Book Report: Home Is Where The Quick Is by William Johnston (1971)

Book coverWhen I was looking for a paperback to read, I found this book on my shelves and thought, “Is that the William Johnston?” Which pretty much ensures I’m the only one to ask that question in the last 25 years, or maybe ever.

This is a 1971 novel based on the television show The Mod Squad, which was about a trio of young detectives in LA. They were young and hip. Mod. You dig it? At any rate, wow, that show had a bad syndication deal or something. I’ve never actually seen it. I don’t remember it replaying later in the 1970s when I was a kid with naught but a television to entertain myself. So I went into the book without anything but precursory knowledge of the program.

Which is unlike the other too William Johnston television-show-turned-novels books I’ve read, and I think it comes out a little here. It’s probably the same problem you get when you drop into the middle of a series: the book knows the characters and assumes you know a bunch about the characters, too, so it doesn’t get too much into that. Instead, onto the adventure that is more complex than a half hour sitcom plot (in the case of the Happy Days and Welcome Back, Kotter books I read) or an hour-long cop drama.

The plot: Someone kills a well-liked cop, Al Quick, who might have been dirty, and it might have something to do with a safe place for drug-addicted youth called simply Home (you see where the title comes from, do you?). It also might have something to do with a gambler named Gino Paul (seriously). And the well-liked cop’s brother is an inspector who insists upon frequent briefings and seems very eager to close the case. It’s a pretty thin plot hung upon a number of discrete scenes, too many of which are the detectives chatting with each other and wondering how they could miss the obvious for a couple more minutes or pages.

It’s a short read, and it is what it is. Apparently, a collector’s item based on the price from Amazon.

You know, there are so many paperback writers from the 1960s and 1970s who plied the trade and put out a lot of books and made a living at it that are mostly forgotten today. I guess that’s William Johnston. The books touted at the end of the book include the early Executioner books, the first Death Merchant, the first Butcher, some science fiction by Don Pendleton (!), and whatnot. Interesting stuff. Well, for me anyway.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Sweathog Newshawks by William Johnston (1976)

Book coverHow long have I owned this book? Here’s a photoshopped cover of it I did in July 2005. Oftentimes, I’ve picked it up when looking for something quick to read between weightier things, but Robert Hegyes, who played Esposito in Welcome Back, Kotter died, and I heard “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian on the radio (in tribute to the aforementioned Hegyes). So now seemed the time.

You know what? This is a pretty good book for such as it is.

I’ve read books based on hourlong dramas before (Adam-12 here and here, Murder, She Wrote here), but this might be the first book I’ve read based on a half hour sitcom. And it was pretty witty and true to the characters. While I didn’t laugh out loud at any of it, I was amused enough to want to watch some of the old programs and maybe come up with other books in the series.

As with any 70s paperback, the order forms in the back are always a treat. The books available in paperback immediately preceding this book include several in the Get Smart book series and other pulp. I’ve never, to my recollection, seen a book where the order forms are clipped, indicating someone has actually used them to order books. I wonder if the sort of people who did that were the sort of people to throw books out when they were done, or whether there never really was that sort of people.

UPDATE: How soon they forget. While cataloging this book, I learned I’d already read something by this author. That would be a Happy Days book, Ready to Go Steady, which I read in 2009. This book is far better than that Happy Days book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Generational Skipping Stones

In the other room, my children are watching an episode of The New Scooby Doo Movies with Davy Jones in it.

The program originally aired on December 2, 1972, so I probably didn’t see it when it ran first. A couple years later, I watched it with my mother and brother, and I remember distinctly the joke that Davy Jones makes “I’ve never sung for frogs before, just monkeys.” She explained that he used to belong to a band called the Monkees.

Of course, the Monkees were most active between 1966 and 1968, when the television show appeared, but a decade later when I watched the cartoon, Davy Jones was a has-been, if a little boy thought of such things. Regardless, he was off my cultural radar, if I had such a thing at about 10.

Of course, a couple years after that, in 1985, MTV started airing the television program and brought about a brief Monkees revival. The shows played on MTV and Nickolodeon, the band toured, and I even ended up with a greatest hits album.

When the children heard that Scooby Doo was meeting Davy Jones, their only knowledge was of the guy with the locker. Although this reference precedes any of the pop-culture musings above since it’s a nautical term for the undersea place where drowned sailors go, the boys only know of it from what they’ve heard about the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series.

That’s a lot of generational history wrapped into a single episode of a forty-year-old cartoon.

Burns and Allen v. Whitney

As I mentioned, I’ve been recording episodes of the sitcom Whitney because I think Whitney is cute. So I’ve given it two episodes, and Meh.

VHS coverIt didn’t help Whitney‘s case at all that I watched four episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show on VHS in between the pilot and the second episode I watched (“Two Broke-Up Guys”, actually the sixth episode, which indicates I did not set my DVR to record all of the episodes) of the more modern sitcom. The differences are startling.

The modern comedy, including the Seinfeld seasons I previously reviewed, starts with a situational premise. The two Whitney episodes deal with 1)A wedding leads Whitney to try to spice up her relationship with her longterm live-in boyfriend, and 6)A friend of Whitney’s boyfriend ends their friendship because he thinks Whitney has influenced the boyfriend too much.

With those overarching situations, we then get to individual scenes that rely on the characters’ caricatured behavior and the other characters reactions to it. Also, the humor is pretty sexual in nature, as Whitney spices up her relationship by dressing as a naughty nurse and sending her boyfriend to the hospital, et cetera.

By contrast, the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show starts out with a situation–a card game, a visit from a friend or relative with some active children who stymie George as he tries to write a speech. Then we get individual scenes that rely on Gracie saying silly things and the other characters react to it. Then, in the middle, the pitchman comes into the scene and tells the characters present about Carnation Evaporated Milk.

You know, the structure isn’t that much different. I guess the difference really lies in the humor. The old Burns and Allen show places a lot of stock in wordplay and the occasional straight-up gag as Burns addresses the audience. Burns and Allen got their starts in vaudeville, early movies, and radio, so they have to be staccato.

Or maybe it’s that’ I’m an old man, even older than I was when I watched the first two seasons of Seinfeld last year, and comedy set in a city (Chicago, of all places) with young, unmarried people doesn’t speak to me. An older married couple (in their middle 50s in the 1950s, no less) who love each other and live in the suburbs, I like.

So I think I’ll dustbin the rest of the Whitney and find more grainy, clever comedy that makes my wife laugh.

DVD Report: Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2

DVD coverAfter reading The Seinfeld Universe, I saw the first two seasons available on DVD for $1.50. I bought them, of course, and now I’ve watched them.

The first two seasons of Seinfeld (and The Seinfeld Chronicles, as it was originally known) ran roughly during my first year of college, including the first summer I spent back in Milwaukee. I pretty much lit out for my birthplace the Monday after my graduation from the high school in House Springs, Missouri. Which will explain why I didn’t see them when they first aired: I was too busy with my first job (working almost full time while shirking my first year of school en route to losing a full ride scholarship at Marquette), trying to learn piano and writing a song for a Southern belle who only mocked me for it, growing a mullet that started pretty much from my not getting a haircut for a long time, shirking actual classes by hiding in the Memorial Library and getting busted occasionally by the Pop Cop because I realized I could find a book about anything there, and cruising the streets and highways of Wisconsin (and occasionally Illinois to go to Barnaby’s in Schaumburg because we’d once gone there to bring back a pizza on a bet) while wailing out the hits of Icehouse and Bad English with Chris and Deb (who is my first girlfriend, except she was 34 when I was 20).

Anyway.

The first two seasons are a total of 16 episodes, 8 “hours” of television (minus commercial time). Good for a one-a-night sort of viewing, or a one-every-couple-nights viewing pattern if that’s your pleasure (it was mine, sort of).

One of the knocks on the series concept, according to the book The Seinfeld Universe, was that the book was too Jewish and too New York. Twenty years later, I’d say the show was a bit urban for my taste, but I’m entering middle age now and live not in the suburbs, but in the areas where the suburbs will be in twenty years. The exurbs. Almost rural. So the show is a little outside my sweet spot of relatability. Also, I’ve been married my entire thirties, so I don’t know I relate to thirty-somethings having the problems I had when I was twenty-five. I’d probably make the same criticism of a number of other programs, but I don’t watch most sitcoms. Bloody heck, the only television show I’ve watched from the recent past is Human Target (although I’m recording Whitney because they played the ads enough during football and I think Whitney’s cute, but whether I watch them depends on two factors: one, whether I get around to seeing them before my DVR’s non-moving parts stop non-moving and two, whether my beautiful wife reads this review and reacts to the “Whitney is cute” thing enough to make me guiltily erase the shows unseen–although in my defense, I’d like to say I thought Whitney Houston was cute back in the day, too–come to think of that, my defense is further excavation). Half-hour sitcoms have lost a lot since Sledge Hammer!.

The shows were amusing, and they were not “about nothing” as they claimed. They had their conceits and their topical humor built on those conceits. They were about something, but not something I can relate to A)twenty years later, B)older than the characters, and C)more Midwesternly stablely married than the characters.

I only had one belly laugh in the whole collection, and that was in a moment of physical humor. The rest amused me, but it did not Touch My Life as it did so many people in the 1990s. As did Friends, apparently. Maybe we’re older and wiser now, but do sitcoms today touch us like they did in those days (purportedly)? Watercooler and Internet talk these days focuses on really intriguey dramas. Well, that’s the zeitgeist now, I guess.

Do I recommend it? If you can find it for $1.50 without shipping and handling, hey, why not?

Books mentioned in this review:

The Wayback Machine Is ON!

Apparently, Jason Bateman tweeted:

It’s true. We will do 10 episodes and the movie. Probably shoot them all together next summer for a release in early ’13. VERY excited!

I responded:

Thank goodness! I was very distraught when “It’s Your Move” ended abruptly.

It’s Your Move, as you know, was Jason Bateman’s first sitcom. Well, he had been on Silver Spoons and Little House on the Prairie, but It’s Your Move was his first starring vehicle. It only lasted a season.

Sometimes, one might confuse Jason Bateman with Jerry O’Connell (or one might think someone else might). Jerry O’Connell’s big breakout was My Secret Identity, which ran several seasons in syndication.

Of course, my wife is not familiar with such things; her English teacher mother did not let her watch television. Whereas I was a latchkey kid living either in a trailer park or in a valley off of a dirt road, consigned to whatever snow-occluded broadcast television could reach me.

I hope this will become relevant sometime in a Jeopardy! taping.

Why Can’t Modern Football Players Act?

So someone help me out here: why don’t modern football players transition to acting careers as successfully as old timey football players did?

In the Olden Days, we have:

In the modern era, we have, what? Brett Favre in There’s Something About Mary? Brian Bosworth in Stone Cold?

Take a look at this list: 50 Football Players Who Acted in Movies and note that the ones who could be said to have made a successful transition to films and television played prior to the 1980s, and that most of the roles from then on are as “Self”? Is it a transition in football culture? Is it that older players were better-rounded and most professionals these days are football robots, funnelling all their energy into it from an early age?

Watson’s Advantage: Telepathy

Watson, essentially a big fast Google search engine, beat some former Jeopardy! champions. I haven’t written much on it, but I would like to point out an advantage Watson had over the other players: Telepathy.

When a human gets a Jeopardy! answer, he or she reads it and/or hears Alex Trebek speak it. That information passes through the varied input devices and requires interpretation and consideration even before moving onto higher order data processing.

Watson received the clues via telepathy:

On “Jeopardy!” when a new clue is given, it pops up on screen visible to all. (Watson gets the text electronically at the same moment.) But contestants are not allowed to hit the buzzer until the host is finished reading the question aloud; on average, it takes the host about six or seven seconds to read the clue.

The correct text just appears in the search box and Watson clicks “Go.” Imagine the difference between reading this sentence and submitting a SQL query. One is faster than the other, yes?

Forget the buzzer time. I don’t think it’s a fair match until the computer has to optically scan or audiologically receive the question. Just like the humans.

Hypocritic Oath: First, Do As I Say, Not As I Do

You know, I’m a small government conservative type, but I have a deep, dark secret that shatters my credibility and totally dismisses any argument that I might have against a Federal mandates for purchasing Obama-approved health insurance: I watch some PBS programming.

It all started, as it often does, with Sesame Street, which I started recording for my children. Because I needed them to see a number of puppets praising Jessica Alba, Jenny McCarthy, and Michelle Obama. Then we started with the Dragon Tales so they would learn to embrace the cognitive dissonance of having a dragon, which can fly, in a wheelchair. That program started catching the beginning of the noon program, which was an adult program. So I started recording those programs for Daddy, which happen to be programs that Daddy can watch while the children are present.

So I watch the following on PBS regularly, even though I don’t think that the Federal government should replicate criminal laws that states already have just so its prosecutors can dip their beaks into headlines when crimes occur:

  • Equitrekking, a program about where you can go worldwide to ride horses. I have a bunch of horses around me now, so I thought I’d like to learn more about them. The program is more about travel, though, to places where you can ride horses. Still, it’s interesting to see different landscapes, and the children catch glimpses of different wildlife than the demonic possums one sees around here. Also, Darley Newman is cute.
  • Beads Baubles and Jewels [sic], a program about making things with beads, which I actively hobbied earlier this year. I get to see some of the people whose books I read and whose blogs I visited in action, and the live demonstrations of the bead stitches helped me understand them better than diagrams in books.
  • Victory Garden, or as I call it, “An Aussie, A Brit, and a Hippie.” This program explores some gardening things and shows off a variety of plants and things to consider while worshipping Gaia. Actually, it does talk a little green and sustainably, but it’s not as bad as P. Allan Smith’s Garden Home, and the voices and accents on Victory Garden are easier to listen to for more than three minutes.

Now that I have unburdened my guilty soul to you, I ask of you: Why are these shows on public television?

Because they’re produced by public television stations!

But why are they produced by public television stations? Look at the content of these shows. Maybe in the 1960s and 1970s, you would not see these programs on the big three networks and might have needed someone to spend tax money to put them on the air, but in the 21st century, cable channels and nowadays the Internet pump these sorts of programs out all over the place. There are entire travel channels, entire crafting channels (well, DIY and HGTV run those sorts of shows), and so on. There are so many profit-seeking channels that quality shows like these are frequent and available. So why is public television still pumping them out?

Because there’s still a public television budget.

Until there isn’t, public television stations will continue to spend tax money to provide duplicate programming that other sources are providing on their own dime. Maybe you won’t get Victory Garden running for 60 years; my favorite programs Creative Juice and Small Space Big Style ran for 3 years and 1 year (IMDB indicates, but I think there were more episodes than that) respectively.

But you do get free market flexibility, and tax money savings the government could put to infrastructure projects or something else. Ha! Who am I kidding? In the 21st century, the government doesn’t spend money on public benefits. It spends money on private wealth transfers and government employees.

UPDATE: I just watched an episode of Victory Garden that included a segment, apparently forthcoming regular feature on the program, whose experts actually have their own program on DIY. You see how this sort of proves my point?

My Metric

Is it just me, or do most of the contestants on Jeopardy! these days fall into the following professions:

  • Teacher/Professor
  • Graduate student
  • Attorney
  • Public advocate of some sort
  • Non-profit employee of some sort

I really started noticing this trend when I started saying, “Get a real job!” to the television whenever contestants are announced in these professions.

Is it just me? If not, what does this mean and why do I think I won’t like it?

I Got Nothing, So I Wreak Some Lost Havoc

You know what I think is funny? Making up Lost spoileresque questions and adding them to comment threads on Facebook and whatnot.

Questions and comments like:

  • The return of Walt and Michael was way overdue!
  • Who built the statue of Vincent the dog on the Island, and why does it have octagons in the base motif?
  • When Walt becomes the new Jacob, will Aaron be the new black smoke?

Come on, with the absurd turns of events throughout the run of the show, surely you can devise some spoilers that will anger your friends for tipping them off to things that never happen. Leave your best in the comments below. No actual spoilers, please, since that’s no fun at all.

James Joyner Defenestrates Jon Stewart

Over at Outside the Beltway, Dr. James Joyner defenestrates the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart for hyperbole in blog titles.

Well, not really, since the playback is in the same window as the original post. But I wish we could see some post headlines that refer to defenestration more.

But I fear that energy efficient windows and closed HVAC-based environments have taken this word from our national vocabulary.

Meanwhile, as the link above throws the target site out of the current window, I have virtual defenestrated Dr. Joyner.

Pop Culture Prediction/Suggestion

Now that Simon Cowell is leaving American Idol, they need someone to fill his seat.

What is Anne Robinson doing?

After all, before Simon, she was the tart-tongued British dominatrix of American television. She’s probably available. And she’ll fill the minimum quota of one snarky British person dressed in black sucking up all the tabloids’ attention and television ratings that the United States offered as reparations for beating the UK in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

Book Report: TV Superstars ’82 by Ronald W. Lackmann (1982)

I couldn’t help it; I read another children’s book about television stars in the 1980s. See also books as historical documents week here at MfBJN. Earlier this year I read TV Close-ups, and in 2005 I read the next edition of this series, TV Superstars ’83. Unlike those books, I knew pretty much all the stars in this book. Perhaps 1982 was the pinnacle of my television viewing.

The book includes the stars from the programs The Dukes of Hazzard, One Day At A Time, The Greatest American Hero, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Little House on the Prairie, That’s Incredible!, WKRP in Cincinnati, CHiPs, Mork & Mindy, M*A*S*H, and The Incredible Hulk. I won’t enumerate them individually; either you know who they are, or you’re a damn kid.

I can summarize the bios for you: The superstar was shy/outgoing, decided to try acting, went to LA, became a superstar. A couple other things I noted: The attractive women were all attractive in an approachable, datable fashion, not in the trampy fashion of so many modern television superstars. And all the manly men were six foot tall and 160 pounds. You mean I have finally fought my way up to a manly weight–that is, to say, I’m as big as my father was, and all I had to do to match my boyhood heroes was hit 160? I feel gypped.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: TV Close-Ups by Peggy Herz (1974)

Yes, I really did read an elementary school fanbook about television shows on television in the early 1970s. This book talks about:

  • Gary Burghoff on M*A*S*H
  • Michael Landon on Little House on the Prairie
  • Darren McGavin on Nightstalker
  • Patti Cahoon on Apple’s Way
  • Freddie Prinze on Chico and the Man
  • Kurt Russell on The New Land
  • Valerie Harper on Rhoda
  • Clifton Davis on That’s My Mama
  • Ron Howard on Happy Days
  • Angie Dickinson on Police Woman
  • Roddy MacDowall on Planet of the Apes (the television series).

Looking at that list, I have only seen 3 or 4 of the series; most were not even in syndication from the time I remember watching television. Some I remember from other roles. Some I know of only because his son starred in the classic film Wing Commander.

Each little snippet tells a heartwarming story about the actor/actress, the causes he/she favors, and the hard road to stardom.

At this snapshot moment in time, these celebrities are at the top of their games and, in many cases, their careers. 35 years later, we don’t remember most of them. Sadly, ten years after the book appeared, we didn’t remember most of them.

This fits in well with the stoic works of Marcus Aurelius, which warns about the fleeting nature of fame.

Books mentioned in this review:

When Famous Chickens Go Bad

We let our toddler watch football on Sunday, and during the commercials, he’s subject to many, many, er, disconcerting images. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles ads run in heavy rotation, featuring explosions and belligerent robots firing weapons of all sorts. Each new gory horror movie that opens runs its ads to catch the young (but not that young) male football viewer, so there’s always someone screaming and being dragged away by ghouls, demons, ghosts (not Gus) and whatnot. Additionally, he gets to see plenty of ads featuring Barack Obama’s plan for America, things which frighten me to no end.

We try to distract him with books, toys, or questions during the particularly malevolent commercials. When he’s seen them, though, he has remained unfazed because he’s too young, probably, to understand what the images depict. One commercial, however, caused him to burst into tears. This horror:


Man, I love that commercial because anything with an enraged Famous Chicken in it is hilarity encapsulated in 30 seconds. But the boy? Freaked out.

One thing he can imagine, poor guy, is stuffed animals coming to life and threatening violence.

By the way, if you cannot get enough of The Famous Chicken, here’s his official Web site.

Just don’t browse it with my son around.