Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Classic TV: The Green Hornet (1966)

With a brand new feature film starring comedian Seth Rogen ("Observe & Report") opening this weekend, SyFy sprung a surprise by airing a marathon of the 1966 Green Hornet series, starring Van Williams & Bruce Lee, today. Hornet's cable rights have bounced around in recent years, from FX to the American Life (nee Good Life) network, and now to SyFy. If they weren't so obsessed with daily "chain reaction" marathons, they could find a place for Hornet on the regular schedule, or at the very least, shuttle it over to sister networks Sleuth or Bravo.

Anyway, before I go any further, here's the open to the show, with narration by executive producer William Dozier (Batman), and the iconic theme, performed by jazz legend Al Hirt.

Unlike Batman, Hornet was played as a straight crime drama, a la another 20th Century Fox series, The Felony Squad, which was also part of the freshman class of '66. However, in a concerted effort to call attention to the series, Dozier had the Hornet & Kato pay a visit to Gotham City on Batman in a 2-part episode that aired during the November sweeps period. The glaring contrast between the camped-up Batman and the more serious Green Hornet couldn't have been more obvious. Sadly, Hornet was cancelled after 1 season, and Batman would depart the following Spring.

Dozier didn't have much luck after Hornet was cancelled. He tried a campy version of Wonder Woman that went absolutely nowhere, and also tried to bring Dick Tracy to television. Batman, in fact, was Dozier's most successful series. By going against the grain and the industry trend of copying his formula for Batman by doing a more faithful adaptation of Hornet, Dozier may have unwittingly doomed his new show before it actually got rolling. The fear from this desk is that regardless of how Seth Rogen's take on the Hornet fares at the box office, today's Hollywood brainiacs will use it as a template for putting the Hornet back on television. And that would be a mistake.

2011 marks the Hornet's 75th anniversary, and the 45th anniversary of the TV show. There are new comic books on the market these days, and, who knows? Maybe if the Hornet does return to TV, someone will get it right!

Back to the show. Yes, it followed a formula that got repetitive in a hurry, but had Fox entrusted this show to another producer other than William Dozier, it might've lasted more than 1 year. To many people, Van Williams is still the definitive Hornet, and those purists will likely dismiss Rogen as a buffoon. Then again, they said the same thing about Michael Keaton when he was cast as Batman in 1989..............

Rating for the show: A.

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