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BOOK REVIEW: "The Spongbob Squarepants Experience"
Blog, TV, Books
Posted on Feb 05 2014 by Greg

To my knowledge, this is the first “serious” book on Spongebob, in the sense that the cartoon is being treated as a considerable work of modern culture. Hopefully it won’t be the last.


For gift giving, the timing couldn’t be better—a high-end coffee table treatment of the world’s most popular cartoon sponge. The book is nestled cleverly in a semi-transparent slipcase and really lights up a room. Visually, the book is a treasure for Spongebob fans, especially the older ones (a small child would tear out the little storyboards; a Little Golden Book would do just fine).


With the book’s Hendrix-like moniker, The Spongbob Squarepants Experience, rather than “Happy Birthday” or “15 Years,” the book has to cut a wide swath beyond congratulation and commemoration. It does do that and much more.


Like an “Art Of” book, it’s loaded with spectacular color reproductions and vibrant sketches. Like a “Treasury” book it has lots of stuff to open, unfold and otherwise marvel upon. Among the tchotchkes are a comic book, storyboards and gag sketches. When you see the work and artistry behind Spongebob Squarebob as a massive body of work, it transcends its well-earned “funny cartoon” reputation and is seen as a huge effort by eminently talented animators, background painters, layout people and voice artists (who all get a profile as each character is discussed).


It’s rare today to find an all-around cartoon property like Spongebob, who isn’t as seen largely as a sitcom, “adult” cartoon or kid’s show, that is standing the test of time. Spongebob and his fellow characters have the flexibility, potential and staying power of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. It’s about time it is recognized in this way


Jerry Beck’s text acknowledges the history and impact of Spongebob and his friends on the world over the last fifteen years. It is not simply “decoration” in a pretty book, but of course Jerry’s copy could never be that, even in its most abbreviated form (I love that little Flintstones book). To keep things interesting, the pages have sidebars and running categories like and “favorite lines” and whimsical “little known facts.”


Like Oliver Twist, I want some more. Do another one, Jerry.

Arthur Rankin: "He's gone! Oh, he's gone!"
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Feb 01 2014 by Greg

That's what Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer said when he thought he lost Yukon Cornelius. But Bumbles bounced and Yukon survived. Sadly, mega-producer/director/writer Arthur Rankin Jr. did not -- he passed away Thursday at his Bermuda home.

Rankin is major to television as the lead visionary behind TV specials that only grow in popularity and iconic stature as one generation passes them along to the next one. Rankin's contributions to feature films are less known, but he spearheaded a number of films, of which "Mad Monster Party" has become a beloved classic that inspired everyone from Tim Burton to John Lasseter.

The multi-award winning Rankin/Bass version of "The Hobbit" was the first filmed adaptation to be released, almost four decades before Peter Jackson brought it to the big screen.

He also sustained the TV musical, particularly with creative partner Jules Bass and musical director Maury Laws. When musical specials were long gone, Rankin/Bass continued them in animated form much like Disney has done in theatrical films, with original songs such as "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "The Heat Miser/Snow Miser Song" becoming perennial holiday hits. (You can even see how the Rankin/Bass look influenced today's biggest box office hits.)

It must be noted that neither Rankin/Bass nor Arthur Rankin ever received an Emmy Award, despite the fact that their work has proven to be some of the most solid entertainment the small screen has ever seen. There was only one nomination for "The Little Drummer Boy Book II." A posthumous Lifetime Achivement Award is certainly due. 

To paraphrase what Santa said to little Karen when she lost her friend, Frosty the Snowman, “You see, he was made of Christmas specials. And Christmas specials will never disappear completely. Oh, his name may disappear for months at a time, and take the form of springtime specials or 'Mad Monster Party,' but when a good December season comes along, he’ll be with us through his Christmas specials all over again.”

To learn more about Rankin/Bass, the ultimate authority is author Rick Goldschmidt, who has published several best sellers about Rankin/Bass. Visit Rick on Facebook or at

DVD Review: Double Seasons of Hit Network Sitcoms
Blog, TV
Posted on Jan 22 2014 by Greg

Do the long-running sitcoms of the "must-see" TV era still hold up today? Times may changes, but human nature doesn't, so the more insightful the series, the more it stands the test of time.

The Cosby Show was a mammoth hit from 1984 to 1992, running for eight seasons, pretty much in the top ten or number one in the ratings. The Huxtables are an upscale family who, even though they have their idiosyncracies, are aspirational role models of their time and today as well.

More TV families should be like this now. Most of the storylines are of the traditional family sitcom ilk, with very funny writing by some of TV's best. And then you have Bill Cosby, who makes every line count and is at his best when constructing a story-joke with the artistry of Frank Lloyd Wright.

This DVD package contains the first two of the show's eight seasons, when the kids were young. Watching is now as a parent is particularly entertaining.

There have been many fine fantasy sitcoms -- even today, with ABC's The Neighbors -- but they all struggled with ratings and/or began strong and lost steam. Only Bewitched was a bona fide hit right out of the gate and self-cancelled even when it was still in the top ten in its eighth season. The hypnotic charm of Elizabeth Mongomery is the chief reason, with a stellar cast of seasoned acting giants including Agnes Moorehead and Maurice Evans. (Learn more about Montgomery and Bewitched by searching amazon for the books by Herbie J. Pilato.)

The first two seasons on this DVD set are considered by many to be the best, with Barney Miller show runner Danny Arnold at the helm. If you want to know how great a show like this can be, just watch the episode "A is for Aardvark," directed by screen legend Ida Lupino.

I always really liked this series, if only because the bald guy was the ladies' man (baldness rocks!). Seriously, Laura San Giocomo is a fantastic lead with Mary Tyler Moore skill. She's surrounded by a great supporting cast that have pretty much gone on to subsequent success in other projects. And of course, there's George Segal, whose timing is impeccable. The material is sophisticated and often spicy but there's more to the show and the characters than that. Just Shoot Me comes from Steve Levitan, who co-created Modern Family.

The new DVD combines the midseason premiere episodes and the second season. You can see the chemistry simmer and come to a boil with every installment.

Often cited as one of TV's most under-appreciated sitcoms, Wings enjoyed a solid run of eight seasons as part of the NBC must-see lineup. It was overshadowed by the more flashy shows of the lineup, but it's proven to be a well regarded favorite to its very fierce legion of fans. (A little bit of trivia: Wings was the second sitcom about a small airline service -- the first was the short lived  Tim Conway Show which reunited him with McHale's Navy co-star Joe Flynn.)

Monk fans, look for Tony Shalhoub in a very different character role and lots of "before they were stars" actors who have become prominent over the years. This set is the second Mill Creek release, containing season 3 and 4 (the first two seasons are already available).

Good Times was a very successful spin off from Norman Lear's Maude, which was a spinoff of All in the Family. Unlike earlier sitcom spinoffs, there were never visits from the cast of the previous shows. So Maude never traveled from Tuckahoe, New York to visit the Florida and the Evans family in Chicago.

The first two seasons of Good Times included on this new DVD release are different from the show it became, as J.J. became like Fonzie and became the focus of the series. But the early episodes are also significant because they were more about the struggles of the Evans' to just get by -- much as the theme song says. Getting a job, having enough money to afford the basics, all very pertinent issues that transcend the 70's setting and style of the show.

Also just released in affordable two-season sets: Married with Children (the bizarro-world opposite of Cosby), Highway to Heaven and Charlie's Angels.

Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, Music, Downloads, Records, Books
Posted on Dec 20 2013 by Greg



No home should be without a copy of Mary Poppins to watch. If you've seen it many times, just leave it on and go about your business, it adds an element of fun to every job that must be done.

This is the first time Mary Poppins is on Blu-ray, much anticipated by all its fan. The picture is overall superb, but there is a bit of a contrasty quality that I'm guessing to due to Herculean efforts to spruce up some special effects that were state-of-the-art 50 years ago. The matte lines and grains are much less noticeable now and the animated sequence (I'm just as sorry as I can be, Mrs. Travers) glows with color. Mary Poppins, by the way, has finally been added to The National Film Registry (somebody must have told them, "Spit-Spot! Get to it!"


Gene Autry was not only King of the Cowboys in the mid-20th century, he also is still one of the best selling recording artists of all time. He recorded the original "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman," "When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter" and "Here Comes Santa Claus," which he co-wrote. This series is just a part of his entertainment empire, which you can glimpse in one of the many bonus features (and see momentos of at LA's Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage. The Gene Autry Show is a lot like Scooby-Doo: there are only a handful of plotlines, but who cares because you just want to watch him and his sidekick (Pat Buttram) bring baddies to justice. Some stereotypes are on a very few episodes (amazing considering its age), but overall it's a cozy slice of Americana. Some are even in color and remarkably well preserved.


For Marvel fans impatient for the next movie, this nicely constructed animated adventure is an exciting adventure. The action is virtually non-stop, but when there is a brief respite, Hulk and Iron Man bicker like Martha and Gertrude at the Automat. There are a few bonus features, including the very funny re-voiced "Marvel Mash-Ups" that make gentle but ridiculous sport of earlier Marvel TV cartoons.


It isn't really the holiday season without squeezing in as many Rankin/Bass specials as you can. The first special in this Warner Archive release, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, is based on the book by Wizard of Oz scribe L. Frank Baum. It's a fitting way finale to the Rankin/Bass canon of stop-motion animated specials, as it combines the whimsy of Rudolph with the mystical fantasy of The Hobbit, drawing both aspects of R/B together (the voice cast is also that of ThunderCats). Nestor is based on another song by Gene Autry (see above), with a very amusingly caricatured Roger Miller telling and singing the story of a misfit who triumphs over his "non-conformity." The animation for this special is especially smooth, (SPOILER) but be warned that there is a sad, Bambi-like moment.


My favorite of the early Muppet films, The Great Muppet Caper was Jim Henson's feature directing debut. The score by "Bein' Green" composer Joe Raposo is the old-school Hollywood extravaganza type, with some major production numbers including a mammoth Esther Williams tribute that actually topped Mel Brooks' similar number the same year in his History of the World, Part 1. Plus it's got Diana Rigg. 'Nuff said. Muppet Treasure Island was the second feature after Jim Henson passed and though very entertaining with the dependable comic chops of Tim Curry, The Muppets were starting to chew their cabbage more than twice here. Both look spiffy on Blu-ray.


First of all, the first two volumes of this priceless DVD series are required if you love The Muppets, clever comedy timing, imaginative use of limited resources and pure talent. Burr Tillstrom's puppets stop being puppets after only a few minutes, thanks in large part to the golden-voiced Fran Allison, who makes us all believe. Forget the picture quality and little cramped stage: Burr and Fran turn it into the Tardis.



Speaking of Tardises (or is it "tardi?"), you can't go wrong with Murray Gold's magnificent music for the current crop of Doctor Who series that have really taken the world by storm in a way I can't recall since The Muppet Show. Gold's score for season seven (and also several Christmas episode scores, also on CD) are varied, ethereal, dramatic and as "big" as the galaxy.


The Deluxe Edition Soundtrack Album of this very special film not only contains Thomas Newman's masterful score -- weaving his own compositions with interpolated Sherman songs -- but also includes several Sherman Brothers song demos and what is, in effect, Poppin's Greatest Hits. Plus, you can hear Colin Farrell's lyric read from the film's opening and the three memorable song pitch scenes with Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak. Tom Hanks does not appear on the album, but then, Walt himself only recorded one album for his record company (Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland).


First of all, know that there are actually TWO sound track albums for the Chuck Jones/Boris Karloff animated TV special. The first one was released in 1966 by MGM Records and combines Karloff's sound track narration with a re-created version of the music and singing. It's quite wonderful, won a Grammy Award and is the only one of the two that is in stereo. You can get it on CD on the Mercury label.

Warner/Rhino released the actual TV soundtrack on another CD many years later. You'll notice a few seconds of additional music at the beginning and end, because they originally had sponsor mentions over them. A brand-new green vinyl disc of the Grinch was just released this year as well.



Few if any of even the most knowlegable Disneyphiles can read any book by longtime Disney Historian Jim Korkis and not say "I did not know that!" It's a testimony to the infinite nature of Disney's legacy that factual tidbits keep on coming, and it's also a testimony to Korkis' careful research and easygoing writing style that we get to enjoy it. This time, Jim takes on the life and times of the most iconic of animated characters, so much of a "real" being that he often transcends being a cartoon.


If I were writing a book about my career, it wouldn't be nearly as amazing as Floyd Norman's but it would have the same conversational tone, candid without being tattletale-ish, respectful of both the subjects in the story and the reader. As you read, you're seeing the Walt Disney Studios through his eyes as he wanders the hallways where cool stuff is everywhere. The first half of the book chronicles Floyd's journey through his Disney career; the second half is a series of observations, advice, wisdom and fascinating anecdotes. What a joy that we are able to share in all this wonder with a Disney Legend in his own words.


In addition to animation veteran Darrell Van Citters' gotta-have tome about Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, this is a must-have too. While doing research for the Magoo book, he uncovered a treasure trove of artwork, sketches, layouts and more that really drive home the talent of the artists behind the Ward cartoons. You're only seeing the tip of the iceberg if you've only seen the shows themselves.


Longtime Late Night with David Letterman writer Steve Young (who was the mastermind behind "Dave's Record Collection") reveals a heretofore undiscovered side of musical theater, some of which is fantastic, some that might have been better left covered. Industrial musicals were common in the postwar era, all the way up to the '80s. Some soon-to-be Broadway musical powerhouses (like Bock and Harnick, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof) started their careers with these shows, which were surreal ways to get sales people excited about everything from cars and household notions to toilets and tractors. If you ever saw a live corporate sponsored show at a World's Fair, you get the idea. 

BOOK REVIEW: "Must Kill TV" by Emmy winner Ken Levine
Blog, TV, Books
Posted on Dec 12 2013 by Greg
Only a seasoned TV pro could have dreamed up this deliciously scathing dark comic journey through the labyrinth of the TV biz.

Ken Levine draws upon untold thousands of real-life jaw dropping moments he has encountered in the social, business and creative arenas of TV, and delivers a crisp satirical thriller that, while it may suggest other works along the same lines, is a fresh creation in itself.

The lead protagonist, over-promoted TV executive Charles Muncie, is not so much a character with whom the reader identifies as a set of eyes through which we peek behind the scenes and in the boudoir, where characters may not be what they seem and twists are as serpentine as they can really be in the creative and corporate world. Wait until you read how the sitcom -- upon which Charles' biggest success and his biggest moral dilemma -- got on the schedule. Let's put it this way. He took the credit -- and that's not a spoiler if you know work politics.

I could not help casting this story in my head as I read it. That was part of the fun. Levine's expertise in building characters and putting them into situations that are at once dark and yet very funny is a hallmark of his experience working on such shows as M*A*S*H, Frasier, Cheers, and the underappreciated Almost Perfect -- which gets a nod in the book, as "Blue Justice" was also the fictional TV show within that show.

Saying too much would spoil the fun and surprises of Must Kill TV. Suffice to say that I did not quite guess the "Oh NO!" moment at the heart of the book's denouement. But that's not even as much of a strange surprise as the fates that ultimately befall the major characters.

I read Ken Levine's blog every day, and based on what he has told readers about his real-life experiences, not EVERYONE in network TV is like this, nor are all the "non-pros." Just some.

Maybe a little more than just some.

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