The “House” series ends in a satisfying puzzle

The House series finale was near-perfect for that particular series, fully true to the structure and theme of the show. It was the quintessential House puzzle, right down to the wordplay in the episode title, “Everybody Dies.”

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Exploring Show Boat

Show Boat redefined American musical theater back in 1927.

Part opera. Part romantic musical. Part topical drama.

The current revival, staged at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, is in a space big enough for a showboat to dock (albeit just the prow), yet also has acoustics that allow the vocals to carry clear and strong, up to the rafters.

Which is where I found myself planted, high above, taking it all in, and connecting with history.

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Blockbuster is leaving the building

“Just sales, no rentals.”

Starting this past January, that’s how customers were greeted as they entered my South Side Chicago neighborhood Blockbuster store. Video rental was out as the store began its “moving sale.”

So proclaimed the banners outside, though this was more than moving a few storefronts down in the same shopping mall. One of the two “new” addresses given tracked at 6.97 miles south (as the GPS files), the other 4.84 north. As any South Sider knows, heading north into Cubs territory might as well be another country.

Later in the month, additional signs more accurately described the situation as a “store closing.” The addresses had been other Chicago locations that had not closed.

What caught my eye, though, was how Blockbuster positioned the change. In effect, it was leveraging this closing (and others) to rebrand itself as Blockbuster Total Access. A reimagined cross between Redbox and Netflix.

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Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom

McCartney does McCartney for McCartney.

The idea of a Paul McCartney collection of favorite standards was almost irresistible even before hearing a note.

At once nostalgic yet new, Kisses on the Bottom offers the opportunity to see McCartney the music enthusiast (symbolically) rummage through shelves filled with sheet music and old records, stopping repeatedly to say to us all: Have you ever heard this one? It goes like this.

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Rupert Murdoch Tweets!

In stories within twenty-four hours of each other, two media icons from different media circles dealt with the subject of social media.

On the international stage, the BBC reported on Rupert Murdoch’s first days on Twitter (@rupertmurdoch), where in less than a week he has already attracted more than 93,000 followers. Even as company lawyers stood by, holding their collective breath, others such as Britain’s former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott welcomed him.

Locally, Robert Feder, long-time media columnist (currently blogging at, offered jibes at Chicago newspaper writers such as Neil Steinberg and Mary Mitchell, who had previously shared their disdain for social media.

In a 2012 prediction piece, Feder (@robertfeder) countered by describing Twitter and Facebook as “indispensable tools” and that “those who choose to ignore them do so at their peril.”

Dramatic public actions by Rupert Murdoch and Robert Feder, practically in tandem, as the new media year begins.

Coincidence … or, significantly, something more?

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Paul McCartney’s Personal Favorites

Paul McCartney demonstrated his continued mastery of rock concert staging in 2011, even winning over sniping critics with career-spanning performances, including two hot summer nights at Wrigley Field.

His first release of 2012 (scheduled for February), Kisses on the Bottom, takes a dramatically different turn, an affectionate journey back to some of the music he enjoyed in his formative years. Rooted more in Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald than in Buddy Holly and Little Richard. With that premise, you can practically hear the critical sabers being drawn in anticipation.

You can also hear bits of it yourself already, with some Internet searching. The official Paul McCartney website provided a sneak preview of one of the two original numbers (“My Valentine”). Then pop news sites listed the reported contents, followed by Amazon taking advance orders. There have been unofficial streams of multiple tracks and even the entire disc.

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Once More, With Feeling (Fall 2011 TV): Ringer

The same week Buffy the Vampire Slayer launched its ninth season (albeit in comic book form), Sarah Michelle Geller returned to series television nearly a decade after her title role in that program ended.

First episode sampling of Ringer, Geller’s new drama on the CW, let the network tout its “best Tuesday in two years.”  Obviously audiences were curious, though retention over subsequent weeks will define success.

Ultimately that ratings performance will rest in large part on whether viewers are drawn to Sarah Michelle Geller herself in a new setting or want Geller only as part of a Joss Whedon-created narrative.

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December 7 and September 11 Bookends

Soon after the September 11 attacks, a billboard message appeared along the entire length of an industrial building outside wall not far from my neighborhood, visible along the rapid transit line from downtown Chicago to Midway airport.

Bookended by flags at both ends were two dates: Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001. Centered between them was a succinct message: “America will not forget!”

That billboard is still there. At first, the equivalency with the attack on Pearl Harbor was jarring. A decade later, that connection to World War II seems entirely apt, as we have moved from immediate shock and anger to still trying to make emotional sense of it all.

There had been much to consider by World War II’s GIs returning from the front lines and by its civilians readjusting on the home front. It took time.

So, too, amid of flood of tenth anniversary September 11 retrospectives.

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Remembering writer Nicholas Schaffner, 20 years on

Nicholas Schaffner was the quintessential New Yorker.

A respected writer, poet, and musician, he led an artist’s dream life in Greenwich Village. (Though on occasion he stopped by Chicago, usually for the annual Beatlefest fan convention.)

Nick died two decades ago, at the end of August in 1991. His passing at the age of 38 marked the first time I saw the effects of AIDS touch a personal friend.

Here are memories of my upbeat and positive last visit with Nick Schaffner, along with background on his life and writing.

[Thanks to PJ for sharing her photo of Nick Schaffner (left) along with co-author Pete Shotton (right)]

It was April 5, 1990. I was in New York City on a business trip and had the opportunity to attend an optional get together late one evening at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. A tempting lure.

However, I had already calculated that night would be my only opportunity to zip down to Greenwich  Village and visit Nicholas Schaffner.

“I have to see Nick,” I explained as I passed on the party.

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Ringo Starr’s Best Starring Role: Ringo Starr

Earlier this month, as a lead-in to the annual Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, this site posed eight survey questions about Fab Four fan favorites. There were no “correct” answers, just the quest for preferences.

Two questions had overwhelming favorite answers.

Given a choice of roles from Ringo Starr’s movie career, some preferred Atouk (from Caveman, where Ringo met future wife Barbara Bach), Mike (from the rock movie That’ll Be The Day, one of Ringo’s most-praised roles), or Frank Zappa (from Zappa’s own 200 Motels, where Ringo struck a surprisingly creditable pose as the musician’s doppelganger).

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