TV Loses a Comic Genius

David Angell | Whitney Houston | Lizzie Grubman | Advice in Times of Terror

Cheers to David Angell, Gentle Comic Writer

TV writer and producer David Angell and his wife Lynn died on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston on Tuesday.

You've probably already read that Angell won a total of six Emmy Awards for his work on Frasier and Cheers. Altogether Angell wrote 10 episodes of Cheers during its heyday, and won an Emmy for an episode broadcast on November 17, 1983 called "Old Flames." In that one, a friend of Sam's bets that Sam and Diane  can't stay together for 24 hours. It doesn't help that Sam still has his little black book and Diane finds out.

But some other classic Cheers episodes by Angell stand out in my mind. In particular, "Someone Single, Someone Blue" in which Glynis Johns plays Diane's wealthy mother who must marry Diane off in 24 hours or lose her inheritance. She winds up with the butler and the show is completely charming.

Also sweetly written was a memorable two-part show in which Coach falls in love, Sam makes a play for the woman's daughter and Coach's paramour dumps him when she wins the lottery.

Angell also wrote the 4th season cliffhanger in which Sam dates a councilwoman and almost marries her. He also introduced Harry Anderson (who went on to star in Night Court) as a con man magician who works the bar.

In the post-Shelley Long era, Angell was the author of another memorable episode that found Lilith discovering Frasier in bed with Rebecca. This episode had a dose of French farce that subsequently became the foundation for the show Frasier, which Angell helped write and produce.

Before the advent of the sitcom as a big bucks lure, writers like David Angell would have been playwrights or novelists. Certainly his talent was as good as any in either of those genres, and his contribution to Frasier (as well as Wings) gives him a place in the history books of TV. He excelled in a medium that does not embrace quality. He will be sorely missed.

Whitney Houston Death Report Was a Hoax

As if anyone needed any more stress, an unfounded rumor spread like wildfire on over Internet on Thursday that Whitney Houston died of an overdose.

In fact, says her publicist at Arista Records, she's alive and well.

At least, alive.

"Whitney just spoke to LA Reid, and she said she'd like people to concentrate on what's happening and not on her."

The reason the rumor spread so quickly was its utter plausibility. Pictures of Whitney from Michael Jackson's show last week depicted exactly what we in the audience saw. She has had a drastic weight loss. Her arms had almost no flesh. Her face was emaciated.

I've known Houston since 1989. When I first met her she was a terrific young woman, full of life and presumably headed toward a wonderful future. She had just had, by her admission, a little romance with a much older Jermaine Jackson. She was just finishing up her second album. You couldn't help but like her.

But in the years that have passed, her relationship with Bobby Brown has seemingly dragged her into a kind of ongoing hell. There have been no end of strange incidents, all concerning drugs or drug possession. Brown has spent time in a Florida jail since then. This was not the life that Whitney, who could have also had a real movie career after The Bodyguard, was meant for.

Now the noose is tightening. Last month her brother was arrested for possession in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Then the Michael Jackson concert. Producer David Gest would have let Brown perform at either show, and advertised that he'd open the Friday show with Whitney. He failed to appear. An extremely revved up Houston opened the show herself, then disappeared. She skipped the group rendition of "We Are the World" and the after party.

Maybe I'm partial. I still think Whitney Houston can sing circles around anyone out there right now. She is an amazing talent. But when I received the first call today that she'd died, I believed it. It was all too possible considering her recent activity. I pray that her wonderful parents, Cissy and John Houston, will do something decisive soon and help her save her life. 

Lizzie Grubman Indicted

Out in the Hamptons, although it's very close to New York City, the legal system continues to operate. Wednesday, publicist Lizzie Grubman was indicted on 26 counts for the accident in which she ran down 16 people with her Mercedes SUV. The two worst counts were for leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It's been about two months since the incident in which Lizzie cursed out the security people at Conscience Point nightclub in Southampton and then backed over them plus a lot of innocent bystanders. In that time, I've refrained from mentioning her name in this column. I thought that despite the enormity of the accident, she was getting a raw deal from the press.

But in that time I have yet to see anything in the way of remorse from Lizzie or her lawyer/father. Insurance papers filed by her father suggested the victims were to blame for the accident. Even if that was not the intended message, that's what came across. And these are supposed to be the great minds of public relations? Hmmm. Edward Bernays, the father of PR, must be turning over in his grave.

Is Lizzie sorry? Has the experience chastened her? Has anything changed at all? I doubt it. From what I hear, it's business as usual. Granted, Lizzie's mom died of cancer during the summer, which was very sad. And Lizzie has not been able to buzz around with a clipboard and headset, telling people off with her trademark arrogance. But I think the grand jury in the Hamptons senses what we all do: that they were the only obstacle in her way.

What happens next should be very interesting, particularly if there's a trial. It will be very hard to find character witnesses, for one thing. 

Author Offers Words of Solace in Times of Terror

"You're allowed to be mad," says my pal Jill Brooke, whose book Don't Let Death Ruin Your Life: A Practical Guide to Reclaiming Happiness After the Death of a Loved One, (Dutton Books) is now a must read for so many in this country.

Brooke, a former CNN Correspondent who is now the editor of New York's Avenue magazine, offers some advice in this terrible time of mourning and reflection. "Don't let your anger marinate into destructive behavior," Brooke says. "Find ways to channel it effectively and patriotically.

"This can mean donating blood, food or clothes to those in need. Volunteer to pick up rubble and debris. Historically, heroes including Harriet Tubman, Florence Nightingale, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt have used the passion of their grief and channeled it into social service. I know of a young man whose father was killed and he became a policeman who help tracked down his dad's murderer. Another man became a doctor after witnessing the heroic efforts on behalf of his father. Instead of feeling powerless, empower yourself with the desire to make the world a better place.

"Parents should not explain the loss by saying, 'God took your daddy or mommy.' That turns God into a parent-snatcher and prevents religion from being a source of comfort. Instead, explain that bad things do happen. But the majority of the time, life is filled with good moments and people."