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Category Archives: Cathode Rays

Reviewing the Reviewers

It’s been an interesting last five weeks witnessing the variety of guest reviewers fill in on Ebert & Roeper while Roger Ebert is out recovering from surgery. I’ve been watching this in some form ever since Gene Siskel and Ebert’s Sneak Previews days, but I have to admit the show lost a lot of since Siskel died. Richard Roeper has slowly grown on me, but he still stikes as someone who’ll grudgingly rave a film if the lead actress is a hottie. Seeing Roeper with these guest critcs really drives home the point that Ebert gives the show a gravity and credibility.

It could be a warning sign that E&R‘s first three guest critics all come from the entertainment biz: Jay Leno, Kevin Smith, and director John Ridley (who didn’t leave much of an impression with me). Leno surprised with his eloquence and fairness, and Smith was his usual affable self — but people working within Hollywood don’t have any business reviewing films. I tend to think they’re biased, favoring films if their colleagues are involved, even when they clearly aren’t. Hopefully this is a stunt and not the sign of some future trend.

It all sort of underlies the lack of real criticism existing in our current media landscape. Most of what we see and read is just fluff passing as news. Which brings me to the fourth guest critic, entertainment reporter Toni Senecal. The bubbly Ms. Senecal used the word “awesome” more than once and demanded a high-five from Roeper. In other words, she was horrible. It reminded me of the time Siskel and Ebert departed their first syndicated venture, At the Movies, to be replaced by the dreaded trio of Rex Reed, Dixie Whatley, and Ned Flanders-esque Bill Harris. Remember them? Like having a hearty steak dinner replaced with a bag of marshmallows, I tell ya!

Some form of deliverance arrived last weekend in the form of guest critc #5, Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune. Phillips came across as credible, interesting, witty and fair. So what if he wasn’t as telegenic as the others? His stint came as a relief — but let me point out that in five weeks, they’ve only had one bona fide film critic in the guest spot. Guess it really is true what Marge Simpson said: “Did you know there are over 600 critics on TV and Leonard Maltin is the best looking of them all?” And finding someone with the intelligence and charisma of a Roger Ebert must be a herculean task.

Idle Emmy Thoughts

Another year, another Emmy awards. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that other awards shows get nominated for awards. Especially when one winner was the director of that very Emmys telecast, doing his acceptance speech from the control booth. A very meta moment.

Something else to think about: Barry Manilow has two Emmys; Hugh Laurie has zero. Huh?

Huh? Something GOOD on Network TV?

In a unique partnership, NBC and Netflix are offering its customers a preview DVD containing two pilot episodes from the new fall season — including Aaron Sorkin’s heavily anticipated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Me and Christopher decided to check it out last night. Halfway through watching, C. turned to me and said “Let’s record this show instead of Lost this season.” I said “Yeah!” We don’t invest a lot of time in current network TV shows (especially hour-long dramas), but this particular one hooked us in an instant — it’s that good. In a nutshell it’s The West Wing transplanted to the the behind the scenes doings at a fictional Saturday Night Live-type show. Matter of fact, a lot of the fun derives from the SNL comparisons. The entire plot rolls into action when a harried Loren Michaels-esque producer delivers a spontaneous speech on live TV about how his once-edgy show (and TV in general) has gone into the toilet. Amen, brother. Terrific writing, terrific cast.

Read Christopher’s take here.

13,148,719 Minutes

My family didn’t get basic cable until Summer 1986. What it boiled down to was that I mostly missed out on the first five years of MTV. There was a lot of catching up to do. A ravenous teen interested in visual artistry, I would watch music videos wherever, whenever possible — mostly MTV, but also BET, Friday Night Videos, Night Flight and even programs on the Spanish and religious channels. But MTV remained king. I witnessed Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter give way to Adam Curry and Kevin Seal, 120 Minutes, Yo! MTV Raps and Club MTV. We had a good run together, but nowadays I glance at MTV and see a complete stranger. I find it tacky and repulsive, but then again I’m no longer 18. Happy birthday, MTV. For further reading try CNN’s 25 Memorable MTV Moments or 25 Years Down the Tube, a wistful and perceptive essay by The Washington Post‘s Hank Steuver.

Get Ready to Match the Stars

Has anybody been checking out GSN’s countdown of The 50 Greatest Game Shows? They’ll be devoting three hours a week to this until August 31st, airing full episodes of their choices whenever possible. Quibble with the list all you want, but I think it’s neat to see groovy old episodes of Treasure Hunt and Tattletales in prime time. I’m leery that GSN will slot in too many of their own shows (such as the ridiculously easy Hollywood Showdown, ranked at #46), but the list has been pretty fairly chosen so far with equal emphasis on popularity and impact.

I’m looking forward to finding out how GSN’s rankings stack up to my own personal top 10, listed below. #10, by the way, was an obscure 1989-90 show on American Movie Classics hosted by the one and only Gene Rayburn.

1. What’s My Line?. A class act all the way, in dreamy black and white.

2. Jeopardy. Proof that “game show” and “intelligent” are not mutually exclusive.

3. The Price Is Right. Here’s hoping GSN will have a classic ’70s-’80s episode to share.

4. Match Game. Wacka-wacka good.

5. Super Password. Been watching a lot of this one lately — addictively ’80s.

6. Sale of the Century. Spent many lunch hours at home watching this one.

7. The Joker’s Wild. I can remember being mesmerized by those spinning graphics.

8. Tic Tac Dough. Watch out for the dragon.

9. Hollywood Squares. Paul Lynde was my childhood idol! Little did I know.

10. The Movie Masters. Short-lived but fondly remembered.

I Want My Soothing Footage of Animals and Flowers

Every Sunday we like to watch CBS Sunday Morning, especially the “nature moment” at the end. Christopher always brings up how CBS ought to release an entire DVD of their greatest nature footage. Well, now that the network has launched a customized DVD service, his dream may come true. Although Sunday Morning counts among the news programs available, the current offerings are on the slim side. But maybe, perhaps it’ll happen! Can’t wait to experience those frolicking sea otters from c.2002 again.