Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The New Look RTV: Part 2

After thinking about it a bit, I find that as a fan, the new RTV schedule isn't THAT bad. I still think it makes the network look more small-time than before, but as a lover of old-school TV, there is a lot to appreciate. Let's go through the weekday schedule, noting that RTV has switched from its customizable-schedule model to a mostly uniform national lineup, with various exemptions in areas here and there but with most stations now showing the same stuff at the same times:

9:00 AM: Daytime: I'm still not sure what the deal is with RTV showing this magazine-style morning show, but it's been on a long time now, and I don't worry about it anymore. It would be nice to have something decent on in the morning, but it's probably this or infomercials.

10:00 AM: Celebrity Kitchen: One of the awful, ill-fitting new shows. It is more suited to RFD-TV, from whence it comes. Stuff like this is why people get upset with the new schedule.

11:00 AM: The Rifleman (2 episodes): I personally saw a ton of these a few years ago on Encore Westerns, and AMC of all places is now showing it, so it's not a rarity anymore. But not everyone gets cable, and besides, this is a great show, albeit one that has been on RTV for a while now. No problems here, though I personally prefer a rarer oater or at least one additional western instead of two Riflemans in a row.

12:00 PM: Adventures of Robin Hood: The kind of old show that bigger classic TV outlets like TV Land (I know, I know) would shy away from. It deserves a place here.

12:30 PM: Peter Gunn: Solid show that deserves a spot, but it's been run an awful lot on RTV already. No problems with it, but would like to have seen something like Danger Man here instead. Also, it might work better in the late night spot it occupied before this big schedule makeover.

1:00 PM: The Bill Cosby Show: Great show that deserves national exposure, but it has been through several cycles already on RTV in the weekend lineup. And why was it in the weekend lineup? because it doesn't have nearly enough episodes to be stripped on weekdays! Good show in the wrong spot.

1:30 PM: Zorro: Not the old Zorro we'd all like to see, but the 1990s Family Channel version, which is way too recent. Cisco Kid is now relegated to weekends, but it would be a better choice. It's not one of the greatest series of all time, but I'd rather have an oldie like that in this slot.

2:00 PM: Movin' On: I had never seen this 1970s Claude Akins trucker show until RTV added it this week. It's an interesting rarity, and I applaud the network for giving it a whirl. But at 40-some hourlong episodes, it is more suited for weekend duty than for Monday through Friday.

Look, obscurities like this are exactly what I like to see on professed classic TV outlets to supplement the evergreens. However, RTV's reliance on short-lived series like this and Cosby to fill its weekday schedule indicates RTV is struggling to replace all that Universal Studios content.

3:00 PM: Naked City: Now we're talking! The episode I saw Tuesday looked--pardon my jargon--shimmery and kind of weird, but this is one of the all-time greats. This is a real treat and a solid mark on the "Good" side of the board when we consider this RTV makeover.

4:00 PM: Route 66: Another great add for RTV, but it's airing in glorious Stretch-o-vision for some reason, and I wonder if something funny is going on with the source material. But this is a top-notch classic show that hasn't been aired much nationally lately, and thus is another great addition.

5:00 PM: I Spy: No problem here, but it's been on RTV weekdays for a while already.

6:00 PM and 7:00 PM: This week, back-to-back episodes of Daniel Boone are airing, one color and one b&w, and the first impulse is that any classic TV channel that has to air two episodes of Daniel Boone each day just isn't trying very hard...or is just desperate to fill time. But in this case, it's temporary, as next week brings Highway to Heaven to replace one of the Boones.

I've nothing against Boone, and at least it's an older program. Highway to Heaven seems to bounce around the national landscape pretty steadily and is not all that old. It's sitting in too valuable a time slot. Not a coup for RTV.

8:00 PM: Starsky and Hutch: The star free agent acquisition of this new programming strategy gets the prime 8:00 PM slot. I'll write more about this later.

No, not right now. I mean in a separate post. Sorry.

9:00 PM: Police Story: I'm digging this 1970s anthology series so far. It's quite a contrast to Starsky, though, with its more, shall we say, mature approach to depicting police life. It's one of the pleasant surprises on the new schedule. Mustachioed Don Meredith eases the pain of losing Jim Rockford.

10:00 PM: The Saint: Is it true the color episodes are better than the black and white ones? RTV, I assume, plans to show both. Hey, this is a pretty cool add. Really, if you focus on the meaty part of the day/evening, RTV isn't looking so bad. Unfortunately, unless you're hosting a morning chat show (like Daytime!), the day doesn't end at 10:00, and so we move on to...

11:00 PM: Da Vinci's Inquest: One of the cheap modern Canadian dramas RTV imported, it has no place on RTV, and Americans have had ample opportunities to see it already. It really sticks out at 11:00 PM. RTV should have at least buried this at a different hour and found a legit classic crime/mystery show to anchor late nights.

12:00 AM Cold Case Files: I was disappointed last night when this A&E product actually came on at midnight. I much preferred what was on Monday night: "RTV is experiencing technical difficulties." Meet the new RTV...same as the old RTV! Getting back to Cold Case Files, though--ah, let's not and say we did.

1:00 AM: Cold Squad: Seriously, RTV might as well just shut down at 11:00 PM, and that's way too early for a classic TV channel to throw its hands in the air and resort to Magic Bullet ads or junk. Why not put Naked City somewhere in here or some cool anthology or crime show and find a decent program for 3:00 PM? Late nights on RTV are worthless.

So in summary, weekdays, we have the established Peter Rodgers Organization shows like I Spy and Rifleman moving around a bit, some solid adds, a couple of great gets, and some garbage that makes the whole schedule look decidedly non-classic.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The New Look RTV: Part 1

I'd say the dust has settled on the upheaval at RTV, but with this outfit, you never know when another mishap or sudden change is gonna occur. But I think it's safe to make one final (for now) post about the new lineup--you know, now that I know what it IS and all.

First of all, let me say if you want a good laugh to go with some good info, go to the second (and current) RTV Facebook page. The first one disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and while the official claim is that those darned technical difficulties were the culprit, others--and not just conspiracy-inclined crackpots--assert that RTV pulled it due to the amount of negative feedback it was receiving. At any rate, Version 2.0 is up and running, and much like Version 1.0, you don't see much info at all from RTV. No, the fans provide the useful knowledge about affiliate changes, programming moves, and the like.

One particular fan, Steve Russo, clearly knows his stuff and has been the de facto company spokesman for a long time on the page, but at some point this year he became kind of a spin doctor for RTV, putting some of the more questionable RTV moves and non-moves in the best possible light for the Luken folks. For example, when someone complains that RTV representatives don't post there, Russo responds with a dig at Antenna and ME-TV for having "interns" post canned responses.

He has a point, but the Antenna page in particular at least has someone engaging with the community, and while the frequent empty promises to add shows to the master "wishlist" smack of meaningless appeasement, there are fun posts highlighting guest stars or other notable aspects of upcoming TV episodes airing on the channel. It would be easy for RTV to do this, assuming the people that run it KNOW what's gonna be on their channel.

Anyway, now that RTV's schedule is overhauled with the loss of the Universal library and the addition of some cool shows and a lot of garbage, Russo is valiantly portraying this in a positive light, chiding people for saying RTV "lost" the Universal shows when it may have just been a contract non-renewal. Well, yeah, but if RTV couldn't afford to renew it, how is that good? And though RTV has added some interesting programs from other sources, it has also brought in a lot of unappealing filler, and while I am willing to accept that if it means support for the good stuff (a point Russo is making on the Facebook page), it also looks like a clear sign that the company is in trouble.

ME-TV is poaching RTV affiliates all over the country, and it is hard to believe that trend won't continue. ME-TV has the power of the prestigious CBS/Paramount library in its favor, and RTV just lost (or "didn't renew") its own library deal with one of the other appealing libraries. I love that "Naked City" is on RTV now, but look at stuff like "Da Vinci's Inquest" and all the syndicated filler like "Great Outdoorsman" that clogs the weekends--shows thought to be offered on a barter basis, which basically means cheap as hell for RTV--and tell me that is more of a draw to station owners than a roster that includes name brands like "Leave It to Beaver" and "Magnum P.I."

I think that RTV is in trouble and that this move is a sign that it needs to cut costs to tread a little water. Now, were the Universal shows played out? Sure. RTV overplayed them, didn't take full advantage of the Uni library (assuming it had access to more than it actually used; perhaps many shows were off limits), and ruined some series by repeating episodes multiple times instead of showing the entire run. "Battlestar Galactica" is one that experienced rerun-itis. If you want the whole series, go to Netflix, where I believe all episodes of the original series are available for streaming. Why couldn't RTV get these episodes? And if RTV aired the last couple seasons of "Hitchcock Presents," I missed them because I gave up looking for them.

So change is welcome in this case, but is this good change overall? It looks bad for RTV if it's fighting to establish itself with station owners looking to sign up or maybe jump to ME-TV or even Antenna. It's good and bad for classic TV fans, who get some fresh classics but have to take them with a lot of unwelcome extras. Then of course there is the loss of old favorites which, played out as they were to longtime RTV viewers, were still beloved by many and haven't been on elsewhere much, either.

In fact, one of the as yet unspoken aspects that intrigues me about all this is what is to happen to those Universal shows. Will Antenna or ME-TV go after them? Is some other programming outlet going to acquire them? Personally, I'd love to see Netflix air some of the old stuff. It has a deal with Universal already and does stream many of the shows, yet many others have not appeared or no longer appear. Hopefully the severance of ties with RTV frees up the return of fare like "Kojak" and "Quincy" to Netflix Instant Watching.

Well, I've said a lot without really talking about the new RTV shecule. I'll stop here and be back tomorrow with more on that.

Are you ready for some football? Well, no, but the magazine publishers are

It was a surprising sight at my local supermarket this weekend: Pro football preview magazines! Not even July, and they're already coming. I saw the "Sporting News" mag and I think at least one other; it was hard to distinguish them amidst the slew of college football guides on the shelves.

Yep, a pro football preview magazine...even though there may not be professional football (well, of the NFL variety) this year. I know the lead time is such that there is a lot of pressure to push these rags onto the stands early, and I love 'em even in this digital age--I've been buying 'em for years--but this is ridiculous.

June is too early even in a year without labor difficulties. If there is a prolonged stoppage that cancels games because the greedy owners are trying to stick it to the players (any doubt where I stand?) this magazine is irrelevant. If there IS a deal soon and no games are missed, then free agency starts and players move around like which case this magazine is irrelevant!

To its credit, the "Sporting News" preview does have a "Will they play?" headline near the top of its cover. The fact that it needs to include that is a good sign that it's too soon. I hate to say this is a sign of the increasing irrelevance of print media. So I won't.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Time for some Shark Bytes

I've been busy and too excited by the Pirates' recent success to focus on one thing for very long, so today's post consists of comments too brief to merit a dedicated post. Yet these thoughts have not appeared on Twitter, nor in the Shark Bytes section on the right side of this page, nor anywhere but inside my own mind!

*Hey, does anyone know why Encore Westerns stopped its "Have Gun Will Travel" sequence in the middle of the sixth season, then went back to the beginning of the season and ran episodes had just run a few weeks prior? I can see them all on Netflix, it appears, but it's puzzling and aggravating.

*Bono and the Edge have done it all, but on that Tony Awards broadcast a few weeks back, they displayed...humility. Who knew?

*The random selection of Chris Hardwicke as host of BBC America's new "Ministry of Laughs" program block must mean we've finally run out of British guys to come over here and class us up.

*Speaking of that, I loved the U.S. premiere of a new batch of "The Inbetweeners" and enjoyed "Come Fly With Me" more than I expected, but why is "The Graham Norton Show" included? It feels like a cheat to put a chat show in there, and considering all the sitcoms the American Beeb can presumably try to acquire, it's an annoying use of an hour of airtime.

*Whatever happened to Kristanna Loken? I saw her name attached to a DVD coming out this week and remembered that, oh, yeah, she was supposed to be a big deal when that "Terminator 3" movie featured her. OK, I see she was in "The L Word," but still, I ask, whatever happened to her?

*I caught up with it way after the fact, but "Episodes" was a pretty funny show. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed season 1 of the Showtime comedy.

*The Baseball Project's "Volume 2" CD is another winner, a great collection of songs that should please any rock fan and any baseball fan. A baseball fan who likes rock? Katie, bar the door. And while you're up, Katie, could you please get me some chips? What? Get them myself? Well, I just--Oh, OK, fine then. Oh, yeah? Well, YOU, TOO!

Whoa, that got weird.

*Jim Miller, in a podcast interview with Bill Simmons, says that in the paperback edition of the ESPN oral history he co-authored with Tom Shales, there will be a hundred pages or so of new material. This is like a DVD double-dip. I haven't bought the book yet, and now I'm wondering if I should. Of course, Miller also said that the paperback would DELETE some material from the current hardback. Why not just release it the way you want to the first time? I didn't know this, but they did the same thing with the paperback version of their "SNL" book. Is that worth reading again in softcover to get different material?

*TCM's Drive-In Thursday series this month is its best idea since, well, whenever the last awesome idea it had was, which was probably recently. Have I mentioned how great this channel is?

*The more I hear about "Cars 2," the less tempted I am to see it, at least not until it comes to Disney Channel and my kids want to watch it a hundred times.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The single TV series I most want to see on DVD

Each year around this time, partly for sentimental reasons and partly because it's just awesome, I try to watch "Casablanca"--you know, the movie version. If that qualifier sounds absurd, it's there for a reason, so bear with me.

"Casablanca" is the best movie ever made, I believe, and there will be none superior. In addition--and this may have something to do with my high opinion of the film--it is the one that got me "into" watching classic movies. One late night showing of it in public television opened up a whole world for me.

I got to thinking about what I would really love to see on DVD the other day, and since I was already eyeballing the "Casablanca" disc on the shelf, it hit me: The TV series! Yes, there was a TV series based on the movie--two of them in fact--and, yes, it tanked. It was probably a terrible idea. But I still want to see it!

The early-1980s David Soul series, I can do without. I would like to see it someday, even though I recognize that it would probably irritate me, but I've seen it out there in collector's circles and I know it exists. But the one that really intrigues me is the 1950s Charles McGraw version. In fact, Warner Brothers added an episode to one of its umpteen "Casablanca" special edition DVDs, and seeing it not only did not drive me up a wall, but it appealed to me as an interesting curio.

I assume WB has the rest of these episodes (8 hourlong installments in all), and why not put them on DVD? I would consider the brand strong enough to support an actual mainstream release, too, not just an Archives job. I'm surprised the company hasn't at the very least filled out a super-duper Blu-Ray package with more of these.

I have a lot of stuff on DVD, and I know where to find a lot of the stuff that's not "officially" on DVD, but I have never seen the other 7 1955 "Casablanca" episodes. So if you ask me today what series I would most like to see get a legit DVD release, my answer is..."Dance Fever."

No, I kid. It's "Casablanca." Put the 1955 and 1983 versions together in one spiffy box set, commission a featurette called "From Beloved Movie to TV Industry Joke: What in the Hell We Were Thinking," and get a few talking heads to do commentary on a few episodes. Bam--great collection to milk more bucks out of the millions of folks who love the classic movie, or at least the thousands who are crazed enough to buy almost anything connected with it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

OK, RTV is just messing with me now

Yet again, my FIOS on-screen programming guide is showing changes afoot for my local RTV affiliate, but this time, the changes also appear at TitanTV and Zap2It. Some of these changes are good, some are bad, some are puzzling, but you'll understand why I don't go into great detail considering what happened last time I made a big post about the supposed changes.

Buuuuuuut...since I'm here, anyway...

According to these listings, joining the weekday lineup is "Route 66" (yay!), "Naked City" (a most pleasant and welcome surprise if true), "The Saint" (not bad), and "Starsky and Hutch" (Talk about random! I did not see that one coming).

Unfortunately, "Da Vinci's Inquest," way too modern for the RTV format, is apparently joining the weeknight lineup, as is..."Celebrity Kitchen"? I think this is a show hosted by Crook of the venerable country lifestyle team Crook and Chase, and, uh, yeah. I don't want to see that at all. What happened to "Celebrity Bowling"? And the show is listed as airing at both 11:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M., which makes no sense whatsoever.

These listings also show "Daniel Boone" as airing at both 7:00 and 9:00 P.M. This also must be a mistake, right? I'll have to get that DVR cranking Monday to find out.

Weekends also show wholesale changes, mostly with some of the westerns getting booted in favor of filler-type syndicated programming like "Steel Dreams" and "The Great Outdoorsman," plus more too-recent series like "Cold Squad" and "Intelligence." I really hope the weekend lineup is "subject to change" because right now it looks terrible.

I have a theory that there is some kind of preview next weekend for RTV's parent company's other services like TuffTv and MyFamilyTV; some of these oddball additions already appear on are would seem appropriate for those outlets. Of course, it's also possible that RTV's "build your own channel" model is allowing my local affiliate to create this horrible mishmash of a schedule and I'm going to be stuck with it.

Well, it might all be worth it if we get the "Naked City" episodes that aren't already on DVD. I ain't getting my hopes up, though. Actually, if anything, I'm more aggravated about the prospect of "Celebrity Kitchen" than I am excited about "Naked City," which I guess says more about me than about the perpetual wackiness of RTV.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

5 Q Movie Review: The Fighter

Q: OK, this is a working class Boston movie, so we gotta know: Accents?
A: Not as prominent as in "The Town," which may be a good or a bad thing. People in this movie are too busy being drunk, stoned, or beaten in one form or another to worry about their hard "r's". Much like "The Town," though, I held this DVD way too long from Netflix. Did I regret renting it? No. Did I regret keeping it two months? Yep.

Q: Which one is "The Fighter," Mark Wahlberg or Christian Bale?
A: It's ostenisbly the life story of Irish Micky Ward, played by Wahlberg, but Bale, mesmerizing as his drug-addicted brother, runs away with the movie, aided by a screenplay that emphasizes Ward's family members as much as it does Ward himself. It's no wonder poor Wahlberg was the only major castmember not nominated for an Oscar.

Q: Does this movie pack a...punch? Are the boxing scenes credible?
A: Oh, you're clever, you. Actually, the movie, while well acted and compelling, feels more like a split decision or maybe even a technical draw at the end. The boxing itself is second fiddle to the out-of-the ring battles, which is the point, but still, Ward's most famous bouts aren't even portrayed, but rather addressed with a brief title card at the end.

Q: Who is the most fearsome force in boxing history?
A: Forget Mike Tyson. Forget Sonny Liston (OK, maybe a lot of people forgot him after the Ali fights). The most intimidating individual in the long history of the sweet science, if this movie
is any barometer, is Micky Ward's mom. The woman passed away recently, and I don't want to speak ill of the departed, but, lordy, Melissa Leo's portrayal of her is so over the top she goes all the way around and starts coming into the movie from the bottom.

Q: Does this serve as a good cautionary tale against the perils of drug use?
A: Uh, well, I suppose so, in the sense that Christian Bale's Dicky Eklund character becomes a fractured mess due to his crack addiction. But at least he has an excuse. The movie actually makes a strong case for drinking yourself blotto every night if you live with this family, especially considering the crazy broads in the house.

The first sight of Jack McGee, the beloved first station chief from "Rescue Me," he's staggering around a bar and generally making an ass out of himself. However, as the story progresses, he becomes one of the more sympathetic characters in it, and you start to wonder why he doesn't drink more. So nay on drugs, yay on booze is the message I take from this.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

5Q Movie Review: "The Town" (2010)--It IS "The Town"

Q: Wait a minute, you're saying "The Town" is in fact "The Town"?
A: Yep, unlike "2012," the motion picture known as "The Town" actually IS "The Town." You can understand, then, my sense of satisfaction when I sat down to watch "The Town" and accomplished that goal. And, hey, that the movie is really good only helped the cause!

In fact, you could say "the Town" is many other movies, or at least reminiscent of many other movies. I don't know that there is one element in the film that doesn't seem borrowed from or akin to something from another crime movie. But it's executed so well that I don't care.

Q: Is it time to take Ben Affleck seriously as a filmmaker?
A: "Gone Baby Gone" was enough to achieve that in my book, but now the guy's 2 for 2 as a director, and his output is such a potent combo of tense crime dramas that he earns a pass from me. I'll go see whatever he does next. He can stay in the gritty Boston crime drama genre, too. That may be PAH for the course for him, but it's not like we have enough good movies around that we have to ask the guy to "stretch" or some garbage like that.

Q: How are the Boston accents?
A: Prominent enough to make me try to echo them, thereby irritating Mrs. Shark as we watched the DVD; credible enough to make me stop doing it about 15 minutes in.

Q: Who's the bigger (and better) badass, Jeremy Renner or Pete Poslethwaite?
A: Despite giving up a number of years on the younger Renner, the great Double P, who appears nearly skeletal here and was struggling with the cancer that took his life last year, turns in a
convincing, menacing performance. Nothing against Renner, who is OK as a loose cannon type, but Postlethwaite's quiet, sinister presence gives the movie a big infusion of danger and leaves a memorable impression that is all the more remarkable considering his emaciated physical appearance.

Q: Hey, if "The Town" is so great, why did it fail to make the list of TEN whole movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar?
A: Simple, really: The Academy voters are a bunch of poopybutts.

You know, we were just explaining to our little girl why it's not nice to use that word, one she learned from a little ruffian at her school, and I'm setting a bad example here, but she doesn't read this blog, and besides, sometimes there just isn't a more appropriate word than "poopybutt."

Monday, June 20, 2011

What movie should I go see this summer?

Longtime readers of Cultureshark will know that...I really don't have much to say anymore. No, I'm kidding--I hope. But longtime readers will know that I don't go the theaters much anymore, with the one sure visit coming around my birthday as Mrs. Shark and I do the dinner & date thing.

That I go so rarely increases the pressure to pick a decent flick when I do. Usually there's a simple, safe choice that is waiting in theaters around the time of my birthday: Go see the new Pixar blockbuster, enjoy the heck out of it, feel good about cinema for another year.

The summer of 2011 will be trickier, though, because I'm not really excited to see "Cars 2." Plus my wife made that decision easier when she told me before I even mentioned it, "I don't want to see Cars 2." So what does that leave me? Well, there are a bunch of would-be smash hits either on the way are already out, and maybe you can help me decide which one to pick. Unfortunately, the one I really would pay to see, the "Captain America" movie directed by Joe Johnston, comes out way too late this summer. So that leaves...

Thor: I wrote too much about my personal connection with the character here. This might still be around when I get to the theater, but I won't be heartbroken if it's not.

Bridesmaids: Well, seeing as how I'm a, I don't think so. I might as well see "Hangover II"...

Hangover II: Except I don't really want to see "Hangover II." The first one was an OK video pick, but I don't need to pay to see more (technically probably a little less) of the same.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Is it just me or has everyone already forgotten that this even came out? The series has overstayed its welcome.

Super 8: I just don't "get" J.J. Abrams. Pass on this one.

X-Men First Class: I was always more a DC guy than a Marvel guy, and even within Marvel, I was never into the X-Men. This looks like one I will be eager to rent but not one to make my one movie of the summer.

Green Lantern: This was one I would have gladly lined up for (well, figuratively speaking, more likely is Mrs. Shark and I going to a matinee and walking right in) if the buzz was positive. So far the buzz ain't that positive. I like the character, if not Ryan Reynolds, and like the idea of a comic book movie with actual space elements. But the reviews aren't promising.

Cars 2 (June 24): See above. I hope it's good, though, because I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.

Bad Teacher (June 24): Do you think there'll be a lot of overflow to this from people who are turned away from sold-out "Cars" screenings? Maybe a decent comedy would be a good date night alternative to the noisy, cluttered blockbusters of the summer. Maybe, but this doesn't look like a decent comedy.

Harry Potter, Larry Crowne, Captain America: All probably too far after my birthday to be feasible options unless one of them looks so great it's worth the wait.

The apathy must be overpowering! The more I sit down and look at the actual selections this summer, the more I am tempted to say "Screw it," and head to a Redbox for a couple of dollar rentals instead.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Brooks on Books: Old-School true crime in New York and Los Angeles

Let me tell you how a certain true crime book begins, and you tell me if you want to read it or not:

Nearly 5 million men and women have served the United States as police officers. Only one has been executed for murder.

That's the start of the preface to "Satan's Circus" by Mike Dash, and while the book isn't quite as awesome as that intro leads you to believe it will be, it's still a fun ride. I am pairing it here with another recent read, Richard Rayner's "A Bright and Guilty Place," another fulfilling read. It sems silly to compare two books just because they're in the same broad genre and because I happened to read them recently, but, eh, here goes.

Each book focuses on a murder that occurred a long time ago, one involving someone on the "good side" of the law as a suspect--Dash's Charles Becker killing a gangster in early-1900s New York, Rayner's an ex-Assistant D.A., Dave Clark--a man running for judge, no less--shooting Los Angeles' chief crime boss and "fixer" plus another man in 1932.

Each book, however, goes well beyond its central subject to explore the endemic corruption and wrongdoing in its given sphere. Each offers a tremendously entertaining experience with numerous details about the shady characters and stories that add up to rather disheartening portraits of the histories of these major cities.

I believe Dash's book is better written. "Circus" is tighter and more focused. Even with its many amusing diversions to explore characters like Big Tim Sullivan, Clubber Williams, and Short Change Charley, it never strays too far from the central narrative. Rayner is perhaps a bit more ambitious in trying to use his chosen murder case as a springboard to depict the dark foundation of an entire city, yet his digressions tend to be a bit more distracting and somewhat overwhelming. It's telling (and probably a good idea) that he presents a list of names with brief descriptions at the beginning of the book, and it's easy to get lost in some of the details once the book gets going. Dash also offers a bunch of sidebars and such, but he uses footnotes during the text to avoid clogging the narrative, plus he sticks closer to the main action once the trial of the fallen cop gets underway.

However, Dash's book becomes somewhat less compelling as he sticks closer to the details of what happens after Becker is arrested. I respect Dash's discipline, but I have to say the book is more purely entertaining when it is taking a broader look at the colorful crime bosses, petty thugs, and crooked cops who set up the story. Becker's story intrigues in its own right, but the guy is just not as colorful as many of the other figures in "Circus."

"Place" is perhaps less skillfully written, but on some level more compelling, especially to someone who loves Raymond Chandler novels and other fictional explorations of the seedy side of early Los yours truly. There is a lot of juicy stuff in here about Teapot Dome, magnates like E.L. Doheny, and other key aspects of L.A. history, and much of it is new to me. Learning it enhances my appreciation for what Chandler did in fictionalizing much of it. In fact, Chandler himself is a prominent character here, as is Leslie White, a photographer/detective who is sort of the co-subject of the book.

So which one I'd recommend more depends on your interest in the subject matter and what you're looking for. Both "Circus" and "Place" in their way paint vivid portraits of corruption and vice in a given setting, and both have their own strengths and weaknesses. But don't feel the need to pick one over the other just because I contrived to bring them together here. True crime and history lovers have a lot to enjoy in each volume.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"2012": It's not "The Town"

Here's a lesson for all you video watchers watching videos at home: When you rent a movie, especially one from a high-volume outlet such as Netflix, do a quick test on the disc--maybe just put it in the player and watch it load--before sitting down with your wife to enjoy it after finally getting the kids to bed and having just enough energy left to make it through a couple of hours of gritty crime drama.

A while ago, we tried to watch "The Town" after having it out wayyyy too long from Netflix, only to find--you guessed it--it wouldn't play in my machine! Now, granted, my Old Reliable Panasonic has been getting finicky, but this disc just was in "no condition to perform," as they say in the pro wrestling biz. So, feeling like Lost Episode Ralph Kramden when he would tell his wife, "Don't steam me, Alice, because I'm already steamed," I tried to find a substitute.

I found a substitute, but, boy, was it not a substitute. We eventually watched disaster blockbuster "2012," which had a few amusing moments, a nice extended "Crazy OR IS HE?" character turn from Woody Harrelson, and the reliable awesomeness of Oliver Platt. But it was no "The Town." Not even close. It didn't help that I was in the post-new-baby phase where I was still clinging to the concept of sleep and therefore having a tough time staying awake after the kids were in bed.

I shouldn't have expected it to be anything like "The Town," or even anything close to as good, but, by cracky, I wanted to see "The Town."

So that's another piece of advice. First, check your rental discs as soon as you get them. But also, if you want to watch "The Town," don't watch "2012." It's an OK diversion if you get Starz or Encore or whatever already, but it's not much else.

You know, maybe I should talk about "The Town." Let's do that next week. I'll make it Movies I Held from Netflix Wayyyyy Too Long Week, and I'll discuss "The Town" and another one that gathered dust on top of the entertainment center for an embarrassing amount of time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to: Engaged again?

So I was not reading a stack of "People" magazines my wife had left out, as I often do, when I saw the May 23 issue--you know, the one spotlighting Pippa Middleton, the royal sister-in-law who supposedly stole the show at the Bill/Kate wedding. Got to hand it to the media for not only obsessing over the main event nuptials, but also launching a new star to obsess over.

But what caught my eye was not Pippa, but the photo inset and text at the lower right-hand corner of the cover: "Paul McCartney Engaged!"

Now, I had heard about this story but had tried to forget about it, and seeing it right there in living color on a magazine my wife reads but I don't, well, that just puts it right in my face.

I think all faithful Beatlemaniacs who see that headline have the same reaction: Please, please, please, let him be a spirited series of recording sessions with some other talented musicians. Let him be engaged in a good book. Hell, let him even be engaged in a Twitter feud with Noel Gallagher (is Noel the jerk, or is it Liam? I can never keep that one straight. And is he on Twitter? Because think of the havoc he would have caused were he tweeting back in the nineties).

Just don't let him be engaged to be married again.

Sure, it's cynical to think Paul and Nancy Shevell, his new bride-to-be won't make it, or to doubt that they really are head over heels in love with each other. And I'm not attempting to make the case that women can't be trusted or anything silly like that. But after the last marriage went sour, it just seems a little soon for Sir Paul to get back into matrimony. 2020 would seem too soon, actually.

With a lump in my throat, I looked inside at the article. I saw a picture of the ring (it's huge) and read tidbits like Paul and Nancy are a great match because they're both reserved and avoid seeking attention (sure; in fact, I think Macca is calling his current World Tour the Not Seeking Attention Tour), but I didn't see the one vital bit of information that would make the story useful.

"People" really missed it on this one, gang: Not one word about a pre-nup.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

5 Things I Learned Watching the Tonys

1) It's gay, folks: It's beyond trite to comment along the lines OF, "hucks, look at all the homer-sexuals at the Tony Awards," but allow me one observation. This is the first year I watched so much of the show so closely, and I was surprised not at how many presenters were gay, how many honorees were gay, how many performances were gay, but how many people I thought were straight appeared to be gay perhaps by virtue of being on this broadcast. Understand I don't mean "gay" in a pejorative sense here. It's just a awards show, period. And that's fine. But I had this sense even BEFORE the "It's Raining Men" number.

2) Neil Patrick Harris is awesome: OK, I knew this, but really the Tonys have a winner here in someone who is poised, charming, funny, and versatile enough to provide a useful presence throughout the whole show...and who actually loves Broadway enough to care about it. I assume he has the Oscar-esque Billy Crystal Standing Invitation by now. If he doesn't, who are the Tonys holding out for?

3) Having said that, Hugh Jackman is quite the man, too: And his "Any show you can host, I can host better" routine with Harris was a lot of fun. A dual host format (if not a dueling one) might work. I hope those guys are as self-effacing as they appear and not so egocentric to reject that kind of thing out of hand.

4) There may not be a lot of Broadway plays worth spending all the money on right now: I'm not a big Broadway guy, but my wife and I were talking about what shows we WOULD see if we had the opportunity right now. Part of it is the format of the Tonys, I'm sure, but I didn't see a lot that would make me want to go out and see any of the nominated plays and musicals. The musical numbers were OK, but nothing really grabbed me as a showcase scene that worked well on television to lure me into the theater. Like I said, I'm not a Broadway guy, and I'm not much of a Tonys guy, either, except of course for Tony Soprano, Tony Danza, and sometimes Tony the Tiger when he's not being so damned overbearing. Is this always the case, that the real spectacle just doesn't come across on the telecast?

5) The Tonys matter: When you're watching an awards shown you don't always watch, one celebrating a medium you don't really follow, it's nice to get a reminder that the honor really is meaningful to the recipients. Nikki Reed of "The Book of Mormon" gave a passionate, touching speech that involved a metaphor, heartfelt tributes to family both alive and not alive...and the orchestra playing her off in the middle of talking about a deceased loved one. Real classy! I believe something similar happened later in the show. It's nice to know that getting out in time for the local news is more important than letting the winners express themselves--and on the Tonys as well as on other awards shows.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Wonderful World of TCM: Make Mine Monogram!

Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944): Not a great movie, mind you, but a really fun bit of 1940s lower-tier studio filmmaking. Hollywood must have made hundreds of movies about domestic housing shortages in WWII, and I think TCM shows them all. I haven't caught up yet, but I like the atmosphere of them, with bright and eager young servicemen, helpful young women--wait, that didn't sound the way I intended--and the wacky mixups that ensue.

It is interesting to see Simone Simon in a conventional ingenue kind of a role, playing a woman who winds up inadvertently sharing an apartment in the city (New York City--where else?) with a bunch of military men, and, wow, this really isn't sounding the way I intend now.

But it's all good, clean fun albeit with a few hints that everyone knows the risque nature of the situation. There are some smiles if not hearty laughs, some pleasant interaction among the principals, and an amusing cameo by Rondo Hatton, of all people. Why, Robert Mitchum has a key part, too, and is quite effective, and there's an all-too-brief look or two at Grady Sutton. All this plus an animated Gremlin who keeps popping up throughout the picture and causing all the mischief. It's a bizarre element that springs from Simon reading a magazine article about Gremlins (from what I've read, the playful notion of little monsters called Gremlins screwing things up became a big trendy thing in the war years), and it adds to the offbeat nature of a movie that does rely on a lot of conventional romantic misunderstandings.

The surprise ending, which also breaks from reality a bit, is a real corker, too. This is a fun way to spend a little over and hour and another good reason to Make Mine Monogram.

I also watched a couple of James Dunn B-Pictures from Monogram. The Living Ghost (1944) stars Dunn as a wiscracking ex-private eye who un-retires to solve a murder case. Leave It to the Irish (1942) stars Dunn as a wisecracking private eye who solves a murder case. Each is directed by William Beaudine, who directed tons of Bowery Boys and other cheapo pictures--not necessarily an endorsement for these, I suppose.

Even only a week or so after watching them, they do blend together a bit, but they are both quality pieces of entertainment, low-budget hourlong programmers that do their job. I think the dialogue was a little crisper in "Ghost," but I enjoyed Dunn's plucky fetching love interest, played by Wanda McKay, in "Irish." So if I had to pick one to recommend, I'd say...see both of them If you're into this sort of thing. Each is only a little over an hour long, and you'll get what you're looking for, especially if, like me, you find Dunn a likeable wiseguy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Breaking News: Cultureshark Wins Rights to Cover Battle of the Network Stars!

This summer, Cultureshark celebrates the thrill of kitschy television and the agony of fourth-generation dubs.

Cultureshark announced today it had purchased non-exclusive rights to cover the original episodes of "Battle of the Network Stars" this summer. The independent pop culture blog outbid major corporate sites like,, and to earn the opportunity to write about the long-running reality/competition series.

"It surely helped that nobody else knew the rights were even up for bid," said site proprietor/perpetrator/apologist Rick Brooks, "But we think the Blogging Rights Committee was swayed by the emotional speech I gave expressing just how important it was me to see Lynda Carter in a bathing suit."

Beginning soon and dragging out through the summer, Cultureshark will break down the Battles, "hopefully more or less weekly," according to Brooks. When asked when he would get around to posting the Budget DVD Theatre post he promised 7 months ago, Brooks replied, "Shaddap."

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Wonderful World of TCM: Cry in the Night (1956)

I finally got to the interesting little picture "Cry in the Night," an effective black-and-white thriller that puts Natalie Wood in jeopardy and puts poor, old Raymond Burr in a figurative psychoanalyst's chair. It'll be on TCM Wednesday at 4:30 A.M., but I recorded it a looong time ago.

After conking her boyfriend (Richard Anderson) on the noggin, Burr snatches Natalie from a popular makeout spot (as opposed to those unpopular makeout spots--you know, they may not be where the cool kids go, but at least people don't get brained and/or abducted there) and takes her to his secret hideaway where she will presumably be his girlfriend forever.

Cynical police captain Brian Donlevy, much like his beat cops, think the boyfriend is a drunk who needs to sleep it off, but gradually they get the picture, and guess what? Natalie happens to be the daughter of overprotective, gruff, but lovable Captain Edmond O'Brien!

Chaos ensues as the force tries with desperation to find her, while Donlevy strains to hold O'Brien somewhat in check. We see some early examples of profiling, and it turns out Burr's character has mommy issues. Even O'Brien is due for a dose of armchair psychiatry in this one, and the discussions won't be unfamiliar to anyone who's seen movies from that time period that attempt to get into the heads of perverted criminals or even well-meaning dads. I don't want to say much else, but really this isn't a film based on plot twists. Everything is laid right out there, and the tension comes in the creepy Burr/Wood scenes and the plight of O'Brien and his charges.

Hey, speaking of creepy Burr/Wood scenes, I liked Bobby Osbo's outro to this one, in which he discussed the stir created by the public dalliance between the two stars. Our own Robert Osbourne is not one to tell tales out of film school during his segments, but I liked that he mentioned the public being taken aback by the fact that they were co-stars and the fact there was an age difference between the two while they were conspicuously being seen out on the town together.

Uh-huh. THAT'S what was odd about that pairing.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

This week and last week in DVD

True Grit: The success of this film proves to me that Hollywood is not making enough Westerns. There's a perception that the genre isn't commercial anymore, but all you need to do is get top-class directors like the Coens, an award-winning lead like Jeff Bridges, another A-lister like Matt Damon, and an existing property with strong name recognition from an earlier iconic film version. See? Simple.

Just Go With It: I remember when this Adam Sandler vehicle was coming out and the ads made it appear as thought the movie was basically an excuse to ogle Brooklyn Decker for 90 minutes. I was appalled that a major studio would ask us to pay 10 bucks to see that. Now that it's on DVD, though, I'm kind of cool with it.

The Company Men: A movie that looks at the toll taken on us by the faltering economy. It's supposed to be quality stuff, but I gotta be honest; if I were standing at a Redbox, I'd pick the one with Brooklyn Decker.

Another Year: The latest from brilliant director Mike Leigh, who keeps cranking out acclaimed, accessible films about the human condition, and since I haven't seen hardly any of them, I'm kind of talking out my butt.

Sanctum: I totally forgot about this underwater cave flick, too, so let me refresh your memory. Remember that 3-D movie that came out a few months ago with ads trumpeting "Executive Producer James Cameron" but really wasn't a James Cameron movie, per se? Well, Sanctum came close to matching "Avatar's" success, and maybe it'll make up the other 2,016,000,000 or so on video.

Blue Crush 2: I swear I was set to make a wise-ass remark about how we need an "Into the Deep 2" until I remembered that actually happened two years ago.

Love's Kitchen: I don't know anything about this except that it stars Claire Forlani, and whatever happened to her? I used to like her a lot.

Green Lantern Emerald Knights: Not the big budget Ryan Reynolds live action film, but a direct-to-video animated effort tying in with it. Hey, what can I say, I'm all about providing useful info for you folks.

Foo Fighters: Back and Forth: I saw this on VH-1 Classic a few months ago. It rocked.

Hall Pass: There seems to be a big market for crude R-rated comedies about schlub guys acting like jackasses. SEEMS to be, that is, as this one didn't do all that well. Psst! It's a Farrelly Brothers movie, despite the apparent attempt to hide the fact, so this movie has the right to be a crude R-rated comedy. In fact, you might even say it gets a...

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son: Despite what you may think, the subtitle is not an homage to the 1987 Kirk Cameron/Dudley Moore body-switching epic, but I think body switching is the only gimmick left for this franchise. I think Tyler Perry's Madea has made the Momma character passe, and good Lord, I can't believe I'm writing that.

Battle: Los Angeles: I still can't tell if this is the Aaron Eckhart movie, the similarly titled knockoff with Nia Peeples, or the video game. Please send the answer to feelsoutoftouchbecausehedoesn'

Red Riding Hood: I can't figure out who's supposed to watch this besides teenage girls who might get tricked into thinking it's a "Twilight" spinoff. Come to think of it, I can kind of see the logic if someone thought there'd be enough of them to make this a hit.

Kill the Irishman: A 1970s crime movie based on real events involving the mob in Cleveland--hey, that's a crime movie subject you don't see every week--and featuring names like Christopher Walken, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Val Kilmer. This might actually be good! Truth be told, though, I didn't know it would be something I'd want to rent when I listed it here. I just wanted to highlight it as the Wacky Title of the Week.

Celebrity Bowling: I will direct you to this review at Sitcoms Online and tell you that I enjoyed the heck out of this series when ESPN Classic aired it last year. If you want to revisit the 1970s, first of all, why? But this time capsule should do the trick. By the way, it's nice to see another release from S'More Entertainment, which has put out some cool stuff but hasn't done a lot lately.

WWE: The Very Best of Monday Nitro: History gets written by the victors as the WWE puts out a collection of moments of the flagship program of the organization it essentially ran out of business. It's a worthy subject for a DVD retrospective, but I think "The Very Worst of Monday Nitro" might be more entertaining.

Vault of Coolness: Music from "The Paleface"

OK, I'm not sure how Jane and Bob have come down with devastating cases of measles, but I still enjoy this picture. It's the cover of a little piece of sheet music I bought last year. (How much did I pay for it? Oh, I got it for a song! Ho ho ho!)

The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind will air "The Paleface" Tuesday, June 21 at 2:30 P.M. Watch it and tell 'em Cultureshark sent you. Just don't tell 'em about that terrible joke I just tried.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Will the real local RTV schedule please stand up?

When I blogged last week about the new lineup of the local RTV affiliate, part of me wondered if I was pulling the trigger too soon. After all, my own unreliable on-screen programming guide was the only source listing the changes, and it was quite possible I was spending a whole lot of time and energy and brainpower (well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad) ruminating on a future that could well never be.

Well, the next day, the listings changed, and the forthcoming schedule "reverted" to the one in place. Then the next day, the listings for the next week out reflected the changes. Then the next day, all future schedules for this station were as they have been for months. This begs the question, what the heck is going on? And it also begs the question, should I really be writing about this again?

Well, I thought in the interest of posterity--because, you know, this is such a permanent medium--I should provide an update. I don't know what's going on with WJLA, but while I will continue to monitor the listings for "The Comedy Shop" and "Route 66," I won't write about it until one of the new additions actually shows up on my glorious low-def TV.

Of course, the best thing about the confusion is, still no "Da Vinci's Inquest" or "Cold Squad!"

More proof that I am kind of odd sometimes

The other day, I see a license plate that reads...


Now, most people would probably see this as the vanity plate of someone who is active and always on the move, or perhaps a social creature who likes to get out and party a lot.

But my first reaction was, "Jeez, Bob Goen left 'Entertainment Tonight' more than 6 years ago. Get over it!"

Friday, June 10, 2011

First Impulse: What the networks are doing this fall: CBS

CBS is kind of like the network of shows I might watch if I had more time, shows like "The Good Wife" and "Blue Blood" and--well, that's it, I think, but that's something. As for the rest of it, I made an informal arrangement a while back. CBS doesn't bother me, and I don't bother it. So while I remain puzzled that shows like "NCIS" can be so heavily watched when I myself don't know anyone who watches them, eh, live and let live, right?

The only CBS show I watched weekly, or at all, really, this year was "How I Met Your Mother," whose creators promised a big bounceback year and then delivered an uneven season filled with disappointments and some weak storylines. I'll watch in the flal, too, though, especially since it's a "me and the wife" program.

The returning stuff looks like what it always looks like. The new stuff kind of looks like what the returning stuff always looks like, too. I don't see any remakes on the horizon. What, no "Streets of San Francisco" reboot? I'll check out "2 Broke Girls" because it's on after "HIMYM" and because it stars Kat Dennings, but nothing else looks exciting.

I am intrigued by CBS' bold decision to put new scripted programming on Saturday nights. Unfortunately, it's only one half-hour show, and it's "Rules of Engagement." Besides inspiring speculation about whether new shows can work on Saturdays, it will quash the annual moment a month or two into the TV season when we all slap our heads and go, "Midseason shows, hmm...Wait, 'Rules of Engagement' is coming back?"

I wish something WOULD work on Saturdays. In this age of DVRs, social lives or not, there is no excuse for the networks to bail on an entire day of the week when scheduling. Well, except for the fact that they can barely program the other 6 with quality.

There's one show conspicuous by its absence in this post, and it undoubtedly will be the most discussed series on the network when it comes back in the fall. But I was never into it, anyway, and I don't feel like digging into its whole saga now, so...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

First Impulse: What the networks are doing this fall: ABC

ABC. Ah, what to say about ABC?

No, seriously, what should I say about ABC? I don't have a heck of a strong reaction to any aspect of the new fall schedule. This past year, I watched "Modern Family" and "Desperate Housewives." I thought the former was a lot better than I saw it getting credit for in some circles this year, and the latter is just a show my wife and I watch together out of habit.

Otherwise, there are some solid shows on ABC I wouldn't mind sitting through. "Mr. Sunshine" showed potential but was canned; "Happy Endings" showed potential and was renewed. The procedurals like "Castle" and "Body of Proof" don't grab me, but I don't have anything against them.

Really the only significant way in which ABC scheduling impacts me is in the shows Mrs. Shark watches. "Dancing with the Stars" usually is on when I'm doing special assignments or secret missions or whatever it is I do when I'm not dashing off blog posts, but every now and then I do have to see a little of it because the wife does check it out now and then.

No, the big thing is Thursday night because after "Community," usually delayed somewhat for me after taking care of the kids and whatnot (our whatnot is doing quite well, thank you), I make way to the office, to another room, or at least to an easy chair where I can bury my nose in a book, because the Shonda Rhimes Night of Chick Drama is gonna be on my TV set, and I ain't gonna be a participant in even passive viewing of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice."

And the hype has already begun for "Charlie's Angels" at 8:00 P.M. on Thursdays, and I have to say this seems a little forced. I was never a big fan of the original, never a fan of the movies, and now I'm supposed to like this why? Because Minka Kelly is in it? Well, OK, but why else?

So really, ABC's new fall schedule means little to me. "Grey's" and "Practice" are still on Thursdays at 9:00 P.M. and 10:00 P.M. The routine continues. I'm fine with it, she's fine with it, and we'll meet back up for "Desperate Houswives."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Impulse: What the networks are doing this fall: NBC

I used to be an NBC partisan. It sounds silly now to be a partisan for any broadcast network--I can understand the passion of the multitudes of rabid Soundtrack Channel (god love them, I just noticed their official website is a Wordpress blog) fans that are out there--but I just felt NBC was tops for sports, entertainment, and even news. Growing up, I just liked the look of NBC, and maybe it was something as simple as the signal strength of my local affiliate, but I did favor the Peacock.

Now, though, I'm almost inclined to think if a show is good enough for NBC, it must be crap. There have been a few things that resonated with me in recent years, most notably "Community" and maybe the first seasons of "Friday Night Lights," "Chuck," and "Heroes," but other than that, NBC to me has meant football and a bunch of critically overrated comedies and weak dramas. So to me, once I learned "Community" was getting a third season pickup, the rest of the fall schedule held no suspense for me, nor any particular interest.

Then I actually SAW the 2011 fall schedule, and what stood out was this is a struggling network that will devote 4 hours of precious primetime space each week to "The Sing-Off" and "The Biggest Loser." I get that reality is cheap and NBC needs all the eyeballs it can get from returning shows, but, man, 4 hours? Weren't we supposed to get all sorts of quality dramas again as soon as "The Jay Leno Show" got the big boot?

I think a telling aspect of NBC's slate of new shows is that several weeks after the announcement, the most buzzed about program is still the one that didn't make it: "Wonder Woman." Maybe "Grimm" or "The Playboy Club" will get some attention, though in the case of the latter, it'll likely be from the misguided notion that A) there will be nudity and B) it will be as good as "Mad Men," and people will tune in, find quick disappointment, and tune back out.

For me, the strategy in dealing with NBC is simple: Watch NFL (if there is NFL this season), watch "Community," hope something else comes along.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Burns and Allen is here! Well, most of it.

The good news is Antenna TV finally started its "Burns and Allen" reruns--only 6 months late, too! The episodes are far from pristine, but the video and audio are plenty good enough for me. There's just one thing.

The bad news is that, yep, these are hack jobs, with at least several minutes chopped out of each episode, and not always artfully edited, either. Arguably the best parts of each episode--George addressing the audience--seem to be the ones most affected.

I'll continue to watch because I haven't seen the show in years and it's not like a ton of episodes are just floating around elsewhere and because the channel is "free" (though I'd love to see my provider's reaction if I sent in a check for zero bucks this month) as part of my TV package.

Yesterday morning, Antenna debuted 3 "new-to-me" shows: "Circus Boy," "Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin," and "The Iron Horse." Apparently, all 3 are going to air in chopped-up form on Antenna. I haven't watched the hourlong "Horse" yet, but it looks intriguing, and I enjoyed the pair of "Circus Boy" episodes. But "Rin-Tin-Tin" is almost unwatchable due to horrible redone soundtracks. I only made it through about 10 minutes of the first of two episodes aired today. It sounds like someone had or thought they had to overdub a new musical score, and it stands out as way too modern for the series' production era. Even worse, the dialogue is also redubbed in many spots. I assume this is because the butchers had to scrap the entire soundtrack to get rid of the offending music.

This is more of a kids/nostalgia show, anyway, and it wouldn't be a must-see for me under ideal circumstances, but it's a shame that the series is so screwed up in this format, as it will probably never be on anywhere else. After watching a little bit today, though, I have to wonder if it SHOULD be on with this wacky audio situation.

So overall, Antenna has a firm footing in the "better than nothing" category. I love some of the creative programming decisions, but I hate the reliance on chopped-up and altered versions of the episodes.

Some ungentlemanly remarks concerning one Cameron Diaz

I hate to sound rather less than gallant here again, but isn't Cameron Diaz starting to look a little...well, a little haggard?

I wouldn't make an issue out of it except that she is being pushed as a starlet (witness the "Maxim" cover and the marketing for upcoming bomb "Bad Teacher") and being pushed as someone about 10 years younger. And, hey, my wife was the one who first pointed out that Diaz is too old to be coming across the way she is. At least she was the first to point it out in my household.

It would be one thing if Cameron still brought it, and in some still photos from some angles, she still does. My head turned when I saw that "Maxim" cover at the bookstore. But then I saw a commercial for "Bad Teacher," and I thought, hoo, boy. Diaz just looks like she has been through some livin', let's say that.

She has a career hot enough to be pushed like this, she has a famous boyfriend (or maybe not if the latest gossip reports are valid), and she has tons of cash. Who am I to criticize her, I know. But I'm just saying that I feel as though some fraud is being perpetrated on the public, a campaign to trick us into thinking Cameron Diaz is a fresh starlet instead of someone who has been around a while and who may want to start transitioning into different kinds of roles...and different kinds of magazines.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Remember when WGN America was cool?

I do. I wrote about it.

Actually, that link is to a story bemoaning the fact that WGN America was scrapping its Outta Sight Retro Night Sundays and therefore would not be cool anymore. But trust me, it was. It used to show "Honeymooners" each week, and we know how rare black and white 2950s TV is, except for a few evergreens, in major cable television.

Well, we can really stick a fork in WGN America. This article by Pavan Badal at Sitcoms Online reports on the newest additions to the channel's roster of recent and still-airing series: "Mad About You" and "'Til Death."

I have enjoyed "Mad About You" on occasion, but not only did it air on Nick at Nite a few years ago, it is running right now on Antenna TV. Plus it was in local syndication in the interim, and much of it is on DVD. My point is that this is not a rare show, and even if it were--and I realize cable is different than a service like Antenna--why pick it up now when it already has significant national play on another outlet (one owned by the same parent company, too, which may be partial explanation)?

As for "'Til Death," the show whose claim to fame is that it somehow overtook "According to Jim" as the most unkillable sitcom on television and confounded audiences and critics alike for years by not...going...away, well, incredibly, not only is WGN giving the reruns of this show a go, it is not showing it exclusively. Friends, "'Til Death" is going into broadcast syndication as well, meaning this Fall, you may well see the show each day on TWO different channels in your area.

Other debuts on WGN this fall: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (played heavily on FX and on Comedy Central right now), "30 Rock" (well, I'm not a fan, but this might work), and "Futurama" (played extensively on several different networks over the years).

Long gone are the days of "Newhart," let alone something as old as "Bob Newhart." WGN America now has its feet planted firmly in the unexciting present and the not-so-thrilling recent past.

RTV responds to competition by making some changes

Friend of the Site Ivan at TDOY is thrilled to finally get ME-TV in his area, and with good reason; the programming service hearkens back to the old days of Nick at Nite in TV Land in many ways, and thanks in large part to its CBS/Paramount library deal, it offers an impressive roster of classic series. Heck, "Honeymooners," "Sgt. Bilko," and "The Odd Couple" alone make a channel impressive.

I'd love to get ME-TV in my area, and in an ideal situation, it would get its own distinct channel. But in markets around the country, Memorable Entertainment is not supplementing Retro TV, but supplanting it. The fact is these digital subchannel slots are filling up as outfits like Antenna TV get into the game, and while it would be great if we all had access to a good handful of these classic-oriented services, we can't count on it.

RTV certainly can't count on keeping its clearances, and if the technical problems that plagued it for so long have abated, so has the initial excitement and buzz that surrounded its big rollout. RTV has leaned heavily on the Universal library, and really only certain selections of that library, and its lineup has been quite stale for some time now.

Well, according to my on-screen programming guide, things are about to freshen up beginning Monday. Only "fresh" does not always equal "good," and in this case, there is some good news and some really, really bad news that makes me despair over the long-term viability of RTV as a legitimate vintage-centered outlet.

First the good news: In my area, at least, "Route 66," one of the all-time greats joins the weeknight lineup. I have an--ahem--alternative set I haven't finished of this one, but I'd be glad to see uncut, better-looking versions on RTV, particularly because years after starting the project, Infinity still hasn't completed the task of putting out a decent full collection of "Route 66: on disc.

In other good news, here comes "Celebrity Bowling." I'd be more excited about that if I hadn't seen dozens of episodes last year on ESPN Classic. Plus there's an imminent DVD release of the show; I prefer to see RTV add the really rare shows. But you know what? Just because I just saw the show doesn't mean it's not rare, and it's cheesy fun and a great time capsule of the 1970s. Note that I was not alive for much of the decade, and watching "Celebrity Bowling" often makes me glad for that.

But speaking of the really rare shows, in the "Well, that's random" department, RTV adds "The Comedy Shop" with Norm Crosby! Wow, I would not have guessed that one.

But let's get into the not-so-good news. Another addition is "The New Zorro," which may be of interest to some folks but is too recent, in my opinion, for RTV. I like the Zorro character, but I'd rather see the old Disney version or even the Filmation cartoon than this early-nineties version.

These additions are no doubt due to RTV's deal with the Peter Rodgers Organization. These are some nice additions, none played out nor widely available elsewhere. BUT there is some really, really bad news, too, and I don't want to condemn RTV yet for this because I think it may just be the local affiliate going off the reservation.

Here are two shows joining the weekday lineup. So that's 5 times a week--5 TIMES--for the following shows: Da Vinci's Inquest and Cold Squad. "Inquest" is a recent Canadian import that ain't bad, but it was seemingly on 10 different channels on my cable system a few years ago. As a matter of fact, it runs on "the mothership" of my local RTV affiliate, WJLA, right now. So now that it cycled through all those stations, RTV picks it up. It is way out of sync with a vintage-programming lineup. As for "Cold Squad," it's been running on MAV-TV, and I submit to you that anything on MAV-TV--check it out--has no place on RTV. An impish part of me would like to see the reaction of the average RTV viewer if "Bikini All-Stars" suddenly came on after "Rockford Files," though.

I did a little research before writing this post (for a change!) and found this article, which announces RTV is not only adding those shows I am getting, but also "The Saint" and "Movin' On" with Claude Aikens, both of which would make better additions than "Inquest" or "Cold Squad." I'm really, really hoping that this is some kind of cruel hoax perpetrated by my unreliable program listings.

Look, Peter Rodgers Organization is not as big a deal as CBS/Paramount. But I like that RTV is partnering up with a smaller distributor. More variety equals more shows, as long as the cable companies carry these channels. If RTV adds generic shows and strays from the classics, it may actually become MORE susceptible to usurpation from competitors. Let the likes of ION show "Da Vinci's Inquest," for crying out loud. I'd rather see a show like "My Favorite Martian," also syndicated by PRO.

Another odd aspect is what is leaving the current lineup. I'm sorry to see "Bachelor Father" go; while I look forward to "The Comedy Shop," I believe RTV needs more sitcoms, not less. "Emergency" and "The Incredible Hulk" leave, but "Quincy" and "Simon and Simon" stay. And though I'm not a big fan of "Cisco Kid" nor "Daniel Boone," I have no problem with them being on RTV--but in primetime? And I shed no tears for the loss of "The A-Team" and "Black Sheep Squadron," but it's curious that RTV, or WJLA's RTV, is running "Comedy Shop" and "Celebrity Bowling" on weekends as well as weekdays. Why overplay those new additions when you could have space for more programs on those Saturday and Sunday schedules?

I've given up on wishing my local would air "Kojak"--maybe someone at the channel heard Telly's eponymous album and enjoyed it a lot less than I did--but maybe RTV could dig a little deeper into those Universal archives to spruce things up. How about something like acclaimed short-lived cop show "87th Precinct"? Or "Name of the Game"? If they want to venture into more recent fare, how about "Six Million Dollar Man" or "In Search Of" And though I own the DVD box set, "M Squad" would make a great late night half-hour addition.

Jeez, or at least put "Emergency" back on. I don't watch it, but it's better than "Cold Squad."

(Disclaimer: As of this writing, Zap2It and TitanTv listings both have the same standard local RTV schedules for next week and beyond--hey, I told you I did research--so it's possible that this post is totally misguided. However, the news story I linked to indicates something is up. So I welcome "Route 66" and the other shows and cling to the hope that there is just an error regarding the two newer shows I just dissed.)

(UPDATE: As of Monday, the old schedule is still in place, yet my own on-screen programming guide still reflects the "new" lineup. Is this a colossal screw-up, or just a major one--i.e., did someone just put up the next schedule a little too early? Stay tuned. Unless it's "Cold Squad," in which you can turn the channel.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

This week and last week in DVD

Drive Angry: Wouldn't it be cool if this were not a FRENETIC THRILLER but rather a laid-back, quirky movie about a guy just driving around all ticked off because gas prices were so high? I think he could make it work given the right material. He's given enough quirky performances lately, but how about starring in a quirky movie?

Biutiful: Javier Bardem stars in another depressing movie. I guess the guy's doing something right, though, or at least the Academy thinks so. Or at least Julia Roberts, who lobbied hard for his Oscar nomination, thinks so. And what does Penelope cruz think about Bardem's friendship with Roberts? Well, I have no idea, and it's kind of irrelevant, but isn't that a more fun situation to ponder than a guy struggling to raise his kids despite his junkie ex-wife, then learning he has a terminal illness?

Passion Play: Now, this sounds interestingly random, or maybe randomly interesting: A supposedly noirish film with Bill Murray as a gangster, Megan Fox as a "beautiful and mysterious sideshow attraction," and Mickey Rourke. I think adding Mickey Rourke to any cast list makes it seem random. Still, I wonder, where the heck did this come from? Might be worth a look.

I Am Number Four: I had my "Prisoner" references all lined up until I realized I probably made them already...just a few months ago when the dang movie came out. I barely had time to digest not wanting to see it in the theater, and now I have to worry about not seeing it on DVD? We really need to extend these release windows.

Gnomeo & Juliet: If you tolerated it with your kids at the'll love buying it for them and seeing it several times a week in your home!