Monday, July 28, 2008

The genius of Quincy, M.E.

It's possible I've written about this before, but I'm way too lazy to go back and look. Besides, it's worth bringing up again. In fact, I might post it every week.

It's no secret that we here at The Popcorn Trick are big fans of Quincy - based pretty much on the opening credits. Sure, its' possible we saw an episode or two, but not nearly enough to know what the show was really about. But in the Internet age, that's immaterial, because we can simply relive certain clips of our youth without having to suffer through the boring parts. Thank you You Tube!

Anyway, while we're big fans, we're obviously not the biggest fans, as this evidence suggests...

I'm not sure where to start. Actually, I'm not going to start. I'm just going to watch this clip another 15 or 16 times. April Winchell, thanks for posting this, and thanks for being a Quincy fan.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Links of Interest 7/25

Well this is certainly one direction to take the Robocop series.

Great evidence that, at the end of the day, too much alcohol simply makes up too stupid to live.

While I appreciate the FBI releasing information about myths like this, I'm not entirely sure they should be the be all end all voice when it comes to stuff they might want to keep secret in the first place.

I thought this video would be a lot more interesting. Still, watching Rush fail at playing one of their hits does hold a little curiosity.

Not good for you, but they definitely look awesome. And besides, what hamburger is good for you?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How to make Wipeout a good television show

Summer television fare is, well there are few things to describe it that don’t immediately bring up images of garbage. It used to be networks simply repeated their regular season series, simply giving up on ratings. But then reality television exploded on the market, giving the networks something to cheaply produce, and giving the audience something new to watch.

Say what you want about the current crop of reality television shows. I’m not here to denounce the entire genre (is it considered a genre?). The debate of whether people enjoy reality television for its worth, or simply because that’s what’s on at the moment is not going to be broached here. I don’t have nearly enough psychology doctorates to come up with a sane thesis on the matter anyway. What am I here to do is look at one of the more recent offerings of reality television, called Wipeout.

Wipeout is ABC’s latest attempt to cash in on a cheaply produced show that features regular people falling down, slipping into pools of mud, getting punched in a variety of places on their body and generally making fools of themselves. The immediate problem that I have with the show is that it’s just interesting enough to make me want to tweak it into a success. Unfortunately, I don’t have that power (ABC executives, if you’re reading, I have a couple notes that probably wouldn’t even cost too much), so I’m just left with ranting about it here.

The premise of the show is simple: ordinary people run through try to complete different obstacles in the fastest time to continue on to the next round. Each round eliminates a number of contestants, until we’re left with four individuals who take on the grand finale course. The one with the best time wins 50,000, and probably some sort of post traumatic stress syndrome (being attached to something that spins at a high speed repeatedly has to do something to your insides).

The show brings to mind a similar type game show, called Ninja Warrior, exported from Japan. This show too shows people attempting to best a number of obstacles

Now, while I’m not 100% sure, I assume ABC took it’s influence from the popular Japanese game show Ninja Warrior. This show, popular on the G4 network, is similar in people are competing against a challenging series of obstacles that get increasingly harder after each round. Here’s an example of Ninja Warrior, a montage of Nagano, one of two contestants to ever win. You can see the seriousness and challenge one must face:

And here’s an example of Wipeout:

Obviously, you can see both the similarities and differences. But they don’t stop there. With Wipeout, there is a winner every week; with Ninja Warrior, in the 20 seasons it has been on, it has only been completed twice. And that fact, not only highlights the difference between the shows, but also between cultures. I doubt the American viewing audience would have the patience or the respect needed to watch failure after failure of people attempting the best a course. I’m also guessing that’s why the producers of Wipeout gave each show a definitive winner. So I’m not going to suggest to make Wipeout a better show to change those things.

But I will suggest Wipeout could borrow a few things of Ninja Warrior and become a much more popular show. So here’s what I would do to make Wipeout better…

Make obstacles achievable.

I understand that there is a lot of humor watching someone do a head first dive into a pool of mud. I’m not above laughing at that myself. But when every competitor falls into mud, it begins the act begins to lose its appeal. The problem with Wipeout’s first course of obstacles is that they’re designed to be next to impossible to complete. Competitors routinely attempt an obstacle, fall off and then are left to swim or trudge to the next. Completing the course then becomes a competition against the clock and not the obstacles. So rather than build any kind of minor tension to see if someone can finish the course, the viewer is left with simply waiting for the contestant to fail. And while the failure is often spectacularly painful looking, it will eventually become redundant, and viewers will start looking to NCIS for their entertainment.

Have a healthy respect for the obstacles.

I don’t know if contestants are told to have fun with the course, or producers screen for a certain type of person, but so far everyone I’ve seen on the show has been fairly stupid, fairly ignorant or a combination of both. It seems that the show doesn’t know whether to be a comedy or a sporting event, and not making that decision waters the entire show down. The absurdity of obstacles and falls of contestants will always breed comedy; I don’t need average people trying to be funny. That just makes it more unfunny. And speaking of funny…

Get rid of the current announcers.

Not only is it obviously scripted and then taped to be played later, Jon Anderson and John Henson are the wrong fit for this show. Snarky attitude and scripted jokes take the joy out of allowing the viewer to make those jokes while watching. Bring in a real play-by-play person, have him announce the situation while it happens, and comedy will come through the spontaneity of it all. Heck, maybe these two are the right choice in this format. But scripting the show hurts the entire vibe of the competition, and it’s difficult to focus on the individuals competing. I’m interested in seeing them try these goofy things and seeing how far they can actually make it. Let the announcers be in the moment.

Bring in a live audience.

I think the creepiest thing for me is the fact that this giant course appears to be out in the middle of nowhere, and the contestants are shipped in ala Running Man. Seriously, why not hold the competition in front of an audience react to what’s going on? It would add to the level of excitement and get a buzz going.

As I said before, I don’t think Wipeout is bad, but I do think it will have a short shelf life if it doesn’t make some changes. Already after watching it twice I’ve caught myself wondering if the Law & Order episode on TNT is one I’ve only seen 4 times before. Tweak now, or look for another show to run into the ground next summer.

Links of Interest 7/23

Not that I feel I'm ever going to commit a crime worthy of prison, but I've seen The Fugitive enough to know that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to innocence. Therefore, I'm appreciative of this guide.

Sure, on paper it's wonderful to have R.E.M. do a guest stint on Sesame Street. But then it happens, and you subject millions of tykes to that which is the appearance of Michael Stipe. As an adult, it's easy to overlook his appearance and respect his talent; as a four year old, it's nothing more than seeing a nightmare personified.

Michael Caine sounds completely down to earth and completely insane all at the same time. And I love him for it!

In this age of instant gratification and jump cuts, we are quick to label. Take this essay about M. Night Shyalaman. Sure, I agree with a lot of the author's points, but that doesn't mean he has lost any talent, or didn't have any talent to begin with. I know we need labels so we can move on, but I'd rather judge him either on a movie by movie basis, or at the end of a long career. Apologies for the Andy Rooney moment.

I love me a good space conspiracy like this one!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Remembering Battle of the Network Stars

Don't know what The Battle of the Network Stars is? Then I weep for you. Long before MTV started having the casts of Road Rules and The Real World competing against one another in a series of athletic events, the Big 3 (NBC, ABC, CBS) did the exact same thing with their prime time stars.

Though the network stars last battled in 1988, (after 19 titanic conflicts, starting back in 1976) it never strayed too far from my consciousness. Ever since that last battle, I always hoped some network would be crazy enough to resurrect this glorious competition. Unfortunately, with the cable channel explosion diluting talent and television star salaries escalating past a point where a couple extra thousand dollars would be seen as a nice bonus and not simply an extravagant lunch, Battle of the Network Stars is destined to live on only in memories. Until now...

A few months ago, I stumbled across a rather sketchy online auction selling all 19 seasons of BotNS – for the incredibly low price of $35. $35 to relive my childhood cooped up in front of my television? I quickly contacted the seller and prayed he actually had the DVDs, and wasn't some guy simply lying to get some cash for his next heroin kick.

I was in luck; the seller's vices became immaterial to me just a short week later as I was met with a package on my doorstep. My DVDs had arrived.

I immediately popped the 1976 inaugural season DVD into the player, nervous about whether it would meet the expectations my memory created, or simply snip one of the few last remaining strands connected to my childhood.

My anxiety, I'’m happy to say was unwarranted. Battle of the Network Stars is everything I remembered, and oh so much more. Its blend of reality television, pure competition and cheesiness of unathletic people attempting to perform in athletic events is more than the perfect storm –- it’s the perfect supernova of awesomeness.

Now, I'’m not the only fan of Battle of the Network Stars; Bill Simmons, a.k.a. The Sports Guy on has written a few times about his love affair with the show. However, I am ready to become the de facto expert of Battle of the Network Stars on the web. And I’'m ready to start now.

So, without further adieu...

The 1976 Battle of the Network Stars

Back in 1976 cable television didn't exist for the nuclear family. Sure, rich people may have been able to get off their couch, walk over to their tv and turn the dial to Home Box Office, before going off to swim in their indoor pool of money, but the rest of society got their entertainment from 3 stations: ABC, CBS, and NBC (sure there were also a couple UHF channels and PBS, but honestly, who wanted to see McNeil nor Lehrer struggle over a wall in the obstacle course?). So to make The Battle of the Network Stars a reality didn't take as much effort as one might think. It probably happened over a power lunch, or a coke orgy.

But enough about the sociological landscape. We're here for nostalgia and nerdom (actually, this probably ranks lower than any nerdom). Let's get into the meat of it.

We’'re immediately introduced to the three team captains with a Bondesque, pre-credit set up: CBS'’ Telly Savalas, is sitting by a pool, replete with gold chains and attitude; NBC's Bob Conrad, cigarette in hand, is careful careful not to get any ash on his yellow on yellow open buttoned shirt and shorts separates; and Gabe Kaplan is attempting some sort of weird tough guy accent, perhaps on the set of Sesame Street after hours. Cue the credits.

Howard Cosell will be playing the part of the emcee of the festivities. Say what you want about the man and his approach to sporting events, but here he is all business. With severity usually reserved for presidential inaugurations and assassination attempts, Cosell took announcing Battle of the Network Stars seriously. There is a famous story that Cosell approached announcing the Battle of the Network Stars the same way he approached announcing the Olympics, and if that doesn't speak to the professionalism of the man than I don't know what will.

Cosell starts off by introducing the teams:

Gabe Kaplan (Captain): Welcome Back Kotter
Darlene Carr: Streets of San Francisco
Lynda Carter: Wonder Woman
Farrah Fawcett Majors: Charlie’s Angels
Richard “Dick” Hatch: Streets of San Francisco
Bobby Heyges: Welcome Back Kotter
Bobby Heyges Afro: Welcome Back Kotter
Ron Howard: Happy Days
Hal Linden: Barney Miller
Penny Marshall: Laverne and Shirley
John Schuck: Holmes and YoYo

Telly Savalas (Captain): Kojak
Adrienne Barbeau: Maude
Gary Burghoff: MASH
Kevin Dobson: Kojak
Pat Harrington: One Day at a Time
Bill Macy (not the one you’re thinking of): Maude
Lee Merriwether: Barnaby Jones
Mackenzie Phillips: One Day at a Time
Loretta Swit: MASH
Jimmy Walker: Good Times

Robert Conrad (Captain): Baa Baa Black Sheep
Melissa Sue Anderson: Little House on the Prairie
Karen Grassle: Little House on the Prairie
Tim Matheson: The Quest
Ben Murphy: The Gemini Man
Barbara Parkins: Captains and Kings
Joanna Petet: Captains and Kings
Kevin Tighe: Emergency
Bobby Troup: Emergency
Demond Wilson: Sanford and Son

Aside from a few names (and while you might not know the name John Schuck or the show Homes and Yo Yo, you would certainly recognize him from some other failed television show you caught an episode or two of), this is a who's who of television in the mid 70s. Some of these names will play an important part in the battle; some will never be seen again. I assume some played on the volleyball team (which received minimal coverage) others played tennis (which received an 11 second summary as a slow motion Loretta Swit celebrated a victory played in the background) while still others performed in the bike relay (which may or may not have simply been made up); still I think a few of the competitors may have been there simply to pick up a check.

A quick aside about slow motion since I brought it up. Never has it been used so successfully to titillate an audience during a family hour of television. Roger Goodman, the director of BotNS is either a visionary or currently serving time for stalking Lynda Carter. His slow-motion montages looked better than probably 75% of the porn being shot out there at the time.

Event #1: The Swimming Relay

Goodman, realizing he needed to grab the audience at the beginning, starts the competition with a swimming relay. While possibly not the most exciting event of the day, it does give us lovely lasses in tight bathing suits. Lynda Carter starts for ABC, Adrienne Barbeau starts for CBS, and I-don’t-care-who starts for NBC. Goddamm you Goodman, you're not only an artist but you're a ratings genius.

Unfortunately, swimming is very unforgiving; you either know how to swim or you don't. Tim Matheson swims a strong anchor leg for NBC and puts them ahead early. But everyone wins when we are then treated a slow motion breakdown of Lynda Carter's start.

Hollywood'’s early gossip queen Rona Barrett makes her first “appearance” on the show right after the swimming event, setting up a canned segment about Lynda Carter’'s sky rocketing career. I’'m not 100% sure why Barrett is involved with BotNS at all since Cosell did a fine job introducing and narrating the clip, but I’'m not privy to Barrett'’s 1976 popularity. Heck, she may have had Oprah status. What I do know is that if she collected a paycheck for her work, then Goodman got ripped off. See for yourself:

Event #2: The Running Relay

Easily the most entertaining, controversial and craziest event of the competition. Four runners from each team race around a track and pass a baton to one another to complete the race. Bruce Jenner is introduced to give 15 seconds or so of mindless analysis which falls flatter than Aaron and his Vegas Next Food Network Star presentation, but I can'’t blame anyone as he is coming off his Olympic high. We get him out of the way and start the race.

Demond Wilson appears for the first time, getting ready to start the first leg of the race for NBC. In a bizarre exchange between him and Cosell, Demond suggests he'll race anything for the right price, to which Cosell invokes the name Jesse Owens. The whole conversation is charged with racial electricity, so I'll cautiously back away from it.

Everything seems to be going fine, with teams jockeying back and forth between first and third. Heyges afro seems to alter his gait; Ron Howard has an awkward, flailing approach to running, which makes it appear as though he's a wounded 'Nam vet, desperately trying to get back to the chopper. But all that's really to be expected. These people weren't on the track in high school; they were in the drama club. Suddenly, the race takes a controversial turn when NBC’'s Ben Murphyfrom the huge hit Gemini Man(?), moves off his line to accept the baton from Joanna Pettet early, and then turns the jets on to win the race, followed by ABC, with CBS bringing up the rear. Eagle-eyed Telly Savalas, captain of CBS notices the apparent gaffe and apparently lodges a complaint with the judges. The fact that there are judges and a formal process to lodge a complaint is a surprise to everyone, but most of all Robert Conrad.

Anyway, the judges confer, and rule that Murphy'’s move gave his team an unfair advantage and reward ABC with first place, NBC with second place, with the instigators, CBS, remaining in third.

Well, this does not please Bob Conrad in the least. But don't take my word for it. Watch the entire thing deconstruct right here:

A few quick thoughts about this race...

  • Pettet gets caught in a lie and you can see it on her face. Nice try Pettet. I understand Conrad would probably murder you if you didn't at least attempt to cover it up.
  • Like a conductor, Savalas is calling all the shots here. So uncaringly shrewd. I love it.
  • To this day I don't know what Conrad's argument is. He's so angry, I don't think he knows what his argument is. Let's just say he's a man of action, and not a man of words.
  • Carter, once again, is all over Kaplan.
  • "Emotional reaction?" Telly Savalas you've done it again!
  • Conrad actually threatens to pull his team. This is a celebrity competition! Don't think he wanted to win?
  • After this Savalas performance, I seriously might start watching Kojak.
  • After Kaplan accepts Conrad's challenge to a race-off, the rest of the ABC team seems hesitant to accept it. I honestly think none of them had any faith in Kaplan at that point. For shame. But once he won, they all would have taken a bullet for him.
  • The race between Kaplan and Conrad is grossly unfair. Kaplan has the outside lane, yet both he and Conrad start at the same position on the curve of the track and stay within their lanes. So not only does Kaplan win the race, he runs a longer distance! (I've watched this video more times than the Warren Commission saw the Zapruder film.)
  • If Heyges didn't grab the inside of Kaplan's leg in hoisting him after the race, Carter's arm would have been right there. Nice cockblock Heyges.
So Conrad loses, ABC wins the race, NBC doesn't pull out, and Savalas is still Savalas. It is good to see things settled in a completely unprofessional yet perfectly civil way. Now, had this happened in 2008, the cynic in me would have probably written a 15,000 word diatribe on how this whole incident was staged, but back in 1976, I can't imagine sane TV producer wanted controversy to sell their show and/or stars.

Event #3: Tennis

Against a slow motion montage of Loretta Swit celebrating a victory, Cosell casually mentions CBS won, followed by NBC and then ABC. And so ends the tennis event. Thank god we can then move on to...

Event #4: Golf
Since normal golf on television isn't that exciting, this is really painful - and the producers know it. Gary Burghoff shows why he didn't get much work after MASH by playing class clown to no laughs. Not even teh lovely Farrah Fawcett-Majors in a short skirt can save this event. We get a long set up from some gold announcer wearing a satellite on his head. Teams have to get closest to the pin on a hole created by a lawnmower and a bucket of sand on the lush lawns of Pepperdine. CBS wins. This is Goodman's only true misstep of the whole coverage, and I'm not even sure we can blame him.

Event #5: The Dunk Tank

Ah yes, the Dunk Tank. This event epitomizes what Battle of the Network Stars is all about by perfectly blending the athleticism and antics of these Hollywood starlets. Of course, they still need to iron out a few of the kinks, as it seems amazingly hard to actually dunk someone. Hitting the target does not necessarily guarantee anyone gets wet. Imagine that happening in modern television? People most likely would contact their cable provider demanding the "fat guy go in the water." Unfortunately, this event, much like swimming, can highlight someone's lack of athleticism. Throwing a ball is a skill that really needs to be learned at a young age and then practiced; if you miss your window as a young tyke then it's going to show when you're an adult. Never has this been so clear than in the difference between Kevin Dobson's approach and Gabe Kaplan's...Had Kevin Dobson not become an actor, he most likely would have pitched for the Dodgers, whereas Kaplan definitely found his calling in performing on the stage. After his 3 tosses fail to come within 6 feet of the target. CBS wins the dunk tank, followed by ABC and then CBS.

Event #6: Cycling relay

If tennis fans were upset with the brief coverage of that sport on the show, then cycling fans are going to, um, do another couple of laps in protest? I'm not sure what an angry cyclist would do really, but BotNS shortchanges the event and we're left with nothing but a verbal recap from Cosell. Though we do get to hear him describe Ben Murphy as "beautifully built."

Event #7: Obstacle Course

Probably the most famous of the events, or the at least one people are most familiar with. The course has 5 obstacles: a table-like structure to go underneath, tires to run through, monkeybars to swing on, a wall to climb, and a water pit to jump over. Fastest time wins. In the day's only real psychadelic moment, the cast of The Wizard of Oz shows us how to go through the course. I was particularly impressed with the Scarecrow's handling of the wall and water pit.

First heat: Penny Marshall vs. Mackenzie Phillips. Think Mackenzie has this one wrapped up, right? Guess again! This is the lean, mean svelte Penny Marshall and she demolishes the course. Only later in life, coasting on this obvious victory did she let herself go and become what she is today.

Second heat: Adrienne Barbeau vs. Karen Grassle. From the start, I figured Barbeau might have trouble due to some assets, (read: her boobs) and I was right. The lithe Grassle makes short work of Barbeau to advance.

Third heat: Dick Hatch vs. Gary Burghoff. Not a great matchup. Burghoff is just not tall enough to tackle the monkeybars with any sort of gusto and it takes him out of it early. I hate to criticize Telly here, but is Burghoff the wisest choice for this event? Heck, is he the wisest choice for the entire show? Are you telling me the guy who plays Father Mulcahey had more important things to do than head up to Pepperdine and suit up in the name of network pride? Hatch breaks the tape easily in this heat.

Fourth heat: Kevin Dobson vs. Ben Murphy. Probably the two best athletes competing today. This is huge. We get a quick look into what makes Kevin Dobson tick (apparently he's insane. And not the fun kind. The borderline, I-should-be-under-constant-surveillance kind) with a profile before the race, and then Murphy makes short work of him. Very anticlimactic.

Finals: Marshall vs. Grassle. I thought it would be tighter, but no, Penny schools the blond lass and shows everyone what could have been had she kept a stairmaster in her Hollywood mansion during the 80s.

Finals: Hatch vs. Murphy. Again, a potential epic battle that fizzles with Hatch winning a laugher. ABC takes the victory. On to the next event and - wait! A Dr. Joyce Brothers sighting! Cosell ambles over to the good doctor sitting in the stands and proceeds to get into a sociological conversation about celebrities competing and why people enjoy watching them compete. Did Dr. Joyce Brothers know about some huge network exec orgy fest in the 70s that no one else knew about? It's these little asides that no one remembers that makes us all remember how ugly early television could be.

Event #8: Volleyball

I've seen a lot of bad volleyball in my day, but nothing comes close to this. But before we head to the action let's give Robert Stack a moment to wax poetically about the sport of Olympic shooting (I'm sorry, but I'm past the point of even trying to explain what these little vignettes of sublime awsomeness have to do with the actual competition. But there's no way I'm fast forwarding through anything Robert Stack does).

Here's the breakdown: ABC is playing CBS in volleyball. If ABC wins, they advance to the Tug o' War against CBS. If CBS wins, then they go into the Tug o' War against NBC. So there's a lot on the line here.

Really, no one is ever going to use this game as a classic example of how the sport is played.

After a cagey move by Savalas to win a point, we dissolve to his profile of him cutting a scene of Kojak with Rosie Greer. He then comes on camera and spends the next 5 minutes talking about horseracing and how he owns a horse that is going to revolutionize the sport. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

Back to the game, where Kaplan is taking full advantage of the ref's loose interpretation of the carry rule. If I were CBS I might lodge a protest that Kaplan's mustache gives ABC an unfair advantage. Seriously, when talking about famous mustaches, where does Kaplan rank? I'd say below Selleck, but above Gerald McRainey.

The game ends with Kaplan putting ABC on his back and "carrying" them to victory, pun fully intended. The sport of volleyball has just been set back fifteen years. The match over, Cosell ambles over to Savalas for comment, Telly suggests he threw the match so they could take on the smaller, lighter ABC team in the Tug o' War. Why didn't anyone tell me how awesome Telly Savalas was? I mean more so than I already knew?

Grand Finale: Tug o' War

The venue changes to some gorgeous Malibu beach, but neither team is here for the sights - they want to win. The NBC team is on the sideline, probably still bemoaning the judges' decision to penalize them in the running relay. In fact, Conrad openly states he's rooting for CBS , barely hiding his disdain for ABC, and Kaplan in particular. I love the fact that he still believes Kaplan filed the protest against him. Telly Savalas you magnificent bastard, you played everyone like a fiddle!

CBS has Kevin Dobson who may or may not have killed a hobo before this event. He looks serious. I don't see how ABC can win...

Yet they do, despite Conrad screaming out advice to team CBS. Underdogs the whole way through, Kaplan leads this bunch of ragamuffins (along with the gorgeous Lynda Carter) all the way to victory. And to top it all off, he presents a bottle of champagne to Savalas. Would Conrad have done that?

And with that, The Battle of the Network Stars '76 is over. Yes, there are plenty of reasons why it could never work in 2008, but there are also plenty of reasons why it should at least be attempted. Sure, we can pretend those Real World/Road Rules Gauntlet shows fill the celebrity competition void, but why try to kid ourselves? These shows have none of the charm and charisma of television celebrities and instead trade on the ugliness of trying to be a star. Sure, they have entertainment value, but none of the wit and absurdity Battle of the Network Stars have given us. There have been plenty of attempts to capture it, but no one has succeeded. But I'll always be on the lookout for it, and the second I see it, you'll know.

Links of Interest 7/17

Though I'm not sure being compared to William Friedkin is such a bad thing, maybe M. Night should get a hold of things before starting his next movie.

Some movie quotes no one ever gets right.

Rock of Love 3? Sign me up! We'll definitely be on top of it here at The Popcorn Trick.

Stuff you can't see using Google.

Rogue NASA scientists creating their own rocket? Fantastic.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What I learn watching television

Too often we view television as simple, mindless entertainment. These posts will be an attempt to at least wade waste deep into issues that can occasionally arise during prime viewing hours. Whether a simple question about something stupid, to a moral dilemma that seemingly has no right or wrong answer, if we're intrigued by something we see, we'll bring it up. Comments are welcome.

So I was watching the L&O station last night, also sometimes referred to as TNT, and happened to catch an episode of the original Law & Order. I freely admit I enjoy the show and all of its spin-offs (I think I would rank Criminal Intent #1, followed by the original, followed by SVU), and frequently find myself watching 2-3 episodes in a row, if nothing else tickles my fancy.

Anyway, this episode dealt with the police stumbling upon evidence of a murder while investigating a suspect for another murder. The catch (and there's always a catch)? Someone had already been tried and convicted for the murder. So the episode dealt with the legal hoops everyone had to jump through to rectify the situation. In the end, McCoy came through and all was good. 

But the hoops that everyone did jump through is what was so troubling about the episode. The episode showed just how difficult it is to release an innocent man out of prison - and that's without any of the emotions and politics that shouldn't be part of the process. I mean, there's a point in the show where the decision is left up to a panel of judges, and a strict, legal argument has to be made and decided upon, even when it is clear a mistake has been made. 

I understand that our legal system has to appear absolute; but at this point in time, it has been shown that an absolute system is impossible. There is no black and white anywhere, it's just varying shades of grey. 

I also understand that this is a television show, and not real. I want to make sure I clarify that, so no one thinks I'm taking this too seriously (though I'm sure we're past that point). I just find it odd that people working in law will sometimes allow innocence to rot away, because of pride. Above all else, law should protect the innocent, not have the potential to punish them. 

Just so we don't get to sanctimonious here at The Popcorn Trick, I also happened to catch an episode of Ninja Warrior, and want to say if you haven't seen it yet, you should. While Wipeout, the show on ABC, appears to be a minor hit, it doesn't hold a candle to Ninja Warrior, definitely the blueprint the producers are loosely following. 

Ninja Warrior works as entertainment for a number of reasons; but I think one of the most important ones is because Japan as a culture takes it so seriously. It's an accomplishment to finish stages on Ninja Warrior. It is hard, incredibly hard, and people train to compete. In 19 seasons, only 2 people have successfully finished all 4 stages. Every season it gets harder as well, so that it remains a challenge to all competitors. Could you imagine that approach on American soil? It would fail within a month. We like our gratification instantly, and that includes challenging feats. In America, I would bet we would make the course easier, to ensure success. It's the exact opposite of what the Japanese do, and that's why it works, at least for me. Anyway, check it out if you can.

Here's the run of the most recent winner, Makoto Nagano:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The disaster that is Celebrity Family Feud

I'm not sure when it happened, but Tuesday recently became "Crappy television show day." And apparently it happened on my watch, so I would like to issue an apology to all of you. I accidentally stumbled upon Celebrity Feud last night, and since I do enjoy a good episode every now and then, settled in for an hour of mindless entertainment. Unfortunately, I only got one of those two for my time. And I'm certain you can guess which one.

I don't even want to get into the numerous problems with the teams playing. I guess the people were playing "in character." Since I'm not an Earl fan however I can only guess they're really not stupid. And was that Tim Stack paying homage to his Life as a Beach character by wearing a lifeguard jacket, or is that what he does on the show. I was confused, though not enough to do any research.

No, I'd rather spend a little time speaking about the host, Al Roker. Unfortunately, with his inclusion, he will now forever be involved in the Family Feud host discussions you have with your friends (what? You don't have Family Feud host discussions with your friends? Your loss) and no one wanted that, including, seemingly Roker based on his performance last night.

Obviously Dawson is irreplaceable. That's a given. His charm, wit and sideburns ruled that set; there will never be an equal. I'll go to my grave believing Richard Dawson is an American treasure (for both hosting duties on Feud and his Jordanesque run on the Match Game in the 70s). First off, Dawson never looked like he was a game show host...pulling off sharp 3-piece suits of varying colors never seemed forced, or gimmicky. It seemed genuine and normal. That appearance matched his attitude perfectly, so that he came off as though this wasn't just a normal run-of-the-mill game show - this was Family Feud.

After that take your pick. Ray Combs, who some people seem to like (i can't understand why - his performance after Dawson with his very pronounced handshaking with the ladies seemed a sly, subtle insult toward Dawson's swinging orgyfest on the set); Anderson, whosse voice almost sank the show; Richard Karn, who took his acting cues from a cardboard box out back; and John O'Hurley, the guy from Seinfeld who is making his living playing the guy from Seinfeld.

Actually, though he's only been on or a short time, O'Hurley seems to be somewhat comfortable in the role. He brings an element of class and dignity, without losing the humor. His banter with contestants seems genuine and not forced from an producer through an earpiece. Here's an example of how he deals with some questionable answers:

The same cannot be said for Al Roker. Yes, it's true I've only seen the one episode, but he clearly did not seem prepared for anything. Whether or not the cast of Earl should have stayed in character is beside point; Roker didn't know how to react. While it's debatable anyone knew how to take this approach (honestly, it was a trainwreck, with Stack producing the show's only funny moment, overruling his team's answer of Jessica Rabbit for a sexy Jessica, to go with Jessica Tandy. Someone I too had been screaming since first hearing the question), it simply goes to show just how little Roker can ad lib - a skill a game show host should know at least a little something about.

Here is a prime example of how to deal with "difficult" contestants:

So, if you were to ask me to rank hosts, it would look like this:

1. Dawson
2. O'Hurley
3. Anderson
4. Karn
5. Combs (I really didn't like him)
6. begrudgingly, Roker - though had I ever seen it work, I'm sure the cardboard box that teaches Karn could go here too.

So, unfortunately I can't recommend you watch Celebrity Family Feud. But I won't leave you empty-handed. Enjoy...

Links of Interest 7/8

One of the funniest men working in show business right now is Ricky Gervais. Everything he touches seems to simply work (minus Night at the Museum, but we can't hold him accountable for that train wreck).

Want to eat healthier? Start with these foods.

Who doesn't like serial killers?
Well, at least reading about them.

Sick of your boss piling stuff on you? Ready to hit the rails and live carefree as a hobo? Check this list before you go - it could save your life.

Legos are awesome. I definitely believe they went a long way into shaping the person I am now. So this video brought back a lot of memories.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Links of Interest 7/7

Like music? Take a look at some of these websites.
So, there's been a lot of talk about this Dara Torres. Have you seen recent pictures of her? She makes other swimmers look positively doughy! Ripped beyond belief, this article goes into a little more detail about how she has been training for the Olympics.

I'm guessing that one of these things will eventually wipe us all out.

I love maps, so this blog will certainly be bookmarked.

Super Secret Lost Podcast!

The Lost finale has come and gone, but that doesn't mean it was forgotten (ok, maybe a little since it was so long ago). Since the finale was a 3 hour ordeal, we decided that instead of creating a 14 hour episode of our podcast that would bore everyone to tears, we would give our Lost listeners a special treat - 25 minutes of our insane ramblings and pinings about the Lost finale.

Download to hear musings about Keamy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (your guess is as good as mine), Dante's Inferno (ditto) ruminations on what is going on and what will be going going on in the next season. You won't want to miss it!

Definitive proof that Keamy is a badass and Sayid is a pussy (and possible evidence on what the hell Cline was talking about with "tranquilizer" Joe:

Jeremy Bentham's wikipedia page that pretty much proves that neither of us know what we're talking about.

And finally, a super awesome video that definitively explains the entire show. (I'll be impressed if you get through 2 minutes. And there are 2 more parts!)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Links of Interest 7/2

I've always been fascinated by ancient religious artifacts, so this story is cool to me. The discovery of something new, the interpretation of it, the arguments...and then we learn it's pretty much fiction. That's like saying in 1000 years, someone is going to be able to tell how we lived by reading a Stephen King novel. And yet there's so much intensity over all of this.

I love Buckaroo Bonzai, so this site selling related merchandise is awesome.

I've heard rumors that this project isn't going to delve too far into the popular conspiracies of the president, which would be a minor upset if you were gambling on it.

Every few years or so, someone trots out a cool "end of days" scenario for us to worry about. So far, we've been able to laugh them all off. Will the Mayan/2012 doomsday prophecy be the one to finally cash us all in?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Links of Interest 7/1

A great article on a convicted sports agent of human trafficking, set against the backdrop of Cuban baseball. It's long, but well worth the read, especially if you're a sports fan.

This person takes a nonchalant approach to almost being killed by a train. Talk about a cool customer - unless they didn't see the train at all.

Klosterman is an expert on pop culture. Don't believe me? Well, check this out...he apparently has been hired as a professor for a German university to teach students about pop culture in the United States.

I've received the anti-Obama email and I too thought about trying to track it down to its source. Obviously, my hunt would be much more grass roots; basically tracing the email addresses of people that sent it, but who knows? Perhaps it would have worked out.

If I had to describe a woman who was the star of roughly 150 bestiality videos, I'm pretty sure I would come up with someone similar to the person pictured here.