Category Archives: Television

Scooby Doo, How Could You?

Writer’s note: The following is another blog ripped from my personal blog at dimland.com. It has been updated and rewritten just a little bit…

I’m a skeptic. What that means is I require good, scientific evidence before I accept an extraordinary claim. I’ve learned that, throughout history, ever mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic. Not ghosts. Not demons. Not monsters. Not any paranormal or supernatural phenomenon at all. Nope. The mysteries all turn out to be something in this world and not out of this world. (Thanks to Tim Minchin and Michael Shermer for much of what I just wrote are their words.)

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The Saturday morning cartoon series Scooby Doo, Where Are You? did a lot to set a skeptical foundation for a generation of kids. Debuting in 1969, the series followed a group of four kids and their dog who traveled the countryside looking for mysteries in need of solving. These intrepid trust-funders (there was never any mention of any of them having a job) would stumble upon a mystery involving apparently supernatural causes. They would then search for clues. Chased by ghosts, witches, werewolves, and other assorted creeps, our heroes would manage to reveal the truth and catch the bad guys.

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The bad guys never turned out anything anywhere near being supernatural. It was never a ghost or a witch or a werewolf. It nearly always turned out to be someone in a costume, except that one time when it was a robot run amok in an amusement park. It’s a wonder the gang, especially Shaggy and Scooby, would continue to be scared of g-g-g-ghosts. After all the times the mystery turned out not to be supernatural, you’d think they would no longer believe in ghosts or anything similar.

I watched Scooby and the various later incarnations up until Scrappy Doo came along and ruined the show. But, even up to that point, the mysteries were always normal and natural phenomena.

In 1999 came the full-length animated special Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. A few years ago, my son was watching that adventure on DVD when I came home from work. I was shocked and disappointed. Sometime during the 30 years since Scoob and the gang debuted, the ghosts had become actual ghosts! No! Say it ain’t so.

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The show featured a grrl rock band called The Hex Girls. The referred to themselves as “eco-Goths.” From what I could tell that meant they were rockin’ girls that liked to look like the undead and sing about saving the earth. All the Goth look with none of the nihilism.

One of the group was a Wiccan. OK. But the show kept treating Wicca as though it was an ethnic group and not a religion. I may be wrong, but I don’t think Wicca can be considered an ethnicity.

But, I’m just picking nits.

What really bothered me was the fact Hanna-Barbera, the producers of Scooby Doo, thought it would be a good idea to drop the no supernatural policy and have actual an ghost witch in the story. My skeptic’s heart was broken.

The first two thirds of the show followed the original Scooby Doo ethos by having bad guys in costumes using trickery to scare people, but in act three it went supernatural. A character who turned out to be a double-crossing villain found a book of spells and released the witch’s ghost from whatever limbo in which it had been imprisoned. This time it wasn’t smoke bombs and mirrors or any other tricks. This time it was magic. Actual magic.

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That’s not smoke and mirrors, it’s an actual ghost witch. For shame!

It took the Wiccan girl, who was pure of heart, to read the spell that re-imprisoned the witch’s ghost. Mystery solved.

I was appalled. I explained to my son how it was wrong for Scooby to have been promoting the supernatural, after having shown kids that such mysteries always have a real world explanation. Scooby had taught kids that the supernatural, the paranormal, and the unexplained are merely mysteries that can be solved without invoking magic.

I don’t have a problem with other shows and movies, for kids or adults, indulging in supernatural fantasy. I am a a fan of The X-Files, Jonny Quest (the first season), Harry Potter, Dracula, Frankenstein, haunted house stories, etc. Those shows always allowed for the supernatural to be real (despite Scully’s protestations). Scooby Doo didn’t accept the magic when it started and for years after. But when Scooby Doo went supernatural, I felt betrayed.

Scooby Doo, how could you?!

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A Pedant Watches An Episode Of Star Trek: TNG

I’m a little bit of a pedant. Ask some of my friends and they’ll say I’m a lot of a pedant. Ask my wife and she’ll go all dead in the eyes and quietly groan.

It’s something I’ve been since I was a child and I have been doing my best to keep it under control. Well, the other night I was re-watching some Star Trek: The Next Generation (the finest of all the Star Treks) and an episode from season four, Clues, had me getting a bit or a lot pedantic, depends on if you ask me or my friends. Please, just don’t ask my wife.

Before I go any further, I will warn you that there are spoilers ahead. I’m going to pretty much describe the entire show, so if you haven’t seen it… Well, I warned you.

The episode Clues starts off as most Star Trek: TNG episodes do with the Enterprise gliding along through space. Captain Picard (the greatest of all the Star Trek captains) is informed that a fairly boring, previously uncharted star has been detected by the ship’s sensors. What brings that fairly boring star to the Enterprise’s attention is the M-Class (Earth-like in Star Trek speak) planet orbiting it. That piques Picard’s interest and they alter course to investigate.

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The entire crew, except Commander Data (seated at bottom), rendered unconscious.

When the Enterprise begins to approach that fairly boring star, but isn’t quite in visual range of the planet, a wormhole suddenly appears and swallows the ship. Everyone on board is knocked out except Commander Data, who is an android and therefor immune to the effects of the wormhole. The bridge crew revives and Data explains that an extremely unstable wormhole had sent the Enterprise some distance from where they were and everyone, except him, was knocked out in the process. Knocked out for a mere 30 seconds.

The decision is made to not go back to investigate the M-Class planet, but instead to send a probe to gather information. The information from the probe shows that the sensors were wrong and the planet wasn’t M-Class, after all. It seems odd, but Data gives a plausible explanation and  no one thinks anymore of it.

Until…

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24 hours of growth in 30 seconds?

The ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Crusher, brings a space moss growing experiment she had set up, just before the wormhole encounter, to Captain Picard and she asks him if they were only out for 30 seconds, why does her experiment show 24 hours of growth? This is the first clue that something is amiss. I won’t go into all the clues, but they begin to add up and it becomes obvious that Data isn’t being truthful about the wormhole and the 30 seconds. When questioned Data repeatedly responds that he cannot answer the questions, but he does indicate the crew might be in danger if he were to reveal what he appears to be hiding.

The decision is made to return to the scene of the crime. It may be dangerous, but the mystery must be solved if they are to ever trust Data again. When they arrive they find the M-Class planet the sensors had originally spotted. They are also confronted by a mass of green mist that sends out a little puff that hits up against the ship’s defensive shields and dissipates. However, a tiny amount had gotten through, undetected, and enters the body of a sleeping Counselor Troi. The mist takes possession of her body and she goes to Data’s quarters.

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A possessed Counselor Troi entering the Enterprise bridge.

We know she is possessed by some alien life form due to her demeanor and her voice. The alien tells Data that the plan didn’t work and that the ship had returned. The android pleads with the alien do nothing and he promises to attempt to fix the situation. The alien compiles as Data is called to the bridge for a final showdown with Captain Picard. Realizing the jig is up, Data informs the crew that he was under Picard’s orders not to tell what had really happened during the wormhole incident.

He explains that the alien possessing Troi is part of a species of xenophobes who are determined to stay isolated. They have the ability to affect the minds of other intelligent species. The aliens knock out any intruding species and then moves them to another part of space, making it appear as though a wormhole was responsible. Usually the hapless travelers figure themselves lucky and move on, but Data screwed that up. He remained conscious and revived the crew, so they became aware of the aliens.

Instead of destroying the Enterprise, as was the aliens’ first choice, Picard talked them into arranging it so that it appears to the crew the whole scenario plays out the same way as with other interlopers. But, since Data will still know, Picard would order Data to never reveal what really happened at the wormhole. The aliens agree and they do their magic, which takes 24 hours.

The problem is too many clues were left behind and humans just can’t resist a mystery. So, they came back. Picard convinces the aliens to give his crew a second chance. He told them to consider the first attempt a rehearsal “to shake out the flaws.” This time they would make certain to leave no clues behind. The aliens agree.

The crew once again regains consciousness as they did after the original wormhole encounter. The first encounter and clue-finding aftermath have been completely erased from their memories, the clues have been removed, and the ship’s clocks have all been set to show a mere 30 seconds of unconsciousness had been experienced by all. Again, they decide not to go back. Again, they send a probe, but this time they also set up a warning beacon to advise other ships to stay away. And, again, Data remains the only crew member to know the truth and, since he is an android, he will keep the secret forever.

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“I know something they don’t know.”

The episode ends.

Pretty good, but the pedant in me surfaced. The first go-round took 24 hours to set up. Then there was the time of finding clues and returning to the planet, which for simplicity I’ll say took 24 hours. And the final attempt to remove all clues and do the wormhole trick again, I’ll say took yet another 24 hours. That’s 72 hours that have gone by in what the crew and the ship’s clocks think was 30 seconds.

Well, that’ll work fine until the Enterprise meets up with another ship, puts into space dock, or sends a report to Star Fleet. At some point, they will notice they are three days behind and will likely trace it back to the wormhole incident and back they’ll go. This time the aliens will say, “That’s it! Three strikes, you’re out!” And destroy the ship.

What is a pedant to do?

Worry not. I was able to figure out a way around the 72 hours. If the first encounter happened on a Tuesday, the aliens would have to make it appear to have happened on a Friday. There would have to be memories implanted so the crew thinks they did stuff during those three days. They would, also, have to make it look as though three days of work had been done. And there would have to be three days of log entries by the captain and the crew. As long as someone thought of these tasks, the crew and the aliens would have been able to work them out.

There’s still one thing, though.

When the alien possessed Counselor Troi she was in bed and was wearing a nightgown, but when she shows up at Data’s quarters she is in her uniform. Why would the alien care enough to have her change clothes?

I might never be able to work that one out.

Packing Peanuts!

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Some Nitpicks Of ‘To Serve Man’

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Warning! There will be spoilers!

Of course, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking television. And, of course, it is universally loved and respected. As it should be! The show cleverly addressed sensitive social issues without much of the audience even realizing it. Science fiction is sneaky and very useful that way. And it was also pretty darned entertaining. Most of the shows still hold up today.

There were plenty of memorable episodes that commonly get rated among the best of the series. There was the one with William Shatner being the sole passenger to see the creature damaging the wing of the plane. There was that episode in which a misanthrope and book-lover, played by Burgess Meredith, survived a nuclear attack and was left alone with all those books. Finally, able to read as much as he wanted and not be disturbed by the nuisance of people, he stumbled and broke his glasses, rendering him unable to read with no one around to fix them. And the show with the beautiful Donna Douglas playing a woman who didn’t match society’s view of physical attractiveness. Oh! And who can forget that nasty kid (Billy Mumy) who wished people into the cornfield?

Classics all.

I think what is probably the most memorable show, however, is To Serve Man, written by Serling, originally airing March 2, 1962. It is the story of the arrival of a super-intelligent and seemingly benevolent extraterrestrial race. These rather large aliens, played by the rather large Richard Kiel and voiced by Joseph Ruskin, have come to Earth to end disease and famine. And to save us from ourselves by making it possible to end war. They bring us peace, safety, and prosperity. They also offer the wonderful opportunity to visit their home world.

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When their representative addressed the United Nations, the alien was told that delegates from “most of the important countries” were present. Really? I wonder how that made the “unimportant countries” feel. And just which ones are unimportant? Canada? Belize? France?

Well, yeah, France. But still!

(Incidentally, the UN Secretary General, in his address to the assembly, mentions that the first alien spacecraft to land on Earth landed outside of Newark, New Jersey. I’m certain that was Serling’s nod to Orson Wells’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast, War of the Worlds. In that show, the first spaceship landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. A small, rural town near Princeton University, not far from Newark. Eh? See what he did there?)

At that meeting with the UN, the alien left behind a book. A book written in their language, which was turned over to code-breaker named Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner), and his team to see if it could be translated to English. Midway through the episode, after the world had become peaceful and relaxed, we learn that the title of the book had been translated as “To Serve Man.”

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Um. Hang on. How did they translate it? As was pointed out in the book The Twilight Zone Companion, they weren’t breaking a code. This was a completely alien language. Without any kind of a guide, a Rosetta Stone, there would be no way anyone could translate that book, let alone its title. It simply would be impossible.

Well, never mind. Translate the title they did. And the title just reinforced the good feelings everyone had about these nice, accommodating beings from another planet. Still the challenge of finishing the translation was too hard to resist for the code-breaker’s assistant, played by Susan Cummings. Just as Chambers was to board the alien spacecraft for his trip to another world, she came to warn him not to go.

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She desperately called out to him that the book was… a cookbook! Dun dun duuuhhhh!

Classic Rod Serling twist!

Here’s where I scratch my head, though. Why would these super-intelligent beings come here with the intention of surreptitiously wrangling people to take back to their planet as food, give us a book detailing how they would cook (or serve) us? That don’t make no sense.

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Another Example Of The Weirdness Of The 1970s

The 1970s was a weird decade. Well, I suppose every decade has its weirdness, but the ’70s definitely had its own special vibe. The fashions were pretty tacky. Even the most straight-laced looks just seemed slightly askew. Wide lapels, bell bottoms, platform shoes, ponchos, and everyone seemed to have long hair. Everyone except Telly Savales, that is.

And there were all those catch phrases pulled from popular television series. “Sit on it!” “Kiss my grits!” “Up your nose with a rubber hose!” “Dyn-O-Mite!” “Nanoo nanoo!” “Who loves you, baby?”

So many catch phrases.

There were mood rings. You could own a pet rock. You could track your bio-rhythms, while you read your daily horoscopes, which were so very important in the ’70s. (Of course, you know bio-rhythms and astrology are just a bunch of nonsense, right?)

It was also possible for a comedian to make a good living on just one joke. Remember Raymond J Johnson Jr? Mr. Johnson was a character played by Bill Sulga and he made a career out of telling people they didn’t have to call him Johnson. “You can call me Ray. Or you can call me Jay. Or you can call me Johnny…”

Now that’s comedy!

There was another person who gained world fame in that weird decade by using his one joke that consisted of essentially physically assaulting people. He was a comedian from England who, in the early ’60s, started working as a lighting technician in Australian television production. He soon made his way to performing characters on camera and became popular with fans. In 1970, he began co-hosting a children’s show and soon after came his “partner” in comedy – Emu.

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The man was Rod Hull. He began working with an unusual looking bird that was simply called Emu. Emus are large flightless birds found in Australia and are quite similar to ostriches. The feathered friend was a puppet made to look as though Hull was carrying it, while he operated its neck and head.

Emu had a foul (pun!) temper and it didn’t take much to set him off. Emu would savagely attack people, creating what has been called a kind of gleeful havoc. I mean that bird would really go after people. Often times, Hull, Emu, and the victim would end up in a heap on the floor. Emu’s attacks were startling and looked quite violent while, Hull, acting as a kind of wildlife expert, would appear to be futilely attempting to control the angry bird.

And it worked. People thought it was hilarious. Including those who were on the receiving end of the attack. And that was the key, I think. If those who were attacked reacted badly, Hull might have found himself in court or with a broken arm, which actor/comedian Billy Connolly did seriously threaten to do once and, thus, avoided being attacked. However, most victims played along. Some even had fun with it.

In 1974, Hull took this act to Saturday morning kids’ programming in America. He was a regular on the Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. That’s where I first saw Hull and his maniac bird. And the routine was funny. And it’s really just one joke!

Hull was able to keep getting laughs from that one joke into the 1980s. I just saw, and this is what prompted me to write on this topic, Rod Hull and Emu’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from 1983. I gotta tell ya, Hull was fearless. He was told, by the production staff, to go easy on Johnny and to not go after Richard Pryor, who was also a guest on the show. But Hull (and Emu) understood the comedy is not in going easy. An attack is funny. An all out assault that puts Carson face down on his desk and Pryor on his back on the couch is hilarious! And to their credit, both victims were laughing through the whole bit. Click here to see what I’m talking about. And you can read an excellent behind the scenes account of that Tonight Show appearance here.

Yep. A lot of weird stuff occurred in the ’70s. And I’m kinda glad it did.

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The Good Life With Good Neighbors

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Tom Good had a midlife crisis at age 40 and decided to drop out of society, if not the neighborhood. Tom wanted to work at the job of life itself and leave the 9-to-5 drudgery and consumerism behind. So he, along with his understanding wife Barbara, turned their middle-class home and yard into a suburban farm. He was determined to be as damn near self-sufficient as possible.

I’m talking about the wildly successful British sit-com The Good Life (1975 – 1978). It was called Good Neighbors in the United States when it premiered on PBS in the early 80s. There had been an American sit-com with the same name a few years earlier and the presenters wanted to avoid confusion.

I remember seeing ads on PBS at the time, touting a new “Brit-Com” that would be debuting soon. It had a scene from the second episode, I believe, showing Barbara (Felicity Kendal) smashing the glass out of their greenhouse so Tom (Richard Briers) could convert it to a chicken coop. (Yep, they were going to keep chickens, too. And pigs. And a goat.) She was wearing a scuba mask to prevent glass shards getting in her eyes. Tom told her she looked utterly ridiculous and she called him “Honey Tongue.”

I think it was my mom that convinced me to start watching the show. Before long I was smitten. Sure, Barbara was cute as a button and awfully sexy at the same time, so that helped peak my interest. But, I wasn’t just smitten with Barbara. The show had wended its way into my heart. (If you tell people I said I have a heart, I’ll deny it!)

The Goods lived next door to the Leadbetters: Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry (Paul Eddington). Tom and Jerry (that sounds familiar) had both worked for the same plastics company that manufactured toys for breakfast cereals. They both started on the same day eight years previous. Tom was more talented, but Jerry knew how to play the game. Jerry rose to the executive level while Tom languished working with younger men, who would soon rise to the executive level as well.

Margo Leadbetter plays the lovable foil. She’s prim and proper. Very conservative. She has difficulty understanding why something is funny. She’s a snob, but she truly cares for Tom and Barbara. Well, Barbara. She tolerates Tom.

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The two couples represent different ends of the economic spectrum. The Leadbetters are affluent and love their luxuries. The Goods are damned poor, but they love their life and their freedom from the trappings of middle class society. Despite these differences, they are friends. Fast friends. In fact, although Tom likes to think he and Barbara are self-sufficient, the Leadbetters come in very handy quite often. Margo and Jerry come through for their friends even while being embarrassed by them. And, on more than one occasion, Jerry reminds Tom of the reality of dealing with society, no matter how dropped out they think they are.

The show is also genuinely funny. Particularly the episode titled The Wind-Break War, in which Margo’s new wind-break for her backyard keeps ending up in the wrong place for the Goods. A frustrated tradesman finds himself trapped in this battle of miscommunications between neighbors. The viewers are sympathetic to his plight, but we’re still laughing. Cooler heads prevail and the homemade wine pours. Innocent flirtations between couples come close to not being so innocent. And Margo gets the last laugh.

28 episodes plus two specials (one a command performance for the Queen) are all that there is. In the old days of American television that would be one season. But through those episodes the audience comes to know and love four very real characters. We struggle right along with Tom and Barbara, through a difficult harvest to a roof with a hole in it to the runt of the pig litter and to not having anything worth stealing. And we feel pride when the Goods brush themselves off and push on.

The Goods (and the Leadbetters) live the good life.

Packing Peanuts!

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In Search Of…Good Evidence

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In 1973, television producer Alan Landsburg made an hour long TV documentary called In Search Of Ancient Astronauts. It was based on the highly popular yet poorly evidenced book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken. Von Daniken was convinced ancient humans were just too dumb and unskilled to be able to build and erect the massive structures and statues they left behind. How could those primitive peoples have done it without the help of space aliens?

Not long after the release of von Daniken’s tome of pseudoscience and pseudohistory, PBS’s program Nova examined his ideas. Nova presented much more logical and consistent with the evidence explanations. You can watch the entire program here. The video quality isn’t great, but the science is.

I’ll let Nova cover the skeptical angle, while I reminisce about a favorite TV series of my youth.

Landsburg produced two more hour long pseudoscience programs in 1975: In Search of Ancient Mysteries and The Outer Space Connection. All three programs featured Rod Serling as narrator and were popular enough to lead to the syndicated program: In Search Of…

Serling was set to be the narrator and host, but his death made his availability questionable, so Leonard Nimoy stepped in. I can’t think of a better second choice. Nimoy’s voice, look, and demeanor were perfect. He gave the show a sense of dramatic gravitas that few other actors could. Serling might have done well, but I think good ole Mr Spock was lightning in a bottle.

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It was April 1977 when In Search Of… first aired and for the next five years, Landsburg and Nimoy would set the template for the many, many pseudoscience promoting programs that followed. The writing style, the tone of narration, and the kind of music featured on the show became that template. The topics covered were the typical mysteries: Bigfoot, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, psychic powers, etc. Everything was presented with as little regard to science as possible, while dressing it up as though there was science being done. The mysteries must be preserved.

And I loved it!

Yes, I was a kid then and pretty naive. I believed it all. The show thrilled and scared me. I thought ghosts might visit me in the night. If I was walking through the woods, I was certain bigfoot was following me. Right there! See it? Oh, that’s just a dead tree. No! Behind the dead tree!! Ahhhh! Run!

Ahem. Sorry.

Not all of the shows were paranormal in theme. There were shows about Jack the Ripper, DB Cooper, Carlos the Jackal, Vincent van Gogh, Eva Braun, and Jim Jones. The Jim Jones show was actually a pretty good little documentary covering Jones’ rise and fall. The show was produced less than three years after the murders and mass suicide that brought Jonestown to an end. There were interviews with people who had been involved in Jones’ cult. They gave an inside account of how his church had started with such promise, but its leader’s paranoia and God complex became too much to sustain. There were even people interviewed who were living in the camp and escaped the day of the tragedy in November 1978. It’s well done and truly fascinating.

In 2012, the entire series was made available on DVD. I splurged and bought it. The set includes the three shows with Rod Serling and the brief reboot series from 2002 featuring Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files’ Assistant Director Skinner). I’ve rewatched the entire original series and I watched the Serling shows. I haven’t watched the 2002 reboot. No offense to Pileggi, but he’s no Rod Serling or Leonard Nimoy.

Since the show had gone off the air, I have become a skeptic. I no longer believe many of the things I did as a kid. I recognize the evidence presented on In Search Of… was very flimsy. As I watched the shows again, I kept reacting skeptically to what was being presented. “Oh, come on! Atlantis didn’t exist! Plato made it up!” “Yeah, great anecdote. Where’s the evidence?” “That’s a device to talk to ghosts? It looks an old phonograph with some surplus electronic doo-dads and some Christmas lights tied to it.”

I have plenty of favorite moments, but I’ll only lay one on ya.

In the second episode of season two, the show profiles the 18th century gentleman Count of Saint-Germain or, the more ominously named, the “man who would not die.” You see, this Count was a worldly gentleman, clearly an educated man who was said to speak several languages, each so well he fooled natives. He would tell stories of historic events that were so intimate and detailed people believed he was there. How could he have been? He looks to be only 40 years old, but could he actually be hundreds of years old? How could he tell such detailed stories, if he hadn’t been involved? (Geez, had those people never read fiction? “Oh, my! Hogwarts is described with such detail. JK Rowling must have been there! The wizarding world is real!”)

The Count also never said where he was from. This led to an awesome Leonard Nimoy moment. In all seriousness, with no hint of a snicker, but with that Spock eyebrow lift at the appropriate moment, Nimoy speculated, “But where was he actually from? Portugal? Egypt? (Cue eyebrow!) Atlantis?”

Sure. Atlantis. Why not? Why not Asgard? Frostbite Falls, MN? Ceti Alpha V??

Each show had the following disclaimer:

“This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.”

My skepticism has led me to giving that a little rewrite:

“This series presents information based mainly on guesses and lots and lots of conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some improbable explanations, but not necessarily the actual ones, to the mysteries we will monger.”

But, I still love it!

Packing Peanuts!

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An Unexpected Rabbit Hole

In January, the world was saddened by the news that Mary Tyler Moore had died. Lots of us had grown up watching her on TV, first as Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) and then as Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). And over the years she further impressed us with her many acting roles in television and in film. Most memorable for me was her performance as the cold and controlling, yet deeply wounded, mother and wife in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (1980).

Her death has generated numerous tributes to her as a person and to her life and her work. And that’s what led me to a rabbit hole that took me on a rather interesting and, at times, frustrating journey of discovery. Not the discovery of my inning self and my emotions. I don’t have any of those.

No, it was a journey to discover just what is that line in the lyrics of Love Is All Around, the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show?!

For all these years, I had thought the lyrics to the chorus were:

“Love is all around, no need to waste it.
You can have this town, why don’t you take it?
You’re gonna make it after all.”

But last Friday morning, in the Bulletin Board (an online forum in which regular folks can tell stories, jokes, make observations, share pictures,etc) a contributor noted that a recent Nancy comic strip’s tribute to Mary had quoted, according this fellow, the lyrics wrong.

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The incorrect line was: “You can have a town, why don’t you take it?”

According to this Bulletin Boarder, the actual line is: “You can never tell, why don’t you take it?”

The person rather snarkily noted that people whose hearing was intact back then, and even now, could be certain it was “never tell,” not some line about having a (or in my case, this) town. In fact, the person noted, “I wish I’d kept track of how many tributes I’ve seen with the misheard version.”

Nearly 47 years and now this revelation? I was stunned!

However, I’m a skeptic, so I thought I better do some digging to see if I could verify this “never tell” claim. Thus began the journey of discovery.

You should be aware of a phenomenon known as priming. Priming can happen when a person is told what they should be able to hear when they listen to poor quality audio or even audio played backwards. Once you are told what to hear, it’s rather difficult, maybe even impossible, to not hear it. That’s priming.

And I found out that knowing about priming doesn’t protect you from falling victim to it.

In my search to determine the true lyrics, my first step was to look up the lyrics online. I found conflicting information. A couple websites had the “never tell” line, while others had versions of the “town” line. Hmm. However, one of the websites with the “never tell” line was the Boston Globe. They are a well-respected news source, so I started thinking I had been wrong about the “town” line. Or was I being primed?

Next I found several versions of the song on YouTube. The song was written and recorded by Sonny Curtis (not Paul Williams as some people have thought), who was a member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets and had been previously best known for writing the Bobby Fuller Four hit – I Fought The Law. Several of the versions I found were recorded by Curtis. There were two versions for the show: One for the first season and one for the rest of the series with some changed lyrics, but both versions retained the “never tell/town” line. Curtis also recorded two additional versions, which he released as singles, one in 1970 and the other in 1980. They still had the same lyrics to the disputed line, even though the instrumentation of the songs was different.

There are also several cover versions of the song. Sammy Davis Jr, Joan Jett, and, 80s punk band from St. Paul, Husker Du have all covered it. It’s not quite clear if it’s “never tell” or “town” on Sammy’s and Joan’s versions, but Husker Du clearly say “town.” In fact, they even sing it the way I’ve heard it as “this town” not “the town” or “a town.”

I was beginning to lean toward “never tell,” because I had put my faith in the Boston Globe‘s journalistic prowess, but I still wasn’t sure. It’s really hard to determine just what is the line.

Then it hit me! Sonny Curtis is still alive! At least according to Google. I found that he has a Facebook page and an official website. I couldn’t be certain he would get my messages, but I sent messages to both sources. I pleaded to him for an answer.

By the end of that Friday’s tumble down the rabbit hole, I received an email from the man himself. (Well, the email claimed it was him. I don’t want to go down another rabbit hole, so I’ll just accept that it was him.)

I’ll allow Mr Curtis to settle this once and for all.

“Hi Jim,

Thanks for your interest in the Mary Tyler Moore Theme.  Below with my compliments are the lyrics.

Mary Tyler Moore Theme
Words and Music by Sonny Curtis

Who can turn the world on with her smile
Who can take a nothing day and suddenly
make it all seem worthwhile

Well it’s you girl and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement
you show it

Chorus:

Love is all around no need to waste it
You can have the town why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all

Published by Sony/ATV Music

Hope this is helpful.

All the best,
Sonny Curtis”

Very helpful! Thank you, Mr Curtis!

Oh! And, in your face! Mr Bulletin Boarder who thinks his hearing is so good!

Packing Peanuts!

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