Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Modern Classic (?): Wiseguy (1987)

Wiseguy lasted 3, almost 4 seasons, but was different from most crime dramas.

Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl), a government operative, goes deep undercover in various criminal organizations to take them down from the inside. What made Wiseguy so different, and, at the same time, innovative, was that there wasn't an over-arching story arc. Instead, each arc would last a few weeks before reaching its conclusion.

Wahl left the series after the 3rd season, but CBS and producer Stephen J. Cannell moved forward with Steven Bauer as the new lead. They wrote off Wahl by selling the idea that Terranova had been abducted, which was retconned out in a 1996 TV-movie, produced for ABC instead of CBS, that had Vinnie doing some wiretapping. The movie bombed due to the fact it was airing opposite NBC's powerhouse Thursday block. The series itself aired on Wednesdays.

Kevin Spacey, currently in Netflix's House of Cards, appeared in season 1. Other notables included Ray Sharkey, musicians Glenn Frey and Debbie Harry, Deidre Hall (Days of Our Lives), and, in season 2, comedy legend Jerry Lewis, in a dramatic turn as the owner of a dry cleaner under siege from a mob boss (Stanley Tucci). Ron Silver co-stars in "All Or Nothing", courtesy of Hulu:

Today, the show languishes in the vaults. I wonder why.

Rating: B.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Classic TV: It's Academic (1961)

It's Academic, a high school equivalent to the GE College Bowl, has been on the air in some form for nearly 55 years in Washington, DC, and has come & gone in other parts of the country, including New York. No, the series didn't air in my home district, but the closest it got was in Watertown, per TV Guide, in the 70's. Here at home, we had Answers Please, which was reviewed several months back in Saturday Morning Archives.

WNBC in New York carried the series from the mid-60's through at least 1972, according to research. Art James, later of shows like Temptation and The Who, What, or Where Game, and sportscaster Lee Leonard served as hosts. As noted, the show is still running in Washington, and the extensive list of alumni includes actress Sandra Bullock, NY Senator Chuck Schumer, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Let's take you back to 1963 and Art James for WNBC's It's Academic.

No rating.

Sounds of Praise: Turn Your Radio On (1972)

Ray Stevens put aside the satires that had made him a country icon and released "Turn Your Radio On" in the winter of 1972. The title track had been written by Al Brumley in the late 30's, and is one of two Brumley compositions Stevens covered, the other being "I'll Fly Away". Stevens wrote two other tracks for the album, which was later reissued on Columbia.

Mind the fact that the screen does appear to have been cut on the left side. That's, I think, to avoid the copyright police.

You might not realize this, but most of the backing vocals were also done by Stevens in the studio.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What Might've Been: Monopoly (1990)

Don't laugh. It actually happened.

In 1990, Parker Brothers licensed the long running board game, Monopoly, to entertainer-turned-game show mogul Merv Griffin to adapt for television as a game show. Griffin initially intended for the series to go into syndication alongside his revival of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, which are still running 25 years later.

Unfortunately, Monopoly didn't survive the summer of 1990 as a Saturday night entry on ABC, back when that night of the week still mattered to network suits. Parker Brothers has since been absorbed, along with some of their competitors, by Hasbro, which has licensed Monopoly to lotteries in various states. The scratch-off game, Monopoly Millionaires Club, has been in turn adapted into a hour-long TV show, debuting tonight (check your listings), hosted by actor-comedian Billy Gardell (Mike & Molly).

Right now, let's turn back the clock to July 1990 and Monopoly, whose host, Mike Reilly, was a contestant on Jeopardy! and had gone back to his day job as a waiter before Griffin called him back to Hollywood......

I've played the game, and that usually turns into a marathon affair, often tedious and frustrating. I didn't watch the show, though, so there's no rating.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bubblegum crimefighting: The Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew Mysteries (1976)

I grew up reading some of the classic Hardy Boys books credited to Franklin W. Dixon, which, as I'd find out later, was just a house pseudonym used by the Strathmeyer Syndicate and its publisher, which, back in the day, was Grosset & Dunlap. I also read a few Nancy Drew books, just to pass time. I was hooked on mysteries from reruns of Dragnet, Perry Mason, etc., so what did you expect?

Enough digression. The Hardys were first adapted for television by Walt Disney for the original Mickey Mouse Club in the 50's. That series was reviewed over at Saturday Morning Archives many moons ago. Just punch up Hardy Boys in the search box and see what you'll find. Nearly 20 years later, Frank & Joe Hardy returned, this time in primetime.

ABC and Universal took over the license, and got three seasons out of not only the Hardys, but Nancy Drew as well, in the network's latest attempt to find an anchor for their Sunday night lineup, and it seemed as though they'd found their answer, though in the final season, the series was moved down an hour to 8 pm (ET) to make room for the original Battlestar Galactica. Unfortunately, both series went down at the end of the season.

Musician-turned-producer Glen Larson's version served as a vehicle for actor-singer Shaun Cassidy, following in the footsteps of big brother David, who flopped in an adult crime drama of his own (Man Undercover). Cassidy was cast as Joe, and given the opportunity to sing every so often. Yeah, that's also a call back to the animated Hardys of 1969, which also aired on ABC. Parker Stevenson, a relative unknown, was cast as Frank.

In the first two seasons, the Hardys & Nancy alternated. Pamela Sue Martin was cast as Nancy for the first two seasons, with William Schallert (ex-The Patty Duke Show), for a time a studio announcer for ABC, as her father, Carson. The locale of River Heights was shifted from a Chicago suburb to New Jersey. Don't ask. The only thing I can figure is that because the Hardys' adventures were set in Massachusetts, where Bayport was located, they wanted Nancy close by for those season 2 crossovers. However, Martin left after season 2, replaced by Janet Louise Johnson, who was never heard from again after the show was cancelled. Martin went on to Dynasty, then vanished.

I didn't get to watch the show much due to church. The parish I was attending had evening services, and by season 2, was close enough to home that I could get there on foot. I was a little put off by the fact that this was, as noted, a means to sell records for Cassidy. Speaking of selling records, that brings us to season 2's "The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom", which has JD Cannon & Dennis Weaver visiting from NBC's McCloud, but Weaver is credited as playing himself. No, that's not Peter Falk as Columbo, though that series would later resurface on ABC. Instead, American Top 40 host Casey Kasem dons the rumpled raincoat for the first time since roasting Telly Savalas on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.

Rating: B-.

Old Time Radio: Meet Corliss Archer (1943)

Back around Christmas 2013, we reviewed the TV version of Meet Corliss Archer. Now, it's time to go further back to the radio show.

Corliss began as a story in a magazine, and was picked up for radio in 1943, heard on ABC & CBS radio during its run. For the majority of the run, Corliss was portrayed by Janet Waldo, better known for her cartoon work (i.e. The Jetsons). One of her first cartoon roles came when she was working on Corliss, a Tom & Jerry short for MGM. You'll recognize her voice as Corliss as the same one she used, beginning in 1962, as Judy Jetson.

Right now, we'll go back to 1947 for an episode sponsored by Campbell's Soups. "The Beauty Contest":

Corliss was adapted into comics around 1948, but Fox Comics could only generate 3 issues. As with a lot of Golden Age books, it's still a collector's item, especially with photo covers of Janet Waldo on 2 of the issues.

Rating: B.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On DVD: George Jones' Golden Hits (1994)

This one's for the "caveat emptor" file. In case you don't know, that Latin phrase translates to, "let the buyer beware".

I was shopping the other week, and figured I'd grab a discount DVD or two to pad out the collection. Being that I was raised on country music, why not one of the legends, like George Jones?

Well, as it turns out, Jones' 1994 "Golden Hits" compilation is a wee bit deceiving. Promising "vintage performances", it ends up with a bit of a cheat at the end. While the tracks, such as 1959's "White Lightning", are shown in chronological order, the last portion of the DVD is actually concert footage with guests Mark Chesnutt & Tracy Lawrence sitting in on "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair".

Personally, I wasn't much of a fan of Jones. I was more of a Charley Pride/Johnny Cash/Tom T. Hall guy. Scope out the DVD.

I guess Jones wasn't much for making music videos, as a large chunk of the clips, even during the dawn of the music video era, come from various TV shows, such as POP! Goes the Country and the Grammy Awards.

Rating: C-.