CHICAGO - We are on the cusp of a golden age of nostalgia TV. The previous era of greatness was in the late ’70s when indie UHF stations competed against their network VHF rivals. The plucky UHFers attracted a devoted audience with prime rerun series, non-Hollywood blockbuster movies and local sports programming. They made after school hours special by running Batman and Ultraman instead of soap operas and talkshows. For those old enough, there is a nostalgia to these stations. Boston’s WLVI-56 and WSBK-38 were my childhood favorites. What ended this era could be summed up in three hideous events: ownership by VHF stations, infomercials and mini-networks. My last visit to Boston was rather sad when I turned to those two stations only to witness how they’d been castrated by lazy programming directors.
So where’s the silver lining at the funeral of the airwaves? When TV went from analog to digital, station had the ability to put out multiple signals along with their high definition signal. This meant that one station could offer its own mini-cable network. The stations set up signals that would broadcast the weather 24 hours including live Doppler radar in the early days. They created news network channel by rerunning their 6 o’clock news around the clock. CBS stations used it to run all the basketball game feeds during the opening of March Madness. You might not know about this if you have Direct TV or Dish since they don’t’ like carrying substations as part of your local content. But stations needed more entertaining programming to lure the people to the substation universe. They smart ones went back to the golden visions of UHF. Retro Television Network became the pioneer when spread across the country. Now there’s three other channels seriously aiming for the nostalgia crowd by piggybacking on network signals.
Retro Television Network immediately filled the gap left by poor programming at TVLand. When RTV made its initial impact mixed Paramount and Universal’s vaults with plenty of shows that weren’t getting love on DVD such as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and That’s Incredible. They even brought back the glory of Love American Style. Small children were exposed to Cannon. Because of various issues, the channel lost Paramount’s vault. They do provide early Bill Cosby action with I Spy and The Bill Cosby Show from when he was a gym teacher. They even have Movin’ On with Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo). The channel still has two hosted movie shows. Wolfman Mac’s Chiller and Off Beat Cinema. Their film selection is the public domain usual suspects that once clogged the $1 DVD bins at Dollar Tree.
THIS-TV was the next substation to arrive on my dial. The channel’s big get is access to MGM’s film vault. This should be an amazing resource since it includes the American International Pictures releases. This was America’s prime indie studio from the 50s to the start of the ’80s. They put out the Beach Party flicks, the Vincent Price - Roger Corman - Edgar Allen Poe shockers, the best of Blaction and biker flicks. Pretty much all the stuff you’ve seen on the video shelf noted as Midnite Movie Double Features. These were the films that dominated UHF stations in the ’70s. While THIS shows the films, they haven’t made a concerted effort to package the titles properly. What’s wrong with scheduling certain genres for certain nights? Why not a week of Pam Grier movies at midnight? THIS isn’t all movies since MGM’s vault also contains Sea Hunt, Green Acres and Mister Ed. It’s just a shame they lack the ability to create the genre slots. I’m also annoyed that they didn’t work out a deal with Elvira to host the cult AIP gems instead of only hosting public domain titles. THIS at this moment is a lost opportunity.
Antenna-TV has a mix of old TV shows and movies thanks to their deal with Sony. They’re the place for Dennis the Menace, Father Knows Best, Sanford and Son and Hazel. Sally Fields gets a double shot with Gidget and The Flying Nun. The big issue I have with them is their doubling up of the sitcoms. Why must they run two Leave It to Beavers at 11 p.m. They used to run Soap. Why not use that time slot for a Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Fernwood Tonight? I’m upset that they yanked off Three’s Company since they also worked into the mix The Ropers and Three’s A Crowd. The Ropers had the greatest theme song in the history of annoying theme songs. But on the weekends they run S.W.A.T. and The Monkees. They need to dip into the Sony vault to get Square Pegs for the weekends. They did smartly run Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies as double features.
COZI-TV was just launched by Comcast-Universal-NBC-Cabletown. They are like Antenna except they also feature a few “lifestyle show” to appeal to folks who keep the house. I don’t get the channel since it’s currently on a handful of stations at this point. Their schedule doesn’t look as cool as it should be. Sure they have Charlie’s Angels, The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man, but they mini-marathon them each night. You can get the DVDs for those shows rather cheap at this point if you just want a night of Farrah, Lindsay and Lee minus commercials for scootarounds and oxygen. They really need to dip into the failed shows in the Universal vault. Where is Manimal? Instead of Brilliant Yet Canceled that ran on Trio, Cozi could host a “What Were They Thinking” series. Super Train? Cop Rock? Emeril? My major reservation is that NBC-Universal has done such a pathetic job over the years with SyFy, Cloo and Chiller. The channels start out looking nice with proper programming. After a while, they schedule devolves into all day marathons of a single show or lame monster flicks.
ME-TV is currently the gold standard of sub-stations. This is what you thought Nick at Nite and TVLand were going to be. Their programming is goes from the classic warhorses of I Love Lucy and Dick Van Dyke Show to the nearly forgotten of Mr. Lucky. Their mornings have Dobie Gillis, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Donna Reed. The evenings bring The Odd Couple, Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart. Overnight you can get more Combat and Twelve O’Clock High. Saturdays are classic cult with Batman, Lost In Space, Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Svengoolie. Unlike other horror hosts in the substation universe, Svengoolie has the classic Universal Monsters in his rotation. He recently had a heart issue so that means I’ll be waiting longer for the premiere of Killdozer on the show. The only drawback to the channel is sometimes they run digitally sped up tapes. This gets annoying when everyone talks like chipmunks and moves like Keystone Kops. But it did make me run out and buy the DVD set of Honey West to watch Anne Francis at the proper tone.
If you can only bend your HD antenna to receive one of the substations, ME-TV is the way to point. Currently there’s no real way to measure the audience so this is the time when programmers can have fun with the slots. Attract the cultists to the channel. Dig into the vaults to find shows that need a fresh loyal following and not rely completely on the warhorses. One element I haven’t seen is a substation programming heavily with British TV shows. The older titles that BBCAmerica would rather ignore in their race to become SyFy Jr. Enough Dr. Who. Bring on Doctor In the House. Why not feature the British shows that were turned into American hit shows?
Thanks to the digital substations, I can almost contemplate cutting the cable.
A MUSIC MOMENT
I’m getting sick of “modern” movies that have to use hits from the ’80s for their trailer soundtrack. There’s enough vibrate new tunes being made by bands. Did all the cool movies of the ’70s have to resort to Benny Goodman to tease in a crowd? Of course not. Scanners can easily be a great band for the makers of Francis Ha to use instead of Bowie’s “Modern Love” from 1983. The band’s music has been used on American TV shows so they’re not that alien to music supervisors. The Camden band’s Mexico EP is now out. Their upcoming album Love Is Symmetry is due out later this year. Here’s “Control.”
Drive-In Collection: Expectations & Confessions is a double feature that might have played a cinderblock X-rated theater on the fringe of your city back in 1977. The two adult features were directed by Anthony Spinelli, the man behind Suckula and Talk Dirty to Me. Both movies deal with women having Belle Du Jour interludes. They risk their dull straight lives for carnal pleasures. Expectations has Delania Raffino play a bored housewife looking for a little excitement. She swaps identities with Chris Cassidy. Being a swinging girl suits her as Joey Silvera arrives in time to let her know Chris wasn’t a prude. She’s down to play in her new identity. She eventually hooks up with Desiree West. Chris gets a bit more fun when she hooks up with someone extremely close to Delania. The movie makes you wonder if Delania has a split personality in this flesh fantasy. Confessions lets Kristine Heller play the bored married wife. She releases her libido when she hooks up with a biker. This leads to adventures as a hooker and Domme. This is the kind of movie that couldn’t be made now simply from the scene of her between posters of Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando. Cindy Johnson (real name Kristine Heller) has acting chops when she’s not handling the physical duties of the role. The trailer for the collection might be a little bit too naughty to watch at the office. You might want to wait until you’re at Great Aunt Anna’s house to press play. This is a well-balanced double feature since the movies share a common theme without looking like complete clones.
Sadly the Drive-In Collection: Savage Water & Death By Invitation has been delayed. I really enjoyed this double feature especially Savage Water’s fatal river rafting trip out West. This might be for the best since Savage Water’s director Paul Kener has the camera negative.
Next on their schedule is a Blu-ray of The Massage Parlor Murders. This one takes us back to when Times Square was a seedy wonderland without Donkey Sauce. There’s double dose of extreme vintage fun with Anatomy of a Psycho & The Lonely Sex from 1961 & 1959. The Suckers & The Love Garden bring us back to the early ’70s with backwoods naughtiness. All three sets are due out on April 9. This spring, let the sleaze blossom.
Veep: The Complete First Season is Julia Louise-Dreyfus’ best attempt to break the Seinfeld curse by going over to HBO. Her New Adventures of Old Christine finished a dozen episodes short of the sweet 100. She knows that Larry David is the only member of the gang to have scored a major hit outside of Monk’s Diner with Curb Your Enthusiasm. Thus she’s found the right vehicle for herself on HBO’s Veep. She’s a former senator who had a good run for president, but came up short. Her primary opponent reluctantly picked her to be vice president on the ticket and it’s turning into a fate worse than filibuster. Basically she’s able to tap into her Elaine persona as the woman who thinks she’s in control when everything is really a disaster. She is in a constant state of compromise and fine print in her quest to do something with her day outside of waiting for world leader funerals. She has a crack staff that spends most of their time putting out fires started by the Veep on TV. She’s got just a touch of Joe Biden on her tongue. The biggest casting thrill is Anna Chlumsky returning as the Chief of Staff. The star of My Girl gets to grow up. Matt Walsh is great as her communications director who created a fake dog so he can have an excuse to not work around the clock. There are only 8 episodes for the first season, but the political comedy is so rich, it feels like 24 episodes. The big running joke is her wanting to set up a Clean Jobs Commission, but big oil wants a fat seat at the table. Her bad ratings make her a hard sell to fellow party members that are frightened to appear in public with her. She’s ultimately Vice President of the Rodney Dangerfield Fan Club. The boxset includes the episodes on Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies. You can watch episodes while stuck in Beltway traffic. The bonus features include several making of docs and plenty of deleted scenes. They illustrate the timing of a poorly placed blunder in the cable news era. Twelve audio commentaries are provided to explore every aspect of the show. This is the best thing Julia Louis -Dreyfus has done since she went to prison on Seinfeld. The second season starts April 14 on HBO.
Futureworld takes me back to a time when the CBS Late Movie used to have the sequel to Westworld in heavy rotation. The movie has Delos, the futuristic pleasure resort rebooted. The owners swear they fixed all the bugs that turned the robots into killing machines. They even shut down the Westworld facility so that pesky robo-cowboy (Yul Brynner) won’t terrorize people. They have brought back the robotic hookers. In order to hype the safer place, Delos is entertaining a TV network news official (Blythe Danner) to give them a puff piece. What they don’t count is Peter Fonda tagging along. He’s one of those pesky newspaper reporters that must get the truth out to the masses. But the operators of Delos has a great way to avoid any negative publicity. They’re making robots of their guests to spread the good news. Can Peter Fonda escape? And why is his only hope Stuart Margolin (Angel on The Rockford Files)? This is still exciting science fiction from that time just before Star Wars. The 1080p image really brings out the creepy nature of Yul when he’s in full robo-cowboy mode. There’s also the original trailer, radio spots and still photos.
West Point: The Television Series is the TV show that made it possible for me to exist. My dad watched the series in 1957. The tales of cadets at the Military Academy made him focus on getting into the college. If he hadn’t gone to West Point, he wouldn’t have met my mother and been able to woo her with his discipline, manners and attitude. He would have just been a troublemaker roaming around Dedham until he became a part of The Friends of Eddie Coyle.. I owe my very existence to a TV show. West Point remains an entertaining anthology series after all these years. This isn’t about the same batch of cadets going from Plebe to Officers. There are a few actors that come back for a few episodes, but this is not Glee at West Point. The casting directors did an amazing job of finding a future generation of stars to play a future generation of officers. Right off the bat “The Mystery of Cadet Layton” has Martin Milner (Adam-12) getting on a plebe’s case. “The Operator and the Martinet” gets Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) up against Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). “His Brother’s Fist” punches Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek). Even though West Point was a men only college at this time, there are actresses on the show. Before she was stuffed in a bottle, Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie) pops up in “Decision.” “Heat of Anger” burns with Henry Silva (Ocean’s 11). “White Fury” blazes a really young Clint Eastwood (Fist Full of Dollars). “Ambush” tops it with Steve McQueen (Bullit). Dad let me know that neither Clint or Steve was around when he arrived at the Academy. “Manhunt” loses a cadet in the woods after he gets snake bit. His only hope is James Best (Dukes of Hazzard) tracking him down. The show has plenty of scenes shot at West Point so graduates of the Academy will get glimpses of their old haunts. This is a show that deserves to be rediscovered and not just because of the impact it had on my father’s life.
MadTV: The Complete Second Season was a bit of a departure for its 14 season run since it was the only one that featured guest hosts for all the episodes. This additional star power helped publicize the show as it chipped away viewers from Saturday Night Live. While the show would continue to have guest appearances, this was the only one where the guest hosts were worked into a majority of the sketches. They have a strange mix of hosts ranging from Ice-T, Joe Rogen, French Stewart, Neve Campbell to Pauly Shore and David Faustino. They also pay tribute to the greatness by nabbing Rodney Dangerfield. The show seems to get further away from Mad Magazine this season even though they still have a few Spy vs. Spy short cartoons. Cast member Nicole Sullivan (King of Queens) was coming into her own with her various characters including the Vancome Lady. This was the last season for Orlando Jones when he seemed ready to be the Chevy Chase of MadTV. What the hell happened to Orlando Jones? The guy was great this season. Maybe he should get a gig on Community? The most fascinating moment off camera moment of the season is when Artie Lange vanished from the show after the Andrea Martin episode. You might want to sit down before reading this, but Artie was fired because he had a substance abuse problem. Who could have imagined that happening? Artie would make a comeback as Howard Stern’s new Jackie until…he vanished because of substance abuse problems. MadTV: The Complete Second Season has great gross moments like when they present a maxipad that can last all year. The sketches have fun with the personalities of the mid-90s and the fun wraps up with LL Cool J.
Father Dowling Mysteries: The Final Season sadly brings to an end Tom Bosley’s crime fighting days. The mystery solving priest wasn’t blessed. The show had to deal with a strike, a network change and finally a timeslot about The Simpsons & The Cosby Show. Why had God punished Father Dowling so harshly? Sadly enough the third season was the only full season for the show. I swore this show lasted as long as Matlock. Dowling (Happy Days’s Tom Bosley) is a priest who likes to meddle in area mysteries with Sister Sam (Tracy Nelson). The divine duo can run circles around the cops because they answer to a higher authority. There’s plenty of guests including David McCullum (NCIS) as part of a royal switch involving a Sister Sam look alike marked for death in “The Royal Mystery.” John Vernon (Animal House) gets in Nunicide during “The Undercover Nun Mystery.” “The Christmas Mystery” makes Santa look like a killer. This should be featured in the War on Christmas. A serial killer comes after Dowling in “The Priest Killer Mystery.” David Hemming (Barbarella) crops up in “The Mummy’s Curse Mystery.” Overall the 22 episodes are fine for the mature mysteries category. Now that all the episodes are on DVD, you can watch them with Matlock. It’s such a shame that Father Dowling was martyred by Bill Cosby and Bart Simpson.
Secret Millionaires Club: Volume 1 stars Warren Buffett hanging out with a bunch of kids hoping to strike it rich. The Hub series really does have Buffett reading his character’s lines. He dispenses common sense advice in the world of small fries wanting to be Big Moguls. He reminds the kids that you have to work to make things work. Warren also brings his cool friends along to give pep talks to the kids who don’t want to hear from an elderly billionaire. “Be Cool to Your School” brings Jay-Z to the fold. He reminds the kids to follow their dreams. “Elena’s Shaqtastic Adventure” surprisingly features Shaq. I had a dream that he wasn’t going to be a dud when he signed with the Celtics. How’d that work out? “Avast Ye Downloads” warns the kids about illegally downloading music. Nick Cannon teaches that lesson. Who knew these people hung with Warren? So far these are the only 6 episodes that have been released. It’s a fine educational economic cartoon. Although Warren Buffett looks like he’s that old man that used to wear a mask and scare people until those meddling kids and their dog put an end to his hijinks. There’s also 5 webisode cartoons with shorter lesson for the kids.
The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange: Escape From the Kitchen should not be watched if you have a slightest of headaches. They aren’t lying in the title. The Annoying Orange is really annoying. Imagine if Ernest and Fred were ground into pulp and injected inside citrus fruit. They’d be Annoying Orange. The Cartoon Network series is about the Orange, his fruit friends, a loud marshmallow and Nerville (Toby Turner) and their life at the fruit cart. They mostly battle evil vegetables. The DVD contains the first 10 episodes. “Dr. Strange Plum” pays tribute to Clue. They even have the smarts to hire Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show). “The Lords of Fruitbush” spoofs The Warriors which is always a good time. Parents who have sensitive ears might want to push play and immediately flee the TV room. He is truly the most annoying character in the history of the world. Naturally little kids will love him.
Quincy, M.E.: Season Five brings us more of America’s favorite medical examiner. Quincy: M.E. was a major hit by season five. Quincy (Jack Klugman) made viewers fascinated by his ability to break down a crime within the body of a victim. His only major help was Sam (Robert Ito). “No Way to Treat a Flower” kills victims with marijuana. But instead of a Reefer Madness situation, the killer dope comes from the fertilizer. “Dead Last” is a racing death that involves Memphis Mafia member Red West. “By the Death of a Child” makes Robert Loggia a Prime Minister. “Never a Child” exposes the lurid world of teen hookers. “Hot Ice” involves people smuggling diamonds inside pace makers. Edward Grover gets to play the customs agent wanting to shut down the ring. Grover returns in “Diplomatic Immunity. “Sweet Land of Liberty” turns Sam’s buddy into a cop killer. Why? Could have been exposed to LSD in a government test? “Murder by S.O.P.” puts Quincy in jail. But he’s put to work when a fire breaks out in the cells. A gymnast pumping performance enhancing drugs drops dead in “The Winning Edge.” “Deadly Arena” kills people with food at a sporting event. This was another great season for Quincy poking dead bodies to get the truth.
Duke is one of Steven Weber’s most challenging roles. Weber plays a marine sergeant who gets messed up on his final tour of Iraq. He can no longer deal with his wife and kids like he did before. He decides the best thing he can do for them is to hit the road with his dog Duke. But his time on the road doesn’t go well either. Within a few years, he’s still a drifter. He gives the aging dog to a vet clinic, but will things only get worse for him without his best friend. Can he reconnect with his family? This Hallmark movie isn’t a sappy greeting card. Weber uses every tool in his acting kit to make you forget he was that guy on Wings.
Shaman, Healer, Sage focuses on Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D. who left the world of modern medical science to explore the world of shamans in the Inka and Q’ero world. The documentary reflects his book of the same name. He speaks of energy medicine. The filmmakers follow him around parts of South America as he makes contact with those that heal to prevent illness. He speaks of being influenced by his nanny into the mystic arts. The film isn’t like the normal wall to wall talking heads documentary. There’s plenty of time to illustrate rituals and recreate moments from Villoldo’s life. Your eyes are allowed to breathe in the elements that attract Villoldo. The nearly hour long bonus feature Energetic Interventions is more of Villoldo’s work. He guides viewers through Chakras, the Illumination Process, Soul Retrieval and Symbolic Death Rite. Villoldo has that perfect calm voice for guiding and explaining these concepts to viewers.
Motorway mixes cops and fast cars in Hong Kong. A group of hot driving cops are assigned to a division bent on busting the drag racing underworld. Their focus is to locate a notorious driver who has never been caught. Can he resist the speed bumps? Director Soi Cheang has his stunt team race over what seems like every strip of pavement in Hong Kong in daring chase scenes. This is the kind of speed porn you’d get on Top Gear with the biggest stars being the cars. Actors Anthony Wong and Shawn Yue do their best, but the cars run the show. This is like a John Woo flick that’s more into RPMs than bullets. Motorway is much better than that last Fast and Furious flick.
The Real Vikings Collection brings together three of the Norseman documentaries that ran on The History Channel. “Foot Soldiers: The Vikings” lets host Richard Karn (Family Feud and Home Improvement expose the fact that Vikings never wore horns on their helmet. The pretty much just had metal helmets sans cow horns. Karn makes a good narrator for a non-dramatic documentary. “The Vikings: Lost Worlds” feels like the normal History Channel documentary setting an ominous tone with the rapid soundtrack. The highlight is digitally recreating how Vikings truly lived in their heyday. “Viking Terror” calls the Vikings “the Hell’s Angels of the Middle Ages.” Host Terry Schappert is a Green Beret bent on understanding the military power of the Vikings. He wants to experience the way the Vikings fought. He gets fully equipped for battle like a Norseman. This episode is from Schappert’s Warriors series from 2009. The three specials give plenty of background for fans of the History Channel’s new series Vikings.
MLB Superstars: Impact Players reminds us that opening day of baseball is just around the corner. Did the San Francisco Giants really win the World Series again? The special reminds us that there is a changing of the guard happening as Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz are no longer the youngsters. Here’s the 25 players under 30 that will be the superstars for the next decade. Who is on the list? Quite a few are easy picks like Prince Fielder, Stephen Strasburg, Matt Kemp and Bryce Harper. The editors make sure that these picks are given massive highlight packages to defend the choice. The bonus features include a special on Walk-Off wins and Phenom Firsts. The Giant’s Matt Cain’s perfect game gets reduced down to the highlights as he shut down the Houston Astros. Colorado Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki’s hits for the cycle against the Cubs gets remembered. Here’s some clips of Mike Trout’s amazing rookie season.
Curandero: Dawn of the Demon is lovingly brought to you by Robert Rodriguez (Grindhouse). Director Eduardo Rodriguez is not a relative. Although after watching the film, he seems more like Eli Roth’s cousin. A satanic drug cult gets busted in Mexico City, but they’re not backing down. They’re laying down the curses. The local police chief hires Carlos Gallardo to perform a purification ritual at the jail. But does he have enough mojo to clean up the curses? The Satanic cultists refuse to lose. It’s kinda of like The Excorcist meets Assault on Precinct 13. The demon effects and the cinematography make this look very convincing as a cops versus demons flick. The movie has a Spanish soundtrack, but the English dub sounds great so you don’t have to read subtitles unless you’re a stickler.
Cyberstalker reflects the real fear of a daughter being pursued by a creep online. Think of all the pictures, information and secrets that a kid can put out on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Instagram? Mischa Barton (The O.C.) is a girl who has a creep after her. But this isn’t just the normal cyberstalker who enjoys pursuing over a 56K modem. The opening is stunning as the stalker goes beyond the internet and the phone. He will not be denied Mischa. I would have guessed that Perez Hilton would be the true suspect seeing how his old website used to rag hard on Mischa after she left The O.C.. This is the perfect TV movie as they give us the new fear. This movie is so great. It’s like Tori Spelling TV movie great. Plus after watching Cyberstalker, I now abuse the phrase, “Flintstone Files.” You might not want to watch this film online since you might be watching with undetectable company.
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