Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sci-Fi Series Gone Too Soon

Why doesn't more good sci-fi survive on TV?
TV networks suck at managing science fiction shows. There is a reason. They keep hiring "professional" television writers to write SF shows for one thing. They need to hire good sci-fi writers, otherwise the product winds up looking like "CSI Goes to Space" or "The Goldmans on the Moon".  That said, there were some really good attempts at solid, magic free science fiction in the past 10 or 20 years. Some succeeded, but a surprising number of really good efforts failed miserably or succeeded right up until they were canceled by a surprisingly thick-headed gang of network execs.

1. Firefly - 'nuff said.
2. Journeyman - I liked the direction that "Journeyman" was going with a poor guy inadvertently traveling in time and trying to figure out what in the world was going on.
3. Crusoe with Sean Bean in the title role wasn't science fiction, but captured some of the "stranger in a strange land" flavor of really good SF.
4. Terra Nova - I was just getting into the dinosaurs and time travel series and boom!  Canceled.
5. Flash Forward - by this time I should have smelled a rat, but nope. Turned on the TV one night and it was gone right in the middle of the story.
6. Invasion - Really should have seen the end coming with that one.
7. Defying Gravity was pretty interesting. So, of course - poof and gone!
8. New Amsterdam - about an immortal New Yorker was fascinating and the kinda sorta got to end it, but it ended way too soon.
9. Forever, which explored a similar theme of an immortal in New York was even more interesting and I've loved Ioan Gruffud ever since Hornblower. Either Forever or New Amsterdam was better than "Highlander" which got two movies and a series more than it deserved.
10. Jericho, the post-apocalyptic series set in a small Midwest town, died far too soon too despite a fan revolt. Part of the campaign was to deliver massive quantities of nuts to the CBS studios - an homage to the line Gerald McRaney delivered, borrowing from General Macauliffe at Bastogne. The fans made a mistake having nuts delivered to CBS in protest. They should have brought slingshots and pelted the execs when they tried to get to their cars in the evening.

Network television doesn't do great stories anymore - at least not with any consistency, though sometimes they do accidentally. Grimm was a good show in a bad time spot and now it's gone too soon. This year saw the end of more than one series I liked in favor of some "Twerking with the Stars" or "Let's Make You a Star", or "Lie, Cheat and Betray Your Way to Big Money" kind of unreality show. Cheap to produce and appeal heavily to the sub 100 IQ crowd. 

The problem with intelligent sci-fi is that it only appeals to about 20% or less of the TV watching demographic - those who possess an IQ somewhat better than even money. They are expensive to produce and until the arrival of the cheap-but-great special effects George Lucas and Steven Spielberg promised us would come our way soon, they'll likely not rise much above the Star Trek level if that far. They even canceled the very interesting "Enterprise" after a relatively short run. There were complaints that it was too cerebral for Trekkies.

I don't expect any long run sci-fi to make it on TV, even on the Sci-fi channel, which used to do some really great shows. I was a Stargate-SG1 junkie for better than a decade, what with reruns and all. The later iterations took themselves far too seriously though, lost the irreverent tone that the Deluise brothers and Richard Dean Anderson brought to the original and each post SG-1 outing had a progressively shorter run. 

If I were Bill Gates kind of rich, I'd create a network and buy up all those canceled shows and run new seasons of them along with the old
. Firefly would be my first purchase, of course. There would be no wrestling or reality shows.  Just great stories. The one new series I'd do right away would be the Poul Anderson stories of space robber baron Nicholas Van Rinj - trader to the stars. What a terrific character and what a dense pile of rich stories to work from.

In the meantime, I haven't read nearly enough books yet, which is where TV should be mining for stories. Every time a "professional" television writer tries to write science fiction, somewhere a puppy dies.

© 2017 by Tom King

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Baker's Dozen Famous Actresses You Didn't Know Were Republicans

1.  Shirley Temple -  Shirley Temple Black was more than just a pretty cute kid. She grew up to be a smart cookie. She was a lifelong Republican and was appointed to the ambassadorship of the United Nations and later served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia. While there she witnessed the Soviet invasion from the top of a roof where she took refuge. She saw soldiers shooting women and looting Prague from her perch on the roof. Later when Czechoslovakia overthrew it's communist government, it was Shirley that opened relations between the U.S. and the new government.

2.  Doris Day - When I was a young man, I always had a little crush on Doris Day. She seemed like such a nice person and was the sort of gal I was attracted to. Turns out she's an active Republican, participating in several presidential elections over the years. A Roman Catholic and staunch conservative, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2004. She's really big on animal charities as well and is founder of the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

3. Joan Rivers -  Joan was a longtime Republican. She was friends of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Steve Forbes, and even admired Margaret Thatcher. She was a rare bird -- a New York Jewish female comedienne. As the Washington Times noted, all of the Republican New York, Jewish, female comediennes in the world would "...fit into one phone booth, and still had ample room to make some calls."

4. Phyllis Diller -  Phyllis was a standup comedienne when there weren't very many of them. Her comedy was self-effacing. She cracked jokes about her age and appearance, bad cooking and her husband “Fang.”  She supported her five kids spending most of her working life on the road with people like Bob Hope and Johnny Carson. She did two TV series and was regular on “Laugh In” and Hollywood Squares. She was friends with Joan Rivers and both voted Republican in a career that did not reward conservatives.

5. Claudette Colbert - The Oscar winning actress was born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin in France. Her family moved to the US in 1906. She worked her way through acting school in a dress shop and upon her Broadway debut, she changed her name to Claudette Colbert.  She also was friends with Ronald and Nancy Reagan and was a staunch Republican and what her IMDB bio called "a natural conservative."

6. Maureen O'Hara - My other youthful crush was Dublin born fiery redhead, Maureen O'Hara, She was a staunch conservative Republican like her flag-waving favorite co-star, John Wayne. Over time Maureen publicly supported the Presidencies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush. She never was intimidated by the liberal Hollywood establishment and was completely comfortable with her conservatism.

7. Virginia Mayo - Vivacious blonde bombshell, Virginia Mayo graduated from chorus girl in MGM's Goldwyn Girls to leading lady best known for a series of films with comedian Danny Kaye. Over the years she played opposite Hollywood leading men including Kaye, Bob Hope, Burt Lancaster, James Cagney, Ronald Reagan, George Raft, Rex Harrison, Paul Newman and even the Marx Brothers. A lifelong Republican, Virginia endorsed Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, and supported her longtime friend Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential race. An Arab Sultan once remarked that Virginia's beauty was "proof of the existence of God."

8. Barbara Stanwyck - As you can tell from the picture, Barbara Stanwyck was a second amendment kind of gal. She married fellow arch-conservative Robert Taylor and helped form the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals in 1944. Their mission statement said, in part, "...in our special field of motion pictures, we resent the growing impression that this industry is made of, and dominated by, Communists, radicals, and crackpots.” Stanwyck was a fan of Ayn Rand and pushed Warner Bros. to buy the rights to The Fountainhead.

9. Jane Russell - No shrinking violet, Jane Russell hung with notorious Republicans like Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Lou Costello, June Allyson, Dick Powell and Jimmy Stewart. She described herself in 2003 as, "...a teetotaling, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist.”  She also had no problem with gay members of her profession, maintaining close relationships with choreographers and gay actors alike. She got along famously with liberal colleagues in the film industry including Marilyn Monroe who was just an inch shy of being a communist. Tough gal, Russell, helped Marilyn get through on set hysterics and prevented the directors and other actors from bullying the troubled actress. Heavily involved in very conservative causes, something that appalled her liberal friends, Jane was a complete mystery to liberal Hollywood, most of whom counted pistol-packin' Jane as a good friend.

10. Irene Dunn -  One of the most active Hollywood stars in Republican causes during her career, Irene campaigned for Richard Nixon in 1960 and for Ronald Reagan both times he ran for Governor of California and then again for both of his presidential campaigns.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower named her an alternate delegate to the U.N. General Assembly in 1959. She actively campaigned for him in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections. Nominated for five Academy Awards, she starred opposite Hollywood dreamboats Clark Gable and Cary Grant, as well as Charles Boyer and Spencer Tracy. Irene was a hard-working gal, both in film and in politics. 

11. Vera Ellen - Lithe elfin dancer, Vera Ellen was a better dancer than the industry gave her credit for. She danced with all the best male dancers including Fred Astaire, Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly, and (my favorite), Danny Kaye. Her dance number with Kaye in White Christmas was breath-taking. She once was fired from a chorus line for showing too much individuality. She was a lifelong Republican and a solid supporter of Ronald Reagan especially. Her later life was tragic, but she left a legacy of film behind and a whole lot of spectacularly athletic dance numbers.

12. Margaret Hamilton - Well so long as Republicans are going to get a bad rap anyway, let's include our most infamous Republican actress, the Wicked Witch of the West her own self, Margaret Hamilton. Margaret Hamilton grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, attended Hathaway Brown School and practiced acting by doing children's theater. After several film roles in the 30s, Margaret was tapped for her breakout role in the Wizard of Oz as the witch that haunted children's dreams for more than half a century. Turns out she was a Sunday School teacher, a staunch Republican and conservative. It turns out Republicans do pitch a wide tent.

13. Glynis Johns - Let's make it a baker's dozen. I was watching Danny Kaye's The Court Jester and co-star was the lovely Glynis Johns. She shows up in a lot of my favorite movies and turns out she's a staunch Republican. She used to do a lot of light comedy, but the versatile Ms. Johns could also play serious roles as well. Another of my favorite performances was Glynis's delightful sufragette, Mrs. Banks, in Mary Poppins. Steven Sondheim's Send in the Clowns was written specifically for Glynis to perform. She had trouble with long held notes, so Sondheim kept the phrasing short for her. Her family came from Wales, but she is now a naturalized American citizen and staunch conservative Republicans.

There are a whole batch of lists on the Internet featuring current Republican actresses out there, but there aren't many from the golden era of film. I thought you might like to see that not all of the classic actresses from the heyday of film were shrieking Communists and liberals. That's why I used to watch the Oscars. There wasn't much danger of having to listen to some speech about how terrible America is for not helping the Palestinians drive the Jews into the sea. They just talked about what a privilege it was for them to do their job and to be in this great country.  Note the number of immigrants up in that list.

Love those Republican gals!
© 2017 by Tom King

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How Many of These Movie Quotes Can You Identify?

We really don't have any idea how many movies we've stuffed away in our already over-crowded brains. It would probably astound you the number of hours you've spent in front of a screen watching films.  Don't believe me?  How many of these movies can you identify just from a quick quote from the movie. Caution: this quiz will be graded. You'll need paper and pencil or a blank word processor document to record your answers. This is not multiple choice (I am an English teacher).
  1.  Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
  2.  Go ahead. Make my day. 
  3.  My Mama always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get.'
  4. Where we're going we don't need roads...
  5.  “But without my voice, how can I…”
    “You’ll have your looks, your pretty face… and don’t underestimate the importance of body language.”
  6.  “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine. If I am to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends, not food."
  7.  Hey, I know a joke! A squirrel walks up to a tree and says, “I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.” Ha! It is funny because the squirrel gets dead.
  8.  “Uh-uh! Don’t you think about running off doing no daring-do. We’ve been planning this dinner for two months!”
    “The public is in danger!”
    “My evening’s in danger!”
    “You tell me where my suit is, woman! We are talking about the greater good!”
    “‘Greater good’? I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”
  9.  "Aw, you're an action figure! You are a child's plaything!"
    "You are a sad little man and you have my pity."
  10. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
  11.  Attaboy, Clarence.!
  12.  It's not the years, honey. It's the mileage.
  13.  I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
  14. "We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!”
  15.  "I'll have what she's having."
  16.  "Are you crying? There's no crying! There's no crying in baseball!"
  17.   I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.
  18.   Here's looking at you, kid.
  19.  After all, tomorrow is another day!
  20.  Houston, we have a problem.
  21.   Hasta la vista, baby.
  22. "So, no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave." 
  23.  I feel the need - the need for speed!
  24.   Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
  25.  "Surely you can't be serious." - "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.
Groundhog Day - Bill Murray

Did you get them all? Check your answers below and give yourself four points for every one you got correct. 

1. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
2. Sudden Impact
3. Forrest Gump
4. Back to the Future
5. Little Mermaid
6. Finding Nemo

7. Up!
8. The Incredibles
9. Toy Story
10. The Wizard of Oz
11. It's a Wonderful Life

12. Raiders of the Lost Ark
13. Star Wars

14. Treasure of the Sierra Madres
15. When Harry Met Sally
16.  A League of Their Own
17. The Godfather
18. Casablanca
19. Gone With the Wind
20. Apollo XIII

21. Terminator 2
22. Serenity
23. Top Gun
24. Dead Poet's Society
25. Airplane

Score:  Multiply the number you got right by 4

0-59:    F (You are a person who has an actual life)
60-60:  D (You read books)

70-79:  C (You watch a lot of sports)
80-89:  B (You probably have kids and have some of the Disney flicks memorized)
90-100: A (You really need to get out in the fresh air and get some sun)

* I'm not saying how many of those I would have gotten. I'm supposed to have a degree in English and we English majors find movies beneath us. We're supposed to sit by fires, smoke pipes and read 3000 year-old heroic poetry for fun.

© 2017 by Tom King

Thursday, January 5, 2017

John Williams Says His Tunes Aren't Memorable

There have been a spate of articles recently complaining that movie scores are not very memorable anymore. Even the mighty John Williams has called his own Star Wars Score "not very memorable". One wonders if these guys just have seen too many movies or at least aren't looking at the ones that John Williams wrote the score for.  Here's a sampling of John's movie tunes. Most of these you'd likely recognize right off the bat. Others you'll swear you've heard it somewhere before and will only need slight prompting to remember.

Here are some links to samples from John Williams' movies. See if these tunes are memorable.

The Rare Breed - James Stewart, Maureen O'Hara

Jaws - Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss

Star Wars - Mark Hamel, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness

Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Richard Dreyfuss, Terri Garr

Superman - Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder

Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen

E.T. The Extraterrestrial: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore

Hook: Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman

Far and Away: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman

Home Alone: Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci

Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson

Saving Private Ryan: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon

As you can see, John's tunes are, in fact, kind of memorable. And I left off several dozen other familiar movie themes and his Olympic Games Themes.  When you hear the songs, you remember them. That's what I call memorable. So lighten up with the humility, John. You're good at what you do. I figure you're probably going to be right up there with Mozart and Bach given the depth of your work.

© 2017 by Tom King

Monday, September 5, 2016

Top Seven Sci-Fi TV Series for People Who Don't Take Sci-Fi So Seriously

A lot of Sci-Fi TV series take themselves very very seriously. It's great if you just need to be serious all the time. Me, I like my science fiction with a touch of humor. So here's my list of the greatest TV science fiction series that didn't take themselves too seriously. If you have some others you'd like to add, let me know. So here's the list in no particular order:

  1. Firefly - Okay, there is at least one series I put in order. Joss Whedon's epic sci-fi series was canceled far too soon. It was quirky, funny and the characters were wonderful. It puzzled some people who were expecting Star Trek's tidy socialist federation and fuzzy collectivist economy. Instead, Firefly creates an interplanetary Wild West frontier in conflict with a powerful collectivist government and follows a band of smugglers making a dubious living out among the frontier planets.
  2. Star Trek the Original Series - What I liked about the original Star Trek vs the later versions
    was Shatner's lighter touch as captain. He never took things as seriously as the other captains. And he was a little bit randy too, which made him more interesting.
  3.  Stargate SG1 - Colonel Jack O'Neill and his merry band didlots of serious stuff, but Jack had a cock-eyed view of everything and quick, dry sense of humor. The series was a favorite early effort by the SyFy channel back when it was still the Sci-Fi channel. Dom Deluise's boys were heavily involved and Dom himself made an appearance. One of my favorite episodes was the one where the alien was hired as a consultant for a TV show called "Wormhole Extreme" which was a parody of SG1. Really funny. It gave the show a human quality and gave us more than a few laughs.
  4. Eureka - Another Sci-Fi channel original about a town full of geniuses doing work for the Department of Defense and the sheriff who tries to hold things together as the town's denizen's variously try to blow themselves up one day after another. The show is funny, poignant and smart and I was sorry to see it come to an end.
  5. Warehouse 13 - An interesting Sci-Fi channel series about a secret warehouse where all the magical and cursed items of the world were kept. Again, the team that took care of the artifacts were funny and serious and grumpy and chirpy and got into the most bizarre situations you could imagine. The show was fun and fantasy and yet overlapped on occasion with the hard science fiction world of Eureka. I loved the strange world they inhabited. 
  6. Chuck - While not exactly science fiction, this spy out ofwater series had a lot of science fictional elements to it and also had that sense of light humor and likeable characters that earned it the same kind of fiercely devoted fans the rest of the series in this list earned. 
  7. Red Dwarf - A blatantly sarcastic sci-fi series as only theBrits can manages. They seem to have the market cornered on making open fun of science fiction. I didn't include any of the other sci-fi comedy TV series the British do as this list is only about light-heartedly serious science fiction. My daughter and I used to watch Red Dwarf on Saturday nights. It's kind of a sentimental favorite of mine.
What are your favorites? I know I left out a lot of people's favorite SF, but this was a very personal list and so I limited it to the ones that made me smile. Did I forget anything because I like to have lists of ten or twelve, so I have room to add more.  Just make your case in the comment section below.

© 2016 by Tom King

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Incoming and Outgoing - Top 25 Things Gone Bye Bye and What Is Replacing Them

In my lifetime a lot of things have disappeared from usage in America. Makes me feel old quite frankly, so I'll make this quick.


1.  78 and 45 rpm records...................Digital CDs/Mp3s                       
2.  Slide Rules.....................................Calculators  
3.  Massive Mainframe Computers.....Personal computers
4.  The Rolodex...................................The Internet
5.  Car phones......................................Cell phones
6.  Walkie-talkies.................................CB radios
7.  Refundable glass pop bottles..........Plastic and aluminum soda cans
8.  Microfilm........................................E-books & data bases
9.  Ticker Tape Machines.....................Fax machines
10. Full service gas stations.................Self-serve gas stations
11. Bruce Willis’ hair...........................Bruce Willis' bald head
12. Burma Shave Road Signs...............Pop up interactive ads
13. Olympic softball.............................Olympic synchronized swimming
14. Kodachrome slide film...................Digital cameras
15. Flash bulbs/flash cubes...................Electronic flash
16. Typewriters.....................................Word processor software
17. Freight Train Cabooses...................End-of-train-device
18. The Single Screen Movie Theater...The Multiplex
19. Folding paper maps.........................GPS/computer map software
20. Cathode Ray Picture tube TVs.........LED flat screen TVs
21. Analog NTSC television stations.....HD Digital television stations
22. Pagers...............................................Smartphones
23. Dot-matrix printers...........................Inkjet, laser and 3d Printers
24. Film movie cameras..........................Digital video cameras
25. Wire recorders/8-track tapes.............Digital audio recorders

If you read a lot of science fiction, you'll recognize a few things on the obsolete list that sci-fi authors of just a few decades ago missed the call on. The futurists could be forgiven for missing the rapid obsolescence of wire recorders, computer memory stored on tape and film cameras. Occasionally, they catch it. Star Trek got the look and feel of the cell phone right and even the bluetooth. Portable data storage, although they went for cubes instead of cards, was one of the things they got right. One wonders what will come and go in the next 50 years. You will probably be surprised.

© 2016 by Tom King

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ten Reasons I Keep Attacking Trump

My friends are wondering why I am posting so much anti-Trump stuff on my blogs and social media? They say I need to shut up and get behind Trump.  Let me answer their question once again  It doesn't mean I'll stop hammering Trump...............EVER!  To wit, my ten reasons I keep attacking Trump.

1. I loathe bullyiing - whether by the actual bully or by his followers who say I should fall in line with the bully's will or else.

2. I feel compelled to stand in the breach and shout "The British are coming" only this time it's not the British, it's the socialist progressives and their three candidates (Hillary, Bernie and the Donald).

3. I instinctively distrust anyone who calls himself "The Donald" or suggests we call him "Wonderful Donald".

4. I instinctively distrust anyone who changes his positions daily.

5. I instinctively distrust strip club and casino owners.

6. I instinctively distrust people who use lawsuits and bankruptcy to wipe out their partners' businesses and their customers savings and who think "You're fired!" is a great personal motto.

7. I instinctively distrust anyone who uses the same campaign slogans as Adolph Hitler only changing "Germany first" to "America first" and "Make Germany Great Again" to "Make America Great Again." Won wonder if he's using the same playbook as the late Fuehrer.

8. Based on just the latest policies he's put forward, I can see no basic differences between him and your garden-variety Democrat.

9. He owns strip clubs, casinos, shady businesses and has even shadier relationships with bad people. He's been indicted for racketeering, he's a serial adulterer, brags about screwing his friends' wives and he's bilked tens of thousands of "investors" on Mexican land deals and bad real estate. On the character issue, he fails the sniff test.

10. He's a lifelong socialist/progressive with occasional lapses. His brand of socialism is based on jingo nationalism. The last time we had a national socialist leading a country it worked out very badly.

Just sayin'

Tom King