Category Archives: Television

Guts and Glory: Profiles in Courage from TV and Film

Jessica Pearson has reached a crossroads, one that she hasn’t seen coming.

Standing in a courtroom, the high-energy attorney featured on the hit TV series “Suits” must decide if she will stay and defend a man who is on trial for his life, or leave for an emergency meeting to save her New York law firm.  In the past, her choice would have been a no-brainer.

Jessica is the founder and managing partner of her firm. She has already shown that she will do anything to maintain its position and her power.

The attorney has aided and abetted the fraud perpetrated by Mike Ross, an employee who has posed as a brilliant attorney for the firm, but in fact did not attend law school. Jessica has also chosen her job over her lover Jeff Malone.

(SPOILER ALERT)

But now she has found her soul. As she defends Leonard Bailey, a man who is to be executed for murder but has been given a new trial, Jessica recalls why she became an attorney. She remembers that she went to law school over the objections of her father in order to help people.

As a result of this epiphany, Jessica tells her other desperate partners, hovering in the courtroom to drag her to the meeting, to take a hike. She goes on to perform an astounding cross examination of a key witness that causes the judge to free Bailey.

When Jessica walks into the hall, a rival lawyer who has witnessed her defense tells her how amazing the cross was. She replies that she believes it is the pinnacle of her career.

Ironically, this admiring attorney had earlier attempted to poach Jessica from her firm, expecting it to crash. Jessica turned him down.

At the end of the episode, she announces to her partners that she is leaving the firm. She knocks on Jeff’s door that night to tell him that she wants to leave with him for Chicago, where he intends to begin a new job.

Walking away from a career with lots of power and money to pursue your true calling and the love of your life is not easy as it might seem.  It carries a big risk.

Sonny Weaver learned that being true to yourself and your convictions can put you in jeopardy. In his case, he is under threat of losing his job as general manager of the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 film “Draft Day”.

Like Jessica, he has people hounding him at crucial times as he tries to make decisions about what players to pick during the NFL draft.  The biggest problem, though, is that his aging playboy owner wants him to “make a big splash” in order to put buns in the stadium seats. Defying him means obvious curtains for Sonny.

Furthermore, the team’s new coach, a Super Bowl winner for another team, carps at his general manager as Sonny wheels and deals during the draft. They appear to have major philosophical differences as to how construct the team.

In addition, current and aspiring players are lobbying Sonny during the day. Brian Drew, the Browns’ quarterback, trashes his office when he learns that his general manager has paid a king’s ransom to Seattle in order to gain the number 1 draft pick.

It is assumed that the Browns will pick a star college quarterback with the choice. That’s certainly what Sonny’s owner expects him to do. When that happens, Drew figures he is toast.

The coach hates this idea of a rookie quarterback taking over the reigns of the team, too. He believes Drew will run his offense better.

On top of his on-the-job issues, Sonny also must fend off his loved ones who want his time and attention during this critical period. His girlfriend, who is also the financial whiz for the Browns, announces that she is pregnant.

Sonny and her keep meeting in a closet to discuss their relationship during draft day. When he asks his girlfriend what she really wants, she says “I don’t want to be a secret.”

Furthermore Sonny’s mother Barb picks draft day to discuss the provisions of his father’s will. His Dad, a legend for the Browns, decided that he wanted his ashes placed at the 50 yard line of the practice field which is named after him.

Barb wants to do the ceremony then and there. Sonny is adamant that he won’t participate. This doesn’t stop Barb. She leads team personnel onto the field to distribute the ashes without her son.

Clearly it is complete chaos at Browns headquarters. In the midst of it all, Sonny keeps his head.

He does this because it is His dream to pick the players HE wants and to build the team HIS way. As he dickers with other team’s general managers he works toward that goal.

When the first pick is announced, Sonny has picked a linebacker whom he loves. He believes the hyped quarterback will be a bust, but that his choice will be a star.

The angry owner hops a plane from the draft site to go to Cleveland and fire him. Not only does he arrive at headquarters and say to Sonny “you’re a dead man”, but the coach also tells Sonny that he quits.

“I can’t coach a team that has no future,” the coach says. Sonny asks him to hold on.

He also tells his owner to give him five minutes. If he doesn’t like what he sees after that, then he can fire him.

Sonny then amazes everyone. He not only gets back all the picks he traded to move up to number 1, but also gets a star punt returner and drafts a stud running back, which pleases the coach.

The owner tells him, “Congratulations. You have some balls.”

At the end of the day everyone is happy. Sonny and his girlfriend have weathered their storm. His mother is pleased when she hears that she will have a grandchild.

The fictional stories of Jessica and Sonny tell me writer, this real life person, that if he is to imperil himself his confidence had better not be of the false kind. I had better have a clear foundation of beliefs that will help me to withstand the opposition to my choices.

In my next post I will explain what that firm ground is for me.

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Filed under Film reviews, Sports, Television, Uncategorized

How my TV viewing influences my writing

I have always had an awkward friendship with writing.

When I was in journalism school our connection was more of a love/hate relationship. There were times I was really “jazzed” about a career in print. Then there were the other times.

When I got out of school, I gave a fair to middlin’ effort in finding a job with a newspaper. However, as I lived in our nation’s capital I faced a dilemma. My attempt at looking for work locally was akin to a high school player attempting to sign on to the Washington Redskins to play professional football. I lived in  a major league city where the big boys and girls already had a spot on the team.

What I needed to do was go to small town America to hone my skills and gain some experience. At least, that’s what I was told.

But at the time I was a big city guy and liked DC. So I demurred. Ironically, I have spent about a third of my life in Podunk since then, but working as an educator instead of reporting on hog futures.

I haven’t given up on writing though. The romance is gone, but I still feel married to it.

The desire to be in print and get paid for my prose has waned and I write as a hobby now. The “what might have been” in terms of a professional writing career got up and left a long time ago.

But I still have a goal. My highest objective is to use words to influence people. I’ve had this ambition since high school, when I was a sports reporter.

I have learned from the experts that I don’t have to have “feelings” for my writing in order to produce. In fact, the gurus tell you that you just have to keep at it. So I do.Most writers have spells they just don’t feel like putting words to page, so I know I have lots of company.

What helps me to generate is to know my interests and write about those things.

What are the kinds of stories I gravitate too? I think I can tell by what I watch on television. For instance, the programs I have recorded on my DVR are a good indicator of my favored genres.

The other night I was watching TV with a friend and he couldn’t believe the number of programs I have recorded. I told him that I the reason I have so many recordings is that I scan the menu of programs offered by the satellite provider and click on those that arouse my curiosity.

If my predilections were determined by the number of recorded programs on the DVR, the analyst would  note that I am drawn to humorous stories. I must have 30 recordings of the 1990s situation comedy “Frasier.’

It is no wonder this show is constantly available after 20 years. Like “M.A.S.H” and “Seinfeld”, the sitcom is a series of one liners wrapped around a story. The writing is superb.

In addition to  providing a list of amusing stories, my DVR also reveals my penchant for history. I’ve always loved history. In fact, I minored in it in college. Thus, I tend to watch stuff that provides me with insight into the events and lives that came before me.  I especially like military history.

I have numerous historical accounts presented by American Heroes Channel. Right now I am recording “Apocalypse: World War 1”. The series is filled with over 300 vintage pieces of film documenting the conflict.

I have also spent hours and hours watching Turner Classic Movies. The channel provides history within history. Not only do I get a story of days gone by, but the films themselves are documentation of earlier times. The stories give us a look at the technology and culture of the early to mid 20th century.

Recently my friend and I watched  “The Gallant Hours” (1960). It was unusual for an American movie.  Even though it was a film about war, there were hardly any battle scenes or explosions. The focus was on the characters, especially naval commander Bull Halsey, a man who helped the US Navy defeat the Japanese in the Pacific in World War 2.

“The Gallant Hours” was ahead of its time in its biographical story telling.  Released in 1960, it used the “up close and personal” technique developed by ABC’s Roone Arledge later. At the time Americans were not that interested in Olympic sports, or foreign countries for that matter, so Arledge lured us in with his features on their private lives. Arledge focused on the challenges the athletes faced and overcame to become an Olympic hero.

Indeed, “The Gallant Hours” combined several features draw me in to a story.  For example, the docudrama style combined the Hollywood embellishment of fiction with the facts of the characters’ real lives.

In addition to tales containing  humor and history, I am also drawn to mysteries, especially the kind represented by crime shows. This interest surprises me in that I have never thought of myself as someone interested in depictions of wrongdoing. But the truth is, I watch a lot of “Law and Order” and “NCIS”.

I think what attracts me about these stories is the gradual revelation of the truth I get from detectives, police, lawyers, witnesses and criminals. I have always enjoyed researching something and then presenting the results. This is why I have been able to stay in teaching so long.

Sports also provide a compelling narrative. Every weekend I record a NASCAR race. While auto racing is not at the top of my sports viewing, I share an interest in it with friends and relatives. This season I have watched a race almost every weekend.

Last weekend at Talladega the unique story was about Ricky Stenhouse.  Up until that Monster Cup series race he had never entered victory lane. Stenhouse has mainly been known as Mr. Danica Patrick, the boyfriend of the only female driver in the series.

Races at Talladega are known for their massive wrecks. The TV announcers kept talking about the “Big One” they expected. It did not materialize until the end. Stenhouse managed to escape the carnage and get the checkered flag.

Of course, the Internet was full of pictures of Danica hugging and smooching Ricky and . Who said sports doesn’t have romance.

As I reflect on it, the subject matter may initially attract me to a show, but what keeps me coming back again and again is good writing.  I admire stories on TV that are well written and I believe I subliminally desire to emulate those who create them.

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Filed under Classic Films, Media, Television, Uncategorized, writing