Regular readers are familiar with my affection for Gene Barry's detective series Burke's Law. It was a stylish mix of humor and police drama, all done with tongue-in-cheek and twinkle-in-eye. But Burke's Law, as we know it, is now done. Starting this fall, the show's jumping on the secret agent bandwagon popularized by The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Amos Burke, Secret Agent retains Barry's suave style (and Rolls Royce) amidst a bevy of beauties, but the supporting cast that did so much to make Burke fun - Gary Conway, Regis Toomey, Leon Lontac and Eileen O'Neill - is long gone, never to be seen again.* And Amos Burke, Secret Agent will be gone before long itself - the reboot lasts a mere 17 episodes before the series bites the dust.
*Except for a cameo appearance by O'Neill as one of Burke's "secret agent" operatives. Though she doesn't play the Sergeant Ames character, I think it's significant that she's one of the few female operatives working with Burke who doesn't get killed.
According to the article by Peter Bogdanovich (!), network executives feel the Burke's Law format was getting stale, "running 'out of gas'." And despite the protestations of Tom McDermott, president of Four Star Productions that Amos Burke will not be a carbon copy of U.N.C.L.E. - "The last time I saw U.N.C.L.E., they looked like they were doing Burke's Law" - there's no doubt that the spy spoof has played a big role in the retool of Burke. It's a James Bond world now, and we're all just living in it.
Barry himself professes to be excited about the new format. "We made TV history," he says of the cameo-laden, sly humor of Burke - "and now the time is ripe to enlarge the format of the show." And to its credit, Amos Burke doesn't try to deny its past. As the season progresses, there are several references to Burke's previous career as the head of the L.A. homicide department, and Burke continues to drive his Rolls. In fact, Barry's sophistication, which everyone agrees was the major selling point of Burke, should have been tailor-made for a globe-trotting secret agent. But without the supporting cast of the previous two years, the spark just isn't there anymore. The shows are pleasant, but nowhere near as entertaining. Which once again proves that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Besides Amos Burke, Secret Agent, the 1965-66 television season also sees the premieres of I Spy, The Wild Wild West, and Get Smart. They all go on to longer, more successful runs than Amos Burke. And when Gene Barry reprises the role of Amos Burke in 1994, it will be under the moniker of Burke's Law. As it should be.
During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..
Palace: Host Steve Lawrence inroduces Mickey Rooney and Bobby Van in a spoof of the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai"; opoeratic soprano Jean Fenn; the Backporch Majority, folk singers; choreographer-dancer Jack Cole; comic Gene Baylos; plate spinners Alberta and Rosita; the Gimma Brothers, novelty act; and 4-year-old drummer Poogie Bell.
Sullivan: Ed welcomes Steve Lawrence, Victor Borge, the rock 'n' rolling Dave Clark Five, comics Rowan and Martin, the Israeli Ballet, puppet Topo Gigio, the tap dancing Mattison Trio and John, a balancer.
Well. As I typed the listings, I was thinking to myself that I really wanted go go with Palace this week because I like Steve Lawrence, but beyond Rooney and Van the lineup's pretty weak. And then I come over to Sullivan and who do I see? Steve Lawrence! As far as I remember, this is the first time we've had an act appear on both Palace and Sullivan the same week. Of course, it helps when both shows are in reruns. But Ed has more than Steve - try the very funny Borge, the occasionally funny Rowan and Martin, and the stylish Dave Clark Five. And if that isn't enough, you've got a puppet and a ballet company! No more calls, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Sullivan takes it in a song.
Football? This early in August? Of course. The sporting landscape changes dramatically this week, with our usual summer fare of baseball, golf and bowling being joined on Sunday by the return of the American Football League as the Buffalo Bills and Boston Patriots face off in a pre-season tilt from Boston. This is the first year of the AFL's new television contract with NBC, which gives the AFL the necessary finances to launch the bidding war that ultimately results in the league's merger with the NFL.
Not to be outdone, CBS presents an NFL game opposite the AFL, but we're really talking apples and oranges here. The CBS offering is the Baltimore Colts inter-squad game, taped the previous night. The focus is on Baltimore's preparation for the regular season, in which they'll be out to avenge their 24-0 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the previous year's NFL championship game. In fact, it's Cleveland, not Baltimore, that makes it back to the title game - where they're waxed by my favorite team of the era, the Green Bay Packers, 23-12. Better that you should tune in a day earlier and catch their broadcast of the Washington Redskins* and Philadelphia Eagles from Hershey, PA.**
*This being a retro TV site, we have no problem using the "R" word.
**Where, a couple of years earlier, Wilt Chamberlain had his famed 100-point basketball game.
On Monday, You Don't Say! begins a one-week stint by celebrity panelists Dr. Joyce Brothers and Dr. Frank Baxter. "Who's Frank Baxter?" my wife sensibly asks, and though I kind of knew the answer, the always-reliable Wikipedia provides the rest of the story.
Born in Newbold, New Jersey, Baxter is best remembered for his appearances from 1956–1962 as "Dr. Research" in The Bell Laboratory Science Series of television specials. These films became a staple in American classrooms from the 1960s through the 1980s. The Bell series combined scientific footage, live actors and animation to convey scientific concepts and history in a lively, entertaining way; and the bald, bespectacled and affable Baxter served as narrator, lecturer and host. These films made Baxter (who was not a scientist) something of a scientific icon among baby boomers. Several of Baxter's science films have been released on DVD.
Baxter also appeared (as himself) in a prologue to the 1956 film The Mole People, in which he gave a brief history of theories of life beneath the surface of the earth.
In 1966, Baxter hosted a popular TV series called The Four Winds to Adventure, featuring filmmakers exploring little-known areas of the world, whether across continents, oceans, or local people and animals in a particular region.
Baxter died at age 85 in Pasadena, California. His body was cremated, but his ashes were scattered in Colorado, NOT placed in a vault in California, as some sources maintain.
What I love about this is that only in television of the '50s and '60s could a man become a cult celebrity, a guest on game shows in fact, by appearing in science specials. Fat lot of good chance of that happening today, unless your name is Neil Degrasse Tyson.
You might not remember the name, but I'll bet you'd recognize him if you saw him. To give that a test, here he is (along with Eddie Albert! Directed by Frank Capra!) in the acclaimed Our Mr. Sun.
Kellam de Forest is my kind of guy. His research company regularly vetts scripts for accuracy and liability, and is on call to answer questions that producers and scriptwriters might have about, say, how to peel a pearl (The Richard Boone Show) or what day December 30, 2022 falls on (The Twilight Zone). And while some of these items may seem like they're not such a big deal - after all, anyone with an internet connection can tell you that 12/30/22 is a Thursday - others can be very important, not only for the show's accuracy, but its financial well-being.
For one thing, de Forest conducts a vigorous background check into character names that appear in scripts. This service would have been particularly advantageous had the producers of Dr. Kildare taken advantage of it. They're currently in the midst of a $5 million lawsuit because of a recent episode in which a fictional doctor stands accused of covering up a medical mistake that resulted in the death of a young child. Seems that there's a real doctor out there with the same last name, who didn't take kindly to having that name besmirched, whether the TV doc was fictional or not. Sending the script de Forest's way could have saved the producers a lot of grief, for a fraction of the cost.
I first read about de Forest many years ago, in Marc Scott Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion, in which de Forest applied his trade to the 1963 episode "In Praise of Pip." Rod Serling's original script contained a reference to American military action in Laos, with Jack Klugman's son Pip dying in a place where "There isn't even a war there," but de Forest came back with the following recommendation:
The Geneva Treaty on the neutrality of Laos stipulated that all foreign troops be removed. At present the only U.S. military in Laos is a small mission with the Embassy. There are officially no combat or special forces in Laos. The implication that the U.S. has troops fighting in Laos (even in The Twilight Zone) could be an embarrassment and might cause repercussions. U.S. Special Forces are fighting ("in an advisory capacity") in South Vietnam. Suggest South Vietnam.
There was also a suggestion as to the wording in the script: "In South Vietnam it is common knowledge that there is a Civil War, but U.S. troops are not supposed to be fighting there. Suggest 'There isn't even supposed to be a war there.'"
It's a fascinating line of work, at least to me. De Forest sits in his office, surrounded by a library of over 5,000 books "run[ning] the gamut from "The History of Orgies" to Dr. Spock's 'Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.'" A script comes in, from an episode of Profiles in Courage set in the late 1800's. Among 54 research points, de Forest issues recommendations regarding the phrases "Little old bird dog, that's me" ("the term 'bird dog,' referring to one who hunts and finds objects, didn't come into use until circa 1930") and "to take in a water cooler around the bend in the corridor" ("the modern cooler was invented about 1910, though there were can-top coolers earlier"). Another Profiles script called for a scene of "great shouting and commotion" at the 1924 Democratic National Convention. De Forest, on his own, added "The 'official' record indicates specific cries of 'soak it to them, boys, soak it to them.'"
I don't have a Kellam de Forest Research Services at hand for my use, although the resources of the internet probably provide me with more data than de Forest could have dreampt of. It's knowing how to use the research that counts. And when it comes to storytelling, it's the details - putting a war in South Vietnam instead of Laos, or taking care to avoid historical anachronisms - that can make all the difference.
Some quick programming hits for the week:
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
On Sunday ABC's public affairs program ABC Scope commemorates the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. We hear about this on an almost annual basis around this time of year, but in 1965 it was still pretty fresh in people's minds. Correspondent Lou Cioffi (incorrectly identified as Gioffi in this issue) reports on how the city has changed since then; I wonder how much discussion concerned the use of the bomb in the first place? I'm always interested in intense conversations about this today, conducted mostly by people who weren't alive then and have little feeling for the context and climate in which the decision was made.
Monday's rerun of Andy Williams features an odd pairing of guests: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Jonathan Winters. "In a circus spot, Roy demonstrates his marksmanship and Jonathan portrays a lion tamer." On the other hand, NBC's The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which is coming to camp mode by this time, has a story about "a strange disease [that] killed the entire population of a small English coastal village - by afflicting the inhabitants with old age." With a couple of tweaks, that could almost be The Andromeda Strain, couldn't it?
Tuesday - we're seeing the summer season wind down, and with it the shows that won't be returning in the fall. NBC has a pair - Moment of Fear, which is showing an episode that originally came from G.E. Theater in 1959, and Cloak of Mystery, which shows a failed pilot episode. Hullabaloo, also on NBC, will be back next summer, but it ends this year's run with a show hosted by Frankie Avalon.
Wednesday: It's CBS' Our Private World, the first prime-time program spun off from a daytime soap, in this case As the World Turns. It airs twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays, and stars the legendary soap actress Eileen Fulton in her ATWT role of Lisa Miller Hughes. It would have been interesting had this show taken, to have a bifurcated story universe running in both daytime and nightime - that is, even though the shows (and storylines) are separate, the participants inhabit the same universe. Alas, the show, which started in May, only makes it through to September and the beginning of the fall season.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees wrap up a series at Yankee Stadium, broadcast on WTCN, Channel 11. It's an informal changing of the guard; the Twins, who were mostly miserable as the Washington Senators, are headed for the American League pennant in 1965, as part of a run that includes a second-place finish in 1967 and West Division titles in 1969 and 1970. For the Yankees, on the other hand, it's the Twilight of the Gods: American League champions for the last five years and 22 of the last 29, the Yanks are headed for a sixth-place finish in 1965, followed by a total collapse into the cellar in 1966. They won't make it back to the World Series for another decade.
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
Interestingly enough, this lesser-known pageant is still around, and is one of the few that doesn't judge solely on looks. Its "contestants are expected to serve as 'Ambassadors of Peace and Beauty', demonstrating tenderness, benevolence, friendship, beauty, intelligence, ability to take action, and, most importantly, a great international sensibility. The ultimate goal of the Miss International beauty pageant is to promote world peace, goodwill, and understanding."
In other words, just like this blog, right?