Wednesday, January 30, 2013

30 Rock Rocks

A tip of the Thompson topper to the departing 30 ROCK as it goes out on a high note, creatively speaking at least, this week.

In recent years, I've watched very little TV--especially sitcoms. They're repetitive and unfunny and feature cookie cutter characters I can't recognize from one series to another. Not so with this one.

Still, I avoided it for more than a season. Then I saw the first season DVD set on sale really cheap and thought I'd give it a try. 

Never did catch 30 ROCK on television. I watched the first two seasons on DVD and then have followed the rest on Hulu!

The characters are original and endearing, the performances good, the humor surreal and generally on the mark and the show has a habit of biting the NBC hand that feeds it...very, very hard.

I'll miss 30 ROCK.
Thanks, Tina, Alec and everyone!
Best of luck to you all.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Simon and Garfunkel Special-1969

Simon and Garfunkel had already broken up (the first time) by the time I really paid any attention to them when I received their Greatest Hits album as a Christmas gift in 1971. This 1969 TV special was controversial in several respects and certainly not what Bell Telephone was expecting when they funded it. Many reports say Bell pulled out before the show aired but this TV GUIDE ad from the week before still shows them attached to it.

For much more info on this special, which was later included in one of the duo's CD re-releases, go here:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Electric Grandmother

I lost both of my grandmothers by 1962 when I was only 3 years old so grandmothers really have never been a big deal to me. Well...not until 20 years later when I first watched THE ELECTRIC GRANDMOTHER anyway. Based on I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC by my favorite author, Ray Bradbury, it's a heart-wrenching tale of a type of sentient robot grandmother who comes to live with a family who've just suffered a loss. At first things don't go well at all but...let's just say I'm tearing up just remembering the ending.

The great and somewhat eccentric actress Maureen Stapleton gives a letter-perfect performance in the title role.

Previously the script had been filmed in a shorter version under its original name for a good but not great episode of Rod Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Barney Miller Ensemble

BARNEY MILLER was a cop sitcom that lasted 8 seasons from 1974 until 1982. Although its two biggest breakout stars from the beginning were Hal Linden as barney and Abe Vigoda as Fish, it was always really an ensemble comedy and one of the best TV has ever presented. 

In the beginning the show featured scenes of Captain Miller's home life and his wife featured prominently. Stars Hal Linden and Barbara Barrie came to the series from very successful Broadway careers, as did Ron Glass.Gregory Sierra and Jack Soo had been longtime character actors and Max Gail was s till a relative newcomer in the business.

Sierra left first, returning to a very eclectic list of character roles. Vigoda, who had been around a long time before he impacted with THE GODFATHER, was the breakout character and got his own short-lived but funny sitcom, FISH.

James Gregory came along in the semi-regular role of the Inspector and Ron Carey scored as a sycophantic uniformed officer yearning to be a detective.

Deadpan comic Steve Landesberg was brought in as a new detective and changed the dynamic a bit. It changed even more with the death of veteran Jack Soo.
But no matter who might come and go, the quality of the writing and performances remained high and BARNEY MILLER remained a hit.

At one point, they even locked up THESE guys. Well, at least in this publicity shot.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Hogan's Heroes

When I first watched HOGAN'S HEROES in the sixties, I had no way of knowing what an odd premise it was. After six seasons, the series was one of the very few that never jumped the shark! Looked at today, the final episodes of that last season hold up as being as good or better than the best episodes of earlier seasons. There was one major cast replacement but it was barely noticeable.

The premise was simple but somewhat ingenious, combining elements of the serious play/film STALAG 17 with more gung-ho war flicks and more than a dash of the spy craze then sweeping the US. We're never given a full back-story, nor an ending, and specific details we did have changed from episode to episode. Basically, though, Col. Robert Hogan was shot down and captured on purpose so he could set up an underground organization of unsuspected Allied prisoners along with various other specially trained experts who ended up there the same way.

There were other prisoners who came and went, rarely the same actors twice. They were simply background material, ignored all but visually in nearly every episode. Only the core group of five stood out.

And their antagonists, of course. Col. Wilhelm Klink was the sycophantic but somehow lovable loser who ran the camp. He was easy to get around and easy to manipulate so it was up to Hogan to both give him a good reputation and maintain it for him so their unwitting ally wouldn't get transferred away for his own incompetence. Distinguished actor Werner Klemperer, known for his more serious portrayals of evil Nazis, took Klink straight to the Emmy Awards!

Klink's sidekick was Sgt. Hans Schultz. Often criticized by those who said that Nazis simply can't be funny, actor John Banner was able to make Schultz into one of the great TV characters of the sixties, completely unbelievable but 100 percent hilarious. 

Rarely given the credit, HOGAN'S HEROES was one of the first TV series to feature an African-American actor with little reference to his race throughout the whole run. Ivan Dixon's character of Kinch was the smartest person other than Hogan and also had a great comic timing. With only a couple of episodes centering around his character overall, though, he opted to skip the final season in order to pursue what would become a distinguished career as a director.

Englishman Richard "Dickie" Dawson had been a nightclub comic and a small-time actor, perhaps best-known for his one-time marriage to actress Diana Dors, the British Marilyn Monroe. As cockney conman Newkirk, he came into his own and later became a game show staple before hosting his own, FAMILY FEUD, and becoming a TV legend himself.

Frenchman Robert Clary got a lot of publicity out of the fact that he himself had been in a Nazi concentration camp in WWII (NOT, as he was quick to point out, the same thing as a prisoner of war camp). His Lebeau was a lively and entertaining part of some of the more absurd storylines. 

Comedian Larry Hovis never gets enough credit but he may well have been one of the funniest comics of his day. As Carter here he was the shy, quiet, down-home "normal" one--albeit with a penchant for liking to blow things up!

Leon Askin as Klink's superior appeared often and leant a stressed air of superiority to his high-pitched role of a German General.

Howard Caine as the Gestapo chief also showed up quite often and managed to steal pretty much every scene he was in from all of these other scene-stealers by chewing the scenery.

When Ivan Dixon left, Kenneth Washington, with no explanation ever even hinted at, played a variation of the same role as Baker in the final season.

There were quite a number of other actors who appeared fairly regularly on HOGAN'S HEROES, many even as different characters in different episodes. These included Bernard Fox, John Hoyt, John Stephenson, Nita Talbot, Kathleen Freeman, Arlene Martel (STAR TREK's T'Pring), Henry Corden, Noam Pitlik, Harold Gould and even an actor named Robert Hogan for whom the show's main character was named.

The tragic and still unsolved murder of series star Bob Crane in the late seventies put a bit of a damper on the show's tremendous popularity in syndication but its reputation and recognition has built back up in time with a whole new generation discovering HOGAN'S HEROES now that every episode is available in pristine quality on Youtube!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

1959 TV Comics

I was too young for comic books in the year of my birth, 1959, but not too young for television. I remember watching all these shows as a tot! All of them also had FOUR-COLOR COMICS adaptations that very year, many of which I have read since! I've even gotten to interview Tony Dow and work with Will Hutchins!