Saturday, 14 February 2009

Philip Carey and Estelle Bennett Pass On

Actor Philip Carey, who co-starred in the Sixties Western TV show Laredo, and Estelle Bennett, who was one of The Ronettes, have both passed on.

Philip Carey passed on January 6 at the age of 83. The cause was lung cancer.

Philip Carey was born Eugene Joseph Carey in Hackensack, New Jersey on July 15, 1925. He grew up in Long Island. During World War II he served in the United States Marines. He also served in the Korean War. Carey studied drama at the University of Miami, and acted in summer stock in Long Island. Eventually a talent scout from Warner Brothers asked him to try out for a supporting role in Operation Pacific, starring John Wayne.

Signed to Warner Brothers, Carey spent much of the Fifties appearing in movies such as I Was a Communist for the FBI, Springfield Rifle, Calamity Jane, and Mister Roberts. He made his television debut in 1953 in an episode of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. By the Fifties he was appearing regularly on television in shows such as Four Star Playhouse, Celebrity Playhouse, and The Ford Television Theatre. He starred in the 1956-1957 TV series Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers as Lt. Michael Rhodes. He also played the title role on the 1959-1960 TV show Philip Marlowe.

By the Sixties Carey spent most of his career on television. He guest starred on such shows as Michael Shayne, Thriller, The Rifleman, Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, The Virginian, Daniel Boone, and Ironside. He still continued to appear on film, in the movies FBI Code 98, Dead Ringer, Town Tamer, The Great Sioux Massacre, and Once You Kiss a Stranger. He co-starred alongside Peter Brown and Neville Brand on the Western comedy Laredo. Carey played the commanding officer, Capt. Edward Parmalee, who had the thankless job of keeping three rather reckless Texas Rangers out of trouble.

In the Seventies Carey guest starred on such shows as All in the Family, Gunsmoke, McMillan and Wife, Room 222, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, McCloud, and Little House on the Prairie. In 1979 he started a long stint on the soap opera One Life to Live, which lasted until 2004.

While Philip Carey wound up doing a long stint on a daytime soap, I really think he belonged elsewhere. With rugged good looks, he was perfect for the Westerns in which he appeared. With a gift for timing, he was perfect for comedy. Indeed, besides playing the straight man to Neville Brand on Laredo, Carey also appeared in a number of humorous Granny Goose potato chip commercials on California television in the Sixties. A versatile actor, he was the perfect leading man for Fifties and Sixties television.

Estelle Bennett, one of the legendary Ronettes and Ronnie Spector's sister, passed on February 11 at the age of 67. The cause was colon cancer.

Estelle Bennett was born on July 21, 1941. She and her younger sister Veronica (AKA "Ronnie") grew up in Washington Heights in New York City. She started singing at a very young age, encouraged by her family. Along with their cousin Nedra Talley, Estelle and Ronnie formed a singing group called The Darling Sisters. In 1959 they won a talent contest at the Apollo Theatre. In 1961 they started performing at the Peppermint Lounge. The group received a record deal from Colpix, and released their first single "I Want a Boy" as Ronnie and the Relatives. during this period they also sang backup for such singers as Del Shannon, Bobby Rydell and Joey Dee. Later renamed The Ronettes, they continued to record single and even an album for Colpix.

It was in 1963 that Phil Spector noticed The Ronettes, who was looking for a replacement for his girl group The Crystals. Spector signed them to his Philles label and remoulded the group into a "bad girl" image. Their first single for Spector was the classic "Be My Baby," which went to #2 on the Billboard chart and #4 in the United Kingdom. The Ronettes followed this success with another hit, "Baby, I Love You." In 1964 The Ronettes were successful enough to tour England not only with rising rock group The Rolling Stones, but The Beatles as well.

It was that year that The Ronettes would produce even more hit singles, including "The Best Part of Breaking Up," "Do I Love You," and "(Walking) In the Rain." Unfortunately, with girl groups on the way out and the British Invasion well under way, The Ronettes' career faltered in 1965. Their first single of that year, "Born to Be Together," only went to 52. Other singles would not even chart. The Ronettes broke up in 1966.

The Ronettes were nearly as known for their fashion sense as their vocals, and much of that fashion sense was provided by Estelle Bennett. She had attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, and as a result helped a good deal in the group's choice of clothing.

Following the breakup of The Ronettes, Estelle Bennett recorded one single for Laurie Records, "The Year 2000/The Naked Boy." It did very little business. She then retired from entertainment, married, and raised a family. When The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Estelle Bennett did not perform with her sister and her cousin, being in declining health. According to Nedra Talley, however, it was the happiest she had seen her in a long time.

The Ronettes are my favourite girl group of all time. In fact, "Be My Baby" would rank in my list of the top ten greatest rock songs of all time. While much of the attention was concentrated on her younger and more outgoing sister Ronnie, much of The Ronettes' success was due to Estelle. Like her sister and her cousin, Estelle was gifted with an voice and could well have led a group of her own. While The Ronettes developed their look together, there can be little doubt that Estelle's education at the Fashion Institute of Technology helped a good deal. As a member of one of the most legendary vocal groups of all time, Estelle Bennett will no doubt be remembered.

Monday, 9 February 2009

myNetworkTV Shifts Towards Reruns

MyNetworkTV, the lowest rated of the American networks, announced that it would largely show established programmes rather than original TV shows. Put more simply, it will primarily show reruns. MyNetworkTV also plans to have a movie night and to give Saturday night back to its affiliates. Despite this, myNetworkTV President Greg Meidel insists it is not becoming a rerun network.

For those of you who have never even heard of myNetworkTV (which is quite likely), it was a network which arose after The WB and UPN announced their intent to merge to form The CW. Fox had acquired various UPN affiliates in the early Naughts, including WPWR-TV in Chicago and KCOP in Los Angeles. Their agreement to UPN affiliation expiring in 2006 resulted in the fact that none of the Fox owned affiliates would become part of the CW. It was then less than month after UPN and The WB announced their intent to merge that Fox's parent company, New Corp, announced the creation of myNetworkTV from UPN stations and WB stations left out of The CW.

MyNetworkTV started broadcasting on September 5, 2006. Originally the network aired telenovelas made in the English language. The telenovelas aired five nights a week through a thirteen week cycle. Despite covering 96 percent of the country, myNetworkTv found its ratings at the bottom of the barrel. By March 2007 they abandoned the telenovelas for a format meant to attract young males. Its programming shifted largely to reality shows and sports programming. By 2008, still the lowest ranked network, MyNetworkTV tried a more mixed approach to programming. They aired yet another version of The Twilight Zone, the sketch comedy show The Tony Rock Project, the sitcom Under One Roof, and WWE Friday Night SmackDown. Even then, much of its programming consisted of reruns.

So far myNetworkTV has agreed to only two series, WWE Friday Night SmackDown and two hours worth of reruns of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. There has not been any word as to what will happen to its original series.

I must confess that I find it hard to believe that myNetworkTV has survived this long. The network began with the risky move of airing American telenovelas as its primary programming, a format which never caught on with English speaking audiences. They later shifted to reality programming at a time when the reality show cycle had run its course and the networks had already been glutted with them. Their attempts at original programming, even the new version of The Twilight Zone, have never caught on. In fact, it seems to me that the only programming on myNetworkTV that has any kind of viewership are the occasional movie and WWE Friday Night SmackDown. I must confess that save for a few specials and movies, I have never watched much of anything on myNetworkTV. As harsh as it sounds, it sounds almost as if myNetworkTV should simply cash in its chips and allow its affiliates to become independent stations. After nearly three years, it seems to me that myNetworkTV simply cannot find its niche among the American broadcast networks.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Facebook Turns Five

As hard as it is to believe, this month Facebook turns five years old. It has become one of the most popular social networking sites on the Web. In fact, while MySpace surpasses it in popularity in the United States, Facebook is actually the most popular social networking site in English speaking countries.

Facebook grew out of a Harvard University website called Facemash, created by Mark Zuckerberg in October 2003. Facemash was essentially a Harvard version of the rating site Hot or Not--it placed two pictures of people side by side and asked users to decide who was hotter. Facemash was shut down by Harvard University officials after only a few days, who charged Zuckerberg with breach of security, copyright violations, and violating individual privacy. The charges were ultimately dropped.

Zuckerberg had developed the idea of Facemash while looking at the Kirkland Dormitory facebook. Zuckerberg then came up with the idea of an online facebook that would cover all of Harvard. The Facebook, initially located at thefacebook.com, was launched on February 4, 2004. In the beginning it was limited only to Harvard, but the next month it expanded to include Columbia, Stanford, and Yale. Eventually The Facebook would be opened to the entire Ivy League, and eventually it would be open to nearly every college and university in the United States. It was in August 2005 that The Facebook became simply Facebook after buying the domain name facebook.com. The following month Facebook was opened to high schools. Facebook first expanded beyond schools by allowing employees of various companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and so on to join. On September 26, Facebook was finally opened to everyone.

Even though it is now open to everyone, Facebook still shows that it was originally set up as an online Facebook for universities. Facebook is set up along the lines of networks based on school, workplace, or geographic region. And it is the networks that largely determine who and who can see one's profile. A person in the London, England network would not be able to see the profile of a complete stranger in the Seattle, Washington network. This is probably a holdover from the days when Facebook was open only to universities and only students at the same university could see each other's profiles.

Facebook has generated controversy among its users from time to time. When Facebook introduced its News Feed feature in September 2006, it caused consternation among its users. The News Feed featured news of nearly every action taken by a user's friends, which led to the complaint that it provided too much information. In response Facebook issued an apology and gave users the choice of what information would appear on the News Feed.

Another controversy developed in November 2007 over an advertising programme called Beacon. Beacon would report back to Facebook its users activities on third party sites which participated in the Beacon programme. It made no difference if a user had logged off Facebook or what his or her privacy settings were. The controversy grew so great that Facebook was eventually forced to allow users to opt out of the programme.

A more recent controversy regarded the new design for Facebook that was introduced in July 2008. The new Facebook was supposed to be simpler and cleaner, but many users actually found it and still find it more complicated and harder. Initially Facebook allowed users to stay with the old Facebook design, but in September 2008 they forced everyone to change to the new Facebook, whether they wanted to or not. Needless to say, this only intensified the controversy. In the end it would be covered in such venues as BBC News and Forbes. I have to admit, I still hate the new Facebook design (I even wrote it about here). Sadly, Facebook has yet to return to its old design or even given its users a choice of returning to the old design.

Like other social networking sites, Facebook has also faced other sorts of controversies. One of these occurred early, when Divya Narendra, Cameron Winklevoss, and Tyler Winklevoss, creators of the website HarvardConnection (later renamed ConnectU) sued Facebook alleging that Zuckerberg had broken an oral contract in which they would have built Facebook and copyright infringement. The case was settled in February, 2008. More recently controversy arose when Facebook banned breastfeeding photos, ruling that they violate its policy on "obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit." The pictures in question apparently showed the areola of the breast.

Since it was founded in 2004, Facebook has seen dramatic growth. Currently Facebook claims more than 150 million users. In the United States it is second only to MySpace as the most popular social networking site. Facebook has survived several controversies over the years. Even after the controversy over the new design, user still visit Facebook daily (I still do, even though I still detest the new look). It looks as if Facebook will be around for a long time to come.