Sep 30, 2004

We Don't Care About Television In The US

When I created The X Bridge way back in the year 1998 (okay, it was a little over six years ago, but in web years, that's ancient), people wondered why I created a site dedicated to a block like Toonami. One of the reasons why I launched the site was because of the way the block presented itself, which was like nothing I've seen in this country . . . well, not since Sci-Fi's Animation Station block, but that's something I'll dwell on at the main site one day. When Tyler L. launched Toonami Multimedia (later Toonami Miscellanious) and Zogg started Toonami Basement that captured the on-air bumpers, idents, and openings the folks at Williams Street made, people knew that this block really had a good thing going. When Tyler and Zogg merged their sites into Toonami Digital Arsenal, the premiere destination for all multimedia relating to Toonami, the Toonami fan community were given a true digital gift that is, in fact, a historical archive of the evolution of a cable network programming block.

In fact, in the United States, TDA is one of the few online sources for television promotional multimedia. You won't find a complete archive of other network blocks, let alone other cable networks, in the United States. See, the thing that makes TDA different is that it actually exists. You won't find a website with classic HBO openings, older Nickelodeon promotional commercials, the evolution of TBS logos, or any other cable network in the United States. Why?

We, as a society, don't really care about how television is presented in this country. We just care about the shows that's on the network. Yup, we dig the forensic show that's based in Las Vegas, the casino show that's based in Las Vegas, the other casino show based in Las Vegas, the card tournments in Las Vegas, the reality show based in Las Vegas, the teen melodrama based outside of Las Vegas in Orange County, CA, the reality drama based in Orange County, CA, the chopper show in Orange County, NY, the New York-based cop show, the other New York-based cop show, the other New York-based cop show (the one with the forensic experts), the New York-based firefighter show, the New York-based lawyer show, the Boston-based lawyer show, the new Boston-based lawyer show, the glorified talent show, the other glorified talent show, the show with screaming teens in New York, the show with screaming adults in New York, and all the copycat shows on the air, but not the way the network presents itself.

Although there is one major exception in this country.

Remember the '80s? If you're in your teens, you probably don't, although you may have faint memories of April O'Neil being a news reporter in a yellow jumpsuit in New York on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There's a site that celebrates the decade in visual and audio form . . . well, the live-action side of the decade, from game shows to primetime to sports, and a few live-action kids show. The '80s TV Theme SuperSite was one of the best sources for the way television presented itself in this country, something modern networks and companies should really take a glance at. You know, to remember what television was like before they decided to get lazy with on-screen watermarks, scrolling newscrawls, pop-up ads on television shows (NBC has truly irked me by putting huge screen ads during the middle show this season), and lack of self-promotion. I feel if you're not proud of your network, why should people care about the shows? The SuperSite reminded me that Out of This World was a really great show, the NBC '88 network campaign (Come Home To The Best . . . Only on NBC) was one of the greatest ever made, and that ABC used a lot of pop tunes in their promos. For the longest time, I felt this was the end-all and be-all for retro television promotion archives, and it's still very good.

However, the Brits outmatched the SuperSite with TV Ark.

TV Ark bills itself as "The Television Museum." And you know what? I almost believe it. They have covered all of UK television and a lot of foreign television, including Canada and the US. At TV Ark, I saw things I haven't seen in decades, like ABC's old Saturday morning bumpers (ah, an era when Saturday mornings weren't programmed by cable networks because broadcasters grew lazy), Fox's network launch (I actually remember a time when Fox, then embracing their Fox Broadcasting Company name in promotions, didn't exist), and the CBS Special Presentation ident (which was parodied very well on Animaniacs many moons ago). The Ark also showed me that the Britons really know how to market their networks. Looking at BBC's Globe balloon campaign, BBC 2's 2 campaign, Bravo's metamorphosis from a retro network to a harder-edged male-oriented network that makes SpikeTV look like a little girly-man (I could see how Cartoon Network tried to compete [and failed miserably] against Bravo with their CNX network that became Toonami), and Sky's very American-looking campaigns (that sly old fox Rupert), I can tell that the Brits put a lot of heart and soul into their networks.

TV Ark is a lot more comprehensive with the years, going back as far as the 50s to as current as a few months ago. I feel that the SuperSite and the Ark are good companion sites about a history of television branding. And I'm also glad that the Arsenal is one of the only places in the US that continues that journey.

Now, if only there were other sites as comprehensive as these three for American cable networks.

You Know You're A Classic Cartoon Fan . . . (Reason #122 of #150)

. . . when the following phrase emits a chuckle out of you:

Technicolor Ends Here

Sep 20, 2004

Big Time SuperheroTM Coming Through. . .

I mean, big time TXB update coming this Friday.

You remember TXB, right? It's that lame action-oriented webpage with the sporadic updates because the webmaster doesn't have time to get online much except to post inane comments on various fan forums?

Yeah, The X Bridge will have reviews, feature articles, commentaries, databases, Toonami talk, and all other sorts of things to make your head boggle. I'll also enlighten the masses about this thing called X-Ventures Comics a little more further.

I would have had it up Monday, but life got complicated . . . plus I'm still editing the reviews, including this one show that has an unemployed 19-year older recruited by a toy company to wear this funky looking battle suit and living in an apartment complex filled with rivals and villians. Melrose Place meets Ultraman with a touch of Tenchi Muyo. Great show. I'll talk about it later in the week.

The big upload begins later today for me for the big time update on Friday. THIS Friday. I mean it.

Sep 13, 2004

The Lion Sleeps With The Lady With The Torch

Back in the 80s, foreign firms began buying classic American studios like they were on fire. One of the most noteworthy purchases was Sony's purchase of Columbia Pictures from Coca-Cola (yeah, believe it or not, Coca-Cola actually owned television studios). MGM/UA was sold to everybody from Ted Turner (who actually kept the bulk of the library and animated projects) to foreign parties and back to Kirk Kerkorian, who sold it. Heck, back in the day, Kerkorian even sold the Culver City studios where MGM made their biggest films to Columbia Pictures.

After months of speculation between Time Warner (who suddenly has money to actually buy companies now) and a group led by Sony including the likes of Comcast, Kerkorian stayed away from the clouds and decided that The Lion should sleep with the Lady with the Torch, merging the large United Artists/Orion/Samuel Goldwyn/American International/Polygram/post-1986 MGM libraries with the Columbia/Screen Gems/Tri-Star/Revolution Studios film and television libraries. Film franchises like Barbershop, James Bond, Cody Banks, Spider-Man, Stargate, Species, The Pink Panther, Resident Evil, Underworld, and Charlie's Angels, and television shows like Green Acres, The Addams Family, All in the Family, Dawson's Creek, Fame, Jeremiah, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, and animated properties like the theatrical UPA shorts, Astro Boy, Pink Panther, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Men in Black, Robocop, and others are now under one house.

And once again, a Japanese company owns a major American studio.

Of course, I'm a bit biased. I was kind of rooting for Time Warner to buy MGM because strategically and from a portfolio perspective, it made a whole lot of sense. Time Warner does own a lot of the marquee MGM films in its Turner library. The animation library of MGM meshes well with the animation library of Time Warner. Although Time Warner wanted MGM, there was one major stakeholder who didn't want the company to go forward with the merger.

Ted Turner.

He has already been burned by Kerkorian in the past, paying too much for MGM back in the 80s. He sold the studio back, but kept the library as retribution. Plus, Kerkorian's a gambler, not unlike Turner, and the ego-trips would have been huge!

As a gambler, Kerkorian knew that the one that's willing to put more on the table would be the one he would be more comfortable with. So, when the Sony group put in that final hour at zero hour, the choice was made. In the end, it didn't really matter to him, since he would be billions richer by the end of the day, and he was rid of a company he never really wanted in the first place.

Seriously, when he bought MGM in the 70s, Kerkorian largely said that MGM was a casino company that happens to be in the movie making business. He bought MGM for the lion's head logo and the brand name, not the rich film legacy it created. And Sony, the winners of this high-profile poker match at the MGM Grand, is more or less putting yet another Hollywood studio with a strong legacy in its crown.

Now, there are three major solely American-owned companies as a result, Time Warner, Viacom, and Disney (NBC Universal is 20% owned by Vivendi, who really gypped General Electric by selling 80% of 1/3 of the original Universal company, and News Corp is still Aussie-based for the time being). Good game played, Sony. Now, actually do something productive with the purchase (and I don't mean just release Blu-Ray DVDs of MGM films).

Sep 7, 2004

Living Cartoons

I'm old enough to remember a time when computer-animated creations weren't prominent in feature films. I'm not talking about 3D animated films, there are plenty of those, and I don't want to give them any more press time than they already get (I'll come back to that around the time The Incredibles gets ready to premiere). Plus, Square Pictures' Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within could have did a lot better if it wasn't called Final Fantasy, especially since there was little connection to the familiar elements in the film, but that's a whole other conversation. It's been many moons since Young Sherlock Holmes, The Abyss, and T2, and CGI heroes, antiheroes, and villians are as commonplace as an unoriginal idea in films.

I'm kidding about the unoriginal idea joke (to a point).

If it wasn't for CGI, the Lord of the Rings trilogy couldn't possibly be made. Okay, that's a lie, it could have been made, but it would have been a dramatically different film. It would have looked and felt like the original Star Wars trilogy. In short, a cinematic masterpiece that has a huge, loyal fanbase . . . kind of like now.

Strangely, the original Star Wars trilogy will never be seen again. Oh, you'll see A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, but you'll never see the film as it was originally shown in 1977, 1980, and 1983, respectedly. The upcoming DVDs will not bring the much-ballyhooed and much-criticized "Special Editions" to the masses that already have them on tape. In fact, these releases will be the "ultimate vision until George Lucas finds fault with these in about ten years" special edition with many of the same tweaks made in earlier editions as well as introducing reshot and reanimated scenes. Funny thing that George Lucas has created the perfect science-fiction trilogy that has amassed billions in box office receipts and merchandising and countless devoted fans, and yet, he treats the original films as if they were the worst thing he ever produced. He spliced out many of the elements that made the original films real and basically churned out a lot of animated sequences. They're not shoddy by any means (the Sy Snootles sequence was probably my favorite of the Special Edition), but the fact that he'd rather see pixelated characters rather than flesh and blood people in costumes is a wee bit disturbing.

When Lucas made his prequel trilogy, he decided to utilize the latest technology making perhaps the first live-action animated movies. The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones could have been better films if they had a little more flesh-and-blood characters and less of the animated ones.

Oh, and if they had better scripts.

The strange part is that the animated Clone Wars, which will be airing on September 25 during Cartoon Network's Toonami lineup, felt more real than the last two live-action films, and probably because of Clone Wars (and the March mini-series that'll show the scrolling dialogue of Revenge of the Sith in action), I'm actually thinking of plunking down my $6.25 (I'm guessing that's what the price will be at the MacArthur Center Regal Cinema in 2005) for a Saturday matinee of Revenge of the Sith.

The upcoming film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow intrigues and frightens me a little bit (see, if you stayed a while, you knew I'd get to something a little more current than thrashing the cartooniness of the first two Star Wars prequel movies). The trailers looks like a living anime film, which really facinates the pseudootaku within. Seriously, there are planes with flapping wings and robots that look like distant cousins to The Iron Giant roaming the skies. As an animation fan, this really facinates me. However, the film fanatic fears that the animation might overtake a really good story. Perhaps Sky Captain would be the first film to make CGI animation that looks like animation on purpose rather than trying to fool the viewers into thinking that it's real like the first two Star Wars prequel films (let's face it, as cool as that Yoda/Count Dooku fight was, it really looked cheesy and fake) and the Spider-Man films (as much as SM2 outdid the first film in plot and character development, the animation sequences still felt a little too rubbery).

Who knows? Perhaps it'll make a realistic CGI fan out of me yet.