Heard on TV

  • “I watch that periodically all the time” — unattributed
  • “Nucular” – History Channel, on the nuclear rifle
  • “mangible” – ad for manageable documentation services
  • “physical reform” – AZ Libertarian candidate, pushing for fiscal reform.
  • “measle thelioma” – ad for mesothelioma litigation services
  • Cadillac Escalade – “most important fecal of the year.”

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The New York Times Crosswords

New York Times crosswordThis is about crossword puzzles and people who do them.

Maybe you hate crosswords but do them anyway. Might be,  you don’t even fit the crosswords profile. You’d be lucky.

Still, you’d be voluntarily depriving yourself of the vicarious companionship of crossword-fan celebrities like Bill Clinton, Ken Burns and Jon Stewart.

Maybe you don’t care for a little adult language. This whole article may not be your cup of tea. Disclaimer: it’s about crosswords, fergawdsakes. Listen, there are actually some good articles on this site, or, you could just change the channel.

While we’re waiting for the room to clear, you two folks could move up here to the front row seats, and I won’t have to shout.

On September 1, PBS ran “Wordplay”, an “Independent Lens” TV special on crossword addicts – and the New York Times crossword puzzle in particular. We met the legendary Will Shortz, New York Times Crossword Editor, and Merl Reagle, one of the most distinguished of many notable crossword “constructors”.
Continue reading

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Captain Memo

Mondegreens, Mumbling, and Mis-speech

Examples of good speakers

In the world of public speaking and narration, not everybody can be a Mike Rowe or Max Raphael.

1) Mike Rowe does the distinct and recognizable narrative for many Discovery Channel shows. His speaking style is characterized by clearly enunciated and animated dialog. Continue reading

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‘Knight and Day’ Plot Gimmick Used Before

I recently read a New Yorker review of this new Tom Cruise movie (they did not recommend it).

I need your help to identify the origin of the unlimited-power battery plot gimmick. You would probably have to be 60+ years of age and to have read a lot of the sci-fi of the mid to late 1950’s.

The movie “gimmick” was that Cruise plays a future-world soldier of fortune type who has somehow acquired or invented a battery. The battery is physically about the size and weight of a pack of cigarettes — or perhaps, if you prefer, an iPod nano. Defying many laws of physics at once, THIS battery can supply enough electrical energy to run a large city, and do so indefinitely. Continue reading

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Television Pandering

PBS ‘History Detectives’ Goes Paranormal

I still happen to think it’s deplorable and even morally wrong for the entertainment industry to pander to unfounded fears and superstitions of undereducated people who, for lack of better grounding in history and the sciences, actually believe in ghosts, monsters, and extraterrestial aliens infiltrating Earth.

This stuff is coming to PBS, but it’s straight out of the History Channel mindset:

PBS History Detectives

As early as the 1870s, Edison and other scientific minds explored psychic phenomena like mediums. They believed every living being was made of atoms that could “remember” past lives.

Did Edison make a machine to unlock the secrets of the dead? The wax cylinders could hold the answer. History Detectives travels to the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park in New Jersey to find out.

The key concept here is the framing of the question “Did Edison make a machine to unlock the secrets of the dead?”

It’s a matter of historical fact that Edison and many of his contemporaries were involved in “paranormal” research. A Google search on ‘Thomas Edison paranormal’ is instructive if you want to take a quick look.

But when a supposedly reputable 21st-century broadcaster asks the carney barker’s question “did Edison raise the dead?”, intelligent people don’t have to click the link and watch the video to find out, because we know a priori he couldn’t have, and therefore didn’t. The real question becomes: if the question isn’t aimed at the intelligent, who is it aimed at? Continue reading

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Curious George

Curious George

Curious George

I’ve remarked before that I often turn on the TV over morning coffee. Nothing demanding – too early in the morning for all that. History Channel often has something interesting.

This being the week before Easter, History Channel is running what amounts to Apocalypse Week. This morning it was catastrophic meteor strikes – extinction events. Overdone as it is, History Channel was trying to link this to biblical prophecies.

Discovery Channel was worse. Some new age lady preacher was yammering on about reaching out and embracing HIM in your life. I would love to know the story behind that slot.

There’s always PBS. Unfortunately for the senior set, the morning hours are pretty much dedicated to the kiddies. Curious George was on.

Curious George came along some time after I was raised. My friends bought Curious George books for their kids in the 70’s. Curious George always offers little learning lessions for the preschool set, but basically, it’s a kids’ cartoon.  It is about as innocuous and undemanding as you can get. I don’t watch it often, or for long. It’s great for doing my eye-drops, eyes closed for three minutes, with only the sound. Honest.

And Curious George was a re-run.

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MonsterQuest Revisited

Some time back, I lambasted History Channel for the revolting “It killed nine of my goats” sensationalism of their MonsterQuest ad teasers. This gosh-all-get-out promotional genre follows closely on the heels of the alien-abductor UFO show of Discovery Channel infamy.

But is nice to back-pedal when you find cause to re-evaluate a harsh stance. When I do my 3-minute eye drops, I can’t read, so I turn on the TV, to which I can at least follow along by listening. I watched MonsterQuest this morning and enjoyed it.

The segment was “Gigantic Killer Fish”, and already you’ll admit the title smacks of promotional hype, but the show didn’t follow that format. It was low-key, evenly narrated – almost like you would expect of a golf telecast – and the show doesn’t “shout at you” like so many of those in-your-face Discovery Channel shows.

The item here is that they are talking about freshwater fish. We all know about “Jaws” and the countless wonderful shows about ocean-going Great Whites, Tigers and Blues. This show was about freshwater Pike, Muskies (Muskellunge), giant catfish, and even whopper lake trout. It turns out that these species can grow, in time, to monster fish about the size of an adult human. They can do serious injury to a fisherman, or drown a swimmer. The show also covered reports of young children disappearing in the Amazon.

One feature I enjoyed was the hooking and landing of a giant Muskie the size of a man. The teeth on this fish are like something out of Jurassic Park. I appreciated the fact this was a catch-and-release operation. After posing with the fish, the fishing and photography crew let it go.

Most of this season’s upcoming segments are more sensational, and I will probably skip them: “Giant Bear Attack”, “Boneless Horror” (giant octopus), “Lake Monsters” (Nessie), Vampires (not the bat variety), and “Giant Killer Snakes”. To tell you the truth, this genre is closer to the reason I skewer TV sensationalism that preys on unreasoning fears, and it’s already been done too many times on too many shows.

It’s nice to know that even a sensational show can turn to a lower-key, fact-based science format once in a while.

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TV Ad “Golden Age?”

Every 20 years or so, there is an advertising cycle in which sponsors rebel against the insultingly mindless TV spots, offering us a few brilliantly executed ads which endure in memory for years. If you are “Baby-Boomer” or older, you probably still remember the “No matter what shape your stomach’s in” ads of the 1960’s, with clever photography and the Anita Bryant Singers — Alka Seltzer.

The television year 2007 has offered a bumper crop of fun, imaginitive ads, the kind that make you stay so you can watch the commercial, and then leave for the kitchen or whatever.

A survey of Google reveals there’s quite a cottage industry devoted to ranking and displaying videotaped TV ads. Nonetheless, Summitlake.com would like to propose our awards for the Best of 2007.

First prize goes to General Electric for its wind energy commercial “Catch The Wind”:

Catch The Wind TV ad for wind energy, by General Electric

To the familiar sound of the Donovan song “Catch The Wind”, a little boy goes to the seashore and captures the ocean breeze in a glass jar. Racing back home by a number of conveyances, he makes it to his Grandpa’s birthday celebration in time for the old man to open the magic jar – SWOOSH! You only need to see it once to remember its magic forever, but I watch it every time I can.

YouTube has proven to be a safe, reliable source of video images, and you can watch the commercial at their posting “GE General Electric commercial – Wind Energy”.

Honorable Mention

  • Geico Gecko – I did an informal dinnertable survey on this imaginitive advertiser. Everyone loves each one of the gecko commercials – the cute little green lizard with the Aussie accent.
  • Geico Caveman – Not everyone liked this one, many sensing that the usage of the Caveman theme was somewhat exploitative. But others find it delightful, and it became somewhat of a cult thing. I enjoyed the theme song “Remind Me“, from Royksopp, and ordered the CD from Amazon.
  • Comcast Turtles – “You push it real good!” – Bill Slowsky the turtle has a little spat with his wife, right in front of millions of viewers. But hey, when you’re a turtle, who’s in a hurry to switch from DSL to cable?

Dishonorable Mention – All The Rest

When 1960’s FCC Chairman Newton Minow complained about TV as “the vast wasteland“, everybody remembered, but everybody still watches. My current irritations:

  • Car salesmen doing their own ads
  • Cialis and Viagra ads
  • Pharmaceutical ads that describe a horror show list of possible side effects in graphic and very mortal detail. Diarrhea followed by heart failure and general shutdown? Hey, who wouldn’t jump at the chance?
  • Credit card ads (just about all of them) promoting irresponsible credit use or abuse in order to gain credit card points, peer approval or social equilibrium: would you swipe your credit card into a card reader just to pay for a 99 cent burger and fries?

In the vast wasteland, the occasional oases of cool entertainment and bona fide information are a welcome relief from the fetid winds that blow off the swamps and alkali flats of American television.

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Cash Cab Mondegreens

Ben Bailey of Cash CabI like Discovery Channel’s Cash Cab show, and I like host Ben Bailey, who drives a cab all over New York City while he asks brain-teaser trivia questions – for cash.

Ben always begins the game by explaining that the first questions are worth $25, then $50, and finally $100 each if you survive the “three strikes” rule that long. Once, I heard Ben say, “as the stinks get higher …“.

I’m sure Ben said, “as the stakes get higher …”. Unfortunately, Ben tends to mumble at critical moments in question delivery. I heard “stinks“!

A mondegreen is a mishearing of a statement, poem or song lyric such that the listener hears something other than what was said, usually humorous. Kids are great for coming up with mondegreens, because they can’t parse what they hear with the benefit of adult education and experience. Adults in quizzes might well behave the same way, because by definition both question and answer might be totally new to them. A famous mondegreen revolves around God’s first name, “Andy”, from the verse “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own …”

Some of Ben Bailey’s other mondegreens (as heard by yours truly):

  • George W. Bush has 15 cabinet physicians. Washington had only four. What were they? [Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of War, Secretary of the Treasury]. Gee, I bet Ben meant Cabinet positions.
  • In Greek mythology, what was the name of the fabulous wooden horse? [Pegasus – that would be winged horse].
  • What sport uses the term “ombalay“? [Rock climbing – the term is on belay.]
  • and my favorite:

  • What tree was signed in 1919 that ended World War I? [The Versailles Treaty]
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    Discovery Does Cash Cab

    By now, you should have figured out that I watch way more Discovery Channel than can really be well-balanced TV viewing. During one of the many and frequent ad breaks, I got to musing: what if various Discovery characters suddenly found themselves all inside the TV quiz show “Cash Cab”?

    Ben Bailey: Hey, you guys are on Cash Cab. It’s a TV game show that takes place right here in my taxi. You guys wanna play?

    Captain Phil (skipper, Cornelia Marie, Deadliest Catch): You don’t TALK – don’t EVEN !#@$&&*! start on me!

    Jamie Hyneman (Mythbusters): It’s almost like we were going to know the answer to the question.

    Adam Savage (Mythbusters): That’s what I’m talking about!

    Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild): You’ve got to be SO careful. Just last year a couple and their small child were trapped without food and water for three days, on Cash Cab …

    Ben: Oh, NO! Strike Threeee!

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