Thursday, August 18, 2011

Margaret Lockwood 95th Birthday Blogathon Banner

If you have read this blog in the past two weeks, then you know that I am hosting a blogathon in honour of Margaret Lockwood's 95th birthday. If you want to participate in the blogathon, just leave me a comment here or email me using the handy, dandy email link on the right sidebar (it looks like a little mail slot). Posts can be on any aspect of Miss Lockwood's career. You can write about her career in general, a specific movie or television appearance, or any variation thereof. You can even do a post of nothing but photos if you like. The blogathon will be taking place on the date of her 95th birthday, 15 September 2011.

To go along with the blogathon, I have created a banner for bloggers to use on their posts. If any of you with an artistic bent want to create more banners, feel free to do so. Just email them to me and I can put them up here for people to use! Anyhow, here's the banner:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Are Cable Channels Changing American Seasonal Viewing Habits?

When I was growing up, my television viewing would vary with the seasons. In the fall old shows would begin their new runs and new shows would debut.  And while there would be a few periods filled with either reruns or specials (December being one such notable time), for the most part there would be new programming until May. Summer would generally be a time of reruns, with the only new programming being provided by the few summer replacement series which would air then. For that reason, the bulk of my television viewing would done from September to May, with summer being a time when I watched very little television at all.

Of course, when I was growing up the broadcast networks were still the primary source for new television shows. Oh, there were cable channels in those days, but none of them made their own television series back then. They seemed content to air reruns of network shows and movies. All of this would begin to gradually change in the Eighties when Showtime and HBO aired their first original, entertainment shows. Showtime was actually the first of the two premium channels to do so, airing the sketch comedy series Bizarre in 1980.  HBO would break into original, entertainment shows (as opposed to sport or documentary shows, or show using pre-existing material, such as Video Jukebox) in 1983. That year HBO aired three brand news shows: the classic children's show Fraggle Rock, the sketch comedy series Not Necessarily the News, and the horror anthology series The Hitchhiker. Ever since then Showtime and HBO have aired their fair share of original, episodic television shows.

It should be no surprise that eventually HBO and Showtime would begin many of their new series during the summer season traditionally reserved for reruns on the broadcast networks.  In fact, Showtime debuted its first sitcom, Brothers on 13 July 1984. HBO would debut two of its best known shows in the summer as well. The classic anthology series Tales From the Crypt debuted on HBO on 10 June 1989, while Canadian import Kids in the Hall debuted on HBO that July.  Not only did HBO lead the way in cable channels providing new programming, but it also established the summer as a time when they could debut.

Of course, both HBO and Showtime are premium channels; however, it would not be long before commercial cable channels would follow suit with original, entertainment programming. TBS may well have been the first, debuting its sitcom Down to Earth in 1984. It followed it with another sitcom, The New Leave It to Beaver the following year. The USA Network had already aired some original programming early in its history, although it was not episodic television series. The video/movie anthology Night Flight had aired on USA from 1981 to 1988. In 1993, When NBC cancelled a revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, USA picked it up in 1986. It would later pick up such network series as Airwolf and  Silk Stalkings. Silk Stalkings ran for another six years on USA. AMC, now well known for its quality series, debuted its first original, episodic TV series Remember WENN in 1996. TNT debuted its first original, episodic, television show, L.A. Heat, the same year.

Like Showtime and HBO before them, the commercial cable channels would begin airing many of their original shows during the summer. In fact, the USA Network debuted its first, breakout hit, Monk, on 12 July 2002. TNT also debuted its breakout hit, The Closer, in the summer--13 June 2005. It should then not be surprising that AMC debuted its breakout hit series, Mad Men, in the summer as well. It debuted on 19 July 2007.

It is perhaps because shows such as Monk, The Closer, and Mad Men were extremely successful that cable channels such as USA, AMC, and TNT tend to air the much of their original programming in the summer. Of course, this varies from cable channel to cable channel. With but few exceptions the USA Network seems to air its series in two half seasons--one during the summer, one during the winter.  TNT tends to air most of its original programming in the summer. AMC tends to spread their programming out a bit more, generally with only one or two of their popular shows airing in the summer. In fact, until this year Mad Men generally began its run in late summer, running into autumn. Of course, HBO, Showtime, and more recently Starz have also aired a good deal of new programming in the summer.

The end result of all of this for myself is that I have found my viewing habits have actually flip flopped from what they were when I was growing up. Most of the shows I watch now air in the summer, so that is when I do most of my television viewing. In fact, the past several years my television has generally been tuned to about  three or four channels: AMC, the USA Network, and TNT. While there are several shows I watch on various cable channels, however, there are very few I watch on the broadcast networks. In fact, discounting the news, I can count them on one hand. The amount of time I then spend watching television from September to May is then actually less than what it is in the summer.

Of course, without doing research on the topic, I don't know if this is true of other viewers or not. I rather suspect it is true of a good many of them. Even if they still watch network shows regularly and hence their television viewing from September to May has not decreased, I rather suspect that their summertime viewing has gone up from what it was in the Nineties. The simple fact is that there is much, much more on American television than there was even fifteen years ago. This summer the USA Network aired new runs of eight different shows. TNT aired five news runs of different shows. That's just USA and TNT. When one counts the shows airing on AMC, Showtime, HBO, Starz, and yet other networks, one really gets a grasp of the new programming that airs in the summer now.

While I cannot say that viewers' television habits have changed due to the summer seasons of various cable channels, I rather suspect that that they have. At any rate, much more original programming airs in the summer than did even in the late Nineties. At that time summer was still dominated by the networks and reruns. It would only be a few years alter that cable channels would transform summer on American television into something wholly different.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Belll, Book, and Candle (1958)

More often than not, witchcraft on film has been a source of horror. Indeed, such classic horror movies as Black Sunday (1960), Night of the Eagle (1962), and Warlock (1989) utilised the folklore of witchcraft for the basis of their plots. While witchcraft has been used in horror movies, however, it has been used less frequently in comedies. Indeed, two of the most famous movies dealing with witches are both comedies. One was I Married a Witch (1962), starring Veronica Lake. Another was Bell, Book, and Candle (1958), starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, and Jack Lemmon.

Bell, Book, and Candle was based on the Broadway play by John Van Druten. In turn, it would (alongside I Married a Witch) one of the sources of inspiration for the classic TV show Bewitched. That having been said, fans of Bewitched should not expect Bell, Book, and Candle to be a lot like the classic sitcom. It is true that both Bell, Book, and Candle and Bewitched are sophisticated, character driven comedies that deal with witches. And it is also true that both treat witches as beings separate from humans (in Bell, Book, and Candle) and mortals (in Bewitched). And both deal with romances between witches and human beings or mortals. Any similarities between the two end there, however, as in many respects Bell, Book, and Candle is very different from Bewitched.

Indeed, in many respects the portrayal of witchcraft in Bell, Book, and Candle is much more subtle than that portrayed in Bewitched. There are no scenes in which witches appear and disappear in puffs of smoke in Bell, Book, and Candle. Nor at any point do the witches in Bell, Book, and Candle materialise items out of thin air. In fact, for the most part the witchcraft in Bell, Book, and Candle can be explained by coincidence, circumstance, or blind luck. It is only the witches, and the audience, who know better.

In many respects, this makes Bell, Book, and Candle seem more realistic than many movies dealing with witchcraft. One can almost believe that the witches in the movie could actually exist and that their spells could actually work. Bell, Book, and Candle then requires less in terms of suspension of disbelief than many similar fantasies. It also sets Bell, Book, and Candle apart from them. Although often compared to I Married a Witch and known as a source of inspiration for Bewitched, it is quite different from the earlier movie and the later TV programme.

The more subtle handling of the subject of witchcraft in Bell, Book, and Candle is not the only thing which makes it seem more realistic than many comedy fantasies. Much of the film was shot on location in New York City, and as a result Bell, Book, and Candle looks more realistic even than films with more "realistic" premises. Of course, the film just doesn't look real, it also looks quite good. Bell, Book, and Candle was photographed by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe. Mr. Howe was at the top of his game in the Fifties and it shows in Bell, Book, and Candle. Not only did he create some of his best shots for Bell, Book, and Candle, but he also made some of his best uses of colour. Mr. Howe's cinematography is greatly aided by the inventive set design of Louis Diage and the art direction of Cary Odell. Bell, Book, and Candle is a very good looking movie.

The realism underlying the fantastic premise of Bell, Book, and Candle is greatly aided by the performances of the cast. As Shep Henderson (the mortal who falls for a witch) and Gillian Holroyd (the witch) respectively, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak offer very convincing performances.  Their performances are complimented by those of Elsa Lanchester (as Gillian's aunt) and Ernie Kovacs (as hack writer Sidney Redlitch), who play two very broad characters very sincerely. Fans of Jack Lemmon may recall that Mr. Lemmon considered his role as Gillian's brother Nicky as one of the most disappointing of his career. That having been said, one would not know it by watching the movie. Mr. Lemmon pulls off a feat that would be difficult for many actors, playing a hip, bongo playing, self indulgent warlock, and making it look easy while he does it.

Bell, Book, and Candle is a movie whose strength is its subtlety. In offering a more subtle, more realistic portrayal of witchcraft, the film is set apart from other fantasy comedies. Indeed, while some fantasy comedies (I Married a Witch and the TV series Bewitched being exceptions) concentrate more on broad humour created with special effects, Bell, Book, and Candle concentrates on its characters. Because of this I rather suspect that even those who hate fantasy comedies might well enjoy Bell, Book, and Candle. The film should be known for more than just being one of the sources of inspiration for Bewitched. It should be known as one of the classic fantasy comedies of all time.