Sunday, September 30, 2007

Painted On The Stars

You watched the riveting TV special. Now watch the video:

David Soul had the #1 single in both the U.S. and the U.K. with "Don't Give Up On Us" at the same time he was one of America's biggest television stars (STARSKY & HUTCH).

CBS Goes Ape

You know, I bet I was watching CBS the night this 1976 promo aired. I vividly recall seeing PLANET OF THE APES for the first time on network television.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Mason Lancer: Secret Agent

NUMB3RS kicked off its fourth season with a dense episode directed by co-executive producer Tony Scott, who demonstrated he's as bad a television director as he is in films. Not only is the episode packed with technobabble (even more so than usual for a series about a mathematician who helps the FBI solves crimes), but nearly every shot is a gimmick--washed-out image, jittery camera, extreme closeup of a body part having nothing to do with the story, double exposures, gratuitous post-production effects that do nothing to advance the characters and story and much to expose how talentless Scott is. He even managed to waste a guest shot by Val Kilmer, making his first network episodic television appearance. Kilmer is fine in a role he probably only worked for one day, but it's a part that a lot of different actors could have played exactly the same way. It didn't need a Val Kilmer, as written and directed. I'm still looking forward to NUMB3RS' new season. It isn't an essential part of my TV diet, but the cast generally makes it a comfortable one.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fembots In Las Vegas

NBC premiered its new series, BIONIC WOMAN, this week, but let's not forget Lindsay Wagner, the one true Bionic Woman. As tennis star Jaime Sommers, Lindsay damaged an ear, an arm and both legs in a skydiving accident, but since she was lucky enough to be dating SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN Steve Austin (Lee Majors), the U.S. government provided her with some bionic parts of her own. Unfortunately for Steve, her accident caused amnesia, and she completely forgot she ever was in love with him.

Jaime actually died at the end of that 1975 two-part episode of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, but ratings were huge, so she returned in another two-parter earlier that year. Ratings for it and another episode remained high, so ABC spun Jaime off into her own series, THE BIONIC WOMAN. After two seasons on ABC, it was canceled, but NBC picked it up, making regular Richard Anderson, who played Jaime and Steve's boss Oscar Goldman, the only actor to appear regularly as the same character on two different TV series on two different networks at the same time.

THE BIONIC WOMAN kicked off its third and last season with a two-parter introducing another "regular": Max, the Bionic Dog (I know). Then, another two-parter, "Fembots in Las Vegas," marked the return of the sexy female robots that plagued Jaime and Steve in the 1976 three-part episode, "Kill Oscar," that crossed over between THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE BIONIC WOMAN. If you're wondering where Mike Myers came up with the idea for the "fembots" that attacked him in the Austin Powers movies, you can thank THE BIONIC WOMAN for it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

When That Guy Died on My Show

You've often heard of comedians "dying" on stage or on television. Believe it or not, somebody once died--for real--on ABC's THE DICK CAVETT SHOW. Cavett writes about the memorable experience on his New York Times blog. I know you're "dying" to find out who it was. And you'll be amazed to learn what he did for a living.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Babe Ruth's Gay Brother

I revisited KNOCKED UP tonight, the first time I'd seen the official release. As you may recall, I saw a test screening of the Judd Apatow comedy back in October. I didn't like it as much the second time. At 132 minutes, it's ungodly long and seriously drags in the middle. I can count at least five sequences that could have been easily cut that would have gotten the running time under two hours, though that would still probably be too long. Plus, I still find the premise too much to swallow. Seriously, which of the following scenarios is the least likely?

A) Katherine Heigl would have sex with Seth Rogen.
B) Katherine Heigl would later pursue a romantic relationship with Seth Rogen
C) Seth Rogen would have sex with Katherine Heigl and never even once take her bra off.
D) Too close to call.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More New Shows

This fall TV season may be breaking out to be one of the most interesting in years, judging from the two new shows I watched tonight. Granted, I didn't like K-VILLE all that much, and last week's debut of BACK TO YOU (another awful title) was hardly earthshaking material (I'm certain that some of the jokes go back to before stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton had their new faces built). On the other hand, K-VILLE, a routine cop show filmed on location in New Orleans, and BACK TO YOU aren't awful and have potential to improve.

So far, my favorite new shows are CHUCK (on NBC) and REAPER (on The CW), which is odd, because they are basically the exact same show. It's like Marvel creating Man-Thing the same month as DC Comics debuting Swamp Thing: either an amazing coincidence or cheeky industrial espionage.

Both are somewhat old-school in that they're action/adventure series mixed with humor--a welcome change from the dour crime dramas that the networks have been foisting upon us. CHUCK, from the creator of THE O.C. (which I never saw), stars Zachary Levi (LESS THAN PERFECT) as Chuck, a computer nerd who feels more comfortable playing video games with his pal Morgan (Joshua Gomez, trying way too hard to be Seth Green) than talking to women. Imagine his surprise when gorgeous blond Sarah (Yvonne Strzechowski) hits on him at his job at Buy More (think Best Buy) and asks him to dinner. It happens the same day that his former college roommate (TRAVELER's Matthew Bomer in a cameo) sends him an email that somehow uploads into his brain an advanced computer program that points him in the direction of a bomb meant to kill an American general. Turns out, of course, that Sarah works for the CIA, and that both she and her NSA rival (the always good Adam Baldwin) want him for his mind.

I never thought I'd say this, but McG (CHARLIE'S ANGELS) does a fine job directing the pilot, setting up the goofy premise and deftly juggling the comedy and suspense. In addition to Levi's likable loser, the show introduces some funny supporting characters; both the mean Asian guy at Buy More and Chuck's sister's dopey boyfriend, nicknamed "Captain Awesome," made me laugh. With the pilot ending on a promise to propel Chuck and Sarah into more adventures (and Baldwin taking a job at Buy More to keep an eye on Chuck), CHUCK looks like a winner.

Over on The CW, REAPER has nearly the same premise. Instead of a nerdy still-living-with-his-family slacker with a comic-relief loser best friend who works at Best Buy, REAPER's hero, Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison of GROUNDED FOR LIFE), works at Home Depot (really the TV equivalent, Work Bench). He also discovers someone has given him superpowers, but not a buddy. It's Satan himself, and in what will surely be the new season's best casting move, smooth Ray Wise (TWIN PEAKS) is simultaneously charming and creepy as Sam's new bud. It seems Sam's parents sold his soul to the Devil long before he was born, and Big Red himself comes to collect on the lad's 21st birthday. Like Chuck, Sam has a wacky best pal, Bert, played by INVASION's Tyler Labine, and, again like Chuck, he has to go on reluctant missions, as Satan has assigned him to rescue souls that have escaped from Hell and return them using a portal at the DMV ("Hell on Earth").

TV's hottest trend is hiring feature directors to make pilots, and REAPER enlisted Kevin Smith (CLERKS 2) to make his television directing debut. Some of the dialogue by creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekus (fresh off LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT) sounds like Smith did a polish on it, and the show is funny and fresh. Again, like CHUCK, and despite its similarities, I liked REAPER too.

Speaking of L&O: SVU, its ninth season opened tonight with a typical episode guest-starring Cynthia Nixon (SEX & THE CITY) as a killer with multiple personalities. It was amusing to see Bronson Pinchot (PERFECT STRANGERS) appear as a psychiatrist, but the most entertaining bits involved the usually little-used Richard Belzer, who briefly became the acting commanding officer when Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) received a temporary demotion. Strangely, everything was back to normal by the end of the show, leaving one to wonder what the point was of the brief subplot. Not that I want Florek to lose his job, but the liberal Munch's reluctant elevation to management could have led to some interesting character dynamics, but I suppose that's too radical a change for a Dick Wolf show.

Monday, September 24, 2007


When PRISON BREAK premiered two years ago, I wondered how they could possibly sustain the series past two seasons. It took the entire first season for the inmates to break out, and all of last year to escape the authorities and clear their names (some of them, anyway). If you're in charge of PRISON BREAK, what do you do in Season Three? You put the stars back behind bars. But instead of a maximum security penitentiary in Joliet, it's Terminal Island basically--a sun-cooked Panamanian prison with no guards, where the inmates are on their own. And that's where Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) is, smack dab in the middle of another political conspiracy. He was placed in Sona prison intentionally by some mysterious consortium and is being pressured into breaking out of Sona an Australian named Whistler (Chris Vance). Oh, and he has one week to pull off the prison break, or else his nephew and his new gal pal are going to be killed. Meanwhile, brother Linc (Dominic Purcell) is on the outside, bantering with tough-talking Susan B. Anthony (a poorly performing Jodi Lyn O'Keefe from NASH BRIDGES), liaison to whomever holds the sibs' loved ones captive. PRISON BREAK is pure comic-book plotting that could have come straight out of a 1960s "mens sweat" magazine like FOR MEN ONLY or STAG. Come on--you knew Linc had a second book in his pocket, didn't you? I've never seen another show quite like PRISON BREAK, and those critics who rip it for being something less than plausible are joylessly missing the point. Its arch plotting is clearly intended to be taken less than seriously, and as long as the writers continue to play by the rules of the artificial universe they've created, I'm willing to go along for the ride.

I missed the pilot, but I caught the second episode of K-VILLE tonight. It's saddled with a dumb title and less than stellar plotting, but there's still a sliver of something here. Cole Hauser has the potential to be a potent TV leading man (I've thought so ever since PAPARAZZI), and Anthony Anderson is a skilled actor, but they don't have much chemistry together. They ain't exactly Starsky and Hutch, and they ain't gonna stay on their air as long as S&H if this show's fun factor doesn't pick up. I'm already skeptical that America is ready for a weekly reminder of the Katrina tragedy, and treating plots like tonight's, which could have easily come from ROBERT TAYLOR'S THE DETECTIVES forty years ago, so seriously is asking for trouble. If K-VILLE wants to show off New Orleans to its best advantage, it needs to pump up the action and the banter. And shoot better action too--the normally reliable Bryan Spicer, who directed tonight's episode, left me dizzy with his cruddy camera movement.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sports Announcing At Its Finest

Imagine the scene. Alabama leads Georgia 23-20. About 25 seconds left to play in overtime. Georgia is on offense. And this is what Mike Patrick is talking about:

I can only assume he must have been drunk. I love the astonishment in color guy Todd Blackledge's voice, like, "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Thanks to the guys at the essential Fire Joe Morgan blog for catching this.

O'Reilly's Clueless Racism Is Mindboggling

Bill O'Reilly is stunned to learn that black people are human beings.

I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy. And he comes on The Factor a lot, and then I treated him to dinner, because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.

And I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship.

There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, "M-Fer, I want more iced tea." You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all.

Without mentioning the part about everyone in this restaurant watching his show, which is obviously bullshit, O'Reilly's surprise to encounter black Americans who act like normal human beings and not the vulgar madmen he clearly believes them to be makes him look pretty pathetic. O'Reilly really believes that all black people constantly scream, "Motherfucker!", at waiters?

Tune In, Trip Out

I had a chance to go on THE TRIP this afternoon, having not seen it in at least a decade. Roger Corman’s psychedelic classic, filmed from a Jack Nicholson screenplay, is hopelessly dated, yet intentionally so, as Corman wanted to perfectly capture a particular moment in time and space—specifically, the Southern California counterculture circa 1967. It’s hard to believe this was filmed during my lifetime (I was born in ’67), because it appears to capture an alien environment far removed from today’s Neocon-based reality.

The plot, what exists of it, is simple enough. Paul Grove (Peter Fonda), a director of television commercials facing depression because of his impending divorce from wife Sally (Susan Strasberg) and guilt because of the “sellout” status of his profession, talks things over with his psychologist buddy John (Bruce Dern). John’s remedy is to stop by a wildly painted hippie pad, score some LSD from pusher Max (Dennis Hopper), take it back to John’s house in the Hollywood hills, and send Paul on a “trip” with John serving as his guide to ensure he stays safe.

Paul sees lots of brilliantly colored lights, topless dancing women, a medieval dwarf, white horses being ridden on a beach by mysterious hooded figures, and a foggy Bronson Caverns. About halfway through his all-night trip, John turns his back for a moment, freeing Paul to split into the night and wander around the Sunset Strip in a druggy haze, pestering a straight woman (Barboura Morris) in a Laundromat and hooking up with sexy Salli Sachse.

Somehow, Corman managed to shoot a lot of random weird footage on a three-week schedule, almost all of it on actual locations. His mission was simple—to depict on film (as closely as it is possible to) an actual acid trip and do it in a neutral manner. Although Corman occasionally throws a bummer or two into Paul’s journey, THE TRIP is basically a 79-minute commercial for lysergic acid diethylamide, including instructions (provided by John) on how to prepare for a trip. Corman took LSD himself to prepare for producing this film, and his “research” shows in THE TRIP’s attention to detail. Of course, Nicholson, Hopper and Fonda were experienced drug takers who lent verisimilitude to the film’s depiction of the Sunset Strip scene. Ironically, Dern, an athlete who never smoked or did any form of hallucinogenic drug in his life, gives the movie’s best performance as Fonda’s calming influence.

I liked this movie quite a bit when I was younger, though my own experience in the drug scene is positively Dernian. I still like it, but for different reasons. The ‘60s hippie scene appears laughable to my eyes; I appreciate the love-everybody-and-who-gives-a-damn-how-long-my-hair-is aspects, but laying around all day getting high and screwing are tremendous wastes of time. However, Corman’s direction of THE TRIP is quite accomplished—possibly his finest work behind a camera. Who knows how much influence he had on his cast, who knew more about the culture than he, but the performances are fine all around, and Corman’s blocking and camerawork (veteran Arch Dalzell was the cinematographer), give THE TRIP an expansive look. The use of colored gels and psychedelic lighting are what gave THE TRIP its notoriety, but the way Corman frames his shots and moves his actors within them contributes to the movie’s fragmented nature.

THE TRIP is, to quote Corman, “pure cinema”—art that could only exist in the form of a motion picture, as its pleasures are almost solely visual. No story to follow nor heavy subtext to ponder (though there is some mild symbolism that means little), THE TRIP works when you allow it to wash over you, as you would an actual acid trip. Also with Dick Miller, Luana Anders, Angelo Rossitto, Michael Nader, Beach Dickerson and Michael Blodgett. The American Music Band handles the scoring. Corman had a falling out with AIP heads Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson over the literal and figurative disclaimers the studio placed at the beginning and end of THE TRIP (indicated by its imposing poster). Though he continued to direct for AIP, his output dropped sharply, and Corman began running his own studio, New World, just a few years later.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shark-Jumping Is Go

Thirty years ago, HAPPY DAYS really did jump the shark.

It's interesting to read Ron Howard's and Henry Winkler's comments on the episode, which I remember actually watching on a Tuesday night.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Things Are Going To Start Happening To Me Now

I feel like Navin Johnson when he saw his name in the phone book.

Okay, not really, but it is kinda neat anyway. You may have seen Dark Sky's recent "Drive-In Double Feature" DVD of SEARCH AND DESTROY and THE GLOVE at your local retailer.

Didn't you buy it? Well, if you didn't, you must not have turned the box over to look at the back. When an authority as notable as Marty's Marquee praises a film, you had best not take said praise lightly.

My first DVD blurb. I really am somebody now. Thanks to Richard Harland Smith and to Dark Sky for the shout-out. But, geez, would it have killed you to list the URL too? (Just kidding)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Top 100 Best TV Series Of The 20th Century, Part 2 Of 10

See Part 1 for my rules and guidelines. I’ve actually created a tag for this series, so you can find my Top 100 list easily.

2 seasons on NBC
May 1983–April 1984

Great show, ahead of its time. I wrote in full about this wicked Dabney Coleman sitcom back in May, so click the link to “Be Good to Buffalo” to read my long post about BUFFALO BILL and its DVD release.

9 seasons on CBS
September 1972–May 1981

Sure, go ahead and mock it, but THE WALTONS is television’s finest family drama, a genre that has all but disappeared on network television, particularly now that The WB/The CW’s SEVENTH HEAVEN has been canceled. THE WALTONS ran on CBS at the same time that LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE aired over on NBC, but THE WALTONS is the better show, less treacly and more honest.

Created by Earl Hamner, Jr., who made his first big impact on television by writing several teleplays for TWILIGHT ZONE (you can always tell a Hamner story, because it’s inevitably set in the Deep South), THE WALTONS is based, more or less, on his novel SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN, which was adapted into a 1963 film (it’s on Turner Classic Movies a lot) starring Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara and James MacArthur (HAWAII FIVE-0) as the John Boy character. Hamner, a product of Virginia, was naturally drawn to homespun tales that harkened back to his childhood and sold CBS on their potential as a weekly series.

I don’t know whether Virginia was specifically noted as the series’ locale, but it definitely was set somewhere in the South during the Depression. Ralph Waite and Michael Learned starred as the heads of the Walton clan, which included five children and two grandparents, played by noted character actors Will Geer (whose character was killed off when Geer died during the show’s run) and Ellen Corby (whose real-life stroke was also written into the show). The oldest and most popular Walton child was John Boy, who became the focus of most stories and made Richard Thomas, the gentle, mole-faced actor who portrayed him, a major star.

THE WALTONS was not a soap, but it did contain storylines that grew along with the actors. Characters grew up, got married and went to war. Some, like Grandpa Walton (mentioned above), passed away. New characters moved to Waltons Mountain to replace those who left (Thomas left the series after five seasons, though John Boy was eventually recast with a new actor unable to fill some tough shoes). And through it all, Hamner delivered weekly doses of warm drama involving people we knew and loved. A critical favorite as well, THE WALTONS received several Emmy awards, including acting nods for Thomas, Geer, Corby and Learned and the coveted Outstanding Dramatic Series trophy in 1973. It continues to be available in syndication and on DVD.

The show also provided obituary writers with the perfect lede, because you just know perfectly well that when Thomas passes away (he’s 56 years old), every article will begin with, “Goodnight, John Boy.”

5 seasons on CBS
October 1959–September 1964

Chances are that you know as much about TWILIGHT ZONE as I, since it’s one of the most famous television series ever. No matter how old you are, you know who Rod Serling was, and Marius Constant’s legendary theme is as familiar to you as any Top 40 pop standard.

Serling was the creator, executive producer and head writer of TWILIGHT ZONE, which began after Serling became frustrated with network executives censoring his work to appease sponsors. Much as Gene Roddenberry did later with STAR TREK, Serling realized he could use science fiction to subtly comment on politics and sociology without the censors catching on. Smart viewers got it, of course, and many of Serling’s themes are still as potent nearly fifty years later. Take, for instance, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which evoked America’s anti-Communist hysteria then, but now neatly stands in as a comment on the current administration’s fearmongering as a way to embolden its position. Some were neat twist-in-the-tail stories, such as “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air,” which, bad science aside, packs a neat wallop. And sometimes TWILIGHT ZONE was content to just freak you out, as in “Little Girl Lost,” where Charles Aidman’s young daughter falls out of bed and into an alternate dimension, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where nobody believes aviophobe William Shatner’s terrified claims that a gremlin is outside the airplane, trying to crash it.

TWILIGHT ZONE is such a well-known commodity that it will likely never die. CBS brought it back as a weekly series in 1985, and UPN in 2002. Despite several well-produced episodes, the newer incarnations never really caught on. TWILIGHT ZONE has also lived on in books, magazines, radio, even a Gold Key comic book. Warner Brothers released TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE on theater screens in 1983, where it did okay business, but couldn’t get past the negative publicity churned up by the accidental death of actor Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children during its production.

Every episode of TWILIGHT ZONE is currently available on DVD (Image Entertainment produced marvelous box sets with voluminous extras), and the Sci-Fi Channel continues to air reruns.

11 seasons on NBC
September 1982–May 1993

This Boston-set sitcom, a slow starter in the ratings that was championed by then-NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, is one of television’s most honored. Its 117 Emmy nominations are the most of any comedy, and includes four wins for Outstanding Comedy Series. “Everybody knows your name at CHEERS,” an affable tavern owned by former Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone (Ted Danson). The series, which rarely left the bar, revolved around its well-cast staff and regular customers, including snooty barmaid Diane (Shelley Long), who carried on a will-they-won’t-they romantic relationship with Sam; acerbic waitress Carla (Rhea Perlman); avuncular Norm (George Wendt); know-it-all postman Cliff (John Ratzenberger); and dim bartender Coach (Nicholas Colasanto). When Colasanto died, Woody Harrelson joined the show as equally nitwitted bartender Woody, and Kirstie Alley as fiery Rebecca replaced Long when she left to become a movie actress (that move didn’t work out too well).

A cast addition that probably didn’t seem like much at the time, but turned out to be a great move for NBC, was Kelsey Grammer, who came aboard during the second season as psychiatrist Frasier Crane. When CHEERS left the air in 1993, Grammer got his own series, FRASIER, which ran eleven seasons and won 37 Emmys—more than any show ever.

7 seasons on CBS
September 1970–May 1977

Interesting that MARY TYLER MOORE (I’ll abbreviate it to MTM) should pop up after CHEERS, because it was very likely a strong influence on the ‘80s show, as it premiered only five years after MTM left CBS and was also about a workplace “family.” And, like CHEERS, it won a slew of Emmys, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series.

MTM was set in a television newsroom, WJM, in Minneapolis. Mary Richards (Moore), a career woman coming off a bad breakup (creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns wanted to make her a divorcee, but divorce was still a TV taboo at that time), gets a fresh start by moving to Minnesota and getting a job as the associate producer of WJM’s six o’clock news. On her own in a new city, her co-workers become her new family: gruff boss Lou Grant (Edward Asner), dim-bulb anchor Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) and wiseass newswriter Murray (Gavin MacLeod), as well as her vain landlord, Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), and her Jewish neighbor from New York, Rhoda (Valerie Harper). One of the finest ensemble casts in sitcom history eventually grew to include Betty White as saucy Sue Ann and Georgia Engel as naïve Georgette, who married Ted.

MTM became CBS’ Saturday-night anchor, and, back-to-back with THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, provided the network with one of TV’s most popular hours. While it didn’t exactly go out on top a la SEINFELD, it was still garnering decent ratings when the producers decided to take it off the air after its seventh season, and its final episode, “The Last Show,” remains one of the most fondly remember finales ever (ironically, the WJM staff is fired, except for inept Ted). MTM also provided what many (including the staff of TV GUIDE) consider to be the funniest sitcom episode ever: “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” which was written by David Lloyd (TAXI), who won an Emmy for it, and directed by Joan Darling. It concerns the WJM staff’s black-comic approach to mourning the death of TV host Chuckles the Clown and Mary’s disapproval of what she perceives as their disrespect.

TV producers had respect for MTM’s cast, nearly all of whom ended up starring in shows of their own, the most successful being THE LOVE BOAT (MacLeod played Captain Stubing) and LOU GRANT, a dramatic spinoff starring Asner. Last year, I wrote a post about MTM’s notable opening titles and the show’s DVD release, which you can read here.

*Although the show is almost always referred to as THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, this title was never seen on-screen. In fact, the words “Mary Tyler Moore” seen during the opening titles could refer to either the show or its star. A case could be made that THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW is the only sitcom in history never to identify itself in its credits.

7 seasons on NBC
September 1999–May 2006

I’ll be the first to admit that, when THE WEST WING was rotten, it was very, very rotten. So rotten that there was a period of a year or so when I couldn’t bear to watch it. However, when it was great, which was often, it was as absorbing a drama as television has ever seen. And when it was great were the years it was being shepherded by its genius creator, a former playwright and screenwriter named Aaron Sorkin. THE WEST WING won 26 Emmys (no drama has ever won more), including four straight for Outstanding Dramatic Series. Plus, it was the first television series to prove the exception to one of the networks’ oldest rules, which is that politics and prime time don’t mix.

Sorkin, whose early film credits include the romantic comedy THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, starring Michael Douglas as a widowed Chief Executive who falls for lobbyist Annette Bening, created WEST WING as a fairy tale of sorts, depicting a U.S. President who was intelligent, witty, well-read, beloved and morally true. Cast as President Josiah Bartlet was the acclaimed actor Martin Sheen (APOCALYPSE NOW), who had never before carried a TV series. Actually, he was supposed to be the star of WEST WING, only make occasional guest shots, but he was so damn intoxicating in the pilot that it was agreed Bartlet should become a visible member of the ensemble, along with John Spencer as Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, Bradley Whitford as the Deputy Chief of Staff, Richard Schiff as the Communications Director, Rob Lowe as Schiff’s deputy, Alison Janney as Bartlet’s Press Secretary and Stockard Channing as First Lady Abigail Bartlet.

The central cast stayed together, pretty much, over the show’s first six seasons (Lowe left after four, and Spencer died during the last year). Unfortunately, Sorkin, who wrote or co-wrote every episode during the series’ first four seasons, either left the series or was forced out, due to late scripts causing shooting delays and his personal drug addiction. His replacement, John Wells of ER, didn’t understand the show and turned it from a smart, topical drama dealing with important social issues into a yammering soap opera in which the characters began sniping at each other unreasonably and unbelievably.

With ratings dropping like a stone, WEST WING tweaked its format, taking its focus away from the Bartlet White House and towards the upcoming Presidential election, which eventually pit Democrat Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) against Republican Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda). The series became an anthology of sorts, as episodes tended to follow one campaign or the other during its seventh season. One, which NBC broadcast live, featured Santos and Vinick in a Presidential debate.

The show’s quality, as well as its ratings, saw a slight uptick during its final year, but the high cost of doing the show (which had over a dozen well-paid cast members) effectively killed it. It wasn’t the same WEST WING anyway, as its first four years were a definite highlight in dramatic television, using the one-hour episodic form to bring national politics into our living rooms like never before.

19+ seasons on Fox
December 1989–

By the time it finally leaves the air—and it shows no sign of tiring soon—THE SIMPSONS will most likely have passed THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET as the most successful sitcom in television history. OZZIE ran fourteen seasons (THE SIMPSONS based that benchmark long ago), but aired 435 half-hour episodes. THE SIMPSONS aired its 400th in May 2007, and will probably air its 436th during its 21st season in 2009. Not bad for a crudely drawn cartoon that debuted as short animated blackouts on Fox’s mostly forgotten THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW.

Not only is THE SIMPSONS a landmark series in terms of its longevity, but also in the way it saved its network. It was Fox’s first major hit, and was so huge at its peak that Fox moved it to Thursdays to compete with NBC’s behemoth smash THE COSBY SHOW. It was also enormously controversial in its early days, when it focused on son Bart Simpson, a wisemouthed delinquent with no respect for authority. Conservatives detested the series, claiming that the dysfunctional Simpson family was a poor role model. As if anyone watching cared.

Set in the Midwestern town of Springfield, the Simpson family consisted of overeating dad Homer, well-meaning mom Marge, gifted daughter Lisa and baby Maggie. And Bart, of course. However, as the series progressed, Bart tended to move into the background, and the antics of greedy pop Homer took front and center (I suspect he was more fun to write about). Creator Matt Groening and his producers (including MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW creator James L. Brooks) also invented a large supporting cast to revolve the Simpsons around, including Homer’s megalomaniac boss Mr. Burns.

Although one frequently hears complaints that THE SIMPSONS has faded in quality over the years, the ratings remain strong, and its voice actors, including Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge) and Harry Shearer, are among the most highly paid performers in prime time. Evidence that the show still has plenty of ammunition in its belt is THE SIMPSONS MOVIE, which Fox released theatrically in the summer of 2007 and quickly surpassed $100 million at the American box office. Don’t have a cow, man—THE SIMPSONS are here to stay.

4 seasons on NBC
February 1950—June 1954

I guess the closest equivalent to YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS that we have today is SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, as it was a live comedy/variety series that aired every Saturday night in a 90-minute timeslot. Unlike SNL, however, it featured only four regulars who had to carry the ball each week: Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Howard Morris and Carl Reiner. The legendary writing staff included Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Reiner—though not Woody Allen, which has been reported through the years. And, like SNL, the show’s humor usually took the form of silly recurring characters (often involving Caesar using an impeccable foreign accent) and parodies of current films and plays.

Since it was live, evidence of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS’ brilliance is hard to come by. A few kinescopes exist, and clips occasionally arise on nostalgia shows. As a kid, a film called TEN FROM YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, which assembled ten of the series’ top sketches, often aired on television, and a DVD release would be appreciated. Reiner used his experience on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS to create THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, which was set behind the scenes of a popular TV comedy show hosted by mercurial Alan Brady, who was played by Reiner himself and was certainly inspired by Caesar, a perfectionist with a vicious temper who didn’t suffer fools—or subpar writing—lightly.

#19: THE FBI
9 seasons on ABC
September 1965—September 1974

It’s a testament to THE FBI’s consistent quality that it managed to anchor ABC’s Sunday prime-time lineup for nine seasons, even though most of the time it was scheduled against an American institution—CBS’ THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. When it left the air, however, THE FBI was the longest-running crime drama in television history (HAWAII FIVE-0 eventually surpassed it, and NYPD BLUE now holds the record).

As square and conservative as crimebusting gets, THE FBI held the rare distinction of being officially sanctioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and reportedly assigned an agent, Mark Felt (later identified as the “Deep Throat” informer who helped break the Watergate case), as a technical advisor. Since it was subject to interference from the F.B.I., the TV agents were always depicted as straight-arrow, no-smoke-no-drink types who would never consider using undue force or planting evidence to get their man. Ironic, given that F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover was one of the country’s most corrupt law enforcers. It was said that Hoover chose THE FBI’s leading man himself.

Handsome, stalwart and colorless Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (77 SUNSET STRIP) starred as Special Agent Lew Erskine, who originally was partnered with Stephen Brooks as Agent Jim Rhodes. After two seasons, William Reynolds as Tom Colby replaced Brooks, and former NFL wide receiver Shelly Novack replaced Reynolds as Chris Daniels during the show’s final 1973–74 season. During those nine years, Zimbalist and sidekick investigated dozens of murders, kidnappings, terrorists, bombers, counterfeiters, con men and bank robbers. Produced by Quinn Martin, THE FBI became known for its lofty production values and name guest stars, which helped give the series a ratings lift. Nearly every popular TV actor in Hollywood stopped by as a friend or foe of Lew Erskine’s over the nine years, including William Shatner, Chad Everett, Henry Silva, Richard Anderson, Robert Loggia, Suzanne Pleshette and Anthony Eisley, as well as up-and-comers like Harrison Ford, who appeared in the 1969 episode “Scapegoat.”

Martin was at his peak as a producer of high-quality crime dramas, and during THE FBI’s run, he typically had as many as three series airing simultaneously. THE FBI was his longest-running.

#20: COMBAT!
5 seasons on ABC
October 1962—August 1967

I wrote a little bit about COMBAT! during the Lee Marvin Blog-A-Thon last month. Notable as a gritty, hard-hitting look at war, COMBAT! was a frequently bleak drama about a platoon of Army soldiers based in Europe during World War II. For perhaps the first time on U.S. television, war was hell, as COMBAT! accurately displayed the pestilence of death and despair that afflicted the European theater then. Leading the squad was Rick Jason as Lt. Gil Hanley and Vic Morrow as Sgt. Chip Saunders. There also was a supporting cast of regulars (including Dick Peabody, Jack Hogan and Shecky Greene), but what helped make the series so effective was the jittery feeling that anyone could die at any time. Okay, so maybe Jason and Morrow were going to make it all the way through the war, but members of the platoon did occasionally have their fate sealed on the battlefield, and COMBAT! didn’t flinch from showing death’s effects on the still-living.

COMBAT! made exceptional use of the MGM backlot, which was expansive enough to become Italian ruins or rolling French hills. High production values combined with tough scripts (overseen by executive producer Selig Seligman) and stark black-and-white photography to produce a war series of abnormally high quality. Its visual style was established during the first season by Robert Altman, who directed several episodes using the overlapping speech that became synonymous with his style in films like M*A*S*H and NASHVILLE. Ted Post directed the second-season opener, “The Bridge at Chalons,” which guest-starred Lee Marvin as a hardassed demolitions expert. As Sgt. Turk, Marvin is assigned by the Army brass to blow up a bridge deemed vital to the Nazi cause. Saunders and his men are ordered to accompany Turk to Chalons and provide cover and assistance. For Turk, this simply won’t do, as his bitter attitude and cruel behavior towards Saunders and his men make it clear that Turk is a very hard man who must have suffered some deep loss during his time in combat. After most of the party is either killed or forced to return to base, Turk and Saunders are the only ones left to carry out the mission, which means that the two, who despise each other, will now be forced to rely on each other to survive.

For its fifth and final season, COMBAT! made the switch to color (all of ABC’s series were doing so), which effectively destroyed it. What seemed dramatic in stark monochrome became less real and less important in color. Adding to the show’s woes was its move away from the MGM lot to studio space at CBS and overly familiar scripting. Still, it left behind an incredible legacy, and COMBAT! remains television’s longest running war drama.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Action! Adventure! Hippies! THE MOD SQUAD is finally coming to DVD. Though it was quite popular during its original five-season run on ABC, it doesn't appear to have been in syndication in quite a long time. I believe a few episodes came out on VHS, but I never saw one for sale or rental anyplace.

I was going to say that I'm surprised nobody has ever tried to remake THE MOD SQUAD, because it's such a good premise, but I just remembered that MGM produced a terrible theatrical remake in 1999 that justifiably sank without a trace. More on that later. Firstly, THE MOD SQUAD hit the ABC airwaves in 1968 starring "one white, one black, one blonde," as the print ads proclaimed. Instead of going to jail, three juvenile delinquents--Pete (Michael Cole), Linc (Clarence Williams III) and Julie (Peggy Lipton)--were given the opportunity to join the Los Angeles police force as undercover detectives. Their youth and their real-life experiences with criminals allowed them to pass freely among the counterculture and investigate drug deals, car thefts, rapes, murders and any other sordid events infecting prime time during the turbulent '60s. Their boss and mentor was Captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews), who gave the squad their assignments and worried about them while they were in the field.

One of Aaron Spelling's earlier successes as a producer, THE MOD SQUAD ran for 124 one-hour episodes and made its three hip leads major stars among the preteen and teen set, combining standard action/adventure elements like shootouts and chases with important social issues of the day. Among the episodes included in the Season 1, Volume 1 DVD set are "When Smitty Comes Marching Home" (Linc attempts to help his pal, a Vietnam vet played by Louis Gossett Jr., avoid a murder charge), "A Quiet Weekend in the Country" (Julie and Pete investigate the death of a junkie) and "The Guru" with Dabney Coleman, where the squad looks into the destruction of an alternative newspaper. Also, look for a young Harrison Ford in the 90-minute pilot episode.

All three stars remain popular supporting actors in movies and television (Tige Andrews died earlier this year). Williams appears with Kellie Martin (LIFE GOES ON) in the Hallmark Channel's popular MYSTERY WOMAN series of made-for-TV movies, and Cole has guest-starred in a couple of them. Beautiful Lipton, the mother of THE OFFICE co-star Rashida Jones from her marriage to Quincy Jones, appeared on ALIAS and has done some stage work. It will be fun to see THE MOD SQUAD again, although I really hate the studios' bogus new practice of releasing a whole season over two volumes, in effect making you pay twice for what you used to get for half the price.

As I mentioned earlier, MGM released MOD SQUAD in 1999 with Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Epps, Claire Danes and Dennis Farina as Greer, but it was a rotten R-rated film that ended the budding directorial career of Scott Silver, who co-wrote it. You're better off sticking with the cool, collected original. Here's a peek at it via a 60-second 1970 ABC promo:

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Seen It

Through an odd coincidence, yesterday I saw two TV shows, which originally aired 25 years apart, that have the exact same plot.

On the next-to-last episode of BURN NOTICE's first season (which ends next week on USA), former U.S. spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) is enlisted by a grieving mother, Evelyn (XENA's Lucy Lawless), to find her estranged husband, who has kidnapped their young son Jasper. Westen, who grew up with an abusive father, lets his emotions grab him and jumps into the case without thinking it through. When he and Evelyn eventually track Doug (Anthony Starke) to a campground in the Florida Keys, Michael (and, presumably, the audience, but probably not) is surprised to learn he's been played for a sucker, that Evelyn is not who she seemed, but actually a hardened mob assassin who hired Michael to do her legwork for her.

Flash back to "Ready, Aim...Die," the 16th episode of THE FALL GUY, which aired in the spring of 1982. Stuntman/bounty hunter Colt Seavers (Lee Majors) is approached by a sexy woman, Colleen (Mary Crosby, then quite familiar for having "shot J.R."), with a sob story. Her brother, Lon, is a big gambler with a hitman on his tail, and she needs Colt and his partner Howie (Doug Barr) to find him and protect him before he can be killed. Having already watched BURN NOTICE, it came as no surprise to me when, in the third act, Colleen was revealed to be an assassin who had convinced Colt to do her legwork for her.

I don't believe BURN NOTICE is studying old FALL GUY episodes for story inspiration, but it goes to show how there are a limited number of plots suitable for television action/adventure shows, and a series has to rely on its characters and stars for extended success. I'm sure there are many other examples of this plot being done on TV.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gonna Be Your Man In Motion

Tough call, I know, but who looks like the bigger dumbass in this video: John Parr or Rob Lowe?

You gotta love that John Parr's got that squirrelly Kevin Cronin thing happening on his noggin. I especially, though, love the end of that video where Parr comes around and visits with individual cast members like some hilariously untalented Pied Piper.

I distinctly remember seeing this movie with Deb Kelley at the Country Fair Cinemas in Champaign and laughing really hard at it. Both of us were, because it's such an awful movie. And somebody shushed us a couple of times. We weren't talking or anything, just laughing naturally at it, but I guess somebody liked it.

Can you believe ST. ELMO'S FIRE is on DVD, and SITTING TARGET isn't? I'd like to meet just one person who has this in his or her DVD collection.

You Are Looking At An Animal

1972's SITTING TARGET is one seriously badass movie. That it isn't on DVD is ridiculous, as it's a violent and visually exciting crowdpleaser with tough action scenes. Originally released by MGM, it doesn't even show on television anymore (I believe it should be part of Turner Classic Movies' lineup, but the constant buying and selling of studio libraries leaves me confused), and I'm not positive it was ever on home video in the U.S. That means hardly anyone in this country has seen SITTING TARGET, which definitely deserves a wider audience. And considering it co-stars DEADWOOD's Al Swearengen, actor Ian McShane, as a gun-wielding anti-hero, I have few doubts that it could find an audience in today's market.

The late Oliver Reed stars as Harry, a physically imposing hood serving time in prison for a robbery after which he managed to stash away $200,000 in loot before he and his confederates were caught. Five months into his sentence, his wife Pat (Jill St. John, who I believe is dubbed by another actress) visits to tell him that she wants a divorce and is pregnant by her new lover. Enraged, Harry attempts to strangle her, and is tossed into solitary. There, he has plenty of time to grow more jealous and angry, and by the time he returns to his regular cell, he has decided to break out of prison and kill Pat.

Director Douglas Hickox (THEATER OF BLOOD) deftly handles the imaginative breakout scene, and receives plenty of aid from the wonderfully picturesque old prison where the first third of the film was shot, which comes complete with a large clock hanging on the wall, where a massive dangling pendulum reminds the defeated prisoners that they have nothing to look forward to but time itself. Busting out with his friend and robbery partner Birdy (Ian McShane), Harry begins plotting his wife's murder. Actually, there isn't much of a plane. Reed plays Harry like a bull in a china shop, his one-track mind focused on murder without giving much of a damn if he even gets caught or not. He tries to protect Birdy by sending his friend on his way, but the loyal buddy sticks with Harry to the bloody end.

Shot on some wonderfully evocative and stark London locations, SITTING TARGET is a grabber all the way through with taut performing across the board. THE EQUALIZER's Edward Woodward pops up as a cop on Harry and Birdy's trail, Frank Finlay is a pigeon named Marty (giving more credence to my Loser Marty Rule, which states that every character named Marty in a film will turn out to be a pimp, sleazebag, hoodlum, junkie or wimp), and lovely Jill Townsend (CIMARRON STRIP) has a nice part as a young woman who brings out a momentary softness in Harry.

I'll be continuing with my Top 100 TV list in the near future, at least when I can find some time. I bit off a little too much when I began this project, in that my opening post took somewhere in the neighborhood of four hours to create. So if future installments seem a bit truncated, it's not because I don't care. It's because I don't have the time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Top 100 Best TV Series Of The 20th Century, Part 1 Of 10

In this post last week, I mentioned TIME’s new list of the 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME. While I more or less was down with TIME’s opinion, I thought I would put together a Top 100 of my own. My rules, however, are slightly different. For one thing, it includes regular television series only—no TV-movies, specials or miniseries. It also includes only shows that aired in the United States (whether they were of American origin or not).

Finally, I decided to limit my picks to shows that premiered before 2000. The reason is that I think it’s too early to gauge whether a series that recent will hold up well enough to make a Top 100 list. I suspect some, like DEADWOOD or THE WIRE, will, but I’ll wait another decade to make sure. One caveat, however: THE SOPRANOS, which debuted in 1999, is not on my list, because it airs on HBO, which I don’t have, and I’ve seen only one episode. Hey, go make your list if you don’t like it. Don’t worry—I’ll catch up with it one of these days.

Of my 100 shows, 33 fall into the category of “Action/Adventure/Crime/Western,” 43 are “Comedy/Variety,” 8 “Drama,” 1 “Educational,” 2 “Game,” 3 “News/Current Events,” 6 “Science Fiction/Horror” and 2 “Talk/Interview.” That seems a little bit off, like there should be more dramas and fewer action shows, but that’s how it came out. I wouldn’t take these categories too much to heart, though, because many of the shows I picked could easily fall into more than one category. I just thought it would be interesting to look at them this way.

I’m not ranking them in order of preference, partially because it’s like apples and oranges, and also because the difference between #100 and #1 is not large enough to matter. Suffice to say that all 100 series are worth watching, and I think you’ll get as much out of the 100th best as you would the first. In order to maintain a semblance of suspense (like you’ll be on the edge of your seat or something), I’m not listing them alphabetically either. Otherwise, by the time I got to the bottom of the alphabet, you’d be easily able to guess what was next.

No, I think I will just list them randomly in sets of ten. I used a random number generator to jumble the list, so I can prepare ten different posts showcasing ten different TV series. I hope you’ll stick around to the end, and feel free to interject your comments at any time.

4 seasons on CBS
September 1961—September 1965

Noted screenwriter Reginald Rose (12 ANGRY MEN) was the creator of this successful legal drama, which starred veteran E.G. Marshall as attorney Lawrence Preston and young Robert Reed (later to become the patriarch of THE BRADY BUNCH) as his son and law partner Kenneth. Rose had cut his teeth in live television, writing for PLAYHOUSE 90, THE ALCOA HOUR, STUDIO ONE. In fact, THE DEFENDERS began as an acclaimed two-part episode of STUDIO ONE called “The Defender,” which starred Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner as the Prestons, who successfully defended a young pre-WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE Steve McQueen on a murder charge.

It took four years for Rose to bring the Prestons to television on a weekly basis, albeit with a new cast (Shatner actually guest-starred in the second episode, “Killer Instinct,” as a man who accidentally shoots a bully to death in front of a dozen witnesses on a subway platform). With Herbert Brodkin (HOLOCAUST) as executive producer, Rose anchoring the writers, and a staff of freelance directors that included several on their way up the ladder to feature stardom—such as Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON) and Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE)—THE DEFENDERS was backed with some of New York’s strongest creative talent.

But what put THE DEFENDERS into the upper echelon of lawyer shows was its insistence upon tackling big social issues. Vigilantism, abortion, Red-baiting, capital punishment, religious freedom—all were subjects of DEFENDERS episodes. Sponsors may have been worried, but audiences weren’t, nor were Emmy voters, who awarded the series at least a dozen trophies, including two for Best Drama. You won’t see network series of today using drama to tackle big issues, but THE DEFENDERS proved it could be done with class, style and, most importantly, ratings success.

In the late 1990s, Rose attempted to bring THE DEFENDERS back as a series for Showtime with Marshall reprising his role and Beau Bridges as the son. However, Marshall’s 1998 death ended the run after three made-for-cable movies.

5 seasons on ABC
March 1985—May 1989

I remember very clearly what I was doing the night of March 3, 1985. It was a Sunday, and I was watching the two-hour premiere of ABC’s hot new detective series MOONLIGHTING. The next day, all we could talk about was the incredible charm and comic stylings of its star, a young actor none of us had seen before, named Bruce Willis. Admittedly, the show did become tiresome before its five-season run concluded, as production delays, rampant egos, personality clashes, network interference and an ill-advised decision to turn a crackling crime drama into a Kafkaesque soap opera made tuning in each week something of a chore. Actually, you couldn’t even tune in every week, since the show had started running so far behind schedule that ABC occasionally had to throw a repeat on the air at the last minute because the current episode hadn’t yet been completed.

However, when MOONLIGHTING was cooking, it was damn hot. Creator Glenn Gordon Caron (MEDIUM) teamed brash young Willis with Cybill Shepherd, whose career as a ‘70s ingénue placed her in some important films, such as LAST PICTURE SHOW and TAXI DRIVER, but who really wasn’t doing much by 1985. She played Maddie Hayes, a former model who lost most of her assets, except for the rundown Blue Moon Detective Agency, which was being run by the cocky, wiseassed David Addison (Willis). Looking for some excitement in her life, she became David’s partner and spent as much time fighting off his advances and irresponsibility as she did the bad guys.

Eventually, the two stars began feuding off-camera, but the chemistry was palpable when they were on the stage, and the first two seasons of MOONLIGHTING were marked with romantic banter and witty dialogue that reminded one of William Powell and Myrna Loy. The mystery plots weren’t much, perhaps, but they didn’t have to be. They only had to serve as clotheslines to get the hero and heroine into danger and allow them to quip their way free. The crime stories eventually dropped by the wayside, and even though MOONLIGHTING expanded its structure to include musical episodes and period spoofs (its hour-long parody of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is brilliant), I think it was a mistake to get so far away from its roots.

5 seasons on ABC
September 1970—July 1975

It was never a ratings smash, but it did well enough with audiences and with critics to last five seasons on ABC, as well as an eternity in reruns and now DVD. Based on Neil Simon’s classic play, as well as a 1968 film starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, THE ODD COUPLE was blessed with some of the finest casting in sitcom history. Though both actors had a long list of Hollywood credits in both film and television, in drama and comedy, Tony Randall as neatnik Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as slob Oscar Madison clicked almost immediately and were so funny that their on-screen bickering never grew tiresome or annoying.

After an average first season that was shot film-style with a single camera, THE ODD COUPLE wisely realized that the stars’ chemistry, as much as the scripts, were what made the series sizzle, and switched to a multi-camera format before a live studio audience. The new format gave Randall and Klugman a boost of energy and made the series more intimate, warmer and funnier. The actors were encouraged to improvise, and both won Emmys as Best Actor in a Comedy Series.

THE ODD COUPLE was executive producer Garry Marshall’s first successful sitcom, and even though he had bigger hits, such as HAPPY DAYS and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, none of them was as sharp creatively or as smart. Obviously, the classic concept had a lot to do with the success. Not only did ABC bring the series back in 1982 as THE NEW ODD COUPLE (an all-black version with Demond Wilson and Ron Glass), but Klugman and Randall later reunited for a TV-movie, and Lemmon and Matthau starred in THE ODD COUPLE II—three decades after the original film.

8 episodes on NBC
February 1978—April 1978

As you know, STAR WARS is one of the most influential films in Hollywood history. The manner in which it, along with JAWS, changed the way in which studios make, brand, market and release films has been written about many times. Of course, it touched television too, most notably with the one-season wonder BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which came and went during the 1978-1979 season. However, less known but possibly more fondly remembered is a sitcom that predates GALACTICA.

QUARK was the creation of Buck Henry, the fine actor and writer who had co-created with Mel Brooks the funny sitcom GET SMART for NBC. What GET SMART did for spies, QUARK sought to do for science fiction. It was a flat-out spoof that combined intellectual humor and slapstick, which may have been off-putting to mainstream audiences. The fact that it was a SF show likely hurt it as well. Keep in mind that, in 1978, there was not a lot of science fiction on television, and what was on tended to be action-oriented, rather than idea-oriented. Was QUARK too smart for TV? Probably, but I imagine most viewers just didn’t get a lot of the jokes because they were parodying specific SF subjects.

Richard Benjamin, no stranger to smart sitcoms (HE & SHE), starred as Adam Quark, who captained an intergalactic garbage scow and headed a rag-tag crew of oddballs, including the half-male/half-female Gene/Jean (Tim Thomerson); Spockish first officer Ficus (Richard Kelton), who was a plant; sexy twin navigators Betty (Tricia Barnstable) and Betty (Cyb Barnstable), one of whom was a clone (but neither would admit to it); and Andy (Bobby Porter), a clunky ’30-style robot that was something of a coward. Receiving each week’s mission from Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis), a bureaucratic ninny who liked making Quark’s life miserable, the crew found themselves stumbling into bizarre adventures, such as the black hole that created evil counterparts of each crew member or the alien race that implanted fantasies into the crew’s minds.

Nearly every episode was based on a popular film or TV show, and, in fact, the show’s very premise was a rip of STAR TREK. Much as GET SMART proved to be the exception that proved the rule that parody doesn’t play in prime time, QUARK couldn’t manage much traction in its Friday time slot (just like STAR TREK couldn’t in its final season) and was cancelled after just seven airings (the pilot, which was the series’ worst episode, aired as a standalone nearly a year earlier.

Outside of a brief run on The Comedy Channel a decade or so after its cancellation, QUARK has barely been seen, which is something of a shame. While much of its humor is based on silly wordplay and smarmy sex gags, it is, overall, smartly written and played, and definitely something of an unsung classic.

2 seasons on Fox
September 1990—June 1992

Strangely, nearly everything I wrote about QUARK could be applied to GET A LIFE. Although it managed to eke out two full seasons, GET A LIFE was a hilariously silly cult show that bore little resemblance to reality. Its executive producer, David Mirkin, doesn’t have as lofty a reputation as Buck Henry, perhaps, but he did work on NEWHART and THE SIMPSONS, which demonstrates his comic acumen.

Chris Elliott made his name as a writer and frequent player on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, where he would pop up in bizarre performance pieces that didn’t always draw huge bellylaughs, but were unusual enough to draw notice to him. You may recall him as The Fugitive Guy or The Guy Who Lived Beneath the Stage or just the guy who drank a bottle of cooking oil. His first sitcom cast him as Chris, a 30-year-old paperboy who lived with his parents, cantankerous Fred, who basically despised his son (and was played by Elliott’s father, Bob, one half of “Bob & Ray”), and clueless Gladys (Elinor Donahue in a gentle spoof of her old show FATHER KNOWS BEST).

To say GET A LIFE was unconventional would be an understatement. Episodes found Chris becoming a male model, fighting a robot, being taken hostage by his old pen pal, and befriending a mucus-drooling alien from outer space. Many episodes saw Chris being killed at the end, only to have him reappear surreally the following week. Fox, of course, hated the show, partially because they didn’t understand it, but mostly because it was losing viewers of its lead-in, THE SIMPSONS.

A second-season format change that dumped the parents and moved Chris into an apartment with a surly ex-cop (Brian Doyle-Murray) didn’t improve the ratings, though it may have led to even stranger plots, if you can imagine. Actually, you probably can, when you realize that some episodes were penned by Charlie Kaufman, who went on to write the screenplays for BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION. Imagine those films as a half-hour sitcom with Chris Elliott, and you get a slight idea of what GET A LIFE was all about.

2 seasons on ABC
January 1995—July 1996

This list is not actually the “Top 100 Shows You’ve Never Heard Of,” I promise. Just the luck of the draw. It was fun to see Jeff Fahey pop up in GRINDHOUSE earlier this year (he played J.T., the proprietor of the barbecue shack where much of the zombie-killing action takes place), the first time the busy actor had appeared in a high-profile big-screen release in quite a while. In fact, the last vehicle Fahey was in that had much buzz attached to it is likely THE MARSHAL, an ABC crime drama that achieved middling ratings, first in a killer Saturday timeslot, and then early on Mondays before MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL. THE MARSHAL’s combination of action and oddball humor surprisingly didn’t mesh with the sports crowd, and ABC cancelled the series in its second season.

Fahey, in an unusual accomplishment for a contemporary hour drama, was the lone regular, playing U.S. marshal Winston MacBride, a family man and federal law enforcer with piercing blue eyes and a somewhat quirky approach to his work. What made THE MARSHAL stand out was its sense of humor. MacBride certainly needed one when dealing with the eccentrics at work, whether it was a nervous government witness (Joe Pantoliano), an adulterous minor-league pitcher or a bank-robbing stripper (Kari Wuhrer). He would much rather use his mouth or his brain than his fist or gun to capture a fugitive, and though he was bright, his trusting nature sometimes led him into trouble.

Amusing guest stars were part of the show’s formula, but the whole thing ultimately fell on Fahey’s shoulders. Not only was MacBride’s determined nature (so much so that he once buried himself in the snow to catch a fugitive fleeing to a hunting cabin in the mountains) and off-kilter unpredictability unusual to the crime genre, but also his status as a family man, which meant no superfluous romantic subplots cluttering up the mysteries. Though MacBride’s family remained something of a mystery themselves, as they were usually only seen at the tag of an episode.

Don Johnson (NASH BRIDGES) was one of the executive producers and even directed the first season’s “Bounty Hunter,” in which he cast his old MIAMI VICE castmate, John Diehl, as a serial killer on the run from both MacBride and an elderly bounty hunter (Brian Keith) who kept getting in the marshal’s way.

9 seasons on NBC
July 1989—September 1998

I don’t know what I can say about SEINFELD that would be new, since it’s unquestionably one of the funniest, most influential and most enduring sitcoms in television history. It dominated NBC’s Thursday “Must See TV” lineup throughout the 1990s, and, amazingly, never “jumped the shark,” leaving the airwaves at the top of its game (discounting its overlong and excruciatingly supercilious final episode). It violated most rules of successful TV comedy, in that it was about four characters who were not particularly bright or likable, which is perhaps why it took so long to catch on with the general public. No way would it be allowed to grow in today’s television landscape, but NBC was smart enough to leave it on the air with the confidence that its hip, clever and sometimes risqué humor would work. It introduced more phrases into the American lexicon than any other show: “master of his domain,” “no soup for you,” “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” “spongeworthy,” yada yada yada.

5 seasons on ABC
January 1974—March 1978

Nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh. Make that sound effect in the office or at the sports bar, and every man of a certain age (say, 35—45)—and many women too, for that matter—will know exactly what you’re referencing. If you were a kid during the 1970s, there’s no question of what you were doing on Sunday nights. You were watching “six million dollar man” Steve Austin battle a bevy of traitors, enemy spies, killer robots, misunderstood aliens and a whole slew of exotic baddies, while using his superhuman “bionic” parts: the eye which gave him telescopic and infra-red vision, the right arm that allowed him to toss a baseball at 200 mph, and the two legs that could run 60 mph and leap slightly tall buildings and fences in a single bound. Nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh, as we know, is the international sound effect for “super-cool bionic action.”

Rugged Lee Majors, a veteran of two other popular series by that point, starred as Austin, an Air Force colonel who was badly injured in a jet crash. Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson), head of the Office of Strategic Intelligence, convinced Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks) to outfit Austin with experimental mechanical parts to replace the damaged human limbs. And after spending $6 million to make this “man barely alive” “better, stronger, faster,” Oscar wasn’t going to let Austin return to the Air Force. Instead, he convinced the bionic man to become an OSI agent and travel around the world making it safe for democracy.

Backed by simple family-friendly scripts teeming with globe-trotting adventure, as well as jazzy musical scores composed by Oliver Nelson, J.J. Johnson and Benny Golson (among others), THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN entertained both adults and kids for five solid seasons. It also gave birth to an equally popular spinoff, THE BIONIC WOMAN, which starred Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers, a schoolteacher who received bionics after a skydiving accident, as well as a slew of merchandising, ranging from dolls and record albums to lunch boxes and not one, but two, Charlton comic book series.

THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN’s absence on DVD is head-scratching, considering its massive appeal and Universal’s eagerness to release less popular series like BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP and AIRWOLF in box sets.

4 seasons on CBS
September 1955—September 1959

One of TIME’s most egregious omissions is SGT. BILKO, which is the title it ran under in syndication. Originally called YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH, this crackling sitcom became THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW shortly after its 1955 debut and remained that way during the rest of its four-season run. Nearly every military-set sitcom that followed was an imitation of sorts, particularly MCHALE’S NAVY (oddly, both shows were remade as flop movies during the 1990s) and HOGAN’S HEROES, which would never have existed without BILKO’s blueprint.

Most episodes had more or less the same plot, but that didn’t matter, anchored as they were by the brash Phil Silvers, playing Sgt. Ernie Bilko, a boisterously clever con man who spent his time in the service flim-flamming the brass and dreaming up a series of progressively sillier get-rich schemes. Silvers was one of the funniest and flashiest actors in television history, as any BILKO episode will attest to. His usual foil was dim Colonel Hall, played in a wonderful contrasting supporting turn by Paul Ford, and talented comedians like Allan Melvin, Harvey Lembeck, Joe E. Ross and Billy Sands (later a MCHALE’S regular) backed up Silvers in his grubby schemes. The show’s secret weapon, however, was Maurice Gosfield as slobby Private Doberman, who became so popular that he inspired his own DC Comics series (as did the Bilko show itself).

A triumph of perfect casting and rock-solid comic scripting overseen by the great Nat Hiken, who also amassed credits on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS and CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?, SGT. BILKO, under any name, ranks as the #1 military sitcom of all time.

10 seasons on CBS & NBC
September 1955—September 1965

“Good ee-vening,” greeted Alfred Hitchcock at the top of each episode, setting the tone for another macabre tale of mystery, murder and suspense. Four seasons before CBS premiered Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE, here was a dramatic anthology series concentrating on horrific stories hosted by a popular personality. Hitchcock was then the most well-known film director in America—probably the only one who was a household name—so it seemed like a natural idea for him to host. Though he appeared at the beginning and the end of every episode, he had little to do with them otherwise (he did direct a dozen or so), but they all bore Hitch’s unique stamp. In accordance to Hitchcock’s dark sense of humor, the antagonist often “got away” with murder at the end of the show, though network censors forced the host to add a disclaimer of sorts in his outro, claiming that the police managed to catch up with the killer or some such rot. He knew it was b.s. though, and so did we.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS’ most memorable episodes were definitely steeped in dark humor. In “Lamb to the Slaughter,” the police suspect Barbara Bel Geddes (DALLAS) of murder, but can’t find the weapon (the title gives a hint to its whereabouts), while in “Man from the South,” Peter Lorre (THE MALTESE FALCON) makes a bet with Steve McQueen with McQueen’s pinky finger as the prize.

After seven seasons, five on CBS and two on NBC, the series returned to CBS with a new format and a title change to THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR. While some feel that the switch to an hour format hurt the show (and some do feel padded), I think whatever slight drop in quality that existed was more likely the result of the show already running through seven years worth of stories. Nearly every actor and director in Hollywood wanted to work on Hitch’s show, and even some big names like Joseph Cotten and James Mason leapt at the opportunity to kill or be killed in an episode. In one of the HOUR episodes, a young James Caan (THIEF) snared the lead in a Harlan Ellison teleplay, “Memo from Purgatory,” about a writer who researches New York street life by joining a gang of juvenile delinquents.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

He Lurks The Streets Of Texarkana

If you liked ZODIAC, you might want to give 1976's THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN a spin. It’s not as good as ZODIAC, but it’s a story of a notorious, never-caught serial killer told documentary-style, and director Charles B. Pierce’s depictions of the murders are just as creepy as David Fincher’s in ZODIAC. Unfortunately, Pierce also tries to ruin his movie by adding unwanted and unfunny comic relief in the form of an inept local policeman who loses his car keys and drives his car into a lake during a hot pursuit. This awful comic relief character is portrayed by one Charles B. Pierce—the director—which explains why it’s in the movie.

Set in 1946, the titular town is Texarkana, which was victimized by a string of serial killings perpetrated by a strong, large predator who wore a sack over his head and attacked couples necking on various “lover’s lanes.” In real life, the murderer was known as the “Phantom Killer,” and he was never caught. THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (a wonderful title, by the way) splits its time between the attacks themselves (three victims survived, but none could identify their assailant) and the investigation, led by Texas Ranger Morales (Ben Johnson) and deputy Ramsey (Andrew Prine). Both ends are handled quite well, even if Pierce does fudge the facts somewhat in pursuit of more suspense (the infamous “trombone attack,” for instance, I don’t believe occurred, nor did the climactic chase).

It’s hard to tell from this film whether Pierce is a good director or not. On one hand, the realistic documentary style and his confident handling of the various nighttime attacks—particularly an assault at the home of Helen Reed (Dawn Wells, but you know her as Mary Ann on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) and her husband—are effective in raising goosebumps. On the other, a smart filmmaker—or, perhaps, a more humble one—would know not to soil his thriller with DUKES OF HAZZARD-style humor that has no place in this type of film. I can’t say that the slapstick ruins the film—the good parts are just too good—but it is an irritant. Pierce previously had much success with THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, which was a serious look at a Bigfoot-type monster that portrayed itself as an actual documentary.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Get Ready For The Countdown

TIME recently published its list of the 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME (sic) on its Web site and, presumably, in print. As these types of lists go, I think TIME did a pretty good job--certainly a more credible one than the American Film Institute does with its Top 100 lists (you've probably seen the specials on CBS). Some picks seem a little silly, but when you read the critic's rules, you understand why, for instance, MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS is listed, but FAWLTY TOWERS isn't. His list includes one-time specials, sporting events, TV-movies and miniseries, but few examples of them, which seems like a waste of space. And, as relevant as I think the list is overall, having FELICITY, KING OF THE HILL and "MTV 1982-1983" on it, instead of THE ROCKFORD FILES, COLUMBO and POLICE SQUAD!, just to name a few, is just stupid.

If nothing else, the list has inspired a healthy debate over at Mobius Home Video Forum and has inspired me to create my own Top 100 list. I'm still picking and choosing, and while much of it conforms to TIME's list, quite a bit of it does not, and I'm sure a few entries will have you scratching your head and screaming "idiot!", which should be the case. I'll probably start posting it this weekend. I haven't decided whether to just list all 100 or to do it in spurts, maybe ten at a time. Ultimately, it'll probably come down to how ambitious I feel. Of course, I would welcome any of your suggestions, arguments and comments.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

To Untangle Her Tingle?

The 2005 documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT opens with a claim that 1972's DEEP THROAT, the cause celebre that brought pornography to the suburbs, has grossed more than $600 million. Clearly, this is bullshit. Yes, I know it's the most famous (and infamous) porn film ever made, and the box office gross includes overseas plays and home video, but $600 million is impossible. There's no reason for Universal to inflate the numbers, because I have little doubt that, in terms of production cost to profit, DEEP THROAT probably is the most successful independent picture of all time. And that's impressive enough without doctoring numbers.

It's a surprise to see Universal Studios and Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's production company) involved with this NC-17 documentary, and their participation probably added some gloss and respectability to a film that is, after all, about a notorious sex film haunted by rumors of rape, drug use and organized crime. By the way, it's completely coincidental that I'm writing about sex films in back-to-back posts.

DEEP THROAT, made in Florida on the cheap for around $25,000, made a household name of its star, Linda Lovelace, who was indeed the first adult film performer to become a household name--the first porn star to be referenced in Johnny Carson's and Bob Hope's monologues. Linda starred as Linda Lovelace, whose disappointing sex life was based around the odd biological mutation that her clitoris was located in her throat. Therefore, to achieve sexual fulfillment, she had to, um, hone her oral skills and find a partner with a member prodigious enough to reach her clitoris. In reality, this plot, created by writer/director Gerard Damiano, is based on Lovelace's actual talent for "deep throating," which wasn't called that, of course, until the film.

DEEP THROAT (which I haven't seen, by the way) struck some sort of chord with mainstream Americans, which made it a box-office sensation on the level of a Hollywood hit like, oh, THE STING or THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. It was one of the first (maybe the first?) porn films to play regular theaters, not just the grindhouses, and the first that normal everyday suburban middle- and upper-class couples attended together. Going to DEEP THROAT in those days was no different that going to see THE GODFATHER. The fact that DEEP THROAT is, apparently, an awful film didn't matter. As one writer put it, seeing DEEP THROAT was not nearly as important as being able to say one saw it. Curiosity likely brought in more paying customers than its content.

Of course, where would society be without those wonderful men and women who thanklessly take it upon themselves to serve as our moral chaperones and decide for us what movies we adults should be able to see? DEEP THROAT became the subject of several court cases in which local prosecutors sought to ban the film for being obscene. In one shocking case in Tennessee, Lovelace's co-star, noted adult film actor Harry Reems, was convicted of a conspiracy charge for no other reason than that he was in the film! Thankfully, the conviction was later overturned.

To get back to my original subject, INSIDE DEEP THROAT is a fine documentary that looks at all facets of the film from its making, the backgrounds of its makers, and the notoriety it inspired. Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato interview nearly everyone even remotely involved with DEEP THROAT, including Damiano (now an old man with a bad toupee in Florida), Reems (a likable, intelligent man now working in real estate in Utah), the production manager, the location manager and theater owners who booked the film (Lovelace died in a 2002 car crash, but is heavily represented through archival footage and interviews with her family and friends). Other subjects, such as directors Wes Craven (who actually directed hardcore films early in his career) and John Waters, help place the adult-film art form in its proper historical perspective, while DEEP THROAT's legal battles are concisely told by the attorneys, judges, cops and even FBI agents (!) who were involved.

One aspect where INSIDE falls short is its connection to organized crime. According to the film, Damiano owned 1/3 of DEEP THROAT, while two reputed mobsters (who are named) owned the rest. Even though DEEP THROAT was worth millions, Damiano's partners forced him to sell them his share for less than it was worth. INSIDE fails to dig into this story, which sounds as though it could itself be the basis of an interesting film.

INSIDE DEEP THROAT earns its NC-17 rating with many glimpses of sex and nudity and much frank talk. And, yes, you do get to see for yourself Linda Lovelace's unique talent without which this documentary could never have existed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Tomorrow's Sexiest Comedy Today

You may not believe it, but grownup men and women actually used to go to a movie theater and pay to see silly softcore adaptations of childhood fairy tales. Setting the pace was 1976's ALICE IN WONDERLAND, a raunchy musical comedy version of Lewis Carroll's classic novel, which was available in both "soft" R-rated and hardcore X-rated cuts. I have the X-rated ALICE with a few extra minutes of bizarre "hard" inserts that must be seen to be believed. Actually, there are at least three different versions of ALICE, because B-Fest once ran a print that eliminated some hardcore sex scenes (with gag "Scene Missing" cards), but not all of them, which probably came as quite a shock to the dad and his two preteen sons sitting in front of us.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND made a ton of money for its producer, Bill Osco, who earlier tread similar ground with FLESH GORDON, an X-rated spoof of Alex Raymond's legendary comic strip FLASH GORDON. Seeing box office gold, rival producers decided to rush out their own sexy fairy tales to market. One of them was Sam Sherman, the president of Independent-International Pictures, who set to work on what would eventually be titled CINDERELLA 2000. Director Al Adamson, a more likely nominee for World's Worst Director than even Ed Wood, was Sherman's I-I partner and made CINDERELLA 2000 in Los Angeles on a very frugal budget. Not only was it a musical comedy, but it was also a science fiction movie, an angle that Sherman concedes (in his DVD commentary) was created to set his movie apart in the marketplace from other ripoffs released at the same time.

Being as CINDERELLA 2000 is an Adamson movie, it stinks on ice (VIDEO WATCHDOG's John Charles calls it Adamson's worst film, which is saying a lot). Catherine Erhardt, then known for her leading roles in classy porno productions (when there were such a thing) like THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, nails the title role and is actually fairly good. As Cindy, she is tormented by her perpetually horny stepmother (Renee Harmon) and bitchy stepsisters, one white (Adina Ross) and one black (Buri Cowans).

However, Adamson's sci-fi take is set in a futuristic society where sex has been outlawed by The Controller (Erwin Fuller). Anyone caught doing the dirty is wrapped in bubble wrap and shrunk to the size of a Barbie doll (just one of several inept visual effects accomplished by MGM's Titles & Opticals department). When Tom Prince (Vaughn Armstrong, still working in TV thirty years later) convinces The Controller to throw a masquerade ball and allow free love to occur, Cindy, with the help of her Brit-accented fairy godfather (Jay B. Larson), shows up.

As great as a softcore sex sci-fi musical version of CINDERELLA sounds (one...two...three...), Adamson's film is neither sex nor funny. On the bright side, Erhardt, as previously mentioned, is quite a fetching lead, and a few of the songs, particularly one that plays over Bob LeBar's entertaining animated titles, are toe-tappers. On the other hand, once you've seen Roscoe, one of cinema's lamest robots, singing and dancing or a field full of actors in bunny costumes simulating sex, you'll wish you could forget it.

The same year, Charles Band produced CINDERELLA, another (slightly better) musical sex comedy with drive-in queen Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith (and her "snapping pussy") in the lead. Band also produced the similarly R-rated FAIRY TALES in 1979.

A far throw from futuristic musical sex movies is 1954's SERPENT ISLAND, only known today as the first screen credit for editor/cinematographer Bert I. Gordon, who went on to become a prolific director of science fiction movies like THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE and KING DINOSAUR. It takes exactly half of this 62-minute color cheapie to reach the titular isle, which is inhabited by exactly one stock footage snake. Sonny Tufts is the lead, and the fact that Tufts is in it tells you exactly the kind of movie it is.

The barrel-chested Tufts also narrates as Paul Mason, a boozy sailor hired by Scranton secretary Ricki (Mary Munday) to join a sailboat crew headed for Haiti, where she hopes to find treasure hidden by her great-grandfather 150 years ago. The captain is Kirk Ellis (Tom Monroe), Mason's archenemy, and the first half-hour is a triple-hander showing the two men jostling for position as Ricki's favorite. Stock footage and story cliches inhabit this mundane melodrama, which was also the film debut of writer/director Tom Gries, who graduated to television work and eventually major Hollywood features such as WILL PENNY and BREAKHEART PASS.