Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Brooks on Books: Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown

I am no "video game guy," but I have loved playing Tetris for years. I had no idea reading about it would be so much fun or that the addictive puzzle game had such a fascinating backstory. Box Brown, who earlier produced an outstanding biography of Andre the Giant, delivers another fantastic graphic novel with this enthralling story of the game.

Brown starts with a brief illustrated history of games in general--how they started, why they appeal to people, and so forth. It's a fine beginning that provides context and sets the stage for the tangled account of Tetris itself.

The deceptively simple-looking game of the falling puzzle pieces was created by Soviet software developers. How it made its way to the USA and around the world is an incredible story you have to read to believe. It involves bureaucracy, geopolitics, foreign intrigue, corporate chicanery, and so much more.

I really don't want to give anything away, but just know that Brown's skillful rendering of the story draws you right in and doesn't let go. He manages to make the human "characters" stand out, and the real-life twists and turns of this saga have a big impact due to the quality of the storytelling.

I figured that reading this would make me want to go play some more Tetris again. What I didn't know was just how much I would love this book. I highly recommend Brown's brilliant adaptation of a surprisingly complex real-life story of business, one told against a backdrop of the timeless appeal of playing games.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week #65 (Special "Wait, can I retire now, or do I have to work till I'm 80?" edition)

1) Netflix: Despite a rare glitch (at least for me) earlier this week, Netflix done good. It debuted Moana and the GLOW series. I was never a fan of that particular brand of wrestling, but you combine Alison Brie with pro wrestling, and I am gonna give it a shot.

2) Hulu: After catching up on Gotham, I saw The Brady Bunch Movie before it expired at the end of the month. It's amusing, but I remember being surprised by it and enjoying it so much when it appeared in theaters. That moment will never return, I suppose. SIGH. Thanks for making me all SAD, Hulu!

Also, the Disney 1999 Tarzan is now on Hulu, which makes me wonder yet again what the deal is with that Netflix/Disney deal that was supposed to give us all that good catalog stuff.

3) PIX 11: I am enjoying the recent diversity in the archive offerings. It must be Jeffrey Lyons month, as they posted a retrospective on John Wayne he hosted, plus his original reviews of The Blue Lagoon and The Blues Brothers.

4) MLB TV: I was just remarking how amazing it was that on a given weekday, I could watch any baseball game being played if I wanted to, and how not so long ago I wouldn't even have the option.  I still complained about the Pirates losing, mind you, but it was nice to relax and see it happen.

5) YouTube: Just when I despair that all the good stuff is yanked from YouTube, I find a dozen other things I didn't even know were there. I still have to ask, hey, Don Henley, why don't you let someone post the video for "Not Enough Love in the World"?

6) Shout! Factory TV: It added a few horror movies to fill out a paltry June update, but no matter because I am still enjoying the afterglow of that Dr. Ruth/Burt Reynolds show I mentioned last week.

7) Pub-D-Hub: I really miss the old commercials when a week's update doesn't have them, but there is plenty of other stuff to watch--most of it old, cheap, and maybe slightly bizarre.

8) HBO: I no longer have HBO, so I know again what it is like to miss it. Farewell, this season of Veep. SIGH. Hey, these rankings are not supposed to bring me down so much.

9) TuneIn: Hey, eighties station, didn't Cliff Richard have more than one song? And on a related note, the joy of discovering a rare song dissipates when you play it again at the same time the next day.

10) The CW: Well, I had to go here to see the Supergirl season finale, so on one hand, good for CW's streaming channel for existing. On the other hand,

Thursday, June 22, 2017

TODAY on Battle of the Network Shows!

Today on Battle of the Network Shows, we finally talk about the series that inspired our title, one of the most era-ish shows of the BOTNS era!

Check it out right here. Don't ya dare miss it!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

TV Promo Theatre #3: Teenage America: The Glory Years

In this series, we've looked at ABC and NBC, so I thought I'd give some love to CBS. I believe this 1986 promo is voiced by longtime Tiffany Network voice man Mark Elliott:

But let's talk about the special itself, which aired in 1986.   It actually looks kind of annoying.  Isn't it kind of quaint, though? Can you picture a broadcast network doing something like this today? Maybe we'd get Millennial Mayhem or something, but a show about the rise of the teenager in American culture?

Of course, the success of Back to the Future surely helped inspire this. I do not remember this one at all. I certainly don't remember John Ritter dressed as "Wild One" Marlon Brando:

Talk about an idiosyncratic choice to host!

OK, I talked myself into it: I want to see this now.

Special thanks to the great Sean Mc for uploading this.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

And Now...a Word fromTHEIR Sponsor

(NOTE: This is a cross-post with Battle of the Network Shows, where you can grab the latest episode of our podcast, in which we discuss game shows Sale of the Century and Face the Music)

It's not difficult to envision Jim Perry as a consummate pitchman. He's so polished in all  his game show work, and his Sale of the Century stint indicates he is comfortable pushing product. One of my favorite YouTube uploaders, Bionic Disco, just posted an early Perry commercial that throws me a bit, though. He just looks so...young in this one. Check it out:

At first, I am taken aback by the haircut, but as I settle in and get past that (OK, it may have taken me a few watches), I am THERE. I want that salt.  I mean, I want that salt he has right there in the ad. I want to take that little jar and chug that Morton's Lite Salt. If this were Sale of the Century, I'd throw away $10--the value of two questions--just for a heaping portion of salt. He wouldn't even have to sweeten (or salt?) the deal by throwing in a set of shakers.

The poise, the delivery, the confidence--even in the 1970s, Jim Perry was the man.

Monday, June 19, 2017

'Mooners Monday #17: Our first DANCE CONTEST!

Yes, folks, as we examine "Mama Loves Mambo," one of my favorite episodes, it's time to play Dancing with the 'Mooners with our talented cast. Winners will be determined by a combination of reader feedback, chatter from the squirrels in the park, and my own judgment.

First up: the alluring Angelina Manicotti:

And 4 other lovely ladies in the contest:
IMDB says that's Mrs. Stevens from the Xmas episode second from the right.

Don't forget the men, though! Of course there is the mambo teacher himself, Carlos:

And Mr. Manicotti, keeping up quite well with his wife:

Finally, how about a hand for Ralph and Ed, who can mambo with the best of them:

Next week's 'Mooners Monday will announce the winner of our first dance contest!


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week 64 (Special "Hey, we could put all these into a big tournament bracket" edition)

1) Hulu: Yes, it's time for Hulu to take over the top spot again. It didn't really do all that much, but it does have Star Trek Beyond this weekend. Handmaid's Tale concluded and may turn out to be a difference maker. Cardinal is new. Catch The Brady Bunch Movie before it leaves at the end of the month. Mostly, though, I'm happy to see Seinfeld.

2) Netflix: Netflix slips despite premiering "Part 3" of The Ranch. Let's face it, calling it "Part 3" costs it some points. Count me unimpressed by the new seasons of Shonda Rimes shows showing up.

3) Seeso: Amid news of layoffs, which come after the news that the SVOD service was scaling back on original programming, let's honor it with a high position because it looks like it ain't gonna get any better. As much as I'd like to see the strategy shift to buying rights to rare sitcoms and putting them up there, I fear that's not going to happen. I still think there's a decent concept here, but it just needed more content to grab people for 3.99 a month.

4) Warner Archive Instant: Would rate high this week on the strength of an epic touch football game involving the Bradfords., but also, just in time for Father's Day, the complete series of The Courtship of Eddie's Father, which I think is making its debut on WAI.

5) Shout! TV: I really hate that it takes me an hour and a half to watch a 45-minute program with all the commercials, but you gotta love Shout! for putting up these old, poor-quality Good Sex with Dr. Ruth episodes from Lifetime in the 1980s. Highlight of the first episode: Dr. Ruth asking Burt Reynolds why he chews gum, then asking him if he chews gum while making love.

6) MLB.TV: The Pirates looked pretty good in their retro unis last night.  By the way, this is one of the rare services out there that

7) YouTube: I really feel like YT should be drummed out of the top 10 for deleting the account of one of the best old-school wrestling uploaders, but there is still plenty of good 1980s WWF content on there (SHH!), plus I enjoyed an episode of the Red Buttons sitcom The Double Life of Henry Phyfe and my man Sean Mc and some others uploaded some great promos and commercials. All this gets YouTube a good ranking even though it was actually down for a while the other day

8) Pub-D-Hub: The weekly update was highlighted by an episode of the Boston Blackie TV series and a clip of Penny Singleton singing "Varsity Drag" from Good News.

9) TubiTV: I had a sudden and inexplicable urge to watch the failed 2014 FX Kelsey Grammer/Martin Lawrence sitcom Partners when I saw it was on here, but Tubi gets docked a point or two for loading up a live video feed (Newsy) when I start the channel. It's annoying and distracting when I'm trying to

10) Amazon: Because my podcast co-conspirator reminded me that you can still find goofy crap like old Three Stooges public domain shorts on Prime Video alongside stuff like...well, like Star Trek Beyond, which also premieres here this weekend.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

TODAY on Battle of the Network Shows!

It's a game show doubleheader as we look at Sale of the Century and Face the Music. You won't win cash, you won't win prizes, but you will hear us discuss game shows of the BOTNS era. Click right here to get the episode. Don't ya dare miss it!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Lon Chaney Jr.: One of the more flappable anthology hosts you'll see

As I mentioned in the power rankings,  Pub-D-Hub has the premiere episode of 13 Demon Street, a horror/supernatural anthology series spearheaded by Curt Siodmak, filmed in Sweden, and aired (for 13 episodes) in the U.S. of A. The episode, "Black Hand," is far from a classic. It's probably not even in the top 5 of "doctor stitches a hand onto his arm and hijinks ensue" in pop culture. It's actually pretty bad, and seeing it with Swedish subtitles at the bottom of the screen only adds to the "What the hell am I watching?" factor.

But Lon Chaney Jr., our host, is responsible for a good chunk of that factor. His intros and outros might as well have been shot on a different planet, and they seem disconnected from the story they are supposed to complement. And of course, it's TV Lon, so he looks a little disheveled, anyway, but his bit in "Black Hand" is just bizarre.

Lon has been playing around with a fire poker shaped like a hand--hey, folks, Father's Day is coming up, and I just gave you a great gift idea--and he tries to sum up the macabre tale we just watched.

He tells us, "It was dead...dead as this fire poker."

See this one coming?

In this closeup, the hand...STARTS MOVING!

So Chaney reacts with this clever utterance: "AAAH!" Then he quickly tosses the poker aside.

OK, if this happened to me, I'd be a little perturbed, but this is an unseemly look for the host of an anthology series. Can you imagine Rod Serling looking over his shoulder, saying, "A COOKBOOK!" and yelping in horror? Would Boris Karloff squeal at the thought of a ghost lurking in his vicinity? Would Alfred Hitchcock say something like, "That story gave me the heebie-jeebies"?

OK, maybe HE would, but he'd be very droll about it.

The host of such a series should be unflappable, not someone prone to...doing whatever Lon is doing it in that last shot .Did Curt Siodmak give him this kind of direction?

Monday, June 12, 2017

'Moonrs Monday #16: The mystery of Pat Perkins

Each Honeymooners episodes with a litany of names (though, annoyingly, not the guest stars) brought to us by the rolling credits. We see the writers, behind-the-scenes personnel like the immortal Jack Philbin...and Pat Perkins.

Pat Perkins? Actually we don't see Pat Perkins, but we see PAT PERKINS, as in "Daytime dresses by Pat Perkins." Pat Perkins' name is in signature form, making a distinctive enough sight, but it's also HUGE. I mean, Pat Perkins is the John Hancock of sitcom credits.

The signature was so weird and so in your face that it spooked me as a youngster. I always wondered what the deal was with Double P until I acquired The Official Honeymooners Treasury. Since the chapter on "Here Comes the Bride" tells this story, I think I'll cover it here before we move on to one of my all-time favorite episodes (hopefully next week).

If you don't want to have your dreams shattered, leave now, and we'll see you next time for "Mama Loves Mambo."

You see, the sad truth is...there IS no Pat Perkins. There WAS no Pat Perkins. Nor shall there ever BE a Pat--Well, I'm sure there have been some over the years, but they weren't supplying Alice Kramden's dresses.

No, a guy named Mac Kaplan owned Sunnyvale, Inc., which produced the Pat Perkins line. Mac Kaplan. MAC KAPLAN? I can see now why the elegant name was chosen in this case. It still looks kind of creepy, but it's a bit more delicate than MAC KAPLAN coming at you all of a sudden.

The book quotes Mac's son Charles as saying his dad offered Jackie Gleason a deal: For a credit each week, he would provide the dresses gratis (Gratis is the kind of word I imagine Pat Perkins is more likely to say than Mac Kaplan).

Seymour Kaplan, Mac's brother, tells the book's authors, "It sounded like a marvelous fashion setup for an inexpensive garment, because what wouldn't look great on Audrey Meadows. The only thing was, Mac spent the rest of the time trying to get the apron off her."

It sure did work. After all, the credit had a big impact with me. I will say, too, that Mac Kaplan is shown in the book standing with Audrey on his arm, and he looks like a pretty suave dude. So consider this week's post a tribute to Mac Kaplan, even if we are all a little disappointed that "Pat Perkins" isn't a real person.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week #63 (Special "Hey, Gene Upshaw wore #63" edition)

1) Netflix: A slow week volume-wise, but original movie Shimmer Lake and a new season of Orange Is the New Black will make some people happy, and on a slow week of me watching, nobody else stepped up to unseat the big dog.

2) Hulu: I'm trying to get caught up on Gotham via Hulu, but I was in the mood for an episode of I Love Lucy the other day. Now, I have no idea why Hulu skips every other episode, but at least it has some I Love Lucy.

3) Warner Archive Instant: Not a lot going on--WAI added some new titles, and some of them are quite good, but they were on WAI before. The channel is coasting, but as I said, it's a slow week.

4) YouTube: I may have to drum YT out of my top 10 for good if my kids don't keep watching these inane vlogs and getting the songs stuck in my head and--man, I need to dive into some old network promos or something to cleanse my brain.

5) PIX11: It continued to add content this week, and that 1980 newscast I mentioned last week is great. I also enjoyed a feature on the 1978 Yankees/Red Sox confrontations with a New York suoerfan claiming the phrase "BOSTON SUCKS" "isn't derogatory."

6) Days of Dumont: There's an awesome station ID on here: A drawing of the Statue of Liberty along with the call letters WABD and the slogan, "New York's Window on the World." Modern TV could learn a lot from defunct networks and their affiliates. Exactly what, I do not know, but it's a cool station ID.

7) Pub-D-Hub: The highlight for me in this week's adds: the premier of 13 Demon Street, a short-lived anthology series made in Sweden (!) and hosted by Lon Chaney Jr. I could have sworn this was already on here, but, hey, I never saw it, so it's new to me. Also of note, a striking American Cancer Society PSA. After a lackluster stretch in the spring, Pub-D-Hub seems to be back.

8) Shout! Factory TV:  Just added a batch of episodes of The Dr. Ruth Show. Dare I watch? I should at least watch the episode with Burt Reynolds, right?

9) Acorn TV: I just realized Acorn has the third season of Count Arthur Strong, with a new episode each week. I got into the series on SeeSo, which does not have the third season. Well, I do not have Acorn, but this is tempting, and it's a good reason to rank Acorn (and to not rank SeeSo).

10) Filmstruck: Well, I have been asking for months, when is Filmstruck coming to Roku? It has finally arrived, so it earns a spot in the top 10, though frankly, I still think it looks a little overpriced.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

TODAY on Battle of the Network Shows


It's He-Man on today's episode. Check it out right here, folks. Don't ya dare miss it!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Awesome 80s Video #6: Stevie Nicks, Talk to Me

I am going to go this entire post without making a cocaine reference. I am going to go this entire post without making a cocaine reference.

Stevie Nicks, “Talk to Me” is my favorite of all of her solo songs. It is not as heralded as other hits like "Edge of Seventeen" or "Stand Back," but it is as quintessentially 1980s as just about any female-fronted rock song of the era. Whoa, is there some 1980s-style production on this track. It almost sounds like a sister song/companion to "Voices Carry."
All this, plus a video to match!  It's Stevie in her full [comment redacted] days, twirling all over the place and also doing some kind of choreography with some dudes…and it all takes place in one of those 1980s houses with insanely large and empty rooms!
If this isn't 1980s enough for you through the first verse and chorus or so, check out the awesome sax break in the middle.
Why, oh, why has no one tried to go "viral" with a wedding party dance copying the routine in this vid? I am normally against any such contrived effort to do such a thing, but I would make an exception in this case.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Journey Into DVD: Charle Brown and Friends

(Editor's Note: 'Mooners Monday will return next week. On Monday.)

This is a single-disc repackaging of material from the Peanuts: 1970s Collection DVD set. It consists of 3 half-hour animated specials originally aired on CBS in the late 1970s along with a featurette.

It's great to see the holiday-themed Peanuts specials every year, but there were tons of other ones on TV back in the day. It's a shame they don't get much play, and it's also a shame that Warner Brothers has released these in confusing subpackages rather than going with affordable comprehensive collections, BUT if you  look hard enough, you can find the old stuff and enjoy it today on DVD.

This particular disc reminds you that the Peanuts specials were weird. We sort of chuckle at the quirks of the holiday ones because we've seen them over and over again, but when you revisit some of these lesser-known efforts, you scratch your head sometimes.

The first special is What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown! There may not be too many children's animated specials prominently featuring the word "nightmare," but does it really surprise you that Peanuts would give you one of them?

This is a bizarre half-hour focused on an odd dream Snoopy has. It starts when Charlie Brown, apparently in one of those moods, decides he wants Snoopy to guide him around like a sled dog. When his pet isn't up to the intense  physical exertion needed to do that, Chuck berates him and says he's too civilized, etc., etc.

Snoopy often comes off as aloof and not all  that likable in the specials, but here Charlie is a real jerk, and it's no wonder his poor dog has a nightmare about actually becoming a sled dog. 

The day Charlie went from proletariat to bourgeoise

Snoop has all kinds of adventures, including working in, performing in, and playing poker in a saloon, before he "goes savage"  to become the lead dog in a pack. If you ever wanted to see Snoopy give menacing growls, bare his teeth, and get into a fierce struggle with a "realistic"-looking dog, here's your chance!

I think *I'm* having nightmares after seeing these images

The other two specials are more conventional. It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown spotlights a football game, and it's refreshing to see a team sport besides baseball. It may be a mistake watching it right after Nightmare, though; after seeing Charlie act like such a tool in that one, I was actually rooting for Lucy to pull the football away from him so he would fall on his duff.

Oh, and how old are these kids? First Kiss delves into the anxiety caused by boys and girls exchanging a smooch, but to do so, it sets up big football games, homecoming courts, and all the things you expect to see from a high school.  Actually, even many high school probably don't have the budgets to do all the stuff Charlie's school does in this one.

You don't see these kinds of parades on Thanksgiving, these days

You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown shows Chuck entering the Junior Olympics, specifically the decathlon, and screwing things up in classic Charlie fashion. Along the way, we see the Masked Marvel, a surprising bit of business from Marcie, and even a Bruce Jenner reference.  My favorite line is Peppermint Patty, trying to encourage her pal, calling Charlie "Chucko." His puzzled "Chucko?" response is classic.

Why, Marcie!

Added value comes in the form of the 18-minute featurette You're Groovy, Charlie Brown: A Look at Peanuts in the 70's." No, this is not footage of the Peanuts gang gettin' down to the sweet sounds of fuzz guitar. It's more a general overview of the strip, the production of the specials, and especially creator Charles M. Schulz. It's a nice look at Peanuts, though, and a welcome bonus on the DVD.

These aren't on the level of the perennial holiday favorites we've come to know and love, but they represent a significant portion of the Peanuts legacy and are part of TV history as well. These specials are fun, if a little out there at times, and deserve wider exposure.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week 62 (Special "Better late than never" edition)

1) Netflix: The first-of-the-month catalog drop is officially not a big deal anymore, I think, although it's nice to know I can now stream the first half of Full Metal Jacket whenever I feel like it. Yet it's still a big week for Netflix with Dr. Strange, House of Cards, F Is for Family, and quick-as-a-Flash premieres of recent CW seasons. Notice I haven't ranked CW lately? Well, I waited for episodes to show up here so I could see them without 25 minutes of repetitive ads. Oh, and there's Flaked  Season 2 because for some reason Will Arnett is the face of Netflix (if something happens to Kevin Spacey).

2) Hulu: I'm not interested in the story of Big Brother magazine, but it's cool that Hulu is cranking out these pop culture documentaries. Also, the June 1 catalog drop of movies had some good albeit recycled titles.

3) Warner Archive Instant: I continue to find astonishment at the prickishness of Dick Van Patten's Tom Bradford on Eight Is Enough, though Grant Goodeve's David gives me the biggest kick for some reason.  I also got back into Cain's Hundred this week. Hey, WAI, how about Mr. Novak if you want some annual subscriptions/

4) Days of Dumont: Yeah, baby! New Follow That Man and Captain Video among  others. I should take a day off work next week and just watch old Dumont shows. Really.

5) Museum of Classic Chicago Television: Big ups to this new Roku channel. I knew it would be cool because this outfit has a YouTube channel offering the same content: Vintage local commercials, promos and IDs. It looks like they will update this regularly!

6) PIX11: I wish the archives would be updated regularly--they post content often on their Facebook page, after all--but they get credit this week for adding a complete newscast from 1980.

7) Pub-D-Hub: Much love for any weekly update that includes an episode of The Eve Arden Show.

8) TuneIn: This week in "Hey, hadn't heard that in ages" Theatre: The Artistics, "I'm Gonna Miss You."

9) Shout! Factory TV: This week in "Awkward Dick Cavett interviews with comedians" Theatre: Cavett one on one with a post-talk show (the first one) Dennis Miller. Let's see what you got for us for June, though, Shout!

10) MLB.TV: Something like Crackle should really step up, especially with the way the Pirates are playing this year.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Brooks on Books: Hark, a Vagrant by Kate Beaton

This book is awesome, Kate Beaton is awesome, and I only wish there were more collections from her available. I see she has done a children's book and is working on a graphic novel, and I'm sure they are/will be great, but I would love to see more of this stuff.

Hark consists of an assortments of original cartoons Beaton has done, many with a historical/literary bent. I have to say that just the fact that there are comics like this is enough to amuse me, but Beaton's askew sensibility makes the source material even funnier. Also, it's great that she pulls so many random references out of her hat. Well, I say random, but she is not just leafing through books and pointing her fingers at names. She has a history degree, worked in a museum, and is an unabashed lover of what she is covering.

Also, Beaton is Canadian, so prepare yourself for some obscure Canadian references. It's a nice touch that the strips are annotated. Many feature "artist commentary" notes explaining her thinking, what strikes her as interesting about the topic, or sometimes just who the subjects are.

Here's another nice touch: There is an index! It's just a cool little bonus for a work that blends fiction and nonfiction.

A lot of the humor centers on putting modern attitudes in older situations, but it never gets old in this book. She includes a couple of Hamlet-themed comics late in the collection, and "the ghost" arrives and tells his son, "Obviously I died of poison." A shocked Hamlet says he didn't know, so the king says, "Was there no autopsy? What did everyone think I died of?" Hamlet: "Uh, this is still the middle ages or something. They just thought you died from being alive."

I am totally not doing it justice. Something about Beaton's style, the look of the drawings, and the overall attitude makes all of this hilarious, and it gets better if you just throw yourself into it. I could write out more of the strips, but just go to her site and see some samples. I see she has a similar collection, and I need to get my hands on that one because Hark is 166 pages of fun, off-kilter send-ups of  mostly "scholarly" topics.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

TODAY on Battle of the Network Shows

Our first episode of June combines two of our favorite things: Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman and disco. Check it out right here. Don't ya dare miss it!