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An Open Letter to WPBT, Miami

by on Feb.17, 2012, under Odds and Ends

Star Gazers

Star Gazer‘s personality was partially rooted in the fact that the production wasn’t sophisticated—it was tacky.

You’ll have to excuse me—I hadn’t looked up the current Star Gazer episode in a few months. I must say I am disappointed by what I found.

Ever since Jack Horkheimer’s unfortunate and untimely passing, I wondered what would become of Star Gazer and the parade of guest hosts filling Jack’s place. While apparently knowledgeable and professional, none of the replacement hosts seemed to capture Jack’s zeal. Then again, I doubt anyone could, and I am not taking exception to the hosts. Hopefully they will grow into their roles and develop engaging styles of their own.

I do, however, take exception to the radical change in the show’s image. I think that the show can be perpetuated and updated with new hosts while remaining faithful to some of the core attributes that made it memorable. Star Gazer‘s personality was partially rooted in the fact that the production wasn’t sophisticated—it was tacky. The graphics weren’t slick or particularly modern, and the Tomita synthesizer music was abundantly cheesy.

In a similar vein as The Price is Right, Star Gazer existed in a time warp, perfectly content to exist in the ’70s or today without any care for modern aesthetics or trends. And just as The Price is Right was able to withstand a transition to a new and younger host without loss of its entire identity, so too is it possible for Star Gazer.

Sadly, this isn’t the path that was selected. I have to wonder why, as the new graphics and “rocking” theme are not (in my opinion) going to attract new viewers or new affiliates. Further, the fast-paced, high-energy opening graphics are out-of-step with the visual pacing of the rest of the program. The high speed music and animations come to a crashing halt with the two hosts standing stationary in front of a screen and speaking in subdued tones—it’s simply incongruous.

Finally, I find it disrespectful that Horkheimer isn’t mentioned at all, no “created by…“, “based on the work of…” or similar mention in the credits. Not even a single word on the Star Gazers website. Has he been written out of history?

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The Disappearing Daystop

by on Apr.13, 2011, under Odds and Ends

Daystop LogoThe traveling public may not miss Daystops—likely because they never noticed them in the first place. Though many adults reminisce about childhood vacation stays at roadside Holiday Inns or under the orange roof of Howard Johnson’s, few have fond recollections of a Days Inn, much less a Daystop. With its first location having opened in 1970, Days Inn is something of an inter-generational brand. Founded about fifteen years after Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson’s set the standard for highway-bound family motor inns in the fifties and about fifteen years before modern limited-service competitors like Comfort, Hampton, and Fairfield appeared in the eighties, Days Inn links both of these disparate conceptual eras, with the Daystop brand being one intriguing detour along the way.
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Finding Meaning in Absurdity: YouTube Captioning

by on Jan.11, 2011, under Odds and Ends

You Tube Captioning

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A Weather Channel Christmas

by on Dec.09, 2010, under Odds and Ends

The Weather Channel - Local ForecastWhat would the holidays be without The Weather Channel’s brand of laxative-like snooze “jazz” Christmas music playing beneath Regional Observations and Current Radar? This painstakingly crafted Pandora station instantly transports you to a yuletide Local Forecast circa the early to mid ’90s.

…intensity is indicated by the color code at the top of the screen.

Listen to “A Weather Channel Christmas” on Pandora.

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NBC – Proud as a Peacock

by on Sep.28, 2010, under Odds and Ends

I was watching the 1979 NBC “Proud as a Peacock” image piece, with its clips recalling Bob Hope, Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, and other legends from the network’s sunnier days, and I wondered how the same campaign would go along with images from a period the network would rather forget: the quiz show scandals of the late ’50s.

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An Open Letter to Motel 6

by on Jul.09, 2010, under Odds and Ends

Over time, though, “cheap and cheerful” became a lot less cheerful…

Nearly a decade ago, as an adolescent of 16, an unintentionally cancelled reservation at another hotel resulted in my first stay at a Motel 6 in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. I was familiar with the brand from Tom Bodett’s clever commercials, but because of my age and limited travel experience, I had never stayed in one. To my delight, the room was clean, the staff friendly and efficient, and the entire stay without fault. (continue reading…)

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Phil Hendrie – Speaking for the Voices in His Head

by on May.17, 2009, under Odds and Ends

The setting is a typically mundane AM talk radio station in the late evening hours approaching midnight. Mavis, an elderly African-American woman, calls into a national talk program outraged that her recently deceased nephew was given a Roman Catholic funeral, a ceremony in which Holy Communion is celebrated. To a listening audience of millions, Mavis charges that the flesh and blood offered during the eucharistic celebration were taken from her nephew’s corpse. A Catholic priest calls in, attempting to explain the truth. (continue reading…)

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A Reused Plymouth and the Undying Cheapness of Universal Studios

by on Jun.16, 2008, under Odds and Ends

If I had to guess, probably 75% of the sit-down, watch-a-whole-episode sort of television that I watch originates from Universal Studios. And why not? For much of the past half-century, Universal has been one of the most prolific producers of TV programming with scores of excellent dramas in the collected repertoire, including the terrific NBC Mystery Movie franchises. Of course it was under contract with Universal that Steven Spielberg directed one of the finest suspense films of all time, Duel.

A sometimes endearing, sometimes depressing trait of Universal is an incessant cheapness—a desire to wring every last nickel out of everything they own. The studio shoddily stitched episodes of the 1976 TV turkey Gemini Man together to make and almost incoherent (but cost efficient) feature film, Riding with Death. The clumsiness of the “movie” was gleefuly exploited to great comedic effect on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In the case of Duel, this stinginess resulted in footage being reused for an episode of The Incredible Hulk: “Never Give a Trucker an Even Break.” The spectacle was embarrassingly bad and apparently threw Spielberg into a fit of outrage.

Universal would reuse anything and everything, and here we see the 1949 Plymouth driven by elderly Alexander Lockwood and Amy Douglass (who were recycled in countless Universal productions themselves ) later appearing on an episode of Adam-12. Interestingly enough everything about the car (including the license plate) appears to be the same, but for some reason the “Plymouth” name has been blanked off the hood.

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It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World Soundtrack — Ernest Gold

by on Feb.08, 2008, under Reviews

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World - Ernest Gold

Ernest Gold was so adept at his craft, it is hard to believe that much of his career was spent scoring unremarkable television programs and B-movies. His long-running relationship with director Stanley Kramer led to many collaborations, including It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963. Billed as “the comedy to end all comedies,” this star-studded, Ultra Panavision 70 spectacle needed a rollicking soundtrack to match. And that, Ernest Gold delivered. Gold’s “merry-go-round” approach captures the essence of Mad World’s fruitless race perfectly; carefully orchestrated themes reflect and magnify the on-screen action.

That stated, this compilation has its shortcomings. (continue reading…)

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Duel – Steven Spielberg, Dennis Weaver

by on Apr.01, 2005, under The Greatest

Dennis Weaver in Duel

Dennis Weaver outruns a blood-thirsty Peterbilt in Duel

The greasy rig and its concealed driver represent the evil Halliburton and the corrupt Dick Cheney, respectively, and David Mann is the downtrodden proletariat…

OK, I have not actually read that in some self-important dunderhead’s analysis of Steven Spielberg’s 1971 film, but I wouldn’t be surprised if such drivel disgraced the screen of my Mac someday while I’m doing some “research” on the Internet. Duel is routinely and rightfully praised as a triumph of minimalist moviemaking, but it is also subject to endless interpretation. Every idiot seems to know the true meaning that lurks beneath the movie’s 90 minutes of Peterbilt/Plymouth rivalry. But who gives a you-know-what?

(continue reading…)

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Basket Case – The Moog Cookbook

by on Mar.01, 2005, under The Greatest

The Moog Cookbook

The Moog Cookbook

If anyone ever holds a contest for “Most Mispronounced Name,” Bob Moog would have to fight it out with Wilkes-Barre for the grand prize. Moog, whose name rhymes with rogue, invented the analog synthesizer around 1964, and his instrument brought a very new and very unique sound to the music world. While its sound was considered unearthly and futuristic at first, the Moog synthesizer matured into a regular fixture of popular music by the 1970s.

Two decades later, Roger Manning, then part of a retro rock band called Jellyfish, was not finding any market for his style of music. The early ’90s music-buying crumb crunchers were busy spending their entertainment dollars on “alternative” rock from groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Jellyfish folded in 1994, but Manning partnered with Brian Kehew to form a new group, the Moog Cookbook two years later.

(continue reading…)

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Hapless cat no longer subject to abuse

by on Jan.01, 2005, under Odds and Ends

Many of you may have come here in search of certain pictures. (continue reading…)

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Alice Childress – Ben Folds Five

by on Nov.01, 2004, under The Greatest

Ben Folds Five

In the mid 1990s, a trio from Chapel Hill, North Carolina emerged from the local NC indie-rock scene to national prominence. Interestingly enough, Ben Folds Five was set apart from other groups by what it lacked: a guitar player. Instead, the band’s high-powered tunes were fueled by the masterwork of namesake pianist Ben Folds, a master at the ivories who could probably one-up the likes of Elton John and Billy Joel in the realm of pop piano.

The group’s self-titled 1995 debut album features a dozen tightly crafted songs, most with a comically impish streak. The antics are partially (and I should stress not fully) balanced by a couple of more sedate and serious numbers, including the contemplative “Alice Childress.”

(continue reading…)

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The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike — Brief History

by on Nov.01, 2004, under Abandoned Turnpike

Original Two-Lane Turnpike Tunnel

Original 1940s-era two-lane Turnpike tunnel. (Source: PA Turnpike Commission)

Anyone reading this probably knows the all about the history of the abandoned Turnpike, so I don’t really know why I’m even writing this, but anyway….

When the Pennsylvania Turnpike first opened from Carlisle to Irwin in 1940, the new toll road was truly “America’s Tunnel Highway.” A trip from one end to the other would take a motorist through seven different tunnels: (from east to west) Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, Sideling Hill, Ray’s Hill, Allegheny, and Laurel Hill.

While the length of the Turnpike was built to unheard of (at the time) construction standards—two travel lanes in each direction, a grass median dividing traffic, complete control of access—the tunnels could accommodate only one lane of traffic in each direction. For early Turnpike travelers, these seven tunnels were the motoring equivalent of commas, brief slowdowns to 35 punctuating countless miles of unfettered cruising. Turnpike planners were not concerned with potential bottlenecks; these merge points could easily handle the ’40s modest traffic volumes.

(continue reading…)

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The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike — See the Pictures

by on Nov.01, 2004, under Abandoned Turnpike, Highways

Between Breezewood and Ray's Hill.

Eastbound between Breezewood and Ray's Hill.

Of course, there really is no substitute for making an actual pilgrimage to Breezewood, but if you aren’t really inclined to make the trip or are trying to give yourself more excuses to go, take a photo tour of the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike.

(continue reading…)

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