Straczynski Still Wants To Run ‘Star Trek’

J. Michael “Joe” Straczynski, creator of “Babylon 5,” says he still is interested in producing producing a new “Star Trek” series — but Paramount has indicated it won’t do anything with the franchise for a couple of years (probably a good idea).

The most interesting thing about this is that JMS (as B5 fans sometimes refer to him) is proposing a “reboot” of “Star Trek” — like Ron Moore’s version of “Battlestar Galactica,” presumably meaning his version would start over again from scratch and not attempt continuity with the existing canon of shows. That probably wouldn’t sit well with a lot of the hard-core “Trek” fans (just as Moore’s worthy efforts nevertheless offended a lot of hard-core “Galactica” fans). And JMS would have a heck of a lot more canon to compete with than Moore did.

Still, as I’ve previously posted, it’s fascinating to think of what a JMS-produced “Star Trek” would be like. Would he attempt, as Moore did, to re-cast familiar characters for his new version? Or would he take an easier route and invent a whole new ship and crew?

I always enjoyed B5, although I can’t say I watched every episode. I think JMS’s take on the conflict of cultures and individuals was in many ways more complex and realistic than the way similar issues were being portrayed on the “Star Trek” series which were running at the same time. It was also, for better or worse, a much more personal take — JMS was said to have written all or the vast majority of the show himself. (I still remember, long before B5, when he used to write the screenwriting column for Writer’s Digest magazine.)

B5 wasn’t always as much fun as Trek, of course, and that might give Paramount pause. Heck, it gives me pause, come to think about it. Star Trek should allow for the occasional light-hearted plotline; Tribbles and Q and Lwaxana Troi and what have you. But maybe I’m not giving JMS enough credit.

In any case, I’ll be curious to see how this plays out.

Bancroft and Brooks

84 Charing Cross RoadWhatever it is that causes most Hollywood marriages to have the same half-life as Cesium 130, Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks seemed to have avoided it. They remained married for 40 years until her death on Tuesday night.

I once heard the story of how the movie “84 Charing Cross Road” came to be made. If you’ve never seen the film, it’s a very quiet, subtle little project, starring Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins as trans-Atlantic pen pals sharing a love of books. Bancroft had been reading the book — which was a non-fiction memoir by Helene Hanff, who had been a writer in the early days of TV. She made a casual remark to her husband about how much she’d love to play the part if there were ever a movie adaptation.

Mel Brooks is best known for his own movies — brash and bawdy comedies — but his company has also produced films like “The Elephant Man.” Because Mel Brooks as an individual has become so closely associated with one particular genre, he often leaves his name off his more serious projects — you have to look for his company name, Brooksfilm, to recognize them.

Anyway, Brooks went out and — without telling his wife — negotiated for the rights to make “84 Charing Cross Road.” He gave this to her as a birthday gift!

When I heard Tuesday night about Ms. Bancroft’s death, I mourned the loss of a fine actress, but I also thought about the uniqueness of their partnership — the classy actress and the low-brow comedian. I imagine they must have been a delightful couple to know, and more than once (as strange as it sounds) I fantasized about going to dinner with them.

The thinking toy’s man

20 Questions Handheld Game

On our bus ride to the baseball game yesterday, I became acquainted with a new toy which I plan to purchase at my next opportunity. Run, don’t walk, to Wal-Mart, Target or your nearest toy store and look for Radica’s “20 Q” or “20 Questions” game. (Or just click on the Amazon associates link above.)

This is a handheld game about the size of a billiard ball, costing between $10 and $15. You imagine any item and the game asks you 20 yes-or-no questions about it. (The first question is potentially in four parts, about whether the item is animal, vegetable, mineral or other.) For each question, you push one of four buttons to answer “yes,” “no,” “sometimes” or “unknown.”

The game then guesses your item, with astonishing accuracy. If its first guess happens to be wrong, it will go up to five more questions before conceding.

The questions seem so vague that you don’t realize how much information is being garnered, which makes the final revelation all the more startling. Both times I tested the machine yesterday, at the end of 20 questions I didn’t think (based on the questions that had been asked) that the machine was anywhere near the right answer.

And yet, on my first game, I imagined a shoebox — and the game guessed “cardboard box,” which I would consider an exact match. Then, I imagined binoculars — and the game guessed “binoculars.”

Someone else on the bus reported imagining a llama, and the machine nailed it. The algorithm inside this little toy must have thousands and thousands of possible answers programmed into it, along with a tree of yes/no questions leading to each one.

It’s a fascinating conversation piece, and I can’t wait to have one of my own.

An unfortunate metaphor

Back in March, I posted about a Washington Post column which referenced the overuse of the term “turning over in his grave” or “spinning in his grave.” At the time, the term was being applied to Edward R. Murrow — who, the columnist pointed out, could not be turning over in his grave due to the fact that he was cremated.

Now, this blog, pointed out to me by my brother Michael, points out an even more unfortunate cliché — one which shows just how low the level of debate has fallen in this country.

Bachelor Bob

I met “Bachelor Bob” Guiney this morning.

I had no idea who he was, mind you, but I met him.

It started yesterday, when my editor received an e-mail from a local teacher. The teacher and her sister had nominated their mother for the dubious honor of having “America’s Messiest Garage” in a contest on the morning talk show “The View.” (“The View” is the panel show hosted by Barbara Walters, Meredith Viera, Star Jones et al.) The mother, who was blissfully unaware, had been selected for the program. At 7 a.m. today, the mother — still in her pajamas — was called to the front door to discover a TV crew, several large trucks, a fire engine, the Central High School marching band, Shelbyville Mayor Geneva Smith and Bedford County Mayor Jimmy Woodson standing in her front lawn (in the rain, I might add).

The host of the pre-taped segment identified himself as Bob Guiney, and at one point, when he was shaking hands with the mayors, he introduced himself to me as well. No one on the TV crew had much time to talk, of course; they were busy.

The name “Bob Guiney” stuck in my head for some reason, and so I Googled him when I got back to the newspaper. It turns out he was the star of one of the more popular seasons of ABC’s reality show “The Bachelor,” and since that time he has appeared every now and then as a roving correspondent for “The View.” Since (being a man) I don’t watch either of those shows, I didn’t know him, but several of my female co-workers were suitably impressed.

As we speak, professionals are overhauling the winner’s garage, and tomorrow afternoon the TV crew will document the finished product for posterity. The winner and her daughters will be flown to New York later this month to appear live on “The View” on the same day their segment is televised.

I had carried an umbrella during the half hour or so in which we waited for the segment to begin, and then walked from our staging area to the winner’s home. But once things got busy, I had to drop the umbrella so that I could take photos and notes.

Two or three hours later, Mayor Smith stopped by the newspaper on some errand and stopped by my desk to speak to me. She placed her hand on my shoulder as she started to talk, then laughed.

“You’re still wet, John,” she said.

It’s true; I was.

JACK-FM links

The original JACK-FM in Vancouver.

My local JACK-FM’s site is still under construction — but note that they’re using the same logo as Vancouver. (The URL refers to the station’s previous format.) The name and logo have been trademarked and are being licensed to stations along with the format.

A good story on the format from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Frampton comes alive? That’s the fact, JACK

In the old days, radio stations had huge playlists, and played a wide variety of musical styles and genres. But a radio programmer named Gordon McClendon noticed one day that teenagers at restaurants or other hangouts with jukeboxes would happily listen — pay to listen, even — to the same songs over and over again. McClendon went out and bought a small record rack, which — by sheer chance — happened to have 40 slots. He filled it with the 40 most popular records and directed his disk jockeys to keep playing those 40 records over and over again. Top 40 radio was born.

Top 40 wasn’t by itself a bad idea, but a number of other factors over the years — the increasing use of programming consultants and the gobbling up of radio stations by a handful of corporations, such as Clear Channel and Infinity — have made many radio formats predictable and boring. Because of our short attention spans, radio tries to make sure that the target demographic for a particular station never hears a song it doesn’t like, because that would be an invitation to change stations. So we get all these niche demographic stations, each of them an exercise in tedium.

But recently, programmers noticed the opposite phenomenon from Gordon McClendon’s jukebox. Individual people are not idiots or automatons. They’re capable of liking more than one type of music, and many do. Furthermore, the availability of MP3s, satellite radio and other programming sources has given people the chance to listen to a wider playlist than is offered by the typical cookie-cutter radio station (pop, soft rock, urban, country, etc.)

This has led to an ironic new development — one which thrills me to no end. The hottest new format in the country right now is called “JACK-FM,” and most of the stations are using that trademark to market themselves. It’s based on a station in Vancouver which had built a following on the Internet. The basic format is oldies from the 70s, 80s and 90s — but the playlist is huge, as much as three times the size of the normal radio station. And the selection is eclectic. Here, in chronological order, is the exact rundown of songs that I’ve heard while thinking about or working on this post:

  • “Baby I Love Your Way,” Peter Frampton
  • “Tubthumping,” Chumbawumba
  • “Dancing With Myself,” Billy Idol
  • “Stacey’s Mom,” Fountains of Wayne
  • “Tell Me Something Good,” Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
  • “Missed Again,” Phil Collins
  • “Crash,” Dave Matthews Band
  • “Respect,” Aretha Franklin

I think this is a killer format. It makes me want to install a radio in my car. (Don’t ask.) It’s not the old days when disk jockeys played whatever they wanted to. (The JACK-FM marketing slogan is “We play what we want,” but don’t be fooled — the playlist, big and friendly as it is, is almost certainly coming from corporate automatons.) Even so, it’s a tiny step in the right direction, and I am having a heck of a time listening to it.