View blog reactions Waiting for Speedway Fowler: October 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007



Podcamp Boston 2

The 2nd annual Podcamp was held this weekend.

It was held at the very impressive Boston Convention Center.

The panels, as always, were fantastic.
Chris Penn and the rest do a great job with this show.

I have to say, however, that attendance seemed down a bit from last year.

Monday, October 15, 2007


The Next Big Thing:

Dutch barges.


Bob Cousy PF Flyers


PF Flyer x Bob Cousy
October 1st, 2007
Here an interesting project by PF Flyers. The brand has repartnered with Hall Of Fame basketball player Bob Cousy, to reissue his 1957 low top sneaker. Cousy was famed for wearing PF Flyers throughout his entire career and thus PF Flyers thought that at almost 50 years since the original issue it was time to bring them back! The canvas sneaker comes in all green and will be available soon.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Nu-Grape Rediscovered

When I was a very young kid, Nu-Grape soda was sold at the Rexall drug store a few doors down. One of the kids in the neighborhood, a kid named Danny, had a real fondness for it and often used to buy it. Then both the Rexall and Nu-Grape disappeared. Until last week when I spotted a bottle on a store shelf. I had to buy it to see if it was any good.

It smells a little sweetish.

Certainly it has the look of a classic grape soda.

It's got the old-fashioned industrial dye purple color...

And, boy, is it ever sugary! The best grape sodas should have a slight contrast between sweetness and tartness in their taste. Nu-Grape is as sweet as bubble gum, with not a lot of classic grape soda taste. I can see how this would appeal to a little kid, but it's WAY too sugary sweet for anyone over 10 years of age!


How has your day been going?

Here's how mine started off:

Sunday, October 07, 2007


AMERICA in Concert

Just got back from Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, where America was live in concert tonight at the Wolf's Den.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


100 or so of the Most Underrated/Never Seen TV Shows

With all the TV channels out there, there are a lot of interesting offerings you may have missed while watching that Grey's Anatomy rerun for the third time. Here are some of the good, the bad and the ugly. All are offbeat and interesting in one way or another. Some are currently on the air, others were canceled and forgotten long ago. Many have Canadian connections because the offbeat shows tend to be low-budget shows, and low-budget shows tend to be shot in Canada. These picks are not numbered and are in no particular order, so I may rearrange the list down the line.

Strange: (Showtime) An odd series starring Richard Coyle, the funny guy from the British version of "Coupling". Here he plays an ostracized priest who battles demons in a small English town. He has a few allies, including a mentally deficient boy who is adept at sensing the presence of evil. John Strange is dismissed from his duties after he is implicated in several violent murders, murders he insists were committed by evil spectres, part of something bigger that's on its way. There were only seven episodes of "Strange" made. The series is occasionally shown in the US on the Showtime pay cable channel. It can be occasionally silly, but it has that nice dank British gothic touch to it and is perfect fare for a rainy fall evening. Strange's superior in the priesthood is played with some scenery-chewing flourishes by actor Ian Richardson.

XFire: (BBC America) It doesn't get any more basic than this - put two paintball teams in an arena and film it... except this one is pretty well-done, with great lighting, innovative camera angles, and a very cool set in an old airport hangar. There sort of a story line to the whole thing, more along the lines of a videogame storyline rather than a dramatic one. The music works nicely, as does the commentary.

The Best: (Discovery Home) You've seen this show, but you don't remember the name because it's probably the worst name for a cooking show ever devised. This BBC import is that one where the three chefs compete to come up with the best dish. It's two men and a woman, and they slide their dishes through a window into a room next door where a panel of tasters judges which one is their favorite. There's a big chalkboard in the kitchen where they keep track of their wins. The comraderie here is one of the keys to the series' appeal. The three cooks are friendly rivals and they gently take jabs at each other even as they are helping each other out. The offerings always look fantastic and the show is an easy half-hour to digest.

Waiting for God: (PBS) Not a cult show in the UK, but not all that well-known here. This 80's comedy follows the goings on at a retirement home. The two main characters are played by two wonderful British character actors, and the supporting cast is top notch all around. Three complex, unorthodox love stories are woven into the plot and it's fun to follow them as they develop. The writing is crisp and snappy.

Fly By Night: (CBS) It's the late-80's, it's midnight, and you can't sleep, so you turn on the TV. What to watch? Carson was always an option, but back in the 80's, (people forget) Johnny was not at his best. The Tonight Show was stale, and rarely worth watching. (Of course, compared with the Leno era, even the worst Carson seems to shine.) Koppel's doing something on a famine or a political scandal or some terrible disaster. What's the third choice? Well, back in the day, you always had CBS Late Night, a revolving collection of cheaply-made action shows. Sold under the banner of "Crimetime After Primetime", the CBS shows were almost always Canadian co-productions with unknown leads and marginal supporting casts. Many took place at night, reflecting their time slot, and had a somber tone. "Fly By Night" was different. It was a light-hearted comedy adventure about a woman who inherits an airline... consisting of ONE broken-down jet. The crew operates half the season out of Vancouver and the other half of the year out of France, reflecting the schizophrenic nature of the co-production agreement. "Fly By Night" starred Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, who actually showed a nice flair for comedy in the series. She also showed a nice set of curves, which was perfect for both the tone of the series and the time slot.

Three Sheets (Mojo): Season 2 of this series is currently airing and Season3 is already being shot... and you've never heard of this show. Three Sheets is essentially a pub crawl disguised as a television show. Host Zane Lamprey (apparently that's his real name, though it sounds like he should be one of Jonah Hex's arch-enemies) tours the world and takes part in the drinking rituals of different countries. Amid pints of Guinness and glasses of absinthe, Lamprey also tries the weird indigineous foods and gets drunk with the locals. His cameraman and producer also get in on the fun, and the series has the feel of a lost weekend you'd have with your friends. "Three Sheets" airs on the little-seen Mojo Channel, which is an HD channel operated by InDemand.

Adderly: (CBS) A nice action comedy that sweetly skewered the trappings of the genre. Adderly is a government agent who has his hand crippled by thugs while on a mission, so he is reassigned to the Bureau of Miscellaneous Affairs, where he spends equal amounts of effort saving the world and fighting bureaucracy. Winston Reckert has the title role, and, if you can get past the freakish similarity between his glorious mane of hair and the identical coif owned at the time by Michael Landon, you'll have a good time with this show. Adderly was one of the original CBS Late Night imports from Canada, along with Night Heat and Hot Shots. Extra points to supporting player Jonathan Welsh as Adderly's ultimate milquetoast boss, Melville Greenspan.

Foreign Affairs: (Nostalgia TV) Perhaps the ultimate mongrel. If there ever existed a television show cobbled together from a greater myriad of strange influences, I'm not aware of it. Foreign Affairs was a nightly soap opera funded by Canadian, Dutch and Argentinian production companies. How on earth do you use that cash to create something marketable in each home country? By starting with a premise so gerrymandered it sets some sort of record. Here's how Foreign Affairs gets it done: the series is set at the Canadian Embassy in Buenos Aires. Oh, wait... that leaves out the Dutch. Ah, here's what we'll do... we'll have a FIRE at the Canadian Embassy in Buenos Aires and force the entire Canadian staff to move over to the Dutch Embassy and share accomodation there while the the other building is being rebuilt. Voila! The resulting mish-mash was actually pretty enjoyable, with familiar faces such as Allan Royal and Stephen Young, beautiful Buenos Aires scenery and some very sexy Argentinian actresses. The single season ended on a bomb-plot cliffhanger. Sigh.

Corner Gas: (CTV) Take Seinfeld, move it to a small farming town in Saskatchewan, make it a tiny bit broader and less cynical, and add amusing transitions and camera work. You get Corner Gas, an extremely well-written, tightly produced sitcom that's been a big hit in Canada for years. Here in the states, it can be seen on superstation WGN. The show's characters are just a tiny bit cartoony. Night Court level cartoony, if you will. Not too much, just a tad. The jokes come at a fast pace and are usually very wry and clever. The location shooting adds a beautiful element of authenticity, out on the wide prairie. Brent Butt's deadpan delivery is perfect. He's the heart of the show and it's his vision, but Eric Peterson's exasperated Oscar Leroy is the one who usually gets the most laughs.

Wish You Were Here: (CBS) A great little show that developed quite a following while it was on the air, but CBS, for whatever reason dropped the ball on this onw. WYWH was a summer replacement comedy about a Wall Street broker who quits his job and travels Europe with his camcorder. Most of the series is shot sort of through his viewpoint, kind of as a video postcard to the folks at home. Lew Schneider, who went onto greater success as a TV Producer, plays the lead character, Donny Cogswell. This series had great word of mouth, but a very small window of opportunity to land a permanent spot on the schedule, and it just sort of slipped through the cracks. Funny, because it's video-centric premise and style ended up pre-dating the YouTube culture that was to follow 15 years later. Bonus: the series was actually shot on location in Hungary, France, Spain and Morocco.

Our World: (ABC) Not to be confused with an earlier variety show with the name title, this "Our World" was a contemporary history series aired by ABC. It made great use of that networks vast film and video library and used each episode to focus on a specific moment in time. One week might see an hour-long look at the summer of 1969, from the music to the war effort. Another week would take a look back at a single year during depression-era America. The series mixed archival footage with in-person interviews and snappy graphic. It was history lite, and it moved with a nice zip. Never boring. Host Linda Ellerbie tied it all together and added a classy and down-to-earth sheen... and then ABC scheduled it opposite The Cosby Show. Sank without a trace, though it has its loyal fans to this day. This would be a great show for the network to resurrect as a quick time-slot filler when it's next women's drama fails, though with the rise of history-centric cable channels in the intervening years, it's doubtful a mainstream network would ever be this innovative again.

DIY Cooking: (DIY) Melanie Griffith's younger, red-headed half-sister Tracy hosts this simple cooking show and she's what makes it click. Griffith is a trained chef who shows a genuine enthusiasm for her recipes and always keeps the banter going, but never in an obvious or interruptive manner. She's a likable presence in the kitchen and conveys her knowledge in an easy-going manner. Griffith has also done some acting, released a recent album, and hosts a second DIY show about celebrity hobbies. She deserves to be more well-known. Hosts on cooking shows often go out of their way to display a memorable persona, and occasionally it can be grating. Bobby Flay, for instance. Griffith doesn't do that. She comes off as a real person, and that's what sets this little-known cooking show apart from the rest.

Flip This House: (A&E) In recent years, Saturday Night Live has featured a recurring sketch called 'The A-holes" about a husband and wife who are demanding, arrogant, obnoxious and oblivious. It's a mildly amusing sketch, repeated to death as eventually are all SNL sketches. Once you hear, however, that the characters are allegedly based on two real-life people, it makes the sketches funnier. The a-holes are reputedly based on San Antonio real estate developer Armando Montelongo and his wife Melina. And the resemblance is uncanny. Montelongo is a vain, simple man who makes extraordinary demands on his crews and is constantly preening for the camera. His wife wanders through each episode, counting the cash in her head and mentally trying to figure if its worth staying with the big dripping guido. You really have to see these two to believe them. They are the embodiment of empty Texas swagger and silliness, and, as A&E has no doubt learned, they make Flip This House worth watching. The site of Armando emerging from his Hummer, chattering on his cell phone and talking loudly about "his vision" for a house is funnier than almost anything else on television. I hope they never wise up to what's going on.

The Good Life: (HGTV) Not to be confused with several sitcoms bearing the same name, this Good Life was a profile series on HGTV which focused on people facing mid-life crises who'd decided to chuck everything and try a whole new life. One episode told the story of a high-powered corporate lawyer who quit his job and became a master canoe builder. Stuff like that. HGTV scheduled this show for 10pm on Sunday nights, perfect viewing for those dreading going back to work on Monday morning.

Dog Pier Diving: (Various) This isn't actually the title of any show, but several times a year you will be channel surfing and you will come upon this competitive event that features dogs racing down to the end of a pier and then diving through the air into a pond, and getting judged on style and distance... and you will stay and watch the entire thing because it's addictive. Admit it, you do it.

Magic the Gathering Tournament Coverage: (ESPN2) I've only seen this once, and I'm told it isn't televised any more... but in the early days of ESPN2, they were so hard up for content that they covered the world finals tournament for Magic: The Gathering, complete with play-by-play and color commentary. It was jaw-dropping and surreal.

Mary: (CBS) Remembered today as one of Mary Tyler Moore numerous post-sitcom failures, 'Mary" is actually very funny. Given half a chance it should have had a long network run. But some behind the scenes difficulties may have made the network a little too eager to dump the show. In "Mary", MTM plays a print journalist, working for the ficticious "Chicago Eagle". The show has one of the greatest supporting ensembles ever, with Katy Sagal, Robert Pastorelli, and James Farentino making their scenes click every time. Two other actors give the funniest performances of their careers: John Astin as columnist "Ed Lasalle!" and James Tolkan as mobster Lester Mintz. Moore is enjoyable and likable in the title role, two qualities she hasn't always been able to muster in the later years.

AlienNation: (Fox) One of the few movie-to-TV adaptions where the latter was actually better than the former. This isn't a real unknown. Though the show lasted just a single season (plus several follow-up movies) it remains a fan favorite and gets rerun on TV every once in a while. The movie series was rerun on the Encore Movie channel just a few months ago. Ostensibly a science fiction crime drama, AN was actually a wry comment on race relations, focusing on the relationship between human police detective Matthew Sikes and his alien partner George Francisco. The concept was expanded far beyond that, however, with amusing and insightful domestic subplots and takeoffs on (then) current events.

The Loop: (Fox) One of the more innovative comedies to hit the small screen in recent years, The Loop concerned a fresh and wet-behind-the-ears college graduate who enters the soul-crushing world of corporate dronedom. The series mixed innovative editing and sharp writing to create an effect of barely-contained comic anarchy. I believe some of the acting was improvised. The cast meshes nicely and some of the guest stars are hilarious. Fox didn't seem to quite know what to do with this show. It was dumped onto the schedule to middling returns, developed a cult following, was renewed for some unexplained reason, then was held off the schedule for ages and finally saw its second season episodes burned off with no promotion. Very strange.

Life on a Stick: (Fox) Life on a Stick was a pretty average sitcom. In fact, it was probably slightly below average. It gets a mention here because it may be the only sitcom ever based on a single, throw-away scene in a movie. The show's developers would never admit it of course, but Life on a Stick was a total steal of the Dimpus Burger scene in "Super Troopers". It even used the same kid. For that alone it gets the brazenness award and a spot on the list. The setting for the show was modeled on the Hot Dog on a Stick chain of fast food stands that dot the west coast. The execution was pretty poor. The real laughs few and far between, and the series captured none of the in-your-face, dead-end, don't-care-anymore attitude of the movie scene.

We Interrupt The Week: (PBS) Maybe the best game show ever. Except it wasn't really a game show. It was essentially the TV forerunner to NPR's "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me", and featured a panel of wiseasses commenting on all the week's events and giving true or maybe false answers to questions about the headlines. Jeff Greenfield was one of the panelists and the whole thing was MC'd by the droll Ned Sherrin, who awarded points completely arbitrarily. This may be the only game show PBS has ever done. Very, very funny.

The Trench: (BBC America) The Trench is a mini-series, AND a reality show, but its unlike any you've seen. Picture "Survivor" as done by Ken Burns and you get an indication of what this show is like. In "The Trench" the descendants of British WW1 soldiers get to experience what their grandfathers and great-grandfathers lived through, as they go though WW1-era training and then spend weeks living in a combat trench in northern France. It's a look at life on the front lines in 1916 that is singularly unique and often very poignant, as the re-enactors suddenly come face to face with the reality of the fates faced by their forebears. 5 million men lived in these trenches for four long years. WW1 is a part of history not often explored on television. The Trench shines when stacked up against every other reality show. You need to see it.

WRC This Week: (SPEED) Forget NASCAR... now THIS is racing. A weekly magazine-style round-up of the European Rally Circuit. You've seen this stuff... Subarus and Peugeots flying through the air and around corners, barely missing spectators as the driver frantically tries to stay on the road and the wing man calmly reads out map instructions. Thrilling stuff, with top-notch production values. Taken off the SPEED cable network over a royalties dispute, apparently.

Fernwood 2night: (Syndicated) Fernwood really shouldn't be a cult show. The two stars are still major figures in entertainment, and most people still remember the show, but it's rarely shown today. It's a product of its time, and that time is a little slower paced and more subtle than today. Fernwood's talk show parody influenced countless comedy series and sketch shows that came later, but the thing about this 2-season summertime half-hour (the second season was called "America 2Night) is that it's not a laugh a minute. Sometimes you have to sit there for a little while for the next real joke to come along and that seems a little odd today. the fact of the matter is that the entire episode is a thirty minute joke, and often the humor is found in the subtle absurdity of the entire premise, not in one liners or putdowns. Martin Mull's Barth Gimble can transmit more laughs with a single withering stare at his co-host, Fred Willard's Jerry Hubbard, than most modern sitcoms can come up with in an entire season. Fernwood was satirical, stupid, brilliant, and a million other things. The idea that someone would make Frank Devol's hound-dog expression a running joke throughout two entire years of a TV show is more revolutionary than 90% of anything that's been done since.

The War Next Door: (USA) USA's late-90's attempt to do comedy. The cable network took an hour of time and used it to introduce two half-hour sitcoms, but these were no ordinary comedies. The other comedy was Manhattan, AZ, which is cited separately. This series was a silly spy spoof created by Savage Steve Holland. If you like the kind of comedy done in the movie "Better Off Dead", you'd like "The War Next Door". The premise: a retired secret agent discovers his mad scientist arch enemy has moved in next door in suburbia. Take equal parts "Brady Bunch" and Mad Magazine's "Spy vs. Spy", add a dash of "Desperate Housewives" and strain the whole thing through a Loony Tunes filter and you have "The War Next Door". Pure genius, so of course it only lasted a few episodes.

Manhattan, AZ: (USA) Chad Everett, comedian?? Well, not quite. In Manhattan, AZ, he plays the oblivious straight man role that Leslie Neilsen made a second career from. Everett plays the mayor of the titular rural town. Brian McNamara plays an LA cop who moves to the strange town in the desert to get his life back together. This show plays sort of like a downscale "Northern Exposure" with sunstroke. All the residents are quirky, sometimes agressively so. There's none of Northern Exposure's nuance and subtle mysticism, though. Still, that's not the kind of show this series wants to be. It wants to be odd, stupid, and sharp, and it succeeds nicely. Manhattan, AZ was the other half of USA Network's aborted Sunday night comedy hour. Only a dozen or so episodes were made. It would be nice to see them on DVD.

Tom Stone: (Syndicated)
Do you like "The Rockford Files"? You'll like "Tom Stone". Syndicated in the u.S. under the title "Stone, Undercover", for some reason, Tom Stone is a Canadian detective drama shot in Calgary. It shares many of the same motifs as Rockford and even has Stuart Margolin as a supporting player. Only two short seasons were produced. A shame, since it's a very likable show.

The Exile: (CBS) A series for the times, and a gem at that. There were very few spy series on the air in the early 90s. This one was the best. It's set in Europe in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. John Stone is the main character, an American spy who had spent the past several years posing as a defector in Eastern Germany. After the wall falls, Stone attempts to return to America, only to find he's been double crossed and is now on the run, believed to be an actual double-agent. Great location shooting, a complex, ongoing plot and some pretty good acting, this was a CBS Late Night offering. It lasted a single season, but the storyline was pretty much resolved in the final episode, which was a nice touch.

We Don't Knock: (WSBK)
One of the funniest local TV shows ever made. Longtime Voice of WSBK TV and cult host of "Ask The Manager" Dana Hersey is given a film crew and allowed to roam the streets of Boston causing trouble. Hersey has the singular talent of being able to be suave, obnoxious and likable all at the same time. He gleefully tears into some of the Hub's most sacred institutions, from Boston Magazine to the Freedom Trail. Anyone with any kind of pretensions gets so shredded there's barely anything recognizable left. There a mad energy to all the proceedings, a barely contained chaos that coalesces into a sort of brilliant anarchy. Hersey says the show's ambitions eventually outstripped its budget and production was shut down, or, as he puts it, they opted for a different show called "We Don't Answer".

Jeff Starr Show: (Cable Access) How to explain Jeff Starr? You really can't. You simply have to experience the man. And that means taking a trip to Jeffrey's World, where Starr is still The King. Jeff Starr is a former Top-40 DJ (in fact, at one point in the 60's he was one of the most popular DJs in America, and his station was the first station to play a Beatles tune on US radio). Times changed, people went on with their lives, but somehow, Jeff Starr never went with us. He stayed in Jeffrey World, where he's still America's Most Handsome DJ As Voted By the Readers of Teen Beat Magazine. As such, Jeff believes people really want to get His Take on things. And the thing is... we do. Because Starr is hypnotizing. Literally. He's a trained hypnotist who's show-ending spiel seems to try to lure viewers under his spell. Over the years, Starr has drifted between Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with his show moving from black and white to color. He can be seen on public access cable around New England. Remember: god loves you and so does Jeff Starr.

Sports Monster: (Comedy Channel) For a short period of time, "Sports Monster" was the funniest show in America. Now, no one even remembers it. It aired on The Comedy Channel, back before the merger with Ha! That created Comedy Central, and was a parody of Sportscenter. Joe Bolster, Nick Bakay and John Hayman consistently delivered the funniest show on TV for almost two years straight. Bolster, particularly, was hysterical as the epitome of the vain sportscaster.

Going to California: (Showtime) This was a series that, if it were airing today, would be a Showtime headliner along with Weeds and Brotherhood. Instead, it came along at a time when the network was trying to transition away from it's cheap but popular science fiction shows into something with broader appeal. In finding its way, the network fired up a half-dozen shows and eventually dropped them all. "Going to California" is sort of an updated version of "Route 66" without the epic drama and tells the tale of two longtime twentysomething friends from the fictional town of Bishop's Flats, Massachusetts, who embark on a cross-country roadtrip to find a third friend, who, in a moment of crisis, abruptly left town and headed west. The series would be a non-starter if the two lead actors didn't work, but in this case Sam Trammel who plays the slightly loopy Space and Brad Henke, who plays the imposing Hank, are PERFECT in their roles. The show cruises along celebrating all the quirks of the epic roadtrip and expertly conveys the thrill of the freedom of the open road.

Lonesome Dove: (Syndicated) There are two shows that go by this name, and they are sold as the same series, but really, they're not. "Lonesome Dove: The Series" was a very conventional hour-long syndicated western that was based on the epic TV miniseries. It was pretty unremarkable, though the expansive Alberta backdrops added a lot to the show. Between it's first and second seasons, LD was so thoroughly revamped that the show that returned bore almost no resemblance to what had come before. Now titled "Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years", the series took on a much, much darker tone, the lead heroine was killed off, and the star character became a sullen bounty hunter. The town in which the new LD was set was turned into a grim, grimy backdrop and the entire series became caked with inches of heavy mud. The producers must have used a firetruck to soak down the outdoor sets before each day's filming. The music went from classic western to modern cool. The action was racheted WAY up and Lonesome Dove became a singularly unique televisions show, a traditional TV western for the coming new century. There was more than a little of the spirit of Mad Max in the second season. But of course it was way too edgy to last. After this, supporting star Eric McCormack went on to stardom in "Will & Grace" and star Scott Barstow made a couple of failed series and then went to prison on child sex charges. Yikes.

Two: (Syndicated) A classic trope as done by Stephen J. Cannell. A man discovers his once-idyllic life utterly destroyed by... his previously-unknown evil twin! The premise alone instantly catapults this hour-long syndicated action drama into the realm of brilliant camp. The good twin is tweedy and wears glasses. The evil twin has a maniacal look and ... no glasses! The fact that soap star and marginal actor Michael Easton is cast in both leads just adds to the fun. To be honest, Easton is fine in the role, and longtime Canadian journeyman actor Lochlyn Munroe is a reassuring presence as one of the adversaries. Munroe is the poor man's Ted McGinley. All the American cities look oddly like British Columbia, another hallmark of classic unknown TV shows!

Hawkeye: (Syndicated) How many TV series are set in the 1750s? How many are set in New York's Lakes Region? Probably only one: Hawkeye. Hawkeye was a frontier adventure based on the Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper. Matt Houston star Lee Horsley had the title role, sans 70's mustache. Former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter played his love interest. Hey, Lochlyn Munroe turns up here too! Great action tales, expertly told, but the real find here is Garwin Sanford as Major Taylor Shields, an ethically divided man with his own agenda and an obligation to uphold the objectives of the crown. Sanford's performance is riveting.

Camp Midnight: (USA) A failed attempt by the USA Network to launch a late-night talk show. Camp Midnight was enjoyable unpretentious low-budget fun. Hosted by an L-A disc jockey, the show had an unusual tradition where each visitor would bite a styrofoam cup and leave their dental impression and the host would then scotch tape the cup the the wall behind the set. Very strange. The high point for this short-lived series: the ageless soul band The Untouchables doing an absolutely killer live version of "Agent Double-0-Soul".

FX: The Series: (Syndicated) One of the many syndicated action hours that flooded the airwaves in the early- and mid-90's. FX was the TV adaption of the popular 80's movie that starred Bryan Brown. This version also had an Aussie in the lead role, though Cameron Daddo's Rollie Tyler was much younger and had much less of the laconic nature that made Brown so perfect in the role of the burned out special effects whiz. Still, the show hums along nicely, and Daddo has a nice chemistry with Kevin Dobson in the Brian Dennehy role as Police Detective . FX: The Series also features a new character, played by the kinetic and sexy Christina Cox. She's always enjoyable to watch on screen. One of the highlights of the show is Blue, Rollie's mechanical dog, who functions as a burglar alarm and remote camera. Blue is a believable-looking creation, looking something like what you'd see in the pages of Make Magazine. FX died a sad death between the first and second seasons, when co-star Dobson either quit or was fired, his replacement just didn't work, and the tone of the show shifted to something that wasn't as entertaining. Too bad. Still, the first season is a blast.

License to Grill: (Discovery Home) Rob Rainford turns outdoor grilling into the lifestyle you HAVE to have. Rob has tons of time on his hands and always has a big bunch of freeloading friends on their way over, so he needs to prepare a feast on the fly! And that's what he does every week. Lining up a platoon of gas grills next to his pool, squishing down ziploc bags to seal in his marinade, slicing and dicing as the cameras switch to super slow-mo and kick in the smooth jazz soundtrack. Rob's the master of the laid-back lifestyle, though I'm not sure how well the lifestyle pays, as in some shots you can see that his home sits directly under some ominous-looking high-tension lines. Also, I'm no expert, but it looks to me like Rob manages to break almost every single rule for sanitary food preparation, but all those grills are putting out some serious BTUs, so I'm sure any potential problems are rendered moot.

Cookin' in Brooklyn: (Discovery Home) Alan Harding cooks up hearty fare. The recipes are always great, but two things make CiB stand out for me: one is the kitchens he operates in. Never fancy, high-gloss TV kitchens. Always someplace that looks like you'd actually cook there. And the kitchens have a distinct "northeast" look. I can't explain exactly what that is, but it isn't the spacious modern west-coast kitchen look, and it isn't the manufactured-homey look of the southern cooking shows. It's a bit worn and a bit gritty. Secondly, Alan loves Brooklyn, and it shows. The city and its residents are the real stars of this series, though the host is a perfect mix of amiable and agreeably shaggy and shop-worn. Alan's a real guy, and its easy to see that. The recipes are key as well. Always varied and reflecting the ethnic influences prevalent in Brooklyn, but never so exotic that you couldn't find the ingredients in any medium-sized city. Perfect.

QED: (CBS) Remember "The Wild Wild West"? This was the 80's version... with a slight British accent. Sam Waterston starred as Quentin E. Deverill, an early 20th century scientist and Renaissance man, in this light CBS spring adventure series. His arch-enemy was the evil Doctor Kilkiss (Julian Glover), an over-the-top megalomaniac who did everything with a wonderful flourish. Deverill's assistant was played by British character actor George Innes, and the whole series was created by John Hawkesworth, famed for "Upstairs, Downstairs" and Masterpiece Theater's "Danger: UXB". QED was a true family series in that it had enough adventure and laughs for the kids, but it was also well-written enough for adults to enjoy it. A very classy, fun show.

Trailer Park Boys: (Showcase) Hands-down the funniest show on television. Now, shh, don't tell anyone or it will be ruined. The key to the magic of Trailer Park Boys is that the series is the unique vision of just a handful of people, and it's shot about as far away from the creativity-killing influence of Hollywood as is geographically possible. For 7 seasons, TPB has followed the ridiculous misadventures of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, along with the rest of the denizens of the Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Almost every season starts with the boys getting out of jail and hatching yet another get rich quick scheme, and almost every season ends with someone heading back to jail. TPB gleefully violates all the social mores, including the now classic scene of Ricky lecturing a packed church on the Real Meaning of Christmas, which turns out to be getting drunk and stoned with your friends. Ricky then caps his sermon by tossing wads of hashish to the crowd and wishing them a merry christmas. And that's the thing about TPB, it really is a show with heart, and it expresses that heart through the wildest actions of the boys. When Ricky proposes to his longtime girlfriend Lucy in the front seat of his car, about five different things happen at once, all involving the characters knowing and unknowing resignation to their fates. They are a different kind of lost generation. It's poignant and also hysterical and profane, all at the same time. Recent seasons have pulled back a bit on the esoteric touches like Ray's references to Calvinism and Bubble's quoting of Plato, and I have to say they are missed, but the 2007 full-screen adaption more than made up for it with a closing montage that somehow perfectly framed each character's innate humanity to the tune of a classic Tragically Hip song. Remember how the first few episodes of "Good Times" actually attempted to take a funny and honest look at the lives of the underclass before completely giving up that idea and just settling for mindless buffoonery? TPB fulfills that promise. In recent years the show has moved to a permanent set, which makes production a bit easier, but the downside is that you see all the same static backgrounds. TPB is taking a year or two off before new episodes return, so hopefully the cast and crew will use the downtime to refresh themselves. It can't be easy turning out the most consistently hilarious comedy of the 21st century.

John Safran vs. God: (Sundance) This is a series unlike any other. Safran is an odd man, a wirey Australian with a smartass attitude, a peculiar lisp and a gonzo style. In this series, he insinuates himself into the middle of the world's religions, taking part in voodoo rituals, fraudulently buying Mormon underwear and even submitting to an "exorcism" by a sleazy televangelist. Throughout it all, he maintains a running narration that's part Hunter Thompson and part 60 Minutes. One of the high points: he instructs viewers on ways to replace the nameplates on their Mazda automobiles (offensive to Zoaroastrians) with modified makes sure to offend Christians, Muslims and even Scientologists. You can see that hilarious segment here:

Marlo and the Magic Movie Machine: (Syndicated) A children's TV show out of Hartford! Hey kids! Let's learn about insurance! Well, not really. Marlo was just an updated version of the 50's and 60's kids show. There was no gallery of rug rats, and no live games, but Marlo did puzzles, showed cartoons and old movies and answered viewer mail, all with the help of a giant talking computer. A low-budget show done with a nice pace and a lot of heart.

Muggsy: (NBC) The relevant 70's were a different time. In the 21st century we get the toned and tanned OC, but in the 70's that wouldn't have been cool at all. The 70's was all about gritty realism... and it reached it's apex with Muggsy, a children's adventure series set in Bridgeport, Connecticut... which is sort of the equivalent of doing an Ivory Merchant movie in Mogadishu. Muggsy is the spunky heroine of the show. Did I mention that Muggsy lives in a U-Haul trailer behind a gas station? No? Well, she does. Basically if you took Pippi Longstocking and filtered it through "The Warriors", you'd get this show. Oh yeah, everyone learns something important at the end of every episode. The kid never trades up from that damn trailer, though.

Snowy River: (Family Channel) I don't understand how pablum like "Doctor Quinn" ran for years and shows like Snowy River and "Hawkeye" are here and gone in the blink of an eye. Snowy River is Aussie macho. The acting is top-notch with Guy Pearce and Hugh Jackman getting some early exposure, along with the incredibly sexy Gabrielle Fitzpatrick and the impossibly-named Joelene Crnogorac, but the real star of the show is the establishing shots, which really convey Australia's sweeping majesty better than any down under show I've seen before or since. The stories are well-told, but they have a pacing that's slightly more leisurely that what most Americans are used to. 65 episodes were made, so I assume we'll eventually see a DVD release, and this is one series that will really shine on a widescreen TV.

Aifric: (TG4) Aifric is a teen show in Ireland. It's sort of a "Saved By The Bell" for the Irish, but get this - it's entirely in Gaelic. Yes, you read that correctly. No you are not stoned. The whole show has the exact trappings of a fluffy teen comedy, but it's done in a language that sounds like a bunch of tracheotomy patients gargling with angry fisher cats. Gaelic is not a pretty language. It's like you fell asleep on the couch and woke up in a parallel universe where Saved by the Bell is still on the air, and where everybody is possessed and speaks in a demonic glossalia. It really is that cool.

Dom Deluise Show: (Syndicated) The Dom Deluise Show was pretty awful. It was a late 80's syndicated half-hour comedy show that was a show within a show, but which never really had any specific plots or underlying concept. Deluise played a barber on a studio lot, but it was really just an excuse for he and his showbiz friends to goof around in front of a camera for 30 minutes. The show had such a lacadaisical air that it was barely there. You knew they were making it up as they went along, not out of any sense of desperation, but because they just didn't have the ambition to do it any other way. You and your friends and a camcorder and a case of beer could easily have done just as good a job of it on any lazy Saturday afternoon.. but what gets this show on the list is that Deluise actually did it. And got a paycheck for it. That's awesome.

Little Mosque on the Prairie: (CTV) Where to start with this one? A comedy... about being Muslim in post-9/11 North America. Notice I said NORTH America, because LMOTP is a Canadian series. It probably couldn't be shown in the U.S. because it would generate too much backlash for any station that wanted to show it. Too bad, bacuse there's nothing upsetting about the show. It's a humorous (in that understated Canadian way) low-key show that treats all it's characters as well-rounded individuals, each with their own strengths and foibles. Carlo Roti from "24" has a recurring role here. It's a show that is almost a dramedy, and generates more mild chuckles than belly-laughs. It's also an interesting window into a culture than most of us never see other than through the headlines.

Adventure, Inc.: (Syndicated) Michael Biehn is an actor with a surprisingly large fan following, though for some reason his pop appeal tends to fly below the radar. Here he stars as Judson Cross, internationally-renown adventurer, in this low-budget syndicated action hour. Combine Robert Ballard with Indiana Jones, add a bunch of high-gloss location shoots around the world, and shake vigourously. The plots are ridiculous, and the effects are struictly sub-par, but Adventure, inc. moves along at a great clip, the scenery is wonderful, and Biehn brings a laid-back likability to the star role. His two co-stars also attract notice: Karen Cliche gets her first big break here, before moving on to what has been very steady TV work, and Jesse Nillson garners some decent reviews for what is essentially an eye candy job for the female fans. Nillson died of an asthma attack at the age of 25 right after the first (and only) season was wrapped up.

African Skies: (Family Channel) Now this was an odd little show. A half-hour drama, something rarely seen today. The premise was, once again, dictated by the financing. A women and her young son move to South Africa to oversee the African branch of her father-in-law's Canadian-American industrial concern. The foreman on their ranch is Dutch. See what I mean? You could never start with a dramatic premise and end up here. Anyways, the series managed to make the most of it's odd format, with great scenery, some nicey paced plots, and a truly unique blend of African, Dutch, Canadian and American actors. The mother was played by Catherine Bach in a nice change of pace from her famous Dukes of Hazard role, and the father-in-law was perhaps the biggest surprise of thise series... he was played by Robert Mitchum! Mitchum's part was taped seperately and later edited into the show, using the premise that all his contact with the principal cast was via videophone.

Ed's Night Party: (CityTV) Hard to explain. This is a late-night show about a sock. A sock puppet, I guess, but Ed's not really a puppet in that he has no moving mouth. He's just a sock, really. He's also hilariously crude, lewd and profane. The show was once banned because of a segment in which Ed was depicted having sex with a porn star. Ed also interviews guests, which have included Penn Jillette, Sy Sperling and Weird Al Yankovic. Ed also goes around the town in taped segments, barking obscenities at people and generally behaving in a manner that would get a real person thrown into jail. Basically this is triumph the Insult Comic Dog turned up to 11. Very, very funny.

Puppets Who Kill: (Comedy Network) This is a show that people will find either hilarious or deeply disturbing. The central joke is this: a human social worker runs a half-way house for maladjusted puppets. That's pretty much it, but boy, are these puppets ever deranged. There's Bill, a ventriloquist's dummy who happens to be a serial killer and occasional cannibal, Rocko, the stuffed dog who has a violent temper and chain-smokes, Cuddles, the comfort doll, who's child-like world view is a direct contrast to his passive-agressive manipulations and who once grabbed a rifle and started sniping people from a tower, and Buttons, a ragged teddy bear who has promiscuity problems. Keeping them in line, or rather, failing to keep them in line, is their case worker, Dan Barlow, a miserable failure in life who's doing the job strictly for the money. This *may* be one of the funniest shows out there, but if you are offended at the idea of a puppet dismembering a corpse, you may want to look elsewhere for your entertainment.

Urban Angel: (CBS) Ah, Justin Louis, show-killer supreme. This guy has gotten a lot of work over the years, and it's easy to see why: he's a perfect everyman, and can play a rough city guy or a laid-back suburban guy with equal ease. Here, he's cast as Victor Torres, a punk just out of jail who's hired as a reporter for the Montreal Tribune. Now there's something you see a lot of: ex-con reporters. He tries to balance his new life with the remnants of his old existence that have followed him from the joint. The rest is a pretty straightforward action drama, with the notable exception of the setting. While lots of shows shoot in Montreal, one of the world's great cities, few TV shows are actually SET in Montreal. Urban Angel made great use of its locale. The supporting cast was nothing special, except the actors had great names like Vrasta Vlana and Jack Langedijk. This show aired for a single season on CBS Late Night, home of all the great low-budget quirky action shows. At one point almost every CBS Late Night series had a lead character named "Nick". How can you not love that?

Cold Lazarus: (BBC) A science fiction mini-series that's equal parts "Lathe of Heaven" and "Total Recall". This is actually a sequel to an earlier work, called "Karaoke", and much of the plot ties in with that series. Here, researchers working at a lab 400 years in the future come into possession of a severed and cryogenically preserved human head, and begin extracting the memories from the frozen brain. Soon, sinister concerns begin interfering, convinced that the memories are an invaluable commodity in a world where reality is in short supply. This is cereral schience fiction in more ways that one. Albert Finney has the starring role. "cold Lazarus" was written by the famed Dennis Potter, who did "The Singing Detective".

Freedom: (UPN) Talk about a series that was ahead of its time! Civil liberties enthusiasts would tell you today that Freedom was surprisingly prescient, but whetever your political bent, it's hard not to like an adventure series that plays like a smart version of that old howler "Red Dawn"... only without those pesky Russians. The enemy in Freedom is... us. The premise of this late-90's netlet series concerns a small force of freedom fighters up against a US Governemnt that's been taken over by fascists. These days you'd never get this series on the air, but at the time ... well, it was a different time. The four primary stars are all young and stunning-lloking, of course, and the scripts are about as deep as UPN's bench strength at any point in its brief existence, but the fact that just a few years later the debate over individual freedoms was suddenly raging in this nation gives "Freedom" its own singular distinction in the TV history books.

Blog Cabin: (DIY) This is a pretty interesting attempt to do interactive TV. The crew builds a cabin from scratch, while viewers vote on designs online. The workers build the place the way the audience wants. It can be a little dry, but basically it's a 21st century spin on "This Old House". I've noticed a lot of artifacting on this show... maybe its an editing problem.

Barkitecture: (DIY) This show is all heart, and there isn't a pet lover out there who won't become a fan. Each episode profiles a formerly homeless dog and the family that has recently adopted the pooch. The show follows the adoption process and then combines caring and behavioral tips with an ongoing look at the construction of Fido's new home. If you thought doghouses were just four walls and a roof, you'll be surprised at the many little things that can be done to make your best friend's home even better than the traditional design. Sure, we're probably obsessed with our pets here in the west, but Barkitecture never goes too over the top, and does a nice public service bu showing the real positives of adopting a shelter animal.

Man Caves: (DIY)
It's not possible for a show to have more testosterone. Each week, former Baltimore Colt Tony Siragusa and carpenter Jason Cameron transform someone's cellar into a guy's paradise: big screen TVs, wet bars, sports displays. It's awesome. Bonus: special guest star in one episode is Jo Jo White.

Against the Law: (Fox) Danny Noonan takes on the American legal system. Not really, but that premise is as good a reason to watch this quirky Fox drama as any. Michael O'Keefe plays the ludicrously-named Simon Mac Heath, a wealthy and brash LA lawyer who leaves a top firm to start his own gritty law practice on the east coast. it's a conventional set-up, but O'Keefe is always fun to watch and he brings a rare sardonic touch to the typical TV lawyer portrayal. The catch here is that Mac Heath is a little off the wall himself, prone to courtroom theatrics and outbursts. The series was set in, and filmed in, Boston. It was on and off Fox's scedule so fast, if you blinked you missed it.

Wing Nuts: (Discovery Wings) Basically, this series was a knock-off of "American Chopper", but fate turned it into something else. Wing Nuts concerns the trials and travails of the founders and workers at Moto Art, a California company that makes executive desks out of airplane wings. The desks are works of art, but the central drive of the show is the conflict between the three principals, Dave Hall, Donovan Fell and Tim Roberts. Roberts is a troubled guy who means well, but can't seem to get out of his own way and usually triggers most of the problems. Roberts dropped dead from a heart attack just weeks after the first season was wrapped up, lending a sad sense of foreshadowing to the whole affair.

: (ABC) Robert Urich in full mid-life crisis role. Here, he plays John Hawkins, a New York D.A., who has pursued his career at the enpense of his extranged son. Problems prompt Hawkins to dump the job, grab his motorcycle and take his son on a cross-country journey. The little life lessons imparted along the way are pretty pedestrian, but the wide-open western scenery is great, Urich is always enjoyable, and the central theme of leaving the rat race behind to reconnect with the real rhythms of life is usually good TV whenever it's done well.. and here it is indeed done well. Audiences weren't that interest in such down-to-earth fare, however, and this one didn't survive very long, part of Urich's legendary string of failed roles.

Lazarus Man: (TNT) This was a great idea that was derailed by acts of god and management. Robert Urich stars as a Man With No Name, who wakes up half-buried in an unmarked grave with no memory of who he is or how he arrived at his situation. The series has a complex, on-going story line ( which probably worked against its success) involving government conspiracies and Lazarus's search for his real identity. In the end, Lazarus Man was considered a go for a second season, but then Urich was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He remained healthy enough to continue the show, but the parent network, TNT, got cold feet about trying to insure the star, and ended up killing production. A shame, because the storyline was never resolved, and Urich lived long enough to do several more series, proving that he could have continued working on Lazarus Man.

New Avengers
: (CBS) The Avengers was always a singularly unique show, so fans could certainly be forgiven for questioning whether a revival could recapture the spirit of the original. After all, the swinging 60's were long over. It was the middle of the sour 70's, and the UK was particularly feeling the pinch of hard times. But guess what - it worked. Patrick MacNee returns to his best role in wonderful form, and the producers have wisely ditched the silly trappings of the later years of the original series and fitted John Steed up with two perfect assistants: Joana Lumley as the entrancing Purdey and Gareth Hunt as the reliable Mike Gambit. Lumley comes in second only to Diana Rigg as Steed's best-ever sidekick and the gloriously inventive and trippy plots are back to keep things moving. Cybernauts, Hitler, Curare darts, automated death traps. It's all here with great disco-style trappings and a fantastic opening theme.

Ninja Warrior: (Spike) Low-calorie mind candy. Ninja Warriors is a little American Gladiators, a little Superstars competition, and a little MXC. This reality series is essentially an obstacle course competition, but what a course! Competitors traverse a bizarre and grueling multi-leveled construction as a timer counts them down. All the while two Japanese announcers are screaming the play-by-play. Most of NW is subtitled, but it doesn't affect your enjoyment of the series. The competitors come from all walks of Japanese life, and it's enjoyable seeing the winners achieve their momentary stardom.

C-Weed concert: (APN) Not a television show, but an occasionally repeated concert by a native band on Canada's Aboriginal People's Network. A couple of things make this a cult item: first, the setting is unique, a live outdoor concert in the heartland. Instead of the slickly produced indoor concerts we're used to seeing on traditional cable outlets, this has the feel of a home movie, though the production values are top-notch. You feel the fun of the show. The crowd is having a great time. The second is the music. C-Weed is a country-rock band, which isn't my normal preference, but live it's an entirely different story. The music rocks, and the instrumental jams are high art. And finally, the C-Weed concert makes the list because it's a window into a world you don't often get to see. The band is made up of Native North Americans, the crowd is a similar mix, and it's the antithesis of both the hip LA crowd and the agressively good ol' southern crowd. The C-Weed show is a whole different animal. It stays with you long after it's ended.

Nightstand: (Syndicated) Ah, Dick Deitrick. A man ahead of his time. Nightstand was a slapstick satire of Jerry Springer, Doctor Phil and Montel, all rolled into one. The show was originally released in hour-long form, with each hour being broken up into two half-hour shows. Tim Stack played Deitrick, the oblivious host of a chaotic late-night talkshow. Deitrick constantly walks into the most blatant double entendres and then chastises his audience ("Oh, people... no.") when they pick up on the joke. The show is slightly too over the top, and the charicatures slightly too broad, to sustain the joke, but the series originally aired around midnight, when much of the audience was no doubt drunk, so maybe it was the right fit. Many of the "guests" were recycled, with my favorite being angry ghetto filmmaker Tupac Zemeckis, and bitter feminist author Susan Sanspeen. Stack went on to do even sillier stuff with "Son of the Beach", but I've always suspected that his real strength lay in the dry, subtle stuff. He's at his best here when he acts so close to a real daytime talk show host that it's hard to tell the difference.

Andy Capp: (ITV) You know Andy Capp. It's impossible to avoid the famous British slacker. He's been syndicated in newspapers around the world since the early 1960's. Andy's life revolves around drinking, betting on the races, and, there's no other way to put this, clobbering his wife, Flo. Andy Capp is a classic newspaper comic that has rarely changed. And it's unlikely to change as its now run by a corporation following the death of creator Al Smyth. You would think that such an iconic cartoon character would be impossible to bring to the small screen. Imagine a live-action Peanuts TV series. It just wouldn't work. But ITV did bring Andy to television back in the late 80's, with well-known British actor James Bolam in the title role. The show was basically a series of 30 to 60 second vignettes, an almost exact translation of the newspaper strip. And Bolam was perfect! He somehow captured Andy Capp spot on, and the show as a whole was an almost surgical replication of the comic. Maybe the perfection of its recreation made it seem superfluous, because, though the Andy Capp TV series received good reviews, it never caught on with viewers and vanished after just 6 episodes.

Beyond 2000: (A&E) Entertainment Tonight... for nerds! This Aussie science and technology series took a look at the new innovations that were supposed to usher in the Amazing World of Tomorrow. It had everything but the flying cars... and actually it had a few of those too. Of course, the free market and the real world don't always follow a true course, and many if not most of the wonders seen on B2000 are still just a far off gleam. A pity, since almost everything profiled on this show during the course of its 14-year run, taken togather, would have transformed daily life on the planet. Production of Beyond 2000 was shut down in 1999, so the producers never had to deal with the name change issue, though it returned in 2007 as "Beyond Tomorrow"!

Top Gear: (BBC America) Entertainment Tonight for gearheads! If you like cars, there is no better TV show than "Top Gear". I particularly like the fact that Fiats, Citroens and even Skodas are tested and reviewed on the show... cars that you'd never normally have any exposure to in the U.S.. And the concept of using Kristen Scott Thomas as the arbiter of what is "cool" transportation and what is not is one of the best gimmicks of recent years. Great cars, great hosts and outlandish stunts like turning a car into a launch vehicle (which you can see here:

Black Sash: (WB) Every ten years there should be a rip-off revival of "Kung Fu". Like, it ought to be a law, or something. This was the WB's attempt to do the Carradine ouevre. It was stylish and well-paced, but it received almost no promotion from the network. To be honest, it wasn't your typical teen angstfest that the network specialized in, so it may be that there was never going to be a good fit for Black Sash. Russell Wong, who did nice work in the great cult series "Vanishing Son", has the lead here. His character runs a dojo and that gives the producers and excuse to make his students all teens reflecting the WB's key demo. Some great, if silly, martial arts sequences, and a nice score as well. Produced by Carlton Cuse, who, among other things, did Nash Bridges.

Ponderosa: (PAX) This series is a pretty good example of how clueless the PAX Network was. Do a revival of a series that has been off the air for 40 years, then make it as soporific as possible. AND make no real effort to establish any continuity, nor any real resemblance among the casts. Pomderosa was a prequel to Bonanza. Daniel Hugh Kelley has the lead role or the iconic Ben Cartright. I don't think anyone got through the first episode. The show dragged like few things aired before or since, the look was flat and washed out. the writing was limp. NOTHING worked. No one seemed to understand that, even done well, the classic western formula doesn't work anymore. It has to be reinvented. Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years managed to do it, so it certainly can be done... just not, apparently, here. Stumbled along for a year and then was taken out behind the barn and put out of it's misery... to be followed shortly be the PAX network as a whole, though it's remnants survive today as the ION Network, and there has been talk of taking another shot at original programming. Hopefully with better success this time around.

The Cape: (Syndicated) A soap opera with a difference - it was set at Cape Canaveral. The single-season syndicated series took a look at the lives of astronauts involved in NASA's shuttle program. Astronauts used to be a big deal in American culture. Nowadays, not so much, but The Cape is a series for those of us who still believe they are the ultimate American heroes. The show is headlines by the off-putting Corbin Berinson, but if you can get past that, the rest of the cast is enjoyable eye candy, especially Bobby Phillips, who's other "big" role was as a dancer in "Showgirls". The stories are a nice mix of melodrama and action and the effects are fine. The series also used real NASA footage to great effect.

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 Days
: (A&E) Actually, I'd probably include ALL the Palin travel shows but for the sake of brevity I'll just list the first one. The former Python leaves London and attempts to recreate the original Jules Verne journey. In the process he virtually reinvents the travel documentary and creates the "Palin Effect" in which the places he profiles are soon visited by a crush of tourists. And no wonder. Palin is the perfect man for this job. He brings a ready sense of humor and a fresh feeling of wonder to all of his stops along the way. Palin followed up this 1989 series with "Pole to Pole", a different kind of circumnavigation, "Full Circle", "Hemingway Adventure", "Sahara", "Himalaya" and "New Europe". Each is equally good, but this one is the original. Watch it and see the world through the eyes of a new kind of pioneer.

Havoc on the 101: (Direct TV) This is a basic no-budget music and viral video show, but it uses some basic interactivity concepts to keep it interesting. Havoc on The 101 lets viewers call or text in to vote on their favorite features. That in itself isn't very revolutionary, but the key element here is that the changes happen in real time. Videos are up- or down-voted and shuffled around as the show is airing, and users can send messages to one another that appear on the screen moments after they are transmitted. It's a very rudementary concept, especially in its execution, but so was MTV when it first started.

Byrds of Paradise: (ABC) This series is on here for one reason and one reason only: the producers were insane enough to cast Arlo Guthrie in a supporting role! He plays himself, of course, going here by the amusing name of Alan Moon, an eccentric resident of the small Hawaiian town where Thirtysomething's Timothy Busfield moves the brood after his wife suddenly dies, and of course the episodes that follow deal with the Byrd family's struggles to adjust to their new lives. This show features early supporting roles for Jennifer Love Hewitt and Seth Green, but it's Arlo who steals every scene he's in with his trademark wandering non-gravitas. Who'd have thought someone in LA in the 90's would be hip to the eternal coolness that is Arlo?

What You Get For the Money: (HGTV) The show that plays off everyone's innate curiously about how their own home compares to others. This HGTV half-hour sets a home value and then goes to five or six locations around the country and takes a look at what that amount of cash will get you. Beautifully photographed, the best part of WYGFTM is the pre-commercial teases, when the host says something like, "Next, we'll show you what $400,000 will buy in Pittsburgh!" and you spend the next two minutes debating whether you're going to see a mansion or a tiny condo. Not surprisingly, your money goes a long way in Tulsa.

Big Ideas for a Small Planet: (Sundance Channel) "Big Ideas for a Small Planet" makes the list because it is a pioneering TV effort. Yes, it's dressed in all the trappings of the white-wine-and-Volvo-wagon crowd, but that's actually just smart marketing. Each show looks at a single topic, like food, or cities or transportation, and includes informative and well-produced interviews with a lot of cutting-edge designers and progressive thinkers. It's part of a bloc of programming on Robert Redford's Sundance Channel called "The Green" is the first real effort to make ecology and conservation a regular part of TV offerings. And underneath all of it is the basic premise: simple, innovative ideas for fostering better conservation and preserving more of the outdoors. And who can argue with that?

Greg the Bunny: (IFC and Fox) There are really TWO Greg the Bunny shows. The first aired on the Independent Film Channel and featured a cast of puppets involved in the TV business. The second aired on Fox. There are some differences between the two shows, and the IFC version is a little edgier, but both are funny. Both shows treat their puppet cast as if they are real people, with real problems and real attitudes. The central character, Greg, is the everyman, and essentially serves as the viewers' access to the show. Other characters are the bitter, paranoid Warren the Ape and the endlessly amusing Count Blah. Watch Count Blah more than once and you will be hopelessly imitating him for weeks on end. The fun of Greg the Bunny comes from watching the puppet characters talk the way people do, with "ums", "ahs" and the usual manners of unscripted speech. When a person speaks that way it's normal. When a stuffed rabbit does, it's damned funny.

SOS Coast Guard Rescue: (Discovery Channel) Well, it's about time, isn't it? The police, the firefighters, even the Mounties have had their own reality show. it's high time the Coast Guard joined the fray. And it's a natural pairing, of course. We're talking about a military serive who's job is to head out into the worst weather in the world looking for people in danger. The production values aren't the highest, but the real-life drama easily overcomes any technological limitations. Episodes shot in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is a much needed tribute to the men and women who actually did their jobs extremely well, rising above the all-encompassing incompetence in the sad aftermath of that storm.

Mort Sahl Show: (Monitor) Ah, Mort Sahl. He's needed more today than ever before, but he'll never get another national platform. He's too old and the world has changed too much. Here, he simply wanders the bare stage, telling his stories and his jokes. Most of it falls flat because we're expecting Sahl to be funny, and really he's just making observations. But they are accurate and penetrating observations, and you come away from his show feeling smarter and seeing things more clearly. Sahl's show aired weekly on the late, sadly lamented Monitor Channel, which for a short time was the nation's premier current events network. In all truth, Sahl's show is a mess. It's mostly one static shot, and the sadness inside the man at where his nation seems to be headed is palpable. But way underneath, a small spark of defiance comes across, and somehow it makes its way out to the audience in front of the TV tube, and that's what makes his show a rare gem.

Time Out for Trivia: (FNN) "Who's Playing Time Out for Trivia?" "If your head is a bone, stay off the phone." "We love the Dirt Devil because does the jobs that the big boys do!" Fans of this show still recite its catch-phrases. TOFT was an LA-based sports trivia show done live every night. It was on the air for a short time in the late 80's, and featured sportscaster Todd Donahoe throwing out questions and fielding live-on-the-phone answers from viewers. The fast pace and Donahoe's ready wit kept things interesting and lively, and the prizes were actually pretty good. It aired on the now-defunct FNN, the Financial News Network, late at night on the east coast, perfect viewing for the just-back-pfrom-the-bar crowd.

Initial D: (AZN) I'm not an anime guy. I know a lot of people are, but the appeal of anime has never clicked with me. I think it's the exaggerated voices and the mandatory kooky sidekick character that turns me off. Initial D is a little different. It's about street racing outside Tokyo. If your wondering where the third "Fast and the Furious" movie came from, this is it. Japan's street racing culture is as unique as California's surfing culture was in the 1950s and 1960s, and this is a peek into an interesting world that not many of us would normally get to see. A live-action version has also been made, and that also airs occasionally on AZN.

Al Jazeera English
: Al Jazeera English makes the list for a couple of reasons: a) it's on so few cable systems that you have to seek it out, usually on the internet. and b) it's unlike most anything you will see elsewhere. Al Jazeera comes with a lot of baggage, not all of it its own. The channel is a division of a middle-east news network, based out of Oman. It's been accused of being a propaganda outlet, but I defy anyone to watch a few days of Al Jazeera English coverage and maintain that claim. In short, AJE is a somewhat somber news station that uses European-syle long-form reportage to give you the news. In many ways it reminds me of the late, lamented Monitor Channel. AJE also gives you a perspective missing from American newscasts, with more coverage of Africa and Asia than you are likely to find elsewhere. There's a big world out there, and watching AJE makes you realize that you are only getting a look at a small piece of it. Watching AJE will make you smarter and, more importantly, more aware. Hopefully some day it will be seen on regular cable systems and everyone will get a chance to judge for themselves.

Whitest Kids U Know: (Fuse and IFC) The 21st century version of The Kids in the Hall. A little less cerebral... okay, a LOT less cerebral, and much cruder.. but still very funny. The ensemble cast made a big splash with their Hitler rap video, and their comedy series is more of the same: silly, stupid, and occasionally brilliant. The troupe gets its greatest traction when their sketches veer into the uncomfortable, to the point where you occasionally may want to turn the channel. yes, they want you to be that freaked out. The Kids also have a telent for creating a sort of rhythm out of everyone talking at once, a unique staccato that carries the sketches along at their own absurdist tempo.

Video Concert Hall: (SPN) Remember MTV? No, you really don't. Because the classic archetype for MTV didn't start with MTV. It started with Video Concert Hall. VCH was the very first music video program, back in the days when there were only about 20 or 30 music videos in existence. Fans watched the show religiously, every night. There was no host, just a brief intro set to the instrumental to Led Zepplin's "Carouselambra". What followed was a mix of clips, some by well-known artists, others by relative unknows, but none of that mattered. This was the first widespread appearance of a truly new art form and we were all transfixed. From Nazareth's "Holiday" to The Fools' "Night for Beautiful Girls" to the Sports' "Who Listens to the Radio" it was lightning in a bottle for a very short time. VCH aired on the Satellite Programming Network, which was eventually bough up by some other company and shut down. I think it's now CNBC. Today, VCH is a cultural touchstone among the very hip old people out there. If you remember it, you were a true witness to the revolution.

Mosaic Report (Link TV): It times like this, you'd think a regular series about current events and issues in the Middle East would be a no-brainer for the networks. Well, guess again. This is the only show that puts a much-needed focus on this fractious area of the world., and it airs on a little-seen public affairs cable channel. Mosaic Report is comprised of news reports from other mideast television stations, translated into English when necessary. The show has two producers, one Jewish and the other Palestinian-American. Many different perspectives are given airtime. The series has won a Peabody Award.

Night Flight/Up All Night: (USA) Night Flight was the original random hash of music videos and old movies that USA aired in its early years. It was an agreeable mix of watchable TV fare that was done at a time when infomercials were in their infancy and there wasn't a lot available for cable channels to use in their overnight hours. The series had a set loose format featuring music and interviews, stand-up comedy, old dubbed Japanese TV shows and other odd and eclectic elements. It was very free-form and constantly varied. Night Flight ran for eight years and was then replaced by "Up All Night" which was a more traditional old-movie-with-a-comic-host type of thing. Rhonda Shear did the duties for a few years and then Gilbert Gotfried took over. The movie was always grade-Z dreck, and usually a horror movie at that.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
: (Food TV) Or, if you live in the northeast... daily life. this series approaches the three titular locales as sort of a museum excursion. Host Guy Fieri is an off-beat canvas of a man, and he doesn't really work here. Diner and dives are the stomping ground of blue-collar "regular guys", and Fieri comes across as anything but. Mike Rowe would probably be a much better match. But the places Fieri takes us are wonderful. I don't think they are quite the specimens of "vanishing America" they are made out to be, but the food and surroundings never fail to entice. DD&D is always worth watching, but the viewpoint ends up presenting most of the places visited as some sort of Main Street USA artifact, when in reality nothing is further from the truth.

Beer Hunter: (A&E) Ah, the late, great Michael Jackson. No, not that one, the other one. An around-the-world tour of the greatest beers ever, with Jackson's expert explainations of what made them great. Entertaining and educational enough to make one ignore the underlying fact that Jackson was decrepit enough to be just very slightly nauseating... and I mean that in the nicest manner possible.

Backyard Stadiums: (DIY) Another one of DIY's great "guy shows", Backyard Stadiums is the outdoor counterpart to "Man Caves". This one is hosted by the New York Giants' Michael Strahan. Strahan pairs up with handyman Amy Wynn and together the two undertake backyard projects that are sure to lower the property values for miles around. Episodes follow the construction of basketball courts, a really impressive miniature golf course, and even a skate park with a half-pipe, something your insurance agent will no doubt be delighted to see. Much like with "Man Caves", "Backyard Stadiums" also uses famous guest stars who drop by to give advice and offer appreciation for the finished project. Strahan and Wynn have a nice chemistry with each other, and the backyard projects are pretty impressive. The whole show has the potential to be a bit boring, a pitfall of a lot of DIY's shows, but Strahan's everyman demeanor save it from that fate. This is more of a series for showing the wild side of home improvement, not really for offering any practical advice, but that adds a nice dimension to what can often be some pretty pedestrian offerings on DIY.

Great Cocktails: (Fine Living) Great Cocktails is another one of those Fine Living Network shows that showcases a fabulous lifestyle that you will rarely encounter in the real world. The key here is the host, the hip and creepy Stephen Phillips. Phillips rolls through each episode in expensive linen shirts and vaguely corpse-like shaven head, extolling the secrets of the perfect cocktail party in his uniquely unnerving manner. Great Cocktails does feature some of the best cocktail recipes you've seen, and also has tips for throwing parties and keeping the energy going, but the show is all about Phillips. He's reputed to be one of New York's most experienced barkeeps, and he keeps the show light and enjoyable, with an informative mix that showcases some pretty interesting drinks, but his onscreen personality is a cross between Hannibal Lechter, Dick Cavett and Sal Solo. He is honestly the stuff of nightmares as brought to you by Good Housekeeping. You can't stop watching the guy. And I'm pretty sure Phillips is aware of this. He knows he has a unique TV presence and he tends to play up his quirkiness to just the right degree. Any more and you'd find him oft-putting, any less and he'd seem depressingly normal. Here, he seems the perfect host who just might... MIGHT... chop you up and put you in the freezer if you're the last one left at the party. And then he'd name a fabulous cocktail after you.

NapaStyle: (Fine Living) Michael Chiarello is the kind of man satirists like Ian Shoales mock relentlessly. He is the kind of man who only drinks "tiny incrments of white wine". He is the kind of man who owns casual shirts that cost a week's pay. He hosts this life/style/consumerporn show that brings you the people, places and accoutrements of the wonderous Napa lifestyle. Things that you are not cool enough to have.

Ultimate Kitchens: (Food TV) More lifestyle porn especially if you, like I, grew up in a house where most of the action centered on the kitchen. This show features all the ultimate accessories that you know you have to have in order to be content, but which you will never get, though it doesn't really matter because you're not completely serious about having to have them in the first place, but it's nice to daydream. I especially like the industial looking kitchens that always feature a lot of room to spread out and work. And that granite counter that had the stainless steel trough running down the middle for icing up drinks? I mean, good god, people are starving in this world. It was awesome.

Globe Trekker: (Various) The gold standard of travel shows, Globe Trekker has been around for years and has gone by serveral different names. Cameras follow one of a revolving group of hosts to various destinations around the world. The host goes offr the beaten path and talks directly to the camera during each experience, giving us the history of the location and the hosts impressions. The episodes with Ian Wright and Justine Shapiro are the best ones, as later hosts sometimes seem to be more interested in their camera presence than in throwing themselves into the experience. Globe Trekker (which is sometime aired as "Lonely Planet" in the US) is also distinctive for its great music, a really unique sound that is perfect for the show.

Chef at Home: (Discovery Home) Michael Smith has the jaw of Ramy Zada and the demeanor of an Afghan Hound on Lithium. He cooks food at his fabulously laid-back home and talks to the camera in a manner that comes off as a cross between Owen Wilson in his better days and Tommy Chong on his worst days. He...can...barely...make...the...effort.

Green Wing
: (BBC America) Oh boy... where to start with this one. How about kinetic? Green Wing is shot and edited in a style that dozens of shows have since copied, though none have matched the expertise with which Green Wing uses camera moves and sharp edits to convey the anarchic nature of the hospital setting. The style is an acquired taste, and some people don't have the patience for it. Green Wing can be jarring, but it has the most entertaining and creative transitions since Monty Python. The storylines are on-going and multi-faceted, and the writers take the situations to the extreme.. and then drive them straight over the edge. The events that led up to Season 1's literal cliff-hanger could never be done on American TV. The acting is top notch, the timing is perfect. And the relationship between Joanna Clore and Alan Statham, two of the show's minor characters, is so insanely twisted you can't stop watching. Green Wing did two seasons and then the writers decided to quit while they were ahead. There's been talk of a one-shot special to wrap up a few dangling stories, but the two half-seasons that do exist provide more out-loud laughs than you'll find in the entire run of "Home Improvement:".

Red Cap: (BBC America) A shame this show ran for just two seasons. It tells the story of a team of British Army Special Investigation Branch team. They are based in Germany, and are essentially an elite team of MPs. The series is a little more drama than action, but it's very well-acted and stars Tamzin Outhwaite, who's a big star in England. The plots cover the usual topics for this sort of thing... drug smuggling, gun runners, political cover-ups... but Outhwaite manages to give it a fresh spin and her relationship with her cynical boss is also slightly different from what viewers normally see. Bonus: the series theme ("Set the Record Straight" by Reef) and opening montage.. Great stuff. This series seems like it would have been a natural pairing with the very successful MI-5, but in first-run they always were shown on two different cable networks here in the U.S.

Ultimate Force
: (ITV) England's answer to "The Unit", Ultimate Force is a military drama that focuses on the adventures of the fictional "Red Troops" of the UK's SAS or Special Air Service. The series was created by a former SAS soldier who saw action during the Gulf War. The series is just now making it to the States on BBCAmerica. If you catch it, take note of the abrupt change in the series that happens between seasons two and three. Many story lines are abruptly dropped and a large number of characters leave and are replaced by newcomers. It is also at this point that the producers upped the violence and did a number of multipart episodes. The series has a huge cast and also features Jamie Bamber, who went on to play Apollo in Battlestar Galactica.

Almost LIVE: (KING TV) This was a popular sketch comedy show in the Pacific Northwest that ran for 15 years! It was created by Ross Shafer, who's probably best known as the host Fox eventually settled on after the late night Joan Rivers debacle. After some early format changes, Almost Live settled into its groove as a sketch show hosted by the affable John Kiester. It lampooned just about everything, but particularly delighted in skewering the Seattle lifestyle, whether it be coffe obsessions, high-tech tropes, or speed-walkers and other fitness fanatics. The show was also responsible for spinning off Bill Nye the Science Guy into his own series. For a few years, the show aired nationally on Comedy Central. Almost Live was canceled in 1999, but has aired in reruns ever since.

UFO Files: (History Channel) You've seen this show. It's on about a hundred times a week. It's the same basic UFO show that's been done ad infinitum since Leonard Nimoy and "In Search Of..." basically created the archetype. Eyewitness accounts, ominous narration, fishy stills, low-budget recreations... it's all here. You will never see up-close, clear video or stills of UFOs on this show, because none exist. So you get the UFO Files. You know what you're getting. It goes down easy. It manages to be just a little bit spooky. It's usually on when your in bed just drifting off to sleep. I'm sure it's responsible for many strange dreams.

How to Boil Water 1.0: (Food TV) There are two versions of this Food Network series. The more recent version is a rudementary cooking show and nothing really special, but the original version was amazing. It had a very simple premise: Chef Cathy Lowe tries to prepare a simple dish while comedian Sean Donnellan stands behind her trying to be as irritating as possible. The show was a) funny and b) suspenseful.. because the viewer always had the feeling Lowe was seconds away from violently snapping.

History Hunters with Tony Robinson: (HCI) You know Tony Robinson as Baldrick from the Blackadder series. He's an amiable and knowledgable host here, leading viewers through ancient history using the tools of the archeologist. it should be dry stuff, but it isn't, thanks largely to the host.

Around the World in 80 Homes: (Fine Living) The vacations you'll never be able to afford to take. Around the World in 80 Homes is a series on the Fine Living channel, and of course by Fine Living, they mean spending as much money on yourself as possible. This is not a TV channel where "small footprint" is a valid philosophy, but on the other hand, it allows people to live their lives vicariously through those who are profiled, instead of trying to do it themselves, so perhaps that's a net good. ATW80H profiles mansions, cottages, chalets and exclusive apartments around the globe. Each is available for rental, though this is a little more exclusive than simply getting a cottage by the lake for a week. Bayou estates, mountainside villas in Davos, old captain's homes on Nantucket Sound, all are yours for a week or a month... for a price. The narration is soothing and to be fair, the writing focuses on the merits of the properties, not on their exclusivity. This isn't "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", though it essentially covers the same subject matter. The photography is often stunning, and the entire show achieves the relaxed manner and pace of the perfect vacation. My favorite was the tour of a compound on Lake Champlain. It conveyed just how stately and stunning the property was. This is a show that knows what it wants to be and accomplishes it in an expert manner.

Knife Collectors Show: (Shop at Home) This show is still on the air - sort of. It's a shadow of its glorious former self, a late-night staple during the late 90's on Shop-at-Home, a cut-rate QVC. The show was hosted out of a small studio somewhere in Tennessee and featured the suave (for Tennessee) Shawn Lefler and his co-host, the mysterious Mister O'Dell. The two of them sold off HUGE collections of junk knives from China, all of which were virtually guaranteed to fall apart if you breathed on them. The sales pitch consisted of Lefler twirling longblades and O'Dell sticking jack knives into 2x4's while each of them drawled on at top volume about how unique and exotic it all was. They may have been drunk. I usually was. Eventally someone bought the channel and made the show more respectable and the magic was lost.

Sunrise Earth
: (Discovery HD) One of the most unusual shows that has ever been telecast. Sunrise Earth was created to showcase the full potential of high definition television. Each morning, the viewer is treated to 2 hours of sunrise from somewhere on the planet.The location, time and coordinates are shown in real time in one corner of the screen. And that's it. There is no narration, just the nat sound. One morning it might be the African Savannah, the next it could be the Canadian tundra... or a small town in the midwest. On standard definition TV, it's innovative. On HD television it's breathtaking.

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