Friday, April 30, 2010

Albany River Rats (1993-2010)

Unlike most cases where a sports team leaves upstate NY, there's already one in the pipeline to take the place of the Rats, who are being relocated to Charlotte next season, rechristened the Checkers, which is also the name of Carolina's ECHL team. Hmmmmm.

The River Rats' existence in Albany ended Thursday with a 5-4 overtime loss to defending AHL champ Hershey, which swept the Rats out of the Calder Cup playoffs, 15 years after the Rats won their lone AHL title. In October, the Albany Devils (formerly from Lowell) will move into the Times-Union Center, as noted earlier this week. Considering the political upheavals in the state Capitol, the name seems rather appropriate, don't you think?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is this remake necessary?

This weekend sees the release of a remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street", which was originally made in 1984. 26 years ago. Which means that most of us have already seen the original and all of its sequels.

The first "Nightmare" introduced the last of the modern-day horror icons in Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund), a child molester who'd been burned alive by a lynch mob of angry parents. You know the rest of the story, including the fact that Kreuger became a pop culture sensation, moreso than fellow slashers Michael Myers ("Halloween") & Jason Voorhees ("Friday the 13th"), largely because Freddy was a talkative sort. There was money to be made with this dude, and so, Freddy was given his own TV series, and was immortalized musically in not one, but two rap hits, the most famous of which would have to be "Nightmare on My Street", by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, though Kreuger actually did appear, I think, in "Are You Ready For Freddy", by the Fat Boys.

But it's been a few years since Freddy & Jason had at it. Jason's already had his story retold, but the latest word is that plans to re-do "Friday the 13th, Part 2" have been scuttled, due to the remake's less-than-stellar box office performance. Michael was brought back, too, but Rob Zombie had already decided to stop after 2 films.

That brings us to the 2010 model of Freddy. Jackie Earle Haley ("Watchmen", "Shutter Island") takes over for Robert Englund. The rationale is this. Haley, enjoying a career resurrection of his own, is a hot commodity right now. New Line Cinema, which now holds the rights to not just Freddy, but Jason and Leatherface ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre") as well, figured that it was only fair that if Jason & Michael were having their stories redone, so should Freddy. The truth is, unlike the classic trinity of Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, & Dracula, Freddy, Jason, & Michael are part of our generation. A generation that has produced a new group of Hollywood screenwriters & filmmakers who want to put their own stamp on their favorite characters.

However, the reimagined "Friday the 13th" wasn't that big a hit. "The Wolfman", reincarnated in February, underperformed as well. Hollywood needs to understand that audiences want something that isn't the same old, same old. No matter how you spin it, a key element missing from these "reimaginings" is freshness. There is almost no originality in Hollywood now. Shoot, I've read that they're remaking another 80's film, "The Monster Squad", which will never be confused with the 1976 Saturday morning TV series of the same name.

If there's going to be a horror movie that needs to be remade, it isn't "Nightmare on Elm Street". It's something from the 50's, like "Creature From the Black Lagoon". Oh, sure, the Gill Man was used in "Monster Squad", but aside from that, he's been treated like a red-headed stepchild while the other "Universal Monsters" were brought out of limbo over the last 20 years. Where's the love?

I think it goes without saying I won't be seeing the new "Nightmare on Elm Street". I'm just not interested, thank you very much. I wasn't that big on the original. I get that they want to take advantage of the bigger budget after 26 years and almost a dozen films, and if it succeeds, it's gravy. By Sunday, we'll know if it was a gamble worth taking.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Albany hockey trades Rat tails for Devil horns

It's official. The New Jersey Devils will move their AHL affiliation back to Albany this fall, but this time, the team will be owned and operated by the NHL club, which was just eliminated in the 1st round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Albany River Rats, affiliated with the Carolina Hurricanes these days, will relocate to Charlotte after they are eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs, which could happen as early as Thursday. The Rats' lone AHL championship came under Devil stewardship in 1995, but they've made the playoffs in 3 of the last 4 seasons. The Devils will move their team from Lowell, Mass. and into the Times-Union Center, pending renovations to the arena, including a new scoreboard, from what I've read, in time for the 2010-11 season. New Jersey ended their association with the Rats after the 2005-6 season, but after Walt Robb sold the Rats, and after the Hurricanes announced that the team would move to North Carolina, where they'll be known as the Checkers, T-U Center officials moved quickly to fill the void.

All Albany needs now is a new mascot, since Rowdy & Rudy, the Rats' mascots, will be retired.

The only downside is that with the renovations comes the likely increase in ticket prices, which might be a small price to pay to keep pro hockey in Albany---and continue the Northway Series with the Adirondack Phantoms---but the Devils will need to work on improving the fanbase, which averages anywhere from two to four thousand per game. Maybe if they did some cross-promoting with the local colleges.......

Mr. Sensible changes his mind

On Sunday, he didn't want to play in the NFL. On Tuesday, New Hampshire tight end Scott Sicko signed a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys, who had been the team most interested in Sicko prior to last week's draft, but for some reason never drafted him.

Newly engaged, Sicko probably figured he was perhaps better served giving the pro game a shot after all. When he made his initial decision to pass on the NFL Sunday, Sicko was ripped by more than a few people, but for all the wrong reasons. Those same people are probably the ones ripping him yet again for changing his mind 48 hours later. There's no guarantee he'll be on Dallas' opening day roster come September, but for people in upstate New York, especially those who are in fact Cowboy fans (and I know a few personally), it would be a bonus. They can point to the Cowboys' star logo, puff their chests, and say that one of our own had made the team. We'll know for sure in about 4 months.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meet Mr. Sensible and the Playa That Wasn't

Two football stories coming out of my home district over the last few weeks couldn't be more different than night & day.

In the days leading up to the NFL Draft, Scott Sicko, soon to graduate from the University of New Hampshire, was being touted by the local papers here as a possible draftee. Sicko, born & raised in Stillwater, NY, didn't hear his name called at all during the 3-day Draft, so he decided Sunday that he would forego a pro career and continue his education. More power to him. Sicko is proof positive that it isn't always about the money when it comes to the pros, but rather the best possible path to travel in life.

Sicko had drawn interest from a few teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, but the courtship ended when the Draft did. Had he been drafted, Sicko would've joined a very exclusive group of players with roots in the upstate half of New York, including Brian Holloway, a star lineman for the New England Patriots during the 70's, and Andre Davis, a wide receiver from Niskayuna who has played for Cleveland and Houston, among others, since being drafted in 2002.

Meanwhile, Albany High School, which hasn't had much luck on the gridiron the last few years, thought they had a new coach in Robbin Williams, who claimed to have been with a few NFL teams, including the NY Giants and Washington Redskins, and had in fact worked out for the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League in the 90's. However, a reporter for the Albany Times-Union, James Allen, recalled in his Monday column that, as a beat reporter covering the Firebirds back then, he remembered Williams being brought in for a try-out, but Williams never played a game. Williams claimed to have been a replacement player during the strike-shortened 1987 season (though Williams thought it was 1988), but there's no record of him ever appearing in an NFL game, either.

Bottom line is, Williams padded his resume in a bid to earn a job. Unfortunately, he apparently never read the story of George O'Leary, who could've had the head coach's job at Notre Dame, if I remember right, had it not been for the discovery that he, too, had fudged his resume in order to better sell himself to the administrators there. The parallels are there. Albany's still looking for a new coach, after ex-Firebird Pete Porcelli, who'd been successful across the river at Lansingburgh, left after 1 season.

Reading of the misfortune of Albany's football team reminded me of my own alma mater, Troy High, which was in the same boat 30 years ago, unable to win a game. At least they didn't have as much trouble finding a coach, though.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring cleaning, WWE-style

4 days before their annual roster shuffle, aka the draft lottery, World Wrestling Entertainment released a half-dozen wrestlers earlier today, ostensibly to clear roster space for "rookies" graduating from NXT or for other reasons. The severed six are:

Shoichi Funaki, aka "Kung Fu Naki". Of the 6 cut, Funaki was with the company the longest, debuting in March 1998 as a member of Kaientai. Funaki was given a gig as a backstage reporter on Smackdown for a few years, then was given an even bigger reward as a "good soldier" with a brief run as cruiserweight champion in 2005.

Shelton Benjamin. Benjamin may be best remembered not for his 3 Intercontinental titles, 2 tag titles (w/Charlie Haas), or his US title run last year, but rather for his highlight reel performances in the Money in the Bank ladder matches at Wrestlemania 5 of the last 6 years, including this year. After nearly 8 years with the company, the former 2-sport star at Minnesota, four months removed from a show-stealing ladder match vs. Christian at TLC, is out. There are already rumors that he may be headed for TNA and reform his team with Haas.

Mickie James. The last few months have not been kind to this Virginia vixen. Reports say that management had been upset with Ms. James in recent months, which might explain the derogatory "Piggy James" angle done with current women's champ Michelle McCool over the winter. Mickie was screwed out of the title on the February 26 Smackdown, but her likely next destination won't be TNA, where she toiled for a couple of years as Alexis Laree, but rather a concert stage. Mickie released her debut country CD, "Strangers & Angels", last month, but WWE refused to support the album, likely because of whatever issues existed behind the scenes.

Coincidentally, another ex-WWE diva, Maria Kanellis, currently appearing on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice and HDNet's Inside MMA, is also moonlighting as a singer, and just released an EP, "Seven Sins". Yep, WWE wouldn't support that effort, either. Maybe now Mickie & Maria can go on tour together.......

Jimmy Wang Yang. On his 2nd go-round with WWE (he was Akio from 2003-05), Yang managed to hang on for 3 years in the role of an Asian cowboy from Georgia, but has mostly been used as a TV jobber in recent months. He's likely heading for a 2nd tour of duty with TNA, for whom he worked in 2002.

Slam Master J. Ray Gordy, son of the late Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy of the legendary Fabulous Freebirds, had gone to a white rapper gimmick he previously used at Deep South Wrestling, but opportunities to wrestle came fewer and fewer over the last few months. Despite Freebird captain Michael Hayes being the head writer of Smackdown, Gordy was at the bottom of the ladder, never given a real chance to shine. I see him heading for TNA under his own name before the end of the year.

Katie Lea. 2-3 years ago, some genius decided that Katie would be cast as the sister of countryman Paul Burchill, who was cut a few weeks ago, and that gimmick became an anchor that bound Katie to the floor, if you will. After the dissolution of ECW in late February, Katie had appeared sporadically, and for some strange reason wasn't showcased on the recent European tour. She had potential to be a champion, and yet WWE's creative team dropped the ball with her, as they have with so many others, such as Benjamin & Gordy.

WWE's losses will obviously benefit not only TNA, but also Ring of Honor and other promotions, but it also speaks volumes of the irresponsibility of the creative team, who can't devote enough time to the people at the bottom of the ladder to make viewers care about them. In some cases, the wrong people are being favored, such as Vickie Guerrero, widow of former champion Eddie Guerrero. Vickie learned absolutely nothing of note from Eddie on in-ring conditioning, and is drawing go-away heat from this desk, if not also from other fans.

Vince McMahon may have taken himself off television after losing at Wrestlemania, but his character's influence is still felt in some of the writing. To paraphrase John Mayer, we're waiting for WWE to change, but it's a long wait.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Weasel of the Week: Matthew Clemmons

I'm a little late handing out weasel ears, but this loser certainly deserves them.

Matthew Clemmons, 21, of Cherry Hill, NJ, was at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on April 14 to see a Phillies game with a friend. The two drew the ire of an off-duty Philadelphia police officer and his 2 daughters by repeatedly cursing during the game. Apparently, things weren't going well for the 3-time NL East champs. Anyway, the friend was ejected by security. Clemmons, in retaliation, decided to intentionally vomit on the cop and his kids. Real intelligent, Matthew. NOT!

Clemmons would end the night in jail on disorderly conduct charges after getting into a scuffle with the cop, which resulted in Clemmons suffering a black eye.

In general, Philadelphia sports fans have been stereotyped as boorish and disrespectful. There is one legendary incident where they actually booed Santa Claus, of all people. And let's not forget the incident last year where some over-inebriated jerk decided to use a laser pointer on players from the St. Louis Cardinals during a nationally televised game. That clown was never caught, because the Phillies fans let him escape, especially since his antics turned the tide that day. Laser pens are prohibited for safety reasons, and that July game was exhibit "A" for all the world to see.

Matthew Clemmons clearly had too much to drink to the point of opting for a self-induced regurgitation in answer to his friend being tossed from the park. One more reason that children should never, ever talk to strangers.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Instead of pitch counts, they need a pitch clock....

A week ago, baseball umpire Joe West spoke out about the interminably slow pace of the season-opening series between two ancient rivals, the Boston Red Sox and the defending World champion New York Yankees. Noting that all three games took nearly 4 hours each to play, West ripped the Yankees & Red Sox for their slow play. West was, in turn, disciplined, but not punished for daring to speak his mind on one of the nagging problems that has turned what was the National Pastime into a tedious drama that will have fans reaching for the Sominex instead of Pepto Bismol more often than not.

Some players have nagging habits that they go through between pitches in each at-bat. It seems that the directives from the Commissioner's Office have been ignored since they were first issued nearly a decade ago, when it was first demanded that the pace should be quickened. Instead, you get coaches & managers worried about pitch counts for their starters, then getting second-guessed for leaving them in too long when they're not at their best. There are too many meetings at the mound between pitchers and catchers and/or pitching coaches.

Now, it's time to get radical. If Major League Baseball is serious about speeding up the game, especially when the ratings magnets like the Yankees and Red Sox are playing, then maybe they need to take a page from the NBA or NFL and install---wait for it-----a pitch clock.

This idea is actually aimed at scaling back, if not completely eradicating, the odd, "nervous habits" some batters have, like for example, newly retired Nomar Garciaparra, who'd adjust his batting gloves between pitches. Some pitchers, especially if they have already got strike one on the hitter, will want the ball right back. At least they get it.

During the April 6 game between Boston & New York, ump Angel Hernandez refused to grant time outs to three players, subtly reminding them that they need to pick up the pace. Unfortunately, it didn't help matters at all. Not only that, but the Yankees apparently are averaging over 3 hours per game, regardless of who they play.

It's going to take time to break the habits that already exist. I think we all get that. Unfortunately, that time is something MLB wants back, preferably yesterday.

A triumph for common sense

On Tuesday, at a meeting of the Troy Booster Club, it was announced that, contrary to a proposal the previous day, there will be sports and other after-school activities in the coming school year. Apparently, the school board came to their senses and realized that taking away sports, even for one year, would blunt the momentum built by Troy High's teams, especially in football, putting them in a rebuilding posture they don't belong in.

In a case of journalistic absurdity, while the Albany Times-Union reported on this cheerful development in Wednesday's editions, the Troy Record needed two days to get all the details. While the Record is routinely a day behind their competitors with wire service articles, it struck me as odd that an article on the decision appeared in Thursday's editions. I guess maybe it has to deadlines and other priorities, but a story of local interest that affects the home city of the paper should be of a higher priority, shouldn't it?

On CD: "I Dreamed a Dream", Susan Boyle (2009)

While my home PC was in the shop for repairs, I whittled away some time at the public library. The other night, I decided to bring home some CD's, including this one from one of the feel-good music stories of 2009.

I'm sure you've all read or heard about Mrs. Boyle, who became an international phenomenon after appearing on Britain's Got Talent last year, then crossing the pond to appear on the series' American counterpart. "I Dreamed a Dream" was released at the end of '09, in time to justify the inclusion of the classic Christmas carol, "Silent Night".

The rest of "Dream" is a mix of gospel standards ("How Great Thou Art", "Amazing Grace") and covers of pop classics including the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" and Madonna's 1998 hit, "You'll See". Vocally, Mrs. Boyle falls somewhere in between Enya & Kate Smith. How's that for diversity?

While I have to return this particular copy to the library, I'm making a point of picking up a copy for my personal collection. If you haven't already done so, I suggest you do.

Grade: A.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A modest proposal of the wrong kind

My hometown school district is facing financial problems. In order to save money, they've considered closing one elementary school, but that would create problems for students and parents, who'd be at the mercy of the district reassigning the children to other schools not quite so close to home.

An alternative option introduced as a meeting on Monday also raises red flags. Specifically, the temporary suspension of high school sports. How wrong could they possibly be?

This past fall, Troy High came within a game of winning the Section 2 football championship. They've been among the elite teams in the region over the last 15 years. Forcing them to take a year off blunts the momentum built by their 2009 campaign. Putting the athletic program on hold in order to save money isn't fair to the student-athletes involved. There has to be a compromise somewhere, but so far, the district hasn't found the right answer.

As a Troy High alumnus myself, it bothers me to see this happen. It's akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul, if you will, but there are other solutions. It's just a matter of the school board finding it within themselves to help facilitate those solutions.

Smackdown gets a new home

2 years ago, World Wrestling Entertainment's Friday Night Smackdown was cancelled by the CW network because its programming head, Dawn Ostroff, decided it didn't fit with the female-centric programming she wanted on the network. It stood out like a sore thumb amidst a program roster that included Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, America's Next Top Model, and the revival of 90210 (formerly Beverly Hills 90210), and Ostroff didn't want it anymore.

The opportunity was there for Chairman Vince McMahon to consolidate all of his prime-time programming under the NBC-Universal umbrella. Monday Night Raw is on its 2nd tour of duty on USA. ECW, since cancelled, was on SyFy (then still Sci-Fi). Unfortunately, common sense didn't figure into the equation, as per usual, and McMahon decided to bring his Friday show to the beleagured MyNetwork TV, a sister network to Fox. Never mind the reputed hatred between McMahon and News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch. McMahon needed, he felt, a broadcast network home for one of his shows. He didn't want them all on cable. Not just yet, anyway.

Warp ahead to the present. MyNetwork TV is on life support, with Smackdown the only 1st-run series on the roster. It was pretty much a given that McMahon would have to pull stakes and move his franchise again, but where?

That question was answered earlier today when the WWE issued a press release confirming and verifying a news report in the Los Angeles Times. Smackdown is finally joining Raw as part of the NBC-Universal family, and will be on SyFy beginning October 1. Early reports claimed that NXT, which just launched February 23, would be cancelled, but WWE is hoping to keep the show going by relocating it to another network, say for example another NBC-U net, like Bravo, or consigning it to being online-only on their website, which is how they slowly killed off two previous series, Velocity and Heat. Moving NXT to Bravo, which has a few other reality shows on their roster, such as Top Chef, would make the most amount of sense. But, remember, common sense is a foreign commodity rarely found in the WWE boardroom.

To make room, SyFy is moving their Friday science fiction/fantasy/drama block to Tuesdays. Apparently, paying WWE 13 million dollars isn't enough to convince either side that now would be the best time to make Smackdown live every week, rather than on 3 days tape delay, which is the current business model for the series.

But, again, McMahon cannot consolidate everything under one roof. WWE Superstars, revived last year and placed on WGN America, isn't as readily available as its companion series, and it would be in WWE's best interest to pursue the option of buying out their contract with WGN America to get the programming consolidation that would work best for both the company, its primary corporate partner, and its fans.

It's a win-win situation across the board anyway, because in addition to the near-complete consolidation of programming, McMahon is guaranteeing viewers 52 weeks of Smackdown annually, something he couldn't do as long as it remained on a broadcast network whose affiliates are also committed to sports teams such as the New York Yankees and will delay or pre-empt Smackdown while baseball and/or basketball are in season. I've read where SyFy isn't in as many homes as MyNetwork TV, but that could change before October 1, when Smackdown makes its SyFy debut to launch its 12th season.

It may have been 2 years late, but it's the right move after all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

No one expects---or fears--the atheist inquisition

I thought that when the news broke of Catholic priests being accused of sexually molesting young boys a few years ago, it was mostly a regional matter, confined to my home district. No such luck!

Now comes news that supposedly Pope Benedict, when he was still a Cardinal in his native Germany, had obstructed an investigation into similar allegations there. The Pope is scheduled to visit England in September, so a pair of British atheists have decided to petition for legal action, specifically, to have Pope Benedict arrested when he arrives in London.

Oh, please! Give me a freakin' break! Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins seem to think that the pontiff isn't entitled to diplomatic immunity as a head of state since the Vatican is---to them, anyway----in more of an observing position, based in Rome. Hello? Reality check time, jabronies!!

Religious leaders, like the Pope or the Dalai Lama, are treated as diplomats, since they're ambassadors. Pope Benedict will be a visiting dignitary when he visits England in September, and thus would be afforded diplomatic immunity. Same thing if he were to return to the States down the line. Case closed.

If Hitchens & Dawkins don't like it, maybe they can do something constructive to pass the time instead of risking their feeble reputations on baseless accusations. Maybe they can campaign to make tiddly-winks a national sport. Yeah, like that'll work!

Dixie Carter (1939-2010)

Actress Dixie Carter, best remembered as one of the Sugarbaker sisters on Designing Women in the 90's, passed away over the weekend at age 70. Details concerning the cause of death were being kept closely guarded as of press time.

Carter was married to iconic actor Hal Holbrook, and prior to Designing had appeared on Diff'rent Strokes and the short-lived Filthy Rich, among other series.

It won't surprise anyone if there are a few misguided souls who will have this Dixie Carter confused with the co-owner of Total Non-stop Action (TNA) Wrestling, accidentally or otherwise.

Rest in peace, Dixie.

Of messages & happy endings

It just came to my attention a short time ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets for a 5th round pick in next week's NFL draft. While it will make the experts say "Huh?", the rationale has to do with Holmes' recent legal troubles. It also sends a clear message to star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has managed to evade criminal charges over two alleged assaults over the last several months, that not even star players are exempt from being traded away or cut if they don't exhibit appropriate behavior away from the field. Fourteen months after winning his 2nd Super Bowl, Roethlisberger now is without the wide receiver who clinched Super Bowl 43 vs. Arizona for him, and now must be on his best behavior.

Lost in all of this drama is the fact that the Steelers just helped the Jets become even bigger players in the AFC East. Holmes, coupled with Jerricho Cotchery and perhaps a returning Braylon Edwards, would give the Jets and quarterback Mark Sanchez enough of an arsenal that could conceivably unseat New England atop the division. However, training camp is still a ways off........

Speaking of messages, TBS sent a very loud one earlier today by signing former NBC late night host Conan O'Brien, whom just about everyone assumed would be bound for Fox after NBC cut him loose in February. Ahh, but not so fast. TBS got its foot in the door, so to speak, last fall when they entered the late night wars with Lopez Tonight, which will move down an hour upon reaching its 1st anniversary in November to make room for O'Brien.

TBS, in recent years, has changed its identity by building their schedule more around comedies, and leaving the drama to sister network TNT, even going so far as to share cable rights with another sister network, Cartoon Network, for reruns of Fox's Family Guy. While George Lopez was relatively untested as a talk show host, TBS was willing to take a chance, hoping he would do the same basic thing that Arsenio Hall had done 20 years earlier, only in this case, the target demographic would be Latin-Americans instead of African-Americans. The success of Lopez Tonight has erased the bitter taste of failure from a year earlier, when TBS had brought in impressionist Frank Caliendo (Fox NFL Sunday, ex-MadTV) to do a solo show. Frank TV quickly disappeared, leaving Caliendo to do his Sunday schtick.

Apparently, Rupert Murdoch was too busy counting his money before offering O'Brien a contract, so Time Warner pounced. Enough said.

After all the hype surrounding the Masters over the weekend, there were more than a few pundits that believed Tiger Woods would win his 5th green jacket. I wasn't one of them. In fact, Woods never made it to the top of the leader board, finishing in a tie for 4th, 5 shots behind Phil Mickelson, who won his 3rd jacket. Predictably, the New York tabloids, who kept Woods on the front pages all weekend, didn't feel the need to accord Mickelson the same treatment, only the back pages, in today's editions. Mickelson took time off from the tour last year to attend to his wife, Amy, who is battling cancer, and who was in attendance on Sunday to see her husband's latest triumph. So there was a feel-good story at the end of the tournament, after all.

For all the genuflecting ESPN & CBS had to have done toward Woods, praying for a ratings miracle, they had to understand that there was an even better story being told.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weasel of the Week: Nike

They say that sometimes you don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Nike, the Portland, Oregon-based shoe company, is one of the few corporate sponsors that has stood by golfer Tiger Woods in the face of all the scandal that has enveloped the #1 ranked golfer in the world the last few months.

So, with Woods making his seasonal debut at the Masters this week, Nike felt the time was right to debut a new ad starring Woods. Sort of. While I haven't yet seen the ad, I have read of the controversy surrounding it. Woods' late father, Earl, provides the narrative, but the words are not actually meant for his son. According to an ABC News report, Nike, with the cooperation of Woods, no doubt, used an audio track of the elder Woods from a 2004 documentary to play over a fresh video image of Tiger, suggesting that the 4-time Masters champ was in fact the original target of his father's commentary.

Generating controversy in order to sell their product is old hat to Nike. They've been doing it for years. Tiger Woods had spoken about changing his ways a couple of months back, but, as we documented after the dog-&-pony show disguised as a press conference, it certainly appears as though he's willing to reap the benefits of his sponsors exploiting his father's memory. Instead of saying "no", Tiger is only adding to the controversy.

Of course, the New York tabloids are plastering him on the front & back pages as long as he's in contention at the Masters. While it's a first for the legendary tournament, it's overshadowed by the fact that there are still a few more women coming out of the woodwork claiming they've been with the randy Woods. While that would've gotten the tabloids' editors some weasel ears, Nike gets the ears this week for their irresponsibly shallow show of support. If they really cared about Woods, they wouldn't have stooped so low.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On the fast track to disaster

After improving its rating from 0.56 to 0.9 on Monday, Total Non-stop Action Wrestling (TNA) co-owner Dixie Carter announced via Twitter that Impact will remain from 8-10 pm (ET) on Mondays, effective immediately, and, on top of that, Impact will resume with repeats on Thursdays in its former time-slot (9-11 pm). One idea defeats the other, par for the course for TNA.

The company made the hasty decision to move Impact from Thursdays to Mondays last month at the behest of Hulk Hogan & Eric Bischoff, the belief being that it's the only way they can compete with WWE Monday Night Raw. After 4 weeks of direct head-to-head competition with the more established program, TNA & Spike "experimented" with moving Impact to the earlier hour, but obviously this wasn't just an experiment. The ratings didn't improve all that much, but just enough to warrant a permanent move to the 8-10 block. In truth, for all the talent on the TNA roster, much of it pruned from the WWE's waiver wires, the company remains hamstrung by poor booking and/or personnel decisions resulting from cronyism (Hogan) or just plain stupidity (just about anything written by Vince Russo) or an improbable combination of both. For every positive move made, there are 3-4 negative ones that set TNA back further than they were before.

Common sense suggests that TNA could've waited a few more months before embarking on this ambitious, but risky, schedule move, but we all know common sense is a foreign concept to them. Just because both shows are pre-taped next week doesn't really mean TNA has given themselves a perceived advantage. Viewers will already know what happens if they've surfed the internet and found the "spoilers". Raw will be in England, on same-day tape, meaning that their creative team will still have had ample time to assemble the program to offset anything on Impact that might be remotely buzzworthy.

The final, bottom line: TNA is doomed. But, then, as a would-be philosopher in WWE once remarked back in 2003, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The "War of Complacency" is over

Well, it's actually been over for a while. TNA Impact continues to slide downward, but actually made a slim gain this week, registering a 0.9 rating, but it's still not enough to overtake Monday Night Raw. The real challenge lies next week, when both shows are pre-recorded. Raw will be on same-day tape from London, with actor-singer David Hasselhoff (ex-Knight Rider, Baywatch) as host. You can expect comedy skits built around those two iconic shows, since they already did a parody of America's Got Talent when Ozzy & Sharon Osbourne hosted late last year. Impact tapes tonight in Orlando, but it's more prevalent than ever that a total housecleaning is in order for TNA.

As a creative team member, Hulk Hogan is a failure. His biggest fault, of course, is cronyism, which would explain Bubba the Love Sponge still being gainfully employed by TNA, and now associated with The Band (nee the NWO). Bubba is the reason the single most dominant female grappler in the business today, Awesome Kong, left the company. She punched him out off-camera one night because he dared to belittle her efforts to help the victims of the Haitian earthquake, but because Bubba is one of Hogan's buds, he stays, and she goes. It isn't fair or right, but co-owner Dixie Carter has to take the blame for this, since she foolishly signed Hogan and Eric Bischoff to try to save the company. It's kind of like the tag line of the comic book character, Bat Lash, back in the 60's. Would Bischoff & Hogan save TNA? Or would they ruin it? The latter's pretty obvious. Benevolence has given way to ego, and it would be a major surprise now if TNA actually lasts the calendar year.

Hogan is reported to have said that if he can't turn TNA around, he'd walk away. I'd say he needs to find those walking shoes, and take Vince Russo, TNA's beleagured head scribbler, with him.

Over in the WWE, NXT "rookie" David Otunga (he's engaged to Jennifer Hudson, you know) hosted, and proceeded to play John Cena like a fiddle, as if that hasn't happened enough times already. They dusted off the Million Dollar belt for Ted DiBiase, Jr., as if that'll help him get over, which I doubt. Jack Swagger, the new WWE World champ, got a send-off courtesy of a loss to Randy Orton (go figure the logic in that one), while the divas were all dressed in evening gowns for a battle royal. The gowns didn't get ripped for once, though the ladies had the good sense to remove their shoes before the match started. All in all, another average night. Not great, but acceptable.

I declare this war is over.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

John Forsythe (1918-2010)

Another cherished TV legend has taken his final bows.

John Forsythe has passed away at the age of 92, and his body of TV work over the course of five decades (50's through the 90's) would grant him induction into a TV Hall of Fame on the first ballot alone.

Forsythe will be best remembered by today's generation as the heard-but-never-seen boss of Charlie's Angels (1976-81) and as oil magnate Blake Carrington on Dynasty (1981-89), but as old school fans know, Forsythe was already a well-established star by the time Aaron Spelling hired him for Angels. Forsythe's earliest TV series was the 50's sitcom, Bachelor Father, which may still be airing on Retro, depending on where you live (check local listings). After a self-titled sitcom failed to click, Forsythe returned in To Rome With Love, which lasted for 2 seasons on CBS, and was the last sitcom produced by Don Fedderson (The Millionaire, My Three Sons) for the network. Prior to Charlie's Angels, Forsythe cut his teeth in voice-over work by narrating the syndicated nature series, World of Survival. The two Angels feature films marked Forsythe's return to the limelight after a number of years away following the demise of another short-lived comedy, The Powers That Be, which stands as Forsythe's last TV series. With talk of Angels being revived by ABC for another run, one has to figure that it will be dedicated in memory of Forsythe, as well as Farrah Fawcett, who passed away last year, and David Doyle, the original Bosley.

Rest in peace, John.

Friday, April 2, 2010

On DVD: The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 1--1935-36

We've all grown up watching the reruns over and over again of The Three Stooges, and we all have our favorites. While the Stooges' brand of slapstick comedy wouldn't go over as well today without invoking the wrath of the PC (Politically Correct) Police, it was a different world that the Stooges existed in 75 years ago.

Today's audience will associate eye gouges with professional wrestling, but it was part of the Stooges' act. Moe & Curly Howard and Larry Fine weren't exactly presented as Rhodes' Scholars, and in these classic short subjects, drifted from one job to another, depending on the storyline. They've played soldiers, musicians, doctors, and, occasionally, unemployed common folks.

The very first offering, "Woman Haters", sets the tone. Larry is inducted into the club, even though he is engaged to be married. He goes through with the wedding anyway, behind the backs of Moe & Curly. The next short, "Punch Drunks", was written by the Stooges themselves (Curly is credited as Jerry Howard), and showcases Curly, who becomes a whirlwind of violence when he hears "Pop Goes the Weasel", especially when Larry plays it on his violin.

My personal favorite from the Curly era is "Disorder in the Court". I have had to have seen this one at least 50 times on TV since the 70's. The boys are star witnesses, helping clear a nightclub dancer of murdering her boyfriend. This is another instance of Larry playing his violin, while Moe holds a harmonica between his teeth whilst conducting his partners with a baton. Curly is on stand-up bass. Of the three, Larry is the only legitimate musician, since he had trained to play classical violin before turning to comedy, and we all know it's better to hold the harmonica in your hands while playing, otherwise, as Moe discovers, you're prone to swallowing the instrument. Another highlight is Curly struggling to take the oath before entering the witness box, thanks largely to insisting on wearing a derby hat and carrying an umbrella, even though it wasn't a rainy day. Classic comedy gold.

There's more where this came from, of course, so I have to find the time to invest in the remaining volumes in the series.


 Edit: 4/11/14: Here's "Disorder in the Court":

Weasel of the week: Fox News Channel

This one's a slam dunk. In promoting a new series involving former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Real American Stories, Fox News is implying that the 2008 VP candidate had conducted interviews with country singer Toby Keith and rapper-actor LL Cool J (NCIS-Los Angeles), but there's one little problem.

According to an article in Thursday's New York Daily News, neither LL nor Keith actually sat for interviews with Mrs. Palin. The interviews are actually archive pieces that were originally done----and aired---in the last 2 years. So Fox is employing a deceptive advertising campaign in order to get people to watch. Nothing new, except that the press has issued a variation on the time-honored warning of caveat emptor (let the buyer---or in this case, the viewer---beware), which may only result in more people watching out of curiosity.

Fox News Channel claims to be "fair & balanced". Not in this case.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Comparison shopping: "A Study in Scarlet" (1933) and "Terror by Night" (1946)

With my home computer in the shop for repairs, I've taken the time to rummage through my DVD library to find something to pass time. Over the last two nights, I played a pair of Sherlock Holmes mysteries available via public domain.

"A Study in Scarlet", from 1933, casts Reginald Owen as Holmes and Warburton Gamble as Dr. Watson. While the title is that of the first Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the plot deviates from Doyle's script and borrows a plot point from Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None". Owen is also credited as a co-writer, and acquits himself well as Holmes.

The plot is rather simplistic. A shady lawyer (Alan Dinehart) at the head of a secret society arranges for the society's members to be eliminated, one at a time, while collecting their money, properties, and personal effects for his own gains. Holmes admits to having had earlier encounters with the shyster, but was never quite able to put him away. This time, however, may turn out to be a different matter altogether.

Edit: 4/11/14: I've added "A Study In Scarlet":

For many Holmes fans, the definitive screen portrayer of the master detective is Basil Rathbone, who starred in a total of 15 films and several radio productions. In "Terror by Night", Holmes & Watson (Nigel Bruce) are on a train bound for Scotland, tasked to protect the Star of Rhodesia. Watson meets a man claiming to be his old friend, Major Duncan-Bleeck (Alan Mowbray, who played Inspector Lestrade in "Scarlet"), but in truth is Col. Sebastian Moran, a former aide to Holmes' arch-enemy, Professor James Moriarty. Suffice to say, this game of human chess is worth the price of admission alone.

Edit: 4/11/14: And here's "Terror By Night":

Bear in mind that this was the first time I'd seen Owen as Holmes, and I have to say I was quite impressed. I have not yet seen Robert Downey, Jr.'s version of the legendary sleuth, but I would venture that he had a lot to live up to.

Ratings: "A Study in Scarlet"--A-. "Terror by Night"--A+.