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ur-jj.jpgWhat is it?

You are about to enter the courtroom of Judge Judith Sheindlin. The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final. This is her courtroom. This is Judge Judy.

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What is it?

After Bon Jovi’s appearance on stage singing “Wanted Dead or Alive” at the 1989 MTV Music Video Awards brought such rave reviews, the execs at the network were struck with an epiphany. Why not bring bands together that are ordinarily known for playing their music with amplifiers and put them on stage to play their songs without the plugs in the amplifiers? Why not broadcast this show on the network in primetime? And since these instruments were “unplugged” from the amps, why not simply call the show Unplugged? It was a stroke of genius from a group of people who also hired Martha Quinn.

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There's an episode of Family Guy where Joe, Cleveland, Peter and Quagmire are all sitting in a vat of beer at the Pawtucket Patriot brewery, and the conversation drifts to people they'd strike from the face of the Earth if they were God. Joe picks Debra Messing and Cleveland picks French Stewart (incidentally, those are two excellent choices). Quagmire suggests that French Stewart is no Tim Daly and none of the guys know who Tim Daly is. The whole scene culminates in Quagmire storming off because no one likes, knows or has even heard of Wings.

Seth MacFarlane is a pop culture God. They guy could go toe to toe with anyone. He's obviously making fun of Wings as completely generic and inoffensive; the kind of stuff watched by people who don't really think too much about what it is they want to watch (which makes it all the more odd that Peter Griffin had never heard of it). Here's the thing: that's selling the show a bit short.

Is it kind of generic drek? Yeah, probably. But to be totally fair, it ran for 8 seasons, and had a lengthy run in syndication. As far as sitcoms go, it ain't half bad. There are countless shows that are far less watchable than Wings.

Tim Daly and Steven Weber played brothers that ran a Nantucket-based airline. Thomas Haden Church has been reborn in recent years, thanks to Sideways, but his initial birth was as Lowell, dimwitted handyman at the Nantucket airport. And his good-natured idiocy came off charming. Among the other characters at the airport were Fay, the ditzy ticket agent; Roy, the ornery, overweight competitor of Joe and Brian; Helen, the lunch counter girl; and Antonio Scarpacci, the immigrant cabbie played by inimitable character actor Tony Shaloub. Lots of stereotypical characters here (they should have just broke down all the barriers and had a 1940s mobster character holding a violin case and an Asian guy with a triangle hat and buck teeth), but in the context of the show, it didn't insult the intelligence of its audience too much.

So, Seth MacFarlane, if you're reading this: I'm just going to go ahead and assume that this is one of those schoolyard things where you make fun of the things you like the most. This way, you and I won't have a problem.

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Years ago, when cable in every home in America was just a gleam in Bill Nye the Science Guy's eye, networks had a soft spot in their schedule. After The Tonight Show (and its competing late night programming) went to bed, but before The Today Show (and its competing morning programming) went on the air, there was roughly four hours to play with. Some networks went dark entirely (usually by playing the national anthem with a picture of the American flag on the screen), but most of them played the Late Late Show, which was usually a movie old enough to be out of the theaters (but good enough to watch again) or a movie so horrible that it probably wouldn't have ever or shouldn't have ever seen the light of day.

But that didn't stop anyone from watching (if they could stay up that late). The Late Late Show was the movie nerd's outlet, before arthouse went mainstream. It almost always exposed you to something that you would have never seen otherwise: 1950s-era horror movies, Peter Sellers films, 1970s-era TV movies (complete with stereotypical characters, such as OverprotectiveMom™, MolestingRelative™, and BadSchoolmate™).

it was almost better if the movie was bad, because you could sit around and just go to town on it with your friends. It's Mystery Science Theater 3000, except you're the snarky commentator! But no matter how good or bad the movie was, it was so much better than the alternative: bedtime.

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The Book


The Yankee Pot Roast Book of Awesome Underappreciated Stuff
by Geoff Wolinetz,
Nick Jezarian,
and Josh Abraham

Published by
Citadel/Kensington Books.
On sale June 24, 2008.

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