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How to Watch TV and Stay in Love

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

By Steve Hofstetter

Steve Hofstetter

NEW YORK–They prepare you to share your home. They prepare you to share your family. They do not prepare you to share your television.

It might not seem crucial to read the TV shows that someone lists on their profile. But be it a prospective spouse on JDate, a friend on Facebook or an axe murderer on Craiglist, your TV compatibility is more important than you think.

For the vast majority of us, TV plays an important part of our lives. Some are entertained by reality TV and sitcoms, others of us are riveted by dramas and serialized stories, still others are completely misinformed by the alleged news. But whatever we watch, the point is that we watch, and it’s ingrained into the fabric of who we are.

If you don’t yet agree with me on how important TV is, walk into an electronics store and go to the video camera section. Odds are you will see someone using one of the cameras that is hooked up to a television set, thrilled that the friend they are pointing the lens towards is now “on TV.” How exhilarating. It reminds me of the scene from The Jerk where Steve Martin is excited to have his name in print, after he picks up a phone book.

I like to think I have good taste in TV. My favorite shows are The Office and 30 Rock, and I’m a big fan of Arrested Development, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report. And you can never go wrong with Law and Order – unless it’s followed by the words “Criminal Intent.” As an aside, how did Jeff Goldblum’s career come to this?

“Jeff, we’ve got two offers. One is for ‘Law and Order: Criminal Intent.’ The other is for ‘Jurassic Park: Havana Nights.'”

“Hmmm. How much does the ‘Jurassic Park’ one pay?”

When we first started JDating, I joked with my fiancé that our TV taste was going to be a problem. I’ve never been into reality television, and her TV was permanently set to VH1. Okay, I’m exaggerating – many of her reality shows air on other networks.

Yes, she also likes meaningful and clever shows. But she watches frivolous TV to unwind from a day job, something I will never understand. I’m a standup comedian – my entire job is unwinding.

Millionaire Matchmaker, Dancing With the Stars, The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, “”The Real Housewives of New York,” and “The Real Housewives: Criminal Intent.” If the show is about trainwrecks with money, she watches it.

Both of us love a cozy evening in watching TV. But a night where I make her watch The Daily Show or she makes me watch Dancing With the Stars would be anything but cozy. Though at least one of us would get some sleep.

Now that we’re engaged, we share a Tivo, and the poor thing is schizophrenic. If we record “Mythbusters” and “The Dog Whisperer,” the Tivo searches for two guys trying to blow up a dog. Which I believe was the plot of “Air Bud.”

We do have some shows we can agree on. We both love The Office and 30 Rock, and we simultaneously stumbled on Ninja Warrior, which we’re inexplicably drawn to. But the real solution is that we’ve promised to give each other’s shows at least one try, and if that try fails, we won’t force it.

It turns out I enjoy Desperate Housewives and Glee, and she kind of likes Family Guy. And we both love Golden Girls and Mad Men – we find them to be equally edgy and well-written. We must really enjoy characters born in the 1920s.

We also both loved Jersey Shore, and bonded over how we were both equally embarrassed that the crazy stalker was Israeli. Come on, Jewish women – you can do better than Pauly D.

And yes, there’s still plenty of TV that one of us wants to watch that bores the other. When I’m on the road, she’ll catch up on various shows about vampires. When I’m home and she’s at work, I’ll catch up on politics. Which is odd, considering both involve blood-suckers with no regard for human life.

If she wants to watch a documentary about a two-legged dog, I will use the opportunity to write. If I want to watch the Mets game, she’ll check her email. Which is also odd, considering both involve wounded animals with no chance of finishing first.

By giving each other’s shows a chance (and not forcing anything that’s not working), we have found a way to compromise for each other without compromising our tastes. Also, we have found that Tivo makes an XL model.

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Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been VH1, ESPN, and Comedy Central, but you’re more likely to have seen him on the last Barbara Walters Special. Originally published on jdate.com.

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Is ‘Hermione’ part of J.K. Rowling’s secret code in the Harry Potter series?

April 7, 2010 2 comments

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – For a moment, my daughter and grandson looked at me as if I were Dan Brown revealing not the secrets of the Da Vinci Code, but the hidden messages in the Harry Potter code.

I had told them that author J.K. Rowling had put herself into the Harry Potter novels, that Harry’s school friend Hermione clearly was Rowling’s alter-ego.

“What makes you say so?” asked Shor, 8, a dyed-in-the-wool Harry Potter fan.

“Sometimes authors like to send messages with the names that they give to their characters,” I suggested.  “Rowling picked simple names for her boy heroes—‘Harry’ and ‘Ron’—but a complex name for her girl heroine, ‘Hermione’” I said, adding for good measure: “look how similar the words ‘heroine’ and ‘Hermione’ are.”

“Yes, so?” asked my daughter, Sandi, suspiciously.

“Well look at how Hermione is spelled,” I said. ‘Her-mi-one.’  Pronounce ‘mi’ like the musical note and it is ‘me.’  Separate the name into its component parts and it means “Her” and “me” are “one.”

“Way cool!” Shor exclaimed.  You can’t help but love that boy!

“Not so fast,” demanded Sandi, who you’ve got to love despite her tendency to distrust some of her father’s stories.  “That sounds like the same kind of faulty reasoning that convinced Beatles fans that Paul was dead.   You know, he was wearing different clothes than the other Beatles on an album cover, so clearly he was no longer like them—he was dead—and all sorts of nonsense like that.”

I grinned shamefacedly.  When it comes to Harry Potter, I’ve decided that my daughter can do no wrong.  She turned Shor onto the series, transforming a boy who had to be coaxed into reading into one who now gobbles up books, even spurning programs on the Disney Channel and the Cartoon Network to read about Harry and the gang at the Hogwarts school.

Sandi is to Harry Potter books as I am to Star Trek movies and television episodes, I bragged to myself.  Some years ago, I got Shor interested in Star Trek, winning his attention with the original series, featuring Captain Kirk played by William Shatner.  Shor’s favorite character was Mr. Spock,the Vulcan portrayed by Leonard Nimoy.  Then it was onto Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which Patrick Stewart played Captain Jean Luc Picard.  Shor’s favorite character was Data, the android portrayed by Brent Spiner. 

Now we are almost finished watching all the episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine over which  Captain  Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks, reigns.  Shor’s favorite character is Odo, the shapeshifter played by Rene Auberjonois, although Quark, portrayed by Armin Shimerman, runs a close second because Shor met Shimerman in San Diego during the run of The Seafarer at the San Diego Rep. 

 My wife Nancy already has purchased for her “boys” Star Trek: Voyager, in which Voyager will be captained by Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew).  I can’t wait to learn who Shor’s favorite character will be in that one.

I had never read the Harry Potter novels until Shor asked me to follow him into them, even as he had followed me into the Star Trek world.  His reasoning was both endearing and compelling: “It will give us more to talk about, grandpa.”

Star Trek DVD’s have the advantage of ‘pausability’’ Shor and I can stop action anywhere we want in an episode to discuss the questions being raised.   One of my favorite episodes came during the ‘Next Generation’ series when the only Klingon in Star Fleet, Worf  (Michael Dorn), was asked by a man from his world to join the Klingon cause and to forsake the Federation.   Shor and I talked about concepts of loyalty.  Here, said I, was Worf being asked to change his loyalty –in essence to switch sides from the Federation to the Klingon Empire.

Shor , a student at Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School, responded that Moses has switched his loyalties—from being an Egyptian prince to being a leader of the downtrodden Hebrews.

Besides Star Trek and Harry Potter, the stories of the Torah are among Shor’s favorite  literary reference points.

This most recent Passover, he had the opportunity to help his one-year-old cousin, Brian, search for the afikomen during a seder at our house.   Later in the week, visiting his great-grandfather Sam at the sprawling senior complex at the Ocean Hills Country Club, Shor and his brother, Sky, along with Brian, got to see what Christian kids do, participating with excitement in an Easter egg hunt.

Of course, the similarity between searching for the afikomen to later ransom and searching for an Easter egg to win a prize did not escape Shor.  Nor did he fail to note that in both Passover and Easter an egg symbolizes the renewal of life.

Whether in The Da Vinci Code, Pesach, Easter, Star Trek or Harry Potter, symbols are an important part of story telling.  I give Shor a thumb’s up for catching on.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

Ranger who believes he is great grandson of Bat Masterson mourns passing of actor Gene Barry, who portrayed him on television

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Park Ranger Tracey Walker
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By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—Tracey Walker, the chief ranger at Mission Trails Regional Park, has a special reason for mourning the passing of actor Gene Barry, who died Wednesday at age 90.

One of Barry’s most famous television roles was as the dapper, gold-cane carrying, western lawman and gambler Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson, whom Walker believes was his great-grandfather.

Walker said it was Barry’s television performances as Masterson between 1958 and 1961 that led to disclosure by his mother of a family secret: Walker’s great-grandmother Elizabath Baker had become pregnant by Masterson while she worked as a maid at the Horton Hotel in the area known to San Diegans today as the Gaslamp Quarter.

Although Masterson is not recorded as having any children, “it’s not the kind of thing my mother would make up,” Walker said in an interview at Mission Trails Regional Park a wilderness area that remains today quite similar to the way it looked when traversed by Kumeyaay Indians who migrated between villages in the mountains to the east and the coastline to the west.

After hearing that Masterson was a direct ancestor, Walker began learning as much as he could about the legendary lawman, leading to a lifelong hobby of portraying Masterson in historical presentations, particularly in Tombstone, Arizona, where Masterson was a contemporary and friend of Wyatt Earp.

Walker also gives free lectures to schools and to civic groups about Masterson’s life as a lawman, gambler, author and newspaper columnist.  He explains that Masterson came to San Diego to visit Earp, who  ran Gaslamp Quarter gambling houses and who could be frequently found in the late 1800s at the Oyster Bar.

Walker said that while he was a youngster, he wrote to Gene Barry about the research he was doing about Masterson, and the actor responded with a note encouraging him to keep learning more.

Walker remembers the television portrayals by Barry quite vividly, and credits the television series for showing that not all arguments in the Old West were settled with six shooters.

Masterson started using his famous cane after being shot in the pelvic region, Walker said. The lawman did his best to use his charm and sense of humor to defuse potentially explosive situations, although he could still fire a gun if he had to, Walker said.

Asked whether Masterson used to “bat” people with his cane—as he was occasionally portrayed doing on television—Walker said this  was possible, but that one should remember that the television series was probably no more than 20 percent history, compared to 80 percent “Hollywood.”

Masterson is buried in New York State, and Walker said he would like very much if some way could be found to do a DNA test on the Old West lawman’s remains to prove once and for all their kinship.

Actor Barry, who was born to a Jewish family in 1919 as Eugene Klass, was married a half century to Betty Claire Kalb before she died in 2003.

Other series in which Barry starred were “Burke’s Law” and “The Name of the Game.”
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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

In Star Trek, he was Quark the barkeeper; in The Seafarer, he’s a drunk

November 16, 2009 2 comments

 By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—Some actors shy from the roles that made them famous.  I remember, for example, how  Henry Winkler practically growled at reporters at a United Jewish Federation event who wanted to talk about his role as  Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli  on television’s Happy Days.

Not so with actor Armin Shimerman.  He said he knows that “Quark,” the role of the Ferengi which he made famous in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, will probably be written on his tombstone.  While at times, that permanent meshing in the public’s mind of an actor and a character can be a psychological burden, Shimerman says it also has its advantages. 

For example, he said, his seven seasons as the devious bartender Quark may prompt died-in-the-wool Star Trek fans to come watch him perform as blind, hard-drinking Richard Harkin in the San Diego Rep production of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer.  Should the fans show up between now and the closing of the play December 13, he says, they may find a certain similarity between The Seafarer and the various Star Trek series in that both offer “a sense of hope.”

Star Trek has the hope that in the future people will live together, solve their problems and reach out and understand the cosmic questions that face us today; that those questions will be finally answered,” he said.  “Many people I have met who have been afflicted see in Star Trek that in time the illness that they suffer from will be cured.  And there is also the hope amongst people that everyone can come together and live together.

“Teamwork is what Star Trek is about… the Star Fleet people (who are members of the United Federation of Planets) are all about teamwork and solving problems.  And the hope that things will be better, that we will be able to go beyond ourselves is the lasting attraction of Star Trek.”

Of course, there is no drama without conflict, and in contrast to the noble Star Fleet officers are a variety of other worldly miscreants, not the least of whom is Quark, whose ethical code usually—but not always–puts profit ahead of personal relationships, even with his younger brother Rahm.

A member of the Jewish community who majored in Shakespeare back in his student days at UCLA, Shimerman, 60, caught his first break when he was chosen for an apprenticeship in San Diego at the Old Globe’s Shakespeare Festival.  Craig Noell was the artistic director back then and Jack O’Brien, who became a mentor, was a visiting director on one of that season’s three Shakespeare productions.

Shimerman explained that in preparing for a part, he draws upon his life experiences, relationships, previous roles, and upon serious textual study—the latter process, he said, probably a result of the time as a young teenager growing up in Lakewood, New Jersey, that he thought he might like to become a rabbi.  But he tasted acting at age 14, and by 17—by which time he had moved with his family to Los Angeles—acting had replaced Judaism as his  personal religion.

In preparing to take the role of Quark, he said, he drew heavily on his study of Shakespeare.  He saw a parallel between Quark, the Ferengi bartender on the “Deep Space Nine” space station and Shylock, the Jewish merchant, in the Christian society of Italy.


“The Merchant of Venice was actually a touchstone for the Ferengi because Shylock is an alien in the true sense of the word, living in a Christian society—something that is alien to him.  He must learn to hold onto his own identity and at the same time compromise in a way in order to live in the alien world,” Shimerman said. 

“And, that is exactly Quark’s existence; he must hold onto his values and at the same time learn to live with the Bajorans (near whose planet the Space Station is situated) and the Star Fleet people.  So very much, Shylock was at the forefront of my head when I was playing Quark.”

Shylock, the moneylender, long has been considered an anti-Semitic character, and some critics of the Ferengi have suggested that this avaricious group of people—for whom profit was the prime motivation of their existence—were little more than an anti-Semitic stereotype.

While agreeing Shylock was indeed such a stereotype, Shimerman said Quark was intended not to be a caricature of a Jew but rather a portrayal of “the ultimate other.”

“I know that the producer is Jewish, the writers are Jewish, I am Jewish, and most of the other (actors who played) Ferengi are Jewish, so keep that in mind,” Shimerman said.  “When I traveled to Australia, they said to me, ‘C’mon the Ferengi are the Chinese, right?’ When I travel to England, ‘C’mon, the Ferengi are the Irish, right?  When I travel to different parts of the world, it is the outsider in their community that is the Ferengi.  It happens that here in America, perhaps we think it is the Jews.  But in other parts of the world, they don’t think of that at all—they just think of another stereotype.”

In The Seafarer, Shimerman’s character, Richard Harkin, has a multilayered relationship with his brother Sharky (Ron Choularton).  “The story has many branches to it,” he said.  “The main branch that I sit on is a story about two brothers who had problems in the past, lots of problems. Drinking has exacerbated the problem.  Living in Ireland has exacerbated the problems, a strong father figure has exacerbated the problems.

“They are forced together out of the guilt that the other brother has that my character has gone blind,” Shimerman added. “Sharky has reached the nadir of his existence and realizes that he has to change, and is making an early attempt to get his life together.  Part of that healing process is to come back to his home.  The character I play is a thorn in his side because we have always clashed heads together. 

“The play is about rejuvenation, the rediscovery of two brothers, so at the end of the play there is the hope—but no confirmation – that these two brothers can find the love that they secretly have for each other and learn to let it grow and flourish.”

In preparing for the part of Richard Harkin, he said, he drew upon several sources.

“I have a wonderful brother; we sometimes clash, we don’t always communicate. So that is one thing to draw on.  I have a faux brother—Max Grodenchik—who played Rahm, and I have that relationship to draw on.  I also have what was both a loving and a twitching relationship with my mother who has passed away… My mother was very strong willed.  I was strong willed and those two strong wills came into conflict often.  It is primarily that relationship that is my source of information for this play.”

Shimerman said while he has most of the lines in The Seafarer, “the play is Sharky’s,” who not only has a conflict with brother Richard on one branch of the play, but, on the other branch, with the devil who comes to visit on a Christmas eve.  Sharky, “is far away, in my opinion, the important character in this play.”

Gracious as Shimerman was being to a fellow actor, he also was kindly toward my 8-year-old grandson, Shor Masori, a confirmed Star Trek fan, who accompanied me to the interview.

Shor got over his shyness, and occasional boredom listening to the conversation between two sextagenarians, and, with Shimerman’s permission, asked a rapid-fire series of questions. I admit it, I beamed with pride.

“Of all the movies, plays and TV shows that you have done, which one was your favorite?” asked Shor.

“This one—The Seafarer—because I am doing it now,” the actor answered.

“Did you like being Quark?”

“I liked being Quark a lot, but I had a problem with the makeup sometimes because it was a lot to bear for seven years, but I liked the people I worked with.”  (The Ferengis had huge heads, with large lobes, and ears that were quite large and very sensitive.)  “I loved the stories, and sometimes it was very painful, but my wife who is very smart said, ‘Armin, if you want to be a knight, you have to wear the armor.’”

“How many shows and movies have you done?”

“Let’s see, 80 different TV shows, close to 400 episodes, not that many films because my career has been basically TV—I have done perhaps 12 films – and as far as theatre, I think I have done every kind of theatre except perhaps Children’s Theatre.”

“How did you like the cast of Star Trek and did you like Star Trek?”

“I have always liked Star Trek.  I was a big fan of Star Trek since I watched it when it first came out, which made me about your age, maybe a little bit older, during the first series.  And Next Generation, I was a big fan of that and when I heard they were casting Ferengi for Deep Space Nine, I was very eager to try and get that part. … The people on the show I worked with were phenomenally good actors, good people.  I enjoyed their company a great deal.  

“It has been said many times that our cast wasn’t as friendly as other casts were.  I attribute that to two things. Our cast was a little bit older and had families of our own, and therefore when the day was over, we would go home to our families, instead of going for a drink afterwards or going to each other’s houses…”

“And my last question,” grinned Shor.  “Can I have your autograph?”

Shimerman gave the youngster a big smile.  And into his autograph book, he wrote: “To Shor, ‘Ears to You.   You are a wonderful interviewer.”  Below his signature, he wrote “Quark,” drawing the capital “Q” with big ears sticking out from it.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World