The Ant and the Aardvark: A Lost Classic Cartoon Worthy of a New Lease on Life

Say the words “The ant and the aardvark” to people between the ages of 35 and 55 and you will instantly bring a smile to their faces. There are certain nostalgic touchstones to a generation’s childhood that often get lost in the passage toward adulthood as a result of pop culture forgetting even the most popular of entertainment. In some cases, such as The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island, these touchstones of the past are consistently revealed to the next generation either in their original form or through a renewed attempt to infuse into them the psychic energy of contemporary times. And then there are cases like the incredibly popular Saturday morning cartoon series The Ant and the Aardvark that seems to seep from the consciousness and take up residence in the subconscious until the memory is forcibly pulled to the surface.

The Ant and the Aardvark was part of the Pink Panther-verse, a series of cartoons that originally aired in movie theaters before the feature film. This was in the late 60’s and early 70’s, marking the end of that particular lamented aspect that made film-going so much more fun forty years ago than it is now. Whereas today’s movie audiences are “entertained” by commercials that blast out with the volume turned up to 11, previous to the 1970’s movie audiences were routinely entertained by Tom and Jerry, Bugs and Elmer and the Ant and the Aardvark before the movie began. After these initial airings in movie theaters, the Ant and the Aardvark moved to television and became a fixture on the Pink Panther cartoon series alongside the panther himself and the later introduction of the inspector. What made the Ant and the Aardvark stand out from the Pink Panther was the introduction of dialogue. And what dialogue it was!

The voices were supplied by the nearly forgotten impressionist John Byner. Byner was an omnipresent figure in the 60’s and 70’s, doing his shtick as an impressionist on everything from The Flip Wilson Show to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The voices on The Ant and the Aardvark may seem funny without connotation to today’s viewers. The small red ant possesses the smoothly cool hipster sound of the great Dean Martin, while the blue aardvark has the deeply Jewish comic stylings of Jackie Mason, best known to modern television viewers as Krusty the Klown’s rabbi father on The Simpsons. The Ant and the Aardvark is dependent for most of its humor on Byner’s voice work because, like Tom & Jerry or Itchy & Scratchy, the plot is deadeningly repetitive. The aardvark spends the entirety of each episode trying to successfully eat the ant. Each episode introduces different complications, of course, including my favorite in which the ant gets this nifty little motorcycle. But what draws that smile to the face of those in that particular age span of which I wrote is the memory of that little ant who talks like Dean Martin and that overly Yiddish anteater. The one liners are hilarious and the ant’s almost utter disregard for the intent of the aardvark serve to give it a feeling that is absent from the similar Tom & Jerry stories. In addition, much like the Pink Panther, this cartoon also features a brilliant soundtrack, mostly one made up of a magnificent Dixieland jazz sound that you will be humming for days afterward.

The Ant and the Aardvark has been unfairly forgotten and deserves to be given a second chance at life. My own two young children watched an Ant and the Aardvark collection on DVD courtesy of Netflix recently and if the amount of laughter generated by them is any indication of how the cartoon would be received on The Cartoon Network, then it is time for that network that is now more than halfway to pathetic to buy the rights and create a whole new generation of fans whose faces will light up at the mention of the words Ant and the Aardvark.

Why the Most Despised Simpsons Episode May be its Best

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Do you have any idea what the most controversial episode of The Simpsons has been thus far? The one with guest voice done by renewed homosexual director John Waters where Homer Simpson goes Cheney over the possibility that Bart might turn out gay? Or how about the one where gay marriage is not only legalized but encouraged in Springfield? Surely the Simpsons episode where the whole family is imprisoned simply because Bart unwittingly bared his behind at the flag must rank high among the controversial episodes, right? Guess again. The single most controversial episode in the history of The Simpsons is the one where it is revealed that Springfield Elementary’s principal, Seymour Skinner, is not who he claims to be, but is, in fact, an imposter who has engaged in a very unique form of identity theft. The man that the townspeople had thought was Principal Skinner was actually, it turns out, a former street punk named Armin Tamzarian. Tamzarian slipped easily into the persona of the real Skinner when it was believed that that man had died during the Vietnam War.

The reason that this particular Simpsons episode is by far the most controversial is that in addition to the townspeople of Springfield being scammed, so were fans. Many fans who have ridiculously replaced their love of The Simpsons with the outright and second-rate plagiarism of Family Guy point to this particular episode as the beginning of the long downward slide of The Simpsons. In fact, while The Simpsons is hardly the perfect show it once was, it remains the most consistently well-written show on television and always has been. Sure, if the competition of 2007 was nearly up to the state of the competition in 1993 The Simpsons might have a run for its money, but when you compare the show to…well…anything else on television, for that reason if none other it is by far the best show on TV. The reason that so many fans find this episode to be irritating is that they completely missed the point.

The episode is titled “The Principal and the Pauper” and it can be found on the ninth season DVD. The commentary track on this episode should go a long way toward clearing up the venomous hatred that some fans direct toward it. The reason that so many people are disturbed by this Simpsons episode has to do with thefact that they completely miss the point. I am myself a huge fan of the film The Return of Martin Guerre, which the commentators adamantly point out was not the actual inspiration for the episode, but which is close enough to call that into question. Likewise, my first novel is about a guy who is routinely accepted as someone else despite the fact that he neither looks nor behaves like the person in question. In other words, I must immodestly admit that I got “The Principal and the Pauper” the first time it aired. I understood what the intention of this episode was about. Too many others do not.

To wit: During the commentary one of those involved suggests that he might have been taken aback to have found out that Mike Brady was not actually the real Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch. Fair enough. But immediately, the writer of this episode of the Simpsons counters with a very pointed retort: “Does it strike you as odd if you found that out about Mike Brady?” That is an excellent question and one that I bet almost never gets asked in the writing rooms of TV shows. When you think about it, it is really is odd that someone would get upset over the possibility that the real Mike Brady had been held hostage in the Soviet Union and that that nice guy we all wanted for our own dad was a fake.

He’s a character on a TV show!

What The Principal and the Pauper is really about is not the story of Armin Tamzarian and Seymour Skinner. It is about the fact that not just the people of Springfield, but so many millions of viewers of the Simpsons are so resistant to change and the introduction of something really unique-and entirely plausible-that something deep down inside them is offended. The discourse during the commentary track also goes on to suggest that this kind of close attachment between viewer and character very often derails an actor’s career. Tom Bosley will always be known as Mr. Cunningham; David Caruso was so identified with his character on NYPD Blue that his movie career sank and he returned to the small screen essentially playing the same character on a different show. Another insightful quote from the writer of this episode: “It’s a strange thing about humanity that they become more attached to unreal things.”

It doesn’t stop with characters; this idea can extend to the cult of celebrity. How many people have cried more over the death of Elvis Presley or Princess Diana than cried over the death of an aunt or uncle or friend? The Simpsons did an episode before this that touched on many of the same concepts; the episode that briefly introduced Poochie into the world of Itchy and Scratchy. But that was a cartoon with a show and it was quite obvious that the show was making fun of the long, demented history of TV shows that are sliding downward attempting to perk up interest by introducing a brand new character into the mix. What the Principal and the Pauper did that was so dangerous was not make it immediately obvious that this was a sharply pointed attack on the kind of fan whose attachment to characters-even a secondary character like Principal Skinner-obstructs their ability to accept change. If you are a Simpsons fan who hates this episode, deep down inside your problem is not that Armin Tamzarian can never be spoken of again; it’s that you take the back story of Seymour Skinner far too seriously.

What was Stan Lee Thinking!: Mindset and Mr. Mitzvah Are Gone from but Whip-Snap Remains?

Who Wants to be a Superhero is the only reality show on television that yours truly has ever watched an entire episode of. In fact, I have watched two and a half of the three episodes of this season and most of the seasons from the first season. I feel no guilt about breaking my self-imposed ban on my and my children watching reality shows because in the first place, Who Wants to Be a Superhero makes no claim toward presenting any kind of reality that exists outside the mind of Comic Book Guy. Secondly, the show feels more like an episode of a 1970s version of The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman or Spiderman than it does American Idol or Survivor. Stan Lee’s creation is pure entertainment, devoid of any pretensions toward shaping the minds of America’s youth by perpetrating the lie that competition is everything and everyone should be cutthroat in stabbing the other contestants in the back.

That being said, a sad fact must be faced. Only a few episodes in and already two of the most interesting contestant-Mindset and Mr. Mitzvah-are gone, and fans came perilously close to having to suffer through a fourth episode in which Ms. Limelight once again proved that Mindset was being hopelessly tactful when he accused her of merely acting dumb. Thankfully, Ms. Limelight has gone the way of Donald Rumsfeld, but that still leaves fan with two problems. To reiterate: the two most interesting contestants, Mindset and Mr. Mitzvah, are no more. Even more distressing is that the contestant even more annoying than Limelight not only somehow remains, but hasn’t even made it to the red box yet. (I don’t think. She may have made it on the first episode, I can’t remember.)

Why, exactly, is Whip-Snap is still around? She should have been given her ticket home after the first episode when she cried over not being able to do her job. She should have been given the boot in the second episode…when she cried over not being able to do her job. Notice a theme running here? In the most recent episode of Who Wants to be a Superhero prior to writing this, not only did Whip-Snap refuse to stand up to her fear and ride a wild rollercoaster, but she took the job of being the person who must speedily run around the park searching for stuff in the full knowledge that she has asthma and in no way could possibly contribute. Oh, and she cried again.

Am I alone here? As in baseball, there is no crying in crimefighting. It is hardly the end of the world, but with over half the season still to go for Who Wants to be a Superhero the only contestant with even the slightest modicum of personality left-frankly, I think he’s hilarious and hope he wins: Hyper-Strike. Sure, he’s even more gay than the actual gay contestant, but at least he can do a back flip. And he hasn’t once cried.That’s more than we can say for Whip-Snap. Here’s to hoping she joins her equally unqualified buddy Limelight…in the darkness.

Jeremy Brett: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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When you think about the character that has appeared on movie and television screens more often than any other, several candidates spring to mind. Frankenstein’s creature. Dracula. Satan. And, of course, Sherlock Holmes. To the best of my knowledge, more movies have featured Dracula as a character than any other, but I’d be willing to bet Sherlock Holmes is at least in the top ten if not the top five. Many of the screen presentations of the great detective have been forgettable, and most have been okay. But there is one actor who truly stands out as the ultimate Sherlock Holmes and you have the ability to to judge for yourself.

Ask ten people to name the best Sherlock Holmes and probably three will answer Basil Rathbone and four will answer Jeremy Brett and the rest will not be worth listening. For the record, the three who answer with Rathbone are also clueless. There is only actor who fully realized the complexity of Holmes and that was Jeremy Brett in a series produced for British television and later shown on America first as part of the PBS Mystery series and then on A&E back when it wasn’t an embarrassment. The great thing about DVDs and streaming content, of course, is that you don’t have to rely on television networks anymore. While A&E is convinced that high quality programming today means things like a reality show about a mass murderer’s ugly daughter, you can delete the channel from your channel surfing and simply press the “video” button. Begin by putting The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on your binging queue.

This five-disc set is just the first of several and includes twelve different Sherlock Holmes mysteries from the first season. The first season is a fan favorite because it features David Burke as Dr. Watson. Burke left after this season and was replaced by Edward Hardwicke. There’s nothing at all wrong with Hardwicke; in fact, in his own way he’s equally good as Dr. Watson. But many fans prefer David Burke because he has a twinkle in his eye and provides a bit more comic relief. Rest assured, however, that his comic relief is not in the tradition of the bumbling idiot Watson as portrayed in most Sherlock Holmes movies. In fact, in all of these presentations, regardless of whether acted by Burke or Hardwicke, Dr. Watson comes across as he does in the stories: curious, bewildered, helpful and down to earth.

Of course, the real reason to watch these television shows is Jeremy Brett. Most actors see Sherlock Holmes as a human computer and try to play him as an emotionless robot. If you read the stories, however, you will see that Sherlock Holmes is anything but emotionless. He doesn’t give in to simple emotions, however, and that may be the problem. Jeremy Brett succeeds in presenting Sherlock Holmes as a man of profound pride who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Brett’s Holmes can often seem petty and sometimes even vengeful; he often seems to want to solve a crime simply to prove himself superior. Well, wouldn’t you if you knew you had superior talents? It is for this very reason that many fans don’t care for Jeremy Brett. His Sherlock is a prickly individual, not easily categorized. He often laughs with glee and indulges in caustic wit. In other words, he sometimes appears to be too human for those raised on the tradition of Sherlock Holmes as a human computer.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes opens with A Scandal in Bohemia, which relates the story of how a woman outwitted the great detective. This episode sets the stage for the series: Victorian London, a client coming to 221B Baker Street to tell a strange story, Holmes and Watson setting off to solve the case. It also showcases Holmes’ talent for masquerade and includes the first of many references to Holmes’ penchant for cocaine when bored. There isn’t much actual mystery and the case isn’t about murder, but then Holmes was often called upon to solve mysteries where nobody ends up dead.

For instance, in The Red-Headed League Holmes must solve the bizarre circumstance of a man given an enormous salary simply to show up at an office and write out the contents of an encyclopedia all because he happened to have a fine head of fiery red hair. And in The Solitary Cyclist, the mystery is nothing more macabre than finding out why a young woman’s bike ride to the city each week involves her being followed by a strange bearded man on a bike during a small stretch of the path.

Several of my favorite episodes appear on this collection. I really enjoy The Norwood Builder, for instance. One of my favorite moments in the entire Brett canon occurs when he is attempting to smoke out a suspect. He calls upon several men to cry out “fire!” and you simply must watch his reaction when they fail to sound properly concerned. It is a priceless example of why Brett is the greatest Sherlock Holmes ever. My all time favorite

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes concludes with The Final Problem. This was the mystery where Arthur Conan Doyle actually appeared to have killed off his creation. Holmes had taken over Doyle’s life. Doyle fancied himself a writer worthy of recognition for things far greater than simple detective stories. Of course, the outcry from the public resulted in a Doyle bringing Holmes back to life. So have no fear when you read the end of The Final Problem. There is a lot more Sherlock Holmes yet to come and you should watch them all.

Homer Simpson’s Most Useful Quotes

After nearly two decades and 400 episodes, it should come as no surprise that quotes from The Simpsons have entered into our lexicon. Any time you hear someone slowly enunciate the word “excellent” what you are hearing is an imitation of Springfield’s richest resident C. Montgomery Burns. And, as you probably know by now, Homer Simpson’s trademark cry of “D’oh!” was entered into the Oxford English Dictionary. What does that mean? Well, it means that D’oh is now officially considered an English word.

The great thing about The Simpsons quotes is that they are flexible enough to be used for multiple occasions. For instance, take what may be my favorite Simpsons quote of all time. Homer Simpson is preparing to address a gathering at a backyard barbecue when he says, “If I could just say a few words…I’d be a better public speaker.” The funniest thing about this scene is that Bart is the only one who finds it funny, doubling over and slamming his fist down on the table. This is a Simpsons quote that could be used before any public speaking engagement to break the ice. It’s self-deprecating and loosens the audience up a little.

Another classic Homer Simpson observation concerns one of the key differences between humans and animals. You know the type: What separates us from the animals is our ability to laugh, or our knowledge of our mortality, or the fact that we cover our nakedness. Well, Homer’s got the real truth: “Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals … except the weasel.” Let’s face it, weaseling out of things is a key component of the human condition. Heck, George W. Bush has made a legacy out of weaseling out of things. A pack of hyenas is more likely to take responsibility than Bush or most other people. Homer Simpson is very astute in his analysis, weaseling out of things truly is a necessary lesson to learn. Feel free to pass it on.

Except to weasels.

Homer Simpson also has the answer to all those who wish to be excused from jury duty. Don’t say your job can’t be done without you. Don’t say you have to take care of a sick relative. Homer has the best advice: “Getting out of jury duty is easy. The trick is to say you’re prejudiced against all races.” Every lawyer is looking to find the perfect juror and the perfect juror is one who is almost completely open-minded but comes with a built in set of prejudices. But if you explain that you are prejudiced against everybody, you can’t be trusted. You will be excused in the blink of an eye.

Labor unions have had a weird history in America. They began as saviors of the oppressed working class who were exploited to become little more than feudal serfs. After getting decent working conditions and an almost livable wage for many, however, they caved in to corruption and mob control. As a result, the labor unions of today are viewed with suspicion and have retained precious little influence. While labor strikes in other countries have contributed to a narrowing of the income gap between the owner and employee, strikes in America are virtually unknown. That is because Homer Simpson was absolutely correct in his assessment of how the American worker rebels against selfish, uncaring bosses: “You don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You go in every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.” Yes, truly, you can see how Homer’s wisdom is expressed on the job every day. From customer service reps who provide no help to store clerks who wait until they finish their cell phone conversation before ringing you up, to Walmart managers who ignore the lines seven customers deep at the five checkouts they open out of the forty-five installed, American workers don’t resort to strikes to express their job dissatisfaction. They just do really lousy work. Unfortunately, the victim of this method isn’t the owner, but the customer.

And finally, Homer Simpson has advice for those who want to complain about anything. It’s really an almost Zen observation on how to achieve and maintain a spiritual level of content. The problem that most people have is that they are unhappy because of something that occurred previously. For instance, many of us are unhappy that Pres. Bush lied to us about Iraq in order to win approval for sending strangers to die there. If you find yourself unhappy about something, I suggest you take these words of Homer Simpson to heart. Study them. Consider the depth of meaning that exists in this deceptively simple observation. “Everything looks bad if you remember it.” Yes, no matter what your problem, no matter what it is that is causing your misery, the resolution to your discontent could not be simpler. Just stop remembering whatever it is that caused you to become unhappy. If you quit remembering it, it won’t seem as bad.

The Ideology of Reality TV

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Ancient Greek philosophers rarely enter the discourse when the subject turns to reality TV, but Plato’s most famous and influential literary accomplishments does have a place in the commentary. Since Plato warned in The Republic that imitative poetry is potentially a devastating danger to society to the extent that it could cause the whole thing to come crumbling down, those looking for quick and easy answers have rushed to blame the entertainment industry for the multitude of problems inherent in society. In recent years, the blame for the antisocial behavior of individuals—often violent behavior—has shifted from the media in general to specific movies, songs and television shows. Instead of blaming the ridiculously easy access that children have to guns in this country, Marilyn Manson songs were plucked out as the real reason behind the bloodshed at Columbine; and rap music has consistently been blamed for gang violence. While citing individual circumstances like these verges on outright hysteria, there can also be no doubt that Plato was ahead of his time in perceiving that the masses could be affected over the long term by certain types of entertainment.Ancient Greek philosophers rarely enter the discourse when the subject turns to reality TV, but Plato’s most famous and influential literary accomplishments does have a place in the commentary. Since Plato warned in The Republic that imitative poetry is potentially a devastating danger to society to the extent that it could cause the whole thing to come crumbling down, those looking for quick and easy answers have rushed to blame the entertainment industry for the multitude of problems inherent in society. In recent years, the blame for the antisocial behavior of individuals—often violent behavior—has shifted from the media in general to specific movies, songs and television shows. Instead of blaming the ridiculously easy access that children have to guns in this country, Marilyn Manson songs were plucked out as the real reason behind the bloodshed at Columbine; and rap music has consistently been blamed for gang violence. While citing individual circumstances like these verges on outright hysteria, there can also be no doubt that Plato was ahead of his time in perceiving that the masses could be affected over the long term by certain types of entertainment.

Anyone who doesn’t think that the images broadcast to Americans twenty-four hours a day over the airwaves have profound consequences on behavior of viewers need only ask why companies would be willing to pay millions of dollars for the right to broadcast a thirty second commercial during the Super Bowl. You can bet they are intimately familiar with the power of television if they are willing to spend that kind of money. American industry doesn’t engage in wasteful spending unless it’s to pay for million dollar anniversary parties for CEOs and their wives; they make sure every dollar that goes out brings in at least four. Shaping the minds of viewers doesn’t end with commercials, however. All television shows engage in ideological teaching and reality TV is no different; in fact, it’s more egregious than most.

“Reality television” is reinforcing several ideologically unsound messages that are molding the minds of its young fans.  These messages would make any Republican proud.  Among the dangerous messages that reality TV sends out are those regarding the vital—yet misguided—importance of competition, how society continues to stress the value of image over ability, and how education is becoming more and more of an obsolete factor in whether one is successful or not.  

Reality television promotes the old belief that competition is the key to success in a capitalist economy when in fact big business abhors competition. There isn’t a business in American that doesn’t want to drive its competitors into the ground and become a monopoly providing jacked-up prices to 100% of consumers. Most reality television shows should really be labeled game shows; they aren’t any different from The Newlywed Game or The Joker’s Wild.  Whether it’s Survivor awarding winners a million dollars or Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire awarding a husband, these shows reinforce the idea that life is nothing but a competition that we continually engage in with each other. While some shows pay lip service to the concept of teamwork, in the end it is usually only one person who wins. (I’m assuming from the commercials that The Great Race or whatever it’s called actually awards an entire team, but since I’ve never seen it I don’t know. Additionally, there may have been other team-based reality TV shows, but for the most part these wind up being individual competitions.) 

It is this obsession with competition to the exclusion of cooperation that can be pointed to as the beginning of one’s failure to adequately nurture their growing sense of compassion and understanding. And this lack of compassion and understanding is what eventually leads to invasions of foreign countries that posed absolutely no credible threat to another country’s security and way of life. And though competition is certainly a good idea in business in the sense that it should—though it usually doesn’t—force innovation and invention, the fact remains that almost every industry in America is shrinking due to mergers and acquisitions.  With shrinking industry comes shrinking wages and, ultimately, a shrinking workforce. The competition that is being presented as reality on these television shows is clearly not reflected in real life. While businesses may engage in cutthroat competition with each other, they all expect their employees to work together as a single entity.  Though, of course, they also promote the idea of competition through such things as promotion and Employee of the Month competitions. The fact that the only people who get any real benefit from such a thing are the managers and execs and not the actual Employee of the Month goes virtually unnoticed by those competing for the dubious honor.  

Reality television is also engendering a message that the key to success is image rather than ability. While an argument could certainly be made this is very reflective of reality, it nonetheless sends a dangerously misleading message that constantly reproduces itself. On many of these shows a contestant who is often considered the most qualified loses out to another contestant who presents a hipper image. Whether it is a singer on American Idol who has a better voice but is less attractively “packaged” or someone on The Apprentice who is far more competent at what they do but lacks “personality,” the message that impressionable viewers are receiving is that image is more important than substance. Of course, in the world of television,  that is true. After all, who would turn in week after week to watch a boring yet infinitely qualified-to-win contestant over a contestant who consistently entertains and surprises and walks around naked?  

Probably the single most dangerous message these shows send is that education is completely unnecessary to fulfill the American dream. While it is true this has been a growing concern since at least the middle of the last century with the rise of the instantly famous entertainer or sports star who publicly signs a lucrative contract and lives in an enormous mansion, at least those people possessed some sort of talent that set them apart from the masses. The possession of talent or education of any sort is now no longer considered a necessity in becoming instantly rich and famous. One need only possess the ability to humiliate himself or others on national television, or have absolutely no shame whatever, and they can make more money than many college graduates. Why go to school and face the difficulties of learning something when you can just get on TV and eat bugs and walk away with a bucket of money?  

By categorizing these shows as “reality” the makers are insidiously suggesting that they are replicating society. In fact, they aren’t replicating society as it is, but rather as those in power want people to believe it is. These shows reinforce the big business ideal that competition is what real life is all about; that presenting a cool front is preferable to possessing real abilities; and that success is better attained instantly through fame than through education and hard work. Why does big business want us to believe these things? Because of what they themselves are selling. If they can make you believe that life is about competition and dying with the most toys, then you will continue to acquire more and more products that you don’t really need and that aren’t all that much better than what you’ve already got. They want you to believe that cool is better than ability so you’ll buy the really expensive version of their product that looks so much cooler than the entry level version.  And for anyone who questions why those in power wouldn’t want you to become educated…well…um…hey, I think Who Wants to Marry an Idol Survivor who Danced with a Skating Celebrity Named Gotti just came on. 

Sinclair Broadcasting: The Originator of Fake News

Is one of your local television stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group? Since Pres. Clinton effectively destroyed all obstacles to monopolistic control of the airwaves by signing the execrable Telecommunications Act of 1996 the number of television stations in America has increased, gut the number of companies owning them has decreased. Sinclair Broadcasting Group owns almost sixty television stations, so chances are you are watching one of them when you sit down to check up on your local news. You know that smarmy looking guy that comes on at the end of your LOCAL news to present a one to two minute commentary called The Point? Did you know he’s not just a local crackpot spouting fascist inanities in the face of factual evidence?

He’s not just some Geraldo Rivera journalist-wannabe either. The host of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s The Point—which takes up at least one minute of your LOCAL newscast is, in fact, a Vice President of the Sinclair. His name is Mark Hyman and he doesn’t just look like a dork, he is one. He would have to be, otherwise a dorky company like Sinclair Broadcasting would have nothing to do with him.

Remember a while back when Nightline wanted to air Ted Koppel reading the names of all US servicemen who’d been killed in action in Iraq up to that point? To give you an idea of how long ago that was, he only had 700 names to read; today he’d have almost 2600. Well, Sinclair Broadcasting said that it wouldn’t air Nightline on its ABC affiliates because it was politically motivated. It was partisan politics ,to read the names of those who’d been killed in Iraq. Ironically, Sinclair Broadcasting was making the point it didn’t really intend to make by banning the airing of that show. After all, if simply reading the names of dead soldiers is politically motivated, then wouldn’t that mean that Sinclair Broadcasting was admitting that their deaths were politically motivated? Has to be since it’s hard to imagine Sinclair Broadcasting banning the reading of all those Americans who died at Pearl Harbor. Food for thought.

But to get back to the point. Sinclair Broadcasting would not allow its ABC affiliates to show Ted Koppel doing anything more than reading a list of names because it was tantamount to partisan politics. What Sinclair didn’t consider to be partisan politics was attempting to force its affiliates—just weeks before the 2004 election—to air in prime time the anti-Kerry film in which a ragtag group of disgruntled Vietnam vets lied about Kerry’s wartime service. Putting aside for the moment what is and isn’t true about that controversy, how could Sinclair Broadcasting justify those decisions, especially in light of the fact that it was a Bush advisor behind the whole smear campaign. (Not to mention that Karl Rove was behind the whole thing anyway). That doesn’t qualify as partisan politics, but reading the names of dead soldiers does?

But to get back to Mark Hyman and The Point. What exactly is the point of showing Hyman offering ill-informed and misguided editorials on a whole host of topics that have nothing to do with any of the topics of local news you just watched for the past 27 minutes? Once you get rid of commercials, promos, weather, sports and hyping the network’s stars, most local newscasts only offer at most five to seven of real hard local news anyway. Sinclair Broadcasting stations now don’t even get that much. Hyman’s nightly tirades consistently have him walking in goose-stepping line with Pres. Bush’s policies. Not one single segment of The Point has ever criticized Pres. Bush. Not one. Ever. I mean even Bill O’Reilly criticizes Bush once or twice a year. Not so Mark Hyman. I guess to this guy Bush is God.

But that’s beside the point. After all, Mark Hyman is entitled to his opinion. The problem is that nobody else is entitled to theirs. I have e-mailed my local Sinclair Broadcasting station on several occasions asking that I be allowed to respond to Mark Hyman’s ultra-right wing tirades. After all, I figured since I was born and raised in this town, lived here almost all my life, and since Hyman has been allowed to state his opinion every single day since Sinclair took over the station without there ever once being a statement offering an oppositional viewpoint that I had a pretty good argument for being allowed on air. I never received a reply.

So I called WEAR-TV at 850-456-3333 and asked to be connected with someone regarding the nightly segment on the LOCAL news called The Point. I waited and I waited and I waited. And finally my connection was terminated. So I called again the next day asking to speak to someone about a news item of local interest. (See, I learned my lesson!) When I got through to a reporter I asked her if I could speak to someone about offering a rebuttal to The Point. I was told I’d have to speak to the General Manager, but that person was out of the office at that point and could I call back the next day. I called back asking for the General Manager and was led to a voicemail. I left my voicemail asking if I could respond to The Point. Any of them. I didn’t care which one. I just wanted to be allowed to offer an opposing viewpoint.

I’m still waiting for them to return my phone call.

You see, my main concern is not with Mark Hyman and his idiotic statements. My main concern is that Sinclair Broadcasting owns these stations. If they wanted to force feed their fascist dogma down the throats of those who eat that kind of garbage up, they have recourse to time throughout the schedule to do it. Heck, they could pre-empt one of those godless, soulless, liberal propaganda prime time series that airs every night. But, um, those godless, soulless, liberal propaganda prime time series earns Mark Hyman his salary, so I guess that won’t happen. Show you how much his principles are worth.

Just don’t try to tell me that Mark Hyman getting his facts wrong about everything from Vietnam to pension reform is local news. I already have to put up with the fact that most of the local news on WEAR is recycled network news and sports. How can Sinclair Broadcasting get away with this crap?

I blame Pres. Clinton for signing that stupid bill when he should have known better.

Thirty Something’s Miles Drentell: American Television’s Greatest Bad Guy

Who is the greatest bad guy ever portrayed on an American television show? The first answer to come to the mind of many would probably be JR Ewing of Dallas. But let’s face it, JR was about as subtle as a Scooby-Doo masked villain. Cut me a break.

Those of a certain stripe might suggest Catwoman as portrayed by Julie Newmar. But I’m not talking specifically about the sexiest villain ever, so she’s out.

The Borg? Scary as hell, to be sure, but again not particularly dimensional. And besides, I’m thinking of a human being, not a collective being.

As far I’m concerned the single greatest villain ever portrayed on an American television show was Miles Drentell on Thirtysomething, brought to life by the extraordinary David Clennon. It is far more than a low down dirty shame that Thirtysomething is neither available on DVD nor currently in daily syndication on any major network.

(Instead, we get 72 hours a day of Law & Order reruns.) Thirtysomething was one of the leaders in the golden age of TV drama that marked the mid-80s through the late-90s, along with St. Elsewhere, Twin Peaks, Picket Fences, Deep Space Nine, X-Files, Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and others.

Although knocked as a series about self-indulgent yuppies, the characters on the show were no more self-indulgent yuppies than the equally acclaimed LA Law, and the show was far more interesting than that overrated piece of claptrap. Thirtysomething initially focused on a group of friends in Philadelphia, especially the families of Michael Steadman and Elliott Weston, who ran a small ad agency. But at the end of the first season Michael and Elliott were forced to close down their agency and the next season went to work for a much larger ad agency run by the inimitable Miles Drentell.

Over the course of the rest of the show, most of the best episodes focused on the Faustian relationship between Miles and Michael. Michael tried to be a good liberal, but was constantly torn between his principles and making a living. What some termed a whiny character was actually one of the few characters in television history to suffer genuine angst over the American policy of sucking your principles dry in order for anyone to achieve success in the system of free enterprise.

Miles Drentell suffered no angst. As played by the man who should have had a shelf filled with Emmy awards for the role, Drentell simply reveled in his position as boss-as boss, not as villain. His coolly detached demeanor covered up a Mephistophelian urge to bring Michael over to what appeared to be the dark side.

What made Drentell such a far more fascinating villain than JR was that you were never really sure what Drentell was up to. In the first year that Michael worked there, a character played by the equally brilliant Stanley Tucci was in Michael’s role and over the course of several episodes it was the height of drama to watch as Drentell pitted these two admen against each other in a battle to see who wanted power more.

After that, the focus turned to Drentell’s desire to corrupt Michael. One might well guess that Drentell was simply replaying his own career, that he himself had once been in Michael’s place and played this game with his own Mephisto. Who knows?

The highlight of their relationship-and the series as well-was the two part episode in which Michael and Elliott dared to make an attempt to take the company away from Drentell by working behind his back. This story arc still stands as two of the greatest episodes in the history of American television drama. You watch with an increasing tension in your gut as Michael goes out on a limb to outmaneuver the guy who invented outmaneuvering. Of course, it doesn’t work and Michael is prepared to be fired, but Drentell doesn’t fire him. He keeps him on and even gives him more power. Why?

That’s the beauty of Miles Drentell and why he’s the greatest villain of all time. Drentell had everything he could want: money, power, women. But what did he want more than anything else in life? He wanted to corrupt Michael Steadman. It seemed to be nothing more than a game; there could be some deep psychological reason, but Clennon never played it that way. He always kept Drentell as mystery. And the writers followed suit. One look from Clennon in this role contained more possibilities than all the screen tests for Scarlett O’Hara. He absolutely sunk into this role like he has no other.

It’s quite possible that Miles Drentell is the most fascinating character ever on television, not just the most fascinating villain. Most characters who are villains play themselves as a villain. They revel in their badness like JR. Of course, in real life, villains such as Dick Cheney actual think of themselves as doing good and being good.

With Miles Drentell you never knew. You were never sure if he really thought of his actions as malevolent and enjoyed it, or if he wanted to corrupt Michael not out of badness, but because he knew that the kind of person Michael wanted to be cannot peacefully co-exist within the free enterprise system. No matter what corporate CEOs like to tell you, you can’t be a good human being and a successful producer of profit. It simply cannot be done. And it may be possible that Miles saw genius in Michael. He may have genuinely seen him as his heir apparent and was trying to groom him for the difficult job he knew Michael was unable to handle.

Miles Drentell was playing a game of Faust with Michael Steadman on Thirtysomething, of that there is no doubt. But it’s still unclear whether Miles was working out of evil intentions or good intentions. And you know what they say about good intentions. Unlike just about every other really popular villain in TV history from the one-armed man on The Fugitive to Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (before he got redeemed, of course) Miles Drentell never showed his cards. He never let on what was happening behind that enigmatic smile and those dancing eyes.

And that’s why Miles Drentell of Thirtysomething was the greatest villain ever portrayed on American television show.