Entertainment Spotlight

  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

Asian Americans on TV? What a Concept! And Ben goes to a parade…and the Grammys.

Ben Fong-Torres

Asian Americans on TV? What a Concept! And Ben goes to a paradeand the Grammys.

If it strikes you as odd that Asian Americans, for all of our inroads into the mainstream, have yet to be seen widely on television, you are not alone.

And, in recent times, there've been some noble attempts to raise APA profiles, ranging from Stir TV (on the International Channel as well as KTSF in San Francisco) to Pacific Fusion, a San Francisco production thats airing locally and on a Hawaiian station.

Now comes word, by way of a report by San Francisco Chronicle TV columnist Tim Goodman, of ImaginAsian TV, which hopes to become the first 24/7 Asian American channel.

Based in New York, ImaginAsian hopes to present what it calls Pan-Asian programming in English. Besides a Web site, a movie theater in New York City, and a radio show in San Francisco, it's launched a sitcom called "Uncle Morty's Dub Shack." According to Goodman, "It's about four friends in a rap groupnone of them too brightwho pick up cash helping Morty dub really bad Asian films into English. Its 'Mystery Science Theatre 3000' meets the Beastie Boys."

ImaginAsian, Goodman says, is pretty low-budget and will be facing some pretty stiff competition soon. For one, MTV is launching three channels: MTV China, MTV Korea, and MTV Desi (aimed at South Asian Americans). For one thing, the International Channel, home of the lively Stir TV show, is planning to drop African, Arabic, French, Iranian, and other programming in late March, and go exclusively Asian.

But ImaginAsian TV is doing all right, having been picked up by stations and cable systems in Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Reno, and Ventura as well as the San Francisco Bay Area.

Things just may be looking up.

FLOAT ON: For the ninth year in a row, I co-anchored KTVU's coverage of the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade, which means I'm three-fourths of the way through the ol Lunar Calendar. For the Year of the Rooster gala, I was teamed with KTVU news anchor Julie Haener for the fifth time, and, once again, she saved my neck with her ability to adlib through unexpected lags and other the other nasty surprises that come with every live broadcast of a two-hour, 130-unit parade. Although the parade can draw as many as 500,000 people to the streets, which, to me, translates to fewer potential TV viewers, two things happened this year. There was a controversy about an organization that was rejected by parade organizerseither because they were too political, in the eyes of China's government or because, last year, they violated parade rules by handing out pamphlets, or both, or neither. Whatever, the incident got some media attention.

Second, it rained like crazy the day before and of the parade. That served to keep a lot of people away, and, although the rain let up just before the start time (5:30 p.m.), many stayed home, and enough tuned in that we had our highest ratings in years, and reason to crow.

PARTY DOWN: For the first time in probably three decades, I attended the Grammys. Besides getting a healthy dose of today's biggest starsKanye, Black Eyed Peas, Maroon 5, Los Lonely Boys, Franz Ferdinand, Alicia Keys, and UsherI got updated on music industry parties. They are over the top.

I'd been invited by a long-time friend, Paula Batson, to serve as her date for the Grammys. She works at BMG in New York and keeps a condo in Los Angeles. That's where we met, to jump into a limo for the ride to Staples Center. With our VIP tickets, we had excellent seatsalmost as good as those at home in front of the TVand caught all the stars: Green Day, Gretchen Wilson, Tim McGraw, Jamie Foxx joining Keys; James Brown dancing with Usher; Gwen Stefani, and, yes, the J.Lo point of the evening.

But for many in the industry, the real fun starts after the show, when they spread out to various hotels and restaurants for parties, hosted by artists, labels and industry bigwigs. NARAS (the recording academy), which produces the Grammys, staged the most immediate oneright in the Staples complex. It was also one of the biggest, with several thousand invitees, and most impossible to navigate. There were long lines to get in, to get through security, and then to get anything, whether it was food, drinks, or even other guests. Well, you could get to other guests, but just try and talk with them, what with the electronica being blasted at you from all sides. After standing in line for a custom-poured Petron margarita (everything at the Grammys is sponsored), Paula and I made out way out, picking up a goodie bag including a blank CD. Odd, said Paula, given the record industrys vigilant stance against downloading music.

Thanks to our limo, we were soon at the Beverly Hills Hotel for EMI's poolside party. First, of course, we were in line. Once we got in, I spotted Bonnie Raitt, whod just performed as part of a show-ending tribute to Ray Charles. She was busy giving a radio interview, so we went on down to the pool and into more sensory overload, with DJ music, flashing, dancing lights, and stars dashing aboutAnita Baker here; Quentin Tarantino there; Joss Stone somewhere. Crazy.

With only a few hundred guests, it was pretty easy scoring drinks and getting a couple of those tiny roast beef sandwiches (Im not sure who sponsored them), and we settled in for an hour or so, meeting Bruce Lundvall, the president of Blue Note (home of Norah Jones, Al Green and many other worthies) and lots of industry folk who wanted to know about Almost Famous.

Finally, we made our way out, only to be misdirected, past a line of people still waiting to get in, and into a downstairs lounge. There, I ran into Bonnie Raitt, sitting at a table with several performers, including the crooner Steve Tyrell. I grabbed Bonnie and asked her to tape a message for me to use on my new radio show. (I can do this kind of stuff because she still likes the piece I did on her in Rolling Stone more than a few years ago. In fact, she told me, she just re-read it the other day.) Mission accomplished, Paula and I swept out into the night, the Hollywood skies filled with stars and with the music from the party, which mustve been audible for a mile around. That night, if you only wanted to hear a Grammy party, you didn't need to stand in line.

P.S. Regarding my radio show: It's on only five stations around the country, Saturday nights from midnight to 3. Its part of an all-night package called "Moonlight Groove Highway," coming mostly from the radio studio at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (I do my show from San Francisco.) For more info, check out www.midnightgroove.com. And portions of some shows are streaming at www.midnightgrooveradio.com.

TO YOUR HEALTH: Last time out, I admitted to having turned a certain age (I forget which it was, now), and ran an excerpt of a George Carlin routine about getting older. I promised to present the rest of his pieceon how to stay youngthis time around. With pride that I remembered, heres George:

1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctors worry about them. That is why you pay them!

2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.

3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever.
Never let the brain idle. "An idle mind is the devil's workshop." And the devil's name is Alzheimer's.

4. Enjoy the simple things.

5. Laugh often ... long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.

6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person who is with us our entire life, is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive.

7. Surround yourself with what you love whether it's family, pets, keepsakes,
music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.

8. Cherish your health. If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.

9. Don't take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall ... even to the next county to a foreign country, but NOT to where the guilt is.

10. Tell the people you love that you love them at every opportunity.

AND ALWAYS REMEMBER: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

Thanks, George, and happy 70th to George Yamasaki, who turned 70 in style at the Plush Room in San Francisco, surrounded by family, friends and musicians (George is a pianist as well as an immigration attorney). He's lived by Carlins credo, and its paid off.

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