Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Toon In: “Tom & Jerry Kids”

If Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies was the height of the existing characters in their younger form genre, truly Tom & Jerry Kids was its low point. 

The idea that these two mortal enemies would, at one point, be such great friends was ridiculous enough. That this lazy cartoon was just a cheap attempt to cash in on a trend was like putting toothpaste frosting on a rancid cake.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Serious Business: Perry Mason’s Inside Joke

The classic courtroom drama Perry Mason inspired generations of people to become lawyers and was the very first one hour drama filmed specifically for television. The show’s guest stars, most of whom were unknown at the time of their appearance on the show, would become a Who’s Who of Hollywood’s biggest names. From 1957 until 1966 the show saw many changes in the television landscape. One such change would inspire Perry Mason’s final words on the show’s last episode.

In the 1950’s, most television programming was seen as being disposable. After all, who would want to watch something they’d already seen? In the early years of television, most programming was never saved for posterity. If a show was lucky, maybe a kinescope was made as an afterthought. For the most part, however, much of television’s early shows were lost to the ages. Even though Perry Mason episodes were always filmed on filmstock and carefully stored away, CBS didn’t really think that the episodes had much of a future. That would change in the 1960’s, as television producers saw that there was big profit to be made by airing reruns. That’s why Perry Mason’s last spoken line was this:

“Now, it seems to me the place to start is at the beginning.”

The writers knew that when Perry Mason reruns would air on television, the first episode would run after the last one in the syndication cycle. Viewers would hear Perry talk about starting at the beginning then see the first episode the next day. A clever injoke that many people might not have even noticed.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Happy Days: “Turnabout”

There’s no telling why some television shows get greenlit. Many times it appears as though network execs just blindly throw darts at random lists of projects to determine what gets on the air. Often there is *some* reasoning involved in greenlighting a show- it might not make sense, but someone had a reason for greenlighting it. In 1979, NBC decided to greenlight a show based on a hit movie with a premise that had recently been successful for Disney. Described in those vague terms, one would think that such a project would be a slam dunk. But what if you found out that the film had been made almost forty years earlier? That the gimmick behind the film was of two people switching places and while the Disney film had a mother and daughter changing places, this show would have a husband and wife swap bodies? This sitcom would star Sharon Gless and John Schuck as a wayward couple who would have to learn how live life in their spouse’s body.

The idea was an odd one; while Disney’s Freaky Friday provided wish fulfillment to its youthful audience who no doubt imagined what life would be like as an adult, hardly anyone has ever fantasized about switching places with their spouse. Plus, 1940’s Turnabout was just a 90 minute trifle of a film. How could NBC turn its Turnabout into a running series?

As it turned out, NBC learned its lesson the hard way. Turnabout was a disastrous flop that lasted less than ten episodes. The network was able to tie four episodes together to produce a TV movie that would help it make at least some of its money back. Had Turnabout been a success, where would the show have gone anyway? It was a perfect example of a show that was never fully baked.