Monday, April 30, 2012

My Appreciation of Charles Bronson

USA Today did a nice tribute to Charles Bronson in this September 1, 2003 article. Bronson had passed away on August 30, 2003 at the age of 81. The actor had been suffering from pneumonia and Alzheimer's Disease. I am not aware of when the Alzheimer's Disease was diagnosed but I can say his final film was the made-for-TV offering, "Family of Cops, III", which aired in 1999. Bronson, having been born in 1921, was 78 that year. I first heard of Charles Bronson through my grandparents. In the mid '80s VHS video was on the cusp of becoming a mega money maker as people were buying or renting movies on video to watch in the comfort of their homes rather than venturing out to a theater. There was also movie channels available, too, but most of the time those movie channels didn't get a contemporary movie on their line-up until nearly a year after it was released. Some movies, after their theatrical run ended, would go directly to home video...and later make their way to television airing.

My grandparent's rented videos every weekend...and quite a few were Charles Bronson movies. As a child in the '80s I didn't comprehend a lot of what I was seeing...but as time went on I'd catch a Bronson movie airing on TBS or the USA Network all through the '90s and I would often watch it. Fast-forward quite a few years later...the early 2000's specifically. I started to revisit the Bronson movies I had seen as a kid and a teenager by purchasing video tapes of his films...those that were available at the video store. I was not on-line at that point in time and so I didn't have the advantages of an Amazon or an I could only purchase what was available on the video rack.

Once I got on the internet I came across a video store that specialized in getting hard to find VHS tapes. I had a list of Charles Bronson movies that I'd copied off a web-site at the time and I used it as a check-list. I didn't end up getting a lot of his movies because some of them hadn't even been issued on VHS and therefore were unavailable. The new item at the time, the DVD, was still way too expensive and that's why I was still buying video tapes as late as 2005!!  As I was saying I only ended up getting just a handful of his movies on video tape and I taped quite a few off of movie channels.

I happen to like Charles Bronson's movies...and I appreciate the talents that I felt he had. Nobody could set a mood like he could...and often times he didn't have to say a word! He had that look...and I know that's a cliché...but he really did. He could turn his head a certain way, get that look on his face, and it would convey a lot more emotion than words perhaps could have. Also, he had a certain smirk...often seen whenever his character felt he was pulling one over on somebody or if he was at the receiving end of a lecture from a superior officer (such as in the string of vigilante-type films that I absolutely LOVE!!). He'd give that smirk and you, as a viewer, could sense that Bronson's character was letting the lecture go in one ear and out the other. Although widely known for those vigilante movies, he did star or co-star in his fair share of Westerns, Military epics, and melodramas, too.

If you look at his filmography you'll see that every year or every other year, up until the late '70s, he'd be featured in one of those kind of movies. He appeared, and or, starred in "The Dirty Dozen", "The Great Escape", and "The Magnificent Seven" as well as "4 For Texas", "Guns for San Sebastian", "Chato's Land", "The White Buffalo", "You Can't Win 'Em All", "Guns of Diablo", "Villa Rides", "Red Sun", "From Noon till Three", "Breakheart Pass", and "Once Upon a Time in the West".

In the internet and DVD age his earlier movies have become just as synonymous with Bronson as the ones that he became well known for in America. The irony of all of this is Charles Bronson was born in Pennsylvania...right here in the United States of America. His birth name was Charles Buchinsky and he went by that name for a period of years in his early movies until the name was changed to Bronson. Given his body type...the athletic/muscular could've easily spelled his new name as 'Brawnson' instead of 'Bronson'.

Anyone can look his movies up on You Tube or better yet, purchase them on Amazon or other on-line stores, but those not familiar with his body of work will be surprised by how talented he truly was considering that, in his latter career, movie critics would have you believe that his contemporary films weren't worth watching...but I liked the movies of his that I've seen so far. In this image it's "Family of Cops, 3: Under Suspicion", from January 1999. The Made-for-TV movie was filmed in 1998 and it's his final starring role. The series of films started in 1995 as "A Family of Cops" and the first sequel aired in 1997, "Breach of Faith: A Family of Cops, 2" which was filmed in 1996. As mentioned, the final installment was in production in 1998, the year he retired from acting following hip-replacement surgery. I taped several of his movies off of TV, as I mentioned earlier. The movies I taped off of TV were: "The Evil That Men Do", "The Stone Killer", "Telefon", "Death Wish, 2", "Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects", "Borderline", and "Murphy's Law". I saw "Breakout" on television but didn't tape it...the same goes for "Mr. Majestyk" and "Death Hunt". I didn't have a blank video tape at the time!! I have "Messenger of Death" and "Cold Sweat" on DVD. In the latter film Bronson's co-star is James Mason. Lee Marvin is Bronson's co-star in "Death Hunt". As you saw earlier, I have "Death Wish" on home video...I purchased it at a local video store which has been out of business for years. That particular movie pushed Charles Bronson into super-star status and it spawned 4 equally great sequels. The sequels began in the '80s with the arrival of "Death Wish, 2" in 1982, "Death Wish, 3" in 1985, and "Death Wish, 4: The Crackdown" in 1987. The fourth sequel arrived seven years later in 1994, "Death Wish, 5: The Face of Death". These are the films that most people think of when Charles Bronson's name is mentioned. Although there were just 5 Death Wish films made, critics and detractors alike often jokingly claim that there were hundreds of Death Wish films made, but only 5 escaped and made it to theaters. The Death Wish series isn't as long as other franchises, though. How many Police Academy films were made? I think there were seven altogether!? There were many Star Trek films (sequels and prequels)...the same goes for the Indiana Jones franchise, the Harry Potter franchise, the James Bond franchise...but the short 5-part Death Wish franchise remains vilified pretty much. It makes no sense to me. 

In this image there are the videos of "10 To Midnight" and "Assassination", from 1984 and 1987 respectively. These films come at the peak of what I call his vigilante film success...even though the 1987 film features Bronson as a Secret Service agent protecting the wife of the President. Bronson's wife, Jill Ireland, co-starred in more than a dozen of her husband's movies. The 1984 film is wonderful, too! The thing that's perhaps satisfying to many Charles Bronson fans is despite the venom that movie critics had for much of these kind of films, the public had their say. If you check the box-office tallies for pretty much all of the Bronson films that had lots of action, adventure, and violence you'd see that the movies raked in millions upon millions at the box-office...turning a substantial profit. In addition to the box-office sales there was profitability in the home video market...I don't have any official numbers to quote but it's easy to assume that Bronson's commercially successful movies were popular video rentals at that point in time...I came across those two movies from that site I wrote of earlier that specialized in hard to find films. It's also the site where I purchased "Caboblanco", which an image of that particular film is located at the end of the blog entry.

In the previous paragraph I mentioned that critics spewed venom by this point in Bronson's career. Movie critics began to be dismissive of his films somewhere around the mid '70s onward...I've looked through archived movie reviews from the late '70s and the '80s throughout the last number of years and have seen the kinds of slings and arrows that they'd shoot at his movies. The reviews really started to turn ugly by the mid '80s. As I mentioned earlier, I appreciate Charles Bronson's films...and it did annoy me when I'd read scathing reviews of movies that I happen to enjoy watching. As I've always said, critics do not influence my movie-watching or music-listening habits...which is why I consider myself an enthusiast, not an amateur critic. In the image below, I am shown with the video tape of "Caboblanco", an incredibly obscure 1980 movie starring Charles Bronson. Jason Robards co-stars. I had to take the picture with the side of the cover showing more prominence because the yellow lettering of the title on the front, against the white background, didn't show up that great in the first picture I took. Critics described this particular film as a remake of "Casablanca" and regardless of whether that's true or not, Charles Bronson's the main attraction...he's the star and that's who the viewers who saw this film the first time around ultimately spent their money to see. He really did have that kind of impact.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hee-Haw: 1969-1992, Part Fourteen...

Well, good Wednesday afternoon!! I came across an article about Hee-Haw that was published on February 27th this's a lengthy, respectful write-up/article about the show as a whole. The article, as I found out when I read the entire thing, was originally written in early January of 2011, though! It's still a good article. I didn't research my previous Hee-Haw blog entries to see if I'd posted a link to that particular article or not and so I'm going to post the link in this blog entry. The article appears on a site called thislandpress and the article's written by an author named Jeff Martin.

You can read the article here: Why Hee Haw Still Matters.

I hesitate to embed Hee-Haw videos on my blog pages due to the ever-changing availability of them through the course of time. I did a blog entry a couple of years back and embedded quite a few You Tube videos of the show...only to visit the blog several weeks later to find the videos unavailable for play-back. Either the video's uploader had removed them from public display (disabling the embedding feature) or they were taken down by the uploader for whatever reason. When this happens it creates a void for any blog entry that embeds a video clip...once the centerpiece of a blog entry is removed (such as an embedded video) then the blog entry itself makes little sense.

Anyway...that's a big reason why I don't embed too many videos anymore in my blogs. However, I'm going to break my unwritten rule on today's blog entry and embed a video clip from the late '80s era of the show. As many blog readers of mine are aware of, I grew up watching Hee-Haw every Saturday evening in the '80s...and when it was moved to Saturday afternoons, to make way for the Saturday evening additions of a couple of game shows, I'd catch it often. So I was raised on the '80s and early '90s installments of the show. The Cowboy Quartet didn't gain as much commercial popularity as The Hee-Haw Gospel Quartet did but nevertheless The Cowboy Quartet had a recurring segment on the show in the late '80s. I came across a newer video clip of this quartet and the content is below...

As you can see from the video, this is one of the final episodes of the rural format. I have no idea, though, when it was originally aired but I see that Jeff Smith is among the singers. At the start of the clip you'll see the last few seconds of a Gailard Sartain sketch where he played an owner of a flea market ever trying to break into the music business...but the camera would always pull away every time he'd whip out his guitar. Cathy Baker introduces the Quartet. Judging by the appearances of the cast-members (physical appearances, hairstyles) it looks as if this clip comes from the 1989-1990 or 1990-1991 season.

As I commented on in the previous Hee-Haw blog entries I've written, the reruns that TNN and later, CMT, aired of the show were mostly from the '80s and a precious few from the final 1990-1991 rural season. TNN once aired the Alan Jackson the time it was one of the few latter-day episodes of the series to be re-aired. The reason why I like to spotlight the show's mid '80s and early '90s run as much as possible is because #1 that's the era of the program I grew up seeing every weekend. I'll always have a fondness for those episodes. The second reason I like to spotlight those episodes is because I think, sometimes, those particular episodes get a bad wrap because they don't feature the core line-up as they're referred to by many, many fans of the show. That core line-up that's usually referred to often contained comics/entertainers that were no longer among the living by the late '80s: Archie Campbell, Junior Samples, Jimmy Riddle, and Kenny Price. Stringbean, one of the show's most popular earlier cast-members, was murdered in November 1973. His episodes were still airing each weekend (all of his segments had been taped in the late summer of 1973). On the show, which he'd been on since it's 1969 debut, he appeared in many banjo musical numbers and had a recurring sketch where he'd read a "letter from home". Also, he appeared as the scarecrow in the Kornfield joke segment, offering one-liners about how miserable he was having to listen to all the corny jokes. A black crow puppet was perched over his shoulder. After his murder, the new shows from 1974 onward featured a scarecrow in the Kornfield as a memorial. The black crow puppet continued to appear as before. Those earliest episodes which feature Stringbean currently air on RFD-TV.  

Meanwhile...getting back to the mid ' Buck Owens had left the program after the 1985-1986 season wrapped up...on top of that there was what the show's producer, Sam Lovullo, refers to as the great cast shake-up of 1986 which saw the exits of quite a few long-time cast-members.

When the show returned in the fall of 1986 it was considerably different, cast-wise, but there were still a lot of familiar faces as well: Roy Clark, Gordie Tapp, Gunilla Hutton, Grandpa Jones, Lulu Roman, George Lindsey, Gailard Sartain, etc. etc.  Also, the guest co-host position was introduced at the start of the 1986-1987 season. This was a popular addition but it was ultimately phased out by the start of the 1990-1991 season. In it's final season, of rural decor, Roy Clark was the sole host of the program. He was back as the host when the series returned in January 1992 in the urbanized setting under the slightly different name, The Hee-Haw Show. This was the format that aired until May 1992...which ultimately lead to the program going out of production that summer. Hee-Haw Silver premiered in the fall of 1992 and it ran through the spring of 1993. Afterwards reruns of the show began airing on The Nashville Network in the fall of 1993. Reruns continued to air on TNN on a consistent basis through 1996...and occasionally through 1997. They aired on CMT infrequently after that before the series left the airwaves entirely...popping up in a series of DVD's from Time-Life. The program returned to the airwaves, in rerun form, in 2008 on RFD-TV where it's been airing ever since.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Benny Hill...a Further Celebration...

A couple of years ago I did a blog post about a DVD release that's referred to as a Mega-Set. The collection contains comedy sketches and songs lifted from Benny Hill's television programs for Thames Television (1969-1989). The selling price is still rather high...even nearly 2 years later...but I did write a blog entry about the Mega-Set complete with the titles of each DVD installment. A and E had been releasing Benny Hill DVD's under the title of The Naughty Early Years- Benny Hill: Complete and Unadulterated. There were three volumes released with that title in the mid-late 2000's. Each DVD represented a specific time-frame. The first Volume, which I have, represents the years of 1969 through 1971. Volume 2, the other one I have, represents the years of 1972 through 1974. Two important documentaries on Benny Hill appear as extra's. On Set 1 there's the celebrity-driven tribute titled The World's Favorite Clown which features interviews and footage of Hill during his final years. On Set 2, DVD 3, there's the episode of A&E's Biography focusing on his life, career, and social impact in Europe, America, and all over the globe titled Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy. I'll post some more pics further down the blog entry. I didn't purchase any of the other DVD's in the A&E series because there was lack of publicity for them and by the time I found out that more Volumes had been released I searched for them on Amazon and the selling price was a bit too much at that point in time. Volume Four, titled The Hill's Angels Years, represents 1979 through 1981 and the selling price for that particular release is only $18.51...down considerably from it's original selling price in 2006 of $49.95. Volume Five, also titled The Hill's Angels Years, represents 1982 through 1985. This particular volume is not in stock but used copies are available for as low as $14.00. The last Volume, set 6, concentrates on the final three years, 1986-1989.

For quick reference: The first three sets are referred to The Naughty Early Years and the second three sets are called The Hill's Angels Years.

Benny Hill DVD Megaset This link will take you to my 2010 blog entry when I wrote about the then upcoming Mega-Set. I didn't post any images from my personal collection but this time around, as you can see, I decided to do so.

For a lot of people in the United States, Benny Hill didn't hit the airwaves until 1979 and when he did the show was often scheduled in a late-night slot and in some places it aired numerous times during the overnight hours. I assume a reason for this was because the program was an import from another country and another reason was that it was syndicated which left it's air-time in the lap of local stations that carried the show. I don't recall ever seeing an episode of his show any earlier than 11pm. During summer break from school I'd be a night-owl and would see his show on a couple of television stations. Each program that had aired on the same night, but on different channels, were different...a perfect example of the unique aspect of Benny's programs that aired in America. The America broadcasts were compilations of sketches that appeared originally in the television specials that Hill put together throughout the '70s and '80s. As it's been pointed out by several people more knowledgeable about television programming than I am, a typical half-hour Benny Hill program in America could feature a sketch from 1973 followed by a sketch from 1982 and then followed by a song/poem recitation from 1976. The sketches were all strung together, edited flawlessly, and presented as if it were an actual live production. Each episode would end with Benny, in character, being chased by a crowd of people to the tune of Boots Randolph's rendition of "Yakety Sax". The two VHS videos in this picture were released by HBO in the 1980's when his syndicated program in America was in it's peak. I have several more VHS tapes that HBO released but those are the first two I purchased in the late '90s from an outlet mall that specialized in selling VHS was right around the time DVD's were just starting to become the preferred choice and so a lot of the tapes were selling for incredibly low prices. I bought all my Vincent Price horror movies, well, 95% of them, from that same outlet store...but that's another topic altogether!

I purchased these particular VHS tapes because I had never seen his BBC material. These three VHS videos are filled with hilarity and show a younger Benny Hill...from the early and mid '60s...experimenting and having all kinds of fun with the recording and audio techniques of the day. He'd been doing television specials since 1951 but it wasn't until later that decade that he began appearing with more and more frequency. These VHS tapes were released in the late 1990's and a DVD set became available in 2005. One of the highlights on practically any episode is when he tackles other celebrities...from those in England to those in Canada and America. A lot of the BBC episodes feature topical humor, too, which will perhaps go over a lot of people's heads. I didn't understand quite a few of the jokes that got thunderous applause and laughter until I did some research. There's an uproariously funny parody of the American series, Bonanza, featured on one of the tapes. The parody is titled Bo-Peep. The straight-man during these BBC shows was Jeremy Hawk but because these shows weren't reran and shown all over the world he isn't as well remembered as a Benny Hill cast-member; but Jeremy Hawk was a good straight-man...he rarely, if ever, broke up on camera. I don't think Henry McGee ever cracked a bit of laughter while working in the sketches (unless it was scripted). There was a scene that takes place during breakfast and Hill, apparently ad-libbing based on McGee's reaction, quotes a line from a cereal commercial that McGee appeared on. The camera shows a glimpse of McGee in near-laughter but he pulls himself back together before completely breaking up. One of the funniest sketches among the many was an offering called 'Hotel Sordide' which had been used as the name of a couple of other sketches...but in this particular one Hill plays a French waiter in the hotel who delivers food to a couple who are obviously not husband and wife but are seeing one another in secret. Hill, whose character can hardly speak any English, ends up mixed in with the lovers spat as Henry McGee and the woman in the sketch scream at one another about cheating, affairs, poor sexual performance and stuff like that there. It's a very funny sketch and one that I assume took place in the late '70s.

A look at Hill's years at the BBC can be explored further Here. On April 20th the BBC took a look back at Hill's career on the 20th anniversary of his death. Their information can be found Here

This VHS is something that I bought because the back of the cover shown some screen shots featuring Benny in sketches that I hadn't seen at that point in time. I was way more familiar with his late '70s and early '80s sketches that were on the HBO videos...I hadn't seen the earliest of the Thames material (1969-1975) and so I purchased this VHS. I loved the sketches that I saw and it wasn't too long afterward that the A&E company began releasing their Benny Hill DVD series which I wrote about at the top of this blog entry. When I purchased the A and E set I was introduced to complete episodes of his shows. His programs ran like your standard variety show: songs, dances, comedy sketches...but I was so used to the edited sketch formula of the syndicated series in America that it was like watching a completely different show. In many episodes there would be a musical number performed by a group known as The Ladybirds. These music performances never appeared in the America broadcasts (1979-1989) and they hadn't appeared on the HBO video tapes or the one you see in the image above. So, when I saw the clips in The Best of Benny Hill tape and then the full episodes on Sets 1 and 2 of the A and E company, in addition to the 3-Volume set of the BBC material and those HBO released video tapes, I felt as if my viewing of all things Benny Hill was complete...and then came the Mega-Set in 2007...combining all the A and E DVD releases in one collection...and then that Mega-Set was re-released in 2010 with new cover art but same selling price.

In the documentaries I wrote of earlier you'll learn about Benny's childhood, his comic influences, his rise to stardom, and his personal life...and you'll hear candid commentary from his supporting cast on their experiences working on Benny's programs and working with the man himself. Since the Thames material is what's more well-known all over the world that's mostly what appears in the documentaries...with a clip or two from the BBC shows added in to highlight his earliest performances on television. Hill had a regular cast of supporting players in all of his shows. The one that gets the most attention is Jackie Wright, the Irish comedian known by millions of Benny Hill fans as the "little bald man in the Benny Hill sketches" who is forever being slapped on the head and kicked in the rear by any number of cast-members...mostly by Hill but there's been times when any number of Hill's Angels have slapped and kicked Jackie Wright, too. Often, Hill's character would do something naughty toward one of the Angel's and, in error, the Angel would take her anger out on innocent bystander, Jackie Wright.

One of the most popular sketches that would surface at various times during the Thames Television run (1969-1989) would involve Hill at a bus stop wearing a trench coat and at first glance it would appear that he was holding up a newspaper as if he's reading it. Standing in the middle of Hill and Wright, in the same bus line, would be one of the Hill's Angels. Seconds later the woman would shriek, touch her bottom as she reacted to being pinched, and because Hill's hands were supposedly occupied holding up the newspaper, the woman would slap Jackie Wright, instead. After another incident involving a female in line at the bus stop, the woman would storm off after slapping Jackie Wright. These kinds of sketches were often played in mime fashion...usually with an up-tempo instrumental playing in the background. The loud slaps and other sound-effects were inserted, obviously, for comic effect. The mime/fast-paced chase routines that appeared regularly enabled many of his skits to transcend the language barrier, too.

I don't know too much about the BBC cast other than Jeremy Hawk and Patricia Hayes appearing frequently in the programs. In some of the earliest Thames episodes Nicholas Parsons was Hill's straight-man. Henry McGee remained the permanent straight-man, though, and remained a fixture on all of Hill's subsequent programs. Bob Todd often appeared. He was the big guy who also had hardly any hair. Sue Upton and Louise English were a couple of the Hill's Angels that have become synonymous with the series...but I don't know the names of any of the others off the top of my head....but....

I came across a web-site called Benny's Place and for those who want in-depth analysis and information about all things Benny Hill as well as the names of his cast-members through the years click the following Link. Along the left side of the page you'll see pics of Benny as different characters as well as pics of other cast-members, too. 

Nicholas Parsons is still among the living and heard regularly on radio. June Whitfield, who appeared on a few of the BBC specials, is also still among the living. The main cast is no longer living. Jackie Wright passed away in January 1989 but had stopped appearing on Hill's specials in 1983. Bob Todd passed away in October of 1992. Patricia Hayes, also from the BBC era, passed away in September 1998. Jeremy Hawk passed away in January 2002. Henry McGee passed away in January 2006...     

Benny Hill passed away on April 20, 1992. This salute, used many times by Hill in his programs, is one of his most recognizable. It didn't really matter which hand he used...whether right or was sure to appear during any number of sketches revolving around his character, Fred Scuttle.   

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Resurrection of The Nashville Network

Good early Sunday morning!! The late country music channel, TNN, officially known as The Nashville Network, is being resurrected late this summer according to a myriad of on-line web-sites. The news broke a couple of days ago...but I first heard about it last night while browsing the internet looking up archival footage of TNN from the '80s.

The Nashville Network lived healthy for 17 years, 1983-2000, but it made some bad decisions and it's health deteriorated as a result. The first bad decision was the non-compete where the network dropped it's country music programming in favor of reruns of sitcoms and dramas while awaiting it's facelift. The facelift happened...ultimately leading to a new name, The National Network, but the facelift didn't help. The used goods were then re-branded as Spike TV with a completely different line-up of shows and a completely different demographic target. Now, 12 years after the TNN that I knew passed away, it's being resurrected

Now that you know the back-story, I am just a tiny bit hesitant to become over-the-top excited about the news because so little is really known about it's broadcast method and availability.

I've read some web-sites that make it sound as if this new TNN will be sort of an exclusive kind of channel where people have to, on their own, seek it out by way of paying extra for it or purchasing secondary equipment like antenna's or satellite dishes and installing them on your television sets. I've read other sites that say that the network will be available on TV sets that are digitally serviced...meaning for those who have a converter box hooked up to the TV...and even still there's a web-site which makes it sound as if the new TNN will be internet-only.

It's all confusing to me.

The official web-page, WatchTNN, shows a box where television providers can fill in their it seems as if the new TNN will only be available if a cable, and or, satellite provider agree to add it to their system.

I was hoping that there would be a launch date and then on that day we could turn on our TV sets, pull up the on-screen program guide, and browse the line-up and see that the new TNN is on our line-up... seems it isn't going to be that simple...but I wish it were!

So, hopefully my cable provider will carry this new TNN.

You can read a news release posted on the Music Row web-site here.

I hope my cable provider will carry it or I’m able to see it at some point. I have RFD-TV and I watch it for some of the country music programming. Hee-Haw currently airs on that channel every Sunday evening at 8pm Eastern and it repeats Monday mornings at 10am Eastern. I saw where “Larry’s Country Diner” will become a program on this new TNN…it currently airs on RFD-TV as well.
I’d love to see a lot of the early programs from TNN resurface again! A lot of legends were given their proper respect on that particular network and so many of them made frequent appearances on the various programs…a lot of those legends have since passed away…but it would be great if the shows from the ’80s and ’90s resurfaced!

Ralph Emery often remarked that there’s a huge audience who wants to see those shows but the powers that be continually keep the shows out of circulation…so here’s hoping the programs from that time period return to the air! Gary Beatty was the voice of TNN in my opinion (specifically during the first 10-11 years of the channels existence). He’d do show promo’s and station I.D.’s…signing the network on and off…in addition to being the announcer on Nashville Now and later a co-host on VideoPM with Kathy Martindale.

The late Archie Campbell once hosted a show called Yesteryear in Nashville and Bobby Bare had a series on the air, too. Charlie Douglas, the famed country DJ that passed away in November 2011, hosted a nostalgic program called Play It Again, Nashville. The series had left the air before I discovered TNN but I found a clip on You Tube showing Freddie Hart singing "My Hang-Up Is You" on this program...and it features Charlie Douglas, too.

A comment that caught my eye while reading various on-line news stories stated that this new TNN sounds like a second RFD-TV. 

Actually, though, RFD-TV does air it’s share of country music programming but it’s in broadcasting blocks on specific days…it’s not a wall-to-wall country music channel like The Nashville Network was during the ’80s and ’90s. RFD-TV’s actual country music programming as of 4/22/2012 consists of Hee-Haw, Crook and Chase, Pop! Goes the Country, Nashville on the Road, Larry’s Country Diner, The Porter Wagoner Show, The Marty Stuart Show, The Wilburn Brothers Show, and Heart to Heart Classics. There are a couple of shows that have what I’d call Appalachia music overtones and then there are polka music shows and other programs catering to Texas-style music as well as gospel music. 

Throughout the day usually there's livestock shows and rural lifestyle programs. Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong host an Agri-Business show. Shotgun Red, the puppet, hosts a variety program. The Nashville Network wasn't that eclectic...TNN was country music and country lifestyles. There wasn't an abundance of farm and livestock shows on TNN (except a rodeo or two hosted by Dan Miller) nor was their any polka music or auctions which RFD-TV airs along side it's country music offerings. TNN, on the weekends, aired outdoor sports shows and auto racing shows on Sunday. 

For those that don’t know, the former TNN (1983-2000) aired sports programs on Saturdays and Sundays…I think the weekends were billed as TNN Outdoors? Anyway, several of those programs featured country music personalities as hosts or participants. Porter Wagoner appeared on fishing programs on TNN as did Jerry Reed, Hank Williams Jr., and many others. Jerry Clower appeared on Roland Martin's fishing program and told some fishing stories. He did an infomercial for what was billed a Helicopter Lure and when cast it was to fly more farther than a typical lure could. Some fishermen didn't have much luck with it but some did...I guess it all depends on the time of day and if "the fish are a bitin'" as the catch-phrase goes. Research shows the product made more than $40,000,000 in sales during just one year of advertising (1995-1996). An image of this lure appears on Clower's 1995 comedy album, Fishin', Frogs, Hogs, and Dawgs. Clower won an advertising award for his appearance in the infomercial and he spoke of it on Primetime Country, a nightly program that had replaced Music City Tonight on TNN. Music City Tonight had, in turn, replaced Nashville Now in 1993.

Before American Idol and other insufferable talent shows there was the talent show You Can Be a Star hosted by country music legend Jim Ed Brown. This program, not completely insufferable due to Jim Ed's likable personality, was sort of a more down to Earth predecessor to the glitzy/glib-hip Nashville Star series, which showcased unknowns in the hopes that one day they would become future recording stars. A winner on You Can Be a Star received a recording contract from Polygram Records, a division of Mercury. The show had a panel of judges and a regular audience feature called The Stairway of Stars. There weren't any major recording artists that emerged from the series, that I recall, but if the reruns ever surface you'll see a lot of acts with big dreams...and in hindsight there may be some that appear where you may wonder why they didn't catch on along with some that leave you wondering why they even attempted a recording career. This series ran until 1989 and was later brought back with a shortened title, Be a Star, and hosted by former Sawyer Brown member, Bobby Randall. Jim Ed also hosted a travel show called Going Our Way where he and his wife drove around in an RV going from place to place taking in the sights. It was sort of like his former program, Nashville On the Road, but without the abundance of music performances. 
Another legend, Bill Anderson, hosted the game show Fandango. One of the show's memorable gimmicks was the 'talking jukebox' named Edgar. At the time Anderson was a spokesman for a chain of restaurants named after one of his hit songs, "Po' Folks", and you'd see advertisements for this restaurant pop-up from time to time...sometimes just a still picture was used showing Anderson and the restaurant's logo. There continued to be Po' Folks restaurants in business for many years after Anderson's involvement as a spokesman ended. Ironically, based on what I found out, the restaurant had used the name of Bill's song without permission which is what led to the commercial appearances in the first place. 
There were two personalities named Dan Miller that worked for TNN. There was the dark haired Dan Miller who was known by local Nashville TV viewers and radio listeners...he would eventually become a host of a series called Miller and Company on TNN. That Dan Miller has since passed away. Then there was the blond Dan Miller...he hosted the game show, Top Card, replacing original host Jim Caldwell. This Dan Miller also hosted a later game show titled 10 Seconds. The blond Dan Miller also co-hosted a rodeo program on the weekend.

The only programming of the old TNN that I wasn’t a viewer of were those dance shows. I don’t like to dance…I don’t mind hearing country songs about dancing…but dancing is something I don’t do…so I never watched the dancing shows.
In closing I just want to reiterate that I hope this new TNN becomes available to a lot of the nation and isn't just available in the southern states.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dick Clark: 1929-2012

Good early morning all you lurkers and readers of my Animated blog. As many of you know by now Dick Clark passed away yesterday, April 18th. A lot of people who are older than I am first knew of Clark as the host of the American Bandstand program beginning in 1956. The program had a series of hosts since it's debut in 1952 but obviously Clark is the one person universally identified with the program.

The technical information in this modest overview of Dick Clark's career, such as air-dates and specific titles of television programs, was obviously researched by me from multiple on-line sources as I had to look up some data for accuracy. I blended the information I found with my own commentary, opinion, and recollections and the results are what you'll read below.

I knew of Dick Clark first and foremost as the host of a game show, Pyramid. I used to watch the show when it was still in production during the 1980's. Most kids loved summer break because there was, of course, no school...and I loved the summer for that reason, too, but unlike a lot of others I also liked summer break because I could watch all those game shows that aired during the daytime!!

Yes...believe it or not...the daytime line-up through the week was filled with game shows on the big three networks and in syndication. There were game shows during the day and soap operas in the afternoons. The soap opera is now facing the extinction list on network television just as the game show did in the early '90s.

So, I first knew of Dick Clark as a game show host. As I got older I learned more about him and how much of an impact he had on pop-culture. The stats show that he hosted American Bandstand for 33 years (1956-1989) and so it's quite logical that a lot of the remembrances from people will be connected to that program. It was still a local television program when Clark became the host in 1956. It went national the following year and a huge chunk of it's run was on ABC (1957-1987) with it's final two seasons in syndication (1987-1989). A secondary program, almost similar to American Bandstand, aired in the late '50s titled Dick Clark's Saturday Night Beechnut Show. A lot of the clips of pop and rock performers taped on Clark's two programs show up a lot on infomercials. The major difference between the two shows is the Bandstand program featured a dancing format while the other one didn't.

My remembrances of him, as mentioned, are centered around Pyramid and the New Year's Rockin' Eve countdown program. I'm no fan of rock and rap music and so I wasn't a big watcher of the full New Year's Eve show...but I'd tune in around 20 minutes 'til midnight and catch the eventual ball drop in Times Square.  The program that would come to be known as Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve began on New Year's Eve 1972 with a program produced, not hosted, by Clark.

After producing two more New Year's Eve music specials (1973 and 1974), Clark became the on-camera host beginning on New Year's Eve 1975. He would remain the host of this program through New Year's Eve 2008. As it's been well documented, Clark suffered a stroke in December 2004...weeks before New Year's Eve. The special that year was hosted by Regis Philbin. Clark returned as host for the next four specials with impaired speech as a result of the 2004 stroke (hosting 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008). Joining him as co-host on all the specials was Ryan Seacrest from Fox's program, American Idol. Starting on New Year's Eve 2009 Seacrest assumed the position as host while Dick Clark's on-camera activities decreased (although he was always present during the countdown to midnight). The show's title became Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest. The annual specials, for those who didn't know, were always titled for the forthcoming year. New Year's Rockin' Eve 2009, for example, would have an air-date of December 31, 2008. December 31, 2011 marked the final appearance of Dick Clark on-camera...on the New Year's Rockin' Eve 2012 telecast. I am one of the people who didn't mind that Dick continued to appear on camera after his stroke. I know of people who weren't comfortable about it...and Dick Clark himself knew that a lot of people weren't comfortable with his appearances...but he often remarked that he wanted to show that you don't have to go into hiding and retreat into the shadows due to the effects of a medical condition.

I've read cynical comments from people who say that Clark didn't have to appear on TV anymore because "he's a millionaire and didn't need the money". I've also read sickening comments from people who say that Clark was "selfish" because he didn't want to "give up" the New Year's appearances after the stroke affected his speech. In reality, though, Dick Clark had every right to continue to appear on the was his program, after all.

Let's be introspective for just a moment. This is directed at those who've criticized him as being selfish...

For those out there who've labeled Dick Clark as being "selfish" for staying in the spotlight after his stroke, take a look in the mirror. Aren't you also being selfish? Aren't you thinking of just yourself and your uneasiness and your comfort levels when it comes to Dick Clark's latter-day appearances? Aren't you thinking of how you want to remember him?  

If you answer all those questions with a "yes" then you're the selfish person...not Dick Clark. If he were truly a selfish person he would have retreated into retirement and stayed out of the public eye because of how uneasy/uncomfortable some were. Also, if he were truly a selfish person he'd want people to only remember him before the stroke's impact on his life. So, then, before anyone wants to tag him as being selfish, have a mirror handy.

Getting back to the music...

Although I'm no fan of rock and rap music I do like hearing some artists that are considered pop and Easy-Listening. Barry Manilow, for example...Manilow and a frequent collaborator, Bruce Sussman, wrote new lyrics for Bandstand's theme, by the way. The theme's title is "Bandstand Boogie" and the song first appeared on Manilow's 1975 album, Tryin' To Get the Feeling, but it didn't become the show's actual theme song until 1977. The Manilow recording would remain the theme song for the remainder of the program's run on ABC (through 1987).  The program, of course, had a couple of other theme songs prior to Manilow's recording assuming that role in 1977 (after all, the show had been on the air since the '50s) but it was Barry's recording that became synonymous with the program.

Now, aside from Pyramid and the New Year's countdown, I was also a watcher of the various blooper programs that he hosted with Ed McMahon. Research shows that each of the two hosted, separately, similar highly rated TV specials but the dynamic of having the two of them present a program blending elements of those specials resulted in the creation of the bloopers and practical jokes series. The program aired with a series of different titles but the one that had the longest run was officially known as TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes. It aired on NBC and was a production shared between Dick Clark and Johnny Carson. Blooper programs were all the rage in the '80s...but the one Dick Clark and Ed McMahon hosted together proved to be the most popular of them all (in spite of it only being in production as a weekly series for two seasons, 1984-1986!). The shows typically aired on Saturday evenings or Sunday evenings during it's run. After the series ended as weekly program in 1986 the two would host a series of blooper specials on NBC throughout the rest of the '80s and into the '90s. The franchise moved to ABC in the late '90s with Dick Clark as the sole host.

The blooper shows, topical in nature considering they always consisted of bloopers and jokes from then-current programming, nevertheless continued to air as filler programming on TBS in the '90s and earlier this decade whenever a baseball game or sporting event was postponed or delayed. The blooper programs would also air as mid-season replacements whenever a series was canceled. So, as you can see, it had a lengthy shelf life in spite of it's sporadic production.

Dick Clark hosted Pyramid for ABC, CBS, and in Syndication between the years of 1973 and 1988. The longest running incarnation aired on ABC from 1974 to 1980 as The $20,000 Pyramid. CBS was the original home of the then-titled $10,000 Pyramid (1973-1974). The series was syndicated from 1974-1979 with a slightly larger top prize, as The $25,000 Pyramid and hosted by Bill Cullen. For a little more than half a year in 1981 Dick Clark hosted the syndicated $50,000 Pyramid in which a tournament element was introduced. This syndicated run lasted 95 episodes, airing daily from the months of January through September.

The show was revived once again as The $25,000 Pyramid in 1982 on CBS with Dick Clark once again as it's host. This is the series that I remember watching on television as a kid. The show ran on CBS until, ironically, New Year's Eve 1987! It was brought back again in the spring of 1988 and it went out of production permanently in the summer of 1988. In the meantime, Clark hosted the syndicated $100,000 Pyramid from 1985 through 1988...bringing an end to his 15 year association with the game show.

Afterward, Clark remained in the public eye, of a short-lived game show called The Challengers in the early '90s. The New Year's Eve program, though, would remain the most visible program for Clark from 1990 onward. I hadn't even mentioned his production company being involved in so many programs...including the annual Academy of Country Music awards as well as the American Music radio programs and CD's specializing in the Oldies format (early rock music) and the Bandstand restaurant chain. After all this is just my modest over-view of Dick Clark's career.

Thanks to video hosting web-sites and cable TV chances are you'll see Dick Clark forever...he definitely had an impact.

November 30, 1929 - April 18, 2012.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Six

Well, at long last, I have purchased Volume Six of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series! This was the final installment in that particular series...and while there are still many more Looney Tunes cartoons still to be re-discovered, the bulk of the studio's animated classics had already become available via this Golden Collection series and so with Volume Six the remainder of the classics made their way onto this collection. Much of the cartoons on Disc 1 and Disc 4 were part of a Spotlight Collection I had previously bought and so I didn't watch the cartoons on those two disc's. I mainly focused on Disc 2, the early black and whites on Disc 3, and the documentary on Disc 4 about Mel Blanc titled Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices. The documentary is exceptional, in my opinion, as it showcases Mel's career from it's beginnings on through to his death in 1989. There are vintage commercials and television performances shown featuring Mel's talents. His association with Jack Benny is chronicled. Mel joined the cast of Jack's radio program in 1939 and remained a recurring character actor for the rest of the radio series, which came to an end in 1955, but concurrent with the radio series Jack had a television program that began airing infrequently during 1950-1955 and then bi-weekly for another 5 years and then during it's final 5 years it was seen every week. Mel was a featured player on Jack's TV show, often appearing in bit parts and sometimes as characters originally created on the radio series. In short, Mel Blanc was a true superstar of radio, records, television, and cartoons. Yes...Mel made a lot of records in the '40s and '50s...a lot of those records were aimed at children. Most people don't know that Mel created the Woody Woodpecker laugh...and was the original voice of Woody at the very beginning.

Jack's television program gave Mel visibility to an even greater audience. The documentary explores all of well as the car wreck he was involved in during the early '60s. 1961 to be specific. Those offering their thoughts on Mel in this documentary are a varied group. Everyone from Gary Owens and Stan Freberg to Chuck Jones and Bill Hanna.

Disc 2 is comprised mostly of the World War Two cartoons from the early to mid '40s. However, the last three cartoons on Disc 2 feature a mixture of the freedoms America offers to legal immigrants and the rewards of capitalism and how it's the ideal economic system for free nations: "By Word of Mouse" (1954), "Heir-Conditioned" (1955), and "Yankee Dood It" (1956) all feature stories about American business and the strength of an industrious nation. Unfortunately cartoons like this sometimes receive a black eye, figuratively, by those who either do not believe capitalism is fair or by those who have a hatred/envy of people who successfully live the American dream. The counter-culture of the late '60s and it's impact on certain elements of society also played a part in why these three cartoons are seen as propaganda by those who subscribe to the late '60s counter-culture attitudes in present year 2012. The original intent of the cartoons, I highly doubt, was purely for propaganda purposes and the original intent was more along the lines of educating people on capitalism...nothing more, nothing less. The three cartoons were underwritten by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. 

Meanwhile, the war cartoons in their unedited form have been a much sought after item of Looney Tunes fans for decades and it took until the final Golden Collection installment to have a disc devoted entirely to those particular cartoons. I saw a comment on-line about how a consumer was dismayed about the all-military art work on the DVD and how it made the person think the entire collection was only military cartoons. The consumer must've bought the DVD based upon cover art and didn't really notice the product page at any number of on-line shopping stores.  

Now...about the second disc...first and foremost I find nothing wrong with these war cartoons. I am not one of those whiny, overly sensitive types who have condemned these specific cartoons as being racist or politically incorrect. I am of the belief that the citizens of Germany and Japan were not being mocked or ridiculed in those cartoons...instead it was the Government of those countries and their military being ridiculed.

How anyone living in the United States today can draw the conclusion that pro-America sentiment during a time of war is a bad thing is beyond me. So, no, I've never bought into all the hype that the war cartoons were racist or anything. If the cartoons were offensive they were more than likely offensive to the dictators and those who shared dictatorial beliefs. I've read about the have millions of others. To see characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and others pull out all the stops in their antics against animated versions of dictators and the cold-blooded nature in which those dictators ruled is entertaining to me and it should be entertaining to anyone who dislikes tyranny and everything that comes with it. The WWII cartoons are sought after so much that it appears the company deliberately used the military decor on purpose and perhaps they did. The individual disc's feature a character in a saluting position with an American flag backdrop. Each disc's number is penciled onto an illustrated dog tag, too, and the back of the DVD shows Daffy parachuting from the sky and Bugs in a carrot filled dirt mound.

On Disc 1 and Disc 3 you'll see cartoons and hear a lot of different voice actors. Daws Butler's voice appears in several cartoons on Disc 4. His voice can also be heard briefly on the short, "Heir-Conditioned", on Disc 2 as some of the alley cats who are after Sylvester's inheritance. Butler is also heard more prominently in "Yankee Dood It", on Disc 2, as the Shoemaker and the King Elf's apprentice who can never remember the name 'Rumpelstiltskin' and often utters the phrase 'Jehoshaphat'. King Elf is actually Elmer Fudd in traditional Elf costume sporting a big gold crown on his head. Sylvester is part of this cartoon but doesn't have many lines.

What are the extra's and bonus features you may be asking!?! On Disc 4, as mentioned earlier, there's the Mel Blanc documentary. There are four bonus cartoons on Disc 4. On Disc 2 there are three bonus cartoons of a military overtone to go along with the WWII cartoons on that disc. Also, there's the inclusion of The Captain and the Kids cartoons that Friz Freleng did for MGM during his short hiatus from Warner Brothers. On the black and white Disc 3 there's a special called The World of Leon Schlesinger while there are 4 bonus cartoons. In actuality there are 4 bonus cartoons on each disc, making that 19 cartoons altogether on each of the 4 discs.

There are 2 Looney Tunes television specials featured as extra's on Disc One.

The first special, from 1978, is listed on the DVD by it's VHS title of Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court. The original title was A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthur's Court. The made-for-TV cartoon is entertaining and doesn't feature any clips of vintage cartoons which was often the case whenever the Looney Tunes appeared in TV specials. However, there are scenes in this special which re-use dialogue from other Bugs Bunny cartoons and the die-hard fans will spot it right away. Also something that will be detected right away is that Mel Blanc provides the voice of Elmer Fudd, as he had done off and on since original voice actor, Arthur Q. Bryan, passed away in 1959. Mel's natural voice was quite distinctive and it shines through in his performance as Elmer.

The second special, from 1980, is also listed by it's VHS title, Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement. The original title was Daffy Duck's Easter Special. In this special there are three newly created stories woven together: "The Yolk's On You", "The Chocolate Chase", and "Daffy Flies North". The characters featured are Daffy, Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester, Miss Prissy, Foghorn Leghorn. In subsequent decades the three cartoon shorts have been shown separately on various Looney Tunes programs.

All in all it's an outstanding collection...which is what the Golden Collection releases have always been.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He-Man...The Complete Second Season DVD

I buy cartoon DVD's on a fairly consistent basis for my own enjoyment and when He-Man became available in all it's glory I purchased it. I have Season One by another company, BCI, and I purchased Season Two by this company, Classic Media/Mill Creek Entertainment. I may purchase Mill Creek's Season One simply because they don't split up the episode, "House of Shokoti", on two separate DVD discs like the BCI release does. But this review is about Mill Creek's Season Two release which I have. There are 8 disc's...the first 7 contain episodes of the series while the 8th is the Extra features disc. The discs are housed in paper sleeves...stacked one after the other...which causes one to have to rummage through the discs whenever you want to grab a particular one. The disc I find myself watching the most are Disc's 1 and 4 through 6. I watch disc 7 on occasion but it has the least amount of episodes...BUT it contains the episode giving Moss Man a lot of screen-time: "The Ancient Mirror of Avathar". It's also on this disc that "The Problem With Power" can be found. This particular episode is very deep and is one of just a couple of episodes that shed the good vs. evil overtone and dig deeper into the individual characters. In that episode you see He-Man transform back into Adam for the only time in the Filmation series history and you hear the phrase that he uses to instigate the transformation, too.

Speaking of character studies we get to see plenty of in-depth character studies in "Search for the Past" where the history of the character's are put front and center: King Randor's father, King Miro, turns out to be alive and held prisoner by The Enchantress. We see Man-At-Arms and King Randor behave like young warriors while on the search for King Miro. He-Man comes to the rescue and saves King Miro, who parachutes down from lost mountain with He-Man where they're encountered by Man-at-Arms. The Enchantress, by now, has imprisoned Randor. The Enchantress' gopher, Drude, eventually frees Randor...leading to the eventual face to face reunion of Randor and Miro. He-Man changes back to Adam and in one scene you see three generations of Eternian royalty: Miro, Randor, and Adam.

In the "Time Wheel" we see a former king of Eternia, Tamusk, return to present-day Eternia thanks to a time wheel accidentally spun by Orko while snooping in an ancient laboratory. Tamusk, believing he's in his own time, flees for his palace only to see it drastically changed. Believing that this King Randor is some evil sorcerer who caused all these changes he attempts to do battle with the famously peaceful Randor. The remainder of the episode is spent tracking down Tamusk once he finally leaves the palace in an attempt to convince him that he's thousands of years in the future.

One of my favorites in this collection is "Orko's Return" where we have a departure, of sorts, from the usual dose of action/adventure. In a more comical story Trap Jaw and Beast Man become the possessors of what's called an Amber Crystal. The two use it's magic to build a huge fortress while abducting Orko from the palace. Orko happened to be in the middle of a magic performance when he disappeared...leaving Adam and Teela to continue laughing and applauding while Man-at-Arms, always alert, has a look of concern. In short, Trap Jaw and Beast Man use their newly acquired magic to control Orko and turn him into their slave. This ultimately backfires and the rest of the episode centers around the battle of wits between Orko, Trap Jaw, and Beast Man as He-Man and company track down the fortress. Orko uses his magic to make wishes come true...literally...driving the evil pair into fits of frustration and anger. It's later revealed that Trap Jaw stole the magic crystal from Evil Lyn.

Season Two, unlike the first season, relied very little on the Castle Grayskull backdrop...oh, it still appeared in mostly every episode and was always shown whenever Adam changed into He-Man...but there weren't that many stories about Skeletor and his warriors attempting to take it over. In Season One, for example, the first several episodes were centered specifically around the take-over or destruction of Castle Grayskull while further episodes always had some sort of Grayskull-referenced plot point. In Season Two the Evil Warriors apparently had moved on...even though there were a few episodes in Season Two that felt like a Season One episode, if you know what I mean!

Since the Castle wasn't used as a major part of the story-lines in the Season Two episodes that meant that the Sorceress appeared infrequently. Notable exceptions were the episodes "Teela's Triumph" on Disc 5 where the Sorceress (Teela's biological mother) spent much of the episode in her falcon form, Zoar, trapped in another dimension. Teela, unaware of who her biological mother is, awkwardly becomes the Sorceress at the request of the Spirit of Castle Grayskull, although Teela wonders why she was picked out of the hundreds of other women on Eternia.

In "The Origin of the Sorceress" on Disc 1 we see the story of how Teela'na (the true name of the Sorceress) becomes the keeper of the castle. In that episode we also see the Horde as invaders of Eternia...which ultimately leads to Teela'na becoming the Sorceress. The Horde, whose members wear a red bat logo on their chests, become more prominent in the He-Man spin-off cartoon, She-Ra. Interestingly, though, the Sorceress doesn't refer to them as The Horde in this episode...she simply refers to them as "an invading army" even though fans of the series will no doubt make the connection to The Horde.

There are comical moments in almost all of the episodes...particularly from Orko (his magical mayhem often backfires directly at Man-at-Arms) but often the humor comes from Skeletor and his warriors. Beast Man, for starters, in most episodes is portrayed as a dumb sycophant. There are a few where he's written as an actual sinister villain. Skeletor has his share of comical expressions. Beast Man is often called Beastie or Fur-Face by Skeletor. In the "Energy Beast" episode Skeletor not only delivers a line referencing the radio series, The Shadow, but he also borrows heavily from Edgar Allan Poe when calling for a spy that he sent to eavesdrop at Castle Grayskull. In other episodes Skeletor talks directly to the audience...often complaining about his warrior's collective ineptitude. The cartoon's complete name is He-Man and the Masters of the Universe but I refer to it simply as He-Man. In internet lingo the series is known as MOTU (the obvious acronym for Masters of the Universe).

The series used a relatively small voice cast and so you're going to have quite a few secondary and one-shot characters that pop up who sound the same. John Erwin, the guy who voiced Adam/He-Man can also be heard in numerous other roles. A lot of the Kings from other kingdoms on Eternia and softer-speaking characters were voiced by Erwin. His main roles were He-Man/Adam, Ram Man, Squinch (a Widget), Beast Man, Whiplash, and Webstor. Linda Gary did 99% of all the female characters: Queen Marlena, Teela, The Sorceress, Evil Lyn, Shokoti, and other female roles that appeared. Alan Oppenheimer's main characters were Cringer/Battle Cat, Man-at-Arms, Melaktha, Skeletor, and Mer-Man. Like John Erwin and Linda Gary, Oppenheimer did a lot of secondary characters as well. Erika Scheimer, the daughter of the program's producer, Lou Scheimer, often did female roles that sounded like teenagers or younger women. She didn't have a recurring character on He-Man. Lou Scheimer provided the voices for almost everyone else not mentioned: Orko, Montork, Stratos, Fisto, Man-E-Faces, King Randor, Trap Jaw, Tri-Klops, Two-Bad, and others.

I'm more into comical cartoons, which will become crystal clear if any of you've seen any of my other cartoon reviews, but He-Man and a couple of others from the same early/mid '80s time period will continue to be favorites of mine.

My picks from Season Two as the stand-out episodes:

1. The Origin of the Sorceress
2. Visitors From Earth
3. Day of the Machines
4. The Energy Beast
5. Teela's Triumph
6. The Time Wheel
7. Search for the Past
8. Here, There, Skeletor's Everywhere
9. The Rainbow Warrior
10. Orko's Return
11. The Island of Fear
12. To Save Skeletor
13. Capture the Comet Keeper
14. Monster on the Mountain
15. Into the Abyss
16. The Problem With Power
17. The Great Books Mystery
18. The Shadow of Skeletor
19. The Gamesman
20. Battlecat

Monday, April 2, 2012

John Conlee vintage recordings...

I was looking through Amazon and came across the news that a John Conlee CD will be released this coming May 8th. This particular CD will feature two of John's studio albums from his Columbia Records days (1986-1987). Upon leaving MCA after Greatest Hits, Volume Two and the big success of his single, "Old School", in 1985 John joined the Columbia label sometime later and his first release, Harmony, hit in 1986. The album contains three Top-10 hits: the socially aware title track, "Harmony", the wonderful life-lesson-in-song tale of "The Carpenter" which hit the Top-10 here in America but reached #1 in Canada, and the America #1 hit "Got My Heart Set On You". The second album on the CD is 1987's American Faces which builds on the socially aware sentiments heard in "Harmony" a year earlier. The socially aware theme would also visit John's following album in 1989, Fellow Travelers, but that release was on the 16th Avenue label and has no relevance to what will be on the upcoming CD in May but I figured I'd mention it because it fit the pattern of his album's using socially aware recordings as titles.

Like the 1986 album, the follow-up from 1987 also features three songs released as singles. "Domestic Life" became his last really big radio hit (hitting the Top-5) but a close second would be "Mama's Rockin' Chair" which had a nostalgic feel to it as John told the story of how imaginations develop while listening to stories. The rocking chair song reached the Top-20 in 1987 (almost making the Top-10).

The previously mentioned "Domestic Life" is still performed in his concert's to this day and it tells the story of a couple who are proud of their low-key, average lifestyle in spite of living next door to people with money and the trappings that go along with wealth. "Living Like There's No Tomorrow" was the third single from American Faces. It hit early in 1988 but it didn't reach the Top-40 country chart...a strange occurrence at that point in time for one of John's singles. What was happening was country radio was amidst their slow but certain airplay ban of practically every singer that didn't appeal to a specific age group. Some artists, even a few that had been in the business longer than John, were able to continue having Top-10 hits into the early 1990's but then they, too, saw their chart placement's sliding and airplay spots vanishing as country radio began playing more and more newer singers just for the sake of the singers being new (whether or not these new artists could sustain a career or develop a following apparently wasn't a priority).

But a lot of his peers, John Conlee continued making music and touring throughout the late '80s and the '90s. He wasn't as active in the recording studio in the 1990's, unfortunately, but he was still on the road and becoming a semi-regular on the Grand Ole Opry (he became a member in 1981). By the late '90s he'd become what's known as a regular at the his own 30 minute segments each Friday and Saturday night. He's still highly visible at the Opry and he continues to do show dates to this day...and sometimes he'll put out a new song or two. A religious CD from 2004, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, was his first studio album in 15 years and it featured the topical hit, "They Also Serve", which didn't get much radio airplay but it became a hit with the public through on-line exposure and repeated performances at the Opry.

Harmony and American Faces represent two of John's classic studio albums and I say it's about time those two albums were brought back into circulation again!