Why I’ve Quit Fading To Black

Everything changes but change itself, Matthew Sweet once sang.  Change has been very much on my mind lately.
In December 2006, a new blog called Fading To Black appeared online.  In its very first entry, this website was singled out for naming Sun Media one of the Losers Of The Year.  Emails were soon exchanged and a friendship began.  Interesting information was passed on to me which was used in a follow-up piece here.  Four months later, an invitation to contribute items to FTB was offered and, after some thought, accepted.  (That all came about quite by accident, actually.  While reading news stories online in the early months of 2007, I would sometimes come across a particular report or commentary that I felt FTB should write about, so I emailed the appropriate links.  Sometimes they were used, sometimes not.  When they were, credit was usually given which was cool.  And even when there wasn’t a public thank you, there was always a private one.)
For the most part, it was a good experience writing for someone else’s website.  It was a fairly straightforward gig, really.  You’d find a story online that deals with the decline of the newspaper business, write a paragraph or two about it, cut and paste a relevant section of the article and provide a link to the whole story.  Sometimes, you’d also include links to internal memos and follow-up reports related to the initial item.  
Receiving the occasional comment was nice.  Whether the feedback was laudatory or critical, it didn’t really matter.  Whenever you saw some kind of response on the actual site, you knew at least somebody was reading what you were posting.
But covering a beat like this can really get to you over time.  And the repetition of these stories (layoffs, strikes, walkouts, etc.) leaves little room for creative writing.  (Receiving all those Google Alerts day in and day out certainly doesn’t help ease the tedium.)  While it was good to do an original report about Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias changing jobs within the daily, FTB news gathering opportunities for me were very rare.  (An attempt to do a breaking story on layoffs at The Edmonton Journal proved frustrating and fruitless.)
That’s why I’ve emailed FTB to announce my resignation from the blog.  After being a contributor for almost ten months and posting close to 150 pieces of writing, it’s time to move on.  Besides, The Writings Of Dennis Earl requires my full attention again.  I feel my site has lost focus in recent months.  As always, there are plenty of ideas worth pursuing.  It’s just a matter of settling down and developing them properly one at a time.
I want to personally thank FTB for giving me a chance to branch out a bit and try something different.  It’s much appreciated.  But as The Writings Of Dennis Earl inches closer to its second anniversary, this is where I want to focus my energy.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, January 31, 2008
6:59 p.m.
Published in: on January 31, 2008 at 6:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

FCC: The Ass Police

Let me ask an innocent question.  Should a major American network be subjected to a fine for airing allegedly objectionable material?  Those who reply in the affirmative will argue for the protection of children’s eyeballs and ear drums while condemning the unrelenting filth that continually pollutes the airwaves.  Those who give the alternate answer will counter with First Amendment, anti-censorship arguments and repeatedly insist on parents taking more responsibility regarding their children’s viewing habits.  Furthermore, not every form of entertainment is kid-friendly, they’ll conclude.
But what if the specific program being singled out for naughtiness is no longer on the air?  Furthermore, what if the “obscene” episode in question aired in prime time almost five years ago?
Incredibly, this is the situation ABC finds itself in right now.  Their highly regarded drama, NYPD Blue, officially ended its 12-year run in the spring of 2005.  But an episode that aired in February 2003 has raised the ire of the Federal Communications Commission.  Apparently, a scene involving a kid accidentally walking into the bathroom while his mother is getting ready to go into the shower got their collective panties in a bunch.  Why?  Because the chick’s ass was shown.  For that one moment, ABC and 55 of its affiliates have been slapped with a collective 1.4 million dollar fine.
What a bunch of phony, hypocritical bullshit.  How seriously can anyone take this ruling?  It couldn’t possibly hold up in court.  It better not hold up in court.
The FCC argues that showing ass in prime time is a big no-no because it’s a “sexual” and “excretory organ”.  Wait a second.  Didn’t this show make a name for itself for showing all kinds of different asses throughout its entire run?  I mean we saw David Caruso’s ass, Dennis Franz’ ass, Jimmy Smits’ ass, Sharon Lawrence’s ass, Amy Brenneman’s ass and countless other asses.  Why is this particular ass from this particular episode the million dollar ass?  This must be some ass to warrant all this fuss half a decade after the fact.
I mean, please.  By now, it should be glaringly apparent that the FCC is out of control.  For Christ’s sake, they’re fining programs that are no longer on the air!  Are they insane?
Be honest.  If you’ve seen the NYPD Blue episode in question, is this allegedly appalling moment really worthy of such a hefty financial punishment?  Did you lose sleep over seeing female butt cheeks?  Are your children doomed, if they saw this ass?  And is the ass in question really a “sexual” and “excretory organ” in this context?  (Was mommy on the can doing a number two when the kid walked in?)  Chances are, you’ve probably forgotten it which makes sense because this episode aired five years ago!!! 
And, as an aside, what is the deal with the FCC’s obsession with sexual and excretory organs?  When is it up to them to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not for broadcast Television?  Last time I checked, there was such a concept as “community standards”.  If it offends the community, then you can make the case for obscenity.  But good luck getting a real consensus on that.  Disagreements always arise when it comes to matters like this.
To be fair, I don’t remember seeing this episode of NYPD Blue.  I pretty much bailed after they killed off Bobby Simone which was back in the late 1990s so, from my perspective, it’s unclear whether the scene in question is truly offensive or not.  That being said, I seriously doubt that it deserves such a severe punishment.  I mean, really?  All of this over an ass?  Get a grip, FCC.  Who died and made you the ass police?
The good news is ABC is fighting the charge.  What they should also do is declare war on the FCC.  Get NBC, CBS, Fox, and every broadcaster in the country to join their cause.  Ditto the newspaper business.  Fire up the public, too.  Remind everyone again and again that this is the most useless bureaucracy in the American Federal Government.  It is corrupt to the core, against freedom of expression and must be immediately dissolved.  Expose their hypocrisy over and over again.  God knows this is long overdue.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 26, 2008
10:24 p.m. 
Published in: on January 26, 2008 at 10:25 pm  Comments (1)  

Remembering The First Royal Rumble

Pat Patterson had this idea for a match.  Using the Battle Royal as his inspiration, he figured out a clever way to make it longer and more entertaining.

In a Battle Royal, all the participants – anywhere from 10 to 30 different wrestlers – are in the ring together at the start.  There’s only one way to be eliminated.  You need to be manipulated over the top rope and land on the floor.  Patterson thought it would be more interesting to get things under way with just two wrestlers.  They battle it out for two minutes, all the while hoping to eliminate the other as quickly as possible.  After the two minutes are up, another wrestler appears and joins the action.  Two minutes after that arrives another competitor and so on and so forth until all the wrestlers have made their way to the ring.  Like a Battle Royal, the last man standing would be declared the winner.

Patterson pitched all of this to his boss, WWF Owner Vince McMahon, who loved the idea.  Few would predict how commercially successful and enduring it would ultimately become.

20 years ago today, the very first Royal Rumble took place, in of all places, my hometown.  It was a cold Sunday evening as my father and my friend, Dave, accompanied me to Copps Coliseum in downtown Hamilton.  I had the worst stomach ache you could imagine but decided to suck it up and go see the show.  We took the bus (none of us drove at the time) not knowing that we were about to see history in the making.

As we took our seats midway up the left side of the arena, we noticed an unusual amount of lights and WWF banners.  Dad wasn’t thrilled.  During past cards, the lights always went down with the exception of a spotlight for entrances and exits plus the lights highlighting the ring.  He didn’t want to be blinded for the whole night. Nonetheless, it was obvious that this was going to be an unusual event.  Sure enough, in the distance, just before the show began, Vince McMahon stepped out in plain view, microphone in hand, high up in the right side of Copps and the crowd reacted.  (Remember, he was a play-by-play commentator back then.)  When his verbal sparring partner, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, followed him shortly thereafter, the reaction was decidedly mixed but thunderous.  It would be the only time they ever appeared in person here.  We should’ve brought binoculars.

It quickly became apparent that this particular WWF show was going to be televised, but obviously, not in Canada, unfortunately.  (We found out later it was airing on the USA Network.  I’m not sure now if it was live or taped for later broadcast.) (JANUARY 24, 2016 UPDATE:  As I more definitively noted in Royal Rumble Trivia, it was in fact a live broadcast.)

Even though there were just four matches (we usually saw eight or more during previous Copps Coliseum house shows), we got our money’s worth.  Ricky The Dragon Steamboat and Ravishing Rick Rude battled it out for nearly 20 minutes.  (Steamboat won by disqualification.)  The Islanders and The Young Stallions wrestled for two falls with the former winning both times.  (Paul Roma, one of the Stallions, accidentally got hurt during the first fall.)

In what was probably the most entertaining match I’ve ever witnessed in person, The Ladies’ World Tag Team Championship was once again up for grabs.  On one side you had The Glamour Girls, Judy Martin and former singles champion, Leilani Kai, two beefy broads with blonde dye jobs.  Jimmy Hart was their manager.  (Yep, he yelled through his infamous megaphone while looking typically spiffy in his gold lame sports jacket.  To say it was shiny would be putting it mildly.)  On the other, you had the challengers, The Jumping Bomb Angels, two of the most incredible female athletes in the history of the business.  They had shoulder-length dark hair, were short and cute but deadly.  One-foot dropkicks, frequent high-risk maneuvers off the top rope, you name it.  They could kick your ass in more ways than one and did numerous times during this terrific title match.

A storyline was hatched the previous year during the inaugural Survivor Series.  (JANUARY 24, 2016 CORRECTION:  Actually, it began sometime in the summer of 1987.)  During the ladies’ elimination match, then-singles champion Sensational Sherri captained one team of five that included The Glamour Girls while former singles champion, The Fabulous Moolah, led another team of five that featured The Angels.  The Japanese twosome put on quite a display of talent, so much in fact that colour man Ventura had to admit more than once that he was impressed with them.  (And remember, he “don’t impress easy”.)

In December 1987, just a month after that show, The Angels made a play for the titles during a card at Copps which I attended with Dad and Dave.  They came up short and The Glamour Girls remained champions.  Then came the encounter at The Royal Rumble.  In a best 2 out of 3 falls match-up, the action was fast and furious with all four women up to the task of putting on a memorable showcase.  The Girls won the first fall which deflated the crowd who were fully on the side of The Angels.  From that point on, despite appearing down for the count yet again, The Angels rebounded by taking the second fall.  In the final one, the finish was spectacular.  Both Angels climbed the top turnbuckles on opposite ends on the left side and nailed Judy Martin with a double dropkick.  Three slaps to the mat later and history was made.  It was the only time I ever witnessed a title change live.  Curiously, it was the only championship encounter during this first Royal Rumble show.

The Rumble was naturally the final event of the evening.  (JANUARY 24, 2016 CORRECTION:  The Islanders/Young Stallions tag match was actually the main event.  The Rumble match was the third match of the four-match show, as later noted in Royal Rumble Trivia.)  Ring announcer Howard Finkel, making his only live appearance in Hamilton during the 1980s, explained the rules which sounded absolutely fantastic to us.  Tito Santana, then one-half of the tag team champions, Strike Force, scrapped with Bret The Hitman Hart for the initial two minutes.  (They wrestled in a straightforward singles match two years earlier at the first ever WWF Copps show on July 13, 1986.  Yep, we saw that one, too.)  As the match progressed, a new wrestler would barrel down the aisle ready to join the fray.  It was cool seeing guys like Jake The Snake Roberts, One Man Gang and The Ultimate Warrior jumping into the match every 120 seconds.  When the 20th and final competitor made his way down to the ring, it was only a matter of time before the winner would be declared.  Hacksaw Jim Duggan, one of my Dad’s faves, was the last man standing.  This would be the only time The Royal Rumble would have just 20 participants.  Beginning in 1989, it would be bumped up to 30.

Besides the matches, there were two other set-ups meant to push forward some storylines.  Dino Bravo tried becoming The World’s Strongest Man by allegedly attempting to bench press over 700 pounds.  We couldn’t get a great view from our seats but we later learned when they showed the incident on TV that Bravo got a major assist from Jesse Ventura.  Who knows how much weight was actually being lifted, anyway.  In the end, it was just a bit to allow the French Canadian to call himself The World’s Strongest Man for future matches.  The whole thing was to establish a feud with Ken Patera, a former real-life weightlifter.  But the storyline was never all that scintillating so it didn’t last for very long.

For me, besides The Ladies’ Tag Team match, the most memorable moment involved the two biggest stars of the WWF at that time.

In January 1987, Andre The Giant turned against World Champion Hulk Hogan during a TV taping in order to challenge him for his belt at WrestleMania III.  (Vince McMahon flew to the set of The Princess Bride in the fall of 1986 to pitch the idea directly to Andre who had a supporting role in the film.)  After losing, Andre and former-enemy-turned-manager Bobby Heenan publicly complained about the decision citing the only false finish of the match as proof of supposed chicanery.  After Hogan attempted to body slam Andre, the enormous Frenchman used his considerable girth to fall directly on him as they both crashed to the mat.  Referee Joey Marella only counted to two but that didn’t matter to Heenan and Andre who demanded a rematch.  They got their wish on February 5, 1988, just a couple of weeks after The Rumble.

For purely ceremonial (and melodramatic) reasons, a bit involving Andre and Hogan signing the “official” contract for the match took place during The Rumble.  To see the slow-moving but imposing Andre walking down the aisle was a sight to behold.  Although the company exaggerated his height (he was really either 6’8 or 6’10, not 7’5), he still looked immense.  I remember he wore a specially made grey-and-white checkered suit complete with suspenders that barely contained his constantly growing midsection.  He had a bit of stubble, too, and some sideburns happening.  (This was the first time we saw him in person.)  He was accompanied by The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase (he was wearing his trademark shiny grey and purple suit) and his bodyguard Virgil.  (As the storyline went, DiBiase wanted to buy Hogan’s belt but after he refused to sell out, DiBiase went to plan B:  he bought out Andre’s contract with Heenan, hired him do all his dirty work in the ring and then, hopefully get the belt from the new champion after he beat Hogan.)

Canadian promoter Jack Tunney (who played the fake WWF President when necessary) supervised the ceremony.  Hogan signed.  Andre signed.  DiBiase told Andre to put his stamp of approval on the contract which the big man interpreted as a command to drill Hogan’s face into the wooden table he was sitting at and flip the table on top of him sending him down to the mat.  His deliciously evil cackle revealed his approval and they left the ring.  Is it any wonder The Main Event, as it was billed, was such a resounding success?  That’s how you sell an important match.

After about two and a half hours, it was all over.  My stomach was still aching but we were all pleased with the show.  We soon left the arena and caught the bus home.

Much to our disappointment, the complete card was never released on VHS or Beta so we couldn’t see it again.  (Maybe because it wasn’t a pay-per-view event?)  The Ladies Tag Team Championship, the Hogan/Andre incident and, I think, Dino Bravo’s shady weightlifting bit were the only moments to surface on separate WWF videotapes.  Thankfully, the whole event is now available as part of the first volume of Royal Rumble shows on DVD.  It’s part of a package that includes the second, third, fourth and fifth Rumble cards.

After all these years, I wonder if we can finally spot ourselves in the crowd.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, January 24, 2008
7:35 p.m.

CORRECTION:  After checking out the arena results for old WWF shows on TheHistoryOfWWE.com, I realized I made a mistake in paragraph 15.  Originally, I noted that Andre The Giant’s appearance at the first Rumble was the only time I saw him in person.  Not true, it turns out.  Andre also appeared at the very next Copps Coliseum house show on March 13, 1988 when he accompanied Ted Dibiase & Virgil for their match against Bam Bam Bigelow & Hulk Hogan.  While I remember the match (it’s on the Hulk Hogan:  The Unreleased Archives DVD), I had forgotten all about Andre’s participation.  The line that initially read, “This was the only time we saw him in person” has been corrected to read “This was the first time we saw him in person”.  My belated apology for my memory lapse.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 9, 2010
2:32 a.m.

Published in: on January 24, 2008 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Some Thoughts On Ezra Levant’s Dilemma

Ezra Levant is a former Calgary Sun columnist.  He’s in a whole heap of trouble these days for a decision he made two years ago as then-publisher of the now-defunct Western Standard magazine (it’s just a blog now).  What did he do in February 2006 that inflamed the passions of so many people?  He published eight editorial cartoons from a Danish newspaper that depicted Muslims and their spiritual leader, Mohammed, in decidedly unflattering lights.  (He’s posted them on his website here.  Judge for yourself on their merits or lack thereof.) 
Shortly thereafter, Levant was slapped with a couple of human rights complaints.  This month, he’s been testifying in front of the Alberta Human Rights Commission defending his decision and openly scorning this whole process.  Curiously, mainstream media coverage has been minimal.  This is very much an Internet-driven story.
First, let’s talk about the cartoons themselves.  With the exception of one, they are remarkably unfair, unfunny and just plain lame.  That being said, it is completely understandable why Muslims were so offended by them.  What’s not understandable is why 100 people died because of them.  Some took their anger too far which led to needless rioting, death threats and the shutting down of numerous publications who also published the cartoons.  According to this, six journalists were thrown in jail, as well.
The only real reason to publish them here was because of their inherent news value.  In order to understand what the fuss was all about, readers needed to see the cartoons with their own eyes and draw their own conclusions.  But the vast majority of North American news media took a pass, according to Wikipedia.  Michael Coren of The Toronto Sun argues that they did so out of fear.  (The Sun, itself, refused to publish them.)
Personally, I don’t envy any editor who had to face probably one of the toughest decisions of their careers regarding all of this.  It must’ve been agonizing from political, business and even personal standpoints.  But, at the same time, it was disappointing that so many media outlets here were unwilling to print even one cartoon.  How can you understand collective anger without seeing what the offended have seen?  Were it not for the Internet and those publications willing to face the heat, we’d still be in the dark about this matter.
Back to Levant.  He’s essentially turned himself into a martyr decrying violations of his rights to free speech.  But unlike those journalists from the Middle East, he hasn’t been thrown in jail for publishing those cartoons.  He hasn’t been fined, either.  (Not yet, anyway.)  Nor has he been silenced.  He’s been able to speak on the record over and over again.  On both his blog and The Western Standard site, you can see firsthand his appearances in front of a representative of The AHRC.  Setting aside one’s personal views about whether or not facing a government tribunal about controversial news business decisions is really necessary or helpful, Levant’s democratic rights haven’t been violated.  At least, not yet.  He has had an extraordinary amount of freedom defending himself in this whole matter.  He hasn’t been tortured, abused or violated in any way.  To label this whole process as an “interrogation” is such a gross exaggeration.  Levant’s situation is not even close to being the same as Maher Arar’s.  No one’s going to be beating an apology or some kind of confession out of him any time soon.
However, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald makes some compelling points about the potential dangers of Canadian human rights commissions like this one and how unusually common it is for those who espouse controversial political opinions to find themselves placed on the defensive because one person or a group didn’t approve of what they said or wrote.  Levant noted two years ago on The Western Standard Shotgun Blog that regardless of what happens, he won’t be compensated for legal bills, which is, without a doubt, deeply unfair, especially if he wins.  The plaintiffs don’t have to pay a dime.  The Commission is funded by taxpayers.
All of that being said, he’s not entirely innocent here.  He’s part of a collective group of “Christian” conservatives who have a serious problem with both Muslims and their religion.  As an example, Blogger Matthew Vadum, a Western Standard contributor, has called Muslims “the world’s poorest, most backward, most deluded communities…”.  As another, Michael Coren declared in print recently that he wouldn’t vote for an “orthodox Muslim”.  He writes, “Observant, strict Muslims possess a world view, theology and belief system that is completely contrary to mine and I do not believe that anyone with a faith worth the name could separate that religion from his or her politics. Nor should we ask anyone to do so.”  (He would rather vote for a “strict Catholic”, I’m guessing.  As The French would say, “Il est une grande douchebag.”.)  And as Warren Kinsella notes here, he’s not exactly consistent on free speech, either.
Levant is deeply hypocritical, too, for another reason.  Anti-Muslim cartoons (and rhetoric, for that matter) are perfectly ok to him but say or do anything remotely anti-Christian and he, and his like-minded colleagues, become very upset and want some kind of justice.  If you ask me, he wants the right to hate without any consequences.  You can’t call yourself a Christian if that’s the case.  Listen, I’m an atheist.  I have strong negative views about religion in general.  But I’m also a libertarian and I don’t have any problems with people who attend churches, synagogues or mosques, or who practice some kind of spiritual philosophy in private, as long as they don’t physically harm anybody else.
It all boils down to this.  Levant shouldn’t be punished for what he did in 2006 as Publisher of The Weekly Standard.  That’s what good old-fashioned criticism is for.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 19, 2008
7:12 p.m.
Published in: on January 19, 2008 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sad Decline Of The Centre Mall

There was a time when it was thriving.  An eight-screen multiplex.  Two music stores.  Two book stores.  An arcade.  Three department stores.  A couple of photo outlets.  And far too many clothing boutiques.
That was then.  Today, the situation is far different in Hamilton’s Centre Mall. 
Cineplex Odeon closed its doors in the fall of 2001 after exhibiting thousands of features over the course of five decades.  For a few years after its sad departure, the abandoned building was filled with the sounds of Bingo.  Then, it fell silent again.  The property has long since been obliterated.  It’s nothing more than a parking lot now.  The old sign that told passersby what times its movies were playing on all eight of its screens quietly removed.
Several years later, Sunrise Records mysteriously disappeared.  No big fanfare, no public announcement, nothing.  One day, it was open for business.  Then, it was gone.  Just a locked-up, empty space.  The merchandise it used to house no longer in sight.  There was no explanation for this whatsoever.  Then, just this past fall, Music World began its going out of business sale.  The homegrown music chain, which proudly celebrated its 40th Anniversary just a year earlier, was packing it in.  Everything was discounted starting in the 10 to 30% range.  By the last week of December, everything was at least half off.  It was slim pickin’s, by that point.
It originally occupied just a small space near Sears but sometime in the mid-1990s, it expanded.  Today, the red Music World sign has been removed.  The lights are off.  And it’s all locked up.  Yet another vacant spot.  Even the discount store beside it has called it quits.  The only place to buy new music is in the electronics department of Zellers.  And its selection is not terribly expansive.  Amazon.ca, it isn’t.
K-Mart’s long gone.  W.H. Smith, the book store, is absent.  Both Japan Camera and Black’s Photography have abandoned the place.  No more Hamilton Tiger Cats store, either.  You can’t buy ice cream at Baskin-Robbin’s or TCBY’s anymore.  And if you want to play the latest video games, you better have your own system at home.  There’s no more arcade for you to throw away your hard-earned quarters.  (There is an EB Games, however.)
What happened to this place?  You walk through it today and you see even more depressing evidence of a serious decline.  Everywhere you turn, stores are having "Everything Must Go" sales.  Bata, the shoe store.  Torcan’s, where I bought two Anniversary plates for my parents.  A men’s clothing outlet.  Numerous female boutiques.  Plus, there are numerous other empty spaces in various spots throughout the mall.  One wonders how many businesses are planning on sticking it out.
From what I understand, serious change is coming here.  At some point, The Centre Mall building is to be replaced with something less desirable.  Instead of keeping warm during bitterly cold winters and cooling off during those dripping hot summer days, it will be an outdoor mall.  That’s right.  When everything is ready, in order to go from store to store, you’ll need to go in and out of controlled temperatures constantly.  Not fun.  Here’s hoping that’s not what’s going to happen.  Here’s hoping that information is false.
I’ve made hundreds of trips here since my childhood.  Grocery runs, Christmas purchases, searching for that elusive CD on my mental wishlist, book and magazine buys, and on and on and on.  When I was enrolled in Mohawk College’s TV Broadcasting program, a small group of us filmed some material for a magazine-type show we were being graded on.  One segment was filmed right in front of that expanded Music World outlet.  (They wouldn’t let us shoot inside the store.)  I was Mo The Hawk, the college mascot, during a December Christmas promotion.  Soap star Jeanne Cooper (The Young And The Restless) made a public appearance.  Before my parents bought me a fax machine (which died a couple of years ago), I used to go to Battery Plus to do my faxing.  (It’s long gone, too.)
Whatever the fate of this place (Will that huge pile of dirt behind The Barn eventually turn into a Wal-Mart?  Will that infuriating wall by EB ever come down?), the old Centre Mall is in its death spiral.  Only time will tell whether its replacement will be an improvement or a huge disappointment.  From what I know, it’s hard to be optimistic.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 18, 2008
11:53 p.m.
UPDATE:  The Hamilton Spectator has two revealing articles about the future of The Centre Mall here and here.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 19, 2008
10:54 p.m.
Published in: on January 18, 2008 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just My Luck

Beyond her beauty, can anyone explain the appeal of Lindsay Lohan?  That question has to be asked after seeing Just My Luck.  Released in the spring of 2006, it is, in a word, horrendous.  An alleged romantic comedy overindulging on fanciful flights of stupidity, it stars Lohan as the luckiest woman in the world.  She gets great discounts on hard-to-find dresses, she always wins money on scratch tickets (she finds more money literally at her feet), she has no problem landing dates with eligible bachelors or getting a cab right away and she works in public relations.  Basically, she can do no wrong.
That all changes when she kisses Chris Pine, the unluckiest guy in the world.  Prior to the pivotal smooch, he works a dead-end job at a bowling alley while looking like he walked off the set of Revenge Of The Nerds, if it were cast with Abercrombie & Fitch models.  He’s discovered this band, McFly, who have one ok song and not much else, who play gigs there.  Not certain is whether he’s an actual A&R guy (talent scout, maybe?) or an overly ambitious janitor.  Nevertheless, he’s desperately trying to get the attention of Faizon Love (think an unscary Suge Knight), a major music player always on the hunt for new talent.  The guy is so rich he scoops up dog shit with paper money.
Thanks to a quick succession of some completely preposterous moments, Lohan finds herself alone in a meeting with Love and she sells him on the idea of doing a masquerade ball/benefit for reasons that ultimately don’t matter.  (Translation:  I don’t remember.)  Immediately afterwards, her boss (Missi Pyle) informs her that they’re on a first-name basis.  As if.
This is one absurd event, this masquerade thing.  Ceiling dancers in sheets, anyone?  How about waiters on stilts?  At any event, Pine and Lohan somehow find themselves dancing together and, wouldn’t you know it, those crazy kids just have to make out right there on the dance floor without even so much as a proper introduction.  He’s wearing a mask so she has no clue what he looks like.  (How convenient.)  Come to think of it, where the hell is her mask?
Anyway, the minute the script tells them to swap mouth fluids for five seconds, everything is reversed.  Lohan becomes exceedingly and, it must be said, ridiculously unlucky and Pine inherits her incredible fortune.  While she watches her boss get arrested for making it with a male prostitute (didn’t stupid Lindsay realize why that guy is always so busy?) and ends up getting arrested herself, Pine throws himself in front of a car to spare the life of Love who, in a particularly gracious mood, is willing to hear the McFly demo CD Pine has handed him.  Lohan soon finds herself unemployed and without an apartment (it mysteriously floods).  She ends up moving in with her two beautiful co-workers (Samaire Armstrong and Bree Turner who both deserve better).
It goes without saying that McFly get signed, Pine gets a much ritzier apartment and for some strange reason, he stops wearing those glasses.  (Did I miss something or did he have laser eye surgery without me knowing?)
Lohan figures out what’s happened to her and decides to track him down, kissing a whole bunch of stunned but appreciative guys along the way.  (Pine snuck into the masquerade ball as a dancer (no, he wasn’t in a sheet) which is why she’s making out with all of them.)  After causing an embarrassing scene in a local restaurant, she’s saved by Pine who offers her his old bowling job.  They start hanging out and inevitably…well, you know.
Enough already.  This movie isn’t funny.  Nor is it romantic, intelligent, or interesting.  The characters aren’t believable and neither are the plot twists.  Simply put, it’s a complete waste of time.  And what’s the deal with the McFly plotline?  They must have one hell of an agent to get so much undeserved screen time in this mess.  I guess making a TV infomercial was too high brow.  Having heard their music, they are definitely not the hottest band in New York and need all the help they can get.  Too bland and unexciting.  Interpol, they’re not.
Which brings us back to Miss Lohan.  Honestly, she’s not very good here.  Was I supposed to hate her when things are always going great for her?  Was I supposed to feel sorry for her when her lottery hot streak suddenly stops?  I mean, please.  Her pitiful acting gives no indication, either way.  This nonsense is even worse than Herbie: Fully Loaded.  Talk about failing on practically every level.
10 years ago, the great Black Grape had an album out called Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.  It’s a perfectly succinct way of describing Just My Luck.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 11, 2008
2:46 a.m.
Published in: on January 11, 2008 at 2:46 am  Comments (1)  

Unsolved Mysteries Of Seinfeld

1. Who is Elaine’s mother and how come we never meet her?
2. What happened to the musician who took the old lady’s apartment above Jerry?
3. What’s Newman’s first name?
4. What happened to Kramer’s dog?
5. Why wouldn’t Jerry’s date, Poppy’s daughter, eat the apple pie?
6. Why doesn’t Poppy wash his hands before preparing meals in his restaurant?  
7. Why is “Del Boca Vista” so hard for Jerry Stiller to say?
8. Who is Kramer’s father and how come we never meet him?  Did he die?  If so, how?
9. What were Jerry and Elaine fighting about and why did it lead to their initial break-up?
10. How, when and why did they break up a second time?
11. How did Kramer transform himself from a bathrobe-wearing shut-in to an outgoing playboy?
12. Why wasn’t Kramer in that Chinese Restaurant with Jerry, Elaine and George when he wasn’t strictly a homebody at that point?
13. Why did George cheat in The Contest?
14. Why did Kramer stop knocking on Jerry’s door before entering?
15. How come Jerry’s door isn’t always locked?
16. Why did Elaine’s parents split up?
17. How come George can smoke a cigar but can’t handle a cigarette?
18. Why did the number on Jerry’s apartment change 3 times?
19. How did Paquita, the busboy’s cat, escape his apartment without being seen or making a sound?
20. How come we never meet Jerry’s sister and why is she never mentioned more than once?
21. How was Poppy able to leave such a huge pee stain on Jerry’s couch cushion while sitting in that position and wearing, presumably, two layers of clothing?
22. Why was Jerry having second thoughts about Elaine moving into his building (and therefore eliminating his “buffer zone”) when she’s in his apartment in practically every episode already?  What difference would it make?  She’s always there! 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
3:19 a.m.
23. An astute commenter has pointed out another unsolved mystery.  George, indeed, mentions a brother in the third season episode, The Suicide.  Also, he mentions him again in The Parking Space.  So, who is George’s brother and how come we never meet him?
24. In another third season episode, The Fix-Up, there’s a scene where Cynthia and Elaine are talking about George.  If you look closely at the refrigerator, you’ll notice black fingerprints.  How did they get there and who do they belong to?
25. Why do Newman and Jerry hate each other?
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, March 17, 2008
8:00 p.m.
Published in: on January 9, 2008 at 3:19 am  Comments (13)  

More Interesting Things I Learned Watching The First Seinfeld DVD Box Set

21. Kramer enters Jerry’s apartment nine times in the first season.
22. One of Jerry’s longtime managers is George Shapiro who used to also represent the late Andy Kaufman.  Danny DeVito played Shapiro in Man On The Moon.
23. In the early years, there was an idea to turn Kramer into a millionaire.  Had it been used, it would’ve explained how he was able to live comfortably without having a steady job.
24. Tracy Kolis landed the role of southern bombshell Marlene in the season two opener, “The Ex-Girlfriend”.  Other aspiring actresses who tried out for the part included Jeri Ryan, who became a sex symbol on Star Trek: Voyager, and Amy Yasbeck.  Speaking of Yasbeck, she played John Ritter’s wife in Problem Child (Michael Richards played the villain, The Bow-Tie Killer, in that film) and Jason Alexander’s spouse in Pretty Woman.  Heidi Swedberg also auditioned for Marlene.  She eventually went on to play George’s doomed fiance, Susan.
25. Julia Louis-Dreyfus wanted Mary Tyler Moore to play Elaine’s mother.
26. In “The Ex-Girlfriend”, after he breaks up with Marlene, George tells Jerry that he left some books in her apartment that he’d like to have back.  Fearing he’ll be seduced again and unwittingly get back together with her, he asks Jerry to retrieve them on his behalf.  A quick shot of the stack of five books can be seen during the scene where Jerry and Marlene are talking in a booth at Monk’s.  Only the top three titles are known.  They are Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?, Staying Well With The Gentle Art Of Verbal Self-Defense, and I’m OK – You’re OK.
27. Even though he’s a Mets fan, a Yankees cap can be seen on a high shelf on Jerry’s bookcase against the wall by the bathroom door.
28. Elaine was originally supposed to be an eye doctor.
29. Larry Charles was a stand-up comedian before he became a TV writer.  He worked with Larry David and Michael Richards on Fridays.  He joined the writing staff of Seinfeld in its second season.  The reason he wasn’t there from the start?  He was writing for Arsenio Hall’s late night show.
30. The year he started playing George, Jason Alexander won a Tony Award for his work in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.
31. Every sitcom character Dreyfus has played so far has either had a first name beginning and/or ending with the letter “e”.  She was Elaine on Seinfeld, she was the title character on Watching Ellie, on Day By Day, she played a character named Eileen and she’s the protagonist on The New Adventures Of Old Christine.
32. Ryan Stiles auditioned for the role of the salesman looking after Jerry in “The Jacket”.  He’s best known for his improv work on both versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and for playing Drew Carey’s buddy, Lewis, on The Drew Carey Show.
33. There’s a Three Stooges calendar hanging on the wall next to Jerry’s kitchen.
34. In “The Busboy”, George bemoans eating yet another plate of Pesto.  Originally, that particular food was supposed to be Elaine’s “sworn enemy”.
35. The fired busboy’s cat, Pequita, is named after an alcoholic beverage that contains “orange juice, key lime juice, tequila and grenadine syrup”.
36. George says his first “baby” during a key scene in “The Baby Shower”.  He’s practising what he plans to say to a now-married, very pregnant ex-performance artist, who didn’t treat him very well during their one and only date a few years earlier.  Speaking of that character, she was based on Karen Finley, who some may remember as a frequent guest on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect program.  The actress who played her would play another snooty character, this one a saleswoman with a weird accent, in the season five episode, “The Pie”.
37. Kramer’s first name was originally supposed to be Konrad and it was going to be revealed as such in “The Phone Message”.  According to Larry Charles, Larry David came up with Cosmo instead which was revealed in the sixth season. 
38. Larry Charles is surprised that the phrase “jerk off” wasn’t cut from “The Heart Attack”.  It’s what George says to Jerry after he pressed a pillow over his face in his hospital room.
39. Jane Leeves auditioned for Rava, the chain-smoking Finnish novelist, in “The Statue”.  While she’s best known for playing Daphne Moon on Frasier, she’s also famous for playing Marla, the virgin Jerry hires to re-design his closet, in a number of episodes in the fourth season.
40. There’s a Seinfeld episode that was never filmed.  Entitled “The Bet”, it had two relevant storylines.  In one, Jerry bets Elaine on the matter of whether or not she’ll buy a gun for protection.  (She ends up buying a toy gun hoping to fool him.)  In the other, Kramer returns from a vacation in Puerto Rico.  He claims he had sex with a stewardess on the flight back home.  Jerry believes it, George doesn’t, hence their friendly wager.  The episode was never made because of collective worries regarding the gun plot.
41. In “The Stranded”, there are two references to “The Jacket”.  (These are called “callbacks”, by the way.)  First, when Elaine informs a stranger at a party that she works for Pendant Publishing, Jerry walks by and says, “Pendant?  Those bastards!”.  That line was spoken by Elaine’s father who had the same reaction about her place of business.  Then, in a later scene in Jerry’s apartment, Kramer tells Michael Chiklis about the time he convinced Elaine to wait for him while he picked up a cage full of birds from a magician.  It’s done so subtly you might not catch it the first time.
42. Speaking of “The Stranded”, although it was filmed during the second season (and appears on the first DVD box set), it actually aired during the third season.  Causing even more confusion, George is still employed as a real estate agent.  In “The Revenge”, which aired well before “The Stranded”, he quits his job in disgust over his boss’ memo regarding a ban on using his private bathroom.  An introduction by Jerry Seinfeld was produced (and aired exactly once) to let the audience know why George is mysteriously still employed in “The Stranded”.
43. Elaine’s famous catchprase “Get out!” made its debut in “The Apartment”.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus does that shove in real life.  The moment was not in the original script.
(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada 
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
3:02 a.m.
Published in: on January 9, 2008 at 3:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Interesting Things I Learned Watching The First Seinfeld DVD Box Set

1. There really is a Bob Saccamanno.  In the show, he’s Kramer’s friend.  In real life, he was writer Larry Charles’ buddy.  According to Charles, they had a falling out before the show became a massive hit.

2. There are two versions of the pilot.  The first one aired in prime time on July 5, 1989.  The second, exactly a year later.  The contents of both shows are exactly the same with two notable differences.  The original program was called The Seinfeld Chronicles and featured unrecognizable theme music.  The repeat changed the title to Seinfeld, as well as the look of the opening credits, and series composer Jonathan Wolff’s memorable theme replaced the original score.

3. In “The Robbery”, episode four of the first season, Jerry talks to a police officer about his missing stuff from his apartment.  The role of the cop was played by Bradford English who beat out Rick Rockwell for the role.  Over a decade later, Rockwell was the creepy “rich” bachelor who asked Darva Conger to marry him on the infamous Fox show, Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire?

4. Doris Roberts, who played Ray Romano’s interfering mother on Everybody Loves Raymond, was considered for the role of Jerry’s mother.

5. Tony Shalhoub tried out for the role of Kramer.  Many years later, Michael Richards was initially considered for the title role on Monk, a comedic crime series about a former San Francisco detective shattered by the unsolved murder of his newspaper reporter wife and who suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Richards would pass and Shalhoub would take his place.  Richards won three Emmys for playing Kramer and Shalhoub has so far won three of his own for playing Adrian Monk.

6. Three of the four remaining episodes of the first season were aired out of order.  Originally, “The Stake Out” aired second, followed by “The Robbery” and then, “Male Unbonding”.  This was done because Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character, Elaine, had a more prominent role in “The Stakeout”.  She only appears in one scene in “Male Unbonding”.  The DVD box set restores the proper order with “Male Unbonding” second, “The Stake Out” third and “The Robbery” fourth.

7. It took three auditions for Richards to land the role of Kramer.  Then-NBC President, the late Brandon Tartikoff, was in attendance for the last one.

8. Jason Alexander initially auditioned by videotape for the George Costanza role.  He did a Woody Allen impression not realizing that the character was based on co-creator Larry David.  Incidentally, David had small roles in two of Allen’s films, New York Stories and Radio Days.

9. In “The Seinfeld Chronicles”, the pilot episode, when George is informed that he’s been drinking regular coffee instead of decaf, Jerry is really laughing at his reaction.

10. Kevin Dunn, who played Jerry’s “self-involved”, obnoxious friend in “Male Unbonding”, is the brother of Saturday Night Live alumnus, Nora Dunn.  He originally auditioned for George.

11. Any time Kramer espouses “anti-authority” views, that’s the work of Larry Charles who happens to believe in those “alternate truths”.

12. The original idea for Seinfeld was a 90-minute special with one camera following Jerry around so the audience could see how he developed material for his stand-up act.  Jerry thought it was too long to be consistently funny so a 22-minute pilot was made instead.  Also, for the first three seasons, every show was a three-camera shoot.  From the fourth season on, it was a four-camera shoot.

13. Lawrence Tierney was cast as Elaine’s dad, a gruff Korean vet turned best-selling author.  He only appeared in one episode, season two’s “The Jacket”, because he scared the living shit out of everybody, except Jerry.  Jason Alexander tells a story on the DVD about the time a knife went missing from Jerry’s apartment set.  Everybody knew who stole it but only Jerry was brave enough to confront Tierney about it.  Caught red-handed, he told Jerry he was just going to play a practical joke pretending to be in the process of stabbing someone.  Larry David later quipped to director Tom Cherones, on more than one occasion, that he would bring Tierney back if he gave him any trouble.  Tierney is best known to modern audiences as the guy who gives the robbers in Reservoir Dogs all their colorful names (Mr. Brown, Mr. Pink, etc.).  He died in 2002.

14. Larry David worked with Jerry on the New York comedy club circuit in the 1970s.  He was recruited by ABC for their SNL knock-off, Fridays, where he worked with Michael Richards.  In the mid-80s, he was hired as a writer on SNL where he met Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  Jason Alexander was the only regular cast member he had never met before.  In fact, perhaps because of that very reason, he didn’t think he was right for George.  He has since revised that opinion.

15. The Seinfeld Chronicles eventually had to be changed to Seinfeld in order to avoid confusion with another show that was airing at the same time.  The Marshall Chronicles only lasted six episodes.

16. There was no bedroom set for Jerry’s apartment until the second season.  That’s why his bed is in his front room for one scene in “The Stake Out”.

17. We didn’t know Elaine was a book editor until season two, either.

18. Only one consistent element of Kramer’s character remained beyond the pilot.  His constant appearances in Jerry’s apartment, usually for the purpose of mooching.  His dog would mysteriously disappear, he would cease being an agoraphobic shut-in, his Reverend Jim mannerisms were dropped and his hairstyle would dramatically change.

19. In “The Robbery”, Jerry loses such items as his computer, his stereo and his TV.  The robbers must not have been paying attention because they forgot to steal the remote to his set and the cables to his stereo.  He never does get the items back.

20. On disc one of the box set, there are two errors in the Notes About Seinfeld feature.  In “Male Unbonding”, Andy Kaufman’s surname is misspelled with two “f”s.  Twice.  In a note displayed during “The Stake Out”, it is falsely claimed that John Cougar Mellencamp dropped the “Cougar” from his name in the mid-1980s.  He actually dropped it for his 1991 album, Whenever We Wanted.

(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 6, 2008
12:57 p.m.

CORRECTION:  The third line of number 18, which deals with Kramer, originally began with “He would never wear a bathrobe again…”.  Wrong.  The K-man does wear one beyond the first season, just not consistently.  My belated apologies for this mistake.  That original opening has now been dropped.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
3:08 a.m

Published in: on January 6, 2008 at 12:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Want What I Can’t Have

Friendship’s not enough
It doesn’t erase the past
Some days are really tough
These feelings aren’t fading fast
But there’s too much disagreement
We can’t return
It’ll end up in disappointment
And we’ll both get burned
So the frustration builds
Refusing to cease
How it would be so much better
To find some kind of release
She’s not going anywhere
She still wants to talk
But our feelings haven’t changed
Not exactly a shock
Try as we do
To deny what we feel
We’ve yet to understand
What it means to fully heal
The anger’s subsided
But the regrets remain
If only we met in person
We had everything to gain
But it could’ve gone wrong
The evidence clearly shown
How to accept reality
The answer is unknown
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 4, 2008
2:18 p.m.
Published in: on January 4, 2008 at 2:19 pm  Leave a Comment