Monday, June 2, 2014

Classic TV: The Monkees (1966)

With the Beatles and their musical brethren from England dominating the American pop charts, someone decided that there needed to be an American band with a pop sound similar to the Fab Four.

The Monkees were the result of a Hollywood casting call that led to two actors and two musicians forming the so-called "Pre-Fab Four". Ironically, one of the two actors, Davy Jones, was British himself. Drummer-vocalist Micky Dolenz had previously worked for Screen Gems on Circus Boy (under the name, Mickey Braddock), and, presumably, was still a contract player for the studio. Monkees turned his career around completely.

The series lasted two seasons, and each of the four (Jones, Dolenz, Peter Tork, & Mike Nesmith) got equal amounts of spotlight time. Dolenz & Jones, for another irony, did the bulk of the singing, especially in the first season. Oh, it could've gone longer, but the band imploded during season 2, and there were also disputes with the producers over any number of things. After the series ended, Jones & Nesmith released solo albums for different labels. Nesmith, who'd recorded under the name Michael Blessing before the series began, moved to the country charts and scored his biggest solo hit with "Joanne". Tork ultimately formed a new band, The New Monks, which didn't last long, in the early 80's. Dolenz, as has been documented over at Saturday Morning Archives, began a career as a voice actor, working for Hanna-Barbera between 1971-77. Oddly, he wasn't called when Jones was cast in an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1972, and so H-B blew an opportunity for at least a mini-reunion.

But the band, sans Liquid Paper heir Nesmith, would regroup in the mid-80's and release a few CD's here and there, starting with 1987's "Pool It". After the series ended its run on NBC, reruns aired on Saturday afternoons first on CBS (1968), then on ABC (1972), before settling into syndication. MTV picked up the series in 1986 to mark the show's 20th anniversary, but now, the series doesn't have a cable home that we know of.

Following is the season 2 episode, "Art For Monkee's Sake", in which Peter takes up painting. Vic Tayback, more than a decade before Alice, and future voice actor Michael Bell guest star. We previously ran an excerpt of this episode over in the Archives.

Rating: B.


magicdog said...

Part of the problems with the series in its second season was that it was deviating more and more from the first - more "psychedelic" and out there storylines. The series finale was probably the craziest of them all!

It's true the guy wanted more musical independence (they got their wish but at a great cost) but they burned a few bridges and without their show and far less promotion of subsequent material (not to mention the changing music scene after 1968), they couldn't keep going. The guys DID approach Columbia/NBC to change the format into a variety show, which would have allowed for more options, but they refused. I wonder what would have happened if they had said yes. Perhaps something similar to "Head" or "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee"?

Funny you shouldmention Dolenz being a contract player for Columbia. I don't think he was (though he had an agent and was working all sorts of jobs before landing the gig) although Davy WAS under contract. He'd released an album shortly before officially joining the group on the Colpix label (the precursor to Colgems, the label the original Monkee records were released under). In fact, based on what was said in interviews, the folks at Columbia were trying to build a show around him; allegedly he was suggested to play identical cousins in a sitcom - one British and one American. As we all know, Patty Duke ended up with that show!

hobbyfan said...

Well, considering that Dolenz didn't do anything for any other studio before signing with H-B, I figured he might be a contract player. Meh.

A Monkees variety show would've worked---had CBS chosen them over the Hudson Brothers 40 years ago!