Saturday, July 10, 2004

Sunday Morning Cartoons

I hope you'll forgive me, but my mind is still stuck on the cartoons that aired on the broadcast networks. Namely, I remember that at one time there weren't just cartoons on Saturday mornings, but on Sunday mornings as well. Yes, that's right. At one time Sunday morning TV schedules weren't just filled with news shows and religious shows. There was a period when kids could watch cartoons and other children's programming on Sunday mornings as well.

Ironically, ABC, the last network to start programming on Saturday mornings, was the first to start programming children's fare on Sunday mornings. I am not real sure as to when they started, but it seems to me that it was either 1964 or 1965 (I was still in diapers, so I only have secondhand accounts on which to rely). Regardless, in that first season of Sunday morning cartoons, ABC aired two of the all time classics--Beany and Cecil and The Bullwinkle Show. I am not certain as to when CBS followed suit, but I am thinking that it was either in 1966 or 1967. I am also not absolutely certain, but I do believe that Mighty Mouse Playhouse, the first Saturday morning cartoon, spent its final season on a broadcast network there. I do know that in 1967 CBS started running the old Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts on Sunday morning. As to NBC, oddly enough, I don't think they ever followed the other two networks' lead and aired any kind of children's programming on Sunday mornings, let alone cartoons.

While the Saturday morning cartoon schedule eventually grew to a staggering 6 hours in length, the Sunday morning cartoon schedule on both ABC and CBS tended to be a bit more modest. I seem to recall that at their height ABC aired about two hours worth of children's fare on Sundays, while CBS tended to a more modest one hour schedule. For the most part, Sunday morning was where Saturday morning cartoons went to die. Indeed, the web site TVparty refers to it as the "Sunday morning boneyard!" The Sixties version of Spider-Man, the Sixties version of The Fantastic Four, King Kong, The Beatles, Aquaman, and The Groovy Ghoulies all spent their last days as part of a Sunday morning lineup. For the most part, the ratings for the Sunday morning cartoons were much lower than that of Saturday morning cartoons. The audience may have been smaller because many children (like myself) went to church with their parents. Too, many affiliates simply pre-empted the cartoons in favour of religious programming. As a result, a cartoon on Sunday mornings could at best hope to remain on the air for a season or two.

That is not to say that all cartoons and other children's fare airing on Sunday mornings suffered a swift death. Some prospered there. The Bullwinkle Show spent nine years on the ABC Sunday morning lineup. Tom and Jerry lasted five years as part of the CBS Sunday morning schedule. Linus the Lion-Hearted managed to last three years, killed only because of a FCC ruling that banned cartoon characters from appearing in commercials. Since Linus the Lion-Hearted relied on the Post Cereals characters, it was pretty much history. Other cartoons managed to return from the Sunday morning schedule to the Saturday morning schedule. Underdog aired on CBS on Sunday mornings during the '67-'68 season, only to return to Saturday morning on NBC during the '68-69 season. It lasted another four years there. ABC moved The Bugs Bunny Show to Sunday mornings with the '67-'68 season. It returned to the Saturday morning schedule on CBS in the '69-'70 season.

More often than not, however, the cartoons that wound up on the Sunday morning schedule were ones that either had run their course or simply were not successful from the start. Spider-Man had been fairly successful upon its debut in 1967. In 1970 it spent a final season on Sunday mornings. A smash hit in the '65-'66 season, The Beatles found its ratings declining in the face of such competition as Johnny Quest. ABC moved it to Sunday mornings beginning in September 1968 and it had its last network broadcast in September 1969. At least both Spider-Man and The Beatles had their day. Both Kid Power (based on the Wee Pals comic strip) and The Osmonds spent one season on Saturday mornings during the '72-'73 season before ABC moved both shows to Sunday mornings in the '73-'74 season where they each lasted one more year.

By now you have probably realised that there was very little in the way of original programming for children on Sunday morning network schedules. An exception was a show called Make a Wish, which aired on ABC from 1971 to 1976. With a five year run, it was also one of the most successful Sunday morning kids' shows. This live action, educational series featured Tom Chapin (brother of Harry Chapin) and would explore a different topic each week. And each week Chapin would sing one of his original, folksy tunes. The series was a favourite of adults and kids alike. Make a Wish was part of a trend towards more educational programming for children in the Seventies and many educational shows found themselves in the "Sunday morning boneyard." The Curiosity Shop was an educational series produced by animator Chuck Jones, which debuted as part of ABC's Saturday morning lineup in 1971. It was a combination of live action, puppets, and animation. An hour in length, it explored science, mathematics, and other subjects. With the '72-'73 season, it moved to Sunday mornings for one last season. Kids Are People Too debuted on ABC on Saturday mornings with the '78-'79 season. Kids Are People Too was a news magazine for kids. It featured a number of different guests, from Steven Speilberg to Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick. Those Amazing Animals debuted on ABC's prime time lineup in 1980 and later showed up on its Sunday morning lineup.

I am not sure when ABC and CBS stopped airing children's programming on Sunday mornings. I think CBS ceased airing kids' fare first, probably around the '78-'79 season. I also seem to recall that ABC followed suit not long afterwards, perhaps around the '81-'82 or '82-'83 seasons. More than likely, they simply found Sunday mornings, even when filled with reruns, simply were not profitable. This was probably made worse by the fact that many affiliates pre-empted the networks' Sunday morning lineups anyway. In recent years I do believe Fox, the WB, and UPN have all made attempts at children's programming on Sunday mornings. Insofar as I know, none of them have been successful. I am not sure that any of these networks are currently airing anything for kids on Sunday mornings.

In a way the dearth of children's programming on Sunday mornings does make me a bit sad. Part of it is simply nostalgia. I can remember at five years of age watching Aquaman and The Beatles before church on Sunday mornings. They are among some very happy memories for me. I must also admit that I have to feel sorry for those kids who do not have access to Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network on Sunday mornings. At the mercy of their local stations, they are faced with nothing to watch on Sunday morning. Okay, ABC and CBS's Sunday morning lineups were mostly reruns. But at least they were something a kid could watch.

Friday, July 9, 2004

Saturday Morning Cartoons

I was looking at the TV schedule the other day and I noticed that CBS now has two hours of The CBS Early Show on Saturday morning. I figure that it is just another nail in the coffin of Saturday morning cartoons. I think the first nail in the coffin of the Saturday morning cartoons occurred back in 1992, when NBC created a Saturday edition of Today and replaced the cartoons with sitcoms and various other programmes.

All in all, it makes me rather sad, like another part of my childhood is fading away. Over the years there have been many attempts to define Generation X. A definition I have never seen for Generation X, but one that I think is entirely accurate, is that we are the first generation that as children never knew a Saturday morning without cartoons. It was in 1955 that CBS introduced the first Saturday morning cartoon, Mighty Mouse Playhouse. Mighty Mouse Playhouse was essentially an anthology of the old Mighty Mouse theatrical shorts. In 1957 NBC followed suit with the first Saturday morning cartoon made specifically for television. This was The Ruff & Reddy Show, the first series from the fledgeling Hanna-Barbera studios. In 1962 all three networks at the time (NBC, CBS, and ABC) started programming for Saturday mornings. By 1964 those three networks had devoted a good part of those Saturday mornings to entire blocks of cartoons. I figure that if the first members of Generation X were born in 1963 (I've seen later years given, but I don't agree with those estimates), then Generation X would have been the first generation that never knew a Saturday morning without cartoons during their childhoods.

Beginning with that pivotal 1964-1965 season was the Golden Age of Saturday Morning Cartoons. The 1964-1965 season alone gave us a couple of classics. On ABC Hoppity Hooper made its premiere. Hoppity Hooper was a creation of Jay Ward, the same man who brought us Rocky and Bullwinkle , Dudley Doright, and George of the Jungle. Unfortunately, Hoppity Hooper did not see the success of those series, although it possessed the same wit that the other Ward shows did. On NBC Underdog debuted. Unlike Hoppity Hooper, Underdog was a huge hit. It ran for 9 straight years (spending one year on Sunday mornings) before leaving the networks for a successful syndication run. It also inspired tons of merchandising and a Macys Thanksgiving Parade balloon (a sure sign of success for any cartoon). In the following years, yet more classic cartoons debuted on Saturday mornings. The Beatles, Space Ghost, Birdman, George of the Jungle, and several others.

IMHO, the end of the Golden Age of Saturday morning cartoons was brought about by two events in 1968. The first was a crackdown on television violence that came in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. All of a sudden the superheroes who had been the toasts of Saturday mornings were personae non gratae. In the middle of the 1968-1969 season, NBC cancelled Birdman and replaced it with Storybook Squares, a kid's version of the game show Hollywood Squares (one of the few live action entries of the season). The second event was the debut of Archie on CBS. Based on the perennial comic book favourite (who first appeared in Pep Comics #22, December, 1941), Archie proved a resounding success. It also signalled a new trend towards comedy on Saturday mornings. If there is only little doubt that the end of the Golden Age was at hand in 1968, there can be no doubt that it was over by 1969. That year saw the debut of one of the most wildly successful cartoons of all time, Scooby Doo, Where are You? (I won't go into how I can not fathom the cartoon's continued popularity here...). Between the success of Archie and Scooby Doo, Where are You?, the network filled Saturday mornings with yet more comedies--more often than not, very lame comedies. In the Seventies, often the best cartoons on Saturday morning were reruns of primetime series--The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Johnny Quest.

As the years have gone by, there were many attempts to fill Saturday mornings with more educational fare. CBS introduced short segments called In the News which aired in between the cartoons. ABC introduced Schoolhouse Rock, short animated segments which also aired between cartoons. Both were fairly successful. In 1971, NBC went a step further by adding live action, educational shows to their line up with Take a Giant Step and a revival of Mr. Wizard. Both failed. It seemed as if nothing could shake the hold that cartoons had on Saturday mornings. It seems, however, that wasn't true.

The Eighties saw the growth of cable, giving the broadcast networks more competition than ever before. Perhaps the two biggest competitors for the attention of the nation's children came in the form of Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. Nickelodeon is the first cable channel devoted to children's entertainment. It started in 1979 as Pinwheel, then changed its name in 1981. Throughout its history it has aired educational shows, game shows, sitcoms, and, of course, cartoons. The Cartoon Network was founded in 1992, armed with Turner Broadcasting's impressive film library of old MGM and Warner Brothers shorts. With new outlets for children's programming, both live action and cartoons, the importance of the broadcast networks' Saturday morning programming diminished to a good degree.

Of course, there are still cartoons on Saturday morning. ABC, Fox, and the WB still air cartoons on Saturday morning. CBS airs cartoons produced by Nickelodeon following The CBS Early Show. Even NBC has two cartoons on its Saturday morning schedule, both produced by the Discovery Channel--Kenny the Shark and Tutanstein. But it seems to me that it just isn't the same as when I was a kid. For much of my childhood, Saturday morning cartoons began at 7:00 AM CST and ran until 1:00 PM CST. Today, CBS and ABC end their Saturday morning schedules at 12:00 noon CST. Fox and the WB end theirs even earlier, at 11:00 AM CST. And their Satuday morning line ups aren't entirely cartoons; there are a few live action shows as well. Quite simply, the broadcast networks are showing fewer cartoons on Saturday morning than when I was a child.

Not that it matters. I don't think the broadcast networks' Satuday morning lineup is nearly as important to children today as they were to Generation X. My youngest niece is more likely to be watching Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, or a DVD on Saturday mornings than the broadcast networks, if she is watching TV at all. She might as likely be playing a video game on any given Saturday morning. Of course, given the quality of some of the cartoons out these days, I can't really blame her. With but few exceptions, none of the cartoons seem to compare to those of my childhood. There is nothing to compare with Underdog or Birdman or George of the Jungle.

Given that most of the broadcast networks are still showing cartoons on Saturday morning, I don't know that Saturday morning cartoons can be said to be gone. Or even that they can be said to be dying off. But I do think that they have decreased in significance. Fewer cartoons. Lower quality in cartoons. And kids these days often do other things than watch cartoons on Saturday morning. It isn't the same as when I was growing up, when nearly every kid was glued to the TV come Saturday morning.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Cheap Trick

If I had to name my favourite rock band of the Seventies, I would guess it would be Cheap Trick. Indeed, they remain one of my favourite bands to this day. Like many people, the first I ever heard of Cheap Trick was in 1978 when their single "Surrender" hit the charts. I really liked the song, although I did not rush out and buy the album on which it was, Heaven Tonight. In 1979, however, with the release of their live album, At Budokan, I became a Cheap Trick fan. It was with their 1979 album, Dream Police, that I became a Cheap Trick fan for life.

I suppose it was unavoidable that I would become a Cheap Trick fan. Their leader and founder, Rick Nielsen, was heavily influenced by The British Invasion. Cheap Trick drew in equal parts upon the melodies of The Beatles and the "wall of guitars" sound of The Who. Although Cheap Trick originated in the Midwest, their sound was influenced by Liverpool and London. Indeed, among their remakes are numbered The Beatles' "Day Tripper" and The Move's "California Man."

Rick Nielsen formed his first band, The Phaetons, in 1962. The Phaetons eventually became The Grim Reapers and future Cheap Trick bassist, Tom Peterson, joined the band. That year, 1967, was historic for Cheap Trick for other reasons as well. The Paegans, the band of future Cheap Trick drummer, Bun E. Carlos, released their first and only single--a remake of The Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine." In 1968 The Grim Reapers were signed by Epic Records (who would later sign Cheap Trick as well). As part of the deal, The Grim Reapers were required to change their name; hence The Grim Reapers became Fuse. Their first album, released in 1969, did very poorly. Perhaps as a result, Fuse broke up in 1970. Nielsen then hooked up with Robert Stewkey, the former lead vocalist of The Nazz, Todd Rundgren's original band from the Sixties). The two of them formed various bands over the years until in 1972, Nielsen, Stewkey, and Tom Petersen formed Sick Man of Europe, the direct ancestor of Cheap Trick. Sick Man of Europe opened for Foghat, among other bands. The band would break up in 1973 after failing to win a recording contract. A new band was then formed which would initially bear such names as "Sick Man of Europe" and "The Grim Reapers" before being called "Cheap Trick." Ton Petersen joined the band in 1973. By 1974, after original vocalist Randy "Xeno" Hogan left the band, Robin Zander joined Cheap Trick as their lead vocalist. The line up for which Cheap Trick is best known in place, the group tours relentlessly until in 1976, Epic Record signed them to a five year contract.

Throughout a career that has lasted over 25 years, Cheap Trick has had their ups and downs. Their early albums, Cheap Trick and In Color attracted little attention. It was with the release of Heaven Tonight that their single, "Surrender," actually cracked the top 100. With their live album, At Budokan, they actually had a hit on their hands. The single, "I Want You to Want Me," actually made the top forty. Dream Police, released in 1980, was also successful, producing the hit singles "Dream Police" and "Voices." Unfortunately, Cheap Trick's success would not last. Their follow up to Dream Police, All Shook Up did not do nearly as well. Following albums seemed to do more and more poorly on the charts. The band had a great deal of success with Lap of Luxury in 1988, primarily due to the ballad "The Flame (which the band did not particularly care for)." Once more, however, the band's success on the charts didn't last. Regardless, Cheap Trick had achieved the status of a cult band long before Lap of Luxury. They have continued to tour and release albums ever since. Even if the band has not regularly hit the charts, Cheap Trick has arguably been one of the most successful bands in rock history. After all, how many bands have had a career that lasts over a quarter of a century?

I have gotten to see Cheap Trick in concert twice. The first time was in October 1981 when they did a concert at Northeast Missouri State University to warm up for their tour. My brother was attending NMSU at the time and was able to secure tickets. We sat about four rows from the stage and marvelled as they performed such songs as "Stop This Game" and "Ain't That a Shame." I even got one of Rick Nielsen's guitar picks which he threw out into the audience (I still have it). The second time I saw Cheap Trick live was at Fair St. Louis on July 4, 2001, under the Gateway Arch. The band was still in top form, even after all these years. I received a nasty sunburn on my face (the Arch is beautiful, but in July it is basically a gigantic reflector...), but it was well worth it.

To this day I still love Cheap Trick. Not only have they had a long career, but they have actually had a lasting influence on rock music. Groups from Enuff Z'nuff to the Fountains of Wayne, and even the grunge band Nirvana, display some influences from Cheap Trick, rather it is in Nielsen's "wall of guitars" technique or Robin Zander's vocals. Of all the bands that arose in the Seventies, it seems to me that it was Cheap Trick that best blended such disparate elements of the British Invasion as Beatlesque melodies, Who-style guitar work, and tongue in cheek humour. I don't think there will ever be a band quite like them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Summertime and The Livin' Ain't Easy...

There are times I wonder why the "glories" of summertime are so often extolled in music and poetry. In Sonnet XVIII Shakespeare compared a lady to a summer's day, presumably meaning it as a compliment. Chaucer welcomed "summer" with its "sun soft." "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" addresses the joys of the beach and the drive-in. In his song "Summertime" Gershwin wrote that the "livin' is easy." "In the Good Ol' Summertime," written by Ren Shields and George Evans, is a standard.

I rather suspect that if Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Gershwin had ever lived in Missouri, they would not think summertime was so glorious a time. In Missouri summer means two things: heat and humidity. The normal temperature for this time of year is 88 degrees, although it seems to me that it usually gets hotter than that. To make things worse, the humidity tends to be high as well--75% humidity is typical for a July day in Missouri. Needless to say, such weather is uncomfortable. Indeed, it is even life threatening. During the particularly hot summer of 1999, 61 people died. While not nearly as many people die during a typical Missouri summer, there are always some heat related deaths.

At any rate, the severity of Missouri summers convinced me long ago that T. S. Eliot was wrong. April is not the cruellest month. July is the cruellest month. It is the hottest month of the year. It is hardly lazy, crazy (athough it is hazy--the humidity, you know), soft, good, or comparable to a beautiful woman. In fact, I only know of one song that accurately describes summer in Missouri--"Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful. In describing the back of a neck that is "dirty and gritty" and a sidewalk that is "hotter than a match head," John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian, and Steve Boone summed up Missouri summer weather perfectly. Summer is nasty and uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, the worst of the summer is yet to come. As the month of July progresses, it will get steadily hotter and hotter. It will start to cool down a bit in August, but not significantly. For we Missourians, there won't really be any relief until September. I, for one, am really looking forward to that month...

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Macon Drive-In Theatre In Memoriam

On May 25, 2004, a tornado ripped through Macon, Missori, just about 20 miles north of my hometown. Fortunately, no one was kileld, although the tornado did strike the Macon Drive-In Theatre. The screen was utterly demolished and some of its building destroyed. It was one of the last drive-in theatres in Missouri. The theatre was opened in 1952 by H.P. Arnold and O.M. Arnold. It had been in continuous operation ever since.

Even though I had never been to the Macon Drive-In, I was saddened by the news of its destruction. It was one of the last drive-in theatres in Missouri. Indeed, one of the unique features of Macon County and Randolph County (where I live) was that we had two drive-in theatres within 20 miles of each other. One was the Macon Drive-In Theatre. The other is the Moberly Drive-In Theatre.

The Moberly Drive-In Theatre opened in 1950, two years before the Macon Drive-In; however, unlike the Macon Drive-In, it has not been in continuous operation. The Moberly Drive-In closed in 1985 for a time. It was in 1997 that B & B Theatres (who owned the old Cinema and State Theatres in Moberly) decided to build a new five screen multiplex around the drive-in theatre. Insofar as I know it was the first time in history that an indoor theatre was built with a drive-in theatre in mind. Since it has re-opened, the Moberly Drive-In has been very successful.

Unfortunately, I have not been back to the drive-in since it re-opened. I can remember the last time I was there. A friend, my brother and I went to see a double bill of Star Trek IIL the Search for Spock and Revenge of the Ninja. We thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek IIL the Search for Spock, but Revenge of the Ninja was so wretched that the only enjoyment we got was holding a "heckling contest" with the girls in the car next to us.

The first drive-in theatre opened in Camden, New Jersey in 1933. By the 1950's, there were 4000 drive-in theatres across the United States. Unfortunately, by the Seventies they had started closing in large numbers. Today there are 825 drive-in theatres left. Until May, Macon and Randolph Counties were fortunate enough to have two of them.

I have to admit that while I love indoor theatres (especially the older theatres with stylized architecture), I ahve always had a fondness for the drive-in theatre. It is different sort of experience from indoor theatres. You have a greater choice of where to sit: in your car, on the hood of your car, or in a lawn chair. You can talk (or heckle the movie) if you wish to. And the screen of the average drive-in theatre is much larger than that of any cinema. Even then I never went to the Macon Drive-In, I am then saddened by the fact that it as destroyed by that storm. It means that there is one less drive-in in the country.

Monday, July 5, 2004

Spin Offs

Well, the television season has been well over for awhile. It should be no surprise, then, that the networks are promoting next season's new crop of shows. Among them is another spinoff of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, it is basically, well, CSI in New York. I also known that NBC plans to debut another spinoff of Law and Order, later next season. Law and Order: Trial by Jury will take the viewer through a case from arraignment to the final verdict.

The idea of the spinoff originated in radio broadcasting. The very first spinoff occurred in 1941. It was The Great Gildersleeve, a spinoff of the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly. Beulah was another show spun off from Fibber McGee and Molly. Both The Great Gildersleeve and Beulah proved very successful, as did many spinoffs in years to come. Naturally, then, the idea of the spinoff was one that made the transition from radio to television. The Rifleman was spun off from an episode of Zane Grey Theatre. In turn, Law of the Plainsman was spun off from The Rifleman. Sometimes a spinoff proved even more successful than the show from which it was spun off. The Andy Griffith Show was spun off from an episode of Make Room for Daddy and has been a fixture of television ever since.

Of course, spinoffs can be a calculated risk. There is the theory that the decline in the ratings of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. experienced in its thrid season may largely have been due to its spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.. Quite simply, there was too much U.N.C.L.E. on the air and viewers got burned out on it. I tend to think the decline in the ratings of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. may have been more due to the decline in quality of the series, although it is possible that the spinoff could have been a factor in its demise. Another example is Happy Days, which saw a decrease in ratings when Joanie Loves Chachi was spun off from that show.

My thought is that probably Law and Order: Trial by Jury probably won't hurt Law and Order. Producer Dick Wolf has insured that each Law and Order series is significantly different from the others and it would appear that Law and Order: Trial by Jury is probably not going to be an excepiton. Since none of the other shows follow a case through from the arraignment to the end of the trial, it will not resemble the other Law and Order series very much. On the other hand, I have my doubts about the fate of the CSI franchise. To me, CSI: Miami is not significantly different from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; one simply takes place in Las Vegas while the other takes place in Miami. I seriously doubt that CSI: New York will differ very much from the other two CSI series. In that case, it's possible that CSI will suffer from exposure, resulting in viewers tiring of all three series, and the ultimate demise of all three series.

Of course, I could be wrong. All three CSI could remain successful for years to come. While spinoffs would seem to have a built in audience, carried over from the parent show, they can still be as unpredictable as any other TV show. Sometimes they are hits. Sometimes they even surpasss the parent show in success. Other times, they bomb. And it's often hard to tell which spinoffs will hit and which ones will miss.

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Spider-Man, Brando, and the 4th of July

Yesterday I went to see Spider-Man 2. I would have to see it again, but I think it may well have been better than the first movie. For me, the great weakness of Spider-Man was that Harry Osborn/the Green Goblin seemed woefully underdeveloped as a character. Other than the failure of his business, one really did not know why Norman became the Goblin. This is not the case with Spider-Man 2. Otto Octavius, AKA Dr. Octopus, is possibly one of the best developed super-villains on film. Alfred Molina gives a convincing performance as the likable, if overly ambitious, scientist, Dr. Octavius, who becomes Doc Ock through an unfortunate accident. The other characters are better developed as well, including Mary Jane Watson. Little more than the token love interest in the first film, MJ comes into her own in this movie (although I would still rather that they had used Gwen Stacy in both films). The movie also has some of the best action scenes ever to appear in a superhero movie. In fact, a fight between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus aboard a train may be one of the greatest fights in any superhero film. Of course, the movie would have failed if the special effects were not convincing. Fortunately, they are. Dr. Octopus is one of the most realistic CGI characters since Gollom in The Lord of the Rings. I don't know that I can say Spider-Man is the greatest superhero film of all time, as some critics have, but it is definitely in the top five.

Marlon Brando died Thursday at age 80. He is largely considered one of the greatest actors of our time and it is hard to argue with that. He was one of those actors who could give convincing performances in totally different roles, ranging from Johnny Strabler in The Wild One to Don Corleone in The Godfather to Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Of course, he could be controversial at times. He rejected the Oscar he won in 1972 for his performance in The Godfather (for now, I suppose the less said about that the better).

Our cable compnay finally added KZOU, the local UPN affiliate, to our line up. Unfortunately, they replaced the St. Louis PBS station, KETC (which had been on our line up for as long as we have had cable), with some PBS station out of Nebraska. I have know idea what their reasoning for doing so is. First, KETC has better programming. On Saturday nights and some times on Sunday nights, they show classic movies. Last night they were showing My Darling Clementine and The Manchurian Candidate. KETC is also on 24 hours a day most days of the week. This Nebraska station shows no old movies and closes its doors at 11:35 PM. Second, KETC is a Missouri station and we live in Missouri. A lot of KETC's programming, such as gubernatorial and senatorial debates, would be of interest only to Missourians. Will we see the debate between the Democratic and Republican Missouri gubernatorial candidates this fall on this Nebraska station? I doubt it. I have nothing against Nebraska. It is a nice state. But I would rather see a station that pertains to me as a Missourian.

Well, today is July 4th. I always loved July 4th as a child. I still do. Growing up, we almost always had watermelon for Independence Day. Indeed, I associate watermelon with July 4th the same way most people associate turkey with Thanksgiving. I also remember that for many years CBS would air Yellow Submarine on the night of July 4th. In fact, it may have been on Independence Day that I first saw the movie. Of course, most of all, I remember the fireworks. We lived on a farm, so we could safely set off fireworks without worrying about burning down houses. If it hadn't rained, we would water down everything before hand. It was fun. While our displays may not have been as good as the ones I saw in town, they were at least our own. And I think we did a pretty good job for amateurs pyrotechnicians. (-:

Of course, I think too many people forget the meaning of the 4th of July. It was on this date in 1776 that the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from the United Kingdom. While it would be 1787 before the Constitution was written and signed, I think it is fair to say that July 4th, 1776 could be considered the beginning of our country. While the barbecues and fireworks that take place today will no doubt be enjoyable, I do think it is important that Americans remember the true significance of this date.

Be seeing you!