Monday, January 29, 2024

Murder Monday: Jessica goes VR

After the second great Leonard Lightfoot episode, Jessica Fletcher enters the then-nascent world of virtual reality in Season 10's "A Virtual Murder." Unfortunately, it's not FletcherWorld with a 3-D Jess taking you on a tour of Cabot Cove. Fletcher has written the script for a VR murder mystery game that immerses the player in its own reality--well, by 1993 standards, anyway. I mean, Jessica herself is impressed when she tests it out, calling it remarkable!

I could grab a still from different sources, but I feel I owe it to you to try to get my own screengrab, so here goes:

The episode co-stars Julia "Poor man's Paula Marshall?" Campbell, Kevin "Pre-stero--uh, bulking up for Hercules" Sorbo, Phil "See me, not just hear me" LaMarr, Allan "Yep, I'm a sleazeball again" Miller, and Ramy "Rufus Sewell will study this performance" Zada. It's an amusing look at VR as it was 30 years ago, and seeing Jessica flail around with that VR headset is worth the price of admission.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Top Ten #286: Special "Probably rooting for the Chiefs" edition!

1) My Three Sons: All 12 seasons are finally on Prime Video, and it's a hodgepodge of edited episodes, complete episodes, missing episodes, and whatnot, but at least most of it is there!

2) National Kazoo Day: An excuse to watch this classic again!

3) Alan Alda: Happy birthday! I'm sure in lieu of presents, he would appreciate...curiosity.

4) Endless parade of awards: Oscar nominations came out this week, but I am just glad the Battys got in there first this season.

5) 1984 Golden Globes: Speaking of awards, 40 years ago today, the Globes were held, and the big TV winners were Dynasty, Fame, and The Thorn Birds. Buffalo Bill got some love, too:

6) The Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: An ABC TV movie 50 years ago dramatized the famous case and starred Alan Arbus (not Arkin) and Brenda Vacarro.

7) Scooby-Doo: Warner Archive announced 10 Hanna-Barbera made-for-TV movies are coming to Blu-Ray, and it feels like half of them involve Scooby. Give Scoob credit for being a TV star with more longevity than most.

8) Willam Conrad: Me-TV has a funny little story about Conrad and his voice-over work.

9) Catch Comedy: The channel has an interesting marathon this weekend, running short-lived sitcoms. Today's lineup includes Brooklyn Bridge, Square Pegs, and Ferris Bueller.

10) R.I.P. Charles Osgood: Not to be confused with the other bookish-seeming folksy Charleses whose reputations aren't as great these days.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Top Ten #285: Special "Baby, it's cold outside" Edition!

1) Elton John: With his Emmy win this week, the icon has now reached EGOT status. Should we book Top of the Pops for our Season 12 to make him eligible for BEGOT?

2) Marla Gibbs: The 227 and Jeffersons star charmed as a presenter on Emmy night. She's still sassy, but then again, isn't everyone sassy when they reach the age of 92?

3) The FBI: Warner Brothers' drama doesn't get much attention (Outside of a reference in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) for a series that ran 9 seasons, but it is streaming on Tubi, it was featured on Ed Robertson's TV Confidential podcast recently, and Robertson co-wrote a new book about the series, The FBI Dossier.

4) Benny Hill: Happy 100th birthday! The song was in your head as soon as you saw "Benny," wasn't it?

5) NBC Saturday night: 40 years ago tonight, the Peacock network continued its memorable 1983-84 season with We Got It Made at 9, Mama's Family at 9:30, and The Yellow Rose at 10 after a Diff'rent Strokes/Silver Spoons combo at 8.

By the way, the Strokes episode is 'Drummond's Lady." I don't even want to know what that's about. I just want to keep running that cool title through my mind this weekend.

6) Let's Make a Deal: BUZZR is celebrating the show's 60th anniversary this month. Or you can choose Screen #2 and watch Tattletales!

7) The Bob Newhart Show: This show just left Prime Video, and it's too good to not be streaming anywhere. Here is an episode posted by Fuzzy Memories. Check out the hilarious effect the channel used on the theme song to thwart bots. stay for the fifth-season finale of the series.

8) The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: 50 years ago tonight, ABC aired a Cousteau doc called "The Flight of Penguins." It is notable today for being one of the last mainstream documentaries not narrated by Morgan Freeman.

9) Squirrel Appreciation Day: I appreciate you, Rock!

10) Tom Shales: The longtime Washington Post TV critic and co-author of two seminal oral history books died last weekend. An appreciation in The New York Times quoted his take on Gimme a Break: "If I thought television could get substantially worse than this, I am not sure I would have the courage or desire ever to turn the set on again."

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Top Ten #284: Special Pre-MLK Day Edition!

1) Marjo Gortner: Happy 80th birthday to Genius Award recipient Marjoe!

2) The Emmys: The second-biggest night in TV awards is tomorrow. It's all well and good--the Battys are not in competition with anyone--but just consider this: They never gave Marjoe Gortner an Emmy.

3) The Match Game: Tubi added an assortment of 1977 episodes (distinct from the ones on Freevee) of the classic game show to its streaming offerings. This news makes me feel BLANK.

4) Weekend with the Stars Telethon: 40 years ago tonight, stars like John Ritter and Henry Winkler came gathered on a live telecast to raise money for cerebral palsy. Note that some sources I have seen--OK, IMDB--claim this happened January 21, but I am looking at TV listings that say otherwise.

Well, remember this if I forget and put this same event in next week's Top Ten.

Here's a promo from a different year of the event:

5) Happy Days: Speaking of Winkler, Catchy Comedy celebrates the show with a marathon this weekend to honor its 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, Antenna TV has a marathon of The Jeffersons to commemorate its, uh, 49th anniversary. I blame that FOOL Willis for not knowing how to read a calendar.

6) Jason Bateman: Just to make us all feel old, happy 55th birthday, Jason! I guess this does give me an excuse to remind everyone that this series exists:

7) From Russia with Love: 50 years ago tonight, the second Connery Bond film made its TV debut on ABC. Here's a promo from a later broadcast (ABC did tend to recycle the Bonds!):

8) Fantasy Island: One of several high-profile series debuting on this date, Fantasy Island premiered January 14, 1977 on ABC. Unfortunately, even Roarke couldn't keep it on streaming, and it's been MIA ever since it left Tubi last year.

9) Killdozer: The Decades of Horror podcast talked about the TV movie recently, and while I like this show, they didn't really focus on it very much (I think the guy driving the discussion had little interest in talking about it). I humbly suggest you check out our effort if you really enjoy the movie.

10) R.I.P. Bill Hayes, Joyce Randolph: Shout-out to hayes, who played Doug Williams on Days of Our Lives for many years. I want to give a special salute to Randolph, the last surviving castmember of my favorite TV show of all time, The Honeymooners.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Murder Monday: History is made in Season 10

I am guilty of derilection of duty in not reporting on Murder, She Wrote each Monday, but I have to jump in to mention this piece of history. I watch an episode with my wife (virtually) each Monday, and though we have jumped ahead for seasonal episodes, like for Halloween, I don't look ahead at specific installments to scope them out. Therefore, each week I am surprised when I see the cast at the beginning.

Imagine my joy, then when I see the name a genius in the opening credits for Season 10, Episode 2, "For Whom the Ball Tolls." It's not just a genius, but THE Genius--the O.G. himself, the man for whom the Batty is now named, the first-ever Genius Award recipient, Robert Pine!

Pine is the good-hearted, responsible brother of sleazy building developer Kevin Kilner. He is generally a nice guy, displays conscience, and even seems to have a budding relationship with a younger woman. Too bad for him that--Well, just watch the episode.

One Genius is enough to elevate an MSW, but what if I told you TWO Geniuses appear in this one? Returning as NYPD Lt. Gelber is the great Herb Edelman (himself worthy of Genius consideration in the right circumstance, and his right-hand man, Detective Henderson, is played by Leonard Lightfoot!

That's right, the Season 2 Genius winner, honored for his work in Silver Spoons, is in the episode as well. Now, this was a real shock to me. I almost didn't recognize him in his first scene, not because he looked much different, but because of the ignorance of the show's producers. Bruce Lansbury, I hope this doesn't fall on you, but how in the world can you have Leonard Lightfoot in your cast and relegate him to the end credits? I was stunned, but I got over it and just enjoyed his presence in the show.

This instant classic is worth seeing, but then a few episodes later, "The Phantom Killer" reunites us with Gelber AND Henderson. This time, Lightfoot's character even gets to show a little personality (He is super efficient) and some more dialogue. Yes, it appears he is a recurring character! It's enough to make me look forward to the New York episodes though I still love Cabot Cove the best.

I do favor an approach of having Edelman and Lightfoot constants when Jess is in New York except under special circumstances, but I am not looking ahead to see how often this happens!

(Note: Lightfoot's appearance on Murder was mentioned in a previous "Pick Your Pine" game at the end of this season 2 episode, well before I started watching the series each week)

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Top Ten #283: Happy New Year edition

1) 2024: Just think of all the great anniversaries we can commemorate together this year. For example, February will be the 47th anniversary of the debut of Blansky's Beautie, then in March it's the 42 anniversary of the series finale of Mr. Merlin...

2) Anne Scheeden: Happy birthday to the star of Season 11's Exo-Man!

3) MASH and Dick Van Dyke: FOX and CBS recently broadcast specials dedicated to the legendary show and the icon, respectively, and I applaud the networks anytime they devote airtime to something from the 20th century.

4) Family Feud: It's a slow month for new catalog shows on streaming, but a batch of 1980 Richard Dawson episodes of this game show are now on Tubi. 

5) All-Star Laff-a-Lympics: Prime Video snuck on the first season of this toon, though I think it's only for a month to promote Boomerang on Amazon Channels.

6) ABC's Wide World of Entertainment: The late-night wheel block of programming debuted 50 years ago this week  with Once the Killing Starts, a Wide World of Mystery movie, and also featured Dick Cavett, Geraldo, concerts, Monty Python, and reruns.

7) LaWanda Page: Mo Rocca's Mobituaries podcast has an episode devoted to her this week, and I haven't heard it yet, but I don't need to: Just the fact it exists warms my heart.

8) The Golden Globes: If you have a betting pool based on the awards're a fool! Maybe something cool will happen, though.

9) F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Last of the Belles: 40 years ago tonight, this aired as part of ABC Theater. The movie stars Blythe Danner and Richard Chamberlain as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Or maybe it's the other way around. You can see for yourself (and also see Susan Sarandon and Richard Hatch) here:

10) R.I.P.: David Soul, Harry Johnson, Glynis Johns, Shecky Greene:

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Rick's Top Ten TV shows of 2023 (Modern shows, that is)

I don't want to disillusion anyone, but, yes, I do watch current TV shows as well as vintage ones! Here is a list of my top 10 favorite modern shows from 2023 (All are Season 1/only season unless specified):

1) The Last of Us: No other TV show hit me as hard as this one did. It gripped me from the beginning and kept me--thrilling me but sometimes devastating me. This is an easy choice for #1.

2) Poker Face: Columbo 2023 is about as good as it gets in this day and age for this type of show. I would scale back on serialized elements next season, but I really do admire how Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne raised expectations and met them. A lot of shows these days have natural endings or shouldn't go on forever. This is the one program on the list I most wish had like 50 episodes. It's an easy choice for #2.

3) Jury Duty: I was skeptical of this premise, but, wow, did they pull it off, and they gave us maybe the best finale of a reality show ever. If you don't know anything about the series, watch it now before you find out.

4) Bad Batch Season 2: People love to complain about the Star Wars shows, and there have been disappointments, but hiding in plain sight on Disney Plus is an accessible, enjoyable, emotional program that delivers everything you want from Star Wars. People ignore it because it's a cartoon. The top 4 is pretty solid for me, but the next 6 could be shuffled around. Honorable mention to Star Wars: Visions Season 2 (another fine animated effort) and Mandalorian Season 3 and Ahsoka Season 1, which were not quite what I hoped but were still solid.

5) Only Murders in the Building Season 3: It managed to keep things going and entertaining despite what would appear to be a fairly limiting premise. Will a fourth season be pushing it? Probably, but I will be there for it.

6) Loki Season 2: The Marvel shows often disappoint in the endings, but I thought this one nailed it after a satisfying, loopy set of episodes that proved again how much Tom Hiddelston owned the character.

7) Hijack: Apple Plus' action thriller with Idris Elba is often ridiculous--it reminds me of 24--but I don't know if I had more fun watching anything week to week this year (with the exception of (Poker Face). Honorable mention to Apple shows Shrinking (I can't believe Harrison Ford was in a series and it wasn't a bigger deal) and Lessons in Chemistry (a satisfying sleeper that I hope more than a handful of us watched).

8) What If...? Season 2: Let me pay the show what I mean as a compliment: It is not in any way the kind of What If series I want nor that I expected Marvel to make. I wish it had more one-off episodes and less emphasis on the MCU and maybe a touch less humor. Yet the series is very entertaining and delivers in all 9 of these episodes.

9) Winning Time Season 2: Not as spectacular as the first season, but it is still a fun and compelling watch. Unfortunately, this batch feels rushed. Even more unfortunate: It's rushed because the show was canceled. and this wild ride looking at the 1980s Lakers is over. Honorable mention to ESPN 30 for 30's The Luckiest Guy in the World miniseries about Bill Walton. The sequence with Bill and Larry Bird talking smack about each other 30-some years later justifies it by itself.

10) Abbott Elementary Season 2: A solid season, not as sharp as its first, but still something to enjoy. Just don't watch the finale, which is so bad and ill conceived that it almost ruins what came before it.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Season 11 Battys by the Numbers

Here is a summary of  the 11th Battys by the number of awards won per show:

Dallas: 5
Night Court: 3
The Littlest Hobo: 3
227: 3 (including the Genius Award)
The Rifleman: 2
Sonny and Cher:1
Dennis the Menace: 1
Starsky and Hutch: 1
ABC's Star-Spangled Celebration: 1
Entertainment Tonight: 1
Hart to Hart: 0
Exo-Man: 0
(Does not include special listener award for First Camera for the 1983 NBC episode)

So is Dallas the big winner by virtue of taking the most Battys? Or is it Night Court, which won several itself but also (it can be argued) the biggest one (Best Show)?

A few more miscellaneous numbers of note:

Shows pulled from Amazon Prime after we had booked them for our schedule: 3 (227, Hart to Hart, Starsky and Hutch)

(Clearing up something that came up on the podcast) Battys won by Burt Reynolds before the Season 11 awards: 1. In Season 2, His Burtness guested on The Golden Girls and lost for Best Facial Hair to Tom Selleck.

Number of times an imperious J.R. made vague threats about foreclosing on us before realizing that we were doing the show at his ranch: 1

Approximate percentage of times I see Lucas McCain glare towards the camera in The Rifleman opening and temporarily worry that Chuck Connors is mad at me: 60

Number of appearances by Radar in "Bless You Hawkeye" 0 (We had some confusion about this on the Battys)

Number of bailiffs we lost during this season: 0

Number of times special Batty winner NBC's First Camera finished in last place in the ratings in its first 5 weeks on the air: 5

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Two more special unoffical Season 11 Battys

The following are two personal but unofficial Batty Awards I want to give out for Season 11.

As I have mentioned, I read multiple books in preparation for/in conjunction with this past season. The nominees for Outstanding Season 11 Book Rick Read are:

A Prime-Time Life by Aaron Spelling with Jefferson Graham
MASH: The Ultimate Guidebook by Ed Solomonson and Mark O'Neill
MASH: The Exclusive Inside Story of TV's Most Popular Show by David S. Reiss
Various Dennis the Menace collections by miscellaneous creators
The Sweeps: A Year in the Life of a Television Network by Cameron Stauth and Mark Christensen
Starsky and Hutch (A Golden All-Star Book)
Dallas: The Complete Story of the World's Favorite Soap by Barbara S. Curran

And the Batty goes to...

The Sweeps! This contemporary account of the 1983-1984 TV season is a television history book so good and so impactful that I regret not knowing about it sooner. Yet it was an invaluable resource for our special '83 NBC episode. It is not just insightful, though; it is one of the most entertaining TV books you will find. It is worth tracking down a used copy and adding it to your library.

Next up, I want to praise a DVD set. We watch the shows we cover by various means: streaming, home media, maybe sometimes over the air/cable sources. In this season, we made good use of an older DVD set I bought used:

The Batty for Outstanding Season 11 DVD Set Rick Watched goes to...

The Sonny and Cher Ultimate Collection (3-DVD set)

This 2004 set is an excellent compilation of various episodes of the different incarnations of Sonny and Cher. There are bigger collections and different versions, but this one gives you a good look at the show (one you can supplement with online uploads, many of them from old TV Land showings) with complete episodes. The old shot-on-video show isn't gonna look great on your giant HD TV, but the material is the thing.

Also, the set has a generous selection of extras, including selected scene commentary from Cher herself and a revealing set of interviews with producers Allen Blye and Chris Bearde. Anytime you see Paul Brownstein's name on a disc set, you can expect some bonus material, and this is no exception. I believe the set is out of print, but you can still find it at a cheap price if you don't want one of the pricy Time Life box sets.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Batty Awards Season 11: In Memoriam

As is tradition, we publish the list of those we lost during Season 11. Please note this is not intended to be a comprehensive list and that we honor all of those 1970s and 1980s TV figures who died over the course of our recent season.

Michael Lerner
Billy Seluga
Newton Minnow
Tina Turner

George Maharis
The Iron Sheik
Barry Newman
Tony Bennett

Inga Swenson
Terry Funk
Arlene Sorkin
Bob Barker

Paul Reubens
David McCallum
Michael Gambon
Dick Butkus

Lara Parker
Suzanne Somers
Richard Roundtree
Burt Young

Peter S. Fischer
Richard Moll
Marty Krofft
Norman Lear