Colbert's Shtick Sticks It to Dems; 'Superman' Drills Teachers

Thursday, 30 Sep 2010 01:09 PM

By James Hirsen

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The Left Coast Report: A Political Look at Hollywood

Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. ‘Superman’ Riles Teachers Unions
2. Comcast Kicks NBC’s Jeff Zucker to the Curb
3. Will CNN Go Tabloid?
4. Colbert’s Shtick Sticks It to Dems
5. ‘Wall Street’ Closes High Over ‘Owls’ and ‘You Again’ at Box Office
 

1. ‘Superman’ Riles Teachers Unions

“Waiting for ‘Superman’” is a documentary that profiles five children who are trying to escape the bleak situation that confronts them in their neighborhood public schools.

The tenor of the movie is somewhat surprising, given that Davis Guggenheim directs it. He is the Oscar-winning director of another controversial documentary, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The film takes on teachers unions, which have allied themselves consistently with the Democratic Party. The cinematic stances that apparently have inflamed the unions are drawing applause from organizations that support charter schools.

“Superman” disparages teacher tenure and shows the difficulty that administrators face in trying to remove incompetents from the classroom. The movie presents the teachers unions themselves as the major cause of the public school debacle and obstacle to bona fide solutions and reform.

The film brings the disgraceful state of our public schools into stark focus with a rarely seen point of view: the stories of the victims of the system.

For instance, there is Daisy from Los Angeles, who aspires to be a doctor or nurse. There is Anthony from Washington, D.C., who struggles to avoid following in his father’s drug-addicted footsteps. Bianca and Francisco hail from tough New York City neighborhoods, yet they cling to the hope that they will beat the odds and make something of themselves. And Emily from the Silicon Valley dreams of climbing the academic ladder and securing a college diploma.

All of the children are vying for a coveted spot in a charter school. But because of the incredible demand for the superior education a charter school typically provides, students are at the mercy of a lottery, of all things, to “luck out” and change their destinies.

Judging by the reaction of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the film has hit a raw nerve. Weingarten, who is portrayed as part of the educational problem, says the documentary “falters” in “key areas.”

She takes issue with the “bad teachers and teachers unions as the villains and charter schools as the heroes ready to save the day.” She contends that Guggenheim vilifies unions and teachers while ignoring what is good in public education.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, Weingarten suggests, “The movie seems to be saying that all you have to do is shake people up, and they will do a better job. But that presupposes that people don’t want to do a good job. Teachers want to do a good job. They want to make a difference in the lives of kids, so we need the time and the tools to do that.

“It’s easy to scapegoat and to demonize and to vilify. The much harder road is to collaborate and work together,” Weingarten adds.

Teachers were on hand to protest the New York debut of the documentary. Some dressed up in Superman costumes. Several carried signs that read: “Stop privatization of public education!” and “Waiting for ‘Superman’: Teacher-Bashing, Union-Busting Operation.”

I wonder whether Clark Kent went to a charter school.


2. Comcast Kicks NBC’s Jeff Zucker to the Curb

After 24 years of working for the Peacock, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker is getting the ax.

Zucker’s departure will be finalized when federal officials clear Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal.

Although Zucker gave the impression to staffers in a memo that he had resigned, he told The New York Times that his removal was involuntary. It occurred during a meeting two weeks previously, when Comcast COO Steve Burke showed him the exit door.

“He made it clear that they wanted to move on at the close of the deal, and I was completely comfortable with that,” Zucker told reporters.

Because GE head Jeffrey Immelt had given Zucker a new three-year contract, Comcast had to negotiate a buyout.

Zucker presumably has put the finishing touches on an opulent severance agreement.

His image had taken a beating because of the decision to tamper with a successful NBC franchise, “The Tonight Show,” by replacing Jay Leno with Conan O’Brien. The move was a dismal failure, as was a prime-time experiment with Leno as host.

Although Zucker’s replacement has not been announced, it is clear that the power will be in Burke’s hands.

Burke will be focusing his attention on cable, where NBC Universal-owned USA, SyFy, CNBC, and MSNBC are thriving.


3. Will CNN Go Tabloid?

A significant management shake-up has occurred at CNN, the original cable news outlet that Ted Turner founded in 1980.

Ratings doldrums finally propelled the beleaguered network to change its leadership.

Replacing Jonathan Klein as president of CNN U.S. is Ken Jautz, the head of sister channel HLN, who will now become the executive vice president.

Although CNN has not confirmed that this was a firing, Klein told New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman that, indeed, it was. “I got shot,” he said.

Jautz demonstrated a knack for creating programming and increasing audience share during his tenure at HLN, formerly known as Headline News. Jautz has succeeded with crime and showbiz fare such as “Nancy Grace,” “Showbiz Tonight,” “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell,” and “The Joy Behar Show,” as well as Glenn Beck. CNN management apparently has determined that he can rejuvenate CNN’s lineup, too.

Will longtime CNN figures such as Jack Cafferty, Gloria Borger, Jeff Toobin, Bill Schneider, Paul Begala, James Carville, and David Gergen be retained by the man who created the HLN lineup?

It all depends on whether they can channel their hidden tabloid talents.


4. Colbert’s Shtick Sticks It to Dems

A panel of the House Judiciary Committee wasted the taxpayers’ time and resources in a big way.

But this time it was all on TV.

Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren had asked Stephen Colbert to testify about the Comedy Central host’s day of picking beans alongside illegal immigrants.

It was, of course, completely predictable that a Colbert invite would produce satirical stunt testimony.

Apparently, not predictable for Lofgren.

Colbert has gained fame for poking fun at time-honored institutions and public figures. Not one to disappoint, he stayed in character throughout his testimony, mocking the proceedings and the panel with his trademark punch lines.

“This is America,” Colbert explained. “I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.”

On the fallout from his day as a farm worker, the comic quipped, “I don’t even want to watch ‘Green Acres’ again.”

Committee Chairman John Conyers had tried to boot Colbert out before the comedian even began his testimony.

“I’m asking you to leave the committee room completely, and submit your statement,” the Michigan Democrat said.

Colbert responded that he would leave only at the request of Lofgren. When Lofgren failed to join in with her colleague, Conyers later withdrew his request.

What was the congressional committee thinking in allowing the “Colbert Report” host to appear?

Whatever their agenda, it was pretty clear that Colbert’s performance took the representatives by surprise. As Colbert performed, the members of Congress looked like they were in agony. He even made fun of the Democrats’ dim midterm election chances and the untenable tendency of legislators not to read pending bills.

The humor ended up eclipsing whatever message the Dems had wanted to convey.

In a nod to Adam Smith’s writing, Colbert did take a swipe at capitalism.

“This brief experience made me realize why so few Americans are clamoring to begin an exciting career as a migrant farm worker,” he said. “Apparently, even the invisible hand does not want to pick beans.”

Lofgren didn’t need to invite a comic such as Colbert to testify because the biggest joke in the nation’s capital is Congress itself.


5. ‘Wall Street’ Closes High Over ‘Owls’ and ‘You Again’ at Box Office

A drama sequel, family animated franchise, and a teen chick flick vied for a piece of the weekend box-office action.

Oliver Stone’s follow-up to his 1987 classic, “Wall Street,” topped the weekend take with $19 million.

In the overdue sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” Michael Douglas ushers his Gordon Gekko character into the modern age after Wall Street crashes and burns in the recent financial meltdown.

A host of real-life Wall Street dwellers appear in the movie, which is distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has a cameo, as does CNBC’s “Money Honey,” Maria Bartiromo.

CNN business anchor Ali Velshi revealed that he and the other Wall Street types didn’t exactly make out like bandits from their moonlighting. They were paid the Screen Actors Guild standard day rate of about $800.

To attract a younger demographic, the cast includes Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan. Another original star, Charlie Sheen, drops in for a cameo as well.

Tax credits evidently brought the cost of production down to around $50 million.

An animated fantasy from Warner Bros., “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” didn’t get a whole lot of hoots in tracking surveys, partially because of its dark and intense nature. It took the No. 2 slot with a lower-than-expected $16.3 million.

Zack Snyder (“Watchmen” and “300”) directs the film, which boasts the voices of Helen Mirren, Anthony LaPaglia, and Sam Neill.

Because it screens in 3-D, “Owls” is able to command higher ticket prices. Warner and Australian company Village Roadshow Pictures were willing to shell out more than $100 million to produce the movie, but Aussie tax credits brought final costs down to an estimated $79 million.

Meanwhile, Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” which Affleck directs and plays a starring role, was last weekend’s No. 1 film and this weekend’s No. 3. Targeting an adult audience similar to that of “Wall Street,” it brought in $16 million and raised its 10-day total to $49 million. Additionally, the film continues to generate Oscar buzz.

Sony’s “Easy A” maintained a large audience in its second week. Although the teen comedy slipped from No. 2 to No. 4, it still had a healthy $10.7 million.

Disney’s ensemble comedy, “You Again,” which stars Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Betty White, and Sigourney Weaver, came in fifth, with a disappointing $8.3 million.

Fortunately for the mouse house, the tale of a young woman whose brother is marrying her high school archrival cost under $20 million to make.

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