Wednesday, August 31, 2005

TV On DVD - August 30, 2005 - Just a Bit Late

Okay, well that was interesting. I mentioned last night that had a bit of a problem with their Associates page when I wanted to do this Tuesday evening. Well that lasted until about 2 a.m. and then reverted to normal, so I'm doing the Amazon connections right now and eh comments on Wednesday morning when hopefully I'll be less tired (and less irritable).

As Time Goes by: Complete Series, Vol. 8 and Vol. 9
- As Time Goes By is one of those British series which is totally safe from being stolen and revised for the American market. Not only would it be impossible for the Americans to replace the amazing Judy Dench or Geoffrey Palmer (who always reminds me of a Basset Hound, which is of course part of his charm) but American television would never believe that a show about two people older than thirty could ever be interesting to anyone in their "key demographic". The fact is that this is a sweet comedy about two people who have found each other again at the time in their lives when they needed to find each other again. While the show ended with in 2002, two specials have apparently been shot and will air later this year.

Chef! - The Complete Collection (Series 1-3)
Chef: The Complete First Season
Chef! - The Complete Series Two
Chef! - The Complete Series Three

- This is another case of my not understanding what the people who are marketing this material are doing. There were three seasons of this show, a grand total of 20 episodes, so why are they selling separate first second and third seasons in addition to the complete series collection? Don't get me wrong, Chef! is one of my favourite Britcoms (and I happen to be deeply in lust with Caroline Lee-Johnston who played Janice and whose absence for most of the third season is detrimental to say the least). Lenny Henry is magnificent as Gareth Blackstock, a man who has a colourful way with using the English language and the various profanities found therein. Let's just say that Gareth's managerial style in the restaurant bears a shocking resemblance to Gordon Ramsay's but came years before Ramsay got his own restaurant. Definitely buy the complete set though.

Clifford: The Doggie Detectives
- Oh dear, my complete lack of knowledge and concern with pre-school television rises to the surface again as I am unable to tell you anything about this DVD.

Combat!: Season 5, Invasion 1
Combat!: Season 5, Invasion 2

- These are the final sets in the DVD release of one of the best military series of all times. As usual I think the decision - which was inevitable - to shift Combat! to colour from black & white hurt the show simply because we tend to think of World War II as a being in black and white (in more ways than one). The shift to colour hurt the almost documentary feel that some earlier episodes had. That said, the show is a prime example of the sort of casting that could be achieved during the period when the last of the studio contracts were expiring, with guest stars including Telly Savalas, Wayne Rogers, Ted Knight and Gavin McLeod (mot in the same episode though), Mike Farrell, James MacArthur, and Tom Skerritt.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Fourth Season
- This show has been available here but I've never really gotten into Larry David's particular brand of insanity. The concept of the show just doesn't appeal to me. I won't say it's too sophisticated for me but all of the commercials and previews and Emmy clips that I've seen just come across as something that doesn't appeal to me, despite the fact that it sometimes sounds as though he's channelling part of my life. I just wish I had his.

Fairly Oddparents: Scary Godparents
- Apparently four episodes from the Nickelodeon series (plus two bonus episodes), with a scary sort of theme. I'm not sure of exactly what we're getting here though.

Garfield and Friends: Volume 4
- The Garfield comic strip has been going downhill for a considerable length of time. The TV series based on the strip managed to maintain a higher quality, the nature of the strip being well suited to the format that was adopted for the series - I don't think the character would have worked well in a full half-hour episode format, but it works well in short vignettes. Not a big fan but probably worth it for those who are.

H.R. Pufnstuf: 4 of Sid and Marty's Favorites
- This is a rather interesting idea. It is what amounts to a sampler of four episodes - described as the favourites of series creators Sid and Marty Krofft - from a series which only ran 17 episodes and for which a complete series set has already been issued. I remember seeing the series when I was kid, probably slightly older than the original target audience and I have to confess that I wasn't overly impressed but I know that there are those who are fanatical fans (The Banana Splits is a fonder memory for me).

Highway to Heaven: Season Two
- I think I mentioned when Season 1 came out that I was never a fan of Highway To Heaven. The series has Michael Landon as an angel sent to earth to do good deeds as he wanders around America, and if nothing else shows that Landon was almost physically incapable of not working on TV. Still I am not a fan of this sort of series particularly since its story lines are fairly simplistic even when compared with something like Touched By An Angel.

House, M.D.: Season One
- I think that 2004-05 will go down as one of the better TV seasons and one of the best new series to emerge in this season was House. The best reason - in some ways the only reason - for the show's success is just how well Hugh Laurie delineates the title character. Gregory House is by most standards not a sympathetic person, and indeed he sometimes seems to be barely a functional person, but Laurie's portrayal makes hime one of the most compelling characters on TV. It is a credit to him that while the other major hits of 2004-05 - Desperate Housewives, Lost, and arguably Battlestar Galactica - have on the whole been ensemble pieces, House rises and falls on Laurie's crafting of the role. A great first season.

Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge: The Collection
- I admit that I have never heard of this before. Apparently Alan Partridge is a character created by Steve Coogan through a series of TV series which chronicle the character's rise and fall and presumably his attempts to rise again within the television industry.The very concept sounds intriguing, but it seems not to have reached North America until now so I don't know how well it will be accepted. I don't know what to think.

World of Sid & Marty Krofft: Land of the Lost 'Stak Attack!
- Another sampler from Sid and Marty Krofft, this time for their mostly live action series Land Of The Lost. This one features four episodes built around the show's resident monsters, the Sleestaks. About the only extras is comentary track for one episode one from "Sleestak 2".

Married With Children: The Complete Fourth Season
- For years Married With Children was cited by critics as an example of the Fox Network pandering to the lowest aspects of public tastes. And it did, but it lasted longer than most series that aimed higher - or indeed aimed at the same level. It was a popular show. Season Four saw the departure of David Garrison as the relatively normal Steve and the arrival of Ted "show killer" McGinley as Jefferson. and so probably marks the point wheree it began to hit its comedic high point.

Mind of the Married Man: The Complete First Season
- I'm sorry but I've never even heard of this short-lived HBO series before it actually came up in this list. I'm sure that, being from HBO it was reasonably funny and probably quite adult - in content if not in attitude.

My Favorite Martian: Time Travelers Favorites
- My Favorite Martian was of course a staple of early 1960s television. This DVD focuses on four time travel stories. Stories involving time travel were very rare for this series, so it begs the question of why this DVD is being released instead of the anticipated third (and sadly final) season.

Nip/Tuck: The Complete Second Season
- I know that Nip/Tuck airs in Canada on the W Network, which probably explains why I've never seen it - the "W" in the network name stands for "Women" and I tend not to linger there. (If you're interested, Canada also has a Men's Network, although it's on digital cable and doesn't seem to have the same quality of programming. I don't like it either.) Even with sex and glamour, a series about plastic surgeons (plastic, if the comments found in various places are to be believed, in more ways than one) just doesn't seem my style.

Petticoat Junction: Ultimate Collection
- Of the three rural comedies created by the legendary Paul Henning, I think that Petticoat Junction is the one which always gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop, even at the time (recasting one of the daughter roles was the subject of an infamous CBS memo which included the phrase "bigger tits" according to Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye). It is true that it was never as out there as either The Beverly Hillbillies or Green Acres (although to be fair Green Acres was never as much Henning's show as the other two). The fact is that Petticoat Junction was a tremendous family sitcom which also introduced one of television's greatest characters, Homer Bedloe, created by the legendary Charles Lane. The DVD has a number of interesting features, not the least of which is the chance to see the earlier actresses who played Billy Jo (Jenine Riley and Gunilla Hutton) and Bobby Jo (Pat Woodell). Riley and Woodell aren't normally seen in the show's syndication runs because they were in the black and white episode which have been seen in years. The set has 20 episodes as well as a number of features including episode introductions from Linda Kaye Henning, a feture length documentary with cast members including Henning, Hutton, Lori Saunders and Charles Lane, and period commercials. It sounds like a great package although I would have preferred a season by season release.

The Complete Ripping Yarns
- A couple of weeks ago we saw the release of some "pre-Python" shows featuring the Monty Python cast. This set is an example of "post-Python" featuring Michael Palin and his writing partner Terry Jones. Palin is front and center in this nine episode series, which draws inspiration from various schoolboy annual type stories. Jones and Gilliam provide commentaries for each episode.

Roseanne: The Complete First Season
- I have never seen an episode of Roseanne because I have never been able to stomach Roseanne Barr even - perhaps particularly - in her stand-up act which I unfortunately saw excerpts from before this series debuted. Too bad because with the exception of the aforementioned lady there are some really good actors in this series, with particular attention going to John Goodman. Goodman, like Ed O'Neal in Married With Children has unfortunately suffered a certain amount of type-casting as a result of being on such a major hit, something which he is only starting to emerge from.

Saint: Set 2: Early Episodes
- Roger Moore as Simon Templar - The Saint (da doo wee a do wa doo) - is the epitome of cool. In fact he makes Moore's James Bond look practically uptight and gives Connery's Bond a bit of a run for his money. Unfortunately there's no indication as to which sixteen episodes are included on this four DVD set from A&E. Well at least it isn't Dog: The Bounty Hunter.

Strawberry Shortcake: Moonlight Mysteries
- Strawberry Shortcake is representative of the absolute nadir of American television animation. It, like so many similar series of the period (the 1980s) was created purely to sell toys to kids. They were half-hour commercials and in the case of Strawberry Shortcake sickly sweet ones with little (like an actual plot) to hold anyone's interests. As you can tell, I'm not a fan.

OT: Canada's Response to Hurricane Katrina

This just came up a little while ago. I've seen a number of blogs which have complained that foreign countries haven't responded with offers of aid as a result of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. While I don't know what the case is with other nations, I do know that there is an official Canadian response as stated by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and Health and Human Services Minister Ujjal Dosanjh. The pertinent material is as follows:

The Deputy Prime Minister added that she has contacted U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and advised him that Canada stands ready to provide assistance if needed. In addition, the Minister of Health, Ujjal Dosanjh, has directed the Public Health Agency of Canada to contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and offer any assistance that may be helpful, such as emergency medical supplies contained in the National Emergency Stockpile System.

The important part is that the offer has in fact been made but that official government aid will not be sent unless it is requested.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Delay - But Vote In My Poll


I was getting ready to do this week's TV on DVD list and as usual I opened the tabs to give me all the sites I use when compiling the list. I went to enter the Associates site and after the initial sign on screen I got an error page that said "Looking for something? We're sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site". I then directed me back to the homepage, which is not what I really want. You get even less if you click "Join Associates" on that page; if you do that you get a blank screen. I wonder what the problem could be?

So I guess I'll wait until tomorrow and if they don't get this working I'll post the listing anyway but without any chance of me making money from it (not that I have anyway, and besides that was never the point of setting myself up with associate status). It's no wonder I have a headache.

Oh and by the way only two more days to vote in the current poll.

The Grand Puzzle

The Fox Network kicked off the 2005-06 Television season on Monday night with the two hour debut of their new series Prison Break. I have to say that it was a pretty good way to mark the end of four months of mostly bad television.

With a title like Prison Break and all of the publicity that the series has been receiving during the summer, you might be excused for thinking that you know what the series is about. It seems obvious that the hero, Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) has a plan to get his brother Lincoln Burroughs (Dominic Purcell, probably best known from the series John Doe) out of prison for a crime he didn't commit. As is usually the case with these things it's not necessarily what will happen that captures our interest, it's how the circumstances will be set up for the apparent dramatic climax - in this case the actual prison break - and the whole question of why Lincoln was set up for the murder of the Vice President's brother. The elements are revealed bit by bit over time in a way which leaves the audience not entirely sure what's going on but waiting to see what comes next. In a way the show is like a complex jigsaw puzzle with elements revealed here and there but never fully becoming comprehensible until seen in context. Even when some of the adjacent pieces come together to provide part of the picture that part may or may not be what it seems.

The first episode of the two shown on Monday night was the pilot episode. It opened with Michael getting the finishing touches put on a set of tattoos which truly impress the artist doing them. Since we know that Michael is going to prison the natural assumption is that he is getting the tattoos in order to establish a certain amount of credibility within the prison population. After the scene at the tattoo parlor Michael returns to a luxurious apartment where seemingly in rage he tears down a collection of clippings and plans and maps. Not all of the clippings seem relevant. Besides reports of the trial of the man who shot the Vice President's brother, there are clippings about a mafia boss who has been sent to prison, the daughter of the governor of the state, reports on Insulin, and D.B. Cooper, the man who jumped out of a plane with over a million dollars and disappeared. Everything in this opening sequence seems disconnected but by the end of the episode the pieces all start coming together. Everything that seems unconnected has a place in the grand scheme of things.

The situation outside of the prison is as much of a puzzle but one which is less clear but in its own way more dangerous than the situation within the prison. We quickly learn that there really is a plot for which Lincoln's execution is a key element and in which the U.S. Secret Service - or at least an element within the Secret Service - is involved right up to their eyeballs. It's not just serious it's deadly, to the point where a Catholic Archbishop, who apparently is interested in preventing the execution and who has some influence with the state Governor, is murdered to make sure the execution goes ahead without a hitch. Robin Tunney plays Veronica Cartwright, a young lawyer who tried to defend Michael for the bank robbery which he staged to get sent to prison. She's known Michael and Lincoln since they were all kids and, as it turns out, had an affair with Lincoln which didn't turn out well. Michael persuades her to look into Lincoln's case on the outside, with the murder of the Archbishop apparently being the convincing factor. As she digs deeper into the issue she both discovers at least the possibility that Lincoln has been framed, but she herself is discovered, coming to the attention of the corrupt Secret Service agents and their mysterious boss.

Prison Break isn't perfect. The show seems to be driven by a maddening series of assumptions and coincidences. Michael is almost immediately connected as soon as he goes into prison. Within three days he has close contact with all of the key players that he needs in order to accomplish his plot, including his brother Lincoln. It seems as if it couldn't possibly be a coincidence that the prison warden - played with his usual strength by Stacy Keach - is building a wooden model of the Taj Mahal as a surprise present for his wife and yet how could Michael possibly know about it or that the model is structurally flawed. But Michael needs to have the prison warden as a protector so that he doesn't have to face the sort of problems a normal inmate would encounter, like being thrown into solitary confinement like Michael's cellmate Sucre. We are also required to accept that while the Secret Service is able to find out about Veronica's relationship with Lincoln with incredible ease but that no one has any awareness that Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burroughs are brothers despite the fact that Lincoln's son L.J. shows up at Michael's sentencing. Certainly the warden has no difficulty finding out that Michael is a structural engineer. Even the fact that Lincoln is due to be executed while the Vice President is still Vice President - since we all know how long prisoners on Death Row stay on Death Row given the length of the appeals process - is difficult to accept as anything but a bit of deus ex machina.

None of the absurd plot points matter. It's like looking at a painting where some things have been exaggerated and conventions either altered or ignored but which, when viewed as a complete entity, holds together in a manner that wouldn't be possible if everything had been assembled in a realistic manner. Of course Michael gets sent to the same prison that his brother is in and of course no one knows that they're related (unless Michael tells them) despite knowing the same people. The character motivations and decision making might be questionable (to say the least) but they work with their own internal logic. Questioning the flaws doesn't detract from the puzzle anymore than questioning events in most thrillers makes them break down. It's essential to the way the whole picture comes together. Series creator Paul Scheuring has done an excellent job of building a suspenseful story which in the first two episodes at least holds together extremely well and we're along for the ride. At the moment the only question left is this: what do you do for an encore, or in TV terms Season 2?

Monday, August 29, 2005

TV For The Geek In Us

Once upon a time there was a little cable network named ZDTV. The ZD stood for Ziff-Davis, the magazine publishers who among other things publish PC Magazine and Computer Gaming World. The focus of ZDTV was technology and from the beginning their leading host was Leo Laporte. A few years later ZDTV was sold to Paul Allen and renamed TechTV, based in San Francisco.

Paul Allen was a "Friend of Bill". The problem was that he wasn't a "Friend of Bill W." or even a "Friend of Bill Clinton" it was worse ... much worse. Paul Allen was a friend of Bill Gates and indeed was the co-founder of Microsoft. Allen owned TechTV through his investment company Vulcan Ventures which also owned such things as Charter Communications the Portland Trailblazers and the Rose Garden Arena in Portland. The trouble was that the company made a number of bad choices, such as a nine hour a day live tech news program which later shrank to three one hour programs a day and eventually became a half hour daily show. Still, the network was seen by 40 million households across Canada and the United States, and had at least some distribution in some 70 countries.

There were problems however. In 2001 and 2002 Comcast Cable dropped TechTV from most of their cable systems. Comcast had their own network called G4 (which supposedly stands for four generations of video games and gaming platforms, although there are other theories which are less kind). G4 was focussed almost entirely on videogaming. G4 itself had a problem because a lot of non-Comcast cable systems were not picking up the G4 network. At the same time Vulcan Ventures was having troubles with its investments with the arena in Portland (which eventually declared bankruptcy in February 2004) as well as losses from TechTV. In March 2004 G4 and Vulcan Ventures announced the sale of TechTV to G4 which merged the two as G4-TechTV. In fact it was more full submersion than a true merger. Comcast had bought the network to gain access to cable systems which had previously not carried G4. The new entity immediately fired 250 existing TechTV employees and Leo Laporte left in a contract dispute. The remaining 80 to 100 employees were told they could keep their jobs if they relocated to Los Angeles. Only a handful of TechTV shows were actually retained, including The Screen Savers and X-Play which was TechTV's own videogame review show, although within a couple of months of the move to Los Angeles most of the on-air TechTV personnel were fired - today only four remain with the network - and in February 2005 Comcast dropped "TechTV" from the name of the network, returning it to G4.

Even before the elimination of "TechTV" from the name, the merged network retained the original G4's focus on gaming rather than technology. This posed something of a problem for many of TechTV's international partners most of which simply dropped the network programming when the merger occurred. There was a much bigger problem in Canada where, in order to get the network on digital cable Vulcan had entered into a partnership with the country's two largest cable companies (and not coincidentally two of the largest ISPs) Rogers Cable and Shaw Cable to create TechTV Canada which went on the air in 2001. Vulcan had a minority position in ownership which was inherited by G4. There were certain restrictions which Canadian regulations inflicted on the channel, for example not being able to show entertainment programming notably Anime Unleashed. Rogers and Shaw couldn't have been too happy with the sudden change in format and they certainly weren't happy with the drop in viewership which was beginning to happen almost as soon as the merger was announced. They had started a technology channel - and had good viewership for it - rather than a gaming channel. Even if losses in viewers didn't hurt them there was also their CRTC license renewal to consider. Rogers Cable decided that they needed to do something. What they did in August 2004 was to hire Leo Laporte to host a new version of Call For Help, this time based out of Toronto. Subsequently the program was picked up by the "HOW TO" Channel in Australia and there were active efforts being made to bring the show to an American station, efforts that were finally rewarded when, ironically, G4 decided to buy the show. It will start airing on the American network on Monday, August 29 at 11 A.M. EDT.

So what will American audiences be seeing? The simple answer is what they won't be seeing and that is a show exactly like the original Call For Help. There's a simple reason for this - it isn't live TV. Laporte hasn't moved to Canada; he lives in the Petaluma area of California and commutes to Toronto for one week a month to do a month of show episodes. This means no live calls and also no real technology news. In fact Leo Laporte has compared the new version of the show with the old TechTV version of The Screen Savers. There are phone calls but the basic questions are submitted in advance by email, allowing more research and more accurate answers to the questions, but less spontaneity. That doesn't stop Leo from displaying the same evangelical fervour for teaching people about everything from computers to cell phones and big screen TVs that he had when he was doing the original versions of Call For Help and The Screen Savers (not bad for a guy who admits that he started doing technology programming "to get free stuff"). The show also offers more technology related tips delivered by Laporte and his co-hosts, technology writer Andy Walker and journalist, and professional web designer Amber MacArthur. Walker's demonstrations of how things work - usually involving food stuffs - are infamous as well as both funny and informative. Unfortunately there are rumours, which seem to have been confirmed by a rather indicative "non-denial" that Walker wrote in his own blog on, that Walker will be leaving the show. There are a number of regular guests, notably Steve Gibson of Gibson Research who discusses Internet Security for personal computer users, and Photoshop expert Alex Lindsay. A recent addition to the show is former TechTV host Kevin Rose who is doing a number of segments each month - he too is flying up from California to do the show. The show is good, but viewers probably shouldn't expect the same show that they remember when the original Call For Help was on.

A more interesting question is why G4 has decided to bring back Call For Help? One suggestion is that the new head of broadcasting for Comcast is less than happy with the performance of G4. The simple fact of course is that while the acquisition of TechTV was an attempt to buy eyeballs the purchase alienated TechTV's original viewership. They bought households but those households didn't necessarily turn into increased market share. Indeed it it is interesting to note that one of the most popular series on the network is the old TechTV games review show X-Play with Adam Sesler and Morgan Webb. In addition to Call For Help The network is reducing its reliance on gaming further with the addition of a British science series called Brainiac: Science Abuse starring Richard Hammond and Jonathon Tickle (originally a contestant on the British version of Big Brother), and revived two old TechTV series, Nerd Nation and Future Fighting Machines. Think that they have to; the simple fact is that people who play video games aren't like golfers or participants in outdoor pursuits (two of Comcast's other networks are The Golf Channel and OLN (formerly the Outdoor Life Network). They would rather be playing video games that watching other people playing video games. My opinion is that G4 was built on a flawed model as a result, and the return of more generic technology focussed programming, including the addition of the new version of Call For Help is the first step in the right direction. Technology geeks can always find the sort of "fix" that they need - Laporte offers one of the most popular podcasts around with his This Week In Tech and has several other offerings, Kevin Rose has a weekly podcast called Diggnation that looks at the top stories on as well as a couple of streaming video shows through his company Revision 3, and even Amber MacArthur and Mike Lazazera (Call For Help's technical researcher and a frequent guest on the show) have a streaming video show called Command-N. However a conventional television show, even one on a cable network such as G4 or the old TechTV, reaches a far greater audience. As Rogers Media realised when they brought Leo Laporte up to Canada to revive Call For Help, the market exists for this kind of programming, it just needs to be reached.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

What I Was Watching - September 1969

A few days ago when I posted the picture of myself as a real "Child of TV" I got a comment from King Blowhard asking what percentage of American programs I watched as a kid as compared to American shows. I figured that the percentage was about 60/40 American but that was skewed a bit because the local channel was a CBC affiliate. The more I thought about it the more intrigued I got and so I decided to find out what I could.

I wasn't able to go much before 1969 - at least not yet - since 1969 is the earliest TV Guide that I have. It was in fact the 1969 Fall Preview issue but it still presented a few problems. For one thing there was no listing of the shows that the two Canadian networks, CBC and CTV, were running. In those days there was no specific "Canadian" TV Guide; the main pages were produced in the United States and the listings were produced in Canada, but they were just listings. As a result the breakdown of programming isn't what it would be for the regular season. This particular week - the week of September 13-19 - included two prime time CFL football games, a Montreal Expos baseball game and two news specials which wouldn't be on during the main part of the season.

I decided to look not just at the one local station but also two Winnipeg stations, one owned by the CBC and the other a CTV affiliate. I've also defined prime time as running from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. meaning that the week includes 35 hours of programming. British produced programming is defined as Canadian since at the time Canada's Board Of Broadcast Governors (the regulatory predecessor of the CRTC) described both French and British produced shows as Canadian. There are some cases where there's just no information of what was shown at a particular time of a particular night. With this in mind here are the results.


What accounts for the difference between the CBC owned station in Winnipeg and the CBC affiliate in Saskatoon? The regulations were - and still are - that the first station in a market has to be a CBC station even if it is privately owned. Until 1972 Saskatoon was a one station market (the CBC had plans to build a station in Saskatoon but these were halted by a couple of influential members of cabinet, one of whom had been the head of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the private station owner's group which had and still has a tremendous hatred of the CBC). However privately owned affiliates had a certain amount of leeway as to how much of the CBC's programming they would air. It wasn't a huge difference but there were times when CFQC could put on a show of their own choosing. There were Canadian Content regulations in place but they only required about 55% Canadian Content total and nothing specific about prime time. Regulations on things like that would come later.

So what was I watching that week in September 1969? Let's see, there was My Three Sons and The Beverly Hillbillies on Saturday, Tommy Hunter (a Canadian country music show that would run a total of 27 years) and My World And Welcome To It on Sundays, a rerun of The Ghost And Mrs. Muir and The Name Of The Game on Mondays, The Bold Ones (this one with Burl Ives) on Tuesday, an Expos game and a Dionne Warwick special on Wednesday, The Johnny Cash Show, The Doris Day Show, and The Bill Cosby Show Thursday, and Julia (with Diahann Carroll) and Rowan & Martin's Laugh In. What wasn't I seeing? Well among the series debuting that September some of the memorable ones which weren't immediately available in the Saskatoon market were Medical Center, Room 222, and something called The Brady Bunch. On the other hand I also never saw such wonderful programming as The Survivors with Lana Turner, or The New People which seems to have been Lost 35 years before Lost. And of course who could forget Jimmy Durante Presents The Lennon Sisters Hour? Well just about everyone apparently.

This has been fun and I think I might delve into other years if I can find the time to do the research.

Friday, August 26, 2005

New Poll - Oustanding Reality/Competition Series

Please vote for your favourite Emmy nominee in the Reality/Competition category. This is of course not necessarily the one that you will think will win the Emmy, but rather the one that you would like to see win the Emmy. As usual, comments can be included here.

Poll Results - Oustanding Made For TV Movie

Before I talk about the results, let me offer a few thoughts about this category. I had a choice between this and Outstanding Miniseries. I chose this because I thought - still do in fact - that the Miniseries category seemed a little weak. I may have been wrong given voter response. Basically, before I issued my call to vote (cleverly disguised as a screed against Pat Robertson, although I stand by what I wrote) and went heavily into Blog Explosion, I had a grand total of four votes and each one of them was for a different movie. I think either Lackawanna Blues or The Wool Cap was the unlucky one with out any support. One of the people who responded to my call, Sparking, wrote " I only know The Office so how do I vote against it?" And therein lies the rub for both the Miniseries and Made For TV Movie categories - neither one is as accessible to the public as they have been in the past. Three of the nominated movies were on HBO, as was one of the miniseries. Of the nine nominated movies or miniseries only two of the miniseries - Elvis on CBS and The Lost Prince (the story of Prince John, youngest son of George V and Queen Mary, who suffered from epilepsy and probably some other form of mental handicap, and was kept in seclusion for virtually all of his life) produced by the BBC but airing in North America on PBS - appeared on broadcast television. The truth is that the broadcast networks - except for PBS through their association with British TV - have pretty much given up on miniseries and most don't have much time for made for TV movies. True NBC has Bryce Zabel's remake of The Poseidon Adventure (which I'm looking forward to by the way - saw the movie when it came out but am aware of its shortcomings) but none of the broadcast networks is going to risk the time or money on things like From The Earth To The Moon or Band Of Brothers (which I consider to be two of the finest miniseries ever made). As for Made For TV Movies, I may be mistaken but I think that only CBS is the only network still making a serious effort in this direction. In both categories the broadcast networks have abdicated their position to cable networks, and usually to the higher end cable networks, which is fine but it means that fewer people are seeing the nominated material.

Okay, rant over. We had eight votes. In a three way tie for third place, with one vote each we have Lackawanna Blues, The Wool Cap and The Office Special. In second place, with two votes is Warm Springs. The winner with three votes is The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers.

I've given my comments above. As to who will win, I think that the people who voted pretty much got it right in that it will come down to a contest between The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers and Warm Springs simply based on cast alone. Who will win? Search me.

I'll have the Reality/Competition Category (where I have a strong favourite as many of you probably know) up in the morning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Vote In The Poll - But Be Aware That Your Candidate Could Be Taken Out

Just to update you on the current poll, we have had a grand total of four voters so far which makes statistical reliability - even for this sort of poll - just about nil. I don't know if this is because you don't like any of the candidates, couldn't be bothered, or (as I suspect or at least hope) just haven't seen them. If you do have an opinion though, please vote.

Of course voting isn't necessarily a guarantee that your candidate will win or if he does win will be above attack from outside forces. Take President Hugo Chavez for example. He was elected in 1998 with a 56.2% majority and has resisted both an attempted military coup and a recall referendum (the vote in the latter was 59.25% of those who voted and there was a record turn out at the polls; the result was certified by two independent observing organizations). This is just to show that Chavez is popular amongst his own people even if his policies tend to irritate the United States. Which is what makes what follows at least a little noteworthy.

On his ABC Family Channel show, The 700 Club Pat Robertson stated that Chavez was going to make Venzuela "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent." He questioned the U.S. policy against assassination "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war" and stated that U.S. Special Forces should "take him out." He subsequently recanted his statement, say that he "didn’t say ‘assassination.’ I said our special forces should ‘take him out.’ And ‘take him out’ can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him." It doesn't really matter that he is on tape saying that they should assassinate him, even saying that he should be kidnapped constitutes an advocacy of terrorism. Although Chavez himself seems unconcerned (he said of Roberston that "I don't even know who he is") other people in his government are reacting, notable Vice President Jose Vincente Rangel who said "This is a huge hypocrisy to maintain an anti-terrorist line and at the same time have such terrorist statements as these made by Christian preacher Pat Robertson coming from the same country."

The reaction in Venezuela is understandable, and what you'd expect from any country. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if some figure from another country, even one with marginalized political position such as Jean-Marie la Pen of France, were to say that they should "take out" George W. Bush? Still, I frankly doubt that any action will be taken against Robertson. He is largely a marginal figure in Republican politics - a comedown from his position in 1988 when he was regarded as having a legitimate chance of winning the Republican nomination that eventually went to George H. W. Bush - and he has a history of making irresponsible statements. Still there is a point here (and it's even related to television). Robertson's show on the ABC Family Channel exists as a contractual obligation from the time when Robertson's own Christian Broadcasting Network owned it. The show, which might be marginalized in syndication and on the explicitly religious CBN. The fact is that if it weren't for television Roberston wouldn't have the power that he once had or even such power as he currently retains. With his 700 Club show Robertson gets an hour a week to expound on his views, and he doesn't even have to veil them with fictionalised presentations. How many people get that opportunity? The answer is precious few. Teddy Roosevelt once called the Presidency a "bully pulpit" - a way to have your views and your every action widely distributed and analysed. Teddy Roosevelt never encounter television. TV is the ultimate "bully pulpit" in that political statements that are broadcast, even if they aren't made by Presidents, Prime Ministers or Kings probably reach a greater percentage of the people than the newspapers that carried the political speeches of Roosevelt's day. As such, it is a platform with great power and as has often been said, with great power comes great responsibility. Time and again, Robertson has failed to use the power which being able to create a TV show and a TV network to put it on has given him, responsibly.

TV On DVD - August 23, 2005

ABC Afterschool Specials Collector's Set
- This is a complete 13 disk set of ABC's After School Specials, 26 episodes in a rather nice looking box that is designed to look like a school bus. Presumably the bus home so you can watch the specials. I may mock (a little) but in all honesty this was an effort to program for teens and pre-teens and that's a lot more than any network is doing today.

Adam-12: Season One
Emergency!: Season One
- Say what you want about Jack Webb as an actor, as producer he created some pretty interesting concepts. Adam-12 and Emergency! were two of his innovative concepts from the 1970s even if execution didn't always match up with the idea. Who built a dramatic series around uniformed beat cops before Webb? For that matter, who has done a series exclusively around beat cops since Webb. The concept was simple: two guys in a car dealing with calls and using their training and instincts to deal with situations. Rather than featuring an episode long story like Dragnet, Adam-12 lived with vignettes strung together is a "day in the life" style. Supposedly the most realistic cop show ever, although a common complaint was that Reed and Malloy pulled their guns a little too often. The supporting roles in the series, notably Sergeant MacDonald (William Boyett) and Officer Wells (Gary Crosby) are enjoyable, and of course there's the every present voice of Shaaron Claridge as the Dispatcher (she was a real LAPD dispatcher who retired in 19xx). Look for a couple of appearances by Foster Brooks before he started his "drunk" act.

As ground breaking famous as Adam-12 was, Emergency was possibly more innovative. The show about paramedics was looking at the recently introduced paramedic program which had been introduced in LA County around 1970 (the series ran from 1972-1977) and it is credited with making the concept of paramedics not only well known but acceptable. While Adam-12 focussed on a single car, Emergency! was focussed on a two-man paramedic team supported by the emergency room staff at Rampart Hospital, played by Robert Fuller, Julie London and Bobby Troup (as is well known, London was Jack Webb's ex-wife and was married to Troup until his death). The show tended to adhere to the "day in the life" formula, and while the supporting cast - mostly the fire fighters at station 51 - was a little less well drawn in this series than they were in Adam-12, on the whole this was a very enjoyable series.

Alf: Season Two
- It seems as though this coming TV season has ET coming to earth and getting ready to kick our collective ass. With this in mind it is comforting to remember that there was a time when the greatest danger from an Alien Life Form - if you weren't a cat - was that he might be too obnoxious to live with. That of course was the premise behind ALF and it worked surprisingly well. ALF, aka Gordon Shumway, was obnoxious, sort of like an uncle who came to visit and stayed and the contrast between him and the incredible uptight Willie Tanner (played by Max Wright) is the source of the humour. In the end ALF is family, something even Willie is willing to admit.

Boy Meets World: The Complete Third Season
- Boy Meets World ran for seven years. Oddly enough it felt like more. Perhaps this is because they took the lead character and his closest friends from being an 11 year-old in elementary school to a college student, and throughout he has the same teacher - George Feeny (played by William Daniels for whom I have a considerable soft spot). There's a certain charm to the series but I've only seen occasional episodes and most fo those were in the later seasons, which may explain why I've never been fully able to enjoy it.

Codename: Kids Next Door
- I'm sorry I have no idea what this Cartoon Network series is about.

Cyberchase - Ecohaven CSE
- I've seen parts of some episodes of this although not enough to know what this PBS series is trying to teach - apparently it's mathematics - but what I can say is that Gilbert Gottfried has found his acting niche as a wise ass bird. First there was Iago in Aladin and now Digit in Cyberchase opposite Christopher Lloyd as Hacker. I don't know the details about the particular shows on this DVD of course.

Futurama: Monster Robot Maniac Fun
- I suppose that the best way to describe this disk is as a sampler. It contains four episodes from the Futurama series, all of which have appeared in the season box sets. Of course if you're one of the numerous fanatics that they show has created you'll buy it because it's Futurama and you want to show those network weasels that they were wrong to cancel the show. Otherwise, the sets are a better way to go.

Good Times Complete Fifth Season
- Good Times is another one of those shows that I never got into. A big part of the problem for me was the character of "J.J." played by Jimmie Walker. Apparently it was a big problem for series star Esther Rolle who at one point said "Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child." Rolle had left the series at the end of season 4 - in a manner that Rolle didn't fully approve of - so season 5 focusses entirely on the kids and neighbour Willona who adopts a girl played by Janet Jackson. Rolle would eventually return to the show for it's sixth season...but probably wasn't happy about it.

Kung Fu: The Complete Third Season
- I remember watching the first season of this series but I eventually drifted away. A big part of the reason for this is that I rapidly came to dislike series star David Carradine. By the time the third season rolled around things were becoming rather difficult on the set. For one thing Carradine, who was in a relationship with Barbara Hershey was also entering into a relationship with actress Season Hubley. According to IMDB he was also suffering a number of injuries during the making of the series which made it impossible for him to continue in the role. The final series had Caine finally meeting his long lost half-brother and resolved most of the situations. One thing I didn't know about htis series is that Bruce Lee was turned down for the role of Caine (supposedly because of his accent but probably as much because the officials at ABC didn't feel the American public would accept a Chinese leading man) but he credited as co-creator based on a script he wrote called The Warrior.

Life As We Know It: The Complete Series
- Some series are, in the words of the old song, "born to lose". Life As We Know It is in that category. What else is there to say about a show that goes up against CSI and The Apprentice? Interestingly enough the last two episodes aired this past May...but only in Europe. It's unfortunate that the show was up against powerhouses on CBS and NBC because people who actually bothered to watched the show actually rated it extremely highly. Given the nature of the show - another tean-angst series - it may not be my personal preference, but it's still bad to see a show like this being sacrificed the way this one was.

The O.C.: The Complete Second Season
- I've never watch an episode of Fox's hit series The O.C.. I think it's mainly because the show comes across very much as the sort of teen-angst show that The WB is famous - or infamous - for without the often unique twists that the WB shows frequently put on that format. I guess I'm just a little too old for unmodified teen angst.

Once and Again: The Complete Second Season
- I never watched Once And Again much past the first episode. The show was everything we were supposed to want in TV - romance, family, and interpersonal relationship - and none of the things we're not supposed to want - violent and full of indiscriminate sex - but it didn't really catch fire despite being on for three years. The fact that his happened was largely because of a devoted fanbase. I hate to say this but the show was TV's answer to a "chick flick" even though guys frequently liked it, mainly because Sela Ward is an extremely beautiful woman.

Six Feet Under: The Complete Fourth Season
- I'm making the assumption that the release of the fourth season of Six Feet Under the Tuesday after the show left the air forever was not a coincidence. I haven't seen this season of the series (because I'm too cheap and too broke to splurge for the premium cable) but the series has been uniformly praised throughout it's existence as quality programming. The fourth season gets deeper into the dysfunctional relationships of the Fisher Family and particularly Nate's relationship with Brenda.

That's My Mama Complete First Season
That's My Mama Complete Second Season

- Before I talk about the show I have to say something about the marketing which takes a 39 episode series and sells it as complete seasons. That said, I was very fond the series when it originally ran, and when I heard reviews of The Barbershop the descriptions immediately reminded me of this show. The relationship between Clifton and his mother Eloise is warm, and the characters in the barbershop, including Jester Hairston, Teddy Wilson and Ted Lange had a comfortable camaraderie about them. As I recall the series ending was not entirely caused by bad ratings but by Davis's own personal problems which eventually led him to becoming an ordained minister and in turn led to his second hit series Amen, which also costarred Jester Hairston.

Whats Happening Complete Third Season
- This is another show that flew completely under my radar, probably because it started to air just before we got American stations here by cable and I didn't get into it by the time we actually got cable. Still a lot of people speak fondly of it even though it didn't air that long. The third season apparently shakes up the show's basic premise somewhat, perhaps in an effort to attract viewers.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Another Personality Test

Just took another online personality test. Somehow a lot of peopel ended up as Saddam Hussein, not me though.

Found This The Other Day

Yep. That's me, back when I really was a "Child of Television". I must have been about 3 1/4 or 4 1/4 back when that picture was taken. Back in those days they used to have the date (at least the year) on the white border of the film but for the life of me I can't tell you if it was the date when the picture was taken or when it was developed. The date on this one was 1960 so that would mean Christmas of 1959 or 1960. Probably 1959.

What would I have been watching back then? There was quite a bit of local programming of course. There was a local early morning kids show host (and for CFQC early morning meant about 11 a.m. - in the summer they sometimes didn't come on until 2 in the afternoon) named Helen Hays who later became Helen Lumby and in the 1970s did Size Small shows for Canwest Global where some of the old hands from CFQC ended up. There was a local ladies' show host named Sally Merchant who would later be elected to the Provincial Legislature and would, years later, be followed into the Legislature by her son Tony (Tim Gueguen will know exactly who I mean). Network kids shows would include Maggie Muggins which I think was a carryover from CBC radio, The Friendly Giant with Bob Homme and Rod Coneybeare providing the voices of Rusty the Rooster and Jerome The Giraffe, and Chez Helene with Helene Baillergeon which was an early attempt at bilingual education. It was a good time for cartoons. The standbys were Ruff and Reddy, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw. The local station had a good news department, largely fuelled by the radio side which won a number of awards for local coverage. Network shows? From around this period I remember things like Maverick, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke and Wagon Train (there were a lot of westerns on the air at the time but these really stand out), The Untouchables, The Jack Benny Program, and of course Ed Sullivan.

Old memories are rosy. It may be that the stuff I remember wasn't that good and I simply remember it as being better than it was. It does say something about it that I remember it at all though, particularly when you think that I can remember the names of only a couple of the kids I grew up with when that picture was taken. Television was a big influence for me in the same way that it was for everyone else in my generation. I can't help but wonder what my nephew will remember in the same way. Will it be his Thomas The Tank Engine DVDs and looking at the website for The Wiggles "on the coputer"? I don't know.

Oh, and by the way, that plane that's sitting on the floor beside me? I still have it. It had a friction motor which meant that if you pushed it on the floor the propellers would spin. Somewhere along the line the nose wheel got lost and in a fit of childish verisimilitude (probably inspired by seeing airplanes on TV) I cut off the tips of the propellers, but I still have it.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Pedophillia and Star Trek?

My fellow blogger Orac has on occasion had some pointed comments about The Huffington Post, primarily for their one sided coverage of the links between use of Thimerosal in children's vaccines and autism which seem long on innuendo and accusations and short on actual facts. To this I should like to add my own complaints about something in The Huffington Post, an article by Ellen Ladowsky called Pedophillia and Star Trek, reaction to which has been echoing around the Blogosphere.

Ladowsky bases her piece on an article which appeared in the L.A. Times - she says recently but in fact the times article is dated April 27, 2005 and is so old that it isn't available online except by paying $3.95 U.S. for it. The article contains what she describes as the "mind-boggling statistic: of the more than 100 offenders the unit has arrested over the last four years, 'all but one' has been 'a hard-core Trekkie.'" There's just one minor problem - this statement has pretty much been debunked. Ernest Miller, who publishes the weblog Corante and whose credentials I respect more than Ladowsky (because he states them in his blog) and yet is dismissed as "Blogger Ernest Miller" actually bothered to follow up the story with the Toronto Police detective quoted in the original L.A. Times story. Miller writes of his conversation with Detective Constable Ian Lamond of the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit "He claims they were misquoted, or if that figure was given it was done so jokingly. Of course, even if the figure was given jokingly, shouldn't the Times' reporter have clarified something that seems rather odd? Shouldn't her editors have questioned her sources?" According to Lamond a majority show "at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest" and while "there was sometimes other science fiction and fantasy paraphenalia, Star Trek was the most consistent and when he [Lamond] referred to a majority of the arrestees being Star Trek fans, it was Star Trek specific." Canada's Maclean's Magazine picked up on the story in a piece called The Star Trek Connection although the phrase "Star Trek" appears in the article four times. There are two interesting statements in the article, one at the beginning and one at the end. In the introduction to the piece author Jonathon Gatehouse writes "A surprising number of child sex abusers appear to be Trekkies. Trying to figure out what that means, however, shows how little we really know about pedophiles." The other statement is at the end and refers to an ongoing study by psychologists Michael Seto and Angela Eke which will be looking through the arrest files of 400 child porn offenders in Ontario: "One of the things they will be looking for is reports of suspects with sci-fi collections, especially Star Trek. Seto hypothesizes that the pedophiles might be using their toys and memorabilia to groom victims - a view that Blanchard [Ray Blanchard, head of clinical sexology at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health] shares. "They have to adapt their strategies," he says. "Just like a regular heterosexual guy sets up situations to get women in sexual proximity."

So those are the facts that Ellen Ladowsky so blithely ignores in her article, which then goes on to examine why Star Trek screws people up so. First of all though she takes a detour to the Heaven's Gate mass suicide at Rancho Mirage California in March 1997 and links it to Star Trek: "Those involved in the Heaven's Gate mass suicides in Rancho Sante Fe in March 1997 also purported themselves to be avid Star Trek fans. One may recall that the cult forced its members to wear unisex clothing, had a strict policy of celibacy, a ban on all sexual thoughts, and eight of the members had surgically castrated themselves." The only link to Star Trek that I can actually recall being made public was that Nichelle Nicholls younger brother Thomas was one of those who committed suicide. The cult actually believed that on shedding their earthly bodies they would be transported aboard a UFO hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

Some of her points are amazing in their attempts to link Star Trek - and here she apparently constantly refers to the original series not to the four follow-up series - to bizarre sexuality. Item: "At first blush, the crew might seem kind of sexy - big-breasted, scantily clad female crew members, men in skin-tight uniforms, and Captain Kirk ripping off his shirt at the slightest hint of heat - but the features of their sexuality are exaggerated in the manner of a comic book, creating a hygienic distance from anything to do with real sexuality." Item: "The male crew members demurely ignore the sexually enticing (if antiseptic) female crew members. There seems to be a tacit agreement that any sexual relationships would destroy the unity of the crew." Item: "Captain Kirk displays a truly astonishing emotional poverty. He goes from planet to planet, having trysts with an assortment of nubile women, but never forms any real attachments. By the next episode, the last female partner is forgotten. (Although we don't know all that much about pedophilic sexual offenders, one thing we do know is that they have trouble forming authentic adult romantic relationships.)" She even brings up the Kirk-Spock relationship that is so much a fixture of fan fiction: "The one longstanding attachment Kirk has is to Mr. Spock. In fact, their bond is so intense that there's an abundance of gay porn written about the two. (Oddly enough, it's frequently written by heterosexual women.)" (Oh and by the way she also has a take on Spock: "It's easy to imagine how the garden variety pedophile might identify with the half-human, half-Vulcan character who is bereft of human feeling, essentially neither male nor female, and living in a society where those around him seem to have a different set of rules. (It turns out that autistics also strongly identify with Spock, but that's another story).") She even links the Utopian nature of society in Star Trek with Pedophilia: "There is another aspect of Star Trek that likely makes it irresistible to perverts. It is utopian, in the sense that all the differences and distinctions which create tensions here on earth have been eradicated. Despite their exaggerated sexual characteristics, for example, the crew members are citizens of a utopian interracial and interplanetary world where the usual conflicts associated with gender do not apply. [New paragraph in the article] In perversion, there is an attempt to obliterate any distinctions that provoke unconscious anxiety. First and foremost, this entails a denial of the difference between the sexes and the difference between the generations. Pedophiles are, at the very least, attempting to deny the difference between the generations. The utopian fantasy here is to normalize sex between adults and children."

Okay, right. Virtually all of the things that Ladowsky points to can be explained in four words: It was the Sixties! Televisions shows didn't bother with continuity beyond what they absolutely had to. Richie on The Dick Van Dyke Show would have a dog one week and the very next week be begging his father to get a dog without reference to the pooch he had the week before, and men were seriously dating one week and worried about not having dates the next. Male Bonding was the rule rather than the exception - Friday and Gannon, Malloy and Reed, Lt. Gil Handley and Sgt. Chip Saunders, hell even Jim Phelps and Rollin Hand (isn't it suspicious that none of the men on the IM Force was trying to get into Cinnamon Carter's undoubtedly expensive panties?). On the other hand big busted women in scanty clothes was also the rule of the day when they could get away with it: the daughters on Petticoat Junction, the various secretaries - notably Miss Trego - on The Beverly Hillbillies, and even Judy Robinson on Lost in Space. As for sexual relationships, remember that the Enterprise was a military ship and even today relationships between superior officers and either enlisted personnel or junior officers even today are grounds for disciplinary action, discharge or even court martial. The real life military sees "that any sexual relationships would destroy the unity of the crew." Don't even get me started on implied sexual relations in an era when people who were married on TV slept on twin beds, with plenty of separation. It wasn't until Bewitched that a married couple shared a bed (well except for Ozzie and Harriet). Finally we come to the "utopian argument". Of course the United Federation of Planets was a utopian society. Most science fiction of that period that was set in the future envisioned that future as utopian. Certainly "space opera" did as an extension of the belief that in order for a planet to send voyagers not just to other worlds but to the stars that planet must have a unitary society, one where we are all united and "the differences and distinctions which create tensions here on earth have been eradicated." The rise to prevalence of dystopian societies in science fiction was a later trend, and even the human society in a show such as Babylon 5 at least has a veneer of a utopia even if underneath it is seething with dystopian elements such as the Psi-Corps, Free Mars, the Night Watch and the Shadow Conspiracy surrounding President Clark.

In the end I think that Ladowsky's article is a misguided piece of writing, putting forward as new a story which has been, if not fully discredited, at least put into proportion by writers who have actually bothered to dig a little deeper for the truth. Ladowsky's article doesn't even add much to the argument presented in the L.A. Times article (and I ask again, why was it written now, and why is the Huffington Post running it now). Rather she travels off in a direction that can only be described as tenuously linked to it. About the only thing Ellen Ladowsky's article is guaranteed to do is to raise the ire of fans of the show. But of course all I am is a Blogger.

Friday, August 19, 2005

New Poll - Outstanding Made For Television Movie

It's basically the same drill as before: vote for the Made For TV Movie which you think is the best in the group (not necessarily the one that you think will win with the Emmy Voters). By the Way, I decided to go with Movies instead of Mini-Series because I think that this year's field is more interesting in the Movie category.

Poll Results - Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or Movie

Well that was a bit of a come down. I'll attribute the low voter turnout to people just not knowing the productions. I know I certainly didn't to the point where I have no real idea or opinion as to who should win and only a guess as to who will. This despite the fact that two of the productions in question aired on broadcast TV and thus were available for your humble Canuck scribe to see. Not that I did of course.

We have another tie. In fourth place with no votes we have Cynthia Nixon for Warm Springs and Halle Berry for Their Eyes Were Watching God. In third place is Debra Winger for Dawn Ana with one vote. And tied for first with three votes each we have Blythe Danner in Back When We Were Grownups, and S. Epatha Merkerson in Lackawanna Blues.

Now as I mentioned I don't have any opinions about this category - beyond the fact that Cynthia Nixon is way too attractive to play Eleanor Roosevelt at any age. (Of all the women on Sex And The City she was my favourite with her clothes on - and she wasn't that bad with her clothes off except when compared to Kim Catrall.) I think Merkerson is an excellent actress and one of the best things about the original Law & Order while I remember Blythe Danner from many things, most notably as Martha Jefferson in the movie 1776 (my favourite musical). Based simply on the IMDB feedback though I have a feeling that Merkerson should win, although I can't rule out what this poll indicates would be an upset win for Cynthia Nixon.

Next poll should be up in the morning.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Okay, That's It...

Summer is officially over. Forget about the temperatures. Most of North America has been sweltering under temperatures that pose a danger to the elderly and small animals if they don't have air conditioning. I wouldn't really know about that - Saskatoon hasn't had a really hot day yet in August and the past few days the night time temperature has been dipping to around 5 Celsius (that's 41 for those of you who still think in Fahrenheit). The networks have been running ads for their "new Fall programs" practically since the end of May Sweeps, so that isn't exactly an indicator either. I suppose we could talk about "Back To School" ads - I'm waiting for the Alice Cooper ad from last year, probably in vain - but the school supply companies and the office stores have been sending those out to battle since the beginning of August. No for me the true indicator has been the posting of the new players for Survivor and The Amazing Race. That's the true sign that it's time to start worrying about when to put on a jacket when you're going out.

The Survivor cast looks like, well your average Survivor cast. There's your requisite old guy - this time he's a former marine who joined the Aurora Colorado Fire Department and rose to the rank of captain over a 30 year career. There's the usual complement of "pretty" young people, some of whom are models/actors - which usually means waiters - looking for their "big break". (Actually most of the time all of the contestants on this show and other reality shows tend to be "pretty people" even the old ones. This is television after all.) There are a couple of interesting stories. There's the first female sergeant in the Revere Massachusetts Police Department, a woman who lists her occupation as "fishmonger" - actually she's the assistant manager at a seafood company but what the heck - a woman who's a sports talk show host and a former NFL quarterback (Gary Hogeboom who I expect to be gone, probably during the mid-game phase - too dangerous in individual competitions). Actually I think that the most interesting thing about this season is going to be the location. They'll be living in the ruins of an actual Mayan city. I'm not sure - someone will probably correct me if I'm wrong - but I seem to recall that the original plan for the fourth "season" of Survivor was to have the players living in the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, but ratings for Survivor: Africa weren't as good as desired and a lot of people were nervous about running the show in the Middle East right after September 11, 2001. It took a while but it appears as if the basic concept is finally going to be used.

Of course, those of you who know me realise that as much as I like Survivor, I am absolutely passionate about The Amazing Race which is why I find the cast announcement for that show by far more interesting. This time around TAR is running a "family edition". The format for this "family" version has teams of four instead of two, all of whom must be related to each other in some way. Moreover the minimum age for the show was lowered, eventually to 8 years old instead of the usual 21 and the originally announced limit of 12. This has set off a firestorm amongst fans who like the show just the way it was, with teams of two going around the world. "Family edition" implies children on all of the teams and the hard core fans (and yeah I did think I was hard core but compared with some of these people I seem like a dilettante) don't want the show corrupted by children (said with a horrified shudder - or perhaps a horrifying shudder - implied in the way they write it). Children (shudder) would mean that the Race would have to be simplified, made safer and "child friendly" with rappelling and such replaced with visits to amusement parks. The fear and loathing wasn't being reduced with a number of spoiler sightings of teams, all of them being restricted to North America. "They were at the Kennedy Space Center!" "Someone saw a team at the CN Tower in Toronto!" "They were in Vancouver! I swear it's true!!" (Visits to Vancouver are a bit of a joke in the Amazing Race newsgroup.) And then to top it off, Hera McLeod - part of the TAR6 cast with her father Gus - wrote on the Survivor Sucks! message board "From what I hear, they are having a lot of problems with it and it may actually not be a rumor that it all gets canned. Personally, I think it would be a blessing in disguise because TAR is not meant for children!" (Although oddly enough I can't seem to find her original posting, and how would she know anyway.)

So what have we got now that the actual contestants have been revealed? Well there are 27 Racers over the age of 20, and only three under the age of 12. Eleven are between the ages of 12 and 20. There are a couple of intriguing relationships. There is a team of four adult sisters. One team consists of a man and his three sons-in-law, the youngest of whom is 26. There's a 46 year old widow with her three kids, the youngest of whom is 14 and a father with his three daughters who were in a shampoo commercial together a few years ago. One team has two children under the age of 12, including the youngest competitor (aged 8) while another family has a 9 year-old and a 12 year-old. Beyond a significant absence of openly gay team members, the most significant thing to me seems to be that The Race actually seems to have attracted more older racers this time. There isn't the usual crowd of wannabe models and actors. Instead over a third of the competitors - fourteen in all - are 40 and older. That's "geezerhood" to many fans of The Race. I suppose that's necessary if you're going to have a race with the restrictions of familial relationships and the reduced age limit but still, when you consider the uproar about letting younger people compete in the race, the fact that there are as many people over 40 this time around as there are under 21 and as many people over 50 (advanced geezerhood) as there are under 12 would come as a big surprise if any of the raging fans bothered to notice.

I haven't pre-rendered judgement on the upcoming edition of The Amazing Race. I want to see at least the first before I do that. I don't take the spoilers all that seriously - yet - simply because the show has traditionally been very stringent when it comes to security. It's entirely plausible that the producers have hired families to show up at famous locations for the specific purpose of being noticed. That said, I will be happy when the producers take the show back to its roots with the ninth series of The Amazing Race. It isn't that the family idea is necessarily a bad one. Simply it is a case that I think that teams of four are harder to relate to than teams of two. I also think that teams of four are going to be more difficult to manage. Most of all I don't like the implication that the changes occurred as a backlash to incidents in a couple of earlier season - like the one where Jonathon, a racer in the sixth race, pushed and berated his wife Victoria leading to charges of spousal abuse. Worst of all I fear that changing The Race will lead to some of the hard won momentum that the show gained in its two series last season. Of all of the "Reality-Competition" shows on the air, I think that The Amazing Race stands head and shoulders above the rest and I'd hate to see it lose the ratings strength that it has so richly earned and I worry that changing the format could hurt the show more than it helps.