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Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas (Episode 4)

The oft-times numbing sameness of chain-owned, consultant-influenced local newscasts is brought home brilliantly in this Conan Christmas season clip-fest of anchors from around the country parroting, “It’s OK, you can admit it, if you’ve bought an item or two or 10 for yourself.”
Ed Bark
@unclebarkycom on Twitter

Fond adieus to Ferguson and Colbert, whose current late night runs end this week

Colbert craigferguson_big

Stephen Colbert & Craig Ferguson are capping their shows this week.

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Their departures this week won’t be rattling the late night terrain like David Letterman’s recently announced May 20th exit after 32 years on NBC and then CBS. Not that there won’t be some tremors.

Letterman’s successor, Stephen Colbert, will sign off Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report on Thursday, Dec. 18th after a nine-year run. His scheduled last guest is The Grim Reaper, who will come to claim Colbert’s conservative blowhard amalgam of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Ferguson, whose Late Late Show has followed Letterman’s Late Show since January 2005, has booked Jay Leno as his closing guest on Friday, Dec. 19th. There’s a guy who knows something about stepping down.

Other puzzle parts are in place, but not all of them just yet. Colbert’s replacement is scheduled to debut his The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (formerly The Minority Report), in January 2015 on a still undisclosed date. Ferguson’s heir will fire up Late Late Show with James Corden on March 23rd. During the interim, CBS has booked a passing parade of guest hosts, including Drew Carey, Wayne Brady, Will Arnett, Judd Apatow and John Mayer.

CBS hasn’t yet decided what to do during the interim between Letterman’s goodbye and Colbert’s arrival. The latter’s start date remains up in the air and possibly won’t be until September of next year, according to some published reports.

Ferguson, who played a recurring character on ABC’s The Drew Carey Show, came out of nowhere to get the Late Late Show desk job. CBS had staged on-air auditions for several other better known applicants, ranging from D.L. Hughley to Ana Gasteyer to Tom Arnold. Ferguson’s pronounced Scottish accent also seemed to make him a longshot, but he eventually won the network over with a blend of enthusiasm and derring-do.

Ferguson, who in recent weeks has also been hosting the recently launched, decidedly lame quiz show Celebrity Name Game, became known for his freewheeling, mostly unscripted monologues and a remote-controlled skeleton sidekick known as Geoff Peterson. His ratings were decent although never dominant. But Ferguson nonetheless had a rumpled, Everyman appeal, whether going off on tangents or striding to within inches of the camera to almost jet propel himself into living rooms. Perhaps he paused to laugh at himself more than necessary. Still, Ferguson’s hard-core fans pledged allegiance to his every whim. No one could accuse him of being derivative of anyone else in late night, before or current. At his best he was simply brilliant.

Colbert amazingly kept his cocksure character fresh and percolating throughout the run of his show. Imagine Martin Short being Ed Grimley for nine years running. Or Dana Carvey always interviewing guests as the scolding Church Lady. It was an impossible task that Colbert made possible. Perhaps he longed to quit the charade. But he didn’t, making The Colbert Report a signature and very likely never to be duplicated half-hour of superb performance art.

He’ll drop the character and finally become himself again on CBS’ Late Show. And Colbert will have his work cut out for him opposite NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

Fallon’s ratings have remained amazingly strong since he replaced Leno in February of 2014 after five years of hosting Letterman’s old Late Night. He’s become an after-hours version of two old talk show glad-handers, Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. Games are played almost nightly with Fallon’s increasingly willing celebrity guests. He may not ask many if any pointed or penetrating questions. But Fallon knows how to have a good deal of infectious fun while also assuring virtually one and all that “We love you so much.”

Colbert will bring a younger sensibility than Letterman has in his autumn years. But what will his niche be? Are late night viewers in the mood anymore for serious conversation? Or might too many of them dismiss Colbert as a bespectacled egghead in comparison to the still very boyish and bouncy Fallon?

For now, though, we salute two more distinguished keepers of the late night flame. Craig Ferguson and Stephen Colbert were decidedly and bracingly different within the realms of Late Late Show and The Colbert Report. They had the temerity and the skill-sets to do it their ways. And the longevity to leave some lasting late night imprints that will stand the tests of time.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas (Episode 3)

It’s been 32 years since this homey, hokey “We’re 4 You” Christmas spot aired on D-FW’s KDFW-TV (now known as Fox4).

Two of the principles are still featured players, though. Anchor Clarice Tinsley remains at Fox4 and sports anchor Dale Hansen, who somehow got through this one-minute promo, has long been the highly opinionated, irreverent bats and balls guy at Gannett8.

Viewers got an early glimpse of Tinsley supposedly welcoming the KDFW crew to her holiday-ready home. Others featured in the spot are late anchor Chip Moody, anchor Quin Mathews, weathercasters Wayne Shattuck and Ron Jackson, 4 Country Reporter host Bob Phillips, anchor Hosea Sanders, late feature reporter Jack Brown and anchor Marlene McClinton, who 17 years later famously quit on the air while with Houston’s KHOU-TV.

See Chip take a bite out of a Christmas cookie and Dale help hang a wreath. The four major players -- Tinsley, Hansen, Moody and Shattuck -- are last seen riding off in a horse-drawn carriage with holiday trimmings. No, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
Ed Bark
@unclebarkycom on Twitter

Uncle Barky's Countdown to Christmas (Episode 2)

This surprisingly forward-looking clip from 1949’s The Cowboy and the Indians finds Gene Autry in the saddle and singing “Here Comes Santa Claus” while riding next to -- Santa Claus.

Behind them are canvas-covered trucks emblazoned with “Gifts From America To The First Americans.” The destination is a school house full of Native American kids, who happily join in the song. Watch for Jay Silverheels (later to become Tonto on The Lone Ranger) standing proudly alongside them.

Autry had a hit with both this song and, of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And the late “Singing Cowboy” never looked better than when performing this good deed.
Ed Bark
@unclebarkycom on Twitter

NBC strikes again with Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas

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The “stop-motion” cast of Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas. NBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Dec. 16th at 7 p.m. (central) on NBC
Voiced by: Jim Parsons, Ed Asner, Mark Hamill, Gilbert Gottfried, Fred Armisen, Jay Leno, Matt Lauer, Rachael MacFarlane, Max Charles, Kate Micucci, Steve Higgins
Produced by: Sam Register, Toby Emmerich, Mark Kaufman

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
While rival networks are mostly content to reprise their arsenals of holiday chestnuts, NBC seems intent on presenting new would-be gifts that keep on giving.

The latest is Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas after the Peacock earlier stepped out with Peter Pan Live! and How Murray Saved Christmas. All three are musicals, befitting the tastes of entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, who earlier developed a musical adaptation of 9 to 5 for Broadway and championed Smash as his first passion project for NBC.

Another of Greenblatt’s initiatives, last season’s The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood, became an unexpected ratings hit. Since then, not so much. Peter Pan Live! drew slightly less than half the 18.5 million viewers for Sound of Music, although it performed decently compared to previous NBC Thursday night offerings this season. How Murray Saved Christmas, shown on Friday, Dec. 6th, bombed with just 3.6 million viewers nationally while also faring poorly among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds.

Buddy’s Musical Christmas, featuring an enthusiastic performance by Jim Parsons in the title role, is appreciably easier to take than Murray. Drawn from the hit movie Elf and Broadway’s Elf: The Musical, it utilizes “stop-motion animation” in a manner somewhat similar to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But Buddy’s Musical Christmas lacks the vivid, primary color palette of Rudolph, even if Parson’s performance is very merry and bright as the giraffe-necked, orphaned central character. Those who remember the late Paul Lynde will definitely hear similarities here.

The orphaned Buddy’s ad hoc father is Santa Claus (Ed Asner), who discovered him in his bag of toys during one of his trips down the chimney. Buddy’s real dad, Walter Hobbs (Mark Hamill), has long been on the “Naughty List” after losing his Christmas spirit. So Buddy heads off to New York City to reunite with the father who never knew of his existence. He continues to sing agreeably merry tunes, even after being hit by a series of Manhattan vehicles.

Hobbs works for the Greenway Publishing Company, whose very disagreeable boss is voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. Jay Leno chips in as one of NYC’s “Fake Santas” and Matt Lauer has very few words to say as Mr. Sea Serpent in an easily forgettable early scene.

It all goes down fairly well, with Santa getting his “mojo back” while Buddy slowly defrosts his initially resistant father. There are nine songs in all, including “Happy All the Time” and “Nobody Cares About Santa Claus.”

Buddy’s Musical Christmas faces very tough sledding Tuesday night in a time slot opposite new episodes of NCIS and MasterChef Junior plus another ABC showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. So NBC probably can’t hope for much if anything ratings-wise -- at least not at the appointed 7 p.m. (central) hour. You might want to activate your recording device, though. As holiday newcomers go, this is much better than socks and underwear from Grandma. Just don’t expect a shiny new train set.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net