Friday, June 30, 2017

Show Notes for HMOTD 040: The Phone Cops!

1:48 "Here to kick off Season 4 as she kicked off Season 2!" And both two-part episodes revolve around old flames of one kind or another coming back into someone's life!

3:00 "I could've been a contender." Johnny not only quotes On The Waterfront in this scene, but also earlier references Hattie McDaniel's famous line about "birthing babies" from Gone With The Wind. As much as we enjoyed this episode, there were still these little artifacts of blithe insensitivity, between Venus and Johnny's goofing on Wing's accent and this reference to a motion picture role that has been cloaked in controversy since Gone With The Wind was released in 1939.

Foreigner's "Urgent" was off their breakout hit album 4, released in the summer of 1981. 10 weeks at #1! One of the things I've remained stunned at as we've looked back at late-'70s/early-'80s music since starting the podcast is how dominant most #1 albums were back in the day. I remember hearing somewhere (it may have even been the Beyond Yacht Rock podcast) that Men At Work's Business As Usual LP spent nearly four months at the top of the charts in the winter of 1982-83.

5:20 "The transmitter... asplodes": Come on back to 2004 when the very hottest memes (before we even called them that) were being created by The Brothers Chaps.

5:55 "The Last Temptation of Arthur Carlson": I was tickled to find out that WKRP superfan authority and former guest Leah Biel has also used this phrase to refer to this episode.

7:35 Continuity in Season 4: We will speak more of this in HMOTD 041 (and 042 for that matter), but Season 4 is, without doubt, a fully-serialized season of television, in an era where, as we note, that didn't happen much. It's never too early to refer to this piece on Season 4 of WKRP by Tommy Krasker, but we expect to analyze it in much more detail in the Monday Post for HMOTD 041.

8:05 Cringing at Arthur and Joyce: I'm with Lenore on this one; while this isn't the most cringey I've been so far watching WKRP (that still has to go to Les in blackface in "A Mile In My Shoes"), watching Arthur misunderstand Joyce and then, fully believing Joyce is hitting on him, proceed to go up to her hotel room, is definitely in my Top 3 Cringey Moments of WKRP all told.

10:25 Arms race with Three's Company: As I've been dipping my toe more into Media Studies and television history academically, one of the things I have the most fun with is reading contemporary reviews of old TV shows and films. And the reviews for Three's Company when it debuted in 1977 were atrocious. I particularly like the 1983 TV Guide cover subhead featured in that article: "Three's Company: What Is It Really Trying to Tell Us?"

11:43 "Good grrrravy." I just love Gordon Jump's line read of this exclamation. I'm going to try to work this back into the vernacular.

12:58 Melanie Carlson: Melanie was the 60th-most popular name of girls born in the United States in 1980 (click on "See the next 50 names" for the full top 100). For the record, Michael was the most popular name in 1975 in the U.S. There are a lot of us.

13:50 The Perry Como poster: Other stuff on display at the transmitter/old station studios: an old WKRP-branded wireframe microphone, which is again just a beautiful, historically-accurate detail (I just found out these are called "call letter flags" when they take the more familiar, solid "banner" form), and a Hit Parader magazine, presumably from the '50s. [Edit: Michael Hernandez, Keeper of the WKRP Music Spreadsheet, pinpoints this issue to 1952.] Hit Parader later became a heavy rock/hair metal magazine in the '70s and '80s respectively.

14:42 "And I moved to Cleveland!" Obligatory and NSFW: 1 2

16:35 The John Davidson Show! Discovering that this daytime show even existed was kind of a mindblower. Like The Mike Douglas ShowThe John Davidson Show had guest co-hosts (in fact, John Davidson replaced the canceled Mike Douglas in many syndicated markets in 1980). Here's the video of that episode promo (from 1981!) so you can see '81 luminaries such as Robert Guillaume, Ted Shackelford, Gallagher (man, he has been at it for a LONG time, huh?) and Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo (whom former guest host My Mom tells us were the featured performers on a cruise my parents took in the '80s). I literally can't stop looking at Davidson singing and dancing with that 97% female audience.

20:45 "Why is Johnny on the air at 3 in the afternoon?" We had the opportunity to ask a real radio DJ on Twitter about possible inaccuracies in WKRP insofar as the radio business is concerned and his quick answer is here. "Morning guy not out the door at 10:01 am." Heh. Thanks, JB. I always thought Johnny was too sleepy and lazy to go home, personally, hence his sacking out on Andy's couch or under his desk.

21:05 Rob and Mike Co-DJing: If you'd like to listen to our two-hour DJ set on mixlr from back in Season 2, which was a ton of fun, listen here. Apologies for the sound mix issues.

22:15 "A two-for-one coupon at Bounty Burger": I've been watching a lot of YouTube compilations of early '80s TV ads lately, and one thing I notice is how many coupon offers there were on national, prime-time television! Ridiculous to our modern eyes. But in the early '80s, before Reagan's turbocharged hypercapitalist economy spun into gear, people were still living in the midst of recession. There are a few mentions of the economy this season, and I'll be sure to point them out.

25:20 Horse races on the radio: I've been reliably informed by My Dad that while horse races on the radio were not too common by 1981, they definitely used to be aired live, and the big races and racetracks even more so.

29:43 Hostage negotiator in Best in Show: The great Larry Miller playing hostage negotiator and one of Cookie Fleck's many old flames, Max Berman. "Let me tell you, a little secret from the trade: they all jump."

29:53 Black Sunday and Black September: Thomas Harris, before he became our master of Southern serial crime horror, wrote this little terrorism thriller in the middle of the first Golden Age of Terror. In terms of pop-lit paths not taken, Harris becoming a Tom Clancy instead of the guy who gave us Hannibal Lecter is a fascinating thought experiment. The film version in '77 used the actual Goodyear blimp and was partially filmed at Super Bowl X in Miami.

Black September was the PLO/Fatah-affiliated organization that held hostage and killed several Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

31:17 Lou Richards: Here's Lou Richards' IMDB, including, yes, "Leader-One" of the Go-Bots. Rob's "Optimus Sub-Prime" riff killed me, by the way.

33:15 "I'll play the Carpenters, I'll play Barry Manilow, just hide me!" I can't imagine Andy would ever really ask Johnny to play the Carpenters on WKRP. Manilow in '81? Well, maybe, but mostly I just think Johnny's Phone Cop-addled mind reached out for the two most odious artists he could think of.

37:00 et subseq. Rob's book: Let me give my totally unbiased capsule review of the Albert B. Corey Prize-winning The People's Network: The Political Economy of the Telephone in the Gilded Age. It'll reveal to you how truly nothing ever changes, how we keep making the same mistakes more than a century later with respect to utilities and, specifically, telecommunication utilities, and it's full of little details about the early social and economic life of the telephone in actual people's lives in its first few decades of existence. Seriously, it's really good. Pick it up. [Rob: Aw, shucks. Thanks, Mike!]

39:13 Phone Phreaks: This page has a great array of documents that not only detail how Phreaks were able to hack Ma Bell, but also how the wider culture viewed these mysterious blue boxes and Cap'n Crunch whistles.

[Rob: That page includes a link to the famous 1971 Esquire article by Ron Rosenbaum that introduced phone phreaking to the world (including Jobs & Wozniak I think) and is sometimes cited as the genesis of hacker culture. Check out Esquire's cheesecake cover and headline: "Welcome back to the 40's, the last time America was happy." If that doesn't satiate your desire for phone phreak history, the definitive book on that topic is Phil Lapsley's Exploding the Phone.)]

39:47 The President's Analyst: I haven't had the chance yet to view this fascinating "mod" document from 1967. But the bits I have seen, the trailer and this clip (with Pat Harrington a.k.a. Schneider from One Day At A Time as the TPC executive!) really whet my appetite. You can see the roots of so much here, from conspiratorial fodder from the Phone Cops to the Telephone Avatar from Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol. Also, the writer/director of The President's Analyst, Ted Flicker, co-created Barney Miller and was part of the Compass Players! More HMOTD bingo.

42:57 The Crying of Lot 49: We Await Silent Tristero's Empire.

43:55 The episode with Johnny's acid flashback: [Rob: It's "Put Up or Shut Up": Johnny thinks he's relapsing at the end when he sees Herb & Jennifer singing "Just the Way You Are."]

46:35 "This is a hot proposition." Yeah, Joyce's breathy voice is necessary for the misunderstanding comedy to work but also does strike me as a little weird. Speaking of breathy-voiced '70s and '80s actresses...

49:55 "It's almost like he's seeing how far he can go." I hated saying it, but it's true. This episode actually suddenly strikes me as of a piece with The Simpsons' "The Last Temptation of Homer."

50:40 "What are we talking about?" Rep firms were a radio industry staple throughout the postwar period; they allowed packages of advertising to be sold en masse to radio stations. Like many of the other businesses we've talked about throughout the course of the podcast, they started off small and regional and then, in the merger-happy '80s, turned into national media buying groups. Here's a typical firm's history, one that started out in Ohio, no less! I also suppose this would mean Joyce might put Herb out of a job, eventually!

52:03 "That is not how account executives work." Lenore's observation that there were no models for women to do business in a way that isn't laden with these remnants of the Mad Men era is a really astute one.

53:40 The real Joyce Armor: Here's her IMDB. Joyce Armor started off in the MTM family, doing The Bob Newhart Show, and stepping-stone-to-WKRP, the Hugh Wilson-created Tony Randall Show. She then wrote four Love Boats and a Remington Steele. What a poker hand!

56:19 "This is the Doctor, Johnny Fever": Dig my embarrassed Les-style titter through this section. *holds bridge of nose* Also, I have shamelessly laughed at "I'm sure it would come right up" every time I've listened to this episode. Because! The actual full-length trailer for the WKRP porn parody is rife with really awful double-entendres, several orders of magnitude worse than anything in "An Explosive Affair." I'm not linking to the trailer (or heaven forbid, the actual movie) here, but the title of the film is officially WKRP in Cincinnati: A (sic) XXX Parody if you wish to watch either. Lenore's right, though, the sets and costumes and props are pretty good.

1:01:10 "Black Cow"/Purple Cow: How could I not use the chorus from "Black Cow" by Steely Dan here, I ask you. And the lyrics are actually appropriate for Arthur's dilemma, both with the Purple Cow and with Joyce! Drink your big Purple Cow, Arthur, and get outta here!

The Purple Cow cocktail is real, however, and so is poet and critic Gelett Burgess, who strikes me as one in a long line of literary curmudgeons of the late 19th/early 20th century. Lots of interesting facts on both those Wikipedia pages, including the fact that President Truman used the poem "Purple Cow" as a response to whether he'd ever seen a UFO (!!!), and the fact that Burgess helped introduce cubism, futurism and what we'd now call modern art to America in the 1910s.

1:04:25 Sitcom characters in jeopardy: I know we wandered a bit off sitcom territory into sci-fi drama with Quantum Leap and Sandy Frank-adapted anime with Battle of the Planets, but all of a sudden at the end of this segment, the memory of Steven Keaton, probably my favorite '80s sitcom patriarch of them all, in the hospital bed hit me really hard. Family Ties had just enough Very Special Episodes (Uncle Ned, who we've talked about before, and Alex's friend who died in a car accident who visited Alex from beyond the grave) to think, hey, maybe they'd kill off Steven Keaton!

[Rob: Leah Biel mentioned a bunch more sitcom characters in jeopardy on the HMOTD Facebook.]

1:12:50 "The character they pulled out of the fiction universe in Planetary": "Planet Fiction," one of the most frustrating issues of Warren Ellis's awesome series Planetary, which if I remember correctly was one of the very first pieces of media Rob and I bonded over on Livejournal back in the oughts.


1:13:03 "Slow Hand": Possibly my favorite part of the episode. I love that song, I love the warped proto-vaporwave version we hear, I love Venus's patter that uses the lyrics from the chorus, I love the callback to Les's use of primal scream therapy, and I fucking LOVE Yacht-era Pointer Sisters. The Pointers' ability to straddle genres is amazing; "Slow Hand" just sounds like a country song, and indeed, the Pointers' early career is full of all kinds of fascinating stylistic diversions, including an album of covers where they do a quite country-fied version of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work," turning it into a feminist anthem! Also, did you know they sang the "Pinball Number Count" song on Sesame Street well before they broke big?

Conway Twitty's version of "Slow Hand" is magnificent, too (here's a stage performance, too). Ever since becoming reacquainted with Twitty thanks to the appearance of the Lynchian Twitty impersonator in True Detective Season 2 singing "The Rose," I've been marveling at his unlikely status as late-'70s/early-'80s country music romantic balladeer.

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