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Posts Tagged ‘television

“All [tv] shows are like cigarettes. You watch two, you have a higher chance of watching three. They’re all addictive.”*…

 

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If you’ve found yourself watching hours and hours of “comfort food” TV during the COVID-19 outbreak, you’re not alone. CableTV.com recently conducted a survey of nearly 7,000 housebound viewers and found that they’re spending a lot of time with old friends—capital “F” Friends, to be exact….

While we fully expected beloved 1994–2004 comedy Friends to top the list, we were blindsided by second-place winner Rick and Morty. The animated series’s existential nihilism couldn’t be more of a contrast to the warm fuzzies of Friends. You’re obviously going through some stuff, America…

The full breakdown, state by state (and a larger version of the map above) at: “What the US Is watching during COVID-19.”

* Dan Harmon, co-creator of Rick and Morty (and creator of Community)

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As we shelter in (very different) places, we might send sympathetic birthday greetings to Theodore Martin (Ted) McGinley; he was born on this date in 1958.  An actor with a long and successful career on American television, he has become the “victim” of a Hollywood legend that has deemed him “the showkiller.”

After having popped up on a few long-running shows in their waning months/years (Happy Days being the most prominent, but there was also The Love Boat and Dynasty), McGinley began to be known via tongue-in-cheek observations as the greatest show-killer of all time.

Indeed, McGinley has been called “the patron saint of shark-jumping” by jumptheshark.com founder Jon Hein.

Does the evidence bear this out? …Not entirely. Both Happy Days and The Love Boat lasted about 60 episodes once McGinley was cast. Even by the old longer-seasons standards of TV, that’s a lot of episodes. Married…With Children lasted eight years and 167 episodes from the point that McGinley was cast as Marcy’s second husband, which by all rights should have put the show-killer thing to rest forever. And can we really blame McGinley for Sports Night being the brilliant-but-cancelled brief gem that it was? (Though I suppose the Ted McGinley Show-Killer thing isn’t about blame as much as it is about cosmic justice.) But if even a nondescript sitcom like Hope & Faith can last for 73 episodes past the Curse of McGinley settling on their doorstep, maybe we can call the show-killer thing debunked?

Except … the legend is more fun, isn’t it? [quoted material: source]

McGinley himself has a very good sense of humor about it all, and has made fun of the legend surrounding him in appearances on Married… With Children and Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold (where he was re-teamed with Happy Days co-star Henry Winkler)

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McGinley (left) with Henry Winkler and Anson Williams on Happy Days

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Written by LW

May 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Amaze your friends!”…

 

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Flatulence humor goes back to the first known joke, recorded by ancient Sumerians. Since then, it’s lingered for thousands of years, wafting from Medieval illuminated devotionals to Shakespeare’s plays. So naturally, employees of JEM Rubber Company in Toronto, known for making tire repair patches, were delighted when they figured out how to turn its scrap rubber into literal windbags around 1930. They approached Soren Sorensen “Sam” Adams—whose S.S. Adams Company was responsible for giving the world Sneezing Powder and the Joy Buzzer—but the cushion that blows a loud raspberry was just a bridge too far.

“They came to Adams because he was a big producer of novelties, hoping to sell it to him as a product to distribute in the U.S.,” says novelties collector Mardi Timm. “But he was so incensed about the indelicacy of the joke that he refused it.”

Undeterred, the representatives of JEM took their fart joke to Alfred Johnson Smith, whose popular Johnson Smith & Co. catalog was a Bible for mischief makers, offering novelties, magic tricks, and popular pranks like trick cigarette cases and squirting flowers. “Mr. Smith looked at it and said, ‘What a great gag!’ and put it in his catalog,” Mardi explains…

This is the world of Stan and Mardi Timm. Perusing their collection of products sold by Johnson Smith and other novelty firms is an experience akin to Pee-Wee Herman’s gleeful romp through Mario’s Magic Shop, trying out squirting mustard bottles and buying trick gum… the Timms’ vast collection of roughly 1,800 artifacts, focused on items from the Johnson Smith catalogs from the early 20th century and beyond, is more than juvenile pranks—it includes cheap toys and quirky but practical inventions like flashlights, twirling spaghetti forks, and electric tie presses, as well as guides promising to teach valuable skills like detective work or jiu-jitsu.

“Novelties are so much more than goofy, silly things,” Mardi says. “Everything that comes on to the marketplace starts out as a novelty. They’re things that are not common, things that make you say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen one of those before!’ or ‘What is that thing?’”

The collection documents U.S. (and UK) popular culture from the mid-1910s through today…

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More– much more– at “Fun Delivered: World’s Foremost Experts on Whoopee Cushions and Silly Putty Tell All.”

* Boy’s Life

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As we ponder pranks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that Doogie Howser, M.D. ended it’s fourth and final season.  Created by Stephen Bochco and David E. Kelley (both rather better known for police, legal, and medical procedural dramas like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Chicago Hope, and Boston Legal), the series featured Neil Patrick Harris as the youngest doctor in America (“can’t buy beer… [but] can prescribe drugs”)… with a best friend– “Vinnie Delpino”– who was pretty surely a customer of Johnson Smith.

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Doogie and Vinnie

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Written by LW

March 24, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween”*…

 

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With an eye to Thursday’s festivities, a collection of photos, circa 1897-1918, of children (from the Bronx) dressed as ghosts: “Costume.”

* Douglas Coupland

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As we give face to our fears, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that CBS premiered It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  it was the third Peanuts special (and second holiday-themed special, following A Charlie Brown Christmas) to be produced and animated by Bill Melendez.  It was also the first Peanuts special to use the titular pattern of a short phrase, followed by “Charlie Brown”, a pattern which would remain the norm for almost all subsequent Peanuts specials.  And it was one of 17 Peanuts specials (plus a feature film) to feature the music of Vince Guaraldi.

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Written by LW

October 27, 2019 at 1:01 am

“By reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events”*…

 

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In the Regency era (early 1800s), live theater was so popular that it regularly inspired riots. In 1809, when the Covent Garden Theater tried to raise ticket prices, audiences were so incensed that they revolted. For more than two months straight, they shouted, shook rattles, rung bells, and even brought pigs into the theater to drown out the actors. The protest was successful, and the administration gave up on the price hike.

Meanwhile, crowds packed into the “blood tubs,” unofficial performances held in abandoned warehouses and holes dug into the ground. The typical fare included lewd songs, dramatizations of shocking local crimes, and twenty-minute abridgements of Shakespeare. The shows changed so frequently that the actors tended to make up the stories as they went along. The theaters were unlicensed, meaning that both audiences and actors risked imprisonment for participating. Nonetheless, the blood tubs were so popular that they sometimes gave as many as six performances a day to audiences of hundreds, most of them children.

Clearly, people were hungry for entertainment. And in this time before Netflix and YouTube, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring entertainment into the home: paper theaters. For “one penny plain, two cents colored,” you got a tiny cardboard stage about the size of a paperback book, complete with a proscenium arch, curtains, and sometimes even a paper audience. The characters were laid out on sheets of paper, frozen in dramatic poses: villains brandish revolvers capped with clouds of gunpowder, jolly sailors hook arms and dance, clowns emerge from barrels…

This short-lived children’s toy left… an enduring cultural legacy. Before Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, before Jean Cocteau directed his iconic, dreamlike Beauty and the Beast, before Wagner composed his Ring Cycle, they each acted out their big stories on these tiny stages. As the literary scholar Monica Cohens points out, Stevenson’s Treasure Island reads almost like a paper-theater drama writ large. Pirates were an unshakeable cliché of Victorian melodrama, and the grim tales of cruelty and violence that featured on the Victorian stage were brightened into candy colors in their miniature theater editions. Likewise, Stevenson’s dashing pirates come to us filtered through a sunny lens…

In the nineteenth century, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring theater into the home.  An appreciation of the Dungeons and Dragons of its day: “Paper Theaters: The Home Entertainment of Yesteryear.”

* G. K. Chesterton

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As we revel in role-playing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1951 that I Love Lucy premiered on CBS.  The chronicle of Lucy Ricardo’s (Lucille Ball’s) efforts to break into show business alongside her bandleader husband Desi (Desi Arnaz) via schemes hatched with her neighbors (William Frawley and Vivian Vance), it ran for six seasons, 180 episodes, it became the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and it was the first to end its run atop the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998).

A pioneer– it was the first scripted show shot in 35mm, the first ensemble cast, the first “three camera” scripted production– it created the template for sit-coms to come.  It won five Emmys and is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the ‘Best TV Show of All Time’ in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine.

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Written by LW

October 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

“God has no religion”*…

 

Ghostly figure leaving the interior of Sanahin Monastery, Debed Canyon, Armenia

 

The idea of American exceptionalism has become so dubious that much of its modern usage is merely sarcastic. But when it comes to religion, Americans really are exceptional. No rich country prays nearly as much as the U.S, and no country that prays as much as the U.S. is nearly as rich.

America’s unique synthesis of wealth and worship has puzzled international observers and foiled their grandest theories of a global secular takeover. In the late 19th century, an array of celebrity philosophers—the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud—proclaimed the death of God, and predicted that atheism would follow scientific discovery and modernity in the West, sure as smoke follows fire.

Stubbornly pious Americans threw a wrench in the secularization thesis. Deep into the 20th century, more than nine in 10 Americans said they believed in God and belonged to an organized religion, with the great majority of them calling themselves Christian. That number held steady—through the sexual-revolution ’60s, through the rootless and anxious ’70s, and through the “greed is good” ’80s.

But in the early 1990s, the historical tether between American identity and faith snapped. Religious non-affiliation in the U.S. started to rise—and rise, and rise. By the early 2000s, the share of Americans who said they didn’t associate with any established religion (also known as “nones”) had doubled. By the 2010s, this grab bag of atheists, agnostics, and spiritual dabblers had tripled in size.

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History does not often give the satisfaction of a sudden and lasting turning point. History tends to unfold in messy cycles—actions and reactions, revolutions and counterrevolutions—and even semipermanent changes are subtle and glacial. But the rise of religious non-affiliation in America looks like one of those rare historical moments that is neither slow, nor subtle, nor cyclical. You might call it exceptional.

The obvious question for anybody who spends at least two seconds looking at the graph above is: What the hell happened around 1990?

One theory, compellingly explained, at “Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?

* Mahatma Gandhi

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As we contemplate creeds, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 (one year to the day after the debut of The Huckleberry Hound Show) that The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS.  An anthology series created (and hosted and frequently written) by the remarkable Rod Serling, it features near the top of the “best series” lists of TV Guide, Rolling Stone, and others, and was ranked (in 2013) by the Writers’ Guild as the third best-written show ever.

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Written by LW

October 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

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