Archive for the 'television' Category

Yvonne De Carlo

January 19, 2007

Every so often I take a celebrity’s death very personally. This is obviously strange behavior, since I’ve been no less than ambivalent towards any real loss in my own life. What is even more bizarre are the people who I find myself attached to: one week it’s Frank Gorshin and in another it’s a 1930’s jazz singer who I only learned about by reading their obituary. This week it’s Yvonne De Carlo.

Most people remember Yvonne De Carlo as ‘Lily’ from the cult TV series, ‘The Munsters.’ In this case, I have no shame in admitting that I am ‘most people.’ ‘The Munsters’ is one of those quirky shows that manage to win over the viewer with a combination of humor, sincerity and charm. Just watching a few episodes recently have made me appreciatre how timeless the series really was. Yvonne’s portrayal of Lily as a normal, loving housewife stands out as one of the things that made the show work. Without her providing a sense of normalcy against the wacky situations the family got into each week, things would have gotten very old, very fast.

Yvonne

About a year or so ago I was spending a day at Disneyland with my good friend, Andrea, and her good friend, Joe. Although I didn’t know it when I met him, Joe created and operates Munsterland, one of the most comprehensive Munsters fansites on the internet. While it may not seem like it, Fred, Lily and the gang have an enormous online presence, and fans the world over have been mourning her passing.

Unlike the recent death of Al ‘Grampa Munster’ Lewis, who got extremely weird and political in his later years, Yvonne De Carlo was widely respected both inside the industry and out. Before taking the role of Lily, she had once been a popular Hollywood starlet, originally gaining fame for playing Moses’ wife in ‘The Ten Commandments.’

Even though she was afraid the make-up and costume would ‘turn her ugly,’ Yvonne took the part of Lily Munster to provide for her family. Her husband, a movie stuntman, had been seriously injured while filming a movie and was unable to work. Thankfully for both of them, The Munsters became a hit. The series filmed a total of 70 episodes and had two movies, giving De Carlo plenty of work over the next few years.

While I’ll be Netflixing some of her film work over the next few weeks to honor her (‘Frontier Gal,’ hear I come!) take a moment from your incredibly busy and exciting life to remember a great actress and a classy lady.

Flashbeagle

January 16, 2007

It seems like Snoopy can do anything. I grew up only a few miles away from Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. For those of you unfamiliar, Knott’s is an amusement park (as opposed to a theme park) known not only for their roller coasters and attractions, but for their fried chicken and jams as well. At some point during my youth Knott’s somehow managed to snag the rights to the ‘Peanuts’ characters and have featured them prominently in the park ever since.

Although I am freakishly tall now, I was not always tall enough to ride some of the more intimidating rides at Knott’s. Still, I visited the place regularly and as a result ended up spending most of my time at Camp Snoopy. Camp Snoopy is a kid-friendly area of the park themed to Charlie Brown, Lucy and the gang. In addition to standards like a Ferris Wheel and a ball pit, it also had a petting zoo and an expansive outdoors play area.

One of my favorite attractions there, ‘The Red Baron,’ puts children behind the seat of World War I era fighter planes they can ‘pilot’ as they spin round and round for several minutes. This ain’t Disneyland, people, but it doesn’t really have to be. Snoopy has long been one of my favorites, so I’ve always cut the character a little slack for not having merchandising or theme parks as well-made as The Mouse does.

One thing Snoopy can do that Mickey cannot is dance. Dear lord, can that beagle dance!

‘It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown…’ is one of the most ridiculous and dated pieces of animation you’ll ever come across. Presumably as an attempt to cash in on the success of 80’s dance films like ‘Footloose’ or ‘Flashdance,’ ‘Flashbeagle’ features Snoopy breakdancing to disco music. That, and the fact that it hasn’t been released in 20 years are pretty much everything you need to know about the project.

In addition to being really damn weird, there are many positive things about this TV special. Underused characters like Franklin and Peppermint Patty take center stage in a storyline involving dance competitions and the whole gang preparing for a big party. Sadly Franklin proves just how much of a token black character he is when he becomes Snoopy’s confidant in the world of dance. Peppermint Patty doesn’t do much better, only reinforcing the stereotypes of athletic lesbians with her ‘Stay in Shape’ musical number.

Despite how much crap is manufactured with the ‘Peanuts’ name, it’s a surprise that ‘Flashbeagle’ has been ignored by the home video market. There are definitely much worse pieces of ‘Peanuts’ animation out there; if nothing else the novelty of the thing makes it worth checking out.

My Favorite Holiday Movie

December 24, 2006

What’s your favorite holiday movie?

‘Muppet Family Christmas’ is only a TV movie, but it’s by far my favorite holiday anything. Being the comic book nerd that I am I have always been fond of crossover events, and ‘Muppet Family Christmas’ is the greatest Muppet crossover of them all. It features not only the Muppet characters, but also the Sesame Street crew and the Fraggles as well.

The basic premise involves Fozzy Bear inviting the whole gang up to his Mother’s cabin in the mountains, only he doesn’t realize that his Mother has rented out the cabin for the holidays — wacky antics ensue! Great moments include the Swedish Chef trying to cook Big Bird for a Christmas Feast, and Robin learning the true meaning of Christmas from the Fraggles.

Seeing as this is a ‘Muppet Family Christmas’ music is featured quite prominently in the special as well. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the Electric Mayhem perform ‘Jingle Bell Rock.’

Remembering the Dumont Network

December 6, 2006

The creation of the new CW and MyTV Networks promised to firmly establish a fifth and sixth network in American television, filling the roles that were once occupied by The WB and UPN respectively. Today with the advent of cable and satellite, networks are created and renamed with little consequence. However, there was once a time when the death of a single network signaled the end of an era, and set standards in American broadcasting for the next 50 years.

The Dumont Network, America’s first fourth television network, launched in the late 1940’s with a handful of stations across the country and very little programming. Dumont Laboratories, a popular television manufacturer of the day, launched the channel in hopes of breaking ground and attracting viewers with experimental programming. Unlike its’ competition, Dumont didn’t have a radio network or a staple of talent to draw from. In many cities, it didn’t even have a dedicated television station to air its’ programming.

Dumont Logo

In most cases, Dumont had to share time with other networks, and local affiliates cherry picked which of the two networks’ programs they would air. This in turn made the schedules for those stations completely erratic, and more often than the only Dumont programming that would find its way onto a shared schedule were sports broadcasts.

Thanks to a groundbreaking step by Dumont, these sports broadcasts, and other programs were aired live from the Midwest for the first time. Prior to that all live television broadcasts were only aired from the East Coast due to technological limitations. Dumont embraced this new technology and aired nearly every program they produced live, which became a staple for the network.

Not only did the Dumont Network break ground by pioneering new technology, but also in terms of programming. They developed the first television sitcom, ‘Mary Kay and Johnny,’ and the first network soap opera, ‘Faraway Hill.’ In addition, they originally aired ‘Cavalcade of Stars,’ a popular variety show whose comedy skits were the foundation of ‘The Honeymooners.’ Many of these shows were produced on the cheap to compensate for the network’s low advertising revenue. Dumont created business models for cheap programming that its’ competition would follow for decades.

Dumont

Unfortunately, the network still suffered from a lack of dedicated stations to air their programming. In the early 1950’s the FCC prevented broadcast networks from launching or expanding, as literally thousands of companies attempted to flood the market to capitalize on the popularity of television. This left the two smaller existing networks, Dumont and ABC, struggling for both airtime and advertising revenue in the early part of the decade. ABC had staved off bankruptcy by merging with an offshoot of Paramount Studios, which provided Hollywood stars and connections that Dumont simply couldn’t compete with. Even their most popular stars, including Jackie Gleason or Morey Amsterdam, left for ABC and NBC, capitalizing on the success of their Dumont series.

With no other way to earn revenue, Dumont was finally forced to sell off the first of its’ three broadcast stations in 1955, and eventually signed off for good within a year. Those stations that had once aired Dumont programming were forced to change their line-ups, giving more airtime to competitors, and the growing market for local programming. It wasn’t until after Dumont had gone under that ABC was able to acquire enough broadcast stations and the “Big Three” dominance of American television was established.

Captain Video

Smaller, local broadcast networks eventually formed throughout the country as the FCC regulations began to ease up. UHF stations, which could only be accessed by more expensive television sets, provided an outlet for independent broadcasters hoping to provide more choices for the American television audience. It wasn’t until the formation of the FOX Network in 1986, that the country had its’ first viable fourth broadcast network since the death of Dumont 30 years earlier.

Today Dumont’s legacy lives on not only in FOX, but in the new CW and My13 Networks as well. In fact, many of the stations that once carried Dumont’s programming 50 years ago are now CW and My13 affiliates. Unfortunately, very few copies of Dumont’s original programming still exist, and most are believed to have been destroyed or thrown away in the decades following the network’s demise.

Thanks to both the successes and failures of the Dumont Network the framework of American television was set for decades. Although their time was brief, it’s likely that in half a century scholars will be saying the same thing about the WB and UPN, networks which brought us such gems as ‘Homeboys from Outer Space’ and ‘Birds of Prey’.

Liberal Bias and Sesame Street

October 12, 2006

It’s not uncommon for me to spend a morning watching children’s programming. In fact, given how early I’ve been waking up lately, it’s become the norm.

The past few weeks Aaron has been waking up earlier and earlier, which means (of course) that he falls asleep earlier and earlier. This creates a dilemma for a night owl such as myself, since on an average night I pass out anywhere between midnight and three in the morning. In an effort to save my marriage I am trying not only to change a sleep schedule I’ve had established for years, but also my TV viewing habits as well.

Barring notable exceptions such as 9/11 or a Rocky and Bullwinkle marathon, there have been few occasions worth getting out of bed and watching television for. Morning news is usually generic fluff pieces poorly disguised as information, and everything else on the dial is a joke.

Campaign 96

I have fallen out of love with the various syndicated shows that litter morning TV schedules. If you see one episode of ‘People’s Court’ you’ve seen them all, and I can’t bring myself to watch trash like ‘Cheaters’ or ‘Eye for an Eye.’

With nowhere else to turn, I reluctantly turned towards children’s programming to keep me engaged during the early morning hours. It had been quite a while since I’ve watched Nick Jr., and for good reason. Aside from the obvious age difference, I feel like their programming panders to the audience, rather than make any attempt to educate. Mind you this isn’t any different than adult programming, but there should be some responsibility to teach America’s children more than the Spanish word for ‘backpack.’

Fortunately, there was one venue I know I could rely on. Sesame Street basically rebuilt children’s programming from the ground up decades ago, so if anyone would stand a pillar of quality education it would be them.

What I actually saw bothered me quite a bit.

For those unfamiliar with the delicate format of a Sesame Street episode, each features a specific theme, be it ‘dogs’ or ‘school’ or ‘cookies.’ This theme is explored throughout the hour-long program, educating the viewer about the topic through various sketches, cartoons and songs. Today, I learned, the theme was ‘Agendas of the Left Wing.’

The first segment I watched seemed harmless enough. Elmo was walking around Central Park and talking to people about families. A video montage followed, showing various types of family, and establishing early on in the viewer’s developmental cycle that unconventional family models were just as ‘normal’ ones. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, stepparents, cousins: virtually every type of family model was shown, including those featuring two moms and two dads.

‘Eh?’ I thought to myself, ‘Did Sesame Street just feature multiple sets of gay families in a video montage?’ I thought I must have been mistaken.

As a homosexual I have no problem with this, but as a amateur media watchdog, I do take concern with the statement this makes. Considering that Sesame Street receives a substantial amount of its’ operating budget from federal funding, does doing such a thing create some kind of paradox?

Being a member of the highly sought after 18-34 white male demographic, I suspect that my personal boycott of Sesame Street may force the show into cancellation, but they deserve it. Snuffaluffagus, you’ve violated my trust for the last time!

At least when I watch The View I know what to expect from Rosie O’ Donnell.

*Despite his weak interviews, I’d still rather have Elmo host the evening news than Katie Couric.

Mother of Television

August 28, 2006

Last night I was watching the Emmy Awards with my boyfriend, and traditionally these awards shows devote a certain amount of time to video montages remembering people within the industry who had passed away within the year. This was the case last night, and during this year’s montage (as always) there were more than a few names and faces that were unfamiliar to me. However, there was one person in particular that caught my attention, just because of how out of place they seemed wedged between all of the faded television stars and casting directors.

Elma and Philo Farnsworth

Elma Farnsworth, widow of television’s inventor, Philo Farnsworth, passed away this year without much media attention. Her husband had died decades earlier, and even though she spent the remainder of her life fighting to give him a well-deserved place in history, most people still don’t know the man or his achievements.

Not only did he create television and the television camera at the age of 21, he was also responsible for other important inventions, such as the baby incubator. Elma was there every step of the way for these accomplishments, and Philo often shared what little acclaim he did receive with his beloved wife.

Elma Farnsworth was the first woman to be broadcast on television, and I was glad to see that she was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Aside from a tribute to her husband during the Emmy’s 54th annual ceremony, this was only the second time Elma or her husband had ever appeared on the show, albeit posthumously.

I don’t watch Oprah often, but…

August 25, 2006
Before becoming a talk show deity, Oprah Winfrey was once a journalism student at Tennessee State University. Just like Oprah, I too was once a journalism student, and it’s because of this and the several hundred other things I share in common with her that I choose to tune into her program from time to time.

It’s not often that Oprah makes use of her journalism background to tackle tough real-life issues for her audience during the show. Most of the time it seems as if she would rather focus on sensationalistic topics, rather than the ones that she could actually make an impact on with her enormous influence.

Oprah

Fortunately for THE WORLD she had chosen to devote an entire episode to exploring the growing economic gap between upper and lower class citizens in America. I was lucky enough to catch this important episode after a bout of insomnia, and I felt it was important enough to share with you.

Rather than speak to economic experts or leading politicians for the bulk of the program, Oprah used an everyman* approach by showing class differences through stories told by real-life rich and poor people! In one particularly moving segment, an upper-middle-class housewife complains about how expensive and tiring it is to keep up the ‘facade’ of being an upper class woman.

Even though her husband earns a six figure salary, she still manages to put the family into debt with her spending habits. By purchasing furniture and designer labels they keep up the appearance of being in a higher tax bracket than they actually are. What will the neighbors think? Boo hoo. In the same segment, a lower class family struggles merely to stay clothed and put food on the table.

Later on Oprah discusses her own views on class in America, which basically boils down to “work hard, and you’ll be as successful as I am.”

Her guest, a former Clinton ecnomic advisor, tells Oprah that moving up in class is a combination of luck, hard work, education and connections. This statement angers Oprah; the black girl born into poverty who eventually became the richest and most powerful woman on planet Earth.

Oprah: “There is no such thing as luck. I don’t consider myself lucky at all.”

Now I love sassy black women as much as the next guy (possibly moreso!) but the idea that Oprah Winfrey is completely deserving of that level of success is ridiculous. Was it the degree she got from Tennessee State University that got her there? Somehow I doubt the rest of her graduating class has a net worth of several billion dollars.

There is no denying that Oprah is incredibly talented and enterprising, but no amount of book clubs or heart-to-heart interviews can justify the power, fame and fortune she has received by doing a daytime talk show.

Am I wrong here? If not, I’ll be transferring to Tennessee State this Fall.

*By this I actually mean ‘everywoman.’ The only men on Oprah’s shows are either celebrity automotons, or the end result of a female-to-male sex change operation.

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