Friday, September 22, 2017

Chad & Jeremy: The Comfort TV Beatles

I’ve always believed shows from the Comfort TV era have retained a timeless appeal in part because they refrained from commentary on the issues of their day.

Would Father Knows Best have been better if Jim and Bud Anderson spent several episodes debating whether President Eisenhower was doing a good job? Would a discussion about the Cuban Missile Crisis have made one of Rob and Laura Petrie’s dinner parties more interesting? I think it would have the opposite effect – taking viewers out of stories that, because they cannot be dated so precisely, are as relatable now as they were 50 years ago.

Still, some happenings are so culturally momentous that they were impossible to ignore completely. One of them was The Beatles. 

References to the Fab Four can be heard in many classic ‘60s shows; when Opie joins a band on The Andy Griffith Show (“Opie’s Group”) Goober hopes they’ll be “as big as them Beagles.” And on The Beverly Hillbillies (“Hoe Down A-Go-Go”) Miss Jane tells Mr. Drysdale that The Beatles are the top band in the world. Drysdale still prefers Guy Lombardo.

Perhaps the most Beatles-centric classic TV episode is “The Ladybugs” from Petticoat Junction‘s first season. The three Bradley sisters, joined by Sheila James (Zelda on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) don mop top wigs and form their own band. 

Kate’s reaction to the Beatles is typical of many older folks of the day.

Uncle Joe: “It’s the new sound!”
Kate: “You mean, instead of music?”

The Ladybugs perform a gender-switched (and off-key) version of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” and actually appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show

The episode is a lot of fun and far more entertaining than the thematically similar Gilligan’s Island episode “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes.”

Some of the most memorable episodes about Beatlemania are those that don’t mention the group at all. Since the shows could never get the actual band to make an appearance, they looked for a surrogate with the right hair and the right accents. Enter Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde. 

Chad & Jeremy began performing together in 1962, the same year the Beatles had their first #1 single (“Love Me Do”). From 1964-1966, at the height of their U.S. chart success (7 top-40 hits), they boosted their profile on three Comfort TV classics.

In 1965 they played Fred and Ernie, aka The Redcoats, on The Dick Van Dyke Show (“Here Come the Redcoats”). The band is booked to perform on The Alan Brady Show, but crazed fans keep finding them at every hotel, so Mel persuades Rob to let the duo stay with the Petries. Of course, the secret gets out and pandemonium ensues. The episode features two songs, “My, How the Times Goes By” and “No Other Baby.”

Of all the ersatz Beatles shows, this is the one that most closely parallels the uproarious atmosphere of the era – and is also the most dubious about whether it was justified. Those sentiments are summed up in the Bill Persky-Sam Denoff script by Buddy’s rebuff, “Boy, if I had funny hair like that and no talent, I could have made a million.” 

As for Chad & Jeremy, they know why they were hired and deliver Liverpool lilts and self-effacing charm in abundance. Hopefully it eased some fears among older viewers that music really wasn’t going to hell because of all these long-haired foreigners. 

On an episode of The Patty Duke Show that aired just one week after “The Redcoats are Coming,” Chad & Jeremy play Nigel & Patrick, an undiscovered act that Patty helps propel to stardom. The duo’s performances are more natural here, without the silly forced humor in the Redcoats show.

The episode (“Patty Pits Wits, Two Brits Hit”) once again illustrates how the musical generation gap that started in the 1950s only widened after the British Invasion. “Mindless, monotonous drivel” is how Patty’s father describes the then-current music scene. It’s also the best of the group’s classic TV appearances as they perform two of their best songs, “Yesterday’s Gone” and “A Summer Song,” plus the equally catchy “The Truth Often Hurts the Heart.” 

The following year, Chad & Jeremy pop up in Gotham City, playing themselves for once, and have their voices stolen by Catwoman (likely a bit of wish-fulfillment for some). When she tries to ransom their voices for $22 million. Steve Allen, playing a talk show host, quips “No one will pay that much money for those voices!”

“The Cat’s Meow/The Bat’s Kow Tow” is a typically strong Julie Newmar show (I still don’t think anyone has played Catwoman better) written by Stanley Ralph Ross. “Distant Shores” is another strong folk-rock performance from Chad & Jeremy, but “Teenage Failure” is best forgotten.

Also best forgotten is “That’s Noway, Thataway,” a 1966 episode of Laredo that (according to Wikipedia) was intended as a pilot for a Chad & Jeremy series. Best I can tell after watching it for the first time last week, they were trying for a Bob Hope - Bing Crosby vibe from their series of ‘Road’ films; Chad and Jeremy play cowardly, fast-talking actors who use their trunk of theatrical costumes to assume new identities in each town they visit. Here, Chad plays a preacher, hoping to deliver one sermon and abscond with the contents of the collection plate.

It doesn’t work. Happily, Chad and Jeremy would go on to better projects. They would never be the Beatles but they surpassed that legendary band in longevity, as the duo is still performing together more than 50 years after their formation. And now that we’ve lived through punk and death metal, Eminem and Nicki Minaj, it’s hard to believe that their gentle, folksy tunes were once viewed as a danger to decency. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

When Septembers Were Special

Septembers aren’t what they used to be.

When the shows that are now comfort TV classics were still in first run, September was the month fans anticipated with the same excitement as any of the festive holidays that followed. This was the time when new programs debuted and old friends returned with new episodes. It was fun and exciting and helped take some of the sting away from the end of summer and the start of school. 

It hasn’t been like that for a long time. These days new shows debut on Netflix every month, and if we don’t watch them now we can get around to it next month or next year. Yes, the broadcast networks still have a fall season, but most new shows don’t come back until October...and then disappear a few weeks later after their “fall finales.”

Let’s hop into the WABAC machine and go back in time to celebrate when things were better, which is what we do best around here. Fifty years is a nice, round number, and that was a particularly memorable September of television. 

Here are some of the more interesting programs that debuted in September of 1967. 

The Carol Burnett Show
We remember it as a ‘70s show now, when it anchored some of the most amazing Saturday night programming lineups ever assembled (The Mary Tyler Moore ShowThe Bob Newhart ShowMASHAll in the Family). But The Carol Burnett Show debuted on a Monday night in 1967, following another impressive evening of CBS television – Gunsmoke at 7:30, The Lucy Show at 8:30, The Andy Griffith Show at 9, and Family Affair at 9:30. Those truly were the days. 

George of the Jungle
This Jay Ward classic has been popular for so long it seems surprising that there were only 17 episodes. It’s still pretty funny stuff, and better than the live-action film it inspired starring Brendan Fraser. Bet you can still sing the theme song. 

The Phil Donahue Show
Here’s a program that deserves praise for what it was, and condemnation for what it inspired. Phil Donahue debuted in Dayton, Ohio with an afternoon talk show that covered controversial, once taboo TV subject matter with empathy and compassion. It brought issues into the open that certainly comforted viewers dealing with the same challenges, but who were used to suffering in silence. Unfortunately, its success opened the floodgates to a zillion inferior copycat shows and impelled us toward a culture where people won’t shut up about their problems. If there were no Donahue there would never have been a Jerry Springer. In that light, you wonder if it was worth it.

He & She
This sitcom featuring real-life married couple Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss was considered one of the more likely breakout hits of the 1967 season. I’ve watched some episodes on YouTube and I don’t see the same potential, though I’ve never been on the Richard Benjamin bandwagon. 

The Invaders
This Quinn Martin production was a follow-up of sorts to The Fugitive, which had recently ended its four-season run. Here we had another man alone (architect David Vincent, played by Roy Thinnes) but this time his mission was to convince anyone that would listen that aliens had infiltrated humanity, and were planning to conquer earth. The Invaders lasted just two seasons but like any decent sci-fi show it built a cult following that endures to this day. 

Cowboy in Africa
Never saw the show but I like the title, and since Chuck Connors played the cowboy I’d have given it a try, if I weren’t three years old when it debuted. The premise had Connors as a rodeo champion hired by an Englishman to bring modern ranching methods to Kenya. 

One of TV’s best two-fisted detective shows, but season one did not feature the same Joe Mannix most familiar to fans. In the beginning, Joe worked for a high-tech firm called Intertect, which used a sophisticated computer to crack cases. That didn’t suit Mannix and it wasn’t surprising when the Interact stuff was dropped by season two. 

Coronet Blue
I’m cheating with this one because Coronet Blue first aired in May, but the premise was so intriguing I couldn’t leave it off a list of ’67 debuts. Frank Converse played a man with no known identity who is tossed over the side of a ship and left for dead by some shady associates. When he is rescued he doesn’t know who he is, but the one phrase he recalls is ‘coronet blue.’ What does it mean? The mystery was never solved, since the show never made it to the fall schedule. 

Judd for the Defense
When I first discovered The Donna Reed Show on Nick at Nite, one of the greatest joys attached to that experience was being introduced to Carl Betz, who played Donna’s pediatrician husband, Alex Stone. He immediately became, for me, one of TV’s best dads. Judd for the Defense was his next series – he played a crusading lawyer who tackled cases that were often inspired by the most divisive issues of the day (and in 1967 there were no shortage of those). The only complete episodes on YouTube are in such lousy shape that I’m holding off on watching, and clinging to the long shot hope of a DVD release. The series lasted just two seasons. 

There were other superhero cartoons around in 1967, including shows about Aquaman and The Fantastic Four. But Spider-Man was in a different class. The animation, though limited, was a cut above other series, and the earlier stories, especially the re-telling of the character’s origin, has a surprising gravitas for a children’s show.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Top TV Moments: Ann Jillian

Show business, like life, isn’t always fair. But usually those with ample talent and work ethic will find an opportunity to achieve success. 

Certainly that was the case with Ann Jillian, who worked steadily as a child star and an adult, both on television and the concert stage. Her name will certainly be familiar to readers of this blog, possibly a bit more so for those who were young men in the 1980s and fondly recall her striking platinum bob hairstyle, alabaster skin and voluptuous figure. That image plus her sassy way with a comedy line earned comparisons to Jean Harlow.

But I’ve always thought Jillian still deserved more than she got from a career beset by bad luck and bad timing. The series that put her on the map was snakebit from the start, and subsequent attempts found her desperately trying to elevate uninspired material. Then at the height of her success she had to cope with a cancer diagnosis and never got back on track. 

Thankfully, however, she’s still here, healthy, and now inspiring others as a motivational speaker. 

I wish there had been more, but here are some of the most memorable Ann Jillian TV appearances. 

The Twilight Zone (1963)
Three years after making her television debut in an episode of Leave it to Beaver, 13 year-old Ann Jillian played Ilse, the daughter of parents who believed mankind used to have telepathic abilities, and could regain them by not speaking. Raised in a silent household, Ilse is cast out into the world after her parents are killed. “Mute” was a fourth-season TZ episode, when the series tried hour-long stories. That season is less heralded because it’s been kept out of frequent syndication, but it did have its moments and this is one of them. 

Hazel (1965)
Jillian’s first recurring TV role was as Millie Ballard in a dozen or so fifth-season episodes of Hazel. Unfortunately, that was the season in which the entire series format changed after the departures of stars Don DeFore and Whitney Blake. Result? As with her Twilight Zone appearance, Jillian nails a role on a classic TV series from an under-syndicated season that most viewers don’t remember. As I said, bad luck. 

The Partridge Family (1971)
In “Days of Acne and Roses” the Partridges successfully help a socially awkward boy gain self-confidence. Watch for a brunette Ann Jillian at the Taco Stand in the episode’s final scene. That’s her on the left in the flower-print dress. 

It’s a Living (1980)
This was Ann Jillian’s breakthrough moment, though she appeared in less than half of the show’s 120 episodes. Susan Sullivan was top-billed, but Jillian’s blunt and brassy Cassie Cranston got all the best lines right from the pilot. 

For a breezy sitcom about five waitresses working in a Los Angeles hotel restaurant, It’s a Living had a bizarre history. The first season was shortened by a Screen Actors Guild strike. A second-season title change (to Making a Living) and cast changes (Susan Sullivan and Wendy Schaal out, Louise Lasser in) still resulted in cancellation by ABC. But the show returned three years later in syndication, under its original title, with more cast changes (hello, Crystal Bernard!). Jillian was there for the first year of the second run, then had to leave to get treatment for cancer.

Every time the waitress lineup changed, the series reshot its opening sequence of the ladies walking arm-in-arm toward the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. Poor Barrie Youngfellow took that walk so many times she probably still has flashbacks.  

And as befits the Jillian bad luck, the series is not and likely never will be on DVD because every episode featured songs played in the restaurant’s piano bar, all of which would have to be cleared at significant cost.

Battle of the Network Stars (1980)
Unlike the pitiful excuse for a revival that is still airing as of this writing, the original Battle shows featured television’s top stars, risking injury and embarrassment for the glory of their networks. Ann Jillian joined the ABC team for Battles 9, 10 and 11. She tied a record with three straight scoring throws in the baseball dunk, and was among the losing participants in Battle 11’s epic 12-minute tug-of-war climax. As Howard Cosell commented after it was over, “What you saw here today is what sport is really all about.” 

Mae West (1982)
Jillian earned her first Emmy nomination for her portrayal of the flamboyant Mae West, a role that utilized her musical talents as well as her flair for comedy. She played West without relying solely on the exaggerated inflections and mannerisms used by most impersonators. That restraint resulted in a more nuanced portrayal of a trailblazing entertainer. 

Jennifer Slept Here (1983)
Jillian’s second shot at a series had the kind of supernatural high-concept premise that was popular in the 1960s. A family moves into a Beverly Hills mansion once owned by glamorous movie star Jennifer Farrell, now deceased.  As a ghost, she appears to the family’s 14 year-old son, and helps him adjust to high school, dating and life in California. 

Jillian elevated the material as she always did, but the show could not compete against Webster and The Dukes of Hazzard.

Ellis Island (1984)
Richard Burton and Faye Dunaway headlined an impressive cast for this three-episode miniseries from back when the topic of immigration didn’t get everyone yelling at each other. The story spans 60 years, from the 1880s to the 1940s, and follows the lives and fates of about a dozen Europeans whose American journey began at Ellis Island. Jillian plays singer Nellie Byfield, who marries a Russian-Jewish composer (Peter Riegert, possibly channeling Irving Berlin) to further her career. Unlike so many singing TV stars, Jillian actually had the pipes. Perhaps Broadway would have given her better roles than she typically got from television.

Alice In Wonderland (1985)
If you’re an admirer of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books, you probably don’t think any of the numerous film and TV adaptations have captured their inspired madness. And you’d be right. But this one’s a nice try, and provides plenty of colorful and interesting distractions while toning down the source material and inserting unnecessary songs. Jillian plays the Red Queen opposite Carol Channing as the White Queen. 

The Ann Jillian Story (1988)
Three years after surviving breast cancer, Jillian played herself in a TV movie about that personal battle. She was nominated for her third Emmy, and won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture made for Television. I admit I’ve never been a fan of what are callously referred to as ‘disease of the week’ TV movies, and this one doesn’t entirely avoid the trappings of the genre. But for fans it is certainly worth seeing. 

Ann Jillian (1989)
Jillian’s third and final attempt at a series was created by two Facts of Life staffers. It lasted just ten episodes. She plays Ann McNeil, a widowed mother who moves with her teenage daughter to a quirky small town. While It’s a Living and Jennifer Slept Here can be viewed on YouTube, this show seems lost to the ages, but promo clips suggest it might have been a Gilmore Girls forerunner, though that may be too high a compliment. Hope I get to see it one day. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

It’s Not a Rip-Off – It’s an Homage

Classic TV fans are used to seeing certain stories told over and over across different situation comedies. Think about student-teacher crush episodes, or shows in which a character gets assigned to jury duty, or watching a stable household get turned upside down after a visit from an eccentric relative.

These recurring plots are somewhat derisively referred to as tropes. But Comfort TV fans enjoy their familiarity, and discovering how each show puts its own spin on a time-honored premise.

Occasionally, however, one comes across two episodes where the similarities are more precise. It could be a coincidence – or it could be a situation where a writer hopes no one will make the connection.

In its fifth and final season, The Dick Van Dyke Show presented an episode entitled “The Curse of the Petrie People” (1966), written by Dale McRaven and Carl Kleinschmitt. 

It opens at a party at the Petrie residence, where Rob’s parents present Laura with the “family heirloom” – a huge and hideous gold brooch in the shape of the United States. 

She dreads having to wear it, but to keep peace with her in-laws she agrees to do so – until it’s accidentally mangled in the garbage disposal. Mother Petrie expects to see it at a family dinner next week – what will Laura do?

Fast-forward 22 years to “Present Imperfect,” an episode from the final season of The Facts of Life

In this story, written by Howard Leeds, Ben Starr and Jerry Mayer, Tootie receives a huge and hideous pendant from the grandmother of her fiancée, Jeff. She dreads having to wear it, but to keep peace with a future in-law she agrees to do so – until it’s accidentally mangled in a blender. Jeff’s grandmother will expect to see it later that day – what will Tootie do?

Of the two versions The Dick Van Dyke Show mined several more laughs out of the set-up, particularly in the scene when Laura and Millie go to a jewelry store and try to have the piece repaired (the jeweler, upon examining the remains of the America-shaped brooch: “Would you settle for Czechoslovakia?”).

By contrast, the Facts of Life version is uninspired, not surprising for a show that was running on fumes since Charlotte Rae left. Worse, its garish ‘80s fashions and hairstyles almost make the pendant look tasteful and understated by comparison.

Here’s another one: “That Shoplifter” was an episode of That Girl from its fifth and final season. Ann Marie is working in Dawson’s Department Store, as she’s between acting jobs. A man introduces himself as the store’s head of security and offers her a chance to pick up some extra money by posting as a shoplifter. The idea is to test the store’s salespeople, and assess whether they are observant enough to catch her. 

That sets up several amusing sequences of Ann cleverly stealing everything that’s not nailed down – until she discovers her accomplice is not who he claims.

It’s a clever idea from writer Arnold Horwitt, and you’d never guess where it turned up again. Would you believe The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show?

In “No Cash and Carry,” Pebbles takes a job at Gimbelstone’s Department Store. She is approached by a man who introduces himself as Fagenstone, the chief store detective. He wants her to test the store’s security by stealing as much as she can. Pebbles starts stealing, and Fagenstone happily drives away with the hot merchandise.

The first pair of similar shows could conceivably be explained as coincidence, though the plot point around which both revolve is specific enough to raise questions. But with the second pair, there is enough circumstantial evidence to imply appropriation. How fitting that it would happen with a story about stealing!

If I were prosecuting this case, I’d observe that both shows aired in 1971: “That Shoplifter” in February, “No Cash and Carry” in November. Both scripts include the same joke about Ann/Pebbles seeing her picture in the post office. Both also have friends telling them they can’t call the police because they’d never believe their story, resulting in an attempt to capture the phony store employee themselves.

True, Ann Marie never had to contend with Bad Luck Schleprock, but it’s stretching credibility to believe the same story wasn’t just transferred from Manhattan to Bedrock. 

So who (allegedly) wrote it? There’s no way to know – the same seven people received ‘story’ credit for every episode of The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show. We’ve got a solid case, but our suspect remains at large.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Uncomfortable Classics of Norman Lear

Norman Lear and his white floppy hat have been back in the news of late. 

First for being among the recipients of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors; and then for announcing his intention to skip the awards ceremony, as some sort of Donald Trump protest. 

I could write this blog about that but I won’t. What I will observe is that this accolade really has nothing to do with Mr. Trump. Honorees are selected by previous winners and the Kennedy Center trustees. It’s one of the highest honors this nation bestows upon its artists, and should have nothing to do with politics. Harry Belafonte accepted his medal from Ronald Reagan, and Charlton Heston accepted one from Bill Clinton. And everyone behaved themselves. 

But, again, that’s not the topic for today. Instead, I’d like to explore Norman Lear’s paradigm-shifting contributions to television. The reflexive position among TV historians is to praise them as brave and brilliant and progressive. And much of that is true. But I don’t own any of the shows he created on DVD, and have rarely watched them since their first runs, so joining that chorus of adoration would be disingenuous. 

I acknowledge that All In the FamilyMaudeOne Day At a TimeThe Jeffersons and Good Times are classic TV, either as a result of their quality or enduring appeal. Classic TV shows from the 1970s often serve as comfort TV as well. But this is one of those times when, at least for me, they do not.  

It’s not because they were groundbreaking – a trait that implies shaking up the status quo. That Girl and The Mary Tyler Moore Show and I Spy and other comfort TV staples also share that distinction. The difference to me is that with the Lear shows, the controversial or incendiary elements were always at the forefront. It became what they were about, instead of being just one ingredient in the situation comedy stew. 

As a result, they shared another common denominator that disqualifies them from comfort TV status – anger. 

Quick – what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of All In the Family? It’s probably Archie and Mike in a heated argument over politics, or Archie calling his wife a dingbat. On The Jeffersons, a deluxe apartment in the sky did little to assuage George’s seething resentment over past indignities. And Julie on One Day At a Time was always yelling about something. 

Sure there were laughs along the way as well. But when I think of Comfort TV I don’t think about shows that consist largely of people screaming at each other. I get enough of that on Facebook. 

Norman Lear proved that television comedy could incorporate contemporary issues into stories. And since television reflects culture more than shapes it, it’s probable that if Lear hadn’t done it someone else would have, and perhaps not as well. 

But the fact that sitcoms can be provocative doesn’t mean they have to be, or even that they should be. Where I get perturbed is when cultural critics suggest that Lear’s shows were better, or more important, because they engaged such topics. 

I am not trying to demean Norman Lear’s legacy. His shows deservedly achieved both popular and critical success. All In the Family alone earned more than 20 Emmys. 

But there is a tendency in art, including television, to pat itself on the back more when it’s ‘edgy,’ as evidenced by the current Emmy dominance of cable and streaming shows over more traditional network fare. 

It’s fine to prefer television that confronts current event issues, but 20 or 40 years later a joke about school busing or Richard Nixon doesn’t pack the same punch. And it’s just as difficult to write a good sitcom episode about more benign topics, and make it funny and appealing. In fact I’d argue it’s more challenging, because you can’t lift material from the newspaper. 

And if you believe doing so makes Maude more substantial, and a series like Father Knows Best more antiquated, watch an episode of both and get back to me. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Searching For Sugar Bears

After writing an article about hoarding (not for here, of course), I was inspired to do a deep clean into some drawers and closet space that haven’t been exposed to light for a while. As expected, most of the contents were junk that could be discarded, but in an album of old .45 records I found one with this label:

I don’t have a record player anymore but I did go to YouTube to listen to the song. The lyrics came back almost instantly, and before it got to the chorus I was singing along: “Baby you’re my morning sun, you are the one.” Here's the song:

It’s amazing how music can hide in the recesses of a memory for decades, only to pop out again when triggered.

The Sugar Bears are pretty much forgotten now and clearly I was among those who forgot them. All I could recall after hearing “You Are the One” was that they had an obvious connection to Super Sugar Crisp cereal and its familiar mascot, a hipster bear in a blue turtleneck. Never cared much for the cereal but I always liked him. 

Back when Saturday mornings were filled with cartoon characters pushing boxes of sugarcoated flakes as part of a nutritious breakfast, most of them acted so hyped up you could believe they were actually getting that much sucrose in their diet. The Trix Rabbit was a basket of neuroses (you would be too if kids kept grabbing cereal out of your paws), Quisp and Quake were always fighting about something, and somebody should have incarcerated Sonny the “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” bird for the safety of the community.

But Sugar Bear was the iconoclast. Cool and laid back where the others were frenetic, he had the voice of Bing Crosby and the detached demeanor of Dean Martin. Maybe that's why he was featured in his own cartoon series in the 1960s, while Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam couldn't get work outside of commercials. 

Where did the idea for music come from? I couldn't find a definitive explanation, but many of us recall that one of the popular cereal marketing gimmicks in the 1970s was printing actual, playable records on a cereal box. 

Post, the company that made Super Sugar Crisp, offered records from The Archies and The Jackson 5 on its boxes, and I guess someone in marketing decided that they could create their own band instead of borrowing music from others. Thus, America met The Sugar Bears, though the uninspired look of the characters suggests that not a lot of time and effort were devoted to the concept.

Sugar Bear was the front man, of course, though with his temperament he seemed more suited to forming a jazz trio than a bubblegum pop group. Rounding out the quartet were drummer Shoobee Bear, bassist Doobee Bear, and the lone female member on tambourine, Honey Bear. 

Far more interesting is the talent gathered to create the songs, which included Mike Settle, a member of The First Edition (once featuring Kenny Rogers) and Kim Carnes, who also wrote some of the songs and sang lead on the lilting “Feather Balloon.” She doesn't have the rasp yet that was so prominent in "Bette Davis Eyes," but I like this song too. Have a listen:

Baker Knight, who wrote for Rick Nelson and penned Elvis’s “The Wonder of You,” contributed three songs to the group’s only LP, 1972’s “Presenting The Sugar Bears”.

When “You Are the One” peaked at #51 and a second single (“Some Kind of a Summer”) failed to chart, the Sugar Bears disappeared faster than The Defranco Family. Super Sugar Crisp now called Golden Crisp because…well, nanny state nonsense. But surprisingly Sugar Bear is still around under the same name.

After listening to the rest of the songs on YouTube, I’m up for Rhino releasing their album on CD. As with The Archies and Josie and the Pussycats, there was more talent behind this project than it deserved. I’m still humming “All Of My Life” and “Someone Like You” since rediscovering them more than a week ago. If you click on the link below, those hooks might get into your head as well.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Comfort TV Coast to Coast: 50 States, 50 Classic Moments (Part 5)

Like all summer trips, our state-by-state classic TV tour of America must come to an end. But at least we’re finishing up strong with visits to Mount Rushmore, Southfork Ranch and the Double R Diner, where they make some damn fine coffee.

South Dakota
Did you know there was a secret base inside Mount Rushmore, where the President can hold clandestine meetings away from the fake news-generating media? This national security secret was leaked not by the Deep State, but in a 1981 episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century called “Testimony of a Traitor.” Somehow the republic survived. 

The choice here is between two iconic shows from the 1950s. From Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Fess Parker starred in a series of telefilms as the legendary Tennessee frontiersman Davy Crockett. 

They launched a Crockett craze that had millions of school kids wearing coonskin caps. 

Classic family entertainment, but I’m going to instead select “Tennessee Bound,” a 1955 episode of I Love Lucy. En route to Hollywood, Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel get caught in a speed trap in Bent Fork, Tennessee and wind up in jail. Fortunately there’s an old friend nearby in Lucy’s cousin Ernie, played by Tennessee Ernie Ford. The episode also features Aaron Spelling before he became one of TV’s top producers, and the unforgettable Borden Twins as Teensy and Weensy. 

Like New York, Texas is a state with many choices but one clear winner. Dallas captured the cowboy roots, oil-fueled opulence and outsized swagger of its namesake. 

And it earns bonus points for authenticity as the Ewing homestead of Southfork Ranch is actually located in the Lone Star State and not on some Southern California backlot. It’s still a popular tourist attraction. 

We haven’t cited a musical variety show yet, so Utah goes to Donny & Marie, which debuted in 1976 and moved production to the Osmond Studios in Orem, Utah the following year. As with most variety shows from the 1970s it’s a mix of sometimes cringe-worthy comedy segments, wonderful guest stars and nostalgic musical moments. I know more than a few guys my age who were in high school then and crushing hard on Marie, though they were too cool to admit it. 

After playing a character perfectly suited to his talents on a sitcom considered a classic in its own time, I had my doubts about Bob Newhart’s next series attempt. But Newhart surrounded the actor with another memorable cast and even more outrageous situations than he faced on The Bob Newhart Show

Wonderful Henry Mancini theme song, too. The show was set at Vermont’s Stratford Inn. The hotel used for the exteriors is called the Waybury Inn and is indeed located in East Middlebury, Vermont. 

I think we’ll have to go with The Waltons here, which is not to say it’s a choice I made reluctantly. It was a wonderful show but it ran at least two seasons too long, after many of the core cast members either left or passed away. Plus, it ruins a little of the magic to find out Walton’s Mountain is actually in Burbank. 

“Comfort TV” are two words that will never be associated with Twin Peaks

And we do have a more wholesome alternative for Washington in Here Come the Brides with David Soul and Bobby Sherman. 

But here we’ll let authenticity and excellence carry the day. Many of Peaks’ most iconic locations are in Snoqualmie, Washington, including the Double R Diner, the Great Northern Hotel and the Reinig Bridge, where we first saw Ronette Pulaski in the show’s stunning pilot. 

West Virginia
With no viable option we will once again return to The Fugitive. In the series’ third episode, “The Other Side of the Mountain,” Dr. Kimble barely eludes Lt. Gerard inside a long-abandoned coalmine shaft. This is one of the best Gerard episodes in the run, though it won’t stop viewers from hating him. 

Happy Days is the obvious choice (unless you were partial to Laverne & Shirley). 

But I don’t think of it as a Milwaukee show the way I associate The Mary Tyler Moore Show with Minneapolis, or other classics with their settings. Maybe that’s just me. Either way, the series did make its mark on its adopted hometown, most notably with a truly ghastly bronze statue of The Fonz on the Milwaukee Riverwalk. 

The challenge for western fans with Wyoming is choosing from an impressive field of genre series set there, including Cheyenne, Laramie, Lawman and The Virginian

Rather than face such a difficult selection, let’s instead celebrate one of the most memorably fragrant slices of 1970s cheese that also took place in Wyoming: “Death Probe” was a two-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, in which Steve Austin squared off against a “fearsome” evil Russian space probe. 

The probe looks like the offspring of a Dalek and an igloo, but it made enough of an impression to inspire a home version by Kenner. 

 And that's it - 50 states and we all made it back safely. Thanks for taking the journey.