Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Brooks on Books: "Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted" by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Note: This post appeared originally on, the home of our podcast covering television of the 70s and 80s. Check the site for more posts like this in addition to episodes of the show!

I'll check out just about any book-length treatment of 1970s and 1980s TV, but when this book came out in 2013, some negative reviews (particularly a few on Amazon) scared me away. I revisited this after we covered The Mary Tyler Moore Show earlier this season, though, and I recommend it for any fan of the series. It has its flaws and quirks, but it also has tons of great info and is a fun read.

First, let me mention those quirks: The book starts off reading like an agenda-driven effort to focus on the female writers who worked on the show. Oddly, that emphasis fades once the book gets going, and while Armstrong does keep checking in on some of the women who helped craft the series, it's not like they overshadow co-creators James L. Brooks and Allen Burns. Feminism is absolutely a big part of the series' story and appeal, but it feels like there is an inconsistent approach to it in the book, and MTM is maybe inflated a bit to seem like more of a singular advancement for women that it was.

More importantly, there are some strong factual errors, especially early in the book (a misidentification of Room 222 jarred me), that make you wonder about the rest of it. Some of the choices are a little odd, like the decision to tell so much of the story of a dedicated fan who grew to knew the show's principals but comes off kind of like a stalker.

That said, the book is really easy reading with lots of cool details. We've alluded to some of them here on the site, like the complex relationship between Ted Knight and Ed Asner. The saga of how MTM was cast makes a fascinating story in itself. Gavin MacLeod read for Lou Grant before asking, almost as an afterthought, to read for Murray. Asner himself struggled to get the Lou character down. Producers were skeptical of Cloris Leachman but casting exec Ethel Winant pushed for her.

Armstrong does a great job of chronicling the establishment of the series and how it takes off. Her sections on iconic episodes like the finale and the Chuckles the Clown funeral make me wish she spent more time talking about specific installments. The decision to semi-focus on the lives of some of the key female scribes may mean less time for more of the actual goings-on of the series during its prime years.

Overall, though, the anecdotes and info in here make this a must-read for MTM fans and a recommended one for fans of era TV in general, with the caveat that there are some inaccuracies and misleading bits in the text (see those Amazon reviews for more). I personally think Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted improves as it gets going, and I will likely seek out Armstrong's recent book on Seinfeld.

Monday, August 27, 2018

'Mooners Monday: A closer look at Rita Weedemeyer

One of the standout elements of Alice and the Blonde is Audrey Meadows glamming it up in an effort to please Ralph (and, no, I STILl don't know what the deal is with her and that rum candy). Let's take a closer look at the character who inspires Alice's behavior, though: Bert Weedemeyer's new bride Rita.

Rita is played by Freda Rosen (1928-2016), the wife of comedy writer Arnie Rosen. Arnie and partner Coleman Jacoby wrote for Gleason's shows in the 1950s and also for The Phil Silvers Show, but Freda made an indelible mark with her memorable turn as Rita.

Again, I give full credit to the sacred text The Official Honeymooners Treasury, which features great quotes from an interview with Freda Rosen. The episode was produced well after it was written because of the difficulty finding a suitable actress. Rosen claims no one on the show knew she was the writer's wife when she auditioned. She she beat out 19 other actresses for the role of "somebody kind of shallow and dumb, but not anything really heavier than that. Innocent, nonthreatening, just a dumb broad," then ran out and bought cigarette holders to practice her big "light up" scene.

She was not a smoker, so she had to work on using the holder and lighting the cigarette, and then of course the infamous lack of rehearsal on the series combined with the live-to-tape-style process made for a nerve-wracking experience.

 Rosen says that she was surprised when Gleason whacked her on the arm--so much so that she nearly toppled over in the incredibly tight evening dress she wore.

"If you noticed, I always took very tiny steps. When he pushed me, I took those little steps backwards, because otherwise it was right on my fanny."

Freda Rosen provides one of the more memorable one-shot performances in 'Mooners history, and I think fans can agree "she certainly is a treasure." I like the actress' quote that closes the book's chapter on this episode: "It was great fun and scary!"

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #125: End of Summer Edition

No, I take that back! It is NOT the end of the summer. Summer will live forever!

1) Hulu: Made a splashy announcement with its news of a Veronica Mars revival, garnered buzz for the latest episode of Castle Rock, and let me watch several episodes of Seinfeld.  It's also offering different kinds of original programming like new docuseries Crime & Punishment.

2) WWE Network: Huge week for the Network with Summer Slam, an NXT Takeover, and a big drop of classic content plus a complete WCCW show from 1981 as a Hidden Gem--truly a little something for everyone.

3) Filmstruck: It would be #1 if I had more time to watch it this past week (I only watched The Petrified Forest), what with the additions of a bunch of Lana Turner movies last weekend and Cary Grant this weekend. They are using these Star of the Week categories to get in some more obscure Hollywood classics, too. Also new this weekend: swashbuckler movies and Michael Crichton movies.

My only beef is that all the Bette Davis movies left, but they were there several months, and Filmstruck is open about when titles depart, so I can't get too angry.

4) YouTube: The Real Music Observer continues saturation coverage of the Steve Perry comeback, but I am most excited that user robatsea2009 posted a vintage NBC promo spotlighting Karl Malden in SKAG!

5) Prime Video: Dare I watch Mother! this weekend to see what the fuss is about? And dare I watch Disobedience to see Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams make out? Ok, that one won't be such a sacrifice.

I hadn't noticed Prime added Gidget, but it did, and around here we applaud any addition of 60s TV.

6) PIX11: Thumbs up to the team there for putting up a 1985 interview with Robin Leach to mark the TV icon's passing. "Although money doesn't buy happiness, it sure does help it," says Leach in a chat with Marvin Scott.

7) TubiTV: Because I am still fascinated by and still watching the 2014 Martin Lawrence/Kelsey Grammer sitcom Partners.

Image result for partners kelsey grammer

8) MLB TV: Hey, Pittsburgh, would it kill you to score a run every now and then?

9) Shout! TV: Props to The Dells for going on an episode of Soul! and turning 1950s Doo Wop classic "Oh, What a Night" into an endless 1970s-style soliloquy complete with a reference to Dolemite.

10) Netflix: I don't like to make these rankings punitive, but, jeez, this week Netflix dumped user reviews and introduced unskippable house ads--two moves unasked for and resented by consumers. You might throw in the surprising cancellation of Joel McHale's and Michelle Wolf's shows, too, but I assume they have detailed viewership data on those.

Far worse may be my unscientific observation that a reputation is building--and not just among grumpy TV critics--that Netflix's "brand" is tons of mediocre crap designed to keep us drooling in front of the idiot box all day but not really being engaged.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #124

We're coming at you a day early because I may be on the road scouting for new streaming video sites to write about. Enjoy your weekend!

1) Netflix: I should dock Netflix again now that my kids are watching Fuller House again, but I enjoyed The Flash and other stuff on here, so I have to try to overlook it even if I am already dreading the fourth season.

2) MLB TV: The only reason it's not higher this week is because the Pirates got swept in a mini-two-game series against the Twins. UGH! Or as Mad might say...RECCH!

3) Hulu: I have rediscovered the joy of Regular Show on Hulu. Funny, easy to take at night, and short enough to not have commercial breaks.

4) WWE: Did a classy thing by uploading a big Jim Neidhart collection after the former star died this week. Not so classy but still entertaining: Vince McMahon sampling Mexican food with Lord Alfred Hayes and Tito Santana on the TNT episode I watched.

5) YouTube: I am proud to have discovered The Real Music Observer's channel and his comprehensive coverage of Corporate Rock. Man, this guy is all over the Steve Perry comeback. Gotta admit you're not gonna see that on...uh, what are the music TV channels these days?

6) Filmstruck: I enjoyed Carefree with Astaire and Rogers this week and some old-school Bette Davis.

7) Roku Channel: Good Times season 5 is on here now, and I am checking it out, but, man, it's kind of depressing seeing Wilona get top billing because even Florida isn't around.

8) Prime Video: Got some buzz for The Romanoffs trailer, but it seems like all I am talking about on Prime lately = trailers. Isn't it time for an actual hit series?

9) PIX11: It's sad to reflect on the passing of anyone, let alone a legend, but at least these death milestones give PIX11 an opportunity to post some interesting retro footage, like this week's original coverage (15 minutes' worth) of Mickey Mantle.

10) CBS All Access: I think this is a terrible value so far, but I give the devil its due: An announced 2.5 million subscribers (I am skeptical that's all paid current members, though) and a lot of excitement about luring Patrick Stewart back to the Star Trek franchise. Maybe CBS knows what it's doing.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Classic Shows That Should Be Streaming: 5 for...Walmart?

Folks, you know this gimmick is on fumes when I am picking TV shows for services that don't exist. Sure, I did this for Disney and DC, but at least we know those are on the way. All we have for Walmart is an increasingly noisy level of chatter, some of it coming from the company itself. The idea is that the retail behemoth can challenge Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon with programming that targets "Middle America."

Hoo boy. Middle America! Anything talking about targeting Middle America is bound to be condescending, generalized, and centered on simplistic stereotypes. So naturally I want in!

What kinds of shows can such a service stream--shows that aren't already available on the umpteen OTT services so many already have? Maybe the idea is that the elites have a dozen different streamers, but 'Murica has maybe Netflix...and it would gladly dump it if it could get a HEARTLAND streaming service.

(BTW, the family drama Heartland, which has horses and ranches, is already available to stream on...Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.)

Here are some things I would like to see:

1) The Brady Bunch: Right off the bat I am breaking one of the rules of this series. See, the Bradys are on Hulu and on CBS All-Access. Ah, but I make an exception here because the Brady brand is perfect for Walmart, and for some odd reason (don't tell me music rights), neither Hulu nor CBS All Access has the complete series.

Walmart could hype the complete series, plus the movies, the variety show, the Brady brides series, the Brady kids 'toon, and, yes, even the ill-fated The Bradys dramedy. It could spur CBS/Paramount to do some kind of retail-friendly repackaging of the DVDs--maybe a Blu-Ray? And it could make at least a mild splash by using the still-famous Brady name as a marquee family-friendly property to tout at launch.

2) Hee Haw: What comes to mind when you think of the long-running syndicated variety show Hee Haw? Country music, cornfields, and corny comedy. Does any of that seem out of place with Walmart? Apart from a few Time Life DVD releases and a regular spot on RFD, the series doesn't have a lot of visibility anymore. Fine! Let Walmart swoop in and buy SVOD rights to a few hundred or so episodes.

3) Johnny Carson: I say Carson instead of The Tonight Show because that's how the show is billed on Antenna TV: Johnny Carson. Who better represents classic TV and "Middle America" than the Midwestern icon of late night?

I bet Walmart could strike a deal with the Carson estate to get a bunch of the episodes on its new streaming services. Again, there could be a neat retail tie-in opportunity.  Talk show reruns may not seem like a big deal in 2018, but Hulu has Merv Griffin episodes. I know I would watch the heck out of these. Carson Enterprises was uploading free episodes to YouTube for a while, so it is not totally against streaming.

4) Barnaby Jones or Columbo: Have you ever noticed that the stereotypical conception of "flyover country" is uncomfortable with "smut" but is just fine with crime and murder? Hey, Barnaby is old, he solves crimes, he was on The Beverly Hillbillies--let's throw him and nearly 180 episodes' worth of soothing, inoffensive 1970s detective television on WalmartVision.

Or how about Columbo? Everyone loves this show, and it is a fixture in syndication but a streaming orphan since all the Universal shows left Netflix. Personally, I like Columbo  better, but I would get a kick out of the whole run of Barnaby being available at our fingertips. It would be George Utley's dream come true!

5) Davey and Goliath: I grew up watching these Lutheran-Church-produced stop-motion shorts on Sunday mornings. I'd like to think that my strong moral fiber comes from the fact that I learned my lessons from this show instead of actually going to church.

This series has a way more tangled home video situation than it should, but if anyone can sort all of it out and get the entire run on an OTT service, it's Walmart. Trinity Broadcasting has been showing the cartoons in recent years, but I don't think there's any official streaming home for the program.  Put it on WalmartView, and you get something for the kids, nostalgia for the adults, and "good values" in one package.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #123

1) Netflix: My kids have embraced Sugar Rush, and you know, I am enjoying it, too. I am wary of the growing amount of reality series on here, but I admit some of them interest me!

This week's slate of adds isn't all that interesting, but I admit there is a lot of variety, and there's something to be said for just going back and watching all the stuff that's already on there. I realized I stopped watching The Flash on CW way earlier than I expected, so I am finishing the season on Netflix and enjoying the lack of ads.

2) Prime Video: I have actually been watching some Prime lately, including The Expanse, which I think I am on the verge of officially "getting into." Other than the new Agatha Christie adaptation with Bill Nighy, Ordeal by Innocence, there isn't a lot new here, but there are trailers for the next season of Mrs. Maisel  and Homecoming, and there are a lot of older classic movies appearing (I'm not sure all by legit means, but, hey, it's not my job to find out).

I noticed that seasons 1 and 3 of the original British Men Behaving Badly are now on Prime, hopefully just a warmup for the appearance of the complete run. If those later seasons appear and I can see them without having to get Acorn, then I guarantee you Prime will be #1.

Well, maybe not #1, but in the top 3.

Well, maybe not the top 3 if there's a lot of completion, but definitely in the top FIVE.

OK, I can't guarantee that, either, but it'll be ranked, and I'll be happy. Let's leave it at that and be thankful for any bit of sunshine in this cruel world.

3) Filmstruck: Oh, I love having Filmstruck. I loved it more when I wasn't paying for it, but I still love it. As I have commented numerous times, the TCM-ization of this service continues with themed collections like this weekend's William Wellman and Frank Sinatra salutes. As for me, I am now officially trying to watch a bunch of things that are leaving this month, like the Bette Davis movies.

4) YouTube: I watched a lot of goofy stuff here (and I mean that as a positive), and I would rate it higher except I am still getting used to the latest user interface change on Roku. I think YT changes things every few response to a diminishing number of requests.

5) Hulu: It's still losing tons of money, but the news that Disney will keep R-rated flicks (and most other non-traditional Disney-ish content) off its new OTT service and on here probably bodes well, as does the spate of stories speculating the company will bundle those two services with ESPN+.

Otherwise, it's a quiet week, but, hey, is this movie Terminal, with Mike Myers, Margot Robbie, and Simon Pegg any good? I don't have any memory of this existing.

[Rick does some research]

Uh, apparently it isn't. However, Hulu is adding a Jeopardy! collection, which is pretty cool. And Borg vs. McEnroe is now here, which I must mention because I said it was last month. I read it on a list of movies that were allegedly coming in July and--REALLY? It took over a MONTH to get here? You CANNOT be serious!

6) The Roku Channel: You can now access this free streamer without a Roku, which sounds kind of funny but makes sense when you hear the company claim to be an ad company and not a hardware company. Anything that gives viewers more options is a good thing.

7) WWE Network: You know if you watch too much of the early Expansion Era WWF programming on here, you are going to get tired of the endless focus on the "midget wrestlers." One thing I will never get tired of seeing--in fact, I saw it the other day--is the TNT episode with Ken Patera holding back an accelerating truck (purportedly driven by Vince McMahon) with only his legs.

8) Shout! Factory TV: Another fine episode of Soul!  puts Shout! in the the faint thought that maybe someone there sees my list of 5 shows that should be streaming on it.

9) HBO: The debut of Hard Knocks and the returns of Insecure and Ballers give HBO some buzz, plus somehow, Succession became one of the most critically appreciated series on TV seemingly overnight ahead of last week's season finale.

10) SI TV: I give Sports Illustrated's relatively new OTT service credit for launching on Roku, but its library doesn't impress me much. There is a decent assortment of original short documentaries and pieces, but I don't see a lot to warrant making this a regular buy. I would like to test-drive it, though, and maybe I will now that it's Roku-friendly.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Classic Shows That Should Be Streaming: 5 for Shout! TV

Despite its checkered update history on Roku and its massive commercial load, Shout! Factory TV is one of my favorite streaming video on demand services. If it added some more user-friendly functions like watchlists, it would be an A-level service. It already has some of the most fantastic content out there. Here are 5 suggestions for classic TV series to add to its library. I focus on shows that are more under the radar than something like, say, Seinfeld. These series are the kinds that came out on DVD from someone like Anchor Bay instead of Warner Brothers...or maybe by Shout! Factory itself!

1) It's Garry Shandling's Show:  Much of the content on Shout! TV has been on DVD for years thanks to the folks at Shout! Factory, but not all of it is still in print. Case in point: This classic, somehow underappreciated 1980s sitcom. Just look at the prices from third-party sellers on this nearly-10-year-old complete series collection.

I thought/hoped that Judd Apatow's epic HBO doc on Shandling's life would spur renewed interest in the show, but maybe the bigger takeaway was the caustic relationship between the star and ex-manager Brad Gray and Shandling's ultimate ambivalence about the whole thing. It's a shame that now, even after Shandling's death, the show is not in reruns, nor easily available on DVD, nor on streaming. It's a perfect fit for Shout! TV.

2) Get a Life: An even cultier sitcom than the previous entry, this Chris Elliott show is one of those rare efforts for which the word "madcap" really, really works. I mean, I think a quarter of the episodes ended with the main character dead, maimed, or otherwise incapacitated in a major way. Fortunately, this got a great DVD release (though without Elliott's participation, which saddens me), but this short-lived but brilliant series would be a great fit with Shout's assortment of cult TV. The show was too weird for mainstream America, but it might find an appreciative audience on an appropriate streaming platfofm.

3) Moonlighting: At least Lions Gate put the whole series out on DVD, but I don't think it's been syndicated in years, and now the discs are out of print. Someone should pick this up, and it would be great on a streaming platform, where you can skip the later seasons and the non-David-and-Maddie episodes if you feel like it.

The series burned itself out way too early, but what a show it was at its peak. In some ways, the show is still big enough that it would seem like a great one for Hulu to pick up. I certainly wouldn't complain if Shout! found a way to acquire it.

4) Ed: Shout! often celebrates quirky, and if you like quirky, boy, do I have a show for you. This 2000-2004 hourlong NBC dramedy from David Letterman's Worldwide Pants often straddled the line and teetered on the precipice of cloying, but I always found it charming. Ed has never even sniffed a DVD release, and I'm sure music rights are an issue, but it did have rerun stints on TBS and Up.

5) Buffalo Bill: This 1980s NBC comedy is constantly hailed as "ahead of its time" and fondly remembered by so many people who should know yet largely invisible. It did get DVD release from--you guessed it--Anchor Bay--albeit with music edits. However, it deserves better than just hit and miss on YouTube or Dailymotion. While we're at it, how about the less hailed and less fondly remembered but still Dabney-esque Slap Maxwell Story?

Monday, August 6, 2018

'Mooners Monday: The Secret History of Alice Kramden

One of my favorite lines in Honeymooners history is one probably intended to be a showstopper, but one that is nevertheless in the pantheon of most quoted pieces of dialogue in my family:

Alice, you've been at that rum candy again!

Let's go to Alice and the Blonde, originally airing June 2, 1956. It's the night after the Kramdens and Nortons visited the Weedemeyers, and Alice attempts to woo Ralph by being like the woman she thinks he admires: Rita Weedemeyer.

Her vamping and cooing is a delight--it's a lot of fun to see Audrey Meadows get to glam it up, even for comic effect--but Ralph isn't having it. His facial expressions as he wonders what's she up to are hilarious.

Eventually Ralph can't take it anymore, and that's when he bellows his accusation:

This is a great piece of dialogue. The idea of someone being tipsy from rum candy is funny, the idea of it being Alice is even funnier, and...well, look at that last word: again.


Was there some other incident in which Alice really did get drunk on rum candy and made a fool of herself? I don't know about you, but I'm fascinated and want to know more about this.

Alice insists that it's Ralph. "You intoxicate me," she says. "Don't give me that. It's that candy!"

It's obvious that something happened in the past with Alice and rum candy. But when, what, where?

This will remain one of the great mysteries of the 'Moonerverse. It's not a mystery that this is a fantastic episode, and this scene is classic. As Alice heads into the bedroom (easy now, tigers), she tells Ralph, "I call you Killer 'cause you slay me."

 Of course he responds, "I'm calling Bellevue 'cause you're nuts!"

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #122

1) YouTube: Please don't judge me for watching a list of the "funniest farts on live TV." I stumbled on it while on another YouTube rabbit hole journey.

You can judge me for watching that clip's sequel.

2) Hulu: Hey, Justice League Action is pretty good. Let's hope DC doesn't yank it when it launces its own streaming service in a couple months.

You know what showed up as part of the August catalog drop? Point Break, which I watched recently on Crackle. I sure wish I had waited to watch it on Hulu.

The Hulu originals don't seem to be sticking, though. Casual  has returned, and it has its fans, and, yeah, Handmaid's Tale is a big deal, but is anyone watching Harlots?

3) MLB TV: This trading deadline actually made me more excited to be a Pirates fan, and I am pumped for the rest of the season.

4) Amazon Prime Video: You really have to watch this one because it surprises you. Example: High Noon is now streaming on here? Reportedly, it's changing its interface to be simpler for viwers, and that change can't come fast enough.

5) Netflix: If you  haven't yet checked out the series of articles Vulture ran a while back on Netflix, I highly recommend you do so now. There is a lot of fascinating detail in there.

It was a relatively slow week IMO for adds, but I enjoyed catching up on a few oldies. I'm not sure how I feel about the new interface, but it's a lot easier to navigate than Prime!

6) WWE Network: The collection it added as a tribute to the late Nikolai Volkoff combined essentials and rarities. It's the kind of thing that shows the excellent potential of the network--a potential that is realized more and more each month.

7) Shout! Factory TV: I personally want to see more variety on here--lately it's really heavy on horror movies--but I do give Shout! credit for having a substantial August update and having it active on Roku as soon as the month began.

8) Hoopla: I watched all 4 episodes of the first season of Striking Out on here. It's a watchable drama with likable characters. Again, I will say if you can't make it to your library to get the Acorn shows on DVD, you can find an awful lot of them here.

9) The Roku Channel: Now is your chance to watch the final years of Good Times, when the show centered on Wilona and Bookman...not that I advocate this, but it is your chance. Roku is rotating seasons of this and Bewitched plus I Dream of Jeannie every couple months. I wonder what happens when it gets to the end of, say, Good Times. Will it go back to the beginning, or will it add another sitcom?

10) Filmstruck: You have to love a service that adds Pelle the Conqueror, Strange Brew, andArsenic and Old Lace in the same drop. I have to love that I just signed up again, meaning you can expect to see this as a fixture in the rankings again!