Thursday, February 14, 2008

Does a Mother Duck?

I would not recommend the final season of "Riptide" (1985-6_, a show that followed the usual pattern of Stephen J. Cannell's pre-Wiseguy self-produced shows: promising first season, everything goes to hell in the 1984-85 season, '85-6 season a bit better but not good enough to keep it from being canceled. This is one show that seriously shows the limitations of Cannell's attempt to produce shows without studio resources; it's trying to be Magnum P.I. except that they don't have the money for decent locations, or (for the most part) really attractive guest stars. (You can tell that they want to surround the heroes with gorgeous guest babes, but instead they usually settle for craggy-faced mob guys, who are much cheaper to cast.) Instead Cannell spent all the money on stunts, which are sometimes kind of cool but there are only so many helicopter chases you can watch before they all seem the same. I think in general a TV show, even an "action" show, probably does better to emphasize production values over stunt work; if the show looks drab, people aren't going to stick around waiting for the chase scenes.

Anyway, this was the season that produced this show's most famous episode, "If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em." Riptide was about to be canceled because it was being trounced in the ratings by Moonlighting, which had suddenly raised the bar for lighthearted detective shows -- particularly when it came to production values. (Mooonlighting had its share of stunts but poured much more of its big budget into elaborate sets, classical Hollywood-style photography, costumes, and so on, and kind of established the principle that a show could get away with being mostly talk, little action, if it was really cool to look at.) Needing to produce a clip show to offset going over budget on stunts that season, showrunner Babs Greyhosky decided to build the clip show around the Riptide characters going to the set of a new show that was exactly like Moonlighting in every way, right down to the fact that the leading lady is always photographed through a soft filter. It's an odd parody because it's fairly clear that not only are the writers big fans of the show they're parodying, but as the title implies, they're tacitly admitting that they think this new show is better than theirs (which it was).

There's a webpage for the Moonlighting parody episode with quotes from the script and interviews with the writers of the episode. It actually reads better than it plays, which isn't uncommon with these '80s action shows and especially the ones from the Cannell stable: these shows were shot so fast and played so broadly that the funny moments in the script never seem as funny as they could onscreen. (I remember reading the pilot script of The A-Team and thinking that the script doesn't even need re-writing to make a better show; it's a great pilot script that just wasn't fully implemented in the shooting.) But the guy they got to be Bruce Willis, Richard Greene (not to be confused with Robin Hood) is really dead-on. I don't know what happened to him after that.

Oh, and like most of the releases of Cannell's own shows starting with his unforgiveable butchery of Wiseguy, this set has some very obvious and wince-inducing music substitutions (I don't know what songs were there originally, but whatever they were, they sure weren't this generic library stuff).

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