Sunday, July 22, 2018

Classic TV: Columbo (1971)

Columbo wasn't your average detective.

Writers Richard Levinson & William Link introduced Columbo in a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Hour, with Bert Freed in the role. Eight years later, after that particular episode had been adapted for the stage, Columbo returned in an NBC TV-movie, with Peter Falk starring in "Prescription: Murder", which brought the original pilot full circle.

In 1971, NBC decided to make Columbo a component of their new Mystery Movie wheel anthology, along with McMillan & Wife and McCloud, the latter of which came over from the failed Four-In-One anthology. The format was basic, a reversal of the classic whodunits in that the killer would be revealed to the audience early, and it was just a matter of when Columbo put all the clues together.

Columbo's relentless pursuit of the case would lend itself to parody. As season six began, ABC and Hanna-Barbera introduced a canine detective, Mumbly, who was later revealed to be a lookalike cousin of Dick Dastardly's sidekick, Muttley, and was posited initially as a parody of Columbo, but being here, there, and everywhere to the annoyance of the suspect was borrowed from Droopy. Unfortunately, the heroic Mumbly lasted one year before he was rebooted to replace cousin Muttley due to a rights dispute in another series.

In addition, radio & cartoon legend Casey Kasem impersonated Columbo on two occasions. The first was when Telly Savalas (Kojak) was feted on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, the other as a villain on The Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew Mysteries. In both cases, Kasem was unable to replicate Falk's vocal patterns as Columbo.

In all, Columbo ran for 8 seasons on NBC, and then was brought back 11 years later on ABC, which utilized the series on and off for 14 years (1989-2003). To think that the character of Columbo actually turns 60 in two years time begs the question. Could anyone fill that rumpled trenchcoat now, several years after Falk's passing?

Right now, let's go back to 1971 and "Death Lends a Hand", with Robert Culp (ex-I Spy), Patricia Crowley (ex-Please Don't Eat The Daisies), and Ray Milland.

Rating: A.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Musical Interlude: Far From Over (1983)

It was enough of a surprise that Paramount decided to do a sequel to 1977's "Saturday Night Fever", but waiting six years to make it happen? It's all a matter of perspective.

"Staying Alive", drawing its title from the Bee Gees' hit of the same name from the "Fever" soundtrack, turned a profit at the box office, but was far from a critical darling. John Travolta reprised his "Fever" role as Tony Manero, surrounded by a new supporting cast, including Cynthia Rhodes and Finola Hughes, the latter better known now for her run on General Hospital. The other hook? The movie was co-written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, who had a brief cameo.

Stallone also managed to get his brother, Frank, a part in the movie. Not only that, but Frank wrote four songs himself, recording three of them, including a duet with Rhodes. The Bee Gees also contributed to the soundtrack, including a reprise of "Staying Alive". Frank Stallone scored his only Top 40 hit with one of his songs, "Far From Over", the video of which is chock full of movie footage.

If you've watched season 2 of GLOW on Netflix, you know "Far From Over" is on that series' soundtrack, too.

For what it's worth, and it's probably not much, but Sylvester Stallone decided to give singing a try himself, albeit on the country charts with Dolly Parton in the movie, "Rhinestone". As for Frank, he wasn't heard from again on MTV or radio. The Bee Gees' "Woman in You" was the only other single off the "Staying Alive" soundtrack.

Creepy TV: The Hitchhiker (1983)

1983 was the year that a French-Canadian studio, DIC, first made inroads in American television. Better known for their cartoon output, starting with the adaptation of The Littles for ABC and the syndicated Inspector Gadget. While they did venture into live-action children's programming before the end of the decade (i.e. Photon, Super Mario Bros. Super Show), their first live-action venture was also in 1983.

DIC, you see, also presented The Hitchhiker, a modern day anthology series in the vein of Rod Serling's seminal Twilight Zone. DIC founders Jean Chalopin & Andy Heyward are among the executive producers for the series, which ran for a total of six seasons, debuting first on HBO, then, after a two year hiatus, moved to basic cable, becoming a weekend staple on USA Network. However, the transition to basic cable also meant scrubbing the coarse language used in the HBO episodes were they to be replayed on USA.

Nicholas Campbell had the title role for all of three episodes. The producers then turned to Page Fletcher as their new Hitchhiker, and that, for all we know, may have saved the show. DIC's go-to musical directors, Shuki Levy & Haim Saban, also composed music for the series. It was the success of DIC's first class that ultimately led to Saban moving on to expand his production company beyond composing music and producing his own series.

I was hoping to find something from the USA era, and we might still do that around Halloween, but all I could find were the HBO episodes, f-bombs included. So I opted instead for this generic intro from the HBO era.

I did find myself watching some episodes during the USA era. Nothing special, really.

Rating: B.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Lucy meets the Three Stooges! (Three Little Pigskins, 1934)

Yeah, that would be the title if the Three Stooges had appeared on The Lucy Show or Here's Lucy in the 60's.

You see, while Lucille Ball might be better known for her red hair and gift for physical comedy, in 1934, she was a blonde actress trying to make it big. Columbia hired her for a supporting role opposite the Stooges in "Three Little Pigskins". In it, the Stooges are unemployed (naturally) before being hired to hype a football game. A case of mistaken identity gets the boys onto the gridiron, and, of course, trouble.

Normally, the Stooges would do their own stunts, but needed stunt doubles for some key scenes, especially after Curly broke his leg in the dumbwaiter scene.

Rating: A.

Weasel of the Week: Mike Cernovich

When Disney & Marvel release "Guardians of The Galaxy 3", or whatever it'll be called, James Gunn won't be at the helm.

Gunn, who directed the first two films, was fired earlier today after a series of old tweets, in which Gunn poked fun at rape and pedophilia, resurfaced, thanks to a right wing conservative pundit named Mike Cernovich.

Much like Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike Hader, Gunn's tweets are as much as 10 years old, but although Gunn had deleted the tweets from his own account, Cernovich and other like-minded social nannies were able to find them. Seems that Gunn has been critical of President Trump (like, who hasn't), and, so, it figures that a dweeb like Cernovich would resort to this kind of chicanery. Disney, understandably, didn't want to soil its family-friendly image, and dismissed Gunn.

I don't condone either side in this case. I see Cernovich for what he is, a pathetic Weasel cutting down Gunn at the height of his fame. Gunn made the tweets before he became the hot commodity he is or was, and took care to delete them, thinking no one would dare to search them out if they were archived somewhere (and they were). All you're doing, Mike Cernovich, is exploiting James Gunn to call attention to your own website and podcast, or whatever it is you do to push your agenda. You're piggy-backing on his fame, tearing him down at the same time, and that makes you a Weasel of the highest order. Enjoy the Weasel of the Week award, bubbelah. You deserve it.

Classic TV (?): Movin' On (1974)

CB (Citizens' Band) radios were getting big in the mid-70's. In 1974, NBC bought a pilot from an independent producer about a pair of truckers criss-crossing the country helping folks. Kind of like Route 66 with 18 wheels instead of 4.

Movin' On ran for 2 seasons (1974-6), spun from a May 1974 pilot movie, "In Tandem". Frank Converse (ex-NYPD, Coronet Blue) co-starred with Claude Akins, but what really got the show rollin' was a kickin' theme song composed and performed by country legend Merle Haggard, which hit the top of the country charts in the summer of '75.

Decades currently holds the cable rights to the series, and independent distributor Peter Rodgers owns the show, having acquired it, along with other familiar titles such as I Spy and The Rifleman, in recent years.

Here's the intro:

As memory serves, Movin' On held its own, aiming for a slightly older audience than ABC's Happy Days, which had a few months' head start. Producer Ernie Frankel would work with Akins again on the short-lived CBS series, Nashville 99. Akins, then, put himself back opposite ABC's killer sitcom block when NBC slotted The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo on Tuesdays, in the same space as Movin' On, in 1979.

Rating: B.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Forgotten TV: Operation Entertainment (1968)

ABC had trouble filling the 8:30 (ET) slot on Fridays in the late 60's until The Brady Bunch came along at the end of the decade. The 1967-8 season started with Hondo, which lasted half a season, in the slot.

In January 1968, Hondo was booted, and the replacement came from a more reliable supplier, that being game show mogul Chuck Barris.

Barris saw how Bob Hope was having success with his USO tours of Vietnam, so he and Bill Carruthers pitched the idea to ABC of a weekly variety show that visited various military bases around the country.

Unfortunately, Operation Entertainment, while it ran for parts of two seasons, isn't as well remembered as Barris' greater successes, including The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and, of course, the iconic 70's classic, The Gong Show, which has found new life as a summer series on ABC, now in its 2nd season.

While there was a guest host every week, Barris had his favorites, including Dating Game host Jim Lange and actor-comedian Tim Conway, who each had multiple appearances.

I don't remember seeing the show, so there's no rating. We'll leave you with this clip with host du jour Dick Cavett introducing Louis Armstrong at Fort Hood in Texas.