MediaLog MediaBrief: U.S. Album Sales Hit 10-Year Low

"I'm Surprised Sales Are That High" Dept.--Over the weekend, reports were that U.S. record album sales for the week ending July 23, including digital downloads, hit a ten-year low. Sales that week were down to 8.9 million; the last time weekly record sales were as low was in February 1996.

I have to think that this month's sales low is more grave than the '96 low. That one came in the middle of winter, not too long after the high-water holiday sales period. This new low is in the middle of summer, when teenage music fans (one of the biggest groups of album buyers) are out of school and in summer jobs that give them more disposable income than they might have at other times of the year. I'm not terribly familiar with music industry sales patterns, but such a low under such circumstances at this time of year cannot be a good portent.

Frankly, I'm surprised that overall album sales have not hit lower levels on a more consistent basis. If you separate out digital downloads (the form in which a lot of those teenagers--as well as many others--buy their albums), and Internet retailers, the figure of "hard copy" album sales at traditional retail outlets has got to be at historic lows. Of course, another reason for this is that teenagers and college-age music customers these days are buying fewer and fewer albums period, thanks to the resurgance of single sales in digital form on sites like iTunes.

The music industry continues to disregard the interests and preferences of its customers, as I discussed (in part) in a recent post on why there is not yet an Internet music database similar to the Internet Movie Database. Music companies, if they don't transform their sales, marketing, and legal strategies, should expect that record album sales will continue to plummet.


MediaLog MediaBrief: 25 Years of MTV

"What Ever Happened to the Music in Music Television" Dept.--This coming Tuesday, August 1, marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of MTV on August 1, 1981. The "M" in MTV originally stood for "music"; today it stands for "mediocre," or maybe "muddled." The network has long since (like, at least ten or fifteen years ago) abandoned any serious focus on music in an attempt to pander to teenage viewers. Apparently, the network has even chosen not to recognize its landmark anniversary with any on-air celebration--because it will remind those teenagers that the network is old, and because the audience it is currently targeting wasn't born a quarter century ago and doesn't care about the benchmark.

Some people care, though, and so there will be some recognition of the momentous event despite MTV's stubborn refusal to count any higher than sixteen. The media, of course, is not going to ignore this birthday, not with so many Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers still interested in vintage music and music videos.

"USA Today" today has a couple of stories online featuring MTV's 25 years. One story discusses how the network itself is refusing to mark the occasion (and apparently planning a misguided initiative to program more scripted series). Another story talks more about the twenty-five years of music video history with a 25-item timeline of network highlights. Available also on "USA Today"'s site is an audio gallery and an area for reader comments regarding MTV's 25th anniversary.

In addition, the Associated Press offers this quiz on MTV's 25th. Other stories by other news and entertainment outlets will surely appear between now and the middle of next week.

The most exciting development, and the only on-air recognition by MTV Networks of the anniversary, will be on VH1 Classic, which is replaying the first 24 hours of MTV programming on the anniversary day, next Tuesday, August 1, and again on Saturday, August 5. From the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" (the first video ever played on MTV) through the whole first day of 1981 music hits (and misses), the MediaLog will be clearing off its DVR to make room for this one.

Why Don't We Have an IMDb for Music?

For several years now, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has been the go-to website for anyone seeking information on movie credits, filmography details for directors or actors, or data on current and upcoming movie releases or older films. Recently, IMDb also expanded and enhanced its television credits, so it now is a better source for that information as well.

For readers that might not be familiar with IMDb, every movie and actor or director--plus movie and TV craftspeople of all kinds--has an entry that includes brief biographical details and an exhaustive filmography (in the case of individuals), production details including full cast and crew listing (in the case of movies or TV programs), and, in some cases head shots or publicity photos and links to reviews. The thoroughness and breadth of IMDb's data regarding movies has become a huge boon to film scholars and more casual film buffs alike. Pretty much any factual information needed about movies is available at one's fingertips (via a computer keyboard, of course).

It's shocking (at least to this observer) that a similarly exhaustive and detailed Internet database has not emerged for popular music. It seems entirely logical (again, to this observer) that such a site would not only be popular and heavily-used, but also beneficial to the music industry in the same way that IMDb has become a driver for video/DVD sales through its ownership by Amazon.

An "Internet Music Database" could have a page for each artist with a complete discography, biographical details similar to IMDb's, and even, if the right resources are available, a lyric archive for each artist and a listing of upcoming concert dates and promotional appearances. In addition, each page for an individual album could have links for purchasing the album in either CD form through an Internet retailer or in digital form through downloads. (IMDb has such links for purchasing videotapes or DVDs--and in many cases a movie's soundtrack album--through, naturally, Amazon.)

One of the problems that exacerbates the need for an "Internet Music Database" is the hodge-podge of sources for such information that currently exists. Music fans, I think, are frustrated by the inability to find and use a one-stop source, especially those fans that are familiar with IMDb. There are quite a few lyrics sites out there (the Lyrics Search Engine at lyrics.astraweb.com is perhaps the best), and every record company website has artist info including (usually) discography details. Individual artists also typically have their own informative websites independent of their record company. And music websites such as Yahoo! Launch offer a variety of features in connection with their music services.

Apart from the fact that it is necessary to visit several of these sites to get comprehensive artist or album information, the reliability of that information is an issue. This is a problem especially on lyrics sites--many of which are compiled through user contributions, which are notoriously unreliable--but it can be troublesome even on some artist sites. Even iTunes, which is superior in every other way when it comes to Internet music resources, does not have the kind of exhaustive information available that IMDb does for movies or that I have listed above for a potential music database.

There are no doubt reasons, probably valid ones, why there is as yet no "Internet Music Database." I am not a music industry insider, and frankly do not keep up that well with music industry news, so I am not aware of any publicly discussed reasons. The fact that the music industry stalled so monumentally on even allowing digital downloads of music, and as a result is behind the curve on everything online-related, is surely a contributing factor. The industry dissension and differences of opinion that in part caused that stalling surely is cause as well.

Further, one of the other issues that was part of the delay in making music downloads available--and continues to prevent the music of some artists being available--is that of rights. Mounting a music database that was comparably comprehensive to IMDb's depth regarding movies would require the rights from virtually every existing record company (which really shouldn't be that difficult since probably 90% of the big record companies are part of one of the Big Four music conglomerates) but given the other industry problems I've just discussed, that might be too much to hope for, at least in the near future.

And so, music fans, as they have for nearly a decade now, will continue to get the short end of the proverbial stick when it comes to consideration on the part of the fractious music industry. For too long now, customers of popular music have been given little respect, whether in the form of ridiculously high CD prices or in the form of specious "piracy" lawsuits aimed at the hapless fans that the industry ought to be courting.

It will likely take a powerful interest outside of the mainstream music industry to make an "Internet Music Database" a reality (if it is ever to become a reality), similarly to how Apple and its iTunes prodded the industry to finally make music available online on a widespread basis. In fact, iTunes might be the best bet as the instigator that finally creates or makes possible such a database. But a few others, such as Microsoft, Yahoo, or Google, could also put together the required initiative, influence, and interest to make a music database happen. Whichever entity does make it happen might have to rely on the acquisition of an already existing website or data company to expand and develop into an IMDb-like music site. IMDb itself didn't prosper until after it was purchased by Amazon (although pre-acquisition, IMDb was a much better and more developed site than any existing music database candidate would currently be).

In the larger picture, the creation of a music database is probably not a priority of the music industry, and maybe not of the other companies I mentioned. iTunes is doing gangbusters as both a business and as a cultural icon even without adding such a service. Microsoft (as it has been doing for years) and Google (as it has just begun doing) might be too busy trying to take over the world. As a result, for the time being, the interests of music fans end up being the last priority of the businesses trying to sell them music.


The MediaLog MediaFix: Selectavision commercial (1978)

This is another early VCR commercial from the 1970s, which, like an earlier such commercial that I posted, is interesting now in how it serves as a tutorial to viewers in what a VCR can do, and why people might want one in their home.


"Rolling Stone" Gathers No Moss: A Personal Journey Through Magazine Readership (Part 3)

(This is the third and final part of a three-part article; Part 1; Part 2.)

"Rolling Stone" magazine was a mainstay in my life throughout high school and college. I read every issue virtually cover to cover, used the content of the magazine to guide my music and reading tastes, and even clipped some of the images to decorate my walls. By the mid-1990s, though, after I began graduate school and my life became exponentially busier, "RS" simply fell in significance and became less of a priority.

I still maintained my subscription (and do to this day), but my annual renewals became (at times) due more to tradition and a sense of duty than to a continuing passion for the magazine. I started to read only what really interested me, and the volume and frequency of these interests diminished. In the '90s, the magazine shifted too much towards an obsession with style and fashion for my taste, and also became too similar to editor Jann Wenner's other publication, "Us" magazine. As I grew older (and exited the coveted 18-24 demographic), it seemed like I outgrew "Rolling Stone"'s focus. I still liked music, of course, but not so much the current music of the mid- to late-1990s.

I knew that the place "RS" held in my life had been transformed circa 1997 when the "Great Rolling Stone Purge" took place. Up to that point, I still had every issue I had ever received. Even as the mild pack rat that I am, the crates full of magazines had become too unwieldy to continue to store and move. So, over the course of a few weeks, I weeded ten years worth of "Rolling Stone"s down into a couple of crates of special issues and select issues representative of the ten-year span of my collection. Since then, I've weeded that group down even more, especially after my cat used the spines of one crate of magazines as a scratching post.

Because of the significant place "Rolling Stone" has had in my life, and also because I still often find legitimately interesting articles in the magazine, I will probably be a lifetime reader and subscriber. (Plus, there remain those issues of tradition and duty.) A couple of years ago, I learned of an offer for a lifetime subscription to "RS" for something like $99 (which seems much too low, so it might have been $199--it was a bargain, for sure)--and briefly entertained it, and will probably take it up if I ever see it again and can afford the outlay. After all, if I maintain the tradition, and live for at least another 40 years as I hope, at the higher price I just mentioned it would only come to $5.00 per year!

I guess that my relationship to "Rolling Stone" has become like that of an old married couple: after an extended period of passion and excitement in my youth, there were periods of doubt and dissatisfaction; now, though, twenty years into my "RS" readership (which is far longer than my first marriage and my new marriage combined), I have settled into a comfortable and reliable pattern that is punctuated with moments of renewed passion and excitement. And to be able to describe in such a way the place of a magazine in one's life is pretty interesting indeed.

(Photo source: www.rollingstone.com)


MediaLog MediaBrief: Associated Press Botches Ken Jennings "Jeopardy" Story

It seems my previous post lambasting "Jeopardy" game show champion Ken Jennings for being ungrateful was based on a poorly researched and inaccurately written AP article. In a more candid and thorough article posted after the AP article by E! Online, a fuller explanation of Jennings' comments is offered.

In a rebuttal to a "New York Post" article criticizing him, Jennings said about his original statement, "It's a humor piece, and one which gets its laughs from the outrageous non sequiturs it proposes, not the ripeness of its target for criticism." He goes on to say, "You and I have a lot of history, 'Jeopardy.' You know I think the world of you--�you're putting my kids through college, for crying out loud! So I think I can be open with you in a way that others just can't. ... For the record: I've loved 'Jeopardy' since I was a kid, as anyone who talks to me for about five minutes knows."

Apparently, the AP writer either didn't read Jennings' entire statement, or had an ax to grind regarding Jennings or "Jeopardy," or was simply lazy. The original AP story on which I based my earlier post was bad journalism, and I now regret having reacted so sharply to it without looking into the story more. My apologies to Jennings or anyone else who might read the post and be offended by it.

MediaLog MediaBrief: "Jeopardy" Champ Wigs Out

A follow-up post to this article, in which I address some problems in the AP article upon which it is based, can be found here.

"Not Just Looking, but Kicking, a Gift Horse in the Mouth" Dept.--The Associated Press reports that legendary $2.5 million-dollar winner "Jeopardy" contestant Ken Jennings has issued a statement totally trashing the show and host Alex Trebek.

Regarding Trebek, Jennings writes, "Nobody knows he died in that fiery truck crash a few years back and was immediately replaced with the Trebektron 4000 (I see your engineers still can't get the mustache right, by the way)." The AP further reports that Jennings has criticized the program's "effete, left-coast" categories and "same-old" format. "You're like the Dorian Gray of syndication," Jennings says. "You seem to think 'change' means replacing a blue polyethylene backdrop with a slightly different shade of blue polyethylene backdrop every presidential election or so."

Where do I begin to take this guy to task? This is the program that made him a millionaire! Those "effete" categories are the same ones (OK, not exactly the same ones, but you know what I mean) that allowed him to be handed that two-and-a-half million. Trebek, despite what Jennings or anyone else may think of him, is the moderator who egged Jennings on and played a very large role in Jennings making it to that 2.5 mil. Without "Jeopardy," Ken Jennings would still be a nerdy, unknown software engineer; come to think of it, he still is a mostly unknown, definitely nerdy software engineer, just a rich one--thanks to "Jeopardy"!

If there's been a more ridiculous recent case of public ingratitude, I for one am unaware of it. The "Jeopardy" producers--maybe even Trebek himself--ought to travel to Jennings' home town of Salt Lake City and rip the remainder of that couple million out of his hands faster than he could say "I'll take 'I'm a Complete Ass and Have Proven It to the Whole World' for $200, Alex."

"Game Show Marathon" Runs a Little Short

Although the summer stunt program "Game Show Marathon" has ended its run on CBS--and probably won't be back--I hadn't started this blog when it was airing, so I'm briefly commenting on it now.

"Game Show Marathon" capitalized on America's longtime obsession with game shows by combining several of TV history's most popular games with America's current obsession with D-list celebrities in the form of a game show tournament (or, marathon). The celebs played the games for an ultimate cash prize for charity, while the winnings they earned in the individual games were awarded to play-at-home viewers who entered the contest via cellphone text messages (in the process, managing to work in America's current obsession for doing things with their cellphones other than talking to people).

Leslie Nielsen, SNL's Tim Meadows, TLC's Paige Davis, N'Sync's Lance Bass, Baywatch's Brande Roderick, and marathon winner Kathy Najimy competed in classic game shows "The Price is Right," "Card Sharks," "Beat the Clock," "Let's Make a Deal," "Press Your Luck," "Match Game," and "Family Feud." The fact that it is necessary to preface most of these celebrities with the possessives I've used in order to identify them is an indication of the grade of celebrity involved.

Ricki Lake of John Waters movie and tabloid talk show fame served as the host for all of the games. While Lake was an amiable enough host (despite the fact that at times she seemed to conduct the proceedings as if she thought she was slumming--which she was), the fact that she was the sole host of all these revived classic game shows was one of the program's weaknesses.

The producers appeared to have gone to great efforts to replicate the well-known sets of all of the classic shows--with impressive results--but it seems as if they thought that this would be enough to attract the attention and renewed affection of audiences. They couldn't have been more wrong, because one of the things that caused most of these shows' popularity in the first place was their irreplaceable hosts. "Let's Make a Deal" without Monty Hall, "The Price is Right" without Bob Barker, "Family Feud" without Richard Dawson, and "Match Game" without Gene Rayburn are all just, well, impressively reproduced sets populated by D-list celebrities.


Podcasts I Have Known

I've been a podcast fan for about a year now, listening to them mainly in my car with my iPod shuffle plugged into the sound system through a cassette adapter normally used to hook up Discman CD players. In fact, I hardly ever use my iPod for music anymore. I've sampled a variety of podcasts and settled on several that I really enjoy and would like to recommend.

Most of the podcasts I listen to (and I probably listen regularly to about fifteen) deal with the same subjects as the MediaLog: movies and TV, the entertainment industry, pop culture. Several of these are podcasts of radio programs from National Public Radio affiliate KCRW out of Santa Monica, California. "The Treatment," hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell, is a half-hour interview program featuring a single film director (although on occasion the show will feature a writer or a directing or writing team). The interviewee is usually one that has a film or is about to have a film in current release, but the range of subjects discussed is hardly limited to their current project. I've been amazed how much I have learned from and enjoyed the interviews, even those with directors I had previously known little about.

"The Business," hosted by Claude Brodesser, is a more wide-ranging show that deals with all aspects of the entertainment industry through news capsules ("The Hollywood News Caravan") and several brief segments per episode (many of which are interviews). The "Caravan" is an irreverent, sometimes tongue-in-cheek summary of entertainment news, while the program segments always treat an intriguing range of media topics. The other KCRW podcast I listen to is called "Martini Shot" and is a four-minute comic commentary by TV writer Rob Long. Long draws on his lengthy industry experience (he started as a writer on "Cheers") to craft witty, incisive, and usually insightful jabs at the foibles and idiosyncrasies of the entertainment industry and its denizens.

The national network of NPR is also the source of a wide variety of podcasts and the one that I listen to regularly is simply called "NPR Movies." It's nothing more than a weekly compilation of all movie-related segments from NPR programs such as "Day to Day," "All Things Considered," "Talk of the Nation," and "Fresh Air," and as a result runs longer or shorter from week to week depending on how many such segments there have been. But it's a great way for movie aficionados to get all the stories without having to listen to hours of radio each week.

Apart from public radio, another great source of podcasts is the online magazine "Slate." They have a daily podcast that is a reading of one of their feature stories, the subject of which can range from current politics to cultural topics. The length of each of these podcasts is generally in the five- to seven-minute range. "Slate" also has two other podcast features: "The Slate Gabfest," which is a weekly half-hour political roundtable featuring "Slate" correspondents; and, the "Explainer," in which commentator June Thomas (with a delightful British accent) offers a daily four-minute explanation of some detail of a current news story (recent "Explainer"s, for example, include explanations of whether or not Ken Lay died from stress, how you can head-butt like World Cup soccer player Zinedane Zidane, and the composition of the Israeli-missile-induced smoke over Beirut).

The public radio and "Slate" podcasts are simply adaptations of texts created for other media. One podcast created exclusively for iPod listeners is Robert Berry's "retroCRUSH" (although it is the companion to his website of the same name). "retroCRUSH" the website is a popculture/retro compendium of articles, links, and images with an irreverent tone. Berry's approximately-thirty-minute, approximately-weekly podcast features discussions of pop culture minutiae, occasional retro celebrity interviews (Bob Newhart or the woman who played Nellie Olsen on TV's "Little House on the Prairie," e.g.), viewer mail (voice mail and read e-mails), song excerpts from TV shows or commercials, and even Berry (sometimes with friends) doing commentaries while driving home in his car from somewhere. Sometimes profane, sometimes profound, "retroCRUSH" is worth a try (URL is simply www.retrocrush.com).

Each of the podcasts I have discussed can be found on iTunes in the podcast section by doing a simple title search.


The MediaLog MediaFix: Funny "Tattletales" Clip from 1974

Again, I've found a clip from one of the game shows featured in GSN's "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time." This "Tattletales" clip from 1974 is pretty funny. I'll just say that it involves a prediction and answer that features a prominent public figure from that year. It also is a pretty good example of the "Tattletales" game play for those that may not be familiar with it.

(1 min. 57 secs.; source: YouTube)

Greatest Game Shows #48 to #42

In a previous post, I reviewed the first episode of the new Game Show Network limited-series "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time." That first episode featured #50 "Three's a Crowd" and #49 "The New Treasure Hunt." The next two episodes of the series--which airs on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights at 10 pm EST/9 pm CST for the duration--have taken the countdown through #42.

The #48 game show was the 1980s Bill Cullen-hosted "Blockbusters." Current GSN viewers have probably seen this show since it airs everyday weekday morning. A single contestant faces off against a two-person team of members from the same family (two sets of siblings in the episode featured in the countdown) in a game where players attempt to make it across a grid of hexagons (one team horizontally, the other vertically) by answering questions for which the answer starts with the letter in the hexagon. Somewhat like "Hollywood Squares" or "Tic Tac Dough," one team can block the other by cutting off their path across the board while trying to make it across themselves.

The winner of the game gets to proceed to the "Gold Rush Round." Here, they try to make it across a similar grid of hexagons, except this time there are multiple letters in many of the hexagons, and the letters are the initials for the answer to that hexagon's clue. Making it across within the allotted sixty seconds earns the contestant $2,500.

Since the program listings indicated that the second episode would cover #48-#46, it was clear that three complete programs could not be shown within the hour. For #47, the early-1990s "Dating Game" rip-off "Studs," a complete episode was not shown (not even a short clip); instead it was merely mentioned over a still image of host Mark de Carlo. I figure that for some of the shows in the countdown the network was unable to get rights, and thus are giving them just a mention and a still photo as they did with "Studs."

The next game show, #46, was Game Show Network's own circa 2000 show "Hollywood Showdown." This seemed like a dubious choice, one probably included in the countdown simply because GSN didn't have to worry about the aforementioned rights issues. "Showdown" isn't a bad program (I'd neither heard of it nor seen it previously), but as a recent-vintage cable game show, it hardly had the exposure or the cachet to be considered one of the greatest of all time.

The game play for "Hollywood Showdown" is based on movie and TV trivia questions. Two players drawn from a bank of five or six compete against each other with the first one answering three correct questions winning the round and the loser eliminated. The winner has the opportunity to play the "Box Office" round in which the contestant has to answer five questions correctly to win a jackpot that builds until it is won by someone.

The '90s game "Shop Til You Drop" was #45 on the countdown. Its interesting how the so-called "greatest game shows of all time" seem to include so many obscure shows (and with four-fifths of the countdown still remaining). The reason "Shop" is included--as with "Hollywood Showdown"--is likely that it was a program that GSN was able to get the rights for and decided to use as filler for the bottom reaches of the rankings. Trust me, it's certainly not because "Shop Til You Drop" is legitimately one of the 50 greatest.

Briefly, the game play takes place on a set designed to resemble a shopping mall. Two two-person teams compete by engaging in silly stunts that are sometimes based on pricing schemes similar to those in "The Price is Right." After a few of these stunts, they face off in a lightning round of trivia questions. The winning team participates in a final round in which one member unveils products while the other exchanges them for gift boxes that contain prizes that are potentially much more expensive than the original product. If the team has accumulated $2,500 worth of merchandise they win the merchandise plus a deluxe prize (a trip to Barbados in the episode aired in the countdown).

"Shop Til You Drop" is entirely forgettable, which makes me wish that GSN had actually shown the #44 game show, another stunt game, the classic "Truth or Consequences." "Truth" must have been one of the shows for which no rights were available, because it was dispensed with in a short voiceover to still photos of the game. The premise of "Truth or Consequences" was that contestants had to give truthful replies to questions posed, or be obligated to complete particular stunts (the "consequences") in order to win prizes.

Game show #43 was the more enjoyable "Tattle Tales." Children of the '70s (like myself) will remember this curious game hosted by Bert Convy in which celebrity husbands and wives guess what answers the other will give to queries in a format similar to that of "The Newlywed Game." The twist in "Tales" is that the wives in the first half of the show and the husbands in the second half are sequestered offstage and are seen only on small TV monitors in front of their onstage spouses. A couple of rounds of this questioning for each gender result in the winning couple earning prizes for a section of the studio audience assigned to them.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching "Tattle Tales" now (besides the obviously '70s-era set decorated in hues of red, yellow, and green) is the celebrity couples most of whom you can only assume have long since divorced. The episode featured in the countdown had a post-"Star Trek" TV, pre-"Star Trek" movie William Shatner, a strikingly young George Hamilton, and comedian Scoey Mitchell (who I had never heard of) and their wives as the celebs.

The final game show of the third installment of "The 50 Greatest Game Shows" was #42 "Queen for a Day." Again treated only with a voiceover and still photos, "Queen for a Day" was the semi-legendary late-1950s/early-1960s game where housewives recounted sob stories to host Jack Bailey to see which one would be crowned "Queen for a Day" (and showered with gifts) for her troubles.

"The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time" airs on Game Show Network at 10 pm EST/9 pm CST on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings for the next several weeks. Late next week, after the countdown cruises through the #30s, I will post with another synopsis.


"Rolling Stone" Gathers No Moss: A Personal Journey Through Magazine Readership (Part 2)

(This is Part 2 of a three-part article; Part 1; Part 3)

All through high school, meaning the late-1980s, I was one of the most avid readers of "Rolling Stone" you could have found. Still the only regular and desired piece of mail I received, I eagerly anticipated the bi-monthly arrivals of the latest issues, anticipating who or what would be on the cover each time. I attacked each new issue with a fervor that I have probably met infrequently with any endeavor since. And I took the issues everywhere; I remember reading it in the car, at my family's lake cabin, and at school (one moment reading an issue with bluesman Robert Cray on the cover in study hall on the last day of school stands out).

The contents of the issues of "RS" in these years helped shape my music habits and my reading habits. That same Robert Cray issue also featured a story on the 20th anniversary of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" album, thus helping to turn me on to one of the greatest albums by the greatest rock group ever at the beginning of a summer when my Beatles fandom was born due to a cousin's loan of their "1962-1966" and "1967-1970" albums. Additional Beatles' articles later on helped to fuel that interest. By '87-'88, I was already a huge Prince fan, but the occasional articles and rare cover stories on the Purple One helped propel that interest too. I remember one of the first issues I received in the mail having U2 on the cover, a band that I had heard of but hadn't yet gotten into. After that issue of "RS" and the purchase of a cassette copy of U2's latest album "The Joshua Tree" (a purchase probably inspired by reading the "RS" article), I've been a big fan ever since.

"RS" influenced my reading habits as well. My reading grew somewhat more sophisticated as I took in political columns by William Greider and P.J. O'Rourke, in addition to the many hard-hitting investigative and analytical articles that "RS" featured in the 1980s. The short articles on rock music and the music industry, as well as the shorter items in the "Random Notes" pages, turned me on to subjects that I read about in other sources that I might never have otherwise known about.

The other, less erudite service "Rolling Stone" provided during my high school years was a ready source of images to cut out and paste all over my bedroom walls and school locker interior. I had an advertisement for a Berke Breathed "Bloom County" comic compilation book that decorated my walls into my first couple dorm rooms in college. And my senior year school locker had as its decorative centerpiece what I dubbed the "Paula Abdul shrine," the pictures for which came mostly from the pages of "RS."

Finally, as the '80s became the '90s, I graduated from high school, and my "Rolling Stone" subscription followed me to college. Now, in addition to having my own mail in the form of the magazine, I also had my own mailbox. As I've mentioned, the pages of "RS" continued to provide decoration for the walls and bulletin board of my dorm rooms. Throughout most of college, I consumed "RS" as diligently as I had in high school, reading every issue quite literally from cover to cover. There were a lot more of the yellow address-forwarding labels that had been on the first few issues I had ever received, as (like most people) I moved around quite a bit during my college years.

I got married the day after I graduated from college and moved out of state the following year for graduate school. As the subsequent years passed, and then as the '90s became the '00s, the significance of "Rolling Stone" in my life became less and less. But that is the subject of the third and final part of this article.

(Photo source: www.rollingstone.com)


The MediaLog MediaFix: "The New Treasure Hunt" (1970s Game Show)

Here is a video clip from the 1970s game show "The New Treasure Hunt" which I discussed in my earlier post on the Game Show Network program "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time." The clip is a pretty good example of the game play: the contestant has to pick a gift-wrapped box out of the many that decorate the set; attached to the box is an envelope with a relatively small amount of cash in it, which host Geoff Edwards offers to the contestant in exchange for giving up whatever prize is offered inside the box (which can range from a "zonk" prize with no value to a car to the top prize of $25,000); the contestant then makes their choice, which in this clip turns out to be the wrong one! If this premise seems a little similar to "Let's Make a Deal," it is....

(2 mins. 36 secs.; source: YouTube)

The 50th and 49th Greatest Game Shows of All Time

Last night was the premiere of a new limited-edition series on Game Show Network (I still call it that despite the net's lame attempt to redefine its identity as "GSN"). "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time" will chronicle, as the name indicates, what someone (the producers I presume, and/or the network's executives) considers TV's greatest game shows.

If the first episode is any indication, it should prove to be an interesting countdown. In this initial entry, the countdown begins (naturally) with #50 "Three's a Crowd" and #49 "The New Treasure Hunt." Both were from the production company of Chuck Barris (also creator of "The Dating Game" and "The Gong Show"--both of which I'm sure will show up later in the countdown), with the episodes featured from 1979 and 1974, respectively.

"Three's a Crowd" is a sight to behold. Apparently short-lived (and if you see it you'll easily figure out why), this program has got to be one of the most blatantly sexist in TV history. The premise is that male contestants answer lurid questions (or one's that are spun luridly, not unlike in "Match Game") which, similarly to Barris' "The Newlywed Game," are supposed to be matched by the men's wives *and* by their secretaries. The idea is to see which of the two women know the man better, but the questions, answers, and interplay amongst the participants result in a spectacle that today is truly jaw-dropping to witness.

Examples: one of the questions was (I'm paraphrasing) "What is the gesture of affection that you are best known for?" The men's answers included "a big bear hug" and "stroking the cheek." The answers given by the secretaries and wives (who emerged in that order to answer the questions) were such that one of the men seemed to be known to give bear hugs, pinch bottoms, and give neck rubs--all to his secretary! The behavior recounted on "Three's a Crowd" must have been one of the reasons why sexual harassment training has become commonplace. My wife, who works in human resources, thought that the program would be a good one to use for negative examples in such training.

If "Three's a Crowd" was lurid and offensive, "The New Treasure Hunt" suffered from the opposite problem--it was mostly boring. Contestants were drawn from the studio audience three at a time to draw straws (basically) and see which one got to proceed in a "Let's Make a Deal"-style prize trade-off scheme. The proceedings, though, were much less interesting and engaging than "Deal"'s legendary wheeling and dealing, and as a result "The New Treasure Hunt" (an update of a slightly different late-1950s game show) is not all that great.

I plan to continue tuning in to "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time," and will probably give additional updates as the countdown progresses. One of the reasons I am interested in the series is for its historical value; who knows if episodes of an (albeit thankfully) obscure show like "Three's a Crowd" will ever be available again for viewing? This first installment featured complete episodes of the two game shows, but apparently that won't be the case throughout, as tonight's installment features the next three shows in the countdown and one installment next week features four. That's too bad, because the opportunity to see these episodes in their entirety is what establishes any claim the series has to greatness.


Worshipping in the "Cathedrals" of Baseball

For baseball fans, if not for a wider audience, a little-known program worth the price of admission is the INHD show "Cathedrals of the Game." I stumbled upon it myself while browsing the cable/DVR program guide without even realizing that there was a network called INHD. If you are lucky enough to have the network on your system, and love baseball, I recommend stepping up to the plate and sampling an episode.

Host Michelle Beadle is the tour guide through almost all of the new "retro" generation of ballparks (such as Seattle's Safeco Field, Pittsburgh's PNC Park, and Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank Park), as well as venerable stadiums such as Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Fenway Park. Each half-hour episode features a single ballpark, with the general format including a guided tour of the stadium (with special emphasis on the home-team clubhouse and each park's special features), a chat with a local baseball historian who shows off the city's baseball-related historical sites, and a closing segment shot during a game.

The program (like all programs on INHD) is designed to be viewed in high-def (although it is still enjoyable in normal def, which is how I've watched it). The episodes feature expansive shots of the interiors and exteriors of the ballparks and lots of wide-angle images (some of them almost fisheyed, at least on my non-HD TV). Anyone who has an HD set will enjoy the show even more. I've been a big ballpark aficionado since I was a kid, and anyone with similar interests in ballparks or baseball history will like "Cathedrals of the Game" even more than garden-variety baseball fans.

While I'm on the subject of ballparks, let me also recommend a great website called "Ballparks by Munsey and Suppes" (web address is simply ballparks.com). Not restricted to just baseball parks, the site also has sections on basketball and hockey arenas and football stadiums; additionally, it includes past, present, and future stadiums and arenas. (There are even sections on international soccer stadiums and college football stadiums.) The pages for each of the stadiums or arenas typically have a few images, vital stats, a timeline for the venues for that sport in that city, and links to exterior articles or websites about the venue. If you're a ballpark fan and planning on checking out "Cathedrals of the Game," "Ballparks" is worth a look too.

(Photo source: www.inhd.com)

The MediaLog MediaFix: Panasonic VHS commercial from 1978

In the first of what I hope will be many editions of The MediaLog MediaFix, I've got an early television commercial for Panasonic VCRs. It's fascinating to watch now, as the commercial tries to serve as a tutorial in explaining the features of a video recorder. Look for more video clips and sound bites of a similar nature in the MediaFix in the future!

(30 seconds; source: YouTube)


"Rolling Stone" Gathers No Moss: A Personal Journey Through Magazine Readership (Part 1)

(This is the first part of a three-part article; Part 2; Part 3.)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of when I began reading "Rolling Stone" magazine, and the 19th year of my "Rolling Stone" subscription. As a high school freshman in the fall of 1986, my world practically revolved around the latest issues of "RS" and "Billboard" magazines. Then not yet an "RS" subscriber, I vividly recall spending many of my before- and after-school hours in the school library poring over the latest issues of both magazines, taking in the fascinating stories and information regarding the world of popular music. All that fall, and through most of 1987, I could almost literally recite the "Billboard" Top 10 each week, and came to know about the musicians and artists I listened to through the pages of "Rolling Stone."

It didn't take long for me to want to get my own subscription to "Rolling Stone." (I would have loved to have gotten a subscription to "Billboard" too, but as an industry trade paper, its subscription fees were too way too rich for my 15-year-old blood.) Finally, in early-1987, I managed to scrape enough money together to foot the bill for the annual fee (and I do mean scrape, as I had not yet had any real employment). My family moved to a new city that January, and I remember the first few issues being delivered with the yellow address-forwarding labels attached. This is not hard to remember, since I still have those first few issues. And even if I didn't, I could never forget the excitement I felt when they each arrived in the mail. It was, perhaps, the first time I'd ever gotten mail, outside of birthday cards, that was addressed directly to me--and I liked it.

The very first issue of my subscription featured a cover with Michael J. Fox in mid-air slinging an electric guitar, in reference to his rock-musician role in the movie "Light of Day" (see picture). The famous "Rolling Stone" title logo, as well as the print on the cover, was in orange. The second issue featured a portrait of the girl group the Bangles, and here the title and print was in purple. My third issue cover had a portrait of a "Radio Days"-era Woody Allen, and served as my first introduction to this great director. Beyond that, my memories of the exact details of individual issues grows fuzzy, although I do remember many distinctive cover images from over the years.

These include: the special 20th Anniversary issue in 1987 with two large, overlapping Roman numeral X's (only later did I discover that the 10th Anniversary issue had featured one large identical X); a 1989 Mick Jagger-Keith Richards cover with the two standing defiantly back-to-back; a "Voodoo Lounge" period cover of the Stones in which they all wore harlequinesque masks; Courtney Love, Tina Turner, and Madonna on the cover of one of the 1997 30th Anniversary issues (no X's this time); a late-1980s cover featuring a Bruce Springsteen photo that must have been taken about three minutes after he stepped off stage; two other 20th Anniversary special issues, one emphasizing famous concerts that had a picture of Jimi Hendrix and his flaming guitar, the other emphasizing style that had a close-up portrait of David Bowie; and, of course, the recent cover for the 1,000th issue, with the "Sgt. Pepper"-inspired holographic panorama of dozens of important popular culture figures from the last forty years.

As my life has evolved and changed in the twenty years since I first started reading "Rolling Stone," so too have my attitudes towards the magazine, my practices of readership regarding it, and my thoughts about its place in my personal history. I will go into these issues (no pun intended--really) in Part 2 of this account of "Rolling Stone."

(Photo source: www.rollingstone.com)

VH1's World Series of Pop Culture Hits a Home Run

The World Series of Pop Culture, VH1's new pop culture quiz tournament program, is a dynamic and intriguing program that will appeal to all pop culture geeks.

Sixteen three-person teams (culled from qualifying tournaments in cities around the country) are competing in a single-elimination tournament in games pitting two teams against each other for five rounds of pop culture trivia. The two teams each send up one team member per round who is judged (by the team) to be the best at the round's subject. The loser of the round is out of the game for the duration. The team with one remaining member at the end wins and advances in the tournament.

The game's subjects include guessing movie titles from brief descriptions (and the same thing for music videos), guessing the parent show when given the title of a TV spin-off, guessing the song title based on a snippet of printed lyrics or the TV program based on a snippet of its theme song lyrics, questions about the movies of a particular performer or director, questions about celebrity tabloid antics, and similar other categories. The exact content of the questions has a bias towards 1980s pop culture, but, for the most part, that's hardly a flaw (and is geared to Gen X'ers, who populate nearly all the teams and, presumably, also the bulk of the audience).

One of the things that makes the show and the games so fun to watch is the quirkiness of the team names and identities. Team names include such monikers as "Peanut Butter & Ginelli" (with a Ginelli as one of the team members, natch), "Cheetara" (a team of frighteningly aggressive women), "Sexual Chocolate" (three lawyers), "Almost Perfect Strangers" (a team formed from the winners of online contests who had never met prior to the competition), and what has got to be the greatest play on a generational in-joke ever, "We're What Willis Was Talkin' About." Bolstering the team names are two elements, team logos and team uniforms. Each team has a bold and inventive team logo that is displayed behind them during the competitions and in the tournament brackets reviewed at the beginning and end of each episode. The uniforms of the teams (which don't seem to have any connection to the logos or even to the team names) include the grey hooded zip-up sweatshirts worn by "Almost Perfect Strangers" and the blue mechanic jumpsuits worn by "Peanut Butter & Ginelli" to school uniforms, matching polo shirts, and one team that has strange matching red fingerless gloves to accompany their otherwise solid black outfits.

The other element that serves as the icing on the baseball-diamond-shaped pop culture cake is host Pat Kiernan. Kiernan is so laid-back as to almost be soporific. But he has a charm and wit in his moderation of the games and in his interactions with the players that alone makes the program worth watching. New York City viewers might recognize Kiernan as a local cable TV news anchor, but I suspect he is a new face to nearly everyone else as he was to me. I hope that this exposure to a national audience leads to bigger and better things for him, because he is someone that I at least would like to see more of.

The World Series of Pop Culture is probably the best VH1 show in years. The network has fallen far since its glory days of "Behind the Music" and "Pop-Up Video" in the late-1990s. Most of its current programming is unwatchable--whether its the net's unfortunate recent "Celebreality" emphasis (consisting of lame reality shows featuring washed-up D-list celebrities) or abysmal programs like "I Love the 70s" or "Best Week Ever" (which feature Z-list "celebrities" no one has ever heard of spouting opinions no one cares about regarding subjects that might otherwise be interesting)--all of which makes the World Series of Pop Culture that much more of a diamond in the rough.


The inaugural post for Chris' MediaLog

This is the inaugural post for Chris' MediaLog. I am a brand-new blogger, so I am feeling my way through this experience somewhat tentatively and slowly for now. I may or may not ever get to the point of daily (or multiple daily) posts, but I hope to post at least every other day once I get into the groove of blogging. The main thing I am learning is the intricacies of utilizing the Blogger.com interface. As I do so, my posts will get more sophisticated in terms of including links, images, and other bells and whistles.

The content of Chris' MediaLog will pertain to the very broad topic of "media"--thus the name "Chris' MediaLog"--which I consider to include movies, TV, radio, popular music, mainstream trade books and periodicals, the World Wide Web, new media (including the "blogosphere," podcasts, RSS, e-mail, and gateway sites such as Yahoo or Google), and popular culture in general.

A particular interest that will be reflected here is media history, mainly of the so-called "traditional media" (especially movies and television), as well as the history of pop culture. I also hope to post on such topics as new DVD releases (again, primarily for "classic" movies and TV) and reviews of what in academic media studies are called "media texts" (which could include the latest movie I've seen on DVD/TV or in the theatre, a new TV program or blog or podcast or recording artist that has caught my fancy, or the latest book I've been reading--whether or not it is a new release). I will also likely post on a variety of pop culture ephemera; I've entertained interests over the years in everything from vintage cereal boxes, comics, "Star Trek," baseball history, advertising, "Mad" magazine, and the SimCity computer game. I've also had longtime interests in broader subjects such as architecture, urban studies, American history, and technology. Any of the above could pop up in posts, and at one point or another most of them probably will.

The other element of Chris' MediaLog is Chris (that's me). I have a Ph.D. degree in film studies/media studies, but have had no luck in four years of seeking at landing a college teaching job in film/media (which is pretty much the only thing you can do with a Ph.D. in film/media studies!). As a result, I have begun taking classes for a Master of Library Science degree with a specialty in archival studies, which means that topics related to information science could also make their way into the MediaLog. I mention these "credentials" in part to inform readers that I do have some basis from which I consider myself knowledgeable enough to publish a blog on the media, and also to provide some perspective as to where I come from in terms of my perspective on media (i.e. an academic perspective, in part). This perspective has some idiosyncrasies in regards to thinking about media, which those of you who might also be media academics know about and which I might later elaborate on for those of you who don't.

I would love for people to comment on my posts, and I have set the preferences for Chris' MediaLog to allow this. In these early days of the MediaLog, I am especially interested in finding out whether or not anyone is out there reading this, and if there is, what people think of it. I am open to suggestions either on topics to discuss or features for the blog. So, please leave comments, either general ones about the blog or specific ones regarding my discussions therein. Most of all, I hope that readers find Chris' MediaLog engaging, informative, and interesting--and maybe even entertaining.