Thursday, December 31, 2009

Will they never learn?, part 2

"Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it."--George Santayana

"There's a sucker born every minute!"---P. T. Barnum

The "sucker" in this case has to be Mrs. Dixie Carter, co-owner and president of Total Non-Stop Action (TNA) Wrestling. As the company prepares for a live, 3-hour Monday edition of their Impact program on January 4, Mrs. Carter, at the behest of her new business partners, Hulk Hogan & Eric Bischoff, has been rumored to be bringing in older wrestlers who were part of the success Bischoff enjoyed in WCW in the late 90's, such as Scott Hall, whose last go-around with the company was virtually aborted 2 1/2 years ago, and Sid Vicious, whose career was thought to have ended due to a freak leg injury nearly 10 years ago. There are rumors, too, of Ric Flair, who recently toured with Hogan in Australia, signing with TNA.

Hogan & Bischoff believe that it's the veteran stars that fans are more interested in seeing, instead of the younger, hungrier wrestlers that are supposed to be the foundation for TNA. After all the pomp & circumstance of Flair's "retirement" in April 2008 from WWE, the "Nature Boy" could be coaxed into signing with the promise of the one thing he didn't get during his last tour of duty with WWE (2001-08), a World championship run. Flair won 3 tag titles and an Intercontinental title during his 2nd tour with WWE, but was never seriously considered to be World title material.

TNA has been plucking veteran names off the WWE scrap heap over the 7 1/2 years of its existence, showing little or no trust in the likes of current champion AJ Styles or Samoa Joe to be the true standard-bearer for the company. What did WCW in, as most of us know, is complacency, allowing the NWO (New World Order) gimmick to continue well past its expiration point, simply because it was the company's #1 cash cow. But even the best cows run out of milk eventually. Bischoff, blinded by his own arrogance and complacency, let the NWO get bloated out of control. While he was a figurehead GM on Monday Night Raw (2002-05), Bischoff didn't have any creative control, and was kept in check, though some fans got tired of his act very quickly. For now, Bischoff figures to remain behind the scenes, where he has grown very comfortable in recent years, as his production company has been churning out one cheesy reality show after another, including a few with Hogan, for VH1 and other networks.

Hogan will be the centerpiece in Orlando on Monday. WWE is responding by bringing in Bret Hart, who left the company in a cloud of controversy and disgrace in 1997, and ended his career in a fading WCW 3 years later. Hart figures to be around no more than about 3 1/2 months, including Wrestlemania 26 in March. Because Hart has kept himself out of the spotlight for nearly 10 years, he's relatively fresh. Hogan, because of the reality shows and the attendant tabloid headlines that go with them, plus a run hosting American Gladiators, has remained a constant, annoying presence since his last WWE match a few years ago. You figure there are only enough people that will tune in to see if he is the savior TNA needs to compete with WWE, or if he's really there to sink the ship as some people suspect. By coaxing Mrs. Carter to bring in Hall, Vicious, and presumably Flair, plus cutting rookie wrestler Cody Deaner from the roster, Hogan is making the same exact mistakes that TNA has made right along. Hogan might as well buy TNA outright, then proceed with the process of sinking the ship.

If TNA is going to compete with WWE, relying on aging veterans isn't the answer. WWE knows this. Earlier this month, Sheamus O'Shaughnessy, who'd only been with the big club less than six months, defeated John Cena to become the WWE champion, matching the rapid ascension of Brock Lesnar 7 years ago. Scotland's Drew McIntyre, on his 2nd tour of duty with the main team (he previously had a cup of coffee in 2007 before being sent back to the "farm"), is the Intercontinental champion. WWE has a number of younger wrestlers dotting the rosters of all three brands (Raw, Smackdown, & ECW), some of whom were rushed to the big club, like Sheamus, while others, like McIntyre, paid their dues before getting the permanent call-up. TNA already has had a NWO-style group, the Main Event Mafia, which seemingly dissolved a while back. Do they really need to go there again so soon? In the delusional mind of Hogan, who now claims to have studied mixed martial arts as a youth while also considering a music career, it seems that way. Hogan is pushing 60. Flair is already there. Not the kind of guys you want at the core of your roster.

They say desperate people do desperate things. TNA has been desperate for attention since day 1. This latest move is like inviting an iceberg to meet the Titanic.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Will they never learn?

A year ago, there was a dispute between Time Warner Cable and the Viacom family of cable networks (Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, etc.) that threatened to pull those networks off TWC systems across the country. The dispute was settled on New Year's Eve just before midnight.

Now, TWC is embroiled in another dispute, this time with Fox, which wants $1 per subscriber for its broadcast channels to continue to be on TWC systems. I've also read that Fox has the same issue with other cable providers. I realize the economy is not that stable, but to charge a fee for common broadcast channels on cable? This smacks of outright greed. As was the case last year, TWC is running ads in newspapers stating their case, and Fox, dutifully, is doing the same. In large markets such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, for example, Fox affiliates that are also owned by News Corporation are also affected. That is not the case in Albany, since Fox affiliate WXXA is owned by a different entity (Clear Channel). WNYA, home to the fading MyNetwork TV (MNTV), is also owned by an outside concern. Thus, there isn't as much of a panic over losing Fox staples like American Idol, House, & The Simpsons or MNTV's flagship series, WWE Friday Night Smackdown, as there would be in LA, NYC, or elsewhere. Fox's cable networks, such as FX, Fuel, & the Fox Sports Net regional channels, are in danger of being yanked on January 1, however.

It's just history repeating itself. We'll wake up Friday morning as if nothing happened. Everything will stay the same after another 11th hour deal is reached. And, then, next year, we'll be reading about the same thing all over again, this time with TWC having to deal with NBC-Universal or Disney instead of Fox. The process will continue until TWC runs out of opponents. We as consumers stand to lose, and lose big, potentially, if there isn't a settlement by January 1, but what if TWC were to finally cave to the NFL Network? If there is an impasse with Fox, TWC would suddenly have room to add the one channel that has fans packing sports bars a few Thursdays a year because of the stubborn mule mentality TWC suits have hung on to the last few years. If anyone is rooting for an impasse, it'd be the NFL.

As TWC pitchman Mike O'Malley (ex-Yes, Dear) might put it, what is with the complexity? How hard can this be, year after year? Check your greed and your egos at the door, boys. This is one time where the consumer comes first!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The soap suds are slowly fading

With news that CBS plans to terminate As The World Turns next fall, leaving the network with two soap operas, it seems that the genre is dying a slow death, while game shows are gradually making a comeback on network television.

After Guiding Light ended 3 months ago, it left World as the last soap produced by Procter & Gamble's television arm, and now, P & G, maker of equally iconic products such as Ivory soap and Secret deodorant, is leaving the genre it founded during the golden age of radio. CBS' lone remaining soaps are Young & the Restless, which is closing on its 40th anniversary, and Bold & the Beautiful, which has been around since the 80's. NBC has just one, Days of Our Lives, a network staple since the 60's, but within striking range of the cancellation ax the last few years. Rather than build their daytime schedule around Days, NBC gives the time in between it and Today to network affiliates, suggesting that they have no interest in getting back into the game show business, other than their night-time hit, Deal or No Deal. ABC is holding firm with their top-rated lineup.

CBS filled the Light void by reviving Let's Make a Deal, now 1 hour instead of a half-hour, and rumors have them bringing back Pyramid, which was last in syndication just a few years ago. Of course, another network staple from the 70's, Match Game, has been talked about, but trying to mount a new version without the late Gene Rayburn is a difficult task in and of itself. Not only that, but it was talked about a year ago that cable's TBS was in the running to revive Match, so a return to CBS is not 100% certain.

So what has killed the soap opera? Too much tinkering with the formula, in an effort to keep it relevant for younger viewers, or so it would seem. I know from watching General Hospital on a part-time basis in the 80's that it had reinvented itself to appeal to fans of James Bond and cliffhanger serials of the Golden Age, then gradually reverted back to a more traditional format.
Nowadays, it seems as though the idea is to try to draw the same people that are watching the "trendy" prime time shows by including once-taboo subject matter as same-sex relationships, things that just weren't allowed on radio way back in the day.

Can soaps make a comeback? I am not entirely certain. Maybe releasing the old classics on DVD could spur a revival, but I don't see that on the horizon right away.

George Michael (1939-2009)

No, it's not the singer, but rather the sportscaster who hosted the long running George Michael Sports Machine, which ended with Michael's retirement 2 years ago. Michael was one of the few sports reporters who actually treated professional wrestling with more respect, as if it really was a legitimate sport, putting it on equal footing with football (ironic, since a number of grapplers had transitioned to the ring from the gridiron), basketball, & baseball. Michael passed away earlier today at 70 after a lengthy illness.

Television has lost a true gentleman and a friend to fans everywhere. Rest in peace.

On DVD: G-Force (2009)

Who would've thought it possible? Jerry Bruckheimer, producer par excellence (CSI, "Pirates of the Caribbean", "Beverly Hills Cop", etc.), making a children's movie? You betchum, Red Ryder!

"G-Force", Disney's new would-be franchise from Bruckheimer, spins the tale of a trio of guinea pigs, Blaster, Suarez, & Darwin, and Speckles the mole, trained as the most unlikely of FBI field agents by Dr. Ben Kendall (Zach Galifinakis, "The Hangover"). Fearing the loss of funding of his project, Kendall sends his team out to take down a millionaire businessman who is secretly using his product as part of a plot to destroy the earth, or so it would seem. However, just when it looks like G-Force has succeeded, a key piece of evidence is sabotaged, and snooty Agent Killian (Will Arnett, ex-Arrested Development) shuts down Kendall's lab. G-Force is moved to a local pet shop, then separated pro tempore, before reuniting in time to finally close the case, despite odd twists and turns along the way.

The voice casting is an eclectic mix, including Nicolas Cage as Speckles and Tracy Morgan (30 Rock, Scare Tactics) as mouthy Blaster, who was front & center in the promo ads prior to the film's theatrical release. There is room for a sequel, especially since "G-Force" spent 2 weeks atop the box office charts. If there is a quibble, it's the fact that Disney blew a golden marketing opportunity that sat right in front of them. Guinea pigs make great household pets (I should know--my girlfriend has one), and Disney could've appealed to pet owners by offering them the opportunity to bring their guinea pigs in to see the movie for free with their owner's paid admission.

Grade: A+.

Edit: 4/11/14: In case you missed it, here's the trailer:


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Privacy: an endangered species

It used to be that gossip columns in the newspapers and supermarket tabloids were reserved for TV & movie stars promoting their next project(s). In the last 30-odd years, that has changed, and the environment in this regard is getting worse.

Today, our society has been conditioned to learn every minute detail, no matter how irrelevant it may actually be, about every celebrity, be they an athlete, musician, or actor. Scandal sells papers and boosts television ratings, but it still gets old awfully fast. In the case of the ongoing imbroglio over golfer Tiger Woods, it took the sudden death of actress Brittany Murphy to knock Woods off the front pages of the New York tabloids. More relevant news, such as the President's health care reform package, or the ongoing war in the Middle East, doesn't sell enough copies.

But now, it's a case of "what hath Tiger wrought?". It's being reported that TMZ.com, founded by lawyer-turned-television personality Harvey Levin (The People's Court), is mounting a spin-off site dedicated to sports. Given all the pro & college athletes in trouble with the law in recent years, this was bound to happen, but it shouldn't. It's bad enough that TMZ.com and its ilk can't go a day without reporting something, no matter how minor, about what Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan are doing, for example, but now they'll chase down any number of athletes already accustomed to tabloid micro-scrutiny. Their justification is that being a professional athlete, much like an actor/actress or musician, makes that person a public figure, and as such, the public has a right to know what's going on. There's a limit to that, but that limit is being pushed further and further away, until that line is completely blurred out of existence. At that point, no one is safe.

It's as if George Orwell's vision of "Big Brother" watching everyone, as chronicled in 1984, is being fulfilled, step by step. Where, then, do we draw the line that separates respect for privacy from an overly obsessive need to satiate "public curiosity"? Andy Warhol once said that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. Truth be told, not everyone wants the spotlight on them, and would rather take the Greta Garbo approach, preferring to be left alone. And, yet, one gets the feeling that may not be a viable option much longer.

Arnold Stang (1918-2009)

Another piece of childhood is gone with the passing of actor-comedian Arnold Stang at 91.

Stang co-starred with current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (billed at the time as "Arnold Strong") in "Hercules in New York" in 1970, but prior to that, Stang had built quite the resume in radio, movies, & television. Stang was a second banana to humorist Henry Morgan, and also appeared on radio & television with Milton Berle. Baby boomers will remember Stang as the voice behind Top Cat, Hanna-Barbera's feline send-up of Phil Silvers' Sgt. Bilko persona, and as Herman in Famous Studios' Herman & Katnip series of theatrical shorts. Stang also played second banana to another cartoon icon----Popeye the Sailor, in a series of shorts during World War II.

In addition to "Hercules in New York", Stang's film credits included "Man With The Golden Arm", opposite Frank Sinatra, and Stanley Kubrick's ensemble comedy epic, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", in which Stang and Top Cat castmate Marvin Kaplan (later of Alice) owned a service station that would be totally wrecked by Jonathan Winters. Stang's last film, that I know of, was "Dennis the Menace" (1993).

Rest in peace, Arnold. You will be missed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Classic Christmas Cartoons: The Top 10

This is, understandably, a follow-up to the top 10 list of Christmas songs posted a couple of days ago. I encourage you to offer your own selections if you disagree with this list.

10. Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964). Based on Johnny Marks' song, this Rankin-Bass (Videocraft) entry expands on the story told in the song, explaining why Rudolph was shunned by his fellow reindeer. 45 years later, it's still an enduring classic, and established Rankin-Bass' success formula for their Christmas specials.

9. The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas (1973). It's a simple premise. A young bear cub (voiced by Tom Smothers) decides to put off hibernation to discover Christmas, and travels to the big city. Radio icon Casey Kasem narrates.

8. Santa Claus is Comin' To Town (1970). Another Rankin-Bass special based on a song. This one tries to explain the origin of Santa (Mickey Rooney) in the simplest way possible.

7. Frosty the Snowman (1969). Rankin-Bass put aside their usual "animagic" animation process and opted for traditional line animation for this entry. The special marked its 40th anniversary earlier this month, and the theme song, sung by narrator Jimmy Durante, has gotten its fair share of airplay on the radio.

6. The Town That Santa Forgot (1993). Hanna-Barbera produced this one for cable & syndication, but I didn't know it existed until I found it on Cartoon Network a few years later. A spoiled brat named Jeremy Creek sends Santa a list so big (How big is it?) that Santa is forced to bypass the child's namesake town to fulfill Jeremy's selfish desires. Narrated by Dick Van Dyke.

5. Beavis & Butt-Head Do Christmas (1996). I'm not a big fan of the MTV series, but this was actually one of the dim duo's best. Parodies of "It's a Wonderful Life" & "A Christmas Carol", plus Butt-Head dresses as Santa to answer "viewer mail" with Beavis dressed as a reindeer. Series creator Mike Judge (King of the Hill) outdid himself with this one.

4. The Little Drummer Boy (1968). From Rankin-Bass (who else?) comes this tale of a shepherd boy who travels to Bethlehem to play his drum for the Baby Jesus. The 1958 song by the Harry Simeone Chorale provides the soundtrack for this classic, which would see a sequel produced 10 years later.

3. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). A union of three diverse icons. Based on the short story by Dr. Seuss, narrated by movie legend Boris Karloff, and produced by the inestimable Chuck Jones for MGM. The Grinch could've gotten away, but upon hearing the people of Whoville singing carols in the face of adversity, the miserly hermit found it within himself to return his loot. I think I understand why the live-action version with Jim Carrey nearly 35 years later wasn't received as well.

2. Christmas Is.... (1970). A simple tale of a boy and his dog discovering the true meaning of Christmas. Sadly, this has not seen a lot of airplay in recent years, except maybe for airing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). The first and most beloved of all the "Peanuts" specials. For a lot of us, it is the first time we would learn about the birth of Jesus, as Linus recites a passage from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. Also, the soundtrack produced a pair of classics, "Christmas Time is Here", and "Linus & Lucy", the latter of which would be used in several other "Peanuts" cartoons.

Honorable mention goes to the various interpretations of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", aside from the Beavis & Butt-Head parody noted above. "Carol" has been adapted many times over the years, most notably featuring Mr. Magoo (1962), the Jetsons (1985), and, in homage to Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge, Fred Flintstone essayed the part himself in a Bedrock theatre production (A Flintstone Christmas Carol, 1994). I await your feedback.

Brittany Murphy (1977-2009)

File this under "gone too soon". Ms. Murphy appeared in films like "Clueless", "8 Mile" (w/Eminem), and "Just Married", and lent her voice to Luanne on the recently concluded Fox series, King of the Hill. She passed away earlier today reportedly due to cardiac arrest. There is already speculation that drugs were involved, but nothing at this writing can be confirmed to that end.

Ms. Murphy's only other voice work of note was in the movie "Happy Feet", for which she also recorded two songs for the soundtrack. Her next film will be the thriller, "The Expendables", due in the spring of 2010, and was reportedly working on a film with Nicole Kidman at the time of her passing.

Rest in peace, Brittany. You will be missed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Classic Christmas Music: The Top 10

The classic Christmas songs we've come to love have been recorded by many artists through the years, such that I think it's easier just to pick the songs and not any particular artists, just to avoid any unnecessary argument. Picking 10 songs is hard enough, but we'll try to get through this.

10. Feliz Navidad. The title, of course, is Spanish for "Merry Christmas", and the best known recording of this bi-lingual carol was done all the way back around 1970 by Jose Feliciano. In fact, aside from a cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire" and the theme to Chico & the Man, "Feliz" is Feliciano's signature song!

9. Christmas Time is Here. Composer Vince Guaraldi wrote this song for A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, and it has become as much an iconic Yuletide piece as the special itself. One of the most recent covers was by the Christian group MercyMe just a couple of years ago.

8. Silent Night. Martin Luther, the author of the Refomation, also penned this carol, which has been recorded by just about everyone, it seems.

7. Wonderful Christmas Time. Paul McCartney wrote this sometime in the 70's. Full of good cheer, a diametric opposite of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)", if you will.

6. Do They Know it's Christmas?. You all know this one, I'm sure. Recorded initially by the all-star vocal group Band Aid in 1984, it was written by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) to call attention to the starvation in Africa and other countries. The first of the Live Aid concerts followed 7 months later.

5. Joy to the World. Not to be confused with Three Dog Night's non-Christmas hit of the same name. This instead celebrates the birth of Jesus.

4. Oh Holy Night. Another carol that has been recorded by just about everyone over the years, but one of the best renditions I've heard was actually in an episode of Benson several years back, sung by series star Robert Guillaume.

3. Little Drummer Boy. For most of us, there are two versions that stand out. One is the classic choral version recorded by the Harry Simeon Chorale around 1958 that led to Rankin-Bass adapting the song into an animagic television special 10 years later. The other is part of a duet medley with "Peace on Earth" recorded by Bing Crosby & David Bowie for Bing's last TV special in 1977. Powerful stuff.

2. Jingle Bells. Yes, the lyrics have been parodied by children over the years, poking fun at Batman & Robin, but this is really about having fun at Christmas, though the sleds used now are self-propelled toboggans or snowboards.

1. Do You Hear What I Hear?. I have heard many interpretations over the years, from Bing Crosby to Whitney Houston. The message remains the same, another variation on the Birth of Jesus.

Discuss & debate, pilgrims.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oral Roberts (1918-2009)

Granville Oral Roberts, one of the first "televangelists", passed away December 14 at 91 after a lengthy bout with pneumonia.

Roberts was one of the prominent evangelists on Sunday morning television in the 70's & 80's, along with Rex Humbard and Robert Schuller, among others. Roberts began preaching in tent revivals in his home state of Oklahoma in the 40's before gravitating to radio & television. Roberts also used his ministry to solicit donations from viewers, and infamously claimed several years back that if he didn't raise a certain amount of money, that "God would call me home".

A vision from God led Roberts to build a hospital, which closed down due to lack of finances a few years ago. Oral Roberts University, meanwhile, is still active. In Genesis' video for their 1992 hit, "Jesus He Knows Me", the television studio set bore some resemblance to that of Roberts' television ministry of the period, all part of the context of the song, which also targeted disgraced evangelists Jim Bakker & Jimmy Swaggert.

It may have been a lot later than he first envisioned, but Oral Roberts has finally been called home. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

MTV reaches back to the past----but not where you think

MTV's current schedule is chock-full of reality shows and short on music video content, the latter usually buried in morning drive time. Over the years, the channel has also had rerun rights to shows as diverse as Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Monkees, and The Best of Saturday Night Live. They even provided a secondary home to a syndicated drama from the 90's, Catwalk, about a struggling band trying to make it, trying to posit the series as their answer to Fox's The Heights. Both series had short shelf-lives, though.

As a means of trying to re-attract the viewers they've lost with their obsession with reality programming, MTV is reaching into its glory years of the 80's----by commissioning a pilot for a series based on "Teen Wolf".

You might remember "Teen Wolf". It was one of a string of movies that Michael J. Fox made outside of the "Back to the Future" franchise. Some were good, some not so much. The original "Wolf" spawned a Saturday morning cartoon as well as a theatrical sequel, "Teen Wolf Too", which had Jason Bateman (recently in "Extract") replacing Fox as the lead. What better way, then, to mark the 25th anniversary of "Wolf" by creating a live-action series. You know there will be a special edition DVD of the original movie released next year, even if it hasn't officially been announced (give them time). Tyler Posey (Brothers & Sisters) has been cast in the lead for the pilot, but it's clear what the other motivation is behind this project. MTV wants its share of the "Twilight" pie.

The marketing suits' reasoning has to be that, to paraphrase Samantha Fox (no relation to Michael) from over 20 years ago, even werewolves need love, too. The emphasis in the "Twilight" series is the same as it was on Buffy the Vampire Slayer a few years back. Mortal girl has the hots for a hunky, young-looking vampire, but unlike Buffy, there's also a werewolf in the mix, creating a most unique love triangle. In "Teen Wolf", the title hero not only gains lycanthropic powers, but becomes a chick magnet at the same time. See what I'm getting at?

There's no exact timetable for when MTV will put "Wolf" on the air, but if I'd venture a guess, it might be around the time "New Moon" is released on DVD and/or Benicio Del Toro's take on "The Wolf Man" hits theatres, whichever comes first. Knowing MTV, they'll play "Wolf" into the ground like everything else, because they can't be content with airing it in just one time slot. That's their idea of heavy rotation these days.

It's just too bad they couldn't think outside the box and reimagine "Wolf" with a female lead. It'd be something different, but then MTV wouldn't get much love from the critics for doing that. Then again, MTV doesn't get much love nowadays anyway. It's like Paul Simon said some 40 years ago, if you're an MTV suit. Any way you look at it, you lose.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is the limit on stretching "reality"?

I gave up on MTV a long time ago, after they stopped emphasizing the "M" (Music), in favor of a growing line of "reality" shows, the rationale being that "reality" shows are cheaper to produce, and, in MTV's case, easier to recoup production costs via multiple airings per week. It wouldn't be on the MTV family of networks if the channel didn't insist on shoving it down the throats of its viewers.

That brings us to the controversy surrounding MTV's latest series, Jersey Shore. On the surface, it's just another of MTV's cookie-cutter "reality" programs about 20-somethings. If you believe the negative press that has accompanied Shore since the pre-launch hype began, there's more to it. See, in the eyes of Italian-American focus groups, Shore represents a lot of negatives, chief among those the use of the prejorative, "guido". The cast of Shore doesn't see anything wrong with calling each other "guidos". To their generation, it's a compliment. I guess no one taught them the meaning behind "paisan", which is Italian for "friend". Two advertisers have already agreed to pull their advertising from Shore, bowing to pressure from the focus groups. That's nothing new. We see that all the time. Every time something remotely controversial is hyped, activist groups like the PTC jump on it, usually sight unseen, whining and complaining.

Naturally, the controversy has drawn the curious to the show, like moths to a flame. In the long term, however, Jersey Shore is just another disposable short-term series that will be replaced in about a year by something similar in format. That's just the way it is at MTV, and by this time next year, Shore will be a distant memory, a footnote in MTV's nearly 30-year history.

It kinda makes one long for the days when MTV's idea of non-music programming included reruns of Monty Python's Flying Circus or Saturday Night Live.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gene Barry (1919-2009)

He exuded class, dignity, & elegance in his television work. That is how most people will remember Gene Barry, who passed away Thursday at 90.

Barry made his television series debut as a physical education teacher on Our Miss Brooks before landing the title role in the Western series, Bat Masterson, in 1958. 4 years later, Barry landed what would be the definitive role of his career, starring in Burke's Law, which was inexplicably rebooted as Amos Burke, Secret Agent in its final season when ABC & Four Star decided to repackage Burke as an American James Bond. Barry then starred in the anthology series The Name of the Game (1968-71) and the British series, The Adventurer, before settling into a lengthy string of guest-star gigs. Burke's Law was revived in the 90's by CBS and producer Aaron Spelling, who'd produced the original for Four Star, but lasted about a year and a half before exiting, this time for good.

Barry had worked in movies before transitioning to television, most notably in "War of the Worlds". However, he would not be able to make a transition back into films because of his being typecast as a television star, something that probably wouldn't be a problem today.

We'll soon see if cable networks like Sleuth or TV Land can put together marathon blocks of Name of the Game or Burke's Law in memory of Barry. There aren't too many in Hollywood today that can emulate or match Barry's class & dignity on screen. He will be missed.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why I gave up comics

It's been over a year and a half since I actively collected and read comic books. Oh, sure, I actually bought a couple of items, plus some freebies, during Free Comic Book Day back in May, but that's been it. After more than 40 years of reading comics, I had decided that I had to step away. There were a number of factors involved.

1) Too many "events". To borrow a line from 3rd Bass' "Pop Goes the Weasel" (1991), comic books have become too much of a "complex structure like a pyramid". Marvel & DC, for example, build everything in their core lines around a specific "event", expecting the faithful readers will shell out the extra dough for every crossover chapter to the storyline, even if it means buying a book they ordinarily wouldn't be caught dead reading. I know. I made that mistake when DC first issued Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1985-6. Of course, back then, the books were cheaper than they are now, so it was easy to get roped in. In today's economy, not so much, unless you're willing to max out your Visa card.

2) Overpriced comics. The average DC or Marvel monthly now sells for either $3 or $4, depending on which book it is. Archie Comics is trailing behind at $2.50 per issue, which realistically should be the industry standard, not the exception. IDW (Idea & Design Works) skews toward $4 or $5, and always has, largely because of licensing fees that the publisher has to pay.

3) Stupid editorial ideas. Take for example what Marvel did with Spider-Man. Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada decided that after 20+ years of marriage, the web-head wasn't meant to be that way, so he had Peter (Spider-Man) Parker's marriage to Mary Jane Watson, an event unto itself in the late 80's, erased via a deal with Marvel's figurehead representation of the Devil. That's just one of the lame ideas that Marvel, formerly nicknamed "The House of Ideas", foisted upon the readers. Another one was clearly meant for shock value. The Rawhide Kid, a Western hero who'd been around since the Silver Age, was depicted as being gay in a poorly received miniseries. What Quesada is looking for, besides a few extra dollars at the checkout counter, is media attention. Let's not even get started with all the historical shuffling DC has done with someone like Hawkman. You think Rubik's Cube is challenging? Trying to make sense of "retroactive continuity" (retcon) would actually require a college degree and a private investigator's license.

4) It's not fun anymore. This actually ties into #2. I just can't shell out $3-4 per book on a weekly/monthly basis anymore. It got to the point where I finally said to myself, enough is enough. If they could roll back prices like Walmart and bring the standard cover price back to the levels they were 15-20 years ago, maybe I'm still in the game. I've had people try to tell me that I will get back into it. No, I won't. Not at this stage. It may be that the only time I actually indulge myself will in fact be at Free Comic Book Day, if at all. Coming up on 20 months and counting.

I will still check out comics-related blogs, mostly because that's where the fun is now, and read the solicitations of coming releases on the 'net, just in case there's something that might pique my curiosity, and that doesn't happen very often. I realize that comics has become big business, and as such, the bottom line at the corporate level is the motivating factor behind a lot of the "events" that are on the racks now. I can remember when I spent 12 cents for 1 book, and if it was a continued story, I couldn't get the next issue if the local distributor didn't deliver it to the corner store. That was the breaks of the game then. Today, I'd rather swim against the tide and hold on to the memories I have of simpler continuities and done-in-one stories.

On Stage: "King Island Christmas" (2009)

Over the years, I've had the pleasure of seeing a number of productions presented by the New York State Theatre Institute (NYSTI), presently housed at Russell Sage College. It had been a few years since I'd seen a NYSTI production, but with a buy 1, get 1 free coupon in hand, I took my girlfriend along for a matinee performance of this year's Christmas production, "King Island Christmas".

"King" is a musical whose story is told almost entirely in song, one number right after the other in rapid-fire fashion. There is very little spoken dialogue, and virtually the entire cast, as a result, is on stage the entire time. Based on true events in Alaska in the 50's, "King" tells the story of the island community awaiting the arrival of a priest to perform a church service at Christmas. Time flies by, figuratively and literally, as the production clocks in at a tidy, speedy 80 minutes.

To single out one member of the cast would be unfair to others, so I will simply say that everyone involved delivered a very strong performance. And despite the setting, no subtle references to a certain ex-governor who's currently peddling a book about her first brush with fame a year ago, among other topics. If you have a theatre group in your area is looking for a fresh presentation for the holiday season, I would recommend mounting a production of "King Island", based on the book by Jean Rogers. Grade: A.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Edward Fatu (aka Umaga)(1973-2009)

Just one week ago, the wrestler formerly known as Umaga was in Australia on Hulk Hogan's Hulkamania tour, wrestling on the undercard vs. fellow WWE alumnus Ken Anderson (formerly Mr. Kennedy). Using the name Uso, Ed Fatu won his last match with his signature finisher, the Samoan Spike.

Just 5 days later, Fatu was rushed to a Houston hospital after his wife found him in his chair, bleeding from the nose and unable to breathe. Fatu was pronounced dead Friday evening after suffering two heart attacks in the space of 24 hours. He was 36.

Just 7 months ago, Umaga was feuding with CM Punk on WWE Friday Night Smackdown, and cut his first-ever promo. Fatu had essayed the role of Umaga as a silent, savage Samoan who let his actions do his talking for him. His former manager, Armando Estrada, had been shipped off to ECW before being released earlier this year, leaving Umaga without a mouthpiece to cut his promos for him, so the WWE creative team decided to experiment with the "Samoan Bulldozer". While it seemed to work, any chance Fatu had of challenging for the WWE World title evaporated when he was released in June after being cited for his second violation of the company's Wellness Policy. Rumors had Fatu heading to TNA, but he instead signed on for Hogan's Australia tour, which ended November 28.

A cousin to wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson (currently heard in "Planet 51"), Fatu had 2 tours of duty with WWE, first as Jamal, 1/2 of 3:00 Warning (2002-03), then as Umaga (2006-09), winning just the two Intercontinental titles in 2006 as Umaga. Fatu had also wrestled in the original ECW among his other stops during his career.

In an eerie coincidence, Anderson was also the last man to wrestle Eddie Guerrero before Guerrero passed away 4 years ago. Don't think that won't be played up in some corners of the wrestling media. It won't surprise anyone, either, if Phil Mushnick regurgitates his usual anti-WWE blather in writing about Fatu's passing. The sad irony is, it may not have been the usual suspect (drugs) that ultimately did in Fatu. Given that he was billed as weighing 350 pounds, one must consider that his weight may have also played a part in his passing, but that is something we can only speculate on at the moment.

Rest in peace, Edward. We'll all miss you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Paul Naschy (1934-2009)

Just found out about this from Sam Wilson's Mondo 70 blog.

Naschy, born Jacinto Molina in 1934, is best remembered for his Spanish language treatment of classic horror movies like "The Wolf Man". I guess it can be said that Naschy would be the Spanish equivalent of horror icons like Vincent Price or Christopher Lee, but insofar as I know, Naschy never made a movie for American audiences with either Price or Lee or any of his other contemporaries.

While a new version of "The Wolf Man", starring Benicio Del Toro, is due to hit theatres in 2010 and is a remake of the Universal classic with Lon Chaney, Jr., it would be a good gesture to acknowledge Naschy's contribution to the lycantrhopic legend.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An era in Yankee history ends

Less than a month after the New York Yankees won their 27th World Series championship by dispatching the Philadelphia Phillies in 6 games, one of their most recognizable personalities officially closed a chapter in the team's storied history.

Public address announcer Bob Sheppard announced his retirement on Thanksgiving night, more than 2 years after he'd worked his last game at the original Yankee Stadium. Sheppard had been battling illness since the 2007 season, yet continued to work until it got to the point where he could not continue. Former Yankee broadcaster Paul Olden, who'd worked for the team during the 90's, assumed PA duties this year, unsure of whether or not Sheppard would return. After more than 50 years of welcoming fans into the hallowed Stadium, however, Sheppard conceded that his career had come to an end, and made it official, which of course merited a back page headline in the New York tabloids.

Even though Sheppard has not yet set foot in the new Stadium, his voice has been heard just the same. All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter, named Sports Illustrated's 2009 Sportsman of the Year on Monday, requested that a recording of Sheppard's introduction of him be played whenever he came to bat, a testimony to the respect Jeter has for Sheppard.

When the Yankees' NY-Penn League affiliate in Staten Island came to Troy to play the Tri-City Valleycats in recent years, someone associated with either team would do a incredible, spot-on mimic of Sheppard's distinctive voice for one inning. You'd swear Sheppard himself had made the trip. Sheppard can also be heard doing voice-overs for the YES network, but those bits were recorded when the network was launched 7 years ago. You have to believe that Sheppard will be honored by the Yankees sometime next year, including getting a plaque in Monument Park.

In addition to his work with the Yankees, Sheppard performed the same duties for the NFL's NY Giants for more than 50 years until stepping away from the mic at Giants Stadium following the 2006 season. I for one didn't realize this until a few years ago, when I could hear him while the game announcers were talking.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Yankees or their mammoth fan base campaigned to have Sheppard become the first PA announcer (I think) inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. To them, it would be a fitting coda to a distinguished career.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A different kind of hate crime

On November 20, 7 students at a California school were attacked by a group of 8 others. While that might not seem so weird, the motivation for the attacks is. Each of the victims were red-headed boys.

The problem starts with a Facebook posting promoting something called "Kick a Ginger Day", ginger being slang for redhead, obviously, and inspired by an episode of the Comedy Central series, South Park, which has entertained more than its fair share of controversy over the years. As of this writing, three of the 8 attackers were arrested and released into their parents' custody. 2 of the boys are 12, the other 13, and one imagines that the other five still at large at this time are around the same age. What the Police should consider, too, is pursuing the person who posted the initial "Kick a Ginger" message in the first place.

While it's seemingly easy to motivate a group of kids into attacking other kids for whatever reason, targeting those kids because of hair color, not skin color or religion or any other normal motivation for a hate crime, suggests a prank that has gone hopelessly wrong and spiraled out of control. You can bet that if/when the person responsible for "Kick a Ginger" is brought forward, that's what the defense is going to be, unless the person really is a few fries shy of a Happy Meal.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Dozierverse: What might've been

I was talking to a friend the other day at the supermarket, and he expressed his disdain over the current series Smallville, now in its 9th season. Not only does he not get the whole concept over the series, chronicling the career of young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) before he becomes Superman, but it bothered him that central characters like Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) had been written out of the show, and the producers had taken extreme creative liberties in creating their own version of the Justice League, as we've seen their takes on Green Arrow, Aquaman, Cyborg (of the Teen Titans), Martian Manhunter, and most recently, the Wonder Twins, in the last few seasons. It got me thinking.

A few years ago, I had acquired a VHS tape of the unaired Batgirl pilot from 1967 starring Yvonne Craig. The spin-off never got off the ground, and the "Dominoed Dare-Doll" was added to Batman for its 3rd & final season. In addition to the short feature were some network ads for NBC's Captain Nice and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a trailer for 1975's "Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze", George Pal's adaptation of the pulp legend. Also, there was a teaser for yet another William Dozier production, one that, luckily for us, never saw any airtime at all.

Six years before Wonder Woman was adapted into an ABC Movie of the Week with Cathy Lee Crosby (That's Incredible) and Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island), Dozier had tried a half-hour, comedy-adventure version designed along the same camp line as Batman, but infinitely worse. The fact that neither ABC nor NBC or CBS picked it up proves that what worked for Batman wasn't meant to work for the rest of the DC characters.

Undaunted, Dozier also tried to apply his formula to comic strip legend Dick Tracy. You've probably seen the title credits on YouTube or the full pilot, which I found on the Classic Television Showbiz blog. Tracy's theme song was composed and performed by the surf-rock group, The Ventures, better remembered for their awesome take on the Hawaii 5-0 theme. Instead of being closer to Green Hornet as a more serious crime drama, Tracy was also geared toward the campy Bat-audience, even going so far as to cast Victor Buono (King Tut on Batman) as the villain du jour, Mr. Memory. Apparently, Dozier believed that Chester Gould's cast of bizarre criminals (i.e. The Mole, Pruneface) would lend itself to be used the same way Batman's Rogues Gallery was used. As with Wonder Woman, network execs passed on Dick Tracy. Hence, Dozier's body of work on television consists solely of at least three series: Batman, Green Hornet, and the lone true sitcom Dozier ever made, The Tammy Grimes Show, with Batman being the most successful of the three.

You've heard of how actors are typecast. It's easy to assume that a producer such as Dozier was also typecast, after a fashion.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A coincidence of bad timing

One of the highlights of this week's WWE Monday Night Raw involved DeGeneration X (or, more commonly, DX) and Hornswoggle, a leprechaun character who has been a bit of a pest of late. However, those involved might've been better served waiting at least another week or two before going ahead with the skit they ran on Monday.

You see, earlier that day in NYC, a teenage girl was struck with a stray bullet while walking home from school, an innocent child walking into the midst of a dispute. I would say it was a drive-by, but the gunman rode a bicycle. With Raw at Madison Square Garden, this unfortunate, real-world incident had an effect on the DX-Hornswoggle angle.

Over the course of the last several weeks, Hornswoggle has been wearing DX clothing, specifically a cowboy hat similar to the one Shawn Michaels wears, and a "DX Army" t-shirt. Triple H had warned Hornswoggle a number of times about gimmick infringement, but the leprechaun wouldn't listen. About three weeks ago, Hornswoggle was served with a "cease & desist" order from DX. He ignored that, too. The core of Hornswoggle's character now isn't so much that he's a leprechaun, but rather, as announcer Michael Cole succinctly put it, a "petulant child".

And that brings us back to Monday at MSG. After Hornswoggle had caused Chavo Guerrero, Jr. to lose yet another match, furthering their seemingly endless feud, DX called Hornswoggle out to the ring. Forgetting that they had conferred an honorary membership to Hornswoggle two years ago, Triple H & Michaels feigned giving him full membership, and, then, in a scene similar to when HHH turned on Michaels 7 years ago, the "Cerebral Assassin" booted Hornswoggle in the gut, and hit his finisher, the Pedigree. The crowd, understandably, booed, but not with any real venom. It might not have been the reaction DX was looking for headed into a triple threat match vs. WWE champ John Cena at Survivor Series on Sunday---we don't know for sure---but given what had happened earlier in the day, the last thing the fans at MSG wanted to see was a child-like character being assaulted.

We do not know for sure if anyone in WWE was aware of what had happened to the young woman while preparing Raw for broadcast. If they were, a case could have been made where they could've waited at least another week or two before having DX "punish" Hornswoggle, if you will, for his ignorance. In fact, I didn't even know about the shooting until reading the paper the next day. Once I did, I was able to better gauge the audience reaction.

Vince McMahon has often been accused of lacking class, tact, etc., but this time, while the usual suspects (i.e. Phil Mushnick) will rip into him for going through with the skit in light of the shooting, I don't think McMahon can be held accountable. If he didn't know about it, and decided to go through with the skit as planned, well, at the end of the day, he comes across as innocent as that teenager who was shot, and the media hounds will be villified for finding fault where it doesn't exist. In the end, there is no one to blame.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ken Ober (1957-2009)

This one is a stunner. I saw the headline on Yahoo!'s front page a short time ago, and of course, I needed to read the article. Ken Ober, the genial MC of MTV's seminal comedy-game show Remote Control, passed away Sunday at 52. No other details have been made public at the present time.

In addition to making Ober a star, Control also launched the careers of actresses Kari Wuhrer (who was one of Ober's sidekicks during season 2) and Alicia Coppola (who replaced Wuhrer, then moved to the short lived Fox series, Against The Law), and actor-comedians Denis Leary (Rescue Me), Colin Quinn, and Adam Sandler. Post-Control, Ober tried his hand at acting, landing a role in NBC's first attempt at adapting the movie "Parenthood" for television, and did some commercials. Control would not be the end of his game show career, though, as Ober also hosted Smush and a revival of Make Me Laugh, both for Comedy Central (though he left Laugh after the 1st season), and a sports-themed game for Fox Sports Net, the title of which escapes me at the moment.

In recent years, Ober has worked as a morning radio host in Los Angeles, and turned his talents to producing, working on CBS' New Adventures of Old Christine and Comedy Central's now-defunct Mind of Mencia. He also reunited with Colin Quinn, serving as a producer and occasional panelist on Quinn's Comedy Central talk show, Tough Crowd.

One wonders if MTV will even be bothered to honor Ober with a marathon of Control. With MTV's programming now largely non-music related, we'll soon see. Rest in peace, Ken.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Edward Woodward (1930-2009)

Most of you might remember Edward Woodward for either films such as "The Wicker Man" or the popular mid-80's series, The Equalizer. Woodward passed away earlier today in London at 79. Woodward's last film to date was 2007's "Hot Fuzz" with Simon Pegg, among others. What I didn't know until reading about Woodward's passing in Ivan Shreve's Thrilling Days of Yesteryear blog was that Woodward was also a recording artist during the course of a 60-plus year career in show business. Not sure if any of his records were ever released here in the US, even during his Equalizer days.

Let me also take the time to note the passing of noted sitcom writer David Lloyd, whose many credits include Frasier, Cheers, & The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for the latter of which Lloyd wrote the legendary episode, "Chuckles Bites the Dust".

Rest in peace, gentlemen. You will be missed.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On DVD: Sherlock Holmes (1955)

A few months back, I bought a bargain basket DVD collecting 3 episodes of this mid-50's series, produced in France. As a Holmes fan going all the way back to my school days, I thought this might be a good addition to my collection.

After 1 episode, my opinion changed. Holmes, as played by Ronald Howard, comes across as a forerunner to a lot of the TV detectives that have come since, like Richard Diamond and Jim Rockford, for example. More jovial than normal, and sparring more than cooperating with Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. The episode in question, "The Case of Harry Crocker", has Holmes hired----after a fashion----by Crocker, a stage performer accused of murder. Much of the episode is spent with Crocker either evading or being captured by the police, and Holmes & Dr. Watson caught in the middle. This is not typical Holmes fare.

Edit, 1/28/17: Had to replace the video for "The Case of Harry Crocker":




I just couldn't take any more. Luckily, I do have a couple of DVDs of those Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce classics to reach for another day.

Rating: C-.

On the Air: "Family Guy" Presents Seth & Alex's Almost Live Variety Show, 11/8

Ever since Fox raised Family Guy from the dead a few years ago, it seems the network has bent over backwards to placate series creator/executive producer/star Seth MacFarlane. He now has two additional series on the network schedule (American Dad and the 1st-year entry, The Cleveland Show), and just for kicks, MacFarlane is given this half-hour special, bumping aside The Simpsons for one night. So, I figured I'd take a look and see just what the fuss was about that drew the PTC's attention.

The program opened innocently enough with MacFarlane and co-star Alex Borstein (ex-Mad TV) performing the Family Guy theme song while the more familiar opening from that series appeared on the screen. From there, it was an animated skit with the Griffin family loaded with sexual innuendos, followed by MacFarlane doing a cabaret number, a song taken from one of his favorite movies (though he didn't identify the film). Apparently, it had a World War II theme, as Alex interrupted three times to complain about the rude treatment the Jews got from the Nazis in WWII. Ok, so that's what the PTC had a problem with. Luckily for the rest of us, the better stuff was yet to come.

There were no real commercials. Instead, Stewie Griffin (MacFarlane, of course) queued up trailers for a pair of coming attractions from Warners, "Sherlock Holmes" and "Ninja Assassin". This after Microsoft had pulled out as a sponsor, to the delight of the PTC. In between trailers, MacFarlane presented a series of faux celebrity screen tests, including Bea Arthur (Borstein) auditioning for "Showgirls" and Gregory Peck (MacFarlane) testing for "Transformers". Silly stuff. Borstein scored big with a mimic of Renee Zellweger that actually sounded more like a more coherent cousin of Miss Swan (from Mad TV), and doing deaf actress Marlee Matlin covering Lady GaGa's "Poker Face". This prompted the real Matlin to make an appearance, serving up a receipt by doing a couple of jokes at Alex's expense. When she left, the Oscar winner (for "Children of a Lesser God") pulled off a tablecloth from one of the front row tables.

Referencing Family's past cancellations, MacFarlane then queued a pair of fake pilots "that never made it", including a Hill Street Blues parody that was another red flag for the morality police, and a Western starring Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement). That led to a series of jokes using shameless plugs for The Cleveland Show to censor swear words. Talk about throwing the new show under the bus! MacFarlane closed with a quick medley of songs using the voices of Peter & Stewie to cover, among other things, Elton John's "Rocket Man" (as Stewie) and The Trashmen's 1-hit wonder, "Surfin' Bird" (as Peter), which actually comes pretty close to a case of Peter/Seth lip-syncing the original song. As was the case earlier, footage from Family Guy complemented the songs. Another plus was musical director Walter Murphy getting some face time for the first time since, maybe, the 1970's, when he had a huge hit with "A 5th of Beethoven". (Yep, same guy)

On the whole, the show just flew by even quicker than any of MacFarlane's cartoons, and aside from the Jewish jokes and the FG skit at the start, there really wasn't a whole lot that justifies the PTC's whining.

 Rating: B-.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Morality Police are at it again

A few days ago, I had read on the Toon Zone message board that the Parents Television Council (PTC) had pressured Microsoft into pulling advertising from an upcoming Fox special starring Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. I just shook my head. Here we go again.

Since its founding in 1995, the PTC has made it its mission to bring traditional family values back to broadcast television. However, the methods they use amount to overzealous bullying when things don't go their way. The PTC boasted TV icon Steve Allen as an Honorary Chairman before his passing a few years back, and the current membership includes the likes of country singer-actor Billy Ray Cyrus (Hannah Montana) and----what a surprise---Pat Boone.

What PTC President Tim Winter and his group are complaining about now is a special that hasn't even aired yet, but they're going by the reputation that MacFarlane has already gained for his triad of animated sitcoms (Family Guy, American Dad, & the first-year series The Cleveland Show). While I have not seen Cleveland yet nor have bothered with American Dad to this point, I have sampled Family Guy on occasion. Yes, the humor may often be sophomoric and crass, but the problem with the show I see is that the plotlines are lost in a steady stream of bad gags and jokes that have no coherence in relation to whatever passes for a plot.

In short, the PTC is doing what it does best. Piggybacking onto someone else's forum to renew their 15 minutes of fame.

A little personal disclosure here. Some 30-odd years ago, I was attending a Christian church in my hometown whose pastor decided to take a very public stand on pornography, which, he believed, had extended to network television programs such as Three's Company and Charlie's Angels. He smashed three television sets to put his point across. The pastor has long since left the area, but his message was not too far from the mission statement the PTC would adopt nearly 20 years later. I would later realize that if you got past the distraction created by the concept of "Jiggle TV", and paid closer attention to the story itself, the shows weren't so bad.

And that is where the PTC is making its mistakes over and over again. They've railed against crime dramas like NYPD Blue (language) and Without a Trace (graphic violence, I assume), even though neither of those shows are aired at a time when children could be watching. That has been the moral crutch the PTC has used more often than not, taking into account that at least 2-3 generations of youths have taken up smoking and coarse language at such a young age, creating a cycle that is increasingly difficult to break. If the PTC recognized that the things they're complaining about are within the context of a story, then they have nothing to complain about.

It's never a good idea to complain about something you haven't seen, and have only gone by hearsay (word of mouth). Then, you're defeating your whole purpose, because you're enabling the show(s) you're targeting to draw more attention out of curiosity. Me? I'll be reviewing that Fox special this weekend, and we'll see if the PTC's mercenary, premature actions were justified.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New York expands its "bottle bill"

We've been accustomed to paying an extra nickel per bottle or can for beer, soda, and energy drinks like Red Bull. Oh? You didn't know there was a deposit on Red Bull? Shame on you! I digress.

Beginning November 8, New Yorkers will be paying that extra nickel for bottles of water weighing less than 1 gallon. The Save-A-Lot supermarket chain, perhaps thinking way ahead of everyone else, has had the deposit in effect on all bottled beverages for quite a while now, which made them the only stores in New York to accept deposits on water, iced tea, & lemonade. Apparently, this confused some consumers, who would bring their empties to rival markets, thinking that if 1 store took them back, they all would. Not now, but soon, it would appear.

Bear in mind that for now, only water joins soda & beer in being returned for a deposit. In time, lemonade and iced tea will follow suit. Aside from New York, bottled water is returned in Maine, Hawaii, Michigan, and California. One has to assume that everyone else will follow suit in due course.

From an environmental standpoint, it's a huge positive, as it takes a lot of empty bottles off the streets. Yes, there are those people who don't see the benefits of bottle returns, which is why you see beer & soda bottles and cans still strewn in the streets, easily collected by local urchins looking for a quick payday.

However, the increase in the bottle bill has gone under-reported in some newspapers. The Record, my hometown paper, for example, practically buried the story, giving it next to no priority. The urchins will learn about it either via television or by word of mouth, but they have to wait for the newly labeled bottles to become available as of 11/8. Anything before then still won't net them anything---unless they go to Save-A-Lot. By this time next year, you have to assume that everything else (iced tea, lemonade) falls into line, and while it's going to create an increase in traffic at the bottle returns at the markets, it will also create---we hope---cleaner streets in our cities.

Roughly translated: to paraphrase the United Negro College Fund, an empty bottle is a terrible thing to waste. Let's all do our part.

Carl Ballantine (1917-2009)

Many thanks to Ivan Shreve at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear for the heads-up on this item. Actor-comedian-magician Carl Ballantine has passed away at 92. Best remembered as shifty Lester Gruber on McHale's Navy in the 60's, Ballantine incorporated magic into his comedy act on stage. He had intended to be a full time practicing magician, but apparently he didn't have enough talent to be up there with the likes of Harry Blackstone and other masters of prestidigation.

After McHale ended its run in 1966, Ballantine logged appearances on several other series, including The Monkees and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, while continuing to perform on the road. He was a tremendous talent, and earned his fair share of laughs on McHale.

Rest in peace, Carl. You will be missed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The fading star that won't go away

A year ago at this time, Hulk Hogan was parading a group of retired or out-of-work actors (i.e. Frank Stallone, Todd Bridges) and former stars (Butterbean) in front of TV screens under the umbrella of his Celebrity Championship Wrestling promotion. CCW died a quick death, hastened by the National Enquirer leaking out the result of the pre-taped competition (ex-basketball star Dennis Rodman became the lone champion of CCW) weeks before the series ended. A few months earlier, Hogan fronted a revival of the 80's series, American Gladiators, but interest faded in the summer heat, despite the presence of MMA starlet Gina Carano and, in the second "season", wrestler Matt Morgan, currently with TNA (Total Nonstop Action).

Those relative failures, coupled with the incessant tabloid media coverage of the collapse of Hogan's marriage, daughter Brooke's flagging singing career (that she released a 2nd album was a miracle), and son Nick's legal troubles, should've been signs that it was time for Hogan, not yet 60, to quietly walk away from the spotlight that has been like his best friend for nearly 30 years. Unfortunately, that spotlight is like an addictive drug. It's what makes the man born Terry Bollea feel as if he's still relevant in the here and now, even though his profession has long since moved forward without him.

Over the summer, word got out that Hogan was planning a tour of Australia, something he could've done while with WWE in 2002-3, but didn't. He lured old nemesis Ric Flair out of retirement, and had a number of other ex-WWE wrestlers committed to the tour. Hogan would dust off the red & yellow and wrestle Flair in the main event on the tour. Money in the bank, right?

Apparently not. In New York today to promote his new book, Hogan dropped a major bombshell. He had signed with TNA, which already has a number of ex-WWE & WCW stars on their roster, including Scott Steiner and Kurt Angle. TNA co-owner Dixie Carter (not the actress) is convinced that bringing in veterans like Angle, Steiner, and now Hogan and possibly Flair as well, will mean higher ratings predicated on name value, even though the talent is on the downside of their careers. However, showcasing those veterans is at the expense of younger, hungrier wrestlers like Morgan, current champion AJ Styles, Alex Shelley, Eric Young, Chris Sabin, and Jay Lethal, who have to jockey for prime positions on the weekly cards (taped 2-3 weeks in advance). Angle & Steiner were recently part of the company's NWO-esque faction, the Main Event Mafia, but neither is really a true draw any more than Hogan is.

Just last week, TNA initiated a storyline that suggests that it's time for veterans like Angle to step aside and let the younger wrestlers have their spotlight. Bringing in Hogan kills that entire angle dead, unless he can be sold on the idea that, yes, his time in the ring is over. He wanted to be put in the role of a figurehead executive in WWE, or so they said, and that may be what awaits him this time.

In the short term, there will be a boost in the ratings, but that's all there's going to be. There are already the rumors that with Hogan and former boss Eric Bischoff on board, TNA may be bold enough to move Impact to Mondays and challenge WWE Raw head to head. I don't see it happening.

In Tennessee, Jeff Jarrett, the now-silent co-owner of TNA, sits and waits for the opportunity to return to work, knowing that his business partner, Carter, is so much a mark for the veterans she's signed, she doesn't realize the baggage that comes with the fading stars. Jarrett was there when WCW collapsed nearly a decade ago. He doesn't want to see it happen to his own company, but what can he do when he's been pushed aside in favor of Angle, who now has Carter's ear, it seems.

George Santayana was right. Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it. I've used that line about TNA virtually from the get-go, nearly 7 1/2 years ago. Now, more than ever, it may ring true enough to sound the death knell for TNA, and adding Hogan may be the straw that breaks this camel's back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lou Jacobi (1913-2009)

Here's another actor whose name you might not recognize, but his face might be just so familiar. Lou Jacobi, veteran character actor and Broadway star, passed away recently, 2 months shy of his 95th birthday. Jacobi made a zillion guest appearances on shows as diverse as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Barney Miller, and even headlined his own sitcom, the short-lived CBS comedy, Ivan the Terrible, in the mid-70's. Mr. Jacobi also had recorded some comedy records and appeared in Woody Allen's "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)", among his many film credits. Many thanks to Ivan Shreve's Thrilling Days of Yesteryear blog for the tip.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Soupy Sales (1926-2009)

He brought a little bit of vaudeville to children's television with the pie-in-the-face gags that were part of his act, but Soupy Sales, born Milton Supman in 1926, was also a regular guest on The Mike Douglas Show and game shows like What's My Line?, the latter during its syndicated run in the late 60's and early 70's. Sales passed away Thursday in New York at 83 after a lengthy illness.

Sales had been a reporter and a radio DJ before moving to television in the 50's, with stops in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, among others, before landing in New York in the 60's. He had a hit novelty record, "Do The Mouse", which led to a short-lived dance craze and hit the top of the charts in 1965. Sales also parlayed "Do The Mouse" into a guest appearance in an issue of Archie, in which he was shown on the cover with Archie performing "The Mouse".

Some of Sales' gags went a little bit overboard, specifically one New Year's Eve stunt in New York that got him suspended for 1 week. Sales told his young audience to empty their mothers' wallets and send him "the pieces of green paper with Presidents on them", meaning dollar bills.

While it was never really a comeback due to his regular appearances on television, Sales hosted his first and only national children's show in 1976, serving as MC for ABC's Junior Almost Anything Goes, which unfortunately lasted but one season, largely due to affiliate indifference more than a lack of ratings. Some affiliates, including the one in my home area at the time, opted to carry syndicated programming over Junior. Undaunted, Sales came right back with The New Soupy Sales Show in syndication the very next year, which brought all of Sales' beloved puppet sidekicks, like Pookie, White Fang, & Black Tooth, from his regional shows, to a wider audience. However, this also lasted just 1 season.

Sales made a number of films, the most recent of which I can think of is "And God Spoke", a satire on Biblical times. Sales' two sons, Hunt & Tony, made their fame as members of David Bowie's band, Tin Machine, in the late 80's and early 90's, opting not to follow their father into comedy.

Somewhere up in Heaven, they're going to be having a pie fight, and very soon. Rest in peace, Soupy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vic Mizzy (1916-2009) & Joseph Wiseman (1918-2009)

You might not know the name, but you certainly know his music. Mizzy composed the themes to TV's Green Acres, Addams Family, & Petticoat Junction, among others, and wrote the music for Don Knotts' solo features, such as "The Ghost & Mr. Chicken". Mizzy's immortal Addams theme has also been used in commercial advertising in recent years, especially in replicating the opening to the Addams Family series.

Wiseman may be better remembered as the title villain battling James Bond (Sean Connery) in "Dr. No" in 1962, but also became a respected character actor with several TV & movie credits to his name.

Both gentlemen will be missed.

Division in the House of McMahon

Last month, Linda McMahon resigned her post as Chief Executive Officer of World Wrestling Entertainment in order to pursue an opportunity to run for US Senate as a Republican candidate from Connecticut next year. Instead of promoting either one of their two offspring, Shane or Stephanie, to fill the vacancy, Chairman Vincent K. McMahon decided that he would wear the two hats as Chairman & CEO. More grist for the mill for Vince's detractors, to be sure, considering that he is no longer the creative dynamo he was 25 years ago when he helped usher in the "Rock & Wrestling Connection".

Ah, but there is a silver lining to be had here. What if Linda fails in her bid for the Senate, failing to become the GOP's answer to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Her old job will be waiting for her back in Stamford. Vince has seen to that. To promote either of the kids would send the wrong message as it relates to Linda in the eyes of the critics and general press.

Meanwhile, in a move that some might suspect may be tied to Linda's departure, Shane announced his resignation as Vice President in charge of Global Media last week, taking effect January 1. A mixed martial arts fan, Shane McMahon, 39, had wanted his father to take a chance on promoting MMA himself, which would put them in direct competition with UFC, whose own top gun, Dana White, has already drawn comparisons to Vince in the media. Vince didn't want to take a chance, no doubt, citing past failures at expanding the McMahon empire (i.e. the XFL in 2001, the WBF in 1991-2). One has to assume that Shane might just take the plunge himself as an MMA promoter, but will soon discover that the media bias against WWE will extend to whatever new venture he starts. There aren't that many that truly believe Shane will manage on his own without his father's intervention, positive or negative.

With Linda gone for at least the short term, and Shane to follow after the holidays, Vince & Stephanie have the company to themselves. That won't last with the current business model they have now. As it is, Stephanie's husband, Triple H, has been routinely raked over the coals by critics for hogging camera time on television, thinking the company should still revolve around him, even when he isn't champion. With a staff comprised mostly of failed Hollywood writers, WWE is lacking a consistent direction in its product, and that is largely Vince's fault, since according to press accounts he is constantly changing his mind on a daily basis. That makes him no different than, say, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who also is stubbornly holding on to past successes and unwilling to embrace the present. Vince, at least, needs to realize this before it's too late.

Bank on this, though. By this time next year, the McMahons will be one happy family again, because in this case, failure could be the best medicine they could use.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A mile high delusion foiled----maybe

How far will someone go to gain the 15 minutes of fame that the late Andy Warhol prophesied that everyone would have?

Richard Heene thought he had an answer. It wasn't enough that the Heene family had previously appeared on ABC's Wife Swap. Not once, mind you, but twice. Richard Heene had gained the dreaded addiction to the spotlight, and now he wanted to extend what little fame he had. He had been in negotiations with a cable network, presumably the Learning Channel, for his own reality show. His idea of an audition tape was to pretend his 6 year old son, Falcon, was on board a home-made balloon that went on its now-infamous joyride on Oct. 15. The little rugrat wasn't aboard the craft at all, but safely tucked away at home. As it turned out, Falcon foiled his father's plans by innocently---and inadvertently----telling the truth in an interview, in which he blurted out that his father told him they were "doing this for a show".

That one sentence all by itself changed the entire picture. In the space of the last five days, Richard Heene has been recast from concerned father to scheming huckster. Colorado authorities are considering pressing charges, including filing a false report, against Heene, whose sons would conceivably be either placed in foster care or with relatives in the area, if there are any, if their parents end up going to jail.

That might not be the end of the story, though. In today's society, we've been conditioned to believe that bad behavior---and the attendant controversy that goes with it----is more profitable in the long term. The truth is, there is no long term benefit. The clock is ticking on the Heenes' flirtation with fame, and perhaps by this time next year, they'll be little more than a footnote.

Art Linkletter had a feature on his iconic series, House Party, entitled, Kids Say the Darndest Things, which was later spun off into a stand-alone series with Bill Cosby. Neither could've imagined how true that is.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Captain" Lou Albano (1933-2009)

Professional wrestling has lost another of its storied legends with the passing of Captain Lou Albano earlier today at 76. Albano, billed as the "Manager of Champions" in the then-WWWF in the 70's, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996, and last appeared on WWE Monday Night Raw 2 years ago.

Albano started his career as a wrestler and won the WWWF tag titles as 1/2 of the Scilians in 1967. However, his fame rose as a manager, guiding 15 teams to tag gold in the 70's & 80's, the last team being the Headshrinkers in 1994. Albano also led Ivan Koloff to the WWWF title in 1971.

In the 80's & 90's, Albano reinvented himself as an actor, appearing in films such as "Wise Guys", "Body Slam", & "Stay Tuned", and the children's TV series, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. Of course, during the Golden Age of MTV, Albano was a member of Cyndi Lauper's repertory company, appearing in a number of her videos, including "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" & "She Bop". On WWE (then World Wrestling Federation) programs, Albano would claim to have been a factor in Lauper's early success, but in the course of things went from being a buffoonish villain to beloved fan favorite, which he would remain for the remainder of his time with WWE.

Albano had been in failing health in recent months and had just recently been placed in hospice care. In his last appearance on Raw, Albano cut a rambling promo via videotape on Vince McMahon, who had "killed off" his on-air alter ego for a few weeks as part of a storyline that was abruptly terminated a few weeks later.

Up in the Great Arena in the Sky, Albano has been reunited with the other "Wise Men of the East", Fred Blassie and Ernie "Grand Wizard" Roth. The troika were the heel managers in the WWWF in the 70's, and were just as over as the talent they managed. It would be a major shock if WWE, which has a short notice on their website, didn't honor Albano with a tribute on Monday.

Rest in peace, Lou. You will be missed.

Clean-up on aisle common sense!

The Associated Press reports that the Christina School Board in Delaware voted unanimously to lift a 45 day suspension handed down to an elementary school student who brought his favorite camping utensil to school for lunch last month. The problem with said utensil was that it's a 3-way folding utensil, a combination folding knife, spoon, & fork. The knife part is what got Zachary Christie in trouble, when he innocently brought the utensil with him, intent on using the other parts (spoon & fork) to eat his lunch.

The key word is "innocently". Zachary, you see, is only 6, and in the 1st grade. The school board needed to make immediate changes in their policy after young Zachary was suspended, because the rule is actually meant, I think, for older students, from 4th or 5th graders on up, not for kindergarteners & 1st graders. You can't expect a 5 or 6 year old child to understand that a 3-way camping utensil can be construed, as it was in this case, as a potential weapon. According to the AP, Zachary is being welcomed back to class today, but he's not the first one to have been a victim of knee-jerk discipline in the district. The AP piece also mentions that a 5th grader was expelled for bringing a serrated knife with her to school last season, along with a birthday cake. The knife was intended for use to cut the cake. The expulsion was overturned, and the girl was allowed to return to school, same as Zachary.

It doesn't stop there. A 13 year old boy is now being home-schooled because the district punished him for carrying a knife that was planted on him by a group of bullies who hassled him last season. The bullies got away scot free, insofar as we know. Based on these three cases, it seems that the administrators in the Christina district can't---or worse, won't---take the time or the resources to gather all the facts, and take everything, including alibis from the bullies, at face value. It's one thing to be concerned with the safety of everyone at school because of the threat of violence, in this day & age, but what happens when the faculty is negligent in its "diligent" duties to the students? Innocence is lost, piece by piece.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Concert: Newsboys w/Seventh Day Slumber, Me In Motion, & Bread of Stone, October 11, 2009, Albany NY

The Newsboys are regarded as one of the premier Christian music acts going today. Currently touring in support of their new CD, the Newsboys' "The Way We Roll" tour hit Albany's Washington Avenue Armory on Sunday night.

Before I get into the review, I have to share this with you. My girlfriend & I bought our tickets 2 1/2 weeks prior to the show. The Newsboys are one of her favorites, and she acted as if she was a 12 year old going to a Jonas Brothers show. She was that giddy with excitement and anticipation. 3 1/2 hours before we were to leave for Albany, she called me at home. When I picked up the line, she nearly blew out my ear with a loud shriek. She just couldn't contain the excitement any longer.

Anyway, when we got there, there was already a long line forming outside the doors of the armory, almost extending to the library next door. We went in, and settled into our seats. Normally, the average concert doesn't start on time. There is usually a delay of about 5-10 minutes before the show actually starts in order for fans to find their seats after hitting the concessions. In this case, the first band was on six minutes early!!! The program actually started around 6:50, when the local radio station's reps came out to do a warmup for the crowd. At 6:54, Bread of Stone, a relatively new 4-piece combo, took the stage.

Bread of Stone, if I understood the intro correctly (The sound system still needs to be addressed, as the volume is a wee bit too loud for mere talking), are or were based out of Indonesia, and are making plans to return there after the current tour to help with relief efforts after recent disasters. Due to the excessive volume, I couldn't follow most of the lyrics during a 5 song, 21 minute set.

In between acts, a video would play of the Newsboys helping build homes in Baja Mexico, among other charitable efforts. Another newcomer, Grace Campbell, came out as an unadvertised bonus act and did 1 lip-synched dance pop number with a pre-recorded backing track that took just under 5 minutes. She's cute and all that, so we may be hearing more from her sooner than later.

Next up was Me In Motion, another new combo. 23 minutes of power pop-rock (it wouldn't be fair to classify them as punk rockers, a la Green Day), and this time it was a little easier to understand the lyrics, even though for the life of me I couldn't tell you the song titles.

Seventh Day Slumber opened with a cover of MercyMe's 2001 hit, "I Can Only Imagine". It took me a while to recognize the song, which was a highlight of their set, clocking out around 30-35 minutes. I'm interested in seeing these guys again.

But it was the Newsboys that everyone wanted to see, and there were a few who'd been spending the majority of their evening roaming the merchandise booths and concession stands before rushing toward the stage. The Newsboys hit the ground running with "Something Beautiful" & "Everywhere We Go". New lead singer Michael Tait (ex-DC Talk) acquitted himself well, putting his own stamp on the hits. "Breakfast" was a real crowd pleaser, but it was a bit of a surprise that other songs like "Shine" were relegated to a mid-set medley during which the band moved to a smaller stage at the end of the runway. For the encore, the band closed with DC Talk's signature song, "Jesus Freak". Coincidentally, Tait's former bandmate, TobyMac, closed his show in the same building 2 years ago with "Jesus Freak" as well. If you're a regular listener to the syndicated K-Love radio network, "Freak" is usually used for short interstitals about Christians throughout history, usually narrated by Tait.

The lone disappointment was that the ballad, "In the Hands of God", wasn't included, probably because Tait hasn't learned the lyrics yet, though I can't say for sure. Maybe next time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Old School Cinema: "Charlie Chan at the Race Track" (1936)

The hometown library is devoting Thursday nights in October to classic mysteries. I missed out on "Hound of the Baskervilles" last week, but there was no way I'd pass this up. I'd obtained an interest in Earl Derr Biggers' Honolulu-based sleuth as a youth, and was blessed with a 4-pack of Charlie Chan DVDs earlier this year for my birthday.

"Charlie Chan at the Race Track" starts in Honolulu with Chan (Warner Oland, the definitive Chan in this writer's opinion) demonstrating how to discern the cause of bloodstains. Son Lee (Keye Luke, later of Kung Fu) bursts in with a hot tip on an Australian horse race. The room empties, and Chan chastises #1 son for violating a basic rule on the door ("Knock first"). Many miles away in the land Down Under, the race goes awry amid suspicions of a fix. The jockey suffers a 2-year ban, which in this case only lasts the length of the movie, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The horse owner is an old friend of Chan's, and he suspects there is a strong stench of the influence of gamblers, so he sends for Chan. However, he's killed en route, and his prized horse is suspected of the deed. Chan quickly dismisses this, finding evidence to the contrary.

The producers assumed theatregoers would be bored silly without a distraction, so one is created with hijinx on board a ship bound eventually for Los Angeles, where Lee poses as a cabin boy to find evidence, which leads to him turning into a stereotype. He ends up leading the steward on a merry chase that includes Charlie being used, however convienently, to send the steward sprawling. Just the sort of thing you'd normally associate with the Marx Brothers or Laurel & Hardy.

Rare is the time when Chan is at the mercy of a criminal, but it happens here, as he & Lee are taken prisoner by members of the gambling ring. However, they're not held for long, and Lee sees to that by clocking their captor with a wine bottle. Now, it's off to the race track for the grand finale. Suffice to say, Chan gets his man, as per usual.

Aside from the use of stereotypes, the one negative about the Chan series is that the lead is not played by an Asian. Oland happens to be Swedish. Nearly 40 years later, Keye Luke would become the first actor of Asian descent since the silent era to play Chan, albeit the detective's animated personage, in the 1972 series, The Amazing Chan & the Chan Clan. There, Charlie finally had mastered the full use of the English language, but also continued to use the proverbs we've come to know and love. This film provides one of my favorites:

"Suspicion is often father of truth."

Oh, that is so true.

Edit, 5/3/17: Here's the movie:




Rating: A.

Monday, October 5, 2009

On DVD: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008-9)

I initially wrote this review for Samuel Wilson's Mondo 70 blog back at the end of June, after Sammy & I took in a Saturday matinee of "Anvil". Since the movie has now been released on DVD, and had its TV debut, predictably, on VH1 Classic on Oct. 3, I thought I'd revisit my review of the movie, so here we go!
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They say that in show business, you've got to have a gimmick. In the 80's, it wasn't enough to call yourself a heavy metal band. You had to have some sort of gimmick to stand out from the rest. That's why you saw the emergence of "hair bands" like Bon Jovi (who've since lost the long hair and are more of a pop-rock combo), and "glam bands" like Motley Crue & Twisted Sister. Anvil didn't fit into either of those categories. They were a group of average guys from Canada trying to make it big. The closest they had to a gimmick was lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow wearing a bondage collar and using a dildo on his guitar. Kudlow and drummer/co-founder Robb Reiner had been friends since they were teens, and despite the arguments and disputes that come with the territory, they stuck it out, never giving up the dream.

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" opens with the band sharing a bill at a 1984 concert with the Scorpions, Whitesnake (who'd actually break through 3 years later), and Bon Jovi, who were just starting out and had released their debut album. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich may have actually hit the nail on the head when he suggested that maybe what held Anvil back was the fact they were from Canada. The Great White North had given us in the 80's acts as diverse as Triumph, Bryan Adams, April Wine, and the McKenzie Brothers. Triumph was the closest thing to a metal band that Canada had to offer, though Anvil kept pounding on the door. What hurt Anvil more was a glaring lack of faith from the independent labels that signed them, and poor management. Yet still they soldiered on.

Anvil's story, really, is no different than the dozens, nay, hundreds of bands of every genre trying to make it in the business every day, every year. All the hard work that goes into cutting demos, rehearsing, booking gigs, etc., has to have a payoff somewhere. It's the fact that Anvil had been on the doorstep of fame 25 years ago, then disappeared practically overnight, that makes this story, coupled with Kudlow's unwavering vision. It speaks to the blue collar, aspiring musicians who've endured the same hardships, though perhaps not as extreme as Anvil's, in their quests to make the big time.

Rating: A.
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What I didn't mention in the review was that I drew from personal experience, as I have friends who've played in regional bands and have faced similar roadblocks. Regardless of what genre of music you're playing, be it metal, country, gospel, or alternative rock, the movie does serve as a primer on those roadblocks. VH1 Classic will replay the movie as often as they feel the need, in order to promote the DVD and recoup production costs, since the network helped produce the movie. Standard operating procedure for one of the MTV Networks family of channels.

Edit: 4/11/14: Here's the trailer:


Friday, October 2, 2009

Rome wasn't built in a day, but television executives haven't figured it out yet

In my own opinion, a new television show is like a fresh plant. You need to give it time to grow and nurture, or in this case, to find and develop a fan following.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, network programmers have been conditioned to do one single thing if a new show doesn't produce the necessary numbers (read: ratings) the first time out of the box. Panic. It happens every year. Just as unfortunate is the fact that the network that made the first cancellation of the young season is one that is already on very shaky ground because of some questionable decision making within the last year and a half.

The CW, the ill-advised union of UPN & The WB, pulled the plug on The Beautiful Life after just 2 episodes. The reaction on at least one internet message board I frequent was predictable. Cancelling Life only added grist to the mill for those alienated by CW programming head Dawn Ostroff, who has been derided by the internet community as being clueless. After all, this is the woman who decided that WWE Smackdown didn't belong on her network anymore, and so she cut it after 2 seasons (Smackdown begins its 11th season overall, 2nd on MyTV, tonight).

Beautiful Life had a couple of good things going for it. 1) It had America's Next Top Model as its lead-in on Wednesdays, and 2) actor Ashton Kutcher (ex-That 70's Show) was attached as executive producer, veering away from the pseudo-reality shows he's otherwise associated with (Punk'd, Beauty & the Geek). Perhaps what offset both factors was the off-screen, pre-season drama involving the show's star, Mischa Barton (ex-The O. C.), another of the tabloid magnets that can't seem to get away from the headlines for too long. Not only that, but with the show being a fictionalized account of aspiring models, airing in back of a reality show about modeling might not have been the best move after all. They say opposites are supposed to attract. Not in this case, it would seem.

Ostroff and her corporate bosses have decided to repurpose the revived Melrose Place in place of Life. With Top Model being repurposed on Fridays, it speaks to the network's lack of depth in terms of overall programming, something Ostroff has been unable to address since jettisoning Smackdown last year. Perhaps Life hit close to home for Ostroff herself. If the stereotypical aspiring model is supposed to be vapid and devoid of common sense, well, doesn't that describe Ostroff, too?

4 episodes are in the can, yet to air. I'm willing to lay good odds that Life will resurface sooner than anyone thinks, on the one channel that celebrates the vapid and clueless----MTV. After all, they might as well say the "M" doesn't stand for music anymore.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The channel's the same, but the name isn't

Back in July, NBC-Universal rebranded the 17 year old Sci-Fi Channel as Syfy, hoping to keep the channel relevant to the youth demographic advertisers supposedly covet more than anything. It was a cosmetic change, nothing more. The network's content remains the same. Cheesy direct-to-video horror movies, ECW, and original series like Ghost Hunters and Scare Tactics. The latter, now hosted by actor-comedian Tracy Morgan (30 Rock) begins a new season on Oct. 6, and is Syfy's answer to Punk'd and all of the other prank shows inspired by Candid Camera.

Earlier this week, Nickelodeon decided to give itself a bit of a facelift. Gone is the splotch logo that has been Nick's trademark for 30 years. In its place is a trade dress logo that is also used on sister networks Nick, Jr. (formerly Noggin) and Teen Nick (formerly The N). Again, they're cosmetic changes, in this case to better identify the channels, as the content remains the same.

At the same time, MTV Networks, which owns the Nick trilogy, also changed BET-J (formerly BET Jazz) to Centric. This change, on the surface, is more than cosmetic, such that certain cable providers have not been given the channel's current program schedule. Instead, all they give is a steady stream of "To be announced" listings. This should last through the end of the week at the very least. BET-J played some of the same R & B and hip-hop videos that sister network BET does, plus reruns of shows such as The Montel Williams Show and Judge Karen. I am not sure if Centric will maintain the same lineup or make wholesale changes in order to distinguish itself from BET.

Meanwhile, while it hasn't changed its name----yet----Cartoon Network might be inclined to do just that, given how it's integrated live-action programming into their schedule the last couple of years. Their Adult Swim division has run repeats of Pee-Wee's Playhouse and Saved by the Bell, the latter to help sister network TBS with their contract. CN, meanwhile, experimented with original programming, but Out of Jimmy's Head fell victim to the writer's strike of 2007-8 and was cancelled, and the much ballyhooed "CN Real" block hasn't performed as well as hoped. And, yet, CN suits insist on forging ahead, ignoring the pleas of long time viewers who'd rather see the channel adhere to its mission statement.

Back to MTV Networks. MTV itself plays mostly reality TV reruns, be it their own or repurposed from either their sister networks (i.e. VH1, CMT) or elsewhere, confining music videos to morning hours. If you want your video fix, you have to basically go to their website, which is the only way they can justify continuing their Video Music Awards every September. The 16th annual edition elicited some controversy earlier this month, but it would generate more buzz if the suits actually gave a rat's tail and reversed course. MTV, and for that matter, VH1 & CMT, have become shells of their old selves because of the corporate obsession over using reality shows to get ratings. In time, reality TV will become irrelevant again, and then, the suits will have heavy decisions to make. Those decisions have to be the right ones, as far as the viewers are concerned, because they're the ones who matter the most, not the ratings and ad dollars generated. It's time these clueless executives learned that basic tenet, before it's too late.

Dick Durock (1937-2009)

It has come to my attention that actor-stuntman Dick Durock, best known for bringing the DC Comics character Swamp Thing to life in 2 movies and a fairly successful TV series, passed away on Sept. 17 from pancreatic cancer at 72. Durock also worked on several other films, including "Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze" with Ron Ely (1975), and made guest appearances on shows like "The Incredible Hulk".

I am not sure if Durock had too many acting or stunt jobs after Swamp Thing ended its TV run. The fact that his passing went under-reported speaks to how his work has been largely forgotten by the mainstream. Otherwise, there might've been a Swamp Thing marathon by now, on either Syfy or Chiller.

Rest in peace, Dick. You will be missed.