DRACULA, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN + the 5W’s of Classic Film

BrideDRACULA MEETS THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Sadly, it’s a Universal Monsters team-up that never took place on the big screen, but it will happen tonight on COZI TV.

COZI, a nostalgia-themed broadcast network available as a digital sub-channel on NBC owned television stations (and part-time on DISH Network and AT&T’s U-Verse), will celebrate Halloween with two of the most iconic classic horror films, as part of the channel’s spooky, 24-hour programming block. Tod Browning’s DRACULA (1931), with Bela Lugosi as the creepy count who “never drinks…wine,” kicks off the primetime festivities at 8 p.m. And next up at 9:30 p.m. is THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), director James Whale’s follow-up to his heart-warming 1931 family film about a new dad and his rambunctious offspring. In the darkly comic sequel, an even madder mad scientist makes Dr. F look like a weekend hobbyist in the monster making department. Hilarity and explosions ensue.

Before and after the movies, COZI is airing Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, a paranormal anthology series that aired on ABC for three seasons, from 1959 until 1961. The show is hosted by actor and director John Newland, who also emceed The Next Step Beyond, a syndicated follow-up during the 1978-79 season. The Twilight Zone it ain’t, but One Step Beyond is still worth checking out.

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 2.52.11 PMSo, why are DRACULA and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, two of the best loved horror films ever made, not airing on TCM, where they might be exposed to a far wider audience of classic film lovers (and new potential converts)? The answer, as always, has to do with the labyrinth of corporate ownership that controls far more of what you see, where you see it, and how you see it than you may know.

DRACULA, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and every other Universal Monsters film made through the 1950s were released by Universal Pictures, which continues to control them and mine them for profits. In just the last two years we’ve seen both a Blu-ray box set – Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection – and a new DVD set – Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-film Collection. Also just released are new Legacy Collection DVD sets for Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, the Wolf-Man, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, not to be confused with the previous Legacy Collection releases from a few years ago. And don’t forget transactional VOD rentals and digital downloads on sites like Amazon, Vudu, iTunes, etc.

BluIn short, more than 80 years after these films were made, the Universal Monsters are the gift that keeps on giving for whichever corporate entity happens to control Universal at a given moment. And since COZI TV is owned by the NBC Owned Television Stations group, which is in turn a division of NBCUniversal (formed in 2004 through the merger of GE and Vivendi), they get the Halloween gift in 2014. And the roughly half of the United States that doesn’t get COZI TV in their local television market isn’t invited to the party.

To be clear, both films have aired on TCM, and probably will again. But you may not see them on Halloween on TCM, just like you don’t see IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (exclusive to NBC) or other iconic holiday films on the channel at Christmas. And, with the rise of broadcast digi-nets controlled by content owners – CBS just announced their own last week – you may continue to notice changes in the who, what, where, when and why of you classic film viewing.

Happy Halloween!

To see if COZI TV is available in your area, click here. For my more detailed explanation of broadcast digital sub-channels, click here.

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“Welcome Back, Kotter” wife Marcia Strassman (1948-2014) Remembered on MeTV

29Strassman-Obit-master495When actress Marcia Strassman, best known for her role as Julie Kotter on ABC’s Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79), was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer in March of 2007, she took on a new role: patient advocate. Strassman became an active fund-raiser and made frequent appearances on TV talk shows telling her story, sharing her secrets for coping, and offering hope to others living with the disease.

“Gee, if this could happen to Marcia, it could happen to me,” she said in a 2010 interview. “I’m not a sick person, I don’t live my life as a sick person.”

Strassman’s mission came to an end on October 24, when she lost her seven-year battle with the disease. The busy actress, also known for her role in HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989) and its sequels, kept working until nearly the end of her life, with an appearance earlier this year in the Hallmark Channel original film, LOOKING FOR MR. RIGHT. But she will forever be remembered as the sweetly sarcastic straight (wo)man to Gabe Kaplan’s beleagured Brooklyn high school teacher on the popular 1970s sitcom that spawned the immortal catchphrase/epithet, “Up your nose with a rubber hose!”

Kotter ran for four years and 95 episodes, peaking at number 13 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1976-77 season. The series spawned a trove of licensed products – lunch boxes , board gamestrading cards, comic books, and action figures  – I had most of them. It also helped launch the career of John Travolta, who became a teen pin-up as preening pretty boy Vinnie Barbarino.

RedMeTV, the nostalgia themed broadcast TV network, remembers Strassman tonight, with two Kotter episodes in which she is front and center. In I’m Having Their Baby (original airdate: February 24, 1977), a pregnant Julie Kotter gets some unlicensed pre-natal care from the Sweathogs (Travolta, Ron Palillo as Arnold Horshack, Robert Hegyes as Juan Epstein, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington) while Mr. Kotter is away at a teachers conference. And in Horshack and the Madame X (airdate: February 23, 1978), Julie tries to boost the date-less Horshack’s self-confidence, which, of course, results in the student developing a crush on her.

Horshack and the Madame X may be the sweetest episode of Welcome Back, Kotter; it’s certainly the one I remember most fondly, as I, myself, had a crush on Marcia Strassman’s Mrs. Kotter and her gigantic 1970s glasses and overalls.

For fans who don’t get MeTV, Welcome Back, Kotter is also available in a new 16-disc complete series DVD set, available now from Shout Factory. A “Best of” series is also available on iTunes and season 1 is available for digital download on Amazon Instant.

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The Force is with “Star Wars Rebels”

star-wars-rebels-event-posterI always enjoy getting mocked, particularly by people who are related to me

That’s exactly what happened at a family party last weekend when I suggested to five different relatives, ranging in age from 12 to 43, that they check out the new animated series Star Wars Rebels on the DisneyXD cable channel.

“Disney XD?” my 12-year-old niece exclaimed, wide-eyed. “Even I’m too old to watch Disney XD!”

One thing you need to understand: my family has always been a STAR WARS family. It all began when I saw the original film six times during the summer of 1977, and it continued as my cousins and I spent most of our shared youth playing with action figures, reading the newsletter of the Official STAR WARS Fan Club, and generally worshipping at the altar of George Lucas (at least until he betrayed us in 1999.)

And yet I got similar confused befuddlement from my 15-year-old niece, 19-year-old cousin, 41-year-old sister, and 43-year-old cousin, as if I had recommended we watch Dora the Explorer in our PJs while eating PB&J sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

BackClearly, my family has fallen under the influence of the Dark Side. Because Rebels feels more like the original STAR WARS trilogy in tone, design, and storytelling style than anything I’ve seen since the release of RETURN OF THE JEDI in 1983. Set five years before what is now known as STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE (1977), Rebels features a band of young mercenaries who taunt and evade the Galactic Empire and a ruthless villain called The Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs) aboard a Millennium Falcon-esque starship called The Ghost.

The team is led by Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), a swashbuckling young Jedi Master who survived the destruction of the Jedi Knights in REVENGE OF THE SITH 14 years earlier. Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) is his somewhat whiney teenaged apprentice, an orphaned thief from Lothal, a planet in the Outer Rim Territories. Zeb Orrelios (Steven Blum) is a Lasan warrior, one of the last survivors of a culture nearly destroyed by the genocidal Empire. Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar) is a 16-year-old Mandalorian weapons expert, graffiti artist, and object of Ezra’s affections. And Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall) is a Twi’lek female rebel, and the owner and pilot of the Ghost. She’s also the mother figure for the crew.

StormAnd there’s even a droid: C1-10P, also known as Chopper – a character based on the original design for R2-D2. And that’s one of the things I love most about this series – it’s based on the vision of Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012), the conceptual artist who worked on many of the early designs for the first STAR WARS film. In fact, Zeb is McQuarrie’s original concept for Chewbacca, and has many of the Wookie’s martial skills and general ass-kicking attitude.

Star Wars Rebels isn’t perfect. The CGI animation can be a bit video-gamey, and may be hard to take for some older viewers. And Taylor Gray’s vocal portrayal of Ezra is sometimes closer to the annoyingly mopey Anakin than the charmingly emo Luke. But the setting, design, and spirit feels very much like the STAR WARS of my youth – plus we’ve already gotten cameo appearances from Sen. Organa (Leia’s adoptive father), R2-D2, C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) and, in a special scene added for a rebroadcast of the hour-long pilot film on ABC, James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader.

This is Disney’s first major STAR WARS project following their acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, and it gives me, ahem, a new hope for the upcoming feature films. If you love the original trilogy, you owe it to yourself to check out Star Wars Rebels. The Force is with it.

New episodes of Star Wars Rebels air Monday nights at 9 p.m. on DisneyXD. And the series is streaming on the DisneyXD app, which is also available for Roku and Apple TV. It’s also available as a digital download on iTunes and Amazon

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Update: Vote Barnabas for Best Vampire in the World Series of Monsters

VoteLast updated 10/27/14 . Updated info at end 

Dark Shadows fans, I summon thee!

Barnabas Collins, the anti-heroic bloodsucker from ABC’s undyingly popular supernatural soap opera of the 1960s, has been selected as one of eight candidates for Best Vampire in the World Series of Monsters, an 11-category competition going on now on the HitFix website. But, with voting set to close today (October 26), TV’s “cool ghoul” is currently in last place.

This is an outrage of the first order. And one that must not stand.

As portrayed by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, Barnabas became an international sensation when he was introduced to the viewers of the ratings-starved daytime soap in April of 1967. What was intended to be a 13-week ratings stunt turned into four years of witches, werewolves and zombies, with some of the most outlandish plotlines ever to grace TV screens at any hour of the day. And Barnabas was at the center of the madness, sometimes saving people, and sometimes killing them. Depending upon his mood.

DarkShadows02-00cvrFrid went on to become a teen magazine heartthrob, a Billboard-charting recording artist (whilst reciting verse on the TV show’s soundtrack) and, eventually, a movie star, with a lead role in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970), series creator Dan Curtis’ hugely successful feature film adaptation.

Dark Shadows and its bloodsucking headliner broke content boundaries for television, and established an archetype – The Reluctant Vampire – that’s more popular today than ever before. Frid’s portrayal captivated millions of teens and tweens who “ran home from school” each day to watch his exploits, and the series inspired a generation of storytellers who continue to inject the show’s DNA into their work, nearly half  a century later

Without Dark Shadows, there is no Twilight, no Sleepy Hollow, no Penny Dreadful. The extent to which Barnabas Collins and his exploits impacted contemporary genre storytelling is incalculable, and it needs to be acknowledged. Right now.

But at last tally, Barnabas had scored only a measly 3.57% in the competition, putting him at number 8 out of 8 candidates. Here’s the tally (as it stands of this writing):

1. 22.41% - Dracula (Gary Oldman) from Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992)
2. 20.81% - David (Keifer Sutherland) from Joel Schumacher’s THE LOST BOYS (1987)
3. 15.74% - Count Orlock (Max Schrek) from F.W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU (1922)
4. 15.03% - Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) from Robert Rodriguez’s FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)
5. 9.86% - Dracula (Christopher Lee) from the Hammer Films series (1958-73)
6. 7.4% – Dracula (Bela Lugosi) from Tod Browning’s DRACULA (1931)
7. 5.19% – Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder) from Tobe Hooper’s SALEM’S LOT (1979)
8. 3.57% – Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) from Dark Shadows (1966-71, ABC)

There’s a lot wrong with this list, but that’s not the point of this post. (But seriously, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA is number one?) While I love Lugosi, Max Schrek and Christopher Lee, each of them has been duly acknowledged throughout the decades for their longstanding contributions to celluloid bloodsucking. Their films are readily available and frequently seen.

FridBut, in terms of time served, Frid’s Barnabas blows the field away with more than 500 half-hour TV episodes shot live-on-tape in a tiny, New York City TV studio over four years. And while the entire series is available on DVD, and 240 episodes are streaming at Hulu, Dark Shadows has not been widely seen since it left the Sci-Fi Channel’s daytime schedule more than a decade ago. The only reference many contemporary viewers have to the show is Tim Burton’s creatively bankrupt 2012 reboot. And that is another tragedy.

But one tragedy at a time. Barnabas Collins must not lose this fight. As the vampire himself might say, I implore you to vote here and to share this post on your Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Friendster, CB Radio and whatever other form of social media you may employ. It takes just one click!

Barnabas Collins has summoned you to do his bidding. And you will obey!

Update 10/27/14 - Voting has closed, but Barnabas made a very respectable rise from the dead, jumping from 3.57% to 4.2%. If you voted, thanks. If you didn’t, may the curse of eternal darkness fall upon you, and all those you love.

Here is the final tally. (Gary Oldman? Really?):

1. 22.24% – Dracula (Gary Oldman)
2. 20.65% – David
3. 15.64% – Count Orlock
4. 14.89% – Santanico Pandemonium
5. 9.78% – Dracula (Christopher Lee)
6. 7.41% – Dracula (Bela Lugosi)
7. 5.16% – Kurt Barlow
8. 4.24% – Barnabas

Thanks to Wallace McBride from the Collinsport Historical Society for the the VOTE BARNABAS image. 

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TCM (Temporarily?) Replaced by FXM on DISH

cnn_buildingOn the second day of the blackout that’s depriving as many as one in seven TCM viewers of their daily classic film fix, DISH Network has come up with a “creative” solution to help squelch viewer outrage.

After DISH pulled the plug on TCM, CNN, CNN en Espanol, HLN, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang at 2 a.m. (ET) on October 21, the satcaster began trying to fool viewers simulcasting similar programming on the blacked out channels. TCM has been replaced by FXM, MSNBC is now simulcast on the channels that previously carried CNN and HLN, and Discovery Family (formerly the Hub) is replacing Cartoon Network and Boomerang.

For as many as 14 million TCM viewers who subscribe to DISH, this is like the gift of a pox covered blanket. Because, while FXM (formerly known as Fox Movie Channel) may have previously been a commercial-free classic film channel, the network now devotes most of its advertiser-supported lineup to recent Fox releases like the Adam Sandler classic DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN (2008). Even worse, many of these films are edited for content. In the case of Adam Sandler “comedies” that may be a gift, but that’s not really the point.

Fox_Moxie_ChannelFXM’s relationship with classic film has been more complicated than the plot of THE BIG SLEEP. The channel began life in 1994 as fXM: Movies from Fox, with programming from the 20th Century Fox film library. It was rechristened Fox Movie Channel in 2000 and, for the next 12 years, broadcast films from the mid-1930s through the 1970s during the day, often in cropped or panned-and-scanned transfers that had been created for broadcast TV syndication packages in the pre-widescreen TV days. In primetime, Fox Movie Channel programmed more contemporary classics like THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989), often with specially created wraparounds featuring Fox executives and guests.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 8.31.42 PMIn 2012, the network switched to a 50/50 hybrid format, with Fox Movie Channel during the overnight and daytime hours and the newly branded – and now advertiser supported – FXM in primetime. And, in June of 2014, the channel officially switched to the FXM brand name, while retaining classics from roughly 3 a.m. until 2 p.m. The overnight/daytime lineup was rebranded FXM Retro and remains commercial free (during the films, at least).

You can still find the occasional classic film jewel in the wreckage that remains, but you have to look hard. Because the FXM website makes no reference to FXM Retro, the on-line schedule only begins at 2 p.m., and the TV listings site Zap2it.com doesn’t list the channel at all. There is a dedicated FXM Retro website, but you have to specifically look for it, and it’s not linked to on the main FXM site. This makes FXM Retro America’s only Secret Classic Film Network™. And now, thanks to DISH, it’s coming out of the black-and-white shadows.

While I may joke about this mess, it’s affecting lots of people in a very negative way. TCM fans are a dedicated bunch, and for some, the channel is a companion, a comfort, and even a nurse during times of serious illness. Both DISH and Turner Broadcasting need to get past the gamesmanship and get back to what really matters: the viewer.

Special thanks to Richard Kirkham, Ashley Phipps, Laura Grieve, and Valerie Frederick for their help with this article. For my original post on the DISH blackout, click here

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TCM Goes Dark on DISH Network

dish_network_logoTurner Classic Movies was dropped today by the nation’s third largest multichannel video programming distributor in a dispute over carriage fees, a move affecting more than 14 million viewers in the United States.

The Englewood, Colorado-based DISH Network removed TCM from their lineup in the early morning hours (after 2 a.m. ET), along with Turner Broadcasting networks CNN, CNN en Espanol, Headline News, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang. DISH’s deal for the affected channels expired in June, and the satcaster claims Turner refused to extend it. TNT and TBS are not affected by the blackout, though their separate contract with DISH expires in just a few weeks.

This is not the first Turner blackout in recent months on a major cable or satellite provider. A dispute over fees last October resulted in a 25-day blackout of Turner networks on Cable ONE, a Washington Post-owned MVPD serving 720,000 customers in 19 states.

As always in carriage fee disputes, the finger-pointing began almost immediately.

brand_stack“Turner has worked diligently for months to come to a fair agreement including multiple extensions and compromises, and it’s unfortunate that DISH is once again operating in a disruptive manner that takes away networks and programming from their customers,” Turner said in a statement. “We are hopeful our counterparts will return to the negotiating table, and we’ll get a deal completed.”

The Turner press release called the blackout “unilateral.”

Dish responded with their own statement, posted on the satcaster’s website:

“In the past year, Dish has successfully renewed agreements with many large content providers,” Dish SVP of programming Warren Schlichting said. “As a result, we are confident that we have offered a deal to Turner that reflects an appropriate value for our customers.”

Schlichting added that Dish remains “committed to reaching an agreement that promptly returns this content to DISH’s programming lineup.”

Both parties responded with websites voicing their talking points.

MelDISH’s site, Dish Stands For You, proclaims their commitment to “the best programming at a fair value” while suggesting that Turner is making “unreasonable financial demands.” DISH also claims that Turner pulled their programming from the satcaster. For TCM viewers, Dish kindly suggests “Other Dish Channels You My Like,” including Sundance, an advertiser supported movie channel from AMC that airs Law and Order and The Walking Dead reruns, as well as contemporary “classics” like CONSPIRACY THEORY, a 1997 thriller with Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts.

Turner’s rebuttal site, SaveMyShows.com, was down when I attempted to access it at 6 p.m. (ET) today, due to a “recent surge in traffic.” Ahem.

I had better luck with a second attempt at 6:50 p.m. TCM is featured prominently on the Shows You’re Missing page, with photos of CASABLANCA (1942), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) pictured, along with The Essentials. Clicking on any of these icons opens a dialogue box where viewers can initiate a phone call to DISH “through the use of automated technology” – provided by Turner, of course.

There’s also an option to “find other providers” but, for some viewers, that’s not possible.

“I live on a 52-acre farm, and, when I moved out here, cable was not an option,” Ashley Phipps of Julian, North Carolina told me via Facebook message. “TCM is one of the few channels I watch – almost all day, every day. Without it, and with DISH’s high prices, I’m thinking of ending my service.”

Unfortunately for Phipps and other DISH subscribers, TCM’s streaming app will not provide an alternative while the linear TV channel is blacked out.

Watch TCM will not be available to DISH customers while the network is off the air,” a TCM spokesperson told me in an email message.

1459919_10152777930720396_4348487113126238704_nThe fight even extended to TCM’s Facebook page, which was emblazoned with a banner claiming, “DISH dropped your favorite channels” and suggesting viewers “Call DISH now and demand your shows back.” As always when viewers lose programs they love – and pay for – the comments were vitriolic, with lots of ALL CAPS, and suggestions that “Ted Turner” should “agree to Dish’s terms.” As most informed TCM viewers know, Turner has not owned the company that bears his name since he sold it to Time Warner in 1996.

Public fights like this that leave viewers without the programming they love are always risky, particularly in a fragmented media landscape that offers more choice than ever before.

“These recent wars between providers and broadcasters have got to stop,” Phipps told me. “If they don’t, I see no point in continuing (to pay for) any service. getTV airs lots of old movies, and it’s free.”

You can read my follow-up to this post here

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As Turner Layoffs Loom, One Fan Says #DontTouchTCM

postWhen Turner Broadcasting announced job cuts yesterday that would eliminate nearly 1,500 employees, many TCM fans began to worry about the fate of their favorite channel – and the loyal men and women “behind the curtain” who work to keep classic film relevant and accessible.

But one viewer decided to do something about it.

Elise Crane Derby, a Los Angeles based writer and media blogger, took to her blog to pen an open letter to Turner’s New York-based CEO John Martin, the man who will dictate the headcount reductions that are expected to take effect within the next few weeks. Reports have indicated that 975 Atlanta-based employees will be laid-off, more than 15 percent of Turner’s workforce in the city of their founding.

“TCM is a family to us and we can’t imagine a single person is expendable,” Derby wrote on The LA Rambler. “It is every one one of TCM’s employees who have earned its viewers fierce loyalty and created a channel that is unparalleled.”

elise head shot (1)And she’s not stopping there. Derby is encouraging other TCM fans to show their support for the channel and its staff members by posting letters on their own blogs and mailing them to Martin. Her grassroots social media campaign has been dubbed #DontTouchTCM and Derby hopes it will inspire other fans to remind management of the important role the channel plays in the lives of film lovers.

“TCM often isn’t even mentioned in articles about Turner, or the layoffs,” she told me via email. “I  know the channel is a small part of the company, but it plays a huge role in the lives of many people. I thought it was important to make sure the corporate executives understand that. And when I read about the job cuts I decided to tell them how I feel.”

But is it too late for fans to make an impact? Recent reports have indicated that the number of headcount reductions has already been determined, and the pink slips are one step away from printing. But like Jimmy Stewart’s crusading senator in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), Mrs. Derby is not going down without a fight.

“Until the first TCM staffer loses their job it’s not too late,” she told me. “Fans need to speak up and spread the word. If we can save one job, this will all be worth it. And if we can’t, at least the people who are leaving will know how we feel about them.”

For more information on the #DontTouchTCM campaign visit The LA Rambler.

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