Friday, December 31, 2010

It was fun while it lasted: IFC and Antenna TV

It's time for one final round of Gloomy Gus musings to close out 2010. Maybe my reaction to these two items is too cynical, but I'll let you be the judge.

ITEM: IFC airing commercials DURING its programming
--First of all, note the "brand name" IFC. The channel has been de-emphasizing the Independent Film Channel part of its name for a while now. It has added more types of films to its lineup. It has added different programming to supplement the films, including original shows and reruns. This is not news.

But now IFC is inserting ad breaks INTO its programs, and to me that's the last straw, the sign that we have left the "better keep an eye on this" phase and entered the "all downhill from here" phase. After all, does this strategy remind you of another movie channel? Like, say, American Movie Classics--I mean, AMC? Take a guess what other channel the parent company of AMC owns.

Sure, for now, the channel isn't hacking up its films and series; for now it is picking quirky or acclaimed TV shows with cult appeal like "Freaks and Geeks" and "Larry Sanders." But it's only a matter of time until they start boosting the ad content, then trimming the programming content to make way for it. And then, in order to attract more and better ad content, well, of course the people running IFC are going to look for more mainstream reruns to draw those eyeballs the advertisers will want.

So, yeah, basically, IFC is not a train wreck yet, but it's on that slippery slope towards abandoning its original reason for being and becoming just another channel.

ITEM: Antenna TV revises its launch schedule, eliminates the rare shows
--I'm delighted to see another digital subchannel programming outlet that relies on old-school programming, and I mean literally see it, as I just confirmed that it will be available in Cultureshark Tower. But this past week was a bit of a downer as far as Antenna TV goes because I went from the joy of seeing the original launch schedule, then days later learning it had changed.

The first schedule I saw included rarities like "Farmer's Daughter" and super-rarities like a 1950s anthology show, among other interesting programs that were not only not on DVD, but which had not been aired nationally in years and years.

Then a newer schedule came out, as announced by Pavan Badal at Sitcoms Online
. Take a guess what shows aren't on the schedule anymore. Much of the product from Sony, the story goes, is either in terrible shape and/or isn't yet in a usable format for air, so Antenna is waiting until it's all ready so it can show each series from the beginning. In the meantime, we're left with some decent stuff--I'm not complaining about getting the post-season-1, not-on-DVD "Hazel"--and a lot of overplayed or too-new reruns ("Married With Children," "The Nanny," "Sanford and Son," etc.).

Oh, Pavan tried to talk us all off the ledge by assuring us that Antenna is still committed to running the good stuff when it's ready, but the fact is, most channels are best when they launch, and they gradually homogenize themselves and get rid of the more interesting stuff as time passes. See, for example, AMC and IFC!

I don't doubt the integrity of Sitcoms Online, and I really want to believe Antenna has its collective heart in the right place, but I fear this is gonna be a wasted opportunity, and by the time the rare shows are ready, Antenna will be moving on and adding the likes of "NewsRadio" (a quality show, but one that has seen ample rerun cycles already) and "Mad About You" and other TV Land rejects.

A lot of us desperately want Antenna TV to be what it claims to be, but this isn't a promising start. Let's just hope that the fact the schedule changes were made like this is because Antenna is rushing to get a foothold on the dial with the beginning of the new year and Sony just couldn't keep up...and NOT because of a RTV-style pattern of disorganization and chaos that will plague this outfit.

I'm disappointed but cautiously optimistic on this one, and I can enjoy "Father Knows Best" in the meantime, but I'm still worried.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brooks on Books: Death to the BCS

This is not a "fair and balanced" look at the college football's (lack of) method for determining a champion at its highest competitive level. No, this is an attack on the current system, and if you are like me and think the sport is marred by its illegitimate way of deeming a team a so-called "champion," then you will enjoy this book by several writers from Yahoo Sports (Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, Jeff Passan).

These guys are out to take down the system from the get-go, and they do so in often scathing fashion, referring to the vested interests who prop up and protect the BCS as The Cartel throughout the book. But they have facts and logic on their side, and even if you don't like their specific suggestion for what SHOULD be done--a 16-team playoff system incorporating on-campus games while preserving the bowls outside of the tournament--you have to admire how they lay out the case against the current non-playoff mess.

And they point out how The Cartel likes to cite that "there is no clear alternative" as one of its reasons for sticking to the status quo. Well, this book offers a well-conceived alternative. I like how "Death to the BCS" exposes how Cartel members, such as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, use straw man arguments and misleading statements--including falsehoods perpetrated before Congress--to obscure the issues and distract from legitimate anti-BCS arguments. The authors do a great job of exposing the inconsistencies even within Cartel talking points.

Much of the information and ideas in this book have been available for a while, but it's all put together in a brisk, coherent presentation that is especially fun to read for fans who yearn for a legit playoff. Perhaps the most enlightening chapter in "Death to BCS" is the takedown of the current crooked bowl system. The authors show how the "guaranteed payouts" hyped by the bowl games are essentially shams, and their explanation of how many teams actually LOSE money by attending bowls is eye-opening.

One thing I like is how, despite their exposure of the inefficiency of the current system and how tons of money goes to wasted expenses (and the pockets of overpaid bowl execs), the authors state their love of the games themselves and find a way to preserve them. They say, hey, more football is always good for them, and they make a convincing argument that the bowls could still survive and even thrive in a post-BCS playoff era of college football. They certainly prove how shallow the talk about "tradition" is in the bowl system. Anyone who wants to protect the tradition of the bowls, well, hasn't it already been destroyed by the move of big games like the Orange Bowl off New Year's Day? And just how good have the games been this year, anyway? I haven't had a chance to watch much action so far, but when I do flip to a bowl game, it's usually a blowout. But they don't want to get rid of them. They just want to improve the system.

Of course, money talks in sports, as it does in everything else, and here the authors rip open the finances of the current structure, but rely on speculation (as opposed to the facts that prop up most of the book) to make the case that their system would make more money for everyone. Now, I agree with their conclusions and believe they are right, but I'm just saying. Still, they offer a great argument that a playoff could be big-time money, and a look at the NCAA basketball tournament should reinforce that belief. This is what makes the current BCS system, and the stubborn adherence to it of the Cartel, so puzzling: all the money being left on the table in order to avoid a reasonable championship tournament.

"Death to the BCS" provides lots of ammo to fans who want to convince their pro-BCS friends. But then again, how many people ARE pro-BCS? The only ones who are are the power brokers who preserve it, and let's hope some people with the influence to influence THEM read this and can do something. For us simple, old college football fans, we get a fun book that provides lots of insights and organizes the facts into an effective argument against what we have, while also providing a viable option to replace it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wow, some big changes in my media diet this past year...

Longtime readers of this blog are familiar with my laments that I don't actually go out and see movies in theaters anymore but maybe once or twice a year. I don't know, though, if I'm actually lamenting that anymore. I used to kind of miss going as often as I did, before becoming a father and other lifestyle changes kept me away from the multiplexes. But the other day, I drove by the local theater, and it hit me that not only was I not gonna see anything there in the near future, I didn't plan to, and I didn't even really care that much.

I'm not gonna blame this on "stupid Hollywood product," either, as I spent plenty of good money on bad movies back in the day. No, I think 2010 was just the year I lost contact...with the moviegoing experience. It's not that I won't go or wouldn't like to go more given the opportunities, but I've become content with seeing them on DVD. I don't feel pangs of regret about "missing out," even if something really good hits the big screen. Not that many movies this year have sounded really good, but, hey, I said I wasn't gonna blame this on stupid Hollywood product.

Maybe when my leisure time goes up and my family obligations go down, I'll rediscover the joy of paying too much money for too little entertainment, but for now...I'm kind of OK with staying at home.

Another thing that hit me this week is my declining interest in recorded music. There are many factors involved in this: the dropoff in the CD as a viable medium, my discovery of podcasts for my listening pleasure, the shabby state of the music industry, lack of accessible product at reasonable prices, the pathetic state of terrestrial radio, my lack of interest in buying and consuming digital music...These have all been relevant for years now. But I never expected to listen to music as seldom as I do these days.

I still love music when I do hear it, and there are regular times that I do that. But this makes the first Christmas that I can remember that I didn't get one single CD (or cassette tape, if you want to go back a ways), and it feels weird. I mean, I had some music on my Wishlist, but there was nothing I felt I really needed to have, and though I plan to do some gift-card-shopping action after the holidays, I don't know if I'll be buying any music.

The fact that I hadn't even really noticed until now is itself proof of how weird this is. Maybe I need to dive back into it, but I am just not much of a music buyer anymore, and that feels odd.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Classic TV Christmas Festival: Meet Corliss Archer

Before getting back into the Festival, let me remind everyone of the CBS Christmas Eve lineup we get in primetime tonight: "CSI," followed by "CSI: New York," and concluding with "Blue Bloods." Just the kind of programming to enjoy with the whole family as you whip up some egg nog and trim the tree while waiting for Santa.

We're continuing our own Classic Christmas TV Fest with a look at something much more wholesome, an example of the primitive family sitcoms of early television, "Meet Corliss Archer." This is a show that is easy to find if you're looking for cheap old stuff online (I remember a previous incarnation of FamilyNet was even showing it weekly a few years ago), but I don't think it's very well known these days, though Old-Time Radio fans surely remember the original version of the program.

This series is a great example of what life was like back in the 1950s, or at least what life was like ON TV, and isn't that more important? Back then, married couples (and they were always married) didn't rush back to the boudoir and cook up their 2.5 kids, but rather they waited until they were well into their relationship and their careers--well, HIS career, anyway--and they were good and beaten down by life.

So instead of young whippersnappers raising kids, you had good, steady middle-aged people, if not downright oldsters, dealing with their well-meaning but humorous offspring. Take plucky teenager Corliss Archer. Her parents, played with typical fifties parental amiable condescension by Mary Brian and John Edlredge, look like pleasant enough people...who were BORN middle aged and stayed that way. Same thing with their friends, the Franklins, parents of Dexter, who serves as love interest of Corliss and foil for Mr. Archer.

There's nothing particularly memorable about any of the episodes I've seen, and this Christmas episode is itself rather unremarkable. One thing I kind of like about the series is the gimmick of using as transitions cartoonish gag illustrations while the narrator comments on the action with an amiable chuckle. This installment offers several of those to spice up its simple plot, a story that reflects the basic 1950s-ness of this program.

Mr. Archer has hidden the girls' presents someplace they'll never find them, and it's a good thing, too, because girls can't resist snooping, don't 'cha know? So while the womenfolk are trying to figure out what and where their gifts are, Father gets some quality comedy time with Dexter, who is making his own presents in Mr. Archer's tool shed/workshop. And the biggest tool in the shed is obviously Dexter himself. The guy means well, of course, but he's such a destructive boob in this episode that you figure the women better get those presents soon because Mr. Archer is gonna spend the holidays behind bars after being implicated in a tragic belt sander incident.

I won't dare give away the ending to this pleasantly generic half-hour, but suffice to say it culminates with a classic sitcom twist that makes no sense at all. Archer's hiding place meets Dexter's desire to help in a way that is even more contrived than you would hope an old comedy would be. It's just like the 1950s: Everybody means well, nothing much exciting happens, but you leave it more or less happy. The only thing that could have improved this episode? If Mr. Archer had hidden the presents inside a fallout shelter in the backyard.

Last Week and This Week in DVD

This is the kind of time when you are glad Netflix is building up the streaming because a lot of interesting titles are subject to that cursed 28-day window. I doubled up to get one big ol' holiday post of This Week and Last Week in DVD:

The Other Guys: Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg team up in a buddy movie from Adam McKay. This will be either really funny or really stupid. Oh, who are we kidding? We know it'll be both.

The Town: I'm really looking forward to Ben Affleck's latest acclaimed directorial effort. Hey, isn't it time we stopped mocking him for Ben-Lo and for "Gigli"? OK, well, at least for "Gigli"?

Despicable Me: It seems like a lot of cartoons lately feature supervillains with lovable interiors. I miss the days when you had unambiguous bad-asses like Snidely Whiplash.

The A-Team: Available in a special "Extended Cut." Ah, I love it when a marketing gimmick comes together.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: I remember seeing the trailer for this in a movie theater a while ago, and while the animation looked kinda pretty and whatnot, I had to bust out laughing. I mean, it was OWLS. And it was all serious and stuff. With OWLS. I still kind of chuckle about this.

Cyrus: John C. Reilly woos Marisa Tomei, but her son Jonah Hill is kind of weird about it in this quirky indie-type comedy. It's hard to get excited about the inevitable Marisa Tomei nudity when you realize it could well be combined with some intolerable John C. Reilly nudity.

Nanny McPhee Returns: More moles! More warts! More chin hairs! MORE NANNY McPHEE!

1960 World Series Game 7: Recently broadcast on MLB Network, yes, but every loyal Pittsburgh Pirate fan--yep, the few hundreds of us--will want to own this recently rediscovered classic on DVD.

The IT Crowd Season 4: I've said it before and will say it again: This is one of the funniest shows I've seen in the last 10 years, and if you haven't seen it on IFC, try to catch it on video.

Honeymooners Christmas Special: This is all well and good, but I'm getting the sense that MPI is never gonna do a proper Complete Lost Episodes collection, especially now that the company is reportedly working on "The Donna Reed Show." And MPI decided to put ONE hourlong special on this release instead of putting both the 1970s Christmas episodes on the disc--an approach that, sadly, has been typical of the milk-the-fans approach the company has taken with this property. Incidentally, the "Classic 39" Christmas episode is one of my favorite yuletide TV efforts of all time.

WWE Top 50 Superstars of All Time: Wouldn't it be great if they did the BOTTOM 50 Superstars of all time, with profiles of Bastion Booger, T.L. Hopper, and so on? Yes, it would!


Salt: Remember when Angelina Jolie was cool? Now she's starring in movies named for condiments.

Easy A: I think Emma Stone is adorable and a real talent, and I hope this movie is as good as it looks. I also hope my wife doesn't ask me if I'm renting it because I think Emma Stone is hot.

Step Up 3: Good gravy, THREE? Someone stop this franchise before it replicates again.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: Well, at least it isn't a THIRD. I'd rather see Oliver Stone do a sequel to "JFK." Since the original came out, millions of people have been born that can now be implicated.

The Films of Rita Hayworth: Still one of the classiest and loveliest of screen goddesses, and Sony pays her tribute with this 5-disc set. It also pays tribute to sneaky business techniques by including two movies that were already available on DVD.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Classic TV Christmas Festival: The HUB brings the Garry Marshall

It's easy to forget about the rebranded Discovery Kids channel, now the HUB; though it offers a smattering of relative oldies in the nighttime hours, it's still essentially a family/kids channel with a ton of children's cartoons. But while I haven't been watching many of the classic reruns it does offer, I think it's good to have an outlet for shows like "Family Ties" and "The Wonder Years," and I appreciate the effort. This week, the HUB is running some Christmas episodes, and I put together a Garry Marshall double feature of sorts on my DVR with yuletide-themed installments of "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley."

Let me thank this network for the unusual but welcome programming decision it implemented for its overnight airing of "Happy Days" the other night. About halfway through the episode, the picture got a little funky, and the audio fell out of sync. At first, I found this irritating enough to turn me into a Scrooge, but I soon realized the genius of this: The HUB was cablecasting in Festive Drunk-o-vision, attempting to simulate for the viewer the sensation of being agreeably inebriated after downing a few spiked egg nogs. Well done, folks!

The episode itself is one of the more heartwarming of its time, "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas" from the second season. Richie and Mr. C. realize that Fonzie's big talk about visiting his cousins is just bluster because of his pride, and that he in fact will be alone on Christmas Eve. So the Cunninghams talk Howard into giving up his dream of an old-fashioned holiday with just the family, and they invite the Fonz to celebrate them.

Looking at this one again from a modern perspective, it's interesting to see some of the vestiges of the early, single-camera days of the series: Fonz mock-threatening the guys, Fonz still being an outsider, and of course most notably, a Chuck sighting. It's clear from this episode that the Fonz ain't a hood, and there will be no turning back from the babyfacing of the character.

"Happy Days" really went off the rails eventually, but this episode is a great example of the quieter, nostalgic aura the show cultivated at first. It's sentimental without being pandering, and it's a genuine, heartfelt piece of Christmas cheer. Even if you're watching it in Festive Drunk-o-vision.

I'm not gonna spend a lot of time talking about "Laverne and Shirley," as I've never been a fan, but I can't resist "Let's put on a show" episodes of classic sitcoms. Somehow, the whole gang winds up putting on a revue at a mental hospital overseen by Howard Hesseman. It's corny, contrived, and cliched, but aren't most of these kinds of vanity episodes that let the cast "show their talent"? The only thing missing was the cast breaking character at the end to directly wish the audience a Merry Christmas.

While watching this, I started wondering what sitcom today would be best suited to do this kind of show, and it hit me: NBC's "Community." They just did a great holiday episode, but for next year, I think the creative team should work on something that pays homage to/mocks this kind of sitcom staple. I'll bet it would offer the same blend of stupid and smart that has made other "Community" episodes memorable. Dan Harmon, make it happen, please!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Things I never want to see again

I want to get this post in before the holiday arrives, and in fact, I'm reluctant to even do it at all, but I think talking about these things is the only way I will be able to purge them from my mind--in other words, by dumping them on you.

Let me alert sensitive readers and parents of young children that this post may contain shocking imagery that is entirely unsuitable for some individuals. The Classic TV Christmas Festival is on deck, and I want to warn those who enjoy that good, wholesome blogging entertainment that this entry here is not along those lines.

AHEM. 3 things I saw this past week which I never, ever want to see again:

1) Danny Devito emerging nude from the back of a leather couch on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Yeah, there was a context for this. Didn't make it any less alarming. Won't make it any less disturbing for me relating it or for you reading it. Was it funny? Yep, but some might argue spontaneous vomiting on oneself while sitting fully clothed on one's own non-leather couch is also funny. In that case, some would be wrong.

2) Even worse than that sight--which at least had some comic value and advanced the story in a manner of speaking--was what I saw while flipping through the Showtime channels the other night. Oh, if only I had followed the advice of the immortal Larry Sanders and maintained a strict "no flipping" policy. Instead, I saw, "courtesy" of "Californication," the mere mortal Shrug (AKA Evan Handler) and the only slightly less mortal Rick Springfield double-teaming a hooker on a bed--quite possibly David Duchovny's bed, which doesn't make the scenario any more palatable.

As if the visual weren't appalling enough, Springfield chuckled and sang, "You gotta love somebody" while in the act, and, yeah, I should have turned the channel by then, but while groping for the remote in my temporary state of blindness, I found the wrong one and turned the volume up, increasing my horror.

Some of you might think Springfield singing a line from one of his hits in that situation sounds kind of funny, and of course that's what the show was going for there, a certain postmodern kind of shock humor. But I was too busy crying to start any kind of laugh response.

3) As you can tell if you've made it this far, I've been through a lot this week. So it was the last straw when I saw an AP headline about New York Jets coach Rex Ryan: "Ryan won't discuss foot-fetish report." No, no, no. Enough is enough, damn it. I'm tempted to shut down all access to the outside world and curl up with a stack of "Ozzie and Harriet" episodes until Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Week in Instant Watching

Wouldn't it figure that the week following the successful (well, I enjoyed it) launch of This Week in Instant Watching, the selection of new additions to Netflix's streaming service slows quite a bit.

Copacabana: As a huge Groucho fan, it's tough for me to say this, but "Copacabana" isn't very good. It's not even the one with Jane Russell. But is it worth watching on "free" streaming if you're in the mood for Groucho and the sight of Carmen Miranda doesn't make you want to renounce your membership and go rent 5 copies of "Inception" from Blockbuster? Sure.

Crack in the World: Another Olive Films recent release comes to IW. This one is about THE END OF THE WORLD, and, let me tell you, if the poster art can be trusted, it's an awesome epic of apocalyptic doom. There's a picture of the Earth being torn asunder, with the tagline, "THANK GOD IT'S ONLY A MOTION PICTURE!" How could this not be worth streaming?

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work: I will admit that I still find Joan Rivers funny. And I will ALSO admit that I watched a segment or two of some "Fashion Police" show a few weeks ago (My wife had it on, OK?), and I was laughing as she was making her wise-ass remarks about celebrities' dresses. So I look forward to this documentary because, hey, she's still got it, and I still find her more than interesting enough to be a documentary subject.

Homicide for Three: 1948 cheapo from Republic Pictures. Well, I don't know that it's a cheapo, but it is an obscure Republic crime flick. All I know is my rule of thumb: If a movie was made in the 1940s and has the word "Homicide" in its title, then I'll give it a watch.

Hong Kong: There was a lot more to Ronald Reagan than Brass Bancroft, you know, and he presumably proves it in this 1952 adventure. And look at his co-stars: Nigel Bruce and Rhonda Fleming! Hey, there was a lot more to HER than Brass Bancroft, too, if you know what I mean (I don't.)

Lady and the Monster: This is either the 1944 Republic (Hey, them again!) horror film that was later remade as the more famous "Donovan's Brain"...or it's a collection of episodes of a CW reality show produced by Ashton Kutcher. Given Netflix's quirks, I just don't think we can be sure until we actually load this up and see for ourselves.

Why I'm rooting against UConn

Tonight, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team will go for and in all likelihood obtain its 89th consecutive win, a remarkable feat in and of itself, and also a milestone that will exceed by one game the men's basketball record of UCLA.

If they win, good for them. But I hope they don't, and I feel that way because of their loutish head coach, Geno Auriemma.

Yesterday morning, I was flipping for NFL highlights while getting my little girl ready for school. Some UConn hoops highlights came on. I don't follow the sport, but I figured it would be good for my daughter, who gets plenty of secondhand sports through me, to see some females playing organized sports. So I left it on "SportsCenter" and pointed it out to her.

Suddenly the highlights stopped, and we saw Auriemma at his post-game rant of a press conference. He gave a nonsensical acidic speech about how the media doesn't want to see women break a male record, and how nobody would care if they were "just" topping the girls' mark. He continued on in this vein, using the words "hell," "pissed," and "bastards" in the span of about 45 seconds, and making me sorry I stopped on women's basketball highlights.

First of all, Coach, nobody cares about you "breaking a man's record." They are two different sports. It's a tremendous accomplishment, and everyone knows your team is dominant. In fact, you're so dominant, you probably prevent many people from even bothering to watch women's college hoops.

But you are not "breaking" any UCLA record. I never celebrated Sadahuru Oh as the all-time home run king, certainly not of the baseball I knew and followed. He was the Japanese home run champ, not the champ of MLB, and nobody compares records of the two. Men's college basketball and women's college basketball are essentially two different sports, and no bitter chauvinists are gonna cry in their Schlitzes because, "First Bobby Riggs, now UCLA--is nothing sacred?"

And if a few media types are rooting against you, so what? Really, you came off looking like a real ass, and you embarrassed me because I exposed my little girl to inappropriate language at 7:00 in the morning. You're a terrible ambassador for the game you represent, and though I admire the talent of your players, I will root against you, and not because of UCLA's record.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

State of the Show: Terriers

So this is where I would normally recap what I saw as the strengths and weaknesses of the series' latest season, then offer my thoughts on what direction I'd like to see the show take next season.

But "Terriers" was CANCELED! Therefore, NO MORE "TERRIERS!"

For what it's worth, I would have voted for more Done in One episodes concentrating on contained cases without an overarching storyline. I think this approach would have gotten the two leads together more and showcased their chemistry and banter, which is really the strength of the show. WAS the strength of the show. AAARGH!

OK, it's been a few weeks since the last episode, and I'm still dealing with the loss of the best new show of 2010. But I'm also trying to look at it with a little perspective. Really, nobody watched it, and it's as simple as that. Is it frustrating to see some of the junk that's passed off as programming nowadays that people actually do watch (including, come to think, a seemingly ever-increasing number of shows literally about people collecting junk)? It sure is. But FX is running itself as a business.

And before we rip on FX with too much intensity for letting this quality show die, we must remember that at least we got to see the whole run of the first season, and that's because the show was on FX, or at least on cable. When a network show gets rejected by the public to this extent, it's gone. We got a bunch of good episodes of a fine program.

Yeah, the marketing for the show may have been all wrong, the title may have done irreparable damage, etc. But viewers had many weeks of opportunities to sample "Terriers," and they did not. So what can we do? I think all I'm gonna do is look back fondly at the season we got and hope that the next time a show this good hits cable, it sticks around longer. Hey, I did my part on this one. America, you'd better step up next time (I'll let you know when that time arrives).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What's My Line is back...for now.

I have two comments about this development, one positive, one kind of cynical. Let's kick off with the positive: This is a great thing. Even if "What's My Line" and "I've Got a Secret" are exiled to the wee hours of 3:00 A.M., at least they're on and DVR-able. I don't know if they're running episodes that have been played countless times on GSN in the past; I didn't really get into these (or have access to them) until the run of black-and-white overnight was on its way out, so it'll be new to me regardless.

Of course, after next week, it's back to "Card Sharks" in that timeslot, but, hey, enjoy it while you can.

And to be even more positive, how cool was it the other night when the mystery guest was Arnold Stang? The guy came out in total Stangian glory, and the studio audience went nuts.

I submit to you, dear readers, that America was a far better place when the sight of Arnold Stang could make a sophisticated live audience go nuts. Today, that kind of guy would have a hard time getting on the air, period, let alone being put in a position to draw that reception. And let's not even mention what the prospects of someone as non-telegenic as panelist Fred Allen would be today.

Now here's the thing that rubs me the wrong way about this "WAYBACK FLASHBACK" block, as GSN is showing it. The channel is running these little irreverent bumpers, possibly going for an Adult Swim kind of feel. An example I saw the other day put this message up on the screen:

Do you lead an interesting life, full of meaning and purpose? We can fix that.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but to me this comes off as GSN's smart-ass indictment of the hardcore fans who obsess over the black and white classics and bemoaned their departure from the regular schedule. It's like, "Yeah, we're gonna show these again for a few weeks, but we're not gonna respect you for watching them, and in fact we're gonna tease you losers for caring about this kind of show." Another bumper made reference to people watching the shows alone, and I just got a vibe like...ehhh, am I just overreacting?

Friday, December 17, 2010

3 things worth reading

I would advise you to check out these links when you get a chance:

1) Mark Evanier on "Yogi Bear's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper": I watched this on Boomerang last weekend, and as soon as I saw the "Written by Mark Evanier" credit at the beginning, I thought, "I'll bet he has an interesting story about this on his blog." Well, 3 days later, he posted this (scroll a few items down). Turns out he had 2 1/2 DAYS to script it, and he explains why.

2) Pavan from Sitcoms Online posted two informative if brief interviews this week; each is a vital read for fans of classic television ON television. He elicited some interesting info from the subjects. First, he corresponded with Antenna TV exec Sean Compton. This promising digital subchannel service launches in a few weeks with some real rarities in its programming lineup, mostly Sony Pictures stuff, and it's cleared in my market. I just hope it doesn't take FIOS forever to add this one, as it did with RTV.

For me, the top tidbits in this interview are Compton promising no paid programming and responding to a question about edited shows like so:
We air the shows the way that the distributors supply us. We will do no editing on our end. We also will not be squeezing the end credits nor will we have an Antenna TV bug/logo on the screen during programming. Stations locally may decide to put theirs up, but nationally we will not display one. As far as ratings go, yes we will look at ratings but in the digital world it's driven a bit differently.

I'm really glad Pavan asked about that, and I guess we'll have to keep fingers crossed, as we all know how many shows are pre-butchered even before hacks like Hallmark and TV Land get their hands on them.

The next day, Neil Saban of ME-TV was up. Right off the bat, I learned that the so-called "national" launch of this awesome-sounding classic TV service really included only Chicago, Milwaukee, and South Bend. So I don't feel too bad about not getting it yet, though of course I'll be antsy until I do.

Saban says the network, which is heavily reliant on CBS/Paramount oldies now, will sprinkle in more shows as time goes on, specifically mentioning "The Millionaire" as something on the docket. "The Millionaire!"

He also states the goal is to make ME-TV the TCM of classic television, which is a great line that will excite a lot of people, but he didn't say all the programming would be uncut and shown as it was originally presented. Still, it sounds like this guy's heart is in the right place, and I know I'm looking forward to getting this eventually.

(Another interesting comment: Saban says "Webster" was a syndication disaster and that, "Dear John and many other shows from that vintage are caught up in the residual payment issue that plagues broadcast TV but not cable. Don't get me started." Hey, please, get started! I'm kind of curious what he means by that, though I'd much rather the network focus on much older programs, anyway).

Please head over to Sitcoms Online if you haven't lately and thank them for getting this information and putting it out there.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Expendables: Cool/Uncool

I checked out this throwback action movie from Sly Stallone the other day, and I was slightly let down. I don't know why I had high expectations; in fact, I'm not sure why I wanted to see the flick in the first place. Many of the castmembers are actors I wouldn't go out of my way to see in a movie, yet somehow, throw all of them together, and I get excited.

I think, too, I had been led to expect "The Expendables" to be a way-over-the-top kind of affair, with explosions piled on top of fight scenes piled on top of cheesy 80's-style dialogue. Well, yeah, we get some of that, but it's really just a retro kind of action movie, not something so out of control as to inspire shock and awe.

Here are some of the cool and uncool aspects of "The Expendables":

COOL: Violence with real kick--for example, when people get shot, they don't just slump to the ground and moan for a few seconds as people step over them. No, their insides explode or blood comes spurting out of their riddled skulls.
UNCOOL: There is a set piece at the beginning, but the movie kind of settles down, and it takes a full 30 minutes for the ultraviolence to really get rolling.

COOL: Stallone the director and co-writer at least attempts to give the characters dimension, providing some quiter character moments to set up the action.
UNCOOL: These moments don't always work. And while I really admire Sly for the effort, you can argue, do we really need dimension in "The Expendables"?

COOL: The Planet Hollywood reunion near the beginning, with Stallone, Arnie, and Bruce sharing the screen.
UNCOOL: Considering how ballyhooed this brief but amusing segment was, it's kind of surprising to actually see it play out and notice how brief the stars are actually on screen together, as Stallone shoots it in a series of close-ups.

COOL: There are satisfying fight scenes.
UNCOOL: While Stallone doesn't mar the film with too-quick editing, the cutting is still a tad fast for my tastes. You have guys who know what they're doing and some decent fight choreography; let us see it. I don't think Stallone had to cover too much for the actors because of lack of physical ability. After all, he's the oldest one out there, and...

COOL: Stallone looks jacked up, and I mean jacked up for anyone, let alone a 63-year-old man.
UNCOOL: It's really kind of uncool, if not frightening, that a 63-year-old man is so jacked up.

COOL: Stone Cold Steve Austin is in the movie and acquits himself well as a credible bad-ass.
UNCOOL: He's not actually one of the Expendables, and I got the sense he could have been utilized better than as a chief thug for Eric Roberts' slimy top heel. And by the way, who thought it would be a good guy for Austin, who has pleaded no contest to domestic violence charges to smack the hell out of the female lead in the movie?

COOL: One of the other women in the movie is played by Charisma Carpenter. It's nice to see her, even if she has little to do.
UNCOOL: She pretty much only provides an excuse for Jason Statham's character to demolish some abusive a-hole (not Steve Austin) on a basketball court. Well, actually, that scene is pretty cool.

COOL: Mickey Rourke actually tries to get over some heavy-duty character stuff, and you gotta admit there's something compelling about him on the screen.
UNCOOL: Rourke isn't actually an Expendable, either, and despite a few memorable moments, you get the feeling he's not utilized as well as he could be.

I read that a sequel is in the works, which is not surprising, and I hope Stallone finds a better balance between character development and action, and also finds a way to either trim down the cast or work harder to make each person vital. I like the concept of a bunch of bad-asses thrown together to perform some impossible mission, but I won't rush out to see an "Expendables II." I will gladly rent it, though, and hope for another amusing action flick.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New feature: This Week in Instant Watching

Due to the whelming response to the official Cultureshark This Week in DVD column, I'm implementing what may be a new regular feature: This Week in Instant Watching, in which I'll examine notable titles that have popped up on Netflix's streaming service in, oh, usually about the last week or so.

Please note that like the DVD column, this is a subjective feature, and the titles chosen may be idiosyncratic. Also, while new release data of DVDs is easy to find, quality info about Instant Watching is often elusive. Let me give credit here to, which I recommend strongly as a source of info for what's available and what's expiring on the 'Flix. Another great site/resource I discovered recently is Psychotronic Netflix, which has a great Facebook page. Let me also give credit to Friend of the Site Brian Dennehy for recommending this column.

(A friend of the site and, more importantly, a pal o'mine suggested this recurring post idea; but I'm gonna give credit to Dennehy because his endorsement might give me some more pub. I'm sure he'll understand, and if not, hey, HE can be the one to tell Dennehy.)

Before we get to specific titles, a few notes: 1) Netflix is adding _tons_ of low-budget crime and noir lately, 2) Netflix is adding tons of B-Westerns, and 3) very, very quietly--so quietly I barely see fan awareness of this on the web, let alone credible info on to what extent this will continue, Netflix is adding some of the early Warner Archives titles to its streaming roster.

Here, finally, are some of the more interesting titles that are now available on Netflix IW:

Cold Souls: Paul Giamatti plays himself, an actor who gives his soul away for cold storage. This could go two ways: 1) It's quirky and awesome, or 2) It's quirky and annoying and just doesn't work. But either way, you have Giamatti.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: You know, one of the best things about the very notion of "Instant Watching" is that it provides the opportunity to catch a flick on a whim, without having to wait for the turnaround time necessitated by mail delivery of physical discs. That said, was there ever LESS of a "watch it on a whim" movie than "Precious"? I can't picture too many people going, "Ah, what a long day. Think I'll veg out with a Netflix movie tonight. Let's see--HEY! Precious! All right! I'll get the popcorn!"

The Sound of Fury: No, not an adaptation of the wild classic Faulkner novel I read a few years ago (see, I read books about things other than sports and TV, honest), but a rare low-budget noir circulating for years under the alternate title "Try and Get Me." I've read about this for years but never seen a trace of it. Of all the stuff that has popped up on Netflix in, oh, the last year, this may be the most personally exciting, and I look forward to finally seeing this.

Kill or Be Killed: Lest we praise Netflix TOO much, let's remember the site still does goofy things like this: It listed a 1950 Lawrence Tierney movie here, and with such an awesome title, who WOULDN'T want to add that to their queue? Only, when I went to do so, I discovered the actual video is a 1970s kung fu movie. The title is still awesome, but I'm kind of bummed.

Knock on Wood and My Favorite Spy: These Danny Kaye and Bob Hope movies are available as part of an apparent deal Netflix has with Paramount and/or Olive Films (I notice all the recent Olive DVD releases of movies it licensed from the studio are showing up on IW).

The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington: I mention this 1977 Joey Heatherton flick because I feel I should give a nod to all you art house cinema fans out there.

Lost: The Series: Now that you know what it all "means," sit back and enjoy the show for its questionable acting, obtuse dialogue, and convoluted plotting without worrying about all that pesky mythology.

Hard, Fast, and Beautiful: Some may think think this is notable just because it's an Ida Lupino movie, but it's also one of those Warner Archives releases, and I think it's great, exciting news that such titles, which have not even been available on disc, are trickling into the Netflix system. More, please!

Penn of Pennsylvania: I just like that back in the old days (this one is from 1942), studios could make a biopic of William Penn without having some wild hook to it. Just, "hey, this guy is a famous historical figure, and here's a movie about his life." Of course, today, even most Pennsylvanians probably don't know who William Penn is, let alone have the desire to see his biopic.

Undercover Brother: 2002 blaxploitation/spy sendup that has good rewatchability and is ideal for this service. I think this movie was a year or two ahead of its time. I mean, it even gave Neil Patrick Harris a big role--a full two years before "Harold and Kumar."

About a Boy: Excellent adaptation of Nick Hornby's great novel, this is so good it makes you wonder what happened to directors Chris and Paul Weitz. Just look at their filmographies after this one, and you'll see what I mean.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Brooks on Books: A football doubleheader

Since it's Sunday, and since we sort of have a Monday night doubleheader now that the NFL has moved the Giants-Vikings game due to weather (how is it everyone was blindsided by a snowstorm in Minnesota?), let's go for two hardcore football works for the return of "Brooks on Books.

If you know an intense pro football fan who loves to analyze the strategies of the game in detail, and who, well, loves to read, here's your Christmas present for that person: "The Games that Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays." I can't recommend this book highly enough, and I'm surprised it seems a little under the radar considering it's published under the ESPN banner. Former QB and current "Monday Night Football" analyst and noted film junkie Ron Jaworksi wrote this book with the help of TV producers and fellow film fanatics Greg Cosell and David Plaut, and they've created an insightful and fun read.

Jaworski's approach is simple: He chooses seven games that are notable for epitomizing facets of the development of pro football strategies and tactics, that analyzes each in detail. Each chapter digs into X's and O's, and, yes, there are a few diagrams scattered throughout the book, but the text is still accessible. I don't like reading football diagrams, myself, but I love reading Jaworski's explanations of how, say, Buddy Ryan's 46 defense or Dick LeBeau's zone blitz revolutionized the sport. There is great balance between accounts of the specific game and broader mini-histories of the personalities involved (especially the men who crafted these strategies) and discussions of the lasting effects. Plus, Jaworski and his co-authors did more than just watch old films; they interviewed players, coaches, and execs to garner valuable commentary on these "seven games." The result is an outstanding football book. You probably have to be a serious fan to get into it, but it's lively reading with a lot of entertainment value to go with its educational value.

Steeler haters may want to avoid my next recommendation, "About Three Bricks Shy of a Load...and the Load Filled Up" by Roy Blount Jr. This recent trade paperback edition collects the original "About Three Bricks Shy" and combines it with supplemental material and updates Blount published in subsequent years after the original's publication after the 1973 season.

See, Blount hung around the Pittsburgh Steelers for the entire '73 season, and he got a ton of great material out of it, BUT the team didn't reach the Super Bowl till the next season. Of course, Pittsburgh won that game and 3 others as it dominated the decade. This edition includes essays Blount wrote about those teams, as well as some of the key players.

But the heart of the book is "Three Bricks Shy," and it's great stuff. I will warn readers that Blount's style is very self-aware and maybe a bit too clever sometimes. For a good chunk of the beginning of this one, I was thinking that I was learning a hell of a lot more about Roy Blount than I was about the Steelers. Yet Blunt settles down eventually (or maybe I just get used to it), and it becomes an incredible inside look at pro football in the 1970s.

Through his coverage of the entire season, Blount really does cover all aspects of the game. It's far from dated, too, despite the changes that have occurred since 1973. There are thoughtful passages on the violence of football, for example, that still feel relevant in 2010. One thing that is funny is how steroids are treated rather casually (though not with any detail) whereas Blount is careful not to name names when discussing sex lives.

This is a must-read for Steelers fans, but it's also a valuable book for NFL fans with an interest in history. Some might get impatient with Blount's style early on, but if they stick with it, they'll be rewarded with an outstanding "I was there" kind of sports book.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This Week in DVD

Inception: LALALALALALALA...Still haven't seen it! Nobody tell me about it! So I'm still trying to avoid reading much about this, right? Well, I skipped the "South Park" spoof a few weeks ago, and then when I read that Parker and Stone lifted a bit from somewhere else, I really soured on "South Park," and I haven't watched any of its new episodes since. So, yeah, that's my take on "Inception"...I think.

Shrek Forever After: I don't think anyone outside of Dreamworks thought we NEEDED a fourth installment, but just about everything I read indicated this didn't suck nearly as much as the third "Shrek" movie. I think if you squint, you can see that on the back of the DVD box: "Didn't suck nearly as much as the third one!"

Fox 75th Anniversary Collection: Sure, this massive box set may look like a pretty big deal, but to me it's a shallow endeavor without Hal Needham's "Megaforce."

MLB 2010 Champions: San Francisco Giants: Still sounds kind of weird, but it sounds GREAT when you consider the alternative could have been "MLB 2010 Champions: Philadelphia Phillies" or "MLB 2010 Champions: New York Yankees" (I could have lived with "MLB 2010 Champions: Texas Rangers").

Yogi Bear's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper: First of all, this is one of the great titles of a cartoon of all time. Second, psst, don't tell anyone else, but if you want some a Comedy Christmas Caper (I love how it's not even a "Christmas Comedy Caper," but a "Comedy Christmas Caper," like it's vital that the comedy is emphasized and comes first), this one'll be on Boomerang tomorrow at 5:00 P.M.

I think the most interesting DVD releases are the oddball vintage TV collections that came out Tuesday, including...

Betty White In Black and White: Faithful Cultureshark readers will know that more episodes of "Life with Elizabeth" are always welcome on DVD. Ahem. This one also offers a pair of rare variety show episodes, plus two installments of "Date with the Angels." You gotta love this company for trying to cash in on that Betty White mania...about 6 months too late. But this is cheap and looks like an entertaining enough collection of cheap old stuff.

Dennis Hopper: The Early Works: Maybe the title is apt given Hopper's status as a serious art collector, but I find it a little highfalutin' for a disc that includes episodes of "The Loretta Young Show" and "Petticoat Junction." That said, this looks like a decent enough effort for what it is: early TV show appearances by the late actor, plus his cult film "Night Tide" and some trailers.

Trek Stars Go West: Yet another inexpensive, eclectic sampler of old-school material. TV western aficionados who already have or have seen this material may yawn, but I think the angle of featuring "Star Trek" castmembers (the big guns, not just "Red shirt #2) in an assortment of obscure series (well, obscure except "Bonanaza") provides a good opportunity for someone to pick up a sampler of shows like "Tate."

Good time to be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan

Yep, it sure is a great time to be a fan of the storied franchise known as the Pittsburgh Pirates. Well, it's a great time, that is, as long as you're not too bent out of shape about the whole "no winning season since 1992" thing, and as long as you don't have too much hope for a championship in the near future.

No, it's a great time to be a Buccos fan if you have a sense of history, if you look to the past more than you do the present and the future. Happy days are here again for us long-suffering folks thanks to the ever-awesome MLB Network, which is serving up some nice Christmas presents for Pirates followers.

A few weeks ago, the channel ran "Baseball Seasons: 1971," a fine episode in its documentary series that focused on one of those years the Pirates actually ruled. If you missed this one, be on the lookout, as MLB reruns these fairly often.

Best of all, though, is this Wednesday's 3-hour special featuring a presentation of that 1960 Game 7 telecast recently found in Der Bingle's basement. The show will feature the game and interviewers with some of the participants in front of a live audience in Pittsburgh. It'll be a chance to look back on the days when the franchise was on top, and it promises to be a great nostalgic experience as well as a discovery for those of us (most of us) who never saw that historic game.

Not only is MLB showing that, but the same night, the network will show something called "Bing and Baseball," and really, what more do you need to know? A half-hour program that combines Bing Crosby and the sport of baseball sounds like a classic combination.

Lest I forgot, there's also an acclaimed book about by Aaron Skirboll called "The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven," which tells the story of how Pittsburgh was at the center of the drug scandals that plagued the game during--uh, well, maybe this won't be a great nostalgic experience, but it's a good book about the Pirates, so that has to count for something?

Pirates fans, enjoy. The rest of you, thanks for permitting me the indulgence of this post. More content coming up later!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

This Week in DVD

As we always say, of all the DVD release summaries on the web, this is one of them. It's still a slow period for interesting releases, but here are the highlights of this week:

Knight and Day: As tempting as it is to make a good snarky remark about how the underperformance of this would-be blockbuster proves people are over Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, I can't help but think a lot of it has to do with the fact it sounds like a cheesy 80s cop show.

Twilight Saga: Eclipse: Ah, yes, time for another one to come out. That explains why there was so much merchandise in every other store at the mall the other day. No, wait, there's always that much merchandise in every other store at the mall.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: The standard checklist when considering whether to see a Nic Cage movie goes like this: 1) What kind of hair does he have? 2) Is he over-the-top crazy in it? I know very little about this Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster (would-be blockbuster?) but since Cage is a sorcerer, we know 1) he'll wear a cool conic hat with crescent moons and stars and 2) yeah, he'll be spouting all kinds of crazy sorcerer dialogue. Right? Hmm, maybe we need a little bit more to go on when considering whether to see a Nic Cage movie.

Space: 1999 Season 1: I don't usually care much about Blu-Ray releases, but I want to remind everyone who doesn't know about how enraged I was as a kid when I turned it to WPIX one night at midnight and saw "Space:1999" instead of "Star Trek." I have never given "Space: 1999" a chance because of that.

Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Volume 17: I just put this Alpha Video release in here because to me, no matter how good the show, I don't think anything sounds more ridiculous than a "Volume 17" of anything.

Have Gun Will Travel Season 5 Volume 1: I stand corrected.

Friday, December 3, 2010

If "Dancing with the Stars" doesn't get Todd Palin...

Yesterday, I read reports that the ABC hit show "Dancing with the Stars" is trying to get TODD Palin on the next season. After extensive investigative reporting, I've discovered that the producers are covering all their bases, though, and have created a backup plan. If they cannot get Todd, these are the next-best options they have targeted, in order of preference:

1) Jethro Palin (distant Palin cousin from the Ozarks; said to be a "real hoot")
2) Bullwinkle Palin (The family's pet moose)
3) Bear (A wild bear that Sarah reportedly shot and wounded on a hunting trip last summer; made peace with the family and is now a confidant)
4) The adult film star who played Sarah Palin in "Nailin' Palin"
5) Ann Coulter (Producers will ask Tom Bergeron to call her "Pale Ann" and say it really fast)
6) Bristol Palin wearing a mask (she will be billed as the mysterious "Brayin' Pistol" and will deny her true identity until she is unmasked late in the season)
7) The Palins' letter carrier
8) Darla Hughes (a grad student from Massachusetts who, at a secret tryout, wowed producers with her impersonation of Tina Fey impersonating Sarah Palin)
9) Michael Palin (not the former Monty Python star; just a married schoolteacher and father of 3 who happens to be named "Palin")
10) A real star

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm not ready for Amy Adams to be gritty

OK, I offer the caveat that I haven't actually seen many Amy Adams movies lately. I still haven't seen "Doubt," for example, and "Sunshine Cleaning" sits on my DVR. But the ones I have seen offer a certain image of the lass. Heck, even the ones I haven't seen do that. I don't think I need to actually watch "Leap Year" to be charmed by Adams' delightful light romantic-comedy persona.

In fact, I think it's much better I don't actually watch "Leap Year." If I stick to watching the ads and the trailers, I can assume it's tolerable, well-made fluff.

An upcoming movie with considerable buzz is David O. Russell's "The Fighter," a biopic of scrappy boxer Irish Micky Ward. The commercial I keep seeing focuses on star Mark Wahlberg and the male supporting cast like Christian Bale, but there is The Girl in this kind of picture, and in this picture, The Girl is played by Amy Adams.

We see her only briefly in the ad, but she is wearing some kind of lingerie in a brief (too brief, I might add) glimpse, and we see enough of the movie and of her to know that this is going to be a gritty affair. Not necessarily a sad movie, mind you, but come on--it's boxing, it's working class, it's Christian's not going to be a delightful light romantic comedy. It may be inspirational, as Bale plays a half-brother who gets out of the joint and trains Ward to success, but it will be gritty. It's R-rated, after all.

And I'm not sure I'm ready for Amy Adams to be in a movie that purports to represent "reality." Why, just the other night, we happened upon her twirling around and dancing as a fairy princess in "Enchanted." She's gonna be in a muppet movie next year, for crying out loud.

Hey, I know that Amy Adams is a fine actress and a real person capable of portraying real people. I just don't know if I'm ready to see it right now.