Wednesday, May 25

TV Month 2016 - The Nuclear Nielsen Family (Part 3).

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In March of 2013, I kept a log of every television show I watched for an entire week. Every single program, good or bad, no exceptions. As a result, I also inadvertently kept a log of nearly everything else I did during that time. Here are the links:

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

I had a lot of fun doing this, so I wanted to bring it back for TV Month 2016. Here then, Part 3 of the TV viewing habits of yours truly, for better or for worse. Let's go.

TUESDAY, MAY 10

1:00-2:00pm - Hannibal Buress: Live From Chicago
2:00-2:30pm - NFL Live
2:30-3:00pm - The Jump
3:00-3:30pm - SportsNation
3:30-4:00pm - Highly Questionable
4:00-4:30pm - Around the Horn
4:30-5:00pm - Pardon the Interruption
5:00-5:30pm - NBC 15 News
5:30-6:00pm - NBC Nightly News
6:00-6:30pm - Seinfeld
6:30-7:00pm - Wheel of Fortune
7:00-8:00pm - The Flash
8:00-9:30pm - Heat vs. Raptors (DVR)
9:30-9:55pm - The Grinder (DVR)
9:55-12:15am - TrailBlazers vs. Warriors (Partial DVR)

As you can probably tell, I did not work on this day. I mean, I handled some domestic stuff, hit the treadmill and mailed a letter, but I mostly had the TV on for background noise. And my background noise is usually always ESPN. It's comfort food. Mac and cheese. There's nothing I like hearing more than the same five talking points, over and over again, spanning eight hours and 16 different shows.

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Apparently the willingness to test the Missus' patience was high, because I then took in two basketball games in primetime after The Flash.

But hey, I also had time to cook dinner with my wife, AND take in a stray cat that wandered onto our porch during a thunderstorm. No joke. Right in the middle of mincing some kale or whatever, we hear a noise and five minutes later, we have a cat taking refuge in my office. A long stroll through the pouring rain and about an hour later, and the cat was safely returned to a neighbor down the street.

Dinner was delicious.

TOMORROW: NUCLEAR NIELSEN FAMILY (PART 4).

Tuesday, May 24

TV Month 2016 - The Nuclear Nielsen Family (Part 2).

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In March of 2013, I kept a log of every television show I watched for an entire week. Every single program, good or bad, no exceptions. As a result, I also inadvertently kept a log of nearly everything else I did during that time. Here are the links:

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

I had a lot of fun doing this, so I wanted to bring it back for TV Month 2016. Here then, Part 2 of a week in the TV viewing habits of yours truly, for better or for worse. Let's go.

MONDAY, MAY 9

4:30-5:00pm - Pardon the Interruption
5:00-5:30pm - NBC 15 News
5:30-6:00pm - The Simpsons ('Lisa Gets a Pony')
6:00-6:50pm - Fear The Walking Dead (DVR)
6:50-7:05pm - Talking Dead (DVR - Partially-Watched)
7:05-7:55pm - Fear The Walking Dead (DVR)
7:55-8:10pm - Talking Dead (DVR - Partially-Watched)
8:10-10:10pm - Monday Night Raw (Partial DVR)
10:10-12:15am - Warriors vs. TrailBlazers (Partial DVR)

'Tis slim pickings when it comes to my DVR these days. It's down to pretty much nothing, now that I'm all caught up on Fear the Walking Dead. A season-and-a-half in, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. There are only three characters I really care about (Nick, Madison and Strand), and that feels pretty unacceptable on their part.

I mean, look at The Walking Dead or Lost. These shows had/have literally dozens of characters that elicit an emotional response from the audience, because the writers/producers did the duty of using backstory and standard development to get us on board with all of them. Even the players we didn't initially like were eventually given redemption stories (or promptly killed off).

On Fear, we have a main cast of just seven people, and they almost flat-out refuse to create backstories for half of them. Ophelia barely speaks. It's ridiculous. Perhaps it will evolve with time, but it's been anything but smooth sailing (lololol) thus far. At least we have Better Call Saul on AMC with Preacher* coming up, which should be something to behold.

(*This was written before the premiere.)

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I typically don't stay up until midnight on Monday anymore, but I drifted off with the Warriors/TrailBlazers game on TNT. I've been more captivated with this NBA season than I have since I was a kid, and it sort of takes me back.

On Monday night in 1990, there were not one but two TV adaptations of 80's comedies. NBC had a Ferris Bueller spinoff that lasted 13 episodes and got replaced by Blossom, and CBS had an Uncle Buck spinoff (sound familiar?) that got steamrolled by Full House. MacGyver was also a ratings hit, which will, as per usual, be rebooted by FOX this upcoming season. Jesus H. Christ.

I think my favorite Monday show of this past season was Superstore, an NBC comedy that premiered midseason and slipped mostly under the radar. Fortunately, they were not only renewed for a Season 2, but will premiere immediately following the 2016 Summer Olympics, hopefully to a robust ratings boost.

TOMORROW: THE NUCLEAR NIELSEN FAMILY (PART 3).

Monday, May 23

TV Month 2016 - The Nuclear Nielsen Family (Part 1).

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In March of 2013, I kept a log of every television show I watched for an entire week. Every single program, good or bad, no exceptions. As a result, I also inadvertently kept a log of nearly everything else I did during that time. Here are the links:

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

I had a lot of fun doing this, so I wanted to bring it back for TV Month 2016. Here then, a week in the TV viewing habits of yours truly, for better or for worse. Let's go.

SUNDAY, MAY 8

10:00-11:00am - UFC Rotterdam Pre-Show
11:00-1:00pm - UFC Rotterdam Prelims
1:00-2:00pm - SNL: Brie Larson (DVR)
2:00-4:00pm - UFC Rotterdam (Partial DVR)
4:00-4:15pm - UFC Rotterdam Post-Fight (Partially-Watched)
4:15-5:15pm - Cavaliers vs. Hawks (DVR)
5:15-5:40pm - Dragon Ball Z Kai (DVR)
5:40-6:05pm - Dimension W (DVR)
6:05-6:30pm - Hunter x Hunter (DVR)
6:30-7:00pm - One Piece (DVR)
7:00-7:30pm - America's Funniest Videos (DVR)
7:30-7:55pm - The Simpsons (DVR)
7:55-8:20pm - Bob's Burgers (DVR)
8:20-9:45pm - Spurs vs. Thunder (Partial DVR)
9:45-10:10pm - The Last Man on Earth (DVR)

I like sports, okay?

You might not believe me, but with each new TV season, I actively try to cut back on the amount of new TV shows I watch. Fortunately, based on the quality of most new network comedies and dramas, it's become easier to do. Even though I look forward to each new Fall season with bated breath, I typically only pick up 2-3 new shows a year, of which 1-2 of them are canceled after only 1 season.

Furthermore, we're into May, which means Season Finales followed by a whole lotta nothing. However, this is where I shoot myself in the foot. Not watching many new shows should mean that I spend more time away from the television, when actually it just means I have more time to watch sports. And this is how Sunday began, with nearly four hours of MMA action, live from the Netherlands. I also had time later in the day to check out not one, but two NBA playoff games. The Missus was thrilled.

I quickly knocked out SNL from the night before (it was alright), before clearing out Saturday's Toonami block as well. Toonami airs seven shows in a row, but I'm only invested in four of them, which means I can do it in less than two hours. This gave me time to spare for Sunday night comedies on FOX, and a reasonable bedtime.

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It's interesting to me how TV viewing habits change. When I was younger, Sunday night was death sentence for most shows; a throwaway night even worse than Friday. Now, it's the marquee evening for just about every major drama out there, and it has been for years.

Looking back at the 1993-1994 national TV schedule for Sunday night (9-10pm), we have made-for-TV movies on three of the four major networks, and Married...With Children on FOX. That's it. I'd also have to assume that, when there wasn't a made-for-TV movie to air, these networks would show reruns, a word that essentially is no longer existent when it comes to Primetime programming.

By the 1999-2000 season, 10 of the top 40 shows on TV aired on Sunday nights, including Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, which was far and away the most popular show of the entire year. I think though, that the network move to load up their Sunday schedule had more to do with Cable (HBO in particular) than anything. With The Sopranos and most other standout HBO dramas premiering on Sunday, this spelled not only the next Golden Age of Television, but a movement that saw cable beating national TV in quality when it came to scripted programming.

All very interesting...right?

TOMORROW: THE NUCLEAR NIELSEN FAMILY (PART 2).

Friday, May 20

TV Month 2016 - The 100 Greatest (Part 5).

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Welcome back to TV Month 2016, and the conclusion to our week-long countdown of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of the Last 35 Years. We've reached the Top 10.

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10. Arrested Development

Few comedies have ever come close to matching the pacing, depth, acting, characters, writing, spectrum, pop culture knowledge, satire and self-parody displayed in just one episode of Arrested Development. I feel very fortunate that I lived in a moment of TV history where a show like this existed, if only for three* short seasons. It was that good.

The jokes were everywhere. The wordplay and puns were Shakespearean in their execution. Taboos were destroyed. The very network that took a chance and just as quickly left them for dead was mocked mercilessly. Guest stars trusted the material enough to play so far outside of their ranges that their careers could have been ruined had it been anything less than perfect.

And that’s what Arrested Development was. 100% perfect, from start to finish.

(*Season 4 never happened.)

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9. 30 Rock

Each of 30 Rock's first three seasons won the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series. This is what's known as 'Batting a thousand,' and apart from Frasier, I honestly don't know of any other comedy that has ever accomplished something like that.

Drawing influences from every nook and cranny of the TV Comedy (and TV History) universe, 30 Rock was one of the smartest, most brilliant, most hilarious, cynical, satirical and unrelentingly perfect shows you'll ever see on network television. The cast was top-to-bottom airtight, and they even stuck the landing with one of the best series finales ever. Each week, I watched 30 Rock with the same breathless appreciation that I did for Arrested; a silent applause for the genius it takes to write such material on a week-to-week basis.

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8. The Wonder Years

I’m big on influences, and to me, there were few programs that had such a positive influence on television (and my writing style) as The Wonder Years. This was the first show that I can remember as a child that had no definable genre. It was set in Vietnam War-era America. It was narrated by an adult version of the main character. It was brilliantly funny. It was heartbreakingly sad. It had moments of true emotion and deep nostalgia. The soundtrack was amazing.

Nowadays, plenty of programs attempt to combine as many genres as possible, but The Wonder Years was one of the first (if not the very first) to do it so perfectly. In a standard sitcom, you knew that the main character’s girlfriend wasn’t going to be killed by the end of the episode. In The Wonder Years, everything was open for interpretation and flux, just like real life.

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7. The Walking Dead

The comic was (and still is) a hit, but the concept of a weekly survival horror series, with zombies no less, was never really attempted on TV. If done incorrectly, it would be a laughingstock of a flop, and there are so many ways this could be done incorrectly. Instead, they assembled a Murderer's Row of actors, directors, producers and special effects wizards, and the result is the most popular (and well done) show on TV today.

What's more, I think The Walking Dead is getting better with time. Going into Season 7, I think their best work is still ahead of them, which is insanity. The cast is nuts, seriously; they're so ingrained in their work that this series will be their calling card for the remainder of their careers (see Lost). It's gut-wrenching, gory, suspenseful, unrelenting and heartfelt. In short, they nailed it.

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6. Lost

I wrote this blurb years ago, and it's still apt today. I've written enough about this show already:

"Lost is one of the greatest television dramas of all-time, weaving the very best elements of survivalism, action, horror, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy and surrealism, while opening discussions concerning the topics of fate, religion, free will, conspiracy and karma. The cast is nearly flawless, the storyline is genius personified, the storytelling elements are unlike anything ever put on network TV, and the writing team of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have created a world so deep and entertaining, we should be paying them a residual every week to even be allowed to think about this masterpiece. I’m done."

Boom.

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5. Friday Night Lights

Season One of Friday Night Lights is the greatest season of television I have ever seen. Better than Season One of Lost. Better than Season Four of MST3K. Better than the final season of The Fugitive. I watched it when nobody around me watched it. When everyone was convinced it was a show about nothing more than football. Slowly but surely, my living room started to fill up on Friday nights, as the deepest, most emotional, most beautiful and best written show on TV (at the time) won people over one by one.

...Okay, maybe not Season 4 of The Simpsons, but that shit was essentially royalty. You get the point.

When Friday Night Lights got renewed for a second season, I was a bit shocked. I thought for sure that we'd never see the Taylor family on TV again. But to NBC's credit, they stuck with them in their ratings slump and promoted the hell out of it. When the Writer's Strike struck in the middle of Season 2, only 15 of the 22 scheduled episodes aired, which I once again speculated would spell the end of the line. But NBC did what they could to compromise, and Season 3 aired in conjunction with DirecTV's 101 Network, alleviating some production costs and keeping the show alive.

Now, when Season 3 had ended, I thought that was it (again). I figured NBC was done playing nice with an astounding show that just couldn't seem to make its point and wrangle in more viewers. Again, not the case, as they did the unbelievable and ordered two more 13 episode seasons, guaranteeing a 4th and 5th Season, and making certain that Friday Night Lights was allowed to tell the story they want to tell. That is amazing.

Look, I'm not even going to get into the dynamics of the show and explain to you why its impact is clear to anyone that watches it (the music of Explosions In The Sky doesn't hurt, that's for sure). Just, for God's sake, watch Season 1 and go from there.

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4. Mystery Science Theater 3000

Taken from MST3K Info; a perfect epilogue that I've probably read 100 times over the last 8 years:

"So, after nearly 200 bad movies, ten years of production and fifteen years of television audiences joining the crew of the SOL for "movie sign!", it's fair to ask what it was that kept this show so beloved.

Joel said something very profound about his show in an interview in 1990: "It's about liberty, in a small, goofy way," he said. And that is probably at the heart of it. It appeals to an innate human desire to unabashedly say what you think. And for young kids, that seems to be the principle draw: the whole notion of grown-ups in power being heckled and ridiculed for their obvious inadequacies is irresistible.

But there's more going on here. More importantly, MST3K is a call to arms in a war most thinking people are waging every day: the battle against the mediocrity that floods our lives. MST3K is an object lesson, a demonstration that we don't have to--and shouldn't--passively accept the garbage we are spoon-fed on a daily basis. Indeed, the series places the 'bots and their human companion on the front lines of that battle. It's in this way that MST3K rises above mere heckling and becomes a compelling metaphor about fighting the good fight.

But beyond that, there is no mistaking the genius at work here. It shines so clearly that toddlers are instinctively drawn to it and senior citizens smile knowingly -- even if neither gets all the jokes. From Joel's forehead-slappingly simple concept to its loopy-yet-graceful execution, the show has a cool elegance, an endearing off-kilter brilliance. It engenders an astonishing loyalty in its viewers -- a loyalty that stems in part from the way it makes its viewers feel like they are "in on" a very special secret. It manages the near-impossible by being one of the most delightfully unpredictable programs on national TV, while also being one of the most reassuringly formulaic. MST3K rewards knowledge and insight, punishes inattention and passivity. But most importantly, it always has been -- and always will be -- really, genuinely funny.

In the theater, the give-and-take rhythm between movie and commentary can be, at its best, dazzling and exhilarating; while the host segments often build to the kind of antic cartoon chaos that is a tonic for anyone who feels trapped in a dreary, workaday world. The overall result is an entertainment experience that leaves its viewer a little happier than when he or she found it.

On January 31, 2004, fifteen years of Mystery Science Theater 3000 came to an end on broadcast television. But the show lives on in the hearts and minds of fans all over the world who continue to live by those four magical little words: "Keep circulating the tapes."

MST3K didn't run forever. But it will never leave us."

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3. Seinfeld

TV Guide states that Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom of all-time. Of course, the nation was in the grips of Seinfeld-Mania at that particular point in time, so I have to believe that the list might be slightly altered should it run again in 2016. A quick scan of my high school yearbook even unearths tons of Seinfeld quotes and musings scribbled into margins and back pages by friends and teachers. Truly, Seinfeld was a defining moment in time, not just for television, but for comedy and culture in general.

Within the confines of a ‘traditional’ sitcom, they broke taboos, seamlessly intertwined genius with wackiness and practically begged you to realize that the four main characters were some of the most selfish, shallow and self-centered characters ever created. We saw ourselves in those characters (I used to be mostly George, but I'm mostly Jerry now), and it allowed us to root for them, even as they ruined lives, obsessed over the trivial and broke up with people on a weekly basis for the most superficial of reasons.

There are only two shows I still watch in syndication: The Simpsons and Seinfeld. I am constantly blown away by how much it holds up and is still so contemporary, even though it was created before cell phones and the Internet. How can a show about social foibles and the mundane frustration of daily life still seem so fresh? How can their slang and vocabulary still be a part of our cultural lexicon even 25 years later?

That's the definition of 'timeless,' I guess.

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2. Breaking Bad

September 15, 2013. Season 5, Episode 14. 'Ozymandias.'

Something happened to me while I was watching this particular episode. By this point, I was like everyone else- Totally and completely enraptured with the story of Walter White and his transformation to full-on meth kingpin. The way it unfolded over the course of five seasons was transcendent, and we were now deep into the horrific unraveling that would careen us into the Series Finale. Each episode got progressively better, building off of the story told a week prior, crescendoing into a symphony of violence, tension and brilliant, brilliant acting.

In the second half of 'Ozymandias,' there's a scene where Walt and Skyler get into a physical altercation at their home. The scene is outstanding on its own, but the weight of the scene, knowing how far we've come with this family, was almost too much to bear. This was when I realized, for sure, that I was watching the greatest single episode of Television I have ever seen. I'm not alone in this thought. I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing. When it was over, I only then realized that I had been shaking and sweating for the last 20 minutes of it.

Two years ago, we had a tournament here on the CDP to determine the greatest TV show of the last 25 years, and Breaking Bad beat out 127 other shows in a worldwide vote over the course of nearly two months. I didn't have a problem with it then, and I don't now. Breaking Bad is a triumph of TV Drama, now and forever.

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1. The Simpsons

The Simpsons is, quite simply, the greatest Television show ever made. From The AV Club:

"Here’s a no-brainer: The Simpsons is the best animated series of all-time, and Television’s crowning achievement regardless of format. Some may try to peel the rose-colored filter from the show’s classic era, others bemoan the creative direction of the past dozen or so seasons—but the fact that it’s survived long enough to even have 12 “bad” seasons is an achievement in and of itself. (And let’s be honest: Anything is going to look bad in comparison to the unprecedented eight-year run of near perfection that The Simpsons pulled off between 1989 and 1997.)

The Simpsons redefined the American sitcom, made primetime safe for animation again (effectively making every animated show from then on possible), and (for better or for worse) influenced the way people in the real world speak. The show even captured a culture so effectively that it built its own living, breathing universe that’s currently nattering away in millions of smartphones—this is no “meh” achievement. The Simpsons is cromulent, plain and simple, and we are all embiggened for having it in our lives."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

NEXT WEEK: THE NUCLEAR NIELSEN FAMILY II.

Thursday, May 19

TV Month 2016 - The 100 Greatest (Part 4).

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Welcome back to TV Month 2016, and Part 4 of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of the Last 35 Years. We're getting serious now.

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30. Black Mirror
29. Roseanne
28. Bob’s Burgers
27. Beavis and Butthead
26. Home Movies

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25. Better Call Saul
24. Louie
23. Futurama
22. Curb Your Enthusiasm
21. Tales From the Crypt

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20. Twin Peaks
19. The Office (US)
18. The Sopranos
17. South Park
16. King of the Hill

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15. Malcolm in the Middle
14. The Wire
13. The Adventures of Pete and Pete
12. Parks and Recreation
11. The X-Files

TOMORROW: THE 100 GREATEST (PART 5).

Wednesday, May 18

TV Month 2016 - The 100 Greatest (Part 3).

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Welcome back to TV Month 2016; were on to Part 3 of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of the Last 35 Years. The countdown rolls on.

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50.The Flash
49. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show
48. Frasier
47. Freaks and Geeks
46. Party of Five

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45. The Critic
44. Full House
43. Friends
42. Mad Men
41. NewsRadio

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40. Community
39. Modern Family
38. The West Wing
37. The Golden Girls
36. The Larry Sanders Show

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35. The Goldbergs
34. The Ren and Stimpy Show
33. Cheers
32. Six Feet Under
31. Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist

TOMORROW: THE 100 GREATEST (PART 4).

Tuesday, May 17

TV Month 2016 - The 100 Greatest (Part 2).

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Welcome back to TV Month 2016, and Part 2 of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of the Last 35 Years. Let's get to it.

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75. NYPD Blue
74. Murphy Brown
73. ER
72. Knight Rider
71. Sledge Hammer!

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70. The A-Team
69. The Shield
68. China Beach
67. Dawson’s Creek
66. Ally McBeal

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65. Max Headroom
64. Northern Exposure
63. Deadwood
62. That 70’s Show
61. My So-Called Life

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60. Metalocalypse
59. Oz
58. Eerie, Indiana
57. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
56. House M.D.

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55. Pee Wee’s Playhouse
54. Aqua Teen Hunger Force
53. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
52. Daria
51. Are You Afraid of the Dark?

TOMORROW: THE 100 GREATEST (PART 3).

Monday, May 16

TV Month 2016 - The 100 Greatest (Part 1).

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I hope you've been enjoying TV Month 2016, and what would a CDP retrospectivus be without a big countdown?

All this week, we'll be rolling back my list of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of the Last 35 Years. Right off the bat, here are the ground rules:

1. My list, my shows. I ain't speaking for you, and why would you want me to?

2. To keep this list under 8,000 shows, I had to set a few personal parameters. It is for these reasons that I stuck to almost exclusively scripted comedies and dramas. For the most part, variety shows, reality shows and mini-series had to be sacrificed in order to make this a reality.

3. I chose 35 years, again, to keep the list from getting out of hand, and to focus on shows created in my lifetime. If there's an issue with this, please see Rule #1.

Let's go.

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100. Heroes
99. Nashville
98. ALF
97. Thirtysomething
96. The Muppets (2015)

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95. The Cosby Show
94. Adventure Time/Regular Show
93. Hey Arnold!
92. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
91. Newhart

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90. Saved by the Bell
89. Family Ties
88. Tales From the Darkside
87. L.A. Law
86. Fraggle Rock

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85. My Name is Earl
84. The Last Man on Earth
83. Picket Fences
82. The Middle
81. Sports Night

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80. Beverly Hills, 90210
79. Night Court
78. Melrose Place
77. Miami Vice
76. MacGyver

TOMORROW: THE 100 GREATEST (PART 2).

Friday, May 13

TV Month 2016 - The Unsolved.

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It was the Summer of 1986, and I was on death's door.

I had the flu. The little kid flu. To this day, it's about as sick as I've ever been. I was riding out a 100+ degree fever on my grandma's couch, sweating straight through to the springs. We didn't have air conditioning, but we did have a box fan that blew humid, recirculated air into my face between punctual bouts of barfing into an ice cream pail I kept by my head.

I slipped in and out of consciousness for the duration of the weekend. I slept, I sweat, I barfed and I watched TV.

It was during one of these comatose, surreal fever dreams when I saw a commercial that I had never seen before. It was advertising a cereal that didn't exist (Circus Fun), but it felt so real. It was like Lucky Charms, but with circus animal marshmallows. It had creepy clay animation and a deranged-sounding carnival barker. It felt like a nightmare broadcast, and it freaked me out something proper.

The whole ordeal was weird enough to convince myself that I had made the entire thing up; a byproduct of being sick as a dog at the age of 4. I never saw the commercial again, I never saw the cereal at stores, and nobody I ever talked to confirmed that the cereal ever existed. Case closed: It wasn't real.

Then 30 years later, this happened.



Well, son of a bitch. It was exactly how I had remembered it.

In the light of day (and adulthood), it's hard to pinpoint why certain, seemingly random things scared you as a child. But you definitely remember the feeling. I remember being afraid of the billboards advertising Jellystone Park, because of the giant, looming visage of Yogi Bear in the night sky. I remember seeing commercials for Time/Life's Mysteries of the Unknown book series and darting out of the room (I then went on to purchase all of them). And I remember this damn Circus Fun commercial, mostly because of the surreal uneasiness. Is what I'm seeing actually happening?

My curiosity always got the best of me; my fear taking a backseat to discovery. I read every book, watched every movie and took in every TV show that frightened me.

My jam was the Paranormal. Anything unsolved. Serial murderers on the loose. And wouldn't you know it, the 1990's blessed us with all of that and then some in the form of Unsolved Mysteries, the scariest television program ever made:



It was pitch-perfect nightmare fuel. The opening disclaimer. The iconic music. The reenactments. The haunting voice of Robert Stack. The way they swayed between journalism and pseudoscience in a way my childlike brain couldn't differentiate. Unsolved Mysteries was the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of scaring the shit out of me. I remember they did a two-hour special on nothing but poltergeist cases, and I couldn't sleep for days. It knocked something loose, presumably forever. Is what I'm seeing actually happening?

My love for the unexplained moved into the late 90's, as Unsolved Mysteries was followed by its FOX successor, Sightings.



Like Unsolved Mysteries, Sightings was not so much of a news broadcast as it went into the fringes of speculation and sensationalism (ie: bullshit). However, Sightings was all about the paranormal, all the time. Even after being canned by FOX, they moved to the Sci-Fi (NOT SyFy) Channel for the remainder of their run.

Pre-Alien Autopsy, I recall an episode where they attempted to track down the creator of the 'Guardian Tape,' or when they camped out for weeks at the sight of the 'Heartland Ghost,' where a supposed poltergeist was wreaking havoc on a young family. Pre-Internet, this was as far as my rabbit hole could go, and in retrospect, that was all for the better. I would have certainly become a Dale Gribble-type if left to my own devices. I needed to know more. Is what I'm seeing actually happening?

On Halloween night in 1994, CBS paid homage to War of the Worlds with the made-for-TV movie Without Warning. It was a clever film about aliens contacting us, America retaliating with violence (as we do), and the aliens retaliating by wiping us off the map. No problem, right?



Not so fast. While cheesy in retrospect, Without Warning was presented as a live broadcast of actual events as they happened, at a time where such media didn't exist in abundance. Also, while a disclaimer opened the show and bumped in the first few commercial breaks, the announcement did not resurface for the remainder of the presentation. In short, people were taken in and flipped their collective wigs. A lot of people, including myself.

It's not that I thought what I was seeing was actually happening. It's just that it was such a raw example of what could possibly happen if the shit went down, that it jettisoned me directly into an existential crisis regarding our mortality. It looks so ridiculous now, but I can't stress how effective it was on my 12-year old psyche.

I no longer live in a world where I'm fearful of aliens, poltergeists, Robert Stack and cereal commercials. But I am still afraid of the Unsolved. Only now, this manifests itself in the form of xenophobes, homophobes, racists, nationalists and anyone else who acts out of hate and fear, simply because they do not understand thoughts outside of their own. 2016's been weird, man.

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Yeah, I wish.

ALL NEXT WEEK: THE 100 GREATEST.

Thursday, May 12

TV Month 2016 - The Doomsday.

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"We will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event. We'll play the National Anthem only one time, on the first of June [the day CNN launched], and when the end of the world comes, we'll play 'Nearer My God To Thee' before we sign off." - Ted Turner

When CNN launched their 24 hour-a-day news network in 1980, ratshit lunatic billionaire Ted Turner uttered the above words. And as promised, they played the National Anthem when they signed on, but most reasonable people assumed the rest of his quote was hyperbole. At some point, the network would have to sign off before the apocalypse. Or at the very least, they weren't literally prepared to air a specific music number as a nuclear holocaust consumed the Earth...right?

Well, for any of us who followed the WWE/WCW 'Monday Night Wars' can attest, Turner was a man of his crazy, crazy word. However, it wasn't until January of 2015 when a CNN employee actually found the clip Turner was referring to in the archives, and it was legit as promised.

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It hasn't been converted to HD, but hey, it's the apocalypse! Nobody's going to care that much if it isn't in 1080p. Also note that it was very, very important that the video wasn't aired until the end of the world was confirmed, by CNN themselves, no doubt. The last thing CNN wanted was to jump the gun on a casualty. It was like hearing Jules' recite Ezekiel 25:17 in Pulp Fiction; if you saw it, it meant your ass.

But thanks to disgruntled interns, we were given the rare opportunity to cheat death and stare Doomsday right in its blurry, muffled eye:



I like that it was never updated. I like that, logically, nobody would be around to press the button to air it. I like that, logically, nobody would be alive to see it on CNN. I like the transcendental narcissism of Ted Turner, thinking that the masses would be huddled around the TV, watching his network, as the world burned.

In the 80's, it was perfectly rational to fear nuclear annihilation as a result of some Cold War snafu, so growing up, we were inundated with PSAs, made-for-TV movies and various other televised reminders that vaporization was never more than a Red Phone call away. To this day, the Missus freaks out whenever she hears an air raid siren. I don't think she's ever heard one in reality, but years of The Day After and Threads had her permanently on high alert.


(This is a mock-up, but it's fantastic and the real thing would be just as pants-shittingly terrifying. If I ever pulled something like this on my wife, she'd divorce me on the spot and flee with the cats.)

Analog TV experienced their own version of Doomsday in 2009, when it became law that all stations needed to convert their signal to digital. This meant no more antennas (unless you got yourself a converter box) and no more static, which was kind of a bummer for me. It was definitely the end of an era.

Further still, the analog-to-digital conversion made it a hell of a lot harder to hack into a TV station for no other reason than to mess with people, which is exactly what happened to Chicago's WGN and WTTW stations on November 22, 1987. During an episode of Doctor Who, no less.


(This really happened, and the culprit was never found.)

Most networks flipped their digital switch on February 11, 2009, although 6/12/09 became the de facto date after a few changes in legislation. There was concern that not enough people had the opportunity to get their hands on a converter box, and the argument was that TV was sort of a national right that couldn't exactly be taken away from the public, especially in the event of a Doomsday incident where everyone would need to be notified of an emergency at once. I was of the opinion that TV is a privilege, and it's up to you whether or not you wish to own one, so it's not anyone else's responsibility that you have a working one at the ready in case shit goes down.

However, my wife argued with me on this. Because the analog-to-digital conversion made a lot of TVs obsolete, and because this was no fault of their owners, and because this was essentially a government-mandated change, then yes, the government should make sure that everyone at least had the reasonable opportunity to have their TVs up and running smoothly by the cutoff date. I was wrong; she was right. In retrospect, it makes 100% sense. I just wanted to make that public in the event she still thinks I'm disputing her on it. I was being a butthole.

On the night of February 16, 2009, I did something I hadn't done in a while. I stayed up late to watch a channel go off the air. It was our local NBC station in Madison, and it was making the conversion (and channel) leap for good. This was made all the more special for me because my homie Ben worked for the network and made sure to save a copy for posterity.


(Wow, lotta hits. Good for him.)

When Doomsday hit NBC 15, they didn't go with the Ted Turner-suggested 'Nearer My God To Thee.' They stayed traditional and went with the National Anthem. That's because it wasn't really over; in fact, it was just beginning. A new era of TV had begun, and the previous had been scorched clean from the Earth. No apocalypse, no bunker, no food rations or gas masks. Just a brief test pattern and static for all of eternity.

Who wants to be around for the end of the world, anyway?

TOMORROW: THE UNSOLVED.