What’s His Line?

I’m writing a novel set in New York City in 1955, and while doing some research I came across this clip from one of my favorite shows, What’s My Line? This contestant says his name is Jimmie and he trains elephants for a musical production that was in town. He gets in a funny line to Fred Allen and it’s an entertaining segment.

But after the episode aired the show got a call from two people in Detroit who said that the contestant had STOLEN CARS. He was wanted by federal authorities. Producers called the FBI and he was arrested, He was sentenced to nine months.

More info in this Variety article (Internet Archive – scroll down). I hope he at least got his $50.

The Months, Ranked

Since Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer – as opposed to the actual first day of summer, which marks the official start of summer – let’s rank the months!

1. November
2. December
3. October
4. September
5. January
6. February
7. March
8. April
9. June
10. May
11. August
12. July

Advice to graduates

Some advice I thought I’d pass along (a post from a couple of years ago updated today).

1. If someone says to you that your high school or college years will be the best of your life, run away from these people as fast as you can. That’s just depressing.

2. Save money. This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust me: having money is a lot better than being broke.

3. Good credit is more important than love. You’ll find love eventually, but if you mess up your credit you’re screwed.

4. If you fail at something, don’t freak out about it. You really do learn as much from your failures as your successes.

5. “I’m really not sure what to do next” is not a reason to go to graduate school.

6. Don’t be one of those people who constantly talks about their grades, athletic success, or anything else that happened in school. People stop caring about this stuff one hour after you receive your diploma/degree.

7. If you find yourself in jail, act crazy. The others will stay away from you.

8. Your parents are smarter than you think. I know this doesn’t seem true now but it is.

9. Working is usually better than not working. See #2.

10. To high school graduates: when you get to college, you will meet a lot of assholes.

11. To college graduates: Same when you get a job.

12. Read books, of all kinds. Read, read, read, read, read.

13. Move out of your hometown. And if you need/want to stay in your hometown, live some place else first and then come back to it.

14. Sunny weather is fine, but learn how to appreciate the rain.

15. Don’t tweet. Nothing good ever happens on Twitter.

16. It’s amazing what a simple “thank you” or “I’m sorry” can do. For the person you say it to and yourself.

17. Kindness is a superpower.

18. Don’t envy anyone. It’s a waste of time.

19. Have an interest in things that happened before you were born.

20. Put your phone down. Seriously, just put it down.

21. Naps are underrated.

22. New Year’s Eve is overrated.

23. Don’t put tomatoes in the fridge.

24. You can never have too many batteries.

25. Shemp is just as funny as Curly. Don’t let anyone tell you he isn’t.

Paper says it might rain

Now there’s a phrase you don’t hear anymore.

Nobody goes to a newspaper – a print newspaper! – for the weather anymore. There’s an app for that, as my local TV stations remind me every seven minutes. But I miss a world where newspapers were the main source of news, local and national and international. It was a finite world but you got all of the information you needed if you read it cover to cover. And it was 100% new and updated the very next day. A miracle!

And I miss when everyone watched the nightly news because not all news is of the breaking variety; sending resumes through the mail on nice paper because I’m never sure if they’re even getting it on the other end if I use an online form (and some mysterious algorithm might reject me); late night shows that had guests on who weren’t even plugging anything and hosts that didn’t run out to high-five the audience; longer TV commercials that weren’t too loud and trying so hard to get our attention; and heavy rotary phones that you could really slam down because it’s no fun to push a wimpy button when you’re good and mad.

I miss busy signals.

And phone booths and phone books that were more interesting to read than some novels. And calling the operator. I miss when people didn’t carry their phones around with them 24/7 and bring them to the holiday dinner table.

And girls named Mildred and Peggy and Arlene (all of the grandmothers in 30 years are going to be named Kelly and Brittany and Ashley); words like “poppycock” and “lummox” and “gosh”; when people didn’t say “like” three times in one sentence; getting cashed checks back from the bank; matchbooks, even though I don’t smoke; people who wore hats other than baseball caps; blogs that were updated regularly; handwritten thank you notes, and the community built when we all watched the same TV show at the same time.

But I don’t miss social media.

Do you know what the weather’s supposed to be today? Paper says it might rain.

(Yes, I posted something similar last year but I updated it and I’m posting it again. Hey, it’s my site.)

RIP Lists

There’s a “100 Best Sitcoms of All-Time” list out. No, not that one. And nope, it’s not that one. It’s not this one or this one or this one or this one either. It’s Rolling Stone’s new list, and it’s a perfect example of how lists have gotten ridiculous, and why they’re sooooooo 2006.

It’s not that the magazine doesn’t make some great choices. Who’s going to argue with picks like All in the Family and Seinfeld and Arrested Development and The Andy Griffith Show? But do you really need a list to tell you those are all great shows?

Of course, magazines and sites have to do lists now (everybody loves lists! Yay!) – and God forbid they put the entire list on one page instead of making readers click through to different pages to rack up those page views – because they have to stay relevant somehow. Of course, the words “Rolling Stone” and “relevant” haven’t been used in the same sentence since Green Day’s first album was released.

Yes, a list on the web is going to invite instant criticism (“Hey, you didn’t include…”). But there are legitimate gripes to be made here, both from a personal viewpoint and a more general one. This isn’t just a “your opinion differs from mine so you must be wrong!” thing, it’s a common sense thing.

I have problems with the list, as both a TV fan who has watched at least 5 hours of television every day since 1970 and someone who has been a TV critic since 1994 (and I’ve done my fair share of lists, believe me). Everybody Loves Raymond – not just one of the best comedies of all-time but one of the best things that has ever been on TV, period – should be much, much higher than 35 (and I mean top 10). Friends and The Odd Couple should be in the top 25, and there’s no way Frasier is better than NewsRadio. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? It shouldn’t be on the list at all, even if Will Smith went on to become a big movie star and everyone thinks that Carlton Dance is just so funny.

And while I’m happy the writers restrained themselves from putting popular-but-mediocre shows like Hogan’s Heroes and Happy Days on the list, leaving off both Leave it to Beaver and The Middle, two of the best comedies in history, is unforgivable. That’s not just opinion, they obviously belong on a top 100 by any measure. But sure, Alan Sepinwall, include Review, Letterkenny, the new version of One Day at a Time, and Bluey. You’re so well-rounded and knowledgeable!

But this is more of a universal condemnation of this list and lists in general than a personal grievance. It’s a condemnation of what TV criticism has become (that’s a longer rant, one I’ll get to at some point).

Lists were great once, when they weren’t being done by every single web site and blog. When lists had a gravitas because they were rare and were written by people who actually knew what they were talking about, actual critics and not “content creators.” Now everyone does lists, and they do them often, which means that none of them matter anymore. There are so many lists that expertise and meaning just get lost. Someone picks the “The 50 Best Sci-Fi Shows of All-Time,” which is fun to read until one month later when that other site does “The 50 Best Sci-Fi Shows of All-Time.” And guess what? It’s pretty much the same list. (Star Trek was great!)

Let’s face it: “The 100 Best Sitcoms of All-Time” should just be called “100 Sitcoms,” because when you have a list that large you’re simply naming sitcoms that have existed. Why not have the editorial daring to get to the nitty-gritty and actually pick the best and leave it at that? Why go all the way to 100, just so you don’t leave out something, so can cover all your bases? As if the show that makes it to #67 is really any better than #79 or #82. After the cream of the crop, maybe the top 20 or 25, you’re basically just naming sitcoms and trying to fit them in somewhere. By expanding the list to 100 shows, you’ve instantly made the list meaningless, along with your taste and opinion.

Just give us what you think are the top sitcoms of all-time. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Don’t go out of your way to please the TV fans born in the 90s and don’t try to include that hip cable/streaming show just because it’s hip and current and you look out of it if you don’t include it. Don’t try to be socially/culturally significant just because you “have” to be. Don’t try to balance the ’50’s classics with that cool streaming show that has “reinvented the TV comedy!” (TM). Just tell us what the actual bests are.

Of course, there’s the real chance that these critics actually think that some of these hip cable/streaming shows actually are better than The Middle, because that was “just” a “traditional” network comedy, and it wasn’t “groundbreaking” (though they gave every award and kudos they could give to a lesser show, Modern Family). This is what makes them “wrong” and “really bad critics.”

By the way, a prediction: after reading this someone will write a “10 Reasons Why Lists Still Matter!” list. It will be written for Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly or Ranker or BuzzFeed (right under “Tell Us Your Favorite Salad Dressing and We’ll Tell You How You’re Going To Die”) and get lots of clicks and social media attention.