Saturday, September 30, 2006


Earl Kress's blog has the "tentative list" of Hanna-Barbera shows planned for DVD release next year. Many of these are from the cheesy not-so-golden age of Hanna-Barbera cartoons that are spoofed on Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law; in fact, one of the shows to be released is the actual Birdman show. But luckily there's at least one of the early, funny H-B shows in the mix: Quick Draw McGraw: the Complete Series.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Golden Age of King of the Hill

As I hinted earlier, I think that King of the Hill in its early seasons was a richer, darker show than it is now (it's still good, but it's become more of a comfort-food kind of show), with creator/showrunner Greg Daniels pulling off some very interesting and even daring stories and story arcs, with the kind of thematic depth and emotional richness that even The Simpsons didn't have in its best years. Here are two clips that illustrate what the show was doing at that time.

1. The conclusion of the greatest episode of KotH, the Christmas episode from the third season, "Pretty, Pretty Dresses" (written by Paul Lieberstein, who has followed Daniels to The Office). This has the darkest premise of any Christmas episode in the history of sitcoms, or maybe any sitcom episode at all: Bill (voice of Stephen Root) becomes so depressed about his divorce from his wife Lenore that he repeatedly tries to commit suicide. Finally, Hank (voice of Mike Judge), giving him some tough love, confronts Bill with the fact that Lenore is never coming back, but instead of curing him, it pushes Bill over the edge: the only way he can get Lenore back is to become her, so he puts on her old dress and becomes convinced that he is his ex-wife. Depression, suicide and insanity -- just what you would expect in an animated sitcom episode.

2. A more lighthearted episode, season 2's "Hank's Dirty Laundry," is about Hank suffering the ultimate indignity: the video store's computer erroneously says that he rented and never returned a pornographic movie called Cuffs and Collars, and his application for a credit card is turned down on that basis. But as the episode goes on, we start to realize that Hank is less and less concerned about being falsely accused of renting pornography, and more and more concerned about the simple fact that a computer error has falsified a detail of his life. In the climactic (no pun intended) scene, an anonymous tipster gives him a collection of pornographic movies, and Hank defends his honor by becoming an expert on porn and defending himself in court. Having a character as straitlaced as Hank talk about pornography without acting out of character is a very neat trick, and Daniels and writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger really pull it off. There's also a "B" story about Bobby Hill mistakenly thinking that his parents are going to throw him a surprise party.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sex Symbols That Should Have Been

As you know if you've read this blog long enough, I have a preoccupation with what I call "lost starlets" -- actresses who in my opinion had all the qualities and talent required to be big movie stars, but didn't become big stars because they had the misfortune to work in a time and place where there weren't any good parts for women. Mostly this applies to actresses in Hollywood in the '60s and early '70s, like Paula Prentiss, Stella Stevens, Pamela Tiffin, Marianna Hill -- you can find the list in the archives.

But there's another category of might-have-beens: actresses who could have been major sex symbols -- international pin-up girls on the level of Marilyn Monroe or Betty Grable or Farrah Fawcett -- and who didn't quite make it to that level. For example, I always thought Vanessa Angel, Lisa of the "Weird Science" TV show and the Farrelly Brothers movie Kingpin, was going to be a worldwide sex symbol; she could have been a Farrah for the ironic '90s -- a gorgeous woman with a slightly self-mocking, ironic undertone. But she kind of fell off the radar after Kingpin.

Another almost-Farrah was Heather Thomas, of the Lee Majors vehicle The Fall Guy. She was pretty much the entire reason to watch The Fall Guy (her and Markie Post), and she was not only beautiful but charming and somehow oddly human in a way that many wanna-be sex symbols are not. A lot of times when a show or movie is pushing a man or woman as a sex symbol, they'll wind up coming off as kind of pre-packaged and artificial, but Thomas actually came off as a real person who happened to be spectacular-looking; she certainly came off much better than the pre-packaged, artificial star of the show, Lee Majors. But nothing much came of her career after The Fall Guy went off the air. The only clip of her I could find on YouTube is some kind of music video with clips from a Fall Guy episode:

Who are some actors or actresses who you thought could have been world-famous sex symbols but didn't make it to that level?

O Sommo Carlo

When Carlo Bergonzi was active as an opera singer, he wasn't a great actor, didn't cut a dashing figure on stage, and didn't have a great voice as such (he was a converted baritone and sometimes sounded like one, and he didn't have ringing high notes like Franco Corelli). And yet I can't think of a better singer of Verdi and Puccini in the post-war period; through his intelligent use of his voice and his absolutely superb phrasing -- sort of an old-school, almost golden-age ability to put a special musical inflection on a musical phrase, and not just make it sound like he's feeding us back the notes by rote -- he's always been able to give the impression that the music is coming out of him naturally, as an expression of the character's feelings.

Here's a clip of Bergonzi in his best role, Riccardo in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, in a Tokyo production from 1967.


Not sure if this is a cure for depression, but on my other blog I have a post on the shrinking running times of TV shows and how that affects the style of modern television.

One thing I didn't mention there, but which I find interesting (and have mentioned here before) is the paradoxical fact that as the running times of shows have decreased, the number of plots has increased. Back when shows had 25 minutes of content per half-hour, they usually told one story per episode, no more. Now that there's only 20 minutes per half-hour, almost every show has multiple storylines in each episode.

Too Depressed to Blog

Too depressed. Too goddamn depressed.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

That She Wore For the First Time Today

Paul Vance, composer of "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", has died at the age of 68.

Vance and his songwriting partner Lee Pockriss wrote and produced a lot of successful songs in the '50s and '60s; they're prominently mentioned in the online article "Ron Dante Remembers the '60s."

But here's the clip that I think everybody will be remembering:

X is the New Y

I sort of made this point obliquely on the other blog, but one of the reasons I like the American version of The Office so much is that I find it gives me a lot of what I used to find in King of the Hill. KotH in its prime years had the same showrunner, Greg Daniels, and one of its best writers was Daniels' brother-in-law Paul Lieberstein, who now writes for The Office as well as playing the part of Toby. What they've brought to The Office is very much what they brought to KotH: realistic, observational humour with a satirical edge but with genuine emotion, some dark undercurrents (on KotH the darkness mostly came from the character of Bill, the most suicidal depressed loser ever seen on a mainstream sitcom) and more story arcs and status-quo shakeups than you'd get on a normal sitcom. KotH is still on, but while it's still a good show, it doesn't have much of that any more; the episodes are less satirical, there's less emotion, and the characters have become more static and unchanging. So for what I looked for in KotH, I now turn to The Office.

Anyway, the point of this is that I think it's actually quite common to turn to a new show to "replace" an older show, particularly if that show's been canceled recently. It doesn't necessarily mean that the new show has to be the same as the older one, or even very similar; after all, The Office isn't really similar to KotH in any obvious way. It just means that sometimes a show will come along that has certain qualities that a) most shows don't have, and b) used to be provided by a show that doesn't provide it any more. When that happens, the fans of one show will sort of migrate to the newer show.

For example, in 1978 it was pretty clear that Taxi was successfully making a play for the Mary Tyler Moore Show fans; the shows weren't similar in setting or characters, but they used a lot of the same creative talent and had a similar mix of highbrow and lowbrow comedy styles and a similar attitude (though Taxi was, at least at first, a little darker). Then in 1982, when Taxi was on its last legs, its fans migrated to Cheers, which not only had a lot of Taxi people working on it but sported a similar cast of lovable losers on a huge single set.

Or take Family Guy. I'm no fan of that show (as you may have heard rumoured) but it definitely has pulled in a lot of people who became disenchanted with The Simpsons and were looking for another show to give them the fast-paced comedy and irreverent attitude they loved on The Simpsons in the David Mirkin years.

Are there any shows that you turned to for the particular pleasures/qualities you used to get from another show?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Urban Horticulturist

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. There will be some real posts here soon, I promise, but in the meantime you'll have to settle for another couple of clips while I try to put together some actual prose (after all this is a blog, not a vlog -- though I'm not anti-vlog, not a vlogophobe).

I was going on in a couple of posts about why I like the TV writing of Stephen J. Cannell, and clips from "Riptide" or even "The A-Team" don't really convey why I like his stuff (though he did provide an episode of "The A-Team" with one of the great running gags in a TV episode). So here's some prime Cannell, from an episode of "The Rockford Files," "Chicken Little is a Little Chicken" -- the episode that really established Angel (a character who was in the pilot, but was played down for the first season because the network didn't like him) as an important character on the show, and features a hilarious guest performance by Ray Danton as one of Cannell's garrulous crime bosses, Chester Sierra.

And for a clip from Le Cinema, I wanted to highlight a scene that shows the power that music can bring to a movie -- and there are few movies that benefit more from the music than Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Wilder got the composer, Miklós Rósza, to use his own violin concerto (originally written in 1953 for Jascha Heifetz) as the film's theme music, and while the style of the music, with its Hungarian flavour, isn't exactly appropriate for a film that takes place in England and Scotland, the mood and tone of the music is exactly right. And in the final scene, where Holmes finds out that the woman he loves has been killed, the music makes the scene incredibly powerful and moving; the final shot, with Watson sitting down to write a Holmes adventure that he will not want released to the public, is just a static shot that isn't necessarily interesting in and of itself, but when you add the music, it can bring a tear to the eye; it's one of the few Wilder movies that can truly be called moving, and Rósza is a big part of the reason why.

Wisht I Coulda Been There

Jerry Beck reports from the Ottawa Animation Festival.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Weekend Placeholder

Enjoy the last six minutes of the "Phil Silvers Show" episode "The Court Martial" (co-written and directed, like all the episodes from the first two seasons, by creator Nat Hiken). "Excuse me, sir, I think he's calling for another lawyer."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Sorry We're Late, But We Had To Go And Pick Up Hank."

In comments, Ivan G. Shreve and "Slowjack" make a good case that I've been unfair to the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Certainly it's not a bad remake, and it's easy to see why Hitchcock preferred it: the remake has better lead actors overall, is more technically assured, and most importantly, has a real emotional punch that the original version did not have. Most of Hitchcock's British thrillers, even the serious ones like Sabotage, are kind of lightweight and emotionally cool. His American thrillers tend to be more intense, more emotional, more passionate; I think part of the reason critics used to prefer Hitch's British work (and while Hitchcock was alive, it was quite common for critics to say he went downhill after he left England) is that the earlier work didn't pretend to be anything more than a thriller, whereas his '50s films seem to aspire to more, and critics at the time weren't comfortable with the idea that a thriller could have things to say.

My problem with the remake is that while it embodies some of the virtues of Hitchcock's later work, it also embodies some of the flaws: it's very long and kind of slow (more than half again as long as the original), has a lot of bad rear projection, and doesn't have very impressive acting apart from the leads. (Alfred "actors are cattle" Hitchcock was not a great director of actors; good actors could give of their best for him -- as Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day do in this movie -- but supporting actors often did indifferent work in his movies because they're not really being given characters to play, just plot functions.) And while I appreciate the attempt to bring some emotional weight to what is after all a rather dark story -- it's about a couple whose child is kidnapped, after all -- it sometimes feels like Hitchcock and writer John Michael Hayes don't know whether they want to do a dark dramatic thriller or a somewhat lighter story.

Still, there's a good case to be made for the remake, and I think Hitchcock was accurate when he said that the difference between the two versions is that "the first was made by a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional." And there are few Hitchcock scenes more affecting than the final scene, where Day saves the, er, day by singing loudly so her son (being held captive upstairs) can hear her.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I'm Everywhere

I now have a blog, "TV Guidance," at

This will focus more on contemporary TV and/or stuff with a contemporary hook (like an older series that's just come out on DVD), so it doesn't take too much away from this blog, and I'll continue to update this blog regularly. But have a look at the blog and let me know what you think (via the email form, because blogs don't have comments sections).

Ros! Ros! Ros!

Rediscover the work of Amanda McKittrick Ros.

Amanda McKittrick Ros, who was born in 1860, has been accused of delivering some of the worst passages of literature ever written.

Described as formidable, she rejected her critics as being the "auctioneering agents of satan".

Now Culture Northern Ireland has challenged "lovers of awful literature" to see if they can read the longest passage from McKittrick Ros's work while keeping a straight face.

Basically, Ros is what you'd get if you crossed Emmeline Grangerford (the bad poet from Huckleberry Finn) with a schoolma'arm (which Ros in fact was). She produced so much bad writing, in verse and prose, that no one has been able to match her fabulous awfulness. A sample of her verse, via Fetch Me My Axe:

"On Visiting Westminster Abbey"

Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.

And a sample of her prose, from the novel Helen Huddleston:

'Now Helen, my darling, my queen, my all, had I not loved you as never woman before, I'd have allowed you to go on your way rejoicing, but, I can never, NEVER, I say, see you the wife of any other man save myself.' Helen still remaining laconic as he continued:

'The illimitable love I possess for you within this heart of mine can never suffer that blow you fain would strike it. Truly, it would kill me outright were you to reject an offer hundreds of society shams grieve because they cannot grasp. I have travelled through many foreign climes, I have seen the fairest daughters Nature can produce-or critic-crabs denounce -- but none so fair as you, my Helen.'

Still spurnful, he went on:

'You may think it dishonourable of me trying to wreck the happiness of him to whom you have plighted your vow but there is nothing unfair in love and war, the mightiness of two such strongholds banish all faintness from the human heart. I can't live without you, Helen Huddleson. Say no. I die. Say yes. I will live for you, love you, worship you, cherish you while this life lasts.'

He gazed at her wan face moulded in rigidity, a face immersed in indecision that gave him a thread of hope. He pressed her ruby lips to his, her colour grew white and red alternately, through force of her thoughts.

'Will you love me, my fond girl?' he panted. 'Will you?' She remained immobile -- taciturn.

'Ah, darling -- speak,' he pleaded plaintively. 'I am mad with excitement, wild with expectancy, awaiting those sweet lips of yours to open and act their part in conveying to me that for which I have yearned for years.' He pressed his hot forehead
with his hand.

'Will you be my wife, Helen Huddleson?' the sweat drops pebbling his brow as he anxiously awaited her reply.

She trembled violently until at last the answer came. 'Sir -- I cannot,' wringing her small hands as the negative dropped from her parched lips ...

'Then, by heaven, I'll end the scene,' drawing from his jacket pocket a pistol. 'I shall shoot you first - myself after,' holding the weapon menacingly to sever the soul and body of her he could never bear to see the wife of another.

Helen rose, rushed forward towards him screaming:

'Why, oh why, sir, damn your soul forever by such savage acts?'...

He looked upon her where she stood gasping, her bleached lips quivering, her hand upon the weapon she still regarded with awe.

He gave her a murderous stare, exclaiming in frenzy:

'Helen, Helen, 'tis all your fault. I'll give you another minute to decide, another minute to aid this acheing heart of mine you have so cruelly stabbed by your refusal to own it.'

He counted the seconds and on reaching fifty-nine she clasped him in her trembling arms-shouting:

'I will -- I will marry you, Lord Rasberry.'

She then fell fainting at his feet.

Sarah has more.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Very Popular Commercial

Yeah, I know I post too many embedded clips in lieu of original analysis (and then I write a bazillion words about shows with Jack Ging in them), but all I have time for right now is another related series of clips. Do you remember the Dr. Pepper "I'm a Pepper" commercial of the late '70s, early '80s? Well, here it is:

This commercial was so popular that it got spoofed and referenced on a number of TV shows in the early '80s. SCTV did a parody where "Dr. Pepper" became "Dr. Shekter" (Rick Moranis):

And "Remington Steele" did a famous throwaway line that spoofed that commercial:

All in all, I'd say it was a very successful ad campaign, even when they ill-advisedly tried to do a disco version of it.

Put It Back in the Holst-Er

The downgrading of Pluto to sub-planetary status has pretty much settled the hash of the English composer Colin Matthews. A few years ago, he was commissioned to write a new movement for Gustav Holst's famous "The Planets": that composition features a movement for each of the then-recognized planets, and Matthews added one for Pluto. This movement was recorded a few years back and has now received a second recording, as part of Simon Rattle's interpretation (with the Berlin Philharmonic) of "The Planets."

The addition of a new, musically-unrelated movement to a famous work was never a good idea, so it's a good thing that the "Pluto" movement won't become a concert staple. But the odd timing -- of having a recording come out just as Pluto gets demoted -- is, ironically, gaining a lot of attention for "Pluto," as this article explains:

Matthews could have warned them about this ages ago. His programme notes for the world premiere mentioned Pluto's questionable status, "but because I had been commissioned to do it I couldn't turn around and say, 'Hey, it isn't a planet'."

And over at Classics Today, David Hurwitz has an Onion-esque take on it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Screaming Mimi

I picked up the first season of "Riptide", one of a number of Stephen J. Cannell productions being released by the Canadian company VEI. If you like these shows, like "Hardcastle and McCormick" and "Stingray" (coming soon, according to the booklet), consider ordering them from; there are no extras, but the picture quality is pretty good considering that these were fairly low-budget shows (or more specifically all the money went for the stunt work), and unlike the U.S. releases of Cannell shows, there don't appear to be any music changes.

I wasn't particularly familiar with "Riptide" before this, and after watching the first season I have to say it's not one of my favorite Cannell shows. Of course with any of Cannell's self-produced shows (even the critically-acclaimed ones like "Profit" and "Wiseguy") you have to make allowances for less-than-beautiful production values and weak guest performances. But the funny writing usually carries them through; as I've said before, what sets Cannell productions apart from other action shows of the '80s is that Cannell specialized in the injection of character comedy into otherwise standard action plots.

But to get the character comedy, you need good characters. "The Rockford Files" had great regular characters and (because it was a Universal production) had access to a lot of really strong guest performers; it therefore was Cannell's best show because it had the most opportunities for strong character comedy. Among the self-produced shows, "The Greatest American Hero" and "The A-Team" had some weak plots and guest characters, but had a strong core of distinctive and funny regular characters who could provide the basis for the comedy. (The weak Cannell stuff is the stuff where the main characters aren't funny at all; his novels strike me as falling into this category.) "Riptide" comes off as a weak effort, then, because the main characters really aren't distinctive enough to create solid comedy; in fact, two of them -- the two beach bums played by Joe Penny and Perry King -- are really the same character writ twice, and a lot of their scenes together fall apart because neither one has any distinctive character traits; without character differences, whether it's the mild differences of Rockford and his father or the huge differences of Ralph Hinckley and Bill Maxwell, you can't get a lot of funny scenes. (Though they occasionally pull off a funny scene with some overlapping dialogue, but even when arguing, they're basically two identical people.) So what you're left with instead are the plots, which are nothing much to speak of, and a whole lot of helicopter chases and cars flipping over.

The other thing I forgot is that Anne Francis was supposed to be a regular on the show, as the hard-boiled skipper of a tour boat; she was even in the opening credits for a while even though she only appeared in the pilot and one other episode. I guess the idea at the time was that a show like this needed a familiar TV name -- like Brian Keith or George Peppard -- but Francis didn't last on this one, and it became still another '80s action show with no female regulars.

TV DVD Reviews has more on the show as well as a brief review of a U.S. DVD release.

Double Plus Ungood

Because I hate you all so much, I torment you with yet another comparison of a scene from Double Indemnity with that horrible made-for-TV remake, in this case, the final scene.

The good, from 1944 (with Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson):

The bad, from 1973 (with Richard Crenna and Lee J. Cobb):

To soften the blow, here's a less lopsided comparison: the attempted assassination scene from Alfred Hitchcock's two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much. The two scenes are very similar -- they even use the same music, by Arthur Benjamin (which left Bernard Herrmann without much to do in the remake, but he does get to make a cameo as the conductor of the orchestra). But the scene from the remake is in color, is much longer -- twice as long, basically -- has more of an action-y climax to it, and makes the heroine more down-to-earth by having her not actually be in attendance at the concert (it just wouldn't do for Doris Day to actually be going to a snooty concert the way Edna Best is in the original). Hitchcock preferred the remake, but I think time has been kinder to the shorter, faster, punchier original.

1934 version:

1956 version:

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Things That Aren't Scopitones, But Should Be

The scopitone aesthetic -- sleazy sexploitation presented as wholesome family entertainment -- was, as I've said, not limited to Scopitones themselves; it was an integral part of '60s entertainment, with stripteases in family-oriented musicals and all. The Matt Helm movies were full of this kind of family-friendly leering, as in this scene from The Wrecking Crew where Sharon Tate has to humiliate herself and even Dean Martin looks a little embarrassed for her -- or maybe he just hates Hugo Montenegro's music as much as I do:

Or this truly appalling number from The Pleasure Seekers, a musical number that really -- especially since the movie isn't a musical -- has no purpose whatsoever except letting Ann-Margret shake everything that's shakable:

Someone really needs to psycho-analyze '60s entertainment and explain why this weird combination of wholesomness and sleaziness became the hallmark of the era.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Now That's How You Release a Classic Series

Time-Life's box of "Get Smart: The Complete Series" (available for pre-order now, shipping on November 13) looks to be quite the package, as you'll see if you scroll down and take a look at the list of special features. Almost makes up for the annoyance of it only being available by mail-order, at least for now.

One of the many extras is the famous 1964 Revlon ad featuring Barbara Feldon, an ad that got her the part on "Get Smart" when co-creator Buck Henry saw it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Take Off Your Clothes, Get In Here and Tell Me All About It."

The Cecil B. DeMille Collection isn't precisely my thing, but it does include probably DeMille's most famous (or infamous) non-Biblical film, The Sign of the Cross. It's a film beloved by Pre-Code buffs for its heaping helping of 1932-vintage sex and violence, and beloved by DeMille buffs for the way it perfectly sums up his style: titillate us for two hours and then make it all acceptable by telling us that debauchery is bad and evil and we shouldn't admire it.

I think one of the reason DeMille's movies remain popular is that they use modern technology -- the movie camera -- to bring us back to a very old and, to modern eyes, unfamiliar type of storytelling. His roots were in the theatre productions of David Belasco, who collaborated with Cecil's father and with Cecil himself, and Belasco's productions were the same way: they were always up-to-date with technology and spectacular effects to dazzle the audience, but in storytelling and theme they were very old-fashioned, very moralistic, very Victorian. DeMille (who Andrew Sarris dubbed "the last Victorian") was always one step ahead of the rest when it came to figuring out what effects would surprise or shock the audience, but not only was his work marinated in Victorian morality, his actual style of directing remained more or less fixed: static, painting-like shots make up the bulk of every DeMille film through the '50s, and the physical acting in his films is always of the kind he'd been getting out of his actors since the teens. It's that feeling of watching something very old, yet somehow up-to-date, that makes DeMille's movies interesting.

Here's the most famous scene from The Sign of the Cross, where Claudette Colbert, as the wicked (and bad, bad, evil, don't admire her!) Poppea, takes a bath in asses' milk.

The A-Team With Ewoks

You heard me.

What a Difference a Theme Song Makes

For anyone who doubts that a theme song makes a difference to a show, I present the two theme songs from the Stephen J. Cannell production "Hardcastle and McCormick."

The first theme song (by Mike Post, of course, and the lyricist who did the "Greatest American Hero" theme) was this very bad-ass pop song:

And then in the second season they changed the theme song to this, which was more in the style of their "Greatest American Hero" theme, but came off as one of the wussiest theme songs of all time:

Is it any wonder the show didn't last very long?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Little Archie: "The Long Walk"

Fred Hembeck has a pretty good summary of "The Long Walk," which was Bob Bolling's own favorite among his many wonderful "Little Archie" stories. Because this story was unfortunately not reprinted in the recent "Little Archie" collection -- which focused solely on one aspect of Bolling's art, his adventure stories -- I've scanned the story and am posting it here. (It's posted as thumbnails due to space limitations.) This is Bolling at his best: a deep understanding of children and what kind of stories and dialogue appeals to children, and a sense of humour and whimsy that appeals directly to children without ever talking down to them.

(1) (2) (3)

(4) (5) (6)

(7) (8) (9)

Bolling later -- in the late '70s or early '80s -- did some "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" stories where he tried to do for Sabrina what he'd done for Little Archie, turning her into more of an adventure character and giving that moribund series some sense of wit and whimsy. It didn't work as well as the Little Archie series, but as you can see from this excerpt, it had some of the Bolling touch and was certainly more fun than any other Sabrina comic, what with alliterative lines like "Violent Vortex" and the fact that the bad guy's sub is called "Rosa." Also note that Sabrina's adversary -- who lived in the house once occupied by Little Archie's Mad Doctor Doom -- was "Professor Pither," a name that sounds innocuous until you find that he has a lisp, and you ask yourself how he'd pronounce it if he didn't have a lisp.

Casting Trivia

I know I post too much about "WKRP in Cincinnati," but this bit of casting trivia is too good not to post and I haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere:

When casting Andy Travis, the show's lead role (or at any rate what was expected to be the lead role when they made the pilot), creator Hugh Wilson wanted to make an offer to David Letterman. The reason Letterman didn't get the part was that MTM, which was producing the show, decided that they wanted Letterman for their big production of that season: "Mary", the comedy/variety show starring MTM namesake Mary Tyler Moore.

Obviously if the part had gone to Letterman, Andy would have been more clearly the star of the show, and the show would have developed quite a bit differently than it did. (Wilson actually looks a lot like Letterman, so the character would sort have been a surrogate for the creator.) The same goes for the original choice for Mr. Carlson (according to director Jay Sandrich), Roddy McDowall.

Incidentally, the casting idea Wilson wanted to pursue -- casting a not-particularly-famous comedian who was clearly headed for big things -- was a strategy that other sitcoms used in this period, casting a young comedian in the "straight man" role. The creators of "Taxi" used the young Martin Short as the lead character of the excellent law-office sitcom "The Associates," and Allan Burns (co-creator of "Mary Tyler Moore") used the young Jim Carrey as the straight man on "The Duck Factory."

Trivia over.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Watch Bad Double Indemnity Remakes So You Don't Have To

Following up on my post about that bad Double Indemnity Remake, I now present the same scene from both versions, so you can see for yourself a) How closely the remake sticks to the original script and b) How badly the remake sucks in spite of sticking to the original script.

From 1944:

And, if you can take it, the same scene from 1973:

Monday, September 11, 2006

"What is Horny?"

I have nothing much to say today, so here's another TV scene, this time from "Soap", or more specifically the seventh episode of the second season (the episodes didn't have titles). This is the ultimate Susan Harris scene, the distilled essence of everything she did on "Soap" and "The Golden Girls": four women, sitting around a kitchen table, talking about sex at a time when women (particularly women over 40) just didn't do that on TV.

The scene is also a reminder that, as good as the whole "Soap" cast was (except maybe Jennifer Salt as Eunice, though maybe it was just that the character as written was kind of a dud), Katherine Helmond as Jessica has to be one of the all-time great TV characterizations. My favorite touch -- which wasn't scripted, or at least isn't mentioned in the "Soap" script I've seen -- is the way she lowers her voice to a whisper every time she has to say the word "sex."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Not a Problem

Does anybody else remember "Parker Lewis Can't Lose?" it was one of those early shows on the Fox network, when they were doing all kinds of comedy shows that the established network would never do (partly because they wanted to set themselves apart and partly because they were sort of limited to stuff that the big three networks had turned down), like "The Simpsons," which started the same year as "Parker Lewis."

The distinctive things about "Parker Lewis" included its incorporation of all kinds of devices that are now common in single-camera sitcoms, but were unusual then: voice-over narration, time jumps, cutaways, cartoony gags and sound effects. As a show about teenagers, it was like a hipper, funnier version of John Hughes; it's a "Ferris Bueller" knockoff that holds up a lot better than the smarmy original. (There was actually an official "Ferris Bueller" show that premiered at the same time as "Parker Lewis"; it got axed after 13 episodes while "Parker" managed three seasons.) It also produced a lot of the writers and production people who would go on to a somewhat similar -- though not quite as good -- improvement on John Hughes, "Weird Science."

Unfortunately, Sony, which owns it, doesn't seem to have any intention of releasing it on DVD. While we're waiting, here's an excerpt from the pilot episode:

Thursday, September 07, 2006


The things I missed out on back in 1999... I just found a long article on the history of the "Scopitone" For those who aren't obsessed with cheesoid '60s pop culture, the Scopitone was a video jukebox that started in Europe in the early '60s and came to North America in 1964. You could listen to the music, but there was also a screen where you could watch somebody singing (or lip-synching) the song. It was, in essence, the birth of MTV, and a bunch of three-minute music videos were made for the Scopitone before it died out.

There's a Scopitones website that posts some of the Scopitone videos (which are better-known simply as "Scopitones"). They are also on YouTube. The article gives a good idea of what kind of music and visual content the Scopitones had: basically, a bizarre combination of sexploitation and family-friendly variety-show corn. Or, rather, we now think of it as bizarre; in the '60s, as I've written before, it was absolutely mainstream to do sexually suggestive or borderline obscene material in a way that suggested that this was all supposed to be very wholesome and appropriate for the Kiddies. See any episode of "The Dean Martin Show" for an example of this.

Anyway, here are a couple of examples of Scopitone-osity:

"Trapped in the Web of Love," a video with stupefyingly literal interpretations of the lyrics and lots of wholesome obscenity, featuring Joi Lansing:

Neil Sedaka (or as Pinky called him on Pinky and the Brain, "Beloved tunesmith Neil Sedaka") in "Calendar Girl":

Barbara McNair in "On the Other Side of the Tracks" by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh:

Are you all '60'd out yet?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Where You Going?

One more clip from the recording session of Company: Dean Jones (Robert) and Susan Browning (April, the stewardess whose name Robert can't remember even after he's slept with her) sing "Barcelona," that show-tune rarity: a subtle, low-key comedy song. Most comedy songs, including Sondheim's, have kind of a setup/punchline structure where each section of the song is a complete self-contained joke (like "The Ladies Who Lunch" from the same show). This is more like a Second City sketch in music and rhyme; the biggest laugh in the song is from an exchange that doesn't actually read like a joke:

ROBERT: Where you going?
APRIL: Barcelona.

Dean Jones, of The Love Bug fame, left Company soon after the show opened. The story is that Jones had decided early on that he wanted to leave the show, but agreed to stay through the opening and a few weeks beyond so that the show could establish itself without any "star quits out of town" stories. Jones' replacement, Larry Kert (who Prince and Sondheim knew from his lead role in the original West Side Story) got a Tony nomination -- the first mid-run replacement to get such a nomination -- but because Jones recorded the cast album, and because he was such perfect casting for the part (a handsome, superficially likable guy who has no idea what to do with his life), he's forever identified with the show.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Don't Tell Paul

Later this year we're going to get another one of those John Doyle musical productions where there's no orchestra, and everybody acts like this is progress. (Yes, the Sweeney Todd production was excellent -- though Patti LuPone has no business singing this music, or possibly any music -- but it's better with an orchestra.) This time it'll be the first of the Harold Prince/Stephen Sondheim '70s conceptual thingamajigs, Company. (They'd worked together before, but this was the first time Sondheim had written songs for a show Prince directed instead of just produced, and the combination of two huge creative talents who were both determined to make Broadway audiences uncomfortable was what produced the most interesting and infuriating shows of the '70s.) With that in mind, I think we should take a moment to remember what these songs sound like with a full orchestra backing them up and Sondheim's regular orchestrator, Jonathan Tunick, going to town with his orchestral trademarks (such as trumpets with an insistent, "buzzing" kind of sound). This comes to us from D.A. Pennebaker's famous documentary on the recording of the original cast album, courtesy of YouTube.

Here's Beth Howland (later to be Vera on "Alice") in the process of recording the neurotic patter song "Getting Married Today":

And Pamela Myers as a minor character who gets the best song in the show, "Another Hundred People. It's part of the approach of Company that instead of giving the big moments to the most important characters, as in a traditional musical, many of the most important songs are given to side characters or apparently unimportant moments in the show, which then comment obliquely on the bigger themes of the show. Orchestra-wise, there's a famous moment where the trumpets start playing the recurring theme of the show -- "Bobby Baby" -- to clue us in to the fact that even though he's not mentioned, this song is really about the hero, Robert (Dean Jones).

YouTube has other excerpts from the documentary, including Elaine Stritch's famous struggles with "The Ladies Who Lunch" and Dean Jones singing the "cop-out" closing number (written to replace a more ironic version of the same song, which was so convoluted that nobody could figure out what point it was supposed to be making), "Being Alive."

The conductor, incidentally, is Harold Hastings, who conducted all of Hal Prince's productions from The Pajama Game in 1954 through A Little Night Music in 1973.

In Defence of "Dallas"

Paul Mavis at DVD Talk has a stirring aesthetic defence of the doings of the Ewings.

I have a soft spot for "Dallas" myself, but Mavis knows more about the show and does a really good job of explaining why it's fun.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More Music On TV

Home Media Retailing reports that CBS/Paramount is finally putting out two of its most-requested TV properties -- the Darren Star soapfests "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place" (link via TV Shows on DVD). These were two of the shows that were being kept off DVD because of the huge amount of popular music they used, and they're going on DVD only because, as Paramount frankly admits, they gave up on trying to retain all the music:

Like many other shows with strong pop-culture soundtracks, such as “Felicity,” some music for the episodes included on these discs will be replaced with new tracks, according to a Paramount spokesperson.

That was done to prevent more delays in getting the DVD sets out, according to Paramount. The studio hired one of [Aaron] Spelling’s former music supervisors to help substitute some music.

I think that's the right way for a studio to go about this: admit what they're doing, point out that the show wouldn't be releasable unless they changed some of the music, and hire a good music editor (preferably someone with a connection to the show) to substitute cheaper songs as unobtrusively as possible. This is something a lot of music-heavy shows are going to have to do; studios will get a lot less fan outrage about it if they don't try to hide the fact that music substitution is necessary.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Da Clips, Boss! Da Clips!

I've nothing much to post today, no anecdote or tip.
And why am I here blogging and not going on a trip?
Well, then, in lieu of posting, here's another random clip.

The famous line "I Am Elmer J. Fudd, Millionaire" line -- complete with behaviour-altering drugs -- from the Friz Freleng cartoon "Hare Brush":

The "what does a yellow light mean" scene from the Taxi episode "Reverend Jim, a Space Odyssey" (written by Glen and Les Charles):

And the key part of the WKRP in Cincinnati pilot, the introduction of Dr. Johnny Fever, "Booger," the Hallelujah Tabernacle Choir's "You're Having My Baby" and Ted Nugent's "Queen of the Forest."

And for your inevitable film noir fix, the mirror scene from Orson Welles's The Lady From Shanghai:

There's nothing meritorious
That I have left to say
But "have a non-laborious
And lazy Labor Day."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Feel The Power of the Carlton Dance!

You know, I used to watch "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," and I was dimly aware at the time that the character of Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) was popular. (The show was supposed to be about the relationship of Will Smith and the guy playing his uncle; instead it became mostly about Will and Carlton because Carlton was sort of a cross between Alex Keaton and Urkel.) But I only recently became aware of something called The Carlton Dance.

I must have seen the wrong episodes or something, because I was never aware that Carlton's spastic dancing was a running gag on that show. But apparently it was, and it's gained something of a cult following. A search for the phrase "Carlton Dance" on Google brings up tens of thousands of hits; on YouTube there are something like a hundred videos devoted to The Carlton Dance, including non-Carlton people trying to prove that they, too, can do The Carlton Dance.

The point of this post? None, except that it's impossible to keep up with what does or doesn't have a cult following.

And here it is -- THE CARLTON DANCE -- complete with its typical accompaniment, "It's Not Unusual" by Tom Jones.

Off-Topic: A Man With a Chest

One of the weirdest recent phenomena in the world of column writers (columnism?) is the practice of criticizing released hostages for not dying. Blogger Glenn Greenwald has been dealing with such criticism as directed against Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig (the Fox News journalists who were taken hostage and released only after forced conversion to Islam), and in doing so delivers the best-ever smackdown of Canadian columnist and professional crazy person David Warren.

The fact that columnists are attacking journalists for not being dead is disturbing; the fact that such attacks come from people who, like Warren, would unquestionably convert to Snake-Handling in about five seconds if they thought it would buy them a moment's safety, makes it a combination of disturbing and bleakly funny.