WEDNESDAY
SEPTEMBER 12
2018

BIANCULLI’S BEST BETS

 

TCM, 6:00 p.m. ET

Ah, it’s Otis. B. Driftwood and company – said company being Fiorello and Tomasso – who combine forces to make this 1935 movie one of the funniest comedies of that or any other decade. It’s because, of course, Tomasso is played by Harpo, Fiorello by Chico, and Driftwood by Groucho, and the Marx Brothers, as they’re known collectively, are as good as it gets. Oh, and the female lead here is Kitty Carlisle, which explained to me, many years after I watched her as a panelist on To Tell the Truth, what she had done to earn that seat.

 
  
 
 

AT&T Audience Network, 10:00 p.m. ET

This is episode four of season two, and the titular killer, still in a coma, finds more and more ways to mentally influence, and invade and control, the people around him. And the more his influence spreads, the creepier he, and this series, gets.

 
  
 
 

FX, 10:00 p.m. ET

SEASON PREMIERE: This is the eighth cycle for this inventive, always changing drama series – and tonight, a widespread terror brings some of this year’s characters to a familiar place, where they’re forced to remain trapped inside. And where they encounter some familiar faces and characters, at least to viewers who have watched other of this series’ many iterations.

 
  
 
 
 
 
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1585 Comments
 
 
Mac
Does your PBS station show "The Spirit of Christmas"? A half-hour film, circa 1951, with two Christmas stories performed by marionettes:a reading of "A Visit from St. Nickolaus",followed by The Nativity,both narrated by Alexander Scourby. Sponsored by Bell Telephone(aka Ma Bell) and filmed in color when color TVs didn't exist,it was repeated for years with 16mm prints for schools. The DVD boasts "The Philadelphia Holiday Classic" and as I was raised near Philly,I have a
remembrance but no specific time. Shown at Catholic school before vacation? The color images seem burned in my memory.
We had a few "movies" in school,like "Our Mr. Sun" and a memory in one of a marionette(Reddy Kilowatt?) surfing over wires. That was all the Science in Catholic schools in the '50s.
The Christmas show,while disjointed and "scary clown" scary,still made a kid know both sides of the story. Effective and worth a few minutes to watch. Also on You Tube,with original Bell ads.
Dec 11, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
12/10 -The TCM night is chosen by director John Landis(Animal House,Trading Places) with two Laurel & Hardy shorts from their MGM talkie days and W.C. Fields' classic "It's a Gift",a personal favorite that reveals new laughs with every viewing. Lots of Field's onstage bits woven into this one.
It's not all laughs,at least intended ones,as Landis includes the rarely seen "The Monster & The Girl" with "and unusual melange of genres:film noir,courtroom drama, white slavery,gangster,mad scientist,gorilla and a boy-and -his-dog movie"(John's quote from the TCM website). The film is only 64 min. long-talk about bang for your buck! Oh,and also a Kubrick classic-"Paths Of Glory" thrown in the mix. On any other night,that would get the spotlight. Stan & Ollie,Fields,monsters in crime....and an anti-war masterpiece. Fun for the whole family.
Dec 10, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
Comic strip alert:Foxtrot by Bill Amend,12/9(also @ gocomics.com). A great 2018 take on the Frosty the Snowman special,drawn in the Rankin/Bass style. Bill only does new material on Sun. but the strip is more than your usual family fare.
Speaking of Frosty on TV- Comic Jackie Vernon voiced Frosty for 3 shows,before his passing in 1987. In real life,Vernon's shtick was a dead-panned slow delivery-kinda like Rodney Dangerfield on quaaludes. He was everywhere on the talk show circuit,but I had no idea about his raunchy onstage act. His TV material was pretty good. Radio stations playing the Jimmy Durante version of Frosty usually have Vernon's voice at the start and finish. Few know Jackie's real job. Wiki says he often opened for Dean Martin & Judy Garland.
Dec 10, 2018   |  Reply
 
Thanks for the multi-media heads up! And for the excuse to explore the Rankin-Bass oeuvre further. I love that Vernon’s history connects to Chaplin-and to anyone who writes to a Santa Claus. Also from his Wiki page:
“Vernon said that for the first few years after starting standup, he would write letters to his hero Charlie Chaplin, although he never got a reply or any acknowledgement of his letter-writing. After Vernon became famous and was making TV appearances, he eventually stopped writing Chaplin. During an appearance in Las Vegas, management told him that Charlie Chaplin would be in the audience that night; Vernon walked up to Chaplin's table, and as he started to introduce himself, Chaplin interrupted him, saying, ‘Of course, Jackie Vernon. Tell me: why did you stop writing?’ “
Dec 10, 2018
 
 
 
Neil
A few days late, but responding to Mac. What people on the East Coast may not be aware of is that NBC, since Spring 2017, has been feeding SNL live across the country. So in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area (where I am), Seattle, San Diego and all through the West Coast, it's in prime time, 8:30-10:00 pm. In Mountain time zone markets like Denver and Phoenix, it starts at 9:30pm. That has to be a big bump to their numbers, since by then they have the field to themselves and there's really no competition from the other networks (the college football games are over and CBS and ABC are into Saturday night dreck like 48 Hours, and Fox airs reruns and local news). I doubt SNL's numbers would look as good if the western third of the country was still waiting till 11:30 to see the cold open, and 12:15 to see Weekend Update.
Dec 5, 2018   |  Reply
 
Mac
NBC airing SNL actually live coast-to-coast was due directly to Trump-a decision that only took 40+ years. The fear that the kiddies may be exposed to PG-13 humor in 1975 finally gave way to keeping topical jokes topical and delivered with an ad,not through social media,DVR, or You Tube. The chicken or egg question was that the Trump jokes came first and delivered great ratings. Then the light bulb went off,especially as Melissa McCarthy skewered Sean Spicer(she also was given the final host spot for the four experimental "live coast to coast" in spring 2017). West Coast also repeats the newest episode @ 11:30.
Dec 6, 2018
 
 
 
George
"There’s been so much news on the President Trump front this week, it’s not unreasonable to expect, or at least hope for, a guest appearance by Alec Baldwin in the cold open of tonight’s new installment." -- Or not.

Saturday Night Live last weekend had the same share and audience size as a repeat of something called Robbie the Reindeer in the 8:00 p.m. hour. SNL is about as culturally relevant today as Doonesbury (speaking of which, Garry Trudeau -- unless he is bumped by a George Bush tribute -- is scheduled to be on CBS Sunday Morning this weekend; must have a book to pimp).
Dec 1, 2018   |  Reply
 
Mac
Indeed Trudeau has a book-"Sad!",a collection of Sunday strips since Trump was sworn at...er,in.Trudeau only does new material for Sunday newspapers. If broadcast,Jane Pauley,aka Mrs. Garry Trudeau,interviews her husband. They've been married 38 years with 3 kids and 2 grandkids. Pretty stable family,AFAIK.
The 10/24 10PM SNL repeat did indeed have Robbie type numbers.But, according to Dateline:Hollywood: the new 11:30PM episode(host Steve Carell) was the "#1 telecast of the night on the Big 4 networks in metered market households and 18-49 local people meters,out rating every Sat. primetime program in those nets in both measures." The main primetime competition were 2 college football games-USC vs. Notre Dame(ABC) & Oklahoma State vs. TCU(Fox). The website also lists the episode as second best for this SNL season.
Dec 1, 2018
 
 
 
Bob516
"mood-alerting drugs" Guess I missed that episode. How do drugs alert one's mood?
Nov 30, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Phillip R. Crabb
Hello Dave, we've been talking about this for years now, but the creep of scheduling for these holiday classics continues to drift farther away from Christmas. Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, and Grinch have no business, nor much relevance, being broadcast in...wait for it...November.

Like when we were kids, these holiday staples all deserve to be held off to the week before Christmas for the anticipation, and the buildup to the Holiday they represent. Even "A Wonderful Life" has already been broadcast.

Have these networks lost sight of how things were back when these were broadcast in the '60s? Kids talked about these shows a week before they came on.
The Red Skelton Special, and almost every regular series taped a Christmas themed episode.

I don't know who these Network planners have become, but it's being mailed in.

Have a great Holiday season...
Phil
Franklin (Sussex County) NJ
Nov 30, 2018   |  Reply
 
Mac
Important to remember that all of these shows,almost every TV broadcast,is aired to sell something. Even C-Span and religious channels. Charlie Brown Christmas,first aired 12/9/65 and sponsored by Coke. Lots of soda consumption during holidays. No sponsor,no show.
If you're selling stuff for 12/25,the sooner you make the sale,the sooner the profit. If this programming weren't effective,they wouldn't air.
From Vulture: "The War for Christmas TV is More Competitive Than Ever",examining Hallmark,Freeform,Lifetime,Netflix and now AMC with hundreds of holiday hits,which started before Halloween. All while folks are buying and warehouses are shipping.
Quick take-Whoever thinks that Christmas has been abandoned hasn't turned on a TV. It is everywhere. And yes,for me,fatigue has set it in. But hope is around the corner: AMC has another Godfather marathon 12/27.
It is time to listen to Stan Freberg's 1958 "Green Chri$tma$". Want to hear it on You Tube? First an ad for Christmas candy.Ugh.
Nov 30, 2018
 
 
 
Mac
Loved when Keith Olbermann "lit" the Rockefeller Christmas tree during Keith's MSNBC days.The lighting always happened during his live (9PM) broadcast. He hit a red Staples-Easy style button, nonchalantly mid-sentence during any topic,the tree lit up and the show went on. Saved viewers from putting up with Mariah Carey embarrassing herself or whatever stuff they had planned for the network special.
Nov 28, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
While exploring media the next few days,you will come across a remembrance of Stephen Hillenburg,who created Spongebob Squarepants,the first true hero of the 21st Century. Stop and think of the gift Hillenburg gave to us. If the average 5 year old child watched Spongebob at the beginning,they are now a young adult, well prepared to handle 2018. So when our feckless leader scoffs about manmade climate change while a government report says otherwise, there a bunch of youngins' who recognize Stupid. And these folks will have to find ways to clean up the mess.
There aren't more cockeyed optimists than Spongebob,except maybe Patrick. You may sometimes think your best friend maybe be part Patrick,but that best friend sees some of Patrick in you. And you love each other because of that stupid and might learn something together. Thanks,Mr. Hillenburg, for the little song,little dance and seltzer down the pants. Even under the sea,that seltzer bottle made us laugh and learn.
Nov 28, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
Noticed that AMC is using the colorized version of "Miracle On 34th Street". Kinda takes the miracle out of it. TCM, though founded by colorize fanatic Ted Turner,stays away from this practice. My first color TV came with a switch to go from color to black & white. I sometimes enjoyed using it when stations used damaged color prints. I wish that button was still available.
I also had an audio system with a switch from stereo to mono,which came in handy to strengthen weak stereo FM radio signals and at least make an attempt to normalize LPs that used awful "reprocessed" effects that ruined many old recordings. For decades,as mono was eliminated in the marketplace, listeners had no choice except the "reprocessed" versions. The practice ended around the advent of the CD with mastering pros gaining access to original sources and knew that natural was better than gimmicks.
Nov 27, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Kathleen
In “TV We’re Watching” section Homecoming is listed as Netflix. It’s actually on Amazon Prime. And definitely worth watching!
Nov 24, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
I just read a story on Vulture about the revolving door of Christmas movies and TV specials finding new homes. AMC has corralled many favorites(and a few duds) to create "Best Christmas Ever" to compete with ABC's Freeform "25 Days" and Hallmark's "Countdown to Christmas.". Primarily Warner Bros.(now AT&T)owned properties,AMC snagged "Elf","National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and "Polar Express", away from Freeform,along with 12 Rankin/Bass TV productions made after 1973(so no original Rudolph,but there are two Rudolph themed specials in the deal). The ownership of Rankin/Bass output is tangled and multinational. AMC & Warner sealed this deal three years ago but it is just now ready to roll. AMC claims to have 600 hours of Christmas programming scheduled from 11/26 to 12/25. After 12/25,how about a "Walking Dead Not-So-Shiny New Year"? Later,a "Godfather Valentine" to snag jewelry ads in January? Clemenza-"Hide her ring in a canolli,but leave the gun. Every kill begins with "K".
Nov 23, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Erik huf
Your “what we’re watching” section lists the Amazon Prime offering “Homecoming “ as being on Netflix.
Nov 23, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
Strange that MST3K has Mac & Me on the new season while TCM schedules this turkey leftover as the next Underground feature,Sat. 11/24 @ 2AM. Actually a double bill-The Garbage Pail Kids Movie follows @ 3:45AM. That stinker was produced,written,and directed by Rod Amateau,who had a long career in TV,including Dobie Gillis, Mister Ed & Gilligan's Island. Convoluted trivia between these two films:Mac & Me and another 1988 film Sunset,shared Golden Raspberry awards(aka Razzies) for direction. Sunset was based on a unpublished novel by ...Rod Amateau. Spreadin' the fertilizer...
Nov 22, 2018   |  Reply
 
Since Mac and I (a MUCH better movie title) are both paying attention to TCM, let me also do a shout out to Phantom Tollbooth (1970, animation directed by Chuck Jones, voices by lots of the usual suspects) the plot centering around the loss of Rhyme and Reason and how words don’t mean anything anymore. Also, Gilligan is now being re-interpreted as Communist Propaganda, now in theaters but (eventually coming to a TV near you) http://gilliganmovie.com/. Note:Rod Amateau was also married to the daughter of Burns & Allen (Sandra Burns) from 1959-1962. He should have listened to his mother in law more.
Nov 22, 2018
 
 
 
Mac
Mention early that MeTV airs WKRP's Thanksgiving classic episode,"Turkeys Away" 11/22,9:30PM ET. Fun fact:this was only the 7th episode of the series-a series that took some time to find its footing. Wiki fact:after one more episode,CBS put WKRP on hiatus(what TV now labels "fall finale"),trying to figure out the focus of the sitcom and how to find an audience. In hindsight,it was CBS, their censors and scheduling changes that kept WKRP from reaching its potential. But as God as my witness,if you've never seen "Turkeys Away",pull away from the pumpkin pie and NFL tomorrow night for this episode.
Nov 21, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Danny M
Trevor Noah show is called The Daily Show and not the Daily News who used to be your former employer.
Nov 20, 2018   |  Reply
 
Linda Donovan
Oops
Nov 21, 2018
 
 
 
Mac
Though little connection to TV,the passing of writer William Goldman leaves a hole in my heart. Movies:"Butch Cassidy","All the President's Men"("Follow the money."),"Marathon Man","Harper" and,"The Princess Bride"(his greatest hit-also wrote the book). Breezy fun-to-read fiction. Non-fiction:"The Season"-the best book about Broadway. "Adventures in the Screen Trade",which opens,"Nobody knows anything." Truth. If you see his name attached to anything,stop and take a chance. Scott Simon's NPR remembrance was read underscored with a melancholy piece of music from "Butch Cassidy". A straight shooter,a true Renaissance man and great storyteller.
Nov 17, 2018   |  Reply
 
"Though little connection to TV"-interesting point of distinction, because all of these movies get shown on TV eventually. And with the decline of Video Rental and the rise of cable, most viewers will be exposed to these works through broadcast, ahead of the numbers who see them On-Demand or maybe in the classroom. He was multi-media, indeed, with his published books and exploration of theater-nice touch, Mac, bringing in radio to round him out. Most things come to TV eventually, at least for now, as a central place of accessibility. The actual line between film/TV and even online content is joyously blurred nowadays, because why and how do these industries need to remain separate? (Other than economics, prestige and tradition, WHY are they separate at all?) "The Screen Trade" is a wide open field.
Nov 18, 2018
 
 
Keith Robin
Hear, hear! I could not have said it better. Thank you, Mac!
Nov 17, 2018
 
 
 
Keith Robin
I know it occurred after "information" (what those faceless voices from "The Village" always asked No. 6 to provide!), and that was before I googled Oxford comma.
And please allow me to wish you health, happiness, and great book sales this Thanksgiving and on into Christmas and the new year!
Nov 15, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Ahhh-the thrill of a TCM afternoon discovery! Honeymoon Killers (1969) is a great surprise for the random broadcast lottery. Low budget, ($150k), no stars, could easily fall into exploitation territory. But it is fascinating. A mashup (before mashups) of The Producers, Natural Born Killers and Bonnie & Clyde. Couple goes around pretending to be brother & sister (weird enough, since one of them has a heavy Italian accent and they look nothing alike) keep pulling con jobs on “lonely hearts” women who can be fooled by letters. Murder is not such a big deal, pills & you can dispose of a body on a Greyhound. For some reason He keeps being surprised that She is jealous when he fools around with the marks. Bad situation all around but riveting.
Slight digging on the internet reveals major treasure. FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT’s favorite American film! Based on a true story! And the kicker? Some scenes directed by a young SCORSESE, almost his 2nd film, except he was FIRED for working too slowly!
Nov 14, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Bob516
When I first read "ROWAN UNIVERSITY'S TV FINALE FEST IS THIS FRIDAY" I thought it said Final Test. I thought it would be really interesting to the see the final exam in your class. I am a perpetual student at heart.
Nov 12, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
 
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David Bianculli

Founder / Editor

David Bianculli has been a TV critic since 1975, including a 14-year stint at the New York Daily News, and sees no reason to stop now. Currently, he's TV critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and is an occasional substitute host for that show. He's also an author and teaches TV and film history at New Jersey's Rowan University. His 2009 Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour', has been purchased for film rights. His latest, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to the Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific, is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV.