With school about to start, it seems fitting to be writing about some of the things that I did on my week-long summer vacation:
After weeks of avoiding it, I finally went to see the surprise movie hit of the summer, "The Blair Witch Project."
I felt an obligation to see it because all the networks were running or planning promos parodying the $35,000 movie about three documentary filmmakers lost in the woods.
The movie frightened me all right.
It made me fear the power of teen-agers going into a TV season aimed at them. If today's teens can make a ridiculously lame movie like this a $100 million hit, you wonder what kind of TV garbage they may be attracted to this fall.
I thought all the stories about the movie's camera work making the audience sick was just hype. But I got so sick watching "Witch" that I had to close my eyes for 20 minutes. Maybe they should have retitled this movie "Eyes Wide Shut."
And once I got home, I stayed sick for hours.
The camera work was so distracting that it cut down on my fears for Heather, Michael and Joshua as they tried to find their way out of the Maryland woods.
The only thing I was scared of was throwing up. The plot was as simplistic as the camera work. However, I could identify with Michael, the filmmaker who wanted to get out of the woods and threw Heather's map away in frustration. I felt almost as trapped as he was.
If it wasn't for the obligation to stick it out (and if I didn't know I could write the $7 ticket off as research), I would have left in 20 minutes. I suppose I should have relied on the Movie Poll guide to viewer reaction that is printed in Gusto.
"Blair Witch" finishes near the bottom of the ratings of 20 movies, which means that most people who have made it a $100 million hit regretted it as much as I did.
My brother also called a week earlier and told me that the movie may have been the worst one he had seen in years. He added that someone expressed the same sentiments loudly during his screening.
Watching "Blair" did make me nostalgic for my days in college when I attended an Ingmar Bergman film with my roommate, "Fat Oed."
Fat Oed's review of the movie is a constant reminder to me that, though critics love seeing something different and may see things that others miss, they should help the public understand what they are getting into.
"He is a genius, he is a genius," said Fat Oed during the Bergman film. This stunned me because my roomie didn't seem to know what was going on any better than I did at 19.
"Why is Bergman a genius?" I asked.
"Anyone who can get you to pay $2 (this was a long time ago) to see this piece of ---- is a genius," he explained.
The geniuses who made "Blair Witch" so popular are the marketers. Which explains why those network "Blair Witch" promos may be so important to this TV season.
I also checked out the ABC series, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," a cheap show to produce that may be making as much money for the network as "Blair Witch" did for its distributor.
Of course, "Millionaire" was impossible to miss over the last two weeks. If you turned your set on, there was a 50-50 chance it was going to be on, too.
It didn't take a genius to predict that no one would win the million. A few days before the show premiered, I said that the rules made it unlikely that anyone winning $500,000 would risk losing $468,000 to make another $500,000.
Sure enough, one contestant who hit $500,000 bailed out rather than risk it all on a rock music question that Jethro Tull fans would have known.
According to host Regis Philbin, about $1.4 million was given away during the two-week run.
Back in July, I asked producer Michael Davies if the rules would be changed if no one goes for the million. The Englishman said the format had been successful internationally, but added that changes would be considered.
Davies would be smart to reduce the punishment for a wrong answer when the show resumes in November.
Philbin also isn't the ideal host, especially if you've seen the English host. The Englishman actually is as important to the tension of the series as the music that artificially enhances the drama.
Regis doesn't add to the excitement and actually caused one contestant on the last night to ask the audience about an answer unnecessarily when he could have used the help later.
And this contestant was one of the funniest in the two-week run. Asked by Philbin how he felt, the guy said: "I feel like I'm sitting on a toilet and all of America is watching me."
To which Philbin replied: "You don't know how sorry I am that I asked that question."
But with this show's ratings, there's probably no way that Philbin will be replaced come November when ABC will get the final answer on whether it was just a phenomenon of summer reruns or if it can stay popular as long as Jethro Tull.
And you don't know how sorry I am to say that Philbin will be back.
I also watched portions of two Bills preseason games on Channel 7 and became convinced that play-by-play man John Murphy could use the tapes to get an audition for a network job. He sounded just as professional as his sidekick, CBS' Steve Tasker.
Tasker wisely took a light tone several times during the games, most notably after Bills rookie tight end Sheldon Jackson dropped a sure touchdown pass from Doug Flutie.
"That's why Lonnie Johnson is in Kansas City," said Tasker.
While Channel 7's feed missed some plays and had some bad camera angles on field goal attempts, its announcers were first-rate.
With the Bills final preseason game at home Saturday, Murphy is back as Van Miller's radio sidekick.
Before "Blair Witch," the theater ran a trailer for the upcoming Michael Mann movie, "The Insider." That's the film about a former cigarette company vice president who came to CBS' "60 Minutes" and turned against the industry.
The CBS program initially declined to run the controversial interview, but later did. PBS'"Frontline" later did a documentary about the controversy, "Smoke in the Eye."
Al Pacino is one of the stars of the film, playing a passionate producer. From the trailer, "The Insider" makes the TV news business look to be one of the most exciting and fast-moving in the world. And supposedly it is going to make some CBS executives and stars feel as sick as I did watching "Blair Witch."