Saturday, December 31, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 40 (Special Happy New Year Edition)

As we approach a new year, we approach a full year of doing this every week. Well, we still have about 3 months to go, but 40 sounds close to 52, right? I'd like to thank all of you who read the blog in 2016 and made these power ranking posts the most popular ones on the site almost every single week. Happy New Year, and I will see you in 2017!

1) Hulu: I'm irritated that Miami Vice is leaving. I still don't see any real buzz for Chance and Shut Eye. OK, now for the good stuff: Hulu is adding more Disney catalog movies, and there is a chance that come this time next week, it will have more high-profile Disney classics than Netflix.

Furthermore, the entire series of Blackish is now on Hulu, and recent docuseries Soundbreaking is another nice add. Hulu deserves the top spot as we head into 2017.

2) YouTube: Ah, the joy of finding a new channel run by an uploader who has a big collection of goofy old TV he is willing to share. It's like opening a package on Christmas Day...with the difference being you're afraid that at any minute Santa could come back down the chimney and take it back.

3) PIX11: Besides the great Magic Garden episode uploaded last weekend, PIX11 also offered a contemporary look back at 1984, which I consider the most 1980s of all years. Also added: a 1987 news story on the death of Jackie Gleason. Hey, I enjoyed watching it, but at this point, do we really need to dig into the archives for MORE celebrity deaths?

4) Shout! Factory TV: I'm still loving the Dick Cavett shows and the Best of the MDA compilations, but it's time again for my regular plea to Shout! to add just one more classic series next month.

5) Amazon Prime: Just added the acclaimed Gleason doc about ex-NFL'er Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS. I have been enjoying Yancy Derringer this week.

6) Netflix: I won't deny it: I have beef with Netflix. The positive way of spinning it is, hey, I had a great time watching all the Columbos and 30 for 30s I saw the past few weeks. Here's the realistic way of looking at it: It sucks that I had to cram as many as I could into a two-week period because Netflix is losing them.

Sometimes Netflix doesn't have any choice in the matter, and I won't be surprised if we see Universal SyFy and Sleuth SVOD channels with a lot of the content that is disappearing from Netflix at the end of the month. The fact remains that Netflix is amping up its original content at the expense of its catalog material, and while the original programs draw the most eyeballs pound for pound, the broad array of library content is why many if not most of us signed up in the first place. The shrinking catalog is a big concern.

That said, let's face it: Netflix still offers good value for its price as long as you aren't looking for something made before this century, and I did enjoy Columbo, which, to be fair, had a nice long run. It wasn't a great week for the standard bearer of SVOD, though.

7) Days of Dumont: I'd love to see some more content added, but it's not like there is a ton of unseen Dumont sitting around on tape. In the meantime, I enjoyed the roller derby and an episode of Follow That Man.

8) The CW: I appreciate the channel making the Heroes vs. Aliens invasion crossover available in one easy-to-access section, but, boy, as a big event, it was a dud.

9) TuneIn: Farewell, Christmas stations. Welcome back (to my rotation), Alan Haber's Power Pop.

10) Crackle: It makes the top 10 because I opened it one day and saw, much to my surprise, there was nothing on auto-play! I was so stunned that I forgot why I had opened Crackle in the first place. I ended up seeing an episode of That's My Mama.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Cultureshark Remembers: Year-End Edition Part IV

Here's our final look at the notable deaths of 2016, with a recommendation or embedded video of something to check out from each individual. Note that we will have our SVOD power rankings tomorrow, and then we will see you in 2017!



Tammy Grimes:


Fritz Weaver: Twilight Zone, "Third from the Sun" A nice take on the paranoia of the times, and yeah, a twist ending! I could also pick the Mission Impossible episode I chose for Steven Hill because it starred Weaver as well.

Grant Tinker: This blog post by Ken Levine

Robert Vaughn: I am far from a Man from U.N.C.L.E. expert, but how about his performances on Columbo, particularly Season 4's "Troubled Waters." (Alternate: His spotlighted episodes on The Lieutenant, or as Ivan and I like to call it, The Marriage Counselor.


Craig Sager:

This CNN studio clip from 1987 isn't representative of how he will best be remembered, but I think of Sager not even as a TNT guy, but a TBS guy back when the Superstation was a novelty in the 1980s.

Za Zsa Gabor:

Alan Thicke: Any Fernwood Tonight Forget Growing Pains, behind the scenes, Thicke was one of the driving creative forces behind this way-ahead-of-its-time talk show  parody.

Greg Lake: "I Believe in Father Christmas" Because we don't have to stop talking about Christmas as soon as December 26 arrives.

Florence Henderson: The Brady Bunch, "The Voice of Christmas" See above entry. This episode shows Carol Brady in her glory, almost more an ingĂ©nue than the corny mom she became on the show. Plus she shows off her singing chops at the end of the episode if that's your thing.

George Michael:

Carrie Fisher: I recommend the SNL she hosted in the fourth season, which is easily found on Hulu. It has one of the silliest sketches--the beach party movie--that is still compelling for some reason.

Debbie Reynolds: I love Singin' in the Rain, but just for variety, let me mention a movie with my boy Dick Powell: one with a vaguely disturbing premise:

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Cultureshark Remembers: Year-End Edition (Part III)

Continuing our look at the notable deaths in 2016 with a recommendation/video for each one:


Michael Cimino: The Deer Hunter I never saw Heaven's Gate, so don't expect me to offer a revisionist defense of it.

Noel Neill: Instead of picking a single episode of Adventures of Superman, how about the movie serials? Easy to find, and unlike the series, she didn't share the role with Phyllis Coates.

Garry Marshall: I'm a big fan of Marshall's later-years renaissance as a character actor and raconteur, and I thought his role in Louie was a delight.

Dennis Green:

Gloria DeHaven: Step Lively Not a great movie, but I am a sucker for Room Service, and I enjoyed watching this remake of the play/Marx Brothers movie.


Mr. Fuji:

Gene Wilder: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Still my favorite (and weirdest) Gene Wilder role.

Steven Hill: Mission Impossible, "Operation Rogosh" One of the best of the pre-Peter Graves episodes with Hill as Dan Briggs.

John McLaughlin:

Arthur Hiller:

Not at all his best film, but it gives me an excuse to post this kick-ass theme song.

John Saunders:

Kenny Baker: Star Wars Why try to be cute?


Jon Polito: Homicide: Life on the Streets The first two seasons of Homicide. Unfortunately, he was unceremoniously dumped from the show after this.

Hugh O'Brian:

Agnes Nixon:

Arnold Palmer:

Bill Nunn: Spider-Man One of my favorite supporting characters in comic books was Joe "Robbie" Robertson, and the Sam Raimi movies featured Nunn doing him justice.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cultureshark Remembers: Year-End Edition (Part II)

Continuing our look at the notable deaths of 2016, with a recommendation of something to check out, or maybe just an embedded video, to remember each one:



Probably the best moment this troubled soul had: Her amazing WTF debut on Raw.

Prince: Raspberry Beret The Man won't let anyone upload the official music video. I understand wanting people to pay for the music, but it's not like you can buy the music video. Uh, at least I don't think you can. Anyway, this is my favorite thing he ever did.

Merle Haggard:

I confess I never really "got" Merle Haggard, but this is great.


Morley Safer:

Alan Young: Mickey's Christmas Carol He gave an excellent performance as Scrooge McDuck!

Mark Lane:

William Schallert: How do you pick just one thing when the guy was in everything? Let me stray from his looooong TV resume and offer his appearance in The Incredible Shrinking Man, which is representative of his scientist/doctor/authority roles...though he was pretty wrong about Scott's condition!


Muhammad Ali: My favorite Ali is the one in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali from DC Comics, but here's something you can view:

Buddy Ryan:

The 30 for 30 on the '85 Bears shows how the coach was both divisive and beloved, but this clip reminds you of how he was often just hated. Now, THAT was a rivalry!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Cultureshark Remembers: Year-End Edition (Part 1)

It's been said over and over again how 2016 was a terrible year for prominent deaths, with seemingly one celebrity after another leaving. I didn't do a lot of Cultureshark Remembers posts in 2016, but this year I am going to do something different: I'll recommend one work, or maybe just embed a video, to remember the individual who passed. We'll do it in chronological order.


Pat Harrington:

There was much more to him than Schneider from One Day at a Time, but can you blame the guy for cashing in on it?

Alan Rickman: Die Hard "Do you really think you stand a chance against us, Mister Cowboy?"

Iron Mike Sharpe: Any of his 1980s WWF matches on syndicated television. You don't want to seek one of his 15-minute borefests with S.D. Jones from Prime Time Wrestling, but check out a shorter squash match to see him billed as "Canada's Greatest Athlete" and get his shtick.

David Bowie:

I don't care, this is my favorite thing of his ever.

Glenn Frey: The "Smuggler's Blues" video Unfortunately, you can't get the official video with sound on YouTube because the MAN will take it down, yet for some reason the label won't post it.

Abe Vigoda:

He was in one of THE movie classics, and he was great on Barney Miller, but I also appreciate his great second career as "that guy who everyone joked they thought was dead"


Harper Lee: The movie To Kill a Mockingbird I mean, you could read the book, but do people read books anymore?

George Kennedy: The Naked Gun movies His reactions to Drebin are priceless.

George Gaynes: Police Academy Tough not to recall the way he said, "Punky!" to Punky Brewster, but I think the best way to honor this classy actor is to picture him getting pleasured under that podium.

Bob Elliott: Get a Life, "Neptune 2000" Grumpy father Fred Peterson was one of the best things about the underrated Chris Elliott sitcom. This episode, in which Fred and Chris get stuck in a "submarine" they build from a kit, is a great showcase.

Maurice White:

'Nuff said!


Garry Shandling: It's Garry Shandling's Show and The Larry Sanders Show Really, they're all brilliant, and you can't pick just one. It's all classic Shandling.

Patty Duke:

Joe Garagiola: The 1975 World Series It's all available on video, and Joe is in the booth.

Robert Horton: A Man Called Shenandoah, "The Onslaught" Wagon Train was a much more popular series, of course, but I dig this Western about an amnesiac wandering in search of his identity. Check it out from the beginning, and check out Horton's rendition of "Oh, Shenandoah!"

Bud Collins:

Kudos to this uploader for posting vintage Bud Collins post-match interviews. Like Sager, Bud Collins was a huge part of my sports on TV regimen back in the day. Check out this classy interview he conducts with Jana Novotna (she exhibits remarkable grace considering) after her horrible loss to Steffi Graf, double faulting on game point up 4-1 in the final set and losing the championship.

George Martin:

Sure, we think of Sir George in a tie, sitting behind the glass and supervising the lads, but I love this video in which we see him tickling the ivories in a band with Paul and Ringo. It's got to be one of the most outright FUN clips ever of the legendary producer.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Hazel: The Early Years: "Hazel's Christmas Shopping"

I know what you're thinking: "Rick, the intricate long-term storytelling of Hazel demands rigorous sequential viewing. How can you jump around like this?"

I understand this concern, but, yes, after jumping ahead in season 1 for the Thanksgiving episode, I am also breaking convention and looking "early" at the Christmas episode, "Hazel's Christmas Shopping." We will get to episode 2 soon and then hit the series in order.

All kidding aside, this holiday installment is another reminder that if you enjoy the sassy Hazel Burke character, this is a funny, well-produced sitcom. It's not groundbreaking--there are plenty of misunderstandings and hijinks moving the plot along--but it's executed professionally, and the cast is on point.

This episode begins with a humorous sequence that was meant to give a little Christmas cheer...but which today would be considered sexual harassment. Hazel hangs some mistletoe so Missy can "trap" George into giving her a kiss. At first I thought it was kind of sad that Dorothy was so dependent on this gimmick to get some affection from Mr. B, but his enthusiastic reaction proves it's all in fun.

Never let it be said that there is no chemistry between Don Defore and Whitney Blake

Then he kicks it up a notch, insisting HAZEL join him under the mistletoe for a smooch. She demurs, giggling and insisting she's just the maid, but, no, Mr B DEMANDS she submit to a big smackarooni. OK, this is all in fun, too, but it's a little odd.

Get ready for your Christmas bonus, Hazel

We then move into the story, with Hazel wrapping presents and telling her friend and fellow domestic engineer Rosie how she just has one more gift to get, a dresser set for Missy. It's convenient how Rosie shows up every time Hazel needs another adult with whom she can share relevant plot details.

Incidentally, I squirm a bit when Hazel elaborates on her theory of gift wrapping. She doesn't use the store's free service because the act is part of the present itself. It personalizes it and adds to the sentiment. Uh, to anyone who has received a gift from me...ever, I apologize for my efforts, but I hope you realize the random rips, patches of mismatched paper, and general excess of Scotch tape are part of my personal touch.

And, hey, wasn't it nice for stores to wrap everything as you bought it? These days, it's a moral victory just getting it stuffed into the right plastic bag without breaking something.

Dorothy also needs a present for Hazel, and the two are set to hit the department store, each with their own (non-devious) scheme to check out the other's reactions to items at the store and attempt to get inspiration. Of course this means when Hazel steers Dorothy over to gauge her feelings of the dresser set, Dorothy thinks that's what Hazel wants.

That's real mother of pearl, folks

There are additional complications because the store only has one left, and meanwhile a serial shoplifter is robbing the joint (Seriously, the guy takes so much stuff throughout the episode, I can only assume he is planning on opening his own store). Hazel is short on funds and has to take a job working a sales counter at the place, where her blunt nature (she tells a customer not to bother with the gift wrapping because the colors the store uses are awful) cause issues. Dan Tobin plays the store's persnickety floorwalker, and he does exactly what you want Dan Tobin to do in this kind of role.

My favorite part of the episode is when local mailman letter carrier Barney stops by and sees dollar signs because George is home. He proceeds to give one of the most unsubtle tip solicitations ever until Missy finally takes the "hint."

What cracks me up is that Hazel makes a few sly comments, clearly amused at Barney's efforts. Better yet, when George pulls some money out of his wallet, she goes, "Oh, no, Mr. B, that's too much." Then he tries again, and she nods and grunts approval.

Needless to say, it all works out nicely in the end, with everyone ending up happier than when the episode began (except maybe George, who is still hunting for women to lure under his mistletoe). Hazel doesn't exactly save Christmas, but she makes it better, proving once again there's nothing she can't do. Of course, she later put her talents to good use by marrying Santa Claus and restoring his yuletide mojo:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 39 (Special Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Edition)

1) PIX11: I was set to knock this one back down a few notches until I saw they uploaded a special "holiday message" from Richard N. Hughes, the guy who did the editorials. It was a classy job, referring to the broader themes of Christmas while being respectful of other religions. The only thing missing: Hughes saying, "That's our opinion. We'd like to hear yours."

Then it got even better as PIX11 added Yule Log footage and a "lost" 1982 Christmas episode of the WPIX favorite kids series The Magic Garden. Boy, has this channel delivered for me this season.

2) Amazon Prime: I enjoyed the second season of Red Oak and still have a lot I want to get to on Prime, including the animated adaptation of classic book The Snowy Day. I guess not watching Soupy Sales and stuff like All-Star Commercials would free me up for that. I also tip my hat to Prime for carrying Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, which, uh, I actually forgot that I owned as a bonus feature on DVD.

3) Netflix: I am still irritated that I have to "bunch of shows at a time"* Columbo and catch up on 30 for 30 because it's leaving at the end of the month, but, you know, I really am enjoying that stuff.

I can't deny that Netflix added some interesting originals, like  that new Guillermo Del Toro series, the Eric McCormack time travel series, The Oa is getting some buzz, and Captain America: Winter Soldier premieres this weekend as a nice present for subscribers. It loses a spot for having its Twitter account hacked, though.

4) YouTube: My favorite uploaders are really bringing it again lately, delivering tons of vintage Christmas commercials. Also, it was nice to have a discussion about holiday songs and be able to summon them on cue.

5) Hulu: The good news is that a lot of those Disney animated movies that left Netflix months ago are back! The bad news, if you only have Netflix, is that they are on Hulu. With all that Disney/Netflix hype still lingering, it's weird to see the likes of Pocahontas and Mulan on Hulu, but there you have it. Not only is just one SVOD service inadequate, one SVOD is inadequate even to watch one company's movies. Also premiering this week; Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. It's enough to make me less angry that Miami Vice is leaving next week.

6) Shout! Factory TV: There is a lot of great holiday-themed content here. Just in the classic TV comedy category, there are episodes of Dobie Gillis, Father Knows Best, and Dennis the Menace available, and I wish Shout! would collect them into a special category so people could find them.

Shout! deserves a high rating if only for the remarkable Dick Cavett Show I saw this week. Author Anthony Burgess is the first guest, followed by Wally Cox, and then Jimmy Dean walks out and the fun really begins. Dean seems in a weird mood and ready to spar or at least wind everybody up, and Cox starts making comments in the middle of Dean's interview. It's a hilarious, fascinating segment and another reminder of what a rewarding time capsule the growing Cavett collection is.

7) TuneIn: There is a nice commercial-free Christmas music station streaming here. It's based in Arizona, like my beloved Deep Oldies. Arizona=the new epicenter of quality radio.

8) ChristmasFlix: One more week in the top 10 for my favorite free Christmas-centric Roku channel. I watched a commercial-free (except for the original sponsor messages) episode of The George Burns Show and intend to check out more this weekend.

9) The Best Christmas Channel Ever: Another free Roku channel, marred somewhat by a long loading sequence but offering a lot of content not available on Pub-D-Hub nor on ChristmasFlix. It's definitely an asset this season.

10) SeeSo: I haven't checked in with this channel in ages, but you have to give them credit for premiering an Andy Richter Christmas special. I don't know if it's any good, but I hope it is for those who have SeeSo!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Brooks on Books: A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition

This shall be a message unto you: The single greatest bit of pop culture related to the Christmas holiday is A Charlie Brown Christmas. As I have mentioned, I watch it each year on Christmas Eve, I enjoy it, I get something new or rediscover something in it each viewing.

This book, originally published in 2000, is a fitting tribute to the classic 1965 animated Peanuts special and a treasure for any fan. And hey, all you would-be Grinches  (I like that special, but I don't feel the need to see it every single year), let's not make any comments about the fact that a television program denouncing overcommercialization of the holidays has been merchandised to death over the years with toys, ornaments...and, yes, the "40th Anniversary Edition" of this book that I enjoyed.   Let's not mention it!

Producer Lee Mendelson recounts the origin of the special, and an interview with director Bill Melendez adds additional insight. You also get remembrances of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz and composer Vince Guaraldi. This is not a huge amount of text--it's more a few lengthy essays than anything else--but you get a comprehensive picture of the creation of the show, with info on the sponsors' involvement, the voice casting, the original reaction and reviews, and more.

The book also contains the original sheet music of the "Linus and Lucy" theme. Rounding out the package is the "complete illustrated script" of the special, with shots of the cartoon accompanying the text. This volume is further supplemented with ephemera and production artwork.

I really can't imagine anyone who likes A Charlie Brown Christmas not enjoying The Making of a Tradition. Then again, I really can't imagine anyone not liking A Charlie Brown Christmas. So by that logic, this book is a winner for everyone! Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

This week on Battle of the Network Shows: Our holiday special!

Celebrate the holidays with BOTNS as we discuss two forgotten Christmas cartoon specials and play a special seasonal version of the TV Guide game!

This new episode is available now, so check it out!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Awesome 80s Video #5: Kylie Minogue, "It's No Secret"

Yes, I am resurrecting this short-running series because there is no shortage of awesome videos from that great decade. Today it's a little Christmas cheer...only it has nothing at all to do with Christmas.

Let's go back to 1988 and revisit Kylie Minogue's "It's No Secret."

Her breakthrough “The Locomotion,” which I never liked (not even the original, not even the Grand Funk version), is pretty well remembered today. Not so much her follow-up single, “It’s No Secret.” Somehow this just popped into my head, and I had totally forgotten the video.

It’s cool that it starts with ACTING, including "Locomotion" playing in the bar where we see the characters! Who says meta wasn't cool in the 1980s? I guess the makers of this clip really wanted us to know she was Australian. “Not AGIN!” Hey, Crocodile Dundee was big in 1988.

There are some imperfect things about this—the lyrics are lame, most of the music is unexceptional, Kylie’s hat is almost as big as she is. But the chorus is catchy as hell. Overall this really sounds to me like something that could have come from one of those R&B-ish pop girl groups of the day, like Expose. Is that a compliment? Judge for yourself.

My extensive research (i.e., reading the comments on this video) reveals that the song makes Minogue cringe now, but as I said, it’s a nice dose of frothy pop as we ease into the holidays. Incidentally, I’m undecided on whether her jeans outfit in this video is adorable or abominable.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Brooks on Books: Disco Demolition

This is an odd but totally compelling book. I admit I just love the fact that someone wrote a whole book about one of the most infamous nights in Major League Baseball history: Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12, 1979. The idea was to blow up disco records on the field in between games of a White Sox/Tigers doubleheader. Things escalated quickly, the field was a mess, and a rare forefeit was called as the second game was canceled.

There's the compelling part accounted for; it remains a notorious event in the annals of sport, and I would have enjoyed any book about it.  As for the oddness of it...It's credited to "Steve Dahl with  Dave Hoekstra and Paul Natkin," but Dahl only wrote an intro, and Natkin contributes many of the vintage photographs. It's nice of Hoekstra, a Chicago columnist and radio personality, to share credit, but it is odd that Dahl, the Chicago DJ who was the ringleader of the original event, disappears as a direct voice despite the author credit.

Also, Dahl refers to the book as an oral history, and while it is structured almost like that, it's not a direct oral history as we think of, say, the SNL and ESPN books. There are lots of short paragraphs and plenty of white space in between them, but it is not just direct quotations. Hoekstra makes it more of a narrative (though one that jumps around) than just an oral history, though the dozens of interviews he conducted are the framework of the book.

Here's another unusual thing: I expected more baseball, and there isn't a lot of actual baseball content. It's far more about Chicago, specifically the musical and cultural scene of Chicago in the 1970s. I expected there to be a lot of interviews with fans who actually attended the game, hopefully some who stormed the field, but there isn't much of that, either. The emphasis is on the Chicago radio landscape and how disco rose and fell in the decade.

There is some discussion of how critics called the Disco Demolition Night event racist, but it's mostly from a defensive stance, with interview subjects saying, "Some people claimed it was racism, but..." Yet there is not a good context showing just how exactly it was called out as racist. Frankly it sounds like a ridiculous accusation to me, but I would be open to a deeper dive into it. As it is, it reads as unorthodox to have so many people bringing up an argument that's not fully presented.

All that said, this is a fascinating book. It's a slim book--under 200 pages--and the white space means there  isn't a ton of text, but it is a hardcover and feels substantial. The art design is stunning, with colorful disco-style graphics and lettering throughout. The pictures are great. And though I was left wanting a bit on the baseball end of it, you do get a full view of how the main participants felt.

There are some unusual choices in the book--a whole chapter devoted to Dennis DeYoung's thoughts, for example--and it seems geared more for a Chicago audience, but it is a fun book.  I wish the text were a little more cohesive and that there were more about the event itself and less about side detours into Chicago nightclubs and whatnot, but I was glad I picked this up.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 38 (special Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat edition)

I didn't have a whole  lot of time to watch this week because I was preparing for the holidays and--Oh, who am I kidding? I had plenty of time to watch and wasted it in frivolous pursuits like work. I'll try and do better next week.

The big tragedy is that my Frosty the Snowman DVD  may be compromised, and it isn't streaming anywhere. So to summarize: streaming media stinks because you never really :own" the movie. However, physical media stinks because it can get glitchy. There's a lesson in here somewhere.

1) Amazon Prime: Believe it or not, an SVOD service changed its user interface and actually made it easier to find things. it also made everything giant.  Why does everyone think we can't make choices without big pictures? Like we're ordering dinner in Japan or something.

Anyway, I watched quite a bit of stuff on Prime this week, and The Man in the High Castle's return excites me, so Amazon gets the 1 spot for a change. Also, Amazon got great pub for launching in millions of countries this week (my math be a bit off).

2) PIX11: Still coasting on goodwill and the fact that I watched the digital documentary about the Henry Tillman campaign ("The Big Idea"--look it up!) the best station promo series ever. So far, so good, PIX11, but I have caught up  on your archival material, and it's time to add more!

3) Netflix: Any other week, Netflix would be numero uno with--Hey, that's how I started the Netflix entry last week. Well, this week Netflix debuts another batch of originals, like the feature film Barry about the outgoing prez  (Hey, isn't calling him Barry a sign of disrespect?) and another season of  underrated toon Puss in Boots. Also, I hear some good things about The OA (sadly, not at all related to Green Lantern).

(Really, I don't know anything about half of these Netflix originals, and I tend to breeze past the ones that seem to be of foreign origination. A few weeks ago, some historical European costume drama debuted, and a few days later I realized Dustin Hoffman was in it.  There's some Netflix series with Dustin Hoffman? How do we not know about this?)

However, the list of stuff coming and going in January was released, and though it's a little early to judge Netflix on what will happen in two weeks, it has some signs of alarm.  The Parent Trap  (1961) coming is nice, but it reinforces the paucity of Disney catalog content years after the deal. I saw a report that all the old Universal shows were leaving in January, and that appears to be false because the full list only shows Columbo and Murder She Wrote exiting, but still it's a good bet that Hulk, Rockford, Galactica, and others are following the likes of Quincy out the door. Movies coming and going don't seem like a huge deal, but when multi-season shows leave and aren't replaced, that is concerning.

(Also, a bunch of HGTV shows are gonna leave, too, though it has been confirmed that it was the content provider's decision not to renew.)

4) Hulu: Sometimes Hulu gets disproportionate credit from me just for not annoying me. There isn't a  lot new on the site this week, though there is something called Streaming Wonderland that I think is a series of virtual holiday-themed backgrounds. Here's a good reminder, though: There is a lot of classic television on Hulu. Just because Hulu doesn't promote it doesn't mean we have to ignore it.

5) YouTube: Relatively quiet week, but one of my favorite uploaders added a slew of old Christmas commercials, including a 1980s Shoppers Drug Mart ad with Bea Arthur.  If that wasn't enough, he threw in an old segment of Thicke of the Night! I can think of no better tribute to the late Alan Thicke than for someone to throw up some full episodes.

6) The CW: I hate the term "midseason finale," but I like seeing it because I know I will have a few weeks to catch up.

7) Pub-D-Hub: Not a spectacular update this week, but a lot of returning Christmas content is enough to rate the top 10.

8) TuneIn: I'm starting to get disappointed at the rotations and lack of playlist variety in some of the channels, but that certainly isn't TuneIn's fault. Welcome back to the top 10, and my only real regret is that I can't remember the great song I heard on Deep Oldies that I want to hear again right now.

9) Dailymotion: Its Roku channel is considerably harder to use than YouTube's, but consider this your periodic reminder that if you can't find something on YT, you ought to check Dailymotion...especially if it is "unsanctioned/"

10) FilmRise: Look at this unassuming free, ad-supported channel and you won't see a lot of great content--Highway to Heaven and a bunch of cheap indie movies (Notice how every single free Roku movie channel has Nola with Emmy Rossum for some reason), but the channel's parent company made headlines this week by announcing it had streaming rights to Unsolved Mysteries. Is that a huge deal? No, but it's something different and a good reminder that even the little guys out there have opportunities to scoop up content.

Of course, FilmRise has not confirmed it will stream Unsolved Mysteries on its own flagship SVOD, only naming Amazon Prime as one outlet. So, yeah, I guess the rich get richer, too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Instant Gratification Theater: Prime Time! Prime Time!

As I mentioned in this weekend's SVOD power rankings, I signed up for a month of Amazon Prime, and that includes Prime Video. Will I catch up on the critically lauded Transparent? The ambitious Mozart in the Jungle? The buzzy (well, at least it actually premiered) Crisis in Six Scenes?

Or maybe prestigious Amazon Prime licensed exclusives like The Americans or Justified?

Nahhhhhhh. At least, not yet.

No, right now I am exploring the goofy crap that appears on Amazon Prime Video. Here are some examples of things I saw on Prime Video this past week:

*The original cast of Real People doing a segment in which they read accounts of TV bloopers, one at a time, off cue cards into the camera.

*Eric Embry wrestling Cactus Jack to get to his evil manager, General Skandor Akbar.

*"Sentimental Journey," an odd 1976 short film starring Jimmy Stewart as an airline pilot

*A series of bloopers with Henry Winkler trying to remain in character and get his dialogue right at the Cunninghams' dinner table.

*Chaka Khan performing "I'm Every Woman" on The New Soupy Sales Show

*Willie Stargell "interviewing" Terry Bradshaw on an old episode of Greatest Sports Legends

*A 1979 episode of early cable TV effort The Nikki Haskell Show, featuring an interview with the guy who was just elected President of the United States of America and his then wife (unrecognizable here!)

That award-winning stuff can wait.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Streaming Showcase: So what's the deal with the "new, improved" Warner Archive Instant?

It is new. Is it improved? Yes, in the sense that it now seems to be adding new movies and TV shows about once a month. That's no great accomplishment, but it's an improvement over WAI going months without new content.

The bottom line is WAI is still nowhere near where it should be for the price point, $10 a month. Now that Netflix has raised its cost and other SVOD services are in this neighborhood, WAI doesn't seem quite as expensive as it did a few years back when it debuted, but nor does it seem like a good value. Its emphasis on vintage material is refreshing given the lack of attention Amazon, Hulu, and especially Netflix are providing older movies and TV shows.  Yet the bang for your buck is not there right now, and the functionality of the site does not justify the premium cost.

The site redesign emphasizes BIGNESS--giant pictures of the titles so you can, uh, see them better? The fact is  it takes longer to browse titles because of this, especially on the Internet version. Months after the relaunch, there is still no "Newly added" category to show you what has just appeared--perhaps because they are ashamed of their lack of activity?

The good news is they have not started dropping titles by the dozens again. The bad news is you have to go to the website to see what IS leaving soon because that isn't an option on Roku. I do see an improvement in the closed captioning, and major credit goes to WAI for offering that service. There is a watchlist, but you can't manipulate the order of your titles, and there is a resume watching feature, but it doesn't always work.

When I started my free month trial, I encountered numerous technical issues and buffering problems. After the first week or so, for whatever reason, those things tailed off, but for much of the trial, I had problems viewing anything in prime time hours. By the end of the month, I was more confident I could sit down and watch a movie without buffering. Unfortunately, some of the individual titles have glitches. For example, Doughgirls has A/V sync issues, and at least one or two other movies had problems as well. Judging from social media comments, I am not the only one to experience this, and I don't know what is being done about it.

That kind of problem would not be a big deal if WAI cost, say, 5 bucks a month, but for 10, this channel should get its act together. Content-wise, the story is similar. The channel is promoted like a Turner Classic Movies lover's dream come true, with hundreds of classic Hollywood movies for your streaming on-demand pleasure. There are hundreds of movies, but they're not nearly all from the classic studio era. Many are post-1970, and many are TV movies.

It's harder than it used to be to see what the breakdown is because the new WAI no longer has decades categories, but the eyeball test tells me there are way less 1930s and 1940s pictures than I personally would like to see. To its credit, WAI has begun adding "new to the service" movies since the relaunch, but the majority of the catalogue is still content that had already been on there.

Right now, there are 12 titles in the Film Noir category, and that includes two titles from the 1970s (one of which is comedy-noir The Late Show). The "Pre-Code" category is now "Forbidden Hollywood," and it offers 20 titles (Son of Kong appears twice, for some reason), which sounds better, but there is a distinct lack of rare or surprising movies--something that stands out as you look through the whole service. Where are all the 60-minute RKO programmers that TCM runs in the mornings?

The TV section is more impressive if you are into some of the rarer stuff. Currently Cain's Hundred, not yet on DVD and rarely seen since its original broadcast, may be the most impressive title. As a Dr. Kildare fan, I appreciated the chance to finish watching season 2, but I have been waiting for a long time for season 3. Is it coming? Who knows? There is absolutely no transparency with WAI nor any sense of when and what will arrive at any given time. Still, TV lovers will probably have an easier time amusing themselves for a month with something "new" on WAI, while the average hardcore movie buff will likely have seen many of the films that are currently available.

Here's how WAI can make me a subscriber:

1) Fix all the technical issues
2) Make the site and the Roku channel easier to navigate and use

It seems to me 1 and 2 are more than fair and should be done by any channel charging for its product.

3) Greatly expand the material available at any given time
4) One way to do so: Stop taking away so much content.  If WAI had retained most of its TV alone, it would be worth its price because there would still be rarities like The Eleventh Hour, Sam Benedict, and Hawkins. Instead, WAI rotates all its TV content, which is understandable if the goal is to protect DVD sales but is frustrating because Warner is not licensing this content like a Netflix, but it owns it all.
5) Lower the price to 4.99 a month. I could put up with all of these issues, including the rotating of content and the relative lack thereof, if WAI didn't charge so much for the service.

There are some growing pains (yet no episodes of WB-owned Growing Pains, I might add) and apparently "a new team" is running things at WAI.  My advice: Go for the free trial if it sounds interesting. Otherwise, sit out and wait for the people running this thing to work out the bugs. It has been confirmed that Filmstruck is NOT going to be a product for classic movie lovers of the studio era, but for the indie and arthouse crowd, so right now this is kind of our only hope. Here's to WAI improving enough to be worth a monthly sub.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 37 (Special Tribute Edition)

This week's list is dedicated to the late John Glenn, a real American hero. Somehow, the fact that he probably never ever watched Fuller House only makes him greater in my eyes.

1) PIX11: Hey, I said this might reach number one once I had a chance to watch the clips! A lot of the material has been aired on WPIX--right now, there's a series of Magic Garden clips culled from a retrospective that aired on the channel--but so what? Please keep bringing it on, PIX11, and let me keep reliving my childhood.

2) Netflix: Any other week, Netflix would be numero uno with the premiere of originals like Captive, White Rabbit Project (from the Mythbusters team), Luna Petunia (I don't know, either), a movie called Spectral, and what will draw more eyeballs than all those things put together: season 2 of Fuller House.

Boy, I sure didn't like the story I read about Netflix bragging about how much money it will spend on "reality programming" in 2017. Sounds like a lot of our subscriber bucks going out the window.

3) Hulu: It premiered new series Shut Eye by dropping all episodes at once, it added some series from Awesomeness.TV  (must be awesome, right?) and debuted Louis CK's Horace and Pete. I imagine that last one is a big draw for those who were too cheap to pay for the series when CK unveiled it--in other words, everyone.

4) Amazon Prime: I signed up for a month for the holidays, and it still has that shiny new toy feel for me--hence the high ranking. Check the blog next week for notes on some things I'm watching.

5) YouTube: Announced a few things for YouTube Red, which may be the company's way of trying to prove to me that it actually has subscribers. One of the projects is a Mariah Carey Christmas special. Remember when Mariah wasn't crazy? Then she became liberated from her controlling husband and she totally went the other way? I miss the innocent, plausibly intelligent Mariah.

6) The CW: Legends of Tomorrow is just totally going for the goofiness this season and is much better for it.

7) ChristmasFlix: There are several free holiday-themed channels on Roku, most with similar selections of public domain material, but this one has no annoying start-up screen, plus it offers some modest original content.

8) Pizza Flix: Again, we're talking public domain content, but it's nice to have so much in one spot. This SVOD re-enters the top 10 because it finally made a "newly added" category to prove that it really is "adding new titles weekly." Unlike Pub-D-Hub, this channel draws heavily on post-1970 content as well, so you can hit it here for sure gems like Robert Blake's 1975 Italian movie The Boxer, also starring Ernest Borgnine.

9) Acorn TV: I continue my trend of honoring channels that provide dedicated holiday areas with a salute to Acorn, which has a generous helping of Christmas-themed episodes and specials in one convenient section. Get some blood pudding and kidney pie, and watch a yuletide Miss Marple! (I really don't know what I'm talking about, but Acorn does have this section)

10) Warner Archive Instant: Two nice things WAI is doing right now: 1) It is letting everyone, even non-subscribers, stream 1977's holiday flick The Gathering free of charge; 2) It is offering 40% off on subscriptions right now.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Tis the season

I don't know about you guys, but to me it just doesn't feel like Christmas until I see a sketch with Andy Griffith as a bartender consoling Paul Lynde, who is doing his "despondent Santa" shtick.

This week on Battle of the Network Shows

I got two words for you: ROLLER DISCO.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Brooks on Books: The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris

This is an outstanding book, one suitable for "pick up and read a bit at a time" enjoyment but one so entertaining you  might just want to tear right through it. Author Jon Morris runs a blog, Gone and Forgotten, that also covers weird comic book stuff, and I have added it to my bookmarks. The League is a pleasure from start to finish.

The format is simple: Morris divides comic book history into several eras, then assembles a list of "D-listers and also-rans" from each period and devotes a few pages (most entries are a page of text and a page of illustration, though some feature additional scans from the original comics) to explaining each one. Some of the characters either look goofy enough or have strange enough backgrounds and skills to be inherently amusing, so Morris' deft writing strikes just the right tone: bemused and appreciative of how crazy some of this material is, but not overwhelming it with forced humor.

Some of the wittiest comments come in the sidebars on each entry. For each regrettable hero, Morris provides a "Created by" credit and a "Debuted in" note with the first appearance of the character. Then he adds a miscellaneous vategory that provides an opportunity for a wise-ass remark. Example: In the chapter for Pat Parker, War Nurse, the sidebar has "Not to be confused with: Bob barker, game show host; Ma Barker, gangster."

This is a book you need to see to appreciate, so I won't waste time trying to verbalize the appeal, but there is a wide variety represented here. There are a few from the mind of cult Golden Age creator Fletcher Hanks as well as Marvel and DC products like Brother Voodoo and the Legion of Super Pets.

Here are some of my favorites: I'd love to read more exploits of DC's The New Guardians. Morris closes their entry with: The team's adversaries were equally ill-conceived. The roster included the Hemoglobin (a vampire with AIDS) and Snowflame (a super villain powered by cocaine).

1939's Bozo the Iron Man looks like a riot. Dr. Hormone and The Eye (who is an actual floating eye) are intriguing. How about Kangaroo Man, who is actually the sidekick to a scuffling kangaroo? My favorite entries are the obscure Golden Age heroes just because I have never heard of many of them, but it's a lot of fun reading about later efforts. I got a nice rush of nostalgia learning the story behind the AAU Shuperstar I saw in so many full-page ads back in the day.

It's a compact hardcover that feels substantial enough. It does leave you wanting more, but that's in the sense that it encourages you to seek out these goofy superheroes. Fortunately, much of this material is public domain and/or unclaimed and therefore findable online.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 36 (special post-Thanksgiving edition)

What's so special about this post-Thankgiving edition? Well, it was Thanksgiving, and now it isn't. That's pretty special, isn't it?

1) Netflix: Another big week for the industry leader, which seems to get credit even when it's being a follower. Example: the rapturous response to the announcement subscribers could download material for offline viewing. Would Netflix have done this if Amazon hadn't offered the option? Well, either way, it's value added for customers.

Me, I'm more concerned with what there IS to see, not how to see it (as long as it's on my Roku), and the December 1 content drop wasn't impressive, but there was a new Leonard Nimoy documentary, a movie called Ghost Team that appears semi-newish, some new cartoon called Pacific Heat (Archer ripoff?), The Angry Birds Movie, and The Jungle Book, which Netflix can point to and say, "See? We DO get big movies!"

I'm still not watching Gilmore Girls, but that is a huge hit for Netflix. I think the only reason less people are talking about it right now is because everyone burned through it the first weekend.

2) PIX11: Remember last week when I said it might be the first and last week this channel from New York's channel 11 was on the chart? Once again I must quote the Fonz and say I was wr...I was wr....I was wr...

Much to my surprise, this new Roku  channel IS adding archive content. In the past few days, it debuted clips of the Yule Log tradition, old promos, some Yankee baseball clips, and best of all, a documentary about the classic Henry Tilllman promo campaign. If you know who Henry Tillman is, you need to add and watch this channel right now. As for me, yeah, #2 might sound high, but just wait and see how high I rank this after I get a chance to watch all these clips.

3) Pub-D-Hub: Debuted its annual Christmas section this past week, chock  full of old cartoons, TV shows, movies, and even Old-Time Radio shows suitable for the season. I think all of it is was on last year, but even if nothing new appears, it's great to see it in one place like this.

4) Hulu: Every few months, Hulu adds a whole mess of original Dark Shadows episodes out of nowhere. Hulu also gives us a bunch of James Bond movies (they weren't all already on there? They rotate all over the place, it seems like), some British shows, and The Shield  (wait, THAT wasn't already on there?), so it was a welcome up week for the service ahead of its premiere of new original series Shuteye  next week. All the Friday the 13th films aren't quite enough to make up for all those Criterions that left last month, though.

5) Days of Dumont: My favorite obscure Roku channel brought more Dumont Network goodness just after the holiday. The School House episode alone merits a high ranking. What's not to like about a variety show set in a classroom setting and starring Wally Cox and Arnold Stang with Kenny Delmar as the teacher?

6) YouTube: Got my music fix off YT this week. Why is it so many of the official videos have garbage sound quality while the unofficial ones are the ones with the great sound quality? You'd think the record companies don't want us to enjoy free music on You--oh.

7) Shout! Factory TV: Added MDA telethon compilations dedicated to magicians and ventriloquists, plus a pair of Xmas specials of the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.   Only problem, is, not all of  this has reached the Roku yet. watch for a big leap for Shout! when it does.

8) The CW: So Legends of Tomorrow did a Civil War/Zombies episode? That show is just letting it all hang out this season.

9) TubiTV: Don't ask me why I decided to watch the pilot of Love & War this week, but I did, and the commercial load wasn't totally obnoxious, and the streaming was as smooth as the earthy charm of Jay Thomas was rough. Tubi added a bunch of movies this month, including many holiday titles, so it's worth a look.

10) Warner Archive Instant: I severed my ties with this SVOD after my free trial expired, but there is potential here. If you  look around, they are offering a discounted month, too, so that gives them one more week in the top 10 even without adding anything.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

This week on Battle of the Network Shows: You take the good, you take the bad...

You'll avoid a lot of damage and enjoy the fun of managing the facts of life...

'For the last time, girls, you can listen to Battle of the Network Shows AFTER you clean up the kitchen."