Friday, October 21, 2016

Show Notes for HMOTD 030: He Has Genghis Khan For A Mother

0:58 "Hi Michael! Hi Robbie!": Damn it, Rob, I think we're funny when we want to be.

When it came to deciding when we'd want to have our Moms on the podcast, we knew we wanted an episode that had good solid Mama Carlson content. We had some options available in Season 4, but when I saw we could get "Bah, Humbug" along with a Mama episode, my mind went immediately to doing a sequel to last season's HMOTD 019: The Year WKRP Saved Christmas, which of course resulted in our little "Moms coming to visit for Christmas in October" bit at the beginning of this episode.

(Also, there's so much lampshading in this episode, we could open a lighting store.)

4:06 Pay TV: My uncle Billy was indeed prescient in his college years! Talk of pay television was very much in its infancy in the early '60s, but the FCC already was dealing with the fallout of the very first embryonic cable TV systems in the 1950s, in towns where over-the-air TV reception was difficult-to-impossible. There was also closed-circuit TV in the '50s and '60s, used to narrowcast prizefights to remote venues in the years before cable pay-per-view. These memories of CCTV fights from the '60s and '70s are pretty awesome.

4:58 "I invented TV": One of the most controversial questions in the field of the history of technology and media is finally answered: Betty Jo did indeed invent television in Flin Flon, Manitoba in the mid-1940s, behind the screen door! Okay, that's not really true, of course, but TV is one of those inventions that doesn't have a single iconic inventor. Rob's long been interested in these questions: check out a blog post of his from 2002 (yes, kids, people did blog back then) amended and updated in 2009.

5:12 Flin Flon Saturday Morning Fun Club: I am very sad to report that my research-fu was not up to the task; I cannot find any record of the Fun Club on the internet in 2016. I am wondering which radio station in Flin Flon it was on, though; my primary suspect is CFAR?

Also, digging into Rob's blog archives yet again: would you like to know the quite eerie Secret History of the naming of Flin Flon? Your questions are answered, thanks again to Betty Jo.

6:30 Boomtown with Rex Trailer: Boomtown! There are so many photos of my Dad as a little kid dressed in cowboy costumes, coonskin caps, and so forth; that's just what kids loved back in the '50s, am I right? What endless superhero movies are to the 2010s, cowboy movies and TV were in the 1950s. So it makes sense that he'd want to appear on one of Boston's most beloved kids' shows. Rex Trailer, who hosted Boomtown for two decades from 1956 to 1974, was a Boston Baby Boomer institution. Rex went on to found a television production company in Boston in the years following Boomtown's cancelation. For extra local TV/helicopter mishap fun (in the vein of HMOTD 027), check out this story about Rex and Boston's Bozo the Clown, Frank Avruch, appearing from nowhere in Western Massachusetts to the delight of local children. At least they didn't crash.

8:48 Indian Head test patterns and Betty Jo's first TV: The 1949 World Series did indeed feature the Yankees and Dodgers. You all were early technology adopters, Betty Jo! And as far as the Indian head test pattern is concerned, its design also has a fascinating secret history. I know we've talked about the BBC test patterns in past Show Notes, like the Test Card Girl, but the Indian head was, of course, iconic during the black-and-white TV era in North America and afterwards.

10:23 Sesame Street: This got cut for time, but please check out the book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street if you care for more evidence and observations in the vein of Betty Jo's Madison, WI playground anthropology in the fall of 1969. Sesame Street was a sea change in how parents, programmers, and educators looked at TV. Again, there was that brief glimmer of hope in the 1970s for a revolution in educational TV programming before the deregulation of the 1980s and the inevitable Mattel Chocobot Power Hours of my own childhood... but that's jumping the gun a bit for HMOTD 032.

Also, if you can get through the book's prologue, set at Jim Henson's 1990 funeral, without bawling your eyes out, you are made of stronger stuff than I.

11:34 Mister Rogers: I received an email from my dad following this episode that said legal action was forthcoming for using this story without his express written consent. I still love Mr. Rogers, though.

Edit: Well, I've found that other people had the same experience as I did with my dad, so here's a poll.

12:45 "Hi boys, it's me, Mom!" More Sifl and Olly, one of Rob's and my favorites. I've been waiting to use one of these Calls from Olly's Mom since we decided to do this episode. That's voice-of-Olly Liam Lynch's actual mom doing the voice there, by the way.

14:27 Doctor Who, Fables of the Green Forest: As I've mentioned time and time again, 7:30 on Channel 2 in Boston in the early '80s was Doctor Who time. I'm more intrigued by what I'm guessing Rob meant as his show, Fables of the Green Forest? It did air on TVOntario. See, this might be one of the reasons I never got into anime; I just never watched any of the early Japanese dubbed imports like this or Speed Racer, or even the 1980s latecomers like Robotech or Voltron.

[Rob:] Yeah, Fables of the Green Forest, that's the show. (Here's the opening theme.)  I had no idea it was Japanese! It was based on the books of Thornton Burgess, which were kind of like Walden for kids. Not unlike Hammy the Hamster, to be honest.

16:58 "You had a 'Thriller' party!": We did indeed. That first half of 1983 belonged to Michael Jackson and the album Thriller, but by the autumn, the album was beginning to lose its luster. The "Thriller" video event was a way to re-inject interest in what was already one of the biggest albums of all time. The John Landis-directed 13-minute video debuted on December 2, 1983 and was the first "world premiere video event" on MTV.

17:52 "Colour came late to Canada": Other than Rob's joke about Canada being black and white until the late '70s, this section just fascinates me, especially when I did go to check out how late color TV came to other countries. Canada finalized their color switchover in 1974, just stupefying! Although if you lived near the border, you could obviously get American transmissions. Cuba's an interesting case; they were super early adopters in 1958 but the Revolution put paid to their plans to roll it out completely. Many countries did not get color until the 1980s, including Turkey and Romania (1990!).

18:38 Rob's memories of color TV: We really need to replace "The Mandela Effect" as a term with "The Nowhere Band Effect."

[Rob:] Aka "The Orange Oscar the Grouch Effect."

19:28 "I suppose we need to talk about WKRP!" It was very difficult to keep the balance of awesome family stories to WKRP coverage just right in this episode. We cut a lot of really fun stories, even some stories about our Moms Behaving Badly, which will surface later either as bonus content for the podcast or blackmail material.

21:30 "At what point in history did [Christmas Carol pastiches] become hokey?" Not sure if we have an answer for this, but TVTropes does have a "Yet Another Christmas Carol" trope page. You know, I'd forgotten the Family Ties episode. Now Alex P. Keaton, that's a character who needs a Scrooge-like attitude adjustment.

[Rob:] The A.V. Club has its own list of Christmas Carol episodes, which posits "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962) as the first animated Christmas special and "one of" the first TV Scrooge pastiches. And scroll down to #15 on the list: In 1989 Hugh Wilson recycled "Bah Humbug" in his "critically acclaimed, dismally rated" sitcom The Famous Teddy Z.

23:00 Canceling the Christmas Carol play: It was mean not to cut my mom's "Bob Marley" brain cramp, but it did allow us to preview the pot brownie story. And Rob also had a hilarious cut bit about his own Grade 13 A Christmas Carol play being interrupted by a fire alarm... possibly pulled by one of the teachers being lampooned?

23:57 The Clapper: The Clapper really seems more like a Grasso Family-type product, if you know what I mean (ahem), so I was honestly surprised Betty Jo knew what it was.

25:17 "1950s nostalgia is much better. Much more nostalgic." My favorite funny line of Betty Jo's in this episode.

27:50 "How funny that Herb was the survivor?" I had to evoke the Peter Principle, even though I found that it's come down to us in a slightly different form than its inventor intended, I think.

29:28 WKRP Future: I love the little electronic sounds that the dueling computer systems use to communicate with each other. It's almost as if all the actual communication is happening by modem and the human touches like the voices are just there to make the people feel better about it. Again, strikingly familiar.

33:24 "Do you notice how many of these childhood stories involve the word 'anxiety'?" Ahem. *leaves the party early* While you're waiting for me to return to the party, read this piece I wrote for We Are The Mutants, a new online magazine I'm contributing to, about one of those very same complicated board games I got for Christmas 1986, The World According to Ubi.

34:24 "This is an extremely Canadian story, folks." This story definitely had more snowshoes and cross-country skis in it than I'd ever imagined being part of anyone's Christmas.

37:02 "I pity you." Not gonna lie, using this clip from the Season 1 Simpsons episode "There's No Disgrace Like Home" for the competing Grasso and MacDougall family Christmases was the highlight of my edit. Between my dad calling Mr. Rogers a shithead, my mom getting accidentally dosed by pot brownies, and my spoiled Little Prince-ness, we would've lasted maybe 3 minutes at the MacDougall family cottage before fleeing into the cold Canadian night, hearing "After you! "Thank you so much!" and MacDougall family singalongs echoing in the distance.

[Rob:] Well, if you'd fled into the night, the wolves probably would've gotten you. But yeah, this isn't the first time people have perceived my family as freakishly loving, wholesome, or quaint. (It's a fair cop.) And the Simpsons clip is payback for the glee I took last episode in tagging your musical tastes with Jonathan Coulton's "Soft Rocked." Was that perfect family singing "B-I-N-G-O" a sort of proto-Flanders family, or had the Flanderses been introduced by that point?

[Mike:] Heh. They were indeed some kind of proto-Flanderses. Ned had been introduced as the Simpsons' neighbor in the very first full-length (and, incidentally, Christmas special!) episode, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," but the entire Flanders clan did not appear until all the way in Season 2's "Dead Putting Society."

38:04 "You're going to make me tell that pot brownie story." You can't pahk the cah on the Tobin Bridge, Mom. That is Bat Country. Have this supercut of Mahk Wahlberg in The Depahted (VERY NSFW) to keep you company if you like my mom's accent... and my lack of one. "You, howevah, grew up on the Nohth Shohe, huh? Well, la-di-fuckin'-da... You have different accents? You did, didn't you? You little fuckin' snake. You were like different people."

46:47 "Why do we have that [bad mother] figure?" And this is my favorite serious discussion that Betty Jo gives us. It's a question we still can't answer in pop culture depictions of mothers.

49:30 "They had to make her a strong woman, and make him a weak man." I liked my mom's observation here. Not only are you dealing with the complicated situation with respect to women characters on TV in 1981, you're also dealing with depicting Lillian's ability, as a woman who was doing this kind of work in the 1950s and '60s, to go against the cultural grain and be required and able to "take over the business."

[Rob:] Yeah, and this from Karen is the other great serious contribution that we only partially explore.

55:30 Carol Bruce, Life Magazine, September 9, 1940: Here's cover girl Carol Bruce looking very tropical and tanned, and the saluting picture I found on my search.

57:30 "We'll see you how do without my rolodex." The rolodex is actually a much more recent invention than I'd assumed! It is a product of the postwar office supply boom, patented in 1956, sold starting in 1958, and thus popularized during the actual Mad Men era.

58:00 "I grew up in an office." [Rob:] We pass over this point fairly quickly, but take a minute to reflect all on the changes Karen lived and worked through (and all the shit she undoubtedly had to put up with) as she worked her way up from "office girl" in the 1960s to "running the place" in the 1980s. That's the Women's Movement right there, folks. Here's to you, Karen.

59:50 Les sitting down with Mama: I'm not above a little Whoopie Cushion-type humor, and neither is WKRP.

1:01:52 "The great Jimmy James." [Rob:] I misspoke here but it was intentional. Milton in Office Space is of course played by the great Stephen Root, but he'll always be Jimmy James, Macho Business Donkey Wrestler to me.

1:04:45 The clothing in this episode: Here's a link back to our discussion in the Show Notes of HMOTD 016: Muy Dinero, about women's business fashion and its masculinization in the 1980s.

1:05:23 "Gary Sandy's hair... blow-dried to perfection." This to me is the hidden gem of this episode. The idea of Gary Sandy's hair being aspirational for women of the early '80s is fantastic. Princess Di was just getting secretly engaged to Prince Charles in early 1981 when this episode aired, but within a few weeks she'd be world-famous. The "unfortunate perms" bit also got me thinking of Sarah Paulson's devastating portrayal of O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark in the recent The People vs. O.J. Simpson.

1:06:15 Huey Lewis: The poster on the WKRP booth wall was for Huey Lewis's self-titled debut album with the News. Their first single, "Some of My Lies Are True (Sooner or Later)" is very New Wave indeed.

[Rob:] Mike, I was very impressed that you went with a 1981-appropriate clip from Huey's first cassette (OK, album) rather than something better known from Sports or Fore. Good man. As for the famous scene from American Psycho, I'm just happy that Huey got the last word.

1:08:51 Sir Tom Jones: Betty Jo's gagging sounds at the thought of seeing Tom Jones live were just priceless; my mom's response even more classic. Rob's gentle correction of Betty Jo is also right on; it was indeed Robert Goulet who angered Elvis Presley into shooting his TV.

1:10:35 Barry Manilow Live: Again, any lampshading about "artsy-fartsy" versus "trashy" in the context of this episode is purely coincidental. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to Tom Jones and Barry Manilow with my mom. Have a bucket of chicken...


  1. You guys are just as entertaining company via the written word as in the flesh (and/or flesh-coloured Skype). Freakishly loving, wholesome, and quaint hugs to you both for indulging your Aged P's in our reminiscences of the '70s and '80s (which, as you may well have noted, are little more than a psychedelic blur to me, if not Karen, since I was up to my ears in small children), to say nothing of the '40s. (Now, if you ever want to talk about the '50s, I'm your girl!)

    1. Betty Jo, it was absolutely our pleasure. I hope my gentle and jovial chiding over Clan MacDougall's excessive wholesomeness wasn't itself too excessive. :)