by Michael Shonk

   Most TV junkies claim Fall premiere week as their favorite time of the year, but mine has always been the May unfronts. Unfronts are parties the networks throw for major advertisers, ad agencies and the media in attempt to get them drunk enough to believe next Fall’s TV series will be the best ever and hope they forget the lies the networks told about the quality of last season’s shows.

   In the past, May was the most dramatic month for the TV fanatic. TV viewers embraced hope of the new, relief when their favorites survived, and the devastation when they didn’t. But it is just not the same anymore.

   The broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and CW) have joined cable networks in the effort to supply original programming all year round. New television series never stop coming. The Big Four and-a-Half networks just announced their fall lineup with huge fan fare ignoring that September is no longer the best month of TV.

   Pushing the limits of space here, let’s check out the highlights of what is coming this week, this Summer, this Fall, and in 2017.

   Just because the main season is over, it doesn’t mean the broadcast networks abandon original programming. WAYWARD PINES is back on FOX. CW has the final season of BEAUTY & THE BEAST. CBS has the return of ZOO and two new series starting in June that sound better than any of CBS new fall shows. AMERICAN GOTHIC tells the story of a family that has discovered one of them is a serial killer. From the creators of THE GOOD WIFE, BRAINDEAD is a comedy thriller about a young woman who discovers aliens are eating the brains of politicians and government workers. NBC has the Olympics this summer but also airs AQUARIUS.

      NBC medical drama NIGHT SHIFT returns for its third season:

   Cable networks offer original scripted programs in May and June including AMC’s new crime drama set in a restaurant, FEED THE BEAST, and the last season of HELL ON WHEELS, HBO’s GAME OF THRONES, TNT’s LAST SHIP, MAJOR CRIMES, MURDER IN THE FIRST, and RIZZOLI & ISLES (final season), TBS’s ANGIE TRIBECA, Cinemax’s OUTCAST, Netflix’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, ADULT SWIM’s DECKER: UNCLASSIFIED, and SYFY’s 12 MONKEYS.

   The heck with Marvel and DC, give me an IDW comic book like the fun horror/western WYNONNA EARP.

   Cable original scripted programs continue through the summer with returning series such as SYFY’s KILLJOYS and DARK MATTER, FX’s TYRANT and THE STRAIN, STARZ’s POWER, USA’s SUITS and last year’s hit MR. ROBOT.

   New series include Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS set in the 1980s, a supernatural series centered on a missing boy, SYFY’s post-apocalyptic drama AFTERMATH, and TNT’s GOOD BEHAVIOR based on the Letty Dobesh books by Blake Crouch.

      Based on Stephen Hunter’s book POINT OF IMPACT, USA network new series SHOOTER premieres in July.

   This fall live television, especially sports such as the NFL and World Series, will distract the viewing public. Cable lead by one of the most watched TV series in all television, AMC’s WALKING DEAD will hold its own. TNT reboots TALES FROM THE CRYPT, this time from M. Night Shyamalan.

         Netflix starts another series featuring a Marvel comic character – LUKE CAGE.

   Midseason 2017 promises to offer some entertaining new series on cable networks. USA’s FALLING WATER is a supernatural thriller about three strangers who find they can share dreams. SYFY’s horror anthology CHANNEL ZERO,

      Syfy’s THE EXPANSE, the best TV series I watched in 2015-16, will return for its second season in January 2017.

   Top network CBS will add three new dramas this Fall. BULL starring NCIS Michael Weatherly as Dr Phil back when he was a consultant specializing in manipulating… uh, I mean analyzing juries. Medicine meets technology in the new drama PURE GENUIS.

      The pilot of MACGYVER had many behind the scenes problems. Let’s hope Macgyver can find the right knick knack to save the show.

   Two new CBS series wait for their turn and midseason. DOUBT a lawyer show starring Katherine Heigl, and TRAINING DAY, based on the film. But more important are two series that CBS hopes to premiere in 2017 on CBS ALL ACCESS, its streaming service. First original new series will be the sequel to THE GOOD WIFE. The second is perhaps TV most famous franchise in history. It began on NBC, cancelled and resurfaces as a successful film series. It was used to establish Paramount in the syndicated market. It began UPN (now CW) and tried to save the network before the merger with WB. As Paramount continues to pump out theatrical films, CBS will use STAR TREK to jumpstart its streaming service.

         Without a title or any idea what it is about, the new STAR TREK series is the most anticiated television series of next season.


   SUPERGIRL reminded CBS what its TV audience likes, so the new shows look like the old shows and SUPERGIRL flew off to CBS little sister CW. The comic book superhero will feel comfortable with the rest of DC comic superheroes, ARROW, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and CW’s top show FLASH. CW continues to specialize in comic books, horror and the weird.

      New this fall to the mini-me of broadcast networks is FREQUENCY based on the film.

   Returning during midseason will be THE 100, iZOMBIE, THE ORIGINALS, SUPERNATURAL, and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

   Midseason, CW will add FOX reject RIVERDALE, based on the characters from Archie comics focused on a murder mystery. But this is not Scooby Doo or your old Archie (even the comic books are not your old Archie), this Archie deals with “adult issues” such as him sleeping with his teacher.

   While CBS remains the top network, NBC is close behind. Its two biggest hits are SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL and THE VOICE, each hogging up much of NBC’s fall schedule. This fall NBC adds five games of Thursday night football (CBS shows the first five, NBC has the last five). Without any major holes in its fall schedule, NBC saved its most promising new series for midseason, adding only three to the fall lineup.

      NBC’s only new drama this fall is TIMELESS, the most promising series of the many this season featuring time travel.

   Some of the series returning this fall are BLACKLIST, BLINDSPOT, CHICAGO FIRE, CHICAGO MED, CHICAGO PD, GRIMM, LAW AND ORDER SVU. SHADES OF BLUE will have to wait for SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL to end.

   Other new shows waiting for their turn include comedies POWERLESS (insurance office comedy set in the world of superheroes), TRAIL & ERROR (court comedy). New dramas are BLACKLIST – REDEMPTION (spinoff), EMERALD CITY (based on Baum’s Land of Oz books), MIDNIGHT, TEXAS (based on a series of books by Charlaine Harris (TRUE BLOOD)), TAKEN (prequel to film series) and what would any NBC list be without another Dick Wolf CHICAGO series, in this case CHICAGO JUSTICE.

   There is hope at FOX. This year they have the Super Bowl guaranteeing better numbers at the end of the season. Ratings are changing, and FOX is pushing the hardest to find a way to count those of us who no longer watch TV live or on a TV set.

   TV is about to enter an era of MONEYBALL. For those not familiar with baseball or the movie or the book, sabermetrics uses an endless amount of numbers to measure performance. Networks like FOX are all ready there, someday the media will catch up.

   Speaking of baseball, FOX will have the World Series this fall as well as new series PITCH (story of first woman to play in Major League Baseball). Other new series of interest coming this fall are THE EXORIST (based on William Blatty’s novel), and LETHAL WEAPON (based on the film).

      My pick for first fall show cancelled is FOX’s SON OF ZORN, an animated barbarian tries to cope in live action modern world.

   Shows returning in fall include BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, insane GOTHAM, LUCIFER, ROSEWOOD, SCREAM QUEENS, and QUINTCO. Series returning in midseason include SLEEPY HOLLOW and the final season of BONES.

   Among the new series waiting for 2017 are APB (rich man buys a police precinct), MAKING HISTORY (time travel comedy), SHOTS FIRED (racially charged shooting involving a cop), and PRISON BREAK (sequel to 2005 TV series).

      FOX is hoping 24 – LEGACY will be as successful as the original 24.

   ABC did not have a good year. Its president of programming was sacrificed to the Nielsen Ratings Gods in prayers for better numbers in the demo.There was not enough time to change the fall offerings, but it is expected ABC will copy CBS and NBC with less soap operas and more procedurals.

   ABC’s new fall dramas of interest to us begins with DESIGNATED SURVIVOR starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development ends up President after a terrorist attack takes out most of the leaders of the American government. CONVICTION with Hayley Atwell (AGENT CARTER) as a spoiled former first daughter who is forced under threat of jail to lead a small group investigating cases where the convicted might be innocent.

      NOTORIOUS is about the seduction between law and the media.

   Returning this fall are HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., and ONCE UPON A TIME. While these returning series have to wait until midseason their turn – AMERICAN CRIME, THE CATCH, SCANDAL and SECRETS & LIES.

      Among the new ABC shows waiting for midseason is TIME AFTER TIME, based on the movie and stars Freddie Stroma as H.G. Wells.

   Over one hundred TV series in the 2015-16 season were cancelled or ended. RIP.

ELLERY QUEEN – Beware the Young Stranger. Pocket, paperback original; 1st printing, May 1965.

   Back in 1961, when the first of the bogus Ellery Queen paperbacks like this one came out, in my total lack of sophisticated way, as I recall it, I said something to myself along the lines of, Gee those guys must really need the money. I bought them all, though, or most of them, but I don’t think I got around to reading many of them, no more than two or three. I don’t think I missed much, but as you and I both know full well, some must have been better than others.

   This one was written by Talmage Powell, a long-time pulp writer and the creator of the better than average PI Ed Rivers paperback series. And so he was an author I was therefore familiar with at the time, but how was I or anyone else to know?

   This one’s not bad — as a sample I decided to give myself earlier this past weekend — and in fact, it’s better written than most of the paperback original mysteries that were coming out around the same time. But it’s also straight as a string, with no particular surprise in the telling; even worse, it has an awfully low page count of only 156 pages, with a slightly larger than usual font size.

   There’s a large back story to go along with the cast of characters in the upper middle class, or country club setting of this novel, but what it boils down to is this: distinguished diplomat John Vallancourt’s daughter is 21 and in love with a boy whose background is somewhat shady. He was questioned but released in the investigation of a young girl’s death while on spring break, for example, so Vallancourt takes it upon himself to discover a lot more about him.

   But when the boy’s aunt is murdered, and he is seen leaving the scene and soon after disappearing, on the run with the daughter in tow, Vallancourt’s task takes on much more serious tones. Is the boy guilty? Or is he innocent? And will Vallancourt find the two of them in time?


PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! American International Pictures, 1962. Re-released as End of the World. Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchell, Joan Freeman, Richard Bakalayan, Rex Holman, Willis Bouchy (as Buchet). Screenwriters: Jay Simms (story), John Morton, based on the short stories “Lot” and “Lot’s Daughter” by Ward Moore (uncredited). Director: Ray Milland.

   It’s not that often a really low budget film over-performs as much as this one does. Maybe it’s the cast, maybe it’s the time it was written in, maybe it was sheer luck, but this little post-apocalyptic thriller is relatively smart, thoughtful, and even insightful.

   Milland and family, wife Hagen, son and daughter Avalon and Mitchell, are off on a weekend fishing trip when Los Angeles is obliterated by a sneak nuclear attack. Mom is in shock, the kids are in panic mode, and Milland, the ultimate fifties early-sixties father figure, goes into full survival mode, willing to do whatever it takes for his family to survive.

   There are no mutants, no invaders, the threat is other people trying to survive and lowlife types willing to kill, rape, and revert to animals in the subsequent chaos. As the father, Milland holds up a store for supplies as they race just ahead of the flood of refugees fleeing devastated L.A., and heads for a cave to wait out the fallout. Along the way he becomes more than a little ruthless and severe and gets little help from Mom, who is in shock, or the children who don’t understand what he does about human nature.

   The tension in the film is as much from character development as incident.

   Hagen and Milland raise the level of this, a solid little post holocaust film in the tradition of Pat Frank’s Alas Babylon, Philip Wylie’s Tomorrow, or, minus the polemical arguments and nasty bits Heinlien’s Farnham’s Freehold. In fact it poses a lot of the same questions as the Heinlien novel while coming to altogether different conclusions.

   There is a novelization of this by Dean Owen (Brides of Dracula) under the title End of the World, the one which was used when the film was re-released (Ace, 1962).

   This is probably the best of the films Milland directed. It has flaws, low budget, likely too quick shooting schedule, but it stays with you, and you may be impressed how logically the film develops considering other movies of the genre. I first saw it in a theater at age twelve and was surprisingly not disappointed when I saw it again as an adult. Not many low budget films of this sort survive that test.

   I’m not sure, but this may be the last film where Milland played the leading man and the hero.


CRUSH THE SKULL. 2015. Tim Chiou, Chris Dinh, Katie Savoy, Chris Riedell. Director & co-screenwriter: Viet Nguyen.

   It’s safe to say that, even if you don’t much care for horror/comedy mash-ups, you’ll come away feeling that there is something almost magical about the screen chemistry between the two leads in Crush the Skull, a quirky thriller which defies traditional genre categories.

   Directed by Viet Nyugen (iZombie), the film stars Chris Dinh and Katie Savoy as Ollie and Blair, two deadbeat thirty-year-olds who, for money and kicks, disguise themselves as painters and rob houses when the owners are away. There’s something just so natural about these two characters and their witty, occasionally caustic, always lovable banter that make this otherwise uneven, occasionally bewildering, film worth a look.

   Like any good horror story, Crush the Skull begins with a premise that’s also inherently a morality tale pushed to the extreme: What happens if robbers break into a house only to learn that it’s actually a serial killer’s lair and these would-be criminals become captives? It’s certainly an intriguing idea, albeit not the most creative one ever pitched. But if you mix it up with a docudrama style of filmmaking and a deadpan sense of humor – and indeed, fun – you might just end up with something that punches higher than its weight.

   That’s the case with Crush the Skull, or at least it was for me. Truth be told, I don’t care all that much for the “serial killer’s lair” theme, and it took some effort for me to adjust myself to that. We know, to some degree, what motivates serial killers. It’s the supernatural, the unexplainable and unbelievable that’s even more frightening than human evil and which interests me far more.

   But the film does its best to provide the viewer with some twists and turns along with some unanswered questions that aren’t fully resolved until the haunting final frame. All told, I can’t say that this recent feature isn’t without its flaws, including a rather prolonged backstory, but it shows a self-conscious sense of fun that makes it far more memorable than your typical serial killer thriller.

THE DAKOTAS “A Man Called Ragan.” ABC-TV, Pilot Episode, 23 April 1962. Larry Ward, Chad Everett, Jack Elam, Mike Green. Guest Cast: Arch Johnson, Jeanne Cooper, Lee Van Cleef. Based on a novel by Harry Whittington. Director: Richard C. Sarafian.

   Although The Dakotas is sometimes said to be a spinoff of ABC’s western series Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker, that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Although (as I understand it) this pilot episode ran in Cheyenne’s time slot, so did another ABC western, Bronco, in a “wheel” format, nor did Clint Walker appear in this first Dakotas episode.

   The confusion seems to have been compounded when The Dakotas again took over the same time slot as Cheyenne when the latter was cancelled halfway through the 1962 season. The first episode of The Dakotas’ first season was aired on January 7, 1963. (I was not watching. I was out celebrating my birthday.)

   The leading character of both the pilot is Frank Ragan, an ex-marshal in the Dakotas territory played by little known Frank Ward, although he was on dozens of TV shows over his career as an actor. With a patch over one eye, when he rides into the small town of Stark City, he has already had enough of his former job and has resigned. One last thing he must do, however, is to learn what happened to a good friend who lived there before his death, his homestead burned to the ground.

   We the viewer are way ahead of him as soon as Ben Stark (Arch Johnson) the area’s most powerful rancher — and the man who owns the town — and his men make an appearance. A showdown is inevitable, and Frank Ragan is just the man for the job.

   But the showdown must come at the end of this episode, and along the way the men who will become Ragan’s deputies in the rest of the series must be introduced:

   Jack Elam plays J. D. Smith, a gunman for hire who changes sides when he sees how the cards are being played; Chad Everett is Ben Stark’s adopted son Del, who is beginning to learn that his father has serious feet of clay; while Mike Green is the town’s sheriff, Vance Porter, a cowardly man totally under Ben Stark’s thumb.

   It isn’t a gang of men totally dedicated to law and order, in other words, but the series lasted for nineteen episodes before being cancelled with the reputation of being the most violent TV series on the air. I’d go along with that. When Ragan and his men ride out of town at the show’s conclusion, the only person left behind in the town is saloon owner Marti Stevens (Jeanne Cooper). Everyone else is dead. (It was a very small town, but it has been made even smaller.)

   Critically, I think the dialogue was a little too stagey, as if this were a tryout for Playhouse 90, say, and of the regular cast, the only one worth watching is Jack Elam. He steals every scene he’s in.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:

LUKE SHORT – Station West. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1946. Bantam #139, paperback, 1948. Serialized in The Saturday Evening Post from 19 Oct to 30 Nov 1946. Reprinted many times.

STATION WEST. RKO, 1948. Dick Powell, Jane Greer, Agnes Moorehead, Burl Ives, Guinn “Big Boy’ Williams, Steve Brodie, Raymond Burr and the ever-popular Regis Toomey. Screenplay by Frank Fenton and Winston Miller. Directed by Sidney Lanfield.

   Luke Short always had a way with gritty characters and down-and-dirty stories, and here’s one of his best. John Haven, a cavalry officer working undercover, gets dispatched to investigate the theft of Army Uniforms at the fort near the mining/logging town of South Pass Wyoming and quickly discovers that the quirky crime is merely a prelude to something much more grandiose and sinister.

   From this fairly conventional start, Short builds an atmosphere of pervasive evil and compulsive treachery, painting South Pass as a snowbound Western Gomorrah: a town run by corrupt bosses, rife with casual killings, where larceny is a way of life and life is nasty brutish and short, to coin a phrase.

   To be sure, there are some good folks here: the upright Cavalry Captain and his beautiful daughter; the hard-working widder woman working as Haven’s liaison; a few miners and freighters and cooks… but the impressive thing about Station West is how the author pushes his protagonist through a plot filled with a near-constant sense of danger and double-cross. Short keeps us guessing about the moves and counter-moves in a story that bucks and jumps like a toboggan on a bumpy slope — an apt comparison since he also evokes the chill of a Wyoming winter in a way that kept me shivering.

   As I watched the film made from this, it suddenly occurred to me that the TV character Peter Gunn must have been based on Dick Powell’s tough-guy persona; they show the same wry cynicism, share the lop-sided grin, are quick with a quip or a punch, and handy with the ladies as the plot requires. That has nothing o do with this review — just thought I’d throw it in here and look at the ripples.

   Anyway, the movie Station West works a few changes on the book. For one thing it swaps the frigid Wyoming locale for sunny, picturesque (and familiar) Red Rock area around Sedona Arizona. And they write in another character: where the criminal gang in the book is run by a couple of nasty tough guys, the outfit in the movie is headed by Jane Greer, who runs her unlawful enterprise with an iron fist, much as Barbara Stanwyck would do (more convincingly) a bit later.

   The Greer character lends a neat noirish tone to a film that carries it nicely; there’s enough night in this movie to put a Yukon winter to shame. We also get Raymond Burr as a crooked lawyer, Agnes Moorehead, and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams as a sadistic strong-arm reminiscent of his turn in The Glass Key (1935).

   The film carries over the fights, shootings and double-crosses from the book and carries them well, and it even makes room for a few brief and quirky turns by some good character actors, but one of these puzzles me:

   Burl Ives sings the song under the title credits and has a showy bit as a philosophical hotel clerk (you know the type) but he gets NO BILLING! His name never appears on the cast list or even in the musical credits. I did some research on this and found that Ives was blacklisted by the HUAC in 1950, which led to a rather controversial phase in his life and career, and I wondered if this might have something to do with it, which led to some deeper thought about the nature of hypocrisy and how one can deny the obvious simply by keeping a straight face…..

   But all that is mere idle speculation. And these thoughts passed like breeze, which man respecteth not. Station West is a fine book and a fun noir Western, and you should enjoy them both.


MICHAEL BOWEN – Faithfully Executed. Richard Michaelson #2, St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1992. No paperback edition.

   I enjoyed both this and the first Michaelson novel, Washington Deceased. Michaelson is a retired foreign service officer, now with the Brookings Institution. He is somewhat of a Washington insider, and is shamelessly angling for a high ranking post with the`next administration.

   The Michaelson novels remind me somewhat of Ross Thomas in their plots and general outlook on the world of politics, though Bowen isn’t the writer that Thomas is. He’s more than adequate, though, and writes entertainingly. He’s also written two baseball mysteries that I haven’t had the opportunity to read, and one other non-series mystery.

   The current book deals with the murder of a man about to be executed, plots to rig computerized elections results, and various other kinds of skullduggery. Recommended for those who enjoy political goings on mixed with mayhem.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #4, November 1992.

      The Richard Michaelson series –

1. Washington Deceased (1990)

2. Faithfully Executed (1992)
3. Corruptly Procured (1994)
4. Worst Case Scenario (1996)
5. Collateral Damage (1999)

Other Bibliographic Notes:   Bowen has written three books in his Thomas & Sandrine Cadette Curry series, taking place in New York in the 1960s, but only the second, Fielder’s Choice, appears to have baseball as part of its plot. Since the year 2000, Bowen has also written five books in a series featuring Rep & Melissa Pennyworth. Rep is an attorney who keeps running across cases of murder.

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