Friday, October 10, 2014

Alex Trebek, Out of Africa

TV's Jeopardy host is from Canada but his soul belongs to Africa.  That's pretty much what he said last Friday night on Turner Classic Movies.  TCM's Friday Night Spotlight is on Africa -- and Alex Trebek is the special host for films about and shot in Africa.
I like Alex Trebek a lot.  I totally dig him on Jeopardy.  And I've been a hardcore fan of TCM since 2000.  I'm also passionate about diversity on television.  I look to see black talent included in areas in which we've usually been excluded.  Some of those areas are movie critics on network TV news programs, movie hosts on national TV channels and hosts of upscale film-related interview shows like Inside the Actors Studio.  Through his decades of excellent entertainment journalism and his TCM on-air work, Robert Osborne has given fine and welcomed attention to the contributions of minorities.  The other hosts we see on TCM are Ben Mankiewicz (related to a famous Hollywood family) and Osborne's co-host for Saturday's The Essentials, Drew Barrymore (also related to a famous Hollywood family).

Full disclosure:  For years starting in 2000, I pitched myself to work for TCM.  Not as a host.  As a script writer or someone else in the production team.  I felt that my VH1 talk show host years provided some info that I could've incorporated into fresh on-air copy for host movie introductions.  I never got a TCM job interview.  But I did get contacted by a nice TCM producer named Darcy Hettrich when TCM wanted to book Whoopi Goldberg as a Guest Programmer in 2007.  At the time, I worked with and sat right next to Whoopi as a full time talent and film reviewer on her syndicated weekday morning radio show.  I told Whoopi about the TCM invitation and she immediately said "Yes."  I helped Darcy hook it up without her having to go through an agent or a manager.  Whoopi was the only black person we saw as a guest host on AMC when it was still American Movie Classics in the 1990s.  Its team of regular hosts was all-white.  When AMC auditioned for a new host, I had no luck getting into the auditions.  And that was after my years on VH1.

So...if Alex Trebek had been unavailable to host TCM's Friday Night Spotlight on Africa for October...who would I have approached?  Hmmmm.  Maybe LeVar Burton, TV's famous Reading Rainbow host and star of the acclaimed TV mini-series, Roots.  After his huge success in Roots, Burton starred opposite Steve McQueen in McQueen's last film, 1980's The Hunter.
Or Tony winning singer/actress and television performer Leslie Uggams, also a star of Roots, the historical saga of African-Americans that starts its saga in Africa.  She sings over the opening and closing credits of 1960's Inherit the Wind starring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.
Or Lou Gossett, Jr.  He's another star of TV's Roots.  Gossett starred in the original Broadway cast and film version of A Raisin in the Sun with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee.  A Poitier film (Something of Value) airs one Friday this month.  Lou Gossett was the first black man to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  He won for his drill sergeant performance in An Officer and a Gentleman co-starring Richard Gere.

Or Delroy Lindo, seen in Spike Lee's Malcolm X, Crooklyn and Clockers.  He's one of the few black people seen on cable TV as host of an upscale film-related interview show (The Directors, 1999).  He matched Michael Caine's Oscar-winning brilliance as a supporting character in The Cider House Rules.  Man, was Mr. Lindo good in that movie!

Delroy Lindo stars in Mountains of the Moon, one of the films TCM will show for its Friday Night Spotlight on Africa this month.

Or Wesley Morris.  When Morris was a columnist for The Boston Globe, he won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for film criticism.  The first winner in that category was the late Roger Ebert.  Morris is the only black journalist to win the prize for film criticism.
Or...12 Years a Slave Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winner, lovely Lupita Nyong'o.  She was raised in Kenya and graduated from the Yale Drama Department.  But she might be busy shooting the new Star Wars movie.
Those are just a few ideas from me for hosts TCM could've tapped to present films about Africa this month...if Alex Trebek was not available.

Other Africa-related films that air Fridays this month on TCM include Sanders of the River (starring actor/singer/activist Paul Robeson), Mogambo, Out of Africa, The English Patient plus the politically potent and still relevant classic, The Battle of Algiers.

To show you the work I pitched to Turner Classic Films for a behind-the-scenes production gig, here are short samples from my old VH1 talk show.

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