship with her sister Hillary who, in fact, when they were young was the more talented one of the two. And then gradually watched her sister sort of skyrocket into genius while she didn't get any better.

But in contrast, she married happily and had a sort of happy home life. Whereas her genius sister was miserable, unhappy, and basically her -- she sort of felt crucified on her cello. And it's about the weird interaction between the incredibly warm and attentive sister who is not a genius and the very demanding and crazy-making sister who is the genius.

It's beautifully acted by two actresses the people will have seen before, Jackie Dupree, the crazier one, is played by Emily Watson who was in "Breaking Away" and she has another great performance here. Hillary is played by Rachel Griffiths, who a lot of people remember -- if you saw "Muriel's Wedding," she was the person who played Muriel's zany friend.

She's a really wonderful actress, and she, in a way, has the more difficult role, because she's the person has to bottle everything up and sort of show all her feelings through a kind of veneer of decency and niceness. It's a very good film, and one of the handful films this year, I think, that really let's actresses shine.

The other film that I like it is the Paul Schrader adaptation of Russell Banks' novel "Affliction." What I particularly like in it, and I will probably talk about this film on a later show, but what I particularly like with this film is the performance by Nick Nolte as this kind of lost cop who -- he's this kind of big man who's melting down.

His marriages is collapsing, he realizes that he sort of -- that he's sort of a flunky for the big boss in town, he's got a terrible toothache which is sort of the metaphor for his whole life. And I think it's a genuinely brilliant performance by Nolte who is one of the best screen actors we have. This may be the best performance he ever gave. I think it's the best performance by a male I saw this year.

GROSS: John Powers is FRESH AIR's film critic and film critic for "Vogue." He'll be back with his 10 best list on Thursday.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Host
Guest: John Powers
High: Film critic John Powers talks about some of the most anticipated films of this holiday season. John Powers is also film critic for "Vogue."
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Holidays; John Powers

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: John Powers

Date: DECEMBER 21, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122102NP.217
Head: David Bianculli
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:22

TERRY GROSS, HOST: At the start of this TV season our critic, David Bianculli, surveyed the field of new series and found no excellent stand out. He did, however, identify five new series as promising. Now that we're nearing mid-season, David checks in to see whether any of those shows are fulfilling their early promise.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: Based on the pilot episodes of this year's new Fall series, I gave five shows good enough marks to recommend them. Leading the pack was "Felicity," the WB network's drama series starring Keri Russell as a college freshman.

Then there were two somewhat silly hour-long comedy dramas, "Buddy Fero" (ph) and "Fantasy Island." And, finally, two new sitcoms, "That 70's Show" and "Sports Night."

Well, here's what's happened since then: "Felicity," like many college freshman, has gotten mopy, self-absorbed and visibly tired. It's in a rut and it better start climbing out soon. "Buddy Fero," on CBS, with Dennis Farina as a throw back detective from the Rat Pack era reopening his business in the 90's, started strong but never slipped into a second gear.

ABC's remake of "Fantasy island" with Malcolm McDowell, I kept watching and enjoying. But I think I was the only one. Even though there are a few more episode to run, ABC has already cancelled it.

That leaves the two sitcoms. The Fox period comedy, "That 70's Show" has remained fresh and clever, and developed into a show where every single character is likable, identifiable, and very very funny. And finally, there's ABC's "Sports Night" which has turned into the best new show from the first half of the season.

And if you didn't jump aboard the "Sports Night" train at the start of the season, you get another chance Tuesday night as ABC repeats the original premiere. The action takes place at the Continental SportsChannel, a thinly veiled version of ESPN. Peter Krause and Josh Charles star as Casey and Dan, the star anchors of the network sports might wrap up show.

Behind them, and behind the scenes are Felicity Huffman, Joshua Molina, and Sabrina Lloyd as producers and assistants; and Robert Guillaume, formerly of "Benson," as the boss. The series comes from Aaron Sortka (ph) who wrote "A Few Good Men," and he's brought a feature film sensibility to "Sports Night."

For one thing, it's as much a drama as it is a comedy. For another, the characters are deep and surprising and often very flawed. For a third, the behind the scenes TV talk and TV battles are right on the money. Here's a scene from a rundown meeting in which a network representative objects to a lengthy feature in that night's story lineup.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I have something turns about segment 23.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: This is your network. In these cases, mine is the voice of the network. Ow, JJ.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: What are your concerns?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Who is Andarzarky Nelson (ph), and why are you doing a three minute and forty second feature on him?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Andarzarky Nelson is a South African distance runner -- 15,000 meters. As a school teacher in Jamestown he led protests against the white majority.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That's swell, but folks, I have a...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: ...he was beaten up and thrown in jail. His legs were broken, and the doctor said he'd never walk without a cane. He's 41-years-old, and guess what he's doing tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: It doesn't matter because I've already changed the channel.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: He's running in the World Pacific Games, an event this network is carrying live tonight at nine. The Andarzarky Nelson feature is promoting...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: ...I'm all for you guys spotlighting our other programming, but can't we find a good looking 22-year-old American who might actually win?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Well, if you find him send him over to my place, but in the meantime...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: ...look I have a ratings book on my desk that's very instructive. Now, it says that our key demographics include 11 to 17-year-olds who watch our morning rerun over breakfast do not want to see features about 41- year-old, politically oppressed third world distance runners. They are instructing us, and I think it's a good idea to listen.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I've got Jason Grissom on the phone. JJ, Danny and I have hosted shows in the fifth and third largest markets in the country and we've received awards for journalistic excellence. I prefer not to take my instructions from 11-year-olds, and the next time you sit in our rundown meeting, and I hear the voice of the network come out of your mouth, I'm going to put my foot in your throat.

BIANCULLI: Since the season began, these characters have bonded, thought, blossomed and grown. And there have been serious issues tackled too. Sexual assaults by athletes, drug use by TV personalities, and the whole tricky dance between professional sports organizations and a network trying to cover them.

"Sports Night" is sharply written, very nicely acted, and almost always contains a genuine surprise or two. In my book, that's a promise delivered. If you haven't started watching it yet, now is the time.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the "New York Daily News."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: David Bianculli
High: TV critic David Bianculli previews an episode of the ABC sitcom "Sports Night." The premiere show is being rebroadcast tomorrow (Tuesday 12/22/98).
Spec: Entertainment; Media; Television and Radio; David Bianculli

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: David Bianculli

Date: DECEMBER 21, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122103NP.217
Head: Kevin Whitehead
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Songwriter Burt Bacharach wrote most of his hits in the 1960s, but these days he's everywhere; in magazines and newspapers, onstage with Elvis Costello, and in record stores where CD's covering his old tunes abound.

Critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new compilation of Bacharach hits and misses. Kevin says you have to respect anyone who wrote "Alfie," "Walk On By," "Make It Easy On Yourself," "Anyone Who Had A Heart," and "What's New Pussycat?"


The telephone call that tied up the line
For hours and hours
The Saturday dance
I get up the nerve to send you some flowers

Magic moments
Memories we've shared
Magic moments
When two hearts I carry

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, MUSIC CRITIC: Perry Como and the Ray Charles singers, 1958, with an early hit for composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David. Already, Bacharach had a flair for odd instrumentation. Another arranger might use whistling or, comic bassoon, but not both.

For Bacharach, the song and the arrangement unite to create a vivid mood effect. Bacharach thrived in opposition, writing dozens of cleverly arranged hits that bucked the trend toward rock and guitars. His signature became defiantly mellow brass. Solo or harmonized, muted or open those horns rarely worked up a sweat. They seem to speak more than sing a melody.



Oh LA is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week maybe two
They'll make you a star

Weeks turn into years
How quick they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas

WHITEHEAD: From the peppiest song ever about failure, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose." When folks talk of Burt Bacharach they often mean three people; him, lyricist Hal David, and singer Dionne Warwick who joined them in 1962.

Hal David's best lyrics portrayed a dark realism about sexual politics, and were part of any 60's kids worldly education. Dionne Warwick started out singing demos for them, but from the first she was their best interpreter.

Bacharach's melodies are mine fields of wide leaps, shifting time signatures, and surprise key changes. Warwick made them sound almost easy and gave the lyrics the right twinge of melancholy. Other singers doing Bacharach copied her, but even when another singer got first crack at a tune she'd make it her own.

Here's Dionne Warwick on a song introduced in the show "Promises Promises" by future TV gumshoe Jerry Orbach (ph).


What do you get
When you kiss a guy
You get another chance
To catch pneumonia

What do you do
If the man ever called you
I'll never fall in love again
Don't you know that

I'll never fall in love again
Don't tell me what it's all about
Because I've been there
How do fools change those dreams

About you
That is why I'm here to remind you
What do get when you fall in love
You only get love and pain and sorrow

So for at least until tomorrow
I'll never fall in love again
No no I'll never fall in love again

WHITEHEAD: Bacharach, the arranger, wallowed in the drecky cliches of adult contemporary music. Cocktail piano or two pianos, swelling strings, Brazilian rhythms, and those Tijuana style brass were recurring motifs. Hollywood began using Bacharach and David to signify sophistication, meaning sex.

Their song "Wives and Lovers" was notoriously sexist, but they made up for it with this acid portrait of a pickup artist who grabs a girls attention and then pours on the honey talk.


What's new pussycat
What's new pussycat
Pussycat pussycat
I've got flowers
and lots of hours

To spend with you
So go and follow
Your cute little pussycat nose
Pussycat pussycat

I love you
Yes I do
You and your pussycat nose
What's new pussycat

What's new pussycat
Pussycat pussycat

WHITEHEAD: If Dionne Warwick makes tricky lines sound like anyone can sing them, Tom Jones makes "What's New Pussycat?" sound like only Tom Jones could sing it. He's so good you could miss the arrangement with its pile up of polka band, girl group, and harpsichord, and that bizarre moment when breaking glass cuts off the intro.

Sometimes Bacharach sounds weirdly like spaghetti Western genius Enyu Moraconi (ph). For a few seconds at least.


WHITEHEAD: All this is from Rhino Records three CD, 75 tune Burt Bacharach anthology, "The Look of Love" which could be what you want for Christmas. It's got the inevitable hits by Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, and B. J. Thomas, and lots of Dionne Warwick.

There are obscure singles that mysteriously didn't click by the likes of Trini Lopez and Warwick's male counterpart, the ripe for rediscovery, Lou Johnson. Also included are a couple of duds that mysteriously were hits, "This Guy's in Love with You," and "One Less Bell Answer."

There's mercifully little of Burts own feeble singing, and the box largely skips his 70s decline after he and Hal David and Dionne Warwick parted ways. But Bacharach never went away for long. A collection spanning Perry Como, "That's What Friends are For," and Elvis Costello says a lot about longevity.


That's always something
This spell is broken
She was the light that I bless
She took my last chance at happiness

So God give me strength

WHITEHEAD: Nowadays, downtown New York hipsters as well as Elvis Costello do Bacharach tunes. Over the years, jazz musicians like Stan Getz and McCoy Tyner have devoted whole albums to him. But few of these tributes are much good, and Burt's songs never became jazz standards. Partly, that's because with him, as with Duke Ellington, the original arrangement beats most remakes.

Some folks portray Bacharach as ambassador of a bachelor pad music or even radical Jewish culture, but I think the real reason he's back is simply our belated recognition that the songs burrowed deep under our collective skin. Bacharach and David aren't Rodgers and Hart or Howard Arlen and Johnny Mercer, but they're worthy successors to songwriters like that.

On that score, in our time, they stand alone.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing." Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello will join us on Wednesday to talk about their collaboration.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Kevin Whitehead
High: Music critic Kevin Whitehead reviews "The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection." The 3-CD set features 75 of his most popular songs.
Spec: Entertainment; Media; Music Industry; Burt Bacharach

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: Nowadays, downtown New York hipsters as well as Elvis Costello do Bacharach tunes. Over the years, jazz musicians like Stan Getz and McCoy Tyner have devoted whole albums to him. But few of these tributes are much good, and Burt's songs never became jazz standards. Partly, that's because with him, as with Duke Ellington, the original arrangement beats most remakes.

Some folks portray Bacharach as ambassador of a bachelor pad music or even radical Jewish culture, but I think the real reason he's back is simply our belated recognition that the songs burrowed deep under our collective skin. Bacharach and David aren't Rodgers and Hart or Howard Arlen and Johnny Mercer, but they're worthy successors to songwriters like that.

On that score, in our time, they stand alone.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing." Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello will join us on Wednesday to talk about their collaboration.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC

Date: DECEMBER 21, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122104NP.217
Head: Kirk Jones and David Kelly
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:42

TERRY GROSS, HOST: The new movie, "Waking Ned Devine" is about what happens to two older men in a small coastal village in Ireland who've been best friends for life when a freak financial windfall alters the landscape.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Michael O'Sullivan, you're a millionaire.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, Jackie, would I spend all this time sitting on this old beach if I was a millionaire?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I don't believe you would. Are you going in for a dip? More important things to do. Look and see what I found in the small print of the "Irish Times" last night. Look at it. The front page, down at the bottom winking at you. Lots of results. (Unintelligible). A local winner.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, that's the thing. Michael, it's more than local. County (unintelligible) is big and there's only one village in it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Tell me more. Tell me more.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: This is a fact, Jackie. A winner in the village.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: How many are living there now?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, there's 52 precisely. You've not won. I've not won, and Annie's not won. That leaves a total of 49.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And one is the winner? Has the news reached?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Unintelligible)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: So nobody knows except the winner.

GROSS: As it turns out, the lottery winner is a man named Ned Devine. Michael and Jackie track him down, but find him dead of a heart attack in front of the TV with the winning ticket still in his hand. Apparently, the shock of winning was too much for him.

When a lottery official comes to town to give Ned the check, Jackie and Michael hastily cook up a scheme where Michael impersonates Ned and receives the winning's. Michael and Jackie have to convince the rest of Tullymore (ph) to play along and share in the winnings.

This year, Barbara Bogaev spoke with David Kelly who plays Michael O'Sullivan and Kirk Jones who wrote and directed the film. She first asked Kirk Jones how he came up with the idea for the movie.

KIRK JONES, FILM DIRECTOR AND WRITER, "WAKING NED DEVINE": The whole idea for the film really started with a newspaper clipping that I read in an English newspaper which said that in a tiny little village in the middle of nowhere a post mistress had put a sign in her window which said, no, I have not won the lottery.

And the story was that the local community was beginning to suspect her of having won some money. She said she hadn't won anything, and they said she was so tight fisted that even if she had won she would never tell anyone anyway.

And I was just really intrigued by this idea of a huge lottery winner hidden in a small community, and that really sparked the idea for the whole film.

BOGAEV: I imagine you or maybe all of you there on the set became somewhat connoisseurs of lottery stories. Did you hear more lottery stories as you filmed?

JONES: I wasn't aware of too many as we were filming, but in post production and since the film was released recently, people have been telling me stories. There was a story in a small Spanish village where a lottery winner went unnoticed and actually died and was buried. And it was a good couple of months before they realized that he was the winner. Not only was he the winner, but he had the winning ticket in his best suit which he'd been buried in.

So, there was a huge debate within the family as to whether they should dig him up and get the ticket or leave him be. There was another story that was told of a lady who was very unfortunate. She won the lottery and went to the head offices in New York and died of a heart attack as the check was being handed over. It's very interesting when you see life imitating art in that way.

BOGAEV: David, had you heard some stories too?

DAVID KELLEY, ACTOR, "WAKING NED DEVINE": No, not really. Either people say to you, no I didn't win it is week either. That's about all that's said. It's hugely popular in Ireland, and I suppose I'm about the only one who never played.

My wife always played, and my daughter, but I've never ever played until this film. Towards the end of the film I joined in, and I now play fairly regularly.

BOGAEV: What happens in the film is really something that could only happen in a small village that a whole group of people would collude to evade the law and combine the winnings of the lottery fraudulently. Kirk, did you have much experience of village life when you started?

JONES: I grew up in a small village near Bristol, and when I came to write the project I spent a lot of time in southern Ireland in a small village there, and used to travel from that village each day to even smaller communities. And I saw a lot of people -- a lot of characters who I used to base my own characters on when I came to write the script.

BOGAEV: So, who inspired -- or what was the inspiration for some of the subplots in the film? And I'm thinking, there was one of a woman who couldn't marry her true love because he's a pig farmer and he just smells too bad.

JONES: The pig farmer, in particular, came from -- I used to live in a small village near Bristol and just up the road was a pig farmer and I used to see this guy who, everyday, was absolutely covered in mud.

But every evening I'd see him in the pub, and he was as clean as a whistle. He was beautifully dressed and very clean and tidy. But it was interesting to see that very few people stood next to him at the bar. And even though he didn't smell in the evenings.

The characters of Jackie and Michael, I didn't really realize too much until I finished the film that, I suspect, they were pretty heavily based on the relationship that I have with my own grandfather.

And it's only now, looking back at the film, that I can see so many qualities that David and Ian portrayed so beautifully that probably came from my own grandfather.

BOGAEV: Kirk, you wrote the script and then you shopped around Hollywood, right? And you got some reactions that gave you pause. What did Hollywood want to do with the story?

JONES: I never directly approached Hollywood, but once the script was finished it was taken to Cannes and we found that there was a lot of interest, both in UK companies and American companies. And one company in particular, who we went quite a way down the road with, asked me to rewrite the lead characters which I refused to do, and then they said, OK, if you want to work with really mature actors we've got a great idea. Let's rewrite it and set it in Canada, and we'll cast Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

That was just like the last straw for me. I really respect those guys and I think they've done incredible work over the years, but it felt like it would suddenly become their movie, and I just -- just the whole American thing just scared me a little bit, I have to be honest. So, we kind of walked away from that as well.

BOGAEV: Now, the real charm of "Waking Ned Devine" is the relationship between your character, David, of Michael O'Neal and his best friend. It's kind of a relationship I think a lot of people would identify with as only happening or usually happening in a really small town where you just do anything -- one person would do anything for the other and you also have lived your whole lives together, and you kind of maintain, at least in this case, a classic childhood dynamic where one guy is really the naughty devilish one who always gets the more tractable and innocent friend to do his dirty work. Now, did you, David, have a model in your head from your own experience for this friendship between these two men?

KELLY: Not really. No. I mean, this was all there on the page. I mean, the thing is beautifully -- that script is beautifully honed, and it's there. And I certainly identified with the kind of nine stone weakling which is a couple stone heavier than I am, and it worked terribly well.

And of course, they wouldn't have had a real childhood, you know, they would have had to worked hard and helping their parents with the job of the fishing, the farming, whatever. So, it was a pretty tough childhood. So, they are, as the character says, they grew old together but they never grew up.

And now they're in a position where they can sort of enjoy a romp, and that's basically what it's about. It's about this marvelous adventure that these two aged kids are having. It's less about the money than it is about that. And of course, about the friendship, and let's face it, there are a lot of phases between two true mates.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with David Kelly and Kirk Jones. And they both worked on the new film "Waking Ned Devine." Kirk Jones is the writer and director of the movie, and David Kelly is one of the stars. Let's take a break, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.


BOGAEV: If you're just joining us my guests are Kirk Jones and David Kelly. Kirk Jones wrote and directed the new film "Waking Ned Devine," David Kelly is one of the stars of the movie.

Kirk, you shot "Waking Ned Devine" on the Isle of Man even though the setting is a small village of Tullymore in Ireland. What did the Isle of Man offer that you couldn't find in Ireland?

JONES: A number of things actually. Both creative and kind of practical. I did my research in southern Ireland, and as far as I could see that's where I was going to shoot the film. When we came down to the finance and the preproduction, it suddenly became obvious that Ireland wasn't the most financially viable place to shoot.

The cost of living there is pretty expensive, and I was unable to use -- I would've been unable to use my English crew if I had shot there because if we'd have taken advantage of the tax breaks I would have had to use an Irish crew which would have been fine creatively. But it just meant that from a practical point of view, I couldn't ask the kind of favors that I knew I could ask of my own crew.

So, I was asked to ask look at the Isle of Man, and I went up there really not sure where I was going there at all in the first place. I've never been there before, but within half a day I found the most stunning locations equally as beautiful as anything I'd found in southern Ireland. And I also found something I'd been looking for southern Ireland but hadn't quite found, and that was a tiny tiny committee which photographically said, this is a tiny village completely in the middle of nowhere.

And in Ireland, I'd found a lot of very charming villages. But I suspect, like a number of places around the world, small villages often grow up along quite long roads. But what I found on the Isle of Man was a tiny tiny community, a small cluster of very charming and characterful buildings and houses.

From a practical point of view, what made it even more attractive was that the whole village was protected and listed and was owned by the government. So, instead of approaching 100 people and saying, can we please shoot in your village? We just spoke to one guy at the Isle of Man film commission and he said, fine, you can have the whole village.

BOGAEV: So, how did the hundred townspeople feel about that?

JONES: The townspeople that were are already there were very interested in the idea of us shooting there, and I was very aware that basically the government had given us the village and not the people that lived there. I suspect a number of them lived in rented accommodations because the government basically owned the buildings.

So, I suggested that one evening we get everyone together, we have a drink and some sandwiches and then I have the opportunity to talk to the villagers and say, look, we're going to be here for six weeks, and I apologize in advance for any inconvenience and stuff.

So, we turned up and it was a very frosty reception, I have to say, when I walked in. And everyone was just staring. I didn't see one person smile. I tried to crack a few jokes, and just couldn't get through to them at all.

I went through the kind of logistics of what we'd be doing and when we'd be doing it, and suddenly realized that maybe the only thing that could save me and kind of warm them up a bit was if I told them the story of the film itself.

And ironically, it was the story of the film which made them smile and laugh, and then they applauded at the end. And from that point onwards everyone who lived in the village was totally committed to helping us make our film, and it was a great experience to shoot there. They were very friendly and very helpful.

BOGAEV: A lot of them became extras.

JONES: They did. I'd already established a technique in TV commercials for using people who were genuinely kind of charming and eccentric and with very interesting faces. It was something I was very keen to carry through into the film. And coincidentally, a lot of people who actually lived in the village were great great characters. So, I used those as my extras. A couple of them had a few lines, and had very small parts in the film.

BOGAEV: Kirk, I read that "Waking Ned Devine" wasn't officially competing at Cannes this year, but you drove the only print of the film down from London -- you drove it yourself for screening. This sounds a little bit like a scene from a movie. Was it high drama? Were you racing the clock to get to Cannes, fantasizing about the million dollar offers you'd get right there at the screening?

JONES: It wasn't quite that romantic, to be honest. It was a very interesting situation because, with a couple of weeks to go we suddenly realized that we hadn't booked any flights down to the south of France. And when we checked flights out there were only club class available, and we had so little money left in the budget by that point that it seemed ridiculous to waste that kind of money.

So, my producer who had driven down with a film the year before, Glynnis Murray (ph), she said, why don't we just drive the film down again. She said it's really enjoyable and it's a great drive.

So, we drove down very luxuriously in a very nice Cherokee Jeep with leather seats and a CD player, and had a great trip down. But by the time I got to Cannes and especially after people were starting to talk about the film being the hit of the festival, a couple of journalists had got hold of the story of me driving down, and started to romanticize it a little bit, I think.

I think the worst version I got was that I'd almost stolen an old rusty van from London, driven all the way through the night to get to Cannes just in time before the competition closed and things. So, basically it was a great trip down, and I'd definitely do it again. But Cannes was quite an interesting experience and we just seemed to have a huge amount of luck there.

BOGAEV: How quickly did you get a response from a studio?

JONES: Within seconds of the end credits rolling on the film there were five major studios bidding against each other for the rights to the film for America. And the bidding went on through the night, and I remember Lindsey Logg (ph) the president of Search Light telling me that he tried to buy the film until three o'clock in the morning, and was unable to.

He went to bed until five, couldn't sleep, got up at five and started pacing up and down the quoset (ph) and eventually purchased the film just before lunchtime. So, it was a very very exciting time, and we'd arrived in Cannes with nobody knowing who we were and as soon as we had the screening and the bidding war we then were inundated with interviews and live TV link ups. That, actually, was like a scene from a film. Not so much the driving down in the first-place.

KELLY: The headline, I remember, in the paper: "Bidding War for Ned." I remember that the next they. "Bidding War," it was called, yeah.

BOGAEV: David Kelly and Kirk Jones, I want to thank you very much for joining me today. It was fun.

KELLY: Thank you very much. It was a joy.

JONES: Thank you very much indeed.

GROSS: Kirk Jones wrote and directed "Waking Ned Devine." David Kelly stars in the film. They spoke with FRESH AIR's Barbara Bogaev.

I'm Terry Gross

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: Kirk Jones and David Kelly
High: Kirk Jones is the writer and director of the new film "Waking Ned Devine." He graduated in 1987 from Newport Film School where he won a national student film competition for a commercial which he wrote and directed. He is joined in the studio by actor David Kelly who stars in "Waking Ned Devine." He is known in America for his part in the British series "Fawlty Towers." Born in Dublin, Kelly trained in Dublin's acclaimed Abbey Theater School.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Kirk Jones; David Kelly

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: Kirk Jones and David Kelly
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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