Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

Three quick images for Halloween.

First we have the great Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster, hard working family man, who does throw the occasional temper tantrum.

Next up John Astin in his signature role as Gomez Adams, scion of the fabulously wealthy Addams Family (that's the two "D" Addamses - remember they hated those one "D" Adamses from Massachusetts; something about the Revolutionary War).

And finally, because homemade costumes are often the best, Lucy gives us here interpretation of Superman from the I Love Lucy episode featuring George Reeves.

Happy Halloween and may all your tricks be treats.

New Poll - Which Classic TV Series Was Scariest?

As usual, feel free to comment here.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Poll Results (such as they were) - Which Of These New Shows Do You Find Scariest?

Well that was a bit of a poor choice of poll questions. There were only three responses so scarcely representative of anything. There were two votes for Threshold and one vote for Supernatural. No other show, including my little "joke" entry of Martha Stewart's Apprentice got any support. I sort of think that's disappointing considering the reaction that a lot of people have to Martha and her show.Also not registering any support was Nightstalker which I suppose indicates that there was no real reason for reviving the series, or at least for reviving the series in the current form. I am reminded of Dick Law And Order Wolf's attempt to revive Dragnet. Good cast, good stories, but people didn't watch in droves

I think in a way that the new WB series Supernatural is the real successor to Darren McGavin's series. They're facing things that people wouldn't believe in even if they saw them themselves (and managed to survive) and are doing it outside the law because the law wouldn't understand. Kolchak - the real Kolchak - always had to deal with skeptical editors, police and just about anyone else. It doesn't hurt that these are the sort of urban legends and campfire ghost stories everyone has heard of, but with a frighteningly real spin put to them. No wonder the series is doing well (at least by WB standards).

I can definitely see the appeal of Threshold as well. Invasion often seems to drag and tends to be more focused on the family elements, while having little in the way of the sort of dramatic tension that its ancestor, Invasion of the Body Snatchers had. Surface which seems to be more about the government conspiracy than about any real threat that the sea creatures present. But Threshold gives us a real, authentic danger, a danger made all the more frightening by its nature. Without intervention anyone could be changed. The next one could be you. It's the real successor to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

I think I'll do classic TV horrors for the poll I'll post sometime Sunday.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Smallville Spins Buffy

It's nearly Hallowe'en and I got to thinking about the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Mainly I got to thinking about them after a show last night, but I'll get to that in a minute. It seems to me that most of the cast - who were supposedly doomed to not working ever again according to a lot of people - are particularly active on TV this season. Allison "Willow" Hannigan is co-starring in How I Met Your Mother. Nicholas "Xander" Brendon has a supporting role on Kitchen Confidential. Charisma "Cordy" Carpenter has a role on Veronica Mars as a horny trophy wife and will be doing at least one episode with Allison Hannigan at the end of November. David "Angel" Boreanaz is starring in Bones, and Anthony Stewart "Rupert Giles" Head is seen in the British series Little Britain as the Prime Minister. He'll also be doing a second season episode of the new Doctor Who next spring. And while Sarah Michelle Gellar is apparently too good for TV (she's got a lot of films in production or post-production) "Buffy's" husband Freddie Prinze Jr. is in the truly dreadful Freddy so that's sort of guilt by association. And then there's "Spike" but I'll get into that in a moment.

With Hallowe'en becoming increasingly important in terms of merchandising and sales (apparently it is second only to Christmas in terms of retail in the United States and Canada) the networks have jumped on the bandwagon and are producing Hallowe'en episodes as well as Christmas episodes. In fact Hallowe'en episodes are easier for most show than Christmas episodes because you can schedule them closer to the actual day - Christmas comes in the post-November sweeps dead period - although this year the only network showing new episodes this Monday is Fox and they aren't showing Kitchen Confidential but rather two hours of Prison Break, and that place is scary enough without a Hallowe'en episode. Buffy The Vampire Slayer didn't always do Hallowe'en episodes but when t hey did they were memorable. There was the one where Ethan Raine sold cursed costumes to most of the kids in Sunnydale which made them - including Buffy who dressed as an 18th century beauty - take on the characteristics of their costume and forget who they really were. Then there was the episode where the gang goes to a party at a frat house and have to confront a fear demon (although the best thing about that episode was Anya dressed in a bunny costume because she was told to dress as something that really frightened her). With Buffy long gone from the air, other shows have to pick up the slack in this fun scary type of episode. For the past two seasons it's been Smallville which has done a couple of fun TV parodies.

Last year, Smallville took advantage of an ongoing story line which featured Lana possessed by the spirit of a 17th century witch to take a poke at another WB series, Charmed, with Lana inserting the spirits of two other witches into the bodies of Lois and Chloe. This season, with James "Spike" Marsters as part of the cast, the target was obvious - vampires with a Buffy The Vampire Slayer spin, - with a few shots at Batman Begins thrown in for flavour. In the episode called Thirst Lana decides to pledge a sorority at Metropolis University, but of course it isn't just any sorority, it's the most exclusive one on campus, which only allows one girl in per year. That's because the Psi Psi Psi Sorority is made up of vampires. They think Lana is "special" enough to join, so they initiate her in the old fashioned Buffy way - they drink her blood and then she drinks some of theirs. This actually isn't surprising since the head of the sorority is none other than Buffy - Buffy Saunders that is. The character is played by Brooke Nevin, but her appearance and attitude in this episode bears a strong resemblance to Mercedes McNab's character "Harmony" in both Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. There are some fun scenes - in one, Chloe tried to stop Lana with a cross only to be told "That only works in the movies." In another, Professor Milton Fine (played by Marsters) tells Clark "There's no such thing as vampires." In and of itself it's not funny but said by "Spike" it's the sort of in joke that this sort of episode thrives on as is the line delivered at the end of the episode by Daily Planet Editor in Chief Pauline Kahn (played by Carrie Fisher and a tribute to former DC Comics Publisher Jeanette Kahn) about "Slaying Buffy the Vampire." Even the way in which Lana is cured - being "staked" through the heart but with a hypodermic full of antidote rather than a piece of wood - refers to the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series. In the final scenes Chloe mentions that the events of the story were so strange that her room mate moved out and she was able to move under the same roof with her best friend - Lana. In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Buffy's roommate moved out and she was able to live under the same roof with her best friend, Willow.

There are other interesting references as well. Going to the sorority costume party, Clark tells Chloe that he "hates costumes." Clark is dressed as Zorro, which might be seen as a reference to the new Columbia Pictures movie The Legend of Zorro but actually has a much deeper reference to Batman. Bob Kane once state that his creation of Batman was at least partially influenced by watching Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920 Mark of Zorro (Robin was supposedly inspired by another Fairbanks film - Robin Hood - while The Joker was inspired by Conrad Veidt's appearance in the film The Man Who Laughs). Moreover Clark makes a comment about not liking masks because they're hard to see out of - odd for someone who can see through things - while Batman is famous for not only wearing a cape but also a mask.

This was scarcely the best episode of Smallville this year let alone of all time, but I don't think it was nearly as bad as the hardcore fans fo the show seem to think it was (of course the hardcore fans all seem to hate most episodes of the show). Moreover I think it's exactly the sort of show that a series like Smallville should do if they're going to do a Hallowe'en episode. They can't do straight horror or suspense and if the fans were outraged with this I can only imagine how they'd feel about an episode which dealt with all the characters hanging out at a costume party. So what's left for them is satire and why not do a satire which goes after well known series which approach the form with tongue at least partially in cheek, like Buffy and Charmed? As for the performances, most of the actors seemed to be having fun with it and it gave Kristin Kreuk another chance to play "Evil Lana", a character who is more wanton and assertive and generally wickedly fun than the normal version of Lana. Wisely they restricted James Marsters primarily to the B storyline which focused on the current season long arc and only linking it to the main plotline as needed. Making him a major player in the main story could have destroyed the character's credibility by reminding us more of the actor's previous part and leaving us with that memory. It wasn't a truly great episode but I at least had fun with it.

TV On DVD - October 25, 2005 - Late Again

Vote in the Poll!!! Please?!

Another late list. I had a few things on my plate and I managed to injure my knee on Sunday which has been causing me a lot of pain and made it hard to sit down for extended periods of time. In addition it's a long list , and a lot of it is stuff that I've had to look up since it's for shows I don't watch or haven't watched. There are a handful of gems and at least one warning.

3rd Rock from the Sun - Season 2
- I'm not a big 3rd Rock From The Sun fan. In fact by the second season I wasn't watching it at all - probably as part of my withdrawal from sitcoms. I think what turned me off of it was probably what other people found so appealing - John Lithgow's perpetual pomposity, and French Stewart on general principle. The idea of aliens living as humans and discovering what it means is similar to Mork And Mindy which I mostly liked, even though I think this series did it much better because it could explore a wider range of experiences. Still I just never got into it.

Alias: Season 4
- Another current show I don't watch, mostly because it coincided with stuff I did like and because the premise - a college girl spy who turns out to be working for the wrong people - just seemed too out there for me. Still you can't argue with success and the series has survived despite - or perhaps because of - the far out nature of the plots.

The Ambassador
- I've never heard of this one, but IMDB tells me it's a 12 part series about the new British ambassador to Ireland and the obstacles she faces in trying to make the Anglo-Irish relationship less adversarial. The big attraction here isn't the show so much as the star, the always good Pauline Collins.

American Gothic - The Complete Series
- This show is something of a cult classic, just perfect for Hallowe'en. I never joined the cult but that has a lot more to do with the fact that I'm not really a horror movie fan than it does with the show itself. Certainly the show has the appropriate pedigree with both Sam Raimi and his partner Rob Tapert - the creators of The Evil Dead - as Executive producers, as well as series creator Shaun Cassidy. Cassidy has stated that this show and his current hit series Invasion are really about families, which causes us to wonder what things were really like at the home of Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones.

Bewitched: The Complete Second Season [Color]
Bewitched: The Complete Second Season (B&W)

- I don't suppose I need to tell you to buy the Black & White edition do I? Colorization is the bane of human existence. Season two was mainly focussed on Samantha's pregnancy (Elizabeth Montgomery was herself pregnant with her second child) and the complications that arise with a pregnant witch. There's some very funny stuff here. Bernard Fox appears in one episode but not as Dr. Bombay, and the season marks the first appearances of Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur and "Pandora Spocks" as Sam's identical cousin Serena. (Ivan has pointed out that he preferred I Dream of Jeannie. Well different strokes for different folks. I've always preferred Bewitched because Liz Montgomery was the better actress and it was always fun seeing Sam's relatives. Only in later days have I realized a reason that my prepubescent self wouldn't have understood - I wanted to sleep with Samantha a lot more than I wanted to sleep with Jeannie. Actually I'd rather sleep with Serena - in latter days she seems like she'd be more...inventive and fun.)

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Three
- Strictly speaking not a TV show, although the two previous volumes of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection have included material made for TV, mostly interval scenes from the old Bugs Bunny Show. The big thing though is that as much as possible these cartoons are as they were when they were released in the theaters (in Volume Two there were a number of older cartoons without their original credit sequences - presumably lost after the pre-1947 cartoon library was sold), which as we'll see isn't always the case. It has to do with which part of Warner Brothers Home Video is releasing it. What is absolutely clear is that this set is a must have for anyone with even a passing interest in animation.

Danger Mouse: The Complete Seasons 3 & 4
- Can't comment since I've never actually seen this British animated series.

Degrassi Junior High: The Complete Collection
- All three seasons collected in one box. If you don't have any of the previous releases this might be a way to go, otherwise you're probably safe to pass on it.

Doris Day Show: Season 2
- The first season of the show hadn't exactly set the world on fire - it was #30 for the year - so the producers decided to revive the premise. Doris went to work as a secretary at a magazine in San Francisco while still commuting back to her father's ranch. This meant that she was not only interacting with her father (Denver Pyle) and kids but also a new cast in the city - Maclean Stevenson and Rose Marie. This seemed to perk up the ratings, bringing the show up to 10th for the year. Still there's nothing that really stands out about the show in any of its seasons beyond the fact that Doris Day is very nice looking 40ish woman.

Hamish MacBeth: The Complete First Season
- I've tried to watch this series on occasion but I've never really stuck with it. Too bad since it sounds like the sort of show I'd like. Set in an isolated Scottish village it is the story of the local constable, played by Robert Carlyle, and is full of eccentric characters giving full vent to their eccentricities. One day maybe I'll make the effort.

Hart to Hart: The Complete First Season
- Hart To Hart can best be described as an attempt to take Nick and Nora Charles and update them for the 1970s - which is to say with all the love but none of the booze. Sometimes it seemed like only half the wit too but that's another issue. The two principal stars, Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers were incredibly attractive and had a considerable amount of chemistry between them. The show also had a comic relief element in the form or Lionel Stander as Max. The show was proof positive that you don't need unresolved sexual tension for this sort of show - the Harts were resolving their tension at every possible moment. Not as good as Remington Steele would be, but still enjoyable.

In Living Color: Season 4
- The fourth season of the Wayans family sketch comedy show. In fact this is the last season in which any of the Wayans family participated in the show after Keenan Ivory Wayans left the series in a dispute with Fox over censorship. It was on and gone before I was ever able to see the Fox Network.

Invasion: Earth
- A BBC mini-series produced in cooperation with the American Sci-Fi Channel, this was the forerunner of the current spate of alien invasion series. A mysterious group of aliens is attempting to take over the Earth and use it as a breeding ground. This series also aired on Space: The Imagination Station here in Canada and while I saw parts of a number of episodes and even tried to watch more than once it was just too convoluted and confusing for me to follow.

The Kids in the Hall: The Complete Season 3
- Kids In The Hall is yet another example of the sketch comedy tradition in Canada that goes back to at least Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster. The name comes from Jack Benny's mythical replacement writers, the kids in the hall who were waiting for one of his current writers to be fired. The show was an acquired taste which I never managed to acquire. But Dave Foley certainly looked good in a dress. Actually, so did most of the cast.

The L Word: Season Two
- There are shows that I think I should see, but can never make time for so I usually only see snippets of them and as a result wonder what all the fuss is about. The L Word is one of those. I mean I know that the show, which is shot in Vancouver, is about the lives of a number of lesbians who live in West Hollywood and their various relationships, personalities and attitudes. The trouble is that it's hard to become involved in in a series like this which emphasises relationships if you haven't been able to see it from the beginning so eventually you end up saying forget about it.

Little House on the Prairie: Season 9
- The final season of this classic family series rested almost entirely on Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler. In fact it even had a revived name: Little House on the Prairie: A New Beginning. Charles and Caroline Ingalls have been written out of the series as major characters although Michael Landon made a couple of appearances, and even Allison Arngrim - the notorious Nellie Olsen - makes an appearance. It wasn't enough to save the show although there were three TV movies made later, including the last one in which all of the sets were blown up.

MADtv: The Best of Seasons 8-10
- I have to say that I've only ever really seen the first season of MADTV and while there were some good cast members in that season, notably Nicole Sullivan (who I remember fondly as the Vancome Lady) and Phil LaMarr, if you had bet me it was going to last ten seasons I would have been happy to put up most of my savings. Amazingly it has not only lasted but prospered. Indeed some people are willing to argue that it's been better than Saturday Night Live for much of its run. It's hard to know if this is based on how good MADTV is or how bad SNL has become.

Beverly Hillbillies/Petticoat Junction: Ultimate Christmas Collection
- This is scarcely the "Ultimate" Christmas Collection of the Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction. It's a single DVD with three episodes, two of them from The Beverly Hillbillies and there isn't much in the way of extras. Disappointing is putting it mildly.

The Munsters: The Complete Second Season
- It's hard to remember that both The Munsters and The Addams Family only lasted two seasons each. The shows are both icons of their time. I've seen The Munsters far more and I'm far more familiar with the cast. Indeed they always seemed to function more as a complete ensemble than the cast of The Addams Family. The set included four documentaries, three of which focus on the major performers; Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, and Yvonne DeCarlo. Both series were great and I'd say were cut down way before their time, but The Munsters were always closer to my heart.

Planet's Funniest Animals, Vol. 1
- Think America's Funniest Home Videos - complete with a Tom Bergeron type host spouting corny gags - but with clips of animals instead of people. If this is the sort of thing you like or you like animals this is for you, otherwise stay away.

Point Pleasant: The Complete Series
- I sometimes get the feeling that the Fox network tests TV shows like people test spaghetti, throw something against a wall and see if it sticks, except in the case of TV shows the wall is the audience. If the show is immediately popular it stays, if not it goes. This one didn't, probably predictably since one of the creators - Marti Noxon - worked on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and we all know how Fox treats shows created by people who worked on Buffy, including Joss Whedon himself. Another one I missed because I was too wedded to another series on the same night. The DVD set had all 13 episodes which were shot, although only eight aired.

Puppets Who Kill: The Complete Second Season
- I've seen bits and pieces of this series, which is made in Canada and stars Dan Redican from the old comedy troupe "The Frantics". Most of the stars are puppets, who are actually beings with their own personalities - usually at odds with their supposed personalities on TV and the movies - which have gotten them in trouble with the law. They live in a halfway house as a last ditch attempt at rehabilitation. From what little I've seen, it isn't working but like Drawn Together it's the divergence in personalities from what we see to what's real which makes the show funny.

Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Second Season
- More scary stuff for Hallowe'en courtesy of the animatronic Cryptkeeper. Horror in the EC manner, but with a requisite dose of profanity and nudity thanks to having been on HBO.

Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collection, Volume 2
- This is what I was referring to in the comments on the Looney Tunes collection. In an article in Jaime Weinman's blog Something Old, Nothing New Jerry Beck explains that all of the Warner Brothers Animation releases except the Looney Tunes Golden Collection material falls under Warner Home Video's "family entertainment" division rather than the "library product" area where the Looney Tunes fall. I guess the big difference is that for the Tom and Jerry releases, Beck - who is a well known animation expert - can advise but didn't get to consent about the material on the final release. In this set there are three cartoons where the voice of the "Mammy Two-Shoes" character (the black maid who is usually only seen from the knees down) is not the original but a version used for British audiences. This is a step up from the first set in this series, where the character was almost completely cut out, but not the way the cartoons were originally presented, which for the most part is what you have in the Looney Tunes set. Apparently there's a fight going on for a Tex Avery set (probably the old MGM material) to be released by the "library product" team. One can only hope.

Tripping the Rift: Season One
- In their assessment of the worst TV shows for family viewing, the Parents Television Council attacked several of the animated series on Fox, making the incorrect assumption that anything animated is "for kids" (the animators at Warners in the 1940s said that they didn't make cartoons for kids or adults, they made them for themselves). It's clear that if the PTC were willing to attack American Dad and Family Guy as being "smutty cartoons" they never say Tripping The Rift on the American Sci-Fi Channel. The cartoon is produced in Canada by Cine Group and Film Roman using CGI techniques, and features the voice of Stephen Root as Chode, the captain of the smuggling ship Jupiter 42 and - in the first season - Gina Gershon as his Science Officer android 6 of 1. 6 of 1was designed to have a lot of sex, and Chode is perpetually horny (and stupid). The PTC would have a collective if they saw this - let's send them a copy. Muahahaha

Monday, October 24, 2005

Another Quiz - Battlestar Galactica

You scored as Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo). You have spent your life trying to life up to and impress your Dad, shame he never seemed to notice. You are a stickler for the rules. But in matters of loyalty and honour you know when they have to be broken.

Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo)


Tom Zarek


Commander William Adama


President Laura Roslin


Dr Gaius Baltar


Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)


Number 6


CPO Galen Tyrol


Col. Saul Tigh


Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer)


What New Battlestar Galactica character are you?
created with

Poker On TV

As you may have noticed, I signed up for the Pokerstars Blogger tournament. Suffice it to say I did not perform as well as I had hoped. I finished about 1290th out of some 1473 players. As my old grade nine coach would have said "That's not performance." I had fun but it ended way to soon leaving me feeling as though I had played beyond my depth. Some careful analysis has led me to the conclusion that I was just unlucky in the hands I chose to make a stand on.

The fact that I was playing in such a tournament is testimony to the power of Television and the Internet.The influence of the Internet is fairly obvious. It allowed players to play the game, and new players to learn the game without having to go to a casino, a card room or to find or set up a game. More to the point millions of people who were casual players were suddenly able to pit their skills not just against their friends but against people from all over the world. The influence of Television is also obvious, although for less than obvious reasons. Television exposed people to the game, specifically No-Limit Texas Hold'em, and made it look easy. Perhaps the single most important event in the current Poker boom occurred not when a young accountant from Tennessee named Chris Moneymaker won $3.5 million at the World Series of Poker from a $40 Internet satellite tournament but when ESPN broadcast their coverage of the World Series of Poker. The World Poker Tour, broadcast in the United States on the Travel Channel had laid the groundwork, making poker players "famous" (or at least as famous as a cable channel can make anybody) but it was seeing Moneymaker win and in so doing proving that the old adage that the NFL sought so hard to sell - namely that on any given day anyone can win - really applied to Poker. Between 2003 when Moneymaker won and 2005 when an Australian mortgage broker named Joseph Hachem won $7.5 million, the field when from 839 players to 5,619, each paying $10,000 to play (or more often winning a tournament that provided the entry fee).

The bigger question is what makes Poker "good" TV. It didn't used to be. As late as 2000, when Chris "Jesus" Ferguson won the World Series main event, ESPN didn't even cover poker, the finals were shown on the Discovery Channel. The major change in the game for Television has been the adoption of cameras to show the player's hole cards. There are two varieties. The first, used by the British for their series Late Night Poker was a system of under the table cameras, shooting up through glass or plexiglass panels where the players have to put their cards. The system which is more commonly used in North America uses a more conventional table equipped with "lipstick" cameras placed along the edge of the table. This allows players to look at their hands as covertly as they wish while still showing their cards to the viewers. Being able to see what players have has increased the drama of the game because viewers can see when people are bluffing and when they've got the best hands.

Of course if all the game needed to generate interest was to show the players' cards, I wouldn't be writing this. Poker also needs commentators and colour commentators not just to sell the action but to explain strategy. I have my own favourites both as individuals and as broadcasting teams (my favourite broadcasting team may come as a surprise). What I look for in commentators and a commentary team is some humour but also a solid grounding in poker and the ability to explain to me why a move is good or not. A lot of this falls on the colour commentator. Probably the best colour commentator I've ever heard was professional Poker player Howard "The Professor" Lederer who announced on Fox Sports' Showdown at the Sands Tournament in 2003 however this was a one time effort and Lederer rarely does commentary. Another excellent commentator was Gabe Kaplan who for many years did commentary and interviews for the World Series of Poker telecasts. He had was not only experienced as a comedian and actor, but is also an extremely good poker player in his own right. His most recent job as a colour commentator was on NBC's coverage of the National Heads Up Championship.

Here are the commentary teams for the major TV Poker shows, and my opinion of them:

World Series of Poker and most ESPN tournaments hosted by Lon McEachern and Norman Chad - Not my favourite commentary team and I put a lot of the blame on Chad in the colour commentary seat. The problem is that he's not giving me a lot of information - at least not about the Poker. I'm finding out a lot about his ex-wives and a lot about what he finds funny (which is probably why he has several ex-wives) but not a lot of insight about why players are making the moves they do. McEachern is better as an announcer but when working with Chad (who is a columnist for the Washington Post and Sport Illustrated) he spends a lot of time as a straight man.

The World Poker Tour hosted by Vince Van Patten and Mike Sexton - I like this team better although not by much. The problem here is Van Patten. While Sexton is a good player and can talk with some knowledge about the game, Van Patten is frequently annoying and given to saying the obvious. Like Chad he has numerous one liners and frequently gives hands new names to suit his fancy. He's not a very good player either.

The Ultimate Poker Challenge hosted by Chad Brown - Called "America's Most Watched Poker Show" this syndicated series based out of the Palms Casino in Las Vegas takes a different approach to commentary. The show is hosted by professional poker player (and former actor) Chad Brown with a different colour commentator every week. In the first season commentators included Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman and in the finals both Todd Brunson and his father Doyle. The resulting commentary is full of insight but on the whole the show comes across as having been done on the cheap,and very serious.

Celebrity Poker Showdown hosted by Dave Foley and Phil Gordon - yeah, I admit it, they're my favourite team mainly because Gordon and Foley work well together. They seem to have a bit of chemistry between them and the humour usually works. Foley knows enough about poker to know that he doesn't know a lot which means that he asks Gordon questions which allows the professional player to explain situations in terms a layman can understand. It doesn't hurt that they aren't talking about pros which means that Gordon can take the opportunity to be critical when someone makes a bad move (he once said a play that NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon made in a tournament was "stupid") and explain not only why the move was poor but also what a pro would do.

There are a number of other Poker shows out there, including the Canadian Poker Tour, but these are the main ones. All have their strengths - even Celebrity Poker Showdown, and all are part of the Poker boom. How long the boom will last is a major question , but there's no argument that right now there's a wealth of opportunity to watch and learn on TV, even if some of the lessons are the wrong ones.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

New Poll - Which Of These New Shows Do You Find Scariest?

With Hallowe'en coming up I thought I'd spend some time with scary shows. First up, which of the new wave of scary shows do you find scariest.

As usual, feel free to comment.

Poll Results - The Video iPod

Last week I asked the question: Would you pay $1.99 for a network TV show using the Video iPod? The results are kind of interesting. There were seven responses. At the bottom were Yes, No, but I would pay for original content, and Bittorrent roolz, iTunes droolz with no votes. In third place we had No, I have a DVD recorder/PVR/VCR with one vote. And the winners - since we had a tie - were Maybe, depends on a lot of things and No, the screen's too small with three votes each.

The one respondent who wouldn't buy a Video iPod because (s)he had an existing recording device represents the comfortable status quo - the person who has a device which records programming as it's broadcast, and is happy with that. The question, in the United States at least, is whether the industry will be able to push through broadcast flagging which will make it possible for the content producers and distributors to prevent this sort of free reproduction, nominally to prevent piracy. The original FCC ruling was overturned in May of this year, but there are rumours that the industry will try to find another way to get it through. In such circumstances buying content - suitably protected against piracy - may be the way the industry is driving people. In a similar vein, I had expected to see at least one person voting for Bittorrent simply because using it is "free" and let's admit that Bloggers can be a pretty tech savvy crowd (I've considered Bittorrent for shows that I've missed or can't see otherwise). The downside of Bittorrent is that it can sometimes be hard to find content and of course the fear of a knock on the door from the MPAA.

Let's look at the two winning responses next. I think that for network TV shows the screen on the Video iPod is too small, and unlike its audio relatives or the Photo iPod (at least as I understand that device) you can't render the video content on this device into a more viewer friendly format - speakers for the regular iPods versus a video screen of some sort for the Video iPod. What I hoped to find from this response is whether people were interested in having the ability to legally pay a fee to get programming that they can view when they want and the problem here was not with the idea but with the specific device they were being asked to use.

As far as Maybe, depends on a lot of things, I only got one comment - from Harry Heuser who publishes the blog broadcastellan. He wrote: "Such technology is a good thing if you don't have access to certain television channels (while living abroad, for instance). On the other hand, I regret the further fragmentation of the audience. I enjoy tuning in for a shared experience, knowing that millions are watching at the same time." He has a definite point about audience fragmentation. It's something that I've noted for many years about movies. It used to be that people would go to a big theater with 800 or more seats, frequently filled. Sure there were fewer theaters which meant fewer options but it was a collective experience. Compare that to the theater where I saw Serenity a couple of weeks ago. There were 134 seats (I counted them which shows just how few there were not to mention the boredom of the wait for the show to start) of which about a quarter were full. Thirty or so people does not a collective experience make. It was the same with television. In the days of three networks in the U.S. and little or no cable penetration people talked about the TV shows they watched and people usually saw the same shows. There aren't many collective experiences left in the era of the 500 channel universe. Harry is also right however when he mentions that this can be a good thing if you don't have access to certain television channels. Of course that's how cable - and the original fragmentation of the audience - got started. Of course I don't know if iTunes will sell a show like Desperate Housewives (just as an example) to customers outside of North America. For a long time they didn't sell music to Canadians.

This leads us other response. I expected votes for original content since the poll question specifically mentioned "network TV shows". Original content may indeed be the thing that the Video iPod is best suited for. I know of a couple of producers of content in the technology field (notably Kevin Rose) who are producing content that is at least compatible with the iPod. I also know that after Firefly was cancelled by Fox, there were viewers who were willing to pay to keep the show in production. It may be that downloadable content is a way to make make things like that a reality.


Friday, October 21, 2005

TV On DVD - October 18, 2005 - Or At Least Thereabouts

Apologies all. This is very late thanks in no small part to a very stubborn and exasperating Internet connection that has been driving me up the wall. Lots of kidvid, but there are a some real nostalgic gems from the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

The Adventures of Superman: The Complete First Season
- Superman is an American icon and when you think of the TV version it's the George Reeves version from the 1950s that you think of rather than Dean Cain's version in Lois And Clark or Tom Welling's Clark Kent in Smalville. The show was done on a shoestring budget, and a pretty frayed shoestring at that, and used a lot of stock footage not to mention scripts that were actually worse than those used in the 1950s comic books. The show is worth watching for the cast which included Jack larcenies as Jimmy oleaginous, and both Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill as Lois Lane. However the key is Reeves as Superman. You might be able to see that Clark Kent is Superman, but Reeves looks equally good in the form fitting Superman uniform or Clark Kent's suit and snapped brim fedora. And as dramatic as the opening was on radio it was even better with a visual component.

Atomic Betty, Vol. 1: Betty, Set, Go!
Atomic Betty, Vol. 2: Betty to the Rescue

- I don't know much about the Atomic Betty animated series, so I've had to do a little research. It's produced in Canada for the Cartoon Network and Teletoon, and is about a girl from Moose Jaw Heights Saskatchewan(!) who is an ordinary Earth kid who just happens to be famous throughout the rest of the galaxy as a member of the Galactic Guardians. According to Wikipedia the series has unimaginative plotting but "an unusually strong sense of continuity for a show of its genre, and it is generally considered to have excellent character design." Done with Macromedia Flash animation.

Batman vs. Dracula
- This is part of a larger release of Batman material including the 1943 serial time to coincide with the release of the recent Batman Begins movie on DVD. I have seen parts of a few episodes of the current The Batman series and while it lacks some of the retro feel of the previous Batman cartoons, which worked to create an artistic impression not unlike the Fleischer Superman cartoons, this series does work. The Batman Vs. Dracula is actually a 90 minute feature produced for the direct to DVD market and not only features Dracula but many of The Batman's most famous enemies.

Braceface: Turning 13
- Another animated Canadian series that I know little about, this one produced by and starring Alicia Silverstone as the voice of Sharon Spitz. Apparently it ran for only two seasons to uniformly low ratings.

C.S.I. New York: The Complete First Season
- While I don't like CSI: New York as well as I like the original CSI, it is far closer to the original in style than CSI: Miami and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Gary Sinese doesn't dominate the show in the same way that David Caruso does the Miami version. There is always the sense in this version of the franchise that while Sinese's character of Mack Taylor is in control, everything doesn't revolve around him. The first season of the series was criticized for being dark, and as such possibly hurting New York's image. Perhaps, but it is in keeping with creating a mood that fits the particular setting.

Dark Shadows: The Revival, The Complete Series
- Noting the continued popularity of the original Dark Shadows series, in 1991creator Dan Curtis revived the show as a prime time series. Despite a strong cast which included Oscar nominee Jean Simmons and Chariots of Fire star Ben Cross, the series lasted a mere 12 episodes. While it has its adherents it is not nearly as popular as the original series.

Garfield Prime Time Gift Set
- These were the prime time specials which led up to the creation of the Garfield and Friends TV series, brought together on a three DVD set. It's hard to explain just how anticipated these specials were at the time, given the slide in popularity that the comic strip has undergone in recent years.

Ghost Hunters: Complete First Season
Ghost Hunters, Vol. 1: Very Best Of - Most Bizarre

- I haven't seen this series which airs on the Sci-Fi channel in the United States. It has been dubbed a "docu-soap" whatever the heck that means. Apparently it features two real-life plumbers who are also investigate the paranormal, which is to say ghosts. Scary stuff for Hallowe'en.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Season One, Volume 1 (Collector's Edition)
- He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe existed for one thing and one thing only - to sell toys - and no amount of tacking on those little morals or public service type messages to the end of each episode could change that. Worse still it came from Filmation, a studio where the motto always seemed to be "if you can't do it fast and cheap don't do it at all." The worst of Hanna-Barbera was better than the best of Filmation.

The Hilarious House of Frightenstein
- The labelling on this set is misleading. Empire Pictures, which is releasing this boxed set is playing up the presence of Vincent Price, however Price was just a small part of the show, serving as its narrator. The real star of the show was the legendary Canadian comedian Billy Van, who got his start in show-business as a Frank Sinatra imitator. Van played most of the characters on the show which was an hour long and produced at CHCH-TV in Hamilton Ontario - which probably explains why I never saw it, since CHCH was a major independent station and guarded the rights to their own programming dilligently.

Mister Peepers
- Mister Peepers was one of the legendary TV series of the early days of television, and has been mostly unseen since it was first aired. Perhaps that explains why it is so poorly rated on The problem was that two-fold. The series was originally only intended as a summer replacement in 1952, but a series called Doc Corkle performed so poorly that Mister Peepers was revived. The series was done live and was distributed to the west coast using kinescopes - basically a 16 mm film camera filming the studio monitor. The kinescopes were never meant to last and mostly they didn't. Also the show was shot in New York so they weren't able to adapt as readily to the three camera technology pioneered by Desi Arnaz around the time that Mister Peepers debuted. Still the cast was outstanding, and included not just Wally Cox, who became a star as a result of this show, but also Tony Randall, Jack Warden, Arthur O'Connell and Marion Lorne.

Pet Alien: Atomic Tommy
Pet Alien: Aliens Unleashed

- Yet another Cartoon Network series that I've never seen and have no idea what it's about.

Saved by the Bell - The New Class: Season 5
- This series, which Ian J. Ball tells me was vastly inferior to the original, just kept going and going and going, changing kids as needed.

Strawberry Shortcake: Dress Up Days
- Like He-Man the primary objective of this series was to sell toys. Unlike He-Man the vapid stories are at least supported by tolerable animation.

Legend of Zelda: The Complete Animated Series
- These cartoons are from the short-lived live action Super Mario Brothers Super Show series. The cartoons deal with Princess Zelda and her suitor and frequent rescuer Link and tend to be a bit dumb. The DVD does include some scenes from the Super Mario Brothers show which starred former wrestler Captain Lou Albano and veteran character actor Danny Wells which look funny in a strange sort of way.

Twilight Zone: Season 4
- More episodes from one of the greatest science fiction television anthologies of all time - the original series not the 1985 or 2002 revivals. Extras include old interviews with a number of actors who worked during the season including Burgess Meredith and Ross Martin, as well at least one commentary from William Windom. As always with this series, the casts for the individual stories are outstanding, and include Meredith, Martin, and Windom as well as Jack Klugman, Paul Mazursky, Robert Duvall, Dana Andrews and Martin Balsam.

- I've never seen this HBO series created by George Clooney and Steven Soderburgh. This is described as an "improvisational dramedy" which implies that the actors involved are given situations to deal with within the context of the show but aren't working with a script. I've never seen it but it sounds as if it could either be very good or very bad. At the very least it seems to be an interesting experiment.