Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Magic on the Boulevard? "The Real Hustle"

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."
Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

Before I go all biblical on you (relax, Comrade Blog-Reader, I am only with the joke-making), allow me the indulgence of a brief rant. Many years ago, the LA Times came up with an incredibly irritating advertising slogan lauding itself as a “Great Newspaper! Great Use-Paper!” How many times did I sit in a darkened movie theater, waiting for the feature attraction while enduring yet another seemingly endless commercial for the LA Times -- a commercial that invariably ended with that idiotic phrase? Dozens, hundreds, countless times...

There have been some terrific writers on the Times’ staff over the years, but whoever wrote that steaming pile of doggerel should have been fired.

Still, it stuck in my brain -- and at the time, might even have been true. Back then, the LA Times was working hard to achieve the journalistic clout sufficient to give the New York Times – the “Gray Lady” herself -- a run for her money. If they fell short of this noble goal, I have to give them credit for trying. Unfortunately, such shoot-for-the-stars ambition is a thing of the past. Now owned and managed by the Chicago Tribune, the Times staff has endured round after round of cost-cutting measures, the latest of which resulted in the disappearance of the weekly TV listings that had long been hidden amidst the five pounds of print advertising that comes with the Sunday paper. Those of us who refuse to buy TV Guide (more or less on principle) are now forced to consult the daily paper in the morning to find out what will be on that night. This is easy enough at the moment, thanks to the strike, but when production resumes, most of us will once again be getting up too damned early to read the morning paper, then come home too late to watch anything anyway. VCR’s and TIVO will resume control of our viewing on weekends and off days. Given the shape-shifting nature of modern scheduling -- with networks shuffling shows from one night to another, or one time slot to the next at the most capricious of whims -- it’s not so longer so easy to program our digital devices to reliably record the desired programming during the week ahead.

Yes, I know -- this is the most insignificantly infinitesimal of bleats, the tiny whine of a mosquito lost against the percussive jackhammer roar that is modern life. It doesn’t even rate the blink of an eye in a world besieged by the endless agony of Darfur, the whirlpool of death currently engulfing Kenya and the Congo, or the bloody mess engulfing Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine – and South Central LA, for that matter – among the myriad vortices of misery that make up the modern human condition. The lack of a weekly television schedule in the Sunday paper will not spin the earth off its axis and plunge our little blue planet into the sun... but hey, I thought the LA Times was supposed to be a “Great newspaper! Great Use-Paper!”

I guess not.

We now we resume our regularly scheduled programming...

Attentive readers – those currently dis-employed by the WGA strike, or who otherwise enjoy enough unstructured time to wander the trackless expanse of cyber-space – might recall a recent post titled “A Little Magic on the Boulevard” (Jan 13, 2008) describing an encounter with a highly skilled sleight-of-hand artist. During that three-day job, I never once heard the name of the show we were promoting (I don’t even remember seeing a call sheet), and, truth be told, didn’t give it a thought. In the wonderfully terse phrasing of Peggy Archer (“Totally Unauthorized” -- see links list): “I work as a lighting technician on movie and television crews in Los Angeles, California. I very rarely see anything I work on, though.”

That’s pretty much the way it is – which is why I never figured to see the on-screen talent we’d filmed during that job again, much less the no-name show itself. Imagine my surprise, then, when I turned to the TV page in the Calendar section of the LA Times the other day (“Great Newspaper! Great Use-Paper!”) and found a photo under the heading “Today’s Highlights” featuring two of the three stars of that very show, called “The Real Hustle.” Standing in front of the Brooklyn Bridge was the young man who so deftly removed my watch that memorable night (Apollo Robins), with his lovely cohort Dani Marco. The third musketeer, a card-shark and fellow sleight-of-hand master named Ryan Somethingorother, was not pictured.

And so later that night, in the fuzzy mist of a Vicodin haze (this then-newly stitched shoulder was barking like my landlord’s dog), I warmed up the Cathode Ray Gun and tuned it to “truTV.” If you've never heard of “truTV,” neither had I -- and for good reason: until very recently, it was known as “Court TV.” Now called “truTV” (cool, trendy, hip, edgy spelling, no?), the very same people are attempting to re-brand their programming as “Actuality TV.”

Confused? Me too – but then I’m easily confused. I can only assume we’re supposed to think “Actuality TV” is somehow more real than “reality TV.” Maybe so, but that’s grading on a pretty low curve, given that there’s nothing remotely real about “reality TV” in the first place. Besides, it smacks of the much-too-cute semantic hair-splitting typically employed by slimeball politicians to enhance their own grinning image while making their opponents look like yesterday’s cold, dry meatloaf.

At any rate, there were the three young hustlers, Apollo, Dani, and Ryan, working a variety of short cons on unsuspecting civilians under the lenses of several hidden cameras. The basic scheme of the particular hustle was explained at the beginning of each segment, then put into action fleecing the hapless civilians before being fully dissected and demonstrated to the television audience. Once the humiliated victims were reunited with their cell phones/ PDA’s/cash/personal identity information, each of them – wiser now – vowed to be far less trusting of strangers in the future. So good luck if you’re ever lost in New York City and try asking any of these poor people for directions. As our infamously Feckless Leader once said; “Fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me... you can’t get fooled again.”

Well, we know what he meant.

Really, this show is just a modern incarnation of “Candid Camera” hosted by three attractive, talented young people in place of that genial and rumpled old garden gnome, Alan Funt. It’s reasonably well done, and although they certainly cherry-picked the most gullible victims for broadcast, the skills of these three are formidable. It’s a good thing they’re utilizing their talents for fun and profit on the tube – and thus providing an eye-opening education for victims and audience alike – rather than taking advantage of a trusting and astonishingly vulnerable public. When wolves go after sheep, the sheep don’t come out of it so well. It’s rather sobering to ponder how many unscrupulous hustlers with the skills of Apollo, Dani, and Ryan might really be out there, eyeing the herd (that would be us), and licking their chops.

“The Real Hustle” is a breezy, fast-paced half hour. I’m no TV critic (although I’m often critical of TV), but there are probably worse ways to burn thirty minutes of a slow Tuesday night. If it won’t exactly rock your world or change your life (hey, it’s only tee-vee), neither will it depress the hell out of you like say, the evening news – and besides, you’ll get to see the guy who so deftly stole (then returned) my watch out there on Hollywood Boulevard, doing what he does best. Believe me, he’s good. Extremely good.

Then again, you just might learn something useful for down the road. If one fine day you should see these three young hustlers heading your way, you’ll know exactly what to do -- grab your cell phone, PDA, watch, and wallet/purse with both hands, then run like hell.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I was at the Saugus Swapmeet a few weeks ago, and saw a guy with a deck of cards set up on a small table. Thought he was doing the old Three Card Monty, but turns out he was demonstrating a trick deck of cards. Darn. I was looking forward to seeing some folk get swindled by a fast talking cardsharp (grin)
Woulda broken up the monotony of the crap being sold at the swapmeet.