TV Drama

THE MOB DOCTOR “Pilot.” Fox, 60m, 17 September 2012. Season 1, Episode 1. Jordana Spiro (Dr. Grace Devlin), William Forsythe, James Carpinello, Zach Gilford, Zeljko Ivanek, Floriana Lima, Jaime Lee Kirchner. Created by Josh Berman and Rob Wright , based on the book Il Dottore: The Double Life of a Mafia Doctor by Ron Felber. Director: Michael Dinner.

   As the pilot for the series which lasted less than half a season on Fox (13 episode, 17 September 2012 to 7 January 2013), this first episde works exceedingly well. It doesn’t hurt, though, that premise can be explained in one sentence: To keep her brother from being offed by the local Chicago mob, an extremely competent surgeon, Dr. Grace Devlin, has agreed to do their wished anytime the need comes up.

   There are other sub-stories in this first episode, but the major one, the one that will catch the average viewer’s attention right away, is that she is ordered to let a would-be witness in an upcoming trial die in the operation room. Well, I consider myself an average viewer and it certainly caught my attention.

   It is a dilemma, of course, and it has Grace sweating out how she’s going to get out of the spot she’s in all the way through. It comes out more or less OK, but there is also a twist in the tale that I didn’t see coming, one designed to keep all of us average viewers coming back next week.

   It helps that Jordana Spiro is not a knockout model type. In fact she is suitably harried throughout this entire episode. If she had been wearing the latest slinky dresses and high-heeled shoes, no one would believed it for a minute.

   Where the series is going, besides more of the same, I have no idea, but until it begins to repeat itself one time too many, I’ll keep watching.

BOSTON LEGAL “Head Cases.” ABC, 60 min. Season 1, Episode 1. 03 October 2004. James Spader (Alan Shore), William Shatner (Denny Crane), Rhona Mitra, Lake Bell, Mark Valley, Rene Auberjonois, Monica Potter. Created by David E. Kelley. Director: Bill D’Elia.

   William Shatner will be known for now and forever as Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise, but I think that totally irreverent hotshot Boston lawyer Denny Crane is the role he was always meant to play. His view of things is that he’s still at the top of his game, but in this first episode of Boston Legal, his underlings and associates are beginning to wonder if he’s still up to the job.

   This series had a large ensemble cast, and since some of the players came over from a preceding series called The Practice, which I never saw (and in fact this is the first time I’ve seen an episode of this series), it took me a while to put together who was who and what connection they may have to each other.

   There are a quite a few cases the firm is working on as well, beginning with the head of the local office coming to a staff meeting sans pants (nor undershorts) and being carried away strapped down in a stretcher. The two major ones are (1) a major client of the firm demanding that a PI be hired to follow his wife. Denny refuses, for good reason. He’s the one who’s sleeping with the wife. And (2) the mother of a young black girl wants to sue a theatrical company for not choosing her to play the part of Annie.

   James Spader is the first name in the cast listing, but it took me until I’d seen the second episode, not otherwise reviewed here, to understand how essential he is to the show’s chemistry. His unflappable refusal to ever be outwitted in a battle of words, in the office as well as in the courtroom, is a wonder to behold.

   By the way, I consider this a comedy, an extremely sophisticated one, but if you were to have been watching me watch this show and listening to me laugh out loud several times, and smile all of the rest of the time, you would know exactly what I mean. I also do not know how true this is in the real world, but not only are all of the women in this series knockout attractive, they’re wonderful actors too.

   It looks like I may be watching this series several nights a week for some time to come.

TV IN 2019: PART TWO –
by Michael Shonk

   Comparing the broadcast and cable networks to the streaming services is like comparing cassette tapes to CD. Both have entertaining content, it is just the formats are different.

   The broadcast networks are fading dinosaurs, no longer a place where mass audiences gather on a daily basis. Cable networks are doomed to be devoured by the streaming world that features original programming as well as the programs of the cable networks.

   TV has changed in so many ways. Because of devices such as Apple TV, Roku TV, and Amazon’s Firestick you can watch nearly all of cable TV without cable and even without a TV set. TV has left the living room and is following you, waiting to fetch for you whatever and whenever you want to watch. Part One of this two part survey looked at the streaming services, so now it is the broadcasting and cable networks turn.

   With the exception of some time as the top rated network in the 1970s-80s, ABC has never gotten much respect. Having been born during the radio days as a rib off NBC, ABC tends to get treated like third in line. Things have not improved since Disney bought them.

   ABC’s announced goal for the 2019-20 season is to finish first among women. One reason is they have to share most of the sports with their Disney family brother ESPN. ABC has also found success in the past with the women market and in today’s diversity culture women are in increasing demand.

   ABC shows have a real problem writing male characters that men want to watch. ABC’s best dramas tend to feature a gorgeous independent likeable female lead. The problem is few of their series characters are likable or deep enough for the audience to care. The writing focuses on emotion over plots and romance over action. Shows such as TAKE TWO and WHISKEY CAVALIER are good examples of this.

   I do have hopes for two of ABC announced new series. REEF BREAK airs this month. It stars Poppy Montgomery (UNFORGETTABLE) as an ex-thief turned trouble-shooter for a tropical island government.

   The broadcast networks new fall series I most look forward to is ABC ‘s STUMPTOWN. Based on a comic book, the story is about a gorgeous wise cracking kick ass female PI. How could I resist after watching this trailer?

   Not so long ago CBS’s future looked bright. It had defeated the evil conglomerate Viacom and had won its freedom. But there were problems. CBS’ powerful successful ruthless womanizing media mogul Les Moonves had faced down Viacom but would be crushed by a bunch of women and the rising power of the me-too movement. Only CBS stockholders were sorry to see Moonves leave, and they had to watch in horror as Viacom began to rise and turn its eyes back on them.

   CBS may continue to attract the most viewers on linear TV, but such numbers mean less and less. Those at CBS remain clueless about diversity. Diversity is not taking your ancient series format and change the white guy to a woman or minority.

   CBS made a big deal out of Alan Cummings playing a gay man in INSTINCT but didn’t bother to update its tired format. The formula has one strange unconventional male paired with an over serious all business female cop and they solve crimes together. This summer INSTINCT returns and if you like old-fashioned procedurals, it is worth a peek, if you are bored with TV from the 20th century, CBS is not for you.

   The best thing CBS has going for it is the showrunnners Michelle and Robert King who have blessed the unworthy network with THE GOOD WIFE and THE GOOD FIGHT. Ok, they also created the hideous failure BRAIN DEAD. CBS is hoping EVIL, a show about a Catholic Assessor and a non-believing profiler joining forces to fight psychopaths, is one of the King’s good shows.

   Among the cable networks owned by CBS are SHOWTIME and POP TV. POP TV is best known for SCHITT’S CREEK. The Canadian sitcom and cult TV favorite has been renewed for its sixth season. Also on the network are FLORIDA GIRLS (comedy about four girls in a Florida small town) and FLACK (comedy about public relations).

   CW has its own measurement for success rather than Nielsen’s live ratings. They are not alone. Because there is no accepted metric for digital viewing, every network and many of the media buyers (advertisers) have their own set of numbers beyond Nielsen’s. When the totals are as small as TV has gotten, how many mean less than who, what, where and devotion to content/product.

   CW was a merger of UPN (Paramount) and WB (Warner Brothers). CBS and Warner co-own CW and supply nearly all its programs. Perhaps my biggest question about CW this fall is are they going to weird out Nancy Drew like they did to Archie in RIVERDALE? The trailer is inconclusive.

   Today’s FOX is a pale version of itself when it was the number one rated TV network. Disney swallowed up most of FOX, leaving just the broadcast TV network, Fox News cable networks, and Fox sports. Fox is saving most of its original scripted series for the midseason. Meanwhile, it is mainly games shows this summer and sports this fall. Perhaps its most successful original scripted series this fall will be WWE pro wrestling. For drama fans this fall offers PRODIGAL SON (serial killer Dad wants son to join the family business), and 9-1-1 has Jennifer Love Hewitt joining the cast.

   The technology of today is able to create extremely detailed analytics and it has changed television as much as sabermetrics has changed baseball.

   Hollywood REPORTER (May 20, 2019) discussed commercial television with some media buyers, “Buyers also expressed a collective eye roll at the emphasis on total viewers…But even the so called sweet-spot of viewers 18-49 has become an antiquated benchmark.”

   So NBC winning the 18-49 means little and all the media coverage of Nielsen’s live ratings mean even less.

   Bob Greenblat who had taken NBC from a laughing stock to respected network left NBC to run part of the WarnerMedia streaming service.

   Today NBC has the best fiction among the broadcast networks. An NBC show is more interested in the heart, more interested in examining the characters than who done it.

   Supernatural cop series THE INBETWEEN currently airing is a good example. Every character has a sob story for depth. I have seen two episodes and what is the “inbetween” is still a mystery. Not that it matters, as long as you accept the concept the drama is watching the other side help Cassie stop the villain and save the victim. If you like supernatural mysteries try it out.

   AMC NETWORKS is made up of cable networks: AMC (WALKING DEAD), IFC (PORTLANDIA), WE (BRAXTON FAMILY VALUES), and Sundance (RECTIFY). AMC NETWORK co-owns BBC America (DOCTOR WHO) with BBC studios.

   It has been a busy year for AMC. Final seasons aired of martial arts action series INTO THE BADLANDS, historical drama THE SON, and (starting in August) supernatural PREACHER. Also airing in 2019 are FEAR OF THE WALKING DEAD, NOS4A2, and THE TERROR.

   BBC America and AMC both air KILLING EVE. The critically acclaimed thriller has just ended season 2 and has been renewed for a third season, coming most likely in 2020.

   BBC America is best known for DOCTOR WHO. My favorite Doctors remain Tom Baker and Matt Smith, but Jodie Whittaker as Momma Who is terrific, it was the writing and the supporting cast that made last season unwatchable for me.

   Fans of ORPHAN BLACK will be happy to learn the series is coming back in a 10 part audio series, starring Tatiana Maslany. There is a possible new TV series in development.

   Sundance Channel has a new eight-part adaption of the book NAME OF THE ROSE.

   A&E is a group owned in part by Disney and Hearst. It has A+E, History, and Lifetime. A+E is into reality programming. Lifetime is best known for its original scripted movies for women. In the past Lifetime has tried original scripted TV series such as VERONICA CLARE, ANGELA’S EYES and MARY KILLS PEOPLE, but today its schedule features reality shows such as DANCE MOMS. History Channel has a mix of reality programming (AX MEN and FORGED IN FIRE), and historical dramas (PROJECT BLUE BOOK and THE VIKINGS). THE VIKINGS are due to air its sixth and final season during the 2019-20 season. There are plans for a spin-off but not enough details to expect it soon.

   Among the better parts of FOX that Disney devoured is Fox entertainment cable networks FX and FXX. Both feature critically approved programs with unlikable characters and a premise that scream edginess.

   FX is beloved by TV critics everywhere. Some of the series to air this year are BASKETS (life of an clown), FOSSE/VERDON (Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s relationship), LEGION (superheroes), POSE (life in gay culture in New York during the 80s), SNOWFALL (drug dealer), and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (vampire comedy).

   FXX is a comedy offshoot of FX and a place of endless THE SIMPSON reruns. ARCHER began as an animated spoof on spies and over time has turned its attention to genres such as action, PI noir, adventure, and this year space opera. This is ARCHER tenth season and may be its last.

   Disney still has its multiple cable networks for kids and families. It also owns Freeform that has found an audience for gossipy mysteries (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS) and supernatural series. I can hardly wait to see just how fun bad is MOTHERLOAD: FORT SALEM – a series about gorgeous young witches who serve in the American army.

   Now that AT&T has bought Time Warner and dubbed it WarnerMedia there will be changes. At this time, Warner’s focus is less on cable and more on its future streaming service. HBO has been told to produce more series, quality be damn.

   There may be changes in the formats of TNT and TBS. TNT currently is for drama and TBS is for comedy. TNT has dramas such as CLAWS, and ANIMAL KINGDOM. TBS has comedy such as AMERICAN DAD, FULL FRONTAL and SEARCH PARTY.

   CHASING THE CURE is a live series to simulcast on both TNT and TBS. The series features a real person with a mystery disease and the audience from all over the world offers up possible cures.

   Will Warnermedia bring changes to cable’s best channel TCM, one of the few places left to enjoy film’s classics? Cartoon fans wonder what the future has in store for Cartoon Network (modern cartoons), Boomerang (cartoons featuring new versions of older characters such as Bugs and Scooby Doo), and popular Adult Swim (for adult fans of cartoons). This August Adult Swim favorite and one of the greatest TV cartoons ever made, the VENTURE BROTHERS return for a seventh season.

   Comcast owns NBC Universal studio and a variety of cable networks including E (Kardashians), SYFY, USA, and Bravo.

   Bravo is more a reality and lifestyle network, which is why DIRTY JOHN will air its second season on USA in 2020. DIRTY JOHN is based on a true crime podcast.

   One of the most popular cable networks, USA will say good-bye to MR ROBOT as I await BRIARPATCH, a series based on Ross Thomas book (I expect it in 2020). This summer SUITS ends and spin-off series PEARSON begins.

   SYFY has had problems only cable networks can have. THE EXPANSE is one of the TV’s greatest science fiction series, but it cost too much so SYFY cancelled it. Fortunately Amazon Prime saved it and will be showing the fourth season soon.

   WYNONNA EARP may have a small audience but it is a passionate audience advertisers love. It has been renewed for a fourth and fifth season. However IDW that produces the series ran out of money and had to stop production. EARP fans refused to let it die, even at one point buying ad space on the giant billboard in Times Square begging fans to help save the show. SYFY (and Canadian channel Space) still want the series.

   THE MAGICIANS (based on Lew Grossman’s trilogy) just finished its season 4 and has been renewed. Airing this summer will be the last season of KILLJOYS and the second of KRYPTON (Superman’s home planet).

   SYFY has an affection for bizarre creepy series that generally don’t last long. Some examples have been DEADLY CLASS, high school for assassins, and BLOOD DRIVE, a Death Race 2000 like car race but this time the cars run on blood. This year saw the second season and maybe the last of HAPPY. Christopher Meloni stars as Nick, an ex-cop with endless number of vices including the fondness of killing people, and his imaginary friend Happy. Ann-Margret joined the cast this year and…well…

   Viacom has long enjoyed collecting a variety of cable networks. A recent reorganization has made the cable networks more team players than independent networks.

   BET will continue to specialize in programs for the black audience such as AMERICAN SOUL and IN CONTEMPT. Comedy Central focus is on comedy, from live shows (DAILY SHOW) to scripted comedy (THE OTHER TWO). MTV will likely drop any future attempts at scripted TV (anyone remember scripted thriller EYE CANDY, based on R.L. Stine book) and do docu-reality shows with young adults (THE HILLS…NEW BEGINNING). Nickelodean should continue its mix of cartoons (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS) and live action (HENRY DANGER) for kids.

   Spike network has been renamed Paramount network and is Viacom’s flagship. Its scripted original YELLOWSTONE has been renewed for a third season. Kevin Costner stars in the epic family drama and DALLAS wanna-be.

   HALLMARK MYSTERY MOVIES has its fans. If you like overly formulaic romantic mysteries this is for you. There are a seemingly endless number of different but interchangeable series. Current lineup include GOURMET DETECTIVE MYSTERY, MYSTERY 101, PICTURE PERFECT MYSTERIES, HAILEY DEAN MYSTERIES, and CROSSWORD MYSTERY.

   August will be AURORA TEAGARDEN MYSTERY month. Based on the books written by Charlaine Harris, Aurora (Candace Cameron-Bure) is a librarian who runs the Real Mystery Club. Of interest to old TV fans, Marilu Henner (TAXI) co-stars.

   Another way to watch TV is Digital TV. All it requires is a digital antenna and a TV or some are also available on cable. Among the best known of digital stations are ME-TV, ESCAPE, COZI, GRIT and ANTENNA -TV. These stations remind me of the old TV Independent stations such as the great KDOC -Los Angeles that aired little beyond old TV series reruns.

   When TV has more demand than supply, syndication has always stepped in, from the early wild uncharted days of the 1950s TV to the early days of today’s cable. Today we find original scripted series everywhere we find cable channels.

   WGN AMERICA returns to once cancelled, now revived Canadian original PURE, based on the true story of the Mennonite mob. ION carries mainly your standard syndicated reruns but also offers new original scripted series from Canada, PRIVATE EYES:

   There are small independently owned cable networks that serve a small audience and are not available on streaming. My favorite is El Rey, created by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (EL MARIACHI) for Latino males, young filmmakers, and fans of dubbed martial arts films. It reruns hard to find series such as STARHUNTER REDUX and RELIC HUNTER. It offers exposure to aspiring filmmakers. Among its original programs are MAN AT ARMS: ART OF WAR (Danny Trejo examines weapons), comedy CRUNCH TIME, a talk show, various animation series, and LUCHA UNDERGROUND.

   The goal of this two part look at TV in 2019 was to help you in this world of nearly 500 original scripted TV series each season, to actually find some of those series, and maybe even find some you like.

by Michael Shonk

   The entertainment called television has escaped the boundaries of the TV set and now can be found almost anywhere. So where are all those shows hiding?

   During the last few years the total of original scripted TV series has approached nearly five hundred every year. With the upcoming explosion of new major media players joining the streaming wars the number of scripted original shows should increase like bunny rabbits.

   The business of television is in chaos as even the major broadcast networks are now minor players left playing a role for their business masters or they are struggling to find a way to stay relevant. But more about that in Part Two, in which broadcast networks and cable will be covered.

   Many of you have probably sampled or subscribed to at least one streaming service. The main ones have been NETFLIX, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Soon some of the world’s largest media conglomerates – Disney, AT&T (WarnerMedia), Comcast, and Apple will debut their streaming services, all with their own original programs.

   CBS has fought off media conglomerate Viacom and started its own streaming service with original programs. However due to the fall of CBS mogul Les Moonves, and Viacom slow but steady recovery, few would be surprised if Viacom and CBS rejoin together. Viacom recently bought streaming service Pluto to use to streaming all of its cable networks once it’s ready.

   Many other networks – broadcast and cable – have an online site where you can catch up on their programs you might have missed.

   A streaming service – usually for a fee – allows you to watch TV shows and movies on your computer or other devices via the Internet. There are smart TVs such as Roku, over the top box such as Apple TV and devices such as Amazon’s Fire stick that connects your TV to the streaming world.

   Netflix remains one of the most successful and powerful studios in the World. As it continues to develop original programming faster than any viewer could possible watch, Netflix has also created a film studio and plans to become a major player in movies as well as television.

   One update from the clip, BLACK MIRROR is playing on Netflix now. I would add to the list of shows worth checking out – THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, SANTA CLARITA DIET, and DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE (coming in August).

   Netflix has also rescued two network series from recent cancellation – LUCIFER (FOX) and DESIGNATED SURVIVIOR (ABC). It has been announced LUCIFER has been renewed for another season after its current – it will be the fifth and last.

   DISNEY is now the top media giant in the business. It owns the rights to Mickey Mouse, Marvel, The Simpsons and Star Wars. It currently runs two streaming services –ESPN+ and Hulu.

   Hulu has been around for some time and was owned by Disney, Fox, Comcast and WB. Disney now has full control over Hulu and plans to continue its focus on TV series, especially network and cable TV series. Hulu is not best known for its originals but THE HANDMAID’S TALE, CHANCE and CATCH 22 are worth checking out.

   Disney+ will be the company’s third streaming service and the one that will get most of the attention. This is the one Netflix needs to fear. It will be available this year and one of its first original series will be STAR WARS MANDALORIAN

   This year will also see AT&T join in the TV streaming fun. Its recent purchase of Time Warner gave the phone company a strong presence in the cable world. Reportedly the new service will be called WarnerMedia. They are still working on what kind of service will they offer. Will it be one service uniting HBO, Cinemax and all of WarnerMedia to cost $16-$17 a month or will it be a three tier – basic, HBO and premium? WarnerMedia has announced its first original program. TOYKO VICE will star Ansel Elgort and is based on the non-fiction book by Jake Adelstein.

   Warners have not had much success in the streaming business. Warner Archive with its over priced small library of old movies and TV series was a failure. DC UNIVERSE has had two minor success with DOOM PATROL and TITANS, but the service just cancelled SWAMP THING after one episode. Boomerang is an offshoot of the cable Cartoon Network spin-off network Boomerang. It focuses on post 50s to today era of classic cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, and 90s favorite KIDS NEXT DOOR.

   Premium channels have their own streaming service that can also be found at Apple TV and Amazon Prime (for the price of subscription). These channels also offer apps that allow you to subscribe to the streaming service and watch it without needing cable.

   WarnerMedia has the most successful of the pay networks HBO. There is a question about what HBO will replace the epic hit GAMES OF THRONES with. At the moment only one series, THE LONG NIGHT will come from the world of GAMES. However THE LONG NIGHT will take place in Westero a thousand years before the GAMES timeline. Of course HBO does have some other shows to watch.

   Cinemax has grown up from its days as a soft porn cable network. Today it does some wonderful action series such as C.B. STRIKE, RELLIK, WARRIOR and JETT.

   CBS owns premium channel SHOWTIME and streaming CBS ALL ACCESS.

   SHOWTIME has always stood in the pay TV shadow of HBO and now it has even more competition. Perhaps its highlight of 2019 will be CITY ON A HILL.

   CBS ALL ACCESS is best known for the CBS classic TV series and originals STAR TREK DISCOVERY, THE TWILIGHT ZONE (with host Jordan Peele) and THE GOOD FIGHT (sequel to THE GOOD WIFE). Currently in season three, the critic favorite GOOD FIGHT will air season one this summer on CBS.

   STARZ has increased its original programming over the last few years featuring high production values in such series as BLACK SAILS, WHITE PRINCESS and my favorite COUNTERPART (that ended recently after two seasons),

   I recently reduced my cable to just basic and had to live without my favorite network EPIX. I discovered EPIX app and for $5.99 I am again watching series such as BERLIN STATION, GET SHORTY, DEEP STATE, and PERPETUAL GRACE LTD on my Roku TV and without cable.

   COMCAST owns NBC Universal and all the cable stations that go with it. It has plans for a free ad supported streaming service this year but has fallen behind its fellow growing media giants.

   Apple TV is a box that connects your TV to streaming services. Apple TV+ debuts sometime this year as a streaming service specializing in Apple’s original programs

   Did you notice AMAZING STORIES is coming back with new stories and produced by Stephen Spielberg? Below is a promo for FOR ALL MANKIND, a TV series set in an alternative history where the Russians were first to the Moon.

   Of course I have not forgotten Amazon Prime. Prime exists to promote free shipping at a retail online store. There are many services offered to Prime members and the video streaming is just one of them and because of that it can get lost and forgotten.

   Prime, like Netflix and Hulu, has save broadcast and cable TV from cancellation. After three seasons of THE EXPANSE SyFy could no longer afford to make the series. Fortunately, Prime will air the original fourth season of TV’s best science fiction series THE EXPANSE. I recommend you watch the first three seasons now on Prime.

   There are a nice variety of original programs hiding on Prime worth watching such as BOSCH, PATROIT, GOLIATH, FLEABAG, SNEAKY PETE, and MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

   There seems to be a streaming service for every taste, genre and need. A good place to find the small service for you is to search through Amazon Prime Channels.

   Fans of British TV should start at BRITBOX, a streaming service from the BBC and ITV. Most of the best of British TV can be found there including every classic DOCTOR WHO episode in existence. My one complaint is there is not enough 60s series, especially not enough from ITV.

   Acorn is a service that airs series from Britain, but also Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand’s BROKENWOOD MYSTERIES remains high on my favorites list. Currently Acorn has five seasons and a six is on its way.

   Small streaming services such as Acorn can offer you first glimpse of quality TV before mainstream television finds it. In Acorn’s case it was the first to show MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES in America. Since MISS FISHER ended with season 3, Acorn has the Australian sequel called MS FISHER’S MODERN MYSTERIES – Miss Fisher’s niece joins the Adventuress Club to solve mysteries in the groovy 1960s.

   If you don’t mind subtitles there is the online only streaming service MHz Choice that has some of Europe’s best TV series. There is the French version of Maigret, the Italian version of Nero Wolfe, Detective Montalbano, Irene Huss, Donna Leon’s Bronetti Mysteries, Baantjer Mysteries, and so many more.

   Anime can be found at each of the major streaming services. Netflix tends to focus on original anime. Hulu and Amazon Prime have older shows. Free service Crackle offers some great dubbed choices including TRIGUN and DEATH PARADE.

   There are also streaming services just for the animated genre such as Crunchyroll or Funimation. I have been watching a lot of anime this year and appreciate the genre’s ability to world build completely different times, places and its own realities. My favorites include ACCA: 13-TERRITORY INSPECTION DEPARTMENT, BUNGO STRAY DOGS, 18IF, BLACK LAGOON and STEINS;GATE.

   PBS MASTERPIECE has added FRANKIE DRAKE MYSTERIES. Now here is a series that illustrates how hard it is to find some of these shows. FRANKIE began at CBC (Canada) and done by the people behind MURDOCH MYSTERIES. Frankie and her fellow female PI have adventures and solve mysteries in the 1920s. It has been on Ovation under the title THE ARTFUL DETECTIVE and also on Alibi, but now on PBS streaming it finally gets a chance at a decent size audience.

   SHOUT FACTORY is more into cult TV and movies.

   There are many free streaming services most with ads. Here is a list suggesting some free sites you might sample.

   Sony’s CRACKLE is by far the best of the free streaming services with better than average network TV series, movies and anime. It also has a growing selection of original TV series include ART OF MORE, THE OATH, and START-UP.

   There are hundreds of streaming channels available from DOGTV a channel for your dogs to watch while you are away to POKERGO that offers live access to over 100 poker tournaments a year.

   More and more live TV is available through streaming. offers you the ability to watch every major league baseball game played (subject to local blackouts) as does NHL and hockey. Amazon Prime, Hulu, Yahoo, YouTube, Playstation Vue and others let you watch live events and sports on your devices beyond your TV screen.

   Streaming offers the TV Viewer several advantages over broadcast and cable television. You can watch TV from around the world not just the US and a few imports. No longer is the TV viewer chained to the TV set, instead TV is available to watch wherever the viewer is. Streaming has no time periods or schedules, the days of scheduling your life around your favorite TV show are over, now your favorites wait for you.

   In my next post I will examine the broadcast and cable networks, their future, their search for an identity that will set them apart from the crowd and survive the current chaos that is the business of television.

by Michael Shonk

   Officially, broadcast network TV began in 1946, meaning we are in the seventy-third year of network TV. That is a lot of TV shows.

   Below I pick one series from each decade of TV starting with the 1950s. I will describe it and you can try to guess what TV series I am describing or just skip to the YouTube clip, theme or episode from the mystery series. Since YouTube videos are rarely immortal I will add the answers to the comments.

   We begin in the 1950s. A famous movie actor played a Town Marshal in this Western that aired on NBC during the 1959-60 season. One more clue – one of the Marshal’s Deputies was played by the movie star’s son.

         Answer: Click here.

   In 1967 CBS aired this hour-long series starring John Mills. Mills played a traveling lawyer in the Old West. Sean Garrison played his younger partner and protector. The series lasted thirteen episodes.

         Answer: Click here.

   This ABC TV series from 1970s was part of all three networks run to create TV shows for young viewers. Set during the American Revolution, it featured five young people attempting to aid the patriots against the British. The series lasted fifteen episodes.

         Answer: Click here.

   This series was the first TV adaptation of a story that has been a best-selling book, an iconic film, failed film sequel, and is now a critically acclaimed TV version currently in production for its third season. This 1980 CBS series starred Jim McMullan, James Wainwright and Connie Sellecca.

         Answer: Click here.

   Angie Harmon has starred in several TV series but she played a PI in only one TV series, can you name it? The series aired in 1995- 97 with the style noticeably different in each season. Our YouTube answer is the complete opening episode of the series with one of TV’s oddest introductions to a TV series I have ever seen.

         Answer: Click here.

   This fall Fox will have a new TV series about the son of a serial killer solving murders. The idea is not original, even Fox has done it before. In 2005, this series also aired on Fox and starred Johnny Messner as Detective Jack Hale, a member of the Deviant Crime Unit. No one would work with Jack because he did not get along with others and had a Daddy who was a serial killer.

         Answer: Click here.

   Name this NBC techno-thriller series that aired ten episodes last year (May 2018 – August 2018). In this era of nearly five hundred original scripted TV series a year, you no longer have to be old to be forgotten or never seen.

   The low rated series was set at a high-tech business that had invented a virtual reality machine that offered people a chance to relive their happiest memory. A problem develops when the people refuse to return to reality. Sarah Shahi played an ex-hostage negotiator hired to enter the virtual reality and convince the people to return to their depressing real lives.

         Answer: Click here.

While spending a few minutes of idle time I found I had today, I came across this video on YouTube. I don’t know who put it together — he or she is identified only as RwDt09 — but I found it fascinating. How many of these do you remember?


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.

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