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TV PASSING
Kevin S. Butler writes: "Sadly, NYC kid's TV and the movies lost another brilliant craftsman. Sandy Howard, the guiding genius behind WOR TV 9's Merry Mailman Show, Mack & Myer For Hire and the producer of Meteor and A Man Called Horse, died on Friday May 16, 2008. He Was 80 years old. Sandy lost a long battle with Alzheimer's disease the same malady that killed Ray Heatherton, (The Merry Mailman) 11 years ago.

"Born in the Bronx on August 1, 1927, Howard began his career as a short story writer for Liberty magazine. He later worked for a Broadway press agent but he left the agency to became a assistant producer on various radio shows.

"He worked for a time as Martin Stone's assistant producer on one of TV's first panel shows Author Meets The Critics on the NBC network. It was not until the early 1950's that Sandy Howard found his own success when the heads of WOR TV hired him to help revamp the format of The Merry Mailman. The program, which debuted on Channel 9 on Monday evening October 16, 1950, was in danger of getting cancelled. At the time, Heatherton's friendly letter carrier character did little more than stand in front of a curtain in his mailman's uniform to introduce cartoons and commercials, making the series appear like any other cartoon fest that was on the air. Howard changed the format by having kids appear in the studio and giving Heatherton more interaction with the studio audience.
He also added games, craftmaking, hobbies, songs, stories, informational segments and interviews with guest personalities.

"Howard was also able to provide better cartoons than the forgettable films from Europe that the program had been screening since the very first broadcast. The silent Terry Tunes movie cartoons made their NYC TV debut on the show and the 1949 Crusader Rabbit TV cartoons were also seen on the program.

"Around 1953 or 1954 Howard hired comic/character actor and mimic Milt Moss to be Heatherton's comedy assistant, puppeteer and commercial announcer for the program. Hiring Moss was a brilliant move for it gave Heatherton the opportunity to serve as straight man to the comedic antics of Moss' resident zanies. Moss also manipulated and voiced the puppets that appeared at "The Puppet House Stand" and he provided voices for the animals that The Merry Mailman spoke to on every show.
Howard also hired entertainer Chic Darrow to appear on the show as the Topsy Turvey Auctioneer (a predecessor to Wally Boag and Steve Martin).

"Darrow's zany salesman character would engage the studio audiences and viewers with magic tricks, juggling, balloon sculptures, songs and dances and crazy comedy skits. The show became a hit with NYC viewers and was broadcast weekday evenings and afternoons.The show was also seen on Saturday afternoons and a radio version of the show was heard Monday, Wednesday & Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons on the WOR/Mutual Radio network from 1953 to 1955 (Howard was not involved with The Merry Mailman radio shows). Howard also encouraged Heatherton and Moss to do personal appearances at NYC and NJ movie theaters and Heatherton also did special shows for terminally ill and disabled children at NYC/NJ/CT hospitals.

"Not all of his concepts were a hit however. Howard tried to merchandise The Merry Mailman, a plethora of 'MM' toys, books, comic books, records, play suits, etc. flooded the market but they didn't sell well outside of the NYC viewing area.

"Nevertheless, Sandy Howard continued to work on the show until 1954 when Heatherton became a victim of the Witch Hunts of the 1950's. A crazed individual who claimed to be the owner of a supermarket chain in upstate New York made false accusations that Heatherton was a communistic sympathiser - which was not true since Ray was a total supporter of Sen. McCarthy's fight against communism.

"Unfortunately, The Merry Mailman and Heatherton and Howard's other radio and TV shows began to lose ratings and sponsors. Of these shows, only the pair's pioneering kid's wraparound show remained on TV as a station sustained program.

"By the time The Merry Mailman ended it's run on WOR TV 9 in on Friday March 22, 1956. Sandy Howard had moved onto other venues, he became the producer of Mack & Myer For Hire for Trans-Lux TV in 1965 (these short film comedies for TV were seen in 1965 and starred Mickey Deems and Joey Faye in the title roles).

"Mr. Deems worked on the show as a writer, Eddie Sutherland was the show's director (Sutherland had worked with Laurel & Hardy on The Flying Deuces at RKO Radio Pix in 1939 and with Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore, John Howard, Shemp Howard and the late Charlie Lane on The Invisible Woman in 1940).

"Howard would leave NYC and move to Los Angeles to create and produce such films as Meteor with Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Sean Connery and A Man Called Horse with the late Richard Harris.

"The films were critical successes but they were not big box office hits. Howard would work on a few more films but when he saw that his movies were not the successes that he hoped they would be he retired from film producing.

"Sandy Howard lived in quiet retirement until he became ill Alzheimer's and he entered the Motion Picture & TV Country Home in Woodland Hills, California a few years ago.

"Despite what has been written in the newspaper obituaries about Mr. Howard, he never worked on Roger Muir's/ Buffalo Bob Smith's Howdy Doody as a director.

"I was lucky enough to do a phone interview with him in 1992 and he was gracious in sharing his knowledge about the creation and development of The Merry Mailman and the creation of Mack & Myer For Hire. A true TV craftsman, he will be missed!"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - 7:53am
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FROM THE MAIL
1950's Saturday Morning ShowsLeslie Evans responds to my Hiya Kids review: "I want to say 'Thank you' to your reviewer, the only one who seems to know what he's talking about with this set. I'm a big Kukla, Fran and Ollie fan, and, like any KFO fan, know that their show was NOT all kid fair, despite the presence of the Kuklapolitans (one does not call them 'puppets'). The producers of the set seem to over look this, and so put it in the first slot of the first DVD, supposed programming for the youngest children. Had they bothered to do some research, they would know that Kukla, Fran and Ollie ran during 'prime time' for much of its initial ten year run. Even when they were shoved into a Sunday afternoon slot by NBC, they continued to make very sophisticated shows. Your review was the only one out of many that remembered the real KFO, and didn't just go by what the promotional material said. Kudos for that, and double kudos for requesting a comprehensive KFO DVD!"

Sal Gomez referrs us to a new retro graphic novel that looks pretty cool - Tales from The Starlight Drive-In.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - 7:23am
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WILL YOU BE WATCHING?
It never occurs to me to turn on the TV at night except to watch DVDs. But Thursday night on CBS Betty White will be playing Million Dollar Password and it looks like fun.

Kevin Butler will have an obit tomorrow on kid show legend Sandy Howard who passed awat largely unnoticed by the press last month.

Monday, June 9, 2008 - 12:28pm
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DONATING RARE FILMS
William D. French, Jr. writes: "I just read your blog about 16mm films. I recently donated my collection to the UCLA Film and Television Archives. Here is the contact information:
UCLA Film and Television Archive
Attn: Dan Einstein
1015 North Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dan can be reached at einstein (at) ucla.edu
People that want to donate should contact him and let him know when films have been sent and how (US Mail, UPS, etc.). That way he can be on the lookout for them.

I also sent along a DVD of a short film I wrote and directed last summer just for fun and he liked it so much that he added it to the gay and lesbian collection. If you watch it just be aware that the camera was broken (did not know about it until the 8mm film was processed).

"Last summer UCLA's Rob Stone came to San Francisco and was part of the Silent Film Festival. I would love to see them help people like us develop a traveling classic & rare TV festival. It would just take a lot of time to organize. Boy would it be fun! I'm hoping to host a festival at my school within the next few years. The head of my department really likes the idea and said we might even be able to get James Burrows, which would be great. Of course I would like to meet Betty White and actress/documentary filmmaker Denise Crosby (who happens to be a distance cousin)."

Sunday, June 8, 2008 - 2:08pm
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COMICS
Comic book fans will want to read Dial B For Blog's scathing review of DC's Final Crisis - whatever that is - and the industry's penchant for killing off their characters in brutally violent ways.

Sunday, June 8, 2008 - 12:48pm
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ELLISON DOCUMENTARY
There's a new film that's just opened in New York and it looks very interesting - Dreams With Sharp Teeth. It focuses in on one of the greatest American writers (and legendary curmudgeon) Harlan Ellison. Watch the trailer here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008 - 12:48pm
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Rescue Me on DVDRescue Me - The Complete Fourth Season

Season four is the year that Rescue Me almost morphs into an hour long sitcom, with extended, laugh out loud, outlandish plotlines - but the show still delivers the kind of emotional gut punch that it's famous for, in addition to pulse-pounding action scenes unmatched on television.

Is season four as good as the first three? Absolutely. Rescue Me is one of the best written TV series of all time and there's no indication of the quality letting up.

Season four is a high octane emotional roller coaster ride as Tommy becomes a father again, the unit loses the Chief, a new probie joins the team and, of course, Tommy gets involved with more looney women (nothing new there).

This highly acclaimed (and for good reason) Showtime series jumps erratically from hilarious to harrowing, somehow staying on balance. It's hard to believe that searing tension, nightmare scenarios and ludicrous humor can coexist so beautifully.

Because of the superior cast, cinema verite direction and snappy dialogue that has you hanging on every word, you can't help but become emotionally involved with these unlikely heroes. There are times when you can be moved to tears, others when you'll fall out laughing at the ridiculous situations these these emotionally inflammatory NYFD firefighters blunder in and out of.

And yet, as far as they push the envelope in either direction, it somehow all stays believable with so many "Oh My God!" moments, especially Tommy's skyscraper rescue at the end of show ten, that you can't wait to get to the next episodes. That's the joy of watching a show like Rescue Me on DVD.

Jerry Adler ('Hersh' from The Sopranos) seamlessly joins the cast as the new Chief, Amy Sedaris pops up in a lively turn as Tommy's date from hell, and the back and forth between the characters portrayed by Artie Lange and John Scurti (who wrote one of the best episodes) are season highlights.

The commentary tracks are illuminating, there's a gag reel and plenty of other extras like: Deleted Scenes; Welcome to the Set (a look behind the scenes); a mini-doc on the show's directors; Walking Through Fire: The Stories of Rescue Me Season 4 (features interviews with cast & crew); This Is Not a Drill: Breaking Down "Seven" (dissects one of the episodes with interviews); Tools of the Trade; Burning Embers: Gavin's Girls; Gag Reel; a look a real firefighters; and The Shield - The Final Act (short promo for the final season of The Shield);

There are also some minisodes, shortened episodes of Married... with Children and Starsky & Hutch.

This show is as close to perfect as television can get. Start with season one if you haven't had the pleasure, a dizzying world of mayhem awaits you.

Sunday, June 8, 2008 - 12:34pm
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TV NEWS
G4 had one of its highest rated telecasts ever with the TV premiere of King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters on Sunday, June 1, more than twice what the net is used to. If you haven't seen King of Kong it's unbelievably good. You simply won't believe how mendacious a person can be.

This is unusual - CBS will air one episode of TBS's The Bill Engvall Show on Monday, June 9 at 8 p.m.

It's about time! From the LA Times: Time Warner Cable Inc. was accused Thursday of lying to Los Angeles subscribers and providing shoddy customer service in a lawsuit that seeks potentially tens of millions of dollars in fines against the city's main provider of cable television.
"The company has broken multiple laws, and harmed countless Los Angeles consumers," City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said in a statement. The suit was filed as a civil law enforcement action and names the people of California as plaintiffs.

Entertainment Weekly has an online survey going asking, 'who would you choose as the best TV star of the last 25 years.' Here are the choices:
Jennifer Aniston
Johnny Carson
Bill Cosby
Michael J. Fox
James Gandolfini
David Letterman
Sarah Jessica Parker
Roseanne
Jerry Seinfeld
Oprah Winfrey

So far Seinfeld leads with my choice, Carson, coming in second.

Time-Life released deluxe editions of Get Smart and The Man From UNCLE last year, this year they plan a Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour DVD set, a 'best of' season 3 collection.

Friday, June 6, 2008 - 10:05am
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FOOTAGE FOR SALE
We were talking about dumpster diving to preserve TV history, Well, it's too late for that but 16mm films often turn up on Ebay or at yard sales. Here's one such example. Danny A. writes: "I purchased years back several old 16mm reels. Upon watching the reels, I saw many black & white and color classic 50's & 60's USA TV shows, commercials, and news footage. I am unsure whom to approach about these. Much of the footage has many famous faces on them from several different shows. Some are full episodes and others just clips.

"Guiding me towards someone who could place a value to my collection and orienting me towards a possible buyer would be greatly appreciated. If you know of more than one person who would be interested, please let me know.

"I feel my collection is valuable, especially one particular piece of footage I have that I believe is very rare, based on my internet research. Instead of all of them sitting in my closet gathering dust, and possibly risk it degrading in time, I would rather a collector and TV historian buy it off my hands and share it with society."

If anyone is interested email me and I'll forward your email on to Danny.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 - 7:22am
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Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Roman PolanskiMonday, June 9th, HBO will air one of the most compelling documentaries of the last decade.

How much do you remember about the 30 year old Roman Polanski case? You may recall that the legendary director's wife and unborn child were murdered by the Manson cult and that he subsequently fled the country after pleading guilty to having sex with an underage girl.

There was so much more to the case, however, and the many conflicting layers of misunderstanding are meticulously peeled away by filmmaker Marina Zenovich in Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, a joint venture between HBO Documentaries and ThinkFilm (Born Into Brothels, Murderball).

Veering from tragedy to travesty and back again, this straightforward, deeply disturbing film is one punch in the gut after another, keeping you on the edge of your seat by way of wild video juxtapositions (the film won the editing award at Sundance) and bombshell revelations around every corner.

Zenovich has folded in a wealth of revelatory archival footage from the period (this case was a media circus on a massive scale, as you can imagine) alongside numerous revealing modern day interviews with those intimately involved - including the young victim, the police officer that arrested him, Hollywood players, Polanski's lawyer, the prosecutor, even the judge's mistresses.

HBO has a slate of new documentaries airing every Monday night from June 9th until August 25th including Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas at The White House, Ganja Queen, and Baghdad High. If they're as good as this one it's going to be a sizzling summer on HBO!

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired can be seen beginning Monday, June 9th on HBO. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 - 11:10am
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