The Watchman: Showtime Gets in Ring with Liston, Netflix Tackles Ninja Turtles
Showtime premieres boxing documentary Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston Nov. 15. It’s a fascinating look at the troubled heavyweight who terrorized the ring in the ’60s. The film “chronicles the rise and precipitous fall of one of the most vilified and misunderstood sports champions of all time,” in Showtime’s words.
Simon George directed. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on Liston. “He led multiple lives, and led multiple deaths,” George said.
Liston became heavyweight champ in 1962 when he knocked out Floyd Patterson. He then lost twice to Muhammad Ali, got tied up with the mob, and was found dead from a supposed heroin overdose in 1970.
The project was developed from Shaun Assael’s book The Murder of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin and Heavyweights. Assael speaks in the documentary, as does Mike Tyson. “There are a lot of similarities between Liston and Tyson,” said George, “some interesting parallels.”
The white community was not kind to Liston, many seeing him as a violent criminal, which he was. “He was certainly no angel,” George said. “But he was caught in the crosscurrent of his time.”
Liston was born in 1930, one of 25 siblings. The Listons were poor and Sonny was treated badly. “I don’t think anyone ever let Sonny forget his past,” George said.
He called Pariah a look at how we create heroes and how we cast them aside.
Also starting Nov. 15 is The Toys That Made Us, a fun docu-series on Netflix about toys we loved when we were kids. Previous seasons looked at Lego, Barbie and Hello Kitty. Season three examines Power Rangers, My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The show was hatched in a Borders bookstore in Los Angeles, as creator Brian Volk-Weiss looked for a book about how Transformers began. “I couldn’t find a single book,” he said. “I wondered, why are there 100 books about the War of 1812 and none about Transformers?”
What do we learn about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The name, for one, displayed some marketing might. “If the comic book had had a different name, it wouldn’t have become what it did,” Volk-Weiss said. “The name had a lot to do with its success.”
Volk-Weiss has a bunch more toys he’d like to document, including Hot Wheels, Nerf and Dungeons & Dragons. “Some people would argue that [Dungeons & Dragons] is not a toy,” he said. “I would argue it is.”
And what among today’s toys might be worthy of a Toys That Made Us episode? “If we do season 61,” Volk-Weiss said, “we’ll definitely cover Shopkins.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.