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Twilight: The Author, the Rabid Fans, and the Strange Things the Books Inspired

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For four days this week, July 30 through August 2, Dallas is playing host to the most rabid fan base outside Red Sox Nation. Thousands of fans of The Twilight Saga will be flying into town for what organizers are billing as the largest Twilight conference in the US, TwiCon 2009.


There is virtually no one on the planet who hasn't heard of the Twilight saga "“ a series of four books, Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, about a human girl and the complications arising from her budding love for a vampire. In an era of massive blockbusters fueled by zealous fan bases, Twilight is one of the biggest; the first book in the series, Twilight, debuted in fifth place on the New York Times bestseller list in 2005, hitting the top spot shortly after. Together, the books in the series have sold more than 53 million copies and been translated into 37 languages.

The books have even spawned a resurgence in the vamp-lit market, with hosts of would-be Twilights littering the shelves, hoping to catch some of the wave that the series created.

They have also engendered a film series, which has itself inspired a weekly television show about a film that's not coming out until November, and a graphic novel (manga style, in keeping with the predilections of the books' fan base) version.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I should say here that I have read all of the Twilight saga (and, this being the part that might get me beaten up, I loved the first three books but found the final one seriously lacking, primarily because it seemed that the author had fallen far too in love with her characters for the good of the story).]

Sadly, TwiCon is already sold out "“ so if this is the first you're hearing of it, it's too late to buy tickets. But had you been on the ball, you would have been able to have your picture taken with actors Peter Facinelli, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Burke and others from the original Twilight cast; you could have attended breakout sessions to meet other Twilight20somethings or talk about the role the film has had in shaping Twilight fan fiction; discuss the role of the female, specifically the heroine, in the books; relive prom at the Volturi Mask Ball; or relax at a concert with the Bella Cullen Project and the Twilight Music Girls.

Please consider this post looking at all the weird and wonderful things around Twilight like a tiny, tiny fraction of the universe of experiences you could have had at the TwiCon:

In the beginning"¦

stephanie-meyer-2Stephenie Meyer was a Mormon stay-at-home mother of three when the idea for Twilight came to her came to her in a dream. She says on her website that she woke on the morning of June 2, 2003, from a particularly vivid dream in which two people were having "an intense conversation in a meadow." One half of the couple was just an average girl, but the other was "fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire." The subject of the conversation will be familiar to readers of the books, since Meyer says that Chapter 13 of Twilight is basically a transcript of the conversation: The vampire and the girl are falling in love, but the vampire really wants to eat her because her blood is like his particular brand of heroin.


Meyer says that from that day on and for the next three months or so, she was writing the Twilight saga every day, in between taking her kids to swimming lessons and taking care of her recently born baby. It took Meyer awhile to figure out what to call her heroine and the gorgeous "vegetarian" vampire (he only eats animals, not people); in the first write-up of the dream conversation, she simply referred to them as "she" and "he." Eventually, she settled on "Edward," finding it a romantic name straight out of a Jane Austen novel, and "Isabella," which she said was more difficult to hit upon as she'd come to love the character "like a daughter."

After finishing the book, which was originally titled Forks after the small and super rainy Washington state town in which the story is set, Meyer shopped it around to about 14 agents before finally hooking one. Her agent took the story to nine different publishing houses before Little, Brown finally picked it up, offering her a $750,000, multi-book contract. The whole thing took about six months and, of course, has completely changed Meyer's life.

Meyer also started writing a companion to the first book called Midnight Sun, which told the Twilight story from the perspective of Edward. However, the author abandoned the project, for the moment at least, after chapters from it were leaked on line.

The author has a cameo in the Twilight film: In one of the scenes in the Forks diner, Meyer is seen sitting at her laptop at the diner counter and ordering a sandwich.

Are all Twilight fans really teenage girls?

When the final book in the series came out, bookstores everywhere battened down the hatches and prepared for a long siege of teenage girls wearing glitter make-up and chattering ecstatically about Bella and swooning over Edward or Jacob, depending. I know this because, well, I saw it happen "“ waiting in line for the last book to come out, I was the only person over the age of 18 not there as an accompanying adult.

twilight-partyThe Twilight fandom has stereotypically been associated with teenage girls. Recently, Psychology Today blogger and PhD Gina Barreca explored the question "Why Do Smart Teens Love Twilight?" by asking the teenage daughter of some friends to explain why she loved the books Among the reasons the girl highlighted were the total escape from reality Twilight offers and the fact that so many other young girls were also eyeballs deep in the Twilight universe, creating a community of shared experience - at a time, I would add, when girls tend to need community the most. [Image courtesy of TwilightSeries.ca.]

Even early on in the phenomenon, reporters noticed the link between teenage girls and the nascent Twilight saga, often engaging in a little pop psychology themselves and theorizing that it was the chaste but desperate passion between Bella and Edward, who are unable to consummate their love owing to the fact that Edward is a vampire, that inflamed the imagination of teenage girls. And there is also some evidence that vampires, especially tall, handsome and wealthy vampires, are particularly attractive to women.

And are they dangerous?

While for the most part, Twilight fans are no more dangerous than your average sci-fi or fantasy fan, for some reason, Twilighters have gotten a bit of a bad rap.

It is true that in November 2008, Twilight fans started a mini-riot at an event at a Hot Topic in a mall in San Francisco. Basically, the event coordinators promised that the first 500 fans to show up would receive a free Twilight T-shirt and a chance to meet Robert Pattinson, the pale British hearthrob who plays vampire Edward Cullen in the films. When it became clear that there was virtually no organization to the event at all, the crowd of more than 3,000 turned violent, leaving one girl bloodied and other fans bruised, sadly solidifying the image of Twilight fans as a ravenous pack of screaming teenage girls.

But there are also "reports" on fan forums and blogs that Twilight fans, called Twihards, are lashing out against their anti-Twilight fellows. Stories range from an enraged fangirl beating an anti with a copy of the book, to encounters involving broken arms, cigarette burns, pencil stabs, acid and, probably best of all, improvised weapons a la the "shank" and "shiv." And then there's the Twilight-related suicides, typically involving young girls who want to be undead like their favorite vampires. Now, none of these urban legends have made it to the mainstream media (presumably because they're just as fictitious as Twilight itself), but they have been handily catalogued out there in the blogosphere and passed around as fact.

cullen-tattoo

What is true, however, is that more than a few Twilight fans have pledged their undying love to the series via that time-honored message board, the human skin. Remember, folks, a tattoo is (almost) forever.

Twi-merch

So, with a fan base as, ahem, affectionate as the Twilighters, it should come as no surprise that many a merchandiser has come up with ways to allow fans to express their love (and, of course, to pay for it).

There are the T-shirts ("Edward is a VILF"), the BBQ aprons, the infant clothing, the lunch boxes, the life-size cardboard cut-outs of Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, the pillows, the bookmarks and posters, magazines and special edition film companion books, trading cards and board games. If you're looking for something a little more high-end, in October, Nordstrom is launching a line of Twilight clothing, which includes T-shirts reading "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob," after the two heroes involved in the books' central love triangle, and many jewelers are twilight-vocabmarketing the Bella bracelet, a recreation of the silver charm bracelet Bella wears in the third book, Eclipse, featuring a carved wooden wolf from Jacob and a diamond heart from Edward.


But there are also the items that only the truly Twi-hard fan would consider "“ like a weeklong cruise/floating convention around the Alaskan and Washington state coasts with a few of the actors from the film. The ship sets sail in August of 2010 and you too can be a part of the fun for between $1000 and $3300, depending on the accommodations.


And then there's just the weird stuff "“ like an SAT vocab prep book that references the Twilight books to help define SAT words: for example, Edward's "alabaster skin" and "ochre eyes" make an appearance.

Twi-rock? Vamp rock?

Like Harry Potter before it, Twilight has inspired legions of rock bands and musical groups who play music about and derived from the books.

Much of the music ranges from the angsty (unsurprising since the books also tend towards the angsty) to the blatant paean: The Bella Cullen Project is a trio of girls who sing acoustic guitar songs with lyrics like "Edward, won't you come and take me away," and started the band in their eighth grade year. Bella Rocks! sings "Twilight is not all about Bella/ Twilight is not all about Edward/ and Twilight is not all about Jacob/ Twilight is all about Alice," about how great it would be if your best friend were a "vampire fashionista."

The Twilight Music Girls sing sweetly angsty songs that seem to come straight from Bella's tortured, fictional heart ("I don't feel the pain/ I don't feel a thing/ I just see your face/ I know it's wrong/ but you don't care anyway"). And the Mitch Hansen Band might be single-handedly trying to smash the "Twilight is for girls" stereotype with songs from the Twilight male perspective that achieve a kind of Nickelback sound.

Even Rob Pattinson, who plays Edward in the films, is a bit of a Twi-rocker "“ two of the actor/musician's songs, recorded before the film, were heard in the film and appeared on the Twilight soundtrack.

Twi-tourism

In the wake of the series' mind blowing popularity, the tiny town of Forks, Washington, has been inundated with Twilighters making pilgrimages to the town of the book. More than 100 fans are pouring into rainy Forks, a former timber town that had long been abandoned as hard luck, and townspeople have been cashing in on the boom: Sully's Drive-In offers a Bella Burger that comes with a side of fake vampire teeth; Twilight T-shirts are available at nearly every cash register in town; Subway even offers a Twilight Special, bleeding with marinara sauce.

But Forks isn't the only Twilight town reaping the benefits of being association with the book: Volterra, the Italian town in which some of the major action of the second book, New Moon, takes place has seen an influx of tourism since the book came out. Like Forks, the small Tuscan town has embraced the Twilighters, with Twilight displays in many shop windows, as well as a special Volterra New Moon map showing sights from the book.

However, the director of the second film chose nearby Montepulciano to play the movie Volterra; Montepulciano is a tiny, beautiful hilltop Tuscan town that's been in a number of films, including The English Patient, and it was deemed more picturesque and more appropriate for the film. Volterra was understandably upset about it, as were a number of Italian Twilight fans, who all put together a petition to have filming moved to Volterra, to no avail.
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So, are you a Twilight fan? Would you buy a Bella bracelet or a spot on a cruise? And why do you think Twilight has become such a phenomenon?

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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