Grrr! Alternative Entertainment

If "American Idol" isn't your thing, there's plenty of alternative entertainment to choose from these days.

Besides the hundreds of specialty channels on cable and satellite, there's also theater, books and the Internet. Books?

Imagine that.

Now, it's been a long time since theater was anything worth doing other than the occasional John Patrick Shanley play.

There used to be a time when actors would have to make it on Broadway before they made it in Hollywood, but now it's the other way around — it takes a Hollywood star to even get a Broadway show off the ground — and by star we're not talking about great actors. We're talking about box office draw.

"Talent" and "draw" are not mutually exclusive, so I sought out some alternative forms of entertainment in order to broaden my horizons.

To that end I took in Eric Bogosian's new show "This Is Now," at New York's Merkin Concert Hall. Bogosian is best known for "subUrbia" and "Talk Radio," two hit plays that were made into celebrated films, and other shows like "Pounding Nails With My Forehead."

Bogosian has three Obie Awards, the Off-Broadway "Tonys" if you will.

In "This Is Now," Bogosian is joined by jazz artist Elliot Sharp, who is widely regarded as one of New York's "downtown" music sensations. He combines rock, blues and classical music with a jazz improvisation that alone will hold your attention, but added to Bogosian's pop-culture rants gives you a show that will blow your socks off.

Well, at least I thought it would be a great show.

While Bogosian has always been on the edge when it comes to his humor and sharp wit, I think listening to William Hung's greatest hits collection might have been more entertaining.

If I wanted a lecture on how bad we greedy, self-centered, war-mongering Americans are, I could have picked up a copy of the New York Times and called it a day.

Firstly, "This Is Now" is old, regardless of the immediacy Bogosian's title invokes. I kept waiting for an original thought to come off the stage, and aside from one really cool riff by Sharp on guitar — which incidentally reminded me of the scene in "Kung Fu Hustle" when the old Chinese sitar player throws invisible daggers at opponents during his tune — Bogosian's rants might have been culled from conspiracy Web sites after 9/11.

And since he was mostly reading his rant off of pages, he might very well have copied them.

Secondly, I couldn't help but notice how old Bogosian looks, and from my seat, looking at a graying man going off on stage like some naive college kid is not as charming as watching some naive college kid going off on stage.

The performance left me wondering why Bogosian would subject himself to the exercise. Does he think his fans need a good lecturing -- or did he simply feel the need to preach to the choir?

Perhaps the best thing about the show was that I finally got in to the Merkin Theater in New York City, which is a great space.

'An Army of Davids'

Not dissimilarly — at least in theory — founder Glenn Reynolds' new book "An Army of Davids" explores "how markets and technology empower ordinary people to beat big media, big government and other Goliaths," which also serves as the book's subtitle.

While Reynolds is perhaps the best known of the "original bloggers," he says he's just one of many who took to the Internet as a means of self-expression when Internet surfers were seeking out alternatives to big media.

"I adopted blogging at the perfect time and it happened to take off," Reynolds says, "but I don't want to make any claims that are really grandiose. It's an army of Davids and I'm not claiming to be a Goliath."

Perhaps, but Reynold's site,, attracts nearly one million visitors every week, a number that has attracted advertisers to his site and has made some of those Goliaths, especially big media companies, envious of the draw.

Indeed, we all remember what happened to Dan Rather after CBS News used fake documents to back its story that President George W. Bush received preferential treatment while serving in the Texas Air National Guard.

Bloggers took the offensive and flooded the Internet with stories and opinions critical of Rather and CBS News, and the otherwise well-respected newsman stepped down from his anchor post one year before he was ready to retire, an ironic twist considering it was Rather's ambition that forced Walter Cronkite into early retirement three decades before.

Still, Reynolds says the attention that bloggers get, including himself, is not a big deal.

"I don't feel any different," he says. "One thing nice about blogging, as a rock musician there's a difference from playing in small bars to an arena. But as a blogger it's just you and your computer. I guess you can say there's more pressure but it doesn't feel that way. You do your best job as a writer and the connection between you and your audience is always more important than the other stuff," Reynolds told me.

In "An Army of Davids," Reynolds, a law professor by trade, gives a succinct history lesson describing how technology has changed the world through the years, dating back to 10,000 BC.

He does well in putting the evolution of technology and how it has empowered mankind to change societal norms in perspective, and his book is a nice read.

The point is, while "American Idol" is revolutionary in and of itself — it is after all, a reality program demolishing traditional television formats, like sitcoms and dramas — there are alternatives everywhere that these days are not even too hard to find.

While I didn't like "This Is Now," the people in the audience who were awake certainly seemed to like it, and there may be something to be said about not feeling fully comfortable during a show. I don't know. Maybe I'm just not hip.

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