Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Warner Archive Instant is folding, and it proves one thing

I complained for months about the total lack of attention Warner Archive Instant's operators give it, and now we know why it has been running in fumes: Warner is giving up on it, shuttering the SVOD service that never really caught on and transferring its resources (and subscribers) to Filmstruck, which will now have a TCM Select selection and more classic Hollywood films.

As a Filmstruck subscriber (now), this is great. The service has more content for the same price, and it has Golden Age of Hollywood content that I wished it had at launch. However, allow me to throw a little cold water on the euphoric reaction this move got on social media. Yeah, it's great to see TCM Select on Filmstruck, but so far it looks like a lot of stuff I already have on DVD.

As a Warner Archive Instant subscriber, I am disappointed that the rare content on that service is apparently abandoned. I'm also a little worried at the falsehood we are already being given about all of the movies on Warner Archive Instant being on Filmstruck. Almost none of the movies I had in my watchlist are on Filmstruck. Maybe that's coming.

The big problem for me is, what is going to happen to all the TV shows? WAI has showcased many obscure and forgotten series in its short run, and many of them still are not on Warner Archive DVDs. Some of them, like my beloved Eight Is Enough and Dr. Kildare, are complete in super-expensive collections from WA. But what if someone wants to sample a series without having to pay big bucks for a complete season?

I'd love to see Hulu purchase streaming rights to some of this material, but I am not counting on it.  Here is a sampling of the vintage TV programs I enjoyed on WAI that are not available anywhere else: The Jimmy Stewart Show, Harry O (at least those two have been on TV), Search, The Eleventh Hour, The Man from Atlantis, A Man Called Shenandoah, The Practice (1970s Danny Thomas sitcom), Flo...and many more. I didn't see anyone talking about this yesterday, and I'm not surprised. It looks like the death of WAI was a self-inflicted one, as it was never available on many platforms, it was never fully supported, and it quickly fell by the wayside as subscribers realized not only was it not the TCM on Demand people  hoped it would be, but it wasn't updated regularly despite a premium cost (10 bucks a month when Netflix and Hulu were still cheaper).

I wanted to see more content and a better user interface, but I was OK with what WAI was, mainly because of the more obscure stuff that found its way on there. I think some of the movies will show up, but what about the TV? This whole thing proves that vintage television is an afterthought, and there aren't enough people who care (or who perceive that people care) to make it matter in today's streaming video landscape.

Just like some of us have lamented the lack of a TCM for television, now we can once again lack the lack of a Netflix for old TV. Filmstruck caters to the classic film lover, but what about the history of the small screen--the obscure, the short-lived, the unseen? Hulu will continue to carry the big shows of the past, but where are we gonna get the likes of Sam Benedict and Beyond Westworld?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

If Warner Archive Instant goes away, at least I have this memory

Claude Rains, William Demarest, and Burt Mustin not only appearing in the same TV episode, but sharing several scenes:

I will write more about the death of Warner Archive Instant, but I am really gonna miss the rare TV like Dr. Kildare. Sadly, there isn't the level of affection for vintage TV as there is for vintage movies.

Monday, February 26, 2018

'Mooners Monday: The Loudspeaker

"The Loudspeaker" is a simple Honeymooners episode. One might even say, in the words of Ralph, it is a humble episode. It's the one in which Ralph thinks he has been chosen Raccoon of the Year and spends most of the episode preparing a "spontaneous" speech to accept.

For me, this episode has two standout attributes: First, its glimpse into Raccoon life. For example,  we learn that this prestigious honor gets the recipient and his wife burial plots in the Raccoon National Cemetery in Bismarck, North Dakota. Why, we even meet the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler, Morris Fink!

Show the proper respect, everyone.

The other thing I love is when Ralph gets the "hiccoughs" and Ed comes up with an idiotic scheme to cure him. He sprinkles  the rock candy he has been eating on the floor, explaining to Alice that when Ralph steps on it and hears the "foreign sound," he will be startled into losing his affliction. What a gloriously ill conceived plan. Of course, you know what happens:

One of the showcase bits in the episode is Ralph attempting to tell Alice the joke he has invented for the speech. This is one of my favorite tidbits from The Official Honeymooners Treasury:  writer Walter Stone griping about the way Gleason plays it:

We were trying to get a real bad joke and Marvin) (Marx, co-writer of "The Loudspeaker" with Stone) remembered that one from somewhere. He had used it in a similar circumstance somewhere we just built it up more.

Gleason didn't do it the way we envisioned it. We didn't want it done that badly. Just do it. Maybe in his mind he thought it was more in character that Ralph couldn't tell a joke."

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Behind the Rankings: Warner Archive Instant is changing again?

I made my weekly pilgrimage to the Warner Archive Instant website to see if it added anything (the Roku version hasn't worked properly in months). and saw something interesting: a prominent banner touting an important announcement.

However, al it does is link to a single question on a FAQ/support page saying new accounts are not being accepted because:

Warner Archive is currently in the process of transitioning into a broader service, and during the transition new accounts cannot be created and certain apps may become temporarily unavailable. We will be sending out more info in the near future to all of our users about the upcoming service.

Hmm...This is the only place I have seen this, and it being WAI, there is no other info anywhere. The service has social media accounts that haven't been updated since October 22. Why not update those and include this information?

So of course all we can do is speculate as to what is going on here. I certainly hope "broader" means more value and not less (like taking away the rare TV and dumbing down the service). I think it's safe to assume Warner isn't integrating Boomerang in here since it's already a standalone deal. Could we finally get the TCM service we have craved for years? Filmstruck is TCM-endorsed, but there is room for a classic Hollywood service, and I think many assumed WAI would be that. It started out as pretty good but has been neglected for years. Of course, it remains in my rankings and in my heart because of the handful of cool TV series it streams. I am going to try to pick up my pace of watching those, and I suggest you do, too, because who knows what is next for WAI? Certainly not anyone who visits its website, Twitter feed, Facebook page, or uses it on Roky.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #100

Welcome to the 100th edition of this feature! That means that over the last two years or so, we have ranked...uh, a bunch of different streaming video channels. Let's get to this special regular edition of the rankings.

1) Netflix: I finally finished Daredevil season 1. One Marvel season down, only about, what 13 more to go! That's the thing about the Netflix originals--they don't leave on us. I have also picked up the pace on my Friends watching, though, in case it leaves before 2022.

In other news, Duncan Jones follows up his acclaimed Moon with a Netflix original movie. Hey, I never saw Moon. Maybe I will--D'OH! Not on Netflix. Figures. The creator of The Killing has a crime series that sounds a  lot like The Killing. Is that a good thing? Didn't everyone decide that show was terrible by the end? Netflix is also getting into cooking shows and reality shows, and I don't know if I like that. Sean Bean shows, like The Frankenstein Chronicles? That's a different story.

2) WWE Network: I'm about to say bye-bye to this one for a while, but I very much enjoyed it the last several weeks. I am tempted to figure out some way to have my account auto-play classic content all day so the WWE knows that there is an audience for the old territorial wrestling. Love the 80s. The original shows drive me crazy with their corporate-ness, but there is so much old footage to enjoy.

3) Hulu: I saw multiple sources this week discuss what a tremendous success ER is for Hulu. That's pretty cool, but I'm just not ready to make that commitment when I can watch a half-hour of Golden Girls, laugh, and not be depressed for the rest of the evening. I tell you, though, I keep talking to people who had no idea how much content was on Hulu. I think the billions of dollars it's spending on all this stuff is going to pay off. Probably not in billions, but in a lot of happy subscribers!

4) Amazon Prime: Hey, dozens of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts are on here! I continue to enjoy, and I use that word loosely, the 1970s Lucille Ball specials, and I plan to check out the just-added David Susskind interviews with Milton Berle and Dick Cavett. Oh, and more episodes of The Tick are here if you're into that sort of thing.

5) Roku Channel: Worth a slot if only for the presence of Good Times, my pick for the best "socially relevant" sitcom of the 1970s. Too bad it only has the first two seasons right now, but those are the best ones, when John Amos and Esther Rolle carried the show.

6) Warner Archive Instant: I don't know if Suzanne Pleshette was on as many episodes of Dr. Kildare as I think she was, but I don't complain when I see her. I also enjoyed a young John Travolta on a later episode of Medical Center.

(see tomorrow's Behind the Rankings post for more info on WAI)

7) Shout! Factory TV: Now that its Roku problems are over, this resumes its place as the most underrated service on the platform. Did you know the entirety of the Steve Martin TV specials box set is on here? Yet I spend time watching reruns of Starcade. I can't help it; there's something about seeing a grown-ass man compete against a little kid, even if they are "matched according to video gaming ability," that cracks me up.

8) YouTube: Every now and then I like to remind myself how useful YT is as an instructional tool. I have learned how to do so many little things on here--you know, like juggling chainsaws--but it's easy to forget that when you are having so much fun watching old promos for The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.

9) Pub-D-Hub: The highlight this week is Make That Spare, which is a lame name even for a bowling show. Isn't the goal to get a strike? Did they ever make shows called 8-Yard Drive and Triple Derby?

10) Boomerang: I am enjoying the old 'toons, but I'm getting a little frustrated that each week the new content consists of something like Baby Looney Tunes. Let's get some more older stuff.

Friday, February 23, 2018

5Q Movie Review: The Post

This semi-regular feature returns with a look at a movie I actually saw in a theater! Hey, it's a big deal for me since the last time I saw a film on the big screen, D.W. Griffith wasn't even problematic.

With the 5Q Movie Review, I try to get the essence of what a movie is about by asking and answering the truly important questions about a film.

Q: Does Meryl Streep turn directly to the camera and say, "Get it, current administration?" and then pause for audience applause?
A: I'm not saying that Streep, who plays former Post publisher Katharine Graham, does do this, but I'm not saying she doesn't. Stick through the ending credits!

Q: Does Tom Hanks play former Post editorial head honcho guy with a rascally twinkle in his eye?
A: He sure does. Unfortunately, I don't think there is one scene of Hanks pecking at a typewriter while holding a pen or a cigar with his teeth. Not one! What a ripoff.

Hanks and Streep are entertaining, and while Streep gets the kudos, we need to salute Hanks, too, because Ben Bradlee was some kind of demigod according to the way people  talk about him.

Q: Is that--is that David Cross along with Bob Odenkirk? Does Ronnie Dobbs make an appearance?
A: I'm aware that this is an unfair question, but I must be honest. As soon as I heard Cross' voice, I chuckled that he was in the film. Odenkirk has "crossed over" in my mind; Cross hasn't. The casting of the movie in general was a little distracting, actually.

No, Ronnie Dobbs isn't in The Post.

Q: What is the history like? Is it accurate?
A: I'm no expert, but many have criticized the movie for lionizing The Washington Post and downplaying the major role played in the release of the Pentagon Papers--perhaps by far the most important role--by The New York Times.  Of course, many of those critics are people who worked for The New York Times.

Q: Are newspapers still the best?
A: Most of the actual newspapers still around are not the best, but newspapers as a thing are still the best, and it's tempting to say that I would trade the Internet to have newspapers around, thriving, and affordable. That would mean the end of this blog, though--an existential dilemma I choose not to ponder.

I am all in favor of Hollywood making a big prestige movie about newspapers every single year.

Overall, I thought the movie was a nice crowd pleaser, but I was disappointed. I am a fan of media history but thought that Steven Spielberg sacrificed some narrative power in order to serve an agenda. I don't say that from a liberal vs. conservative angle, either. I enjoyed The Post, and it made me want to read more about the time period and the events depicted, but I can't picture myself seeing it again.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Brooks on Books: Boys' Toys by Jed Novick

I found this compact 128-page 2005 hardcover at the liberry and couldn't resist exploring the world of classic "boys' toys" like G.I. Joe, Lionel Trains, and even less stereotypically gender-specific items like Viewmaster. Jed Novick's text is sharp, and the design is outstanding. I just wish the book were bigger.

128 pages, including an index, intro, and table of contents, doesn't leave a lot of room. Novick includes a lot of mostly Baby Boomer-era toys, but he lacks the space to really get into them. So each section has a brief origin of the toy and maybe a fun fact or two, plus a picture, but, man, it really leaves you wanting more.

Novick's a clever writer who could do a lot more, and he tries to make the most of the limitations. It's amazing that the book reads as a tribute to All-American childhoods when he himself is English and the book was developed in the U.K. Many toys don't even get a full page, though, and few get more than one. We're not talking about one specific thing, either--I mean, like, Matchbox cars get a two-page spread. It's frustrating to see a reference to a rare variant or a famous action figure in a line and not see a pic.

Let's focus on the positive, though: Boys' Toys shows affection for its subject but is not too reverent. Novick keeps things light and includes some funny comments but strikes the right tone and doesn't sacrifice information. As I said, the design is eye-catching, loaded with color and vivid photographs.

Subtitled "An Illustrated History of Little Things That Pleased Big Minds," Boys' Toys succeeds in providing an attractive survey of famous playthings like Mego figures, board games, and erector sets It doesn't aim to be encyclopedic, and it serves as a great gift item or appetizer for people wanting a warm blast of nostalgia. It sure would be great to see Novick get a chance to do something a little more detailed, though!

Monday, February 19, 2018

'Mooners Monday: "Lost" Norton appearance?

I wasn't aware of this until I saw it on Decades back in November, and now that Laugh-In is streaming on Amazon Prime Video (see yesterday's post), it's a good time to take a look at this "lost" 'Mooners (sort of) sketch.

The great Art Carney visited Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In on September 14, 1970, as the show began its fourth season. Johnny Brown was a newcomer to the regular cast, and he and Carney performed in a little sketch to start the proceedings:

In today's installment of Dialogue You Won't See on Network TV Today:

NORTON:  Hey, Ralph! Come on upstairs. I want to watch Laugh-in.
RALPH (OFF-CAMERA): Norton, are you crazy? You don't have a set.
NORTON: That's the best way to watch that show.
All right, we'll use your set. Come on out, will you?

(Brown walks in)

NORTON: Hey, Ralph, if you ask me, I think you've been out in that Miami sun a little too long."

Here are a few other shots of Art Carney in the episode:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Behind the Rankings: Amazon Prime adds "Laugh-In"

This is a new feature in which I will, when events warrant, discuss in a little more detail an item in the weekly SVOD power rankings. By "events warrant," I mean I might have a bit more to yak about than I want to cram into the regular post.

Amazon Prime quietly added the complete Rowan and Martin's  Laugh-In a few weeks ago, and, boy, is it funny to associate the word "quiet" with that series. Anything with JoAnne Worley is not gonna be a shrinking violet. I'm glad I learned about it, and if you hadn't known, well, you can bet your sweet bippy (Sorry) that it's true.

I don't know how many Prime memberships this addition is going to sell, but it sure might make some of us who already have it happy. Laugh-In is an ideal show for streaming. With all due respect to the massive DVD box set Time-Life released last year--and I can't help but point out that you could buy two years of Prime and have money left over for a few Mannix seasons for the $250 the complete series costs--this isn't the kind of show I need to own.

I love the idea of seeing the episodes, but I don't know about the RE-watchability.  It's not serialized (thank goodness), it is loaded with fast-paced but essentially unconnected bits, and it's easy to dip in and out of the series. With the episodes accessible on a platform like Prime, it's easy to look for guest stars that interest you, that being the main thing that distinguishes installments within a given season.

(Well. it would be easy if Prime Video had a better interface, but...)

Even if you aren't a fan of the series, it's a great time capsule of fashions, attitudes, and whatnot. The series is "of its time" and "dated," but I find that aspect fascinating, It's amusing to see what was considered cutting edge back then, or at least what was sold as cutting edge. The politics seem very tame compared to today's standards or to what we've been hearing about The Smothers Brothers (which also seems a lot tamer today) for years.

I watched a lot of Laugh-In on Decades several months ago, and while I enjoyed checking it out, an hour of the show is probably a bit much for many people. That's another reason to celebrate its presence here. I don't need to bust out a DVD and watch 3 or 4 of these in a row, but it's nice having them streaming when I do want to check one out.

Kudos to Amazon for making this possible. It's another reminder to keep checking these services because they surprise us from time to time.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 99

Welcome back to the longest-running weekly feature in the history of...this blog. Thanks for coming back after a week hiatus. Things are looking good at Cultureshark World Headquarters, and we're ready to start countin' em down--well, up--once again.

(I'm keeping the numerical sequence even though we missed a week because, well, why not?)

1) Netflix: Everything Sucks looks like another pandering, uneven nostalgia-fest...and I will probably watch all of it. I'm intrigued by the Joel McHale show debuting tomorrow, though I still haven't seen the Letterman show (love Dave, but I am just not that thrilled about sitdowns with Obama and Clooney right now).

Still, though, Netflix is top dog, and not just because I finally got around to watching that Eagles documentary and finishing season 1 of One Day at a Time. You notice how when someone like Disney talks about creating a streaming video service, everyone wants to call it a "Netflix killer"? To be the man, you gotta beat the man, I guess.

2) Amazon Prime: I don't know anything about Mozart in the Jungle except that some of the Golden Globes voters apparently love it, but I think it's time for me to start watching Bosch.  What's the deal with this new movie The Ballad of Lefty Brown, a Bill Pullman Western that apparently got a limited (token?) theatrical release?

The main reason for the #2 spot is the recent addition of scores of episodes of a vintage program: Laugh-In. I'll discuss this more in a post tomorrow.

3) Hulu: I have not been using Hulu much lately, but my kids sure have. I like that while we wait for the rest of the MTM library and MASH, random old shows like GaryUnmarried pop up.

4) WWE Network: The giant (if far from complete) Coliseum Home Video drop brings this SVOD service one step closer to being the network it should have been from the beginning. It has many, many El Gigante-sized steps to go, but it's on the way.

5) The CW: News that the network is expanding to Sunday nights worries me. I already feel like I watch too many superhero shows on this channel, and this is just gonna give me more. Hopefully it'll just be more Vampire Diaries spinoffs I can skip without guilt.

6) YouTube: My man SeanMc is coming through in a major way with tons of old promos and ads lately, but I want to talk about MGM posting the original Stargate movie as a way to promote its upcoming Stargate streaming service called "Stargate Command." Whaaaaa? Not for me, but I admire the effort to do something different. For a price, of course--for a price.

7) Shout! Factory TV: I have to give Shout! credit for promoting its collection of Soul! episodes, one of which proved that African-Americans could have conversations on public TV that were just as pretentious as those white people had. Also, Shout! would be higher this week if it celebrated Black History Month by returning Black Omnibus.

8) Warner Archive Instant: In case you were wondering, WAI did not update its Twitter feed while I was off. Nor did it add any content. As long it has Eight Is Enough, it will contend for a spot on this list as it clings to its spot in my heart.

9) Unnamed Roku Channel: Well, I might as well name it now. It was Time Machine Channel, it was awesome, and it is apparently gone. I was afraid it was too good to be true. Imagine offering old TV shows and movies that you can't get elsewhere for free.

10) MLB.TV: R.I.P. "the Chief," who years ago would have been stunned to learn you could access every baseball game that was on at once.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Temporary hiatus

Sorry for the absence of the Streaming Power Rankings and 'Mooners Monday, but a combo of being under the weather and a few other things have made me a take a temporary hiatus from posting. I should  be back next week with more stuff. Thanks as always for your support, and have a great week!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

'Mooners Monday: Time-Life with another Jackie Gleason Show release

Tomorrow, Time Life follows its massive (-ly priced) compilation of The Jackie Gleason Show with a more affordable (bur still expensive) single disc version. One of my inside sources tipped me off as to the contents of the disc, a timely piece of info indeed considering info is scarcer than uranium in Asbury Park. 4 episodes are on this cutdown release, and at $7 and change shipped from (*cough cough* I should get a referral link) a certain major online retailer, I figured it was worth a pre-order.

(Here's an early review that indicates this is disc 4 of the full collection--not exactly a curated selection of episodes here, but it's cool they are making a single disc available.)

I don't have the disc yet, so let me share my recent experience with Amaz--uh, that major online retailer. I made the pre-order last week and was not given an estimated date of arrival, which disappointed me a bit since the street date was tomorrow. Well, on Friday, I received an email announcing that my order now had a ship date, and the estimated time of arrival was...Friday, February 9.

I was annoyed not only because this was 3 days after the release date, but because they went through the trouble of sending me an email and getting my hopes up that the item had SHIPPED, only to let me down with the later date. Fortunately, this saga has a happy ending because today I learned my DVD had shipped and I will get it...tomorrow!

I like being kept in the loop on my frivolous disc purchases, but is all the communication really necessary? Part of me thinks that for free shipping, the company should just tell me, "You'll get it when you get it," and assume I will have a pleasant surprise if I receive it on or before the release date.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #98

Welcome back to the longest-running weekly feature in the history of...this blog. Let's look at what's up in streaming video as we try to figure out something to watch to distract us from one of the worst matchups in the history of "the big game."

1) Unnamed Roku Channel: OK, there's a channel that is available in the Roku Store (i.e., not a private channel), it has tremendous content (much of it not streaming anywhere else), aaaaaand I am pretty sure it isn't licensing the material. I am not gonna name it and risk ruining a good thing, but this is the best new channel to come along in ages.

2) WWE Network: Last weekend's NXT Takeover and Royal Rumble earned high praise, next week brings an anticipated drop of Coliseum Video content, and Mid-Atlantic is great. This network is delivering right now.

3) Netflix: Altered Carbon gets the headlines this weekend, but Netflix added a few odds and ends with the beginning of the month. A new strategy seems to be to add a few franchises each month and hope that tides over the movie fans. This time, it's the American Pie movies and the Ocean's movies. OK, it's not as exciting as the Godfather trilogy, but did the Coppola movies ever cast Eugene Levy?

In other news, One Day at a Time suddenly became the best sitcom of all time, or at least that's what I gather by reading the critics.

4) Hulu:  Added One Tree Hill and Everwood  and made a lot of people happy. I wasn't one of them, but you can't please all of the people all of the time. They could please me by adding those MTM shows. Oh, and they responded to a support question I had on Twitter.

5) YouTube: One of the best channels out there is ClassicMLB11, who has been uploading cool snippets, promos, and miscellaneous videos in addition to game footage. You can't go wrong watching Tom Seaver teach you how to calculate earned run average.

6) The CW: I was just joking about making Barry Allen's prison stint last as long as it did in the comic books, but for a few minutes this week, I thought that might actually happen.

7) Amazon Prime: Am I the only one who had never heard of this new Prime Original Absentia? It has Stana Kacic. That's something, right?  I don't even think Prime is pushing it. Does this really exist? Who am I? What am I doing here? Is Stana Kacic here? I'm spelling her name wrong, aren't I?

8) Roku Channel: Not to be confused with Unnamed Roku Channel, this one added seasons of I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and Good Times. I saw an episode of the latter with no commercials. Why aren't those series on Crackle?

9) Nosey: heaven help me, but I am directly responsible for my sister watching this, too.

10) TuneIn: I was listening to a good deal of Internet radio this week and was prepared to rank this higher until I heard a Streisand song and nearly dropped this out of the top 10.