Thursday, February 28, 2013

Me writing about the Oscars pretty much just to write about the Oscars

OK, it's a few days after the fact, and maybe everyone has had their say already--darned Internet--but I figure maybe someone, somewhere is curious what I thought about the show. So here goes, and I'll keep it brief:

I did not enjoy the broadcast, but I don't blame Seth MacFarlane as much as I do the production team. To me, no joke the host told was as obnoxious as the self-promotion indulged in through the elevation of "Chicago" to some kind of Modern Classic and, maybe worse, the mid-show shout-out to themselves they scheduled on a show where they cut people's microphones and played winners off with the theme from "Jaws."

I did laugh at some of MacFarlane's jokes, but overall his material seemed stale, and his self-conscious persona didn't help. Part of me wishes the ceremony had a little more class, but then again part of me wonders if it would have been funnier if MacFarlane (and the producers) just said, "Hell with it," went all in, and totally let go. As it was, Seth was at least a hell of a lot more reverent and engaged than James Franco. I didn't particularly need to hear him doing his lounge singer thing, though.

Speaking of that, though, I give credit to Charlize Theron for doing that little dance number right off the bat like that. I'd think most celebrities just want to show up and not have to worry about doing stuff like that. At least they got to do it early and get it over with.

I feel asleep during the presentation of Best Actor and Best Actress, so maybe I missed the best parts of the show. I really had no rooting interest or disinterest in anything, so the show itself needed to come through for me to stay engaged the whole night, especially when I had an awesome "Columbo" episode to watch during commercials and/or musical numbers. When I can't get pumped up for a James Bond tribute, something's wrong.

Speaking of musical numbers, MacFarlane told us the night was a celebration of music in the movies. Isn't that every year? Seriously it feels like every time there is a theme, it is musicals. So they did it again, and yet they still don't perform all the Best Song nominees.

I wasn't offended, as some were, with the Babs Streisand salute to Marvin Hamlisch at the end of the In Memoriam segment so much as I was just irritated she was out there. It did sort of single Hamlisch out somewhat, but I'm sure it was more a case of the producers being all excited about a chance to get Babs to sing. You know what? Every year this segment ticks someone off, and every year they find a way to tinker with it and tick someone ELSE off. I seriously think they ought to just scrap it if they can't just run the names and pics with the orchestra playing a tasteful song underneath.

.Wouldn't it have been funny to see a conversation between Kristen Stewart and Quentin Tarantino that night?

I knew he was old, but I never thought William Shatner looked OLD until Sunday night. That really drained a lot of the potential humor out of that Captain Kirk bit. I was just sad.

It wasn't a disaster of a show, but let me put it this way: When I opened Hulu Monday morning and saw The Oscars was available for streaming, I thought it was a cool thing. After I considered it a few minutes, though, I realized there wasn't anything on the telecast I wanted or needed to see again.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

All bow down to the wonder of Wheeler and Woolsey! That's right, Warner Archives releases a set with a whopping 9 of The Boys' films, all for 35 bucks plus shipping, which isn't bad for the WA. All other releases this week pale by comparison, but let's mention a few of them:

The Master: [Brilliant post-justifying Scientology joke removed on advice of legal counsel]

2013 BCS National Championship: The DVD that finally makes Brent Musburger upgrade from VHS.

Silent Hill: Revelation: I have no idea what this is, but I feel like there's probably a bunch more.

Angels in the Outfield: I was puzzled when I saw this on a list of new releases because I thought this 1951 baseball flick had been out for years, but I am pretty sure it was an Amazon exclusive, at least at first. Turns out Warner Archive released it last week, but I'm mentioning it anyway because to me any footage of the Pittsburgh Pirates winning is a precious commodity that must be celebrated.

Dead End Kids Double Feature: Hey, cool to see this and all, but wouldn't it be nice to see a big Dead End Kids box set? Yes, it would. (Whoa, I didn't know I could answer my own questions like that. That changes everything!)

Night Court Season 8: I can't tell you off the top of my head what specifically happened in season 8, but I'll bet a lot of it involved Gilbert Gottfried.

Strangers in the Night: A 1946 Anthony Mann pic headlines a new batch of Olive Films product. You know, I love what Olive does, but this one runs under an hour and would have maybe made a nice co-headliner on a double feature DVD. Just sayin'.

In streaming...There's an interesting addition to Hulu this week: The Academy Awar--excuse me, The Oscars. Yep, the whole ceremony is online and was available the next morning. That's an interesting and welcome move. I don't want to see it again, but it's cool that the show is available.

For me, the highlight of a slow Netflix week is the arrival of Louis CK: Live at the Beacon, the concert that he distributed himself online for a $5 fee. So if you were too cheap to pay for it then (Ahem) or missed the FX premiere, here you go.

Also available is Che, Soderbergh's 4-hour epic about a guy I'm not really all that interested in knowing better. You know what, I'd rather watch 20 or so episodes of Fat Albert.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"My First Superman Book" raises some questions

I didn't want to have to write this post. I grew up loving Superman in comics, cartoons, and movies, and so when my toddler got "My First Superman" as a gift, I hoped it would set him on a path to enjoying the character--maybe not Nic Cage "naming your child Kal-El" fandom, but something like at least wanting to see a Superman comic every now and then.

It's a sturdy, attractive board book, with each page offering a pull tab a child can yank to reveal a surprise, or some other  tangible feature. For example, you can "CHECK OUT HIS SILKY, RED CAPE" by running your fingers over it. The same goes for the "SPARKLY ICE" at the Fortress of Solitude and Krypto's "fur."

One cool spread shows Clark Kent rushing into a phone booth (And I love, love, LOVE that even today it's still a phone booth) as the text explains how he transforms when people are trouble. Pull a tab on the side, and, voila, Supes flies out the other side of the booth!

Yes, it's a good enough book, but one part disturbs me. "Superman has X-Ray vision," we read, and the Man of Steel himself thinks, "WHAT'S GOING ON BEHIND THAT WALL?"

I'm pretty excited to see what is behind the brick wall he was gazing at. A fire? A bank robber?? Lex Luthor???

I pull the tab to show my son (OK, I was really more interested) what Superman sees with his special power, and...hey, it's Lois Lane! It's not even Lois Lane in trouble. It's Lois Lane sitting at her desk, chin in her hand, sly smile on her face.

Superman uses his X-ray vision to spy on Lois Lane?

I think the only "saving" she needs is from hunger, as she might well be contemplating whether to get a sandwich or the soup/salad combo from the Daily Planet cafeteria (If we still have phone booths for Clark Kent to change in, the Planet can still be viable enough to have its own in-house cafeteria).

Superman uses his X-ray vision to spy on Lois Lane?

We all suspected it, maybe on some level envied him for it, but we don't need to see it in a kids' book. I mean, come on, Superman, we're trying to set an example here! I don't want my boy thinking it's OK to peep on attractive women...not until he's a teenager, anyway.

Shaken, I close the book to catch my breath, and then I notice the book's subtitle: "TOUCH AND FEEL!" Indeed. Indeed.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Me-TV to DC; I tell U what I think (Part 2)

Yesterday I purged myself of my negative feelings about Me-TV, but today I come to praise the classic TV subchannel for the good that it does: Programming stunts, occasional rarities, flexibility to vary the schedule and to arrange quick memorial tributes, that overnight noir block...

And best of all, of course, there are a lot of great, great shows on its roster.

Many of them I will not be watching except maybe as time killers or background (of course I say this now, but watch me park in front of the tube when they actually come on) because I would rather watch them uncut and without the, ahem, let's say non-limited commercial interruption of broadcast television. These include some of my all-time favorites, so nothing personal; I'd just rather see 'em on DVD if I can, or I've already gone through them enough for now. I'm talking shows like Car 54, Bilko (But bless Me-TV for showing them), Dick Van Dyke Show, The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, The Fugitive, Route 66, Columbo, The Rockford Files, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, The Naked City...

Dang, the more I look at this roster, the more I think how great this lineup would have looked about 20 years ago before streaming and before the DVD boom.

So this list of classics I am most grateful for is not necessarily my list of favorite shows on Me-TV, but it's shows I don't mind seeing chopped every now and then, shows I can't get anywhere else, shows I don't yet have on DVD but might get down the road, etc.

The top 12 (in alphabetical order):

*Dobie Gillis
--I haven't seen much of this show, and what I did was long ago. I have a feeling I'd appreciate it more today.

*The Donna Reed Show
--Why not? I'd check this out every now and then.

*Get Smart
--I don't know if this one holds up in multiple episodes in short periods of time, or I might have picked up the DVDs by now.

*The Invisible Man
--Never seen it.

--Until Hulu shells out for more than the first 3 seasons, or until I shell out for the DVDs, this is my place to get Theo Kojak.

*Make Room for Daddy
--I think this is one of the most underrated family sitcoms out there. I just hope ME-TV is showing more than just that season S'Mores put out on DVD.

*Mr. Lucky
--I liked the only episode I've seen; if I see a few more and enjoy 'em, I'll probably just get the DVD set from Timeless. For now, yeah, I'd like to see it.

*My Three Sons
--I saw virtually all the color episodes on Family Net not too long ago, but I'd love to see the Bub years, and CBS seems in no hurry to get out their "We're butchering the incidental music" DVD sets.

*Perry Mason
--These probably don't benefit from being chopped up, but as a casual fan, I can see myself dipping into the show every now and then.

*The Rebel
--Never seen it. I wish there were more shows on Me-TV I had never seen.

--My dad and I watched a movie on this horror host's program a while back and had a great time. The presentation, while irreverent, is a lot more respectful to the movies than other similar shows I've seen, and he didn't seem to be interrupting the movie and being obnoxious, but rather having a good time and enjoying the film with us while, yes, mocking aspects of it.

*Wild Wild West
--Love what little I've seen of this series. Me-TV can tide me over until I get the DVDs someday.

Hey, that's at least 12 programs I have genuine interest in watching on this channel when it arrives "on or around March 1," and that's pretty good! I know I had some complaints the other day, and I am not sure how much time I'll have to actually watch Me-TV right off the bat, but believe me when I say I can hardly wait till on or around March 1.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Me-TV to DC; I tell U what I think (Part 1)

I saw word over a month ago that digital subchannel ME-TV was finally coming to the DC media market, and this week FIOS got around to letting its customers know...sort of. "On or around March 1," an on-screen message tells us, we will see Me-TV on the system.

"On or around March 1"? It's like they're scheduling a service call. You gotta love how TV providers can only be precise when they're telling you when the bill is due. Are they just pointing a giant tractor beam up at the sky and hoping to catch the signal the next time it flies by?

The fact is, it's coming soon, and I must admit the Negative Nellie in me already laments that I didn't have access to this channel years ago, when it was better about showing edited and time-compressed in, it didn't (The Negative Nellie in me gets more and more strident as I age, but it's tough being a woman trapped in a man's body, so I try to indulge her). It's still nice to have the option of a classic TV channel 24/7, imperfect as it is.

Ah, let's just get the negative stuff out of the way today, why don't we? The part where I express my concern that since Me-TV recently announced it would be subscribing to the Nielsen ratings service, as that will create an inevitable decline as it moves towards blander programming, late night infomercials, and even--gasp--original programming.

And while I'm at it, let me run down the list of rerun-abused programs that I really wish Me-TV didn't carry. I realize these programs have their fans, and I realize that TV Land isn't TV Land anymore, but still...aren't we trying to avoid TV Land? Some of these shows just remind me of the sad decline of that once-great channel. With that in mind, I'd 86 these offerings (looking at the list of programs here on the official website):

--There was a lot more to the Old West than these two shows, yet TV Land ran them seemingly all day every weekend for years. The color hourlong "Gunsmokes," at least, seem a little overexposed, and "Bonanza" shows up on all those quasi-religious channels.

*I Love Lucy
--If you want to argue that any classic TV station worth its salt ought to have "Lucy" reruns, I'll listen.

*I Dream of Jeannie
--Again, I know they have their fans, but they never seem to go away, and Me-TV has them back to back in a prime spot--8:00-9:00 P.M.--every weeknight.

--For a show about a "Forgotten War," it sure is hard to forget about the show. Again, I acknowledge it's a classic, though never one of my favorites, but not only does this seem to turn up everywhere, it turns up in multiple-hour blocks. No one ever airs like one episode of M*A*S*H Fridays at 5:30.

*The Rifleman
--I love the show, but I list it here because it, too, has been everywhere. I mean, AMC airs it, for crying out loud.

Now, there are many other shows on the schedule that don't personally wow me, but I have no problem with them being on ME-TV, either because they aren't on elsewhere or they haven't been played out. There are others that seem played out to me because for a few years I had, like, 500 channels, but I know not everyone had access to stuff like American Life TV, so I won't gripe about those shows. Sorry to pick on these 7 classic series today, but maybe in their place we could get some real rarities or at least some programs that aren't getting a lot of exposure.

OK, Negative Nellie is gone (for NOW...MWAH-HA-HA-HA!), and in part 2 tomorrow, I'll highlight the shows I actually DO look forward to watching on Me-TV.

Friday, February 22, 2013

New Column Debut! "Lou's Views" with a special guest blogger

As a rule, we keep this a one-man operation, which makes the use of the word we" in this sentence kind of bizarre, but when you (see, I switched pronouns) get a chance to land a legend, you go for it. Through mutual acquaintances, we--OK, I--wooed a seasoned pro with years of experience in TV and print journalism to be the blog's new semi-regular media columnist. He's been looking for a gig since accepting a buyout several years ago. Please welcome "Lou's Views," written by none other than  Mr. Lou Grant.

...Hello, or hi, or whatever it is a "blogger" says...I have been sniffing around for a way to stay in the game since accepting that damn buyout from the "Trib" several years ago...I held out for the right situation...It didn't come, so I took this one...Actually, I like this--what do you call it? Blog, I like this blog, and I like this Brooks kid. He's got spunk..I remember years ago I told someone who had spunk that I HATED spunk. Guess I mellowed out...You might remember the person on the other end of my zinger so many years ago...Yep, it was Freddie McKinley, one of our best copy boys...

...I plan to write about the media, whether it be TV, print, or radio, and, hell, maybe a movie now and then, but since I've still got journalism in my blood, I'll be focusing on the news. As for this "social media," I'm trying...To me, "social media" meant Donovan going up to the redhead at the bar and buying her a drink...And don't get me started on Twitter...I knew a guy they called "Twitter" in my unit in Normandy. He had a case of the shakes so bad, he got shipped back stateside faster than you can say "Ernie Pyle"...

...Personally I understand the appeal of Twitter's immediacy, but back in my day, journalism was a lot more than 100-some characters....Any newsman who tried to pass off short, disjointed tidbits as actual content would have been laughed out of the Guild...Hey, does anyone remember ethics?...How about that phone hacking business? Never would have happened if we all stuck to good old rotary dialers...What are they gonna do in doctors' offices when newspapers and magazines go away?

...It's about time for me to take in a beer and a ball game, but I want to say a word about this weekend's Academy Awards. Don't kid yourself, a lot of the rags in this town make a lot of money from the ads the studios take out this time of year...I remember arguing with Mrs. Pynchon over a big color supplement she wanted to run that was practically bought and paid for by the industry...What the hell that had to do with the City Desk, I don't know, but that was often how it happened back in my day...


Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Lincoln" shows the path to Oscar success

So the Academy Awards are this weekend, and I think we all know "Lincoln" is going to sweep the major categories. Even if we don't all know that, I'm saying it anyway because it's the only one I saw, and in my world, that's the key factor, right?

I believe "Lincoln" has been so successful and will win so many awards for a simple reason.. I refer not to the direction of Oscar winner Steven Spielberg; nor the screenplay by the acclaimed Tony Kushner; nor even the stellar performances by the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis, the scene-stealing Tommy Lee Jones, and the myriad other pros in the cast.

Well, not the performances per se.

I think the reason this movie will rule the day boils down to the essence of the movie itself, that which it is about: Old (or at least middle-aged) dudes with cool old-timey facial hair yelling at each other.

I think Spielberg hit on a formula here and rode it to eventual Oscar success. "Lincoln" is a winner because of it. Old dudes with cool old-timey facial hair yelling at each other.

Even in real life, I could sit and watch guys talk about the most arcane subjects for hours on end if the dynamic were anything like the depiction of Congress in the film. Granted, the 13th Amendment is most certainly not comparable to haggling over...I don't know, soybean quotas, but the fact is that watching people just discussing an amendment is a captivating spectacle in this circumstance.

How cool C-SPAN would be if our representatives took to the floor sporting big ol' mutton chops and exclaimed "By Jove!" And certainly any elected official who preceded a crucial voice vote on a historically significant proposition by muttering, "Aw, hell with it," would deserve to be appointed for life. Term limits be damned for the gent (or woman; I really don't mean to exclude the ladies) who combined that era's brand of mustache/beard with its florid oratory (unless the oratory were ABOUT term limits, in which case, by Jove,I'd be spellbound but confused). The nation would be a better place and the populace more engaged.

Of course, the politicians we have today, all modern and stuff with their fancy razors and their non-smallpox-scarred faces, don't feel the need to turn a Congressional session into a political version of "Whisker Wars." So the best we can hope for is that more ambitious filmmakers follow up and produce more historical epics with more follicles and more yelling. I'd wager that even a Millard Fillmore biopic could do good business and scoop up plenty of awards if it were done like this. Of course, the minute I pitched it, some Hollywood suit with a memory would try to intervene and say, "We already did a duck picture. Howard the Duck bombed. Next!"

After writing this all down, my formula for success looks a little...shallow. Yelling? Facial hair? OK, I'll admit it's rather insubstantial. But I just thought of another thing that makes this kind of movie special, something more profound, a cinematic element that cuts right through to the soul and is also easily transferable to the contemporary political scene: Cool hats. Who's with me on that one, huh?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

I am a staunch defender of Netflix and the value it provides for 8 bucks a month, but it's in a stretch now that reminds you why people gripe about its movie selection. I follow the site to track new streaming additions, and selections that users are queuing most have little "HOT" symbols next to them. Sometimes you look at the Recent Additions list, see a bunch of HOTs next to titles you have never heard of, and wonder if people are just so desperate for new movies that they add anything that came out in 2012.

One of the few standouts to me in the past week was Paul Greengrass' riveting United 93, an excellent 9/11 film I don't think I ever want to see again. I'm also intrigued by 1974's Once Upon a Scoundrel, which offers a cast led by Zero Mostel, Katy Jurado, and A. Martinez.

"We've been looking for a project to do together for a while."
--Barney on working with Linda Ronstadt, on "The Simpsons."

In regular, old DVD this week, we get:

Argo: After going 3 for 3 as a director, I think we pretty much have to retire the Ben Affleck jokes for a while. You know, even if he made 10 "Citizen Kanes," I'm not sure it would be worth the loss of the "Gigli" jokes.

Atlas Shrugged: Part II: I could help you out by telling you about this movie, but of course you should have to do it yourself.

Black Cobra Woman/Super Bitch: Ah, how I miss these Merchant-Ivory productions.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids: Complete Series: Don't remember this animated series, but it's kind of a cool offbeat addition to the Warner Archives collection. Either that or it's just one more item to infuriate everyone who's waiting for stuff like the rest of "Huckleberry Hound."

On the Waterfront Criterion: Oh, come on, another release of another film we've all seen and discussed hundreds of times, yet no Criterion treatment for "Black Cobra Woman" and "Super Bitch"?

Wacky World of Tex Avery Volume 1: Uh, just a warning, folks: Do your homework before getting this one. It's not what you may think it is. It's wacky, I suppose, and it is Volume 1, but that's about it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

10 Biggest Revelations from Paul McCartney's Commentary Track on "Magical Mystery Tour"

10) The nonsensical, plotless spectacle wasn't scripted.

9) During production, no one really paid attention to how post-production would go.

8) The Beatles wanted to go out on their own and do something unique and innovative--an art film, really.

7) But of course they also wanted to pack the film with old comedians and character actors they liked, plus all of their buddies.

6) Paul encouraged each of the others to contribute their own ideas (Translation: "Don't blame me for goofy stuff like the spaghetti scene").

5) The romantic beach sequence with Buster Bloodvessel and Aunt Jessie--one of the most tender, evocative, non-hallucinogenic in the film--was originally banned by the BBC for being "too weird."

4) McCartney was surprised to hear that Steven Spielberg and classmates studied "MMT" in film school. Who would have thought even a Beatle would have to resort to a deft humblebrag every now and then?

3) But Sir Paul, reminiscent of Michael Jordan in his Hall of Fame induction speech, is still peeved enough by critics' responses to the project to close his commentary by giving them a sarcastic "thank you."

2) The artistic significance of the stripper sequence? The Beatles liked seeing girls take their clothes off.

1) Paul can actually remember any of this despite being on an extended "Magical Mystery Tour" of his own for the better part of the late sixties.

It may read like I'm teasing Macca, and it may sound like I'm teasing Macca, but don't let that fool you; I really am teasing Macca. In all seriousness, though, I do admire him for recording a commentary track for the DVD. He didn't have to do that. Surely he wants to get his spin on the project out there, but still, in an era of general decline in bonus features, this is a delightful extra that adds value to the disc.

As for "Magical Mystery Tour" itself, I enjoyed watching it with my dad, then my friends, though it's a self-indulgent and often frustrating piece of work. Viewing it today only makes you wonder why there isn't more footage of the four guys interacting and less of the supporting cast. But they wanted to do step outside the norm, and I think if I put myself back in their era and mindset (Note to authorities: I am not doing so by ingesting illicit substances of any sort), I understand it.

To me, any footage of the Beatles in their day deserves a look--maybe not repeated viewings, but at least one. Plus there's some great music. The DVD shows some effort, too, with the commentary and featurettes helping put it all into context, though the recent BBC documentary that aired on PBS apparently did a lot more of that (and, sadly, is not here).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Vault of Coolness: The Plot to Smear Sophia Loren

Time to head back into the Vault of Coolness, my rather immodest name for my regular excursions into the Cultureshark archives for something interesting. Today let's go back to March 1962 and "Confidential" magazine, which rips the lid off...


Who needs Photoshop? "Confidential" was able to make these brilliant dupes 50 years ago by slapping Loren's head on stock photos like that "Hey, Marilyn's leaning over!"shot.

I hope the good citizens of 1962 appreciated the public service "Confidential" did. See, the magazine in no way exploited Sophia Loren by running these fake pictures. No, it did so--reluctantly, you can bet--for the greater good, as a warning to those of us who...uh, might come across stag footage of famous actresses and think it's real.

And it runs this mini-lesson on how to craft these fakes solely as a means to educate readers about this vile tactic. This information can in no way be used by anyone to make and peddle their own smut, and nor could the whole article encourage the fine, upstanding readers of "Confidential" to do so.

So from the ethically challenged year of 2013, I thank you, Walter Winchell, and especially "Confidential," for acting not just as a gossip rag, but as a Public Watchdog, ever vigilant in the fight against exploitation and prurience.

(My apologies for the scan, but I had to be delicate because the magazine is fragile. Also, I'm just an inept scanner.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Missing in Action: Gimme a Break

OK, so today's post is not about a classic, nor even a show I really--what's the word for it?--like, but what better way to get the blog going again than by exploring a mystery? Last time I did a "Missing in Action" post, I wondered why the "Carol Burnett Show" was absent from DVD and from the airwaves, and since then Time-Life stepped up and delivered a big box set. The complete series "Gimme a Break" is available on DVD, but through a Canadian company (it was too polite to leave fans hanging after the first seasons) , and it never seems to turn up in national syndication these days. I'm not sure why.

It was well regarded enough to be a constant in the 1980s and 1990s and I am sad to say, I watched it a lot. I watched it an awful lot considering I never even really liked it, and in fact, I grew to despise it in its later seasons. Yet I watched it first run, I watched a bunch of the reruns, and likely saw many episodes more than once. Why? Well, because it was on. I'm not trying to weasel out of admitting past enjoyment of the series--after all, really how much "cooler" is it to confess to consuming a ton of episodes of a program I didn't even like--but rather I think I genuinely just kind of...absorbed it.

You remember this sitcom, right? It was a Nell Carter vehicle all the way, a showcase for the multi-talented star of Broadway and other mediums. Of course, there was nothing "medium" about her presence on the small screen. (Hey, at least I avoided a cheap gag on "broad"). I could be imagining this, but I recall Carter as one of those performers who was always described as a "force of nature." Ever notice how that term is invariably used to describe someone who is fat and/or loud? Isn't nature ever subtle?

"Gimme a Break" stars Nell as a live-in housekeeper/cook/all-around busybody who somehow managed to find herself in situations in which she has to sing every other episode (much to my annoyance). Someone should apply the prodigious statistical analysis we see in baseball these days to a study comparing Carter on "Gimme a Break" with Linda Lavin on "Alice" to see who gets more singing time and is therefore more (or less, depending on your POV) valuable to her sitcom.

I know what you're thinking--Nell is a force of nature, sings--she's just playing herself. Nuh-uh. See, she is playing a woman named Nell Harper, not Nell Carter. Totally different.

Nell shares the screen with an assortment of precocious kids and seasoned hands like John Hoyt as the grandpa, Howard Morton as a bumbling policeman/friend of the family, and Telma Hopkins as Nell's best friend and former bandmate who also managed to gets in a lot of musical numbers (again, much to my annoyance--tell me again why the hell I watched this so often?), but the co-star is Dolph Sweet as the widower cop who hired Nell. Sweet was a solid pro who did the crusty but good-hearted lug thing well enough, and I remember his sudden passing was a shock. On the bright side, we never had to endure sexual tension between those two.

On the even darker side, though, his absence paves the way for more screen time for Joey Lawrence, plus the eventual ultimate shark-jumping moves like relocating the show in New York and adding an even more precocious kid, Matthew Lawrence. Oh, and might I mention that Rosie O'Donnell joins the series in the New York era? I'm certainly not selling this as one we're all gonna rally around and get back on TV.

If it sounds very generic/sitcommy, well, it is. The only memorable aspects of  the series to me are the two distinct yet equally sassy theme songs (sung by Carter herself, natch), both of which ARE IN MY HEAD THIS VERY MOMENT FIGHTING WITH EACH OTHER FOR MY ATTENTION, and the scenes in the opening credits of Nell vacuuming a goldfish and strangling a scale after measuring her weight.
Still, my personal taste aside--and as I keep saying, I did watch the show--it ran for 6 seasons and well over 100-some episodes, and those kinds of successful sitcoms don't tend to disappear like "Break" did. I'm not surprised that it hasn't been on TBS or something like that in years, but there are a lot of outlets gobbling up cheap retro product nowadays. Maybe the show isn't up to Nick at Nite's standards, but as an ethnically diverse family sitcom, it might have fit in at some point. I'm surprised African-American cable network TV One hasn't given it a shot. Hasbro's HUB network aired "Facts of Life" for a while and might have tried this one. Even the black-oriented subchannel Bounce doesn't air it.

As "Break" was a Universal show, perhaps NBC Universal's new Cozi subchannel will add it eventually. I'm not sure why it's such a forgotten series (yes, even though a few paragraphs ago I just said virtually nothing about it is memorable). It doesn't have a specter of tragedy to keep it in the public consciousness like "Diff'rent Strokes," but is it really so much weaker than "227" or "Amen?" Just because I am not a fan doesn't mean it shouldn't be on somewhere.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

This is what I'm talking about: Entertainment Weekly disses Tom Wopat

Is it a good sign that yesterday I said I wouldn't be writing much about "Entertainment Weekly" and now my first post back is about "Entertainment Weekly"?

Well, remember that you can't spell "credible" without "l-i-e," and besides, I want to make an important point this morning. I am as guilty as anyone of offering snark for its own sake, but in my defense, I am not a major global print magazine with circulations in the millions, and plus I want to cut way back on that sort of thing. Here is what I don't want to do: Go out of my way to dis a celebrity just because he's not "cool" anymore. If he's a jerk or if someone else is being delusional about it, maybe, but if there is no harm, why call foul?

Case in point: The other day I looked at "EW's" Bullseye column, the regular back page feature in which it stuffs lots of pictures and smart-ass text into one infographic that purports to tell us what's HIP and what's NOT HIP at the moment. I know I shouldn't get worked up about this--it's just what "EW" does, after all--but at the bottom left of the page, and therefore on the periphery of pop culture--see, what's relevant is in the center of the page--is a picture of Tom Wopat's album cover with an accompanying wisecracking caption calling him "obsolete."

OUCH! Does the guy really deserve that? I didn't even know the album existed until they decided to rip it. It's not like we had to sit through a big Super Bowl ad hyping it right after kickoff. Really, what has Tom Wopat ever done to hurt anyone, apart from a DUI arrest and arguably a tacit endorsement of racism through driving around with the Stars and Bars plastered on his roof?

You know what? Come to think of it, IS he obsolete? He's a steady presence in stage and screen, including, you know, actual Broadway plays and stuff. He's in "Django Unchained," for crying out loud! But in spite of an ample and expanding post-"Dukes" resume--heck, post-"Cybill," for that matter--, someone thought it would be funny to take the cheapest of cheap shots and make fun of this work for existing because, hey, it's Tom Wopat, and won't that be a riot?

This is snark for its own sake. Do I, a blogger with an often sarcastic bent, want to take these kinds of potshots at hard-working celebrities?

Well, yeah, sure, of course I do!

The thing is I want to do it in conversation, maybe a private e-mail, the occasional one-and-done skywriting excursion...not on my blog. In short, absent a larger purpose of some kind, I don't want to rip Tom Wopat just for being Tom Wopat...unless he joins the staff of "Entertainment Weekly." Then he's fair game.

[SIGH] Here I am complaining about "EW" already. It's only a matter of time before I share a gripe about RTV's weekend schedule, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What I plan to do here

As I wrote yesterday, it's been a long time since I posted here. I was just looking at some of the regular features I used to run, and some of them seem impractical now. I enjoyed writing about trips to the bookstore, for example, but I don't make it out there as much anymore, and, let's face it, the bookstore might not be around much longer. I used to write a lot about magazines--remember those? In particular I blogged often about how silly "Entertainment Weekly" was, but while I still try to read it, I don't subscribe, and I don't think I'll be mustering too many posts about that. I was trying to find a way to write about music, but I just don't listen to it as much anymore unless it's a song my kids like hearing over and over again in the car (and over and over...again).

I spent a lot of time discussing the retro-oriented digital subchannels like RTV, and though I don't have that one anymore, I do have new ones like Cozi, Bounce, and soon ME-TV. Yet I can't work up too much righteous indignation about them. We know what we're getting: Heavily edited/time compressed classics with a mix of inane lifestyle programs or--hey, hold that thought; I might be working up a post about that after all.

My main emphasis on Cultureshark going forward is gonna be on the older stuff. It's harder for me to stay as current on modern pop culture these days, and there are plenty of other places that obsess over what's out there now and give you that perspective. My goal is when I DO post about modern stuff, I want to at least offer a different take or something halfway interesting--no writing about, say, the Grammys just to write about the Grammys.

As far as the old school, I love the classics and the un-classics, and I'm fascinated that I enjoy things from, to pick a year, 1957 that I might well dislike were they to appear in 2013. So I hope to explore that and bring a little irreverence to the approach without contributing to the vast amount of "snark for its own sake" out there in the mainstream as well as the Blogiverse. I want to have as much fun writing about the stuff as I do consuming it, and if you have a little fun reading about it here, then I think we're all getting it done.

And of course you'll see all kinds of self-indulgent posts (he wrote as if this very post wasn't proof of that) such as Half-Assed Gourmet and musings on other things in my daily life.

In the blog's previous incarnation, I used the Shark Bytes section on the right to throw out brief comments and "reviews" that didn't warrant a full post; I still plan to do so, but maybe more of the wise-ass comments will go on my Twitter feed (@Cultureshark), which you can now also see on the right, and the Bytes will be more of the reviews and recommendations. Shark Bytes and Twitter will be where I'll put a lot of my thoughts on modern TV, movies, etc. I'll try not to duplicate those feeds.

I will not be posting daily, and sometimes it might be more like weekly, but I do plan to maintain a regular presence here and make it worthwhile to follow me or at least check back here every now and then.

My sincere thanks to readers past, present, and future, and please give me your suggestions, ideas, and your 100% honest feedback--as long as it's 100% positive, of course.

Next post here will be actual content! In the works are some new recurring features, plus the debut of the Cultureshark Hall of Fame. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Where I've been

It's been well over and a year since I posted regularly, and some of you might be wondering what I was doing. What was I doing? What was I doing? Oh, ho, ho, what was I doing...

*I didn't attend the Oscars, but I watched a lot of Oscar Madison.

*I didn't go the Super Bowl, but I watched it on TV. Well, I missed most of the first half, but still. And I ate a lot of wings.

*I didn't record a hit album, but I listened to a lot of music. Of course, most of it consisted of the same few songs repeated over and over for my children's enjoyment.

*I didn't make a movie, but I saw a lot of movies. I didn't see many in theaters, but, what, my TV's not good enough? (Sorry, didn't mean to get confrontational there.)

*I didn't write any garbage for the Internet, but I changed a lot of diapers.

*I didn't write any books, but I read a lot--real ones, some even without pictures, as well as e-books.

I think what I'm trying to say is I've been busy. The next few months of my life are going to be hectic as well, but I'm committing to getting Cultureshark going again and achieving its rightful status as THE premier pop culture site published my me on the Internet.

Up next: A brief look at what you can expect from the blog, and then soon after that, hopefully I'll get around to putting some actual content up here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Well, were you watching this space?

Perhaps you should have been.

"But nothing happened," you might say. That's a reasonable response. But let me tell you something specific that did NOT happen here: The Ravens winning the Super Bo--uh, the "Big Game." Had you been watching this space on Sunday, you would not have seen ME do anything entertaining--nor anything at all, really--but you also would not have seen the Ravens win the game, and therefore you yourself would have been a big winner.

I guarantee you that you will never see the Baltimore Ravens win a football championship on this blog. In fact, let this site be a refuge where we can all gather from time to time and maybe pretend it didn't even happen.

If you do keep watching this space, soon you will see something worthwhile. Ah, there I go making promises I don't know that I can keep already.

If you do keep watching this space, soon you will see something.