March 30, 2015

What's on TV? Thursday, March 31, 1960

We're back in Dallas-Fort Worth this week, for the listings on the final day of March, 1960.  As is often the case, there's nothing terribly remarkable about the programs that are on; it's just a slice of life that's pretty representative of early 1960.  Doesn't mean there aren't interesting things, though.  Let's look at some of them.

March 28, 2015

This week in TV Guide: March 26, 1960

Hanging around for another week in the early '60s, courtesy of the television stations of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  I've long contended that the very early '60s, perhaps up to as late as 1965, are far more an extension of the 1950s than they are their own decade, and I think the programs from this issue support that contention - even though we're only three months into the new decade.

For example, the very first page in the programming section - at 9:00am CT, NBC has that old warhorse, Howdy Doody.  But there's a twist - the show's now survived to enter the color era and the space age.  Could Buffalo Bob and the crew have imagined that back in 1947, when the show started?  By the way, this is the last season of Howdy Doody; it goes off the air in September, to be replaced by Shari Lewis and Lambchop.

Another example can be seen on this week's cover: Donna Reed*, the star of the eponymous sitcom now in its second season.  The Donna Reed Show ran for eight seasons, and despite the fact that six of those seasons took place entirely in the 1960s, it's commonly lumped in with the rest of the cultural milieu of the 1950s.  You can say the same thing about The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, although in this case the show is clearly a product of the '50s, with seven of its fourteen seasons running during the decade.

*And, although the accompanying article describes Reed as having "long been acknowledged as one of the loveliest stars in Hollywood," that's a very unflattering picture of her on the cover.  Such an obviously forced, frozen smile.  No sparkle in the eyes.  You'd think a professional photographer could have gotten something better out of her, don't you?

Both Donna Reed and Ozzie and Harriet ended their runs in 1966, and were widely perceived as dinosaurs, relics of an era that, if it in fact ever existed, was long gone by then.  Looking at the prime-time schedule for then, we can see police and spy dramas, science fiction, wars and westerns, but the typical sitcom has turned away from the family and toward young marrieds (Love on a Rooftop), concepts (Occasional Wife, It's About TimeCaptain Nice, Mr. Terrific, Gilligan's Island).  Of the remaining shows, Lassie and My Three Sons are among the only ones that really hearken back to the '50s, and even those changed with the times.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves - this is 1960, not 1966, and there's plenty more for us to appreciate without looking ahead six years.

***  

Saturday afternoon NBC provides coverage of an NBA playoff game.  It's either going to be the seventh game of the Eastern finals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia Warriors, the seventh game of the Western finals between the St. Louis Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers, or the opening game of the championship round if both division finals have finished.

I mentioned this series last week, but I'm pointing it out again for another reason, one tying in to our lead discussion.  Of the four teams remaining in the playoffs, only the Celtics still represent the same city; the Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco and then Oakland, where they're known today as the Golden State Warriors; the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta, and the Minneapolis Lakers would, in a few weeks, head west to Los Angeles.  It's understandable that one might be confused by this, since both Philadelphia and Minneapolis have since gotten new teams; it's even more confusing when one considers that Wilt Chamberlain, star of that Philadelphia Warriors team, moved with them to San Francisco and then was traded back to Philadelphia to play for that city's new team, the 76ers.

In fact, looking at the NBA of 1959-60, there are a stunning number of differences.  There are only eight teams, as opposed to today's 30; St. Louis is as far west as the league goes; only six teams (as opposed to 16) make the playoffs, and the whole thing was over by April 9.  This year, the playoffs don't even start until April 18.

By the way, in case you're wondering, the game shown was the first game of the finals, and it was played not on Saturday, but Sunday (the game was also shown in the Sunday listings, just in case).  Boston defeated St. Louis, 140-122.

***

Tony Curtis says he's through with television.  The movie star, fresh off of a string of hits including The Defiant Ones, Some Like it Hot, Operation Petticoat and Spartacus, is appearing Tuesday night on NBC's Startime in the title role of "The Young Juggler," which will be his third and - he says - final appearance on TV.

"'The Young Juggler' isn't a TV show," Curtis maintains,  Comparing it to his two other TV roles, he says, "They're films.  The fact that they're shown on TV for the first time is only incidental.  And I've come to the conclusion, as long as you're going to make films, why make films for TV?  Why not just make films, period?"

He first went into television, he says, "to see what could be done with a 26-minute film."  And it's the length, more than anything else, that turns him off from the medium.  "[R]ight away  the sponsor wants to put three commercials into the show- one at the beginning, one at the middle and one at the end.  I said no.  The middle one would have come smack in the middle of the second act.  so we had to work it out to where they're putting shorter commercials in between the acts instead.  It makes more commercials, but they don't give anybody time to go to the kitchen."

That's not all.  "Then they wanted me to do a trailer, 30 seconds of Tony Curtis coming on and saying, 'Hello, I'm Tony Curtis.  Be sure and watch me in "The Young Juggler" on Ford Startime.'  And I said no again.  I said, 'It's that word Ford.  I'm a performer, not a car salesman.'  I said, 'If you want me to sell cars, give me 10 percent of the agency or the distributorship or whatever it is.'  I said, 'If I wanted to go into business, I'd open a cigar store.'"  Ah, the delights of being selective and demanding - it can only happen when you're a star.

By the mid-60s, Curtis' movie career had waned, and he did indeed return to television.  He did The Persuaders! with Roger Moore in 1971, McCoy in 1975, and in a supporting role in Vega$ in the late 70s, and was a frequent guest star for the remainder of his career - including a very funny voiceover as a character named "Stony Curtis" on The Flintstones.

It's interesting that the very things that repelled Curtis from television in 1960 have now disappeared to a large extent, making the medium precisely what the young Curtis might have gravitated to.  Look at all the big names appearing on prestige cable shows on networks such as HBO.  There's no break for commercials (or at least limited ones), no pressure to shill for sponsors (just for the show itself), and it has evolved into a way of telling long-form, in-depth stories that would appear to have been right up Curtis' alley.  Notwithstanding all that, you can't really call Tony Curtis a failure now, can you?

***

Another man destined for movie stardom, Lee Marvin, appears this week on NBC's Sunday Showcase.  He's in the play "The American," which tells the story of Ira Hayes, one of the men immortalized in the famous photograph of U.S. Marines planting the flag on Iwo Jima.*  Controversy has always existed as to whether or not that photo was staged; one of the survivors, Rene Gagnon, acknowledges that the picture taken was of a second flag that was raised (the first one was taken down and kept as a souvenir and a second, larger flag put up - one that "could be seen all across the island"), but that fighting was still going on and the photo was not staged.

*Ironically, Tony Curtis will also play Ira Hayes, in the 1961 movie The Outsider.  That movie is already in pre-production, and Hayes' tribe, the Pimas, chose to cooperate with that version rather than the television show.

Hayes' story is a tragic one; he fought and ultimately lost a battle with alcoholism, attributed at least in part "because he was persecuted both as an Indian and by feelings that he was a bogus hero."  I suspect some of that "bogus" feeling came from the controversy over the picture, and some from the fact that the three surviving Marines (three others were killed on Iwo Jima) were brought back to the United States, "wined and dined," and taken on an nationwide war bonds tour.  It must be difficult to be doing that, knowing that your comrades-in-arms are still slogging through mud, facing enemy bullets.

John Frankenheimer, who will go on to great success as a movie director, is both producer and director of the project, and he's the man responsible for bringing in Marvin, an ex-Marine himself, to play Hayes.  Says Marvin, "I sympathize so much with Hayes.  You know, he never could escape being a hero.  He was buried at Arlington."  I suspect Marvin turns in a powerful performance, as he so often does.

***

Is there anything else worth watching this week?

On Monday, Steve Allen counts among his guests one Johnny Carson, who at the time was hosting Who Do You Trust on ABC; who knew the way in which the names of these two entertainment giants would become intertwined in a couple of years?   John Secondari presents another of his ABC documentaries on Tuesday night, this on the tinderbox that is Korea; ten years after the start of the Korean War, and despite an armistice, 50,000 American troops remain stationed in South Korea.  Comedian and actor Joe E. Brown hosts the Bertram Mills (England) Circus from London in a special broadcast on ABC Thursday night.

And then I probably would have enjoyed Friday night's Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, in which the pair try to get ideas on how to revive Ricky's career from their next door neighbors - Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams.  I bet it was funny - but why speculate?  Here it is:



***

Once again TV Guide asks an expert about the effect of television on children.  This time it's Danny Kaye, who starts out by reminding everyone that "every television set I have ever seen has a little on-off knob."

Danny Kaye already has a reputation for loving and relating to children, as an international ambassador on behalf of UNICEF.  He admits up front that "I don't know" how television affects children, but he does know that the key to television is storytelling, and the stories that children often watch involve "horror and violence, after which good triumphs over evil."  He says that we spend too much time talking about juvenile delinquency (a major talking point in these days), and perhaps should spend more time discussing "adult delinquency."  "We talk about parents' responsibility and we forget that many people actually are not fit to be parents in the first place," adding that "we can and should learn from our children."

Kaye gives those children credit for being able to discern the things they see on TV: "Children, I think, recognize and understand, instinctively, what is true and what is not true.  They are not concerned with rationalizing and posing because they don't know what those things are.  They simply recognize them as being untrue."  With this in mind, "Is it fair, or even intelligent, to point the finger at television and cry out, 'Television is full of violence and horror and it is bad for our children'?  Surely it is not intelligent to crusade against  penicillin or aspirin simply because some people are allergic to them."

After discussing the nature of "gangs," and how the nature of juvenile delinquency has been understood and misunderstood, Kaye ends his refreshing, if provocative, essay with this point: "not all kids are juvenile delinquents, not all gangs are evil, not all television is a bad influence on children . . . most certainly not all entertainers, least of all this one, are experts on the subject."

March 27, 2015

It's Around the Dial - but first, a word or two from our sponsor

We'll get to our links of the week in a moment, but first a couple of housekeeping issues.

First, next week is Holy Week and, as is frequently the custom here, I'll be offline for the week.  What this means is that I've already got prewritten material for all of next week - a TV Guide piece on Saturday, a look at listings on Monday, an essay on Wednesday, a special feature on Good Friday, and around to another TV Guide the next day - but I won't be monitoring or making comments on the blog, nor will I be linking or looking at the Facebook site.  Just wanted to let you know.

Second, and perhaps more important.  The reason I link to my colleagues' posts each week is that I think they're worth reading, and that you'll be interested in them.  If you like the pieces I write here, won't you share them with people you think might be interested?  You can forward a link to the story, a link to the blog itself, or share a Facebook post.  But this blog needs your support to keep going - not financial support; I don't take up collections as some bloggers do, because I make more than enough money from my regular job, and I do this in my free time.  But a growing and interactive readership is the fuel that makes a writer keep going, and your help in spreading the word will be greatly appreciated.

Enough of the public service announcements - now, on with the links.

Rick at Classic Film and TV Cafe has another of his excellent and literate interviews, this one with Michael McGreevey, who made his name as an actor in Disney films in the '60s before graduating to work behind the scenes as a writer.  It's a very good read - even if you don't think you'll be interested in it, I can almost guarantee you'll read the whole thing.

CultTV Blog returns from a brief hiatus with his conclusions about British television of the '70s.  His conclusion about Seventies television there is much the same as mine is about television over here - head back to the relative safety of the Sixties!

I don't know if I've linked to Ken Levine's blog before, but the Emmy-winning producer, director, writer and major league baseball announcer has one of the most interesting blogs around.  This Friday, as is the case frequently, he's answering your questions, and you won't want to miss them.

Television Obscurities is up to March 27 in the ongoing weekly review of the TV Guides from the 1964-65 television season.  This is another issue I've got, but even if I didn't have it I'd have a pretty good idea of what it was all about, thanks to this excellent write-up.

Good to see that Kliph Nesteroff is back with a new entry at Classic Television Showbiz - it's a link to his latest piece at WFMU's Beware of the Blog, on the backstage happenings behind the '50s Red Buttons Show.  I really like these behind-the-scenes stories - they make the past (and the present, for that matter) come alive.

That's it for this week - you'll see me again tomorrow with another TV Guide, and remember that I will be back live in a little over a week.  Until then, to paraphrase MST3K, keep circulating the website!

You'll be "Bewitched" by this book


A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you all an interview I did with Adam-Michael James, author of The Bewitched Continuum.  I've been gratified to see that many of your comments, both here and at the Facebook page, have been positive not only about the interview, but about the book, and some of you have even suggested you'd be buying it, which means I'll be contacting Adam-Michael shortly so we can talk about royalties.*

*Just kidding.  Maybe.

Still, I thought that it would probably be proper to do a formal, if brief, review of the book for anyone who might still have questions about it.  This is that review.

James, a veteran columnist, continuity writer and member of the television industry, wrote The Bewitched Continuum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the show's premiere. His premise is both simple and delightful.  In once sense it appears no different from other books about television series, giving a brief overview of each season and a synopsis of each episode.  Plenty of books like that on the shelves, some of them quite good.  This is no glorified episode guide, though, for in discussing each episode James' purpose is to show us how the show's characters and situations develop and evolve over time - as the book's subtitle says, "A Linear Guide."  The emphasis is less on the technical aspects - the writers, directors, actors - and more on the characters themselves, as we start with Episode One, "I Darrin, Take This Witch, Samantha," and looking at how a mortal and a witch start out their lives as a young married couple - and the complications and adjustments that ensue.

Continuity was not a strong suit of early television; the invention of the VCR and DVD was far in the distance, and it was never imagined that shows would have a lifespan other than the one or two times a given episode was seen, and the possibility of future syndication.  Stopping and pausing, binge watching, internet message boards - all those were things that were merely a twinkle in someone's eye.  Therefore, writers were mostly concerned with a given, self-contained episode, not necessarily with how that episode would fit into an overarching puzzle that might take several seasons to complete.  There are, therefore, continuity oddities in each episode that James points out, often humorously, in sections entitled "Well?", as well as some things that just don't make a whole lot of sense, which he chronicles in sections headed "Oh, My Stars!"

On the other hand, there is a surprising amount of consistency in Bewitched, a logical progression of the relationship between Samantha and Darrin as he struggles to accept a wife with supernatural powers while she adjusts to the world of the mortals, one that doesn't always appreciate the wiggle of her nose.  There's also the interplay between Darrin and Samantha's relatives, the evolution of the Stephens' relationship with Darrin's boss and his wife, and of course the never-ending confusion in which the Stephens' neighbors, the Kravitz' - specifically Gladys - find themselves.  Children are born, friends are made, homes are purchased - in other words, we read about the details that make up everyday life.  They may have been plotlines for specific episodes, but they also form individual pieces of the tapestry that makes up the eight seasons of Bewitched.

This is the heart of the book, the thing that James is most interested in, and it's what makes The Bewitched Continuum different from so many other books.  We aren't inundated with backstage gossip or bogged down with various minutia.  The show's characters are treated as real people, and as the series progresses their stories continue to be told.  The "Good" sections of each episode point out where episode-to-episode continuity is particularly striking, and "Son of a Gun!" sections highlight a particularly good line or other point of the episode that deserves highlighting.  It's a charming concept upon which to build a book, and I'm surprised more authors don't do it.  The appendices provide detailed information on everything from how many times various catchphrases were used to lists of the clients of the advertising agency at which Darrin worked.

If you're a fan of Bewitched, this book should be a no-brainer.  But I don't think you even have to be a fan - if you're like me, someone who simply appreciates classic television, you're going to "get" the approach that James uses, and you're going to enjoy reading his chronicle of a much-loved sitcom, the biggest hit that ABC had ever had to that time, and the characters that made it so successful.

March 25, 2015

Thoughts on the BBC and Clarkson


While it's true that this is primarily a Classic Television blog, I suppose  I ought to have something to say about the latest Top Gear/Jeremy Clarkson kerfuffle, seeing as how I rated it my favorite television show when I did my Top Ten ratings a couple of years ago.  I don't really care to get into details, since there are enough angry bloggers in the world without adding one more unhinged commentary.  And I would be apt to be slightly unhinged if I started going on about it.  I suppose it's at least partly because I've always had a somewhat ambivalent view of "authority," especially when the authority isn't worthy of respect, so I'll just offer the following notes about the organization at the heart of the matter, the BBC, and ask this question - why should we care what this outfit thinks about anything?

After all, their own internal investigation disclosed that corporation officials were aware of and did nothing about a massive child abuse scandal that may have involved up to 1,000 children.  And that wasn't the only sleazy scandal of its type at the Beeb, unfortunately.  You think the Catholic Church had problems.

Then then there are the numerous reports over the years, both internal and external, show the news department to have a liberal bias in their reporting about everything from immigration and Islamism to politics and think tank reports to religion and multiculturalism, and spent big money to keep results of at least one internal report confidential.

There's also an entire page on the always-reliable Wikipedia documents allegations of unproved news reports, use of faked footage in reports, and other inaccuracies.  (Including, yes, Top Gear.)

This is not to mention the accusations that some of their most popular programs (among which, sadly, Doctor Who) promote a homosexual agenda - accusations that are, as usual, met by smug denials.

I could go on, but you know the old saying - it's like catching fish in a barrel.  The point is, being sacked by the BBC is not necessarily something bad; one could even view it as a badge of honor, as long as you didn't have to depend on your living for it.

I'm not going to get into the game of predicting what happens next, whether ratings will plummet, fans will continue to protest, lawsuits will be filed, other presenters will leave.  It's too easy to make predictions like that in the heat of the moment and be left later on with egg on your face.*  Oftentimes we predict what we want to have happen rather than what we think will happen, and I think that undermines one's credibility as a commentator.  (See: Fox News on election night 2014.)

*I don't know about you, but I prefer my eggs on a plate.

I can only speak for myself, that I'm not watching BBC America anymore, and I'm not going to willingly purchase any of their products in such a way that they make money off me.  So what if that means no second season of Broadchurch - I understand it wasn't that good anyway.  Fact is, the only other show I watched with regularity on the channel was Doctor Who, but I can afford to wait a year and catch the latest season on DVD, and - this is the point - only by buying used sets.  I'm not necessarily thrilled about it, but this way the Beeb isn't going to profit by me.  Most of the British television I watch - Poirot, Inspector Lewis, The Avengers, The Saint, The Prisoner, Danger Man - wasn't done by the BBC anyway. And while their newsreaders have very pleasant accents, I already get enough liberal bilge from American networks.

If you really have to see something they're broadcasting, there are other ways to get that programming.  I wouldn't ordinarily say this, but go ahead and pirate it from somewhere else.  Have a friend burn discs for you from some "special" source.  Do whatever it takes, but don't let them have your money.

BBC, I don't effing care what you think.  Go eff yourselves - you should be good at it.

March 23, 2015

What's on TV? Saturday, March 21, 1959


We're in new territory today! In case you didn't see Saturday's piece, this week's listing is from the Western Washington edition.  Not much different except for the time (Pacific time mimics Eastern during prime time), but we do get to see a couple of Canadian stations - now you can see what the CBC has on!  Without further ado, let's go to the grid!

March 21, 2015

This week in TV Guide: March 21, 1959

This week we take our first look at the Pacific Northwest, with this TV Guide from the Western Washington area.  But you know what?  TV is the same no matter where TV Guide comes from - the only difference is in the details.

And one of the items that has remained consistent in TV Guide throughout the '50s and '60s is the question of television's effect on children.  As you recall, a couple of weeks ago we read an article that suggested television might have a positive role in encouraging children to read.  Weighing in on the topic this week is the acclaimed anthropologist Margaret Mead*, who ponders the effect of television violence on children.

*Another example of how inconceivable it is that today's TV Guide would have an article by someone of her stature.

Mead raises good points from the very beginning of the article - that not all violence is the same, that the very radio programs now being lauded as alternatives to violent TV were themselves condemned not that long ago as being violent - before drawing some clear differences between "good" and "bad" violence.  Take fairy tales, for example.  Children already have developed within them some idea of good and evil, of the weak and the strong.  "Children even feel better, more like good children, their anger and hate drained safely out of them, after watching stories in which the weak encounter, battle and defeat the strong."  "[T]hose who would denature fairy tales," she adds, "[taking] the chase, the shooting and the victory out of Westerns are actually constructing a world with escape without catharsis, without safe fantasy for childish aggression."

However, she cautions, this remains true "only when the story on the screen is palpably fiction, fantasy and unreal."  Even if they're angry with their parents, even if they see them (in the form of grownups in general) taken down in a television story, they still know that "they cannot do without them, even for a night."  Introduce a situation in which "someone who might really be themselves now or in the future, actually kills real human beings who might be their parents or their teachers or their older brothers and sisters [and this] is quite a different matter."  She also worries about the effect of such violence on the lonely child, or the child influenced by a too-real depiction of violence that has no guidelines, that doesn't say to the viewer "This is fiction, this isn't and couldn't really be you."

Part of the answer is parental supervision and involvement with what their children watch, in which they can "interject a running commentary, in which the words 'story,' 'just a story,' 'not real' are introduced, and so they can provide what the television program should itself provide."  What they need to be protected from are stories in which children are either the victims or the perpetrators of violence.  With the lonely child, loneliness can turn into hatred, and the violent show becomes "an incentive and program for possible crime."  It seems as if many of these comments - parental involvement, not leaving children alone - are still with us today.

Mead's conclusion is that television has a unique responsibility to protect small children from "the horror and violence of real crime."  If it can meet this responsibility, it will continue to provide the exciting stories that children need to experience, and "voluntarily refuse to tempt children's minds over the brink of crime."

***

Looking at the TV Teletype, we see some previews of coming attractions for the new season.

For example, an upcoming 77 Sunset Strip will serve as the pilot for a proposed detective series called Bourbon Street Beat, which does indeed premiere that fall, with Richard Long, Andrew Duggan, Van Williams and Arlene Howe.  It lasts just the one season.  More successful is James Michener's Adventures in Paradise, which runs for three seasons with Gardner McKay at the helm.  There's also a pilot being prepared for ABC, Lincoln Jones, starring James Whitmore.  This one has to wait a year, premiering in 1960 as The Law and Mr. Jones, and runs for two seasons.

***

By the way, before I forget:


Hope you have a great week!

***

It's Holy Week, which accounts for the religious programming on the 27th, which happens to be Good Friday.  On KOMO, Channel 4 (NBC), there's a special half-hour program at 12:30pm PT featuring two rural French churches conducting the Holy Week liturgy as revised by Pope Pius XII. Later, at 1:30, KING, Channel 5 (ABC) presents a half-hour documentary on the Shroud of Turin.  It's being broadcast for the sixth straight year, and is hosted by Loyola (Chicago) professor Francis L. Filas, an expert on and believer in the Shroud.

Later that afternoon the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has a thirty-minute documentary on the Crusades, and they follow that up with a Good Friday service of music at 8pm and a second program of religious music at 9pm.  They also present an adaptation of a T.S. Eliot play, "The Family Reunion," at 9:30.  Though it isn't explicitly an Easter program, it does concern the redemption of the play's hero, and Eliot himself had once vetoed the casting of Sir John Gielgud for one of the roles because he felt  Gielgud was "not religious enough to understand the character's motivation."

Earlier in the week, on Monday night ABC's Voice of Firestone has Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians with their own program of Easter music.  But perhaps the most interesting program of the week airs earlier that evening on NBC - the first-ever repeat on the Hallmark Hall of Fame.  It's Marc Connelly's play "The Green Pastures," the story of a Sunday-school teacher presenting her class with stories from the Bible, and features an all-black cast that includes William Warfield as De Lawd and Eddie Anderson, whom most people recognize as Rochester on Jack Benny's program, as Noah.  The show was originally presented to great acclaim in October of 1957, and the producer of Hall of Fame felt a repeat showing would be appropriate at Easter.  The play had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1930, and the TV production won the Peabody in 1958.  For this showing, virtually the entire cast is back from the original showing, and it will once again win great acclaim.  Perhaps it's time for this to make another appearance on TV.

***

Once again there's little to report on the sports scene - a couple of hockey games on Saturday (including the famed Hockey Night in Canada on CBC Saturday evening), and a game in the NBA's Western Division playoffs between the St. Louis Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers for the right to lose to the Boston Celtics in the finals.  Sure enough, the Lakers win this game 106-98, and the series, before being swept by Boston.  For the Lakers, it's the last gasp of success before the franchise moves to Los Angeles, where their rivalry with the Celtics will take on epic proportions.  For the Celtics, on the other hand, it's their second title in three years, and the first of eight consecutive championships they'll win during a reign of terror that will ultimately result in 11 titles over a 13 year span.

One last basketball note; on Saturday afternoon, NBC presents the finals of the National Invitation Tournament, from Madison Square Garden in New York.  It's won by St. John's, 76-71 over Bradley, but the curiosity is that the NIT has a national television contract - and the NCAA tournament does not.  In fact it would be well into the '60s before the Final Four would become a television staple, while the NIT remained a viable and popular tournament for a number of years more.

***

One sign of the changing times is that colleges are now offering classes for students seeking careers in television.  To date, about 30% of colleges and universities offer majors in TV, but grads have yet to gain traction in the industry.  "Many network and advertising-agency executives are graduates of Ivy League schools, few of which offered extensive training in television."

According to this article, though, that may be about to change.  At Penn, the Annenberg School of Communications* is about to offer television courses as part of its curriculum.  And there's more - New York University is offering a noncredit workshop for students to stage "a typical day in TV," while Northwestern has a six-week symposium on color TV, and the University of Denver's BA in Television includes classes in stage lighting, creative writing, production and direction, and camera work.

* Not coincidentally, Walter Annenberg is the owner of TV Guide.

For those looking to make a move into television, Professor Garnet Garrison, director of broadcasting at Michigan, has these tips when looking for a school.  First, make sure the school is strong in liberal arts, as television requires a broad cultural background.  Take courses in fields that will help you in television, such as psychology, literature and the arts, sociology, journalism, marketing and advertising.  Look for colleges that give you a chance to "learn by doing" through educational or commercial stations which might be allied with the school.  Ask if the instructors have had meaningful experience in television.  And finally, does the school itself have access to facilities that are comparable to those at television stations.

I don't know how this compares to today's education.  I know that growing up, Brown Institute in Minneapolis was a renowned broadcasting school - one that I seriously considered attending myself.  A look at their wall of fame shows a lot of people who went on to successful careers in local and national television.  But if I had gone there, would I be writing this for you today?  Who knows?

***

Finally, you'll recall that a while ago we shared an article about Bob Hope being "largely forgotten," although he was an enormous star in his time.  This week, the cover story is on another largely forgotten TV star: Ann Sothern.

Though she was never a mega-star, Ann Sothern had a more than successful career, starring in two series (Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show) which combined ran for eight seasons and earned her three Emmy nominations.  She also played the voice of the car in My Mother the Car, which would have been reason enough to love her (for retaining her dignity, if nothing else), and was a frequent guest on shows throughout the '50s and '60s.

At this point in time, Sothern is president of five corporations, spanning everything from television production to sewing to music cataloging, and she continues to juggle these successful businesses with her own acting career.  It's a tough job, and leaves her with little time for anything approaching a social life.  Says Sothern, "I would like to live elegantly.  Instead, I have to run five businesses."

Her last television role was in 1985; her final movie role in 1987.  She has two stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, one for each medium.  If that's the kind of career that winds up largely forgotten, I don't think I'd mind being lost to the mists of time myself.

March 20, 2015

Around the dial

Let's take a quick look at the headlines for the week:

Courtesy of The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland, here's a report from SplitSider on something I've never heard about before, the Johnny Carson Comeback Special that Never Was.

The Old Movie House continues looking at The Time Tunnel as the boys wind up on the deck of the Titanic!  This is probably my favorite episode of the series.

Keeping with the nautical theme, bare-bones e-zine reviews another episode in The Hitchcock Project, in which Keenan Wynn finds himself in an interesting situation, courtesy of the master writer Roald Dahl.

At The Lucky Strike Papers, my friend Andrew Lee Fielding posts an audio clip of his mother, Sue Bennett, performing on The Lucky Strike Hit Parade.  Nice!

Television Obscurities is up to March 20, 1965 in his weekly review.  Dorothy Malone's on the cover, NBC releases its new fall schedule, and TV news gears up for a manned Gemini space launch.

Finally, Those Were The Days has some great cast pictures up this week, including this entry - the cast of NBC's ambitious 90 minute series, The Name of the Game.

Sorry for the brevity this week - it's been a busy, interesting (but good!) week, and I'm playing catch-up right now.  No apologies necessary for tomorrow, though.  Back here for another TV Guide - same time, same channel!

March 18, 2015

What's in a name?


True story: I've mentioned the soap opera The Brighter Day several times in the past.  I don't know why; maybe it's because the title isn't that familiar compared to many of the other soaps of the era.  And it's a 15-minute soap, a carryover from the the days of radio, where The Brighter Day began in 1948.  At any rate, here's a clip from a May 1960 episode.


The reason I mention this is because I have a somewhat oblique personal connection to this episode, or at least the storyline.  (I don't often write about personal things, but I thought this one was too good to pass up.)  The attorney you see presenting the closing summation* is named Mitchell Dru, played by actor Geoffrey Lumb, and his was the first character to cross over from one soap to another; after The Brighter Day went off the air, the character (and the actor) appeared first on As the World Turns, and then Another World and Somerset, all owned by the same company, Proctor & Gamble.  After all, every good soap has to have an attorney present for one of its sensational murder trials, right?

*And when was the last time you saw any episode of television in which all of the dialogue was spoken by only one character?  One-man shows don't count.

Anyway, my point.  I was born in early May 1960, presumably while this storyline was going on.  My mother had wanted to give me, for a middle name, the last name of some family relation, cousins or something (I don't remember now), but she wasn't quite sure how to spell the name, nor could she find anyone who was, and because the birth certificate needed to be completed, she chose another middle name: Drew.*  

*It's a nice enough name, but I always felt kind of bad that it wasn't the name she'd originally wanted, and I've never used it much.

Granted it's spelled differently, but many of her friends teased her that she'd named me after the character Mitchell Dru.  She said she'd not even been aware of it; she must not have watched The Brighter Day, but she did watch Another World later on, which is when she related the story to me, and I got to see my "namesake" in action.  I've remembered this story all these years, but it wasn't until I ran across this clip yesterday, quite by accident, that I discovered the connection to The Brighter Day.  Ah, the things you learn here - TV as a family tree! 

March 16, 2015

What's on TV? Thursday, March 19, 1981

It's back to the '80s this week, and back to the Twin Cities, as we take a look at the listings from Thursday, March 19.  Remember, I wasn't too bullish on the state of television in this era when I wrote about the TV Guide on Saturday, but there are always some gems if you look hard enough.  As is usually the case with the Minnesota State Edition, this is a cross-section of all the channels listed, and you'll note that some of the call letters and affiliations have changed over time.  Another sign of the changing times: I've included WGN, Channel 9, the Chicago superstation.  Assorted comments follow.


March 14, 2015

This week in TV Guide: March 14, 1981

You know, there are some weeks when going through an issue of TV Guide - and imagining having to watch some of these shows - is like being repeatedly punched in the kidneys. This is one of those weeks.  But for you, dear readers, I soldier on.

It could be said that the B-team is on display this week, as the hit shows of the '70s beget the spinoffs of the '80s.  And so Mary Tyler Moore begets Lou Grant, M*A*S*H begets Trapper John, M.D., Dukes of Hazard begets Enos and Alice begets Flo, and pretty soon you feel like you're reading from the Bible.  In most cases, the progeny fall short of the parent, though Lou Grant and Trapper John had nice runs, and one would agree that shows such as The Jeffersons and Maude, both spinoffs of All in the Family, or Knots Landing, which came from Dallas, became hits and developed distinct personalities of their own.

And then there are the original shows that are either beginning a successful run or winding down from the same.  ABC continues to have a string of hits; Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley (another spinoff), Three's Company and Hart to Hart represent only one night - Tuesday - of a very successful schedule that includes Charlie's Angels, Dynasty, Eight is Enough, Mork & Mindy (spinoff), Barney Miller, Taxi, Soap and Benson (spinoff), plus their twin Saturday night giants, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.  By most any measurement, that represents a very successful lineup.  CBS has Magnum, P.I., Knots Landing, The Dukes of Hazard, Dallas, The Waltons, M*A*S*H and 60 Minutes, and NBC can boast Little House on the Prairie, CHiPs, Quincy, and the new kid on the block, which for some reason they've stuck on Saturday night - Hill Street Blues.  I'm sure that a lot of these shows count as favorites for many of you, and I can respect that.

Be that as it may, it's difficult to look at this and not think that the Golden Age has come and gone, at least for the time being.  Or am I just old?

Oh - you noticed the headline on this week's cover: "Why We Need the Space Shuttle," by Neil Armstrong.  Nobody, however, has written "Why We Need Suzanne Somers."

***

Let's take a look at the movies on this week, since there's some interesting fare there, with appropriate commentary from TV Guide's resident critic, Judith Crist.

The top offerings of the week are a pair of theatrical giants.  First, there's 1968's The Lion in Winter, making its television debut on PBS, starring Peter O'Toole as Henry II* and Katharine Hepburn in her Oscar-winning role as Eleanor of Aquataine, with supporting turns from Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton, among others.  When a tough critic such as Crist uses words like "brilliant," "stunning" and "striking," you know you've touched all the bases.  It was beaten out for Best Picture at the Oscars by the musical Oliver!, which tells you much about the state of the Academy that year.

*A role he also played in 1964's Becket, making him one of the few actors to receive Oscar nominations for playing the same character in two different movies.

That movie premieres on Sunday afternoon; on Sunday evening, ABC has the other blockbuster, 1965's Doctor Zhivago, being shown uncut over a four-hour timeslot.  David Lean's "spectacular" boasts an Oscar-winning performance by Julie Christie and a nominated one by Omar Sharif, as well as "Lara's Theme," one of the most famous pieces of movie music.  What I find particularly interesting about this, and telling, is the small print at the bottom of that ad you see on the right: "Another Outstanding Movie on Free Television."  If that doesn't tell you about the shape of things to come...

However, as is always the case, the reviews in which Crist savages the movie are far more fun to read - Richard Prior's Which Way Is Up? is little more than "an unsuccessful adaptation of Lina Wertmuller's excellent Italian satire The Seduction of Mimi," and the TV-movie Madame X, the seventh version of the story, features "cheap emotions and [a] ludicrous plot."  Says Crist, "if there's a wet eye in the house check for raw onions."  The Chicago Story, another TV-movie, is "contrived" and "incoherent," and a version of Dracula set in 1972 amounts to little more than a sort of 'Beach Party a-Ghoul-Ghoul.'"  If that isn't the best line of the week, I don't know what is.

***

Last week I was pointing out once again how different sports coverage was in the late '50s and '60s, particularly on the weekends.  This week gives us a different look altogether.

For one thing, it's the start of March Madness, even though it isn't called that yet.  The NCAA basketball tournament is smaller than it is today, with only 48 schools.  It's less commercial; the term "Final Four" is only colloquial, not trademarked, and because relatively few conferences have tournaments of their own it starts earlier in the month than it does now.  But even though it doesn't have the saturation coverage that we see today, it still dominates both Saturday and Sunday, with NBC telecasting doubleheaders each day.  ABC has its old Saturday standard, the Pro Bowlers Tour, and Saturday and Sunday editions of Wide World of Sports.  CBS has Sports Spectacular on Saturday, and on Sunday features live coverage of the Formula 1 Long Beach Grand Prix; additionally, the third and fourth rounds of the Doral-Eastern Open span the weekend.

There's local sports as well, a ton of it in fact.  Saturday is the final day of the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, which at the time was probably the premiere sporting event in Minnesota - I think, in fact that the largest crowd ever to see a hockey game in the state was for one of the tournament games.  For many years the tournament was seen on the Twin Cities' independent station, Channel 11, but with WTCN's move to become an NBC affiliate, the tournament has switched to KSTP, the ABC affiliate.  KSTP did a lot to promote that switch, bringing in all kinds of ABC celebrities - including, in 1979, Howard Cosell! - to call the games.  Nowadays it's shown on KSTC (which is owned by KSTP), and it's called by former ESPN announcer Gary Thorne.

But because this is the Minnesota State Edition of TV Guide, we've got a lot more than that - there's the Iowa and Wisconsin girls state basketball tournaments on various local stations Saturday, and then on Thursday the Minnesota girls tournament and Iowa and Wisconsin boys tournaments start.  You've also got some NBA basketball thrown in there, as well as a Minnesota North Stars hockey game Saturday afternoon.

The dumbest event of the week has to be Superteams, a spinoff (naturally) from ABC's Superstars competition, one of the trashsports standards of the late '70s - early '80s.  The principle is the same - ostensibly to find out who the best overall athletes are - but this time it's a team, rather than individual, competition.  This week's combatants are the two World Series teams from last year, the Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Phillies.  Supposedly, the Royals are gunning for revenge after their six-game defeat in the Fall Classic, but somehow I don't think many of the Royals are going to be thinking, "Well, you guys won the Series, but we won Superteams!"  Kind of hollow revenge, if you ask me.

One more sports note: TV Update tells us that in a recent NBA game between longtime rivals Philadelphia and Boston, Celtics coach Bill Fitch was ejected for protesting a call.  He left the court, as the rules require, going to his team's dressing room, whereupon he turned on the television set to CBS, saw a closeup of Sixers coach Billy Cunningham outlining strategy for his team during a time out, and relayed the information to Celtics assistant K.C. Jones, who was manning the team in Fitch's absence.  Since then, NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien has informed all teams that this kind of behavior "violates the spirit of the rules and is prohibited."  And you wonder why football coaches always seem to be holding cards in front of their mouths when they're talking to their assistants.

***

In that brief mention I made above of Trapper John, M.D., I probably should have pointed out a very interesting casting feature of Sunday night's episode.  The guest stars are Rita Moreno - Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy winner - and Harold Russell, who won an Oscar (and received a second, special one) for his performance in The Best Years of Our Lives.  You might remember from that movie that Russell, who in real life lost both his hands in the war, plays a veteran trying to adjust to life with a handicap.  In this episode he plays a famed research diagnostician who lost his hands in Korea, and hasn't practiced medicine in 25 years.  (Russell and Moreno, left)

Russell was not a professional actor; he appeared in only two other movies, and only made one other television appearance.  He was, nonetheless, a memorable presence, and his appearance in Trapper John gives the show a gravitas and dignity that it doesn't often have.

Opposite Trapper John, PBS has a salute to the tenth anniversary of Masterpiece Theatre, with host Alistair Cooke presenting a montage of clips from the series' first ten years.  I was about to write that it's hard to believe the show is still on, but in a sense it isn't, really.  Yes, there is a show called Masterpiece on PBS Sunday nights, and yes, most of the characters speak with English accents.  But the stories today are not the multi-part miniseries of years past, nor are they presented as if they were plays for television.  Instead, the emphasis is on the look and feel of a movie, the series itself is split into "Classic," "Mystery" and "Contemporary" (each with their own host, who may or may not say much of anything before the story commences), and most of the stories themselves are more like American series, offering four or six or eight episodes of a story that is often serialized.  And let me tell you, Alan Cumming is no Alistair Cooke, not by a long shot.  The only thing they share are initials and an accent, and that's where the similarity ends.

One last PBS note before we move to the next topic: it's pledge week for many of the affiliates, and on Sunday afternoon Bemidji's KAWE presents an all-day marathon featuring the ultimate PBS hack of the '80s: Dr. Leo Buscaglia.  Wouldn't be PBS - or pledge week - without him.

***

Finally, on Wednesday night we have one of the odder cultural signposts of the '80s.  It's the premiere of ABC's The Greatest American Hero, but our oddity has virtually nothing to do with the show; it is, in fact, a testament to Shakespeare's axiom, "What's in a name?"

The plot is simple enough, and typical '80s fare: William Katt, last seen playing Paul Drake, Jr. in the Perry Mason movies, is a high school teacher given a superhero suit by aliens who just happen to stop by in their UFO.  Together with an FBI agent played by Robert Culp, the duo fight crime and combat evil.  Happens every day, I know.

So far, so good.  Unless, that is, the name of your superhero character happens to be Hinkley, and a man bearing the same last name as yours attempts, two months later, to assassinate the President of the United States.

Notwithstanding that Wednesday's inaugural episode features Katt's Ralph Hinkley trying to stop an assassination, the idea that there could be any confusion between him and the attempted assassin of President Reagan, John Hinkley, is more than absurd.  And so naturally, network executives being who and what they are, Ralph's last name was immediately changed.  As the always-reliable Wikipedia puts it,

For the rest of the first season, he was either "Ralph" or "Mister H". In the episode where Ralph is given a promotion and his own office space, we see the name "Ralph Hanley" on the door plaque. At the start of season two, the name had changed back to Hinkley. In the season three episode "Live At Eleven", Ralph is given a name tag at a political rally with his last name spelled "Hunkley" and Ralph gives up saying "it's close enough for politics".

OK, I get that in 1963, you might want to change the name of a character named "Oswald," just because the wounds would be too raw.  But Reagan survived!  And I'd like to think, with all the white noise surrounding us in 1981, that we wouldn't get ourselves too upset about the last name of a television character.  Besides, Ralph had the name first!

March 13, 2015

An interview with Adam-Michael James, author of The Bewitched Continuum

I recently had the extreme pleasure of talking with Adam-Michael James, author of The Bewitched Continuum, a companion to the much-loved television series of the '60s and '70s.  Now, there have been plenty of books written about specific televisions series, many of them quite good.  But whereas it's very easy to fall into the trap of writing a glorified episode guide that doesn't really tell a fan much that's new, The Bewitched Continuum takes a different approach, using the episodes to tell the continuous story of the marriage of Samantha and Darrin Stephens, their friends and co-workers, and how this story evolves from episode to episode.

You could almost look at it as a biography of the life and times of these characters, rather than a compendium of episodes from a TV series.  We learn that not everything fits perfectly (not surprising for a time when things like Writers' Bibles and story continuity were not emphasized the way they are today), but that there's a surprising and gratifying amount of consistency and development in the way characters and relationships evolved over the years.

It was an approach that I loved immediately, and I knew this was something we had to talk about.  Thankfully, Adam-Michael agreed!

It's About TV:  Why Bewitched? Why not, for instance, I Dream of Jeannie?

Adam-Michael James:  Do we ever pick our passions? (laughs) No, I think interests pick us, or at least that we naturally gravitate to certain things, but not others. I mean, I think Jeannie rocks, and I used to watch her all the time, too, but she didn't stick with me the way Bewitched did. Maybe it's because I discovered Bewitched first. It sounds silly to say it was a defining moment, but it was. I was eight; I can still remember the room and the TV and which scene it was. I think when we reach superfan status with something – whether that's a TV show or a rock star or whatever – it's not just because we think it's cool, but because it reinforces something in us that needs to be reinforced. Or it makes us aware of a part of ourselves we weren't aware of before. It probably goes without saying that Bewitched awakened a sense of magic in all of us. And a message that it was okay and special to be different. At least that's what I feel I got out of it.

You mentioned that you'd kind of filed the show away for a few years, and your interest was rekindled when it came out on disc. Did the way you saw the series change at all from how you'd remembered it? Were there parts of it that you viewed differently?

When you're a teenager, suddenly everything you liked as a kid ceases to be cool! I came back to Bewitched as a young adult when I finally had access to cable – this was in the mid-'90s – and even then the show was familiar but all new. There was a definite sophistication and a sense of humor that you can't get the full impact of until you're an adult. When you're a kid, it's pretty much just the magic that grabs you. Then of course when the DVDs came out and I could watch episodes in order, I started to see that some things tied together between episodes while others didn't. A large part of that is because I've worked with story continuity, both in writing script coverage for Hollywood studios and in the opinion columns I write for soapcentral.com. So I thought, with last year being the 50th anniversary of Bewitched, it would be fun to write all my observations about it down in a book. I do nit-pick quite a bit, but mostly I'm comforted by how well the show holds up.

In the research you did for the book, was there anything you came across that came as a real surprise to you? Something you weren't expecting? And was there anything you'd suspected that you were able to confirm?

Well, most of my “research” was just watching the episodes and taking notes. But I did do a lot of fact-checking. For example, when Napoleon gets zapped out of the past, he asks for Napoleon brandy, which wasn't what they called it in his time. On the other hand, when DaVinci visited, he said he invented “the pump, the power saw, and prefabricated houses” – and he was, indeed, responsible for those innovations. I had a lot of fun looking up those things. You know what surprised me? We always talk about the Stephenses living in Westport, Connecticut, but that locale didn't even come up until the end of sixth season! There are also a lot of iconic elements that don't occur as often as we remember. Uncle Arthur was only on 12 times. Maurice Evans, only ten! And I compiled a section called “Within the Continuum,” which has lists of clients, witch illnesses, how many times Endora called Darrin “Durwood,” and the like. Even the casual Bewitched fan remembers Phyllis Stephens and her sick headaches – did you know she only ever referenced them seven times? Remarkable!

OK, speaking of the "research" - how many times would you say you looked at each episode to be able to get the amount of information needed for the various aspects of the book – the episode write-up, the various accounts in the appendices, etc.? Was there ever an episode you grew tired of by having to watch it so many times? Conversely, was there one that really grew on you, that you became more impressed with through repeat viewings?

Generally, each episode got watched twice – once to jot down all my observations, and a second time focusing on the just episode synopsis. Of course, the DVDs got paused a lot. Often I would have to go back and refer to a scene if I made a note about it in a different episode, just to be sure I remembered something correctly or was making a proper connection. The appendices were both easier and harder. I knew I was going to do those up those early on, so I made notations in the margins of that episode's page – yes, I did all my notes by hand – to make things easier to count when the time came. Yet many times I had to go searching through episodes, especially for the Firsts and Lasts section, because I hadn't paid attention to the last time the word “twitch” was used, for example. There are some third and fourth season episodes that aren't exactly my favorites, so sometimes those required extra motivation to get through. I don't know if there's a particular episode that grew on me, but I would say that I gained a greater appreciation for the black-and-white episodes [of Seasons One and Two]. I tended to think of most of them as Bewitched Lite, if you will, because they're not as outlandish and absurdist as the color seasons. But there's a lot of gold there.

Darrin and Samantha with Sam's mother,
the infamous Endora (Agnes Moorehead)
I know that the book is primarily a companion to watching the show, but you do provide cultural context as well on things like how minorities were portrayed. In that sense, I've read that some Southern stations were quite uncomfortable with the series at first, not because of the witchcraft but because they thought the series was, or would be seen as, an allegory for interracial marriage. Know anything about that, and whether or not that was ever an intent of the creators?

Well, Bewitched started smack in the middle of the civil rights movement. And Elizabeth Montgomery was an advocate of tolerance, so it's not surprising these themes worked their way into the show. My editor, Herbie J Pilato, gets far more into that in his own books about Elizabeth and the behind-the-scenes aspects of Bewitched. My main focus is on the fiction, but even then, all you have to do is look at the episodes. Endora was debunking stereotypes about witches already in the pilot, which certainly was a statement against real-life prejudices, and the messages of tolerance and equality are there all the way through the series. So I'd say it was definitely intentional. Sometimes these allegories were disguised as comments about witches, but other times the show came right out and tackled racism directly. And you have to consider that, in the '60s especially, it was renegade to say that everyone – black or white, straight or gay – should be equal.

I'm impressed by some of the subtle lines in the show that indicate a depth unusual to a sitcom, such as Darrin's awareness of his fear of inferiority (I think it's from the one where Sam offered to do advertising slogans for him, and he says later on if he lets her do it once it can happen again, until there's nothing he does on his own). Do you think lines like that are unusually perceptive for a series of that era? Do you think it means the characters in Bewitched are more formed than in other series?

I'd like to say yes, but I have to be fair and add that my knowledge of other sitcoms of that era isn't as intimate as my knowledge of Bewitched.  Certainly, in retrospect, I find some of those other shows sillier or campier. It's not that Bewitched never got silly or campy; however, I do feel there's a consistent intelligence in the writing of the show. There are times I think they could have dug even deeper, but we're talking about a 1960s sitcom. That they dug at all suggests to me that they were a step ahead of their contemporaries.

And looking at the cast - wow! Elizabeth Montgomery is obviously a star in the making when the series begins, but there are also some very impressive occasional stars - Agnes Moorehead, who'd been nominated for four Academy Awards for example, and Maurice Evans, who I'mn always writing about from the classical plays on Hallmark Hall of Fame. And then, of course, there's Paul Lynde and Alice Ghostley. What was it about the show that made it possible to attract this kind of talent?

Again, I think it has to do with the quality. Naturally, actors want to work, and sometimes you just accept what your agent gets for you. But can you imagine for a minute that Agnes Moorehead would have agreed to appear in even one episode if the writing wasn't up to snuff? The woman was in Citizen Kane! I also think Bewitched had a certain reputation before it even hit the airwaves, given William Asher's directorial history. And everything I've heard about Elizabeth, she was just one of those people others were instantly comfortable around, plus she had the talent to back it up. Besides, who wouldn't want to zap something up or disappear? Maurice Evans always looked like he was having a ball.

OK, here I have to bring up the two Darrins, or people will never forgive me. Several times you make the point about the Stephenses' marriage - its importance to the overall story, as Darrin tries to accept that his new wife is a witch, and Samantha struggles to deal with mortals. Given that, was it absolutely necessary to the show to recast Darrin, rather than to kill him off (for example) and have Sam looking for a new husband? I'd imagine that wouldn't have worked at all.

If Bewitched had been a soap or a primetime drama, Darrin would have been killed off for sure. But you just couldn't do that on a sitcom at that time. Even when 8 Simple Rules killed off John Ritter's character, it was pretty revolutionary, and that was in 2003. It's true – Darrin and Samantha's marriage was the cornerstone of the show. They could have changed Darrin's appearance through witchcraft and gotten away with it, but I think the show was smart to not call attention to the recast. In fact, in The Bewitched Book, Herbie J. Pilato talks about the first episode Dick Sargent filmed; it was a remake of a second season episode in which Endora divided Darrin. Samantha has a line: “I only want one Darrin.” But the producers realized the irony, so they shelved that episode until audiences had a chance to get used to Darrin's new face. Surely Dick York would have stayed had his back injury [that he sustained on the set of the 1959 film They Came to Cordura] not made it impossible, but since that wasn't the case, it seems to me they handled things the best way they could.

Adam-Michael James (The Guardian/Sally Cole)
So out of all that, do you have most and least favorite episodes?  And are there some cast members or guest stars that worked, shall we say, better than others?

This is also something I cover in the “Within the Continuum” section; I have a whole top ten best and worst list. But I'm happy to go on record and say I consider “Sisters At Heart” (#213) my favorite. Tabitha has an African-American friend Lisa, and wants to be her sister so badly that she accidentally gives them different-pigmented polka dots. At the same time, a client of Darrin's turns out to be a racist, so Samantha's schools the guy by making everyone, including himself, appear black. It's the most direct handling of racism the show does, but it's also magical and fun. I'd have to list “Soapbox Derby” (#90) at the bottom. Not that it's a bad episode, but it comes off too Disney for my taste; it doesn't feel like Bewitched.

As for guest stars and supporting cast, there are so many wonderful actors that we could be here all day if I started naming them. I love both Mrs. Kravitzes (Alice Pearce and Sandra Gould), and of course Bernard Fox (Dr. Bombay) and Paul Lynde (Uncle Arthur) and Maurice Evans (Maurice). Sara Seegar is a blast in her many different roles, as is Dick Wilson. I only hint at it in the book, but I wasn't fond of Deacon Jones' turn as the Giant's guard in “Samantha and the Beanstalk” (#171). To be fair, I'm not a fan of stunt casting in general!

Are there any plot lines they didn't follow that you would have liked to see them develop more?

Adam was just discovered to have powers toward the end of eighth season; it's a shame the show ended there, because so much story potential had just opened up for him. I think the show also missed a beat by not letting another main character in on Samantha being a witch. It seemed implausible after a while that the mortals all saw these incredible things happening and never clued in. How cool would it have been for Louise to find out, and then have to work with the Stephenses to keep it from Larry? There were also a lot of one-off characters that it would have been nice to see making return visits. Tabitha's friend Lisa, for example. Gladys had no less than six nephews; bringing back the same one instead would have been great for continuity. One mortal, Irving Bates, knew Samantha was a witch because Tabitha turned him into a little boy – a lot of story could have been built around that. But television continuity wasn't the same in the '60s and '70s. The stuff I mentioned, those are the kinds of things you'd see today on “Big Bang Theory” and “Modern Family.”  When Bewitched was on, an episode aired once a year, twice if you were lucky, on little 13-inch screens. So the kind of magnifying glass we apply to shows now wasn't necessary.

Do you see anything on television today that you'd call a descendant of Bewitched? What's the difference between it and Charmed, for example?

I have to admit, I've never seen Charmed, though I read about it when it was on. I do think that all fantasy shows the last 50 years, especially ones involving witches, can be traced back to  Bewitched – it was the first supernatural sitcom. There wouldn't even have been I Dream of Jeannie if Samantha hadn't gotten there first. Look at Once Upon A Time, and that Hallmark Channel show, The Good WitchBewitched's influence is still living on. I'd probably say its closest descendant was Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. I never got past the first episode because I felt it was ripping off Bewitched! (laughs) Both shows have a Witches' Council! Though Sabrina first appeared in comic strips in 1962, so it's not clear whose Witches' Council came first. Those are the kinds of things I explore in my book.

Would they be stupid to try and remake this show today?

I think it would only be stupid if it wasn't done right. It seems every year now, there's a crop of reimagined shows, and I've yet to see one last a full season. I'm sure you know that, last fall, NBC green-lit a new Bewitched series; I haven't heard anything about it since, but it's apparently slated for the 2015-2016 season. So far they're on the right track – instead of a straight-up reboot, they want to do a continuation of the original series focusing on Samantha's granddaughter. That's definitely a step in the right direction. You may remember something similar was attempted in 1977, with the Tabitha series, and that was a disaster.

I remember shaking my head over that one.  

Even as a kid I knew Tabitha wouldn't be in her 20s yet; it seemed they took the basic idea of Bewitched but threw most of the history out. That would be this new show's biggest mistake. There are too many fans who know Bewitched intimately, and they would be as outraged now as fans were in 1977 if the show was brought into the 21st century without having deep roots in what came first. I actually think it could work really well. First things first, bring back Erin Murphy as Tabitha. Oh, I'm full of ideas. And if the new show needs any help with the original series' continuity, I have a whole book on that very subject. And they can always call me!

Have you ever lived next to someone like Gladys Kravitz?

Thankfully, no. I'm a very private person, so if I had been Samantha, I would have been buying much thicker curtains. (laughs)

Could you ever have worked for McMann and Tate [the ad agency where Darrin worked]?

Oh, my God. (laughs) I did once have a data entry job where people were getting fired left and right, and you never knew where the axe was going to fall next. I don't know how Darrin could ever work in that atmosphere, with Larry threatening to can him all the time! I would have loved for Darrin to open his own agency for a while, just to teach Larry a lesson. They did flirt with that in eighth season, but carrying it over for a few episodes would have been cool. I think even the show realized they were having Larry fire Darrin too often. In fifth season, it happened three episodes in a row! Not long after that, the show pulled back. Of course, Larry's hot-headedness is part of his schtick. If he had been a real boss, someone would have reported him!

Could Darrin have ever made it in Mad Men?

What an intriguing question! I've only ever seen the first seven episodes of Mad Men. I wanted to like it – the acting is superb and they really captured the time and place; it's just that I found the characters so reprehensible. I guess they're supposed to be, but it didn't make me want to follow their further adventures. As an ad man, I think Darrin could totally cut it at Sterling Cooper. Did you ever see that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode where that particular crew travelled to the past and interacted with the original Enterprise crew from “The Trouble with Tribbles”? It would be epic if they could do something like that with Mad Men and Bewitched. I can just see Don Draper walking into McMann & Tate!

You knew I had to ask - which Darrin do you prefer?

Oh, of course – this is the question I get asked the most. And it's an understandable question. Yet it's not really a fair one, you know? No matter which Darrin I say, the other Darrin's fan base will be unhappy. Plus somehow I feel it denigrates both Dick York's and Dick Sargent's performances – especially Dick Sargent's – to get into a discussion of which Darrin was better. They both did wonderful things with the role, and it wasn't Dick York's fault he had to leave the show because of his back injury. In the book, I say that if Dick York was the Darrin Stephens of the '60s, then Dick Sargent was the Darrin Stephens of the '70s.

That's a great way to look at it!

I'll quote George Washington when he visited the Stephenses: “There, I think I answered that question without lying.” (laughs)

All in all, what do you want people to take away from The Bewitched Continuum?

I guess it's twofold: I want to make sure people don't forget the show, yet I also want to help fans enjoy the show in a whole new way. Part of what excited me about writing The Bewitched Continuum is exploring the world of witchcraft, and the fiction, which hadn't been done before. Everything out there is pretty much about the actors and the filming and all the real-life stuff, but when you really break it down, it's the magic and the characters and the stories people love. Is my book going to cure world hunger? No. But it's a reason for new fans to discover the show and established fans to delve even further into it; you can have the book at your side when you watch and go through each episode in order, or skip around. Mostly, I wanted this book to be a celebration of a show we're still talking about 50 years later. It's truly a labor of love. That may be the biggest magic of all!

March 11, 2015

Around the dial - Wednesday edition!

Because I'll be out-of-pocket from live blogging for the rest of this week, I thought I'd put up a special "Around the Dial" for today, followed on Friday by a terrific interview I had recently with Adam-Michael James, author of The Bewitched Continuum.  Please make sure and come back for that interview; not only is The Bewitched Continuum a wonderful book (review coming shortly), but Adam-Michael is a terrific and charming interview.  In the meantime...

We've read about this before, but The University of Maryland Broadcasting Archives links to another story, this one from Adweek, on how classic television subchannels are proving to be good business.

I've also mentioned Fireball XL-5 before - perhaps my favorite show that I have no memory of.  I had the toys, was told I loved the show as a little kid, can't remember a thing.  Classic Film and TV Cafe says we can now relive it (or live it for the first time) with a great new DVD boxed set.

Remember the days before television became so serialized, before we had catchphrases such as "story arc"?  Back then, most series had what were called "two-part episodes," meaning the story would be told over two weeks, rather than one.  How quaint!  Anyway, Comfort TV takes us back to those days, with some of the best and worst examples of the genre.

Skipper!  It was Alan Hale Jr.'s most memorable role, and Michael's TV Tray commemorates what would have been his 94th birthday with one of the great Gilligan's Island bits.  I've been seeing Hale a lot lately on MST3K; better to remember him this way!

Don't forget to check out the new TV Guide review on Friday at Television Obscurities.  In the meantime, here's a story about the Festival of Preservation at UCLA, which serves as yet another reminder that I need to get out there and check out the television section of that museum.

More good stuff out there, so be sure to check the sidebar for all the other blogs that make up the honor roll.  And remember - back here on Friday for my interview with Adam-Michael James!