Monday, June 20, 2022

Cutting the Pop Culture Cord

 

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I recently realized that I have given the big Clampettt goodbye wave to the present entertainment landscape. 

 

 

And I’m not just talking about television.

 

What’s climbing the music charts now? No clue.  Do they still even have music charts? I hear a recognizable name every so often, like Billie Eilish, but her only song that I’ve heard was that sleep-inducing theme to the last James Bond movie.

 

Theater? Decades ago during regular travels to London, New York and Los Angeles I saw as many plays and musicals as I could. But I have not seen one since then. Video games? Stopped playing them after I got rid of my Intellivision console back in the 1980s.

 

I watch one current scripted TV show – Superman and Lois. And since that show features characters that have been around since the 1930s, I hardly think this qualifies as embracing something new. Likewise (and for the same reason, being a old comic book nerd) the only films I look forward to watching are those from the MCU (and those based on DC characters when they occasionally get one right). Outside of that genre, the last film I saw that won Best Picture was The King’s Speech, which took home the Oscar back in 2010.

 

Television clearly still remembers the shows I like because they keep bringing them back - Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, The Wonder Years, as well as series featuring Nancy Drew and the characters from Archie comics. But I learned long ago to avoid attempts to “update” and “modernize” popular brands from the past. Whatever made the originals resonate with an audience is always lost. 

 


 

I’m not saying that my choices are correct ones or better ones, or that it’s not possible I’m missing out on some wonderful diversions. But I’m good with that.

 

Like most people I have a job and other personal responsibilities, which leaves at best 3-4 hours in an average weekday to devote to doing what I enjoy. And as I get older I find that I’m less inclined to take any chances with that precious time. That means eliminating potential options that will result in anger, confusion, or a melancholy realization of how absurd so many aspects of our life and times have become.

 

That’s what today’s television serves up, which is not at all surprising because this has always been a medium that reflects contemporary culture. In that reflection I see how the virtues of beauty and truth, once celebrated,  are now undervalued or dismissed outright. And as universities continue to deny the existence of either, lessons now being communicated at the primary education level as well, there’s no reason to expect a change in direction. There’s always hope, of course, but we’ve been on this path for a long time. Listen to Paul Harvey’s If I Were the Devil monologue, recorded in 1965, and tell me we haven’t already achieved and surpassed every objective he describes.

 

And so, I am content to continue exploring the television shows from decades past. One of the reasons I started my journey through 1970s TV is to uncover more old shows that would be new to me. There are even more shows from the 1950s and ‘60s waiting to be discovered. TV Shows on DVD recently announced an upcoming series release of the 1954 legal drama Public Defender. Never watched it – can’t wait to do so. I’ve seen far too few episodes of such classics as Route 66, The Virginian, Hawaiian Eye, The Goldbergs, Z-Cars, Land of the Giants and many more. 

 

 

And I will continue to revisit old friends, basking in the comfort of their familiarity. While the escape they provide from 21st century foolishness is always welcome, this is certainly not an escape from real-world issues and challenges. If anything, many of the classic dramas are a reminder of how many of the problems we face now are not unique to this day and age.

 

One of my favorite shows, Lou Grant, devoted episodes to such issues as illegal immigration and education deficiencies at inner city schools. We haven’t found better answers to either of those concerns since those shows aired in the late 1970s. What has changed since then is whom we blame for the problem, and how it should be solved. Apparently, according to some cable news commentators and social science authorities on Twitter, everything wrong with the country is now my fault. Wow – didn’t see that coming. 

 

 

Even vintage sitcoms, the most carefree of viewing options, still have something to say to an audience. In these little morality tales are reminders of my own shortcomings – impatience, short-temperedness, arrogance, falling short of the teachings of my faith. A lot of time when I watch these episodes the message I get is “Do better.” I’ll keep trying.

 

Am I the only one, or do you, who have found this classic TV blog, still balance the classic stuff with current shows? If you had to give up one or the other, which would you choose?

 

When discussing my abandonment of today’s television I’ve been asked, “But how many times can you watch the same episode of The Bob Newhart Show or The Partridge Family or The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet before they are no longer entertaining?

 

When I reach that number, I’ll let you know. 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Seven TV Characters That Are Only Tolerable On Television

 

A few weeks ago, this blog celebrated (or, more accurately, overlooked celebrating) its ten-year anniversary. At first that seemed like a good topic for a piece, but then it began to feel too self-aggrandizing, especially since I am one of my least favorite subjects. So instead I’ll just say thank you to everyone who has stopped by, who visits often, who comments on the posts, and who bought any of my books. You are all very much appreciated. Now let’s get back to business as usual.

 

There is an interesting subset of television characters that viewers enjoy watching, but would never want to associate with if those characters were real.

 

Those that fit this description are almost always supporting characters, since building a series around a potentially unlikable lead rarely if ever works (see: My World and Welcome To It, Buffalo Bill). But it’s always more interesting when characters we like run into nosy neighbors or sponging friends or annoying coworkers. Like whom, you ask? Glad you asked…

 

Eddie Haskell

Leave it To Beaver

If there were an official name for these types of characters, it would be Haskells, after the young man that first personified them to the classic TV landscape. 

 


Wally’s ne’er-do-well friend Eddie was a lecherous instigator and troublemaker, who rarely calls anyone by their actual names. But as soon as Wally’s mom appears he turns into a perfect young gentleman. “Good morning, Mrs. Cleaver. That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing. I was just telling Wallace how delightful it would be if Theodore could accompany us to the movies.” He appears in about half of the show’s episodes and was always good for a laugh – as long as he stays on his side of the television screen.

 

Lt. Philip Gerard

The Fugitive

Whenever Gerard shows up in a Fugitive episode it means, as it’s said in the modern parlance, sh** just got real. Dr. Kimble is going to have to suffer even more and work that much harder to avoid the clutches of the police detective obsessed with his capture. But that quest, as we see throughout the series, risks destroying Gerard’s marriage and his relationship with his son. 

 


Anyone that single-minded is not going to be good company for very long – you can just imagine him bringing every conversation around to the one crusade that gives his life meaning.

 

You: “Hi, Phil, good to see you. We just got back from California. The kids loved spending time at the beach.”

 

Gerard: “The beach…I once tracked Kimble to Santa Barbara, he was using the name Jeff Cooper then….”

 

You: “Then we went to this amusement park…”

 

Gerard: “That reminds me of when Kimble was working at a gift shop at Santa Monica Pier. I was too late then….”

 

You: “Yeah…okay. Good seeing you, Phil.”

 

Gerard: “Kim-BLE!”

 

And so it goes. The episodes he’s in are usually guarantees of an exciting hour. Hanging out with the guy…not so much.

 

Wally Plumstead

The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

Everybody likes Wally, David and Ricky’s college fraternity brother on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, but it’s hard to figure out why. 

 


He never has any money, despite never paying back the money he borrows from everyone. He’s a bad student, he bullies the freshmen in his fraternity, he eats like a horse on everyone else’s dime, and he treats his girlfriend Ginger horribly. But as a viewer it’s impossible to hate the guy, cause actor Skip Young is just too likable. His infectious laugh can be heard in more than 120 episodes of this treasured series, and I’m always happy to see him. But if I saw Wally coming my way on the sidewalk, I’d hide my wallet and run for the hills.

 

Ann Marie

That Girl

I know I said in the intro to this piece that characters fitting this description are rarely leads, but in this case it’s not that Ann Marie was unlikable – she was often effervescent and delightful – but she was also exhausting. Would I enjoy lunch with her? Sure. But looking back at what she put poor Donald through in five seasons would give any guy pause about a closer relationship. 

 


Take the episode “Secret Ballot,” in which Ann and Donald arrive in New York City after a two-hour drive from her parents’ home in Brewster, and then have to drive right back up because Ann forgot her purse. Ann’s parents are out for a walk when they arrive, and the house is locked. Ann decides to climb a tree and enter through her bedroom window on the second floor – and then she gets stuck up the tree. She tells Donald to trek over to the fire station to get a ladder. He begins to leave, stops, and then looks up at Ann and asks, “If I were to turn and walk away from here, never to return, would you understand?” Yes, Donald, we would.

 

Howard Borden

The Bob Newhart Show

I’ve never lived in an apartment building, so I don’t know how common it is for tenants living next to each other to drop by unexpectedly at any time, day or night. But even where this might be routine, a neighbor like Howard abuses the privilege. Usually he enters Bob and Emily’s apartment without knocking, and usually he’s either there to borrow something or to get a free meal. Bob’s soft-spoken tolerance of his neighbor’s numerous quirks was certainly a product of the understanding way he handles his patients. Only a qualified psychologist could live next door to Howard and not lose his marbles. He even let the guy date his sister! Thankfully, she eventually dodged that bullet. 

 

 

Hank Kimball

Green Acres

I’ve always described Hooterville county agent Hank Kimball as a personification of government bureaucracy. 

 


He ostensibly serves as a source for important information, but offers nothing of value. He has a lot to say but none of it is helpful. As a fan of this series I smile every time Alvy Moore arrives to raise Oliver’s blood pressure with his nonsensical ramblings. His scenes are never not funny. But if I were a farmer who needed help with planting or harvesting or pest control, and he was the best local source of professional assistance available, I’d probably want to strangle him as much as Oliver does. 

 


 

Angel Martin

The Rockford Files

This is the one time when viewers might get as fed up with the character in question as Rockford does. Personally I never liked the Angel episodes but I know plenty of fans that do, and Stuart Margolin won two Emmys for his portrayal of Jim’s old cellmate. Angel was a weasel, pure and simple.  Smart people would avoid him like Monkeypox. But Rockford just can’t quit him, as much as he probably wishes he could. 

 


 

Monday, May 30, 2022

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Tuesdays in 1970

 

Recently I began a quest to watch at least one episode of every prime time network television series to air in the 1970s. Thus far I’ve looked back at the Sunday night and Monday night schedules from 1970, and so far, so good. All the shows that aired on those nights can be added to the “saw it” list.

 

Next up –Tuesday in 1970. And the ABC lineup gets me off to a good start.

 

ABC

The Mod Squad

Movie of the Week

Marcus Welby, M.D.

 

I liked The Mod Squad enough to try buying the DVDs twice, and both times I got stuck with faulty discs. 

 



I’ll try again one of these days. But even without the sets on my shelf I’ve watched and enjoyed many of the episodes, which aren’t as dated as you might think given the series’ “counterculture cops” premise. Plus, Peggy Lipton is just endlessly watchable here. As Julie Barnes she was not the most emotive actress, I’ll give you that, but there was a compassion and vulnerability to the character that viewers found captivating. 

 



 

Meanwhile, Marcus Welby, M.D. was reviving the “Who’s the hottest TV doctor?” debate, albeit not with top-billed star Robert Young. The 1970s gave us a sequel of sorts to the James Kildare vs. Ben Casey rivalry, pitting Welby’s motorcycle-riding associate Steven Kiley, played by James Brolin, against Chad Everett as Dr. Joe Gannon on Medical Center.  

 

It’s been many years since I’ve watched an episode, but some of the stories have stuck with me for decades. Take “A Fragile Possession,” in which a young woman meets with Dr. Welby to obtain    an abortion, not because of any medical danger to her or the baby but because it might hurt her career as a model. Welby’s indignant response would likely get the show canceled if it aired now. The actual airdate was in September of 1972 – just four months before the Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v. Wade. How times have changed.

 

CBS

The Beverly Hillbillies

Green Acres

Hee Haw

To Rome With Love

CBS News Hour/60 Minutes

 

This was the last television season for CBS before the infamous “rural purge,” which was officially announced in 1971.

 

“It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it,” said Green Acres star Pat Buttram, as executives sought a more sophisticated image that better aligned with their “Tiffany network” status. So it was goodbye to Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres, as well as Hee Haw, which moved into syndication and lasted another 24 years. On the occasion of its 50th anniversary I had the pleasure of interviewing Hee Haw Honeys Misty Rowe and Irlene Mandrell for an article published in Cowboys & Indians magazine. 

 


 

There were no cornfields in To Rome With Love but it was canceled as well due to low ratings. Never saw it back then but the pilot episode is on YouTube. In it, the recently widowed father of three daughters (played by John Forsythe) accepts an invitation to teach in Rome. The girls aren’t too happy at first but soon settle into their new surroundings. Don Fedderson and Edmund Hartmann, the talent behind Family Affair and My Three Sons, came up with the show, and stuck with their favorite formula of a single male raising three kids. 

 

 

It’s not fair to judge any show by its pilot, particularly in this case as two of its better cast members are not in the episode – Walter Brennan as Michael’s grandfather, and Kay Medford as his sister, who repeatedly tries to convince the family to come back to America. Instead we get a lot of Vito Scotti in one of his typical over-enthusiastic (and annoying) ethnic roles. None of the girls were that interesting either, and all three have very short IMDB listings, suggesting they got honest work not long after this series folded.

 


As for 60 Minutes – I can watch it this Sunday. But I won’t. For decades this venerable news magazine was one of network television’s last bastions of balanced, responsible journalism. Not anymore, sadly.

 

NBC

The Don Knotts Show

Julia

NBC Tuesday Night Movie

 

Of course I know Julia, a series that was seen as a breakthrough in representation, but too often folded under the weight of that responsibility. 

 


 

But with The Don Knotts Show I have sadly reached the first stumbling block in my quest. But there’s a caveat: While I never specified this at the outset, the goal here is really to watch every scripted series from this decade. There were so many short-lived variety series in the 1970s, including several summer replacement shows that likely won’t even show up in the source I’m using to check the nightly schedules. So I’ll count it, but I won’t lose much sleep over it. 

 

 

In an interview with The Archive of American Television, Knotts looked back on the series and explained why he thought it didn’t work.

 


Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Classic TV Theme Music Challenge: Mike Post vs. Henry Mancini

 

Many great composers have contributed memorable songs to our classic TV heritage. What would The Addams Family be without Vic Mizzy’s finger-snapping introduction? How much excitement did Neil Hefti’s brassy Batman theme add to the anticipation of another colorful superhero adventure?  And has there ever been a more perfect match of music to series than what Lalo Schifrin composed for Mission: Impossible?

 

But if we’re assessing by quantity, the two most successful composers of television theme music are Mike Post and Henry Mancini. Mancini has the more distinguished reputation because of his equally impressive film scoring (The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses). But Post’s TV credits are untouchable – or are they?

 

Let’s have the two most prolific TV tunesmiths square off in a series of battles and see who comes out on top.

 

Battle of the Cop Shows: Hill Street Blues (Post) vs. Cade’s County (Mancini)

This one is no contest. With Hill Street Blues, Post opted to forego a driving, action-oriented theme that viewers may have expected for a series that depicted so many violent urban confrontations, and instead opened the show with a gentle, piano-driven melody that reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.  

 


Cade’s County also has its admirers, but it sounds too much like too many other themes to long-forgotten shows.

 

Winner: Mike Post

 

Battle of the Sitcoms: Blossom (Post) vs. Newhart (Mancini)

What made the Blossom opening sequence memorable was Dr. John’s vocals and Mayim Bialik’s endearingly goofy dancing.

 


Which makes Newhart an easy choice – it has all the lush instrumentation one expects from Henry Mancini, and provides the ideal soundtrack for a summer drive through the Vermont woods.

 

Winner: Henry Mancini

 


 

Battle of the Detective Shows: Magnum P.I. (Post) vs. Remington Steele (Mancini)

Post’s music for Magnum P.I. boasts a memorable guitar riff and is quintessential ‘80s, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Remington Steele counters with a more classical-sounding strings section and a steady drum downbeat, followed by a sexy saxophone to accompany Steele kissing Laura’s hand. Close call, but the variations within the theme give the edge to Manci

Winner: Henry Mancini

 

 

Battle of the Superheroes: The Greatest American Hero (Post) vs. The Invisible Man (Mancini)

“Believe It Or Not” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and enjoyed an encore moment of notoriety thanks to Seinfeld’s George Costanza. But with its opening harp glissando and killer bass line, Mancini’s Invisible Man theme makes this a little closer than anticipated. Still, Post takes this round.

 

 

Winner: Mike Post

 

Battle of the Detective Shows, Pt. 2: The Rockford Files (Post) vs. Peter Gunn (Mancini)

 

This is easily the closest contest. The jazzy Peter Gunn theme is iconic; it earned Mancini both an Emmy and a Grammy, and has received praise as the best TV theme of all time. But The Rockford Files theme also won a Grammy and was a top ten hit. Two truly great and memorable pieces of music, but only one can win.

 

Winner: Henry Mancini

 

 



Battle of the George Peppard Series: The A-Team (Post) vs. The NBC Mystery Movie (Mancini)

The A-Team music is vintage Post, powerful military bombast perfect for a backdrop of never-ending explosions and carnage. But after just one listen the eerie, whistling theme that introduced Banacek and all the NBC Mystery installments is almost impossible to get out of your mind.

 

Winner: Henry Mancini

 


 

Battle of the Rogues: Hunter (Post) vs. Mr. Lucky (Mancini)

In this head-to-head between two shows about two guys unafraid to skirt the law, the winner is no contest. Mancini takes three in a row.

 

Winner: Henry Mancini

 

Battle of the Man Shows: Hooperman (Post) vs. Man of the World (Mancini)

Okay, this is starting to get embarrassing

 

Winner: Henry Mancini

 

Battle of the Forgotten Shows: Tales of the Gold Monkey (Post) vs. Kingston Confidential (Mancini)

At last, Post strikes back. His exotic, retro theme for Tales of the Gold Monkey hits the right notes for a series that claimed to be based on Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, but really wanted audiences to think they were getting a weekly dose of Indiana Jones adventure. Kingston Confidential must have caught Mancini on an off day. 

 

 

Winner: Mike Post

 

Battle of the Los Angeles Based Shows: L.A. Law (Post) vs. What’s Happening! (Mancini)

It’s a testament to Mancini’s versatility that he could forego his jazzy, orchestral preferences for something as funky and bouncy as his work on What’s Happening!. 

 


 

And yet…I think Post deserves the win here. There’s a darker tone in this composition that fits a series that often explored the darker side of courtroom proceedings. And that pounding drum beat could be the pounding of a judge’s gavel. Both themes fit their respective shows well, but in this case the court rules for Post.

 

Winner: Mike Post


Bonus Round: Doogie Howser, M.D. (Post) vs. Hotel (Mancini)

I was ready to give one more to Mancini right away; Hotel boasts a sprawling, full-bodied theme worthy of a feature film, and it seems to have as many movements as a symphony. But Post was very clever with what he did for Doogie Howser, with a play of synth and electronic sounds that match Doogie’s computer entries and the beeps of hospital monitors. But, as I’ve always thought the best music should have a timeless quality, I’ll stick with my first choice.

 


 

Winner: Henry Mancini

 

And so, in this most unofficial, un-scientific and (arguably) unnecessary exercise, it is Henry Mancini who takes the title. Disagree? Let me know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Classic TV Ideals: Beneficial or Dangerous?

 

In a recent blog about the passing of Tim Considine, I wrote that he once represented an ideal – in this case, the American teenager of the late 1950s. In that decade, as well as into the 1960s and even ‘70s, television provided many such ideals within its dramas, comedies and westerns. 

 


Was that a positive choice for a mass medium that reached millions of people every night? At one time that would not have even been a question. But as with so many beliefs that were once held universally, this one has been subjected to harsh reassessment.

 

The original school of thought was that ideals provided a paradigm that is beneficial, because they show us what is possible when a person cultivates healthy values, positive character traits, self-discipline and good manners. 

 

 

No one does the right thing all the time – Jim Anderson occasionally slipped as a dad on Father Knows Best, and even the practically perfect Donna Stone miscalculated in the occasional parental edict on The Donna Reed Show. Rob Petrie was a klutz; Marcia Brady’s ego could inflate a little too easily.

 

 

But these are hardly the first traits that come to mind when describing these characters. Instead we recall their kindness, their intelligence, their achievements, and the positive standing they enjoyed in their communities. If a viewer decided to co-opt these qualities, there is no reason not to believe they might one day achieve the same status.

 

But over the past ten years or so a new view has emerged, one that claims ideals are dangerous because they present an unrealistic depiction of a person, one that will stimulate low self-image and self-worth when one fails to live up to the example being set.

 

Such characters from the Comfort TV era are further marginalized because most were white, and apparently it is no longer possible for someone from a different race or ethnicity to emulate their positive example. Thankfully that divisive way of thinking was not prominent in the decades when Mr. Rogers was uplifting all children by telling them they were unique and special and could be liked just for who they are. 

 

 

Do ideals inspire or frustrate? That’s the debate, and it won’t be settled here. But I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that this type of character is no longer prominent on television. What makes most characters interesting to a modern audience is their faults, not their virtues: social awkwardness, hair-trigger hostility, disrespect for authority, self-absorption.

 

Well, sure, I imagine someone in his or her 20s thinking – ideal characters are boring. But that was never a problem with the TV shows from an earlier era. Challenges in storylines emerged not from a character’s defects, but the trials brought into his or her life by a less virtuous world.

 

There is no better example of this than The Fugitive. Dr. Richard Kimble, on the run after being falsely accused of murder, tries to stay one step ahead of the law while he tracks down the real killer. He is smart, resourceful, and he repeatedly risks his life out of compassion for others, including complete strangers. But no one would ever claim this was a dull show because of its honorable protagonist. 

 

 

Many of the episodes of this series (and so many others from the Comfort TV era) could be classified as morality tales, a literary form that has been around since, well, literature. They are comprised of three elements: conflict, decision, and lesson, and if you apply those elements to almost every episode of The Fugitive or just about any series from that time, you’d be amazed at how often they track in the script. The lessons conveyed in their final scenes gave viewers something to take away from the story that could be helpful in their own day-to-day decision-making.

 

I don’t claim to be an authority on which series from network, cable and streaming services are currently most popular. But from those I’ve seen, usually by accident, I haven’t noticed any characters that conform to the designation of an ideal. And those that try their best, like the costumed superheroes who fight for truth and justice, are punished severely and repeatedly for their altruism.

 

What message is being sent by such shows? If you try to do the right thing, prepare to suffer? Well, there’s precedent for that as well going back to the New Testament; but unlike those narratives the heroes in today’s passion plays don’t always get the redemption that follows the torment. 

 

 

Television used to promote the idea that success and achievement came to those who did the right things. 

 


It did this in part through ideals, which, even when they were unrealistic, served a purpose by showing us how to act and relate to others to have a contented life. I don’t see much evidence of this anymore – perhaps that’s another reason why contentment has been in shorter supply.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Mondays in 1970

 

Recently I began a quest to watch at least one episode of every prime time network television series to air in the 1970s. I began my journey with the Sunday night schedule from 1970, and happily discovered that every show that aired that night can be added to the “saw it” list.

 

Next up – Monday in 1970. Two nights appear to be slam-dunks, but the ABC schedule could prove problematic. Let’s look at the easier ones first.

 

CBS

Gunsmoke

Here’s Lucy

Mayberry RFD

The Doris Day Show

The Carol Burnett Show

 

 


All of these fine, family-friendly shows can be found on my DVD shelves. In our memories we recall The Carol Burnett Show as a Saturday night staple that anchored several lineups of classic shows, from All in the Family to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But CBS did not move the series to Saturdays until its seventh season, where it would remain for five years.

 

Gunsmoke was in the 16th season of its remarkable 20-year run. Here’s Lucy was the third consecutive hit series for Lucille Ball, ranking #3 for the season, a remarkable illustration of audience loyalty to one of the medium’s first stars. Mayberry RFD is too often dismissed as an inferior spinoff of The Andy Griffith Show, but it was also a top-10 hit in its day, and I always thought Ken Berry and Arlene Golonka made a most appealing couple. 

 


 

This was year three for The Doris Day Show, in which she finally ditched her country home for an apartment in San Francisco. She still had the two kids and the dog, though - they wouldn’t disappear until the following season. 

 



 


NBC

The Red Skelton Show

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In

The NBC Monday Night Movie

 

I’d be curious to know how many viewers of The Red Skelton Show, an old-school variety series in its 20th and final season, stuck around for the faster-paced, iconoclastic, and risqué humor featured on Laugh-In.  

 


 I’ve watched them both and I prefer Laugh-In, hit-and-miss as its gags could be, but it makes me sad that Red Skelton has likely joined Bob Hope and Sid Caesar in the ranks of once-iconic comedians now virtually unknown to later generations. Nobody with that much talent should ever be forgotten.

 

ABC

The Young Lawyers

The Silent Force

The ABC Monday Night Movie

 

ABC introduced two new series on this night in an attempt to pull viewers away from Lucy, Marshal Dillon, and Red Skelton. It didn’t work.

 

I understand the strategy of trying to attract a youth audience by counter-programing aging shows and aging stars. They followed up The Young Rebels on Sunday night with The Young Lawyers here. As we go through the rest of the week I look forward to sampling The Young Librarians, The Young Lab Technicians and The Young Short Order Cooks.

 

Thanks to TV Land (back when it was worth watching) I was able to check out several episodes of this Boston-set series, starring Lee J. Cobb at the mentor of a trio of law students who take on a wide range of cases. It’s a good but not great show, and not as anti-authority as you might expect given the times and the title. 

 

 

Aaron Silverman, the idealistic attorney featured in most of the episodes I watched, was played by Zalman King, who went on to have a more provocative career as the producer of the soft-core cable series Red Shoe Diaries. But to me he’ll always be Harry Owens, the psychotic disc jockey in the Charlie’s Angels episode “Disco Angels.” His performance is so over-the-top it must be seen to be believed. 

 


 

And what of The Silent Force? There were just 15 episodes but one – “The Octopus” – has found its way to YouTube. The show is about a team of government agents assigned to take down organized crime – or, as team leader Ward Fuller (Ed Nelson) puts it – “The five of us against 30,000 of them.”

 

Where’s Han Solo to reply, “Never tell me the odds!”

 

The blueprint here was clearly Mission: Impossible. But if “The Octopus” is any indication it’s not surprising it didn’t last, despite the casting of reliable character actors like Percy Rodrigues and Norman Alden. Lone female team member Amelia Cole was played by Lynda Day, who joined the Mission: Impossible cast one year later billed as Lynda Day George.

 

 

Two nights in and still batting .1000. What will Tuesday bring? Stay tuned.

Friday, April 22, 2022

The Ten Best Baseball-Themed Classic TV Episodes

 

Another baseball season is underway, and it doesn’t figure to be a memorable one for my Chicago Cubbies (though hope springs eternal as it always does in April). Every year around this time I like to pull out some baseball-themed episodes to get into the spirit, but I’ve never put together a list of my favorites – until now. 

 

 

Here, as Casey Kasem might say, is the Comfort TV countdown of the top ten baseball episodes from the classic television era.

 

10. “No Runs, No Hits, No Oysters” (1970)

The Ghost & Mrs. Muir

Young Jonathan wants to play shortstop for the Schooner Bay Oysters, but he can’t hit and he can’t field. The Captain offers supernatural assistance, but Mrs. Muir tells him her son should sink or swim on his own. I suppose there’s nothing that special about this episode, but I always welcome a chance to check in with a series I don’t revisit as often as I should. 

 

 

9. “Superstar” (1978)

Fantasy Island

The fantasy of office drone Walter Delaney (Gary Burghoff) is to strike out three of baseball’s greatest stars. Mr. Roarke obliges, thanks to guest appearances from Steve Garvey, Fred Lynn, George Brett, Ken Brett, and Ellis Valentine, plus Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. It is interesting how professional sports, and baseball in particular, were incorporated more frequently and memorably into the TV shows of the Comfort TV era, as we’ll also see in other entries on this list. I’m not sure why that has changed; perhaps back them athletes recognized that sports should be viewed as entertainment nstead of just a business, and were more open to promoting that brand to the public. 

 

 

8. “The Strikeout King” (1973)

The Partridge Family

Danny has no interest in baseball but joins the local team because his mother thinks he should make more friends his own age. 

 



To his surprise he quickly becomes the team’s star pitcher – and starts to care more about winning the pennant than rehearsing in the garage. Also in this episode, Ricky Segall bleats out a song about Willie Mays – so have the mute button handy. 

 

 

7. “The National Pastime” (1961)

My Three Sons

Chip quits his little league team after striking out four times in the first game. He reconsiders later, a decision his father supports – but only to a point.

 

Chip:  “Will you talk to the coach?”

Dad: “No.”

Chip: “Will you come with me?”

Dad: “No.”

Chip: “Will you write him a note?”

Dad: “No.”


Chip’s coach doesn’t make it any easier – he asks Chip if he wants to be back on the team and Chip replies “I guess so,” “Well,” the coach replies, “when you’re done guessing and you’re sure, let me know.” By encouraging him to take full responsibility for his actions, the adults in Chip’s life are building character traits that will serve him well in the future.

 

6. “The Sound of a Different Drummer” (1976)

Shazam!

Curtis could be the star shortstop at Reseda High, but he quits the team because he’d rather play the violin and audition for the Inter-City Orchestra. 

 


His teammates don’t take kindly to that decision, and give him an ultimatum – either play baseball or they’ll grind his fiddle into toothpicks. Clearly this is the kind of serious dilemma that can only be solved by one of earth’s mightiest heroes. Thankfully, his RV just happened to be in the neighborhood at that time. Also pitching in – Maury Wills, one of baseball’s greatest base-stealers.

 

5. “Lucy and the Little League” (1963)

The Lucy Show

Just about every sitcom story about kids playing Little League will inevitably feature scenes of overzealous parents. Both Lucy and Viv fit that description here, harassing the team’s manager (William Schallert, always a welcome presence) and umpire until they are ordered to leave. Lucy devises a series of schemes to see her son play, in one of the series’ best first-season episodes.

 

4. “Jason and Big Mo”

Room 222 (1974)

Elmo (not the Muppet) is playing baseball at such a high level for Walt Whitman High that he already has offers from three Major League teams. With a big signing bonus on the table he’s ready to skip college and not even bother with a high school diploma, despite one of Pete Dixon’s typically eloquent lectures on the importance of education. Then Elmo wipes out on a motorbike and wrecks his knee, and the big league scouts stop calling. Elmo is well played by a pre-Hill Street Blues Michael Warren. This was the last episode of Room 222, ending the series just as it began, by telling important stories with intelligence and class.

 

3. “Leo Durocher Meets Mr. Ed” (1963)

Mr. Ed

Leo Durocher seemed to enjoy playing up his cantankerous image, as he does here and in episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies and The Munsters

 


But what makes this episode special is the appearance by Sandy Koufax, arguably one of the five best pitchers in baseball history. Vin Scully, who also appears in this episode, called him “the greatest pitcher (I’ve) ever seen.” But Ed wasn’t intimidated when he stepped into the box, bat in mouth, and drives a pitch off Koufax into deep left field, rounds the bases, and slides into home plate. 

 

Leo Durocher: “That’s the smartest horse I ever saw!”

Wilbur: “He’s not so smart. He forgot to touch second base.”

 

2. “The Dropout” (1970)

The Brady Bunch

There’s something about baseball that, more than any other sport, lends itself to stories of disappointment. As in the Ghost and Mrs. Muir episode, boys in the Comfort TV era felt a deeper sense of shame if they are less than proficient at our national pastime. Baseball has since lost viewers and youth interest to football, basketball and soccer, so that is likely no longer the case.

 

Here, Dodger great Don Drysdale compliments Greg’s slider, and from that moment nothing else matters to him but baseball. That life-plan proves short-lived after he gets clobbered in a Pony League game, leading to a final scene with Barry Williams and Robert Reed that is one of the more touching father-son moments on the series. 

 

 

Like Leo Durocher, Don Drysdale must have enjoyed doing guest spots. He also appeared in four episodes of The Donna Reed Show, as well as Leave it to Beaver and The Greatest American Hero.

 

1. “Baseball” (1979)

WKRP in Cincinnati

It’s always fun when a studio-bound series heads outside for a story, and that’s what happens in this episode written and directed by series creator Hugh Wilson. The softball game between rival radio stations WKRP and WPIG comprises most of the episode’s running time, and we get to see the entire cast hitting, pitching, and fielding. 

 


The climax hinges on whether nerdy newsman Les Nessman, who never played baseball growing up, can come through for his team in the ninth inning. I like his chances, but then I’m a Cubs fan – I always root for the underdog.