Thursday, September 30, 2010

Happy 50th Fred & Wilma!

'The Flintstones' broke ground as the first animated prime-time show. Fifty years on, it's a cultural touchstone.

By Stephen Cox, Special to the Los Angeles Times

It was 50 years ago [today] on the evening of Sept. 30, 1960, that America met the Flintstones, television's modern Stone Age family. That Friday night, kids couldn't wait. Parents were curious. And the ABC network executives pondered their gamble patiently. TV's first animated prime-time sitcom made history; well, they were history.

"I remember sitting and watching the premiere episode," says actor Paul Reubens, who later starred in his own popular children's show, "Pee-wee's Playhouse." "I think I was in fourth or fifth grade at the time. Just the whole idea of a cartoon in prime time was exciting and there was a lot of hype about it. I loved how they patterned some characters after real stars like Ann Margrock and Stoney Curtis."

Set in the animated suburbia of Bedrock, Fred and Wilma Flintstone (voiced by radio veterans Alan Reed and Jean Vander Pyl) along with their genial neighbors Betty and Barney Rubble (Bea Benaderet and Mel Blanc), were meant as an amalgam of adult satire and children's amusement.

"The Flintstones" was drawn to be a slice-of-life sitcom with a prehistoric twist. The show boasted several milestones: Quite possibly, Fred and Wilma Flintstone were the first sitcom couple to be shown sleeping on the same king-size, er, slab. And definitely a cartoon first. And until 1997 when "The Simpsons" surpassed their prehistoric predecessor, "The Flintstones" held the record as the longest-running prime time animated series.

John Stephenson, 87, who carries an undeniably familiar Hanna Barbera intonation in his speaking voice, is one of the last surviving cast members of the iconic show. Most notably, Stephenson portrayed Fred's bombastic boss at the rock quarry, Mr. Slate, among multitudes of Bedrock citizenry throughout the program's original six-year run.

"I think the show was successful because it was an adult cartoon and viewers associated it with 'The Honeymooners,' " he says. "And with the Stone Age setting and some very good writing, audiences loved it. They still do."

Created by animation legends William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, "The Flintstones" (titled "The Flagstones" in early development) became the flagship property for the cartoon factory the duo created for television production. After producing an Academy Award-winning slew of Tom and Jerry cartoons at MGM, Hanna and Barbera formed their own company and created such animated characters as Emmy winner Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Ruff and Reddy. This time, however, they audaciously decided to redirect their efforts, wipe the slate clean, and twist their usual format: Their new TV series would extend the animation to a half hour and gamble on prime-time audiences. That was unheard of in 1960.

In the process, Hanna-Barbera reinvented the animation business, introducing a more efficient and economically feasible "limited animation" procedure that proved popular both with the network and with audiences. While many animation studios were closing in Hollywood, Hanna and Barbera were just opening their doors and enticing a pool of veterans to join them in their plunge. Some of animation's greatest talents helped polish these precious 'stones.' With caveman characters designed by artist Ed Benedict and a talented team of animators, the unique cartoon took off, and fast. "The Flintstones" ignited a following with loyal audiences young and old, setting off a groundbreaking cascade that eventually paved the way for more prime-time favorites such as "The Jetsons," "Top Cat," and such current mega-hits as "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy."

Stephenson credits Barbera's talent for directing the cast as a key to the show's charm, at least vocally. During those smoke-filled studio recording sessions (the show was sponsored by Winston cigarettes for a while), it was not uncommon to hear Barbera barking over the speaker, "I paid a lot of money for this script, so I want to hear the lines!"

The verbal gymnastics were always bold and lively. "Very seldom did he want anyone to talk in a moderate tone or conversational tone," Stephenson explains. "He wanted it up there, right in your face, punctuated, laid out and hit!"

Over decades, "The Flintstones" spawned many reincarnations, including several new series attempts (even a proposed series titled "The Blackstones") and in the 1990s Fred and Wilma became movie stars with a pair of live-action feature films for Universal Studios.

One spinoff in 1979 was a short-lived segment of "The New Fred and Barney Show" on NBC called "The Frankenstones," which mixed "The Flintstones" talent with a touch of "The Munsters." Paul Reubens, just getting started in his television career, provided a voice on the show.

"I'm a big fan of 'The Flintstones,' so when I worked on 'The Frankenstones,' it was really exciting," he recalls. "The whole idea of going to a recording studio with Fred and Wilma Flintstone was unbelievable and a little intimidating. I worked with Mel Blanc and that was unforgettable. The first time I went in there, it was so amazing to hear those famous voices come out of real people's mouths; and these grown people were taking their work so seriously. It amazed me and I couldn't' wait to go to work."

The classic series, for now, is at home on Cartoon Network's Boomerang channel and it continues to be a viable worldwide franchise for Warner Bros. Animation, the characters' current owner. Just look on any grocer's store shelves and you'll see "yabba-dabba-delicious" Fruity Pebbles cereal and other sugary flavors plus colorful Flintstones vitamins within reach for all the kiddies.

Marking the show's golden anniversary, Boomerang will air the first episode of "The Flintstones" on Sept. 30 at 8:30 p.m., 50 years exactly to the date and hour of its premiere. A 24-hour marathon of classic episodes will air on Boomerang beginning Oct. 2 at 6 a.m.

Arguably, "The Flintstones" was the best thing created by cartoon moguls Hanna and Barbera. The show may be five decades older, but fans of classic TV will attest: It's still a gem.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Week In Movies - Ducks, Turtles, Giant Birds and a Sexy Robot

DuckTales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990)[G] My, how I love this movie. This was the one and only film to come from Disney's MovieToons department, which was basically a unit set up to release animated films from Disney's television animation studio and not have them be lumped in with Disney's treasured classic cartoons. (This was at a time when Disney still announced every animated release with "Walt Disney's 28th Animated Masterpiece" or whatever number it was.) DuckTales was to be followed the next summer with a Chip n' Dale Rescue Rangers movie but sadly that never happened. What we did get from Disney MovieToons is this great kid-friendly action/adventure pic modeled loosely on the Indiana Jones films. Uncle Scrooge and the rest of the cast from the afternoon cartoon show travel the globe looking for lost treasures. As the title implies, somewhere along their adventures they find a lamp and we all know what happens in movies when lost lamps are found and then rubbed. The Gennie, who just happens to be another duck, is voiced by comedy legend Rip Taylor. That's worth the price of admission alone! I've always loved this movie. It's bright and cheerful and has a fairly tight story and not once does anybody...or any duck...break into a song. The most amazing thing about watching this movie in this technological age is that it's all done by hand. There is no computer animation anywhere within the film's brief 72 minute running time. It will be a cold day in Duckburg before we ever see a truly 100% traditional animated film roll down the pike ever again! This gem is rated G because it was made in 1990 before it was a federal law that every kids movie had to have a fart joke in it.

The Living Desert (1953)[G] We had a rare double feature screening at the WWoB headquarters this week, and followed up the DuckTales movie with a visit to the desert via this 69 minute film which was the first picture to win the Best Documentary Oscar. The Living Desert is the first of several True-Life Adventure nature documentary films that Walt Disney produced. Back before 24 hour Animal Planet and Discovery Channel, or even PBS, this was people's first filmed glimpse at the world around them. If you've never seen one of the True-Life Adventures you are missing out on a great series of films. Each movies captures great footage of the plant and animal kingdoms and presents them in a humorous and informative way. In this particular instalment, you'll see giant turtles fight it out, tarantulas attacking their prey, snakes being snakey and all kinds of other cool creatures from the desert. My kids really enjoyed the footage and laughed and thrilled along to most of the segments. The narration is a bit over the heads of today's kids, with alot of phrases and sayings that you just don't hear anymore but with a bit of personal narration from Mom and/or Dad any kid should really enjoy this movie. It's also rated G, as all good old Disney films are. The grimmer parts of nature are left to the imagination. In 2000, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Rodan (1956)[NR] This Japanese thriller about a giant bird/dragon thing that terrorizes the planet is from the same people that brought us the original Godzilla film and 50 other similar tales of enormous creatures stepping on model sized buildings. Rodan actually starts off pretty intense when a group of miners discover dead bodies in their underground workspace and then discovery a giant caterpillar that tries to kill them. I wasn't expecting a killer caterpillar so when he made his first appearance I had an actual, genuine scare. The Japanese army kills the caterpillar in the first half of the movie and we somehow end up discovering another oversized creature, this time Rodan. Rodan terrorizes the globe much in the same fashion that Godzilla did a few years earlier. With a brief running time of 72 minutes, Rodan manages to stay fairly focused for one of these kaiju films. It's not rated but it was a bit more graphic and intense than other movies of it's kind. Still, in today's movie market it would probably rank a PG rating. If your kids wanted to watch it, they can probably handle it.

Galaxina (1980) [R] I realize that admiting on the internet that I watched DuckTales The Movie and Galaxina in the same week probably puts my name on some sort of FBI watch list, but I'm keepin' it real folks! Galaxina stars legendary Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorthy Stratten as a robot servant on a space cruiser police ship. It's an attempt at a space-age sex farce mixed with a lampoon on Star Wars and Star Trek. This film is fairly legendary among lovers of bad films. Perhaps if I had seen it when I was younger it would have a special place in my heart. The film tries hard to be silly and wacky but it's just so boring that it's bad. The first seven minutes alone consist of nothing more than scenes of spaceships flying and docking. Let's not forget that I didn't even crack a smile once during this deep space pile of do-do. Sure, Dorthy Stratten is hauntingly beautiful but that can't carry a film. Not even (one of my favorite) character actors, Avery Schreiber, could get me into this groove on this camp classic. The R rating is for innuendo galore however there is very little nudity.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Week In Movies - The Private Eyes

The Private Eyes (1980)[PG] This is one of those movies that was so high on my list of favorite things in the world when I was a kid. For me, there was just no better pairing than Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Now that I'm a mature grown-up I can honestly say that there are still few things better than the teaming of Conway and Knotts. I hadn't seen this gem in quite a while. I even passed up my old VHS copy that was taped off Channel 13 many years ago and got the DVD from Netflix. Ahh...good times. Ya see, ol' Tim and Don are Scottland Yard detectives sent to the Morley Manson to investigate the murder of Lord and Lady Morley. Wackiness ensues as Tim Conway acts like a bumbling idiot and Don Knotts looks at him with his eyes popping out of his head. There's some great bits in this flick like notes left from the murderer which rhyme...except for the last line. They use that joke at least 10 times over the course of 90 minutes and it gets funnier each time! There's no hiding the fact that this movie is just an excuse for Tim Conway and Don Knotts to goof around and be funny as all get out in the process. Simply of the finest films ever committed to celluloid.

The Private Eyes was filmed at the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, NC. The Biltmore boasts itself as something like the largest privately owned home in the country. I toured the property in 2002 and while the visit is somewhat interesting it would have been exponentially more thrilling had they included information about the filming of this modern masterpiece of film work!

It's Rated PG, there's no foul language and even though half a dozen or so murders take place they are mostly off screen and/or not violent. There is some very mild, innocent sexual innuendo that even if a kid were to pick up on it then they deserve to laugh at it. The word "bosoms" is used, that should about sum it up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pac-Man Land

I'm pretty sure we've mentioned Pac-Man Land before (or Pac-Man Playport as I recall it being named). For a brief time, Pac-Man and his wife the lovely Mrs. Pac-Man (or Pepper as us die-hard fan know her) were the mascots of the Six Flags amusement parks. Of course, this was the early 80's and at the time Six Flags only consisted of a few theme parks - not every single park in the country as they are today. Anywho...I was fortunate enough to visit Six Flags Over Georgia while Pac & Pals made their home at Six Flags. Pac-Man Land consisted of the now-traditional kids attractions like climbing structures and ball pits plus a chance to meet and greet the chomping yellow family.

Why do I bring this all up again? Well, thanks to the wonders of good ol' YouTube I found a brief video that someone (HistoryOfSFOT) has put together of their pictures of the obscure Pac-Man attraction. These pictures were probably taken at the Texas park, so maybe the Georgia version was called Pac-Man Playport. Either way, who cares! It was a Pac-Man themed play area for Blinky's sake!

One of the pictures I already posted above, so that leaves about 75% of the video for you to enjoy! Enjoy:

I want to go to there.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Favorite Reality Shows of All-Time*

*Using the time frame of "All-Time" to classify reality shows is stretching it a little bit. After all, for the most part reality television has only been with us for about a decade. There were a few trailblazers like "Cops" and "The Real World", but it all really started with Survivor. Remember the first time you heard about Survivor and you were like, "They're really going to drop people on a deserted island for a game show?" We all went crazy for it and television has really never been the same since.

Overall, I'm not really a reality show junkie. As we all know, most of them are horrible and even I...the master of crap...feel like I'm wasting my time watching the majority of them. The competition shows just get to be exhausting and the "following people around" sub-genre usually feels like they're just grabbing at straws. But every show has it's fans. Here's 10 Reality Shows that I've loved or at least fondly remember:

Animal Precinct (2001-2008; Animal Planet) I loves me some Animal Precinct! It was like Cops but with dogs and cats instead of guns and drugs...but there were still alot of dirtbags in white tank top t-shirts. Cameras followed the ASPCA of New York City and followed up on calls of animal neglect or abuse and other illegal animal activities. There was always just some really bizarre things going on. Actor Michael Madsen was the series narrator and managed to work the word "emaciated" into every single episode. It was really a highlight of the whole show. Animal Precinct was the first show I ever set a Season Pass for on TiVo. Ah, the memories!

Girls Next Door (2005-present; E!) Oddly enough, I discovered this favorite show of mine while wrapping Christmas presents in the middle of the night one year. I've mentioned my love for this show before. The original run of the show followed Holly, Bridget and Kendra and their lives as Hugh Hefner's girlfriends and residences of the Playboy Mansion. While this show does obviously have it's sexy and risque moments, it's all actually quite tame and the reason I love it is for the look inside the incredibly fascinating Playboy Mansion and how it's run, and the whole show is just so plain goofy. Cartoon sound effects, silly story-lines and very clever editing make this one of my favorite shows on TV right now. Unfortunately last year, the girls all split from Hef and the show was revamped with three new girls who only lasted one season. The new girls were ok, but just didn't have the personalities of the original three. It appears they are tinkering with the show again and adding new girls. I've seen the pilot and didn't care for it, but I'll wait to see more before I pass final judgement. The girls are all still alive and kicking in reality world. All three of them have had their own spin-off series. Kendra, Holly's World, and Bridget's Sexy Beaches.

Mall Cops: Mall of America (debuted this year; TLC) I love COPS, I love malls, and I'm totally fascinated with the idea of an amusement park inside a mall, so I was all on board for Mall Cops, which basically transplants the popular COPS format into a big ol' mall. Much like Girls Next Door, it's also interesting to see the behind the scenes inner-workings of a huge operation like Minnesota's Mall of America. I don't think I'll make it out to MoA anytime soon, but watching two security officers escort a drunk guy out of a mall makes for a pretty entertaining evening of television.

My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance (2004; Fox) This isn't necessarily a show I fondly remember and would love to see again, it just stands out as one of the most insane, yet entertaining ideas of a reality show yet. If I recall correctly, this high-class girl from a snobby family had to convince her family that she had fallen in love with some big goofy oaf and that they were getting married in a short period of time. All she had to do, was get all of her family members to show up at the wedding and she would collect some crazy prize like a half a million dollars. Here's the old FOX-style catch - the Fiance, was actually an actor on the shows payroll and it was his job to constantly mess things up without the chick knowing he wasn't also in this for the money. I think they even had actors playing his family. It was a pretty elaborate set-up that of course ended with lots of screaming and crying and a big oversized check for half a million dollars payable only at the Bank of Self-Degrading.

My Fair Brady (2005-2008; VH1) Here's the thing, I'm not a huge fan of the original Brady Bunch show but I absolutely adore all the spin-offs. This latest cash-grab on the good Brady family name, has Christopher Knight (Peter Brady) and Adrianne Curry (who won the first season of America's Next Top Model) who met on another reality show The Surreal Life. The two of them hit it off so well, that they decide to start a relationship, move in together and invite the VH1 camera crew to film their every move. Of course with Knight being a Brady, this led to plenty of opportunities for other Brady's to show up from time to time. Seriously folks, when you got Greg Brady dropping by, a good time is bound to be had by all!

Shipmates (2001-2003; syndicated) My wife and I used to love us some Shipmates! Chris Hardwick hosted this dating show where a couple was set up on a blind date on a cruise ship for three days. It's one thing to be set up on a blind date, but then to be stuck with the person for three days with no escape - good times! Locally, this came on at 2:00am, which shows you how good the show was. I wish I was kidding when I tell you that back in those pre-TiVo and pre-kid times, the Mrs. and I would set the alarm and get up and watch the show in the middle of the night. Those were the good ol' days. Nowadays I'm not likely to get out of bed at 2 in the morning unless there's a fire...and it would have to be a really, really big fire!

The Simple Life (2003-2007; Fox then E!) Paris Hilton (then a nobody) and her BFF Nicole Ritchie (still a nobody) were two spoiled daughters of rich people who were dropped in the middle of Arkansas and expected to go get jobs and live without all the luxuries they are accustomed to. The great thing about this show was how incredibly not "realistic" it was. It was obvious that the situations were planned and that producers told Paris and Nicole to do certain things and act a certain way. Still, it made for great television and was actually a hit the first season. After two more equally entertaining, but less popular seasons the show was cancelled by Fox and then picked up by E! who produced two more seasons which were pretty bad. For my money,the first three seasons of The Simple Life is some of my favorite television of that last decade.

Sunset Tan (2007-2008; E!) One 4th of July back in 2007, both my kids took a monster nap all day long and I laid on the sofa and watched a marathon of this reality show about a tanning salon chain in Los Angeles and found it to be one of the most engrossing things I had watched in a long time. There was alot of drama in this well produced reality show as well as alot of good characters. I followed the show weekly though it's second season and then it just kind of faded off into the sunset, forgotten by E! Oh, the memories of spray tan and tanning beds.

My Super Sweet 16 (2005-present; MTV) When you've got a theme song performed by Hillary Duff you're doing something right, eh!? This rockin' little MTV program shows spoiled teenagers throwing giant parties in honor of themselves. These parties are so way over the top idiotic but it's kind of interesting to see just how rich people (in this case, WAY-too rich people) live their lives and throw around their money. It's a totally stupid show that is completely engrossing and will suck 30 minutes out of your life before you even know it!

Wife Swap (2004-2009; ABC) Seriously folks, I could watch Wife Swap all day long and not get tired of it! And thanks to Lifetime Television, I'll have the chance to do that for the next 4 or 5 years! On Wife Swap, two moms trade places for a week to see what it's like to live in someone else's shoes. Shortly after the show got off the ground, the producers started matching families up with extreme views on one subject or another. So, it wasn't just enough that the animal activist mom went and lived with another family, it had to be with a family of hunters. Competitive sports-minded moms switched places with moms who didn't let their kids play sports. It got to the point where they would even find circus families and swap moms with a family who had a fear of clowns. (I'm not even making that up!) Even though the casting got a little silly, it's some good TV. For the first few days, the moms have to live by the new families rules and then later the moms make new rules that the family has to obey. This always makes for some tension between the new mom and either the husband or the kids. Sometimes they all hate the new mom and then she usually ends up crying and whispering to the camera in the final act of the show. Great show, it way-outlasted FOX's copycat version Trading Spouses. (Which was also good!)'ve read this, tell us your favorite Reality Shows of All Time....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Harold Gould Was Awesome

From Entertainment Weekly's webiste:

Harold Gould, the actor who played Rhoda’s father Martin Morgenstern on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, has passed away, the New York Times reports. The actor — who died of prostate cancer — was 86 years old.

Gould was well-known for his work in other sitcoms, like The Golden Girls, in which he played a widower who romanced Betty White’s Rose. The actor was also active on film, appearing in such movies as 1973′s The Sting, 1975′s Love and Death, and 1976′s Silent Movie. Among some of his other television credits: The Donna Reed Show, St. Elsewhere, Dallas, Perry Mason, The King of Queens, L.A. Law, Hawaii Five-0, Soap, The Love Boat, Mister Ed, That Girl, and Hogan’s Heroes.

Harold Gould was another one of those familiar faces of Hollywood who I've always enjoyed whenever he would pop up in something. To me, he's best known as Miles, Rose's boyfriend on The Golden Girls. But another role I associate him with instantly is of Grandfather Disguisey in the Dana Carvey vehicle The Master of Disguise (2002) which is pictured above. He's also in a bunch of favorites of mine: he plays the judge in the great Neil Simon ensemble comedy Seems Like Old Times and he's in one of Woody Allen's most underrated films Love and Death (1975). I also adore the movie Gus (1973) about a football playing mule which he was in as well as another great Disney comedy The Strongest Man in the World (1975). He wasn't the strongest man, Kurt Russell was. Gould is even in my favorite Mel Brooks' flick Silent Movie (1976). You'll also find Mr. Gould in a few of the earlier Kenny Rogers as The Gambler TV films.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Week In Movies Is Back!

The Last Song (2010)[PG] I don't know much about ol' Nick Sparks but judging on what I've seen from trailers of his other movies and the back of the dust jacket on the handful of his books my wife has lying around the house, Mr. Sparks was certainly on auto-pilot when he slapped together this light teen drama. I'm pretty sure he cranked out this story in a couple of afternoons, one of those afternoons being spent on the toilet. The first hour of this Miley Cyrus vehicle is pretty bad. There are alot of generic situations being set-up and there is a few too many "falling in love" montages for anyone movie to handle. But right around the one hour mark something clicks and the story does take an interesting turn. Although it still meanders it's way around another 40 minutes of cliches, the characters are all sweet enough to pull you to the finish line. Greg Kinnear is especially charming as Miley's dad and for those of you who can't stand the sound of Hannah Montana's voice - the only vocal performance she gives in the movie is over the end credits. Rated PG for one bad word (uttered by Miley which I guess makes it all the more shocking,) the romance between Miley and her boyfriend is kept only to kissing (with no mention of S-E-X) and the end deals with some emotional themes that might be too heavy for little ones, but I'm sure parents of most of Hannah Montana's core audience should find nothing objectionable with the content of this silly but ultimately sweet film.

Death at a Funeral (2010)[R] This is a half descent ensemble comedy with Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan and Martin Lawrence providing most of the humor. The rest of the cast features Danny Glover, Kevin Hart, Luke Wilson and Zoe Saldana. It's one of those everything that can go wrong does go wrong kind of stories. Some pretty humorous events take place, most of the laughs are supplied via one-liners. This might sound like a strange criticism, but the film would be alot funnier if it didn't have such a "wacky" soundtrack. The score tries to emphasize the comedy, it almost plays like a musical laughtrack telling you this is supposed to be funny. It would have worked better if it were toned down a notch or two. Rated R for a truckload of F-bombs, drug use, some sexual banter and one instance of very literal potty humor.

The 41 Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshal and Felt Superbad About It (2010)[NR] This latest "parody" film is NOT from the guys that have made Epic Movie, Date Movie and the recent Vampires I was hoping that maybe it would prove that parody is not dead. Unfortunately, this alleged send-up of Judd Apatow films is worse than a crap-lovin' film goer like myself could possibly imagine. There's a couple of clever bits here and there but for the most part, satire and parody are traded for vulgarity and scenes involving people being covered in every bodily secretion you can imagine. Bad, Bad, Bad movie! I cracked a smile only twice, once during the opening credits (I'm a sucker for faux credits) and once during the ending credits which lampoons the closing of Slumdog Millionare. Not that I need to tell anybody this, but don't waste the effort of focusing your eyeballs on this horrid film. The DVD is unrated and loaded with profane language, nudity and the accompanying sexual situations not to mention wall-to-wall attempts at gross-out humor.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Behind the Dominion

How do I find these things on YouTube? Because I'm Awesome...that's how!? Here's a video a contractor working at Kings Dominion made a few years ago. He's driving around the "backstage" area of the park, and he's quite knowledgeable about the history of the park and shows off a few cool spots out of sight to the everyday visitor.

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