Saturday, July 28, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #121

We're doing this a little early this time because I have visitors this weekend and may well end up doing more...actual living...than watching streaming video. Wow, it really does look ridiculous when I write it down like that.

Here we go with a very sports-centric list:

1) MLB TV: Life is much, much better when your favorite team wins ballgames. It's also a pleasure to flip around and catch the endings of games. It would be great if they put up classic games as added value at some point. Then again, maybe not, because it might affect...
2) YouTube: There's a fantastic channel here that uploaded a slew of old games, including the 300th wins of the likes of Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, and Tom Seaver. I like that the sports leagues are (apparently) turning a blind eye to some of this stuff, especially considering ESPN Classic is all but dead and the leagues don't show vintage material on their own networks as much as they used to do.

3) Netflix: I'm sure Orange Is the New Black fans will welcome a new season this weekend, but I am docking Netflix because there was one day this week I wanted a no-muss, no-fuss experience, so I sat down to watch a Cheers episode...and saw an error message that the title wouldn't play.

4) WWE Network: I had a blast watching the Network this week, and it only got better when it uploaded 3 rare Hidden Gems. Kudos to WWE for putting true rarities in that section lately. It is also adding a ton of old Coliseum Video releases. Of course, it was supposed to have all that up when it launched years ago, but who's counting?

5) Pix11: The vintage "Pine Tar Game" special hosted by Jerry Girard is a delight, complete with original commercials, multiple interviews, and Bill White talking to Billy Martin. Bless WPIX for treating this like such a big event back in the day, and bless them for making it available now. It's fantastic stuff and a great watch for baseball fans who remember that event.

6) Hulu: Castle Rock, a new series based on the StephenKingiverse (not to be confused with Steven Universe), is generating discussion but mixed reviews. I enjoyed some classic TV on here this week, and my kids enjoyed prepping for the Teen Titans Go! movie with some of the episodes. Aw, who am I kidding, they didn't need the excuse of prepping for the movie.
7) Filmstruck: I think the frequency of updates has gone down this summer, but I have to rate it when it makes my boy Humphrey Bogart the Star of the Week. I mean, I own most of the movies on DVD, but seeing that still makes me want to resubscribe.

8) Hoopla: If your library system supports this, you really owe it to yourself to check it out.  It has an impressive collection of British TV courtesy of Acorn.

9) PBS: The PBS app frustrated me in recent years, but the American Masters on Ted Williams is great, and, all credit to PBS, it was 100% free to stream the day after it premiered on air, with only one commercial at the beginning.

10) Sony Crackle: Last week I mentioned the deal Sony made with Pluto, licensing a host of its movies and TV shows, and I thought it would probably be much easier to watch them there than on Crackle. In the interest of fairness, I watched a movie on Sony Crackle: the original Point Break. Isn't it sad that there is a remake of Point Break?

I give Sony Crackle a spot because I did watch and enjoy the movie, but, oh, lordy, the interface is still awful, and I think it took 3 hours to watch a 2-hour flick because of all the commercials.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

TODAY on Battle of the Network Shows!

This week the winner of our "workplace sitcom" listener poll gets its spotlight. Slap that bass, folks, and get a cup of coffee because it's time for Barney Miller!

Click right here to go to our official website or get the episode wherever you find your podcasts. Don't you dare miss it!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Inside that comic book grab bag part 3

So far I've discussed several comics from that $6 grab bag I bought at Ollie's Bargain Outlet, and I haven't found a lot of happiness yet. Let's see if things turn around today as I dip back into it.

Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters #1 (1986): This comic takes me back to the heady days of black-and-white comics being published by anybody who could speak English. Remember the seemingly endless wave of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles parodies? Well, the wave DID end, and I never actually read any of those books...until now.

I got a kick out of this for historical purposes. The issue is as self-referential as it gets, and it IS funny, though it is certainly of its time (see the PLO/hijacking parody). I did laugh at the legal disclaimer on the inside cover, which asks, "Will this statement save us in court if we get sued?"

Sky Wolf (#1 of 3) (Eclipse, March 1988): Kind of a bummer to get a "1 of 3" in a grab bag. Chuck Dixon (script) and Tom Lyle (pencils) bring us this story of international intrigue and adventure set in 1954. It's well done,'s only the first part of the story.

I did enjoy the vintage Eclipse house stuff in the issue, like cat yronwoode's editorial asking readers to conduct research about their local comic shops. There are house ads for Scout, The Dreamery, and a Milton Caniff book, plus more.

This springs from the pages of Airboy, which I never read, so...I can't add much except to say I wouldn't have minded seeing the rest of this mini.

Medic #1 (Double Take, 2015): Part of an ambitious launch of a line of comics inspired by some kind of universe based on Night of the Living Dead, this one didn't make me yearn for any more. I found the art unappealing except for the striking painted cover, and I am sure the story of the ill-fated Double Take venture from ex-Marvel publisher Bill Jemas is more interesting than the product itself.

Kirby: Genesis! Silver Star #2 (Dynamite, 2011): It's competently done, but it's a second issue of a spinoff of a 1980s Jack Kirby effort I knew nothing about. I was a little lost here, but I imagine it's a good read in collected form.

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Don't worry, I am saving the best for last. The gab bag hasn't won me over yet, but I have some solid reading experiences coming up in the next installment!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Behind the Rankings: DC Universe

In this week's rankings, I give DC Universe the #10 slot despite it not existing. It's coming this fall, though, and it generated some chatter at last week's San Diego Comic Con. I'm not thrilled about the price point--7.99 a month, but to be fair it includes some kind of access to digital comic books--and the early glimpses of originals like Titans doesn't impress me, but as a longtime (if lapsed) DC Comics reader, I just want this to be cool.

A while back, I made some suggestions for classic TV shows that should stream on this new streaming video service. Well, we now know some of--hopefully not all--the content DC will give us at launch. It's more than I would have feared but not as much as I hoped.

Perhaps the big showcase effort as far as classic TV is concerned is the 1970s Wonder Woman series. If this is remastered and uncut, hey, I'm there for Lynda Carter in HD. In that earlier post, I wrote:

I already suggested Batman (1966) for Netflix and Wonder Woman (1977) for Amazon. Wouldn't it be fantastic if DC, which is reportedly "securing rights" to old shows and movies, is going to announce each will be on DCU instead? I may even shell out for this thing if it gets both of those.

I think Batman streaming in high-def would be a real game changer for a new service like this, and maybe it's still in the works (or maybe even--I can dream--a surprise announcement being held back for launch), but for now, hey, one out of two ain't bad.

The other shows I picked:
The Adventures of Superman: No sign of that here yet, which is a shame.
Lois and Clark: It's not being touted in the publicity for this service, but the released promo pics indicate the entire series will be on the service. Thumbs up, DC!
The Flash (1990): This is included as well!
Filmation cartoons: I don't see anything about these...yet. I still think it's a natural fit considering many of these
Justice League: Also included!

That's 3 out of 5 I wished for, plus, according to that promo pic, "9 seasons" of Super Friends. You can parse that show many different ways--The New Gods know Warner sure confused things with its endless DVD releases--but I think that means the entire run will be there.

All this plus Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series (though I read it may just be some and not all of the episodes) makes a decent package. Is it worth 8 bucks a month? Well, with the originals, it's worth a look-see, I think. However, at 8 bucks a month, I don't think I would have this an automatic purchase every 30 days. Now, the comic book component could blow me away, and with access to a huge back catalog of comics, I might see it a little differently.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Classic Shows That Should Be Streaming: 5 for Brown Sugar

I think this series identifying classic TV shows that would make good fits for streaming video services is coming to a close. It's time to dig deep this week with a look at Brown Sugar, billed as "Like Netflix, only blacker," and not an outlet that focuses on television. I tried it out last summer and wrote about it here.

It does have Get Christie Love, though, last I checked, so it's not like it doesn't have any vintage television. In fact, Brown Sugar could really distinguish itself by scooping up some TV that isn't currently available everywhere else. The backbone of the channel is its extensive Blaxploitaiton library, but much of that (like the MGM films) is non-exclusive and frequently available elsewhere. These 5 shows are not!

1) Frank's Place: I'll be honest--I didn't watch enough of this back in the day to testify as to whether it is really as brilliant as everyone said it was. I'd love to find out. It had a short run on BET years ago, but I don't think anyone has bothered airing reruns since then, even with the rise of cable nets like Aspire and TV One and diginets like Bounce. One season, 22 episodes--a nice, tidy package for a streamer and a solid bit of prestige for Brown Sugar to go alongside the likes of Disco Godfather and Hell Up in Harlem.

2) Room 222: Speaking of prestige, how about a spot for one of my favorite series of all time, one that tragically tanked on DVD (perhaps in part due to subpar-looking source material) but which won several Emmys in its 1969-1974 run? Aspire shows reruns, but let's face it, who gets Aspire?

3) The Flip Wilson Show: This early 1970s variety show was a huge hit its first two seasons but has been largely forgotten. It's dated, yes, but so what? Laugh-In is also dated, and it's streaming on Prime Video. I'd love to see full hourlong versions of the series on Brown Sugar, but I'd settle for the half-hour cutdowns that circulated on the original TV Land and Aspire.

4) Shaft: These 7 TV movies that aired on CBS in the 1970s are an obvious fit with Brown Sugar's aesthetic, Warner Archive Instant streamed them before that cat split, man, and Warner already licenses some of its movies to this service. So, come on, Brown Sugar, make this happen...SUCKA!

5) Amos and Andy: Well, you have to admit, this would give Brown Sugar some publicity.

In all seriousness, this show is not quite what its toxic reputation indicates, but then again I'm a white dude, so I can't judge how offensive it is for everyone. I do wonder, though, if people knew nothing about the show's history and just sat down and watched the TV episodes, what would the reaction be?

The series' legal status is in doubt, and CBS wants nothing to do with it, anyway, know, maybe this is a non-starter. Maybe we should replace it with...

5) That's My Mama: An amusing Clifton Davis sitcom that has been seen in reruns over the years and is complete on DVD but would still be a nice addition for a streaming video service looking to add something that doesn't suffer from rerun fatigue. Crackle streamed this for a while but isn't doing anything with it right now. It certainly wouldn't be as controversial as Amos and Andy.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #120

I didn't run a few posts I planed to this week, and I wish I had a good excuse, like I was watching TV all week, but no, it was boring, old real-life stuff. Fortunately, the weekly power rankings are here, they're clear, and we're used to it!

1) Netflix: Back on top despite Captain Underpants bombing with one of my kids (the other was enjoying it until she turned it off). It looked decent from the 45 seconds I saw and 10 minutes I sort of heard.

Netflix gave us an odd grab bag of original series this week, like Dark Tourism, but I am making an effort to really take advantage of my membership--why should the kids have all the fun--and got into shows like Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. And Netflix wants me to watch Lost in Space (the reboot), and I almost started, but then I thought, hey, I can get back into season 2 of the original Star Trek and watched that instead.

2) YouTube: The highlight for me this week is this vintage CBS special about comic strips:

However, I also enjoyed some great old commercials and a vintage news report on the death of Natalie Wood. I should mention, too, that my kids watched a ton of wacky "eating gross foods" videos on here. Overall, YT got a lot of streaming time at Cultureshark Tower this week.

3) Hulu: Speaking of the kids for the third consecutive entry, they enjoyed them some Teen Titans Go! and after I saw the new trailer for Titans (see #10), I got a new appreciation for the cartoon. I would like to see a little more classic TV added, though, since new TV is a bit is a little slower going in the summer.

4) PIX11: It didn't add much, but I got a kick out of catching up on some of the archival content it did add in recent weeks. The reopening ceremony for the Statue of Liberty is a highlight and comes complete with a newscast including Jerry Girard's sports.

5) WWE Network: This week's hidden gem is a fun one: A non-televised tryout match pitting The Rock (billed as Dwayne Johnson) against Chris Candido, but the real treat for me was rewatching Starrcade '85. I may or may not renew this new week; we'll see what the next big catalog drop is.

6) The Roku Channel: This free channel is gaining momentum and solely gearing up to be a real contender. It has added live news feeds to its assortment of movies and TV shows, and while it will have to add content more often to be a frequent stop for me, it's worth a regular look-in.

7) Pluto TV: This other free channel (free is great!) announced a deal with Sony to add "more than 200 movie and classic TV titles." The news is light on specifics, but this is welcome news that bolsters Pluto's growing on-demand library. Bewitched is one show mentioned, and this reminds me that I would rather watch it on Roku Channel or on Pluto than on Sony's own free streamer, Sony Crackle. That's not a good thing for Sony Crackle. This news is fantastic for Pluto.

8) Amazon Prime: I didn't get to see much on here except Dojo Pro, an intriguing take on pro wrestling with a fresh format. I'm grateful that the Jaws movies are here, though, considering I just started listening to the Inside Jaws podcast.

9) Shout! Factory TV: I said it before, and I will say it again: One of the more underrated TV shows of the 1990s is 1997's The Weird Al Show. Only thing is I think when I said it before I got mixed up and said it was one of the more underrated shows of the 1980s. Anyway, in 2018 the goofy comedy is streaming here on Shout!

10) DC Universe: OK, OK, so this technically doesn't exist yet, but it's on the way, and it finally has a pricepoint, some original footage (that Titans trailer), and, yes, BUZZ! I don't like the pricepoint, I don't care for the original footage, and I want more programming detail and less buzz, but I still give DC a spot this week.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

LAST WEEK on Battle of the Network Shows and TODAY on Battle of the Network Shows!

From the home office in Duluth, Minnesota...

Yes, it's Late Night with David Letterman! And the episode we focus on is Camping with Barry White. Music, comedy, and camping tips all in one package. It's more fun than any one podcast should be allowed to have, and it's right here on Battle of the Network Shows. Don't you dare miss it!
Yes, I somehow didn't publish this last week, and now it's time for another episode of the podcast. Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter in this season's animation spotlight. Learn about The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie  and listen to us try to figure out this bizarre but enjoyable rarity.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Streaming Showcase: Sling TV and DirectTv Now

I signed up for a month of Sling to watch the World Cup via Fox in the Orange package. Or is it the Blue package? I don't remember which, and the fact there are two packages is part of what makes Sling kind of wacky.

I was going to go with the 7-day free trial and see where it went, but I saw a deal: Free Roku Express when you pay for a full month. Sign me up for a free month! I now have a backup/portable Roku, and to Sling's credit, it shipped that sucker out right away. I received it in less than a week, even with the holiday.

I just parted ways with DirectTV Now after the fantastic intro deal ($10 /month for 3 months) expired. The service had just added a DVR for Roku and was improving, but I didn't want to pay full price. I wanted to try something else. So how do Sling and DirectTV Now compare?

Well, bear in mind things change quickly in streaming. DirectTV Now has already announced a price increase to its base package--35 to 40 a month--and Sling ALSO announced it is raising the price of its Orange--or is it Blue--package. Plus the first day I had Sling, a carriage dispute removed several channels I was looking forward to getting--Univision, UniMas, El Rey.

So these are just my thoughts based on my experiences:

DirectTV Now:

Good selection of channels in the base package. TCM is included, which I love.
Generally good video quality
HBO is only $5/month with DirectTV Now. If you are a hardcore HBO fan, this alone might save you $10 a month.
Works well with other apps--though oddly, considering the merger with Warner, the Turner networks like Cartoon and TBS did not accept it a provider for authentication purposes while I had it.

No DVR on Roku for 2+ of the 3 months I had it.
DVR was buggy and awkward when it launched
Buffering--big time.
Slow to load and navigate
User interface wasn't always clear

I had PlayStation Vue in the fall, and it had some similar issues, but DirectTV Now was in my head as I transitioned to...


Much, much easier to use and navigate.
Loads faster--both in general, and switching channels works better
Much less buffering--Not sure if the video quality is better, but it is far more consistent than DirectTV Now.
At least it gives the semblance of "choice." However, that comes at a cost...

Nickel and diming on everything. DVR costs $5 extra, and it should be standard.
Inane division of channels into Blue and Orange packages--I have Fox and Fox Sports but not ESPN nor any of the Disney channels. To get those, I would have to pay 50 bucks a month (once the increase takes effect) and get BOTH Blue and Orange. You can get stuff like TCM as part of add-on packages.
Losing several Univision channels right as I signed up and getting nothing in return leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Stingier with app support. I think many less networks accept Sling as a provider for authentication.

Let's be clear about one thing: Even as these skinny bundle packages start to boost their prices and become more like cable, we are still in a great time. Month-to-month deals mean we aren't tied down to these providers and can take off if we don't like something. It's a hassle to have to switch to get one certain channel, but it's good to have the freedom.

Right now, the thing that jumps out at me is how much faster and easier to use Sling TV is than DirectTV Now. I realize many will not agree, but after several months of DTVN, Sling felt smooth and enjoyable. Give me a DVR feature and a few more channels, and I could see myself sticking with Sling for more than a month. As it is, the weak channel assortment and the lack of extras like DVR and app support mean I will likely walk after this month. I may well return soon, though.

As for DTVN, it is clearly positioning itself well as its parent company moves away from satellite. However, the DVR is clearly not ready for prime time. The entire service feels like it needs a makeover and a technical upgrade or two. As far as overall channel assortment, though, it's my favorite so far, and the great deal on HBO will make it a winner if/when it gets its act together.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week #119

I love summer--the long days, the warm temperatures, the sunshine. It all makes you feel like you could go inside and stream TV forever.

This week's rankings are heavily influenced by the Emmys. I saw a lot of TV critic angst about a lack of surprises, followed by comments on the surprising elements of the nominations. I will say this: It doesn't seem like that long ago that I actually expected "regular" networks (and HBO) to dominate these awards. Now all of a sudden it feels like streaming is on top, led by...

1) Netflix: I'm looking forward to checking out Captain Underpants with my kids (yep, looks as wrong in print as it sounded in my head), but the real reason Netflix is strutting like a young Travolta is because it is this year's leader in Emmy nominations. It could underperform at the actual ceremony, but for now, it enjoys a lot of good press. Maybe spending 18 trillion bucks on content isn't such a bad idea. Why make money when you can get Emmy nominations and good press?

2) HBO: It's embarrassing to be edged by Netflix and have to endure all those stories about being edged by Netflix (and references in nonsensical lists like this), but don't worry about HBO just because it ONLY got a ton of Emmy noms and not a ton and a half. I still think Game of Thrones, regardless of conventional metrics, is the most popular show on TV. Why? Because people actually pay money or steal to see it. How many would pay money to see This Is Us?

No, the reason to worry about HBO is the speech that corporate dope from AT&T gave employees, a troubling message that indicated it was time to sacrifice brand identity in favor of cranking out mediocre content to fill hours, much like you  know who (if you don't, please see #1). I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, but...uh, why? There's no reason to give the benefit of the doubt.

3) Hulu: A respectable Emmy showing. It's not Netflix nor HBO right now, but it garnered more nominations than Fuse, RFD-TV, Reelz, and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries combined.

4) PIX 11: It continued it's hot streak of archival content addition with an upload of a special on the infamous Yankees-Royals Pine Tar Game from 1983.

5) WWE Network: This week's Hidden Gem is the infamous (lot of infamy this week in the rankings_ Black Saturday cablecast, when the WWF took over the 6;05 Georgia Championship Wrestling timeslot on WTBS and angered thousands of Georgians (lot of anger in the rankings, too--angry George to angry Georgians).

6) Amazon Prime: It's nice to see The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel get some recognition from the Emmys. Elsewhere, the "high-profile" pickings are pretty slim, but Amazon is doing a good job of adding oddball stuff each week. I'm always adding items to my watchlist, like Pin-Down Girl: The Love Life of a Lady Wrestler.

6) YouTube: I'm just going to plug this week's playlist for our Battle of the Network Shows episode on Late Night with David Letterman. There is some great stuff in here.

7) Hoopla: I just watched The Perfect Bid, a documentary about that time a guy won both showcases by getting the exact dollar amount of his prize package. The crowd freaked out and a depressed Drew Carey, who said later he thought the show was gonna get taken off the air because someone had done something nefarious, just said, "You got it on the nose" in a monotone voice.

I haven't seen this anywhere except as a rental for 4 bucks, but you can stream it free with a Hoopla membership!

8) TubiTV: Deserves a spot if only for adding this classic TV movie:

9) Shout! Factory TV: Al Green really tore it up on the episode of Soul! I saw this week.

10) Starz: Well, I didn't buy it after my free trial ended, and it didn't set the Emmy nominations on fire, but it DID add 5 Kickboxer films.

Monday, July 9, 2018

'Mooners Monday: Audrey Meadows steps out

Audrey doesn't just step out of Bensonhurst this week, she steps out of the 1950s! Thanks to a free trial period of Starz last week, I enjoyed Ms. Meadows in The Nancy Palmer Story, the season 4 finale of Wagon Train.

The episode premiered March 7, 1961, on NBC. it wasn't even 5 full years after the Classic 30 Honeymooners season, but Audrey already looks a little more seasoned. I guess life on the frontier is even harder than life in that dingy flat on Chauncey Street on a bus driver's salary. However, the plot of this episode relies on Meadows' "innocent" and "sweet" face--the words are from the teleplay, I'm not mocking their use by putting them in quotes--to drive the action.

At the beginning, she regales the chillun of the train with some stories and even captivates the adults. Her natural way with the kids and her pleasant, unassuming demeanor makes her a comforting presence for the wagoneers. It's interesting because to me, Audrey always has a bit of an edge to her, and in fact, post-'Mooners she got edgier and edgier, to the point where she kind of scared me on Too Close for Comfort.


However, she's married to Jack Cassidy, who wants to rob a bank. He figures no one will suspect her, and so when everyone else heads off to a night of celebration, they volunteer to babysit, and, whammo, there's his chance to go steal some cash.

I hope that revealing Jack Cassidy plays a scoundrel is not a spoiler for anyone. I will say, though, that this scheme doesn't end that well for neither Jack nor Audrey.

Meadows gets a lot of spotlight moments in this episode, and well she should considering she's Nancy Palmer--it's HER story! I recommend this for any Honeymooners fan who wants to see Audrey Meadows stretch and play a completely different character.

Meadows and Cassidy make a great team, too. Check out this classic Audrey reaction in one early scene they share:

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #118

We know streaming video and cordcutting is "a thing" now because everyone is raising rates. PlayStation Vue, Fubo, Sling, DirectTV Now...all raising rates. Netflix is testing a rate increase in Europe. I bet Disney has already raised the price of its OTT service 2 or 3 times...and it doesn't even exist yet.

1) Starz: I enjoyed a free trial of Starz this week, and when you combine all the Starz channels and the stuff they license, you get decent value and commercial-free viewing. I spent my free week watching stuff like Wagon Train, of course, instead of the original programming like Counterpart (which I really do want to see). I mean, a week isn't enough to really dig into those originals, right?

Does anyone know if Starz has done some kind of fake-HD thing to some of the older shows it has acquired? In particular, I thought Sanford and Son looked odd on Starz.

Thanks for the preview, Starz. I'll be back someday and will pay for at least a month or so. I was tempted to do so now so I could see Karen Gillan in those shorts--uh, Jumanji--but I need to check out other stuff this month.

2) Hulu: Because this week I actually started watching some of the shows Hulu is accumulating. Daria is as funny as I remember. Oh, and I rediscovered Regular Show.  I'm excited that 2018's Borg vs. McEnroe is already available (starting tomorrow).

Word of warning, Hulu: Don't think about raising prices. Just because you lose $500 billion a month is no reason to start thinking about spending less on content or raising prices.

3) Prime Video: An impressive slate of catalog movies debuted July 1, and the original Jaws series comes Monday. TWO versions of Stripes? It's also adding a lot of series I don't watch--Bones, Damages, Burn Notice, The Closer--but I'm sure others enjoy. Hey, if you like NYPD Blue, it's here now, too--and without commericals, unlike Hulu. One quibble: It just put up a bunch of official World Cup videos after the 2018 tournament is half over. It's not quite as bad as adding Christmas movies in the summer, but what's up with that?

4) Netflix: I predict this retakes the top spot next week now that my Starz trial is over. I never thought I would enjoy a reality cooking competition show, but I enjoy watching Nailed It with my kids and have to give Netflix big ups for it.

I'm not so interested in most of the originals this weekend, but a new season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is cool. His guests include...Jerry Lewis? That's a hell of a get. You know who would be great on this? Andy Kaufman. Jerry Seinfeld should get Andy Kaufman next season.

5) PIX 11: It added some really cool stuff to commemorate the holiday: Bicentennial coverage of Operation Sail in New York City plus coverage of the 1986 Statue of Liberty reopening. These are the kinds of specials you would never run on commercial TV today but are great curios for streaming on demand.

6) Sling TV: It's making my World Cup viewing possible this week. More on Sling TV, which I just got for the first time, is coming soon.

7) WWE Network: I'm stunned that WWE uploaded hours of raw unaired footage from a 20+-year-old event as a "Hidden Gem," but I am also impressed. Plus watching Saturday's Night Main Event on July 4 made me feel like a Real American, brother.

8) YouTube: I was too busy (and by busy I mean busy watching Wagon Train, not busy doing actual life activities) to check out the recent batch of old commercial uploads by my man SeanMC, but I plan to catch up this weekend.

9) Filmstruck: John Wayne is the star of the week, and there's a fun new collection called Eighties Fantasies with movies like Time Bandits and Clash of the Titans. I also want to commend Filmstruck for using its Twitter account to warn people of notable films that are expiring.

10) Shout! Factory TV: I'm not thrilled with the monthly content drop--mostly horror movies--but much respect to Shout! for getting it out and ready on Roku on July 1.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Today on Battle of the Network Shows

Our 50th full-length episode calls for the return of one of the most BOTNS-ish series ever...CHIPS!

Like Roller Disco, the two-parter The Great 5K All Star Race and Boulder Wrap Party features celebrities, troubled youths, and bumbling crooks. Does this one live up to the greatness of Roller Disco? Will Actors and Others for Animals make another appearance?

Click right here to go to our website, or you can get the show wherever you get your podcasts. Don't you dare miss it!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Brooks on Books: "Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC" by Reed Tucker

I love this book. It's just the right blend of taking the subject seriously and having fun with it, just the right combination of facts and opinion, just the right amount of reportage and gossip.

As a DC guy for all my comic book life, though--which is close to 100% of my total life--it pains me to read it. Oh, I'm not one of the hyperpartisan fans mentioned in the text who support one of the Big Two comic publishers at the expense of the other. I have always read both, and when I bought comics and stayed "current" in the hobby, I bought both. But my heart has always been with DC, and my favorite characters are the ones controlled by that company.

So it's tough reading so many anecdotes about Marvel surpassing DC in commercial and critical success, Marvel being perceived as the cooler and hipper outfit as DC time and again tries to imitate it and play catch-up. It hurts, I tells ya.

It's a lot of fun, though. Tucker, a former New York Post staffer and freelancer who is not in the industry, offers an evenhanded but lively account of the decades-long rivalry between DC and Marvel. The former company got a 20-plus-year head start, but when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby invigorated the field with Fantastic Four and other creations, the tides turned and the game was on.

At times it does seem like a game, with publishers, editors, and creators taking playful snipes at each other but still socializing and competing in friendly softball games. At other times, it feels more like a cold war, with personal animosity driving business and creative decisions (like DC and its executive Paul Levitz's anger at Marvel executive Joe Quesada's brash, insulting interview blocking efforts for a Batman/Daredevil team-up). Over the years, though, the two companies managed to cooperate on special projects, share talent, and work together on relevant issues. In Tucker's narrative, there is always at least an undercurrent of rivalry, though.

Tucker spoke with many comic book notables and also gathered info from sources like mainstream newspapers and fanzines and comic book magazines. His skillful integration of that research makes for a smooth read. The history of the medium has been told (and told well) before, but Tucker offers a unique slant on the saga. His focus on the relationship between the two largest publishers mean there is a lot here for people who have read other tomes. Sean Howe's excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story  is similarly compelling and gossip-flavored, but there is a lot new in here even if there is some overlap in the themes.

If Jim Shooter, former Marvel editor-in-chief, was a controversial figure in Howe's book, he may be topped by former Marvel president Bill Jemas in Tucker's. One of my favorite moments, even though I am a DC guy, is when the publishers meet for a Comics Code Authority conference and Jemas makes it a point to bring a bunch of guys he just hired away from DC just to stick it to the other side. DC has two reps there, Archie Comics has one. When DC squawked about the unnecessary entourage, "Jemas contended that the number of people from each company was in direct correlation to sales."

That's a great example of the kind of tidbit you get in Slugfest, but most of the time, the feud is friendlier. Tucker shows how the underlying tensions remain even as the specific dynamics often change. In the 1960s, it's the upstarts at Marvel against the staid, conservative DC. Both companies get new corporate overlords and flirt with financial disaster. DC finds licensing success and movie success with Superman while Marvel tries again and again to get some movies off the ground. Now, of course, Marvel Cinematic Universe releases are massive events while DC struggles to find consistent success despite its favorable results on the small screen.

And of course, the battle wages on in the comics itself despite a landscape that is much different than it was in the 1960s. After years of skirmishes in areas like price increases, page counts, variant covers, etc., the two publishers seem like intellectual property farms in an increasingly narrow market for readership. They are still around, though, and still competing not only against all of the other entertainment options out there, but against each other.

Tucker offers valuable perspective on the epic rivalry while wisely refraining from choosing sides. He references the sniping between fans of DC and Marvel but concentrates on the people actually working for the two companies. Slugfest shows that the giant adversaries have a symbiotic but contentious relationship and that their conflict has been an entertaining driver of change in the medium for years and will continue as such. Anyone who grew up on comics and took a side in the eternal DC or Marvel debate will love this, but so will those who always made room for both. Tucker's book is strong enough to bring everyone together--maybe even Paul Levitz and Joe Quesada.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Behind the Rankings: About those MASH reruns

Hulu rocketed to the top of the power rankings this weekend partly due to its unveiling of all 1,983 episodes of MASH. Commenter Top Cat James pointed out that the show is not exactly scarce in reruns. Ah, I replied, but now the series will be uncut and un-time-compressed!

Well, word is out: The adventures of the 4077th aren't truncated for commercials, but they aren't exactly in their as-broadcast form, either. On one hand, they look great--sharp picture and vivid colors that look better than they did on your 19-inch Magnavox in the family den back in the day.

On the other hand, these new HD transfers follow a recent trend of widescreening older shows by cutting the tops and bottoms and showing more on the left and right, thereby avoiding the 4x3 aspect ratio that would leave--GASP--blank space on the sides of the screen. I thought we had won this war (I won't demean our nation's veterans by making a Korea joke) when DVDs eventually made pan-and-scan passe. Yet there is still a fear of "Why is my whole screen not filled?" and it's leading to these kinds of transfers. For more examples, see the recent crop (no pun intended--or, OK, maybe it is) of old Warner Brothers TV shows like CHIPS on Amazon Prime Video. Fake widescreen seems to be the norm.

(Is this why it's taking so long to get promised Fox library series like The Bob Newhart Show? Is someone prepping new HD transfers of the likes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show?)

I understand why many fans of the show are angry. I understand the argument that these shows weren't meant to be seen this way and that this is butchery. I have never been a big MASH watcher, though. I avoided it in reruns over the years--the ubiquity may have driven me away in a sense--and I never got around to digging into the series in its short stint on Netflix. It bothers me that this presentation distorts the original picture, but I think I can enjoy the series, anyway. Hawkeye's sanctimony might be a bigger hurdle for me.

Maybe if HD transfers are done with care and thought, it's worth altering the original broadcast picture if we get far superior picture quality AND uncut episodes. There is reason to suspect that kind of attention to detail is not evident in these Hulu versions. According to this fansite, The Interview, one of the series' more notable installments, is in color instead of the original black and white.

For me--let's put aside the obvious botch on The Interview--the most important thing in general is complete runtimes. As a viewer, I will put up with this if I want to give the series another shot. I have to wonder, though: Why can't we get HD transfers that offer superior quality AND preserve the original 4x3 broadcast ratio?

Monday, July 2, 2018

Classic Shows That Should Be Streaming: 5 for Sony Crackle

I haven't had a good relationship with Sony Crackle.  The service almost never makes the Streaming Video Power Rankings despite offering lots of free content. It never seems to get the user interface right, its ad load is obtrusive, and when it gets a TV series I enjoy, it ditches it without much warning.

I am not giving up on it, though! It keeps trying with original programs, but no one is paying attention to them. Why not dig deeper into the back catalog of Sony material and throw up some more vintage series to get viewers in this crowded streaming landscape? Here are 5 TV classics that make a good fit for Crackle.

NOTE: Much as I would love to see Burns and Allen and black-and-white series like that here, I am not getting my hopes up since Crackle shows little interest in anything pre-1970. So I am limiting my selections to color TV programs.

NOTE #2: I am talking complete series here. Yeah, it's a free service, but the Crackle move of selecting one season or maybe two and then pulling them after a few months is outdated in today's world. Let's shoot for the whole thing for each of these 5:

1) Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman/Fernwood 2Night/America 2Night: Amazingly, Hartman is on DVD, but I think clearances will keep the Martin Mull talk shows off the format forever. All of them deserve another shot. Fernwood had a great run on Nick at Nite, but its parent show, a soap opera satire that ran over 300 (!) episodes in syndication, has had much less exposure.

300-some episodes is intimidating, perhaps, but there are no limits in streaming! Well, OK, there are plenty of limits, really, but you can't tell me Sony doesn't have the resources to make even a big sprawling run like this available on its platform.

2) One Day at a Time: I thought Netflix would pick this up when it produced the remake, but nooooo, Netflix just doesn't roll like that anymore. In fact, despite runs on Logo and Antenna TV, this series has a remarkably low profile considering it ran 9 seasons AND got a lot of attention for the ongoing revival. It seems like an easy add for Crackle.

3) Barney Miller: It never really goes away, exactly, but this critically acclaimed police sitcom never gets much love, either, and it has been conspicuous by its absence in streaming. It's on the digital subchannels like Antenna and is now complete on DVD (thanks to Shout!), but it hasn't received a nice comfy spot on Hulu. I believe Crackle did show some episodes in the past, so it could turn up again.

4) Fantasy Island: The last time I regularly watched Crackle was last year when it had a selection of Island episodes. So naturally it pulled those, and the show hasn't returned. I don't know what's keeping it off. This series is NOT on DVD, but Shout! isn't doing anything with it. It's been more than 5 years since the season 3 DVD release, and that leaves 4 more seasons in the vaults.

Like Love Boat, the guest stars and goofy premises make this a nice "dip into every now and then" kind of show and therefore well suited for streaming. Some episodes were on Hulu, and the show aired on Cozi and Universal HD, but it's too cheesy to not be available on demand. Crackle really should make this one happen.

5) It's Your Move: This is a personal choice for me. A young Jason Bateman and the great David Garrison squared off in this short-lived Leavitt-Moye sitcom on NBC. As the show went on, producers watered down the original concept and took away some of its edge, but at the time it was a breath of fresh air. It wasn't so much that Bateman's schemer was so audacious in his feuding with the adult Garrison (who played a man dating Bateman's character's mom--Caren Kaye), but that he was sometimes wrong. The kid wasn't always the smart one, and it was nice that the show didn't make the adults look like total idiots.

Clever writing and great performances make this one of the great "what ifs" of the 1980s. The episodes are out there, but I'd love to see them in good quality, and this would be a great and very welcome surprise on Sony Crackle.