NBC Leaps Back to QL

By Tom Holste

Jan. 15, 2022

After having nearly 30 years to think about it, NBC has finally changed its mind about canceling Quantum Leap.

On Thursday, the network announced that they have greenlit a new pilot that aims to continue the time-travel series that first aired from 1989 to 1993. While only a pilot episode has been ordered at this point (which NBC could still reject), one hopes the pilot is good and that NBC will commit to the series. Adding to the excitement is that Donald P. Bellisario, the creator of the series, and Deborah Pratt, who wrote some of the best episodes, are also involved with the revival.

In the original series, scientist Sam Beckett did an experiment that went (in the words of the show) “a little ca-ca.” Instead of going back in time as himself, he found that he had “leaped” into someone else’s life, and that someone (probably God) wanted Sam to fix history in this person’s life before he could “leap” again. Sam kept leaping through time into different people, and (as the opening of the show said) “putting right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap would be the leap home.” 

A boxer, a farmer, a rock star, a Vietnam soldier, a baseball player…Sam Beckett never knew where he’d show up when time traveling, or who he’d be when he got there.

(Spoilers follow.)

When the show was abruptly canceled at the end of its fifth season, the final episode (apparently not entirely intended to be such) was surreal and confusing, and then the audience got a hastily tagged-on title card that read, “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.” After that emotional punch in the gut, many fans (myself included) begged for years – decades, even – for a proper follow-up, but we’ve gone unheard … until now.

I feel a mix of emotions about the announcement – some happy, some sad, most merely wondering. The following are my various thoughts about the relaunch.

Filling the gap left by Al. If this had been, say, 2009 (the 20th anniversary of the show), my reaction would have been unironic giddiness. Unfortunately, in some ways, the timing could not have been worse. There were only two stars on the show–-Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell–-and their chemistry was a key part of the program’s success.

Stockwell played Al, someone from Sam’s own time who could communicate with him via hologram, and give him information about each mission.

Unfortunately, Stockwell passed away two months ago, making any reunion impossible. Maybe the writers can bring in Al’s wife or one of his daughters to try to bring some closure to the story, but it won’t be quite the same. Speaking of closure…

Will Sam come home? As mentioned earlier, Sam’s story was given an abrupt but definite ending in the original series. It didn’t say that Sam hadn’t come home yet; it said he never came home. Will the writers override the previous ending now that there’s a chance to continue, delighting many fans (again, including me) but breaking the continuity, or will Sam remain unstuck in time?

(Back on a panel at Dragon Con in 2000, when discussing the QL finale, I remember noting that even if history says that Sam Beckett never came home, Sam Beckett has been known to change history.)

Of course, there’s always a possibility that a new story could be a simple reboot, but…

Original continuity. The synopsis for the new series leaves one very hopeful that the original storyline is being continued: “It’s been 30 years since Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. Now a new team has been assembled to restart the project in the hopes of understanding the mysteries behind the machine and the man who created it.”

Indeed, most articles have referred to the new QL as a “sequel” series rather than a reboot, which is especially encouraging. Bakula has long championed the idea of returning to the role, so we know he’d show up even if it’s just for an occasional guest-starring appearance. Speaking of which…

Who’s the new leaper(s)? As much as I would be happy seeing Bakula as Sam leaping again in one episode after the next, the writing staff has already mentioned “a new team,” and that seems like a natural progression for the show, in the same way that Star Trek: The Next Generation continued the franchise with new characters to much popularity and acclaim. While it’s unlikely Sam will come home in the first episode, let’s hope they bring him in for a big season finale or something, rather than waiting too long and just getting canceled again.

Many fans have suggested Sammy Jo Fuller, Sam’s daughter, as the next Leaper. While that suggestion makes a lot of sense, and Melora Hardin (pictured right) is still a working actress, the cynical part of me wonders whether or not the network will allow a woman in her fifties (as Sammy Jo would be) to be the star of a major network TV program. While Hardin is still clearly photogenic, networks often want to cast twenty-somethings as the leads these days. That leads to a new problem…

Only within their lifetimes? To avoid the excess of time-travel stories stretching their credulity with “we’re back with the Romans” storylines, series creator Donald P. Bellisario put a limit on the leaping: Sam can only travel back and forth within his own timeline. That set the original series’ storylines mostly between the 1950s and the 1980s. A twenty-something could only travel back as far as the 1990s, after Sam originally left in the first place. Will the writers stick to their guns and insist that an “older” actress has to be cast in the lead, or will the network force them to give us a convoluted reason why their new hero isn’t bound to the “only within their lifetime” rule? 

Another potential challenge is…

More gimmick episodes? In the final season, the producers struggled to boost the sagging ratings by introducing a number of new elements: Sam started leaping into famous people for the first time; he had to battle an “evil leaper” in several episodes; and there were more multi-part storylines. While there were quality episodes in this bunch (the Lee Harvey Oswald episode was particularly chilling and effective), the changes often seemed a bit overwhelming – too many changes all at once – and may have actually turned off some viewers. Will the writers return to these elements or go back to the format of the first four seasons?

Personally, I think there are potentials in all of these concepts, but perhaps they should be limited to one type of episode each per season instead of constantly throughout the new series. (Strangely, NBC has yet to call and ask my opinion on the matter.) Speaking of returning concepts…

Not direct to streaming. These days, I’m so used to announcements about a nostalgia-heavy show premiering on a streaming service, such as Netflix or Disney Plus, I was surprised to read that the show is returning to NBC. When was the last time you saw buzz about a nostalgia-heavy, geek-friendly show on a traditional broadcast network? While the series will likely eventually end up on Peacock (NBC’s streaming affiliate), it won’t be exclusive to that. Talk about a nostalgic throwback!

Much of this article is filled with concerns, but I want to be optimistic (if cautiously so). The show’s return is something I’ve wanted for a very long time. I just hope the network commits and that the writers deliver, and can finally put right what NBC once went wrong.


RTD re-enters the TARDIS

By Tom Holste

Sep. 25, 2021

A couple of months ago, the announcement came that Chris Chibnall, the current head writer for the recent seasons of Doctor Who, and Jodie Whittaker, the first actress to take over the role, were leaving the series. It’s not uncommon for head writers and actors to leave this series; the revolving door has kept the series fresh for nearly 60 years. At the time of the announcement, though, the BBC had yet to announce a replacement for Chibnall.

Well, the BBC announced Chibnall’s replacement yesterday. And the new boss is…well, it’s the old boss. Specifically, it’s Russell T. Davies (known by the fans as “RTD”), the guy who relaunched the series in 2005, gave us the adventures of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, and introduced us to memorable characters like Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, and Donna Noble.

When I first saw the news in my Google news feed on my phone, I assumed it was from a gossip/rumors site, like one of those sites that constantly proclaim their “breaking news” that Disney has just fired Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy, and that George Lucas has been brought on board to remake the sequel movies from scratch. Then I realized that the link I was looking at was from the BBC itself.

I’m perfectly fine with the news, but stunned nonetheless, since RTD had gone on record saying he didn’t want to write DW anymore when folks asked him if he was willing to submit a script for one of the later Doctors/head writers. His response was something like: “I’ve blown up the world over 100 times, and I can’t think of any more ways to do it.” Hopefully the time off has given him time to recharge his batteries enough.

While “news” of the show’s impending doom has circulated practically since the series started in the 1960s, I can’t help but feel like the BBC really is starting to get nervous this time due to negative fan reaction to the Chibnall/Whittaker era, and with the 60th anniversary around the corner, they’re bringing on a trusted name to right the ship. As long as the stories are quality, I really don’t have a problem with it.

I do hope that the BBC doesn’t force RTD to do a series of stories contradicting Chibnall’s controversial “Timeless Child” arc. Whether one likes that arc or not, audiences saw a conflict of creative visions play out over the Star Wars sequels, and it didn’t make anyone watching any happier. I think professional courtesy would keep RTD from agreeing to that, but stranger things have happened. I hope RTD just jumps in and starts telling his own stories, and everyone can either happily remember the Timeless Child or just move on from it.

It might be interesting to see Steven Moffat come back to write an episode. Moffat wrote some of DW’s best episodes ever under RTD’s run, including “Blink,” “Silence in the Library,” and “Girl in the Fireplace.” Then he went on to run the show himself for 8 years. It might be great fun to see that combination of talent working together again. (Or it may be like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg returning for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Who knows?)

I hope that Christopher Eccleston, who played the Ninth Doctor during RTD’s run, will be willing to return for the 60th anniversary special, since anniversary specials typically feature multiple Doctors, and Eccleston was terrific in the role. Unfortunately, he left the series abruptly after only one season, and it took him years to be willing to play the Doctor again after that, sitting out the 50th anniversary in 2013 entirely. He recently returned to the role for a series of audio dramas, but have the wounds healed between RTD and Eccleston enough for RTD to invite Eccleston back to play the world’s most famous time traveler, or for Eccleston to accept? Time, as they say, will tell.

The Monkees: Five Years of GOOD TIMES

By Tom Holste

June 5, 2021

In 2016, the seemingly impossible happened.

A new album was released by the Monkees, the band originally created for a 1960s sitcom that eventually went on to sell huge hit albums and singles such as “I’m a Believer,” “Valleri,” and “Daydream Believer.”

It was stunning in the first place that anyone cared to produce a new album by a group that had long since been out of the limelight. What was even more stunning was that the album was actually good.

There have been several attempts at reunions, usually about once a decade. When band members Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones teamed up with former songwriting partners Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart in the ‘70s, the results fizzled. The Monkees experienced a resurgence of popularity in the ‘80s when MTV re-ran their show, and even had a hit single (“That Was Then, This is Now”). But a follow-up album, Pool It, went straight down the drain.

Frequent reunion holdout Mike Nesmith returned to the fold for 1996’s Justus, igniting hope in Monkees fans that the band would return to its former glory, but alas, even this album failed to connect with its target audience.

After Jones passed away in 2012, the chances of one more reunion seemed nearly impossible. And considering the multiple failed attempts, it seemed perhaps best to let sleeping dogs lie.

But then the impossible happened.

What was the difference? This time, the Monkees had a dynamite producer in the form of Adam Schlesinger (who sadly passed away last year). Schlesinger, an expert songwriter who wrote “That Thing You Do” for the Tom Hanks movie of the same name, realized that music styles had significantly come back around to the point where tambourines and jangly guitars wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern album. He managed to make it sound like an album released in the 1960s and released in 2016 at the same time.

The folks at Rhino Records (the current license holders for the Monkees’ music) also dove into the vaults and found a number of tracks created in the 1960s that had never made it to final release. Fresh vocals were added to these tracks (and in some cases, the entire song was re-recorded for a different approach). Merging those songs with new material written by Schlesinger and others, Good Times was born. 

Somehow the album encapsulates the Monkees’ entire career in a way that no album before or since did. Songs like “She Makes Me Laugh” and “You Bring the Summer” are excellent sunshine pop tracks that rank with anything that came out of the era when Don Kirshner produced their music, while the introspective “Me & Magdalena” and the innovative “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” are as outstanding as anything from their later producer Chip Douglas, and so on.

Band member Micky Dolenz often says that the Monkees never had a cohesive “sound” like other groups (and I see where he’s coming from), but these tracks blend with their original 1960s albums in a way that, say, the ‘80s songs or the ‘90s tracks never quite did (although there are gems among those, too).

As for the revived older tracks: Having essentially new songs by Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, and Carole King at the height of their songwriting abilities was a wonderful gift. In particular, “Whatever’s Right” would be great for the characters to run around to in one of the musical “romps” on the TV show, and “Wasn’t Born to Follow” might be Peter Tork’s best performance ever committed to record.

Since the success and acclaim of Good Times, there have been a Christmas album and a live album. They’re both fine, but they feel like more casual victory laps. Good Times is the triumphant coda of the Monkees’ career, vindicating the fans who stuck with them this long.

Ultimately, I think this might be my favorite Monkees album. I kept waiting for the point where I would pop it in and be tired of it, and in 5 years, that hasn’t happened. 

Happy 5th anniversary, Good Times!

Great Pumpkin Cancels His Visit in 2020

By Tom Holste

Oct. 24, 2020

Just when we thought 2020 couldn’t get any wackier, we learned that Charlie Brown and his friends won’t show up for the holidays this year.

On Wednesday, Apple TV+ announced that it had secured exclusive rights to stream the three most famous holiday specials related to the Peanuts comic strip — “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966), “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” (1973), and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965). What this means is that they won’t air on network TV for the first time since they were originally produced.

All three specials were originally made for CBS, and ran on that network until the year 2000, when ABC took over the rights. 

The news seems like a sad break in tradition, although to be fair, it simply reflects the current ongoing trend in entertainment. Audiences as a whole have shifted from networks to streaming services. A friend of mine recently informally polled his friends, asking when was the last time they regularly watched something on network TV. To my own surprise, I realized I hadn’t watched anything on a week-by-week basis since 2016, preferring to watch the season when it came to the streaming service. Of those who did still watch network shows, they often watched the shows on the network’s website rather than using their digital antenna.

“I don’t get it, Linus. Why do holiday traditions have to change? I don’t want my TV specials to be only available online.” “…What are you talking about, Charlie Brown?”

And in the defense of Apple TV, they will make each special free for a period of time over the holidays (likely with ads) for those who don’t wish to pay for the service for just three TV specials. 

Nonetheless, the move off the networks actually creates a strong argument for those in favor of physical media as opposed to streaming. Those who already own the specials on DVD or Blu-ray don’t need to worry about who decides to show what, when, and where. 

Having said all of that, I think it’s OK to be a little sad about the loss in tradition. I confess I didn’t watch the specials every year anyway when they were more readily available. Still, considering the year we’ve had, I think people were looking for a little comfort and familiarity this holiday season, instead of another reason to say, “Good grief.”

Blog Birthday: Here’s to 5 Years!

By Tom Holste

Jul. 29, 2020

Hey, folks! Just a quick mention that it was 5 years today (Jul. 29, 2015) that I posted my first blog entry on this site. Thanks to everyone who’s been reading all this time!

To be honest, the blog’s audience hasn’t grown as much as I would have liked. I guess all the cool kids are running YouTube channels these days. Still, usually I would give up on a blog after only a year or two, so it feels good to say that I kept at this one. Even if there are long breaks in between, a surprising bit of entertainment news will still make me say, “Hey, I gotta blog about this!”

My very first post was about how Jurassic World stunned Hollywood by becoming a bigger hit than anticipated, making more money than Avengers: Age of Ultron. I theorized that audiences were experiencing franchise fatigue with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that this might be the time for older franchises to regain attention, such as the then-upcoming Independence Day sequel. Well, any fatigue was short-lived. Last year’s biggest hit was Avengers: Endgame, while 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence failed to, um, resurge.

For some reason, a post I made about Spielberg’s Ready Player One generated more traffic and “likes” than anything else I’ve posted. Ironically, I no longer agree with my conclusion that movies such as Ready Player One and Batman v. Superman moved to March because the summer movie season wasn’t as important as it once was. Ready Player One was a modest hit but perhaps not strong enough to stand up to summer’s big players. And Batman v. Superman made lots of money but wasn’t well-received among critics and fans. Warner Bros. probably sensed this would happen, which is likely why they moved this so it wouldn’t compete directly with Captain America: Civil War. (BTW, the first Ready Player One post was so popular that I finally did a second one, but no one read that one. Go figure.)

But here’s a picture of the movie anyway, just in case it helps.

Nonetheless, it’s fun to go back and see how my opinion has changed over time, and also to see the projects I talked about that never came to fruition (Joss Whedon’s Batgirl and the Star Wars movies from the Game of Thrones TV writers), as well as one that we’re still waiting on: the fifth Indiana Jones movie, which I first wrote about back in March of 2016. Disney says we’ll get that in 2022. Hopefully. Maybe.

I was more accurate than I knew I would be when I said we needed to keep our expectations in check about Disney’s Star Wars movies, or there’s no way they were going to live up to the hype. Well, I liked them more than some folks. I certainly liked them better than the prequels. But (in Yoda voice) unite the fanbase, they did not.

My favorite post is probably this one I did last year on Star Wars canon. And even if the blog hasn’t grown very much, I think my writing has gotten sharper on the whole, so it’s been a fun and worthwhile experiment.

Thanks for coming along for the ride, and here’s to more blogging soon!

Disney+ Thoughts: 8 Months Later

By Tom Holste

Jul. 18, 2020

(Image source above: Hollywood Reporter)

Hi, all! Sorry it’s taken me so long to do an update. I haven’t felt much into it with all the craziness going on. I hope my readers are safe and well. Let’s enjoy some much-needed distraction, shall we?

Three years ago, I first reported on Disney planning to start their own streaming service. As we know by now, the service eventually got named Disney+, and launched in the U.S. in November of last year. I was skeptical at the time, but I came around about it. We got the service at launch and have enjoyed it since then.

Disney+ launched early in the Netherlands last fall. News sites were flooded with all the content they found there, assuming that the exact same lineup would be available once the service arrived in the U.S. in November. I got caught up in that idea myself. Of course, that’s a different region, so naturally there have been a lot of variations between that and what we actually got. But we still got a lot.

Here’s a breakdown by studio division and/or franchise:

  • Disney animated classics: We got most of the Disney Animated canon, from Snow White to Frozen II (the latter being added after its theatrical run), with only a few holdouts due to rights held by other services (Tarzan just got added last month). Some understandably speculated that somewhat obscure entries like The Black Cauldron or Saludos Amigos might not be there, but most were on the service right from the beginning.
  • The Disney Afternoon: Most of the animated series from the ’80s and ’90s are there — the classic DuckTales and the theatrical movie (as well as the 2017 reboot); Darkwing Duck; TaleSpin; Gummi Bears; The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh; Goof Troop and A Goofy Movie; and even the Gargoyles series is here, among others. There’s a surprisingly vocal contingent unhappy that 1985’s one-season wonder The Wuzzles isn’t available, but most of what people would remember from this period are here.
  • Disney animated shorts: Only a small sampling at the moment, but there are still a bunch of early offerings featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. Included among those is Steamboat Willie, Mickey’s first appearance. Even all three of Roger Rabbit’s shorts are there.
  • Pixar: All movies were available at launch (as far as I recall) except for Toy Story 4, which got added pretty quickly. The Pixar theatrical shorts are there, as well as some new “SparksShorts” which sometimes push the edge of the family-friendly rating. (More on that in a minute.)
  • Disney Live-Action: The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are there, of course (although On Stranger Tides is temporarily gone due to a pre-existing deal). Classics such as The Absent-Minded Professor, the Shaggy Dog films, The Parent Trap (and, in many cases, their remakes) are all available. Old Yeller is available if you want to traumatize your children. “Newer” favorites such as the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movies, the Tron films, Cool Runnings, and the National Treasure movies are also there. The service has some obscure offerings as well; we watched 1976’s Candleshoe a while back, and and the site has suggested 1964’s The Moon-Spinners to me — I was only vaguely aware that the film even existed.
So…why is there both a Star Wars collection AND a Darth Vader collection?
  • Lucasfilm: We got most of the Star Wars movies and TV shows, with the rights to Solo only being held up until earlier this month. And the new series The Mandalorian was fantastic, as expected. We even got Willow! (That film was originally released by MGM, but when it didn’t do well, the home video rights eventually wound up with 20th Century Fox, which of course Disney now owns.) Unsurprisingly, Paramount’s Indiana Jones movies and American Graffiti (made for Universal) aren’t there.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: We got the majority of the MCU movies, with (again) some rights being held up elsewhere. (Endgame was there at launch, but oddly not Infinity War.) Despite being part of the MCU, Universal’s Hulk movie(s) and Sony’s Spider-Man movies naturally aren’t there. But what’s most interesting to me is the latest development on the Marvel movie front.
  • Non-MCU Marvel movies: At launch, there were no non-MCU movies from Fox on the site. I figured that was natural; Disney wants to protect its brand, and they don’t want people getting confused that some of the poorly-received Fox movies were in the MCU. I thought they’d end up on Disney-owned Hulu or something. But then, a few weeks ago, the 2015 critical and box office bomb Fantastic Four showed up on Disney+, heavily promoted on the site and not given any indication that it wasn’t part of the MCU for those who follow such things less closely. Thus, my theory went completely out the window. X-Men: Days of Future Past showed up last week (prompting this blog post in the first place), with a few more (but not all) premiering before the end of the summer. Oddly enough, due to pre-existing deals, a few of them linger on HBO Max, which launched in May as a rival to Disney+, but I imagine the other films will make their way over eventually.
“We’ve got X-Men! (Well, some of them.) And we’ve got Avengers and Thor and…um…other movies.”
  • Marvel animated TV series: When Disney+ was first announced, I worried that only the latest Marvel series would be on the site, and that they would ignore the long history of Marvel animation. However, I’m happy to report that a wealth of Marvel cartoons are available, including the acclaimed ’90s Spider-Man and X-Men series. (I always preferred Batman: The Animated Series, but still, I’m glad these shows are here. By contrast, HBO Max doesn’t have any episodes of Batman.)
  • Muppets: We got six of the eight Muppet theatrical movies, from 1979’s The Muppet Movie to 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted. The two missing films, The Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppets from Space, are owned by Sony. Sadly, due to music rights issues, it’s unlikely that The Muppet Show will ever get added. The new Muppet Babies is there, but not the original, due to rights issues with the film clips used pervasively in each episode. It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (owned by Universal) and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz are also missing, but to be fair, I’m not really hung up over those not being there.
  • 20th Century Fox movies: Fox content has fluctuated a bit on the new site due to pre-existing deals, but at various times I’ve seen: The Princess Bride; the Home Alone movies; Miracle on 34th Street; The Sound of Music; the Dr. Dolittle movies with Eddie Murphy (but not the 1960s original); The Sandlot; and others. Don Bluth’s animated films for Fox such as Anastasia and Titan A.E. are not on the service, at least not yet.
  • Blue Sky Studios: Fox’s animated division shows up in the form of their Ice Age movies. At the moment, some are still missing, such as The Peanuts Movie, which may have other rights issues entangling it.
  • The Simpsons: Nearly all 650+ episodes of this series are available (except, I believe, for the current season). The movie and several shorts are also on the site. This show seems like an odd fit for the service, since they spend so much time lampooning Disney, but there’s no way that the Mouse House wasn’t going to include such a long-running and popular show in their library. So, yes, Shary Bobbins is now a Disney character, and Mr. Burns’ “See My Vest!” is a Disney song.
  • Touchstone/Hollywood Pictures: Disney’s “adult” film divisions of the 1980s through the 2000s released some PG-rated movies that would fit in well on the site. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Three Men and a Baby, Kazaam, Sister Act, and Mr. Holland’s Opus are there, among others. Fans of the slapstick Ernest movies will come up empty, though, and Dick Tracy is actually on HBO Max.
  • DreamWorks Live-Action Movies: DreamWorks Animation is a chief rival to Disney, so don’t expect Shrek or How to Train Your Dragon on the site. DreamWorks’ live-action division got sold off a while ago, though, and eventually made a few movies with Disney. So The BFG and a few others are there.
  • National Geographic: Not sure if Disney owns this company or not, but a lot of their historical and nature documentaries are available.
  • Live-Action Remakes and Sequels: Not a big deal to me, but if you’re interested in the modern reimaginings of Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Alice in Wonderland, they’re on the site. (I liked the first Alice, anyway.)
  • Disney Channel tween programming: Again, not a big draw to me, but Disney does own this stuff and it’s family-friendly, so High School Musical and The Suite Life of Zach & Cody (among others) are there. Why shouldn’t they be?

So there’s a strong representation from their all major divisions. Most of what the studio has been known for in the past, as well as a lot of its current output, are available now on the site. So what isn’t there in almost any fashion?

There’s one year of THE MANDALORIAN and four years of THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB. Guess which one has more episodes on Disney+ right now?
  • Shows from/on ABC: One would think that the family-friendly Touchstone TV classic Home Improvement would be there, but it isn’t. Also mysteriously missing is the MCU tie-in show Agents of SHIELD. (Less surprising is the lack of TV-MA shows set in the MCU such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but those were produced for Netflix rather than ABC anyway.) Once Upon a Time did veer into TV-14 content, but considering that the series reworked fairy tales mostly known now for their Disney incarnations, its absence is a bit odd. So far, the only ABC show I’ve found on the site is the 2015 Muppets series.
  • The Wonderful World of Disney: The anthology series known under many different names, but most often as the above, was one of the most requested series after it was discovered not to be there at launch. That’s definitely a benchmark show for the company, but many of the episodes were simply network TV airings of feature films available elsewhere on the site. Why watch them cropped from widescreen and cut for commercials when you can watch the originals? Still, there were a lot of unique specials made, and those do seem to be getting added gradually, such as several specials about the creation of Disneyland, added yesterday in honor of the park’s 65th anniversary.
  • The Mickey Mouse Club: The well-loved 1950s show has only five episodes of its long run added to the site, and I’m pretty sure those weren’t available at launch, making it very much in-demand. Still, a special featuring the mostly-forgotten 1970s incarnation has been added, so that’s promising. The popular 1990s revival remains entirely missing, but if I recall correctly, they sang lots of then-current pop songs in the show, which brings us back to the music-rights issues mentioned earlier.
Totoro is gonna be waiting a long time for the Disney+ bus to arrive.
  • Studio Ghibli Films: When the service first launched in 2017, my family was introducing me to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, who created such imaginative films as My Neighbor Totoro and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away. Since Disney distributed all of the studio’s films in the U.S. and provided the English dubs, I figured these movies were a shoo-in for the site. Ironically, the day after I posted that, Disney and Ghibli parted ways. The movies can now be found on HBO Max (in the Disney dubs, of all things).
  • Edgier Content: I was mystified by the number of people I saw posting online when Disney+ launched that they were annoyed that there wasn’t R-rated content on the site. But Disney had never promised any such thing, and they risk diluting their strong family brand if, say, the Die Hard and Alien movies are added to the streaming service. Nonetheless, the site has attracted some controversy for the edgier material currently available, including a PixarSparks short named “Out” that deals frankly with sexuality, and for recently adding Hamilton, a Broadway musical with rough language and a lot of violence.
  • Intriguingly, Disney+ sent out a survey to many of its customers (but not all–I never got one) to see if they were interested in edgier content appearing on the site–shows and movies that push the further end of the TV-14 rating, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and How I Met Your Mother. While I like many of the shows and movies mentioned, they may not be a good fit for the Mouse House. Parents need to know for sure if it’s OK to leave their kids in front of the TV…er, computer screen.
  • A possible solution to this would be likely unpopular with many, but it would make sense. When the Disney Channel aired some movies in the past, such as the Tom Hanks film Big, some content was trimmed to make the movie more appropriate for the channel, along with a notice at the beginning indicating that the film had been altered. Disney+ could offer edited versions of some films to ease parents’ concerns, or possibly offer both a cut and an uncut version. But considering how unpopular network-edited films are these days, this idea probably won’t fly with many.
  • Another possible solution involves stricter parental controls; while the kids’ account can be set up with restrictions, there’s nothing to keep a kid from clicking over to their parents’ account. Maybe the parents’ account could be password-protected or something. Not a big problem in my house since everyone’s over 18, but that’s one way to handle it for households with younger viewers.

Anyway, I’ve had the service since November and I’m pretty happy with it, especially at this price. There’s room for improvement, but hey, isn’t there always?

No Cause for “D’oh!” The Simpsons Turn 30

By Tom Holste

Jan. 30, 2020

(Above image source: Imgur)

I’m really into posting about anniversaries of movies and TV shows lately, so I should probably post about The Simpsons, which turned 30 earlier this month. (There were animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show before that, and a Christmas special the previous December, but the first regular episode of the series aired on Jan. 14, 1990.)

Unlike some of the other shows, this one hasn’t gone away for a while so that any of us can feel nostalgic for it. I confess that I don’t watch the show regularly anymore; it doesn’t surprise me the way it used to. Still, it’s the only show from 1990 still on the air, and it’s the longest-running U.S. scripted program in prime time (recently beating out Gunsmoke). Hats off to the creative team for making something that’s stayed in the public consciousness this long!

People may not remember now, but the show struggled to get new episodes on the air at first. The Fox network, seeing the show as a risk, only ordered 13 episodes (including the Christmas special). When the show was a runaway success right from the start, they didn’t have enough new episodes to fill the void! They just had to keep rerunning the same episodes over and over again, and even had to delay the Season 2 premiere until mid-October when most shows premiered in September. I remember that, for several weeks, Fox ran advertisements in TV Guide with the characters joking about the lack of new episodes! Those ads came with a promise of the October premiere date.

At the time, I wondered if the show would survive the drop in viewer attention from people who got tired of waiting. Well, 600+ episodes later, I think it’s safe to say they recovered just fine.

Happy 30th, The Simpsons!


“Sesame Street” is Brought to You By the Number 50

By Tom Holste

Nov. 10, 2019

On Monday, Nov. 10, 1969, PBS launched a new educational series. While the show would be for everyone, there was a heavy focus on, and concern for, inner-city children who often struggled academically. The show was designed to give them a helping hand so they would be better prepared for entering school.

Having performed multiple studies with children to see what kind of television they responded to, the researchers discovered that kids learned commercials with cartoon characters and catchy jingles very quickly. So they packed the program with animated “commercials” for numbers and letters, identifying them as the show’s sponsors (“This show was brought to you by the numbers 3 and 4, and by the letter H”).

The children responded to humor, so Jim Henson and his team (having slowly made a name for themselves on appearances on The Tonight Show and other programs) were brought in to make the kids laugh while the Muppets taught them valuable lessons. And to the researchers’ surprise, the show that kids responded the best to, more than any Saturday morning show, was Laugh-In, so their new program would model the bright visuals and fast-paced editing of that show.

Since their program would be targeted at the inner city, the cast of humans would be very racially diverse–a rarity even in prime time in 1969–to show that people of all different backgrounds could get along.

The programmers were hoping to make a difference in the lives of some children, and if they were really lucky, maybe they would even run for several years. Well, it’s 2019, and I’m happy to say that Sesame Street is still with us.

The show not only taught kids their letters and numbers, but also valuable life lessons. Characters grew older, fell in love, got married, had children, and the kids watching (usually through the perspective of the innocent Big Bird) learned how to deal with those changes. Perhaps most significantly, when actor Will Lee passed away, the characters actually mourned the death of his character, Mr. Hooper, in an honest and beautiful way.

In March of 2001, Sesame did a series of episodes where the street (loosely modeled on the streets in New York, where the show is produced) was struck by a hurricane. Big Bird saw rescue workers come and help deal with an unexpected disaster, and everyone in the neighborhood pitched in to help set things right. Six months later, 9/11 happened, and Sesame had an already-made week of episodes to rerun that would help kids cope with the events.

Elmo’s dad went off to war, and kids learned through him what it was like to have parents gone for extended periods of time. Oscar’s pet worm Slimey went into space. The characters once got stuck in a museum all night (before Ben Stiller made it cool). Elmo helped kids get comfortable with going to the potty. Characters have traveled to Hawaii, Japan, and China, among other places. And kids have learned right alongside them, being entertained along the way–and parents have enjoyed the journey as well.

So, here’s to all the people who worked on Sesame Street over the decades. Thank you for 50 years of humor, fun, and valuable learning. Thank you for “Bein’ Green” and “Rubber Duckie” and “C is for Cookie.” Thank you for Super Grover and Count von Count and Guy Smiley and so many other characters and moments that have made us smile. Here’s hoping for many more years of sunny days, sweepin’ the clouds away.

“GoT” Writers Got Out of STAR WARS

By Tom Holste

Oct. 30, 2019

(Above image source: Slashfilm)

In February of 2018, I wrote a blog post about the “Game of Thrones” writers being hired to write a new series of “Star Wars” movies. Now, surprisingly, they’ve stepped down from the project.

The writers cited a busy schedule with a number of shows they’re working on for Netflix, but one has to wonder if negative fan reaction to the final season of Game of Thrones (particularly the last episode) had something to do with it. (I haven’t seen it myself, so I can’t say anything about whether the rage is justified. But I did see lots of fans demanding the writers’ removal from the SW franchise in the last few months.)

Considering that Lucasfilm seems to have a revolving door of writers and directors, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. Still, the first movie in the new series was slated for December of 2022, which means that Lucasfilm will have to hire new talent fast, or that date will have to be cancelled while the company gets its bearing again.

Meanwhile, work on Rian Johnson’s proposed trilogy hasn’t come to a complete stop, but Johnson has been busy with another film (Knives Out), and negative fan backlash to The Last Jedi suggests that all parties involved might take it slow for fear of more audience fallout.

So, for the first time in several years, there isn’t a Star Wars film in production or with a release date (beyond Rise of Skywalker in December). That’s fine; I don’t mind if the franchise gets a bit of rest, although in this case, a “rest” still means new TV shows on Disney+, as well as new video games, comic books, novels, etc.

Zoinks! Scooby Turns 50

By Tom Holste

Sep. 14, 2019

On Saturday, Sep. 13, 1969, a new animated show premiered, called “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” The format was loosely based on a 1940s radio drama called “I Love Mystery,” while the characters were based on the teenagers from the sitcom “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” Added to the mix was a talking Great Dane — who, in the original concept, was named “Too Cool” and played a banjo! Ultimately, the dog would be named after Frank Sinatra’s jazz scat from “Strangers in the Night.” 

While the show hasn’t run continuously in its original title and format–the way that, say, “Simpsons” or “Spongebob” have–it continues to get reinvented every few years. Sometimes there are chases set to pop music. Sometimes there are celebrity appearances. Sometimes it’s a half-hour. Sometimes there are feature-length direct-to-video movies (there have been staggeringly over 30 of those produced in the last 20 years). Sometimes Scooby’s relatives show up, such as Scrappy-Doo, Scooby-Dum or Yabba-Doo (I promise I didn’t make any of those names up). Usually, the ghosts are fake, but in some productions, the monsters are real (that’s my least favorite era, because I think it violates the core premise of the series. But I’ll get into that in a minute). But in one way or another, the franchise has endured.

Meanwhile, many of Hanna-Barbera’s other creations, such as the Flintstones and Yogi Bear, have fallen into relative obscurity. Why is that? What is it about Scooby that makes him last?

Here’s my theory: The world is often very frightening to children. Some of these fears are over legitimate things, but a great deal of them are actually over things that can be overcome. Part of the process of growing to adulthood is sorting out which is which. There may be people out in the street who behave monstrously, but there are no literal three-headed monsters under the children’s bed.

“Scooby” takes the embodiment of the children’s fears (monsters) and reveals them to be the frauds that they are. The child can relate to Scooby and Shaggy running away from the things that scare them, but also see that their fear is overblown and hilarious, especially if they’ve seen enough episodes to know how things are going to work out. Things that seem alarming have rational explanations, and the frightening creatures can be caught, exposed, and robbed of their power. 

While I don’t think such heavy thoughts were going through the minds of the people who created the show–I think they just wanted to do something that would make kids laugh while being mildly suspenseful–that seems to be the subconscious message of the show: “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be all right.”

Kids (and often adults) need to be reminded of that, and I think that’s why the show endures. 

Below are some of my favorite themes from the different iterations over the years. Happy 50th birthday, Scooby-Doo!