Old TV Is New Again, and Shorter
ANTHONY BROOKS, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Anthony Brooks.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
When was the last time you saw an episode of "The Partridge Family" or who "Who's The Boss?"
BROOKS: When was the last time you want to?
BRAND: Well, I don't know. I don't think ever. But anyway, they're back in altered form beginning this week on MySpace.com. TV critic Andrew Wallenstein has a bone to pick with the Sony Minisode Network.
ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: It was one year ago this week that legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling passed away. We'll never know of what he would have thought of the Minisode Network, which recycles some of his famous shows. But if heaven has an Internet connection, my guess is he's spinning in his grave.
That's because the Minisode format takes episodes of Spelling's kitschiest classics, like "Fantasy Island," "Charlie's Angels," even "TJ Hooker," and edits them down to five minute versions now available on MySpace. Here how quickly this episode of "Charlie's Angels" sets up its premise.
(Soundbite of show "Charlie's Angels")
Unidentified Woman #1: (Unintelligible) railroaded into prison like something out of an old Western movie.
Mr. DAVID DOYLE: (As Bosley) Records showed that Elizabeth was paroled but she hasn't been seen since.
Mr. JOHN FORSYTHE (Actor): (As Charles Townsend) And I've already made arrangements for you three to go to prison.
Unidentified Woman #2: Prison? You've got to be kidding, Charlie.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Woman #3: Okay, girls. Strip down to your birthday suits. Open your towels.
WALLENSTEIN: Okay. Spelling wasn't exactly Ibsen, nor was any of the other dozen shows shrunken down to size, some of which weren't from Spelling. But still, I find the Minisode Network a little depressing. It's like watching a head-on collision between America's ever-shrinking attention span and its bottomless appetite for television.
I can just envision the business meeting where the Minisodes were hatched. Let's see, we've got a trove of forgotten TV shows just gathering dust in our vaults, not making any money, so why not strip them of the non-essentials, you know, character development, plot?
Slap some advertising and put them on the Internet for free. But this just feels wrong.
Okay, I admit I grew up with a lot of these shows in the '70s and '80s, so I'm a little overprotective. We're talking about "Facts of Life," "What's Happening," "Silver Spoons." They weren't classics, I know. But the 10-year-old in me still kind of thinks they are.
The Minisodes don't have any respect for the original material. It's as if these shows have been smushed in the trash compactor. Take one of my favorite sitcoms as a kid: "Different Strokes."
If you didn't grow up in that in that era, you'll laugh at Mr. Drummond's wide lapels or Kimberly's mammoth bangs. But were these episodes not sliced and diced free of an actual story, maybe you'd noticed how incredibly funny Gary Coleman was.
(Soundbite of show, "Different Strokes")
Mr. CONRAD BAIN (Actor): (As Philip Drummond) Did you notice anything unusual about Henry the maintenance man?
Mr. GARY COLEMAN (Actor): (As Arnold Jackson): Yeah. He was wet. I guess the man sweats a lot.
Mr. BAIN: (As Philip Drummond) Yeah, and this time he certainly had a lot of help. Did you do it?
Mr. COLEMAN: (As Arnold Jackson) Do what?
Mr. BAIN: (As Philip Drummond) You know what. Henry was hit from above with a bag full of water.
Mr. COLEMAN: (As Arnold Jackson) No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BAIN: (As Philip Drummond) Arnold? I'm afraid there's just one solution. This calls for a spanking.
Mr. COLEMAN: (As Arnold Jackson) A spanking? There's not enough of me to spank.
WALLENSTEIN: Here's the thing about TV shows. They never die. When one ends its run, it moves on to syndication or maybe into your personal libraries of VHS or DVD. But to live on as a Minisode is something no self-respecting program should have to bear. Let's give the TV of yore a little dignity. Have some mercy and pull the plug.
BRAND: TV critic Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at the Hollywood Reporter.
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