TV mysteries


FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   I can hardly believe it but we are less than six months away from the 60th anniversary of the debut of Perry Mason the TV series. It was a Saturday evening, September 21, 1957, and among the millions of viewers whose sets were tuned to CBS at 7:30 P.M. Eastern time was a bookish 14-year-old, just beginning his second year of high school, who had discovered and gotten hooked on Erle Stanley Gardner’s Mason novels several months earlier.

      For the next few years I watched the program religiously, catching most of the finest episodes and almost all of those that were at least nominally based on Gardner’s novels. By the time I began dating on Saturday nights the series had become humdrum and routine, at least to my taste, but it remained in prime time for an amazing nine seasons, and countless viewers still identify Gardner’s characters with their TV incarnations: Raymond Burr (Mason), Barbara Hale (his secretary Della Street), William Hopper (private detective Paul Drake), William Talman (DA Hamilton Burger), and Ray Collins (Lt. Tragg).

   To mark the occasion, if a bit prematurely, I’m going to devote most of this column to the first episode aired and the book it was taken from.

***

   First, the book. The Case of the Restless Redhead (1954) opens with Mason happening upon a trial for larceny in suburban Riverside. Evelyn Bagby, a near-broke waitress with Hollywood dreams, is accused of having stolen $40,000 in jewelry from the trunk of Irene Keith, a wealthy businesswoman on her way to Las Vegas to be bridesmaid at the wedding of movie star Helene Chaney and boat manufacturer Mervyn Aldrich.

   Seeing that assigned defense counsel Frank Neely is out of his depth cross-examining the witness who claims to have seen Bagby open the trunk, Mason over lunch offers the young man a few pointers. That afternoon Neely demolishes the prosecution witness and wins a verdict of acquittal. Bagby comes to Los Angeles to thank Mason and they discuss whether she’s entitled to compensation from Keith, who signed the complaint against her.

   Bagby suggests that she might have been framed for the jewel theft because she’d recognized a newspaper photo of Chaney’s former husband as the phony drama coach who had swindled her out of her inheritance several years before and whom she had called, demanding restitution. Mason gets her a job as waitress at the Crowncrest Inn, which is on a mountaintop connected with the metro area by a narrow and desolate road.

   That evening Bagby calls Mason and claims to have found a .38 Colt Cobra with a 2-inch barrel planted in her room at the Inn. Mason tells her to meet him at a certain restaurant, bringing the gun. When they get together she says she was attacked on the mountain road by a man wearing a pillowcase mask, at whom she fired two shots with the .38. Mason reports to the authorities. When he, Della, Bagby and an officer visit the scene of the incident, they find a wrecked car and inside it a dead man, shot in the head and wearing a pillowcase mask.

   When it’s discovered that the mask came from the Crowncrest Inn, and that the dead man was in fact the fake drama coach who had cheated her, Bagby like all Mason’s clients gets charged with murder. Much of the rest of the novel takes place at the preliminary hearing where Mason defends her.

   Looking at the plot through a microscope reveals flaws here and there. As the hearing begins, the decedent’s body is identified not by the police or a medical examiner but by one of the characters, who isn’t needed as a witness but whom Gardner needs in the courtroom later.

   At the end of the book Mason “deduces” a good bit of the plot without a shred of evidence to go on. There are other holes too but they didn’t faze Anthony Boucher and I didn’t let them bother me much either. Boucher in the Times Book Review (7 November 1954) said: “Some intricate defensive maneuvers to confuse the ballistic evidence may baffle not only the judge and the prosecution but also the reader; you’ll have to keep your mind as sharp and devious as Mason’s own to follow this one, but it’s a wonderful roller-coaster ride.”

   For the sake of those who don’t want to have the novel spoiled by my saying too much about the plot, I’ll let the cat out of the bag in a paragraph which will remain hidden unless you click on it. Here, kitty!

***

   The telefilm with which the Mason series debuted keeps the ballistic maneuvers pretty much intact but simplifies the novel in almost every other way imaginable. Irene Keith is dropped, as are fledgling lawyer Frank Neely and his fiancée and the whole larceny trial with which the book opens. The rationale for the titular adjective, that Bagby likes to keep moving from one place to another, winds up on the cutting-room floor, leaving us with nothing but alliteration for its own sake.

   Bagby’s bullets, which in the novel complicate the plot by striking certain objects, on the small screen hit nothing. The ballistic testimony which dominates several chapters of the novel is cut to the bone. But with something like 52 minutes of air time to do justice to a full-length book, what option other than cutting was available?

   All in all, adapter Russell S. Hughes did a creditable job. It was the only teleplay he wrote for the series. Before the first season’s end, he had died. Age 48. Cause unknown.

   Raymond Burr as Mason is spectacularly slender, having reportedly lost between 60 and 100 pounds while preparing for the part, and smokes up a storm, as do several other characters including his client, who is seen finding the planted .38 in her cigarette box. The client was played by lovely Whitney Blake (1926-2002), who will also pop up later in this column.

   Prominent in the cast were Ralph Clanton (Mervyn Aldrich), Gloria Henry (Helene Chaney) and Vaughn Taylor (Louis Boles). The first several minutes could be mistaken in dim light for film noir, thanks especially to ominous background music by the never-credited Ren Garriguenc (1908-1998), whose talent (when he wanted to exercise it) for sounding like his CBS colleague Bernard Herrmann has fooled experts. Bits and pieces of Herrmann music are heard here and there but they are few and far between.

   About the director, William D. Russell (1908-1968), not a great deal is known. He began making movies after World War II at Paramount, where he helmed several “heartwarming” comedies. During a pit stop at RKO he made Best of the Badmen (1951), a Western starring Robert Ryan, Claire Trevor, Robert Preston and Walter Brennan, which can be seen complete on YouTube.

   Like so many directors of his generation who saw their careers crumbling thanks to TV, he embraced the new medium and began specializing in situation comedies, directing 61 episodes of Father Knows Best before moving to CBS. There he took up more serious fare, notably a few early episodes of Gunsmoke and 28 of Perry Mason.

Afterwards he went back to the sitcom, directing 48 segments of Dennis the Menace and 128 of the 154 episodes of Hazel (1961-66), starring Shirley Booth as live-in housekeeper for an affluent family, the female head of which was played by — I told you she’d pop up again! — Whitney Blake. (Whether she arranged for Russell to come aboard, or vice versa, or whether it’s just a coincidence, remains what Russell concentrated on for a few years and then dropped: a mystery.) Less than two years after the series was cancelled — which happened the same year Mason was cancelled— Russell died. Age 59. Cause unknown.

***

   On top of all his novels and stories and travel books and Court of Last Resort pro bono work on behalf of the wrongfully convicted, Erle Stanley Gardner kept up a gargantuan correspondence. One of his correspondents was Harry Stephen Keeler (1890-1967), the wackiest wackadoodle who ever sat down to a typewriter. Several of Harry’s multi-colored “Walter Keyhole” newsletters, assembled and arranged by me in The Keeler Keyhold Collection (2005), include quotations from ESG’s letters to him.

   In one of them, probably dating from the late Fifties or early Sixties, Gardner alluded to the fact that both his mother and Keeler’s happened to have the same first name; an odd one to say the least. “Now ‘Adelma’ [Keeler wrote] is not a recognized name….Name experts say that it is undoubtedly an artificial synthesis, or fusion, of the names ‘Adeline’ and ‘Thelma’.”

   Why not Adelaide, or Selma? After comparing notes, the two discovered “that a grandfather of each had been in the Civil War” (presumably on the same side) and concluded that “over some camp fire their grandfathers must have met, and talking of possible ‘odd’ names for girl-children, agreed…to name their first daughters ‘Adelma’.” Well, maybe. Anyway it’s a good story.

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


Music from Mike Hammer, the 1957-59 TV series, starring Darren McGavin:

DAN RAVEN “The High Cost of Living.” NBC, 20 September 1960; 60 minutes. Cast: Skip Homeier (Lt. Dan Raven), Dan Barton (Det. Sgt. Burke), Quinn K. Redeker. Guest Cast: Bobby Darin, Corey Allen, Richard Carlyle, Sue Ane Langdon. Director: Joseph M. Newman.

   There is seriously conflicting information about this series online. Wikipedia says that the series began as a 30 minute program on January 23, 1960, and expanded to 60 minutes on September 23, whereas IMDb suggests that that was the date of the first program altogether. If the latter is correct, the episode I’ve just watched is Episode 1 of Season 1.

   The setting of this fairly standard black and white police procedural is Los Angeles, and Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip in particular. The extra gimmick, at least for this part of the run, is to have famous actors, actresses and other celebrities play themselves in leading roles in dramatized versions of scrapes they might get into. (From the preview provided at the end of this one, the next episode starred Buddy Hackett.)

   Bobby Darin is framed for murder in this one, and it’s a fairly flimsy setup at that — his photo is found at the scene of the crime in a smashed frame (hmm) and a charred piece of notepaper is discovered in the fireplace with the name Bobby on it, paper from the club where he works.

   I didn’t keep track, but Darin also gets to sing at least two songs. There’s also an old friend of his hanging around town would could provide an alibi for him, if he could only be found. I’m not sure the plotting is at all airtight, but I don’t imagine anyone at the time was going to ask for their money back if it wasn’t.

   Skip Homeier had nearly a 40 year career in movies and TV, and while he never became a star, he did make a successful transition from child actor to at least a busy one as an adult. In this single episode of Dan Raven I’ve seen, he reminded me a bit of Lee Marvin, maybe better looking, but without the latter’s overwhelming onscreen charisma.

A TV SERIES REVIEW
by Michael Shonk


PUSH, NEVADA. ABC / Touchstone Television / LivePlanet Productions, 2002. Cast: Derek Cecil as James Prufrock, Scarlett Chorvat as Mary, Liz Vassey as Dawn, Melora Walters as Grace, Larry Poindexter as Well Dressed Man #1, Steven Culp as Well Dressed Man #2, James Patrick Stuart as Well Dressed Man #3, Raymond J. Barry as Sloman, and Conchata Ferrell as Martha. Created by Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey. Executive Producers: Ben Affleck, Sean Bailey, Matt Damon and Chris Moore. Co-Executive Producer: James Parriott.


***SPOILER WARNING***
All seven episodes are available on YouTube and linked below. You may want to watch the episodes before reading my spoiler filled review. The YouTube copies are not perfect but they are watchable.

   PUSH, NEVADA was an interactive mystery contest meets TWIN PEAKS. Dramatically the series was a conspiracy thriller set in the small town Push, Nevada. As an added gimmick each week the audience could collect clues (one each episode) that would help viewers win over a million dollars.

   In the 5/20/02 issue of “Broadcasting,” their look at the upcoming new fall 2002 season tried to describe the PUSH, NEVADA interactive game, finally writing, “Frankly, ABC couldn’t seem to explain exactly how it works.”

   In the first episode of PUSH, NEVADA co-creator and movie star Ben Affleck spent more time trying to explain the interactive game than the plot of the series. According to Realityworld.com, over 200,000 game players interacted with the series two websites. No links here as the PUSH, NEVADA information is gone from ABC’s website and the pushtimes address is no longer associated with the series.

   If the game didn’t interest the viewer there was the conspiracy thriller, a genre popular at the time with the networks (ALIAS, VERITAS: THE QUEST, and JOHN DOE) but not as much with the mass audience.


“The Amount.”
(9/17/02; rerun 9/19/02.) Written by Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey. Directed by John McNaughton. Guest Cast: Jon Polito and Armand Assante. *** IRS agent Jim Prufrock receives a fax from an unknown source revealing there is money missing at a Casino in desert town Push, Nevada. It leads Jim to a shadowy conspiracy and murder.

Episide Clue: 1,045,000. The meaning of the clue was to reveal the amount of the now missing money stolen from the Casino and the amount of the grand prize for the contest.

Ratings: The September 17th showing finished 16th place in the ratings and rerun on September 19th finished 66th.

   It didn’t take long for the series to inspire memories of TWIN PEAKS as we watch the casino vault be robbed by a naked man with a body temperature too low for the thermal camera to see him. But the show lacks the charm and David Lynch to pull such scenes off. Instead PUSH, NEVADA settles for a mix of bizarre characters and a plot that settles into a mystery procedural. While the series mystery is who is behind the corruption in Push, it is the odd characters and their secrets that receive most of the attention.

   There are an endless number of eccentric characters with a secret, but let’s start with the hero, small time IRS agent Jim Prufrock. Obsessive over finding answers, Prufrock succeeds because he won’t stop even when others pay the price. It is hard to care about our hero when he is a self-involved, insensitive, morally righteous, naive, clueless idiot.

   The major characters included Mary, the town femme fatale/whore who works at the Slo-Dance Bar run by local crime boss Dwight Sloman. Sloman answers to big evil company Watermark represented by the three Well-Dressed Men. Jim stays at extremely maternal Martha’s boarding house that is hiding something in a forbidden to enter part of the house.

   My favorite character of the series was Grace. Jim’s devoted secretary and expert on all that is IRS. Grace made Della Street look like a slacker. The acting style for these TWIN PEAK-like conspiracy shows can take the reality out of the character leaving a fictional plot device. Melora Walters’ performance was able to keep Grace human but with the secrets and oddness each character in PUSH, NEVADA required.

“The Black Box” (9/17/02) Written by Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey. Directed by Charles McDougall. *** Jim reports the murder of Silas to the police who with the help of the Well-Dressed Men rule Silas’s death a suicide. Mary seduces out the location of the money and leaves a man to die. The Well-Dressed Men try to understand why the robbers took only some of the money and a bible.

Episode Clue: television

   This episode aired in the series time slot of Thursday at 9pm. It followed the rerun of episode one and finished 46th in the ratings.


   Episode three has the series settled into it Thursday 9pm time slot opposite its normal competition – CBS’ CSI, NBC’s WILL & GRACE and GOOD MORNING MIAMI, FOX’s movie, UPN’s WWE SMACKDOWN, WB’s JAMIE KENNEDY and OFF CENTRE, and PAX’s DIAGNOSIS MURDER.

“The Color Of…” (9/26/02) Written by James Parriott. Directed by Davis Guggenheim. *** Grace discovers no one in Push has filed taxes since the casino was bought 17 years ago. Jim confronts Casino Middle Management Guy with the fact the Casino is paying out 62% of the time. Jim finds the dead body of the man who killed Silas and is arrested for murder.

Episode Clue: orange

Ratings fall to disastrous levels with this episode finishing 83rd.


“Storybook Hero.” (10/3/02) Written by Tom Garrigus. Directed by John Patterson. *** Jim is in jail for murder until someone unknown pays his bail. Sloman learns Mary was involved in the Casino robbery and wants his money back. Grace is suspended for the help she did for Jim. The Well-Dressed Men hunt for the missing bible.

Episode clue: peter pan

Ratings continued down with this episode finishing in 91st place.


   Disney had just bought ABC and ESPN, and they had a plan for quirky PUSH, NEVADA. Broadcast networks were starting to use their cable networks to help market the broadcast network shows. Fox had used FX to rerun 24 and increase viewers’ awareness of the series, something many believed was the reason for 24’s success.

   In “Broadcasting” (10/7/02) Disney head Michael Eisner explained how they wanted to do the same with PUSH, NEVADA by rerunning it on ABC Family. Some of the ABC affiliates objected and with the collapsing ratings it surprised no one when PUSH, NEVADA was cancelled (“Broadcasting” 10/14/02).

   This was an era when it was common for TV series to end without answers or closure for the audience. But there was a twist that made PUSH different – it was a game and legally the game had to finish and award its promised prizes. PUSH, NEVADA and ABC used their websites to help set up the game’s quick ending.

“The Letter of the Law.” (10/10/02) Written by John Serge. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. *** Grace discovers who bailed out Jim – evil Watermark’s competition. Jim continues to endanger others as he blunders into discovering the secret purpose of the Casino. Clueless Jim is unaware of the missing bible, its apparent importance to some, or that it is now hidden in his room. Mary gives Sloman the money back but Daddy wants more.

Episode clue: g

This episode was 93rd in ratings.


“…….” (10/17/02) Written by Joan Rater and Tony Phelan. Directed by Rodman Flender. *** How Jim’s Dad died and the effect it had on Jim is revealed. Mary has the Bible. The Treasury’s sting to nail Sloman is threatened when Sloman decides to kill Jim. Watermark’s faces exposure by Jim’s relentless efforts.

Episode clue: morse code

Ratings: 100th.


“Jim’s Domain.” (10/24/02) Written by Joan Rater and Tony Phelan. Directed by Nick Gomez. *** Bad guys in Push defeated, Jim returns home a hero but still a naïve idiot. He is surprised to find himself promoted and his wife begging for another chance. But something still haunts him, a question unanswered – who sent him the fax that started all of this?

Episode clue: www.toyota18.com

Ratings for this final episode to air proved relatively few people cared as it finished 90th.

   In the final minute of the last episode the series made a horrible dramatic choice. The fourth wall was broken and Derek Cecil told the audience that what he and the producers thought was just a story for a TV show had turned real and now Watermark was after everyone connected to the PUSH, NEVADA TV series. He claimed he was on the run and gave the clues from the last unaired six episodes. Written on a piece of paper were the words:

FIVE

LONGITUDE

UNDERWEAR

SOUTHEAST

BODNICK

ELIOT


   The final instructions on how to put the clues together appeared October 28th on ABC’s MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL at halftime.

   The instructions were: spaces and punctuation count. Don’t count the first episode. Then 5th place, 1st, 9th, 1st, 5th, 7th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 7th, 5th, and 2nd in that order. Actor Derek Cecil says, “I am going to have to disappear for awhile. We are being manipulated. Keep up the fight. Good luck.”

   If you take the correct letter from each clue it forms a word. For example the fifth letter from second episode’s clue “television” gives you the letter V. Putting the letters together spelled VONGEYELNAIL. Replace the EYE with I as the sign in MONDAY NIGHT FOOTALL clip’s background suggested and you have VONGILNAIL or phone number 866-445-6245. First to call that number won the million and forty-five thousand dollars prize.

   It took two minutes for the prize to be won. According to RealityWorld.com over 10,000 people solved the puzzle within 24 hours.

   The story’s fourth wall destroying ending betrayed loyal viewers with a cheap gimmick that left unanswered most of the questions and failed to resolve many of the characters’ secrets. But one can forgive the writers who had the impossible task of jamming six episodes of twists, discoveries and surprises into the last moments of the seventh episode and a minute during halftime on MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL.

   Today, loyal viewers are being treated with more respect. Shows such as FOX’s FRINGE, NBC’s CHUCK and CBS’ PERSON OF INTEREST are given a short extra season to bring closure to the series. But this was 2002. It took two minutes for someone to solve the puzzle but those watching PUSH, NEVADA for the story are still waiting for some answers.

FINAL NOTES:

All ratings information came from “Broadcasting”:

http://www.americanradiohistory.co/Broadcasting_Individual_Issues_Guide.htm

TREASURY MEN IN ACTION “The Case of the Deadly Dilemma.” ABC, 24 March 1955. (Season 5, Episode 25.) Series shown in syndication as Federal Men. Walter Greaza (as The Chief), Charles Bronson, Lewis Charles, Lillian Buyeff, Ralph Moody. Director: Leigh Jason.

   Information on this series, which ran for five years on ABC, NBC then back to ABC, is scarce. (Even the information in that first sentence may be wrong.) But it ran for quite a while, so in my opinion, it doesn’t really deserve to have been forgotten for so long, which I think it has been.

   The chief, who introduces and narrates this episode, is this time around the head of the Secret Service. I do not know, but I do not believe that that was always the case. Counterfeiting, in particular, is the crime, and it is Charles Bronson’s character who is assigned to go undercover to get the goods on the big shot who’s the head of the gang.

   To prove himself, though, he’s asked to kill an old man whose wife has gotten tired of him. This is where the dilemma of the title comes in. Bronson is really on the spot, up on the roof with the old man and the head of the gang, the latter with a gun on him. It’s kill, or be killed.

   It’s a tough situation, and to this point, a rather good story. Too bad both the screenwriter’s creative imagination ran out, as did the running time for this episode, no more than 25 minutes long.

A TV SERIES REVIEW
by Michael Shonk


GEORGE SANDERS MYSTERY THEATRE (aka MYSTERY WRITERS THEATRE). NBC; June 22, 1957 to September 14, 1957. Screen Gems / Bischoff-Diamond Productions. Presented by George Sanders.

   During the days of radio and early television the anthology series was very popular. There were a seemingly endless number of the genre from ALCOA PREMIERE to WAY OUT or better remembered from ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS to TWILIGHT ZONE. Virtually all had the same format: a famous actor or writer/producer of the show would talk directly to the audience introducing the story to follow. If an actor were the host, he or she would act in an occasional episode.

   Most of the episodes of the majority of these anthologies were as forgettable as the series themselves. Yet occasionally an episode would hold a surprise. There are currently two episodes of GEORGE SANDERS MYSTERY THEATRE on YouTube. Each features a different series title and premise for the short-lived anthology.

   “And The Birds Still Sing” is a forgotten adaptation of a Craig Rice short story featuring John J. Malone, with Malone forced to adopt the alias of Francis Parnell. This episode also featured the series original name MYSTERY WRITERS THEATRE and its original premise, to adapt the work of the members of Mystery Writers Association of America (“Billboard” December 3, 1955).

   The Mystery Writers of America was and is a non-profit organization of writers. The group is best known for the Edgar Awards, but also helped its members’ work get adapted for radio (MYSTERY HALL OF FAME) and TV (THE WEB, CBS).

   “And The Birds Still Sing.” (June 29, 1957) Teleplay by Gene Wang, based on a story by Craig Rice as published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Directed by Gerd Oswald. CAST: John Archer, Mae Clark, Tristram Coffin, and John Beradino. *** A femme fatale hires lawyer Francis Parnell for reasons unknown. When Parnell finds her murdered he is quick to find a new client and the killer.

   I have not read the source material, a short story published in EQMM (December, 1952), but the Gene Wang adaptation captures Rice’s style well with an odd murder and odder characters and a twist at the end that is pure Malone.

   Wang had experience with Malone as he wrote the best adaption of the character, the summer 1951 NBC radio series starring George Petrie as Malone. You can find my earlier review of the radio series here. (Follow the link.)

   The episode’s host segment by George Sanders has its moments as he introduced not only the story but also the MWA club.

   There is no doubt lawyer Francis Parnell was really Malone. Both being cocky, broke, cliché-quoting lawyers who spend their days in a local bar and are more interested in a paying client that they can get off than in justice.

   Sadly, actor John Archer was the weakest part of the episode. He lacked the charm and comedic timing to make Malone the lovable anti-hero Rice created. As to be expected, the production values were low and left it all with a stagey feel.

   Something happened during the series production. There were changes in the fourth episode “You Don’t Live Here.” Gone is the title card for the Mystery Writers of America along with any mention of the MWA and its club. In its place is the series title THE GEORGE SANDERS MYSTERY THEATRE, and the host segments shifted focus away from the MWA to George Sanders persona and the episode at hand, even with Sanders wandering around the story’s location rather than the MWA club. Gone also was an adaption of a MWA members’ work and in its place was a TV original story by relative unknown Eugene Francis. The series now – at least for this episode – was just another wanna-be ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.

   “You Don’t Live Here.” (July 13, 1957) Written by Eugene Francis. Produced and directed by Fletcher Markle. CAST: Marion Ross, Alex Gerry and Peter Thompson. *** Returning from a visit with her sick Mother a newlywed discovers her world gone – others now live in her home, her husband has vanished as if he never existed, and her landlord and neighbor claim they have never met her.

   The problem with these GASLIGHT-like plots they are always too unnecessarily complex to be believable. The episode tries to keep us guessing who is telling the truth but with the thirty-minute time limit we never get to know the characters well enough to care.

   The George Sanders bits are embarrassingly bad as he hams it up even beyond his usual excesses.

   The series has an interesting backstory. According to “Billboard” (July 14, 1956), NBC had bought MYSTERY WRITERS THEATRE from Screen Gems with plans to air the series later. “Broadcasting” (August 13, 1956) noted NBC did not plan to air the series in the fall of 1956-57 season but instead hold the series called GEORGE SANDERS SHOW for the 1957-58 season.

   From “Broadcasting” (September 17, 1956), NBC buys Screen Gems series GEORGE SANDERS MYSTERY THEATRE, but only after Screen Gems agreed to share the profit from the series with the network. NBC would get 25% of the profits from the airing of the series in the U.S. and Canada as well as a rerun share.

   This was a time when the networks sold time slots to advertising agencies and sponsors. “Broadcasting” (May 13, 1957) reported Pabst (beer) bought thirteen weeks of GEORGE SANDERS THEATRE to run during the summer on Saturday at 9pm- 9:30pm.

   But this could only last for thirteen weeks as NBC had sold the time slot (Saturday at 9pm) for the fall to ad agency Liggett & Myers for sponsors Chesterfield (cigarettes) and Max Factor of Hollywood for the TV series PANIC.

   So what happened to the MWA during this series? The episode indexes available for this series show the series was a mix of adaptations and originals.

   “Broadcasting” (April 30, 1956) mentioned an episode of MYSTERY WRITERS THEATRE was shown to four hundred MWA members and their guests during the Edgar Allan Poe Awards on April 19, 1956. This means at least one episode was done before the anthology series was bought by NBC in July 1956 and not aired until June 1957. Could the MWA episodes been shot in summer of 1956 and the original stories episodes shot later when it was known NBC wanted it only as a replacement series?

   Why was Malone’s name changed for “And The Birds Still Sing”? ABC had the TV rights for Malone for the 1951-52 TV series but apparently did not keep them after cancelling THE AMAZING MR. MALONE. The series last episode aired March 10, 1952.

         BONUS RESEARCH – CRAIG RICE THEATRE:

   “Billboard” (June 26, 1952) reported CRAIG RICE THEATRE planned to go into production in August 1952 for Eagle-Lion Studio in Hollywood. Tony London would produce the half-hour series based on the work of Craig Rice. Sam Neuman would adapt the stories and direct. July 14, 1952 “Broadcasting” magazine added Tony London (FRANK MERRIWELL) had acquired the TV-Film rights to 352 story properties by Craig Rice. “Billboard” (September 6, 1952) listed CRAIG RICE THEATRE available for syndication but no pilot had yet been filmed.

   Skip ahead to 1954, “Billboard” (September 27, 1954) CRAIG RICE was still a possible project with Tony London still the producer and Sam Neuman adapting Rice’s work as well as directing. Now McCadden Production (George Burns and Gracie Allen company) was behind the proposed series. The December 18, 1954 “Billboard” quoted producer Tony London’s complaints about the difficulty with finding a willing female star to host CRAIG RICE THEATRE.

   “Billboard” (April 9, 1955) reported ABC-TV president Robert Kintner had discussions with producer Tony London and writer Sam Neuman about the CRAIG RICE series.

   August 1, 1955 “Broadcasting” Ziv-TV plan to produce CRAIG RICE THEATRE but have yet to assign any writers. “Billboard” January 14, 1956 the CRAIG RICE THEATRE is on Ziv-TV production schedule to begin filming in late February or March and currently casting for the female host/lead. “Billboard” (April 7, 1956) Ziv-TV is still trying to sell CRAIG RICE THEATRE for the fall, but still have not found the female/host lead (“Billboard” January 14, 1956). April 7, 1956 “Billboard” has the last mention of CRAIG RICE THEATRE. Ziv-TV hopes to have it ready for the fall but there is no pilot or host/star attached. Tony London remains the project’s producer.

   It is unlikely CRAIG RICE THEATRE ever got beyond planning, unable to ever find the right female star willing to host the series. But the TV rights to her writing seems to have been tied up in the Tony London project from 1952 through at least the fall of 1956 and that could have forced Malone to use his Parnell alias in “And The Birds Still Sing.”

KAREN A. ROMANKO – Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters: 600 Characters and Shows, 1950s to the Present. McFarland, softcover, February 2016.

   The full title of this book is self-explanatory, I’m sure. I’ve only browsed through it myself, so this is not a review, but in my opinion this is a book that every reader of this blog ought be know about, if you don’t already.

   To open the book, author Karen Romanko provides a long and knowledgeable introduction to the overall history of female crimefighters on television, followed in the main portion of the book by a comprehensive alphabetical listing of all relevant TV series and their significant characters, cross-referenced between the two. For example, the TV series Elementary and the character Joan Watson each have their own entries, each mentioning the other in bold face.

   The first entry is Acapulco H.E.A.T., followed by Lydia Adams (Southland); the last two are Roberta Young (Snoops) and The Zoo Gang, a British production that aired in this country on NBC in 1975.

   This is a book that’s easy to get caught up in, following one familiar show to its star and then to others not so familiar, and vice versa for (in my estimation) hours on end.

HIT LADY. Made-for-TV, Spelling-Goldberg / ABC-TV, 08 October 1974. Yvette Mimieux, Joseph Campanella, Clu Gulager, Dack Rambo, Keenan Wynn. Screenwriter: Yvette Mimieux. Director: Tracy Keenan Wynn.

   It must have seemed to be a good idea on paper, or even in publicity stills, as Yvette Mimieux does look very good in a bikini as a drop-dead gorgeous assassin-for-hire in this made for ABC-TV movie production. While romancing would-be targets, she has a boy friend on the side whom she must keep the truth from. But from there the story is extremely weak, and there are huge questions left unanswered — if not gaping holes in logic — in terms of the final product, even regarding the “surprise” twist at the end.

   I was going to say more, but why should I? I’ve already said everything I can think of to say.

COMING SOON – THE TV EDITION
by Michael Shonk


   Most TV junkies claim Fall premiere week as their favorite time of the year, but mine has always been the May upfronts. Upfronts 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.

   Among the CBS series returning in the fall are BLUE BLOODS, CODE BLACK, CRIMINAL MINDS, ELEMENTARY, HAWAII FIVE-O, MADAM SECRETARY, NCIS, NCIS: LOS ANGELES, NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, and SCORPION. While CRIMINAL MINDS – BEYOND BORDERS will be back in 2017.

   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.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MIAMI VICE. “Heart of Darkness.” NBC, 28 September 1984. (Season 1, Episode 2.) Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, Saundra Santiago, Michael Talbott, John Diehl, Olivia Brown, Gregory Sierra. Guest Cast: Ed O’Neill, Paul Hecht. Created by Andres Carranza & Anthony Yerkovich. Executive producer: Michael Mann. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey.

   Before he portrayed the crudely affable father on Married with Children, Ed O’Neill guest-starred on this rather neo-noir Miami Vice episode. Entitled “Heart of Darkness,” this first season episode is, unlike many extremely dated 1980s cop shows, still eminently watchable today. Stylishly photographed, the episode feels less like a television show and more like a gritty crime film.

   O’Neill portrays Arthur Lawson, an undercover FBI agent tasked with investigating an illicit pornography ring and its concurrent corruption. Problem is: under the alias Artie Rollins, Lawson may be having too much fun with his assignment. So much so that the feds believe that Lawson may have changed sides.

   “Heart of Darkness,” the second regular Miami Vice episode to be aired on NBC, served to demonstrate to audiences that the series was not going to be just another police procedural. Undercover work wasn’t all fun and games and sometimes the dividing line between cop and criminal would become blurred. The episode was an opportunity to draw out the personalities of the two main lead characters: Detective James Crockett (Don Johnson) and Detective Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). While Tubbs is quick to assume that Lawson has gone over to the proverbial dark side, Crockett isn’t so sure. A veteran of numerous undercover operations, Crockett sees himself in Rollins and wants to give the G-Man the benefit of the doubt.

   Much as in some neo-noir films, the city itself is a character in the unfolding drama. Nightclubs, restaurants, warehouses, boulevards, and luxury condos are the settings that Miami Vice would turn to time and again.

   The final shootout, which takes place at the port, reminded me of a similarly filmed scene in Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). There’s little romanticism on display here. The world in which Crockett and Tubbs operate is very much a kill-or-be-killed one. The same goes for Arthur Lawson who comes across less as a villain and more as a tragic figure caught between the normal world of middle class domesticity and the seedy underbelly of 1980s urban life.

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