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GregOvision Blog

Book Review: Sitcom Writers Talk Shop by Paula Finn
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Paula Finn had me at the mention of her father — Herbert Finn, legendary writer of The Honeymooners and The Flintstones, two of the most quotable and well-crafted comedy series of all time. The Flintstones in particular gets little credit for its high quality, especially in the shadow of The Simpsons, so Ms. Finn does us the service of asking top writers of The Simpsons if it influenced them, and of course it did (James Brooks wouldn’t admit it, though).

Sitcom Writers Talk Shop is a series of interviews with Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show); Norman Lear (All in the Family, Maude); James Brooks, Treva Silverman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show); Leonard Stern (Get Smart); Matt Williams (Roseanne); Larry Charles (Seinfeld); Mike Reiss (The Simpsons); Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond) and many others.

There are lots of books filled with interviews about sitcoms, lots of books that go behind the scenes and quite a few radio programs and podcasts in which they are interviewed verbally. What this book does is offer insight into the writing process itself. Like most creative people, these folks are grateful that the talent seems to return to them again and again, even though they worry that it won’t almost every time they finish a project.

It’s not filled with a lot of “What was Jerry Seinfeld like?” or amateur questions like “Who was nice and who was mean?” though some of these answers come naturally through the working experiences of the writers. You’ll learn that a tough working environment could mean a hostile one or a quality-oriented one depending on the sanity of those in charge. Most of all, if you are a writer, aspiring, veteran, or just ongoing in the struggle, that you’re not plodding on alone. It’s fun and frustrating and solitary and satisfying and boring and exciting and just like anything worthwhile, hard work that pays off if you stay with it.

The long interviews are followed by a section of shorter quotes from various writers. All of these people are heavy hitters from the most important shows in history.

The only thing I didn’t like about Sitcom Writers Talk Shop is that it came to an end

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Greg EhrbarComment
DVD/Blu-ray Review: Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 3
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A new collection of Pixar shorts is always cause for celebration, as they are the bread and butter of the creative nucleus that still drives Pixar, as it goes back and forth from original, visionary feature (Coco) to sequel (Toy Story 4). The shorts keep the creative juices flowing, at least for those who are fortunate enough to do them, and allow for experimentation in form and technique that can be traced to uses in the features.

Currently there are three kinds of Pixar shorts. The stand-alone theatrical originals, theatricals based on features, and bonus shorts included on feature home video releases. On this release, two are called “mini movies” for some reason but they aren’t different in length or substance than others and have also appeared as bonus shorts before.

The originals are the crown jewels and harken back to the early days of Pixar, when a simple thought was all one needed to build a poetic, ballet-like work of animated art. Each of these six films is exquisite in its own way, one of them an Oscar winner, but all worthy of nice things.

The Blue Umbrella (2013, relesaed with Monsters University)

Lava (2015, released with Inside/Out)

Sanjay’s Super Team (2015, released with The Good Dinosaur)

Piper (2016, released with Finding Dory)

Lou (2017, released with Cars 3)

Bao (2018, released with Incredibles 2)

These two are little storyettes that could have taken place in and around the films from which they came:

Partysaurus Rex (2012, released with Finding Nemo)

Party Central (2013, Muppets Most Wanted)

These are extra features, but certainly of the highest quality. The Legend of Mor’du was particularly interesting having recently seen UPA’s fantastic, haunting “The Tell-Tale Heart” which was told with similar stark graphic style. The sponged stone surface is reminiscent of that film’s look by Paul Julian.

The Legend of Mor’du (2012)

Riley’s First Date? (2015)

Marine Life Interviews (2016, Finding Dory DVD)

The Radiator Springs 500 1/2 (2017, Cars 3)

Miss Fritter’s Racing Skool (2017, Cars 3 DVD)

This is one of the very few packages in which everything on the Blu-ray is also included on the DVD, so those who have no Blu-ray player need not feel sad and neglected. Each film has an optional one-minute introduction by its director and a commentary.

Available November 18 on amazon. Pre-orders available now.

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Greg EhrbarComment
"Practically Poppins" is in stores now
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The book’s author, Jeff Kurtti, was kind enough to offer me the privilege of writing an essay for this book.

It's not my essay that's exciting so much as being in such a company of historians.

I must admit that I DO sometimes allow sentiment to muddle my thinking.

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Greg EhrbarComment
Film Clips and a Deleted Scene from Incredibles 2
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Here are two finished scenes and one of the ten deleted scenes included as bonus features on the Incredibles 2 Blu-ray.

All of these clips focus on Jack-Jack and Edna Mode. You probably already know that the writer/director of both films, Brad Bird, is the voice of Edna. Jack-Jack’’s goo-goos were compiled from Pixar’s archival collection of baby babbles.

My review in the last post explained more about the deleted scenes, and how they reveal a bit about the very different “show-biz” direction the movie was going to take.

Next Tuesday is the release date, but pre-orders are going on now.

Greg EhrbarComment
Blu-ray Review: INCREDIBLES 2

Here’s the advance word on what you can look for on long-awaited home Blu-ray and DVD release of Incredibles 2 will be available next Tuesday. November 6.

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Of course, there’s the movie. At almost two hours, it’s the longest Pixar feature since Cars, but it doesn’t seem like it. There’s some debate as to whether it meets or beats the first film, but it might be better to focus on what this feature offers—more than anything else, more quality time with characters that are more real and dimensional than some on live-action TV and films today.

The plot is simple, and perhaps just a gigantic McGuffin for getting a new romp—the supers are banned, a visionary entrepreneur and his sister enlist the family—particularly Helen—to prove that supers are good, supers are dear. A mind-controlling villain is the object of pursuit as Bob learns how to be a Mister Mom. It’s a storyline that The Flintstones did, along with several sitcoms, but the heart of The Incredibles is a family sitcom, but in the best sense of the word.

The deleted scenes reveal that one of the early storylines involved a more showbiz-like approach, with Helen headlining some sort of broadcast and entrepreneur Winston Deaver masterminding it more as a media mogul than a visionary. It seems that they made the right choice to abandon that direction, as it seems more obvious and not as far reaching in theme as the final one chosen. There are some interesting themes in Incredibles 2, including the issue of people doing for themselves rather than depending on supers and, along the same lines, prepacked entertainment. It’s a similar issue that was also raised in WALL-E.

The bonus material is plentiful, particularly on the Blu-ray package, which offers two discs full. To begin with, there is the always-welcome audio commentary, this time from three members of the animation staff: Dave Mullins, Alan Barillaro, Tony Fucile, Bret Parker.

For those of us who have ever felt insecure about our skills and talents, here is an exchange between these folks to remind us that we’re not alone. This is not the first time I have heard creative people say this (even very famous ones):

Alan: “You’re in a vulnerable position of always trying to express yourself every day. It too often, I think, is represented as something that comes to us easily, and a lot of it is turmoil, and a lot of it is leaning on each other.”

Dave: “Every time I start a shot I get into the blocking and I go, oh my god, they’re gonna find out how much I suck! This is gonna be the one!”

Alan: “And that never goes away.”

Bret: “Never!”

Alan: “Every time I show in dailies, I’m always nervous!”

Dave: “This is the point when they find me out! That I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Alan: “I think everybody feels like that because, one, you’re surrounded by so much talent here at Pixar and two, you’re only as good as your last shot, is the way you kinda feel a lot of times.”

The “big news” bonuses are two shorts, one is the exquisite “Bao,” the directorial debut of Pixar artist Domee Shi, what will surely be an Oscar contender; and a premiere short called “Auntie Edna.” This lightning-paced short is shows what happened when Jack-Jack stayed over at Enda Mode’s house/design lab.

This is the scene in the film when Bob first learns about Jack-Jack’s powers:

Other Bonus Features:

Super Stuff: The overall vision and style of the film

Paths to Pixar: Everyday Stuff - Pixar parents talk about life’s everyday challenges

Superbaby: Tween-targeted Disney Channel segment in rhyme

Ralph Eggleston; Production Designer - a few minutes with the Pixar veteran

Making Bao - story artist and first time director Domee Shi

Heroes and Villains:

Mr. Incredible / Elastigirl / The Parr Kids / Frozone / Edna Mode / Winston Deavor / Evelyn Deavor / Wannabes

Vintage Features:

Toy Commercials: Mr. Incredible / Elastigirl / Frozone

Theme Songs: Mr. Incredible / Elastigirl / Frozone
(NOTE: I love these themes!)

Deleted Scenes:

Introduction / Suburban Escape / Kari Revisited / Return of the Supers / Chewed Out / Late Audition / Show Day / Frozone and Honey / Restaurant Robbery / Fashion Show / Security Breakdown

Trailers and Promos

Easter Egg: Brad Bird Describes a Lesson from His Mentor Milt Kahl

Final word: I can’t do a review of this film without mentioning the clips of the vintage TV series The Outer Limits (which relates to the storyline) and especially Hanna-Barbera’s landmark prime time cartoon, Jonny Quest. We learn repeatedly how Jonny Quest is a lifelong favorite of writer/director Brad Bird and how it had a lot of influence of the Incredibles films. This is the first time a Hanna-Barbera clip ever appeared in a Pixar film. Scenes from the excellent 1973 H-B feature, Charlotte’s Web appeared in The Boys: The Story of The Sherman Brothers, the must-see documentary released by Walt Disney Pictures. H-B also provided the opening animation for 1980’s Popeye—a co-production between Disney and Paramount--because they were licensed for animation of the characters at the time and were doing a CBS series for Saturday morning.

Amazon is taking pre-orders now.

Greg EhrbarComment
CD Review: "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" Music from the Soundtrack
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What a wonderful surprise — from out of the blue comes a CD with all the music from the classic animated TV special, without any dialogue and minus most of the sound effects. It’s a short recording, but so what? As Spencer Tracy said, “What there is, is cherce.”

Why would expect the soundtrack to a half hour special to be long? Take out the commercials, the dialogue sections without music and you are left with 21 minutes of classic compositions and irreplaceable performances.

This music is over 50 years old. No one expected -- or the special -- it to gain such iconic status. You would be surprised to find out how much material from years gone by has not been preserved properly. It's a miracle that so much music exists without the dialogue and sound effects -- only a few effects are still there, obviously because they were impossible to remove.

My only issue might be that the packaging and product information indicate exactly what these issues were. It should say "This is a mono recording," which is common on archival CD's. And more than that, it should have the disclaimer that, "due to the age of the recordings, some anomalies may exist that are unavoidable." Here's why: there are two obvious edits on the very first track. I had to return a copy to amazon because I thought the disc was defective. If there was a disclaimer, I would have understood and saved myself unnecessary trouble.

However, if Peanuts fans, or any fans, want to continue to focus on the negatives ONLY, and call things cash grabs, that will hurt all of us in the long run because companies will be convinced that no one wants these products. Here is what you do get to enjoy on this disc: one of Vince Guaraldi's finest, most evocative and eclectic scores. How many themes are nestled within those 21 minutes? How many lousy albums have longer running times and sell for double the price?

Sure, they could have included the soundtrack with the dialogue but that would have made it more expensive. Besides, Disney did that already on vinyl many years ago. And you have the dialogue on the actual special, if you have the DVD, you essentially have that soundtrack.

Enjoy life. A lot of it is made better by the existence of Peanuts.

Available on CD and download on amazon.

Greg EhrbarComment
Happy Birthday Annette!
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Some people wonder why Annette Funcello went from the back row of the Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers to eventually pop culture icon status. Allow me to elucidate.

There were plenty of Mouseketeers with talents beyond Annette's limits. Walt Disney may have personally chosen her for the show that "cartain something" quality that appealed to viewers resulted in bags of fan mail arriving at the studio every day. The public chose her as the favorite, not the studio or even Walt himself.


Annette was not supposed to become a singing star. She did one quick song on her serial, made after her popularity started to climb, and the fans demanded a record be made. She wasn't perfect, she was lovely and real and relatable. No one admitted her limits as a performer more than Annette. In one interview, she said after making twelve albums and countless singles, she didn't know when it would stop -- "I don't sing!"

Therein lies part of her appeal. Instead of constantly shooting for the limelight, she was just herself. And very ethnic for the mid-1950s, when TV had very few kids who looked like her (Walt gets little credit for that).

Without Annette, the Sherman Brothers would never have been connected directly to Walt, who assigned them to The Parent Trap, which led to their being put on staff, which led to the studio's biggest hit of its day, Mary Poppins--the profits from which financed the building of Walt Disney World in Florida.

I'm not making this up, I have spoken and written extensively about it for books and articles, even official Disney company ones, and I've lectured about it around the country. Except for Richard Sherman, probably no one involved in "Mary Poppins Returns" realized the role Annette played in their arriving at the point they have this year.

 

Greg EhrbarComment
Tinseltown Tour Tips
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For the person who truly loves entertainment, Southern California is still pretty exciting, especially to those who don't know what it once was. But a Starline bus tour isn't going to do it if you're a fan.

 

You can buy the maps, and it IS cool to see that, just like in the radio shows, Jack Benny, Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Colman were neighbors. They're gone but the houses are there, and that's cool. There's a Gelson's on Hyperion that was the site of Walt Disney's first major studio, and there are some photos in the Gelson's to celebrate it. (There are even some of the same cracks in the street that were there since 1936.) Hanna-Barbera's building is at 3400 Cahuenga South. Have a meal at the Smokehouse, where George Schlatter and Gary Owens first came up with the "cupped ear" gag for Laugh-In. There's a lot of this stuff.

 

If you like newer things, the studios themselves offer more tours than they used to. Warner’s features their newer shows. If you want to see stars, check out events for upcoming screenings with Q and A's at the Egyptian Theater, The Aero in Santa Monica and the Billy Wilder at LACMA. In the last year, we watched "Oliver!" with Shani Wallis in the audience, "Working Girl" with Sigourney Weaver, "2001" with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, "Big Trouble in Little China" with Kurt Russell. Next month, "Head" will be screened with Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith. You'd be surprised how low the ticket prices are. That's because the stars live here and don't have to be flown in and provided with food and lodging as they are in other states.

 

Yes, you can catch glimpses of the famous eating, because they're people and they eat. Paul Feig was gracious when I greeted him for a few moments at the wonderful little Paty's in Toluca Lake. In Burbank, there's a little diner called Moore's Delicatessen where animators eat and have filled four walls with cartoon drawings.

 

Hollywood Boulevard is not a gleaming mecca, but a dingy downtown. However, the Hollywood Museum has actual artifacts on display, not cheap fakes. I always make sure to stop by Amoeba Music to see what new old records have arrived. The place is gigantic and I hope it lasts.

 

I've only lived here for about two years. I grew up in South and Central Florida where the pop culture history and building design isn't quite as protected. California is still loaded with crazy "googie" stores and restaurants (there a church in Tustin I call "Our Lady of Jetsons"). Florida plows most of it down on an ongoing basis. My childhood in Miami and Fort Lauderdale had such images, but most are gone now. Even one of our homes was torn down and is now a wider road. SoCal is strangely familiar to me even though I didn't grow up here because it is so reminiscent of a Florida long lost.

 

So you've got to ask around, do homework, search the net. It ain't perfect by a looooonnnng shot but there's nothing like it.

 

Now will someone please pay me for this advertisement?

Greg EhrbarComment
Today's Weird Record

Looking for an exciting new career? How about the fascinating world of fresh-baked bread sales? Is this sounds like the role for you, listen to this inspiring set of ditties and you could be on your way to an exciting new life in the expanding business of rolls and loaves. Just listen, it’s the yeast you can do!

Greg EhrbarComment
It's "Mad Monster Party" Time
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There’s a satirical, stylish stop-motion feature from the makers of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that has become a classic among animation fans, Halloween movie lovers and even filmmakers who sing its praises. Even though Mad Monster Party premiered with little fanfare back in 1967, this little gem starring the voice of Boris Karloff and every famous monster of classic filmland has become a trick-or-treat must see. The soundtrack album, thought lost, was restored and is now available on vinyl records (you can still find copies of a CD version, too).

Here is my full account of the soundtrack album from an early Animation Spin:

MAD MONSTER PARTY
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Retrograde/Percepto Records FSM-80125-2 (Mono); Soundtrack Album Released in 1998; Film Released in 1967.

CREDITS: Original Album Producer/Composer: Maury Laws. Lyrics: Jules Bass. Mixers: Maury Laws, Andy Wiswell. Premiere Album Executive Producer: Taylor White. Associate Producer: Eric Singley. Creative Consultant/Liner Notes: Rick Goldschmidt. Chief Art Director: Doug Ranney. Cover Design: Reid Thompson. Digital Mastering: Daniel Hersch. Executive Producer: Lucas Kendall. Design Director: Joe Sikoryak. Feature Film Producer: Arthur Rankin, Jr. Associate Producer: Larry Roemer. Director: Jules Bass. Album Running Time: 37 minutes.

Voices: Boris Karloff (Baron Von Frankenstein); Phyllis Diller (The Monster’s Mate); Gale Garnett (Francesca); Title Song Sung by Ethel Ennis.

Songs: “Mad Monster Party,” “You’re Different,” “The Mummy,” “Our Time to Shine,” “One Step Ahead,” “Never Was a Love Like Mine.”

Instrumentals: “The Baron,” “Waltz for a Witch,” “Cocktails,” “The Bash,” “Jungle Madness,” “Mad Monster Party,” “The Baron Into Battle,” “Transylvania, All Hail,” “Pursuit,” “Requiem for a Loser,” “Finale.”

Since it has such a similar premise, it seemed fitting to include the landmark Rankin/Bass Animagic stop-motion feature along with Monster Shindig. I can’t speak as eloquently about MMP as Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt, who authored a book about the film, but this post will focus more on the soundtrack album.

Rankin/Bass composer/arranger Maury Laws may have been the only person on Earth who had a copy of the MMP soundtrack album. As the film credits proclaim, we were supposed to find the RCA Victor album in stores, but it was never released. What you hear on this disc is Laws’ mono test pressing. The songs sound about the same as you might hear them in the DVD and Blu-ray without sound effects.

The joy of hearing the sound track albums of Mad Monster Party and The Daydreamer is that the scores contain so much of the emerging Laws/Bass style and versatility. The Daydreamer vinyl Columbia LP has the classic fairy tale sound of Rankin/Bass musical fantasies with their trademark soaring strings, woodblocks and familiar Laws “hooks.” MMP offers the R/B jazz, adventure and comedy arrangements and songs, complete with tack piano, guitar twangs and bongos.

Boris Karloff talk-sings “One Step Ahead,” a track created on two continents, as described in Goldschmidt’s liner notes. In the unforgettable Jessica Rabbit-like role of Francesca, Gale “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” Garnett gets two songs. Phyllis Diller’s “You’re Different” was a special treat for her to record, as she was rarely given songs to sing and she hired a piano just to practice on her own. Sadly, Allen Swift, who voices everyone else in the movie (except for the title song by jazz singer Ethel Ennis), is not to be found on the album as none of his characters, even Felix Flanken, got their own song.

If you’re shopping for the Mad Monster Party Blu-ray, it looks pretty good. The figures and sets are easier to see and enjoy (Diller’s character has a tiny, detailed mouth!). However there are some scratches that were probably too costly to paint out digitally. If you still have the 2007 Anchor Bay DVD, you may want to hang onto it as well, because the extras differ and that package also has a booklet and postcards.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Stay One Step Ahead”
This is Boris Karloff’s big production number, in which he “talk-sings” with the chorus of weird creatures in his laboratory.

Greg EhrbarComment
Happy 70th Birthday, Golden Records!

Several generations grew up with these precious little discs containing musical wonders. From six-inch 78 RPM discs to 45 RPM singles and LPs to cassettes, Golden (and then Wonderland) Records were a major contender on children’s records shelves.

The biggest names in entertainment, music and theater lent their talents to these records. Cartoon favorites became popular in the early ‘60s, sometimes using original casts, sometimes with “sound alikes” (which were controversial to fans). Millions were sold and countless young lives were enriched.

A handful of these albums are available on CD, and others are downloadable — not even close in number to the full catalog, but a representative amount — and Shout! Factory, with a little assistance from my own self, released two volumes as a nice buffet sampler.

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FROM YOUR GOLDEN CHILDHOOD:
THE BEST OF LITTLE GOLDEN RECORDS
VOLUME 1

VOLUME 2

 Some of these selections had not been reissued in over six decades. Among those featured are Shari Lewis, Mighty Mouse (Andy Kaufman's version),

Popeye, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Jimmy Durante, baseball's Mel Allen, Cliff "Jiminy Cricket" Edwards & more. 28 songs in all.

Just a few of the gems aglow on the two volumes:
• The fantastic Jimmy Carroll version of "Carousel Waltz" never before on CD and a version unlike any other.
• A totally different version of "Give a Little Whistle" recorded for Golden by Cliff Edwards.
• Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing the song later made famous by Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm on The Flintstones.
• A moving rendition of "Hi Lili, Hi-Lo" by Shari Lewis.
• The definitive "Popeye the Sailor Man" that Robin Williams duplicated note-for-note in the movie.
• Rosemary Clooney's sister Betty singing "Fuzzy Wuzzy."
• Mel Allen "calling the game" when Casey went to the bat.
• Art Carney, at the height of "Honeymooners" success, singing Frank Loesser's "The Ugly Duckling."
• The Rita Williams Singers' London stereo version of "On Top of Spaghetti" conducted by Vic Flick -- who was the guitarist on the immortal James Bond Theme. (Rita, for you Brits, sang on a lot of those Woolworth's pop knock-offs of the 50s and 60s.)

I have to add a mea culpa caveat to those of you who are more expert than me in some of the facts in the notes; that may by Roy Halee and not Tom Morrison singing for Mighty Mouse as listed, I'm not sure if those are the ball players in the chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and yes, that IS Paul Tripp singing the "Tubby The Tuba" song. Because of time constraints, some little nits are present, but please if you will focus on the magnificent big picture of so many mini-masterpieces.

Audio riches to be sure.

 

Greg EhrbarComment