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Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Reel 13

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Michael Pielocik, Associate Producer, Reel 13

Holiday stress is reaching a fever pitch. The economy is in the toilet. Unemployment numbers are up. And the price of a movie ticket in Manhattan is approaching $14. I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying $14, those sexy Twilight vampires had better wash my car or make me a sandwich or something when they’re done with all their sexy vampire angst. But alas, no.

Which is why I suggest that you stay in on Saturday nights in December and enjoy great movies for free with Reel 13. This month is going to be a stellar one for our little programming block. We’ve got John Wayne in the movie that inspired every filmmaker from Kurosawa to Spielberg, The Searchers, and three, count ‘em three, Best Picture Oscar winners: West Side Story (1961), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and Annie Hall (1977). And that’s just the Classics.

As always, there are the Reel 13 Shorts that you select by voting over at the Reel 13 web site. And our December Indies are nothing to sneeze at, either. Falling Angels, starring Miranda Richardson, 13 Conversations About One Thing, starring Oscar winner Alan Arkin and Matthew McConaughey, and Jake Gyllenhaal in the cult favorite Donnie Darko, which has played to packed midnight showings for 6 years or so.


Oldham in the 2006 release, The Guatemalan Handshake

But the movie I’m most excited about in December is The Guatemalan Handshake. Starring independent musician Will Oldham (Matewan), The Guatemalan Handshake is the unconventional story of a small rural town and its oddball inhabitants. Through a series of interconnected vignettes, we learn about Donald (Oldham), who has gone missing in the wake of a meltdown at the local power plant. Narrated by Donald’s best friend, a ten-year-old girl named Turkeylegs, The Guatemalan Handshake is funny, heartbreaking, and surreal, and it’s one of those under-the-radar films that makes Reel 13 a great place to not just see some of your old favorites, but also to discover new ones.

The Guatemalan Handshake premieres on Thirteen on December 20th after Reel 13 Shorts.

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Leading with Kindness

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Guest Blogger: Bill Baker, Ph.D., President Emeritus, WNET.ORG

Attention: difficult times ahead. Hundreds of thousands will be laid off. Those who are left will face increased stress struggling to fill in for lost colleagues, worrying about their own job security, and fighting to meet corporate financial goals.

It’s time for management to get tough, right? Wrong. It’s time for managers to get kind.

For the past couple of years my colleague Michael O’Malley of Yale University and I have been making a careful study of business managers who have a reputation for treating their employees well. These are some of the top managers in the world, such as Robert Lane, CEO of Deere & Company; Eileen Fisher, founder of Eileen Fisher Clothing; and Murray Martin, CEO of Pitney Bowes. What they have to say is particularly relevant in these trying times.

During the difficult times it’s particularly important to treat employees well. Ironically, this starts with cutting jobs. When profits decline, it’s inevitable that companies will have layoffs. Some companies keep the bad news from their employees until the last moment. But employees know better than anyone that profits are declining and without any news from management, employees spend a great deal of time and emotional energy speculating about what will happen. If management is transparent about the situation with employees there will be less to talk about and more time will be spent working hard to improve the situation.

When it comes time to fire people, managers must do their best to be gracious to employees, tell them this is nothing personal, and do whatever they can to retrain them and help them find new work. Management must also make it clear that everyone is in this together. If there are pay cuts, management must take equal or more dramatic pay cuts, and management must share in the pain.

From a strictly pragmatic point of view, those employees left will see this, feel good about their employer and do their best to help the company succeed in difficult times.

Our project is called Leading with Kindness and has a resulted in a book of the same name, published in August, a website and a new film by director Gino Del Guercio, which will premiere on Thirteen, Sunday, Nov. 23 at 10:00 pm.

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New Digs at Lincoln Center

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

My calendar tends to get booked up far in advance and so I don’t usually focus on what I’m doing on a given day until a few days before. As a result, I hadn’t really focused on my plans for last night until well into the afternoon, long after I had talked to the New York Times about our new streetside studio at Lincoln Center.

After the interview, I set off to Howard Rubenstein’s classic apartment on Fifth Avenue to meet the new Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert. What better place to talk about our new studio? Staffers at the Philharmonic were as excited about our new studio as we are.

Alan told us how excited he was about his new post and told me later that he grew up in New York watching Thirteen.

The rest of the evening was spent listening to Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 108, performed by Glenn Dicterow on the violin and Helene Jeanney on the piano.

As I listened, and got carried away with music, I wondered how many performers would eventually play in our new studio. And how many others will watch and listen, and find themselves carried away, too.

Read more about the initiative.


new Lincoln Center studios
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When Jacques met Carolyn…

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Lisa Batchelder, Team Manager, Communications

Publicists are always looking for story angles. To promote the upcoming GREAT PERFORMANCES broadcast of The Nutcracker, I thought I’d ask a few cultural types to share anecdotes about the first time they ever saw The Nutcracker. The idea was to spin their quotes into a pitch about what a wonderful way The Nutcracker is to introduce kids to the arts. My pursuit led me to the legendary American dancer/choreographer Jacques d’Amboise, and I was rewarded with a great story.


d’Amboise and Balanchine
(photo by Carolyn George)

Jacques, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, has performed in literally thousands of Nutcrackers over the years. (“Literally?” I asked incredulously. “Literally,” he responded, without even the slightest hint of weariness in his voice. Gotta admire a guy like that.) As it turns out, his first Nutcracker was actually New York’s as well — the premiere of George Balanchine‘s new production, back in 1954. d’Amboise recalls:

“I was supposed to dance the lead, but there was a conflict — I was stuck in L.A. shooting the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and it had run into overtime. But I wanted to be at the premiere, so I managed to make it back to New York — just barely. I rushed straight to City Center, dropped my bags backstage, and raced up to my seat.

I was sitting with Balanchine and Lincoln Kerstein in the front mezzanine. I was just 19 years old, and I couldn’t take my eyes off this one girl. She was dancing ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and her name was Carolyn George. Well, I fell in love with her…and I married her!

To this day I can remember the exact seat I sat in for the New York premiere of The Nutcracker.”

Now, how sweet is that?

Tell us about the first time you saw The Nutcracker — and be sure to watch the San Francisco Ballet’s outstanding production on GREAT PERFORMANCES on Dec. 17 at 8:00 pm here in New York.

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The Call to Adventure

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Guest Bloggers: Denis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell, Producers and Directors, In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

It was the best-documented journey of its time, inspiring the imaginations and ambitions of countless adventurers, including Christopher Columbus. Now we, too, can follow In the Footsteps of Marco Polo, with guides as vividly exciting and engaging as Marco himself. With both their film and this book, Denis and Francis have recreated what Joseph Campbell would have applauded as “The Hero’s Journey.” Come take it yourself—and you’ll never turn back.
-Bill Moyers

In 1988, when we first watched “The Power of Myth,” Bill Moyers’ landmark series of interviews with Joseph Campbell on Thirteen, we came away knowing one thing: that we didn’t know as much as we thought we did.

So we ordered the VHS tape and book and resolved to decipher and internalize the lessons within. In many ways it gave us the courage to dream and “follow our bliss,” in spite of the many nay-sayers and myriad obstacles in our path.

When we set out to entirely retrace the route of Marco Polo we would quote passages of the program to each other to get us through rough patches. “The labyrinth is thoroughly known …”

Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that our film would premiere on Thirteen, and to have Bill Moyers write such a kind and generous review is humbling, to say the least.


Belliveau and O’Donnell in the Wakhan Corridor,
between Afghanistan and China

As native New Yorkers, we grew up with this famous television station as our only real source of intellectual programming, wonderful documentaries. Shows like Masterpiece Theater and Great Performances fired our imaginations about history and art and inspired us to learn more about the world.

We feel we’ve come full circle, home to where it all started. If our story inspires just one person to venture out and follow their dreams, then we truly would have “returned with the boon.”

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo, which chronicles Belliveau and O’Donnell’s attempt to retrace Marco Polo’s entire 25,000-mile, land-and-sea route from Venice to China and back, airs on WLIW21 Sunday, November 16 at 9:00 pm and on Thirteen Wednesday, December 10 at 8:00 pm.

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Documenting the Decline of New York City Manufacturing

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Daniel Ross, Producer, Uncertain Industry: The Decline of Manufacturing in New York City

Back in July, I began research for a short documentary series about goods manufactured in New York City. The premise was simple: when people think about New York industry, the images that come to mind are Wall Street executives, Madison Avenue ad agencies, and big media conglomerates; not blue-collar manufacturers. I wanted to find factories in the five boroughs making products most New Yorkers would never guess are made right here in the city.

What began as a profile of local producers became a document chronicling the decline of an industry.


fabricators at Milgo/Bufkin

The first company I found is a metal fabricator called Milgo/Bufkin in Greenpoint. They take flat sheets of metal and bend them into all sorts of fascinating shapes used in buildings and sculptures. Some of them you’ve undoubtedly seen around the city. As I prepared to shoot Milgo, I wondered why exactly the company operates in Brooklyn. Why haven’t they moved somewhere with cheaper real estate, where the cost of labor and insurance isn’t so high? The answer, Milgo’s President Bruce Gitlin told me, is proximity to customers – construction and architectural firms constantly building in the city – and the availability of skilled laborers (bending metal, as simple as it sounds, takes nearly a decade of training to perfect). Watch the video for more.

That got me to thinking: what about factories making products that can be easily imported, and that don’t require highly skilled workers? What keeps them in New York City? How do they stay afloat amid soaring real estate prices and stiff competition from foreign manufacturers?

After some digging, I found a Newsday profile of an umbrella manufacturer in Williamsburg that, even eight years ago when the article was written, found it difficult to make ends meet. How Embee Sunshade managed to stay in business until now fascinated me, so I gave the factory a call. It turned out the factory was in trouble. Another year or two, maybe, and it would be sold, probably to a real estate developer. See for yourself:

Uncertain Industry: Embee Sunshade from Thirteen.org on Vimeo.

Embee’s story isn’t unique. Over the past sixty years, New York City has lost nearly a million manufacturing jobs. While other sectors of the city’s economy grow, manufacturing declines, even though it provides on average higher wages for employees without high school diplomas than any other job sector. You can see the data trends here.

The city government, to its credit, hasn’t been silent about the problem. In 2005, Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan to establish Industrial Business Zones – city land designated solely for the use of manufacturing businesses. Manufacturers in these zones are eligible for tax incentives and other benefits in the hopes that they’ll stay in the city. Some planning experts, however, take issue with the IBZ plan. I spoke to Brad Lander, Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, about the plan’s pros & cons.

For my third and final shoot, I found an industrial bakery located in an IBZ, and asked its owner how the program has helped his business. Unfortunately, it hasn’t. As of September, when I shot the piece, Angel’s Bakery was facing the dilemma of paying higher rent when its lease expires in 2010 or moving out of the city and further away from its primary customers: the school district and local baked good distributors. You can watch the profile of Angel’s Bakery.

The future of New York City manufacturing remains uncertain – hence the title of this project. While jobs continue to decline, the rise in fuel and transportation prices may encourage clients to buy more local goods. Just recently, Joe Angel, owner of Angel’s Bakery, wrote to me and said September’s financial collapse may have damaged real estate prices enough to keep his rent at an affordable rate.

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A Tuesday night with the Saturday Night Movie Crew

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Matthew Kells, Series Producer, Reel 13

A white Yukon crammed with crew and conversation rolls down Lexington Avenue on a cool October evening.

“…it is, hands down, the best American film ever made.”

That is the DP on the shoot, Srael Boruchin, the film he is referring to is Police Academy II, and he is egging on the host of Reel 13 Classics, Neal Gabler. A tiny smile creeps along Neal’s lips as he measures his response:

“While I will not deny that Mr. Guttenberg is one of the true gems of the New American Cinema, the best American film ever made is without a doubt, is Meatballs.”


Neal Gabler and Matthew Kells in Times Square

The two of them are laughing now and I am checking my notes to make sure that we are still on schedule. We are heading down to the State Supreme Court Building at 60 Centre Street to shoot the introduction to Sidney Lumet’s courtroom drama 12 Angry Men. Normally we shoot outdoors, but since the entire movie is set inside a jury room at 60 Centre Street we are making an exception. As we pull up to the courthouse, Srael unloads gear onto a small cart and Neal tucks the script he’s been studying back into his pocket.

While the jury room would be the logical place to shoot in, those rooms are small and ugly, so we decide instead to shoot in one of the courtrooms. The guard unlocks the door and we roll our gear inside. Srael and I read through the script once together and then discuss the shot…Srael starts:

“Normally I’d opt to see the entire courtroom in the shot, but maybe we should just see the jury box since the whole movie is about the jurors.”

“One of the very first shots in the film is the jury walking out of a jury box so if you shoot it at this angle, it will be an almost perfect match.”

“We’ll be ready in fifteen minutes.”

Neal and I have passed drafts of the script back and forth for over a week but it is always different by the time he shows up on set; we read through it briefly and discuss how the words will sound coming out of his mouth. We make some minor fixes, which Neal commits to memory, and we are ready to shoot.

“Camera is rolling…”

“Everybody stand by…in 3…2…1.”

“Welcome to Reel 13, I’m Neal Gabler and once again we have a full evening of movies…”

For as much work goes into getting to this moment, the reads themselves are pretty much what you see on the air (minus music and some movie clips). We do four or five takes of the intro and the outro, then pack up and move on to the next location. We shoot the wraps for two or three films every time we go out, which means that there’s much more to do tonight and much more time to listen to the crew discuss “The New American Cinema.”


Reel 13 is Thirteen’s weekly movie showcase for classic, short and independent films. Every Saturday night beginning at 9:00 pm, viewers can catch a Classic hosted by Neal Gabler, followed by a Short selected by visitors to the Reel 13 web site who vote for their favorite of three short films every week. The evening ends with an Indie, hosted by Richard Peña, Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

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Changing of the Guard at SundayArts

Friday, November 7th, 2008

from: Neal Shapiro, President & CEO, WNET.ORG

Today, I got fired.

I should have seen it it coming. After all, I was the one doing the firing.

The truth is, I’ve been wanting to fire myself as host of SundayArts almost since the day I started.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very proud of the program. From the centerpiece performances, to the content we add every Sunday – the news of the week, interviews with key players in the world of visual and performing arts, features about new developments around town, and the curator’s choice that ends every program – it’s a unique contribution to the cultural life of our city.

The only thing I didn’t like was the host. That guy just didn’t cut it for me.

I originally took on the position because covering arts and culture is a vital part of what we do here at WNET.ORG, and I wanted to be personally involved in getting this important new initiative off the ground.

But all along, I also knew I wanted hosts who had real knowledge and passion as well as great insight. I had plenty of enthusiasm – sure – but I wanted people who were a lot smarter than me.

And I found them.

Many of you know Paula Zahn from her years as a television journalist. You may have seen her host other PBS programs, like Retirement Revolution and our Great Performances Carnegie Hall Opening Night from a couple of years back. What you may not know is that she is classically-trained cellist who has worked other nonprofit institutions concerned with music and arts. With her love of music and her journalistic curiosity, she’ll bring something unique as one of the hosts of SundayArts.


new hosts!

If you’re like me, you can’t imagine walking through a special exhibit at the Met without hearing Philippe de Montebello’s voice in your ear. His influence on one of the most treasured museums in the world is incalculable, and when he decided to step down after more than 30 years, he was besieged with offers. We are so honored that he has decided to devote part of his very busy post-Met life to SundayArts.

The first show for our new team will be November 9, and as I step aside, I do so with thanks for all who have joined us so far, and the knowledge that Philippe and Paula will take the program on to new heights.

Also read the New York Times story

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Governor Paterson’s Town Hall Meeting

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Guest Blogger: Kathleen Rae, Director of Government and External Affairs

On Wednesday, November 5, Josh Nathan, Thirteen’s General Counsel, and I drove up from Manhattan to the Westchester County Center in White Plains for Governor Paterson’s town hall forum. Our production crew, led by Executive Producer John DeNatale and on-air host Rafael Pi Roman, were there in full force to record the event for broadcast this evening on Thirteen and WLIW.

The Governor arrived around 4:30 pm and went right to work. In front of an audience of nearly 250 people, he fielded question after question for more than an hour about New York’s economic outlook, and what he thinks needs to be done to fix the state budget and put the economy back on track.


Paterson and Pi Roman

I’m not going to even try and repeat what he said. Please tune in tonight or watch it streamed here on our website. What I do want to share are some of my impressions of the man. The Governor is smart and funny. He’s approachable, and seems to enjoy people. I am convinced he must have both a photographic and a phonographic memory because he seems to remember virtually everything that he’s ever read or heard. His responses to the questions asked were detailed, full of facts and figures and quite fluid. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was reading straight off Rafael’s teleprompter.

All in all, it was a very interesting afternoon. I hope we do more of these televised town meetings with the Governor. It’s important for New Yorkers to see, hear and question their elected officials. And, with Governor Paterson, New Yorkers seem to have an elected official willing to listen and more than able to answer their questions.


The Fiscal Crisis and NY State: A New York Voices Special will air Thursday, November 6 at 8:00 pm on Thirteen, and at 9:00 pm on WLIW21.

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Voting Ethics

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Guest blogger: Patti Hanley, producer, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Last week an internal office memo circulated through our email, encouraging us to vote on election day. At Religion & Ethics, we have been running One Nation, our blog on religion and politics, for more than a year. I have produced several segments on the campaigns, the candidates, and the voters. After more than a year of this, it feels something like the end of a marathon. I guess the appropriate metaphor for crossing the finish line in this case would be stepping into the voting booth.

But wait: I’m a journalist. Should I be doing this? Some journalists believe that those of us in the media have a responsibility not to vote. They believe it interferes with the unbiased perspective that a journalist is supposed to have.


Hanley in the voting line

While I understand that point, I can’t help but disagree. For over a year, we have worked hard to represent many viewpoints in our campaign stories, ensuring that all voices are heard equally. Those voices from all those stories have shaped me, if I’m being completely honest. They have challenged my own beliefs and in some cases, unbeknownst to them, changed my mind. I will not reveal how I voted – but I will never excuse myself from the process.

I respect and appreciate the countless number of people who have shared their political viewpoints with us, knowing they will be broadcast nationwide. It will always be my hope that in turn, they respect us for presenting a fair and balanced portrayal of the issues – because religion and politics will continue to be news and we’ll continue to cover it.

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