Thursday, July 29, 2010

Does every cartoon icon need to be adapted into live-action?

My favorite line in the folk song, "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" is in the chorus. "When will they ever learn?", we're asked. Hollywood producers should be asked that particular question when going to the CGI well again and again to adapt cherished cartoon icons into mostly live-action feature films.

We've seen Alvin & the Chipmunks, Garfield, & Scooby-Doo romp across the silver screen in CGI form twice apiece, with mixed reviews and results at the box office. In fact, Garfield's current series on Cartoon Network is done entirely in CGI. The Christmas movie schedule this year and next promise more of the same.

We've already heard about the live-action/CGI hybrid adaptation of The Smurfs, who enjoyed a near-decade of ratings dominance on NBC in the 80's. This December, however, brings Yogi Bear to the big screen for the first time since his 1964 animated musical, "Hey There, It's Yogi Bear!". This time, Yogi & his sidekick, Boo-Boo, will be in CGI form, while old foe Ranger Smith will be played by a real person. To add to all the hand-wringing from fans, Warner Bros. has decided that Yogi will also be in 3D, which should be jumping the shark by then.

WB figures they can save money----sort of----by sticking with the hybrid format. They forget that both of Scooby-Doo's feature films were raked over the coals by critics, and weren't exactly big blockbusters at the box office. You have to consider the cost that comes with farming out the animation overseas, especially for feature films, nowadays. However, there is also the threat of alienating long time fans of Yogi & Boo-Boo, who have long passed the age of 50 (another example of ignorance at Cartoon Network & Boomerang).

And what of the Smurfs, who will mark the 30th anniversary of their American debut with their movie next year? Will there be a revival in terms of merchandising? Likely, but today's kids need to be acquainted with the little blue people well before the movie comes out.

Of course, there've been worse ideas, like casting Zak Efron (whose new film, "Charlie St. Cloud", opens this weekend) as Jonny Quest in a live-action movie, or wrestler-turned-action-hero Dwayne Johnson being attached to a rumored live-action version of the 1997 series, Johnny Bravo. That one, thankfully, never got past the rumor stage, and if we're lucky, WB will come to their senses with "Quest", unless they have it set with Jonny in college to justify casting Efron.

Indeed, Pete Seeger was right when he asked, "when will they ever learn?".

The Dunce Cap Award: Gov. Jan Brewer

Arizona Governor Brewer, a past recipient of the "Weasel of the Week" award, adds a dunce cap this week.

At issue is a ruling by Judge Susan Bolton on Wednesday that blocks the full enforcement of the controversial anti-immigration bill that Gov. Brewer signed into law earlier this year. Let's face facts. There are better, safer, more efficient ways to determine the legal citizenship status of Hispanic-Americans in the state than forcing them to carry proof of said citizenship wherever they travel.

The idea behind the law is to block people from crossing the border between Mexico & Arizona illegally. Problem is, the way the law was written, it covers all Latinos in the area with a very wide brush, leaving open the very likely prospect of lawsuits filed by residents who've been unfairly accused of being illegal immigrants. Gov. Brewer has already said she's filing an appeal, perhaps taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court, but in this writer's opinion, she's wasting her breath and time.

Here's an easy solution, one that I doubt Gov. Brewer will even consider. Expunge the law, do some research, and then rewrite the legislation needed so that it can be enforced without fear---on either side, law enforcement and citizens---of any unnecessary litigation. If you really want to make this work, have the government set up a branch office of the INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) as close to the border as possible, and that way, everyone should be happy.

I should also note that the fledgling Lucha Libre USA wrestling promotion is taking advantage of the controversy. One of the villains on Masked Warriors is a maskless, xenophobic patriot named-----wait for it----R. J. Brewer (long time indy star John Walters, who's had cups of coffee with WWE), purported to be the son of Gov. Brewer. He even has the inscription "S B 1070" (the title code for the law) on the back of his trunks. I guess Lucha Libre USA couldn't afford to lure John Layfield out of retirement. Either that, or Layfield is waiting for Vince McMahon to call with a similar idea.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Suppose it's your birthday and nobody threw a party.......

On this day 70 years ago, Bugs Bunny made his official debut in "A Wild Hare", thus discounting a couple of earlier shorts that featured a similar prototype character. The very character of Bugs continued to evolve over the course of two decades into the beloved, Oscar winning icon we know and love.

Unfortunately, the creatively challenged programming nerds at Cartoon Network and its sister channel, Boomerang, haven't bothered to mark the occasion with a day-long marathon of classic Bugs shorts or even the compilation features that came out in the 80's, like "The Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Movie", for example. I'm not entirely certain if Bugs got so much as a "Happy birthday!" from Robert Osbourne at Turner Classic Movies. Like, with his body of work, you'd think that on his birthday Bugs would get some, ah, respect? As the "scwewy wabbit" himself would say, "of course you realize this means war!".

Consider the cartoon icon pecking order at CN/Boomerang. Scooby-Doo, who made his debut nearly 30 years after Bugs, is at the top, followed by Tom & Jerry, who can be considered contemporaries of Bugs. If you look up and down the program schedules of both CN & Boomerang, you will see no sign of Bugs or any of his buds, and this is despite the fact that CN has a new series, The Looney Tunes Show, starring Bugs and Daffy Duck, due later this year. And you have to figure that Bugs ain't all alone in being overlooked.......

In September, The Flintstones marks its 50th anniversary. 20 years ago, to mark the series' 30th anniversary, Fred Flintstone was used as a sort of "mascot" for Hanna-Barbera as part of its logo ID, as the studio retired its swirling star logo that had been in place for 21 seasons, only to bring it back when CN launched The Powerpuff Girls a few years later. With Flintstones about to turn 50, you'd think CN/Boomerang would actually, like, acknowledge the occasion? Given the short shrift given not only to Bugs, but other WB & H-B icons who've passed similar milestones in recent years, I'd not be at all surprised if Fred, Wilma, and their friends are given the cold shoulder as well.

Consider the content of the commercials for Post's Pebbles line of cereals. Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm have reverted to toddlers, and their spin-off series turns 40 next year. The only explanation I can think of is that the ad agency Kraft uses believes fans prefer to see them as kids rather than as adults, despite H-B allowing them to grow up in a series of specials a few years back. In contrast, when Scooby-Doo turned 40 last year, CN devoted a grand total of 8 hours across two days to reruns of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? leading into a live-action prequel. Would they do the same for The Flintstones? It'd be the right thing to do, but I wouldn't hold my breath. You'd have a better chance of seeing one of Fox's animated sitcoms, be it The Simpsons (most likely) or Family Guy, paying homage in some way, shape, or form, because without Flintstones, neither of those series would've gotten as far as they have.

CN/Boomerang has been raked over the coals on internet message boards for years because of their blatant ignorance of older, more cherished icons in favor of Scooby, H-B's last icon of the 60's. The only fair thing is to give the studio's first icons of the 60's the royal treatment. As for Bugs, I have to believe they're waiting until his new show is ready to go before giving him a party, if that. It's either that, or someone there needs to be handed a copy of the works of Santayana.

An old tradition goes sour

We see this all the time. NFL assistant coaches are hired away by a college program or another NFL team in a similar position or promoted to head coach at their new job. Happens in basketball, too, at both levels. However, what USC head coach Lane Kiffin did may have crossed the line.

Kiffin and USC are being sued by the owners of the NFL's Tennessee Titans for "poaching" offensive assistant Kennedy Pola, the uncle of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive star Troy Polamalu, away from the Titans staff. Kiffin never gave the Titans, or more specifically, head coach Jeff Fisher, a courtesy call to offer Pola a deal. Given Kiffin's track record of late, that shouldn't be a surprise, but with USC knee-deep in scandals affecting their football & basketball programs, this is the last thing they needed with the 2010 season about 5-6 weeks away.

Pola & Fisher, like Kiffin, are USC alumni. Fisher had previously hired away respected offensive coordinator Norm Chow from USC, going through the proper channels to do so, something Kiffin apparently feels he didn't need to do, and you'd think his father, Monte, a defensive coordinator, would've advised him to do the right thing. It's proof again that Kiffin perhaps learned a wee bit too much about the wrong way to do business when he was with Oakland, before he started feuding with Al Davis.

One thing's for sure. Kiffin has ensured a permanent place in the sports Hall of Shame, but he shouldn't be dragging anyone else down with him.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Weasel of the Week: Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps is the pastor (I think) of Westboro Baptist Church, a Midwestern parish that has been making headlines lately for staging protests at military funerals, among other things. This band of haters picked a very unusal location for their latest protest----Comic Con International in San Diego. Their problem? They believe that comics fans actually----wait for it----worship their favorite characters. Phelps believes that comic books are some sort of pagan religion or something. Apparently, nobody told him that there are comics that have been produced for Christian audiences, too.

For example, Archie Comics entered a licensing agreement with Spire Christian Comics several years ago to loan out Archie and his friends for some 1-shot specials. Former MGM cartoon star Barney Bear has also appeared under the Spire umbrella. Lest we forget, there are those rectangular mini-books put out by Jack Chick's ministry that pop up from time to time. There is a fine line between being a fan of, say for example, Batman or the Transformers, and idol worship, and to my knowledge, no one has ever opened a Church of Batman.

More than 20 years ago, in the pages of Action Comics during its weekly phase, Superman had to deal with a small cult of misguided souls who wanted to worship him. He wasn't digging, and had a difficult time trying to convince these clowns that he wasn't a god. Since these chapters were in the middle of the book, the two -page serial made for the worst centerfold ever.

One of the message boards at http://www.toonzone.org/ has a running debate on Phelps, a modern day harbinger of haterizing. If there is one thing that Christians, such as myself, and atheists share, it's a love of comics. We recognize that these are stories, and we respect the characters therein. Unfortunately, Phelps and the Westboro flock see how Comic Con International draws huge crowds every year. For comics & science-fiction devotees, it's the social event of the season, kind of like when Saratoga Race Course opens around the same time. Phelps wants to draw attention away from the convention itself and to him and his hateful agenda. One poster on Toon Zone wrote that he believes Phelps is mentally ill. It's also been noted that Phelps comes from a family of lawyers. Ok, so he's an embarassment to two different occupations. He's also an embarassment to the mental health system, but that's beside the point. After a 45 minute rant, because that's all it amounts to, Phelps and his miserable band were going after former VP Al Gore next.

The Bible teaches us to "love thy neighbor". For Fred Phelps, I'd like to dedicate Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is", in my opinion, the greatest rock ballad of the 80's, recently covered by Mariah Carey. I'd play the original, which actually has a church choir providing background vocals behind singer Lou Gramm. Let's face it. Phelps wants us to believe he doesn't know anything about love, other than the love of attention.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Dunce Cap Award: Sylvester Stallone

This is entirely separate & different from the Weasel of the Week, which is for those morally challenged types. The Dunce Caps are for those who left their brains elsewhere when conducting interviews and not letting their brains proofread their thoughts.

Thus, the first Dunce Cap goes to Sylvester Stallone, who, while promoting his new film, "The Expendables" (opening August 13), took occasion to cast blame upon Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989) for the alleged decline of action heroes at the end of the 80's. Huh?

While we know Stallone was never exactly a Rhodes scholar, he forgets that "Batman" falls under a different class of action film, and that, some years later, he'd step into the role of "Judge Dredd", who, like Batman, sprang from the comic books. Of course, "Dredd" didn't exactly make the same kind of cheddar at the box office that Batman has, not even close. And the last "Rambo" movie wasn't a big hit, either, was it? I don't think so.

"The Expendables", with an ensemble cast that includes veterans like Stallone himself, Bruce Willis, & Dolph Lundgren, current favorites Jason Statham & Jet Li, and "outsiders" like Randy Couture & Steve Austin, falls in line with movies like "The A-Team". Maybe Stallone's attempt at poor-mouthing his own genre is his way of drumming up business for "Expendables", but then, given the names mentioned already, the film should sell itself pretty well. Unfortunately, the poor-mouthing approach works best in sports, like college football, for example. Dare we even think that as he's now in his 60's, Stallone is coming across just as "Rocky Balboa" did 4 years ago, punch-drunk?

Now, if Stallone's planning on being in San Diego for Comic-Con International this weekend, after the remarks he's made, he may be asking for trouble. Comics fans are a very sensitive group. They'll remind him about "Judge Dredd", for sure.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

On the air: Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors (2010)

Once again, MTV dives into the wrestling pool, this time with Lucha Libre USA, which is attempting to bring the best of Mexico's Lucha Libre promotions to American viewers. At least this time, they're not waiting a year between taping the show and airing it, which is what they did with the ill-fated Wrestling Society X in 2007. That series was taped a year in advance, but MTV waited until February 2007 to put it on the air, and it died a quick death. Being a 30-minute show instead of an hour might've had something to do with it.

Masked Warriors, airing Friday nights & Saturday afternoons, is a 1-hour show, and reintroduces fans to the hexagonal ring abandoned by TNA just a few months ago. That aspect alone might be enough of a draw, and the scheduling is a huge factor. Masked Warriors airs at 10 pm (ET) on Fridays, after WWE Friday Night Smackdown signs off in most of the country, replaying at 2 pm (ET) on Saturdays. Like TNA, Lucha Libre USA is taping all their television in one place at the moment (they are a start-up promotion after a fashion, after all), in Palm Springs.

There are only a couple of wrestlers I recognized in the course of the show. I'd read much about Tineblas, Jr. in the past when I had a subscription to Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Tineblas' opponent, New York native Marco Corleone, previously wrestled for WCW & WWE under his given name, Mark Jindrak, and is also one of the behind-the-scenes forces behind LLUSA. Unsurprisingly, then, Corleone is the foundation of the promotion. Corleone & Tineblas met in the 1st round of a tournament to determine the first LLUSA champion. Corleone won with a mere schoolboy rollup, but was immediately attacked afterward by another ex-WCW star, Lizmark, Jr., who was with WCW in 1999-2000. Lizmark looks considerably bigger than he did 10 years ago, and I don't recall him having tattoos before. Strangely, as Lizmark was a babyface in WCW, he's now a heel, aligned with Tineblas and Neutronic. I guess since I haven't followed Mexican wrestling much since I stopped reading the Observer, I wasn't aware of any changes.

The downside is that Masked Warriors is on MTV2, which is on digital cable and not as readily available as MTV itself. MTV2 programming isn't available on schedule grids in the local papers, so they'd do well to do some cross-promoting.

That's where TNA can come in and help, since MTV & Spike are corporate cousins. I said this when WSX was on the air 3 years ago. It would've benefited all parties involved if there were a means to cross-promote. Spike is in more homes than MTV2, so in order for Masked Warriors to succeed, there needs to be some repurposing with airings on MTV and/or Spike, and plenty of ad time on TNA Impact.

There were just 3 matches on the bill on the opener, as it was essentially a case of "getting to know you" from LLUSA to the viewers. It'll remain that way for at least another 2-3 weeks while the promotion gets its feet wet. At a time when we need an alternative to WWE & TNA, LLUSA is a welcome addition. Let's just hope it lasts more than 3 months.

Rating: A-.

Edit, 1/24/17: Here's a 1st season trios match:


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Weasel of the Week: Kevin Feige

Feige is in charge of Marvel Comics' movie division, which has gotten a healthy boost recently with the "Iron Man" movies and "The Incredible Hulk". However, Feige made headlines earlier this week when he announced that Edward Norton, who was so brilliant in "Incredible Hulk", would not be returning for "The Avengers", which is due in 2012. Marvel Studios intends to hire a relative unknown for far less money than they'd be willing to pay Norton.

While it's been written that there were creative differences between Norton & Marvel suits during the filming of "Incredible Hulk", there is no denying that Norton was miles better than Eric Bana in "Hulk" (2003). "Avengers" is meant to be an ensemble piece, but that's no excuse to exclude Norton. Feige and his superiors decided to go cheap and begin the process to hire what would be the 3rd actor to play the Hulk over a 10 year period. Norton is friends with most of the cast already assembled, including Robert Downey, Jr. ("Iron Man"), and would've had no problem. Norton has taken his case to Facebook, but as of press time, Feige is standing firm.

With the San Diego Comic-Con coming up next week, Feige may be looking at getting booed out of the building if he doesn't change his stance and at least reconsider Norton. No amount of excuses will be enough to satisfy an angry fan base. To borrow a line from the late Bill Bixby (David Banner in TV's Incredible Hulk), you wouldn't like people when they're angry.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner (1930-2010)

Just 2 days after the passing of public address announcer Bob Sheppard, the New York Yankees, and all of sports, for that matter, are mourning the loss of another Yankee icon.

9 days after celebrating his 80th birthday, George Steinbrenner, the impulsive, hands-on owner of the defending World Series champions, passed away this morning after a heart attack.

Steinbrenner, a former college football assistant coach and a shipbuilder out of Cleveland, purchased the Yankees from CBS, Inc. in 1973. Just three years later, the Yankees won their first American League East title, leading to the first of three consecutive appearances in the World Series. New York was swept by Cincinnati that year, but came back the next two years to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. After more than a decade on the outside looking in, the Yankees were back in a big time way. Steinbrenner craved the spotlight and its accompanying headlines almost as much as he wanted the team to return to its past glories, such that it became an obsession, it would seem. His feuds with on-again-off-again manager Billy Martin (5 tours of duty as manager) and slugger Reggie Jackson have become the stuff of legend.

Steinbrenner parlayed his tiffs with Martin into a commercial for Miller Lite beer, and even went so far as to appear on Saturday Night's Main Event, Vince McMahon's periodic late-night wrestling specials for NBC. Rule-breaking manager Bobby Heenan sought advice from Steinbrenner, seated at ringside one night, on how to deal with a disgruntled employee, in this case, wrestler Terry Taylor, aka the Red Rooster, who would soon be feuding with Heenan. Steinbrenner simply told Heenan that the best solution would be to fire Taylor. However, Heenan, as memory serves, never got that satisfaction.

As an owner, Steinbrenner was the measuring stick for some of today's more self-indulgent types, like football's Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) & Daniel Snyder (Washington Redskins), fellow baseball owner Peter Angelos (Baltimore Orioles), and basketball's Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks). Cablevision's James Dolan, a weekend rock musician when not mismanaging the NBA's Knicks, the NHL's Rangers, and Madison Square Garden, is a poor imitation by comparison. In fact, aside from Donald Trump, whose only foray into sports ownership was the USFL's New Jersey Generals in the 80's, the only man in the New York metropolitan area who could match Steinbrenner for bombast and impulsiveness would have to be Vince McMahon, whose WWE is probably not too far down the chain from the Yankees among NYC gate attractions.

Steinbrenner was not without his flaws, of course. He was suspended twice by Major League Baseball, the last for conspiring with a small-time gambler named Howard Spira to damage the reputation of one of his former stars, Dave Winfield. During the 1981 World Series vs. the Dodgers, Steinbrenner purportedly was attacked in an elevator while in LA, but some believe that incident was a put-on designed to rally the Bombers. It didn't work, as the Dodgers gained a measure of revenge for the losses in 1977-78.

Just a couple of years ago, George Steinbrenner turned over day-to-day operations of the Yankees to his sons, Hal & Hank. While Hank inherited his father's penchant for bombast, Hal is seemingly the quieter of the two. In just their second year running the team, the brothers watched as the Yankees won their first Series since 2000, dismissing Philadelphia in 6 games. Their father had been in declining health for some time, leading to his decision to retire, proving that in the end, he'd actually recognized the value of planning ahead.

Tonight, during the All-Star Game, I'd not be surprised if there's a moment of silence for both Steinbrenner & Bob Sheppard, as there most certainly will be one on Friday, when the Yankees resume the regular season in the Bronx. The Yankees will resurrect those black armbands that have been worn many times to honor former players and/or managers who'd passed on, and likely dedicate the remainder of the season to their long-time leader.

Rest in peace, George.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bob Sheppard (1910-2010)

He was as much an icon as the many players he introduced from the public address booth at Yankee Stadium, so much so that even though he never set foot in the current Stadium, shortstop Derek Jeter requested that the distinctive voice of Bob Sheppard be heard whenever Jeter came to bat.

Sheppard, known to Yankee fans as "The Voice of God" during his 50-plus years in the booth, passed away earlier today after a lengthy illness at the age of 99. While Jeter's request will remain fulfilled for the remainder of his playing career, Sheppard's voice can still be heard doing voice-overs for the YES (Yankee Entertainment & Sports) Network, recorded during the 1st year of the network's existence in 2002. The illness forced Sheppard to retire in 2009, even though he'd last announced a live game 2 years earlier.

Sheppard was also the PA voice of the New York football Giants until 2006, announcing games at the Stadium, Yale Bowl, and Giants Stadium, which gave him something to do on a Sunday while the Yankees were on road trips in September and October. It wasn't until the last few years of his run with the Giants that I actually was able to hear him over the PA during telecasts from Giants Stadium.

Another sign of Sheppard's iconic status was the fact that the New York-Penn League's Tri-City Valleycats would hire an impressionist to mimic Sheppard when the Staten Island Yankees visited Troy in 2006 & 2008. You have to believe that more than a few people craned their necks toward the PA booth to see if Sheppard really was there. I cite the '06 & '08 seasons because those were the only times I actually heard the mimic. I am not sure about other SI Yankee visits to Troy.

Rest in peace, Bob. Heaven just hired a good man to read the roll call.

On DVD: The Lone Ranger (1949-1956)

In the early days of television, westerns dominated the schedule. One of the most beloved series of the genre was one that made the transition from radio to television, The Lone Ranger.

Everyone knows the story about how a lone Texas Ranger, John Reid (Clayton Moore) survived an ambush by outlaw Butch Cavendish (Glenn Strange, Gunsmoke) and his gang, and was nursed back to health by Tonto (Jay Silverheels). He let the world at large believe that Reid died that day, too, in order to pursue Cavendish as the Lone Ranger.

The Ranger & Tonto "led the fight for law & order in the early West", as one of the series' introductions declares, read by announcer Fred Foy (later the announcer for Dick Cavett). There is an alternate intro, read by narrator Gerald Mohr, that is prominent in a Platinum video release that I screened last night. Mohr describes the Ranger as both mysterious & fabulous, "striking fear in the lawless, and giving hope" to those hoping to settle.

The series settles into an all-too-familiar pattern. Some folks see the mask, and understandably assume that the Ranger is himself an outlaw. In one story, he pretends to be one in order to trap a gang. Tonto goes into the nearest town on recon, and quickly reports back. That often results in either Tonto being captured by a corrupt lawman or being knocked out by a henchman. Once their job is done, the Ranger & Tonto ride off into the sunset as the grateful citizens finally realize who he is.

In the Platinum video package, 7 of the 8 episodes were in black & white, with the narration by Mohr. There was one color episode from near the end of the series' run, after Moore returned from a sabbatical, during which he'd been replaced by John Hart. I have one other DVD compilation from another packager that I'd screened before, and over the years, I'd seen syndicated reruns of Lone Ranger on cable dating back to the 70's.

Edit: 4/11/14: Here's the episode: "Old Joe's Sister". Fred Foy was the announcer in the open, but the episode is narrated by Gerald Mohr:



The Platinum set also includes an episode of U. S. Marshal, the follow-up series to Sheriff of Cochise. Marshal Frank Morgan (John Bromfield) escorts a convict to the death house, but complications arise. The hook? The convict is played by a young Jack Lord, who'd later star in Stoney Burke and, of course, Hawaii 5-0. Amazingly, Lord looked the same in 1958 as he would when 5-0 bowed 10 years later.

Ratings:

U. S. Marshal--B.
Lone Ranger---A.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

For the true wrestling fan

My home district is clearly WWE country. TNA found that out a couple of years ago when they booked the Times Union Center on a Sunday night, and never came back. They've done two shows in Glens Falls since, because they haven't cultivated enough of a fan base to warrant returning to the cavernous TUC, which on a good night can hold better than 10,000 fans, or twice the size of the Glens Falls Civic Center.

With Friday Night Smackdown taping at the TUC on August 31 for the September 3 show, local fans won't have to wait that long to get their fix. A smaller, independent promotion, Next Era Wrestling, based out of Rochester, is headed this way at the end of this month, making their Capital Region debut at the Troy Boys & Girls Club on July 31. The show was originally booked for tonight, but was pushed back, likely due to scheduling conflicts on either side of the ledger. It is only the 2nd independent show to hit Troy in the last decade. Another promotion, whose name I can't recall at the moment, played the Boys & Girls Club's South Troy location several years back. One of the organizers affiliated with the Boys & Girls Club was in a bowling league with me, and he asked me to work security that night, even though I'd paid my way in. Oh, well, at least I had one of the best seats in the house. I didn't have to do anything, though, which was a good thing.

When you take into account how long it's been since indy shows have played Troy, and unable to land a booking at RPI's Houston Field House, which was WWE's old home before the TUC opened as Knickerbocker Arena 20 years ago, you wonder just what would it take for a promotion like Ring of Honor, which has a TV deal with Mark Cuban's HDNet (no longer available in my area), and a strong internet following, to come here. The Houston Field House would be perfect for ROH, in my view, and so would Albany's Washington Avenue Armory, which also has a past history with WWE. And why don't other start-up promotions give cities like Troy a look? With 5 high schools (including Emma Willard) in the city, plus RPI & Hudson Valley Community College, there's plenty of places to consider for a booking!

Bottom line is, Next Era needs a strong turnout at the Boys & Girls Club in 3 weeks, but to get there, they have to work on promotion. I've seen posters in three places so far, including the Boys & Girls Club. No radio or television advertising. Not yet, anyway. They have the local sports & entertainment field all to themselves, with the Tri-City Valleycats out of town that night, as is the case tonight, by the way. It's a perfect scenario. Word of mouth isn't going to be enough. They need to feed off the positive energy of the people attending the show to decide whether or not to return at a later time, and having a near-full house would be a step in that direction. The ball, then, is in their court. If they succeed in establishing a base in Troy, then we all win.

Weasel of the Week: Maverick Carter

This one's the mother of all slam dunk picks. In case you missed it, Carter is the poor man's Don King wannabe who's hitched his wagon to NBA superstar LeBron James, and orchestrated the glorified infomercial on ESPN Thursday night, in which James declared he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.

Until recently, few had even heard of Carter, whom for all we know might have been little more than a used car salesman in Cleveland before signing on as James' "business manager". He is, however, part of James' growing inner circle of friends, hangers-on, bandwagon jumpers, and assorted other leeches feeding the ego of the former high school phenom, convincing James that after 7 years, it was time to "leave the nest", if you will, and take his business elsewhere, to someplace where he conceivably could stand a better chance of winning an NBA title.

ESPN suits, more than willing to do anything on behalf of the NBA, played along with this dog & pony show, knowing, as I said the other day, that it would generate huge off-season ratings numbers, or at least that was the thought. I'm not sure what the final figures were, nor do I really give a rat's butt about it.

Carter attaching himself to James is, in this writer's opinion, on a par with Don King signing Mike Tyson away from his original promoter, Jim Jacobs, in the late 80's. We all know what happened to Tyson's career in the 20-odd years since. Do we really want James going down the same primrose path? Of course not, but for right now, he's still naive enough to buy into the con job Carter has sold him. A triad of James, Dwyane Wade, & Chris Bosh is now under enormous pressure to deliver a NBA title to Miami immediately, but I don't see it happening.

And if the Heat don't win during the course of James' contract with the team, who gets blamed? James will ultimately pass the buck to Carter and finally bum-rush the bum outta town. You don't believe me? Just wait. It will happen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The extreme height of narcissism

It has just come over the wires that the single most important free agent in the NBA this summer, LeBron James, will finally decide where he'll play next season, but a mere press conference just isn't enough, it seems.

It is being reported that James, or more specifically, so-called representatives of the superstar, asked ESPN to cover the event live in prime time on Thursday night, in order to get the message out to everyone. That translates into ratings points for ESPN, one of the NBA's television partners, of course, but it also creates a perception that James, after 7 years in the league, wants to be treated like he was the President of the United States. He's taking his nickname, "King James", a little bit too seriously, from where I sit. No one has really considered James to be an attention mark, but that's how some people might see this.

On the other hand, there is the matter of charity involved, particularly the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, whom James has worked with for years. Maverick Carter, James' business manager, said that there would be some donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs involved as part of the TV deal. Carter also stated that the national TV announcement was due to the "unprecedented" interest in James as a free agent, interest generated over the course of the last season, which in turn nearly overshadowed the NBA Finals between the Lakers & Celtics.

So, who's really to blame? The NBA & ESPN, for allowing this to happen? The league has fostered an environment where select individual talents are heavily marketed (i.e. James, Kobe Bryant), moreso than the teams they play for. The NBA is the only league that ignores the necessary emphasis on team play. The last two decades have seen a greater influx of players using college as a temporary way station, convinced by talent scouts that they have enough game where they don't need the additional education. Then, once the word gets out, you have an increasing circle of friends, some of whom probably are jumping on the bandwagon to see what they can get out of it.

Some of the greatest players in NBA history, such as Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Cousy, Patrick Ewing, and Jerry West, all played 4 years of college ball before turning pro. Today's kids are listening to people waving big wads of cash in front of them. That covert hypnosis has them making what amounts to a pit stop in college (see this year's #1 pick, John Wall, for an example) before going pro. While some of these kids will tell you that it's about taking care of the families, and that's fine, what happens to the education?

LeBron James entered the NBA directly out of high school in 2003. He's lived up to the hype, but hasn't been able to deliver a championship in Cleveland. He has the requisite endorsement deals with Nike, among others, and has the usual cast of pals and bandwagon jumpers giving him advice, good and bad. A nationally televised press conference to decide where he'll play in the 2010-11 season falls under bad advice, because it changes the perception of James for all the wrong reasons. Sure, James and his inner circle are aware of the media obsession and will exploit it to the maximum, but this is going a wee bit too far. ESPN's a willing enabler, because of their investment in the league, but treating one of the league's top stars like he's a head of state? I don't think that's really the smartest of moves.

Of course, it could've been worse. They could've made a reality show about it.......

Monday, July 5, 2010

When a new rule is a bad rule

The 2010 MLB All-Star teams were announced on Sunday, and, as expected, some of the usual suspects (i.e. Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, etc.) were named to their respective teams. The defending World champion Yankees have 6 players, including 2 starters (Jeter & Robinson Cano), which was to be expected with manager Joe Girardi leading the AL team. The Mets, though, have just 2 (David Wright & Jose Reyes), but should have at least one more.

A new rule instituted for this season may screw the Mets in the end. Their best pitcher, Mike Pelfrey, going for his 11th win tonight vs. Cincinnati, is not on the team. His next scheduled start is Saturday, so there's a good chance that he'd still make the team as an injury replacement. However, you know there are some Mets fans that might point at Philadelpia manager Charlie Manuel and say he intentionally left Pelfrey out of the mix. However, as the New York Daily News reports this morning, Manuel was a little bit confused over the new rule, and mistakenly thought Pelfrey would next pitch on Sunday. The rule is that a pitcher selected to the All-Star team becomes ineligible to pitch in the game if he pitches the Sunday before the game. That doesn't mean that said hurler couldn't make the trip. That same confusion prevented San Diego's Mat Latos from being named to the team, for another example.

Manuel is also drawing confused looks from the press for selecting Atlanta utility player Omar Infante as a reserve. Another new rule allows for one player to be reinserted into the game in an emergency late in the game (i.e. in extra innings), and the Braves already had one utilityman on the All-Star roster, with Martin Prado, having a breakout season, tapped to replaced fan-appointed starter Chase Utley of Philadelphia at second base. Infante earned Manuel's respect with a key base hit earlier this season vs. the Phillies, such that Manuel, who knows Infante from when both were in the American League, decided to reward Infante with a spot on the All-Star team that otherwise might go to a more recognizable, more deserving player.

MLB's final five ballots for both teams aren't doing any favors, either. Why is Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher getting consideration? Do the Bombers need another All-Star? Of course not. The Mets don't get any love, as the most likely position player who'd fit on the ballot, outfielder Angel Pagan, was snubbed. Pagan has done yeoman's work, holding down center field while the Mets wait for Carlos Beltran to come off the disabled list, and, like Prado, is having a breakout season.

You can end the debate over Washington rookie Stephen Strasburg making the team. Barring any late injuries, it ain't gonna happen. An apparent injury to Milwaukee's Yovanni Gallardo on Sunday opens the door for someone like Pelfrey or another Nationals pitcher, Livan Hernandez, but not Strasburg, who didn't look all that dominant in five innings on Saturday against the Mets. However, ESPN's Karl Ravech, during Baseball Tonight, made it seem like Strasburg had the inside track. As the Daily News' Bob Raissman asserted on Sunday, and as I wrote previously, Strasburg's inclusion is strictly for the benefit of MLB and its television partners, ignoring the risk of burning out the kid too soon. After 6 starts, Strasburg is 2-2, and has gotten 0 offensive support in his last three games. The Nats bailed him out after he was out of the game on Saturday.

I firmly believe that now isn't the time for Strasburg to be an All-Star. Those in the media that believe otherwise are just feeding the beast (MLB hype). Meanwhile, it is the perception of disrespect, with just 2 All-Stars when they could've had more, that might fuel the Mets in the 2nd half. If I'm Manuel, I have reason to worry. The heat will be intense if the AL wins again next week, even more so if the Phillies can't catch the Braves or even the Mets for a playoff spot. The cynics in New York will have a field day, I'm sure, but, as the saying goes, that's why they play the games.

Meanwhile, Girardi has a way to circumvent the pitchers' rule. CC Sabathia, one of two starting pitchers selected for the All-Stars, is on turn to pitch Sunday, which would knock him out of the game, and open the door for teammate Andy Pettite. But would MLB allow that? I'm not sure. The rule doesn't exclude relievers from the game, so Mariano Rivera is safe (naturally). We'll just see how it all plays out in 8 days.

The case of the "missing" detectives

Alpha Video put together a nice compilation of long-missing television crime dramas under the umbrella title, "TV Detectives, Volume 1", available through http://www.oldies.com/ and Radio Spirits. 5 series are represented here, ranging from 1951-61. To wit:

The Lone Wolf: Louis Hayward, who'd starred in "The Saint in New York", among his many film credits, plays jewel thief-turned-detective Michael Lanyard, aka "The Lone Wolf", in this 1954 syndicated offering. To be honest with you, I'd never previously heard of it, and now I know why it was lost in the mists of time. It just wasn't very good. In the episode presented here, Lanyard runs afoul of duplicitous royalty and an alleged "werewolf". No supernatural elements were actually involved, which proves how pedestrian this really is. If Lanyard is supposed to be a knock-off of Simon Templar (The Saint), he's not doing a good enough job. Hayward comes off as flat and short on emotion. Grade: D.

I'm The Law: Another film veteran, George Raft, top-lines this 1953 offering from producer Jean Yarborough (The Abbott & Costello Show). Like Hayward, Raft narrates the story as the case progresses, but unlike Hayward, Raft is a perfect fit as Lt. Kirby. I'm interested in seeing a stand alone DVD release of this show. Grade: A-.

Treasury Men in Action: This 1955 series is an anthology based on actual cases from the Federal Treasury Dept.'s files. Charles Bronson, in an early role, plays a drug smuggler who has issues with his estranged wife, complicating his latest job. It's a long way from the much tougher, harder-edged characters Bronson would play in the movies later on, but he does give a decent performance. Grade: B.

Checkmate: From 1961, this is the lone one-hour episode in the set. This offering has the detectives trying to determine who'd want to kill a harmless hobo. I remember reading about the show as a youth, and wondering why it wasn't available in syndication. For closing logo fans, this is the only one that has one, as it's from Revue Studios. Sebastian Cabot (pre-Family Affair), Doug McClure (pre-Virginian), & Anthony George are the stars, but (Harry) Dean Stanton nearly steals this episode as a troubadour. Future Academy Award winning composer John Williams composed the series' theme song. I'm begging NBC-Universal, or whomever actually holds the rights, to do a stand alone DVD set, if it hasn't been done already.

Edit: 7/15/15: I've added the open:



Grade: A-.

Mystery Theatre: No specific year is listed for the episode presented from this 1951-54 ABC series spotlighting Inspector Mark Saber (Tom Conway) of Homicide Squad. Saber was another gumshoe making the transition from radio to television. Conway, like Raft & Hayward, made his name in films, particularly as "The Falcon". A fairly decent match, at that. Saber would be given another chance a few years later in another show, The Vise, which didn't last quite as long. It wasn't for lack of trying, that's for certain. Maybe the networks just didn't think that letting Saber be the series' selling point was the best option. Their loss. Conway is okay, but the story plays like a shorter version of his "Falcon" films. Grade: B-.

Overall grade: B.

Friday, July 2, 2010

One fan's opinion: 2010 MLB All-Stars

The 2010 All-Star Game will be played in Anaheim on July 13, and the rosters will be announced sometime in the next few days. Voting ended last night, and this year, I didn't even bother. I try to avoid the sheep mentality and go by who's actually the best at their positions on a year-to-year basis, and not get caught up in the popularity polls.

The biggest controversy this year surrounds Washington rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who will carry a 2-2 record going into Saturday's game vs. the Mets. The debate is over whether or not Strasburg, whose every move up the ladder in the Nationals' chain has been scrutinzed by MLB Network, ESPN, and everyone else, deserves to be in the game after being in the majors less than a month. It's supposed to be up to Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel, the NL manager, to decide, but I'd not be surprised if in fact there's a little nudging coming from MLB suits to add Strasburg in order to juice up ratings for Fox's telecast of the game, not to mention MLB Network's pre-game hype-a-thon. That's really what it comes down to. Ratings, ad revenues. Money in the bank.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've seen Strasburg pitch on TV, both with Washington and in minor-league games for Syracuse (Thank you, Time Warner Cable). I just believe that he doesn't belong in this year's game after just a few weeks in the bigs. I don't think that's ever happened before in the history of the All-Star Game. If you're an MLB suit and you think it's that important, then you're alienating fans of other teams who have players more deserving of a slot on the roster. Then again, that happens every year anyway. Don't you think the kid needs a little vacation instead of being sent to Anaheim as if he's baseball's newest savior? I do. I just can't see him being used like a corporate puppet, his talent exploited for maximum gain. It isn't fair to Strasburg any more than it is for anyone else.

A talent like Stephen Strasburg comes along at least once every generation. It would be nice if the kid actually had a long, healthy, successful, Hall-of-Fame-caliber career, instead of being treated like a circus showpiece.

Now, let me give you my idea of who should be starting for each team on July 13.

American League:

1B: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit.
2B: Robinson Cano, Yankees.
SS: Derek Jeter, Yankees.
3B: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay.
C: Joe Mauer, Minnesota.
OF: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle; Vernon Wells, Toronto; Denard Span, Minnesota.
DH (because it's an AL park): David Ortiz, Boston.
Starting pitcher: Phil Hughes, Yankees.

National League:

1B: Albert Pujols, St. Louis.
2B: Kelly Johnson, Arizona.
SS: Jose Reyes, Mets.
3B: David Wright, Mets.
C: Yadier Molina, St. Louis.
OF: Andre Ethier, Los Angeles; Alfonso Soriano, Chicago; Jayson Werth, Philadelphia.
DH: Chipper Jones, Atlanta.
Starting pitcher: Ubaldo Jiminez, Colorado.

Most, if not all, of the above-named players are likely to be in Anaheim anyway, but these would be the most ideal lineups. I have Chipper as the DH because 1) he has been injured more often than not and 2) there are hints that this may be his final season. The sheep don't pay attention to statistics, especially when voting for home team stars. That's understandable, but it also creates boring lineups that repeat year after year. I try to avoid picking players that have been injured, though Chipper & Reyes are exceptions to the rule this year.

Who would you rather see? I'd like to know.