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Book Talk - Obsessed With TV, King Vidor

Book Talk - August 2009
by Paul Mavis and John Sinnott

Welcome to the second installment of Book Talk. This month we have a trio of new movie and TV related reviews for you. Hope you enjoy them. Looking forward, we're hoping to continue this column on a monthly basis and it looks like McFarland, a publisher that specializes in academic books including those on film, will be supporting us with review copies of their releases. The book hounds on DVD Talk's review panel are looking forward to the partnership.

Obsessed With TV Obsessed With TV by David Hofstede - TV trivia, anyone? Television historian David Hofstede (What Were They Thinking: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History; Charlie's Angels Casebook) has contributed to the fifth in Chronicle Books' Obsessed With... series with the handsomely-packaged Obsessed With TV, providing TV addicts with a massive collection of 2,500 trivia questions - with the added twist for this copiously illustrated hardbound: a built-in computer module that not only gives you the answers, but keeps score for one or two players. With easy-to-understand instructions printed at the front of the book, the computer module solves the number-one problem I've always had with trivia books that utilized either the "answers in the back" or the "upside-down answer box on the same page" formats: cheating (you know you've peeked). You want to know the name of the only member of Wonder Woman's comic book rogues' gallery that actually made it onto the 1970s television series? Then you're going to have to guess, smart guy (the answer is...buy the book). You can have the module randomly select questions for you (or a friend stupid enough to play along with you, master TV trivia geek), or you can punch in the number of a question that's been giving you fits and play from there. Get the question wrong and the module blows you an electronic raspberry while displaying the correct answer. Even better, your answers are tallied, along with the percentage you guessed correctly (for competitive jerks like me). Don't like your score? Clear the module and start over. And if you have to drop the book in a hurry to tape Fat Albert, no problem: the module goes to sleep and remembers your game and score when you wake it up.

Chapters are divided into categories that include Comedies, Dramas, Reality TV & Game Shows, Action Shows (an umbrella moniker for Westerns, mystery shows, detective series and the like), Sci-Fi & Fantasy Shows, Kids' Shows, Music & Variety Shows, The Icons, The Awards, and Anything Goes (a grab-bag of subjects, many of which could have easily been inserted into the previous categories). Open the book to any page, and in addition to twenty or so questions on both pages, you'll get a sharp black & white still illustrating a particular question, along with a couple of background paragraphs by Hofstede discussing the question's context within television history - nice. You may question one or two of Hofstede's assertions in these paragraphs (for instance, he states Diana Rigg's Mrs. Emma Peel was "arguably television's first female action hero," but at the very least, Anne Francis' Honey West beats her to the punch), but the "arguably" gets him off the hook, and besides, that's part of the fun of discussing TV trivia: disagreeing. As for the hard, cold facts contained in the trivia questions themselves, I didn't find anything remotely questionable. The difficulty level for the questions ranges from very easy ("On which cop show will viewers hear the phrase, "Book 'em, Dan-O"?), to tough ("The special two-part Starsky and Hutch episode "The Las Vegas Strangler" features a guest appearance by Lynda Carter. Which role did she play?"). I love entertainment trivia books like Obsessed With TV because you can pick it up any time, and at any place in the book, and pass a few moments (or a few hours if you're truly obsessed), and find something of interest. The game module only adds to that fun. David Hofstede's slickly designed Obsessed With TV is recommended for TV trivia lovers.


Laughs, Luck, and Lucy:  How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All TimeLaughs, Luck, and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time by Jess Oppenheimer - Though you may have never heard of Jess Oppenheimer you've certainly seen his work. He was the creator, producer, and head writer for I Love Lucy. While the title to this memoir (that he started and was completed after his death by his son) is a little bold and filled with bravado, this book isn't.

This funny and very entertaining autobiography is equal parts about Lucille Ball and her first TV show and about Oppenheimer himself. Of course the former is the most interesting and the book covers not only the creation of the show but also some of the classic episodes and story lines. He goes into detail about the reaction everyone had when Lucy announced she was pregnant, and how they were able to convince the network to allow them to write her pregnancy into the scripts.

One of the things that make this book so wonderful is that Jess has a real appreciation for Lucy and her talents and never slights her. He relates just how much talent she had and how she could turn the slightest description into comedy. "We could put down 'Lucy gets up in the morning, she's terribly tired and goes into the kitchen, barely able to feel her way around because she can't' get her eyes open, and makes a cup of coffee.' That's all it would say on the paper. But it would be seven hilarious minutes on the air..." He also used to tell new writers to "come on down to the set and watch Lucy perform your material. She'll make you think you're writers." Overall this is a great book for anyone who wants to look behind the scenes at one of the funniest and most influential televisions shows ever.


King Vidor King Vidor Interviewed by Nancy Dowd and David Shepard - The fourth book in the Directors Guild of America Oral History Series, King Vidor is a fascinating interview with a very important director from the early days of film. Interviewed by Nancy Dowd and David Shepard, Vidor discusses his early life and how he became interested in film, and then proceeds to the meat of the book; talking about his many films.

King Vidor was behind the camera on such successful and diverse films as the silent The Big Parade (1925) and The Crowd (1928) and talkies such as The Fountainhead (1949) and War and Peace (1956). He even directed the Kansas scenes (uncredited) in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Through these interviews he discusses all of these and more, including his recollections of several lost silent films. Vidor comes across as modest but knowledgeable and has many tales to tell of Hollywood stars and people who never quite reached stardom. This is an indispensable book for fans of the history of early Hollywood.

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