Friday, January 29, 2016

Streaming Showcase: HBO Now

Here's the thing you have to remember about HBO Now: It's really freakin' expensive. 15 bucks a month may not sound like much, especially if you are already used to paying your cable company for HBO, but that's 50% more than the highest-priced of the other streaming options. Even Showtime Anytime is available for 11 bucks a month or 9 as an add-on to Amazon Prime or Hulu.

So when we consider HBO's value, we have to consider it's charging a super premium. Yeah, yeah, it's not TV, it's HBO, right? Well, no kidding. I don't pay so much for regular ol' TV.

If you are into what HBO offers and don't want to pay for a digital cable subscription, digital box, etc., just to get "Game of Thrones," then I'm sure it's worth it, and you must be elated that HBO Now exists. For many, I suspect it's more of a month-to-month thing. Like any subscription video on demand (SVOD) service, it has to keep cranking out must-see programming to get people to keep re-upping...or just hope people are too lazy to cancel. That often works, too!

Content aside, HBO Now is a decent service. It has "resume watching." It's smooth, and other than the annoying feature of the HBO logo coming up each time before the actual selection begins, programming starts quickly. There is closed captioning for everything. When I had my free month, I experienced few if any technical difficulties, and overall the channel impressed me with its streaming quality and consistency.

There is a watchlist--a must for any paid streaming service--but it doesn't seem to work that well on Roku. I couldn't see more than 15 titles at any one time, but when I removed something from those 15, something else--presumably 16--moved in so I could see it. Obviously that makes it much less useful in practice. It would be nice to have more options as far as adding series to a watchlist, and that might free up titles for the actual queue they do provide, but this is probably my biggest quibble about the organization of HBO Now.

Content is king, and HBO doesn't give you everything it ever did--don't look for 1990s hits like "Dream On" and "Mr. Show," let alone stuff from the early days like "First and Ten" and "Not Necessarily the News"--but you do get complete runs of most of the notable shows HBO has produced in its modern era. In addition, you get a big back catalog of comedy specials and documentaries, along with a rotating array of movies.

The movies will be a big draw for those disillusioned with the steady drop-off of theatrical hits from Netflix. HBO still has deals with major studios like Warner, Fox, and Universal, and that gives its lineup a lot of juice. Basically, if it's on HBO, it'll be on HBO Now, and likely it'll be there quickly and will stay for a while. One great thing about HBO Now is that it provided expiration dates on its titles so you know exactly how long you have to watch something.  That kind of transparency is a great asset for the customer and a nice contrast to the mystery Netflix tries to preserve.

One thing you don't get with HBO Now is live HBO, so you will have to wait a day or two for live specials like the HBO Boxing events, but you  will be able to see them. Other than that, I don't see a huge disadvantage to not getting the live stream as long as everything is on demand.

So is HBO Now worth it? It does what it does very well--so well, in fact, that Netflix is currently copying it, undergoing a massive shift  from library content to original programming.  Netflix is still by far the better deal. It has so much material for so much less per month that it's easy to get value each month even if you aren't following all of its new shows.

However, there is a lot of great stuff on HBO. I know I would be tempted to get it for "Veep" and "Silicon Valley" alone, plus I'd love to do big "Sopranos" or "The Wire" rewatches someday. Right now. I don't think I have to tell you much about HBO programming, but if you love HBO programming, you will be satisfied by HBO Now. I don't have this channel, but it's only because I don't want to pay 15 bucks a month for it. This grade is based in large part on that high price.

Grade for HBO Now: B

Monday, January 25, 2016

5 Streaming Video on Demand Offerings I'd Like to See in 2016 #3: NFL Films

We all know one of the most powerful/evil entities on the planet is the National Football League. We also know that if  there's one thing the league loves, it's  making money (If it can stick it to a metropolitan region while doing so, all the better). Why, then, does the NFL seem uninterested in monetizing its cast library?

Last year, the NFL trotted out a half-assed Roku channel called NFL Now. It offered (very) limited free clips, and for a small fee per month, subscribers had access to SOME of the NFL Network programming like the "America's Game" and "A Football Life" documentaries. I don't think anyone even promoted it, and it died. I would say it predictably died, but it's always a surprise when the NFL fails at making money on something. Plus I made a New Year's resolution to cut down on adverbs.

This season, NFL Channel relaunched with an emphasis on access to condensed in-season games, the same short mobile-friendly clips tailored by team interest, and no original programming. I don't know how well it's doing, but it looks like an even more half-assed effort than last year's version, and I don't get the strategy.

Here's what I don't want to see on an NFL Roku channel: in-season games. Well, actually, I'd love that access, but the league has a service called NFL GameRewind that offers coaches film and everything, and it is supposed to be great, but I don't want to pay for that.

I would "settle" for a simple NFL channel that offers, at a minimum:

1) All current NFL Network original shows within 30 days of premiering on the network
2) All NFL Network original shows that have aired
3) Extensive material from the NFL Films library: NFL Films Presents, Football Follies, NFL's Greatest Games, etc.

I mean, we all love the work NFL Films does, right? Let's see all the archival stuff with John Facenda's narration. I want to see the Raiders and Steelers of the 1970s. I want to see Montana. I want to see Namath. Right now, some of it turns up occasionally on the Network or on ESPN, and there are some DVD collections, but there is a ton of content not available anywhere.

Now let's get ambitious. Let's get not just the NFL Films specials and documentaries, but old episodes of "This Week in Pro Football" with Tom Brookshier and Pat Summerall. That should be owned by the NFL. It might be a pipe dream to get old "ESPN NFL Primetime" episodes, but I'd love to see what for years was THE source for highlights.

And what I would really, really love to see: actual complete game broadcasts. Does the league have retransmission rights for these after all these years? I don't know, but I'll bet it does, and besides, what, is CBS going to complain that the NFL shows a 1982 Vikings/Bears game? Give them a piece of the pie. Make all of it available on demand, or at least launch with a bunch, then add games each week. How much fun would it be to see the old pregame shows, too? And throw up old "Monday Night Football" telecasts with Cosell, Meredith, and Gifford each Monday in the offseason.

Would you pay 5 bucks a month for this? I sure would, especially with any kind of presence of old (and I mean pre-2000s) *complete* games in original broadcast form. I'd even be willing to consider just a package centered around NFL Films programs and documentaries if it were affordable  and not limited in terms of selection.

Unfortunately, the fiasco that occurred last week when the NFL trumpeted a screening of Super Bowl I may indicate how the NFL feels about offering its archival material at an affordable price. It lowballed the owner of an actual videotape of the game, then put together something based on footage from other sources and ruined it by having people talk over it the whole time. 

I'm not optimistic about something like my vision becoming reality, but a guy can dream. I'm surprised the league isn't at least trying something with that goldmine of archival content.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Brooks on Books: Revising my review of the new Maltin Classic Movie Guide

I got a refund for the defective "Classic Movie Guide," then re-ordered it (I would have been happy to just get a replacement, but that's not the way it was meant to be), and I can report that THIS version of the book has all the pages...or at least, it seems to have all the pages. I haven't had time to look at them all yet.

Now that I have access  to pages 465 through 496, I can look at entries like "Murder Is My Business" (1946, Hugh Beaumont as Michael Shayne) and Northwest Stampede (1948, a "formulaic oater" starring Joan Leslie). The book is more complete. It's still not COMPLETE complete, and the fact that there are so many movies on streaming and TCM that aren't in here makes me give this "only" ***.5 out of ****, but I still love the hell out of it and just wish it were bigger.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On the radio" "End of the Line" by the Travelling Willburys

I caught this track, the second single off the debut Willburys album, on a local station while driving home the other night. It's nice to get that quick radio thrill every now and then--the excitement of, "Hey, haven't heard THIS in a while!" It's also nice to know I still get it. I write about this every now and then, and this moment triggered another post.

If I have access to YouTube, I can listen to just about any song I can think of in a matter of moments (depending on the length of the ad I have to sit through), which has changed the way I interact with and feel about music. For example, right now if I want to TOTALLY ROCK OUT, I can crank up some vintage Christopher Cross while I write this, Who knows what it's like for these millennials (that's still the term, right?) who grew up in an on-demand world and never had to listen to the radio hoping to hear a certain tune. Do they yearn for Christopher Cross? Or have they heard his stuff so many times they just feel jaded?

Maybe the on-demand scene hasn't totally eradicated the feeling of--not even discovery, but of REdiscovery, of catching up with a song you forgot you loved. After all, the station I was listening to when "End of the Line" played was in the middle of a syndicated all-request show. So presumably someone picked up the phone and asked for the show to play the song on the radio, then waited to hear it, as opposed to just Googling it and hearing it on a phone.

The end result: I got to hear a cool one I hadn't enjoyed in quite some time. If I want to hear it again, I don't even have to dig into my CD collection. I can just type and click. But is that as satisfying or as fun as stumbling upon it while driving home? I think not.

Eh, maybe I'm just old.

Monday, January 18, 2016

5 Streaming Video Services I'd Like to See in 2016: Vault Disney?

I've been complaining for weeks about the disappointing deterioration of catalog content on Netflix in general and the particular loss of a batch of Disney library movies in January. It's clear the Disney/Netflix deal isn't what I hoped it would be, with tons of material still withheld from Netflix.

(Note that many of the titles that left happened to show up on Disney Family Movies, a premium cable on demand offering, this month. Coincidence? Perhaps not. Maybe those titles return after they cycle through DFM, but we'll get to that later.)

What if it isn't Netflix being too cheap or Disney being too stingy that is keeping so many old movies and TV shows away? What if Disney is planning its own standalone "over the top" channel?

An existing Roku Disney channel is basically just a hype machine, with clips, promos, and an assortment of complete episodes of recent shows. I am talking about a true Vault Disney, a channel that would dig deep into the House of Mouse's archives and unleash some of the stuff it's hoarding. Ever since Disney killed off its acclaimed Treasures DVD line, which itself was focused on collectors and not the general public, its library content has been neglected. There are super-niche products like the Disney Movie Club and the overpriced Disney Family Movies (a handful of movies and shorts each month for about the price I think they should charge for a much more comprehensive service), and of course we'll get Platinum editions of the prestige animated classics, but there is a plethora of material that is largely unseen.

Disney is one of if not the only content provider that could make big money by using its name to push an SVOD service. Even if it tightens up the flow of new TV shows to Netflix, it has stuff like "Hannah Montana" and the like it could park on a new channel. And where is all the "Walt Disney Presents" from over the years, or "Mickey Mouse Club" or "Davy Crockett"? How about that endless stream of Dean Jones films? And for the love of Odin, where are the 1960s Marvel cartoons I've been anticipating for years? It's not like anyone is cranking this out on Blu-Ray. And you never see any of it on Disney Channel. Why not monetize it?

Disney has so much stuff and has such a powerful brand name that it could hold back the new theatricals for Netflix, rotate some stuff out for Disney Family Movies, and still give subscribers a whole lot of value in a Vault Disney. I think most people would be reluctant to pay 5 bucks a month for Fox Classics, but Disney could probably get a lot more from families all over the world just by loosening the vault doors a little and making this stuff available.

I mean, I would love to see pre-1980 content on such a service, but Disney could throw in plenty from recent times to make it a true "big tent" offering. The original Disney Channel was a premium cable channel showing material for the whole family but including a variety of programming, from classic Mickey Mouse shorts to licensed "Ozzie and Harriet" reruns. Vault Disney wouldn't even have to pay for content. It already has everything! The big catch that I can see is that there may be a lot of pre-existing deals giving other outlets first crack at it.

But what if Disney is starting to look forward to a time when it controls all of it and can save some gems for its own streaming service, whether exclusive or not? I would love to see something like this, as long as it's not a total ripoff like Disney Family Movies. If Vault Disney could adapt to the current SVOD landscape and offer a wide array of library materials for a reasonable monthly fee, I think it could make some money. I think it could have its cake and eat it, too, saving some things for that Netflix deal (It looks like Netflix isn't adding catalog content from Disney each month anymore, anyway) and for other clients while still going directly to the customer.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Vault of Coolness: CHIPS tackled the issues of the day

Gas lines were terrible, but look at the price! You think we'll get that low by the end of the year...without the shortages? If we get under a buck, maybe I'll act like a high roller and spring for the "Super Regular."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Streaming Showcase: Pub-D-Hub

Those of you without a Roku may be wondering, "What the heck is Pub-D-Hub?" Well, it's a streaming video on demand service that assembles public domain content from various sources into an easy-to-use, convenient channel that outdoes many of the high-profile services on Roku. Oh, by the way, it's FREE, and if you want to get the "Gold" services with extra features and content, it's only a few bucks a year. I strongly recommend that fans of the old and the obscure sign up for this channel. This review covers the Gold service, though the free version is well worth your time, too.

Yes, there are lots of cheap channels on Roku that gather public domain movies and TV programs and throw them up for our enjoyment.  However, Pub-D-Hub Gold goes well beyond the same assortment of "Bonanza" episodes and "Angel and the Badman" to offer a wide array of content in a variety of categories. Perhaps more importantly, it's all commercial free, the search function is decent, there is a "resume playing" option, and you can set a queue of titles and a separate playlist for automated viewing. These are features every SVOD service should offer, but many, including some that charge more per month than Pub-D-Hub does per year, do not.

I can't overemphasize how straightforward the interface is and how easy it is to use. Each Sunday morning or late Saturday night, Gold adds new content, much of it exclusive to Gold members (the "standard" free version adds content periodically but not on a set schedule). Pub-D-Hub seems reliable, and once I start a program, I rarely experience buffering or anything like that. The one time I experienced a minor technical difficulty related to my subscription, it turned out to be a blip, and most importantly, the company communicated with me promptly with useful information.

Let's get to the good stuff: What can you watch on Pub-D-Hub? Mostly older movies and TV shows of all genres, plus old-time radio, serials, vintage military and space films, cartoons, educational films, audiobooks, drive-in trailers...As long as it's in the public domain (or believed to be), it's fair game. One cool feature is the seasonal collections the channel provides around major holidays, gathering material from the site and placing it in one convenient category.

If you have the mistaken notion that public domain=garbage, please think again. As I said, this is not the same recycled PD material you've seen on countless dollar DVDs and public access channels over the years. This week, Pub-D-Hub added an episode of a well-known series in "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," but it also added an installment of "The Rosemary Clooney Show." It also added 3 more chapters of the "Brick Bradford" movie serial (Pub-D-Hub adds several serial chapters a week instead of all at once, but it never leaves you hanging--it adds all segments eventually), a handful of episodes of OTR program "The Smiths of Hollywood," several "Aesop's Fables" cartoons, and movies such as "Battles of Chief Pontiac" with Lex Barker and Lon Chaney Jr. Is all of it classic? Of course it isn't, but if you can't find a few hours' worth of solid entertainment on Pub-D-Hub, that's on you.

A few caveats: The service does take a few weekends off from updating (major holidays like Christmas), and sometimes I have seen it include as "new additions" items that are already on the site or were (if Pub-D-Hub drops content, I haven't noticed) on the site. Those are really nitpicky issues considering how the channel gives so much content throughout the year. Also, not every category is updated each week, but some core ones--cartoons, commercials, TV shows, movies, serials (called TV serials for some reason), and OTR are almost always given a fresh handful of titles every weekend.

Also, there is no subtitling or closed captioning, which is understandable given the nature of the programming and the low cost here, but since much of the material is in fairly rough shape, it would be nice to get something to accompany the audio, which often shows its age along with the video. You won't get "digitally remastered" stuff here, but you will get plenty to watch. In fact, my biggest problem with Pub-D-Hub is that the queue holds "only" 200 titles, which isn't enough to cover my needs!

When you hear "public domain," you may expect no frills, cheapness, and a lack of variety. However, Pub-D-Hub Gold exceeds those expectations by providing a ton of fun vintage programming in an easily navigable format. If you're frustrated by the lack of catalog content on the higher-profile SVOD channels, give this one a try. I'm not saying you can't find most or all of the titles elsewhere, but here you get it all in one places and with those features like the queue.

It's just fun to look for something to watch on here. Just last night, I watched a random old episode of "The Dennis Day Show." For a fraction of what other outlets charge, Pub-D-Hub gives you tons of material, the vintage material others are increasingly ignoring. I find myself going there more often than many other more famous channels.

Pub-D-Hub gets a solid A for all of its efforts.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bad news last week for this Netflix user

Several news items last week may have pleased Netflix investors and other stakeholders, but they irked me, a longtime subscriber alarmed at the gradual de-emphasis on older content.

ITEM:  Netflix announces its original Adam Sandler vehicle "The Ridiculous Six" is its most streamed in the fastest time movie ever or some BS like that.

Look, I am not suggesting that a publicly traded company, even one that guards its viewership metrics so tightly, would be less than honest about something like this. Consider, though, the scorn this project received from movie critics, subscribers, and general lovers of humanity everywhere. Does anyone think Netflix would NOT take an opportunity to brag about how "successful" it was no matter what its own internal numbers indicated?

It doesn't matter how many people have watched "The Ridiculous Six," nor does it matter if they liked it or  not. Netflix invested a lot of bucks in these Sandler movies, and the fact that they are crowing about this one proves that they are all in on it. We can expect to see more of this kind of thing going forward, so Netflix subscribers who don't want to see your dollars go these movies (raises hand)...well, too bad.

ITEM: Netflix original docuseries "Making a Murderer" generates tremendous buzz.

I find it hilarious that a bunch of armchair detectives watching a TV show are literally trying to make a federal case out of this and suddenly fancy themselves experts on the case. I haven't seen the show, though, but I do think it sounds interesting. Still, it's not really where I want Netflix's content acquisition dollars to go. Too bad for me, though, because the big hype proves that Netflix will get that precious ~BUZZ~ not through reruns of "Leave It to Beaver," but through originals like this that can become "hits" and drive critical attention, media coverage, and ultimately subscriptions.

ITEM: Lower-tier Disney classics leave Netflix in early January.

I remember when Netflix announced its big deal with Disney a few years ago. Yes, one of the selling points was access to theatrical motion pictures before any other streaming services or pay cable outlet, but there was also a lot of talk about access to the Mouse's vast library. Indeed, many cool titles joined Instant Watching, a nice mix of second-tier classics like "Dumbo" and some old Marvel cartoons.

For a while, a handful of back catalog titles joined Netflix each month. "Snow White" didn't show up, but my kids enjoyed the likes of "Lilo and Stitch," and I hoped that more of the Marvel cartoons would appear, and maybe--just maybe--the real crown jewels in the Disney library would be added after their umpteenth home video releases had some time to collect money.

Nope. The Disney content has slowed to a trickle in recent months. I gave up hoping for all the Marvel cartoons, and some of them actually left. I had speculated that maybe subscribers would get at least some of all those old live-action family movies, and that still hasn't happened. But the worst blow came a few weeks ago, January 4, when a decent-sized assortment of lesser Disney cartoons said bye-bye. "Dumbo," "Pocahontas," "The Aristocats," "The Fox and the Hound" and others are gone, and as of today, I see no indication when or if they will return.

"Well," one might interject, "these aren't the true classics like Cinderella or even the more modern gems like "The Little Mermaid." To that I respond, 1) those never came to Netflix and 2) none of it should be leaving! I thought the deal would keep this content on Netflix for the duration of the deal. If it's cycled in and out, that makes the whole thing a lot less appealing. These 8 or 9 titles vanishing may not be the biggest blow, but I fear they indicate a larger problem: the rest of it could go any month.

Considering how much content left Netflix in 2015 and how few high-profile theatrical releases it gets each month, one might expect the company would have had some surprises or at least would have found a way not to lose the Disney content it HAD, especially since it won't be getting new Disney movies until the second half of this year. Instead, we're off to a bad start, and it looks like the company's plan is to push originals like Adam Sandler movies and hope we don't notice nor care about what it DOESN'T have.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

5 Streaming Video on Demand offerings I'd like to see in 2016 Part 1: NBCU Sleuthy Thing

NBC Universal's SVOD offering Seeso, which focuses on hip comedy, marks its official launch this week, and I won't be a charter subscriber. I signed up for the beta last month, checked out what was available, and mostly forgot about it until the beta expired. Now, granted the holidays took a lot of my time, but still I was unimpressed by a bunch of "Parks and Recreation"  episodes, other reruns that had been widely available for years, and I just wasn't into checking out the original content without a Roku app. The only thing I really wanted to see? The 1980s "Saturday Night Live" episodes, and I was disappointed to learn Seeso has the same heavily edited versions Netflix and Comcast Xfinity offered.

So Seeso is not a winner for me yet, but I will  keep an eye on it. I am also looking ahead to 2016 and the possibility of more of these niche SVOD services springing up.  In fact, in this great interview with Decider, Universal's Evan Shapiro says that 9 different platforms are in the works at his company alone, though he indicates not all of those will actually be developed.

Over the next week or two, I will pitch some ideas for SVOD services. In reality, I don't want a  bunch of new things to pay for. I want the existing big guns--Netflix, Hulu, and even Amazon Prime although I don't have that one--to keep adding library content and giving it to me as part of my existing subscriptions. And, oh, yeah, I am focusing entirely on library content--the old stuff--and also on niches that existing cable channels should be covering but aren't.

Let's start with NBC Universal. It's likely that one of those "platforms" Shapiro mentions has something to do with crime/detectives/etc. Wouldn't it be great to have a whole channel devoted to nothing but old detective shows? Well, there was one called "Sleuth." Now it's called "Cloo," and it is basically USA Network 2, showing "CSI" "House," and such.

As part of Netflix's ongoing purge of catalog programming, it has lost Universal properties like "Quincy," "Magnum P.I.," and "Miami Vice" over the past year. Is it possible that it isn't entirely Netflix refusing to renew the deals, but Universal holding out for more money and/or reserving content for an online version of Sleuth? So far, Netflix still has "Columbo" and "The Rockford Files," but maybe they will be next.

If you give me a whole library of decent crime shows that are unedited and commercial free and unavailable elsewhere, will I pay 3.99 a month (Seeso's current price point) for it? Eh...depends.  it sounds like a great idea to me, but not if the content is rotated in and out, nor if it's just these old standbys. I want to see "The Snoop Sisters," "Ellery Queen," "Banacek," even 1950s programs like "Johnny Midnight." And how about giving us the rest of "Kojak," only half of which has ever been on Hulu?

I'd be interested in a Sleuth SVOD service, but it should be BETTER than the Sleuth network was.  At its launch, Sleuth sounded like a good idea, but it showed a handful of different series over and over again, and nothing was from before the 1980s.

I don't have high hopes for my vision coming to fruition. If Seeso is indicative, Universal will be a lot stingier with its selection of content than I would prefer for a pay service. Plus Shapiro seems to be most excited about new original content, not library stuff. Still, I imagine the company is looking at ways to monetize some of the archives. I wouldn't be surprised to see offerings related to science fiction and horror, either, but given how NBC Uni has treated those genres in its cable channels, I can't be too optimistic about them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

CBS' Supergirl: It Gets Better...I hope

After a fun, dare I say refreshing (I dare, even though it somehow looks pretentious now that I write it) pilot, "Supergirl" quickly became a lot less compelling. I am now finding it a bit of a slog to catch up on, and while I hoped to do a bunch-of-shows-in-a-short-period-of-time viewing over the holidays, I was really disappointed by the last episode I saw.

I mean, the show introduced one of my favorites, Glenn Morshower, AKA Aaron of the SuperTeam on the "Jack Bauer Power Hour," also known as "24." Unfortunately it saddled him with the character of Sam Lane, a gruff cliché  who seems to value busting Jimmy--Excuse me, JAMES--Olsen's balls than he does protecting the nation. Aaron--I mean, Glenn is playing the hell out of the role, but it's not a good add to the overall series.

It didn't take long for "Supergirl" to start with elements I feared would be forced into the narrative. The worst is the puppy love longing lead Kara Danvers has for this version of Olsen. Making matters worse is that it's a de facto triangle because another work colleague Winn has a crush on her. Making matters worser is that it's a de facto quadrangle because Lucy Lane showed up as Olsen's girlfriend and made Kara all bummed out.  I really would prefer a superhero show in which everyone just happened to work together as partners without a romantic element--at least for the first dozen or so episodes, for Great Ceasar's Ghost's sakes.

(Now that I think about it, though, it would be sort of interesting if somehow Lucy Lane and Winn hooked up.)

Then there's heavy government involvement and a dreaded backstory thread involving Kara's adoptive father. What's been spoiled for me indicates this may be more interesting than I feared, but I was hoping that the refreshing (what the hey, I already used it once) feel of the pilot would carry into the series and mean no reliance on serialized elements.

Calista Flockhart's Cat Grant character started out as a little over the top, and then somehow the added details that humanized her threatened to make her even more of a cliché. Sometimes giving a character "dimension" feels forced, and I think that happened here to some extent, but I admit I'm warming up to her a little bit. Still, it feels like a remarkably quiet return to TV for Calista Flockhart. Shouldn't this be a bigger deal? She's HARRISON FORD'S WIFE!

The good news is Melissa Benoist is tremendous as Supergirl, and she is so appealing that even the lamest storylines are tolerable. I am not crazy about how the series is building its "universe," but I like seeing a lot of DC Comics B-teamers come to life on the small screen. In short, I am disappointed with "Supergirl"the show, but I really like Supergirl and want everything around her to get better. I'll stick with it.

Friday, January 1, 2016

TV Time Bonus: Extra material I cut from my new ClassicFlix New Year's column

My latest TV Time piece at ClassicFlix explores how to party like it's 1959--that is, tips for celebrating the New Year's holiday, suggestions gleaned from classic TV episodes. I wanted to write about the 1950s "Dragnet's" "The Big New Year," but I the article was long enough without my yakking about something ClassicFlix doesn't even carry (through no fault of its own), and so I'm going to talk about it here.

Have fun, but don't get “goofed up”: Can someone make a New Year's resolution to release the 1950s "Dragnet" TV episodes on DVD?  In “The Big New Year,” detectives Joe Friday and Frank Smith are working night shift for homicide on December 31. All available officers are on duty and/or planning to attend colleague Lloyd Hopper's (not to be confused with Copper Clappers) party, but the guys don't envision being able to get off early on one of their busiest nights of the year.

Smith laments that just once he'd like to see people celebrate the holiday without tearing up half the town, and sure enough, the festive day turns sour when Hopper is found murdered by a “hophead” who just felt like killing a cop. During the course of their investigation, the guys interview a cab driver played by a future Fred Flintstone, Henry Corden, but the standout scene takes them to a cheap hotel to interview reformed drug pusher Bigs Donaldson, played by Aaron Spelling, of all people.

Spelling gives a mannered, memorable performance, humming along with the “real nice music” coming from "the Mission" nearby. He has a sort of early hipster look, with spectacles, hat, bowtie, and mustache. To add atmosphere, he takes a little snuff during the conversation, though he asks permission to do so. It's one of those sequences where to a modern, jaded eye, you think that Bigs is putting them on the whole time with his over-the-top humble, polite manner--sort of like if Eddie Haskell grew up and became a pusher.

Who knows, maybe that IS the intent of the episode, but after seeing it several times and watching the cops' reaction to Donaldson's talk of being reformed and how he wishes he could give the suspect a brand-new soul," I think it's all genuine and that the character is sincere. Spelling, of course, would go on to push something arguably more sinister than any narcotic to the unsuspecting American populace: "The Love Boat."

The references to the cop killer's drug use and his being “goofed up” are meant to provide a strong anti-drug message, but to me the episode is just unsettling. SPOILER ALERT: The random killing of a policeman with no real motive is bad enough, but while the good guys do catch the culprit, the patented Dragnet epilogue makes me even more uneasy. Murderer Harry Talmadge, a repeated drug offender and thief who even threatens to kill Smith when they track him down, gets 10 years for manslaughter? What kind of plea bargain mechanism does the district attorney have out in L.A.?