Friday, March 31, 2006

A Pair of Genii

I'm trying something here which I'm hoping that Blogger supports, embedded video. It should since I 've seen Sam using these occassionally.

This is a classic bit from The Tonight Show which features Johnny Carson and Jack Webb, two men who I think it is fair to say revolutionised television. The date is 1968, which when the revived version of Dragnet debuted. I saw it on Mark Evanier's site and just knew it had be seen here. You can see both Jack and Johnny come close to the edge of breaking up and if these two pros, who've obviously rehearsed this thing at least once are pushing the edgeyou can imagine what it was like for people seeing it the first time. If you're seeing it for the first time you might want to find a chair that's been Scotch-Guarded.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bizarro Bewitched - A Response To Ivan

Okay, so my blogging buddy Ivan G. Shreve had the temerity, the unmitigated gall to challenge Holy Writ, which is to say my opinion on the relative merits of the supporting casts of I Dream Of Jeannie and Bewitched. Here's what Ivan wrote:

There isn't a member of the supporting cast on I Dream Of Jeannie who could compare with Agnes Moorhorhead, Marion Lorne, or David White, not to mention the recurring cast that included the likes of Maurice Evans, Paul Lynde, and Bernard Fox. What was Hayden Rourke? Chopped liver?

I'll be magnanimous about this. I will bow to no man in my admiration of Hayden Rorke (note the spelling Ivan - I'm just saying; I mean really Agnes Moorhorhead?) as a comedic talent, or indeed as a TV presence. He was seen in a huge number of TV shows, particularly in the 1950s, and his really active career continued well into the 1970s. Moreover, despite being best known for playing Dr. Alfred E. Bellows (and I can't help but wonder - in the light of Mad Magazine's perpetual coverboy - why they decided on the initial "E") the range of guest roles he was cast in after Jeannie wrapped up showed an impressive versatility not to mention a willingness on the part of casting directors not to typecast him as a comedic actor. But then he'd never been "just" a comedic actor before I Dream Of Jeannie before, so why should he have been after. Still I don't think you can compare Rorke as an actor to Agnes Moorhead (of course) or Marion Lorne, who was an accomplished stage actress in America and England before making her film debut in Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train. I might give you David White, although his IMDB filmography may be even more impressive than Rorke's and followed a similar path in that he tended not to be typecast. And while I'll give you Larry Hagman over Dick Sargent, Dick York kicks both their asses.

I suppose the thing that really differentiates the two shows in terms of supporting cast isn't the actors it's how they're used. The supporting cast of I Dream Of Jeannie is remarkably thin compared with Bewitched. There's Bill Dailey as Roger Healy, Rorke as Dr. Bellows and Emmeline Henry as Dr. Bellows' wife Amanda (and yes I know there's someone I'm missing - it's deliberate). It's very conventional - best friend, antagonist who sees things he can't believe and tries to prove it to the world, and his clueless wife. Think of Dr. Bellows as a male (and more active) Gladys Kravitz with Amanda as Abner (she meddles more but is more involved with meddling with Tony and Jeannie's real lives). Roger is very much a copy of Larry Tate - you know that if Larry knew about Samantha he'd be pestering her for a solid gold yacht with a platinum dinghy - but unlike Larry he doesn't have power over Tony. There's no I Dream Of Jeannie equivalent to Endora or Aunt Clara and the closest they come to a version of Uncle Arthur is Jeannie's dog, the uniform destroying Djinn-Djinn.

It's the creation of characters that marks Bewitched as a superior piece of work. Our friend Jaime J. Weinman claims the superiority of the first season of Bewitched over subsequent years in an article he wrote about Danny Arnold who was writer and producer of the first season of the show, and he's right. The first season made the gimmick incidental, which subsequent seasons didn't do, to the characters' lives. It could just as easily have been a show about a rich girl who married a working class boy, which is a model that even Samantha's father Maurice would fall into comfortably. Bewitched had characters we could identify with. Larry Tate is a mix of boss, best friend and the 1960s idea of the typical ad executive. People loved Aunt Clara - the only member of Sam's family Darrin could stand - because she reminded us of an elderly somewhat dotty and eccentric relative we all have. Even characters created after that first year have a quality we can identify with. Shake most family trees and an Uncle Arthur will fall out. The same with Serena - every family has a "wild child" like her except that in Samantha's family the wild child is closer to the norm (I recall reading somewhere that Serena as a character was a lot closer to Elizabeth
Montgomery than Samantha). In short Bewitched - and specifically that first year - gave us believable characters that we could identify with. I Dream of Jeannie never had that; it was a flawed copy - in comic book terms Bizarro Bewitched - that copied the gimmick but missed the true essence of the original.

But Ivan, old buddy, you might have saved yourself - could have kept me from writing this - if you'd only mentioned one other I Dream of Jeannie actor, possibly the best of the entire cast. Ivan, how could you of all people forget to mention General Peterson himself, Barton MacLane!

Monday, March 27, 2006

I Am Not Property - Even Of My Blog

Saw this on Orac's blog so I thought it would be worth taking. I'm not as bad as I could be; in fact I'm downright pedestrian.

18.75 %

My weblog owns 18.75 % of me.
Does your weblog own you?

Short Takes - March 27, 2006

Okay, I've been fiddling around with this idea for a while now but haven't actually been motivated to do anything about it. I'm still not but I'm forced to admit that if I waited until I was actually motivated to do this thing it'd never get done because I'm extremely hard to motivate.

Basically Short Takes is going to be a roundup of news about TV that I find interesting. Not interesting enough to write a big post about mind you but just something that I could crank out a paragraph or two on. Assuming of course that I remember to write them down or otherwise record the thing that interests me. So without further ado about nothing let's go to press with two items.

1. MTV Canada Debuts With No Music: Viewers Shocked
I can't see why. Does MTV in the States actually show music? But seriously folks, anyone who expected there to be music videos on the new MTV Canada hasn't been paying attention. The original MTV Canada and its sister digital channel MTV2 were owned by Craig Media of Calgary Alberta, but they sold out most of their broadcasting interests in 2004 to CHUM Limited of Toronto which owns MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic and three other digital specialty music stations (as well as a lot of other stuff). CHUM dumped the MTV name as soon as possible. Meanwhile CTV had a station wasting bandwidth called TalkTV which was entirely programmed with repeats of talk shows from Canada and the US after their one attempt at original programming - The Chatroom - was cancelled (I liked The Chatroom in case anyone is interested, particularly when they were talking about TV and other media). The network wasn't picked up by a lot of cable providers and was frequently put in the digital tier before the roll out of the main digital channels. CTV decided to convert TalkTV into the new MTV Canada, but the new MTV Canada is operating under the CRTC license issued to TalkTV. That license had two restrictions: "an emphasis on talk programming" and "at least 68% of total programming must be Canadian content". This would also include a restriction not just on music programming but other forms of fictional entertainment shows. That's why there's no music on MTV Canada.

2. Phil Hellmuth To Replace Phil Gordon As Host Of Celebrity Poker Showdown: Poker Fans Shocked
For me this is bigger than the MTV Canada thing. I was aware that Phil Gordon had left the show, apparently with some mutual animosity between him and NBC (which owns Bravo, the network that shows Celebrity Poker Showdown) since he wasn't invited to participate in NBC's National Heads-up Poker Championship. I'm sad to see him leave because Gordon had a tremendous amount of chemistry with the show's host Dave Foley. They worked off of each other well. A bigger surprise for fans of Poker was the choice of his replacement, Poker's answer to John McEnroe but without McEnroe's charm, Phil Hellmuth. "Hell Mouth's" volatile temper and tendency to act out when he gets beaten probably won't be an issue. He proudly owns up to being a "Poker Brat" who sometimes behaves like an infant who has had he favourite rattle taken away from him when he busts out of a tournament. The problem is going to be Hellmuth's enormous ego which I'm afraid might turn the show into the "Phil Hellmuth Program". Phil Gordon was amazingly self-effacing as well as being instructive in his commentary on the play. He was also a good straight man for Dave Foley. I can't see Hellmuth working well in any of these roles. More to the point I, and just about any serious fan of the game, can easily think of a half dozen or more professional players who would be a better fit for the job. We haven't seen his first season of the show, which will be Series 8, but I for one have low expectations.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

If I were to categorize this week's DVDs I'd have to say a rather week lot on the whole. Of course any week that features both Sally Field (twice!) and Elizabeth Montgomery can't be totally awful, and it's almost salvaged by a couple of Bruce Timm's DC comics inspired series. Almost, but not quite. As always the list comes courtesy of TVShowsOn where you'll always find the latest information on TV shows coming to DVD. Now be sure to vote in my poll.

21 Jump Street: The Complete Fifth Season
- What can I say about 21 Jump Street, bearing in mind that I never saw it? This is the fifth and final season of the Fox series, and by this time most of the original cast was gone, with the exception of Holly Robinson Peete and Steven Williams. The producers did manage to replace Peter DeLuise - who went on to a full time career as a TV director - with his brother Michael playing Peter's character's brother. Clearly however this show definitely seems to have been on its last legs. So how'd I do?

Batman Beyond: The Complete First Season
- Rather an interesting idea really. Bruce Timm, who has been responsible for most of the animated series featuring DC Comics characters since the early 1990s took the idea of Batman in the future and remade him in a way that no one - not even Frank Miller who originally tackled the idea of an aged Batman in Return Of The Dark Knight - had thought of. In this series the elderly Batman has been fighting through the years until he nearly dies in a fight. The role of the Batman falls to another - not to Dick Grayson or any other Robin or Bruce Wayne's son (which was a common theme in the comics of the 1960s) but to a stranger who discovered Batman's identity and is anointed as his successor. Not as dark as Return Of The Dark Knight of course but still a satisfying take on the character and the need for a Batman in the future.

Bewitched: The Complete Third Season
- I won't make any secret of the fact that I've always preferred Bewitched to I Dream Of Jeannie, and not just because I always found Elizabeth Montgomery sexier than Barbara Eden (sacrilege I know but still true). No the thing that made Bewitched the better show was the strength of the supporting cast and the quality of the writing. There isn't a member of the supporting cast on I Dream Of Jeannie who could compare with Agnes Moorhead, Marion Lorne, or David White, not to mention the recurring cast that included the likes of Maurice Evans, Paul Lynde, and Bernard Fox. The third season marks the return of nosy neighbour Gladys Kravitz played by Sandra Gould, replacing Alice Pearce who had died of cancer at the end of the show's first season. The only bad thing about this season is that there was no appearance by Pandora Spocks as Serena. Now she was hot!

Ed Edd N Eddy V2
- Have to admit I've never seen this show which airs on Teletoon in Canada as well as Cartoon Network in the US. Sounds like one of those shows full of quirky characters but neither totally directed at children or directed exclusively at adults.

The Flying Nun: The Complete First Season
- I've known a few nuns over the years and I can tell you that for the most part the notion of the beautiful and even sexy nun is a myth. Sally Field, playing Sister Bertrille wasn't sexy, but she was cute. Unbelievably cute. Even cuter than she was in Smoky & The Bandit and that was damned cute. I know that I'm going on a bit about Sally Field being cute, but let's face it, she's the only reason this show is out on DVD, and the fact that she was cute is probably the only reason this show was made, and as popular as it was. Of all the gimmicks that came out of 1960s sitcoms, I think you'll have to admit that the idea of a girl so light that the aerodynamics of her wimple (nun's headgear) allowed her to fly with the birds has to be one of the dumbest. Inconsequential fluff but fun fluff.

Gidget: The Complete Series
- The first thing that Sally Field did as an actress. Gidget can probably be described as an iconic figure. The character appeared in five or six movies and TV movies over the years as well as this TV series which only lasted one year. I've never seen it, but of course Sally Field was cute, which may have contributed to the cult following that this show developed.

Huff: The Complete First Season
- When Frank Azaria earned his Emmy nomination for Best Actor in a Drama for this series the most common reaction was "What on Earth is Huff?" Since I'm pretty sure that this hasn't appeared on Canadian TV I can't answer that question. It does seem to have a fairly interesting cast and the focus on a psychiatrist's middle aged crisis is at the very least a change from cops and lawyers, so obviously it would never last on network TV.

Justice League of America: Season 1
- The WB has collected Justice League (not to be confused with Justice League Unlimited which it morphed into) before in a number of ways, mostly by bringing together episodes that were part of a story arc, but this set brings together the entire first season of the series. The series has a smaller more manageable cast than the later Justice League Unlimited, but also meant that most of the episodes featured all of the characters. Some of my favourite episodes of the series are in this set, including Legends which was essentially an Earth-2 story, and The Savage Time which has the League transported back to World War II to battle Vandal Savage alongside Sergeant Rock and Blackhawk (oh yes and Steve Trevor).

Mind of Mencia with Carlos Mencia: The Complete First Season - Uncensored
- Never heard of it of him. Supposedly a version of Dave Chappelle's show featuring Mexican American comedian Calos Mencia. I've heard that it's not as funny as Chappelle's show but I can't judge of course.

Over There - Season 1
- I don't know that there's ever been a series about a war on the air while the war was going on. I missed seeing the show when it was on the History Channel up here, so I can't tell you how good it was. I say "was" because while the DVD calls it Season 1 it should probably read "Complete Series" since FX, the American cable network that was responsible for the series announced that they would not be renewing it due to low ratings. Maybe people didn't want to be reminded of what they were seeing on the news every night.

Roseanne: The Complete Third Season
- The third season of a series I never watched. And the reason I never watched is summed up in the title. I have never been able to tolerate Roseanne no matter what name she was using at the time, Barr, Arnold or whatever. Too bad because the cast, led by John Goodman, was exceptionally strong and definitely worth watching. Unfortunately the only reason for them to be together was Roseanne.

South Park: The Complete Seventh Season
- People either think this show is brilliant or crap. Put me in the latter category. It doesn't matter how good the scripts may be, the animation simply rubs me the wrong way.

Tales From the Crypt: The Complete Third Season
- More tales from our Animatronic Cryptkeeper in the style of the great EC comics of the early 1950s. The series, which was on HBO and so not nearly as censored as it would have been had it appeared on network or even Basic Cable TV, had an amazing ability to attract top name directors and actors. In the third season directors included Robert Zemeckis, Tobe Hoope, Walter Hill, Tom Mankiewicz and Michael J. Fox, while one episode from this season starred Dan Aykroyd, Lance Hendriksen, Eric Douglas and his father Kirk Douglas. Most of the episodes from this season had actors who would be quite notable for their TV work.

The Best of Unsolved Mysteries
Unsolved Mysteries: The Ultimate Collection

- I used to love Unsolved Mysteries when it was on NBC and hosted by Robert Stack. The series usually focused on real life crimes but in a manner that was different from America's Most Wanted, a show that started at about the same time. From time to time the show would depart from the format of trying to solve real crimes and find real criminals to explore unexplained phenomena and hauntings among other things. It occasionally gave the show a spooky sense. There have been a number of themed DVD boxed sets released in the past and these are collected in the Unsolved Mysteries: The Ultimate Collection. The Best Of Unsolved Mysteries is a less attractive package. Instead of bringing new episodes that really are the best segments from the show this set is a sampler of episodes that are already out on the themed sets. Given the prices for the pre-existing sets, if you haven't bought many of them already the Ultimate Collection might be worth considering. In truth I can't recommend the Best Of Unsolved Mysteries unless you're looking for a sampler or are unsure if you'd be interested in the series.

The White Shadow: The Complete Second Season
- The White Shadow was an unusual series when it debuted in 1978. It was only the second dramatic series from MTM Enterprises which had previously focused on comedies - mostly spinoffs from the highly popular Mary Tyler Moore Show. As the story about a high school basketball team in an inner city school, it quite obviously exhibited something of a social conscience dealing with drugs and racial tensions as major themes. The second season climaxed with the shooting death of the Curtis Jackson, the member of the team with the greatest potential for a career in basketball after high school. An excellent show even though it never really found the right audience in a TV world that even then was dominated by cops, doctors and lawyers.

The Young Riders: The Complete First Season
- I was quite frankly amazed when I read in the IMDB that this series ran for three full seasons. I'm amazed that it ran on a major broadcast network - ABC - because I never even heard of it. I know I never heard of it because I'd have at least watched one episode if I had. I like Westerns, and even if this show was one of those unhistorical, revisionist monstrosities that had women being treated as equals and doing exactly what men did, I think I still would have watched at least one episode, enough to remember it because it would have been so unusual, but no, nothing.

Friday, March 24, 2006

New Poll - Prematurely Cancelled TV Series

The Calgary Sun, a newspaper that I normally don't give a first thought about let alone a second, recently came out with a list of the 25 Best Series That Were Cancelled Before Their Time. It's a rather good list even if it does seem to be predicated on the assumption that the only show cancelled before its time that predates 1985 was the original Star Trek. I choose to disagree, although at this time I choose not to offer citations for pre-1980 shows that were prematurely dumped. Well okay, Gilligan's Island, dumped because William Paley didn't like the show that was supposed to come after it in the Fall lineup and did love Gunsmoke enough to replace that show and Gilligan's Island.

You can see the complete list and explanation at the Calgary Sun website, but since I want to make a poll out of this I need to make some cuts. Out are:
  • Star Trek - Because even with the cancellation it carried on like an inconvenient rash.

  • Angel - Because I can't justify saying that a series that ran five years was cancelled prematurely even if I do believe it.

  • Homicide: Life On The Streets - Because I can't justify saying that a series that ran seven years was cancelled prematurely even if I do believe it passionately.

  • Once And Again - Because I can't justify saying that a series that ran three years was cancelled prematurely.

  • Freaks & Geeks/Undeclared - Because I don't do twofers.

  • The Tick - Because I really don't see what's so great about Patrick Warburton, and besides the cartoon was better.

  • Family Guy - Because it was uncancelled.

  • Reunion - Because no one - not even the writers knew how the damned thing was going to end.

  • Boomtown - Because the producers let the weasels at the network ruin it by the second season.

  • Now And Again - Because even though it had Dennis Haysbert singing people were always confusing it with Once And Again and we can't have that.

  • Twin Peaks - Because even though the Sun writer put it at the top of his list, I always thought the show was close to unwatchable in the second season and I had the headaches to prove it.

  • Robbery Homicide Division - Because I didn't really like it, or its star.

  • The Job - Because I don't like Dennis Leary at the best of times.

  • Greg The Bunny - Because I don't get it.

  • EZ Streets, Andy Richter Controls The Universe, The Critic, and Cupid - Because I had to get this list down to seven entries and I either didn't watch or didn't care much for the snippets that I saw of these shows.
So here are you choices for the poll: Arrested Development, Firefly, Action, Crime Story, Sports Night, The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr., and Wonderfalls. Should I be surprised that five of these seven (and 12 of the original 26) were all on Fox? (For the record, of the rest five were on NBC, five on ABC, three on CBS, one on The WB, and none on UPN - how quickly people forget Nowhere Man.)

Please please please feel free to list your own choices for prematurely cancelled shows, either here in the comments section, or better yet email me.

Too Much

I think I know why The Unit doesn't work for me. It's because David Mamet doesn't know how to write for TV.

The Unit is the new CBS military drama that airs on Tuesday nights following NCIS. It stars Dennis Haysbert, Robert Patrick, Regina Taylor, Max Martini and Scott Foley among others. On the whole I can't fault the actors, and really I can't fault the stories as I'll explain in my next paragraph. The fact remains that the show is curiously flat and for that I think you have to go back to the writing - not the stories but the way they're put together. Mamet tries to cram too many storylines into any one episode.

Take the episode that aired on March 21. Sergeant Jonas Blane (Haysbert) has been sent to Indonesia to rescue a group of college aged missionaries who are attempting to convert the "heathens" (Indonesian Muslims) by building a church in their country. Needless to say most Indonesians aren't exactly happy about the missionaries trying to convert them from a faith that they've held for about 900 years and a radical few are willing to express that displeasure with violence, as in destroying the church and trying to kill the missionaries. Also in that episode Sergeant Mack Gerhardt (Martini) is injured during a training exercise when he's slightly shot in the arm by his team's new man, Bob Brown (Foley). As a result he puts brown through a hellish series of training exercises focussed on shooting to the point where Brown's hand is blistered. At home the relationship between Gerhardt and his wife Tiffy deteriorates further as one of their arguments turns slightly violent. Meanwhile The base commander, Colonel Ryan (Robert Patrick) is trying to get more money out of a female Senator (played by the criminally underused Lindsay Frost - okay I've been in lust for her since she was the co-star of Mancuso F.B.I. with Robert Loggia, but that doesn't mean that doesn't mean that she's not criminally underused). As part of his campaign for more money he takes the Senator to meet the wives of the men of the special forces unit, who are - effectively if not officially - under the leadership of Jonas's wife Molly Blane (Taylor). I think we should be able to see a problem here; too many stories not enough time.

Most TV dramas focus on one or at most two storylines in a week, with one of those storylines being most emphatically the B-plot. The reason is as simple as it is obvious - a TV drama doesn't have an hour to tell its story, it has an hour with commercials. Without commercials they have somewhere in the vicinity of 45 minutes. They don't have a lot of time to tell their stories and more importantly to build those stories from a beginning to the a climax and a denouement. More to the point, in order to make an episode of a show interesting to the viewer the story has to build in terms of dramatic tension. Most of the storylines in the Tuesday episode of The Unit had a great deal of potential to build dramatic tension. You could easily build an episode around Jonas's activities in Indonesia with only a limited B-Plot. The crisis around the training accident, both as it pertains to integrating Brown into the unit and the impact it has on the relationship between Mack and Tiffy (which itself is part of an ongoing story line in the show - Tiffy is having an affair with Colonel Ryan who is, if not friends with Mack then at least linked to him by experience), could definitely stand alone without a B-plot. Instead, what Mamet has chosen to do is to lump four storylines together and handle them in such a way that none manages to be on screen long enough at any one time to build a level of dramatic tension. Just as we are getting some sense of tension in the "Indonesia" story we cut away to the training accident, or the visiting Senator.

This might be acceptable or at least forgivable in a single episode but the whole thing seems to be a trend for Mamet in this show, at least from the two episodes I've seen. The episode on the 14th of March featured four plotlines: (1) the team somewhere in Africa to recover a component from a Chinese satellite and capturing a wanted terrorist suspect, (2) Brown being used by the Colonel to "handle" an FBI investigation into the rescue fo a highjacked aircraft in the Pilot episode (which I did not see), (3) the wives, led by Molly, getting together to "help" Brown's wife Kim (played by Audrey Marie Anderson) expedite finishing her moving and then having to deal with a neighbour whose husband was killed while in Iraq (4) Molly having to see the base psychiatrist after Jonas fired his pistol at a mirror in their house due to stress - she told the shrink that she fired the gun so her husband wouldn't be taken out of operations but she was looking for jobs to get Jonas out of the Army. This seems to be the direction that Mamet wants to take with this series. There are other things that don't really work with the show. There is something unconvincing about the female characters - Molly seems at time like the head "Stepford Wife" and with the exception of Kim they all seem to be intent on maintaining equilibrium and not rocking the boat, at least before each other. Tiffy's affair with the Colonel - the sort of thing that would get him tossed out of the Army if it were discovered, or at least would get a female officer kicked out and has - injects a soap opera quality into the affair. For me though the big thing is the dramatic tension, or rather the lack there of, that makes the show not work well with me

I'm not sure that David Mamet truly understands the restrictions and advantages of TV. His previous experience in the medium was directing one episode of The Shield. His experience is in writing and directing movies and plays. A one hour TV show is curiously both restricted and liberated by time, far more so that most "long form" productions like plays and movies. In a "long form" production a writer has more time to work with his characters and to develop multiple storylines. A play or a film might last two to three hours. At the same time, someone writing for a long form only has those characters for two or three hours after which they are gone. And while movies in particular offer the possibility of sequels the time that elapses between films doesn't really help to build either continuity or continuing storylines. By it's very nature as an episodic form TV allows a writer to tell a lot of stories one or two at a time, and allows the writer-producer to develop characters and ongoing stories over a period of time. But it only works if you can hold onto viewers and the way to do that is not to bore them which in turn means providing them with dramatic tension that is sustained through the course of an episode. In the end the problem with The Unit is that they are telling stories that are good but the stories are being told badly, and the blame for that falls on the writers and the producer. In other words on David Mamet.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Blame Canada

I can just imagine the casting conference at Mark Burnett's office when they were setting the lineup for The Apprentice.

Burnett: Well boys I love this idea of having people from different nations on the show. We hit a gold mine last time with Alla the millionaire Ukrainian stripper. The one thing I'm worried about is who we'll get to be the jerk this season. Also, we don't have a Canadian. We have a Russian, a Cuban and an Englishman but no Canadian. Get on the ball people

Flunky 1: Well the Russian guy's a bit of a jerk.

Flunky 2: And as for Canadians, well our research shows that no one can tell the difference between a Canadian and an American. A Canadian and a canoe, yes - Canadians don't tip - but a Canadian and an American no.

Burnett: Look you pinheads. First of all the Russian isn't jerky enough. We have standards to uphold and this guy isn't an Omarosa, a Stacie J., a Danny, a Markus. You know, someone we can get rid of early and people will cheer. As for having a Canadian, I'll have you know that the Canadians love this show more than Americans do. It's their third favourite reality show.

Flunky 2: What's the first? It's
Survivor, or is The Amazing Race

Burnett: You said the name of that show!!! You're fired!

Flunky 3 (very stunned and weak voice - obsequious even): Mr. Burnett sir, bringer of our fat cushy jobs that help pay for our Jags and Porsches, what if we made the Canadian the jerk?

Burnett: I like your thinking son. You're now Flunky 1. But who will we get?

Flunky 2 (formerly Flunky 1): There's this guy at the bottom of the earliest reject pile that would be just perfect. Brent something or other from Toronto although he's living in Fort Lauderdale right now.

Trump (poking his head in for a moment): Hey guys I just wanted to let you know that if there's a Jewish guy from New York, he's going to win. Especially if he's not from Manhattan. I want someone from the boroughs, George wants a Jewish guy and Carolyn, well Carolyn would like Kelly Perdew but her husband won't let her set him up in an love nest.

I think that can be the only explanation as to why Brent Buckman was put on the show. Even looking at the cast picture the guy stands out. In a sea of Cassii ("Beware yon Cassius. He hath a lean and hungry look.") he's this overweight sloppy looking schlub. And that was before he opened his mouth. The guy was loud and brash and almost as soon as he opened his mouth with an idea he was shouted down by the other members of Synergy the team that had picked him last (he was the only guy left and they had to pick a man). Yes, like Survivor they went with the "School Yard Pick" system of grouping teams this year and as always the fat kid was picked last. The knives were out for Brent from the first conference for the first task of the season, when Brent suggested a karaoke machine for the Sam's Club promotion. Immediately he was marginalised for the idea although even with that it was better than anything that Gold Rush came up with. For the second day of that challenge they stuck Brent in the Goodyear Blimp - something I'm sure they got a good laugh about - because they didn't want him to have any contact at all with the public. Something about it not projecting the right image.

It only got worse. In the second episode, the one in which they were trying to promote a new generation of Gillette razors using text messaging, Brent was interrupted and stopped by the other members of his team practically any time he opened his mouth. Again, his ideas could hardly have been worse than what his team actually came up with, which was standing in the middle of Times Square, wearing bathrobes and handing out fliers. Brent's efforts to improve things consisted of hamming it up and acting like a clown - he had training in high school theatrical classes in improvisation, mime, mask, and clown - which got him roundly criticised by the other members of his team,although the show didn't mention whether text messages with their "word" went up after he went into his act or not. This week of the show featured a confrontation between Brent and Stacy, who had been the one most often interrupting and shouting down his ideas. She said he "threatened" her although the video doesn't seem to back that up. In the end Pepi, the project manager was fired (for not controlling Brent, and generally poor management skills as well as getting a late start on the task) as was Stacy for not being strong enough to stand up to Brent. In the third challenge, which Synergy won, the team decided to "manage" him by giving him grunt work to do. It's pretty hard to mess up a challenge when the only thing they ask of you is that you set out garbage cans - and then second guess the way you do that, which they did (one of the female candidates actually followed him around telling him where he should and shouldn't put the cans.

Brent was fired during the fourth episode, on Monday night. The task was to design a banner or billboard for Post Grape Nuts Trail Mix cereal. As usual Brent was marginalised - his part of the task was to check the clothing of the people presenting to the Post executives. The campaign was too wordy for a billboard - not Brent's fault - and the image of an older man and a younger woman that they chose not eye-catching enough. In fact Trump said that the man playing the father in the image - who was in his 40s - looked more like her boyfriend rather her father (but then he recently said that if Ivanka Trump wasn't his daughter he'd date her). Again this was something that Brent wasn't involved in; his idea for the campaign, which was shot down within minutes of him suggesting it focused on weight loss. Brent wanted to present but the team said that they were selling a "healthy image" and Brent's weight didn't project that; the person chosen to present stuttered throughout. Based on performance of the task Brent shouldn't have been fired because he hadn't been allowed to do anything that would actually contribute to the loss, which Ivanka Trump even commented on during the task, and even some of the other members of his team expressed that "privately". In the boardroom however they're a united front. Brent has got to go: he's obnoxious and disliked you know that's true(and a no-prize to anyone who knows that reference), which they say is disruptive. And if Brent hadn't made a vindictive and anger filled response to these criticisms which included telling Trump that the team's project manager "stunk" he still might have gone but it probably wouldn't have been as easy for The Donald. If he had said something like "Mr. Trump, how can I be that disruptive? They don't allow me to do anything substantial in the tasks. I come up with ideas and I don't even get the chance to finish my thought before they are telling me to be quiet. In this task I was told to choose the wardrobe for the people presenting the pitch. In the previous task they had me setting out garbage cans. They are messing up these tasks on their own and using me as a scapegoat." he'd have been telling the truth and expressing his frustrations in a civilized manner. Instead he came out swinging, aggressive and insulting and was fired "on the spot

Despite being a Canadian with the same first name as him, I don't disagree that Brent Buckman should have been fired. From the first episode Trump recognised him as a disaster in the making and actually said that he couldn't understand why he was on the show, and I agree. Surely there must have been other Canadian applicants who were smart intelligent and not jerks, but I'm convinced that the producers wanted at least one major jerk and Brent was chosen for that reason. Any problem that I have with the firing has to do with the fact that, based on performance, he didn't deserve to be fired on this task because he was so peripheral to it. He wasn't involved in the creative side and he wasn't involved in the presentation side at the insistence of his team mates. It would have been better to see him fired for screwing up rather than just for being a fat, angry, egotistical schlub amongst a horde of lean and hungry Casii.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I Have A Little Problem

I have a dog. I like my dog even though she's not exactly the pet I'd have chosen if it was up to me. I sort of inherited her from my brother when he got married - his wife, my now ex-sister-in-law didn't like the way that Bounder was jealous of anyone getting close to Greg, including her and besides she had grown up around bigger dogs. When they got married I basically got the dog, but although she's lived with me for almost 10 years she's still my brother's dog whenever he comes around.

Here's the problem. She's poodle and like all poodles has a discharge from her eyes. This has cause an infection that could ulcerate on the skin around her eyes. The vet has given me a tetracycline ointment to put into her eyes which will then wash down into the infected area. The problem is getting it into her eyes. She doesn't like anyone getting close to her face and has a habit of nipping or biting. The biting isn't much of a problem - her teeth aren't in the best shape so she isn't exactly going to hurt you but she does move pretty quickly when she wants to. To reduce the problem I've bought a cloth muzzle but after being able to get it on her once, my subsequent effort proved less than successful and I have the sore thumbs to prove it.

So here's the problem: how do I get the muzzle on the dog so that I can put the ointment in her eyes - preferably three times a day for a week? Alternately how do I get the ointment in her eyes without the muzzle? If you've got an answer, please reply to my email address:

Sunday, March 19, 2006

My Kind Of Gear Heads

Why is it that the British do certain types of shows on their main broadcast networks - in prime time mind you - that no North American programmer outside of some cable channel would think of running. At least until it hits big. I mean look at the record. Ball room dancing, with C-list celebrities. British. Figure skating with C-list celebrities. British. Wanna-be singers auditioning to get a big time recording contract singing pre-packaged pop tunes. British. A game show so insanely simplistic that all the player has to decide is which briefcase will be opened next and whether they'll take an offered prize amount based on what amounts are unknown at this point in the game. Well okay Deal Or No Deal was originally Australian but it and several other prime time game shows are hits in Britain, and two of those were hits in the US until American programmers decided to "improve" them to the point of cancellation. Then there are the self-help shows. The British had a home renovation show in prime time - Changing Rooms - and a gardening program - Ground Force - was there until last year. The British love cooking shows - they gave us Gordon Ramsey, and didn't give us Delia Smith (for which we should be terribly grateful - one Martha Stewart is enough, even though before there was Martha there was Delia). They even have a show about evaluating antiques - Americans were openly amazed when PBS introduced The Antiques Roadshow but the British version had been running for almost twenty years by the time the Americans caught on, and they still don't do it right.

Maybe its the way the British do shows. Take Top Gear. It's a show about cars, or as the British would put it "motoring". Now in North America this would be a half hour program on some obscure cable channel, or if the producers are lucky on a sports network like TSN in Canada. The cast would consist of two, maybe three guys who would talk ever so earnestly about new cars that they were testing. Words like "brake horsepower" and "pounds of torque" would earnestly pass their lips, and you would see earnestly shot footage of cars being driven around by people who are probably not the earnest hosts. There's no physical structure unless the show spends some time in a garage where they show you what's under the hood and maybe how you can make minor repairs. Obviously there's no live audience - why would even the most earnest car lover want to watch these guys taping their show.

Ah but the British; the British do things differently. Top Gear is funny. You know that because the live studio audience laughs and applauds. And this isn't just an anonymous studio audience that may or may not be somewhere behind the cameras. The studio portions of Top Gear are quite literally "theatre in the round" as the audience stands a few respectful feet away from presenters Richard "Hamster" Hammond, James May and "head boy" Jeremy Clarkson, listening in rapt attention to their every opinion and on occasion actually getting to voice their opinions when a microphone is stuck in front of their face, usually by Clarkson, who is the most opinionated of the lot. Apparently - for example - he recently stirred more than a little controversy when he stated that the German built Mini-Cooper should have a "quintessentially German" satellite navigation system that leads only to Poland. But then listening to Clarkson go on in this manner is part of the fun of the show. There's a news segment in which the hosts comment on press releases, suggestions for finding good deals, and the Wall Of Cool, where the hosts rate cars as "Sub-Zero, Cool, Uncool, and Seriously Uncool" based on appearance and performance - but mostly appearance.

Of course the most important parts of the show don't happen in the studio. Even these aren't ordinary. There are of course the reviews of the cars. Sure these have all the comments about brake horsepower and torque, but they seem to have so much fun driving the damned cars - hard and fast (they like cars that go hard and fast - you don't want to know what they have to say about cars like the Prius except that it is so "uncool" that it isn't even on the Wall Of Cool). They don't like cars that are boring and sedate to drive but feel mushy to drive. For that matter they don't like American cars primarily because they're American and Americans don't build "good" or even adequate cars (well actually Clarkson so fell in love with the new Ford GT that he apparently bought one - it immediately went to the "Seriously Uncool" section of the shows Wall Of Cool because of it).

But the show does so much more with its outdoors segments. There are on occasion races of various types. The show has at various times sought the fastest religion; a priest a minister and a rabbi got into a Suzuki Lianna together and met an imam there - that's not a joke, that's basically what happened. In similar race they tried to find the fastest political party in Britain, but my favourite was when they tried to find the fastest "science fiction monster" they had a Klingon (apparently there's a Klingon word for understeer), Darth Vader, a Cyberman, and a Dalek, with a special appearance from a chap in a blue police box (Colin Baker looking very much his 60 years at the time) - the Cyberman won, but the Dalek was angry because he was unable to actually get in the car and exterminated everyone but James May and The Doctor. Another form of race pits the show's host against some other form of transport. They had a race from London to Monte Carlo where Clarkson drove an Aston Martin DB8 while May and Hammond travelled by TGV - Clarkson won. One of the most famous incidents occurred when they took a 13 year old Toyota Hi-Lux truck (the type is currently known in North America as a Toyota Tacoma) and, to illustrate just how durable it was) ran it through a torture test that included driving down a set of stairs, crashing it into various things including a landmark tree (for which they were fined) hit it a few times with a wrecking ball (they didn't drop the ball into it) tied it to a jetty in the Severn Estuary where the tides were so powerful that the ropes snapped and the truck was pulled out to sea. They found it and after digging out all of the silt it still ran. In a later episode the put the truck on top a 24 story apartment block scheduled for implosion. After the building collapsed, they found the truck and not only started it up but were actually able to drive it into the studio despite the fact that the frame had entirely sheered apart.

The outside sequences do sometimes have a serious bent. Clarkson drove a Mercedes Turbo from London to Edinburgh and back on a single tank of gas to illustrate techniques for saving gas (closed windows and no heating or air conditioning, the radio is fine but nothing else like the CD player or a satellite navigation system, accelerate before you get to a hill and let the speed bleed off as you go up). He made he trip - barely. May once demonstrated satellite navigation systems by racing a homing pigeon - the bird beat him! In another sequence, Richard Hammond showed escape methods for people who are in a car that is going into the water. The recommended technique, which was to wait for pressure to equalize between the inside of the car and thene open the doors would have resulted in him dying if there hadn't been a diver with a scuba outfit sitting behind him in the car. They then demonstrated getting out as soon as the car hit the water. It was considerably more effective.

Two of the most enjoyable parts of the show are the Power Laps in which a professional race driver known only as "The sties" (but currently rumoured to be Damon Hill among others) takes a high performance car around the Top Gear test track. Among the fastest cars the Stig has driven have been the Pagani Zonda, the Ariel Atom, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, and the Koenigsegg CC8S. The other highlight of the show is the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car in which a celebrity drives a Suzuki Lianna (the American version is the Aerio) around the test track. Among the Stars who have appeared in this segment are Patrick Stewart, Roger Daltry, Gordon Ramsay (who tied with Jamie Oliver), Christian Slater, David Soul (who broke two of the Lianna's - wasn't used to a manual transmission) and Simon Cowell who has the third fastest time around the track. Two "Stars" - Terry Wogan and Richard Whitely - actually posted slower times that a Billy Baxter, a British veteran who was blinded during the Bosnian war.

Top Gear was seen on the Discover Channel in the United States between June and October 2005, and more extensively on BBC World in areas where that channel can be seen. However these were heavily edited episodes, cut down from one hour to thirty minutes by cutting out a lot of the studio segments and in particular the "Wall of Cool" and "Star In A Reasonably Priced Car" segments. This led to rather baffling credits where you'd see the name of a celebrity guest who viewers of the edited version have never seen. If this is the only version of Top Gear that you have seen, then you haven't seen the show. An hour long episode (minus a few minutes cut for commercials) have been running on BBC Canada, but seems to only be showing the thirty-two 2003-2004 episodes so far. Apparently Discovery Channel in the US will be producing their own version of Top Gear, reportedly with the British Stig as the only carryover from the original show. Hopefully in this domestic version they might consider doing their own versions of the Wall Of Cool and Star In A Reasonably Priced Car and the other segments that are cut for the half hour show. I suspect that this American version might be successful. The problem is that it probably won't be as good as the original, just as the American Antiques Roadshow isn't as good as the British (or even the Canadian), the American What Not To Wear is inferior to the British version with Trinny & Susannah (who've been on Top Gear) and Trading Spaces isn't as good as Changing Rooms was. If you get a chance to see the full hour version of Top Gear do so. You won't be as happy with the half hour version if you do.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Acceptable Eastern and Pacific, Lewd Central And Mountain

A quote from the bandaged sage of Cincinatti, Mr. Lester Nessman:

In a situation like this, I always ask myself, what would my hero Edward R. Murrow think? And I think that Ed would think that this was censorship. Then I think about what my other hero, General George Patton, would think, and I think George would think that radio and television ought to be cleaned up, and if he were alive today, he'd take two armoured cavalry divisions into Hollywood and knock all those liberal pinheads into the Pacific! So as you can see, I'm a very confused man. And when I get confused, I watch TV. Television is never confusing. It's all so simple somehow.

Maybe not so simple anymore. On Tuesday the Federal Communications Commission in the United States fined over 100 CBS affiliate stations a total of $3.6 million for airing an episode of Without A Trace which included a scene of a teenage sex orgy. You can see the scene on the Parents Television Council website (although you'll probably have to use Internet Explorer because the video won't work on my copy of Firefox). According to the FCC ruling, the scene went "well beyond what the storyline could reasonably be said to require." This was part of a push to clear up a backlog of over 300,000 obscenity complaints, virtually all of which were submitted by the Parents Television Council and it's members, often using previously created complaint letters. The FCC also upheld the fine over the Super Bowl incident in which Janet Jackson's nipple was exposed, fined The WB series The Surreal Life 2 for an episode which featured a naked "porn star" pool party although the network had pixellated nipples and other "naughty bits". The FCC also "clarified" that "the F word and the S word" are unacceptable in any context by fining a PBS documentary on Blues musicians. However it was the fine for Without A Trace that was meant to send a message on indecency. I have to say that it's a rather odd message. The stations fined were only those in the Central and Mountain time zones. In other words the show was indecent in Chicago but not in Detroit; lewd in Phoenix but not in Las Vegas. Why? Apparently it's because the show aired in the third hour of prime time and in the Eastern and Pacific Time Zones this is from 10 to 11 p.m. while in the Central and Mountatin time zones this is from 9 to 10 p.m.

In trying to prepare to write this post, I have being trying to find articles or more accurately columns from the mainstream media - the MSM - that are critical of the FCC decision. I've only really found one, surprisingly from New York Daily News columnist David Hinckley. In the article titled What's 'indecent? There's a fines line he writes "Without a Trace got the showcase fine, the one designed to instill fear, for a scene that showed clothed and semi-clothed teenagers at a sex party. Meanwhile, the FCC exonerated Oprah Winfrey for a show in which she and guests discussed, in graphic detail, what goes on at teenage sex parties. CBS said Without a Trace was only doing what Oprah was doing - making viewers aware of this teenage thing that perhaps needs to be addressed. The FCC said CBS was peddling cheap thrills. CBS said it will appeal. Truth is, it's hard for the FCC, or anyone, not to sound like a humorless schoolmarm when dissecting sex or cursing on TV. Andy Sipowicz saying "d-head" on NYPD Blue is indecent. Chris Rock saying "it sucked" on the Oscars is not. F-words in Saving Private Ryan are okay because of artistic context. A PBS station is fined $27,500 because musicians in a blues documentary curse." And that's the major criticism I've been able to find. The critic "liberal" New York Times Alessandra Stanley writes in an article called Monitoring Indecency, Pushing an Agenda "For reasons that baffle the rest of the world (in this case, they don't hate us, they pity us), the United States is far more prudish about sex than violence on television. But as long as sexually explicit material is officially taboo, then the episode did seem to meet the test: the scene of teenagers holding an orgy in a suburban house was quite blue. The camera lingered on writhing bodies and sweaty threesomes just a little longer than was strictly necessary to make the point that sexually transmitted diseases are a growing problem in high school." And that's the supposedly liberal media. Consider what the Charlotte Observer said in the article FCC fines set limits: Pandering OK after 10 which wrote "Sometimes garbage is garbage. Sometimes it's merely rubbish. Take the Dec. 31, 2004, broadcast of Without a Trace. In flashbacks, a witness describes a teen sex party. Viewers got to see teens in various sex acts, some with couples, others in a group. There was no nudity, but graphic gyrations. "The explicit and lengthy nature of the depictions of sexual activity, including apparent intercourse, goes well beyond what the story line could reasonably be said to require," the FCC reasoned. "Moreover, the scene is all the more shocking because it depicts minors engaged in sexual activities." And, wham, down come the fines - $32,000 for CBS affiliates that aired the episode. But only if they were in the Central or Mountain Time Zones." In the article, the Observer's Mark Washburn adds "Ruling in a range of cases, including Nicole Richie's potty-mouth appearance on the 2003 "Billboard Music Awards," the agency said the so-called S- and F-words were almost never OK. Exception: Works of considerable literary, historical or artistic nature. Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List are the standard. In rejecting F- and S-, the FCC gave life to a swarm of other vulgarities that do not refer to sexual or excretory organs or activity. Aiming their little stingers at a TV near you are the words "hell," "damn," "bitch," "slutty," a three-letter word for backside and other colloquialisms Observer editors won't allow on your breakfast table."

Alessandra Stanley is right about one thing, much of the rest of the world is baffled by this decision and the general prudery of the American media. In Canada there wouldn't have been a comment on the matter. Consider the scene. There is no nudity. There's fondling, and groping but a lot of the scene is shot in low light. A great deal is implied but very little is shown. In tone the scene is crude, sleazy even. Given what they're trying to depict it has to be. Try to picture a scene that doesn't show what's going on but just has the girl who is being interrogated describing the events. Oh yes, and try to do that within the language restrictions that the FCC has imposed on TV. It doesn't have the impact that seeing it does. What the scene doesn't do, at least in my viewing of it, is excite or titillate. It does disgust; it's meant to. The scene is meant to be a warning about the need to supervise teenagers - these kids have these orgies because they don't have adult supervision - and the potential dangers of teenaged sexuality. With the fines for Without A Trace the FCC has "defined" a level of content as being unacceptable that is not entirely obvious. We know what obscenity means - in terms of nudity and scatological language - and the broadcast networks have for the most part been careful about not presenting obscene material. But is the boundary around indecency as clearly defined. I would argue that in a world where afternoon soap operas have sex scenes and no one objects but where these fines are imposed because they aired before 10 p.m. then it is not clearly defined.

More of a threat I suppose is that the FCC is restricting the right to free speech in terms of what can and can't be broadcast by creating a climate of fear - don't take any risks or push the envelope no matter how important the issue is because we'll slap huge fines on you. And this isn't voluntary censorship of the type that the motion picture industry imposed on itself with its Production Code, it is censorship by an outside government agency. The Motion Picture Industry took 30 years - between the strict enforcement of the Production Code in 1934 and the 1960s when the boundaries on language and nudity were finally and inexorably broken - to return to a level of sophistication that they had in the pre-code films. How long will American television have to wait to catch up with most of the rest of the world or even return to the level of sophistication in terms of language and frankness about issues that it had in the 1990s? I don't think I'll hold my breath.

Friday, March 17, 2006

TV On DVD - March 14, 2006

Before I start with this weeks DVDs I'd like to say a little bit about AOL's In2TV service which came out of Beta on Wednesday. Actually a little is about all I can say. When I heard that it was now available I decided to try it out. As you might be able to tell from a couple of buttons on this blog I use Firefox and In2TV requires the installation of the Mozilla Active X Plugin to operate. Since not having Active X is one of the best reasons for having Firefox (Active X has the potential to be a major security hole as people like Leo Laporte keep reminding us), I wasn't about to install that plugin. Next I tried Opera. To access material using that brower I had to install Windows Media Player 10...despite the fact that I already have Windows Media Player 10. When I did what I was told, I was prompted to install Windows Media Player 10, again. Finally I tried Internet Explorer. It mostly worked. The commercial that I saw was as crisp and clear as you might expect, and certainly better than Google Video. Unfortunately I couldn't get anything else to play. It turns out that, buried in the System Requirements section is this statement: "In2TV video is only licensed for viewing in the United States." They could have saved me a lot of time if they had put this on the main page or at the very least popped it up when it detected that I was in fact someone from outside the United States. It's a pity really; there are some shows available from In2TV which at least for the moment aren't available on DVD including The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Maverick, Head Of The Class, Perfect Strangers, Falcon Crest, Eight Is Enough and V. If you're in an area where you can use In2TV, give it a try and let me know what you think.

While I can't honestly say that the lineup on In2TV is better than the material on this week's DVD list I will say that it isn't the best list we've ever seen. Don't get me wrong, there's some excellent material here but comparing some of the stuff that was released on Tuesday with shows that are currently only available on In2TV makes one shed a few tears of pure frustration. As always the list of DVDs is originally from, although the opinions expressed are mine alone.

All Dogs Go to Heaven - The Series: Dogs Undercover
All Dogs Go to Heaven - The Series: Friends to the Rescue

- Okay, I was actually vaguely aware that there was an All Dogs Go To Heaven TV series. Not that I've watched it of course but there have been days when I've been idly channel surfing to find something that I want to watch and there it would be. Of course it wasn't interesting looking enough - for me - to stop and watch for more than the second it took to push the channel up button again. Still I'm sure that if you're in the target audience you might find something in this expansion of an original animated film (starring Burt Reynolds) into a series that sounds as if it was the canine version of Touched By An Angel. I just don't need to know.

Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers
- I had initially thought that this was a boxed set with selected episodes from the Babylon 5 series packaged in a similar way to the X-Files "Mythology" sets or last week's Start Trek: Borg Fan Collective set. Turns I was wrong; this is a Babylon 5 movie which I've never seen or heard of before (I don't think Space: The Imagination Station ever played it although I'm sure Tim will correct me) and which may have been intended as a pilot for a new series. Didn't work in that role and since I've never seen it I can't tell you if it worked in any other way.

Columbo: The Complete Fourth Season
- Ah, another season of Columbo. Good quality as always, probably because the NBC Mystery Movie concept meant that they had considerably more time to write and shoot each episode. In a four show rotation - which by this time was the norm for the series - they had the luxury of crafting their stories in a way that shows which have to crank out one a week don't. The result was that the murder plots that are always intricate. The identity of the murderer was never in question - we saw the crime at the start of the episode - the question was how Columbo working alone, or sometimes with occasional interjections from Sergeant Kramer (usually played by Bruce Kirby) as a sort of doubting Thomas, would unravel the strands of the seemingly perfect crime. And because the shows were so good, they got good quality actors to play the killers. Season four includes Robert Conrad, Robert Vaughan, Jose Ferrer, Dick Van Dyke and of course Patrick McGoohan in the first of his four appearances as the killer on the series (he would also write, produce or direct a number of episodes in which he did not appear). Great stuff.

I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete First Season (Black & White)
I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete First Season (Color)

- When the first two seasons of Bewitched was released on DVD the offered it in both the colorized and black & white versions. Initially at least the black & white versions sold better than the colorized, although apparently the reverse is now true - at least according to's sales ranks for the sets. I just checked the sales rankings from this new release of I Dream Of Jeannie and the ranking for the black & white episodes is higher (638) than for the colorized episode (1,381). My guess is that the people who want to see the show as it was originally made buy early but for long term sales you need to release the colorized version for morons who think that anything in black & white can't be any good. It was good, and colorization is crap, but for the studios, releasing both makes for a good bottom line. As for the show, it was fun but it always seemed to me to be a lesser program when compared to Bewitched. Maybe I liked the domestic aspects of the latter to Jeannie's reliance on the plot of Jeannie being so desperately in love with Tony that she'd do anything - and everything - for him in hopes that he'd eventually marry her. Plus, with respect to Bill Daily and Hayden Rorke, the supporting cast on Bewitched was far better, even in the first season.

MacGyver: The Complete Fifth Season
- I think it's fairly true that while everybody may not have loved MacGyver they will recognise that it was an immensely popular show. By the time the series reached its fifth season I wasn't watching. It was on a Monday night and I had been bowling Mondays for a couple of years by then which means that these episodes are new to me. It doesn't of course mean that I couldn't appreciate the show - in fact missing MacGyver was one of my huge regrets when I started bowling. I'd love to see this show again.

The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour 2
- Take two shows with totally different premises - the "scientific" Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and the magic oriented Fairly OddParents - mix them together and shake well, add a couple of episodes from the regular runs of the two shows to fill the DVD and you get The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour 2. I assume the kids it's intended for will enjoy it.

Murder, She Wrote: The Complete Third Season
- Rule #1 of survival - never move to or visit Cabot Cove Maine. Rule # 2 for survival - if you hear that Jessica Fletcher is coming to visit you town, get far far away; I hear the Falkland Islands are lovely this time of year, that should be far enough. Rule #3 of survival - if someone tells you that they are close personal friends with Jessica Fletcher do not under any circumstances either kill them or attempt to frame them for murder. Season 3 of the series contains at least one interesting anomaly. The show crossed over with Magnum P.I. for one episode which occurred during the latter show's seventh season. Apparently it was an procedure that Angela Landsbury was quite vocal about not liking. Of course this boxed set only includes the Murder She Wrote episode. The season also contains a number of very interesting episodes. There's one show with Jerry Orbach's private detective Harry McGraw, who was so popular with fans that he'd eventually get his own series, but perhaps the most interesting was the episode "The Days Dwindle Down" which was a "completion" of the 1949 feature movie Strange Bargain and featured three members of the original cast - Harry Morgan, Jeffrey Lynn and Martha Scott - playing their original roles aged 30 years. Oh yeah, and George Clooney appears in one epiosde. He now has more Oscars than Angela Landsbury, which is wrong in so many ways.

Naked City: Box Set 3
- "There are 8 million stories in the naked city." Well strictly speaking there are 99 hour long episodes made between 1960 and 1963 in addition to 39 half hour episodes with an entirely different cast. This set includes episodes from the fourth and final season including the last four episodes of the series. As always a great cast list, this time including Tony Franciosa, Christopher Walken, Eddie Albert, and Robert Culp. The one thing I find maddening about Image's release of this series is that they aren't offering shows in sequence but seem to be picking and choosing episodes. It makes things very confusing.

A Perfect Spy
- I was first introduced to the writing of John LeCarre with the TV version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. In contrast to the James Bond films (the stories are different of course) LeCarre's novels and their adaptations for film and TV have always had the air of someone who knows what the real life of a spy is like. Of course he did, having been an agent of MI6 until his cover was blown to the Russians by Kim Philby. A Perfect Spy is a very personal piece of work for LeCarre - the character of Magnus Pym is based very much on LeCarre's relationship with own father, who Le Carre's biographer has described as "an epic con man of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values." I haven't seen it but the description sounds fascinating.

She Spies: Season 1
- I hate to say it because I'm sure this show had its fans, but if A Perfect Spy is the sublime, this is the ridiculous. The plot description (I never saw the show when it was briefly on NBC and as far as I can tell, when it went into first run syndication I don't think it aired here) resembles a number of other series, several of them better. On TV The idea of one or more criminals with "special skills" getting a special deal from a shadowy government organization goes back to at least It Takes A Thief (and why isn't it on DVD) and is part of a genre which includes La Femme Nikita and Once A Thief, which in many ways shared She Spies humourous qualities. This first season DVD includes the three episodes that ran on NBC as well as the first season of the syndication run.

The Simple Life 3: The Interns
- I never watched any season of The Simple Life and I'm not apologetic. In fact I'm proud. PROUD do you hear!!!

Sleeper Cell
- I've seen a lot of praise heaped on this Showtime series, but as yet it hasn't aired in Canada so I can't say anything original about it. The concept at least sounds interesting and exciting.

Speed Racer, Vol. 4
- Speed Racer is one of the earliest examples of Japanese animation to reach North America. By standards of people raised on Warner Brothers and Disney animation or even Hanna-Barbera it looked primitive but what it did have was excellent story telling. This collection is a little odd in that, while there are eight episodes in the set, one of them seems to be out of sequence. My suspicion is that the episode "The Terrifying Gambler" is either listed out of sequence on the episode list or aired out of sequence in the United States.

V.I.P.: The Complete First Season
- It sometimes seems as though V.I.P. is unavoidable - no matter how much I want to avoid it. Whenever Spike TV announced that they had a series of Bond movies scheduled, Canadians knew that there would be a V.I.P. marathon coming. The show starred Pamela Anderson and so of course was a heavy dose of comedy and camp mixed in with whatever storylines there may have been. It's another series which I have made serious efforts to avoid seeing for longer than it took to change the channel.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

An Early Impression - The Unit

I had planned to do up a full review of the new CBS series The Unit but after watching my first episode (I taped the pilot but couldn't find the time to watch) last night I just couldn't. There was something about the show that gave me that odd sense of foreboding that I usually get when I push all my chips in with two pair in an online Poker game, the sense that this isn't nearly as good as it really should be but I don't know why. In my Poker games this sense is usually followed by the sound of my cyberchips being pushed into the stack of a guy whose pocket twos had a brother sitting on the board.

I mean this show should be good. It has a solid pedigree. It was written and created by David friggin' Mamet after all - you know Pulitzer Prize winner for Glengarry, Glenn, Ross, guy, with a couple of Oscar nominations and a bunch of other stuff (none of which was Lost no matter what the guys who do the TV Squad APB podcast may think). It has a solid cast: Dennis Haysbert (24 and those insurance commercials), Robert Patrick (The X-Files and some movie about a robot from the future, called Terminator 2), Regina Taylor (The Education of Max Bickford, and I'll Fly Away) and Scott Foley (Felicity, A.U.S.A and recurring roles on Scrubs, and Dawson's Creek). It has good source material in Eric Haney's Inside The Delta Force. And yet for some reason it just doesn't seem "right" and I can't put my finger on why.

I'm not saying that it's bad. The E-Ring is bad and this show is so much better than The E-Ring thank Ghu. The trouble is that in all honesty I can't say that it's good and here's the thing - there's too much good TV out there (and bad TV that somehow gets you to watch to savour the badness) to spend time with a show that's bad or even indifferent. Sometimes people recognise it - I suspect that's why Commander-in-Chief probably won't be with us come September - but people seem to be watching this show to the point where it's holding the audience of NCIS and making ratings for the relocated Amazing Race look bad so in this case there's probably something about this show that I'm not getting, which I guess means that a second viewing is probably in order. I'll do it next week, after I write my newsgroup recap of The Amazing Race.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

TV On DVD - March 7, 2006

Well it's late but at least I completed it this week. Between writing the Amazing Race for the newsgroup (good early episode this week although not one of the most exciting), shovelling snow, and trying to qualify to qualify to qualify for the World Series of Poker for free (there are three tournaments I'd have to compete in successfully to make it), I've been a little rundown.

Some extremely good family material out this week, including a couple of major comedies and a new way to look at Star Trek which I hope they continue with. There are also a couple of show where you have to think "why on earth did they release this?" All that plus Angie Dickinson with handcuffs. What more could one possibly want (besides lower prices for these things of course)? As always the list was originally from your source for news and information on TV shows coming to DVD.

Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda Season 5, Collection 4
- By the last season of Andromeda I had totally lost interest to the point where I couldn't tell you who at least one of the characters was (Telemachus Rade if you must know). I will say that they are taking a rather unique approach to releasing this series on DVD which I confess I don't fully understand. There are four episodes on this two disk set but the five sets that make up the season will be collected into a single boxed set. Based on the price of this "Volume" I'd say that anyone who is really interested should probably wait until the complete season is released - it will cost a lot less.

Baby Looney Tunes, Vol. 1
Baby Looney Tunes, Vol. 2

- What can I say about this idea? Not much. I'm really not sure what possessed Warner Animation to make a series about Bugs and the other Looney Tunes characters (including Lola Bunny who was created for Space Jam to give Bugs a love interest that wasn't Elmer Fudd) but it was probably the same impulse that led to Loonatics Unleashed. Baby versions of the characters didn't really work for the Muppets so why should they work here.

The Brady Bunch: The Complete Final Season
- The fifth season was the final one for The Brady Bunch and also marked the height of Robert Reed's frustration with the show. It's hard not to feel for him - he was a Shakespearean trained actor who had gained rave reviews in the ground breaking dramatic series The Defenders in the 1960s and yet he was doomed to be known for playing this role which stretched him hardly at all. No wonder he doesn't appear in the final episode. And yet can you imagine Gene Hackman in this part? I was a teenaged boy when this show was on and the fifth season also marked the peak for Maureen McCormick's "hottie" factor (hard to believe that she's the same age as I am). And Eve Plumb wasn't exactly a mud fence either. Oh yeah, and there was Florence Henderson too but then we knew had raging hormones for her from the first season - or maybe the second.

The Cosby Show: Season 2
- The Cosby Show was of course one of the great family series of the 1980s, and possibly of all time. The second season saw the addition of Sabrina LeBeauf as a regular on the show - she had appeared in at least one episode in the first season - and would also see the preparations made for the departure of Lisa Bonet's character Denise. At the time it was said that Bill Cosby thought she was such a major talent that she could support her own show, but apparently Cosby actually urged that she be fired and it was the threat of legal action that led to the spinoff A Different World where ironically she only stayed for one year. The Cosby Show faced a lot of criticism - some of which was heard during the second season for "not being black enough" apparently because the Huxtables were "rich" (a doctor and a lawyer) and for its failure to address "black" issues. It was mostly apolitical, and in later years left the more edgy political material for A Different World.

The Best of the Best of Electric Company
- I was going to say that they meant "More Of The Best Of The Electric Company" since a Best Of The Electric Company set was released last month but I've discovered that that's not it at all. This appears to be a compilation of individual material for a number of episodes of the show on a single disc (based on the price) rather than complete episodes as on Best Of The Electric Company. I don't know which approach is better for the material because I don't believe the show was ever seen on a Canadian station and the show was off the air before cable reached my part of Canada (and PBS was a late addition).

The Flintstones - The Complete Fifth Season
- The Flintstones was the pioneer for such series as The Simpsons, Family Guy, King Of The Hill and American Dad; a primetime, network, animated series. Between the time that The Flintstones left the air and The Simpsons came on there weren't too many people who were willing to try the format. The fifth season continued to mine popular culture for satire. There's a reference to the 1964-65 New York World's Fair and to the Beatles in the episode "The Hatrocks and the Gruesomes" (which used two families introduced in earlier episodes), and the Flintstones meet up with the "Cartrocks" in another episode. Of particular interest is the episode "Indianrockolis 500" in which Fred becomes "Goggles Paisano". Now Ivan can probably correct me on this but the "Goggles" voice sounds pretty close to the voice that Alan Reed (who played Fred) used when he was playing "Pasquale" on the radio show Life With Luigi. It's also worth noting that this season marked the debut of Gerry Johnson as Betty Rubble, replacing Bea Benadaret who was focusing on Petticoat Junction.

Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Third Season
- As in most sitcoms, seasons of Hogan's Heroes are virtually interchangable because nothing much changes. Most episodes involved Hogan putting somatic over on Colonel Klink, and there was usually a pretty girl for Hogan to romance, but you knew that the in the next episode it would be as if she never existed. There was on big change in this season, the addition of the Gestapo officer Major Hochstetter. Most of the regular German characters in the show were in some shape or form caricatures and even vaguely likable, or at least socially redeemable - even Burkhalter. There was nothing likable or redeemable about Hochstetter. He was a mean SOB, and I always thought he had been introduced to remind us that the Nazis weren't really like Klink and the rest. At times he was even competent! Of course the fact that Hochstetter was the way he was made it much more enjoyable when Hogan beat him, an event which usually got him into big trouble with Berlin. Somehow though he always managed to wriggle out. Of the four regular German officer characters, Hochstetter was the only one not played by a German Jew - he was played by Howard Caine who was born in Nashville.

Lily the Witch V1 Ep.1-5
Lily the Witch V2 Ep.6-9

- An Irish-German series which, for the life of me, I've never heard of, to the point where all I can tell you is that its an animated series and that's only thanks to IMDB.

Star Trek: Fan Collective - Borg
- In the wake of the X-Files: Mythology collections, Paramount has released Star Trek: Fan Collective - Borg featuring the biggest baddest villains of the "modern" Star Trek universe. It's hard to believe that the original main enemy of the Federation in Star Trek: The Next Generation were meant to be the Ferengi, but it's true. It rapidly became apparent how absurd that was and in season two of the series The Borg were introduced in the episode "Q-Who". This set includes most of the episodes of the various series where the Borg were seen in chronological order (so the first episode on the first disc is the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Regeneration" which was actually the last "Borg" episode produced. There are some truly great episodes in this set including "The Best of Both Worlds", "Scorpion", "Unimatrix Zero" and "End Game". There are some gaps however. The episode that introduced the Borg Children is missing as is "Raven" which tells the story of Seven's assimilation. Still worth it of course.

Police Woman: The Complete First Season
- I've always wondered about this series. In the 1960s and '70s there was a clearly defined gap between movie actors and TV actors. TV was "beneath" movie actors and if a TV actor could crack into the movies he left TV behind. So why did Angie Dickinson - who had worked with Frank Sinatra and John Wayne (and if some of the stories are true had affairs with a selection of famous men including John F Kennedy - reportedly on the night of his inauguration) - do TV? Whatever the reason, it worked. Dickinson took a character from an episode of Police Story and made it one of the iconic series of the period. It was episodic, with little or no continuity as was common in that period, and didn't have what we came to know as the gritty realism of a Hill Street Blues, but Angie was tough (but for some reason I don't doubt that there were more than a few men who wanted to be handcuffed by her) and it worked.

The Scooby-Doo / Dynomutt Hour - The Complete Series
- Just what the world needs, more Scooby-Doo. Oh Joy. No Scrappy-Doo (thank heaven for small mercies) but there is Scooby-Dum. Add to this the Blue Falcon and his blundering robotic canine sidekick Dynomutt. Mix it all together and what do you get? Something I wouldn't be too anxious to pay good money for, but that's just me.

Three's Company - Season 6
- The first season after the final departure of Suzanne Somers also saw the gradual phasing out of Jennilee Harrison who played Cindy Snow. She had left the apartment but still showed up occasionally. Added to the cast was Priscilla Barnes as nurse Terri Alden. Terri wasn't the wide eyed innocent that Chrissy was or particularly blundering like Cindy. At times in fact she seemed downright perplexed by the whole situation. The backstage atmosphere didn't seem to have improved with the firing of Somers - in the past Barnes has said that she considers here years on Three's Company as the unhappiest period in her professional career and she nearly quite soon after being hired because of the backstage atmosphere.

The Best of Go-Go Gophers
Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales

- I have a confession to make (yeah, I know, another one). As much as I love and admire the late Don Adams and even his portrayal of Tennessee Tuxedo, I was a bigger fan of the Go-Go Gophers. The things they did to poor Colonel Kit Coyote (voiced by radio legend Kenny Delmar) were your typical "little guy out smarts big guy" material but there was just something about them. Tennessee Tuxedo and his friends Chumley the Walrus and Phineas J. Whoopee (voiced by Larry Storch) just didn't have the same resonance with me. They were funny but somehow not as funny. Even the Gophers theme song was better ("Here come the Colonel with his Sergeant, both come a roarin' and a chargin. Go-Go Gophers watch them go go go.''). It is nice to note that the Tennessee Tuxedo DVD box includes the words "15 sort of educational adventures". It fits somehow.

Walking Tall - The Complete Series
- I vaguely remember this being a series but not for too long. Bo Svenson, who replace Joe Don Baker in the Walking Tall movies attempts to bring the character - who was in fact a real Tennessee sheriff who fought a personal war on moonshiners until his death in 1974 - to TV in 1983. The series was set in 1981 which presents logical problems but setting those aside while it may have seemed like an ideal project for the Reagan era it never seemed to work. Who thought this needed to be released, or did it escape?

Nick Cannon Presents: Wild 'N Out - Season One
- If this show has appeared on a Canadian channel it's not one I've watched (I suspect it appeared on the now defunct MTV Canada which is not to be confused with the soon to appear MTV Canada which used to be Talk TV). The premise sound interesting: host Nick Cannon and an "A-List" Celebrity each lead a team in an improv comedy competition. I've never heard of most of the "A-List Celebrities - in the first season I recognise the names Orlando Jones and Kanye West (I'm feeling so old) but as I say it sounds like an idea with a lot of potential.