Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2008 Boston Red Sox Hitters Preview

It's already two days into the season and I'm already horribly late with my Sox preview, as Bob Ryan (or Julius Caesar, I guess) would say, “Mea culpa. Mea culpa.”* And after splitting two games with the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo, we don't have a good enough idea about this team yet to make any strong predictions on the 2008 season.

*Quick aside, I like that way of saying sorry it sounds so, erudite. And it's a lot less whiny than “I'm sorry.” Though needed at times, people sound wussy saying “I'm sorry”. “Mea culpa” has some gravitas behind it, plus if you get a person who doesn't understand Latin, you can apologize and not lose face.

Here's what I know about the 2008 Boston Red Sox: they're going to be pretty good. How good? I'm not sure. I am 90% sure that they're going to make the playoffs. I'm about 50-50 on them making the World Series and a little less sure about them winning the whole enchilada. With that being said, I'm not sure that there is a team better than them. I just think that a lot of things have to fall into place for the Sox to take home the trophy in back-to-back years.

What I'm going to do is go through the team, position by position with last year's numbers and tell you whether the player will do better, do worse or stay even in 2008. Be warned, I don't do a lot of projections with numbers, I'm going to go off of gut feelings, what I think is common sense and trends. I will get to the pitchers on Friday.

Jason Varitek: .255/.267/.421 – Worse. I think that 2007 was the last good year for Jason Varitek. He's 36-years-old, caught a ton of games in the last decade and he's getting older. His Spring Training stats weren't very good and he looked old and slow in the first two games of the season. Obviously two games don't make a season, but the Sox are really up against the wall when it comes to catchers. This is Varitek's last year on a four-year deal and there's no one out there (internally or on the free agent market) that's better. What do they do?

Kevin Cash: .111/.242/.148 – Better. I mean, how can he do any worse, right? For as much as I hated Doug Mirabelli, Kevin Cash is not the answer. He's a fine defensive back stop, but he can't hit for anything. That being said, you have to think that he can improve on those terrible 2007 numbers.

Kevin Youkilis: .288/.390/.453 – Same. Had a break out year last year, and like the three years prior faded down the stretch. Though he did rebound hugely in the post season and is one of the main reasons why the Sox won the Series. I'm hoping that Sean Casey will spell Youkilis a lot this summer and that will stop his yearly fade.

Dustin Pedroia: .317/.380/.453 – Worse. Rookie of the Year and began hitting at a Williamsian level after one of the crappiest Aprils ever. The reason why I say he may have a worse year is because you can't expect him to hit .317 all the time and he has to walk a bit more to get that OBP up. I wouldn't be upset with a .290/.400/.450 line. That's where I think that his numbers will fall this year, if he has a better eye.

Julio Lugo: .237/.294/.349 – Better. He can't do much worse and Peter Gammons has been banging the drum all spring that Lugo was very sick last Spring Training and lost a ton of weight, but now he's better. I hope so. I do have to say that he is batting .500 right now, which is much better than what he was doing a year ago.

Mike Lowell: .324/.378/.501 – Worse. Lowell had a monster career year last year, and I doubt very much that he'll do it again. Do I think that he's going to fall off the planet like he did in 2005? No, but I think that if he hits .280 with 20-25 bombs and 80-90 RBIs, that will be perfectly acceptable. I also think that he'll play better defensively this year than he did in the early part of last year.

Alex Cora: .246/.298/.386 – Same. Pretty good numbers for a back up infielder. Don't ask him to do too much and he'll do a good job for the club. The fact is, you can't have an All-Star at every position. I wonder if this is the year I stop calling him by his brother's name? I doubt it. There's only one Cora: Joey.

Sean Casey: .296/.353/.393 – Better, though not by much. I think that Sean Casey is going to use the wall to his advantage this year and pepper that thing with a ton of doubles. I hope that he can, so he can give Youkilis and Lowell the days off that they need to keep them fresh for the post season.

Manny Ramirez: .296/.388/.493 – Better, much better. Last year Manny Ramirez had pretty good numbers for someone not named Manny Ramirez. This year, I think that he's going to be the American League Most Valuable Player*. I've been reading articles all winter about how he's rededicated himself to training and is supposedly in tip-top shape. He looked monstrous in the opening series against the A's and I think it's just going to keep going from there.

* If Manny, or somebody on the Sox, wins the MVP this year or next, the Red Sox will be the only team to have a representative win the MVP in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. Not too many people are talking about this, but that's a tribute to how competitive the Red Sox have been in the last 70 years. No one really talks about this though.

Jacoby Ellsbury: .353/.394/.509 – Worse. He only played about 30 games last year, and he's still a rookie. There is no way that Jacoby Ellsbury is going to put up the same numbers he did last year over a full season. Expecting him to do this is totally unreasonable. I wouldn't be surprised if he .275 with a few bombs and 40+ steals. I'd be totally ok with that. I don't think that the banshees on WEEI would, but they're not happy with anything.

JD Drew: .270/.373/.423 – Same. Last year he told Boston Herald scribe Rob Bradford (when he was still with the Lawrence Eagle Tribune) that he spent the 2006 off season sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber—the same kind Michael Jackson sleeps in—so that he can cut down on his injuries. It sort of worked as he did play in 140 games. Problem was he hit like Jackson until Game 6 of the ALCS. What's he going to do this year? I have no idea. My gut says he'll be better, but I'm not sure. He's already begged out of the first two games with back issues. That nine hour flight back to the states should do wonders for that.

Coco Crisp: .268/.330/.382 – Same. It's about time to cut bait with Covelli Crisp. He is not the heir to the Johnny Damon centerfield throne, he just isn't. No matter how many times he teases us, he's not that guy. And that's too bad, because he had a very good year in Cleveland in 2005 and when he came to the Sox in 2006 he started out like a house afire, but then he got hurt. And that was the reason why he sucked in 2006. And the reason why he wasn't so great in 2007—though he did play a Gold Glove centerfield. And he's sort of been hurt in Spring Training.

Bobby Kietly: .231/.295/.327 – Better. Should be the fourth outfielder once Crisp gets traded or he might not want to wait around for that and demand his release in April. I have no clue what the Sox are going to do with him because while he went with the team to Japan, he was never brought on to the 40-man roster. Basically he got paid $40K to take a trip to Tokyo. Not bad work if you can get it. I do like him as he can play all three outfield positions. And he was pretty clutch in Game Four of the World Series. At least he has that on his resume.

Brandon Moss: .280/.379/.440 – Worse. If he plays, it'll be because of injury or because someone needs a break. He was the embodiment of the humbling game of baseball as he had a terrific game on Tuesday (game tying homer and two RBIs) and looked terrible on Wednesday (three strikeouts). I expect him to be a charter member of the Lou Merloni shuttle from Boston to Pawtucket.

Designated Hitter
David Ortiz: .332/.445/.621 – Same. The power numbers were there, just look at his slugging percent if you don't believe me, but he didn't hit 54 dingers. No matter, Ortiz had one of his best all-around years in a Red Sox uniform in 2007 and he did it on one knee. This year the knee is better (surgery in the off-season) and I don't see why Ortiz can't put up the same digits as last year.

Friday, the pitchers.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

37. The Monkees

Though it was only on for two seasons (which is really surprising to me as I thought it ran longer than that), “The Monkees” was an important show that had long-lasting ramifications on the television industry. Though that's not the reason why I like the show. Truthfully, I have no idea whether just preteens made up the audience or whether hippies thought it was a lame attempt of Hollywood scrubbing up the late 60s love movement for middle America (though both are probably true), but it is an enjoyable show. The show's plots aren't anything special and in most cases don't make a lot of sense, but you don't watch “The Monkees” for the plot. You watch for two reasons: the music and for the band members.

This entry isn't going to be a debate about the validity of the Monkees' music. Like many pop acts, there is some good stuff and some bad stuff, but the Monkees basically were a carbon copy of the Beatles from their Help! days. They were poppy, had a slight edge to some of their songs, but mostly sang about love and trivial subjects. The group had a lot of aid from professional song writers like Neil Diamond and Carole King, which made those subjects take on a more interesting tone. And the group also took advantage of session musicians until their musical chops were built up. However, a strict judgement on whether the music is “good”or “bad” misses the point of the show.

The point was to have a weekly show that would take suburbia into the wacky (albeit safe) lifestyle of the day's youth. Aside from a few things that never show (drug use, conjugal visits with scores of groupies, legendary battles with their producer Don Kirshner) I don't think that Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork or Davy Jones were playing characters that were too far off from themselves. The show was also among the first to use a lot of the slang that 60s youth was using. Most important about this is that the language didn't sound stilted or scripted. It also portrayed the youth of that time as caring and centered—having a good head on their shoulders—despite media reports that the baby boomer generation wasn't living up to their parents' generation and were shiftless and lazy.

While this probably went over the heads of older viewers—if it reached them at all—this is probably the main reason why the show resonated with a lot of young people. Here was a show with young people getting by without a care in the world. The only time that a problem did enter their world was brought in by a person outside of their “universe”, normally someone from their previous generation who didn't, or couldn't, understand the world today. The Monkees normally took care of this problem through nonviolent, and often slapstick, means which resulted not in vanquishing the foes, but turning enemies into friends.

Was that the way of the world? No. But it was a television show that never made any bones that it was more cartoon than documentary.

Despite the cartoon nature of the show, there were some serious aftershocks of “The Monkees”. For one thing, it was one of the first instances to prove the power of music on television. Yes, Ricky Nelson became a heart throb to millions of girls in the early 60s after singing a few songs on his parents' show “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet”, but the Monkees were a juggernaut that provided their audiences with new songs week after week after week. And you pair those new songs with movie shorts, interspliced with the television show (often these shorts had zero to do with the program's main plot) and kids seemed to love the song much more.

Thus, the music video was born.

And it wasn't just the music industry that was revolutionized. While “Dobbie Gillis” was the first to break down the so-called “fourth wall”—where an actor talks to the audience—the Monkees also did this and further shattered the illusion of television when the cast members would stop the action to converse with camera men and stage hands while the show was being filmed. This nonlinear form of television was also extended to drawn out dream and fantasy sequences and inserts and jump cuts. All of these innovations have had a profound impact on the television and movies that we watch even today.

No matter what the ramifications that the shows had on later television programs or any social impact that it may or may not have had, the bottom line is that “The Monkees” were a fun program. Any time you tuned in, you knew what you were going to get and that's ok. Because a show does not deviate from it's norm, that doesn't make it a bad show. This is precisely what killed the band though.

Fed up with their bubble gum image, once the show was cancelled in 1968, they along with a young actor/writer named Jack Nicholson came up with a movie called “Head”. Written over a weekend where a lot of acid was ingested, the movie's first scene opened with the band jumping off a bridge and killing themselves. It only got weirder from there. The group's core base of fans (mostly young teens) were confused as to the radical 180 degree turn the band took and rejected them.

And the group of fans that the band did want—the more serious, older hipster crowd—thought that they were a fake band that was put together by Hollywood suits. They literally were a band without an audience and with their show running (and doing well) in constant reruns, the Monkees were constantly reminded of the past and how things once were. The Monkees would break up, try solo endeavors and reunite over the next 30 years, but they always remained in America's pop culture consciousness.

For me, and other members of my generation, the Monkees were a summer TV show first and foremost, I had no idea that the group had any chart success at all. Every June, Channel 56 knew that kids were being let out for summer break and would schedule the show to run in the afternoon. And I'd be in front of the tube watching as jokes about 60s culture went flying over my head. I watched an episode recently and the group was in ghost town being held hostage by gangsters. Mickey used an old phone and was hoping to get Marshall Dillon (the erstwhile sheriff from “Gunsmoke” to help out). He got a grizzly prospector who said that there is a Dylan in town (Bob Dylan) who could write a protest song for you, but couldn't help much more than that. Interesting (and funny) juxtaposition of Bob Dylan and Marshall Dillon, but one that an eight-year-old would never get.

That's what I get when I tune into “The Monkees” now, I get to remember what it was like when I was younger and had zero responsibilities and I'm able to appreciate some witty writing. That's not a bad two-for-one combination.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008 National League Preview

You saw my American League picks on Friday, here are my guesses for the Senior Circuit. BTW, I have always been a fan of the National League arrogance when they refer to themselves as the “Senior Circuit”. For some reason it made me laugh because even though the NL is only about 20 years older than the AL and the AL has (arguably) had more success than the NL, the National League never seemed to let the American League forget that they were around first.

I can almost picture the NL eagle saying to the AL eagle, “Sure, you have your New York Yankees and their 26 World Championships and your Boston Red Sox with their besting us in the first ever World Series, but we've been around since the days of President James A. Garfield, so suck on that American League.” Ok. Maybe I need some sort of a hallucinogenic to picture that, but you know what I mean.

National League East:

1.Philadelphia Phillies
I know that the New York Mets made a big acquisition over the winter (more on that in a bit), but I still think that the Phillies are the team to beat. The infield with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins is probably the best in the league. The front three pitchers of Cole Hammels, Jamie Moyer (who played with Cap Anson, I believe) and Brett Myers are terrific. If Brad Lidge comes back from injuries (both mental and physical) they could have a very good bullpen. The only weaknesses I see are outfield and manager. I've never been a Charlie Manuel guy, he reminds me too much of Grady Little, but he did get these guys to play extremely well down the stretch. Of course, they crapped their pants against the Rockies in the playoffs.

2.New York Mets
They got Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins for a bag of used doorknobs. They added him to a nucleus of Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Jose Reyes, players who are all in their prime of their careers. Unfortunately for manager Willie Randolph, he better hope that a few other of his twilight stars like Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo and Moises Alou can stop father time for one more year. If that last group of guys come up empty, it's going to be a long year for the Metropolitans.

3.Atlanta Braves
Tom Glavine is back. John Smoltz is still pitching and Chipper Jones is manning the hot corner. It's like 1997 all over again, only we're not listening to Smashmouth and the Verve. The Braves do have some young talent in Jeff Francouer and Brian McCann (who is probably the best backstop in the division), but will that be enough? Obviously Mark Teixeira is going to have a monster year (he's a free agent after this season--and has agent Scott Boras chomping at the bit for another $20 million a year player) but will pitchers Tim Hudson and Mark Hampton also do well? That's the key for the Bravos, if Glavine, Smoltz, Hudson and Hampton find some magic elixir then the team will probably do well. Otherwise, it's third place. And come to think of it, that's exactly where they're going to end up, even if that foursome does find the Fountain of Youth. The bottom line is that they aren't as good as the Phillies and Mets, but they aren't as terrible as the Marlins and Nats. I don't think I've ever been more sure of a team's prediction as I am of this year's Atlanta squad.

4.Florida Marlins
Between the Marlins and the Nationals, who cares? One of them will end up in fourth while the other is in last. The Marlins have Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and a bunch of kids they got from Detroit. It sucks to be Fredi Gonzalez and have to manage this dreck. The good news is that in about three years the Marlins will have a new park, a new name (the MIAMI Marlins) and maybe some new players that owner Jeffrey Loria will hold onto for 20 minutes before deciding that a profit of $25 million isn't enough. After killing baseball in Montreal and slowly bleeding South Florida dry, I think that he could be the worst owner in Major League Baseball history.

5.Washington Nationals
From what I read they have a very good group of prospects that are about a year or two away, so in 2010 they might be in the running for first place. However, it's still 2008 and I don't think that there is another Dmitri Young type surprise for the Nats. They did pick up Elijah Dukes from the Rays during the winter and if Young can be some sort of a mentor to both him and Lastings Milledge (acquired from the Mets) then maybe the Nationals can hop over the Marlins and start year one of the rebuilding a bit early. They do have a brand new ball park, so that should excite the Washingtonians for a few months.

National League Central:

1.Milwaukee Brewers
They faded down the stretch, but I think that this is the year that they go wire-to-wire for first place in the NL Central. Chris Capuano can't be that bad, can he? I think that it may be time to admit that whatever Ben Sheets gives you is gravy, because I don't think that he'll ever stay healthy for an entire season. The Brew Crew pitching staff does have Yovani Gallardo and Jeff Suppan, plus a rebuilt bullpen, so they may be ok in the pitching department. Where Milwaukee excels is at the plate: Prince Fielder, JJ Hardy, Ryan Braun and Billy Hall make up the new Harvey Wallbangers. Lots of 10-8, 11-9 contests in the Brewers' favor this year.

2.Chicago Cubs
Ok. I'm going to say it, Lou Piniella is overrated. He led the Reds to the 1990 World Series upset of the Athletics and skippered the Mariners to a 116-win season, but what has he done since then? Not a heck of a lot. The Cubs will probably be pretty good this year; much like last year where there were some periods of great play and periods of terrible play. Alfonso Soriano will be the offensive star while Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez try to help out. Kosuke Fukudome has been brought in from Japan to help in the outfield and Felix Pie may work out too. Aside from Carlos Zambrano, there is not a lot of pitching to speak of. Chicago is second here, but they could easily be fourth or fifth.

3.St. Louis Cardinals
Speaking of overrated managers, Tony LaRusa is back for another year at the helm in St. Louis. This may be the worst team that he's had because aside from Albert Pujols, there isn't a lot of guys that can score runs. And Pujols may need Tommy John surgery soon. Let me amend that, the Cards do have Mitchell boys Troy Glaus and Rick Ankiel and if they're taking their vitamins, maybe there will be some firepower in the midwest. Aside from that, it's going to be a long season pitching wise as Chris Carpenter, Joel Piniero and Mark Mulder are all starting the season on the shelf. It got so bad they had to sign Kyle Loshe.

4.Cincinnati Reds
This is going to be a very interesting year as baseball's Holy War may come to somewhat of a conclusion. I think that Cincinnati is just mediocre enough that going to one of baseball's dueling philosophy (stats vs. intangibles) may push the Reds to being something better than they are. On one hand we have the anti-stat guy managing the squad Dusty Baker. He's all about blood-and-guts, old school baseball. He thinks math is something that you learn and forget in high school and is certainly not to be used on the diamond. Baker has told his troops that he wants them hacking away and not trying to work walks, because walks “clog up the basepaths”. Now, if the Reds do well and exceed expectations, it might be safe to say that Baker does know what he's talking about and that the number crunchers might be clueless. However, if the Reds suck, then it's Baker who's clueless. I'm putting my money on the latter scenario taking place.

5.Pittsburgh Pirates
I'm going to be honest, there's not a lot I can say about the Pittsburgh Pirates other than that their ball park looks awesome. I do know that they're trying to sign Ian Snell long term and that their biggest off-season acquisition was Byung-Hyun Kim. Freddy Sanchez is going to hit and play a decent second base, Adam LaRoche and Jason Bay are going to try and have bounce-back years. And other than the perfectly average Tom Gorzelanny, there's not much else in the Iron City. And that sucks. In retrospect, I guess that they should have signed Barry Bonds instead of Andy VanSlyke. Live and learn.

6.Houston Astros
Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee. In that order are the best the Astros have to offer, and that's not a lot. True, Miguel Tejada and Jose Valverde are on the roster, but Tejada has had a really bad winter and who knows just how good Valverde really is? What does this mean for manager Cecil Cooper? It means that they'll probably be the worst team in the National League Central, which is really saying something. With the size of their park and the quality of their pitchers, the Astros are going to get bludgeoned every game that Oswalt doesn't start.

National League West:

1.Arizona Diamondbacks
Here's the deal, when the D'backs and the D'Rays came into the league about a decade ago, I hated everything about Arizona. I hated their goofy name, I hated their purple, teal, copper and black uniforms, I hated Buck Schowalter and his 800-page Diamondback way book, I hated that they weren't trying to build anything from the ground up and were just signing free agents like crazy, to paraphrase Ugly Kid Joe, I hated everything about then. But then Josh Byrnes goes from Boston to the desert and starts making the Diamondbacks into a real, major league organization. He ditches their old uniforms, gets rid of their old broken-down players and sets the ground work for a solidly-run squad. With the best 1-2 rotation in all of baseball (Brandon Webb and Dan Haren) and a pretty decent number three in Randy Johnson the D'Backs can do really well. Especially if Micah Owings fulfills his promise. The offense is young with Connor Jackson, Steven Drew, Justin Upton and Chris Young leading the charge. This is a fun team to watch and wouldn't surprise me if they went to the World Series.

2.Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a bunch of young kids and that's how they're going to live and die this year: through youth. And I think that they're going to live, especially with another bonafide All Star catcher in Russell Martin. Throw in Andy LaRoche, James Loney and Matt Kemp and Los Angeles is going through a youth revival the likes of which Los Angelenos haven't seen since the mid 90s. As for the vets, Andruw Jones has something to prove and this might be the end of the line for Jeff Kent. New manager Joe Torre (you may have heard of him) still has to figure out the pitching staff, but should be ok with Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Jason Schmidt. And he has Scott Proctor on board too, which means that we should see Proctor's arm completely falling off by mid-June.

3.Colorado Rockies
I think that the Rockies are a decent team with a bunch of young stars that may have played very well last fall. That being said, I think that they got extremely lucky and I do not expect to see them in the post season this year. Outfielder Matt Holiday was huge last year, as was shortstop Troy Tulowitzky, Brad Hawpe and even Todd Helton rebounded with a nice year. I just don't think that they have the pitching this year and God's squad maybe looking at a finish in the middle of the pack. Hopefully this kick starts baseball in Denver and for a generation of fans, this could be their Impossible Dream year.

4.San Diego Padres
The biggest problem for the Padres? No outfield defense. I know that might not be a big deal, but when you play most of your games in Petco Park and have fly ball pitchers, outs that should be easy and turn into triples can really screw with your staff's collective heads. The pitching staff is more than solid with Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux and a rehabbing Mark Prior looking to make a mid-season debut. And their bullpen is top notch too, with ageless wonder Trevor Hoffman waiting for “Hell's Bells” to ring so that he can nail down another save. However, Hoffman's mental state is one to watch. He did give up Tony Gwynn Jr.'s two-out, ninth inning game tying triple in the last game to ruin the Pad's post season chances. Then blew a save against the Rockies in a one-game winner goes to the NLDS game. But that's the least of their worries, the bats just aren't there. I envision lots of 2-1, 3-2 losses for the Pads this year.

5.San Francisco Giants
Why did manager Bruce Bochy leave the Padres for this group? This could be the worst team in the major leagues as their veterans are way over the hill and their minor league system is scrap iron. Put it this way, guess who is replacing Barry Bonds as the number four hitter in the lineup? Bengie Molina. They do have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain for starters and Barry Zito has to be better than last year, but other than that, it's deadwood. I think that it'll be interesting for baseball fans on each coast to see what section is worse: the Bay Area (Giants and A's) or the Beltway (Nationals and Orioles). I think that the former is going to take the crown.

Friday, March 14, 2008

2008 American League Preview

Today I am completely exhausted for some reason, but I am still going to deliver to my readers my 2008 American League baseball preview. Next week, I'll bust out the National League preview and the week after I will go ahead with a more in-depth Boston Red Sox preview.

I was trying pretty hard to think of a gimmick for this entry, but those have been sort of played out in the last few years, right? I mean, if I have to see one more person use quotes from “One Crazy Summer” or the names of 19th Century German philosophers as reasons for where teams are going to end up, I'm probably going to puke. So, we're going old school and just listing the teams in the order where I think that they'll end up ... which is sort of a gimmick in itself.

American League East:

1. Boston Red Sox
The Sox freak me out a bit, I think that they're going to win, but it's not going to be easy. Josh Beckett's back scares me. Curt Schilling's injury scares me. Tim Wakefield scares me some times, but is oddly comforting other times. The experience of the two kids (Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) scare me. Bartolo Colon would scare me if I saw him coming at me with a fork and knife. About the only starting pitcher that doesn't scare me is Daisuke Matsuzaka. I think that he's going to have a monster year in 2008.

I think that the bullpen is going to be great, as long as Papelbon is handled with care and Peter Gammons has been absolutely raving about Manny Delcarmen. Mike Timlin and Hideki Okajima are going to be solid and the team has a few other live arms as well. I just want to ask, what the hell ever happened to Craig Hansen? Wasn't he supposed to have the closer's role by now?

Dougie Parmesan is gone, which means that backup catching goes to Kevin Cash. That totally sucks, but it doesn't matter, because Jason Varitek is going to do most of the catching. And maybe the front office will get off its collective ass and get a catching prospect to intern under Varitek.

Aside from Coco Crisp, the same group of infielders and outfielders are back for another year. Is Jacoby Ellsbury for real? The front office certainly thinks so. Will Mike Lowell have a 2008 that was anything like 2007? Probably not, but JD Drew and Julio Lugo should be better, so that will even out. Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are four guys who you shouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about. They're going to be fine.

2. New York Yankees
I don't know what to tell you about the 2008 Yanks. Do I think that they're going to be bad? Probably not. Do I think that they're going to be good? Yes, I do, but not as good as they were last year. But I'm not ready to count them out yet. Mainly because I've been kicking dirt of the Yankees' grave since 2002 and they always come back to haunt you.

The things I'd be worried about if I was a Yankee fan are: starting troika of Ian Kennedy/Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain—and this doesn't include their asinine plan to start Chamberlain in the bullpen for two months, send him to the minors to stretch his arm for two months and then bring him back as a starter for the stretch run. Can these three rookies handle the pressure? Can Andy Pettitte handle the season after what happened to him in January and February? Is Mike Mussina going to continue to be the best .500 pitcher masquerading as an ace ever? Mariano Rivera is 36-years-old, he has to slip eventually, right?

And what about the offense? ARod is going to rake, no doubt. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano will do the things they do. But Jorge Posada won't have the year that he did last year. Johnny Damon is left, Melky Cabrera is in center and Bob Abreau is in right. Is that a good outfield? And Jason Giambi is playing first, while porn meister Hideki Matsui DHs. Is that a good idea?

Plus, Captain Spaz (Joe Girardi) himself is the new manager in the Bronx. This is not Joe Torre and with Hank Steinbrenner shooting off his mouth every two weeks, I can easily a Bronx Zoo situation blowing up in the summer. I think that this team is closer to fourth place than first.

BTW, Billy Crystal will not help this team. Though if he did get a fastball in his ear, that would've helped me out immensely. I hate that smug prick.

3.Toronto Blue Jays
They've got good pitching and solid hitting. They can definitely go places. Of course, I've been saying that for a few years and each year, someone on the Blue Jays gets hurt and it completely submarines their season. Who will it be this year? I am going to go on a limb and say Alex Rios or AJ Burnett.

4.Tampa Bay Rays
These aren't your daddy's Devil Rays. They changed their uniforms, their colors, their name and maybe their luck. These Rays are going to be a solid team, no doubt about it. I wouldn't be surprised if they finished ahead of the Blue Jays for third place, but fourth is where they'll likely end up. They have solid starters (Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and James Shield) and have a solid, young lineup especially if Evan Longoria is ready to take over the hot corner. The one thing that's going to kill them is their bullpen, especially if they're going to rely on Troy Percival, who didn't even pitch last year. Put it this way, if this young and exciting team doesn't draw anyone to the Trop this year ... end the charade and move them to a city that appreciates Major Leauge Baseball.

5.Baltimore Orioles
Give this front office credit; it took them 10 seasons but they finally realized that they have to blow the entire thing up and rebuild. And it's not going to be pretty. This team may lose 110 games this year and will be a punching bag for every team in the division. If you're an O's fan, at least you'll get to watch Adam Jones and whatever they get from the Cubs for Brian Roberts. That should be fun.

American League Central:

1.Cleveland Indians
I like what the Detroit Tigers have done this off season, but I like the Indians a little better. Fausto Carmona and CC Sabathia are miles ahead of what Detroit has. Also, their every day talent is a bit younger and I expect Travis Haffner to have a more more Pronk-like season this year. Also, and this is a scary thought, I think that their bullpen is going to be better, especially when Joe Borowski is not the closer any more. This Indians team reminds me of the Indians team of the mid 90s in that there may be a flaw or two, but otherwise its a solid group of players that should do some damage during the season and post season.

2.Detroit Tigers
Just four years ago, Detroit were the worst team in the majors and you couldn't find a Tigers fan if you offered free Red Wings tickets. Now, they're arguably the strongest offensive team and the pick du jour for World Series Champions. That happens when you acquire Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria. No doubt, they're stacked, but there are a bunch of questions. Will Willis make the transition to the American League (especially after getting lit up in the NL last year)? Is Gary Sheffield healthy? Will Maglio Ordonez have the same output this year as he did last year? Is Renteria an AL player?

3.Kansas City Royals
Maybe it's because I read three Royals Blogs a day, but I am convinced that Kansas City is going to do very well this year, or at least better than expected. Gil Meche and Brian Bannister lead off their rotation and those two guys aren't too bad. If Alex Gordon matures and Billy Butler hits like he's supposed to (draft him in the late round of your fantasy league, trust me) they could be a decent team. I like what new manager Trey Hillman is doing and if they play with some passion, third place is a good landing spot for them.

4.Chicago White Sox
Mark this down, Ozzie Guillen will be the first manager fired in 2008. However, GM Kenny Williams should be the one to get the blame. He signed a ton of mediocre bullpen guys to long term contracts over the winter. He traded starting pitcher Jon Garland for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. He did manage to get Nick Swisher, but he's playing him in centerfield. I'm not predicting a lot of South Side wins this year and they're going to fight with the next team on the list to stay out of the basement.

5.Minnesota Twins
They have Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan and a healthy (?) Francisco Liriano. That doesn't add up to a lot of wins, but will that allow them to escape the cellar? I don't know. They lost a lot: Torii Hunter, Carlos Silva, Matt Garza and most of all, Johan Santana. The one really good player they got back from all that was Delmon Young. They're building for their new building in 2010, so I think that they expect to get their butts handed to them—especially with the worst hitter in the majors as their starting short stop, Adam Everett. It just sucks for Twins fans because owner Carl Pohlad has the money, he's just too cheap to spend it.

American League West:

1.Los Angeles Angels
They're the class of the division. They have the most balanced starting rotation, a terrific bullpen and every day lineup, as well as a pretty decent manager. They've been like this for most of this century, so why do they only have one World Series title to show for it? I don't know, maybe Vlad Guerrero has something to do with it. They were able to sign Torii Hunter and while he was able to be a star in Minnesota, I don't think that it will translate to the left coast. I expect them to take the American League West title again and suck in the playoffs.

2.Seattle Mariners
Last year the M's won 88 games. Stat heads will tell you it was mostly luck and that they should have won closer to 83 games. Apparently the front office doesn't believe in statistics as they went out and traded their entire minor league system to the Orioles for Erik Bedard. With Bedard and King Felix Hernandez, does Seattle have what it takes to win the AL West or at least get the Wild Card? I don't think so, but if you like strong starting pitching and a great closer with a funny name (JJ Putz) look to the Pacific Northwest.

3.Texas Rangers
They aren't going to be a very good team, but they will be better than the Athletics. Seriously, the Orioles, Rangers and Athletics could be some of the worst baseball teams the American League has seen in some time. I know that Ron Washington manages them, Hank Blalock, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young make up a decent infield and catcher Jarrod Saltalamaccia has the longest last name in MLB history and is a stud, but this team is damn terrible.

4.Oakland Athletics
Every few years Billy Beane is lauded as the example of a model franchise and then does the model thing—purge. Edit: Ugh, what a crappy juxtaposition ... I'm going to leave it in there as a testament to just how bad I can write some times. Christ. Huston Street will probably be gone by July 31 as will Joe Blanton and if anyone wants Bobby Crosby or Eric Chavez, they'll be out of town too. That leaves a bunch of kids and Jack Cust. The A's are building for their move to Freemont, which like Minnesota will also be in 2010. Manager Bob Gerren has his hands full, but the good news is that he shouldn't have any expectations to win. Hooray for him.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

38. 24

I really do like this show a lot, but there are two reasons why this show is not higher on this list: a) I find repeated viewings of this program virtually unwatchable and b) last season was so bad, that the only reason why I continued watching it was out of consolation and to make fun of it.

Let me explain the second reason first: it probably wasn't totally the writers' fault why the fifth season was just so poor. For starters “24” is a hit show because of one reason, each week and each season the show has to be more exciting and more action-packed than the last. The American people always want more, they want their heroes to be bigger, stronger, faster and after a while a tipping point is reached where action-packed turns into sheer idiocy. Unfortunately, that tipping point was reached last year.

I would guess that each season's first writer's meeting begins with the following question “How do we top the previous season?” For the sixth season, the writers thought that a nuclear bomb exploding in a town just outside of Los Angeles would be the best thing to do to grab their audiences' attention. And that worked, however they had the bomb explode a little too early in the day thus rendering the rest of the day's action completely implausible.

Yes, I understand that when viewing “24” and thrilling to the heroics of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) believability is usually suspended. It has to be so that the “real time” formula of the show can work correctly—Bauer is never in traffic (unless as a plot point), he never eats, sleeps or goes to the bathroom during this entire day, people eventually bend to his every whim and for the most part people do what he says. Fine. I can deal with all of that, this isn't a documentary.

But, here's what happens during Season Six' day: Bauer is released from 20 months in a Chinese torture prison, immediately he is put to work to help find five suitcase bombs, he finds four and the fifth one explodes in Valencia, CA, the President and the leader of a anti-American group (who is now working with the Americans) both are caught in a bombing that was set up by a secret cabal that includes the Vice President, he wants to turn the Middle East into a parking lot and hopes that the American people will buy that an Arab faction were the ones that wounded the President, also the Chinese and a renegade group of Russians come back into the picture with war on their mind and it's about to happen until Jack Bauer stops it.


What would be on the front page of the following day's newspaper: War with China and Russia Averted? President in Coma? Coup D'etat Squashed? Nuclear Bomb Explodes Near LA? For example, when the bomb explodes, every one is in a panic for about 10 minutes. The rest of the day happens like there was no bomb. The President is in a coma and everyone is ok with that too and he comes out of it for a few minutes to stop the Vice President's “retaliatory” strike on an innocent Middle Eastern country. Oh yeah, the US government was rounding up Middle Easterners and throwing them in internment camps. Aside from a few people, no one really seemed to care.

See, there is just way too much going on and after awhile it was just silly. The best part of “24” was that there was a little bit of realism that went along with the show. In Season Six, the writers took all of that and threw it out the window. Jack Bauer could've been in outer space fighting dragons with a Wookie sidekick and I'd probably have taken it more seriously.

As far as the first reason, that's more on me than anything. “24” is syndicated on a couple of channels and I've tried to watch it, but when I know what's coming, the show just isn't as good. I know that a cougar is going to attack Kim Bauer in the first season. I know that President Palmer—who, BTW is the best fictional President ever, though his brother sort of sucked—is going to get some sort of virus from an unsavory character. Nina is going to turn on Jack and shoot his wife. Audrey is going to get amnesia. The kid from “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” is really a terrorist. Edgar may be a creep at first, but he's really a nice guy and is going to die from poison gas that wipes out most of CTU. These things just don't pack the same punch when seen a second time as they do when they are first viewed.

BTW, there were spoilers in that last paragraph.

And that's what I love most about this show: it's unpredictability. It's awesome that main characters get killed all the time, it's cool that Jack Bauer is as close to a super hero as we have on television, it's great that there are bad guys who are just evil. I love it, the whole black and white of all the situations are great. You don't have to think or feel conflicted, like you do in the real world. Bad guys are bad. Good guys are good. It's almost like I'm eight-years-old again.

And I think that the whole serialization of the show is brilliant. From January through mid-May you get a new episode or two every single week. No reruns, no waiting three weeks for a new episode. It's gratifying to know that next week, Jack is going to wiggle his way out his next dangerous encounter and kick some bad guy ass. I imagine this is what older generations loved about the “Superman” or “Tarzan” serials that were run before the main feature of a movie every Saturday. Watching a show unfold, as if it was a chapter in a book is terrific fun.

I know that I usually go on and on and on about characters, but this show is much more different than any show that I watch—as the plot is what I like most. The plots are involved, though not the most difficult thing to understand (“The Wire” is far more complicated as was “Rome”) and there are a few red herrings here and there, but for the most part they keep the viewer interested and engaged. The writers do cop out every now and again—how many moles could CTU hire in five years? It seems like 90% of the people that work there have other, more sinister obligations—but I can understand that and I give them a pass. I would bet that writing “24” is not a typical gig for a writer.

The characters are usually right out of central casting, but that allows the viewer to concentrate on the plot. Yes, nerdy computer girl (Chloe, played by “Mr. Show” alum Mary Lynn Rajskub) may look like she won't help Jack, but in the end she will. And the hard ass CTU boss (there are a million of them) may not like the way Bauer does business, but damn it, he gets results!

The one character that is a bit different is Jack Bauer, of course. Yes, he is a machine who will stop at nothing to get the job done, but he also has a conscious which sets him apart from the drug lords, mercenaries, war lords and terrorists that he faces every day. And while that can be a little hacky, the writers at least allow him to lose something tangible (his wife in the first season, his partner and daughter in the third, his girlfriend and all of his friends in the fifth) so that it's not just lip service. This makes him a hero with flaws, which is something that we don't see too much—even in this age of anti-heroes.

My hope is that with the writers' strike cancelling this season of “24” it will allow the writers to look back and study what made older seasons of the show so great. Then they will go forward with better ideas and realize that bigger is not always better. The one thing that I am nervous about is that one of the series creator, Joel Surnow, has left the show. In my view “24” seems to have a liberal bent (most of the “evil” politicians are conservative) but what I find interesting is that Surnow is about as right wing as one can get. He ultra conservative and favors isolationism, but his writing doesn't seem to follow his ideas. I think that this is really cool for some reason.

Are there better written dramas out there? Of course. But is there a more fun drama? I doubt it. Another thing that I really like is that each episode is like a mini movie, with explosions and fire fights that rival big screen action movies. The producers and the tech guys spend a lot of time and money on this show and the viewers can tell.

Having said that, will this be a show that goes down in the annals of television history? Probably not. I suspect that in 10 or 15 years, people will look at “24” the way that we look at “The A-Team” or “Knight Rider” now; innocent fun that seemed far more serious at the time. Especially since there is going to be a whole group of people that will parody the way that the show is shot, will have the digital clock countdown and other aspects from the show. The same thing happened to "The Matrix" when everyone copied the slow motion fighting. It took away from the original project and made it a cliche. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess that will be just fine.

Monday, March 10, 2008

39. Car 54, Where are You?

I'm not here to write an exquisite prose about the cultural merits of “Car 54, Where are You”. I'm not going to say that it was a wonderfully sublime show that worked on eight different philosophical levels. Nor am I going to say that the show reinvented the sitcom, and forced us to look at ourselves and our lives differently. I'm not going to say this because it's not true. I am going to paraphrase a certain NFL head coach and say, “Car 54 was what it was.” And what the show was was a screw-ball comedy about two oddly coupled Bronx cops and the people they helped and worked with every day.

Quick aside, everyone has met that guy; the one who always has to bring the must mundane, mindless pleasures up to a certain level so that he can explain why he enjoys them. Usually the medium involved is either music or books, especially comic books (“I read the Amazing Spider-man because of the subtle and sophisticated commentary on social mores that I can't find anywhere else.”). Every once in awhile he'll turn his attention to a television show that's “beneath him” and find some sort of crazy high-brow justification for why he watches it. I've never found anything wrong with this reason: I like it because I like it.

And that's the reason why I enjoy “Car 54”, the show does what it sets out to do: make me laugh. Each episode's plot was pretty much the same: something out of the ordinary happens to Gunther Toody (played by Joe E. Ross) or his partner Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne). And it's the typical sitcom faire: they have to take care of a baby or a dog, Gunther has problems with his wife, Muldoon can't find a date, etc. During the next 30 minutes, there's a few misunderstandings, some shenanigans ensue and the duo return to the status quo. To make things even better (Or worse depending on your point of view) neither of them ever bring up any of the previous episodes' “major” calamity.

If you've been reading some of my other entries, you'll notice that I harp on one thing: it's not the plot, it's the characters. And that runs true here: Muldoon is the typical straight man who is both sharp and level headed. Toody is the buffoon, whose responsible for most of the laughs. They bicker like a married couple, but they genuinely have a strong affection for each other, which is something that the audience can tell.

As actors, the two couldn't have been more different. Up until his role on the Phil Sivers' show “Sgt. Bilko”, Ross cut his teeth as a comedian who was the first act at a lot of strip clubs and bars. Gwynne was a Harvard-educated ad man who, like previous entry and Harvard alum Conan O'Brien, was the president of the Harvard Lampoon. He loved performing but found it tough getting a steady job (which is why he worked at an advertising agency) until “Car 54” came along. Of course, Gwynne was to become most famous for his turn as Herman Munster in “The Munsters” which aired a year after “Car 54” was cancelled. Joining him on “The Munsters” was Al Lewis who played his father-in-law Grandpa. In “Car 54” Lewis played fellow officer Leo Schnauser.

It is these differences that helped make the show shine. Officer Toody looked like a guy that would be a hacky comedian working at a strip club while Officer Muldoon looked like a guy that would've gone to Harvard. The writers were smart not to go against type and let these two guys play to their strengths. And like future sitcoms like “Seinfeld” there was never a “learning or hugging” moment in the program—though, I doubt that was an official edict as it was on the Seinfeld set. Gunther and Toody were two Bronx cops who happened to be involved in funny situations and for the most part, the producers left it like that.

When I started this entry, I promised that there wouldn't be any other reason for liking this program other than “because I like it”. However there was another interesting dynamic to the show that wasn't prevalent in the era: and that was the “dignified” appearance of black people on a TV show. I put dignified in quotes because of a few reasons, but the biggest one is that television in the 1950s and 1960s was typically a white world, when a black person was on TV usually he or she was in a role as servant or in some other menial job. On “Car 54” there were a few black cops, most notably Nipsey Russell who took on the role of Officer Anderson. They were treated the same as the white cops and as actors, Russell in particular, had some great lines.

Was “Car 54” the Rosa Parks of the sitcom world? No. But showing black people and white people equally working together was a step in the right direction.

Another reason why I liked this show was sort of the reason why I liked "The Andy Griffith Show" and that's there is no way that this program could ever be on TV now. America is too different of a place than it was in the early 1960s. Like Andy Griffith what made this show funny is that there was a certain respect that cops had that they don't have now. The neighborhood policeman was a pillar of the community and the jokes about them were seen as good natured fun. The modern day lampooning of police officers is a little more edgy, a little more mean and that's because of the way that cops are seen. Whether or not we're better off, I'm not sure, but while I can't see Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland joining the 53rd Precinct, I couldn't see Toody and Muldoon signing up for a tour on "The Wire" either.

Perhaps the lasting memory of “Car 54, Where are You?” is the opening theme song:

“There's a holdup in the Bronx!
Brooklyn's broken out in fights!
There's a traffic jam in Harlem
That's backed up to Jackson Heights!
There's a scout troop short a child!
Khrushchev's due at Idlewild!
Car 54, where are you?!”

Of course, I know that Idlewild is the old name for the current John F. Kennedy International Airport, but when I was a kid I thought that the line was “Krushchev is doing Ida Wild”. It sounded dirty, which didn't make sense in the context of the show, but I had no idea who Ida Wild was. I think I may have even asked my parents, who also had no clue what the hell I was talking about.

“Car 54” ran for two seasons before it was cancelled. According to Fred Gwynne biography I watched over the weekend—yes, I am that much of a dork—the show was still popular when it ended, but the biography didn't give a reason why it was cancelled.* And after that it spent some time in syndication reruns before landing at Nick at Nite during the late 80s, which is where I found it.

* The same thing happened to “The Munsters” as it was a ratings bonanza when it debuted in 1964—which coincidentally was also the year that “The Addams Family” and “Bewitched” debuted, which says a lot about the copy-cat industry that is television even in those days. However, it fizzled once “Batman” came on the air the following year in the opposite time slot. Gwynne didn't care that his show was on the way out because by that time he was pretty sick of playing Herman Munster. From the hours it took to get him into makeup to the ridiculous Munster plots, Gwynne didn't go on a full-fledged Robert Reed rant, but he did make it known that he wasn't thrilled playing the role that would make him so famous.

In 1994, someone got the idea of revising the “Car 54, Where are You?” franchise for a full-length movie starring John C. McGinley as Muldoon (you may know him better as Dr. Cox on Scrubs) and David Johansen as Toody (you may know him as Buster Pointdexter who sang that insufferable “Hot, Hot, Hot” song that's played at every single wedding and the guy who lead the cross-dressing pre-punk New York Dolls). Adding to the cast were Fran Drescher, Rosie O'Donnell, Jeremy Pivin and Daniel Baldwin. There were also cameos by Russel and Lewis.

It was one of the biggest bombs of the year and given the cast, who could blame them from staying away from the theater. I have no idea why the producers used the “Car 54” name for the project as it really had nothing to do with the original show. McGinley and Johansen are just playing mismatched cops, like Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte did in “48 Hours”. Why go with the “Car 54” name? Call it something else, especially considering that this wasn't a time piece it was updated for the 1990s. I don't think that a name change could have saved the movie, but at least the show wouldn't have been connected to this stink bomb—which readers listed as the 28th worst movie of all time.

Watch the original TV show, but avoid this movie at all costs.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

40. Late Night with Conan O'Brien

To be totally honest, I haven't seen much of “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” since I started working full-time—the show starts at 12:30 am EST and I'm usually asleep much earlier than that. Because of this, maybe the show should be a bit lower in the standings, though when I was a die-hard viewer (college and the first few years out of school) there was no funnier hour on TV.

O'Brien first came to the public's conscious (or at least the comedy nerd's conscious) in the late 80s as a writer and bit performer on “Saturday Night Live” before moving on to a writer/producer role at “The Simpsons”. There was no doubt that he was a hilarious writer—some of his episodes on “The Simpsons” are the classics that most refer to when speaking about the “good old days” of the show—but people had no idea who this extremely tall, extremely Irish looking guy welcomed them to David Letterman's old show in September 1993. The only thing that they knew was that O'Brien was no Letterman.

And that was ok. Despite attempts by NBC to hire Garry Shandling, Dana Carvey, Jon Stewart or Drew Carey for the job, O'Brien won out. O'Brien's old boss at SNL (Lorne Michaels) was producing the show and felt that the upstart had something that people would like. Having an established house would have been the safe play, but the show after “The Tonight Show” is supposed to be hosted by an anonymous person. Letterman did it that way and he was hugely successful. And when Conan leaves to host “The Tonight Show” in 2009, it should be the same way.

Unfortunately, for the first few years, it didn't look as if O'Brien would be so lucky. NBC had the brilliant idea of just signing him to 13-week contracts, which probably made his confidence soar, and were close to firing him—only they couldn't find a replacement. Like many things in life, luck and the ability to work cheaply (and on a ridiculously short contract) were the saving graces of a now successful man.

Somewhere after the awkwardness of hosting his show dissipated, O'Brien found his confidence and started doing comedy his way. And that's when he started to shine. He was one of the first mainstream comedians to bring “nerd humor” into American living rooms. And while that's not on par with Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce or George Carlin bringing their edgy brand of funny to the masses, it was an important step to where we are today in terms of what our nation finds funny. Quick aside, when I say “Nerd Humor” it's a catch-all reference to jokes about “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”, general awkwardness or any self-deprecating jokes.

For the first seven years of the program, O'Brien had his own Ed McMahon in the form of Andy Richter. We've spoken a bit about the genius that is Richter in a previous entry, but he really made his bones on this show. Whether it was a weekly staring contest bit with O'Brien, except for Richter's last episode Conan always won because there would be something strange or disgusting occurring behind O'Brien that would break Richter's concentration, or going for a desk ride, this is where Andy and Conan would pretend to drive around while a green screen behind them showed the audience where they were heading, Richter always brought the funny.

And that was important for the first couple of seasons because while an unknown himself, Richter was a crutch that O'Brien could lean on when the show was going off the tracks.

In addition to Richter, O'Brien also played off his band leader and former member of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, Max Weinberg. Weinberg was always at his best when O'Brien would make him out to be an arrogant, sleazy character who would do anything at any time to get ahead at work or with the ladies. With his sly smirks and man-of-few-words demeanor, Weinberg quickly became an audience favorite, who were in on the obvious joke.

Ultimately what saved O'Brien was the comedy, it was terrific stuff that hadn't really been done before and just needed a chance to find an audience. And it did, after three year O'Brien began to get more recognition from the mainstream press who hailed him a favorite of Generation-X and especially college students. When the mainstream recognizes hidden genius this is normally this is the kiss of death for hipsters and young people who hopscotch to the next fad, but O'Brien persevered and both the underground and the “normal” public both enjoyed him.

Though O'Brien, Richter and Weinberg were funny on their own, there were a large cast of characters who'd visit the set nightly. Some real (Tony Randal, Abe Vigoda) some fictional (Pimpbot 2000, a stereotypical 1950s looking robot that was programmed by a stereotypical 1970s pimp and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) but always killer. The one classic bit that stands out in my mind was during the winter of 1996: O'Brien was on a quest to find Grady character (Whitman Mayo) from “Sanford and Son”. A few times a week he'd play an old clip or two of Grady from “Sanford and Son” and then show a map of the United States and fake callers would phone in with recent “spottings”.

As the months passed, the bit grew more and more popular and finally the show had to find the real Grady and began promoting that he'd be on that Thursday night's show. Up until this point, I doubt that anyone had thought of Whitman Mayo in 20 years, but the crowd was going crazy for this guy when he showed up. A gigantic flashing, neon sign that said “Grady” dropped from the ceiling, confetti flew everywhere and the band played the theme to “Sanford and Son”. The crowd reacted as if Mayo was the first man to land on the moon, come back to Earth and hit a walk-off grandslam in Game Seven of the World Series.

The genius behind this bit was that O'Brien and his writers took a character that we all knew, that was buried deep in our collective memories and brought him back. I've said it before, you can not go wrong with nostalgia. But it was more than that, the two-month build up that slowly started gaining steam was tremendously well-done. Normally, my roommates and I went out to a bar every Thursday night to try and pick up chicks, there was no way in hell any of us were going out that night. Any time you can stop a few college guys from trying to drink beer and find girls, you know you have something special.

As the show and the host matured, certain things got better: O'Brien's opening monologue went from brutal to well done and his interviewing skills got remarkably better as well. The one thing that O'Brien was terrible at was interviewing guests. He would ask a question and as the guest was answering, O'Brien would start interjecting pointless stories which would infuriate the tale's teller. This wasn't done with any malice, like Ali G or Tom Green, I think it was done out of general nervousness and the fear that if O'Brien wasn't talking, people would forget whose show it was.

It was always my opinion that if the show was cancelled in its early years, that would have been the reason. To their credit, NBC stuck with the show and it prospered. This should be a lesson to all TV executives who want to cut down an interesting, new show. Give it time and it will work, the American people don't like crap, but if that's all you give them, that's all they'll watch.