Thursday, November 30, 2017

Brooks on Books: "Mr. Novak: An Acclaimed Television Series" by Chuck Harter

These days, I am thankful for any appreciation of the history of classic television, let alone a book-length analysis of an unheralded gem. So while I was provided a review copy of Mr. Novak: An Acclaimed Series, any predisposition I have to view it favorably is due to...well, just due to its existence. Fortunately, author Chuck Harter excels at telling the story of one of TV's forgotten classics, supplementing a thorough and engaging history of its production with an episode guide and a host of appendices. The result is a must-read for those with fond memories of Mr. Novak and an irresistible package even for television fans who have never seen the series.

 I suspect there are many in that category. Mr. Novak ran from 1963 to 1965 on NBC Sunday nights at 7:30.  As the titular rookie high school English teacher, James Franciscus won over many younger viewers l with his charm and good looks, but the show was far more ambitious than just a vehicle for creating a teen idol. Principal Albert Vane (Dean Jagger) was an integral part of the premise, with his wise authority figure offering a distinct counterpart to the fresh-faced newbie.

Creator E. Jack Neuman was determined to create a realistic and relevant drama about the world of secondary education. As Harter relates, a host of awards and acclaim from scholastic organizations indicate he succeeded. Similarly, the show drew kudos from most critics. Ultimately, a variety of factors--creative and cast changes, timeslot competition, and others--held Novak to only two seasons, which is a shame.

The series has had a limited afterlife, with its highest-profile run a stint as late-night/early-morning programming and filler in the early days of TNT. Scuttlebutt has it that Warner Archive will finally release Novak in 2018; I'd love to see it on Warner Instant before then, but if not, I'll be tempted to pre-order  as soon as it's announced. The handful of episodes I've seen back up Harter's assertion of the series' quality. As a big fan of Dr. Kildare, many episodes of which were written by Neuman and which features a similar mentor/pupil dynamic between Raymond Massey and Richard Chamberlain (to whom the media often compared Franciscus), my wheelhouse has plenty of room for a thoughtful "social issues" drama like this one, and I can't wait for more.

Harter begins the text by talking about just how he got hooked on the series and why he went to Bear Manor with this project. Then he gets right into the history of the show itself, explaining Neuman's ambitions and how he put the project together. Most every major detail of Novak's creation is recounted in detail, and Harter's impressive research is evident.

Though most of the show's  principals had passed away years earlier, Harter spoke with many key figures, such as Franciscus' widow, production personnel like director Richard Donner (who contributes an introduction) and guest stars like Martin Landau and Walter Koenig (who write the foreword and afterword, respectively--Landau died not long after his contribution). He makes excellent use of earlier interviews publications such as The  TV Collector conducted with the likes of Franciscus and Neuman.

Alexander Scourby and Sherry Jackson in one standout episode

In addition to those valuable first-person accounts, Mr. Novak: An Acclaimed Television Series benefits from the vast array of contemporary articles and reviews Harter has gathered. Newspapers, teen magazines, and other sources give valuable context and a sense of time and place for a series that aired over 50 years ago.

However, the book isn't just a triumph of research; Harter's writing is crisp and effective, and he makes the saga of the short-lived series a compelling one. There is an air of regret throughout the book, though, as many of Novak's staff, fans, and the author himself lament what feels like a missed opportunity. The show "should have" lasted longer. Neuman turned his attention away to other projects in season two, and more of a "suit" type came in to oversee production. Leonard Freeman was more concerned with budget issues and other matters compared to the intense attention to verisimilitude preached by Neuman. Jagger, suffering from health issues, left the series, and replacement Burgess Meredith didn't get enough time to fully click.

Harter traces all these developments and interjects some opinions where appropriate, and he offers letter grades and capsule reviews for each installment in the episode guide after the main text. Yet he keeps the focus on the series itself along with its principles, offering insight in a balanced manner.

Novak won a Peabody award and was critically respected, but it was also beloved by its loyal audience, and I think it's important to note that it is a fun show to watch. It has a sense of humor even as it discusses serious topics like alcoholism, the death of a teacher on school grounds, and even less melodramatic issues like the difficulty students can have in choosing a vocation. Similarly, Harter gives you all the facts and then some, but his chronological telling of the series' tale is easy to follow and a pleasurable read.

Robert Culp is excellent in an episode that also features Harry Townes, Tony Dow, and Johnny Crawford

The book is loaded with vintage photographs, advertisements, and production ephemera. An essay from Neuman to potential writers, something like what would be called a "series bible" today, is fascinating. My favorite of the extra material is the rules and description of the 1963 Mr. Novak board game!

Mr. Novak: An Acclaimed Television Series is a triumph that does justice to its excellent subject. I think the only negative I can give is that I am now frustrated I am unable to see all of Mr. Novak. Here's hoping Warner Archive does indeed release the show soon. In the meantime, classic TV lovers can tide themselves over with Chuck Harter's excellent comprehensive guide to the show.

(Come back tomorrow for an email interview  I conducted with the author, who was kind enough to answer some of my questions on his passion for the series, why it only lasted two seasons, the fake "feud" between the two stars, and more!)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Shameless self-promotion: Podcast update

Hey, everyone! Just a quick note to remind you that we are in the middle of our third season of Battle of the Network Shows, the podcast on which my friend Mike and I discuss television of the 1970s and 1980s. As Mike explains in this post, our episodes are now available on YouTube!

This episode from our first season looks at the original In Search Of's treatment of Amelia Earhart and the Loch Ness Monster. This season, we've covered Super Friends, Three's Company, Celebrity Bowling, Knight Rider, and more, and there's more to come!

So just remember, in case I forget to bother--uh, remind you each week, new episodes premiere each Thursday wherever you get podcasts, but you can always find us at

Monday, November 27, 2017

'Mooners Monday #35: the Immortal Joe Fensterblau

In addition to its famous "drunk" scene, "Head of the House" brings us one of the great minor characters in iHoneymooners history:  Joe Fensterblau. Start with that name:  Joe Fensterblau. I could sit here and say it about 5 or 6 times in a row. In fact, I just did. Don't judge me.

You know who doesn't care about being judged? Joe Fensterblau, that's who.  This big mouth doesn't care--but, oh, if he DOES care about something, he'll let you  know.

I like that the other fellas congratulate Ralph and cheer him for mouthing off to the newspaper, but Joe barges right in and calls it "malarkey" and says he needs PROOF that what he said was really the case.

Actor Dick Bernie does a great job at getting the essential brash, rather abrasive quality of a guy who would challenge Ralph on his assertion of being king of his castle.  Of course, Bernie will return as another blowhard, Bill Davis, in the last of the Classic 39, "A Man's Pride." For now, though, we can enjoy him trying to pull off the simultaneous feat of showing up his coworker AND sponging a free meal out of the Kramdens.

He just wants something simple: soup, roast chicken with stuffing, rice, a little salad on the side...and a little dessert and coffee.

When Alice doesn't go for it, (Classic line when he gets her on the phone: "Alice, look. Run right home now and start cooking. I'm bringing a friend over.") Ralph figures he and Norton can cook themselves and say Alice did it. Of course, it doesn't go well.

But Alice bails out her hubby by apologizing, blaming the lack of dinner on the stove, and offering a rain check. Joe is actually somewhat chagrined, and he walks away looking at Ralph with newfound respect.

Even though he is somewhat compromised at the end thanks to Alice's maneuver, we still give a hearty Cultureshark salute to Joe Fensterblau, who manages to stand out as an obnoxious blowhard on a show that is about a guy who can be an obnoxious blowhard.

Joe Fensterblau.

I'll type it one more time, and then I think I'll have it out of my system: Joe Fensterblau.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings #89

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Maybe you are still enjoying an extended 4-day holiday weekend. If so...I'm angry because I didn't have one. But I hope you are celebrating the American way--by streaming whatever you can in between football games.

1) Netflix: Kudos to the King of Streaming for premiering a lot of content this holiday week. I mean, much of it looks like garbage to me, but I admire the effort to unload a lot of new stuff when people will be home to watch it.

I should dock Netflix for my daughter watching Haters Back Off  while I was in the same room, but instead, I thank them for the fascinating Jim Carrey/Andy Kaufman documentary, the new Brian Regan special, and the old but always welcome Thanksgiving episodes of Cheers.

2) Hulu: Welcome to the home of Marvel Comics on streaming video! Sure, Netflix gets the headlines (for another few years), but Hulu debuted The Runaways this week, it quietly added Agent Carter (heretofore MIA from streaming), and will add FX's Legion season 1 next month.

Meanwhile, on the DC end of things, my kids sure are loving Teen Titans Go. I think it has made them forget about Disney Now.

3) Acorn TV: Honestly, Doc Martin is coasting at this point, but I still enjoy each episode and will watch it as long as it continues...which I think is one more season. Now that I have finished Series 8, time to move on to Count Arthur Strong and 800 Words.

4) YouTube: Tons of good stuff on here lately, as Sean MC  continues to bring it, plus that Andy Kaufman on Letterman compilation I mentioned last week is a great companion to the Netflix doc.

And I may not be smart to admit this, but I very much enjoyed the random episode of 1984 AWA All-Star Wrestling I watched when I probably should have been catching up on something else.

5) Pub-D-Hub: I always try to give extra credit to a service that offers a nice seasonal collection of content, and the Hub came through again with a Thanksgiving-themed section, though much of it was familiar and I wound up just watching an old Beulah episode.

6) The CW: Still behind on my "stories," but I made some progress this week. Hey, is anybody watching that new Dynasty?

7) Amazon Prime: Not only is it debuting The Big Sick, which is apparently a terrific movie, but it is just about that time of year I consider getting a month of Prime for the holiday shipping. Red Oak, here I come!

8) Warner Archive Instant: Major points for the Eight Is Enough I saw, and I even enjoyed the Dr.   Kildare with Cesar Romero as a crusty old town doctor. Wouldn't you know he'd turn out to have a heart of gold? The official Twitter account still hasn't done anything since October 22.

9) NBC: Thanks, NBC app/Roku channel, for making it possible to get a nice, clean uncut stream of the episode of Knight Rider we discussed this week on Battle of the Network Shows.

10) Brown Sugar: This week, I couldn't help but wish I were a current subscriber so that I could celebrate Thanksgiving the right way by enjoying the recent addition of 1974's Black Hooker.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

TV Time Revisited (firom Classic Flix): Cartoons Go to the Circus

If you are looking for something longer to read on this holiday, here's a piece from the not-too-distant past that originally ran on ClassicFlix. In April, I commemorated the decline of Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey by looking at classic TV cartoon excursions to the circus:

The announcement that Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey is shutting down inspired a lot of discussion about the demise of the circus. While it's true that Ringling was, for years, the most iconic big top operation, the American institution will continue.

Of course, it also survives in classic television. In a previous column, I recommended Woody Allen boxing a kangaroo. Besides that memorable variety program, many sitcom and dramatic episodes centered on traveling circus troupes passing through town, while some entire series were devoted to the spectacle. Super Circus with Mary Hartline was a popular kids show spotlighting genuine performances, while programs like Circus Boy (starring a young Mickey Dolenz), The Greatest Show on Earth (with a young -- well, youngish -- Jack Palance) and oater Frontier Circus were fictionalized depictions of the lifestyle and its inhabitants.

Given the news about Ringling Brothers, though, I wasn't in the mood for stories about sad clowns struggling with the bottle or acrobats chasing ringmasters in jealous rages. I looked to the television cartoon to celebrate the circus. Much to my surprise, I found that the world of animation often sees the big top as a sinister place filled with danger and despair.

Casper the Friendly Ghost,"Keep Your Grin Up:" I am going to start by cheating a bit. That's right, folks, step right up and enjoy one of the timeless circus traditions: the bait and switch! In my defense, while the original Casper cartoons were not made for television, they were shown countless times on the small screen, so it's a legitimate starting point for our journey.

Unfortunately, it's not a joyous beginning despite an amusing premise: Casper tries to make a sad hyena laugh. The thing is this hyena is a caged animal being whipped and beaten by his handler for not guffawing on command. It's a little off-putting seen through a modern lens, but, man, even in 1955, this must have been a downer. Even before Casper enters the circus grounds, he gets bummed out when his appearance (or, being invisible, lack thereof) frightens the ticket seller and the rubber man.

The hyena is more pitiful than the lonely Casper, though we never quite know if he's depressed because he's being whipped or if he is being whipped because he's depressed. Our favorite friendly ghost decides to try to make the hyena laugh, and while his intentions are good, you can't help but think if he really wanted to help, he'd, you know, open the cage.

Casper tries everything to get a laugh, including juggling, imitating a seal, and borrowing the props of an act named "Burpo the Fire Eater." Does Ringling Brothers have a Burpo the Fire Eater? If so, I need to get tickets while I can. The young ghost does all but squirt seltzer down his pants, but nothing gets a smile from the downcast hyena. (I imagine Milton Berle is somewhere in the wings furiously scribbling notes for something he can use on the Buick Hour.)

There's a happy ending when the abusive trainer, startled to see a ghost, shrieks, runs out of his pants and off the screen into the audience who are apparently watching this very cartoon. The hyena starts laughing harder than I do at a Honeymooners episode, and only slightly less obnoxiously. There's a lot more pathos in this brief cartoon than I expected, but its limited view of the circus isn't a pleasant one.

The Perils of Penelope Pitstop "Big Top Trap": At the risk of trivializing mistreatment of animals, there are times while watching Pitstop that I feel like that hyena. There are only so many times I can hear Penelope yell, "HAILP! HAILP!" before I feel like dressing up as a peanut and squatting down in front of Jumbo. Yet "Big Top Trap" offers a compelling glimpse of the circus.

At the beginning, we see Penelope perform in the show. The horse she is standing on throws her into a cannon, which shoots her toward a cage containing a wild "Tasmanian cruncha beast." Fortunately for her, she is able to grab the pole a tightrope walker is using and balance herself to avoid dropping all the way into the cage. We can only assume the poor tightrope walker plummets to his death off camera.

When I was in college, I took a class on live performing arts in which the professor, on the day he discussed the circus, told us the single most dangerous routine was the horse act because of the unpredictable nature of the equines. Somehow he left out the part about combination horse/human cannonball/tightrope/cruncha beast numbers. I tell you, between the disappearance of this kind of thing and the inability to replace Burpo the Fire Eater, it's no wonder the circus ain't what it used to be.

Penelope is snatched by her nemesis, the Hooded Claw, and taken to a swamp to attempt to feed her to a carnivorous plant. Her miniature sidekicks in the Ant Hill Mob eventually help her make it back to the tent to complete her performance and save the day, which makes me think that audience must really be getting its money worth considering how long the show must be.

Sorry, Pitstop fans, but even Paul Lynde can't elevate this. The main character is just too dim. In this episode, the Claw, who has been acting as her attorney in his civilian guise while donning a mask and trying to bump her off to get her fortune for the entire series, gets tired of the routine and basically says, "Hey, by the way, I'm your arch-rival who's been trying to kill you," and Penelope refuses to believe him! She's not the brightest heroine out there, folks...but I will admit she is one heck of a circus performer, and she gets shot out of a cannon like nobody's business.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? "Bedlam in the Big Top": "Bedlam" is a word that doesn't surprise you at all when you encounter it in Scooby-Doo, much like "hi-jinks." Both elements are in abundance in this encounter, which features the gang investigating a reported haunting of a circus by a ghost clown. The owner tells the team that his performers are leaving en masse because they are superstitious and think the whole operation is destined for trouble. I love the fact that a ghost clown itself isn't what makes everyone leave, but rather the fact that they see its presence as a bad omen.

You don't need a Scooby snack to figure out it's not an actual supernatural entity, but an embittered baddie with a grudge scaring everyone away. Don't underestimate this erstwhile spookster, though; his potent hypnosis overwhelms Scooby and Daphne, making them believe they are performers capable of doing dangerous stunts like tightrope walking and unicycle riding.

Lucky for Scoob, Penelope Pitstop is nowhere around, so he emerges unscathed, but it's interesting to note the callous nature of the show's laugh track. Is Scooby's precarious footing on a high wire really reason for enthusiastic chortles? The lovable canine earns some real laughs at the end after solving the mystery; he and Shaggy surprise the others by making a surprise cameo in the strongman's act and mugging for the crowd in attendance.

The real takeaway is not the exposure of the ghost clown, but the anti-circus performer stance of Scooby-Doo. The show takes pains to establish that any civilian, albeit under a deep hypnotic spell, can do the same alleged skilled feats as a pro. Then Scooby and Shaggy undercut one of the veteran acts by going for cheap laughs at the climax of his routine. Wasn't there a union of some kind to bring heat on Hanna-Barbera for this disrespect?

The Flintstones, Dial S for Suspicion and Circus Business: Several years earlier, Hanna-Barbera had our favorite stone-age family appear in a sixth-season episode called "Circus Business." Fred expresses his interest in buying an ailing circus and is overheard by the anxious-to-sell owner, who apparently believes an idle statement made in public is a binding verbal contract and accepts Flinstone's income tax refund as payment for the whole business.

Much to Fred's chagrin, things are worse than he thought, as all the performers are walking out after not being paid. Pressured by the sheriff to deliver the entertainment as advertised, the Flintstones and the Rubbles do what anyone would do in such a predicament: attempt to put on a show themselves. Their efforts impress the real performers so much that they decide to come back and work for free, proving that circus folk are great people after all...or suckers. I'm not exactly sure what the message is here.

Several seasons earlier, we get another glimpse into the world of the big top in "Dial S for Suspicion" when one of Wilma's former boyfriends, a knife thrower, spots her at a circus parade and gives her passes to the show so he can check out Fred. The parade is another great lost tradition, right up there with Burpo the fire eater and Tasmanian cruncha beasts -- an unparalleled event in which the cast of the show marches down main street and agrees not to let the elephants rampage through everyone's property as long as they buy tickets. Well, that wasn't explicit, but it was kind of implied, no?

Fred happens to be paranoid about Wilma trying to kill him for the life insurance. One reason I love The Flintstones: You just didn't hear a lot of other cartoons utilizing the phrase "double indemnity" in those days. Fred thinks the sudden arrival of a knife throwing beau is part of Wilma's plan, and it's hard to blame him when she "volunteers" him to be the "target" in his act, and then suggests it be done blindfolded!

Considering Fred goes on to star in numerous spin-off shows and cereal ads, you can rest assured Wilma isn't really trying to off her hubby, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong for a while. I'm intrigued by the knife thrower, whose suspicious behavior and shady snicker make me wonder if, regardless of Wilma's intent, he really does mean to give Fred a "close shave."

The Yogi Bear Show, Acrobatty Yogi and Jangled Jungle: Let's close our look at the circus with one more double feature from Hanna-Barbera. Oddly, these Yogi and Snagglepuss shorts come back to back on the DVD. If they really aired like that, they must have caused some confusion among young viewers.

"Acrobatty Yogi" sees the bear run away from Jellystone and join the circus in order to woo his would-be love, Cindy Bear. Hey, we've all done something like that at one time or another. (I'll never have to wonder "what might have been" with Bertha the Bearded Lady.) He's offered a job as lion tamer, and I get a good laugh when he's told the first thing he needs to do is learn what to do with a chair, which he triumphantly folds out and sits in.

I don't quite understand why the impresario sees a talking bear and decides, "Hey, I'll put him in with the lion," but he knows how to run his business. Poor Yogi has to jump off a high wire -- it really does seem like anyone can walk those things -- to flee the crazed cat, and when Cindy tries to compliment him, he mocks her and says, "I might have been seriously killed," before taking off and returning to the relative security of Jellystone.

Next up, Snagglepuss is bored with his own routine at the circus. He's asked to step up, down, up, down, and so on, which makes him "feel like an elevator -- a yo-yo, even." The prospect of getting shot out of a cannon is what makes him quit (in the middle of a show, just like Yogi -- how unprofessional these guys are) and head for the jungle.

He thinks he's the king of beasts, but unpleasant encounters with a Tarzan type and a gorilla make Snagglepuss exclaim, "Arrivederci, jungle! Good-bye, even!" He rushes back to the relative safety of...the circus! So, Yogi finds the circus a terrifying, dangerous place, while Snagglepuss finds it a refuge from the horrors of the outside world? Is this juxtaposition a deliberate statement by Hanna-Barbera? An attempt to provide equal time to those who are pro- and anti-circus? Is it a reflection of the fact that the circus means different things to different people?

Either way, I believe our sojourn through television animation's depiction of the circus teaches us several lessons: It's not all fun and funnel cakes, the animals may be treated both better and worse than we suspect, and above all else, next time you attend a show, keep your eyes on the high wire at all times. There's always something going on up there.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Half-Assed Gourmet: Love that chicken from Popeye's, but the atmosphere...

This year, before a lot of you go bird wild on turkey, let me talk about MY kind of dining experience: a trip to a local fast food joint.

A few months back, I mentioned a visit to Popeye's  and how I was disappointed by the location's stingy ways. The new TV ad campaign for Smokehouse Boneless Wings amused and tantalized me,  so I figured I'd give the chain another shot at a different location.

One thing that stands out at Popeye's is the prices. Is it just that chicken is more expensive? Is fried coating/grease so expeensive? Is it the DOWN-HOME/YEE-HAW/RAGIN' CAJUN quality? The fact is if you don't get one of their specials, the regular chicken meals look kind of steep for fast food.

In fact, an ominous sign by the counter gave me a grim feeling as I read that sauces were for chicken tenders only and were 25 cents extra otherwise. Already, my suspicion of the chain's tightwad philosophy was confirmed...or was it?

I did indeed get the Smokehouse Wings, which comes as a 6-piece with a biscuit and a side for 5 bucks. Notice what's missing there? A beverage. We're off to a bad start. I actually anticipated this and considered takeout, but I spotted a self-service drink area. That's about the only thing you can get yourself at Popeye's, so I vowed to take full advantage. Uh, I did that under my breath, not out loud like some kind of super villain.

The food was fine. The Cajun rice was a little bland but a nice alternative to fries. The biscuit was OK. The wings were not really what I'd call wings--more like crispy chicken pieces--but they were tasty.

The accoutrements were the problem. I didn't care for the standard ranch sauce that came with the meal, and worse, there was no butter or jam or anything for the biscuit. So I went to the counter, clutching a handful of change and expecting to shell out for an alternative sauce. To my surprise, the cashier gave me not just one but TWO buffalo sauces at no charge. Maybe she liked the cut of my gib. More likely, that sign is there to deter people who are a pain in the ass about sauces but most workers roll their eyes at the fact that they make everyone beg for all the condiments.

She gave me a handful of stuff for that biscuit, too--two butter squares, one strawberry jam, one grape jam. Well, it was better than nothing, but the paltry butter was useless because it was semi-frozen and I didn't have a knife. The flimsy spork they gave me for the rice wasn't getting it done. I could squeeze the jam out, but it didn't cover much of the biscuit. I split it in half and decorated each side with a different jam, trying to pretend it was a delightful opportunity to sample several different flavors.

In the meantime, the buffalo sauce made me thirsty--I suppose the massive amount of sodium in everything contributed as well--so I made numerous trips to the beverage area while trying to ration the 4 thin napkins on my tray. 4 napkins for a wing meal? Of course there were no napkins anywhere on the "humanoid" side of the restaurant, and I didn't want to go back and ask for more napkins. Naturally I let my nose run all over the table and used my coat and pants as extra napkins.

I'm kidding about that last part--mostly--but let's add up the things I did NOT get with my order:

*Preferred sauces
*Condiment of any kind for the biscuit
*Knife to apply anything to the biscuit
*Adequate napkins
And remember, I had to buy the drink as an add-on.

The good news is that they threw a bunch of chicken-ish pieces in with the box of wings, so it felt like more than 6 pieces. Remember when Long John Silver's would throw in those "crumblies"  with the seafood boxes? Kind of like that except bigger and somehow more respectable because it's not Long John Silver's.

Overall, I enjoy Popeye's food, but this is clearly not an isolated deal at this chain. Maybe it's a better takeout experience than a dine-in. I just don't like having to go back up and ask for things that should be standard with the meal. if you don't want to load up my tray at the counter, just make it available in the dining area.

Monday, November 20, 2017

'Mooners Monday #34: Finally back to "Head of the House"

It's been a while since we started looking at "Head of the House," one of the better episodes of the series. When we left off last time, Norton had revealed to Alice how Ralph had boasted to a roving reporter about being the king of his castle. Alice ain't too thrilled about it, either:

I have to credit him in a strange way for not totally backing off. He stands firm and argues some more, even reiterating his stance when Trixie asks about it. I love when Ralph, as in this episode, gets all buddy-buddy with Ed after throwing him out because he wants to join forces with him against the women. It's all out in the open now, Ralph says, and he's glad.

This leads to one of the most famous scenes in the show's history: Ralph and Ed, determined to prove their supremacy over the womenfolk, getting "drunk" on the grape juice that they believe is wine. It's a silly situation, to be sure, but how can you go wrong with Gleason and Carney (who knew from experience, let's face it) playing smashed?

I don't know about you, but grape juice or not, these two seem like pretty cool guys to get drunk with. Ralph in particular is a lot chummier. They aren't the best singers in the world, but they bring a certain brio to their impromptu revelry.

Next week, we'll conclude our look at the episode with a glimpse of an outstanding minor character.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings #88

1) Philo: What the deuce is Philo? It's a "cordcutter" bundle service that offers a bunch of non-sports channels for 16 bucks. It's not overwhelming by itself--the Turner channels are conspicuous by their absence--but it's a step in the right direction. In conjunction with another package and/or antenna, a lot of people who don't want ESPN and the like might save some money with this.

2) Acorn TV: I am loving Acorn so far. Enough to get it every month? Well, I don't know, but I definitely plan to keep watching 800 Words and Men Behaving Badly.

3) Hulu: My young son was blown away by the fact that I made a profile for him on Hulu and he could watch Teen Titans Go. Thank goodness I didn't have to make him a treehouse or something.

Also, the other night, I just sat down and watched a couple of old sitcoms because why not? It's nice to enjoy the ever-expanding back catalog every now and then.

I look forward to seeing Paul Resier's backstage-at-Tonight Show show There's Johnny, and I don't want to say I'm glad SeeSo is gone, but...I can actually see it now that it's on Hulu.

4) Netflix: I will not use this space to make a remark about Netflix's ever-decreasing back catalogue. This week, I'm interested in the new Jim Carrey/Andy Kaufman documentary. Mudbound is supposed to be very good. Longmire has a new season. The Punisher is up. It's a big week for Netflix.

5) YouTube: First, my man SeanMc uploaded a ton of videos this week after an absence of a few weeks.  Then I have a movie lined up to watch but get wrapped up in an upload of the complete Andy Kaufman on David Letterman collection. Brilliant, YT.

6) Warner Archive Instant: I can't keep them out of the top 10 after seeing the awesome Eight Is Enough I did this week, but...the official Twitter account is still silent since October 22.

7) Amazon Prime: Won some kind of bidding war to do a Lord of the Rings series. I give Amazon a lot of credit...because I don't subscribe and I don't want my $ to go to a big, expensive Lord of the Rings series.

8) Nosey: I appreciate the new Sally episodes, but still no Sgt. Julu appearances? What's up with that?

Also, a new batch of Jerry Springer is here, including this episode titled "Boxing Blowout: Viewers vs. Guests": Let's get ready to rumble! Time after time viewers sitting at home watching the show have told themselves, 'I could take that guest.'" They have? I can't help it. I think I'm gonna watch it this week.

9) The CW: Legends of Tomorrow is quietly entertaining its following (it has one, right?) each week.

10) Shout! Factory TV: I didn't actually watch anything on here, but I appreciated customer service's response when I asked about the lack of updates on the Roku version. She basically blamed Roku, so not a huge help, but at least she didn't say, "Hey, it's free, asswipe!"

Friday, November 17, 2017

Screengrab Theatre #6: Ringo on Laugh-In

Let's go back to when Ringo Starr went on Laugh-In to promote his upcoming appearance in The Magic Christian. The legendary Beatle was a big presence in the episode, appearing in many segments and alongside most of the regular cast (though, sadly, not with the other awesome guest stars).

Get a haircut, hippie

They just happened to pick Alan Sues to do an "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" joke

Guest stars get the honor of being bashed by Ruth Buzzi

Moments after this scene, NBC affiliates in 7 states "experienced technical difficulties"

Pity Ringo didn't share any scenes with Sheldon Leonard...

...but Ruth Buzzi did!

We missed a chance to see Ringo interact with the great Art Metrano?

I don't want to say that wallpaper is garish, but I almost didn't notice Pam Rogers in a bikini

Have I mentioned how EDGY the show was?

Finally, viewers were delighted to learn the program was brought to them in living color...until they saw Dan Rowan's jacket

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Brooks on Books: Film and TV Locations: A Spotter's Guide by Lonely Planet

This is a slim little softcover of a book, but the photography is beautiful, and I think it makes a nice gift or read for movie lovers who dream of visiting some of the famous locales they have seen all screen. I'm not sure how  useful it is, or if these Lonely Planet "Spotter's Guides" are even supposed to be more than just pretty to look at and enjoy, but, yeah, this is pretty much just pretty to look at and enjoy.

The 128-page volume contains shots of real-life settings of notable films (some TV series, but the vast majority are from the cinema). Each one is accompanied by the longitude and latitude, which I guess gives a veneer of something or other, and also some often-irreverent brief text descriptions by Laurence Phelan. Each entry also has a little illustration placing the locale on a portion of a global map.

Even if you linger on the photos, it won't take much more than a half-hour to go through the book, but it does look nice. There is a good variety of places, too--both in terms of diverse geography and in terms of the types of movies selected. The guide takes you from The Man with the Golden Gun (Thailand) to Moonrise Kingdom (Rhode Island) to When Harry Met Sally (Katz's deli in NYC). TV shows like Seinfeld, Game of Thrones, and even long-running Australian soap Neighbours (the company still has a big office there, after all) have entries.

There are mostly picturesque scenes here, but the occasional urban landscape adds some variety to the gorgeous array of lighthouses, beaches, and mountains. It's not a weighty book, but it sure is purdy.

Monday, November 13, 2017

5 channels/services that SHOULD be in my Streaming Video rankings--and why they're not

Please note I UPDATED this post with info from Shout! TV:

(Note: 'Mooners Monday will return next week!)

With so many streaming options out there nowadays, it's no surprise that many prominent ones will be left out each week if you make a list that only goes to 10 (If you'd like to go to 11 with This Is Spinal Tap, this week's #8, Filmstruck, has it till March). But there are some frequent underachievers whose absence may make newer readers wonder. So this week I am presenting a look at 5 streaming video outlets and why they don't make the cut this week:

Amazon Prime: Its most interesting add, like much of the new movies it gets, is Allied, and that's on Hulu. I don't subscribe to Prime, though with the holidays arriving, I may get a month of it soon. What really irks me about Amazon is its decision to yank Twitch from the Roku store, as reported by Cordcutters News. It just seems like a bratty move.

Shout! Factory TV: Some of the best free content in the streaming world, hands down, but it hasn't updated its Roku version, at least not my incarnation, since the beginning of September.

UPDATE: A friendly Shout! rep responded to my inquiry and basically said Roku is having issues. Shout! seems to have little control over the technical issues causing upload problems. I hope I'm not the only one who noticed. Roku, get it together!

Crackle: I really think that after a few efforts to make a splash with original content, Sony has more or less given up on Crackle. Most of the interesting content that was on there before is no longer there, and after Comedians in Cars joins Netflix, there will be little reason to suffer the irritating user interface on here. It's a shame because this had potential.

Watch ESPN: The tyranny of  "provider authentication required" means I go without ESPN for a while.

Showtime: I don't have anything Showtime, really--not like the other ones on this list. It tries really hard and does a better job of marketing itself and its new shows than many others do. I think I saw an ad for Shameless a dozen times watching Hulu the other day. But it just seems like it's lacking that big thing that makes me go, yeah, I wish I had Showtime, and that's why it rarely cracks the top 10.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings #86

1) Hulu: Hulu debuts another pop culture documentary this weekend, a profile of artist Shepherd Fairly, and the occasion prompted me to watch the recent original doc Too Funny to Fail, which tells the story of the short-lived The Dana Carvey Show.

OK, that's not entirely true. I have been meaning to watch it for weeks, but I was motivated more by a nagging fear that Hulu would pull it because of the prominent role (though only in archival footage and the accounts of others) of then-castmember/writer Louis CK. Don't get me wrong, this is in no way an endorsement of his behavior, but I DID want to see the story of The Dana Carvey Show. It's an excellent piece of work. Plus the original series itself is on Hulu, and while that sounds like a no-brainer, we've seen it's not always the case that a streaming service secures rights to the source material when it produces such a documentary.

Also premiering this week is Allied, which flopped but which was sort of described as being sort of like Casablanca. So I sort of feel compelled to give it a watch.

2) Acorn TV: I am enjoying the heck out of the free week I got without meaning to--I signed up a different way for it this time--and am sure to enjoy at least a month. Yes, I am disappointed at the lack of several series I enjoyed on Acorn in the past, but I have already seen several episodes of the new series of Doc Martin and found several other entertaining new-to-me shows.

The site is easy enough to navigate, though I wish there were more control over the watchlist. Acorn does get basic things right, though, like resume playing functionality and transparency about when shows are coming and going. I feel that there is enough here to deserve 5 bucks for at least a month. Expect to see Acorn very high on this list for a while.

3) Netflix: New season of Lady Dynamite and a few other things, but I dove back into Cheers. The shrinking catalog is an obvious turnoff, but as long as the CBS stuff is there (Trek, Cheers, Frasier, Twilight Zone...) there is still good catalog value.

What interests me is that my kids started to watch Project MC2, which debuted its sixth season this week, then got distracted and eventually stopped in favor of watching YouTube videos. Are they going through a phase (as happens), or is this part of the trend of the youth of America shunning anything over 10 minutes long? Stay tuned.

4) The CW:  Earns a high slot on the basis of me seeing the season's best episodes yet of Flash and Supergirl. I'm a little behind on each show, but I thought the winning appearance of Hilary Swank's Husband on the latter show helped it regain some gravity, and Ralph Dibny is a welcome addition to the former. The characterization of the hero once known in the comics as Elongated Man isn't the way I remember it, but it is a refreshing change of pace, and the poor man's Will Forte in the role is putting a compelling spin on it.

5) Disney Now: My kids flocked to it despite my not having cable authorization anymore to watch all the stuff. It's irritating to me, but they shrugged it off and found one of the free/no log-in episodes.

Disney head honcho Bob Iger revealed some details about the upcoming Disney SVOD. good news: No ads. Bad news: Not coming until late 2019. Nowhere near the entire Disney catalog will be available, which is not surprising but is disappointing. At least they confirm they will price it cheaper than Netflix.

Who knows what they will be saying come 2019, though? No matter, though, because I suspect even an adequate level of content at a semi-decent price will be a big smash for Disney when it launches this thing.

6) YouTube: I think I'm finally ready to take the plunge and start digging into old Memphis wrestling on a regular basis.

7) Filmstruck: I have never subscribed, but I thought it was time to check in again with the boutique, rather pricy art film streaming service from Criterion and Turner. You know what? It looks pretty cool. The main screens are striking, and there is a heavy emphasis on "curation," with many groups of small movies. I thought the "Directed by Phil Karlson" section was cool, a nice reminder that Filmstruck did offer material from the classic Hollywood studio era (including a few Charlie Chan flicks in that case).

Maybe someday soon I will give it a shot. Yet I looked at the recently added section and saw a group of Werner Herzog films. That's all well and good, but shouldn't those have already been on such a service? Honestly, I thought they were.

8) Warner Archive Instant: I enjoyed a couple of Dr. Kildare episodes this week, but I STILL think it's weird that the official Twitter account has been quiet since October 22--nearly 3 weeks!

9) CBS All Access: I notice this service is slowly gaining some momentum, and this week's announcement of a forthcoming Twilight Zone reboot is an interesting one, though personally I wish they'd just let that one die. I still think it's overpriced. At the very least, at that pricepoint, they should really open up the vaults to increase the amount of content.

10) HBO Now: I must tip my hat to Home Box Office for running a documentary I'd like to see about Rolling Stone magazine and for premiering what I think is the best movie of 2017: The Lego Batman Movie. Granted, it's the only 2017 movie I've seen so far, but it is excellent!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week #85

1) PlayStation Vue: Not really a channel, but I salute it as I let my 30-day subscription expire. I am both intrigued and irritated by the fact that literal minutes after I canceled my sub, I discovered the Roku version of the service had added a much better user interface, including a program guide. I hope to put together a post about Vue in the near future, but this week it gets the #1 spot because most of my non-baseball watching consisted of me trying to see as much of my cloud DVR recordings as I could before the end of the week.

2) YouTube: Advertising the heck out itself during the World Series is notable, but YouTube TV really should grow up and get itself on Roku. In other YT action this week, I was able to expose a friend to the wonder of "No Way Out" by Robert Tepper thanld to the magic of Vevo on YouTube. I am a little ashamed of myself for not being able to describe the entire video from memory, but some good was achieved.

3) Hulu: Hulu gets way more movies and TV shows each month, no doubt about it (Seriously, don't doubt it, and especially don't get any actual numbers on this that might prove otherwise). But how is it Hulu somehow premieres 15 James Bond movies every month? Are there, like, 200 of them?

4) Pub-D-Hub: Nothing new this week, but that original Batman serial is a 100% certified howl. Each time Batman opens his mouth, I laugh. Let's just say it's clear Christian Bale did not base his own interpretation of the Dark Knight on this version.

5) Netflix: On the one hand, Netflix took swift action (yeah, it took a few days, but considering it's arguably the flagship show, that's pretty swift) to boot that slimeball Kevin Spacey from House of Cards. On the other hand, it's still the flagship series being tainted by at best a scandal and at worst a pattern of criminal behavior from its star.

It seems trivial to talk about how skimpy the November catalog dump was, but I'm mentioning it anyway. This is where Netflix is heading. It wants you to focus on the new miniseries adapting Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and maybe be pleasantly surprised that a few notable films like Men in Black and Field of Dreams show  up.

6) Tune In: I heard In the Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett on here the other day and thought (as I do with many other songs), it ain't a deep oldie, but what kind of fool would complain about hearing this song anywhere ever?

7) TubiTV: I watched Youngblood, a 1978 "urban" coming-of-age movie starring Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and released by the great American International Pictures. For some reason, I was crushed that the character "Youngblood" wasn't played by Hilton-Jacobs, even though he did have a prominent role. I don't think I ever really recovered from the disappointment caused by that revelation.

8) Days of Dumont: I like giving this channel a shout-out whenever it does something, and it spotlighted a Flash Gordon episode called "Witch of Neptune" for Halloween.

9) Nosey: I haven't seen it yet, but they added a troubled teens episode of Sally, so that is worth another week in the top 10.

10) Acorn TV: Guess which SVOD service is gonna get me for another month? Yep, SHOWTIME so I can binge on Ray Donovan, baby!

No, it's Acorn so I can watch Doc Martin. So get ready for Acorn being in the rankings for several weeks, plus frequent laments that it still hasn't brought back Drop the Dead Donkey.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Brooks on Books: In Such Good Company by Carol Burnett

I remember The Carol Burnett Show as a fixture in syndication...for a few years. Then, when I got older, the show disappeared from my area. I was never a big fan, and I think my dislike of the Mama character and the subsequent Mama's Family spinoff soured me on the whole program.

It's still difficult to see the program in its original form; the syndication package trimmed the hourlong program to a half-hour, deleting most of the musical segments and focusing on the sketches. Time Life helped initiate a mini-revival of the series in recent years by issuing some DVD releases. Unfortunately, it created dozens of different packages, making collecting the show on disc a confusing task and maybe making a  lot of people just throw their hands up and forget about it. You can still see the show on Me-TV, though, and many, many sketches are available online. Maybe that's the best way to enjoy it, cherry-picking individual segments, but it's a shame the original version is mostly gone.

In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Fun, and Mayhem in the Sandbox, a warm and enjoyable account of the show's production, rekindled my interest in the long-running classic and inspired me to seek out some of its memorable moments. The book is a must for folks who do love and remember the show. You may know a lot of the stories behind its creation, but Burnett adds a lot of details, and her love of the experience and affection for her coworkers--not just the cast, but everyone involved--is palpable. It began almost as an afterthought as her contract required CBS to give her a series if she requested it, but it lasted 11 seasons and is the obvious centerpiece of the legendary comedienne's legacy.

After a brief look at her early days in showbiz, Burnett takes us through the origins of her show and then discusses individual co-stars, guests, and specific segments. We get a strong sense of what it was actually like to put the variety show together, with rundowns of the rehearsal and shooting schedule and glimpses into facets such as costuming (Bob Mackie plays a big role in the book, just as he did in creating famous outfits like the curtain rod ensemble in "Went with the Wind"). Burnett takes us inside her head as she and her team developed segments like the audience Q&As. Along the way, there are many humorous anecdotes and quality insights about the routine of working in television.

A nice touch is the appendix listing show and guest details. In fact, I am impressed by the work Burnett put into this. She went back and watched the episodes, which means she provides many details (maybe too many for some) in recounting some of the sketches. The entire book sounds like her. It's very conversational and anecdotal, but it feels genuine. If Carol Burnett didn't actually do the writing, someone did a heck of a job talking with her and shaping this book.

In Such Good Company is a fun read and very, very positive. Don't expect dirt, as Burnett takes the high road, and besides, she doesn't seem to have too many negative memories, anyway. It's disappointing but understandable that she relates one involving a guest as a "blind item." She talks about an issue with Harvey Korman, but the way she sets it up and explains it makes clear she is taking pains not to denigrate him in any way. In short, the book may leave hardcore fans hoping for a third-party effort with a more critical view, but what Burnett herself has written is as classy as we presume she is.