Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Might've Been: The Westerner (1960)

Before becoming a legendary movie director, Sam Peckinpah plied his trade writing and directing in television. After directing some episodes of The Rifleman, Peckinpah was able to sell Four Star on his own creation, The Westerner. That was the good news. The bad? It was cancelled after 3 months due to low ratings, airing as it did opposite Route 66 and The Flintstones.

Brian Keith top-lined as Dave Blassingame, a uneducated drifter who, as you'd expect, was proficient with a gun. Four Star would later repackage the series as part of a wheel and amended the title to The Westerners for syndication, with Keenan Wynn hosting the framing sequences. Wynn and Lee Marvin would co-star in a pilot for a revival a couple of years later. Keith reprised as Blassingame in 1991 in one of Kenny Rogers' Gambler TV-movies.

The last time The Westerner aired on broadcast cable, that I know of, was a few years ago, when TV Land ran it as part of its weekend TV Land Goes West anthology package, and that's how I became acquainted with the series. Let's take you back to September 1960, and the series opener, written and directed by Peckinpah, about a woman named "Jeff".

Rating: B.

Shillin' with the Lone Ranger: Aqua Velva aftershave ad (1970s)

With The Lone Ranger in syndication during the 70's, a few advertising executives were able to lure Clayton Moore & Jay Silverheels into a reunion doing some commercials. Silverheels went solo for one spot, a truck ad which we'll show another time, and made a rare guest appearance on The Brady Bunch.

Here, Moore & Silverheels shill for Aqua Velva aftershave. The announcer is Fred Foy, who was the best known announcer on Lone Ranger, and at the time this was made, he was Dick Cavett's announcer on ABC.

We'll have a legendary ad for Jeno's Pizza Rolls, directed by Stan Freberg, up soon, as well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Local boy done good

I don't watch The Voice. After this season, maybe I should make room next season, except for the simple fact that it airs opposite Gotham on Mondays, and The Flash on Tuesdays. In truth, I'm not really much for these talent competitions.

However, The Voice crowned a new champ last night, and he's representing the home district.

Sawyer Fredericks is just 16, but sings like he's 21 or older. I've read all the hype, and this morning's Albany Times-Union gave Fredericks a front page headline, putting him on equal footing with local sports teams winning championships. Maybe even better, assuming he can add a few gold records down the line.

Sawyer is from suburban Fultonville, and, yes, that leads to a lot of Green Acres jokes, as you could imagine, since he does live on a farm. He's been homeschooled, and I'd imagine he taught himself to play the guitar.

So what do you think clinched it for him? How about a stirring cover of Neil Young's "Old Man", performed on Monday.

20 years ago, I was in a relationship with a female musician. If they had shows like The Voice or American Idol back then, maybe she gets the big break she was hoping for. Sawyer's already played a couple of freebies at a local venue during the competition, and his next visit hopefully won't break the bank for his friends and fans, unlike a lot of concerts these days that are way overpriced due to promoters' greed. Let's just pray Sawyer doesn't fall prey to those kind of sharks.

Congratulations, Sawyer. You earned every bit of it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Musical Interlude: Bad Blood (2015)

You want girl power? How about Taylor Swift's latest single off "1989"?

"Bad Blood" isn't a remake of Neil Sedaka's 1976 record, but a new composition, a duet with Kendrick Lamar, loaded with guest stars, including Lena Dunham (Girls), Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Selena Gomez (ex-Wizards of Waverly Place), Karlie Kloss, who's become Taylor's best bud of late, Zendaya, Cindy Crawford, and Ellen Pompeo (Grey's Anatomy). Scope!

Notice how Lamar stays far away from the fray? Some guys are smart like that. Can we get T-Swizzle a part in the next "Avengers" movie?

Classic TV: The Mod Squad (1968)

Aaron Spelling & Danny Thomas had launched two Westerns in 1967. Rango, with Tim Conway, was a flop, but The Guns of Will Sonnett, with Walter Brennan, returned for a 2nd season, now joined by a contemporary crime drama, The Mod Squad.

A precursor to the 1990's version of 21 Jump Street, Mod Squad put together a trio of socially disenfranchised young people as undercover detectives. Pete Cochran (Michael Cole, no relation to the WWE announcer) came from a wealthy family that seemingly disowned him. Lincoln Hayes (Clarence Williams III) was involved in the infamous Watts Riots. Julie Barnes (Peggy Lipton) was a flower child whose mother was a prostitute. Banded together by police captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews), they got into places the cops couldn't to get the goods on the bad guys. The series lasted 5 seasons (1968-73), perhaps ending a wee bit too soon, in this writer's opinion.

Mod Squad also ended up being the last hit series Spelling & Thomas developed together. 2 years later, with Squad entering its 3rd season, the two parted ways, with Thomas reviving his earlier series as Make Room For Granddaddy, while Spelling teamed with Screen Gems to produce The Young Rebels, and, on his own, launched his first two entries, Silent Force & The Most Deadly Game. All four series were cancelled after 1 season.

Following is the season 2 opener, "The Girl in Chair Nine", with guest stars Cesare Danova (ex-Garrison's Gorillas) and John Stephenson. The venerable Stephenson passed away over the weekend, and is being honored with this same video over at Saturday Morning Archives......

Me-TV holds the rights to the series currently. Catch it if you can.

Rating: B.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Forgotten TV: Diana (1973)

After leaving The Avengers, Diana Rigg concentrated on making movies, but was lured back to television in 1973 by producer Leonard Stern to headline a sitcom for NBC.

Unfortunately, Diana was NBC's attempt at copying the success of CBS' Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was starting its 4th season. Worse, the show aired on Mondays, opposite Gunsmoke & The Rookies, and barely made it into the new year before being cancelled.

Diana Smythe (Rigg) moves from London to New York to take over her brother's apartment, and ends up dealing with his various, ah, companions. Barbara Barrie, 2 years away from Barney Miller, co-stars. The scene stealer in the episode, "The Guilt Complex" (Guilt is spelled Gilt on screen, and that error foreshadowed the show's fate), however, is Michael Bell, wrapped in a green towel, and playing one of Diana's neighbors. Unfortunately, Bell was just a 1-shot guest.

Diana's last TV gig was for PBS, hosting Mystery! for a few years. Richard B. Shull, whom we saw in Holmes & Yoyo the other day, appears here as well.

Rating: C.

Retro Reading: Night Nurse (1972)

In 1972, Marvel Comics decided to do something bold. Two new books bowed, which wasn't anything new, except for the fact that both were written by women. Unfortunately, both lasted just 4 bi-monthly issues, and were cancelled.

I remember buying the final issue of (Claws of) The Cat at the newsstand, my then-10-year-old eyes drawn to the vision of the title heroine in blue & yellow. However, not once did I see any issues of the other title in question, Night Nurse. It should've really been "Nurses" with a plural, like the 60's primetime drama, The Nurses, but, ehh, whatever.

I read all the hype about the book, but never got to see it, until Marvel, 42 years after the series was cancelled, issued a reprint collection that covers all 4 issues, plus an issue of Daredevil's current run, in which writer Brian Michael Bendis introduced a generic "Night Nurse" who looked nothing like the three stars of the original series. Timed to coincide with Netflix's current Daredevil series, which seeks to ret-con Luke Cage's ex, Claire Temple, into the role of Night Nurse, the volume, admittedly, was ahead of its time. Editor Roy Thomas handed the writing assignment to his 1st wife, Jean, with veteran Winslow Mortimer drawing the series. Jean Thomas was joined by Cat writer Linda Fite for the final issue, which, if I recall correctly, would be Ms. Fite's last writing credit.

As noted, Night Nurse chronicled the story of three first year nurses--Linda Carter, Christine Palmer, and Georgia Jenkins. As a non-superhero book in those days, with interest in humor books from the big 2 fading, the series struggled to find an audience despite some very good stories. My lone quibble is the Daredevil tie-in, as lame as that is. Bendis couldn't be bothered to bring back the original nurses and reboot them into the present, and went instead with a generic looking brunette. I like a good story as much as the next guy, and a human interest drama can work today under the right circumstances.

Could there be a new Night Nurse in the offing? Uh, no, not as presently suggested.

Rating: A-.

There are those who will feel as though Scott Snyder has jumped the shark on Batman by taking the cowl off Bruce Wayne, the 4th time that has happened in the last 22 years, and putting Jim Gordon in an armored suit and stopping short of being a total corporate sell-out. It happens that Snyder has run out of real ideas that would work.

One of his better stories was a 5-issue miniseries, Batman: Gates of Gotham, which went back and forth between then-present day Gotham, circa 2010, and the Victorian era, telling the story of four of the city's wealthiest families--the Waynes (DUH!), Cobblepots, Elliots, and the Gates, the latter added to the mix for the storyline, as the Gates family has not been part of the New 52. Regrettably, artist Trevor McCarthy missed a deadline, and they had to have a fill-in for the pentultimate issue, number 4. McCarthy returned to right the ship in the finale, but hasn't gotten a lot of work lately from DC. Hmmmm.

Rating: B-.

CM Punk makes his DC/Vertigo debut in Strange Sports Stories issue 3. His tale is a veiled ode to his beloved hometown Cubs, referencing the "curses" associated with the team, including Steve Bartman's ill-advised involvement in the 2003 NLCS. Ironically, the Cubs, winners of six in a row entering play today, are contenders in the NL Central at this writing. Punk topped his Thor entry for Marvel, and it wasn't hard. The best stories are often told straight from the heart.

Rating: A+.