There'll Be Scary Ghost Stories

18 December 2010, 11:29

The first time I watched Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol I was in my sister’s bedroom (while she was out), watching a portable set in the dark. The local ABC affiliate was running it at 8PM on a Monday, and I was aware that the station was breaking with network programming (an early example of Matlocking). Because of increased commercial time, the opening and closing bits were completely excised, so I was left with some impression of the setup of Magoo as actor in a stage play but no closure. As was typical for the time, WEWS had a 16MM print that had been screened many times and was grainy. Run that kind of print through projectors that had seen better days to be seen on a small portable, in a dark room, and depict such a dark series of sequences to an impressionable child, and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is even more haunting than was originally intended. Of course, in the early 1970s, television from even four years earlier seemed like it was from a forgotten, untouchable era.

I haven’t watched the show in a while (now playing on Hulu). I am reading the Darrell Van Citters book. You can also buy the soundtrack for the first time (digital only, and not lossless).

Rodney Eric Griffith

TV

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Saturday Night Undead

17 December 2010, 19:36

Dennis Perrin (Michael O’Donoghue’s biographer) has reviewed the 1980-1981 season of Saturday Night Live, which is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

This was the sixth season, the year when the infamous Jean Doumanian took control and almost everything about the show failed spectacularly. Being only a few years younger than Perrin, I remember some of the baffling disappointment with the premiere and the eventual train wreck ending when Charles Rocket ad libbed “fuck” on a live broadcast (and it still wasn’t funny). It’s amazing that Gilbert Gottfried managed to recover from that year.

If anything, the failure of Saturday Night Live ’80 only strengthened the notion that the original cast were untouchably funny legends instead of an inconsistent group of people who were in the right place at the right time. Every time Dana Carvey was seen to utter the phrase “they were the Beatles of comedy” he should have been punched in the face. The original cast paled in comparison to SCTV and Monty Python. But at the time, I was sipping the Kool-Aid as much as anyone, a drink made easy to swallow considering how barren network television and popular culture in North America was from the mid-1970s to a decade later.

The calibre of many of the people who were castmembers or writers is not debatable (O’Donoghue, Phil Hartman, Tom Davis, Norm Macdonald) but over the years Lorne Michaels and/or NBC ultimately squandered them as well as members of The Credibility Gap and SCTV (in 1981, Dick Ebersol wanted to poach four SCTV members and settled for two). If anything Saturday Night Live should be the entertainment industry’s cautionary fable for the stupidity of coveting movies over a consistent presence on TV. When everything save The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World becomes an abject failure, you’d think they’d stop sending chariots up to the sun.

Today, the show is basically a 90-minute wraparound for TV Funhouse and The Lonely Island, both of which, thanks to DVD and YouTube, no longer require the patience and the stamina to stay awake until 1AM.

Rodney Eric Griffith

TV

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Wiki-wiki!

15 December 2010, 18:01

Most of the recent television series remakes are a disgrace, so when I learned of Hawaii Five-0 I wasn’t optimistic. I’ve since warmed to it, even though it’s a complete remake of a premise that was owned by Jack Lord and Leonard Freeman and the people they created the original series with.

So many remakes are in the category of “we really respect the concept of this series, but it has to be translated into American so that it can be understood” (from the Life on Mars debacle to Coupling and One Foot in the Grave, and also Being Human, Spooks, Red Dwarf, The Inbetweeners and the Paul McGann Doctor Who telefilm). When Kudos found itself in a similar position, it was much more reverential to the source, and Law & Order: UK is consistently as good as the original era of L&O.

The 2010 Hawaii Five-0 is as consistent, but the only things retained from the original are the character names (extending to Duke! and Wo Fat, but no Che Fong, Manicote or Jenny—yet), McGarrett’s naval background and the address. There is occasionally a nod to tradition. Everything else was reinvented and has a distinct origin point, which is impressive in that it’s done well. Usually forced origins are an epic failure (every comic book movie seems to do this, badly). It’s even wise that the premise is centred on a four-person taskforce, not an established department. It all clicks and now we look forward to it every week (not a common feeling with American network television these days).

Hawaii Five-0 expert Mike Quigley is reviewing each episode as they air.

Rodney Eric Griffith

TV

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The Illustrator, Chapter One

10 December 2010, 11:31

“You’re good, kid.” The man leaned forward in his chair, turning the pages of Kyle’s portfolio as if he were enjoying a sumptuous pastry at one of Cleveland’s local cafés. The artist reacted with a hopeful glance that was just a bit beyond casual, even though the next words uttered were completely predictable.

“You’ve got a real talent,” Mr. Chason said, closing the tall, black book as it caressed the bare top of his mahogany desk. “But you know, times are tough for newspapers. We just don’t have the budget for a traditional illustrator anymore, not even—especially—one of your calibre.”

Kyle Brandon understood all too well.

“It’s all we can do to keep the presses running. Journalistic integrity has to take second chair these days. Hell, we even endorsed the Governor-elect because we knew he was corrupt. Now that the County Commissioner’s under indictment, we’ve run out of big reveals. This Governor ensures our circulation figures will spike again in a year, maybe two, when we play our cards. Maybe we’ll have an opening for you then. Say, have you ever thought about digital illustration? Our website could use the content. It doesn’t pay much, but an artist can always use the exposure.”

“Not really my forté,” said Kyle. “I’m a paper and ink guy.” He respected the editor in spite of himself, and he could independently corroborate the paper’s lack of journalistic finesse by virtue of the fact that if they were any good they might have connected him with the vigilante known in some circles as The Illustrator.

The editor nodded. “I understand. Completely. Ink is in my blood.” He rose and offered his hand. The handshake was firm; Chason was clearly an old-school type. In spite of this warmth, Kyle wasn’t too sorry that he didn’t get the job.

Because he got what he came for.

Rodney Eric Griffith

FictionInspiracy

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Fun with No Purpose

9 December 2010, 09:26

I was saddened to hear of the death of Rick Gilmour earlier this year. He namechecked me a couple of times on Night Talk, the late-night Saturday show he hosted with Mitch Mann and Monica Gannon on WERE-AM in the mid-1990s. Gilly’s voice was familiar from his frequent calls to an earlier talk show, Livewire with Steve Church (being a frequent caller was a function he performed on many college radio shows as well). Although WERE had cut a big swath in the 1970s, by the 1990s their programming days consisted of syndicated content and brokered (e.g. pay-to-play) shows. None of the commercial stations in Cleveland would dare to air something so ostensibly purposeless as Night Talk, which is precisely why the show was so entertaining.

After the show was abruptly canceled amid controversy, Gilly resurfaced on WERE’s brokered Beer Talk as a co-host, and after a cooling off period Gilly seized the Sunday night slot for The Gilly Show, which I remember for being warmly infamous. (Laughing at the Heaven’s Gate cult was one such Gilly Show premise.) The 29 April 1997 episode proved to be the last: Gilmour tested the limits of the the FCC Safe Harbor policy by reading the opening stanzas of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl just before the show’s 2AM closing. This proved to be too much for then-station manager John Hill.

When Morton Downey Jr. pulled out of his weeknight talk show for 50,000 watt WTAM-AM at the end of August 1997, Gilmour was selected to replace him. The right-wing news/sports station was not always suited to him. By the time I lost track, he had endorsed Bush. Weeknights gave way to a regular weekend time slot, but this soon became an occasional weekend show, and by 2004 he was off the air. A brief aircheck was posted by WTAM after his passing, but the better work is probably completely lost in the air.

Rodney Eric Griffith

Reciprocal Affection

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