Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Vast Wasteland

Picture this: Sam is a slacker at a big box store forced to work for the
devil, retrieving the evil dead who have escaped from hell.

Why? It turns out Sam's parents sold his soul to said Devil before he was
born. We're not sure why. Maybe they didn't have health insurance.

But, hey, get over it Sam. It's more exciting than selling kitchen sinks
to do-it-yourselfers.

That is the storyline for a new show called "Reaper" and if that sounds
like your idea of entertainment, then pull up a chair. The new TV season is
about to be unleashed on a helpless public.

In one episode of "Reaper," Sam wakes up to find that everything he
touches gives him a shock, so he consults Satan, who tells him that this is
related to his next target - an escaped soul from hell who sucks energy from
power lines to regain strength. In order to capture the escapee Sam must use
his new vessel, a remote control monster truck, given to him by Satan

Sounds like must-see TV. If you're 12-years-old.

Other mind-expanding offerings this season.

"Miss Match" about a divorce attorney who discovers she has a nack for
matchmaking, thereby assuring herself of a steady stream of clients.

"Coupling" that centers on the complicated love lives of six singles. Are
there any singles left with simple love lives?

"The Ortegas, " a half sitcom, half talk show series features Cheech Marin
as a father whose son builds a television studio in the back yard. See it
quick, it has "canceled" written all over it.

"Online Nation" which scours websites, blogs and user-generated materials
on the Internet to find the best and sometimes bizarre offerings. Isn't this
just America's Funiest Home Videos disguised as something high tech?

"Bionic Woman," a feminist era icon who returns to kick butt in an era of
sexual equality.

"Big Shots" described by one critic as "four junior tycoons who create and
share problems - and get in a little golf."

"Moonlight" in which a good vampire falls in love with a mere mortal.

"Caveman," a sitcom about the Neandrathals next door, their lives and
loves. Based on an auto insurance commercial.

"Pushing Daisies" about a guy who can bring back the dead with a touch.

"Cashmere Mafia," the heart warming tale of four businesswomen who,
according to the network press release, "consistently outpace their male
colleagues and husbands in salary and title but have to watch out for
scheming bitches eager to bring them down."

And TV wonders why its ratings are declining.

Here is the best take on the state of television I've run accross:

"I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your
station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper,
profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you -- and keep your eyes
glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will
observe a vast wasteland.

"You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation
shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and
thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men,
private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And, endlessly,
commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all,
boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be
very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it."

Those words were spoken by Newton Minnow, FCC chairman, in 1961. That's
right, folks, 46 years ago. And that was before the Jerry Springer Show was
invented. That was before "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?"

Despite the introduction of cable TV, DVDs, CDs and Internet broacasts, the only change is
that we have a greater variety of mediocrity from which to choose.

And if you think there was some sort of golden age of television, consider these classic

"Rango," a 1967 sitcome starring Tim Conway as an inept Texas Ranger who had been assigned
to the quietest post the Rangers had, Deep Wells, so as to
keep him from creating unnecessary trouble. He had an Indian sidekick called
Pink Cloud.

How about "Woops!" a 1992 Fox network sitcom about the six survivors of a
world nuclear holocaust. The six of them live together in an abandoned farm
house while trying to survive and re-establish civilization. One critic
referred to Woops! as a "post apocalypse Gilligan's Island."

"Pink Lady and Jeff" aired in 1980. Pink Lady was a Japanese female
singing duo composed of Keiko Masuda ("Kei") and Mitsuyo Nemoto ("Mie"), and
"Jeff" was comedian Jeff Altman. The format of the show consisted of musical
numbers alternating with sketch comedy. Sample joke: Jeff: "You girls are the
biggest thing in Japan!" Pink Lady: "No, Jeff, the biggest thing in Japan is
Godzilla." If that didn't give you a hint, it is considered one of the worst TV shows ever.

"Homeboys in Outer Space" was a UPN sitcom that aired from 1996 to 1997.
The plot centered around an odd couple-type pairing who flew around the
universe in a winged car, piloted by a talking computer named Loquatia. The
show was a parody of science fiction shows such as Star Trek. It starred Flex
Alexander and Darryl Bell. The show was the target of a flurry of protests
from the NAACP and other civil-rights organizations for its use of

"Cop Rock" was a short-lived Steven Bochco television series on the
American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1990. It was an attempt to combine the
police drama (a format in which Bochco had been very successful earlier with
"Hill Street Blues") with musical theater. For example, one scene in a
courtroom had the jury break into song, proclaiming the verdict "He's Guilty"
in Gospel style.

And a personal favorite: "My Mother the Car," which followed the exploits
of attorney David Crabtree (played by Jerry Van Dyke), who, while shopping at
a used car lot for a station wagon to serve as a second family car, instead
purchases a dilapidated 1928 Porter touring car. Crabtree heard the car call
his name in a woman's voice which turned out to be that of his deceased
mother, Abigail (voiced by Ann Sothern).

Pass me the remote.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lucky Dogs

For all our scheming and scheduling, life remains true to its origins:
it's a game of random chance.

Take, for instance, Bunky Bartlett, who works part time at Mystickal
Voyage, a New Age gift shop in White Marsh, Md., and makes his living
advising small businesses.

He just beat 1 in 176 million odds to win a piece of the powerball
lottery, pocketing about $49 million.

Bunky is a follower of Wicca, a belief that traces its origins to
witchcraft but whose modern followers worship nature.

Bunky said favor with pagan gods resulted in his win.

And while Bunky is a lucky guy, or blessed if you believe in Pagan Power,
he finishes second in the most fortunate catagory.

The winner is Leona Helmsley's dog, Trouble.

Leona, a billionaire hotel operator and real estate investor, died
recently, thereby depryving her fellow New Yorkers of someone to hate.

Dubbed the "Queen of Mean," she had a reputation for tyrannical behavior
that was underscored when she told a housekeeper that "We don't pay taxes.
Only the little people pay taxes."

True to her philosophy, she was convicted of federal income tax evasion
and other crimes in 1989 and served 19 months in prison.

When it came time to read Leona's will, it became clear that she intended
to maintain her crusty reputation from beyond the grave. Her chauffeur got
$100,000, two of her grandchildren got zip.

But she left $12 million to Trouble.

Talk about wags to riches.

Trouble could have been your neighbor's pet or, perish the thought,
wasting away in a pound somewhere.

Instead, she ended up in Leona's lap. Talk about lucky dogs.

Leona has made sure that Trouble will continue to live in the style to
which she is accustomed.

According to Helmsley's former housekeeper, Zamfira Sfara, Trouble was
dressed in pricey outfits and sported a diamond collar. The dog's
chef-prepared meals - steamed vegetables and steamed or grilled chicken and
fish - arrived in porcelain bowls on a silver tray.

"The chef would have to leave all the [hotel] customers to make Trouble's
food," Sfara told the New York Daily News. "After it was mixed, I would have
to get down on my knees and feed the dog with my two fingers."

Trouble, apparently, didn't always appreciate the hired help.

"Everybody was bitten: bodyguards, the head of security, even customers
got bitten," said Sfara, who sued Helmsley in 2005 after, she said, Trouble
bit her.

"You'd never know when she would bite you," she said. "One time when she
bit me, she was chewing on my fingers, and Leona said, 'Good for you,
Trouble, she deserved it.' "

Life can be hard on easy street.

While Trouble will spend the rest of her dog years in luxury, she won't be
the only pet enjoying creature comforts.

After being abandoned at a British dog pound, Jasper, a doberman-labrador
mix, caught the attention of heiress Diana Myburgh. She died shortly
afterwards, and left Jasper a fortune.

Jasper lives on an estate, travels in a chauffered stretch limo and eats
only sirloin steak, fresh mussels, and Dover sole. He also sports a collar
made of diamonds.

Gunther IV is a German Shepherd, which made headlines after he and his
sire, Gunther III, were allegedly left $124 million upon the death of their
owner, Countess Karlotta Liebenstein in 1992. Gunther IV is now reputed to
be worth a whopping $372 million. However, some suspect that Gunther is a

Kalu the chimp got $109 million after owner Patricia removed her husband
Frank O'Neill's name from her will. If that wasn't enough to anger her
husband, he said he started to hate Kalu when he caught her smoking his
cigarettes and drinking his liquor.

A 52-year-old tortoise named Big Tibby was left with $100,000 after his
millionaire owner died. An African parrot called Csoki also inherited
$100,000 from his owner.

The best explanation I've seen for all this largesse is from a guy named
Russ Alan Prince, who tracks the habits of the rich.

"For some wealthy people, the only true love they get is from their pets,"
Prince says. "They're estranged from their children, they are at war with
their business partners, but their pets are always there for them."

It pays to be man's best friend.