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ArchiveJULY 2022


When I encounter a friend and strike up a conversation, we rarely call each other by name.  She knows who I am, and I know who she is, so we don't have to keep repeating those facts every few sentences.

In movie or television dialogue, however, we the viewers can easily get lost.  It helps us greatly if the characters mention each other's identity now and then.

Of course, this can be carried too far.  I ran across an extreme example the other day while idly surfing through vintage programs on the cable channels. 

A rather familiar woman's face appeared.  Is that Richie Cunningham's mom?  No, it's Harriet Nelson!  And look, she's talking to her husband Ozzie!

When I was growing up, there was a long-running TV sitcom (1952-66) starring former bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his real-life family.  It was called The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

(Ken Levine says, “There were no adventures.  None.  This was the most boring family ever.”  We did watch the kid on the right grow up, affect an Elvis-like curled lip, and become rock 'n roll heartthrob Ricky Nelson.)

The show I found on cable turned out to be part of a 1972 episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, described here.  Ozzie played an incompetent inventor trying to make his fame by bringing his wife back from the dead.  Small problem: she hadn't died yet.  So he poisoned her.

About the time I tuned in, nephew George had arrived on the scene and I heard excruciating dialogue something like this:
    “Good evening, Uncle Henry.”
    “Hello, George.”
    “Is Aunt Helena around, Uncle Henry?”
    “Uh, yes, George, she's down in my laboratory.”
    “Could I speak to her, Uncle Henry?”
    “No, George, I'm afraid Aunt Helena hasn't been feeling well.”
    “Poor Aunt Helena.  Is there some way I can help, Uncle Henry?”
And on and on.

I'm exaggerating, of course, and a couple of cops showed up towards the end, but most of the dialogue consisted of George and Uncle Henry addressing each other by name.

It's hard to believe that the esteemed Rod Serling had anything to do with this script.  He is credited with the teleplay, but this segment is listed as “Short film by J. Wesley Rosenquist.”

J. Wesley, if that is his name, was the obscure author of a 1936 tale entitled Return to Death.  This TV show is J. Wesley's only credit on IMDb.  If J. Wesley proved incapable of composing realistic dialogue, I'm not surprised that J. Wesley never received additional assignments.


JULY 27, 2012 flashback 

When we in the TV graphics business identify a person with his name in the lower one-third of the TV screen, we call it a “lower third.”  Others may call it a “Chyron” or a “font,” after the graphics computers that we use to generate the letters.

But there’s an adage in our business: never font the President!  He’s too well-known, and it would insult American viewers’ intelligence to have him thus identified.

The same rule applies to the Pope.  And I once worked with a sports announcer who thought it ought to apply to him as well.

I almost broke this rule at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.  It was ten years ago, at the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City.  My graphics for the “world feed” telecast were seen in foreign countries but not shown to Americans.

Our producers felt we should have an identifier ready for each of the major participants, including the head of state who was going to declare the games open.  I dutifully prepared this lower third and photographed it for posterity.  However, it was not actually used on the air, so the rule remained inviolate.

UPDATE FROM RETIRED RADIO TALK-SHOW HOST PAUL HARRIS:  My wife and I attended a play the other night that was preceded by a man getting on stage to thank donors and make some announcements.  You'll note that I haven't included his name because he never said it.  Perhaps some of those in attendance recognized him, but we had no idea.  It's more than a little presumptuous to assume everyone knows who you are.

I’ve seen this phenomenon elsewhere.  An organization I used to work with had an annual meeting.  It always started with some opening remarks from one of the people in charge, but they never introduced themselves.  The event was open to the public, so there were likely people who’d never seen or heard these folks before and were left wondering who they were.

There used to be a popular longtime radio personality in St. Louis who never said his name.  If you were a first-time listener, you might never know who the host was.  During my 40+ years on the air, I said my name often.  And not just at the very top of the show, because I knew people joined the show on their own schedules, particularly in morning drive.  In addition, whenever I came back from commercials or a newscast, I would reset things and say my name.

If you're going to speak in public to a group of any size, you're probably better off introducing yourself rather than leaving anyone in attendance wondering, "Who the hell is this?"



I find certain small details attractive.  For example, I like it when a woman dramatically shifts her gaze beneath her bangs.

Ariana Grande did so in a T-Mobile commercial, asking, “You're going to choose navigation over me?”

Earlier examples include Susannah Hoffs (in the Bangles' “Walk Like an Egyptian”).

And then there was Catherine Zeta-Jones (in “All That Jazz” from the movie Chicago).

Even cats use the slow blink if they like us.
Maybe they're asking to be petted.

All my life, I've enjoyed contemplating beautiful women or depictions thereof.

When I was about eight years old, my parents would often take our 1955 Chevrolet out for a drive on a summer evening, just for the fun of it, and I'd ride in the back seat.  We usually had the radio on.

If we were visiting my grandparents in Cambridge, Ohio, sometimes we found ourselves 25 miles away in Zanesville.  My mother would get out of the car in front of a movie theater on Main Street.  While my father and I drove around the block, she dashed into the lobby and bought three boxes of Majorette popcorn.

It was good movie popcorn, plus I appreciated the drawing of the leggy young lady with kernels popping out of her baton.  (The containers are still pictured on eBay and elsewhere.  In today's movie theaters, a typical “small” popcorn is twice as big as these 1¾-ounce boxes but costs at least 40 times as much.)

I also appreciated the design of the Chevy's rear window sill, not straight and level but aesthetically curved.  I'd stick my hand out the window, palm down, and play with the wind.  If I slightly angled up the leading edge of my hand, the slipstream would lift up my arm — an early experiment in aerodynamics.

The little details one remembers!



  “My name is Buzz Aldrin, the second man
    to walk on the moon.  Neil before me.”


Mark Vidonic's son Ben came up with that one.  I composited two Apollo-era images (standing and stumbling) to illustrate it.

Chuck Murr commented, “At least there's one funny guy in the family.  That's one giant joke for mankind.”

Last month Chuck posted, “Dropped an envelope that read, ‘Do not bend.’  Spent an hour trying to figure out how to pick it up.”


JULY 17, 2012 flashback    SLIGHTLY TAMER THINGS

Minor league baseball arrived in 2002 at a brand-new ballpark in Washington, PA, 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.  The Wild Things began play in the independent Frontier League.

The next year, to publicize the new venture, the team invested in a project to televise a few of its home games on what was then FSN Pittsburgh.  To keep costs low, they hired a very small remote truck and a crew that included a number of students from Waynesburg College.

I worked 15 of those telecasts, including the 2005 Frontier League All-Star Game, between 2003 and 2007.  It was fun, televising baseball on a shoestring.  Now, however, the games are only on radio.

Sixty years ago, major league owners were afraid fans would stop coming to the ballpark if they discovered they could watch home games on TV.  But the opposite appears to be the case for the Wild Things.  Taking the games off TV after 2007 has hurt attendance!

According to a feature by Jenn Menendez in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “During the team's first summer the stands swelled with fans and continued to draw well for several years. Attendance peaked in 2007, when the team drew 177,495.  That number dropped to 160,444 in 2008 ... and 104,635 last summer.

“Wild Things attendance has dropped every year since 2007, and currently ranks next-to-last in the 14-team Frontier League, averaging 1,624 per game (through Sunday) — its worst average on record.”


Leo Trich (left), a member of the Ballpark Scholarships board, attributes the falling attendance to factors other than the loss of TV coverage.  (I knew Leo 35 years ago when he was a Baseball for Boys executive and a Washington city councilman.)  He explained to the newspaper, “Most new facilities have a honeymoon period.  We were told two or three, and we got five or six years.   ... [Then] about the time the newness was starting to wear off, the team itself wasn't playing that well.  We're Pennsylvanians, and we like our teams to win.”

The team’s majority owner, Stuart Williams, offered a different reason.  “My strongest sense of the big-picture problem is the economy,” Mr. Williams said. “People don't have the discretionary dollars right now.”

Ballpark Scholarships is hoping to boost its finances by drilling for oil on the back forty.  That would be a 40-acre hillside plot overlooking the ballpark, presumably a prime location for Marcellus Shale natural gas and oil development.

But in my opinion, all they have to do is bring back TV.



The long-awaited first set of images from the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope was released this week.

An hour-long international TV show on Tuesday morning displayed a few spectacular pictures including some explanation — but perhaps not enough.

For example, at first I could count only four large galaxies, not five, in this view of “Stephan's Quintet.”  I guess the white blob in the upper middle is actually a pair of galaxies.

However, that was far from my only quibble with the show.  As a retired TV production guy, I couldn't help noticing lots of Earthbound Bobbles.



A family photo that I can't identify has come down to me.  This might be my step-great-great-grandmother Matilda Sill Buckingham Kean, who was born in 1829 in Monroe County, Ohio.

During the Civil War, at the age of 34 she married a widower with three children (including my future great-grandfather).  That widower's name was John Buckingham.  To him she bore two additional children.  After John himself passed away a mere 22 months into their marriage, Aunt Till raised all five kids with the help of her sister Emily.

This month's 100 Moons article tells the story, quoting newspaper clippings from as far back as 1891 that have also come down to me.



Reviewing a movie, Eric D. Snider once remarked that he sometimes has difficulty distinguishing one minor character from another — if they're female.  Eric speculated that his gayness was the reason. 

As a straight guy, I've noticed the opposite effect.  For example, in the TV series New Girl I could easily identify the lovely ladies in the front, Cece and Jess, but not the two generic males behind them:  Schmidt and Nick, or maybe the other way around.

In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (below), Dee and Charlie and Frank are distinctive personalities, but who are the two guys on the right?  One is Dennis and one is Mac, and I guess one of them is Dee's brother.

Proposition:  whether we're gay or straight, we don't carefully inspect the faces of whichever gender attracts us less.

Corollary:  when we're from a particular group, we don't pay detailed attention to members of other groups that attract us less, and we begin to think those people all look alike.

JULY 4, 2012 flashback    BUT IT CAN BE

For our speechifying this Independence Day, let us return to a subject I raised here nearly four years ago.  This time, I've added some black and white pictures to the words of television producer Aaron Sorkin.  He wrote them in the script for the first episode of his HBO series The Newsroom.  (Here's the scene I'm talking about.  And you might enjoy Ken Levine’s parody of it.)

A university panel discussion includes a TV anchorman, played by Jeff Daniels.  An earnest young sophomore has a question.  She asks, “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”

The liberal panelist responds, “Diversity and opportunity.”  The conservative says, “Freedom and freedom, so let’s keep it that way.”  But the anchorman is reluctant to say what he really thinks.  The moderator insists:  “What makes America the greatest country in the world?”

A woman in the back of the hall has a suggestion.

The anchorman finally blurts, “It’s not The Greatest Country In The World, Professor.  That’s my answer.”

To the panelist who touted America’s freedom, he says, “With a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom?  Canada has freedom.  Japan has freedom.  The UK.  France.  Italy.  Germany.  Spain.  Australia.  Belgium has freedom.  207 sovereign states in the world; like 180 of them have freedom.

“And yeah, you, sorority girl.  Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know.  And one of them is, there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re The Greatest Country In The World.

“We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, #4 in labor force, and #4 in exports.  We lead the world in only three categories:  number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending — where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.

“Now none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you nonetheless are, without a doubt, a member of the Worst. Generation. Ever.  So when you ask what makes us The Greatest Country In The World, I don’t know what the f_ you’re talking about!  Yosemite?

“We sure used to be.”

At right:  Lyndon Johnson hands Martin Luther King the pen from the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

“We stood up for what was right.  We fought for moral reasons; we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons.  We waged wars on poverty, not poor people.  We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest.”

At right:  The Apollo 11 plaque on the moon

“We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy.  We reached for the stars.  Acted like men.”

At right:  Author Pearl S. Buck, John & Jacqueline Kennedy, and poet Robert Frost

“We aspired to intelligence.  We didn’t belittle it.  It didn’t make us feel inferior.

“We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election.  And we didn’t scare so easy.”

At left:  Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite

“We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed, by great men, men who were revered.”


“The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.  America is not The Greatest Country In The World anymore.”

Only later does his executive producer say to him, “You know what you left out of your ‘sermon’?  That America is the only country on the planet that since its birth has said, over and over and over, that we can do better!”



Today, the athletic teams of West Virginia University are relocating a thousand miles to the west!  Virtually, that is.  We ought to call the school “West West Virginia” from now on.

WVU used to play in the Big East conference against teams like Connecticut.  Their major rival was Pittsburgh, only 75 miles away.  The annual WVU-Pitt game was known as the “Backyard Brawl.”

But as of today, West Virginia is a member of the Big 12.  They’ll be playing against an entirely new set of rivals, the closest of which, Iowa State, is 870 miles away by car.  The farthest, Texas Tech in Lubbock, is 1,465 miles away.  Fans who want to follow the WVU soccer team to a road game must either buy plane tickets or take off a week from work.

In basketball, the “Backyard Brawl” between West Virginia and Pitt was a series dating back to 1917.  Of course, that history meant little to the 2011-12 players and coaches.  Only one of WVU’s players came from West Virginia, while none of Pitt’s came from western Pennsylvania.  Before WVU played Pitt for the final time on February 16, WVU coach Bob Huggins was asked if the event held any special significance.  Not particularly, he said.  “We’re trying to get into the NCAA tournament.  We know we have to win some games.”

No, it was mostly the fans who cared.  Some of them had been warring against the other school for the better part of a century.  Others were current students.

“It’s our biggest rival.  It’s the team you want to beat the most,” Pitt junior Ben Wachsman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gary Rotstein in February.  Junior Kiersten Williams agreed.  “There’s really not much difference between us, but there’s just so much tradition there, you have to hate them.”

Hatred.  That’s the ticket.  Rotstein reported that “The head of the Pittsburgh chapter of WVU’s Alumni Association, Bryan Bond, 33, said he’s felt some ‘hard shoulder bumps’ from Pitt fans when leaving Heinz Field in his WVU garb after a [football] game.”

On the other side, according to Rotstein, veteran Pitt radio play-by-play broadcaster Bill Hillgrove “recalls the first three words his daughter spoke — EAT $#!+, PITT — after listening to that jeering chant as the Panthers bus pulled up to WVU Coliseum years ago.  ‘There’s a hate factor there that I don’t think is prevalent in anything else Pitt is involved in,’ Mr. Hillgrove said before Thursday night’s game.  ‘I think people in Morgantown grow up learning to hate Pitt.’”

Of course, hating your neighbor doesn’t come naturally.  As Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in a different context in South Pacific,

You've got to be taught to hate and fear.
You've got to be taught from year to year.
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear.
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You've got to be carefully taught!

I wonder which of WVU’s new Big 12 opponents will be designated the new target of detestation.

Meanwhile, Pitt will moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference in another year or two, and that will require the local fans to find an ACC adversary to look down upon.

2022 Update #1:

The ACC has just announced a football scheduling model whereby each team will have three primary opponents that they play every year, plus ten other conference opponents that they play home and away every four years.  Which primary adversaries have been assigned to Pitt, and how many miles are they away by car?  Virginia Tech 322, Syracuse 359, and Boston College 624.  It's time to learn to hate those Hokies.

2022 Update #2:

I've heard that a college called UCF will soon be joining the ever-widening Big 12 Conference.

But where is this newcomer located?  It's always identified by only its initials, like UCLA.  That's maddening.

So what does UCF stand for?  Some guesses:

   University of California, Fresno.

   Utah College of Forensics.

   Unitarian Campus of Fargo.

   Upper Cuyahoga Falls.

I await further information.

2022 Update #3:

And now we hear that the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles are going to be deserting the Pac-12 Conference.  They'll be joining the Big Ten, which already has 10 11 12 14 teams much further east and north.

This makes even less geographic sense.

I hope the team buses are prepared for the 2,768-mile journey from L.A. to Piscataway, New Jersey.