IN MEMORIAM: Vince Flynn (1966 – 2013)

Vince with a Fan During the ‘American Assassin’ Book Tour (2010)

There are few celebrities that I ever get upset about when I hear that they have passed. Jimmy Stewart was one, but, of course, that was to be expected due to his advanced age. Michael Jackson was probably the biggest shock to me and my generation, however, when I heard about the loss of Vince Flynn this morning, I was devastated.

This is the first time I have ever experienced the loss of a favorite author and there is something profoundly different about the emotional connection that we have as human beings with the written word and no one could spin a better yarn of suspense than Vince. Today’s news came as a huge shock and the sense of loss has been a bit more overwhelming than I would have expected for a man I never met, almost as if I had lost a friend. When you think about it, you really truly do get to know someone intimately by their writing and unlike Tom Clancy (who Vince was often compared to), Vince wrote characters, first, and it’s in the characters that we find a greater insight into ourselves.

Vince announced to his fans (us) before anyone via his email newsletter in 2010 that he had stage three metastatic prostate cancer but vowed to fight it and as far as we or anyone else knew, he was winning the battle. That being said, Vince was also a very private man and no one but his closest friends and family knew the extent of the progression of his illness.

Vince Flynn was 47 years-old and leaves behind a loving wife and three children who were with him at the time of his death.

Vince’s biography from his website:

The fifth of seven children, Vince Flynn was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1966. He graduated from the St. Thomas Academy in 1984, and the University of St. Thomas with a degree in economics in 1988. 

After college he went to work for Kraft General Foods where he was an account and sales marketing specialist. 

In 1990 he left Kraft to accept an aviation candidate slot with the United States Marine Corps. One week before leaving for Officers Candidate School, he was medically disqualified from the Marine Aviation Program, due to several concussions and convulsive seizures he suffered growing up. While trying to obtain a medical waiver for his condition, he started thinking about writing a book. This was a very unusual choice for Flynn since he had been diagnosed with dyslexia in grade school and had struggled with reading and writing all his life. 

Having been stymied by the Marine Corps, Flynn returned to the nine-to-five grind and took a job with United Properties, a commercial real estate company in the Twin Cities. During his spare time he worked on an idea he had for a book. After two years with United Properties he decided to take a big gamble. He quit his job, moved to Colorado, and began working full time on what would eventually become Term Limits

Like many struggling artists before him, he bartended at night and wrote during the day. Five years and more than sixty rejection letters later he took the unusual step of self-publishing his first novel. The book went to number one in the Twin Cities, and within a week had a new agent and two-book deal with Pocket Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. 

Term Limits hit the New York Times bestseller list in paperback and started a trend for all of Flynn’s novels. Since then, his books have become perennial bestsellers in both paperback and hardcover, and he has become known for his research and prescient warnings about the rise of Islamic Radical Fundamentalism and terrorism. Read by current and former presidents, foreign heads of state, and intelligence professionals around the world, Flynn’s novels are taken so seriously one high-ranking CIA official told his people, “I want you to read Flynn’s books and start thinking about how we can more effectively wage this war on terror.” 

October 2007 marked another milestone in Flynn’s career when his ninth political thriller, Protect and Defend, became a #1 New York Times bestseller. A few months later, CBS Films optioned the rights for Flynn’s Mitch Rapp character with the intention of creating a character-based, action-thriller movie franchise. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who previously launched the Harry Potter and Matrix films as head of production at Warner Bros., and Nick Wechsler (We Own the Night, Reservation Road) will produce the films. Filming on the first film is set to begin in the fall of 2013. Bruce Willis has already signed on to act in the project. 

American Assassin and Kill Shot, published in October 2010 and February 2012 respectively, are prequels in the Mitch Rapp saga and both reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. 

His most recent publication, The Last Man, published in October 2012, was also a #1 New York Times bestseller. 

Works by Flynn include American Assassin, Kill Shot, Transfer of Power, The Third Option, Separation of Power, Executive Power, Memorial Day, Consent to Kill, Act of Treason, Extreme Measures, Pursuit of Honor, The Last Man and Term Limits (not part of the Mitch Rapp series). 

Influences: Ernest Hemingway, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, J.R.R. Tolkien, Gore Vidal, and John Irving.

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ – Do Star Trek Fans Want Star Trek To Be Unsuccessful and Unpopular?

stidIn the wake of my review recently, I had a lot of great responses both here and on Facebook from fans and non-fans alike.  It appears that the piece opened up a good dialogue about the subject of Trek-fandom and their disdain for the Abramsverse.  What I found out, and I really kind of knew this, is that there is a segment of the fandom that really didn’t like the first film for all of the goofiness and, well, f*cking with the established history of the franchise, but don’t necessarily hate the film or the Abramsverse.  They’re skeptical of the new film, but they aren’t the butt-hurt, hater crowd. I just want to make clear that my criticism of the negative attitude by a certain segment of the fanbase is by no means a criticism overall of fans who are skeptical and have issues with a lot of the goofy shit present in both of the Abrams films. After all, there’s seriously a lot of goofy shit in both of these films (more blatantly in the first) and I wouldn’t expect fans to not take issue with them or to dismiss them out-of-hand.

This... is a BIG "no-no"

This… is a BIG “no-no”

I recently noted that that it had just dawned on me that the aft-end of the nacelles (engines) on the Enterprise in Star Trek (2009) glowed (and glowed brighter when the engines were “revving up”) and how as a Trek fan that annoyed the piss out of me because Roddenberry was insistent on the fact that the propulsion methods should not bare any resemblance to contemporary methods of propulsion, i.e., nothing coming out of the tailpipe. This is why the end-caps went from having all of those little round vents on them in the first pilot to just being those round globes during production.

That’s an important detail that the producers just ignored. To make matters worse, what did they do with the engines this time? F*cking CONTRAILS

ron moore bsgThen something very unexpected occurred: I realized those contrails looked bad-ass. Yes, they are in complete contradiction with everything I know about the franchise, but eff me if they don’t look wicked awesome and if I think that (considering I hate the concept in general) you damned-well know that the non-Trek fan in the audience thinks so, too. And that’s kind of where I think a lot of us fans stand. There’s a bit of self-loathing going on and guilt, here. “I shouldn’t like this but I do,” and that’s what kind of made me realize that you have to take these films in from the objective perspective of someone who’s just being introduced to the franchise… or just likes kickass action films. The foundation for the principles of the franchise are certainly there even of they eff up some of (or a lot of) the details of the minutiae but, on that note, Ron D. Moore does make a very good point that it is that minutiae that has contributed to making the franchise inaccessible to new audiences.

What I think has made it difficult for the fanbase in general to not be skeptical was the shock over the destruction of Vulcan in the first film. That hit me like a ton of bricks because of how integral Vulcan is to the mythology and because there wasn’t even any setup to get us prepared for it. It was like, “Pew, pew, pew… BOOM… Vulcan’s gone.”

"And of course, our intention is to completely ass-rape the entire franchise..."

“And of course, our intention is to completely ass-rape the entire franchise…”

That being said, having issues with the goofy shit is normal. Being cautious is normal, but I have to tell you that there really is a certain segment of the fandom that has hated this new vision of Trek since the Vegas Trek Convention of 2008 when Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy were on stage on the last day discussing it and warning the fans that it’s going to be different but they’re going to like it.  This carried on through December of 2008 when more and more details were starting to come out and the chorus of hate was reaching a fever-pitch… even though they had not seen a single frame of the film. That just seemed absurd to me and it especially seems absurd when I see the irrational hate spewed at this new film by the fans who hate it for the sake of hating it at this point. I get skepticism as a reaction to the first film, but the “haters” have the exact same complaints about this film that they did the first one (or they’re just contriving false criticism about the plot) and I don’t even know how one could rationally come to that considering how much better EVERYTHING is about the new film and how it actually felt like Star Trek.


Lens flares… seriously? Spock and Uhura having a relationship? It’s not Star Trek, it’s Star Wars? C’mon… seriously?

They have spoken... and they do not approve.

They have spoken… and they do not approve.

I’ve come to a conclusion about this irrational hatred toward the Abramsverse and I’m not saying that my conclusion is right or wrong, but it is something to consider. I have a feeling that this segment of the fanbase doesn’t want Star Trek to be popular. Whether they realize it or not, their issues have nothing to do with the quantifiable changes to the franchise, just the idea of change itself.  Allow me to explain.

Star Trek, for better or worse, has a justly earned reputation for having a strong appeal for kids who were, shall we say, less than popular. A lot of these kids felt excluded by the more popular and athletic kids because they were different. These “nerdy kids” were smarter, they were more intuitive, they were more curious, they were more creative and they were also socially awkward and they were non-conformists. There’s nothing worse than being a non-conformist during elementary and high school.

Future Scientists? Perhaps. Future All-American Athletes and Prom Kings? Not so much…

Then they found Star Trek which provided an outlet for their personalities and interests as well as an escape but more importantly they found a community of other like-minded folks to belong to, and that’s very important for all human beings. Star Trek is theirs and theirs alone and I can tell you from my own personal experience, the Trek fandom that was excluded socially easily transitioned to becoming the excluders when they found their niche.

I wasn’t always a Star Trek fan, I became one in 1997 because of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. When I was growing up, I was a casual viewer. I would watch Star Trek and then Star Trek: The Next Generation when it happened to be on but I wasn’t ever scheduling time to watch the franchise. I enjoyed it but my life certainly didn’t revolve around it. I was 18 when Star Trek: Generations came out and I was at a friend’s house on opening night and some of his friends had come over who had just seen the new film. Even if you weren’t a Trek fan, you knew that the big deal in that film was the “rumor” of the death of Kirk. When I casually asked one of these guys whether or not Kirk was killed, I was given a response something along the lines of, “Yeah, but it’s complicated… the Nexus, blah, blah, blah…” with eye-rolling and dismissive short responses pretty much implying, “You’re not a Trek fan, you wouldn’t understand and I’m not explaining it you.” To sum it up, instead of embracing my interest in Trek, they basically rejected me from their clique the same way they had been rejected socially… which was a mistake because I was good at getting girls and booze… which they weren’t good at.

"That bastard Abrams even brought his f*cking Stormtroopers with him to MY Convention! Where is he?!"

“That bastard Abrams even brought his f*cking Stormtroopers with him to MY Convention! Where is he?!”

And this is kind of the attitude that I’m reminded of and I’m seeing, now. These same people who bitched (and still do) relentlessly about what producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga did to the franchise in the mid-to-late 90’s and into the 00’s want to see Trek in 2013 go back to those days. Not because it was better, but because it was their exclusive domain. They may hate Rick Berman (which is something that Berman alludes to on the Star Trek: Enterprise Season One Blu-ray Special Features and seems very taken back and upset by even to this day about)  for being “the sonofabitch who ruined the franchise” (a sentiment that I believe is unfair, in general… there were many factors involved) but he’s their sonofabitch.

Oh, that's EASY!  What's wring with the picture is that a pretty girl who's not castmember is wearing a Starfleet uniform.

Oh, that’s EASY! What’s wrong with the picture is that a pretty girl who’s not a castmember is wearing a Starfleet uniform.

Trek is their club and it shall not be interfered with by that Star Wars lover and non-fan J.J. Abrams and the legions of other non-fans that now like it.  As I noted, my wife liked the first film and her interest in Star Trek is so beyond limited that when it’s on, she stares at the screen like one of those magic eye pictures waiting for the sailboat to appear and the last thing a Trek fan wants is for pretty women to like it (despite the fact that if they cleaned off the coke-bottle glasses off and opened their flippin’ eyes they’d notice that there are plenty of hot Star Trek fans right at their damned conventions).  They want Trek to be just popular enough that it only gets other Star Trek fans involved.

trek warsWell, unfortunately for them, this is an absurd goal because as I pointed out in the review, there simply aren’t anywhere close to being enough of us to support the franchise and keep it successful. Trek has to make its tent bigger in order to survive and if that means tearing down a lot of the established aspects of the franchise and introducing more ‘splosions and action, well that’s just a reality that has to be accepted or we’ll lose Trek forever.  Sorry, but the best thing for Trek to be successful is that it has to get fans of Star Wars (which is pretty much everyone) to watch it.  Historically, it has been rare to find Star Trek fans that weren’t also fans of Star Wars.  On the other hand, however, it was rarer yet to find Star Wars fans who were also fans of Star Trek.  There’s a reason why that has held true until recently and it comes down to accessibility.

star-trek-warsAt its core, the principles and concepts of Trek have been able to find mass-appeal for more than 46 years regardless of race, creed, age, income level, educational level, sexual orientation… whatever. The issues the franchise has had to overcome have been in regards to execution in production, not theory or principles.  And that’s really, at this point, what the major changes have been about; how Trek goes about telling its stories and from my perspective, if telling Trek’s stories in a manner that appeals to all audiences requires an execution more like that of Star Wars and less like that of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, that’s what needs to be done and it should be embraced by all of us… provided that the finished product isn’t total shit.

Kirk Demotivator

OBITUARY: Preeminent Film Critic Roger Ebert Dies At Age 70

After a long bout with cancer that returned in December, iconic Chicago Sun-Times film critic, Roger Ebert, has passed away.  I’m not going to say a lot about this, I’m simply going to re-post the piece that the Sun-Times did on him, but what I will say is that I personally, from a professional standpoint, wasn’t a fan Ebert’s review process.  I found his standards for criticism to be incredibly inconsistent from film to film and when he gave Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith three and half stars, I officially started taking his reviews with a grain of salt.  It was one of those deals where I respected him but he wasn’t my go-to for judging the merits of a film.

That being said, there’s no one more iconic in the world of film criticism than Roger Ebert was with his ability (together with his cross-town rival and friend, the late Gene Siskel) to criticize films in a non-pretentious way (something that The Hollywood Reporter or the New York Times might want to try) in a manner that made understanding the intricacies of modern cinema accessible to the average film-goer, much like I and many other web-based critics do today.  Ebert was literally the world’s first citizen-critic; a blogger before the Internet was even a glint in anyone’s eye.

From a nostalgic perspective, as a kid growing up in the 1980s, I looked forward to he and Gene on At The Movies and then later on Siskel & Ebert & The Movies and the weekly discussions the two would have about the latest films hitting the theaters.  And, yes, they were discussions, not arguments, not mean-spirited verbal sparring, just discussions between two friends who both shared the same level of passion for cinema… even if they didn’t always agree.

And the best part was that all of us got to join in on the fun.

Goodbye, Roger and God bless.  You will be greatly missed.

From The Chicago Sun-Times:

Roger Ebert dead at 70 after battle with cancer

BY NEIL STEINBERG nsteinberg@suntimes.com April 4, 2013 2:32PM

ebertUpdated: April 4, 2013 9:17PM

Roger Ebert loved movies.

Except for those he hated.

For a film with a daring director, a talented cast, a captivating plot or, ideally, all three, there could be no better advocate than Roger Ebert, who passionately celebrated and promoted excellence in film while deflating the awful, the derivative, or the merely mediocre with an observant eye, a sharp wit and a depth of knowledge that delighted his millions of readers and viewers.

“No good film is too long,” he once wrote, a sentiment he felt strongly enough about to have engraved on pens. “No bad movie is short enough.”

Ebert, 70, who reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31 years, and who was without question the nation’s most prominent and influential film critic, died Thursday in Chicago.

“We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away,” said his wife, Chaz Ebert. “No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.”

He had been in poor health over the past decade, battling cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland.

He lost part of his lower jaw in 2006, and with it the ability to speak or eat, a calamity that would have driven other men from the public eye. But Ebert refused to hide, instead forging what became a new chapter in his career, an extraordinary chronicle of his devastating illness that won him a new generation of admirers. “No point in denying it,” he wrote, analyzing his medical struggles with characteristic courage, candor and wit, a view that was never tinged with bitterness or self-pity.

On Tuesday, Ebert blogged that he had suffered a recurrence of cancer following a hip fracture suffered in December, and would be taking “a leave of presence.” In the blog essay, marking his 46th anniversary of becoming the Sun-Times film critic, Ebert wrote “I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers hand-picked and greatly admired by me.”

Always technically savvy — he was an early investor in Google — Ebert let the Internet be his voice. His rogerebert.com had millions of fans, and he received a special achievement award as the 2010 “Person of the Year” from the Webby Awards, which noted that “his online journal has raised the bar for the level of poignancy, thoughtfulness and critique one can achieve on the Web.” His Twitter feed had more than 840,000 followers.

Ebert was both widely popular and professionally respected. He not only won a Pulitzer Prize — the first film critic to do so — but his name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, among the movie stars he wrote about so well for so long. His reviews were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers worldwide.

The same year Ebert won the Pulitzer — 1975 — he also launched a new kind of television program: “Opening Soon at a Theater Near You” with Chicago Tribune movie critic Gene Siskel on WTTW-Ch. 11. At first it ran monthly.

The combination worked. The trim, balding Siskel perfectly balanced the bespectacled, portly Ebert. In 1977, the show, retitled “Sneak Previews,” moved to PBS for national distribution, and the duo was on its way to becoming a fixture in American culture.

“Tall and thin, short and fat. Laurel and Hardy,” Ebert once wrote. “We were parodied on ‘SNL’ and by Bob Hope and Danny Thomas and, the ultimate honor, in the pages of Mad magazine.”

His colleagues admired him as a workhorse. Ebert reviewed as many as 306 movies a year, after he grew ill scheduling his cancer surgeries around the release of important pictures. He eagerly contributed to other sections of the paper — interviews with and obituaries of movie stars, even political columns on issues he cared strongly about on the editorial pages.

In 1997, dissatisfied with spending his critical powers “locked in the present,” he began a running a feature revisiting classic movies and eventually published three books on “The Great Movies” (and two books on movies he hated). A second column, his “Movie Answer Man” allowed readers to learn about intriguing details of cinema that only a Roger Ebert knew or could ferret out.

That, too, became a book. Ebert wrote more books than any TV personality since Steve Allen — 17 in all. Not only collections of reviews, both good and bad, and critiques of great movies, but humorous glossaries and even a novel, “Behind the Phantom’s Mask,” that was serialized in the Sun-Times. He even wrote a book about rice cookers, “The Pot and How to Use It,” despite the fact that he could no longer eat. In 2011 his autobiography, “Life Itself,” won rave reviews. “This is the best thing Mr. Ebert has ever written,” Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times. It is, fittingly enough, being made into a documentary, produced by his longtime friend, Martin Scorsese.

Roger Joseph Ebert was born in Urbana on June 18, 1942, the son of Walter and Annabel Ebert. His father was an electrician at the University of Illinois, his mother, a bookkeeper. It was a liberal household — Ebert remembers his parents praying for the success of Harry Truman in the election of 1948. As a child, he published a mimeographed neighborhood newspaper and a stamp collectors’ newspaper in elementary school.

In high school, he was, as he later wrote, “demented in [his] zeal for school activities,” joining the swim team, acting in plays, founding the Science Fiction Club, co-hosting Urbana High School’s Saturday morning radio program, co-editing the newspaper, being elected senior class president.

He began his professional writing career at 15, as a sportswriter covering the high school beat for the News-Gazette in Champaign-Urbana.

Ebert went on to the University of Illinois, where he published a weekly journal of politics and opinion as a freshman and served as editor of the Daily Illini his senior year. He graduated in 1964, and studied in South Africa on a Rotary Scholarship.

While still in Urbana, he began free-lancing for the Sun-Times and the Chicago Daily News.

He was accepted at the University of Chicago, where he planned to earn his doctorate in English (an avid reader, Ebert later used literary authors to help explain films — for example, quoting e.e. cummings several times in his review of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking “2001: A Space Odyssey.”)

But Ebert had also written to Herman Kogan, for whom he free-lanced at the Daily News, asking for a job, and ended up at the Sun-Times in September 1966, working part-time. The following April, he was asked to become the newspaper’s film critic when the previous critic, Eleanor Keen, retired.

“I didn’t know the job was open until the day I was given it,” Ebert later said. “I had no idea. Bob Zonka, the features editor, called me into the conference room and said, ‘We’re gonna make you the movie critic.’ It fell out of the sky.”

Ebert’s goal up to that point had been to be “a columnist like Royko,” but he accepted this new stroke of luck, which came at exactly the right time. Movie criticism had been a backwater of journalism, barely more than recounting the plots and stars of movies — the Tribune ran its reviews under a jokey generic byline, “Mae Tinee.” But American cinema was about to enter a period of unprecedented creativity, and criticism would follow along. Restrictive film standards were finally easing up, in part thanks to his efforts. When Ebert began reviewing movies, Chicago still had an official film board that often banned daring movies here — Lynn Redgrave’s “Georgy Girl” was kept off Chicago screens in 1966 — and Ebert immediately began lobbying for elimination of the censorship board.

He had a good eye. His Sept. 25, 1967, review of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde” called the movie “a milestone” and “a landmark.”

“Years from now it is quite possible that ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s,” he wrote, “showing with sadness, humor and unforgiving detail what one society had come to.”

It was. Though of course Ebert was not infallible — while giving Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” four stars in the same year, he added that the movie’s “only flaw, I believe, is the introduction of limp, wordy Simon and Garfunkel songs.’’

Ebert plunged into what turned out to be a mini-golden age of Chicago journalism. He found himself befriended by Mike Royko — with whom he wrote an unproduced screenplay. He drank with Royko, and with Nelson Algren and Studs Terkel. He wrote a trashy Hollywood movie, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,’’ for Russ Meyer, having met the king of the buxom B-movie after writing an appreciation of his work.

In later years, Ebert was alternately sheepish and proud of the movie. It was the first “sexploitation” film by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, though Time magazine’s Richard Corliss did call it one of the 10 best films of the 1970s.

It was not Ebert’s only foray into film writing — he was also hired to write a movie for the Sex Pistols, the seminal British punk band in the late 1970s.

Eventually, Sun-Times editor James Hoge demanded that Ebert — who took a leave of absence when he went to Hollywood to write “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” — decide between making films and reviewing them. He chose newspapering, which increasingly became known because of his TV fame, which grew around his complex partnership with Gene Siskel on “Sneak Previews.”

“At first the relationship on TV was edgy and uncomfortable,” Ebert wrote in 1999, after Siskel’s untimely death, at 53. “Our newspaper rivalry was always in the air between us. Gene liked to tell about the time he was taking a nap under a conference table at the television station, overheard a telephone conversation I was having with an editor, and scooped me on the story.”

In 1981, the program was renamed “At the Movies” and moved to Tribune Broadcasting. In 1986, it became “Siskel & Ebert & The Movies” and moved to Buena Vista Television, and the duo began the signature “thumbs up, thumbs down” rating system that Ebert invented.

“When we left to go with Disney . . . we had to change some things because we were afraid of [violating] intellectual property rights,’’ he said. “And I came up with the idea of giving thumbs up and thumbs down. And the reason that Siskel and I were able to trademark that is that the phrase ‘two thumbs up’ in connection with movies had never been used. And in fact, the phrase ‘two thumbs up’ was not in the vernacular. And now, of course, it’s part of the language.”

“Two thumbs up” became their registered trademark and a highly coveted endorsement that inevitably ran at the top of movie advertisements.

After Siskel died in 1999, Ebert auditioned a number of temporary co-hosts and settled on Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper in 2000. At its height, “Ebert & Roeper,” was seen on 200 stations. Ebert’s cancer forced him off the air in 2006.

“Everyone keeps asking me for my favorite Roger Ebert story, or the one thing about him most people might not have known. Here’s the thing: Roger Ebert has already told all the best Roger Ebert stories in far better fashion than I ever could,” said Roeper, who continued the show after health troubles forced Ebert from the airwaves, until both men quit in 2008 after a contract dispute.

“And whether you ‘knew’ him only through his reviews or his Twitter feed or his blog, or you were lucky enough to have been his friend for many years, with Roger, what you saw and heard was the 100 percent, unvarnished, real deal,” Roeper said. “There was no ‘off camera’ Roger. He was just as passionate, smart, stubborn, genuine and funny behind the scenes as he was in the public eye. He was a great writer and an even better friend.

“They can remake movies, but no one will ever be able to re-create or match the one and only Roger Ebert.”

All that need be mentioned of Ebert’s social life was that in the early 1980s he briefly went out with the hostess of a modest local TV show called “AM Chicago.” Taking her to the Hamburger Hamlet for dinner, Ebert suggested that she syndicate her show, using his success with Siskel as an example of the kind of riches that awaited. While she didn’t return his romantic interest, Oprah Winfrey did follow his business advice.

In his memoir, Ebert writes of a controlling, alcoholic, faith-obsessed mother whom he was frightened of displeasing. “I would never marry before my mother died,” he wrote. She died in 1987, and in 1992 he got married, for the first time, at age 50, to attorney Chaz Hammel-Smith (later Chaz Hammelsmith), who was the great romance of his life and his rock in sickness, instrumental in helping Ebert continue his workload as his health declined.

“She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she is the love of my life, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone,” he wrote.

In addition to his TV and newspaper work, Ebert was a fixture at film festivals around the world — Toronto, Cannes, Telluride — and even created a festival of his own, The Overlooked Film Festival, or just “Ebertfest,” which he began in Champaign in 1999 and dedicated to highlighting neglected classics.

Between 1970 and 2010, Ebert made yearly visits to the University of Colorado’s springtime Conference on World Affairs, where he has presented frame-by-frame critiques of classic movies to enraptured audiences.

He had also used the conference to speak on a variety of subjects, from his romantic life to his recovery from alcoholism — he stopped drinking in 1979 — to the problem of spam email. In 1996 Ebert coined the “Boulder Pledge,” considered a cornerstone in the battle against spam.

“Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message,” Ebert wrote. “Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community.”

Not only was Ebert eager to correspond with and encourage skilled movie bloggers, but he also put his money where his mouth was, investing early in the Google search engine and making several million dollars doing so.

Ebert received honorary degrees from the American Film Institute, the University of Colorado and the School of the Art Institute. He is a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and was honored with a sidewalk medallion under the Chicago Theatre marquee.

He first had surgery to remove a malignant tumor on his thyroid in 2002, and three subsequent surgeries on his salivary gland, all the while refusing to cut back on his TV show or his lifelong pride and joy, his job at the Sun-Times.

“My newspaper job,” he said in 2005, “is my identity.”

But as always with Roger Ebert, that was being too modest. He was a renaissance man whose genius was based on film but by no means limited to it, a great soul who had extraordinary impact on his profession and the world around him.

“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs,” he wrote, at the end of his memoir, “Life Itself.” “No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

Survivors, in addition to his wife, include stepchildren Sonia and Jay, and grandchildren Raven, Emil, Mark and Joseph.

EDITORIAL: Nintendo’s Epic Fail: The WiiU And The 3DS “I Am Not A Gamer” Campaign

I am seriously getting sick of Nintendo and this is very unfortunate because I love the brand.  Recently, I was made aware of the obnoxious and pretentious campaign for the Nintendo 3DS called the “I am not a gamer” campaign and when I finally saw the ads, I wanted to put my fist through my monitor.

I didn’t even know about this campaign because I live in the 21st century and have a DVR and therefore I don’t watch commercials, but it seems to be beyond stupid because Nintendo has been doing nothing for the last two years but promoting their alleged vast WiiU third-party support (mostly by propping up the WiiU with game footage from the PS3 and the 360) in an effort to woo “core gamers” back that they’ve lost.

This campaign tells me that despite the pre-sales selling out within the first week (which really means nothing if Nintendo is artificially suppresses the initial stock of retailers which they are more then likely doing to drum up demand and positive press), these pre-sales and backorder pre-sales have not gone the way they expected and they are getting a sour response from those core gamers that they were trying to get back, which of course would seem inevitable to anyone that understands that core gamers already own a PS3 or a 360 (or if you’re like me, both… and a Wii and 3DS) and the WiiU doesn’t bring anything new to the table yet has an obnoxiously inflated pricetag compared to its competition.

And their attitude toward their competition is yet another example of Nintendo’s arrogance as they think and act as if they are above their competition and they’ve been been projecting that air of over-confidence since the Wii when they basically told the core gamer, “F*CK YOU if you don’t like us anymore, we don’t care. We’re going to target the untapped market of the geriatric and little girls, now.” What they did was basically say to Sony and Microsoft, “we are not in competition with you because, frankly, we’re better than you,” an attitude that persists to this day which is complete an utter nonsense because we all know that the reason for the Wii was because Nintendo couldn’t keep up with the technological improvements its competition was making with the 360 and the PS3 and keep the product at the pricepoint they wanted so they punted and put out a vastly inferior product to its competition with a good marketing campaign (because if nothing else, Nintendo has a history of excelling in that department, certainly).

The truth is that the Wii was far more successful than Nintendo ever expected but since the sales of the Wii consoles fell of the rails by year five due primarily to lack of third-party support and frankly, their own new market of customers getting bored with it (or… just dying) they’ve been scrambling to develop a more all-inclusive product while still keeping at a pricepoint that they want it at.

The problem, again, for Nintendo is that their latest product offers no real advantages over the current generation consoles, is $50 to $150 more and is hampered by the fact that the gamer that they are trying to woo back with third-party titles already has a comparable console and doesn’t need to buy another in order to play Assassin’s Creed III or titles that have been out already for several years such as Batman: Arkham City, gimmicky controller notwithstanding.

After letting my frustration subside over the arrogance of this miserable campaign, it dawned on me that this campaign wasn’t just a blatant alienation of what should be the main consumer base for the company, and it really had nothing to do with 3DS.  This is all about the WiiU.  This is a concession from Nintendo that that have officially completely abandoned the core gamer as a company… and they want you to know it, regardless of platform.

This is probably the dilemma that Nintendo is now facing with the WiiU which is why they have switched gears entirely and gone back to trying to woo original Wii customers with the “I am not a gamer” campaign. The problem they have doing this, as I see it, is that when these bored Wii customers (the ones that haven’t passed away) walk into a Wal Mart or a Gamestop looking for a WiiU this Christmas, they are going to be exposed to a PS3 or 360 with Kinect that can do just as much, plays all the same and more third party titles, is a LOT less expensive and perhaps, most importantly, is actually in-stock.

I did a piece here in September when Nintendo announced the launch date of the WiiU and though I don’t think the WiiU will cause the collapse of Nintendo nor would I wish for that, I would like to see Nintendo get a good kick square in the nuts to bring them down to earth and make them reassess their arrogance which is ultimately directed towards consumers.

Here’s that piece:

Nintendo Announces Launch Date, Pricing & Titles For Wii U… Unimpressed Cat Is Not Impressed

EDITORIAL: An Open Letter To ALL Of The Science Fiction Blogs And Fans: Seriously… Get Over Yourselves

About a year ago, I was planning on writing a piece where I had to take issue with Den of Geek for their constant droning on about how’s there’s no Science Fiction on the SyFy channel.  Things happen, life gets in the way and I kind of lost interest so it never got written.  That being said, I’m really glad I didn’t, because I have so much more information and insight into the current situation at SyFy than I did last year, that it really makes more sense for me to address the lunacy of the self-important SciFi fan, now, than it did then. Before, there were just general complaints, but now, it’s the foaming-at-the-mouth over the lack of solid details regarding an air date for the Battlestar Galactica prequel, Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome. Note, there is nothing really new about any of these complaints, it’s just that B&C has become the poster-child for the cause d’jour and it really it is about time that they were all called out for it.

Since Giant Freakin Robot is the most recent outlet to be on our radar regarding this issue, I decided to comment personally on their site with their piece, Editorial: Battlestar Galactica: Blood And Chrome Could Save Syfy’s Soul and I want our readers to see their short-sighted take and their readers equally short-sighted comments, as well as our take which we’ll post below.  Please, understand, I actually like GFR – a lot – but they are so off the mark on this (as are most SciFi fans) that they needed to be called out.

Editorial: Battlestar Galactica: Blood And Chrome Could Save Syfy’s Soul

Hey, Syfy, how’s it going? Yeah, I know, I don’t visit as much as I used to. Sure, I still swing by for Alphas each week, but I know you’re really busy these days, what with all the wrestling and the ghost hunting and the game shows about people bumping into things in the dark. I don’t want to take up too much of your time here, but we need to have a little talk, you and I. It’s about Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. I think it could save your soul.

Look, Sci-Fi… can I call you Sci-Fi, just like in the good old days? No? Fine, “Syfy,” whatever. So here’s the thing. Yesterday your official Twitter feed told us that the incredibly awesome-looking Battlestar Galactica prequel spinoff, Blood and Chrome, was not dead, but would indeed air at some point, in some form. Probably. And while it’s great to hear that Blood and Chrome hasn’t been relegated to the trash bin, I have to ask…what the hell are you thinking, man?

Earlier this year, when the Blood and Chrome trailer hit the internet, the fans started frothing at the mouth because it looked badass. I’m actually one of the people who liked a lot about the admittedly flawed Caprica, but there’s no question that Blood and Chrome looks a lot more like the BSG spinoff fans were hoping for. Space dogfights. Human-on- Cylon carnage. That sucker has hit written all over it. With the right writers, it could still maintain the depth and humanity of its parent series, but up the action quotient to a degree that would keep fans hooked and coming back.

So where the hell is it? We’ve watched over the past couple of years as an exciting project has dwindled further and further every time there’s an announcement about it. First it was going to be a full series. Then it was going to be a web series. Then maybe a one-off TV movie. And now? Now all it is is “air date to be decided.” A solid concept for what could be an amazing show molders on the shelf while you keep churning out one shitty new show after another. For the love of god, Syfy, you’re about to premiere a show that airs “viral videos.” You do realize we all have the internet, right?

Look, you wanted to branch out and not be defined solely by science fiction content… fine, I get that. With the ever-increasing media landscape, you want to be able to attract as many sets of eyeballs as you can. But does that mean you have to abandon the one thing you’ve done really well several times over the years? You’re the network that gave us Farscape, for crying out loud! Does anybody seriously think Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica could have found a home anywhere but on your airwaves? And without you there’s no way Stargate would have flourished into multiple spinoffs as it did (even though you did cancel Stargate Universe awful quickly, as the show’s fans often remind me).

I realize you make all the reality shows and contest shows like Face Off because they’re cheap. That’s fine. But why not use some of that budget you’re saving on flotsam like Viral Video Showdown to greenlight one or two really strong science fiction shows? The sort of show that can be your flagship, earning critical praise like you did with BSG. The sort of show that defines Syfy as a brand. A show like Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. Because honestly? I haven’t got a clue what that name is supposed to stand for. It just looks like somebody shook the cable landscape and all the shitty shows that weren’t properly secured slid down into your schedule.

And here’s the danger. Time was, the Sci-Fi Channel was one of the only homes for projects like Farscape or Battlestar Galactica or Stargate. But look around you. AMC, the channel that became a success on the shoulders of Mad Men, is earning dynamite ratings and acclaim with a zombie show based on a comic book. HBO, one of the most respected sources of cable programming around, is riding high with a series based on a dense, convoluted series of fantasy novels. Starz is developing a military science fiction series with the guy who created Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Those were all projects that, back in the day, we would have thought would be perfect matches for the Sci-Fi Channel. But the stigma around genre content is fading. The Avengers has made $1.5 billion worldwide, and now more and more exciting genre projects are going to other, more respectable networks, while you introduce yet another show about haunted tchotchkes.

Oh, there are still some promising lights on the horizon. I’m hoping that Rockne S. O’Bannon’s Defiance will recapture some of the old Farscape magic and become something truly amazing. I’ve got every finger crossed that you find a way to make your Blake’s 7 remake something other than a regrettable and ill-conceived footnote. You do still have a handful of genuinely good shows, like Alphas and Being Human. But with Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, you could make a statement. You could declare that you are about more than just cramming as many horrible paranormal “reality” shows as possible down our throats. That you still have what it takes to stand behind ambitious, well-written genre content.

It’s time to stop settling for mediocrity and aim higher. It’s time to take your own advice, Syfy: Imagine Greater.

My Response:

Seriously, you guys (both the writer and the commenters) need to get over yourselves. SyFy has a grand total of TWO hours of wrestling per week, so can we stop bringing that up? What next: Bill Clinton is a draft dodger? These arguments are getting seriously dated. Here’s the the thing: SyFy is doing better now than they ever have been so feel free to leave because you won’t be missed. But, waitaminute…. surprise, surprise, it’s their core SciFi series of Alphas, Haven, Being Human, Lost Girl and Warehouse 13 that are their biggest hits. And sorry, but Game of Thrones, due to its content and its production costs, could never see the light of day on SyFy or any other basic cable channel.

Where exactly are you getting this notion that “B&C was destined to be a hit,” David? If it was destined to be a hit, it would already be on the network. Here’s the reality: space-themed SciFi has been dead for a long time on television… period. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. For crap’s sake, BSG (which is the greatest show ever on television) was a ratings disaster in its final season, save for the series finale. [StargateSG-1 was on its last legs as was [Stargate: Atlantis]. Is it really a surprise that both [Stargate: Universe] and Caprica failed so miserably, so quickly, despite having the crap promoted out of them by the network? It shouldn’t be. You’re living in an era where a Star Trek series couldn’t last more than four seasons. One of your biggest mistakes in the piece was suggesting that SyFy didn’t want to be solely associated with Science Fiction. Nonsense. They were specific that when they changed the name that they didn’t want to be associated EXCLUSIVELY with space-themed science fiction and time travel and wanted to be all-inclusive in all areas of the genre. Look it up… after all, you’ve made a point to bring up the fact that you do have the Internet.

This isn’t SyFy’s fault, this is simply the fact of the ever-changing landscape of the 18 – 49 demographic. They simply have no interest in space-themed SciFi on television (for the most part… I’d say TNT’s Falling Skies might be the exception but that’s more [The Walking Dead] with aliens than it is space-themed SciFi) and attempting to force yet another quality BSG spinoff down the throats of an audience that has no interest in it only to placate a small amount of fans is not only foolish for the network from an immediate standpoint, but it’s ultimately damaging to the series and the franchise, as a whole. And make no mistake about it, BSG is their biggest property and they aren’t going to wreck it so the fanboys can get their fix on a basic cable network. At this moment in time, though there are signs that interest is growing again, space-themed SciFi on the network is far too risky (especially with their biggest property).

Taking this a step further, B&C isn’t dead, it’s just not going to be on TV (or if it is, you’ll only see the pilot. Bear McCreary told us that he has heard rumors that the two-hour pilot is going to air on the network within the next four to six months, which was something we had already surmised based on the grumblings of our inside sources and now, IMDb has it listed as March 2013, too). You folks need to understand that the television revenue model is changing and that SyFy is one of the innovators in the new marketplace. You’re going to get BSG:B&C but you’re probably either going to have to subscribe to Hulu for it or have an XBOX Live account to view it on the SyFy app or just pay for it from iTunes or Amazon and that’s how it’s going to go. The new world of television is not dependent on the traditional standard of Nielsen ratings, exclusively, anymore. It’s becoming dependent on direct targeting of niche markets and then repackaging the content for non-exclusive digital and international distribution deals. What do you think the “transmedia” Defiance is all about? Try to think outside of the box, folks. Even the aforementioned Game of Thrones has only been getting renewed due to its international distribution deals. What… do you folks think that there’s that many more people subscribing to HBO because of Game of Thrones? Holy crap, you probably do.

Also, you might want to actually keep track of the network press releases, as well. SyFy currently has 13 straight-up SciFi scripted series (including quite a few space-themed series) in development, plus two more imports within the next year (Sinbad and Continuum). So what it really comes down to is that SyFy has plenty of Science Fiction, it just doesn’t have the series that you want, right now, therefore, they aren’t truly a Science Fiction network and you’ll just bash all of their other programming… that has actually made them successful. Genius and completely rational.

Here’s the complete rundown of all of SyFy’s scripted series in development. Scroll down for the complete press release.

OBITUARY: Alex Karras (1935 – 2012)

This is a little late but I wanted to make note of it because the late Mr. Karras was a bit of a pop-culture icon in the 1980s for his role as George Papadopolis on the hit comedy Webster as the dad of the titular character played by Emmanuel Lewis.  I thought I’d write something profound, but the obituary written by Duane Byrge and Mike Barnes at THR is far more thorough and fitting of a tribute than I could have given him so I’m making an exception to my rule of never copying anything verbatim and presenting it here:

Alex Karras, Football Star Turned Actor, Dies at 77

The Detroit Lions standout defensive lineman of the 1960s punched a horse in “Blazing Saddles” and played a dad opposite real-life wife Susan Clark in the ABC sitcom “Webster.”

Alex Karras, a menacing defensive lineman in college and the NFL who showed a deft comedic touch in films including Blazing Saddles, the 1980s family sitcom Webster and as a commentator on Monday Night Football games, has died. He was 77.

The University of Iowa and Detroit Lions legend recently suffered kidney failure and died Wednesday in his Los Angeles-area home surrounded by family. He had numerous health problems in recent years, including dementia and cancer, and was part of the wave of concussion-related lawsuits filed by more than 3,000 ex-players against the NFL.

In Hollywood, the burly but cat-like quick Karras — who carried 250 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame during his playing days — countered the tough-guy-in-the-trenches image with a quiet, sometimes high-pitched voice and droll sense of humor. He often worked alongside his wife of 32 years, actress Susan Clark, on TV and film projects. She survives him.

Karras’ most memorable movie moment came in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), when, as Mongo, an idiot strongman working for the villainous Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), he sent a horse to the ground with a single punch to the face. Later, he responded to a question from Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) by saying, “Don’t know … Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

Karras also had a hilarious turn as Squash, James Garner’s homosexual bodyguard, in Blake Edwards‘ Victor/Victoria (1982).

On Webster, which ran on ABC from 1983-87 and then for two more seasons in syndication, Karras starred as George Papadapolis, a newly married ex-football player in Chicago who is appointed legal guardian of a former teammate’s son (Emmanuel Lewis). Clark played his socialite wife on the series.

Earlier, Karras earned critical acclaim for his sensitive performance as husband and pro wrestler George Zaharias in the 1975 CBS biopic Babe, which starred the Emmy-winning Clark as the transcendent female athlete Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias. He also guest-starred on such series as The Odd CoupleDaniel BooneMcMillan & WifeLove, American StyleM*A*S*HArli$$ andThe Tom Show and hosted Saturday Night Live in 1985.

Karras made his transition from gridiron to show business via the football field: He appeared as himself in Paper Lion (1968), starring Alan Alda as writer George Plimpton who, for a Sports Illustrated article, poses as a rookie quarterback in training camp trying to make the Lions team. Karras also figured prominently in Plimpton’s original magazine piece and best-selling 1966 book.

“Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as did Alex,” Lions president Tom Lewand said.

Karras starred in such movies as 1978’s Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (he played the hooded fang), Irwin Allen disaster film When Time Ran Out (1980), the comedy Nobody’s Perfekt (1981), as the sheriff in Porky’s (1982), as a football trainer in Against All Odds (1984) and as a sportscaster in Buffalo 66 (1998).

He and Clark founded Georgian Bay Productions in the early 1980s, when they were approached by Paramount Television and ABC to do the Webster sitcom, which was reworked to include Lewis. The couple also starred in telefilms for their company.

Alexander George Karras was born July 15, 1935, in Gary, Ind., one of six children. His Greek immigrant father died when he was 11. At age 15, he worked in the steel mills to help support the family, then won a football scholarship to the University of Iowa, where he powered the Hawkeyes to victory in the Rose Bowl after the 1956 season and was runner-up for the 1957 Heisman Trophy. A two-time All-America tackle, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

Karras was drafted 10th overall by Detroit in 1958 and would make the Pro Bowl four times. But in his prime, he was suspended for the 1963 season by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for betting on football games. (Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung also was shelved for gambling that season.)

Karras admitted that he had placed at least a half-dozen $50 to $100 bets. Upon returning to action in 1964, he refused when an official asked him to call the pregame coin toss. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said. “I’m not permitted to gamble.”

Karras was named to the all-time Lions team in 1970, then retired during the 1971 preseason. He is not a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Good-natured with a keen sense of comedy, Karras was a popular guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, appearing more than two dozen times. His favorite performer had been Jack Benny, and Karras’ comic style could be appreciated in his interplay with Carson, the ultimate Benny aficionado.

Karras also hosted a Chicago TV talk show where he enjoyed needling jocks, and he replaced another ex-jock, Don Meredith, to serve three seasons as a color commentator for ABC’s NFL Monday Night Football starting in 1974. (Former AFL star Fred Williamson had done the preseason MNF games that year after Meredith’s departure, but the network was unhappy with his work.) Karras once said that Oakland Raiders lineman Otis Sistrunk was from “the University of Mars.”

His sense of humor had a bite, and he often ridiculed Lions’ management. His zings extended to other sporting endeavors, but he laced his comedy with good causes. Although he called golf a “phony, pompous game,” he organized charity events where he would make a mockery of the genteel sport: Cannons would fire behind foursomes; sheep, llamas and an elephant would roam the fairways; and paratroopers would land on greens. Above it all, a crop-duster would disseminate pink smoke over the participants.

Karras even did a stint as a professional wrestler, taking on the villainous Dick the Bruiser in April 1963 before 16,000 fans at Detroit’s Olympia auditorium during his exile from the NFL. The pair got into a brawl and wrecked a bar before the match, which Karras lost. “For that one night’s work, I made $17,000 – $4,000 more than I made with the Lions,” he once said.

Belying his size and machismo, Karras was an enthusiastic orchid grower and author. His 1978 autobiography, Even Big Guys Cry, was a best-seller, and 1979’s Alex Karras by Alex Karras dealt with his misadventures in the entertainment business.

In addition to his wife, Karras’ survivors include their daughter Katie; his children Alex Jr., Peter, Carolyn, George and Renald from a previous marriage; five grandchildren; and siblings Louis, Nan, Paul and Ted.

Watch Karras terrorize Rock Ridge, deck that horse and receive the world’s first Candygram in Blazing Saddles below.

Happy 45th Birthday, Star Trek! (Big Announcement!)

First, the big news! Star Trek turns 45 today and to honor its legacy, The ‘Tastic will be dedicating an entire section of the blog to individual Star Trek episode reviews, ‘Tastic-style, beginning in November!  Stay tuned! 

On September 8, 1966, television history was made when Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic vision of a future without war, poverty, or racism, where mankind worked together to solve its problems and better itself, appeared on our television sets and changed the course of television and science fiction history forever.  Spawning five live-action series, one critically acclaimed animated series, 11 feature films, thousands of novels, comic books, video games and billions of doallrs in merchandising and a dedicated fandom like no other over the course of almost half of a century, as Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) put it in the Roger Nygard documentary Trekkies, Star Trek truly is our 20th century mythology and now is still going strong into the 21st century.

Part 1 of the Documentary Film, Trekkies.

The franchise has had its ups and downs with audiences and even from before the first episode, The Man Trap, was aired, it faced opposition from television executives whom although enjoyed the original pilot, The Cage, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, thought it was “too cerebral” for a general audience.  At this point Star Trek made its first bit of television history being the only show to ever have a second pilot ordered for it. Hunter refused to film a second pilot and the role was subsequently re-written and re-cast with William Shatner playing the role of the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain James Kirk.  Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu Studios, produced the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, and the rest is television history.

Part 1 of the first aired episode The Man Trap

As an aside, Jeffrey Hunter sadly passed away in 1969 from a cerebral hemorrhage after suffering two strokes a the age of 42. Imagine how the most recognized television franchise of all time would look today had Hunter not turned down the role in the second pilot.

Star Trek lasted on the air for three seasons and only so because of a massive fan campaign spearheaded by the legendary Bjo Trimble.  NBC wanted to cancel it after two but they were inundated with letters and studio protests and they greenlit the show for one more season.  Unfortunately, the slot they chose for it was 10:00 p.m. on Friday night which all but assured there would not be a fourth season.

Star Trek found new life again in syndication and if you ask most fans that grew up or went to college during the early to mid-1970’s they’ll most likely tell you that this is how they were exposed to it.  What’s unique about the franchise is just how many of the actors and production staff that have been on the subsequent series and in the films over the years that were actually fans going back this far.  Star Trek’s success in syndication planted the original seeds for bringing the franchise back in one form or another and eventually led to the critically acclaimed and award-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series in 1973 which featured all of the original cast members with the exclusion of Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).

Star Trek The Animated Series Opening Theme Music:

With the success of the brand in syndication, the continued popularity among the fans who would regularly attend conventions by the thousands year after year, a very popular and well-received animated series, Paramount, in 1975, decided to bring back the Star Trek franchise in the form of a major motion picture.  They then switched gears and decided that they not only wanted bring the franchise back on the small screen and update it, but they wanted it to be the flagship for their new fourth network to air in 1978.  When the plans for the network folded, all filming and production on Star Trek: Phase II ended but a funny thing happened that kept the franchise alive; a little film you may have heard of called Star Wars.

Am I crazy or is that Steven Spielberg in the backgorund?

Following the incredible success of George Lucas’ epic masterpiece, Paramount, like every other studio in Hollywood at the time, wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the science fiction space epic, and realized they could accomplish this with the Star Trek franchise, so the proposed pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, In Thy Image was recommissioned for feature film treatment and in December of 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in theaters.  My dad actually took me to see TMP when I was four years-old and I still remember it. Ironically, he’s not a Trek fan and I only became one 18 years later.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, despite receiving lukewarm critical reception (I still refer to it as Star Trek: The Motionless Picture due to it’s incredibly long and drawn out special effects scenes. It’s great for going to sleep at night to, I’ll tell you that much.) and going extremely over-budget from $15 million to $46 million, was an unqualified success bringing in $139 million at the box office (roughly $412 million in 2011 dollars… put that in your pipe and smoke it, J.J. Abrams!) with fans going back to see the film multiple times.

The original cast of Star Trek would go on to do five more feature films and of course a new Star Trek series set 100 years after the original series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, would debut in 1987, last for seven seasons, become the highest rated syndicated television program in history, have four more major motion pictures made with that cast and spin-off three more television series and in 2009, Roddenberry’s original vision was re-imagined with J.J. Abrams’ blockbuster film Star Trek, the eleventh Star Trek film featuring a whole new cast of young actors reprising the legendary roles of the original cast from the original, iconic series.

So, what is so special about Star Trek that it has not only endured but still continues to find success, generation after generation, despite being written off for dead on more than one occasion?  Why is Star Trek so universally loved by such a diverse audience of people, many of whom wouldn’t consider themselves science fiction fans, per se? The easy answer that everyone throws out is always that it gives us “hope” which I believe is clichéd tripe.  The concept of “hope” is certainly an element in Trek, as it is in most Science Fiction stories but Star Trek has been so much more than that for so long.  Star Trek is about adventure, it’s about looking forward into the unknown and it’s about examining ourselves today and trying to figure where we’re going in the future. But most importantly, Star Trek is about the stories of the characters and how we, as the audience, relate to them.  These are timeless concepts in epic storytelling that know no generational bounds.

Ready to Boldly Go… With The Good Guys.

As I noted, my dad took me to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture when I was four years old and as for myself, I’ve been watching Star Trek with my own kids since the day they were born.  My five year-old daughter is very interested in Seven of Nine and the whole concept of the Borg on Star Trek: Voyager. She also loves any episodes involving Naomi Wildman because, even at five, it’s about relating to the characters and she also has always loved Star Trek: The Animated Series to the point where she wouldn’t fall asleep without it between the ages of two and three. My two year-old son who overheard me explaining the characters on Voyager in the most simplest terms of “good guys” and “bad guys” to my daughter, now points to everything related to Star Trek and says, “Good guy!”

Now, I know at the end of the day, that my kids’ interest in Star Trek at this very young age has very little to do with understanding what’s going on in the show and far more to do with just wanting to take in interest in what Daddy likes, but this is something that we’re always going to have.  It’s like baseball.  It doesn’t matter what happens, at the end of the day we’ll always have our little escape and something to talk about.  That is something that you cannot put a price on and as my friend Santos Ellin, Jr. said regarding my son’s interest in Trek, “Never let him lose that magic Shawn, it keeps you young and it’ll do the same for him. Never let his imagination falter,” and that folks is what it’s all about;  the magic of Star Trek, and it’s that magic that has inspired so many people over the years. Roddenberry passed away in 1991, but there’s no doubt that his legacy will live on for generations to come.

Think it’s just the nerds that like and have been inspired by Star Trek?  Well, yeah… I guess we are a big part of the fandom but here’s an abbreviated list of famous people (mostly non-nerds) who are known to be confirmed Trekkies.

  • Angelina Jolie
  • Tom Hanks
  • Seth MacFarlane (had a cameo on Star Trek: Enterprise)
  • Whoopi Goldberg (played Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, lobbied for the role.)
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Rosario Dawson
  • The late former President Ronald Reagan
  • President Barack Obama
  • Buzz Aldrin (and just about any astronaut)
  • Mel Brooks
  • General Colin Powell
  • Robin Williams
  • Ben Stiller
  • Dr. Stephen Hawking (had a cameo on TNG)
  • Former Vice President Al Gore
  • Christian Slater (his mother, Mary Jo Slater was the casting director for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and cast him in a cameo role and he has his personal replica of Kirk’s Captian’s chair in the ofcie set of his show, Breaking In.)
  • Mira Sorvino
  • Megan Fox
  • Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper
  • Dr. Marvin Minsky
  • George Lucas
  • Kelsey Grammer (had a cameo on TNG)
  • King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein of Jordan (had a cameo on VOY)
  • Jason Alexander (had a featured guest starring role on the episode of VOY, Thinktank)
  • Bryan Singer (had a cameo in Star Trek: Nemesis)
  • Mila Kunis
  • Mick Fleetwood (had a cameo on TNG)
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • South Park’s Matt Parker and Trey Stone
  • Karl Urban (played McCoy in Abrams’ Star Trek, pursued the role when he heard about the film being made.)
  • Freema Agyeman of Dr. Who and Torchwood fame
  • John Barrowman of Dr. Who and Torchwood fame
  • Candace Bergen
  • Daniel Craig
  • Kevin Sorbo
  • Robert Carlyle
  • David A. Goodman (Family Guy executive producer. Wrote the Star Trek themed episode of Futurama, four episodes of ENT)
  • Tom Morello of (had a cameo on VOY)
  • Brad Paisley
  • The late Frank Sinatra (claimed he never missed an episode of TNG)
  • Jimmy Buffet
  • Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • The late Isaac Asimov
  • Dr. Daniel J. Levitin
  • Chris Jericho
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (had a cameo on VOY)
  • The late Dr. Randy Pausch
  • The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Tom Bergeron (had two cameos on ENT)
  • Sir Richard Branson (named his spaceships the VSS Enterprise and the VSS Voyager)
  • Natalie Portman
  • Tommy Lee Jones
This post is dedicated to the memories of Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, James Doohan, DeForest Kelly and the biggest Trek Fan I ever had the pleasure to meet, Captain Eddie Chiullan.

Captain Eddie Where He Belongs... In the Captain's Chair. God Speed, Eddie.

Gizmodo: Apple Could Kill The Cable Television Industry, The ‘Tastic: Uh… No

I just felt it was necessary to give a little commentary about a piece from yesterday on Gizmodo citing a piece on The Wall Street Journal regarding rumor and speculation about Apple’s plans following the resignation of Steve Jobs and the ascension of Tim Cook.  The plans specifically are regarding Apple’s next step into the Internet Video arena and the piece in the journal cites anonymous sources as suggesting that Apple is trying to “kill” the cable television industry.  Keep in mind that I posted a similar, albeit abbreviated version of these comments directly on Gizmodo, and surprise, surprise… they didn’t approve my comments.

From Gizmodo:

“Here’s something mysterious: amid the WSJ’s report on Tim Cook’s ascension, they say Apple’s “working on new technology to deliver video to televisions, and has been discussing whether to try to launch a subscription TV service.” That could be huge.”

Of course, everyone at WSJ that writes about tech is a complete hack which is proven every time they publish something (If you want tech news, stick to tech news sources, folks) which means that it’s up to Gizmodo to cite them and give them validity by not only running with the premise that Apple wants to kill cable television, but to actually suggest that it’s possible.  Now personally, I can’t confirm what the WSJ‘s Yukari Iwatani and Jessica Vascellero had to say beyond  the first three sentences because I don’t pay anyone for Internet news, sorry. So, even though Gizmodo is completely wrong with their analysis in general, I’m going to have to take for granted that what Sam Biddle (author of the Gizmodo piece) is reporting about the WSJ piece is spot-on simply because it makes perfect sense that the WSJ would support such tripe as legitimate.

My response to both Mr. Biddle and the WSJ:  Not gonna happen, nor does Apple want it to happen.

From Gizmodo:

Ergo, Apple TV. Ergo, iCloud. New ways to take video content and stick them where you want—completely bypassing your cable box (and company renting it to you)…

What this could mean is an offensive against the cable industry akin to Apple’s complete conquest over the music industry. A “subscription TV service,” given successful licensing wrangling (a herculean task, we admit) could give us what we want from traditional cable TV: the stations we want, and only those stations. Imagine your Apple TV completely replacing your cable box—scroll through a list of networks, select the ones you want, and pay for them monthly. Their programming available on demand. Their live broadcasts, streamed. True internet TV. All the convenience of a DVR, all the vastness of a regular cable box, and all the sophisticated pleasure of an Apple TV.

It’s a logical next step, and could kill cable—and who needs to fix what can be killed? But at the very least, it’ll put some much needed and long overdue pressure on the dinosaur cable companies to actually do something. Anything. Apple as a legitimate competitor, even without a full hand of licensing deals, could be the oomph needed for serious cable reform. And that would almost be just as good.

Let me preface this by saying that I have nothing against the industry in general, partly because I have had professional experience working with them (in telecom… I’ve also worked with DirecTV and have had generally positive experiences) and partly because as a consumer and a professional, I’ve been in cities with good cable companies and bad cable companies. I’ve had nothing but bad experiences with Time Warner Cable as a consumer in Rochester and Syracuse, NY and nothing but bad experiences with them on the industry side in Texas.  So yeah, I get why people hate TWC.  On the other hand, I have had nothing but good experiences with Cox Communications professionally and as a consumer here in Las Vegas.

Mr. Biddle lives in Brooklyn, NY.  His choices are Cablevision or TWC.  DUDE… I get it! That’s enough to make you want to move but it doesn’t mean that consumer experiences with cable providers nationwide are universal nor does it mean that an unscientific sampling and analysis of 1,000+ people (as noted in The Cable Customer’s Bill of Rights, a piece that Biddle cites) who responded to one of your surveys regarding cable television “horror stories” is indicative of anything substanitive (and of course, they made up that number because they simply don’t have the staff to read that many “horror stories.”)

The main issue that folks like Mr. Biddle and his other fellow cable provider haters over at Gizmodo (like Mat Honen, author of The Cable Customer’s Bill of Rights) always want to harp on as to one of the ways the consumer is being so “abused” by the evil cable television industry is the complaint about not being able to choose channels individually.  Well, this notion of à la carte channels, while seeming great on paper, would be absolutely disastrous for the consumer and simply suggesting the notion shows how ignorant on the subject of the cable television, network media and television industries the folks at Gizmodo are.  I don’t fault the average consumer for not understanding the complexities of the industry, but I simply have no patience for semi-respected, professional tech blogs who spout-off on a subject of which they have no particular insight into professionally nor have they done any research into academically.  Journalistic legitimacy requires more than citing one piece from the WSJ and tossing about a bunch of wild-eyed theories based on wishful thinking and a Utopian vision with no context.

Let’s be clear: à la carte is never going to happen and for damned good reason; the cost to the consumer would be outrageous.

MAKE! IT! STOP!

Consumers (and apparently tech bloggers) don’t understand how this works.  All of the networks are owned by a handful of conglomerates and network/media “superpowers,” as it were. They don’t sell the rights to the networks on an individual basis. They are sold as bulk packages in order to keep the prices as low as possible because it guarantees them the most exposure for all of their networks, ergo, all of their advertisers. The fact is that when it comes to a cable television lineup, the cable provider is generally at the mercy of the networks. With the licensing for these packages, the cable companies are REQUIRED under the terms of their contracts to provide all of these channels to everyone or NONE of these channels to anyone. The only breaking up that’s allowed is for tiered pricing packages (basic, standard, digital packages and of course with the à la carte premiums). The only way cable companies would be able to get à la carte for the consumer is by paying an exorbitant amount for each individual network to offset what the parent media companies would lose by not having total exposure on cable.

And who would these exorbitant costs paid by the cable providers for this utopian dream of à la carte channels be passed on to? Of course… the consumer! Get ready for sky-high prices like you’ve never seen and an elimination of probably 75% of the channels.   Sorry, but those channels that you like are being subsidized by channels that I like and vice versa. I’m a big supporter of Apple products and services but Apple has ZERO leverage with the networks as far as forcing them into à la carte pricing.  The industry doesn’t want to do it to begin with and Apple lacks the infrastructure and ability to distribute programming on their own (I’ll come back to that part in a bit).  Apple will get no licensing deals… period.

Seriously, if this idea of à la carte is such a great idea and the cable providers are just trying to screw the consumer then why isn’t DirecTV or Dish Network doing it?  The answer is simple:  they can’t.  “Herculean” doesn’t begin to describe the impossibility of Apple or anyone else being able to get the licensing to offer à la carte channels.  It’s pure Science Fiction that it could ever happen.  No – I take that back.  Science fiction actually has some basis in reality, this dream doesn’t.  Does it occur to these people that even the programming on Netflix, for example, is all provided through packaged content based on deals with the networks/studios?  Do they really think that Netflix is able to purchase program rights one program at a time?  How would Apple be able to accomplish this task?

To equate this with the music industry and iTunes is just foolish even on its face.  The music industry has always been à la carte even before the era of iTunes and until a decade ago there was only free, over-the-air access to it from a broadcast perspective (and even the most popular Internet music providers are still free and the pay radio services are floundering).  The cable television industry, on the other hand, has been in existence since 1948, and unlike the cable television industry, the music industry doesn’t control the means of distribution.  This is completely an apples-to-oranges comparison.

This is a short-sighted, analysis on a subject that these people know nothing about but think that they are experts on because they know how to use the features on their TV or iPod and tell the rest of the world why it’s so fantastic or why it’s garbage.  Hey… just because I know what makes a great car stereo it doesn’t mean that I know a thing about the auto industry, but on the other side of the coin, because this is a blog about television, I’ve made a point to get myself educated on all aspects of the business that relate to television programming and where it’s going.  It would be nice if other outlets would do the same.

Sweet!

Now, without a question, I do like what Apple is doing with their products and innovation (I’m particularly excited about iCloud) and I like what other companies such as Google, Yahoo! and, of course, Netflix are doing as well. Options are good for the consumer. Competition is good. These tech companies are forcing the cable industry to improve their products and services to keep up and control their prices. My cable bill actually went down when I recently moved and I added services not to mention that my services that I have as a customer at no extra charge continue to increase (Just found out that there are free 3D movies on HBO OnDemand and the other premium channels… how cool is that?).

I look at this type of tech and product from Apple and others as supplemental, though, and really, so should everyone else.  It’s not going to replace cable TV or satellite EVER, it’s just going to provide the option of low-cost video entertainment alternatives to people who want them for extra content or provide services to people who don’t subscribe to cable due to the cost. Win-win all the way around. But you have to keep this in mind, and I have discussed this before, the industry is not going to be streamrolled by upstarts in the Internet television racket when it’s the cable television providers that provide the vast majority of bandwidth for the these Internet video services.

What right does Apple or Netflix or any other company have to use the bandwidth and infrastructure of a cable company at no charge to sell their product and intentionally undercut the cable companies? The cable companies have spent billions of THEIR OWN money on infrastructure and the big problem that no one is discussing except for those of us that professionally have an inside track on these issues is the bandwidth problems that have already begun to start popping up due to Internet video services, and this is with a non-adversarial/non-competitive relationship between the industries.  This isn’t an issue of a few people using a lot of bandwidth due to P2P services and needing to be capped, it’s an issue of a consumer base that has multiple Internet video capable devices that is growing exponentially and the infrastructure not be able to accommodate the usage.

I’ve had long discussions about this with engineers in the industry and the problem is that there are geographical areas with weak bandwidth due to the excessive usage. It’s not a universal issue (yet) but it’s kind of like the thin spots in the Ozone layer.  To refer to Cox as an example, they are not capping bandwidth currently and my sources tell me that they have no intention of doing so but the reality is that they and other providers can’t currently keep up with an inevitable future that’s coming very quickly where Internet video services are so universal as to completely overload their infrastructure so what they are doing is addressing (see: Band Aid-ing) each individual customer problem as the the complaints occur… kinda like the dutch boy and the dam.  I don’t have any particular insight into what other providers are doing, however, it only makes sense that they are  doing the same thing, even if they are capping usage.

Apple, Netflix, Hulu, etc., are completely dependent on the cable industry for getting their product to their customers. The cable television industry isn’t stupid about this nor are the Internet video providers.  And before you even start talking about net neutrality as a way to strongarm cable providers into treating Internet video provider traffic equally, forget it.  It’s not going to happen because if it were to happen the industry has stated publicly that they will halt all capital investments into advances in technology and infrastructure which will slow down the Internet to a crawl.  Again, like the à la carte nonsense, this will only hurt the consumer.

The reality of what’s going to happen is that the Internet video providers and the cable television industry are going to work it out in a manner that’s mutually beneficial, I can guarantee you that. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the internet video services that are available on video game consoles, standalone media players such as the Roku, select Blu-Ray players and televisions will be available on digital cable boxes and DVR’s as well within the next five years.  Hulu Plus and Netflix are already available with a TiVo (yes, we know about the licensing problems regarding cable companies… that’s another discussion.) so there’s no reason to believe that cable and satellite providers won’t get in on this as well with the devices that they provide their customers.  But no one should be fooled into thinking Apple is going to, wants to or has the ability to replace cable or even offer à la carte channels. It’s just not going to happen. This is beyond “pie in the sky” speculation for Gizmodo and the tech hacks at the WSJ.

Our Ass...

Seriously, at least on our blog when we talk out of our collective asses with our wild speculations, we attempt to base it on facts and some knowledge about the subject we’re talking about.  Maybe some other well-established niche blogs and well-respected mainstream outlets might consider that approach as well instead of the frankly, lazy tabloid journalism approach that seems so popular today.

Babylon 5, Grease & Taxi Star Jeff Conaway Dead At Age 60 UPDATED: Dr. Drew Speaks on Conaway’s Death (VIDEO)

Jeff Conaway: 1950 - 2011

It is with great sadness that we report that it has been confirmed that Jeff Conaway, star of Taxi, Babylon 5 and the classic film Grease has passed away at the age of 60 due to complications from pneumonia and an apparent overdose of prescription pain killers which he suffered on May 11th.  He was taken to a Los Angeles area hospital that day and put into a medically induced coma.  Based on the advice physicians who had described his situation as “hopeless” for several days, his family made the decision to remove him from life support.  Conaway’s history of substance addiction was well-documented in the media and on the VH-1 reality series Celebrity Fit Club and Celebrity Rehab.

Conaway’s manager, Phil Brock, said this to the media:

“We loved Jeff as a person, respected him as a consummate performer and entertainer. Somewhere in heaven, somebody is getting a hickey from Kenickie.  On a darker side, we’re happy his personal struggles are now over. We do not have memorial plans yet. The family has asked for forbearance and privacy today. It’s a very difficult time.

Our staff has been with him through his struggle over the last few years. He is one of the nicest, kindest people. The most gentle person, and that may have been his downfall in the long run. He was a really nice guy in general, a person who would give the shirt off his back for anyone. He loved and lived to be on stage and entertaining others.

Jeff Conaway on Babylon 5

On a personal note, I shared a flight with Conaway and a female companion (not his girlfriend, Vickie, who appeared on Celebrity Rehab) in 2006 to Burbank on my way to appear on a game show in Studio City.  Phil Brock’s statement mirrors my impression of him.  He was a very kind and gracious man and very accessible. I spoke at length with him both during and after the flight and completely enjoyed my limited time with him. Although, even I could see that he was someone who had a long history of drug and alcohol use despite the fact that he was sober on that flight, he was nothing like the persona that was portrayed on VH-1 and I hope that people realize how greatly reality television distorts our perception of people, celebrities and otherwise.  Yes, Jeff Conaway had his demons that he could never exorcise, but he was a truly decent human being.

Noel Gallagher of Oasis: Pretentious Limey Prick

In closing, not only would we like to thank Jeff for the years of entertainment he provided (especially on Babylon 5) and the wonderful conversation I had with him on that flight but I’d also like to thank him for doing what someone should have done a long time ago: Conaway pulled a knife on Oasis’ Noel Gallagher backstage at a Marilyn Manson concert in 2008 for mocking him.  We really don’t care why he did it, we’re just glad it was done and for his efforts, he posthumously earns The TV-Tastic Bad-Ass Seal of Approval, ‘The Walken.’  Thanks Jeff, you’ll be missed.

RETRACTION: The X Factor: Cheryl Cole OUT! Simon Cowell Says ‘Too British Sounding.’ Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger IN!

Yesterday we reported that Cheryl Cole had been replaced by the Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger as a judge on FOX’s upcoming singing competition show, The X Factor. Everything in the piece itself was accurate however our headline, “The X Factor: Cheryl Cole OUT! Simon Cowell Says ‘Too British Sounding.’ Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger IN!,” was not.  Simon Cowell had nothing to do with Cole’s departure and did not suggest that her accent was too thick for American audiences and in fact it’s been reported that he fought desperately to save her.

The Hollywood Reporter is citing sources who claim that the decision was a decision by the network itself and the accent issue was theirs alone.  Prior reports implied that it was show producers that had the issue with her accent and were responsible for the decision to replace her.  Since Simon Cowell is the main producer of this show, we assumed that these were his sentiments and that this was his decision.  This obviously was a mistake.

We have also issued the retraction made the correction on the original piece.