Monday, January 20, 2020

Celebrating Classic TV Stars on The Hollywood Walk of Fame

Recently, Burt Ward received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

I was happy for him, but it also made me think about Bill Bixby.

For years, Brandon Cruz (Bixby’s young costar on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father) has been lobbying for Bixby to receive a star. He even set up a Go Fund Me page back in 2016, trying to raise $50,000, which is the going price of a star for those selected to receive one.  Three years later, the page has collected a little over half the amount required. 

Sure, Burt Ward deserves a star – Batman was a classic show that has entertained fans for 50 years. And though others have played the role of Robin since then, when people remember the character nobody thinks first of Chris O’Donnell.

But Ward didn’t do much after those three seasons. And no one could argue that Bill Bixby’s television career was not more successful. He starred in My Favorite Martian, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Magician, The Incredible Hulk, and Goodnight Beantown. He made several memorable guest appearances on other shows, and also directed episodes of Charlie’s Angels and Blossom.

I get that the Hollywood Walk of Fame is not an accurate gauge of show business success. Clint Eastwood and Al Pacino still don’t have stars, but the list of honorees includes John Tesh, Minnie Mouse, and chef Bobby Flay.

The star for Burt Ward is one of 26 that will be added this year to the more than 2,600 already lining the Hollywood sidewalks. Among the other honorees – Andy Cohen and Wendy Williams. Fifty years from now, those will be the stars that people walk past and wonder, “Who was that?”

On his Facebook page, Brandon Cruz has explained the obstacles and frustrations he’s faced in his campaign. The biggest one may be that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the nomination process, only allows for one posthumous star to be awarded every year. As a result, even though 2020 has just started, the Bixby campaign is already on hold again until 2021. 

Does it really matter that much? I don’t know. When an actor’s accolades are listed this one doesn’t come up very often. But there is still something special about being part of a tradition that dates back to 1960. A star is a permanent landmark to achievement in the heart of the city most associated with film and television entertainment. And no matter how many times I’m in that area, and that number is probably well north of 50 by now, I still look at every name I walk by, just like a tourist.

But since the criteria has as much to do with who you know as what you did, and prioritizes money over merit, the results are going to be imperfect. And as long as the Chamber of Commerce prefers having the ceremony and photo op with the star in attendance, many deceased classic TV stars yet to be honored are likely out of luck.

How well are they represented already? A comprehensive list would take too long, but I pulled up the list of the 25 best classic TV shows compiled last year, to see how many of those show’s top talent have stars. Overall the results aren’t bad: The Twilight Zone is represented by Rod Serling, and Peter Falk (Columbo), Raymond Burr (Perry Mason) David Janssen (The Fugitive) and Jack Webb (Dragnet) are all there as well. 

The Ricardos and the Mertzes have been honored, along with the full bridge crew of the original Starship Enterprise. But only Betty White is there to represent The Golden Girls.

Fans of The Odd Couple will find a star for Oscar but not one for Felix. Fans of Hill Street Blues won’t find stars for anyone from its voluminous cast. Other surprising omissions: Valerie Harper, Gavin Macleod, Jean Stapleton and Sally Struthers, and just about everyone on Dallas except for Larry Hagman. 

If Bill Bixby never gets a star, at least he’s in good company among the overlooked.

Here’s an interesting trivia question to end this piece: Many fictional characters have received stars, including Donald Duck, The Rugrats and Shrek. But only one star contains both the name of a fictional character, and the actor who played that character on television. Any guesses?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Top TV Moments: Karen Valentine

What’s fascinating to me about Karen Valentine is how her career parallels that of Mary Tyler Moore…until it doesn’t. 

Both were young, attractive brunette ingénues when they were cast in a hit television series – Moore in The Dick Van Dyke Show, Valentine in Room 222. Both shows featured outstanding writing and remarkable ensemble casts. And both Moore and Valentine earned Emmy Awards for their work.

After that, Moore would be given her own series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And Valentine would be given her own series, Karen. Moore’s show became an Emmy-winning classic that secured her place as one of television’s most beloved stars. But Karen, despite being created by such esteemed talents as Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds and Carl Kleinschmitt, was canceled after 13 episodes.

What happened? Depends who you ask. But because of that second classic show Moore is rightly recalled as one of the first ladies of television despite several later, failed attempts at another hit. And while Valentine still worked steadily, It was mostly in made-for-TV movies that were out of circulation for years before YouTube.

What a difference those 13 episodes could have made.

The Ed Sullivan Show (1964)
I have not seen Karen Valentine’s TV debut, for which IMDB has her listed only as singer/dancer. But I always like to list a star’s first appearance. It would be fun to track down the footage from this episode, which also featured Harry Belafonte.

Dream Girl of ’67 (1966)
Valentine’s first series was this now-forgotten, year long beauty pageant created by Chuck Barris. 

A celebrity panel put five contestants through their paces in each episode, with different girls winning the title of ‘Dream Girl’ of the day, the week, the month, and ultimately the entire year. Karen Valentine replaced original hostess Beverly Adams (both were billed on the series as “Resident Dream Girl.”)

Room 222 (1969)
From the moment those school bus doors closed on student -teacher Alice Johnson, Karen Valentine became one of those America’s Sweetheart TV stars that people just loved to watch. 

Teaching at Walt Whitman High was a challenge for even more experienced educators like Pete Dixon. But in episodes like “Alice in Blunderland” viewers watched Alice struggle to learn the ropes and persevere. She was naïve and nervous, but never dumb – this was not a series that would portray a teacher that way. My favorite Alice episode is “Write On, Brother,” in which students launch an underground newspaper. Alice’s support for the effort is tested when the paper does a hit piece on her.

Gidget Grows Up (1969)
Karen Valentine starred in more than 20 made-for-TV movies – this was the first. When we meet Gidget here she’s a college dropout who moves to New York to become a guide at the United Nations. There, she catches the eye of an Arab sheik, a hotel busboy, and a (much older) ambassador’s aide. 

As in the 1965 series, Gidget narrates much of her own story, and Valentine’s vocal inflections sometimes recall those of series star Sally Field. Paul Petersen plays Moondoggie, who is now in the military, and Bob Cummings plays her wise, understanding father (and is surprisingly good in the role Don Porter owned). Paul Lynde delivers some laughs as Gidget’s eccentric movie buff landlord, but somehow the whole thing doesn’t come together. Maybe Gidget without the beach is like Emma Peel without London.

Hollywood Squares (1970)
Valentine spent seven years and more than 170 episodes on this popular daytime and nighttime game show, including some in the famed center square. She was one of the better panelists at making a phony answer sound authentic.

The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972)
Produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, two names famed for escapist TV, this is a delightful movie starring Buddy Ebsen as a Wyoming widower trying to bring his three adult daughters back to his ranch. When all three prefer to stay in the city, he recruits three wayward women to take their place – a hooker (Lesley Anne Warren), a con artist (Karen Valentine) and a pickpocket (Sandra Dee). 

They’re all “bad girls” but in the wholesome TV movie way, and Valentine in particular is a hoot as her character tries to adjust to frontier life. An already stellar cast is further buoyed by Jack Elam, for once not playing a crazy old coot.

The Girl Who Came Gift-Wrapped (1974)
A magazine publisher (Richard Long) receives a bikini-clad girl (Karen Valentine) as a birthday present. Sounds like a set-up for a skit on Love, American Style. But there’s a lot more going on in this surprisingly touching (and funny) TV movie with a wonderful cast – Farrah Fawcett, Tom Bosley, Dave Madden and Reta Shaw. This may be the best remembered of Valentine’s TV movies – and that’s not a bad choice if it is. 

Karen (1975)
A time slot where the lead-in was Hot L Baltimore didn’t help. The recasting of Denver Pyle with Charles Lane was a sign that the cast chemistry wasn’t coming together. And when two of the first three scripts were scrapped before going into production, warning bells were likely sounded. But audiences really liked Karen Valentine, so there was still confidence this series would work. She played Karen Angelo, a lobbyist in Washington DC. Some reviews were positive, but others were merciless. The website TV Obscurities has a great article with more details about the show and why it didn’t click with viewers. 

Starsky and Hutch (1977)
The plot of “Fatal Charm” predates the film Fatal Attraction – Hutch meets Diane, an attractive nurse, and some casual flirtation leads to spending the night together. Valentine plays the troubled young lady, whose behavior grows more and more erratic. The climax offers a gender switch on Psycho, with Hutch as the victim in the shower and Diane as the knife-wielding maniac. 

Muggable Mary, Street Cop  (1982)
Here is yet another enjoyable TV movie now available to watch again thanks to YouTube. Valentine plays Mary, a single parent in New York City who joins the police force not because she wants to protect and serve, but because they have a great medical plan that will help her son, who was born with a medical condition that requires several surgeries. To the surprise of everyone, including herself, she excels at the job. 

She couldn’t count on ‘cute’ anymore as she did in earlier bits of fluff like Coffee, Tea or Me (1973), but here Valentine excels as a flawed adult who, like Alice Johnson, is still finding her way in the world. And bonus points for not overdoing the New York accent.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Classic TV 2019: The Year in Review

This is the time when networks and newspapers look back on the year that’s ended to highlight its most newsworthy moments.

You wouldn’t think that concept would work for this blog, but there were a few notable classic TV-themed stories and events in 2019. Some of them were delightful. Others? Well, as one show reminds us, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…the year in Comfort TV.

Best Classic TV Moment: A Very Brady Renovation
It was a completely ridiculous idea – that inspired the best new show I watched in 2019. HGTV purchased the home used for the exterior establishing shots on The Brady Bunch, with plans to convert that property into the actual Brady residence as seen on the series. You didn’t need to be an architect like Mike Brady to realize how impractical that would be – the home they bought did not even have a second story.

Each episode was a sugar rush of the sweetest kind of nostalgia. It also exemplified everything this blog has been about since its inception: celebrating that pull we feel from the shows we loved growing up, and how familiar they have become, right down to their smallest details. It acknowledged, even if it doesn’t fully understand why, that this 50 year-old series has become both significant and beloved, beyond any expectations anyone involved with its creation could have dreamed.

Now that the Brady residence exists in the real world, what are the odds it becomes accessible to fans via Airbnb? I’m ready to book my reservation.

Worst Classic TV Moment: Aunt Becky’s Perp Walk
While it inspired countless punch lines (“From Full House to the big house!”), it never feels great when a beloved classic TV star gets into serious legal trouble. 

Though if we’re being honest, all Lori Loughlin did was what wealthy people have always done – purchased a path for her kids into the college of their choice. Do you really think grades got Chris Cuomo into Yale? Still, fraud is fraud, and there should be consequences.  I can’t say I was ever a big Full House fan, but I hope Loughlin won’t regret her decision to fight the charges, rather than serve a few weeks in the slammer. 

Following the debut of a new One Day At a Time series on Netflix, the Norman Lear renaissance continued with new live performances of episodes from All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Good Times. They were not my cup of Earl Grey, but if they inspired a few millennials to check out the original shows that’s something positive accomplished. 

Classic TV Character Sightings
While it was barely a cameo, it was still fun to see Burt Ward back as Dick Grayson in the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event. He only had one line, but it started with “Holy…!” and that was good enough for me. 

Keep an eye out also for Lynda Carter playing Wonder Woman when the story continues later this month. And if you were one of the eight or nine people who saw the new Charlie’s Angels movie, you were treated to the brief return of Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett.

New on DVD and Blu-Ray
The home video market has been in steady decline for nearly a decade, but there were still a few notable 2019 releases to celebrate, including the long-awaited DVD debuts of Ben Casey and Our Miss Brooks. I’ll write more about both of them after I’ve had a chance to check them out. 

This past year also allowed fans of Perfect Strangers and Alice to complete their DVD collections, with the release of the final seasons of those shows. And western fans were glad to have more seasons of Bonanza, Gunsmoke and The High Chaparral.

A new 50th anniversary Brady Bunch collection includes the DVD debuts of The Brady Brides and The Bradys. All that’s missing now for completists is the infamous variety show, which may never be released because of music rights. Thankfully, Fake Jan’s rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song” is as close as YouTube.

There were some rarities released as well, including Lucile’s Ball’s final sitcom, Life With Lucy, and the short-lived ‘70s adventure series Spencer’s Pilots.

New on Blu-Ray: Complete series sets for Charlie’s Angels, Space:1999, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, The New Scooby-Doo Movies and Shazam, as well as the pilot movie for The Man From Atlantis

In Memoriam
This is always the tough part of any year in review piece. The list of classic TV stars lost in 2019 includes such pioneers as Diahann Carroll, icons Doris Day, Valerie Harper and Tim Conway, sitcom favorites Georgia Engel, Katherine Helmond and Bill Macy, and a man who was part of all of our childhoods, Sesame Street’s Caroll Spinney.

We also said goodbye to Peggy Lipton, Ken Kercheval, Rip Taylor, Luke Perry, Sid  Haig, Bob Einstein (aka Super Dave Osborne), Gene Okerlund, Denise Nickerson, Carol Lynley, Philip McKeon, Jan-Michael Vincent and Jack Sheldon.

Most Popular Comfort TV Post of 2019
Near the beginning of last year, the Classic TV Blog Association polled its members and came up with a list of the 25 Best Classic TV Shows of All Time. Apparently a lot of you were interested in the results, and I’m sure most of you had opposing views – but that’s what makes those lists fun.

Least Popular Comfort TV Post of 2019
I guess Greta Thunberg isn’t a Comfort TV fan, as my post about how TV contributed to the ecology movement did not attract that much attention. See? Now you’ve made that Indian cry all over again. 

What’s Ahead in 2020
As always there are rumors of various classic TV reboots and revivals, most of which will likely be disappointing. One that may buck that trend is Picard, featuring Patrick Stewart and several Star Trek: Next Generation cast members as well as Voyager’s Jeri Ryan, back as Seven of Nine. 

And as this blog enters its eighth (!) year, I want to thank all of you who stop by regularly or once in a while, and who take the time to comment on my ramblings. There is a possibility that 2020 will see a long hoped-for (by me at least) announcement of a book based on this blog. As they used to say on the networks, stay tuned.

And Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Celebrating the Season With Kraft

Back in the Comfort TV era, a familiar expression when someone didn’t enjoy a particular show was “the commercials were more entertaining.”

I’m not sure how often that was actually true, but I can think of one example that is perfect to discuss during Christmas week.

It’s not that the show was especially terrible – but its commercials provide an example of how television viewing was a different (better) experience years ago. The medium reached a much larger audience yet somehow seemed more personal, more intimate, and could make tens of millions of people feel as if they were part of one contented, like-minded community.

How I wish we still had something like that now.

Our topic today is The Christmas Toy, which aired on December 6, 1986. It was produced by Jim Henson and featured new Muppet-like characters plus Kermit the Frog, who introduces the story and returns for the sing-along conclusion. 

It’s about toys that come to life when no one’s around, and a Christmas Eve when Rugby Tiger (who sounds and acts like Sesame Street’s Grover) worries about being replaced as a favorite toy by one of the newcomers now giftwrapped under the tree.

It’s not very good, especially when compared to other Henson holiday specials like A Muppet Family Christmas and Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. Even a new song from Jeff Moss, who wrote such Sesame Street baby boomer classics as “Rubber Duckie” and “The People in Your Neighborhood,” isn’t particularly memorable.

But the commercials are absolutely wonderful.

Like many specials back then The Christmas Toy was sponsored by Kraft, with commercials featuring recipes you can make at home that helped to make every celebration special. Because nothing says holiday magic like processed cheese, described by the soothing narration of Ed Herlihy. 

If you were to create a list of the most comforting voices of the Comfort TV era, Herlihy’s would rank in the top five, along with Mr. Rogers. His association with Kraft dated back to company’s radio ads in the 1940s, and continued on TV through the 1980s. His obit in the New York Times described him as “A voice of cheer and cheese.”

He always sounds like a nice man. And there’s a story in the Times obit that confirms it: "He liked to recall a summer day in Times Square when he helped a blind man to cross at 44th Street. He took the man's arm, and the man said it was a beautiful day. "Yes," Herlihy replied, "this is the kind of day the Lord made for the good guys." The blind man replied: "I know you. You're the cheese man on TV."

If Kraft released a DVD of all the commercials he narrated, I’d buy it. 

There were four Kraft commercials during The Christmas Toy. The first extolled the virtues of giving food as a present: “The nicest gifts under the tree are those you make yourself.” Recipes include strawberry almond bars (made with Parkay Margarine), and cheddar crisps (made by baking a cheese dough mixed with crushed potato chips - these looked really good!)

The next commercial invites viewers to “Make your tree trimming a party with Kraft TV special recipes.” Highlights include chicken wings with Kraft barbecue sauce, and tangy potato rounds made with Miracle Whip.

Next, we see folks gathered around a piano singing Christmas carols, as the camera pans toward a holiday table featuring meatball sandwiches and cheesy fruit dip made with Cheez Wiz (“The marvelous microwave-in-a-minute cheese sauce”).

The final commercial offers dessert ideas for a New Year’s Eve party. Amidst an elegant setting, we see a table set with cappuccino cheesecake (made with Philadelphia Cream Cheese) and chocolate orange mousse (another choice that looked especially tasty). “Flavorful Celestial Seasonings Herb Tea makes a perfect dessert companion” Herlihy helpfully suggests.

If viewers thought anything looked good, they could get the full recipes in that week’s TV Guide magazine. 

What stands out now in comparing these ads to the relentless assault of today’s commercials is how quiet they are. No one is shouting, no frenzied music is playing, and the time is spent on describing creative uses for the products being advertised. Even if you weren’t interested in the brand, these are not commercials that beg to be muted.

They are also remarkably effective ads, because what Kraft is really selling is not just a product. Like Martha Stewart and Valerie Parr Hill on QVC, the company is marketing a positive, pleasurable lifestyle – an existence of contented happiness in a warm and comfortable home, tastefully decorated for the holidays, and filled with family and friends on special occasions.

Many of us have experienced such moments, and these commercials bring those memories back. And for those who find themselves in less heartwarming circumstances, the ads suggest you could at least enjoy some part of that life with a box of Velveeta. It’s as close as your grocer’s freezer.

Thanks to YouTube you can watch those original Kraft ads today, without having to sit through The Christmas Toy. And to all those reading these words, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Comfort TV. Now I’m off to whip up a batch of cheddar crisps. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

My (Almost) Brady Bunch Book

Earlier this year I was offered an opportunity to write a book about The Brady Bunch. It was an intriguing prospect as this is one of my favorite Comfort TV era shows. 

After discussing the overall direction for the book with the publisher I turned in a table of contents and a sample chapter, both of which were well-received. But for reasons that should remain private, I opted to pass before signing the contract. It was not an easy decision.

But at least I have that chapter, even without the book that would have gone with it. I'm happy to present it here.

That Good Time Music

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet debuted in 1952, with the real Nelson family – parents Ozzie and Harriet and sons David and Ricky – all playing themselves. Ricky formed a band on the show in 1956, and in the 1957 episode “Ricky the Drummer” he performed a cover of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’”.  Domino’s original version was still in the top 40, but that didn’t stop Ricky’s rendition from reaching #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Viewers watched Ricky’s performances on TV and then bought his records, and those who heard him sing on the radio would then tune into the series. That’s the kind of cross-promotional win-win that makes television network executives very happy.

Ricky Nelson had 35 top-40 hits between 1957 and 1972, including such pop classics as “Hello Mary Lou,”  “It’s Late” and “Poor Little Fool.” He set the standard by which all similar crossover attempts are measured, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. 

It was perhaps not inevitable that The Brady Bunch would attempt a similar cross-promotion, but it certainly wasn’t surprising either. 

By 1969, the year the series debuted, there had been albums recorded by Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen (The Donna Reed Show), Dwayne Hickman (The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), Richard Chamberlain (Dr. Kildare), Johnny Crawford (The Rifleman), Patty Duke (The Patty Duke Show), Sally Field (The Flying Nun), and the casts of Bonanza, Get Smart and Hogan’s Heroes. And in 1966, The Monkees burst into television screens, radio stations and record stores, earning an Emmy Award, multiple gold records, and LP sales that, for a time, even challenged The Beatles.

Television viewers first heard the six Brady kids sing in the series’ season two premiere, when their recording of the show’s theme song replaced the original version by pop group The Peppermint Trolley Company.

Just two months later, “Merry Christmas From The Brady Bunch” arrived in record stores. Recorded in less than two weeks, the album mixed group sing-alongs with solo performances on classic holiday standards. 

None of the tracks are especially memorable (album producer Tim O’Brien, who was also Paramount’s house producer, lamented trying to pull something listenable from “six little kids who could not sing”). And it is surprising in retrospect that Florence Henderson’s beautiful performance of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” featured in the series’ only Christmas episode, was not among the selections. Susan Olsen’s rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” was chosen as the first single. There would not be a second single.

“We finished our vocals in one afternoon, and then listened intently as the audio engineers used every gimmick, trick and echo chamber in the book to get us at least up to ‘listenable’ status,” recalled Barry Williams.

The season two episode “Where There’s Smoke” introduces Greg’s interest in music; he joins a band with three high school classmates, plays the guitar and sings “’Till I Met You,” a ballad he co-wrote with Sherwood Schwartz and Lloyd Schwartz. The song would not appear on any of the four Brady Bunch albums, an early portent of the lack of communication sometimes evident between those responsible for the series, and the team overseeing the group’s recordings. 

The series’ first fully music-themed episode, titled “Dough Re Mi,” aired during its third season. The plot has Greg writing a “sure fire hit song” called “We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter.” The kids pool their allowance money, plus a loan from their parents, to rent a recording studio and cut a record. But just before the session, Peter’s voice changes and won’t stop cracking. Disaster is averted when an inspired Greg writes another song, “Time to Change,” that turns Peter’s vocal struggles into an asset. 

Both songs were released as a double-sided single, and appear on the second Brady Bunch album “Meet the Brady Bunch,” released in July of 1972. It would be their only LP to chart, reaching #108 on July 22, 1972. Other original tracks included “We’ll Always Be Friends” and “I Believe in You,” written by Jackie Mills and Danny Janssen. Mills, who previously worked with Bobby Sherman and Davy Jones, also produced the album. Janssen had contributed songs to two other TV bands, the Partridge Family and Josie & The Pussycats.

The album showcases what became the Brady Bunch sound – wholesome bubblegum pop with an optimistic message, delivered in sunny (if still occasionally shaky) group harmonies. Perhaps more interesting are the selection of covers, from Bread’s “Baby I’m-A Want You” and Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” to a version of Don McLean’s “American Pie” described by Barry Williams as “extraordinarily awful”. 

“Dough Re Mi” would be the only episode featuring music from the series’ third season, once again suggesting that the studio’s interest in launching its cast to pop stardom was indifferent. “The Brady Bunch was not a series about a singing group of kids,” said Lloyd Schwartz. As a result, minimal effort was put into leveraging the cast’s popularity for the kind of crossover success chased by previous singing TV stars. Promotion for “Meet the Brady Bunch” was limited to a handful of cast signings at Southern California’s White Front discount stores.

Season four’s “Amateur Night” was the most celebrated and the most successful of the show’s musical episodes. The kids purchase a silver platter for their parents’ anniversary, but Jan miscalculates the cost of the engraving, leaving them $56.23 short. In desperation, they attempt to raise the money by performing on a TV talent contest.

It is Jan who suggests the possibility (“We can sing a little and dance a little”), which is met with incredulity by her siblings, despite the group having aspirations of recording a hit record the previous season.

The performance of “It’s a Sunshine Day” in this episode is as famous a moment as the series produced. The song, written by Stephen R. McCarthy, has become an indelible moment from 1970s pop culture. In the years since it has been featured in episodes of Family Guy and Castle, in commercials for the Playstation video game console and the Amazon subsidiary Audible, and it provided the title for a 1993 CD collection of Brady songs. 

Both “It’s a Sunshine Day” and “Keep On” (the second song performed in “Amateur Night”) appear on “The Kids From the Brady Bunch,” released in late 1972. Jackie Mills returned as producer. Once again the formula was mixing upbeat pop originals with famous covers such as The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” and Chicago’s “Saturday In the Park.”

Several of the tracks on this and the previous album were also heard in the Filmation animated series The Brady Kids (1972-1973). Each of its 22 episodes contains a musical sequence depicting the six Brady siblings as a band – Greg, Peter and Cindy on guitars, Jan on keyboards, Marcia on tambourine and Bobby on drums. These sequences, with their psychedelic backgrounds, were copied almost directly from similar scenes in 1960s cartoons featuring The Archies, also produced by Filmation. 

From 1973, “The Brady Bunch Phonographic Album” was the fourth and final group recording. That same year, the series opened its final season with “Adios Johnny Bravo,” which once again has the six siblings auditioning for a television appearance. By now any viewers seeking continuity in these occasional performances had to wonder if the kids viewed singing as a hobby, a way to supplement their allowances, or whether they were serious about pursuing a career in music. Certainly that seems to be the case with Greg in this episode – at one point he is prepared to forego college, much to his parents’ dismay, to chase stardom. 

The group performs two songs in this episode, “You’ve Got to Be in Love to Love a Love Song” and “Good Time Music,” both of which were never released.

By this time, however, the six young stars had developed musical aspirations on their own. They hired veteran Las Vegas producers Ray Reese and Joe Seiter to help them develop a live act, and began rehearsing for a concert tour. All without the knowledge or consent of Sherwood Schwartz. Performances were scheduled during the summer when the series was on hiatus.

“When we found out about it, Dad could have stopped it or at least he could have taken a share of the money since the six kids didn’t have the legal right or permission to call themselves The Brady Bunch, or The Brady Kids,” Lloyd Schwartz said. “But he thought if they wanted to make some money, it was not right for him to stand in their way.”

The group performed in arenas and at state fairs, drawing audiences of more than 10,000. The adulation they received was not inspired by exceptional performances, though by this time both Barry Williams and Maureen McCormick had become more than adequate vocalists. It was triggered by fans thrilled at the opportunity to see in person the characters they had embraced every Friday night on ABC. To their contemporaries the Bradys were brothers, sisters, friends, crushes. And in an era before Facebook and Twitter television stars were not as accessible or as overexposed as celebrities are now. 

Emboldened by the audience response, and at the urging of some of their parents, the group hired an agent and appeared en masse in Sherwood Schwartz’s office with a list of demands, one of which was that seven of every 13 new Brady episodes include a musical performance. Unfortunately (though perhaps thankfully), the series was canceled before the issue could be resolved. Christopher Knight, who never enjoyed singing or touring, then quit the group, also putting an end to future recordings or tours. 

Ironically, while music may have hastened the cancellation of the series, it was also the impetus for the first of many revivals just two years later, with the debut of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.

It’s hard to quantify the role music plays in the enduring popularity of The Brady Bunch, given how it manifested in fits and starts throughout the run of the original series. Many fans would rank musical episodes like “Amateur Night” and “Adios Johnny Bravo” among their favorites, and the songs from those shows would be showcased in delightful scenes from The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel, fortifying their place in the series’ legacy.

Other endeavors – a 1971 single called “The Fortune Cookie Song” by Eve Plumb, the 1974 single “Love Doesn’t Care Who’s In It” by Mike Lookinland, a 1973 album from Christopher Knight and Maureen McCormick, went virtually unnoticed then and are forgotten now. 

It was, in the end, as much about merchandising as music, if not moreso. Albums were churned out as one more purchase option for viewers along with lunchboxes, trading cards and Kitty Carryall dolls. The songs themselves are little more than a footnote in the Brady story, albeit one fondly remembered by fans 50 years later.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Ranking The “Julies” of Aaron Spelling

A television show’s executive producer exerts his influence on a series in countless ways. For Aaron Spelling, one of TV’s most successful EPs, that meant indulging his penchant for characters named Julie.

For this ranking of his top 10 Julies, the only rule is that the selections must be limited to the Comfort TV era (which still ends in 1989). So with apologies to Julie Dante of Models, Inc. and Julie Tate of Malibu Shores, here, as Casey Kasem might say, is our top ten.

10. Julie Tipton
This series about a show business magazine was one of the first casualties of the 1984 television season. Kristen Meadows played reporter Julie Tipton in the pilot, but was replaced by Dianne Kay when the series debuted. At least she can say it wasn’t her fault that it bombed.

9. Julie Gage
Wagon Train
Aaron Spelling was a writer before he was a producer, and one of the first scripts he sold to television was a 1957 episode of Wagon Train called “The Julie Gage Story,” featuring Anne Jeffreys. That’s how the name became Spelling’s good luck charm. 

8. Julie Davis
As Julie Davis, Loni Anderson sings (and does a pretty good job) in this 1981 TV movie about a small town girl in Prohibition-era Chicago, who seeks revenge on the gangsters who killed her boyfriend. Worth seeing for the cast – John Forsythe, Leslie Uggams, Roy Thinnes and Phyllis Davis. 

7. Julie (no last name)
Fantasy Island
This is a character with a very odd history. As played by Wendy Schaal, Julie pops up in 1981 as Mr. Roarke’s goddaughter, greeting each week’s guests alongside Roarke and Tattoo. She was around for most of that season and then disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived. I liked Wendy Schaal on It’s a Living, though, so that’s good enough to place her at #7. 

6. Julie Gillette
With the focus of this series on the guest starts that checked into the St. Gregory every week, the hotel staff was relegated to supporting roles, outside of stars James Brolin and Connie Selleca. Julie Gillette ran the information desk when the series began, and Shari Belafonte-Harper did what she could with the moments she got. She played a powerful me-too story 30 years before that term was coined in “Harassed,” gets to sing on “Hidden Talents,” and was promoted to a manager role at the end of season three. 

5. Julie (no last name)
Cry Panic
This Spelling-Goldberg produced 1974 TV movie is one of the many little hidden gems that can now be enjoyed again courtesy of YouTube. John Forsythe plays a man who kills a pedestrian with his car just outside a hick town, and then runs to the nearest house to report the accident. By the time the sheriff arrives, the body has disappeared, and Forsythe finds himself in the middle of a mystery in which he seems to be the only person that doesn’t know what’s really going on. Anne Francis was a Spelling favorite since she starred in one of the first series he exec produced, Honey West. Here she played Julie, but I can’t say more at the risk of spoiling the movie’s surprises.

4. Julie Rogers
Charlie’s Angels
Aaron Spelling waited until the last possible moment to introduce an Angel named Julie. Tanya Roberts was the final Townsend detective to wear the halo until all the forgettable remakes and reboots started. 

She was a better fit for the show than Shelley Hack, whom she replaced, but had the misfortune of joining the series in its fifth and final season, when everyone else was ready to move on. Her acting rep took a hit after Sheena and A View To a Kill, but as an Angel Roberts added a welcome spark to episodes like “Angel in Hiding” and “Angels of the Deep.”  

3. Julie Greer
The Dick Powell Theatre
“Who Killed Julie Greer?” was the brilliant debut episode of this anthology series, as well as the pilot for the popular 1960s cop series Burke’s Law, starring Gene Barry as the suave, wealthy police captain who arrives at crime scenes in his Rolls Royce. Carolyn Jones (who was married to Spelling at the time) played the title character, a party girl found murdered in the first scene, leaving a long list of suspects behind (played by Lloyd Bridges, Mickey Rooney and Ronald Reagan, among others). Try to guess which one killed her before the reveal – I guarantee you’ll be wrong. 

2. Julie Barnes
The Mod Squad
The show’s famous tag line – “One white, one black, one blonde” – is an indication on how dated some of this material plays. But in its time The Mod Squad was groundbreaking, and Peggy Lipton became an icon of counterculture chic as flower child detective Julie Barnes. 

Her range was still somewhat limited as an actress, but Lipton had that rare quality of cool that overwhelmed such criticism. 

1. Julie McCoy
The Love Boat
How many television characters personify their profession for generations of viewers? How many thousands of people have boarded cruise ships in the past 40 years, met their cruise director, and thought, “He/she is no Julie McCoy!” 

Lauren Tewes played Julie in 199 of the show’s 250 episodes (with a break in the midst of the run to get clean and sober). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but with that pixie haircut and dimples I thought she always outshone whatever glamorous stars were sailing on the Pacific Princess each week. She will always be “the” classic TV Julie for me.