Sunday, September 28, 2014


Metropolitan Museum of Art--New York City
Murder At The Museum—it sounds like the title of a movie, a play, a television show…perhaps even an exciting book.

Or could it possibly be an interactive murder mystery game or murder scavenger hunt played by real people in a real museum?

I've participated in interactive murder mystery games with various themes and locations.  One of them was a three day event starting in Chicago, moving onto a train, and ending in New York City.  Many such events are held in historic old hotels, quite often purported to be haunted, where the atmosphere and surroundings fit the activity. They were all fun activities that I thoroughly enjoyed.

And because of my experience with that, an article I saw a couple of years ago really caught my attention.  It was about a company that organizes murder mystery games and scavenger hunts.  There are several companies that stage these type of events, but this one is a little different.  Their venues consist of major museums in large cities with the characters and clues relating to that museum's specific collections.  The article talked specifically about a murder mystery adventure scavenger hunt that took place inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—not exactly a small, out of the way museum.

The storyline for the particular adventure mentioned in the article has an assistant museum curator questioning the authenticity of a Leonardo da Vinci painting the museum is about to acquire.  He is murdered, but before he dies he leaves a code on his appointment calendar [a tip of the hat to The Da Vinci Code? :) ] in addition to cryptic clues connected to secrets hidden in and on specific works of art in the museum…clues that point to the identify of the killer.  The participants are given 4 suspects (the chief curator who is about to announce the acquisition of the Da Vinci painting, a multi-millionaire who put up most of the purchase money, the wife of the dead assistant curator, and an art dealer who specializes in Old Master paintings) and need to determine the killer and the killer's motive.

For this particular game, there were 40 people who paid the fee to participate in the museum murder mystery.  They are split up into 10 teams and given 22 questions linked to 22 works of art in the museum.  They're given directions and a map of the museum's galleries.  A traditional scavenger hunt has the players going from house to house collecting specific items on a list provided to them such as a potato peeler or a red pen.  But with the museum game the teams are collecting 22 bits of information about specific pieces of art that answers the questions given them.

Each team headed in a different direction, moving in and out of the numerous galleries in a 2 hour competitive hunt.  The clues and questions are tailored specifically to the museum's collections.  That game storyline can be used in any number of museums with questions and clues changed to fit that museum's collections.

Those participating in the event at the Met all agreed that in addition to being fun, it was very educational.  Those playing the game didn't need a knowledge of art to be involved and they all agreed that they learned several things during the course of the game.

With the success of the museum murder mysteries, the company has recently expanded their menu to include a scavenger hunt for Harry Potter lovers and history themed scavenger hunts in historic locations such as Salem, Massachusetts.

As I said many paragraphs ago, I've participated in several interactive murder mystery games and thoroughly enjoyed them.  And the idea of a scavenger hunt and/or murder mystery game in a major art museum or historic location sounds like a truly fun time.

Have any of you ever been involved in one of these?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Remakes Of Successful TV Series

With the start of the fall television season (at least the start for shows on the broadcast networks), I thought it might be a good time to look at the shows the television industry has presented over the years that have been remakes of previously successful series.  I guess it's the concept of if it worked once it obviously will work again.

As is blatantly obvious, television quite often looks to the past when searching for new series ideas. This situation occurs for two primary reasons.

1)  The network has a current hit and wants to capitalize on that popularity by creating a spinoff.

Spinoffs have long been a popular and successful (for the most part) tactic for the networks.  Some shows have been so finely crafted that they were the genesis of several spinoffs. For example, ALL IN THE FAMILY gave us THE JEFFERSONS, MAUDE, and GOOD TIMES. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW gave us LOU GRANT, RHODA, and PHYLLIS. And we can't overlook the entire LAW AND ORDER franchise, L&O SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT and L&O CRIMINAL INTENT.  Then there's the highly successful CSI franchise that included CSI MIAMI and CSI NEW YORK.  And, of course, JAG begat NCIS which begat NCIS LA and this season the new NCIS NEW ORLEANS.  And, of course, we can't overlook the highly successful STAR TREK franchise…the original TV series (three seasons 1966-1969) was very low in the ratings so that only a concerted viewer write-in campaign got it renewed beyond the first season.  That three season, low-rated series gave us a string of very successful theatrical movies and more television series such as STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, etc.

2)  The network is looking for a ratings boost so it turns to hit series from the past and hopes that reviving them will be a ratings winner.

And in that department they have come up with some significant blunders when trying to capture that elusive lightning in the bottle for the second time. Far more remakes have been total disasters than once again successful series. Some of the remakes that have worked are HAWAII 5-0 which kept the original iconic and immediately recognizable theme music and also the style of the opening main titles. Some other successful remakes include BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, DALLAS, and V.

But it's more fun to take a look at some remakes that just didn't work at all, some of the blunders.

DRAGNET (2003):  LAW AND ORDER kingpin, Dick Wolf, tried to bring back Jack Webb's classic cop drama. It wasn't a bad idea. The original Jack Webb series had a very specific style that was totally Jack Webb's vision right down to the almost wooden dialogue as personified by that iconic phrase—"Just the facts, Ma'am." It was an individualistic style everyone knew. The remake, however, fell victim to the decision by committee mentality of constant tinkering by TV executives which resulted in a jumbled mess.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2002):  An attempt by UPN to remake one of the most creative and interesting series on television was a colossal failure. Without the guiding hand and creative genius of Rod Serling, including his physical presence as the host introducing each episode, it was a dismal failure. They even went so far as to replace those great musical notes that made up the theme song.  All you need to do is come out with the first eight notes and the theme song is not only recognized but its message is clear.

GET SMART (1995):  Fox brought back the classic spy spoof comedy originally created by the comedic genius of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. And they brought it back with original cast members and it still failed. This remake picked up where the original left off with Maxwell Smart having bumbled his way to the top of Control as the chief. But instead of letting Don Adams continue with the role that made him famous (apparently the powers that be must have decided Don was too old to reprise the role), the secret agent work was handled by his nerdy son played by Andy Dick which made the whole series feel like a lukewarm second rate attempt. The remake lasted only 7 episodes.

THE PRISONER (2009):  The original classic British series starred Patrick McGoohan as Number six in The Village…a place that seemed to shift and change before our eyes and before the eyes of the main character so that not believing what you're seeing was the only rule that seemed to be true. The original had a subtext that said it never really took itself seriously. The remake had a bigger budget, larger cast, and better production values but somewhere in there it lost the feeling of the original.

THE FUGITIVE (2000):  CBS thought they could not only cash in on the highly successful original series, but also the hit movie starring Harrison Ford. But with the original television series and also a successful movie, everything about THE FUGITIVE was already known—who the characters were, their motives, and even the outcome for Dr. Kimball and the one-armed man. They didn't try to reinvent the wheel, they pretty much exactly copied it. In spite of the popular Tim Daly from WINGS in the starring role, there were no surprises, no edge-of-the-seat action, nothing to hold the audience's interest.
FAWLTY TOWERS (every remake ever attempted):  Don't try to duplicate perfection! There were only twelve episodes made of John Cleese's FAWLTY TOWERS and each one was the epitome of what a sitcom should be—brilliant writing, marvelous characters brought to life by an excellent cast. There have been so many attempts in several countries to capture the success of this British sitcom with one remake after another. Even here in the U.S. we gave it three attempts before finally realizing that it couldn't be done.

With successful American translations of British sitcoms (All In The Family from the British Till Death Do Us Part, Sanford And Son from the British Steptoe And Son, and Three's Company from the British Man About The House), we obviously thought we could strike gold again. The first attempt starred Harvey Korman and Betty White. Despite proven and popular talent in the leads, it never got beyond the pilot stage. The second one tried a switch by putting Bea Author in a female Basil Fawlty role and it was cancelled after one season. The third attempt starred John Larroquette, fresh from his successful and popular role in NIGHT COURT, in a remake attempt that copied the original plots but not the characters. Another failure. The original FAWLTY TOWERS was done in the late 1970s and is as funny today as it was then. I have the twelve episodes on DVD and each time I see them I literally laugh out loud even though I know what's coming.

Some other major blunders in the remake department are: the 2011 CHARLIE'S ANGELS which lasted 4 episodes, the 2008 KNIGHT RIDER, the 2007 BIONIC WOMAN, WONDER WOMAN which never made it past the pilot, ROCKFORD FILES which never made it past the pilot, and the 2013 attempt at a remake of IRONSIDE which lasted only 3 episodes. My personal opinion on the IRONSIDE remake—colossal blunder moving the setting from San Francisco to "the gritty streets of New York" (as the publicity release referred to the location).

Are there any television remakes that you found particularly disappointing? Or surprisingly enjoyable? Any series you'd like to see revived with a remake attempt?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jack The Ripper Finally Identified!

After all these years of speculation about his true identity, it seems that Jack The Ripper finally has a name.

It's been 126 years since the world's most famous, perhaps infamous is a more appropriate word, serial killer murdered and mutilated his fifth and final victim.  Mary Kelly was only 25 years old when her body was discovered on November 9, 1888, in London's East End Whitechapel neighborhood.

Theories about his identity ran rampant, including such candidates as a member of the royal family, a prominent surgeon, a famous artist, an American doctor, a Polish immigrant living in the neighborhood, and one case was even made for Jack The Ripper being a woman.  I find it interesting that most images of Jack The Ripper, whether drawings from that time or modern depictions, show him dressed in formal gentleman's attire including a cape and top hat.  A man dressed like that on the streets of Whitechapel at night in 1888 would definitely have been very noticeable to anyone living in the area.

Thanks to modern forensic science, a DNA match shows that Jack The Ripper is Aaron Kozminski, a Polish Jew who fled to London in the 1880s.  He died in Leavesden Asylum from gangrene at the age of 53.  Kozminski was one of the names on the list of strong suspects from the time of the murders but the police never had enough evidence to arrest him.

Russell Edwards, author of Naming Jack The Ripper (available as of September 9, 2014), bought a shawl in 2007 at an auction.  Even though the shawl came without provenance, he was told that it belonged to Catherine Eddowes, the Ripper's fourth victim, and had been found near her body.  After the auction he obtained a letter from the previous owner claiming his ancestor had been a police officer who was present at the murder scene and had taken the shawl.

Edwards handed the shawl over to Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a world-renowned expert in analyzing genetic evidence from historical crime scenes.  He tracked down a descendant of Catherine Eddowes and a British descendant of Kozminski's sister, both of whom agreed to provide DNA.  With a DNA match from the samples, the doctor stated that Aaron Kozminski was Jack The Ripper.

The evidence has not yet been independently verified.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Secret Societies

Skull and Bones
Secret Societies…Conspiracy Theories…these mysterious entities have been with us ever since mankind formed civilizations.

Secret Societies abound across the face of the planet, touching every race, religion, creed and color of humanity.  Some are associated with religion and some with politics.  In fact, you can find secret societies embedded in every facet of society.  Although there have been many books written and movies produced about conspiracy theories and secret societies, the publication of Dan Brown's book THE DA VINCI CODE and release of the movie focused a world wide spotlight on a specific set of conspiracy theories and secret societies galloping across the pages of history.

One such Secret Society is the Free Masons, an organization constantly in a swirl of public attention from books and even an onslaught of television documentaries.  Perhaps their rituals and the reasons behind those rituals remain a secret, but their existence is widely known and dates back to biblical times.

However, other secret societies remain far more elusive from public scrutiny.  I recently came across a list of four secret societies (among what is probably thousands) that have not routinely been thrust into public awareness.

The Bohemian Club:
Founded in San Francisco n 1872, the Bohemian Club holds an annual retreat in the redwood forest of northern California at Bohemian Grove.  At this location, they conduct a secret ceremony in front of a giant owl statue.  Only the most powerful men are invited to attend.  Women are prohibited from being members, a situation upheld by the California courts.  Famous members include Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Ordo Templi Orientis:
Founded in the early 20th century by an Austrian chemist.  One of its known members is famed British occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947).  He revamped the masonic group to focus on a religion he created called Thelema.  They believe that mankind's existence is a product of the relationship between the space-time continuum and the principle of life and wisdom.  Prospective members must go through a series of secret rituals and initiations before being granted membership.

The Rosicrucians:
The unusual combination of a secret society with a Facebook page.  They're named for their symbol of a rose on a cross.  They have one central belief, that all their members share the same secret wisdom.  Their beliefs combine occultism with aspects of popular religion.

Skull & Bones:
Founded at Yale university in 1832, it's probably the most famous of the secret societies due in part to such high profile members as three generations of the Bush family, including two presidents—George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.  Skull & Bones have allegedly been a part of many monumental historical events despite the fact that only fifteen Yale students are chosen each year to become members.  It's rumored that they took part in the creation of the nuclear bomb.  There's also a persistent belief that in 1918, nine years after Geronimo's death, that a group of Skull & Bones members dug up his grave and stole his skull, a few miscellaneous bones, and some relics that were also buried with him.  The grave raiding party allegedly included Prescott Bush, father and grandfather to the two Bush presidents.  Twenty descendants of Geronimo have recently filed a lawsuit against Skull & Bones, Yale University, and the U.S. Government to have the remains returned to them.

There are certainly many more secret organizations functioning and flourishing world-wide in today's society other than these four.