TV Westerns


CIMARRON CITY “I, the People.” NBC, 11 October 1958. Swaon 1, Episode 1. Cast: George Montgomery (Matt Rockford), Audrey Totter (Beth Purcell), John Smith (Lane Temple). Guest Cast: Fred MacMurray, John Anderson. Director: Writers: Gene L. Coon, Fenton Earnshaw. Director: Jules Bricken.

   The story is interesting enough, but as a first episode of the series, which lasted only one year, it really doesn’t do the job, as far as I was concerned. Of the three major cast members, only George Montgomery’s role is well defined. As Matt Rockford, he’s a successful cattle rancher but even more importantly, he’s also the son of the founder of Cimarron City, a small town north of Oklahoma City, and as such takes a decidedly paternalistic attitude toward it.

   Audrey Totter plays the owner of a boarding house in town, and is given a few lines every so often, but her role has nothing to do with the story. I never did figure out who John Smith was supposed to be. I have since found out that he was a town blacksmith, but if he did any blacksmithing during this episode, I apologize for missing it.

   I saw no reason for Audrey Totter to be in this episode, and apparently also saw no future for her in the part, for (I am told) she quit the series soon thereafter. To give Smith more of a part, in later episodes he becomes a deputy sheriff, while Montgomery is elected town mayor. But that all comes later. In “I, the People,” nobody in charge seems to know exactly what they are doing.

   Which allows Fred MacMurray’s character to come into town and ingratiate himself to the town elders as a substantial citizen, moving his way up first from town banker to being elected mayor. At which point, in the name of law and order, he really begins to tighten his smug self-satisfied grip on the town.

   And eventually Matt Rockford decides he’s had enough and that he’s the only one who can do anything about it. Otherwise it’s Fred MacMurray’s show all the way, at first anxious to please any way he can, but as time goes on, showing more an more of his inner character. Everything in this episode centers around him, not George Montgomery. As for Totter and Smith, they make no impression at all.


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.

CAN YOU NAME THIS SERIES?
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?

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 DAN STUMPF:


HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL. CBS, 1957-1963. 225 30 minute episodes. Richard Boone (Paladin), Kam Tong (Hey Boy). Created by Herb Meadow and Sam Rolfe.

   I picked up several episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel a while back and found them, within their limitations, quite enjoyable. The Half-Hour Dramatic Series is nowadays a Lost Art, and it was interesting to see it in practice again.

   Quick cuts, elliptical storytelling and tight focus might lead one to expect these would be fast-paced affairs, but they aren’t at all. You see, it’s much cheaper to advance the plot by photographing two actors talking in a room, so there’s a lot of that going on here. Long journeys and even grueling Desert Treks are suggested by about ten seconds of footage, and Fight Scenes, for the most part, are short and to the point. I’ve never seen so many guys knocked out by one punch in all my life, and I wonder if this simplistic approach to Conflict Resolution might have had some effect on my bidding mind in those days.

   Anyway, the high point of the series is and always was Boone’s tough, intelligent acting, back in the days when he was Lean and Hungry, and when scriptwriters could let him actually get violent from time to time. Those familiar with Boone’s later acting — particularly the patently phoney, self-indulgent portrayal of The Drawling Cowpoke from Hec Ramsey, who always talked tough but never actually did very much — should get to see him in these.

FRONTIER DOCTOR “Strange Cargo.” Syndicated; Hollywood Television Service. 23 May 1959 (Season 1, Episode 35). Rex Allen as Dr. Bill Baxter. Director: William Witney.

   For a small town western doctor and a relatively short career, Dr. Baxter certainly seems to have gotten himself involved in a good many dramatic medical crises. The single season of 39 episodes had one each and every week, and I don’t know, but the one in “Strange Cargo” may have topped them all: Bubonic plague. The Black Death.

   It begins with the death of a sailor on a ship heading from the seaport town of Vista, Texas, to New Orleans, then the trail leads to a pair of unscrupulous trappers back in Dr. Bill’s home town of Rising Springs. Along the way there were three deaths caused by the plague, one brutal shooting, a furious fist fight in the back of a runaway wagon, and a huge fire in a warehouse full of infected furs.

   Bill travels in a two horse buggy to get around, but don’t let that fool you. He’s pretty handy with his fists as well. Either they hired a lot of extras for a few scenes or they used stock footage from other films to a very nice advantage. All in all, a good way to spend 25 minutes of western adventure time, William Witney style. (He directed all but two episodes of the entire series.)

FRONTIER CIRCUS. “Depths of Fear.” CBS-TV; 5 October 1961. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Chill Wills, John Derek, Richard Jaeckel. Guest Cast: Aldo Ray, James Gregory, Bethel Leslie. Creator: Samuel A. Peeples. Director: William Witney.

   The concept of this series is both twofold and obvious from the title. It’s a western series with the setting and trappings of circus-related stories. Either that, or it’s a circus series taking place in the Old West. On the basis of watching only this one episode, I’m inclined to go with the latter. Just as in Wagon Train, to use the example that comes to mind almost immediately, it’s the people and their stories that make for the conflicts and the drama, not so much the setting.

   Chill Wills (as Colonel Casey Thompson) is a partner in the T and T Circus with John Derek (Ben Travis), with Richard Jaeckel as their traveling scout and assistant. And every week for 26 weeks, a whole flock of middle- to high-level guest stars came on to have their fictional stories told. Among them: Sammy Davis Jr., Elizabeth Montgomery, Gilbert Roland, Irene Dunne, Don “Red” Barry, Dan Duryea, Vera Miles, Stella Stevens, Rip Torn, Claude Akins and many more.

   The conflict in this first episode is a three-way one, between James Gregory, a martinet of a lion tamer as well as a wife-abuser; his wife, Bethel Leslie, who would leave him if she dared; and Aldo Ray, a drunken bum picked up the circus who was once also a lion tamer, but one who has lost his nerve because of a past incident in his life.

   The story is fairly predictable one, but between the script and Wiliam Witney’s direction, the 50 minutes or so of running time go by very quickly, and the continuing members of the cast are sharp on their toes to jump right in whenever needed in support.

   It’s an unusual combination of genres, and but with a good cast and guest stars, it’s no wonder that the series lasted a full year. In a way, though, it’s also no surprise that it wasn’t picked up for a second season. The confines of a circus just wouldn’t seem to allow for such a wide range of stories as was possible on the much longer-running (and aforementioned) Wagon Train series.

COMING SOON – THE TV EDITION
by Michael Shonk


   Most TV junkies claim Fall premiere week as their favorite time of the year, but mine has always been the May upfronts. Upfronts are parties the networks throw for major advertisers, ad agencies and the media in attempt to get them drunk enough to believe next Fall’s TV series will be the best ever and hope they forget the lies the networks told about the quality of last season’s shows.

   In the past, May was the most dramatic month for the TV fanatic. TV viewers embraced hope of the new, relief when their favorites survived, and the devastation when they didn’t. But it is just not the same anymore.

   The broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and CW) have joined cable networks in the effort to supply original programming all year round. New television series never stop coming. The Big Four and-a-Half networks just announced their fall lineup with huge fan fare ignoring that September is no longer the best month of TV.

   Pushing the limits of space here, let’s check out the highlights of what is coming this week, this Summer, this Fall, and in 2017.

   Just because the main season is over, it doesn’t mean the broadcast networks abandon original programming. WAYWARD PINES is back on FOX. CW has the final season of BEAUTY & THE BEAST. CBS has the return of ZOO and two new series starting in June that sound better than any of CBS new fall shows. AMERICAN GOTHIC tells the story of a family that has discovered one of them is a serial killer. From the creators of THE GOOD WIFE, BRAINDEAD is a comedy thriller about a young woman who discovers aliens are eating the brains of politicians and government workers. NBC has the Olympics this summer but also airs AQUARIUS.

      NBC medical drama NIGHT SHIFT returns for its third season:

   Cable networks offer original scripted programs in May and June including AMC’s new crime drama set in a restaurant, FEED THE BEAST, and the last season of HELL ON WHEELS, HBO’s GAME OF THRONES, TNT’s LAST SHIP, MAJOR CRIMES, MURDER IN THE FIRST, and RIZZOLI & ISLES (final season), TBS’s ANGIE TRIBECA, Cinemax’s OUTCAST, Netflix’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, ADULT SWIM’s DECKER: UNCLASSIFIED, and SYFY’s 12 MONKEYS.

   The heck with Marvel and DC, give me an IDW comic book like the fun horror/western WYNONNA EARP.

   Cable original scripted programs continue through the summer with returning series such as SYFY’s KILLJOYS and DARK MATTER, FX’s TYRANT and THE STRAIN, STARZ’s POWER, USA’s SUITS and last year’s hit MR. ROBOT.

   New series include Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS set in the 1980s, a supernatural series centered on a missing boy, SYFY’s post-apocalyptic drama AFTERMATH, and TNT’s GOOD BEHAVIOR based on the Letty Dobesh books by Blake Crouch.

      Based on Stephen Hunter’s book POINT OF IMPACT, USA network new series SHOOTER premieres in July.

   This fall live television, especially sports such as the NFL and World Series, will distract the viewing public. Cable lead by one of the most watched TV series in all television, AMC’s WALKING DEAD will hold its own. TNT reboots TALES FROM THE CRYPT, this time from M. Night Shyamalan.

         Netflix starts another series featuring a Marvel comic character – LUKE CAGE.

   Midseason 2017 promises to offer some entertaining new series on cable networks. USA’s FALLING WATER is a supernatural thriller about three strangers who find they can share dreams. SYFY’s horror anthology CHANNEL ZERO,

      Syfy’s THE EXPANSE, the best TV series I watched in 2015-16, will return for its second season in January 2017.

   Top network CBS will add three new dramas this Fall. BULL starring NCIS Michael Weatherly as Dr Phil back when he was a consultant specializing in manipulating… uh, I mean analyzing juries. Medicine meets technology in the new drama PURE GENUIS.

      The pilot of MACGYVER had many behind the scenes problems. Let’s hope Macgyver can find the right knick knack to save the show.

   Two new CBS series wait for their turn and midseason. DOUBT a lawyer show starring Katherine Heigl, and TRAINING DAY, based on the film. But more important are two series that CBS hopes to premiere in 2017 on CBS ALL ACCESS, its streaming service. First original new series will be the sequel to THE GOOD WIFE. The second is perhaps TV most famous franchise in history. It began on NBC, cancelled and resurfaces as a successful film series. It was used to establish Paramount in the syndicated market. It began UPN (now CW) and tried to save the network before the merger with WB. As Paramount continues to pump out theatrical films, CBS will use STAR TREK to jumpstart its streaming service.

         Without a title or any idea what it is about, the new STAR TREK series is the most anticiated television series of next season.

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

   SUPERGIRL reminded CBS what its TV audience likes, so the new shows look like the old shows and SUPERGIRL flew off to CBS little sister CW. The comic book superhero will feel comfortable with the rest of DC comic superheroes, ARROW, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and CW’s top show FLASH. CW continues to specialize in comic books, horror and the weird.

      New this fall to the mini-me of broadcast networks is FREQUENCY based on the film.

   Returning during midseason will be THE 100, iZOMBIE, THE ORIGINALS, SUPERNATURAL, and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

   Midseason, CW will add FOX reject RIVERDALE, based on the characters from Archie comics focused on a murder mystery. But this is not Scooby Doo or your old Archie (even the comic books are not your old Archie), this Archie deals with “adult issues” such as him sleeping with his teacher.

   While CBS remains the top network, NBC is close behind. Its two biggest hits are SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL and THE VOICE, each hogging up much of NBC’s fall schedule. This fall NBC adds five games of Thursday night football (CBS shows the first five, NBC has the last five). Without any major holes in its fall schedule, NBC saved its most promising new series for midseason, adding only three to the fall lineup.

      NBC’s only new drama this fall is TIMELESS, the most promising series of the many this season featuring time travel.

   Some of the series returning this fall are BLACKLIST, BLINDSPOT, CHICAGO FIRE, CHICAGO MED, CHICAGO PD, GRIMM, LAW AND ORDER SVU. SHADES OF BLUE will have to wait for SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL to end.

   Other new shows waiting for their turn include comedies POWERLESS (insurance office comedy set in the world of superheroes), TRAIL & ERROR (court comedy). New dramas are BLACKLIST – REDEMPTION (spinoff), EMERALD CITY (based on Baum’s Land of Oz books), MIDNIGHT, TEXAS (based on a series of books by Charlaine Harris (TRUE BLOOD)), TAKEN (prequel to film series) and what would any NBC list be without another Dick Wolf CHICAGO series, in this case CHICAGO JUSTICE.

   There is hope at FOX. This year they have the Super Bowl guaranteeing better numbers at the end of the season. Ratings are changing, and FOX is pushing the hardest to find a way to count those of us who no longer watch TV live or on a TV set.

   TV is about to enter an era of MONEYBALL. For those not familiar with baseball or the movie or the book, sabermetrics uses an endless amount of numbers to measure performance. Networks like FOX are all ready there, someday the media will catch up.

   Speaking of baseball, FOX will have the World Series this fall as well as new series PITCH (story of first woman to play in Major League Baseball). Other new series of interest coming this fall are THE EXORIST (based on William Blatty’s novel), and LETHAL WEAPON (based on the film).

      My pick for first fall show cancelled is FOX’s SON OF ZORN, an animated barbarian tries to cope in live action modern world.

   Shows returning in fall include BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, insane GOTHAM, LUCIFER, ROSEWOOD, SCREAM QUEENS, and QUINTCO. Series returning in midseason include SLEEPY HOLLOW and the final season of BONES.

   Among the new series waiting for 2017 are APB (rich man buys a police precinct), MAKING HISTORY (time travel comedy), SHOTS FIRED (racially charged shooting involving a cop), and PRISON BREAK (sequel to 2005 TV series).

      FOX is hoping 24 – LEGACY will be as successful as the original 24.

   ABC did not have a good year. Its president of programming was sacrificed to the Nielsen Ratings Gods in prayers for better numbers in the demo.There was not enough time to change the fall offerings, but it is expected ABC will copy CBS and NBC with less soap operas and more procedurals.

   ABC’s new fall dramas of interest to us begins with DESIGNATED SURVIVOR starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development ends up President after a terrorist attack takes out most of the leaders of the American government. CONVICTION with Hayley Atwell (AGENT CARTER) as a spoiled former first daughter who is forced under threat of jail to lead a small group investigating cases where the convicted might be innocent.

      NOTORIOUS is about the seduction between law and the media.

   Returning this fall are HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., and ONCE UPON A TIME. While these returning series have to wait until midseason their turn – AMERICAN CRIME, THE CATCH, SCANDAL and SECRETS & LIES.

      Among the new ABC shows waiting for midseason is TIME AFTER TIME, based on the movie and stars Freddie Stroma as H.G. Wells.

   Over one hundred TV series in the 2015-16 season were cancelled or ended. RIP.

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