Pop culture Q&A
By Rich Heldenfels
Q. Why is it that either on TV or at the movies that when people order takeout to eat at home, it’s almost always Chinese food? Do the Chinese have a lock on takeout?
A. Much as I love all the questions people send, this one seemed to generate special affection — as well as some extended discussions with the folks around Mailbag Central. That said, there is no Chinese cartel dominating TV takeout. For one thing, I’ve seen a lot of pizza deliveries.
But Chinese food has one big advantage in TV production: It is a relatively tidy way to eat and keep characters talking.
The small bites of Chinese food are much more manageable than pizza — which, while delivered during a show, seems to get eaten during commercial breaks — or a burger. (How many of you have been warned not to talk with your mouth full?)
Even a finger food might prove messy, not to mention difficult to match within a scene if you have to reshoot it.
Ken Levine, an acclaimed writer/director/producer whose credits include “Cheers” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” recalled that on a show, “We once had characters get takeout barbecue. It was a disaster matching takes because ribs would be in one hand in one take and another in a second take.”
I also wonder if Chinese food gets more use because it can be presented as a generic or local-only dining option — coming in plain brown bags, served in containers without logos.
If you use, say, burgers, then viewers may expect a recognizable brand — and then the producers have to get permission from the burgermeisters in question (as does happen with some foods in shows) — and risk losing advertising by competitors.
But Levine had another possible reason: “Chinese food provides you with comedy names like Moo Goo Gai Pan.”
By the way, check out Levine’s terrific blog at kenlevine.blogspot.com.
Q. I very much miss “Without a Trace,” and although I have seen some actors in other roles, can you tell me what Anthony LaPaglia is doing? Is there any chance the show will return?
A. The CBS drama had its last new telecast in 2009, and I have no reason to believe it will be back. As for LaPaglia, he has been quite busy. Last fall, he was off-Broadway in Douglas McGrath’s play “Checkers,” playing Richard Nixon in 1952; “Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s” Kathryn Erbe played Nixon’s wife, Pat. In 2010, he starred in a revival of the farce “Lend Me a Tenor,” directed by Stanley Tucci; in fact, before “Without a Trace,” he was a Tony Award winner for his work in “A View From the Bridge.”
He has lent his voice to films such as “Happy Feet Two” as well as appearing on camera in productions including the recent “Underground: The Julian Assange Story” and “Mental,” both films for his native Australia.
He had also signed for Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” but dropped out, reportedly because delays on “Django” risked keeping him from making “Underground.”
In an Australian interview, LaPaglia said, “They’d raised the money partially on me and Rachel Griffiths [being involved]. They were about to start shooting and [leaving that film] would have created mayhem and may have shut the film down.”
Nor is he done with TV. Last year, he starred in “Americana,” the pilot for an ABC series which was not picked up; at the time, according to Deadline.com, LaPaglia was considering three different pilots on three networks — a clear sign that he’s still in demand on TV.
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