Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Brooks on Books: Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Third Edition)

I was a devotee of film author/critic/Disney Treasures host/whatever he does on Reelz  Leonard Maltin's original "TV Movies" books (referring to movies that appeared on TV, not just made-for-TV movies). It gave you tons of capsule entries for movies, including plot summaries, pithy comments, cast lists, years of release, director credits,  and the ever-important star ratings (DUD or BOMB to ****).

Eventually the books kept getting bigger yet somehow less comprehensive as the onset of Turner Classic Movies (The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind)  and lesser outlets like Fox Movie Channel expanded the amount of films available to home viewers. The problem was that Hollywood stubbornly continued to make movies, and readers wanted those ones in the Guide (as I called the book), so much to the chagrin of lovers of vintage movies, Maltin and his editors started chopping out entries of older flicks.

The solution was to make a separate book--easy enough, right? Only the Classic Movie Guide, which established a cutoff point beyond which no movie released would be eligible for inclusion, was a little bigger, more expensive, yet still lacking plenty of films. Yes, "Gone with the Wind" and "Casablanca" were there, but what about all the stuff that was showing on TCM early mornings? How rare can they be? They're on TV!

Maltin and co. have refined the process, added a bunch of titles, and established 1965 as the cutoff point--fair enough, I say. TCM even "presents" the book now and gets its logo on the cover. I have decided the book is never going to have everything, and sadly, there are still lots of old films from major studios that are on home video, television, and streaming video but not in the Guide. That doesn't mean there isn't value in this book, though.

No, I like having an actual book. It is irritating to see a cool-sounding obscurity pop up somewhere, then have to go to the Internet to get info, but there are thousands of titles in the "Classic Movie Guide," and sometimes I just don't want to be on the Internet. I want something I can leaf through, something I can hold. I want something I can put under the fourth leg of the dining room table if Bobby Osbo ever comes over and wants to share a pizza while we watch a Joe E. Brown marathon. I want something I can hurl across the room in anger when I realize Wallace Beery isn't in the "Index of Stars."

This Guide is all of those things and more. It's a great reference I love having by my recliner. There's just one big problem with my copy: It's missing over 30 pages.

That's right, my copy goes from the middle of a review of "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" on page 464 to the end of a review of "Nothing Sacred" on page 497! There is nothing in between--no sign of binding damage nor of papers ripped out, no nothing. It's just an odd leap forward.

It's only 33 pages out of almost 850, but it's kind of a bummer if  I want to read about something like, say, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "North by Northwest," or who knows how many lesser-known gems. Not to mention a REAL classic like Wheeler and Woolsey's "The Nitwits."

I'm going to try to exchange it and get a complete copy, but right now it's kind of like that weird situation when TCM ran the Bowery Boys' "Spy Chasers" (p. 654, **.5, "practiced farce") with several reels mixed up. I would love to give this version of the guide ***.5 or ****, but right now, missing all those pages, I can only give it DUD.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cultureshark versus...Leonard Maltin?

I just got a copy of the third (the latest and greatest) edition of "Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide," and I want to report a dilemma: I recently watched an oldie but goodie on Blu-Ray and enjoyed it for what I was, though I wasn't ready to give it **** or anything. In fact, my positive review will be appearing on ClassicFlix soon.

I looked up the same movie in the Guide, and Maltin and his team are much less cheerful, giving it *.5 and calling it "numbingly awful." Numbingly awful? I don't want to disrespect the Guide, but, jeez, "numbingly awful" is pretty harsh. I am starting to doubt every opinion I have about movies. I got through this motion picture without any loss of feeling whatsoever.

Do I have to challenge Leonard to a review-off? No, certainly not; that emergency option must only be called as a last resort. I will accept this difference of opinion and move on. I do have another issue with Leonard and his publisher, though, one that WILL make me take action. I'll talk about that when I review the book in an upcoming post.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

And happy holidays to all readers. I believe Christmas is not just something to celebrate on December 25, but an ongoing expression of love and joy--and I don't only say that because I was too lazy to post something yesterday.

My gift to my readers is this hollow promise to post more often in 2016. No, in seriousness, I have some cool things planned, including more installments of Streaming Video Showcase. I plan to start running "bonus segments" I don't include in my ClassicFlix TV Time columns, including one that will run here as soon as they throw up my next one.

Also, stay tuned for an exciting NEW project coming in 2016, one I will happily and shamelessly plug here when it launches.

Thanks for sticking with me! Here's to a great New Year, and in the meantime, enjoy the holiday weekend, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Classic shows I wish did a Christmas episode

This time of year, it can feel like the Christmas episodes are steamrolling every other kind of plot or theme in existence, but it's not like every television series does one. Sure, some shows do something every year, but you  might be surprised at some of the programs that have never done a Christmas episode. Here are a few I really would like to see:

*Sgt. Bilko: Just because anything Bilko-related is awesome. I wish there were a "Bilko" episode about everything, really, but I envision a great holiday con playing out with Philbert Silvers and company, even one with an ultimately tender resolution.

*My Three Sons: A family sitcom runs 12 years and 380 episodes and never gets around to devoting one of them to Christmas? Unbelievable! I take it as a personal affront that we can't enjoy Bub and/or Charley bah-humbugging their way through 20-some minutes of merriment in the Douglas household. Did Fred MacMurray think reading Xmas-related lines would spoil his golf game?

*Leave It to Beaver: I can't believe the Cleavers never got a yuletide showcase. In contrast, the Nelson family had what felt like a dozen of 'em--and good on Ozzie for that.

*Batman: This series really missed an opportunity by not creating an over-the-top rogue Santa type who stole presents from the good citizens of Gotham.

*The Adventures of Superman: And while we're at it, hey, didn't they celebrate the holiday in Metropolis?

*I Dream of Jeannie: It's understandable that many link this sitcom with "Bewitched" in the annals of popular culture, but here's a big difference: Samantha Stephens made celebrating Christmas almost an annual tradition, while Jeannie never did it. I'm not a huge admirer of this series, either, but Barbara Eden in a Santa's little helper outfit would have made this a winner.

*Hogan's Heroes: OK, it would have been bizarre, now that I think about it, but so was the whole series premise.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Underrated Christmas Songs

I want to expand on my Top 5 list currently in the sidebar on the right. I normally put a "bottom 5" in that spot, but in the interest of positivity and the holiday spirit, I scrapped my idea of highlighting the most overplayed songs (this means I won't mention Wham's "Last Christmas," which I hear more than "White Christmas" these days, not that I'm mentioning that) and listed some tunes that deserve more attention.

"Underneath the Tree" by Kelly Clarkson: A great Christmas song makes you feel better after you hear it, and I can't listen to this and not smile. Mariah Carey made the modern staple "All I Want for Christmas Is You," and I enjoy that one, but at this point I wouldn't mind if programmers made more room for this one.

"Someday at Christmas" by the Jackson Five: I would have said the Stevie Wonder version was underrated simply because it was one of the best Christmas recordings ever, but this year's Apple commercial is surely sending a lot of people to the original version. So let me spotlight the Jacksons, a poignant rendition in its own right with the lads trading verses and, at one point, singing the special line, "Someday at Christmas, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm...."

"Merry Xmas Everybody" by Slade: I imagine many of our friends across the Atlantic are sick of this one, but I never hear it over here...except maybe if I happen to catch a token hour of Christmas songs played by a local rock station on December 25.

"Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You" by Billy Squier: The legendary goofy video recorded at the MTV offices gives this one some enduring cachet, but how often do you hear it on the radio or at the mall?

"Caroling, Caroling (Christmas Bells are Ringing)" by Nat King Cole: This is one of the great underappreciated Christmas carols--just a beautiful song--but you have to give particular credit to the King for managing to sound dignified as always even while uttering the words "ding dong."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Shameless Self-promotion: New TV Time at ClassicFlix

It's that special time again--TV  Time--and this month we dive into the world of classic family Christmas specials. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and...hey, just have a good one. Don't you dare miss it! Tell 'em Cultureshark sent ya! Uh, and if you came HERE from THERE, well, tell ME ClassicFlix sent ya! Or something.  We'll work it out.


TV TIME: 'Tis the Season for Classic Family Christmas Specials
Yesterday | by Rick Brooks
When I was a kid, several things signaled the imminent arrival of Christmas. One was the appearance of the giant catalogs from the big retail stores, colorful guides chock full of toys to request from Santa. The other big harbinger of the holiday was the roll-out of the great Christmas specials on the broadcast networks. Sure, the colder weather helped build the mood, and Thanksgiving provided a nice launching pad, but it didn't really feel like Christmas until the likes of Charlie Brown and Rudolph took over the airwaves...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Streaming Video Showcase: Warner Archive Instant

Oh, how I don't want to give out a grade today.

I have subscribed to many different streaming video on demand services over the years, and while I have been fiscally invested in all of them and thus interested in getting as much value as possible, I don't know if I have been as emotionally invested as I was in hoping Warner Archive Instant would be great--not just good, but great.

The service debuted with a high price tag (10 bucks a month) but a promising mission: to fill a niche by serving fans of classic, vintage, and obscure film and television, the kind of deep catalog programming Netflix was already abandoning. At first it looked like it would either be the next best thing to a TCM on Demand OR at minimum a vast library of old-school programming, a place where eventually everything in the Warner Archive DVD catalog would stream.

At first.

The selection has steadily declined over the past year, with seemingly more titles leaving than coming in. For weeks and weeks, there were under 5 films each in the Noir Pre-Code categories--hardly the kind of selection classic film lovers want.  Most content that has been added lately is either more recent or--and this is worse--recycled content that has already been on the service and left. All in all, I love what is there on WAI, but there just isn't always enough of it to justify the premium price it commands.

The Roku channel has never become fully functional. Often updates to categories don't show up right away, or at all, and that's bad news when movies and TV series are leaving so often. Titles are still visible in your watchlist even after they are yanked. Navigating the service is smoother than it was at launch but still not great.

After a long drought of new content, the  channel finally added a handful of Golden Harvest movies from Hong Kong right before Comic Con. I suspect it was just to give the Warner reps something to tout at the Con, but at least it was something.  Unfortunately, all titles disappeared a few months ago, and maddeningly, the "Showcase" category remained on WAI even though the movies weren't there.

Let me back up and talk about some of the great things about WAI: Everything is uncut, commercial-free, and I believe everything is closed-captioned (though many of the captions are non-verbatim and/or inaccurate). There isn't a lot of functionality with the Watchlist, but at least there IS one, and you can generally resume a video if you start if and have to stop for some reason. These features should be standard for every pay service, let alone one charging 10 bucks per, but give WAI credit for offering them.

I love, love, love the fact that I can see rarities like "The Man from Atlantis" and "The Man from Shenandoah" on here, but the impact of having them on demand is lessened when they can disappear with relatively scant notice. I understand why "Adventures of Superman" and "Man from U.N.C.L.E." left right before they started running on ME-TV, but why did "Flo" go so quickly?

More transparency about removal dates would be a big help. I'd say most TV series last at least a year, but that is by no means a sure thing. I was delighted to see season 1 of "Alice" show up last year--not just because I wanted to relive that terrible show (Hey, I watched it as a kid), but because unlike much of the other content on WAI, it was a Warner Home Video release (at least at first) and (I hoped) signaled the expansion of the available programming.

However, "Alice" left soon thereafter, and lately the programming has not been as imaginative as I hoped. The TV side is OK, though I wish there were more of it. I could occupy myself with the obscure TV  every month, but for the price, I want to see a better selection of films.

I want to see all those obscure programmers on Turner Classic Movies that aren't on any home video release. It used to be a thrill to see a batch of new movies added to WAI, but now it's mostly "reruns" of not-so-obscure movies, and there aren't as many rarities. it no longer feels like everything on Warner Archive will eventually show up, even if for a little while. It feels like they prepped a few hundred movies for the service and will just keep rotating through them.

I wish I could give this a better grade. I think there are some people who mean well involved with this SVOD service, but perhaps they are stretched too thin to make a difference. Layoffs and reorganization at Warners may have inflicted a huge hit on Warner Instant. It's telling that the Warner Archive Podcast, which used to feature the hosts sharing their Instant picks, hasn't mentioned WAI in a long time.

Now more than ever, with Netflix running as fast as it can from anything "old," there is a niche for a streaming video service focusing on vintage material. Unfortunately, given the disappointing content in 2015 and the high price tag, I have to give Warner Instant a C-, and I am not currently a subscriber. WAI could win me back by dramatically boosting its offerings--and letting them run longer--or by dramatically lowering the price.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Cultureshark Remembers...Nick Bockwinkel

Former American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight champ Nick Bockwinkel passed away last week at the age of 80. If you'd like to learn more about him and see him in his prime, don't go to the WWE Network, which still hasn't uploaded much of its AWA footage.

I didn't see him in his prime, but I enjoyed him as a young wrestling fan even though he always seemed kind of "out there." His mannerisms, his look, his style--everything suggested a cocky prick who would more likely hire someone to mess you up--and brag about it at the country club--than to actually mess you  up.

And the name? BOCKWINKEL? I was just fascinated by that name. Bockwinkel. Go ahead, say it out loud. Bet you can't do it just once. You'll want to do it over and over again. It doesn't sound like an ass kicker, but somehow it kicks ass.

But the man could go in the ring. He was middle aged when I got AWA Wrestling on ESPN, and in one of his most memorable matches of the 1980s, he was already about 50 when he battled Curt Hennig to a 60-minute draw. I loved this match, not just for the work in the ring, but for the great overwrought announcing of Rod Trongard. He really worked to get across how momentous the match was, and it was funny, but it was appropriate, and it worked.

After saying they neared the 58-minute mark: I don't know if I have two minutes left.

Then: We're in the final minute. I will never forget it as long as I live, however this ends. With less than 60 seconds remaining, these two men have given everything that there IS to give--not only that they have to give, but there IS to give--to the sport of professional wrestling.  They have pounded, they have hammered, they have clawed, they have dug, they have  put on every hold that they know, every weapon at their command...as we're in the final 30 seconds of this match.

People like to mock the AWA, and it was well past its own prime at that point, but that remains one of my favorite wrestling calls ever, and what a show Bockwinkel and Hennig put on that night.

After Bockwinkel finally left the fading AWA, he had a short run as a color commentator on WWF house shows, with a lot of his work turning up on "Prime Time Wrestling." I loved Bock in this role because I hated what I considered cartoonish aspects of wrestling, and I liked how he treated it like an actual sport.

One thing that always bothered me was when a babyface covered a heel for pin when the referee was knocked out or indisposed, and by the time the ref crawled over to make a count, the crowd would already have reached 10. An announcer would invariably say, "He would have had him if only the referee had been in position!" Now I appreciate more the desire to give someone a "visual pin" to save face before he went on to lose the match, but then I thought it was hokey and took me out of the moment.

One time this happened, and Bockwinkel told his play-by-play partner he wasn't so sure. He explained that a wrestler, through training and instinct, responds to that sound of the referee's hand hitting the mat, and therefore you couldn't assume that he wouldn't have kicked out if the ref had been there earlier. I don't remember how the PBP man responded, but I was elated. Finally, someone says what I've been thinking for so long! That comment alone won me over. Of course, that kind of intelligent, reality-based commentary wasn't a great fit for 1980s WWF, and the gig didn't last long, but I always considered Nick one of the most underrated announcers in pro wrestling history.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Vault of Coolness: Not just ESPN, but SPORTS, period, was different back then

From the Wednesday, January 5, 1983 L.A. edition of "TV Guide":

6:00 pm  (9)  NBA BASKETBALL

The Los Angeles Lakers at the Philadelphia 76ers, aired on a 90-minute tape delay. (2 hrs., 30 min.)

The Lakers are the home team. The Lakers rule at this time. And as good as they are, the Sixers are even better. In fact, these two teams went on to play in the Finals several months later, with Philly sweeping. The point is this a marquee match-up...and Channel 9 isn't showing it live.

Granted, 4:30pm is an awkward time to start a sporting event for those like me in the Eastern time zone, but it's not like that doesn't happen all the time out in Cali. Maybe Channel 9 had something important on at 4:30, like another live event or maybe even another sports contest?

Well, there is some basketball going on, like Dwayne dribbling that ball over the credits in...


And then there's some more basketball, only of the fictional variety:


I understand why non-fans think sports has a disproportionate impact on television, but, jeez, I don't want to go back to 1983, when an NBA Finals preview airs in a home market on a 90-minute tape delay.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shameless self-promotion: TV Time at ClassicFlix!

My newest feature is up at ClassicFlix, and we're providing a valuable public service this month:

It's TV Time again at ClassicFlix, and this time we're doing a publc service in showing you how to identify an evil twin. Don't you dare miss it!
One thing I loved about TV Guide in its heyday was its frequent description of a performer playing two different characters in the same episode as being in "a rare dual role." It seems like it happens all the time. There is a rich history of look-alikes appearing out of nowhere in television, and qu…

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Things Only I Want to See: Raising the Stakes

Nowadays every returning television program tells us it's "raising the stakes" for the upcoming season. You can't read about a show that's coming back without seeing a showrunner assure us that "the stakes are gonna be higher for  ___."

It's ridiculous. In this year's "Entertainment Weekly" Fall TV issue, even "Nathan for You" pulled this bit.

Why do the stakes have to be higher? Why can't the show just be better? Those aren't mutually exclusive.

What I would like to see is a showrunner tell us that the stakes will be LOWER next season.

"Things are going to be a lot more chill this season."
"The stakes have never been lower for the team."
"There will not be so much at stake for the staff this year."
"Things are much more relaxed, and it'll just feel like a comfortable status quo for the gang for a change."

Hey, I'd love to see it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Shameless Self-Promotion: Mid-October Edition

New TV Time is coming before the end of the month, but to tide you over, howzabout checking out my take on the Ritz Brothers' "Kentucky Moonshine" over at ClassicFlix? Preview below. Tell 'em Cultureshark sent you!

Kentucky Moonshine (Fox Cinema Archives)
Dancing Under the Moon of Kentucky Moonshine
Yesterday | by Rick Brooks
As movie comedy teams go, I would call The Ritz Brothers an acquired taste. In fact, I don't know too many people who have acquired it. I have been fascinated by them ever since seeing The Gorilla with Bela Lugosi and the even worse short subject Hotel Anchovy. I try to catch their movies whenever I can, so I was excited to see Fox release Kentucky Moonshine (1938) as part of its 20th-Century Fox Cinema Archives series.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cultureshark Book Club: Brady, Brady, Brady by Sherwood Schwartz and Lloyd Schwartz

Bootm line is this is a fun read for "Brady Bunch" fans. That's what I was expecting and what I received when I got this one from the local liberry. It's an anecdotal telling of the Brady saga from creator Sherwood Schwartz and his son Lloyd. Now, I'm a longtime viewer of the series (please don't think any less of me) and I am now introducing it to my own children (please don't think any less of me as a father), but I am no fanatic.  So after finishing the book, I went online to see what the hardcores thought.

There are apparently some problems with certain details from Lloyd, and there is a strong belief that Sherwood's son may have overinflated his importance to the series. I will say I was surprised when Sherwood's section ended and then the book was turned over to the son, who covered most of what went on in the actual run of the program. That's a bit disappointing, and I can understand the incredulity of some fans who think Lloyd, who went from dialogue coach for the kids to an associate producer and directed an episode, makes his own role in the show larger than it was.

Nevertheless, Lloyd tells a pretty good story, and even if you need to take some of it with a grain of salt, it's amusing. He implies there are inaccuracies in some of the OTHER Brady books, including Barry Williams' memoirs. It seems to me that more Brady fans lean towards Williams' accounts being more accurate, but like I said, I'm no expert.

I do think Lloyd comes off better than some of his critics indicate. He takes credit for some big Brady moments and concepts, but he also tells many stories that make himself look foolish.  I'll tell you who does not come off very well: Robert Reed. We all know the stories about how Reed squabbled with Schwartz and complained constantly, and the authors definitely get some payback. Lloyd in particular seems to still have it  in for Reed for making his dad's life more difficult (Sherwood seems to be more at peace with the whole thing). It is clear, though, that Reed was always good with the kids and didn't cause problems when they were around.

Many of the incidents in the book will be familiar to viewers, but I enjoyed reading about the cast's encounter with Ronald Regan at "The Merv Griffin Show," Lloyd throwing the actual football pass that hit Marcia's nose, and the time the Bradys put on a presentation of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

According to Lloyd's account, the show sought permission from the Walt Disney Company to use the names of the dwarfs, and it became a "thing." Lloyd tells the story with great build and color, but the gist is that it culminates in a big corporate boardroom as a bunch of lawyers debate whether or not to let "The Brady Bunch" do this.  From the book:

 Finally the head attorney looked at everyone and gave his most sage opinion: "You know something? I don't give a s--- about this." We took that as an okay and did the show."

"Brady, Brady, Brady" is full of stories like that. Told in short, breezy chapters, it's a fun, undemanding read. It's not a comprehensive history of the series, but it is an entertaining look at the iconic sitcom, one casual fans will enjoy and that hardcore fans may contest but will want to read nevertheless.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


More Streaming Video Showcases are in the works, but let me make a few brief remarks about already published installments:

ACORN TV: Can you believe that despite my glowing review and strong letter grade, this service decided to shank me by announcing 'Drop the Dead Donkey" is leaving at the end of the month? I don't think I'm going to get to all 65 episodes in time.

SIGH. At least it's letting us know, but still, the series was added December of 2014, so that's not even a full year on the service. Hopefully it will return someday soon, but this is another example of how streaming video, with its arrivals and departures, is in some ways more stressful than conventional television.

CRACKLE: Decider.com ran an article explaining "Why we shouldn't be sleeping on Crackle."  Decider does some good work, but this reads like an ad. I see no mention of how clunky the site navigation is or how maddening the auto-play is on Roku. Maybe those aren't problems anymore, I thought, and I should take a look to see if I should revise my scathing grade of F.

When I launched Crackle on Roku, I at least got a warning that something was going to auto-play. However, it was just that, a warning, because I couldn't actually prevent it from playing. Then I tried to look at what was available while the show was playing, and it was difficult, but I thought I had accessed "My Crackle." Something wasn't working, so I relaunched the channel, and this time it crashed Roku.

I tried again on my Blu-Ray, and I didn't get the auto-play, and I didn't get a crash, but my grades are based on Roku performance. Besides, navigating on the Blu-Ray was slow and unwieldy. As an example, if you are trying to find a specific episode of a TV series, you have to scroll down from the very first in a sloooow vertical slog until you get to the one you want. This is also the only way I was able to confirm that only the first 3 seasons of "Larry Sanders" were up at the moment.

Besides, some of the new content Decider touted--"Party of Five," "Dawson's Creek,"--doesn't interest me. I'd rather have two series that Crackle removed--"Sanford and Son" and "Good Times." All in all, no need to change my review or even to go back here very often.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Does Netflix have an October Surprise for us this week?

Let me say right away, lest I get anyone's hopes up, that I have no knowledge that it does, and I don't believe it does. But I sure hope it does.

Here's what won't be a surprise: On October 1, Netflix's deal with Epix expires, meaning scores of high-profile titles go bye-bye from Instant Watching. Couple that with the normal churn the service experiences each month, and according to my Instant Watcher tracker for Roku, at least 500 titles are disappearing this week.

Netflix is losing a little something for everybody: comedies, dramas, action movies, British movies, new movies, old movies, blockbusters, B-movies...did I mention 500?

The company says it is concentrating on original and/or exclusive content, and it couldn't (or wouldn't pay enough for) such status with the Paramount, Lionsgate, Epix originals, and other content it got through that deal. Well, Netflix has some great content, but not enough to make up for the shock of losing so many big things at once. You know how people always complain that Netflix never gets the movies people really want to watch? Well, when people counter that, "It has __ and ___," they usually cite Epix-controlled movies.

The Epix stuff will go to Hulu, so for those who have both services, the content will still be available. But what does this do to Netflix's selection? I'm still reeling from all the older television shows that left this summer and were replaced by zilch.

Observers point to the Disney deal, which is still a little vague. We know Netflix will get exclusive rights to Disney theatricals...beginning next year, not October 1. We know Netflix already has a Disney library deal...and hasn't done a whole lot with it. Hey, as a parent I am grateful that current Disney TV shows and cartoons are available for streaming, and I love the assortment of older animation that is on Instant. But it's just that: an assortment. When the deal first kicked in, each month brought a new assortment of vintage Disney. That rarely happens now.

Even the reports of this new phase of the Disney agreement are circumspect about what happens beyond the few theatrical movies that go straight to Netflix after a window. One article said Netflix gets "access to the vast majority of the Disney library." First of all, "vast majority" doesn't make me optimistic that "Snow White"  will be on the service anytime soon. And "access" is a lot different than "all the Disney library will eventually appear."

Here's one easy way to appease the customers who are gonna freak out when they see their queues decimated this Thursday: Expand the Disney back catalog offerings. Where is all the live action family movies? Where are all the classic animation shorts? Where are the rare TV shows Disney was issuing in its Treasures DVD line before it killed that off?

(There is a premium service called Disney Family Movies that offers a handful of these things each month for way too high a price; I sure hope the existence of this isn't the obstacle)


Ahem. Absent all of  that, could Netflix have another October Surprise to replace or at least take some of the sting out of all those recent theatricals? Rumors swirled last week about the Star Wars movies. Those would be welcome, but not really any kind of equivalent. No, I want to see something big. Netflix probably thinks it can easily ride out the wave of publicity it will get this week, but I sure hope it has something planned beyond Adam Sandler, "Crouching Tiger," and Chelsea Handler.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Shameless Self-Promotion: Late September Edition

It's TV Time at ClassicFlix as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of  "one of" (a qualifier left out of the headline) the best seasons in history, 1965-66, the season that gave us Tammy, OK Crackerby, Convoy, Hank...oh, yeah, and Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes, Batman, I Dream of Jeannie, Wild Wild West...

Check out the sneak peek, and click through for the whole article. Tell 'em Cultureshark sent ya!
TV TIME: 50th Anniversary of Television's Best Season TV TIME: 50th Anniversary of Television's Best Season
By Rick Brooks
We often hear how brilliant television is today, but this is the 50th anniversary of one of the most remarkable years the medium ever had. The 1965-1966 season was loaded with classic programs, legendary performers, and memorable characters. While it's certain that nothing like Game of Thrones was around in 1965, I sure don't see anything like My Mother the Car right now.

In retrospect, 1965 was a significant year in television history for two main reasons. One is the sheer number of notable programs that debuted. Also, the '65-'66 season is considered the one in which color took over the prime time schedule; the first year the majority of network shows aired as such, though standbys like Perry Mason remained (but even it aired its only color episode before the season ended). Even NBC debuted one of the most famous sitcoms ever in black (read more)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

This is an actual network, folks

While looking at the TV listings the other day, I notice ION was showing a lot of "Criminal Minds" reruns. When I say a lot, I mean a lot--like ALL DAY a lot.

So I wondered, what does Ion show these days when it isn't running a "Criminal Minds" marathon? The answer: Not a lot. What a great job it must be running scheduling at ION!

The lineup for Monday 9/14:

9:00AM--1:00PM Numbers
1:00PM--01:00AM Criminal Minds

OK, that's just one weekday. How about Tuesday 9/15?

9:00AM--01:00PM Numbers
1:00PM--11:00PM Criminal Minds

Ah, wait, now, we got to be fair. ION really mixes it up on Tuesday, replacing those last two hours with an actual third program,:

11:00PM--01:00AM The Listener

Maybe Wednesday adds some variety?

9:00AM--01:00PM Ghost Whisperer

Hey! Something besides "Numbers" for 4 hours. Well, that's something, right? So what's on the rest of the day?

01:00PM--01:00AM Ghost Whisperer


Well, Thursday is another day.

09:00 AM--01:00AM Blue Bloods

Another show is in the mix, but it's on ALL DAMN DAY.

Friday brings us:

09:00AM--06:00PM Ghost Whisperer
06:00PM--01:00AM Law and Order: Criminal Intent

WHAAA? A non-CBS show? Ooh, ION gets edgy on Friday nights!

Seriously, that's 16 hours a day for 5 weekdays, and ION runs 6 different series, and one is Canadian and only shows up for two hours. That is ridiculous. I get this, but I can't get Retro TV? At least Retro shows programs that aren't currently on the air.

I just believe that scheduling a major television outlet should involve a little bit more than going to Best Buy and stocking up when they're having a CBS Television 2-for-1 DVD sale. Even an infomercial or two would look goof in this lineup.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Streaming Showcase: Acorn TV

My Streaming Showcase series looks at both SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) streaming services AND free channels. We took a look at the free-but-not-even-worth-the-hassle-at-that-price Crackle; today it's Acorn TV, a much, much better offering that comes at a price.

(Reminder: my judgments of these services/channels are based on viewing them on Roku 3 unless otherwise noted)

Acorn TV is a service created by what is now RLJ Entertainment to utilize the television catalog of Acorn Media, a company specializing in British TV DVDs. Acorn Online offers fairly upscale gifts along with DVDs, and for $4.99 a month (or $49.99 for a full year), you get free shipping as well as access to the Acorn TV service.

Acorn is a niche service, to be sure, and if you are opposed to accents in general or British programs in general, then you can move on (though you can get a month free). You might wonder, "Isn't all this stuff on BBC America or PBS or Hulu?" Well, not at all. Acorn offers not just recent series, but a significant amount of library material dating back to the 1970. BBC America of course doesn't bother with that sort of thing anymore, and while you can certainly see some of this on your local PBS station on the weekend, Acorn offers a lot more than just played-out Britcoms like "Are  You Being Served?" Uh, I should mention that one is NOT on Acorn at all, actually. You can also find a lot of this content on Hulu or even YouTube, but Acorn runs it commercial free in good (if not HD) quality, often with closed captioning and therefore provides a superior experience.

Additionally, Acorn has started co-producing original content that does end up on PBS but premiering it first on its own channel. As an example, the most recent series of "Foyle's War"debuted as an Acorn exclusive, as did the sixth season of "Doc Martin." The company announced last week that "Doc Martin" series 7 will premiere in October on Acorn before eventually turning up on PBS stations. As a fan of both programs, I'll warn anyone tempted to just wait for the free airings that in the past, American public broadcasting versions have been edited down, but Acorn has the full episodes.

Acorn carries many complete runs of programs, some selections of multiple seasons/"series", and some it doles out one season at a time. What kind of programming does it emphasize? If you guessed "mysteries" and "crime shows," well, you are either psychic or you have just noticed what 85% of all British programming that makes it over here is. In both the older and newer content on the service, mystery and crime reigns supreme.

You can enjoy staples like "Cracker," "Poirot," "Inspector Morse," "Prime Suspect," and "Midsomer Murders." However, Acorn has branched out by going beyond England, Scotland, and Ireland to add programs from places like Australia and New Zealand.

"A Place to Call Home," a post-WWII melodrama, is one of the more popular non-British, non-mystery shows on Acorn. In addition to the dramas, there is also an assortment of comedies, and this year Acorn has expanded its collection of documentaries and non-fiction series focusing on history, the arts, and the monarchy among other topics.

I know that the crime procedurals bring in a lot of eyeballs both here and on other channels that provide British TV stateside, and it's great to have access to so much of it in one place. Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to some of the quirkier and lesser known efforts. I just saw and greatly enjoyed the first episode of a new half-hour dramedy called "The Detectorists" with Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones as two metal detector enthusiasts. Old episodes of an outstanding comedy panel/quiz show called "QI," hosted by Stephen Fry, are available with more coming next month.

Other personal favorites: Dramedy "Cold Feet" with the great James Nesbitt, finally available to me after BBC America pulled it years ago before I could see the final seasons; "Monroe" with Nesbitt as a difficult but brilliant neurosurgeon; "Trivia," a delightful, low-key comedy about a pub-quiz-obsessed man with some social maladjustments; and "Drop the Dead Donkey," a fast-paced, dialogue-driven, topical sitcom set in a TV newsroom in the early 1990s.

Acorn TV is thankfully easy to use. You can add series to a watchlist, and while it takes a while to load up your full list, it is accessible and simple to navigate. There are options to browse and search the catalog, and I can't remember having any kind of streaming problem once a program began. Pausing, rewinding, and fast-forwarding are smooth.

Best of all is the transparency about programming. Often learning what is coming to a SVOD service like Netflix is a bigger mystery than even "Agatha Christie's Marple" (which IS on Acorn) could solve, but Acorn is refreshing in its openness about what is coming and going. Each month it announces what is leaving and what is arriving, and it always gives at least 30 days' notice so you can catch up with something if need be.

Plus the selection is stable. Acorn has about 150 distinct programs (with multiple seasons of each), miniseries, and movies by my count, and each month it adds a handful new ones, with only a few leaving in most months. I have never noticed the kind of exodus you get when a Netflix contract expires, presumably because Acorn has more control over these streaming rights.

It must be said, as well, that Acorn TV's library is much, much smaller than that of a Netflix. As I said, it's a niche product. However, it offers quality, and I think it's "no BS" interface plus lack of commercials helps provde value for your 5 bucks a month. I do have some qualms about the content; I'd like to see more variety and particular more comedies. Some lower-brow comedies like "Men Behaving Badly," with Acorn star Martin Clunes, would be nice. Hulu has only 3 seasons of that one, and I'd love to see the rest on here.

Really anything apart from the recent mysteries and crime dramas would be a nice change of pace. I continue to look for more Britcoms and more 1970s and 1980s programming.  Yes, a lot of that is in heavy rotation on PBS stations, but there is plenty of quality out there to give us. For comedies, how about the original "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" (the remake with Clunes is on Acorn)?  I don't believe "The Royle Family" is streaming anywhere now, nor "The Thin Blue Line."

A few other suggestions: How about the brilliant political espionage drama "The Sandbaggers"? Or if you want to stick to the crime zone, how about "The Sweeney"?

Basically I love what is on Acorn and how to view it, but I only wish there were more of it. I do appreciate the fact that this channel doesn't rotate tons of shows in and out like, say, Warner Archive Instant. Folks who compare Acorn TV to some of the big boys of SVOD may balk at the subscription fee, but this channel delivers what it promises, and I think fans of British television will easily get their five dollars' worth each month.

Grade: B+ (A- in months with new episodes of "Doc Martin" and "Foyle's War")

Thursday, September 10, 2015

True Confessions: I think Andy Capp is funny

Growing up, I always enjoyed reading the adventures of Andy Capp. He played snooker and soccer (yeah, he called it football, but I forgave him), he got stinking drunk, he hit on much younger lasses, he was loutish to his wife Flo, but, hey, he was a funny little SOB. Andy was funny in the local paper and in the little paperbacks I'd get from the department store.

One night I was watching "The Simpsons" when a bemused Homer Simpson, his nose in the newspaper, said, "Oh, Andy Capp, you wife-beating drunk." Well, that's a little harsh, I thought. A drunk, sure, but a wife beater? If anything, Flo seemed to be the one throttling him.

Years later, I have accumulated a handful of older little paperbacks collecting Capp strips from the 1960s, and, yeah, Andy slugs Flo quite a bit. Sometimes they both engage in a knockdown, dragout bowl that manifests itself in a big round circle of suiggly lines with a few fists emerging on the periphery. Sometimes Flo does something to Andy. More often, though, it's Andy hitting her or the aftermath, like Flo sitting on her duff after having landed on the street.

The absolute worst ones are the strips in which Andy threatens her by cocking a fist and she cowers and acquiesces to whatever he's on about. Somehow that's even more disturbing than the occasional "BOP!" of his fist hitting her jaw.

Here's the thing, though: As repellent as the notion of domestic violence for laughs is today, it's still cartoony enough that it doesn't bother me enough to put down the book. Yes, some of the menacing ones stick out as discomfiting, but the rest of it still makes me laugh. I still enjoy lazy Andy napping on the sofa, boorish Andy trying to pick up a barmaid, and even thuggish Andy picking fights with bill collectors or opposing rugby players. If it were a real person, the knowledge that he likes to slug his wife would forever tarnish him for me. But in a comic strip, I still enjoy his antics.

Am I a bad person? Or am I a decent bloke?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Checking in with Entertainment Weekly...

"Entertainment Weekly"  made a major design change recently, and if  you guessed it involved adding more pictures and removing pesky words, you hit The Bullseye (Apologies to the mostly lame back page feature of the same name).

The mag actually has run some cool features lately, such as an oral history of M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable." That one's worth checking out; it's an insightful look at an underappreciated film that offers a much different take on superheroes.

There's still a lot of junk in each issue, of course, like the repository for cheap gags that is "The Bullseye" (Hey, you're so intent on pushing Twitter, given that you're publishing all the writers' handles as part of their bylines, so why not save that material for your feed?), and the ever-annoying "Must List."

The "Must List" is a rundown of 10 things the magazine wants to promote/hype with excited blurbs, and for some reason, it's now spread out over 3 pages. The content is essentially the same, but now there are more pics, and the numbers are really big.

Here's what stands out the most to me: In the issue that offers a wrap-up of Comic Con, "EW" devotes 8 pages to pictures of castmembers of high-profile projects announced or promoted there. That's not a bad idea, as I would certainly enjoy seeing some exclusive pics from the set of "Star Wars" or "The Hateful Eight." That's not what these pictures are. They are staged shots from their "suite at the Hard Rock Hotel."  So in other words, we get a bunch of lame pics of actors and actresses standing in front of blue backdrops while pretending they're having a great time.

I'd say, "Pass," but in truth I already read the article. I'm not expecting "The New York Review of Books" here, but I think "Entertainment Weekly" can do better than that kind of ill-conceived spread.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Streaming Showcase: Crackle

It's time for the debut of my series of reviews of major SVOD (streaming video on demand) services. Note that my comments and grades, unless noted otherwise, are based on my viewing on Roku 3. When evaluating each channel, I consider content, navigatability (spellcheck be damned, I'm going with it), and overall value.

First up is the easiest one to review: Crackle, a free service offering uncut movies and television shows from the Sony library along with a small assortment of originals. It's easy to evaluate something you never watch. Crackle used to be OK for a free channel, but the latest version is not worthy of my time, and it's certainly not worthy of borrowing the name of one of our nation's great candy bars.

I used to enjoy Crackle every now and then. I checked out its rotating assortment of "Seinfeld" episodes, "The Larry Sanders Show," "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," and the occasional movie or old "Sanford and Son" episode. The ads were annoying, and the Roku channel wasn't the easiest to navigate, but it was free.

Then a few months back, Crackle rebooted, and I had to reinstall it. Uh-oh. Streaming video channels love to change things nobody asks them to change (Witness Netflix's constant tinkering, usually not for the better). When I launched the new channel, a Crackle Original movie (I discovered later) started playing, somewhere in the middle and at extremely high volume, no less.

Autoplay is the single most obnoxious feature on any Roku channel. It's perhaps the single most aggravating aspect of Yahoo! Screen and why I rarely go back there now that "Community" is over. I groaned as soon as I saw Crackle was now assaulting unsuspecting viewers with an unwanted video. At least, I think I groaned; I couldn't actually hear myself over the movie.

It got worse, though, as I tried to get out of the movie and find some semblance of the old interface. I was looking for, you know, a way to view what else was available to watch. What do they call that? Oh, yeah, a MENU. Roku crashed. I was irritated, but I tried again. Roku crashed again. I tried again later with the same result.

A week or so later, I was able to stop whatever dumb movie was forcing itself on me and get to a menu. Only now, only 3 seasons of "Larry Sanders" were available instead of the complete run. I tried to navigate my old watchlist and had troubles. I tried to watch something and had problems selecting an episode.

You know what? Even at the low, low price of FREE, Crackle isn't worth it. "Seinfeld" is now on Hulu, and it's the whole series, not a measly 10 episodes per month. I'd like to catch up on "Comedians in Cars," but I may have to do it on the web. I've been meaning to just get "Larry Sanders" on DVD, anyway. Nothing else on Crackle is essential, especially since it mostly consists of samplers of popular TV shows instead of complete series.

NOTE: Before writing this post, I figured I'd give Crackle another shot on my Sony Blu-Ray player, even though I have had problems on it as well. No autoplay--Good. Easy to access my watchlist--Good. Able to find a "Comedians in Cars" episode and play it--Good. Episode started with a commercial--Not good but acceptable since it's free.

But after the ad, the screen went blank, and I soon got an error message saying the video was unable to play. Nice of them to do that after the commercial. I tried again, and it wouldn't even play. So long, Crackle.

Grade: F.  There is some worthwhile content on Crackle, and I appreciate that it's free, but what's the use of it on a channel you can't play even if you want to play it? This revamp is a disaster, and though I did not delete it from my Roku lineup, I did bump  it down several rows in my grid. THAT'LL learn ya, Sony!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Vault of Coolness: ESPN was a lot different in 1984

I'm looking through a January 1983 edition of the esteemed "Guide," and one good thing about the L.A. edition is it includes some cable listings. This is what ESPN showed at 10:30am:

TENNIS The final of the Hartford (Conn.) Open, taped  Dec.19.

December 19! I have nothing against tennis being on instead of the inane debate shows in the morning, but ESPN ran a two-week-old match in broad daylight. I think ESPN still shows football game reruns the same week as the original, but, man!

That's not even the worst of it, though, because directly preceding this at 9:30 was...

FIGURE SKATING The Ennia Cup competition taped Nov. 9-14 in the Netherlands.

November 9-14! ESPN aired an almost two-month-old event in that slot. How long before Denise Austin and Kiana Tom would provide something a little fresher?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Shameless Self-Promotion: New at ClassicFlix

Just posted yesterday: My review of the brand-new DVD collection "The Rebel: The Complete Series"  from Timeless.  Sneak preview is below. Don't you dare miss it!

The Rebel - The Complete Series
TV TIME: The Rebel Lives Up to Its Name
Yesterday | by Rick Brooks
Johnny Yuma was a rebel

He roamed through the West

And Johnny Yuma, the rebel

He wandered alone

Timeless' 11-DVD collection of The Rebel offers both seasons and all 76 episodes of the 1959-1961 half-hour Western, each uncut with the iconic theme song sung by Johnny Cash. The series, which originally aired on ABC, is a provocative and distinctive example of the genre and is itself worthy of a purchase, but a solid group of extras give the set significant added value.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Checking back in with Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (All right!)

The title of my post comes from the previews I saw over and over and over again while catching up on the latest season of "Louie." A few weeks ago I mentioned I may have to "hatewatch" this new Denis Leary FX comedy. Well, I'm watching it, but I'm not hating it!

Yes, some of the things I worried about have already surfaced. By the end of the first episode, there was already tension over whether Leary's aspiring rocker daughter, played by Elizabeth Gilles, would sleep with Leary's former bandmate, Flash, played by John Corbett. I worried about that scenario because we saw a similar dynamic on "Rescue Me" before it went off the rails. Plus for some reason I just really don't want John Corbett to get to sleep with her.

In the second episode, the band staged a sort of intervention to try to get Leary's Johnny Rock sober enough to write some songs. I worried about this scenario because "Rescue Me" went down the recovery road (road to recovery seemed trite, but see how I reworked it) soooo many times.

Fortunately this show is not "Rescue Me," though it is already going to the same well. Leary is more the butt of the joke in this series. "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" is more pure comedy than "Rescue Me," which makes the whole thing pretty easy to take. And most importantly, this is a half-hour program, so it gets in and out quickly before it can seem too indulgent.

So far, so good. The show is exactly what you think it would be but not yet what you fear it would be. It's not as ambitious nor as fresh and exciting as "Rescue Me" was when it began, but nor is it as tiresome as "Rescue Me" was at the end. After a few episodes, I'm ready to sit back, enjoy, and stop comparing it to "Rescue Me."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cultureshark Remembers...all those TV shows that have left Netflix

R.I.P., all the older high-profile TV series that left Netflix in the last two months. They include:

*Mission Impossible
*Amazing Stories
*Knight Rider
*Hawaii Five-0 (seasons 1-10 of the original series)
*Miami Vice
*Dragnet (1960s version)
*Leave It to Beaver
*Magnum P.I.
*MacMillan and Wife

Leaving this month: Family Ties and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.

I complained about this a while ago, but I held out hope that Netflix would renew some of its agreements with CBS/Paramount and/or Universal to retain some of these shows. After all, we've had scares before that turned out to be temporary blips with some of the Netflix library programming. Plus many CBS/Paramount and Universal shows remain on Netflix streaming.

However, enough time has passed that I think it's safe to say these shows are gone, and if they come back it's not a renewal of existing agreements, but a new deal of some sort. That's a shame because to me a big part of  the service's value is this back catalog television selection. Netflix has not added much of this lately, which makes the deletion of so much of it all the more alarming.

It's possible that it's not Netflix's decision to remove these shows. CBS has a new (and really lacking) streaming service, and Universal may be funneling more shows to Hulu as exclusives. Plus "Mission Impossible" is now on Amazon Prime. The thing is, Netflix is so opaque about this kind of thing that there is no way of knowing if this is a conscious strategy to de-emphasize older programming.

Let's thing back on the good times we had cramming as much of these programs as we could into our routines before Netflix pulled them. There's a good kind of "binge watching," and then there's the desperation binge watching stemming from the knowledge that the whole damn thing is leaving in a few weeks.

I will fondly remember scrambling to watch Mission Impossible before it expired, then discovering Hawaii Five-0 was leaving. I will look back with a warm feeling as I recall the strange relief I felt when they did expire, immediately followed by the anxiety caused by the realization that even more series were disappearing the next month. Ah, the joys of streaming video. It's been a great summer, Netflix!

Monday, August 3, 2015

5Q Movie Review: Draft Day (2014)

Q: This movie features the cooperation of the NFL in the form of real team names and logos, appearances by NFL Network personalities, and even a role for Commissioner Roger Goodell as himself. Is this an authentic look at the annual NFL player draft?
A: No! The entire scenario that unfolds in "Draft Day," involving multiple last-minute trades of high draft picks, Costner's general manager making rash decisions without involving anyone in his organization, etc., is laughable. The story strains credibility at the beginning, then becomes increasingly ludicrous.

Q: Do you have to be a football fan to enjoy "Draft Day"?
A: It's hard for me to judge how a non-fan would react to it, but I think it helps to know how the NFL Draft really works, not because it enhances your appreciation of the movie, but because it lets you enjoy how bad it is. A mediocre film becomes a true howler.

The story centers on the pursuit of a franchise QB named Bo Callahan. Costner makes a reckless move to get the number one pick so he can get Callahan, THEN decides he needs to research the player. This is on the day of the draft, mind you. Then he changes his mind and starts making more reckless trades, and THEN the movie contorts itself so that the team he originally traded with has to reverse its position for no reason, all so that Costner's GM (who is compared to Joe Montana) can be lauded as some sort of genius. In real life, the guy would be pilloried for not understanding the process, even if he somehow were able to do everything he does in this story.

Q: Is Kevin Costner at least credible as the Cleveland Browns general manager?
A: The stuff he does is ridiculous, but Costner in a sports movie delivers just about every time. It's a good thing because while "Draft Day" half-heartedly tries to weave in threads about his complicated relationship with Jennifer Garner's salary cap guru and with his mother and late father, there isn't much else going on here. The focus is on the machinations of the draft, and there is little compelling about any character in the film, Costner included.

Q: What about the rest of the cast?
A: It seems like a waste to cast Denis Leary as a head coach but not give him a chance to do a lengthy rant--at the team, at Costner, at the guy who does research for the media guide, anybody. He just kinds of bitches about things the whole time until he suddenly does a 180 and embraces Costner's character like he's Ron Wolf.

Jennifer Garner doesn't have much to do, but then again, neither does anyone else. It's kind of nice to see Rosanna Arquette again for a few minutes. I assume someone owed Sean Combs a favor and that's why he has a role as Bo Callhan's agent. I would have rather seen more of Terry Crews, who plays a different agent.

There's a small taste of "Veep" with Kevin Dunn and Timothy Simons, plus Tom Welling in a small role. I have to admit I didn't recognize Welling. Frank Langella and Ellen Burstyn do decent work as (basically) a-holes: the a-hole team owner and Costner's a-hole mother.

There are a lot of other recognizable faces, too, plus a bevy of ESPN and pro football cameos, but none stands out. It's a very Costner-centric movie.

Q: What should Costner's next sports movie be?
A: Even if I don't like the movies, there's something about Costner in a sports flick that's just so easy to watch. I want to say him play a fictionalized version of Vince McMahon in a period piece about 1980s professional wrestling.

How about a story with Costner as a controversial former tennis pro who sees a chance for redemption in training a rising superstar? We don't  get enough tennis movies.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Many Faces of William Shatner at ClassicFlix (Shameless self-promotion)

For my latest ClassicFlix piece, I thought it would be fun to write about the iconic Bill Shatner without discussing Star Trek and Twilight Zone. Please check out The Many Faces of William Shatner, and check out the rest of the site--both the selection and the writing--while you're there. Stay tuned for more content here this week!

TV TIME: The Many Faces of William Shatner
TV TIME: The Many Faces of William Shatner
    Here's how big an icon William Shatner is: If you wiped his most famous role out of existence, one of the most popular characters in television history, he would STILL be one of the biggest icons the medium has ever known. In addition to his unforgettable performances as Captain James T. Kirk, the 84-year-old Canadian stars in two of the most memorable Twilight Zone episodes, "Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." In fact, his post-classic-era work is arguably enough to make him a TV immortal...[click here to continue]

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vault of Coolness: Journey Into Old TV Guides

Due to a recent ARCHIVE FIND, I have a decent stack of vintage "TV Guide" issues I'll be using for Vault of Coolness material.  If I can get my scanner working again, I'll post some of the ads and artwork, but for now let's look at some of the program descriptions.

From Monday, January 22, 1979, at 9:30 PM, here's what the Guide says about "The Honeymooners":

A misadventure strains Ralph and Norton's friendship.

That's it? Really, "TV  Guide?" Are you not supposed to guide us through the process of deciding what to watch on a given evening? At 9:30 PM, you have described virtually every episode of "The Honeymooners" ever made.

I thought maybe this was just a generic placeholder description to account for the fact that the mag didn't have episodic details, but the rest of the week, same time, same channel, we get specifics that better explain what the show is about.

A misadventure strains Ralph and Norton's friendship," just ain't cutting it. Fortunately, at 10:00 PM, we get more info regarding "Sanford and Son":

Fred steals money from Lamont for a get-rich-quick venture.

OK, that actually might describe more than one episode, but at least it's something.

Friday, July 17, 2015

No thanks, Netflix

I'm watching a lot of "Quincy" this month because it leaves in August, part of the apparent ongoing purge of older content from Netflix's streaming library. I wish Quincy were around to go on "one of his trademark crusades" (quote from one of the episode descriptions) against Netflix's shabby treatment of catalog content.

Lately I keep getting a recommendation to watch "Murder, She Wrote" "because I watch Quincy." Netflix, stop pimping Jessica Fletcher (OK, I wrote it, and I'm not going to delete it, but let's not go there). I don't want to watch "Murder, She Wrote."

You know what I want to watch? "Quincy!"  That's why I'm viewing so much of the series. Jessica is not an acceptable substitute. Your algorithms and recommendations may seem cool, but they're not going to make me forget that you're dumping so many series that I actually like.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I hate the word "hatewatching," BUT I might have to make an exception

I find the term "hatewatching" ridiculous. If you hate something, why watch it? Is it really worth sacrificing 30 to 60 minutes of your time to get a few quips for Twitter (or, say, a pop culture blog)? On the other side, defenders of a crummy show will throw out "hatewatcher" to insult people who are critical of something they don't want to criticize.

So I try to avoid that term, and I have way too many things I legitimately DO want to watch to be able to delve into things I think will make me miserable. And yet..

Denis' Leary's new series, "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll," premieres on FX tonight. Lately I've seen some ads with actual footage from episodes, but the previous marketing campaign filled me with a bizarre mixture of revulsion and intrigue. I fear that I will hate this show, but I...feel...compelled...to...watch it.

Denis Leary plays an aging, hard-partying rock star who is washed up  now but somehow finds himself looking for work with his daughter, herself an aspiring rock star. Those teaser ads featured Leary's character and the daughter responding to an unseen interviewer. These 20-second spots said it all: Leary's gonna be playing an addict, he and the daughter have a contentious relationship, the show is gonna be outrageous and edgy, etc.

"What kind of fatherly advice do you get from a legendary rock star like Johnny Rock?"
"Hmm." [pause, smirk] "Don't wear anything flammable."
"And I thought she didn't listen."

Cue guys singing , "Sex and drugs and
rock and roll, ALL RIGHT!"

You can tell just from Leary's sunglasses and haircut how this is all gonna go.   It gets worse, though, when co-star John Corbett shows up in another set of ads as the guitarist. It looks suspiciously like Corbett and Leary are "riffing" and "having fun" in character as they go back and forth. What's the problem with that? Well, what's the problem with any of it, you  might ask? It seems like a funny enough idea.

Unfortunately, it's all reminiscent of Leary's "Rescue Me," which I found brilliant for the first few seasons, but which I just stopped watching by the end. I thought it had degenerated into a self-indulgent parody of itself, and perhaps this series is on the right track by focusing on comedy from the get-go, but, boy, does it look like it could be trouble.

On the other hand, I like Leary, and I have to admit this role seems perfect for him? Too perfect? We'll see. I will watch this. I just don't want to hatewatch this.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Things Only I Want to See: Cannon

I was looking at a list of best-selling books on my Kindle the other day, and I was stunned to see one title pop up: "Cannon: A Stepbrother Romance." I knew it wasn't what I first thought it was, but would it be so bad if there were an erotica series devoted to William Conrad's Frank Cannon character?

"I'll caress you in a minute, my lambchop...but first, where's that lambchop?"

OK, maybe it would be, but I still wish someone would make a Cannon Fanfic series.

(NOTE: I am actually too chicken to look and verify that no one has)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Aaaaand there go the old shows...

Should we be worried about Netflix? I haven't been too concerned with Netflix's ongoing effort to become HBO. I would much rather it spend its money on acquiring OLD content, not producing tons of new shows, each of which lately sounds less interesting than the previous one. I understand the strategy, though, and I can believe it is tougher to get library content at a decent price these days.

But it's easy for me to be ambivalent about spending money on Adam Sandler movies and Lily Tomlin series when there's tons of other programming I want to watch. Make no mistake, there still IS. But this summer is worrying me.

"Mission Impossible," "Hawaii Five-0 (1968)," and "Knight Rider" left Netflix at the end of the month. That's two CBS shows and one Universal. In a few weeks, Universal's "Miami Vice" and the 1960s "Dragnet" will be gone. At the end of the month, we'll say good-bye to "Leave It to Beaver" and "Magnum P.I."

I'm not shedding tears over the loss of "Wings" and "Melrose Place," but they are two more long-running CBS shows that left Netflix at the end of June.  No, another season of "Glee" arriving in a few weeks doesn't satisfy me. Where are the new library deals? A big part of Netflix's appeal is access to commercial-free, unedited shows from the CBS and Universal vaults. I want to see these deals expanded, if anything, but right now there is no sign that anything is in the works.

I hope these shows come back in the near future. I believe "Mission Impossible" left and returned before. Netflix doesn't usually tip its hand on these kinds of things. We need to keep a close eye in particular on the CBS shows, which could show up on Amazon Prime or maybe on CBS' own lame subscription video on demand service, which could use a whole lot more content. Universal doesn't have its own dedicated offering yet, so I hope these shows will migrate to Hulu and/or come back to Netflix.

 I worry, though, that there isn't the outcry I've seen when other deals expire, possibly because these departures are staggered.  Does anybody else care?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" video: Is this the end?

OK, Swift is as popular as ever, and I can't get this song out of my head today. But have you seen the video? It's one of those "concept videos," and the concept appears to be Taylor Swift playing at being some future spy chick and inviting her celebrity pals to be in the clip with her.

It starts out kind of cool. There's action and ridiculous costumes, and Swift herself looks great. But it soon degenerates into a series of even faster edits and pointless cameos. I would have enjoyed 4 minutes of Taylor Swift kicking butt, but shots of Lena Dunham looking tough and smoking a stogie? Not so much.

Plus the nice catchy radio edit is abandoned for a "Bad Blood" mix with an extended rap part. What comes to mind is the word my kids use when they don't like what comes on the radio: "SKIP!" If this version were on the radio, I probably would skip it.

I don't intend to just rip this video, though I got off to a good start in those last two paragraphs. What worries me is the parallel I see with another pop superstar. Remember when Michael Jackson's "Thriller" established him as not just a pop superstar, bit an icon? His videos were eye-catching and entertaining and complemented his songs.

Then the "Bad" album came out, and suddenly Michael Jackson didn't just release videos. He made "premiere events." The videos had to be directed by Hollywood big shots and had to feature celebrities and musicians from different genres. The overhype was bad enough with, well, "Bad," but it really got out of hand with "Black or White." Lordy, remember the Macaulay Culkin part?

It only got worse with Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson in "Remember the Time." I believe the music at this point was nowhere near as accomplished as it was on "Thriller," but I honestly can't guarantee I am not swayed by those lame bloated videos.

I'm not saying Lena Dunham is Macaulay Culkin (it would probably make a better blog post), but I see in "Bad Blood" some troubling signs. Taylor Swift is one of my favorite celebrities because my kids like her music, yet her songs don't make me want to jab my ears with knitting needles. She keeps her nose clean--at least as far as the public is concerned--and doesn't do anything that makes me embarrassed to watch her with my children. The "Bad Blood" video is *almost* embarrassing, and if she shows up in her next one with a pet chimp, I think I'm outta here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I hate to say this, but...

Ever since I read that the entire series of "Seinfeld" was coming to Hulu for streaming, I have been eagerly awaiting the show's arrival. I wanted to know when it would drop (sorry, I hate saying that, but it seems really apt here). When I read it was June, I wanted to know when in June. Much to my disappointment, it was June 24, not June 1 as I first assumed, so I had an extra 3 weeks to get pumped up for the event.

Meanwhile, Crackle went to pot with an ill-advised redesign that made the channel unplayable on my Roku and intolerable when it did load. I had been following the 10 episodes per month of "Seinfeld" on Crackle, but, boy, was I ready to dump that experience for getting THE WHOLE SHEBANG all at once. No more frustration over Crackle repeating the same episodes! No more pining for certain episodes that never showed up there!

Today Hulu finally rolled out "Seinfeld," and it did it the way it ought to be done--all at once, all episodes, uncut versions. And I hate to say it, but...but...I'm feeling a little underwhelmed.

Now that I see all the episodes laid out in one place, I realize, jeez, I have seen an awful lot of these on Crackle in the last couple years. My quick scan for hidden gems didn't reveal too many that I haven't already checked out recently.

The good news is Hulu launches with ease, unlike Crackle, but the bad news is that, like Crackle, the episodes come with frequent commercial interruption. Still, I feel like an ingrate griping about this. For years I wished for one of the most iconic sitcoms to show up on a streaming video service (Granted, I wished it would show up on Netflix), and now that it's here, I get a slight twinge of "Eh." I feel like a representative example of our spoiled, instant gratification society. I don't even know what that means, but I still feel it.

I'm going to fight this off, though. I watched an episode today, and it was hilarious. That's the important thing, right? I can watch any episode anytime I want, even if I have seen it a bunch of times already. Maybe I'll just go through the show from the beginning. Maybe I'll jump around. Maybe I'll keep focusing on the old shows that are apparently expiring from Netflix this summer (that's a post for another day). I just wish I felt more excited about it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

5Q Movie Review: "The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age Smackdown"

Q: Is this just for kids, or can grown-ups enjoy it, too?
A: Well, I'm a grown-up--more or less--and I enjoyed it! I haven't shared it with my kids yet, but I think the question may be more, "Will kids enjoy it as much as the grown-ups?" Sadly, the Flintstones may not be relevant to today's youth. I do realize it is partly my generation's responsibility to rectify that situation. With that in mind, if my kids don't like it, then I'll show them the classic episodes, and by cracky, they'll like those if they know what's good for them.

It's entirely appropriate for kids, at least, though there are some PG elements like some cartoony violence, Fred drooling over the animated equivalents of the Bella Twins, and Fred drooling over Wilma showing off a new bikini (Good Lord, I hope that last statement doesn't actually sell more copies of the DVD). Also, a few touches like a character meant as a Phil Silvers homage will make the adults smile and go over the kiddies' heads...unless their folks are doing the right thing and showing them Phil Silvers' work  as part of a healthy balanced television diet.

Q: Does it FEEL like the Flintstones?
A: It feels enough like the classic version of the show to me. I give the franchise a little slack here; after all, there was not only the original prime-time series, but there were the Fruity Pebbles ads, the Fred and Barney Comedy Hour, and all kinds of revivals. "Stone Age Smackdown" fits in nicely with all of these versions, and it does capture the spirit of the one that started it all. We get names like John Cenastone, animals performing mechanical tasks, and the modern streamlined animation manages to make Bedrock look fine. It's not like Hanna Barbera's television department was known for its lush visual masterpieces, anyway.

The voice work has varying success. I thought Wilma and Betty were fine, but Barney was off to me. Again, even Mel Blanc used several voices as Barney in the original run, so there's not necessarily one sound the character "should" have, but I didn't care for this portrayal, which seemed a little closer to Blanc's early higher version that the later one that I consider MY classic one. As Mr. Slate, John O'Hurley doesn't do anything wrong, but his voice and persona are too established, and it's distracting.

As Fred, though, Jeff Bergman is outstanding, summoning the original flavor of Alan Reed's portrayal. He doesn't just do an imitation, but does subtle things with the way he does the character. This more than any one thing makes this movie "feel" like the Flintstones.

Q: Does it FEEL like the WWE?
A: Let me put it this way: Fred actually uses the term "sports entertainment" at one point, and, yes, even in a cartoon it irritates me to see Vince McMahon's corporate buzzword replace the word "wrestling." The in-ring action itself is tame and nowhere near as exciting as you'll see on the average WWE pay per view, but it gets the job done.

Fred is an amateurish promoter, but he does have some good instincts. I was stunned to see "Vince McMagma," in this story, as a businessman who basically takes Fred's idea for "sports entertainment" and is inspired to run with it. This has to be the only time Vince McMahon has ever not taken credit for inventing modern wrestling, and it's stunning to see even in this format!

The weirdest thing here is that on the "heel" side of the WWE guest list, we only get Mark Henry and CM Punk. Punk is no longer with the country, and Henry was a bigger deal when this was produced but doesn't have much to do here. Punk is fun as the bullying villain of the story, but it would have been nice to see someone else on that side of things to balance John Cena, Undertaker (semi-retired), and Rey Mysterio (also no longer with WWE). The Bella Twins have heelish interactions with Wilma and Betty (I hope THAT doesn't sell a few DVDs), but they don't really wrestle.

The characterizations are fine, though, with the real-life wrestlers bringing exactly what you would want/expect them to bring. I really enjoyed Vince McMahon as Vince McMagma, and I thought he was underutilized.

Q: How in the world do they manage a WWE/Flintstones crossover? Time Travel?
A: I always welcome time travel in cartoons, but in this case, it's not really John Cena and CM Punk interacting with the Flintstones. It's John Cenastone and CM Punkrock. They and the other characters just happen to remind us of current WWE performers.

Fred and Barney are running a charity scam--uh, a charity event enabling people to box with Hoppy, and once CM Punkrock starts beating up the poor hopparoo, owner Barney comes to his rescue, things get physical in the ring, and things go from there. Betty isn't happy about Barney getting in the ring, but Fred sees dollar signs and promotes a wrestling event featuring friends like new co-worker Cenastone and people like The Undertaker. Yes, his character is so protected, he doesn't even get a stone-aged name makeover.

Q: So, bottom line, is it worth it?
A: I laughed out loud several times and enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, but I'm in the target audience that would be open to this kind of stunt. I think fans of Flintstones AND modern-day WWE will love this, but they should look for a deal. The feature is only about 50 minutes long. I haven't seen the Scooby-Doo/WWE crossover movie (though after seeing how good this one is, I want to do so), but that one is long enough to be a legit animated feature.

The DVD is filled out with two classic TV episodes--one wrestling-themed, the other baseball-themed. I'm not sure why they include the latter. Perhaps an episode with Wilma's mother-in-law would be more appropriate; she's a bigger heel then even CM Punkrock at his nastiest. It's nice Warner Brothers added these, but the DVD still feels a tad slight.

Still, "Stone Age Smackdown" is a lot of fun, providing family-friendly entertainment in the vein of the original series and adding elements of modern-day WWE-style pro wrestling. If that sounds appealing, you ought to give it a shot.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Thanks for nothing, Wal-Mart

That's right, last week I spoke to Hulu, and now this week it's time to address Wal-Mart. Cultureshark: Taking on the world ONE CORPORATION AT A TIME, MAN!

I heard about a DVD bargain at Wally World and went to their site to check it out. I wasn't tempted to buy it because it was already sold out. No harm, no foul. I went back to my daily Internet regimen of studying lyrics to old Toto songs.

A few days later, I got an email from Wal-Mart touting that same item. Hmm, I thought, it's back in stock. Well, yeah, it was, and I suppose that was helpful info...except that the price was...


The price was about 250% higher than the bargain price, a sale price which was the only thing that made me look at the item in the first place.

No thanks, Wal-Mart. No thanks.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cultureshark Remembers Dusty Rhodes

R.I.P. Dusty Rhodes, "The American Dream," one of pro wrestling's true immortals who somehow died today at only 69 years old. As a rabid wrestling fan growing up, I thought the Dream embodied everything that I loved and everything that I hated about the sport (Yeah, of course, I knew, but I called it a "sport," not "sports entertainment." As an adult I appreciated him so much more as a character, and now I think he just embodied wrestling, period.

Let me get this out of the way: When I first got the Jim Crockett Promotions/NWA programming in my area, I always rooted against him. Always. I was entertained by his interviews, but I resented his big shot status in the promotion and thought it killed my suspension of disbelief to see him cleaning house on so many superior athletes.

I was a Ric Flair guy, a Four Horsemen guy, and I couldn't stand seeing Flair get whipped by him. One of the most ridiculous things ever was his "Bionic Elbow," a simple elbow smash that usually showed little impact...or even effort. Worst of all was seeing the Horsemen or pretty much any other heel in the company lining up to take that Bionic Elbow.

Now, of course, I watch Dusty Rhodes footage and think that move kicks ass.  And the fact that I wanted him to lose every match doesn't mean he didn't give me a lot of great memories. Dusty was an integral part of many of the fun angles I enjoyed on SuperStation TBS back in the 1980s--the spike in the eye from the Road Warriors, his "Superpowers" team with Nikita Koloff after Magnum T.A.'s car accident, the Midnight Rider...

Yeah, the whole "wrestler loses a match and has to leave town, then comes back under a mask" gimmick is an old one, but I ate up Dusty's "Midnight Rider" shtick. Something as ridiculous as a fat guy with a big blotch on his belly wearing a mask and claiming to be someone else IS wrestling. So is the ability to address the camera without a script, start yakking, and make everyone in the audience want to see  your match. So is showing up on all the magazines at the grocery store with blood running through your blonde hair and down your forehead. And so is--let's face  it--using your power backstage to push yourself as the top babyface in the company, even if it means glomming off some of the shine from the rising stars. Hey, that's wrestling, too.

Dusty was one of those larger-than-life characters you just couldn't resist trying to imitate. Legend had it his ridiculous--there's that word again--gimmick he got in WWF, the polka-dot-wearing "Common Man" was a joke at his expense. Well, guess what? He was so entertaining that he got over even when saddled with that costume and a middle-aged valet named Sapphire. His massive charisma was clear even on a minor show like "WCW Classics" on the old Turner South. He introduced matches and just generally seemed to be having a good time. I sure as hell had a good time watching him.

Dusty Rhodes was one of the most ridiculous wrestlers ever but also one of the most awesome, because sometimes pro wrestling is best when it's a certain kind of ridiculous. That was Dusty, and that was a big part of my youth. Time to go watch some Dusty moments., and don't be offended if I come up behind you tomorrow and hit you with a Bionic Elbow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shameless Self-Promotion: New ClassicFlix piece is up

It's TV Time again at ClassicFlix!


Before serialized drama became the norm in prime time television, it was a big deal to come across a two-part episode. You'd enjoy the program right up until some gripping cliffhanger unfolded, and then those momentous words "TO BE CONTINUED..." would appear on screen.Of course, some classic program…

Friday, June 5, 2015

Now maybe Yahoo! gets its act together

"Community" just finished a sixth season of episodes that was artistically successful but not technologically successful. Yahoo! Screen has always been a frustrating experience. It was bad news when the company bought digital rights to the "Saturday Night Live" library because the website's confusing interface and disorganization was sure to make finding anything a frustrating task. Guess what? It was!

I thought when Yahoo! spent some money for an actual TV series and (sort of) promoted it, the website would try to put together a decent online "channel" to showcase it. In turn, the increased traffic from the high-profile acquisition would show off the new Yahoo! Screen, enabling the company to invest more in developing it. But NOOOOOOOO!!!

Instead, Yahoo! continued its half-assed approach to the channel. My naivete continued after the first couple of episodes when I saw scores of complaints about how difficult it was to stream "Community" and I assumed the issues would be fixed. Several months later, the technical issues are still there, the interface is still terrible, and I don't know if Yahoo! has done anything to improve the situation.

I watched the series on the Roku version, with ad-free viewing that came at a price: Anytime I tried to fast-forward or rewind an episode, the channel would crash. Re-launching the channel would not return me to where I was in the episode. In fact, if I watched anytime after the new installment "dropped" on Tuesday, I'd probably not even get the episode, since Yahoo! Screen on Roku auto-launches to whatever it deems most "popular" at a given moment. The sad thing is, this lousy way to view the show was still probably better and more reliable than what most people  got watching directly on the website.

Now Yahoo! has acquired exclusive digital rights to an NFL game--granted, an uninteresting one, but a real regular season game--and I expect this will finally improve things. Sony and Dan Harmon and everyone else involved with "Community" may not have cared enough to put heat on Yahoo! to get its act together, but the NFL doesn't want any part of Amateur Hour. It's possible that Yahoo! bypasses its Screen thing and streams this game on its front page somehow, but I believe the pressure of the National Football League, which controls everything down to the socks its players wear on the field, will make Yahoo! put some effort into making a watchable "tv-like" facsimile available.

I was excited about a possible seventh season of "Community," but not so much if it would be on Yahoo! Now I'm more optimistic, and I hope Yahoo! has a few bucks left over to retain at least some of the cast members and give us another batch of episodes with the Greendale crew.