Friday, January 28, 2011

Charlie Callas (1924-2011) & Bruce Gordon (1916-2011)

Long before Michael Winslow of "Police Academy" fame was making people laugh with bizarre sound effects, Charlie Callas was doing the same as part of his nightclub act. It has just come to my attention that Callas has passed away at the age of 86 (some accounts give his age as 83).

Most of you will remember Callas' comedy act from numerous appearances on talk shows with Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and others. In fact, according to one account I read, when he appeared on The Merv Griffin Show, Callas so impressed Jerry Lewis with one of his routines that Lewis cast him in his 1967 movie, "The Big Mouth". Callas made one dramatic turn, playing restaurant owner Malcolm Argos opposite Robert Wagner & Eddie Albert on Switch in the mid-70's. Comics fans will recall----or likely prefer to forget----that Callas was cast as Green Lantern's enemy, Sinestro, in the 1979 miniseries, Legends of the Superheroes. Callas appeared to be miscast, in this writer's opinion.

Callas, meanwhile, was also a regular on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, called upon to play fictional acquaintances of the guest of honor du jour, like, for example, Frank Sinatra. For that episode, Callas was dressed as a mobster, in reference to the running joke that Sinatra had some connections with the mob that were never proven, insofar as I know.

Speaking of mobsters, that brings us to Bruce Gordon, whose lasting impression on television audiences was as gangster Frank Nitti on the original series version of The Untouchables. Gordon passed away on January 20 at 94.

Gordon would later parlay his Untouchables gig into one more starring role, this time in the 1966 CBS sitcom, Run, Buddy, Run. The last thing I remember Gordon doing, though, was an ad for Canada Dry ginger ale during its "Not too sweet" ad campaign in the mid-70's. Unfortunately, I was not able to find the ad on YouTube, but as memory serves, Gordon was, predictably, attired as a mobster for the spot, again playing off his signature role as Nitti.

Rest in peace, gentlemen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Weasels of the Week: Jonathan Hickman, Dan Buckley, Tom Brevoort, & Joe Quesada

They just don't get it.

Marvel Comics had recently resurrected Steve Rogers, the definitive Captain America, after a lengthy story arc that saw the iconic hero killed by an assassin's bullet. As many comics fans are aware, death in the comics isn't quite as certain as in real life. Instead, in this modern era, it is but a cliched plot device used to shock readers and inspire a sudden spike in sales of certain titles the publisher feels needs some sort of temporary boost. Captain America was one such case, but did Marvel have to go to the well again so soon?

I wrote before about the company's plans to kill off a member of the Fantastic Four. Never mind that the series is approaching its 50th anniversary this year. Never mind that there are plans to reboot the movie franchise after 2 feature films that starred the likes of Jessica Alba & Michael Chilkis were met with mixed reactions from fans at the box office. This was another sales ploy, but it shouldn't have been done.

Jonathan Hickman, a relatively new face on the comics scene, is the author of what is the "final" story arc for the current FF series. Like, let's be realistic, okay? I think we all know that before the end of the summer, the FF will be back, whole again, to mark the aforementioned 50th anniversary. Hickman will get the lion's share of the blame for killing off (at least for now) Johnny Storm, the Human Torch (played by Chris Evans in the movies), but Hickman tried to explain himself by saying that Storm represented the child in all of us. That argument would've worked 30-35 years ago. What Hickman is forgetting is that comics are read by people of all ages, not just children. I retired from collecting a couple of years back, but I still keep an ear to the ground, if you will, checking the online solicitations to see if there's anything that actually catches my fancy enough to make a spot purchase. Hasn't happened yet. Consider also that Marvel's corporate parent, Disney, might be in the running to produce a new FF movie, and they would prefer to have the classic lineup remain intact. This is a clear case of a quick fix being made without regard to long-term, long-range plans within the corporate framework. Thusly, Hickman will not shoulder the blame alone.

Tom Brevoort was recently promoted to Executive Editor at Marvel after a couple of decades of service as a Marvel editor. Publisher Dan Buckley and former Editor In Chief Joe Quesada also have to shoulder some of the blame, especially Quesada, considering the following rap sheet:

1. The Rawhide Kid is rebooted as a homosexual cowboy. Ron Zimmerman, a writer for radio icon Howard Stern, was tasked to write a miniseries for Marvel's adult-geared MAX imprint that would recast the Silver Age Western hero for the 21st century. It wasn't all that successful, which is why it took 7 years before a sequel was even published. More people know Zimmerman these days as the recent armpiece of singer-actress Cher, who could probably teach him a thing or twenty about writing......

2. The most famous comics wedding of the 80's gets flushed down the toilet (unless you only read the newspaper comics pages). Apparently, Quesada didn't like the idea of Spider-Man being married, so he commissioned a controversial storyline that saw the marriage of Peter Parker (Spidey) and model-actress Mary Jane Watson erased from existence. It was really an excuse to clear the decks and refocus the Spider-Man books on retrograde plotting, circa the mid-to-late 70's, when Quesada was growing up. Luckily, Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee has kept the marriage intact in his daily strip.

3. The assassination of Captain America. As noted above, this storyline ended with Steve Rogers being resurrected about a year or so after his "death". Despite the fact that a well respected writer, Ed Brubaker, was---and still is----writing the series, there was something that kept readers away. At the end of the day, though, it was more about Quesada getting headlines in the morning papers. Again. It's a disturbing pattern.

As an artist, Quesada has some talent, but was not the best at keeping deadlines. Before becoming editor-in-chief, Quesada teamed with filmmaker Kevin Smith to reboot Daredevil, but a combination of factors, including Smith's movies and personal matters on Quesada's side, had readers waiting for months on end between issues. Why in the world, then, would Quesada even land an editorial job in the first place?

You could say that the headline grabbing stunts were Quesada's way of getting the publicity he'd hoped for at the beginning of his career, but didn't get, for whatever reason. The storyline leading to Johnny Storm's "death" began on Quesada's watch, though Axel Alonso has taken the EIC gig recently. Alonso was, ah, late to the party, shall we say, and gets spared the weasel ears. Brevoort & Buckley each get a set for signing off on the project, Quesada because he certainly deserves them, and Hickman because, as I'm sure he knows, there are people who strongly disagree with the editorial decision, and will blame him more than anyone else. He did his job, but the question is, will this be his legacy? You have to hope it isn't.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Maybe they should go back to, well, playing music?

As MTV approaches its 30th anniversary this year, the once iconic channel has long since changed its programming schematic, mostly for the worse. There are no more VJ's, not much time is given to music videos, and the schedule is largely made up of reality shows and movies.

Inevitably, sooner or later, the idiots in charge would slip and get themselves in hot water with the usual rabble-rousing watchdogs with nothing better to do than whine and complain in the name of morality. Case in point: MTV's new Monday night soap, Skins, based on a British program of the same name, has become the latest target of the Parents Television Council (PTC), which is raising complaints about the content of the show, which they say promotes drug use, alcohol use, and, of course, sex, among teenagers. Worse, the PTC claims some of the show's cast are under 18, and shouldn't be in this position, so add child labor/pornography issues to the list of complaints.

Predictably, the PTC has called on advertisers to boycott the show, and so far, 5 have, including Taco Bell & Subway. If Skins aired after 11 pm (ET), maybe it's not such a problem, but it is airing at 10 (ET), opposite such shows as Hawaii Five-O and WWE Monday Night Raw, which means it already has an uphill climb in the ratings as it is. The PTC maintains that children who should be in bed by 10 are watching the show with their parents and/or older siblings, demonstrating the lax discipline that has been one of society's ills in recent years.

Personally, I don't give a rat's butt, since I watch Raw, and have no interest in what I now refer to as "Empty-V". They're better served doing everyone a favor and moving Skins either to a later time, or to sister network Logo, which, in this writer's opinion, would be a better location. Then, MTV can finally start preparing for its 30th anniversary by doing the right thing for their viewers and going back to what brought them to the dance in the first place. Let the music play!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jack LaLanne (1914-2011)

Long before the cable airwaves were flooded with fitness programs, Jack LaLanne was teaching people how to keep fit. Today, we're mourning the passing of LaLanne at 96.

Today's audience is more familiar with the frequent airings of LaLanne pushing his fruit juicers in informercials that air on some of the same cable channels that have or still run fitness programs, usually in the morning, save for the 24 hour exercise channels which speak for themselves. A lot of those same viewers would probably put more trust in LaLanne to keep them healthy than, say, Richard Simmons, who was to the 80's & 90's what LaLanne was in the 50's, 60's, & 70's, a pre-eminent fitness guru who did all the talk shows. While Simmons has all but become a walking parody, allowing himself to be regularly ridiculed by David Letterman, for example, LaLanne moved from the gym to the kitchen, his mission statement remaining the same. The infomercials will probably continue to run a wee bit longer before being pulled, but if you haven't seen them yet, you might want to at least give it a peek.

Rest in peace, Jack. They're opening a gym in Heaven just for you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don Kirshner (1934-2011)

News has just crossed the wires reporting the passing of music impresario Don Kirshner at 76.

Kirshner was the brains behind two of the best known made-for-TV bands of the 60's, The Monkees & the Archies. In addition, Kirshner was employed by Screen Gems (the studio that produced The Monkees) as a music consultant for some of their other sitcoms of the period, including Bewitched. After the Archies became a Saturday morning staple for CBS & Filmation, Kirshner went to Hanna-Barbera and served as a music supervisor for Josie & the Pussycats, Harlem Globetrotters, and the 2nd season of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?.

In the mid-70's, Kirshner moved in front of the cameras to host and produce the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, which lasted until 1982, but not before Kirshner was famously spoofed on Saturday Night Live by Paul Shaffer (Late Show With David Letterman). The Shaffer-as-Kirshner skits became pop culture legend, just like the man himself.

Kirshner was also instrumental in the development of Bobby Darin's career. According to the Yahoo! News article, Darin and Sandra Dee were married in Kirshner's apartment. However, Darin & Kirshner had a falling out professionally some time later. Kirshner had largely been out of the public eye since the end of his Rock Concert series, but with his passing, an era in music has come to a close.

Rest in peace, Don.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The coolest commercial of 2010

Oh, I've been dying to find this one on YouTube. Kia decided to use hamsters as part of their ad campaign for one of their cars, the Soul, last year. This spot debuted in May, and features some "hamsters" lip-synching "The Choice Is Yours", by the rap group Black Sheep. I thought this was hilarious when it first aired.

Doo, dah, dippity!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Can someone explain this to me?

Family Feud has been around since the mid-70's, and put actor Richard Dawson (ex-Hogan's Heroes) firmly in the forefront, after he'd been a panelist on Goodson-Todman stablemate Match Game for a couple of years. After Dawson's second tour of duty, Feud has gone through a series of hosts, changing every 3-4 years. First, it was comedian Louie Anderson (who has not gotten much television exposure since leaving Feud), followed by actors Richard Karn (ex-Home Improvement) and John O'Hurley (ex-Seinfeld). Currently, comedian and radio personality Steve Harvey is at the helm, and can also be seen with a 1 hour TV version of his syndicated radio show, The Steve Harvey Project, on Centric & BET weeknights.

The question I have for Fremantle Media, which took over the Goodson-Todman properties some years back, is this. Why the merry-go-round? Why change hosts every 3 years? Why not find someone to be the full-time MC? As a certain magazine used to ask in its ad campaign back in the day, enquiring minds want to know!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

David Nelson (1936-2011)

News has just come across the wires of the passing of actor-director David Nelson, the last surviving member of the family made famous by the radio & television series, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. David Nelson was 74, and had been suffering from complications caused by colon cancer.

While his brother Rick became a pop star, with hits such as "Poor Little Fool", "Hello, Mary Lou", & "Garden Party", David moved behind the camera to direct a number of episodes of Ozzie & Harriet during the course of its run. He appeared in a number of television shows and TV-movies after the series ended, including "Smashup on Interstate 5", a 1976 TV-movie which was also the last time he acted with his mother, Harriet.

Rest in peace, David.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Classic TV: The Green Hornet (1966)

With a brand new feature film starring comedian Seth Rogen ("Observe & Report") opening this weekend, SyFy sprung a surprise by airing a marathon of the 1966 Green Hornet series, starring Van Williams & Bruce Lee, today. Hornet's cable rights have bounced around in recent years, from FX to the American Life (nee Good Life) network, and now to SyFy. If they weren't so obsessed with daily "chain reaction" marathons, they could find a place for Hornet on the regular schedule, or at the very least, shuttle it over to sister networks Sleuth or Bravo.

Anyway, before I go any further, here's the open to the show, with narration by executive producer William Dozier (Batman), and the iconic theme, performed by jazz legend Al Hirt.

Unlike Batman, Hornet was played as a straight crime drama, a la another 20th Century Fox series, The Felony Squad, which was also part of the freshman class of '66. However, in a concerted effort to call attention to the series, Dozier had the Hornet & Kato pay a visit to Gotham City on Batman in a 2-part episode that aired during the November sweeps period. The glaring contrast between the camped-up Batman and the more serious Green Hornet couldn't have been more obvious. Sadly, Hornet was cancelled after 1 season, and Batman would depart the following Spring.

Dozier didn't have much luck after Hornet was cancelled. He tried a campy version of Wonder Woman that went absolutely nowhere, and also tried to bring Dick Tracy to television. Batman, in fact, was Dozier's most successful series. By going against the grain and the industry trend of copying his formula for Batman by doing a more faithful adaptation of Hornet, Dozier may have unwittingly doomed his new show before it actually got rolling. The fear from this desk is that regardless of how Seth Rogen's take on the Hornet fares at the box office, today's Hollywood brainiacs will use it as a template for putting the Hornet back on television. And that would be a mistake.

2011 marks the Hornet's 75th anniversary, and the 45th anniversary of the TV show. There are new comic books on the market these days, and, who knows? Maybe if the Hornet does return to TV, someone will get it right!

Back to the show. Yes, it followed a formula that got repetitive in a hurry, but had Fox entrusted this show to another producer other than William Dozier, it might've lasted more than 1 year. To many people, Van Williams is still the definitive Hornet, and those purists will likely dismiss Rogen as a buffoon. Then again, they said the same thing about Michael Keaton when he was cast as Batman in 1989..............

Rating for the show: A.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Weasel of the Week: Jared Lee Loughner

In the 60's & early 70's, if you didn't like something about our government, you got a group of your closest friends together, and you organized a protest. Meant to be peaceful, but often ending in violence because the police, in attempting to cut off the protest, used tear gas, and, in some cases, physical force, to dissuade the protesters. One such incident, at Kent State University in Ohio, ended with four people dead, and was immortalized in song by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

These days, organized protests are fewer & further between, and the anti-government types are often characterized as isolated loners who don't know how to call attention to their issues any other way than with violence, the diametric opposite of what the peaceniks of the 60's were trying to do.

That brings us to this week's Weasel, Jared Lee Loughner, a 22 year old who opened fire on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at an open air event in Arizona on Saturday. 6 people, including a judge and a 9 year old girl, and wounded a few others, including Congresswoman Giffords, who, as of this writing, is in critical condition. Unlike most modern day gunmen with axes to grind against whatever is bothering them at a particular point, Loughner is in federal custody as I'm writing this, and that's actually a positive step. Too many times, these lone wolves prefer to martyr themselves rather than face prosecution and accept responsibility for their actions.

New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly, in today's edition, placed some of the blame at the feet of Tea Party princess Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, who has lashed out against Congresswoman Giffords in the past. Mrs. Palin, who apparently doesn't know her 15 minutes have run out with the cancellation of her TLC reality show, might've been peeved that Ms. Giffords had crossed political lines from Republican to Democrat, perhaps not wanting anything to do with the Tea Party. Federal officers have concluded, however, that Loughner did act alone, as one could surmise from the messages he posted on YouTube. Fellow blogger Sam Wilson, over at the Think 3 Institute, posted one of Loughner's screeds yesterday. Loughner may not have shared his feelings with his folks, perhaps for fear that they might disagree with him, but by holding back his own opinions, he allowed his resentment toward the government to build to its fiery crescendo yesterday. That said, while prison is definitely in this kid's future, he also will need some psychiatric counseling to address his anti-government issues and develop a better understanding of said issues.

Bottom line is, Loughner should be a case study on the fragility of the human psyche for someone of his age, and how easily it can be influenced. He claims the government practices mind control? Only in literature and the movies. If he can't reconcile the truth and realize his errors in judgment, for the sake of his future, Loughner could instead inspire other misguided souls to follow his primrose path. We've had enough of those over the last decade and change. We don't need any more.

Another stupid lawsuit

The new year is a week old, and already someone's decided to file a frivolous lawsuit against World Wrestling Entertainment. Problem is, the suit entails an incident more than a decade old.

Ron Basham, 18, of Kentucky, says he was at a WWE (then-World Wrestling Federation) pay per view in 2000, headlined by a match between the Rock (Dwayne Johnson) & Triple H (Paul LeVesque). The action spilled into the crowd, and, according to the suit, an older, female fan was pushed into Basham, 7 at the time, who was standing on a chair. Basham ended up pinned between two chairs and the woman fell on him, "crushing his legs", they say. Basham, now a high school senior, has gone on to play football and race cars, but the suit he's filed is more about recouping thousands of dollars in medical bills he & his family believe should be charged to WWE due to negligence.

Now, you'd think the statute of limitations has run out on this case. Not so. In Kentucky, the statute won't run out until Basham turns 19. You'd also think Basham & his family would've had sufficient insurance to cover the bills, but apparently, that isn't the case here, either. However, as was pointed out by a few people on a message board, Basham is himself at fault, because he was standing on the chair. At most events, ushers and/or security will tell you that you can't stand on the chairs. Some do anyway, because people in the rows in front of them are obstructing their view. It's a chain reaction thing. Basham's parents didn't heed any warnings, and thus the lad paid the price. They can't find the other fan involved in this case, so the lawyer figures it's easier to lay the blame on the WWE. Try finding the ushers and/or security agents who were working that night. There's probably been quite a bit of job turnover since that event. Bottom line is, the WWE isn't entirely at fault, and there's no way it can be proven otherwise.

Oh, by the way, the WWE had employed a wrestler named Doug Basham for a few years, but I'm not sure if he's related to young Ron. Just thought I'd get that out there.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sometimes, a lawsuit makes matters worse

The parents of an Indiana 8th grader have decided to sue the school district because their child was booted off the basketball team at his school-----for refusing to cut his hair.

Before I go any further, let me offer a little personal disclosure. I spent two seasons at a Christian school in my home city. The second year, the school decided to start an athletic program. Because of the small enrollment, we only had two sports. Soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter. The only way you got to play was by earning privileges, usually by reciting a specific Bible verse to the teacher. There were, as memory serves, three levels of privileges. The same thing applied for other extracurricular activities such as field trips.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the Greenfield district in Indiana believes that playing sports is a privilege, not a right. How exactly that is defined, I don't know, but most schools offer pre-season tryouts. For example, fall sports such as soccer & football have tryouts about 4-6 weeks before school starts, allowing for the now-common practice of training camp for high school sports during the dog days of summer.

In Patrick & Melissa Hayden's case, they believe their son is being discriminated against because of how he wears his hair, so they sued the school district. The district maintains that they do have a dress code as it pertains to hair. It has to be above the eyes & ears. I realize the policy may be several decades behind the times, but there is no unilateral, nationwide policy for all schools to follow, and thus each district, in each state, will establish their guidelines as they see fit. The Haydens believe their son's preferred style falls under the First Amendment right to Freedom of Expression. Theirs, unfortunately, is a losing battle, unless they find someone who can come up with a convincing enough argument to sway the judge hearing the case.

Filing a lawsuit, as the Haydens have, is actually a mistake that so many people have made, opting for litigation for the smallest of issues. It's the way our society operates nowadays, and some can blame the original People's Court in the mid-80's, because of its popularizing small claims courts, for this societal condition. From where I sit, however, the Haydens are wasting their time and money, and that of the Indiana taxpayers as well, by filing what amounts to frivilous litigation. If they'd cared to read the district guidebook, assuming they have one, they wouldn't be in this fix.

When I attended the Christian school in the 70's, I had to adhere to the dress code. No problem. I've always worn my hair short, anyway. Wearing a dress shirt & tie to class? No big deal, either. In a way, that prepared me for my current job. So why are the Haydens raising a stink over a relatively minor school rule? Because to them, it amounts to a glaring case of disrespect toward their son. Maybe they need to read the guidebook, as a family, call off the suit, and move on. That way, everyone's happy, and life can go on.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011)

News has come across the wires reporting the passing of Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, formerly of the 70's band, Stealers Wheel, at 63 due to liver failure.

Rafferty's biggest successes in the US came during the mid-to-late 70's, first with Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You", which Quentin Tarantino later included in the soundtrack to his 1992 film, "Reservoir Dogs". After Stealers Wheel split up, Rafferty, who'd released a solo record a few years earlier, released "City To City" in 1978, leading to his biggest hit, "Baker Street".

Rest in peace, Gerry.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Anne Francis (1930-2011)

Less than a month after the passing of her "Forbidden Planet" co-star, Leslie Nielsen, actress Anne Francis passed away over the weekend at 80.

In addition to "Planet", Ms. Francis may be better known to baby boomers for her role as glamorous, karate-chopping detective Honey West, whose 1965 series was spun off from Burke's Law. Here's the open to Honey West:

My first real exposure to Honey came when reruns aired on FX several years back, in the network's formative years, before they began making like other cable nets and shoving reruns of certain series down the viewers' throats. It was just a shame the series lasted just one season, and would be the last major project for Anne Francis. I never saw "Forbidden Planet", so at least there was the next best thing.

Rest in peace, Anne.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Time can't be cheated

When I noted the passing of actor Steve Landesberg a week ago, I, like everyone else, was led to believe he was 65. By now, everyone has found out that he was actually 74, shearing off 9 years for whatever reason. So, now, we set the record straight.