Friday, July 19, 2019

Looking Around the Frame

In The Electronic Mirror, the fine book written by my fellow classic TV blogger Mitchell Hadley, there’s a section in which Mitchell discusses program clich├ęs, and uses this TV Guide listing for an episode of Daniel Boone as an example:

“Daniel, the fort’s best runner, sprains an ankle, which spells bad news for the settlers who have bet on him to win the hotly contested annual foot race with the Indians.”

That is certainly a familiar trope – an unexpected calamity that precedes a big event.

Hadley continues: “Did you ever notice that you never see a listing like, ‘Daniel sprains an ankle, and is grateful he doesn’t have anything planned for the week’? No, of course not – that doesn’t make for very interesting television.”

But here’s the thing: I’d watch that episode too.

With my favorite Comfort TV shows, no plot would be no problem – I am content just to spend that time in their worlds.

No such shows exist of course, but I find that mindset comes in handy when I’m watching an episode of a series I’ve seen a zillion times, or when I’m watching one that’s not that compelling, I ignore the plot and spend my time looking around the frame. 

With some shows I remember having the same kind of furnishings in the homes where I grew up. I know when it's a '70s show I'll see more plants everywhere. I try to read the titles of the books on the shelves. I am amused by how shelf paper in kitchen cabinets was once a higher priority than it is now. 

For me no series lends itself better to this pastime than Star Trek: The Next Generation (as well as Voyager and Enterprise). While I’ve never considered myself a hardcore Trekker, I am endlessly fascinated by the ship’s multicolored display panels, the decorative touches in the various crew quarters, and the recessed lighting in the Ten Forward lounge.

It’s not surprising to me that the wealthiest and most ardent Trekkers have recreated the bridge and sickbay and other sets in their homes, just to feel like they can access that space. I would never do something like that, but I certainly understand the impulse. 

But even with shows set in their present day, in recognizable homes and offices, I wish we had at least one episode for each series when we could simply observe the characters going through the course of an uneventful day.

How does Mr. French organize his time as he deals with the responsibilities of shopping and cleaning and cooking and taking the twins to the park? Could I follow Rob Petrie as he drives to the train station to travel into Manhattan, and watch the writer’s room kick around ideas? And how does Ozzie Nelson wile away the hours between breakfast, lunch and dinner?  

I also wonder about the places we never get to see. What does that guest bedroom in Bob and Emily Hartley’s apartment look like? How long is the hallway that leads to the elevator outside the WJM-TV newsroom? 

Virtual reality technology may one day allow us to ‘enter’ these fictional realities. But they probably won’t have that perfected until a time when few people still care about these shows.

But perhaps part of one such world may be unveiled when the Brady Bunch home renovation, now being documented by HGTV, is complete. What will they do with the property when the show is over? Open it to the public as a retro bed & breakfast? The home is in a residential area so I doubt they can legally turn it into a business. But if they do, I’ll be the first in line. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Five Classic TV Series That Should Have Had a Christmas Show

I love the whole idea of “Christmas in July.”

Outside my home the temperature is in the triple digits, and now that Independence Day is over I’ll have no more days off from work until Labor Day. So it’s nice to spend a few moments thinking about a holiday season that’s cooler and friendlier, without all the stresses of gift buying and lugging the tree out of the garage.

Watching Christmas episodes of classic shows is one of my favorite holiday pastimes, but for Christmas in July I’m going to focus instead on five shows that did not acknowledge the season – and what might have been. 

1. The Fugitive
This one bothers me the most. On the run for a murder he didn’t commit, Dr. Richard Kimble’s life was already an endless tribulation. how much worse would that ordeal seem around the holidays – alone, separated from family and friends, watching others on the streets experiencing the joys of the season. 

The Fugitive lasted four years, certainly long enough for someone to have come up with a holiday story; would he try to return home for Christmas to visit his sister? Or perhaps, being a pediatrician, he’d find himself delivering a baby on Christmas Eve, in the kind of humble rural conditions in which Jesus was born. This was a missed opportunity for a classic hour of television.

2. I Dream of Jeannie
Bewitched, the magical sitcom often paired with Jeannie in memories and reruns, did several memorable Christmas shows. 

But Jeannie never went there in five seasons, though there was a season two episode called “My Master the Rainmaker” in which Jeannie made it snow over Major Nelson’s house. 

That might have been a starting point for a holiday episode – the incident makes the papers, Dr. Bellows has questions, etc. Or, since she comes from the Middle East, could Jeannie blink them back to Bethlehem for the first Christmas, with Tony as a fourth wise man?

3. Hogan’s Heroes
Wartime Christmas stories often depict opposing forces declaring a temporary truce to celebrate a day of peace and joy. I’m not sure that would work here, as the bumbling Luftwaffe at Stalag 13 were never a match for Hogan’s elite team of saboteurs. And that would be a bit heavy for this series anyway. 

A better idea might have Hogan petitioning Klink to have a Christmas tree in the prisoners’ barracks, buttering him up about how they were honoring a tradition that began in Germany. Klink would allow the indulgence, which offered a way for the prisoners to get outside the camp on the pretext of cutting down a tree – and they’d use that opportunity to have an important meeting with the underground.

Actually, that’s not very inspired either. Just bring Marya back with her latest German officer conquest, for a holiday dinner featuring the usual “is she or isn’t she on our side?” anxiety from Hogan (but not, of course, from the lovestruck LeBeau).

4. Batman
Yes, Santa Claus (played by Andy Devine) did pop out of a window during a Caped Crusaders bat-rope climb, but that’s not enough to qualify for holiday episode status. 

How about this: as the citizens of Gotham City hope for a white Christmas, Mr. Freeze returns to give it to them – followed by a white spring, summer and autumn. It would have been nice to see stately Wayne Manor decked out for the holidays. 

5. The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
Such an obvious storyline presents itself here – Tom Corbett and his son Eddie face their first Christmas without Eddie’s mother.

Tom, as one of TV’s most wonderful dads, would try to fill Eddie’s season with joyful distractions – visits to Santa, the biggest tree in the Christmas tree lot, an extravagant number of gifts, a Christmas Eve party with all of their friends in attendance. But after the festivities end and their guests leave, Eddie tells his dad how he appreciates all of his efforts, but what he really wants to do is talk about his mom. And then they’ll have one of those warm, quiet, heartfelt best-friend conversations that no one could perform better than Bill Bixby. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

The 10 Best Classic TV Mego Figures

About ten years ago I started collecting Megos again.

The first step in this pursuit was getting past the sticker shock of discovering that the 8” figures my 10 year-old self bought for less than a fiver were now selling for anywhere from 50 bucks to several hundred dollars, if they were still boxed or carded. That level of demand confirmed I wasn’t the only one going through a second childhood. 

These days there are dozens of action figures (or dolls or whatever your preferred term is), produced by dozens of companies for every type of category imaginable. But back in the 1970s Mego was the only game in town – or at least the only one that really mattered. Most people remember their superhero line that was certainly the most popular, but the company also created figures of many classic TV stars and characters. It was the first and only time one company controlled so many different licenses.

The sculpting on the figures was hit and miss, but with the colorful packaging and “collect them all” appeal, the nostalgic pull of a Mego set remains irresistible. At least to me.

Here is one collector’s opinion of the 10 best TV-inspired figures in the Mego line.

10. Jaclyn Smith
This entry in the company’s line of 12” figures ranks at the low end of our list because the resemblance to its subject is questionable. I bought it for the box, which is beautiful (though with Jaclyn as inspiration that’s almost a given). Same with the Farrah Fawcett figure, though they got a little closer with the sculpting on Farrah. 

9. Commander John Koenig
While I would be surprised if there were a lot of kids in the 1970s putting Martin Landau figures on their Christmas lists, Mego did a very impressive job with its Space: 1999 series. Unfortunately, the company passed on also creating a figure for Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain). If they had, two outfit changes would have got us halfway toward a Mission: Impossible set. 

8. Captain Dobey
Another figure that wouldn’t be high on a lot of collector’s must lists, but I’m always impressed by the way Mego captured the exasperated expression of Starsky and Hutch’s commanding officer.

7. Boss Hogg
The Dukes of Hazzard Mego line offers adequate versions of Bo and Luke, a very disappointing Daisy, and a spot-on Boss Hogg. Rosco’s little fat buddy looks like he’s ready to throw the Duke boys in jail and devour a rack of ribs. 

6. Ponch
The CHiPs line of Mego figures is among the most frustrating to acquire. Each one came with so many accessories (billy club, belt, pistol, glasses, watch, etc.) that finding one loose and complete is a rare feat. It was also more expensive, because if you were going to buy Ponch and/or Jon, you were going to have to spring for the motorcycle as well to complete the look. 

5.  Doctor Who
Tom Baker has such a unique, expressive face (“teeth and curls” as Jon Pertwee’s Doctor once described him) that I imagine this was one of the company’s tougher challenges. I think they did admirable work here, though I do wish the coat were longer and the scarf better matched the colors of the original. For the companion figure they chose Leela, but I’d have preferred they opted for the more popular (and now iconic) choice of Sarah Jane Smith. 

4. Isis
The Egyptian goddess alter ego of science teacher Andrea Thomas has the same doll-like face as Mego’s Wonder Woman and Supergirl figures. But given that the TV series that introduced the character lasted just 22 episodes, I’m delighted to have Isis elevated into the World’s Greatest Superheroes line alongside Batman, Spiderman and The Fantastic Four. My mint-on-card Isis is one of the crown jewels of my collection. 

3. Cher
The Mego sculptors always did a much better job with male figures than they did with females. The Cher figure is an exception. The company acquired the licenses to Sonny & Cher at the height of the duo’s TV popularity, and was determined to get their money’s worth. They not only delivered a stunning likeness, they hired the real Cher’s fashion designer Bob Mackie to create a line of costumes. Sold separately, of course. 

2. Mr. Spock
Given the enduring Star Trek fanbase, there have probably been dozens of Mr. Spock figures created over the past 50 years, but the original still ranks among the best. The only shortcoming is the powder blue coloring of Spock’s phaser and other accessories, which were definitely not Starfleet issue. 

1. Fonzie
I have no statistics to back this up but I would guess that Mego’s Fonzie would rank at or near the top of the best-selling figures the company produced. So many were made that they are still easy to find today at a reasonable price. 

The leather jacket has a nice glossy texture, the white t-shirt and blue jeans are a good match for the costume worn by Henry Winkler, and there’s a lever on the back that triggers a thumb’s up gesture. What more could a fan want? 

More good news for collectors – after a 35-year absence, the Mego brand is back under the leadership of the company’s original Chairman, Marty Abrams. It’s new classic TV figure lines feature characters from Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angels, Cheers, I Dream of Jeannie and The Facts of Life

The Mego Museum website is the best place online to keep track of the collector's market and what the company has planned next. Check them out at

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Comfort TV Healthcare Plan

The other night I was watching a season 3 episode of The Donna Reed Show entitled “Never Marry a Doctor.” A couple of scenes caught my attention at a deeper level than they have in previous viewings.

One begins with Dr. Alex Stone receiving a call at his office about a child that is sick. The call went directly to the doctor, not to a receptionist who might put the nervous parent on hold for several minutes, before offering them the option of going to the emergency room, or making an appointment for a week from Thursday.

Dr. Stone then collects his medical bag and heads off to the patient’s home. When he arrives, he does not hand the child’s mother a multiple-page questionnaire that wants to know every medication everyone in the family has ever taken, and whether her third cousin has ever had Rickets. He does not request to see a picture ID, an insurance card, or a referral from another physician.

Instead, Dr. Stone does something that will now likely confuse any viewers under the age of 30: he examines and treats the patient – in other words, health care.

After, the boy’s father tells Dr. Stone that he’s been out of work for a while and can’t pay the bill. “Don’t worry about that,” Alex tells him. “Medical service is something you have to have when you need it, not when you can afford it. I can wait."

Is it any wonder why I prefer television from this era?

When this episode first aired in 1960, these scenes would not have struck viewers as unrealistic. Similar moments were commonplace in the dramas and comedies of the 1950s through the 1970s. 

What makes this interesting to me is how, when we compare the way things were in the classic TV era to how they are now, we find that most activities are more efficient and more convenient than they used to be.

On The Dick Van Dyke Show, Alan Brady’s writing staff wrote their scripts on a typewriter, with multiple carbons so there would be more than one copy.

The internet has saved many a high school student from taking a trip to the library. Phone calls are now made with a voice command or one touch of a saved number, instead of dialing a rotary phone. Debit cards offer an easier way to pay for a purchase than writing a check. Photographs can be viewed a second after they are taken, instead of taking your film to Fotomat, or shaking a Polaroid snapshot until the image begins to appear. 

But with health care we seem to have gone the other way. I grant you that there are better treatment options for a variety of conditions today than when Ben Casey and Marcus Welby were handing out prescriptions, but those breakthroughs came from research laboratories and universities. At the grassroots level where doctors see patients, it seems like we’ve regressed…and lost something precious in doing so. 

I’m not going to delve into the current debate over healthcare, and which programs or systems are preferable. I have only my observations, based on what my family and I have experienced. The care we have received has generally been excellent; but the bureaucracy that surrounds that care ranges from ludicrous to infuriating. My opinion on how we got here may be different from yours – but I think it would be hard to find anyone who would deny that we couldn’t do better. 

Another show I recently watched was “Samantha’s Da Vinci Dilemma” from the fourth season of Bewitched. The story had Aunt Clara trying to conjure up a house painter to help Sam, and instead zapping up Leonardo Da Vinci. In the episode’s best scene, Leonardo wanders into a museum and hears a guide praising a modern sculpture that looks like a block of stone with a crack in it – because that’s all it is. He is shocked to discover what has become of the trade he once practiced.

If Aunt Clara were to zap Alex Stone into a 21st century physician’s office, I wonder if he wouldn’t feel the same way.

I don’t know what new healthcare plans will emerge from this administration or the next one, but as soon as someone introduces the TV Land Healthcare Plan, you can sign me up. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Once and For All: Are the 1980s “Comfort TV”?

When I started this blog, I defined Comfort TV as the television era that covers the 1950s through the 1980s. I even wrote a piece last year about evaluating 1989 as the final year of the classic TV era.

But lately I’ve been having second thoughts.

It’s true that the communal pop culture experience television once provided was still accessible in the 1980s, and didn’t disappear completely until the following decade.

However, as I review lists of the top shows from that decade I have to admit that, while I watched and enjoyed many of them, I don’t feel the same nostalgic fondness for them that I do for shows from the 1960s and ‘70s. They are also significantly under-represented in my otherwise voluminous TV-on-DVD collection. 

There is also the fact that I hold membership in two Facebook groups devoted to classic TV, that both use 1979 as a cut-off point. One of them is quite militant about it.

So it’s time to take a fresh look at the 1980s, and decide once and for all whether it deserves continued coverage in this blog. I figured the best way to do this is to review the shows that debuted between 1980 and 1989, and determine if they meet the criteria of Comfort TV.

This was a bad year for TV, Comfort or otherwise, with very few debuting series surviving beyond one season. Its biggest trend was repackaging successful concepts through sequels and spinoffs: Sanford, Enos, Flo, Galactica 1980, The Flintstones Comedy Show, Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo, and Beyond Westworld. None of them worked, but it’s interesting how television was already feeling nostalgic. 

The year’s three most successful sitcom debuts didn’t last much longer: Bosom Buddies, It’s a Living, and Too Close for Comfort. I like Bosom Buddies and own the DVDs, and would buy It’s a Living if music rights were not keeping it out of the home video market. Still, not a great opening argument for keeping the ‘80s in this blog. The only new show from this year that meets all of the Comfort TV criteria is Magnum, P.I., a worthy entry in the private eye genre. 

The repackaging craze continued this year with The Brady Brides, Bret Maverick, Checking In (a Jeffersons spinoff), a cartoon version of Laverne & Shirley, and sitcom adaptations of the films Foul Play, Harper Valley PTA, Private Benjamin and Walking Tall.  

Thankfully Steven Bochco proved the medium hadn’t completely run out of original ideas with Hill Street Blues. Its abrasive language, frank portrayals of sex and violence, and handheld camerawork that put viewers inside an inner city police station, sometimes uncomfortably so, all represented a sea change in dramatic television. It’s also the first sign that we’ve entered a post-Comfort TV era.

However, there were also more traditional shows that debuted that year with varying degrees of success – Code Red, The Fall Guy, Father Murphy, The Greatest American Hero, Nero Wolfe, Nurse, and The Two of Us. And the prime time soaps Dynasty and Falcon Crest have retained their ostentatious, over-the-top appeal. 

So that’s one year for, one year against.

The pro-Comfort TV ‘80s lobby gets a big boost from 1982 with the debuts of Cheers, Cagney and Lacey, Fame, Family Ties, Knight Rider, Newhart, Remington Steele, Silver Spoons and Tucker’s Witch (which I liked even if nobody else did). Only St. Elsewhere and Square Pegs anticipate the edgier fare of the 1990s and beyond. 

It’s not Comfort TV…it’s HBO. This was the year that the pay-cable network introduced America Undercover, the documentary series that spawned Autopsy, Real Sex and Taxicab Confessions, all of which are galaxies away from Father Knows Best. Back on the broadcast networks, shows like Bay City Blues and Buffalo Bill stretched the boundaries of their respective genres. And the shows that followed more traditional formats – Cutter to Houston, Emerald Point N.A.S., Hardcastle and McCormick, Scarecrow and Mrs. King – just weren’t very good. Only Hotel, Goodnight, Beantown and the miniseries V bring back any fond memories for me.  

The Cosby Show, Highway to Heaven, Kate & Allie and Murder She Wrote were the year’s best Comfort TV debuts, and some would put Who’s the Boss and Night Court in that category as well. Miami Vice was cool back then but hasn’t aged well.  Still, the first half of the decade continued to introduce shows that fit well with the archetypes of decades past. 

Joining the ranks of shows befitting the Comfort TV standard were The Golden Girls, Growing Pains and McGyver. But the best new show that year was Moonlighting, a series that didn’t fit into any previous mold ­­- even the Emmys had trouble deciding whether it belonged in the comedy or drama category. During that same season, Comfort TV stars Lucie Arnaz, Mary Tyler Moore and Patty Duke all starred in new shows that flopped. That’s not a good sign. 

Can the failure of Life With Lucy be interpreted as the door closing on the classic TV era? Or was it just not a very good show? Either way, it seems like a pivotal moment when audiences are no longer interested in watching Lucille Ball in prime time. 

I enjoyed Head of the Class and Perfect Strangers but not much else from 1986, though clearly Matlock belongs in the Comfort TV category given how often it has been rerun since.

The shows that generated the most headlines in 1987 were those well outside Comfort TV Land – Married With Children, The Morton Downey Jr. Show, Max Headroom, Thirtysomething and Wiseguy. However, Full House and My Two Dads proved there were still sitcoms suitable for a family audience, and Star Trek: The Next Generation proved it was possible to revive a classic property with a quality that rivaled (surpassed?) its predecessor. 

And as we near the end of the decade, Comfort TV contenders continue to dwindle. The Wonder Years qualifies, and I guess Empty Nest does as well, but that’s about it. Roseanne was the year’s most successful and buzzworthy series, but like Married With Children it featured a family unit that no one would ever confuse with the Bradys or the Nelsons or even the Huxtables. As for Murphy Brown, it was obviously a huge hit, but no Comfort TV series would purposely alienate half its audience by taking sides in the nation’s political divide. 

As I covered in my aforementioned piece on 1989, this was the year when reality shows like COPS, Rescue 911 and America’s Funniest Home Videos began stealing prime time slots from scripted shows. It was the year that long running game shows like Card Sharks, Sale of the Century and Super Password all left the air. It was the year that introduced Seinfeld and The Simpsons, two cynical and subversive sitcoms that audiences loved – it’s hard to imagine that same audience also enjoying the few, more traditional shows that also debuted that year, like Coach and Major Dad. The viewers have spoken.

So what’s the verdict?

I’d say it’s clear that the 1980s were indeed the transitional decade between the more traditional, uplifting, family-friendly shows of TV’s first age, and the current anything-goes, time-shifting, niche-viewing broadcast climate we’re in today. I understand why some classic TV groups and sites prefer to draw the line at 1979, but for me there were still - barely - enough shows introduced in the 1980s that belonged to the same universe as the Comfort TV shows of the past.

And so, while it’s a close call, we’re going to keep the 1980s under the Comfort TV era banner. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Top TV Moments: Season Hubley

Not long ago I read Paul Mavis’s review of the 1985 TV movie The Key To Rebecca at the Drunk TV website. As always Mavis was insightful, acerbic, and unapologetically lascivious in his assessment, but my biggest takeaway from the piece was a reminder of how I’ve always been drawn to one of Rebecca’s costars, Season Hubley. 

With her pixie haircut and soulful eyes, Hubley seemed the personification of flower child innocence – even her name fit that hippie-dippie persona. But she was also often cast as a streetwise go-getter with a hard edge beneath that soft smile.

Unfortunately, she spent most of her career being better than her material, and only occasionally finding a part worthy of her talent and unique personality. About 20 years ago she finally gave up, at least according to IMDB; but she does have a Facebook page that she uses to support animal causes and bash Donald Trump. And so it goes.

Now let’s cast our memories back to the magical 1970s, when we had joy, we had fun, and we had Season in the sun.

Bobby Jo and the Good Time Band (1972)
The Partridge Family (1972)

What a singular way to start an acting career: Hubley’s first credit was a pilot for a TV series inspired by the success of The Partridge Family. It was written by Bernard Slade, who also created…you guessed it, The Partridge Family. Hubley was top-billed as Bobby Jo, lead singer of a struggling band searching for their big break.

After it went nowhere, one assumes Slade tried to get his star better work, leading to her second professional credit, in an episode of…The Partridge Family. In “The Princess and the Partridge” she plays Princess Jennie, from some unnamed foreign land, visiting the U.S. and eager to meet the famous Keith Partridge. 

Hubley is utterly adorable as the down-to-earth princess, who sneaks away to a drive-in movie with Keith and causes an international incident. 

She Lives! (1973)
The exclamation point makes it sound like horror, but She Lives! belongs to a different genre – the “disease of the week” film, so named because of the prominence of that trope in made-for-TV movies. Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Season Hubley play two intense, misfit college students who find each other, drop out and try to make a go of it in a hostile world. All’s well until Pam (Hubley) finds a “funny lump” that leads to a grim prognosis. Does the title foreshadow a happy ending? You’ll have to watch to find out (the entire move is on YouTube). In addition to the work of Arnaz and Hubley, what makes the movie special is its recurrent use of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” The movie aired just eight days before Croce’s death in a plane crash, and may have influenced the posthumous release of the song as a single – it became his second and final #1 hit. 

Kung Fu (1974)
In the two-part episode “Blood of the Dragon,” Hubley plays Margit Kingsley McLean, granddaughter of a man who knew Caine’s grandfather before he was murdered by the Order of the Avenging Dragon. It’s not a very big part – the dramatic heavy lifting in the guest cast goes to Patricia Neal and Eddie Albert. But Hubley is one of those actresses who suffers especially well – and she gets to do a lot of that here. 

Family (1976)
This is my favorite Season Hubley performance. Which is not surprising as I associate everything about Family with superlative achievement. She appears in four episodes, over two seasons, as Salina Magee, the troubled girlfriend of Willie Lawrence (Gary Frank). From the couple’s first meeting at a health food restaurant to their final parting, it’s one of the most effective story arcs in a series laden with memorable moments. 

Starsky and Hutch (1977)
Someday I’ll write a blog about one-episode love interests on classic TV shows. They meet one of the main characters, fall in love, plan their lives together, and then something happens to take them off the show – usually something fatal. Half that blog will be about Bonanza episodes. But here, in the episode “Starsky’s Lady,” it’s Season Hubley as doomed teacher Terry Roberts. It’s still an affecting episode even if you can guess where it’s headed in the first five minutes.  

SST: Death Flight (1977)
It’s the maiden flight of a supersonic transport plane flying from New York to Paris in two hours. And along for the ride are enough 1970s stars to fill a whole season of Love Boat episodes.

There’s Barbara Anderson and Regis Philbin as reporters covering the event. In the cockpit it’s Robert Reed and Doug McClure and aircraft designer Burgess Meredith, while Lorne Greene monitors conditions from the airport. Serving coffee, tea or milk as flight attendants – Billy Crystal and Tina Louise. Among the passengers – Martin Milner, Susan Strasberg, Bert Convy, Misty Rowe, and a young couple played by John de Lancie and Season Hubley. The man who would be Q plays that guy in every disaster movie who is first to panic and revert to Lord of the Flies mode, which drives Hubley back to her former love, who also happens to be on the plane – played by Peter Graves. 

Oh, this movie. It’s both terrible and wonderful at the same time. I love every second of it, with or without the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment it received in 1989.

Elvis (1979)
Hubley played Priscilla opposite her then real-life husband, Kurt Russell, as Elvis. I remember this TV movie got raves when it first aired but I don’t think it’s aged well, outside of the incredible covers of Elvis Presley’s songs by Ronnie McDowell. By now we’ve seen Kurt Russell in too many other things to suspend that knowledge and pretend he’s Elvis. Season Hubley, however, is nearly unrecognizable under a huge mop of “Ode to Billy Joe”-era Bobbie Gentry hair. Her subdued, sympathetic take on Priscilla suggests someone who spent an entire courtship and marriage struggling against a world she couldn’t understand. 

The Key to Rebecca (1985)
I’ll let Paul Mavis’s review cover this one: “What I always find interesting with Season Hubley is her tangible vulnerability. Whether its personal or professional, it unmistakably comes through the camera lens, lending her scenes a weight that isn’t warranted, frankly, in the script or direction.” Couldn’t agree more. You can read his full review here.

Christmas Eve (1986)
I know the Hallmark Channel puts out about 300 new Christmas movies every year, but this season skip one of the five or six with Lacey Chabert and instead go back to this touching holiday classic, which earned leading lady Loretta Young a Golden Globe. She plays a loving, generous and very wealthy woman who, learning her time left on earth may be short, decides to reunite her estranged family for Christmas. It’s not as depressing as it sounds – in fact it’s downright joyful. Season Hubley plays her granddaughter Melissa in two brief but memorable scenes. If you’re not sniffling at the movie’s emotional final moments, you have no Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

You Didn’t Have to Be There – But I’m Glad I Was

While Comfort TV was wrapping up the top 100 TV-inspired songs ranking (just keep scrolling down if you missed it), three of the medium’s most beloved stars took their final bows: Tim Conway, Doris Day and Peggy Lipton. 

For those of us who remember watching their shows in their original runs, the sadness of their passing was followed by a realization that we too are starting to get up there a bit.

Another reason to be sad? I don’t think so. We all get a certain span of years to exist on this planet, and I feel not only content but also fortunate that part of my time was shared with them. 

I started Comfort TV to celebrate the classic television of the 1950s-1970s (and to some extent the ‘80s, but that’s going to be a topic for a future blog). When I look back at that era and how the medium has changed since...I can’t say it’s “better” or "worse," as that is too subjective; but I can say I still prefer it to what’s on TV now. It depicts a world I recognize and understand better than the one I’m presently living in. Its stories and characters, for the most part, respect the things that I respect, and don’t shy away from the kind of absolutes that have vanished in this era of persistent relevancy.

They were just nicer shows, with nicer people.

Doris Day had forged a bond with millions of loving fans long before The Doris Day Show debuted in 1968. It was a series she didn’t even want to do (read her autobiography for the details), but the stars of that era held themselves to higher standards of professionalism and honoring contracts. So she not only did the work, she never let anyone know that she’d rather be spending time with her animals in Carmel. 

The series struggled to find itself over five seasons. Doris first played a widow who lived on a ranch with her father and two sons. Then she took a job in San Francisco and the rural series became more city-based. By season four, the father and her two sons were gone (not dead, just written out and never acknowledged again).

Through it all, the flair for light comedy that seemed so natural in Doris Day kept viewers coming back. As did a troupe of supporting players led by Rose Marie, McLean Stevenson, Kaye Ballard and Bernie Kopell (are there any shows he wasn’t in?). 

I wish she sang more often on the show beyond the familiar theme, which can lift your mood faster than unexpected money in the mail. And I wish they’d have gone without a laugh track, which seems especially intrusive on this series. But even here, with a show that should have been better than it was, I can recall Monday evenings in my family’s living room, and the happy memories of enjoying a pleasant and comfortable show together.

The Mod Squad debuted the same year as The Doris Day Show. Unlike Doris, Peggy Lipton was an unknown actress when she was cast as Julie Barnes, but quickly became an icon of counterculture chic. 

My first memory of the series was wondering what the heck they were running away from in the opening credits.

I don’t own the series, but I bought the first two seasons twice; this is the only show where the DVD disc quality has been consistently dreadful. There’s a box set of all five seasons available now for just 32 bucks. Maybe it’s worth one more try.

I was surprised that most of the articles about her passing mentioned Twin Peaks more prominently, though I was glad to see her among that quirky cast as well, still looking radiant. One of my favorites of her TV performances was in the Wings episode “Miss Jenkins,” where she played the high school English teacher every boy had a crush on. It’s a shame she didn’t play more comedic roles. 

While Tim Conway was also a regular in more than one series, it’s his genius on The Carol Burnett Show that became a landmark in sketch comedy. The relentlessness of his improvisational attacks inspired some of the funniest moments I’ve ever watched on television.

I’ve shared the elephant story clip in this blog before, and you’re certainly familiar with the dentist sketch, and Mr. Tudball and his shuffling old man character. And who could forget the sketch where he plays a Nazi interrogating captured G.I. Lyle Waggoner with a Hitler hand puppet? It’s a moment that rivals Monty Python in sheer absurdity, and Waggoner, usually pretty unflappable, dissolves as quickly as Harvey Korman ever did.

I honestly don’t know if people in their 20s and 30s would find any of these shows and any of these performers as engaging as I did. If not, then we’ve lost something. There’s an appreciation for the past that seems lacking now, that wasn’t there with previous generations. I wasn’t around for the heydays of Sinatra or Elvis, but I still enjoy their music and understand what made them special. Does that same perception exist now for Johnny Carson or Rod Serling or Mary Tyler Moore?

That said, I acknowledge that I will never feel the same connection to Elvis as teenagers did in the 1950s. Some of this is indeed generational and there’s no way to embrace a moment from the past with the same appreciation from 20 years after it happened.

But that’s the connection I have with the classic TV era. I can remember watching the shows featuring Doris Day, Peggy Lipton and Tim Conway when they were brand new. We had no way to save them at the time, so for years they existed only in our memories. Now we can watch them any time we wish on DVD or YouTube, and that’s great. But it’s not the same as taking life's journey alongside them. I’m glad I was around to do that.