Saturday, March 25, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week 52 (Special, hey, that's a whole year! edition)

One year of power rankings, and this remains THE single most popular weekly feature on the Internet...on this blog. Thanks for your support, and may your streaming be fruitful in the year ahead.

1) Netflix: Not much competition, and nor should there be when Netflix is offering a new season of GRACE AND FRANKIE.

Kidding aside, I finally picked a telenovela to start watching, and I'm into it. One thing about Netflix: You usually get quality subtitles that are easy to read.

And, hey, an original movie with Melissa Leo as atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, The Most Hated Woman in America, sounds interesting.

It's almost enough to make you forget that Netflix just extended its Adam Sandler deal.

2) Hulu: I already feel like I'm way behind on the shows I was watching on here again! Not Hulu's fault, though. It added a bunch of anime, if that's your bag, and "Doomed," a documentary about the infamous Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie. How funny is it that they have tried to revive the franchise twice since the Corman flick, and they still haven't gotten it right?

It's interesting that Fear the Walking Dead landed here this week, considering the mothership is on Netflix.  Also, Hulu announced another season for Shut Eye, indicating that, contrary to my unofficial metrics, there are people watching that series.

3) YouTube: Danny Dark tribute posts like the one I posted a few days ago wouldn't be possible with YouTube, folks!

4) Days of Dumont: The Dumont tribute channel did it again, adding a bunch of new shows this week! Expect this one to stay in the top 10 for a few weeks.

5) Shout! Factory TV: Come to The Goodtime Hour for Glen Campbell, stay for John Byner working Dean Martin and John Wayne impressions in whenever possible.

6) The CW: It might be a notch or two higher if I weren't so annoyed by seeing the same ad for Forever (now on CW Seed--yippee!) a dozen times during one episode of Legends of Tomorrow.

7) Warner Archive Instant: I need to dive back in here, but I did enjoy a Dr. Kildare with James Shibata, and, hey, more seasons of The FBI are available. This is still too expensive, but it has made some strides since last year at this time.

8) Pizza Flix: Still quietly adding new content each week, still free.

9) WWE Network: As we hit the peak of WrestleMania season, the subscription numbers should be going up, up, up! Of course, after the event and after people's months expire, they will go down, down, down, but that's later.

10) BritBox: A very quiet debut on Roku last week, but this BBC/ITV joint venture merits attention. $6.99/month for access to a decent catalog of back titles and an interesting assortment of shows that are airing in Britain right now. It might be worth a tryout soon, but make it count--these cheapskates offer a skimpy 7-day trial.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

TV Promo Theatre #2: Danny Dark at NBC

We kicked off this feature with a look at the great Ernie Anderson. Today I want to give respect to his counterpart at NBC (CBS before that), Danny Dark, with two promos that show off his versatility as the network's #1 hype man.

(Thanks to the great uploader "Sean Mc" for these and so many more great promos)

Notice that this one starts with a bumper as Dark says we'll return to V after the following messages. Even this is not just a throwaway. There's real tension in his voice--not because we're afraid of the promos revealing the weakness of NBC's prime-time schedule, but because aliens are invading.

Then the Real People promo has Dark teasing Byron Allen's aerial adventures, complete with an "Up, up, and away!" serving as a playful nod to a character Dark had voiced: Howard the Duck. (I'm kidding; it's Superman, of course).


Yes, the single word then offers a smooth transition to a Very Special Episode. Listen to how Dark downshifts effortlessly to tell us about this "emotion-filled" Facts of Life with hushed tones.

Next up, it's Remington Steele, and Dark calls him "the sexiest, smoooothest private eye around" as he goes into "I'm talking about looooove" mode.

He follows that line with, "Who but Remington Steele would dare to follow The A-Team?" and his jovial line reading is a perfect complement to a wacky stunt.

I love hearing Casey Kasem's voice on the NBC promos of the era, but Dark was the man. He was the smoooooothest voice-over guy around.

Monday, March 20, 2017

'Mooners Monday #4: One of the best game show hosts ever: Herb Norris

Last week, we looked at The $99,000 Answer without covering one of the episode's best assets: Herb Norris, host of the titular game show, who was played by real-life emcee Jay Jackson. If what we see in this episode is indicative, Norris is one of the medium's all-time great hosts. He's witty, smooth, and quick on his feet, and he is great at keeping the show going.

At the beginning of this episode, we see the end of the show within a show. The guest is a bit dry. Here Norris is smooth and brings enough energy to balance the lackluster contestant.

Then Ralph comes out and is all "hamina hamina hamina" and nerves. He can barely stay upright, he's shaking so much. Norris instinctively sees this (OK, it doesn't take an empathy to pick up signals like bug-eyed panic and profuse sweating) and takes over, guiding Ralph through an entertaining bit of banter before the game begins. He even gets a big laugh by telling his story about the bus experience he had ("That was you?") and is a good sport about the resolution.

He even gets a big laugh by telling his story about the bus experience he had ("That was you?") and is a good sport about the resolution. I love his take:

Of course, the show runs out of time, and Ralph does his cramming so he can return next week, and now he is cocky. Norris adapts accordingly, indulging Ralph's boasts with good nature and steering the conversation appropriately. When Ralph bombs out and has to be dragged offstage, Norris maintains composure and never loses control of his stage.

Herb Norris is, simply put, an outstanding game show host.

Jackson told the authors of The Official Honeymooners Treasury that the experience was terrifying but also one he wouldn't trade for the world. He provides an amusing account of learning the series' rehearsal process, which consisted of a rudimentary session without Gleason to set up camera blocking, followed later by several minutes with the star in which he wouldn't even recite the actual dialogue!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 51 (Special, hey, some of us had to work and didn't get to take advantage of the crummy weather edition)

1) PIX11: The 40th Anniversary Special was real, and it was spectacular. Tony Randall hosted a warm look back, focusing on the original programming of the New York station. Oh, yeah, and he did an embarrassing rap song near the end. Plus PIX posted an original newscast from the blizzard of 1993 (that was the good old days when they didn't name snowstorms). I'd love to see more of the big legacy stations from around the country make interesting Roku channels and use their archives like this.

2) Netflix: Just misses the top spot with an impressive list of things that interest me (and really, isn't that the bottom line): Lucha Underground, Mystery Science Theater, The BFG, Pete's Dragon, and Iron Fist. Plus, friends, I may have become a little misty-eyed when watching an episode of Friends this week. Even the disastrous reviews of the new Amy Schumer special (seriously, I think 5 sites ran articles just to point out how bad user reviews were) kind of make me curious about watching it.

But why is Netflix screwing around with its rating system? I don't recall anyone clamoring for this.

3) Hulu: It's been OJ and the Golden Girls this week for me. Hey, you don't suppose there could be a crossov--no, no. Forget I said anything. Also, Hulu got Everybody Wants Some, one of my most-wanted-to-see movies of last year. Now it becomes one of my most-want-to-see-but-keep-watching-old-sitcoms-instead movies of this year!

4) YouTube: True story: A spontaneous conversation about Conway Twitty breaks out (really, why shouldn't it?), I remember an old commercial of a duets album (with Loretta Lynn) I used to see all the time, BAM, it's on YouTube!

5) Warner Archive Instant: I didn't watch as much WAI as I intended this week, but the service added several seasons of The FBI this weekend.

6) Shout! Factory TV: I really enjoyed an awkward interview Dick Cavett conducted in the 90s with Ben "Hey Now" Kingsley. Cavett asks about a comment Kingsley had made about Gandhi years earlier when he was promoting the film, and Kingsley shuts him down, saying he ain't gonna talk about it now and the junket was years ago.

7) TuneIn: You know a good way to appreciate the stations on here? Try others. I just got DirectTV (formerly FIOS) and sampled some of the audio stations. For one thing, it's  irritating that many of them are part of some add-on package. More to the point, there just isn't the variety and depth you can find by looking around on Roku.

8) The CW: I'm tempted to include NBC, too, even though I didn't watch anything on it, just to spite CBS All Access for being such a ripoff (I may have also become a little misty-eyed when watching The Flash this week).

9) Pluto TV: This free, ad-supported aggregator, ad-supported "channels" is making strides and adding new content, so it deserves a thumbs up this week. Sure, a lot of the content is ehhh, but it's a fun option if you're looking to just channel surf.

10) MLB.TV: Almost there! In the meantime, have you caught World Baseball Classic fever? Well, even if not, MLB.TV has the WBC, so that's some extra value this year.

Monday, March 13, 2017

'Mooners Monday #3: Make way for the supporting players!

The $99,000 Answer is one of the show's most famous episodes, and it's a true classic. If you don't know the twist of this one, please go see it now. In fact, "go see it now" is good advice for any of these episodes at any time.

Some of my favorite Mighty Gleason Players turn up in The $99,000 Answer. First up is the oft-heard but seldom seen Garrity, the bellicose upstairs neighbor who likes to shout snide comments at Ralph...or sometimes just holler at him to shut up.

Check out Garrity barging into the Kramdens' premises like a bat out of hell as Ralph and Ed try to practice for Ralph's appearance on the game show:

The disheveled Garrity always cracks me up, but the best part is when he leaves, Alice enters the room, And Ralph yells out the doorway, "You woke up my wife!" and calls him a loudmouth!

Garrity: Always a playa hater. What right does he have to come down and break Ralph's concentration? It's quite possible that his butting in is what creates the mental block that leads to Ralph's downfall.

(Spoiler alert: As hilarious as it is when Ralph goes on the show and can't identify the composer of Swannee River despite hearing it a thousand times in his own apartment as Ed's "warmup song," it strains credibility. Kramden knows every other damn song in creation but can't handle this "gimme"? I always chose to believe he put a mental block on the tune because he was so irritated at Norton recycling that same bit time and time again.)

After Garrity it's the inimitable Mrs. Manicotti, one of my other all-time favorites in the Gleasonverse. She tries to test Ralph with old Italian opera songs but winds up waving her arms in frustration, unable to stump the master.

Mrs. Manicotti cooks, she mambos, AND she sings? What a woman! If anything ever happens to MR. Manicotti...

Let's stop and think about that name for a minute. Mrs. Manicotti. Real creative, Honeymooners writers.  I'm surprised Garrity isn't Mr. Potato (He kind of looks like a "Mr. Potato,: doesn't he). It may be the single best/worst name in Honeymooners history.

Finally, because I love the way Ralph rattles off song facts, here's a picture of him doing his thing:

"...for a little picture called 42nd Street..."


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 50 (Special "It really IS 50 this time" edition)

Last week, I was so excited about the upcoming 50th edition of this feature that I mislabeled #49 as #50. Well, this time, it really IS #50, and I thought it would be cool to make a TOP 50 instead of a top 10.

Then I thought, whoa, that would be a lot more work than I am prepared to do right now. So here's the top 10.

1) PIX11: Yes, after some lackluster weeks, PIX11 not only shoots back onto the chart, but it rockets all the way to number one by posting a 1988 40th anniversary special hosted by Tony Randall. Am I overrating them a bit? Perhaps. But don't be surprised if PIX stays near the top next week after I actually watch the special.

2) Hulu: In addition to Golden Girls, I've finally started watching this season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. So thanks to Hulu, you can say I'm getting my LAFF on (I hated that as soon as I typed it, but I am leaving it in, anyway)!

3) Netflix: Another solid if unspectacular week. Is it wrong that I kind of want to watch Buddy Thunderstruck? According to Wikipedia, "Buddy Thunderstruck will be an action-comedy, stop-motion extravaganza that follows the adventures of a semi-truck racing dog named Buddy and his albino ferret mechanic. It all goes down in race-obsessed Greasepit, a place chock full of larger-than-life characters and nitro-burning, gear-slamming, tire-squealing, fish-tailing good times."

4) YouTube: I really didn't need to watch the old syndicated Portrait of a Legend: Kenny Rogers from 1981, and I still don't know why I did, but I did. It was also a great week for vintage commercials and promos.

5) The CW: I am doing a major bunch-of-shows-at-a-time watch (Note to new readers: We don't use the term "binge" here because it annoys us) and am almost caught up. Now if they could only just stop showing new episodes, I could catch up on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

6) Warner Archive: A+ for content in the form of the Dr. Kildare I watched, but still about a D for presentation because the Roku channel isn't updating like the web version. Get with it, WAI.

7) Acorn TV: I'm impressed that Acorn is adding some older sitcoms again, including Fresh Fields and, more intriguing to me, Men Behaving Badly, which Hulu had for a while but only the first several seasons.

8) Pub-D-Hub: Now with Smilin' Jack in the serials section! That's one of my all-time favorite comic strip character names: Not Happy Jack, not even Smiling Jack, but SMILIN' Jack.

9) TuneIn: Hearing the song "5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love") on Deep Oldies was enough to justify a top 10 spot this week.

10) Shout! Factory TV: Squeaks in on the strength of a delightfully awkward Cavett interview with Maximillian Schell (followed by Sally Field, Duke Ellington, and some egghead talking about earthquakes).