The Force was strong at the Plumsted Library in Plumsted Township, Ocean County, on Dec. 16 when a celebration of all things “Star Wars” was held in conjunction with the opening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
It’s near impossible to tune in to RFDTV’s Larry’s Country Diner and not want to climb through the screen to share some pie and sociability with host Larry Black and his cast of amiable characters as they crack wise, reminisce about classic moments in music and TV and generally have a fine time. The 70-year-old, Alabamaborn preacher’s son turned his love of music and rich baritone voice into a decades-long career as a disc jockey — during its heyday, the Larry Black Show aired on 125 radio stations across the country. Acting gigs followed on I’ll Fly Away and In the Heat of the Night and in feature films such as Ernest Goes to Camp and October Sky. Now Nashville-based, Black also serves as producer of the downhome Diner and its equally nostalgic companion series Country’s Family Reunion that give folks longing for the homespun days of Hee Haw new options. We caught up with Black to talk about keeping the rated- G in TV.
Country’s Family Reunion was your first TV venture — how did that come to be?
I was doing a project with [the Gaither Homecoming series’] Bill Gaither — a comedy album that he was producing for me — and when we finished the album, we were having dinner at Amerigo’s here in Nashville. I said to him, “What you’re doing with the Southern gospel people, we ought to do with the country beat.” This was in 1997, just before it just all broke loose for Gaither with the Homecoming gatherings that he does. He said, “I’m too busy,” so I said, “Then I’ll do it.” We got together 30 people and put them in a room. Of those 30 people, about 18 have now died. So what we really created was a piece of video history and remembrance. Grandpa Jones. Johnny Russell. Little Jimmy Dickens. It has been a real jewel — and we’ve continued to do them.
And Reunion begat Larry’s Country Diner?
Once we hit RFD-TV, I realized what the audience was and that Ralph Emery was no longer going to do his TNN show. So I thought this was a perfect time to do a different kind of talk and variety show. But I don’t like sitting in front of fireplaces to do interviews, or across couches or a desk. So, “Hmm, we’ll do a little Podunksville diner, and every day at lunchtime the local cable company — because they have nothing better to do — brings some cameras into the diner to shoot the people having lunch. The sheriff in town [played by National Musicians Hall of Famer Jimmy Capps] just happens to be a world-class guitar player, so he’ll pull up and bring his guitar in, and if anybody drops by and wants to sing, they can sing and he’ll play the guitar for them!”
Nadine is your breakout star.
Every small town has the town gossip. I’d gone to church with Nadine for about 17 years — Ramona Brown is her real name — and she did this little character for a Valentine’s party one time. So I went to her and I said, “Why don’t you go online and get the church bulletins that are all screwy, and you come in and do that? You can mess with people all you want as the church lady.” So she did that, and that character has just really blossomed. Her husband is an optometrist and she’s worked for him all of their married life. Now she goes out on weekends and will do 45 minutes worth of standup.
How do you choose your guests?
While we have the Larry Gatlins and the Vince Gills, Randy Owen of Alabama, there are other artists — Gene Watson, Moe Bandy, Jimmy Fortune — those guys say the shows just totally revived their careers, and have given them a new lease on life in terms of touring. I want to reach out, and help more artists who don’t get airplay anymore because they don’t have labels, but they still produce product. They just don’t have a way to get it to the marketplace.
Describe your audience.
Because we deal with a more mature audience, they introduce us to their kids, and to their grandkids. Then the kids and grandkids become fans. Also, we find that when we go to Branson, oftentimes there are young adults who bring their parents because they know their parents want to come see the show live, and they have become fans also. Our viewing audience is getting younger because they’ve experienced the same thing.
That’s a rarity.
That’s a joy. Bill Medley, one of The Righteous Brothers, lives in Branson and performs there as well as Vegas, and he said, “It’s so funny. You perform in Branson and you see these busloads come in and you watch the old people get out of the bus … with their parents.” I thought, that is so true, man! You have these 60- year-old people getting off the bus with their 85-year-old parents!
Concussion focuses on the startling discovery made by Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) while working as a pathologist in Pittsburgh. Omalu was on duty in September 2002 when the body of legendary Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster (David Morse) was to be autopsied. Taking the care and methodical approach he used with all of his cases, Omalu discovered frightening facts that puzzled him.
It was those facts that led him to dig deeper — even spending his own money — to uncover why this man was lying in a morgue at age 50.
A native of Nigeria, Omalu has never found himself drawn to American football. He doesn’t realize how embedded the NFL is in American culture, and as he digs deeper into Webster’s case, he finds that the sport America adores just may have been the root of the player’s death. As more NFL athletes pass away prematurely, Omalu is able to link them all together through a condition that he comes to name chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
But the discovery of the disease is not the end of Omalu’s story. He then needs to take his discovery to the organization that is the common denominator in all the deaths: the NFL. Though he feels he is doing a great service for the players and the NFL in general, Omalu is shocked to learn that the organization is not receptive to his findings. To change the world may be easier than to change the NFL and its fans. Despite the repeated attempts to silence him, Omalu will continue to fight for what’s right until someone will listen. But will it all be too late?
I love football. I played football in high school. I play fantasy football. I cheer for my teams on a weekly basis. To have a film that takes direct aim on the game I love is tough. But after viewing Concussion, I realized that Omalu’s work is necessary to positively impact the game I love.
Will Smith delivers a powerful portrayal of Dr. Omalu. I believe him in all his naiveté of the importance of football in America. All he cares about is people, both living and dead. And it is Smith’s ability to portray Omalu as that amazingly intelligent man — one who is simply unaware of American culture — that is vital to the success of the film.
Although the film does introduce us to the science of CTE and its impact on the men in the NFL, it doesn’t go far enough. My criticism lies with the soft treatment of the men and women making decisions in the NFL. At times, the league office is seen as being uncaring and a bit threatening; the film just ends, rather than offering harsher criticism of that status. But maybe I just wanted more there, and no more needed to be said; after all, this film is more about the good Dr. Omalu than about concussions.
Dr. Bennet Omalu has a true love of all people. His desire for us all to live long and healthy lives is evident, and his hope is that the research he carried out will help all athletes become better educated about the risks they are taking. I would have loved the film to be more about football and concussions in sports — the tale weaved is full of intrigue, but we are left wanting that additional part of the story.
Thanks to the research at the heart of Dr. Omalu’s career, football will — hopefully — never be the same.
Stars: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin,
Director: Peter Landesman
But you’d hardly guess it as Christmas approached. We Americans love our holiday and its traditions, most of which we take for granted and some of which emerged from the World War II era and years immediately following.
Take early shopping. Sure, it’s a way to avoid overcrowded malls and the fruitless search for parking, but in wartime, getting packages to soldiers in the Pacific by December was the main priority. Of course, gifts closer to home need a tree, no matter what it’s made of — or even what color. Futuristic aluminum models, sometimes in purple, gold, pink and black, made an appearance in postwar home décor, although their popularity took a hit after being satirized in 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. A decade later, the “back to nature” movement helped restore the real thing to favor.
Americans send over a billion Christmas cards each year, and the first such White House missive debuted in 1953. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an amateur artist, worked personally with the head of Hallmark cards, and many of the cards sent during his office term featured his artwork. Though war-weary Americans at first preferred sentimental messages, by the 1960s, cards had taken on a more sophisticated and humorous bent, sometimes featuring elves with Beatle-inspired haircuts or Santas driving convertibles.
Gifts purchased, tree decorated and cards sent, filling our stomachs is the next priority. Would it really be Christmas without green bean casserole, created by the Campbell Soup Company as part of a promotion? Or a casual get-together without Chex Mix, said to have become a favorite when the wife of a Ralston Purina executive served it at a 1955 holiday function?
Once the goodies have been consumed, it’s time to follow Santa’s journey via the NORAD Tracks Santa service, for which we can thank a 1955 advertising error encouraging kids to call Santa Claus on a special telephone number. No doubt Col. Harry Shoup, of the Continental Air Defense, was dumbfounded to receive inquiries about the jolly old elf’s whereabouts that Christmas Eve, but, good sport that he was, he instructed his operators to give Santa’s current location to any child who called in. Three years later the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was formed, and the NORAD Tracks Santa service continues to this day.
Finally, let’s not forget our holiday soundtrack. Whether you’re bopping to “Jingle Bell Rock” or warbling “White Christmas” this month, truer words were hardly spoken than Rolling Stone magazine’s “What Jesus is to Christmas, Bing Crosby is to Christmas music.” The Irish crooner’s version of the Irving Berlin classic, ranked by Guinness as the best-selling single of all time, still brings a lump to our throats, at home or abroad.
Whatever traditions are on tap at your home this year, may they be filled with the best things the season stands for: peace, love and joy.
NBC’s popular party-time series, “Hollywood Game Night,” is set to return for its fourth season on Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 8 p.m. Jane Lynch, who has won the Emmy Award two years in a row as outstanding host of a reality or reality-competition program, will once again lead the on-screen festivities. A slew of high-profile actors, athletes and recording stars will participate in the fun as they compete in hilarious party games. Two contestants are transported from their everyday lives into this once-in-a-lifetime night of fun and compete for a chance to win up to $25,000.
Ben Higgins will begin his search for that one special woman when ABC’s hit romance reality series, “The Bachelor,” returns for its 20th season on Monday, Jan. 4, at 8 p.m. What do a single mom with two young daughters, a television news anchor, a free spirit, a battle-tested war veteran and fun-loving identical twins have in common. They are all among 28 identified bachelorettes who look to capture
Ben’s heart. One by one, these gorgeous women are prepared to make a lasting impression.
The sweetest competition returns to Food Network when the new season of “Cake Wars” premieres on Monday, Jan. 11, at 9 p.m. Four bakers battle it out to create the most mind-blowing cake to star at a special event, along with a chance to take home the grand prize of $10,000. Jonathan Bennett (“Mean Girls”) is the host, and master pastry chefs Ron Ben-Israel and Waylynn Lucas will serve as judges, along with a special guest judge.
HBO will debut its concert film, “J. Cole Forest Hill Drive: Homecoming,” on Saturday, Jan. 9, at 10 p.m. One of music’s biggest stars returns home to Fayetteville, N.C., delivering a riveting performance that showcases live versions of all 13 songs on his third album. Also included are guest appearances by Jay Z and Drake.
The holidays are upon us and it is the time of giving. The giving of gifts, the giving of time, the giving of goodwill, and most importantly, the giving of thanks.
As a volunteer, I want to thank every person who has supported the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Perhaps it is a donation, attending a Heart Walk, championing a healthy change or supporting your child in a Jump Rope for Heart program. No matter how you have shown support, I want you to know that you have made a difference.
Born with a congenital heart defect, I made history at the age of 2 when I became the youngest recipient of a pacemaker. Since then, I have needed several pacemaker replacements. To date, I have undergone 104 surgeries, multiple transfusions and too many tests to count, but I am still here because of all the work that has gone into the battle against cardiovascular disease. We have seen advancements in the treatment of heart disease and strokes because of research. We have seen workplaces make a shift toward workplace wellness.
We have witnessed children saving lives because they have learned CPR. We have heard the push of making the healthy choice the easy choice for all Americans. And for me, I have been able to live a happy life.
Thank you for the support you have given and will continue to give as we move toward a day where heart disease and stroke are no more.
If you are interested in supporting the American Heart Association, consider volunteering, participating at an event, or making a donation at www.heart.org/donate
American Heart Association/
American Stroke Association volunteer
In Lifetime’s holiday original movie Becoming Santa, Holly (Laura Bell Bundy) brings her boyfriend (Jesse Hutch) to meet her family and reveals that not only are her parents Santa and Mrs. Claus, but also whoever she marries will become the next Santa.
There’s no one better to play the quintessential holiday couple than Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross, who played TV’s perfect parents on Family Ties. Baxter offers a little secret about portraying Mrs. Claus. “She may be iconic, but no one knows what she really looks like!” The actress figures, “Whoever we say she is — that’s who she is!”
The actress reveals that she enjoys working on holiday films because of the strong family storylines, but the flick’s biggest draw was the opportunity to work with her good friend.
“As soon as I knew he was attached, I didn’t even bother reading the script,” she jokes.
“The interesting thing about this particular script,” muses Baxter, “is the idea that the women of the Claus family are the ones who determine who is the next Santa.” She adds, “As light as this film is, for my character there’s an undercurrent of, ‘OK, this is serious business.’”
Baxter reveals that her favorite off-set activity was reading, while Gross spent his time with his fans.
“It was very, very hot where we were shooting and Michael was wearing a big fat suit,” she recalls with a laugh. “We had a huge fan in the green room and while we weren’t working, he would just position himself in front of it. He was this large, lumpy personage, just trying to stay cool.”
As for if she remains in touch with her other Family Ties cast members, particularly her TV children, Baxter shares: “Not on a regular basis, no. That’s why I covet those times when we can get together, which is really so sweet to see them. They’re such good people and good parents. I love that we raised good children who are good parents.”
That’s the most common question she gets from fans, too. “They want to know how’s Michael Fox. They want to know if we see each other, we talk to each other. I often hear, ‘I wish you’d been my mother.’ That’s a woman who’s strong and loving and has the time to sit down and spend time with her kids the way many parents don’t have a chance to.
“The fact that all the characters seemed to have some longevity in people’s hearts and minds is just lovely. It’s rare I think that that happens, and when it does it’s really glorious. I think people liked our family because we liked each other so much.”
Lifetime airs an encore performance of Becoming Santa on Dec. 25 at 10 p.m.
Sisters lets two women we absolutely love bring their comic genius to the screen. Maura (Amy Poehler) and Kate Ellis (Tina Fey) are tasked with the responsibility of cleaning out their room at their childhood home as their parents are moving to a condo. But in rehashing the memories made there, the two decide there is only one thing to do: throw one last party with their old friends.
As the sisters dig through memories, we realize quickly that Maura has always played it safe, while free spirit Kate has always loved to party. Neither can wrap her head around why their parents want to get rid of this house, but both can agree on throwing the party.
So the sisters do all the prep and invite many of their old friends — who in no way resemble the pictures on Facebook or who they can remember them to be. They set out to be the perfect party hosts, only this time Maura gets to be the free spirit while Kate keeps everyone together.
Amy and Tina are funny. At times they are very funny as this is a raw comedy that doesn’t make any apologies. It is a pleasure seeing these amazingly talented women work and they tend to wow viewers with their quick wit and delivery.
The supporting characters, however, are a mixed bag. Some — Ike Barinholtz and John Cena in a bit role — made me laugh and enjoy the addition to the story. But roles for Bobby Moynihan and Maya Rudolph felt tired in Moynihan’s case and misguided and forced for Rudolph’s character.
The unevenness of the supporting characters does NOT take away from the fact that Amy and Tina — yes, I can just use their first names — are the real stars here. Together they are a breath of fresh air on the comic landscape with everything they do. These two sisters prove you can go home again — just be careful if you plan to throw a party there.
Stars: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz Director: Jason Moore
The Big Short
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
Director: Adam McKay
Adam McKay’s peek into the credit and housing bubble collapse shows an industry full of corruption, extravagance and the willingness to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public. A startling discovery by a number of seemingly ordinary individuals sets them up financially as they short the banks during the booming housing market of 2005.
MILLSTONE — The Millstone Township K-8 School District is handling a health situation involving pertussis, a highly contagious respiratory tract infection.
Pertussis is more commonly known as whooping cough.
Superintendent of Schools Scott Feder discussed the issue at the Dec. 14 Board of Education meeting.
Feder said a letter was sent to parents of students to inform them of what is occurring in the district. According to Feder, the situation began when a Millstone Township resident who attends Allentown High School in the Upper Freehold Regional School District was diagnosed with the infection on Dec. 11.
The Monmouth County Board of Health is providing direction for the Millstone schools to prevent a potential epidemic. Following the Board of Health’s guidance, pupils who need treatment receive a fiveday regimen of the antibiotic azithromycin.
“Five days will significantly reduce the contagiousness of this condition,” Feder said.
Feder explained that students being treated were divided into three categories.
The first category is students who are confirmed to have whooping cough after a medical diagnosis.
As of Dec. 14, a fifth grade pupil in the Millstone Township Elementary School was confirmed to have pertussis. Feder also made note of a whooping cough case involving a second fifth grade pupil and a seventh grade sibling in the Millstone Township Middle School.
The second category is individuals who have been in close contact with students with a confirmed case of pertussis who are displaying symptoms of whooping cough.
“In this case, the Allentown High School (student’s) siblings were also symptomatic and have obviously been in close contact (with the high school student),” Feder said. “So they were all treated accordingly as if it was a confirmation.”
Individuals who had close contact with a person who had a confirmed case of pertussis, but were not symptomatic, make up the third category.
According to the Board of Health, “close contact” is defined as being right next to an individual who has been confirmed to have an illness.
On Dec. 14, administrators in the Millstone school district attempted to identify close contact cases, making note of the individuals that pupils with a confirmed case of pertussis sat next to during their various classes.
Those identified were immediately sent home and received medical attention, even if they were not displaying symptoms of whooping cough, according to district officials.
Feder acknowledged that only a few pupils were diagnosed with pertussis, which he considered to be fortunate, but he said school personnel would continue to keep a close eye on anyone who appears to have the infection and those to whom they might have spread the illness.
“It is a complicated issue, but one we are taking extremely seriously,” he said.
Laura Kirkpatrick, a spokeswoman for Monmouth County, said pertussis is a cyclical illness that presents itself every three to five years. The last peak year in the area was 2012.
Kirkpatrick said administrators in the Millstone school district reacted quickly to inform the public about what was occurring and have been working closely with the Monmouth County Health Department to address the situation on an ongoing basis.
For more information about pertussis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/ vaccines/vpd-vac/pertussis/
Examiner Managing Editor Mark Rosman contributed to this article.