TV Comedy


THE ADDAMS FAMILY “Halloween with the Addams Family.” 30 October 1964 (season 1, episode 7). Carolyn Jones, John Astin, Jackie Coogan, Ted Cassidy. Guest starring Skip Homeier and Don Rickles.

   ”Nice knife. Can I play autopsy with it?”


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 –
BROADCAST AND CABLE NETWORKS
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.

         Saturday, February 14.

  WKRP IN CINCINNATI. “Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide, Parts 1 and 2.” CBS, series. Season 3, episodes 13 and 14. Originally telecast on 07 February 1981. Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson , Howard Hesseman, Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers. Guest star: Mary Frann. Director: Rod Daniel.

   If you watch this show regularly, you will have seen this special one-hour episode one week before I did. The local CBS station runs them on tape, delayed week, and a half hour later. To me, it’s like wearing hand-me-down clothes, and I don’t usually watch, and there are two good reasons why that surprises me.

   Tonight Dr. Johnny Fever tackled TV, and he lost. Even though he signed a contract to do a live dance party for a local station, the doctor “does not do disco.” The producer did not rock and roll, and the doctor was the one who wound up wearing the funny clothes.

   The writers of the show had a chance here to say some witty things, about how doing things for television always ends up doing them television’s way. Instead, the story line veered off and became an instant analysis of Johnny’s incipient schizophrenic crisis. It turned out to be not nearly as funny as it must have sounded on the drawing board.

   The result was an hour show, all right, but as far as I was concerned, there was considerably less than a half-hour’s worth of laughs. And I was forcing myself, at that.


            

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?

         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.

Next Page »