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bragging about my kids

Both of my kids ... seems funny to call them that when they're 29 and 26 ... shared some of their work experiences with me today, making me proud as usual. Sara called early this morning to ask if I'd pass along some info regarding the non-profit she works for ... she has a gazillion jobs! ... and later, the woman who sent me the material told me that Sara is "a pleasure to work with." Then Neal called a bit ago to tell me he's been named store manager at Emeryville! When I was in my mid-late 20s, I didn't know shit. But somehow my son and daughter have figured stuff out. I am the proud dad!


best series ever? last part

Vengeance Unlimited was a very odd idea for a teevee show. The concept itself wasn't unique ... in fact, it seemed to have been lifted from a mid-80s show called Stingray that I never watched. The concept was stated in the title: you want vengeance, you come to the hero, Mr. Chapel, and he takes care of everything. Either you pay him a million dollars, or you agree to help him at some point down the road. That's it, folks.

Except Mr. Chapel was played by Michael Madsen in his purposely obscure mode. His character was itself obscure, and Madsen didn't help matters by muttering all of his lines. If you like Madsen when he plays this kind of part, you would have liked Vengeance Unlimited (I know I did). Madsen's co-star was Kathleen York, who tried to give a massage with release to Larry David in a classic Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. The show was mean if not mean-spirited, with ugly plots, as this episode summary from TV Tome demonstrates:

When a little girl suddenly loses consciousness, it is suspected that the grass fertilizer is the cause. The girl may die if the manufacturer doesn´t give the doctors the formula.

But the manufacturer doesn´t want to lose any profits, and hires a lawyer, Michael Dearborn, that buries all evidence - and even blackmails a scientist that wants to testify into going away for a long time.

Chapel uses a client to switch judges, but Dearborn seems to have every advantage against the prosecuting attorney, Bizzini, a slob with very litle experience.

It seems it´s time to bring out the chain saw, the shovel, some pepper spray and a brand new eighteen-piece suit...

The show, from the late-90s, lasted only 16 episodes ... it was on opposite Friends, and in a tip of the cap, the final episode was called "Friends."

And finally, I suppose I should mention Turn-On. We take you back to February 5, 1969. I know what I was doing then, and there aren't a whole lot of other people who did what I did that night: I watched Turn-On. The program is now legendary, but most of us who saw it in '69 are relying on murky memories ... all I can recall is the heads of Tim Conway and somebody else mugging underneath the flashing word "SEX". It wasn't any good ... it was supposed to be a clone of Laugh-In but it was far smuttier. And thereby grew the legend.

Because it was cancelled. After one show. Or, if you believe the legends, after a few minutes. According to the IMDB:

Cancelled ten minutes into the first show, 5 February 1969.

Quickly lost its sponsor, Bristol-Meyers.

During or after the first (and only) episode, 75 ABC affiliates refused to air any more episodes ever.

Rejected by CBS after executives claimed it left test audiences physically "disturbed". Also flat-out rejected by NBC.

If I liked this show, or even if I just remembered it better, it would probably be the ultimate Steven Show: cancelled before the first episode had finished.

All of these posts started when Scott asked for a Top Ten Series list. I never got around to that ... I just reminisced about mostly-forgotten shows. I don't have a Top Ten ... I can tell you what shows I've collected on DVD, maybe that says something: The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, My So-Called Life, NYPD Blue, The Prisoner, The Simpsons, and Sports Night. Truth be told, my favorite teevee show is probably "sports."

I can't do it, can't come up with a Top Ten Series list. So I'll offer three shows that would certainly appear in any list I came up with: I Love Lucy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Sopranos.

Meanwhile, teevee life goes on. Rescue Me was good again last night, John Kerry was on The Daily Show, and I'm watching USA-Brazil for the women's football gold medal as I type this.

Here's a final list of the shows I talked about in this thread:

Action
American Gothic
The Avengers
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Cheers
Crime Story
EZ Streets
Freaks and Geeks
The Honeymooners
I Love Lucy
Karen Sisco
Moonlighting
My So-Called Life
NYPD Blue
The Office
Pee-wee's Playhouse
Prime Suspect
The Prisoner
Rescue Me
Shindig
Sports Night
Turn-On
Vengeance Unlimited


boo hoo HDTV update

Needs a part. Will probably take two weeks or longer. That's what I get for owning a German teevee, I guess.

I was almost hoping they'd say it was completely broken and that I'd get a replacement. Because prices have come down over the last three years, and so an equivalent model based on what I paid might be even better.

Outside of sports (the Giants having just added HD to their mix), the only thing I'm watching these days in HD is Dead Like Me. The Wire is the next show to start up, but it hasn't been HD in the past. So I guess I should count my blessings. And watch the 20" WEGA in the bedroom.

Helps me get through my Buffy DVDs, since I don't care what machine I watch them on. Just started Season Six. I first mentioned Buffy in this blog the second day of its existence, and I've never shut up since. Season Six has the delightful, groundbreaking musical episode, and the death of a character I probably liked more than other people did. It has its moments, but right now, I might put it at the bottom of the list of seven seasons.


jon and john

John Kerry was the guest on The Daily Show last night ... it's being rerun a couple of times today, and I'm sure excerpts will show up on the Comedy Central website very soon. Kerry wasn't as stiff as you'd expect, which isn't to say he was comfortably goofy or anything. He came across as a human being, not as wonkish as Clinton was when he made his appearance awhile back (nor as comfortable, for that matter), but smart and engaged. While it's always possible he was just fed tidbits by his staff, Kerry gave evidence of actually knowing who Jon Stewart is and of having watched TDS on occasion. While Stewart's contempt for Bush and his cadre seems pretty clear most of the time, the extent of his Kerry-bashing is generally nothing more than making fun of his dull speaking manner, and in the interview, Stewart was genuinely pleased to have the future President on his show.

Kerry pulled off an interesting feat, with the help of Stewart (not implying it was planned, just that it came out in a manner which aided Kerry): he acted mature, even presidential, brushing off the crap that is Bush as if W was a fly, but presenting himself in a positive fashion, leaving the Bush bashing to Stewart. Yes, I know, Jon S is unbiased ... yeah, right. Stewart asked plenty of questions regarding the shit that Bushies dump on us, raising the issues that needed to be raised, and in bringing the issues to the front, he allowed Kerry to answer them without rancor. The rancor (and the glee in hearing these things discussed) came more from the audience and, to a lesser extent, from Stewart, leaving Kerry seeming calm and grown-up.

I think we got an idea of what The Daily Show will be like when Kerry is president. Jon Stewart and the rest of the Daily Show crew are not raving leftists ... well, maybe Colbert is, and now that I think of it, Lewis Black definitely is ... what disturbs them about the current administration is 1) they are bunch of lying scumbags, and 2) they get a mostly free pass from the "press." When Kerry takes office, the raving leftists like me will immediately begin trashing President Kerry because he's nowhere near our idea of a perfect president, but my sense of Jon Stewart is that he'll like Pres. Kerry just fine, and we'll mostly get more jokes about how Kerry talks like Frankenstein's monster. Stewart likes John McCain, after all.

Meanwhile, we can be content with inside info like this, which Kerry offered at one point. "You'd be amazed at the number of people who want to introduce themselves to you in the men's room. It's the most bizarre part of this entire thing."


gmail invite

I have a Gmail invite ... who wants it? This is how you get Gmail, someone invites you in. Eventually it will get out of beta and everyone will be able to get an account, but for now, this is the method. Send me an email, and I'll figure out how to distribute it after I see how many people are interested.


therapy

In June of 1984, I was published for the first time. We had gotten our first computer the year before, a VIC-20, and by June of '84 we'd moved up to a Commodore 64. With the help of a friend, Dale Watson, who was studying to become a psychologist, I wrote a program that simulated a therapy session. It was called Dr. Vic, although after I expanded it to the C-64 it became known as "Therapy." I sent it to a magazine called Compute!'s Gazette and they accepted it. I think I got paid $150, although I'm not sure. It appeared in the June 1984 edition (and later showed up in a book the magazine put out). That edition was the first time the magazine included a floppy disc so you didn't have to type in programs ... I got $1500 in royalties for that disc, which was nice because I'd just quit my job at the factory.

Well, I found the following picture of the program at a website devoted to old C-64 games:

therapy
I still have a copy of that magazine ... here's a simulation of the simulation, how it worked.

COMMODORE 64: HELLO. I'M DR. ROM. WHAT'S YOUR NAME?

ME: STEVEN

64: IN ONE WORD, STEVEN, WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?

ME: WORK

64: WORK ...? CAN YOU TELL ME MORE?

ME: MY CLASSES JUST STARTED AND I FEEL OVERWHELMED.

64: I UNDERSTAND WORK IS DIFFICULT FOR YOU.

ME: YEAH, I'M A REAL GOOF OFF.

64: CAN YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC? HOW IS WORK A PROBLEM FOR YOU?

ME: WELL, I DON'T HAVE MUCH OF A WORK ETHIC.

64: HOW DOES THIS MAKE YOU FEEL, STEVEN?

ME: LAZY.

64: SO WHAT YOU ARE SAYING, STEVEN, IS THAT YOUR PROBLEM WITH WORK IS MAKING YOU FEEL LAZY. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON YOUR FEELINGS?

ME: I GOOF OFF, THEN I GET BEHIND AT WORK, THEN INSTEAD OF WORKING I JUST FEEL BAD.

64: HAS THIS BEEN A PROBLEM FOR YOU BEFORE? (YES OR NO)

ME: YES

64: DID YOU ALSO FEEL LAZY THEN?

ME: I SUPPOSE SO.

64: TELL ME MORE.

ME: I'VE ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY. I CAN'T REMEMBER A TIME WHEN I WASN'T LAZY.

64: I THINK WE HAVE SOMETHING HERE. DO YOU SEE A PATTERN?

ME: WHY YES, I DO, NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT.

64: GO ON ...

ME: WELL, I'VE BEEN LAZY FOREVER AND IT AFFECTS MY WORK.

64: THIS SOUNDS DIFFICULT FOR YOU. DO YOU HAVE A PLAN TO DEAL WITH THIS CURRENT SITUATION? YES OR NO.

ME: NO

64: WHY DON'T YOU MAKE A LIST OF POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS, THEN.

ME: I GUESS I COULD.

64: OKAY, WHAT SINGLE WORD BEST DESCRIBES HOW YOU ARE FEELING RIGHT NOW?

ME: DISTANT

64: DISTANT ...?

ME: YEAH, LIKE I'M NOT REALLY CONNECTED TO PEOPLE.

64: I'M THINKING OF DOING SOMETHING HERE. LET'S TRY SOME WORD ASSOCIATION AND SEE WHERE IT LEADS US. WHAT DO YOU THINK (YES OR NO)?

ME: YES

64: LET'S DO IT. I'LL SAY A WORD. YOU SAY THE FIRST WORD THAT COMES TO YOUR MIND. DOG

ME: CAT

64: DRINK

ME: MILK

64: HOME

ME: DIRTY

64: WORK

ME: BORING

64: FEELINGS

ME: NO

64: FUN

ME: TEEVEE

64: MOM

ME: EVIL

64: LAZY

ME: ME

64: I NOTICED WHEN I SAID HOME THAT YOU SAID DIRTY. DOES THIS SOMEHOW REFLECT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT YOURSELF? YES OR NO

ME: YES

64: IN WHAT WAY?

ME: I'M A MESSY PERSON, THAT'S ALL.

64: HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO YOUR PROBLEM WITH WORK?

ME: IT ALLOWS ME TO PROCRASTINATE, WHEN I DON'T WANT TO WORK, I THINK ABOUT THE HOUSE BEING MESSY.

64: WHEN I SAID WORK, YOU SAID BORING. WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS MEANS?

ME: I GET BORED WHEN I DO WORK, DUH.

64: ARE YOU DISTRESSED? DO YOU WANT A KLEENEX?

ME: NO, I'M OK.

64: IT'S INTERESTING THAT WHEN I SAID FUN, YOU SAID TEEVEE.

ME: WELL, THE BIG TV JUST BROKE, I WAS THINKING ABOUT THAT.

64: HMMMM ... IT SEEMS TO ME, STEVEN, THAT THIS ALL TIES IN TO YOUR PROBLEM WITH WORK.

ME: NOT SURE I FOLLOW.

64: LET'S TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH. TELL ME ABOUT ONE OF YOUR DREAMS.

ME: I'VE BEEN HAVING LOTS OF VIVID DREAMS LATELY, BECAUSE OF MY MEDS. THEY ARE VERY INTENSE.

64: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FEELINGS IN THE DREAM.

ME: IT'S LIKE THOSE DREAMS THAT ARE REAL, ONLY THESE ARE EVEN MORE REAL, INCLUDING THE FEELINGS.

64: DID THE DREAM HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH EVIL?

ME: SOMETIMES THEY DO.

64: I THINK WE'RE MOVING IN A GOOD DIRECTION. WE'VE DISCUSSED YOUR PROBLEM WITH WORK AND HOW THIS MAKES YOU FEEL LAZY; AND DISCUSSED SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS. I SEE YOUR TIME IS UP. SEE YOU NEXT WEEK.

The program worked because it was simple. The most famous such program back in the day was called "Eliza" ... you talked to Eliza, she answered back in a way that made you think a real person was behind her comments. Except "Eliza" was too complex for its own good ... it had canned replies to certain key words, and if you said one of those words, it would offer its reply even if it didn't make sense. It was also slow, because the program had to search through its database of key words everytime you typed something. "Therapy" was tiny because our Commodore computers had very little memory, so almost everything the "patient" typed was instantly forgotten, in order to clear up memory. You could type and type, and it would ignore every word, then say something like "tell me more" to make it seem like it was listening.

It remember some things, as the above simulation makes obvious. Your name, your problem, how your problem makes you feel. The word association test seems solid because it includes your problem (in this case, work) and remembers your response for later discussion. (It also remembers your reply to the word "mom" and brings it up later ... "Did the dream have anything to do with evil?" Sometimes that one would really freak out the user.)

It was a silly and simple program, but it got me in print, made me some money when I needed it most, and fooled more people than you'd think. And there it remains, 20 years later, still available for people to check out on the Internet.


best series ever? part 4

Pee-wee's Playhouse was a favorite at our house. We actually saw Pee-wee in concert before the Playhouse made him a big star ... mostly he was on Letterman in those days. This was like the gayest show of all time, unless you count Bewitched ... who could forget Lawrence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis asking Pee-wee how his hot dog was? And there was Phil Hartman and Natasha Lyonne and S. Epatha Merkerson, and the guy who played Blacula, only now he was the King of Cartoons.

Prime Suspect isn't exactly a series, at least by American definition ... more of a bunch of mini-series. But I had to find a way to mention Helen Mirren, so here she is. Perhaps the only thing I ever watched on Masterpiece Theatre or whatever PBS was calling it ... maybe this was Mystery, I don't know. I always avoided those BBC thingies, not always to my credit, since when I finally watched I, Claudius on DVD I was bowled over by how great it was.

Speaking of British imports, there's always The Prisoner, which was a fave of mine when I was a teenager and remains a fave now.

This isn't quite the place for this, but Rescue Me is the best new show of the summer. Granted, there's not a lot of competition ... I think Entourage is the only other one I'm watching ... but Rescue Me is turning into an excellent show, and it's on FX, which is basic cable.

Shindig was the best music show of my childhood, running on ABC from 1964-66 before it was replaced by Batman. Everyone seemed to appear on this show ... highlights I can still remember include Jerry Lee Lewis, the Rolling Stones, and pretty much anytime Jackie Wilson was on (Wilson's greatness as a live performer is unjustly forgotten).

Sports Night was the best television Aaron Sorkin has ever done, and yes I've seen West Wing. It's the best television Peter Krause ever did, and yes I've seen Six Feet Under. Sports Night is the Ultimate Steven Show ... not only was it critically acclaimed but unwatched, not only was it treated poorly by its network, not only was it cancelled after two seasons, but the second season of Sports Night was a commentary on itself. You see, "Sports Night" was not only the name of the show, but also the name of the show in the show ... the series was about a sports highlight show a la Sports Center on a fictional, low-rated network, and the show in the series was called "Sports Night," and it got bad ratings, and consultants were brought in to improve the ratings, but the show got canned anyway, leading to the immortal in-show quote, "Anyone who can't make money off of Sports Night should get out of the money-making business." The show is a classic on the basis of the writing, acting, and characterizations, and deserves to be seen in its entirety (get the DVD set), but if I have to pull out a single episode, there are few in the history of teevee as great as "The Cut Man Cometh," with classic dialogue like:

Casey: Cut Man, this has to be a heartbreaking loss for Clayton Willis, you think the outcome would've been any different if Willis had taken some physic to work on his bowels?
Cut Man: No doubt about it, Casey.
and:
Casey: What kind of punch was it?
Cut Man: It was a right hook... with a bit of a jab.
Casey: A jabbing right hook?
Cut Man: That's right, Casey.
Casey: And he threw it with his left hand?
Cut Man: This fighter's got remarkable skills, Casey, he's not to be trifled with.
Speaking of Six Feet Under, we just finished watching Season Two, and I didn't notice it was any different than Season One. It's a pretty good show, not my favorite but good. I just think they should cut down on the melodrama ... these characters are whiny and miserable on an average day, they don't need unusual occurrences to feel like crap.

I'll finish next time.