TV Comedy


         February 5, continued.

   Since Ronald Reagan was speaking on the nation’s economy tonight, the start of the next program was delayed so that I ended up missing only the first couple of minutes. Thanks, Ronnie.

   Unfortunately, I did miss Magnum, P.I. altogether.

***

  A LOVE LETTER TO JACK BENNY. NBC Special, 120 minutes. Jack Benny (archival footage), George Burns, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson (all as themselves). Director: Norman Abbot.

   Most of this two-hour special seemed to be taken from Benny’s various farewell specials which he continued to do after he stopped doing a weekly series. (And I’ve just realized why. Wasn’t his weekly series on CBS? Right. Up until 1964, Jack Benny’s entire TV career was on CBS. He switched to NBC for a Friday night series in 1964-65, and from then on only the specials for NBC.)

   I happen to think that Jack Benny very well may have been the funniest person to appear o radio. He was a huge success on television as well, but on TV he depended more on guest stars than he ever did on radio. and this show reflected that perfectly. Besides lengthy clips showing the hosts of this show in action with Jack, we also see Jack with Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Dean Martin, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan (the second time tonight), and on and on.

   On radio, and early pre-color TV, The Jack Benny Show depended almost entirely on Benny, and particularly on the character of Benny his writers created for him, and on his “family” of regulars: Don Wilson, Rochester, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, and of course, Mary Livingston.

   Obviously on a TV special of this magnitude we can’t really expect to see more than 15 minutes of so of three men sitting around listening to the radio. But I do get the uneasy feeling that someone who had never heard of Jack Benny before tonight might have gone away from watching this show believing that, yeah, he was funny but (without experiencing the close familiarity of Benny’s character, built up over a long period of time on radio and early TV) not that funny.

         February 2.

FOUL PLAY. Series, ABC. Last week’s opening episode was nicely done, and I was looking forward to more of the same. Based on the movie of the same name, of course. Deborah Raffin and Barry Bostwick play the parts that Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase had. She’s a klutzy librarian, he’s a klutzy cop, and they love each other. She’s not ready for marriage. He is.

   I didn’t see the movie, even though it’s already been on HBO. [My wife] Judy did, and she says the first episode of this new series matched it pretty well. I found it both funny and, well, charming. The plot was mediocre — about some missing plutonium and a kidnapped teenage genius who knows how to put bombs together — but it was the characters who made the show. Raffin was pretty and pert. Bostwick was ingenuously dumb.

   On the talk shows Raffin has been warning people that the first show was not representative of the rest of the series, and that she couldn’t figure out why they were actually going to show it, Lo and behold, she was right. The first show ws Good. Tonight’s show was, to put it mildly, Rotten.

   All of a sudden, Raffin is no longer a librarian. Not enough skullduggery goes on in libraries, I should guess. She now seems to be a local TV personality, doing interviews and such. There was no explanation given for the change.

   The story had to do with a skeleton found in a time capsule. Bostwick falls into a grave trying to dig up, um, clues of some sort. I quit watching after 15 minutes because I hadn’t a clue as to what was going on. There was a lot of shooting happening just before the commercial, though.

   Also, Deborah Raffin’s hair was short, sassy and cute in the first episode. Tonight it was just long.

   Judy says Lou Grant suits her just fine, anyway.

UPDATE.   Only five episodes were ever telecast. There was none the following week, two more the next two weeks after that, then none until August 23rd.


REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE. ABC / Luther Davis Productions / Filmways TV Presentation. January 13, 1966 – September 1, 1966. Cast: Red Buttons as Henry Phyfe, Fred Clark as Gerald B. Hannahan, Parley Baer as Mr. Hambles, Zeme North as Judy and Marge Redmond as Florence. Created by Luther Davis. Developed and Executive Produced by David Levy.

   After turning down GET SMART the ABC executives had to watch it become an instant Top Ten hit and the highest rated new series of 1965-66 season (“Broadcasting” November 15, 1965). Adding to their mistake, the ABC executives decided to rush THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE on to the air as the network continued to attempt (and fail) to cash in on the James Bond craze.

   January 1966 was an important time in television history. A desperate ABC invented the “second season” and the beginning of the end to a stable TV schedule. The ABC ad in “Broadcasting” (January 10, 1966) promoted the new idea, “Nothing like this ever happened in television before. An exciting new season starting right now in January! In the next two weeks alone, four completely new shows! Shows so great they couldn’t wait till fall.”

   The four chosen were THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE, THE BARON (British ITV), BLUE LIGHT (reviewed here ), and two nights of the immediate hit TV classic BATMAN. Not only were these four series introduced in TV’s first official “second season,” the ad also promoted that the new series would be in color as ABC began to switch over from black and white television.

   Ratings were great for all four series in the first week, but that would last only for BATMAN (“Broadcasting” January 17,1966). HENRY PHYFE would quickly fall to last in its time slot on Thursday at 8:30-9pm. CBS’s MY THREE SONS won the time slot and NBC’s LAREDO finished second.

   Below is the premise-explaining theme done by Vic Mizzy (ADDAMS FAMILY) and an opening scene showing how Hannahan would every week convinced patriotic Henry to accept another dangerous mission for the American government.

   A top agent for the bad guys, U31 has been killed and the good guys are keeping it a secret. Henry Phyfe is a double for U31 but in looks only. U31 was an expert in everything while accountant Henry is an expert in none. Adding to Henry’s problems, he can’t tell anyone about his double life, not even the woman he hopes to marry or her disapproving Mother or his boss.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO YESTERDAY (1/27/1966) Written by Ben Starr – Directed by Leslie H. Martinson – Produced by Luther Davis- GUEST CAST: Jerry Fujikawa and Lloyd Kino. *** Henry tries to get his girlfriend’s Mother to like him by throwing her a birthday party. However Hannahan needs Henry to pose as U31 in Japan on the same day.

   The laugh track liked this episode more than I did. This was the third episode to air, and the series was more a family sitcom than spy comedy – that was not a good thing.

   Ben Starr whose writing career spanned from BACHELOR FATHER to ALL IN THE FAMILY turned in a profession old school style sitcom script complete with antique plot and jokes pre-dating TV.

   On the plus side there was some good comedic chemistry between Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actor for SAYONARA) Red Buttons and successful character actor Fred Clark (GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW).

   The family sitcom spy comedy was ABC’s idea. In “Smart Money” (“Time” October 15, 1965) Mel Brooks discussed ABC’s demands for GET SMART. ABC executives called Buck Henry and Mel Brooks proposal “un-American” and wanted a “lovable dog to give the show more heart.” According to Brooks, ABC wanted Max to “come home to his Mother and explain everything.” Brooks objected and wanted to do a crazy comedy that did not include a family. (Source: Wikipedia)

   HENRY PHYFE proved Brooks was right. Because as HENRY PHYFE was doing ancient family sitcom jokes, GET SMART was a top ten hit for NBC as it satirized James Bond and the very popular at the time spy genre.

   Episode seven hinted at the problems the show was having with the writing and the lack of development time for HENRY PHYFE. Pointless Fact: The “&” used in writers’ credits mean a writing team.

THE UNFRIENDLY PERSUSION. (2/24/1966) Teleplay by Phil Leslie and William Raynor & Myles Wilder. Story by Charles Marion & Monroe Manning. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Produced by Luther Davis. GUEST CAST: John Aniston and James Seay. *** Henry is needed to pose as U31 for a meeting of villains. Problem is the meeting will be at a golf course. U31 was a great golfer while Henry has never played. The predictable family co-plot had Henry getting a sick day and then his boss and girlfriend learned he spent the day at the golf course.

   The script was a complete mess – a random collection of old bad gags at times drifting off plot. Even worse was watching the attempt at romance between forty-seven year old Buttons as Henry and his girlfriend Judy. Twenty-eight year old Zeme North played Judy and did what she could with the cliché unbelievable character.

   The production values of HENRY PHYFE were typical of the 50s-60s sitcom. Filming rarely left the studio stage and never the studio lot. The series look, with its static camera and overuse of the master shot wasted the talents of its directors such as Leslie H. Martinson (BRADY BUNCH, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) and Howard Morris (ANDY GRIFFITH, DICK VAN DYKE SHOW). The filmed stage play style was not uncommon for the sitcom but was behind the times for a TV comedy such as GET SMART.

   Apparently somewhere along the way not only were the girlfriend and Mother phased out, creator and producer Luther Davis was replaced by Nat Perrin. Perrin got his start writing for Groucho Marx and produced THE RED SKELTON SHOW and THE ADDAMS FAMILY.

   JAILBIRD PHYFE was the thirteenth episode (of seventeen) and showed signs that the series was finding its direction by focusing on the spy comedy.

JAILBIRD PHYFE. (April 7, 1966) Written by Sloan Nibley & Bill Lutz – Directed Howard Morris. Produced by Nat Perrin. GUEST CAST: Henry Corden, Vincent Beak and Jackie Russell. When Hannahan decides to take a vacation both he and Henry looked forward to some free time. But then the Butcher, killer and fan of U31, arrives needing U31 help.

   I liked this one. The shift away from the family sitcom to spy comedy made Henry a stronger and more likable character – no more lying to the girlfriend and others. The humor and story seemed fresher without the dated plots of the family sitcom of the 60s.

   It would be interesting to watch the entire series as it grew and developed over time. GET SMART with the better premise would always have been a better series, but THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE could have existed along side GET SMART much like THE MUNSTERS and THE ADDAMS FAMILY did.

   In “Broadcasting” (April 18, 1966) president of Filmways TV Production Al Simon blamed the failure of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE on ABC for rushing it to the air too soon and cancelling it too soon before it could discover what worked and what didn’t. It would not be the last time a cancelled TV series would use that excuse, nor the last time it would be true.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THE SLOWEST GUN IN THE WEST. Made for TV, CBS, 7 May 1960. Phil Silvers, Jack Benny, Bruce Cabot, Jean Willes, Marion Ross and Jack Albertson. Written & produced by Nat Hiken. Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

   In 1950s, films like THE GUNFIGHTER, SHANE, and THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE codified the myth of the Gunfighter and etched it in stone for other films to trace. And in 1960, Phil Silvers smashed it to bits.

   I saw THE SLOWEST GUN IN THE WEST as a boy of 10, more than 20 years ago now, and I don’t think it ever aired again since that initial release. I thought it was pretty funny then, and seeing it recently it seems to have stood the test of time and changing tastes. But it has acquired a B-Movie luster over the years – or perhaps it always did have, and no one ever mentioned it.

   SLOWEST runs a brisk 55 minutes: about the length of a typical “B” Western from Monogram or Republic. The story is the familiar tale of a wandering stranger who rides into town and stays to clean out the outlaws, in this case led by Bruce Cabot in the same part he owned in DODGE CITY (1939). We get the Saloon Gal, the Prim-and-Proper leading lady, concerned citizens, and iconic character actors like Ed Brophy, Byron Foulger and George Chandler as Bartender, Hotel Clerk and Old-Timer, respectively.

   And riding into this classic milieu, we get Phil Silvers. Phil Silvers at his comic best, as Fletcher Bissell III, aka The Silver Dollar Kid, the most cowardly non-combatant ever to ride the range. So cowardly is he that the worst outlaws of the west won’t stoop to crossing pistols with him, lest they become laughingstocks of the prairie—and hence Fletcher is the only man who can run them out of town.

   Seeing this so soon after THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE, I had to admire how deftly it plays on, with, and against the familiar themes of prowess, personal code of honor, and most of all, Reputation. It’s also a hoot, as one owlhoot after another shies away from Silvers’ manifest incompetence until Dress-Heavy Cabot finds the one man whose renown is worse than Fletch’s: Chicken Finsterwald, played to pulp-novel perfection by Jack Benny.

   Comic talents like these could have gotten by with anything, but writer-producer Hiken handed them a good script and they make the most of it, delivering a steady stream of chuckles and belly-laughs.

   For lovers of the old-time Bs however, there’s something more here. An affectionate parody of those formulaic, cheap-ass oaters we love so much. SLOWEST GUN IN THE WEST gives us the hackneyed plot, cheap sets, and a once-in-a-cinematic-lifetime array of Western Bad Guys: Bruce Cabot, Ted de Corsia, Jack Elam, Robert Wilke, John Dierkes, and Lee Van Cleef, all at their nasty worst. With a cast like that and two fine comedians, this is a shiny little gem to treasure.

FOUR MORE FAILED TV PILOTS
by Michael Shonk


   As the fate of next season’s pilots are currently being decided, lets take a look at four more failed pilots of the past: PISTOL PETE, ZERO EFFECT, MR. & MRS. SMITH, and ROADBLOCK.

PISTOL PETE. Fox / Castle Rock, 1996, never aired. Writed and Executive Producer: John Swartzwelder. Directed by John Rich. Cast: Steve Kearney as Pistol Pete, Brian Doyle-Murray as the Mayor, Mark Derwin as Deputy Langley.

   The Old West town Abilene is tired of the bad guys killing their sheriffs so the Mayor writes back East and offers the job to Dime Novel hero Pistol Pete. Pistol Pete may be a true crackshot and a fast draw with the gun, but he also is no real Western hero. He is working as the star of a second-rate Wild West Show in New York. Blaming a faulty memory for not remembering his adventures, Pete believes the books stories about him are true. Pete accepts the job as the latest Sheriff in Abilene. The citizens of his new home share Pistol Pete’s belief that his adventures are all true, only the Mayor and Deputy know Pete is a clueless fraud.

   The pilot is funny if you enjoy absurdist comedy. It has never aired and was desperately sought out by comedy writers and fans until the Internet and YouTube rode to the rescue. The reason for PISTOL PETE’s status as cult comedy classic is the creator and executive producer John Swartzwelder.

   Swartzwelder is considered by many comedy writers and fans to be a comedic genius. Among his strongest fans are the writers and producers of THE SIMPSONS. Swartzwelder began writing for THE SIMPSONS in the first season (1990) and would continue until the fifteenth (2003). He would write more SIMPSONS episodes than any other writer (59 plus returning in 2007 to help write the SIMPSON MOVIE). Adding to his legendary status, Swartzwelder is an eccentric who shuns all publicity giving his fellow writers plenty of material to share with the rest of us.

   Here is a great article about the pilot and Swartzwelder. (Antenna Free TV, June 27, 2013, written by Will Harris).

   One of the reported stranger demands by Swartzwelder for the 1996 pilot (for the fall 96-97 season) was that the film crew be from the TV series GUNSMOKE (CBS, 1955-75). There was a serious attempt to honor that request. The director John Rich is remembered today as one of the greatest TV comedy directors of the 60s-70s era (DICK VAN DYKE and ALL IN THE FAMILY), but he also directed several episodes of GUNSMOKE and BONANZA. Producer Kent McCray worked on BONANZA.

   Swartzwelder wanted the feel of old TV and movie Westerns. The plan was for him and his writing friends from THE SIMPSONS to parody Westerns each week.

   Currently Swartzwelder is writing a series of absurdist comedy PI novels and short stories featuring time traveling PI Frank Burly. The self-published books began in 2004 with THE TIME MACHINE DID IT. The tenth in the series and most recent is BURLY GO HOME (2017).


ZERO EFFECT. NBC / Castle Rock / Warner Brothers, 2002, never aired. Writers and Executive Producers: Jake Kasdan and Walon Green. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Cast: Alan Cumming as Daryl Zero, David Julian Hirsh as Jeff Winslow

   The 1998 film is a cult favorite, but I preferred the TV pilot. The movie’s writer and director Jake Kasdan (FREAKS AND GEEKS) also directed and co-wrote the TV pilot. Walon Green (WILD BUNCH) helped Kasdan write and produce the TV pilot.

   The two versions are much alike in style and tone. Both make good use of Daryl Zero writing his memoirs to narrate the action. Zero calls the case in the pilot “The Case of the Billionaire Pervert With a Parking Problem.”

   My central problem with the film was the pace was too slow and at almost two hours the film was too long leaving me often bored. The pilot, seen in this YouTube thirty-eight minute version, forced Kasdan to speed things up.

   A good example is the opening scene where the genius and character of the unseen Daryl Zero is introduced. Both versions reveal exposition by telling the story of one of Zero’s most awe-inspiring cases. The movie had Zero’s assistant and anti-Watson Steve Alto (Ben Stiller) tell the story to a possible client. The scene was long, static and boring. The TV version had people of various types and locations tell excited crowds about the now World famous as well as Greatest Detective Daryl Zero. The camera rarely stopped as the story jumped from one storyteller to the next. This gave the TV version a faster pace from almost the beginning.

   Both versions focused less on the mystery of the crime and more on the mysteries of the characters. In the TV pilot the case revolves around a billionaire’s missing mistress, but the key to the mystery is not where she is but who she and the other characters are.

   Zero is basically the same in the film and TV pilot. Meant as a satire of Sherlock Holmes, Daryl Zero is a brilliant, self-centered, social inept, recluse with a fondness for disguises and music.

   Bill Pullman’s performance in the film as Zero is generally praised, but I prefer Alan Cumming’s Zero. The many faces and behavior of Zero as done by Pullman was too random. He failed to connect it all to Zero. Cumming was hyper sometimes on the edge of hysteria behavior showed Zero inability to deal with people personally. The music producer character Zero plays as he searches for the missing mistress illustrates his understanding of people but the method and over the top producer character is more an extension of Zero than a music producer.

   Zero realizing he needs an assistant, a “face man,” some one to deal with people (there is no Steve Alto in the pilot). He finds a candidate in Chicago. Jeff Winslow is an unhappy defense attorney with a strong sense of justice.

   Jeff’s girlfriend dumps him on the phone while he is in the middle of a frustrating argument with his boss. Jeff gets a phone call from a mysterious voice (Zero) convincing him to quit and go to Los Angeles for a new job.

   Jeff arrives in Los Angeles without even knowing who is hiring him. Zero then puts him through a bizarre series of job interview tests such as the lost luggage test where Zero steals Jeff’s luggage to see how Jeff would respond.

   Jeff is an idealist, with a conscience and a belief in justice. Zero is none of these and tries to teach Jeff the Zero Method, the “obs” – objectivity and observation. Zero solves the case, but it is Jeff that makes sure justice is served.


MR. AND MRS SMITH. ABC / Regency Television Dutch Oven Production, 2007, never aired. Creator and Executive Producer: Simon Kinberg. Executive Producer: David Bartis. Directer and Executive Producer: Doug Liman. Cast: Jordana Brewster as Mrs. Jane Smith, Martin Henderson as Mr. John Smith, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Ann, and Rebecca Mader as Jordan * There were no credits on film. The above credits are from thefutoncritic.com http://www.thefutoncritic.com/devwatch/mr-and-mrs-smith/.

   This TV pilot was based on the movie MR. & MRS. SMITH (2005) that starred Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a married couple who work as assassins for different spy agencies. Both the film director (Doug Liman) and writer (Simon Kinberg) returned to do this TV pilot.

   Jane and John are married and living in the suburbs of Washington D.C. while they continue their careers as spies/ assassins. Both characters are one dimensional modern day clichés. She is smart, sexy, able to handle herself in a fight, and successful career woman – you know, perfect. He is an idiot, self-centered, uses excessive force and has been fired, you know, clueless.

   Now that he is unemployed John wants Jane to join him as partners in their own spy/killer agency. She is highly respected and employed at the all-woman spy agency Executive Cleaners and resists the idea of a Mr. & Mrs. Smith Spy agency.

   He is worried about their marriage and wants to have a date night. She agrees to the date night to humor him but then has to cancel twice due to work. Her assignment is to stop a terrorist who has a nuclear device. After listening to too much Dr. Phil and the neighborhood ladies gossip, John begins to suspect Jane is cheating on him. This bad sitcom plot causes problems with Jane’s plan to save the world.

   The idea of exploring the challenges of marriage through a marriage of two spies is not bad if it was not done so heavy-handedly. Women are brilliant and men are idiots belong in another type of comedy, not one about marriage that needs both characters to be admirable and both to have flaws.

   The script has its moments and some nice dialog but little action. The direction offers no help to make this pilot exciting or visually interesting. The cast was nice to look at but failed to bring their characters to life.

   The pilot hinted at a future where Mr. and Mrs. Smith are partners as spies and in marriage as they try to keep their secrets and live the normal life among their suburban neighbors. While that sounds like a bad sitcom, it would be better than to suffer through these cardboard characters with trust issues every week.


ROADBLOCK. March 29, 1958. An episode of STUDIO 57 (Dumont 1954-55; syndicate, 1955-58.

   Syndicated pilot for proposed series MOTORCYCLE COP. Teleplay by Frederic Brady. Story by John D. MacDonald. Directed by Earl Bellamy. Cast: Mike Connors as Patrolman Jeff Saunders, John McIntire as Sheriff Sternweister, and Wallace Ford as Sheriff Thomas

   Mike Connors played a special enforcement agent for the California Highway Patrol who was sent on a variety of assignments. This story finds him helping out local sheriffs investigating a deadly bank robbery where one of the robbers’ cars turns out to be the cop’s best witness.

   Based on a short story by John D. MacDonald (“The Homesick Buick” (ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY magazine, September 1950) ROADBLOCK was turned into just another typical TV crime drama of the 50s. Everything is in black and white, including the characters. The story is slow moving with no surprises. The cast walked through their roles in the simple slow-moving story unburdened by too many twists or much action until a dull car chase at the end.

   IMDb claims the episode (titled “Getaway Car”) originally aired as episode 19 during the fourth season of STUDIO 57 (aka HEINZ STUDIO 57) on March 29, 1958. According to Vincent Terrace “Encyclopedia of Television Pilots” (McFarland), it was meant to be a pilot for a proposed syndicated TV series to be called MOTORCYCLE COP.

   STUDIO 57 was a low budget anthology series that aired on the DuMont network from 1954 through 1955 when the series turned to syndication and lasted until 1958.


   Why pilots sell or fail has always been a mystery. Jake Kasdan (ZERO EFFECT) even did a movie called THE TV SET (2006) about the process.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE PARTNERS. NBC/Universal Studios, in association with don/lee Productions, 1971-72. Cast: Don Adams as Detective Lennie Crooke, Rupert Crosse as Detective George Robinson, John Doucette as Captain Andrews, and Dick van Patten as Sergeant Higgenbottom. Executive Producer: Arne Sultan – Producers: Earl Barret and Lee Wolfberg. Created by Don Adams.

   There are many reasons for a TV series to fail, and many series are doomed from the very start. Sometimes it can be as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don Adams’ THE PARTNERS was one of those. You could say it missed it by that much.

   Don Adams began as a successful standup comedian, a job he hated. One of his first major acting roles on TV was hotel detective Bryon Glick on THE BILL DANA SHOW. Would you believe that Adams and Bill Dana developed a character that began in Adams standup act and would become TV icon Maxwell Smart? The voice began as part of a comedy bit written by Bill Dana. Adams would mock the famous film scene in THE THIN MAN where the suspects were gathered together so William Powell’s Nick Charles could name the killer.

   From there Adams and Dana evolved the character into Bryon Glick as seen on THE BILL DANA SHOW. A spin-off from MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, THE BILL DANA SHOW aired on NBC (1963-65) and starred Dana as a hotel busboy and co-starred Jonathan Harris and Gary Crosby.

“Master of Disguise.” April 9, 1964. Written by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. Directed by Coby Ruskin. Executive Producer:Sheldon Leonard in association with Danny Thomas. Guest Cast: Hilary Wontner. *** Hotels are being robbed so Glick the hotel detective takes on various disguises to catch the thief.

   Adams was not the original choice for Maxwell Smart, Tom Poston was. After ABC rejected the original pilot. NBC was looking for something for Adams who was under contract to the network. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry then adapted Maxwell Smart for Don Adams and his style of comedy.

   GET SMART was a hit for NBC and made Don Adams a star. So when Adams came up with an idea for a TV series, NBC was eager to listen. According to TV.com, in an (unidentified) 2004 interview Adams described his original premise as a cop show with partners similar to the hit film LETHAL WEAPON (1987). Adams would play the white cop not comfortable working with a black partner. THE PARTNERS would deal with the social issues of the day including racism.

   THE PARTNERS would debut in the fall of 1971. ALL IN THE FAMILY had debuted in January 1971, and the style of TV comedy was changing. NBC and Universal Studios agreed to make the series but with a major change – the social commentary Adams wanted was gone and replaced with old style TV comedy featuring two bumbling not too bright cops – one white and one black – solving crimes by accident and driving their boss crazy.

   NBC’s decision is understandable. It was Adams’ voice that made his comedy work, but it is a voice that would mock any attempt at dark comedy or drama. Imagine Don Adams playing Archie Bunker and you can understand why the network and studio wanted Adams to stay close to the character audience loved.

   But Adams wanted to do a serious role (something he never got the chance to do). So while he agreed to a comedy in the style of BILL DANA SHOW and GET SMART he played Detective Sergeant Lennie Crooke straight and without his popular comedic voice. The series needed that voice.

“Waterloo At Napoleon.” October 9 1971. Written by Burt Styler. Directed by Gary Nelson. Guest Cast: Stacy Harris, Pepper Martin, Bob Hastings and Robert Karvelas. *** Lennie and George’s attempt to trap a money launderer goes wrong and messes up the FBI’s plan to catch a kidnapper.

   The comedy had its moments but was too fanciful and silly for where TV comedy was going in the 70s. The future of TV comedy was the edginess of Norman Lear’s ALL IN THE FAMILY (and its spinoffs) to the realistic comedies of M*A*S*H and the MTM sitcoms (MARY TYLER MOORE, BOB NEWHART, etc).

   The cast of THE PARTNERS included Rupert Crosse as Lennie’s partner George. The original choice for George was Godfrey Cambridge. The reason for dropping Cambridge according to Adams and the network was a “lack of chemistry between Adams and Cambridge.” But my guess it had more to do with the change in the premise from socially conscious comedy to old school safe comedy. While the pairing of Adams and Cambridge as cops dealing with issues such as racism may not have succeeded, it would have had a better chance than the watered-down version that made it to air.

   Rupert Crosse was a good comedic actor but both he and Adams played their characters too low-key. Speaking of chemistry, Crosse and Adams never really connected unlike the chemistry Adams had with Bill Dana and GET SMART’s Barbara Feldon.

   John Doucette did well in the all ready TV cliché role as the hot-tempered boss, Captain Andrews. Dick van Patten played the annoying Desk Sergeant Higgenbottom whose dislike for Lennie and George was never funny.

“How Many Carats in a Grapefruit?” October 16, 1971. Teleplay by Arne Sultan and Earl Barret. Story by Ferdinand Leon. Directed by Gary Nelson. Guest Cast: David Huddleston and Juanita Moore. *** Lennie and George arrive at the airport to pick up George’s Mother and unintentionally ruin another cop’s attempt to catch some jewel thieves.

   The production look was cheap and studio bound, something common in 60s comedies, but was quickly being replaced by the three camera comedies of ALL IN THE FAMILY and (to premiere in 1975) BARNEY MILLER and the realistic sets worthy of a drama for M*A*S*H and the MTM comedies.

   THE PARTNERS opening sequence was distinct from the common TV series opening. Each episode would open with a different theme and pictures, then the action would begin. The opening titles would appear slowly through the action, at times not ending until well into the first act. The great Lalo Schifrin (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) did each theme and the closing theme but the idea proved pointless and not worth the effort.

“Two Or False.” August 1971. Written by Bruce Howard. Directed by Earl Bellamy. Guest Cast: Yvonne Craig. *** A beautiful woman steals jewelry in front of employees of two different jewelry stores. Lennie and George catch her each time but can’t find the jewels.

   This might have been funnier if they hadn’t given away the twist immediately. After we knew how Lennie and George were being tricked, there was little left but old predictable gags like the hallway chase scene.

   There is a wonderful website called Classic Showbiz. It has a collection of incredible interviews with some of the people who worked during the 50s/60s era of nightclubs and TV comedies. Kliph Nesteroff has a talent for getting great stories from people such as Bernie Kopell, Dick Cavatt, Bill Persky, Sherwood Schwartz, Jack Carter, Bill Dana and more.

   Several of the interviews mention Don Adams. Dick Gautier would only talk about Adams off the record while Buck Henry raved about Adams. Adams was a likable man to many while others hated to work with him.

   For this review I will just highlight some of the dark side of Adams. For those who seek more information I recommend the two following posts by Nesteroff.

      http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/05/would_you_belie.html

      http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2014/08/television-comedy-in-the-early-1960s-by-kliph-nesteroff.html

   Adams was a successful standup comic who was a notorious joke thief, yet one of his most famous victims, Bob Newhart, became his friend and attended Don Adams memorial. In Newhart’s autobiography (I SHOULDN’T EVEN BE DOING THIS, Hachette, 2006), he wrote about how Adams’ widow asked him to tell the story about Adams stealing part of Newhart’s classic submarine commander bit.

   Adams hated being a standup comedian. He considered getting laughs for a living humiliating. An unhappy man Adams main love was gambling, and because of his gambling he often had to fly to Las Vegas on a moments notice to do his standup act to pay off his gambling debts.

   NBC would regret not doing Adams original premise. Ironically CBS shifted ALL IN THE FAMILY to a new time slot in the Fall 1971-72 season opposite THE PARTNERS. Socially relevant comedy ALL IN THE FAMILY was the number one show on TV for the 1971-72 season and for the five seasons after. ABC’s light-hearted comedy/music GETTING TOGETHER did not fare any better than THE PARTNERS.

   THE PARTNERS aired a total of twenty episodes. The series premiered September 18, 1971 on Saturday at 8:00-8:30 and remained in that time slot until January 8,1972 when the cancelled series left the air. The series returned July 28 1972 and aired the rest of the unaired episodes through September 8, 1972 on Friday at 8pm as a summer fill-in for SANFORD AND SON. There was a TV movie CONFESSIONS OF A TOP CRIME BUSTER (UNIVERSAL, 1971), complied from THE PARTNERS episodes but I have been unable to find its original airdate or what episodes were used.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


JANE. BBC 2, 1982-84. Glynis Barbera as Jane Gay, Robin Bailey as Colonel Henry, Max Wall as Tombs, Dean Allen as Georgie Porgie, and Suzanne Danielle as Lola Pagola. Written by Mervyn Haisman; based on the long-running British The Daily Mirror comic strip “Jane” by Norman Pett. Title song written and performed by Neil Innes. Graphic Design Director: Graham McCallum. Illustrations: Paul Birkbeck. Producer Ian Keill. Directed by Andrew Gosling.

   JANE was an odd and dated series even when it first aired in 1982. Jane Gay was a cheerful innocent blonde beauty whose love for adventure always resulted with Jane trying to save the day while wearing nothing but her underwear. Her loyal companion was her dog Fritz, a dachshund (aka wiener-dog).

   JANE was based on a popular British comic strip created by Norman Pett, the comic strip JANE (aka JANE’S JOURNAL, OR THE DIARY OF A BRIGHT YOUNG THING) ran exclusive in The Daily Mirror from December 5, 1932 to October 10, 1959.

   Jane has been adapted to other forms. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter played Jane in a burlesque stage play in the 1940s that traveled Britain entertaining the troops and town people during WWII. Leighton-Porter also played Jane in a 1949 film, THE ADVENTURES OF JANE directed by Edward G. Whiting. A 1987 movie JANE AND THE LOST CITY starred Kirsten Hughes and was directed by Terry Marcel.

   The humor was juvenile, sexist and full of double entendres. The most unique aspect of the TV series was the settings. The actors performed in front of a green screen. Later a drawn background to resemble a comic strip background was added. The result featured an unusual look of the real actors performing within comic strip-like panels.

   The TV adaptation was an hour long made up of five ten minute long episodes. The YouTube video of JANE has merged all five episodes together. There would be a second series two years later in 1984 called JANE IN THE DESERT.

   Popular British actress Glynis Barber starred as Jane. Barber is better known for playing the strong independent roles of Soolin in Series Four of cult science fiction BLAKE’S 7 (1981) and Police Sgt. Harriet Makepeace in successful cop show DEMPSEY AND MAKEPEACE (1985-86). Jane was certainly a different type of woman for Barber to play, much to her credit Barber excelled in all three roles.

   Set during WWII the story begins when Colonel Henry ask Jane to join him on a secret mission. The two are to meet a Professor in a haunted mansion. Before they can find the Professor they learn there is a Nazi spy in the area. Luckily for England, even stripped to her underwear does not stop Jane from fighting off Nazis and the Colonel’s advances.

   JANE is a good example of a form of entertainment rarely seen today. That is a shame in a way. Jane was a determined woman who refused to let the limits she faced in that era’s culture stop her from experiencing a life of adventure. The men were all idiots for never seeing Jane as more than an object. Wisely, Jane willingly sacrificed her modesty for good of the entire free world — a job jolly well done.


REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


RUN, BUDDY, RUN. CBS, 1966-67. Talent Associates in association with CBS Television Studios. Cast: Jack Sheldon as Buddy Overstreet, Bruce Gordon as Mr. D. and Jim Connell as Junior. Created by Leonard Stern. Theme by Jerry Fielding.

   Successful TV producer Leonard Stern produced both the successful spy spoof Get Smart, and The Fugitive spoof Run, Buddy, Run. The two series were much alike but with very different results. Get Smart would become on of TV’s most memorable series, while Run, Buddy, Run has been long forgotten.

   Jazz musician Buddy Overstreet (Jack Sheldon) accidentally overhears a mob boss (Bruce Gordon) discuss “Operation Chicken Little,” a plan to kill an unnamed person. Buddy is discovered and makes a run for it. With the mob close behind, Buddy runs from town to town looking for a place he can be safe or until he can find out more about “Chicken Little” and prove to the cops he needs protection.

   Jack Sheldon began as a successful trumpet player in the West Coast jazz movement during the 1950s. He was a regular on The Merv Griffin Show for many years. Shelton has worked as a singer. He sang for the ABC-TV series Schoolhouse Rock (“Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill”). He has done voice work on The Simpsons and Family Guy. There is a documentary about him, Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon.

   A better musician than actor, Sheldon has appeared on old forgotten series The Cara Williams Show and The Girl with Something Extra. On Run, Buddy, Run, Sheldon makes Buddy likeable and an average guy the audience can root for, but he is not good enough to rise above the hit-and-miss writing.

   The series villain was well cast. Bruce Gordon a successful character actor best known as Frank Nitti in The Untouchables (1959-1963) played Mr. D., the head of the mob. At his side was his young son Junior played well by Jim Connell.

   Run, Buddy, Run could not outrun a quick cancellation but lasted long enough to air thirteen episodes. Airing Monday at 8:00 -8:30pm, Buddy would finish last in the ratings versus NBC’s I Dream of Jeannie and the last half-hour of ABC’s Iron Horse. It didn’t help that the three series that followed Buddy in CBS’s Monday night lineup — The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show and Family Affair – finished in the top 15 for ratings.

“Steambath and Chicken Little.” (9/12/66) Written by Mel Tolkin and Ernie Chambers. Directed by Leonard Stern. Produced by David Susskind, David Melnick and Leonard Stern. Guest Cast: Bernie Kopell, Malcolm Atterbury, and Laurel Goodwin. *** Jazz musician Buddy Overstreet accidently overhears plans for a mob hit but is discovered. He escapes and now is on the run from the mob that wants him dead.

   On the run, he ends up in Rockford, Illinois helping a nice young woman and her sick father try to save their gas station from bankruptcy.

       Part One:

       Part Two:

       Part Three:


   The humor had its moments but was more often ruined by a lack of believability. While Get Smart is much better, Run, Buddy, Run is a good example of the silly stupid humor of the American TV comedy in the 60s.

   You can read more about the series at the TVParty website:
http://www.tvparty.com/recrunbuddy.html

SELECTED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


The TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not to my taste but the musical clips from the CW TV series on YouTube are great. From “Sexy French Depression” to my new favorite “I’m the Villain in My Own Story,” the music tempts me to actually watch the show.

The series may be last in Nielsen ratings, but it has been renewed for a second season. Here is “I’m the Villain in My Own Story,” written by Adam Schlesinger and series star Rachel Bloom and performed by Rachel Bloom and Gabrielle Ruiz.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE ADVENTURES OF HIRAM HOLLIDAY. California National Presentations, filmed for NBC, 1956-57. Based on the stories by Paul Gallico. Cast: Wally Cox as Hiram Holliday and Ainslie Pryor as Joel Smith. Produced by Philip Rapp.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

    The Adventures of Hiram Holliday is an amusing action spoof. The plots leaned to the absurd such as when Hiram stopped some foreign spies from turning Pearl Harbor to ice (“Hawaiian Humzah”). The humor was gentle and often based on misunderstanding or the odd image of Wally Cox as an action hero to rival Errol Flynn.

   The screen credit and announcer tells us the series was “based on stories by Paul Gallico.” Which is odd since The Adventures of Hiram Holliday was published as a book in 1939. More confusing is Billboard (May 12, 1956), reported the TV series was based on stories from the Saturday Evening Post. Paul Gallico was writing stories for that magazine during the fifties, so perhaps Hiram appeared as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post.

   Hiram Holliday was the copy editor for the newspaper New York Chronicle. Hiram catches an error that could have bankrupted the paper in libel charges. The grateful publisher Harrison Prentice sends Hiram on a trip around the world accompanied by reporter Joel Smith. On the way Hiram and Joel share one strange adventure after another with Hiram always the hero in the end and Joel failing for one reason or another to get the story published.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

   Wally Cox carried the show with his ability to make the absurd character of Hiram believable. It is Cox that makes the series funny and worth watching. He underplays the character, reacting to danger with a confident calmness. In one episode Hiram enters his room to find the femme fatale waiting for him. The room had been trashed and thoroughly searched. She tells Hiram she had been waiting for him. Hiram looked around and calmly replied he was glad she found something to do while waiting.

   The rest of the cast were limited by one-note characters of dubious logic and were played by actors of various talents, from Sebastian Cabot to Thor Johnson (aka Tor Johnson). Publisher Prentice (Thurston Hall) existed to scream at Joel. The mastermind would make mistake after mistake while blaming it all on his henchman or femme fatale. The femme fatales existed to seduce Hiram.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

   Each episode would begin with Hiram and Joel entering a new country. Hiram’s interest was always in scientific and academic challenges. In Hawaii, he wanted to visit a Professor to study a lost consonant of the language. In Hong Kong, Hiram’s quest was for the rare sea cucumber.

   Quickly, Hiram would stumble into an adventure while Joel was usually off somewhere eating. For reasons unexplained the misused laugh track thought Joel eating was hilarious, making it a bad running gag.

   Villains arrive, usually made up of a mastermind, femme fatale, and a henchman. Through comedic misunderstanding the bad guys believe they have to get rid of Hiram. Hiram innocence and complete honesty is disbelieved and he has to turn into an action hero, from fighting atop a speeding train to performing some feat such as a carnival high dive act that he had never done before but had read about.

   Ainslie Pryor failed to rise over the thankless role of Hiram’s traveling companion and best friend, Joel Smith who at times broke the fourth wall to talk to us. It was a difficult role. His character spent much of the time clueless and existed for Hiram to rescue or to take the brunt of the blame from the authorities for many of the misunderstanding that revolved around Hiram. In “Wrong Rembrandt.” Hiram had painted such a perfect copy of a Rembrandt the French police arrested Joel for art theft.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

   Production values were fine considering the era. Philip Rapp produced the series and wrote and directed many of the episodes. The show was funny but after a few episodes the situations became repetitive and the humor grew tired. How often can you laugh at Hiram winning swordfights with his umbrella?

   The series followed Wally Cox’s successful turn as Mr.Peepers. But that success didn’t carry over to Hiram Holliday. General Foods was the sponsor of The Adventures of Hiram Holliday and quickly regretted it.

    Hiram Holliday premiered October 3, 1956 on Wednesday at 8-8:30pm (Eastern). In Billboard (October 13,1956), according to rating service Trendex, NBC’s Hiram received a 11.4 compared to ABC’s Disneyland with 19.2 and CBS’s >Arthur Godfrey Show with 14.2.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

   Billboard (January 1, 1956) discussed some of the TV series in trouble. Shows the sponsors were unhappy with but had given a 26 episodes or 52 episodes commitment. This included General Food and Adventures of Hiram Holliday.

   January 28, 1957 issue of Broadcasting reported, “General Foods, N.Y. will drop its sponsorship of Hiram Holiday (sic) on NBC-TV, Wed. 8-8:30pm, and will become instead the alternate week sponsor of Wells Fargo (Monday, 8:30-9pm) effective March 18th.”

   On February 27, 1957, the twentieth episode of the series to air was the last on NBC. Reportedly, three more episodes were showed in England during syndication, leaving 23 episodes apparently filmed.

   Various episodes of the Adventures of Hiram Holliday are available on low budget DVD.

   And on You Tube, at the moment, is the episode, “Moroccan Hawk Moth.”

Next Page »