Friday, April 29, 2016

The Office, Starring Ricky Gervais: Three American Series Remakes More Popular in the US Than the Original British Shows

                Hollywood is not above stealing ideas if it means a successful series or a successful movie.  Jurassic World is the 3rd sequel to the Jurassic Park; the Marvel Cinematic Movies’ stories are based on the Marvel comics’ stories, for example.  One of the ways series creators get more series ideas is by watching successful shows from other countries.  If they are able to get the rights to the show, they create an Americanized show and hope the success of the home country show will translate to successful American show.  Sometimes the American show is so popular many Americans don’t even know that that it was created from a British show.  Here are three examples of three American series remakes more popular than their original British shows.
                Sanford and Son was a 1970s TV series about Fred Stanford (Redd Fox), a sarcastic junk dealer who is constantly trying crazy schemes to get rich, while his son Lamont Stanford (Demond Wilson) is the put-upon son who wants to escape the family business, but can’t completely due to getting involved in Fred’s schemes.  The show lasted from for five seasons from 1972 to 1977 and 135 episodes.  It was based on Steptoe and Son, about a “rag-and-bone man” (that is, a man who collects unwanted scraps and sells them) called Albert Steptoe (Wilfrid Brambell), who is set in his ways and says whatever he pleases, while Harold(Harry H. Corbett) is his son wants to escape his father and make his own life.  The show lasted for four seasons from 1962 to 1965 and again for seasons five through eight from 1970 to 1974 and lasted for 48 episodes (due to the fact that British seasons at the time were much shorter, only 7 or 8 episodes).   Technically Steptoe and Son was probably just as popular in the UK as Stanford and Son was in the US, but most US people don't know about Steptoe and Son.  
                The NBC series the Office was a hugely popular series about a dysfunctional office filled with eccentric characters who all worked in the same office at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.  The show was filmed as if it was a documentary crew or reality show recording the office’s every move, with interviews with the cast spliced in between the plot of an episode.  Because the show is an ensemble piece, no one character takes the spotlight, though some characters like Michael Scott (Steve Carell), the inappropriately joking boss, and Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), the everyday worker and the quiet receptionist who fall in love, take up more of the storylines.  The show lasted for 9 seasons and 201 episodes.  The show was based on the UK show also called the Office.  It followed a documentary crew recording the office lives of Werham Hogg Paper Company.  It was an ensemble piece, though the storylines tended to focus on the David Brent (Ricky Gervais), who typically makes embarrassing jokes in an attempt to be funny to his employees, and Tim(Martin Freeman) the every-worker who is in love with the receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis).  The show was not a ratings hit in its first season, but due to being a critical hit, it was renewed for a second season and was a huge hit internationally.  The show lasted a total of 14 episodes.
                American Idol, at one time, was a cultural phenomenon.  Launched in the summer of 2002, the show, the show’s format became an immediate hit.  Beginning with the disastrous auditions of terrible aspiring singers, and then leading into live shows with actually pretty good singers where the audience would vote by phone, online or by text for their favorite singer.   Complemented by the singers were the judges with distinct, strong personalities, whose opinion many times led to the success of the performer.  The first seven seasons featured quite possibly the most famous reality judge grouping in TV history, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul.  The show ruled the 2000s decade, being number one in the US ratings from 2003 to 2011, ultimately lasting 15 seasons, ending on April 7, 2016.  American Idol was based on the British TV show Pop Idol, which ran for two seasons from 2001 to 2003, and had many of the same elements: disastrous performances during the auditions process leading to live shows where the audience voted for their favorite singer. The winners of the two seasons were Will Young and Michelle McManus.  The judges on Pop Idol were Peter Waterman (record producer and music executive), Simon Cowell, Nicki Chapman (music promoter and music manager), and Neil “Dr” Fox (radio DJ and television personality).  While the show was a huge success, it was put on hiatus by the start of The X Factor by Simon Cowell (the UK version of which is still going today). 

                If spot a successful TV show, it might be possible it was a remake of a show from another country.  Check out these originals that inspired some of the most popular American TV shows. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Brief History of the Disney Channel Original Movies

                Stop the presses!  Disney Channel has announced that its new movie released on June 24th will be its 100th Disney Channel Original Movie.  The movie is Adventures in Babysitting, a remake of the 1987 film which had the same name.  In honor of this amazing feat, Memorial Day weekend Disney Channel will be showing 51 of the 100 films. 
But did Disney Channel really produce 100 films?  Well, yes, and no.  It's actually more than that.  Disney Channel’s current list of movies was made specifically for the teen and tween audience, ages 8 to 16.  That list started in 1997 when Disney was making the transition from being aimed at a younger audience to aimed at a more general or family audience.  But as it turns out, Disney has been making original movies for the Disney Channel for a lot longer.
The Disney Channel officially premiered on April 18, 1983.  At the time, The Disney Channel was a premium channel similar to HBO or SHOWTIME, and would count on subscribers for its profitability.  In its early years, the show featured shows aimed at younger children and movies during the night aimed at a general audience.  The very first Disney Channel original movie (at the time called “Disney Channel Premiere Films"), which premiered on October 9, 1983, was Tiger Town, about an aging baseball player for the Detroit and a young fan who idolizes him. 
For the next fourteen years, The Disney Channel produced between 1 and 6 movies a year, some of them original projects, some of them sequels to popular movies.  Among the more notable ones produced: three sequels to The Parent Trap, with Haley Mills resuming her roles as identical twins; the Not Quite Human series, about the building of an android who looks like a 17-year old boy; and a coproduction with Sullivan Films and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called Anne of Avonlea: the Continuing Story of Anne of Green Gables, which was the sequel to the popular Canadian series about Anne of Green Gables, and led to the coproduction of the TV series Road to Avonlea.  
In the late 1990s, Disney was slowly transitioning out of being a premium channel to being a basic cable channel.  During 1997-1998 specifically, The Disney Channel became Disney Channel and underwent a significant rebranding.  Now the channel had three programming blocks, with the afternoon and early evening hours for the teen and tween crowd, and as the “unofficial” start of this transition, Under Wraps premiered in 1997, under the "Disney Channel Original Movie" banner, told the story of three kids who befriend a mummy who comes back to life.
From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, Disney Channel ramped up its movie production, premiering 12 films in the year 2000.  While many were stand-alone projects (and still are today), some of the most popular include Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, which spawned two sequels, and Halloweentown, which led to three sequels.  In 2003, The Cheetah Girls premiered as one first Disney Channel original movie that featured the characters singing.  The success of the movie and the soundtrack led to other movie musicals (and two sequels and a standalone album).  In early 2006, High School Musical premiered and its soundtrack became the number one album of 2006.  High School Musical 2, in 2007, remains the highest-rated TV movie ever on the network, with 17.2 million people tuning in.  The success of those musical franchises led to others, including Camp Rock, Lemonade Mouth and Teen Beach Movie.  In 2015, following the success of the ABC series Once Upon a Time, Disney Channel released the movie musical Descendants, which followed children of some of the villains and heroes of popular Disney animated movies. 
         Disney Channel original movies have come a long way from Tiger Town to a remake of Adventures in Babysitting.  While the most recent one hundred movies definitely reflect Disney’s focus on the teen and tween audience, there are a whole host of movies produced for the Disney Channel from 1983 to 1997, which were produced for a general audience and waiting to be rediscovered.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

3 Successful Prank YouTube Vloggers (and One Disgraced YouTube Prankster)

Pranks are an interesting case in terms of video content: they are a manufactured situation designed to bring about a genuine reaction.   The better the prank is pulled off, then hopefully the more genuine the reaction.  However, Pranks are also mean-spirited.  Many of them involved doing horrible things to people, sometimes complete strangers, sometimes friends, sometimes even family members and loved ones.  Here are some of the most well-known YouTube pranksters.
Prank vs. Prank is one of the most successful prank video series.  The video series involves a couple, Jessie, the height-hating, snake-hating guy who flips out who regularly engages in a prank war with his girlfriend Jeana, who despises bugs and hot things.  Part of the fun of the Prank channel is that Jeana and Jessie are on an equal playing field; both know the other’s weakness and are completely okay with exploiting it.  Both Jeana and Jessie have successfully pulled off many pranks on each other, leading to the commenters being on Team Jessie or Team Jeana.   In recent years, there are more "complete strangers" pranks versus pranks on each other.  Now they are starting a YouTube Red show (exclusively for subscribers) called Prank Academy, where they get other YouTubers to prank their YouTube friends. 
Roman Atwood also does prank videos, and he does many strangers on the streets pranks and pranks on his girlfriend and sons.  However, some of the pranks are actually not mean-spirited, like one of his most popular videos, putting an entire layer of plastic balls (Like the ones used in ball pits) on the floor of his house.  He excels with the stranger and random cop prank, with many of his thumbnails showing cops questioning him for his behavior on the street.  Many of his pranks are of quick reaction type, doing something like a fake spraying skunk or pretending to take people’s gas from their cars. 
Another prank channel involves Ed Bassmaster, who does exclusively pranks on strangers.  However, his thing is to create characters to interact with people with names like Skippy, Teste, and Hacker.  Part of the fun is his over the top characters interacting with regular people, seeing how people react to them.  Ed used the success of his characters to create his own cable show on CMT called The Ed Bassmaster show.
Prank shows are not without controversy.  Sam Pepper, a British vlogger who was well known for his pranks, took pranks too far when he pulled one called “Fake Hand A** Pinch Prank” [censored by me], in which he pinched women’s butts (who Sam Pepper claims now were in on the joke).  Many in the YouTube community reacted swiftly and quickly to denounce Sam Pepper for his inappropriate behavior and around the same time he received some sexual assault accusations.  Even if, as he now claims, all of his pranks were faked, the perception of actual assault does not sit easily with viewers.  He is currently apologizing and trying to make amends, but he is no longer the admired Prankster or YouTuber he was in his glory days.  He produces vlogs with his friends

                Prank Videos are fun for their genuine reaction to a manufactured situation, but they also can be mean spirited and if not done with the right intentions, can end a person’s career.  Prank videos, when done right, will always have their place on YouTube as people won’t hesitate to pull a fast one on complete strangers, their friends or their family.  

Friday, April 8, 2016

Classic Film Series You May Never Have Heard Of

                Today, theaters are dominated by film series and sequels, whether it’s superheroes, sci-fi/fantasy epics or teen apocalyptic action stories.  While the big standalone movies were the ones winning awards decades ago, there were several movie series in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s that audiences flocked to again and again.  These series movies featured the same characters in familiar situations, and might be predictable, but nevertheless sold tickets. 
                In 1919, Earl Derr Biggers wrote The House without a Key, set in Honolulu and featured a minor character called Charlie Chan, a smart Chinese detective who is portrayed in a positive light and was brave and noble.  At the time, it was revolutionary, because all Chinese and other Asians were given roles where they were the villains or unpleasant, negative stereotypes.  It is important to note that today, Charlie Chan is also seen as stereotypical because Chan still didn’t speak “idiomatic English,” had a subservient nature and was tradition bound.  In any case, after being a minor character in three movies (the first based on Bigger’s book in 1926), Charlie Chan became a main character in the movie Charlie Chan Carries On (1932), while he was portrayed by an American actor (Warner Oland), rather than a Chinese one (another reason the movies today are not well received).  In all, Charlie Chan appeared in over 58 separate productions, the majority of which were American but five of them were made in Chinese with Chinese actors, which showed the character’s popularity with the Chinese people themselves.  The majority of the American series were released between 1932 and 1949, with 1973 adaptation and 1981 adaptations failing to gain the traction that the original series had. 
                In 1930, the comic strip Blondie appeared for the first time, featuring the characters of Blondie and her boyfriend Dagwood.  In 1933, Blondie and Dagwood were married with much fanfare and became the comic strip we know today: the smart, wise Blondie is constantly flustered by her bumbling, scheming husband Dagwood.  In 1938, Blondie was made into the movie Blondie, starring Penny Singleton as Blondie and Arthur Lake as Dagwood.  The movies were careful to remain to the spirit of the comics, with little details, like Dagwood’s famous sandwiches and Dagwood running into the mailman, were included in the movies.  Also, continuity was strictly enforced and Dagwood’s and Blondie’s children grew up to young adults, rather than staying the same age throughout.  In all, Blondie and Dagwood appeared in 28 Blondie movies, from 1938 to 1950. 
                In 1940, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby appeared in a comedy movie called, Road to Singapore.  In the movie, Hope and Crosby appear as sailors who return to the US after a long voyage.  Of course, they immediately get into some tight scrapes and have to escape to Singapore.  There, they meet a beautiful girl played by Dorothy Lamour.  Both men fall in love with her and have several more zany adventures before the story ends.  The movie was so successful it spawned six sequels, for a total of seven movies between 1940 and 1962.  The Road to… movies typically featured two buddies getting into tight scrapes (usually as con men), having to escape and meeting a beautiful woman played by Lamour, and featured many running gags that appeared throughout the seven movies, including fourth wall breaks and promises that they would not get involved with a woman (which was immediately broken). 
                In 1934, William Powell and Myrna Loy appeared as Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man, a comedy about a retired, hard-drinking detective and the wealthy heiress he married.  While the plot is a murder mystery (a friend of Nick’s is accused of murder, the titular “Thin Man”), the real reason for the movie’s success was the crazy interaction between Nick and Nora and their little terrier dog Asta and their “attempts” to settle down.  The movie was a huge success and is regarded as a classic today.  Trying to replicate the success of the first production, five sequels were released, for a total of six films between 1934 and 1947, which were mainly built on the interaction between Nick and Nora. 
                While today’s audience may complain that recent movies were nothing but sequels, the truth is that movie series were nothing new.  These are just a few examples of popular movies series between the 1920s and 1960s.   While some of Charlie Chan movies are lost to time, all of the Blondie, Road to… and Thin Man films are available for purchase (though some only in box sets).  Check out these early movie series and the fascinating characters they featured.