Friday, March 28, 2014

At Last: Rifftrax vs. Sharknado, This Summer!

It's been nearly 15 years that SyFy, when it was called the Sci-Fi Channel, cancelled Mystery Science Theater 3000. Maybe the channel was afraid Mike, Tom Servo and Crow would eventually riff on some of its original movies, starting with Mr, Stitch. From that moment, many fans hoped that one day, Mike and the bots would get their revenge.
That day will come July 10th.

Nine months ago,  SyFy aired the cheesiest movie ever made on cable: Sharknado, where Los Angeles is attacked by a water spout filled with sharks. Our only hopes to survive: Tara Reid and Ian Zierling.
Of course, this is even dumber than Mega Python vs. Gateriod, and that doesn't include having Debbie Gibson and Tiffany in the movie.
So what happens? Sharknado gets popular, very popular. Granted, it could be because people wanted to mock it with extreme prejudice. Then, two weeks after it aired on SyFy, it was shown at 200 Regal Theaters in midnight showings which just about sold out. Yes, people paid money for this. Were there people who heckled the movie in the theater, too?

Well, this summer, the Rifftrax gang will have its chance. It'll have a live show where they target Sharknado July 10th, three weeks before the sequel escapes to SyFy. Expect a lot of American Pie and 90210 jokes in this production, and maybe some Wizard of Oz jokes. If you bought the Wizard of Oz riff, you notice they ask during the twister scene "where are the sharks". This may have been a hint that the movie had been in their cross hairs for some time. Maybe they're curious how it holds up against Birdemic, where people use coat hangers to battle attacking video game birds.

Edited to add: Conor Lastowka, one of the Rifftrax writers, has an explanation on why it's taking on Sharknado, although some are worried it's like shooting sharks in a barrel: it's just like a summer blockbuster, only with 98% less budget and star power--and it came from TV. Anyway, here's his Tumblr post that will say it better than anyone.

Fathom Events will have this at hundreds of theaters nationwide and Canada. It will be shown again on July 15th, but tickets will be on sale starting May 2nd.

Meanwhile, Rifftrax will spend April Fools Day riffing on nature shows for the National Geographic channel betwen 8 and 11 PM East and West, with another go-around between 11 PM and 2 AM.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Now Where Will We Go To Mock Pretty Little Liars?: An Obit For Television Without Pity

The biggest water cooler on the internet, Television Without Pity, will be closing down for good at the end of May, just after the end of the current TV season. It was originally announced this morning on Re/Code, then confirmed by this tweet:

TWOP will cease operations on April 4, but our forums will remain open till May 31. To our fans: Thank you for your support over the years.
Ironically, the reason for the closing of TWoP is what kills any TV show...a declining internet audience. The site has been owned by Bravo and NBC Universal since 2007, but it wasn't generating enough revenue.

This will be bad news for people who were looking forward to mocking the summer TV season, and the second half of Game of Thrones' fourth season..and that's just for starters. While Twitter has become the social media center of choice when it comes to talking about shows as they're happening, TWoP was a valuable tool for people who wanted to rant about TV and movies without being limited to 140 characters.

The site originally started in 1997 to mock Dawson's Creek. Back then, it was called Dawson's Wrap. About a year later, it changed into Mighty Big TV, where people could also mock Felicity and her goofy hair. If only they knew who'd she would eventually become...right, comrade?

Anyway, it soon took on other shows, and genres for that matter. Today, hundreds of shows have been discussed, dissected, mocked, defended and praised in the TWoP forums, under the watchful eye of the classic logo, Tubey. It even had its own "awards" that seemed to be more savvy than the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys combined.

When the original WB Bronze was on its last legs because it was handing off Buffy to the channel formerly known as UPN, I turned to TWoP as my go-to place to talk about TV shows. It discussed shows and handled discussions the way the Original Bronze did.  It was a great place to discuss television and movies.
I haven't gone there as much as I had ten or 12 years ago, but I still went there to see what people thought of Believe, Person of Interest, and even wrestling. It was also the best place to find recaps to shows I don't usually watch, but have some interest. It's kind of like the Cliff's Notes of watching TV.

So did Twitter and tv tag kill TWoP? Did people think live-tweeting was better than going into extensive details about how the story line is getting worse for Once Upon a Time? If so, that is a shame. TWoP was a great place to debate the quality of TV shows and movies. Trying to debate with someone by Twitter can get really difficult after a while.

So where will those who visited TWoP go? They might head to forums connected with one show, or maybe the ones already prepared by the networks themselves.

Already, the site is becoming nostalgic. The home page is showing links to its past recaps of Veronica Mars, Sports Night, The Sopranos, 24, and the show that started it all, Dawson's Creek. It's expected that links to past recaps of Buffy, Angel, Breaking Bad, Gilmore Girls, Lost and Arrested Development will be coming soon.

The only forum least for one for TWoP regulars meeting for one last goodbye, and recalling their favorite snarking moments. Maybe one will be set up in time for the final hours, just like people gave their last goodbyes to the WB Bronze back in 2001.

It's best to end this with this statement from TWOP Pembleton, whose announcement was called "So long, and Thanks For All The Fish"..which seems appropriate: will cease all editorial operations on April 4 and the site will be taken offline.
However, the forums will remain open until May 31 to continue to provide our members with a place to debate, discuss and deride all the shows we love and love to hate. 
Obviously, we are all sad about this, but we are keeping the forums open for a grace period so that you can contact your fellow posters and perhaps find new places to continue your conversations. There may be some technical glitches going forward as most of the site is shut down, and we ask for your patience as we figure things out.
To our readers, posters, and forum members: Thank you for your support over the years.

We'll miss you Television Without Pity, and you, too Tubey.
At the very least, James Van Der Beek should give a eulogy in the virtual funeral.
Afterwards, we'll all be looking for a new online water cooler to gather and snark.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MST3K Goes Retro This Summer...But Not Everywhere

OK, so what is Retro TV?
It's like Antenna TV or MeTV, digital subcarrier channels also found on cable TV that air old movies and reruns of classic TV shows. You know, what your local independent TV stations used to air before relying on infomercials, court shows and talk shows that shouldn't exist.
These channels are the homes of former TV rerun staples like Bewitched, All in the Family, MASH, Gilligan's Island, I Love Lucy and Perry Mason. 

So what is the Satellite of Love doing there?
Satellite News broke the story that Retro TV will air 26 episodes from the series, and it includes a few from the Comedy Channel and Sci-Fi Channel days. Many fans were stunned that this had happened at all. Many of us would give out eye teeth, and our eyes, to see the Satellite of Love fly again, and not have to rely on Hulu or Amazon TV.

The show will start on Retro TV in July, and here's what's coming:

103- The Mad Monster
105- The Corpse Vanishes

This means two episodes from the J. Elvis Weinstein years

211- First Spaceship On Venus

Only one from season two? It was just biker movies, cheap dinosaur movies, and "The Phantom Creeps", but they should have been included. Also, early TV's Frank!

320- The Unearthly
323- The Castle of Fu Manchu
402- The Giant Gila Monster
409- The Indestructible Man
412- Hercules And The Captive Women
419- The Rebel Set
424- Manos: The Hands of Fate

The fact that Manos is included (but not Bride of the Monster, which means we won't see part one of "Hired") makes this first batch very attractive. 

507- I Accuse My Parents
511- Gunslinger
517- Beginning of the End
518- The Atomic Brain

Yep, it won't include the big change from Joel to Mike. We'll just have to rely on the new opening to explain why Joel's gone. 

610- The Violent Years
616- Racket Girls
619- Red Zone Cuba
701- Night Of The Blood Beast

Decent episodes from season six, and we get the non-Turkey Day version of how Pearl Forrester moves in with Dr. Forrester. 

812- The Incredibly Strange Creatures…
820- Space Mutiny
821- Time Chasers
822- Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
908- The Touch of Satan
1002- Girl in Gold Boots
1003- Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders
1009- Hamlet

A good sample of Sci-Fi shows, especially with "Incredibly Strange Creatures", "Space Mutiny" and "Time Chasers", but there's a shortage of season nine stuff. Why not include "Pumaman" and "Final Sacrifice"? 

The mix of shows is still good, 12 with Joel and 14 with Mike. It's interesting that Retro preferred to get the full shows, rather than the "MST Hour" versions from Comedy Central from the mid 90s. Actually, that version had really good shows from the Joel era. 

So what will this mean for MSTies?
First off, they'll actually have to look for Retro TV. Here's where you can check to see if it's broadcast in your area. Long-time fans will get a chance to see shows they haven't seen in a while, or show their children and grandchildren (hey, why not?) what they used to watch at midnight some weekend.
However, some of those kids may point out they can see the shows on YouTube, Hulu or Amazon Video on their computers. So why see it on a really obscure cable channel?

Simple. The only way to really appreciate the genius of Cable TV's Greatest Contribution To Mankind Before The Sopranos is to see it on a cathode ray TV, on a Saturday night, eating junk food, and even updating the riffs Tom Servo, Crow and Joel/Mike are lobbying at the lame movie. Sure, you can cheat and get the shows on Hulu or Amazon Video beamed into the 50-inch flat screen, but it's best to enjoy the MST experience just like our elders did 20 years ago.
Still, if all you have is a flat screen, fine. Just watch it on Retro TV if your cable outlet has it.

This has been some week for MSTies. Next Tuesday, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett will sit and mock National Geographic shows. It's the first time since appearing on ESPN's Cheap Seats, starring a couple of guys who riff on televised sports. Wonder where they picked up that habit?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Last Time Ellen DeGeneres Hosted the Oscars

Tomorrow, Ellen DeGeneres will host the Academy Awards for the second time. So, it's a good time to see how she did the last time she hosted in 2007.
As you can see, she started the evening in this red velvet suit, and did one of her monologues similar to those that start her daytime talk show. There was even dancing at the end by a gospel choir welcoming everyone.

The 2007 Oscars was one of the longest ceremonies at about three and a half hours. Some TV critics, as they usually do, declared the whole thing boring. Others thought she was a nice change from recent hosts Chris Rock and Jon Stewart, who were chosen to give the show an "edge".
When I first owned a DVD recorder (a previous model) I would tape everything, or convert my VHS cassettes into DVDs. This included three Oscar ceremonies I happened to have. So, I looked at the 2007 awards last night.

It was long and a bit tedious, but not because of Ellen. She was chosen because she was the safe choice. There were some jokes about whether Al Gore would run again in 2008, but the humor was mostly like this:

These are from the YouTube Oscar channel. You can go here to see more from 2007, along with other Oscar moments.

There could have been cuts here and there. We can start with Chris Connelly's backstage comments that added nothing to the show, and either shorten or cut out those montages. I can see having a package on the 50th anniversary of the Foreign Language film category, but not on how the movies saw America or the writing process. The opening montage that honored the nominees, including the late great Peter O'Toole remarking that he'd been nominated eight times, was a good idea. It did include less famous people who were nominated many times but didn't win.

This was also back in the days when the show included special Oscars, like one to composer Ennio Morricone. However, Celine Dion singing "I Knew I Loved You" could have been cut.

One good idea, though, was having Will Farrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly singing about how comedy gets no repsect at the Academy Awards.

That turned out to be ironic. Little Miss Sunshine enjoyed the best Oscar success by any comedy in years by getting Original Screenplay and Alan Arkin winning supporting actor.

Another great moment was Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg coming out to present Best Director, hoping that Martin Scorsese would finally win for The Departed. The plan worked, because he did.

Some other observations:

Abigail Breslin and Jaden Smith looked cute giving out short subject awards, but the fact that she did a better job at it may tell you something.

Adam Sandler was actually in an Oscar-nominated movie. It was Click, and it was up for Best Makeup. It should have been Punchdrunk Love.

There was a bit of sadness seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman (that's how you spell his name, CBS News) present Best Actress to Helen Mirren, and O'Toole losing again. He did get an honorary Oscar a few years before, but he said he would have rather gotten one the old fashioned way. His fans agree, still wondering why he didn't get one for Lawrence of Arabia.

There was a acrobatic troupe called Pilobolus that recreated some of the nominated movies' iconic moments, and the Oscar itself. It even included the logo for Snakes on a Plane, which in some way led to Sharknado.

Both Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima were up for awards. They looked at the Battle of Iwo Jima from the Allies and Japanese perspective (Letters making the Best Picture list). I wondered if anyone thought of re-editing both movies to make a longer one, or at least the parts connected to the Battle of Iwo Jima. That would have been interesting.

There was also the annual speech by Academy President Sid Ganis, which was only a minute because he had a bet with Ellen. Anyway, it ended with the announcement of plans to build a movie museum on a lot in the middle of Hollywood. Those plans evolved into the future Academy museum, which wound up at Wilshire because of several reasons including the stock market crash of 2008. That spot, however, is being used for outdoor showings of movies....

This year, viewers (and yes, TV award show "experts") are hoping for an exciting fast-paced Academy Awards. No bloat or filler. Just a lean, efficient and entertaining show. None of these rambling conversations with directors, or vacuuming at Penelope Cruz's feet near the end of the show. No special awards because they've been spun off into another ceremony that the Academy will someday allow us to see, even online. We'll get brief highlights, and that's it. Still, in the case of Angela Lansbury finally getting an honorary Oscar, what's an extra ten minutes between friends if we add that to the main show? Besides, her success in TV will get people to see her.
Ellen will do the same type of monologue as before, because that's her style. She may have less hair, but it would still another monologue in the style of her talk show. It would be a hoot if she started the show by "landing" on the now Dolby Theater stage, as Sandra Bullock did in Gravity. That'll add some edge.

Besides, the real edge that show will provide is whether 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle or Gravity wins Best Picture. Just no rambling Chris Connelly, please.