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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Seth and Oscar should provide a special Sunday night

I’ll be in deep underground Sunday night.

If you know my phone number, please forget it after dark.

Knocks on the door won’t be answered. Heck, even a fire won’t force me from my house until it’s threatening to melt the TV screen.

Movies are on my agenda that night.

Well, movies and a guy named Oscar.

Oh, and that guy named Seth MacFarlane.

If you don’t know who he is, you’re probably a heck of a lot more classy than I.

Or, you enjoy a higher level of entertainment than I.

For the past few years, thanks to cable station TBS, I’ve been catching up with the antics of a fictional family from Rhode Island who seem to find themselves in the strangest predicaments that usually devolve into absolutely crass humor and sudden bursts of song.

It’s the song part that has me particularly dazzled, quite honestly.

“Family Guy” is the brainchild of MacFarlane, who draws, voices characters and sings most of the songs that dot the half-hour animated show.

For a long time, I was under the impression that the British voice that cracks wise and highly inappropriately as baby Stewie was just some actor they’d hired to play the part.

Alas, it’s also MacFarlane, who also is the voice behind father Peter Griffin and the family dog, Brian.

When I say voice, I mean speaking and singing.

A few months after getting hooked on the show, I discovered MacFarlane also had recorded a CD of what music folks call “the classics.”

These aren’t songs that Sinatra or Dean Martin sang. No, through some research, these are songs MacFarlane’s grandparents played when he was a kid growing up in Connecticut. They’re songs our grandparents danced to when they were in high school.

And they’re songs that show off MacFarlane’s voice with lyrics that have nothing to do with poop or graphic sexual content.

My favorite song is what I honestly consider the best version of “Laura” I’ve ever heard. As you can probably guess, I’ve heard a lot of them over my 46 years. His is just breathtaking.

I doubt he’ll sing it tonight. (Darn it!)

Instead we’ll be treated to his take on this year’s best movies. And because of his other claim to fame — directing the movie “Ted” — we all have lots to fear.

If you didn’t see “Ted,” you might not know it’s about a lifelike stuffed teddy bear that befriends a kid and then stays friends with him when they’re grown up. The bear is, shall we say, a little blend of honesty and lack of filter.

OK, he’s a disgusting pig. Are you happy now?

Who knows how much of the stuff from “Ted” or “Family Guy” will filter into the show Sunday night. MacFarlane has said he’s definitely singing during the show, and we got a bit of news this week about a closing number performance with Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth.

MacFarlane’s made no secret of the fact that he thinks he’s going to be blistered by critics for his performance on the show.

“It’s the time commitment I just don’t think I could do again. It will have been almost six months that I’ve been working on this. And I’m still going to get savaged in the press, so… Tina (Fey) and Amy (Poehler) will do it next year and they’ll get rave reviews,” he told Entertainment Weekly.
Hollywood’s funny like that.

When I read that quote, I couldn’t help but think of the catchphrase in “Argo,” which seems as though it could have been coined by MacFarlane. Rather, it was an actual line used Tony Mendez, on whose book the Ben Affleck movie is based.

It’s vulgar. It’s catchy. And it’s a perfect response for MacFarlane if he gets attacked for daring to make the Oscars show edgy and fun.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, February 15, 2013

Here's hoping Rubio can soak up a little redemption

I first got familiar with Marco Rubio when he stood me up in Florida.

Well, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t just me. It was me and about 75 others at a journalism conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., a few weeks before the 2010 election.

The Associated Press Media Editors had invited Rubio, and his challengers, then-Florida Gov. and fellow Republican Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek, to speak to the group about their race, which was one of the hottest in the country that election cycle.

Crist and Meek showed up, spoke to us for about 15 minutes apiece and then went on their way.

Rubio never actually declined the invitation, he just didn’t show up.

I wasn’t hurt that he didn’t make it, because after the way the other two candidates treated their visit, it just made the day that much easier.

Neither Crist nor Meek seemed to realize that the editors they were speaking to weren’t from Florida.

We’re far-flung in all directions of the country. If I were to guess, there were probably only about three who actually were from the state of Florida.

After Rubio won that race and started to take his place on the national scene during various events and appearances on news shows, I’d think back to that day at the conference when we sat and waited to see if he’d walk through the door.

Such a moment occurred about 10 days ago when it was announced that Rubio was chosen to deliver the Republican response after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

Rubio’s an interesting guy, the son of Cuban immigrants to the United States who earned a football scholarship before giving up the game and eventually becoming an attorney. His political career started in city service and then moved on to the Florida statehouse before he found his way to the U.S. Senate.

And, now he’s mentioned as a possible candidate for president in 2016.
Well, unless you’re Wolf Blitzer.

The veteran CNN anchor seems to think Rubio’s career is over because he got a little thirsty the other night during his response speech.

How ridiculous.

I blame the person who put that bottle of water so far out of Rubio’s reach that it was nearly completely useless to him.

When he realized his dry-mouth was at such a level that he couldn’t finish without a drink, he was forced to lurch nearly out of camera range for a drink.

Fire that stagehand.

But don’t toss out Rubio the way so many did Howard Dean in January 2004.

Surely you remember Dean’s “scream heard ’round the world.”

After he finished third in the Iowa Caucus in the first vote of the 2004 presidential election, he stood up to address his supporters and gave a “whoop-them-up” talk, following Iowa’s longtime Democratic senator onto the stage.

“Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin, we’re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we’re going to California and Texas and New York ... And we’re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we’re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yeah!”

It was the “yeah” that caused the trouble.

It was a loud, screeching noise that you just don’t usually hear from candidates for president.

And, of course, television news networks jumped on it. According to some sources, it was aired 633 times during the four days that followed.

And, of course, Dean’s candidacy was over, because you just can’t recover from that.
How ridiculous.

Once a front-runner, then a has-been, relegated to a role of pundit or even analyst on the same networks that ruined his run for office.

It’s a shame that they valued his knowledge and expertise but pushed that aside to revel in his moment of excitement.

What’s even more shameful, to me, is that some are attempting to write off Rubio for dry-mouth.
And, on Feb. 13, 2013.

A mere three and a half years before the election.

It’s time to forgive a guy for showing his weakness — that his mouth gets a little dry in front of television lights and cameras.

Here’s hoping Rubio will keep up his good humor about the incident, because maybe it’ll pull him out of the embarrassment and into a time when he can, over those next three and a half years, show us what he’s really made of.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, February 8, 2013

Singing the praises of niece's bravery at Super Bowl

Don’t you just hate it when someone reminds you that you’re not all that brave?

It’s actually not that difficult for people to do that with me.

I’m a big whimp.

Scared of dogs. Afraid to drive in snow. Leery of small, confined spaces.

But the big one is one you probably also share — fear of speaking in public.

I was doing pretty well with it lately, with a few short talks under my belt.

Then, on Jan. 19, I had to stand up and speak in front of the 56 people who signed up for Lighten Up in 2013.

Our six-month weight-loss contest kicks off at LEAN Living in Concord Township, and every year I go over the rules, crack a few jokes and talk everyone into standing on the scale for a few minutes.

I’m notorious for crying at the drop of a hat, and I think I got about 40 seconds into my greeting, which includes me saying how proud I am of those who say they want to be in the contest.

I caught myself before it got too far. Jaime Brenkus, owner of LEAN Living, thought I was kidding when I told him before his first year as a sponsor that I probably would cry once I started talking.

He knows better now. He said I’m doing better these days because the spurts are shorter now.

Every summer when we tape our candidate interviews at Lakeland Community College, I try to focus on the fact that there are only a couple of candidates, two cameramen, a producer and Jim Collins there with me. I wipe out the fact that hundreds of people will be viewing the sessions on TV at home.

I refuse to even think that eventually, after all the repeated showings, there might be a few thousand.
I can’t even wrap my head around the numbers that saw my niece singing on Sunday night at the Super Bowl.

According to the Nielsen Ratings Service, an average of 108.4 million watched Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

It marked the third biggest audience in television history.

And, there, in the middle of it, was Emily, along with 25 of her fellow Sandy Hook Elementary classmates, belting out “America the Beautiful.”

I’d heard a week before that she was going to be singing before the game. Jennifer Hudson was a bit of a surprise, and I think a last-minute addition.

I was threatened with, well, something I could never quite figure out, if I put it on Twitter or Facebook or wrote about it in my column beforehand.

I’d like to blame my brother for my lack of column last week, but in reality I just ran out of time before a trip to New York City.

The night of my arrival in the Big Apple, I flipped on the 6 o’clock news and saw a story about the choir’s performance at the Superdome.

For the record: I kept it pretty quiet — someone else blabbed the big secret!

During the call disclosing the big secret, my brother said that the song had played over and over about 50 times at their house in Sandy Hook that morning, and that Emily asked him to load it on her iPod, to ensure proper exposure to the song.

As the week moved forward, I thought more and more about Emily walking out onto the field, standing up in front of more than 75,000 people, and opening her mouth to sing.

As I said before, how brave!

I didn’t even factor in the television audience until Sunday, when I thought about how many people were like me, sitting at home watching the game on TV with friends and family, stilled for a moment from the thrills of the pregame, the commercials and a vast buffet of food and drinks to listen to these youngsters who’ve been through oh, so much.

Just six weeks before, they were running from their school building into the cold of December without their coats after a gunman opened fire, killing 20 of their fellow classmates and six teachers.

Several of the students among the 26 on hand Sunday were siblings of those who died.

Emily was in the library, safe from the bullets, but, like her classmates, forever scarred by the horror of that day.

The NFL’s invitation to be part of the pregame festivities in New Orleans sent Emily and the other youngsters, each with a parent, down south for four days. They had dress rehearsals that prepared them for the noise of the fireworks that followed the National Anthem, and got to meet Beyonce, in addition to Hudson.

On the New York news show a few days before, one of the parents admitted that while it was exciting for his son, that he’ll never forget the reason they were going in the first place.

No one will.

But we should take solace in the words of Sandy Hook Elementary, which released a statement just after the group’s performance:

“We have come to New Orleans to represent the Sandy Hook family and the community of Newtown, Connecticut. Our wish is to demonstrate to America and the world that, ‘We are Sandy Hook and we choose love.’ ”

And, speaking just for me, I could feel the love.
Twitter: @Lauranh