Thursday, April 30, 2015

Perry Mason and the Future Starfleet Captain

Long before he explored the galaxy on the Starship Enterprise, Leonard Nimoy tried to match wits with famed lawyer Perry Mason in The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe. 

Missing jewels and a suspicious death sends Perry Mason on a quest to clear his client's aunt of thievery and her husband of murder. In the end, he does both, proving that the murderer was a shifty con artist played by Mr. Nimoy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

BANNED From SNL: Louise Lasser

Not a well known name these days, Louise Lasser holds the dubious distinction of being the first person ever banned from Saturday Night Live. At the time, she was starring on the loopy soap opera parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, no doubt believing herself to be at the pinnacle of Hollywood success. 

While her behavior behind the scenes played a huge part in her banning, anyone viewing the actual episode wouldn't be too shocked to discover she had been banned. In front of the camera, she looks stoned and disinterested. Behind the scenes, she insisted that she would only work with Chevy Chase. As a further insult to the cast, the only other co-star she worked with was a dog. Since it was all downhill for her career from that point, it wasn't hard for the show to ignore her.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mr. TV: Art Linkletter

One of the earliest American television legends was not actually American. Art Linkletter was born Gordon Arthur Kelly in Canada. He was abandoned by his birth parents and was adopted by Jane and Fulton Linkletter who renamed their son and moved to San Diego, California.

Mr. Linkletter got his start on radio, but quickly transitioned to television, making friends in Hollywood and becoming a trusted pitchman.

Mr. Linkletter's most famous television show was the classic Kids Say the Darnedest Things. Art had a knack for putting children at ease enough to reveal things that they'd never tell another stranger. Embarrassing and hilarious things.

Mr. Linkletter parlayed his fame into various enterprises, including a stake in Milton Bradley's Game of Life. He also had the foresight to purchase the camera and film concession  at DISNEYLAND, helping his good friend Walt Disney finance his dream.

After a lifetime on television, Mr. Linkletter passed away in 2010 at the age of 97.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Square One Television

In the mid-1980's there was a perceived crisis in math ability among American schoolchildren. It was believed that new methods could be used to bridge the mathematics gap. Enter PBS and Children's Television Workshop. Using production methods that were familiar to viewers of MTV or Saturday Night Live, they planned an ambitious production that would get children watching because they wanted to watch; not because they were being forced.

Square One was unlike anything else seen on educational television. It featured music videos, funny sketches and top quality production values to get students interested in math. A casual viewer might have suspected that this program was just like any other- entertaining but not educational, but each segment was designed to introduce mathematical concepts in an entertaining way.

In addition to high end production values, the series even enlisted big name talent- like James Earl Jones, who starred as the captain in the show's Mathnet segments.

By all accounts, the show was extremely successful, pleasing PBS and the show's non-profit sponsors. However, the show ran into the same problems that bedeviled CTW's earlier science show 321-Contact. Television productions of this type require a ton of money to keep going. Fees from PBS stations and grants from non-profit foundations were not enough to fully cover the show's costs. CTW is able to make up the difference on Sesame Street through toy and merchandise licensing. Those opportunities didn't exist for Square One, however. CTW was unable to find companies that were willing to license merchandise based on the show and could no longer keep the show afloat. It was prematurely canceled after just a few seasons.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

TV Quote Weekends

"Religion and science intertwined. Aliens live inside of our minds. A billion year contract we have signed. It all makes sense to me!"

Friday, April 24, 2015

If You Ever Wondered...

It's an all too familiar sight on network television- a show that is loved by the critics and gets a small but stable following ends up canceled. The network expresses its regrets that the show just never seemed to find a following despite its best efforts. Most of the time the fans blame the network for not promoting the show or moving it around the schedule so much that it could never get n audience. The network typically just shrugs and it's left to others to argue the cause. Except for the case of WKRP in Cincinnati.

WKRP captured the attention of critics, who heaped praise on the show. The problem was that audiences seemed to ignore it, so CBS helpfully moved the show around the schedule. It didn't seem to do very well in any of the 11 different time slots it was given. Fans of the show believed this was the problem; viewers were never sure when it would air. CBS decided that this meant the show would never fully catch on no matter where it was on the schedule. In 1982 they canceled the show after just four seasons.

Ironically, the show finally got a stable time slot as CBS burned off the last few episodes and its contracted rerun airings. Now that the show was in one place from week to week, its ratings exploded. The fans and critics were right- the show could succeed with a stable time slot.

The ratings were too good to ignore. CBS decided it would un-cancel the series. However, by the time CBS decided to renew the show, series stars Loni Anderson, Gary Sandy and Howard Hesseman had signed onto other projects. Unwilling to bring the show back without its biggest stars, CBS chose to keep the show canceled. Unfortunately, CBS didn't seem to learn any lessons from this situation.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Steptoe.... And Son?

The classic American sitcom Sanford and Son was actually based on a British classic called Steptoe and Son.

Much like its American counterpart, Steptoe and Son followed the hi jinks of a father/son scrap business in which a "dirty old man" tries to keep the family business afloat while dealing with his pretentious son who seeks to elevate himself above a junk yard job. 

Of course, the legendary Redd Foxx took on the role of the father in the American version and made it his own. Nobody could have done it any better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Wonders of Kinescope

In the early days of television, the available technology did not permit the recording of live broadcasts. Most television productions were lost to the ages because nobody believed that anyone would ever want to see them again. One of the first persons to see that television productions could live on was Desi Arnaz, who recorded I Love Lucy on film, preserving it for future generations.

For live productions, however, the only way to preserve the broadcast was with a kinescope. A kinescope was basically a film camera trained on a television that was showing the broadcast.

While the broadcast did get recorded, the footage was often poor or jittery. Many "lost" productions that were eventually found often were recorded in this manner. One such recording was the live broadcast of the opening of DISNEYLAND. Long thought to be lost, the footage was found in the 1990's and restored to as good as possible from the kinescope film.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


We've discussed the sad attempt at keeping the iconic sitcom M*A*S*H alive with the less than stellar AfterM*A*S*H. As flawed as that show was, it sadly wasn't the worst attempt to cash in on the success of M*A*S*H. That dubious distinction goes to the little seen W*A*L*T*E*R which would have focused on the lovable Radar O'Reilly and his problematic return to peacetime. The show was not picked up by CBS, but it was made at a time when the networks would burn off unsold pilots in the summer months. CBS chose to air it on July 17th, 1984 as a special broadcast.

We're fortunate that it was a common practice to air unsold pilots in the summer back then, because otherwise who would have believed that CBS commissioned a show in which Radar O'Reilly fails at farming and his marriage and tries to commit suicide? Were it not for a pre-SNL, pre-insanity Victoria Jackson, he would have succeeded at just that. But she's such a nice pharmacy employee that she convinces him that life is worth living. By the end of the thirty minutes, Radar has a new job, new friends and a new lease on life. Will his new relationship with the creatively named "Victoria" go anywhere? What about his new job? Viewers were forced to use their imaginations, because this sitcom was D*O*A.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rest in Peace, Ben Powers

Alton "Ben" Powers, who was best known for his role as Thelma Evans' husband during the final season of Good Times has passed away at age 64.

Mr. Powers was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in  Providence, Rhode Island. His first public performances were at church, where he sang in the choir. He headed for Hollywood to follow his acting dreams and got a role on a short lived Laugh-In revival.

It was his role as the down on his luck Keith Anderson that proved to be his big break. While he starred in a variety of roles in the years following Good Times, none were as high profile. He quietly retired from acting thirty years ago and had not starred in anything since.

The Cable Comedy Wars

In the 1980's, it seemed as though the sky was the limit when it came to cable television. About the only thing a successful cable operator needed to do was to be the first to do a particular genre and millions of dollars awaited them. Unfortunately for the comedy world, however, there were two channels vying to become THE comedy cable network- HA! Television and The Comedy Channel.

HA! would seek to use its parent company Viacom's huge catalog of classic sitcoms to launch itself as the place to go for comedy. 

The Comedy Channel, owned by TimeWarner's HBO, would attempt to produce new programming from a variety of sources to make up its programming day. Unfortunately, it was unable to afford much programming, so it would repeat its primary programming block three times each day.

After several years of competition, Neither network had made much headway in the cable industry. The decision was made to combine the two channels, rather than just continue a brutal competition that would probably just result in both channels going bankrupt. Comedy Central was formed.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

TV Quote Weekends

"Yes, this should provide adequate sustenance for the Doctor Who marathon."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

TV Quote Weekends

"Mobiles, landlines, tin cans with bits of string - everything, absolutely everything! No phones, phones all broken. Hello? Anyone there? No, because the phones aren't working!"

Friday, April 17, 2015

Bizarre TV Tie-Ins: Ralston Cereals

Imagine you're the breakfast cereal division of a company whose best known product is Dog and Cat food. How can you trick the kids into eating the one cereal you produce? Just repackage it constantly, licensing various cartoon and television characters to slap on the boxes!

Yes, that was the Ralston business model in the 1980's and 1990's- making the same cereal in different shapes with different popular characters on the boxes. This gimmick worked well for them; most of the licensed gimmicky cereal at the time came from Ralston, who were happy to get your mind off of the fact that they also produced your pet food.

In the case of the GI-Joe cereal based on the toy and cartoon franchise, they even hid the company name:

Girls shouldn't feel left out; Ralston pandered to them too:

In this case, cereal enjoyed by a disgusting, slimy ghost creature was preferable to promoting the fact that your dog's favorite chow was probably produced on the other side of the factory:

Got the munchies, stoners? Eat the cereal based on a TV cartoon for kids inspired by a movie with two drugged out losers:

Now if this TV tie-in isn't scraping the bottom of the barrel, it's pretty close:

This is quite possibly the bottom of the barrel, though it admittedly isn't based on a TV show. Let's see if the youth of today will buy cereal based on outdated comic strips that only the Matlock set still claim to read. Who'd buy this cereal? Not me!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What's To Be Done With This Homer Simpson?

Most syndicated off network programming is edited or compressed in some way. This allows local stations to fit in more commercials. Sometimes, in the case of programming that originally aired at a later time, television programming is edited for content. In two cases involving The Simpsons, a real world event caused not just edits, but also the entire elimination of one episode from syndication altogether.

After the attacks on New York's World Trade Center, jittery syndicators examined their catalogs and eliminated anything that could remotely be tied to the World Trade Center. Establishing shots that had the building in them were edited out. Sadly, The Simpsons was not immune. In the episode New Kids on the Bleech, which featured the rise and fall of Bart's boy band "The Party Posse", the climactic final scene features an insane Navy lieutenant trying to get even with Mad Magazine for publishing an issue mocking the band. He does this by firing a rocket at the Mad Magazine building, reducing it to rubble. Amazingly, nobody is hurt, but the band is upset that their issue of the magazine will not be released. Most syndicated versions of this episode omit the final scene, leaving viewers confused by the sudden ending. While the final scene is now available to local stations, they can still choose to air the cut version.

The episode that was completely pulled from the rotation was The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson. This episode merely takes place at the World Trade Center, where a drunken Barney has illegally parked Homer's stolen car. Aside from depicting the people in Tower One as being "jerks", this episode's only crime is prominently featuring the towers. Eventually, the episode was added back to the rotation, but only if the local station chooses to air it. Many still won't show it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Strange Titles

It is hard to translate comedy into another language or culture, which is why drama and action tend to do better in international markets. That doesn't typically stop Hollywood from trying, however. Here are some unusual foreign titles for famous American sitcoms.

Perfect Strangers was known as A Greek Conquers Chicago in Greece.

The Facts of Life was known as The Apple Tree in Italy.

Golden Girls was known as Super Cats in Brazil

Growing Pains was known as Our Noisy Home in Germany.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TV Cliches- "You Give Me Fever"

Do you have a woman in your script who has (ahem) loose morals? Want to know the quickest way to let your audience know that she is supposed to be the town tramp? Other than dressing her like a teenage talk show guest, (Next on The Maury Povich Show: “Maury, help me with my wild teen!”) there’s another surefire way to drill this fact into your audience’s head- get her in a red dress and have her sing or dance to the song “Fever”.

I’m sure you’ve seen this on too many movies and TV shows to count. (Married… With Children had Kelly Bundy do this in its third season, but I think we already knew by then that Al’s Little Girl was “Open for Business”.) Either we see the spectacle happen early on in the film or show to establish that this woman is a “friendly girl” or else it is used to symbolize a change in a bookish woman’s demeanor. After all, how many times have we seen straight-laced schoolmarms or librarians take off their glasses and rip off their conservative clothing to reveal a tight-fitting red dress, all done to the tune of “Fever”?

Many people have commented on how a quick way to make money in the music industry is to write a Christmas song that takes off, then sit back and watch the money roll in. I would imagine that an even better way to rake in the cash would be to write a new song that could be used by Hollywood as a replacement to “Fever.” Until then, I would imagine that the people who own the rights to that song are happy that Hollywood movies and television shows are still full of sex crazed women- and written by lazy writers.

Monday, April 13, 2015

TV Cop Show Interrogation Method: There’s No Right Answer

The interviewee says he barely knows his roommate and couldn’t say when he saw him last because they have different work schedules…

“You mean to say you live with this guy and you don’t even know when he comes and goes? I find that hard to believe! Maybe you’re the one who killed him and left his body in that dumpster!”

The interviewee says he knew something must have been wrong because his roommate typically didn’t stay out that late…

“So you were monitoring your roommate? Sounds strange to me! Maybe he rightfully got pissed at you for keeping tabs on him and decided to say something. You got mad that he dared question you so you had to kill him and leave his body in that dumpster!”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

And then there's (Not) Maude

The show that inspired the name of this website is Good Times, of course. Most people don't remember, however, that the character of Florida Evans started out as a recurring character on Maude.

You can be forgiven for not remembering the link between the shows, however, because Maude is never mentioned on Good Times. In fact, there are numerous plot holes that never get explained on either show. For example, Maude lives in New York State, yet Good Times takes place in Chicago, where Florida Evans is said to have always lived. In Maude, her husband is named Henry and is a firefighter. On Good Times, his name is James and he never mentions having been a firefighter. These inconsistencies never get explained on either show.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Good Times" Trading Cards

When one thinks about trading cards, one typically pictures items that children collect and enjoy. But many television shows in the 1970's and 1980's issued trading cards regardless of their appeal to children. Like the sitcom that inspired the name of this website- Good Times.

Kids might have found J.J to be funny, but the rest of the show was decidedly depressing. Despite the show's title, there was little that was good about the lives of the Evans family. This quote from a Saturday Night Live parody of the show sums it up quite well:

"Well, we actually didn't have school today. See, they ran out of books and my teacher got stabbed."

But someone with a passing interest in the show might not realize its depressing tone. These cards were for them.

Most of the cards featured J.J. and his one-liners.

Playboy of the projects? You're the man, J.J!

Scared of a letter from his principal? Hilarious! J.J what will you say next?

Um, that got dark fast. Pretty sure they wouldn't allow that card nowadays...

Okay, that's just- wrong? (We admit it- that one is fake.) Certainly the trading card companies learned to only choose appropriate subjects from now on, right?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Where's the Batman?

Prior to the introduction of DVDs, television shows were considered to be a bust when it came to home video. Bulky videocassettes with limited capacity were not ideally suited for producing season sets. Most studios who tried selling television reruns on VHS made the decision to release "Best Of" videocassettes, which weren't big sellers. Most collectors wanted entire seasons, not selected episodes.

Enter the DVD. It was finally possible to release entire seasons of favorite shows, which allowed completists to have every episode of their favored shows at their fingertips. All of the most requested shows were getting released on DVD. All except one- the 1966 Batman.

Why wouldn't one of the most iconic shows of the 1960's get a DVD release? The rights issues were a nightmare. Back in 1966, DC Comics was just a publisher. It wouldn't become a division of Warner Brothers until the early 1970's. Since DC Comics had no studio arm, it sold television rights to ABC. ABC in turn hired 20th Century Fox to produce the show for them. Fox chose to get Greenway Productions to actually make the show. So before the show began, four companies had a stake in it- ABC, DC Comics, Fox and Greenway. Warner Brothers' purchase of DC Comics further complicated matters. Needless to say, most shows are not typically produced this way.

By the time of the DVD era, various mergers and acquisitions left Disney, Warner Brothers and Fox with interests in the show. More problematic was Greenway, which had been broken up by the death of Greenway owner William Dozier who split his assets up among his children who were allegedly not speaking to each other. This would prove to be a difficult roadblock. When asked about the odds for release, Warner Brothers would just shrug. With so many other shows in its catalog that weren't a mess to get cleared, the 1960's Batman was not a priority.

Strangely enough, it was an outside party that began the arduous task of clearing the way for a home video release. Classic Media stepped in to buy the Greenway rights from the various Dozier family members. This was tricky because each family member negotiated separately for their piece. With Greenway out of the picture, Classic Media approached Fox, seeking to release the series themselves. Fox wasn't eager to cut Classic in, but secret negotiations took place that resulted in Fox buying out Classic Media. Fox then went after ABC's stake, allegedly cutting a deal to return some Marvel rights in exchange.

Finally, just Fox and Warner Brothers remained. A deal was finally struck, granting Warner Home Video the rights to get this sought after classic on DVD and Blu-Ray. Batman had finally defeated his most fearsome foes- the rights lawyers.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Streaming Movies- In 1999!

Netflix has built a successful business out of providing streaming video to its subscribers, eliminating the need to trudge out to a physical location to get the latest DVD. However, this modern miracle wasn't the first attempt at starting such a service; Enron and Blockbuster attempted something similar way back in 1999.


Back in the late 1990's, Enron and Blockbuster were flying high. However, Wall Street soon became infatuated with Dot Coms and the two companies were faced with stagnating stock prices. Enron was desperate to get some of that Dot Com attention and found it in the most unlikeliest of places- Portland General Electric.

When California governor Pete Wilson signed energy deregulation into law, Enron wanted to be the first to take advantage of this new opportunity. (As the world would eventually find out, Enron's tactics in that venture proved to be illegal.) The company snapped up Portland General Electric and began making plans to sell off the parts of the company it didn't want- like the company's broadband division. With the Dot Com explosion, however, broadband became a hot business. Enron put the brakes on a sale and sat back to figure out a way to make Wall Street take notice of Enron's potential to be a player on the Internet. They decided to do this by setting up a movie streaming business with Blockbuster.

Blockbuster was still clinging to its outmoded video rental model, but was looking for a way to hitch itself to the "new economy". Why not join with a respected company like Enron to do so?

Enron and Blockbuster made a splashy announcement that was greeted to cheers from Wall Street. Nobody bothered to do their due diligence, however. If they had, they would have found out that Hollywood was unsure of this new technology and Enron's own programmers were doubtful that they could do what Enron was claiming.

Several problems stymied the venture- first of all, movies took hours to download. One could drive to the video store, rent a film, take it home to watch it then drive back to the video store to return it- and Enron's system would still be downloading the movie. The company took to storing certain movies from its catalog on the set top boxes to speed things up. Another problem was Hollywood's ambivalence at signing onto such a system. The only content Blockbuster brought to the project were creaky films and documentaries that even Ed Wood would find amateurish. The first returns from the test markets were so bad that Enron employees openly mocked the lack of profits. Yet Enron claimed hundreds of millions in phantom profits.

Blockbuster eventually pulled out of the project, citing Enron's inability to deliver on its promises. Enron blamed Blockbuster for not getting good content. The failed enterprise left behind millions of useless set top boxes and hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The success of Netflix has led some Enron apologists to claim that the company was just ahead of its time. However, Enron's outlandish claims were not something they said could be done in the future; they insisted that they already had the technology running back then- something that was definitely not true.

In the end, Blockbuster limped on, as Redbox, Netflix and Apple TV nibbled away at its business. Perhaps because of the collapse of this deal, Blockbuster rarely tried to innovate or save itself by embracing new technology. It quietly ceased operations in 2013.

Of course, Enron collapsed in 2001 when its sham profits, malfeasance and illegal acts were finally exposed. While the company was scamming west coast electricity buyers out of billions, it was burning through most of that cash creating businesses that were only supposed to look profitable to keep the stock price up. The TV streaming business was just one of Enron's many lies and fabrications. In an odd postscript to this story, it seems that Enron never got around to actually billing its customers for the movies they watched.  Not only was the streaming business a failure, so was Enron's billing system.