Breaking Up With Old World New York City

Growing up, I’d watch TV shows featuring quirky and quintessential New York City characters like Kramer, Archie Bunker and Louie De Palma. They exuded a darker, seedier and sometimes sexier side of life.

That was New York to me. And that’s what I got the first two times I visited the city, in 1992 & 1997.

But my third visit, this past June, was different.

My first visit happened to be the same week when then Vice President Dan Quayle spelled ‘potatoe’ wrong – and David Letterman would not let the mistake go. Less than two weeks later, MTV debuted the first ever ‘The Real World,’ which was taped in New York City earlier that year. And on my flight home via Philadelphia, I shared a commercial flight with supermodel Naomi Campbell.

The second time I visited with my mother, during spring break from the University of Nevada, Reno in early April 1997.
This time a deadly shooting occurred atop the Empire State Building a week prior to my arrival. I refused to go when my mother asked if I’d like to visit. “Maybe next time, but not this time.”

We watched live tapings of ‘Late Night With Conan O’Brien’ and the ‘Late Show With David Letterman’ – the same day the Cornell men’s soccer team also decided to go. Since it was a few days before Letterman’s 50th birthday, I brought along a gift certificate to the Mustang Ranch, but alas he never got it since we spent most of our pre-show Q & A time on a man from New Jersey. (And now that portions of the original Mustang brothel don’t exist due to various reasons, I refuse to forfeit that certificate!)

Outside the Ed Sullivan Theater, oceans of taxi-cabs whooshed by in one long yellow blur. HONK! HONK! No matter where I went. HONK! HONK! The constant noise pollution gave me insomnia.

And then at 6:52 a.m. on September 2001, I woke up my mother with what she described as “a strange look.” I pointed to the TV and said, “I think we’re under attack.”

By chance I took that morning off from working the morning show at my local news station. Around midnight that night on our police scanner I heard about a possible suicidal man “saying ‘God Bless America’ and then he hung up.” Minutes later, alone in the newsroom, I heard a dispatcher call out a definitive ‘Code 50’ – meaning dead body. To this day, I’m pretty sure it was the same man.

For weeks after I aired live shots from NYC with CBS News correspondents in front of massive piles of steaming twisted steel. Viewers I did not know personally thanked my station, and me, for reporting the news.

It was surreal.

And it’s surreal to know I played gleeful tourist in that same city earlier this month. It still doesn’t mentally register that that was the same site where thousands of people perished, what I saw on TV all those years ago nearly 3,000 miles away.
I think I was in more shock – and appalled – by the newest technology to emerge within that sacred place – the selfie-stick. I can’t tell how many I saw within a two-hour span. Unfazed by the tackiness, a man walked up to one of the towers’ memorial fountains next to me. He pointed to a name. “You see this name?” he asked his young son. “Yeah.” “I knew that man,” he said gliding his hand against the engraved letters.

While I don’t know anyone who died there, I felt the man’s sorrow, compassion and pride he showed his son in those short moments.

It’s those fleeting thoughts that made me realize that maybe, just maybe, that traumatic history helped sweeten the city’s famous gritty feel.

I started to notice that nearly everywhere people were nicer.

A woman tripped and smashed her face onto the bricks inside a subway terminal, and everyone around her stopped to help. “Are you ok?” “Do you need us to call someone?” While the generosity was nice to see, what happened to the New York City I grew up with? The angry cabbies? The don’t-give-a-damn pedestrians? The chain-smoking butchers squinting at passersby while on break? It seemingly disappeared. And I believe it’s in part due to the terrorist attacks. There’s a wider police presence, MetroCards ask people to call a terrorist hotline ‘if you see something, say something’ – and some subway cars even display ‘Courtesy Counts’ doorway banners.

Wall Street is now closed off to traffic, and there’s a thin, long center median along Broadway in front of the now temporarily closed Ed Sullivan Theater.

And did I mention Times Square? A lot of it is closed to vehicles, and thanks to stadium seating, it looks more like a spectator’s view to ever-changing eye candy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always cherish the Big Apple, but I can’t help wonder what happened to the Old World feel I got watching those TV shows growing up?

Singular no more, this city has morphed into a ‘we’ as in ‘United We Stand’ or maybe, ‘We (heart symbol) NY.’

Farewell FAO Schwarz: Last Day of Business at NYC Toy Store

Tom Hanks danced on a large floor piano there in the movie “Big.” Multitudes of children wandered through the aisles, wide-eyed with delight at the giant stuffed animals and other toys. And a fair number of parents winced at some of the price tags.

FAO Schwarz on Fifth Avenue, probably the best-known toy store in the world, is closing Wednesday night.

Owner Toys R Us announced the decision in May, citing the high and rising costs of running the 45,000-square-foot retail space on pricey Fifth Avenue. Though the flagship store is closing its doors for good, it may reopen elsewhere in midtown Manhattan.

FAO Schwarz says it is the oldest toy store in the U.S., with a New York City location since 1870. Reported celeb sightings – Kim Kardashian and Kanye West before they were parents! Moms Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham! – have helped fuel the fantasy since the flagship store opened in 1986.

The Fifth Avenue fixture included a candy store, personal shoppers and three levels of specialty toy departments.

“The baby department at FAO Schwarz is the ultimate destination when luxury shopping for little ones,” the store’s online fact sheet advised.

When those babies reached ‘tweenhood, they’d need specialty skin care products: “It’s never too early to start protecting one’s natural beauty!”

The store was featured in several movies, including “Big,” where Tom Hanks danced on its floor piano (signage called it The Big Piano.)

Nick Jonas stopped by and hopped around the piano in December while singing “Jealous.”

Toys R Us of Wayne, New Jersey, has been privately held since 2005. It bought the FAO Schwarz brand in 2009. (AP)

Tarantino, Lauper, Others Chosen for Hollywood Walk of Fame

Quentin Tarantino, Tracy Morgan, Steve Carell, LL Cool J, Kathy Bates, Bruno Mars and Cyndi Lauper are among the famous names to be added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame next year.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced its selections for 2016 on Monday. Other names on the list include Kurt Russell, Michael Keaton, Gary Sinise, Itzhak Perlman, Rob Lowe and Kevin Hart. Individual ceremonies have not yet been scheduled.

Recipients of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are chosen by a committee based on applications submitted by fans or celebrity representatives. Entertainers are recognized in five categories: motion picture, television, radio, recording and live theater. Each recipient is responsible for their star’s $30,000 price tag.

The full list of 2016 recipients is available at http://www.walkoffame.com (AP)

Emerson College in Boston to Offer Major in Comedy

Emerson College in Boston will soon offer a degree in making people laugh.

The communications and arts school said Wednesday that starting in September 2016, it will become the first college to offer a four-year bachelor of fine arts in comedic arts degree. The degree will be grounded in the history and theory of comedy with practical learning and a focus on preparing students for careers in comedy performance, writing and production.

The degree is in response to what Emerson calls the “marked rise of comedy’s impact on American culture and its global influence.”

President Lee Pelton says “the new major will combine an academic focus with hands-on opportunities.”

Emerson’s alumni already famous in the comedy world include Jay Leno, Denis Leary, Steven Wright and producer Norman Lear. (AP)

Jim Morrison Poem Found in Paris Hotel Room Being Auctioned

A handwritten poem by Jim Morrison found among his possessions in the Paris hotel where he died in 1971 is being auctioned online.

It was written on the last page torn out of a notebook. “Last words, Last words out” and “I have drunk the drug of forgetfulness” are among the verses.

The double-sided document is the highlight of an online auction that went live Thursday.

Auctioneer Paddle8 says bidding is expected to reach $60,000 to $80,000 by the time it ends June 25.

Morrison was the lead singer of the 1960s rock group the Doors. The group’s hits included “Light My Fire” and “L.A. Woman.”

Paddle8 says the document is special for several reasons: It’s in Morrison’s own hand and was with him when he died at 27. (AP)

Josh Groban Added to a Packed Tony Awards Telecast

The Tony Awards show on Sunday will try to up the razzle-dazzle quotient by adding Josh Groban to 175 performers onstage at the same time.

All the musicals nominated — “On the 20th Century,” “The King and I,” “Fun Home,” “Something Rotten!” “An American in Paris,” “The Visit” and “On the Town” — will be featured, as well as some overlooked ones. They include “Gigi” with Vanessa Hudgens, “Finding Neverland” with Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer, and “It Shoulda Been You” with Tyne Daly.

The cast of “Jersey Boys” will perform “Oh What a Night” to celebrate the show’s 10th anniversary. Presenters will include Larry David, Jim Parsons and Bryan Cranston.

The Tonys will be handed out at Radio City Music Hall. Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming will host.

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Online: http://www.TonyAwards.com (AP)

Nielsen: 13.76 Million Viewers for Letterman’s Last Show

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Comic celebrities turned out for David Letterman’s late-night farewell — and so did his biggest audience in more than 21 years.

The Nielsen company said Thursday that 13.76 million viewers saw Letterman end his 33-year career as a late-night TV host with a final show Wednesday night. The last time Letterman had so many viewers was in February 1994, when his show aired after CBS’ telecast of the Winter Olympics.

More people watched Letterman than anything else in prime time on Wednesday night. Letterman’s final show started at 11:35 p.m. and lasted more than an hour as CBS let it run long.

Jay Leno’s farewell last February was seen by 14.6 million viewers.

Both exits take a back seat to the man who came before them. Johnny Carson’s signoff in 1992 drew more than 41.4 million viewers — more than Letterman and Leno combined. But in fairness, that was a time when most Americans were still getting TV off the air — not through the myriad options viewers have today. (AP)

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