The Jack Paar Open

I realize this isn’t a big problem and I’m just being an old crank, but this sticks in my craw. (Actually, this may be a very tiny problem, but my craw gets irritated easily.) There’s a podcast, which I really like, called The Greatest Generation. No, it’s not about the World War II generation. It’s about Star Trek. It’s a humorous look at each episode of the legendary sci-fi institution starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation. TNG is their favorite of the many Star Trek television series, which is why they started there. The podcast, hosted by Benjamin Harrison and Adam Pranica, had wrapped up the TNG series a while back and are now reviewing each episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If you are a fan of Star Trek, you should check it out.

The Greatest Generation has developed a whole slew of inside jokes and terms over the years, so if you are new to the podcast it would be a good idea to check out this site to get caught up on everything. Or you could start listening from the beginning. They just started season five of DS9, so you’ll have plenty of listening enjoyment ahead.

Oh, yeah. This craw thing. Ben and Adam frequently use the phrase the Maron Open. The phrase refers to the opening segment of their show in which they talk about or do some activity that is otherwise not very related to the main topic of that particular episode. This is something comedian/podcaster Marc Maron does on his very popular podcast WTF. Hence the phrase Maron Open. And it’s not just The Greatest Gen using the phrase! I’ve heard it on other podcasts.

I, being an old crank, became indignant. “Why these darn kids and their thinking they just invented the wheel! Don’t they know the ‘Maron Open’ is almost as old as the talk show format itself?”

For shame!

Look I haven’t been around forever (and I didn’t write the very first song – 10 points if you get the reference), so I don’t know who started that little talk at the start of a show before getting to the guest or the main topic. But I do know that The Tonight Show’s second host, taking over for original host Steve Allen, Jack Paar was well known for it. I kid you not.

He may not have been the first to do it, but he really did set the template that most late night television talk shows follow to this day. Steve Allen’s Tonight Show was more of a variety show with singers, comedians, and sketches. There may have been some interviews, but that wasn’t the focus of the program as it was with Jack Paar.

Paar was an innovator and pioneer in talk shows. He brought a level of sophistication with intelligent conversation, but still added plenty of laughs to the proceedings. He loved to bring on great storytellers such as the actor Peter Ustinov and Paar was quite the raconteur himself, as in when he would tell an amusing anecdote to open the show. Sound familiar?

He was an emotional, temperamental man who could be unpredictable. That helped make for great ratings, but it also led to him abruptly quitting the show. Not ten minutes into the February 11, 1960 broadcast, Paar announced he was upset with NBC and walked off the set, leaving cohost Hugh Downs to finish the program. (Paar had warned Downs beforehand that he was going to quit.) The indignant host was, however, convinced to come back a month later. His first words upon his return to the show were, “As I was saying before I was interrupted…”

Why did he quit?

“There must be a better way of making a living than this.”

It was over what would be considered today to be the mildest of mild jokes. The joke contained the initials WC which Paar made certain the audience understood meant “water closet”, a euphemism for bathroom. He told the joke to the live audience, but, when the show went on the air later that night, the network had cut it and replaced it with a short news item. NBC thought the joke was in bad taste. Paar was not informed the joke had been cut and became angry when he saw it had been removed. He walked off the show the next day.

What was the joke?

“An English lady is visiting Switzerland. She asks [a Swiss resort manager] about the location of the ‘W.C.’ The [manager], thinking she is referring to the ‘Wayside Chapel’ [as in a church], leaves her a note that read ‘the W.C. is situated nine miles from the room that you will occupy… It is capable of holding about 229 people and it is only open on Sunday and Thursday… It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband… I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by everyone.'” (Source Wikipedia)

Pretty tame, eh?

Well, then, what of the Maron Open? As I said, Marc Maron didn’t invent it. Jack Paar might not have either, but it would make more sense to call it the Paar Open or the Jack Paar Open. (I bet you thought the headline meant this blog was going to be about golf, didn’t you?) As I also said, I have heard other podcasters refer to it as the Maron Open. Or I thought I had.

In preparing this blog, I Googled “Maron Open”. I expected to find a Wikipedia page or an entry in the Urban Dictionary providing the definition I gave above. A definition stating it is a phrase popular among podcasters. But, I didn’t. The only reference was to The Greatest Generation podcast as one of their many inside jokes. It is something exclusive to them. And that’s different than a whole bunch of young podcasters thinking they just invented the wheel. My craw is unclogged.

Though, I swear I thought I heard it on other podcasts. I’ll keep my ear peeled.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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We Live In Better Times

I was accused on social media the other day of being a millennial or at least of having the millennial mentality. Putting aside the fact that I am 54 years old, far from being in that generation, that attitude is broad brush painting people born after the previous millennium ended at the close of the year 2000. (The years 1999 and 2000 were so annoying to this pedant as people kept getting the beginning of the new century/millennium wrong. They started January 1, 2001. Get it straight!) It’s a cultural constant, I think, that each generation believes the following generations just don’t get it. When talking about those younger folks, the diatribes are often prefaced by “In my day…” or “My generation…” Just ask my son. Hey, I didn’t say I was immune.

Case in point…

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Yeah, well…

I watched that show when it first aired and… We needed CGI back then, too.

I responded in that way on Facebook and then came the accusation. They accused me of needing high tech to be edgy and cool. They were probably thinking that I lacked the imagination to fill in the gaps that the limited technology left in the old days.

Actually, the show itself attempted to make up for the lack of technology by making the Hulk mute, less intelligent, and much, much, much, much weaker.

The show I’m talking about, of course, is The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982). It starred Bill Bixby who played Dr. David Bruce Banner, a physician and scientist who was searching for a way to enhance human abilities. He had been unable to save his wife after a car accident due to his lack of physical strength, so he obsessed with enhancing his own abilities. So much so, he used himself as a test subject. Boy, didn’t Jekyll and Hyde teach us anything?

Well, the experiment did give him super strength, but it also inflicted a werewolf-like condition on him. Whenever Banner was subjected to extreme stress or anger he would become a large, green monster with super strength and a bad attitude. The creature was dubbed the Hulk. Banner, believed to have been killed by the monster, then drifted across the country meeting people whom he would help out of tough situations. And there was a dogged reporter on the trail of the Hulk to add to his troubles.

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“…You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Say, you wouldn’t have a spare belt, would you?”

Right off the bat the superhero show alienated me, a young Marvel Comics fan and budding pedant, by getting the name of the lead character wrong. In the comic books, since 1962, the scientist’s name is Robert Bruce Banner. There was never any David in there. And he was called Bruce by his friends.

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Wrong! His first name isn’t David!

I put a great big black mark against the show the moment someone called him David and not Bruce. How could they get something so basic wrong? There are explanations, but I won’t get into them here. It was just the wrong name and I was not happy about it. The show started off in the hole as far as I was concerned.

In the comics, Bruce was bombarded by gamma rays when he was exposed to a nuclear test blast. A dumbass kid wandered too close to the test area and Bruce dashed out of the bunker to get the trespasser to safety. In the process, being unable to get into the ditch in time, Dr. Banner was bathed in deadly gamma radiation.

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Dr. Banner is probably thinking, “In my day, kids didn’t go hanging out in nuclear test ranges!”

He survived, but was now forever cursed to hulk out whenever under stress.

The TV show changed how David (argh) was exposed. It wasn’t accidental. It was from a machine bombarding him with gamma rays in his experiment to enhance human abilities. I’m guessing it was one of those technical limitations, due to not having CGI, that necessitated the change.

The comic book Hulk could talk. He could think. Sure, he wasn’t brilliant and he wasn’t much of a orator, but being able to do more than just roar, growl, smash through drywall, and knock over empty barrels made for a more interesting character. It opened up the possibilities for more compelling storylines than a drifting doctor who seems to always find people who need his help. And eventually the helpful hand from a growling, roaring, marginally super-strong, green brute to put the beat down on some bad guys.

“Thanks, Hulk! We were thinking of enlarging that doorway anyway.”

And now a short break from the blog for a brief aside:

By the way, the basic plot of The Incredible Hulk is essentially the same as TV’s The Fugitive (1963-1967) and Kung Fu (1972-1975). Both series’ lead characters were also drifters encountering people who needed their help. In The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble would break out his doctoring skills. In Kung Fu, Caine would bust out his martial arts moves. And each of the three lead characters in these shows was searching for something while they drifted from town to town. Kimble was looking for the one-armed man, Caine was searching for his family, and David (gahhh) was trying to find a cure for his hulking out.

Brief aside over, now back to the blog.

The show used all the techniques used extensively in The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978). There was the use of slow motion to make the action appear more impressive. Real speed might look silly. There were the foam rubber rocks that were easy to lift and throw, but were a little too bouncy. There would also be shots of the Hulk throwing bad guys 20 yards through the air. And there was the filming of a stunt person jumping backwards off a building and then running the film in reverse to make it appear the monster was jumping onto the building.

These were ways of dealing with the limited technology. And some of the techniques were admittedly pretty clever, but this just wasn’t the Hulk in my eyes. I mean no disrespect to Lou Ferrigno. He was certainly an impressive physical specimen. And he did the best he could with what he was asked to do. It’s just that his Hulk wasn’t nearly strong enough. In the comic books, the Hulk could travel miles through the air in a single leap. He could topple entire buildings. And the madder he got, the stronger he got. But, the TV Hulk, although able to throw a grown man great distances, seemed to struggle lifting a woman who was hanging from a cliff to safety.

Weeeelllll, they’re close, but these costumes just don’t work.

There were other attempts in the 1970s to bring live action super-heroes to television: The very short-lived The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-1979), a made-for-TV movie featuring Captain America (1979), and DC Comic’s Wonder Woman (1975-1979). Spider-Man’s and Captain America’s costumes were fairly accurate to the comics, but looked silly on TV. Wonder Woman’s costume worked much better, but that was probably due to Lynda Carter being in it.

Um. Yeah, that works.

Compare those shows with the super-hero movies we’ve been getting since the advent of CGI. Sure, they aren’t all perfect. Some of the DC Comics movies have been down right lousy. But Marvel Comics movies, for the most part, have been thrilling to this old comic book fan. Visually stunning with the characters being true to their comic book versions. The Marvel Universe films may not be exactly what I had in mind as a kid wishing for an Avengers movie, but they are virtually spot on when compared to those 70s shows.

Maybe that is the millennial mentality, but I don’t think so. Those shows were way too limited. Limited by technology. Limited creatively. Let’s face it, despite their best efforts,  the shows were lame. How many times can we see David (ugh) drift along helping strangers and hulking out? And that wig was horrible! Surely, they could have done better even with 1970s wig technology.

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Hey! That’s Jeremy Brett, my favorite Sherlock Holmes actor, in the background!

No, my generation didn’t have CGI, but it would have been awesome if it did.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

The One Cult I Belonged To

Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 2.52.15 PMI must confess. I was in a cult. Not some religious, mind-control sort of a cult. It was in the early 80s, I had become a member of the small, but devout audience of the legendary and ground-breaking TV talk show Late Night with David Letterman on NBC.

Late Night first aired in February, 1982 in the time slot directly after the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the time slot that had been previously occupied by the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.

Now, I wasn’t part of the cult at the very beginning. I don’t recall when I started watching Dave (that’s what we cult members call him), I think it was probably sometime late in that first year, maybe the second year, but when I did start watching it quickly became the show I could not miss.

ss-140404-david-letterman-CARSON-01-640x417I knew who Dave was before he got that late night gig. He had been on the Tonight Show numerous times as a guest and he had also done stints as a guest host covering some of Johnny’s frequent nights off. I liked Dave. I thought he was very funny.

 

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From the last episode of Dave’s morning show.

Some NBC executives also thought he was funny and offered him his own talk show. In the morning. Weekday mornings. When I found out I was quite chagrined. I was still in high school and going to class when Dave’s show was airing. This was before DVRs or TiVo, and the VCR was still a new innovation that was just beginning to invade every home, so there was no recording the show. What was I to do? Should I quit school?

Fortunately for my academic career, the morning show only lasted 18 weeks. Despite it having been awarded two Emmys, it was just a little too strange for a daytime audience, so it was cancelled. I’ve only seen a few clips on YouTube, but from what I know of the show it got more and more outlandish as it went along. Dave and his crew probably knew it wouldn’t last, so why not get as strange as they wanted?

So, Late Night begins airing and the oddness of the morning show was expanded on, but this time the show found an audience. It was small. Well, small for those days. Today’s cable and streaming shows would love to get that kind of “small” audience. Anyway, that small audience was expanded by one when I joined the cult.

There’s something wonderful about being in such a cult. You feel a certain ownership of the show. “This belongs to me and only a few other special people.” You feel as though you are in on a secret, something a select few people understand much less know about. And you get it. All of it. And this kind of cult doesn’t require members to shave their heads, give up all their money, and leave their families. Losing a bit of sleep is about the only cost to being a member of this cult.

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Larry “Bud” Melman

And Late Night was such an unusual show. The cast of characters included Larry “Bud” Melman, Flunky the Late Night Clown, and all the oddball creations of the very funny Chris Elliott. Paul Shaffer bought his own style of comedy to the show. There was his song Bermuda (it’s a koo-koo place, nutty kinda place), his send up of the hip Vegas attitude, and his acting during the actor/singer gags was fantastically funny. We also got to meet some of the more unusual creative types of the day, including the furious Brother Theodore, the innocent-yet-kinda-creepy-but-funny Pee Wee Herman, and the always bristly Harvey Pekar.

There were the regular bits: Small Town News, Dave’s Record Collection, Fun with an 80 Ton Hydraulic Press, Fun with a Steamroller, and Dropping Items from a 5-Story Tower. And that’s just a few.

He would take the camera outside and interview everyday New Yorkers. Dave even spent time working at a fast food restaurant. He would also call people at random from the phone book. It was doing that in which he discovered Arnie Barnes, a young man who worked at a meat-packing plant in Omaha, NE. That was a special night.

 

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Artist concept sketch of Arnie Barnes.

Then there were Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, and the various suits made of unusual items (magnets, Alka-Seltzer, sponges, and, my favorite, the suit of Velcro). I later learned the suits gag was something Dave lifted from Steve Allen when he was hosting the Tonight Show.

And, let’s not forget Viewer Mail. Each week Dave would dip into the voluminous Late Night mailbag to read and answer real letters from real viewers. “If they weren’t real, could I do this?” (Other cult members will understand.) When the segment first started the number of letters varied, but it eventually settled on five letters answered each week. I remember being disappointed when Dave went to just answering four letters. That meant the Pyramid of Comedy would have no top. (Again, other cult members will understand.)

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Biff and the Pyramid of Comedy.

Yes, there were the Top Ten lists. I’m a little ambivalent toward those. Some were pretty funny, most were a little lame. But it became a staple of the show.

By the way, much of the zaniness of Late Night can be found on YouTube. This is as good a place to start as any.

Late Night was the anti-talk show. And Dave was the anti-host. He wouldn’t necessarily be rude, he just had a way of cutting through the celebrity BS that would be featured on other talk shows. He’d ask odd questions, which could throw a guest off a bit, but the good guests would roll with it. And Dave could be very acerbic when he wanted. He gained a bit of a reputation for that. So much so that Cher avoided appearing on his show for a long time. When she finally did, Dave asked why it was so difficult to get her on the show. Cher bluntly answered it was because she thought he was an a–hole. That was a special night.

In those early days, I worked nights at Wendy’s and I made certain when closing everybody’s work was done quickly. All employees had to leave at the same time so that everyone got to their cars safely, so, if I was to get home in time for Dave, I helped my coworkers finish up. I had to get home to watch Dave.

Dave has had an influence on me. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 1988, while still working at Wendy’s, the store manager took a week off. When he returned he told me that he was able to stay up late and catch some of the TV shows he’d been missing. He then gave me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He told me he’d been able to watch Late Night and that he could see a lot of Letterman in me.

Not many people know this, but I do a podcast called Dimland Radio. And, just last month, a friend who listens to my show was describing it to someone. I was listening in, too humble to describe it myself, when my friend said I was a bit like David Letterman.

Wow! I guess it still shows.

However, as you must know, Late Night didn’t stay a cult show for very long. More and more people began to take notice and the show grew in popularity. That’s good in that the show would last, but it lost its special appeal. The show. Dave. They weren’t just mine anymore. I had to share him with a much bigger, less cool audience.

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‘There are way too many people here.”

This was something that hit me when I watched one of his anniversary shows. Each year, Dave would do a special clip show with some special guests, reviewing the best moments of the previous year. The first few of these shows were still recorded in the same studio. (One year the anniversary show was recorded on a plane while in flight. That was a special night.) Then, for the 5th year anniversary, NBC decided to move the show to the larger venue Radio City Music Hall for the special.

 

It was then that I realized I was no longer a member of a select group. The tumultuous cheers that erupted when Dave walked on stage told me the cult was over. Now the riff raff liked him, too. I was crushed. I never looked at the show the same way after that.

I still liked it. I still liked Dave. But it just wasn’t the same.

I stopped watching as regularly as I had before. And when Dave moved to CBS, I watched even less.

But it was awesome while it lasted.

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Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Ten Years And Two Days Ago

Writer’s note: This is taken from my personal blog at dimland.com. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years (and two days) since Farrah Fawcett left the world. The following piece was written the day she died. I have revised it slightly.

Farrah Fawcett lost her long battle with cancer today. She was just 62. She left the world far too soon.

When Farrah burst on the scene in 1976 on the very popular television series Charlie’s Angels, a crime series featuring the adventures of three female private detectives, I was about 12 years-old. I had had a crush or two on girls my age, but…WHAM! There was Farrah. I was captivated. I was smitten. That hair, that smile, those two protrusions in the red bathing suit… Ahem.

Farrah was the first woman that I fell in love with. She became my girl. I was obsessed. I collected her posters and magazines featuring articles about her. I cut photos of her out of newspapers. In fact, collecting images of Farrah became my passion. My corner of the bedroom I shared with my younger brother became a virtual shrine to a woman I would never meet. I still have most of that collection packed away somewhere.

I remember an uncle of mine telling my mother that, at the very least, my Farrah obsession confirmed I wasn’t gay. Why that mattered to my uncle, I was never quite sure. How questionable was my behavior toward the opposite sex that my uncle would be relieved by my love for Farrah? I was only 12. Come on! Besides, why should anyone care?

My obsession with Farrah lasted well into high school. I had drawn several portraits of her, read one of her unofficial biographies, I even wrote a biographical paper on her for a writing class during my senior year. For a time, I took to adding a little FF to my signature on my drawings. It stood for “Farrah Freak”, which is what fellow classmates took to calling me.

(Incidentally, the paper I wrote about Farrah was to be given three grades: one for research, one for composition, and one for grammar. I received three As on the paper. My teacher spotted me in the cafeteria on the day the graded papers were to be returned, she told me she could tell I really liked my subject. I wish I had held onto that paper. It would be nice to read it now.)

The years and my obsession passed. I became more interested in women I actually knew. (Although I wasn’t any luckier with them than I would have been with Farrah. Oh, woe was me. I’m married now, so I had some success.) It’s strange but I didn’t go to her movies. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because many were so poorly reviewed that I didn’t want to see my girl humiliated. I did watch her triumphant performance in the made for TV movie The Burning Bed and her not so triumphant performance in the made for the garbage heap Cannonball Run.

However, my obsession had ended. I had long since dropped the FF from my signature. I had moved on.

Occasionally, I would note some of her doings with mild interest. Such as her very short-lived TV sit-com with Ryan O’Neal, Good Sports; her appearance on Arsenio Hall’s show during which I remember thinking her legs looked damn good; her less than flattering appearance on David Letterman’s show; her two nude photo layouts in Playboy (ok, the Playboy stuff was a bit more than mildly interesting), but the feeling wasn’t the same. The crush was gone.

Then came the cancer. She seemed to handle it well. She was going to fight it with everything she had. And she fought hard. In the end, as will happen to us all, death claimed her.

Now, I feel just a little bit older, a little bit emptier, a little bit lonelier. A big part of my youth is gone. I will miss Farrah Fawcett, she was my first girl.

FF

Update: As most of you probably know, pop music icon Michael Jackson also died later that same day. Farrah had been the biggest female sex symbol of the latter half of the 1970s. She had cemented her place along side other legendary female sex symbols (Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch, etc.), but because Jackson was considered the bigger star at the time, Farrah quickly dropped from the conversation. Her death became an “oh, yeah, she died, too” segment on the news. The TV networks did give her some attention, but the King Of Pop stole her moment.

And I will always hold that against him.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

The Reason M*A*S*H Became Two Different Shows

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M*A*S*H the comedy/drama.

A recent episode of the Stuck In The 80s podcast got me thinking about the legendary television series M*A*S*H (1972-1983). The podcast hosts and guests discussed TV series finales that occurred in or just after the 1980s and still pack a punch. One of the finales discussed was the one that brought M*A*S*H to an end. It still holds the record as the most watched series finale in television history. Nearly 106 million viewers tuned in to see the characters they knew so well say, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”

Any discussion of M*A*S*H, a series set in an army hospital camp during the Korean War, inevitably comes around to noting that what started as a sit-com became awfully serious through its long run. By the time the show came to its conclusion, it barely resembled a comedy. On television the tradition was (and still is) sit-coms are 30 minutes long, dramas are an hour. M*A*S*H bucked that tradition. Sure, there were still some comedic elements (and that silly laugh track), but the dramatic moments made up more and more of the show.

After all, it was a show about doctors and nurses trying to save the lives of wounded soldiers during a war. Drama was always going to be there. But as the show progressed, so did the seriousness.

Now, I may be reinventing the wheel here and stating something someone smarter than me has already expressed, but…

What occurred to me while thinking back on this landmark show was that it can almost be pinpointed to when M*A*S*H went from a comedy with some drama to a drama with some comedy. I was able to pin it to the departure of one character.

It wasn’t Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson). His leaving the show did provide an extremely shocking and dramatic moment that reminded viewers there was a war going on. It wasn’t Trapper John (Wayne Rogers), who was just gone. Hawkeye (Alan Alda) had returned from leave to find his best friend was discharged and couldn’t stay to say goodbye. (That may have been the reason Hawkeye so needed B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell), Trapper’s replacement who became Hawkeye’s closest friend, to say goodbye during the series’ final episode.) It wasn’t Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burgoff). By the time Radar was sent home, the series had already become more of a drama.

No, it was none of them. I think the series turned serious after the departure of Maj. Frank Burns (Larry Linville).

Linville left the series in 1978. He said he had done all he could with his character and felt it was time to move on. Far be it for me to dispute the man’s stated reason for leaving, but I don’t think he was given much of a chance to do much with his character. Most of the main characters were given a chance to grow. To change. Frank was not.

Radar was able to mature. It was a little sad to see him lose his innocence, but we watched him grow up to the point that when he departed he poignantly left behind his beloved Teddy bear. Cpl. Klinger (Jamie Farr), still wanting out of the army, ditched the dresses and became a valuable replacement of Radar as company clerk. Maj. Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit) went from an object of both derision and desire as “Hot Lips” to a woman and an officer worthy of respect and friendship as Margaret.

But Frank Burns was virtually the same character when the show first aired in 1972 to when he departed in 1978. He was a cartoonish foil to Hawkeye, Trapper, and, later, B.J. He wasn’t allowed many opportunities to be a sympathetic human being. If he had been, the treatment he received would have been looked on as cruel, as it eventually did with Margaret when she started to show her humanity.

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M*A*S*H the drama/comedy.

And I think the cartoonishness of Frank Burns kept the show in the comedy/drama vein. When he was gone and replaced by the more nuanced character, Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers), the show then flipped to the drama/comedy side.

However, there were two moments in which Frank was allowed a limited amount of growth. At least, temporary growth.

In the first season, in the episode titled Sticky Wicket, Hawkeye, who had frequently publicly disparaged Frank’s ability as a surgeon, was particularly critical of Frank early in the episode. Over the top even. And that was the intent of the writers, because Hawkeye then had a patient go bad on him. The patient should have been recovering, but something was wrong. Hawkeye obsessed on the case, becoming quite a jerk to all around him in the process. He was certain he had done everything right. He hadn’t missed anything. He couldn’t have.

This gave Maj. Burns the opportunity to turn the tables on his rival. “Oh, the great Dr. Perfect isn’t so perfect after all.” Or something like that. Actually, he dug in really deep. Of course, Frank’s taunting was not accepted by the other characters (or the audience) as easily as Hawkeye’s taunting. That’s how it was supposed to be. Hawkeye is our hero, while Frank is the cartoonish foil.

But, this did set up a moment of human kindness, sympathy, and growth for the otherwise two-dimensional character.

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Hawkeye had a moment of clarity. He realized he needed to open that patient up again to see if he was right. Maybe he did miss something. And there it was, some shrapnel damage that was hidden by the sigmoid colon. Frank had been observing the operation. When he saw the damage he said, “Anybody could have missed that.” Hawkeye glanced over his shoulder and humbly replied, “Thanks, Frank.”

It was a good moment of growth for Frank, but he was back to cartoonish foil the next episode.

Another moment of humanizing Frank came late in his run on the series. It was the episode titled Margaret’s Engagement which aired in 1976. As the title suggests, Margaret had gotten engaged while on leave in Tokyo. This came as quite a blow to Frank, who had been romantically involved with Margaret since the show began. He had hoped that since he was already married, they could still continue their affair. Margaret made it clear their relationship was over.

Frank snapped. He went a little crazy and tried to impressed his lost love with what a great soldier he could be. He didn’t sleep. He couldn’t think straight. Until Radar came to the rescue by giving Frank the opportunity to talk to his mother. That helped. Good work, Radar.

With his senses more or less returned to normal (normal for Frank), the show gave him a surprising attaboy moment. While in the mess tent with B.J. and Hawkeye, Frank was well within earshot of Margaret excitedly gushing about the manliness of her fiance. Even Frank’s two best frenemies thought she was out of line in her insensitivity toward her former lover.

That’s when Frank suggested to Hawkeye that the two of them hit the town that night. They should grab a couple nurses and whoop it up. In fact, Frank said there was a particular nurse who had been giving him the eye and tonight might be her lucky night. Hawkeye was bemused but played along. Margaret was less accommodating.

She said to Frank, “She’s a little young for you, isn’t she, Maj. Burns?”

Frank’s reply, “I don’t know… I thought a little youth might be nice for a change.”

Maj. Houlihan realizing she had just been insulted left in a huff.

Frank then said, “I really got her on that one, didn’t I?”

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A shared laugh and a sense of camaraderie that lasts until the end credits roll.

Both Hawkeye and B.J. were impressed and really appreciated the moment.

So, M*A*S*H was two shows. Whether you prefer the comedy/drama or the drama/comedy you have Maj. Frank Burns to thank.

Special thanks goes to The Monster M*A*S*H Wiki website. Much of the information I share in this article came from that site. It is a treasure trove of M*A*S*H facts.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Love a good comedy panel show!

They may have blossomed on American television in the 1950s, but panel shows go back to the days of radio. According to Wikipedia (where I have gotten much of my information for this post), the first known panel show was called Information Please, on which a panel of celebrities would attempt to answer questions submitted by listeners. If the panel was stumped, the listener would win a cash prize.

Not having been alive in those days, from what I can gather that particular panel show was pretty straight forward. Maybe there would be a chuckle or two, but it wasn’t played for laughs. Then, in 1942, came It Pays To Be Ignorant.

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It Pays To Be Ignorant in the days of radio. L to R: Host Tom Howard and panelists George Shelton, Lulu McConnell, and Harry McNaughton.

It Pays To Be Ignorant may not have been the first panel show meant to be a comedy, but it certainly was early on and demonstrated that comedy panel shows could be very popular. The premise of the show was to have the group of regular panelists give nothing but wrong, and often funny, answers to obvious questions such as: What color is the red barn?

The show’s popularity helped move it to television for one season in 1949 and another season in 1951. The show was revived in 1973, but only lasted one year. It must have played better on radio.

In the 1950s, the panel show came into its own as American TV audiences tuned into such shows as To Tell The Truth, I’ve Got A Secret, and What’s Mine Line? (my favorite of these three). Again, I’m not so old that I got to watch What’s My Line? when it originally aired, but through the magic of oldies TV channels I’ve been able to watch it and I can see it’s appeal.

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The panelists would don blindfolds for the mystery celebrity guests.

I especially like its host John Daly. He was quite the happy host. He cracked up throughout and genuinely appeared to enjoy hosting the show. The man could get absolutely giddy as the panelists attempted to determine the occupation or particular distinction of the guests. I think he was a great host.

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The giddy John Daly with mystery celebrity guest Julie Andrews.

The 1970s had popular panel shows that were intended to provide laughs. There was The Gong Show, Hollywood Squares, and Match Game. The Gong Show was more of a watching car accidents kind of show, while Hollywood Squares and Match Game were just as funny if less edgy entertainment. Those shows would be especially funny when the celebrity panelists would get more “lubricated” as the day of taping went on.

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Match Game. Dig those fashions!

In America, the panel shows began to lose their appeal after the ’70s. There were a few that had success, the revival of Hollywood Squares comes to mind, but it seemed the day of the panel show was done.

The UK, however, beginning in the 1990s saw a great leap in the popularity of the comedy panel show. Again, according to Wikipedia, there had been panel shows on British TV for as long as there were on American TV, but in 1990 came the panel show Have I Got News For You. It was extremely successful in gathering an audience and is thought to have been the spark that set off an explosion of British comedy panel shows. Soon there were QI, Mock Of The Week, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Would I Lie To You?, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

I haven’t seen much of most of them, but I have watched a good deal of QI and Would I Lie To You? through YouTube. And they are hilarious. I love them! I wish America could produce such shows. Well, maybe it does and I just haven’t seen them.

QI stands for “quite interesting” and it is a show that explores little know facts of history, science, nature, literature, entertainment, and everyday life. The shows features four celebrities who attempt to answer questions put to them by the host. Right answers are good, but interesting answers are treasured. Points are awarded to the guests in some weird, mysterious, arbitrary fashion. But who cares about points? The show is very funny and totally fascinating.

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The awesome Stephen Fry.

It went on the air in 2003, with the great Stephen Fry as the schoolmaster-like host. He’s wonderful. I really like Fry. He has a level of intelligence, wit, and sophistication that is marvelous and, yet, he seems incredibly warm and welcoming. He strikes me as the kind of mentor everyone longs for. His interplay with the guests is terrifically entertaining and funny. Just watch this clip of the classic “They say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is…” moment and you’ll see what I mean.

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The very funny Sandi Toksvig.

In 2016, Sandi Toksvig took over as the host of QI. She had been a regular guest for years and she has filled Fry’s vacated seat nicely. She brings her own acerbic and keen wit to the show. Her approach differs from Fry, but still feels right.

There used to be full episodes of QI on YouTube. It’s a shame that nearly all have been taken down now, but there are loads and loads of clips of the show posted on QI’s YouTube channel.

And then there’s Would I Lie To You? Oh, how I’ve been YouTube binging this show.

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L to R: David Mitchell, Rob Brydon, Lee Mack.

The premise of this panel show is to figure out whether or not someone is lying. Each week four celebrities guests are brought on the show, two of each join show regulars, David Mitchell and Lee Mack, to form two teams of three. Then the team members are to read out cards revealing something interesting about themselves. Some statements are lies, some are true. The tricky part for the person telling the story is that they don’t know what’s on the card until they read it. So, their improv skills had better be sharp if they need to tell a lie.

When the show first aired in 2007 it was hosted by Angus Deayton. He’s funny, but I prefer the current host Rob Brydon, who took over in 2009.

These are the two British shows of which I am familiar, but I will probably start binging the other ones soon.

I am aware there has been a revival of Match Game, which is hosted by Alec Baldwin, but I haven’t seen any of it. (Have you watched it? Is it any good?) It just seems the Brits currently have the edge on us Americans when it comes to the comedy panel show. So, if you’re looking for a funny panel show you can look to America’s classic TV show channels or you can look over there.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

An Old (And Pretty Much Solved) Complaint

Going way back to the early days of the cinema there has been what is known as the widescreen format: A film with its image being wider than it is tall. This format is also called landscape, because it’s the best format for capturing the horizon in nature. And in those early days, there was also a more square format for movies. Both formats were fairly common until Hollywood (and the rest of the world) was plunged into the Great Depression and in the early 1930s movies went to the more square image. It was a move to help limit costs.

Then, in the early 1950s with the American economy booming, televisions became more and more common and Hollywood began to worry it would lose its movie-going audience. Theaters installed air conditioning and some movies experimented with 3D in hopes of pulling people away from their TV sets.

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Another way Hollywood tried to entice movie-goers was to return to the widescreen format with VistaVision and CinemaScope. Using that wider screen, filmmakers made epics even more epic; filling the screens with luscious colors, vast landscapes, and thrilling action. And it worked. People went to see those magnificent spectacles.

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Then a new problem arose. Audiences wanted to see those movies on TV and the networks wanted to show them, but how? Ben-Hur (1959) was certainly not going to fit on a more square-like screen. What could they do?

The solution was to have someone crop the image and move that crop from side to side to shift the focus. The process was called pan and scan. Most people wouldn’t notice, but filmmakers and movie lovers did.

Pan and scan made the images and characters feel too close to the camera. Many films felt claustrophobic. Action scenes became confusing and far less impactful. The use of pan and scan essentially was a re-directing or re-interpretation of the film. The technician doing the cropping had to decide which part of the image to show and which part to leave out. The process changed the films. And absolutely ruined them.

Of course, I didn’t realize this when I was a kid. But even then I would notice that, when one of those epic films would start on TV, the opening with the title and the actors’ names would have black bars across the top and bottom of the image. Once the opening credits were complete the image would then fill the TV screen. Eventually, I understood why. They needed those bars to change the aspect ratio of the screen in order to not have the title and the actors’ names cut off at the sides.

When home video became a thing, most movies, maybe even all, were released in the pan and scan or full screen format. Eventually, filmmakers and movie lovers began to demand widescreen or letterboxed videos and DVDs. They wanted the entire picture, which would give the full and intended vision of the filmmaker. That meant the black bars would stay for the entire movie.

Well, a couple weeks ago I watched the mess of a movie Mackenna’s Gold (1969) on DVD. It came into Nostalgia Zone and I borrowed this favorite from when I was a kid. It is a mess. The producers realized the movie was so confusing they had to rely heavily on a narrator to keep the audiences clued in on what the hell was going on.

It was also in full screen. Ugh.

I was able to grab an image from the internet that shows how this particular shot was supposed to look. I then cropped the image to look the way it appeared in the pan and scan.

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This is how it was supposed to look.

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This is pan and scan.

In a movie as lousy as Mackenna’s Gold it probably isn’t vitally important to see Telly Savalas in the same shot. But, let’s look at a shot from Tombstone (1993). A sometimes silly (I mean just how many bullets does Holliday have in his two six-shooters during the big OK Corral gunfight? 40?), but very rousing and entertaining Western telling the tale of the Earp Brothers’ and Doc Holliday’s battle with the lawless gang known as The Cowboys. The shot (sorry about the poor quality of the image) is from the scene in which Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) meet for the first time.

As you can see in the widescreen shot, the two gunman are intended to be on screen at the same time. This adds to the tension of the scene. We are supposed to see the two interact with each other and we are also meant to see the reactions of the surrounding characters – all at the same time.

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All the actors interacting in this scene is what makes this such a great shot.

A full screen version of this scene would be laughable. In the wide shot, it would have to pan back and forth between Ringo and Holliday. It would be distracting and would kill the impact of the scene.

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Pan and scan would force the scene to…

 

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…cut back and forth between the two characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think you get the idea.

As the headline of this blog suggests, I realize that we live in great times for film lovers, because our TVs have all gone widescreen. This also means that full screen videos and DVDs are old hat. No one does the pan and scan anymore, so why am I complaining?

Eh. It’s what I do.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.