TV Drama


REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


CASABLANCA “Siren Song” April 10, 1956. ABC – Warner Brothers. CAST: Charles McGraw as Rick Blaine, Marcel Dalio as Renaud. GUEST CAST: Mari Blanchard as Elsa Norden, James Mitchell as Francisco, Roberta Haynes as Maria, and Hayden Rorke as Henderson. Written by Frederic Brady. Directed by Richard L. Bare. Produced by Jerome Robinson – Executive Producer: William T. Orr. Based on film CASABLANCA (1942) – One of the rotating series under the title WARNER BROTHERS PRESENTS

   Despite its constant efforts to stop such behavior, YouTube is a great source for the TV fan. You never know what TV treasure you will find there. In this case it is a lost episode of the ABC-TV series CASABLANCA (1955-56).

   For those who have seen the TV premiere episode of CASABLANCA (1955-56) “Who Holds Tomorrow” (available on “Two Disc Special Edition” CASABLANCA – the film; DVD), “Siren Song” will show how far the series fell in its attempt to capture the magic of the movie.

   “Siren Song” is a complete episode of CASABLANCA, but missing the WARNER PRESENTS opening host segment by Gig Young and the end segment that went behind the scenes to promote a Warner Brothers film.

   The film CASABLANCA (1942) is still considered one of the greatest films ever made. The romantic adventure of two people and their doomed love affair still has meaning today.

   Warner Brothers has made two attempts at adapting the film to TV. I reviewed the NBC 1983 version here.

   The 1955 attempt was one of the rotating series under the title WARNER BROTHERS PRESENTS, along with KING’S ROW, CHEYENNE and a dramatic anthology. CASABLANCA would last only ten episodes of the scheduled thirteen.

   The series aired on Tuesday at 7:30 to 8:30 on ABC. Opposite on CBS was NAME THAT TUNE followed by NAVY LOG, on NBC it was DINAH SHORE then PLYMOUTH NEWS CARAVAN, at 8pm NBC rotated the MILTON BERLE SHOW, MARTHA RAYE SHOW and the CHEVY SHOW. DuMont left the time period to its local affiliates.

   “Siren Song” is a good but predictable TV noir complete with a man-hating femme fatale. The series itself had several flaws with the most serious being Charles McGraw in the Bogart role of the tragic romantic hero Rick Blaine.

   Retired matador Francisco yearns to return to the glory of the bullring. He ignores the warnings of his wife and his friend Rick that Francisco is too old to survive the ring.

   Everyone notices the beautiful blonde Elsa enter, a femme fatale who few men can resist. Elsa finds pleasure in destroying men. She discards her current lover and sets her sights on Francisco.

   Francisco falls for her charm, abandoning his loyal loving wife. It does not take much for Elsa to convince Francisco to fight the bull again.

   The film CASABLANCA proved too iconic for this early TV series to live up to, even for the premiere episode “Who Holds Tomorrow” that actually tried.

   Comparing the entrance and interior sets of Rick’s Café Americain in “Who Holds Tomorrow” to “Siren Song” illustrates the series budget cuts and that Warner Brothers had given up on the series.

   Director Richard L. Bare (77 SUNSET STRIP) did well in capturing the noir mood of the predictable script and the filming of the bullfighting scene was impressive for its time, but Casablanca, the city as well as the heart of the film, were missing.

   The series was set in contemporary 1955 Casablanca and portrayed the locale as a center of Cold War intrigue. However in the real world at that time Casablanca was a center of revolution between the Moroccans and the French and Spanish. During the time this series was on the air the French officially granted Morocco its independence.

   The tension between the natives and the French (and Spanish) was ignored in this episode and while politics played no role in “Siren Song,” the turmoil of the time should at least have been part of the background atmosphere.

   Even a greater mistake was the relationship between Rick and Renaud took a step back as if the movie’s ending never happened. Marcel Dalio was no Claude Raines but in a nice piece of trivia, he had played the role of Emil the croupier in the movie version.

   The fatal flaw was Rick. It is no surprise that McGraw failed to match Bogart as the tragic romantic hero. A bigger problem was Rick of the movie was not the Rick of this series. TV Rick seemed content, almost happy with his life. Where was the angst of the movie’s Rick that made the character so romantic?

   This episode as with many of early TV series focused on guest characters more than the main star of the series. But CASABLANCA’s appeal was more about Rick than the premise. The audience was there for Rick, not some story about random characters.

   The guest cast did OK. Mari Blanchard (DESTRY) was at her best, showing the glee she felt as she used a man and cruelly sent him off to his doom. Today’s old TV fans will notice Hayden Rorke from I DREAM OF JEANNIE, playing the man who paid the bills for his time with Elsa. James Mitchell (ALL MY CHILDREN) as Matador Francisco handled the bullfighting scene better than the self-pitying side of the retired bullfighter.

   The major film studios had always looked down on TV as the enemy, but Disney’s financial success of TV series DISNEYLAND the season before and how Disney used it to promote its other product convinced other major studios to give TV a try.

   WARNER BROTHERS PRESENTS was that series for Warner Brothers. While CASABLANCA and KING’S ROW were TV failures and other studios attacked Warner Brothers and ABC for the behind the scenes segment as being a six-minute free commercial for Warner Brothers films (which it was), the huge success of the third series CHEYENNE would keep Warner Brothers happy with the profits from the TV business.

   Without more episodes its remains difficult to judge this attempt to bring CASABLANCA to the small screen, “Siren Song” was a better than average TV noir drama for the early days of television. But anyone expecting to find the romance adventure worthy of the name CASABLANCA will be disappointed.

JUSTIFIED “Fire in the Hole.” Season One, Episode One. FX, 16 March 2010. Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Joelle Carter, Nick Searcy, Erica Tazel, Natalie Zea. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard (ebook, 2001). Series developer: Graham Yost. Director: Michael Dinner.

   The story that Elmore Leonard wrote, a 60 page novella, one source says, really had some legs to it. Few cable TV series last as long as Justified did: It was on for six seasons and 78 episodes. (If anyone knows if I am correct in saying that the story first appeared as an ebook — and if so, why — let me know, or correct me if I am wrong.)

   This, the first episode, seems to follow the story closely, but in truth this is hearsay only. I have not read the story, one in which Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Olyphant) kills a Miami gangster before the latter could pull his own gun and fire, even though he made his move first.

   Even though the killing was “justified,” Givens is reassigned to the area of home state of Kentucky where he grew up, and his past quickly fills his life again. In particular, his partner in the coal mines, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), when they were both 19-year-olds, is now a local criminal hiding behind a facade of Bible-thumping white supremacy. The two meet again after Crowder’s brother is killed by his wife (Joelle Carter) after years of abuse, and an almost deadly shootout ends this first installment of the six-season series.

   I do not know where the story goes from here, but there is plenty of potential, with Givens’ ex-wife part of it, I am sure, as well as the fellow officers in his new place of work.

   I am also sure that more characters will be introduced as time goes one, but it’s rather obvious that the relationship with Givens and Crowder will be the major one that will continue to develop and be explored.

   The cast and production values are all excellent. You spend money on a TV series, and it shows. I don’t know how involved I want to be in watching the rest of the story, but if I start, I am sure it will be addictive.

   One small caveat, as far as I am concerned. Olyphant’s character, very well established from the get-go, is awfully cocksure of himself, and so far, through episode one, always has the right quip at the right time. I imagine (hope) the producers of the show will have him show some human failings, too. (The final scene suggests anger issues.)

THE THIRD MAN “One Kind Word.” BBC, UK, 02 October 1959 (episode 1, season 1). Syndicated, US, 03 September 59 (?). Michael Rennie, (Harry Lime), Rupert Davies (Inspector Shillings). Guest cast: Mai Zetterling, George Pastell, Eric Pohlmann. Based on characters in the novel The Third Man by Graham Greene and on the 1949 film of the same title starring Orson Welles. Director: Cliff Owen.

   Before this TV series, there was also a spinoff on British radio called The Adventures of Harry Lime (broadcast in the US as The Lives of Harry Lime), also starring Orson Welles. Produced by Harry Alan Towers, it lasted for one season, 1951-52, and 52 episodes, most readily available to listen to today. Although well remembered by OTR fans, the television series lasted longer, from 1959 to 1965, for a total of 77 30 minute episodes.

   The radio series took place before the film, but the TV series covered Harry Lime’s post-war activities, after (if I understand it correctly) he had become a legitimate import-export dealer in both London and New York. Most of this first episode, however, consists of a flashback to a time in Vienna just after the war, when Harry was still deeply involved in the underground and a huge assortment of black market activities there in the British zone.

   Beginning in London several years after the war, this episode finds Harry being called to a hospital where a woman (Mai Zetterling) is near death after being rescued from the Thames River. It turns out that he had met her twice before, once during the war in Cairo, and the second time in Vienna immediately afterward, when she was involved in a smuggling operation she tried to lead Harry to and have him join up with them.

   She obviously did not lead a happy life, and as the title of the episode suggests, one kind word at the right time, ibe hat she never received, may have made all the difference. This is a very moody piece, with lots of dark shadows, tight closeups and mysterious men hidden in doorways, some with guns.

   Not to mention the trenchcoat Harry seems always to be wearing, and the inevitable zither music, always at the appropriate moment. Many of the 77 episodes are available on the collectors’ market, and if this one’s a good example, I’m going to see about obtaining them.

   I’ve asked Chuck Harter, the author of the following book to tell us more about it. He’s most graciously agreed:

CHUCK HARTER – Mr. Novak: An Acclaimed Television Series. Bearmanor Media, hardcover, softcover and eBook, illustrated, 15 October 2017.

   This book is a comprehensive look at a classic dramatic television series that aired for two seasons in the early 1960’s. It was filmed at the MGM studios, aired on the NBC network and showcased life at a typical American High School.

   The program starred James Franciscus as teacher John Novak with first Dean Jagger then later Burgess Meredith as the Principal of the school. Mr. Novak was the first series that portrayed teachers and students in a realistic dramatic manner.

   Previously there had only been sitcoms which didn’t reflect the lifestyles of the real students of America. The series featured top quality scripts, actors and production and won over 47 awards during its run including the prestigious Peabody Award for excellence.

   Many of the awards came from academic institutions which praised the show for its portrayal of the educational community. Such was the impact of the production that it prompted many to become teachers and many existing educators to improve their skills.

   The book traces the evolution of the series from development to the pilot’s production and acceptance by NBC. It then covers the filming and airing of the first season to great acclaim.

   The second season, which was fraught with controversy and discord is then examined with the result being cancellation.

   The legacy of the principals involved with the series is examined along with comments by those that continue to be interested in this vintage classic dramatic series of superior values.

   The book contains exclusive interviews with over 40 actors including Ed Asner, Frankie Avalon, Diane Baker, Beau Bridges, Johnny Crawford, Tony Dow, Sherry Jackson, Tommy Kirk, Walter Koenig, Martin Landau, June Lockhart, Beverly Washburn and many others. There are 243 illustrations and an index, including a complete episode guide with full credits, plot descriptions, vintage interviews, and new appraisals by the author.

   There is also an extensive appendix with a list of the awards Mr. Novak won, Producer E. Jack Neuman’s writer’s guide for Mr. Novak, An advice column for High School graduates by star James Franciscus, Principal Vane’s (Dean Jagger) speech to the new teachers, the Mr. Novak board game and more.

   The Introduction of the book is by A-List Director Richard Donner: “I’m so glad Chuck Harter is brining the Mr. Novak experience to a wider audience…read his detailed behind-the-scenes account.”

   The Foreword is by the late Martin Landau: “Chuck Harter has produced a superlative book that is both fascinating and informative.”

   The Afterword is by Star Trek actor Walter Koenig: “You don’t have to be an actor…just a student to appreciate the skillful way in which Chuck Harter unfolds the stories behind the cameras.”

   Mr. Novak was a television series of exceptional quality and the amazing thing is that when episodes are viewed today — they are not dated or corny but are still relevant to modern times.

   The book is also available at Amazon.com, while the Official website is https://mrnovakbook.com/

ANNOUNCEMENT : Warner Home Video is going to release the first season of Mr. Novak (30 episodes) in a DVD set in 2018. They will be struck from the original 35mm camera negatives and should look pristine.

MR. ROBOT. “hellofriend.mov” USA Network, 24 June 2015. (Episode 1, Number 1.) Rami Malek (Elliot Alderson), Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater (Mr. Robot), Michel Gill, Ben Rappaport. Created and written by Sam Esmail. Director: Niels Arden Oplev.

   I’m always far behind the curve. This highly acclaimed cable network series has already been renewed for a third season, starting in October, and I’ve only just now sampled the beginning of the first, which has been out on DVD for a while.

   The leading character is a cybersecurity expert named Elliot Alderson, a nerdish young man who suffers from a severe society anxiety disorder, depression, and by night is an online vigilante, outing online predators, scam artists and worse. He is contacted by an underground group of hackers whose aim is to take down a gigantic worldwide corporation named E Corp (Evil Corp) which controls a high percentage of the world’s net worth.

   The leader of this self-named fsociety group is known only as Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), who in this first episode convinces Elliot in to take down the CEO of E Corp by a bit of totally illegal computer wizardry.

   There is no doubt that the series is well done, perfectly cast and beautifully photographed, and to me all of the code that shows up on Elliot’s computer screen looks authentic. (I’m no expert.) It is not surprised that the series as a whole currently has an 8.6 rating on IMDb.

   I have also watched the second episode, in which we learn more about Elliot’s friends, his not-so-friends, his psychiatrist, his drug-supplier (female, across the hall), but not yet all that much about Mr. Robot. There’s plenty of time for that, I realize, but this is as far as I’m going to go.

   I find all but one of the characters exceedingly unlikable — the exception being Elliot’s boss at Allsafe, and he probably is going to have problems that will be as depressing as all of the others. Even his psychiatrist has her problems, which Elliot in his usual awkward way, tries to set right. We may see the consequences of this in later episodes.

   As for Elliot himself, he has all kinds of conflicts to work out between himself, his friends — the few he has — and, well, the world in general. Elliot as a character is extremely well drawn, but I’m not ready to jump on board yet. For now, I’m going to pass on this one.

   I realize that I’m in a very small minority, but neither will I lie to you.

A TV SERIES REVIEW
by Michael Shonk


COURT MARTIAL. ABC; April 8 – September 2, 1966. Roncom Films,inc / ITC Presentation / MCA TV / Universal TV. Cast: Bradford Dillman as Captain David Young, Peter Graves as Major Frank Whittaker, Kenneth J. Warren as Sgt. John MacCaskey, and Angela Brown as Sgt. Yolanda Perkins or Diane Clare as Sgt. Wendy. Produced by Bill Hill or Robert Douglas.

   By the sixties. television drama was developing a social conscience. Lawyers were among the leaders of this type of drama with series such as THE DEFENDERS, BOLD ONES, and JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE often featuring cases that focused on the issues of the day.

   COURT MARTIAL followed that path and occasionally found great dramatic success. The series featured the activity of a small unit of the US Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAG).

   The star was Bradford Dillman as Captain David Young, a dedicated lawyer whose emotions and desire to find the truth often drove him beyond the call of duty. He was also a typical philandering bachelor of the era. Dillman at times overplayed the role as a womanizer, where in some serious scenes while he was questioning women Young was more interested in flirting than listening. Yet Captain Young was the conscience of the series.

   Co-starring was Peter Graves as Major Frank Whittaker, the officer in charge of the unit, and the one who chose the cases Young worked on. Graves was able to make Whittaker likable despite the Major’s loyalty to rules over compassion. He often argued with Young over methods but was flexible enough to let Young follow his passion. Whittaker at times took on a case himself even if it meant he was on the opposite side of Captain Young.

   Captain Young described the Major best when commenting, “Isn’t it nice to meet a man who not only has principles but lives by them.”

   The staff consisted of two Sergeants. One was staff aide Sgt John MacCaskey played by Kenneth J. Warren. His basic purpose was to either lighten up the episode or give another character someone to talk to.

   Finally there was the staff secretary. The series had two. First was Angela Browne as Sgt Yolanda Perkins. Next was Sgt. Wendy, played by Diane Clare. Both actresses were blonde and nearly interchangeable. Both were successful popular British actors. There was no explanation as to why the character Wendy suddenly replaced Yolanda. From the ten episodes I have seen the only difference between the two was Yolanda was more romantically interested in Captain Young than Wendy was.

   COURT MARTIAL began as a two-part episode on KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATRE. “The Case Against Paul Ryker” (October 10th and 17th, 1963) starred Lee Marvin, Dillman and Graves. The two-part episode would later be re-edited into a movie called SERGEANT RYKER and released to theatres in 1968. The action took place in the Korean War.

   In 1966 British TV network/syndicator ITC with Roncom Production decided to do a weekly series based on the episode with both Dillman and Graves returning. Not surprisingly the action shifted to WWII, a war more familiar to the British viewers that watched the series on the ATV network.

   COURT MARTIAL became part of the late 60s British invasion to American network TV when ABC added THE AVENGERS and COURT MARTIAL to its line-up. ABC wanted to replace reruns with more original programs. COURT MARTIAL would take over for THE JIMMY DEAN SHOW.

   Other British series on American TV at the time were THE BARON on ABC and SECRET AGENT (DANGER MAN) on CBS. THE SAINT was scheduled to follow in the fall on NBC. (“Broadcasting” January 31, 1966).

   COURT MARTIAL focused on the tragedies of war, avoiding the pat expected happy endings common on much of American TV. Our heroes often lost their cases and the endings could make you wonder if justice had been served. It lasted only one season with 26 episodes filmed of which only 20 were shown in America (ten episodes are currently on YouTube).

   The series was more appreciated in England, airing all 26 episodes and winning the British Society of Film and Television (BAFTA) award for Best Dramatic Series.

   Production values were cheap. Location shooting was rare with much of the series shot at the Pinewood studio lot. There were too many British actors with bad American accents. Yet the realistic drama and depth of the characters and story more than made up for COURT MARTIAL flaws.

“Judge Him Gently.” June 3, 1966. Written by Gerry Day. Directed by Harvey Hart. Produced by Bill Hill. Supporting Cast: Diane Clare as Sgt. Wendy. Guest Cast: Joan Hackett, Fred Sadoff and Henry Gilbert. *** A badly wounded soldier who faced a life of constant pain and suffering dies after receiving an overdose of morphine. Captain Young is assigned to prosecute a hospital corpsman that had been drunk at the time.

   After Young wins his case against the corpsman the Nurse in charge confesses she administered the fatal dose when the patient begged her to end his life. No one but Young wants to defend her and the act of euthanasia.

   One of the best episodes of the series. Brilliantly written by Gerry Day, perhaps the best TV script she ever wrote in her successful fifty-year career. She was able to show the effects of war from the perspective of a female nurse. Joan Hackett was outstanding playing the tense emotionally broken nurse, adding an intensity and tragedy to the all ready powerful story.

   The episode rejected melodrama for realism. It took on the issue of euthanasia as well as the cruelness of war with sensitivity and compassion. It rejected emotional scenes for scenes that showed the motives of all and the pain each dealt with inside. And most important it rejected judgmental easy answers.

“Taps for the Sergeant.” April 15, 1966. Written by Daniel Mainwaring. Directed by Peter Maxwell. Produced by Bill Hill – Supporting Cast: Diane Clare as Sgt Wendy. Guest Cast: Lee Montague, Moira Redmond, and George Roubicek. *** France, August 1944. Major Whittaker takes on the defense of a Sergeant who had fought with the French Foreign Legion and the French Underground before he joined the American Army. The Sergeant had disobeyed an order, an order that cost 12 men their lives.

   The story of the Sergeant was dramatic enough but it also presented an effective look at the depth of Major Frank Whittaker. The ending is a good example of the series attempt at showing the darkness of war and the uncompromising world of the military.

“Without a Spear or Sword.” June 24, 1966. Written by Mark Rogers. Directed by Peter Maxwell. Produced by Bill Hill. Supporting Cast: Angela Brown as Sgt Yolanda Perkins. Guest Cast: Dennis Hopper. Susan Hampshire and Francis De Wolff.*** Hopper plays a lonely loser, Cpl. Winston that gets caught with a stolen art piece. The piece was part of a private collection that was robbed before it scheduled move to a museum.

   The episode explored the emotional side of Young from his seducing the beautiful woman who worked at the museum to his caring concern for the Corporal. Where Major Whittaker was more disciplined, Young found it difficult not to get personally involved.

   COURT MARTIAL was a humorless, depressing quality drama that had little chance in its time slot of Friday at 10pm and opposite then hit series NBC’s MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. This mix of COMBAT! and THE DEFENDERS deserves to be better remembered but instead joins the too many other forgotten attempts at quality dramas of the era such as SLATTERY’S PEOPLE and THE NURSES.

BRENNER. “False Witness.” CBS; 6 June 1959. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Edward Binns, James Broderick. Guest Cast: Frank Overton, Kay Medford, Alan Ansara, Michael Conrad, with Dana Elcar (uncredited). Written by Loring Mandel. Director: Gerald Mayer.

   The series as a whole was reviewed here on this blog by Ted Fitzgerald almost seven years ago soon after a box set of DVDs was released. Now that I’ve watched the first episode, I’m impressed enough to want to see more.

   Ted described it as “character-driven drama about two New York City cops, Roy Brenner (Edward Binns) a veteran member of The Confidential Squad (aka Internal Affairs), and his son Ernie (James Broderick), a rookie detective,” details that for one reason or another weren’t completely nailed down in this first episode.

   This one’s about a hack assistant D.A. who wants Ernie to embellish, shall we say, his testimony against a man accused of splashing a container of lye in his wife’s eyes. No one saw the crime itself. The man says the lye was hers (in more ways than one) and she spilled it on herself.

   The D.A. guy puts all kinds of pressure on Ernie, but in the end he (spoiler) does the right thing. According to Wikipedia, the series was “filmed live,” by people who knew something about telecasting live TV. This particular episode begins with some interesting long tracking shots, and facial closeups are used to very good advantage. Skilled people were at work here.

   As for the guest cast, Kay Medford has the acting ability to make her quirky character, the victim of the attack, even more interesting than the lines she has to say, and Alan Ansara, as the cellmate of the accused assailant, sounds very much like Robin Williams to me in his exaggerated way of trying to say whatever he thinks he needs to that will earn him rewards from the police and D.A.’s office.

   What I found unusual, and the problem I alluded to above, is that there was no effort to “introduce” the characters. We do not even know who the younger Brenner is until he’s spoken to by name about ten minutes into the program. The father, Edward Binns, does not appear until there’s only two minutes to go. As he is sitting there in the courtroom awaiting the trial to begin as someone we have net seen before, the young Brenner sits next to him and calls him Dad. Presumably he has bigger roles in future episodes.

THE REPORTER: “Extension Seven.” CBS, 60m, 25 September 1964 (Season 1, Episode 1). Cast: Harry Guardino (Danny Taylor), Gary Merrill (Lou Sheldon). Guest Cast: Rip Torn, Shirley Knight. Series created by Jerome Weidman. Writer-director: Tom Gries.

   This was from all reports, a highly ambitious TV series, but it evidently didn’t catch on withe viewing public, since it ended in December the same year, with only 13 episodes aired.

   This is the only episode I’ve been able to see. Others don’t seem to be around, or else I haven’t been looking hard enough. But based on this sample of size one, it was obvious that a lot of effort and talent was put into it. Harry Guardino plays a columnist/reporter for the New York Globe, while Gary Merrill is his city editor. I was reminded of an old-time radio show starring Frank Lovejoy called Night Beat, in which he comes across all kind of crooks and other people with problems, all grist for his column for a Chicago newspaper, but the basic idea I’m sure has been around for a long time.

   According to Wikipedia, all kinds of big names (or soon-to-be big names) showed up in the 13 episodes: Nick Adams, Eddie Albert, Edward Asner, Dyan Cannon, Richard Conte, Herb Edelman, James Farentino, Anne Francis, Frank Gifford, Arthur Hill, Shirley Knight, Jack Lord, Archie Moore, Simon Oakland, Warren Oates, Claude Rains, Paul Richards, Robert Ryan, Pippa Scott, William Shatner, Barry Sullivan, Roy Thinnes, Daniel J. Travanti, Franchot Tone, Rip Torn, Jessica Walter, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

   In this the first episode, Rip Torn plays a nobody of a man who is encouraged by one of Danny Taylor’s columns to not not stand idly by when he sees a woman being seriously harassed by a gang of juvenile delinquents. For this he gets a knife in the stomach, and he blames Danny Taylor, whom he calls to vent his frustration and feelings.

   Problem is, he will die if he doesn’t get medical attention, but he doesn’t know where he has found refuge, only the extension number on the phone. The hoods are also looking for him so they can finish off the job, which provides exactly the kind of suspense that makes a 60 minute program, including commercials, pass very quickly. On the other end of the line, while Danny is trying to have the call traced, is Shirley Knight, a copy girl for the paper and another lost soul, and a second kind of connection is made.

   The script does get kind of preachy at times, especially when Merrill reminds Guardino that his job is not to feel guilty for getting the victim to risk his life on the basis of his newspaper column — Guardino seems to have been around long enough to not need a rookie reporter’s pep talk — but all in all, this was a top notch production that did what it was supposed too, keep the viewer’s eyes on the screen at all times.

HEAT OF ANGER. CBS-TV, 3 March 1972; 90m. Pilot for a proposed series to be called Fitzgerald and Pride. Susan Hayward (Jessie Fitzgerald), James Stacy (Gus Pride), Lee J. Cobb, Fritz Weaver, Bettye Ackerman, Jennifer Penny, Tyne Daly. Teleplay: Fay Kanin. Director: Don Taylor.

   In this better than average made-for-TV movie, Susan Hayward, her movie career well behind her, plays a high-powered defense attorney who is paired up with James Stacy, whose role is that of a young struggling former public prosecutor now trying to make a go of it on his own in small office on the lower levels of the building Jessie Fitzgerald owns.

   Their client is the owner of a large construction company who is accused of pushing a worker off the top of a tall work in progress. Motive? The young man (married) was having a fling with his estranged daughter.

   From what I’m told, Barbara Stanwyck was intended to have the leading role, but when she came down with kidney problems, Susan Hayward was given the part instead. There doesn’t seem to be any real chemistry between her and her co-star James Stacy, however, and there really was never any real reason the two of them should be working the same case together.

   Nor is this a case where detective work comes to play. It’s more of pop psychology sort of case: the dead man had spent his life pushing himself to every kind of limit he could find, and this is time that he kept the cherry bomb in his hand too long.

   But most of the cast have names you will recognize, and they surely didn’t get their reputation for turning in bad performances, nor do they here. While totally forgotten, I’m sure, it’s an entertaining movie, and if given the go-ahead, it might have lasted a season, probably not more.

A FUTURE FORGOTTEN TV SERIES
by Michael Shonk


THE PLAYER. NBC, 2015; Thursdays, 10pm-11pm. Kung Fu Monkey Productions and David Entertainment in association with Sony Pictures Television. Cast: Philip Winchester, Wesley Snipes, Charity Wakefield, Damon Gupton. Created by John Rogers and John Fox. Executive Producers: John Rogers, John Zinman, Patrick Massett, John Davis, and John Fox.

   It is the new fall TV season, and time for new series to be judged. Some new series will join our list of series we watch every week, more new series will be rejected and forgotten. While not the worse of the new series this season (Fox’s Minority Report is the worse) The Player shows all the signs of a doomed series. Rejected by critics and viewers alike, a strange premise ineptly handled, The Player is one to watch soon before it is gone forever.

   The premise of The Player is that there is a secret society of the world’s very rich and powerful that has set up a system where they bet on crime. Created in America around the turn of the 20th Century, the game grew popular with the ruthless rich and powerful of the era. Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage created the first computer to help with the game and Thomas Edison got it to work. The game went global and quickly was out of control and started WWI. To regain control of the game the House was created. The House is run by the Pitboss who sets up the game, the Dealer who monitors the game and offers assistance to the final employee of the House –The Player.

   But this is NBC, a major free network, so it should come as no surprise that a premise open to thought-provoking discussions on the immorality of the bored rich gambling on the outcome of crimes would instead be a mindless fast pace violent implausible immortal action TV series with the inability to avoid any TV cliché ever written.

   The next clip tells us more about the people and their role in the game:

   The Player is Alex Kane, a former special op with a dark past, now living in Las Vegas as the World’s Greatest Security consultant. Philip Winchester (Strike Back) does what he can with his limited range to play this standard issue TV action hero.

   In the type of creative thinking typical for this series Alex’s best friend is Police Detective Cal Brown (Damon Gupton) who worries about his friend and is always the cop in charge when Alex destroys part of the city fighting bad guys. Alex’s love of his life is his ex-wife Virginia Lee (Daisy Betts). They love each other very much and have finally decided to get back together. That night while our hero and ex celebrate in bed bad guys attack and she is killed. But this is modern comic book inspired fiction, so is she really dead?

   Meanwhile at the House is the Pitboss Mr. Johnson played by Wesley Snipes (Blade) in not his best performance. Mr. Johnson is an evil soulless man who believes in blackmail, murder, whatever it takes to serve the House. He also believes in tough love when dealing with The Player.

   The Dealer is the blonde beauty Cassandra King. Charity Wakefield (Mockingbird Lane) has shown she is capable of portraying the series most conflicted character. She is aware of the immorality of the game but in some of TV’s lamest dumb-down dialog tries to convince Alex that they are doing good, saving the victims of crimes enjoyed by the evil rich gamblers.

   The series features more property destruction than a Marvel’s superhero movie, more pointless car chases and stunts than a Bond movie and a believability level that wouldn’t convince a 12 year old. The suspense is weaken by the number of deus ex machina devices used – from an all knowing computer named ADA that Cassandra can use to get Alex out of any jam to Johnson’s ability to call in a get out jail card whenever the cops get too close.

   You can view the pilot episode for free at iTunes. This is just one of many TV series that first episode can be downloaded for free at iTunes.

   The odds are against The Player. While handicapped by a bad time slot it has a strong lead-in (Blacklist). How much of the Blacklist audience it loses will tip you off on its future. Personally, I would bet The Player doesn’t survive to see January.

Next Page »