Something Unpredictable

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(Pictured: a courtroom photo from the final episode of Seinfeld. It is the official position of this blog that the finale is the single worst episode of the series, but that’s a subject we’re not getting into today. Neither are we getting into the subject I thought we’d get into when I started writing, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.)

Twenty years ago tonight, the final episode of Seinfeld aired on NBC.

Seinfeld didn’t make an impact on me until it had been on for two or three years. But like millions of other people, I got hooked on it, and I’d still rank it as an all-time favorite, even though I don’t watch it regularly anymore. My sense of it is that it’s not particularly dated, except for the baseball references that few outside of New York are going to get (Paul O’Neill, Danny Tartabull), and the way it depicts a world where landline telephones still rule. There’s a 1991 episode in which Jerry is shown with a car phone, but cellphones are not part of the Seinfeld universe, and the show aired at practically the last moment when such a thing looked normal.

When I started writing this post, I intended to segue here to a reboot of something I wrote for WNEW.com about the music of Seinfeld, but then I decided I could just link to the damn thing (which I have already reposted here once) and spend the balance of my time today on other items, TV-related and otherwise.

To wit:

Decades is a diginet that runs mostly vintage TV, like MeTV and Antenna TV. The Decades Binge features episodes of a single show all weekend long. Weekend-before-last it was Barnaby Jones, the CBS detective series starring Buddy Ebsen, which ran from 1973 to 1980. I DVR’d a bunch of them and have been doing my own rewatch over the last week.

You need no better evidence that the 70s were a different country than the fact that this utterly mediocre show ran for eight seasons, and that it was in the Top 25 of the Nielsen ratings for three of them. At least half of the guest stars who get top billing are people you’ve never heard of. A-list TV types were not lining up to be on it. In many episodes, you can see the outlines of the entire plot within the first 10 minutes. The acting is frequently little better than the writing, which is to say it’s atrocious too. Ebsen himself often seems disconnected from his own show, as if he’s on cruise control for the paycheck.

The single weirdest thing I’ve seen so far came in a 1974 episode in which Marjoe Gortner plays a rock star-turned-murderer, chewing up every atom of the scenery along the way. At one point, Jones finds some music supposedly written by Gortner’s character, pulls out a guitar, and starts to accompany himself singing. The song, it turns out, is Jethro Tull’s “Wind Up.” I don’t think there was a screen credit for it, and I’d like to know A) if Ian Anderson and/or Chrysalis Records got paid and B) how, out of all the songs in the world, they settled on “Wind Up.”

Another item, completely unrelated:

Over the weekend, a local restaurant ran a radio ad for its Mother’s Day brunch, and after hearing it, two things stuck in my craw. Dumb Thing 1: the word “mouthwatering.” It is used by quite literally no one in normal conversation, but you hear it all the time in ads for restaurants and food. It signals one of two things: either the copywriter was too lazy to do a better job of description, or the client insisted it be included. Because clients sometime insist on stuff they’re used to hearing. They want their ads to sound “right”—to their ears.

Which brings us to Dumb Thing 2: after spending 30 seconds extolling the mouthwatering menu, we were told to call XXX-XXXX for more information about it. This makes no damn sense at all. First, the value of phone numbers in radio ads is minimal. People are not sitting there with a pencil and paper ready to jot down seven random digits. Having a gimmicky number helps, such as 55-EAT ME, but not much. And second, why give the phone number instead of your easier-to-remember web address? Why wouldn’t you send people to the web to see your whole menu? What specific question are they likely to have that could only be answered over the phone? You aren’t going to read them the whole menu over the phone . . . are you?

2 responses

  1. Dumb Thing 1A: given the news events of the day, “mouthwatering” sounds more like an illegal torture tactic.

  2. there was a local radio ad voiced by “Joe Carpet Store Owner” himself (one of my pet peeves) in which he repeats the business phone number repeatedly and actually says, “They told me I should keep repeating this number” or some similar verbiage. Sometimes “they” don’t know what they’re doing….

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