Stuff To Collect: It’s Richard Belzer’s Fault or How I Got Into An Expensive Collecting Habit

Mood music ‘Someone To Talk To’ by The Police

Well in between gathering articles to do some blog posts on the renewal of CI and it’s move to USA (and whether or not VDO will be back next season…given his Herculean effort to deal with the fangurl aria of a script that was the basis of the CI ‘Endgame’ (and briefly stated I think the CI writers should stop catering to fangurl tastes and getting their script ideas from fangurl forums, actually *watch* a LOT more old episodes of CI and then follow their own instincts in writing next season’s scripts), I’ve been doing some fun stuff like talking via email to other cool people with equally cool blogs, such as Carey Henderson’s Speakeasy(x)

This post from Carey entitled Does Any of This Even Make Sense? really struck me as clever and hillarious, especially this part:

“Every Sunday night, Bravo runs Law & Order: Criminal Intent all evening. If you’ve been around me long enough to know that I pretty much only wear black shirts, then you’ve been around me long enough to know that I am a Vincent D’Onofrio fan. Very much so.

He’s sort of a strange cat—private, prone to his principles and not given to jumping into any particular role unless it somehow gives him an opportunity to stretch his acting legs. When you’re pretty and Johnny Depp, Hollywood loves you for that. When you’re average-looking and not Johnny Depp, Hollywood looks at you sideways. So, unless you’re damned good at what you do (as D’Onofrio is), the roles are usually less than forthcoming.

Back to that in a moment.

Watching Bravo is like seeing the goings on of another species on another planet unfold. There are more bratty, strange, spoiled, eccentric, gay, grandstanding, flamboyant people on that network than at a Truman Capote reading by way of Elton John concert. I’d like to think that those particular personality traits don’t lump together and spell out any particular subset of society, yet Bravo seems intent on making folks like me who work for a living and generally have rather placid decorating and fashion sense believe that this is the case. A few times watching the network and the average straight man might begin to think that three or four times a week gay men gather on the couch, nab the razor shears and French architecture magazines and bitch for three hours about straight people and their lack of any sort of sense beyond the innate ability to make everything dull and misunderstand women.

I doubt this is true. But from watching Bravo, as the old Mighty Mighty Bosstones song stated, that’s the impression that I get.

At any rate, Dick Wolf has to be getting close to Aaron Spelling status, as far as the amount of television shows he currently has running that are sometimes indistinguishable from one another. To the unfamiliar eye, the Law & Order franchise must seem a lot like fast food burgers. There’s the original, SVU, CI and Trial by Jury. Most of the roles are filled by attractive people doing attractive things; some saying excellent lines (not all to the credit of the staff writers. Orbach ad-libbed some of the best lines on television during his best days on the original series). The subtleties of the shows are there, and after a few veiwings of each become clear. Yet, on the outset, it seems the format is too close to call.

There’s the familiar Law & Order gavel sound (CLANK-CLANK!), then the black screen,

[black screen with caption ‘Apartment of George Killeddead
South Bronx’]

and, apparently, every fourth apartment in any complex throughout the entirety of New York contains a dead body. The dumpsters contains sexual crimes victims once every other Thursday. If you do watch the shows with any regularity, then you also know a few things: Det. Eliot Stabler is always pissed, Capt. Cragen is going to get in Stabler’s face any second now, Jerry Orbach could deliver a sarcastic quip about the deceased’s religious misgivings at a Catholic funeral that would make the Pope chuckle and Det. Goren is going to solve the case; probably by applying a generous mixture of reverse psychology and library card prowess.

Despite all of the predictability of these shows (and you can nearly set your watch by it), there are subtleties that make almost every franchise worth watching. Trial by Jury isn’t much, but watching Fred Dalton Thompson drawl and stand his ground with unequivocally stereotyped Southern sayings (“Well, she wanted me to jump down, turn around, pick a bail of cotton”) is almost worth watching the show in and of itself. Almost.

To be honest, I watch Criminal Intent for similar reasons, that is to say: D’Onofrio. The writing for his partner, Eames, is rather dull, with the occasional one-liner to redeem her. I often wonder if she’s not written this way purposely to showcase Det. Goren. (Late in the series, sometime last year, Goren and Eames left the show, another set of detectives coming on. They resurrected Detective Mike Logan, played by Chris Noth. Not a particularly exciting move. The series took on the dull luster of flat latex sprayed atop Kilz.)

Goren is always thinking, always plotting the next move. For him, the entire hunt for the criminal is a mind game, his impressive memory and library card his weapons. I love the character, with his quirks and moods, though I always am brought back to the realization that no one is that informed in that many areas.”

Well Carey and I have been emailing each other back and forth, and in between the emails, I have been reading his blog and laughing out loud at the humor in his posts, nodding along when I read his dead on the money observations about life. He’s blessed with a far better sense of humor than mine and brevity. And his writing’s good, damned good if you ask me. Plus the dude has a lizard named after Peter Frampton (which appeals to me as my own 2 cats are named for a couple of musicians as well) and he writes and plays his own music on the guitar (there’s some great tunage at his site you should give a listen to). Oh and did I mention his photography…he can take a mean picture when the spirit moves him or his witty and insightful horror film reviews?

Anyhoo our email exchange has been fast, friendly and furious and he was more than kind enough to link to the blog here so I figured I’d give him a plug in this post as well. He’s a VDO fan I can easily talk to, maybe because he’s got so many interests besides VDO.

So today’s lazy Sunday afternoon post is dedicated to Carey and also lets me get into a topic on how I went from the small time to the big time of collecting…all apologies to him if this post isn’t as fun and interesting and well-written as I hope Carey (and others) will find it.

Carey writes in a post entitled Law and Order and Whatnot

“In the end, I’m fairly afraid that Goren might be gone from television. Oh, perhaps they’ll keep him in the back of their minds, maybe resurrect the character three years from now on the next installment of whatever Dick Wolf manages to come up with in order to bring the franchise back to life. Or maybe Homicide: Life On the Street will come back and Goren will bug the hell out of Munch as his partner. One can only hope not.

And I don’t know if D’Onofrio would even show up for that.”

Oh goody…now that Carey’s brought up Homicide: Life On The Street and Detective John Munch that leads me right into the discussion of this object with which I am obsessed, known simply as ‘The Chair’:

Sometime back in April of 2001, well before Law & Order Criminal Intent began airing I found the bedraggled looking item above listed on FeeBay. The picture of it was far grainer than mine and frankly by that time most people didn’t give a flaming one about H:LOTS anymore. But I was intrigued by this description:

“Here is Richard Belzer’s chair from the entire time he was on Homicide Life on the Street. He sat in his chair more than any other actor…drinking room temp water….reading the Post….. NOW YOU CAN !!! You’ll never be as funny but now you can sit in the same Telescope, highboy (36″ to seat) solid dark wood, director’s chair and read 6 newspapers every morning just like MUNCH did… Munch, John: (Richard Belzer) [Regular: 1-7] Witty, sardonic detective. Divorced three times (and a fourth time after Homicide’s last episode.) Grew up in Pikesville, where he was in love with his neighbor Helen Rosenthal. Graduated around 1961, making him about 54 at the start of season six. Why did [I] drag this chair on the streets of Baltimore eveyday for 6 years? I was the Prop Master on Homicide for six years (91 episodes) and will send a ***NEW IMPROVED***CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY. Want other rare, one of a kind film, movie, and TV props go to IMDB and look at my resume… We have a web [site] coming soon! GOOD LUCK!!”

Okay so there’s a good reason this chair was in rough shape…it was used (and abused) in the making of seven great years of TV. It had a low opening bid (you couldn’t have bought a new highboy style director’s chair for what it was initially listed for) and it was being sold by the show’s prop master (who clearly wasn’t a master photographer) on his own initiative . But it sure was intriguing…

So I put in a bid in that was in line with the cost of a new highboy-styled directors chair plus maybe a hundred dollar premium for the chair’s ‘history’. And little did I know that I would win the beast (my first time spending three figures in front of the decimal place for an item of entertainment memorabilia), nor was its ‘premium’ as a bit of entertainment memorabilia all that large. Despite some very fuzzy pictures, my instincts told me I had gotten a great bargain and a unique item.

In the process of figuring out how to get The Chair shipped to me, the prop master and I struck up quite a pleasant conversation of how (at that time) things were humming along very nicely on ebaY and how the great Homicide sale of 2000 in Baltimore (when H:LOTS wrapped production, most of the items used in the making of the show were sold in an open to the public sale held in Baltimore on the show’s Fells Point sets) had proceeded and what had been sold there. He graciously offered to send along many extra materials including a prop business card for Detective Munch to me to further verify The Chair’s authenticity.

When The Chair arrived in it’s cleverly homemade box (skillfully fashioned out of several of the post office’s free smaller Priority Mail cartons and their free Priority Mail tape) I was beside myself with elation. Sure The Chair’s frame has a broken hinge, a missing castor, scratches, dings and dents in its wood frame, a fabric seat bottom whose stitches are loosening, a slightly schmutzy seat back…but for heaven’s sake it is 100% the real deal. Over seven years, Da Belz *actually* sat in it, learned lines in it, joked with the cast and crew from it. It was a holy relic of TV production if you happened to be into good if culty and obscure TV shows. And it was mine. M-I-N-E mine.

In talking to other H:LOTS fans online, I was able to locate more material to authenticate The Chair including these 2 pictures:

Two of my favorite people and one of my favorite objects: Richard Belzer seated in ‘The Chair’ next to Homicide:Life On The Street writer extraordinaire Jim ‘Yosh’ Yoshimura (who apparently is sitting in someone else’s chair) somewhere on location in Baltimore.

Richard Belzer seated in ‘The Chair’ next to Callie Thorne somewhere on location in Baltimore.

Then not even 2 weeks after the conclusion of the auction for ‘The Chair’ something happened on ebaY which made me forever believe the online auction site had ‘jumped the shark’ and was on the road to becoming FeeBay, a place hostile to small sellers with authentic items and the collectors looking for the ‘real deal’.

Behold ‘The Anti-Chair’ (and feel free to boo and hiss)

Here is a brand new lowboy director’s chair that has the Law & Order Special Victims Unit name on its seat back and the signatures of Richard Belzer, Dann Florek, Mariska Hargitay, Michelle Hurd, Ice-T, Stephanie March and Christopher Meloni. This chair was auctioned off on behalf of the Today Show and some charity trying to cure colorectal cancer but as a bit of entertainment memorabilia it is an attractively fabricated and photographed fraud.

You see while you might get seven actor’s autographs on a nice new chair, what you don’t get is the sense that this chair ever had any more contact with any of them including Richard Belzer than the amount of time it took for each of them to sign a piece of fabric with a silver Sharpie/fabric pen and then go on about their main business of acting. And other than the signing period, I doubt the entire Anti Chair ever saw the inside of an SVU set or any outdoor SVU shooting location…for one thing that low frame makes it impractical for use on a set.

Seeing this chair with no history sell for more than twice what I paid for The Chair made me extremely glad I got my chair but sad that the buyer of The Anti Chair basically bought themselves a fake. Oh sure some worthy charity got more than $500 (I’m assuming that 100% of the sale price of the chair actually went to the charity, but these days you never know), but frankly that winner would have been better off just writing out the check to the charity and going to the NBC store to buy some cheaper SVU themed thing. Sure The Anti Chair was all over TV on the Today program for a week or two, but did its winner get to know someone on the crew who was willing to swap stories about his experiences in making great TV for what little I knew then about how people buy and sell on ebaY, much less make a friend who sent along some nice extras? That’s doubtful.

Yes the biggest problem I have with FeeBay today is its willingness to jump through the hoops that Corporate America places before it in order to gain the mega-powerful’s business and it’s soulless, utterly devoid of character merchandise and all at the expense of the smaller ‘just folks’ sellers with interesting things to sell and smaller but more fascinating stories.

Sure I occasionally browse FeeBay (it’s perpetually screwed up search engine makes that an extremely frustrating experience). And on a rare occasion I find a truly unique item worthy of being fought for, won and added to a collection. But mostly today it’s a poorly run crapfest that dupes those who don’t know any better into overpaying for fakes. And that’s depressing given how personal and fun it used to be before the shareholders became more important that the users. I am sad to report that the big thrills to be had at ebaY are mostly gone.

But for entertainment I can always go sit in The Chair and read a book or just cogitate on what it was like to make ‘the best damned show on TV’. I’m so glad that VDO got to be a part of that legacy (even if it was only one guest appearance).

Oh and you can blame Belzer for my expensive collecting tastes…there *really* is nothing like owning a production used item.

Richard Belzer Head Shot

2 thoughts on “Stuff To Collect: It’s Richard Belzer’s Fault or How I Got Into An Expensive Collecting Habit

  1. naydi

    “…and whether or not VDO will be back next season…given his Herculean effort to deal with the fangurl aria of a script that was the basis of the CI ‘Endgame’ (and briefly stated I think the CI writers should stop catering to fangurl tastes and getting their script ideas from fangurl forums, actually *watch* a LOT more old episodes of CI and then follow their own instincts in writing next season’s scripts”

    THANKYOU!!!!THANKYOU!!!THANK YOU!!!!! Just playing around online today and I just HAD to sign up to comment –

    I was beginning to think that I was completely and utterly alone in the world of LOCI/VDO fans in thinking that Endgame was NOT the God’s gift to LOCI fan’s bit of heavenly television that every else seems to have settled (and I mean SETTLED) on viewing it to be. In my own brief kind-of-sick-of-even-paying-attention-to-this-insult-of-a-show-anymore “review” on NBC’s LOCI page, what struck me most was that this episode was the first this season in which TPTB even bothered to Recognize any of what was created before within Balcer’s pre-Season 5 LOCI. Yeah, Endgame works in terms of adding depth and closure to the crap we’d been given by Leight this season, but it sure as hell doesn’t work in terms of the potentially raw and edgy road that this character could have been walked down; honoring the groundwork already laid in 4 pre-VDO sleepwalked television seasons. (not that I blame him for his compromised S5, mind you)

    Despite the obviously much higher level of craft put into filming Endgame when compared to every other G&E episode this season, it most certainly was a we’ll-take-anything-you-want-to-give-us fangurl pandering cop out of a LOCI effort. Oh well… Despite my lack of enthusiasm toward tuning in this fall (that is, unless RB or a more worthy showrunner successor is put in place), I can still take comfort in the fact that Endgame will NOT end up being the final half-a** wrap up of a character previously having had so much more potential to present us with something great.

    Unfortunately, S7 will, of course, provide 11 more opportunities to further slaughter the memory of Goren should Vincent decide (or be forced) to stay on. Yippee ;-|


  2. bj2007

    As always, great insightful post.

    Although I do seriously enjoy Mike Logan, I do miss the old Goren too. In retrospect, I would have liked to see the show just end when D’Onofrio was having health issues.

    I think it all goes back to the writing–the actors can only do so much–we know they are all very good–if the writing (and the premise) is poor, the show is a disaster. I have noticed this season that all of the episodes sometimes start off well, then kind of fizzle in the last half. So then I’m left wondering why I just wasted an hour of my time watching.

    I would have been happy without season 7–I’m not getting my hopes up for an entertaining hour of television on Tuesday nights.

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