Saturday, January 30, 2010

Recommended Reading

The BBC has an interesting piece up examining why voters tend so often to take political stands antithetical to their own interests.  This was discussed at length a few years back in the book What's the Matter With Kansas by Thomas Frank (also interviewed in the article), but it gained renewed discussion after last week's Massachusetts special election signaled a potentially lethal setback for health reform (prompting the president yesterday to -- at long last -- chastise congressional Republicans directly for grossly distorting his agenda -- "You’d think this was some Bolshevik plot!”).

Friday, January 29, 2010

See Monkeys

Remember that feeling you had back in '99 when the credits rolled on Star Wars: Episode I? The feeling of trying to convince yourself that this was, in fact, a great movie, and not, in fact, a fiasco of epic proportions? Well, that didn't happen with me. I knew it was a turd the minute it ended, despite all my friends' gritted-smile protestations to the contrary.

Of course, it was an entirely different story two summers later when I walked out of the AMC after first seeing director Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes. Confusion, frustration, and outright anger were duking it out for real estate inside my head, but there I was gamely smiling through grinding, gritted teeth, exclaiming to all who would listen, "It was great! No, really, it was great!"

It wasn't great.

The movie opened to what was, at the time, one of the biggest opening weekends of all time, so I can only assume there were a lot of other disgruntled fans out there just like me. Fans of the 1968 original and its four sequels who'd waited for Hollywood to finally, finally revisit the Planet of the Apes well after a twenty-five year dry spell, and who were rewarded with a donkey kick for their troubles.

It took another week, and one of the biggest second week drops of all time, for cold, hard reality to smack me in the back of the head like a handful of flung poop. Not only was the Burton Apes no good, its stench was so foul that it killed the reborn franchise in the cradle (probably a good thing, in this case), and effectively poisoned the well for the Apes brand.

Or so I thought, anyway.

I guess in hindsight it doesn't make much sense to leave Apes festering on the shelf when down-and-out properties like Batman, Hulk, and Star Trek can be dusted off without much bench-time and revived successfully. After all, back in the early-to-mid '70s -- a world before Trek became big, and before Star Wars existed -- Planet of the Apes was the Tiffany's of successful sci-fi properties, and the massive opening of the '01 remake proved there was still an audience out there.

Over the past year or so, there had been whispers of another Apes in the offing at Twentieth Century Fox, and it appears those rumors may have some fact behind them based on this report from the Vulture. Mercifully ignoring the Burton film, this new take would itself be a new take on Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth part of the original five-movie cycle.

Notable for its stark, minimalist aesthetic (a necessity really, given the ten bucks they had for a budget) and its dark subject matter, the original Conquest (set in 1991 -- the world of tomorrow!) depicts the downfall of human civilization and, through a sci-fi friendly time paradox, sets the stage for Chuck Heston to lay the smackdown on those "damned, dirty apes" two-thousand years hence (and four movies ago).

I'm assuming the new take (with the working title Caesar, for the Chimp Guevara played by Roddy McDowall the first time), would dispense with the time travel headaches and focus solely on the mechanics of the ape revolt, allowing, perhaps, for further sequels down the road.

There's potential here for something interesting, but I do find it worrisome that scribe/director Scott Frank, who shepherded the project from its inception, has been shown the door due to the studio preferring something a bit lighter than Frank's dark take. Human subjugation is such feel-good stuff, after all. Then again, this is Twentieth Century Fox, the same studio that rushed the Burton flick into production just to beat a threatened writer's strike, resulting in the mess they got.

Still, the mere fact that there's movement at all on what I assumed to be a dead property is a sign of hope. I hope. Will Apes speak to audiences anew? Given these recent developments, I'd have to say it's a matter of "when," not "if," but the real question is whether whatever project ends up hitting the screen will be worthy of its name and our time, or whether it'll be as instantly-forgettable as the franchise's last time at bat.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn, RIP

Some sad news broke yesterday that historian, author, and longtime social activist Howard Zinn had passed away at 87 of a heart attack.  Zinn, whose firsthand experience as a veteran of the second World War informed much of his worldview, was an early opponent and critic of not only our recent adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, but even going as far back as Vietnam. 

My discovery of the author occurred in a somewhat sideways manner when I picked up his signature work, A People's History of the United States, arguably one of the most important political tracts of the last half century, after hearing it name-checked by the leads in 1998's Good Will Hunting.  That was no accident, it turns out, as writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were longtime friends and fans of the author, and clearly his political bent rubbed off on them a little bit. 

Later on, I saw Zinn interviewed on, of all things, a documentary featured on the Rambo DVD set, weighing the cultural impact that Sylvester Stallone's character played on the national mood of the '80s.  Most recently, in a short op-ed published by The Nation, Zinn offered his (final) impressions of the Obama presidency after its first year:
"I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president - which means, in our time, a dangerous president - unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction."
While I didn't necessary agree with everything Zinn had to say, his contributions to the discourse (which I often linked to on this blog) could always be counted on to be unfailingly erudite and unflinchingly honest.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Demographic Distress

Monday's Tonight Show rerun, from way early in Conan's run, showcased a comedy bit (here and here) with the host incognito at a focus group to get impressions from senior citizens of his younger-skewing comic style and if it would play at the earlier hour.

While the skit was amusing enough the first time, it takes on added resonance given, obviously, how the story ended, but especially when taken together with this piece from late night maven Bill Carter (already at work, no doubt, on Late Shift II: The Revenge).

In analyzing the now-unemployed talker's ratings by demo, Carter finds that O'Brien's youth appeal, famously touted by NBC as the reason for making the switch in the first place, may well be what ultimately did him in at the higher-pressure 11:35 slot.

From THE ONION...

'I Don't Even Want To Be Alive Anymore', a most enlightening op-ed by Rush Limbaugh.

On TARGET

While I generally find it difficult to keep up with most series television as it airs, one show I've consistently been enjoying since its premiere a few weeks back is Fox's Human Target. Based on the DC Comics character, Target stars Boston Legal and Fringe actor Mark Valley as bodyguard-for-hire Christopher Chance.

One of the most unique aspects of the show is its evocative, retro-cool title sequence, with music by Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary, that sets the perfect tone of high-style, high-adventure they're (ouch) aiming forCheck out the credits below, and catch Human Target on Fox Tuesday nights.



And just in case you're feeling déjà vu, no, this isn't Chance's first go-round with the telly. He was played by former heartthrob Rick Springfield in a blink/gone Human Target series (produced by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, of the blink/gone Flash TV series) that aired on ABC in the summer of '92. Check out the opening here, and prepare to be shocked that it didn't last.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chin Guarded

With Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show tenure receding into our collective rearview mirror, and the late night furor of the last few weeks gradually dying down, the will they/won't they dance has commenced to determine whether or not O'Brien lands a new show at Fox come fall.  While it may be awhile yet 'till there's anything definitive on that front, here's Mark Evanier again with another lengthy, insightful piece on the Tonight Show transitions and why it's unfair that Jay Leno seems to have been designated the Oil Can Harry in this whole messy affair.

Pernell Roberts, RIP


It's been many years now since actor Pernell Roberts has been in the public eye, so it's a little sad that his presence in the news after so long is due to his passing at 81 after a battle with cancer.  Roberts had been a passionate civil and social activist during his life, and he amassed a proud legacy in that arena.  On television, Roberts is probably most remembered for his role as Adam Cartwright, eldest of Lorne Greene's four rancher sons on TV's Bonanza.  While that show came and went a little bit before my time, my memory of the actor comes from his seven years as the titular lead on Trapper John, MD, a series I first discovered as a five-year old, and which will probably be permanently lodged in my frontal lobe thanks to its terrifically '80s title sequence.

A spin-off of M*A*S*H (officially the film, not the TV series -- though I guess it's sort of irrelevant), Trapper had Roberts taking over the role that Elliott Gould played in the feature (and which Wayne Rogers played, and ditched, on the show) many years removed from his Korean War experiences, now a Chief of Surgery in San Francisco.  Sadly, while Trapper John enjoyed a lengthy seven year run from '79 to '86, it's been mostly forgotten since, unseen in syndication, and unreleased on DVD (which is a surprise, given how popular MASH remains).  Hopefully the unfortunate event of star Pernell Roberts passing will prompt the studio to dust off this hidden gem and share it with the public once again.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Spider's Webb



Following up on my earlier post about Sam Raimi and Sony's mutual parting of ways, and with it the end-as-we-knew-it of the studio's crown jewel Spider-Man franchise, came word last week that director Marc Webb had been signed by the studio to take over.  The planned franchise reboot will apparently take its inspiration more from Marvel's early-aughts comic series Ultimate Spider-Man than the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko books from the '60s that Raimi preferred (to the detriment of the third flick, it turned out).

Webb's sole big screen credit as director up to now is for last year's (500) Days of Summer, which I've yet to see though I hear some good things, meaning he was signed for three reasons: 1) He brings some indy cred to the highly mainstream Spider-series. 2) He comes cheap. 3) His last name allows the pun-tastic headlines to practically write themselves (see above). Now that a new director is onboard, casting news should soon be forthcoming, and we'll start getting a clearer sense of what's planned for Spidey, Mark II.

Recommended Reading

Frank Rich picks apart the aftermath of last Tuesday's Massachusetts senate race, and while emphasizing that the election was not, in fact, a referendum on the president, he nonetheless hits the mark when saying:
Obama’s plight has been unchanged for months. Neither in action nor in message is he in front of the anger roiling a country where high unemployment remains unchecked and spiraling foreclosures are demolishing the bedrock American dream of home ownership. The president is no longer seen as a savior but as a captive of the interests who ginned up the mess and still profit, hugely, from it.
That’s no place for any politician of any party or ideology to be. There’s a reason why the otherwise antithetical Leno and Conan camps are united in their derision of NBC’s titans. A TV network has become a handy proxy for every mismanaged, greedy, disloyal and unaccountable corporation in our dysfunctional economy. It’s a business culture where the rich and well-connected get richer while the employees, shareholders and customers get the shaft. And the conviction that the game is fixed is nonpartisan. If the tea party right and populist left agree on anything, it’s that big bailed-out banks have and will get away with murder while we pay the bill on credit cards — with ever-rising fees.
Of course, this is a muck of Obama's own making, and it's one he's going to have to figure out fast if he has any hope of getting anything thing on his less-ambitious-everyday agenda accomplished.

Conan the Revisited

Believe it or not, the Conan news this week hasn't all been in the "talk show host" category.  Variety broke word on Thursday that Baywatch: Hawaii and Stargate: Atlantis actor Jason Momoa has been cast to play Conan (the Barbarian, not the O'Brien) in a planned revival of the popular pulp and comic character for the big screen under director Marcus Nispel.

The last time author Robert E. Howard's legendary savage stalked the cinema was in two Arnold Schwarzenegger starrers from Universal in the '80s, 1981's Conan the Barbarian, directed by John Milius, and 1984's Conan the Destroyer, directed by Richard Fleischer.  The first one, from a script by Oliver Stone, was gloriously gory, wonderfully violent, and hugely successful.  The second go-round, under the "helpful" eye of uber-producer Dino De Laurentiis, attempted to tone things down for a family audience.  Guess how that ended up?  Hint: There hasn't been another Conan flick for more than twenty-five years.

Since then, with the exception of a truly awful syndicated TV series in the late '90s (don't believe me?  See for yourself), the character has spent the past few decades being tossed around by various productions companies with big plans and little follow-through.  The closest we came was a proposed King Conan project to be helmed by original Conan director John Milius that would have reunited him with Schwarzenegger as a much-older Conan in his twilight years.  That seemed like a sure bet until Arnold decided he'd rather be King of California instead (and we all know how well that's worked out).

Despite the interminable fits and starts, and despite the character's absence from the movies for awhile now, he remains an indispensably iconic part of the pop culture landscape.  While my familiarity with the character admittedly owes more to the lengthy Marvel comic book run than the Howard texts, I think Momoa is a pretty good choice.  He can easily add on the pounds (and pounds) of muscle the roll requires, and he can deliver his dialogue without it sounding like an Austrian tongue twister.  While I'm hopeful this new attempt pans out, it is worrisome to me that Nispel's only credit of note is last year's unfortunate Friday the 13th remake.  As always, we'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan the Conqueror

Last February I used this forum to reflect on Conan O'Brien's departure from the Late Night desk that had been his home for sixteen years.  Here's what I said then:
I wonder if Conan will have the same success now that he's switching things up a bit and moving to LA. I hope so, but I'm somewhat cautious. For me a big part of his show's appeal was how it seemed almost "hidden" at 12:30. While Leno's more big-tent Tonight Show far too often sees him playing to the cheap seats, Conan was a guy who seemed content to crack his friends up, and if everyone else got a chuckle, hey, that's good too.
The easy, unforced nature of his humor is, I think, where much of his appeal lies. From "In the Year 2000" to "Clutch Cargo" to one of the single funniest bits of all time, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's legendary visit to the premiere of Star Wars: Episode II, Conan just did his thing, and it's a testament to how steadily he stuck to it that eventually the rest of us just had to catch up.
It turns out I was more right than even I realized.  And with last night's farewell giving the host his best ever numbers in the slot, I guess folks caught up just a little bit too late.  Still, for those of us who stuck with the lanky talker for the duration (and the one thing I can say about Conan's Tonight Show I can't say about any other version is that I watched every single episode), last night represented a validation and culmination of his brief time there.  And as the highlight reel of the past seven months makes explicit, there's still more to come (probably at Fox, possibly by fall).

In his closing monologue, an at-times emotional O'Brien went out of his way to be gracious to the company that had been so ungracious to him, thanking NBC for the twenty year career the net has given him.  Perhaps more tellingly, and in marked contrast with his Late Night exit speech, he didn't once mention or even allude to the man who preceded him and is now replacing him.  Nonetheless, in imploring viewers to shy away from cynicism and to remember, "If you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen," Conan leaves The Tonight Show with class, and with the wind at his back for whatever comes next.

Here's the closing monologue:



I don't know how long NBC will keep it up, but for now you can also check out the entirety of Conan's final Tonight Show here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

TONIGHT Tonight

When Conan O'Brien embarked on that cross-country sprint last May to usher in his hosting duties at The Tonight Show, there was no reason to think this wasn't the beginning of yet another lengthy and historic era for the show that had kept Johnny Carson gainfully employed for three decades, and Jay Leno nearly two. Yet here we are seven months removed, with Conan bidding "good night" after tonight's Tonight. $33 mil richer, granted, but also owning the unfortunate record for the shortest stint (by a very wide margin) in the venerable franchise's fifty-six years.

Of course, we all know he'll land on his feet somewhere else with something else (and the skyrocketing ratings the last few nights all but assure this), but it's still sad to see the curtain come down so prematurely on what began with such promise. While NBC's Tonight Show mulligan with Jay Leno begins in early March, that still leaves us with one more installment of Tonight a la Conan for what will surely be one heck of a final curtain. Once more, here's the ever-helpful Mark Evanier, whose late night analysis has been peerless throughout this imbroglio, with some more thoughts now that the various contracts have all been signed.

Recommended Reading

My friend and colleague Andy Wood sums up, far more eloquently and intelligibly than I could ever muster, my exact feelings upon hearing yesterday's Supreme Court decision in "Citizens United v. FEC." As rammed through by Chief Justice Roberts and his corporatist cohorts, the ruling is both shockingly shortsighted and woefully wrongheaded, granting corporations personhood and in the process allowing them unfettered sway over our political process and, by extrapolation, all facets of our lives.  Good call, guys.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adjust Your Bookmarks!

That's right folks, after five years and change with "Zaki's Corner" nestled comfortably in the cozy womb of the "blogspot" domain, I've decided to plunk down the small fortune necessary to strike out on my own.* If you'll observe the web address at the top of the screen, you'll note that this site is now located at some shiny new digs: www.zakiscorner.com. Don't worry, nothing much should change content-wise (apologies in advance for that) other than what you need to type to get here.** So, tweak your "favorites" menu accordingly, and spread the word!

* Ten bucks a year. Hey, times are tough!

** Although, given recent events, I should probably check to make sure I still own all my intellectual property.

Fools. Will. Be. Pitied.

A bootleg copy of this teaser hit the web a week or so ago, but I wanted to wait for an official version before posting. The original A-Team is one of those shows I've abstained from revisiting on either DVD or the web for fear that, like many a cherished artifact I've rediscovered in my grownup years, the fond memories from my childhood will come crashing headfirst into the uncomfortable reality of the present. The best thing I can say about this first look at Joe Carnahan's feature is that it looks exactly like my memories. I don't care if it does mark me as a complete troglodyte, I'm so down for this.

Gap Truth

Here's Dave Letterman last night responding to Jay Leno's Monday comments on the "situation." Though I do think it's a bit disingenuous to say he has "no dog in this fight" considering his history with Jay and stated fondness for Conan, Letterman does manage to get in a few good jabs at his former time slot nemesis. As has been noted elsewhere, this whole thing has provided plenty of grist (and ratings gold) for the late night set, but Letterman especially is on fire lately -- using the opportunity for some well-placed schadenfreude and no doubt exorcising some of his own Tonight demons.

Critical Mass.

Yesterday's win for Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special election for Ted Kennedy's unexpired term did more than install a newly-minted Republican senator in what is traditionally the bluest of blue states. The symbolic value for the Republicans in wresting away the seat held for half a century by the senate's Liberal Lion is considerable, and can't be undervalued. This is a rallying cry for them, and a crotch-kick for the Democrats. They fielded a lousy candidate in Martha Coakley who ran a tone-deaf campaign and was soundly beaten for her troubles. Call it political Darwinism.

In my estimation however, the one good thing to come out of the Massachusetts debacle is to finally, mercifully, disintegrate the much-vaunted 60 vote supermajority in the senate that the Dems have both pleaded for and hidden behind at every step when called on to enact any meaningful reform of almost any kind. It's this notion of a so-called supermajority that effectively wrested the center of the party away from the plurality of Democratic legislators and handed it over to the Liebermans, Nelsons, and Lincolns. There's only so much that can be laid on the Republicans' stoop. This one is all on the Dems.

Now, the optimist in me hopes that they -- and specifically the president -- will see this election for the clarion call it is. Not to shift further rightward than they already have, rendering their legislation even more toothless and perfunctory, but to actually be the change agents they told everyone they were going to be, whether in regards to healthcare, job creation, or Wall Street regulation. This election wasn't so much a validation of Scott Brown, who, let's be honest, doesn't represent positive change for any of those things, so much as it was a stark repudiation of Democratic immobilization on those issues, as the polling bears out.

I'm hopeful the majority party realizes this, but again, that's probably just me being optimistic. If history has taught us anything, it's that the Democrats have always had a peculiar knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, so I'm not liking the direction in which the midterms are likely headed. Here's a clip from Monday's Daily Show, already anticipating the Mass. Democratic smackdown, with Jon Stewart hitting the bullseye as per usual.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Taking Back TONIGHT

Here's Jay Leno on Monday night's show addressing the current kerfuffle at NBC. It's straightforward enough, and unless one is preternaturally inclined to view Leno as some kind of Machiavelli manipulating the players from behind the curtain, this at least gives us a reasonable lay of the land from his perspective.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Late Shifting

After all the behind-the-scenes gaming of the past two weeks, those of us who follow TV's late night yak-pack with any degree of interest could be forgiven for thinking we'd flashed back Lost-style to the early '90s.

Back then, the abdication of the late night throne by Tonight Show star Johnny Carson set about a war of succession between Carson's permanent fill-in Jay Leno and Late Night host David Letterman that saw Leno taking the coveted Tonight spot and Letterman acrimoniously bolting for CBS. The drama behind the '92 late night war was chronicled quite effectively in Bill Carter's book The Late Shift (as well as the made-for-cable movie of the same name), from which you can read an excerpt here.

Now, the stated intent behind announcing a Tonight Show succession plan in 2004, with Leno slated to step down five years hence and Conan O'Brien waiting in the wings, was to avoid precisely this scenario and instead have an orderly transfer-of-power. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men, as they say, often go astray, and that brings us to the here and now, with NBC essentially taking a kerosene can and blowtorch to their hallowed late night lineup after having already done the same in primetime for the last several seasons.

The Reader's Digest version for those who haven't followed the story is that the 10 PM Monday-Friday strip Leno had been given as compensation for walking away from his Tonight perch (which I talked about here) didn't quite work out the way NBC had hoped. Its middling quality (which wasn't, in all honesty, that much different from his Tonight) and regular fourth-place finish had begun to bring down the rest of the net's primetime sched and was making it tougher for local newscasts to retain an audience.

This, coupled with Conan's lowered ratings on Tonight (before the proverbial poop began to fly last week, he had lost more than half of Leno's average audience, and was regularly beaten by both Nightline on ABC and Letterman on CBS), has led the net's execs to (again) move the pieces around the board hoping for a checkmate. After an attempt to slot Leno at 11:35 and O'Brien at 12:05 was soundly rejected by the latter, it now appears that Conan's Tonight tenure will end this coming Friday -- barely seven months in -- and Leno will retake his still-warm chair mid-February. Feeling whiplashed yet?

What's been most interesting to see has been all the "I'm with Coco" stuff that's gone viral over the last week, and the ensuing dogpile on Leno for what many presume to be his behind-the-scenes scheming to get back the job he never wanted to leave anyway. While I've been a regular viewer of the O'Brien Tonight Show since it began last Spring, and while there's no doubt he's getting royally shafted in this whole thing (well, not too royally, given his $30-plus mil "walk away" settlement), I'm wondering where this so-called "Team Conan" was when he was getting trounced nightly in the ratings.

I also think it's probably unfair to make Jay take it on the you-know-what (though the other late night talkers have sure had fun making merry sport of him lately) for many decisions that are out of his hands. No doubt, it doesn't look great that Leno's "reward" for failing at a venture that was ill-advised to begin with is to be handed back one of TV's most venerable brands, booting his successor off in the process. Still, it could just as well be argued that Conan's failure to retain the ratings lead his predecessor had built and maintained for the the vast majority of his seventeen years put him in the lousy spot he found himself in.

While O'Brien may well be the better showman (he is), and Leno may too often go for the easy laugh (he does), the tale of the ratings tape is what it is. They don't call it show art, after all. Time will tell if the late night battle ends up thrice biting NBC in the posterior, either with Jay failing spectacularly in his Tonight return, or Conan succeeding spectacularly in whatever he does next. For a detailed analysis of the whole situation that's both evenhanded and logical, check out this blog post from Mark Evanier, who echoes many of my feelings on this matter, and has far knowledge of this stuff than I.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Webbed Up

For the past week or so, the ominous chords had begun to sound, first with word that the script wasn't coming together, then a release date change --never a good sign. As of this afternoon it's been made official by both studio and director: Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire have exited the Spider-Man movie franchise after three hugely successful entries just as a planned fourth installment has run aground thanks to those dreaded "creative differences." This leaves Sony Pictures with plans to reboot the movie mega-franchise from the ground up in '012.

I'm of mixed opinion on this, as I have a feeling many will be. Having just begun in '02, the Spider-series is still relatively new enough that I'm not sure how necessary a reboot is. I also really would have loved for Raimi to get a chance to come back from the less-than-optimum situation that resulted in 2007's overstuffed Spider-Man 3, where the seams between directorial vision and studio mandate became a little bit too obvious. Still, I applaud Raimi's willingness to walk away rather than put his name on a product he wasn't 100% behind.

Obviously, we'll have a clearer sense of where things go from here once above-the-line talent has been brought onboard, but right now this franchise could either make like the post-Singer X-Men or the post-Schumacher Batman. Guess which way I'm hoping.

Monday, January 04, 2010

ORDER From Chaos

My new year got off to a good start this weekend with news that NBC's ever-dependable procedural Law & Order, the mothership of the omnipresent Law & Order franchise, has been picked up for its twenty-first season. This will break the record for longevity by an hourlong scripted show set by CBS' Gunsmoke in 1975 (though not the record for hours produced, as Gunsmoke's 635 episodes is still a pretty big giant to topple).

For some perspective, I was ten years old in the fall of 1990 when Law & Order first premiered. A half hour of cops doing their thing, a half hour of lawyers doing theirs. The formula from producer Dick Wolf was so simple that its kept the show plugging along through countless cast changes, innumerable "ripped from the headlines" plots, and several spin-offs (the UK edition, starring Battlestar Galactica's Jamie Bamber, begins its third season in a few weeks -- though I've yet to see an episode).

Although I didn't jump on the bandwagon right away, by '93/'94 (right around the time Michael Moriarty left and Sam Waterston joined as lead ADA) I was on board for the duration -- the rest of the '90s, the entirety of the aughts, and whatever else may come. Think of it like a security blanket with less quilt and more quips. Two decades later, my three-year old can hear that distinctive "thunk-THUNK" and immediately say, "Law & Order!" That makes me either the best dad in the world or the worst.

With its move to Fridays last fall and the subsequent lowered ratings, for the first time in awhile there was a real danger the show might not survive past the current season (its twentieth -- itself no small feat). Thankfully, the higher-ups at NBC realized that a world without new Law & Order in it is just kind of...sad. Plus, with their continuing downward ratings spiral, now probably wasn't the most appropriate time to drop a proven performer (which the entire Law & Order brand has clearly been for NBC/Universal, given the sheer number of reruns from the various shows that dot the cable landscape).

The current cast, with Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson heading up the "Law" portion, and Linus Roache and Alana De La Garza handling "Order" duties, has provided one of the series' best-ever lineups (believe me, I've seen 'em all), so hopefully they stay put while the show keeps "thunk-THUNK"-ing away for at least a few more years yet.