More Jewish Stars in New TV shows

Starting on Jan 7th was “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”. JANE LEVY, 30, stars as Zoe, a computer code writer who begins to hear the thoughts of people around her through popular songs. At first, she questions her sanity. Later, with the help of a friend, she comes to realize that this power is a gift---she can connect better with everyone, including her ailing father.

Levy’s first big role (2011) was as the co-star of the well-reviewed ABC series   “Suburgatory.” When she was in that show, I tried and failed to find out more about her background. Over time, family history sites revealed that her father is Jewish and her mother is not. I don’t know more because Ms. Levy just doesn’t talk about her family background.

Broadway actor SKYLER ASTIN, 32, plays Max, a close associate of Zoe. Born Skyler Astin Lipstein, he’s best known to most people for playing Jesse Swanson in the films “Pitch Perfect” and “Pitch Perfect 2”.

“The Owl House,” a Disney Channel animated fantasy, began on Jan. 10. It’s about a teen girl who finds a portal to another world where she can try to fulfill her dream of becoming a witch. “King,” one of the show’s three main characters, is voiced by ALEX HIRSCH, 34. He created “Gravity Falls,” a hit Disney animated series.

“Avenue 5” is a comedic science fiction series, set in the future, that starts on HBO on Jan. 19. Avenue 5 is the name of the spaceship where most of the series scenes take place. JOSH GAD, 38, is a series regular. He plays Herman Judd, the billionaire owner of Avenue 5. 

Also in outer space is “Captain Picard,” a CBS All-Access series that begins on Jan. 23. Patrick Stewart returns in the title role he created in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” BRENT SPINER, 70, reprises his “Next Gen” role (“Data”, an android) in the new series.

Financial Note and a Recommendation

Financial aside: If you know that Josh Gad was a co-star of the mega-hit animated musical films “Frozen” and “Frozen 2” you may be thinking that Disney is paying him so much that he might someday become a real-life billionaire. It’s reasonable to assume that the actors would share in the “Frozen” bounty: the original film cost $150M and it made $1.3 billion. “Frozen 2” cost about the same, and has earned over 1.3 billion since it opened on Nov. 22. It’s still earning.

Well, Disney is notorious for underpaying actors who voice animated characters (even if the actors sing, too).  Gad didn’t disclose exactly what he made for the first film, but he made it was clear that it was less than $50K. No doubt, he was paid more for the sequel, but not anything over $5 million. Robin Williams said in 1992, “You realize now when you work for Disney why the mouse has only four fingers — because he can't pick up a check."

Here’s a new series recommendation: “Stumptown”, which began last September on ABC (new episodes Wednesdays at 10PM). I noted last fall that the cast includes CAMRYN MANHEIM, 58, in a supporting role and that Cobie Smulders stars as a private investigator. My opinion (post binge-watch): the acting is good, the characters are interesting, and the writing is intelligent. I recently learned that co-star JAKE JOHNSON, 41, is the son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. You may know him as “Nick” on “New Girl.” (All episodes available via Hulu Plus or ABC on-demand).

Over on CNN: A Good Documentary

The CNN-produced documentary “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” played a limited number of theaters last fall and reviews were good. It has been streaming on CNN since early January. You can’t expect a 95 minute film to cover everything about Ronstadt’s multi-phase, decades-long career. But this film succeeds in presenting a pretty complete portrait (including Ronstadt’s battle with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s ended her singing career).  

The crack team of ROB EPSTEIN and JEFFREY FRIEDMAN made the film (Epstein has won two Oscars for his documentaries. One he shared with Friedman). Many Ronstadt associates are interviewed, including singer-songwriter KARLA BONOFF, 68; music industry honcho DAVID GEFFEN, 76; and virtuoso guitarist ROBERT “Waddy” WATCHEL, 72. Ronstadt turned some of Bonoff’s songs into hits (“Someone To Lay Down Beside Me", "Lose Again" and "All My Life”). Geffen wisely signed Ronstadt to a long-term record deal and Wachtel played on many of her albums and sometimes played behind Ronstadt on-stage.

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