Monday, January 30, 2012

Musical Interlude: Money's Too Tight (to Mention) (1985)

Simply Red burst onto the scene in 1985 with their debut CD, "Picture Book", which produced two hit singles, the dreamy "Holding Back the Years" and the politically charged "Money's Too Tight (to Mention)", which took a not-so-veiled poke at Reaganomics. Uploaded by---wait for it---simplyredvideo:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On DVD: Superman-Doomsday (2007)

In 1993, DC Comics took a huge gamble by killing off Superman. Of course, it was only temporary, but the idea, as has been the case for similar storylines produced by Marvel since then, was to boost sales on a book that was no longer in the top 10. Remember, too, that this was during the speculator boom of the early 90's, when every Tom, Dick, & Harry felt compelled to buy multiple copies of certain "hot" books, thinking that they could turn over a tidy profit. In the long term, that profit has dissipated because in reality, the books were mass produced in the first place. A little more than a year later, Superman returned, good as new, but the experiment bore some other fruit for DC by introducing 4 new characters, two of whom would later be given their own books.

In 2007, DC & Warner Bros. decided to adapt the "Death of Superman" storyline, which introduced the monster known as Doomsday, into a direct-to-video feature film. The end product, "Superman-Doomsday", sorry to say, fails to live up to expectations. How did it fail? That is easily answered.

Doomsday, for starters, only appears in the first 20-odd minutes of the movie, as, presumably, he too was killed in the infamous battle with Superman (Adam Baldwin, most recently on Chuck). A scientific research team from LexCorp unearths the monster while on a top secret mission for LexCorp CEO Lex Luthor (James Marsters, ex-Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but the creature's idea of gratitude is to slaughter the entire team. Luthor is only interested in covering up his team's tracks, however, and has Mercy Graves, repackaged here as a mousy but loyal corporate assistant (Cree Summer), make arrangements. Graves, inexplicably, is slain by Luthor later in the film, something unexpected. Then again, this film was rated PG-13 for a reason.........

Superman is very involved with Lois Lane (Anne Heche), who at the start of the movie only suspects that Clark Kent and the Man of Steel are one and the same. Clark supposedly is headed to Afghanistan on assignment, but instead, Superman whisks Lois off to the Fortress of Solitude for a romantic getaway, attended to only by a lone robot (Tom Kenny). When Doomsday hits Metropolis, having already left behind a trail of death & destruction, Superman & Lois return home, and, well, you know the rest.

The funeral for the Last Son of Krypton is, as was the case in the comics, a very public memorial, but, unlike the comics, the Justice League is conspicuous by its absence, one of several mistakes made with this movie. When Lois spots Clark's adoptive mother, Martha Kent (Swoosie Kurtz), her suspicions are heightened, leading to an awkward meeting in Smallville. Mind you, this is all before the movie is half over! Past the halfway point, Lois takes it upon herself to rescue a busload of school children being held captive by the Toyman (John DiMaggio, Futurama) and a robot spider. Superman seems to appear out of nowhere after bursting from his grave to complete the rescue. However, not all is as it should be.

That's because Superman has been cloned by Luthor, but as Dr. Frankenstein lost control of his monster, so has Luthor lost control of his. The Superclone, after learning that Toyman slew a 4 year old girl, takes it upon himself to mete out a little vigilante justice to Toyman, taking him from police custody and throwing him to his death. Later, still trying to convince Lois he is the genuine article, he destroys his "brothers", when Lois & Jimmy Olsen (Adam Wylie) find the lab. Luthor is holding the real Superman, or at least he did, as the Man of Steel is spirited back to the Fortress for healing. Even though he's not 100%, Superman returns home for a final battle, garbed in a black costume, meant to absorb solar energy so he can get his strength back. Armed with a kryptonite gun he'd once confiscated from Luthor, Superman attempts to use it on the clone, but fails. Lois finds it, and connects, but it's not until Superman strikes the final blow before it takes effect.

The clone had turned on Luthor and tried to kill him, but Luthor survived, leaving open the prospect of a followup movie, but none has been discussed.

Aside from the glitches in translating the comics to the screen, Jimmy Olsen leaves the Daily Planet in favor of a sleazy tabloid, a decision I'm sure he'd regret later. Toyman's designs are radically different from how he actually appeared in the comics. In fact, the original Toyman, Winslow Schott, has never exactly been given the best treatment in cartoons to begin with. When she was introduced in 1996's Superman: The Animated Series, Mercy Graves was a leggy, redheaded chauffeur/bodyguard. She was transformed into an African American, plus-size character in the books when she was introduced into the core DC Universe a few years later, but here, she's a bespectacled blonde who is Luthor's right hand woman. Perhaps it was all summed up best by an average guy on the scene when Toyman held the school bus and passengers hostage. LAME!

The movie ends with Superman casually confiding in Lois in her apartment after spending the night there. Yes, it's implied they slept together, and not exactly like in "Superman 2", mind you. In the comics, by 1993, Lois was aware of Clark's dual identity, and the couple were married 3 years later, a union recently erased as part of the rebooting of the DCU. Maybe they're waiting for a more appropriate time to do that angle over again, and marry them off again, this time allowing it to stick. Like, their wedding was the reason they decided to marry off Popeye & Olive Oyl a year or three later, but that's another story.........

Rating: D.

Edit: 12/8/15: Here's a sample clip:

Friday, January 27, 2012

Death has been busy lately......

Ivan Shreve over at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear has a regular feature he calls, "The Passings Parade", in which he compiles recent obits in one ginormous posting. If he hasn't done so already, I believe he will have more comprehensive notes on the following:

Dick Tufeld (1926-2012) was never seen on camera, but his voice was known to generations of viewers. He was the voice behind the Robot on Lost In Space (Bob May wore the costume and got the credit), and also announced for a myriad of shows, including The Hollywood Palace, and, for the cartoon fans, Thundarr the Barbarian, Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, & Goldie Gold & Action Jack. Tufeld passed away at 85 earlier this week.

Robert Hegyes (1961-2012) is better known as Juan Epstein, a Jewish-Puerto Rican "Sweathog" from his run on Welcome Back, Kotter during the mid-70's. Epstein's schtick was drafting phony excuse notes, purportedly from his mother. Some of Epstein's mannerisms were derived from Chico Marx, whom Hegyes had played in a theatre production before turning to TV. Post-Kotter, Hegyes tried his hand at drama and joined the cast of Cagney & Lacey. Below is a scene from Kotter in which Epstein decides to mimic the teacher:

Hegyes passed away yesterday at 60 after a heart attack.

Also, British actor Nicol Williamson made his final bow at 73 on Wednesday, but some of the newspapers didn't give him his just due. Williamson succumbed to cancer.

Rest in peace, gentlemen.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Musical Interlude: Harden My Heart (1982)

Quarterflash wasn't really meant to be a one-hit wonder, but, as history shows us, that was exactly their fate, as the band couldn't match the success of their first top 40 hit, "Harden My Heart", in 1982. I believe I had read that lead vocalist-saxophonist Rindy Ross and her guitarist-husband, Marv, were also school teachers in the Portland, Oregon area around the time they formed the band. Judging from the fact that Rindy spends most of the video dressed in leotards & tights, running through a maze of doorways, I'd wager a guess she may have been a physical education teacher.

Uploaded by the band's VEVO channel.

Weasels of the Week: Penn State ticket scalpers

Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was laid to rest on Wednesday, but, aside from the Westboro Wackjobs attempting to use the solemn occasion to extend their 15 minutes, there were other ghouls looking to make some profit for themselves, showing absolutely no respect to the iconic coach and the school.

According to a wire service article appearing in today's Albany Times-Union, some scalpers attempted to resell free tickets for the funeral on eBay. The auction site pulled the offers off their site because it's a violation of their policy to resell free tickets. Now, you have to ask yourself, who would have the lack of decency, respect, and/or common sense to pull something like this? This wasn't the same as scalping tickets for a school sporting event, be it basketball or football, but rather, a funeral. These nothing-happening idiots have not been identified, and it may just as well be that we'll never know, because if their names appear in the paper, they'd only suffer further embarassment for their idiotic, self-serving endeavor.

We've designated a couple of "John Doe"s as Weasels before, so this is nothing new, but we're giving these idiots Dunce Caps as well for leaving their brains behind when they made this fool's errand.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Maybe next time, last call should be before kickoff.........

To paraphrase Tony Bennett's most famous hit, some San Francisco 49ers fans----and for that matter, Baltimore Ravens fans, too----might as well be singing, "I left my brains at home" when they went to Sunday's conference championship game.

In San Francisco, Kyle Williams, a kick returner finishing his 2nd season with the resurgent Niners, fumbled twice, the last of which ultimately cost San Francisco the game in overtime, enabling the New York Giants to reach the Super Bowl for the fifth time, all in the last 25 years. Hours earlier, in Foxborough, Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed two field goals in the 4th quarter, denying Baltimore a Super rematch of their own with either the Giants, whom they beat for their lone title 11 years ago, or San Francisco, which would've been a rematch of coaching brothers John & Jim Harbaugh. What was lost in Cundiff's misfortune was the fact that on the preceding play, the referees held their flags when New England should've been called for defensive holding. As it was, the Patriots, the NFL's "evil empire", will get a chance to avenge not only a November loss to the Giants, but also the defeat in Super Bowl 42, 4 years ago. I'll discuss that further another time.

What links Cundiff & Williams together is the fact that both have been singled out by irate fans in each team's home city for costing them a chance at another championship. News reports say that both players have been getting death threats. Now, pilgrims, that's just pushing things a wee bit too far.

The fans issuing the threats had to be overly inebriated to begin with, and one suspects that they wagered plenty of money, which would give them cause to be angry, but to single out one specific player just because he had a bad day at the wrong time is just plain wrong. In the era of social networking, you're going to get far more of these liquored up, know-nothing yahoos making these kinds of remarks. What these idiots fail to see is that, at the end of the day, it's just a game.

Oh, sure, I may have an axe to grind myself, seeing as how New England took advantage of the zebras' usual post-season lieniency when they could've been called for far more penalties than they have. In the playoffs, the officiating takes on two different tacks. One is the "playground mentality" where they'll just let the players play and will only call the most obvious and heinous fouls, which is why New England's Sterling Moore, a reject plucked off the practice squad of the Oakland Raiders, can count himself thankful he wasn't costing his team 5 yards. On the other hand, there's also the belief that the league and its media partners got the matchup they wanted, strictly for the purposes of maximizing television ratings. Patriots-Giants isn't exactly on the order of that other Boston vs. New York rivalry, simply because the two teams don't play each other every year. The way the network suits see it, it is Yankees-Red Sox flipped over, with the Patriots as the hated villains. That all having been said, you lay the blame for the Ravens' misfortune solely on the officials' showing blatant home-team-favoritism. New England has had just 3 penalties in 2 playoff games. What does that tell you?

The Giants weren't exactly getting favorable calls, and have been underdogs the last two weeks while beating the two best teams in the NFC. The tabloids are already in maximum hype mode, and that won't stop until the day of the game, February 5. For the most part, the playoffs have been exciting and dramatic, unless the Patriots are involved.

Bottom line: If you want someone to hate, don't single out someone on your own team. Read between the lines.  If you felt your team got screwed (and that should be the way they see it in Denver & Baltimore), don't take it out on your team, go after the ones truly responsible. Oh, and, one more thing. You'd be well served to have a clear conscience when you're on Twitter.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Musical Interlude: Indian Reservation (1971)

Originally, they were Paul Revere & the Raiders, and were costumed in colonial uniforms when they scored hits like "Good Thing" in the 60's. By 1971, vocalist Mark Lindsay had released two solo albums and had a pair of hits of his own with "Silver Bird" & "Arizona", but rejoined the band, now known simply as, The Raiders, for one last run on the charts.

"Indian Reservation" was the band's final hit, an ode to the Cherokee nation. When it resurfaced on the country charts a few years later (not sure of the artist), all references to the Cherokees were removed, making the song more of a commentary on Native Americans of all tribes.

I happen to be 1/4 Native American myself, so "Reservation" resonates with me a little.

The performance track comes from Kenny Rogers & the First Edition's 1971 syndicated series, Rollin' On the River, with an introduction by Rogers himself.

The leeches of Westboro are at it again!

Mere hours after the passing of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno on Sunday, the haterizers from Westboro Baptist Church decided they would picket the funeral. Marge Phelps issued a series of tweets condemning Paterno for his lack of action in the child sex abuse scandal that cost him his job 2 months ago, but all this really is, of course, is an excuse for this flock of fools to extend their 15 minutes of infamy a wee bit longer. I read of their intentions on, and just shook my head. They just won't go away.

They last picketed Steve Jobs' funeral, and had threatened to do the same when Elizabeth Taylor passed away, but never followed through because the movie icon's funeral was kept private and away from cameras. For the sake of the Paterno family, the Phelps' congregation of idiots needs to stay away. The last thing we need is the funeral becoming a media circus.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Joe Paterno (1926-2012)

It was just a month ago that he'd celebrated his 85th birthday. One month earlier, Joe Paterno, for 46 years the head coach and public face of the Penn State football team, had been removed by the school's board of trustees in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse allegedly committed by former assistant Jerry Sandusky. A sad, sudden fall from grace for the man who had spent 16 seasons as an assistant before becoming the head man at Penn State in 1966. In all, after 62 seasons in Happy Valley, Paterno was sent away, scapegoated in the eyes of loyal students, fans, & former players.

Shortly after his ouster, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer and spent some time in the hospital. Today, Paterno lost his battle with cancer at 85, with his family at his bedside.

There are some, I think, who may have envisioned that the only way Paterno would ever stop coaching was if in fact he had passed on. There were others, if you believed media accounts in recent years, who wanted him gone because of a rare losing season, spoiled by all the years of success and the bowl games that went with it. 2 National championships in the pre-BCS era, when there could've been so many more. Paterno was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007 in a class that included Boston College hero Doug Flutie, now an analyst for the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus). Some of today's fans, meanwhile, are probably accustomed to seeing a trio of fans, one of whom was wearing a Paterno mask, replica glasses included, with the others dressed as generic players, getting camera time at virtually every Penn State home game, and even some road games. The man meant that much to the school and the community.

When Penn State takes the field in September to start the 2012 season, there won't be a Paterno on the sidelines at all for the first time in 63 years. Jay Paterno, who had been an offensive assistant under his father and interim coach Tom Bradley, resigned earlier this month. It will be a totally new era under Bill O'Brien, who could possibly be coming in with a Super Bowl ring of his own, coming over from the New England Patriots, who at this writing are going to their 5th Super Bowl in the Bill Belichick era after beating Baltimore earlier tonight.

In this writer's opinion, the sex abuse scandal has tainted Joe Paterno's legacy, but it isn't enough to completely stain the body of work accumulated over several years. In time, the dirty little secrets uncovered late last year may be totally forgotten or little more than a blemish on an otherwise sterling record.

Rest in peace, Joe.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On DVD: Superman (1941)

Max & Dave Fleischer are well-known icons in animation history. The brothers adapted E. C. Segar's Popeye (formerly Thimble Theatre) into a series of classic shorts, and turned Jonathan Swift's novel, Gulliver's Travels, into a full-length animated feature. They also had created their own characters, particularly Betty Boop, in whose series Popeye made his debut in what amounts to what they call in television a "back-door pilot".

In 1941, the Fleischers reached into the world of comics again, striking a deal with National Periodical (DC) to bring Superman to the screen in a series of animated shorts. The biggest difference between Superman and the rest of the Fleischer line for Paramount was that the characters were drawn more realistically, creating a faithful adaptation of the comic books.

Clayton "Bud" Collyer & Joan Alexander, the stars of the Superman radio dramas, reprised their roles as Superman/Clark Kent (Collyer) and Lois Lane (Alexander) for the cartoons. However, there was one instance where Collyer apparently was missing and had to be substituted by another actor. Curiously missing is Jimmy Olsen, however. In the Golden Age, Olsen was introduced as a copy boy at the Daily Star (later Daily Planet), and later became a cub reporter. Sadly, he was left out of the series because, quite simply, there wasn't enough room for him in terms of plot development.

17 cartoons were made in total. Unfortunately, the Fleischers were gone before the series ended, and even though the quality of the cartoons didn't suffer much, their creative presence was missed. It was during this period that an analogue for Olsen, a novice named Louis, was added. Sad to say, Louis wasn't as bright, and to say he was about as sharp as a broken thumbtack would be an insult to thumbtacks. He simply didn't fit.

As most of you probably know, Collyer & Alexander would reprise their roles again for the first Superman animated series, which aired on CBS from 1966-70, but Alexander left the show after the first season. By then, Olsen was a much bigger player in the books, and it was reflected in his inclusion in the Filmation cartoons.

Here's the first of the shorts, more commonly known as "Mad Scientist":

The cartoons have been in public domain for a number of years, but last year WB finally produced a series of their own. Earlier today, I bought one of those public domain releases, this one issued by Genius Entertainment in conjunction with Topps in 2005. Not all of the cartoons are included, and a stick of Bazooka gum that was promised was not to be found. The other downside was that these prints are missing the Paramount opening & closing logos that were included in the print shown above. Who'd ever think Topps would pull an el scrimpo like that?

Rating: A+.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Johnny Otis (1921-2012) & Etta James (1938-2012)

He wrote "Willie & the Hand Jive", and was an early influence on many a musician. The music industry is mourning the passing of Johnny Otis, who left us on January 17 at 90 after a lengthy illness.

Otis had been doing a weekly radio show until health issues forced him to hang up his microphone in 2005. Most of us know him only for "Hand Jive", which has been covered by a good number of blues artists. Kingvidiot66 uploaded this clip of Otis himself performing his signature song.

Earlier today, we lost a grand dame of rhythm & blues, as Etta James passed away at 73. Again, she is best known for one particular song, in this case, "At Last", which was famously covered by Beyonce in the 2008 movie, "Cadillac Records". Beyonce was cast as Ms. James in the movie. However, here's a more recent vintage live clip of "At Last":

Rest in peace, Johnny & Etta. You'll both be missed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Monday Night Raw: What went right or wrong, 1/16/12

It seems someone else uses the title, "The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly" for a weekly column reviewing Monday Night Raw, so, to avoid stepping on someone else's toes, I've come up with a new name for my periodic reviews. It's kind of like the "3 Up/Down" segments on SportsCenter. You'll see what I mean.

What went right?

Former champion and best-selling author Mick Foley returned, and the stage has been set for a possible changing of the guard in the GM's office. Executive VP/Talent Relations John Laurinaitis has worn out his welcome in the GM's role after 3 months. Well, it wasn't that hard, as he's got the charisma of a broken tree branch. At the end of the show, Foley confronted Laurinaitis about his role as a referee in the WWE title fight between CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler at the Royal Rumble on 1/29. Laurinaitis admitted he intends to screw over Punk, which has been the mission all along, dating back to the Money in the Bank event 6 months ago. Foley had conned his way into the main event after Chris Jericho walked out on his first match in nearly 18 months, leaving Punk & Daniel Bryan in the lurch. Foley scored the pin, but Laurinaitis voided it, citing the fact that Foley didn't have clearance.

Well, guess what, pilgrims? The Uncreative team did it again. They left a gaping hole that could've been patched by having Foley simply say he answered to a higher authority, and, no, we don't mean God in this case. This would've been the perfect entry point for Triple H to return and settle a score with Laurinaitis himself. At least, in this case, you can expect some physical fireworks, the kind we couldn't get when it was necessary to oust Vickie Guerrero, a co-conspirator in this case, to be sure, for her power abuses on Raw & Smackdown. Bad storytelling, as usual, but there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

And, really, that was all that worked.

What went wrong? Plenty.

For starters, Laurinaitis deliberately held back a medical report on US champ Zack Ryder, and the internet idol lost the title to Jack Swagger. Ryder was "injured" at the hands of Kane a week earlier, and shouldn't have competed at all, but apparently he was told that if he didn't, he'd have to forfeit the title, and he didn't want to do that.

This is where Uncreative fails over and over again. You don't have anyone set up to counter-balance Laurinaitis and his legal flunky, David Otunga, who never seems to go anywhere backstage without a cup of coffee these days. That has to change, and preferably, yesterday.

John Cena, upset that his friend had been essentially robbed of the title, was granted a non-title match against Swagger, which was just a front to continue his poorly designed angle with Kane. That has gone south rather quickly. Swagger was destroyed, and Kane, trying to lure Cena to the dark side, applauded the effort. I've a bad feeling about this.

Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton was the guest ring announcer for the women's match, and prevented the Bella Twins from taking a shortcut to victory, which led to Kelly Kelly & Alicia Fox defeating the twins. Hilton is not exactly the most popular guy in Southern California, since a lot of his gossip reports have gotten him and/or his subjects in trouble. His presence was not advertised in advance, and smacked of a need for a quick jolt of ratings. Excuse me, I don't think so.

Back to Jericho. His act has also worn rather thin way too quickly. The idea is he's looking to turn the people against him in a rather novel way, but someone forgot to tell him that in this context, silence isn't golden. The hijinks, I think, will end at the Rumble.

Solutions? Yep.

1. The US title should either be vacant, or should still be in Zack Ryder's hands. The title match could've been postponed 'til the Rumble, but that isn't how corrupt GM's roll. The idea is that if Ziggler wins the WWE title, then Vickie Guerrero controls the two men's singles titles. Speaking of stale acts, the widow Guerrero is Exhibit A by a long shot.

2. As noted above, the writers jumped from point A to point C without stopping at point B at the end of the show. That has been a problem for WWE Uncreative for years. I'd have plugged HHH into the mix right away to turn the tables on Laurinaitis with the reveal that Foley, for the first time since the end of 2003, would be a co-GM, since it appears Foley will be around on and off until at least Wrestlemania.

What do you guys think?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Now, they're down to four

We are moving into the conference championship round of the NFL playoffs. Last chance to block the NFL's "evil empire" from reaching the Super Bowl. If you don't know what I mean, read on........

AFC Championship: Baltimore at New England.

On Saturday, the Patriots snapped a 3-game post-season losing streak by running up the score on Denver. The media has tried to suggest that Tom Brady was getting a little cranky going into the game. He didn't really have to be. All Brady did was throw 6 TD passes, 5 of them in the first half. The offensive line did what it usually does, which is get away with murder at home. Once it got to be 17-0, I just decided I wasn't watching. Someone, besides the team itself,  wants New England back in the Super Bowl, and the finger of blame can be pointed at the league and their advertising partners. 2 winters ago, the Ravens went into Gillette Stadium and upset the Pats, who, in my mind, get exactly what they deserve when they lose at home. They are the poster children for home team favoritism in the NFL, an image that needs to change immediately. Oh, sure, they screwed the Ravens over in the rematch the following regular season, also in Foxborough, because that's how they roll. However, their luck is about to run out.

I caught the last part of the Ravens-Texans game, and there was more drama in that game. The Patriots don't want drama unless it's on their terms. My vision now is Brady eating dirt, courtesy of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, & friends. The Pats still have to pay penance for Spygate in '07, and, so, it's Ravens, 31-30.

NFC Championship: Giants at San Francisco.

A rematch from November. The resurgent 49ers ran New York out of the park last time, and, you think, this might be a rerun. The Giants took all of the drama out of their rematch with Green Bay in the 2nd half in upsetting the defending champions. If New York wins, they get a rematch with Baltimore or, heaven forfend, New England. 11 years ago, the Ravens won their only title at the expense of the Giants, and you know the Pats are looking for a receipt for a November loss at home. A reciept they ain't getting, by the way, not just yet. Speaking of receipts, the Giants collected one on the Pack, so maybe it's 2 in a row? Yep. Count me on the bandwagon. You get the feeling that the league wants to see a rematch from 4 years ago, football's answer to Yankees-Red Sox, but I disagree. I am thinking further back. New York meets Baltimore after knocking out the West champs, 38-30.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Classic TV: The Gong Show (1976)

In the 60's, Chuck Barris created and produced the iconic game shows, The Dating Game & The Newlywed Game, and wrote a Top 40 smash for Freddy Cannon, "Palisades Park". Barris then acquired the rights to revive Treasure Hunt in the mid-70's. Shortly after that, Barris was persuaded to go before the cameras himself as host AND executive producer of The Gong Show, which was, for all intents & purposes, Ted Mack's old Amateur Hour taken to wild, often excessive, extremes.

Gong was, I think, the first series Barris had sold to NBC, which plugged it into the troublesome 12:30 pm (ET) slot, where the network had been looking for a hit show to lead into their soap opera block in the afternoon.

5 days a week, Barris trotted out a variety of "unusual" acts, some of whom would later go on to bigger and better things. For example, the band we would later know as Oingo Boingo made one of their first television appearances on Gong. So did actor-performance artist Paul Reubens, long before he created Pee-Wee Herman. Barris even created a seminal star for the show in a simple studio janitor, who became Gene Gene, the Dancing Machine. Toward the end of the series' run, Gene Gene even became a panelist! Surreal!

The one constant at the judges' table was singer Jaye P. Morgan, who often had some more ribald commentary censored. Actor Jamie Farr (M*A*S*H) appeared frequently, leaving the 3rd chair to a revolving door of guests, including Pat McCormick, Arte Johnson (ex-Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In), Steve Martin, and, in one of his first TV appearances, David Letterman, who, I must acknowledge, wasn't exactly thrilled when Gene Gene came out one day to do his schtick.

Here's a sample of the silliness, with another semi-regular, the Unknown Comic (Murray Langston):

Well, the only question I have is whether or not Lucedale, MS really exists.......! In recent years, as indicated by his autobiography, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", Barris has come across as being, well, out there somewhere. To borrow a line from Brooks & Dunn about being "North of Heaven, South of Santa Fe" would be missing the point. A few years back, Sony, which owns the rights to Gong and the entire Barris library, tried reviving the series for Comedy Central with Dave Attell as host. It bombed, cancelled after 1 season. Not Attell's fault. The network underpromoted the show, perhaps failing to realize that maybe they should've picked up the original first, then tried to do the revival.

Rating for the series: A-.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Musical Interlude: Ghost on the Canvas (2011)

Glen Campbell was one of my favorites growing up. A few months ago, I'd read where he'd been stricken with Alzheimer's Disease, but it didn't stop him from recording one last album. "Ghost on the Canvas", released back in August, finds Campbell still sounding as strident as he did on earlier hits like "Galveston", "Rhinestone Cowboy", and "Wichita Lineman". The title track was written by Paul Westerberg (The Replacements). The paintings in the video show portraits of Campbell from those halcyon days, with the likes of Dean Martin and Johnny Cash among others.

Uploaded by, of course, officialglencampbell:

Friday, January 13, 2012

On DVD: Sgt. Preston of the Yukon (1955)

Sgt. Preston of the Yukon made the transition from radio, where it had begun under the title, Challenge of the Yukon, to television in 1955, shortly after the radio series had ended its run. Preston was one of a trio of radio series created and produced at Detroit's WXYZ radio that all made the transition to television. However, while Preston came from the same creator as The Lone Ranger, George Trendle, and had Ranger scripter Fran Striker as one of its writers, it wasn't directly linked with either the Ranger or The Green Hornet.

The plots, however, could've been interchangeable with those of Lone Ranger, save for a change in setting and time, as Preston was set a few years after Ranger, closer to the beginning of the 20th century.

Actor Richard Simmons, not to be confused with the fitness guru of the same name, played Preston. Research tells us that Vic Perrin, who would later serve as the "Control Voice" on The Outer Limits, was the announcer-narrator.

One downside to the 2-disc DVD that Timeless released in 2006 is that the show open only appears, albeit in edited form, at the start of each disc, not each episode.

Following is the episode, "Luck of the Trail":

I had a chance to see Preston in syndication in the 80's when the local cable system picked up a channel in Worcester, Ma., but passed. Since then, I've developed more of an appreciation for older television programs, perhaps disenchanted by the glut of so-called "reality" TV. What is clear, however, is that Preston isn't as much in demand as his Detroit radio contemporaries. I think that might be because animator Jay Ward created the bumbling Dudley Do-Right and changed some people's perceptions of the Mounties. It didn't help, either that Vince McMahon created an evil Mountie (Jacques Rougeau) in the early 90's in the then-WWF. Could Sgt. Preston make a comeback? Based on how badly Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger have been treated by Hollywood the last few years, I doubt that very seriously.

Rating: A.

NFL Divisional Playoff preview

Last week, I went 2-2 with my picks. Let's try to do better in the divisional round, which is supposed to ensure that Cinderella doesn't make it to the ball, but that doesn't always work......


Houston at Baltimore: Ok, so I underestimated the Texans in their first playoff game. Sometimes, however, there are growing pains. Not every 1st-time playoff team is going to run the table. Houston is playing a tougher defensive team this time in the Ravens, making it two straight games against the AFC North. I just don't see Houston surviving this time. Ravens, 27-24.

Denver at New England: Just a month ago, the Broncos went to Foxborough, and got whacked, sending Tim Tebow and friends on a 3-game skid that ended last week in the Wild Card round. The oddsmakers, showing absolutely no respect, have the Patriots as a 13 1/2 point favorite as of press time. It's going to be a different game this time. The media can waste their time genuflecting on Tom Brady, whom I believe is the most overrated QB in the playoff field, largely because he gets preferential treatment from the refs, mandated by the league office. If you don't believe me, try the infamous game that introduced us to the dreaded tuck rule vs. Oakland. The zebras and the league office needs to understand that the Star System needs to be abolished right now. No more coddling. No more putting endorsement deals ahead of the integrity of the game. As much as I'd like to see Tebow run the table, which would get him a booking on The 700 Club the very next night after the Super Bowl, the reality is New England will go the championship game, and no further. Pats, 31-30.


New Orleans at San Francisco: Once upon a time, these two teams were in the same division, and back then, the Saints were perennial also-rans behind the 49ers. As I indicated last week, Jim Harbaugh, in his first year as an NFL coach, is likely to win Coach of the Year honors for the amazing revival of the Niners, but anyone that thinks he'll make the Super Bowl, and a rematch with brother John and the Ravens, is dreaming. Not gonna happen. New Orleans is scorching hot right now, and the heat isn't going to die down on Saturday night. Saints, 31-17.

Giants at Green Bay: Last month, the Packers escaped the Meadowlands with a Mason Crosby field goal in the final minute, but that was after the Pack got the benefit of two bad calls by the officials, one giving them a touchdown that was questionable, the other denying the Giants one early that could've been the difference in the game. At the time, Green Bay was unbeaten, but then would lose their very next game, to Kansas City. Go figure. The NY tabloid press is in hyperdrive to promote the game, of course, but they're wasting time dreaming when reality makes more sense. Yes, the Giants are hot right now, and there are the comparisons to their run after the '07 season, which included Brett Favre's last game in Green Bay. If the game last month wasn't the receipt, this one will be. Packers, 38-35.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Weasels of the Week: Floyd Mayweather, Jr. & Daquan Johnson

Frequent contributor Magicdog nominated Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa for allowing boxer Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Jr. to postpone his jail sentence for domestic violence until June, all so he could train for a fight in May that would bring beaucoup bucks to businesses in Vegas.

In reviewing the case, I find that Judge Saragosa isn't worthy of weasel ears, but Mayweather is. Mayweather is putting his career ahead of taking responsibility for his actions, another case of a celebrity being allowed to pick & choose when to serve out his punishment. Would we have this discussion if Mayweather had taken things too far, and committed murder? No, I don't think so. Judge Saragosa admitted to being convinced by Mayweather's lawyer that the financial rewards for the fight outweigh the consequences of Mayweather's actions. No, they don't. If anything, Saragosa is more worthy of a dunce cap for allowing this to happen.

Closer to home, we also hand out weasel ears to a high school hoopster named Daquan Johnson, who transferred from Albany (NY) High to a private academy in Louisiana. It seems that at Albany, Johnson was in a program that wouldn't have allowed him to advance to college, and to do so, he'd have required a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). His mother filed dismissal papers on Monday, but by then, Johnson had already played three games for his new school, according to an account in today's Albany Times-Union. Aren't there rules in place to prevent that sort of thing? If the mother, Theresa Dean, is only just filing dismissal papers after her son has played for his new team before taking a class, aren't there eligibility rules being violated in Louisiana? It's one thing to worry about your child's education if it isn't adequate enough to suit, but when he's a couple thousand miles away and already playing, doesn't it make it that much more obvious that the education is secondary to the prospect of an NBA career? Someone's priorities are way out of kilter here. I'm not taking anything away from the young man's talent, I've never seen him play, and I'm not questioning his mother's decision to pull him out of school, but why all the way out in Louisiana?

At the end of the day, Daquan is just another kid seduced by the lure of big bucks, and he & his mom are listening, perhaps, to some bad career advice. Granted, the Times-Union and other local papers may not have all the facts right now, but I'd not be surprised if there are other parties involved, aside from relatives in Louisiana. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dunce Cap Award: Sydney Spies

To paraphrase a line from the Little River Band, it used to be so easy to get your senior picture taken in high school or college. You pick out your Sunday best, go to the studio, and pose for a portrait, which would appear in your senior yearbook.

Today, there's a beef in Colorado over a high school senior's picture being banned from the yearbook because it's too racy. The student, Sydney Spies, is arguing freedom of expression. The 5-person committee that is editing the Durango High yearbook, on the other hand, feels it smacks too much of cheesecake and is inappropriate for use as a senior portrait.

Now, here's where it gets a little bit stupid. The editors have offered Ms. Spies the opportunity to have the picture published in the yearbook after all, just not as a portrait. They would have an area designated for the picture, and she would pose for a more appropriate and traditional picture. Ms. Spies and her family have objected, and the word that's out now, per Yahoo! and Good Morning America, is that they're considering civil action against the school. It seems that Sydney's nose is so out of joint in this case, that she's directing her anger toward the school faculty, which had no say in the decision. The yearbook editors acted on their own and voted unanimously, 5-0, to ban the picture. Ms. Spies, in crying foul, claims the editors were being intimidated by the faculty. I don't see how, when the editors' argument is as clear as day. These are high school seniors, ages 17-18, who've accepted the responsibility of putting the yearbook together.

Sydney, in this writer's opinion, while a senior herself, is behaving more like a pre-teen with a temper issue. She wants to waste taxpayer dollars on a frivolous lawsuit she has no hope of winning? Fuhgeddaboutit! This is a case more suited to someplace like, oh, I don't know, maybe The People's Court or Judge Judy, so Sydney can be shown to the whole world to be about as sharp as a broken.........dunce cap. I rest my case.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sounds of Praise: Ooh Child (2004)

Earlier this week, I posted a Soul Train clip of the 5 Stairsteps performing their 1970 hit, "O-o-h Child". 34 years later, gospel stars Donnie McClurkin & Kirk Franklin covered the classic on a McClurkin CD, and it was reissued a year later for the movie, "The Gospel", which starred Boris Kodjoe. The dashes in the title were removed, but the song is the same, amplified with new rap lyrics by Franklin.

Taken from the CD, "Psalms, Hymms, & Spiritual Songs":

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Musical Interlude: The Champ (2011)

If you've been following the college bowls that have been on ESPN the last couple of weeks, you can't escape "The Champ", the theme song for the 2011-12 NCAA bowl season, performed by Nelly. With the National Championship game, a rematch between LSU & Alabama, set for Monday, why not let "The Champ" tie you over 'til then?

Weasel of the Week: Friends of LeBron James

LeBron James, in his 2nd season with the Miami Heat, would be well served to repair the damage his entourage of leeches and parasites (what else could they be?) keeps doing to make him look bad.

When the season began on Christmas Day, there was James, in a commercial for State Farm insurance, as their newest sports celebrity endorser, albeit in a more serious gig as opposed to Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, whose status as a wrestling fan was exploited in his ad. The Heat blew out Dallas that day. That's all well and fine. However, it was a blue Christmas for a Miami baker.

Alethea Hickman was asked to create an elaborate birthday cake for James. According to Yahoo!, said cake was worth about $3,000, pocket change for James. Unfortunately, LeBron never got a chance to sample the goods, because his entourage decided it wasn't good enough for him. Who are these clowns to judge what's good or not? Ms. Hickman was doing this for free, and these nothing happening, glad-handing jabroni leeches didn't have the good sense to accept that.

All that does is perpetuate the perception of LeBron as a spoiled star who has to have everything just so. At the same time, you have him doing a commercial for an insurance company that had nothing to do with the company's current ad campaign ("Get to a better State"), but for charity. I get that it was supposed to be a surprise, but the joke is on this week's Weasels, for rejecting the hard work that went into a confection meant to be fit for a king. Better that the cake was commissioned by the Heat, and not the heat-seeking leeches LeBron surrounds himself with, starting with Maverick Carter. While we don't know who exactly made the decision to reject the cake, we'll just give the whole support team of parasites the weasel ears. Share & share alike, dullards!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Now, the merry-go-round spins.......

The 2011 NFL regular season ended on New Year's Day, leaving 12 teams to vie for the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl on February 5 in Indianapolis. The tournament starts Saturday with the Wild Card round, but first let's take a look at the seedings in each conference.


1. New England
2. Baltimore
3. Houston
4. Denver
5. Pittsburgh
6. Cincinnati

Three teams from the AFC North? Yep. The Jets collapsed down the stretch, losing badly to the Eagles & Giants, then falling short against Miami. Rex Ryan, they can say, wrote a check with his mouth that his team couldn't cash at the finish line. The fickle New York media could've turned on Ryan if not for Santonio Holmes, who was the target of the media's ire in the aftermath on Sunday. I didn't see the game, as I was out most of the afternoon, but the implication was that Holmes, held in check by the Dolphin defense, butted heads with teammates and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and was pulled in the 4th quarter. This may have been Schottenheimer's last game with the Jets, if the media's predictions are true. I digress. Cincinnati and West winner Denver backed in after both teams lost late games (to Baltimore & Kansas City, respectively), and there's always the chance neither team could get through the first round.

Wild Card Schedule:

Cincinnati at Houston

Pittsburgh at Denver

The Steelers-Broncos game won't exactly bring back memories of classic matchups of yore, not with Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger nursing injuries, leaving him unable to be equally matched against Denver's 2nd year phenom, Tim Tebow. This one is really too tough to call already. The Broncos, like the Jets, lost their last three, blown out by the Patriots & Bills, and then failing late vs. the Chiefs. If Denver wins, well, guess who's next? Yep, the hated Patriots, unless Cincinnati upsets Houston, and then the Bengals will travel to Foxborough.


Tebow will have to wait for revenge on the Pats. I see Pittsburgh's veteran experience prevailing here, but they won't be visiting New England, either. With Houston's injury issues, despite their outstanding running game, I can't see them beating Cincinnati and their rookie QB, Andy Dalton. Hence, in the divisional round, it'll be Pats-Bengals, and Ravens-Steelers.


1. Green Bay
2. San Francisco
3. New Orleans
4. Giants
5. Atlanta
6. Detroit

The Lions are in the postseason for the first time since the end of the 20th century. That's the good news. The bad news is that they have an almost instant rematch with a team that recently blew them off the field. They had a chance to upgrade, but couldn't hold off the Pack on Sunday. Atlanta, meanwhile, blew out Tampa Bay, then finalized their travel plans when the Giants completed a season sweep of the Cowboys, as Tony Romo's late-season folding pattern held true.

Wild Card Schedule:

Atlanta at Giants
Detroit at New Orleans

Again, this is too easy. The Saints dusted all three of the others in the last three weeks, and have all the momentum. They will handle Detroit again, but the Falcons-Giants game is another tough call. Can the Falcon defense contain New York's own 2nd year wonder, Victor Cruz? Can they keep Eli Manning from another 4th quarter rally? Remember, the Falcons have had their issues this season. For what it's worth, we'll take the Saints & Giants, as home field advantage will prevail in the NFC, setting up the Giants for a rematch against Green Bay. Some people feel the Giants got screwed last time because of a missed call. Had the refs got it right, the Pack's unbeaten streak would've ended at the Meadowlands instead of against Kansas City. New Orleans would then travel to San Francisco to play the resurgent Niners and likely Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh.

Looking further ahead, the conference championship games figure to be:

NFC: New Orleans at Green Bay. (sorry, Giants fans, it just isn't your year)
AFC: Baltimore at New England. The Ravens have beaten the Pats at Gillette Stadium before, and there's no reason to think they can't do it again, provided of course the game is called fairly, and it rarely is in Foxborough. The NFL's unofficial Star System gets in the way.

And, so the Super Bowl figures to be...............Ravens vs. Packers. Of course, I could be wrong.......