“Bad” news

Let’s talk about action figures (aka “dolls”).

I collect a few things: old advertising, books from my favorite authors, old cookbooks, maybe once in a while another random collectible of some kind I might see. I might get back into PEZ dispensers at some point. I don’t collect action figures. I think I have a few figurines from the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials like Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town and Rudolph, maybe a couple of MST3K figures that came with the DVD sets, but that’s about it. Action figures really don’t interest me that much, and I don’t want to have boxes of unopened action figures (no, don’t open them or the value goes down!) stored in my apartment. But I know a lot of adults who collect them.

And that’s the point I want to make about this Toys ‘R Us (not sure how to make that damn backwards R) controversy. A mom in Florida launched a campaign to get the toy store to pull the Breaking Bad action figures from their shelves (the figures come with fake money and a fake bag of meth). She succeeded. The company pulled the action figures this week.

Question: how many 9 year-olds watch Breaking Bad? Do they really want Breaking Bad action figures to play with? I really doubt young kids are clamoring to pose Walter White in various ways and make him run along their living room floors. These action figures are made for adults to purchase, and while the stores probably shouldn’t sell them alongside Barney dolls or Chutes & Ladders (are the kids still into those? I am so out of the loop.), did they really have to pull them completely? Couldn’t they have just moved them to a different part of the store (if they weren’t already) or come up with another solution? The figures are labeled for teens and older.

What about the action figures that have guns and swords? How about water guns? And I’m going to assume Toys ‘R Us is still selling videogames where the main objective is to shoot, maim, blow up, murder or run over people with their cars?

The next Letter is coming next week. I decided to make it the October issue instead of September so things got pushed back a little bit. Thanks for your patience! New Saturday Evening Post column today. Have a great weekend.

Columbus Day

This weekend I was watching the news and the meteorologists were giving the Columbus Day forecast. They were calling it a “travel forecast,” for the trips your families are going to make on Columbus Day. This morning I was watching The Today Show and they had a couple of cooks on, giving recipes and tips “for your Columbus Day feast.”

Question: when did Columbus Day become the new Christmas, where we pack the family into the car and go visit relatives and eat a big meal? Is this some trend I’ve somehow missed?

I’d write more but I have to get to the mall. National Sandwich Day is only a few weeks away and I don’t have any shopping done.

Jan Hooks

First, a big hello to everyone who visited the site after Jim Romenesko linked to my post from earlier this week. Always nice to see an increase in traffic and have to wonder, why am I getting so many visitors?

Second, a word about Jan Hooks, who died yesterday at age 57. Fans of Saturday Night Live always look at me funny when I say I prefer the Hartman/Carvey/Hooks/Dunn/Miller years to the Aykroyd/Belushi/Murray/Radner years, but I do. Not that the latter was bad. I watched SNL back then and it was great. But what you like in pop culture is very much influenced by what age you are when you experience it. I was 10 when SNL premiered but in my 20s when Hartman and company joined the show, and I just like and connect with what they did a lot more.

I always thought she was somewhat underrated, so it’s good to hear so many great remembrances of her. I think she should be listed among the SNL greats whenever those lists are made.

Here are a few sketches with Hooks.

The Sweeney Sisters always made me laugh.

Hooks as Sinead O’Connor. I’ve always loved this sketch.

Here she does a fantastic impression of Eleanor Clift.

Here’s Hooks as Diane Sawyer (and Tom Hanks as Peter Jennings!)

And this isn’t funny at all but it’s really sweet (and sad now that both Hooks and Hartman are gone).


1. Whenever I think of what the web needs more of, I immediately think MORE SOCIAL NETWORKING.

No, I’m not going to join Ello so don’t even ask.

2. Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of Professor Barnhardt’s Journal. I seem to like to start things in early October (for example, The Letter). Other things that started this week: Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (1950), Leave It To Beaver (1957), The Twilight Zone (1959), and The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961) Those are four of my favorite things right there, and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that I start a lot of things this week or some power in the universe at work, but I like that it turned out that way.

3. I don’t know if you noticed, but there are no longer any cartoons on the broadcast networks on Saturday mornings. The last one aired last weekend. This is sad. Sure, you can find them on Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network and some of the kid channels, but it’s weird that you can’t find them on ABC, CBS, FOX, or NBC. They were done in by a number of factors: FCC rules for more educational/informational programming, cable channels, the popularity of animated movies and prime-time animation, videogames, the web, and probably a half-dozen other financial reasons. What’s on now? Local news, weekend editions of the morning shows, cooking shows, and maybe a few “educational” shows for kids that feature pets or something. The last cartoons to air I actually tried to watch several months ago, and they were rather painful.

When I was a kid Saturday morning television was a big deal. I’d get TV Guide and mark all of the shows I was going to watch when the new season began – all the networks had big ads for the Saturday morning line-up – and I’d get up really early on the big day, say around 6am. I’d go down to the kitchen and make toast and tea and sit down on the living room floor with a tray and eat breakfast while watching the shows, which started at 7. I’d watch The Super Friends and Looney Tunes and the Star Trek animated show and The Jetsons and The Pink Panther and Scooby-Doo and a lot of other fun shows that hold special memories for me. I also watched many terrible shows that even had me wondering as a kid how the hell they got on the air (I remember there was one where The Partridge Family went through time and found themselves in the year 2200, for some reason). And remember when American Bandstand aired after the cartoons, early in the afternoon?

It’s great that kids have DVDs and streaming and all that, but I don’t think it’s the same. But the cartoons are gone and I’m sure that nobody will really care and they’re probably never coming back. It’s funny how Saturdays in general have been abandoned by the networks. Not just the mornings but also the evenings. It’s hard for younger people to understand now, but Saturday used to be the night for television: All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Carol Burnett Show, (CBS had the first Must-See TV). Now it’s filled with reruns of shows that aired earlier in the week, movies, and maybe a couple of true crime shows. Probably because people go out on Saturday nights, but didn’t people go out on Saturdays in the 70s and 80s?

With the ability to watch TV whenever/wherever we watch now and DVDs and next day viewing online, TV really isn’t the same anymore.

4. I have not eaten any bread – no slices of bread, no sandwiches, no rolls, no pizza – in 7 months.

Goodbye September

As the month of September ends I’m still frantically working on the September issue of The Letter, which means all of you will get it in the month of October. But if I write it in September, it’s still a September letter, right? Right?? [Pulls on shirt collar nervously, sweat dripping down forehead.]

Anyway, it’s coming! Thank you for your patience.