Wednesday, May 3, 2017

TV Books, and The Book That Inspired Comfort TV

If you love classic TV, there’s a good chance you also enjoy books about classic TV.

I know I do. In fact I’ve built quite a collection over the years. I’ve also been lucky enough to get to know several people who contributed volumes to this genre.

When I shared a publisher with Brenda Scott Royce I was able to tell her how much I enjoyed her Hogan’s Heroes book. 

I met Chris Mann (Come and Knock on Our Door: A Hers and Hers and His Guide to Three’s Company) through a mutual friend and we had dinner once about 20 years ago. I think we’re due for another one.

I’ve enjoyed conversing on Facebook with Ed Robertson, who penned excellent volumes on The Fugitive and The Rockford Files – and he was kind enough to invite me on his TV Confidential radio show after reading something he enjoyed here. I’m hoping he’ll share this piece on his page since he has more Facebook friends than I do. 

Judith Moose has written some of the most remarkably detailed books about the shows she loves, including Dynasty and Remington Steele. The Steele book now goes for more than 100 bucks on amazon. We’ve discussed projects but nothing has come of that yet. Maybe one day. 

I interviewed Herbie J. Pilato (Bewitched Forever) for one of my books and applaud his ongoing efforts to honor and celebrate the era of TV we both love.

Kathryn Leigh Scott has written several books about Dark Shadows, and no one could be better qualified as she was one of the show’s most popular stars. 

She published them through her own company, Pomegranate Press, which also published my Charlie’s Angels book. While I was signing that book at a Dark Shadows convention I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mark Dawidziak, whose book about Kolchak: The Night Stalker was also a Pomegranate Press title.

And if your TV tastes extend into the godless dark ages of the 21st century, I am happy to recommend Craig Byrne’s excellent Smallville companion volumes. 

Craig and I originally bonded over our mutual affection for Breakfast Time, an ambitious and sometimes-anarchic morning show that aired on the fX network from 1994-1996. In fact, we both loved it enough to travel to New York to be a part of the fun.

All in all as delightful a group of people as you’re likely to meet. Though in the interest of full disclosure I should acknowledge I also crossed paths with one TV book writer who was a miserable human being. It really surprised me at the time, though his crudeness and belligerence at least spared me a Ninth Commandment violation, as I never had to lie and tell him I enjoyed his books. Cause I didn’t, even before I found out he was a jerk.

There is one book that predates all of these, that set me on the path toward my own contributions to the genre and to this blog. I first read it in 1986 when I was 22 and I still have that original copy, though with its tattered cover and crumbling spine it’s on the verge of disintegration.

The book is Cult TV by John Javna. 

I don’t even remember the circumstances of how I acquired it now. But I do recall that I was sick with a flu when I began reading it, and it not only raised my spirits it opened up a world of interest in shows that at that time I had not yet experienced.

Today we associate ‘cult’ more with sci-fi and fantasy entertainment, not mainstream programs like The Odd Couple and Perry Mason (both among the 75 shows profiled in Javna’s book). But 30 years ago the term was more appropriate, as there was a cultish quality to fanbases who loved a TV show – any show – enough to tape episodes off-air and trade them, write and distribute fanzines, and collect photos and memorabilia.

The shows Javna selected run the gamut from pioneering 1950s classics (I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Twilight Zone) to 1960s standouts (The Wild, Wild West, Mission: Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show) to ‘70s shows both traditional and bizarre (The Rockford Files, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Taxi). 

For each entry he provides an introduction that explains why the show has a cult following, brief bios of its cast, top five lists of classic episodes and lines to listen for, a generous selection of photos, and behind the scenes anecdotes and trivia.  

And he had to put it all together without access to full runs of the shows or a not-yet-available internet.

The text is breezy and fun, appreciative and respectful of both the shows and the people who love them. This shines through especially in the collection of ‘fan letters’ to some of the shows from their biggest advocates. Novelist and one-time Dick Tracy comic writer Max Allan Collins contributes a heartfelt tribute to Jack Webb and Dragnet, while Monkees fanzine publisher Maggie McManus assured closet fans, “you’re not alone anymore.”

Television was already an interest when I read Cult TV, but Javna introduced me to several shows I had yet to encounter. His praise of “The Architects of Fear” episode of The Outer Limits, and explanations of why shows like Rat Patrol and Blake’s 7 were worth seeking out, made me realize how much great TV there was out there, waiting to be discovered. And I was also happy to finally find someone who shared my appreciation for Super Chicken

When I started this blog, one of my goals was to invoke the same feelings in my readers that I experienced when I first read Cult TV. I want to create an interest in shows and episodes you’ve never watched, and share happy memories of those you already love. I enjoy pointing out unique elements in certain shows, and discussing how they reflected the country and the culture into which they were broadcast.

For all of the TV books that have been written since 1985, and the TV websites that offer their own accolades, I would still recommend Cult TV as one of the best primers for explaining the appeal of so many classic shows. I hope that Comfort TV in some small way is able to continue its legacy. 


  1. Mr. Hofstede, have you read Jonathan Etter's 2003 book "Quinn Martin, Producer"? I have. I used to own the hardcover edition, but I got rid of it in 2006. Fortunately, I now have the e-edition.

  2. I still have my copy of CULT TV, too! Another one I've love is FANTASTIC TELEVISION (though I've found one or two mistakes in it). I also have Ed Robertson's FUGITIVE book. James Rosin, who wrote some QUINCEY scripts, has penned several fun TV reference books. I met him at a nostalgia convention--a very nice guy.

  3. Thank you for the mention, David. May your life always be sprinkled with magic!