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One TV Question Posed, One TV Press Tour Secret Revealed
January 23, 2009  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment

Today I have a question to ask, as well as one to answer. The one to ask concerns Fox's House -- and the one I've been dared to answer involves something that happened to me on press tour some, sigh, 30 years ago. And I've decided, in this instance, it's high time to come clean...

First the House item.


Every week, when I watch House, I smile at the final credits, when the production house vanity logo comes up to reveal the company name as Bad Hat Harry Productions, with the one animated character saying to another, "That's some bad hat, Harry." I smile because it's a line of obscure dialogue from an even more obscure James Coburn movie, 1973's Harry in Your Pocket.

The movie is about a young pickpocket taken in by an old master, and the only reason I remember it is because the supporting actress, young Trish Van Devere, was stunningly beautiful, and worth repeated viewings. What I want to know, but have yet to ask the producers of House, is: Why that movie, and why that line of dialogue?

Now about my personal confession. It comes in response to an email, sent to this website earlier this week, by Ron Alridge, formerly a TV critic for the Chicago Tribune and, before that, the Charlotte Observer. He was responding to a posting I wrote about the TV press tour. I wrote it about a year ago, but Alridge is retired now, so I guess he marches to his own, much slower drummer.

Ron was one of the smartest, nicest and most influential TV critics ever to attend press tour. We both were founding members of the Television Critics Association, but he was one of its central figures, a true founding father. Yet he was young enough, especially at heart, to participate in some memorable escapades, especially where free network hospitality suite liquor was involved.

Hence his letter, quoted in part:


"Those were great days and you and the other "young turks" like you did a wonderful job of professionalizing the television beat. I formed a kinship with you and the rest of the gang that to this day is very much part of me... I am thrilled beyond words that the TCA still lives and has even become a bit of a force. As you know, that was always a dream back when we all were young and passionate.

"I must say, though, that you have performed a disservice to your blog readers by not sharing with them the story of how you once turned an "ABC Hospitality Suite" sign into something a tad bit off-color. It took a mind that is both creative and demented to have done that so quickly. I remain awed."

Let me pick up that gauntlet, and that story. ABC, in those days, had many of the crankiest network publicists in the business -- and, at the time this incident took place, some of the worst programming. I'm not sure what set me off, other than too much Scotch, but one night, before heading into ABC's penthouse party room at L.A.'s Century Plaza Hotel, I asked Ron to hold my drink for a moment.

There was a sign outside the door -- one of those signs encased in glass, with a black background and magnetic white letters, identifying the room as "ABC HOSPITALITY SUITE." I slipped open the lock on the glass, stared at the words for a few seconds, and rearranged the letters, tossing away the leftovers in a nearby planter. Then I relocked the glass, retrieved my drink from Ron, and we went in.

For the rest of the night, the sign read: "ABC EATS OILY SHIT."

I apologize, 30something years later, for my youthful indiscretion. But it feels good to finally come clean.

As to another former colleague's demand that I tell my Bonnie Hunt story -- that's a press tour classic that still needs a bit more time to pass before it can be told. By me, anyway...





Alan Paul said:

I'm pretty sure that the name "Bad Hat Harry Productions," as well as the animation at the end of House were inspired by Roy Scheider's delivery of "That's some bad hat, Harry" during a beach scene in Jaws.

As to why Bryan Singer chose to honor this brief comic moment in Steven Spielberg's thriller, I have no idea...

Comment posted on January 23, 2009 11:21 AM

Steve said:

The line is also from a less obscure movie - Jaws. Roy Scheider's character says it to a fellow on the beach who, I think, is giving him a hard time about all of the shark craziness. Did Spielberg lift it from the earlier film? (Yes, he must have: "Jaws" didn't come out until 1975, and "Harry in Your Pocket" was released in 1973. And the "Harry" to whom Scheider's sheriff said that was a minor character, so the use of the name Harry, and the exact phrase from "Harry in your Pocket," seems more than arbitrary. -- David B.)

Comment posted on January 23, 2009 11:23 AM

Maybe Steven Spielberg was a fan of the Coburn movie you mention... but the more famous use of "That's some bad hat, Harry" is from JAWS. And the Production credit at the end of HOUSE is clearly reflecting THAT use-- since it was an old dude in a bad bathing hat that Roy Scheider says the line to, on a beach. Oh and their credit includes an ominous shark fin in the b.g.

Your mystery may take you to Mr Spielberg's door now...

Mike Carlin

P.S. Thanks for the blog... followed you from the NY Daily News!

Comment posted on January 23, 2009 11:29 AM

elise said:

The hospitality suite story? LOL funny!! Can't wait for more!!

I stay home on Friday nights now (proudly... there used to not be such a time!) for my weekly date with Bill Moyers.... is he not teevee worth watching??!! (Yes, he is, certainly -- but many weeks I can't get advance info in time. And thanks for liking the story. -- David B.)

Comment posted on January 23, 2009 2:32 PM

Neil said:

David, regarding your Best Bets blurb for the "We Are One" concert on HBO this evening, you've knocked the tech crew a couple of times this week for dropping the ball on Pete Seeger's microphone. I wonder whether it wasn't intentional to keep his mic potted down at the control board, just enough to hear he was speaking but not loud enough to allow Pete to go off on some political tangent. (If the mic wasn't working properly, usually you'd hear buzzing or cutting in and out, and I didn't hear these telltale characteristics of a remote wireless mic problem.)

Pete is famously outspoken, but who's going to cut him off if he had decided to speak his mind on something or other to the new president, or to the nationwide HBO audience. This way the producers reduced the risk of an unplanned moment happening. In a production that otherwise went off with military precision, I suspect this was a wild card they wanted to control.

Do you disagree? (Feel free to answer privately to my email.)

...Neil (No, I don't suspect any aural conspiracy in this instance -- the mikes dropped out a few times, as in the James Taylor number. Live TV is live TV, that's all. But there are no do-overs. -- David B.)

Comment posted on January 24, 2009 7:14 PM

Chris said:

Who is the voice who says "That's some bad hat, Harry?" at the end of House. It sounds like Steve Buscemi.

Comment posted on January 25, 2009 9:20 PM

Eileen said:

This has nothing to do with "Harry" or "Bad Hats".

I noticed this at the Golden Globes, and then again at the SAG Awards last night. When a tribute was done to those who had passed away in 2008, no mention of Suzanne Pleshette. My first reaction both times was she must have left us in 2007, but no, she died in January, 2008.

What a shame! Here was a beautiful lady who was funny, smart, sassy and entertained us all for years. Whether she was the co-star (Newhart) or a guest appearance (Will & Grace) you could always depend on her presence adding to the show.

So, Suzanne, wherever you are, I miss you. You brought humor, style and class to tv & movies for years. (And you were always one of Johnny Carson's best guests!) The fact you and Tom Poston ended up marrying later in life just added to your charm. (How sweet, and how entirely accurate on all counts. She was a class act, and a delightful actress... and her surprise appearance on the "Newhart" finale made it the best TV series ending of all time. -- David B.)

Comment posted on January 26, 2009 12:09 PM
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So who did the voice over for that's some bad at Harry?
Mar 11, 2015   |  Reply
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