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Archive for April, 2018

by Adam Ferenz

This is going to be difficult. By its nature, there’s a lot of history to this soap opera. There was over a decade of material that aired before this author was born, much of which no longer exists thanks to a vault fire, and will be going largely off memories of the series, some of which comprise his earliest memories of television. Therefore, if this seems rambling, bear with me. This is a work of memory, passion and pain, since when it was good, it was great, and when it was off, it hurt, because it could be so great when it wanted to give a hoot. I will be leaving a lot of characters out, and giving short shrift to many more. For that, I apologize, or this thing could easily become a book.

There have been dozens of daytime serials in the history of American television. There are, currently, only four of them. The genre has lost a lot of audience, with the advent of the internet, expanded cable and satellite options, as well as the fact that people just do not stay home to watch television during the day, the way they once did. Especially women, to whom the earliest series were pointedly marketed.

Soaps, as they were called-because Procter and Gamble was a major sponsor of a goodly portion of the serials on air, at one point-have always been a generational deal, handed down from family member to family member, or passed along between friends. These were “our” or “my” stories for generations of people-men and women. The typical soap opera, in 1968-the year One Life to Live arrived on the air-was largely a very slow moving half hour about the love life of winsome rich white women in fictional or even nameless small towns. There had been some exceptions-including the rise of ABC’s Dark Shadows, which was extremely fast paced, and full of supernatural doings, but had indeed started its life as a series concerning the mysterious arrival of a governess in a small Maine seaport. (more…)

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Pee Wee Herman and the show Pee Wee’s Playhouse will forever stand as a touchstone of 1980’s kids Saturday morning programming. It has remained an iconic show for various reasons. I was drawn to it but was also discouraged from watching it by my parents, which of course made it all the more alluring. I was a huge fan of Muppet Babies on CBS and watched it every week. Thing is, once Muppet Babies was over, Pee Wee’s Playhouse was on next. If my folks were not in the room I left the TV on. If they were around, I had to turn off the TV! To this day if I hear the strains of the beginning of the show, I instinctively look over my shoulder. Paul Reubens and his Pee Wee remain a tremendous example of exemplary children’s programming in an era before cable took over. Pee Wee became a cultural icon and part of the vernacular of the 80’s. There’s even an embarrassing home video of me at age 8 doing the Pee Wee dance. Although I’d like to forget that, there’s no forgetting Pee Wee’s impact on television and culture. (more…)

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© 2018 by James Clark

      Marketing films would seem to be a straightforward matter. Some subjects attract a large constituency; other subjects find niches within the vast clientele. Of course, professionalism is indispensable. And essential to that construction would be a solid vision that there is a demand commensurate to the costs, financial and wear and tear. Some viewers want to be simply entertained; some viewers want more than that. And filmmakers are well aware how their vehicles can succeed in that division. Whereas the single-minded entertainers occupy an industry like any other industry, those practitioners aware that movies can function as disclosure—not only on the same level as the venerable arts but on a step above—have placed themselves within a far more complex sphere of communication. The majority of such film folk see a clear route to lucrative and enjoyable outcomes by catering to long-standing verities. Tweaking what religion, morality and science have plied for millennia garners the lion’s share of the activity we’ve begun to clarify. Some film artists graft unfamiliar factors to their conventional offerings, on the supposition that their clientele will appreciate a bit of daring (to be readily subsumed by their unshakable parameters).

Others of that predilection for more, having crunched many numbers along the way, openly defy in their work mainstream world history. Included in this rebellion are the many sensational possibilities which the volatile daring brings to itself. Thus, this wing of mavericks stands to entice a share of the lighten-up thrill-seekers. Diverse such artists—having now branded as “auteurs”—like, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson, Terrence Malick, Michael Mann, Brian De Palma—have ridden to fame and fortune along that career path. More recent entries to that fraternity can be seen in the work of Tom Ford, Ruben Ostlund and Martin McDonagh.

But this strategy, to me, anyway, affords being, if not obviated, complemented by a mode of filmmaking which has something very different in mind from the now well-known auteurship. Far removed from the glamor of being a wise, punk superstar, there is a notable development of films having spoken to alarmingly few. Their occurrence is so unprepossessing and so devoid of substantive direction that only those patient enough, to backtrack along its vast distemper to a (beckoning) hidden source, would assemble there. Paramount to this communication is a preparedness for never prevailing against a dead weight of anathematic destructiveness. (Such isolation being at the same time directed to share pleasures of self-sustainment, the energies of which soaring to real integrity with scant follow-up by that clientele, but enough fascination to look for more.) Three filmmakers—forget the auteur status—have brilliantly managed to sustain such a project while still being assumed to have been “indie” auteurs, show-biz insiders. The prototype, Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016), became a gang of one, finding money and well-wishers in the impenetrable dark ages of Iran. Jim Jarmusch, a former Manhattan hipster-musician who spends virtually all his time and finds financing in Europe, excels in finding the light during a perpetual eclipse of the sun. The third such unknown, Kelly Reichardt, whose first film, River of Grass (1994), we take up here, has wonderfully accommodated our study of what makes her tick insofar as she has seen fit to, on completing the movie on tap, stay silent (with the exception of a couple of short experiments) for 12 years before proceeding with a manifold to stay the course. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

As I write this Monday Morning Diary this morning it is snowing outside.  The New York City area has yet again been pelted by the white stuff, sending a curt message to Spring that winter will not be vanquished without a fight.  Rarely does snow fall in April but here we are and it is remarkable school has convened what with a number of teachers living several towns away unable to reach this destination.

The Greatest Television Series Countdown Part 2 soldiers on and some splendid essays have been posted.  Keep watch for coming sensational podcasts from Jared Dec and Trevor Nigg, as well as future installments of the gloriously resurrected Fish Obscuro from Jared.  This coming week will feature the latest super essay from film scholar Jim Clark.

Jamie Uhler will soon be posting the introduction post for the second annual Allan Fish Online Festival to be staged in late May for ten to eleven days, depending on the number of volunteers.

Lucille, Sammy, Jeremy and I saw two films in theaters this past week.  One was a tense thrilled by Stephen Soderburgh and the other a Steven Spielberg box office hit that frankly did not float my boat. (more…)

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by Brandie Ashe

The great voice artist June Foray (who passed away last summer just two months shy of her 100th birthday) once told the story of how she came to embody one of the most iconic characters of her career. After her agent told her that two industry men named Jay Ward and Bill Scott–whom she had never heard of–wanted to take her to lunch, June met them at a restaurant in Los Angeles, where the two men were having martinis when she arrived. “And they said, ‘Well, have a martini,’ and I said, ‘Well, you know, I don’t drink at lunch.’ And they said, ‘Aw, come on, we’re having a drink!’ So I said okay. And on the first drink, they told me they had an idea of a moose and a squirrel and I thought, ‘Gee, that’s a real cockeyed idea,’ you know. But after the second martini, I thought it was great.”

When you think about it, Foray’s initial impression wasn’t wrong. The concept for Rocky and Bullwinkle is an odd one, even considering some of the crazier cartoons that made their way onto movie and television screens in the first half of the 20th century (I’m side-eyeing you, Max Fleischer). But as wild as the concept may have seemed in 1959–when the show premiered on ABC–it just worked, strangely enough. Rocky and Bullwinkle became a pop-culture phenomenon, one that appealed to both kids and adults with its wide-ranging humorous style. And even though the original show lasted only five years, it remains to this day a popular nostalgic series, one that Hollywood can’t seem to help from trying to adapt in various forms (including a number of big-screen live-action and animated adaptations, none of which quite capture the zany brilliance of that first incarnation).

The series is essentially a compilation of shorts featuring a diverse cast of characters, framed by the Rocky and Bullwinkle-starring serials, in which the moose (voiced by series co-creator Bill Scott) and squirrel (voiced by Foray) inevitably find themselves at odds with the inept Russian spy duo of Boris and Natasha (voiced by Paul Frees and Foray). These serials featured cliffhanger endings and tended to last over multiple episodes; in fact, the first (and perhaps best-known) of these series, called “Jet Fuel Formula,” lasted forty episodes and introduced the concept of weird misunderstandings and random happenstance that propel Rocky and Bullwinkle into many of their misadventures. In this initial series, Bullwinkle inadvertently discovers the recipe for a very effective rocket fuel while baking a cake … which leads one to wonder, just how much should we trust the cooking skills of a moose? (The answer to that question is “not at all, unless you want to find yourself flying ass-first to the moon.”)


Those Moose and Squirrel were the ostensible stars of the show, the other segments featured characters who would soon become immensely popular in their own rights. There were the “WABAC” travels of Mr. Peabody, a genius talking dog, and his somewhat less-intelligent boy, Sherman, who used their time machine to visit key events in the history of mankind; the tales of Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right, which parodied the kind of old-fashioned “damsel tied to the railroad tracks” serials that were particularly popular in the silent era; and two ongoing modernized takes on classic tales and legends featuring two great classic character actors: the “Fractured Fairy Tales,” narrated by the always-great Edward Everett Horton, and “Aesop and Son,” starring the vocal talents of the inimitable Charlie Ruggles.


In my previous essay for this countdown for the current television series Bob’s Burgers, I mentioned that its dialogue-driven episodes can almost function like an old-time radio serial, with the visuals sometimes secondary to the delightful wordplay between the characters. In this respect, I believe the creator and writers of Bob’s Burgers may have taken some influence from Rocky and Bullwinkle, a show that is not known so much for the crude artistry of its animation as for its witty humor, malapropisms, and pun-laden dialogue. It’s truly a show that is driven by the writers. The characters frequently break the fourth wall, acknowledging that they are starring in a television series (Natasha: “Boris, is Moose you said you killed in previous episode?” Boris: “Look, it’s his show. If he wants to be hard to kill, let him”), and drawing attention to the artificial–and ratings-dependent–nature of their existence (Rocky: “I’m not talking about The Bullwinkle Show.” Bullwinkle: “You had better. We could use the publicity”).


And, oh, those puns. The frequent, sometimes hilarious, sometimes groan-inducing puns, which the writers of the show knew were just plain painful. Case in point:


[Scene: Rocky and Bullwinkle bring a small, jewel-covered boat, named “Omar Khayyam,” to a local jeweler for appraisal.]


Jeweler: “You know what you have here?”


Bullwinkle: “We were hoping that you would tell us.”


Jeweler: “This little doll here is composed of ruby! Yes, sir, it’s rubies!”


Bullwinkle: “No, it isn’t! It’s mine!”


Rocky: “Well, my gosh, if it’s made out of rubies, then …”


Bullwinkle: “If you’re hesitating for me to finish the line, you’ve got a long wait!”


Jeweler: “And I don’t have the guts to say it!”


Rocky: “Okay, then, here goes. If it’s made out of rubies, then this must be the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam!”


Bullwinkle and Jeweler: “UGH!”


To borrow the next line from the show’s Narrator: with that little gem, we bring down the curtain.

(more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Love, exciting and new 
Come Aboard. We’re expecting you. 
And Love, life’s sweetest reward. 
Let it flow, it floats back to you. 

Love Boat soon will be making another run 
The Love Boat promises something for everyone 
Set a course for adventure, 
Your mind on a new romance.

The infectious theme song, written by Charles Fox and Paul Williams was released on a 45 and charted.  It is arguably the most identifiable in television history, and nothing that comes afterward in the shows themselves can quite match the effervescent quality that undermines a rightful cynicism viewers had towards this practically shameless and gimmicky soap opera.  Yet travel agencies reported the show made sea cruises more popular than ever, and the endless succession of ultra-famous guest stars insured fans would tune in no matter what.  Perhaps most astounding of all was that legions of enraptured viewers, most an older set wrote studio executives to tell them the show was a replacement for those unable to afford going on their own cruises, and the show’s locales helped them to bridge the gap, bringing resorts into their living rooms.   Alas The Love Boat, which remarkably ran for 250 one-hour episodes, held the stage for nine years, pairing up with the similarly-themed Fantasy Island on Saturday evenings, making ABC the place to be for many who held weekend tickets to this irresistible voyage chronicling love affairs among the passengers and crew.  Those who hated the show likened it to the one of the worst television creations known to mankind, while those more tolerant found it a guilty pleasure.  Then there were the avid fans who defied the terrible reviews and made the show as huge Nielsen Top 30 hit, enabling the network to renew it year after year.

The creator Aaron Spelling (who also brought Fantasy Island to fruition) once said that the appeal of the show was enormous and that “every week viewers felt they were going somewhere exotic by watching our show.”  Many episodes were filmed on two actual cruise ships, the Pacific Princess and the Island Princess during their regular voyages from the Virgin Islands to Alaska.  Paying passengers were delighted to take part in the shooting, and cruises in which filming was planned were booked solid in advance.  Still, most of the show was filmed on a sound stage at Fox which housed a swimming pool, corridors, cabins, dining room and a deck.  It was also reported the guest stars were invited to bring their families on free cruises which landed the show a steady flow of top-rank celebrities.  The recurring characters, Gavin MacLeod as Capt. Merrill Stubing, Bernie Kopell as Dr. Adam Doc Bricker, the ship’s physician, Fred Grandy as Burl “Gopher” Smith, Ted Lange as bartender Isaac Washington and Julie McCoy as Lauren Tewes, cruise director are introduced in the show’s opening and figure prominently in the narratives. (more…)

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