TV Adventure


REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE PREVENTERS. ITV, UK, 16 December 1996. One-off, 30 minutes. Absolutely Productions / Carlton Television. Cast: Morwenna Banks as Penelope Gold, Robert Harley as Craig Sturdy, Chris England as Mike Stallion, William Gaunt as The Controller, Ed Devereaux as Roger Stavro Mordik, and Simon William as Lord Timothy Belvoir St. Nash. Written by Morwenna Banks, Chris England and Robert Harley. Directed by Liddy Oldroyd. Executive Producer: Miles Bullough; Line Producer: Terry Bamber.

   THE PREVENTERS is a near perfect satire of my favorite form of television fiction – the “troubleshooters” of ITV (era: 1960-70s). In reaction to the stuffy BBC and a desire to break into the American market, ITV produced a variety of troubleshooter/spy series from the serious DANGER MAN to the surreal DEPARTMENT S to the adventure series of puppet master Gerry Anderson (THUNDERBIRDS). The lighter part of the ITV brand became very popular to the British audience and cult favorites over in America.

   Filmed in 1996, THE PREVENTERS could almost be considered a lovely tribute to the style of television that gave us THE AVENGERS, THE BARON, THE CHAMPIONS, THE CORRIDOR PEOPLE, THE PRISONER, THE PRESUADERS, THE PROTECTORS, THE SAINT, THE SENTIMENTAL AGENT, THE ZOO GANG and the many others that title did not begin with THE.


THE PREVENTERS “Hippy Daze”

   The villainous group The Consortium’s latest plan to take over the World is to use television to brainwash everyone to believe it is the 1960s again and turn hippies into assassins. Good guy organization The Movement calls for The Preventers. Only they – three ordinary citizens now trained top agents – can prevent the evil plan from succeeding.

   We open in typical ITV style – a car driving through the British countryside via horrible rear projection shots. The driver, the head of British Television believes he is alone but he shares his last ride with his killer. According to IMDb, the footage here is lifted from ITV’s RANDALL AND HOPKIRK (DECEASED) episode “Its Supposed to Be Thicker Than Water” (February 20,1970).

   The opening theme begins as we have our heroes stylishly posing in THE AVENGERS (and other series) style. The Preventers are introduced, banter and backstory is exchanged.

   After a clue and the first attempt to kill them, The Preventers decide to split up. Craig and Penelope rush off to Paris and then Monte Carlo via rear projected stock footage and interior studio action. Mike, “The Third One” (a joke anyone familiar with THE CHAMPIONS would appreciate) gets stuck with the dirty disgusting hippies and their Woodstock-like rock concert. Mike’s establishment attitude towards the hippie style and his taste in fashion reveals him to be a “square” and he barely escapes.

   At Monte Carlo, Mike joins Craig and Penelope as they search for the mastermind behind it all. Penelope meets Lord Tim whose last name Belvoir St. Nash – according to Lord Tim – is pronounced Beaver Snatch. The Consortium’s representative is there, an Australian media mogul who is dressed for the Outback and carries a small wallaby with him.

   What follows is typical ITV low budgeted action. Penelope seduces Lord Tim and goes with him to his country home. Craig and Mike rush to rescue her. The three are captured and Lord Tim attempts to brainwash Craig. The plot is defeated but the mansion is about to self-destruct. Our heroes get out in time and join The Controller to celebrate with toasts of champagne. But there is a final twist and we end with a cliffhanger.


   This episode succeeds on all levels. Not just the writing, acting, and direction, but from every phase of TV production. Beginning with the cheap grainy look of the film done by cinematographer John Walker, no element of the ITV style goes untouched. Constant stream of gags and shout-outs flow non-stop through the thirty minutes. ITV fans will enjoy the opening titles, the set designs (Chrysoula Sofitsi), costumes (Debbie Scott), and music (Peter Baikie).

   THE PREVENTERS’ writers played the three heroes with the same insight to the ITV style of protagonist that the entire production showed. It was also fun to see William Gault as The Controller. Gault was in THE CHAMPIONS and his character was represented here as Mike Stallion “The Third One.”

   The episode ends with a cliffhanger and a graphic telling us the story is “to be continued.” But it never was. Perhaps it was not supposed to continue. It certainly would have been difficult to continue to satirize a form of fiction that was virtually a spoof itself as ITV pushed against the old conservative but socially conscious BBC that had programs such as THE WEDNESDAY PLAY.

   It didn’t help that when THE PREVENTERS aired in 1996 the role of the spy had changed. With the British government spy scandals of the 70s and the end of the Cold War in the 80s by the 90s the TV spy had been reduced to sitcoms such as THE PIGLET FILES.

   I miss the style of the 60s ITV light dramas. Writers such as Brian Clemens (THE AVENGERS) and Dennis Spooner (THE CHAMPIONS) had the talent to create light drama with surreal plots and weird characters while maintaining believability with the audience. The style fit in with the real world of 60s sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The ITV troubleshooters may not have always approved of the changing world in fashion, music, and young people’s behavior, but many of those ITV shows existed best in such a world.

   For those who are not familiar with the ITV style here is a sample, the final episode of THE CHAMPIONS. (The occasional movement of the picture is a problem caused by downloading it on YouTube.)

“Autokill”. April 30, 1969. Written by Brian Clemens – Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Cast: Stuart Damon as Craig Stirling, Alexandra Basted as Sharron Macready. William Gaunt as Richard Barrett and Anthony Nicholls as Col. W.L. Tremayne. Guest Cast: Eric Pohlmann and Paul Eddington. *** Someone has found a way to brainwash Nemesis agents to become assassins. The latest to be brainwashed is Colonel Tremayne, the man who commands The Champions.


   THE CHAMPIONS is not one of my favorites ITV series, but it does have the ITV style. The plots range from strange to stupid. Why brainwash the boss Tremayne to kill the doctor? The bad guys had nothing more evilly productive to do to Tremayne?

   The characters are likable, simple but believable. The writing and direction adds the proper amount of humor and pace to entertain and prevent the audience from actually thinking about what was happening and why.

   The ITV light drama of the 60s and 70s worked because the audience was in on it. This was not some brilliant serious filmmaker such as Dennis Potter (STAND UP, NIGEL BARTON) or Ken Loach (CATHY COME HOME) examining the troubles of modern society, ITV shows were fun. THE PREVENTERS got that right too.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


GAVILAN. NBC/Mandy Films Inc in association with MGM Television. October 26 1982 – December 28, 1982, and March 18, 1983. Cast: Robert Urich as Robert Gavilan, Patrick Macnee as Milo Bentley and Kate Reid as Marion Jaworski. Created by Tom Mankiewicz – Executive Producer:Leonard Goldberg.

   Only ten of the thirteen episodes of GAVILAN aired. The series was a ratings failure from the beginning, finishing last in its Tuesday night timeslot against the CBS Tuesday Movie and ABC’s hits THREE’S COMPANY and 9 TO 5. NBC aired one episode on Friday opposite ABC’s TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY and CBS’s DALLAS where it finished last in that timeslot.

   YouTube has two episodes available for view. Watch the linked episodes below quick, while I was writing this a third episode “By the Sword” was pulled off YouTube. These episodes are from the syndicated (edited for time) version aired on TNT.

   The series featured Robert Urich as Gavilan, an ex-spy now consultant for the Dewitt Institute of Oceanography. Stories usually featured Gavilan working with a gorgeous brilliant woman who was working with the Institute on some project or a beautiful female spy pulling him back into life working for “the Company.”

   The series had its good moments, but it also had many of the flaws of 1980’s television. The plots were better than average but had to really stretch to connect to the Institute. In “By the Sword” the brilliant beautiful woman was a scientist working on a project to study the krill as a food source, but the plot was about an ancient samurai sword she stole from the Yakuza to regain her family honor.

   The stories were entertaining but mindless, predictable and too willing to sacrifice story and character for a joke or twist. In “By the Sword” the female scientist is trained in the martial art and had done something her entire family had not done in over a hundred years, got her family’s ancient honored Japanese sword back from the Yakuza. So in the final confrontation for the sword it is Gavilan – as she watched – who sword fights to the death for the sword and her family honor. Of course Gavilan out duels the unbeatable Master Samurai.

   The series has the sexist outlook that was mainstream thinking in the 80s. Much like Indiana Jones, Gavilan taught a college-level class, and like Indiana many of Gavilan’s students were gorgeous young women with a crush on him.

   There were equal amounts of eye candy – female, male and location. The brilliant independent female beauties would wear string bikinis and revealing gowns while Urich had skintight swim trunks and showed off his bare chest.

   GAVILAN stories didn’t lock him into the overused beachfront scenery of his home in Malibu but would travel the world to exotic locales. Yet while Gavilan might have traveled the world, the filming never convinced us he left Los Angeles or the MGM lot.

   Robert Urich is best known as Dan Tanna (VEGA$) or Spenser (SPENSER FOR HIRE), but he could hold the record as star for the most TV series failures. This fifteen-minute video strings together the theme opening to each of his twelve starring TV series.

   As usual Urich played the bland likable predictable hero, a character without much depth and a few quirks that came and went depending on the episode. In episode “By the Sword” machines hated him. Gavilan would argue, beg, and plead with machines such as his computer and jeep, and they would respond by breaking down when he needed them most (the computer he programmed called him a dummy) and returned to working when the problem passed. Gavilan’s conflict with machines was not mention in either of the other two episodes I have seen.


PIRATES. (11/9/82) Teleplay by Mark Frost.Story by Nicholas Corea.Directed by Clifford Bole. Supervising Produced by David Levinson. Produced by John Cutts. GUEST CAST: Michael Billington, Heather Menzies and Paul Koslo. *** A young naïve beautiful scientist hires the Institute to help her find the long lost treasure of the ship King Midas. A ruthless pirate and his crew learn of their mission and take over.

   Ah, 1980s action TV. The beautiful female scientist (played by Urich’s wife Heather Menzies) has spent years researching the history of the ship King Midas and its treasure of gold. She has a new theory of where the gold may be and she is paying the Institute to help her in her search. Gavilan is there for the Institute and has a “hunch” the gold is elsewhere on the ship. They argue cute. They hate each other cute. Guess how they feel about each other at the end.

   One quick dive and they find the gold where Gavilan’s hunch said it would be. Soon after, the pirates arrive. The highly educated bookworm is wearing a string bikini and yells at the pirates:

   “You can’t do this to us, we’re scientists.”

   The pirate leader responds, “Oh yes we can, we’re pirates,” and he blows up the living area and all the treasure hunting equipment. It didn’t make sense but it made a great break to commercial.

   The story continues exactly as expected. Characters do as the plot demands, things blow up, and there is a chase. The chase is especially 80s.

   Gavilan only has a knife while the bad guys all have guns, but when Gavilan defeats any of them, does he grab their gun? Of course not, Gavilan is outnumbered and all he has is a knife, why would he want their guns?


DESTINATION HERO. (12/14/82) Written and Supervising Produced by Nicholas Corea – Directed by Charles Picerni -Produced by Stephen P. Caldwell – CAST: Michael Ansara, Laura Johnson, and Paul Picerni*** A gorgeous female spy from his past convinces Gavilan to get back in the spy business when his best friend from the spy days – the one who had saved Gavilan’s life – is about to be executed in a Turkish prison.

   The corrupt government official, who belonged in an episode of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, was wasted here as the majority of time featured Gavilan outsmarting the bad guy’s idiot lackeys.

   The beautiful sexy female spy, who Gavilan does not like, wears sexy clothes and can’t make up her mind if she is a femme fatale or on the side of good.

   The script was weak. Just by chance Gavilan bumps into some lovable Greek terrorists and makes the comic relief characters an important part of the plan.

   There was a great twist near the end of the episode that was wasted. It should have ended the third act, with the final act dealing with the fallout and reasons for the twist.

   The direction was also flawed with several reaction shots that made no sense in the situation or with the character.


   Former James Bond writer Tom Mankiewicz (LIVE AND LET DIE) created the series. He and executive producer Leonard Goldberg had recently had success with HART TO HART.

   Reportedly Fernando Lamas was to play the part Patrick Macnee would take over after Lamas death. Milo was a family friend, conman and visitor that would never leave. Milo like any sidekick tried to help but usually got in the way. Macnee played Milo as a well-meaning loyal friend who was also a bumbling conman loser.

   Kate Reid was burdened with the part of Gavilan’s boss. There wasn’t much for her to do beyond remind the audience Gavilan was brilliant, was not a PI, and had a real job when he wasn’t dropping everything to go off on some adventure.

   GAVILAN never stood a chance opposite ABC hit series THREE’S COMPANY on Tuesday or CBS hit series DALLAS on Friday. There was nothing special or original about the series. There are moments that make you think of Magnum P.I. and every other TV action hero of the late 20thcentury, but that was not necessarily a bad thing for GAVILAN. There is a nostalgic charm to GAVILAN. It was supposed to be mindless fun, and for that it succeed more than it failed, but GAVILAN also lacked the substance and originality for it to be missed.

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.

A TV SERIES REVIEW
by Michael Shonk


QUEEN OF SWORDS. Syndicated, 2000-2001. 22 episodes @ 60 minutes. Fireworks Entertainment (Canada)/ Global-Can West Company (Canada)/ Telefonica Media (Spain)/ Morena Films (Spain)/ Amy International (UK)/ M6 (France)/ Antena 3 (Spain). Tessie Santiago as Marie Teresa Alvarado. Anthony Lemke as Captain Marcus Grisham, Elsa Pataka as Vera Hidalgo. Peter Wingfield as Dr. Robert Helm, Paulina Galvez as Marta, Valentine Pelka as Colonel Luis Montoya, and Tacho Gonzalez as Don Gasper Hidalgo.

Executive Producers: David Abramowitz, Jay Firestone and Adam Haight. Co-Executive Producers: Simon MacCorkindale, Ira Bernstein, Alvaro Longoria and Juan Gordon. Supervising Producers: James Thorpe, Steve Roberts. Producers: Ken Gord, Troy Thatcher. Line Producer: Gerard Croce. Distributed in U.S. by Paramount Domestic Television in association with Mercury Entertainment (U.S.). Distributed internationally by Fireworks International.

   An oversimplified description of Queen of Swords would be Xena meets Zorro. Fortunately for TV producers an original premise is not required for entertaining television.

   A female Zorro was nothing new and the success of Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001) had lead to more series featuring female action heroes. Series such as Relic Hunter (1999-2002), Sheena (2000-2002), and Queen of Swords attempted but failed to duplicate Xena’s success in syndication.

   The opening episode “Destiny” sets up the premise and characters not unlike the usual origin story of Zorro.

“DESTINY.” 10/7/00. Written by James Thorpe Directed by Jon Cassar. Guest Cast: Enrique Rodriguez, Anthony De Longis and Teresa Del Olmo. *** It is 1817. While at school in Spain Tessa Alvarado learns of her father’s death back in Spanish California. She returns home to find her family Hacienda in ruins and about to be taken over by the ruthless power hungry Alcalde, Colonel Montoya. Times have changed since Tessa left Santa Helena.

   All of her family gone, the family servants reduced to stealing to eat, Tessa must find a way to save her home. A visit from the ghost of her father who had been murdered by leader of the guards Captain Grisham gives Tessa the courage to take up the blade against Montoya and his men, her mask comes from her dead mother’s shawl and her name Queen of Swords comes from the tarot card revealed by her female companion, the gypsy Marta.

   Swordmaster, stunt coordinator and actor Anthony De Longis (Highlander – the Series) wrote an online diary about his time working on Queen of Swords including the episode ‘Destiny.”

   De Longis writing is a researcher’s dream. His attention to the smallest details gives incredible insight to life working for the second unit on a syndicated action series of its era. He discusses some of the series pre-production work such as the two months star Tessie Santiago had to learn how to ride a horse and use a sword, rapier, dagger and whip.

   De Longis shares what it was like on location in Texas-Hollywood, Spain. He reveals bits of information such as each episode was filmed in seven days, why the soldiers’ uniforms were changed from red pants to blue (the red looked “too opera”), how stunts were performed and even the name of the horses including credits (The Queen’s main horse was Chico, Captain Grisham rode Montero the same horse Russell Crowe rode in Gladiator.)

   He also explained why the first episode to air “Destiny” was the third episode filmed (after “Death To The Queen” and “Vengeance”). It was so the multinational cast and crew could get experience working together before filming the origin story. It was a wise idea as “Destiny” sets the style and tone of the series well.

   Production values on Queen of Swords were high with better writing and direction than usual for syndicated TV series of the time. The acting was professional but nothing special. For more information about the cast visit here and those interested can find interviews with Tessie Santiago and Anthony Lemke here.

   The characters were simple and one dimensional with the good guys likable and the bad guys always worthy of booing. But for a heroic action adventure series such as Queen of Swords characters with little depth is a good thing.

   On the side of good was young beautiful Dona Maria Teresa “Tessa” Alvarado. In the tradition of too many heroes to name Tessa poses as a rich self absorbed Dona in the eyes of others while secretly donning the mask to fight for justice as the Queen of Swords. Her best friend/servant/companion since her childhood schooldays in Spain was Marta. Marta was a gypsy with mystical powers and the only one to know the identity of The Queen (of Swords).

   The villains were lead by the ruthless Colonel Montoya. Obsessed with his quest for riches and power, Montoya used any means necessary to get his way. He blackmailed his second in command Captain Grisham. Grisham was still wanted as an Army deserter who had escaped execution during the War of 1812. Grisham was the lover of the wife of Don Hidalgo.

   Senora Vera Hidalgo had married her husband for money. The young beautiful shallow woman enjoyed the excitement of cheating on her husband and playing spy for Grisham. The weak and cowardly Don Hidalgo represented the landowners in their dealings with Colonel Montoya.

   Trying not to take sides was the handsome brave Dr. Robert Helm. Haunted by his time serving in the British army as a soldier during the Napoleonic Wars Helm had become a Doctor dedicated to saving lives. A possible love interest for Tessa/The Queen but the Doctor disliked Tessa for her spoiled nature and the Queen for her use of violence.



“THE PACT.” 1/27/01. Written by Elizabeth Keyishian. Directed by Carlos Gil. Guest Cast: Jose Conde, Patrick Medioni and Pablo Scola. *** Vera tells Captain Grisham that the Dons have hidden a treasure from the greedy hands of Colonel Montoya. Rather than report it Grisham decides to find it for himself.



“TAKES A THIEF.” 5/12/01. Written by Elizabeth Keyishian. Directed by Paolo Barzman. Guest Cast: Darren Tighe, Ralf Moller and Miglen Mirtchev. *** Two thieves – a strongman and a conman – pass through town and learning of the reward offered for The Queen of Swords decide to capture her. When the Queen saves the life of strongman Roman he refuses to help his partner continue to try to capture the Queen. A romance develops between Roman and Tessa’s companion Maria.



   Queen of Swords was everything it wanted to be – a well produced, entertaining heroic action adventure. The series deserved a better fate.

   So what happened to the series? Why did it last just one season? The audience was loyal but small. The many Xena inspired syndicated series available at the time made it difficult for any one to stand out among the crowd. And the premise had begun to fade in popularity. Xena: Warrior Princess would end, as Queen of Swords, in 2001. Relic Hunter and Sheena would follow the next season.

   A peek at the credits above shows Queen of Swords was a multinational project. This allowed for bigger budgets, different locations than the American audience was used to, and advantages in the global market.

   The project began with Fireworks Entertainment (owned at the time by Global Can West). Fireworks Entertainment was a successful syndication company having produced such series as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, La Femme Nikita, and Relic Hunter.

   Besides the normal costs of producing a TV series, Queen of Swords had the added financial burden of fighting two lawsuits. One was from Sony Pictures over the film rights to Zorro. In November 2001 the court ruled against Sony citing the Zorro character and Douglas Fairbanks copyright for film rights had expired and the character was in public domain.

   However, by then Queen of Swords had ended with the last episode airing May 30, 2001. Fireworks had moved on to its next project that premiered in syndication October 6, 2001 – Marvel’s Mutant X. (Fireworks would be sued by Fox claiming it had film rights to Marvel.)

   August 2000 writer Linda S. Lukens sued the series and creator-executive producer David Abramowitz (Jake and the Fatman, Highlander – the Series) claiming the series was based on a script she had written and sold to ABC when the two were with the same literary agency. Unlike Sony she won. In October 2000 Los Angeles Superior court Judge ordered the series to add an on screen credit for Lukens as series creator.

   Apparently Lukens received credit on the series version shown in the United States (starting with the second episode) but did not receive credit on the versions shown in other countries such as Japan and France. The episodes shown on YouTube have no credit for “created by.”

   Nothing about Queen of Swords is simple except the plots and characters. The Queen of Swords fan website The Presidio added another name to those responsible for the series creation. It claims Queen co-executive producer Ira Bernstein (Relic Hunter) developed the series and sites producer Ken Gord (Highlander – the Series, Relic Hunter) as its source.

   Finally, for even more details and information about the series and its availability on home media (no DVD Region 1) I recommend the better than average Wikipedia page devoted to Queen of Swords.

B.A.D. CATS. “Pilot episode.” ABC-TV, 90m, 4 January 1980. (Season 1, Episode 1). Asher Brauner (Officer Nick Donovan), Steve Hanks (Officer Ocee James), Michelle Pfeiffer (Samantha ‘Sunshine’ Jensen), Vic Morrow (Capt. Eugene Nathan). Guest cast: LaWanda Page, Jimmie Walker, Charles Cioffi. Producer: Aaron Spelling.

   According to Wikipedia, the acronym B.A.D Cats stood for “Burglary Auto Detail, Commercial Auto Thefts.” Now that’s nice to know, since after watching this pilot episode, I couldn’t have told you. I might have missed it, but other hand, I was deliberately looking and listening, and I really don’t think it ever came up.

   But I admit I may have snoozed off. This is a TV show that makes you wonder why some shows ever manage get on the air. It is Not Very Good. It lasted six episodes before being deep-sixed, with four more ready to go and never aired.

   It is a wonder, though, that with very young Michelle Pfeiffer in it as the handy girl around the office, answering phones and looking pretty and the like, that no one has come out with an official set of DVDs for the series. Perhaps she has a good lawyer.

   This first episode has to do with a gang of crooks trying to smuggle a fortune of gold out of the country, and do to so they come up with a plan that involves faking the cops out by stealing a fleet of high-priced automobiles and shipping them overseas, while they are really…

   The fact that Jimmie Walker is in this as an inveterate car thief tells you right away that the story is played as much for laughs as anything else, along with one of the two stars’ infatuation with a water bed, with a worried downstairs lady neighbor who thinks the floor will give way. I don’t think it gives anything away to say that it does, to the hilarity of all.

   What should you expect to see otherwise? Lots of long car chases, that you bet your bottom dollar on. The last one I will concede is a doozy, but I should also warn you that it takes a long time to get there.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


BLAKE AND MORTIMER: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Ellipse (France), 1997. 26 episodes, consisting of 13 two-part stories. Based on “Blake et Mortimer” created by E.P. Jacobs, with four original stories. Originally appeared in Tintin magazine in serial form.

    “Blake and Mortimer” is among the oldest and best loved comics in Europe, second only to Herge’s “Tintin” in longevity and popularity among adventure strips. Created by E. P. Jacobs, and drawn in the same simplified realistic style as the more famous “Tintin” (in Europe it is pronounced Tonton, and yes, Rin Tin Tin, discovered in WWI France, was originally Rin Ton Ton too) strip, it recounts the adventures of handsome blonde mustachioed Captain Francis Blake of British Intelligence and bearded red haired Scottish Professor Philip Mortimer (“By the arms of clan McGreggor!”), a pair of friends who find themselves battling scientific menaces somewhere between Professor Quatermass and James Bond while globe trotting from modern Egypt to the Middle Ages.

    Unlike Tintin, who debuted in the Thirties iu France, Blake and Mortimer appeared post-war in the bestselling Belgian magazine Tintin, named for Herge’s famous boy reporter. There they rivaled the magazine’s namesake in popular adventures, taking them around the world battling everything from mad scientists to aliens and from time travel to UFO’s.

    It was natural after the success of the animated adventures of Tintin, shown here on HBO, that Dargoud, Tintin’s publisher, would try to replicate the flagship titles success and so an animated series adapting the Blake and Mortimer albums was done with the same style and faithfulness as the Tintin series. If they aren’t quite up to the same quality it is only because Tintin is a work of genius that has managed to entertain children across the world for decades, and good as Jacobs work is, it is not quite in that class — few works of popular fiction are in terms of success or sales.

    Like “Tintin,” these were adapted in English, though as far as I know never shown in the American market, and until they showed up on YouTube unavailable to Region 1 DVD players. (I think one or two were available on VHS if you could find them.) Like “Tintin” they consist of half hour episodes, each album complete in two episodes. Though the books are known and loved around the world, they are still, a bit like “Tintin” itself despite the Spielberg film, not that well known in this country.

    Titles like “The Mystery of the Great Pyramid,” “The Secret of Easter Island,” “The Yellow Mark,” “The Infernal Machine,” and “The Atlantis Enigma” give a fair idea of the material, which tends to be better written and developed in terms of character and plot than the average animated fare thanks to Jacob’s well done albums. The adventures, like “Tintin” before them, are faithful to the look and period of the original, and just about as perfect a translation from printed page to screen as you could ask for.

    Of course it all depends on your tolerance for animated adventure fare, but these are a classy production handsomely adapted and faithful to the entertaining originals in all ways. There are a handful of European animated series around well worth a look, including “Corto Maltese,” based on Hugo Pratt’s work about a Conradian early 20th century adventurer, “Belphegor: the Phantom of the Louvre” (which was originally a novel and source for several movies and television series in France), Henri Verne’s “Bob Moraine” (originally the hero of a series of juvenile novels Moraine has appeared in comics and both live action and two animated series and films), Leo Malet’s private eye “Nestor Burma” (live action films and television series, graphic albums and animation based on the design of Jacques Tardi though whether the series ever aired, I’m not certain), the laconic satiric cowboy “Lucky Luke” (who also appeared in two live action films with Terence Hill, and more recently Oscar winning Jean Dujardin), and “Valerian and Laureline,” an intelligent space opera series based on yet another long running popular comic creation. Not all of them are available in English or subtitled, but “Blake and Mortimer” is well worth the effort.     (*)

    Anyone who enjoyed the HBO “Tintin” episodes should at least check this series out. The same imagination and love of the material that marked those adaptations has been shown here.

(*)    Episodes of all those series mentioned save “Nestor Burma” can be found on YouTube, some in French, but a few in English dubbed versions.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


ADAM ADAMANT LIVES! BBC TV, 1966-67. Cast: Gerald Harper as Adam Adamant, Juliet Harmer as Miss Georgina Jones and Jack May as William E. Simms. Script Consultant: Tony Williamson. Producer: Verity Lambert. Theme written by Hal Sharper and David Lee, sung by Kathy Kirby.

   The story of Adam Adamant Lives! began with Sydney Newman. Newman remains one of the most successful and influential TV Network executives in the history of television. While Head of Drama for ABC Television (Associated British Corporation) he helped develop The Avengers, both series: one, a standard spy drama with Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry and the second version, a fashion conscious surreal spy adventure with Macnee and Honor Blackman.

   Newman would leave ABC for the BBC where he became its Head of Drama. There he helped create Doctor Who and Adam Adamant Lives! Newman was influenced by a variety of elements in his creation of Adam Adamant. Aware of the success of James Bond, he wanted the theme music to sound like Goldfinger and even tried to hire Shirley Bassey to sing it.

   Sydney Newman had brought serious quality programming for adults to British television. This lead to the rise of his nemesis Mary Whitehouse and her fight to protect the morals of the British viewer. Reportedly, Newman was wondering about Whitehouse’s Victorian values and thought about a character from the 1890s reacting to modern (1960s) society.

   The BFI bio of Sydney Newman explains the development of Adam Adamant Lives!: “According to BBC documentation, Newman’s idea originally was to produce a series about the British detective character of Sexton Blake, a sort of two-fisted imitation of Sherlock Holmes first published in 1893. At the last minute, however, the Blake project was dropped (do to a failure of agreement with the publishers) and the would-be series’ basic format was developed into Adam Adamant Lives!

   The creation did not go smoothly, with several writers unable to create a satisfactory story or even find the right name for the character. Sydney Newman would finally name him Adam Adamant, the word adamant meaning extremely hard substance. The pilot was not received well. It would never air, and only the part of it that was used in episode one survives. Ann Holloway, who had played the role of Georgina Jones in the pilot, was replaced by Julie Harmer, who fit the 60s style-look better. Tony Williamson finally was able to come up with the right script and the result was “A Vintage Year For Scoundrels.”

“A Vintage Year For Scoundrels.” Written by Tony Williamson with material by Donald Cotton and Richard Harris. Directed by William Slater and David Proudfoot. Guest Cast: Peter Ducrow, Freda Jackson, and Frank Jarvis. *** Adam Adamant, English gentleman adventurer, is defeated by his archenemy, master criminal The Face, in the year 1902 when Louise the woman he loves betrays him. The villain uses a secret formula to give Adam a “living death.” Buried frozen but alive Adam would be uncovered in 1966 London. He has problems adjusting to modern times, especially with an unwanted sidekick, the young headstrong Miss Jones who refuses to leave him alone. However when young Miss Jones is threaten by a lady mobster Adam runs to her rescue.


   This was a time when the quality production values we expect from the BBC today did not exist. Shows such as Adam Adamant Lives! suffered from its low budget and limited shooting schedule. But such limitations did not stop the series from becoming a popular cult favorite then and now.

   The creative world of British TV at the time was small and a look at the series’ credits reveal many familiar names, including Brian Clemens. (Yes, he was writing for The Avengers at the same time.) It is no surprise that the writing was one of the highlights of the series, featuring perfect Penny Dreadful plots with delightful dialog and action for the over the top characters. Producer Verity Lambert, who all ready had Doctor Who on her resume, knew talent and was one of the first to give a TV set designer named Ridley Scott a chance to direct.

   In Season One Adam would face a different villain each week. The action would begin with the villain or crime. Learning of it Adam would begin to investigate. He would order Miss Jones to go home. When he arrives to question those involved he would discover Miss Jones working undercover at the villain’s location. There was always at least one young beautiful woman who would betray Adam, who would remain convinced she was a victim and mislead.

   Gerald Harper played the Edwardian hero with Victorian tastes well, especially in the way he moved. Adam was disgusted with the modern world and convinced he was needed more than ever to fight evil. Adam never understood the sexual revolution. He revered women, certain each was a helpless delicate creature he must save. His determination to protect women’s innocence would often frustrate the weekly femme fatales. Adam rejected the modern karate style of fighting for old-fashion fisticuffs and his sword/cane. The London of 1902 was gone so Adam adapted by building his mansion on top of a car park. One modern convenience he accepted was the automobile and would drive around in a Mini, a car popular during the 60s in London.

   Juliet Harmer’s performance gave the series much of its youthful energy and look at life as an adventure to enjoy. Miss Jones was the typical modern young woman in London’s 1960s. Her fashion sense was often a source of criticism from her elders, be it too revealing or too male. Georgina grew up with her beloved Grandfather telling her the exciting adventures of Adam Adamant, and now her hero had come to life she was not going to let him go. Always upbeat, Miss Jones was difficult to discourage no matter how many times the villains tortured her, Simms insulted her and Adam ordered her to go home.

   Jack Dawson originally played Adam’s manservant Simms. But after he injured his back during rehearsals Dawson was replaced by Jack May. William E. Simms met Adam and Miss Jones during “Death Has a Thousand Faces” when the three were able to stop an evil plan to blow up the Golden Mile in Blackpool. Despite his mean spirited limericks and his constant insults to Miss Jones, James May was able to make the dour Simms likeable. Simms was happy to serve Adam but was most happy when he was not involved in a dangerous adventure. Dependable, capable if reluctant Simms often found himself teamed up with Miss Jones as they rushed to help Adam.

“Sweet Smell of Disaster.” Written by Robert Banks Stewart. Directed by Philip Dudley. Guest Cast: Charles Tingwell, Adrienne Corri and Pauline Munro. *** Adam discovers modern advances in laundry, advertising and a plot to take over the World.


   In the second season it was decided to give Adam an arch nemesis to fight every week. The only woman Adam had ever loved, Louise returned to Adam’s life. After over sixty years Louise was now an old woman. Sadly, she would betray him again as she helped revive The Face, the evil Mastermind and only man to have ever defeated Adam Adamant. The Face had used the same formula he had used on Adam and now was ready to return to his life of evil. The series had never resorted to subtlety and now with The Face and Adam set to do battle the series grew weirder with a growing feel of early hero pulps.

“A Sinister Sort of Service.” Written by Tony Williamson. Directed by Laurence Bourne. Guest Cast: T.P. McKenna, Frances Cuka, and David Garth *** A series of robberies lead Adam to a Nazi-like security company that uses a new computer to figure out crimes. Series final episode.


   The popular series lasted just two seasons and the cause of its cancellation remains a source of rumors and questions. Today only seventeen episodes of the twenty-nine survive. Hiding behind the absurdity of the series adventure premise was an attempt to look at how society was changing at the time. 1960s London was one of the most important centers for the growing youth culture and the “generation gap” that resulted.

   Adam’s rejection of the modern society, and Simms insulting Miss Jones like a disapproving Father while Miss Jones ignoring him like an independent daughter was something viewers could identify with. Adam Adamant Lives! remains a fun entertaining escapist adventure, but it also reminds us that during this time James Bond was replacing Sexton Blake, and young damsels were no longer willing to do as they were told.

   An out of print official (Pal format) DVD of the series can be found in the collector’s market. Most of my information came from the episodes and two documentaries on the series. Cult of… was a series on BBC Four that examined behind the scenes of old favorite TV series such as Adam Adamant Lives! The other was a TV special called This Man Is the One.