Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Joe Namath Show (1969)

The Joe Namath Show
Stars: Joe Namath, Dick Schaap
13 episodes

In Short: Broadway Joe does a talk show.

My grasp of sports history is fair but not exceptional. So I'll cautiously reckon that while Joe Namath was hardly the first celebrity sports figure that he was something of a game changer, to borrow some lingo from the world of sport.

I won't go too deeply into this - you can go look it up. But I'll summarize by saying that Namath was a charismatic quarterback and something of a party animal, who scored big in Super Bowl III by leading a team of underdogs to a very unexpected victory. His popularity soared to the point where his celebrity tended to outshine his humble origins as a footballer.

Over the years Namath turned up in numerous TV commercials and guest shots in TV shows, with a smattering of movie roles thrown in for good measure. In 1978, he starred in The Waverly Wonders, a short-lived TV show. It was his second such effort, with The Joe Namath Show making a short run on daytime TV about a decade earlier.

Namath's other talk show hosting credits were somewhat more formidable. In the late Sixties and Seventies, he was one of the legions who filled for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. His hosting duties on The Joe Namath Show were shared with Dick Schaap, a well-known sportswriter of the day and the co-author of Namath's book, I Can't Wait Until Tomorrow...'Cause I Get Better-Looking Every Day.

Guests were pretty much evenly divided between the sports and entertainment world and ran the gamut from Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays to Truman Capote and Woody Allen. And another footballer whose sports career would later be eclipsed, in an even more spectacular fashion - O.J. Simpson.

Of Note:
Schaap also co-wrote the 1968 best-seller, Instant Replay, with Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers, who made an appearance on the talk show.
Guests from the sports world included Howard Cosell, Peggy Fleming, Jerry Kramer, and Tom Seaver.
Guests from the entertainment world included Paul Anka, Ann-Margret, Jimmy Breslin, and fellow talk show host, Dick Cavett.

Observed: (1/2)
I didn't have access to the second episode of the show in its entirety but what I saw was enough. Guest stars included a rather restrained Muhammad Ali and George Segal, who was much more lively. At this point in his career, Dick Schaap didn't seem to really have what it took to be a talk show host. Namath is a little more animated and comes off somewhat better but he's kind of clunky too.

Ali is about as low-key as you'll see him and things go south when Segal comes on to do his turn. For whatever reason both guests are still on set, between the hosts, and Namath has to talk past Ali to speak to Segal. Ali shuts down at some point and later reveals that it was due to his discomfort over the discussion of nudity in Segal's upcoming movie. Namath, who was something of a playboy, seems to take exception to Ali taking exception to this and things take a decidedly uncomfortable turn.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972-73)

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear
Host: Sebastian Cabot
23 episodes

In Short: Things that go bump in the night.

William Castle is best known for a series of low budget horror movies (The Tingler, 13 Ghosts, etc.) that each featured a nifty gimmick (buzzers in the theater seats, skeletons flying around the theater) that would enhance their publicity value. Castle is not so well known as creator and producer of the 1972-73 TV anthology series, Ghost Story/Circle of Fear or as the producer of Rosemary's Baby (1968).

Anthology shows dealing with fantastic, macabre and supernatural topics were hardly a new thing by the time 1972 rolled around. Some of the more notable ones to grace American televisions by that time included Alfred Hitchcock Presents - later The Alfred Hitchcock Hour - which aired from 1955-1965. Boris Karloff was the host for Thriller (1960–62), and the Outer Limits controlled transmission from 1963-1965. Last and definitely not least were a pair of shows developed and hosted by Rod Serling. Of course, there's The Twilight Zone (1959-64), arguably one of most high-profile anthology shows ever. The lesser of these two was Night Gallery (1969-73), which was still airing by the time Ghost Story began its short run.

Sebastian Cabot, best known to American viewers at the time as Mr. French, on the sitcom Family Affair, took on the hosting duties for the first part of this show's run, when it was called Ghost Story. He played a hotel owner name Winston Essex, who did a not so mysterious disappearing act after 13 episodes. It was at this point that ratings were found to be floundering and the name and premise were tweaked a bit. Circle of Fear would be host-free and would feature a less overt focus on the supernatural (and an opening that seemed to me to recall that of Night Gallery). The revamped version hung in for another nine episodes and then it too disappeared.

Of Note:
Brought to you by NBC. Among the big-name writers here, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch. Among the big-name stars, Hal Linden, Jodie Foster, Angie Dickinson, Jason Robards, Patricia Neal, Janet Leigh, Martin Sheen, and David Soul.

Observed: (1/16) "Earth, Air, Fire and Water"
I realize that it’s a bit of an iffy proposition to review an anthology series based on my usual practice of screening one episode. Writers, directors and stars didn't necessarily stick around for multiple episodes so the quality could vary widely.

From the latter incarnation of the show - the Circle of Fear episodes, comes one that's probably most notable for being written by Harlan Ellison and D. C. Fontana. He, of course, is the infamously opinionated and rather talented writer and she, probably best known as a writer on Star Trek, particularly the first series.

In this episode, a group of young artists set up a space to create and sell their wares and everything seems to be going well. Until someone finds a damned trunk full of odd bottles full of strangely colored liquids. At which point everyone begins to go off the rails. It's not a particularly fresh or exciting premise but with the right approach something interesting might have been made of it. Alas, this didn't happen. It unspools at a decidedly deliberate pace and rather predictably too.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Voyagers! (1982-83)

Starts: Jon-Erik Hexum, Meeno Peluce
20 episodes

In Short: Time's repairmen.

I've never found time travel to be a particularly interesting topic. That's not a value judgment but merely an opinion. I'm also not a fan of Dr. Who but I gather that it's one of the first TV shows were time travel played a somewhat integral role. Following that there was The Time Tunnel (1966–67), one of Irwin Allen's big four of Sixties SF TV shows - the others were Lost In Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants. It's a show that has a certain cheesy charm, like most of Allen's shows. But it would be stretching the truth quite a bit to say that it was any good.

A decade and a half later came Voyagers! (love that enthusiasm), who voyage through time, traveling to problem spots and making things right again. Don't bother analyzing this aspect of the show because it doesn't seem to have been very carefully or logically thought out. The unlikely duo here is comprised of Jon-Erik Hexum as Phineas Bogg (get it?), a dashing sort of fellow who seems often to become entangled with a member of the opposite sex, regardless of which time period he finds himself in. Meeno Peluce, as Jeffrey Jones, is the younger member of the duo and the brains of the outfit. He's quite well schooled on all matters historical - perhaps a bit too much - and is presumably on hand to attract the demographic that also found some appeal in the likes of Menudo, Scott Baio, and Ralph Macchio.

Turns out that Bogg is one of a number of Voyagers doing the time repair thing. Early on in the series he comes across the recently orphaned Jones and the two pair up for a season's worth of time travel antics. What it boils down to is that the pair consult their Omni, a handheld gizmo that flashes green when things are going well with the time flow and red when there's a problem. It's not clear (at least it wasn't to me) how the actual time travel component works but visually we see out to heroes sort of flying, more or less Superman style, through a star field until they arrive at their destination. In the episode I watched, they fell from the sky into a chicken coop and another time on to an awning. I suspect similar gimmicks were used each time they landed in a new time period but I can't say so for sure.

Of Note:
Over the course of the series Bogg and Jones meet many of the big names of history, from Buffalo Bill and the Wright brothers to Spartacus and the baby Moses. Surprisingly, Hitler is nowhere to be seen. Stars of note included Ed Begley Jr. (Wilbur Wright) and Jonathan Frakes (Charles Lindbergh). Beverly Hills 90210 star Shannen Doherty has a small role in an episode, as does Luke Perry, who appears in an uncredited role. His role in this show apparently made an impact on Peluce, who later became a high school history teacher for a time. For a show that only aired for 20 episodes more than three decades ago, Voyagers! seems to still have an avid fan base. Here's a good fan site.

Observed: (1/19)
"Barriers of Sound" was the next to the last of the 20 episodes of the series. As it opens, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the future general and American president, is being born and it's not going well. Our heroes drop in (to a chicken coop - haw!) and wonder why the Eisenhowers can't just pick up a phone and call a doctor. Apparently, this thread of time has no telephones and so it's back in time a bit to Boston in the time of Alexander Graham Bell. He's a teacher at a deaf school and is not actively working on the telephone at the time. Bogg and Jones need to fix this and for some reason they also need to get him hooked up with one of his former students. Complications arise when the rakish Bogg takes a fancy to her.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Bailey's Comets (1973-75)

Bailey's Comets
Stars: Carl Esser, Karen Smith
16 episodes

In Short: Around the world on roller skates.

I haven't run the numbers but methinks roller skating and its rock 'em, sock 'em offshoot - roller derby - have seen a considerable decline since their heyday, whenever that was. Nowadays roller derby is making something of a comeback but at the time Bailey's Comets aired the sport was being represented on the big screen by two big budget Hollywood movies - Kansas City Bomber (1972) and Rollerball (1975). On the small screen Bailey's Comets aired a total of 16 episodes, each of which were made up of two shorter segments.

In the annals of cartoondom plenty of strange stuff has come down the pike over the years, but Bailey's Comets has to be right up there with the strangest of them all. Roller skating is the theme here and apparently the six team members that make up Bailey's Comets (headed by one Barnaby Bailey) are a roller derby team, although in the episodes I watched I didn't recall seeing much rough stuff.

The gimmick here is a simple one - more than a dozen teams of skaters skate forth to assorted and sundry points around the globe, trying to win a prize of...are you ready for this - a million dollars! Which was the standard unimaginably large sum of money when I was growing up and one that sounded a lot more impressive back then.

Of course, with that kind of dough at stake, it should come as no surprise that the contest is a pretty fierce one. There are more than a dozen other teams vying for the prize and they span a pretty wide range, from The Roller Bears (bears) and The Broomer Girls (witches) to The Ramblin' Rivets (robots) and The Cosmic Rays (aliens). The race takes the teams to such far flung locations as Transylvania, Loch Ness, the Gobi Desert and the Sargasso Sea, just to name a few

It's pretty silly stuff, as one might guess, unreeling at a frenetic pace that didn't do much for me all these years past my peak cartoon watching years. I'm not sure how I missed it back then but I suspect it might have been more appealing for me back in the day that it is now.

Observed: ???
Once again I haven't done my due diligence - as they say - and so I've forgotten exactly which episodes I watched. There were two and one had something to do with one of the Comets being enticed and distracted by a farmer's daughter, with the goal of throwing him off his game - or something like that.

I used the word "frenetic" once and I'll use it again. Nowadays I found the frantic pace to be a bit tiring. There are plenty of wacky gadgets trotted out along the way and a whole lot of scheming among the various teams to gain advantage and I couldn't help feeling that I was watching an amped up, animated version of the movie, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Mockingbird Lane (2012) & The Mini-Munsters (1973)

Mockingbird Lane
Stars: Jerry O'Connell, Portia de Rossi
1 episode

In Short: Two failed attempts to bring The Munsters back from the dead.

Like many successful TV shows, The Munsters (1964-66) spawned a number of spin-offs, including five movies and a TV series. The first of the movies, Munster, Go Home! (1966) was a theatrical release. Next up was an animated TV movie, The Mini-Munsters (1973), followed by three live-action TV movies, The Munsters' Revenge (1981), Here Come the Munsters (1995), and The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas (1996). On the TV front, The Munsters Today starred John Schuck as Herman and Lee Meriwether as Lily and had a respectable run from 1988 to 1991, for a total of 72 episodes. Mockingbird Lane (2012) took another stab a TV remake but didn't make it past the pilot stage.

In Short: A darkly humorous Munsters reboot that coulda been a contender.

Is it too soon? Can a TV show qualify as forgotten a mere four years after it aired? Let's proceed under the assumption that it can and away we go.

I've written about more than a dozen series at this site thus far. I try to watch a minimum of one episode per series but if the sordid truth be told sometimes I can't make it through an entire episode. There's are reasons why many of those shows are languishing in obscurity and often the reason is that they're not very good.

But a strange thing happened as I was watching Mockingbird Lane. I should point out that I'm not much of a fan of reboots, remakes and whatnot, not even when the source material is something I really like. Such as Twin Peaks, Pee Wee Herman, and the Gilmore Girls, all of which are being dug out of mothballs and taken for another spin. Ho hum.

I try to be somewhat open minded about each series I write about here and yet I tend to have low expectations, which were even lower for a reboot of The Munsters. Which was a perfectly decent show the first time around so how can you possibly improve on the original?

Well, I don't know if "improve" is the right word but for the first time since I started this site I found myself kind of liking a show I was reviewing. I might even have watched another episode...or three or four. But, alas, there are no more episodes, as Mockingbird Lane never made it past the pilot stage. Dark humor dominates here and its very dark for network TV. Which makes sense, I suppose, as show developer Bryan Fuller is the same guy who brought us such dark TV fare as Pushing Daisies and Hannibal.

Of Note:
Aired during the 2012 Halloween season.

Observed: (1/1)
The usual Munsters suspects are present in this adaptation, but in a significantly altered form. Unlike their original incarnations they can almost pass for normal and so we miss those exaggerated reaction shots common to the original show whenever a normal person encountered a Munster.

Herman (Jerry O'Connell) is a Frankenstein's monster type, but not of the Karloff/Fred Gwynne variety. He can pass for normal - as long as he has a shirt on, that is, which serves to hide the scars where he was stitched together. Lily (Portia De Rossi) and Grandpa (Eddie Izzard) can also get by in polite society, after a fashion, even though they're bloodthirsty vampires and Grandpa undergoes some very ghastly transformations now and then.

Of course, there's Marilyn (Charity Wakefield), the "abnormal" (normal) family member, who's not quite as squeaky clean as she was in the original show. Last, but not least, is Eddie (Mason Cook) - who gets more to do here than he typically did in the original series.

As things get underway, Eddie's scout troop is subjected to a "baby bear attack," or so Eddie is told later - he doesn't remember much about it. His parents are torn when it comes to telling him about the changes he's undergoing. Eddie assumes its puberty and he also decides to become a vegetarian, which will be a tough row to hoe, given the nature of his condition.

In the other main plot thread Herman's heart gives out - apparently because he loves too much or something like that - and Grandpa installs a temporary replacement until they can locate a permanent one. Like the original series, it's quite a lot of fun but in a very different way.

The Mini-Munsters
Stars: Richard Long, Cynthia Adler, Al Lewis
1 episode

The Mini-Munsters first aired during the Halloween season of 1973 on The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, which featured one-hour animated TV-movies, including the The Brady Kids on Mysterious Island, Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter, Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid, and Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies. A half-hour version appeared in the following decade and seems to be the only version that's readily accessible nowadays.

Of Note:
Writers Arthur Alsberg and Don Nelson teamed up again on The Munsters' Revenge (1981).

Observed: (1/1)
Nothing much to see here, really. Only Al Lewis is on hand from the original series. The animation is so-so and the story isn't much to look at either. It's about mobsters who take over an oil company and clash with the Munsters when Grandpa invents a device that will power vehicles with music. Turns out Eddie is an aspiring rocker in this version and two of his rocking teen relatives come from the old country to join him. They take a few brief stabs at playing music but it never amounts to much. Perhaps the longer version of the show had them actually play a song but that remains to be seen.