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MISCmedia MAIL for 6/22/16: RIP CITY RIP-OFF?
Jun 21st, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

A Portland sportswriter sees the TrailBlazers hiring the ex-Sonics announcer, and imagines a secret plot to ship the NBA team to Seattle (apparently a secret to everyone in Seattle). In more fact-based reportage, we view more Cobain-sploitation coming across the USA; trouble for Virginia Mason Med. Center; K Records trying to right its fiscal ship; the rise of the “upper middle class” (aka the people all those “upscale” products are aimed at); and political organizing for renters.

MISCmedia MAIL for 5/20/16
May 19th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

For our big pre-weekend missive we’ve got: A city growing even faster than Seattle (no, not THAT one); why drones should be kept away from orcas; the first thing associated with the “50 Shades” franchise to actually occur IN Seattle; the Pride Fest boss quits; and the Mariners bringing up a childhood TV memory.

MISCmedia MAIL for 4/26/16
Apr 25th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

The Mariners won at home! And we also peer at more folk who want more light rail and they don’t mean decades from now; the eco-cost of the new Arboretum trail; a Seattle/Mexico joint theater project; local delivery trucks with out-of-state plates; and the business case for a $15/hr. wage.

MISCmedia MAIL for 4/18/16
Apr 17th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

Hot weather’s back, but we keep our cool whilst observing the KEXP Komplex’s public opening; KING’s continued shrinkage; the deaths of two pivotal local-arts pioneers; an outdoor film screening and/or public orgy scheduled for July; why the U District should stay cheap n’ kitschy.

MISCmedia MAIL for 3/18/16
Mar 17th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

We welcome spring, and the expanded local light rail, with chatter about a way to prove your Northwest-bred-ness on your vehicle; a whistleblower’s blast against Hanford’s waste-treatment project; a resource center for Af-Am entrepreneurs; a new way to keep sea lions from decimating fish stocks; and a plethora of weekend activity choices.

MISCmedia MAIL for 2/2/16
Feb 1st, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

Among other endlessly-repeated Groundhog Day topics: The need for artists to own up to their role in gentrification; UW students just scraping-by; a new challenge to the broadband duopoly; is Seattle really “all that” as a lit center?; the looming end of the oldest local TV studios.

THE IN AND THE OUTED FOR SWEET ’16
Jan 1st, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

new years 2016 z

Would you believe, this is the thirtieth MISCmedia In/Out List? Well, it is.

As we prepare to begin the pearl-anniversary year of this adventure in punditry, we present yet another edition of the most trusted (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known media.

As always, this list compiles what will become sizzling and soggy in the coming year, not necessarily what’s sizzling and soggy now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some Sears stock to sell you.

INSVILLE OUTSKI
ABC AMC
Saving KPLU Saving the Seattle Times
Turquoise Mauve
Spinach Kale
Hollow Earth Radio/KHUH KIRO-FM
“Black Lives Matter” Macho anarchists
Empathy Superiority
Gents Bros
Stopping Trumpism Treating Trump as a joke
Taking back Congress Merely keeping the White House
Ta-Nehisi Coates David Brooks
Storytelling “Branding”
Mismatched plaid separates Striped socks
High-speed rail Hoverboards
Fewer cars “Greener” cars
NHL NBA
Fiat (still) VW
We Bare Bears Teen Titans Go!
Juxtapoz Erotica Censored Playboy
Hillman City Ballard (alas)
Lalaloopsy Minions
Searching for solutions together “You figure that part out, I’m just sayin'”
Issa Rae Zooey Deschanel
Michael Fassbender Will Farrell
“Genderqueer” movement “Men’s rights activists”
Exciting machines Boring machines
Real virtue Virtual Reality
Granny shoes Skinny jeans
Justin Trudeau Justin Bieber (duh)
Sia Zac Brown
Light rail to Husky Stadium Parking downtown
Hydrox cookies comeback Crystal Pepsi comeback
Monkey Shoulder Wild Turkey
Milk stout Bud-owned microbrews
“Homey” “Artisinal”
Citizens “Stakeholders”
Uniqlo Gap
Bellingham Bellevue
Back-yard cottages “Tiny homes” in the far countryside
Millennials as defiant activists Millennials as selfish slackers
El Borracho Chipotle (duh)
Guy Maddin J.J. Abrams
Permanent progressive movements Only showing up in election years
Wisdom Data
“Snap!” “YOLO”
Moving the world forward “Taking America back”
MISCmedia MAIL for 11/23/15
Nov 22nd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

In Monday’s magnificent MISCmedia MAIL: Snowpocalypse Not Now; Cliff Mass bashes KUOW again; a local TV legend resurfaces; the local crab season’s delayed. 

MISCmedia MAIL for 11/5/15
Nov 5th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

There’s no such thing as “old news” for election pundits. Also in MISCmedia MAIL for Friday: More thoughts on the soon-to-be-temporarily-gone Gum Wall; sports teams’ “pay-triotism;” a 17-mile freeway backup.
 
GENTRIFYING THE ‘STREET’
Aug 13th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

sesame street fever

Since this entry is all about a program that’s all about “learning,” let’s start with the facts.

Starting this next season, and for at least the next five years, new episodes of Sesame Street will appear first on HBO and its online streaming service, along with selected old episodes.

Street reruns will still appear on PBS, in hour and half-hour formats. After a nine-month HBO exclusive “window,” the new episodes will appear on PBS also.

Up to this point, Sesame Workshop (née Children’s Television Workshop), the indie nonprofit that’s made the show these 46 years, has relied on two main streams of funding:

  1. The same corporate donations and government grants upon which all PBS shows rely; and
  2. its own licensed merchandising, DVD/record sales, etc.

With the industrywide collapse of CD/DVD sales, the latter has been a less reliable source of money.

And with more PBS Kids shows on the daily schedule vying for the same corporate/government bucks, the former has also been less lucrative.

As production money got harder to get, the Street got fewer and fewer episodes every season. But with HBO’s money, the show will produce 35 episodes next season, up from 18 the year before. (In its early days, the show produced 130 hours a year.)

At the network’s 1970 launch, Sesame Street was essentially PBS’s first hit. It was one of three series (the others were Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and The French Chef) that continued on from PBS’s even more-underfunded predecessor, NET (National Educational Television).

It’s not hard to say there would have been no Nova, no Frontline, no Masterpiece Theatre without the Street’s initial popularity, drawing audiences to the previously little-watched local “educational” channels.

While its ratings, its episode orders, and its merch sales have shrank in recent years, it remains the third longest running “scripted” show on American TV. (Only General Hospital and Days of Our Lives, among currently in-production shows, have lasted longer.)

You can now make up your own “Sesame Street on HBO” joke here. Many already have. About Carrie Bradshaw and the gang turning Bert and Ernie’s tenement into a ritzy condo; or about Elmo facing a Game of Thrones surprise slaying; or about Big Bird and Oscar as Tony Soprano’s newest henchmen.

Just remember that, along with the “naughty” sitcoms and the “artistic violence” dramas, HBO’s also the channel that gave you Fairie Tale Theatre, Little Lulu, and Fraggle Rock (another Jim Henson co-creation).

But without the Street having its exclusive home on the nonprofit network, what will PBS’s defenders invoke when the Republicans next threaten to cut off its (relatively paltry and very incomplete) federal funding?

Time says HBO pursued the Street because it really wanted to get more young viewers hooked on its on-demand and streaming platforms.

Jessica Winter at Slate says the move symbolizes “the ultra-efficient sorting process of socioeconomic privilege,” and compares it to the drastic cuts faced by Head Start and other pre-K programs for non-rich kids.

THE LAST GRIST FOR JON STEWART’S MILL
Aug 6th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

you wrote it you watch it

I still remember Jon Stewart as the host of a consistently unfunny MTV sketch show called You Wrote It, You Watch It. He was the only memorable part of that unmemorable endeavor.

Then he had a regular ol’ talk show with a monologue and musical guests and all; first on MTV and then in syndication.

Then he took over an existing comedy-talk franchise from Craig Kilborn on a cable channel that, at the time, you couldn’t get here.

The first piece I heard from Stewart’s Daily Show was a bit replayed on KJR sports radio. He introduced a clip from the GOP rebuttal to one of Bill Clinton’s State of the Union speeches, delivered by athlete-turned-politician Steve Largent.

Largent began by telling his own rise-to-fame story, noting how “I lived out every boy’s dream, to play professional football… for the Seattle Seahawks.”

Stewart jumped in: “It’s really every boy’s dream to play professional football for any team OTHER THAN the Seattle Seahawks.” (The Seahawks, just a few years after almost moving to Anaheim, were decidedly not the powerhouse they became.)

I knew then I would like Stewart, and have continued to do so.

Even when he was injecting humor into really icky news events (of which we’ve had a lot) and other TV channels’ lame coverage of those events (of which we’ve had a HELL of a lot).

Surveys listed Stewart as some people’s primary “news source.” Here’s one reason why:

There came to be a lot of “funny fake news” out there—in print (for a while), on TV, and especially online.

But Stewart didn’t run totally-fabricated stories with halfway plausible “clickbait” headlines.

He and his rotating sidekicks (“correspondents”) repeated the facts of a story (or whatever other channels claimed were the facts), and only then joked it up about them, in ways ranging from the joyously juvenile to the deadly serious.

Along the way, he always appealed to his audience’s image of itself as the only people who “really knew things,” as above all the hype and manipulation. (Which, of course, is exactly what Stewart’s nemeses at Fox News encourage their own audience to believe about itself.)

If there were any surveys about “the most popular TV show among people who pompously refuse to own TVs,” Stewart’s show would have topped them. (And they still could, with multiple online ways to see the show.)

THOSE ENDEARING YOUNG CHARMS, REVISITED
Jun 25th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

jones 3 bullseye

Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some of the things I’ve been doing this past 10 months when I mostly haven’t been blogging.

They include what one might call Internet research rabbit holes, obsessions with obscure corners of pop-culture arcana.

One of these obsessions is a “rabbit hole” in more ways than one.

It starts with something everybody knows, even if it hasn’t been at the pop-cult forefront in recent years.

Warner Bros.’ classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons haven’t been on broadcast TV in years. The one basic cable channel they’ve been on, Cartoon Network, had lately only shown them on weekday mornings, and only when that time slot wasn’t being used to rerun some Tom & Jerry or Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie. CN’s not showing them at all now. You have to pay extra for CN’s premium-tier channel Boomerang to see these timeless classics.

Even worse for longtime fans, no LT/MM shorts have been issued on DVD (aside from reissues) since late last year. With the industry-wide collapse of disc sales, Warner Home Video has put any future digital remasters of old cartoons on hold.

The prolific WB cartoon studio made some 1,005 “classic” theatrical shorts over 40 years. Approximately 450 of them have yet to be digitally restored. A lot of those look really dingy in the old TV prints seen online.

Oh yeah: Almost all the LT/MM shorts can be found in unofficial online uploads. WB has gotten some of them removed from YouTube, but they just pop up on more obscure sites. (WB could put them up officially, and get whatever ad revenue there is to get, but mostly hasn’t.)

While I was on my last extended “blog vacation” earlier this year, I set out to watch every darned one of the not-on-DVD Warner cartoons. About half of them feature the studio’s “A list” characters (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, etc.). Some of them (in the uploaded versions from old TV prints) look good enough to go on disc as is. Others look dingy, faded, and lo-res.

To keep the LT/MM “franchise” (and its lucrative merchandising) alive, WB needs to (at least) make new digital transfers of these not-on-DVD shorts, from the best existing film materials. This would make the films more viable in today’s hi-def era, for release on broadcast, cable, on-demand, streaming, and download “platforms,” as well as on disc. Perhaps some of the less “commercial” entries (the ones with minor or one-shot characters) could receive less of the labor-intensive digital retouching that was used for the DVD releases.

At the same time as I was re-viewing all those films, I also started to research the music used in them.

The studio’s great music directors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, incorporated more than 500 pre-existing compositions into their cartoon scores. They ranged from classical and folk pieces, to contemporary hits and songs from Warner feature films, to obscurities that had originally been published as sheet music for silent-music accompanists.

With the aid of several existing online lists of the “sampled” compositions, I put together a YouTube playlist of most of them. It’s currently up to 434 entries. They’re all records or film clips of the original tunes—not the cartoon excerpts of them.

If you know them only from the cartoon versions (and you probably do), you’re in for a few surprises:

  • “Hello Ma Baby,” the first frog-sung tune in One Froggy Evening, was originally a novelty song about a man in love with a woman he knows only as a voice on that then-new gadget, the telephone.
  • “Those Endearing Young Charms,” used in the oft-repeated “exploding xylophone” gag, was originally a sorrowful ballad about a man promising his wife he’ll still love her in sickness and old age.

jones 2 mural and guitar cyclone

Warner might be mismanaging one of its most valuable assets; but other parties remain determined to keep the cartoons in the public eye.

They include the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, founded by the Spokane boy who became the most famous of the studio’s several cartoon directors.

The Jones Center and the Jones heirs, along with the Smithsonian’s “touring exhibits” division, created What’s Up, Doc?: The Animated Art of Chuck Jones. It’s now at the EMP Museum in Seattle.

It’s got dozens of original art pieces and artifacts from Jones’s Warner, MGM, and indie films.

It’s got one of his most famous works, What’s Opera, Doc?, playing continuously (it never gets tiresome); plus a mysterious minute and a half of music recorded for “unproduced scenes” in that classic. (Wonder what they would have been?)

It’s got excerpts from several other Jones films (and one Tex Avery WB short, the defining Bugs Bunny film A Wild Hare), on flat-screen monitors around the exhibit space.

It’s got a few spots where you can take photos of one another alongside life-size cartoon props, such as under a “precariously” suspended prop anvil. (Photography’s forbidden in the rest of the exhibit.)

It’s got meticulous explanations and documentation about the now-threatened art of 2D animation.

And it’s got plenty of words, pictures, and video footage about Jones (1912-2002).

Besides hundreds of one-reel films for theaters, Jones also worked on TV specials, instructional films, and a couple of animated features (Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth).

At Warner he created his own characters (the Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe le Pew) and developed characters created by or with other directors (Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester).

Later, he adapted works by Dr. Seuss, Walt (Pogo) Kelly, Rudyard Kipling, and his former Warner colleague Frank Tashlin, adjusting all of their individual artistic visions to his own.

Thematically, Jones’ films ranged from Disney-esque sentiment to violent slapstick and back again. Stylistically, they ranged from slick “realism” to almost pure abstraction (and, in his version of Norman Juster’s story The Dot and the Line, total abstraction).

And while many animators were/are soft spoken and shy creatures, Jones was an inveterate and articulate self-promoter. He made books and documentaries about his works. He gave many interviews to animation historians, sometimes embellished for entertainment’s sake.

And with the exhibit, his take on “the art of animation” has an immersible, walk-through incarnation. Viewers get to enjoy the finished films, and to learn in grit-detail about each of the many components that went into them.

Can this help revive interest in “analog” animation?

And, just as importantly, can it help rescue the classic WB shorts from extra-tier-cable-channel purgatory?

(RETURN TO) RETURN TO TWIN PEAKS
May 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

fan art by emre unayli, mavenport.net, via tvmediainsights.com

It was The Great Northwest TV Drama.

It took serialized TV beyond the bedroom/boardroom antics of Dallas and Dynasty and into deeply detailed stories combining comedy, suspense, and pathos.

It expanded the range of what prime time could show, not in terms of cuss words and violence but in terms of characterization and complexities.

And, after several years of regularly-denied rumors, Twin Peaks is coming back.

Showtime announced late last year that it would air at least nine new episodes, but not until 2016. That’s 25 years since the last series episode, which included a line from the spirit of Laura Palmer to Agent Cooper in the Black Lodge, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

Then co-creator David Lynch said he was quitting the project. He said Showtime hadn’t offered enough production money to make the new series the way he felt it needed to be made. Several of the old show’s cast members said they wouldn’t act in the new series without Lynch around.

But then in early May, Lynch and Showtime said the new show was back on, with Lynch again on board. Only now it will run “significantly more” than the originally promised nine episodes.

We’ve been told every new episode will be directed by Lynch, and written by Lynch and his fellow original series co-creator Mark Frost.

We’ve been told the new series will be set in the present day, and will finally resolve at least some of the plot threads left unresolved all this time.

We haven’t been told which original-series actors will be back, aside from Yakima native Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper. Even without the characters who’d been killed off in the series, and the actors who’ve died in real life since then, some three dozen or more major players could reprise their roles, at least in cameos.

And we initially weren’t told whether it would be shot in the Snoqualmie/North Bend area, where the pilot and the prequel theatrical feature Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me were largely made. (The regular series episodes, however, were filmed in L.A.)

At the time the series ended in June 1991, I was semi-distraught that something this beautiful, this perfect evocation of everything I found funny and evil and odd and fetishistically square about my home state, could die. (Nobody knew the “Seattle Scene” music mania would reiterate many of these themes on a global stage by the end of that year.)

Having grown up in a Washington sawmill town, I loved the series as a mostly-realistic portrayal of power and frustration in such a place.

Yes, it had a murder mystery as its central plotline. But part of what made me love Twin Peaks is that Lynch and Frost deliberately broke several of the rules of murder mysteries (thusly dooming the series to a short network run).

The murder victims (at least most of them) were human beings with good and bad sides and personalities and everything, whose demises were treated with tragic weight, not as mere puzzle pieces.

The killers, particularly the schizo Leland Palmer (a medium-time sleazeball even when in his “right” mind), were also humanized. They were still violent criminals, with or without the excuse of demonic possession, but they were also victims in their own way; victims of their own dark ambitions and vanities.

The subsequent 1992 film prequel went further, abandoning donut fetishes and comedy relief to concentrate on how evil was often performed and covered up beneath our region’s shallow protestations of “small town values”.

The Northwest, even the small-town Northwest, has changed in many (at least superficial) ways since then.

The timber business (the main industry in the fictional town of Twin Peaks) has declined.

Digital consumer devices have rendered microcassette recorders and other major series props into quaint nostalgia items.

But there are still Northwest men and women with conflicting dreams and desires—and demons.

This past weekend at Crypticon, the annual horror fan convention in SeaTac, original series actors Sheryl Lee and Sherilyn Fenn gave a few pieces of good news about the new Twin Peaks:

  1. The new series will have 18 episodes, up from the originally-planned nine (still all Lynch-directed).
  2. Original series composer Angelo Badalamenti will again make the music.
  3. Filming starts in September.
  4. It WILL be at least partly filmed in Wash. state. The production will remodel Twede’s Cafe in North Bend to look again like the Double R Diner from the 1990 series pilot episode. Yay!

@grrlskout via welcometotwinpeaks.com

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

HOW WE DOIN’ ON TIME?
May 20th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

letterman with seattle comix legend lynda barry, 1988

Either the first or the second most famous ex-Mariners co-owner (before or after Danny Kaye) ends late night TV’s longest run (almost 33 and a half years, between two networks) tonight.

Besides having been an investor in the Ms during the baseball team’s disastrous George Argyros era, he often had locally-connected guests over the years, including Foo Fighters as the official last guests on the last show, and Eddie Vedder on Monday’s third-to-last show. (Also: Lynda Barry (above), Soundgarden, Bill Nye, Joel McHale, Kyle MacLachlan, Artis the Spoonman, Sean Nelson’s band Harvey Danger, and especially the late Seattle-born comedian George Miller.)

Some commentators have pointed out that his NBC Late Night series (and especially his short-lived NBC morning show, which never aired in Seattle) were landmarks in conceptual humor (as masterminded by original head writer Merrill Markoe).

Some of these same critics complain that his act on CBS has morphed into a real version of his onetime grumpy-old-guy character, the one with the catch phrase “Get off my lawn.'”

It had been clear for some time that Letterman had accomplished all on TV that he ever would; but that he was determined to stick around until his onetime pal Jay Leno left (for good) first. Once that finally happened, Letterman announced his own retirement. That was followed in short order by the ends of Chelsea Lately, The Colbert Report (a post-“idiot”-character version of Colbert takes over from Letterman on CBS this fall), The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, and soon The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

(All this has happened while, in the eyes of some industry watchers, online streaming is allegedly “killing traditional TV.”)

It was also clear that Letterman had ceased even pretending to care about the showbiz-hype rituals that are the state religion of late-night talk; leaving a sincere (if borderline-pandering) appreciation for a certain few celebrity pals and longtime frequent guests. These people have populated the Late Show guest roster during this almost year-long “farewell tour,” an exercise in mawkishness that just kept getting mawkish-er as the finale approached.

And the whole hip-irony shtick he’d popularized back then has become one of the native tongues of marketing and advertising, in all its air-quotes smarm.

As of Thursday, the longest-serving hosts still in late night will be (1) Conan O’Brien (who’d originally replaced Letterman at NBC) and (2) Jimmy Kimmel.

Letterman’s leaving the public stage means I’ll now probably never get to ask him what, if anything, he remembered about Frances Farmer. He and the ill-fated Seattle-born film actress were each on Indianapolis local TV, albeit at different times.

I do know a guy who’d studied drama with Letterman (and future Three’s Company star Joyce DeWitt) at Indy’s Ball State U. This guy had remembered Farmer’s TV show, but alas not much about it; only that she’d been a low-rent Loretta Young introducing creaky old movies in the afternoons.

THE (THIRD) DAY AFTER THE ALMOST RE-PETE
Feb 4th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

I stayed off of social media (except for my classic-cartoon Facebook groups) after the Seahawks’ devastating last-minute loss (or rather failure to win) in Super Bowl Eks El Eye Eks.

I’m still not ready to see any replays of that fatal last play, or to really discuss it.

But I will say this:

After cheating death so many times, the Seahawks’ lucky streak finally ran out with one ill-advised pass play at the game’s end.

But that single moment can’t erase the team’s great achievements this season and last.

And it can’t lessen how coach Pete Carroll and the players (including and perhaps especially Marshawn Lynch) have performed, both on the field and as members of the larger community.

The game telecast provided an intriguing addendum to our recent story about Anheuser-Busch taking over the local Elysian craft brewery and brew-pub chain.

Just over a week after the Elysian announcement, AB ran a Super Bowl commercial touting Budweiser as the drink of choice for real beer drinkers, not those artsy craft-beer snobs who go for “pumpkin peach ale.”

I.e., just the sort of product that Elysian has made, marketed, and championed.

Jim Vorel at Paste calls the spot “hypocritical” and “anti-craft-beer.”

I call it big corporate pseudo-anti-elitism.

You can just call it dumb.

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