entertainment

UPDATE: Perhaps it's a sign that we have to give up our nostalgic attachment to live-blogging, but technical difficulties and a totally broken live-blog have sent Stephen and me back to Twitter, where we — at @nprmonkeysee and @idislikestephen — will be tweeting at the hashtag #NPRGrammys. Thanks for your patience.

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Our plan, from the  beginning, for today’s episode of The Nose had been to ask the panelists to see “American Sniper” and then discuss this unusual movie – unusual because director Clint Eastwood’s intention was to make an anti-war statement but the movie has been embraced far more ardently by boosters of the Iraq conflict.

By the numbers, it’s a surprising story. “American Sniper” grossed a quarter of a billion dollars in the month of January. Released on December 25, it’s capable of becoming 2014’s highest grossing film, although it would have to catch the latest “Hunger Games” iteration.

Tara Baker Photograhy

In a music field crowded with singer-songwriters, Connecticut up-and-comer Connor Wallowitz is a little different. Sure, he has the requisite following on Facebook and YouTube, and a well-received debut album. But what makes Connor unique is that he's only 13 years old.

Wallowitz has written about 30 songs so far, five in the last month alone, and is gaining fans and accolades for his debut CD, Bleeding Colors. The CD was released last fall, and Connor is hard at work on what he hopes will be his follow-up album.

Alan Light / Creative Commons

I get to talk to a lot of remarkable people and still I tell you that you're about to hear a conversation with one of the most remarkable people I've encountered in five years. 

Chuck Olsen / Creative Commons

People have been predicting the death of the sitcom since at least 1999, but the current TV season has been so toxic towards them that some observers have wondered whether the sitcom, which has been around since the birth of television, has anything left to say to us. But then again, what is a sitcom? Do sitcoms have to air on network television? Do they have to have a laugh track? Or fill a half-hour time slot? Do they even have to be comedies?

This hour, we consider the art form of the sitcom with producers and critics of the genre. What is your favorite sitcom and what makes it your favorite?

Brian Friedman / Mike Lavoie/Creative Commons

I know what you're asking yourself. You're thinking, I know the Colin McEnroe staff is amazing, but how do they manage to book two big celebrities with the same initials?

Well, you're right. They are awesome. but we did not actually hatch a plan to have guests with the initials M.B. Anyway, we already did a long interview with Michael Bolton. 

At the end of last year, I had a conversation with food writer Mark Bittman, whom I've known since the earliest days of his career. We've been looking for a chance to share that interview with you.

Then we got a chance to talk to Mike Birbiglia, a comedian and teller of monologues who has been on with us twice before.

Deb West / Flickr Creative Commons

On the Nose this hour: pre-watching Super Bowl ads.

Super Bowl advertisers have forced us (conned us?) to live in their world, not just for Sunday, but for days spreading in either direction. This piece explains how, in 2011, a VW ad was released on the YouTube's days in advance of the game and went viral, setting the stage for what we have now: a protracted debate about various ads. You probably have to, on YouTube, sometimes watch an ad so you can watch an ad.

Today, that 2011 ad has 61 million views on YT. Those are people volunteering to watch it, as opposed to people waiting for the game to resume.

Puzzles: The Joy of Being Perplexed

Jan 27, 2015
Lablanco / Flickr Creative Commons

People have been puzzled since the beginning. And while that might sound like a problem, it may in fact be our preferred state of being. Since the first fires needed to be lit with tinder too damp to kindle, we've been problem solving. When one problem was solved, another was found. And when seemingly, we could no longer find enough problems to satiate our appetites, we created puzzles: problems in a box; food for our minds.

When the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots meet in the 2015 Super Bowl on Feb. 1, the broadcast booth will be anchored by a man who has done the play-by-play for eight previous Super Bowls. Al Michaels, the announcer for NBC's Sunday Night Football, knows how to put emotion into his broadcasts.

An Ode to Opera

Jan 22, 2015
David Shankbone / Creative Commons

In 2012, the New York City Opera -- what Mayor LaGuardia called "the People's Opera" -- declared bankruptcy. This is/was the opera that introduced Americans to Placido Domingo and Beverly Sills. Make what you will of the fact that the bankruptcy announcement coincided with the presentation of a new opera about Anna Nicole Smith.

This is either a problem very specific to the New York Opera, or part of a virus that has been taking down opera companies all over the U.S. and maybe all over the world. In Italy, where opera receives much more public and government support, one fourth of all major opera companies were in a version of bankruptcy as of 2008.

Wessel Krul / Creative Commons

Think of "room escape" like a fancy cocktail: one part mystery, one part problem-solving, and two parts teamwork, with a dash of adrenaline-inducing claustrophobia on top.

If you're still puzzled, then congratulations -- that's the point.

Room escape is a new form of puzzle-based entertainment that's only just begun to catch on in America. It involves transforming ordinary rooms into extraordinary playscapes: richly themed environments in which willing participants are locked inside, and forced to solve mind-bending puzzles in order to escape.

Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr Creative Commons

Academy Awards are not intrinsically important; therefore, Academy Award nominations are not intrinsically important, but these things are great moments for starting conversations and taking stock. They work pretty well as mass cultural Rorschach blots, and as is the case with many things, the ways in which they make us unhappy are probably the greatest source of interest.  

New Haven's long-shuttered Palace and Roger Sherman Theater will reopen this spring as a music hall.

Earlier today, Julianne Moore got an Oscar nomination for "Still Alice." She is by far the betting favorite to win the best actress award. But you may remember her better as Franny Hughes Crawford on "As The World Turns." And four or five years before Ellen said "I'm gay," Bill Douglas came out as a gay teenager on One Life to Live. That character was played by Ryan Philippe. In fact, Leo DiCaprio, Maria Tomei, Tommy Lee Jones, Parker Posey, Kevin Bacon, Meg Ryan, they all worked on soaps before they moved on. 

Now there are only four soap operas left – drawn out, dramatic stories that used to be sponsored by soap manufacturers, and now are struggling to maintain relevance to house wives who have a lot more options in the middle of the day. We'll talk about this slice of Americana with those in the industry, and a professor who co-directs “Project Daytime.”

[At the top of this post, you'll find a discussion I had with Stephen Thompson, my Pop Culture Happy Hour co-panelist, about the Oscar nominations. Tomorrow's full PCHH episode more fully covers the film Selma.]

Surrounded by his cast mates and the show's executive producer, Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor faced a crowd of journalists backstage at the Golden Globe awards Sunday, and made the case for why his win as best actor in a comedy meant more than a typical Hollywood honor.

"This is about changing people's lives," said Tambor, who won his award playing a 70-year-old coming out as transgender. Earlier, while accepting his award on national TV, he dedicated his award and performance to the transgender community.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

What is it we salute when we salute the flag of Jeopardy?

I really don't know the answer nor do I know how to put it in the form of a question.

There are some obvious answers. Jeopardy celebrates competence. It acknowledges the idea there are things worth knowing and that people who know them deserve a slightly different status than people who don't.

Empire comes to Fox with an interesting pedigree: It was created by Danny Strong (who's written multiple award-winning projects for HBO) and Lee Daniels, who made Precious and The Butler — both films with a sheen of prestige, but both films to which people reacted in complex ways. It stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, who are both past Oscar nominees. The executive music producer is Timbaland, who's worked with all kinds of folks, including Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake.

Although it wasn't a great year for the shows themselves, it was a good year for programming, says TV critic David Bianculli.

"In terms of what was happening on television, in terms of new and old formats and new, exciting players coming into the mix — [it was] another good year," Bianculli tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I'm actually kind of encouraged."

Bianculli reflects on how far TV has come.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

It doesn't really even make any sense what has happened at the Goodspeed Opera House every since  Michael Price took over the late 1960s. East Haddam, which is conveniently located near absolutely nothing, has played host to Mike Nichols, Idina Menzel, Jerry Herman, Mark Hamill, Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Julie Andrews...I could go on.

After nine years, Stephen Colbert is retiring the character he created for The Colbert Report, the conservative, self-important blowhard who opines about the news and the media. The final episode airs Thursday. Colbert will take over as host for The Late Show, replacing the retiring David Letterman.

Wikimedia user Jelson25

Hollywood sometimes has an image problem and recently leaked emails from Sony executives are not helping that image. Responses from some of those executives, including filmmaker Aaron Sorkin, may actually be making it even worse. 

Plagued by controversy and sharp drops in attendance and stock prices, SeaWorld has announced that CEO Jim Atchison will step aside.

U-T San Diego reports that the amusement park also plans on cutting an unspecified number of jobs. Atchison, according to the newspaper, will receive a $2.4 million payout and become vice chairman of the board.

Chairman David F. D'Alessandro will take on the job of chief executive officer while a permanent replacement is sought.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Pope Francis changed our plans for The Nose today when it was revealed informally that the souls of animals may go to heaven. In fairness, the Pope was consoling a boy whose dog had died but nonetheless, the pronouncement kicked off a larger conversation that ranged from the outreach Christian wing of PETA - who knew there was one - to the National Pork Producers Council.  

Sons of Anarchy is probably the most macho drama on television, featuring a gang of gun-running, porn-making bikers.

But the biggest moment of the final season has featured a woman: Gemma Teller (played by Katey Sagal), mother to biker club president Jax Teller. Gemma admitted killing Jax's wife, Tara, and lying about it, which started a gang war.

When Gemma finally came clean, Jax insisted she pay the ultimate price.

Ralph H. Baer, the man widely acknowledged as the "father of home video games" for his pioneering work in electronics and television engineering, died on Saturday at his home in Manchester, N.H. He was 92.

Chion Wolf

Food is so personal. You put it in your mouth. You probably even have very specific ways of putting it in your mouth.

One of our guests today, Dan Pashman, would want to know for example, whether when you get your movie popcorn you maybe eat a piece or two just dipping your head down to the container popcorn while you're walking from the snack bar to the screening room and if so, do you snare it bullfrog style, sticking it to your tongue as you lift it away.

Foxwoods Resort Casino says it has indefinitely postponed Bill Cosby's concert appearance that was scheduled for January.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

You've probably heard, seen and read a lot about Bill Cosby this week, but I think today's Nose panel tears into the topic in some interesting ways. I hope you'll listen and maybe even comment down below. Later in this show, you'll hear us talk about Mike Nichols, a disagreement about how many people can live as a family in a one-family house, and whether Allison Williams can forbid us from live tweeting her live NBC appearance as Peter Pan.

Updated at 8:40 a.m.

Award-winning director Mike Nichols has died at the age of 83, ABC News announced in a statement.

"He was a true visionary, winning the highest honors in the arts for his work as a director, writer, producer and comic and was one of a tiny few to win the EGOT — an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony in his lifetime," ABC News President James Goldston said in the statement.

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