Turn That Thing Off

Radio and video - enjoying the programs and the gadgets.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Come On Down: The Next Generation Of Game Show Hosts

Who can possibly replace Bob Barker as host of The Price Is Right?

Relax. There are so many ways to go with this.

Barker only just announced his retirement, but it's already rumored in the New York Daily News that Dave Price, the weatherman for CBS' The Early Show, will get the TPIR hosting job on top of his existing job.

If that happens, it's history repeating itself. Wheel of Fortune's Pat Sajak (another possible candidate for TPIR) was a happy talking weatherguy at KNBC-TV in Los Angeles when game show producer (and former game & talk show host) Merv Griffin discovered Sajak.

Game show hosts come from all over the place. Local TV, radio, comedy clubs. Disgraced former members of Congress. Who would have thought Howie Mandel could, in any way, shape or form, be of any use to NBC? Right now, hosting Deal or No Deal, he's the one thing they have that seems to be working.

Here's my off-the-top-of-my-head picks of names you've probably heard of to replace Barker at The Price Is Right:

Rikki Lake. She's auditioned for the job, in a sense, in a summer replacement game show medley that ran on CBS prime time a few months ago. And she did pretty well.

Chuck Woolery. Here's an old-school experienced-hand-at-game-shows pick. Probably too old to get the gig (he's 66) although he's still working and his experience (Wheel of Fortune, Love Connection, Lingo, Greed) makes him a safe, high recognition-factor pick.

Paula Poundstone. Damned funny, perfect attitude and sense of humor for game shows. A bout with alcoholism that led to felony child endangerment charges is history. Veteran panelist of a To Tell The Truth revival in 2000 and the ongoing radio game show Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.

Tim Allen. Just because he does the occasional Disney movie, he is not too big a star. At 51 I think he'd be smart to get on this train and ride it for a good 20 years or so. (Allen's former co-star on Home Improvement, Richard Karn, has done a decent job hosting a Family Feud revival, but I don't think he quite makes the "A" list for game show hosts.)

Donny Osmond. He did a revival of Pyramid a couple years back - pretty well. He turns 49 this year, got a lot of game show years left in him.

But who needs a name? A relative no-name like a Dave Price has as much chance as someone with a name to make a successful run at this. Just ask Pat Sajak.

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Charlie Brown" At Fifty: Peter Robbins

It's the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast of "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown".

Charles Schulz's cartoon creations are deservedly iconic, and the TV adaptations turned out tremendously well - better than anyone could have expected, given the TV networks' hit-and-miss track record.

Check out NPR's mini-profile of Peter Robbins, the kid actor who was the first voice of Charlie Brown. He was 9 years old when he did the first one, "A Charlie Brown Christmas". His performance in "Great Pumpkin" is highlighted by his failure at trick or treat - while everyone else got candy, he'd look in his bag and say, "I got a rock."

Usually in cartoons, children's voices have been portrayed by adult actors like Daws Butler ("Elroy Jetson") and Walter Tetley ("Sherman" opposite Mr. Peabody). So it was radical to hear real kids doing kids' voices in a cartoon. But Robbins' voice was spot-on, and absolutely as Charlie Brownish as you could get.

I remembered that voice when I saw Robbins show up on episodes of TV shows like F Troop, The Munsters, and Get Smart. His IMDb listing credits him with appearances on less memorable shows like Love on a Rooftop and the Mervyn LeRoy thriller flick Moment to Moment (1965).

When his voice changed around 1970, he stopped doing Charlie Brown's voice, and he's had no more TV or movie acting credits since.

Now look at him. He's now 50 years old, managing real estate in the San Fernando Valley. To me his face looks just like Charlie Brown, if he'd ever been allowed to grow up. He has no kids of his own, but he says he gets a kick out of his friends' kids, when they talk about how "Uncle Pete was the voice of Charlie Brown."

Amongst the horror stories you hear about the lives of some child actors, some of them seemed to have had a wonderful time doing it, like Peter Robbins. And few actors, child or adult, have left the kind of impression on millions of kids, and now adults, that his work as the voice of Charlie Brown has.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Let's Turn To An Expert On Treatment Of Prisoners: Ahhh, Colonel Hogan!

The political debate between the President and Congress over the treatment of combatants and allowable interrogation techniques boiled over this week. Much of the whoop-de-doo centered around the "Geneva Convention".

It's safe to say that a large portion of the U.S. population has a very limited knowledge of the Geneva Convention. For those of us born between 1950 and 1980, our introduction to this multinational agreement dealing in part to the treatment of prisoners of war did not come from history class. It came from the mouth of Colonel Hogan on episodes of the CBS 60s sitcom Hogan's Heroes. (The TV show's fan site even includes a link to the text.)

Considering that the show's make-fun-of-the-Nazis theme was pretty roundly criticized when the show was made, it's amazing how successful the show became, and how memorable it is. Remember, this show premiered 40 years ago.

References to the Geneva Convention and the show's POW themes have been invoked repeatedly in the last year or two - notably by Rich Lowry in the National Review, referring to "Hogan's Heroes" treatment for detainees.

Claudia Rosett in the Wall Street Journal posed the debate over prisoner treatment at Guantanamo as a campaign for Red Cross-provided care packages and niceties for prisoners - remember how Hogan used to argue for an extra hour of electricity, which he no doubt used to conduct more secret espionage against his clueless Nazi captors?

It's fascinating how this show is used as a talking point both for and against the Geneva Convention. H. Wayne Elliott suggests straightfaced in his Crimes of War project that Hogan's Heroes is an illustration of the third Geneva Convention at work, protecting the rights of prisoners. (Never mind that the third Convention wasn't actually in force until after WW II.)

But the basic premise of Hogan's Heroes seems to argue for overturning or ignoring the Convention. Hogan and his fellow prisoners were conducting espionage, blowing up bridges, funneling escapees out of Germany - arguably because the Germans were treating the Americans humanely enough to allow them to get away with it! If the Germans had thrown Hogan's troop into Guantanamo-style accomodations, they'd have no chance to dig tunnels or wire up shortwave radios or bug Colonel Klink's office.

I'm not taking sides in the political argument here. I'm just pointing out that how amazing it is that a sitcom played for laughs four decades ago, filled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies (like the Germans speaking English all the time) gets this kind of continuing political and journalistic attention. TV And Stuff believes the show is a treasure trove of knowledge about life in Germany and WW II. The Germans themselves have had a love/hate relationship with the show - currently, it's very popular there. Reminiscent of Mel Brooks' Springtime for Hitler idea, Hogan's Heroes was based on a tasteless-sounding concept - and became a smash hit.

To me, the main reason the show was so memorable was the casting - Sgt. Schultz (John Banner) and Col. Klink (Werner Klemperer) were incredibly funny. (Years later, Klink's occasional appearances in dream sequences of The Simpsons, voiced by Klemperer, are hilarious.)

Check out the DVD collections available of the first four seasons of the show - especially the second and third season packages, which include extras like bloopers and episode commentaries.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Katie, You're Doing A Heck Of A Job

As Katie Couric's CBS Evening News ratings sank back into 3rd place Monday night, it must be reassuring for her to hear the kind words of CBS Corp. President & CEO Les Moonves.

Here's what Moonves told Charlie Rose:

"We've been in last place in the news for well over a decade, and now we're competitive. That's all I can ask for."

It is? That's all he can ask for? For a salary of $15 million a year, that's all he's expecting? If I were a shareholder of CBS, I'd expect a little more.

Come on.

At her current salary level, and an audience of about 7.5 million, Katie is making about $2 per viewer. If her dollars-per-viewer ratio approaches $3, look out.

I know, it's still early. It takes a month or two or three or more, for a new broadcast to shake out and for the audience to decide what to make of it. We'll see if the NBC then ABC then CBS evening news pecking order is still the same by the end of this year.

Putting the 'BS in CBS

Meanwhile, Katie Couric is still having fun (fun?) with suggestions for what clever phrase to use to sign off each night. So are lots of other bloggers. My good friend (and I mean that) at WendellWit offered a comprehensive collection including some of his own, such as, "I'm Katie Couric, and that may, or may not, have been the news."

When David Letterman weighed in on this last Monday, his list of suggested Couric signoffs included one in a similar vein: "Three of tonight's stories were fake. Write in if you think you know which ones.”

During Couric's broadcast Tuesday night, she repeated some of Letterman's list, but left out ones that suggested there were any fake news stories.

Fake news stories - that was Dan Rather's trademark, right? Or was it Dateline NBC's? I forget.

P.S. The entire Letterman "suggested Couric signoffs" list:
-- Save us, Superman
-- Suck on that, losers
-- Well, I’m off to the dog track
-- Three of tonight’s stories were fake. Write in if you think you know which ones
-- I’m gonna go get my freak on
-- Good night and get laid
-- Peace out, bitches
-- All you creepy old guys can put your pants back on
-- I’m Katie Couric, I'm gonna go get me some ribs
-- That’s the deal, Lucille
-- Next stop, Margaritaville
-- Oh, Lordy, I gots the news fever
-- Keep it real, pimps and ho’s
-- Let’s turn this mother out again tomorrow
-- Here, kitty kitty kitty
-- Keep feelin’ the funk
-- Til tomorrow, morons
-- Big up to my peeps in lockdown
-- Return to your sad little lives
-- From me to you, suck it
-- Putting the 'BS’ in CBS

[via Late Show with David Letterman]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Say Good Night, Katie

Katie, you're soooo precious. Who else can go from a perky "Hi, everyone!" greeting, straight to the war in Afghanistan?

Katie Couric accomplished one thing on her CBS Evening News debut tonight: She was true to herself. She didn't try to be anyone else, although I think she was trying hard not to be an overly serious network anchorperson. Result: she smiled a lot.

The total broadcast wasn't quite like anything else in TV news. It was a little of everything.

The opening package on the war in Afghanistan was long and thoughtful; 60 Minutes-ish. Katie's interview on terrorism with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman would have suited a serious segment on the Today Show.

Then there was a puny headline segment with quick items about Ford's CEO resigning and the death of Steve Irwin - either or both of which might have been worth more time and coverage. Reminded me of Fox's "Around the World in 80 Seconds" feature, only much quicker.

Anthony Mason's segment on oil took us back to long and thoughtful, like something you'd see on the the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

The "Free Speech" segment had Morgan Spurlock (the filmmaker who created "Supersize Me") complaining that news is becoming too combative - too much like professional wrestling. But the segment didn't "play" seriously. This wasn't like Eric Sevareid (remember him?) editorializing; it came off too much like a bogus commentary on The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live. Or like Johnny Carson's Floyd R. Turbo.

Then we got: baby pictures of Suri Cruise, Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes' kid. The kind of breathless exclusive we'd expect from Entertainment Tonight or Access: Hollywood.

At the end, Katie played a series of clips of newsmen, real and fictional, signing off.. from Ed Murrow to Walter Cronkite, from Ted Baxter to Ron Burgundy. Then Katie said she just couldn't decide how she wanted to sign off herself, and would we please email her suggestions.

That's Katie being Katie. That's what CBS paid $15 a million a year for her to do. Precious.

Tonight, I thought the broadcast as a whole was incredibly slick - and better than Katie herself was. But give her a week, or maybe 13 weeks, for her to settle into a rhythm.

If you think Fox News is news-as-entertainment, The Daily Katie Show could definitely outfox Fox over the long haul.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Daily Katie Show: Outfoxing Fox?

If the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric doesn't bring the network a permanent ratings boost, it won't be for lack of trying.

In its opening week, there will reportedly be appearances by Presidents Bush and Clinton, Walter Cronkite, and.. Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh?

Other guests slated to appear early on include Rudy Giuliani and Bill Maher. Bill Maher??

Some of these appearances may be "guest editorials". Other guests will probably do one-on-one sitdowns with Katie that will look very much like Katie's segments on the Today show. Or even a little like segments that Bill O'Reilly would do on the Factor.

Or maybe like Jon Stewart would do on The Daily Show.

The producers of the new CBS Evening News undoubtedly are thinking about the Today show, Fox News, and Comedy Central in terms of the kind of buzz they'd like to generate, particularly among 18-49 year old viewers.

But keep in mind that Fox News and Comedy Central, successful in the cable TV universe, still don't generate the kind of national ratings numbers that the broadcast network news shows want to generate. Neither does Rush Limbaugh's radio show, as popular as it is.

Give CBS credit for ginning up the publicity for Katie's debut tomorrow. But will it be enough to get people to try it? And if we try it, will we like it?

All depends on what "it" turns out to be.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Boldly Going Hi-Def: Star Trek Remastered With New CGI Effects

Years ago, Ted Turner thought he'd hit on a brilliant idea: colorizing old movies. He dreamed of taking classic films like Casablanca (which he had bought as part of Warner's film library) and making them "new" again with computer-generated color.

It was a dud of an idea. Remaking black and white films in color loused them up. Turner realized that pretty quickly and gave up on it.

Fast forward to 1997, when George Lucas started remastering some of his Star Wars films - and added new computer generated effects - effects which weren't possible when the films were first made. Remaking films this way sometimes amounts to remaking history - witness the "Han Shot First" controversy.

So in 2006 Paramount is about to remake some of its own history. It's going to remaster the entire Star Trek franchise, all the way back to the original Shatner TV episodes, in high definition. And as Lucas did with Star Wars, Paramount is going to update some of the TV series' special effects, using computer generated effects that didn't exist when the series was made.

How will Trekkies react? Will the use of 21st century technology to spruce up the mid-20th century film prints make purists upset? There was a certain, how do you say it - cheesiness? - to the original effects that gave the show a distinctive feel. (When Desilu began the series in 1966, its budgets per episode were high compared to other shows, but it would've taken a lot more money to do motion picture-quality effects even for that time.)

Another important question: Will high definition make William Shatner's Captain Kirk look even less buff? Are there enough CGI experts at Paramount to remaster Shatner's body, frame by frame? Doing that would probably be more than a "five year mission".