Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Less Faces, More Places

That's what Phil Keoghan promised in a recent interview about the ninth season of The Amazing Race. This is after the Fall season of the show which was also known as The Amazing Race: Family Edition. You don't want to know what fans called it, and because children might find this blog, I can't tell you either. Even the broadcasters hated it - in its ads for the show CTV, which broadcasts the show in Canada (where it's the most popular reality show of all and almost a popular as Hockey Night In Canada) says that this season is a "return to its Emmy winning form."

I think you pretty much know that I love The Amazing Race with a love that burns pure. The Amazing Race: Family Edition was crap, mainly because there were too many people and it was reluctant to venture beyond the borders of the USA, and it was hard to identify with teams of four (and yeah some people hated that there were "cute kids" on the show). Yes there were ventures to Panama and Costa Rica, and even the wilds of Toronto and Montreal but people really didn't want to see the World's Biggest Office Chair (in Anniston Alabama), they wanted to see teams hang gliding off of Sugar Loaf in Rio and Ethiopian churches cut out of the living rock - and so did the competitors, including the ones with the "cute kids" some of whom were better travelled than the people who criticized their presence on the show. From the looks of things in the commercials that have been airing for the show, this season delivers what people want - bungee jumping over the Corinth Canal any one?

I usually give my evaluation of the teams in the Amazing Race newsgroup but wasn't able to this time so I present a brief version here. The Race has a tendency to cast teams as types - the Girl Team, The African-American Team, the Old Couple, the Gay Team, so I've mentioned which group teams fit into. Odds come from Online Casino News and reflect wagering from PlayersOnly.com - take some of them with a large grain of salt:

Eric & Jeremy 11-5: The prototypical Alpha Male Team. They both ran track in College and one of them spent a couple of years in Africa (and speaks some Swahili). They've adopted the Survivor attitude, which is that you don't make friends and you do screw people over if you get the chance. If any team is going to be the "heels" of this season's race it will be these two, and it's worth noting that only one team has really done well using the Survivor strategy - Rob & Amber, who were on Survivor. They'll make final four - they may even win - and be hated for it.

Ray & Yolanda 7-2: The African-American team who also fit another favourite requirement of the producers - they're a couple who have just started living together. They're educated and athletic - she ran track in college - but undoubtedly there are going to things they'll discover about themselves that will surprise them and test their relationship. Could win.

BJ & Tyler 4-1: Every season seems to have a really quirky team of "best buds" and this is them. For some reason they remind me of Kevin & Drew, one of the most memorable teams ever. They've travelled a lot and have a number of languages including Japanese, Spanish and Latin (although where they'll use that is unknown). I expect them to really deep in the race, maybe final four, and be fun and goofy all the way.

Fran & Barry 5-1: The requisite Old Couple. Old Couple have had a variable history in The Amazing Race. They tend to be underestimated and these two are bound to be. He's a retired Urologist who was also army surgeon with an Airborne Battalion. She's a retired accountant who has hiked or climbed every one of the 54 mountains in Colorado that are higher than 14,000 feet. They've travelled to 45 different countries - which I think is more than Phil has gone to(!) - so I doubt that they're going to be surprised by much. I expect them to make it to at least the last half of the race and they could be in the final four.

Wanda & Desiree 6-1: The final type that the show likes is the parent and adult child combo needing to recapture their closeness one last time. They've travelled together (Wanda used to be a flight attendant) a lot and Wanda in particular is well educated. I think these two could be a lot of fun and while parent-child teams rarely go a long distance, I think these two could.

John & Scott 6-1: While they're not a couple this is the Gay Team. These guys look as thought hey could be fun but they both have a lot of fears and not much travel experience. John has to cope with a fear of flying, amongst other fears and he's doing the Race to conquer some of his fears. Gay Teams have had a tendency to last for a long time in the Race, but with these two guys I just can't see it, simply because of the combination of fears and physical qualities.

Lake & Michelle 7-1: Married couple from Hattiesburg Mississippi. He's a dentist and she's a stay at home mom who works part time in his office. They have limited travel experience and while he's an impatient Type A personality she's somewhat laid back. I'd expect a bit of bickering, and could be an early elimination.

Dani & Danielle 7-1: High school friends from Staten Island, this is the "Girl Team" . They're both college graduates with limited language and travel experience, but they're cute and look good in a tube top so.... I expect them to go out early.

David & Lori 8-1: The self-described nerds in the commercials, they're a dating couple which is always risky for the relationship. I can't see them lasting beyond the first episode though so maybe the stresses on the relationship won't get to be too bad.

Joseph & Monica 8-1: They're another "Dating Couple" trying to take their relationship to the "next level". This is usually a recipe for disaster as they discover that the person they're with is entirely different under the stress of racing around the world. Couples have been destroyed by this Race - in front of hundreds of millions of people around the world - but better to have the relationship collapse before the wedding than after the kids are born. Depending on how badly they blow up could make it beyond the mid-way point.

Lisa & Joni 10-1: Another staple in the race is the "Soccer Mom" Team, women of around forty who are getting away from the husband and kids together either as friends or - as in this case sisters - and looking for adventure. These two will definitely stand out; they're both over 6 feet tall. They haven't actually spent a lot of time together so I think we can expect personality clashes as they "rediscover" each other. "Soccer Moms" can be a difficult group to handicap but they usually go out fairly early unless they have a lot of grit an determination. I think these ladies do so they should make the mid-point in the race for sure.

CBS maintains an excellent website for The Amazing Race which usually includes video not seen on the show and last season started an online talks show for the series. As well Ed Hasbrouck will use The Race to illustrate things that you can and probably should do in your own travelling through his blog The Practical Nomad. Now doesn't that sound like more fun than Simon Cowell insulting some wannabe singers?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Dennis Weaver - June 4, 1924-February 24, 2006

They say these things happen in threes so I guess we shouldn't have been surprised to hear of the death of Dennis Weaver but, well we were. More than either Don Knotts or Darren McGavin, Dennis Weaver was a constant presence in my TV life. I'm just old enough to remember Weaver when he was playing Marshal Matt Dillon's limping deputy Chester B. Goode in Gunsmoke. He left that role in 1964 and everyone expected him to disappear. Instead he showed up about three years later as Ranger Tom Wedloe in Gentle Ben - he played the father of Ron Howard's little brother Clint, best friend of Ron and Clint's dad Rance and worked with a bear. That series only lasted two years, thanks to the programming weasels at CBS who decided they wanted more "adult" programming. Then came a remake of the Clint Eastwood movie Coogan's Bluff except this one was a pilot called McCloud: Who Killed Miss U.S.A.? and turned into one component of the NBC Mystery Movie along with Columbo and MacMillan and Wife. Around this time he also did a TV movie called Duel directed by some kid named Spielberg (I wonder whatever happened to him?) While he tried a few more times for successful series, none of his later shows lasted more than a season. These included Stone where he played a detective along with his real life son Robby Weaver, Emerald Point N.A.S. with a pre-MacGyver Richard Dean Anderson, and Buck James based on real life surgeon Dr. "Red" Duke. His last regular series role was in 2005 on the ABC Family series Wildfire where he played Nana Visitor's father. And even when he wasn't working in a series he always seemed to be a presence on TV either through theatrical movies or more often made for TV movies or mini-series. He also did voice work on the series Captain Planet and the Planeteers which tied in to his involvement with ecological causes.

Dennis Weaver was born in Joplin Missouri and served in the US Navy during World War II. After the war he went to the University of Oklahoma where he was a star of the track and field team - he finished fifth in the Decathlon in the 1948 US Olympic trials but beat eventual gold medallist Bob Mathias in the 1500 meters. Subsequently Weaver trained at the Actor's Studio in New York and appeared in Streetcar Named Desire with Shelley Winters and toured in Come Back Little Sheba with Shirley Booth. Coming to California under contract to Universal (he was aided in getting the contract by Shelley Winters) he found little work (for example he shows up in an early episode of Dragnet as a forensic scientist) and was actually working as a flower delivery man for $60 a week when he was cast in Gunsmoke playing the role that Parley Baer had played in the radio version of the series (almost - the character in the radio show was named Chester Proudfoot but someone at CBS decided that people would expect someone named Proudfoot to be an Indian; in fact the name Proudfoot is English). In his biography Weaver says that he found the character as written "inane" but "With all my Actors Studio training, I'll correct this character by using my own experiences and drawing from myself." One thing that the 6'2" Weaver did was to give the character a limp so that he'd be noticed alongside James Arness who stood 6'7". The role won Weaver his only Emmy in 1959 as "Best Supporting Actor", although he was nominated twice as "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series" for his work in McCloud. Weaver called that series "the most satisfying role of my career." That series was memorable for McCloud's fish out of water status and his ability to constantly frustrate and luster his New York Boss, Chief Clifford, played by J.D. Cannon. A trademark of the series was the inevitable final chase scene which usually involved Sam McCloud driving some vehicle that had some link to the storyline of the episode, like a fire engine or a carriage with horses. It was an amazingly enjoyable series.

In his personal life Weaver was a committed environmentalist and activist against world hunger. A vegetarian since the 1960s he served as president of an organization called "Love Is Feeding Everyone" (LIFE) which fed 150,000 needy people a week in Los Angeles County. He founded the Institute for Ecolonomics which tried to solve economic and ecological problems, and he spoke to both the United Nations and Congress on issues of pollution and poverty. One of his major personal projects was "Earthship" his solar powered Colorado home built out of tires and old cans. The thick walls kept the structure at a constant temperature. The depth of Weaver's commitment to the environement could be seen in an exchange during an appearance on The Tonight Show. When Jay Leno quipped "When the garbage man comes how does he know where the garbage begins and the house ends?" to which Weaver responded "If we get into the mind-set of saving rather than wasting and utilizing other materials, we can save the Earth." Most recently he's been a major advocate of alternative fuel vehicles, and in 2003 led a cross country caravan of them from Los Angeles to Washington D.C.

Dennis Weaver died on Friday of complications from cancer. He is survived by his wife of over 60 years Gerry Stowell, three sons and three grandchildren.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

What A Lousy Day!

I hate doing obituaries.

I had planned to take a quick look at the new contestants in this season of The Apprentice so I could also with good conscience look at the contestants for The Amazing Race, the reality show I really like. Then I heard about the death of Don Knotts. This was followed very quickly by learning of the death of Darren McGavin.

Let's start with Don Knotts. He died late on Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications related to lung cancer. Knotts was a TV fixture, and what you knew him as depended on the period in which you saw him. Starting in TV on the soap opera Search For Tomorrow, in 1956 he joined the cast of Steve Allen's Sunday night variety show. This was followed in 1957 by his role as Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts and Griffith had first met as part of the cast of the Broadway hit No Time Fo
r Sergeants in which Griffith played hillbilly recruit Will Stockdale and Knotts played Corporal Manual Dexterity. As Griffith described it this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, and when Griffith got his own show in 1960 he picked Knotts to play the bumbling Deputy Barney Fife. While Barney was scarcely the most effective member of any police force - he got the job of deputy because he was Andy Taylor's cousin - he had an air of a man not exactly corrupted by power but rather one who has allowed power to inflate his sense of importance. This is despite the fact that Andy only allowed him to carry one bullet...in his shirt pocket. Knotts won five Emmys for playing Barney Fife.

Knotts left the Griffith show in 1965. Reportedly he was under the impression that Griffith intended to end the show after five seasons. They had both signed five year contracts, and by the time Knotts was offered a three year contract to match the one Griffith had signed to continue the show, Knotts was under contract to Universal to do movies. The first part of his movie career included such family films as The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Ghost And Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Love God?. The latter was something of a failure at the box office and Knotts returned to TV in 1970 with The Don Knotts Show. The comedy-variety show only lasted one season despite a cast that included a young Gary Burghoff, and John Dehner. He returned to films in the 1970s, mostly in D
isney films like The Apple Dumpling Gang, Gus, and Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo. In many of these movies he was teamed with Tim Conway.

In 1979 he joined the cast of Three's Company, replacing Audra Lindley and Norman Fell. His character in the show, Ralph Furley, managed the apartment building where Jack, Janet and Chrissy lived for his unseen brother Bart. In some ways Ralph was like Barney Fife, a man who allowed a little power to inflate his sense of self-importance, at least when he wasn't confronte
d on the phone by his brother Bart. Ralph fancied himself a ladies man - but was about the only one who did - and dressed in what he thought would attract the ladies. This included a wide selection of leisure suits and ascots. Knotts stayed with the show until it ended in 1984. Following the end of Three's Company Knotts did a number of guest appearances on TV shows including one on Suzanne Somers' series She's The Sheriff however health concerns limited his involvement. He was added as a recurring character in Andy Griffith's series Matlock but most of his later work was voice work for animation, although he made one memorable cameo in Pleasantville as the TV Repariman. His last credit is as the voice of Mayor Turkey Lurkey in the animated feature Chicken Little, although he made an on screen appearance as himself on a 2005 episode of Las Vegas.

Then there's Darren McGavin. McGavin started his career in the movies primarily in uncredited roles and working in live theatre. In 1951 he replaced Richard Carlyle in the short-lived TV version of the radio series Casey Crime Photographer. He spent much of the 1950s doing parts in anthology series including Tales of Tomorrow, The Philco Television Playhouse, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Robert Montgomery Presents and Studio One. At the same time he was working in movies such as The Man with the Golden Arm. His first series role was in the syndicated Mike Hammer in 1956 playing Mickey Spillane's tough private eye. He followed that with the 1959 series Riverboat in which he appeared opposite Burt Reynolds. During the 1960s he made a lot of guest appearances before playing the loner private eye in The Outsider.

Probably his best known series role was in the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker where he played the somewhat seedy tabloid reporter Carl Kolchak. Kolchak was the perpetually dishevelled protagonist who was continually investigating supernatural events like vampires, werewolves and zombies, all while trying (and failing) to convince his incredulous editor played by Simon Oakland. While Kolchak: The Night Stalker only survived for a single twenty episode season it earned cult favourite status and served as an inspiration for The X-Files as well as the 2005 remake called The Night Stalker. McGavin made two appearances on The X-Files, playing retired FBI Agent Arthur Dales, and more appearances were planned but McGavin's failing health made him unavailable. He also made an appearance in Chris Carter's other series Millenium. Computer sampling from the original Kolchak series was used to allow a young McGavin to make an appearance in the pilot of the new show.

McGavin's last series was the incredibly bad Small & Frye in which he played yet another private eye. Movie and TV movie appearances became a major aspect in his career. This included two Disney films with Don Knotts, No Deposit, No Return and Hot Lead and Cold Feet. Probably his most famous movie role is as "The Old Man" in Christmas Story, a film which has become a Christmas classic. He was 61, old enough to be Melinda Dillon's father and Peter Billingsley's grandfather (they played his wife and son respectively). That and Kolchak are probably the roles he's best known for today. In the late 1980s and early '90s he appeared in guest roles in a number of series, most notably as Candace Bergen's father in Murphy Brown.

According to the AP wire service report of his death McGavin could be difficult to deal with. He said about the Mike Hammer series, "Hammer was a dummy. I made 72 of those shows, and I thought it was a comedy. In fact, I played it camp. He was the kind of guy who would've waved the flag for George Wallace." He also clashed with the network over Riverboat. On the other hand when his role in The Natural expanded to the point where union rules required negotiations over money and billing, he fought over money but was willing to go uncredited to keep the production going.

One interesting thing in the obituary is a statement by McGavin's son Bogart stated that his father was separated from his second wife Kathie Brown. In fact Kathie Brown passed away in April 2003.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Too Much Bread, Not Enough Jam

So I admit that I have a fondness verging on addiction for Dancing With The Stars (to the point where I'd like to see a Canadian version) but like various Shakespearean heroes, the show has a fatal flaw. As the series goes on there are fewer performers and since the dances are physically taxing in terms of energy there is a brief period of time that the celebrity dancers in particular can go on before there are consequences - like falling or suffering a myocardial infarction. The net result is that the actual dancing part of the show takes less time each and every episode. Now in part they've combatted this by adding a second dance to the program for each team, but the problem continued. In last night's episode the problem came to a head in part because the programming weasels at ABC made a particularly stupid move.

The stupid move that the programming weasels made was to can Crumbs. Now as I understand it the "plan" is to put some sort of reality programming into the second hour of Thursday next week. And over the last two weeks they've shoehorned a repeat of Grey's Anatomy into the post Dancing With The Stars time by cutting Primetime back to a half hour. But they didn't have that luxury this Thursday so to fill the time slot, instead of burning off a final episode of Crumbs, they expanded Dancing With The Stars to two hours. The result? Well it wasn't pretty.

The tease at the start of the episode showed the celebrity dancers preparing for their performances for the night. Which is about all we saw of them live in that first hour. Most of the time was spent with Tom Bergeron - and to a lesser degree Samantha Harris reviewing the performances that the teams had done during the previous weeks. First we were "treated" to the best of Jerry & Anna then to Stacy & Tony and finally to Drew and Cheryl, all in considerable detail. We saw excerpts from all but one of the dances from each couple. After all they were going to be doing their favourite dance from previous weeks so it wouldn't be "helpful" for us to see how they'd done them before. We might compare them with what the teams did live and see faults and flaws - or at least differences - in the current performances. Interspersed between these taped highlights were taped highlights of the professional dancers doing routines that had been performed during previous one hours results show. The one hour results show was of course created once ABC decided that they could shelve Faith and Hope for a few weeks and no one would notice. And actually once they made up their minds that the results show would be live throughout what they had was not a bad product, with the emphasis on the potential music/variety format and the results of the dancing taking second place.

Now all of this occurred during the first excruciating hour of the final dance session. There was still an hour to go, which is the flaw in the whole procedure. The first hour was a waste of time - at least of my time since I could have used that hour to watch Survivor and not been forced to use my late feed to catch up. Beyond that it hurt the flow of the show. If the programming weasels were determined to have a two hour final dancing episode, they could have at least put the first dances for each team in the first hour, interspersed with the material on training, and staged the second Freestyle routines in the second hour. Or better yet they could have chopped the damned thing down to ninety minutes - as in previous weeks - which would have made the entire program tighter. Looking at professional routines could have been held of until the results show or just dumped all together. After all aren't we there to watch B or C class celebrities make fools of themselves by dancing?

By the way, just for the record, I think that Thursday night was the night that Stacy "not an elf" Kiebler lost the competition. Stacy & Tony's Jive was spectacular of course, but the whole house of cards collapsed with the Freestyle dance which literally looked as if it had been recycled from Saturday Night Fever and featured just one lift. It was a safe routine and consequently it was a capital "B" boring routine. The judges thought so to the point where they actually awarded higher marks to Jerry and Anna (in the most absurd Afro wigs ever) than to the "weapon of mass seduction". But the truly amazing performance came from Drew Lachey and Cheryl Burke who earned a second perfect score with their Passa Doble done to Michael Jackson's Thriller followed by a knock-out routine done to the song Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy that featured plenty of lifts and athleticism and earned them another perfect score of 30 from the three judges. More to the point it showed just how weak and safe the routine that Stacy and Tony put together was.

If I were to handicap this thing right now, I'd say that Drew and Cheryl are the likely winners, but given the way that the voting is set up it is entirely possible for any team - including Jerry and Anna - to win. What I can predict, with unerring certainty, is that the final results show of this season will again be an oversized extravaganza. It will, on the whole, be better than the two hours on Thursday night if they remember to focus on music and dance rather than building tension for the results - that can be done in half an hour or an hour - but in my opinion it will still be a bloated production compared to what it probably should be. An hour - fine; ninety minutes - pushing it; but two hours? Too little substance trying to cover too much time, or as I said above, "too much bread, not enough jam."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

TV On DVD - February 21, 2006

As I've never been shy about pointing out, I am a Canadian. Consequently Wednesday was not a good day. We may have 18 winter Olympic Medals, tying us with the United States, and we may have won four medals in Cross Country Skiing, Speed Skating, and Short Track Speed Skating on Wednesday and there are more medals expected in the the next few days, but it doesn't matter. We may be having our best Winter Olympics ever but Canada as a nation is in a combination of mourning and "righteous" indignation. Our men's hockey team has been shut out of the medals and not even the fact that the Americans aren't in contention either will rouse us from our national funk.

This week's DVD list is dominated by animated series including a couple of shows from Disney. There's something for adults here too though, and by adults I mean people who aren't going to boycott things simply because of nudity or cussin'. Finally there's just a touch of nostalgia to spice things up. Not a spectacular week but if you pick your spots, not bad. As always the comments are mine but the list comes from TVShowsOnDVD.com.

3rd Rock from the Sun: Season 3
- Another show that I wasn't a fan of. Sure, Lithgow was brilliant and it did have Jane Curtin which is always a plus, but the show just never excited me. It does present a skewed view of the foibles of humanity by viewing them through alien - and innocent - eyes but what others found brilliant I found irritating. But of course that's just me.

Action: The Complete Series
- The biggest problem this series faced wasn't that it was on Fox, a network notorious for having a quick trigger finger when it comes to cancelling new shows at the drop of a ratings point, but rather that it was on a broadcast network at all. If this show had been on a cable channel like HBO or even FX where the writers would have been free of restrictions on language and nudity it would have been big. Apparently there were problems with the show on the inside, mostly concerning Ileana Douglas who played Wendy the former child actress turned adult prostitute. The extras include a commentary in which the writers take particular care to rip into Douglas at any opportunity. Worth watching, particularly (but not only) because it was Buddy Hackett's last on-screen acting work.

Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, Vol. 1: The Journey Begins
Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, Vol. 2: The Journey Continues

- The only time I found this stupid toy worth watching was the legendary E.F. Hutton Commercial with John Houseman in which the bear gave Houseman's famous last line "They earn it." I can't imagine watching a cartoon about this thing, let alone two DVDs worth of it.

Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends
- This is Dick Cavett doing what he did, this time with true comedic legends. Cavett's strength was in having erudite conversations with people. And what a group of people are to be found on this four disc set (14 hours!): Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Woody Allen, Lucille Ball, Bill Cosby, Mel Brooks and some guy called Groucho. All of this was in addition to whatever guests happened to be on that night. One of Groucho's appearances - when he really was grouchy - featured Truman Capote. They aren't all gems (because some of these people weren't funny without their writers) but the talent is certainly there.

Goof Troop, Vol. 1
- Back in the early 1990s Disney made a serious effort to bring some of their characters back into the public eye through the medium of a two hour syndicated animation block. Goofy was one of the characters that they wanted to use. I've seen parts of some episodes and obviously it doesn't have the sophistication in either writing or animation that the original cartoons, or even the cartoons of the 1950s had. The decision to make Goofy into a "sitcom dad" - widower with a son and funny neighbours in the form of Pete (a non-villainous version Black Pete or Pegleg Pete from the old cartoons) and his familly - is questionable, but still it's an okay show for the kids and probably better than a lot of shows from lesser companies.

Irish R.M.: Series 3
- A highly thought of British series from the 1980s, The Irish R.M. (the R.M. stands for "Resident Magistrate") is an adaptation of the series of books by "Martin Ross" (Violet Florence Martin) and Edith Somerville which deals with an retired British Army officer played by Peter Bowles who is appointed to be a judge in rural Ireland and has to deal with the differences in attitude of the local inhabitants. The series, set in the early years of the 20th century, doesn't touch on the political situation of the period and instead bases its rather gentle humour on the relationships between people.

NYPD Blue: Season 3
- It's been over eighteen months since the first two seasons of NYPD Blue were released on DVD. Apparently the poor sales of those two sets delayed this set. It also resulted in a much reduced package. Instead of six discs this set has four and the number of special features has been reduced. This doesn't alter the fact that this series was one of the watershed programs of American TV in the 1990s. It is definitely a series that should be seen as it was shown and not in the bowdlerized form that sometimes appears on TV in the United States (Canada's Bravo TV shows every bare buttock and expletive of the original). By season three the cast is relatively settled although it's in this season that Gail O'Grady leaves the series. Buy this if for no other reason than it will encourage Fox to release future seasons.

Quack Pack, Vol. 1
- So around 1996 some genius at Disney decided that what the world needed was a TV series about Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie but with the nephews as teenagers. It only lasted one year, so apparently they were wrong.

Brian Jacques' Redwall: Season One
- Okay, I know that this was produced by Nelvana Productions of Canada and Alphanim from France, and that it is based on what is apparently a well known children's fantasy series by Brian Jacques (I say apparently because I've never heard of it).

SpongeBob Squarepants: Lost in Time
- I'm just going to say it straight out - I have never watched an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants and that's a record I intend to maintain. Sorry but if you want any more depth of analysis go elsewhere.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Season One, Volume One
- One of the bad things of growing up in a one TV station TV market like Saskatoon in the 1960s was that you didn't always see extremely successful series if the local station didn't buy it. Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea was an Irwin Allen creation from the early 1960s when he was taking a break from cheap but slick looking movies like The Lost World, Five Weeks In A Balloon and the original film of Voyage, and the two movies which would make his reputation as the "Master of Disaster", The Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno. The period gave birth to four cult classics: Lost In Space, Time Tunnel, Land Of The Giants and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea which was the first of Allen's TV series. This show ran for four years - longer than Star Trek - and to this day I have never seen an episode (the same is true of Land Of The Giants but it had a shorter run) because as far as I've been able to tell it hasn't been repeated on a station that I've had access to. It does have a good solid cast of character actors anchored by Richard Basehart and David Hedison

What's New Scooby-Doo?, Vol. 8: Zoinks, Camera, Action!
- I never liked Scooby-Doo and those meddling kids. This is from the series that debuted in 2002 (which fed off of the popularity of the movie) and at lest it's mercifully Scrappy-Doo free. If you like Scooby-Doo in any form you'll probably like this.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Tale Of Two Continents

A few days ago I mentioned that there was something that the CBC was doing in their Winter Olympic coverage that I wasn't entirely comfortable or happy with. It was something I thought I needed to think about and having thought about it I'm still neither comfortable nor happy about it but at least I have some small modicum of understanding about why they did it.

So what did the "Mother Corporation" do to spark such ambivalence in me? They've propagated a fraud. Well not really, it's more like an open secret but they've haven' exactly been bursting down any doors to tell anyone about it. Of the three main hosts of CBC's Olympic coverage - the people who toss it to the various event locations - only one is actually in Italy. Ron MacLean is anchoring the afternoon coverage (evening in Turin or Torino) from the network's base camp at Palasport Olimpico, the main Ice Hockey venue for the games (the Olympics calls the game Ice Hockey to differentiate it from the game that the rest of the world calls Hockey and North Americans and other northern peoples call Field Hockey - there are a lot more of them than us). Morning host Terry Leibel and primetime host Brian Williams are working out of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre at 250 Front Street Toronto. (Williams was in Torino for the Opening Ceremonies along with Peter Mansbridge, anchor of The National but returned to Toronto from Torino in time to host his primetime show the next day.)

The publicly stated reasons for handling the coverage in this manner is cost. According to an article in the Toronto Star the move will save approximately $1 Million. A significant portion of this saving is in the number of people who aren't in Torino. Under normal circumstances - that is to say the way the CBC has covered the Games since Albertville when they got the rights back - the Corporation would send a team of about 255 people to Torino for about three weeks. That means housing them in hotels in the Olympic city with its overinflated room prices, not to mention bringing equipment and building a broadcast facility for the event. Instead the network is running its coverage out of their own main facility where 150 technical staff handles the feed from Italy. That's staff who go home at nights and sleep in their own beds - at no cost to the CBC.

There are other advantages as well. When the coverage needs as special analyst - say Kurt Browning or Brian Stemmle - for the prime time portion of the broadcast when everything is on tape and has been seen before they're available as needed without having to fly them to Italy for the duration. Don Cherry can come in from Mississauga to spend ten minutes talking to Brian Williams about the hockey game and let's face it, anything that keeps Mr. Crankypants from causing an international incident is a bonus. That statement (about Cherry causing an international incident) was facetious but it brings up another point; what if there is a major breaking story - like the Atlanta bombing - at the Olympic site or in Turin? According to Executive Producer Terry Ludwick "In some ways, it will be easier to anchor and marshal all our resources there. We can have world reaction, local reaction, we can jump around and we'll be plugged into the Canadian angle, too."

As far as the actual coverage goes, it's hard to tell the difference between Toronto and Torino. Proof of that is that Terry Leibel's morning shift in Toronto runs directly into Ron MacLean's afternoon coverage from Palasport Olimpico. It doesn't hurt that both anchors are operating in front of a rather bland background that gives no hint as to where they actually are. This in itself is a change for the CBC. As late as the 2000 Olympics in Sydney (and possibly in Salt Lake City although I don't have any clear images of that) the CBC shunned the International Broadcast Centres for purpose built studios that they found on their own. In Sydney they built a studio on the roof of a school which overlooked Sydney Harbour and provided a great backdrop which gave visual cues as to the time of day. This didn't occur during the Athens Olympics and while it isn't stated I suspect that post September, 11 2001 security concerns have caused organizing committees to want to keep broadcasters either at the IBC or in a secure facility like Palasport Olimpico.

The decision to operate out of Toronto has curtailed to a great extent one CBC tradition - interviewing Canadian medal winners in studio during prime time coverage, but according to Ludwick this would have been a problem anyway. Many of the Olympic venues are up to two hours away so interviews on the day of the event would have to be conducted by satellite hookups anyway. In such a circumstance it doesn't matter if the show is being done out of Canada or Italy. Other broadcasters are taking notice. According to Dave Mazza, NBC's senior vice-president of engineering, "The CBC has done a great job with this. It's much more affordable. With rising rights fees, everybody's looking to cut costs without sacrificing the quality of coverage." For their part NBC is trying this in a small manner by having the commentary team for their curling coverage in the United States rather than Italy.

While cost is a factor, the fact is that these Olympics represent something of a financial windfall for the CBC. It's estimated that these will be the most profitable games for the CBC ever, thanks in part to the amount that CTV spent to get the coverage rights to the 2010 Winter Olympics (in Vancouver) and the 2012 Summer Olympics (in London). According to another Toronto Star report
"there's a theory that advertisers figure prices will be so high when CTV takes over in 2010 that this could be their last shot at the Olympic rings." The quote ad buyer Eli Paper: "They (the CTV-Rogers consortium) spent copious amounts of money getting those Olympics and I don't expect they'll want to pick up the bill." They'll expect the advertisers to pay the bill. People may be thinking this is the last Winter Olympics for some time I can reasonably get into." Even though viewership for the evening show are down by about 45% from the levels they were at for Salt Lake City, ratings for the afternoon coverage are up 36% from 2002 (and both are comparable with ratings for the 2004 Athens Olympics). The reasons for the difference should be obvious - finals for events in Salt Lake City occurred during prime time while the prime time show this year is made up entirely of highlights and recaps of the day's events.

I have a problem with all of this. I can see the cost savings after the CBC strike of last summer and at a time when the new Conservative government is bound to want to remake the CBC in an image more in line with its ideas about the public broadcaster (some of the more conservative elements of the Conservative Party would like to shut down the place or at least turn anything that makes money - like Hockey Night In Canada - over to private broadcasters). On the other hand I'm reminded of a commercial from a few years back. In it a widely travelled corporate executive was showing off pictures of his travels to someone who turns out to be the company's IT nerd. The nerd tells him that with installation of this new software (Lotus Notes I think it was) he'll never have to go on the road again. The problem I saw immediately in that commercial (and why I was convinced that the software would be a bust if sold on that basis) is that just because the technology works doesn't mean it will be effective. In the case of the software, clients like to work face to face with human beings. In the case of the Olympic coverage having the hosts on the ground in Italy gives the event a certain amount of importance while not detracting from the newsworthiness. I'm not saying that the coverage is bad - for the most part I rank it higher than the NBC coverage - but not having Leibel and Williams there in some hard to describe way lessens the event by not immersing them in the atmosphere of the thing. Somehow it just seems wrong.

Monday, February 20, 2006

New Poll - What Network Produces The Fewest Shows That You "Must See"?

The third of the "Must See TV polls", this one focusing on the "worst of the networks". As usual, feel free to comment here.

Poll Results - What Network Produces The Most Shows That You "Must See"?

Been meaning to get around to this for a while and been forgetting about it. I asked what network produces the most shows you "must see", a retread of the poll I originally ran last October. Again there was a drop in the number of voters from 10 in October to 5 this time around. In a tie for fourth place are NBC, UPN and The WB with no votes, which is the same as the October poll. In third place with 1 vote (20%) is ABC In October this was the second place network with 2 votes (also 20% of the total votes that time around). In a tie for first place are Fox and CBS with 2 votes each (40%). In contrast CBS had one vote in October (10%) and Fox had 7 votes (70%).

What has changed? Well one thing of course is the number of voters. As always the smaller the sample the less accurate the result. Setting that aside though, one of the things may be that a couple of things at Fox have changed. The critically loved Arrested Development is gone of course and the way Prison Break has been handled is enough to make you want to strangle some network weasels. Is it possible that there's a certain resentment of American Idol as well? ABC? Their "after Monday Night Football" programming in the form of Emily's Reasons Why Not and Jake In Progress has been a dud, and they've pulled Commander In Chief for a while. Desperate Housewives hasn't been as good this season as last time. On the other hand there is Dancing With The Stars which has proven so popular that they've expanded the results show and dumped Faith And Hope for the duration, and of course Gray's Anatomy. As for CBS they've pretty much had a solid season. There aren't too many weak points in their lineup, with the possible exception of Tuesday from 9 to 10 CST.

New poll up in a few minutes.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Which Crew Do You Fit With

And here I was hoping for DS9...or Serenity.

Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Moya (Farscape)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Serenity (Firefly)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


You scored as Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica). You are leery of your surroundings, and with good reason. Anyone could be a cylon. But you have close friends and you know they would never hurt you. Now if only the damn XO would stop drinking.

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)

Friday, February 17, 2006

TV ON DVD - February 14, 2006

The Olympics are coursing through my veins like a really serious (but really good) drug, which has kept me from doing a lot of things that I want to do - like writing for this Blog or playing poker (although I played a ring game for an hour tonight and won a little cash). Bear with me because all you might get for the next week is DVD listings and an occasional obituary. Oh and maybe another post or two about the Olympics. CBC is doing something that I'm not too sure I like. But that's a story for another time.

This week seems to be full of family sitcoms, with a couple of "only in Canada" sets for good measure. There's a couple of interesting items, not the least of which is season 1 of the new Doctor Who. There are also a couple of mysteries but you'll find that out in a minute. Finally I'd be remiss in not mentioning that the listing was compiled by TVShowson DVD.com.

The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Fifth Season
- Even the worst of The Andy Griffith Show is better than the best of a lot of modern sitcoms, and no matter what some people say this was scarcely the worst season of The Andy Griffith Show. Sure it was the last season in Black & White, something that made the show seem somehow more accessible than it was when it was in colour, and sure it was the season in which Barney Fife (and Don Knotts) drifted slowly away, but still the elements that made it special remained. It was never cruel, never went for the cheap laugh, and worked as both a comedy and a story about a family. Great TV.

Ballykissangel: The Complete Series Four
- A well loved show which I don't think I've ever been able to see (the Detroit PBS station that we get here seems obsessed with Are You Being Served and Keeping Up Appearances virtually to the exclusion of anything else) so I can't tell you much about it beyond the fact that the fourth seasons saw major changes in the cast with Stephen Tompkison leaving the show to be replaced by Don Wycherley. The show was one of Colin Farrell's first major acting roles.

Charles in Charge: The Complete First Season
- I remember the first season of Charles In Charge. That was when the show was a network series featuring "teen heart-throbs" Scott Baio and Willie Aames, with Julie Cobb and James Widdoes as the Pembrokes, who hired Charles to look after their kids. It was an innocuous enough little show, and I was neither surprised nor outraged when it was cancelled. Sitcoms are like streetcars; miss one and another one comes along pretty soon - although like streetcars there aren't nearly as many around as there used to be. Anyway no big deal. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the show had actually lasted four more seasons, until 1990, in syndication. Of course I wasn't surprised - or enamoured fo the original - enough to actually watch the thing, but there you go. If you liked it a whole lot more than I ever did you might consider buying it but the truth is that there's so much stuff that's just plane better available.

Doctor Who (2005): The Complete First Series
- This is the new Doctor Who of course, the one which my American friends won't have seen yet (snicker snicker). I know a lot of you may be reluctant to buy Canadian, but on this one you should since I'm convinced that the SciFi Channel will edit this to death. And besides I know you want to see it before anyone else. Believe me it's well worth the trouble. The show takes the Doctor, updates him and makes him a sadder figure somehow. Well actually I know how. As is usual with at Doctor Who DVD there are plenty of extra features including commentaries on all thirteen episodes by cast and crew. That may explain why the thirteen episodes are on six disks and why the price is in the vicinity of a Star Trek set...and probably worth it!

Farscape: Season 3, Collection 2 (Starburst Edition)
- Short and sweet regurgitation of what I've said before - too many different formats for Farscape DVDs, smells like money grab, can someone explain. Nuff said.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: The Complete Third Season
- There are two undeniable factors about this series. One is that while Will Smith might have been an untutored actor when Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air premiered he was an incredibly charming performer who learned to be an actor, who during the hiatus between the third and fourth seasons earned critical acclaim for his major supporting role in Six Degrees of Separation. The other thing is that while Smith worked well with all of the show's cast members, his chemistry with his costar Alfonso Ribiero was palpable. Ribiero's character of Carlton, superior "stick up his butt" who a perfect country club kid was a brilliant contrast to Smith's street wise diamond in the very rough. James Avery as the "gentrified" Uncle Phil (he's on top now and maintains a veneer of respectability but he remembers how hard he had to work to get there) and Joseph Marcell as the "smarter than the lot of them" butler Geoffrey is icing on the cake.

Gimme a Break! Season 1
- I never watched this series, mainly because I was never a huge fan of Nell Carter's, and the whole thing seemed a bit formulaic - widowed/divorced man with kids needs a woman's (non-romantic) help to raise them; a clash of attitudes ensues. It's a formula that would be twisted around somewhat with Who's the Boss? but it's still a sitcom standard.

Golden Girls: The Complete Fourth Season
- The thing about sitcoms is that it often seems like they don't progress. The Golden Girls was like that. Sure there were occasional times when the show would undertake story arcs - in the fourth season Sophia (Estelle Getty) gets married to her late husband's former business partner, played by the always wonderful Jack Gilford. Still, the "Girls" always end up in the kitchen eating cheesecake and talking out their problems. It just doesn't change.

Grey's Anatomy: Season One
- I don't think we can call Grey's Anatomy one of the best shows on TV, but it seems to me to be more than what I described it as in my initial review of the series - the TV equivalent of comfort food. The show is a delicious mixture of humour and drama with both being played on the light side. Added to the mixture is more than a touch of soap opera as the doctors have more than their share of complicated romantic relationships. At nine episodes, the first season was a short one although longer than ABC executives expected. They were prepared to use it as a short term - 6 episodes - replacement for Boston Legal. It hit, probably because it is well written and well acted by a cast that works together extremely well as an ensemble.

Hardcastle & McCormick: Season 1
- Now here's one I don't get: Hardcastle and McCormick is only available in Canada. Why? The show has no special ties to Canada, and surely the market is bigger in the US than in Canada. The show is one of those '80s action shows with the flashy car (although unlike KITT in Knightrider the Cody Coyote doesn't talk), and the Reagan era fantasy of "getting" all of the criminals who got away with their crimes on technicalities thanks to inconvenient details like Miranda Rules. The redeeming factor for this series is Brian Keith who plays Judge Milton "Hardcase" Hardcastle with a sense of humour and a certain amount of panache. It's a long way from Family Affair (and an even longer way from his 1972 series The Little People) but Brian Keith was a versatile actor. But I still can't figure out why it's only available in Canada. Pity. (And apparently there's some sort of complication based on what's one the Amazon.ca page.)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Season 1, Vol. 2
- I can't figure out why this has a cult following. The animation was bad, the stories almost as bad, and in the end it was just a big toy commercial. I don't get it.

Living Single: The Complete First Season
- This series was already well established when we finally got the Fox Network in Saskatoon. I never saw it. I was undoubtedly watching something on the Big Three networks when it was on and it was a sitcom (I was pretty much off of sitcoms by this time). Still, and interesting cast, including Facts Of Life star Kim Fields and and future Oscar nominee Queen Latifah.

Overhaulin: The Complete Second Season
- I've seen parts of a couple of episodes of this and it's okay but it doesn't really grab me. Probably because I'm not a car guy.

The Pretender: The Complete Third Season
- The Pretender was another of those shows that I didn't watch but in this case I was eminently aware of it. Part of the problem of course was that The show was part of that last gasp of networks (in this case NBC) programming Saturday nights with new programs that people might actually want to watch. I was watching something else. Still you couldn't miss the absolute passion that people posting to rec.arts.tv had for the show.

NBA Shaq TV Reality Series
- Okay, I have never heard of this but with a name like Shaquille, and in fact even TV.com doesn't list it. Mystery!

Significant Others: The Complete Series
- A series from Bravo - the American Bravo not the Canadian one - that of course isn't seen in Canada. In fact when I was looking this up I found and thought that it would be the Jennifer Garner series from the 1990s. The concept sounds interesting - an improvised sitcom about couples in therapy - and being on cable means that it wasn't restricted by the strictures of network TV, like producing thirteen episodes and waiting for a back half. I don't know if it would have flown on network TV, but it went for two six episode seasons on Bravo for whatever that's worth.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Compare and Contrast - The Olympic Opening Ceremony

I am - quite proudly - an Olympics Wonk. I like 'em; I love 'em; Can't get enough of 'em! And as any North American Olympics Wonk worth their salarium (a Latin joke for Italia) knows, the coverage of the Olympics that NBC offers is nothing short of awful. Those in the know either come to Canada or a border area for the duration, get a Canadian satellite dish or find a sports bar which has a Canadian dish rather than watch the mess that NBC makes of the Olympic Games.

It's a matter of philosophy. CBC, and before them the private broadcaster CTV take the attitude that the Olympics are a live event and the technology exists to allow the Games to be broadcast live, therefore it makes sense to treat the event as a news story and present them live. NBC takes the attitude that - particularly for their broadcast network - the Olympics are a ratings bonanza and should be held over until prime time except on the weekends. Besides the affiliates probably wouldn't stand for the network taking over the time they save for news and syndicated court shows. As a ratings bonanza the feeling is that there's a need to focus on - and in all honesty promote - American athletes for the most part to the exclusion of all others. They seem to believe that Americans only want to see Americans and preferably Americans winning.

While I won't be blogging extensively about the Olympics - that isn't the purpose of this blog after all, and besides it might impinge on my ability to watch the Olympics - I do think that the way that the Opening Ceremonies were covered are in some ways illustrative of the differences in attitude towards covering the Games. So on Friday I subjected myself to both the CBC and the NBC coverage. There were similarities in the details but the similarities only served to illustrate the differences, if that makes sense.

The live CBC coverage started at Noon CST although the ceremonies themselves didn't begin for an hour after that. CBC spent that time familiarizing viewers with the area around Turin and the Olympic venues, as well as discussing Olympics related news - specifically the Gretzky betting story and the impact that might have on Canadian athletes (the Canadian Olympic Committee were saying that it would be no problem but the sports people indicated that athletes were saying it might) They also discussed the COC's "On The Podium" program, the objective of which was to use scientific training programs to get more Canadian athletes into contention before the 2010 games in Vancouver. The NBC taped coverage also had an hour of non-Ceremony material but it was focussed on three high profile American athletes and the performances of four American downhill skiers, three of them competing for two open positions on the US Team. The interviews with the three athletes seemed to be primarily designed to promote them as probable medalists. It was a recurring theme.

CBC's coverage of the Opening Ceremonies was hosted by CBC Sports anchor Brian Williams and Peter Mansbridge who is the anchor of The National, while NBC's coverage was led by Bob Costas with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams as co-host. Much was made about the American Williams going to Turin rather than Katy Couric but I for one wasn't unhappy with the development; when I've bothered to watch the NBC coverage in the past, Couric has always seemed to be imitating a brook and babbling. Certainly that wasn't a problem with Williams. While the Canadian Williams and Mansbridge worked well together (they've been doing this since at least Seoul), at NBC it often seemed as if Costas was carrying the burden of commentary all by himself. The American Williams was probably at his most vocal during the entry of the athletes but often his commentary wasn't on topic about sports but dealt with whatever world or domestic crisis he could link the country to.

I want to deal with the content of the broadcast but the way that the networks dealt with content was largely predicated on the way they handled the entry of the nations. On CBC the mandate was clear; they would not interrupt the March of Nations with commercials and indeed decided to use an inset so that they could show the Canadian team marching around the stadium while also showing the teams that followed as they entered. As well, since the CBC was presenting the Opening Ceremonies live they weren't worried about length. The network rather optimistically scheduled the complete package for three hours (including the hour before the actual ceremonies) while what the actually got was closer to four hours total. NBC had scheduled the opening ceremonies for a seemingly more realistic four hours but it was a "hard" four hours - that is they couldn't go beyond that limit. If NBC had the same commercial load as the CBC it would be enough time, but of course they had the commercials during the March of the Nations that CBC didn't, and US networks are allowed to have more minutes of commercials per hour than Canadian networks which they used. The net result was a number of pretty brutal cuts to the ceremonies, most of them to the "artistic" portion of the program. A huge cut occurred after the entry of the athletes - there was between ten and fifteen minutes dropped immediately after the entry of the athletes with only the "tableau" representing Botticcelli's Birth Of Venus left in and another section representing the Italian artistic movement known as as Futurism. There were a number of other, smaller instances.

Having noted the number of cuts that NBC made to the Opening Ceremonies, there's still the question of how they were presented. Mercifully - and perhaps due to the absence of Couric - Costas and the American Williams didn't talk as much as NBC commentators have in the past. They tended to let the events speak for themselves, sometimes too much so although on occasion they did give more information than Mansbridge and the Canadian Williams did. And yet I felt more comfortable with the Canadian commentary team, perhaps because I wasn't expecting them to jump in with comments that I didn't need. Whatever it was the CBC commentary gave me the information that I needed in a relaxed but professional manner. Their silences even seemed more professional somehow.

Looking ahead, it's worth noting that CBC will be offering approximately eight and a half hours of live Olympics coverage every day, from 6:30 a.m. CST to 4 p.m. in addition to seven and a half hours of taped recaps between 6 and 11 p.m. and 12 and 2:30 a.m. By contrast NBC is offering three hours of week night prime time coverage (7 to 10 p.m.) and two and a half hours of late night coverage (Midnight to 2:30 a.m.), all on tape. This is in addition to whatever they have on their cable only networks, USA, CNBC and MSNBC (although only USA seems to be offering live Olympic coverage). It shouldn't be that hard to figure out what the preferred network for the Olympic Wonk is.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Big Trade

One of the big sports news events of the past few days has been Al Michaels leaving ABC to join NBC and their Sunday Night Football team. Now the details of the deal are emerging. Michaels was traded by ABC and ESPN's parent company Walt Disney to NBC-Universal for five rings, four rounds of golf and a lucky rabbit (not just a foot but the whole two-dimentsional bunny).

Of course there's more to the story than that - there always is. In this case the five rings are the rights to greater access to Olympics highlights through 2012 as well as other NBC sports properties, while NBC gets greater acces to ABC-ESPN highlights. The four rounds of golf are the cable TV rights for the next four Ryder Cup matches which lasts until 2014.

However the big part of the deal is the lucky rabbit. Walt Disney's first great animation creation with his partner Ub Iwerks was a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, created in 1927. In 1928 Oswald was esentially stolen from Disney by his distributer, Charles Mintz - it turned out that Disney never actually owned the rights to the character. When Disney refused to take a cut in advances for the Oswald cartoons, Mintz revealed that not only did he own the character, he had hired away all but two of Disney's animators (this led to Disney and Iwerks creating this mouse character and experimenting with sound). This crew included Friz Freleng, Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising. Mintz himself lost control of Oswald - it turned out that the character was really owned by Universal which created its own cartoon shop headed by Walter Lantz. Lantz would create 140 Oswald cartoons between 1929 and 1938 (and the rabbit would make his last appearance on screen as late as 1951). In the Vivendi-Universal reorganization the rights to Oswald fell to the NBC-Universal unit, although it was an obscure part of the deal at least to NBC Sports boss Dick Ebersol. According to Ebersol "The odd thing was, on their list they wanted the rights to 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.' And I had no idea what that was. So I called George [Bodenheimer - ESPN and operating under instructions from Disney boss Bob Iger] back after I got the paper and I said, 'George come on, what's 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit?' And he told me this incredible story that Walt's (Disney) first really big production as a cartoonist for the cinema had been 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,' before Mickey... Walt lost those rights, those rights fell into the hands of Universal Pictures sometime in the late '40's (sic), and in recent years Disney had made several efforts to get those rights back from us. For family reasons they would like to very much have all of Walt's stuff restored to Disney...Al certainly brought, even though not cash, he brought much more value than Herm Edwards did to the Jets in terms of a 4th round draft pick." Perhaps, but between possible DVD releases and mechandising (Oswald is very popular in the Japanese market) I don't think Disney is crying too heavily into their beer.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

TV ON DVD - February 7, 2006

Having made all of those statements yesterday about getting stuff out on time I still managed to get this out two days late. The more things change...

I really shouldn't be writing much this time around. This week's list consists of a lot of shows which I haven't seen, either by choice, by scheduling conflicts, or because - to the best of my knowledge - they haven't been shown here. If I only discussed what I'd seen this would be a very slim list.

Inspector Alleyn Mysteries: Set 2
- I've been a huge fan of Dame Ngaio Marsh's character Inspector Roderick Alleyn in no small part because the character took the genteel tradition of the English drawing room mystery and combined it with a variant of the police procedural of the sort developed in the the John Creasey's "Gideon" mysteries. This series produced by the BBC was actually the second attempt to do a series of Roderick Alleyn mysteries (the first was a series of films done in New Zealand which I saw in 1982 and which got me interested in the character; this series seems exceptionally obscure) and starred Patrick Malahide as Alleyn. A weakness of this series (in my opinion of course) is that the series is tied to Britain, while some of Marsh's best stories were set in her native New Zealand. Nevertheless the packaging of this series - one 90 minute episode per disc with a biography of Mash and filmographies of most of the actors as extras - is first class.

The Batman: The Complete First Season
- The Batman is the current anime inspired version of Batman. It is highly different from the acclaimed 1990s Batman: The Animated Series, both in look and interpretation of the characters, with Bruce Wayne as a younger starting his career as a vigilante. I haven't seen much of the series so I'm not in a position to comment but the look is definitely interesting.

Blue Collar TV: Season 1, Vol. 2
- I have to confess, Blue Collar TV never sounded appealing to me. I was slightly familiar with Jeff Foxworthy's comedy act "You might be a redneck..." and I saw the first episode of his disastrous sitcom. I was not familiar with either Bill Engvall or "Larry The Cable Guy". The show was inspired by the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" which in turn inspired Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie. It is interesting that this was an attempt by The WB to create a prime time sketch comedy series. Apparently you either got the joke and liked the show or you didn't and hated it.

The Best of the Electric Company
- Another show I never saw even after we got PBS on cable. CBC spent a huge amount of its Children's Programming budget on Sesame Street which scarcely left any money for domestic production let alone buying another series from the same producers, and by the time PBS became available here, the show was already gone. The show had a spectacular cast which included Oscar winners Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman as well as Bill Cosby. This set includes twenty episodes of the show from each of the six seasons, which sounds like a lot until you realise that the show produced 780 episodes.

Emergency!: Season Two
- A very barebones presentation of the second season of the 1970s classic. By the second season the viewers were getting familiar not only with the primary characters - Paramedics Gage and DeSoto, Nurse Dixie McCall and Doctors Brackett and Early - but were also getting to know the crew at the Fire Station, many of whom had worked for Jack Webb (who created the series) for a number of years. The format didn't change much over time but it was an enjoyable format.

Grounded for Life: Season One
- Another one I didn't watch (I know, I missed a lot of TV). The first two seasons of the show were on Fox before it moved to The WB. I didn't watch it on Fox and I was even less likely to see it on The WB. The show was a mid-season replacement and ran fifteen episodes in the first season. The DVD set actually includes those fifteen episodes but also nine episodes from what was nominally the second season

Growing Pains: The Complete First Season
- One of those family comedies that took off from the success of Family Ties and a host of others. Again, I never watched this show but this was because of a dislike of one of the stars of the show. I didn't like Alan Thicke as a performer or as a talk show host. Turns out that the one who was the real problem with the show was Kirk Cameron, although that didn't really surface until later seasons when his religious conversion cause conflicts among cast and producers - at one point he called the producers "pornographers" when they were inserting themes that he regarded as too "adult, and he had the actress playing his fiancee fired because she had once been a Playboy Playmate.

Hearts Afire: The Complete Third Season
- Now this series I saw and enjoyed. Apparently I was the only one, and apparently I was the only one who preferred the first season - when the show was set in Washington - to the second and third seasons when it was set in a small town newspaper office. A very appealing cast included John Ritter, Markie Post, Ed Asner (in the last two seasons he played Markie Post's father) and a rather heavier Billy Bob Thornton. There was a tremendous chemistry between Ritter Post and Thornton and it really amazes me that this show never really found an audience. There are only fourteen episodes in the third season.

Moonlighting: Season 3
- Ah Moonlighting, the series that created the myth that having the characters actually sleep together ruins a series in which a man and a woman have a romantic/sexual bond. I say myth because anything can work well if the writers are willing to work with it. Witness what happened after Joel and Maggie did the deed on Northern Exposure - it didn't destroy the chemistry between the two it just got the sex out of the way so that the relationship could be developed further. The writers and producers of Moonlighting weren't willing or able of something to get beyond. There were lots of reasons why Moonlighting had troubles - the fact that Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd hated each other, the fact that the show never seemed able to produce more than 18 episodes in a season (and only did that many once), and the clumsy way they dealt with Cybil Shepherd's real life pregnancy in Season 4 (which was the reason why Dave and Maddie had sex in the first place). When it was on this show was on, and the third season has some prime examples of this including Atomic Shakespeare, It's A Wonderful Job (a take off on It's A Wonderful Life of course) and The Straight Poop which featured then hot gossip columnist Rona Barrett and a guest appearance by Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele. And yes this is the season in which Dave and Maddie do it.

The One Step Beyond Collection
- A contemporary of the far more famous Twilight Zone this series was a paranormal anthology hosted by actor and director John Newland. There are a lot of DVDs of One Step Beyond on the market because the show has something of a cult following and the series has fallen onto the public domain. Thus I can't really speak to the quality of the prints that were used for this set except to say that it comes from Passport Video, so you'll have to base any decisions on how good you feel the company's other sets are.

Pet Alien: Spaced Out
- Four episodes from the Cartoon Network series. Can't comment except to say that these animated series all seem to dribble out in an apparently cheap but actually expensive manner. Can you imagine putting a sitcom out like this instead of on a season by season basis?

Poltergeist: The Legacy - The Complete First Season
- I've seen moments of this and it does feature Helen Shaver who I've always found incredibly hot (even when she played a transsexual in The Education of Max Bickford) and that has nothing to do with seeing her in Desert Hearts or In Praise Of Older Women - she was fully clothed and hot in Who Has Seen The Wind playing a 1930s school teacher. Still I've never watched a complete episode, probably because I'm not a big fan of horror/paranormal series and the title seemed to promise just that.

Sex and the City Essentials: Breakups
Sex and the City Essentials: Lust
Sex and the City Essentials: Mr. Big
Sex and the City Essentials: Romance

- Having released the complete series in a number of combinations, the show is now offering what might best be described as "samplers", labelled as "Essentials". I don't know the show well enough to speculate on contents, but I'm willing to bet that the Lust volume features a lot of Samantha while Romance has a lot of Charlotte. Each disc has three episodes of a half hour each (approximately) and no extras. For the price of these four you can buy a full season set and get change along with continuity. I can't imagine this as being anything but a disjointed sampling of the show intended to get people to buy season sets. I don't think so.

Simpsons: Kiss and Tell
- A single disc with four episodes focussing on the relationship between Homer and Marge. Another sampler but at least these episodes aren't out on DVD yet.

Survivor Pearl Islands Panama - The Complete Season
- The debut of Rupert, America's Favourite Survivor - so proven by a vote in the Survivor: All Stars series (for the record I voted for Rudy Boesch) - as well as the only guy who seems to have set out to be hated, "Johnny Fairplay" aka Jon Dalton. Featured the first person to quit the series (Osten Taylor, who so disgusted the producers that his final words weren't shown) and a couple of the greatest gimmicks the show has ever used - the purchase of supplies (which lead to Rupert "pirating" the other team's shoes) and the return of the outcasts. Probably one of the best casts ever and as I've said before casting is key in a reality series.

Teen Titans: The Complete First Season
- The thing about the Teen Titans TV series is that someone made the unwise decision to make the characters very obviously children, and anime children with big eyes at that. If you were a fan of the old comic books from the 1980s (a high point for the Titans) this would be totally foreign to you. They really weren't Teens (there was a copyright dispute with Neal Adams which forced them to use the descriptive "Teen") but were college age or so. Robin and Starfire were having sex - every time they could - and Wonder Girl (a character not seen on the series) even got married and pregnant (in that order smut brains) and either divorced or widowed or both. Still, for what the animated series is it's alright.

Touched By An Angel Season 3 Volume1
- I never liked this series - which presumably makes me a bad person - but it always seemed very "preachy" to me and Della Reese's repeated interviews about it being a "God thing" irritated. People loved it though.

Wildfire: Season 1
- I don't believe that this ABC Family series has been shown on Canadian TV, at least not yet. The show features some good adult actors as seems to have the prerequisite teen relationship aspects covered. Plus: Horses! so it's bound to be a hit with teenaged girls.

Wire in the Blood: The Complete Third Season
- I haven't seen this BBC series, but I will recommend it sight unseen for one reason - the presence of Robson Green in it. He is one of the best actors working on British TV today. There have only been fourteen episodes of this show in three seasons. The one reservation I have is with presentation. This four disc set has one 69 minute episode per DVD (which covers the whole season) and there are extras on each disc (biography and filmograhy of the actors, weblinks and something about the author and the production company) but they're the same thing on each one! Maddening! Surely there's a better way to present the show than this.