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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.

ROOM AT THE IN (AND OUT) FOR ONE-FIVE
Jan 2nd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

this year's space needle fireworks were sponsored by t-mobile and heavily emphasized the color 't-mobile magenta.'

As promised previously, MISCmedia is back for two-ought-one-five with a new commitment to try and make sense (or at least document the nonsense) of Life in the Demitasse Size City.

To start things off, and for the 29th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most trusted (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known media relay systems.

As always, this list operates under the premise that the future is not necessarily linear. It compiles what will become torrid and tepid in the coming year, not necessarily what’s torrid and tepid now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some RadioShack stock to sell you.

INSVILLE OUTSKI
Bratwurst Ice cream
Saving affordable housing Saving sandwich shops
Amazon as profitless, fragile giant Amazon as omnipotent leviathan
“Phablets” Apple Watch
Fully independent publishing Kindle Unlimited
Fully independent cinema Marvel Cinematic Universe
Ronan Farrow Michael Smerconish
Journalism Clickbait
Furniture Girls Taylor Swift
“Selfie sticks” Facebook food pictures
Euro-socialist revival GOP revival
Cardless payments Kardashians (still)
Dyed armpit hair Lululemon
“Black lives matter” “I’m not racist, but…”
Streaming TV Streaming music
Shoreline White Center
Cheap oil as climate threat Cheap oil as economic blessing
Forest green Taupe
Art Basel Burning Man
Compassion “Non-apologies”
Fiat Google drone car
Women Who Code “Brogrammers”
Cards Against Humanity Candy Crush
Human rights for Cuba New cars for Cuba
Tessa Thompson (Dear White People) Jessica Alba
Tiny houses Charter schools
Legalizing/protecting sex workers Banning protests
Vox Daily Currant
Tucson Austin
Four Roses Fireball
Chris Pratt Seth Rogan
Funky weirdness Soulless “luxury”
Mariners comeback UW football comeback
Insulting Russia Insulting North Korea
Treasure hunts Private “event spaces”
Fried chicken Bacon
Bakugan Minecraft
Ending the waterfront tunnel Closing movie theaters
“Sweetums” “Bae”
RANDOM QUESTIONS
May 26th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

sony pictures tv via wellesley.edu

I’m still not back to posting Random Links posts (at least not without re-thinking their whole format).

But today, I have some random questions:

  • If you know that advertising/media images about people like you are lying, why would you ever believe such images about anyone else?
  • Why do most “do what you love, the money will follow” books presume that everybody already has money?
  • If “not all men” are rude or violent creeps (which is true), how can those who aren’t convert (or at least disarm) those who are?
  • If “content is king,” the thing that gets and keeps people going to one website instead of another, why do so many dotcoms pay six-figure salaries to programmers but expect writers and artists to work for free?
  • Could I ever deserve to be the man of a woman as smokin’ smart as Jeopardy! champ Julia Collins?
STERLING, SILVER
Apr 29th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

sigcis.org

It’s usually awkward to be outed as a flaming racist.

It’s infinitely worse when you are in certain lines of business.

Owning a professional basketball team is one of those lines of business.

So, after all hopes of the scandal “blowing over” evaporated, rookie NBA commissioner Adam Silver put a “banned for life” fatwa on LA Clippers owner/racist/adulterer Donald Sterling.

This means, among other things, that Sterling can’t attend games or take an active management role in the team that he still, for now, majority-owns. He’ll be encouraged, but apparently not forced (at least not yet), to sell the team. That last part could conceivably lead to a court case.

Yet, already the rumors are abuzz that the Clippers could (just could, mind you) potentially move to Seattle.

Obviously a lot would need to occur for that to happen.

Sterling would need to be eased, or forced, out.

Other LA buyers would have to be turned down in favor of Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen. (Former Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz has supposedly talked, or been talked about, about fronting a group to buy the team.)

The Clippers’ share of Staples Center would have to be sold back to the Lakers and the NHL’s LA Kings.

The league’s other team owners would have to be convinced that having two teams in the #2 TV market (even if that second team is the traditionally hapless Clippers) would be less lucrative than regaining a team in the #12 TV market.

But think of the possibilities: If the Clippers were co-owned by an ex-Microsoft CEO, they could bring back the old Windows Office Assistant mascot “Clippy”!

WHERE AMERICA SHOPPED
Mar 21st, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

theryanrvexpress.blogspot.com

Here is a story about the world’s largest “shop from home” company, and the time it started an experimental business operation in Seattle that grew and grew.

The company was Sears, Roebuck and Co. (“Cheapest Supply House on Earth”, “Our Trade Reaches Around the World”).

The time was 1925.

The experiment was to expand from its famous “Big Book” mail order catalogs into what are now called “brick and mortar” retail stores. Urbanization and automobiles (two trends that now seem contradictory) had come to threaten Sears’ biggest market—rural families who wanted prices and selections they couldn’t get in small-town stores.

Because this was a new direction for a company that had grown huge on its existing business model, Sears management chose to save money by placing its first two retail stores in buildings it already owned—its catalog warehouses in Chicago (the company’s headquarters) and Seattle. (The Chicago flagship store closed a few decades back, leaving the Seattle store as the company’s oldest.)

The Sears Seattle warehouse building had been built a little over a decade before, in 1912. The Industrial District (later christened “Sodo” by local boosters) had just been created a few years before, from tide flats filled in with dirt from the city’s massive regrading projects. It was built for the company by the Union Pacific Railroad, whose freight tracks hugged its back side. It was built from solid old growth local timber, with handsome brick cladding and a clock tower (still the neighborhood’s tallest structure, other than container-dock cranes) on top.

It also happened to be two miles south of the city’s traditional retail core. This meant the store would rely less on foot traffic and more on folks driving expressly to go there. That meant it was a forbearer of suburban malls and big-box stores, trends Sears would ride on nationally in the post-WWII decades.

The store housed a subset of the catalog’s almost-everything selection (but not cars, or entire houses in kit form, or non-perishable groceries, three of the catalog’s once-popular sections). It had “soft goods” (clothes and linens). It had “hard goods” (appliances, hardware, auto parts, furniture). For a while, there was even a farm supply department.

In 1951, the new Alaskan Way Viaduct meant Sears was just off of the main highway through the city. A little over a decade later, I-5 would pass nearby.

Generations grew up with our own local version of the store advertised as “Where America Shops,” a chunk of middle class materialistic heaven surrounded by warehouse and small factories.

Perhaps the escalators were narrow and rickety, and the ceilings shorter, compared to newer stores in the malls; but Seattle’s Sears had its own charms. The popcorn machine and the candy counter. The cool pastel colored walls in the women’s department. The Saturday morning cartoons or Sunday afternoon sports games on the wall of TVs.

Meanwhile, the warehouse part of the building grew over the years to 2.2 million square feet, making it Seattle’s largest building by volume.

But the Sears catalogs were phased out in the mid 1980s. The building was put up for sale in 1990. It was first retitled SoDo Center, then Starbucks Center when the coffee giant moved its head offices into it.

The Sears retail store remained but shrank. Part of its space was taken up by by an Office Max. Home Depot opened a huge store across South Lander Street, competing with many of Sears’ “hard goods” departments.

The company wasn’t doing too well nationally by this time either. Walmart had overtaken both Sears and Kmart to become the nation’s top retailer. The 2004 merger of Sears and Kmart failed to revive either chain’s fortunes.

Thus, the end of the Sodo Sears store became inevitable.

Only 79 employees remained with the store when its closure was announced in February, 13 of them in the “Auto Center” department.

The store had become forgotten before it was gone.

(Cross posted with City Living Seattle.)

FIVE YEARS AFTER
Mar 17th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

Classic P-I building from my book 'seattle's belltown;' museum of history and industry collection

I left the Missy James post up as this blog’s top item for a month, both to remember her and because I’ve been laser focused on finding paying work.

But it’s time for me to get back to the “writing” thang.

And there’s no more appropriate day to do so than on the fifth anniversary of the last printed Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The city lost a huge chunk of its soul and its collective memory when the Hearst Corp., awash in losses here and in its other print-media operations, pulled the plug on our town’s “second” yet superior daily paper.

There’s been a P-I sized hole in the local media-scape ever since.

Yeah, we’ve got the Seattle Times, albeit a shrunken one (though it’s apparently stopped shrinking any further, at least for now).

We’ve got the StrangerSeattle Weekly, CrosscutPublicola, and SportsPress NW.

We’ve got four local TV news stations (plus NorthWest Cable News), four local radio news stations, and all their respective websites.

We’ve got Seattle magazine, Seattle Met, and CityArts.

We’ve got the Daily Journal of Commerce, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and assorted tech-biz news sites.

We’ve got Horse’sAssSeattlishThe Seattle Star, and dozens of other (mostly volunteer-run) blogs covering local politics, sports, and arts.

And, oh yeah, we’ve got SeattlePI.com.

It’s still run by Hearst. It still has Joel Connelly’s acerbic political commentary, Josh Trujillo’s dramatic photojournalism, and the occasional excellent news story.

But its staff has shrunk to 14 reporters, photographers, and “producers,” down from the 20 it had at its stand-alone start in ’09. That, in turn, was a small fraction of the team the print P-I had.

That’s still a full-time payroll comparable to that of any newsroom in town, except those of the Times and the TV stations.

But it’s stretched thin by the requirement to post dozens of “click bait” and “listicle” stories every day.

Hearst is running PI.com according to the 2009 rules of a “content” web business.

Those rules, which nationally gave us the likes of BuzzFeed and Elite Daily, have proven profitable only among the most sensationalistic and most cheaply run operations that feed either on gossip, noise, or national niche audiences.

It’s no way to run a local general-news operation.

And it’s no way to pay for professional local journalism on a sustainable basis.

But neither Hearst nor any of America’s other old-media giants has figured out a better way.

So it’s become the job of us “street level” bloggers to find new rules, new concepts, to forge a new path beyond the ugly web pages stuff with worthless banner ads. To create the New-New News.

My personal bottom line:

I want a local news organization, staffed by folks who know what they’re doing and who are paid living wages.

I want it to attract an audience at least as loyal (and as willing to help support it) as KUOW’s audience.

I want it to be the first place this audience looks to to learn what’s been going on around here, in the last day or the last hour.

I want it to reach out across subcultures and social strata.

I have collected a few ideas in this regard, a few potential pieces of this puzzle.

And I’d love to hear some of yours.

THE DAY AFTER THE DAY AFTER
Feb 4th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

The Seahawks’ previous playoff game, against the team’s current division rivals San Francisco, carried such a sense of challenge, struggle, and last-minute triumph, that I feared the big game for the total league championship might seem anticlimactic.

My fears proved unfounded.

Two great local pregame storylines immediately developed:

  1. Yes, it would be only the Seahawks’ second appearance at the biggest U.S. sports event of the year. The team from America’s “far corner,” from a city still often treated as a backwater fishing village, a team that not long ago almost moved to L.A., now playing for our collective honor and respect.
  2. More specifically, our gaggle of relative no-names would take on a genuine media-anointed Celebrity Quarterback, beloved by advertisers, broadcast sports pundits, and Las Vegas gamblers. Despite the Seahawks’ power and their balanced offense, we were underdogs in Vegas and everywhere outside the team’s official TV/radio region.

Sports bars (and other bars that could be used for watching sports) were full. Other spots around town were empty or closed.

I’d mentioned previously that everyone I read or talked to here in town was absolutely certain the Seahawks would win. But many of them predicted the Seahawks would win by just a few points. Almost nobody expected a blowout.

A blowout was what they, and the rest of us, got.

It started with a Broncos safety (the rarest scoring play in the sport) on the very first play from scrimmage.

It just went on from there, with a Seahawks field goal on the very next drive. Before the game was done, there were Seahawk touchdowns from kickoff returns, interceptions, and pass receivers scrambling past tacklers. The Broncos’ offensive drives (with one exception) ended with fumbles, interceptions, punts, or fourth-down stops.

The result was “boring” to some national commentators.

But it was ecstatic to all of us.

Some national bloggers apparently thought it amusing that we mostly celebrated sanely. (Unlike, say, the 2011 riots when the Vancouver Canucks lost the NHL finals.)

But that’s how we roll.

We get angry over injustice.

We get joyous over spectacular successes.

(Although I suspect many of Sunday night’s 12th Men and Women might now be looking into the 12 Steps.)

A few civic-culture thoughts:

No, the Seahawks’ victory was not solely due to its aggressive defense. A defense-only team would be like those dot-com bosses who boast of how “disruptive” they are, but whose works contribute nothing back to the world.

The Seahawks’ offense is every bit as important as its “D.” It’s a balanced offense, that relies as much on solid rushing plays as on spectacular passes.

And the Seahawks, and their players, contribute a lot.

In charity drives, publicized and other.

In economic activity, bringing fans from around the region and beyond into Seattle.

In just being decent people off the field, something you don’t see often enough in bigtime sports.

And in uniting a whole region in a cause.

A meaningless cause, yes; an entertainment.

But a cause of power and (yes) beauty, of guts and glory, of being seen and recognized and respected.

Some thoughts by others:

  • Jeopardy! legend Ken Jennings wrote before the game that “the heartbreak of Seattle sports fandom made me who I am today;” but he added that “we’re not supposed to hope, but maybe this is the team that ends the heartache.”
  • Lindy West takes a break from bashing media misogyny to concur with Jennings, noting that “the Seattle I grew up in is not the type of city that wins Super Bowls.” West hopes Seattle having suddenly become “a city of winners” doesn’t lead to “the end for us.”
  • Seattle Storm legend Lauren Jackson would like you all to remember that her team has won two league titles. The UW football team and the pre-MLS incarnations of the Sounders have also been tops in their respective fields of play. It’s not just the Sonics 35 years ago and the Seahawks today.
  • Blogger Kacee Bree notes the positive effect this has all had on the city’s zeitgeist:

You can feel the electricity and expectation everywhere you go. The atmosphere is different lately at the mall, the grocery store and even in the classic Seattle traffic. The 12th Man flag flies everywhere from skyscrapers to SUVs. Even our fountains burst with bright blue.…

Why are we so passionate about our SEAHAWKS? Because despite the impression that the national media is portraying, we know our Hawks are true INSPIRATIONS on and off the field. We have a team that acts, plays and respects like a true team, and they are lead by a man who recognizes that our city is a part of that team. The 12th Man is more than a saying here in Seattle; it is the role we play in the success of this outstanding football team.

I WANT TO BE A PART OF IT, EAST RUTH-ER-FORD…
Jan 20th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

(The title of this post continues with the Sinatra-esque title treatment of the previous post.)

The Seahawks are off to the Super Bowl for the second time in team history. Just like the last time, you can expect all the national media to be against us. It’s going to be all “THE GREAT LEGENDARY PEYTON MANNING and some other team.”

Or that’s how it was going to be, until certain online commentators found a hate object.

Yeah, Richard Sherman is loud.

Yeah, he talked like a trash-talking wrestler during his impromptu sideline interview just after the game.

No, he was not, and is not, a “goon” or a “thug.” (He’s really a thoughtful young man who gives generously to charity.)

And no, his remarks do not justify idiotic racist bigotry.

The game’s striking ending, in which Sherman’s tip-away of a touchdown pass preserved the Seahawks’ lead with less than half a minute to go, was the climax of a huge day that capped a huge season.

It had been a day of high hopes and high fears.

The 2013-14 Seahawks had united this region in ways I didn’t think possible. Even some sports-hating hippies got into the fever.

The pregame festivities outside the stadium were a glorious cacophony of enthusiasm, pride, joy, and (yes) love.

And, yeah, maybe a little bit of bragging. Like when a lot of us noticed that one of the two Pioneer Square bars taken over by 49er fans was the New Orleans—namesake of the Seahawks’ previous playoff conquest.

(The “pegging” in the above photo was only with small water balloons, and was a school fundraiser, though they never said for which school.)

A nice lady gave me this cupcake decorated with Skittles (a product of Mars, originally founded in Tacoma), and a plastic kid-size Seahawks helmet ring.


Eventually, though, it came time to gather inside the stadium, to private parties, or to bars (such as Safeco Field’s “The ‘Pen”; yes, the Mariners learned to make a few bucks from a neighbor team’s success). I dutifully found myself back in Belltown, cheering on the team with about 40 other rabid fans.

And, as you undoubtedly know by now, it was a knuckle biter of an experience.

Our boys were down (but not by much) the entire first half, broken by a short-lived tie in the third quarter. They only took the lead early in the fourth quarter, and held precariously to that lead until Sherman’s final pass deflection.

The whole bar I was at became noisy as hell after that, and remained that way for a good half hour afterward.

Then the party spilled into the streets, with revelers driving and marching up First Avenue from the stadium. Revelry continued well into the night.

Something tells me the Super Bowl itself (which will occur in East Rutherford NJ, despite what the promo ads may say), even when we win it, might feel anticlimactic in comparison.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 1/15/14
Jan 14th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

funhousedocumentary.com

  • Some folks have made a documentary about the Funhouse, that greatly-missed bastion of DIY loud n’ live music. It should screen some time this spring.
  • Buried in a list of various cineastes’ top 10s of ’13 is the announcement that SIFF will indeed return to the now-shuttered Egyptian Theater for this year’s festival, and is working to reopen the festival’s traditional “home base” for year-round screenings.
  • Norman Durkee, 1949-2014: Teatro ZinZanni’s original music director was a musical polymath. He produced early punk 45s, put out TV-advertised new age piano LPs, worked on stage musicals and dance performances, and performed recitals of jazz and modern classical tuneage.
  • Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was seen in an online video clip with local pompous homophobic/sexist pastor Mark Driscoll. This does not mean Wilson necessarily endorses anything Driscoll says.
  • King County will move forward with Plan C (at least) to save Metro Transit from drastic cuts, declining to wait for the professional Seattle-haters in the State Senate to become sane.
  • Meanwhile, in state-politician-friendly transportation (i.e. cars and roads only), the Waterfront tunnel project has a lot more problems than just a steel pipe in the way.
  • The long-delayed Tacoma Amtrak station now, thankfully, won’t replace half of the Freighthouse Square mini-mall.
  • Finally, a practical use for those “tiny houses” you sometimes see pictures of, cute micro-cottages usually depicted surrounded by pristine countryside with no humans or other buildings in sight. In Olympia, 30 of them are being used as transitional units for the previously homeless.
  • Misadventures in Clickbait Dept.: Two companies supply most of those often-silly “Around the Web” or “Recommended for You” link boxes on otherwise “serious” news sites.
  • Is “Net Neutrality” (the policy that service providers can’t give preferential speed/access treatment to certain websites) really “dead”? No. The FCC simply has to rewrite its rules around the technicalities of a court decision.
  • Fox News anonymously created its own pro-Fox News blog. Yes, it’s hilarious and chock full O’ stereotypes.
WHAT’S HIGHER AND LOWER IN TWENTY ONE FO-UR
Jan 4th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

For the 28th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most venerable (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known solar systems. As always, this is a prediction of what will become hot and not-so-hot in the coming year, not necessarily what’s hot and not-so-hot now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some BlackBerry stock to sell you.

INSVILLE OUTSKI
Da Vinci’s Inquest Da Vinci’s Demons
Lorde Lard
Mead Gin
Tapatio Sriracha
“Fewer” “Less”
WordPress Flash
CBS This Morning 60 Minutes
Alex Trebek retirement Jay Leno retirement
Baltimore Miami
“Relevant” “Viral”
Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) Kristen Stewart
Kacey Musgraves Brad Paisley
Formica Granite
Plum Silver frost
Oscar Isaac Johnny Depp
Mini-tacos Chicken wings
Fly Moon Royalty Robin Thicke
Saving Scarecrow Video Saving the Seattle Times
DailyKos.com Upworthy.com
Bare midriffs “Designer grunge” revival
Voting-rights defenders White people who claim “racism is over”
Elizabeth Warren “Politics by hashtag”
Venice Paris
Burien Bainbridge
Worker rights Working for “the exposure”
End of movies shown on film End of incandescent light bulbs
Games for all ages/sexes/races Macho-asshole “gamer culture”
“You better WORK!” “Because (noun)”
Erin Morgenstern Charlaine Harris
Raising the minimum wage Cutting corporate taxes
NHL in Seattle NBA back in Seattle
Binge viewing Crash dieting
Bolt Bus Airline mergers
Single-payer HMOs
Seahawks 49ers
Girls (still) Dads
Misfits Kardashians
Lovers “Winners”
“-esque” “-ski”
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© Copyright 2015 Clark Humphrey (clark (at) miscmedia (dotcom)).