Monday, October 31, 2016

Frank's Diary

The crack research team at Battle of the Network Shows managed to get its hands on the diary of Frank, least memorable member of Bob Dolan's crew in the Lowenbrau ad. We offer these exclusive insights into a man, even with his diary in our possession, known simply as Frank.

October 2, 1972: Dear diary, we brought on a new hire today named Bob Dolan. He's already a hit here in the office, talking sports, telling jokes (he knows them all), and taking to his training like the proverbial duck to water. Why, by the end of the day, everyone had stopped calling him Bob and started calling him Dolan. A sure sign of charisma. Note: Jimmy V. kept a wary eye on him. Does he see competition?

October 27, 1972: With the Watergate scandal in the air, a lot of Nixons showed up at the office Halloween party at Manny's Steaks. Dolan didn't wear a costume. He doesn't need to to get attention. Instead, he held court in a round booth, telling stories too scary to believe about his encounters with a strange family that, he swears, looked like movie monsters. A natural storyteller, he roped us in, then let us doubt, then roped us back in. The kicker, photographs! One shows a young Dolan with a swell gal, the other her creepy uncle. That Dolan. I managed to snap Polaroids of them while he wasn't looking, and I've reproduced them here.

December 22, 1972: Well, Dolan hasn't moved up the work ranks yet, but, boy, has he moved up the social ranks. Jimmy V. has all but ceded leadership to him amongst our little crew. Only, Dolan plays it so relaxed that a casual observer might not notice the difference. He's even gotten Mike to shut up with all his Nixon support. He bought the four of tickets to a Knicks game. I wish I liked basketball more. I didn't say anything, though.

February 14, 1973: Dear diary, I bought Beatrice a station wagon today, as an anniversary present. One year ago, we moved into our house in Fair Lawn. Jimmy V. and Mike went out on the town looking for lovely ladies. Dolan said he had other plans.

February 15, 1973: Dolan got married last night! We celebrated with steaks at Manny's. I'd have rather had the stuffed flounder, but Dolan ordered before I could speak up.

June 12, 1973: Dolan got a promotion today. As unofficial office photographer, I snapped a shot (added to entry July 10, 1973 --F.). He's now an associate. Well done, Dolan!

April 6, 1974: A banner day at Casa Frank. Dolan, Mrs. Dolan, Jimmy V. and his latest, and Mike and his latest rode the train out to Fair Lawn to watch the Mets play the Phillies on TV, try out my new charcoal grill, and just have a good time. At one point, Dolan took me aside and asked a lot of questions about Fair Lawn, the prices, the commute, even schools (is a little Dolan on the way?). I gave him fair and balanced advice. I think he expects that from me, being the numbers man that I am. Intriguing.

April 18, 1974: At lunch today, Dolan dropped a bomb. He and Mrs. Dolan are moving to Fair Lawn! I was very pleased to hear this, but then Dolan suggested the guys do the same, and it only took a minute or two of Dolan charm to win them over. He doesn't work in sales, but he could sell anything. I'd suggested the same thing to Jimmy V. and Mike a couple years ago, and they laughed at me. For minutes.

August 9, 1974: A sad day for America.

October 26, 1974: Now that everyone's made their way to the suburbs, we hosted a Halloween party. Lo and behold, even Dolan wore a costume. Here is in my rumpus room as a California Highway Patrolman. (Picture inserted November 15, 1974 --F).

June 21, 1975: Dolan had us all over again, this time to enjoy his brand-new above-ground pool. We had quite a time, and Dolan had something kind of special for us, a new German beer called Lowenbrau. I detected hints of oak in it.

November 6, 1975: Dolan got promoted again. I'm happy for him, but I'll note that I haven't had a promotion since 1971, and with a mortgage and two children, I could use one. (Picture inserted December 10, 1975 --F.)

Note: From what we can tell, Frank stopped writing in his diary from January 1976 till January 1977.

January 1, 1977: New Year's Resolution. Enjoy your life, love your wife, love your children, ignore all else.

March, 19, 1977: Dolan brokered peace between Jimmy V. (and by extension Mike) and me. To celebrate, we had Lowenbrau. If I'm honest, I still have mixed feelings about the situation and Dolan's role in it, but we're co-workers and neighbors. As part of the deal, I've agreed to drive us into work three days a week. The other two, we take the train. No one else has a car large enough for four. Bea won't be happy.

May 25, 1977: I don't know how he knew, but Dolan knew. We saw the most amazing movie today. It might have changed my life.

November 24, 1977: Thanksgiving at Dolan's. Mrs. Dolan can put on a feast, and Dolan made his famous mashed potatoes. It was our first chance to meet Little Jimmy V., only home from the hospital for a month now. He has his father's looks.

December 17, 1977: A quick note before I leave work. Meeting the guys at Manny's and, we hope, seeing the Knicks play the Bulls. Dolan still has to find tickets. I think I'll get the stuffed flounder.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Show Notes: Episode 6, "Lowenbrau"

*Arthur Prysock, the singer of the "Let It Be Lowenbrau" jingle, was a jazz singer who lived from 1929 to 1997. All-Music Guide says: Arthur Prysock was perfectly at home singing jazz, blues, or R&B, but his smooth-as-silk baritone made him a superbly effective (and underappreciated) pop crooner in the manner of his chief influence, Billy Eckstine.

*The great Robert Pine's most famous role was as Sgt. Gertraer in the NBC show CHiPs, but he has had a long and varied career. He's still around at age 75 and is the father of actor Chris Pine. I have a feeling this won't be the last we see of Pine on the podcast...

*Spuds Mackenzie was a Bud Light-loving terrier who rose to fame in the 1980s. He (actually a she, but who's counting) was always surrounded by babes who, of course, also loved Bud Light.

*The 1976-1977 Knicks were only 40-42, but in the 1977-1978 season, they finished second in the division and won a playoff series before losing to Philly in the Eastern Conference finals. Hopefully Dolan and his boys saw a good game that night.

*Munich-based Lowenbrau ("Lion's brew") beer was brewed by Miller at the time of this commercial, but now it is part of the massive Anheuser-Busch InBev empire.

*The Tv Guide game begins at 30:30.

*At Ease, created by John Hughes, was an "homage" to The Phil Silvers Show but unlike that classic, this one only lasted several months.

*Renegades was a short-lived series after airing as a TV movie on August 11, 1982. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV  Shows mentions the Mod Squad similarity and adds, "Their undercover operations often included finking on their own generation...although there was usually a crooked adult behind it all."

*Tales of the Gold Monkey debuted in Fall 1982 airing at 8:00 Wednesdays, then moved to 10:00 Fridays for two months before finishing its lone season at 9:00-10:00 back on Wednesdays. Shout! Factory released the series on DVD.

*James Shigeta had a long and distinguished career and was in seemingly every TV show of the 1970s.

*Check out our YouTube channel for this episode's playlist, featuring plenty more Lowenbrau ads...and more!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Episode 6: Let it be Lowenbrau

This week, we make the argument for the greatest beer commercial--and one of the greatest commercials--ever made. Robert Pine, Michael Moriarty, a guy who looks like Jim Valvano, and a guy possibly named Frank shill for Lowenbrau and encapsulate an era of America in 30 glorious seconds, and we talk about it for 30 glorious minutes! Plus the TV Guide Game. Drinking game: drink a bottleo'lowenbrau every time we say, "Dolan."

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Great Tom Hanks story from "Family Ties" creator Gary David Goldberg

In his memoir Sit, Ubu, Sit, Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg  talks about how staff writer Michael Weithorn invented the Ned character Mike and I rave about in this week's podcast.  Weithorn envisioned Tom Hanks, then coming off Bosom Buddies, as Alex's uncle, and the show signed him to an affordable deal for several episodes.

On page 67 (Shame on the publishers for not including an index in this book), Goldberg describes "Mike Fox's" reaction to Hanks as "love at first sight." In fact, he quotes Fox as saying, "I love this guy. I love him." He begs Goldberg for scenes with him, saying he doesn't even need jokes, that they can give Hanks all the jokes. He just wants to be on stage with Hanks."

After Ned's debut in the Season 1 two-parter "The Fugitive" but before shooting "Say Uncle," the Touchstone movie "Splash" premiered to huge success. Goldberg writes that Hanks' then-agent called him and said that Tom wasn't gonna do the other episodes contracted for, and even if he did, "it would have to be for at least 10 times the originally agreed-upon price."

As Goldberg continues:

A day or two later the phone rings in my office, and it's Tom Hanks.

"Have these guys been busting your balls?" Tom wants to know, using the legal terminology for what's been going on here."

"A little bit," I have to admit.

"Listen, man, I loved working with you guys. I love Mike Fox. Anytime, anywhere. At the original price, OK?"

"You drive a hard bargain, Tom. But OK."

I love this story because it confirms several things we hope to be true: 1) Hanks is a great guy, 2) Hanks and Fox loved working together. Goldberg goes on to talk about the scene the two actors share in the kitchen (the vanilla extract scene we talk about in the pod) and says he still remembers it clearly and can "call up that shiver of excitement on the back of my neck," knowing how big those two would soon become and their easy chemistry.

Sit, Ubu, Sit is a great read but not as detailed about Family Ties as fans of the series would hope. I wrote more about it on Cultureshark.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Further Viewing: The Return of Bruno

The lengths we go to for our audience! In our Family Ties episode, we also discuss a number of Bruce Willis' Seagram's Golden Wine Cooler commercials and speculate a little on his "Bruno" persona and his brief music career. Well, folks, after downing a couple of bottles of vanilla extract (I didn't have any Golden Wine Coolers in the house), I watched Willis' 1987 HBO special The Return of Bruno. I expected a awful vanity project (what else would you expect when an actor starts a music career and promotes it with a 60-minute TV Special?) I found something else...a mediocre, occasionally amusing vanity project.

I don't blame Willis for taking advantage of his sudden rise to fame and living out some dreams--fronting an R&B band, making a mint off of wine cooler commercials. In 1987, Moonlighting had been on the air for a couple years, he had one movie under his belt (Bruno aired in February '87, and Blake Edwards' Blind Date premiered in late March). Willis probably had a plan and certainly had hopes, but could anyone have predicted Die Hard at that point? Why not get while the getting's good? So for embracing Willis, the world got Bruno.

Bruno uses the model of The Rutles and This is Spinal Tap to tell the story of Bruno Radolini, an unsung rock 'n' roll legend. In this case, a parade of rock celebrities appear on Rock Heroes, a rockumentary show hosted by none other than Dick Clark, to mostly praise Bruno. This man introduced Ringo to The Beatles, scared Stephen Stills at Woodstock, told KISS to use makeup and costumes, gave the Bee Gees the word "Saturday," and started psychedelia. The show opens with a testimonial from this guy:

Other celebrities include Otis Williams of The Temptations, Bill Graham, Elton John, Clive Davis, Wolfman Jack, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Joan Baez, a surprisingly coherent Brian Wilson, Ringo, Don Cornelius, and Grace Slick. Very few say anything negative about Bruno (Baez gets in a couple jabs), yet the man remains a bit of a mystery to all, especially after he "disappears" in the early eighties.

Unlike The Rutles or Spinal Tap (or the more recent Walk Hard and Documentary Now), Bruno doesn't quite hit the mark. Director James Yukich gets the various looks down from the documentary style to an American Bandstand appearance, unused Woodstock footage, a psychedelic film, a local commercial, and more. However, the music (mostly from Willis' Return of Bruno album) never sounds anything but eighties. Keyboard and drum sounds especially jump out as anachronistic whether on Bandstand, at Woodstock, or with The Temptations in 1971. Also, they don't used parody songs (except in the psychedelic section and one mentioned below). Instead, they plug songs into a period, but Bruno appears to have never evolved beyond a cover act, and so we simply hear renditions of existing songs.

That said, Bruno has some laughs. Michael J. Fox plays himself as a Bruno obsessive and collector of "Brunobilia."

The psychedelic film looks authentically silly (the pig head with Fox comes from it).

Bruno also has a late seventies new wave failure--Bruno's Basement, featuring Bruno on blues harp and "four women all playing bass" (and looking a lot like Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" "band.") They play a weird version of the Peter Gunn theme.

A little past halfway through, Fox pops in a dusty tape, and we get to see some live (legitimately) Bruno performances. Willis makes a passable R&B singer, plays a mean blues harp, and of course has charisma to spare as he struts and mugs his way through a number of songs, backed by a crackerjack if eighties-looking-and-sounding band. For some reason during "Down in Hollywood," he dons this spectacular outfit.

As someone who normally wants more music in his music documentaries, I didn't want more music in this one...or not all at once. Like I implied, the music doesn't stink, but it kills whatever slight momentum the "funny" part had and makes the show more obviously a commercial for the album. I was a little surprised that the show went back to Clark for a closing statement (hyping Bruno's return natch). The credits run over Willis as Bruno riffing about inventing Gumby.

The flaws in the show suggest its origins--an afterthought once Willis had recorded the album, slapped together from ideas Willis "improvised" with the writers, another idea these writers had that suited Willis' needs, a character Willis had rattling around in his head? Ridiculous as it sounds, I'd like to see documentary about this fake documentary or at least read an oral history. Where did this come from? Why did it ever happen?

Should you watch The Return of Bruno? I guess that depends on your Bruce Willis fandom. If you're a huge Willis fan, well, you've probably seen it or at least suffered through worse from him. If you want to mock him, well, you might find some things to mock but maybe not enough. Ask yourself this. Will you "respect yourself" in the morning? Me, I'm gonna find some more vanilla extract and try to forget the whole thing.

Really, though, how could
you resist this guy?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Show Notes: Family Ties, "Say Uncle"

*This episode aired Thursday, January 26, 1984 on NBC.

*Tom Hanks' first appearance as Uncle Ned was in the first season's two-parter "The Fugitive."

*Brian Bonsall joined the cast as Andy Keaton at the beginning of season 5 when the show accelerated the character's aging to make him a 5-year-old (Andy was born in season 3).

*There was no Family Ties lunchbox--much to our disappointment--but it is true that NBC  exec Brandon Tartikoff suggested Fox be removed from the cast of the series because you would never see him on a lunchbox. After Back to the Future, as Fox recounts in his book, he sent Tartikoff a custom Michael J. Fox lunchbox.

Tartikoff's own memoir says the note inside the box read, "Eat crow, Tartikoff." To his credit, the late exec always owned up to his mistake and told that story with good humor.

*Steven Keaton is the station manager of public TV station WKS, but I still can't figure out what Mr. Wertz's role is.

*Mind-blowing show note of the week: The Family Ties theme song, "Without Us," was performed by Denice Williams and Johnny Mathis for most of the sitcom's run. However, the initial version was sung by...Dennis Tufano of the Buckinghams and Mindy Sterling of Austin Powers!

*You CAN call AA on the phone!

*The Seagram's segment begins at 44:00.

*Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone never co-starred in a movie in their heyday, but they did both appear in 2006's Alpha Dog.

*Willis was reportedly fired from his Seagram's gig after a DUI bust, but his version is that he decided not to re-up because he quit drinking after that incident.

*Here is the clip we watched for this episode:

*Check out our YouTube channel for a playlist for the full show playlist, s episode, including the Seagram's ads, more from Bruce Willis (You have to see "This is where the fun starts"), and some great clips from this episode of Family Ties, including the Shot (and not of vanilla extract) Heard Round the World!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Episode 5: Family Ties "Say Uncle"

Things get boozy this week as we discuss the classic Family Ties episode "Say Uncle" (Season 2, Episode 14) Alex (Michael J. Fox) and Keaton family can't wait for a visit from Uncle Ned (Tom Hanks) until they discover he's become an alcoholic. Rick and Mike reveal their lack of knowledge about AA and vanilla extract. Plus, we examine three of Bruce "Bruno" Willis' Seagram's Golden Wine Coolers commercials. So much star power, so much booze. Drinking game: drink a bottle of vanilla extract every time we mention vanilla extract. 

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Rolling Stone's Top 100 TV Shows of All Time

I just read the recent Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest TV shows of all time, and while I was all set to be outraged, I'm more Rob Sheffield is the credited author, but the piece claims that RS editors made the picks along with 53 industry insiders. I think I'm more disappointed at the lack of insight in even the brief capsule discussions of the 100 shows.

My main problems with the list are: 1) I don't like ranking current series on something like this. It's too soon to consider something like Broad City, let alone call it the 91st best of all  time. 2) Too much love for HBO. Sopranos and The Wire are all well and good, but Six Feet Under and Sex and the City? Not so much. 3) Huge recency bias in general. 4) The Worst Shows list, which might have been livelier, consists of only 5 programs, and it looks like two of them were picked just to make political cracks.

But since this is a website devoted to TV of the 1970s and 1980s, let's look at the shows on the list that land in our time period:

8) SNL
9) All in the Family
13) Late Night with David Letterman
16)  M*A*S*H*
20) Cheers
29) Monty Python's Flying Circus (Started 1969, but I think qualifies as a 70s/80s show based on its heyday in the States)
30) The Tonight Show
31) Sesame Street
44) Columbo
46) The Mary Tyler Moore Show
47) The Rockford Files
49) Taxi
53) The Bob Newhart Show
54) The Muppet Show
57) Fawlty Towers
58) Roots
59) Hill Street Blues
63) The Wonder Years
65) Happy Days
67) The Odd Couple
78) Thirtysomething
81) Dallas
82) The Jeffersons
86) Good Times
87) Doctor Who
94) Jeopardy!
98) The Golden Girls

I excluded The Simpsons and Roseanne, which started late 80s but I consider 90s shows, but I decided to include The Wonder Years. As you can see, a good number of these--8, 13, 30. 31. 87, and 94--are long-running series not necessarily identified with any particular decade.

So if I remove those, the tally is 15 70s shows, and two of those are British. I count only 6 1980s shows (Note: I consider Taxi a 70s show and Dallas an 80s show), which seems like a low total considering the list is ranking the likes of The People vs. O.J. Simpson.

What shows are missing? Happy Days just made an appearance on Battle of the Network Shows, but at least one other from this list will turn up in our season 1. What other programs on the RS list would you like to see us discuss on the podcast?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Further Viewing: ALF Tales

Over the years, shows like Star Trek, Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, and My Three Sons (we wish) spun off into animated versions, and NBC went to this well a number of times in the eighties. Gary Coleman's TV movie The Kid With the Broken Halo begat The Gary Coleman Show. Mr. T got his own cartoon. Even Punky Brewster showed up on Saturday mornings in It's Punky Brewster (along with a "leprechaun gopher"). Still, none of these could top ALF, for ALFmania spawned not one but two animated series, airing Saturday mornings on NBC!

ALF: The Animated Series premiered in 1987 and showed ALF's (real name Gordon Shumway) life on Melmac before its destruction.* We met Gordo's family (dad Bob, mom Flo, little brother Curtis, and little sister Augie) plus would-be girlfriend Rhonda and pals Skip and Rick. They live in a weird, American Graffiti/Happy Days world mixed with sci-fi. I remember watching this one some, but it didn't make much of an impression, and my sampling of part of an episode for this post didn't either.

*Hey. Don't worry, kids. In season one, episode seven of the regular series "Help Me, Rhonda," we learn that at least Skip and Rhonda escaped Melmac, too. Sure, we don't know about Bob, Flo or little Curtis and Augie, but at least not everyone died a horrible, horrible death by nuclear annihilation.

The next year, ALF Tales joined ALF: The Animated Series in a one-hour ALFtastic block. ALF Tales used the cast of The Animated Series to retell fairy and folk tales. Much like "Fractured Fairy Tales" and some segments on Sesame Street, ALF Tales used the source material as a starting point for parody--in this case, movie (and pop culture) parody. ALF Tales made an impression on me, though I'd probably already grown tired of ALF proper by then (graduating to more "mature" material like Cheers and Newhart). Even not knowing all the references (and they loaded them up), I could tell the creators had something more--dare I say--sophisticated in mind. Looking back on a couple episodes, I can see hints of later smarter kid-but-also-for-adults cartoons like Animaniacs and Freakazoid! ALF Tales doesn't reach those levels, but it tries.

In "Cinderella," the creators turn the traditional story into a kind of Elvis movie. Superstar rock 'n' roller Gordon Shumway has come to town with his pompadour, Colonel, and band made up of cousins and guys he knows from the joint.

The Colonel and Gordo
At that night's concert, he wants to pick soul mate. Rhonda plays Cinderella, whose father has just remarried (like, five minutes ago) an awful woman named Tillie, who has two stepdaughters named Janet and LaToya. Yep. Tillie and the gals also form a girl group (a very bad girl group), and when dad mentions he has tickets to Gordo's concert, they pounce. Cinderella whines to her dad, but he doesn't pay her much mind. In My Three Sons style, he spends his time in his recliner, reading the paper and smoking his pipe (two actually!). Cinderella wishes for a fairy godmother and ends up with Marlon Brando from The Godfather. She of course wins Gordon's heart with her glass-shattering voice, and they live happily ever after until fairy-tale Melmac explodes in nuclear devastation.

A couple other bits:

  • Questionable line of the episode: the Brando Fairy Godmother says, he has to "see a man about a horse."
  • At the end (of the version I watched), live-action ALF answers a letter from the mailbag, reading a viewer's poem about him that ends with him "Going to the bathroom to do number four" (ALF apparently has eight stomachs, so who knows what this means?)
"Jack and the Beanstalk" stuck in my memory, and I've actually rewatched it a couple times. This one retells the classic tale through a Hitchcockian lens. I have to admit I have a fairly large Hitchcock-shaped hole in my movie watching even now, so I probably missed a few bits, but this episode includes references to Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, The Birds, and The Thirty-Nine Steps. The episode opens with a Gordon Shumway Presents title card reminiscent of the TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents

We soon learn that Jack lives and work at the Re-Bates Motel with his mother, but they haven't had a guest in twenty-six years, so she sends him to the village to sell their pet/bellhop cow. 

Cut rates!
He of course gets magic beans, she tosses them out the window, and he ends up climbing the beanstalk, despite his fear of heights. There, he finds the giant, this time named J. Mason, and, yes, he looks and talks like James Mason. Jack steals the golden-egg-laying chicken, and they upgrade the Re-Bate to a Sick-O 6. A mysterious blond named Pippi Lee Sing shows up, Jack utters this episode's questionable line, and along the way, we meet two henchmen named Martin and Landau and Rear Window Jimmy Stewart. While not hilarious, this one holds up a little better than "Cinderella," possibly because it doesn't have a long duet in the middle of it. It also features some nice Bernard Herrmannesque music.

Other bits:
  • A news announcer on Jack's clock radio mentions the crusades and the plague. Seriously. The plague.
  • At the end, Jack and Pippi marry, spending their honeymoon on a train, and, yes, for a last shot, we get the train entering a tunnel.
  • Questionable line of the episode: after checking in to the Sick-O 6, Pippi asks Jack for an umbrella. Jack hands her one and responds "It's awful getting stuck in a shower."
  • The mailbag response features a Bruce Willis going bald joke.
Where can you watch ALF Tales? Well, you can purchase episodes from Amazon, but it doesn't appear on streaming services right now. Like ALF, it disappeared from Hulu at some point. YouCould look elsewhere, YouKnow. Ahem.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Show Notes: Episode 4: Alf, "Tonight, Tonight"

*"Tonight, Tonight" aired Monday, October 24, 1988 at 8:00 P.M. on NBC.

*Perhaps the greatest of all nuclear apocalypse sitcoms, not that there is a lot of competition, is Woops! a short-lived 1992 Fox comedy. Here's the synopsis from

Woops! was a postapocalyptic comedy in which two kids playing with an electronic toy at a parade accidentally set off a nuclear missle, triggering a nuclear holocaust which wiped out most of the world's population in under an hour.

Sounds like a regular riot!

*Paul Fusco created the ALF character and was the main puppeteer, but Michu Meszaros, who passed away after the taping of the podcast, played the role in costume during some full-body shots during season 1. He apparently was not being used by the show by the time this episode aired.

*The less said about Max Wright's (Willie) post-ALF issues, the better. Google it. Apparently the series was a lot more interesting behind the scenes than on screen, with the cast feuding amongst itself and even wholesome daughter Lynn, Andrea Elson, having some issues according to gossip.

*Rich Little was a frequent presence on The Tonight  Show, making dozens of appearances as both a guest and a guest host, but he stopped getting booked in the eighties and never knew why. On The Carson Podcast, Little told Mark Malkoff he didn't think, as one theory had it, that Johnny disliked Little's imitation of him, and in fact he recounted a story that indicated the opposite. Little's take on Carson was the standard bearer before Dana Carvey came along.

*The movie we talk about with the horrible musical score is Murphy's Romance with James Garner and Sally Field.

*Jay Leno was permanent guest host of The Tonight Show at this point.

*The episode Rick "sing-quotes" (in clumsy fashion) ALF singing "City of New Orleans" is "Night Train" from season 2.

*Alf and Ed McMahon reunited in 2004 for Alf's Hit Talk Show.

*ALF was on Hulu for years, but is no longer on the service. The series, including this episode, can be viewed for free on TubiTv.

*The TV Guide game begins at 00:44:00.

*Check out our YouTube channel for a playlist for this episode, including much of the stuff mentioned in this post!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Episode 4: ALF "Tonight, Tonight"

That lovable, furry, cat-eating alien ALF sits in for Johnny in the extra-long "Tonight, Tonight" (Season 3, Episode 4). Joining ALF, Ed McMahon, Tommy Newsom and the Tonight Show Orchestra, plus guests Pope John Paul II, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Joan Embery from the San Diego Zoo. Plus the TV Guide Game!

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Further viewing: Potsie's finest moment?

One of the odd things about the Happy Days episode "American Musical"--and, oh, there are many--is that the one cast member the show tried to push as a music sensation for years had such a minor role. Before Joanie and Chachi were "a thing," Happy Days attempted to make Potsie Weber (Anson Williams) a singer.

And then it tried again. And again. And again.

In fact, one of Potsie's standout episodes featured Joanie crushing on him big time because he was such a dreamy crooner. What a slap in the face it must have been for Anson Williams to watch the likes of Ted McGinley get showcased in the all-musical episode while he was relegated to a supporting role in the "Immigration Blues" segment.

And just in case you missed it when we posted it the other day or you forgot how ridiculous it was, here's another look at that bit:

As awful as this episode was though, there was an even worse segment on the series, and it was a full-on showcase for Potsie. I give you season 6, episode 27, "Potsie Quits School."

Tormented by an imperious teacher, Potsie struggled in Biology until Richie helped him learn the intricacies of the circulatory system by writing a song about it. The result is one of the goofiest moments in Happy Days history, coming at a time when the sitcom still had a shred of dignity, no less:

Everything about this is terrible. The song is bad enough (though catchy as all get out, I must admit), but look how it kills all the main characters. Fonzie has to introduce the song.  Ralph, Richie and Lori Beth look like idiots playing their improvised instruments and bopping around.  Even the teacher, who might have been an effective heel foil, is reduced to looking through a giant textbook as if he needs verification that the rudimentary facts his student is reciting just because they're being SUNG.

No good comes of this. The song doesn't even always rhyme (though, to be fair, it must have been tough to try to come up with a rhyme for "ventricle").  For overall suckitude AND negative impact on the series as a whole, I submit to you that this individual song is the worst ever featured on Happy Days, even topping the stuff we see in "American Musical."

Monday, October 10, 2016

Battle of the Network Shows on YouTube: The Multimedia Experience

Even though our show covers an age before the phrase "multimedia experience" existed, we want to make Battle of the Network Shows a multimedia experience*. To further that goal, we introduce the Battle of the Network Shows YouTube Channel!

Here, you can find many of the promos and clips we've "borrowed" for the show and anything else that strikes our fancy**, all broken down into episode-specific playlists. Want to binge*** on Happy Days clips, check out the Happy Days list. Want to see the teacher Salami had an affair with, check out the White Shadow list. You get the drill. Now get watching!

*Do people even use "multimedia experience" anymore? It's sure to drive up our SEO, right?

**How's that for contemporary language?

***Getting warmer.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

TV Guide Game Ephemera: Happy Days Edition

The cover to the March 7-13, 1983, edition,
featuring a show we hope to someday discuss.

We nerded out about the NBC sitcom lineup ad (from the
same March 7-13 issue). Take a gander at the listings,
and you might find a hint at future BOTNS episodes.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Show notes: Episode 3: Happy Days, "American Musical"

*"American Musical" aired Tuesday at 8:00 P.M. May 26, 1981, and was the 22nd episode of Happy Days' eighth season.

*Ted McGinley (Howard and Marion's nephew Roger Phillips) apparently got his reputation for causing shows to go down the tubes from the late, lamented Jump the Shark. In fact, Married with Children was on longer with him than it was before him, so maybe the reputation is a little overblown, but here are some successful shows that he joined after their creative peak:

The Love Boat
The West Wing (I'm assuming on this one)

But it all started with Happy Days, his first regular acting gig.  His role in 1984's Revenge of the Nerds is arguably his biggest movie role.

*To clear up the Chachi situation: At the time of this episode, Fonz's cousin Chachi Arcola was living with his mom (Ellen Travolta) at her pad. In the show's next season, Big Al started dating her, and they soon married. Shortly after that development, spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi debuted on ABC and did well for the 4 "Season 1" episodes

In this series, the two crazy kids moved from Milwaukee to try to become pop stars, with Big Al and Mrs. Chaci starting a restaurant which conveniently provided opportunities to stage musical numbers. The show tanked when it returned in the fall, so Joanie and Chachi rejoined the "mothership" and their show was yanked.

*Speaking of music, Anson Williams (Potsie) did not sing the show's theme song at any point, though his vocal stylings did become a frequent feature of the series.  Potsie became assistant manager of Cunningham Hardware and stuck around throughout the series' entire run, but he was not in the series finale.

*If you want to try the weird elephant dance from the "Immigration Blues" number at home, here's a visual reference:

*We talked on the podcast about how long Happy Days hung around. The series had more "finales" than a Peter Jackson movie. In season 11, an early two-parter, "Welcome Home," has Richie's emotional farewell from the series and would have been a natural closing. Yet there are 17 more episodes in that final year, including the two-parter called "Passages," which features Joanie and Chachi's wedding, plus Fonzie's adopting the "cute" kid who had become his sidekick.

Yet there are 5 more episodes after that, with the actual last episode, "Fonzie's Spots," having this plot according to IMDB:

Fonzie, Roger and Chachi soon regret agreeing to help Howard Cunningham save his Grand Poobah position by becoming new Leopard Lodge recruits when they find out their pledge master is prankster Potsie "Sabu" Weber.

I do not remember that one, but it sounds awful. So of course I want to see it.

*The show is not seen as widely in reruns as it used to be, but it currently airs weeknights on Me-TV. Currently the full series is not streaming, either, though this episode is one of the few (25 out of 255) on Hulu. CBS All Access has not added the show, and it's never been on Netflix.

*The TV Guide game starts at 00:48:10.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Episode 3: Happy Days "American Musical"

This time, we hold our noses and dive deep into Happy Days "American Musical" (Season 8, Episode 22). The latter day Happy Days gang celebrates America's immigrant history through elaborate musical daydream sequences. Also, the TV Guide Game.

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Further viewing: "The Black Shadow" on Saturday Night Live

In our most recent episode, we mentioned the Saturday Night Live sketch "The Black Shadow," a bit sending up the "social relevance" angle of The White Shadow. The entire episode (Season 5, episode 3) is available on Hulu and is recommended as another reaction to the series.

SNL could be pretty clever about sending up race relations in those days, but it could also be pretty clumsy. This segment is in the series weird fifth season, in which some of the original cast remained, but Belushi and Aykroyd were mostly absent, Bill Murray became the foundation of the program, and featured players like Paul Shaffer and writers Al Franken and Tom Davis were constantly featured out of necessity. So with the show's depth lacking, poor Garrett Morris must have wondered why the hell it took bringing on a black guest host--not even an actor, mind you, but an NBA player--to do these kinds of sketches while he languished in drag roles or in unimportant exposition-type parts.

Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell had made various guest appearances on TV in the 1970s, but nothing like hosting SNL. It's an odd fit considering the contentious relationship he had with the media. At this time, in 1979, he was out of the game, having coached Seattle for several years after leaving the Celtics franchise.

"The Black Shadow" begins with Russell as a basketball coach addressing his all-white team after a big loss, defending his decision to play only 3 guys on the court at once. The guys accuse him of betting against them to get money for his drug habit, and he accuses THEM of saying that because he's black!

A voice-over introduces us to The Black Shadow: "Black coach, white team. He gets in trouble; they bail him out." Meanwhile, Russell sends his players to the showers, then goes through their lockers and takes stuff!

The offenses Russell's Coach Lewis has committed pile up: distributing pornography, assaulting a student, arson (!). We see a 15-year-old student (Laraine Newman) break up with him because he's too old, and he asks, "Is this because I'm black?" Another student (Gilda Radner), visibly pregnant with "Curtis Jr.," accosts him for support, and he brushes her off by saying he's too old for her.

When the team confronts him in the hallway after another missed practice, Coach Lewis says he had to take care of his sick mother, then walks off after telling them to leave him alone but not before offering pot, LSD, and hash to them. So the players decide to visit Mrs. Lewis to verify the story, and I'll give you one guess who plays her.

The segment pokes fun not only at The White Shadow, but at other TV shows that were set in schools and attempted to discuss "issues." A crawl at the end of the sketch notes the producers acknowledge their debt to the following programs: Mr. Novak, Lucas Tanner, Room 222, The Paper Chase, Welcome Back Kotter.

I think one of those shows is not like the other, and I also think that "The Black Shadow" uses the basketball framework of The White Shadow and utilizes Russell to hilarious effect, but it seems to be poking more fun at the other programs. The scene in the principal's office, with the well-meaning whites twisting themselves around trying to figure out how to save Coach Lewis, is a little more overwrought than the kind of well-meaning liberalism on the real White Shadow.  Bill Murray's super-earnest teenager is funny but not really indicative of Coach Howard or his players.

I think this sketch is great, though, with a predictable but still funny punchline. Russell's awkwardness as a performer doesn't hurt any, even when he can't keep from chuckling at one of Radner's lines. Stick around for other sketches that are far more offensive to certain minority groups, as well as for the two performances by musical guest Chicago. Peter Cetera's growling vocals on "I'm a Man" are overshadowed by his sweet hairdo, and the big takeaway for me is how much it sucks that NBC/Universal only cleared music for the first 5 seasons, leaving us with butchered versions of every episode afterwards.

Monday, October 3, 2016


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