Wednesday, September 29, 2010

10 FAVORITES (4) - Rivalries

The Battle of the Sexes. Nature versus Nurture. Fighting like Cats and Dogs. Competition and rivalries have been a large part of our social structure since the day Adam met Eve. But what are the rivalries of recent memory (20th Century and beyond) that have shaped our current culture. In this week's installment of 10 FAVORITES, I explore the most famous (and infamous) rivalries that foster fierce competition between each side's most rabid fans and have generated a massive influence on culture and society, the way we know it today.


The Harry Potter series VS. The Twilight series
These two novel franchises have only recently begun their respective influences on the culture within the past decade. But each franchise is vying to become the most successful series of books in history. Both authors, Potter's J.K. Rowling and Twilight's Stephanie Meyer, have become the most beloved (and most envied!) women in media. They also each have their own set of fans that will defend to the death (quite literally!) the viability and power of their preferred series.

HBO VS. Showtime
When I was growing up, this was a very palpable cable rivalry. Both networks were the only pay-cable stations in existence at the time and most consumers (out of practicality) chose one over the other. These days, now that each network is becoming a leader in quality original series, the rivalry is much more heated than it once was.

Marvel Comics VS. DC Comics
Every comic book nerd (which is a category I occasionally fall into), must choose between the two universes. The best nerds know how to play in both camps without offending the hardcore fans. But this rivalry has had a huge influence on young boys and girls worldwide through comic books, television, movies and even theatre!

Disney VS. Warner Brothers
Or more specifically: Mickey Mouse and Company VS. Bugs Bunny and Company. Growing up, there were certain assumptions made about you by the types of cartoons you liked. If you liked Disney, you wanted escapism and magic. If you liked Warner Brothers, you wanted hilarity and thrills. Each side had their pros and each side had their cons. To me, both are pretty respectable in their own ways, but there were times when I preferred one over the other.

New York City (East Coast) VS. Los Angeles (West Coast)
This does not just refer to the hip-hop rivalry that claimed the lives of two successful music artists. This is more importantly about the vast media bias that exists in our culture, like a big old elephant in the room NO ONE wishes to acknowledge. Because of the mere fact of time differences (and population groupings), several media outlets look at anything on the West Coast as insignificant and/or unimportant (except when it comes to the Academy Awards, but that's a different matter altogether!). This is most felt in the world of American sports and on the national sports networks like ESPN.

Star Trek VS. Star Wars
They are both the two most successful sci-fi/fantasy franchises in pop culture history. And, like the Comic Book Rivalry above, fans of both know how play in both camps but do so very precariously around each franchise's hardcore fans. In this rivalry, it is "The Universe According to Gene Roddenberry" or "The Universe According to George Lucas."

Conservative VS. Liberal
It used to be known as Republicans versus Democrats but in this 24/7 news cycle world, the very manner in which these sides debate each other has become more prevalent in today's culture. Though I don't like to get political on this blog, I cannot deny the influence this rivalry has had, especially in the last couple of decades.

New York Yankees VS. Boston Red Sox
I am not a huge sports fan and never have been. But when I was growing up, even though I didn't pay that much attention to the sports world, I KNEW about this rivalry. It goes far beyond the days of Babe Ruth and a highly-suspected (but extremely well-documented) "curse," it is a way of life for the fans of each team. I mean they even released a CHESS set!!!

David Letterman VS. Jay Leno
This rivalry goes beyond any of the events in the past year and the unfair displacement of Conan O'Brien. This rivalry has been a grudge-match since the last few years of the great Johnny Carson's tenure on NBC's The Tonight Show. To many, Leno supposedly "weaseled" his way into Carson's shoes. To others, Carson didn't care for Letterman's "presumption" that he was heir to The Tonight Show crown. Since that changing of the guard, the battle lines were drawn and the respective camps went up full throttle.

Apple VS. Microsoft
Let's face it people, we are (and have been for many years) in the Age of Computers. Each company has its benefits (iTunes, Windows 7, etc.) and each company has had its bad moments (the iPad launch, Windows Vista, etc.). I, personally, can work well with either one and with compatibility issues becoming a thing of the past (possibly), the rivalry will still be around...for form's sake to say the least.

Coke VS. Pepsi
The most important product war in pop culture history, I can't put it any other way. There are those who drink one and those who drink the other (there are even those who drink both!). Either way, both soda giants have etched their way in to the minds of the public and the culture has not been the same since.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

10 FAVORITES (3) - 1980's TV Themes PART II: Dramas

As promised, this next list of 10 FAVORITES revolves around the theme songs to the drama shows of the 1980's. Last week, I focused on 1980's sitcom themes. Like the previous list, each of the shows featured were prominent in some way (either with critics, audiences or in my own household).


Knight Rider (1982-1986), NBC
There are only three things I really remember about this series: 1) The cool car (voiced by the great William Daniels); 2) David Hasselhoff's hair; and 3) This very 1980's theme song. Since those are the only memorable things about the show, the awesome theme music garners Honorable Mention on this list.

Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996), CBS
This series is considered the last of the great murder-mystery TV Dramas because it truly targeted its demographic. The show still does well in syndicated reruns thanks to viewers' fond nostalgia and the delightful legend that is Angela Lansbury.

Dynasty (1981-1989), ABC
This theme song just sounded like a soap opera theme about glamorous people, which it was. The elegance, the beauty, the grandeur and the pure bitchy catfights between the likes of Joan Collins and Linda Evans defined this series and primetime soaps for a generation.

L.A. Law (1986-1994), NBC
The award-winning legal drama about the lawyers and workers at a successful Los Angeles law firm was the definition of a great drama series for me when I was growing up. The theme song just serves as a reminder of that time of my life: a time when men and women in power suits were walking briskly with Kenny G style-saxophones playing in the background.

Moonlighting (1985-1989), ABC
This is a tricky one. Sometimes the show is considered a Comedy series and sometimes it is considered a Drama series. The show, which centered on the tempestuous relationship between two private detectives (played by Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd), had a mix of mystery, farce and soap opera romance plus a very catchy theme song written and sung by Al Jarreau.

Dallas (1978-1991), CBS
The series that created the little thing known as "Season-Ending Cliffhangers." This family would betray each other as fast as they would make love to each other. And J. R. Ewing (iconically portrayed by Larry Hagman) became one of the most loved (and most hated) TV villains of all-time. The theme song was big and epic, just like Texas.

Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), NBC
This groundbreaking series took cop shows to a whole new level. Its haunting theme (by TV composing legend Mike Post) set the standard for dramatic series opening sequences afterwards (just look at Law & Order, NYPD Blue and L.A. Law).

Miami Vice (1984-1990), NBC
There was something about Miami in the 1980's. NBC had two hit shows set in the exotic Florida metropolis: one was the hilarious sitcom The Golden Girls and the other was this series, the complete polar opposite. The show was about two detectives (Crockett and Tubbs!) and their pursuit of the seedy criminal element of Miami. The theme song (complete with synthesizer) by Jan Hammer was totally 1980's.

Magnum P.I. (1980-1988), CBS
There are so many things this theme song brings to mind: the Hawaiian islands, the helicopter, the mustache! I think every boy from my generation wanted to grow up and live like Thomas Magnum (played to perfection by Tom Selleck).

The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985), CBS
The style of this show so fit the time period. I mean the stars, Tom Wopat and John Schneider, both had "Farrah-hair!" The theme song, written and performed by country music legend Waylon Jennings, was just as fitting and became a #1 on Billboard's Music charts.

The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983), ABC
This is the most memorable theme song on the list (hence it being placed at #1!). Who doesn't want to sing along to this extremely catchy song? Even George Costanza (on Seinfeld) parodied the song for his outgoing message. Also, the show about a quirky superhero, ran from 1981-1983, making it the shortest lived series on the list.

So there you have it: The 10 Best Drama Series Theme Songs of the 1980's. Hopefully, this is a good compliment to the 10 Best Sitcom Theme Songs of the 1980's. If you have any suggestions for future 10 FAVORITES lists, just send me an e-mail.

Monday, September 13, 2010

10 FAVORITES (2) - 1980's TV Themes PART I: Sitcoms

The 1980's was a confusing and fascinating time to grow up in. Conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were the political power players in the world. The Cold War was coming to a groundbreaking (and Wall-breaking) close throughout Eastern Europe. And the Pop Culture scene was filled with iconic images, sounds and moments that shaped everyone of my generation. Movies like E. T. and Top Gun were box-office blockbusters alongside franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Music had pop/rock icons like Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Madonna and the late self-proclaimed King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson topping the charts and selling out arenas. The music scene also had epic "Arena" rock bands like Journey, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi proving just as popular as Jacko and Madge. The "Epic-ness" of the culture seeped into the Broadway scene too as composer Andrew Lloyd Webber led a British invasion with powerful pop operas (or "poperas" as they're called) and dominated theatre in the decade.

But if there is one thing people of my generation remember about 1980's entertainment above anything else, it is the television shows that thrilled, charmed and just made us laugh throughout our childhood. And what made a great TV show in the decade? The catchy theme song. That's why I have dedicated this week's 10 FAVORITES to the decade that raised me and the sitcom themes we knew and loved (next week will be the drama show themes so stay tuned!). This week's topic:


Night Court (1984-1992), NBC
This is a very memorable theme that I heard constantly. It's not in the Top 10 only because its instrumental (no lyrics), which is not a bad thing. It's just that the other 10 shows all are memorable because of their theme's words. My brother thinks this should be good enough to be in the Top 10 because this is one of his all-time favorite sitcoms, but he can't have everything!


The Facts of Life (1979-1988), NBC
The 1980's were big on shows that taught a lesson to the kids (and their parents) watching the program. And this show, which at times was actually quite enjoyable, had an extremely catchy theme song that musically evolved as the decade wore on.


Charles In Charge (1984-1985), CBS & (1987-1990), Syndication
Scott Baio's show about a college student who is also a "manny" to an upper-middle-class family in New Jersey first aired on CBS (and got cancelled after a year). Then a few years later, thanks to fans of Baio, a re-tooled version re-emerged in first-run syndication (these were the years before cable folks!). The fun theme song pretty much stayed the same (except musically revamped '80's style the second time around).

Who's the Boss? (1984-1992), ABC
Taxi star Tony Danza played a Brooklyn ex-baseball player who moves to Connecticut to be a housekeeper to a wealthy (female!) ad exec (played by soap star Judith Light). The show was a typical family show with a twist on the "normal" family unit and it launched the career of a young Alyssa Milano. It was a "Brand New Life" for everyone who watched and enjoyed!

Diff'rent Strokes (1978-1985), NBC

With the recent passing Gary Coleman, fans scrambled all over the internet to find episodes of his iconic show where he uttered his famous line "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" The theme song (written and sung by another '80's TV icon, Alan Thicke) was another fun song that everyone in my school could sing at the drop of a hat.

Silver Spoons (1982-1986), NBC & (1986-1987), Syndication
Like Charles In Charge above, this Rick (or Ricky) Schroder vehicle had a run in Syndication for a year after being cancelled by its original network. The show revolved around Schroder and his relationship with his rich and eccentric father (played by Joel Higgins). Schroder was one of many young actors who defined the Teen Idol scene in the 1980's. The theme song is a great musical marvel, but because of the two-part harmonies, you always need a second person to sing along.

The Golden Girls (1985-1992), NBC

Betty White, who sadly is the last surviving of these dynamic ladies, is currently enjoying a great resurgence in her storied career. This series, in which she co-starred with Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty as four elderly women living (and dating!) in Miami, was among the best of her career (and is said to be her personal favorite!). Just hearing the theme song reminds me of the hilarity and the comedy master class one would get in watching these women in their many situations.

Growing Pains (1985-1992), ABC
One of the several "EPIC" theme songs that filled 1980's TV. Just the opnening line, "Show me that smile again" (with it repeated by a female back-up singer), had a quality that so fit the decade. The show starred Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns as parents raising their teenage kids which included Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold, who were big teen icons thanks to the series.

Perfect Strangers (1986-1993), ABC
Talk about "EPIC!" Listen to the opening strains! And the final notes on harmonica! The series was about a Greek immigrant named Balki Bartokomous (played to perfection by Bronson Pinchot) who lives with his American cousin Larry Appleton (played by Mark Linn-Baker) in Chicago. Balki, having come from a small Greek isle, was socially awkward when it came to American culture. So, of course, hilarity ensued! This is another of my brother's favorite sitcoms!

Family Ties (1982-1989), NBC
The show that launched Michael J. Fox's career (and garnered him 3 Emmys in the process!). This show, about a close knit family with liberal parents (played by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney) and their conservative elder son (Fox), was one of my absolute favorites growing up. I still enjoy watching it every once in a while and I think a big part of it has to do with the touching and heartwarming theme song (sung by Johnny Mathis and Deneice Williams).


Cheers (1982-1993), NBC
Did you really expect any other theme song as #1? This theme
DEFINED the decade. Everyone knew it! Even if they didn't watch the show. The antics of the Boston bar workers and patrons including ex-baseball player Sam Malone (the charismatic Ted Danson), snobbish waitress Diane Chambers (the charming Shelley Long) and the lovable Norm or "NORM!" (the great George Wendt) was a landmark series that helped NBC turn a corner (establishing "Must See TV" Thursdays) and won several well-deserved Emmys. According to my dad, it is the best of ALL the shows represented on this list, which to me is high-praise indeed.

So there you have it. The Best Sitcom Theme Songs from the decade that helped make me who I am today. Next Week: The Best Drama Theme Songs! And there are many to choose from, as it has been pointed out to me by my many friends and family.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

10 FAVORITES (1) - Breakfast Cereals

In honor of the great response I received on my 100 Favorite Movies list, I am starting a new series of lists. This time, I am limiting it to 10 and they can be anything from favorites to bests to even worsts!Each list, revealed weekly, will be on a different topic ranging in a multitude of subjects from entertainment (film, tv, theatre, etc.) to arts (performance, literature, etc.) to just plain ordinary pop culture. Some of it will be serious, some of it will be a mixed bag and a lot of it will be just plain fun. Like my first one:


When you're a kid, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. For a lot of us growing up, it was also the most fun because Mom or Dad bought you your favorite cereal. And there certainly was a plethora of choices when it came to having a favorite (at least when I was growing up!). So here are the breakfast cereals I still love to this very day: My Top 10 Favorite Cereals of All-Time (with a special bonus one too!).

This one never became a staple in my house growing up but it still was a favorite of mine. I love the cinnamon flavor and I even had an appreciation for the commercials and their mascots: Wendell (the old and sometime crazy chef) and his creepy assistants.

Combine famous TV cartoon characters with flavored cereal flakes and you have a great addition to any kid's breakfast bowl. The Flintstones was a successful 1960's animated Primetime sitcom (like The Simpsons or Family Guy are today). Their marketablity was so strong on products like Flintstones Vitamins, the Post Cereal Company got together with Hanna-Barbera and the cereal ultimately sold itself!

This was a cereal my Grandma and Grandpa always had me eat because they loved it and I loved raisins. I especially loved picking out the raisins and eating them for a snack!

My other Grandmother always had this cereal and what a fun breakfast to have! I mean, you actually got to play with your food when you poured the milk on the cereal! Listen for the SNAP! CRACKLE! POP!

For many of us, the first leprechaun we could name of the top of our heads was "Lucky," the impish little Irish creature who was always trying to hide his marshmallow treats. Kids were always after his Lucky Charms from the green shamrocks to the yellow moons to the purple horseshoes.

I LOVED this cereal when I was a kid. I was practically obsessed with this cereal. These days, the company has changed its recipe and its look, but for me, this will always be amongst my favorites just because of the strange obsession I had for it.

As I got older, my obsession with Apple Jacks subsided and I moved on to its Kellogg's cohort Froot Loops. I wasn't as obsessed with it as I was with Apple Jacks but still loved having it every morning. Plus the commercials with Toucan Sam and "following his nose" to the great flavors were just great!

#4 - TRIX
On a list of the greatest Cereal mascots, this one would be my #1 for sure. I, like many of my generation, thought that the kids in the commercials who refused the Rabbit the tasty cereal were complete jerks. I never saw any problem with giving the Rabbit the cereal. There was one theory, though, that said the Trix Rabbit was the equivalent of a drug addict and the kids' refusal was seen as a way of not enabling his habit. (Remember, I grew up in the "Just Say No" 1980's, theories like this were just standard.)

I know there are many versions (Peanut Butter Crunch, Crunch Berries, etc.) but none of them beat the original in my eyes. Yes, it is sweetened corn and oat pieces but it is just too good to pass up!

#2 - HONEY NUT CHEERIOS (and to a lesser extent ORIGINAL CHEERIOS)
While I do love original Cheerios, I cannot get enough of Honey Nut Cheerios even to this very day. It is sweet, tasty and even good for you. Nothing can beat the delightful Honeybee, except...

Ah, Sonny! If ANY cereal mascot was the equivalent of a drug addict, Sonny was it! He was basically insane (you know, "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!"). And who could blame him really? I mean this is a damn good cereal. Its like chocolate-covered crack! Who wouldn't get addicted to the mouth-watering chocolatey goodness that awaits consumers in the box? Plus it makes the milk chocolate and so you have, of course, CHOCOLATE MILK! So full of sugar but just so good you can't resist it.

Gosh! All this talk about cereal, I'm getting hungry. I think I'm gonna head to my local grocery and pick up one or two of these breakfast greats.

And yes, I know. No Frosted Flakes! No Count Chocula! No Kix! Sorry, I had to make the cut somewhere (I even added an Honorable Mention, what more do you want?!?).

If you want to send in ideas for future 10 FAVORITES blog posts, just click on my profile and send me an e-mail. I would love to hear what readers think!