Category: media

A small voice of sanity in Madison

Vicki McKenna, whose on-air presence in Madison and Milwaukee must infuriate their liberals:

How is everyone doing in this time of The Great Pandemic?

I am not taking this coercion well at all. And it’s just beginning.

Now despite what you may think, I am NOT “low risk” for coronavirus complications or death. I am considered moderate risk to ‘at risk’ depending on the “expert” opining. So even though I am a natural skeptic (and cynic) about the press, when I read the stories, occasionally it scares the hell out of me. I am not cavalier about this disease.

But I still want my freedom. I want it more than I ever have. I confess, it never dawned on me how physical my desire for freedom really was — until I started seeing taken away, little by little, piece by piece.

I also never had to fathom the real meaning of “the economy is life” until I saw our government rip it apart business by business, job by job and family by family.

Destroying our economy destroys our nation because it destroys our people’s ability to be free. No amount of “for your own good” proselytizing changes that reality. Freedom isn’t transactional.

How much more can we take before America doesn’t look much like America any longer? I don’t know. We’re a resilient bunch, but every nation has a breaking point. Taking away the choice to live free, even if it’s little by little surely doesn’t make us stronger.

Right now, we’re all slaves to fear. For how long?

Our families must be able to choose to be together. Our citizens must be able to choose to continue their civil and social lives.

I want to choose for myself whether to risk shaking someone’s hand, or seeing my family and friends. I want to choose for myself take the risk of going to church and taking Holy Communion. If I choose poorly, that’s on me. If you choose to reject my handshake, that’s OK, too.

The longer this goes on with no end in sight, the harder it is to see a future unblemished by the soft tyranny we’ve invited into our lives. And it’s only been a month. Imagine 6 months. 12 months.

I want to see kids running around in the neighborhoods again and shrieking in glee so loud the sound pierces through my windows. I want to see groups of friends smiling and laughing as they walk into the local pub on a Friday night after work. I want my best friend’s elderly mom not to be lonely anymore. I want to see my family. I want to go to church.

One thing I can say about this awful mess is that it focused my mind on the things I used to take for granted about this amazing experiment in ordered LIBERTY.

I am not a child in need of protection from the idiocracy we call government. I am grown woman with more than 5 decades of life behind me. I know how to wash my hands and sanitize my environment.

I want to be free to choose–and I trust others to choose as well. Some choose poorly, some choose well. But it’s the freedom to choose in the first place that makes us America. The Great American Experiment CAN fail. It just depends on whether we are willing to let it fail.

Let’s not let “for your own good” become our new motto.

Playboy magazine, 1953–2020

You may wonder why I chose to write about Playboy magazine today.

I have written about Playboy twice in this blog in the past. The first was when Christine Hefner, daughter of founder Hugh Hefner (Bill Clinton’s role model), made a typically stupid political statement. The other was a reference to a Playboy article about the new cars of 1983 that were underwhelming in power,  like most 1980s cars.

Back in my business magazine days our company did work for Playboy, specifically developing and retouching photos for the magazine, which I believe was printed by Quad Graphics, in the days before digital photography and photo software were very prevalent. (Hint: No body is perfect.)

There is, of course, the cultural question of whether pornography objectifies women. One side observes that visual images with the goal of titillation have been around far, far, far longer than Playboy. The other side might be the only point on which religious and cultural conservatives and far-left feminists agree. Talk to people like Dr. Drew Pinsky and they can tell you more than you want to know about the seedy side and corrosive effects of pornography.

Other than the photos, Playboy became known for the Playboy Interview feature, which ran for several pages and was sometimes thought-provoking. The Playboy Interview might have first become famous in 1976, when Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, then a Southern Baptist, not only sat down with a Playboy writer, but admitted he had lust in his heart for women to whom he was not married. That might have become the point when people started reading Playboy for the articles, or so the joke went.

Then, in 1990, Playboy interviewed New York developer Donald Trump. You can imagine how interested people became in that interview a decade and a half later (while widely misquoting Trump about his opinion of Republicans). Hefner, one of the U.S.’ greatest self-promoters, credited himself for Trump’s election.

The thing all along was that Playboy offered really one thing that other men’s lifestyle magazines such as GQ (which, along with occasional nudity that didn’t show off the sexy bits, teaches readers how to spend far too much on clothing) and other highbrow magazines like Vanity Fair — photos of nude women. Other magazines went, shall we say, down-market from Playboy (as you are about to read), and then the genre called “lad magazines” (think Playboy but they’re wearing bikinis) further eroded Playboy’s market share.

Kayla Kibbe writes about Playboy’s approach as of last year.:

“People have been upset about nude women for years.”

That’s what Mike Edison, who has a knack for stating the obvious, has to say. The author of Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers, Edison literally wrote the book on nude women and the exact ways people have been upset about them ever since a naked Marilyn Monroe first graced the pages of Playboy back in 1953.

Flash-forward several decades and a few waves of feminism, and people are still upset about naked women, but often in new and increasingly nuanced ways. These days, the moral outrage publications like Playboy and its racier ilk have long weathered has been augmented by a more liberal-minded brand of criticism: What place, if any, do fading empires built on the backs of nude women and their male gazers deserve in the Me Too era?

That verbiage — “in the Me Too era” — has become a convenient if ill-defined and ultimately lazy way of referring to today’s fraught sexual climate, which has left people across political and ideological spectrums struggling to find their footing in a society in which unprecedented opportunities for sexual liberation, positivity and representation are increasingly plagued by very negative and violent sexual realities.

As Playboy’s executive editor, Shane Michael Singh, tells InsideHook, “It’s an era of simultaneous sexual freedom and panic.” When people question what we can and can’t do, or what can and can’t survive “in the Me Too era,” what they’re really asking is whether we can continue to celebrate sex and sexuality in a world that has so long exploited it for patriarchal benefit.

In keeping with the magazine’s sometimes overlooked history of progressivism — which began but certainly didn’t end with sexual liberation — Playboy has an answer. That answer comes in the form of a revised and relaunched structure and editorial strategy, which the New York Times, with only a hint of skepticism, has called “a newer, woke-er, more inclusive Playboy.” The new revision, one of many but perhaps the most significant the magazine has seen in recent years, reflects a complete editorial and artistic overhaul helmed — for the first time in the magazine’s history — by a young, Hefnerless, and largely female creative team.

The result is a quarterly ad-free magazine in which interviews with democratic candidates and editorials examining the importance of due process in Title IX cases are printed on thick-stock pages alongside nude pictorials of a more artistic and perhaps more thoughtful nature than the leering centerfold gazers of yore might expect.

“We pay close attention to conversations about nudity in today’s culture and consider those dialogues as we think through how nudity can be a medium for exploring protest, free expression, individuality, sexual freedom, rebellion and equality,” Singh says. The cover of the magazine’s summer issue was created by fine art photographer Ed Freeman, whose underwater shoot features three female activists who have lent their support to causes like HIV awareness and ocean conservation.

While the magazine’s newest iteration doesn’t bear much resemblance to Hugh Hefner’s nearly 70-year-old creation at first blush, so-called “woke Playboy” is in many ways a modern-day revision of the ideological tenets that, according to Playboy supporters, have always underscored the ethos Hefner once dubbed “the Playboy Philosophy.”

Playboy has always intrigued a wide range of readers — gay or straight, male or female, conservative or liberal, black, brown or white,” Singh points out. “That’s because our core values — an appreciation of equality, freedom of speech, gender and sexuality, and pleasure — are universal values.”

“We live in a time where people are afraid to talk about sex. That’s heartbreaking,” says Edison. “One good thing about Playboy,” he tells InsideHook, “obviously it comes with some baggage — but it did open the conversation.”

That’s a conversation Playboy seems determined to continue, not in spite of, but rather because of the fraught sexual climate in the wake of the Me Too era.

“While the sexual landscape may be fraught and tense, consumers are hungry for answers — and answers they can trust,” Singh tells InsideHook. “We address our current climate’s sexual tensions not by ignoring the uncomfortable realities, but by confronting them head-on.”

While Playboy critics often question the brand’s relevance and/or appropriateness in a post-Me Too world, such as those who called the 2018 reopening of the Manhattan Playboy Clubtone deaf,” Edison points out that such criticism relies on an ultimately tenuous link between print erotica and sexual violence.

“I don’t believe that talking about sex or looking at a naked model contributes to non-consensual behavior,” he says. “That connection just doesn’t exist for me.” Fortunately, it doesn’t exist for the creative team behind the latest iteration of Playboy, either.

“At Playboy, we recognize that being sex-positive means an individual has the right to explore their sexuality however they’d like, without judgment or regulation, as long as it is consensual,” says Singh.

That culture of consent extends to the magazine’s pictorials as well. In the Times’ August feature, Singh described Playboy’s approach to what he called consensual objectification. “I think objectification removes the agency of the subject. Consensual objectification is the idea of someone feeling good about themselves and wanting someone to look at them,” he explained.

“That’s the key,” he tells InsideHook. “The women (and men) we photograph — and who take the photographs — have agency over the art they’re creating.”

What Playboy’s consensual objectification proves is that sex can still be celebrated not just despite, but as a crucial reaction against the ways in which it has been exploited.

“Awful creeps like the Harvey Weinsteins of the world — he didn’t do that because he read Playboy, or Hustler, or Penthouse,” says Edison. “Eliminating the ugliness of this awful, patriarchal, misogynist bullshit doesn’t mean throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

While Playboy, true to form, has taken an evolutionary lead in the new era of adult mags, it’s not the only publication of its kind to address and adapt to today’s shifting sexual attitudes.

In fact, the magazine’s recent push toward more artistic photography resembles the nude photoshoots that have always graced the thick, glossy pages of Treats!, a fine arts quarterly that was already being hailed as a “modern gentlemen’s magazine” before Playboy even set out on the reinvention project that began with the short-lived decision to drop nudity before reintroducing it in 2017.

“I always try to portray my models artistically,” Treats! founder Steve Shaw said in a 2015 interview with HighSnobiety. “I’m not looking at them physically or sexually — it’s more creatively.”

Today, Shaw maintains that the key to artistic nudity is context. “It all depends on how the nudity is presented,” he tells InsideHook. “I don’t consider Treats! sexual. It is sensual,” he adds. “If you do sexual right, it becomes sensual. It involves a creative and trusting relationship between the photographer and model.”

According to Shaw, however, Playboy and Treats! don’t have much in common. “The only reference is there is nudity, we just do it in a more sophisticated and artistic way,” he says, adding that raunchier flesh mags like Penthouse and Hustler “have far outlived their usefulness.”

Even those racier Playboy successors, however, have made some moves toward a more progressive image in recent years. Under newly-tapped executive editor and White Lung frontwoman Mish Barber-Way, Penthouse is making its own shift to appeal to a younger, more socially conscious audience.

“The goal is smart, high/low content that confronts the culture war while also being able to laugh at the world and, more importantly, ourselves,” Barber-Way told Riot Fest this past March after the launch of Penthouse’s new digital platform.

Like Singh, Barber-Way also feels moved to defend sexual representation and free speech against a growing culture of conservatism. “We’re in a really interesting time right now, because I feel like there’s this really puritanical, Victorian way of looking at sex and sexual interaction that’s coming in,” she told Culture Creator in 2018. “But it’s also in conjunction with this overexposed ‘sex sex sex’ in our face all the time. There’s this clash there.”

While Barber-Way may be less interested in navigating the ideological implications of that clash than the creative team at Playboy — “I think when people try and over-analyze it and dig too deep in it, then it starts to get so complicated and then it isn’t what it was supposed to be anymore,” Barber-Way added on the Culture Creator podcast — she certainly isn’t afraid of getting in the middle of it. “I’m not worried about offending anyone,” she said in the same interview. “That was the whole premise behind Penthouse and Hustler: you’re already offending someone who’s uptight with the fact that there’s sex in this magazine, so why worry about everything else, you know?”

Even Hustler, by far the most unapologetically low-brow of Playboy‘s disciples, can’t help but speak out against the conservative powers that be. Back in 2017, Hustler founder Larry Flynt took to Twitter to offer a dubious $10 million bounty on information leading to the impeachment of Donald Trump. More recently, the magazine has sprinkled progressive editorials asking if “socialism will save us” and if “the war on drugs is finally over” in between the traditional hardcore pictorials Edison calls “borderline gynecological.”

Meanwhile, the industry isn’t just blowing the dust off mid-century titles and refashioning them for a millennial audience. Cooper Hefner, who exited Playboy earlier this year, has announced plans to launch a brand new media platform, which, as he told CNN, will provide thoughtful lifestyle content and journalistic integrity alongside “healthy adult content.” Originally announced as “Hefpost,” the as-yet-unreleased platform appears to have rebranded as “Stag Daily,” based on a link to what seems to be a largely inactive Twitter account in Hefner’s own Twitter bio.

What these relaunches, revisions and new endeavors suggest is that even faced with the exposed underside of dark sexuality in America, a brave new generation of thoughtful, conscientious and consensual sexual celebration is on the horizon. We can toss aside the sordid residue from a bygone era of overt sexuality, yes — but that doesn’t mean we have to throw Playboy out with the bathwater.

Unless you do. Kibbe’s story was written last September. London’s Independent reported yesterday:

Playboy has announced it is ceasing printing its magazine for the remainder of the year amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In an open letter shared on publishing platform Medium, Playboy’s CEO explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the company to “accelerate a conversation” they had been having internally.

Mr Kohn wrote that “as the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic to content production and the supply chain became clearer and clearer” the firm spoke about how they could “transform” its quarterly magazine “to better suit what consumers want today/ And look at how they could “engage in a cultural conversation each and every day, rather than just every three months”.

The Spring 2020 Issue will be the final printed publication for the year.

Mr Kohn explained that Playboy will “move to a digital-first publishing schedule” for all of its content, which includes interviews and pictorials.

He indicated that the magazine would not return to a regular publishing schedule in 2021 and instead would only issue “innovative printed offerings” in the form of “special editions, partnerships with the most provocative creators, timely collections and much more”.

“Print is how we began and print will always be a part of who we are,” Mr Kohn stated.

The Playboy magazine was first launched in 1953 and became widely known for publishing semi-nude and nude images of female models.

In 2015, it was announced that from March 2016 the publication would no longer publish nude pictures.

However, a year later the company backtracked on this decision.

This month, Playboy magazine released its Spring 2020 “Speech Issue”, which the publication said “boasts a remarkable collection of essential voices”.

Following the announcement of the new issue, it was revealed that Jamil had taken on the role of guest editor for the quarterly magazine, in partnership with her I Weigh movement.

As part of her involvement in the issue, The Good Place actor took part in an interview and photo shoot for the issue, for which she was photographed wearing oversized suit outfits.

Jamil stated on Twitter that she specifically wanted to be photographed as a man would be for the shoot, with measures including ensuring none of the images were retouched and she wore comfortable clothing.

This  might be the least surprising business news of the day. Sports Illustrated cut its publishing schedule to more or less monthly, to the point where subscribers don’t know when it’s coming. I fully expect within a year (or maybe much faster given the oncoming coronavirus recession) that SI won’t print anymore. It is practically impossible to cover sports in a monthly, as Sport and Inside Sports discovered. People Magazine can get away with whatever publication schedule it wants, since People prints nothing important. It’s different when your publication is tied to events, including sports.

Playboy Magazine was probably killed by the Internet, where what Playboy offers can be found for free. (Or so I’m told.) But the decision to try to appeal to a woke audience was obviously not the right answer. They’re too, for lack of a better term, sex-negative to pay several dollars for a printed magazine.

To be honest about it, Playboy was only worth reading for the photos. As with every time Rolling Stone or GQ or some other non-political magazine writes about politics, Playboy probably should have stuck to what it could actually do. (Though recall Frank Zappa’s observation that music journalism is writers who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for readers who can’t read.)

A day unlike any other

I mentioned Thursday that I was getting to announce my 16th state tournament in Green Bay Thursday morning.

The radio announcer and visitor in 2015, when the radio guy got to cover two state champion teams.

And I did. But it was, as CBS-TV’s Jim Nantz intones in Masters golf tournament promotions and as I said in my hastily created open, a state tournament unlike any other.

The girls basketball team was already in Green Bay. The high school fan bus, band coach and radio personnel left Thursday morning. About 20 miles on the way to Green Bay, we got a phone call from our guitar-playing son that the bus was going back to Platteville. Less than 12 hours after the WIAA said state would take place according to plan, the WIAA decided the games would take place but without spectators, except for 88 per school.

Suffice to say the ambiance was not what it usually was. At the beginning of the second game, a player was injured. The Resch Center was so quiet that up at the top, you could hear the TV announcers down on the floor.

All this took place while other breaking news was taking place back in Platteville that the newspaper editor (with the assistance of the passenger) got covered as BREAKING NEWS!

Readers know that one of the biggest events of my young life was playing in the band at the 1982 state tournament. I know how incensed I would have been had we been told that we couldn’t play at state. And that’s exactly what happened to our guitar-playing son, who got a shoutout by a team member at Wednesday’s pep rally at the high school. The WIAA’s decision, justified or not, basically ruined the state experience for everyone who wasn’t a player.

We left officially believing Platteville would be playing in the state Division 3 championship Saturday afternoon. Last night, the boys sectional semifinals were played, with the winners also to play Saturday to go to state.

Or not. Between Wednesday night and late Thursday night, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League suspended their seasons, the National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled its basketball tournaments, and Major League Baseball suspended spring training and the start of its season.

And the WIAA announced late Thursday night that state and the rest of the boys postseason was canceled.

In a sense it’s the NBA’s fault, because it pulled the plug first, and, as a radio colleague said, “Monkey see, monkey do,” and everyone followed suit, justified or not.

It is strange to me that the NCAA flat out canceled its tournament instead of postponed it. It is similarly strange to me that the WIAA canceled its tournaments instead of postponing them. The players and coaches absolutely would have jumped at the chance to finish the tournaments in April, or May, or this summer.

I feel also for the people for whom my hobby is their line of work. The Facebook sports announcers group was full of people who are paid per game to announce, for instance, high school and college basketball and baseball. No games, no work.

Gary Wipperman had a similar experience Thursday. His conclusion is that life isn’t fair. And it’s not. And the kids who didn’t get to go to state at all, and the kids who didn’t get to finish the state experience they had earned, learned that the hard way.

This was used once. It was supposed to be used Saturday too.


Stories I never thought I‘d see

At 1:15 or so this afternoon I will again get to announce a state basketball tournament on this radio station.

Someone on a sports announcer Facebook page asked the members how many state tournaments they had gotten to announce. In my case, the answer is five football championship games, three boys basketball tournaments, two girls basketball tournaments (with the right teams winning in each), two spring baseball tournaments, one summer baseball tournament, one boys soccer tournament and one girls volleyball tournament. That list includes six state champions. Not bad for a part-time announcer, who feels very blessed to be able to this as essentially a hobby that, unlike most hobbies, makes money.

And now, this message from the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association:

The WIAA State Girls Basketball Tournament and the boys basketball sectionals scheduled for this week are continuing as planned.

The WIAA Executive Staff has been in continuous discussions with local and state health officials and organizations, as well as other high school associations in the Midwest. We continue to look at all the medical evidence and breaking information regarding COVID 19 to make the best decision possible with the information available to us.

While circumstances may change, all of the leading health resources we have been working with indicate the best way to proceed is to be overcautious and reinforce the universal guidance and precautions to know your health risk, especially those at higher risk for severe illness; wash hands repeatedly with soap or sanitizer; cover your sneeze or cough; keep hands away from your face; and if you feel sick, stay at home.

We will continue to monitor any new information, and if anything changes with our Tournament Series events, we will issue a statement. …

At this time, we have discussed options for continuing to conduct the WIAA Basketball State Tournaments. The staff at the Resch Center has been diligently working to ensure that the 2020 WIAA Girls Basketball State Tournament can be conducted in a safe environment.

  • Obviously increasing all of their cleaning efforts. This includes all departments
  • Wiping down all areas with disinfectants
  • Providing hand sanitizers for all of our staff working the event
  • Providing hand sanitizers available to the public and all of our restrooms will make sure all of our restrooms have hot water and soap
  • Concessions taking extra care with wiping down all counters and equipment
  •  Overnight staff will be cleaning all confined spaces—locker rooms, elevators, meeting rooms will all be sanitized
  • Allowing and promoting if patrons want to bring in their own hand sanitizers or Purell
  • Major signage in the venue both static and electronic with messages provided by the CDC

… While we hear that universities and colleges have been closing their campuses, it is important to keep in mind that their student populations include international students who are returning to campus from spring break and countries which may have been infected more. In addition, those students are being quarantined as they return. …

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that the immediate health risk in the United States is low for the general public.

This is an appropriately measured response by the WIAA.

This, from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, is not:

The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panelBased on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance. While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States. This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed.

An author of my youth

The New York Times:

Clive Cussler, the author and maritime adventurer who captivated millions with his best-selling tales of suspense and who, between books, led scores of expeditions to find historic shipwrecks and lost treasures in the ocean depths, died on Monday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 88.

His death was confirmed by a spokeswoman for his publisher, Penguin Random House. No specific cause was given.

Mayan jungles, undersea kingdoms, ghost ships, evil forces out to destroy the world, beautiful women, heroes modeled on himself — Mr. Cussler’s vivid literary fantasies and his larger-than-life exploits swirled together for four decades, spinning off more than 85 books and locating almost as many shipwrecks.

A college dropout who once pumped gas and wrote advertising copy, Mr. Cussler resorted to a hoax to get his first book published. But his work — mostly action thrillers of the James Bond-Indiana Jones kind, plus nonfiction accounts of his marine quests and a few children’s books — made him a global celebrity.

His book sales have been staggering — more than 100 million copies, with vast numbers sold in paperback at airports. Translated into 40 or so languages, his books reached The New York Times’s best-seller lists more than 20 times, as he amassed a fortune estimated at $80 million.

Mr. Cussler looked like the hero of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” You had to imagine the battered straw hat and the tired shoulders hunched over a gunwale, but after years of roaming oceans and diving for wrecks, he had that seafarer’s husky build and sunburned cheeks, and his face, more sea dog than bibliophile, was flecked with gray: the grizzled beard, the mustache, the eyes, the gray-white hair.

Often compared to the thrillers churned out by Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and Ian Fleming, the Cussler novels featured formulaic plots, one- or two-word titles (“Cyclops,” “Dragon,” “Inca Gold,” “Poseidon’s Arrow”) and frequently a recurring hero, Dirk Pitt, an undersea explorer who cheats death and saves the world as he foils the diabolical plots of megalomaniac villains, while satisfying his taste for exotic cars and lusty women.

For the aforementioned reasons, I inhaled Cussler novels for years in high school and college, as with Clancy’s and Ludlum’s works. I also read Fleming’s works until I figured out that his novels didn’t match the movies that much.

Mr. Cussler was hardly a stylist. Critics called his characters wooden, his dialogue leaden and his prose clichéd (“the cold touch of fear,” “a narrow brush with death”), while praising his descriptions of marine hardware, underwater struggles and salvage operations. But readers were swept along on the page-turning tides, and after his commercial breakthrough, “Raise the Titanic!” (1976), his books were frequently on the best-seller lists for months.

Mr. Cussler also connected with readers by turning his love for scuba diving into an oceanic lifestyle that paralleled and validated his superhero.

He first created the National Underwater and Marine Agency as a fictional government organization that employed his hero in the Dirk Pitt books. Then, in 1979, he founded an actual National Underwater and Marine Agency as a private nonprofit group committed to “preserving maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.” It underwrote his maritime ventures.

With Mr. Cussler leading expeditions and joining dives, the organization eventually located some 60 wrecks. Among them were the Cunard steamship Carpathia, first to reach survivors of the lost Titanic on April 15, 1912, then itself sunk by German torpedoes off Ireland in 1918; Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt’s coastal steamer Lexington, which caught fire and went down in Long Island Sound in 1840; and Manassas, the Confederacy’s first Civil War ironclad, sunk in battle in the Lower Mississippi in 1862.

His first nonfiction book, “The Sea Hunters” (1996, with Craig Dirgo), was an account of his NUMA exploits, some of which were portrayed in television documentaries featuring Mr. Cussler as narrator. Valuable artifacts raised by his expeditions were given to museums or governments.

Mr. Cussler, who named his franchise hero after his son Dirk, acknowledged that Dirk Pitt’s character was his own alter ego. His later novels, many co-written by his son or others, often included himself as a character who saves the day. His son, a daughter and friends were also used as characters in his books.

“I’ve been doing Dirk Pitt for 30 years,” Mr. Cussler told The Times in 2000. “Maybe I can find another writer down the line to take him over. It’s not the money; it’s the fans.

“I’d like to retire,” he continued. “I’m toying with the idea of Pitt having a son who shows up. He’s getting a little long in the tooth. When we started out, we were both 36 years old. Now he’s a little over 40, and I’m pushing 70.”

But 20 years later, he was still churning out books, sometimes two a year. His 85th, “Journey of the Pharaohs: A Novel From the NUMA Files,” written with Graham Brown, is scheduled to be published in March. The Penguin Random House spokeswoman said there are others to be published after that.

Cussler came up with an interesting way to change the Dirk Pitt novels. Though The Mediterranean Caper was his first published novel (which I think I read in middle school), the first novel he wrote was Pacific Vortex! (Exclamation point not mine.) As the publisher’s website puts it, “In a furious race against time, Pitt’s mission swirls him into a battle with underwater assassins-and traps him in the arms of Summer Moran, the most stunningly exotic and dangerous toward disaster, onto an ancient sunken island—the astonishing setting for the explosive climax of Pacific Vortex!”

Spoiler alerts: Summer dies … or so the reader thinks. Several novels later, at the end of Valhalla Rising, “though many lives will be lost, and many saved, it is Pitt’s own life that will be changed forever …” (which itself is a tipoff that Pitt isn’t really in danger of dying in this book) by the appearance of Dirk and Summer Pitt, the old Dirk’s twin children who were conceived during Pacific Vortex! with mother Summer. They then are part of the following novels with old Dirk having learned the unintended consequences of associating with “lusty women” and settling down with one of those lusty women, who appeared first in Vixen 03. (Again, you can see why “exotic cars and lusty women” would appeal to a high school reader.)

Clive Eric Cussler was born in Aurora, Ill., on July 15, 1931, the only child of Eric and Amy Hunnewell Cussler. His father was an accountant. Clive grew up in Alhambra, Calif., a poor student but an avid reader of adventure stories.

“I detested school,” he told Publishers Weekly in 1994. “I was always the kid who was staring out the window. While the teacher was lecturing on algebra, I was on the deck of a pirate ship or in an airplane shooting down the Red Baron.”

He attended Pasadena City College briefly, but left to join the Air Force when the Korean War began in 1950. He became a mechanic, flew supply missions in the Pacific but never saw combat. While stationed in Hawaii, he learned scuba diving and explored underwater wrecks. He mustered out as a sergeant.

In 1955, he married Barbara Knight. They had three children, Teri, Dirk and Dayna. His wife died in 2003. He later married Janet Horvath, who survives him, along with his children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

In California, Mr. Cussler pumped gas, wrote advertising copy and, from 1961 to 1965, co-owned Bestgen & Cussler Advertising in Newport Beach. Later, at the D’Arcy agency in Hollywood, he won several awards.

From 1967 to 1969 he was advertising director of Aquatic Marine Corporation in Newport Beach. In 1970, he joined Mefford, Wolff and Weir Advertising in Denver, where he became a vice president and creative director.

He began writing fiction at home in the late 60s, but his first two books, “Pacific Vortex” and “The Mediterranean Caper,” were repeatedly rejected. Unable even to get an agent, he staged a hoax. Using the letterhead of a fictitious writers’ agency, he wrote to the agent Peter Lampack, posing as an old colleague about to retire and overloaded with work. He enclosed copies of his manuscripts, citing their potential.

It worked. “Where can I sign Clive Cussler?” Mr. Lampack wrote back. In 1973, “The Mediterranean Caper” was published, followed by “Iceberg” (1975) and “Raise the Titanic!” (1976).

Despite an improbable plot and negative reviews, “Raise the Titanic!” sold 150,000 copies, was a Times best seller for six months and became a 1980 film starring Richard Jordan and Jason Robards Jr.

While Dirk Pitt books appeared throughout his career, Mr. Cussler also wrote other series: “The NUMA Files,” featuring the hero Kurt Austin and written with Graham Brown or Paul Kemprecos; “The Fargo Adventures,” about husband-and-wife treasure hunters, written with Grant Blackwood or Thomas Perry; “The Oregon Files,” set on a high-tech spy ship disguised as a freighter, written with Jack DuBrul or Mr. Dirgo; and “The Isaac Bell Adventures,” about an early-20th-century detective, written with Justin Scott.

His nonfiction included “Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed” (1998, with Mr. Dirgo) and “Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt” (2011). Mr. Cussler, who had homes in Arvada, Colo., and Paradise Valley, Ariz., restored vintage cars and had about 100 in his museum in Arvada, including a 1906 Stanley Steamer, a 1913 Marmon and a 1921 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

It’s interesting how superheroes are now big in fiction (particularly on the screen), when Pitt represents, if not a superhero, then someone who can do far more than most people, not merely due to intelligence and strength, but because of a lack of such weaknesses as fear, pain and fatigue, while being immune to legal consequences. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is possibly similar, though in the novels Reacher appears to be somewhereon the autism spectrum in human-interaction skills.

Cussler, Ludlum and Clancy represent a subset of novelist who blends action and well-researched detail. The trend today in such writers as Mark Dawson seems to be toward action at the expense of anything else, including very much character development. Cussler also was part of the trend of being a brand-name author, something that has been taken to considerable lengths by James Patterson. (Then again, Tom Clancy still gets author credit on new books even though he is dead.)

Cussler’s novels were you-can’t-put-this-down-once-you-start-reading books, first, in a sort-of near-future setting. Anyone who can successfully write fiction has to have a great imagination. Perhaps that’s why I remain unable to write fiction, though I have written probably tens of millions of words since I started writing for a living. (That and, as I’ve bemoaned before, my inability to create a plot for said fiction. If the plot points for a novel are lined up like the alphabet, I always get stuck around F.)

Authors are always told to write what they know. I know journalism, but journalists are not superheroes (nor are bloggers or part-time sports announcers), and they are certainly not Men of Action!

If at first you don’t succeed …

I have occasionally written about or posted the art form known as Looney Tunes cartoons.

Someone took the time to blow up Wile E. Coyote, self-described “supergenius,” 80 times in 11 minutes.

Part of Wile E.’s problem may be using the wrong products, given how often Acme’s products fail him …

… unless he doesn’t read the directions.


Yet another sign of our fractured times

CNN warns:

Not even your fonts are safe.
If it feels like everything has become politicized in these hyper-partisan times, there’s more where that came from: Researchers have found that people perceive certain fonts and font styles as more liberal and others as more conservative.

Serif fonts, or the ones with the little flourishes at the end of letters, are seen as more conservative, while sans serif fonts, the ones without the flourishes are seen as more liberal, according to a study published in the journal Communication Studies last month.

For example, study participants saw Times New Roman as more conservative than Gill SansBlackletter, which looks like it belongs on a newspaper masthead, was seen as the most conservative font, while Sunrise, a cartoonish-looking script, was seen as the most liberal.]

“If you think about serifs being used in more formal types of print or communications, maybe they’re viewed as more traditional and sans serifs are viewed as more modern,” Katherine Haenschen, an assistant professor of communications at Virginia Tech and the lead author of the study, told CNN. “There’s a small but significant difference in how people perceive these fonts.”

People also tended to view fonts that they liked as more aligned with their own ideology.

The more that Republicans liked a font, the more conservative they thought it was. The more Democrats liked a font, the more liberal they thought it was — a phenomenon known as “affective polarization.”

Haenschen decided to look into whether fonts can be seen as liberal or conservative after noticing something peculiar while driving through Virginia.

A candidate running for state legislature was using different signs in rural areas than he was in a more liberal college town.

Haenschen used to work on political campaigns, so she said she knew there had to be a reason behind the varying signs.

So she turned to her co-author Daniel Tamul, also an assistant professor of communications at Virginia Tech, and the two decided to test the theory to find out.

Turns out, there was something to it.

Haenschen and Tamul conducted two experiments to shed light on the topic.

For the first, 987 participants were shown the phrase “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” in one of six fonts and styles: Times New Roman regular, Times New Roman bold, Times New Roman italic, Gill Sans regular, Gill Sans bold or Gill Sans italic.

Because the phrase that participants were shown was neutral and didn’t contain a political message in itself, researchers were able to test whether the font itself was actually influencing people’s perceptions.

Participants then rated the various fonts as liberal or conservative, and answered questions about their political party affiliations, their political ideologies, age, gender and race.

For the second experiment, 1,069 participants were shown either the phrase “A large fawn jumped quickly” or the name “Scott Williams” in one serif font (Jubilat or Times New Roman), one sans serif font (Gill Sans or Century Gothic) and one display font (Sunrise, Birds of Paradise or Cloister Black Light).

Jubilat was the font that Bernie Sanders used in his 2016 presidential campaign, while Century Gothic was similar to a font that Barack Obama used in his 2008 presidential campaign, researchers said.

So naturally, Jubilat was viewed as more liberal than Times New Roman, even though they’re both serif fonts. And Century Gothic was viewed as more liberal than Gill Sans, even though they’re both sans serif fonts.

“Even within font families, there are differences in how voters are perceiving them,” Haenschen said.

Researchers didn’t look at why exactly people viewed certain fonts as more liberal or conservative, but Haenschen said that’s something that could be explored in future studies.

So what do we do with the knowledge that even fonts are seemingly no longer neutral?

If you’re someone who works on a political campaign, there are a few implications, Haenchen said.

For one, candidates running for political office should work with professional designers when designing their campaign materials to choose fonts that will be effective.

Secondly, designers should think about whether the fonts they’re using convey any sort of political quality, and whether that political quality aligns with that candidate’s message.

Generally though, the effect that fonts have on people’s perceptions is relatively small, Haenschen said.

For example, if Bernie Sanders changed the font on his campaign materials, there probably wouldn’t be much of a difference in how people see him because he’s already a widely known figure.

The choice of font could, however, make a difference for a new candidate, like someone running for school board, town council or state legislature, Haenschen said. While researchers don’t know for sure whether a font would change people’s perceptions of a candidate, that’s another question that could be explored in the future.

“Does support for something like the Green New Deal change if we market it in a conservative versus a liberal font? I don’t know, and that’s something worth exploring,” she said.

No, the Green New Deal is a stupid idea regardless of font choice.

For what it’s worth, I have switched two newspapers and one magazine from Times to New Century Schoolbook, because the latter has a larger X-height (size of each character) and is therefore easier to read.

In fact I’ve never used Gill Sans for anything, just because I don’t like how it looks. My preference for headlines is a Franklin Gothic variant, in part because it may be named for my favorite Founding Father.

There may be something to this serif vs. sans serif thing, though.

The headline is a serif font. The subhead isn’t, but it’s in authoritative ALL CAPS.


If you hate Joe Buck, don’t read this

Fifty years after Jack Buck announced Super Bowl IV, featuring the Kansas City Chiefs (coached by Hank Stram, Buck’s future radio partner), for CBS …

… Buck’s son Joe is announcing Super Bowl LIV for Fox Sunday.

The younger Buck (whom sports fans love to hate, because, you know, he hates every team) writes of both:

The Super Bowl has never ended in a tie, but my dad’s Super Bowl began with one. It was a beautiful striped necktie, and I would wear it for the Super Bowl LIV broadcast if I could find it. It was his attire that first caught my eye last week when I sat in my home office and clicked on the link that led me to that grainy, black-and-white footage from Super Bowl IV in New Orleans precisely 50 years ago.

I refer to that as my dad’s game because it was the only Super Bowl that my late father, Jack Buck, ever called on TV, even though he did years of them on radio. It was also the last time the Kansas City Chiefs appeared in the Super Bowl, and the only one they won. So this is a full-circle game not just for Kansas City, but for my dad and me.

I noticed the necktie because its kind of funny fashion has come all the way around. So it’s taken 50 years for my dad’s style to be relevant again. When I think of him, I think of how he dressed when he was 70. He was colorblind, and he used to joke that he was one of those guys that got dressed in the dark. Things didn’t match. He needed my mom to lay out his clothes for him, and it started to trend into loud blazers. He looked like Judge Smails in “Caddyshack.” He kind of looked like Ted Knight anyway, but that’s how he dressed, kind of country-club chic, even though he didn’t belong to a country club.

Looking at my dad and Pat Summerall, I see two guys coming off a big night on Bourbon Street. They’re sweaty, my dad’s a little bloated, and I can tell they had fun. They weren’t stressed about doing the broadcast like I will be before this year’s Super Bowl. I’ll be tucked in my bed with eye pillows on, and his eye pillows were coasters at a bar. I’ll try to go to bed by 10 or 11, and I’ll probably lay there for an hour and a half. I’m sure he probably knocked himself out with four Manhattans and went to sleep whenever he laid down.

My dad’s wearing a monstrous headset that goes entirely over his ears — my dad and I were blessed with rather large ears — but they’re tucked in there. And the neck contraption holding up a stick microphone just doesn’t look comfortable. You’re already on national TV and trying to do a Super Bowl, and you’ve got two guys that are crammed into a tight space. They look like they’re on top of scaffolding on the roof of Tulane Stadium. It looks makeshift to me.

Troy Aikman and I will be at Hard Rock Stadium, and we’ve already scouted it out. We’ve got a green screen and all sorts of snacks laid out, a Keurig machine, and we’ll both have thick rubber mats beneath our feet because we’re standing the majority of the game. My dad and Pat look like they’re fishing off the bridge at Lake Pontchartrain down there.

If I count the monitors in front of Troy, I’ve probably got 10 screens I can look at. I’m sure they had one tiny, grainy monitor that was hooked up to the truck. The picture quality probably felt like it was from “The Flintstones,” with a pterodactyl inside carving it out of stone.

They do not have the “best seat in the house.” They’re in the “Uecker seats” up there. This Sunday, I’ll be splitting the 5 and the 0 of the 50-yard line, and I will be midway up. I’ll have the best seat in the house in a place where the get-in price is $5,000.

Also, I’m sure my dad doesn’t have a bathroom nearby. That’s my No. 1 fear and the first thing I check out before I’m doing a big game. How close is the bathroom? In this case, in Miami, it’s just outside our booth door. I think for him, he probably had to go through a “Mission Impossible”-type pulley-and-lever system to get down to the main press box so he could go to the bathroom.

The commercial breaks are longer in the Super Bowl, so I don’t have to regulate my fluid intake before the game. If the bathroom is easily accessible, I don’t worry about it. But in places like Cleveland, it’s a dead sprint to get to the bathroom and back. My dad told me when I was just starting my career at 19, “Don’t ever run to a microphone, because you’re going to be out of breath, and you’re never going to catch up. You just start talking right away.” It’s virtually impossible in some stadiums to get back to the microphone in time. There, if I didn’t run, you wouldn’t hear me on first or second down. Sunday, I’m good to drink as much tea and coffee as I need. I’ll probably go through about six hot teas, two bottles of water and at least two coffees.

In the Super Bowl IV broadcast, if they were any closer to the camera, their noses would be smudging up against the lens. Troy and I have plenty of room in the booth. If my dad’s camera shot is indicative of how much room they had, there weren’t a lot of people up in the booth with them. We’ll have at least 10 people in the booth to make us look smart, including editorial consultant Steve Horn, who has been my right-hand man for 25 years.

Then you have a makeup person. I’m sure my dad and Pat just pulled up their ties and went on national TV. We’ll have makeup “artists” come in and try to defend us against high-definition television. I’m sure my dad put no thought into his outfit or looking “shiny” on air, and yet it’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing that appears out of the ordinary. It works.

There’s a beauty to the simplicity of the broadcast, a nice pace to it. It’s more of a radio commentary because both guys were coming over from radio, and people’s pictures at home were not high-definition, 65-camera shoots. Back then, you had to buttress the pictures with words to try to describe the action, because the video wasn’t what we present today.

The differences are in technology, and how crisp the pictures are in 2020, and how fuzzy it was back then. The audio is so much better now too. But overall, what Pat and my dad did back in 1970 is not a whole lot different than what Troy and I will do Sunday. They were two guys watching a game and giving their observations.

I’m seeing my dad at his best. Before age set in. Before Parkinson’s took hold. Before he went through lung cancer. Before he had diabetes and a pacemaker. Even the stresses of life. I’m seeing my dad at his peak. And I didn’t know him then. I was 8 months old, but I never knew him as that man. It’s crazy to sit in my office, turn on YouTube, and in some ways do research about the Chiefs and their Super Bowl history, and have my dad brought to life for me by people who restore this old footage. I’m so thankful because they’re presenting my dad to me like he’s broadcasting last week. It’s a lot of things that are brought to a head with one click of a mouse.

My dad makes a small mistake right at the beginning of the broadcast, then corrects himself. That gets me. It hits me like, “Oh my God, he makes a mistake.” These days, you try to be perfect in large part because of social media. You try to be fluid and brilliant, and never say something stupid. And in the case of a Super Bowl, you’re on the air for four hours on live TV in front of 115 million people, and you’re going to say stuff that people don’t like. You’re going to say stuff that people think is stupid. You’re going to misspeak and correct yourself.

Back then, without the pressure of social media ready to eviscerate you from people who have no idea what it feels like to be in that spot, I think they were just freewheeling and having fun. More than anything, I hear my dad and Pat relaxed. Even though national television broadcasts back then were still relatively new, and I’m sure there was an element of fear and unknown, those two still were able to be themselves.

Today, whether you’re an official or Jimmy Garoppolo, who has taken his team at 15-3 to the Super Bowl, all you hear is criticism. All you hear is, “Yeah, but he can’t do this…” I hear it too. Eventually, that stuff takes the fun out of it. I think for my dad, and certainly for Pat, they had fun. They felt little stress going into a game.

Stress is all I feel. It’s this weird pressure to try to be perfect on something that isn’t perfect, on a live event. It’s impossible to be perfect, and yet that’s the standard I hold myself to, and it takes a lot of the fun out of it.

After every game, I take two Tylenol. That’s pressure. It’s why I see a chiropractor. It’s why at the end of the game, the tension is in the back of my head at the top of my neck, because I’m standing up the entire broadcast, and I’m almost hunched over looking down over the ridiculous number of monitors we have to try to see the near sideline, to try to see the entire field. You’re almost holding your breath while you do it. I broke my neck in high school playing football, and I guarantee you whatever atrophy or disintegration I have in my spine is where the tension sits.

I remember my dad sitting at the kitchen counter, coffee steaming, cigarette lit. He would be writing the names and jersey numbers of players onto an 8-by-10-inch piece of paper he would Scotch tape to a corkboard. In the booth, a spotter hired just that day would push thumbtacks into whichever names were on the field for each play.

Using a program developed by Troy, I have a color-coded, spiral-bound spreadsheet I fill out on for each game. My spotter and stat guy, Bill Garrity and Ed Sfida, are so important to me that if they didn’t make their flights from Atlanta and Philadelphia, I might not be able to do the game.

I have had the opportunity to call some of the iconic plays in Super Bowl history, including the David Tyree helmet catch, when the New York Giants beat New England the first time. My call of that catch makes me cringe, because people said, “You weren’t over-the-top crazy on the air about how good that catch was.” The simple reason was, I couldn’t see it. It was really hard to see clearly from my angle. The last thing you want to do is to pull a groin muscle calling the Tyree catch, and then they come back and blow the whistle and say incomplete. Then you look like the idiot, and that’s all people remember.

Troy and I are on camera at the beginning of the Super Bowl broadcast. When Troy’s talking, I’m thinking: “Remember to smile so I don’t look like I’m nervous. Look back at the camera because that’s who you’re talking to.” A lot of times, I’ll picture my kids on the other side of that camera. Back when I did my first major event, in 1996 doing the Yankees’ World Series, I pictured my dad on the other end, like I was talking to him.

When Troy and I were paired in 2002, we would almost write out our on-cameras segments like we were doing a scene from “Hamlet.” Now, even though we’re going to be doing this game for over 100 million people, we really won’t talk about what we’re going to say in the “open” until we actually do it. We’ll rehearse it once, maybe twice, but we don’t have exact words. And if you don’t have exact words, then that forces you to really listen to the other person.

The other thing I try to do is try to get Troy to smile. If there’s one thing Troy has over everybody doing TV football is he’s got a great laugh. If we make a mistake in the game, we’re going to try to laugh at it. We’re going to enjoy each other’s company.

Troy will tell you that it’s just as intimidating when that red light comes on as it was for him to throw his first pass. And then you just kind of settle in. Back then, he was worried about a wet football in his first Super Bowl, at the Rose Bowl. He didn’t sleep the night before. He was deathly afraid of a wet football. We don’t have to worry about wet footballs or wet microphones, or wet anything. We’ll have a good grip on everything.

I wouldn’t even have realized that my dad called Super Bowl IV, but for CBS’ Jim Nantz mentioning it at the end of the AFC championship game between the Chiefs and Tennessee Titans. I’m appreciative beyond words that Jim pointed that out. Because for some reason over the years, it’s almost like you don’t really talk about the other network. Whether it’s CBS, NBC, ESPN … and yet we’re all friends. Everybody knows that CBS just did the championship game, and they’re finishing up and they know that the next game is on Fox. Things have changed over the years, and that’s refreshing.

I don’t know him that well, but I know him well enough to know how genuine he is. He did that because he knew it would be cool for me. I sent Jim a text saying, “That meant the world to me, but you brought my mom and my sister to tears. I’ll never be able to repay that on air.” That was a gift from a guy at another network who had nothing to gain.

If I could find that necktie my dad wore, I’d wear it. I think I’ll wear his watch this Sunday. He gave it to me one day at breakfast when we were broadcast partners on St. Louis Cardinals radio. I was 23. He said, “Let me see your watch.” I took my watch off, he took his off and said, “I want you to have this.” It was a gift from his employer for his years of hard work, and he wanted me to have it.

I think my dad would be proud Sunday and glued to the TV.

If he were alive, I’d call him after the game and ask him about the job I did. When I dialed him in October of 1996, after calling Game 6 of the World Series, he acted like he didn’t know what time the game was coming on, as if he didn’t watch any of it. Then, after a pause, he said: “It was great, Buck. It was great.” And he handed the phone to my mom.

The next day, I called home and said, “What was with Dad last night?” And she said, “He was crying so hard that he couldn’t talk.”

Back when I had ambitions for the big time in my career, I would have been envious. I have figured out over the years that doing sports broadcasting as a side thing is more enjoyable, given what I’ve seen about radio management. TV announcers today get pilloried for bias that isn’t necessarily there. (In my experience announcers sort of root for the team that’s behind because they’d like a good game.) Fans don’t necessarily like to hear bad news about their team. And certainly social media will, as the younger Buck points out, jump on announcers for things viewers don’t like.

The Super Bowl IV broadcast is also interesting because of the announcers’ (future) history. Jack Buck had just been promoted to the St. Louis baseball Cardinals’ top announcer position after Harry Caray was fired after the 1969 season. Buck had been hired to announce Cardinals games, then was fired (to make way for Joe Garagiola), then was rehired. At the same time, Buck was working for KMOX radio, the Cardinals’ flagship (owned by CBS), while announcing American Football Leagues (and at least one college basketball game) for ABC-TV.

After the AFL moved from ABC to NBC, Buck moved to CBS-TV in the era when CBS had announcers dedicated to teams. He announced not the Cardinals, but the Bears for two seasons, then the Cowboys, which made him part of the Ice Bowl announcing team.

The pairing of Buck and Summerall ended during the 1974 season, when CBS Sports president Robert Wussler decided that Buck and Summerall sounded too much alike. (That is curious since arguably Summerall and Ray Scott, Summerall’s first play-by-play guy, sounded even more alike.) Summerall, who had worked for years on WCBS radio in New York before going to TV, said he wanted to do play-by-play, so he was paired with Tom Brookshier, with whom he had worked for NFL Films. Buck was paired with Wayne Walker (later a long-time San Francisco TV sports anchor and 49ers announcer), then left for NBC, only to return to CBS two years later … all the while announcing Cardinals games.



I say, what’s on the telly?

The Decades channel apparently carries old TV, which remains increasingly popular the farther away we get from those old shows’ original broadcast dates.

That includes shows that weren’t produced in the U.S. (Or North America, given how often Toronto and Vancouver substituted for U.S. locations in the 1980s, apparently a tax thing.)

Decades lists several British TV shows that came here in the ’60s, including a few I watched. Unlike the many British shows that showed up on PBS, including “Upstairs Downstairs,” these showed up on CBS, NBC and ABC.

The British Invasion went beyond the Beatles and Herman’s Hermits, beyond music in fact. Perhaps more so than any other time, the 1960s saw Americans devouring British pop culture, from Mary Quant’s miniskirts to Mary Poppins. James Bond was the king of the big screen and MG advertised its cars in magazines.

Naturally, this carried over to television. The spy craze led to an influx of British television productions on American networks. Here were shows produced in the U.K. on the Big Three networks in primetime. Often, the imports were plugged in as summer replacements. Some of these shows were so massive — or used American actors — it’s easy to forget they were English.

Here are nine British shows with their American network and year of U.S. premiere. They were all action series. No comedies made it over the pond to network primetime, because some things just don’t translate culturally, despite the fad. In fact, the only thing that didn’t seem to click with 1960s Americans (at first) was Monty Python. The comedy troupe’s Flying Circus premiered on the BBC in 1969, but would not turn up on PBS for half a decade.

The Avengers

ABC, 1966

Though it now struggles against Marvel blockbusters in Google searches, the Avengers were once popular enough to merit its own (and admittedly regretful) cinematic remake in 1998. The sexy, tough Emma Peel and the posh John Steed made for a perfect pair, first appearing together in the fourth season in 1965. ABC paid a handsome $2 million for 26 episodes in 1966, affording the series high production values.

I actually watched the decade-later sequel, “The New Avengers,” before the original. Both were on CBS after the 10 p.m. news before David Letterman left NBC.

The Baron

ABC, 1966

Novelist John Creasey cranked out hundreds of books, page-turning adventures with characters like Gideon of Scotland Yard and the Baron. The latter earned a television adaptation with American actor Steve Forrest in the title role as John Mannering, an antiques dealer and undercover agent. Filmed in the U.K., the dialogue was overdubbed to change terms like “petrol” to “gas,” etc. Like any good agent, Mannering had an enviable car, a Jensen CV-8 Mk II.

The Champions

NBC, 1968

Why did the title have to cover up Alexandra Bastedo’s face in the opening? (Not to mention the other two.) The stunning blond would at least get to show her features on the cover of a Smiths album in 1988. Bastedo, Stuart Damon and William Gaunt starred as a trio of agents for Nemesis, a United Nations intelligence agency based in Geneva. The three trotted across the globe, taking down Nazis and madmen.

Journey to the Unknown

ABC, 1968

Iconic horror house Hammer Film Productions Ltd. turned out this deliciously dark anthology series that featured American stars such as George Maharis and Patty Duke. In the episode “The Last Visitor,” Duke plays a woman stalked at a resort. It fits nicely alongside series like Thriller and Night Gallery.

Man in a Suitcase

ABC, 1968

When Patrick McGoohan jumped from Danger Man (a.k.a. Secret Agent) to The Prisoner, much of the Danger Man crew shifted to this espionage thriller. Like The BaronMan in a Suitcase featured an American actor in the lead. Unlike the jet-setting spies of the era, this show’s hero, McGill, was pushed into the shadows, a disgraced CIA agent forced to resign and take work where he could find it. With its gray morality and increased violence, this Man was ahead of his time.

The Prisoner

CBS, 1968

The brilliant blend of spy thriller and science-fiction became a cultural touchstone despite lasting a mere 17 episodes. The premise — an agent being held on a mysterious resort island — has been repeated, parodied and referenced countless times over the last half-century. Some fans theorized that McGoohan’s character, No. 6, was in fact his earlier character John Drake of Secret Agent/Danger Man. The actor denied it, yet the debate rages on. It is fascinating to view The Prisoner as a Secret Agent sequel.

The Saint

NBC, 1967

Before Roger Moore slurped his shaken martinis as James Bond, he was another dapper secret agent, Simon Templar. The adventures were based on the Templar novels originally written by Leslie Charteris in the 1920s and ’30s. In the early black and white episodes, Moore breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, though the gimmick was given up when the series went color. In 1997, Val Kilmer starred in a Hollywood remake.

“The Saint” also had a decade-later sequel.

Secret Agent

CBS, 1965

Sing along now: “Secret… AY-gent Man! Secret… AY-gent Man!” The twangy Johnny Rivers theme song helped popularize this American retitling of Danger Man, and the tune was later covered by Devo and stuck in the first Austin Powers movie. But this was far more than a catchy song, with McGoohan’s John Drake taking on realistic Cold War threats.


Syndicated, 1968

Puppet action! Just how popular were these marionettes? In 2015, Amazon Prime launched a new Thunderbirds Are Go series, though sadly it was computer animated, not controlled by strings. The inventive creation of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson was the Voltron for 1960s kids, mixing the family dynamics of Lost in Space with the low-budget thrills of playing make-believe with dolls. There was some serious special effects talent at work here. Effects director Derek Meddings went on to work on James Bond and Superman films. Miniature models beat CGI every time.

“Thunderbirds” was preceded by …

… both of which were on TVs all over the U.S. in the 1970s.

There were other series that didn’t make it over here, either because they wouldn’t translate well (or were already here in a different form) …

… or because Americans couldn’t understand the thicker British accents:

PBS viewers got to see “Inspector Morse” …

… who looks an awful like DI Jack Regan of “The Sweeney.” In a neat touch, the sequel put Morse’s young partner in a series of his own …

… with a young partner of his own.


Rick Esenberg dares to write in The Cap Times following this published, then depublished, cartoon:

If the American people reach a consensus on anything, it is our politics are too polarized. We falsely believe that every election is existential and while we all say that we love America, many of us seem to hate that half of the America who are on “the other side.”

How does this happen?

Neither side is free of blame, but a recent political cartoon by Mike Konopacki accompanying a column by Dave Zweifel in the Capital Times is instructive. Their target is a lawsuit filed by my organization, The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which seeks to force the Wisconsin Elections Commission to take certain steps to deactivate outdated registrations of people who have moved from — and are no longer eligible to vote at — addresses at which they are registered. I am depicted as a hangman holding and surrounded by nooses. You can vote, I say, but only if you jump through some hoops. The unmistakable subtext is a lynching.

Our case does not seek to deny anyone the opportunity to vote. It is possible that a relatively small number of people who have not actually moved will have to return a prepaid postcard saying so or, if they fail to do that, re-register to vote online, by mail or at the polls on Election Day. But they will all get to vote. To say that what we are doing is somehow the moral or metaphorical equivalent of having a mob pull you from your home and hang you from a tree is fever swamp insanity. It turns a relatively technical disagreement about the trade-offs between the ease of voting and election integrity into an overwrought drama about voter suppression and the future of “democracy.” It trivializes real evil and portrays everyday political opponents as monsters.

It is this type of vile and disgusting hyperbole — far more than Russian bots or inscrutable “dog whistles” — that has us at each other’s throats. Before people like Zweifel and Konopacki engage in unctuous and performative throat clearing about social justice, they need — to paraphrase the left — to check their own hatred. It may just be that their enemy can be found in the mirror.

Let me explain what our case is about. Wisconsin participates in a consortium called the Elections Registration Information Center established in association with the Pew Charitable Trusts. ERIC, as it is known, uses data matching techniques to identify persons who appear to have moved from the addresses at which they are registered. Voters get on the ERIC “movers” list by providing an address other than the one they are registered at in an official government transaction. In other words, the source of the information is the voter.

The Wisconsin Elections Commissions agrees that the ERIC movers list is largely accurate. The overwhelming majority of voters who it identifies as having moved have, in fact, moved. As a result, they are no longer eligible to vote at their old addresses. Removing their outdated registrations does not “purge” voters; it is an effort to comply with federal and state requirements to maintain accurate voter rolls in the interest of election efficiency and to reduce the opportunity for fraud.

The movers list is not perfect. No method of maintaining ballot integrity and accurate voter rolls ever will be. A small percentage of persons on the list may not have moved. No one knows what that percentage is, but we think, based on past experience, that the percentage of voters listed as movers who have actually moved is on the order of 94-96%.

We do not argue that anyone listed as a mover be automatically stricken from the rolls. State law provides a number of safeguards for those who may not have moved. It requires that voters identified as movers be informed of the fact and given an opportunity to continue their registrations. If they fail to do so, they may re-register by mail or online prior to the election. If they forget to do that (or overlook the notice), they can re-register when they go to vote on Election Day.
When it comes to ballot integrity, voter rights are on both sides of the balance. Even isolated voter fraud cancels lawful votes. When it comes to convenience at the polls, having multiple people registered at the same address is a bad idea. We can disagree about how best to deal with these issues. We can argue about what the law requires.

But to treat the other side as criminals, fascists, Jim Crow-racists or deplorables generates all heat and no light. It is a perfect example of what is wrong with us today.

David Blaska adds:

The Capital Times gave up persuasion long ago in favor of reinforcing the ignorance of its readers. 

Not until after he left office did “Dane County’s progressive voice” have a good word to say about Tommy Thompson, four times elected by the people of Wisconsin. History is recording Tommy as the most consequential governor of the last half of the 20th Century — and much the beloved. 

So it came as a surprise that the publication actually yanked a political cartoon after conservatives complained.

Perhaps this was Esenberg’s first exposure to The Capital Times. Cartoonist Mike Konopacki is nasty and ignorant for breakfast and hateful the rest of the time. Blood-drenched capitalist fat cats (always men) press their wingtips onto the necks of the proletariat in Konopacki world. As subtle as a May Day parade in Red Square. …

In other words, no different from your average Capital Times editorial. In the same edition this headline brays over a name-calling editorial:

“Trump and his toadies fear Wisconsin voters”

Here is how that editorial seeks to persuade:

Donald Trump is a pathetic shell of a man who fears a fair fight … [a] sad story of a son of privilege who could never succeed on his own.

Does getting elected President of the United States count as succeeding? If so, that pathetic shell of a man can thank the deplorable toadies who swung Wisconsin his way over Hillary Clinton in 2016. (And who still leads, or is within a few percentage points, of the top Democratic challengers this time around, according to the Marquette Law School poll.) …

Blaska’s Bottom Line: Political cartoons are supposed to be offensive. But kudos to conservatives for turning the tables on the perpetually grieved. A dose of their own snake oil.