Monday, August 20, 2018

On The Air: American Top 40 (1970)

It's hard to believe, but in July 2020, American Top 40 will turn 50.

Starting with a network of seven stations in 1970, American Top 40 has become as much a fabric of pop culture as the music heard on the show. Co-created and hosted by Casey Kasem, AT40 used Billboard's Hot 100 chart to count down the 40 biggest hits in the country. Kasem, at the time better known for his cartoon work (i.e. Scooby-Doo), had worked in different parts of the country, including Buffalo and Detroit, before venturing to Los Angeles in the late 60's, where he hosted a regional dance show, Shebang. You might say that Scooby-Doo, among others, helped Kasem get AT40 on the air.

However, a salary dispute led to Kasem's departure in the summer of 1988. Shadoe Stevens (Hollywood Squares) took over as host, but a steady decline in ratings led to---Zoinks!---cancellation in 1995. At that point, the series had been discontinued in most of the country, and played mostly in foreign markets until January 1995. Three years later, AT40 returned, with Kasem back at the helm after a rival syndicator had dropped his program.

One of the most popular features was the Long Distance Dedication segment, which launched in 1978, usually twice per episode. This was inspired by spoken word single Kasem recorded in 1964, "Letter From Elena" (Like, did you really think he'd try to sing?), but it took 8 years into the run before the dedications became a part of the show.

Today, one of the busiest men in show business, Ryan Seacrest (American Idol, Live! With Kelly & Ryan, etc.), serves as host, and has incorporated features from his daily show into AT40, and vice versa. Seacrest is in his 14th year as MC, and the show has been on more FM stations since the 80's, and can also be heard online on

Let's take a trip all the way back to July 1970.

Kasem even poked fun at himself. There was a scene in a Scooby-Doo DTV, I think, where Shaggy (Kasem) decides to mimic the radio legend. Way too easy to do, of course. We lost Casey in 2014, five years after he'd ended his radio career.

Rating: A.

Sports this 'n' that

Major League Baseball began a tradition last year with the introduction of the Little League Classic, a regular season game played at the home of the Little League World Series, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

This year's game capped a 5-game, 4-night day series between the Philadelphia Phillies, whose NY-Penn League team plays in Williamsport, and the Mets. The Mets knocked the Phils out of a tie for 1st in the NL East with an 8-2 win. Jason Vargas, the weak link in the Met rotation this season, picked up the win, a little more than 24 hours after Jacob deGrom pitched a complete game gem against the Phils. And everyone thinks the Mets won't make the playoffs? There's still a little more than a month to go, and, as the Yankees proved 40 years ago, a lot can happen in that amount of time.
Meanwhile, the Tri-City Valleycats are hanging on to 1st place in the Stedler Division of the NY-Penn League by a thread as they entertain Brooklyn tonight after getting swept by second place Lowell over the weekend. Including tonight, the 'Cats have just six home games left, as they will visit the Hudson Valley Renegades after their series with Brooklyn finishes on Wednesday. Would they still get in as a wild card? I'm not so sure.
As of press time, Saturday's Northeastern Football Alliance game between the Troy Fighting Irish and Syracuse Strong had not been reported. Syracuse is the only team to beat Troy this season, and that was at Lansingburgh High earlier this summer. The Irish return to Lansingburgh for the home finale vs. Auburn on Saturday night, and a loss to Syracuse would give the Strong the division.
Vince McMahon needs to get a clue.

It was one thing that Roman Reigns finally took down Brock Lesnar and ended the latter's overlong Universal title reign Sunday at Summerslam, even with Braun Strowman looming with the Money in The Bank briefcase. Lesnar disposed of Strowman, preventing a cash-in and the likely coronation of Strowman as the new standard bearer for the company, ensuring that McMahon finally got what he wanted, and that was Reigns as the top dog for Monday Night Raw. McMahon's myopic tunnel vision has gotten Reigns nothing but scorn from the internet community the last four years, and it's going to take a long time before Reigns, who was a college football star at Georgia Tech (real name-Joseph Anoia) before turning to wrestling, mirroring the career path of his much more famous cousin, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (a Miami grad), can be redeemed in the eyes of the fans.

On the other hand, McMahon engendered even more apathy over on Smackdown in the women's division. After Becky Lynch had earned a title match vs. Carmella, Charlotte Flair came off the disabled list at the end of July, and was inserted into the title match at Summerslam. The end result? Flair won the title, and Lynch, with a rabid Brooklyn crowd behind her, turned on her friend after the match. Obviously, McMahon wanted the opposite reaction, and didn't get it, and this is where he needs to really find a few clues. Today's fans are a lot smarter than the 72 (soon to be 73 later this week) year old promoter would care to admit, and it shows in places like Brooklyn, Chicago, Montreal, etc., where audiences will cheer for whomever they want, not specifically the ones McMahon has anointed as the crowd favorites. In Brooklyn, the crowd turned on Flair, the daughter of Hall of Famer Ric Flair, right along with Lynch.

Do I have to say it? It's way past time for McMahon to retire.

Of course, the bigger headline in the aftermath of Sunday night wasn't Reigns finally beating Lesnar, but rather, former UFC star Ronda Rousey reducing Raw women's champ Alexa Bliss to a quivering schoolgirl in claiming the title, and becoming the 2nd fighter to win titles in both WWE & UFC (Lesnar, of course, is the other). People will complain about this, too, feeling that Rousey, who's also an actress in her spare time (her latest, "Mile 22", opens this week), was rushed to the title if only to get some attention on ESPN, FS1, etc., but the sad truth is that this is exactly what McMahon craves at his advanced age. He wants to keep his company relevant, even if his main roster brands have been eclipsed by NXT.

And, on that note, Triple H (Paul Levesque) should be the one running the main roster now. He is the man in charge of NXT, and has turned it into an even bigger phenomenon than WWE itself was in the glory years of the 80's and in the Attitude Era. However, McMahon stubbornly, defiantly, clings to the only success he's had, thinking WWE will crumble without him. Someone should get him a sedative and send him to the retirement home.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Of Recent Vintage: The King of Queens (1998)

It seemed fitting that The King of Queens aired on Mondays for most of its run on CBS (1998-2007), as the network has traditionally had strong comedy blocks on Mondays over the years.

Kevin James top-lined as Doug Heffernan, a driver for a delivery company that was set up as a parody of UPS. Leah Remini, whose resume included stints on shows as diverse as Who's The Boss and Saved by The Bell, played Doug's wife, Carrie. Adding to the comic tension was Jerry Stiller (ex-Seinfeld) as Carrie's father, Arthur, who worked a variety of jobs in the course of the series. If you subbed out the delivery truck for, say, a bus, you'd think that maybe, just maybe, the show's creators might've found inspiration in Jackie Gleason's seminal The Honeymooners. All they lacked was having another couple as neighbors, a la Honeymooners & I Love Lucy to name two examples.

I'm not risking the copyright police by trying to put up an episode at this time, so we'll use a sample open, with the theme performed by Billy Vera & The Beaters:

I am hoping, though, that a Christmas episode, with guest star Lou Ferrigno (ex-The Incredible Hulk, Trauma Center) is still available come December, though.

Rating: B.

Celebrity Rock: I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)(1981)

We know this much. There were no #1 songs that came from Laverne & Shirley during its run, and they blew an opportunity to release a soundtrack album back in the day.

However, the series did have among its guest stars someone who legitimately had a #1 hit. That would be Vicki Lawrence (ex-The Carol Burnett Show), who popped up a few times as Sgt. Alvina Plout, the last of which apparently was in season 6, when Sgt. Plout went AWOL due to a broken heart, and hides out with Laverne & Shirley (Penny Marshall & Cindy Williams). 8 years removed from topping the Hot 100 with "The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia", Lawrence dons a wig to become a lounge singer, with the MP's hot on Sgt. Plout's trail.

In this segment, the girls join their former CO for a cover of Barbara George's "I Know (You Don't Want Me No More)". The YouTube poster didn't know the whole title.

There's plenty more where that came from, as there are more musical clips to be had, at least for now.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

What Might've Been: The Game Game (1969)

The Game Game? What kind of generic title is that?

Well, generic ain't the point. This comes from the warped imagination of Chuck Barris, who sold this one year wonder into syndication in 1969.

I think the idea here was for a lone contestant to determine how much she had in common with the celebrity panelists. Apparently, no one at ABC or any other network wanted to touch this with a ten foot pole. Host Jim McKrell is better known for his later work, hosting NBC's Celebrity Sweepstakes, for example, and later taking a turn in doing some acting.

Our panel for this show consists of Doug McClure (The Virginian), Jessica Walter, & Burt Reynolds, who as announcer Johnny Jacobs helpfully notes, was promoting "Skullduggery" at the time.

Reynolds appeared on The Dating Game two years earlier. Until The Gong Show a few years later, this was the last Barris game to use celebrities.

No rating.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Musical Interlude: Change (1982)

Ex-Babys frontman John Waite went solo in 1982, and his first video, "Change", got significant airplay on MTV, back when it was the hip place to be.

We're led to believe Waite is playing a news reporter trying to help a potential suicide victim, but then.......

"Change" was a cover of a track by the group, Spider, released a year earlier. Neither version cracked the Top 40, and Waite had two shots. In 1982, "Change" failed to reach the Top 40, but peaked at #16 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Three years later, "Change" was reissued as a track on the soundtrack to the movie, "Vision Quest", but peaked at #54 on the Hot 100.

Waite's producer was Neil Geraldo, husband of Chrysalis label-mate Pat Benatar, and Scandal vocalist Patty Smyth, heard but not seen in the video, contributed backing vocals.

On Stage: Zan & The Winter Folk w/Tim Leonard & Raya Malcolm, 8/17/18

Troy Foundry Theatre artistic director David Girard hosted the latest in the company's Summer Pop-Up series in his 4th Street home. The backyard was converted into a makeshift tent theatre in anticipation of torrential downpours and thunderstorms. Good thing, too, because Mother Nature just had to have the last word.

Tim Leonard opened the festivities shortly after 7:30 with a short set comprised mostly of Townes Van Zant covers. Leonard's voice falls somewhere in between Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan. I'm not all that familiar with Van Zant's work, though I've heard other artists cover him over the years.

The ambience of the "theatre" recalled the late, lamented Rolls Touring Company, which breathed its last nearly 25 years ago after moving from its basement home on 4th Street and into the former Puritan Tea Room on 3rd. That space now houses Capital Cash. Go figure.

Raya Malcolm was up next, with a short set of original numbers, fresh out of the box, if you will. Instead of a guitar, Raya used a ukelele, which is rare in this day and age. The "sad" love songs were balanced by Raya's charm and presence. I think we may see more of her, and soon.

Headliners Zan & The Winter Folk had just played another venue in the city two weeks ago, and will play a couple more gigs in town. They're at the Hangar on The Hudson tomorrow, and return downtown in 2 weeks at the River Street Pub, with a Sunday show in Round Lake in between. Prior to the main event, Girard announced the 2018-9 season for the Foundry Theatre, which will be posted on their website tomorrow morning.

Unfortunately for Zan Strumfeld and her band, they barely got about 2-3 songs into their set, and were ready to queue up a tribute to Aretha Franklin before the leaks in the makeshift tent forced an abrupt end to the evening.

Props to Girard, Emily Curro, and the rest of the Foundry Theatre crew for mounting the show and improvising the tent in the hope they could fill the three hour window scheduled. Improvisation, after all, is in the spirit of theatre.