Tag: NBC

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 823: Trolling The Trough-Crusties – Worst TV Part 7

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Posting a list of bests and greatests opens the door to debate, dissent, and the occasional inter-cubicle pelting of office supplies. Posting a list of worsts never seems to stoke the same ire. I have offered a tankard of derision for the insipidly successful sitcom According To Jim throughout my 823-day journey and have yet to hear one person defend the show’s quality. I appreciate my audience’s congruity. Perhaps it’s a rare thing for someone’s “worst” to be another someone’s favorite.

Even the shows I can’t stand today – and I make no apologies to fans of Two And A Half Men or The Big Bang Theory – I would hardly consider them to be among the absolute worst fare in the medium’s history. Just as I’m certain those folks who abhor shows I enjoy, like The League or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, would likely not plunk them at the bottom of the proverbial barrel.

Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves just how low art can sink, which is why once every month or so I like to pick apart the worsts of things – most often television because she was my third parent and we still keep very much in touch. Just as we eventually grow to learn that our actual parents are flawed and imperfect, we must also acknowledge the defects in TV’s past, the moments we all wish she could take back.

And these are just the sitcoms.

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Concocting satire surrounding one of the worst genocides of the past century is a painfully delicate operation. The British nailed it in the 80’s with ‘Allo ‘Allo! and the Americans found a winner years earlier in Hogan’s Heroes. But check out this pitch for Heil Honey, I’m Home:

“It’s a parody of the cutesy family sitcoms of the 50’s and 60’s. We’ve got Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun living in an apartment building, and their next-door neighbors are… wait for it… Arny and Rosa Goldenstein, a Jewish couple! Oh, the hijinks! Oh, the hilarity!” Read more…

Day 797: ‘Twas A Good Time For The Great Taste

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I read a story last week – an actual news story, written and published by actual news people who weren’t pranking their employers – that our world is entering into an actual clown shortage. There are people (mostly people who run clown schools, I imagine) who are worried about this. Perhaps this is predictable fall-out from an age entranced by online distractions and hand-held toys that ooze a non-stop viscous goo of entertainment and fun. Maybe Stephen King is to blame for sticking a clown in the fictional sewers and frightening a generation of readers.

Maybe, like disco dancing and earthquake movies, clowns are merely part of an entertainment cycle that swells and wanes with the syncopated breath of a culture. My daughter was creeped out by clowns, as were many of her young friends. Gone are the days when Clarabell, Bozo, and Flunkie the Clown would tickle funny bones on TV. There’s no street-cred in clowning anymore.

But we’ve still got Ronald. Oh Ronald, that trans-fat-peddling scamp who was born in McDonaldland and has a permanent address in our hearts (probably near the blockage). He still pops up to remind kids that healthy food isn’t as much fun as McNuggets, even though his cronies have mostly been driven into advertising obscurity. Perhaps that’s for the best.

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This photo pops up in various Buzzfeed retro-galleries – it’s the first incarnation of Ronald McDonald, prior to the crafted look that presently echoes the McBrand. Underneath all of that make-up is a man named Willard Scott. You probably know Willard as the one-time weatherman who still shows up on The Today Show to wish centenarians a happy birthday. Maybe you remember him from hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast on NBC for ten years. Maybe you have no idea who I’m talking about. That’s okay too. Read more…

Day 784: Show Me That Smile Again

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Lately I have found myself falling back in love with All In The Family. The jokes are still funny, the characters still compelling, and it’s the only show from the 70’s that can still be called ‘edgy’ by today’s standards. I wanted to do a piece about the show, but rather than delve into a history of the show’s production or spin a bullet-list of trivia (which I’ve already done for The Golden Girls), I decided I’d focus on the song.

You know, that song. The one where Jean Stapleton – whom I have recently decided is the funniest woman ever to appear on TV – hits that high note that can make your sofa cushions cringe. The song that Family Guy homage-ifies with their opening number.

TV Theme songs may seem like a fluffy topic, but they are certainly worthy of a couple hours-worth of finger-punching my keyboard. The lyric-laden theme song is a dying art form, yet these tunes are woven with the fabric of my slothful youth. Some became hits or were hits already – I’m not going to dig into the roots of John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” or Al Jarreau’s “Moonlighting” here. But each of these songs was written and performed by somebody, and those somebodies had a story.

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“Those Were The Days” was penned by the team of Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, the guys responsible for the Broadway hit, Bye Bye Birdie. There were a few versions of the performance recorded throughout the series’ run, and astute listeners can pick out Stapleton’s second-verse screech becoming more comically punched as the song evolved. Read more…

Day 707: Live From The Internet, It’s (All About) Saturday Night!

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Some topics are simply too large to fit into a thousand words. When Wikipedia’s magic Randombulator dumped me on the page for Saturday Night Live, I struggled with how to approach a thousand-word breakdown of a 39-season-long show that has somehow affected or entertained nearly everyone in the known universe (by which I mean people whom I have specifically asked).

Do I tell the story of the show’s origins? Run through its most controversial moments? Focus specifically on the work of Joe Piscopo, because why not?

In the end, there’s too much. I have one day to research and write this, so to hell with a flowing exposition or narrative structure. Here’s some stuff about that thing.

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  •        Actor George Coe, who presently appears as the voice of Woodhouse, the butler on Archer, was one of the original Not Ready For Prime-Time Players. He was only credited for the show’s first three episodes and for whatever reason he didn’t stick around.
  •        NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer insisted that Chris Farley and Adam Sandler be fired from the show because he didn’t “get them.” He’s also the guy who ordered the firing of Norm McDonald. Ohlmeyer also gets credit for the weirdness of hiring Dennis Miller for a season of Monday Night Football. I’ll admit, I kind of liked Miller in the booth. But for the most part, fuck Don Ohlmeyer.
  •        SNL contracts include a clause that allows NBC to plunk a cast member in their second year into a sitcom. The cast member can turn down the first two offers, but they must accept the third. I’m not sure if this has ever been enforced, but it seems decidedly creepy.Chevy
  •        Original cast member Chevy Chase was banned from the show after a 1997 hosting gig that saw him verbally abuse the cast and crew. He is the only member of the “5-Timers Club” to have been banned.
  •        Speaking of the Club… there are fifteen members. Only two are women (Candace Bergen and Drew Barrymore). Steve Martin hit his fifth hosting gig the quickest, over the span of one year and 181 days. It took Drew Barrymore over 24 years to land her fifth show. The only hosts to have been invited ten or more times are Buck Henry (10), John Goodman (12), Steve Martin (15) and Alec Baldwin (16).
  •        In the first season, cast members were paid $750 per episode. Most recent numbers (from the late 90’s) start SNL newbies at $5000 per show, plus $1500 if a sketch they’d written gets on the air. Will Farrell was pulling in $350,000 per season at his peak (about $17k per show), and Tina Fey was cracking $1.5 million when she was both cast member and head writer.DrewBarrymore
  •        Drew Barrymore was the show’s youngest host at age 7, and Betty White it’s oldest at 88. They had a fleet of younger performers from Tina Fey to Maya Rudolph on standby in case Betty wasn’t up to the task. Betty showed up in every damn sketch because Betty White is Betty White.
  •        When Adrian Brody came out in fake dreadlocks and performed an impromptu 45-second ramble in a Jamaican accent before introducing (and mispronouncing) musical guest Sean Paul, he earned a lifetime ban from the show.
  •        Original SNL bandleader Howard Shore has since won three Academy Awards, for his score (and original song) in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
  •        The musician who has appeared the most often on the SNL stage? Dave Grohl, eleven times. I assume that includes his surprise appearance with Paul McCartney last year.NoraDunn
  •        Cast member Nora Dunn refused to appear on the May 12, 1990 episode because the host, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, was known for his offensive and misogynist schtick. She was told not to show up for the season finale the following week, and her contract wasn’t renewed for the fall.
  •        Sam Kinison had part of his 1986 stand-up set censored for the west coast feed because it contained a plea to legalize pot and a complaint as to its scarcity at the time. He said, “If you give us back the pot, we’ll forget about the crack!” I knew we were getting screwed, getting our broadcast from Spokane, Washington.
  •        James Franco’s directorial debut was a 94-minute 2010 documentary that went behind the scenes and showed the creative process behind a 2008 episode that featured John Malkovich as the host. The project began as part of Franco’s film class at New York University.Fear
  •        John Belushi agreed to a cameo appearance during the 1981 Halloween episode, but only if punk band Fear was booked as the musical guest. The band had brought in a number of local punk rockers and skinheads, and proceeded to run up between $20,000 and $50,000 in damages as they slamdanced violently on stage.
  •        The process of making the show includes pitch day (Monday), writing day (Tuesday), read-through day (Wednesday), rewrite day (Thursday), with rehearsals for some sketches not beginning until Friday. This is why so many sketches feature performers who are clearly reading off teleprompters or cue-cards beside the camera.
  •        Saturday Night Live has been the name of the show since March 26, 1977. Before that it was known as NBC’s Saturday Night, because Howard Cosell hosted a sports show with the other name on ABC. Luckily, that show died young.MaryEllenMatthews
  •        Mary Ellen Matthews – you’ve never heard of her, but if you’ve watched the show since 1999 you’re familiar with her work. She’s the photographer who brilliantly captures the hosts and musical guests during the bumpers around commercial breaks. She also directed the opening credits.
  •        The February 10, 2001 episode was delayed for 45 minutes due to a lengthy XFL game. Due to the outrage that ensued, the rules of the league were actually changed to ensure this would not happen again. Then the league folded because it stunk.
  •        Sinead O’Connor’s controversial tearing of Pope John Paul II’s photograph was a surprise to everyone in the booth. In rehearsal she had held up a photo of a refugee child.
  •        Eleven films have been made from SNL sketches. Those that made money: Wayne’s World (both of them), The Blues Brothers, A Night At The Roxbury and Superstar. The biggest stinkers include Blues Brothers 2000 (budget: $28 million; box-office: $14 million), The Ladies Man (budget: $24 million; box-office $13.6 million), and Stuart Saves His Family (budget: $15 million; box-office: $912,000). The film It’s Pat doesn’t have a published budget, but it probably cost more than the $60,822 the movie brought in.

Saturday Night Live is currently in its 39th season. It has won 36 Emmy Awards, and slew of other accolades. The only individual Emmy winners have been Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner, but that’s because the show is a group effort. And so long as one of their self-re-inventions doesn’t tank completely, it’ll probably be on the air long after I’m gone.

Day 702: Orson’s Phenomenal Freak-Out

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Mention The War Of The Worlds to someone, and they’ll have one of four distinct reactions:

  1. They’ll recall images of that creepy Tom Cruise movie.
  2. They’ll remember stories of massive public hysteria surrounding an old radio broadcast.
  3. They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about because they are either too young or too culturally obtuse.
  4. They’ll ask you to stop pestering them, as they’re simply trying to select a second ice cream choice since the supermarket is out of Chunky Monkey, and you’re invading their personal space.

For the purposes of today’s cultural investigation, I’m most intrigued by the second one. Was the world in 1938 so naïve, so dependent on the radio as a source of factual information that they could have been nudged into an outright panic by something like this? Was Orson Welles, the producer, director and star of the show, this much of a genius? And how does a supermarket run out of Chunky Monkey? How hard is it to place a damn order with the Ben & Jerry’s people?

The Tom Cruise movie I'll write about if I decide to stretch this project to 1200 days. (spoiler: I won't.)

The Tom Cruise movie I’ll write about if I decide to stretch this project to 1200 days. (spoiler: I won’t.)

First, a bit of background: War of the Worlds is an 1898 H.G. Wells novel about aliens invading Earth. Orson Welles (no relation), who had yet to redefine the visual and narrative aesthetic potential of film with Citizen Kane, was an actor and radio performer with a penchant for creating original material. Howard Koch and Anne Froelick were pivotal cogs in Orson’s Mercury Theatre On The Air radio drama series, and together they adapted the novel, importing the story from England to New Jersey, and modernizing it into a radio-age newscast, reporting on the horrors of the invasion. Read more…

Day 699: Fumbling The F**ked Up – Worst TV Part 6

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My American readers are no doubt burping through the last of their tryptophan intake from last night, or else slipping on their spiked cleats so they can better trample over their fellow Walmart shoppers in search of the Greatest Deal Ever. My Canadian readers are scowling in their cubicles, wondering why none of our holidays merit a four-day weekend. Either way, it’s a good day to talk about sports.

The NBA and NHL seasons are in full swing, and teams in the National Football League are prepping for the frantic shoving match that will lead twelve teams to the playoffs at the end of next month. NASCAR racers are tuning up their rides and practicing turning left for next year’s season, while baseball players are the fortunate spectators. There’s college sports, an upcoming Olympics and probably something going on in the fencing world. Those fencing bastards are always doing something.

Of course, you won’t see fencing on TV – even during the Olympics you have to be lucky to find a match amongst all the basketball, swimming and beach volleyball on NBC. But what interests me today are not the sports we’ll be gazing vacantly at this weekend, but the atrocities in televised sport that have befallen our culture in the past. I’ll start with the most offensive.

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Hockey has always been the neglected child in American televised sport. Practically a religion in Canada, it has taken years for the sport to spread its infectiousness into some of the warmer-climate markets in the U.S. The Fox Network, which in the mid-90s was dealing with its own struggles for legitimacy, picked up a contract to air a number of NHL games. After doing some market research (presumably among the unrepentantly insane), they sliced open the puck and stuck a circuit board inside. Now people could see the puck glow on TV, with CGI blue streaks appearing when the puck was passed, red for a mighty shot. Read more…

Day 611: Scrolling Through Sputum – Worst TV Part 5

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As my television dependency shifts more and more from standardized broadcast schedules to the liberating realms of Netflix and Hulu and torrent dowloads, I find myself less and less interested in the annual fall offerings of fresh meat, filtered through tried-and-tested formulae. There was a time when a new slate of pilots would whet my curiosity at the next direction of pop culture.

Looking back, the year that ultimately steered my obsession with network TV into the shallow waters of rehabilitation was 1990. Some good shows found their way out of the sludge of mediocrity that year: Law & Order, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose all popped up in 1990, but we were also handed more than our fair share of drek.

This year… who knows? I hear Seth McFarlane has a live-action sitcom and AMC is plugging the ever-loving hell out of Low Winter Sun, but that’s all I’m really aware of. Twenty-three years later and my expectations are still tempered by the crapfest from 1990. Will we ever sink this low again? My guess is probably.

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This really happened. While NBC was pushing that giant Law & Order boulder down the mountain – the fragmentary pieces of which are still rolling along with a steady momentum – ABC felt that what was really missing from the standard police procedural was the bright splash of musical theatre. Read more…

Day 593: Network #1’s Belated Obit

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Amid the seemingly infinite waterfall of random thoughts that saturate my brain and prevent it from doing anything particularly beneficial to society comes the realization that my children have grown up in a world where the Fox Network has always existed. They have never known the confines of a 12-channel world, nor have they experienced the end of a broadcast day, when content gave way to a static test pattern image (or, in some cases simply static) after a rousing rendition of the national anthem.

But then, even my own perspective of the technology is somewhat limited in scope. I remember the three-channel world (four if you count the French one) of not having cable, though I never actually experienced it myself. For me, there has always been a PBS, a CBC, a smattering of local channels and at least three equally massive networks.

But even I’m too young to remember that other network. The DuMont Network was long dead once I came around, even though its legacy deserves more than the hushed tones of seldom-referenced history.

AllenBDumont

Allen B. DuMont was an inventor. After performing some magic necessary to the birth of the medium by revolutionizing the cathode-ray tube in 1931, DuMont slapped down the first consumer-ready all-electronic television set in 1938. Throughout the 1940’s, DuMonts were the Lexus, Cadillac and BMWs of the television world. The only problem was, there wasn’t anything to watch. Read more…

Day 551: The Original Life Saver’s Life Story

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With 450 days remaining in this mad dash to a million words, I can confidently state that I have reached the perfect, comfortable plateau in terms of subject matter. In the beginning I worried I’d run out of quality material in the Wiki-wide-world – though in all fairness, the fact that I devoted an early kilograph to the polypropylene chair should have been a clue that my ability to expound upon the banal would never dry up.

I’m also probably a year away from worrying about running out of days with a hearty stack of quality topics that won’t get their proper due. In short, I’m in the sweet spot.

And speaking of the sweet spot, I’m going to drop some candy onto today’s plate, and relate just a glimmer of the fascinating life of Edward John Noble, the guy responsible for the sweetest books a Christmas stocking has ever held, some of the finest light-show explosions in the mouths of children everywhere, and – in a roundabout and indirect way  – MacGyver.

This rocket was fashioned entirely from Pep-O-Mint Life Savers, some sulfur and snot.

This rocket was fashioned entirely from Pep-O-Mint Life Savers, some sulfur and snot.

Edward John Noble was born in Gouverneur, New York, an upstate village probably best known as the headquarters for Kinney Drugs. When Noble was 30 years old, a Yale grad in search of a new business venture, he came across a man named Clarence Crane. Crane had invented a new candy that wouldn’t melt like chocolate in the summer sun. They were hard mints, and while mints weren’t a revolutionary concept, up to that point they had mainly been sold as stomach aids, back when actual medical science wasn’t a necessary component of relief-type products at the local drug store. Read more…