Highs and Lows of Grease: Live from a TV Geek and Musical Freak

This foray into live TV musicals has been an interesting journey thus far. NBC’s been the only one taking it on (so much so, that  many on Twitter last night thought they were watching NBC), and they’ve been improving, as far as it goes. Sound of Music was a cardboard production. Peter Pan was confusing. They finally started to get their act together with The Wiz! But I think Fox has upped the ante with Grease: Live.

I was SUPER stoked, as a huge fan of Grease and live musical events. And I was really eager to see how Fox was going to pull it off. Here are some thoughts:

The High Notes:

The production quality. The sets. The costumes. The camera work. All of it was just stunning. Greased Lightning and Freddy My Love were real standouts, technically speaking.

Vanessa Hudgens. Damn, girl. I’m not the biggest fan of “Worst Things…” but she knocked it out of the park. And under such emotional duress. I don’t think I’d have the strength. Well done.

The energy. Keeping up the dance-y vibe of Grease is a tremendous undertaking, particularly during the dialogue-heavy spots. On stage, and to an extent on film, the lurid language keeps up some of the spunk, but, as expected,  much of that was cut in favor of a family-friendly presentation. And yet, the energy was still there, in part thanks to Patty and Eugene, serving as highly-caffeinated transitions.

Doody. Jordan Fisher. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. And what a great way to incorporate “Magic Changes.” He was truly the stand-out T-Bird.

The women, in general. I know some thought there was over-acting, but … that’s how it’s supposed to be. All the Pink Ladies, Patty, Principal McGee and Blanche, Mrs. Murdock – the shop mechanic (an appropriate path for Jan Brady, btw) and the adorable Didi Conn — brilliant.

The Average Range:

The live audience. I’ve been BEGGING for a live audience. It feels like the biggest missing element in NBC’s shows. But due to the staging of Grease: Live, this was one production that didn’t seem to NEED it. Between the soundstage traveling and the fancy camera movement, there was a constant and energized flow. Not to mention that the cast seemed well stocked with extras, so if we ever had a moment that needed some audience noise, surely they could have provided it. It was just the wrong venue for a live audience. Some mentioned the live audience used as background extras was distracting, but I didn’t get that.

Frenchy’s new song. Carly Rae Jepsen wasn’t at fault, though. The song itself felt out of place, completely lacking any doo-wop, era-specific strokes.

Sandy and Danny. Oh, they were great when they were singing and dancing. But speaking…. not so much. Aaron Tveit has a great voice and looked swell in short shorts. But when it came to just speaking… let’s just say, it really made me miss Travolta. John made Danny a quirky cool, an oddball character with deliberate delivery. And Julianne Hough was… fine. Great dancer. Meh.

The Clunkers:

Kenickie. Kenickie is supposed to be the real cool one. The bad ass. I mean, come on, it’s why he and Rizzo work so well, and it’s why the Kenickie/Danny bro-ship is so good – Kenickie makes Danny cooler, challenges him. Danny, in turn, softens Kenickie, cools him down when he gets out of hand. Carlos PenaVega was way forgettable. Which for me, ruined the BFF drag racing scene a bit.

The golf carts. Some liked them. I did not. And I love backstage stuff. But this felt like too much backstage stuff during the show. I kind of wish it was a secret, revealed in a “making of” at the end. But it’s relatable to anyone whose done live theatre. I was in a Shakespeare play in college, where I had to exit upstage right, run up 2 flights of stairs, down a hallway, through the dressing room and costume closet, down one flight of stairs, through the lobby, through the pitch-black shop to make my downstage left entrance mere lines later. Blind, by the way. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and didn’t have contacts. But that’s theatre, folks. Save the backstage secrets for after the show, not during.

Mario Lopez. Why was he hosting? At that point, they should have courted Ryan Seacrest. Would have been funnier, anyway.

Apparently, during the actual LIVE broadcast, there were some tech issues. By the time it got to me, they had cleaned it up, so I can’t make any real comment there.

The Coda?

I really liked it. No, it didn’t replace the film. But boy, was it fun. This is exactly why I’m not freaking out about the upcoming RHPS remake, just sayin’.

NBC’s next musical is Hairspray, which is strikingly similar in energy to Grease, with even more of a social agenda. Hopefully, they’ll take some cues from Fox’s success.

Why I Didn’t Care About No New Footage and Other Comic-Con Thoughts

This was my 5th year at San Diego Comic-Con. And as each year comes, I think to myself, “Maybe this will be the year that I’ll get cynical. Maybe this time, I’ll see what others complain about.” But…

I am still head-over-heels in love with Comic-Con. And it just keeps getting better.

I love Comic-Con. I love the people. I love the cos-play. I love the long lines and crammed ballrooms. Some people find that surprising, like when they find out I actually love public speaking or theatre and improv. And I get it; I’m an open introvert with social and generalized anxiety. You would think large crowds, tight spaces, and lots of noise would be the last place I would be, since I can’t even make a phone call without breaking into a cold sweat. But the truth is, I’ve always found comfort in crowds. It’s because I can assess and respond in a situation quickly based on others around me. Is that like, a superpower? It should be.

This year, Cory and I actually didn’t know if we would make it until literally 2 days before. But thanks to some inside knowledge and a little luck, we were good to go. But because of the uncertainty, and the whole wedding thing, we did not put in for the hotel lottery. No, instead we decided to rough it and walk from our apartment, which is a little over 1 mile straight up from the convention center. “Up” being the key term there. While a mile walk isn’t bad, at a typical con, we’re each lugging 15-20 lbs worth of stuff. Still, not too bad, right? Except that the way back is uphill. Not steep, but a long, grueling incline that catches up with you. We had to do it, though.

Since we really didn’t know if we were going until the last minute, we didn’t take a lot of time to plan. The one thing we knew we wanted: The Star Wars panel.

Thursday afternoon, after an okay panel on pitching, we decided to check out the line, around 1 pm. And it was massive. For those unfamiliar with the convention center and Hall H, the line weaves in and out of tents alongside the building, then crosses the street and lines the sidewalk all the way around to the back of convention center, where it then goes up the sidewalk along the marina to the Hilton, then back down the gate to the Embarcadero, where it loops up and down the lawn and basketball courts before starting again back on the sidewalk of the marina down toward Seaport Village. It can be literally miles long. When we got in line, it was behind Joe’s Crab Shack on “the island,” or the Embarcardero. All things considered, it was a good spot – soft lawn, shade from the trees, breeze from the bay. Cory and I were kind of at a loss — we weren’t expecting to be in line so early. Luckily, the girl ahead of us and the man behind us offered to watch our things if we left for food or panels. Then, we made friends with the brother and sister nearby. Before we knew it, we were a hearty little group of six, sharing blankets and stories from cons past. We stuck together, taking turns going into the Con, seeing panels, grabbing food, etc. We got our wristbands (the guarantee of entry to a certain point) around 11 pm. One super generous member of our new gang offered to hold our spots for the night. He’s a good guy.

The next morning, after a missed alarm and a mile jog downtown, we found our friends, bought breakfast, and waited. We eventually got into the cavernous Hall H before any panels started, and there, the six of us settled in for a long day to get to ….

The Star Wars Panel —

Yes, it’s true. They didn’t really reveal anything new. They showed some (amazing) behind the scenes footage, and I know it was picked apart on the Internet minutes after its release.

So there seems to be 2 schools of thought here: the panel was either a big fake-out or the greatest experience ever.

As someone who lived it, I’m here to tell you – It was the Greatest. Experience. Ever.

It’s easy to get excited about being the first to see new stuff. And hey, I’ve been there, too. It is great – you feel special. For like, 3 minutes. But it doesn’t take long for the whole world to catch up to where you are. Even this year – they premiered the latest Batman Vs. Superman trailer. I was not there. I WAS, however, on the convention floor, near the DC booth when the stars came over right from Hall H to sign autographs. And they showed the trailer. On a loop.

Now listen, if you’re going to do a panel in one of the big rooms, you gotta bring something. The Game of Thrones panel earlier on Friday was pretty lame-o for several reasons, but mainly because there was literally nothing new to show. Nothing new to talk about. There are no more books. They maybe *just* started filming. They’re still figuring it out. And it was boring.

JJ and Co tantalized us by bringing out a real puppet who walked across the stage. They staggered bringing out the new stars, giving the crowd a chance to ask questions to each group.

They carefully kept Harrison Ford until the very end.

Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford
Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford

And I’ll admit, at this point, I was starting to feel a little disappointed. I had desperately hoped for a truly mind-blowing experience and I just didn’t have it. Even with Harrison. I knew the panel was coming to an end and I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. Until JJ made the big reveal.

A surprise concert, behind the convention center — right where this whole journey began.

During the panel, Mark Hamill mentioned that everyone seems to have a Star Wars story. I mean, he’s right. I wrote about mine. And that, that was the point of being there. In a line with thousands of other people. Sitting on the lawn for twelve hours. Making friends. Saving spots. Bringing coffee and doughnuts. Sharing anticipation and excitement. This is what Comic-Con, at its best, is about. Yes, there’s swag and celebrities and new teasers. And yes there are comics and toys and art and memorabilia.

But this is about sharing your love of something with others who love it just as much as you do. It takes what could be a very isolated feeling and propels it into a universe of those who feel the same way, turning loneliness into acceptance and a sense of belonging. That’s freaking awesome.

So no, I don’t care there wasn’t any “new” footage or trailers. I had an amazing experience with new friends that will forever bond us together. And I can’t wait until next year.

Why I Liked Jurassic World

Look, it’s not perfect. It was never going to be perfect. If your expectations were to high, that might be your own fault.

When it comes to sequels, particularly sequels 22 years after the original, and when the original was a literal box office monster… one must take this into consideration. And this isn’t something like Star Wars, which is more like continuing a story set in a particular world. Jurassic Park isn’t that — it’s a concept brought into the “real” world. Just… keep that in mind. You’re never going to recapture the original awe of seeing dinosaurs for the first time. Let’s accept that and move on.

So, Jurassic Park, the original, is on my Top 5. Spielberg is my favorite film director.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I was REALLY looking forward to this.

Let’s get some of the issues out of the way:

1. The director didn’t set up any chance for wonder.

Colin Trevorrow did a good job. But there were major problems with pacing. Some sequences felt rushed, others lingered too long. I know not everyone can be Spielberg, but these kinds of films can be improved if you give the audience a chance to see things through the eyes of the characters, not just as a voyeur, peering in on a situation.

2. The InGen plot.

There had to be a human villain. And I guess it had to be InGen. But Vincent D’onofrio’s weaponized raptor plan was a little silly.

3. The bland children.

James and I are notorious for mocking Lex and Tim, Lex especially. She’s pretty useless. She screams a lot. She doesn’t offer any helpful advice. She can’t pronounce “herbivore.” And, despite being a self-proclaimed hacker, she can’t correctly hold a mouse. Tim, though seemingly more intelligent than his older sister, doesn’t do much in the way of helping, particularly when Alan and Ellie are desperately trying to keep the door closed and Ellie can’t reach the gun… But these kids — I just don’t understand. Gray and Zach had certain characteristics that were alluded to — Gray’s (possible autistic?) obsession with numbers and data, Zach’s distracting teenage attraction to cute girls. Neither of these traits come into play at any point during the film. Even in JP II, the gymnastic skills of Ian’s daughter come into play. Gray and Zach serve as props for Claire’s frigidity and disconnectedness. Speaking of…

4. Claire

There’s been lots and lots of debate of the character of Claire, and her relationship to/with Owen. I get it. And trust me, for the first act and a half, I couldn’t believe her white silk suit stayed so pristine. But over the course of the second and third act, it’s clear that Claire can hold her own. She can run in the heels she wore to work that morning. She takes the initiative to release and bring out the T-Rex. So there are moments where she’s pretty great, but the film never really acknowledges them. The one moment that bothered me the most in the whole film was when, immediately after saving Owen by shooting to death the flying dinosaur attacking him, the nephews still choose Owen as the cool and safe one. Really?

These are all some definite issues found in Jurassic World. And there are others. But what makes it so amazing?

1. The park is open.

It is actually up and running and successful. It’s so successful, it has major corporate support in the form of a Downtown Disney/Universal Studios CityWalk. This is a great idea. Major theme parks have disasters all the time, but they continue to function, often with continued success.

2. Paying homage.

If the last two acts of Jurassic World took place in the original visitors’ center, I would not complain. Seeing the tattered remains of the “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth” banner, the remains of the original skeleton, the same Jeep, the murals… Not to mention all of the other references like Dr. Malcolm’s book, the “original” gates, and B.D. Wong, of course. I was actually pretty disappointed that Barbasol can didn’t show up in any of the close-up mud shots.

3. The T-Rex wins.

Well, truthfully it’s a little sad that the big sea-monster dinosaur actually claims the win, but the T-Rex puts up a good fight. The message behind every JP is that the T-Rex is king, and this is no different. Though I wish she had a little more screen time earlier in the flick, it was still nice to see her come into play.

4. The dino-dialogue

A lot of the dialogue was questionable. I mean, it’s tough. An action flick is expected to have a certain amount of witty, self-referential repartee. But… there were some pretty pathetic lines here. That’s why I truly believe the best dialogue was between the dinosaurs – the raptors and the Indominus Rex, the raptors and the T-Rex — whatever’s happening there  is far more interesting than the forced lines between D’onofrio and Pratt, Pratt and Howard, etc. I would have loved some subtitles, but even as is, those interactions were far more entertaining than any human interactions on screen.

As of right now, Jurassic World is on par to make nearly $205 million in the domestic box office, the second-largest opening weekend ever. Already, sites are pouring out their thinkpieces about why this is.

It’s not rocket science, folks. We want to see those monsters that Spielberg brought to live 22 years ago — the human monsters and, you know, the dinosaurs.

 

Star Wars: My Introduction to the Force

On the heels of the new teaser trailer coming out, I just had to write about Star Wars.

First of all — that trailer, though. If I wasn’t at work, sitting at a table surrounded by co-workers, I would have freaked out. It took a whole lot of focus to contain my excitement. No controlling the goosebumps, though.

I’m not sure what I liked better — the crashed Star Destroyer in the background of the first shot or Han and Chewie in the last shot. (BTW, has someone determined a Wookiee lifespan? Is that Chewie or like, Chewie Jr.?)
(Update: Found out a Wookiee lifespan is 400 years. All good, then.)

Eventually, someone in the office asked me today, “Are you a Star Wars fan?” She barely finished asking before I answered, “Yes.” My Star Wars appreciation has really grown over the years, for sure.

But what about the first time?

I know exactly when I saw Star Wars for the first time. Okay, not exactly. Couldn’t tell you the year (1996?) or the season (winter? It was dark…) but I know this — it was AN EVENT.

An Event in my household most often meant a viewing event – a movie or TV show or special we all wanted to watch. Surprisingly, these events were few and far between. Scheduled events, anyway. Usually, if one of us made a big deal about a show, the rest would eventually gather around and watch along. Or sometimes, if I walked in while my dad was watching something he felt was incredibly important and I stopped in the living room just long enough to watch, he would say, “This is a good movie,” which was dad-speak for, “sit your ass down and watch this.”

But the Star Wars event was fully scheduled over the course of 3 weekends. Pretty certain this happened because we had just gone to Florida and rode Star Tours, got our picture taken in front of the giant AT-AT, and admitted to Dad we had never seen the movies. In fact, the most James and I knew of franchise was probably learned from clips in the Muppet Babies.
Screen shot 2015-04-16 at 10.02.15 PM

We could *identify* Star Wars, but we’d never seen it.  Obviously, this needed to change.

The first Saturday was good. I loved 3PO and Leia. I recognized elements from the ride. I was definitely looking forward to next week.

The second Saturday was when young Sarah’s mind was blown away. I loved every second of it. The Han and Leia romance made my little heart race. Han actually going into the carbonite and not being saved at the last minute? Unexpected. Yoda was great, and I was so proud I could identify Frank Oz. But when Luke was revealed to be Darth Vader’s son? I damn near lost it. How? How could this be?

It was probably the last truly innocent and genuine cinematic shock I will ever experience. I couldn’t get over it. While in my state of disbelief, I inquired to my father incredulously , “Darth Vader is Luke’s father? Really? Really?! What next, Leia’s his sister?”

Dad, always eager to spoil, even back then, looked at me with raised eyebrows and side smirk – the sign I was dead on.

“No way. No!!”

He made some “hmmm” noises, refusing to verbalize that I was exactly right. But he didn’t have to. I knew it.

So the third Saturday, I watched my prediction come true. Also, I was a huge fan of Return of the Jedi. The Ewoks get a lot of heat, but they really were adorable, so if it was a kid-ploy, it worked and helped stoke my fandom. I even loved the little song and dance scene at the end. So there.

As a side note, my mom, who sat with us all three Saturdays, hates Star Wars and sci-fi in general. She doesn’t do well with aliens, so she has particular disdain for Jabba and Admiral Ackbar. Yet, she does love E.T.

Anyway, I watched all three movies pretty regularly after that. When the prequels came out, I was beyond excited, but that’s a story for another day.

I forever love Star Wars, thanks in no small part to how I was introduced to it.

If you remember when you first saw the original trilogy, share with me!

Yes, I Love Award Shows

Yes, the Academy Awards are tomorrow. So, of course I could write a big, long thinkpiece about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, the disconnect between audiences and Academy members, the over-inflated pomp of an industry in love with itself….

I could also give you my Oscar picks, list who I think will win, who should win, and what kind of drinking game I’ll be playing (that’s actually a good one, but I’ll explain in another post).

I won’t be doing any of those things, not this time, anyway. It’s all been said already, so I’m not sure I can bring anything new to the crowded table.

Instead, I’m going to explain why I love award shows. I love them unconditionally. Without shame or guilt.

And it all goes back to the same thing: family tradition.

We didn’t watch sports in my house. My dad loves football, but if he dared watch a game, it was usually in his bedroom, door shut tight. That’s mostly because my mom does not like sports. At all. Growing up with four super-athletic, competitive brothers might do that to a person. You’re either with them or against them, and my mom was the latter. So no sports.

Honestly, this didn’t turn out to be a big deal. James and I were far more interested in movies and TV shows and theater and music, so it all worked out. Though it did make for some highly embarrassing gym classes, but that’s a post for another day.

In our house, it was not about the Super Bowl or the World Series. It was the Oscars. The Emmys. The Tonys. The Golden Globes. The SAGs. The DGAS. All the Guild awards, really. When we were younger, it was the Kids’ Choice Awards and the MTV Movie Awards.

But it didn’t start out to be a family event.

I’m not sure when, but from a really, really young age, I became fascinated with whatever my parents would watch after I went to bed. Probably because I would usually sleep with my bedroom door open slightly, and I would hear them cracking up. And it killed me. What was so damn funny? What are they talking about? (Side note: Neither my brother or I grew up with a TV in our bedrooms. I was in college when I finally got one. This played a HUGE part in my love for TV, but again, another post.)

They always watched award shows, so I wanted to watching along with them. I was so young, I rarely knew any of the celebrities by name, except maybe Robin Williams, but I recognized faces and voices. My dad yelled at the TV when there was a shocking win or loss. My mom would comment on the ladies’ dresses, questioning trendy colors and jewelry choices. Dad would (and still does) spout off facts and tidbits from the back of the room like a Pop-Up Video you couldn’t turn off.

When an award show would start, I was always allowed to watch the first hour or so. But come 9 or 9:30, I’d be sent to bed, forced with the decision to either hide behind the wall near the steps to LISTEN to the rest of the broadcast, or wait til morning when my mom would fill me in on the winners.

Typically, I’d be sent up during a commercial break. At each break, I would beg, “One more commercial! Just one more!” My dad would relent, and I’d pull the same thing until he said no. This worked for a few years, but when I got a little older, I learned a phenomenal trick.

I wouldn’t make a peep.

Once it started to get late,  I’d curl up tight in the corner of the couch and stay perfectly still. If I didn’t budge, nobody said anything. It was the weirdest thing.

I mean, okay, I knew my parents knew what I was doing, at least eventually. But it just worked so well, and it was thrilling. As the show would cut to commercial, my heart would race and I’d hold my breath, seeing if I could make it one more round.  It’s how I finally got to see an Oscar broadcast in its entirety.

Over the years, we developed little traditions, like mini parties and legendary drinking games.  It was always an affair.

So bring on the dreadful red carpet interviews, the stiff presenters, and the ceaseless commercial breaks – I will not be sent to bed.

(Well, I’m on PST now, so it’s still way too early for bed. But you get it.)

 

PS – Do you have a favorite Award Show host of all time? From ANY Award Show? Vote Here!

Singin’ in the Rain: Some Things Never Change

Since the Oscar nominations were announced, I’ve been reading a few of the trillions of lists put together by various entertainment outlets. 24 of the Most Unforgivable Oscar Snubs, 10 Oscars That Were Whiter Than White. 33 Reasons The Lego Movie Is This Year’s Best Picture. Et cetera. But one list that was truly fascinating was EW’s 51 Performances Oscar Never Recogonized.

Typically, any list over 25 is questionable. But, I gave it a look anyway. First of all, it was greatly aided by having a video clip of each performance — no easy feat, and extraordinarily helpful in a list like this. Now, when watching awards shows, my dad is known for spouting tidbits and facts like a living, breathing, iMDb. So I’m kinda used to hearing things like, “You know, he was nominated for this film, but won for a different film eight years later,” or “This film lost to that film in 1976.” But seeing a cohesive list of performances that didn’t just lose an Oscar, but were never even considered is kind of startling.

They listed some incredible performances, many of which weren’t appreciated when released, or seem to have held up better over time, or were simply overshadowed. One of those many performances was Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain.

And that, of course, got me thinking about Singin’ in the Rain. This was a film I discovered “later in life,” maybe when I was 17 or 18, but I fell for it immediately. I mean, it shouldn’t be a surprise, really. It’s a musical and a movie about making movies. That’s pretty much gold for me.

What strikes me about Singin’ in the Rain is how the general representation of celebrity, stardom, and Hollywood, is still ALL true. The movie was made in 1952 about 1929, yet here we are in 2015, and nearly everything is still exactly the same.

My case:

– The Red Carpet Interview

In the film’s opening scene, we’re brought into a red carpet premiere of the new Lockwood-Lamont picture. A crowd is anxiously awaiting each celebrity arrival, screaming names and begging for autographs. This scene is narrated by Dora Bailey (played by Madge Blake), who is essentially Ryan Seacrest. She oohs and aahhs to her radio listeners as different celebrities exit their vehicles and prance down the carpet….. speaking of…

– The Celebs

You may not know the actors being caricatured  in this opening scene, but it almost doesn’t matter. The It girl, the attention seeking drama queen, the perfect Hollywood couple. We can fill in our current celebrities to match the labels.

– The Actor’s Interview

When Don finally arrives, he gladly conducts his red carpet interview. When asked about his beginnings, he weaves an elaborate tale, full of fancy schooling, serious roles and heaps of luck, while we see the truth — his low-class upbringing, his less-than-high-brow work in vaudeville,  his desperation trying to make it in LA. It’s  a tale celebrities still spin today, if not quite to that extreme. Oh sure, today it’s a lot easier to dig up old yearbook photos and embarrassing commercials, but we still have to do the digging. We always take what celebrities say with a grain of salt, knowing they rarely ever tell the whole truth.

– Studios Scrambling Over the Next Big Thing

The real challenge in Singin’ in the Rain is when this new technology arrives allowing movies to record audio, bringing in the Talkie Era. Shown at the premiere after-party, almost everyone believes it’s a fad. But when studios start buying into it, it doesn’t take long for Colossal Pictures to jump on board. The studio head halts production so the new technology could be installed.

Studios are so insane about being on top of the “the next big thing.” The same thing happened with Technicolor, HD, 3D — you get it. Nobody wants to be the last one, so when they rush into the new technology, there are always…. let’s call them growing pains. And they’re hilarious.

Probably my favorite scene in the entire film is when they start filming with the microphone and eventually screen an early version with sound. Anyone who has ever tried seriously filming a movie on your own will understand that scene. It feels all too real.

Ultimately, I think my argument here is trying to prove that we tend to dismiss “old” movies (be they made earlier than the year we were born, a musical, or –gasp– black & white), yet most of them are still completely relevant and totally entertaining. They may not be filled with lightning-speed editing or quick-and-punchy dialogue. Yes, Singin’ in the Rain has some cheesy moments. (Between you and me, I always skip the final dance sequence.) But overall, it’s a phenomenal film that holds up so well.

Give it a chance, people.

#LearnfromtheClassics

 

Why Are You the Way That You Are?

A valid question, indeed. After all, when people first discover my extensive knowledge of NBC’s schedule from 1985-1990, my passion for Nickelodeon’s meteoric rise, and my ability to ruin “reality” shows by calling winners based on editing cuts, they seem very, very surprised.

I guess it’s surprising. I’m quiet and have an air of serious intelligence, I make no secret of my high standards.

So… where did this obsession with the god-forsaken entertainment industry come from?

As with most grown-up issues, my childhood home life is to blame. It really started with my dad:

Right around the time I was 2, my dad found a new hobby – recording movies off TV onto VHS tapes. Being the OCD personality he is, he quickly devised the most efficient system, recording 3 full-length features per VHS tape. Each tape was the numbered and tallied into a green binder. This green binder was my dad’s holy grail. He had covered the front of it with those tiny stamps from movie club mailers. Films were broken down by genre, as determined by my father. (Drama encompassed almost everything, but he had a whole section for The Beatles…?) He registered what network he recorded it from (so he knew if it was a desperate move, recording off a broadcast network with…. COMMERCIALS), what year it was made, and what number tape it was on.

Those hundreds of tapes were all over the house – in cubbies under the living room end table, stacked behind the sound system speakers, squirreled away in cabinets in my brother James’s room. It would be a few years before he had massive bookshelves built, which eventually housed most of the collection, albeit temporarily.

While James and I had our own store-bought video collection of Disney movies, in their squeaky plastic cases, most of our favorite movies were found on one of Dad’s tapes.  He made it a point to record great films he thought we should see; he just happened to record them between Dirty Harry and Scarface.  By 6, I was an expert at fast-forwarding  – trucking through one movie to land perfectly on the the middle one, coasting through commercials. Because, of course, we had to stop the tape and fast-forward blindly. “It was better for the tape” than hitting play THEN fast-forward. And it was all about the health of the tape. I also became an expert  at tracking — you know, when you watched a tape too much and it began to get those gray lines. We called it “flippy.” “Daaaaaad, The Wizard of Oz is getting flippy!!!!” I remember sitting in front of the VCR while a movie played, slowly twisting the tiny knob hidden beneath a panel on the front of the VCR, making the flippiness stop as best as I could.

Speaking of lecturing, we were also taught the rules of recording — if the red light was on, we could not use the VCR. Don’t touch it. Don’t look at it. Don’t put the silverware in it. (Funny story: James once put a spoon in the VCR. He couldn’t have been more than 3. I’ll never forget my dad, who is not particularly great at taking things apart or putting them together, hovered over the VCR inards, muttering to himself. But James’s reasoning was sound – he wanted to know if whatever you put in the VCR would show up on the TV.)

The whole point is, from birth, I was surrounded by a library of cinematic history. My dad’s collection was the prize of the household. I was 12 when I finally grasped the concept of “renting” movies. It was an additional activity, along with puzzles, coloring, and imaginary games. We watched movies after a day of swimming, on sick days and rainy days, before we went to bed.

I know this isn’t necessarily about TV, but it definitely set the tone for how and why we consumed media. My dad’s hobby, his passion, was instilled into me and my brother. It’s a family thing.