Sunday, September 30, 2012

As baseball winds down, reflections on what might've been......

The 2012 MLB playoffs begin next weekend, and the field is slowly taking shape with 3 days left in the season as of this writing.

In the National League, no one saw the changing of the guard in the East coming the way it did. I had picked Atlanta to win the division, but they'll go as a Wild Card instead. Then again, given Davey Johnson's past track record, we should've known the Washington Nationals would have a legitimate shot. It took Johnson 3 seasons to get the Mets a World Series title, and were it not for some bad strategy 2 years later, maybe we would've gotten a rematch of the '73 Fall Classic vs. Oakland, instead of Los Angeles avenging their defeat in the '74 Series.

Washington had teased us before, about 4 years ago, before fading. This time, once they took the lead in the division, they never gave it up, ending Philadelphia's run of 5 straight titles. However, the Nationals are not a lock to advance all the way to the series.

That is because of GM Mike Rizzo's safety-first decision to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg earlier this month with an innings limit imposed on Strasburg, coming off Tommy John surgery. That leaves Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez, the hired gun brought over from Oakland via trade in the offseason, as the default ace heading into the playoffs. In the 80's, no one would've thought much of taking a top-shelf pitcher and putting him on the sidelines to preserve his arm and career. Today, it's about the team protecting its investment in the wake of the surgery and hoping to avoid further injury.

The Mets are doing it, too, having shut down rookies Matt Harvey & Josh Edgin after accumulating x number of innings between the minors and the National League. Of course, with the Mets, the horse had already left the barn with the injury curse having taken 3 starting pitchers (Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee) down. Pelfrey, in fact, may have pitched his last game for New York, as he could be a free agent this winter. The Mets are locked into 4th place in the East, their annual collapse coming right after the All-Star break, but comforted by the fact that the hated Phillies will miss the playoffs as well.

Philadelphia & Miami both went into fire-sale mode around the break, with the Phillies dumping outfielders Shane Victorino & Hunter Pence and pitcher Joe Blanton, while the Marlins, seeing their offseason spending spree go for naught, sent All-Star Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers (who also obtained Blanton & Victorino), Gaby Sanchez to Pittsburgh, and shipped Omar Infante back to Detroit, taking Anibal Sanchez with him in the deal. Jose Reyes, for one, didn't foresee another last place finish after leaving the Mets for Miami. Manager Ozzie Guillen, some think, could be one and done, scapegoated not so much for his mouth getting him in trouble, but the team underachieving. The fire sale figures to resume after the World Series. In Philadelphia, now they can cheer for the Eagles.......

Guillen isn't the only manager on the hot seat. Boston's Bobby Valentine thinks he'll be back next year, but I doubt that. The Red Sox have not been able to elevate themselves past 4th place in the AL East, and close the season against the Yankees. I think Red Sox ownership will call for the U-Hauls by this time next week.

Meanwhile, the Nationals aren't the only ones getting fans along the Potomac excited. Baltimore is returning to the postseason for the first time in 15 years, as Buck Showalter kept the Orioles in contention all season, and they need the Red Sox to upset the Yankees over the next three nights to have a chance to win the division. The last time Baltimore qualified for the postseason, they were eliminated by Cleveland in the ALCS in 1997.

The defending World champion St. Louis Cardinals are all but in as a Wild Card, and would have to get past Atlanta to advance further. Not easy. The AL Wild Card game figures to be Baltimore vs. Oakland. By Wednesday, the picture will come into full focus. By then, I'll have a handle on the playoffs, and will have predictions.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chris Economacki (1920-2012)

He was known as the "Dean of American motorsports", covering everything from the Indianapolis & Daytona 500's to demolition derbies in a broadcast & print journalism career that spanned 6 decades after deciding at a young age that driving competitively just wasn't for him. Today, the auto racing world is mourning the passing of Chris Economacki, who passed away earlier today at 91.

Economacki, the son of a Greek immigrant, regularly was a commentator on auto racing for ABC, CBS, TBS, & ESPN beginning in 1961, and, yes, that included covering demolition derbies when ABC felt they could fill air time on Wide World of Sports. I kid you not. I've watched those events as a kid. Economacki also did some radio work for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's radio network, covering the Indy 500, mostly with analysis & essays, a la CBS' horse racing analyst-essayist Heywood Hale Bruin.

Economacki even put his experience to good use in the movies, appearing as himself as a pit reporter in "Six Pack" (w/Kenny Rogers) & "Stoker Ace" (w/Burt Reynolds). He was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, and won a number of prestigious awards, including being the first recipient of the Patrick Jacquemart Award in 1982.

Rest in peace, Chris. You will be missed.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Classic TV: The Hollywood Squares (1966)

Playing Tic-Tac-Toe was never this much fun!

A while back, we served up a pilot of Hollywood Squares with beauty pageant icon Bert Parks as host. However, when the series hit the air a year later, singer-comedian Peter Marshall was tapped as host instead, and cemented his status as an icon.

9 celebrity panelists, two contestants trying to figure out if they've got the right answers. A perfect formula, and yet somehow, NBC tossed it away in 1980 after 14 seasons. Season 15 was in syndication, and so would the reincarnations that would follow. Then again, NBC was guilty of a lot of programming blunders across the board back then, which leads one to question if they actually screened employees for IQ test scores. On the other hand, any network that can employ radio legend Casey Kasem (American Top 40) as a house announcer must be doing something right after all........!

Halfway through season 3, NBC added a Saturday morning spinoff, Storybook Squares, which lasted just 8 months, but would later return, reincorporated into the parent program as a Christmas gimmick in the late 70's. Many of the same stars who frequented the regular Squares would take part in the Storybook series as well. I have a review on my other blog, Saturday Morning Archives.

As we've documented, NBC took one last chance with the Squares, but minus Marshall, who'd finished a run with another Merrill Heatter production, Fantasy. Heatter had given up the rights to Squares, which now was in the hands of Orion Television, which would explain why Sony now owns the rights, as they inherited the Orion library through their purchase of MGM a while back. Anyway, the subsequent merger of Squares & Match Game, produced by Mark Goodson, lasted a year before fading, and part of the problem seemed to be the use of ex-Sha Na Na frontman Jon "Bowzer" Bauman in place of Marshall, who would return to the MC's chair for a 1-shot during the last syndicated run of Squares, with Tom Bergeron (Dancing With The Stars, America's Funniest Home Videos) having taken over the series otherwise.

Following is a rerun of a 1972 nighttime episode, introduced by Marshall when it aired on GSN some years back. It's a shame GSN, which is owned by Sony, doesn't try to spice up its lineup by bringing back the classic Hollywood Squares on a regular basis.

A classic like this should never go to waste, which is why MTV co-opted the format for Hip Hop Squares earlier this year, which we've previously covered. It's currently on hiatus, and hopefully will return, preferably at a better time!

Rating: A.

Andy Williams (1927-2012) & Herbert Lom (1917-2012)

Two more passings to report.

Herbert Lom will be remembered mostly for his role as Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the "Pink Panther" movies, opposite Peter Sellers. Dreyfus, you'll recall, was driven mad by Inspector Clouseau (Sellers) and his bumbling methods. Lom, however, has one other notable role on his resume, that of "The Phantom of the Opera", in Hammer Films' 1962 adaptation of the Gaston LeRoux novel. A film that hasn't seen the light of day on television all that much in recent years. Lom passed away at 95.

Growing up in the 60's and early 70's meant watching The Andy Williams Show on most Saturday nights. Williams was credited with introducing viewers to the Osmond Brothers, and also engaged in some pretty silly skits with the Cookie Bear (Janos Prohaska). Like a great number of his contemporaries, Williams started a dinner theatre in Branson, Missouri in later years, and it was there that he passed away on Wednesday at 84 after a year long battle with bladder cancer.

I know I've posted this before, but it bears repeating, as it's one of Williams' most famous hits, and I believe also his last Top 40 record, the theme from "Love Story".

Rest in peace, gentlemen.

And now, the season can really begin.......

The NFL lockout ended around midnight, and should've ended sooner. Simple as that.

Tonight, a crew of veteran NFL officials, led by referee Gene Steratore, will work the Ravens-Browns game, and the usual crews will be on the field Sunday & Monday as well. The ill-advised idea of using replacement referees for the first three weeks of the season was a total dud, culminating in the screwjob finish to Monday's Packers-Seahawks game. An offensive pass interference foul that should've been called on Seattle's Golden Tate was ignored despite how obvious it was to everyone involved, and a giddy, unapologetic Pete Carroll led the Seahawks off the field with a tainted 14-12 win.

Too many penalites that were clear as day were ignored, but then, that's nothing new even when normal officials are working. Take for example the Buccaneers-Giants game on September 16. There were at least three defensive holding penalties that went uncalled. As I wrote at the time, the sub officials were out of position due to a lack of proper training for the quicker pace of pro ball, and missed the calls. In Tampa Bay's defense, it would've made matters worse if the flags fell on those plays, considering the Giants woke up in the second half and won the game.

One of this week's Weasels, New England coach Bill Belichick was slapped with a $50,000 fine for making contact with an official after Sunday's loss to Baltimore. He wanted an explanation on how the Ravens could possibly have gotten the winning field goal, but, to tell you the truth, finally seeing the replay of the winning kick on Wednesday's episode of Around The Horn, Belichick had no case.

The ref in the Packers-Seahawks game, it was reported, was getting death threats, this coming a little more than a week after Washington's Josh Morgan was also getting death threats from irate Redskin fans because of an immature act that drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which ultimately cost Washington its game vs. St. Louis. Couple this with the threats issued to players for postseason losses in January, and, well, that's a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed next by Commissioner Roger Goodell. We get that fans are passionate about their teams, but in this age of social media, it can get out of hand pretty quickly, especially if a few hundred idiots are too sloshed to understand the severity of the problem they're causing.

One thing to watch for tonight. Whether or not the zebras get a "Welcome back!" chant. I wouldn't doubt it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The return of Fantacon----next year

To think that it all started with a modest little storefront in Albany, long since closed.

Fantaco---the mere name is an amalgam of fantasy & comics----opened its doors in 1978, and that same year hosted its first convention, aptly titled, Fantacon, at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, where the event was regularly held, albeit sporadically, between 1978-90. Fantaco wasn't just a comics shop, though. It was a developing cottage industry all under one roof. They also had a publishing division that had a modest line of titles, again published sporadically, through the company's history.

It has been 22 years since the last Fantacon, and, I have to admit, I was taken by surprise when a friend e-mailed me to tell me that the convention is being revived for 2013. The dates & location are already set, but this time, it's not going to be in downtown Albany. Instead, due to insurance concerns, the event is set for the Marriott hotel in Colonie on September 14-15, 2013. Guests have already been lined up, and advance tickets are available. Mind you, this is all a year in advance, and a lot can change between now & then.

For comics fans, veteran artist Michael T. Gilbert, best remembered for the independent hit, Mr. Monster, back in the 80's & 90's, is already signed to appear. Advance two-day passes are available, either by themselves, or with a t-shirt or some other gift, and prices start at $30.80. Sadly, no single-day tickets are available-----yet, but should be. In today's economy, average schlubs like ye scribe might not afford to commit to both days for a number of reasons, especially money.

For more information, I direct you to the following website:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Musical Interlude: Kyrie (1985)

Mr. Mister produced only three albums between 1983-7, but the second album, 1985's "Welcome to the Real World", produced a trio of pop classics. "Broken Wings", "Is It Love" (used in the movie, "Stakeout"), & "Kyrie".

"Kyrie" struck a chord with me because of the prospect of religious connotations in the lyrics. "Kyrie Eleison" means "Lord, have mercy", and it's the closest thing to a mention of God in the song. I can picture any number of Christian artists covering it.

Bassist-vocalist Richard Page would later make a bit of a comeback as 1/2 of the combo 3rd Matinee after Mr. Mister folded at the end of the 80's, but 3rd Matinee lasted just the one album.

Weasels of the Week: Jim Harbaugh & Bill Belichick

I said all along that as long as the NFL stupidly continues to employ replacement officials, the fill-ins were going to be exploited in every way possible. It comes as no surprise, then, that despite an edict issued prior to the start of Week 3 play on Thursday, a couple of coaches decided to try to take liberties. With disastrous results.

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, a former quarterback, should know better. With his team trailing Minnesota, Harbaugh scammed his way into two extra challenges, even though he was out of timeouts. Guess what? It didn't work, because the Niners lost anyway! Harbaugh lost both of his bogus challenges, exacerbating his team's plight. Figure, though, they'll get well in a hurry, since they've got the Jets next, and "Gang Green" lost their best defensive player, Darrelle Revis, for the season (torn ACL) today.

Bill Belichick, Public Enemy #1 around the league, except for, of course, New England, got physical with a ref after the Patriots lost to Baltimore. His gripe? Justin Tucker's game winning field goal, he felt, wasn't good after all. Who's he trying to fool? For the Ravens, it was a case of sweet vindication, after getting screwed by the Patriots (and the regular officials) 8 months ago. Belichick claims he doesn't think he'll be fined. Oh, really? Again, who's he trying to fool? Absolutely no one! Belichick was overdue for a set of Weasel ears anyway.

The only reason Harbaugh's getting a pair as well is because he left his integrity at the box office and decided to try a scam that was doomed to fail. I already handed out a Dunce Cap for week 3, but this goes beyond stupidity. This was brazen, the kind of scam you'd expect from, oh, I don't know? Belichick? (Of course)

And you wonder why the NFL Players Association is pleading with the owners to end the lockout?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Musical Interlude: Wind Beneath My Wings (1988)

From the movie, "Beaches", here's the Divine Miss M herself, Bette Midler, with a cover of Gary Morris' "Wind Beneath My Wings", which had previously been covered by the late Lou Rawls.

13 years later, the WWE attempted to parody the song on Monday Night Raw by having Stephanie McMahon lead a chorus in "Wind Beneath Our Ring", in tribute to Stone Cold Steve Austin. As bad karaoke goes, this was one for the books, but Stephanie wasn't any worse than Roseanne Barr's mangling of the "Star Spangled Banner". Then again, ham acting and bad singing run in the McMahon family. Maybe I'll post it up sometime......

Dunce Cap Award: Joe Philbin

Joe Philbin is the first year coach of the Miami Dolphins, after having been an assistant under Mike McCarthy in Green Bay the last few years. Rookie coaches are prone to making mistakes, same as rookie players do, but this one was a whopper that cost the Dolphins big time in overtime.

Here's the scenario. The NY Jets are lining up for a possible game-winning field goal after Miami's Dan Carpenter missed one mere moments earlier. Nick Folk's kick is blocked, but the whistle sounds just as the play is unfolding. Why? Philbin called a timeout to try to "ice" Folk, since the Jets had done the same earlier. Bad timing? You betchum, Red Ryder. The Dolphins had just made a big defensive play and conceivably could've regained possession with a chance to give Carpenter an opportunity to atone for his earlier misfire. Instead, Philbin sealed the casket on this game, as Folk, given a second chance, put the game away. As of now, the Jets share 1st place in the AFC East with Buffalo, both at 2-1, pending the outcome of tonight's Patriots-Ravens game. Miami, now 1-2, sits alone in the basement for the moment.

I get what Philbin's trying to do. Unfortunately, as CBS announcers Marv Albert & Rich Gannon correctly pointed out, Philbin's ill-timed timeout cost the Dolphins the game. You can't pin this one on bad officiating, effendis, just a poor sense of game management. Last I checked, Joe Philbin isn't related to Regis, who otherwise might disavow any knowledge of the guy anyway. Even though I handed out a couple of Dunce Caps at the start of the week, we're ending it with one more. Here's to you, Mr. Philbin. Maybe next time you just go with the flow.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Musical Interlude: Gypsies, Tramps, & Thieves (1971)

The first single I'd heard from Cher was 1971's "Gypsies, Tramps, & Thieves".  It had a bouncy beat, but, as you'll see, when Cher sang it on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, a couple of words were slightly altered. The idea, I think, was to dissuade negative behavior (drinking, stealing).

I'm begging someone from today's generation, like Britney Spears, for example, to cover this classic.

Time Warner Cable finally adds the NFL Network!

Apparently, Time Warner Cable had heard enough complaints from subscribers about their refusal to add the NFL Network. Convienently, after the NY Giants thrashed Carolina on Thursday, the nation's biggest cable provider finally capitulated and is adding NFL Network, along with its premium sister channel, NFL Red Zone, in time for tomorrow's games.

Pre-game, viewers now have another option, rather than listen to the usual blather on ESPN, Fox, & CBS. Add to that the fact that everyone now gets to see the NFL Network's Thursday package,  and it's really a win for everyone involved. The only question is why it took so long.

This ain't the first time a major cable network was late arriving in my district. MTV was just 6 months old when it was added to cable systems in upstate New York. Of course, the fact that original VJ Martha Quinn hails from the Albany area might've had a lot to do with it, but that's beside the point. TBS was added around the same time. Back then, there were individual cable providers in each city, not one or two universal ones (Cablevision would be the other). I digress.

The only question that remains is whether or not the NFL Network will be a premium channel, which they wanted, or it'll be accessible to everyone, as MLB Network & NBA-TV are (The NHL Network is a premium channel). If I could hazard a guess, I'd say they'll set this up the same way Fox's Soccer channels are aligned. The primary Fox Soccer is accessible, while Fox Soccer Plus is a premium network. If Time Warner Cable is serious about addressing consumer needs, then they need to make the NFL Network available to everyone. Period. Then, fans will decide if they want to invest an additional $6 to get the Sports Pass block, which includes Fox Soccer Plus, NFL Red Zone, NHL Network, and so on.

In a season that so far has given the NFL a pair of public relations black eyes, they can't afford any more ill will with their fanbase. Neither can Time Warner Cable.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Classic Reborn: Match Game (1973)

Four years after NBC had cancelled it, Match Game returned, retooled and refreshed, airing on CBS this time, and eventually adding a night-time version airing in syndication. It wasn't that CBS was unwilling to try the show in primetime, something NBC never considered with the original 1962-9 version, but by 1973, primetime game shows were out of vogue.

Gene Rayburn returned as host, with Johnny Olsen as announcer. On at least one occasion, Olsen also sat on the panel, subbing for Charles Nelson Reilly (ex-Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Lidsville). Richard Dawson (ex-Hogan's Heroes) & Brett Somers were the other regular panelists, but it didn't seem to matter who'd join the party for a given week. The questions were a little more over the top and borderline risque than the original series, and the new format added a bonus game in the form of the Super Match round, done in 2 parts, an audience match and a head-to-head with one of the panelists. More often than not, Dawson got the call, though Reilly got his share as well. Then again, they did appear to be the more cerebral of the panel, anyway.

As we all know, the series would return to NBC in 1983, fused together with another classic, Hollywood Squares, in a 1 hour series produced by Mark Goodson (Bill Todman had passed on), but without the participation of Squares MC Peter Marshall or producer Merrill Heatter. Ironically, the Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour took the place of the series, Fantasy, hosted by Marshall and produced solo by Heatter (partner Bob Quigley had retired after Squares ended its first run in 1981) when it launched in October '83. Jon Bauman, aka Bowzer from Sha Na Na, who'd been a panelist on Match Game a number of times, was tapped to succeed Marshall as MC of Hollywood Squares

I digress. Let's get back to the topic at hand.

Matchgameproductions uploaded this 1978 episode, which marked the end of Richard Dawson's tenure as a panelist. By this point, Dawson had the distinction of appearing on two shows on two different networks at the same time, as he was also hosting another Goodson-Todman game, Family Feud, over on ABC, and after 2 years of that, it was time to move on from Match, once and for all. Note that the poster dedicated this to the memory of Dawson, who passed away a few months back.

No one is really sure if Gene and the writers had to get permission from Bill Cosby to use "Dumb Donald", since that character was also part of Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids, another CBS series, hence the more frequent use of Dumb Dora. One of the show's writers, Dick DeBartolo, also was a writer for Mad Magazine at that time, but the irony there was that the only time I'd read a parody of the series in comics, it was in the pages of a rival humor mag, Cracked. Go figure.

Rating: A.

Memo to the NFL & NHL: Stop the lockouts!

They just don't get it, and probably never will.

The NFL locked out its referees over the summer in a dispute over---what else?----money, among other things. Granted, the guys in the zebra stripes aren't exactly the sharpest tools in the drawer, but considering what has happened over the first two weeks of the regular season, and what is likely to continue for at least another two, it's a case of preferring the devil you know rather than the one you don't.

Several Week 1 games stretched to 3 1/2 hours, as if these were college games, which now routinely go 3 1/2 hours at a minimum. If it finishes in less than that, it's progress. As I noted the other day, Sunday's Eagles-Ravens game lasted more than 4 hours, and it shouldn't have had to. The problem that exists is that the replacement refs that were hired were not given sufficient time to prepare for game day action. Not enough training. You can't teach these folks in just a few weeks. As has been noted elsewhere, there have been the missteps. One official was removed from the Carolina-New Orleans game because he's a Saints fan. Another ref told Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy he needed the star running back for his fantasy team. Welcome to scabs of the 21st century. They're mostly fanboys. And they're killing the game.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has been good for going all Judge Roy Bean on various players for off the field offenses, but he has his head in the sand if he thinks the television ratings will compensate for the turtle like pace of some games. ESPN's Steve Young and New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica added their voices to the chorus over the last couple of days, and it was Young who ripped into Goodell and the owners for using the television ratings to mask the obvious problems. What is it going to take to get the "real" officials on the field? A season---or career----ending injury to a marquee player, like, for example, Tom Brady?

Let's be realistic. The NFL locked out the players a year ago, only to reach a deal in time for the pre-season. Why couldn't they reach a similar compromise with the referees? Because, in the eyes of the suits, the referees, the guys who have full-time jobs outside of the league, mind you, aren't as important to the bottom line. Oh? Reality check time, boys! The voices of dissent are getting louder by the day!

Meanwhile, the NHL has locked out its players for the second time in less than 10 years. They cancelled an entire season a few years ago because of labor issues, and while the Players Association thought Donald & Steve Fehr, better known for their work in baseball labor issues, would help prevent something like that from happening again, they had to be dreaming. The NHL owners want to restructure the way revenues are split (currently, the players get the larger share) such that it favors them instead of the players. Please! Just settle on a 50/50 split, shake on it, and get the season started, jabronies. If the teachers' union in Chicago can actually "suspend" a work stoppage for however long it takes before a labor agreement can be finalized, why can't these pro sports leagues follow suit? Instead of torturing the fans, the people who make those salaries possible, oh by the way, just address the issues a lot sooner, like, before the last contract runs out, and do so behind the scenes.

Let's face it. If folks ain't angry that these disputes aren't being settled in a timely manner, they're probably falling asleep from boredom because it's dragging like a cross-dressing wino on a 2-week bender. And that's ugly, brother.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Musical Interlude: All These Things I've Done (2004)

You're all familiar with the Western-themed video The Killers shot for "All These Things I've Done", the 3rd single from their 2004 debut, "Hot Fuss". However, the following, uploaded by Janusqua, is the original version, shot in the UK in the summer of '04, with accompanying concert footage.

Come to think of it, the Western footage didn't really fit the song, did it now?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Musical Interlude: A Little Less Conversation (2003)

To think it all started with an ad campaign for Nike.

JXL, a Dutch artist, remixed Elvis Presley's 1966 song, "A Little Less Conversation", and it led RCA to re-issue the song on the "30 #1's" CD. The original version was used in the movie, "Live a Little, Love a Little", and Presley performed it on his 1968 comeback special. However, this is the version everyone knows by now.

A new collection of Dunces & Weasels

Some people are either defiant or just plain dumb. Or maybe, a little of both. Consider the following:

Weasel #1: Silvio Berlusconi. The former premier of Italy is now a media magnate treading on Rupert Murdoch's territory. Berlusconi, who successfully won a case against a tabloid over some scandalous photos a few years back, now finds himself on the other side of the scandal involving Prince William and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. We told you yesterday about the photos that appeared in the French magazine, Closer, which is one of Berlusconi's publications. Today, another magazine, Chi, based in Italy, ran a larger amount of photos, including reprints of what had appeared in France & Ireland over the weekend. The Irish publication, by the way, jumped in without the approval of their owners, from what I've read online.

In Berlusconi's case, it's a matter of trying to have it both ways, and it doesn't always work. Mondadori, Berlusconi's publishing company, is already facing a lawsuit for the photos appearing in Closer. The Chi layout is a case of begging for more trouble. There is no way anyone can claim the rationale for the photos is "public interest". It's exploitation. No argument to the contrary accepted.

Dunce Cap #1: Amanda Bynes. The actress is in trouble again, and this time, the LAPD confiscated her BMW after she was pulled over on Sunday morning. It wasn't so long ago that Ms. Bynes (ex-What I Like About You) was whining and asking the President for help after an earlier arrest. Now comes word that she's been spotted doing some tokin' while driving, and she's also been seen talking to herself in public. Does she really know "What a Girl Wants"? Apparently, the answer is no.

Weasel #2: Greg Schiano. The former Rutgers football coach, a NFL rookie manning the sidelines in Tampa Bay, saw what would've been a happy homecoming fall apart late at the Meadowlands on Sunday when the Buccaneers coughed up a 14 point second half lead to the Giants. That should've been the story all by itself. Instead, Schiano instructed his defense to try to break the Giants' victory formation at the end of the game in a last-ditch attempt to get the ball back, while the Super Bowl champs were content to take a knee and run out the clock. Schiano defended himself by saying that's what he did at Rutgers. Even Mr. Magoo would tell him there's a huge difference between Rutgers and the NFL, and the tongue lashing he got from Giants coach Tom Coughlin after the game should serve as a wakeup call. From the sound of things, Schiano apparently didn't know. Oh, really? It's one thing to preach playing aggressively from the first whistle to the last, and we would applaud him for that, but in the pros, such moves are going to be micro-analyzed to death, especially with the threat of injury to the opposing team.

Dunce Cap #2: Replacement officials. Two weeks into the regular season, and the complaints have been predictable. The Eagles-Ravens game, won by Philadelphia in the final minutes, didn't end until after 5 pm (ET). In the Giants-Tampa Bay game, there were at least three defensive holding calls that weren't, and all of them would've been on Tampa Bay. The problem with these subs is that they're out of position, and some teams are taking advantage to see how much they can get away with. Meanwhile, one official was pulled from the New Orleans-Carolina game after it was revealed that he's a Saints fan. Now, Yahoo! is reporting that a field judge working the Seattle-Arizona game had been brought in to officiate some Seahawks practices from 2009-11, but not this year. The guy's also a Pac-12 official, so there was some familiarity with Seattle coach Pete Carroll. That it took a week before this got out is a little dubious, though..........

Weasel #3: Donald & Steve Fehr. The Fehr brothers can be held partially responsible for the current NHL lockout. Like, couldn't you have seen this coming once Donald was hired by the NHL Players Association, given his reputation in baseball? Oh, sure, the owners want more of an even split in revenues to make it fair for everyone, especially in these tough economic times, but the NHLPA is predictably playing hardball. Will this nonsense ever stop?

We'll also hand out Dunce Caps to the NFL for keeping the referees locked out, perpetuating the current mess we have with the subs. If we want replacements, we'll settle for that movie with Keanu Reeves & Gene Hackman which gets tons of cable airplay this time of year. Just do the right thing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What Might've Been: Tag Team (1991)

By the end of the 1980's, wrestlers Roddy Piper & Jesse Ventura had branched out into acting. Piper's biggest screen success was in John Carpenter's "They Live". Ventura one-upped him by scoring not one, but two hit films with Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Predator" & "The Running Man". Ventura, as we all know, then segued into politics, and more recently, television, hosting the cable series, Conspiracy Theory. Piper has returned several times to the WWE, usually in small guest gigs to bring back his cult favorite Piper's Pit interview segments.

In 1990, the two were paired for a possible series for ABC. Regrettably, Tag Team didn't exactly pass the smell test with network suits and critics, and the pilot episode was shelved until January 1991, when it landed a plum Saturday night slot on the eve of the Super Bowl. I remember seeing this show, or at least parts of it, when it aired. The concept was rather contrived, taking two veteran wrestlers and turning them into cops.

This wasn't the first time something like this had been tried. A few years earlier, Hulk Hogan was cast (or was that miscast?) in another unsold pilot, Goldie & The Bears, playing an ex-football player turned detective who wasn't exactly light with his fingers on a computer keyboard. If I can find that one on YouTube, I'll put it up. Meantime, let's check out the farce known as Tag Team.........

Piper & Ventura, to their credit, got some of their WWE friends involved, including Gene Okerlund, whom you hear at the start. However, this might've been more to the detriment of producer Touchstone Television, which had cast another grappler, Terry Funk, in a short lived Western, Wildside, some time prior. Piper would manage a few guest star jobs in later years, including The Outer Limits & Walker, Texas Ranger.

Rating: C.

A little of this and a little of that......

Time to ruminate on a few collected topics......

The French press, it seems, has an unhealthy obsession with British royalty. 15 years after Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris, trying to escape the relentless pursuit of paparazzi, her son, Prince William, and his bride of a year, Kate, now the Duchess of Cambridge, were photographed from a distance by a French paparazzo while vacationing in France a few weeks ago. The French magazine, Closer, acquired some grainy pictures of a topless Duchess, and decided against all common sense to publish them. An Italian publication owned by the same people who run Closer, plans to run some of those same pictures. Understandably, the British are very angry, a year removed from a phone hacking scandal involving their own tabloid press, which would explain why the pictures aren't being run in any UK papers. Closer's publisher doesn't understand what all the fuss is, proving to be completely clueless. Like, that shouldn't be a surprise now, should it?

Tonight's WWE Night of Champions pay-per-view will mark the first such event in several years not to have Jerry "The King" Lawler at ringside doing commentary. Lawler, 62, suffered a heart attack on the air on Monday, this after having competed in an "impromptu" tag team match on Raw. Former champion and former commentator John "Bradshaw" Layfield, whose pursuits now include mountain climbing for charity, will sub for Lawler tonight & tomorrow. Beyond that point remains a question mark.

Lawler's medical status, coupled with litigation involving rival TNA, has WWE holding off on contacting Ric Flair about another go-round. Flair, also in his early 60's, might've been in consideration for a on-camera role as a figurehead GM had it not been for the lawsuit filed by TNA back in May. With Flair unavailable, WWE had to go to plan "B", moving Booker T out of the Smackdown broadcast booth and into the GM's office there, while AJ Lee becomes the youngest GM in the 10-year history of that gimmick over on Raw. Both GM's have been under fire of late, leading to speculation that one or both would be dismissed in favor of one singular GM. Taking Flair's age into account in relation to Lawler, I think WWE might be shying away from having Flair step back into the ring, 4 1/2 years after he'd "retired", rather than take another chance on a potential tragedy.

Newsarama earlier this week presented a list of 10 DC books they think might be on the chopping block due to poor sales. Some might surprise you. Others won't. To wit:

Batwing: Apparently, being part of the Bat-line isn't enough. Maybe too many books in that line is proving to be counter-productive, sales-wise.

Deathstroke, Savage Hawkman, Grifter: What do these three books have in common? All of them were given over to Rob Liefeld after his remake of Hawk & Dove fell by the wayside in May. Liefeld has since left DC. I called this myself some time ago.

Legion Lost: Placing members of the futuristic Legion of Superheroes in the 21st century should've worked out nicely, given the Legion's fanbase. Not so fast. The flaws in DC's strategy of a year ago are finally catching up with the company.

I, Vampire & Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: The bloom's off the rose for these two. Andrew Bennett, according to recent solicitations, had given in to his darker urges, or so it would seem, but DC apparently is unwilling to wait for the release of the final "Twilight" movie before pulling the plug on this series. As for Frankenstein, go back to what I said above.

The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Men & Blue Beetle: Two more reboots that readers have rejected with their wallets. From an aesthetic viewpoint, I wasn't keen on Ronnie Raymond being retconned back into a teenager and paired with the more recent Firestorm, Jason Rusch, but then adding nuclear people from around the globe, including an evil Firehawk, was asking for trouble. As for the Beetle, the second time around for the 21st century Beetle, Jaime Reyes, was no different than the first time.

GI Combat: On a whim, I bought the first three issues and had planned on doing a review, which I will do now.

In reviving a dormant title that had been cancelled some 30 years ago, DC was hoping that familiar features might spark some interest. Unfortunately, since neither of the features was the one that was the signature of GI Combat's earlier DC run, the Haunted Tank, which is soon to finally debut, readers turned away, put off by the $3.99 cover price. Let's consider what was within.

The War That Time Forgot originally appeared in Star Spangled War Stories in the 60's, then was revived around 1980 in Weird War Tales, with said revival perhaps inspired by a feature film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot, which hit theatres a few years prior and was airing on TV periodically by 1980. The 2012 version, complete with modern acrouments like computers, has some gorgeous painted artwork by Ariel Olivetti that shouldn't be wasted. A trade paperback collection would be nice. Meanwhile, The Unknown Soldier not only appeared in Star Spangled War Stories; he'd eventually take over the book by the end of the 70's. The concept has been rebooted for the 4th time since the original series ended in the early 80's, and has also been advanced forward to today. Problem is, as with the late 80's reboot, the new Soldier has some psych issues. All the WWII Soldier had was a disfigured face, which explained the bandages, compensated with a talent for disguise. It made for some great stories which should be collected in a TPB, not just a black & white Showcase reprint volume. Today's writers seem to think that a protagonist with psych issues is still "edgy". No, it's not. It's become a cliche, and it gets boring after a while.

Thusly, GI Combat merits a C+ (War That Time Forgot is an A+, offset by the D for Unknown Soldier).

What else might I be reading? Moonstone issued a 0 issue sneak peek of their adaptation of The Saint, adapting original stories by creator Leslie Charteris, with artwork by veteran Eduardo Barreto, whose work I've enjoyed since the 80's. This is going on my pull list. Barreto's interpretation of Simon Templar looks nothing like the actors who've played him, including Roger Moore and Ian Oglivy, or even, on radio, the late Vincent Price. Rating: A.

IDW has issued Classic Popeye, a reprint companion to the current series. This collects original strips dating back to 1948 (!) by Bud Sagendorf. While the local shop dealer dropped the first issue in my hold, I didn't want it. Popeye #4 was late for no apparent reason, and a promised cover by iconic artist John Byrne wasn't ready, but now they're promising Byrne for issue 5 (yes, it is an ongoing series). Meanwhile, Dynamite Entertainment has the license to another of my favorites, The Shadow. Garth Ennis is writing, and the stories have more gore and violence than DC was allowed to present in their first run back in the 70's. Dynamite also obtained the rights to reprint Howard Chaykin's modern-day update of the character from 1987, but I've disowned that version long ago. The latest issue is also late. Hmmmmm........!

The Shadow gets an A+. Popeye is worth an A.

Friday, September 14, 2012

As the seasons change in the hometown......

Baseball season in upstate New York officially ended Thursday night in Fishkill as the Hudson Valley Renegades claimed the NY-Penn League title, defeating the Tri-City Valleycats, 8-3, in the deciding game of the league's championship series. The Valleycats' season-ending swoon, which saw them limp into the postseason after going 1-6 in their final 7 regular season games, had only abated long enough for the 'Cats to reach the finals, having dispatched Auburn in 3 games. When the 'Cats needed to win the most, their offense froze, for lack of a better description.

The only quibble about Thursday's loss was the fact that 8 days earlier, in the regular season home finale, also against Hudson Valley, starter Joe Bircher was largely ineffective, so why was he handed the ball in the most important game of the year? Only manager Stubby Clapp knows for sure, and I'm sure he realizes he may be second-and-third-guessed about this decision until next June, when a fresh group of Valleycats take the field at Joe Bruno Stadium.

Now, local sports fans can turn their full attention to football. Well, at least until RPI begins hockey season next month. It's hard to believe that high school football begins its 3rd week of play tonight. I can recall when games didn't start until the first weekend of the school year, but oh, how things have changed over the years. The addition of sectional and state tournaments in recent years allows high schools to enjoy the same early advantage as their college brethren, playing their first games just as the pros are wrapping up their pre-season schedules.

Troy High enters play tonight at 1-1, having avenged their lone loss of 2011 by beating Burnt Hills in their opener, but then LaSalle collected a receipt in turn last week. Tonight, Scotia comes a'callin' at Picken Field.  Scotia is also 1-1, as is Burnt Hills. Parity, anyone?

Of course, college basketball isn't that far away, either. Siena had a "sneak preview" of their 2012-3 teams at Times-Union Center earlier this week. I can remember when they didn't have to do things like that...........

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How is an iconic character an anachronism?: Marvel kills off Professor X (for now)

I stopped reading the X-Men family of books some time ago. However, the comics purist in me is feeling a little ticked off----again----because of an article in today's New York Daily News.

With the X-Men soon to celebrate their 50th anniversary, Marvel decided to do the seemingly unthinkable, and kill off Professor Charles Xavier, the founder of the team and the school that had served as its base for years, in the latest installment of their Avengers vs. X-Men event maxiseries, out today. I think I know where the writers got the idea, though.

Think back to "X-Men: The Last Stand", the third installment in the movie series. Xavier (Patrick Stewart) was killed off then, too, thanks to the Phoenix-possessed Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). In the book, it is Scott "Cyclops" Summers, another original X-Man, who does the deed. As with most comic book deaths, you don't expect this to stick, contrary to what Marvel's Tom Brevoort's claim that this will be permanent. Right, and if you believe that one, I'm sure Brevoort and his cohorts have a bridge to sell you.

In the Daily News account, Xavier, or Professor X, if you prefer, was referred to as an anachronism, out of place in modern comics. Oh, really? In terms of the overall story, you can say that perhaps it was time to move forward, but the editors at Marvel, ignoring the fact that they're now part of the Disney conglomerate every so often, are looking for headlines, shock value, and a quick boost in sales, not specifically in that order. Today's generation might be able to buy into it, but older readers, depending on whom you talk to, might not be so quick. When Stan Lee & the late Jack Kirby introduced the X-Men in 1963, the idea was that you had 5 young people gifted with extraordinary abilities, but sheltered because of then-prevalent prejudices about anything/anyone that was different. Xavier was the bedrock that held the team together, the cornerstone of the series. Nearly 50 years later, you can make a case that the torch has been passed, with Summers, Grey, Wolverine, et al, doing the teaching. That's all well and good, but the manner in which Marvel is going about eliminating Xavier from the picture doesn't ring true enough to suit this writer.

In the last 5 years, Marvel has killed off Captain America and brought him back. They did the same with the Human Torch. Jean Grey has been killed off 2-3 times in the last 30+ years, but brought back every time. If Brevoort, Axel Alonso, and their staff think this will be any different, they're kidding themselves.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dunce Cap Award: Jim Crane

Mr. Crane is the owner of the Houston Astros, the worst team in Major League Baseball. If there was any evidence that Crane was guilty of having foot-in-mouth disease, it was on display recently when he told reporters that there was a possibility of Roger Clemens returning to the Astros later this month.

According to Yahoo!, Clemens, who has pitched 8 total innings in 2 starts for the minor league Sugar Land Skeeters, has said he'd only pitch for Houston if he were placed against a contending team, such as St. Louis or Pittsburgh, not a team that is out of contention, as the Astros are. Crane is looking to boost attendance at Minute Maid Park any way he can, but an out-of-shape Clemens, who by his own admission isn't major league ready, isn't an answer by any stretch.

Look, I get that Crane is desperate, having acquired the Astros last year. Next season, the team will shift to the AL West, where they already have an in-state rival in the Texas Rangers. Instead of playing the Rangers 6 times a year, as they did in interleague play for the last 16 seasons, the Astros would see that number triple to 18, with three series at home. What Crane should be doing is finding a formula that will improve the team's on-field product. They have a fantastic group of young players, many of whom cut their teeth in my district with the Tri-City Valleycats, but it is the leadership in the dugout that hasn't worked out. All Crane needs do is see what an old war horse like Davey Johnson has done in Washington, turning the Nationals from an also-ran to a prospective division winner in less than 2 years. Buck Showalter has done the same in slightly more time across the Potomac in Baltimore. Crane is looking for a new manager for 2013, but rather than have Clemens, 50, defy Father Time and pitch, let him, well, manage the team. Another pitcher, John Farrell, had Toronto in contention for a good part of the first half, but they collapsed, wilting under the summer heat because of injury.

A reunion between Clemens and the Astros will only work if "The Rocket" isn't on the playing roster, but rather is a coach or manager. If Crane can't figure that out, well, I'm sure we're all embarassed for him. He's got a Dunce Cap for his harebrained idea of bringing Clemens in for maybe a week, but this might be the start of a trend........

Musical Interlude: Smoking Gun (1986)

Blues guitarist and singer Robert Cray went mainstream with his 1986 CD, "Strong Persuader", and the first single, "Smoking Gun", garnered a healthy amount of airplay on MTV. I for one got turned to the blues because of this song for a while.

Uploaded by the artist's VEVO channel:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weasels of the Week: Internet hoaxers

Will this never end?

Apparently, there are some nutjobs online who get their jollies by posting fake death notices of celebrities. The latest "victims" of this lame trend of stupidity are Morgan Freeman ("The Dark Knight Rises") & Alfonso Ribeiro (Catch 21), both of whom are very much alive.

What I don't get is the motivation behind these hoaxes. Actors Eddie Murphy & Jackie Chan have been frequent targets in the past, but what might work as a joke once loses its punch line effectiveness after maybe two or three times. Once you pull the same stunt four or more times, it stops being funny and becomes straight up annoying. The hoaxers are anonymous, unwilling to accept responsibility or take any credit, as a normal prankster might. That alone tells you that these dweebs have nothing better to do, probably don't work for a living (that we know of), and just want to screw around with the press and their "victims". Trust me, it's bad enough that the supermarket tabloids have resorted to using fake news for the majority of their content these days, their popularity dissipating with each passing day.

If we want fake news, there's always Comedy Central's 1-2 punch of The Colbert Report & The Daily Show, both of which mix in real guests amidst the comedy. As for these fly-by-night Weasels, maybe they can come out of hiding long enough to accept a package from this desk. A lifetime supply of Weasel ears, along with tails, for being too cowardly to accept responsibility, and unable to accept the fact that their jokes have already gone stale.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Musical Interlude: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1976)

Gordon Lightfoot was one of the most prominent and prolific singer-songwriters of the 70's, with hits like "If You Could Read My Mind", "Sundown", "Carefree Highway", and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", a true tale of a nautical disaster that took place in 1958. The following video is taken from a performance on PBS' Soundstage in 1979, three years after "Edmund Fitzgerald" charted. Thecatkeaton uploaded this clip, which also includes archival footage of the ship.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Classic TV: Match Game (1962)

Most of you are familiar with the reincarnation of Match Game that launched in 1973 and became an icon in and of itself. However, the roots of the series go back 11 years to 1962, when Mark Goodson & Bill Todman sold the original version to NBC for a 7 year run.

As would be the case with the 1973 series, Gene Rayburn was the series host, but there were just two celebrities instead of six, and four contestants instead of 2. I have a hazy memory of seeing this version as a small child. The other constant? Announcer Johnny Olson, Goodson-Todman's #1 announcer. Teamwork is stressed on this version, but this old-school style format has largely been lost to the mists of time because of the enormous popularity of the later version.

As such, Match Game turns 50 this year, though there will be those poor souls who've never sampled the original who will argue that it will turn 40 next year, marking the anniversary of the reincarnation, which was bawdy, racy, and flat out wack. We'll cover that another time.

Here, then, is the pilot episode, with Peggy Cass, more closely associated with another Goodson-Todman franchise, To Tell The Truth, and Peter Lind Hayes as the celebrity guests.

Dumb Dora, Dumb Donald, & Old Man Periwinkle weren't "born" yet, if you get my drift.

Rating: A.

Betting at the bowling alley?!

I don't know about you, amigos, but I'm finding this to be a little disturbing, with a portent for disaster.

We're coming up on the 40th anniversary of Off Track Betting (OTB) in New York. OTB came along right around the same time that we got cable in my part of the state, and so, OTB had its own channel in order to promote itself, for one thing, and provide viewers and potential customers with up-to-the-minute information on the action of the day.

A couple of years ago, OTB closed all of its parlors in New York City due to financial issues, but they still operate in other parts of the state. Now, however, one of those parlors is being downsized in a peculiar fashion.

While I was on vacation from my day job a couple of weeks ago, I happened to see a couple of placards promoting an auction at OTB's Downtown Troy location, in the Uncle Sam Atrium parking garage. OTB has been housed there since McDonald's left the city some years prior, leaving the mall proper, and, yeah, at that time they had engaged in a bit of downsizing, not just in the size of space, but also in hours of operation. No more being open late at night, running the risk of drawing in drunken patrons coming over from the neighborhood bars across the street. Most branches in my district close around 5:30-6:00 pm (ET) every day, which means if you wanted to wager on the evening harness cards, you had to either have a telephone account or, accounting for upgrades in this modern era, an internet account. A couple of nights later, as I waited for a bus to take me home from a Valleycats game, a friend told me that the downtown branch was closing, and moving into Uncle Sam Lanes, two blocks away.

This was met with a hearty SAY WHAT?

So I dropped into the branch one afternoon and chatted with the manager, who had just come back from maternity leave. She said that she was blindsided by the decision to close the branch. The landlord in charge of the garage is an old classmate of mine from high school who's become a very successful businessman. Apparently, the lease on the space was expiring, and OTB couldn't meet the price to renew the lease. Since Uncle Sam Lanes owner Tom Walsh, Jr. and/or some of his friends and regular patrons have been frequent patrons at OTB, it seems that a deal was struck to move OTB into the bowling establishment. The downside for OTB is that their new space is a hastily constructed kiosk where only one clerk will be on duty. The kiosk will close around the same time the branch has been of late, which prevents bowlers from distracting themselves by placing bets during league play.

There is, however, the potential for disaster. It's true that some bowlers are also gamblers. Like most bowling houses, Uncle Sam Lanes has a license to sell state lottery tickets, with the Numbers machine at the bar and two vending machines for scratch-off tickets. Oftentimes, the OTB channel can be seen on one of the many television sets in the building, especially during the Triple Crown series in May & June, during Saratoga season, and on the weekend of the Breeders' Cup. Where a problem arises is with that singular kiosk. One clerk facing a long line, especially on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, may be potentially overwhelmed by the volume of traffic and the impatience of some hardcore players who want to get their bets in before post time. I am not certain if there are going to also be self-serve machines to alleviate this possible problem. By self-serve, I mean that bettors can punch up their own tickets in a matter of seconds and save themselves----and the clerk---the hassle of a long line.

I seem to recall that across town at Alpha Lanes, they installed self-serve OTB betting machines some time back. I'm not sure if they still have them, but if they do, that might've been what spurred Tom Walsh, Jr. into making a business deal with OTB that would help both sides. In chatting with my friend, I could see what he was concerned with, that the non-bowling bettors might be causing potential problems, especially if overly inebriated. OTB has been open at Uncle Sam Lanes less than a week as I write, and so far, so good. I just don't know if this is something that has already been done elsewhere, but if it isn't, it could start a trend. A potentially bad one at that.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The last guy you'd want directing traffic (2012)

GEICO's advertising nerds have sunk to the bottom of the barrel. The "Be Happy" ad campaign currently running has four different spots. One features veteran comic Gallagher, who's clearly nuttier than 2 cans of cashews in his bit. Another, just released, features singer Eddie Money as a travel agent. I guess now we know why Money, who's made a habit of playing gigs in my district the last few years despite the lack of a major label deal, was never really given a chance to do any acting aside from his videos back in the day.

And, then, there's this wacky piece, which pretty much says it all.

Joe South (1940-2012)

You might know the hits he wrote, not just for himself, but for others as well. "Walk a Mile in My Shoes". "Games People Play". "Rose Garden". "Down in the Boondocks". "How Can I Unlove You?". You might remember the man himself if you heard at least two of the above on the radio. On Wednesday, Joe South passed away from heart failure at 72.

South wrote "Rose Garden" & "How Can I Unlove You?" for Lynn Anderson between 1970-1. Billy Joe Royal climbed the charts with "Boondocks" and "I Knew You Well". South enjoyed some chart success of his own with "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" and "Games People Play", both of which have been covered by other artists, including Waylon Jennings & Elvis Presley, to name a couple of major artists.

Rest in peace, Joe.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dunce Cap Award: Fremantle Media

Fremantle Media acquired many of the Goodson-Todman properties some years back, and currently have two of them on the air---Family Feud & The Price Is Right. The company, otherwise, is known for the Fox  franchise, American Idol, but it seems they just don't have a clue about past personnel.

According to articles that have surfaced online, when it was decided to have Price mark the 40th anniversary of its relaunch (the series originally aired in the 50's & 60's, then returned for good in 1972), the suits at Fremantle decided not to invite iconic MC Bob Barker, who last made a guest appearance on Price three years ago. Oh, they ran clips from back in the day, but it would've been a smarter move to have Barker appear on stage with his successor, Drew Carey, one more time. However, Tuesday's anniversary show came and went and, aside from the clips, it seemed almost as if it was business as usual. Real smart, guys. NOT!

According to the article I read on Yahoo!, Barker says he's fine with Fremantle's decision to not include him in the broadcast in person. A staunch animal rights activist, Barker has ripped his former employers for adding new prizes such as trips to Sea World and the Calgary Stampede, taking on the all-too-familiar tack that those organizations engage in animal cruelty, despite claims to the contrary from those organizations. Such criticism may have played a role in Fremantle's decision, but such animosities should've been put aside.

This case of corporate brain cramping was something that Fremantle could've done without, however. When Idol returns in January, they'll have a completely new judges' panel, as the last of the original trio, Randy Jackson, shifts into a mentor's role. If he isn't careful, the ol' dawg may find himself being gradually phased out of the show. One more reason to give Fremantle Media the corporate Dunce Cap this week.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Weasels of the Week: NY State Dept. of Transportation

It's a little late, but the sitch is going to be with us for a while here in my home area, so a state agency will get bombarded with Weasel ears this week.

Here's the deal. There is a bridge that links together my home city of Troy with neighboring Watervliet, formerly known as West Troy before it adopted its own identity years ago. Earlier this year, the DOT began the process of renovating that Congress Street-Watervliet bridge on the Watervliet side, closing off a pedestrian walkway on that side headed back into Troy. Given that most construction projects in this region take forever and a week for whatever reason, it stood to assume that the DOT wouldn't start working on the opposite side of the bridge until they finished on the south side.

Oh, what fools we mortals be!

On Wednesday, August 29, the Capital District Transportation Authority was notified that certain of their buses which use the bridge had to be rerouted. Passengers boarding at Congress & 3rd Streets, expecting to head over the bridge as normal, instead found the buses continuing south until turning left at Ferry Street, then another left on 4th, before reaching the Green Island Bridge, after which the buses would return to their normal routes. Four days later, CDTA issued fliers redirecting commuters to the bus shelter at Fulton & 3rd (or River & Front, take your pick) to use those same buses. I think the CDTA realized that they were losing time on some runs because of the sudden changes.

While the DOT gained some press for doing similar work on the Twin Bridges and the Dunn Memorial bridge, nothing that I could ascertain appeared in the hometown paper about the Congress St.-Watervliet bridge. Lord only knows when this project will finally end, perhaps, and we're crossing fingers here, if they're lucky, they'll be done by Christmas, but I wouldn't put any money on it.

Where I have a problem is the poor timing of this decision by DOT. If their crews had worked non-stop, even through rain and intense heat (with proper hydration for the latter circumstance), then maybe they'd have already been halfway home, but no. Now, you have a major hassle that will linger on and on until, well, I don't know, maybe after Election Day? Poor planning nets the Department of Transportation the Weasel ears this week. Maybe now they'll get the message, but I doubt it. In New York, the simplest things get lost in translation.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Death claims three more

What perhaps has been Death's busiest season in memory continues with three more famous names leaving us.

Songwriter Hal David teamed with Burt Bacharach to compose hit records like "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?", and others, recorded by the likes of Dionne Warwick, B. J. Thomas, Dusty Springfield, to name a few, during the 60's & 70's. David passed away at 91 a few days ago.

Reverend Sun Myung Moon was the founder of the controversial Unification Church which made plenty of headlines in the 70's, 80's, & into the 90's. The South Korean-born, self-declared messiah claimed to have friends and business contacts in both the US & North Korea, but had to also deal with accusations that his church, much like the Church of Scientology, is actually a cult, and that members were being brainwashed. Moon succumbed last week at 92 after an illness.

Finally, Hollywood is mourning Oscar nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan, who passed away earlier today at 54 after complications following a heart attack back in July. Duncan might have seemed to be a late blooming star, having been nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for "The Green Mile" a few years back, and also appeared in films such as "The Scorpion King", "Daredevil", & the remake of "Planet of the Apes".

Rest in peace.

In theatres: The Expendables 2 (2012)

If 2010's "The Expendables" wasn't a case of passing the torch from one generation of action stars to another, well, "Expendables 2" makes a greater case of filling the bill.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, who also co-wrote the screenplay) has reassembled his team to take on a mission in Nepal at the start of the film, and end up rescuing Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who admits that "this is embarrassing", in that he needed saving. There are plenty of in-jokes among Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and other vets during the course of the movie. The biggest mystery might be in the relative absence of Jet Li, who is MIA after the opening mission, during which he does a pretty good imitation of Jackie Chan, using pots & pans as weapons to dispatch the bad guys. He's not heard from the rest of the way without explanation.

Meanwhile, in the course of the two years between films, the team has added a relative youngster, Billy (Liam Hemsworth, "The Last Song"), an ex-Army sniper. A mission goes awry, and Billy is whacked by a smug little weasel, played by Jean Claude Van Damme. Oh, it gets better. Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) has sent Barney and his merry band on this mission to protect a supply of plutonium from falling into the wrong hands. No need to waste time trying to guess where the bad guys have gone. Rather than retreat and plot strategy, Ross decides to "track them, find them, and kill them" ASAP. Nice. Li's absence is covered by newcomer Yu Wan as a female agent assigned to the team by Church. I guess that's so Jason Statham doesn't get all the kung fu scenes for himself. Whatever.

And, then, there's Chuck Norris (ex-Walker, Texas Ranger), who we find is pretty proficient with a gun and does his share of splattering the goons instead of kicking them all over the joint. Heck, there's more splatter in this film than in the first one, and that's in just the first half hour! As if that wasn't enough, after being called out by Ross about not having the guts to do the dirty work himself, Church takes to the field, along with Trench, for an all-star finale. The sight of Willis, Schwarzenegger, & Norris, lined up in a row, guns blazing, is a treat for 80's fanboys.

Van Damme is so natural as a villain, you wonder why he didn't do this often enough in his prime. Yes, the door apparently is open for a 3rd film, which probably will come in 2014 or so.

Meanwhile, Stallone will be seen next in "Bullet to the Head", out in December. Schwarzenegger's next film is "The Last Stand", out next year, in which he plays a rural sheriff (!), with the predictable one-liners. Terry Crews reportedly has been in talks with WWE about some project, but is back doing Old Spice ads as well. As for other trailers, fresh looks at "End of Watch" & "Dredd" (both out later this month) & "Frankenweenie" are mixed with the following:

"Resident Evil: Retribution" (also later this month). I haven't bothered with any of the earlier films in this series.

"Jack Reacher" (December): Tom Cruise as a lone wolf vigilante. Well, after 4 "Mission: Impossible" movies in 16 years, I guess he thinks he's got this action hero thing down......!

"The Possession", the #1 movie in the country last week.

"The Man With The Iron Fists": Produced by Quentin Tarantino, co-written by Eli Roth ("Hostel") & Wu Tang Clan's RZA, directed by RZA, with the Clan and Kanye West on the soundtrack. Former WWE star Dave Bautista (Batista) makes his major feature film debut (his formal debut was in the direct to video "Scorpion King 3"). I guess this is to keep the Tarantino fans happy 'til "Django Unchained" comes out later this winter.

Speaking of soundtracks, the retro sound in "Expendables 2", featuring Rare Earth ("I Just Want to Celebrate" plays over the closing credits) and the Rascals, among others, kicks tail. Has to be a must-buy CD.

Now, here's a trailer for "The Expendables 2":

It seems the original plot was meant to address what had happened to Mickey Rourke's character, Tool, from the first film, then changed. Hmmmmmmm. Maybe that's being saved for the 3rd film......!

Rating: B.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Musical Interlude: Lay Your Hands On Me (1985)

It is no secret that there weren't really any identical or fraternal twins in the British combo Thompson Twins. The three primary performers were vocalist-guitarist Thom Bailey, bassist Joe Leeway, and keyboard player-percussionist Alannah Currie. The band did have a pretty good run in the mid-80's, and this track, "Lay Your Hands On Me", from the album, "Here's To Future Days", was one of their best.

Classic TV: The Beverly Hillbillies (1962)

Some people tire of the city and aspire to move to the countryside. But what happens when it goes the other way?

You all know the story of The Beverly Hillbillies. On a hunting trip, Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) uncovers a spot of oil while "shooting at some food", as the song goes. Once it dawns on him that he's become a very rich man, Clampett packs up Granny (Irene Ryan), niece Elly May (Donna Douglas), and dumber than a bag of hammers nephew Jethro (Max Baer, Jr.), along with a host of pets, and makes the cross-country trek to Beverly Hills. In the course of 9 seasons, the Clampetts' rural savvy befuddles the big city folks, including banker Milburn Drysdale (Raymond Bailey), their next door neighbor.

Despite his lack of education, Jethro is ambitious enough----or is he just too naive to understand---to try just about anything to make a living, including a run as a Navy frogman. Elly was being courted by just about every Tom, Dick, & Harry that came along, including Drysdale's nephew, Sonny (Louis Nye). Granny was feisty, paranoid, and just plain suspicious of everything.

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the series, and you'd think that the cable networks that share the rights, like TV Land, for example, would do something to mark the occasion. However, as of this writing, they're not, and that's a shame.

Blastfromtheepast uploaded the color version of the iconic theme song.

After the series ended, Buddy Ebsen took a couple of years off, then returned with another hit series, Barnaby Jones, which would prove significant in that the theme from that show was heard in the 1981 Hillbillies reunion movie. Of course, both shows aired on the same network (CBS).

A later feature film with Jim Varney & Diedrich Bader didn't exactly win over critics and fans, and there had been talk of a---gulp----reality series based on the show, but after a reality-show remake of Gilligan's Island tanked, well.....!

Rating: B+.