Thursday, March 31, 2016

Batman on TV!

Today is a special day and we're going to spend it looking at Batman! Batman is undoubtedly the greatest super hero ever. What red blooded boy wouldn't want to be the wealthy Bruce Wayne, playing with amazing toys and fighting crime as the coolest alter-ego ever- Batman? Aside from the dead parents, Bruce has the ideal life!

Though he had previously been seen on the big screen, the mid-1960's seemed tailor made for a Batman revival on TV. After the success of the squarish Superman television show, ABC thought a mod, campy Batman would be a great idea and they brought him to life in vivid technicolor!

While the vibrant colors and campy situations of the 1966 Batman seemed tailor made for a cartoon, the classic Batman: The Animated Series took its cues from the classic Frank Miller era of the comic book. This version also introduced the devilish Harley Quinn to a wider audience, making her a fan favorite villainess who has been given a greater role in recent adaptations like the acclaimed Arkham video game series.

The Batman mythology would again grace prime time in 2014. Choosing to follow Bruce Wayne's path from boyhood to Batman, Gotham brings the excitement of a more serious caped crusader as he makes his way in the dark world of Gotham City.

Why are we still fascinated with Batman after all of these years? Because in the crazy, unpredictable world we live in, it is great to imagine that good can triumph over evil; that a mythical hero is out there watching over his city, righting wrongs and vanquishing evil doers. In a complex world, we need to believe that heroes exist- and Batman is one of the greatest fictional heroes of all time. The world didn't have a Batman so it created one- and he inspires the kid in all of us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bizarre TV Toys: 1990's Edition

Apparently they used to make toys tied to just about everything that kids might watch, including Blossom, um, we mean, "Blossom":

And who wouldn't want to own a doll modeled after the most hated character on the show, played by a despised actress who got fired for being a pain on the set? Besides, she was one of TV's hottest thirty-something teen stars!

Every young girl dreamed of owning a "Screech" doll! It even included a stamper with Dustin's Authentic Autograph! If you find yourself at the Norco Wal-Mart these days, you can get an actual autograph from Dustin! But only if he's on his break from stocking merchandise!

And finally, the most annoying toy ever created. Want to stop getting invited to someone's house? Buy their kids a talking Fran Drescher doll!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rest in Peace, Patty Duke

Academy Award winning actress Patty Duke, who was best known for her dual role as cousins who looked the same on the classic television program The Patty Duke Show has passed away at age 69.

Ms. Duke's early years in Hollywood were not pleasant due to the stress put on her to take up an acting career as a child. She soldiered on, highlighting her struggles in a book and TV movie later in her career. While her career as a child star might have been nightmarish, she avoided being typecast as just a child actress, transitioning to adult roles while raising two sons who became actors themselves.

She continued to take on roles even recently and proved that even those child actors with terrible experiences could conquer their hardships.

Rest in Peace, James Noble

Actor James Noble, best known for his role as the bumbling Governor Eugene Gatling on Benson has passed away at age 94.

Mr. Noble was born in Dallas, Texas and served in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he headed to New York City and found work on Broadway. He soon arrived in Hollywood, booking jobs on soap operas and television shows. He wouldn't receive wide attention until 1979 when he won the role of the bumbling governor on Benson. That role would lead to other parts as judges, politicians and various authority figures. He retired from acting in 2011.

Good Times!

Ja'net Dubois, who starred in Good Times, sang the theme song to The Jeffersons.

And Michael Evans, who starred on The Jeffersons, created the show Good Times.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rest in Peace, Garry Shandling

Comedian, actor and talk show personality Garry Shandling has passed away at age 66.

Garry got his start in Hollywood by writing for such classic shows as Sanford & Son and Welcome Back Kotter. He transitioned to the front of the camera, guest hosting on The Tonight Show and performing standup, eventually creating It's Garry Shandling's Show for Showtime and Fox. His biggest success, however, was undoubtedly HBO's The Larry Sanders Show.

In recent years, Garry Shandling has concentrated on his standup act and made occasional appearances in movies and television.

Fun Facts about "The White Shadow"

To honor the memory of Ken Howard, we take a look at his classic drama The White Shadow.


The White Shadow was created by famed television legend Bruce Paltrow, who is also known as Gwyneth Paltrow's father. Mr. Paltrow passed away in 2002 after suffering from cancer.


The character of Warren Coolidge appears in another Bruce Paltrow creation- St. Elsewhere. He is played by the same actor and plays an orderly on the hospital drama.


The White Shadow was a huge hit in Turkey, popularizing basketball in that country. As a result, an entire generation of Turkish youth started playing the game at school and on playgrounds around the country.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rest in Peace, Ken Howard

Ken Howard, best known for roles on The White Shadow and Crossing Jordan has passed away at age 71.

Mr. Howard was born in El Centro, California though he grew up in Manhasset, New York where he played on his high school's basketball team. He attended the Yale School of Drama, but left before graduating to pursue a career on Broadway, where he won a Tony Award. His height and previous basketball experience served him well on the classic drama The White Shadow where he played an inner city basketball coach.

Mr. Howard would appear in numerous films and guest starring roles on television before getting another leading role as Max Cavanaugh in NBC's Crossing Jordan.

In 2009, Ken was elected President of the Screen Actors Guild, a position he still held at the time of his death.

Perry Mason vs. Law & Order: SVU



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Laugh Track on the Twilight Zone?

The legendary show Twilight Zone was known for its chilling episodes and ironic plot twists. One thing it wasn't much known for was laughs. So it might have seemed strange to viewers when Carol Burnett appeared in the 1962 episode Cavender is Coming.

Even stranger, the episode featured a laugh track. It would be the first and only time a Twilight Zone episode had one. As it turned out, this episode was meant to be a back door pilot for a comedy starring Ms. Burnett's co-star Jesse White. Unfortunately for Mr. White, the show didn't get picked up. The actor would eventually find greater fame as the hapless Maytag repairman.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"With Friends Like These . . . " A Fake Lifetime Original Film

With Friends Like These

Meredith Baxter is sitting on top of the world. She lives in a lavish McMansion with her husband Bruce Boxleitner and her days are spent shopping in lavish malls and taking advantage of the tony country club she is a member of with her best friend in the world, played by Megan Mullaly. With her young daughter out of the nest and working in the city with a high paying job, Ms. Baxter’s character anticipates growing old with her husband and preparing for the loads of grandchildren her daughter will no doubt bear.

But then- disaster strikes! Ms. Baxter’s husband dies in a freak accident. Bereft, she takes solace in the fact that her husband had a hefty retirement portfolio so that she can continue to live the life she has grown accustomed to. Unfortunately, her husband’s employer is an Evil Capitalist(tm) who points to a clause in her husband’s retirement plan that doesn’t require him to pay out a nickel due to the circumstances of his death. Luckily for Ms. Baxter, he tells her that he has a heart and cuts a check for $1,000. Ms. Baxter tries to see what her legal recourse is, only to discover that she has none and should just get on with her life.

Soon, she finds herself having to sell off the McMansion to pay the bills her husband left behind. She must give up her country club membership, which makes her wealthy friends look down their noses at her. Even Megan Mullaly ignores her calls. ‘At least I have my daughter’ thinks Ms. Baxter, but when her daughter discovers that there isn’t going to be an inheritance, she becomes cold to her own mother.

Depressed and forced to make a living on her own, Ms. Baxter takes a job as a waitress at a coffee shop. She makes a new friend in one of the other waitresses, a sassy black woman played by Alfre Woodard. Ensconced in a cheap apartment and blessed with a steady job, Ms. Baxter is down, but not out.

In the course of her work, Ms. Baxter stumbles upon a problem in the food service industry that she thinks she can solve with a unique invention. The invention is a success at the Coffee Shop, but she needs seed money to fully capitalize on her million dollar idea. The Coffee Shop owner, a jerk who has little regard for women rejects her, as do her old friends, who laugh in her face. Dejected, she sees her opportunity to make money on her invention slipping away. But, there was one person who she hasn’t asked yet- Alfre Woodard. Ms. Woodard’s character tells Ms. Baxter that she’s been squirreling money away for a rainy day and “It’s rainin’ cats and dogs today, honey!” At this time, Ms. Baxter reconciles with her daughter who admits how stupid she was and also invests in her mother’s idea.

Ms. Baxter and Ms. Woodard become partners and use their spare time to produce their new product. After a few tense minutes with their first potential customer, they soon discover that their product is a hit. Money starts rolling in and they both quit their jobs, leaving their jerky former employer speechless. The ladies soon become the toast of the town and the business world, getting their pictures in every business magazine and newspaper. Soon, their small company outgrows its small offices and they find themselves overseeing a million dollar business with hundreds, if not thousands of workers.

So, is the movie over? Not yet. You see, Ms. Baxter has to gloat, so her old friend Megan Mullaly invites her to lunch. Ms. Baxter accepts the invitation and calmly catches up with her friend. “That was a bad spell for you wasn’t it?” notes Ms. Mullaly, “Lucky it’s now all over. Let’s do lunch again next week.” Cue Ms. Baxter’s angry tirade. Ms. Mullaly gets to purse her lips and look embarrassed when Meredith storms out of the restaurant, vowing to never see Ms. Mullaly ever again.

So, is that it? Nope, because it appears that her husband’s old company somehow wants to buy her new company because they are making so much money and are somehow in the same line of business. (Something we barely learn at this point.) Ms. Baxter triumphantly enters the office of the Evil Capitalist(tm) who tells her that he hopes there’s no hard feelings and that the buyout offer is more than fair. At this point, Ms. Baxter refuses the offer and a member of the company’s board of directors storms into the office to shake Ms. Baxter’s hand. Why, you ask? Because they are selling out to Ms. Baxter’s company, of course! To add insult to injury, Ms. Baxter hands the Evil Capitalist(tm) his severence check- $1,000!

So, is the movie over? Yes, mostly. But first, we see Ms. Baxter, Ms. Woodard and Ms. Baxter’s daughter sipping champagne a few weeks later- in what used to be the Evil Capitalist’s(tm) office! Then we fade out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Unusual Producers

Most of the time, television producers tend to produce the same sort of programming over and over again. Reality show producers produce reality shows, comedy producers make comedies, etc. but some big hits were produced by the last person you would expect- like Star Trek.

Gene Rodenberry created the show, but Desilu Productions, the production arm of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball was the company behind the show. By this time, Lucy had taken over most of the day to day operations of the company due to Desi Arnaz's alcoholism. It was most likely Lucy who loved the show enough to greenlight it.

Another strange production partnership involved the 1989 hit miniseries Lonesome Dove. Often considered one of the greatest western miniseries ever filmed, the show dazzled audiences and critics alike. And they had famed music label Motown to thank for it. Motown had spread into television years before, but this miniseries would be among its most successful productions.

Our next amazing producer would have seemed like the ideal producer for Lonesome Dove, but then this dynamo has never fit into the mold others had set for her. She has conquered just about everything she's touched- music, theme parks and even television. Yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was produced by the amazing Dolly Parton.

Dolly definitely said it best- "I'm not going to limit myself just because people won't accept the fact that I can do something else."

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bizarre Batman '66 Villains: Zelda the Great

One of the seemingly less threatening villainesses from the 1966 Batman series was Zelda the Great. Zelda was a peculiar thief who masterminded annual thefts of exactly $100,000. Her one and only scheme on the show resulted in the kidnapping of Aunt Harriet, though she eventually released her. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Law & Order: Ripped From the Headlines! "Sick"

When Law & Order: SVU decided to tackle the Michael Jackson molestation scandal, it did so in an interesting way. The show begins with allegations being brought against Billy Tripley a Peter Pan type who inherited a billion dollar toy empire. Billy stages elaborate parties for disadvantaged children in his multi-million dollar NYC apartment. SVU is brought onto the scene when allegations of abuse are leveled against the eccentric man-child.

Sound familiar? The SVU crew are certain they've got a slam dunk case here when the allegations start piling up. Mr. Tripley gets arrested and must submit to DNA tests and various other indignities. It looks like this creepy pervert will finally get punished for his crimes.

However, he uses his money to buy the silence of his victims and a disreputable grandmother played by Cindy Williams tries to make a claim that he violated her granddaughter. However, the claim is proven to be a lie and even worse; she has been poisoning her granddaughter to gain sympathy and donations. Her lies result in the case getting dropped. Billy Tripley has gotten away with it- for now.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

TV and the Movies

Television was declared to be the enemy of movies back in the 1950's. While they eventually became part of the same entertainment ecosystem, movies and television were originally at odds. The freeze between the two industries began to thaw in the late 1950's when movie studios saw television as a way to make quick cash from old forgotten films. For some films, television proved to be a great way to gain legendary status despite being rejected by theatrical audiences.

The most famous such film was The Wizard of Oz. The film had disappointed at the box office in 1939. In fact, despite owning the rights to make more Oz related films, Louis B. Mayer had been so disappointed in the film that he sold future film rights to his friend Walt Disney. The film wouldn't be considered a classic until after it began airing on television beginning in 1956.

Similarly, It's A Wonderful Life was dead on arrival in theaters. After decades of repeated airings due to the film's public domain status, the movie became a holiday tradition. The film's copyright was reactivated after the current rights holder purchased the copyrights to the script and the underlying music which were still active. Without a doubt, those rights would not have been valuable had the film not gotten exposure as a public domain staple on television.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was another film that hadn't set the world on fire during its initial theatrical run. Originally produced by the Quaker Oats company as a feature length ad for a new line of chocolate bars, the film was unceremoniously dumped into theaters after the candy line was canceled. Quaker Oats, uninterested in the movie business, sold the film to Warner Brothers, who turned the film into a classic with its frequent television releases.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

CBS Studio Center

When most people picture CBS Studios, they mostly picture CBS Television City, which is located near Los Angeles' Grove shopping center. While Television City hosts many of the CBS Network's most famed productions like The Price is Right, it isn't the only facility owned by CBS in the Los Angeles area.

Northwest of Universal Studios Hollywood, tucked into an unimposing part of Studio City is the CBS Studio Center. This mini-studio features a mini-backlot, sizable sound stages and the home of the reality show Big Brother. Purchased by CBS in 1967, the lot's existence predates the sound era; it hosted various silent pictures like the Keystone Cops series. The lot had various owners, though it found itself being used mostly by CBS who chose to buy it outright.

The lot has hosted legendary productions such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Newsradio and many more (mostly) sitcoms. The lot is still one of the most used filming locations in Hollywood.