Sunday, January 31, 2021

Top Ten #105

1) Cheers: The only show mentioned on both the top 5 lists of Mike and Rick on this week's mailbag podcast!

2) Alice Cooper: Check out this footage from the American Music Awards broadcast 45 years ago today, January 31, 1976:

3) Jessica Walter: Happy birthday to Batty-Award-winning star of Dr. Strange Jessica Walter!

4) National Backwards Day: On this special "national holiday," su tel kool ta Htraem morf Mork and Mindy:

5) Shogun: The epic 1980 miniseries was a big hit at the Golden Globes this night 40 years ago.

6) Supporting Actors and Actresses: Speaking of the 1981 Globes, both these categories were TIES on this evening.  Vic Tayback (Alice) and Pat Harrington (One Day at a Time) shared the prize, and also splitting an honor were Diane Ladd (Alice) and Valerie Bertinelli (One Day at a Time).

Can you imagine the Globes voters agonizing over all these categories because they loved Alice and One Day at a Time so darn much?

7) Stuart Margolin: Happy birthday to the star of Rockford Files, Love, American Style, and so much more.

8) Hee Haw: Roku Channel added a random (?) batch of mid 1980s episodes last week. I believe this is the first time the show has been on a major streaming platform.

9) Search and Legends of the Superheroes:

Both of these BOTNS beloved programs (click here and here for the episodes) got major props on this week's Warner Archive Podcast in which the hosts picked their favorite WA releases.

10) R.I.P. It's been another tough week for TV deaths. Farewell to Cloris Leachman, Bruce Kirby, Cicely Tyson:

Saturday, January 30, 2021

And now a word from their sponsor: Reggie Jackson is a hot dog!

 I love this 1984 commercial for Wienerschitzel:

Reggie Jackson celebrates National Hot Dog Month (July) with this ad.  Reggie seems on board with everything, and I hope he really did have a good time.  I do find it amusing that the commercial sings about how the chain is more than just hot dogs in Hot Dog Month and then touts a hot dog special at the end.

Is it possible that baseball history has it all wrong and that California Angels Reggie is the best Reggie Jackson, even better than the A's Reggie or the Yankees Reggie?  Sure, his on-field exploits in New York and Oaktown are impressive, but Angels Reggie gives us this singing Reggie, the Jeffersons Reggie, and even The Naked Gun Reggie.

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Mailbag episode video playlist is now live!

After listening to our first mailbag bonus edition of the podcast, check out our video playlist! We start off with the king of viewer mail, David Letterman, and then explore some theme songs, promos, and clips from some of the stuff we talk about in the episode. You will even see Elvis (the King, but not of viewer mail) and Bobby DeNiro! And who better to close a star-studded playlist than Greg Evigan! Just click below to start!

And remember to hit our official YouTube channel for all of our past episodes and playlists to accompany each one of them!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Show Notes: Mailbag episode #1!

*Thanks to everyone in our Facebook group who gave us topics and questions for our first mailbag bonus episode! We'll do it again, but in the meantime you can always reach us at

And come on and join us in our FB group and talk TV! It's private but super easy to join.

*Rick here: Don't worry, folks, even though I love shows from the 1950s and 1960s, I am true blue to our beloved BOTNS era of the 1970s and 1980s as well! 

*The Munsters Today is on Peacock and NBC. It was in first-run syndication from 1977-1981, somehow accumulating more episodes than the original The Munsters! Could an episode of the pod centered on this one be in the hopper?

*Here for posterity are our lists of "5 faves" (at least at the time we recorded this):

Mike: Cheers, Magnum P.I., Search, Late Night with David LettermanColumbo
Rick: Cheers, The Love Boat, Clash of Champions, It's Garry Shandling's Show, The Odd Couple

*The Simpsons and Seinfeld did start in 1989, but we hereby declare them 1990s shows!

"Suspicious Minds" is actually a song by Mark James, but "In the Ghetto" is indeed a Mac Davis tune.

*Our first episode of the podcast premiered Thursday, September 22, 2016.

*Let's get the 1970s Spider-Man TV series (both American and Japanese) on Blu-Ray!

*Check out this week's YouTube playlist for glimpses of the shows we would like to see on DVD/Blu-Ray.

*Here is a link to Geno's great YouTube channel and another one to Steve's Illuminati Social Club podcast. Please check out their stuff as well as all the other great pods and friends of the show we mention in this episode like 20th Century Pop.

*Thanks again for your support, and get ready for the Season 8 Battys next week! Season 9 is just around the corner!

Mailbag at Battle of the Network Shows

This week, we answer open up the mailbag and answer questions from our Facebook group. We give our thoughts on expanding our format, how we got started, our favorite shows from the seventies and eighties, and, perhaps most importantly, our thoughts on Elvis. Also, we commit to a subject for season nine.

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Promo Theatre: A night of fun on NBC

 I knew I was going to love this promo as soon as I saw the title in my YouTube feed. After all, it's from 1981 NBC. Can we all just agree to call late 1970s-early 1980s NBC The Second Golden Age of Television?

NBC has an odd mash-up of programming tonight, with CHiPs the mainstay being preceded by Boomer and a Flinstones special. The latter was the final Bedrock-themed primetime special the network ran in the 80-81 season.

I have one problem with this promo: Casey Kasem says Fred unwittingly enters a marathon, yet IMDB says he decides to be the first Bedrock citizen to enter the Rockstone Marathon. Well, we have to believe Casey, right?

Monday, January 25, 2021

This Day in TV History: Stay tuned after the Super Bowl for...

For a long time, the Super Bowl was not seen as a launchpad for future hits and would-be hits by the TV networks.  On this day 40 years ago, NBC broadcast Super Bowl XV, in which Tom Flores' Oakland Raiders became the first Wild Card team to win the big game by beating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10.

Just under 69 million viewers tuned into the game, but NBC didn't take that audience for granted. It kept the night going with CHiPs--and not even a new episode, but a repeat of season 3's Thrill Show, which had aired nearly a year earlier.  Perhaps the strike that delayed much of the 80-81 season affected NBC's plans, but, wow, that sounds like an unimpressive Super Bowl leadout.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Top Ten #104

1) Henry Aaron's 715th home run: The legend died this week, but this classic moment lives on forever. Curt Gowdy called it for NBC while Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully had their resepctive team radio broadcast calls.

2) Yakov Smirnoff: Happy birthday to the multitalented comedian, actor, and rapper. Don't remember his rapping? Listen to our What a Country! episode for more info.

3) Players Club International: I don't have the heart to look up to see if this is still a thing. I want to be a Player forever.

4) National Beer Can Day: What a special day! How about we celebrate by admiring the dozens of cans of Billy Beer we all kept in our vaults as collectibles?  

Well, at least we can enjoy an old Stroh's ad:

5) Almost Anything Goes: This unusual show premiered (again) his night in 1976 after a summer sting in 1975. Charlie Jones, Lynn Shackleford, and Regis Philbin were commentators for an array of goofy outdoor stunts pitting teams from different towns against each other. It lasted until April.

6) Neil Diamond: Happy birthday to the musician who has done it all, including what has to be the pinnacle of his career, making it to the cover of Parade Magazine recently.

7) Adrian Edmonson: Happy birthday to the man who portrayed this totally rational and reasonable human being:

8) The Muppet Show: Disney Plus FINALLY is bringing the complete series (they say) in February. Will we rank the show again when it does show up there? You bet we will.

9) Peggy Fleming at Sun Valley: The skater's third TV special premiered on this night 50 years ago and featured guests like The Carpenters.

10) Gregory Sierra and Larry King: Rest in peace!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

This Day in TV History: Celebrating the Muppets

35 years ago tonight, CBS (remember when The Muppets were a CBS thing?) presented The Muppets: A Celebration of 35 Years, an hourlong salute to the beloved troupe.  It's one of many Muppet TV specials over the years, and it's worth commemorating this week after the great news that The Muppet Show is finally coming to Disney Plus next month.

Here is a contemporary New York Times preview of the special. It's structured as a gala banquet looking back at the history of Jim Henson and his creations. As you can (hopefully) see above, the special is not hard to find long as you don't look for it on Disney.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

This Day in TV History: The spectacular debut of Sweet Daddy and the less spectacular debut of "Popi"

On January 20, 1976, 45 years ago to the day, CBS kicked off the night with a Good Times that gave us one of the great characters of the era.  The episode title says it all: "Sweet Daddy Williams!"

After our season 4 Good Times episode, I wrote more about this particular program and the greatness of Teddy Wilson and the character. I can't say much more today, but I will add that the program following Good Times on 1/20/76 was the debut of another "ethnic" sitcom, Popi.

Despite goo intentions, the show lasted only 11 episodes, 6 of those burned off in the summer after the show was canceled. This isn't to be confused with the 1969 movie with Alan Arkin and Rita Moreno, though at least one big site does confuse the two!

The show's lead was Hector Elizondo, who talks about the experience here in this entertaining clip and indicates it was crushed by Happy Days.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

This Day in TV History: Punky Brewster vs. The Refrigerator 35 years ago tonight

On January 19, 1986, Punky Brewster featured a Very Special Episode about the perils of playing in abandoned refrigerators and the benefits of learning CPR. Refrigerators were high on the list of biggest menaces of the 1980s, behind only drug dealers, apples with razorblades, and Judge Doom.

The episode is available for free on, and here is a clip that takes it lightly but gives you a taste:

The Mental Floss oral history of this episode is great reading.  Among the tidbits in here, this episode was the result of a story submission contest NBC held. The kid who won suggested Punky learn CPR, and the show's staff created the fridge story.

You can hear us talk about two other Punky episodes right here!

Monday, January 18, 2021

This Day in TV History: The Reel Game premieres on ABC

January 18, 1971, ABC's mini-block of game shows featured a premiere: The Reel Game hosted by Jack Barry.

The show followed Let's Make a Deal at 7:30 and The Newlywed Game at 8:00.  Total Television says the game featured 3 contestants. "The questions concerned famous people and events, and the answers were "verified" by showing newsreel or other documentary footage.

According to this post, a similar show called Eye Bet aired in Canada at about the same time with host Jim Perry (a BOTNS favorite). The same poster says that the cost of licensing clips proved prohibitive. The Reel Game lasted until May. It was part of Barry's national comeback (he was developing Joker's Wild at this time) after his implication in the quiz show scandals of the 1950s.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Top Ten #103

1) Betty White: Happy birthday to America's Sweetheart, the legendary Betty White!

2) Name That Tune: FOX has a new version on the air, and no disrespect to Jane Krakowski, but how can you beat the original--uh, any of the originals. I think there were a dozen different versions, but you get my point.

3) Rising Damp: Friday I gave BritBox an A for 2020 partly because of adding series like this, an "of its time" sitcom that I hadn't seen in years. Really I'm just a sucker for this old opening:

4) James Earl Jones: Happy 90th to James Earl! Does anyone else wish they could see:

5) Don Robertson: Speaking of great voices, R.I.P. to the longtime CBS voice, the man who delivered, "This is CBS," as well as countless voice-overs for CBS Sports, from the championship events to, well, this:

6) Nancy McKeon: She was on Mindy Cohn's podcast this week and said the most common misconception about her was that she knew all about motorcycles. Turns out she does NOT! I am crushed. Next thing you know, Henry Winkler will tell us he couldn't assemble a cycle 

7) National Healthy Weight Week: It kicks off now! I know someone who could help us all celebrate this:

8) George Burns 90th Birthday Special: 35 years ago tonight, CBS celebrated the nonage--the noneg--the nonagg--the 90-year-old comedian's birthday with the likes of John Denver, Steve Allen, Billy Crystal, Bill Cosby, and...

9) Super Night at the Super Bowl: CBS aired this entertainment extravaganza on this night 45 years ago. Andy Williams and Jackie Gleason hosted, and stars included Joe Namath, Bob Newhart, The Pointer Sisters, and O.J. Simpson (Cosby now becomes the second-most notorious person mentioned in this list).

Oh, how I want to see ALL of these specials (there were 2 more after this), but here is a clip from the 1978 one, the only thing I could find on YT:

10) Peter Mark Richman: R.I.P. The prolific actor was in many, many shows, including the Dynasty season 3 episode we discussed here.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Happy National Fig Newton Day!

 It's January 16, so of course it's time to celebrate Fig Newton Day here in the USA.

Has that ever happened to you?

Friday, January 15, 2021

Over Easy: It wasn't ALL about eggs

In our deep dive into the 1980-1981 TV season, we discussed the phenomenon of Over Easy on PBS, a daily magazine show aimed at seniors. Well, believe it or not, folks, the show wasn't ALL about eggs, despite what our speculation might have indicated.  Here is proof in the form of two descriptions from the Tuesday, September 16, 1980 listings of a TV Guide:

The next page has an example of something that has always confounded me: The listing for a particular program referring to another entry of the same program/episode at a different time (sometimes a different day).  This was 1986.  Were people figuring out by hand all this stuff fit on the pages? What went into that?

"See 12 noon Ch. 28 for details."  No! Why should I have to look all the way back on the preceding page? Just give me the info here at 3:30!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

This Day in TV History: A memorable debut and a GENIUS guests on Cannon!

On this night 45 years ago, NBC premiered The Bionic Woman, its high-profile spinoff of The Six Million Dollar Man. "Welcome Home Jaime" was the first part of the pilot; the second installment aired the following week.  After two seasons on ABC, the series moved to NBC for one last go-round.

Elsewhere on the dial, CBS' broadcast of an all-new Cannon episode, "The House of Cards," featured guest star and BOTNS favorite (and namesake of the Genius Award) Robert Pine! Dabney Coleman and Pernell Roberts also star as "a small-town newspaperman takes on a dual identity and fakes his own murder."  Roberts is the newspaperman, Coleman is--well, I don't know, but I assume he is a jerk, and Pine is a sheriff.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Streaming services and classic TV in 2020--Report cards! Part 6

Today we conclude our long-running series grading the major streaming services on how they handled classic TV in 2021. OK, OK, stop applauding! Let's hope 2021 brings lots of surprises for those of us who enjoy older stuff, especially from the BOTNS era of the 1970s and 1980s.

Shout! Factory TV: Hard to give this one a grade. The company is responsible for bringing a lot of rarities into the streamingverse, like The Tim Conway Show. Yet it's tempting to just wait for the same shows to go to platforms like Amazon Prime Video or Tubi, where they often show up later and are easier to watch and track. Shout! went months without adding much of anything TV-wise, but it doesn't drop a lot, either.  Its content is great, but the app itself isn't impressive. That  has been true since the beginning, though.

Most pleasant surprise: The onslaught of Johnny Carson shows (yes, edited for music, but still) on streaming services is due to Shout! getting the rights.
Biggest disappointment:  A general lack of activity for much of 2020, when streaming content was desired more than ever. Also, does Shout! have streaming rights to some of the out-of-print stuff it released on DVD, like It's Garry Shandling's Show? How about super-expensive material like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?

Grade: B. I am factoring in the fact that it makes so much of its holdings so widely available.  I hope Shout! kicks it up a notch in 2021, but how can I complain about a company that made Ace Crawford, Private Eye available this year? Many streaming services would not want to touch a short-lived flop like that.

CBS All Access: This one underwent massive changes in 2020 as its parent company expanded its offerings to include programs from BET, MTV, etc.  But how much of it was classic TV? Not very much.  I stopped even checking CBS All Access until suddenly it dumped The Love Boat on the service without fanfare.

Unfortunately it still has only a handful of episodes of Happy Days, to give an example. Many series are either MIA, period, or just missing a bunch of episodes. Other than Love Boat, CBS is focusing on adding movies, kids' shows, and other things while still giving its vast TV catalog short shrift. 

Grade: D+: Love Boat elevates this in a year of inactivity, but I am optimistic that the upcoming rebrand to Paramount Plus will mean more is on the way. The sharing of many shows with Pluto may be a good sign: Give live-streaming to the free Pluto, save on demand for the paid Paramount Plus.

Roku Channel: This free service has a lot to offer, and remember, you can watch it online without a Roku. What it doesn't have is a watchlist function.  It's clunky and hard to find material.  However, it continues to surprise by licensing shows from a wide variety of sources. 

Recent additions like The A-Team and Magnum P.I. are not rare, but it's cool to see Roku grabbing some NBCUniversal content and putting it on a free channel (part of the deal to get Peacock on Roku?) More surprising adds included Head of the Class from Warners and Hazel and Benson from Sony, none of which had been anywhere else. Plus Roku also dips into the world of black and white with shows like Tombstone Territory and is willing to put up short-lived rarities like Good Morning, World.

The biggest drawback is the lack of transparency about what is coming and going.  The tenendency to get several seasons of a series and rotate them out instead of just putting the whole thing up is irritating. Still, while Roku Channel is unsophisticated as an actual streaming video service, it offers appealing content for classic TV fans every month.  That lack of transparency and drawing from multiple sources makes this one of the most constantly surprising channels.

Grade: B+: Maybe Roku will get some of the unused Warner library as part of its deal with HBO MAX so we could see series like Alice, Night Court, Harry O, Eight Is Enough, Gilligan's Island...

Crackle: It's telling that when Mike and I consider shows to cover on the podcast, when we see one that's on Crackle, we try to figure out ways to watch the show without actually using Crackle. The Chicken Soup for the Soul people took over this one from Sony, but they didn't make it any less of a hassle to use.

However, they are licensing shows from places other than just Sony--shows like My Favorite Martian and Father Knows Best. they continue to draw on the likes of What's Happening!! from Sony, making this a fairly consistent proposition: You're gonna find something you want to watch on Crackle...and then try to figure out if anyone else has it. It has a similar issue to Roku Channel, too, in that it has individual seasons and not full series, then rotates seasons out without notice.

Grade: C+: It has some good stuff, and it is free, but, wow, that auto-play when you launch it has to go. Here's hoping they work on Crackle in 2021 and make it more user friendly so we can all enjoy our Starsky and Hutch reruns.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Streaming services and classic TV in 2020--Report cards! Part 5

Today we continue to grade the major streaming services based on classic TV on those services in 2020.  We have a few big winners today.  FREE, even if it has ads, is always going to boost the grades a bit.

Pluto TV: Pluto was a free and pleasant time waster until CBS/Viacom bought it, and in 2020 it really started loading it up, adding numerous channels to its 24/7 live-streaming lineup with content from the company's vast empire. There is a Garry Marshall channel and a Love Boat channel in addition to all kinds of other options.

The problem is that, at least on Roku, it's still to hard to customize the channels to get rid of all the stuff you don't like (and with this lineup, there is a ton of that for anyone).  The live guide is limited, and there is no DVR, so it's limited to something sort of replicating cable TV.

However, the on demand section is more stocked than you think. For example, all of Three's Company is available in addition to having a 24/7 live channel. Too Close for Comfort is another option. It appears CBS is saving stuff like Happy Days for CBS All Access, but there is a nice assortment of free material on demand here, though they can improve the interface.

Most pleasant surprise: There are a lot of Classic Doctor Who story arcs available on demand; I thought that show was exclusive to BritBox.
Biggest disappointment: I thought that the revamps would make it easier to filter out stuff like the multiple Roblox channels. Also, I am sure this is a perception thing, but it sure seems like all the channels I want to watch have commercial breaks at the same time.

Grade: A.

Tubi TV: Similar to Pluto, but totally on demand and with a more sophisticated user interface and a bigger library.  This free service is now owned by Fox, but since that Fox library is now with Disney, it licenses all its content, and it often surprises.  In addition to carrying stuff that many other places have--the Shout! catalog, the FilmRise and Stephen Cannell stuff--Tubi continues to get interesting programs from the big guys.

The big example for me is the surprising addition of the 1988 Ruby-Spears Superman and the 1977 New Adventures of Batman cartoons several months ago.  I was disappointed when DC Universe didn't carry those at its launch, and it never added them.  No one else had ever streamed these particular animated series. After this addition, I was more excited about the DC material on Tubi than the DC material on DC Universe!

You have to dig for content a little here, and I hope more comes in 2021, but this is an under-the-radar service that has a lot to offer, including more 50s and 60s material than many competitors.  And did I mention it's free?

Most pleasant surprise: I mentioned it already, but to throw another one, Tubi also has Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels and Chuck Norris' Karate Kommandos. I'll say this for WarnerMedia: If it's not gonna put shows like that on HBO Max, I am glad it's willing to loan them out.
Biggest disappointment:I wish it were easier to find what I am interested in and to dismiss what I am not.

Grade: A. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Top Ten #102

1) Momma the Detective: Yesterday's post looked at this great unsold pilot that aired January 10, 1981.  Esther Rolle as a crime-solving housekeeper as presented by Larry Cohen!

2) William Sanderson: Happy birthday to Friend of the Show (well, he liked our Instagram post on our Newhart episode) and TV icon William Sanderson!

3) He's the Mayor: With all due respect to Ted Danson and his new NBC sitcom, he's not the mayor. This guy is the mayor:

4) Bowl games on NBC: I used to say that it was a joke that NCAA football determined a champion with polls and not on the field.  Now we have a playoff, but I think it was much better when there were cool bowl games all over the place on all the networks instead of afterthoughts on ESPN:

5) The Odd Couple: One of my favorite shows is spotlighted this weekend on Decades' Weekend Binge.  Your Saturday and Sunday are accounted for now!

6) Super Comedy Bowl: On this night 50 years ago, CBS aired this hourlong special sending up pro football, featuring stars like Lucille Ball, John Wayne, Norm Crosby, Carol Burnett, Jack Lemmon, and Art Metrano! Featured players include Joe Namath and Rosey Grier. They did it the next year, too, but I regret to report that the tradition ended after Super Comedy Bowl II.

Read Frank Deford's takedown of this here: I don't know about you, but this makes me want to see this even more.

CBS, which more or less pioneered the pro game on TV, must have decided that the football follower is a cretin, or at very best a buffoon. On something called The Super Bowl Comedy Hour the humor was trite and witless, made all the worse by a hyena laugh track. Essentially, the hour was devoted to a succession of senile sight gags, all based on the premise that because an athlete is big and strong it is a laff riot for sure when he bangs little men on the back or crunches knuckles shaking hands or displays a large appetite. There are so many genuinely funny things in sport that it is a shame this rare foray into athletic humor had to plunge its viewers into the depths of banality

7) Rod Stewart: Happy birthday to the man you'd think was the King of Pop in the early days of MTV since he was on about 20 times a day!

8) Mitch Miller: On our 1980-81 TV season episode, we talked about how NBC came on strong in the fall but ran out of material by the time CBS and ABC were kicking it in gear. Could the fact that MITCH MILLER got a primetime special on January 10, 1981, be a sign of this?

It's actually on YT, so you can check it out yourself!

9) The Waltons: The cast reunited Thursday for a Stars in the House special to benefit the Actors Fund. Hey, speaking of the Actors Fund, the Waltons alone might have approached 100 stars!

10) Tanya Roberts: R.I.P.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

This Day in TV History: Momma the Detective

On this night 40 years ago, NBC rolled out a pilot that was not picked up as a series. I just can't bring myself to say that Momma the Detective is a "failed" pilot. How bad can it be?

here is the Ultimate 70s synopsis for this hour from writer/director Larry Cohen:

The story of Momma Sykes, a housekeeper with an uncanny knack for solving crimes. In the pilot episode, Momma attempts to solve the mysterious murder of a man in a hotel room despite the objections of her son, a New York police sergeant who balks at her intervening in his cases.

Wow! And it gets better. Momma is Esther Rolle! Also in the cast: Fritz Weaver, Laurence Luckenbill, Andrew Duggan, Paul Dooley, Jean Marsh, and Frank Converse!

Lee Goldberg's Unsold Television Pilots notes the syndicated title is See China and Die, and Wikipedia says it received a theatrical release in Europe as Hearsay, but isn't Momma the Detective better?

On January 9, 1981, this "special" opposed a new Dukes of Hazzard on CBS and the 1979 Topper (Kate Jackson and Andrew Stevens) on ABC. I think Momma is a clear winner. Esther Rolle as a housekeeper/detective sounds even better than Esther Rolle as a possible practitioner of the dark arts.

The movie-length version is available on YouTube

Friday, January 8, 2021

Streaming services and classic TV in 2020--Report cards! Part 4

As I continue our look at streaming video on demand services and how they fared with classic TV in 2020, I am going to examine one of the best hits of 2020:

Britbox: It was a great year for this relatively under-the-radar service.  I get the impression it has realistic expectations and is happy with solid performance and will therefore remain on its current path. In 2020 it continued to add content month by month. For a while there, it seemed to be focusing more on current shows and originals, but in the last quarter of the year or so, it came through with hundreds of hours of stuff that's not only 20th century, but pre-1980.

It added scores of miniseries and TV movies as part of its costume drama campaign, but more exciting to me was the huge Britcom drop in November. I'm not talking about PBS staples like Are You Being Served  and Keeping Up Appearances, but you know what? Those were already available. Dad's Army, Good Neighbors, Rising Damp, and The New Statesman were among the additions. Seriies like Yes, Minister were added earlier in 2020.  

At launch, BritBox was a little light on classic comedy, and it bolstered its selection big time in 2020.  Emphasizing comedies and older shows in general is a good way to distinguish itself from Acorn, which focuses more on mysteries and some select originals but has nowhere near the library of Britbox.

Most pleasant surprise: The sheer volume of the catalog drops in Fall 2020. The Play for Today collection in October alone provided 30 new installments of the prestigious BBC anthology.
Biggest disappointment: The "continue watching" is still iffy. I'm still waiting for Drop the Dead Donkey. Blake's 7 is on the UK BritBox but not here. I feel like I'm nitpicking, though.

Grade: A.  One of the most odious concepts emphasized by AT&T in 2020 is the "rotating content" philosophy. It's also appalling that so many consumers seem to accept it.  Britbox is the one major streamer that keeps adding content each month without losing significant amounts of it. As a result, it is now one of the best values out there.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Streaming services and classic TV in 2020--Report cards! Part 3

The last several days I have been handing out report cards for the major streaming video on demand (SVOD) services with regards to how they did in the realm of classic television in 2020.  We have covered the big guns, but some of the highest grades are still to come!

(Note: I have updated my grade for Netflix in Part 1 after discovering an oversight)

Peacock: First, the good news: There is a lot of old TV here. Leave it to Beaver and The Munsters and Alfred Hitchcock Presents differentiate Peacock from HBO Max and Disney Plus, which show little interest in offering black and white TV. Other long-running shows (and BOTNS subjects) like Columbo and Murder, She Wrote are also available for free.  In fact, the new NBC Universal megastreamer offers all kinds of stuff--news, sports, live channels, Spanish programs--and it tried something different with its multi-tiered system.  As a Roku user and not a Comcast subscriber, it was easy for me at first: I didn't have it.  

Now that it's on Roku, I do check it out on the regular, but there are some disappointments. The tiers are confusing. There are free shows like those mentioned above, there are premium shows only accessible with a paid subscription (Alfred Hitchock Hour and Everybody Loves Raymond) and most confusing of all, shows that are free for the first season or two but then premium for the rest of the series (The Office).  I respect the decision to offer a free tier, but separating things by content instead of giving ad-supported and ad-free versions causes frustration. 

And did I mention that there are two paid subscription types? There is a premium with ads and a premium without ads. So if you just want to see, say, Cheers, and not just the 5 free episodes, you can buy a premium package and still get commercials. You have to get Premium Plus to lose the ads.

But the content is the main thing here, and while it has an impressive assortment of vintage shows for now, it has a lot more it should have. Where is all the stuff on the NBC app? I'm talking about The Incredible Hulk, The Six Million Dollar Man, Battlestar Galactica, and many others. These shows aren't on the major streamers, so it's frustrating that they are only on plain old NBC and not on the hyped Peacock.  It's tempting to say NBC itself has more for vintage TV fans than Peacock, but the latter has much less commercials and a watchlist function, so of course it's the superior option. So what is it waiting for? Bring over all those old shows, to say nothing of the hundreds of hours of other orphaned programs in the vaults.

Most pleasant surprise: The commercial load is way lower than I expected.  Just watch something like Murder, She Wrote on here and compare it to the amount of ads on IMDB-TV.
Biggest disappointment:  It's the lack of so many programs that are already there on the NBC app.  Also, it's been years since it left Netflix, but Quincy is nowhere to be found. Not only is the M.E. M.I.A., but how about Kojak? Marcus Welby? The free site has a lot of content, but if they want us to pay for this, they should be more generous about adding programs. No, Big Freedia's Bounce doesn't count.

Oh, also, it's a real shame that after the first 5 seasons, the old SNL episodes are the same butchered versions that appeared on SeeSo.

Grade: B+  I'm optimistic that it will keep adding to the library and increasing its value in 2021. For now it's a decent service, especially at the free level, but its structure frustrates free users more than it rewards paid users. it's hard to complain too much about a new free option with so much there, but Universal can and should do much better this year.  Please don't be like Disney Plus and dump all your catalog content at launch, then ignore it afterwards.

By the way, the fact that Peacock still isn't on Fire TV may be the most underreported SVOD story of the year. For months we heard all kinds of speculation about Roku and HBO Max, yet long after the former made a deal to get Peacock, the new service still isn't directly accessible for those with Fire TV devices. Are they still trying?

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Streaming services and classic TV in 2020--Report Cards! Part 2

Yesterday we looked at Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney Plus in terms of how they fared in terms of classic TV in 2020.  We're back at it with an old reliable and a new streaming service today:

Hulu: I can't think of any high-profile acquisitions of older shows in 2020, but that isn't a terrible thing. Status quo in a year of such upheaval is not necessarily a bad thing. In 2020, Netflix lost Cheers, Frasier, The Andy Griffith Show, The Office, The West Wing, and more. Is it only a matter of time before Disney-run Hulu loses CBS-controlled shows like The Twilight Zone? Perhaps, but Hulu remained stable this past year, and considering its huge catalog, that's a big win when compared to other services. It spent some energy trying to revamp its user interface, too, but the main thing is it didn't change too much for classic TV fans while it was beefing up its use for current TV fans (like the FX on Hulu arrangement). One interesting thing to look for is Seinfeld leaving sometime in 2021...for Netflix, of all places. That's 2021's problem, though.

Most pleasant surprise: Seeing so many of the CBS/Paramount shows still there after Netflix lost them.
Biggest disappointment: So far, there isn't much visible movement as far as bringing more from the Fox vaults to Hulu after the Disney purchase. Hulu seems unwilling/unable to bother acquiring things like Merv Griffin collections or Movin' On these days, but fortunately other free streamers are starting to get those kinds of shows.

Grade: B+  Solid streamer, and the fact I often forgot about it in 2020 was my own fault, but the lack of good "gets" last year keeps it from earning a higher grade.

HBO Max: The service finally landed on Roku, and actually by the time it did, it had beefed up its library and become a better value. Unfortunately, part of its higher perceived value is due to Netflix raising its prices and becoming less of an attraction. 

HBO is competing with Netflix and Disney, and it's not gonna lure tens of millions of subscribers at its premium price with Eight Is Enough reruns. Still, can't it offer a little bit for classic TV fans? I love that Warner Brothers/AT&T is still licensing series to other services (keep reading this series), but something like Night Court isn't on any streamer. It's barely on TV, period, these days. I didn't expect HBO MAX to make a big push with the likes of Alice over Game of Thrones, but the near-total inattention to that vast WB library is a bummer.

What keeps HBO MAX relevant in this area is what it throws into the "kids and family" section, including The Flintstones, Josie and the Pussycats, and lots of original Sesame Street episodes. It uploaded a great 1970s Street Christmas special for the holidays...not that I noticed until after the holidays.

Most pleasant surprise: Wonder Woman appearing as an unannounced drop right before Christmas.
Biggest disappointment: At the risk of being a (Oscar the?) grouch, that show and all the other DC content sloooooowly coming should have been here months ago.

Grade: D+  If you already bought HBO, it's a no-brainer, but this grade is for classic TV, and HBO MAX has a long way to go there. Additions like Wonder Woman and Batman: The Animated Series give hope that more is on the way.  I think maybe when the rumored ad-supported version is ready, AT&T will have a bunch of new shows ready to bolster its available hours.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Streaming services and classic TV in 2020--Report Cards! Part 1

It's time to grade the big streamers on how they provided for us in 2020.  I draw inspiration from those great teachers from our season 7 classroom episode: Charlie Moore and...uh, the nice teacher guy from What a Country!

Netflix: This service isn't even trying. I look back now at when it got into business with Carol Burnett (remember that?) and I thought it would be cool if it got rights to her long-running variety show. Well, now that show is all over the place on streaming, yet Netflix isn't getting anything. Seinfeld is coming next year, but I don't see anything on the horizon for any other TV pre-2000, or maybe even pre-2010. Even when Netflix gets something, like MASH or Dad's Army, it's gone before you know it. Maybe it's unfair to even give it a grade, but as the #1 SVOD out there, I think we have to mention it. 

Most pleasant surprise: The fact that Star Trek hasn't left yet? Not a lot of candidates here.
Biggest disappointment: The lack of any effort to tie in with properties it has. He-Man used to be on Netflix, but it doesn't look like it will be back even with TWO new shows reportedly in the works for the service.

UPDATE 1/7/21: When making this post, I forgot about the late-2020 acquisition of a handful of popular "urban" sitcoms from the late 1990s/early 2000s, like Sister, Sister. I am not interested in them, but I give Netflix credit for making a move to bolster its content, no matter what the motivation was. So I am raising the letter grade from an F to...

Grade: F+

Prime Video: This service should be a runaway A+ with all the content it has, both well known (hey, He-Man is actually on here!) and obscure. It offers surprises all the time. The problem is it is still difficult to find or keep track of it. Worse is the service's aggravating habit of moving series from its paid commercial-free service to its On Roku, you have to access the latter through Prime, which means you have the insult of having to wade through all the stuff you DO get for your paid subscription to find stuff that has been moved over to its ad-supported free site (See The Naked City, The Dukes of Hazzard, etc.).  Prime doesn't bother promoting any of this, either, and you really have to be sharp to know it's there. It recently dropped several of the old NBC Mystery Movie series, including Banacek, on IMDB.TV, and you'd think it would tell someone who watched Columbo they were available, but, no.

Most pleasant surprise: The rare CBS sitcom On Our Own (1977) landed here at the request of...well, no one, but I watched it and enjoyed it!
Biggest disappointment: The movement of Murder, She Wrote to IMDB.TV--just one of the many examples of this. Why not keep it commercial-free for paid Prime subscribers?

Grade: B+

Disney Plus: I tried to be optimistic about this one, but it was quickly apparent that Disney had little interest in uploading vintage material aside from what it provided at launch. So you get the classic Disney movies (but not all), a token assortment of Mickey Mouse Club episodes, and way less content than it has in that fabled Disney Vault. 

Is it working at getting things HD ready? Maybe that's the reason.  It did fix The Simpsons months after a botched rollout, and the arrival of Dinosaurs doesn't excite me but at least shows that it's still working on some archival content.

Most pleasant surprise: The 1977 special The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World is a real treat--a vintage hour of network fluff complete with original commercials. Its appearance was a great surprise, and the show provided some of the best entertainment on the service in 2020.  So of course Disney does nothing or very little to promote it.
Biggest disappointment: I didn't really expect D+ to add The Star Wars Holiday Special in a restored version, so let's go with the continued inexplicable absence of Marvel cartoons like the 1982 The Incredible Hulk, which was chopped up for Disney XD's Marvel Mash-Ups years ago but is still MIA.

Grade: D...just D. Solid D. As cute as it would be to bump it up to the D+, this seems to be moving away from archival content, and right before a price increase, too.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Top Ten #101

1) Buck Rogers, "Space Vampire": It's not a "neat" round number of a milestone, but we can't let the 21st anniversary of the premiere of this episode of Buck Rogers go without mention. Click here for our episode talking Buck and this memorable installment.

2) Victoria Principal: Happy 70th birthday to the Dallas icon!

3) Benson, "Last Man on Earth": This episode premiered 25 years ago tonight. According to the description on the Paley Center's website (yes, the Paley Center!) this is a totally wild one. Forgive me for including the whole thing, but after you read it, I think you will appreciate my decision:

In this episode, everyone – apart from Benson – is excited about the approach of Halley's Comet, wondering if it could possibly have a catastrophic effect on the planet. Clayton dismisses their "sophomoric Hollywood theatrics," and Kraus soon ventures into the basement in search of a telescope for Katie's use at school. She soon falls asleep and enters a dream in which she is joined by Benson right before the comet arrives, and when they return upstairs, they find that everyone in the house – and in fact everyone else in the world – has been vaporized, leaving them "marooned" on Earth together. Seven long years pass and Benson, voted in as governor by "the people," grows ever more annoyed with his "wife," though Kraus is delighted with their extravagant lives as rulers of the planet with their two daughters, Beth and Mary.

Thirteen more years pass and Benson is now the "emperor," though Kraus suddenly takes ill. They receive word from their adult daughters, who are exploring the globe, that they have finally found other living human beings, but Kraus takes a turn for the worse and Benson finally admits his passionate love for her before she dies. 

4) Rudolph's Shiny New Year: There should be more New Year's specials! Any excuse for a seasonal animated tradition is OK with me.

5) Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! Is THIS one on Apple +? I didn't think so! Come on, bring these out of the vaults.  This one premiered January 1, 1986 on ABC.

UPDATE: It IS on Apple! Nice job, folks!

6) The A-Team: The first 4 seasons are available on The Roku Channel, free with ads.

7) Star Wars glasses from Burger King: Pretty sure my family had these back in the day:

8) National Drinking Straw Day: I didn't know it existed, either, but how about we celebrate by asking Marsha to bring us a couple of big milkshakes?

9) Glen Larson: The late prolific producer was born on this day in 1937. There's no truth to the rumor that he thought the date sounded cool and "borrowed" it from someone else.

10) Dawn Wells and William Link: R.I.P.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

This Day in America: Run, America and The Beatles

On this night 40 years ago, at 10:00 NBC went up against the blockbuster Dallas on CBS and the second hour of a rebroadcast of 1979's Birth of the Beatles on ABC. It went the "original special" route with Run, America. Since it's difficult to find info about this, let me share the description from Ultimate 70s:

With Ben VereenSusan AntonDavid LettermanBill RodgersJimmie WalkerFoster BrooksRodney Dangerfield.
Bruce Jenner and his guests take a fun-filled look at America's fascination with running, including the mental and medical as well as physical aspects of the sport.

This is one of those specials that sounds like it might be an interesting time capsule or it might be a snoozer, but that cast makes it a must-see! Unfortunately, I can't locate any footage of this on the Internet, so we will just have to imagine that David Letterman and Foster Brooks tore the roof off the dump together.

Birth of the Beatles had a theatrical release everywhere but in the USA, where it aired on ABC November 23, 1979. ABC reran it here in January as the world still reeled from the murder of John Lennon less than a month earlier.