A&E debuts dog competition series ‘America’s Top Dog’

November 20, 2019

The following is a press release from A&E:

A competitor leaps over a fence in the ultimate K9 obstacle course in A&E’s “America’s Top Dog.” (Photo by Nico Therin/A&E)
A competitor leaps over a fence in the ultimate K9 obstacle course in A&E’s “America’s Top Dog.” (Photo by Nico Therin/A&E)

In each one-hour episode of “America’s Top Dog,” four police K9 teams, including fan-favorites from the hit series “Live PD,” and one civilian team will face off for the title of “Top Dog” in three rounds of high velocity, furry competition. The skilled teams will be tested on their speed, agility, scenting ability, and teamwork by completing a series of expert tasks on one of the biggest and toughest K9 obstacle courses ever assembled – designed by experts to mimic real-life challenges that these furry heroes face every day on the beat. Teams will navigate a complex maze to locate scented items and apprehend a suspect in a bite suit with a takedown, among a variety of other challenges. Each week’s winning team will receive $10,000 and an additional $5,000 to donate to the animal charity of their choice. In the final week of competition, top competitors will return to the finale course to battle for the title of “America’s Top Dog” and an additional $25,000 cash prize.

Series host Curt Menefee is an award-winning veteran studio and game broadcaster who currently co-hosts “Fox NFL Sunday” in addition to wrap-up show “The OT.” Alongside Menefee, expert trainer Nick White is both a former US Marine and member of the Secret Service with years of experience working with K9s as the owner of a dog training company with locations across the country. Menefee and White watch the action unfold on the course each week and provide in-depth explanation on the competition rounds. Jamie Little is a seasoned motor sports reporter covering the pit road for FOX NASCAR, as well as an animal rescue ambassador who served as a reporter at the 2019 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Little acts as sideline reporter on the course speaking with the teams as they make their way through the competition.

 

 

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘I Want My MTV’

May 3, 2019

by Carla Hay

Animation image from MTV in “I Want My MTV” (Photo by Candy Kugel)

“I Want My MTV”

Directed by Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on May 1, 2019.

The documentary film “I Want My MTV” should come with a warning that the movie is primarily the story of MTV’s first decade in the 1980s. Even with that narrow view, the film misses the mark in many areas. The documentary relies too heavily on the words of the self-congratulatory executives who founded MTV, instead of taking a more responsible, investigative approach and seeking out a more diverse array of perspectives of people who are also part of MTV’s history. The film delivers if you want a predictable and superficial ride down memory lane—commentary on artists and old music videos are expected—but this documentary glosses over and ignores a lot of MTV’s real history.

The story of MTV (Music Television) has been already told in several books, news reports and articles. The network had humble beginnings, because it had a tiny start-up budget, and many people (including a few of its early executives) thought MTV was a bad idea that would fail. MTV’s early network-identification promo video that had NASA footage of the 1969 moon landing was prompted out of necessity because the footage was in the public domain (in other words, free), and MTV couldn’t really afford a fancy ad campaign at the time.  Launched on August 1, 1981, MTV started out as a 24-hour music network that initially wasn’t even available in a lot of big cities, such as New York, where MTV is headquartered.

MTV’s lack of availability on many cable systems was the impetus for the famous “I Want My MTV” ad campaign where major artists (such as Mick Jagger, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Boy George, The Police, David Bowie and The Who’s Pete Townshend) said the “I Want My MTV” slogan on camera, and urged people to call their local cable companies to add MTV to their channel lineups. Les Garland, who used to be a programming executive at MTV, takes credit for getting Jagger to do an “I Want My MTV” spot, by essentially convincing the money-minded Jagger that he would be filming a promotional video, not an ad. As a joke, Garland said he paid Jagger just $1 after the spot was filmed.

MTV’s music library also started off very small, as most of the initial videos available were from British artists (who were used to making music videos for shows like “Top of the Pops”) or American artists whose music videos usually consisted of cheaply filmed live performances with the studio recordings dubbed in post-production. The first two videos played on MTV exemplified these types of clips: the futuristic “Video Killed the Radio Star” from The Buggles (a British New Wave band) and the simple performance clip “You Better Run” from Pat Benatar, who was America’s top female rock star at the time.

Several artists who became popular on MTV in the early ‘80s are interviewed in the documentary, such as Benatar and her guitarist/husband Neil Geraldo; Idol; Sting (co-founder of The Police); Eurythmics members Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart; REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin; and Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh. Also interviewed are two of MTV’s original VJs: Mark Goodman (a radio vet who describes his MTV audition process as “a little creepy” because it was in a hotel room, not a TV studio) and Alan Hunter, a self-described failed actor who got the job, despite having a “terrible” audition and no experience in broadcasting or the music industry. (MTV’s other original VJs—Nina Blackwood and Martha Quinn—are not interviewed, although there is archival footage of all the original VJs in the documentary. J.J. Jackson, another original MTV VJ, died of a heart attack in 2004, at the age of 62.)

To its credit, the documentary does not shy away from the controversy over MTV’s programming decisions. In its first two years, the network was frequently accused of racism for not playing enough black artists. MTV’s all-white first executive team—which included John Lack, Bob Pittman, Gail Sparrow, Fred Seibert, Tom Freston, Judy McGrath, John Sykes and Andrew Setos (Garland joined MTV later, after he had a long stint in radio)—are all interviewed in this documentary. Various excuses are given for excluding top-selling black artists from MTV’s playlists in the network’s early years.

One frequently given excuse is that the original concept of MTV was that it was supposed to be a rock’n’roll music channel. However, it’s a weak excuse because among the few black artists played on MTV in its early years were non-rock acts such as Musical Youth, Eddy Grant and Herbie Hancock. Meanwhile, bigger artists such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Rick James and Earth, Wind & Fire were being ignored by MTV.

The documentary includes a clip from the notorious 1983 MTV interview that Bowie did with Goodman, where Bowie asks Goodman why so few black artists are played on MTV. Goodman uncomfortably explains that too many black artists on MTV might scare the audience, especially those in “middle America.” It’s an incredibly racist belief, not to mention a condescending insult that wrongfully stereotypes people in the Midwest as automatically more racist than people who live on the East Coast and West Coast. Bowie’s withering stare and curt response in the interview speak volumes of his disgust. In the documentary, a present-day Goodman admits to being embarrassed about the interview all these years later, and he offers a sheepish apology for it.

The Bowie/Goodman interview exposed the mentality of MTV executives at the time, but the former MTV executives interviewed for this documentary who were in charge of making those decisions are still indignant and in denial over their racism. It’s not too surprising, because people who want to be thought of as “liberal” and “open-minded” don’t want to admit on camera that they’ve been racist. The former MTV executives are quick to pat themselves on the back in this documentary (Sparrow calls herself and the other executives “trend-setters, risk-takers and rebels”), but they don’t properly acknowledge their old-fashioned bigoted beliefs that prevented a lot of people of color from being part of MTV in its early years.

One example of this hypocrisy is when Sparrow, with hatred still etched on her face, talks about how Rick James’ “Super Freak” video was unacceptable to MTV at the time because James reminded her of a pimp and she didn’t like the way women were portrayed in the video. Yet, she doesn’t mention that MTV was willing to play videos from numerous (white) heavy-metal bands that often showed women in much more degrading scenarios, such as barely clothed or locked up in cages. Maybe MTV executives like Sparrow just didn’t like to see a music video of a black man being a sex symbol with women of different races. James was an outspoken critic of MTV at the time for not playing enough black artists, so it’s likely that MTV also had an unofficial ban on James, out of spite.

One of the most irresponsible parts of the “I Want My MTV” documentary is how it fails to give the full story of how Michael Jackson broke the racial barrier at MTV. Pittman tries to rewrite MTV history in this documentary by saying about the racism accusations: “Michael Jackson single-handedly pulled us out of that controversy,” and that it was MTV’s idea to “start courting Michael Jackson.” He also makes it sound like MTV had the vision to play Jackson’s videos right when his “Thriller” album was hitting big. What Pittman and the documentary did not talk about was the well-documented fact that CBS/Epic Records (namely, record-label chief Walter Yetnikoff) demanded that MTV play Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video or else the record company would boycott MTV. When MTV caved in, and saw that Jackson became the network’s most-requested artist, that opened the doors for more black artists to be played on MTV.

Yetnikoff, who was not interviewed for this documentary, told more details about this controversy in his 2001 memoir, “Howling at the Moon,” as well as in several media interviews. His credible account of MTV playing Michael Jackson only after MTV was threatened with a boycott has also been verified by numerous non-MTV people in the music industry who were involved at the time, none of whom are interviewed in this documentary.

The movie mentions that as MTV’s popularity grew in the 1980s, tensions grew between MTV and record companies because the record companies eventually wanted MTV to pay licensing fees for the videos. However, this documentary did not interview anyone who worked at record companies at the time to give their perspective. Video-promotion executives, who were on the front lines of music-industry relations with MTV, are shamefully left out of this documentary. Unlike some big-name artists, these past and present record-company executives are not that hard to get for interviews, so not including them in this film just shows that these documentary filmmakers were too lazy to get this valuable insight or they just didn’t care.

And even though “I Want My MTV” addresses the issue of MTV excluding many top-selling black artists in the network’s early years, ironically, the documentary does some noticeable racial excluding of its own, since no women of color are interviewed in the documentary at all.  The movie focuses primarily on MTV in the ‘80s, and gives a spotlight to a long list of artists from that era, so it’s mind-boggling that this documentary erases black female artists who had a big impact on MTV in the ‘80s—such as Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Salt-N-Pepa—by not giving a spotlight to any of these women of color.

No disrespect to Tegan and Sara (who were never really big artists on MTV but are interviewed in this documentary anyway), but there are plenty of women of color who were more influential in MTV’s history who could have been interviewed for this documentary but weren’t. The few people of color in this film who are interviewed are black men who talk about hip-hop or “Yo! MTV Raps”: Fab 5 Freddy, Ed Lover and Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniel, who says that Run-DMC was probably the first popular MTV rap act because Run-DMC incorporated a lot of rock music in its songs.

MTV’s influence in hard rock/heavy-metal’s popularity in the mid-to-late 1980s—as well as many of the genre’s sexist videos that got heavy airtime on MTV—are also addressed in the documentary. On the one hand, former MTV executive McGrath says that all that sexist content was “demoralizing.” On the other hand, she and other executives were responsible for choosing to give it so much airtime on MTV. Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” video (which shows model Bobbie Brown being blasted with a fire hose by members of the band wearing firefighter hats) is mentioned in the documentary as an example of the types of MTV-approved rock videos where women were frequently treated as nothing more than playthings and props. Poison lead singer Bret Michaels, who’s interviewed in the documentary, says the popular MTV videos that Poison made were all in good fun.

Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson offers a different perspective of how the testosterone-fueled, often-sexist hard rock videos that MTV favored had an effect on her own career. She and her lead-singer sister Ann Wilson (who co-founded the rock band Heart) became successful with Heart in the mid-‘70s, when they didn’t have to wear revealing clothing to sell records. But by the mid-‘80s, Heart’s record company was pressuring them to make sexpot videos with cleavage-baring outfits that the Wilson sisters say they now regret doing. Nancy Wilson says that a lot of that pressure was because of MTV’s preference of showing rock videos with scantily clad women.

Music-video directors are given minimal scrutiny in the documentary. Mark Pellington, an early MTV hire, is interviewed, and says he was hired even though he had no experience at the time. A few music-video directors who went on to become major film directors are barely mentioned in the documentary, such as David Fincher and Michael Bay. However, the film does talk about how Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video (directed by John Landis) was a game-changer that impacted how videos were made, as budgets became larger and concepts became more elaborate.

In addition to “Thriller,” other music videos that are mentioned as the most-influential of the 1980s include a-ha’s “Take on Me,” Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” and Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” And although there are numerous artists whose careers were boosted because their videos got played on MTV, the documentary mentions that a few artists had their careers damaged by this exposure. Billy Squier is singled out in particular, for his 1984 “Rock Me Tonite” video (in which he awkwardly dances and slithers around in a “Flashdance”-styled ripped tank top), which ruined his rock credibility, and his career was never the same.

The documentary shows that the end of MTV’s ’80s golden era was around 1987, when some of the original team of network executives and VJs began to leave. It was also around this time that MTV began introducing more non-music programs, such as the game show “Remote Control,” which had a then-unknown Adam Sandler as a cast member.

As former MTV executive Freston says in the documentary, reality TV was “a blessing and a curse” for MTV. Grammy-winning musician Jack Antonoff adds that he (just like many other people who grew up with MTV) became frustrated with the decrease in music content on MTV over the years. The documentary also interviews OK Go, Good Charlotte twins Benji and Joel Madden and indie rock twins Tegan and Sara to offer their perspectives of musicians who were toddlers or weren’t even born when MTV was launched. (By 2010, MTV removed the words “music television” from its logo.)

One of the biggest flaws in the documentary is how it barely mentions the impact of the annual MTV Video Music Awards, which launched in 1984. Many of MTV’s biggest pop-culture moments came from the MTV VMAs. Perhaps the filmmakers couldn’t get the rights to a lot of VMA footage, but that shouldn’t have prevented the documentary from giving more time to discuss the VMAs, other than a passing mention.

Because the focus of “I Want My MTV” is so heavily concentrated on 1980s-era MTV, the documentary breezes through mentions of MTV’s post-1980s programming, such as “The Real World,” “Singled Out” and “Jersey Shore.” Artists who became popular on MTV after the ‘80s are barely acknowledged, so don’t expect to see anything significant about Eminem, Nirvana, the Spice Girls, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Sean Combs, Jennifer Lopez, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears or any boy bands. Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell and Tori Amos are among the few ’90s-era artists who are interviewed in the documentary. It’s briefly mentioned at the end of the film that YouTube  (which launched in 2005) has significantly decreased MTV’s influence, and YouTube is now the main outlet where people see music videos.

“I Want My MTV” could have been a better documentary if directors Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop didn’t let the film be dominated by executives who haven’t worked at MTV in years, and if the filmmakers included a wider variety of people whose careers were also significantly impacted by MTV. In order to do a truly comprehensive history of MTV, the documentary probably should have been an episodic series instead of a feature-length film. “I Want My MTV” also comes at a time when a lot of people don’t want MTV, because the network just isn’t that relevant to pop culture as it was in the 1980s and 1990s. But for people nostalgic about MTV’s glory days and looking for a thorough examination of MTV’s history, this documentary is ultimately an incomplete disappointment with a lot of valuable perspectives shut out of the film.

A&E will premiere “I Want My MTV” on a date to be announced.

A&E will have documentaries about Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls

June 5, 2017

Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur
Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur

The following is a press release from A&E:

A&E Network will premiere the definitive documentary “Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G.” as the inaugural project airing under the recently relaunched ‘Biography’ banner.  The three-hour, deeply personal biography will allow the late Christopher Wallace to narrate his own incredible life story by employing exclusive archival footage and audio recordings that have never been heard before as well as new interviews by those who loved him most.  In addition, A&E will also premiere the six-part limited series “Who Killed Tupac?” which will follow famed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump as he conducts, for the first time ever, a no-stone-unturned investigation twenty years after the death of the dynamic and influential rapper and actor.  “Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G.” will air all three hours on Monday, September 4 at 8PM ET/PT on A&E.

“Who Killed Tupac?” which will air as six, weekly installments moves to Q4 2017.

“The late Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur continue to impact the world two decades after their tragic, unsolved murders and there is still a public longing to connect with these figures and to celebrate their legacies,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, Executive Vice President and Head of Programming, A&E Network. “We pride ourselves in delivering projects under the ‘Biography’ banner that unearth a side of the story that the public has never seen before.  In the case of “Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G.,” the foundation of this biography is exclusive archival footage and audio recordings of Biggie himself, packaged in a way that allows him to tell his own life story as if its present day and we are truly excited to be able to bring that kind of intimacy and connection to his fans.”

Directed by Mark Ford, “Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G.” is the first biography to be authorized by his estate and will be the most personal and revealing documentary about the late Christopher Wallace that anyone has ever seen.  It will provide interviews with those closest to him including his widow Faith Evans, his mother Voletta Wallace, his close friend Lil Cease and members of Junior Mafia as well as cultural icons Sean “Diddy” Combs, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and Nas.

Twenty years after his death, this intimate documentary will also focus on Faith Evans as she embarks on an emotional journey to reconcile her own turbulent memories.  In addition, the special will explore the people and places that shaped his life including his youth hustling on the streets of Brooklyn, NY, his rise to fame with his confidante and collaborator Sean “Diddy” Combs, his relationships with Faith Evans and Lil’ Kim, his feud with Tupac Shakur, and his shocking murder on the streets of Los Angeles.

“Who Killed Tupac?” is a six-hour limited series, focusing on the investigation, twenty years after the death of the prolific and influential rapper and actor, Tupac Shakur.  Each installment of this investigative series will include aspects from the legendary artist’s life as well as follow famed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump as he conducts a full-scale, intensive investigation into key theories behind his murder.  Crump has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and other victims of gun violence who many believe were denied their due process of the law.  When Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, who went to high school with Crump’s mother, saw that he was fighting for truth and justice for the family of Trayvon Martin, she expressed to him how important that was and that this fight is not just for Tupac and Trayvon, but for all our young black men who didn’t get justice.  In exploring how Tupac didn’t get his due process, Crump seeks to show how it is relevant to what is happening in the social justice movement in America today.  Through Tupac’s own words and exclusive new interviews with eyewitnesses, family, friends, and colleagues, viewers will come to understand every facet of Tupac Shakur’s complex personality.  Key interviews include Tupac’s brother Mopreme Shakur, his childhood friend E.D.I. Mean as well as other members of his group Outlawz, Al Sharpton, radio personality Big Boy, Christopher Darden, his first manager Leila Steinberg, former MTV correspondent Tabitha Soren, executives at Death Row Records, former gang members of the Bloods and the Crips, Quincy “QDIII” Jones III and Digital Underground’s Money-B.

Building on its roots as a trusted source of information, initial content on Biography.com re-launching June 7 (under the “Biography” brand), will include new and updated hip hop industry profiles, including everyone from veterans Grand Wizzard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash, to breakout star Chance the Rapper and mogul Kanye West.  The site will include “The 1000 Word Series” which will roll out online, following each “Biography” project’s linear debut, and aims to provide audiences additional enriched content that allows for full viewer immersion.  This additional series will kick off with a letter written to Tupac, accompanied by audio, from author and collaborator, Kevin Powell, as well as a video component and a heartfelt letter written to Biggie Smalls from friend, colleague, and author Steve Stoute.

“Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G.” is directed by Mark Ford and produced by Creature Films in association with Entertainment One (eOne).  Executive producers for Creatures Films are Mark Ford and Kevin Lopez.  Executive Producers for eOne are John Morayniss and Tara Long.  Voletta Wallace and Faith Evans also serve as executive producers.  Executive producers for A&E are Elaine Frontain Bryant, Shelly Tatro and Brad Abramson.  A+E Networks holds worldwide distribution rights for “Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G.”

“Who Killed Tupac?” is produced by Renegade 83 in association with FGW Productions. Executive producers for Renegade 83 are Jay Renfroe and David Garfinkle. Stephanie Frederic is the executive producer for FGW Productions.  Additionally, Vince DiPersio serves as executive producer.  Jason Sklaver serves as executive producer and director.  Benjamin Crump also serves as executive producer.  Executive producers for A&E are Elaine Frontain Bryant, Shelly Tatro and Brad Abramson.  A+E Networks holds worldwide distribution rights for “Who Killed Tupac?”