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Monday, March 24, 2008

Saturday Morning: 1960 to 1964 - VIDEOS

Saturday mornings. For nearly thirty years this small window of time was considered paradise for millions of children across America. With the parents snug in their beds, and a big bowl of sugary cereal precariously placed on the carpet, it was the only time -- long before the invent of 24-hour cable networks -- that children's shows ruled the airwaves. No karate/ballet/piano/soccer lessons back then; parents were lucky to get their kids to go for bathroom breaks during that period of time.

For many it's a time of very fond memories. Some recall radio favorites like Sky King and The Lone Ranger going from their imagination to the small screen. Others remember their first introduction to Space Ghost or Scooby-Doo. Still others, like myself, recall the latter days of Saturday morning programming with shows like The Smurfs, Dungeons & Dragons and Saved by the Bell.

It was a time of decoder rings, breakfast cereals, and 30-minute long animated commercials for a company's toy of the moment. A time we look back at and smile, yet realize that some of the product produced during that time was plain dreck. A time when a number of fledgling animation companies became household names to us in a few weeks.

Sadly, as the cable networks grew in popularity and the networks needed to trim costs, much of the Saturday morning programming we remember was replaced by morning news programs and syndicated fare that catered to a very select group of viewers. However, that doesn't mean that we can't remember many of the good times. Thanks to the giant attic that is the internet, and sites like our very own TV Squad, we can bring back some of those lost childhood memories. And, that's what I'm going to do right now.

I'm going to begin in the period between 1960-61 and 1964-65 seasons. You're probably asking why I'm starting with this time frame. Well, like anything in television, there's a period of trial and error, of growth, when trying something new. This five-year span was that time.

For the most part, the Saturday morning schedules of 1960 and 1961 were heavy on live-action programming and light on the animation. In fact, most of the morning schedule was filled with repeats of series that had aired previously in primetime. Some examples were the Western series Fury, the Danny Thomas sitcom Make Room for Daddy, and The Lone Ranger. The only animated shows on the schedule at that time were the Mighty Mouse Playhouse on CBS and King Leonardo and his Short Subjects on NBC.

It wasn't until the 1962-63 Saturday morning schedule that the networks began to get serious about their programming. While there was still a good amount of live action shows, more animated fare began to pop up -- most of them series that aired previously in primetime or in syndication. For example, Hanna-Barbera's Top Cat, which aired on ABC's 1961-62 primetime schedule, moved to the late Saturday mornings along with former weeknight partner The Bugs Bunny Show. Over on CBS The Alvin Show, which aired for one year in primetime, moved over to Saturday morning as well.

By the fall of 1963 more original animated series were added to the Saturday morning schedules along with primetime "rejects" like Hanna-Barbera's The Jetsons. Over at ABC The New Casper Cartoon Show began a seven year run with new Casper The Friendly Ghost episodes. Over on CBS Tennessee Tuxedo (voiced by Get Smart's Don Adams) and his best friend Chumley joined Mighty Mouse, Alvin and the return of Quick Draw McGraw. Meanwhile, over at NBC, which was a bit slow to catch up to Saturday morning programming, the first Supermarionation program appeared on American television in the form of Fireball XL5.

As the 1964-65 season rolled around the networks were finally coming to the realization that Saturday mornings could be programmed fairly inexpensively with a mix of new and reconstituted animated programs. They also devised a schedule of airing most of their animated programs in the morning hours, while they aired their older-kid, live-action programs in the early afternoon. For instance. The CBS Saturday morning schedule featured animated programs, including the new Linus the Lionhearted, while the first 90-minutes of the afternoon featured repeats of shows like Sky King and My Friend Flicka.

In addition to Linus, two additional cartoons premiered on the Saturday morning schedule in 1964. One was Hoppity Hooper, a Jay Ward production featuring the adventures of a talking frog, and the other everyone's favorite super dog -- Underdog. Voiced by actor Wally Cox, this shoeshine-boy-turned-superhero would be a staple of the Saturday morning schedule during the mid-60's.

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Teasing Batman


A photo of Heath Ledger as the Joker revealed to fans during an online game.

'Dark Knight' promoters use genre-bending ways to tantalize potential viewers.

THE billboards arrived without fanfare or explanation in more than a dozen major cities last May. Bearing two simple catch phrases, "Harvey Dent for district attorney" and "I believe in Harvey Dent," they featured a photo of a stately Dent (imagine Eliot Spitzer with a shock of blond hair) against an American flag.

But within 72 hours, each billboard had been defaced by identical graffiti: The candidate's eyes were scrawled over with black rings, his lips crudely rouged with a smeary, clown-like grin. As well, each of the placards' messages had been altered to read: "I believe in Harvey Dent TOO."

Although not outwardly advertising anything other than Dent's political aspirations (never mind the impossibility of running for D.A. in more than one city), the billboards were in fact the opening salvo of one of the most interactive movie-marketing campaigns ever hatched by Hollywood: a multi-platform, hidden-in-plain-sight promotional blitz for the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight," which stars Christian Bale and Heath Ledger and reaches theaters on July 18.

By employing a variety of untraditional awareness-building maneuvers and starting the film's promo push strategically, more than a year before the film's release, marketers at the firm 42 Entertainment (subcontracted by the film's distributor, Warner Bros.) seem to have struck a chord with "The Dark Knight's" core constituency: fanboys and comic-book geeks. The promotional efforts -- part viral marketing initiative, part "advertainment" -- fit into an absorbing, nascent genre-bending pastime called alternate reality gaming that have been the toast of movie and comic blogs for months.

"The Dark Knight" is hardly the only summer action flick to step up its Internet game in anticipation of the tent-pole season: Trailers for " Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" are spreading across the Web like kudzu since being turned into "widgets" -- small, portable applications that can be posted on social networking sites and blogs by marketers for its distributor, Paramount. Earlier this month, HarperCollins Children's Books launched a "read it before you see it" global digital campaign tying in the film "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" with the C.S. Lewis children's classic from which it was adapted.

And then there's good, old-fashioned movie salesmanship: The trailer for "Iron Man" has been streamed 3.7 million times on Yahoo Movies since it was launched in September.

So to stand out, "The Dark Knight's" alternate reality game (ARG for short) is mashing up advertising, scavenger-hunting and role-playing in a manner that variously recalls "The X-Files" and the play "Tony n' Tina's Wedding," "The Matrix" and the board game Clue -- all in the name of galvanizing a community of fans to bond (with the new Batman and each other) over the course of a wild goose chase.

Or to be more precise, a wild Joker chase -- one that so far has involved clues spelled out in skywriting, secret meeting points, cellphones embedded inside cakes, Internet red herrings, DIY fan contests and even fake political rallies. Moreover, last week several players were nearly arrested in Chicago while engaging in civil disobedience to promote the movie; others have even been "kidnapped" and "murdered" over the course of the game.

Befitting the campaign's covert-ops M.O., neither Warner Bros. nor 42 Entertainment would comment for this story. But as Jonathan Waite, founder of the Alternate Reality Gaming Network (www.argn.com) sees it, "The Dark Knight's" multifaceted promo push transcends marketing to exist as a standalone cultural event.

"This is looked upon as viral marketing, but you have to look at it as an engrossing experience -- you have people getting very attached to the game," Waite said. "You're not a passive onlooker, you're taking an active role. And any time you take an active role, you're emotionally connecting. That's why people keep coming back: You make personal connections with others and a community gets built."

'Take back Gotham City'

As any Bat-fanatic will tell you, the Dent propaganda is meant to conjure Batman's "Dark Knight" nemesis, politician turned crime kingpin Two Face (a role memorably embodied by Tommy Lee Jones in 1995's "Batman Forever;" Two Face is played by Aaron Eckhart in the new movie). Early in the "Dark Knight" marketing campaign, an official website for the film redirected viewers to www.ibelieveinharveydent.com -- a URL notably lacking any references to Batman that urges "concerned Gotham citizens" to "take back Gotham City" by backing the candidate's run for district attorney.

More specifically, it tells them how to get involved in a faux grass-roots political campaign through initiatives such as filming videos, writing "Take Back Gotham" songs and coming out to meet the "Dentmobile," now touring several dozen American cities.

On March 12, however, a rally for the fictional D.A. candidate was broken up by Chicago police who seemed perplexed in the face of a group of volunteers handing out Harvey Dent bumper stickers, buttons and T-shirts.

Taking the self-referentiality a step further, another website, www.ibelieveinharveydenttoo.com provides a tantalizing clue about some connection between the Joker and Two Face that will presumably be explained in the film.

But discovering it takes some work. Call up the site and you'll see a blacked-out page with the message: "Page not found." But pull down "select all" from your browser's edit menu and a none too subtle shout-out to the killer clown is revealed: a pages-long sequence of repeating Ha ha ha's.

"I've never been a fan of the Batman series," writes a poster on the the marketing-analysis blog "Catch Up Lady,” "but this sort of thing makes me want to go see it."

A 'top-secret' trailer

Of course, moviedom's paradigm has been shifted by high-impact, low-cost viral marketing campaigns before. Promos for the 1999 indie thriller "The Blair Witch Project" led viewers to believe the movie was a student film gone horribly wrong, resulting in the disappearance and possible murder of a group of Maryland college students. Likewise, stealth Internet marketing for this year's alien-invasion hit "Cloverfield" tantalized moviegoers by keeping them guessing about the movie's subject matter -- and even, initially, its title.

Wired magazine contributing editor Frank Rose has extensively covered the world of alternate reality gaming and credits the "Cloverfield" ARG campaign with helping the film surpass all box office expectations (hauling in nearly $50 million in its opening weekend). The debut of its "top-secret" trailer last July caused a sensation, compelling moviegoers to take to the Net to uncover a host of interlinking websites and viral tie-ins. But Rose feels "Cloverfield" marketers failed to sustain that early critical mass of interest through the film's January release, ultimately squandering its full viral potential.

"It had what looked like was going to be an ARG behind it, but then it fizzled out," Rose said. "Although there was a lot of comment about 'Cloverfield' online, with people looking for clues and debating the clues, things died down and didn't start to heat up again until before the movie was released. It got a pretty big opening weekend, but then ticket sales fell off a cliff. That's an example of what a not terribly well-executed ARG can do."

To date, however, the "Dark Knight" campaign's master stroke has to be its clown-cake giveaway.

In July, specially defaced dollar bills advertising yet another "Dark Knight" Web domain, at www.whysoserious.com were handed out to fans at San Diego's Comic-Con. On the website, the Joker (Ledger in the film) offered Bat-aficionados the chance to become his henchmen with special prizes tempting those willing to carry out his off-line demands. These players gathered at a physical location to obtain a phone number that was written in the sky by a plane, and from there, they embarked on an elaborate scavenger hunt around the city. It all ended with a scene taken from the "Dark Knight" trailer -- a fan being abducted by "thugs" in a Cadillac Escalade and getting symbolically "murdered" by armed men who mistook the player for the Joker.

Before you could say "Holy meta-narrative, Batman!," fan bulletin boards and chat rooms went wild with news after players posted about the staged event online. "I'm staying glued to this ARG until its end," wrote blogger Matt Keyser, "and definitely seeing 'The Dark Knight' when it comes out."

In December, conscientious followers noted a mysterious countdown on WhySoSerious.com that instructed viewers to travel to 22 real-world addresses in cities from coast to coast to pick up a "very special treat" under the name "Robin Banks" (get it?).

Turns out the addresses were bakeries in possession of a number of cakes bearing phone numbers spelled out in icing. Many of those who called the number recoiled in confusion when the cake in front of them began to ring -- cellphones encased in "Gotham City Evidence" bags had been baked directly inside, each containing a phone charger, Joker paraphernalia and explicit instructions to keep the phone with them at all times. In addition to enlisting the players as the Joker's minions, the devices conveyed invitations to special screenings of newly cut "Dark Knight" Imax trailers.

"Wow. You really took the cake! Now put the icing on it," the note says, continuing: "Let's hope your fellow goons come through as well as you. Once all the layers are in place, you'll all get your just desserts."

Similar campaign

Players can thank 42 Entertainment, the marketing firm behind "The Dark Knight" ARG that famously concocted a similar campaign for Nine Inch Nails' chart-topping 2007 album "Year Zero." That well-received alternate reality game involved a dystopian vision of the fictional "year 0000," USB drives left at various concert venues for fans to find, interconnecting websites, murals and recorded phone messages.

Although 42 Entertainment's principal creative executive Jordan Weisman would not comment for this story, Frank Rose got him to explain the operative ideas behind ARGs for an article that appeared in Wired in December.

"His outlook is that people are so bombarded by advertising messages, they automatically tune them out," Rose said. "So he figured out the way to get people's attention was to not shout the message but to hide it and let people discover it. That's been the basis of this genre from the start."

So, how are ARGs going to affect the future of movie marketing? "It's a very powerful marketing tool for a certain kind of product -- especially for a tent-pole like the 'Batman' films," said Rose.

Or, as ARGN.com's Waite couches the debate: "A movie experience is an hour and 45 minutes, you watch it, you can talk about it, you're done. But wouldn't it be cool if you could explore more of it with others and expand the universe yourself? This stuff is tailor-made for movie fans."

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Regal, Like AMC, to Add Imax Screens

The Regal Entertainment Group, which owns the nation’s largest movie theater chain, will work with the Imax Corporation to open 31 new, large-format outlets. The two companies said they would share the cost of installation and the revenue, but declined to reveal more detailed financial information.

One of Regal’s primary competitors, AMC Entertainment, announced a similar deal with Imax in December. The movie theater business, buffeted by a decade-long boom in home entertainment that has hurt attendance, is betting that Imax’s eye-popping imagery will help lure patrons to the multiplex. Currently Imax has 150 theaters in the United States, with plans for more than 300 by 2010.

The increased emphasis on Imax comes as Hollywood makes more movies available in the format, which is still struggling to expand beyond its roots in science and history museums. Several summer blockbusters will have an Imax option, including “Kung Fu Panda,” a DreamWorks Animation picture featuring the voice of Jack Black.

Regal said it will install Imax digital projection systems in 20 of its largest markets. It noted that the equipment will help improve profitability for itself and movie studios by cutting the expenses of shipping and handling film prints. The first converted theaters will open in November. BROOKS BARNES

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A Space Odyssey's feuding fathers

The 20th century's defining sci-fi epic was a byproduct of collaboration between two geniuses with wildly divergent worldviews. Their clash followed Arthur C. Clarke to the end

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right," claimed Arthur C. Clarke, the renowned author who died this week at age 90. "When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

For Clarke, who predicted the use of telecommunications satellites decades before technology made them a reality, and who co-authored the mind-bendingly imponderable 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick in 1968, there was no impossible. To give up on possibility was to give up on humanity itself, and that was something the British-born farm lad was never willing to do.

Inspired to pursue a life of science and speculation by a childhood fascination with dinosaurs and the fiction of Jules Verne, Clarke saw more than adventure when he looked to the stars and imagined humanity's probing presence there.

A mystic with a slide-rule, he envisioned nothing short of grace in space. Calling extraterrestrial exploration "the moral equivalent of war" from the chilly depths of the Cold War, Clarke, an RAF officer in World War II, believed nothing short of redemption lay in man's grasp of worlds beyond his own. Demanding the concerted efforts of people toward a destiny far greater than any earthly conflicts, space for Clarke was the realm of our redemption. To save the Earth, we must reach beyond it. As he also claimed, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

It was precisely this blend of technological determinism with childhood wonder that drew Kubrick to Clarke in 1964.

On the surface , the two couldn't have seemed more ill-suited for fruitful collaboration.

Where Clarke was a tweedy, bespectacled Englishman with a head for theorems and a passionate conviction in humanity's deliverance through science, Kubrick was a wry, Jewish-American cynic, a true believer in folly as destiny and the Cold War itself as proof that man's primary ingenuity was a world-class genius for self-destruction. Prior to approaching Clarke – in whose 1948 story The Sentinel Kubrick saw the possibility of "the proverbial really good science fiction movie" – the filmmaker had rendered the nuclear apocalypse as a form of endgame slapstick in Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

The story was, in customary Clarkean terms, stark simplicity itself. On the surface of the moon, a team of explorers discovers a crystalline object shaped like a pyramid.

In attempting to examine the shimmering whatzit, the hairless, moon-suited apes destroy it, thus sending a signal to the extraterrestrial forces that created them of man's existence.

It's not difficult to imagine what captivated Kubrick about The Sentinel: the idea of man's arrogance tempered by boobish incompetence; the suggestion of civilization being nothing more than a move in an interplanetary chess match; the implication that humanity may be more tool to technology than technology a servant to man.

If Kubrick interpreted the story more bleakly than Clarke intended – The Sentinel can also be read as a tale of man's ascending one more rung on the ladder to greater destiny – the director and the author were at least synched in their shared determination to make a movie experience like no one had ever seen before.

With movie technology one might possibly go where scientific speculation could only point, and that was beyond the limits of the possible. Clarke signed on.

It was a challenge that meshed too perfectly with his philosophy. As he had written, "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."

Certainly working with the infamously finicky Kubrick must have tested even Clarke's faith in the impossible, and the four-year process involved in bringing 2001: A Space Odyssey to the screen would bring the contrasting sensibilities of the two men into frequent but ultimately evolutionary collision. Where Clarke was a man of ideas, facts and explication, Kubrick loved ambiguity, silence and unfathomable mystery: a black hole to Clarke's heavenly body.

But Kubrick was the director, and if Clarke provided too much information – especially of the spoken variety – the director would simply cut it out or send it back for a good whittling. Since the story itself was too sparse to support a feature film, Clarke expanded it to novel length to coincide with the release of the movie, and it is in the difference between these two 2001's – Clarke's novel and Kubrick's movie – that one encounters the divergent visions of these men most starkly. Although both are finally open to a range of interpretation – interpreting Kubrick's movie would become one of the 1960s' most avidly played mind games – there's no doubt that Clarke's intentions in the telling of the Space Odyssey were far less deliberately murky than the filmmaker's.

On the simplest level, it boils down to a distinction between fate and destiny.

Where Kubrick's film so brilliantly suggests that the entire history of humankind, from the ape-like creatures foraging and fighting in the movie's opening section to the astronaut Dave Bowman's climactic transformation into the heavenly "star child," has been the result of manipulation by extraterrestrial forces, Clarke's novel implies a kind of cosmic coupling: man ultimately merging with his creator in a form of optimistic transfiguration. The star child is what we become when we respond to the calling of what lies beyond us.

While 2001 sealed Clarke's status as a space-age sage and celebrity, even to the point of sitting elbow-to-elbow with Walter Cronkite during several televised Apollo moon landings, the film's success was clearly a mixed blessing.

Throughout the rest of his career, the author felt compelled to untangle his intentions from that of Kubrick, ultimately writing not only three sequels to the original book but an entire volume (titled The Lost Worlds of 2001) dedicated to clarifying how his ideas and the director's got muddled in the trek to the great cinematic beyond.

For Clarke, the undocking of his and Kubrick's concepts was much more than a matter of mere authorial ego. It came down to a question of core philosophy.

Clarke was simply and fundamentally uneasy with imponderables – especially those that implied there were certain things we cannot, should not and would not ever know.

As a farm-bred stargazer with his feet in the grass and his eyes on the heavens, Clarke saw the exploration of space as the means by which man's instinct toward exploration could rescue the species from itself. Science had a moral dimension, and the necessary condition for attainment of that future was clarity: Facts, if not the truth, would truly set us free.

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JK Rowling: I considered suicide as a struggling single mother

jk rowling

Depression: JK Rowling has reportedly admitted feeling suicidal after her first marriage ended

Best-selling children's author JK Rowling has revealed that she considered committing suicide when she was a single mother struggling to survive and succeed as a writer.

The Harry Potter writer has admitted she thought of taking her own life when she was in her mid-20s after separating from her first husband Jorge Arantes, a Portuguese journalist.

She received cognitive behavioural therapy after seeking medical help following the break-up.

The Edinburgh-based writer - who has amassed a personal fortune estimated at £545million - has previously discussed her experiences with depression during her twenties but never mentioned any suicidal urges.

The 42 year-old said it was the thought of her young daughter, Jessica, that spurred her to seek help.

Speaking to a student newspaper in Edinburgh Miss Rowling said: "Mid-twenties, my life circumstances were poor and I really plummeted. the thing that made me go for help was probably my daughter.

"She was something that earthed me, grounded me, and I thought, this isn't right, she cannot grow up with me in this state."

The writer claimed that she was "dismissed" by a stand-in doctor who was temporarily replacing her Edinburgh GP.

She recalled: "The doctor] said: 'If you ever feel a bit low, come back and speak to the practice nurse' and dismissed me.

"We're talking suicidal thoughts here; we're not talking 'I'm a bit miserable'."

It was the dedication of her usual GP that saved her, Miss Rowling said.

She added: "Two weeks later I had a call from my regular GP who looked back over the notes. She called me back in . She saved me because I don't think I would have had the guts to go twice."

After returning to her GP Miss Rowling attended therapy sessions with a counsellor for nine months.

She said: "I definitely had leanings towards depression from a quite an early age but it's an extremely hard condition to recognise in yourself."

She added: "The funny thing is I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never. I think I'm abnormally shameless on that account, because what's to be ashamed of?"

Miss Rowling is now one of the world's most successful authors who has had her seven Harry Potter novels translated into 65 languages.

She is now a mother of three after marrying Dr Neil Murray, 36, in 2001. The couple have a son, David, 5, and a daughter, Mackenzie, 2.

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Harry Potter

Blockbuster: JK's life has changed beyond recognition since she began writing the Harry Potter series

A spokesman for mental health charity Mind said: "It's great that JK Rowling is discussing this.

"Speaking about counselling and other talking treatments is also important. Medication should not be the first port of call in most cases."

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