Thursday, July 31, 2008
THE DEATH OF OCEAN VIEW PARK, starring Mike Connors as Roy Scheider and Martin Landau as Murray Hamilton, was one of a handful of TV-movies produced by Playboy magazine. Just like in JAWS, it's the Fourth of July at Ocean View Amusement Park, and something really hinky is going on. Connors (MANNIX) is the guy who says, "We have to close the park," and Landau (SPACE: 1999) is the dumbass who claims, "There's no shark...uh...I mean, no ghosts in Ocean View Park!" Director E.W. Swackhamer filmed at a real amusement park in Norfolk, Virginia, and the actual wooden rollercoaster there was blown up on camera and used in the film.
Like dozens of made-for-TV movies of the 1970s, THE DEATH OF OCEAN VIEW PARK would be probably fun to see again and is almost impossible to see. I'm still unsure why Hollywood has been slow to release these pictures on DVD, because there is an audience for them.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
September 29 & October 6, 1979
Music: Stu Phillips
Teleplay: Michael Sloan
Story: Glen A. Larson & Michael Sloan
Director: Christian I. Nyby II
BJ AND THE BEAR returned for its second season on NBC, still stuck in a very tough Saturday timeslot opposite ABC's monster hit, THE LOVE BOAT. Although BJ survived Captain Stubing's bouncy wake, its CBS counterpart, BIG SHAMUS LITTLE SHAMUS, a detective series starring Brian Dennehy, was cancelled very quickly.
With BJ's usual tormentor, Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins), the star of his own NBC spinoff, executive producers Glen A. Larson and Michael Sloan filled the bill with a new Lobo clone, a bumbling comic antagonist played by veteran character actor Slim Pickens named Sgt. Beauregard Wiley, a devious, corrupt deputy in the employ of clueless Sheriff Masters (Richard Deacon). Wiley gains a partner in BJ's two-part season premiere, that of officer Wilhemina "The Fox" Johnson (Conchata Ferrell), who is sent by the governor to investigate Masters' department, but ends up cutting herself in for half his profits.
Wiley is also on the payroll of Hi Baller, a trucking company run by Hammer (Charles Napier) and Riker (Bill McKinney), two mean cusses who bully the competition and charge the county's highest rates. Their latest ire is aimed at the Piston Packin' Mamas, a trucking organization spearheaded by BJ (Greg Evigan) and populated by six foxy drivers, including Tommy (Janet Louise Johnson, who appeared in different roles during Season One), Leather (Carlene Watkins, later on BEST OF THE WEST), Chattanooga (Sonia Manzano), Sal (Julie Gregg), Angel (Daryle Ann Lindley) and Honey (curvy Angela Aames, another holdover from BJ's first year). Everybody hangs out at Bullets' (Joshua Shelley) truck stop, which includes a swanky Jacuzzi room.
Basically, BJ and the girls receive trucking contracts, while Hammer and Riker, with Wiley's aid, sabotage their runs and spoil their loads. Some chases, stunts and crashes mix with a couple of fights and explosions, as well as Aames bouncing around in a bikini and nuzzling Napier's face. Hey, what more could you want from a Glen A. Larson series? Season Two also marks the beginning of Stu Phillips' tenure as BJ AND THE BEAR's composer. He and Larson had worked together on earlier shows, particularly BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and he would go on to write music for others, including KNIGHT RIDER.
Monday, July 28, 2008
UPDATE: Karen called me yesterday in response to my email asking for an update. Apparently, the engineers are still poking around it, testing it, even testing the input jacks and with various cable connections. The DVD-Rs that I sent to them that were unsuccessful burns have been shipped to Japan to be examined there. She could not say, however, whether the engineers had yet determined that the DVD recorder was, in fact, malfunctioning.
Shatner fans should check out this episode of THE SIXTH SENSE, even though it isn't very good. Produced by Universal in late 1971 and first aired by ABC February 26, 1972 (my brother's third birthday), "Can a Dead Man Strike from the Grave?" casts the former Captain Kirk (wearing longer, wavier hair) as Edwin Danbury, a wealthy architect living with his beautiful younger wife Elizabeth (Anne Archer, who was stunning then) in the family mansion where his grandfather lived decades earlier. Elizabeth becomes worried by the temperamental Edwin's increasingly frequent bouts of unexplained behavior, where he speaks using a strange voice, plays classical music on the grand piano (even though he doesn't know how), or just stares at something happening in the room that she can't see.
She contacts Dr. Michael Rhodes (series star Gary Collins), a university professor specializing in parapsychology. While poking around the Danbury house, where Edwin does not make him feel welcome, Rhodes meets Elizabeth's sister Helene (Bettye Ackerman) and niece Stephanie (Pam Peters), as well as Edwin's busybody assistant Phyllis (Allison McKay), who attempts to stir up trouble by insinuating to her boss that Elizabeth and Rhodes are having an affair. Stephanie tells Rhodes, who has begun to suspect Edwin's late grandfather of being involved in the spooky happenings, that no one is allowed in the family attic, where the Danbury history is suspected to be stored. Who's haunting whom and why, are the questions nagging at Rhodes, who apparently has no classes to teach and plenty of free time to hang around the Danbury estate.
Surprisingly, considering the script is by a good television writer, Gene L. Coon (a former STAR TREK producer), and directed by action specialist Alf Kjellin, "Can a Dead Man..?" is lifeless and dull. It looks as though it were shot on leftover THRILLER sets (I swear some of those props I've seen a dozen times in other shows) and a back corner of the Universal lot. All the roles are basically thankless ones. Collins, a genial but bland leading man, provides Rhodes with nothing indicating a history or personality. Besides his professional interest in the paranormal, he seems to have no likes, dislikes or traits of any kind. No Fox Mulder, he.
As for Shatner, less than three years after STAR TREK completed production, he gets to rant and rave, like he does so well, and act generally weird through most of the running time. And make out with Anne Archer, which I'm sure he didn't mind. It's one of the few Shatner TV performances of that era I hadn't seen, so it was nice to finally catch up with it, even though the show is pretty lame.
For some reason, as boring as it is, THE SIXTH SENSE has almost always been in syndication. That's because Universal, looking to boost the sales of its ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY, another NBC series about spooky stuff, mixed THE SIXTH SENSE into its episode bunch, even going so far as to hire Serling to provide introductions to SIXTH SENSE segments as if they had always been part of NIGHT GALLERY.
Those who have seen NIGHT GALLERY in reruns know well how poorly Universal treated it, chopping up the one-hour episodes and mixing up the individual stories to make 30-minute episodes, meaning some stories of the anthology series were seen apart from the stories they originally aired with, and some never aired at all. In the case of THE SIXTH SENSE, well, you can imagine what would happen if you took an hour episode of your favorite show and cut 25 minutes out of it to fit it into a half-hour timeslot. THE SIXTH SENSE has probably gotten something of a bum rap over the years, because the half-hour versions are literally incomprehensible, but the original hour shows are nothing special either. Strangely, the Chiller cable station is currently running NIGHT GALLERY in a one-hour slot, but with the SIXTH SENSE episodes still as part of it in its original form (and when I say "original form," I don't really mean that, as Chiller has cut all their shows of several minutes to add more commercials).
THE SIXTH SENSE managed to run for two half-seasons, beginning in January 1972 and leaving the air about a year later with 25 episodes altogether. Collins remained an incredibly popular TV actor throughout the 1970s who eventually reinvented himself in the '80s hosting daytime talk shows and the Miss America pageant.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
I'm getting impatient with Lancer's Enforcer series, which is getting less interesting as I go along. After debuting with a lively jungle adventure, the fourth book of the series (and of 1973) is something of a bore. Not a lot of "enforcing" is going on around here, and author Andrew Sugar (whomever he may be) appears to be losing track of his characters. After suffering a huge emotional loss in this novel, KILL DEADLINE, hero Alex Jason bounces right back a few pages later as though nothing had happened. It just doesn't sit right, considering what Sugar has told us about Jason's relationship with this person.
Jason is asked to find a serial killer codenamed Darkhurst who is knocking off wealthy individuals, always on the 10th of the month, every month, one at a time. When Darkhurst's latest victim is a member of the John Anryn Institute, the private thinktank that employs Jason and other clones like him, Jason, his boss Flack, and Rosegold, the doctor who invented the exclusive cloning process that allows him to transfer minds from one clone body to another every ninety days (which is how long it takes before the bodies begin to melt into gooey protoplasm), shelter a survivor, Richards, and plop Jason into a clone of Richards to serve as bait.
The Enforcer novels are becoming increasingly setbound, and KILL DEADLINE rarely bothers to even leave the Institute. Virtually every scene takes place indoors, and most of them are quite talky, though mystery fans may find interest in Jason's attempt to discover Darkhurst's identity (it didn't ring true to me). Adding to my dissatisfaction is the fact that Sugar turns out about 220 pages, which is probably at least forty too many. Two more remain in the Enforcer series, and I'll get to them, but not excitedly.
I should have written a review of THE DOOR, #3 in the Mind Masters series, but I couldn't finish it. It seems to be about a psychic racecar driver investigating something involving Stonehenge, but at nearly the halfway point, nothing much was happening, and I dropped THE DOOR. Author John Rossmann also writes in the present tense, which I found disorienting.
Friday, July 25, 2008
September 25, 1979
Teleplay: Glen A. Larson & Frank Lupo
Story: Thomas Szollosi & Richard Christian Matheson and Glen A. Larson & Frank Lupo
Director: James Sheldon
Twenty years after sadist Claude Akins forced down-and-out drunken deputy Dean Martin to dig a coin for a desperately needed nip out of a spittoon, the two performers reteamed for the second episode of THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO. The title neatly spoofs Dean's former co-stars on his long-running variety show, the Golddiggers. As was his custom, it looks like Martin refused to rehearse or even memorize his lines, as his performance playing himself lacks verve, though I'm sure his guest-starring role—much more than a cameo—gave the fledgling series a ratings boost.
For the first time, Sheriff Lobo (Akins) faces re-election against a candidate even more corrupt than he: a local attorney (Ben Cooper) who runs a local moonshining operation that employs two redneck brothers (Dennis Fimple, Bruce Fischer). If Lobo can bust the moonshiners, he'll be able to run for office unopposed, which everyone knows is the only way he can win honestly. Leaving Deputy Birdie Hawkins (Brian Kerwin) and comely new deputy Margaret Ellen (Janet Lyn Curtis) in charge of staking out the moonshine ring, Lobo schemes to trap Dean Martin into performing at his campaign rally by setting a speedtrap for his limousine and convincing him the show is to benefit a local orphanage.
Lowbrow humor, to be sure, but also amusing and fun, as veteran director Sheldon (whose career went way back to MR. PEEPERS) throws in a couple of nice car chases and close-ups for sexy female behinds—something for everyone. Co-writer Lupo, who started with co-writer/executive producer Glen A. Larson on SWORD OF JUSTICE, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and BJ AND THE BEAR, soon switched his allegiance to fellow uber-creator Stephen J. Cannell, who hired him to produce THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. Young writers Szollosi and Matheson (the son of acclaimed fantasy novelist and screenwriter Richard Matheson) also joined the Cannell stable, story editing THE A-TEAM.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Those interested in the tall, voluptuous ingenue may appreciate her first feature film, BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW, which was filmed before, but released after, THE NEW ORIGINAL WONDER WOMAN (sic) debuted on ABC. Chances are if you’ve sought out this American International drive-in flick, it’s because you heard that Lynda goes topless in it. Well, she does, and it makes watching this violent BONNIE & CLYDE ripoff worthwhile.
Carter, who filmed this just after making the WONDER WOMAN pilot, plays Bobbie Jo, a small-town waitress looking for thrills who hooks up with Lyle Wheeler (Marjoe Gortner, seen above with Carter), a fast-draw artist and small-time thief who graduates to bank robbery and murder with Bobbie Jo as part of his small gang of amateurs.
This was actually junk actor Gortner’s first leading role in a feature as well, after some television parts and an earlier career as an evangelist. He was only slightly more experienced before a camera than Carter, who demonstrates the breezy personality and stunning physicality that earned her television stardom. It’s good for her that she nailed that elusive Big Break—the lead on a successful TV series—that eluded so many other young women who slogged through breast- and bullet-oriented exploitation movies of the 1970s. Director Mark Lester, whose oeuvre also includes CLASS OF 1984 (which I like) and TRUCK STOP WOMEN (which I don't), makes the film slightly entertaining with some good stunts, but is really only worth watching for Lynda.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
September 18, 1979
Music: William Broughton
Teleplay: Glen A. Larson
Story: Chris Bunch & Allan Cole & Glen A. Larson
Director: Dick Harwood
After four appearances on BJ AND THE BEAR, including its two-hour pilot and its first-season ender, NBC decided the character of Sheriff Elroy P. Lobo was ready for his own television series. Lobo, as portrayed by veteran Hollywood character actor Claude Akins (whose major film career included RIO BRAVO, THE CAINE MUTINY and INHERIT THE WIND, as well as dozens of television shows), was a real bastard in the BJ AND THE BEAR pilot and a deeply corrupt lawman in his other appearances. However, he was considerably lightened up in THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO, which was a full-fledged comedy, more so even than BJ AND THE BEAR. The tone of the series, which, like BJ AND THE BEAR, was created by its executive producer, Glen A. Larson, is evident from its opening title sequence, which is a lot of fun and features a hilarious theme song spoof penned by Larson and sung by Frankie Laine (RAWHIDE):
"The Day That Shark Ate Lobo" is not really a pilot, since the characters and scenario had already been introduced on BJ AND THE BEAR, but does a good job establishing what the series will be like. The Universal Studios mechanical shark attraction gets a workout in an episode filmed almost entirely on the backlot (at least it appears that way). Bank robber Dandy Jim Bundy (Christopher George) breaks out of Carbondale State Prison (I wonder if this is an in-joke about the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, which is close to Carbondale, the home of Southern Illinois University) and heads to Orly County, along with his female associate (Caren Kaye) to retrieve the $2 million he stashed there before his arrest.
Meanwhile, Lobo learns about a 500-pound fish discovered in an Orly lagoon and concocts a scheme to charge fisherman $200 a head for the opportunity to catch it. Of course, the best laid plans and all that jazz, as Lobo's idiot deputy Perkins (Mills Watson) accidentally kills the fish, which leads Lobo to blackmail a vacationing special effects technician to lend him his mechanical shark (just go with it…) to fool the fisherman with. Meanwhile (again), Dandy Jim is busy inserting a real great white into the lagoon in order to scare away the fisherman, so he can retrieve his loot from the bottom of the lagoon (no kidding).
Less than four years later, the rugged, athletic George would be dead of a heart attack at 54, and this episode was among his last TV appearances. He really isn't given a lot to do, certainly not of a physical nature, which was a specialty of the former RAT PATROL star. His leading lady, Caren Kaye, had just been on NBC's flop sitcom WHO'S WATCHING THE KIDS? with Scott Baio and Jim Belushi (!) and would soon go on to her most fondly remembered role as the comely French teacher with a yen for teen boys in the one-time HBO perennial MY TUTOR.
Larson's teleplay, based on a story he wrote with duo Chris Bunch and Allan Cole (veterans of other Universal series like BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY and MAGNUM, P.I.), is silly and complex, though I think its ridiculous turns are part of the gag. Akins, almost always cast during his forty-year career as a brute or a heavy, clearly is having fun playing broad slapstick, and Watson complements him well as his bumbling sidekick.
One misstep is the episode's clumsy insert of a cameo by Greg Evigan as BJ McKay, whom Lobo calls to deliver the mechanical shark in his semi. This episode makes BJ and Lobo look like friends, or at the very least friendly adversaries, which wasn't the case on BJ AND THE BEAR when Lobo kept tossing BJ in jail or even attempting to kill him. Larson probably did this to help prepare the audience for the new, comic Sheriff Lobo; heck, if our hero BJ likes him, he must be okay after all.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Of the new productions, one of the most interesting is Mel Brooks' commentary on the pilot episode that he wrote with the series' co-creator Buck Henry (Henry also receives a commentary track). While it isn't anything earth-shattering, it's one of the few times I've ever heard Brooks discuss his connection with GET SMART, so it's historically important. Among the show's cast and crew who receive extended interviews (up to a half-hour or more): star Barbara Feldon, guest actor Bernie Kopell, director Bruce Bilson (who won an Emmy for an episode), executive producer Leonard Stern and Buck Henry.
The set is also jammed with old NBC promos, star Don Adams' appearances on THE BILL DANA SHOW (very funny) and THE ANDY WILLIAMS SHOW, some post-GET SMART commercials in which Adams sends up his Maxwell Smart character, blooper reels and more. I was very surprised to see the candid inclusion of Adams' 75th birthday roast held at the Playboy Mansion (in which "Yarmy's Army" buddies like James Caan, Don Rickles and Gary Owens josh the bald star) and a videotape of Adams' memorial service, presided over by the star's former son-in-law, actor Jim Beaver (SUPERNATURAL), and featuring more storytelling by Rickles, Caan and many others, including actor Gordon Clapp, the NYPD BLUE Emmy nominee who starred with Adams in the '80s sitcom CHECK IT OUT, which aired in the U.S. on the USA cable channel.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
BEACH QUEEN BLOWOUT is a paperback I picked up last weekend at a flea market for 50 cents. I'd never heard of the series before: Operation Hang Ten, which were apparently published by Macfadden Bartel from 1969 to 1973. Like the CHOPPER COP series, these books were "produced" by a man named Lyle Kenyon Engel, who is reported to have farmed out writing assignments to various pseudonymous authors who published as Patrick Morgan (it appears George Snyder may have been at least one "Morgan").
The Operation Hang Ten books were obviously influenced by THE MOD SQUAD, the hit ABC-TV series that premiered in the fall of 1968. I'd don't know how many times I've mentioned that I wish some enterprising producer had adapted some of these trashy paperbacks into film or television products, but it actually happened this time. In 1973, ABC and Viacom produced a 30-minute pilot for an OPERATION HANG TEN television series, which would have starred Christopher Stone (THE HOWLING) as the main character and Victor French (LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) as his boss. Produced by Herb Solow and written by Gene Coon—both veterans of STAR TREK—the pilot was reportedly filmed, but not sold.
BEACH QUEEN BLOWOUT, #8 in the paperback series, published in 1971, follows the exploits of Bill Cartwright, a 24-year-old championship surfer and star USC athlete who inherited $10 million after the accidental death of his parents. Decked out with a gadget-filled mobile home and a beatup Woody (hey, the Mod Squad had one of those too), Cartwright became a private detective and went to work for Operation Hang Ten, a shadowing crimefighting organization led by a former CIA operative named Jim Dana, a gruff but compassionate man who is one of the few "over 30s" that Cartwright trusts.
Perfect Oil Company is being plagued by a sexy saboteur who is damaging their off-shore wells and forcing them to leak into the Pacific. A heart-shaped birthmark on her breast is her only identifying feature, and Cartwright believes she may be one of the Beach Queens, a gang of young women who gather at one of the few coves so far unaffected by the massive oil spill. Bill falls for one of them, Lynn, the daughter of a prominent senator, who tells him that she is also investigating the spills on behalf of her father.
No matter how high the stakes rise—and they do when the mysterious blackmailers demand $10 million not to blow up Perfect's nine platforms—Cartwright barely seems to notice, as he does precious little investigating, spending more time surfing and sipping Scotches than poking around any crime scenes. Only when the stakes become personal does he become interested.
Surf buffs will probably find this book indispensable. I thought the subject matter and the milieu were unusual enough to set it apart, but greatly lacking in violent or sexual content, outside of a curious genderbending twist that is underdeveloped. For a counterculture hero, Cartwright doesn't seem to care much for the counterculture, and his attitude towards women belongs to a man at least twenty years older and a decade earlier. I understand that other Operation Hang Ten books may be more bizarrely plotted, and they do seem to have offbeat, interest-catching titles along the line of BEACH QUEEN BLOWOUT, such as DEATH CAR SURFSIDE, TOPLESS DANCER HANGUP, SCARLET SURF AT MAKAHA and CUTE AND DEADLY SURF TWINS. Engel's companion series about a young, authority-hating "chopper cop" who solves murders for an exclusive police force answerable to the governor of California is more intriguing than BEACH QUEEN BLOWOUT, but I'd be willing to give the Operation Hang Ten series another shot.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Casting is pretty good (I'd like to see Gary Oldman in a Commissioner Gordon movie). It's fun to see Eric Roberts on the big screen again, and casting accomplished actors like William Fichtner and Nicky Katt in small roles gives their characters extra weight in their brief appearances. Maggie Gyllenhaal is, obviously, a big improvement over Katie Holmes in BATMAN BEGINS, but almost anyone would have been.
Visual effects are fine (director Christopher Nolan uses CGI sparingly), music is awful, action sequences confusing and disjointed (Michael Winner could direct a better Batman film than Nolan), effective use of Chicago (even if it is too obviously Chicago we're seeing). Heath Ledger is fine, though nobody would be talking Oscar if the guy was still alive, believe me. He's really doing some Nicholson mixed with Anthony Hopkins and the Cesar Romero laugh. He's a good foil for Batman though.
As usual, the Batman character is kinda weak. Setting aside the stupid voice, Batman comes across as less of a special human, but rather someone who can afford a lot of toys. He does precious little detecting, but why should he, when the writers have handed him gadgets with unlimited power. He might as well as carried Bat-Shark Repellent for all the subtlety the writers show, including the ability to listen to every cellular phone in Gotham City. Not just phone calls, but any conversation taking place near the phone. The movie doesn't give me the impression that Batman is anybody special, but just a guy who has access to super-duper technology (which would tend to narrow the field when it comes to deducing his secret identity).
THE DARK KNIGHT is not the Batman movie I want to see, but, like BATMAN BEGINS, is relatively entertaining before it falls apart beneath the weight of its own self-importance.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Siding with a band of revolutionaries, whom author Joseph Rosenberger doesn't always portray favorably, the Death Merchant and CIA crony Vallie West engage in several bloody battles as only Rosenberger can describe them. Surprisingly and disappointingly, the author makes very little use of the Camellion clones. It reads as though he was reaching the end of the book and thought, "Oh dear, I guess they really should make an appearance." The notion of the Death Merchant fighting five equally lethal versions of himself is not as dramatic or bizarre as it should have been, but I'm giving INVASION OF THE CLONES a thumbs-up anyway.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
As a series finale, I suppose "The Truth" works well enough, wrapping up a few of creator Chris Carter's many tangled plot threads and bringing back some fan favorite characters, including several who were dead or believed to be dead. Carter's absurd plot puts Mulder on trial in a kangaroo court headed by FBI Deputy Director Kersh (James Pickens, Jr.) on a murder charge. With Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) Mulder's handpicked defense attorney in Kersh's circus court, the trial brings in a few ghosts of X-FILES past for no particular point, except that it's nice to see them again. For every question Carter answers, many more remain hanging, and it all ends on a bleak, though hopeful, note.
What any of it has to do with the upcoming THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, who knows? Probably very little, though I'm curious to find out how Mulder and Scully--fugitives on the run from both the law and shadow government figures who want to kill them--could possibly end up working with the FBI (according to press stills) again.
On a completely unrelated note, I also Netflixed VANTAGE POINT, which is a bad political thriller that hit DVD recently. If you're going to tell the same story six or seven times, it had better be a compelling one, but VANTAGE POINT sadly is not. It shows an assassination attempt on the President of the United States (William Hurt) from the viewpoints of several witnesses, including a Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), a humble American tourist (Forest Whitaker) and others who may or may not be involved in the conspiracy. Grossly lacking in characterization or sense, VANTAGE POINT does offer a pretty good car chase that's sure to turn up as stock footage in DTV cheapies for years to come. Quaid is always best when he's playing someone with a sense of humor, which this Secret Service agent does not. VANTAGE POINT was made by a European television director named Pete Travis who doesn't appear to be untalented.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
May 5, 1979
Music: William Broughton
Teleplay: Glen A. Larson
Story: Glen A. Larson & Michael Sloan
Director: Bruce Bilson
BJ AND THE BEAR ended its first season on NBC with this direct sequel to "Lobo's Revenge." What it really is is a backdoor pilot for THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO, which would premiere the following fall. BJ (Greg Evigan) spends most of his time cooling his heels and eating Chinese food from Danny's Disco Roller Rink in Lobo's jail, while the sheriff (Claude Akins), dumb deputy Perkins (Mills Watson) and new deputy Birdwell "Birdie" Hawkins (Brian Kerwin), an impossibly naïve Harvard grad with an inexplicable hero worship for Lobo, establish their characterizations and tone for their series-to-come.
BJ is stupid enough to take a job delivering cement to Orly, where he is subpoenaed to testify at Lobo's trial (he was arrested in "Lobo's Revenge"). Of course, the fix is in, Lobo gets out of his legal jam, and BJ ends up in jail on a trumped-up perjury charge. Meanwhile, Lobo contends with his new deputy, Birdie, the mayor's son, and how to continue his conniving ways without the new kid catching on.
In order to make Lobo a hero fit for a weekly TV audience, writers Glen A. Larson and Michael Sloan take some of the edge off the character (and rightly so), turning him into a greedy but harmless scalawag, rather than a dangerous felon. They set up the change in Lobo's personality well by having him react flatteringly to Hawkins, who really does believe his new boss is a good man. Birdie's affection is enough to convince Lobo to push back against corrupt town banker Cunningham (Dennis Burkley) and prevent him from using faulty cement (the same stuff BJ delivered) in the new dam, which could endanger the lives of everyone in Orly. Akins adjusts well to the new Lobo (and he probably appreciated the opportunity to play an increasingly comic and sympathetic character after years of heavies), and the returning Bruce Bilson handles the requisite slapstick and stunts with aplomb.
When BJ AND THE BEAR returned for its second season in the fall of 1979, BJ found himself with a series of semi-regular foils added to take Sheriff Lobo's place, including Murray Hamilton (JAWS), Ed Lauter (THE LONGEST YARD) and Richard Deacon (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW's Mel Cooley) as lawmen with plenty of wrecked police cars in their wakes.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
"Who should I ask for at this number?"
"Anybody who answers the phone will be able to help you."
He was kind of right. It took me three tries to get someone on the line, because of Panasonic's confusing phone menu that doesn't tell a caller what to do if you don't know the name or extension of whom you're calling. I got a friendly switchboard operator who was confused when I told her why I was calling, but she eventually got me somebody else, who was equally confused. That person, also polite, told me I would get a callback later in the day from a supervisor in the "DVD Recorder Department."
And I did. I received a very nice, comforting call from Karen, who told me, "Looking at these case notes, I can't believe what has been happening" (nor can I). She asked ("if you don't mind") if I would pack up my DVD recorder again, but this time send it to the corporate office, where engineers could look at it. I asked what would happen there that hasn't already happened at the Repair Center, and she replied that these would be engineers looking at the unit, and they will find out what is wrong with it. Which makes me wonder: who do they have repairing units at the Repair Center, and why don't they have engineers there?
I also told her my belief that the DVD drive is defective in it (without getting any "we don't use defective parts," like I did from David at Customer Care), and also that it's possible the spindle is dirty (thanks to the forum poster who pointed that out), but I couldn't clean it myself without voiding the warranty (which she agreed, yes, that would). I told her what brands of DVD-R I've been using, and since the unit has malfunctioned with at least three different brands, the discs can't be the culprit.
Karen (whose last name I'm leaving out, but I appreciate that she's the first Panasonic employee to provide one) offered to e-mail a shipping label, so I can send my unit to her. She also provided me with her e-mail address and telephone extension, and invited me to contact her if I needed to. We also made sure Panasonic had my correct contact info, since I've changed phone numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses in recent weeks. Oh, and she also promised to send me some Panasonic DVD-Rs, which I didn't ask for, but I appreciate the gesture.
Reason to be optimistic? I think so, though I've been optimistic before and been let down. It's my nature to be hopeful in these situations and assume that professionals will act professionally. I know that doesn't always happen (I never told you about my clashes with HSBC earlier this year that let to me paying off my credit card and never using it again), but I feel I can take Karen at her word.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
To give credit where credit is due, I received excellent customer service this week from Kidde and Brink's. On the same night, I discovered my Kidde smoke/carbon monoxide alarm and my Brink's outdoor motion detector were not working properly. I called each company's toll-free line yesterday afternoon. The Kidde operator was extremely polite and promised to send a free replacement immediately. She said it should arrive in 7-10 days and gave me some instructions (not in the manual, I believe) on what I should do with it before installing it.
At Brink's, the service agent was not at his desk when I called, but I left a voicemail message with my name, number and description of the problem. He was also very polite, and, after some discussion, decided that my sensor was defective. He also promised to send a free replacement sensor immediately. No hassles or arguments, and certainly no discussion over whether my products actually worked properly. This is how customer service is supposed to be.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Some dates, conversations, etc. in the early part of my tale may be shaky; I would have kept better notes if I'd known what hell I was stepping into when I first bought my Panasonic DVD recorder: DMR-EH75V with VHS, an 80GB hard drive and a TV Guide On Screen function for $429.99. I bought this in March 2007 at the local Circuit City and had no problems with it until around last Christmas. I burned literally hundreds of DVD-Rs using it, most of them Taiyo Yudens. But then, late last year, the DVD drive crapped out on it. It wouldn't boot any discs. Wouldn't play or record, because it wouldn't accept any discs. I made my first (of what so far has been dozens) telephone call to the Panasonic Customer Care (PCC, from now on) line, where I soon learned they don't "care" about their customers. The operator I spoke to said he would send me a disc to update the firmware.
"If the machine doesn't boot any discs, how am I going to update the firmware with your disc?"
He hemmed and hawed, and suggested I try it anyway. Several days later, the disc comes, and, hey, what do you know, it doesn't work. Why a trained Panasonic Customer Care worker didn't see this coming, and I—a regular Joe—did is anyone's guess. So I called back, and they suggested I ship the machine off to the Repair Center (PRC, hereupon) in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. It was still under its original warranty, so they emailed me a shipping label and advised I take it to a UPS store for free shipping.
Super-fast turnaround—they received it January 22, and I had it back less than two weeks later. According to their official paperwork, they "replaced DVD drive," and I could tell, because it made a loud sound when it opened, closed and burned discs. After the first two DVD-Rs I attempted to burn failed, causing the machine to go into "disc recovery mode," I called the PCC, who advised me to send the machine back to the PRC. I said, "I just got it back yesterday! (you have to let the machine sit with the power off for 24 hours after initial setup for the TV Guide On Screen function)" No avail, so they emailed me another shipping label, I disconnected all the cords and wires, put it back in the original box, took it back to the UPS Store, shipped it back to Elk Grove Village.
This happened about three weeks later, because it took me some time to get the label and make the frustrating effort to take everything apart and send the machine in. Around March 11, I get the machine back with a letter from the PRC that tells me, literally, they did nothing to it. According to them, it works perfectly, everything checks out, they found nothing wrong with it, they made zero repairs. So I hook it back up, set it up, wait 24 hours, burn some discs…same problem. A couple here and there work fine, but, out of ten attempts, only three burn successfully.
Another call to the PCC. Another request to send the unit back to the PRC. I'm fuming by this time, and ask why I would want to do that. What is the point of me sending the unit in again, if they aren't going to fix it? I eventually move up from the regular operator to someone in charge named Charles (and I'm too riled up to make the obvious Scott Baio joke). My questions are pretty straightforward—namely, why should I send the unit back to the PRC, since they didn't fix the problem the first time? I'm really angry, since they just flat out refused to fix the problem that I know perfectly well exists. Charles is no help whatsoever, just repeating his mantra, "Send it to the Repair Center." I tell him that I would rather not, I would rather someone came up with an alternate solution that would involve the least amount of work for me, but no one at Panasonic is capable of thinking outside the box. After more than an hour of speaking to the PCC, I decide, okay, hell, I guess I'll have to send the machine back.
This time, I write Panasonic a 1-page letter (on the PCC's advice) outlining exactly what is wrong and what I think the problem is. It's fairly obvious that the replacement DVD drive is defective, considering what has taken place. I enclose the letter, the previous work orders and invoices, a copy of my Circuit City receipt, and a copy of my extended warranty, which I purchased while the unit was at the PRC the first time.
I get it back the third time April 16. According to the work order, all they did was install firmware. I plug the unit in, set it up…IT STILL DOESN'T FUCKING WORK!
I don't even bother to call the PCC this time, I go straight to the PRC, which is difficult, 'cause they're only open 7am–4pm weekdays, when I'm at work. I speak to someone in their Customer Service department named Antoinette, who seems friendly and interested in helping. While being firm and as polite as possible (I don't shout or call names), I explain the problem and what's going on and ask why they refuse to fix a machine that is clearly in need of repair. Another hour on the phone of her asking me to send the machine back (for a fourth time!), and me asking her why I should, when they clearly have no interest in helping me. She promises to take a personal interest in the case and says that I can call her directly anytime I want, if I'd like to monitor the situation.
I can't believe this is actually happening, but…another shipping label, another disconnection (by this time, my original box has been beaten up by so many trips through the mail, so I'm using the box the PRC sent the unit back in, but I use plenty of padding, because they barely bothered to wrap it at all), another trip to the UPS Store.
This time, the PRC has my unit for six weeks. During that time, I made perhaps 25 calls to them. About two weeks after I shipped it, Antoinette called me at home around 8am. She said that a technician had discovered the problem and that parts were on order. She said she did not know who the technician was or what parts they were, but they were waiting for the parts to arrive, and then the unit would be fixed.
"So they did discover that there was a problem?" I asked.
Her exact answer: "Yes."
That afternoon, I get a call from Victor, a technician, who tells me that they have looked at my machine several times and they can find nothing wrong with it, so they are going to have to send it back to me unrepaired. Obviously, someone has misplaced his or her talking points. I ask, "Why did Antoinette just tell me that you were ordering parts for it?" He says he will ask her, and when he comes back, he says she is busy and can't come to the phone, but she told him she never told me that. Obviously, somebody is lying. I make it quite clear to him that I want the unit repaired. He claims they ran diagnostics tests, that they had other technicians look at it, and that they burned several discs successfully. "How is it possible for it to work perfectly at your place, and not at mine?" He has no answer.
I ask him, "Are you telling me that you burned ten DVD-Rs and they all worked?"
"I don't know how many discs, but everything is fine."
He asks me what brands I use, and I told him I have tried different kinds, but primarily Taiyo Yuden. It isn't the discs, because I have the same problem with all brands. I ask him what he used.
"We have our own special kind, Panasonic discs."
Over the next couple of weeks, at my demand, they keep the machine and claim to run more tests on it. Honestly, I don't know if they ever take it out of the box. What is an incontrovertible fact is that this DVD recorder is defective and does not work properly, no matter what Panasonic says. I begged Victor to just replace the DVD drive and send it back to me. He refused, saying he would have to explain to his superiors why he replaced a perfectly good DVD drive. I told him it's not a perfectly good DVD drive, it doesn't work, but he refused to listen.
Finally, during the first half of June, I talk more to Antoinette, who, at my request, gives me her supervisor, Estrella, who is a Customer Service supervisor. At this point, nobody from the PRC is returning my calls (and complicating the matter is the fact that I just changed my phone number, because of my impending move). Estrella is also completely useless—just telling me that the technicians could find no problem, that they would have to return my unit to me, and they could not send me a replacement unit.
Sidebar: in the event Panasonic were unable to repair my unit, they say they will ship me a new unit, free of charge. The problem is Panasonic no longer makes the DMR-EH75. During one conversation with the PCC, a female operator told me they didn't have any new ones.
"You mean there isn't one DMR-EH75 anywhere? Not one left over in a warehouse someplace?"
She said they were completely sold out of every unit. I asked her why they didn't make it anymore, and she said Panasonic decided there was not enough demand for units with hard drives inside, so they stopped making them. Setting aside the idea that no consumers want hard drives (since everyone I know who owns a DVD recorder has one with a hard drive), I asked her, "how can there be no demand for this machine, when you just told me you sold every single one that you made?" Unsurprisingly, she had no answer.
Back to the present (and, believe me, there are a lot of conversations I am leaving out in the name of something approaching brevity, including someone at the PCC who flatout lied to me and made me jump through some hoops that, another operator admitted later, there was no reason). My machine returns from the PRC around June 24. At this point, I'm in a different residence, different electricity, maybe just different vibes, who knows? I really am trying to give Panasonic some benefit of the doubt, that maybe, miraculously, there is some situation in which my DVD recorder would work perfectly in Elk Grove Village and inconsistently at best in Champaign.
I hook the machine up. Forget about the TV Guide To Go (which I don't think works with my new DirecTV HD DVR). I just want to burn DVD-Rs. I start with a new batch of Taiyo Yudens. The first three work, then one doesn't. I open a new batch of Maxells. One works, one doesn't. Then I try a new batch of Sonys. Four in a row—unsuccessful. This DVD recorder does not work.
Today, I call the PCC, because Estrella told me there was nothing more the Repair Center could do for me (which is also what Customer Care told me months ago). She did give me her superior's extension, but, of course, a message on his/her voicemail resulted in no callback. My plan now is to just keep moving up the chain until I find somebody who can pull the trigger and get something done, whether it's repairing my unit or sending a replacement.
Today, I tell the operator at PCC that I want a supervisor. I get David, who will only say he's a "member of management."
"What's your job title?"
"I speak for management."
"What does that mean?"
"I am a member of management."
After more than a half-hour, I get nowhere. David's only advice is to return my unit to…yep…the Repair Center. I tell him I've done this four times already. What will happen the fifth time that has not already happened? He says he can't tell me. He says he will send an email to someone there who can follow up.
"Who are you emailing?"
"I can't tell you."
"Just give me a name, any name."
"I can't give you a phone number, outside of the toll-free general number, or an email address."
"I'm not asking you for that. I just want a name I can ask for at the Repair Center, so I can follow up on your email."
"I don't have a name. I'm sending an email to a group. You're asking me who will be assigned to your case, and I don't know who that will be."
"No, I'm not. I'm asking you for the name of somebody within that group who can tell me who is assigned my case."
We pretty much go around in circles. He's telling me that I'm not giving him a chance to help me, and I tell him that I have already given his co-workers dozens of chances to help me. None of them has, and how can he ensure me that he will do anything different? He cannot.
Finally, I ask to speak to his supervisor, which he does not want to do. He tells me it is Charles (remember him?).
"What's his job title?"
"Member of management."
"What does that mean?"
"He can speak for management."
"So can you. Is he above you? You're a member of management."
"He is a Lead."
"Lead. That's what it says on his business card? Lead?"
"He is a Lead, and he will tell you what I'm telling you. He will call you back sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours."
I didn't mention to you before, but I told David, that I have been fed that "24–48 hour" b.s. before. Someone at PCC once told me they would call me back within 24-48 hours, and I finally called them back nearly two weeks later. They said, "We don't have a record here of anyone promising to call you back." Yeah, just like nobody at the Repair Center has any record of a technician ordering parts for my DVD recorder (by the way, when I asked, Estrella told me it was impossible for anyone to delete information from the work notes, which I'm not convinced of).
I asked David today who Charles' supervisor was. He was really steamed at this point. "I know what you're trying to do, you're trying to work your way up the chain to find someone who can give you what you want." I had to admit he was right.
"You can't speak to his supervisor today."
"Fine. Just what is the name?"
"What is her job title?"
"The first person I spoke to today, I asked her to speak to a supervisor. I thought you were a supervisor."
"I am not."
"So it goes: Member of Management, Member of Management—Lead, Supervisor, in that order?"
So, now, I am waiting for Charles to call me back, which may or may not ever happen. I plan to call Estrella or perhaps her supervisor (I have that extension) tomorrow, if I'm able. Today is July 6, 2008, so you can see how long this has been going on.
I'm not just writing this to vent, but also to seek advice from you. What else should I do? Where else should I turn? Should I go to Small Claims Court? Contact the Elk Grove Village Better Business Bureau? Do I have a legal leg to stand on? Should I post this message somewhere else? Should I call someone? Or should I just say "screw it" and toss the damn DVD recorder in the trash? Anyone who would like to add their 2 cents or just share a Panasonic (or any other company) customer service story of their own, please leave a comment or email me privately. I really feel I'm at the end of my rope.
The Chopper Cop is back on the case in this Popular Library paperback from 1972. Well, I should say the Chopper Cop is here, because I previously reviewed the second title in the series, THE HITCHHIKE KILLER. Counterculture cop Terry Bunker debuted in VALLEY OF DEATH and is structured very much like the other. It opens with three beautiful young females, one in San Francisco, one in Los Angeles, and one in San Clemente, committing suicide in front of witnesses. However, a couple of weeks later, all three begin appearing to their families in the form of telephone calls and notes left at the parents' homes. One, Annette Caldwell, even seems to be continuing her painting in the family studio. None of the Caldwells—her parents and her younger sister Penny—have laid eyes on her, but…
Called to investigate is Lieutenant Bunker, an investigator for California's State Department of Criminal Investigation. Bunker reports to gruff Ted Haggard, who strongly disapproves of Bunker's long hair, choice of transportation and antiestablishment attitude. However, he really reports only to the governor, who also shakes his head at Bunker's individualism, but likes the 27-year-old and respects the way he gets the job done.
The idea of a left-wing action hero is fairly rare in crime drama. Frank Serpico, played by Al Pacino in the movies and David Birney on television, is about the closest I can think of offhand. Of course, Serpico was a real person. Not much is made of Bunker's politics in VALLEY OF DEATH. He despises authority, but, then, so did Dirty Harry. Paul Ross (a pseudonym for someone) could have had a background in TV writing, as nothing here is overly sexy or violent, and the novel shows hints of a classic three-act structure. Certainly nothing in VALLEY OF DEATH lives up to its cover blurb promising "a hippie cult of sex and death."
Saturday, July 05, 2008
April 28, 1979
Music: William Broughton
Teleplay: Michael Sloan
Story: Michael Sloan & Glen A. Larson
Director: Michael Caffey
An impressive guest cast—Christopher Connelly, Luke Askew, Richard Bradford, John Fiedler, Edd Byrnes—adds weight to this thinly plotted BJ AND THE BEAR episode. BJ (Greg Evigan) tries to collect $85 in damages from the drunk driver who ran him off the road, but the culprit, town boss Jason Rockman (Byrnes, best known from 77 SUNSET STRIP twenty years earlier), has him tossed out and beaten up. BJ takes a job from pretty psychiatrist (Leann Hunley, later on DYNASTY) to transport some of her mental patients to the local fair for the afternoon, but an obstinate Rockman sends the local sheriff (Bradford) to the fairgrounds to bust up the fun. It all gets weird from here, as though Sloan was trying to fill the hour. BJ rescues a frightened girl stranded atop a Ferris wheel, then chases one of the patients, the not-so-crazy Hilts (Connelly), in a stock car pursuit after Hilts kidnaps Rockman to get him to give BJ the $85.
Connelly is very likable, and Askew lends this breezy hour some dramatic weight as a Vietnam vet stricken with what would now be called PTSD. Stu Gilliam plays a mechanic, and you'll recognize THE PEOPLE'S COURT interviewer Doug Llewellyn as the befuddled race announcer. Sloan's teleplay is sloppy, including Hunley's initial meeting with BJ where she calls him by his initials, even though she knows him only by the name on his truck, "Billie Joe." "Crackers" is Michael Caffey's only BJ AND THE BEAR episode, but he did have an extensive career directing episodic dramas, such as TRAPPER JOHN M.D. and IT TAKES A THIEF.
Greg Evigan was basically an unknown when he landed the lead role of BJ McKay, though he had been on television before, most notably as the co-leading man (along with David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer!) on the shortlived sitcom A YEAR AT THE TOP, in which he and Shaffer were rock musicians who sold their soul to devil Gabriel Dell in exchange for one year of stardom. I'm guessing the creators weren't thinking longterm when they came up with the idea.
BJ AND THE BEAR made Evigan a genuine television star—he was the show's only regular and appears in nearly every scene of the 48 episodes. He also starred or co-starred in six other series, including P.S. I LUV U, MY TWO DADS, PACIFIC PALISADES and TEKWAR, which was a USA cable series based on a series of science fiction detective novels ghostwritten by William Shatner. Viewers have never tired of the New Jersey-born actor and musician (before BJ, he appeared on stage in GREASE and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR), who continues to guest-star on hit shows like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and CSI: MIAMI, as well as topline two recent direct-to-video sci-fi movies for The Asylum.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
#21: THE ROCKFORD FILES
6 seasons on NBC
September 1974–July 1980
It's been over a year since the last time I reviewed a ROCKFORD FILES episode on this blog. I made it more than halfway through Season One before getting derailed. You can find a few of my reviews here, here and here (the first one links to "The Kirkoff Case," the first regular episode after the pilot and one that guest-stars a young James Woods). You'll get the gist of my love for the show, but to summarize for those of you not curious enough to check out any of the old reviews, THE ROCKFORD FILES is quite simply the best private-eye show in television history.
Not only did it make TIME's list, but THE ROCKFORD FILES made it to #39 on TV GUIDE's list of the Top 50 shows all-time. Its star, James Garner, is unquestionably one of television's most popular stars, having made his bones as the co-star of MAVERICK in the 1950s. He quit that show in a salary dispute with Warner Brothers, and became a major film star before his return to the small screen with the one-season flop western NICHOLS in 1971. Garner has been a regular cast member on eight different series, including GOD, THE DEVIL AND BOB (on which he played God!) and 8 SIMPLE RULES FOR DATING MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER (which he joined after the sudden death of star John Ritter), but the role for which he is best known today is Jim Rockford, the rare TV private detective who didn't have a sexy secretary (he had a beat-up answering machine), didn't shoot it out with all the bad guys (he kept his gun in his cookie jar and preferred talking his way out of trouble to fighting), and didn't live in a flashy bachelor pad (he lived in a dilapidated trailer, albeit one parked on a Malibu beach). TV was full of private eyes when ROCKFORD debuted in 1974. Most of them were distinguished by a particular gimmick (Cannon was fat, Longstreet was blind, Barnaby Jones was old…), but Rockford was notable for being the most human of the group.
ROCKFORD was created by Roy Huggins, the maverick television writer/producer who had also created MAVERICK in the '50s, and Stephen J. Cannell, a Universal contract writer who became a fledgling producer on the short-lived private-eye show TOMA. Recognizing that the best way to be noticed among the glut of private dicks then populating the airwaves, Huggins and Cannell decided to add humor to ROCKFORD. It worked for MAVERICK, and you couldn't slide a cigarette paper between Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford in terms of character. While Rockford may have been the same guy, he was all James Garner, and audiences loved his slick-tongued methods of dealing with bad guys, whether he was running a con job on a greedy mobster (often using a disguise) or asking a thug who just pounded on him, "Does your mother know what you do for a living?"
While ROCKFORD's mystery plots were sometimes clever, they usually took a backseat to characterization, which stretched from its main character to include the eccentric Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin), Rockford's cowardly ex-prison cellmate (Jim was eventually pardoned after serving five years for an armed robbery he didn't commit) who could never resist a chance to pick up a few bucks, even if it meant ratting Jim out; Dennis Becker (Joe Santos), Rockford's only friend on the L.A. police force (unlike most TV detectives, Rockford was hated by cops); Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), Jim's smart young lawyer (and old flame); and several others who popped in occasionally during the six-year run. Another unusual aspect of ROCKFORD was its portrayal of an adult father/son relationship, as retired truck driver "Rocky" (Noah Beery, Jr.) constantly fretted and worried about Jim, but was always there to patch him up after another goon rapped him on the head and ransacked his trailer as a warning to lay off his current case.
NBC hated the humor in the show, and tried to force Cannell to remove it and make Rockford a normal P.I. who punched the bad guys out and made out with a different chick every week. Less MAVERICK, more MANNIX. Cannell refused, though the series did showcase a lot of action. It did it very well too, partially because of Garner's insistence upon performing many of his own stunts. ROCKFORD became famous for its car chases, often with Garner behind the wheel of Jim's tan Pontiac Firebird, which became one of TV's most beloved automobiles.
ROCKFORD was never a major hit in its Friday time slot, but was quite popular with its fans. It spawned a direct spinoff, RICHIE BROCKELMAN, PRIVATE EYE, starring Dennis Dugan as a young P.I. who learned from Rockford how to fast-talk his way out of dangerous situations (Steven Bochco produced this NBC short-timer). A few months after ROCKFORD left NBC, CBS picked up the slack with MAGNUM, P.I., which starred Tom Selleck as a Honolulu private eye with a whimsical tone quite similar to ROCKFORD (Selleck, in fact, guest-starred on a couple of ROCKFORD episodes as a funny spoof of a typical TV P.I., which neither Rockford nor Magnum were).
Garner reprised the Jim Rockford role in eight made-for-TV movies that aired on CBS during the 1990s and rounded up the series' cast members and writers (including David Chase, who went on to create THE SOPRANOS) for more fun adventures.
#22: MEDICAL CENTER
7 seasons on CBS
September 1969–September 1976
If any series on this list is going to receive howls of protests, it will most likely be MEDICAL CENTER, which, before ER came along, was the longest-running medical drama in television history (airing two episodes more than MARCUS WELBY, M.D.). I admit that I have a soft spot for the show, in that it was a steady source of unintentional comedy during my college years when it reran daily on the TNT cable network. Stiffly performed, naively written and melodramatic as hell, MEDICAL CENTER did its damnedest to be relevant, tackling serious issues of the day such as abortion, male impotence, campus unrest, alcoholism, recreational drugs, witchcraft (!), homosexuality, Vietnam, even venereal disease.
One reason MEDICAL CENTER was able to logically face such polarizing topics is because it was set on a college campus. Young physician Joe Gannon (Chad Everett) and chief of staff Paul Lochner (James Daly) worked at the university medical center (I believe exteriors were filmed at UCLA, though the show's setting was never stated), where a wide variety of illnesses and ailments crossed their paths. Since the center was also involved with medical research, plots like "The Combatants," which guest-starred William Shatner as a brash scientist whose recklessness to create a cancer cure puts lives in jeopardy, were made possible.
Some stories played like soap opera, such as "Suspected." Earl Holliman played a gifted heart surgeon who was the only man on Earth qualified to perform a difficult procedure that could save a patient's life. His problem is that he was a convicted sex offender who ran off to Canada to avoid incarceration, and if he returns to the U.S. to save the patient's life, he will likely go to prison. "Witch Hunt" found Gannon competing to save the life of a girl with Addison's Disease against the black-magic forces of her coven, led by guest Dana Wynter. Forrest Tucker was "The Professional," a cornpone ex-college football star who faked various illnesses because the loneliness he felt at home was too much to bear.
Perhaps MEDICAL CENTER's most famous episode was "The Fourth Sex," a two-parter that kicked off the seventh season. Robert Reed, just coming off THE BRADY BUNCH, played a prominent surgeon who comes to his friend Gannon with a shocking request. He wants to become a woman and for the procedure to be performed at Medical Center. At first, the hospital board, just like Reed's family (including his wife played by Louise Sorel), rejects their colleague's wish because they find it repellent. However, with the righteous Gannon urging them on, the board changes its mind and grants permission. Two things about the episode are interesting: 1) will the show bravely go through with the operation (I don't believe a sex change had ever happened on episodic TV before) and 2) will we get to see what Reed looks like afterward? Well, the answer is yes on both counts, and the series deserves much credit for not only doing a show about transgenders, but one that treats the uncomfortable subject with class. Reed received an Emmy nomination for his dignified performance.
MEDICAL CENTER made a star of Everett, though he arguably didn't take to it well. In addition to recording some awful record albums, he became slightly notorious for his misogynist interviews, including a DICK CAVETT SHOW where he drove fellow guest Lily Tomlin off the stage after he lumped wife Shelby Grant in with the family pets, saying she was the best animal he owned. Still handsome in his 70s, Everett never again found a role as popular as Dr. Gannon, but he continues to act in movies (MULHOLLAND DRIVE, ANCHORMAN) and TV (WITHOUT A TRACE, COLD CASE). James Daly, by the way, was the father of actors Tyne (CAGNEY & LACEY) and Tim (WINGS).
#23: MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS
4 seasons on BBC1
October 1969—September 1974
The legacy of Britain's most popular comedy series lives on in North America, where nearly every TV sketch-comedy show that followed it bore its influence to some extent. Monty Python was a comedy troupe consisting of Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle—six brilliantly talented writer/performers who introduced a blistering new absurdist style to television. Granted, the Pythons were themselves influenced by THE GOON SHOW, a BBC radio program of the 1950s, but FLYING CIRCUS seems to have been the first show to bring that style of surrealism to television, or certainly at least the first to do so at such a high level of popularity.
Surprisingly, only 45 episodes were ever made, but they were rerun almost constantly on PBS during the 1970s. Younger audiences, schooled perhaps on MAD, flipped over the silly slapstick and wordplay, whereas hip college students grooved on the political and sexual humor. Americans had never seen anything like the Python style, which often involved starting sketches in the middle and cutting away before the end. Transitions were often eschewed with one sketch bumping right into the next. The Pythons played all the roles (or nearly all) themselves, including female parts, which is still a rarity on American shows.
While FLYING CIRCUS may not have reached mainstream acceptance the way SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE did, it earned a rabid fanbase that can recite nearly every sketch ever performed on the show and helped make it the only sketch show to branch into movies. Sure, the Brothers Blues and McKenzie had their moments on the big screen, but the whole Monty Python troupe made the shift with larger-budgeted, sharper-targeted versions of the series, where they were able to hone their satire to a sharper prick.
Chapman died in 1989, but the rest of the Pythons remain popular as writers, actors and filmmakers (both Gilliam and Cleese have been nominated for screenwriting Oscars).
#24: THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR.
1 season on Fox
August 1993—May 1994
In the fall of 1993, the young Fox network debuted its new Friday prime-time lineup. Both shows were SF/fantasy-oriented. One was upbeat, funny, exciting and highly publicized by Fox, which clearly expected this show to be its breakout hit of the season. The other show was dark, moody, edgy and felt like a network throwaway. The first show, THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR., was cancelled after one season. The second, which Fox barely promoted, was THE X-FILES, which became one of the most influential television series of its time.
BRISCO was simultaneously behind and ahead of its time. It was an outdoor western with horses and shootouts and cowboys, a genre that hadn't been successful since GUNSMOKE left the airwaves nearly twenty years earlier. At the same time, it was an unusual mix of genres–an adventure series with overriding story arcs, which is common today, but not at all back then, except on soaps. Frequently compared to THE WILD WILD WEST, BRISCO closely mirrored the fantastic storylines and campy adventure of that 1960s series. However, the latter series knew to occasionally play it straight, which made its characters more human and the dangerous situations they frequently found themselves in more suspenseful. THE WILD WILD WEST was a cartoon, albeit often an entertaining one.
The series should have been a breakthrough role for its handsome star, Bruce Campbell, whose pliable face and sharp jaw helped demonstrate that he could do everything a good leading man should. He could throw a punch (and take one), he was funny, he was effective in all clinches, both romantic and dramatic. He was also a fine physical performer who appeared to be one-half Bob Conrad and one-half Shemp Howard. Campbell already had a small but loyal fan base as the star of the EVIL DEAD trilogy—black-comic, blood-soaked horror movies in which he served as a producer as well as an actor—but it was BRISCO that should have made him a household name.
Campbell played Brisco County, Jr., a Harvard-educated bounty hunter who roamed the West collecting bad guys while searching for the group of outlaws who murdered his father, Marshal Brisco County, Sr. (played in the pilot by R. Lee Ermey). The gang of thirteen was led by the sinister John Bly (played with a weird whisper by the incredible-looking Billy Drago), who spent much of the series evading Brisco's grasp. Key to the series, however, was its supporting cast, most of whom appeared in recurring roles. Besides Campbell, the only regulars were Christian Clemenson as Socrates Poole, Brisco's intellectual lawyer sidekick, and Julius Carry III as Lord Bowler, a big, tough bounty hunter who originally was Brisco's somewhat friendly rival (the two took turns making each other's lives momentarily miserable), but eventually became his partner. Occasional players included John Astin (THE ADDAMS FAMILY) as a batty inventor, John Pyper-Ferguson (DRIVE) as eccentric gunfighter Pete Hutter (who couldn't stand it when anyone touched his gun), Gary Hudson (ROAD HOUSE) as Aaron Viva (a sheriff who talked and dressed like Elvis Presley), and the delectable Kelly Rutherford as Dixie Cousins, a showgirl who enjoyed a series-long off-and-on love affair with Brisco.
Another supporting player was The Orb, a mysterious alien sphere with extraordinary powers and removable rods that caused all kinds of supernatural problems for Brisco to solve. The Orb bounced around from character to character with all of them trying to learn the extent of its power—in the case of John Bly, to use them to rule the world. The series also introduced other anachronisms, such as a rocket built by Astin's Professor Wickwire and even the donut, which a little boy named Duncan gave to a hungry Bowler.
Ratings problems began plaguing BRISCO almost from the beginning (though the 2-hour pilot got good numbers), and Fox—obviously to this viewer—began fiddling with the show's format. A hunky new character, Whip (Jeff Phillips), joined the cast, The Orb was hastily explained away and gotten rid of, and Brisco and Bowler changed careers from independent bounty hunters to special agents for the U.S. Government. None of the network interference improved the show, though Fox did stay with it long enough to produce extra episodes at the end of the season for the unusually high number of 27 altogether. Still, the high cost of making a western, particularly one with special effects, sent BRISCO packing at the end of the season, but it remains one of Fox's most memorable series. TNT aired Saturday-morning reruns for several years, and the entire series was released on DVD in 2006. Campbell, who shoulda been a star, has since bounced around in TV guest shots, starring roles in crummy independent movies, and supporting roles in classy studio films, but has never received the acclaim that should have been his.
#25: GET SMART!
4 seasons on NBC
1 season on CBS
September 1965–September 1970
GET SMART! missed the top by that much. Yeah, I know the rankings are random, but how could I pass up the opportunity to make that lame joke? GET SMART! is practically the lone exception to the rule that satire dies on network television. Hitting the NBC airwaves at the peak of the James Bond craze, this irreverent sitcom not only spoofs spy-movie conventions, but also government bureaucracy, the Iron Curtain and often other television shows and movies (Robert Culp popped up in an episode titled "Die, Spy").
How could GET SMART! miss, created as it was by two of Hollywood's great humorists: Mel Brooks and Buck Henry (though Brooks' participation seems to have waned after the pilot)? And while the two men deserve their fair share of credit, the lion's share should go to Leonard B. Stern, the executive producer who heralded the series through most of its Emmy-winning run, and star Don Adams, a standup comic who adopted a nasally voice that was part William Powell and part Billy DeWolfe. Adams perfectly inhabited the sweet, buffoonish personality of Maxwell Smart, an American secret agent working for CONTROL whose code number, 86, may also have been his IQ. Partnered with the beautiful and bright Agent 99 (ex-model Barbara Feldon), Max somehow always managed to get his man, no matter how inept his investigative skills.
If GET SMART! had only been about Smart and 99 bumbling about, the series would never have worked. In addition to scripts that carefully crafted standard (though absurd) action plots for the agents to bounce around in, the series created an amazing extended family of unusual, colorful supporting players: the Chief (Edward Platt), Max and 99's blustery boss; Hymie (Dick Gautier), a robot that literally performed any command asked of it; Siegfried (Bernie Kopell), Smart's opposite number at KAOS, an evil spy organization dedicated to disaster; Agent 13 (Dave Ketchum), a master of disguise often found inside filing cabinets and potted plants, and several others. The "family" extended to the series' wide coterie of catch phrases ("Sorry about that, Chief." "That's the second biggest ___ I've ever seen." "Missed by that much.") and gadgetry, such as Smart's famous shoe phone. My favorite is the Cone of Silence, which, on the surface, appears to be a one trick pony of a gag, but somehow was funny every time it was used.
Max and 99 got married in the fourth season—its last on NBC—and they had twin children in GET SMART!'s fifth season on CBS. This shifted the comedy's focus (unsuccessfully) from spy adventure to domestic antics. Still, the series has managed to endure since leaving the air in 1970. Not only did it immediately go into syndication, where it will probably run forever, it spawned one theatrical reunion (1980's unfunny THE NUDE BOMB), a charming TV-movie (GET SMART, AGAIN!), a shortlived Fox sitcom (starring Andy Dick as Max and 99's bumbling son, once again paired with a smart, sexy agent played by Elaine Hendrix), and 2008's feature-film remake with Steve Carell (THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and Anne Hathaway (THE PRINCESS DIARIES).
11 seasons on CBS
September 1972–February 1983
M*A*S*H, the series that brought blood and black humor to prime time, remains one of the most popular television series ever produced. It was a Top Ten show in nine of its eleven seasons, reaching #3 the year it was canceled. Its final episode, the 2 ½-hour "Goodnight, Farewell and Amen," remains the highest-rated in history, reaching over 100 million viewers. It won fourteen Emmys, surprisingly only one of them for Best Comedy. And it will likely play in syndication for generations to come.
Developed for television by the great comedy writer Larry Gelbart (TOOTSIE), M*A*S*H was, of course, inspired by Robert Altman's smash 1970 film, which was in turn based on a series of novels by Richard Hornberger about a group of hell-raising surgeons trying to remain sane while patching up U.S. soldiers on the front line of the Korean War. Alan Alda, who went on to win Emmy awards as an actor, a writer and a director on M*A*S*H, the only person ever to do so, became one of TV's biggest stars playing the leading role of "Hawkeye" Pierce, a sardonic, humanistic and hopelessly romantic doctor who was the unit's de facto leader inside the operating room and as the instigator of pranks. Pierce and his sidekick, "Trapper" John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers), did everything possible to make the war miserable for their ferret-faced tentmate, the officious Frank Burns (Larry Linville), and his stick-in-the-mud lover, nurse "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit). Others in the camp included commanding officer Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), alert clerk "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff), crossdressing Klinger (Jamie Farr) and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher).
Despite several important cast defections, M*A*S*H remained incredibly popular during the late '70s, as Rogers, Stevenson and Linville split and were replaced, respectively, by Mike Farrell as Hawkeye's new partner in crime, B.J. Hunnicutt, Harry Morgan as Colonel Sherman T. Potter and David Ogden Stiers as the blueblooded surgeon Charles Emerson Winchester. As the series progressed (far beyond the Korean War's three-year length), it became more mature, often dropping its laugh track (which Gelbart, from the beginning, insisted be kept out of the OR scenes) and leaning towards more dramatic episodes sprinkled with comedy.
If nothing else, M*A*S*H proved there was room on television for sophisticated wartime comedy, far removed from the absurd antics of HOGAN'S HEROES. It nimbly presented the hell of war from all angles and did as much to put a human face on the brave men and women who have served their country as any newsreel could.
#27: THE BIG VALLEY
4 seasons on ABC
September 1965–May 1969
It will surprise many to learn that BONANZA did not make my Top 100 list, but THE BIG VALLEY, which was clearly inspired by it, is. Simply, I never cared much for BONANZA, which seemed overly simple and whose characters never engaged me. THE BIG VALLEY was a more exciting show with a premise that lent itself to domestic stories, courtroom dramas, suspense, action, light comedy. It also had a majestic theme (composed by George Duning) that lent the series an epic aura that BONANZA's guitar picking could not.
THE BIG VALLEY chronicled the adventures of the Barkleys, a wealthy family who lived together on a large spread near Stockton, California. Though the patriarch, Tom, was long dead, the Barkley household was held together by his strong widow, Victoria, played by "Miss" (as she was credited) Barbara Stanwyck. Oldest son Jarrod (Richard Long) was an attorney; fiery, black-gloved son Nick (Peter Breck) ran the ranch; and barely-out-of-her-teens daughter Audra (Linda Evans) helped her mother run the home. In the first episode, young, blond Heath (Lee Majors) showed up and announced he was Tom's illegitimate son. Surprisingly, his half-siblings didn't put up as much fuss as you might expect, and he and Victoria eventually settled into a normal mother/son relationship. (And—shades of Chuck Cunningham—another son, Eugene, dropped out of the series during the first season and was never heard from again.)
Boosted by high production values, accomplished guest stars, an absorbing mixture of stories and its appealing main cast made THE BIG VALLEY an ABC hit for four seasons. Like other westerns like MAVERICK and BONANZA, episodes often revolved around just one or two regulars. The two-part "Explosion" was a nice showcase for Majors, Long and Breck, as they transported a load of deadly nitroglycerine across rough terrain to help put out a forest fire. Charles Bronson guested in "Earthquake," in which he, as a recently canned Barkley ranch hand, became trapped underground with Victoria and a pregnant woman.
While all the regulars had successful television careers, THE BIG VALLEY made a star of Majors, who leapt to another western (THE MEN FROM SHILOH) and the legal drama OWEN MARSHALL, COUNSELOR AT LAW before his iconic roles as THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE FALL GUY, both on ABC, the network that aired THE BIG VALLEY.
28. Law & Order
30. Murder One
31. Outer Limits, The
33. Police Squad!
34. Carol Burnett Show, The
35. Adventures of Superman, The
36. Barney Miller
38. Fugitive, The
39. WKRP in Cincinnati
41. Bob Newhart Show, The
42. 77 Sunset Strip
43. Magnum, P.I.
44. Pee Wee's Playhouse
45. Sports Night
46. Naked City
47. Crime Story
49. 60 Minutes
51. I Love Lucy
52. Mystery Science Theater 3000
53. Politically Incorrect
54. Mission: Impossible
55. Harry O
58. Cagney & Lacey
59. Ernie Kovacs Show, The
60. Ed Sullivan Show, The
61. Match Game
62. Dick Cavett Show, The
63. What's My Line?
64. I Spy
65. X-Files, The
66. Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The
68. Flintstones, The
69. Star Trek
70. Jack Benny Program, The
71. All in the Family
72. Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The
73. Homicide: Life on the Street
74. Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The
75. Andy Griffith Show, The
76. Hill Street Blues
77. Monday Night Football
78. Late Night with David Letterman
79. NYPD Blue
80. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
81. ABC's Wide World of Sports
82. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
83. Have Gun Will Travel
84. Monkees, The
85. Avengers, The
86. Playhouse 90
87. Dean Martin Show, The
88. Larry Sanders Show, The
89. Lone Ranger, The
90. White Shadow, The
91. Dick Van Dyke Show, The
92. Hawaii Five-0
93. Honeymooners, The
94. Freaks and Geeks
95. Perry Mason
96. Police Story
97. Sesame Street
98. Prisoner, The
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
April 29, 1979
Writer: Glen A. Larson
Director: Bruce Bilson
I don't think of Glen A. Larson as any kind of innovative television producer, although he did have many, many popular shows during the 1970s and '80s, but he was a bit ahead of the curve on BJ AND THE BEAR in one respect. He made an attempt at giving trucker BJ McKay (Greg Evigan) something of a continuity during the series, at least during the first season, that few other one-hour shows were doing at the time, except for the soaps like DALLAS. In "Wheels of Fortune" (obviously a takeoff on the daytime game show that was hosted by Chuck Woolery back then), Larson and director Bruce Bilson, who collaborated on the pilot, bring back the character of Toni, who tells us she was one of the sex slaves BJ rescued from Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins). Played by Melody Anderson, who was probably in London shooting FLASH GORDON when NBC aired this episode, Toni was not really a character in the pilot—just a faceless girl—and she certainly wasn't played by Anderson. However, this little touch reminds us that BJ has a past and that his various adventures resonate within the fictional universe, which was not common in the days when television heroes almost never acknowledged what happened to him the week before.
Following the strong "The Murphy Contingent," "Wheels of Fortune" suffers from having an identical plot. In order to save a charity (a center for disabled children) from foreclosure, BJ's friends (Toni and the members of her college fraternity/sorority) trick him into helping them run an illegal casino at a ski resort. Cops don't get involved, but hoods do, particularly Cannon (QUINCY's Val Bisoglio), who rents the kids his gambling equipment and then dons a pantyhose mask to rip them off.
Action is light and too much screen time is filled with dull musical sequences, but the guest stars, which also include Stuart Pankin (NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS) and 7-footer Peter Isacksen (CPO SHARKEY), are lively in an episode that was probably based somewhat on ANIMAL HOUSE (Toni's frat wears togas in their first scene and are condescended to by a rival yuppie frat).
This is the first time I've seen this one-sheet for SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, which promotes Jack Hill's 1975 drive-in classic under its original title, THE JEZEBELS. I've seen a JEZEBELS trailer, and it looks as though Centaur was trying to have it two ways with this poster, which prominently features the words "switchblade sisters."