Nick at Nite: Preparing Us for Netflix

I know. You’re thinking how is this possible? Netflix is about streaming what you want when you want it. More recently, it’s about new programming. Nick at Nite is about airing old network shows in syndication, and making us feel old for showing The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Full House.

It’s because of one clever little marketing stunt (which Nick was always famous for): Block Party Summer.

Let’s go back —-

Summertime as a kid was the best time. Oh, sure, Christmas was great. But summer had that lasting impact.

Believe it or not, I spent a lot of time outdoors in the summer – swimming, biking, roller-blading, going on adventures with family and friends. But as much time as I spent outside, I spent just as much inside, watching TV. Movies, too. Mostly TV.

Each summer, my brother and I wordlessly developed a schedule of TV viewing. Mornings consisted of Nick Jr., The Price is Right, and Law & Order reruns, with an occasional movie thrown in. Afternoons after swimming would be Stick Stickley in the Afternoon, or another movie. Dinner, when not eating outside, would be Nick game shows or NBC sitcom reruns before the local news. And finally, after a full day of summer activities, we would settle in, hang the beach towels out to dry, and watch Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer.

In July and August, for several years running, Nick at Nite would designate a day of the week with a marathon, 3 hours-ish, of  a specific show. I’ve always loved Nick at Nite’s promos. They were pretty genius. Each summer usually had it’s own jingle, too. Promos would typically have summery themes, like camp or a BBQ. Here are just a few days I remember:

Munster Mondays

Lucy Tuesdays

Bewitched Be-Wednesdays

Jeannie Thursdays

They changed over the years, though Lucy was a near-constant. Fridays were always oddballs – Welcome Back, Kotter, The Wonder Years, etc.

James and I loved these.

And on an Inception-y level, Nick at Nite prepared us for the Netflix binges of today. That’s why it’s not weird to watch 6 episodes in a row of one series — we’ve been doing it our whole lives, thanks to these and other Nick at Nite/TV Land marathons. And check out this promo:

“It’s Nick at Nite’s modern programming miracle! Instead of one ‘Mary,’ you get six in a row — ”

They knew the whole time this would be the future. Thank you, Nick at Nite. Thank you.

Nerdy Triumph for a High School Introvert

I have some pretty terrible self-awareness. At least, I used to. Not only can I be overly self-conscious, but I am super adept at convincing myself of things that are simply not true — about myself. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I finally understood my body shape. I had been buying jeans 3 sizes too big, shoes 2 sizes too big, and pants that ran “long.” I’m 5’3. But I fully believed those were my sizes. To be fair, I did grow up in the ’90s…. still…

It’s also taken me this long to finally understand what it means to be an introvert. I always wondered why, even though I loved being in a large group of good friends, I always had to slip away, find my own quiet hiding spot. It’s why really loud, energetic people who aim their energy at me really piss me off.

But being introverted was a huge issue all through my education – I just didn’t know it. No one seemed to understand why it was so hard for me to participate in class, why group projects and sitting in a circle caused me to “white-out,” a term I use when I’ve been unexpectedly presented with a draining activity without any chance to prepare. It’s like my brain shuts down everything, diverting all power to getting me through the situation. Because of all this, in high school I was usually described as quiet, weird, snobby, and smart. I guess they weren’t wrong, though I wouldn’t call myself snobby so much as elitist, but minor semantics.

Being introverted and anxious meant I spent a lot of time dwelling over “embarrassing” moments that in reality, most of my classmates probably forgot about 6 minutes later. Like the time in 6th grade I couldn’t pronounce “Knickerbockers.” Or in 7th grade when a homework assignment for English class included guessing a football game score, and I said “2-3.” Or when I cried in front of the class in 1st grade. And 3rd grade. And 5th. And 9th. And freshmen year in college. And my first semester in grad school. And my last semester in grad school.

But it’s also why I remember the little triumphs so well – again, something everyone else most likely forgot in minutes.

It was junior year health class. Yes, health class. It was taught by the football coach, who was a nice enough guy as far as I knew. Gym teachers and coaches were hit or miss with me, but Coach Richards never pushed me too hard or made me feel stupid, so I had no qualms.

This particular day in class was right before a break, because Coach R decided against teaching any new material in favor of a game day. We must have been divided into teams, and the winning team would get bonus points on their test or …. something, I don’t remember. But he was asking trivia questions, going up and down the rows. This was good, since it meant I’d only have to answer 1 or 2 questions at most. It was bad because for those 1 or 2 questions, I’d be put on the spot.

Because he was the football coach, a majority of the questions revolved around sports, of which I knew nothing.  Great. He got to me, and asked a general pop culture question, which I answered correctly, but without much fanfare. He made his way through the room again. I prayed that class would end before he got back to me. It was getting close. My heart was racing, my stomach in knots. Please not another question.

“Miss Pugh,” Coach R started. Damn. He looked at his note cards which contained the trivia questions, and his big eyes got bigger. “Ooooh,” he said, wincing. WINCING. “This is a tough one.” The class, or those on my team, groaned loudly. I sat perfectly still.  He started.

“What movie — ”

A movie question. At least if I got a sports question, there’d be no expectations. Now if I get a movie question wrong, I’m humiliated because I don’t know the answer to what I actually care about.

“What movie is tied with Titanic for the most Emmy wins?”

Wait. Really? I took a moment to process the question in my head. I heard the class groan again, but I knew. Ignoring the fact that Coach R didn’t know the difference between the Emmys and the Oscars, I quietly answered.

“Ben-Hur.”

I could actually hear the confusion from my classmates, like I had just made up words. Coach R, a look of complete shock on his face, nodded. “Yes. Well done.” The class erupted into cheers.

For that moment, I felt vindicated. Like all the time I spent with my dad, Mr. IMDb himself, watching documentaries and awards shows and countdown series paid off. I DID know stuff. Maybe not sports or cool bands, but so what.

It’s hard to be super-obsessed with things that aren’t necessarily popular. Geek is chic at the moment, but it wasn’t always. Even now, at my current job, I get “NERD ALERT”-ed for openly loving theater and old TV and Disney.

And it still stings. But I don’t cry over it anymore.

 

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!

Castle of Illusion – The Beginning and the End of My Video Game World

Due to undisclosed medical reasons, I was stuck in the apartment for about two weeks early in March. Luckily, this was an expected situation, so I had time to stock up on low-impact,  boredom-killing activities like puzzles, painting, and… video games. More accurately, video game.

One game to rule them all was available for download on the PS3. And it’s been a blast.

Castle Of Illusion

Castle of Illusions Starring Mickey Mouse for Sega Genesis was my very first video game. The funny thing was, it wasn’t even mine. Aunt Lisa, always up on the latest trends, got one for her kid, who was maybe 2. Realizing the insanity, and seeing how much fun James and I were having, she let us borrow the system, along with the few games she had, one of the being Castle of Illusion. (I think the others were Sonic 1 and Cool Spot – the game starring the red dot from the 7Up logo.)

I’m not sure what it was about that game, but it was wildly addictive. Aunt Lisa would cheer me on as I desperately tried to get Mickey to swing from rope to rope. James developed a habit early on of physically doing what the main character was doing, so he’d jump every time Mickey would jump. And when that giant apple would come rolling down…. wow.

And as the years went by, and we discovered and fell in love with more games (Aladdin. The Lion King. Sonic 3. Tiny Toons. — violence was clearly not our thing), Castle of Illusion never fell out of favor.

As gaming systems developed and advanced over the years, my taste and tolerance for them waned. Except for maybe Guitar Hero and Rockband, I haven’t played a game made in the last two decades. Until now.

At last year’s Comic-Con, James and I wandered into an arcade where they were demoing new games. We where drawn in by the ginormous Sonic installed in front, but when we entered? To our amazement, they were demoing an updated version of Castle of Illusion for the PS3. James and I may or may not have pushed a small child out of the way to be next in line to try this game.

When we got there, it was the level in the dungeon, never one of our favorites, but still. Shockingly, it was nearly identical. Oh, sure the graphics were improved by a billion and the game play added a little bit of complexity. But the music? Identical. The overall structure? Identical. The feeling we got when playing? I-freakin-dentical.

Since I’ve been playing the full version, it’s been amazing. Though I do miss some of the standard 8-bit graphics I grew up with, I appreciate the revamping that stayed true to the original.

Nostalgia for the win.

 

 

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!

How Many Oxen Does One Really Need?

With the release of that gorgeous library of MS-DOS games brought to you by the Internet Archive, how could I not jump on writing about that greatest day in Computer Class –   Oregon Trail Day?

Unlike almost every other game in school, I loved computer games, not because I was necessarily good at them, but because they suited my introverted self. Unlike gym class, because gym class was about sports. I didn’t care about sports; I didn’t know any of the rules. My father wasn’t particularly athletic and my mom hated sports after growing up with four competitive brothers, so gym class was utter torture for me. Not because of physical activity required, despite popular belief, but because I had no fucking clue what these games where, even though everybody else seemed to be born with that knowledge. Usually I was so worried about not doing the right thing, I would panic and freeze. It was publicly humiliating. So as I got older, I developed the “Daria Defense:” I just acted like I didn’t care. It was easier to handle than admitting in front of 30 of my peers that I didn’t know how to hold a bat, or throw a football, or catch… anything.

Computer class was a glorious reprieve from classroom anxiety. If I didn’t understand something, I was free to fail and try again without anyone being the wiser. I could take my time studying the screen, experimenting with keys, maybe slyly observing my neighbors and learning from them. Playing Oregon Trail was amazing because I could play it on my own.

Elementary-level computer classes were interesting in the early 90s. When I was very young, the Catholic school I attended had several computers crammed into what looked like a custodial closet with a window. We were two or three to a computer, taking turns with the different typing programs.

When I started public school, the computer room was a bit more established. There was typically a computer for each student. While most classes were full of typing (which I loved and was very good at), occasionally we would play games.

Oregon Trail day was the best day in computer class. When the teacher gave us the go-ahead, the whole room would buzz with excitement. “Are you gonna be a banker?” “Duh. Bankers are rich!” “I’m naming one of my people after you!” “Why do we need so many ox?”

When the energy came down to a dull hum, everyone was deep into the trail. I always liked the rivers, for some reason. Holding my breath, waiting to see if my little wagon would make it across… oh, the drama. Though, I did get a little disheartened when I named my people after my family, and then they died.

I also remember a game similar to Oregon Trail, but more complex and it took place in the Australian Outback. You could look for food, and determine whether fruit was safe or poisonous… but I have no idea what it was called… Outback Trail…? I don’t know.

For me, the funny thing about The Oregon Trail being available now is that… it’s kind of boring. And that’s a rare reaction for me. I usually live in nostalgia. But I guess I just didn’t have that strong of a connection to this specific game. Now, Sega games like Sonic 2, Castle of Illusions, or Aladdin? Those I’ll play for days.

Still, it’s great to have access to The Oregon Trail now, even if I only have a mild emotional attachment. I mean, where else would I have learned about dysentery? Oh, wait! Mrs. Doubtfire! …. Huh.

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.