Monday, November 7, 2016

Return of the Caped Crusaders review...

Holy return to the mid '60s!!! Sort of...

I purchased my copy of Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders back on November 1st at a local retail store. In my August blog entry promoting the upcoming release of the DVD I mentioned I'd return and provide my comments about the animated movie and there are going to be spoilers a-plenty so I'm giving fair notice ahead of time.

So many people have remarked on the movie that a lot of information is out there by now but from my perspective I'd like to add that it's an entertaining movie and I particularly liked the clever opening sequence of having freeze frame snap shots of classic comic book covers. There have been some grumblings, though, as it pertains to the vocals. I didn't find anything particularly terrible. To a general audience, in which cartoon watching isn't perhaps part of a routine television habit, you are probably not aware that Adam West has lent his voice to a number of animated projects over the decades. His voice, obviously, has a deeper resonance to it than it did back in the mid '60s due to age...but he can still deliver the kind of lines you've come to expect from the mid '60s Batman and that vocal is still identifiable as 'Adam West'. The reading of the lines are a bit slower but you can't help that. The story makes up for it because of it's overall plot centering on a duplicator ray...and the effects of a drug administered by Catwoman...and the unexpected turns that the story takes.

Given the vocal performers include three from the mid '60s live-action series (Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar) and the designs are on-model from the TV series, the writers used the visuals and phrases from the TV series as a launching point for a story that you'd never see in the actual mid '60s TV series.  There's one scene in which they find aluminum foil...leading the duo to deduce that the criminals are hiding out in a warehouse which houses frozen TV dinners...and they find themselves strapped to a giant sized TV dinner in a death trap mirroring the kinds of cliffhanger scenes of the live action mid '60 TV series.

I made mention of a duplicator comes into play during a scene in which a group of scientists are experimenting with it's capabilities. One of the scientists uses a variation of the phrase "but in the wrong hands it could prove dangerous" and on cue The Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman enter the facility to steal the device.

The villains take the device but you don't see them use it that much and the reason for that is because of the major plot twist in the story. Catwoman drugs Batman...but, at first, he feels as if he's summoned up enough will power to not fall prey to her clutches and he proudly states that her plans to control his mind have come to an end. However, in the ensuing 10 to 20 minutes that follow, it's clear that neither Batman nor his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, are behaving normal. Standing on the sidelines, as they happened to be in the mid '60s TV series, are the likes of Alfred, Aunt Harriet, Commissioner Gordon, and Chief O'Hara.

In one of the elements that parodies the mid '60s TV series, Aunt Harriet enters Bruce's study in one scene...which happened to be an absolute no-no in the live action '60s series.

The closest Aunt Harriet came to actually entering the study on the TV series happened to be in a couple of episodes. In one episode the beeping of the Batphone leads her to almost open the door of the which point Alfred prevents her from doing by alerting her that 'Master Bruce' has some delicate hi-fi equipment causing the beeping sounds and it wouldn't be a good idea to go in. In another episode Aunt Harriet leads a group of women from a social club on a tour of the Manor and is nearly about to open the study's door when Joker, from a hideout, freezes time using a "magic box" he invented. He froze time and caused it to go in reverse...unknowingly preventing Aunt Harriet and her entourage from entering Bruce's study and discovering the secret. In this animated movie Aunt Harriet enters the study and sees the Batphone and the bust of Shakespeare but before she can find out it's hidden device for the bat-poles a hand enters the scene and pulls her from the Shakespeare bust. It's Bruce...acting highly suspicious. This sets up the scene in which Bruce fires Alfred for letting Aunt Harriet come so close to learning about his and Dick's double lives as the Caped Crusaders.

Things really get bizarre as Batman leaves Robin stranded. Later, Dick confronts Bruce and asks about the short temper and the unbelievable firing of Alfred. Shoing no emotion Bruce leads Dick over to the manor's front door and tells him if he sympathizes so much ith Alfred he can go live with him "on skid row" and ith that, Bruce shuts the front door leaving the youthful ward on the front porch.

In another scene Batman appears, after several days of being in seclusion, and demands that Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara remove their uniforms because they've long been a disgrace to the police force. Robin deduces that Catwoman's drug was actually designed to work on Batman very slowly and he's become evil. Not only that but she's been double-crossing Joker, Penguin, and the Riddler who believe she's too soft on Batman and they punish her by sending her into orbit. It's in this part of the story that it's revealed that Batman himself has the duplicator ray and he goes about making evil duplicates of himself which take over Gotham City. As an evil Batman he has no resistance to Catwoman and the pair become flirtatious. One of the highlight scenes takes place during a prison break! All sorts of villains, mostly all of them created for the mid '60s series, have non-speaking cameo appearances. Villains seen but not heard: Egghead, King Tut, Siren, Bookworm, Louie the Lilac, and others.

Eventually it's Alfred to the rescue who reveals the reason why he appeared out of the blue to attempt to rescue Batman from a life of crime. Once the spell is broken the duplicate Batmen dissolve into various piles of powder. This is a reference to the 1966 live-action movie based on the TV series. In the live action movie the four villains turn members of the United Nations (referred to in the movie as United World) into dehydrated powder.

I suggest all fans of the classic Batman live-action series purchase this DVD! I've not given a scene by scene breakdown of the film...I merely highlighted some of the scenes and not in chronological order, either...but the animated movie is entertaining. The mannerisms of the villains are all spot-on. The Joker prancing around in a state of glee...but only once does he say "this is delicious!!"...the voice actor captured the essence of Cesar Romero in much of the delivery. The Penguin offers his usual cantankerous attitude, desires of being the intellectual leader, utilizing his umbrella gas, and the trademark squawking but it's not necessarily an attempt to mimic Burgess Meredith's natural speaking voice which is, interestingly, what makes the live-action portrayal so memorable. The vocalization of The Penguin sounds something like that of Ted Knight's version in the Filmation cartoons of the late '60s. The Riddler, on the other hand, is amazing thanks to the spot-on vocal delivery. The voice actor captured the style of Frank Gorshin so much that it enhances the dialogue. The voice actors for Joker, Penguin, and Riddler managed to replicate the giggles and laughs accurately. Julie Newmar, to my ears, sounds just as she did in the mid '60s TV series. I don't agree with others that say her voice has aged. Catwoman sounded to me like the same flirtatious character from the TV series. If I happened to be writing this on Amazon's site I'd conclude by saying that this is definitely 5-star entertainment!! You can click the link below and read other comments from consumers...


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jean Shepard: 1933-2016

The news broke a couple of hours ago of the death of Jean Shepard at the age of 82 due to Parkinson's Disease. If you're not familiar at all with her music/career then seek out Amazon or YouTube. In some circles of country music she became known as the Queen of Honky Tonk Music and some referred to her as The Honky Tonk Heroine (which, incidentally, became the name of a retrospective collection of her Capitol Records recordings in 1995). Discovered by Hank Thompson (himself a legendary country music artist), Shepard released her first single in 1953 titled "Crying Steel Guitar Waltz". The title alone should tell anyone reading that she preferred country music in it's most basic, purest form and that what became known as traditional country music in the '90s and beyond was labeled Honky Tonk in the '40s and '50s.

She found early success as a duet partner with Ferlin Husky in 1953 on "A Dear John Letter", a massive #1 country hit and a Top-10 pop crossover hit. They followed it up with "Forgive Me, John", and that became a Top-10 country hit and a Top-30 pop hit. Having been born in November of 1933, Shepard was still a teenager at the time of her first national success. In the '40s she had been a member of the Melody Ranch Girls, a group described as an all-girl band, formed in 1948. A 1996 box set from Bear Family, The Melody Ranch Girl, is a must-have if you happen to be a hardcore fan.

The impact year in the earlier part of Jean Shepard's career happened to be 1955. This is the year in which she became noticed for her solo recordings. She had issued 6 solo recordings during a 2 year span (1953-1955). As mentioned earlier her first solo recording was "Crying Steel Guitar Waltz" but 1953 was dominated by her 2 duet recordings with Ferlin Husky. In fact, none of the 6 solo recordings Capitol issued on Shepard made the national charts. The commercial turning point came in 1955...and the release of her version of "A Satisfied Mind". This is the perfect opportunity to explain some things about country music recordings of the era. In the '40s, '50s, and even into the early '60s it wasn't uncommon for country artists to record and release the same song in the same year. This kind of thing wouldn't be tolerated in today's music climate and is frowned upon by music critics and consumers largely because fans have come to feel that songs belong to only one singer or one group and that nobody else should attempt to record something that another singer has recorded. I don't share that opinion but millions of people do...

"A Satisfied Mind", in 1955, became a smash hit for three different country music artists in 1955. The biggest hit came from Porter Wagoner and his version hit #1; Red and Betty Foley took the song to #3; and Jean Shepard took the song to #4. The b-side, "Take Possession", charted at #13. Shepard's follow-up, "Beautiful Lies", also hit #4 and it's b-side, "I Thought of You", hit #10. In addition to her commercial impact that year she also became a performer on the Ozark Jubilee. The increased visibility enabled her to become one of the very few female country music performers on national television. She appeared on the series for several seasons.

Ironically, after having 4 consecutive Top-10 country hits in 1955, it would be 8 more single releases before she returned to the charts. She hit 2 more times (once late in 1958 and again early in 1959) but then entered another long string of non-charted releases. This non-chart activity can be traced to the choice of material. Her love of traditional country music at it's most purest didn't earn a lot of praise from the critics, DJ's, and fans of the style of country music being pushed in the late '50s and early '60s...that style being labeled The Nashville Sound. None of the single releases from mid 1959 through 1963 reached the charts. As I like to point out, though, a charted single means a song has become a commercial success but only because it's been played on radio...if a song isn't being played on radio then it obviously runs the risk of not being discovered by record buyers and therefore it isn't going to have the chance of becoming a "commercial hit". In other words don't let chart inactivity fool you into the belief that a recording "must not be good" if it doesn't make the charts".

The commercial fortunes turned around in Shepard's career in 1964 in a big time way. She released one of her signature songs in "Second Fiddle To An Old Guitar" and this recording hit the Top-10. This set in motion a string of single releases that consistently placed in the Top-50 of the country music charts (many of them peaking in the Top-20). By far the most commercially successful of her career is the 1964-1974 decade. She and Ray Pillow released a couple of hit duet recordings in 1966: "I'll Take the Dog" and "Mister Do-It Yourself".

Some of the songs she performed at the Opry on many weekends happened to come from the 1964-1974 time period: "Second Fiddle To An Old Guitar", "Slippin' Away", "Seven Lonely Days", and "The Tips of My Fingers". In addition to those songs she could also be seen/heard performing "A Satisfied Mind", "Under Your Spell Again", and I heard her perform "Twice the Lovin' In Half the Time" at least once on the Opry, if I remember correctly, but the songs I previously mentioned are the ones she performed much more regularly.

She had become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in November 1955. This is even more notable because she became the first female member of the Opry (in November 2015) to reach 60 years of membership. I'd say she appeared regularly at the Opry for at least 58 of those 60 years...slightly decreasing her appearances due to health reasons...but she did return to celebrate her 60th anniversary as an Opry member and then she officially retired.

In 2011 she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame some 58 years after having had her first success. A long overdue election to say the least but, at least, she was around to enjoy the honor.

Jean Shepard: November 21, 1933 - September 25, 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

I've heard of this upcoming project for about a month and a half (or longer) but I finally came across much more information. This coming fall (October/November) there is to be a Blu-Ray and a DVD release of an animated film called Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. The thing that makes this film unique is that Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar are the voices of Batman, Robin, and Catwoman (the roles they played in the mid '60s live-action television series).

As you could tell from the trailer and from the cover art of the Blu-Ray and DVD the characters are more or less patterned after the actors and actresses that portrayed them in the TV series. The Joker is faithfully on-model with Cesar Romero and for those curious there's no indication of a painted over mustache and I'm glad that they decided not to add that touch. If the animators had done that kind of thing it would've been more insulting than respectful.

Maybe it's a rhetorical question but how come there's so many comments from people on social media (YouTube, specifically) wondering why the animated movie is being presented in this fashion? Do these people that are making those kinds of comments realize that a very popular live-action Batman television series existed in the mid '60s? This may be Earth shattering news for some but Batman wasn't created in the 1990s...the character goes back to 1939! 

This idea that the Batman characterization HAS to be brooding, gritty, sarcastic, and anti-social just because that's the way he's interpreted in contemporary cartoons is nonsense. Yes, I know that the original presentation of Batman in the late '30s and into the mid '40s depicted the character in much the same fashion as he is today; so, yes, I'm familiar with the argument that the contemporary Batman cartoons are simply "returning the character to his roots"...but lost among all the brew-ha-ha on social media (from those that are unfamiliar with the 1960's TV series) is that this upcoming animated movie is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the live-action TV series 1966 debut. This upcoming animated movie isn't meant to be part of the contemporary DC Universe continuity. It's simply a salute to the 1960's live-action TV series and I, for one, can't wait to get the DVD!!

You can pre-order the DVD at Amazon by clicking HERE. I'll post my thoughts of the entire film in November.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Uphill All The Way...

The premise of this comedy-western centers around 2 bumbling good ol' boys (Roy Clark as Ben and Mel Tillis as Booger) who, at the start of the film, are tossed off a train after failing to show their tickets. They wander inside a saloon and attempt to cheat their way into a fortune at the card table. Frank Gorshin appears as the drunkest of the crowd (his character is named, Pike). To pull off their scheme Booger has a hat, hidden inside is a mirror, and he nonchalantly walks around the room letting Ben see the other player's hands. One thing leads to another and Booger drops the hat and cracks the mirror. At first the saloon women think Booger's using the hat to look up women's dresses...but eventually a seasoned card player realizes something's fishy and the other players suggest to start a new game since the previous one had been interrupted. Burt Reynolds has an uncredited cameo appearance in this saloon scene as the seasoned card player. He shows off his card tricks, at first, and then wastes little time at stripping an overly zealous but uneducated Ben of his winnings. Ben didn't realize the hand he held (the one he bet all his chips on) turned out to be a losing hand in that particular card game.

After a night of escapist romance with a couple of saloon women (Miss Jessie and Lucinda) they confessed, the following morning, that they didn't have any additional money to pay for the long night's activity. This caused the pair to get tossed out of the saloon/brothel, literally, by the bouncer (Leon). He pushed them down a flight of stairs.

Broke and wandering around they end up becoming fugitives after they innocently visit a bank to ask for a loan. Feeling that a shotgun should be excellent collateral the duo casually enter the bank and stroll up to the window with their shotgun.

A teller (Richard Paul), seeing their shotgun and mistaking their vague, nervous ramblings as some sort of veiled threat, flips the security alarm. After Ben yells that he's never been inside any bank before and is wondering about the reason for the loud noise Booger realizes that the alarm sound is for the police to hear and that they're being mistaken as bank robbers. From there they take off, hopping aboard a car in which the driver, obviously, mistakes the pair as car thieves. The driver asks for his luggage and nervously tells Ben and Booger they can keep the car and he makes a hasty exit. Ben asks Booger if he has any idea of how to drive "this fancy contraption" and of course his answer is "no!".

Meanwhile, the alarm is still blasting back at the bank and the local sheriff (Burl Ives) makes his entrance into the story and it takes a lot of explanation on the teller's part that the alarm wasn't just a test and that there was actually an attempted robbery. The sheriff's annoyance is made loud and clear due to being called to the bank on false alarms many times before.

Soon, though, a posse is formed after the driver of the car Ben and Booger "stole" arrives in town demanding that the 2 crooks face justice. Pike, the town's drunkest drunk, is recruited by the sheriff to join the posse.

By this time Ben and Booger are well on their way at evading a string of law enforcers all over the west due to a series of misunderstandings, confusions, and genuine criminal intent. One of those in the posse is a hysterical military Captain (Glen Campbell).

Burton Gilliam (Corporal) and Gailard Sartain (Private) appear on horseback during a scene involving Ben and Booger attempting to fix a flat tire on their "contraption". The shady servicemen fix the flat but insist on being paid for the labor. Ben says they're broke...this causes the Corporal to pull out a switchblade knife and he proceeds to let the air out of the tire. Fearing the worst and perhaps not looking forward to pumping air back into the tire, yet again, Ben pulls out his shotgun and the 2 macho servicemen do an about face and are now trembling with fear.

Ben and Booger steal the Corporal and the Private's clothes and their horses. The sheriff and his posse meet up ith the vandalized military officers and he insists they join in and track the 2 con-artists/bank robbers/murderers.

Ben and Booger eventually come to a stream...but it's filled up with soapy water. This leads the pair to a couple of alien's doing their laundry. Confusion abounds and the foreign aliens mistake Ben and Booger's demeanor as threatening and they pull out oars...startling the horses. The chaos causes the horses to trample all over the 2 alien's laundry rack...knocking it off into the nearby pond. This incident, as a result, creates more members of an ever growing posse. 45 minutes into the film Glen Campbell's character enters the story. At first he and his underlings are trying to get their vehicle back onto the road. He spots Ben and Booger in their stolen military clothes and on horses and demands that they come down and help get the truck on the road. "You 2...on the horses!!! Get down here on the double!!!". The Captain doesn't have much tolerance and is prone to barking snappy orders. On the count of 4 Ben and Booger take off on the horses as the General and the other officers attempt to keep the truck from sliding further off the hill. The Captain promises a court martial for those 2 once he arrives at the base. The posse meet up with the alien laundry men...and in a running joke they recognize Miss Jessie (Elaine Joyce) as did the Corporal and the Private earlier in the film.

Ben and Booger find themselves in a shoot out after they come across what appears to be an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere. During the shootout a man emerges from the shack and shoots at all of the bandits as Ben and Booger race inside the shack. The stranger introduces himself as Anson Sudro (Sheb Wooley) and introduces his family.

The posse meet up with the Captain and the wrecked vehicle. The sheriff informs the Captain that the 2 people on horseback are impostors and don't belong to the military at all. Back at the shack Ben, Booger, and Anson continue to have a shoot out. They begin shooting at another shack in which holds dynamite...hoping the gunfire will ignite the dynamite in some way. The shot up shack explodes and the 2 flee Anson's residence and top a hill and see Mexico just across a river. They return to Anson's shack and help fight off the bandits. Eventually the posse come upon the shoot out and they, unknowingly, drive into it. The military vehicle had since been salvaged and it enters the chaotic surroundings. The Captain and the rest of the officers start firing at the bandits, too.

After things settle and the shooting stops the Widow Quinn (Trish Van Devere) makes a big showing of thanking "those 2 brave soldiers" (Booger and Ben) who had by that time vanished to the river to escape into Mexico. The Sheriff prevents the Captain and several others in the posse from revealing the true nature of Ben and Booger's 'fame' and he more or less bribes the posse to keep their mouths shut due to Ben and Booger unknowingly helping the daughter of a local politician.

Ben and Booger end up back on a train and they read a paper about the battle and fallout that took place in Sudro Springs and that the 2 mysterious saviors (Ben and Booger) vanished into thin air. They learn that the the Widow Quinn happened to be a daughter of a Senator and a reward's been offered. Ben suggests they return to collect their reward. Just then they're asked to turn in their which Booger can't find them...and they're promptly tossed off the train once again just like at the start of the film. They bicker over their goals and whether or not to return to collect their money but in the end the 2 head off down the railroad presumably to their next get-rich-quick adventure.

This film hit theaters in 1986. Roy Clark, at the time, had been co-host of the syndicated television series Hee Haw dating back to 1969. Mel Tillis was certainly no slouch, either...for he not only is a great singer-songwriter but he displays good comedic skills in practically every project he's appeared in. Glen Campbell is also a legendary the time of this film's release he had been riding a crest of popularity that dated back to the 1960s. One of Roy's fellow cast-members from Hee Haw, Gailard Sartain, is another one of those performers loaded with talent. Frank Gorshin, the legendary impressionist and The Riddler from the Batman television series, had a memorable role as town drunk, Pike, but he didn't necessarily have too many lines. Gorshin's physical performance made the character memorable. Elaine Joyce had become so famous as a character actress and as a panelist on game shows, by 1986, and she eventually hosted a version of The Dating Game later on that year.

This movie can be purchased on DVD and it can be viewed, as of this writing, in it's entirety on YouTube. Search the video hosting site for the film.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Joe Alaskey: 1952-2016

I found out on social media today that voice actor, Joe Alaskey, has died at the age of 63 from cancer. Children of the 1980s (including myself) may recall Alaskey from a couple of programs that aired in syndication.

First off he appeared as the on-camera announcer/next-door neighbor on a syndicated television trivia game show titled Couch Potatoes. In a clever use of the on-camera announcer role Alaskey appeared in a living room set positioned next to the main set. Marc Summers, later of Double Dare fame on Nickelodeon, hosted Couch Potatoes. This series debuted on January 23, 1989 and aired it's final first-run episode on June 19, 1989. A daily series it amassed 100 episodes and it remained in local syndication (in reruns) until September 1989...after which it jumped to cable's USA Network and reruns aired during that channel's game show block of programming from September 11, 1989 to March 23, 1990. Alaskey departed the series near the end of the syndicated run and in his place came actor/game show emcee, Jim McKrell. Even though McKrell had a highly visible career on television and in movies he wasn't an on-camera announcer for Couch Potatoes as Joe Alaskey happened to be.

A sitcom titled Out of this World aired in syndication for four seasons (1987-1991) and a total of 96 episodes. Joe Alaskey appeared in the series as Beano Froelich starting with it's 1987 debut until the middle of Season Four in 1990 (appearing in more than 80 of the series 96 episodes). According to on-line sites Alaskey's final episode is "Marlowe Vice" (Season 4, episode 12).

It is during this time period (fall 1990) that Alaskey became more involved in voice acting for cartoons. Tiny Toon Adventures, debuting in September 1990, provided Alaskey the opportunity to originate the voice of Plucky Duck. The character is based on iconic Looney Tunes character, Daffy Duck, which Alaskey also eventually voiced following the 1989 death of Mel Blanc.

The decade of the 1990s had Alaskey providing a staggering amount of voices for all kinds of animated projects. Given my preference for a lot of classic cartoons I tended to gravitate more toward his contributions to the Looney Tunes legacy. Alaskey, more than any other, could replicate the iconic vocalizations of Mel Blanc. That is the reason I applaud the Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries series so much. Alaskey voiced both Sylvester and Tweety plus other roles. The other main cast of vocal performers included June Foray as Granny and Frank Welker as Hector. Given Joe, June, and Frank's vocal abilities they often voiced a large number of other characters, too, in addition to their main roles. Those familiar with the Nickelodeon series, Rugrats, Alaskey became the second voice of the grandfather character (Lou Pickles) starting in 1997 and lasting into the next decade.

Chuck Jones fans may recall a video series titled Timberwolf. Well, Joe Alaskey provided the voice of Thomas Timberwolf in the thirteen episode 2001 series (the last project released during Chuck's lifetime). Alaskey's next big series arrived in 2003...the entertaining Duck Dodgers...featuring contemporary exploits and adventures of the fictional Duck Dodgers (Daffy Duck), Eager Young Space Cadet (Porky Pig), and Martian Commander (Marvin the Martian). All these characters are based on a classic Merrie Melodies short titled Duck Dodgers and The 24th and a Half Century. The short, directed by Chuck Jones and released on July 25th 1953, had by 2003 become one of the signature, iconic cartoons in Warner Brothers history.

The television series more or less is an extension of the 1953 short including the debut of a new character, Martian Queen. Tom Jones performed the theme song. In 2004 Alaskey won a Daytime Emmy award for his vocal performance as Duck Dodgers.

In the latter half of the decade Alaskey kept busy providing voices on various video games and on a revival of the Rugrats franchise. During the last 5 years or so he participated in a series of Tom and Jerry direct-to-video projects (issued on DVD or Blu-Ray) but oddly enough he wasn't cast in the most recent revival of the Looney Tunes...more specifically, The Looney Tunes Show. The roles of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety all went to Jeff Bergman even though the other voice actors and voice actresses returned to their primary Looney Tunes roles: Bob Bergen as Porky Pig, June Foray as Granny, Jim Cummings as the Tasmanian Devil, Billy West as Elmer Fudd, and Maurice LaMarche as Yosemite Sam. That particular series ran a couple of seasons (2011-2014). I'm sure if I looked through Google archives I could find articles surrounding Alaskey's non-participation but I'm not going to...probably not for awhile. His most recent work centered around the series, Murder Comes to Town. Airing on niche station Investigation Discovery Channel since January of 2014, Joe Alaskey was the narrator of the series...causing a lot of viewers to praise the similarity in narration to that of the late Paul Winfield (narrator of a similar series, City Confidential).

Joe Alaskey: April 17, 1952 - February 3, 2016.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Benny favorite British comedian...

In December of 2014 I posted a blog entry marking the occasion of Benny's birth year 90 years earlier in 1924. I didn't post a blog in January of 2015 marking the 60th anniversary of the debut of The Benny Hill Show on the BBC because I'm notorious for not keeping track of anniversaries, birthdays, and milestones except for a chosen few. But as I began looking through some of the photo's saved on my computer of Benny from various stages of his career I happened to read that January 15th is the day that Benny debuted as the star of his own self-titled comedy special. No stranger to British audiences in 1955 he had been seen in a series of comedy programs and specials as early as 1951 but those didn't carry the title of The Benny Hill Show.

It should come as no surprise that I'm a fan of Benny Hill...he's my favorite British comedian by far. Although he isn't the only British entertainer that I'm familiar with he is by far my favorite. Television specials hosted and written by Benny under the specific title of The Benny Hill Show aired, on and off, from January 15, 1955 to May 1, 1989. The last television special in May of 1989 was his 58th and final for Thames TV. The syndicated half-hour series that originated in America in 1979 and had expanded globally continued to air regardless of the cancellation of the series by Thames TV. There happened to be more than 100 half hour programs that had already been compiled since 1979 that re-airing them over and over to fill the lack of new footage coming over became the norm for several years. In the early '90s Benny ventured over to America to check out potential spots to tape comedy material for a proposed series of specials titled Benny Hill's World Tour. The first special, focusing on New York, is the only program that became a reality due to the slow nature of the shooting schedule, delays, and the usual perfectionism Benny had been known for. The special finally hit the air on the USA Network on May 30, 1991. It didn't air in his homeland until 1994 (2 years after his death!).

I discovered the comedy of Benny Hill as a teenager in the early 1990s. Here in my part of America the local channels aired Benny's program in the late-night/over-night hours although research shows his programs in some parts of the United States aired as early as 9pm.

The syndicated half hour programs, comprised of sketches originally seen on his full-length hour long programs in the U.K., began airing in 1979. The batch of syndicated programs that aired for the first several years in local syndication in America featured material that had originally aired as early as 1969 (the first year Benny began making television specials for Thames TV).

After the phenomenal success of the edited programs in America it didn't take long for those clip-fest programs to find their way onto the television screens of people all over the planet. As it's been pointed out by official historians and biographers alike the popularity of Benny Hill in America kicked open the bolted doors of just about every country across the globe and this half hour program of sketches suddenly gave Benny global fame the likes of which a decidedly television-created star had never known.

This isn't to say Benny's mass popularity translated into critical acclaim, praise, acceptance, or any other similar synonym you can think of. Critical praise of Benny Hill is limited and in some countries it's muted. The irony of Benny's global success and the acclaim from abroad stood in sharp contrast to the cold and condescending remarks by television critics. Baffled, mystified, and dumbfounded could easily have been the adjectives to describe television critics in America once the program started to become such a hit in local syndication that episodes of the show began to air for what seemed like every other hour in the same market but on a different channel. It also wasn't uncommon for multiple local channels to air the program at the same time during late-night.

To further illustrate the phenomenal success of Benny's program in America newspaper columnists began to go on the attack in their editorials...attempting to link Benny's programs to increased crime, the rise of AIDS, increased rape, and just about anything else. During my research for this blog entry I come across a scathing article about the program carried in a Florida paper on July 5, 1982. The author attempted to find the reasoning behind Benny Hill's success. To the author's credit he supplied Arbitron ratings information supplied to him for WTVT-TV (Channel 13) during May 1982 and compared the numbers of Benny Hill's half hour of so-called "sexist smut" to it's chief competition, NBC's Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. The article's author couldn't understand how Carson's classy presentations had consistently been, in that market at least, toppled by Benny Hill's "vulgar, tasteless, and sexist" excesses.

According to the numbers provided in the 1982 article Benny's program averaged 36,000 viewers locally to Carson's 13,000. There wasn't any demographics numbers provided for Carson but according to the report Benny's program attracted nearly double the amount of male viewers than females (21,000 male; 15,000 female). Obviously the goal on reporting the demographic numbers for Benny's program is the author's way of driving home the sexist accusations. Hmm, judging by those numbers, there must be a lot of female sexists out there if we're to buy the author's argument about Benny's comedy being sexist.

In an article dated July 4, 1983 it had been reported that WVNY-TV (Channel 22) had decided to stop airing Ted Koppel's Nightline series at 11:30pm in order to make room for Benny Hill's program. The station's programmer explained his decision by citing the ratings reports, too. The local ABC channel  decided to start an 11pm newscast. The newscast would run to 11:30pm and be a lead-in to Koppel's national program. The only problem was Benny Hill's syndicated series aired on the local channel at 11pm and the program director didn't want to push Benny's hugely successful series to 12:30am. He cited that Benny's series at 11pm had attracted more than 50,000 viewers on average and Koppel's series attracted nearly 10,000 and so the removal of Ted Koppel's program in favor of the higher rated Benny Hill series made perfect business sense to him.

Benny Hill's birthday is coming up...born on January 21, 1924. He died on April 20, 1992 at the age of 68.