Friday, August 10, 2018

Classic TV’s Curtain Call: 1989

It has always been this blog’s assertion that the 1980s was the last classic TV decade.

That doesn’t mean television hasn’t introduced memorable shows in the years since. It refers instead to how our relationship to the medium began to change in the 1990s, a trend that continues to the present day.

Cable and satellite television added hundreds of viewing options to our TV menu. As a result, viewership for even the most celebrated shows has been greatly diminished. VCRs, DVRs and streaming services all allowed viewers to watch programs whenever they liked. So even if 10 million people eventually catch the same episode of Westworld, they didn’t all watch at the same time. 

For better or worse, new channels and new technology have abolished the communal pop culture experience that television once provided.  

That experience, to me, is what separates the classic TV era from our current TV age.

If we go with that premise, 1989 was the final year of the classic TV era. And what’s amazing is how a closer look at the shows that debuted and ended their runs in that year make a convincing case for our hypothesis – the old order of things have passed away, as television stepped into a more tumultuous future.

Hello: The Arsenio Hall Show, The Pat Sajak Show
If you were a betting man in 1989 you might have put your money on Sajak having the more successful launch, though both series aired opposite the still dominant Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Sajak had higher name recognition from Wheel of Fortune, and he was the very model of an amiable, quick-witted, good-mannered young man from the Midwest. That’s the kind of host TV executives believed audiences wanted to watch before drifting off to dreamland. 

Sajak enjoyed the additional advantage of having his show carried by CBS, while The Arsenio Hall Show played in syndication. But The Pat Sajak Show was gone in about a year, while Arsenio made the cover of Time, put the first real dent in Carson’s ratings, and owned the under-30 audience by booking pop stars and athletes and wrestlers that would never be invited onto Carson’s couch. By the time presidential candidate Bill Clinton showed up to play Heartbreak Hotel on the sax, it was obvious that the formulas that worked on TV for 30 years were no longer reliable.

Goodbye: American Bandstand
The revolution in music brought about by Napster and iTunes was still a few years away, but the cancelation of American Bandstand, a television staple since 1952, illustrated how music no longer needed Dick Clark to gain exposure. MTV, which debuted in 1981, made Clark’s weekly dance party look like the relic from the past that it was. 

Hello: Seinfeld, The Simpsons
While 1989 also featured the debuts of such traditional situation comedies as Coach, Anything But Love, Major Dad and Family Matters, the year’s two most successful new sitcoms, in both ratings and cultural impact, were groundbreaking in format and clearly belong more to our current TV age than the one it followed.  Seinfeld was too subversive to be considered an heir to sitcoms from generations past. Its objective was not to function within the format, but to undermine it with a cynical self-awareness. That it did so brilliantly cannot be denied. And The Simpsons? It’s still on, after more than 600 episodes.

Goodbye: Sale of the Century, Super Password, Card Sharks
All three of these long-running shows left us in 1989, opening up valuable morning broadcast real estate to the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. Game shows are still with us – high-tech new ones and MA-rated revivals of the classics. But only The Price is Right soldiers on in a format that would be recognizable to someone who stopped watching TV in the 1980s. 

Hello: COPS, Rescue 911, America’s Funniest Home Videos
Who needs actors? Who needs scripts? The reality TV genre rolled into 1989 with hit shows featuring police officers chasing perps through dark alleys, paramedics pulling drivers out of car accidents, and camcorder footage of Uncle Charlie doubling over after little Timmy bats a whiffle ball into his crotch. What a golden age it was. 

Goodbye: Ryan’s Hope, Dynasty
Two popular soaps, one daytime, one nighttime, would not survive to see the 1990s. Dynasty had run its course by 1989 so that cancelation was not painful. 

But Ryan’s Hope had been revitalized by writer Claire Labine and deserved more time to be rediscovered by the audience that left after too many dead-end storylines and recasts of pivotal characters. I still miss Maeve Ryan singing “Danny Boy” at the family bar. 

Other notable 1989 debuts: Nightingales, branded as Aaron Spelling’s attempt to revive Charlie’s Angels with nurses, and canceled after 13 episodes. 

Quantum Leap with Scott Bakula; Saved By the Bell, the Gen-X Brady Bunch, Baywatch, the slow motion jiggle series Aaron Spelling wishes he created instead of Nightingales, and Chicken Soup, a very funny sitcom that was pulled off the air by ABC, despite high ratings, because of inflammatory statements made by its star, stand-up comedian Jackie Mason.  

Well, at least some things haven’t changed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

How Hogan’s Heroes Should Have Ended

We’ve talked before about how some Comfort TV shows ended with an episode that provided closure for its characters and its viewers. But these were the exception.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, most series just stopped. Of these, the one that still bothers me most is Hogan’s Heroes. It doesn’t take decades of hindsight to wonder why we were not shown how the end of Germany’s involvement in World War II played out at Stalag 13.

Was the creative team caught off-guard? Hardly. According to Brenda Scott Royce’s fine book on the series, everyone knew the show’s sixth season would be its last. 

There was an eagerness to get the series into syndication, which offered higher profit potential, and a time-slot change had further cut into already sagging ratings.  

Besides, this was something that should have been prepared for years earlier. Hogan’s Heroes had a small stable of regular writers, including Laurence Marks (68 episodes), Richard M. Powell (29 episodes) and Arthur Julian (24 episodes). It’s inconceivable to me that at least one of them never came forward to say, “Hey, I know how we wrap this up.”

The only plausible reason it didn’t happen was a concern over how a finale would impact the series in syndication. This was also an issue with The Fugitive, as producer Quinn Martin worried no one would watch the reruns because they knew how the show ended. And perhaps that concern was warranted, as The Fugitive rarely aired in syndication, while Hogan’s Heroes played for the next 20 years. 

Very different shows, of course, and had Hogan’s shot a final episode I can’t imagine it would have diminished the show’s enduring appeal.

How would it unfold? Here’s my version.

In the opening scene, a message is sent from London to the heroes’ underground radio: Hitler has killed himself and Germany has surrendered. Hogan would make the announcement to LeBeau, Newkirk, Carter and Baker (Ivan Dixon, who played Kinchloe, did not return for season six). There would be much joy and celebration, and a discussion about what they all planned to do now that their treacherous assignment has ended. 

And unlike the show’s creative team, this is a moment Hogan will have anticipated. Sure, he’ll say, now we could wait for the Allies or walk out the front gate, but it seems more fitting to make a final exit from Stalag 13 through the tunnels, disappearing for the last time into the German countryside.

But before departing, they’d ask for a word with Sgt. Schultz. 

How many rescues and sabotage plans would not have been possible without Schultz’s preference to not know what was going on? Some of my favorite scenes in the series had Hogan not just planning his strategies in Schultz’s presence, but offering to explain them in detail, until the agitated Schultz fled the scene after yet another declaration of his famous catchphrase: “I know nothing! I see nothing!” 

Hogan would be content to leave true believers like General Burkhalter and Major Hochstetter to their fates. Particularly Hochstetter, the Gestapo leader who was as nasty a piece of work as the show could introduce in a comedic premise.  

But Schultz never wanted to be a Nazi. As revealed in the episode “War Takes a Holiday,” before the war he had been the owner of the Schatzi Toy Company. And while he had plenty of stomach he certainly had no stomach for war, or the despicable agenda of his F├╝hrer. So Hogan would offer him and his family safe passage to London or America. Or, if he preferred to stay, they would use some of their appropriated funds to set him back up in the business he left after being drafted.

Great sitcoms can handle serious moments, and here would be an ideal opportunity to reveal what was obvious to attentive viewers all along: Schultz was never as dumb or as innocent as he presented himself. A clueless clown couldn’t build the largest toy maker in Germany. He was making the best of a terrible situation, trying to stay alive and away from the Russian front.

“I knew everything,” he would tell Hogan as they parted company. “I saw everything. I just did nothing because I knew you were right.”

But what of Colonel Klink, whose ineptitude was even more decisive is securing an Allied victory? 

The easy option would have Hogan making one last unannounced visit to his office, with a “guess what we’ve been doing all this time?” revelation. But that seems too obvious.

There could be an ironic twist of Klink finally making General – having one of the most unqualified German officers in the military not only surviving but advancing despite his incompetence – sort of like how The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended with Ted Baxter as the only WJM News employee who wasn’t fired.

But I’ve always imagined something more poignant so Werner Klemperer, who won multiple Emmys for his portrayal of Klink, could also play a moment revealing the man beneath the buffoon.

Klink calls Hogan to his office to share a glass of champagne and toast the end of the war, but by then Hogan and company are already gone. But before they leave, they expose every aspect of their operation, which is finally discovered by the clueless commandant.  

We watch as Klink walks silently through the now-abandoned camp, its tunnels laid bare, along with the maps and the coffee pot listening device, the stockpile of German uniforms, the printing press, the sliding barbed-wire fence and the hinged doghouse.

As he realizes what a fool he’s been all this time, an overhead crane shot would pull out from Klink standing alone with this thoughts. Gradually his incredulity turns to a smile, and perhaps even a laugh, as he enters Hogan’s quarters and offers an acquiescent salute to a superior adversary. We then cut to Hogan and company in Paris – joined by Marya and Tiger and maybe even Colonel Crittendon.

The episode would conclude in Washington DC, with Hogan and his men in dress uniforms receiving medals for their efforts in helping to win the war, as the stirring strains of Jerry Fielding’s march emanate from a military band. 

What do you think? Love it? Hate it? Think you could do better? You probably could. But if you’re not impressed I’m happy to direct you to yet another version, created a few years back by Mitchell Hadley at the It’s About TV blog. He plays the story out into the Korean conflict, the Kennedy administration, and up to the 1980s. He was always more ambitious than I am.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Top TV Moments: Michael Constantine

Longevity is one of the hallmarks of a great Comfort TV character actor. If there were a Mount Rushmore for such thespians Michael Constantine could be on it, alongside such stalwarts as William Schallert and Charles Lane. 

One of those actors that seemed to be born middle-aged, Constantine has played just about every type of role in a career that spans nearly 70 years (and still may not be over). I remember him best as a rumpled, world-weary bureaucrat, the kind of working-class professional that strives for positive outcomes within a system designed for mediocrity. Certainly that description fits his Emmy-winning role as Walt Whitman High School Principal Seymour Kaufman on Room 222.  

With so many performances to choose from, and so many I haven’t had the pleasure to see, I won’t say these ten shows are his best television moments – but each in its own way is worth a look.

The Twilight Zone (1964)
The Rod Serling-scripted “I Am the Night…Color Me Black” gave Michael Constantine one of his first lawman roles, which would become a regular part of his career in shows from The Fugitive to Matt Houston. Here, he’s the sheriff of a small village that remains enveloped in darkness long after the sun should have risen. Is there a connection with that day’s scheduled execution of a convicted murderer? 

This is heavy-handed Serling, with everyone standing around making speeches – the condemned man, the local newspaper editor, the reverend (Ivan Dixon, especially memorable here). But they’re good speeches, and the episode’s message about the darkness being a manifestation of hate is as timely as today’s headlines. “Don’t look for it in the Twilight Zone,” Serling says at the episode’s conclusion, “look for it in the mirror.”

Hey Landlord (1966)
It was one season and out for the first sitcom created by Garry Marshall, in which young Woody Banner (Will Hutchins, too old at 36 for this type of role) inherits a New York City brownstone, and moves in to take charge of the building. The plan was to occupy each apartment with a memorable supporting cast member, among them Michael Constantine as Jack Ellenhorn, a nerdy hypochondriac photographer. He tries out a nasally, high-pitched voice in his first series role, but that doesn’t work any better than anything else on the show.

”We didn’t cast it very well, we didn’t write it very well,” Marshall admitted in his Emmy TV Legends interview. But it wasn’t a total loss – he recycled the plot from “Testing, One, Two” into one of the very best Laverne & Shirley episodes. 

Room 222 (1969)
This show is a personal favorite of mine, though I’ve about lost hope we’ll ever get its remaining seasons on DVD after Shout! Factory pulled that plug. The series debuted in the midst of chaotic times and tackled real-world issues in a realistic manner. Walt Whitman High was a sadly accurate portrait of too many inner city schools then and now – always short on resources and fighting a losing battle against increased dropout rates. Constantine, as Principal Kaufman, was on the front line of every conflict, including some against his own faculty. 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1971)
So many of the episodes about Mary’s love life have her going on dates with guys that are walking punch lines – too short, too busy, too sleazy, too married. Season two’s “I Am Curious Cooper” offers a more nuanced take on an ill-fated relationship. Lou sets Mary up with one of his poker buddies (Michael Constantine as lawyer Mike Cooper) but after a few dates they both realize there’s no chemistry. Now they have to break it to Lou. 

Kojak (1974)
Throughout his career Constantine played a lot of what used to be called “ethnic types,” including Italian gangsters, Hispanic dictators, and even characters that shared his actual Greek heritage. In “The Chinatown Murders Pts. 1 and 2” he’s “Cheech” Scalisi, a mafia don battling both Chinese gangsters and kidney disease. The second episode is better than the first, but Constantine helped make this a strong season opener for Kojak and company.

ElectraWoman and DynaGirl (1976)
Scenery-chewing villainy was always a treat on Saturday morning TV. But when a distinguished, Emmy-winning actor goes over the top, it’s even more fun to watch. Which brings us to Michael Constantine, who appears in two of the eight ElectraWoman and DynaGirl stories as the sinister Sorcerer, spouting dialogue like “I must get rid of those two interfering voltage vixens!” 

Sirota’s Court (1976)
What a great idea for a show: an irreverent judge hears bizarre cases in a big-city night court, weighing arguments from a crusading public defender and a smug, ambitious district attorney. Sound familiar? Sirota’s Court, starring Michael Constantine as Judge Matthew J. Sirota, was adjourned quickly by NBC, but in 1984 the network revived the concept with Harry Anderson on the bench, and it ran eight years. 

Ellery Queen (1976)
In “The Adventure of the Wary Witness,” Constantine plays a struggling attorney trying to defend a man accused of murdering a mobster. As always we get an array of all-star suspects, and a solution that Ellery invites the viewer to guess along with him. Is Constantine the guilty party?

Lou Grant (1981)
From season four, “Boomerang” is a brilliant episode featuring Michael Constantine as Sidney Kovac, a hotshot guest columnist who works with Billie and Rossi on a story about U.S. companies dumping defective medical supplies overseas. Lou demands they hold back on publishing until they have proof of the allegations (if you’re under 30 you might be surprised to learn that getting the story right was once standard procedure in journalism). Sidney proves to be a bellwether of where the profession was headed. “I remember when you were satisfied reporting the news,” Lou tells him, “and not trying to make it.”

Remington Steele (1984)
In “Cast in Steele” Constantine makes his first of three series appearances as “idea man” George Edward Mulch. It wasn’t that great of a part, but he proved here he could play dumb guys as well as distinguished educators – plus, he finally found another use for his annoying Hey Landlord voice.

Highway to Heaven (1985)
How can Highway to Heaven be 30 years old already? In “The Good Doctor,”
Jonathan Smith tries to straighten out a physician that indulges a football player’s dependence to painkillers, while fighting his own addiction demons. As always with this series you can expect formulaic storytelling elevated by a proficient cast, led here by Constantine as the troubled doctor. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Where’d She Go? Miss America

If I asked the next 500 (or 5,000) people I met the name of the current Miss America, I’d wager not one of them would know the answer.

That wasn’t the case in the Comfort TV era. According to Wikipedia, in the early 1960s the pageants were the highest-rated programs on American television. The day after the winner was crowned in Atlantic City, her name and photo appeared in newspapers across the country, often on the front page.

Many of them remained in the spotlight, starting with Bess Myerson, who in 1945 became the first (and still only) Jewish woman to wear the crown. She was a familiar face on TV throughout the 1950s, most notably as one of the panelists on I’ve Got a Secret

Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955, has been part of the TV landscape for more than 50 years, and earned an Emmy nomination for her recurring role on Barnaby Jones. Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America 1959, appeared in memorable episodes of Mission: Impossible and The Partridge Family, and introduced the character of April Dancer on The Man From UNCLE

Even Miss Americas that did not go on to a show business career became familiar faces, especially in the weeks and months following the pageant.

Today? No one really cares.

I guess I don’t either, but I remember when I did. As I’ve reflected on often in this blog, it was one of those once-a-year moments when we watched a program that we knew most other folks were watching too, coast to coast, at the same time. It was a nationally televised event, like the Oscars and the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, which brought us together as a nation. Today, when we need more of those moments, we don’t have them anymore. 

The next Miss America pageant will be held in September, and the ratings may tick up a bit because of some highly publicized changes to the format. This year, for the first time in forever, there will be no swimsuit competition. The evening gown competition remains, but contestants will now discuss social issues as they sashay across the stage. No, I’m not kidding.

I predict that, five years from now, Miss Georgia will earn the title because she had a better take on the virtues of supply-side economics vs. the Keynesian approach favored by Miss Delaware.

Such changes perfectly fit the times we live in now. The really stupid times we live in now.

Miss America is a beauty contest. That’s what it is and that is what it always has been, despite whatever euphemisms are now used by pageant organizers. They can call it something else, but that doesn’t change its essence. We can call the Super Bowl a soccer match but that won’t convince anyone they’re not watching football.

In its heyday, families would gather around the TV, and pick out their favorites from the opening parade of states, introduced by long-time host Bert Parks. 

Usually our choices would be eliminated when the top 15 finalists were selected, so we picked new ones. 

Then we had the swimsuit competition, and the evening gown competition, and the talent competition, where there would be a few capable singers and dancers, and a few others who relied on baton twirling and questionable ventriloquism skills. Even the bad moments were kind of sweet.

The field was then cut to the final five, who would be asked to offer an opinion on some current event or cultural phenomenon. This was always the most oft-parodied part of any pageant. One of the best takes was in the Charlie’s Angels episode “Pretty Angels All in a Row.” Kris Munroe, undercover in the “Miss Chrysanthemum” pageant, is asked her favorite color: “My favorite colors are red, white and blue, because they’re the colors of our flag of freedom.” 

In the closing moments, the runner-ups would be revealed, along with the scholarships they have earned, we’d get to the final two, and Bert Parks would solemnly intone that if, for any reason, the winner is unable to fulfill her duties as Miss America, the first runner-up would assume the title. The winner would be announced, and tears would flow, and the new Miss America would receive her crown and sash and a bouquet of roses, and walk down that Atlantic City runway as Parks did his best to sing, “There she is, Miss America…”

 Now what, I ask you, is so awful about that?

I guess there was a sense that parading across a stage in a bikini diminishes these women. But in the Comfort TV era, the title of Miss America was one that was accorded respect, and not just by lascivious males. There was a sense that she personified the best qualities of the American woman, and it was a title aspired to by many young girls. And when you realize how many physicians and lawyers and broadcast journalists and high-ranking company executives received a boost along their professional journey from the scholarships provided by the Miss America Foundation, it is clear that this was and always has been about more than pretty girls in bikinis.

When Miss America winners accompanied Bob Hope to Korea and Vietnam, and when other winners visited military bases overseas with the USO, the soldiers were happy to see a beautiful woman that reminded them of home, or perhaps of someone special in their lives. 

There is nothing wrong with this. But if enough people now think there is, just ditch the whole idea and move along.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Honey West: Purchase or Pass?

When a television series is labeled as “ahead of its time” it usually means it won’t be around very long. That describes Honey West, which lasted just one season. 

It was definitely ahead of its time, as a forerunner to shows featuring a strong, smart, independent female protagonist who can handle herself in a fight. That genre would reach its zenith 30 years later with Xena, La Femme Nikita and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But Honey, the stylish private investigator played by Anne Francis, got there first. At least in America. The Brits had already introduced Cathy Gale on The Avengers, who would be replaced by Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in 1965, the same year Honey West debuted on ABC.

The show was inspired by a series of 1950s pulp mystery novels written by “G.G. Fickling,” a pseudonym for authors (and married couple) Forrest and Gloria Fickling. The books were considered pretty racy at that time: “A golden g-string, a masked stripper and murder – with Honey West, the sexiest private eye ever to pull a trigger, hot on the trail!” 

I’ve never read any of them, so I can’t tell you how faithfully they were adapted by the show.  In fact, I was not even aware of the series until some time around 1998, when I began researching The Charlie’s Angels Casebook and discovered Honey West was an early foray into series television for Aaron Spelling, who served as its executive producer. I was intrigued to check out his first attempt at a show about a sexy female detective, but it would be several more years before Honey West was released on DVD.

When I finally watched it, it did not disappoint.

It’s nothing like Charlie’s Angels, even if Anne Francis was frequently garbed in swimsuits and cocktail waitress outfits and Nolan Miller gowns. Honey relied more on electronic surveillance than sex appeal to solve a case. 

One of the show’s strengths was atmosphere, established through a jazzy musical score and film noir vistas of Los Angeles in stark black and white. The freeze-framed images in the opening credits appear inspired by the covers of the Honey West books and other seedy pulp fiction novels. Though the stories were often tongue-in-cheek, the show retained enough of an edge to (mostly) stay above parody. 

It’s also a half-hour detective series, a rarity for the genre that works well here as it did for Peter Gunn. There is just enough time to establish a case, add a couple of twists and wrap it up, with no time for filler. My kind of show.

Anne Francis is clearly the star but she receives able support from John Ericson as Honey’s partner Sam Bolt. He yells a lot and also gets knocked out from behind a lot. Irene Hervey is wonderful as Honey’s Aunt Meg, usually called upon to referee disputes between the partners, and occasionally assist in cases  (“Oh, good, I get to play too!”).

The first episode, “The Swingin’ Mrs. Jones,” opens with Honey taking down a blackmailer ­and getting cold-cocked from behind by his associate. That sets a precedent for several subsequent episodes, in which she gets a case, screws it up, and then has to go back and make things right.

Other standouts among many: “The Owl and the Eye,” in which Honey and Sam try to beat a museum’s security system to make sure an expensive jade carving is safe, only to have it stolen the next day. Guest star: veteran TV creep Lloyd Bochner.

“A Matter of Wife and Death” delivers a canny mix of action, humor, fashion and fake-outs, featuring guest-star James Best.  “The Gray Lady” is a delightful caper about a high-society jewel thief written by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link.

“Come to Me My Litigation Baby” features Ellen Corby as a little old lady (what else?) scamming insurance companies with phony accident claims. It features the show’s most entertaining fight scene. “It’s Earlier Than you Think” may be the silliest episode but it will hold your attention: a man in 19th century garb arrives on horseback and drops dead in Honey’s office, but not before warning that President Lincoln is about to be assassinated. Then three men in Scottish garb show up one at a time, all claiming to be the victim’s brother.

As if you haven’t guessed by now, my answer to the purchase-or-pass question is an enthusiastic “Purchase.” My only disappointment with the DVD set is that it did not include the first appearances of Honey and Sam, in the 1965 Burke’s Law episode “Who Killed the Jackpot?” 

When Burke’s Law was revived in the 1990s, Anne Francis appeared as “Honey Best” in an episode set at a private eye convention. The show was much too cute with its stunt casting of actors from other detective shows – a shame, as it could have made a nice bookend for the character.

It also would have given Francis the curtain call she deserved. After making a big splash in Forbidden Planet she floundered through unflattering guest spots for the last 20 years of her career. In Honey West she found the role she was born to play. It’s a shame she didn’t get to play it longer. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Unshakeables: “Elegy For a Pig”

It’s tempting to believe the times we’re in now are the most divisive in America’s history, but they aren’t really. Which is not to say all is well, or that one cannot be astonished on a daily basis by the behavior of some of our fellow citizens. But we’ve been here before, most recently in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

I watch television shows from that era almost every day, most of which opted to ignore current events and provide Americans with a temporary escape from grim headlines. However, there were a few series that commented on the way things were, from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In to The Mod Squad. After the events of this past week and the heated discussions they generated, the show that kept returning to my memory was “Elegy For a Pig,” a season 3 episode of Adam-12 that first aired in 1970. 

This was the time when the counter-culture began its ascendance into mainstream culture, and no one in television tried harder to keep that revolution at bay than Jack Webb. Through Dragnet and Adam-12, the pioneering producer and director expressed his profound respect for the men and women in law enforcement, and his disdain for those that disparaged them. 

His accounts were rarely subtle. But there was a sincerity to Sgt. Joe Friday’s impassioned speeches that was undeniably appealing. Check out the number of views on YouTube for two of his most famous moments in “The Big Interrogation” and “The Big Departure.” Many of the comments suggest that such sentiments resonate more today than they did 50 years ago. 

Webb did not appear on Adam-12 but you’ll hear his voice introducing this show (“For the next 30 minutes, ‘Elegy For a Pig’”), something that happened only twice in 174 series episodes. There is no theme music or opening credits sequence, an indication that this will be a different viewing experience. 

In the opening seconds, police officer Tom Porter is shot and killed by a fleeing suspect that is quickly apprehended. Porter is played by Mark Goddard, best known for Lost in Space. But you’ll never hear him speak in the episode – the story is told entirely in voiceover by Martin Milner as Officer Pete Malloy.

Malloy’s narration plays over the immediate consequences of the shooting – the department protocol, the family notification, and then flashes back to Malloy and Porter starting their careers at the police academy. There is a documentary feel to these sequences, as we learn the specifics of how officers are trained. 

This is followed by moments from Porter’s life and career – his graduation from the academy, his wedding, and the birth of his first child; a typical day at work from morning roll call through end of watch, and the paperwork that follows; the dangers of the job, and the moment when Porter was forced to take a life in self-defense. 

And then, the inevitable follow-up to the opening scene – Tom Porter’s funeral, with his family and Officer Malloy in attendance. The attention to accuracy in detail was a Webb hallmark in depicting police procedures. The final scene shows Malloy alone with his thoughts at the gravesite. 

Some have criticized the episode’s storytelling choices, arguing that if viewers had heard Tom speak, and gotten to know him better this way, his death would have made a deeper impression. 

But I think that misses the point; this was not “Elegy for Tom Porter”; it was, as Webb reminds us by reading the episode’s title once more over silent-running credits, “Elegy For a Pig.” He wanted that title to sink in. It was a message to those who use that slur: This is who you’re talking about. And he’s not unique; he’s just one of many who go to work, doing a job that must be done, with the knowledge that every day may be his last. 

“He will be forgotten except by a very few,” Malloy says, in the show’s final moments. “Out of sight, out of mind. And strangely enough, in view of current custom, no one will raise a placard to denounce his senseless murder. No one will raise indignant cries of protest at the shedding of his blood. No one will march in anger because of his death."

At a time when, once again, law enforcement personnel from the inner city to the southern border are being portrayed in a harsh and negative light, it seemed like a good time to bring this one up. I don’t know if “Elegy For a Pig” will change any minds, but it will certainly linger in them long enough to have an effect.