Tag Archive: Bruce Boxleitner


The TV series Cops is in its 24th season.  Survivor began its 24th season this month (although its been around half as long as Cops).  Cops began because of scrambling network executives who needed to put something on TV in light of a writer’s strike.  And its all gone downhill from there.  Like Huey Lewis used to say, “sometimes bad is bad.”

Yet someone is watching this stuff.  American Idol and Dancing with the Stars show little signs of fading away.  What part of the collective psyche of the modern TV viewer makes so many of us show up each week for this kind of programming?   And it’s not just an American pastime.  As an example, Survivor variants can be found all over the planet.   Networks love these shows because they don’t need to hire the best, aka most expensive, writers.  They can basically put anything out there and we will watch it.

Back before “immunity” and “voting people off the island” there was an earlier counterpart to shows like Dancing with the StarsBattle of the Network Stars was a series of 19 specials back when we had three networks to watch.  Like Dancing with the Stars, sometimes the celebrities were just barely celebrities, but more likely than not the general population would be able to identify who was competing on the semi-annual show.  Battle of the Network Stars pitted stars from each network against each other in several physical games, such as football, running, biking, golf, volleyball, swimming, and even kayaking.  At the end of each 2-hour tourney the two highest scoring networks would compete in a tug-of-war battle to the death (OK, not really, actually just a good old-fashioned tug-of-war).

Then again, Robert Conrad and Telly Savalas look like they have some serious money wagered on the outcome of this episode.  I hope someone told Ron Howard to get out of Penny Marshall’s way

Overall the shows were successful.  They were fun, generally light-hearted, and only rarely did competitors seem to be fiercely competing or all-out angry when they lost.  The shows weren’t about ostracizing anyone, or making fun of competitors.  They generally reflected what you would see in neighborhood softball games at home.  More like Dancing with the Stars than other current reality shows, you found yourself cheering for someone to succeed more than hoping anyone would fail.

A single race had many celebrities–some still on TV, including David Letterman and Billy Crystal.   MmmA Hulk team-up with Geordi LaForge?  Awesome!

The shows began in 1976 and ended in 1985.  To add to the spirit of competition, Howard Cosell was the host of the shows, announcing the play-by-play as if he were announcing the Super Bowl, often over-exaggerating and parodying his own animated announcing style.

One of the best parts of the Battles were the networks’ coaches who served to anchor the teams and cheer on the sometimes athletically-challenged participants.  The first captains were Gabe Kaplan, Robert Conrad and Telly Savalas.  William Shatner and Tom Selleck would later serve as popular captains, among others.

For fans of these actors and actresses in the years before most of the country would have access to Fan Cons, this was a rare chance to see that these celebrities were normal people like the rest of us.  Of course, in hindsight it is hard to get past some obvious style changes, especially “short shorts.”  Ultimately the shows were about being good sports, although there was plenty of humorous trash talk between the networks.  You could imagine that these actors, many still on TV and even in movies, would probably not want to go back and watch these shows, celebrities like Bruce Boxleitner, Michael J. Fox, Heather Locklear, Rosalind Chao, Morgan Fairchild, Stephen Collins, Jameson Parker, Cheryl Ladd, Valerie Bertinelli, Howard Hesseman, Lynda Carter, Richard Hatch, Adrienne Barbeau, Levar Burton, Kurt Russell, David Letterman, Lou Ferrigno, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal.

Kids got to see an even better show, the Saturday morning parody cartoon version

The biggest difference between Battle of the Network Stars in the 1970s and 1980s and reality competition shows of 2012?  Back then Battle of the Network Stars was the exception.  It aired twice per year.  We weren’t saturated with battle shows and celebrities not doing what celebrities were meant to do on TV, like act in dramas, mysteries and comedies.

When you see good TV you know it.  If you’ve watched shows like the popular Downton Abbey and The Hour from BBC TV and public television, shows like Mad Men on AMC, Homeland on Showtime, long-running network shows like House, MD on Fox or the several Law and Order series on NBC, you know a lot of time and effort and creativity went into the formulation of these productions.  We can’t help feel a little guilty when watching a show about a couple guys running a pawn shop.  And maybe we should.

Captain Shatner

Did audiences in the 1970s and 1980s know something we don’t know?  Did the networks?  It may sometimes feel like we will never come out of this glut of reality TV.  But there’s always hope.  Creative and interesting series like NBC’s new supernatural mystery Awake, dramas like The Closer and In Plain Sight, comedies like Psych and New Girl, genre shows like Warehouse 13 and Lost Girl, all make you think there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.  And just for the fun of it, how about dumping all the reality shows and bring back some goofy fun like Battle of the Network Stars?

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Spoilers!

When the original Disney movie Tron arrived in theaters in 1982 it was a technological innovation.  Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn and Bruce Boxleitner’s Tron, a user and a program, interract in a fully realized alternate universe after Flynn is sucked into his own computer system.  Nearly thirty years later the Disney sequel Tron: Legacy revisited the computer world known as the Grid to show us what happened to Flynn and Tron.

But before the film’s release, Disney released a graphic novel in two parts that explains what happened between the two movies.  And the result is actually better than what we saw onscreen in the movie sequel.

Tron: Betrayal, written by Jai Nitz, takes us to the world that we wished had made it to the screen.  The graphic novel compilation includes a nice prologue to get the reader that missed the original film up to speed on the events of the original Tron film.  This was enormously necessary because Disney failed to re-release a DVD version of the film in the months leading up to the release of Tron: Legacy.  (A prior edition had been released more than a decade ago, but in classic Disney marketing style it had not been put back into release once it sold out).

Tron: Betrayal begins with Kevin Flynn revisiting the Grid.  He works with Tron and begins building a new world, a “perfect world”.  Flynn uses the same Tron movie laser technology to transport between realities, and in our world we learn his wife is pregnant with the son we will meet years later in Tron: Legacy.  Lori, whose avatar was Yori in the original film, is still with Tron’s user, Alan.

Kevin is addicted to the Grid and subtley Nitz reveals a man who each day becomes more and more obsessed, a man who can hardly pay attention to his life in the real world, his wife, his new son, his business he is supposed to be running.

Flynn needs to be in two places at once.  So he creates an avatar of himself to carry out his work on the Grid, called Clu.  Clu works with Tron and his loyal assistant Shaddox, who points out that Clu is doing all the work, with little help from Flynn, the creator.  And as a new pest called gridbugs infest the world, “life finds a way” (to quote Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park), and new gridpeople are spontaneously formed–isomorphs or “isos”–including a self aware female named Ophelia (in the film Tron: Legacy this would be revisited with the character Quorra).  Flynn declares all isos are to be protected by Tron and Clu.

The key conflict becomes clearer, the same conflict that would be revealed in the new film: Clu, just like a computer program would react in the real world, does not know what to do when confronted with ambiguity as Clu is given seemingly inconsistent direction from Flynn.  What is a perfect world?

In part 2, Flynn’s real life falls apart.  He has a son, but his wife has died and he is left to raise son Sam with his other obligations still pressing in on him.  His inlaws are there to help…but nothing works for Flynn.  Here Jai Nitz has set up relationships and realities that, despite being a fantasy story about a guy who gets sucked into a video game, reflect modern pressures of life in a believable way.

Beyond the complex story of priorities, faith, and duty, Jeff Matsuda and Andie Tong’s artwork is excellent, all locked into this dark world inside the computer sphere.  The cover by Jock is up to his typical cool style.  Neon cycles, including Flynn’s superbly crafted white light cycle we barely see in the new film, are a great extension from the perfect cycles of the original film.  It is here where the look is better than the final film, even though the final film looks great in its own right.  What is certain is that this story would have made a better film, for several reasons.

First, this story includes the title character, Tron, in a key role.  Tron: Legacy inexplicably barely used Tron, and when it did, we barely got to see the beloved actor Boxleitner be the Tron we loved in the original film.   The movie is called Tron, right?  Is Boxleitner’s fee greater than Academy Award winner Bridges?  Also, this is the story that happened following the events of the original film and this is the story most fans would want to see.  The Flynn of the new the film is washed up.  He is past the character most fans would want to dig into.  He is the Dude from The Big Lebowski right before he ODs.  The new film was subtitled Legacy and it is about Flynn’s son Sam.  Yet we as fans care for Kevin and Alan, the original characters that excited us.  This story also allows a greater depth of character than we were shown in the movie.

With the graphic novel Tron: Betrayal we get to see what that more ideal film could have been.  And that would have made a very cool movie.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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