Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Late, Great Bob Barker

Bob Barker, the long-time host of classic game shows Truth or Consequences and The Price is Right, died today at the age of 99.

Bob Barker was born on December 12 1923 in Darrington, Washington. He spent much of his childhood on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, South Dakota. After his father died, his mother moved to Springfield, Missouri. There he attended high school and Drury College. In 1943, during World War II, he joined the United States Naval Reserve to serve as a fighter pilot, although he was never placed on active duty. He graduated from Drury in 1947.

It was while he was still in college that he got a job at radio station KTTS in Springfield where he read news and sports. He then got a job at WWPG in Palm Beach, Florida. From Florida he moved to California, where he hosted The Bob Barker Show on a Burbank radio station. Ralph Edwards, creator and producer of  the radio show and game show Truth and Consequences, discovered Bob Barker when Mr Barker was hosting an audience participation show on radio show KNX in Los Angeles. He hired him to replace Jack Bailey as the host of Truth or Consequences. Bob Barker remained the host of Truth or Consequences until the original television version ended in 1975.

In the Sixties Bob Barker was also the host of Dream Girl of '67 in addition to Truth or Consequences. He also began a long stint of hosting the annual Miss Universe pageant in 1967. He also appeared on the shows Here's Hollywood, I'll Bet, Today, The Family Game, You Don't Say, The Mike Douglas Show, The Woody Woodbury Show, The Ed Nelson Show, and Philbin's People.

It was in the Seventies that Bob Barker began his long stint host of The New Price is Right. He hosted the show from its debut on CBS in 1972 to 2007. He also continued to host Truth or Consequences. He also appeared on the shows The Pet Set, The Jerry Lewis MDA Labour Day Telethon, It's Your Bet, I've Got a Secret, Tattletales, The Cross-Wits, The Paul Ryan Show, The Jim Nabors Show, Match Game '73, Dinah!, and That's My Line.

In the Eighties Bob Barker continued to host The Price is Right. He appeared on such shows as The Tomorrow Show, The John Davidson Show, The New Hollywood Squares, and The Arsenio Hall Show. He hosted the Tournament of Roses Parade and continued to host the Miss Universe Pageant. In the Nineties he continued to host The Price is Right and appeared on the shows One on One with John Tesh, The Chuck Woolery Show, Family Feud,m Vicki!, The Suzanne Somers Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Bailey Kipper's P.O.V., The Maury Povich Show, and The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

In the Naughts he continued to host The Price is Right and appeared on the shows The Wayne Brady Show, The Reichen Show, The Tyra Banks Show, The Early Show, Square Off, Ellen: The Ellen Degeneres Show, Late Night with David Letterman, Larry King Live, The Bonnie Hunt Show, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and WWE Monday Night RAW. In the Teens he appeared on The Bold and the Beautiful and, Stu's Show. He appeared on The Price is Right one last time in 2015.

Bob Barker also appeared as an actor, often playing himself, on the TV shows Bonanza, The Nanny, Something So Right, Martial Law, Futurama, Yes Dear, How I Met Your Mother, Family Guy, and SpongeBob Squarepants and the movie Happy Gilmore (1996).

To say Bob Barker was a legend may be something of an understatement. He was very much part of the fabric of the daily lives of Americans in the mid to late 20th Century. Many Gen Xers and Zoomers have memories of spending days when they were sick and home from school, propped up by 7Up (or Sprit or ginger ale) and crackers, watching The Price is Right. For myself, I remember coming home from school and watching Truth or Consequences. For a time during the Seventies I would see Bob Barker twice a day, once in the morning on The Price is Right and again on Truth or Consequences.

He certainly had longevity on American television. It seems to me that the length of his TV career may only be matched by Betty White. If Bob Barker was able to remain a game show host for so long, it is perhaps because he was ideal for the job. He had plenty of charm and a mischievous streak, and he was able to put people at ease, even in the often unusual situations in which people found themselves on Truth or Consequences. He also had plenty of patience, perhaps a necessary trait when getting mauled by contestants on The Price is Right.

Of course, he devotion to animal rights must also be noted. He always ended The Price is Right with a reminder of people to spay and neuter their pets. He supported such groups as  United Activists for Animal Rights, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.. In 1994 he founded the DJ&T Foundation, devoted to funding animal-neutering programs and funding animal shelters.

Many of us will always remember Bob Barker as a comforting presence, someone who was always there for us when we were sick and home for school. He was also a marvellous host who had a way of putting everyone at ease.

Friday, August 25, 2023

a.k.a. Pablo

It is a sad fact of life that for the first several decades of American broadcast television, Chicanos were largely absent from the screen. It would not be until 1974, with the debut of Chico and the Man, that there would be a show centred on a Mexican character and set in a Mexican American neighbourhood. Following Chico and the Man, it would not be until the debut of a.k.a. Pablo on ABC that there would be another show focused on a character of Mexican American descent. Unfortunately, it would prove to be a disappointment.

The failure of a.k.a. Pablo is particularly notable given some of the creative talent involved. It was the first sitcom produced by the legendary Norman Lear since One Day at a Time (although he had served as executive producer on other shows). It was created by Norman Lear and Rick Mitz, who later created the short-lived show Hi, Honey, I'm Home. Its star was Mexican American comedian Paul Rodriguez. Norman Lear had discovered Paul Rodriguez when he was doing warm-up for television show audiences. The show would draw a bit from Mr. Rodriguez's life.

On a.k.a. Pablo Paul Rodriguez played Pablo Rivera, who performs as a stand-up comic using the name Pablo Rivera. Pablo had a large Mexican American family, some of who were played by some fairly big names. His father, Domingo, was played by Joe Santos, perhaps best known for playing Sgt. Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files. His mother was played by none other than the legendary Mexican actress Katy Jurado, who had appeared in such films as High Noon (1952) and Broken Lance (1954).  Héctor Elizondo played Pablo's fast-talking agent José.

a.k.a. Pablo got off to a strong start. It even best The A-Team (then ranked no. 6 in the ratings for the year) in Los Angeles and Chicago. Unfortunately, its ratings would ultimately prove to be abysmal. Much of the reason for the low ratings was probably the fact that the show received an overly negative reaction from Mexican Americans due to what they viewed as stereotypes. a.k.a. Pablo premiered on ABC on March 6 1984 and ended its run after only six episodes, on April 10 1984.

Today a.k.a. Pablo is largely forgotten. When the show is mentioned, it is generally in a negative light. In 2002, on the occasion of the magazine's 50th anniversary, TV Guide even ranked it at no. 45 in its list of the 50 worst shows of all time. It perhaps stands as a cautionary tale of how not to produce a sitcom centred on Chicanos. Fortunately, things would improve since a.k.a. Pablo, with the debuts of the sketch comedy show Culture Clash in 1993 (which, unlike a.k.a. Pablo was written and produced by Chicanos) and the drama American Family in 2002.  If anything else, a.k.a. Pablo remains a reminder of when Mexican American representation was nearly non-existent on television and when Mexican American characters did appear they were apt to be stereotypes.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Old Network Promos for New Fall TV Shows

Although it might be hard for Zoomers to believe, there was a time when there was genuine excitement for the new fall television season on the networks. Promos for new shows often started airing as early as July and would continue through August right up the debut of the new shows in September and October. Here are three promos for classic shows from the past.

This is the first ever promo for the now legendary show Star Trek. It is notable for two reasons. First, it feature the now famous promotional artwork created by James Bama. Today James Bama may be best known for the covers he painted for the reprints of the Doc Savage novels published by Bantam and the artwork on the boxes of Aurora's classic Universal Monster model kits, but he also created promotional art for television shows. Second, the promo is notable for giving the wrong premiere date for Star Trek. The show would actually debut on September 8 1966 rather than September 15 1966, as a part of a special preview of the show. Tarzan, starring Ron Ely, debuted the same night as part of a special preview

Designing Women debuted twenty years after Star Trek in 1986. This promo is a bit more sophisticated than the first Star Trek promo, as we get to hear from the actual characters on the show.

This is an early fall promo for ER. It is notable that it starts off by mentioning Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, two critically acclaimed NBC shows. ER would receive its share of critical acclaim. It would also become the most successful drama of the Nineties. It ultimately lasted 15 seasons.

One fall promo I wanted to share here was one of the notorious fall promos for the 2002 television series Firefly. Quite simply, the early promos totally mischaracterized the show.  Indeed, it mischaracterized the show's characters. The show's main character, Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), was described as a "whacked out space cowboy." Wash (Alan Tudyk), the pilot of the ship Serenity on the show, was described as a "flighty pilot." Inara (Morena Baccarin) was called a "cosmic hooker." All of this was set to "Walkin' by the Sun" by Smash Mouth and even featured record scratching of the sort known for rap. It seemed as if Fox was trying to promote Firefly as some sort of off the wall space comedy rather than a serious, often dark sci-fi Western.

The past several years I don't remember seeing that many promos for new fall shows. In fact, the only one I think I have seen the past week is one for The Irrational, starring Jesse L. Martin, on NBC. This wouldn't have been the case in the past. There was a time when by this time of year I would have seen literally dozens of promos for new fall shows. It would seem that the influence of the networks have truly declined and that more and more they are giving way to streaming services.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Tuxes by Scott Fivelson

With billionaires who inherited their wealth constantly making news these days, the novel Tuxes by Scott Fivelson may be more relevant now than when it was first published in 2007. The novel sends up the mega-rich through its portrayal of the Bundleworth family and their conglomerate, Tuxaco, the biggest renter and seller of tuxedos in the world. Based in Bundleworth, Texas (part of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Bundleworth metroplex), Tuxaco has outlets in 48 of the 50 states and very nearly every country in the world.

With Tuxes, Scott Fivelson casts a wide net, satirizing not only the rich, the State of Texas, the formalwear industry, and corporate America, but the class system, counterculture, and American entertainment, among other things. In many ways the novel is reminiscent of such Sixties satirical movies as Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Loved One (1967), and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967), taking aim at multiple targets and showing little in the way of mercy towards any of them. Indeed, in Tuxes the same traits that would make for a successful caveman are the same traits that would make for a successful corporate executive.

What makes Tuxes successful as a satire is that its characters, while exaggerated, are so convincing that readers can easily believe they are real. At the centre of it all is Bundleworth patriarch Price, who finds his life turned upside down. And while Price is arguably the central character in Tuxes, his family, employees, and yet other characters have their own hopes and dreams. Much of the humour in Tuxes comes from how the characters’ hopes and dreams succeed or fail often for reasons that are sometimes downright preposterous. In Tuxes the characters are often not the captains of their fates so much as they are merely passengers aboard a ship in an at times stormy sea.

Kevn Costner as John
Dutton III in Yellowstone
Of course, all of this would be for naught if Tuxes was not a very funny novel. Scott Fivelson has a sharp wit so that while the events in Tuxes might be exaggerated, they reflect what often happens in the real world. As to the plot of Tuxes, there is never a slow moment. The novel moves at a good clip and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested.

Tuxes is a clever book that evokes such primetime soap operas centred on wealthy families as Dallas and Dynasty, and quite currently, the Yellowstone/Taylor Sheridan Universe, while at the same time evoking such satirical movies as Dr. Strangelove and The Loved One. Ultimately it is a fun read that will keep any reader thoroughly entertained.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Congressman Joaquin Castro Nominates 27 Latino Movies for the National Film Registry

The National Film Registry is a collection of movies selected for preservation in the Library of Congress by the United States National Film Preservation Board. Over the years many classic movies, from Casablanca (1942) to When Harry Met Sally (1989) have been added to the National Film Registry. Sadly, beyond such classics as Stand and Deliver (1989) and Selena (1997), few Latino movies have been added to the registry. Joaquin Castro, the Representative for Texas's 20th district, is seeking to change that. He has nominated 27 Latino films to be included in the National Film Registry.

Some of my favourite movies number among those that Representative Castro nominated for the registry. Among them are My Family (1995), Frida (2002), Walkout (2006), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), and Up in Smoke (1978). My dearest Vanessa Marquez appears in one of the films nominated. She played Montana's daughter in Blood In Blood Out (1993). If Blood In Blood Out is accepted, it will make two of her movies that are in the National Film Registry. Stand and Deliver was inducted into the registry in 2011.

Joaquin Castro included a wide array of Latino classics among his nominations. I can think of only one movie he could have included, but did not. The Ring (1952) was among the earliest movies to centre on Chicanos and quite possibly the first to acknowledge the segregation that existed in Los Angeles in the Fifties. It was a well done and even powerful film that really should be included in the National Film Registry.

Regardless, I am hoping that several of Joaquin Castro's nominations will find their way into the National Film Registry. Many of them should have been inducted years ago.

Monday, August 21, 2023

A Quick Review of Spectrum Choice

Last month I posted
about how the siblings and I would be dropping our then current cable package in favour of Spectrum's new live-streaming service, Spectrum Choice. Well, we recently made the change. I am happy with it and the siblings seem to be too.

For those of you unfamiliar with Spectrum Choice (which I would have to think is most of you), it automatically gives one their local channels and then one can choose 15 additional channels. Now one is somewhat limited in which channels one can choose. That having been said, the choices include nearly all of the most popular channels, including Turner Classic Movies (which is the one cable channel I must have).  The downside is that INSP is not among the choices (at least in our area), and I missing it. Even so, Spectrum Choice is much cheaper than the standard cable package and we are not paying for channels we never watch (*cough* Fox "News" *cough*).

As to the interface of the Spectrum app, it is fairly user friendly. One can get to the channels one wants to watch fairly quickly,  as well as On Demand. It is fairly intuitive, so that one does not have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to navigate the app. As to the quality of the picture, my sister is convinced it is better than what we had with the old cable package.

Anyway, I am happy with Spectrum Choice and if you are a Spectrum customer it might be worth your while to switch to it. I honestly don't miss our old cable package, particularly given we would have lost TCM. And it is nice to have a much lower bill.