TV Review: The New “It’s A Knockout” Sucks

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th November 2011.

On Sunday night, one of my favourite eighties TV shows was resurrected. With minimal fanfare, It’s a Knockout returned after a twenty four year absence.

Originally airing from 1985 – 1987, It’s a Knockout was hosted by Fiona McDonald and Billy J Smith. At the beginning of each episode they would enter the stadium in a golf cart and introduce a series of ridiculous challenges which pitted teams representing four Australian states against each other.

A guest referee would oversee the proceedings. Minor celebrities at the time filled this role, including Grant Kenny, Ricky May and Jon English, as well as Network Ten contracted talent such as Jason Donovan and Cameron Daddo.

The program was recorded just up the road from my childhood home, at Englefield Soccer Stadium in Dural. Surprisingly, I never attended a taping but remember being amazed by the stories from my school friends who went along. I recall being outraged at the time that audience members were split into groups and forced to barrack onscreen for a particular state.

I was particularly impressed that one of my next door neighbours was a cheerleader for the show. I ran into her several years ago. She is now the nursing manager for the intensive care unit of a major Sydney hospital. I bet she doesn’t have the It’s a Knockout gig on her CV.

The latest incarnation of It’s a Knockout is hosted by HG Nelson, Brad McEwan and Charli Robinson. The latter’s job is to interview the contestants and generally make everything seem so much more fun and hilarious than it actually is. Nelson and McEwan have a reasonable chemistry but their banter seems quite disconnected from the rest of the show, as if their segments were shot on a different day to the competition.

This is reminiscent of the similarly themed Wipeout show, which also featured two wise cracking hosts who were very obviously standing in front of a green screen in a studio far away from the stadium.

Both Wipeout and It’s a Knockout are filmed offshore, allegedly to take advantage of less stringent insurance regulations and contain costs. Wipeout and its various international editions, including Wipeout Australia, are shot in Argentina. Kuala Lumpur is home to the new It’s a Knockout, which is interesting, because when I think of whacky game shows, I definitely do not think of Malaysia.

The rebooted It’s a Knockout focuses less on the contestants and more on the action than the original incarnation. For me, this is counterproductive as it’s the human element which draws you in. Without some level of connection to the teams, the players just become Japanese game show cannon fodder for trips, spills and falls.

Gone also is the live audience split into four state groups. In its place is a small but excitable audience in a tiny grandstand. Presumably tourists who don’t care about whether NSW wins or not, the audience claps and cheers at the right times but based on the wide shots of the stadium, anyone in the grandstand would probably not be able to see the majority of the events. It is quite possible that the audience wasn’t even there for the games. With some clever editing, you would just need to shoot a couple of minutes of crowd reactions and send them home.

The continuous spruiking of a certain fast food brand was also annoying. Call me old fashioned but I prefer my ads in the ad breaks.

I know that It’s a Knockout is just another zany TV show but I’m being particularly critical because this one was a childhood favourite. The failed resurrection of Hey, Hey It’s Saturday last year and the imminent relaunch of Young Talent Time in 2012 prove that the TV networks are desperately running out of new ideas.

The problem with brushing the dust off old eighties programming such as It’s a Knockout is that its intended audience, nostalgic Gen Xers such as me, may have adored the show twenty five years ago but have now grown up. I’m no longer interested in Plucka Duck, precocious kids lip synching badly and people dressed up in ostrich costumes riding bikes. If the networks must go back to the eighties well, bring back the original shows as late night reruns.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:16  Leave a Comment  
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Eighties remakes suck…but if you really have to, remake these

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 1st November 2011.

There’s nothing new under the sun. This year has seen the release of eighties remakes, Footloose and Fright Night. Both films have enjoyed moderate box office success and mixed critical reviews, but ultimately, one has to wonder why a remake was necessary.

With a prequel to the 1980 classic The Thing also hitting screens this month, plus a troubled reworking of Red Dawn likely to finally see the light of day this year, it seems all bets are off.

So here are my picks for eighties classics to be remade, even though I think it’s a bad idea.

Number 5 is alive! Despite starring Steve Guttenberg and having a shameful Indian stereotype character played by white actor Fisher Stevens (Birdy Num Nums anyone?), Short Circuit (1986) is great fun. Johnny 5, a military prototype robot, gets struck by lightning and develops self awareness. Permanently stuck is wise cracking mode, Johnny learns about life as he goes on the run from the bad guys with charisma vacuum Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy in tow. A poor sequel was produced in 1988 with only Fisher Stevens and Number 5 returning.

Have you ever left a yogurt in the fridge for so long that it becomes an evil entity that wants to take over your body? That is pretty much the premise of The Stuff (1985). Miners discover sweet tasting goo seeping out of the ground and decide to mass market it as a dessert (as you do). Of course, the goo is alive and has the power to turn the good folk of America into zombies. Only an industrial espionage expert hired by a rival ice cream company can save the day. I know it’s not exactly Hamlet but conceptually The Stuff is pretty good, er, stuff.

John Cusack was a staple in eighties teen comedies and two of his classics deserve a reboot. The Sure Thing (1985) stars Cusack as a young man who embarks on a road trip across America to hook up with a bikini clad blonde. Bad luck pairs him with uptight classmate Allison (Daphne Zuniga). Chaos ensues. Will he get to meet the girl of his dreams or will the mismatched travelling couple fall in love? I’m sure you can guess.

Better Off Dead (1985), also stars Cusack as a teen who loses his fickle girlfriend to a fellow skiing rival. Depressed, he tries unsuccessfully to kill himself. Pursued throughout the film by a paperboy (I want my two dollars!) and two very funny Asian revheads who seem to be waiting to race him at every traffic light, Cusack has to get his skiing mojo back as he falls for the pretty foreign exchange student next door.

In the eighties, two-for-one vouchers could often be found on promotional bottles of a particular brand of cordial (the one my dad picks the fruit for). These vouchers were only good for whatever film was being pushed at the time, and this is how I got to see my final pick, The Boy Who Could Fly (1986).

Teenager Milly meet Eric, an autistic boy. Both have lost a parent or parents and they soon become friends. After a series of strange events, Milly comes to the conclusion that Eric might have strange powers. Can Eric really fly? Have you read the title of the film?

On paper, none of these films sound worthy of a remake. However, like the original Footloose and Fright Night, they each contain a particular energy, attitude and innocence unique to the eighties and this cannot be replicated by CGI, 3D or any Kevin Bacon wannabe. But if we must disturb the graves of classic eighties cinema, you could do far worse.

Rewind Festival Wound Up

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th October 2011.

A few weeks ago I penned a column about the upcoming Rewind Festival, a two day music festival featuring an array of eighties acts planned for this coming weekend. Last Monday came the announcement that the event had been cancelled. There’s no doubt that this decision was due to poor ticket sales. This is bad news for the few who had purchased tickets and now have to scramble for refunds, and whilst the notion of a retro festival appears attractive, there are plenty of reasons why Rewind was doomed to fail from the beginning.

Firstly, the planned event location was too far from a major city to be viable. Bluescope Field in Kembla Range, near Wollongong, may have been an acceptable site for campers, however, for day ticket holders, who would have been the majority of attendees, the distance to travel was too great.

As the event date drew closer, an attempt was made to shift Rewind to the Hordern Pavilion. This is a good indication of how much the promoter’s expectations fell as ticket sales stalled. Bluescope Field has a maximum capacity of 30000 compared to the Hordern’s 5500. A promotion for two tickets for the price of one a month before the event was another ominous sign that sales were not going well.

I decided not to attend the festival as I didn’t fancy camping out in the elements, particularly if rain turned the grounds to mud. Perhaps my thoughts were indicative of the majority of Rewind’s demographic, Generation X’ers. I now find it difficult to stand through a regular two hour or so concert. There’s no way my knees would make it through a two day festival. Bring on the comfortable chairs and hotel rooms.

I also think that the night time is the right time for concerts. Darkness adds a ferly atmosphere to a gig and many of the Rewind acts were unfortunately scheduled to play under the sun.

The Rewind Festival has previously been a success in the UK. Of course, they have a much bigger population and a longer tradition of music festivals. In Australia, the festival scene is highly competitive. With The Big Day Out, Homebake and Splendour by the Grass soaking up the majority of festival dollars, smaller festivals have to virtually sell out to be feasible.

A strong Aussie dollar compared to the greenback also makes Australia more attractive to overseas based acts. Defunct eighties and nineties performers are reforming to cash in on an increasing demand and interest in all things retro. The successful Day on the Green franchise proves that Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers will pay top dollar to see quality retro acts alongside contemporary artists. Of course, most of these retro performers have a deep back catalogue of hits, which is more than could be said for most of the artists on the Rewind Festival bill.

The rise of MTV in the eighties led to many iconic music videos. These classic clips have been on constant rotation on TV ever since. Why would I want to see a much older Bananarama lip synch their way on a sparse stage through their biggest hit, Venus, when I can watch a much spunkier and younger group from the comfort of my living room?

So another music festival bites the dust. It’s a pity really. I would suggest to the promoters that an arena tour of the capital cities with a rapid fire format similar to the Countdown Spectacular concerts in 2006/07 would have been a much better choice.

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 01:26  Comments (2)  
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Why aren’t cassettes collectible?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd May 2011.

When it comes to music, many people have an affinity for vinyl. The gatefold sleeve is the perfect size to appreciate the cover artwork and design. The music somehow sounds more alive to the ears. And halfway through the album, you get to have a short intermission as you turn the record over.

For me though, growing up in the late seventies and eighties, the music format of my childhood was the cassette. There certainly was a record player at my home in Olola Avenue but placing the needle on the record was all a little too challenging for my coordination at the time. Playing records at the wrong speed was amusing for a while. Everything played too fast sounded like The Chipmunks, with the exception, of course, of The Chipmunks.

History has shown that cassettes were anything but collectable. They were small and cheap looking. Their size reduced any fantastic album art into a postage stamp and they tended to warp into a twisted mess when left in the sun on the dashboard on a hot summer day. And every now and then, the tape player would decide to eat the cassette, spilling the precious brown stringy contents of Through the Roof ’83 everywhere.

There are several notable cassettes that I remember fondly from my childhood. Despite my assertion that tapes aren’t collectible, I still have these gems packed safely aware somewhere. I’d love to update them to CD but so far I am yet to find them anywhere. I can’t enjoy the cassettes either because, just like a VHS player, I don’t have a tape deck anymore.

Magic Monkey was a soundtrack album to accompany the classic ABC series Monkey Magic. Released in 1978, it features the music of the Japanese band Godiego. My favourite tracks were the closing credit song, Gandhara, and the catchy theme song. I still can recite every word of the title sequence monologue. “In the worlds before monkey…” I’ve seen no sign of this album on CD even though the complete Monkey Magic series has been released on DVD.

The Disco craze in the late seventies didn’t last long. In fact, it came and went faster than The Village People movie, Can’t Stop the Music, could be written, filmed and released. But that’s another column, plus I own the soundtrack on CD. I may regret admitting that. Disco still managed to trickle down to children’s records and that brings me to two cassette classics.

Mickey Mouse Disco was released in 1979. It sold two million copies at the time, peaking at 35 in the US charts. Featuring vomit inducing disco versions of Disney staples such as Chim Chim-Cheree and It’s a Small World, it is pure saccharine. I’d love to cruise down Summer Street with my windows down pumping this album out. Alas, it is out of print in all physical formats.

Not wanting to miss out on the Disco dollars, the Children’s Television Workshop (and the letter C) released Sesame Disco in 1979 as well. Featuring Disco Frog, sung my Kermit the Frog and the English language destroying Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco sung by Cookie Monster, the album is a hoot and now impossible to find. Me miss me album of Disco.

My final MIA album is Father Abraham and the Smurfs. Unleashed upon the world in 1977, selling half a million copies, this album pairs the titular blue creatures with bearded Dutch singer Pierre Kartner. The Smurf Song from the album went to number one in sixteen countries, but my favourite track is Smurfing Beer (you don’t get drunk and it isn’t dear).

I’d also like to mention that there are several Young Talent Time albums on my must find list as well as two classics where the casts of A Country Practice and Neighbours attempt to sing popular songs, but I don’t want anyone to think I have bad taste in music.

‘Cause you gotta buy Faith

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th January 2011.

This year will see the re-release of George Michael’s iconic solo debut Faith. Originally released way back in 1987 to critical and popular acclaim, the album spawned many memorable hit singles such as Faith, I Want Your Sex, Father Figure, Monkey and Kissing a Fool. With sales in Australia exceeding 350000 copies (that’s five times platinum) and twenty million copies shipped worldwide, there are plenty of us out there who might be nostalgic enough to replace our worn out cassette and vinyl editions with the remastered and repackaged CD editions.

Faith was a truly solo effort from the former Wham! frontman. Not only did he write and produce every track bar one on the album, he also played almost every instrument. Amusingly, this probably wasn’t much different to his Wham! days as it is alleged Michael’s partner in crime and “guitarist”, Andrew Ridgeley, usually had his instrument turned right down, Linda McCartney style, during live performances. I guess at the time, we also thought he was singing about women, but that’s a different story.

To help George earn back all of the money he spent on his extended Australian holiday after his tour of Perth, Sydney and Melbourne last year (Grindr must be expensive), you’ll have the choice of the standard remastered 2 disc edition, the 2 disc plus DVD deluxe edition and for the ultimate fan, the super deluxe collectible edition, complete with a vinyl copy of the album, sleeve notes, rare pictures, replica tour pass and a hardcover book.

I’m not entirely certain why, with the exception of financial reasons, Sony or George Michael would choose to celebrate Faith’s twenty fourth anniversary and not wait another year for the quarter century. With this dubious timeframe, let’s have a look at some other albums that are also celebrating their pewter anniversary (there is no symbol for the twenty fourth so I made one up) and also deserve the remastered super mega deluxe and a cherry on top edition treatment.

INXS’s Kick is easily their best recording to date. Fusing their previous rock sound with a dance groove, they used the power of the music video to sell millions of albums on the back of such strong singles as Need You Tonight, Devil Inside, New Sensation and Never Tear Us Apart. Now sadly languishing around the nostalgia scene with multiple best of compilations on the market as well as a dodgy reinterpretations album, INXS have become their own cover band. A deluxe double disc edition of Kick was released in 2004 to celebrate its (drum roll please) seventeenth anniversary.

John Mellencamp, then John Cougar Mellencamp, also released The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. A rock, folk and country hybrid, it produced the hit singles Cherry Bomb and Paper in Fire. With steel guitars, accordions and violins featured, this album pioneered the country rock sound that led the way for Shania Twain, Taylor Swift and Cameron Daddo. A remastered edition of The Lonesome Jubilee with a whole one extra song was released in 2005 (its eighteen anniversary).

Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust was ranked by Rolling Stone as the thirteenth best album of the eighties. With a strong environmental theme and a focus on the plight of the Aboriginal communities, this concept album was spearheaded by the singles Put Down That Weapon and Beds Are Burning. On its twenty first anniversary in 2008, a remastered edition of the album was released with a bonus documentary DVD. Personally, I think the Oils should follow George Michael’s example and celebrate its twenty fourth anniversary with a deluxe edition including some actual diesel and dust, plus a bonus insulation bat.

The demise of the vinyl album also saw the death of the gatefold sleeve and all the pictures, notes and goodies that came with it. There’s not much you can say in a CD booklet. Great albums deserve to be celebrated and polished up for re-release but perhaps only at significant milestones. Deluxe editions allow collectors and fans to access B sides, demo versions and memorabilia (at a price) but don’t wish too hard, 2011 sees the tenth anniversary of Nikki Webster’s Follow Your Heart album.

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 19:34  Comments (1)  
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Television’s Guilty Pleasures

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 17th August 2010.

So what’s your favourite television guilty pleasure? Something probably from the seventies or eighties that you’ve bought on DVD but have to hide at the back of your shelf for fear of friends finding it. Someone must be buying those Baywatch boxed sets, especially season three which sees the introduction of renown Shakespearian actress Pamela Anderson as pneumatic lifeguard C.J. Parker. How the Baywatch team saved anyone from drowning is beyond me, considering that every time they ran across the beach, it happened in slow motion. Perhaps the name Gordon Shumway floats your boat? A wise-cracking alien from the planet Melmac, ALF starred in his own sitcom from 1986 to 1990 and for a short time, was so popular on Aussie television that he was regularly beating Sunday night juggernaut 60 Minutes in the ratings. Seasons one and two of ALF have recently been released on DVD. My rather embarrassing guilty pleasure features a completely bizarre concept. Take the classic American sitcom family and teleport them into an all singing, all dancing variety show and you have the notorious Brady Bunch Variety Hour. The original Brady series aired on US network CBS and closed up shop in 1974 due to falling ratings, however, with syndication, the show became even more popular. It is claimed that since 1975, an episode of The Brady Bunch has aired somewhere in the world every single day. At the time of its demise, the Brady cast were not aware of their status as American cultural icons and were keen to escape their Brady alter egos. In 1976, producers Sid and Marty Krofft of H.R. Pufnstuf and Banana Splits fame managed to coax the entire Brady cast, with the exception of Eve Plumb (Jan), to US network ABC for a one-off hour long special, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Out of the returning Brady kids, only Barry Williams (Greg) and Maureen McCormick (Marcia) considered themselves capable singers and dancers. Florence Henderson, who portrayed wholesome matriarch Carol Brady, was a veteran of musical theatre. Strangely enough, the most enthusiastic of the Brady cast was Robert Reed (Mike), who hated his on-screen goody two shoes persona but was intrigued by the prospect of showing off his (limited) singing and dancing abilities. Jan Brady was recast in the guise of talented country singer Geri Reischl. So as the theme tune goes, here’s the story. The Brady family gets the opportunity to star in their own variety show. Leaving behind Mike’s architectural job and the original house, the Brady’s move to Los Angeles with housekeeper Alice in tow. Their neighbour, camp comedian Rip Taylor, also participates in the hi-jinks. Makes perfect sense, yes? No seventies show is complete without a kitsch set and the Variety Hour was no exception. Imagine a psychedelic glittered set, with its centrepiece, a swimming pool. The Krofftettes, a troupe of synchronised swimmers and dancers, featured heavily in the show, splashing around to the Brady clan badly singing and dancing to disco versions of such gems as Yankee Doodle Dandy, Al Jolson’s Toot Toot Tootsie and most bizarrely, Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour staggered on for a total of nine episodes, featuring guest stars such as Donnie and Marie, Tina Turner, Vincent Price and Lee Majors. American magazine, TV Guide, recently pronounced the Variety Hour as the fourth worst television show of all time. Only two episodes of this cult classic have been released in the US on DVD. In fact, Aussie pay TV channel, TV1, was integral to the rediscovering of this long forgotten series, re-airing it in the late nineties for the first time since its original broadcast. Highlights of the series can be found on YouTube and are well worth a laugh. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour is my favourite television guilty pleasure because it represents a (perhaps imaginary) time of innocence, where sequined jumpsuits were perfectly acceptable for women (and men) and the lack of singing and dancing skills was no obstacle to shaking your groove thing around the swimming pool on the sparkly set of your family’s very own musical variety show. Any time the Bunch is on my TV, all is right in the world.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 11:35  Comments (2)  
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Blasts From The Past

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th October 2009.

This year’s A Day On The Green sees the return of seminal US New Wave rockers The B-52s to Australian shores for the first time since 1990. I attended their Hordern Pavillion show way back then and to date, it is still my all-time favourite concert. I already have my tickets to their gig in Bowral in November, supported by Mental As Anything and Scottish two hit wonders twins, The Proclaimers, and I can’t wait to shake my “cosmic thing” to Rock Lobster and Love Shack.

The prospect of seeing one of the groups I loved in the 80’s got me thinking about other bands from that era who may no longer appear in the charts but are still alive and kicking.

The B-52s: Forming in 1976, in Athens, Georgia (also the hometown of R.E.M.) and named after a beehive hairstyle which was similar to the nosecone of the titular aircraft, the B52s had early hits in their trademark call and response vocal style with Private Idaho and Planet Claire. They then gained mainstream success with their 1989 smash Love Shack from the album Groove Thing. Interest waned following their follow-up album Good Stuff in 1992 but they continued to tour. 2008 saw the release of their fantastic comeback album Funplex which the group will feature on their Australian tour. Despite the death of original guitarist, Ricky Wilson, of AIDS in 1985, the band’s other four founding members continue to tour and record.

Boney M: Assembled by German music producer Frank Farian, Boney M had major chart success between 1975 – 1985 with memorable disco hits such as Rivers of Babylon, Rasputin and Ma Baker. As with the later Farian creation, notorious lip-syncers Milli Vanilli, only members Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett actually sang on the records. After splitting in 1986, a subsequent 1990 court ruling determined that all four members of the original line-up were entitled to perform under the name Boney M. Currently there are two different Boney M bands touring the world. Liz Mitchell fronts the Frank Farian endorsed Boney M, whilst iconic male dancer Bobby Farrell also leads a touring group. Despite never singing a note on a Boney M record, Bobby sings live on stage.

The Village People: Assembled by French music producer Jacques Morali in 1977, and aimed originally at a gay disco audience, The Village People soon crossed over to the mainstream with camp hits, Y.M.C.A, In The Navy and Macho Man. A feature film, You Can’t Stop The Music, starring the group, alongside Steve Guttenberg and Valerie Perrine, was released in 1980. By that time, disco had died and strangely the only place the film was a hit was here in Australia. Milkshake anyone? Original leatherman, Glenn Hughes died of lung cancer in 2001, but the group continues to tour to this day, with founding members Felipe Rose (Indian), Alex Briley (Soldier), David Hodo (Construction Worker) alongside lead singer Ray Simpson (Cop), who joined in 1979. A new cowboy and biker round out the group. The Village People last toured Australia in 2005, supporting Cher. Prior to that, they toured Oz in 2000 supporting Culture Club. I hate to admit this, but I actually attended that gig, and it was great fun.

Published in: on December 12, 2009 at 23:59  Leave a Comment  
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