DISH Threatens to Blackout TCM + Turner Networks “Forever”

ErgenLet’s say you were the chairman of the third largest multichannel video programming distributor in the United States, and your customers were entering the third week of a blackout of some of their favorite TV channels, due to an inscrutable squabble between corporate behemoths.

How would you discuss the situation in a public venue? Odds are your approach would be less tone deaf than that of DISH Network chairman Charlie Ergen.

“It’s almost been a non-event at this point,” Ergen told analysts and members of the media today, referring to the blackout of eight Turner networks, including TCM, that began on October 21. “Turner…is one of the easy ones to take down.”

And just in case you’re one of those bright-eyed optimists who thinks, “These companies will work it out. They always do,” Ergen added this little nugget:

“When we take something down we’re prepared to leave it down forever.”

dish_network_logoErgen is clearly attempting to negotiate in the media, perhaps in the wake of the blustery bombast from Turner CEO John Martin at Time Warner’s Investor Day presentation on October 15:

“We are getting the rate increases we’re seeking. By year end will have new deals with 8 of top 10 distributors,” Martin assured analysts. “We’re approaching these discussions from a position of strength.”

While it’s true that Turner’s cable network affiliate revenues are up 8.8% over 2013 to $4.2 billion (second only to Disney), Ergen is unimpressed, suggesting that the channels in this bundle – excluding TNT and TBS, which are part of a separate deal – are not priorities to his subscribers. 

“(Channels) like CNN are not quite the product that they used to be. You can imagine: CNN down on election night would have been a disaster 15 or 20 years ago. Now there are plenty of other places for people to get news,” he said. “We have other news and cartoon shows (referring to Cartoon Network and Boomerang). (Would subscribers) rather save the money? There’s a pretty good chance that they would.”

BobErgen’s “one channel is interchangeable with another” worldview was demonstrated within hours of the blackout when DISH began swapping out Turner networks for replacements with similar programming. TCM with replaced with FXM, formerly the Fox Movie Channel, an advertiser-supported network that programs recent film releases during half its programing day. Not long after I wrote an article condemning DISH for this bait-and-switch, the satcaster began simulcasting MGM HD in TCM’s stead. MGM, which also carries ads, may be a more appropriate substitute than FXM, but it still pales in comparison to TCM’s 24 hours per-day of commercial-free classics.

And Ergen is not stopping at CNN, CNN en Espanol, HLN, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang. He’s also extending his posturing to DISH’s carriage of TNT and TBS, which is up for renewal later this year.

“(I)f we’re not going to carry CNN or Cartoon Network then I’m not really excited when your contract’s up to carry TNT and TBS. So we have to be prepared that those channels will come down as well,” he said. “Those will be more painful.”

With an average subscriber fee of $1.33 (second only to ESPN), the loss of TNT alone from 14.1 million homes would have a impact on Turner’s bottom line, both in affiliate fees and ad revenue. When you add TBS and the other Turner networks, the stakes increase. To put the current dispute in perspective, all eight of the currently blacked-out channels on DISH (excluding TNT and TBS) cost subscribers on average $1.57 per month combined, which equates to only pennies per month, per subscriber for TCM. Think about that the next time you pay a gigantic cable bill strictly because you want to keep watching TCM.

Lost in the gamesmanship and focus on the bottom line is the importance TCM plays in the lives of many of its viewers – this one included. Ergen may dismiss it as “easy to take down” and replaceable with other channels, but reader feedback I’ve received tells a very different story. Here are a few excerpts of comments posted on Cinematically Insane over the last two weeks:

“I want TCM back! There is no TV without it.” – Ruthie

“I watch TCM every day…This has got to be solved YESTERDAY.” – Kathleen

“This is bull! I want TCM back. Only channel I watch and now it’s gone.” – Connie

“My husband loves TCM. Every night at 7pm he turns it on and usually will watch what is on… Please negotiate whatever is needed and bring it back.” – Jean

“TCM was the main reason I’ve stayed with Dish network… They need to settle this dispute.’’ – John

“I pay $86.27 a month just to WATCH TCM… I can watch it for hours and forget the nasty old world we have.” – Ricky B.

“Fix your problems we pay WAY TO MUCH FOR TV AND IT IS YOUR JOBS TO KEEP ALL THE PROGRAMMING THAT WE PAY FOR.” – Dan

“Please please please bring back TCM because it is the only channel I watch. What a great inconvenience & aggravation. With all the terrible world events happening TCM is a positive outlet.” – Lora

“TCM…is the ONLY channel I can leave on and not worry that my kids will walk by and see or hear something inappropriate…Have some moral and ethical decency and put TCM back on the air.” – Gina

“There is no channel that can replace TCM. The classic movies…(are) one of a kind and such good entertainment! Beats a lot of the trashy shows on the major networks any day. Wish DISH and Turner would hurry up and resolve their dispute and return TCM back where it belongs! I look forward to watching TCM every day and miss it so very much.” – Yvonne

“If Dish cannot / will not bring TCM etc. back PRONTO we will be gone for good!” – Mike and Tina

“I love TCM and watch it every day. Greed has taken over the entire world. Isn’t billions of dollars enough for all you people? Let the little man watch his programs. We are the ones that made you what you are.”– Albert

“I subscribe to Dish because of TCM and I have dropped other services because of issues like this. I have a terminal illness, just please let me go with my memories.” – name withheld

Based on Ergen’s comments today, a deal between DISH and Turner had better be imminent, or it may never happen.

“(T)here comes a point in time – certainly during this month,” he said. “(that) if we don’t have a deal we just make a long-term decision to go a different direction.

Update 11/5/14: Read the Turner CEO’s response to Ergen here – plus a theory on what really may be causing this blackout 

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Posted in DISH Network, TCM | 40 Comments

4 World Premiere Restorations Announced for 2015 TCM Film Fest

tcm-2015-v2Turner Classic Movies announced today that passes for the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival  will go on sale to the public on Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 12 p.m. (ET). A limited number of passes for event will also be available to Citi cardmembers via an exclusive online only presale beginning at 10 a.m. (ET) on Tuesday, November 11 and concluding at 10 a.m. (ET) on Thursday, Nov. 13.

The network also announced the first batch of films for the sixth annual classic film conclave, scheduled for March 26 – 29 in Hollywood. All four are world premiere restorations, an increasingly important marketing hook for anything involving classic film.

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Buster Keaton’s STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (1928) will screen at TCMFF in a new restoration presented in collaboration with Cohen Film Collection. Keaton’s beloved comedy about the son of a paddleboat captain who falls in love with the competitor’s daughter will be presented with a live orchestral accompaniment of a new score by silent film composer Carl Davis, with Davis conducting.

STEAMBOAT BILL JR. contains both my favorite extended sequence of visual comedy and my favorite sight gag in all of silent film: the hurricane that blows William Canfield Jr. (Keaton) through the town on his bed, and the two-story house that crashes down on top of him.

This screening continues TCM’s practice of presenting new silent film restorations with live musical accompaniment, a tradition that began at the first TCMFF in 2010 with Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (1928) accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra (which is still my greatest-ever TCMFF experience). At the fifth annual Festival this past spring, Davis conducted the world premiere live performance of his new original score for Harold Lloyd’s WHY WORRY (1923) with an orchestra at the historic Egyptian Theater. He also appeared in a Q&A at the Club TCM event space earlier in the day.

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TCM will celebrate the 55th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s SPARTACUS (1960) with a new restoration presented in collaboration with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. This will be a repeat performance for the sword and sandal epic, which was previously presented at the 2011 TCMFF in an unforgettable screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theater with the Kirk Douglas in attendance.

“We love you Kirk,’ I said to the then-94-year-old legend as he made his way off stage after a Q&A with Robert Osborne.

“I love you too,” he replied with a big smile.

No word yet on whether Douglas will be in attendance. He turns 98 on December 13 and made an appearance just two weeks ago to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Culver City theater that bears his name.

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William Dieterle’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939) will screen in a new restoration presented in association with Warner Bros. Classics. The lavish RKO adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel stars Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, with Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda. The legendary actress, still with us at age 94, was one of the most highly anticipated guests at the Festival earlier this year, introducing a screening of John Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941). She also participated in a taped Q&A with Robert Osborne at the Roosevelt Hotel, highlights of which were broadcast on TCM during O’Hara’s “Star of the Month” salute in July.

Like with Kirk Douglas, TCM has not yet indicated if Maureen O’Hara will be in attendance for this screening.

dvd_apolloThe head scratcher in this announcement – at least for me –  is Ron Howard’s APOLLO 13 (1995) with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris. TCM actually leads their press release announcing their screening of the “world premiere restoration, presented in collaboration with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment” which is odd, considering that many attendees may wonder why a film that is only 20 years old needs to be restored.

Others may question why TCMFF is presenting such a “recent” film, though it’s not the first time they’ve dipped their toes into mid-1990s “classics.” Stephen Herek’s MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS (1995) screened at the Festival earlier this year, with star Richard Dreyfuss in attendance, and Dreyfuss also was a guest on the recently completed TCM Classic Cruise.

The advantage to presenting more recent films at these events is, of course, that more of the cast and crew is available to appear at the screening. If TCM can score Ron Howard and one or more of the principal cast members, it will be interesting to see how many of the Old Movie Weirdos choose to attend a more contemporary classic at TCMFF. If they can’t, or don’t, then what’s the point? Give us another classic Noir or Pre-Code.

To read my guide to the 2015 TCMFF click here. To visit the TCMFF website click here

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Halloween Hangover Tonight on “Hollywood Time Machine”

JosBarPortraitIf you read this blog on a regular basis, you know I’m a big Dark Shadows fan.

Actually, big is an understatement; it’s more like obsessed. The 1960s supernatural soap opera has played a huge role in my life since I first discovered the series in syndicated reruns in 1982, so I’m thrilled to announce that Kathryn Leigh Scott will be joining host Alicia Mayer and me on tonight’s live broadcast of Hollywood Time Machine on LA Talk Radio.

As Josette DuPres, the doomed bride of anti-heroic vampire Barnabas Collins, and her reincarnation Maggie Evans, Kathryn was the female lead on the undyingly popular ABC-TV series for four years. She also recreated her television role in MGM’s 1970 feature film adaptation HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (which I wrote about here). And she continues to play her characters in newly produced audio dramas nearly half a century later.

Kathryn is also the founder of Pomegranate Press, a specialty imprint that has published more than 50 books, many written by Kathryn herself. Pomegranate has published a number of Dark Shadows related books, including Return to Collinwood, a 2012 volume tied to the release of Tim Burton’s feature film reboot of the TV series, starring Johnny Depp in the role made famous by Jonathan Frid.

Contemporary TV viewers will also recognize Kathryn as George Segal’s girlfriend Miriam on the popular ABC sitcom The Goldbergs.

MiguelKeeping with the Halloween Weekend theme, we’ll also have Miguel Rodriquez on tonight’s show. Miguel is the creator and host of the Monster Island Resort Podcast, which discusses horror in history, art, literature, film, and beyond. He’s also the director of the Horrible Imaginings Film FestivalSan Diego’s first film festival dedicated to macabre art and cinema. His background in classic literature and education have helped make him San Diego’s premiere cult cinema curator, hosting at least three screenings monthly for various venues and learning institutions, including UCSD, The Natural History Museum, and the public library system.

I’ve spent lots of time with Miguel at the TCM Classic Film Festival, and been a guest on his show, so it will be a real treat to chat with him tonight.

Mary Mallory, silent film historian and the author of Hollywoodlandwill also join us to to discuss the German Expressionism exhibit at LACMA and The Silent Treatment series at Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles.

Tinseltown_hc-Final-7.28.2014We’ll close the show with a discussion of one of the most notorious murders in Hollywood history. In his new book Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywoodauthor William J. Mann opens the cold case of actor and director William Desmond Taylor, a mystery that has remained unsolved for more than 90 years.

Mann is also the author of Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand (2012), How to be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood (2009), Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn (2007), Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger (2006), and Wise Cracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star (1999)

You can listen live to Hollywood Time Machine on LA Talk Radio Channel 2 tonight (and every Saturday night) at 9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific. And if you feel so inclined you can support the show’s Indiegogo campaign by clicking here.

Happy Halloween Hangover!

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Update: Netflix Classic Film Comings + Goings – November, 2014

netflix1“Whenever there’s a movie I want to see, it’s never on Netflix!” my 7-year-old nephew complained, while relaxing in front of his Roku after an exhausting night of trick-or-treating in his 20-story New York City high rise. “It seems like they have mostly TV shows.”

While Sammy may have been buzzed on Kit-Kats and that fishy odor from the apartment on the 15th floor, he was definitely on to something: there is a growing perception that Netflix is a venue for episodic television first, with movies a distant second. The very concept of binge-watching requires multiple installments available all at once, far more likely to be done with, say, Orange is the New Black, rather than with Robert Altman movies. With the built-in “post play” feature that automatically jumps to the next episode, binge-watching has become part of the Netflix business model, and audiences are embracing it with surprising speed.

In a November, 2013 study commissioned by the streaming service and conducted by Harris Interactive, 61 percent of adults 18 and older said they binge-watch regularly, and 73 percent view binge-watching as positive. (Viewers defined binge-watching as “watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.”)

Even the news headlines generated by Netflix this week regard series content, not film acquisitions: a new, live action Richie Rich series from Dreamworks’ Awesomeness TV, debuting in early 2015; the first trailer for the 10-episode epic Marco Polo, coming in December; Sony Pictures Television’s soapy-sounding drama Bloodline (from the creators of Damages), premiering in March, 2015; F is For Family, an animated series focusing on the childhood of comedian Bill Burr, launching next year; and the third season premiere of Lilyhammer on November 21.

So it probably won’t surprise you that, for the third month in a row, Netflix is registering a net loss in films released before 2000. The 1980s take the biggest hit today, with 21 titles expiring and only 4 being added. All told, 42 “classic” films have taken their Halloween candy and left the service; only 20 have added.

Over the three months I’ve been tracking this, Netflix has removed or lost the rights to 119 pre-2000 films, with only 70 replacing them. That’s a pretty noteworthy net loss.

November 1 pre-2000 GOINGs – 42

butch_cassidy_and_the_sundance_kid_ver81960s – 4
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The Conqueror Worm aka Witchfinder General (1968)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

1970s – 7
Silent Running (1971)
Breezy (1973)
The Odessa File (1974)
Vigilante Force (1976)
Orca: The Killer Whale (1977)
The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979/2001)

1980s – 21
The Dogs of War (1980)
Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie (1980)
Caveman (1981)
One from the Heart (1982)
The Escape Artist (1982)
Hammett (1982)
The Big Chill (1983)
Iceman (1984)
Cloak & Dagger (1984)
Starman (1984)
Footloose (1984)
King Solomon’s Mines (1985)
St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
Abel (1986) – Oct 28
Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986)
Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987)
Elvis ’56 (1987)
Broadcast News (1987)
La Bamba (1987)
The Great Outdoors (1988)
Say Anything (1989)
Steel Magnolias (1989)

1990s – 10
He Said, She Said (1991)
The Prince of Tides (1991)
Thelma & Louise (1991)
Single White Female (1992)
Blown Away (1992)
Candyman (1992)
Trees Lounge (1996)
101 Dalmatians (1996)
Les Miserables (1998)
The Ninth Gate (1999)

November 1 pre-2000 COMINGs – 33

Airplane1960s – 5
Babes in Toyland (1961)
Hell Is for Heroes (1962)
Cleopatra (1963)
How to Steal a Million (1966)
The Crimson Cult (1968)

1970s – 3
Phase IV (1974)
Breakheart Pass (1975)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

1980s – 8
Airplane! (1980)
Heartburn (1986)
Stand By Me (1986)
Hiding Out (1987)
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Rain Man (1988)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
The Burbs (1989)

1990s – 17
Aracnophobia (1990)
Total Recall (1990)
The Rocketeer (1991)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Jennifer 8 (1992)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Addams Family Values (1993)
Trading Mom (1994)
Little Odessa (1994)
Live Nude Girls (1995)
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Braveheart (1995)
The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
Kingpin (1996)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Best Laid Plans (1999)
The Haunting (1999)

Primary source: What’s On Netflix Now Note: this article was updated 11/3/14 with additional “Comings” and returning titles for November added in italics. 

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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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Posted in Classic TV | 3 Comments

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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