Tag: Cheers

Day 999: Buh-Bye, So Long and Hallelujah

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It’s a completely valid question.

For the past 50 or so days I have been fielding one question more often than most: what am I going to do for Day 1000? Will the final kilograph reflect upon the 999 that came before, like some extended clip show of my greatest guffaws and most aww-rending moments? Will I spend my final entry in closing-credits mode, thanking those who have made this all possible and put up with my considerable dearth of free time over the last 2 years and almost 9 months?

In short… no. While my original intent was to meander down that self-serving footpath for my final article, I decided that I would only do so if I could cite the Wikipedia page that had been created about me – as it turns out, that doesn’t exist yet.

In order to figure out my final missive, I felt I should turn to the moulder of my wisdom, the sage oracle who has helped to shape my morality, my perception, and even my understanding of the world: television. I have experienced the highs and lows of series finales – certainly at least one of them could illuminate the road to a poignant, entertaining, and (most of all) worthy coda to this monstrous undertaking.

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My first option is the beloved trope of bringing back a classic character for the finale. In my case I could introduce a surprise cameo by Yoko Ono, Craig David, Mary Nissenson, or if I really want to stretch to my roots, Phineas Gage. I could style the entire piece in a blend of haiku, musical theatre and secret code (did anyone ever figure that one out?). It sounds trite and cliché, but that’s always a place to start, isn’t it? Read more…

Day 771: On Tonight’s Show… History.

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Once the collective click of a few million TV sets shutting off had resonated throughout North America in the shadowy hours of February 9, 1964, the pentimento of American culture as it existed before that day was almost invisible. This is the news blurb that kids – and I include here many in my generation, those who played their opening number on this earthly stage some years after the 60’s had taken their bow – will gloss over and ignore. Precisely one half of a century has elapsed since the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Trying to rationalize the significance of this broadcast to my children is a fruitless endeavor. Even in my limited history, the only television “events” that embedded a rusty touchstone in our shared timeline were series finales (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld), sporting events or news stories. The first two would get us talking, but eventually they’d meander under the covers of the past. And while the scope of our world might have shifted after we all watched O.J. race through the arteries of Los Angeles in a Ford Bronco or after we saw the towers fall a few years later, television was merely the window through which we’d all observed a salient chapter in history. When the Beatles splashed down into 74 million pairs of eyeballs for the first time, it was culture announcing through its own mouthpiece that everything was about to change.

There had never been an equivalent in the world of popular music. And given the splintered state of our popular tastes and the three-block buffet of media options at our disposal, such a singular jarring of our culture is not likely to ever occur again.

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First of all, there is no parallel to Ed Sullivan today. Sullivan’s show was a weekly stage for performers to hurl their skills at a national audience in hopes the exposure will crank their success meter up to the next notch. You’d see plate-spinners and dog trainers, classically-trained actors and world-renowned singers. The late-night talk show circuit is the closest to an equivalent today, but Ed’s show was about showing off his guests, not interviewing them to hear pre-rehearsed stories about the time George Clooney pranked them in the studio commissary. Sunday nights were our culture’s window into the wider world. Read more…

Day 740: You Bring The Gags, Charley Will Bring The Laughs

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It was once so commonplace, so natural, so subconsciously integral to the very essence of comedy that we hardly noticed it. The laugh track came with the medium; it was swept in as part of the original package, like the wheels on the first car or the door on the first refrigerator. It was the oily black fingerprint of television comedy, first by tradition then by mandate. If you didn’t hear laughs, you weren’t meant to laugh. Bing Crosby’s team brought the technology to radio in the 40’s when they had to jazz up the flaccid responses to some flat jokes. It seeped into  the realm of TV with ease.

In the early 1990’s, the state of small-screen comedy began to transform, and with this came a subtle erosion of the dominance of the laugh track. Those shows with the broadest base appeal – by which I mean the ratings hogs that comedy connoisseurs and critics tend to loathe… yes, Two And A Half Men, I’m talking about you – still make use of laughter prompts. But for the most part, as an audience we’ve decided we don’t need them.

Good for us, not so much for the fleet of companies that made their mint by plopping requisite ha-has into prime time programming over the past half-century. Except there is no fleet. Most of the laughter beamed into our homes all those years ago came from the fingertips of one man.

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That’s Charley Douglass, who was a sound engineer in the nascent days of television at CBS. Back then, many comedies were broadcast live from the stage to the screen. Those that weren’t live were shot with a single camera, with scenes re-staged several times to capture different angles. Studio audiences were used, but they couldn’t be counted upon to deliver the chortles when the writers wanted them to, particularly on the third or fourth take. Charley came up with a process to ‘sweeten’ the laughter. It was brilliant and effective, and when Charley was ready to leave CBS in 1953, the network claimed it was their intellectual property. Read more…

Day 674: How To Screw Yourself Over In One Simple Temporal Paradox

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So Marty McFly shows up back in 1985, the timeline restored and the set-up in place for a whacky epilogue. His parents are now confident and healthy, his brother has an office job and his sister no longer dresses in thrift-store rejects. But wait… why does his brother still live at home? Why does the family end up in the same banal future slum-house when clearly their very beings have been existing in an improved state for the past three decades? And why does it seem like George Mcfly was going grey when he still had the slick-black Brylcreem look in the original timeline?

Unfortunately, every time travel story seems to end up splatting paradox juice all over the walls upon closer analysis. And while generations of brilliant minds nevertheless attempt to rationalize the possibility of temporal jet-setting, we are still shoulders-deep in what-ifs. And despite our fantasies of returning to high school and telling our younger selves not to ask out that hell-wrought shrew that messed up the last part of our senior year, it just ain’t gonna happen.

Besides, there are more serious implications to consider. Time travel is not for the soft-hearted or for those prone to spiraling headaches when confronted with circular trains of thought that derail into themselves. Before you strap yourself into that DeLorean you’d best prepare yourself for the implications of the Grandfather Paradox.

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Not to be confused with your grandfather’s pair o’ docks.

This conundrum of time travel is fairly simple to understand: if you were to travel back in time and murder your grandfather before he had children, what would happen? Simple – you would have never been born. But then you wouldn’t have travelled back and murdered him. Therefore you would have been born. And you would have travelled back to murder him. And so on, until your brain explodes. Read more…

Day 651: When The Whole World’s Watching

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A couple Sundays ago, over the course of 75 minutes that some of us are still trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to wash out of our brains, Breaking Bad aired its series-concluding episode. 10.3 million people tuned in, scoring a 5.2 share – a phenomenal success, considering the previous season’s finale (the unforgettable Face Off episode that wrapped up the Walter White vs. Gus Fring conflict) only drew in 1.9 million viewers.

For those who spend a much more logical amount of time thinking about television than yours truly, that 5.2 share means that 5.2% of running televisions during that time-chunk were tuned into AMC’s broadcast. In 2013, that’s pretty impressive, especially for a cable series. When The Sopranos clocked out with a cut-to-black curtain in 2007 the numbers were only slightly better, with 11.9 million fans watching. Somehow they can tweak the numbers to account for PVR recordings, but of course the ratings-counters can’t keep track of illegal downloads, a very real player in how a lot of people catch up on their favorite shows. But still… 10.3 million? I feel like that number should be higher.

The fact is, we live in a world filled with gazillions of channels – undoubtedly it was hard for some viewers to turn away from 12-year-old reruns of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on the Game Show Network to catch some fresh drama. We’ll probably never hit the big numbers that have defined our most shared TV experiences again.

Sometimes you just can't beat some classic Regis.

Sometimes you just can’t beat some classic Regis.

Any list of the most watched shows around the world is bound to be suspicious. FIFA would have us believe that their World Cup broadcasts – inarguably the most beloved sporting event across the globe – bring in billions of viewers. But even they have admitted that some of their figures are exaggerated while others are an outright guess. Read more…

Day 620: This Court Is Now In Session… Now Kick Some Ass!

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When I was young, there were no sassy, quick-witted judges on TV dispensing justice with a scalding tongue, a brash and almost audible fart of morality, and a slick delivery that prompts the gallery to explode in high-fives. We had no Judge Judy, we had no Judge Joe Brown. Sure, we had Harry Anderson on Night Court, but we’d all seen him as the con-artist/magician on Cheers. We knew he wasn’t real. We had Judge Wapner and that was that.

Televised justice needed a little splash of showmanship, and I suppose that’s what we’ve got now. According to The Running Man we’ll be watching criminals engaging in gruesome battles with themed opponents as a prime-time spectacle by 2019. I don’t want to cast aspersions on the veracity of an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but I don’t think we’ll get there in the next six years.

I guess that’s a good thing, despite the ratings it would draw. But you never know. Trial by combat has been a part of western civilization for a much larger chunk of history than I’d suspected. It could find its way back.

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The concept of trial by combat appears to have originated with the Germanic peoples of northern Europe. To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean Germany; the term ‘Germanic’ was used by the Holy Roman Empire to refer to any and all the wandering tribes of Europe who were less put-together than the Celtic Gauls over where France is today. So we can blame this weirdness on the ancestors of modern Germans, Swedes, Danes, Austrians, Dutch, and so on. But for simplicity let’s just pin it on the Holy Romans, who let the tradition continue. Read more…

Day 353: The Contest

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Fans of the show Seinfeld are the perfect demographic to mesh up with fans of my site. Both are really about nothing, and both (hopefully) leave their viewers with some little bit of meaninglessness they can carry through the day. For Seinfeld viewers, it might be a new term, like “low-talker” or “mimbo”. For my readers, it might be the knowledge that a book with 24 gas station photos could be worth $35,000, or that causation law could be applied to Sharktopus attacks.

And while only the true fans of Seinfeld will know each episode by name (almost all of them are named “The (something)”, everyone who watched the show during its original 1989-1998 run will remember “The Contest.”

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In November of 1992, the landscape of television was very different. Seven of the top ten shows were sitcoms, all of them three-camera style, with a live studio audience that had been beefed up for our enjoyment with a thick laugh track. Seinfeld wasn’t even in the top 20. Sex was common fodder for subject matter, particularly when it came to Sam Malone on Cheers or that skanky character from Designing Women (I want to say… all of them?), but it had to be handled delicately in order to sneak past the censors. There was no AMC, nothing worth raving about on Showtime, and HBO had just begun to demonstrate how much more daring and innovative a standard-format show could be on cable six months earlier with The Larry Sanders Show. Read more…