Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Episode Guide: The Phoenix

THE PHOENIX was just one of about a million TV series that failed against CBS’ Friday night ratings juggernaut of the late 1970s and early ‘80s: THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, and particularly DALLAS. THE PHOENIX, which premiered as a TV-movie in the spring of 1981 before becoming a weekly series nearly a year later, lasted only four weeks against THE DUKES. Whether it deserved to do better is another story. While the premise was certainly unusual for its era and boasted an appealing leading man in tall, blond Judson Scott, its scripts never rose above typical crime-drama fare and rarely seemed to have much to do with the show’s central idea.

Erich von Daniken’s best seller CHARIOTS OF THE GODS was the likely inspiration for THE PHOENIX’s 90-minute pilot. Archeologist Ward Frazier (E.G. Marshall) and his team discover an ornate sarcophagus buried in Peru (which looks a lot like the Fox ranch near Malibu, California). Inside is a big, blond hippie named Bennu (Judson Scott), who can read minds, shoot electricity from his fingertips, and speak perfect English. He also can’t survive in Earth’s pollution, so he teams up with a beautiful photographer (THE ASSOCIATES’ Shelley Smith) to win the $500,000 he needs to construct a rejuvenated body at a crooked casino, which puts a few hoods on his tail. Unwilling to be the subject of worship by the Peruvian government or curiosity by the Americans, Bennu sets out alone to find himself.

A trendy mix of New Age mumbo-jumbo and standard action/adventure tropes made THE PHOENIX a bit different from most network fare, which, along with the appeal of Judson Scott, pulled in enough ratings to make the series a go.

“The Phoenix” (90 min)
April 26, 1981
Mark Carliner Productions
Music: Arthur B. Rubinstein
Film Editor: David Berlatsky
Production Designer: William T. McAllister
Director of Photography: Don H. Birnkrant
Executive Producer: Mark Garliner
Supervising Producer: Christopher Kochoff
Associate Producer: Carole Coates-West
Creators: Anthony & Nancy Lawrence
Producers: Anthony & Nancy Lawrence
Writers: Anthony & Nancy Lawrence
Director: Douglas Hickox
Cast: Judson Scott (Bennu), Fernando Allende (Diego DeVarga), E.G. Marshall (Dr. Ward Frazier), Shelley Smith (Noel Marshall), Daryl Anderson (Dr. Clifford Davis), Hersha Parady (Lynn), Jimmy Mair (Tim), Lyman Ward (Howard), Carmen Argenziano (Kingston), Stanley Kamel (Murray), Angus Duncan (Surgeon), Wayne Storm (Patrolman), Terry Jastrow (Hood), Bret Williams (Technician), Paul Marin (Anesthesiologist), Patricia Conklin (Surgical Nurse), Jim Malinda (Croupier)

Season 1

Judson Scott as Bennu
Richard Lynch as Preminger

Executive Producer: Mark Carliner
Supervising Producer: Bob Birnbaum
Associate Producer: Julia Crosthwait
Producer: Leigh Vance
Creators: Anthony and Nancy Lawrence
Music: Arthur B. Rubinstein
Director of Photography: Frank Beascoechea
Mark Carliner Productions

“In Search of Mira”
March 26, 1982
Writer: Leigh Vance
Director: Douglas Hickox
Guest Cast: John Vernon, Bert Remsen, Britt Leach, Sandy Ward, Jenny Parsons, Terry Wills, E.G. Marshall

Between the pilot and this premiere episode, Bennu learned he was sent from the stars to perform a specific mission on Earth. He also learned he had a partner, a woman named Mira, who knew what the mission was. All Bennu knows about her whereabouts is that she rests in one of at least 2000 Indian burial grounds in North America. In pursuit of Bennu and Mira is a government operative named Preminger (Richard Lynch). While investigating a site in New Mexico, Bennu witnesses a murder and holes up with a friendly farmer (Bert Remsen) and his daughter.

“One of Them”
April 2, 1982
Writer: Mark Carliner
Director: Reza S. Badiyi
Guest Cast: Andrea Marcovicci, Carmen Zapata, Lawrence Casey, Peter Michael Goetz, Gene Ross, Behrouz Vossi, Sheila Frazier, Debbie Richter, Marshall Teague, Josh Cadman, Marc Alaimo, John Zenda

Bennu visits an archeology professor, Dr. Lacey Coleman (Andrea Marcovicci), whom he hopes can provide some insight as to where Mira may be buried. While visiting an ancient Indian burial ground in Arizona named Mesa Grande, the two are attacked by Lacey’s psycho ex-boyfriend (Behrouz Vossi), but manage to find an important clue.

“A Presence of Evil”
April 9, 1982
Writer: David Guthrie
Director: Douglas Hickox
Guest Cast: Lee Purcell, Kaz Garas, Jeremy Licht, Robert O’Reilly, Jim Staskel, Tobias Anderson, Carol Vogel, Nancy Grahn, Bill Dearth, Joan Foley, Rudy Daniels, Lisa Morton

Bennu hires on as a hand at Houghton Stables the same day its land is being used by uranium smugglers to make an exchange. What timing. Meanwhile, a skeptical Preminger considers using a psychic to track Bennu.

“The Fire Within”
April 16, 1982
Writer: David Guthrie
Director: Reza S. Badiyi
Guest Cast: John Milford, Tracey Gold, Eileen Davidson, Peter Icangelo, Woody Eney, Karen Anders, Carmen Argenziano, Bret Shryer, Rick Grassi, Nocona Aranda, Ned Bellamy, Noel Conlan, Fred Franklin, Sam Laws, Nelson Mashita, Robert Cornthwaite (uncredited)

In St. Louis, Bennu becomes involved with the daughter (Eileen Davidson) of a contractor (John Milford) who’s being cheated by his business partner (Carmen Argenziano).

The series’ formula, which was, of course, THE FUGITIVE, had already become stale after four episodes. Benna arrives in a new town, makes a new friend, defeats a criminal element, and then slips away quietly one step ahead of Preminger and his dogs. The producers were never clear about Bennu’s powers either. In “The Fire Within,” after a kindly old man with a metal detector tells Bennu he’s looking for a lost necklace to return to its owner for the reward (and not to keep for himself), Bennu immediately pinpoints its location. Why he can’t do that to find Mira is never explained.

“The Fire Within” was the final PHOENIX to air on ABC, though I don’t know if any others were shot (it seems likely there must have been). Two months later, Scott appeared on the big screen as Joachim, the main henchman to villainous Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban) in Paramount’s moneymaking blockbuster STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. However, Scott’s solid presence in a hit film appears to have done little for his career, as he received no on-screen billing. It has been reported that Scott’s agent’s attempt to secure better billing for his client somehow resulted in the actor receiving no credit at all.

Scott continued to act constantly on genre TV shows during the 1980s, including stints on V and THE COLBYS, but his performance as Bennu indicates that he really should have gotten a better shot at stardom.

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

I loved this gone too soon series. It was building up nicely, but as good series, it was gone. The music is awesome, but like the series, never released for all to enjoy.