Saturday, June 10, 2006

Radio gaga

Living in the center of the entertainment industry without a television can feel strange at times. Aside from the water-cooler aspect of not being completely up to date on Jack Bauer's body count (or Chloe O'Brien's mysterious past), a writer in this town sort of needs to stay current with the hot shows if they hope to be able to spec them properly for potential writing staff gigs. I'm not to that point yet, but between ABC's free streaming of Lost and the shows available for download at iTunes, it has been possible to fairly keep up with the Pams and Jims of the t.v. world. Eventually, as DVRs and alternative delivery methods become more commonplace, I imagine that watching shows when you want and where you want will probably be the norm and not the exception.

In the meantime, to fill the void, my trusty radio has been performing admirably. Santa Monica College's public radio station, KCRW, plays great new indie music on Morning Becomes Eclectic and other shows throughout the evening. And during weekends, This American Life and Harry Shearer's fabuleaux Le Show, wherein he applies his considerable voice talents and insight to all things political, keep things interesting.

One of the few shows that KCRW does not air (but which can be found in L.A. on KPCC) is the long-running A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor's weekly paean to Midwestern reserve, American music, and old-timey radio's "theater of the mind." A film version of sorts, directed by Robert Altman, is out this week. Which is how I found myself at the famed Hollywood Bowl last Friday night, where the show was in town for a live broadcast to coincide with the movie's release. The show can be listened to in its entirety here if you weren't at the Bowl yourself.

Three of the film's stars joined the regulars for the show: Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, and Meryl Streep (writ large on the video screen in the picture on the left). Befitting the Hollywood setting and their experiences in the business, the troupe did several long skits skewering the filmmaking process. Having only listened to PHC on the radio before, it was fun to see how loose the players actually are in the midst of the show. Keillor and Streep even went off-script when Meryl blew a line now and then (yes, Meryl Streep flubbed a few lines).

A writer first and foremost, Garrison seemed particularly attuned to the station that most screenwriters occupy in the town, i.e., low. The segment titled "Farewell" told the sad tale of an aspiring scribe who drives from Minnesota to California with only a spec in his hand and dreams in his head:

Farewell, Minnesota, I'm bound for L.A.
In a car with my girlfriend and a screenplay.
It's only a first draft and the opening is long
And the part where they blow up the truck is all wrong
It's about two lovers from the Midwest
Who come to LA cause they're under arrest
And they are on drugs and her hair is on fire
But I could make it a comedy if you desire.

You can see how it all ends here, though like all good radio it is best heard for full effect.


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