Thursday, March 31, 2005

Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 3

In honour of the new series of Doctor Who which will be debuting on April 5 on the CBC I present Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 3.

Jon Pertwee: 1970-1974

Companions: Liz Shaw (Caroline John), Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Sara Jane Smith (Liz Sladen).

Comments: It was fated that Jon Pertwee would become an actor - his father Roland was a distinguished playwright and actor, and his older brother Michael was also writer and an occasional actor as was their younger cousin Bill Pertwee. As a young man he counted Laurence Olivier among his friends. Nonetheless he was expelled from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for refusing to play the role of the wind in a play. As a naval officer in World War II he was assigned to HMS Hood and was reassigned off the ship just before she sailed for her fatal battle with the Bismarck. Pertwee put his experiences in the Royal Navy to good use in the long radio comedy The Navy Lark which ran from 1959-1977. Until Doctor Who, Pertwee was primarily known as a comedic actor and created the role Marcus Lycus in the stage production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum which in the movie was played by Phil Silvers while Pertwee was relegated to the minor role of Crassus.

Pertwee's Doctor was the first to be seen in colour. The show was seen both on the 420 line Black & White BBC1 and the higher definition Colour BBC2 until the transition to the new system was completed. He is also the only one for whom all of the episodes exist although a few episodes exist only in Black & White. While Troughton's Doctor was a "cosmic clown" in a ragged coat and baggy pants, Pertwee's Doctor is a man of Science albeit a man of science dressed as an Edwardian dandy complete with red velvet coat. Pertwee's Doctor is much more active than either Hartnell's or Troughton's, thus the companions were relegated to the roles of "damsel in distress" and people to whom the Doctor can reveal details of the plot. This is particularly true of Katy Manning's character Jo Grant. The Doctor is constantly pulling her out of difficulties. Liz Shaw on the other hand tended to be more of an equal partner. Like Pertwee's Doctor, she was a scientist even though what the Doctor knew was far beyond her understanding. This wasn't to say that he didn't have a mystical side, simply that it didn't escape very often.

For the first two years of Pertwee's time as Doctor, the stories were primarily Earth based although no less science fiction because of it. The Time Lords had exiled the Doctor to Earth after the first Troughton episode and only occasionally allowed him to leave the planet until the episode The Three Doctors which marked the 10th anniversary of the series (it also marked the last time William Hartnell appeared as the character he created). This allowed the emergence of two major characters in the show, Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney, who holds the distinction of appearing with seven of the eight actors to play the Doctor - he missed the ill fated Paul McGann, while his appearance with Hartnell was as a character called Bret Vyon in The Dalek Master Plan) Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) and Sergeant Benton (John Levene) representatives of the international military organization UNIT. The Pertwee era also introduced the character described by the Doctor as "my best enemy", The Master, played by Pertwee's close friend Roger Delgado. Indeed it was Delgado's death in a 1974 car crash in Turkey that led Pertwee to give up the role, which he felt wasn't fun anymore.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 2

In honour of the return of Doctor Who to CBC on April 5, I present Day 2 of Nine Days of The Doctor

Patrick Troughton 1966-1969

Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills), Jaimie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury).

Commentary: When it finally became clear even to William Hartnell that he couldn't continue as the Doctor, his choice for a replacement was Patrick Troughton. Troughton was a veteran character actor who had done a number of TV series including playing Robin Hood in a 1953 series as well as being the Player King in Olivier's 1948 Hamlet. The question became how to replace the tall and white haired Hartnell with the short and dark haired Troughton. The answer that the writers came up with was to simply change the actors right in front of the audience. Thus was born the Doctor's ability to regenerate. When a member of the Doctor's race reached the end of their life they had the ability to regenerate and acquire a new body. The new body had a new voice a new way of thinking and a new taste in just about everything. Thus, Troughton wasn't locked in to Hartnell's portrayal of the Doctor as a doddering old grandfather type, he could recreate the Doctor in his own image.

It's difficult to right much about the Troughton period in Doctor Who because most of it is lost. Of the 21 serials that Troughton did, only about six survive in more than fragments. Virtually all of the fourth and fifth seasons don't exist except for one episode Tomb of the Cybermen which is Deborah Watling's first real episode as the Doctor's companion. (The only episode in which we ever see Ben and Polly is the Hartnell episode The War Machines in which they are introduced and we see very little of Polly in that. Virtually all we know about the Troughton period therefore is his interactions with Jamie and Zoe. What we can see from these episodes is that the show has become a lot less studio bound. They do a number of location shoots. This also results in the episodes being a lot less difficult to watch since they don't appear to be filming them off of the monitors anymore.

The Doctor that Troughton created owed a bit to Charlie Chaplin, although Troughton called him a bit of a "cosmic clown". He wore baggy clothing and was nowhere near as authoritative or decisive as Hartnell's Doctor. He is still eminently effective in dealing with his opponents however. Unlike Hartnell's Doctor, Troughton didn't need his companions to fulfill the action parts of a particular episode. The male companions - which really means Frazer Hines as Jamie since he appeared in the second Troughton serial and was there through to the end of the Troughton period - were relegated to the role of holding younger male viewers. Troughton's period as the Doctor also saw the last of the historical episodes as a regular feature of the series. It became almost exclusively science fiction after the serial known as "The Highlanders".

When Patrick Troughton decided to leave the series at the end of its sixth season they needed a way to take him out of the series. The producers decided to reveal a little more about the Doctor and introduced the concept of the Time Lords. The Doctor was a renegade Time Lord, one who believed in intervening rather than just watching. As part of his sentence for breaking the Time Lords' laws, Troughton's Doctor is forced to regenerate.


Another rather smallish list with one or two curiosities.

America's Next Top Model: Cycle One
- Oh there are some dog food jokes I could use based on the decision tocall this "Cycle One" rather than first seson, but I will keep myself from using them. Can we say that this is American Idol for the tall anorexic and possibly talentless?

Astro Boy The Complete Series
- Well not really. tells us that this is in fact the complet series of the 2003 version produced by Sony which as the Editorial Review says is far more lavish than the 1963 original or the 1980 colour remake.

Clutch Cargo Cartoon Collection Volume 1
- Okay, I officially don't get it. Season 1 and Season 2 I understood but what is the need for this?

Due South The Complete First Season
- Has been available for a couple of years so I don't know why TV GeekSpeak is talking about it now. Never mind, any chance to talk about the show is welcome. The pilot episode started out as a relatively straight "fish out of water" show but became increasingly quirky as time went by. Season 2 is actually the better one in my not so humble opinion simply because it introduced a love/hate interest for Fraser in the form of his new commanding officer Meg Thatcher and the incredibly inept Constable Turnbull. Imagining what might have been if CBS had actually kept the series for its third/fourth season (in Canada the show was split into two 13 week seasons while the BBC and TNT showed it as a single third season) when things really got wierd.

The Lone Gunmen The Complete Series
- A series almost as quirky as Due South and probably would have been quirkier if had lasted longer. Byers, Langly, and Frohicke were the three geeks who occassionally aided Mulder & Scully in The X-Files. In their own series they were joined by Yves Adele Harlow (whose name is an anagram for ....) and dimwitted doofus "Jimmy" Bond. The show was in the Friday "death slot" where many series had entered but none stuck after The X-Files moved to Sundays. In truth it was probably too subversive for certain people today. The governmental plots they invesitgated then seem almost tame in today's climate. Interesting to note that while the actor who played Byers was an experienced actor, the guys who played Langly and Frohicke had done comparatively little acting before The X-Files and Tom Braidwood (Frohicke) was actually the second unit director on the show.

Twilight Zone Season 2: The Definitive Collection
- The original Twilight Zone has been collected on DVD before but the "Definitive Collection" is probably the way to go simply because it collects the episodes by season.

The Saint: The Early Episodes Set 1
- I'm going to go out on a limb and state that Roger Moore playing Simon Templar "...the Saint (do doody o do wah dah)" was not only cooler and sexier than Moore as James Bond and on a par with Connery's Bond. We know that Ian Fleming's first choice to play Bond was Roger Moore. The Black & White episodes are the better ones in my opinion, before the series took a turn towards the more secret agent type scripts.

Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 1

Since the new series of Doctor Who will debut on the CBC On Tuesday April 5 I now present Day 1 of Nine Days of the Doctor.

William Hartnell the First Doctor 1963 - 1966

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell aka Russell Enoch), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Susan "Foreman" (Carol Ann Ford), Vicki (Maureen O'Brien), Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Katarina (Adrienne Hill), Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills), Ben Jackson (Michael Craze).

Commentary: They say that your favourite Doctor is the one you were first exposed to but I may case it isn't entirely true. As I related in the frist post I made in this blog, my first exposure to Doctor Who occurred whenthe CBC foolishly decided to replace The Bugs Bunny Show with Doctor Who in January 1965 (I actually thought it was earlier, but I looked it up). It wasn't well received, at least not by me and apparently not by a lot of people because the show was moved to a Wednesday afternoon slot in April 1965 (which wasn't seen here in Saskatoon) before the CBC pulled it in July 1965, having aired the complete first season.

Hartnell's period as the Doctor was the foundation for the show in that it established most of the conventions of the series as well as creating several of the most memorable villains. In the first episode, the Doctor's ship (in BBC memos of the period it is referred to as a spceship) is dubbed the TARDIS and we learn that it travels in time and space and is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. We also meet the principal characters: the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan who has adopted the name Foreman (from the salvage yard where the TARDIS is currently resting) both of whom are exiles from their home world, and school teachers Ian and Barbara. We also learn that the TARDIS isn't exacly operating properly when it fails to change from a Police Call Box into something fitting its surroundings. As the Hartnell period continued we will learn more about the Doctor, although they won't introduce the idea of "Time Lords" or "Gallifrey" until much later.

Casting in the series was regarded quite seriously. Hartnell, an actor who had been working in films since the 1930s and had come to prominence primarily for playing Army sergeants (in both serious films like The Immortal Batallion and comedies, most notably Carry On Sergeant) was 55 when he took the role. He was intended to be something of an irritable grandfather type, while Susan was meant to give the children in the audience someone closer to their own age to relate to. Hartnell had a notoriously poor memory for lines, cause in part by a medical condition that he was dealing with, but this was actually built into something of an endearing character trait by making the Doctor slightly absent minded. The addition of Barbara was quite literally meant to give adult males someone to look at (the show aired immediately after a sports show called Grandstand) while Ian was meant to be both someone for boys to admire and to do most of the adventurous and physical stuff that Hartnell might not be capable of. It is a common thread throughout Hartnell's period to have a younger male companion as well as a female companion.

The stories in this period were meant to be split evenly between historical adventures and science fiction stories. The first serial 100,000 B.C. dealt with cavemen, while the second serial introduced those murderous creatures the Daleks. It turned out that the science Fiction stories, particularly the four serials involving the Daleks - two of which were turned into technicolor movies starring Peter Cushing - the most popular in the series. Although not yet totally abandoned, the historical adventures became fewer in the latter part of Hartnell's years on the series.

The Hartnell episodes can be difficult to watch from a technical perspective. Some of the costumes are ludicrous (notably those in the Web Planet serial, particularly the "ant suits") while the sets are scarcely impressive. A lot of this has to do with the notorious parsimony that was forced on the producers. Verity Lambert's team was supposed to produce the show on a budget of 2,500 pounds per episode - or else. Based on conversion rates of the period that's roughly $7,000 an episode, admittedly in 1963 dollars. There's also the fact that they were forced to shoot just about everything in studio because they were shooting direct to video tape and particularly in the early period you shot in sequence and with a minimum number of retakes. It took a lot to get the BBC to reshoot a scene because at the time video tape wasn't easy to edit. Picture quality can also suffer - someone on the TV newsgroup recently complained that the Hartnell eisodes looked as though they shoot the show with a security camera. In fact episodes were shot on video tape in the 405 lines of resolution system then used in Britain. For export the episodes were filmed off of the monitor. It was not a system designed for great resolution. Or for retention of the episodes. Only 17 of the 30 serials from the Hartnell period still exist in a complete enough form to be broadcast. Others exist in partial form.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Definition Of "Spackle Television"

If my personal dictionary of television terms ever gets published, the term "Spackle Television" will contain the note "See Grey's Anatomy" together with a cast picture from the show. It is there to fill a hole and there's some hope that it will stick. On the whole I wouldn't bet on it, nor would I get to comfortable watching it.

It isn't that Grey's Anatomy is a bad show. It's a nice workmanlike production. Unfortunately it was a nice workmanlike production back in the 1970 season when it starred Broderick Crawford and Mike Farrell and was called The Interns, 1964 when it was a movie called The Young Interns, 1962 when it was a movie called The Interns, or 1961 when it was called Young Doctors. That is to say that in form at least it's an old form and an old format. The producers of Grey's Anatomy apparently do not feel the need to improve on it.

Grey's Anatomy isn't technically bad, and the cast is relatively sound. The trouble is they fit "types". There's the "beauty queen" type (Katherine Heigl looking good enough to make me wish yet again that I was 20 years younger and Hollywood handsome), the "nerdy" type (T.R. Knight), the "got here by hard work" type (Sandra Oh, who is the oldest of the four main cast member and also the best actress although she really doesn't get much opportunity to show it here), and the "privileged" type (Ellen Pompeo, playing Meredith Grey - the "Grey" of the title). The only innovative thing here is that all but one of the featured characters is female; in the old movies and TV show it was exactly the opposite. It does however give the opportunity for sex to rear its not entirely ugly head. In the pilot episode Meredith wakes up with a guy after a drunken one night stand only to discover - of course - that he's an attending doctor at the hospital where she works, in the area where where she works. Once the characters move in together - which happens in the next episode - you can bet there'll be the usual sex farce situations occur that are always arising when people of the opposite sex share living space.

That's not unexpected of course, because this series is recycling all the old situations. There's the usual "interns working 48 hour shifts because it tests them" situation, which is real enough but still a cliche. There's the "young doctor makes the terrible mistake of assuring someone that the surgery is a piece of cake only to have the person die" situation - also a cliche. There's the "lead intern makes a brilliant diagnosis despite never having seen the patient" situation. There is of course the "jerky intern gets his comeuppance" situation tied to that last one. And so on. There is nothing new here and the most innovative it got was that we got to watch Ellen Pompeo's character toss her cookies on the lawn outside the hospital. I thought that's what ladies rooms were for.

I didn't find Grey's Anatomy that bad, I just didn't find it to be that good. It's the sort of show that would probably do well on The WB if only because the cast is for the most part made up of attractive young people, although how you can reconcile casting Katherine Heigl and Sandra Oh as contemporaries is beyond me (but then I buy Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz as brothers despite the 16 year difference in their ages, so what do I know). The trouble is that it's not on The WB, it's on ABC opposite Crossing Jordan and the second half of the CBS movie, not to mention that it's filling in for Boston Legal which does seem to have built up a following. As it stands, Grey's Anatomy Isn't innovative enough to make it stand out. If you like it, enjoy it while you can, because I predict that this is one bit of spackle that isn't going to stick. In a way it's too bad too.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Whatever Happened To? (Number 4 of a series)

Whatever happened to programming for children in the after school period?

Don't tell me, I already know the answer but it is a point worth illustrating and it follows on from yesterdays rant about the Parents Television Council. The Council, as you will recall, has focused its ire on network TV programming, supposedly in early prime time period (although they don't restrict their complaints about indecency to programs airing in that period), in an effort to make TV more "family friendly". The problem is that if they are really concerned about what children see on TV shouldn't they also be interested - perhaps even more interested - in the late afternoon period when kids are coming home from school or in the morning period before children go to school?

I was a kid in the 1960s and the standard programming for the afternoon was either a local children's program host (the one that sticks in my memory was a guy named Jeff "Smokey" Howard who was with CFQC in Saskatoon for at most three years) or a national program fed from CBC in Toronto, usually followed by some old program stripped into the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. slot. I haven't been able to see afternoon TV Guides from places in the United States, but I suspect that programming in this period was similar, although possibly with a greater addition of syndicated programming. There were continuing efforts to produce programming for children and teens into the 1970s - in the United States this was the period of the "After School Specials" - but from what I can recall it tended to dwindle into the 1980s and by the '90s programming was almost entirely adult oriented. This can be "blamed" (if that is in fact the right word) on the rise of cable networks such as Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel and The Cartoon Network in the United States. In Canada there wasn't the same corresponding rise in children's programming on cable. Family Channel, which started as a Canadian version of The Disney Channel, was a premium channel well into the 1990s while YTV is 17 years old and Teletoon, the Canadian answer to The Cartoon Network is about the same. Treehouse TV the station for pre-school and early school age children is 8 years old. All three are owned by the same company, Corus Entertainment which is a sister company of Shaw Cable (literally, since the Chair of Corus is the sister of the President of Shaw Cable).

The rise of the cable stations in the United States coincided with a decline in programming on over the air stations that was aimed at children or at least child-friendly. That's fine if you have cable but not so good if you can't get it or don't want it. The same trend occurred in much of Canada even without the competition from cable although the presence of the CBC, which offers over-the-air service to over 90% of Canadians, takes up some of the burden. In North America there are only three networks that make a serious effort at kid-friendly programming in two hours after school - say 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. local time: PBS, CBC and The WB which has its Kids WB mix of animated programs combined (at least in the two stations I see, WPIX and KTLA which are both Tribune stations) with reruns of older programs like Sabrina The teenaged Witch and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. From the other stations, there's a mix of "court shows" (Judge Joe Brown, The Peoples Court) talk/psychology shows (Maury, Dr. Phil) and local news programs, some as long as an hour and a half.

The fact is that it isn't this way in other countries. In Britain, the publicly owned BBC1 and the private ITV have a solid schedule of children's shows in the afternoon and while Channel 4's programming isn't directed at children it isn't objectionable either. Australia's ABC has a full range of children's programs and the commercial networks have at least a half hour of shows for children on weekdays. The same thing applies with both of the publicly owned TV New Zealand networks and the privately owned TV3. The point being that programming in the after school period in other countries represents something of a priority that it apparently doesn't in North America.

I'm not saying that we should go back to the days of local kid's shows or after school specials. I think that boat has long since gone. I do think however that if groups like the PTC are sincere about improving programming for children and not in grabbing headlines, they should show more concern for what is being shown on their local stations in the after school hours and less concern with programs that are airing in late prime time, when the children who are most likely to be affected by violence, language and what passes for sex on American television should be in bed. Of course this would mean working locally with broadcasters rather than nationally against them, so I doubt that anything like this will occur.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Me and the PTC

I was going to do a thing on This Old House today but an e-mail from Tony Figueroa reminded me of a pet peeve of mine: the Parents' Television Council. Now you might be asking why I, as a Canadian, am concerned about the PTC but when you consider that most of the programming on Canadian television originate with U.S. networks it seems clear that if they react to their ox being gored it affects me almost as much as it does Americans.

Tony's blog offers an article that is in the form of an open letter to the PTC and I have no doubt that he has sent it to them as well as posting it in Child of Television and on To summarize he takes the PTC to task for describing an episode of Crossing Jordan for being "the worst Family TV show of the week" in some time period, despite the fact that the episode was in the latest timeslot possible, carried a clear ratings disclaimer stating that it was a "TV14" show, not suitable for people under that age. He goes on to point out that there are other hazards to children that are far more pernicious than TV - you are reading this on one of them. I'm going to go a little further than Tony.

I find the PTC itself pernicious and potentially dangerous. The Council claims that they are trying to make TV more family friendly and are doing this by "fostering changes in TV programming to make the early hours of prime time family-friendly and suitable for viewers of all ages." (This is from the first of the PTC's mission statement printed in their FAQ - "What Is The PTC's Mission?") The problem is that they don't restrict themselves to just early prime time but express their opinion on just about every show on TV.
That is their right of course, but they go beyond that and actively work to make all TV shows "family safe" by bombarding the FCC with complaints. It is a fact that over 90% of the complaints filled with the FCC come from the PTC. They aren't worried about the fact that they protest shows that no one else seems concerned about - they're proud that they are standard bearers for "decent" Americans against the smut peddlers of Hollywood. Even if they are a minority they think they represent the majority. And again, it's not just the shows in the first, or even the second, hour of prime time that they target - despite the claim in their FAQ - it's everything. In fact, in their self promotional section Accomplishments the Council drops the mask of being concerned with just the early prime time hours "The PTC is now recognized nationally as the leader in the fight against indecent television content. Newspapers from coast to coast, magazines, talk radio, television news even the entertainment industry itself acknowledge the power and influence of the PTC." No mention there about the early prime time hours.

Let's look at the days of the week of March 18-24 as seen by the PTC. They rate shows on Sex, Violence, and Language using a Red light, Yellow light, and Green light system for each. Ratings are combined to form an overall rating. Friday you could watch America's Most Talented Kids on Pax, but everything else has a "Yellow" rating, except That '70s Show which is rated Red. Saturday you should just unplug the TV because everything is Red except the shows they haven't rated. Unrated shows included The Ten Commandments but be careful - there's a married woman who tries to seduce a man. Sunday, it's back to Pax again for America's Most Talented Kids and Sue Thomas FB Eye, as well as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC, but everything else is Yellow or Red. Monday night is a mother load, with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: How'd They Do That, Listen Up, Everybody Loves Raymond, Nanny 911 and 7th Heaven but everything on NBC is Red. You can watch Fox's American Idol on Tuesday and Wednesday, along with Sue Thomas FB Eye, and Doc on Pax on the latter night. Finally Thursday had an obviously edited version of America's Funniest Home Videos (edited because normally the show gets a Yellow) on Pax. Did you notice anything from that list. It's mostly pablum and it makes clear that the PTC is more than a little out of touch with America's taste. Most of the shows that the PTC proudly recommends are on a marginal network - Pax - and in some cases (Doc, America's Most Talented Kids) are no longer in production. Here's the bigger question, where are the shows that are artistically challenging (admittedly a very short list in American TV but let's just stick with the concept) because they sure aren't in the list of shows that the PTC likes.

I'm not totally unsympathetic with the aims of the PTC. I'm not a parent, but there are shows on in the first hour of prime time that I would not want a child of mine to see. However the PTC reminds me of Mrs Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons (PTC Yellow: - excerpt from their review: "The show ridicules entrepreneurs, religion, educators, and law enforcement officials, and has occasionally incorporated foul language into its dialogue.") shouting "Won't somebody think of the children!" at every opportunity. I object to their methods, and more I object to their unstated desire to take responsibility from parents and put it on government. The people who would scream bloody murder if the schools were to try to teach their kids about sex, saying that it is the job of parents to do that not the government, want take the responsibility for deciding what kids should watch from individual parents and give it to the government. The computer writer and broadcaster Leo Laporte has stated that the way to protect children from Internet predators and the other "bad stuff" that's out there, don't have a computer with the Internet in their rooms, have it in a common area where you can keep an eye on them and stop them if they go someplace they shouldn't. Surely it follows that if you want to protect you kids from the "bad stuff" on TV, you don't put TVs in their rooms, but you sit and watch with them. Isn't that part of a parent's job anymore, cause it sure was when I was a kid.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

TV on DVD 3 - Supplemental

And here's one we both missed.

- Hardy Boys - Nancy Drew Mysteries Season 1
Pity to miss this one. They alternated the Hardy Boys, featuring Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy, with Nancy Drew, starring Pamela Sue Martin. Guys were supposed to care about the Hardy Boys, but dammit Pamela Sue Martin was such a hottie (although that's not a term we used back then) that any teenage (or slightly older) male with an ounce of testosterone and a interest in breeding wanted to be with her - in the bible sense. Later of course she showed off her nice bits for Playboy in an effort to revive her flagging career - yeah, like that ever works - and appearing as the first version of Fallon Carrington in Dynasty. Today, while Shaun Cassidy produces like Cold Case and The Mountain Pammy is twice divorced and living in Idaho or Montana. Doesn't seem fair somehow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

TV on DVD 3

Bit of a weak week for new DVDs of TV series. There seems to be a certain amount of kid's stuff (or stuff that could be perceived as kid's stuff) and special repackaging. ( hid this on me which is part of the reason why I'm late with it. On the other hand I caught one they missed!)

- 24 Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
This one sort of mystifies me. The full season of 24 has been available for a couple of years now, and as I recall the first two episodes don't really constitute a pilot movie. In fact, I'm not sure but I don't believe that the first two episodes of Season 1 were shown back to back, something that was done in subsequent seasons. Given the nature of the show it's not a great move in my opinion. It's a bargain way to sample the show, but my advice is to save your money and buy the full box set.

- Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
This, on the other hand, might be a viable option. The first two episodes of Buffy were a two part story which introduced the characters and got the show off to a rousing start. That said, the first season was only 12 episodes and because of this there are places where you can probably find the first season box at an affordable price.

- The Pretender Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
Are we beginning to sense a trend here? I was never a big watcher of The Pretender although the series has more than it's share of vehement fans. It is interesting to note that all three of these series were made by Fox and are described as "TV Starters". Maybe they figure that TV DVDs are like peanuts - once you have one you can't stop.

- Mary Tyler Moore The Best of Season 1
One DVD four episodes and the box set has been out for two and a half years. Another Starter Set.

- Clutch Cargo Complete Series Season 1
- Clutch Cargo Complete Series Season 2
Doesn't ship till next week according to but since mentioned it (and I have one that they don't have!) I'll just state that the series is probably the worst "animation" ever done for TV and I include the Star Trek animated series in that list. In fact it was so bad it has become a cult favourite - a "Cargo" Cult favourite you might say.

- Dora The Explorer: Big Sister Dora
Apparently this is a popular series on Nickelodeon which airs on Treehouse here in Canada. Needless to say I've never seen it.

- The Flintstones Complete Season 3
- The Flintstones Seasons 1-3
When I was about 10 or 15 the local station started airing The Flintstone at noon on weekdays from September to June. They aired it for 25 to 30 years on the grounds that every year there were always kids watching who hadn't seen the blasted thing. And at that, it's more thought and service than most TV stations give to programming for children at lunch time and after school today.

- Nova: Welcome to Mars
Another one that ships on March 29. Worth it for the story of the little rovers that could.

And now the one that I found and didn't:
- Kojak The complete First Season
Who loves ya baby? Obviously being released now to coincide with the new USA Networks series starring Ving Rames but who cares, Kojak was one of those landmark series that everyone has memories of. (Did you know that this series was regular viewing at Buckingham Palace? The Queen apparently was a fan. The lady has always had taste.)

Medium - Well Done

And if I'm the first person to use that pun, I will be very surprised.

It's true though. Given all of the possible ways that this show could have gone wrong and been done badly, what has shown up on the screen has been quite good. Surprisingly, within the internal logic of the show it is easy to suspend disbelief unless you are one of the hardest of hard core unbelievers. Credit for that goes equally to the writers, the producers, and most importantly to Patricia Arquette.

The writers have been given a very difficult task. They have to sell the viewers on a concept that most people believe is absolute nonsense and make it sensible enough that we in the audience can suspend our disbelief in it. Mostly they pull it off, at least in part by making it seem that Allison's visions come closer to strong hunches than anything else, and always need to be backed with legitimate proof. In the pilot episode, for example, a "vision" that allows her to explain some inconsistencies in a crime scene comes across (at least to anyone who is willing to listen, which is not the people in the D.A.'s office where at the time Allison is an intern) as a simple, logical chain of events seen through a different set of eyes. Equally important, they have totally sold the fact that the character is in virtually all respects an ordinary working mom, although admittedly one whose work is rather "odd".

The producers should also be credited. Their task is equally difficult: to present something as ethereal and ephemeral as a dream or a vision in a way that is not hokey. Part of what they do is to not present Allison's visions the same way every time. By setting things up in this manner we can't always be absolutely certain when Allison is having a vision or communing with dead person, at least not initially. They work hard on this. Another aspect that the producers have worked really hard at is building the cast that surrounds Patricia Arquette. It would be very easy to make her family "perfect" - perfect husband, and three perfect kids - in short a typical TV family. Jake Weber, as Allison's husband Joe, is suitably dishevelled and even rather geeky, as befits an aeroespace engineer. Moreover he sells himself to us as a guy who loves his wife and sort of believes in her "gift" but is only slowly coming to terms with it and the impact that it has and will have on his family. As for the kids, with the exception of Sofia Vassilieva, who is 12 but looks two or three years younger, they aren't the stereotypical "pretty" children that are found on most TV shows. More to the point they tend to be written as somewhat needy kids - as in needing their mother. Finally there is the always reliable Miguel Sandoval as Allison's boss slash sounding board slash "doubting Thomas" Manuel Devalos. It isn't the hardest acting job but Devalos as a character has to both believe in what Allison does sufficiently that he wants her working for him, but has to be enough of a nonbeliever that he can not only demand proof but tell her that he thinks she's barking up the wrong tree.

Still, most of the weight for carrying the series falls on Patricia Arquette. If we don't believe her then we can't believe the character and the whole premise collapses of it's own weight. I think she pulls it off. Allison comes across as a slightly overweight (overweight by the standards of what we see on TV and the other media every day that is) woman who mostly stumbles through her day to day chores and at night has these precognitive dreams. The dreams frighten her, to the point where she was - as she says to her husband in one episode - not only drinking her share but part of her husband's share too. Alcohol dulls the dreams, although it doesn't always keep them away. Only by embracing her abilities does she become truly effective. Arquette manages to put this feeling across in a manner that is both believable and likable.

The series has has it's moments where it goes slightly off the rails. One point is that it seems as though each of Allison's daughters will, in turn, exhibit similar powers. At least the two eldest daughters have; we don't know yet about the youngest, but then she's still in the pre-talking stage. Indeed the trait appears to run in Allison's family, since an earlier episode dealt with her brother, a soldier in Iraq who drank way too much and was known as "Lucky" because he tended to lead his squad out of situations where they'd take casualties. These were of course were the result of his visions. Another irritating trait is the frequent "ghost ex machina" in which a ghost will pop up in front of Allison to explain exactly what happened and how to prove it. In Monday's episode, the spirit of a long dead "murder" victim popped up in Allison's living room about 10 minutes before the end fo the episode, and apparently told Allison where to find the proof that the "murder" was actually a suicide. It was a little too pat of an explanation, as if the writers ran out of show before they could allow Allison to come on the answer by her own.

There is in fact a real psychic medium named Allison Dubois who did work as a consultant with the Phoenix police, has a husband named Joe and three daughters. In fact NBC initially promoted the series as being based on a real person, a move which caused a lot of initial attacks on the concept in the newsgroup on the simple basis that psychics don't exist and those who claim to be psychic are frauds. From what I've seen at her website, I would have to say that the real Allison is actually prettier than Patricia Arquette. On the other hand, based on part of an interview I saw on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on CNBC, I tend to find the fictional Allison far more interesting than the real one. While the fictional Allison seems to accept her powers as a medium somewhat reluctantly, the real Allison Dubois seems to revel in her claims to be able to communicate with the dead. She seems far more interested in being like John Edward (host of the show Crossing Over which was cancelled within a year of starting in syndication. That said, I think that Medium the TV show has some interesting ideas used in it and as long as willing suspension of disbelief doesn't expand much beyond the fictional TV show, than the existence of a real Allison Dubois shouldn't really matter.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Comfort TV

Everybody has a comfort food, whether theyknow it or not. Comfort foods are the sort of thing that you eat and they take you to a happy place where the pressures of the world are set aside for the duration. For me it's "Hawkins Cheezies". They're an extrude cornmeal thing, coated in Canadian Cheddar and you can't get them in the US. Here's the thing; give me a small bag of those and in the all too brief time it takes me to eat them - savouring every cheesy morsel - the world can go on collapsing around me. Comfort food doesn't challenge you; instead it sort of wraps you up and let's you just sort of relax. Most comfort food goes back to something in your childhood, but it doesn't have to to work.

There are TV shows like that. I don't mean shows that make you revert to childhood. If I wanted that I could watch Have Gun Will Travel or Gunsmoke on the Lonestar Channel or find some episodes of Petticoat Junction or Three's Company. No, "Comfort Television" is like sinking into a nice warm bath after a hard day and just letting the tensions ease. Crossing Jordan is an example of "Comfort Television".

When I say that Crossing Jordan is "Comfort Television" I am not denigrating the show. It's just that it is certain that no cast member from the show, and certainly no writer, will ever win or possibly even be nominated for an Emmy. The show should come with a disclaimer - "No creative ground has been broken on this TV series." The show doesn't challenge you, the characters aren't innovative, and they don't break with TV convention. That said, the series is fun. The always enjoyable Jill Hennessy plays Doctor Jordan Cavanaugh a troublesome and high energy pathologist working for the Boston Coroner's Department, but this is no CSI. It's more like Quincy where the coroner solves crimes, while coping with her personal life. Her boss, the show's answer to Quincy's Dr. Asten is Garret Macy, played by the always enjoyable Miguel Ferrer (who isn't as good an actor as his father Jose Ferrer, but is at least as good as his cousin George Clooney). Garret at least does more out in the field than Asten ever did. The police are most frequently represented by Detective Woody Hoyt (Jerry O'Connell), whose relationship with Jordan provides whatever "unresolved sexual tension" the show may need. Part of the real joy of the show are the three main supporting characters, Dr. Nigel Townsend (Steve Valentine), Dr. "Bug" Mahesh (Ravi Kapoor), and Grief Counselor Lilly Lebowski (Kathryn Hahn). While all of the characters, with the possible exception of Dr. Macy, provide a certain amount of comic relief, these three provide a good bit of it. That isn't to say that they're comedic characters, simply that they are more likely to be involved in humorous situations, many related to the Nigel-"Bug" relationship. The cast meshes well together. What really shows this at work is that episodes where Hennessy doesn't appear or only appears briefly aren't the worse because of her absence.

The chemistry between the main characters is quite strong. You can readily believe that these people would go out together and grab a drink after work. I think that could be because we can actually believe that these people have a life outside of work. In so many current shows, like the Law & Order franchise or the CSI franchise it is difficult to believe that there is anything outside of work for these characters. That's one of the things that set NYPD Blue apart, although of course Crossing Jordan isn't in the same league as Blue. Relationships matter, both at work and away from work.

Over the years characters have appeared and fallen by the wayside, most notably Jordan's father Max Cavanaugh, a former Boston detective with a shadowy past. Max, played by Ken Howard, was featured in the credits in the first season and was integral in helping Jordan to solve the various crimes she was investigating as well as hiding the mystery of the death of Jordan's mother. From the second season on, Max increasingly became a secondary character and then more or less just a vague presence. In all honesty I think the change is for the better even though the character of Max fit nicely into the mix of the cast. He was becoming increasingly marginalized, and as it stands today when the character makes occasional appearances - as he did in last night's show, appearing to help solve the mystery of the death of several of his old partners - he comes in naturally, as a pleasant surprise. It is not, as was the case in NYPD Blue someone who was on the show and then went away not to be thought of again.

One interesting thing they've done, and promoted on the show, if to create an online presence in the form of
Nigel's Blog, which presents viewers with the mystery of the "Beacon Hill Murders" to try to help Nigel to solve. I haven't delved into it deeply, but it looks like it could be fun.

On the whole I find Crossing Jordan to be one of the highlights of the TV viewing week. It's a nice comfortable show to settle down with for an hour. The show doesn't bury the audience in science; it is driven more by the people than the work, and as the Lilly character frequently reminds us, People Matter.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

American vs. British

Last night I watched an episode of Trading Spaces straight through. It wasn't a new one, but the one with Christopher Rich and Melissa Peterman from Reba doing each other's rooms. With all due respect to Rich, I was there to watch Peterman because her character on Reba is a hoot and probably the best reason to watch the show, although Steve Howey's character "Van" comes close. I tried to write about the experience last night but the words wouldn't come, mainly because I was trying to do a general overview of why American adaptations of British "lifestyle" shows may be commercial successes but don't work as well as the British originals - in my opinion anyway. So let me take another run at this thing.

I am not a handyman. I have tools but most of them were inherited when my grandfather died, and my brother got the better tools, like the router. The one power tool I own because I wanted to have it is a new 22 speed Craftsman cordless drill because, let me tell you, a cordless drill is the one power tool that you will use the most. Even if you live in an apartment there are screws to take out and put back in and Ikea furniture to put together and a cordless drill is just the thing. But even if I am totally inept about tools - a tool about tools if you will - I love home improvement shows. Norm Abrams is a demi-god in my world, thanks to his series New Yankee Workshop and the gang at This Old House are idols. I watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition which is fun, and the guy they call in next Holmes on Homes (a Canadian series that features contractor Mike Holmes going into peoples places and redoing renovations that slipshod contractors have done in the first place). And of course there's Changing Rooms.

Changing Rooms is a simple little half hour series that was adapted into the hour long American Trading Spaces. All of the elements of the former are in the latter but for me at least they don't come out right. Going to an hour from a half hour is part of it. I think that the half hour format makes the show more focused and dare I say it more entertainment than the American version. Of course the American show has more of a commercial element to it. In the episode that I saw last night we watched the designers head off to Home Depot (the adult male's answer to "Toys R Us") and Pottery Barn and actually do some shopping. In the British series you might get a designer mentioning where he picked up a particularly nice bit, or a particularly cheap bit but to a North American the product might just as well be on Mars. Tell me, where do you get lime wax in Saskatoon? The interesting thing is that while the British show is shorter than the American program, it doesn't seem as forced. Fast paced yes, but not as if they were trying to overstuff it.

Of course the big thing is the personalities. Both shows had perky hosts - in the United States there was Paige Davis, while in the UK there was Carol Smillie (I say was because Smillie ended her hosting duties in 2003 after six years and three pregnancies, while it was announced that Davis will be dropped at the end of the current season). Smillie always seemed more polished. Not surprising, after all she had been the "Vanna White" clone on the British version of Wheel of Fortune while Davis was a Broadway performer with no previous TV experience. The British have always had "chippie" (British for carpenter) "Handy" Andy Kane, while Trading Spaces has gone through a succession of carpenters starting with Ty Pennington, Carter Oosterhaus, and several others. Kane tends to be calmer but can be quite sarcastic to the designers and even the "clients", but it's a funny quality.

Of course the designers are the hear of both shows. The core British designers are Graham Wynne, Linda Barker, Laura McCree and Anna Rider Richardson with Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen moving from designer to host after Carol Smillie left. The American series has had a larger number of designers although Frank Beliec, Hilda Santo Tomas, Roderick Shade, Laurie Smith and Doug Wilson have been with the show from the start. On the whole I think that the British designers aren't as flamboyant or abrasive as many of the American designers. Certainly they seem to take the tastes of the customers - the people they are working with rather than the people whose houses they're renovating - into account more than the American designers. That's not to say that the British designers don't have their stupid designs that please no one except the designer. Laura McCree's first room was a bedroom in an 18th century vicarage that belonged to an artist - she turned the room into a replica of a London squat (an abandoned building taken over by squatters) that no one liked. On the other hand no one is likely to staple straw to a wall, paper the kitchen of a teetotalling Baptist minister with wine bottle labels, or turn a family room into a home theater despite the fact that the family only had a 19 inch TV. The British designers are usually calmer and less prone to be overdramatic and tend to work more cooperatively with their teams. American teams and designers frequently seem to be in opposition to each other.

I can't really put my finger on the reason for it, but - and this tends to be common to all of the American versions of British originals - I like tend to feel that Trading Spaces is nowhere near as enjoyable as Changing Rooms. I watch the latter as pure entertainment and somehow I'm just not as entertained by Trading Spaces as I am by Changing Rooms.

Friday, March 18, 2005

I Hear Music, Mighty Fine Music

I came across a link to a top 100 list of TV themes in Bill Crider's blog. It's an interesting list, although of course lists like this are so subjective as to be absurd. I mean let's face it, any list of TV themes that doesn't include I Love Lucy isn't up to much, although I'm not sure what I'd pull to put it in. Maybe one day I'll post my own list of TV Themes, but which ones? There are so many out there that listing 10 or 25 or even 100 may not be enough. I think we can all agree on the worst TV Theme at least: that would be the theme from Walker: Texas Ranger rendered (take that term in every way possible) by famed vocalist and thespian Mr. Chuck Norris.

That's the thing about TV show themes. Everybody has a favourite, or rather a lot of favourites, and they tend to evoke feelings and memories about a show. They don't have to be famous series either. The first record I ever owned was an extended play Columbia 45 of Johnny Cash singing The Rebel - Johnny Yuma from (as the record jacket says) "the ABC-TV production 'The Rebel'". The record cover features an impossibly young looking and pompadoured Cash dressed not in black but in a white shirt, suede vest and string tie. A definite blast from the past and the makings of a lifelong Johnny Cash fan. The reason I have that record however is that as a little kid I so loved that series that I bugged my mom to get it for me. I don't recall much about the series. It was usually Johnny Yuma - the Rebel - wandering - alone - from town to town and getting fighting mad - that rebel lad - usually for some cause or other sometimes related to the fact that he was still wearing the remnants of his Confederate uniform. The show wasn't much of a success, but that theme is still memorable.

Every so often there are attempts to get rid of TV theme songs and title sequences on the grounds that it will allow the producers to tell the story more fully. As nearly as I can tell the producers of Jake In Progress took that approach (but remember I had a headache last night and may not have noticed it). They're wrongheaded. The theme and the title sequence are a readily identifiable signatures for a TV series; in the case of theme music, an audio cue but for the audience. You can be doing something totally involving away from your TV but with it on, and when you hear the theme music from a show you like - say Nerf Herder's music for Buffy the Vampire Slayer or that drum roll that is the signature at the start of The West Wing - you know that you're going to want to stop what you're doing and watch TV for a while.

You can't get away from them, and when they're played out of context they not only bring a smile to your face but an instant flashback to the show. There are people who think they know The William Tell Overture because the finale was the theme music for The Lone Ranger and every time they hear those first trumpet notes immediately think of the lines of the narrator "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-yo Silver....The Lone Ranger rides again." I remember being waiting for a movie - Three Men and a Baby - to start when the theme from Magnum P.I. came over the loudspeakers. You could see the crowd offer up a collective smile and nod, as if the theater had set it up that the music from Tom Selleck's TV series would play before a Tom Selleck movie came on. I know that I can't watch parts of the movieBackdraft without expecting to see a flamboyantly dressed Japanese man chomping on a pepper and shouting "Allez Cuisine". That's the power of TV theme music.

This is Progress?

It says something about ... something that ABC decided to program two full hours of their new comedy Jake In Progress opposite the first night of the NCAA Championship. They showed two new episodes followed by the two episodes that aired last Sunday. I bailed about ten minutes into the second half hour, just after Wendy Mallick was corralled by a trivia spouting employee who, against her will, Mallick was trying to get to know a little. I was getting a headache and life is too short to watch shows that you think might be giving you a headache.

Maybe I'm not the right audience for this show, but I found all of the characters depressingly self-centred. A self-centred character isn't a bad thing really but when all of the characters are self-centred, there's no one to root for or identify with, no one to like. John Stamos plays Jake Phillips, a New York publicist to the stars who, according to the clips we've seen ABC use to promote the show, has reached the point in his life that all men (well at least straight men who haven't done something stupid like entering the priesthood or a monastery) reach, where he wonders what it would be like to settle down with one woman and raise a family. Trouble is that he's so used to being a serial dater that he's not sure about how he's supposed to go about this. Maybe my problem is that I didn't see that in the episode I caught. What I saw was a battle of one-upsmanship between Jake and another publicist and Jake getting a chance to do it with an actress he's lusted after for years. Jake came across as a self centred jerk. Then there was Jakes friend the performance artist Patrick, played by Rick Hoffman who wants to go to a party so he can insult magician David Blane and plans out in detail how he's going to do it, down to which T-shirt made him look angrier. Wendy Mallick's character of Naomi is merely Nina from Just Shoot Me in a new office and a pregnancy belly. I didn't see much interaction with Ian Gomez as Jake's long-time best friend Adrian or with Margaret Welsh as Adrian's wife Naomi, so maybe this episode was a bit atypical. ABC has also promoted the series as "Different sex, same city" but it really doesn't live up to that billing. Carrie Bradshaw had at least some redeeming features and there was always Miranda. In fact the only totally self-centred character was Samantha, and even she had sympathetic moments. In what I saw of Jake In Progress there was none of this.

The writing is sharp, one might even say barbed. There were some good satirical moments when Jake was dealing with clients. There was the comedian who was putting together a play that was an entirely non-comedic attack on American - sorry "A Murderer" - international policy, in five very long acts; and in a different episode the "Three Gaymigos" (who seemed suspiciously like the Queer Eye Guys) one of whom was coming out of the closet as a heterosexual and the older actress played by Mel Harris who was living with a somewhat dense adolescent star but wanted to break up with him to go live with a 50-something psychiatrist (I wonder which actress with two daughters and a boob job and which star of a Fox comedy set in another decade they could be a send-up of). This is good stuff, and if the recurring characters even once did something that made me actually like some of them, or even feel some sympathy for them, I might tune in again. As it stands I think I'd prefer to watch Survivor, or This Old House, or basketball or even Joey. Life is too short.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Couple Of Short Takes

It's been a rather quiet Wednesday, which coupled with the fact that I've currently got a raging headache means that I don't have much for you. There are a couple of interesting items though.

Apparently the people who gave us Dr. Who as a children's program are wimping out. Marmite is a thick brown substance, made from yeast extract, vegetable extract, celery extract and an assortment of added vitamins (pronounced with the short "i" sound if you please) that the health conscious British man and woman have on their toast in the morning. Well the British are well known for their distinctive breakfasts - the fry up smoked herring to eat in the morning too. The advertising slogan for Marmite is "You either love it or hate it." Marmite recently released two new commercials (click yes when asked if you are in the UK otherwise you can't see the one that is available online) which have caused a lot of controversy. According to a report from Reuters, the Marmite ads have been banned from children's programming in Britain because six people complained that their toddlers had been terrified by the ad - four of the children refused to watch the telly after seeing them and the other two had nightmares. Unilever Bestfoods, the manufacturer of Marmite were able to avoid an "ex-kids restriction" which would have kept the commercial from airing on shows like Pop Idol (the British original of American Idol and Canadian Idol) that attract younger viewers. While most commentators describe the ad as resembling the movie The Blob, to me it bears a greater resemblance to the "Blanc Mange" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The other interesting thing comes from the blog-like portion of Tom Snyder's Skipping past his comments on Million Dollar Baby and Chris Rock at the Oscars, we come upon his comments on the departure of Dan Rather from the CBS News and Snyder's reaction to Walter Cronkite's comment that Rather should have been replaced by Bob Schieffer long ago. Snyder was not impressed saying that "Cronkite was a prima donna when he was anchoring the Evening News, and apparently as he aged has turned into a nasty old man." The fact is that the relationship between Rather and Cronkite was rarely good, particularly after Rather took over the anchor chair - Cronkite apparently thought that even though he was retired he should still have a major role at CBS News, and Rather basically cut him out of the loop starting with the 1984 presidential elections if not earlier.

The really interesting thing however is Snyder's comments on the trials of Michael Jackson and Robert Blake. Jackson gets a sentence, but Blake gets the rest of the paragraph. Robert Blake was a frequent guest on The Late Late Show With Tom Snyder. If you remember those appearances you'll recall that Blake was frequently a nut. Sorry, but there's no other way to put it. He come out, sit in the chair, usually with a cigarette in his mouth or hand although it was usually unlit, and ramble on about whatever Snyder prompted him on, whether it was the Our Gang movies, getting high with Steve McQueen, or Blake's personal life. If you ever saw these segments you'll remember that it was entertaining in the sort of way that watching two trains crash into each other can be entertaining in a horrible sort of way. On one memorable occasion (years before Bonny Lee Bakely ever crossed his path) Blake spent an entire twenty minute interview begging a woman with whom he'd recently been involved to come back with him. At the end of the segment I was praying that she would get very far away from him. I think Snyder probably agreed - in his blog he mentions discussing Blake with the crew on the show and everyone would comment about how angry Blake always seemed. Snyder concludes that while the evidence against Blake is all circumstantial, he thinks that Blake did it. If you saw those segments on The Late Late Show, you'd probably agree.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Five Types In Search Of Character Development

There are certain things that go together naturally: Oreos and milk, soup and a sandwich, tomatoes and basil, cop shows and gimmicks. Not all cop shows have gimmicks, but it's not unexpected when you get a cop show that has a gimmick. In the past we've had cops in wheelchairs (Ironside), deaf cops (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye), cops with OCD (Monk), robotic cops (Mann and Machine not to mention the syndicated Robocop), a psychic cop (well not really a cop, but the woman in Medium works for the local DA), vampire cops (Forever Knight) and if you count private eyes even a blind detective (Longstreet). Plus there was a real life private investigator named Jay J. Armes who didn't have hands, so why not a blind cop? The result is Blind Justice, the new ABC series from Stephen Bochco (and the whole Bochco clan if you can believe the credit list for producers and directors).

Blind Justice debuted last Tuesday, but I decided to wait to review it until this week. Pilot episodes frequently aren't exactly the way the actual series is going to be - they need tweaking and some smoothing of the rough spots. Blind Justice is no exception. There were some visual effects in use in the first episode that implied some things that weren't what the producers envisaged because they implied that the lead character, Detective Jim Dunbar, had some residual sight remaining when the producers and star Ron Eldard were clear that he was totally blind. Those sequences weren't present in Tuesday's episode.

In fact, decisions on visual effects may be the least of the problems Blind Justice is facing. I'm willing to buy the premise - a New York detective, blinded in the line of duty sues to not only get back on the police force but to go back to full time duty as a detective. I am even willing to buy the idea that he carries a gun. Hell there are plenty of people who shoot at things they can't see - they shoot intruders in the dark don't they? No, where I start to have problems is with the supporting characters. For the most part they are standard types that you can find in just about any cop show with this sort of premise. Type 1 - The Boss: not sure about the new guy, particularly with his "problem" but willing to give him a chance to prove himself. Type 2 - The New Partner: not sure about the new guy and how working with him will affect her career, but willing to give it a shot in the short term until he proves himself or falls flat on his face. Type 3 - The Enthusiastic Guy: usually the youngest person in the squad he's there to encourage the new guy because hey, he's blind and needs all the encouragement he can get. Type 4 - The Office Jerk: he's usually partnered with Enthusiastic Guy, and is constantly running down and tormenting the new guy because he's convinced that the new guy can't pull his weight and do the job. And because this is a Stephen Bochco drama, there's Type 5 - The Wife: there's been some marital difficulty in the past and she doesn't understand the changes that her spouse has gone through, but for now at least she's loyal. About the only supporting character who isn't a stereotype is the guide dog Hank. Speaking of Hank, I'm waiting for the episode where he gets shot (but not killed - the only dog ever to be killed while working with a cop was Hootch in the movie Turner and Hootch, and Tom Hanks got Mare Winningham out of the deal so it was almost a fair trade) and the squad rallies to find the crook while Jim has to cope without his dog.

The simple fact is that whether or not Blind Justice works is based entirely on whether Ron Eldard can sell us that his character, Jim Dunbar, really is blind and really is capable of doing his job despite that. So far I don't think that he's done too badly. For all the stereotypes surrounding him, this is Eldard's show. Watching his performance I haven't seen anything that screams "this is a sighted actor not a blind man." Which simply means that he hasn't slipped. Also, to be fair to the writers they haven't slipped into the "I was given a sainthood when I lost my sight" trap. Dunbar has his share of flaws, like jealousy and a temper. I wouldn't be surprised to see him edging towards an affair with his partner, but I'm betting they won't go there. Much has been made of the scene in the pilot episode where Dunbar pulls his weapon on a suspect. A lot of people disagreed with the character being armed or pulling his gun, but it is entirely in character for someone who recently lost his sight to instinctively try to do something that he would normally have done in a situation he was familiar with. A cop would pull his gun on someone who had attacked his partner, particularly when he can identify where the attacker is. What sold the scene was the subsequent reaction shot where Dunbar gains confidence in what his senses are telling him about what the attacker is telling him. He starts unsure but gains confidence as he becomes familiar with his surroundings. The subsequent scene in which his hands shake because the adrenalin is wearing off and he realizes what he has done is probably true of a lot of cops who can see, not just someone who can't. (I went to high school with a guy who later joined the local police force; at our high school reunion he told a few of us that the most scared he'd ever been in almost 20 years as a cop was the one time he'd been force to pull his side arm for real.)

All things considered while I like it well enough, I don't think that Blind Justice is anything special, but at the same time I don't think that it is terrible. The problem is that I expect more than average from Stephen Bochco after Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue. I'd like to see them get an extension into next season to see if Bochco and his creative people can improve on the characterization and make the supporting cast more multidimensional. If I had to give an opinion right now though I'd say that I prefer last year's NYPD Blue replacement, Line of Fire, to Blind Justice just for the way that Leslie Hope and David Paymer worked as characters. They were more dimensional than most of the characters in Blind Justice.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

TV on DVD #2

Continuing my efforts at stealing other people's ideas I present this week's new TV series releases on DVD and my thoughts about them. List courtesy of the guys over at

Bit of a slow week, at least as far as shows I can give comments on - I haven't seen most of them. Is that going to stop me? Not on your life!

Court TV: Body of Evidence
- Starting with this one, although in this case I have a legitimate excuse. The saga of Court TV around here is pretty rocky. Originally the Canadian Cable companies offered the US channel, and I got it when I bought Digital Cable (it was bundled with BBC World - which was the one I wanted - and a couple of other channels). However because of programming clearances, the US channel was basically the trials and then dead air after 5 p.m. and on weekends. Eventually it was replace with Court TV Canada, which wasn't on my local system until about 6 months ago. Since I didn't have any interest in it I didn't subscribe. And I didn't watch it during the misnamed 31 Days of Great TV promotion the Canadian TV industry did in January.

Farscape: Starburst Edition Volume 3
- Huh? Is this a "clever" way to get you to buy something you already have or are they just being cute? Really, I want to know, because I've never watched Farscape. I know, it's a hard thing to admit but it's true.

Hogan's Heroes: The Complete First Season
- Now this I do know. And while I won't go quite as far as Jaime J Weinman does in his blog
Something Old, Nothing New in calling Hogan's Heroes better than M*A*S*H I will suggest that any attempt to assert that Hogan's Heroes didn't understand the brutality of the Nazi regime doesn't get it. Hollywood had, during the 25 or so years following the end of World War II done a very good job of almost totally ignoring and downplaying the systematic extermination of people deemed to be enemies of the Third Reich, including Jews, Gypsies, Poles, political opponents, the mentally retarded and just about anyone else who struck their fancy. A look at the cast list of Hogan's Heroes shows a number of people who were directly touched by events: Otto Klemperer, John Banner, Leon Askin, Robert Clary. As a sop to those who hate Hogan's Heroes, I will note that Leon Kinsky (best known as Sascha in Casablanca) appeared in the pilot as a Russian POW but refused a permanent role because the premise struck him as offensive. "The Nazis were seldom dumb and never funny."

La Femme Nikita Season 1 and 2
- Never saw it. It was a Canadian-made adaptation (for an American network) of an American movie that had been adapted from a French movie ... or something like that. On the other hand the cast looks pretty good.

Starsky & Hutch: The Complete Third Season
- This one I did watch, but somehow the abiding images of it for me have always been the car, and Paul Michael Glaser standing in a total downpour in that stupid sweater that must have gained 20 pounds in water weight.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Whatever Happened To? (#3 of a series)

Whatever happened to good American versions of British shows?

There was a time, roughly between 1970 and 1980, when American producers made really good versions of British comedies. I think there were about four that really really worked. Since then the results have usually been less than desirable. There have been a few successes but a great many failures. And it isn't just comedies - the American versions of British shows, like The Antiques Roadshow, Changing Rooms and What Not To Wear are inferior to the British versions. But that's a story for another time.

The four successful British shows that became successful American shows were Till Death Do Us Part which became All In The Family, Steptoe And Son which was Americanised as Sanford And Son, Man About The House which turned into Three's Company, and Keep It In The Familywhich was remade as Too Close For Comfort in the United States. But now consider the fate of other American versions of British shows, starting with the two spinoffs from Man About The House/Three's Company. The British shows, Robin's Nest and George & Mildred each lasted three years (38 episodes) while the American shows lasted one season. Fawlty Towers was remade twice, as Amanda's (starring Bea Arthur) and Payne (starring John Laroquette) neither lasted as long as the British series, and Cleese only made 12 episodes of that. Then there was that classic PBS warhorse Are You Being Served. That show lasted 69 episodes and spawned a sequel called Grace And Favour (known as Are You Being Served Again in the United States). It was remade as Beanes of Boston but the pilot wasn't picked up. Similarly there were two attempts to make an American version of Red Dwarf, neither of which sold. Men Behaving Badly did make it onto the NBC schedule but while the British series lasted six season, the American version went under two. Most recently there was Coupling which lasted 4 episodes. And there are many more.

What makes the successes work. In the cases of All in the Family and Sanford And Son, the producers took the basic premise of a British show but adapted it to American realities and very quickly tailored it to the stars involved. It didn't hurt that the producer doing the adaptation was Norman Lear, or that he was working with Caroll O'Connor and Redd Foxx. In the case of Three's Company and Too Close For Comfort benefited from strong comedic leads in John Ritter and Ted Knight respectively, and a longer run allowed them to develop the shows beyond where the British series went. A later success, Cosby started with the premise of the British show One Foot In The Grave but almost immediately threw the concepts of the British series out and became a clone of The Cosby Show set in a less affluent neighborhood.

But as is usually the case it is the failures that are of more interest, if only to ask what on earth were they thinking? How could anyone imagine remaking Fawlty Towers a show that is so tied with its star John Cleese that no one else could possibly fit into the role? The show was about more than someone running a seaside hotel it was about Cleese, with his silly walks and his attitude, being the rudest person ever to run a seaside hotel. Similarly how can you do a version of Red Dwarf without the chemistry that existed between Chris Barrie and Craig Charles, and the unique talent that is Danny John-Jules as "Cat". Terry Farrell, who was cast as "Cat" in the second pilot for the American version, was scarcely an adequate replacement. Another example of not getting it is the American remake of men Behaving Badly. In the British series, the so-called men are as someone put it "just barely housebroken". They live in an apartment that could be called a dump if that weren't an insult to dumps, and treat the women they're involved with so badly that if these women possessed any degree of self-esteem they'd be long gone. In the American version they lived in a trendy apartment and have a series of attractive girlfriends. As for Coupling the producers thought they could assure success by using the scripts from the British. Unfortunately they totally misunderstood the nature of the characters and their relationships and cast the series based on these misperceptions. The result probably wouldn't have worked even if the original series hadn't been widely seen in the United States.

Based on the past performance of American adaptations of British series - particularly situation comedies - the prospects for the upcoming NBC version of the BBC's hit The Office is not too good. It is a very fine line to walk between sticking too close to the original series or throwing out all of the qualities that made the British series a success in the first place. Doing either can destroy what made the original series work. Many British series are idiosyncratic, and those qualities don't always translate well. We wouldn't expect an American version of Blackadder to work any more than we'd expect a British version of Reba to work. Come to think of it, it's more likely that most American series could be adapted by the British with comparatively difficulty. The question is, given the current state of sitcoms in the United States, why would they want to?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

What's Going On With JAG?

It looks as if Donald Bellisario is trying to keep JAG running through the simple expedient of turning the clock back ten years. In the process he's easing out the actors that have made the show the success that it has been.

JAG has been running for ten years - one year on NBC and nine years on CBS - which if I'm not mistaken makes it the longest running drama currently on the six US broadcast networks now that NYPD Blue has left the air. David James Elliott has played Harmon Rabb for all ten seasons. In fact he is the only member of the cast who has been on the show since the start, although Patrick Labyorteaux, who plays Bud Roberts was in the series pilot playing that character. In the past few episodes, Elliott's role in the series has been reduced not just significantly but to near nonexistence. In the episode that aired Friday, Elliott had exactly five scenes totalling at most ten minutes of screen time. Labyorteaux by the way had one scene, and at most two minutes of screen time.

There's a story behind this. Elliott's current contract with the show ends at the end of this season. Before Elliott's agent even made an approach to producer Donald P. Bellisario, he was informed not to bother, Elliott's contract would not be renewed as a "cost cutting measure". The clear implication is that Bellisario believes that the show can continue, not just for one more season - at the end of which Catherine Bell's contract ends - but beyond. On the whole it seems to be a poor way to treat an actor who has been thoroughly identified with the show since its beginning and has become thoroughly identified with the show.

When JAG debuted, Elliott's character was a young hotshot lawyer - a naval Lieutenant - who was prepared to bend the rules in order to win a case. He was sometimes undisciplined - in one episode the character fired a pistol in a courtroom during a trial. He had adventures some of which had little or nothing to do with his duties as a lawyer. He was also very much a ladies man and in the pilot was having an affair with partner (played by Andrea Parker, later of The Pretender). Over the years he's settled down somewhat, although he still has an adventurous side, but with rank (he's now a full Commander) and age have come increased responsibility and stability. He even had an "adopted" daughter for a time over the past couple of seasons. At the same time the supporting cast - Labyorteaux's Lt. Commander Bud Roberts and Catherine Bell's Lt. Colonel Sarah Mackenzie among them - have also grown and developed a solid chemistry.

What Bellisario seems to be doing as he eases Elliott off the show - is to replace him with a carbon copy of the "old" Harmon Rabb. A new actor has been added to the cast specifically as a replacement for Elliott. The new character, Lieutenant Greg Vukovic (played by Chris Beetem, formerly of the daytime drama As The World Turns), is a young hotshot lawyer who is prepared to bend (and one at least one occasion break) the rules in order to win a case. He's had at least one adventure - in the three episodes that he's been on the show - which has had little or nothing to do with his duties as a lawyer. He's very much a ladies man. In fact, about the only difference between Rabb and Vukovic is that Rabb is pilot who joined the Judge Advocate Corps after he was disqualified from flying due to vision problems (later corrected), while Vukovic is a surface warfare officer.

Moreover this Friday's episodes introduced a couple of other characters who appear to be potential regulars - a new administrative officer, Lieutenant Catherine Graves played by Jordana Spiro, and a young female lawyer Lieutenant Tali Mayfield played by Meta Goulding. Lieutenant Mayfield has had a previous romantic and sexual relationship with Vukovic, while Graves appears as if she's interested in that sort of relationship with him. When Bud Roberts was first added to the series, he was a young administrative officer who later became a lawyer, although he did not have any interest in a romantic or sexual relationship with Rabb. That side of the equation was filled by Catherine Bell's character, who over the nine years that she's been on the show has had a love ... hate ... love ... fear commitment relationship with Harm. Tell me please, is this not an effort to take the show back to its origins?

By not signing Elliott to a one year contract which would coincide with the end of Bell's contract, and would presumably mark a way to bring the show to a natural conclusion by tying up loose ends in much the same manner that NYPD Blue did, Bellisario seems to be demonstrating his intention to keep the show on the air for as long as the audience is willing to accept it, even if that means replacing the entire cast. Assuming that JAG does survive this season, I would predict that Bellisario would not make a big effort to re-sign Bell beyond the end of her current contract. I already expect that Labyorteaux either won't be back next year or will have his role reduced to near nonexistence. The question is not whether the audience will accept JAG without David James Elliott, let alone without Elliott and Catherine Bell. If I were taking bets I'd say the answer is no.

Friday, March 11, 2005


Apparently I've managed to break something or something has become broken. I went to post a comment on Tom and Stephen's blog If Charlie Parker Was A Gunslinger, There'd Be A Lot Of Dead Imitators only to discover that I can't. An attempt to post a comment comes back with a Blogger screen saying that "The Blog you were looking for was not found." Come on, I've already found the Blog I was looking for, now I want to comment on it. Tried to comment on most of the other Blogspot blogs on my list and received the same response. Tried posting comments on my two blogs and no problem.

Oh, the comment? It was for They Were Collaborators #27, a picture of Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop on a package of "Puzzle Rings". Clearly Betty was a bit of a Dominatrix in that relationship and Mickey was her Sub. I mean Mickey is half into a pair of handcuffs and those other things are obviously toys for some kinky sex. As if a girl who started life as a dog doin' it with a mouse who is as tall as she is isn't kinky enough to be on an episode of CSI during sweeps.

Now you'll have to excuse me, I have to finish up an article that I'm ghost writing - for a real commercial website no less - that will pay me honest to gospel money if I can finish it on deadline. And if you happen to click on the comments section for this article, you could always click on the Google Ads there even if you can't post a comment. (That's another mystery: why can't I get the ads on the main page to show anything more than PSAs while the ads in the comments section are chock full of stuff that'll make me a very little bit of money if you click on them?) Because after all, what's TV without commercials? Okay, that's easy - the BBC - but it's not a model we're familiar with in North America.

They Call It The Sweet Science

Boxing, together with Wrestling and Running is one of the most ancient of Man's sports. The ancient Olympics featured a form of Boxing, although instead of gloves the fighters wrapped their hands in leather thongs called himantes, and unlike today there were no rounds and few rules. The fight continued until one man was knocked out or signaled his submission. It was nothing compared to the Pankration though, which only barred biting and gouging of the eyes nose and mouth. Despite the addition of gloves and rules intended to civilize the sport, Boxing remains one of the most primal and visceral of contests, which is why it attracts us and repels us at the same time.

Within the context of the history of Television, Boxing is equally ancient. Although the first scheduled weekly boxing matches on TV appear in the schedules for NBC, CBS and the Dumont Network in 1948 (there were a total of four boxing shows on the three networks in 1948), NBC began airing the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports in 1946, and while the name implies a variety of events, in practice the show was boxing twice a week. Weekly matches continued to be a staple of network prime-time schedules throughout the 1950s with the last weekly show disappearing from ABC in 1964. Boxing continued to be a staple of Saturday afternoons on shows like Wide World of Sports much longer. Championship fights, particularly heavyweight championships were amongst the first "pay-per-view" offerings, although in the very early days this consisted of going to a theatre and watching the television signal projected on a movie screen, and hoping that the feed didn't go out during the fight. The last heavyweight championship fight (or championship in any weight class for that matter) that I can remember on network TV was the second Ali-Spinks fight where Muhammed Ali won the heavyweight championship for an unprecedented third time by defeating Leon Spinks, the man who had take the title from him a few months before. Boxing hasn't abandoned television but has simply moved to cable and pay-per-view, a product of the greed and corruption of promoters, from Don King on down.

Into this situation comes The Contender, a new Mark Burnett show featuring Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard. The show brings together a group of 16 middleweight fighters in a tournament format with a prize of $1,000,000 at the end of the line. These fighters are all solid pros with good records, but guys who aren't ranked in the top 15 in the Middleweight or Super-Middleweight classes. Also seen - featured is too strong a word for it - is trainer Tommy Gallagher who interacts a lot with the fighters on a day to day basis, and boxing manager Jackie Kallen, who was played by Meg Ryan in the movie Against The Ropes. The show, which was intended to regain some respect for boxing - a sport mired in greed and corruption and a general sense that maybe its time has passed - suffered a blow when one of the prospects committed suicide. Najai Turpin killed himself. According to his manager, Turpin was despondent because he could not take any more bouts until the finale of the series aired.

Being a Mark Burnett show, the focus isn't as much on boxing as it is on interpersonal relationships. We see the boxers training. We see the boxers with their families, who have been brought out to California to be near the fighters, and of course to allow us to sympathize with them. We see the boxers trash talking each other, sometimes within their own "teams". That of course is another "Burnett Touch". The fighters are split into two teams based on their birth place/residence - East and West. The teams live in separate compounds and compete in various competitions loosely based on various types of boxing training. In the episode I saw the boxers had to run from the field of the Rose Bowl to a group of flags at the top of the stands and then carry a flag of their "colour" (East is Blue, West is Yellow) back down to the field, then go back for another flag. When they had brought down all the flags of their colour they would take a puzzle piece that was wrapped around the staff of each flag and attempt to put them in the proper order. The team that won the competition was able to decide which of their team members would box in the next fight and he would be able to choose who his opponent would be. The loser of the fight would be sent home, the winner would go through to the next round and wouldn't have to fight until all of the other members of his team had been in the ring. In addition his team would get a "reward" in the next episode. In the episode I saw the reward was a chance to spend some time with George Foreman.

This show isn't very good for a lot of reasons. Jackie Kallen says so little that not only didn't I know who she was, when I found out I started to wonder if Meg Ryan had appeared in a silent movie when she made Against The Ropes. The format didn't work for me either. Putting the boxers in teams doesn't really work because boxers are on the whole loners who are mostly focused on themselves; why should they since boxing isn't a teams sport. While there isn't an "I" in Team, there are the components to make "me". In the episode I saw, George Foreman gave the West Team a pep talk which included the advice "plan your work and work your plan". One of the fighters, Ishe, took this to mean "plan his work and work his plan" not his teams plan. He alienated the rest of the group when, despite all of the trash talk he had directed against a fighter on the East team he didn't volunteer to go into the ring. He also got into a confrontation with the West team member who was fighting that night and openly wished the Eastern opponent that the man from his team picked the best of luck. The family component really didn't work for me either. Having them present was designed to build sympathy for the boxers but it also tended to telegraph which fighters would be fighting at the end of the episode even before the competition to decide which team would choose and who would be chosen. Viewers knew it already. The families can also be a distraction, both for the fighters and the audience. One fighter had his pregnant wife (who I swear looked as if she was about ready to either give birth or pop like an over-inflated balloon) and four kids, who irritated the boxer on the night before the big match. The other fighter, who didn't get nearly as much screen time (was that a clue as to who would be around longer? mmmm could be) had his girlfriend and two small children.

About the best thing about The Contender was the boxing. At this point the fights are five rounds, not particularly gruelling for guys used to going 12 or 15. We see the fighters in their dressing rooms preparing as the crowd - supposedly full of celebrities like Tony Danza, James Caan and the guy who played Pauly in the Rocky movies took their seats. We see the families - the wife with four and 9/9ths kids (I swear I thought she was going to drop that baby during the match), and the girlfriend with son in (I swear) a white tuxedo and daughter in a fairy princess costume accessorized with sippy cup who didn't understand why that man was hitting her daddy - and the "team" members. And of course there's Sly, Sugar Ray, Tommy and Silent Jackie. What there isn't, is an announcer. We see the fighters fight, but all of the commentary was supplied by the faces of Leonard and Stallone and the words of the "team" and corner people. Although they often had to be subtitled to be heard over the swelling strains of the overly dramatic music and undoubtedly enhanced "cheering throng", this seemed to be an effective way to present a boxing match, about as up close and personal as you can possibly get. It's a pity it's not a way that a live boxing match could be presented since as often as not commentators get in the way of the action.

The Contender is an interesting failure but a failure nonetheless. For a reality show it comes across as forced and almost too unreal, not natural enough. Me? I'll stick with The Amazing Race or even Survivor, and give this a pass when it comes on this Sunday. This one example of mid-season spackle that I don't think will stick around after it finishes its run.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


The guys over at have posted a list of TV series that are newly released to DVD this week and never being one to object to shamelessly stealing an idea and mutating it to my own purposes I present their list and my comments.

21 Jump Street: Season Two
- I don't think it was ever seen here, at least not in first run. Saskatoon got Fox (out of Rochester not Detroit like all the other US stations) much later than you'd expect, around the time that UPN started up.

Andromeda: Season Four, Collections Five
- And in partial scores Episodes 22. I don't know what's up with the numbering here, but I don't really care. I've lost interest in Andromeda except as a way to complain about Canwest-Global and their cable operations. Canwest-Global (which co-produces the Andromeda with Tribune Entertainment, which makes the show Canadian in the eyes of the government) owns the Mystery Channel on Digital Cable in Canada and managed to get their Canadian Content up high enough to pick up a Class A "must carry" ruling from the CRTC by stuffing just about anything they can get that is counted as CanCon onto the channel. Andromeda is a mystery?

The Best of Mister Ed: Volume Two
- There's a best? There's two volumes of best? There are no black & white episodes of Petticoat Junction available but there are two volumes of The Best of Mr. Ed?

Columbo: The Complete Second Season
- Somethin's bothering me. Andromeda is classed as a mystery.

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: Volume One
- Because we have to follow up on the boffo box office of the Fat Albert movie.

Felicity: Senior Year Collection
- And whatever happened to Keri Russell after she graduated? For that matter, whatever happened to her hair after she graduated?

Friends: The Complete Ninth Season
- My brother was a big fan of this show and got me hooked on it. By season 9 he was ridiculing me for watching it. To be fair he was ridiculing me for watching just about any TV but still...

Green Acres: Season Two
- It's been years since I've been able to see Green Acres - so long in fact that I think my perspective on the show is due for a major reassessment.

The Mole: Season One
- Okay, completely straight on this one - The Mole was the second best Reality Contest series (behind my beloved Amazing Race but ahead of Survivor and miles ahead of Big Brother) but the network weasels at ABC proved yet again their utter incompetence by canceling the "real people" version with Anderson Cooper and giving us Celebrity Mole with Ahmad Rashad and his cigar.

Popular: Season Two
- Not here it wasn't.

Saved By The Bell: Season Two - New Class
- That's not how you spell "No".

Sweet Valley High: Volume One
- Never heard of it, but just the name give me cavities.

Tsunami: Wave of Destruction - ABC News
- And unless every dime of profit is going to relief funds this has to be the most crass use of news footage since ..... I really don't know when.

Xena: Warrior Princess: Season Six
- Xena & Gabrielle can redeem almost anything, but the last season of this show might be the exception.