Saturday, April 19, 2014

Organic vs. nonorganic TV love interests

"Big Bang Theory" has this in common with "MASH:" Neither were hits until they went into syndication (or in "Big Bang's" case syndication and heavy rotation on TBS.). Once audiences got hooked on these really great shows, they turned to the network for original episodes.

(Getting off the topic of my post for a second: The ironic thing is "Big Bang" deserves the attention, it's a much funnier show now than it was in its first season. "MASH" on the other hand got worse and worse, and the characters more shrill and forced with each progressive season. As the ratings went up, it got more preachy and less funny).

Back on topic: When a show runs a long time though it's necessary to bring in a love interest for the main or main characters. There's two ways to go about this, organic and nonorganic. "Big Bang" did it organically. Several girlfriends have come and gone, and neither Mayiam Bialyk nor Melissa Rauch were supposed to become regulars, yet, they were so good, and their characters were so funny, they just had to become full-timers. It was organic.

Another good example of this is Kelsey Grammer in "Cheers." Once again, he was never supposed to be a regular. Yet his character served as such a great elite snobby counterweight to the blue collar regulars, they had to keep him. That and he nails every line.

(Another leap off topic: watch his first season of "Cheers" and the first season of "Frasier" and you'll see that while Grammar toned down the fussbudget intellectualism, David Hyde Pierce picked it up. Pierce is playing Frasier from his first season on "Cheers.")

So what's an example of nonorganic?

Fonzie's girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero.

The show had been on for years, Fonzie was the center of a cultural phenomenon; the producers, having run out of story ideas long ago, decided Fonzie needed a girlfriend.

The press was alerted.

They would hold nationwide auditions. The character would be cool and tough enough to go head to head with the Fonz. ABC kept this story alive in the newspapers the summer before the season premier.
Roz Kelly would be the lucky (not really) actress. Publicity pictures were released.

And…it sucked.

No one liked her, no one liked her character, it seemed forced, and after a few episodes she was promptly forgotten.

This is of course hindsight talking, but they should done what "Big Bang" would later do and have given him a different girlfriend every six episodes and hire full-time the one that clicked with the cast and America.

Can you have a character who's too organic?

Yes. Michael J. Fox's Alex on "Family Ties" was the Fonzie of the '80s. Like Henry Winkler, he was never supposed to be the star of his show, but by shear talent and charisma they both became the breakout stars. After several years though, the producers knew he needed a girlfriend too. And they got Tracy Pollan. The character didn't necessarily become a hit with the viewers, but Michael J. Fox liked the actress enough to marry her, she quit the show, and was replaced with Courtney Cox.

That's an example of too organic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book review: Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin

Who better to write a biography of Johnny Carson than Carson's own fixer. For nearly 20 years Bushkin was the guy Johnny called in the middle of the night to help him hide the bodies. Not literally, but when he was in a jam … bad contract, bad marriage, bad obligation (professional or personal) Bushkin was the guy who did the dirty work.

We get some glimpse of one of the most private men of the 20th century; he was a mean drunk, a serial womanizer, and had so much animosity to his own mom that he skipped her funeral; but little else really. There's little about the day-to-day business of the Tonight Show (Bushkin prided him self on keeping his mouth shut when at tapings), and more on the contract negotiations, playing chicken with NBC, and trips to Europe, which he enjoyed because he could walk down the street and be unbothered by fans.

If you ever envied the job of being Johnny Carson, this book might set you straight. He had millions of dollars but an equal number of people in his strata with their hand out. He had wives and mistresses, but in the end, he died alone. He ultimately cut off all real and for-pay friends.

There's a funny passage about how he had no respect at all for Fred Silverman and his programming skills (fair enough, though he made genius decisions at CBS and ABC, his programs at  NBC were at best head-scratching ("Pink Lady & Jeff"). Then when Carson got a big contract to produce shows for NBC, he could do no better.

In the end, Bushkin describes their professional and personal break-up in the sketchiest of terms. One leaves with the feeling there was something much bigger going on than the explanation he gave.

Despite the gaps, it's still a must-read for fans.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Film review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

What a fun time at the movies. It starts out strong and loses a little momentum once it hits Florence, but there's enough going on to keep grown-ups, their children, and fans of the original TV show happy. No fidgeting from my 6 year old.

And the best part is: No princesses!

The standout: Patrick Warburton as Agememnon; he gives a little two-minute rant which will keep you laughing the whole time.

The stumble: Their solution to the character-showing-up-twice-in-same-time conundrum disturbed my son. This has been a problem since "Back to the Future." DC Comics in the '60s had the right idea. It cannot be done!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The difference between American, British tragedies

In American films, it's the athlete who gets the incurable disease:

In British movies it's always a musician, poet, or painter

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mirror Images

All of these antenna-TV stations have me glued to watching too much '70s TV. Or in this case, revisiting childhood faves. I just caught the "Seven Million Dollar Man" episode of "The Six Million Dollar Man." I loved that episode as a kid, and I was surprised how well it holds up. Monte Markham plays a man even more bionic than Lee Majors. When the power goes to his head, Steve Austin must bring in someone who's a virtual twin, but even moreso.

This is a great concept in science and fantasy fiction. The hero must defeat someone with all the special abilities he has. In many ways it's more difficult than battling giant robots or evil scientists. How do you beat someone who has everything you have?

You could easily dismiss it as cheesy 70s stuff, but this is not a new concept. It probably goes back to Greek mythology, but if you want to look a little closer, look at General Zod from Superman comics and two of his films. Zod is a Kryptonian survivor, just as powerful as Superman in every way, but evil!

More recently, look at the "Faith" story arc from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Another slayer who is Buffy's match. How do you  take her down?

Does this only apply to the fantasy genre?

No. Watch "Magnum Force." Dirty Harry must battle a squad of renegade cops all ideologically the same as Harry. See, story wise, nothing's really new and it can be applied to every genre.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

a sad website

Over at the MGM site, they're marking the company's 90th anniversary. It amazes me that for nearly a century people have been going to the movies, seeing the MGM lion,  and getting the pavlovian expectation that the next two hours would be amazing. (It still gives me chills).

But… after some hard times, crazy debt, mismanagement, and many corporate takeovers, MGM no longer owns its own classics. Nor its famed studios. It's just an office now, really. 

After Turner bought it, stripped it of its films and spit out the bones, MGM went on its own buying spree. It bought the libraries of the then-recently defunct United Artists, Orion Pictures and some lesser lights (I'm looking at you American International).

So, its website congratulating itself for its vast history features the James Bond, Pink Panther and Rocky franchises … all United Artists creations.

So sad, the company that gave us "The Wizard of Oz," "Gone with the Wind," and "The Thin Man" series, no longer has bragging rights to these classics.

Back in 1990 when Apple unwisely gave the boot to genius founder Steve Jobs, he created the NeXT computer company, and after reading about it, I really really wanted a NeXT computer. This would be an impossibility at the time because they were going for $10,000! Ultimately NeXT went under, Apple bought its OS, and brought back its founder, and years later, I bought a NeXT on eBay at the discount price of $250.

I hope to one day purchase MGM the same way.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Film Review: American Hustle

The actors read the script and started salivating: Oscar Bait! It's a sting movie, but the sting is secondary to the characters and the actors. Wigs, accents, playing way against type, all the actors are in it 110%.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play desperate low-class grifters who get sucked in by FBI agent  Bradley Cooper to pull off an Abscam-like con on politicians and other bigger fish. As the marks get bigger, and personal relationships intensify, everyone is soon in over their heads.

The story takes a while to unfold, but once things get rolling, they get funnier, and there's a great surprise cameo in which the perfect actor gets the perfect part.

And Jennifer Lawrence will get an Oscar.

Its only faults are it might run 10 minutes too long, and an over-reliance on 70s hair sight gags.

Speaking of cameos, keep an eye open for Anthony Zerbe and Colleen Camp.