Thursday, December 30, 2010

Are women stupid?, or the Tale of the Sad Rich Guy.

I DON'T think women are stupid.

The Lifetime Movie Network might hold this view.

One of my weirder hobbies, not that the internet nurtures this, mind you, is advertising. Advertising changed with the times. Radio ads are different from TV ads, which differ from print ads and...

Men and women get different ads. A football game is shown and while there are certainly no shortage of women football fans, you tend to see ads about shaving cream and trucks. If you look at "The Good Wife" or "The Young and the Restless" here come the lady ads.

Radio ads of old, were by and large, verbal, pretty literal and said the name of the product over and over. Early TV ads tended to be radio ads with cute pictures, as the ad world learned how to use the new medium. By the 1960's the ad world went for more daring concepts, for example the wild ads of Stan Freberg, which sometimes parodied the very idea of advertising, like the Jeno's Ad cigarette ad that seems like a swipe at this Lark's ciggie ad.

By the 1970's while there were certainly some interesting ads, they became more specialized and more targeted to a specific audience. Of late, there are ads that are highly budgeted and/or are extremely funny.

However, the workaday daytime ads for women have not gotten this message. They are still stuck in "this is the product, this is what it does, buy some today" mode.

I am not sure why advertisers consider half the TV population too simple to grasp anything more than an ad that has the subtlety of an '80s heavy metal video. However, as I watch "The Soap Network" (which, I gather, is geared towards women and I watch for the articles, really), I see a NutriSystem ad that is basically a string of home videos of women-just-like-you! who have lost weight. Within the same hour, there was another commercial for eDiets that was a string of testimonials ("What are you waiting for? Call our eDiets hotline and get started, now!" is an actual line from this commercial). Not very subtle, (and by the way, if you're watching this channel you are FAT! FAAAAAAAAAAAT!!!) or the Gerber Life program which was basically a voice and title cards, because PowerPoint presentations SELL, but let's flip over to the Lifetime (which brands itself as "women's entertainment") Movie Network.

I have not watched any of the films I am about to mention but I will give titles and synopses. For me, a title has to grab me or at least be evocative of the contents. It isn't necessary to the success or indicative of the quality of a film, but a good title helps a film along. I might not spend any money to see "The Tale of the Sad Rich Guy" but I do own a DVD of "Citizen Kane". I like the double meaning of "Damages", because we know that lawyer's can sue for damages and we also know that Glenn (or is it Gleen? That is how she is credited on an old "Up With People" album) Close plays a "damaged" character. I might not be as intrigued if it was called "The Evil Attorney". Even the children's book, "Two Bad Ants" has enough titular intrigue to stop me in my tracks. How would an ant misbehave?

LMN is courteous enough to get rid of that subtext thing for all you girls out there! Here is a smattering some of the upcoming movie titles, as of December 30. 2010. All synopses are from the site:

"Fatal Trust" - "After the death of her husband, Kate is looking for solace, so she moves in with her sister in a small rural community. Trying to get back on her feet, she takes a job at a doctor's office. But peace of mind is hard to find when the patients keep turning up dead! After some serious snooping, Kate discovers that the esteemed doctor is actually a complete psychopath who kills his prey with snake venom -- and if she isn't careful, she may be his next victim!"

By the way, men can be sleuths, detectives, muckrakers, etc. Women "snoop".

"Don't Talk To Strangers" - "Jane has divorced her husband (the creepy Terry O'Quinn of "Lost"), taken their son and embarked on a new life with a new man (handsome 007, Pierce Brosnan). Starting fresh is just the thing to help her be happy again, but her scorned ex has other plans -- namely, stalking and terrorizing her! Luckily, her new love, Mr. Tall Dark & Handsome, is determined to protect her, as they try to escape her ex's terror and put him behind bars. Fun!"

Whew. For a second, I was concerned who I was rooting for.

"Engaged to Kill" - "Abby's overjoyed that her 19-year-old daughter has found herself the perfect boyfriend in Nick — or so she thought! Turns out Nick has been counting the days till he could get revenge on Abby because of some mysterious grudge. Will Abby catch on to this madman's scheme before it's too late?"

Revenge and a grudge don't necessarily a madman make. Neither does thirteen soap sculptures of Tom Hanks with the eyes gouged out in my...SOMEONE'S basement mean anything.

The latest film that is being hyped on site is "The Craigslist Killer", which, if the above trend is adhered to is either about people that are lured by a killer using a popular internet site OR it's about people bartering via word of mouth and church bulletin boards.

I think women deserve better. So does Sarah Aswell who wrote reviews of LMN movies.

In Lifetime's defense, there is also the Spike Network...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Undercovers - 1976's breakout hit!

It's fall preview season, 2010. I'm African-American and I am 46 going on 47 and Julie Andrews is certainly NOT singing a twee song to me about passing from one age to the next.

Within my lifetime I have seen TV shows that have used blackface for "comedic" effect ("Soap" "Designing Women", although the character was castigated for using it and some unnamed and long-forgotten unsuccessful pilot that had someone blacking up before they did some horrible faux-Polynesian dance) show after show after show where there was only one Black character, blessedly few that starred Blacks, almost none of them being dramas and a blessed few of them being particularly good.

On the other side of things, we are now in an environment that a show that features two attractive people of color that are happily married and high-level spies is, in and of itself, no big deal and that's a good thing.

Is it enough?

J.J. Abrams' new show, "Undercovers" features Boris Kodjoe and Gugu(lethu) Mbatha-Raw as two ex-spies, running a successful restaurant and are pulled back into the game by the somewhat too cranky Gerald McRaney (because federal law requires McRaney to be in a TV show once every five or so years). The show breaks no ground, which is no well...crime, heh-heh, but not every show needs to break ground and push the envelope to be good. "Modern Family" for example, is not a pioneering form of new television, however, it is enormously funny and deserving of an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy. You want an African-American spy? Bill Cosby starred in "I Spy" with Robert Culp, a year later, Godfrey Cambridge guest-starred on the "Dick Van Dyke Show" in the "Man From My Uncle" episode. You want 'em married? Well, Tim and Daphne Maxwell-Reid tried the married crime-fighting act in the regrettable "Snoops". So, why don't I just shut the heck up? Isn't it enough that, rare as it is that there have been enough people of color doing the spying? Can't I just watch Lance Reddick in "Fringe" and be a happy chappy?

Well, I am no longer worried that if "Undercovers" bombs I will never see the like of it again. I don't cringe at their sassy janitor (there is no sassy janitor). They are happy in their marriage and they express that, they are successful in business, they OWN their own business, they don't speak in some kind of urban patois that is someone's dreadful assumption of "how all of them talk". If it is canceled this year, I doubt that the NAACP will march or start a write-in campaign.

To which I say, hooray!

Let's take race out of it for a bit.


So, what do we have? I have two leads that work quite well together, the lead's sister needs more to do, but I have a show with a bit of a crutch. I'd like to say that Mark Harmon is not only a good actor, he is a durable one. He was quite good in "St. Elsewhere" and he has found a nice home on "NCIS". He is durable, because he has survived "Charlie Grace", which may have turned into a better show, but had a lousy pilot episode. "Grace", among other things had characters speaking in unison and "Undercovers" did this, several times. Ewwww. Also, the initial show's plot was predictable as a James Bond movie and their assistant-as-worshipful lapdog MUST be toned down.

I was and am still thrilled that Barack Obama was elected President. I also feel that his election was good, but far too late in a country like the United States, which touts itself as being dynamic and progressive. Other countries have elected women to run the country, while Hillary Clinton had people yelling, "Iron my shirt!" at her on the campaign trail.

So is, "Undercovers", enough?

Let's put race back in the picture.


Were this 1976, I would call this show a success. There would have been nothing like it on the air at the time and it may have been attacked by many as unrealistic and I mean by Whites and Blacks alike. So, huzzah for progress that this scenario is not unrealistic. For that Unreal and Offensive Booby Prize, take a look at "Outlaw" over on Mippyville TV.

I admire J.J. Abrams. I like "Fringe" and unlike some purists, I liked the latest "Star Trek" movie and I say this as someone who watched the original series quite a bit. However, while we are in front of the camera, how many are behind it? I am not saying that the writing or directing will automatically improve solely by adding Black people, but I still kvell knowing that we can be trusted AND respected on both sides of the camera. Is there a Black writer or director that has the sway of a J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon, per se?

Folks, the time has come that we can no longer accept or expect that the critical praise that has the hint of "well, considering that it's _______ people (fill in your ethnicity of choice) it's pretty good". The fact that it is an Abrams show is a very good thing, because he has a name that raises the right eyebrows, but this show needs to be better. If it wants to be frothy, fine. Not everything needs to be "The Sopranos", but if I can figure out what is going to happen plot-wise and feel almost no suspense, there is trouble afoot.

The only groundbreaking aspect of this show is more a personal one. Years ago, I might have been compelled to defend this show, or at least keep my trap shut, because of the various and sundry things that I like about the show. The slightly better news is that we are here. The TV landscape is slooooowly reflecting the populace but we are nicely entrenched and I'd like to see more of that. Now, I can say that "Undercovers" needs improvement and sleep without the guilt of having uttered the sentence, "Yes, Clifton Davis lives with his Mother, but at least it's HIS barber shop".

Now, having said my piece about that, the ads for "Outsourced" make me cringe, there are 0 shows that feature an Indian family in a drama, Latinos have surpassed African-Americans in US population, yet I see ONE show that stars one and that's "Outlaw", drat it. Asian-Americans are hovering around the periphery, so, yeah, I still think things are better, but we're still mired in 21st century mores with 20th century attitudes toward race.

It's not enough.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Very Special Episode? Hmm...

The Onion AV Club has a new-ish feature called, "A Very Special Episode". I enjoyed what I have read and heartily encourage you to read this entry. For those who don't wish to read it, I will summarize a point that raises my eyebrow, which is to say that this entry (rather rightly) takes to task this show and episode on the grounds of what Harlan Ellison called, "defanged dissent", which is essentially the flaccid attempt of a show to be relevant.

Once again, I enjoyed the article, but it missed a point, which, honestly, may be made in another post. While we can laugh and point derisively at the silly things folks did in 1972 in tv land, this still goes on!

Let's take the example of not a comedy, but a New York-based drama, "Without a Trace". The episode in question is "In Extremis", from 2002. The plot and SPOILER will follow. A doctor of Saudi Arabian descent, Anwar Samir, vanishes after a disagreement with his supervisor and an argument with his girlfriend. Given the story's and real life's proximity to 9/11, the episode is trenchant. There is nothing really wrong with the idea behind this story, but a few things bugged me about this show:

1. The main characters went to a mosque (or was it a rec center? Never mind) and they interview one of the people there during prayer and the fellow they speak to is short with them and unsmiling. He was interrupted during prayers, but the scene played to me to make the man out as a humorless fanatic, rather than a devout Muslim.

2. Samir is dating a White woman (more about why I'm bugged about this in a bit).




They find Samir, at the hospital. SWAT has been called. It turns out there is a bomb in the hospital and he is trying to get folks out. Nothing wrong there, but he, for some odd reason, is holding a gun. And, sure as, sorry, sure as night follows day, one of the highly trained, never-crack-under-pressure trained snipers shoots and kills Samir.


The writer, Francisco Castro, who may be a fine fellow with political views that align with mine has basically written "Uncle Anwar's Bayt" as unsubtle as this comes across. The character is a doctor, which I have no bones about, since I enjoy seeing portrayals of people of color in high-level professions, but Castro continues to stack the deck:

- He's a bit of a hothead
- He's dating outside of his ethnicity
- He hangs around stone-faced folks that dress funny

I get it, I'm not supposed to like the guy, if I have a beef against Muslims. I get it, I get it.

He is overheard mentioning blowing up something, but he was talking about Shea Stadium and he was really stating that he hates the stadium and that someone should blow it up and build another one because it's in bad shape and a nurse is seen looking back at him, as if to say, "why, that raghead wants to destroy America".

The gist of this episode is not without merit. The current dust-up about what is or is not to be built near the former site of the World Trade Center makes some of this episode sadly relevant, however, I would say that not only does it come across with the subtlety of a flying mallet, it has the element of what writer James Blish called an "idiot plot". The real loose cannon is a fellow named Kamal Kahn, who not only has put a bomb in the building but has a gun as well! Yes, friends, we must all fear the Mad BomberShooter. One wonders if Kamal has gone to knife-throwing school to make sure that the folks that escape the explosions and bullets feel his special brand of Muslim steel justice.

The 1967 movie, "In the Heat of the Night" was an attempt to strike a similar blow for racial equality. This is a laudable goal, considering that Sidney Poitier is an articulate and charismatic (albeit sexless) lead. Keeping that in mind, it was not enough that he was a good cop and a decent man, it was necessary to lower the intelligence and likability of the White characters as well. This is a well-worn formula: in "To Sir, With Love", he is a teacher, but in a lower working-class neighborhood, in "A Patch of Blue" Poitier educates a blind southern White trash girl with even trashier parents, etc.

The challenge was and must be work that can put in a dollop of justice and fairness without beating someone over the head with it. Two examples that I recall do this are, were "Frasier" ("The Matchmaker") which very nicely dealt with homosexuality with a light touch and not a single stereotype (the gay character in question is gay,unapologetic, successful not comically effeminate and while he doesn't get the guy, he also takes his rejection with good humor) and "Frank's Place" ("Frank Joins a Club") in which the main character is given a choice of New Orleans Social Clubs to join. One is made up of working-class men that honor the coach drivers and the other is the tony Capital C club which historically discriminated against "colored" people, while allowing in Creoles (note which word has a Capital C).

Which brings me back to the column that sparked this one. Once again, I enjoyed it and found it thoughtful, I wonder if, in it's description of defanged dissent it has somehow fallen into it's own trap, taking to task a show that is thirty-eight years old, although it was repeated incessantly, while bemoaning that very few of his friends know of the groundbreaking improv troupe, "The Committee" (while not, oddly, mentioning the troupe that two of its alumni came from, which was Second City/The Compass Players).

The revolution will not be televised.

It may not be blogged, either.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When I grow up, I hope to be this eloquent.

The link in this post is an impassioned, informative speech by Jonathan Emile McCoy on why the "n-word" should be abolished. I agree with him.


What does this have to do with media?, saw it on YouTube?

Here, also, is my response to Keli Goff's article:

Dear Ms. Goff,

Thank you for an insightful article and also, thank you for the inclusion of Jonathan McCoy's speech. I hope the following is half as eloquent:

I won't add to the tide of people that knock Dr. Laura Schlessinger. It has been done quite a lot and I cannot add anything new to the mix, save to say that mass electronic communication does not equal gravitas (so sayeth the commenter!!), which becomes more and more evident with the passage of time.

Over at the Huffington Post, Earl Ofari Hutchinson surmised that it was lame to think that the use of the "n-word" would dun it into irrelevance. He is almost correct. Had I walked up to you and made mention of "Jazz" or "Rock 'n' Roll" many years ago, you would have slapped my face. Why? Both were euphemisms for the "f-word". Nowadays, it is hard to think of anyone who considers these terms socially unacceptable. Miles Davis, was known to hate the term Jazz, preferring it just be called, "Music", much like Tito Puente's dislike of the phrase, "Salsa" ("Man, that music is some good SAUCE(!)"). There is a nasty cultural stratification that is attached to genre. Take, for example, "Science Fiction". It carries a stigma of being capable of being issued in book form, read, studied, but is sometimes considered less than "literature" and as such cannot be discussed with other works.

Now, imagine that you have played your instrument, which you have loved and studied for many years, honed with hours of practice, graduated from Berklee with a degree only to hear someone say, "I LOVE Keli Goff's playing. She plays great F**k. She can interprete F**k along with the great f**kers of the past."

What Hutchinson may have meant, but left out is that when you add the element of race, THEN, it is a bit naive to think that this most despicable word will lose its hold on people. It would be wonderful to see the day that it does, though.

As to your article (I did plan to get to your article!), here are a couple of points that I would like to bring to light. One has nothing to do with race, the other does.

I am not a writer by profession, but there is a phrase that I am getting rather tired of seeing, and that is, "...unless you've been living under a rock". I find it worn, oft-used and condescending and while I do not know you, I know that you do not wish to give off a "hipper-than-thou" vibe. I didn't know about Schlessinger's comments until I read the Huffington Post blog. Does that mean I'm an uninformed slug? No, it just means you got to that information before I did and that is one of the reasons you are employed doing what you do. May I humbly suggest, "let me tell you what has happened...", or some such phraseology. Had we been at the same party and I had said the "...rock" phrase to you, I doubt that I would have impressed you; depending on my tone, I might have repelled you.

The other point is this and it is a matter of spelling. I am not a huge fan of "black". It beats "Negro" as a word, for description in some ways, but black is:

- the absence of light
- what the bad guys wear
- technically, not a color
- "the color of my true love's hair"...oh, wait, it's dark brown. Skip that.

Worst of all, and you have used this in your article, black is...

...not capitalized!

"Aha!", you say, "I didn't capitalize "white", either!"

"Ahem", I retort, "That is precisely my point".

Being the age that I am (46), Black is preferred to Negro and "African-American" or just "African", which is unwieldy, but a bit more accurate (even though all of humanity, arguably is African; I don't have the Science background to argue that too much). African-American at least suggests that you and I have an origin. Black, however, when it comes in the middle of a sentence, has that psychologically damning lower-case "b" in front of it. Negro is not used as much (no tears shed about that), but it is always capitalized. My other humble suggestion would be that if you must use Black, capitalize it, as you should White (which, truth be told, is equally amorphous in its inclusion).

I walk with everyone else down that street called Life, and I refuse to give up on the corner that we can turn so we can veer away from the hate. I want to be able to tell my grand-nieces and grand-nephews about how bad things were regarding this, as compared to what they have seen (knowing full well that I haven't seen the soul-sucking, debilitating, mind-numbing, incapacitating racism of my ancestors).

So, down with n-word!
Down with "black"!

Don't even get me started on "Devil's Food Cake" vs. "Angel's Food Cake",
Brian Phillips

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Excerpt from "The Hoaxters" by Herman Hoffman (1952)

I only saw the tail-end of this documentary, which was nominated for an Academy Award, which it lost to "The Sea Around Us" by Irwin Allen. I cannot speak to the entire film, but it featured this very timely words at the end. I was shocked how much of it applies today, particularly the "Professor" remark, with regard to some of President Obama's naysayers. From what I have gleaned, this is a Cold War-era propaganda film, but this holds up rather well:

NARRATOR: "...It is not enough to be anti-Communist. That doesn't mark the measure of a man's love for Democracy. Remember, Hitler was an anti-Communist, and accomplished his Nazi reign of hate and terror, by the violence of his cries against Communism. What we are FOR is important. Beware the hoaxters with different bottles to sell.

NARRATOR (cont.): Beware the fearful gossip-mongers, the lunatic fringe, the calamity-howlers, the fascists, the ersatz patriots, the hate-smiths, the grubby demagogues screaming for the crackpot.

VARIOUS VOICES(in hushed tones): He's a communist! What's his religion? He's a fascist! He's a liberal, a bleeding-heart, a do-gooder! He reads too much. He talks just like a college professor! (in loud voice) I'm 100% American! 200% American! 300%! 400%! 500%!

(Music cue: Julius Fucik's "Entry Of The Gladiators")

SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: Six-hundred percent, that's what my snake-oil is, six-hundred proof!

NARRATOR: Amid the clang and clatter of clashing ideology is still heard the voice of the hoaxter, trying to destroy America, in the name of America. But the multitudes that once listened to this voice of doom, dwindled down to a mere handful. For no hoax, by whatever name it is called, can measure up to the shining truth of the human decency we call freedom, of the human hope we call liberty. Dictators come and dictators go. In the better world of the future, dictators will fall not at the point of a gun, but at the point of the truth. For we can win our fight, without going to war. The free countries of the world, with their material might and their spiritual hearts, can prove that there is no victory over the mind, when it is ruled by a whip and a gun, and that freeborn men and women, under God, will ignore the loud shout of the big lie, and listen instead to the quiet voice of the big truth.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Al", the news that's fit to print.

There is a marvelous essay on this page about "Grandpa" Al Lewis on this page. He made up a lot of things about himself, other things were so off the beaten path, you'd swear they WERE made up!

I'll continue my essays on sitcoms soon. Keep watching the skies. While you're looking up, I'll be writing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Post-Beulah and Pre-Obama Sitcoms, Part One

Here are few ground rules. This will not be an examination of each and every situation comedy with African-Americans. I also will do my best to strike a middle ground between contemporary attitudes and times gone by.

I was born in 1963. We were one of the few African-American families in Rockland County, NY. I didn't live in fear of the KKK, nor did Nazis terrorize us. However, when someone dumped trash on our property, my father, dumped trash on the neighboring lawns, thus putting a stop to that. So, I know there was a possibility that we weren't exactly welcomed with open arms.

I didn't live in the times that my Cousin Sarah told me about. She worked for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in the stamps division. A White woman wanted to hang up her coat. So, she not only removed a Black woman's coat from the rack, she wiped her feet on coat she had thrown on the floor.*

So, knowing that I didn't live in such times, I hoped for progress. In "Hollywood Shuffle" the actor portrays the actor that portrays "Batty Boy" is of the mind that a script that he doesn't die in is a good script. That is the only standard that he judges quality. As outlandish as this is, there is, of course, basis in fact. We were dropping like flies on TV and the movies! If we weren't dying, we were carted off to jail.

In comedy, the death of any character outside of a cartoon is usually, well, death, so in comedy, we stood a greater chance of survival and a lower arrest rate. "Beulah" was a comedy about a maid. On radio, she was portrayed, in a marvelous dose of sexism and racism by a White man, Mariln Hurt. When Hurt died, he was replaced by Bob Corley, another White actor. In a fit of sanity, the role of a Black maid was given to a woman of the proper ethnicity, Hattie McDaniel, which made her the first African-American woman to star in a radio comedy. She and Ethel Waters also portrayed Beulah on TV. The issue, was that she was playing a maid. This wouldn't be a problem, save for the fact that it was the ONLY show with a woman of color in the lead. Her boyfriend was a handyman. The message that could be gleaned was that was as high in society we could go. There is no shame in being a maid or a handyman, but if you turn on the TV, how would you feel if you saw someone that looked like you and they were always a maid or a manservant? The NAACP, who had earlier complained that a White man was playing Beulah on radio, to their credit, also took issue with this.

Taking the path of least resistance, Beulah was cancelled. I gather the stance taken was "the coloreds get a show and then they complain about it. Who needs the headache?" I was all set to lay into this show when I looked at a clip on YouTube and what did I see? Well, save the intro, Waters portrayed Beulah with dignity, grace and good comic timing. McQueen's credibility is undercut by her voice, but, all in all, I've seen worse.

It's an easy thing to look back nearly sixty years and look back with disdain and righteous indignation. In context, the clip I saw wasn't so bad.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Curiosity Shop

If you'd like to read about "The Curiosity Shop", go here. As a matter of fact, it would be better if you read that first, before you read this.

I'll wait.


Ah! You're back. Good, because I'm not a big fan of the Fleetwoods song that the Muzak guys put on these blogs.

If you'd like to see the opening credits they are here

If you'd like to Pam Ferdin, here she is with a garbage can lid.


This was, according to the Retroland article, a very busy show. Here are the shards of memory about this show:

The "Onomatopoeia" puppet was supposed to be a bird, as evinced by the song on the show:

"Onomatopoeia, Onomatopoeia!
It's a most exotic word.
Onomatopoeia, Onomatopoeia!
It's a most exotic bird."

There was a song about collective nouns. You know the ones; a pride of lions, a fesnyng (!) of ferrets and my personal favorite, a murder of crows. The two that I remember were "a giggle of girls" and "a bother of boys".

There were animated films. One regular feature was about a particularly bad inventor. One invention was "The Breakaway Suit". It fell off of him, leaving him in his underwear and hat.

One of the most ingenious cartoons was about aliens observing Earth and their ruminations on the intelligent life on the planet.

The cars.

After several minutes of false conclusions, the car door opened and out jumped the people. The aliens concluded that THAT race of foolish and frivolous beings couldn't possibly survive.

This show attracted no less than Ray Bradbury. It was an animated film with a poem about an entity called "The Groon".

This show also featured Don Herbert (Mr. Wizard), voice talent legends June Foray, Mel Blanc, Bob Holt and Don Messick and it was gone in a season or two. Dang.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Jack LaLanne's Eyesight is Really Good, Too

When I was in kindergarten, I would wait to be taken to school by my Mother. The TV would be on and I would see one of two things, Jack LaLanne or Captain Kangaroo.

Trivia aside: Why was Bob Keeshan's character called Captain Kangaroo? Answer at the end of this post.

Jack LaLanne's exercise show was on one day and my Mother was getting ready to take me to Mrs. (Phyllis, not Paula, the author) Danziger's class. I was sprawled across an armchair and LaLanne was going through an exercise and I was lazily kicking my leg in time to his counting.

"Come on", he said, "You can do better than that."

At this point, I got up and mimicked what he was doing.

"Ah, that's what I like to see.", said LaLanne.

At this point, I realized that LaLanne not only was quite fit, he was also gifted with amazing vision. To my great relief, the TV was in the living room and my bedroom had a door.

And now, Captain Kangaroo got his name becau...yes, who is it...please excuse me. Hey, that's my front door you just kicked in! I was just about to say that...his estate DOESN'T want it revealed? You can't...get your hands off...AAAAGH!

Sorry about that. The reason that he was called "Captain Kangaroo" was revealed on one of the earlier shows. He wore jackets that had big pockets, akin to a kangaroo's pouch.

Does anyone know a good handyman that can fix a door and a fra...


...which doesn't need repair and enhances my love of nature both day and night?

Vivat Keeshan!
Vivat Keeshan!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

"In the Past, Everyone Will Be Educated for Fifteen Minutes"

The fifteen minute show has been around for a long time; Hazel Scott had a fifteen-minute show on the Dumont network in 1950 and Doodles Weaver had "A Day With Doodles"

This reminiscence starts in the 70's and I'm home from school, because I am not feeling well. After watching the usual game shows, "Concentration" and "Jeopardy", I change the channel to the local PBS station (WNET) and try to catch the shows that aren't listed in "TV Guide". In these days, daytime programming for PBS seemed to consist of "Sesame Street", "Zoom", "The Electric Company" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" (liked "Robert Troll", kept getting "Bob Dog"). For about two or three hours, the listings would stop and that is when these odd fifteen-minute shows would appear.

The titles I can recall are:

The Metric System - This was during the days of the big push. Soon, the United States would stop using the English System of measurement. Liters, grams and meters would take over, or, to quote Alice, "Goodbye, feet!". Only one band from New Orleans would foresee the inevitable future. My teacher, Mr. Silverberg express the concerns of many, wondering if the US would be able to retool the machinery and the minds of many. There was resistance and the conversion became more of an integration (we think nothing of buying a gallon of milk, as well as a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew). Perhaps Ronald Reagan made a record of the spread of...haw, haw, I laugh to think that people would be up in arms over such things.

Ah, yes, the show. The theme was in F and it was sung by two women. Here is what I can remember of the lyrics:

The Metric System,
The Metric System,
The Metric System!

So many reasons,
Can't list 'em!
That show the wisdom,
Of the Metric System.

The Metric System,
The Metric System,
The Metric System!

The show consisted of various sketches showed the joys of conversion from English to Metric, the new increments, working for the good of the state, division of labo...


There was even an in-house hero, a puppet named "Metric Man". I remember him defeating a villain because of the ease adding decimals. "I never could add fractions!", seethed the ne'er-do-well.

Anyone for a rousing chorus of "Decimal, Decimal Dancing Dot"? This show had a pretty small budget. In one scene, a professor type, with a lab coat spoke to a kid with a beanie. In one shot, the propeller is spinning. In a second, badly edited shot, the propeller is still, however, they didn't quite edit out the prof whacking the prop to start it spinning again. The effect makes it look as if he either has it in for the beanie, or worse, the boy wearing it.

What I cannot remember is the name of a shorter-lived program about the Metric System, with an even smaller budget and THEIR in-house hero was a live-action woman named "Meter Maid", complete with cape and cowl. When she appeared, her fanfare was the stereotypical six-note affair one hears before you hear someone say "Charge!(G-C-E-G-E-Geee!!, sung by three or four guys holding their noses.

Science is Discovery - The theme was sung by a chorus of kids and part of the backing was a small drum and a glockenspiel. This was similar in style to "Mr. Wizard", but I don't remember him having a kid assisting him in experiments. I remember none of the experiments, except one needed two balloons and this fellow put them on top of his head and yelled, "Mickey Mouse! I'm fairly sure this was in black and white.

A quick aside: all of our TV's were black and white. When we inherited my Aunt Teady's old set, I was so excited, because I knew her TV's tended to be bigger than ones we bought and they tended not to have handles on top of them. We turned it on was in black and white, too. I had no idea "Star Trek" was filmed in color, until my brother brought home a paperback, "Star Trek Lives!" or "The World of Star Trek" and I saw the photos on the covers. I loved "The Wizard of Oz", but as far as I was concerned, Dorothy went from a B&W Kansas to a B&W Oz. I followed Judy Garland down the Antique White road for many years until sometime in the 1980's.

The Letter People - This one can be seen on YouTube and there were 60 episodes; one for each letter of the...hmmm. In any case, the first part is the episode I remember. This episode had an obnoxious comic with an obnoxious laugh ("NNnneck-neck-neck") and obnoxious one-liners ("Where's your patience, son, in the waiting room?"). It seems that you can still buy Letter People stuff, but in wildly different designs and different songs. [Editor's note: I have corrected this link. While I do remember Miss I and her "itchy itch" "letterpeopleland" from YouTube corrected me and the change has been made.]

The only other show that I can recall was some show about English usage and I remember one scene that might as well have been written by Ernie Kovacs, as macabre as it was. A man was sitting behind a desk and he says, "What a day! I'm so tired I could shoot myself." Cut to a woman that said, "This is what's called a metaphor. This man is just explaining how tired he is". This was followed by an off-screen gunshot, her registering shock and a cut to the man's body on the floor. Once again, this is supposed to be a KID'S show!

I'll watch this, until "Big Blue Marble" or "Zoom" comes on...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Kids from C.A.P.E.R.

In October, 2009, I read a blog entry on "The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. by TIME’s TV critic James Poniewozik. I remembered quite a bit of this show and I replied to his post. He, in turn, made a NEW entry in his blog here:

This is what I wrote, slightly revised, thanks to a page that didn't exist until recently, the wonderful "C.A.P.E.R Project" at

Before I go on at somewhat uncomfortable length about "The Kids from C.A.P.E.R.", I remember a small detail about "Ark II "; it featured a super-intelligent chimp named "Adam" (get it? get it?). Funnily, I remember one of his lines, "They no catch me! I run!"

Real smart monkey. Reeeeal smart.

In any case, as a fellow who watched this show regularly, C.A.P.E.R. stood for "Civilian Authority (for the) Protection (of) Everyone, Regardless", which was ALWAYS succeeded by a four-part sung "Ta-da" by the Kids, and an air-guitar/scat solo by P.T., which was usually truncated. This is the first version of the theme song. Later shows had a few different sequences, including all of them doing a sped up Can-Can.

Does it bother anyone else that three of the four of the Kids not only sing, but sing in double-tracked voices?

Two running gags were that if Bugs heard the word "bananas" he would go well...bananas. This happened every episode. "Doc" was brilliant and even though he was the one that the ladies liked, he was fairly unaware of his animal magnetism. Sometimes (I think), women would look into his eyes and strings would swell on the soundtrack and they'd go into some sort of love trance.

They solved crimes in their home town of "Northeastsouthweston" a name a shade too long for its sign, the "on" extended past the borders of the sign and they drove around in their truck, "The Big Bologna". Another regular character was a reporter that had an authoritative voice, yet lived with his mother. All episodes began with a segment with no dialog, just sight gags, a conceit that is certainly absent from current kids TV. And yes, like the Monkees, all of the episodes featured a song. I can recall "A Hero in the Movies" and "Riding a Rainbow".

Here are the episodes and what little I can recall from them:
"Dunga Gin" - A girl named Ginny with a penchant for DUNGArees. She also wanted to be a member of the Kids. All I can recall is that she danced with P.T. at the end of the ceremonious "Ta-daaaa". She's a better girl than I am. I mean that she..I'm a man and Kipling's line was...oh, skip it.

"The Postmonster General" - A villain. He was the only Black person I can remember from the show. He did have my favorite line of the show, "I've got to beat those kids to the punch. Or better yet, punch those kids to the beat! (singing) 'I'm so nasty, I'm so nasty'". Well, when I was twelve, I was a-laughin'.

"The Uncanny Nanny" - This one was about the town's favorite babysitter, Nanny Noony. She minded everyone, including the reporter (when Mother leaves town, she minds him). So beloved is she, the Kids have a song about her. As Doomsday sounds a bell note with his nose, they sing in a faux-operatic manner, "Sweet Nanny Noony/Nanny Noony is nice!" She, however, is tired of her perfect image and looks as if she is on the verge of snapping if someone else brings along another "sweet" child, she says that she doesn't know what she'll do. Nevertheless, someone does bring a boy to her, who is a brat. Fearing that she will do something horrible to him, the Kids find that he was not mistreated, but severely disciplined. She made him do chores, suspecting (rightly) that he was not just a brat, he just needed direction. Upon finding this out, the Kids reprise their song to her, over her protests:
Kids: (singing) "Sweeet Nanny Nooo-nee..."
NN: You've convinced me!
Doomsday: Not yet!
Kids: "Nanny Noony isssssssssss...."
NN: You've convinced me!
Doomsday: Not yet!
Kids: "Nice!"

From what I gleaned from the Internet Movie Database, some of the episodes were written by Romeo Muller, who also wrote for the "Jackson 5" cartoon show as well as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", which is to say that the gags held up pretty well, considering the benign neglect that '70s kid shows suffered from at the time.
Having re-watched "The Phantom of the Drive-In" on YouTube, I was annoyed by the laugh track and applause track, but the episode held up reasonably well (and I even remembered one of the last lines!), even though I wouldn't show it to a twelve year-old, for fear of boredom and, let's face it, there are better kid shows nowadays. Not all, but some are better. It was fairly obvious that Kirshner was trying to re-create the Monkees' success, but it was a better attempt of this formula than the "New Monkees" from what I have been able to glean, NM having left the air before I got a chance to watch it.

Like Mr. Memory of "39 Steps", this took a long time to remember, but I'm glad I got it off my chest.

So, whatever happened to the class of '76? (according to iMdb)

Steve Bonino (P.T.) didn't seem to do much acting past 1980, but did do some soundtrack work as recently as 2003, so I guess he could and can actually sing. He has a website:

Cosie Costa (Bugs): Acted as recently as 1996 on film. He also starred in the abominable series, "California Fever", which if I remember correctly featured a battle of the bands in one episode between "Four on the Floor" and "Rest Room"; you can guess who won. "Babylon 5" fans may remember him as "Abbut"

If you want to or must see a bit of "California Fever", go here: it's the episode I remember. The promo actually blows the ending, in which "Rest Room" loses the battle of the bands and are wheeled out of the club, which is astounding, seeing that no one unplugged their instruments and, hey, who builds stages on wheels that aren't in parades?

I remember too much! Must...bathe...unclean...

Biff Warren (Doomsday) - No credits past 1980 and if the iMdb is correct, passed away from AIDS in 1993, making a woman named Phyllis a widow. He was on "As the World Turns" as "Mark Stevens". Started singing at the age of 11.

John Lansing (Doc): The only "Kid" with a 2009 credit, albeit with a fourteen year gap before that. In a weird coincidence, he and Costa have both been on "Walker: Texas Ranger", in different episodes. He was "Anthony" on "Laverne and Shirley" for three episodes.

Star Wars and the Science Fiction Awards

I recall something called "The Science Fiction Awards", hosted by Dick Van Dyke. Being a fan of Dick Van Dyke in an era when you had to wait to see if Disney would re-release "Mary Poppins" or hope "The Dick Van Dyke Show" would be rerun, I tuned in. It contained one of the most surreal moments of my TV-watching childhood.

This show, which featured Heatwave singing "Boogie Nights", which Van Dyke announced as "Boojee Nights" by THE Heatwave, also featured a dance tribute to Star Wars. A flying saucer-ish light display descended from the rafters. Four dancers, dressed up as Tusken Raiders or Stormtroopers (can't remember which) came out, armed with fake rifles and broke into...a soft shoe routine. At the end of this, they all dropped to one knee extended one arm each and in came, to applause, R2D2. This started a short antiphonal section, in which the orchestra played the "Star Wars" theme, which R2D2 "sang" the last four notes.

That's all I can remember of this number, however that is NOT the most surreal moment. Kitschy, but not surreal.

Since I didn't produce this show, my guess is that someone didn't show up, or they mistimed the whole affair, but Dick Van Dyke came out after a few more awards were given out and said something along these lines:

"Folks, I hope you're having a good time tonight. The response has been tremendous and the phones have been ringin' off the hook, so we are going to show you the tribute to "Star Wars" again!"

Sure enough, that's what happened. They showed the same sequence AGAIN. I have never seen that done before or since.