Monday, December 15, 2014

Au Revoir, Craig Ferguson: Why Is Late Night's Funniest Host Leaving?

The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson answers another call
Am I the only person in America who'll miss The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson when it ends its ten-year run on CBS this Friday? Ferguson is a blast of fresh night air. Yes, he can be a bit aloof. He even borders on arrogance now and again. And he flirts a little too much with the starlets who appear on his show. But he is generally harmless, and is easily the funniest host on late-night television. And he's an underrated interviewer.

Deceptively smart, Ferguson can be utterly silly one minute, then surprise you with an eloquent discourse on abstract artist Jackson Pollock or playwright/poet Samuel Beckett the next. He never relies on predictable pre-interview topics. Instead, he takes his guests and his viewers on spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness journeys no other host would even attempt. But most importantly, he's just funny as hell. No one on TV, at any hour, makes me laugh harder.

Ferguson's unscripted, improvisational back-and-forths each night after the monologue with Geoff Peterson, his gay robot skeleton sidekick, are genius. The animatronic Peterson is voiced and operated by Josh Robert Thompson, a reliably weird and hilarious comic actor.

Each night when Thompson places random phone calls to Ferguson in various voices and dialects, he makes Ferguson, the studio audience, and me, laugh out loud. The "callers," all voiced by Thompson, include everyone from an old-lady stalker to Morgan Freeman to Liam Neeson. There's nothing else like this on television.

The Oddest Couple: Geoff the gay robot skeleton, and Ferguson
A postmodern spin on Bob Newhart's classic telephone routine, the calls, which take wildly unpredictable turns, are the funniest thing on late-night TV since the early days of Letterman's NBC show. 

They're funnier than anything you'll see from Jimmy Kimmell or Jimmy Fallon or even the sometimes still-funny and also soon-to-depart Letterman. And they're much funnier than what you get from Ferguson's direct competition, Seth Meyers, whose smart but smarmy college humor gets tired fast.

Only Conan O'Brien (sometimes) makes me laugh as hard as Ferguson, who's already begun hosting a syndicated game show called Celebrity Name Game based on the board game Identity Crisis

It should be called Celebrity Lame Game. It's harmless fun, I guess, but it's precisely the kind of thing Ferguson, who is genuinely subversive and regularly refers to himself as a "late-night douche," would relentlessly satirize after dark.

Ferguson, a recovering alcoholic who's also worked as an actor, author, punk-rock drummer and bartender, has clearly decided to coast. If only Spy magazine, which deftly lampooned show business coasters, were still around to put him in his place. 

I don't generally respect coasters. But in Ferguson's semi-defense, he did host his irreverent show for a decade. He worked hard to make it fresh and funny.

It was certainly leaps and bounds better than the show of the same name hosted by his predecessor, Craig Kilborn, the former ESPN Sportscenter anchor and original host of The Daily Show who was snarky and cocky without ever being very funny.

Now it appears Ferguson will be doing some standup comedy, but has otherwise decided to kick back and enjoy his wealth. Like his former co-star Drew Carey. Ferguson got his biggest break when Carey hired him t0 play his boss on The Drew Carey Show. That's when Carey was a chubby, funny standup comic. Carey is still likable, but now he's a svelte and rather unfunny host of The Price is Right.

Ferguson and Secretariat, the cocaine-loving pantomime horse
Ferguson wasn't built for daytime. He's too edgy, talented and funny to waste his time on a banal game show. A ground-breaker, Ferguson is the only network talk show host to employ a dancing, cocaine-sniffing pantomime horse named Secretariat.

But the existential Scottsman apparently never really wanted the gig in the first place. When asked if he ever wanted to replace David Letterman, Ferguson told PEOPLE that he "never wanted to be a late night host. I did it because it was fun, entertaining and engaging."

The guest on this Friday's final episode will be Jay Leno. But the unsentimental Ferguson apparently doesn't have any big plans for this final week.

"I don't really make plans," he told PEOPLE. "The show is organic. I'll have people that I would like to make sure to fit in. But I'm not retiring. I'll probably talk to them again in some form. Doing something very big and grand at the end doesn't really seem [to be] in the spirit of the show." 

I'm not sure about Ferguson's replacement, stage and film actor James Corden. He's also a Brit and is a reasonably funny and likable fellow. But I fear his version of The Late Late Show could be a bit more, um, polite. 

Will Corden's show be nauseatingly civil? I'm hoping not. I'm hoping it retains some of the slightly cantankerous, anything-can-happen spirit of Ferguson's show, which was more in the mold of Monty Python's Flying Circus than The David Frost Show

Ferguson and his gang created a bizarre and genuinely fun universe on The Late Late Show, which described itself as "not like any other late night show." Indeed, it wasn't. I'll miss it. But I'll be keeping an eye on the hopefully ascending career of Thompson (who plays the robot skeleton). He has a quick and gifted comedy mind.  

But what, pray tell, will happen to the cocaine-sniffing horse!?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Doctor Working at Scripps Memorial Charging Cancer Patients $400 an Hour, Insurance Rarely Accepted

The $400-an-hour pain doctor
Readers of this news blog know that I'm a cancer patient and global patient advocate and that I don't take crap from corporations, doctors and others who gouge and take advantage of cancer patients and others who are sick and/or in pain. Readers of this blog also know that I've been in chronic, massive pain for several years.

On that note, I called a doctor in San Diego today who specializes in pain. Her office is at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. She is Dr. Nancy Sajben. I found her by simply Googling "San Diego" and "pain." 

She calls herself a "pain management specialist." At Scripps, she sees cancer patients and others who have chronic pain. She says she can treat the difficult cases. I was eager to tell her a bit about my case and see if she could help me and what she has done for others.

To my surprise, she answered the phone directly. It was a cell phone. She was in her car, I could hear the traffic. I briefly told her my cancer story and that I had chronic pain, and that I was a journalist.

She listened, then said she could help me. For $400 an hour. Yes, $400 an hour. She added that she accepts no insurance -- at least not a PPO, or an HMO, which is what I told her I have. 

After my momentary shock, I told her that charging cancer patients in chronic pain -- or anyone for that matter -- $400 an hour was absolutely outrageous. I said her prices were prohibitively, insanely high. 

I told her that as a working journalist and family man, I don't have that kind of money. I basically told her off. She has clearly heard this beef before. She calmly but smugly told me that she used to be poor. She said she helps people. She said she studied for many years. 

I said that even if all that is true, she only helps wealthy folks who can afford $400 an hour. Others are left out in the cold. Is that what she was taught during her many years of training?

I told her how I felt. Now I'm asking you: please contact this woman and tell her to stop charging so much money to cancer patients and others who are in pain and desperate for help. Her number is 858-622-0500.

Hell, she could charge half of that, even a quarter of that, and still make a very good living. This woman has no shame, no scruples, no compassion and no clue. Hippocratic Oath? What's that?

And please also join me in telling Scripps, which rightly touts the many positive things it does for cancer patients, to take more responsibility for the doctors they house in their own hospitals. 

When I contacted the public relations staff at Scripps and told them about my exchange with Sajben, this is what one of their representatives said to me:

"This [Sajben] is an independent doctor who has her office on the Scripps Memorial Hospital campus (as do a lot of doctors), as well as having privileges at Scripps La Jolla (as do a lot of doctors). She’s not a 'Scripps doctor' in the sense that she’s not part of our Medical Foundation. I’m sorry you’re in pain and hope you find the help you need." 

I then respectfully asked the PR person if Scripps was really comfortable being associated with someone who charges this much to ailing cancer patients, and she said, "She is not our physician. She leases space on our property." 

I then respectfully pointed out to her that Sajben's care is administered inside a Scripps hospital and that this is a tacit (at the very least) endorsement of her care. 

She responded, "She's in private practice." 

Then, finally, she said, "I understand your frustration. It’s not an issue Scripps can speak to because we don’t have any influence over what an independent doctor (whether leasing space in a medical office building on our campus or elsewhere) charges in their private practice."

OK, Scripps. We get it. You take no responsibility whatsoever for the fact that this woman is working in your hospital and paying rent to you, and you have no comment or judgement whatsoever on what this woman is doing while on your grounds. 

She is not an official Scripps physician. Understood. But do patients who see her and see that she is located at Scripps really make that distinction? Of course not. Sajben is located at Scripps and she says so on her website. She administers her care at a Scripps hospital. 

Is Scripps that amoral? Does the hospital really have no comment or opinion on the fact that a doctor working in its hospital charges $400 an hour to suffering cancer patients who are in chronic pain?

By the way, Scripps apparently also accepts patients from Sajben.

Scripps can't set her prices, of course, because while what she charges is surely recognized to anyone with any common decency as immoral and unethical, it is not illegal. And she is technically not a Scripps employee. But they can certainly choose not to let her do business in their hospital.

Sorry, Scripps. You can't dismiss this and just say casually that she is not one of your doctors. You are taking her money and she's hanging out her shingle in your hospital. Own it. Do the right thing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stay Classy, New England: Bill Belichick Brings His Darkness To San Diego This Week

"Get off my lawn!" - Patriots Coach Bill Belichick's happiest pose

If you're wondering why some folks are a bit nauseous and cranky as they motor around typically sunny, happy San Diego this week, I've got the answer: New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick is in town. Belichick brought his Patriots team here a week early to prepare for the much-anticipated Sunday Night Football match-up against the San Diego Chargers. 

And he's about as welcome here as the Grinch was in Whoville. 

If only the Patriots' practices this week, which were reportedly moved from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to the University of San Diego (USD), were open to the public. It'd be worth every Charger fan's while to stand out in this uncommon rain storm and heckle the heck out of Belichick. Why? Because he's a jerk. He's Darth Vader, without the charm.

I don't like the guy. Sue me. Yes, he has three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. He knows how to coach football teams. So what! He's mean. He's angry. He cheats. He pushes photographers. He accosts referees. He treats professional journalists like they're children. He's one of the more unpleasant and unsavory people in professional sports.

And, much worse, he's beaten the Chargers in two playoff games that San Diego could and should have won. Now are you beginning to get my drift? I mean, how many reasons does one guy need to dislike another guy?

Belichick, who makes Bobby Knight look like Jimmy Fallon, is a perpetually surly man who's evidently brought his gloomy Boston weather with him this week. It's supposed to rain for much of the week in typically sunny San Diego, America's Finest City. But I'm hoping the clouds symbolically part on Sunday afternoon and the Chargers, who'll be wearing their legendary powder blue uniforms, see the light and send Bill and Co. home unhappy.

An unapologetic Charger fan, I desperately want San Diego to win this football game. More than any football game I can remember. The Patriots are a damn good team. Tom Brady is still a great quarterback. Rob Gronkowski is a beast. Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL. And Belichick will obviously have some tricks up his sleeve.

But this Charger roster is undaunted. This team, largely because of its never-say-die quarterback Philip Rivers, who has miraculously led his squad to eight wins while playing with five different centers this season, is loaded with confidence after a thrilling comeback road win against the Baltimore Ravens. 

The Chargers have a rare opportunity here to erase some painful memories for Charger fans. A win would be sweet revenge for those two Charger playoff losses. Only a couple players remain from the team that played in the AFC Championship against the Patriots after the 2007 season (January 2008). But the fans remember it all too well.

That was probably the best Charger team of all time. And it was arguably better that year than the allegedly unbeatable Patriots. But San Diego's three best offensive players - LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates -- were each injured that day. Rivers bravely tried to play on one one leg. Literally. But LT couldn't go, and Gates was hobbled. The Bolts lost. It's still heartbreaking to think what might have been that season.

Even more than that AFC Championship, though, it is the Divisional Playoff between the Chargers and the Patriots two years before that -- after the 2006 season (January 2007) -- that sticks in so many Bolt believers' craw. Yes, another Patriots game San Diego coulda-shoulda-woulda won, until Charger safety Marlon McCree disastrously fumbled after making what would have probably been the game-winning interception. Ugh. Somehow, Belichick is to blame for that fumble, right?

But here's where it got ugly. Here is where it went from football to personal. San Diego players were ready to accept that crushing home loss with class and shake hands. But what transpired on the field after the clock ticked to zero demonstrated just how classless a Belichick-coached team can be. 

If you're a Charger fan I don’t have to remind you what happened. For the rest of you, a recap: After the Patriots narrowly won, several New England players strutted to midfield and started dancing and stomping on the Charger logo. They had every right to be excited over the victory over a very good Charger team, but they were rubbing it in the Charger players and coaches' faces by mocking the manic celebration dance of then-Charger linebacker Shawne Merriman. 

It was weak. It was bush. It was disrespectful. And some Charger players had seen enough.

When he saw Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs and other Patriot players acting like total buffoons, Tomlinson, the Chargers' star running back who ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the game, went ballistic. He refused to shake hands with the opponent, and called out the team and its coach.

"They showed no class," Tomlinson said. "Maybe it comes from the head coach."

LT nailed it. He apologized later because he's a class guy. But that post-game dance did reflect the coach. It always starts at the top. Belichick is a sore loser and a sore winner. 
He may be nice to his wife. He may be nice to his dog, if one will have him. But I just can't imagine him being too nice. To anyone. Just doesn't seem to be in his DNA. Even when he's happy, he seems pissed. 

And he's an admitted cheater. In September 2007, less than a year after his players’ moronic incident in San Diego, Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for videotaping an opponent's defensive signals.

Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella reportedly got caught videotaping the New York Jets during New England's 38-14 win at Giants Stadium. Belichick's Patriots had reportedly gotten caught the previous November doing the same thing during their 35-0 victory in Green Bay. 

The NFL never got to the bottom of that so-called Spygate scandal. The league never investigated it thoroughly. Belichick's team reportedly had more tapes that mysteriously disappeared. Toothless NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who should have suspended Belichick for a year or longer, didn't suspend him at all. But he said at the time, "This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field."  

Former Patriots lineman Ross Tucker said Belichick also used players on injured reserve in practices, which goes against NFL rules. Tucker said Belichick would "do anything" to gain an advantage, including violating NFL rules.

Tucker wrote in Sports Illustrated, "I had heard the Patriots did this before I signed with them in 2005 and I saw it firsthand during my time there. I asked veteran receiver Troy Brown about it one time and he responded, 'Every team in the league does that.' I quickly let him know none of the three teams I played for previously had done so.

Tucker added, "Basically, the Patriots would put a player on IR, knowing it meant he couldn't play in a game or practice with the team for the remainder of the season. By skirting the rules and practicing him anyway, it allowed them to develop his skills during the year. A side benefit is that they were also able to give some of the older players less repetitions and, therefore, additional rest."

Belichick also pushed photographer Damian Strohmeyer following the 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship. And in 2012 he angrily accosted a replacement official on the field after his team lost a close game to the Baltimore Ravens. 

Even one of Belichick's best players said Belichick is not a great guy. When he played with the Jets in 2012, Revis told ESPN's Sportscenter that he thought Belichick was a jerk because of "some of the comments he says about the Jets."

According to the New York Post, After a 37-16 Patriots win over the Jets in 2011, Belichick said, "Thirty-seven points on the best defense in the league, suck my d***!"

Real classy, Bill. Said Revis at the time, "Maybe some people think he's a good, collected guy off the field, but then why say such things? It's degrading. Suck my what? Say it to my face. That's not great character."

Maybe Belichick just needs a hug. Regardless, because he's won Super Bowls, he is evidently beyond reproach. In the end, I guess winning really is all that matters. Being a decent human being isn't even a close second. 

That's why Sunday's game is so huge. It represents an epic opportunity for the current Charger lineup to humble the insufferable coach and give long-suffering Charger fans like me something to really smile about. 

Not many current Chargers even know about the bitter Pats-Bolts rivalry. But there's one guy who does. There's one guy who played in both of those playoff games against New England and is undoubtedly hungry as all get-out to lead his team to victory on Sunday.

You can probably guess who it is. Here's a clue: he is the team's undisputed leader, he wears #17, and, unlike Belichick, he never cusses and has lots of class. 

Bolt up, Charger fans!