CBS Fall Preview (2015)

Season 3 – Episode 9
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2015 ABC Fall Preview

Mark and Christopher discuss the new shows that are the focus of
the ABC television lineup for the 2015 season!

 

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “American Pop”, 1981

cable-box-001-2696“A stripper gettin’ dressed ain’t beautiful unless she’s ugly to begin with.”

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“American Pop”, 1981 (Ron Thompson), Columbia Pictures

“American Pop” is a song with a simple rhyme; the condensed history of recorded music from big-band to punk, where the journey begins over a hundred years ago with Russian émigrés traveling to the United States to escape Cossack persecution. The descendants of an extended family fight in wars and face episodes of tragedy while trying to realize their musical aspirations. The story settles with young Tony, a Long Island punk who writes songs by night, washes dishes by day, all the while fighting an increasing dependency on heroin.

Tony reunites with his long-lost son, Pete, who also shares an interest in music. Together they deal drugs to high-profile musicians. Tony’s addictions grow worse and he sells his musical instruments in order to pay for more drugs. He abandons Pete after taking all their money. Pete, obviously learning from his family’s missteps in life in pursuit of their own musical dreams, is hired on-the-spot by a musical group whom are stunned by his talent.

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This was the nadir of adult animated features, and because of rights issues with the music used in the soundtrack, a forthcoming video release was blocked until 1995. The same problems arose with a pending video release for “Heavy Metal”, another cult favorite. Animated adult movies are not produced anymore. The market is now consistently geared for children.

“American Pop” is an incredible movie to behold; predating “A Scanner Darkly” by 25 years, this mixed media marvel uses rotoscoping to create realistic movements in astonishing dance and music sequences (which recall classic Disney), and the result is tremendously rewarding. Ralph Bakshi, most notably, directed the first X-rated cartoon, “Fritz The Cat”, as well as a popular adaptation of “Lord Of The Rings”, and later, “Cool World”. “American Pop” serves to remind the audience that talent and dreams are not enough to succeed in this increasingly cold world. Sometimes all we need is a little luck.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.

Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.

“Vintage Cable Box” artwork by Bronwyn Knox.

“BYTE ME!: Excavating E.T.”

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The first time I saw “E.T.” in a movie theater (it had to be 1983, my mother wasn’t interested so I had to beg), I couldn’t hear the movie as it played, because the kids were screaming in the aisles. My mother had to call over an usher and make the person try to quiet these crazy kids. Didn’t work. Still didn’t hear anything, so I had to watch the movie through the imagery. It works! It works almost like a silent movie, until you get those incredible John Williams musical swells of emotion, and you feel that lump in your throat that only Steven Spielberg could create. It’s such a gorgeous, amazing movie it surprises me to this day there are certain parties who have not seen it.

As such, an enormously popular movie will eventually get it’s own video game adaptation. It happens. We can’t fight it. The short of it was that Atari wanted to get in on the cash and the popularity of the movie, and have a video game version of the movie ready for consumers by Christmas of 1982, basically giving programmer Howard Warshaw five weeks to design and program the game. They had previous success with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (success is subjective). With Spielberg’s approval, Atari’s “E.T.” ships to stores, and the initial projections show that this game will be a big hit. It flops. People don’t understand the game.

I tried the game at my friend Matthew’s house. We didn’t have any money, so we didn’t have money for a video game system, and to be honest, I was never terribly interested in video games, but I did try “E.T.”. The next best thing to not having your own toys is having a friend who has all the toys you don’t have – that way they’re your toys too, in a way. I liked other video games. I loved “Pitfall” and “Pacman”, and “Donkey Kong”, but I wasn’t interested enough to buy a video game system. I eventually purchased a Coleco video game system from a classmate who disposed of it by relieving me of my bus tokens from school. So I had to walk to school for four weeks to play “Donkey Kong”. I had a lot of energy back in those days.

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“Atari: Game Over” is the story of a scapegoat. In this case, Howard Warshaw. He was a young, brilliant engineer. He was slick. He partied in a way only a prodigy in the Reagan-era could party. He designed “Yar’s Revenge” (which I also remember, and really couldn’t grasp). He comes into Atari, at that point purchased by Warner Communications, makes a million dollars in development and programming, because in those days you get to keep your patent and still work for the godless corporate structure, develops a game for a popular property which flops, and then is smacked down so hard he becomes a psychologist and part-time religious guru for computer nerds in Silicon Valley.

So what happens when “E.T.” flops? Atari’s shares plummet. The company claims losses in excess of $180 million dollars and slowly folds. The next logical step? Bury the bodies out in the New Mexico desert, “Casino” style.  Not really. The other scapegoat of this museum piece is a holding warehouse, the retail end in this chain of fiascos. The warehouse can’t move Atari product, so they bury the product whole in Alamogordo, the site of an enormous landfill. The rest of  “Atari: Game Over” covers the excavation of these priceless (yet worthless) materials.

Of course, nothing like this would ever happen today. You’d get too many environmentalist nut-jobs preaching the evils of plastic, and the arrogance of Atari shipping 4 million copies of an untested video game, but it was the eighties, so let’s be kind. There were a lot of wealthy idiots running around back then not caring about the environment or matters of practicality. Champagne was free, and if you were over the age of ten, you got a free headband to wear when you went to aerobics class. I still have mine.

The documentary is interesting, but it doesn’t paint a complete portrait. The failure of “E.T.” was not the failure of Atari, or the home video gaming system of the time. It was Coleco, and Nintendo, and the eventual technologies that Atari did not take advantage of, nor would it, as evidenced by the rise of Commodore computers, the Apple 2E, and the connections consumers would make between personal home computing and the gaming industry. In short, Atari died trying to chase the tail of it’s own Lynx and Jaguar products. It had nothing to do with “E.T”, but the arrogance of dumping a product into a pit in order to ignore it, is troubling.

Now, in this hoarding, collecting culture, new parties emerge to spend big bucks buying garbage. When the games were unearthed, they were placed on eBay, and gen-Xers with, undoubtedly deep pockets and money to burn started buying. You can buy an “E.T.” cartridge taken from the Alamogordo landfill and place it proudly on your mantle-piece. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I’d really like to phone home right about now.

Vintage Cable Box: “Porky’s”, 1981

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“That … tallywhacker had a mole on it. And that mole is the key to it.”

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.

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“Porky’s”, 1981 (Kim Cattrall), 20th Century Fox

As a standard teen sex comedy narrative, “Porky’s” is based on repetition, and a curious parochial attitude in which something good (read: sexy) happens to one of our protagonists, and then almost immediately, that protagonist is punished for his pleasure. In one key scene (the basis for the poster, no less) our plucky heroes are spying on girls through peepholes in the shower. One of them decides to tempt fate by sticking his … ahem “tallywhacker” through the peephole. It is then that girls coach, Miss Ballbricker, grabs the offending appendage and pulls on it, causing our hero a respectable amount of pain.

“Porky’s” follows our teen heroes from one sexual misadventure to another. The story takes place in 1954. Imagine “American Graffiti”, but with significantly more skin. It’s a low-budget coming-of-age movie with a top-rate cast, excellent acting, photography, and a story that doesn’t condescend to, or patronize it’s audience (other than a haphazard subplot about bigotry, but I’ll forgive writer/director Bob Clark for that misstep). The movie was a tremendous hit for Fox, earning over a hundred million smackeroos at the box office, but it was on cable television that the movie’s success truly blossomed, as it were. While our parents forbade us from the pleasures of Pee-Wee and Wendy in the theater, they couldn’t stop us from checking it out on our vintage cable boxes!

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“Porky’s” was followed with two sequels, the competent “Porky’s 2: The Next Day”, and the dreadful “Porky’s Revenge” (with music from George Harrison!). Most memorable is the beautiful Kim Cattrall, hilariously nicknamed “Lassie” because of her penchant for high-pitched squealing during sex. Dependable character actors, Alex Karras and Susan Clark (from TV’s Webster), as well as Art Hindle, and Nancy Parsons, fill out the cast of mostly-unknown young actors. Bob Clark directed one of my favorite 70s horror movies, “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” as well as the perennial holiday classic, “A Christmas Story”. Sort of puts a different spin on “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.

“Vintage Cable Box” artwork by Bronwyn Knox.