Thursday, September 19, 2019

ER Turns 25

It was 25 years ago today, on September 19 1994, that ER debuted on NBC. While ER would eventually degenerate into a rather typical medical soap opera, for its first several years it was a revolutionary medical drama. It differed from other medical dramas before it in that it often featured a great deal of medical jargon with little to no explanation of what that jargon meant. It could often be much more graphic than other TV shows of the time, going even further in portraying surgeries than M*A*S*H had. The show also had an unusually fast pace, with the show's doctors and other medical personnel going from case to case. Multiple subplots were featured in each episode. Until viewers adjusted to just how much was going on in any given episode of ER, that it could be difficult for viewers to keep track of everything going on in any given episode of the show. In fact, in his review of ER in The Hollywood Reporter, Miles Beller commented that the show's debut episode ("24 Hours") could be "...at times confused and confusing."

ER centred on the emergency room of the fictional County General Hospital in Chicago. It differed from many earlier medical dramas in that it featured a rather large ensemble cast, including several leads and several supporting characters. In its early days, at least, the focus of the series was upon the various cases and issues faced by the emergency room staff from day to day.

ER was created by Michael Crichton, the best selling author of such novels as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park and the screenwriter of such films as Westworld (1974) and The Great Train Robbery (1979). In 1974 Michael Crichton had written a screenplay drawing upon his experiences as a medical student at Harvard. The screenplay generated no interest at any of the studios and Michael Crichton went onto other things. It was then in 1993 that he started work with Steven  Spielberg on bringing his 1990 novel Jurassic Park to the big screen. Mr. Spielberg had read Michael Crichton's old screenplay and expressed interest in it. It was an employee at Steven Spielberg's production company, Amblin, who suggested that it might work better as a pilot for a television series than as a movie.

ER was pitched to NBC. Warren Littlefield, then the head of NBC Entertainment, admitted, "We were intrigued, but we were admittedly a bit spooked in attempting to go back into that territory a few years after St. Elsewhere." Regardless, the network agreed to six episodes of the new series. The pilot for ER, "24 Hours," aired on September 19 1994 opposite Monday Night Football, where it did remarkably well in the ratings. Afterwards ER aired in its regularly scheduled timeslot at 8:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central on Thursday. There it not only exceeded expectations, but it did spectacularly well in the ratings. Not only did it beat CBS's rival medical drama, Chicago Hope, soundly in the ratings, but it ranked no. 2 in the Nielsen ratings for the year. The following season it would be the no. 1 show on the air. It would continue to rank in the top five shows for the year for its next six seasons and ranked in the top ten for its first ten seasons on the air.

Even in its earliest years the cast of ER would change. Gloria Reuben joined the cast as physician assistant Jeanie Boulet in the 14th episode of the first season, "Long Day's Journey into Night." Originally a recurring character, she became a regular character in season 2. Jeanie was unique as a character at the time in having HIV, which she had contracted from her ex-husband. What is more, Jeanie was still alive and living with HIV when Miss Reuben left the show in 1999 and when she returned for a single episode in 2008. Laura Innes would also join ER early in the show's run as Dr. Kerry Weaver. She would ultimately remain with the show for twelve years.

While various characters were added in the show's early years, ER would also see some departures in its early years, departures which would, in my humble opinion, hurt the show in the long run. The first of these was Sherry Stringfield, who played Dr. Susan Lewis. Miss Stringfield had tired of the gruelling filming schedule of ER and also expressed a desire to live a normal life. She left at the start of the third season, only to return at the beginning of the eighth season. Other members of the lead cast beyond Sherry Stringfield would also leave over time. George Clooney, who played paediatrician Doug Ross, left the show in its fifth season. Julianna Margulies, who played Nurse Carol Hathaway, left the show at the end of the sixth season. Anthony Edwards, who played Dr. Mark Greene (more or less the main character on the show), left the show at the end of its eighth season. In an unusual move for TV shows of the time, Dr. Greene was written off the show as having died of brain cancer.

As much as lead characters leaving ER may have hurt the show, it was also hurt when popular supporting members of the show left the cast. Vanessa Marquez played one of the most popular supporting characters on ER, Nurse Wendy Goldman. Nurse Wendy was frequently featured in humorous subplots during the early years of the show. Unfortunately, Vanessa experienced both sexual harassment and racial slurs used against her while on the show. When she reported the harassment and the racial slurs, she was fired. Nurse Wendy last appeared in the show's third season. What the producers apparently did not realise at the time is that many people missed Nurse Wendy, as well as the humorous subplots on the show, which appeared less and less after the third season. I know I missed her (of course, here I must point out that Vanessa and I were very close, as my long time readers know). Another popular supporting character, desk clerk Jerry Markovic (played by Abraham Benrubi) suddenly stopped appearing at the end of the fifth season. He was absent from the show until the 8th season, when he rejoined the cast. Over time other supporting characters would also disappear from the show. This would ultimately hurt ER in the long run, as many viewers tuned into the show not simply to see the lead characters, but to see the many of the supporting characters as well.

Of course, ER was not only hurt by the departure of several popular characters, but also by the fact that the quality of the writing began to decline as well. More and more the show began to focus on the character's personal lives rather than work in the emergency room itself. Eventually there would even be episodes set entirely away from the hospital. The seventh episode of the fourth season, "Fathers and Sons," had Mark Greene and Doug Ross travelling to California by car. County General Hospital did not appear at all in the episode. The 16th episode of the fifth season, "Middle of Nowhere," had Peter Benton travel to Mississippi. Unlike "Fathers and Sons," the hospital does appear in the episode.

Not only did episodes eventually emerge that departed from the hospital setting of ER, but eventually characters would begin, well, acting out of character. The perfect example of this for me is the romance and eventual marriage of Mark Greene and Elizabeth Corday (played by Alex Kingston). Now I like both Dr. Greene and Dr. Corday. I think both Anthony Edwards and Alex Kingston are talented actors. That having been said, the characters of Dr. Greene and Dr. Corday had very little in common and had absolutely no chemistry together. It always appeared to me that the writers on ER did not know what to do with either of the characters and simply took the easy way out of forcing a romance upon them. Sadly, this would become all the more common as the show progressed. In fact, between cast departures and declining story quality, I ceased watching ER, once one of my favourite shows on the air, around the fifth or sixth season. I would tune in occasionally for episodes now and again, but it just seemed to me to be getting worse and worse.

That having been said, while ER would slowly decline in quality, for its first several seasons it was one of the best shows on the air. The show's original premise, fast paced and full of medical jargon, was far different from anything that had come before it. Furthermore, ER was not afraid to take risks. At a time when it was unusual for shows to kill of characters, ER did so. Mark Greene was not the only regular character to die on the show. Indeed, Lucy Knight (played by Kellie Martin) was stabbed to death by a schizophrenic patient (the stabbing took place in the episode "Be Still My Heart" and she died in the following episode, "All in the Family'). In addition to HIV (which the show dealt with beyond the character of Jeanie Boulet), ER also addressed such issues as child abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction, euthanasia, poverty, racism, sexual assault, suicide, and more. It also addressed medical conditions only rarely seen on previous medical dramas as well, including various mental conditions, chlamydia, human papilloma virus, meningitis, Parkinson's disease, and a variety of unusual injuries.

What is more, it has to be pointed out that it is very rare for a long-running show that not to decline in quality at some point. What is more, there are even fewer shows that ever reached the level of quality that ER did in its first several seasons. In fact, at 124 nominations  ER held the record for the most Emmy nominations of any show until A Game of Thrones broke that record with 161 nominations. ER also won several SAG Awards, including ones for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Drama Series, and so on. 

Of course, it should be little wonder that ER won so many awards, as it produced some of the best episodes of any television show ever made. "24 Hours" still numbers among the best pilots ever produced. In the first season it was followed by yet more remarkable episodes. "Chicago Heat" took place during a heat wave when the hospital's air conditioning failed and Dr. Greene was forced to bring his daughter Rachel to work with him. "Blizzard" portrayed the exact opposite in weather, as a blizzard takes place resulting in a 40 car pile-up that nearly overwhelms the emergency room. "Love's Labour Lost" placed Dr. Greene in a predicament no emergency room physician would want to be in. "Motherhood" was directed by Quentin Tarantino and saw the ER staff have multiple personal crises.

Arguably, the first season of ER was its best, but the following seasons would also produce great episodes. "Welcome Back, Carter" saw the ER dealing with victims of a gang shoot out. "Hell and High Water" saw Doug Ross rescue a boy from a flooded storm drain and the resultant media coverage that ensues. "It's Not Easy Being Greene" saw Dr. Greene come into work on his day off, a decision he soon regrets. "Night Shift" saw most of the emergency staff working the night shift, during which Dr. Greene must treat a woman with meningitis. In its first three seasons ER produced many other excellent episodes beyond these, and would continue to produce solid episodes into its fifth season. During this period ER compares favourably with such esteemed shows as The Sopanros and  Mad Men.

While it is my own personal opinion that ER declined enough in quality after its fifth season that it was no longer worth watching, clearly many people disagreed with me. Indeed, the show would continue to be nominated for several Emmy Awards well into its seventh season and would still receive nominations until it went off the air. ER would also be the longest running medical drama in the United States, having run fifteen seasons, until its record will inexplicably be broken by Grey's Anatomy (which will begin its 16th season later this month). The show still has a loyal following. What is more, since Pop TV started rerunning it a few years ago and Hulu picked it up more recently, ER has developed a following among younger viewers. There should be little wonder why. ER was not only different from any medical drama that debuted before it, but from any medical drama that has aired ever since.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"It's Getting Harder All the Time" by The Mindbenders

Tonight I watched one of my fall time favourite movies, To Sir, with Love (1967). Most people know that the movie's theme song, "To Sir, with Love" by Lulu, was released as a single. What many people might not know is that there was another single released from the movie's soundtrack as well. That single was by The Mindbenders, who appear in the film.

The Mindbenders were a beat group originating from Manchester, England. They began as the backing band for Wayne Fontana, and with him had the hit "Game of Love." Wayne Fontana left The Minbenders in 1965 and the band continued without him. They had a hit with "Groovy Kind of Love" on both sides of the Pond. Their song "Can't Live with You (Can't Live Without You)" and "Ashes to Ashes" were hits in the United Kingdom.

The Mindbenders would have two songs featured in To Sir, with Love. "Off and Running" was featured during a scene set at lunch break, where it was playing on a record player. For the movie's dance at its climax The Mindbenders appeared on screen performing, "It's Getting Harder All the Time." Strangely enough, even though "It's Getting Harder All the Time" was featured more prominently in the movie, it was "Off and Running" that was chosen as the A-side of the single and "It's Getting Harder All the Time" that was chosen as the B-side. Personally I have always thought this was a mistake. Not only was "It's Getting Harder All the Time" featured more prominently in the movie, but I think it was also the better song. Unfortunately the single did not chart in either the United Kingdom or the United States.

Without further ado, here is "It's Getting Harder All the Time" by The Mindbenders.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Late Great Ric Ocasek

When it comes to music, nineteen seventy-eight would be a pivotal year for me. I turned fifteen in March, but at that point the majority of my favourite bands all came from the Sixties: The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Monkees, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and so on. That would change in 1978. Cheap Trick had released two previous albums, but it was in 1978 that I took notice of them with their third album, Heaven Tonight, along with the single "Surrender." They have remained one of my favourite bands ever since. It was later that same year that The Cars' self-titled debut album came out. The Cars' blend of pop rock, power pop, and New Wave appealed to me as a teenager, so that they also became one of my all time favourite bands. Their lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and primary songwriter was Ric Ocasek. It was Ric Ocasek who wrote the band's many hits, among them "Just What I Needed," "Let's Go," and "You Might Think." The Cars became one of the major bands of the late Seventies into the Eighties, and their influence is still felt today.

Sadly, Ric Ocasek died yesterday at the age of 75. He was found unconscious and unresponsive in his Manhattan town house. No cause had yet been determined, but he had been recuperating from surgery according to his wife Paulina Porizkova.

Ric Ocasek was born Richard Theodore Otcasek in Baltimore on March 23 1944. He credited his grandmother with spurring his interest in music. She convinced him to sing when he was a child and bought him his first guitar when he was 14. When he was a teenager his family moved to Cleveland, where he graduated from Maple Heights High School in 1963. He briefly attended Antioch College and Bowling Green State University, both in Ohio, before dropping out to pursue a career in music.

It was in 1965 that Ric Ocasek met Benjamin Orr, who would later become the bassist for The Cars. The two formed a folk-pop duo called Millkwood. Milkwood would record one album, How's the Weather, that was released in 1973 by Paramount Records. In addition to Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr, Milkwood's only album featured Greg Hawkes on keyboards. Mr. Hawkes would later become the keyboardist for The Cars. How's the Weather failed to chart and as a result Milkwood came to an end.

Following Milkwood, Messrs. Ocasek, Orr, and Hawkes formed a band called Richard and The Rabbits. Greg Hawkes would leave the band to tour with the comedy act Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture, after which Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr played as an acoustic duo called Ocasek and Orr. They had a regular gig at The Idler, a coffee house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among the songs they played at this time were songs that would later be played by The Cars.

Ocasek and Orr then joined forces with lead guitarist Elliot Easton to form the band Cap'n Swing. Cap'n Swing attracted the attention of WBCN DJ Maxanne Sartori, who played songs from their demo tape on her show. Cap'n Swing was rejected by several record labels, after which the drummer and bassist were fired. Benjamin Orr, who had been singing lead vocals with Cap'n Swing but not playing an instrument, took over the bass. David Robinson, who had played with The Modern Lovers, became the new drummer. Greg Hawkes returned to play keyboards. It was David Robinson who came up with the name "The Cars." The Cars played gigs throughout New England in 1977. Early that year they recorded an eleven song demo tape. Their song "Just What I Needed" received airplay on the Boston radio stations WBCN and WCOZ. It was their popularity in New England that led The Cars to be signed by Elektra Records. Their first album, The Cars, was released in June 1978.

The Cars' debut album proved to be a success, peaking at no. 18 on the Billboard album chart. The album produced the hit singles "Just What I Needed" (which went to no. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100) and "My Best Friend's Girl" (which went to no. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100).  The Cars would have even more success with their next album, Candy-O, released in 1979. Candy-O went to no. 3 on the Billboard album chart. It produced the hit single "Let's Go" (which went to no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100), as well as songs that received a good deal of FM radio airplay ("Candy-O" and "The Dangerous Type").

Candy-O established The Cars as one of the premiere bands of the late Seventies and Eighties. Except for Door to Door in 1987, every album they released ranked in the top ten of the Billboard album chart: Panorama (peaking at no. 5), Shake It Up (peaking at no. 9), and Heartbeat City (peaking at no. 3). The band also had several hit singles: "Shake It Up" in 1981 (peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100), "You Might Think" (peaking at no. 7), "Magic" (peaking at no. 12), "Drive" (peaking at no. 3), "Hello Again" (peaking at no. 20), and "Tonight She Comes" (peaking at no. 7).

In the Eighties Ric Ocasek would also begin a solo career. His first solo album, Beatitude, was released in 1982. A second solo album, This Side of Paradise, was released in 1986. His single, "Emotion in Motion," would go to no. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also in the Eighties that Ric Ocasek began producing other artists on a regular basis. His first production credit was Suicide's album Suicide: Alan Vega and Martin Rev  in 1980. In the Eighties he would also produce Romeo Void's album Benefactor (1982), Bad Brains' album Rock for Light (1983), Alan Vega's album Saturn Strip (1983), and Suicide's album A Way of Life (1988).

The Cars announced their break up in February 1988. It came following the release of their album Door to Door in 1987, which had only peaked at no. 27 on the Billboard album chart.

The Nineties saw Ric Ocasek release further solo albums: Fireball Zone in 1991, Quick Change World in 1993, Negative Theater (a double album including songs from Quick Change World released in Europe) in 1993, and Troublziing in 1997. He also continued to work as a producer, producing Suicide's album Why We Be Blue (1991), Black 47's album Fire of Freedom (1993), Alan Vega's album New Raceion (1993), Weezer's Blue Album (1994), Bad Brains' album God of Love (1995), Bad Religion's album The Gray Race (1996), Nada Surf's album High/Low (1996), D Generation's album No Lunch (1998), Jonathan Richman's album I'm So Confused (1998), Possum Dixon 's album New Sheets (1998), Guided by Voices' album Do the Collapse (1999), and The Wannadies' album Yeah (1999).

In the Naughts Ric Ocasek released his final solo album, Nexterday (2005). He produced Weezer's The Green Album (2001), Le Tigre's album This Island (2004), and The Pink Spiders' album Teenage Graffiti. In 2003 he was briefly Elektra Records' senior vice president of artists and repertoire. Unfortunately, Elektra rejected all of his choices and he lasted less than a year.

In the Teens Ric Ocasek reunited with the surviving members of The Cars (Benjamin Orr having died in 2000 from pancreatic cancer) to record the album Move Like This. It reached no. 7 on the Billboard album chart. He produced Weezer's album Everything Will be Alright in the End (2014) and The Cribs' album For All My Sisters (2015).

Ric Ocasek also wrote a book of poetry, Negative Theater, that had been meant to be published alongside the album of the same name. He was also an artist, doodling frequently and making photo collages and other mixed-media works of art. In 2009 his work was displayed at an art galley in Columbus, Ohio. He played a role of a mechanic in the 1987 film Made in Heaven and had a cameo in John Water's 1988 film Hairspray.

Given how much time has passed since the late Seventies and the Eighties, younger generations may not realise the impact that The Cars had. In my humble opinion, alongside The Ramones and Cheap Trick, The Cars were among the most influential bands to emerge from the late Seventies. It is not simply a case that they were a sharp break from the progressive rock and blues-oriented rock of the late Sixties and early Seventies. It is not simply a case that they marked a return to pop songs that were only three to four minutes in length. It is a case that The Cars blended the conciseness of New Wave with the basicity of garage rock or punk and the aural density of power pop. Indeed, while many bands in the late Seventies were either synthesiser-driven bands or guitar-driven bands, The Cars were both.

It was The Cars' fusion of rock subgenres that made the band so successful. Punk and New Wave fans could relate to the relative simplicity and brevity of The Cars' music. Power pop fans could relate to The Cars' melodic ingenuity and density of sound. The general public could relate to their hook-laden songs. What is more, The Cars did all of this without any sense of compromise. There was never any sense that The Cars were selling out. What is more, they weren't afraid to experiment. The Cars' album Panorama was both darker and more experimental. While it wasn't as well received as their first two albums, it still demonstrated that The Cars were capable of more than brief, catchy, upbeat pop songs.

Of course, here I have been discussing The Cars, but then it is impossible to separate The Cars from Ric Ocasek. He was the band's primary songwriter, with Greg Hawkes having co-written a few songs with him. While there can be no doubt that the other members of The Cars made their contributions, there can also be no doubt that Ric Ocasek was the primary architect of The Cars' sound. Indeed, his solo work sounds more or less like, well, The Cars. Of course, Ric Ocasek was not only skilled as a songwriter, but as a producer as well. He produced synth-punk duo Suicide, hardcore punk band Bad Brains, and pop punk/power pop band Weezer. Ric Ocasek left an imprint on rock music that will never fade or go away. Years from now there will still be bands showing the influence of The Cars.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Laramie Debuted 60 Years Ago Today

Today Laramie is not as well known as such contemporaneous TV Westerns as Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, or Bonanza . That having been said, it was fairly successful in its day and even influential as well. The show launched the career of Robert Fuller, who would later star on both Wagon Train and Emergency!, and was a showcase for several future stars who were guests on the series. It was Sixty years ago today, on September 15 1959, that Laramie debuted on NBC.

Laramie centred on the Sherman Ranch, which was also a stage stop for the Great Central Overland Mail Company. The Sherman Ranch was operated by Slim Sherman (played by John Smith), a young man whose father had been murdered by a land grabber, and Jess Harper (played by Robert Fuller), a drifter who adopted the ranch as his home. In the first season Slim's younger brother Andy (played by Robert L. Crawford, Jr.) lived on the ranch, while the housekeeping and general maintenance was performed by Jonesy (played by Hoagy Carmichael). Except for John Smith and Jess Harper, the cast would change over the course of the series.

Sixty years later it is difficult to find information on the history of Laramie. The show's titles do not include a "created by" or "developed by" credit, so it is difficult to say who created the show. The pilot for the show, "Stage Stop," was written by Robert Pirosh, who had written on such classic movies as A Night at the Opera (1935), A Day at the Races (1937), and I Married a Witch (1942). He also produced the first two episodes. John C. Champion took over as producer afterwards and remained the show's producer for the rest of its run.

Initially John Smith was cast as Jess Harper. Robert Fuller was offered the role of Slim Sherman. Reading the script, however, Mr. Fuller became fascinated with the role of Jess. John Smith and Robert Fuller then switched roles, so that Mr. Smith played Slim and Mr. Fuller played Jess. Robert L. Crawford, Jr., who was cast as Andy, had already guest starred on several TV shows, including The Donna Reed Show, Zorro, and Playhouse 90 (for which he received an Emmy nomination for Best Single Performance by an Actor). He is the son of Robert Crawford, Sr., film editor Robert Crawford, Sr. and his wife Betty, a concert pianist and actress. His younger brother is Johnny Crawford, best remembered as Mark on The Rifelman. Of course, Hoagy Carmichael was the most famous member of the original cast of Laramie. A hit songwriter since the late Twenties, Mr. Carmichael made his film debut in an uncredited role as a piano player in Topper (1937) and had appeared in various films since then.

Beyond the four leads, there would be semi-regular characters introduced in the first season. Stuart Randall was introduced as Mort Cory, the sheriff in Laramie. There were also various stagecoach drivers who appeared on a semi-regular basis, most notably Eddy Waller as Mose.

While Laramie did not rank in the top thirty shows in the Nielsen ratings for the 1959-1960 season, it still did well, regularly winning its time slot. Despite this, there would be changes to the cast.  For reasons that do not seem to be known today, Robert L. Crawford, Jr. as Andy was written out of the show. It was explained that he had gone away to school. He appeared in only three episodes of the second season. Hoagy Carmichael would also leave the show, for reasons today that are unclear. According to Robert Fuller in an interview with the website Western Clippings, Hoagy Carmichael actually had to commute from Palm Springs to the set every day. It was then Mr. Carmichael's idea to leave the show, as he ultimately decided he would rather play golf. According to the biography Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael by Richard M. Sudhalter, however, it was NBC who decided not to renew Mr. Carmichael's contract for the following season. Either way, he was no longer with the show.

The departures of Robert L. Crawford, Jr. and Hoagy Carmichael not only changed the dynamic on Laramie, but more or less the format of the show as well. Whereas the bulk of the first season's episodes took place on or around the relay station, several episodes during the second season took place away from the stage stop. In fact, there were enough episodes in which Slim and Jess were away from the Sherman Ranch that it seems possible that viewers might have wondered who was running the stage stop. Along with the shift in the show's dynamic, for the first part of the season Laramie featured a different title sequence that consisted of a line drawing rather than the filmed title sequence of the first season. It returned to a filmed title sequence later in the season. Regardless, Laramie still won its time slot on a regular basis.

While the second season featuring only John Smith and Robert Fuller in the lead did well in the ratings, the third season would see changes to the show. For one thing, it was with the start of the 1961-1962 season that Laramie made the change to colour. Previously only the pilot, "Stage Stop," had been shot in colour, with the entirety of the first and second season being shot in black and white. For another, there would be new additions to the cast. Spring Byington joined the cast as Daisy Cooper, a widow who became the Sherman Ranch's new housekeeper. Dennis Holmes was added to the cast as Mike Williams, an orphan staying at the ranch until any next of kin could be found. This returned Laramie to its first season format, although with different characters. At the same time there were fewer episodes that took place away from the Sherman Ranch.

The format of Laramie remained stable until it ended its run in 1963. Just as it is difficult to determine how Laramie began, it is difficult to determine why it ended. While I have read that the show won its time slot even in its fourth season, it seems possible that a decline in its ratings caused NBC to cancel it. In the 1962-1963 season Laramie had new competition in the form of a show developed by Robert Pirosh, who had also written the pilot for Laramie. While Combat! did not rank in the top thirty shows for the 1962-1963 season, it did prove popular. It seems possible that it proved popular enough to affect the ratings of Laramie.

Following its cancellation, Laramie entered syndication as a rerun. It would be seen on television stations across the United States until the late Seventies, when it gradually began to seen in fewer and fewer markets. The show would be largely unknown to generations born since it has aired on network and in its initial syndication run until Encore Western picked it up in July 2015. Since then it has aired on Grit TV.  Laramie is also available on various streaming services.

While Laramie would be seen very little in the past several decades, it would have a lasting impact on television. In fact, the show would lend its name to the best known version of the NBC peacock, "the Laramie peacock." The Laramie peacock would be so named because it made its debut in an episode of Laramie. Many online sources give the date of the debut of the Laramie Peacock as January 1 1962, but that seems highly unlikely. Laramie did not air on January 1 1962, which was a Monday (Laramie aired on Tuesday nights for the entirety of its network run). It seems more likely that the Laramie Peacock made its debut on Tuesday, January 2 1962, which means it would have aired before the Laramie episode "The Perfect Gift."  NBC would continue to use the Laramie Peacock until 1975. Since then NBC has used the Laramie Peacock for various special occasions.

Beyond lending its name to NBC's most famous logo, Laramie would have a lasting influence in other ways. The Western cycle of the late Fifties and early Sixties was dominated for the most part by drifters and gunslingers who roamed from town to town (the only difference between the two being that the gunslingers were professionals). Even when the protagonist of a TV Western wasn't a drifter or gunslinger, he often had a job that required travel, such as the Maverick family on Maverick (who were gamblers), Jim Hardie on Tales of Wells Fargo (who was a special agent for Wells Fargo), Paladin on Have Gun--Will Travel (who was a troubleshooter for hire), and Josh Randall on Wanted: Dead or Alive (who was a bounty hunter). The only real exceptions were the various marshals and sheriffs who were the heroes of TV Westerns during the era, such as Wyatt Earp on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke.

It was in the 1958-1959 season that a Western debuted that was focused on a father and son on a homestead. The Rifleman was a sharp contrast to the many drifters and wandering gunfighters on the air at the time. The following season saw the debuts of Bonanza, set on the sprawling Ponderosa Ranch, and Laramie, set on the Sherman Ranch and relay station. Laramie was then among the earliest of a new breed of Western in which the characters were settled down. Like Bonanza, then, it was the forerunner of such Westerns as The Virginian, The Big Valley, and Lancer.

Laramie would also be influential in providing early roles for many future stars. Most notably, it was the first major role of Robert Fuller, who would not only guest star on many other shows, but would go onto star on Wagon Train and Emergency!. Three of the stars of The Magnificent Seven (1960) would have early guest roles on the show. Charles Bronson would go onto fame in movies, as would James Coburn. Robert Vaughn would gain eternal fame as Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Harry Dean Stanton, who would go onto fame as a character actor in movies, made a guest appearance on Laramie. Lee Van Cleef, who would appear in several spaghetti Westerns, appeared on Laramie as well. Both Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, later of Star Trek, and Adam West, later of Batman, guest starred on Laramie. Laramie proved to be a showcase for several young actors who would later have a good deal of success.

While Laramie would not have the success in syndication that such Westerns as Bonanza and Gunsmoke, it would have a lasting impact on television. And it was never entirely forgotten. Airing on Encore Western, Grit TV, and other channels, Laramie has not only been re-introduced to those who saw in its initial network run or reruns, but to a whole new generation of Western fans.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Godspeed Eddie Money

Eddie Money, who had a string of pop rock and power pop hits from the late Seventies into the Eighties, died today at the age of 70. Recently he had experienced several health problems, including heart valve surgery and pneumonia. In August it was announced that he had stage 4 oesophageal cancer.

Eddie Money was born Edward Joseph Mahoney on March 21 1949 in New York City. He grew up in Long Island and followed his father, a police officer, into a career in law enforcement. He was a police officer for two years before he decided to pursue a career in music. In the late Sixties he moved to Berkeley, California. There he friended several local musicians and played at local clubs. In 1976 he met renowned promoter Bill Graham, who became his manager. He signed with Columbia Records.

His self-titled debut album was released in 1977. The album went to no. 37 on the Billboard album chart and produced two top forty hits: "Baby Hold On" (which peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100) and "Two Tickets to Paradise" (which peaked at no. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100). His second album, Life for the Taking (released in 1979) performed even better, peaking at no. 17 on the Billboard album chart. It produced one hit song, "Maybe I'm a Fool," which went to no. 22 on the Bilboard Hot 100. He closed the Seventies with the album Playing for Keeps. It tid not do as well as his second album, peaking at no. 35 and produced no top 40 hits.

At the start of the Eighties Eddie Money would see his greatest success. The album No Control peaked at no. 20 on the Billboard album chart. It produced the hit "I Think I'm in Love," which peaked at no. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "Shakin'," which received a good deal of airplay on FM stations. The success of Eddie Money's albums in the Eighties would vary wildly. His follow up to No Control, Where's the Party?, peaked at only no. 67 on the Billboard album chart, but his album Can't Hold Back would peak at no. 20. That having been said, he would have a string of hit singles. "Take Me Home Tonight," which featured Ronnie Spector, proved to be his biggest hit single, going all the way to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other hits included "I Wanna Go Back" (which went to no. 14), "Endless Nights (which went to no. 21), "Walk on Water" (which went to no. 9), "The Love in Your Eyes" (which went to no. 24), and "Peace in Our Time (which went to no. 11).

While Eddie Money's career was going strong in the Eighties, it would falter in the Nineties. His album Right Here, released in 1991, only peaked at no. 160. He would have one hit from the album, "I'll Get By," which peaked at no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. His final four albums (two more released in the Nineties, one released in the Naughts, and one released in the Teens) failed to chart. "I'll Get By" would be his last major hit.

Starting in the late Nineties he made a few guest appearances on TV shows as himself. He appeared on the sitcom The Drew Carey Show in 1999, The King of Queens in 2002, and The Kominsky Method in 2012. In 2018 he appeared on the reality show Real Money, centred on Eddie Money and his family.

I have always thought that Eddie Money was both underrated and underappreciated. It is true that his oeuvre consisted primarily of basic pop rock songs with little to challenge the listener. That having been said, they were catchy and quite memorable. What is more, he was something of a pioneer. Following The Raspberries and Dwight Twilley, Eddie Money was the first artist to have hits performing pop rock and power pop (Cheap Trick were recording artists at the time, but would not have a major hit until "Surrender" in 1978). This put Eddie Money at the forefront of the pop rock./power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties that produced such artists as Cheap Trick, The Romantics, The Knack, Rick Springfield (who, like Cheap Trick, had been recording for a while but would have first major hit with "Jessie's Girl" in 1981), and others. Unlike many of the pop rock and power pop artists of the late Seventies and early Eighties, he would have sustained success throughout the decade, producing several top forty hits. There can be little doubt that much of Eddie Money's success was due to his personality. Mr. Money had a good sense of humour that was not only reflected in interviews, but in his stage performances and music videos as well. Indeed, his self-deprecating sense of humour made him much more likeable than many rock stars of the time. While some might dismiss Eddie Money, then, for a generation he will always remain one of the best and most enjoyable pop rock performers of all time.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The 60th Anniversary of Bonanza

What may be the most successful show of the Sixties was not a situation comedy, a variety show, a spy drama, or a medical drama. It was a Western. For many today it might be hard to imagine just how successful Bonanza truly was. Out of its 14 seasons, Bonanza spent three years as the number one show in the United States, ten seasons in the top ten most watched shows, and 12 seasons in the top twenty most watched shows. It would go on to a highly successful run as a syndicated rerun. To this day it is still being aired on such channels as Insp, MeTV, and TV Land. Bonanza debuted 60 years ago today, on September 12 1959, on NBC.

Bonanza was created by David Dortort, who at the time was already a television veteran. He had started out as a writer, working on such shows as Fireside Theatre, Public Defender, and Waterfront. In 1957 he became producer on the new Western The Restless Gun, which aired on Monday nights on NBC. Here it must be pointed out that Mr. Dortort did not create The Restless Gun. The Restless Gun was based on the radio show The Six Shooter, created by Frank Burt and starring James Stewart. The Restless Gun starred John Payne as Vint Bonner, a drifter and skilled gunfighter who preferred to resolve conflicts peaceably rather than with violence. The Restless Gun proved fairly successful. For its first season it ranked no. 8 out of all the shows on the air. In its second season it was not even in the top thirty, but it still did fairly well. Unfortunately, The Restless Gun was living on borrowed time. John Payne not only had the title of executive producer, but the actor owned 50% of the series. Eventually he entered into a dispute with Revue Studios over money, and ultimately John Payne decided not to return for a third season of The Restless Gun. With The Restless Gun having come to an end, David Dortort was now ready to move onto other things.

At the same time that John Payne and Revue Studios were having their disagreement, NBC was looking to produce its own shows. Rival network CBS had already had considerable success in producing its own television series, including such hits as Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, and Have Gun--Will Travel. At the time Westerns were phenomenally popular on American television, so it was quite natural that NBC would want to produce a Western. The Restless Gun had proven to be a success, so quite naturally the network turned to David Dortort to produce a new show.

The idea David Dortort had for a show grew out of his lifelong interest in history and the American West. Mr. Dortort had majored in history and English at City College in New York City. As a result he realised that the drifters and gunfighters who populated many of the Westerns on television at the time did not reflect historical reality. In his own words, "The true history of the west is about family, pioneers …" He then set upon creating a show that would reflect this historical reality, and drew upon several sources to do so. Among these sources were the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The father on the show would be King Arthur, while his sons would be the knights.

Another source of inspiration would be the Comstock and Virginia City in the late 1850s, something in which he had been interested for a long time. He had even taken his family on vacation to the Lake Tahoe area. Of course, Bonanza would not be the first time that David Dortort had dealt with the Comstock on television. In 1953 he had written the teleplay "Man of the Comstock" for the anthology series Fireside Theatre. The episode dealt with a young lawyer who attempts to bring justice to the area.

David Dortort's idea for a show eventually emerged as a TV series set on a sprawling ranch on which a father and his sons lived. As to the characters on the show, they largely emerged from the actors Mr. Dortort wanted to cast. The first of these was Dan Blocker, who had appeared in the Restless Gun episode "The Child." On the episode Mr. Blocker played a giant of a man called "El Bruto" who is accused of murder. David Dortort then shaped the character of Hoss Cartwright, the middle son in the family, on Dan Blocker. Hoss was a gentle giant with a gift for working with animals and a warm heart when it came to people.

The next actor to be cast was Michael Landon, who had appeared in the pilot for The Restless Gun and had been working in TV Westerns for some time (he also appeared in the first episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive in a role far removed from his one on Bonanza). He thought that Mr. Landon would be perfect for the role of Little Joe, the youngest of the Cartwrights. Little Joe was impetuous and hot-headed, as well as a bit of a romantic with an eye for the ladies.

With regards to Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the Cartwright clan, David Dortort wanted the father to be a sharp contrast to many of the fathers then appearing in American sitcoms, who were often played as buffoons or simpletons. Mr. Dortort had seen Lorne Greene in the Wagon Train episode "The Vivian Carter Story," on which he played a lovestruck cowboy, but one possessed of a good deal of common sense. In playing Ben, Lorne Greene drew a great deal from his own father.

The one role for which David Dortort did not already have an actor in mind was that of the oldest son Adam, for whom he wanted a leading man type. Guy Williams was considered for the role, but he was still signed with Disney to do Zorro. Mr. Dortort had heard about Pernell Roberts, who had already appeared several times on Broadway and in such films as The Sheepman (1958) and Ride Lonesome (1959). Pernell Roberts was then cast in the role of Adam, the oldest, intellectual, and serious son.

For a show of its time Bonanza had an extraordinarily big budget, about $100,000 to $150,000 per episode. It was for that reason that NBC balked at David Dortort's casting. Quite simply, the network wanted big name actors for Bonanza, and at that time none of the show's lead actors was particularly well known. The reason network wanted big name actors was not simply to draw in an audience, but also in order to better attract sponsors to the show. David Dortort refused to back down with regards to the cast and eventually NBC acquiesced to his casting.

It would not be the last battle David Dortort would have to fight in getting Bonanza on the air. Quite simply, David Dortort wanted Bonanza to be shot in colour. He believed that the shots of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding regions would help sell colour television sets. Given NBC was owned by RCA, the company that had developed colour television in the United States and manufactured colour television sets, it might come as some surprise that the network balked at shooting in colour. Quite simply, filming in colour cost 25% more than filming in black and white. Ultimately, David Dortort had to agree to put up some of his own money to film in colour before NBC would agree to do so. Bonanza would then be the first hour long Western television series to be shot in colour.

For the television show's now iconic theme song, Alan Livingston, then NBC's Vice President in charge of Television Network Programming, asked his older brother Jay Livingston and his writing partner Ray Evans to compose it. David Dortort did not particularly like the theme song's lyrics, and as a result the show used an instrumental version of the theme. Similarly, the show's composer, David Rose, did not utilise the theme within the episodes themselves.The final scene in the pilot, "A Rose for Lotta," had the Cartwrights singing the theme, but it was decided it was too campy and it was not used.

Bonanza debuted on September 12 1959 to mixed to negative reviews. Typical was the review in Variety, which said that Bonanza "proves to be little more than a patchwork of stock oater ideas without a fresh twist to distinguish it." Scheduled on Saturday night against Perry Mason on CBS, Bonanza did not perform particularly well in the ratings either. For the 1959-1960 season it ranked no. 45 out of all the shows on the air. Ultimately what saved Bonanza was the fact that it was shot in colour and NBC's parent company RCA was in the business of manufacturing colour television sets.

Of course, aside from stiff competition in the form of Perry Mason, much of the reason that Bonanza may have performed poorly in the ratings is that it was not yet the show as viewers today know it. In the early episodes of Bonanza the Cartwrights were often hostile to strangers they found on the Ponderosa. It was Lorne Greene who convinced David Dortort that as Ben owned a large ranch he would be an important businessman in the region and would be friendlier to visitors. David Dortort agreed with Mr. Greene's reasoning, and the Cartwrights became much more approachable.

While Bonanza had mediocre ratings in its first season, its fortunes changed in its second season. According to Allen Rich in the article "Western Views Told by Dortort," in the October 31 1960 issue of the Valley Times, Bonanza drew the heaviest fan mail of any series on television, approximately 30,000 letters and cards a month. Ultimately it would rank no. 17 out of all of the shows on the air for the season, just behind its competitor on CBS, Perry Mason.

Lorne Greene in a promo film for Chevrolet
Bonanza also found a major sponsor in the form of Chevrolet. For years Chevrolet had sponsored The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. When the company dropped sponsorship of that show, they suggested to NBC that the network move Bonanza to the old time slot of The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central. In its new timeslot Bonanza flourished. It leaped to no. 2 in the Nielsens for the season. With its sixth season Bonanza became the no. 1 show on American television. It would remain in that position until its ninth season, when it dropped to no. 4. During its run Bonanza spent ten years in the top five shows. The only season in which it did not rank in the top twenty were its first and final season (it was no. 45 in its first season).

While Bonanza was a successful show, it was also subject to cost cutting measures like any other show. By the third season the characters wore the same costumes (with a few exceptions) for the rest of the series run. The reason for this decision was twofold. First, it made it easier to duplicate the costumes for stunt doubles. Second, it made it easier to use stock footage when necessary. 

Quite naturally the success of Bonanza guaranteed licensed merchandising. There would be lunch boxes, puzzles, Big Little Books, record albums, comic books, and a board game. Several Bonanza novels have been published, the first in 1960 and the latest in 2009. Bonanza would even be one of the earliest TV shows to have action figures based on its characters. In 1966 American Character issued a set of Bonanza action figures. The collection included action figures of Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe. Pernell Roberts having just left the show, American Character simply added a moustache to his figure and made it a generic outlaw. Every character (including the outlaw) had his own horse and American Character also issued a 4 in 1 wagon for use with the action figures.

Among the many spin-offs from Bonanza was also a theme park called Ponderosa Ranch. It opened in 1968 and operated until 2004. Parts of the show's last five seasons would even be filmed there. The park featured replicas of both the Ponderosa house and the barn. Still later a replica of Virginia City was added. 

While Bonanza was a very successful show, not all of the cast was happy with it. Accustomed to work on the stage, Mr. Roberts was not used to having to play one character repeatedly and without costume changes. He also did not think of Bonanza as being of a high quality, even going so far as to refer to the show as "junk television." He criticised the show's lack of minority characters as well.

By the fourth season of Bonanza, tensions between David Dortort and Pernell Roberts were running high. It was then planned to add Barry Coe to the cast, so that Pernell Roberts could appear less on the show. In the fourth season episode "The First Born" Barry Coe was introduced as Clay Stafford, Little Joe's older half brother (they shared Joe's mother Marie in common). Ultimately the cast objected to the addition of another Cartwright and as a result Barry Coe did not join the cast.

The fifth season would see another replacement for Pernell Roberts should he decide to leave the show. Guy Williams played Will Cartwright, the son of Ben's brother John, as well as Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe's cousin. He would be introduced in the episode "Return to Honour" and would appear in three more episodes during the season. It was at the same time that Adam met widow Laura Drayton (Kathie Browne). The plan, should Pernell Roberts decide to leave the show, was for Adam to marry Laura and simply move away. As it turned out, in the end Pernell Roberts elected to do another season of Bonanza and as it was Will who married Laura and moved away.

Of course, the Cartwrights were not the only continuing characters on Bonanza. A semi-regular character, appearing in 107 episodes of the show, was Hop Sing, played by veteran character actor Victor Sen Yung. Hop Sing was the Cartwrights' Chinese cook, who was treated practically as one of the family. While in many ways Bonanza was a progressive show for its time, to a large degree Hop Sing was an ethnic stereotype. Sadly, this was not an isolated case on the show, as over the years most Chinese characters on the series were treated as stereotypes to some degree or another. While other minorities were often treated as three dimensional characters, Bonanza did leave a bit to be desired with regards to its treatment of East Asians. Here it must be pointed out that this was largely typical of television in the Sixties. Television shows from The Rifleman to The Monkees featured East Asian stereotypes. Mr. Sulu on Star Trek was one of the few East Asian characters on television in the Sixties who was not a stereotype.

Another semi-regular on the show was Ray Teal as Sheriff Roy Coffee. Ray Teal joined the show in its second season and would remain until its 13th season, appearing in 90 episodes. Bing Russell, who had already twice guest starred on Bonanza in different roles, joined the show in its fourth season as Deputy Clem Foster. He would go on to appear on the show for the rest of its run. Curiously, Roy and Clem would appear in only three episodes together. After having guest starred once in a different role, Lou Frizzel joined Bonanza in its eleventh season as ranch foreman Dusty Rhoades. He would appear on and off until the show's 13th season.

As well as the addition of various supporting characters over the years, there would also be changes in the regular cast beyond Pernell Roberts's departure. It was in the ninth season of Bonanza that David Canary joined the cast as ranch foreman "Candy" Canaday. He left the show in 1970 due to a contract dispute, but returned for its 14th and final season. Ultimately Candy appeared in 90 episodes.

Another addition would be Mitch Vogel as Jamie Hunter (later Cartwright). The character of Jamie was added in the 10th season in an effort to attract younger viewers. Jamie was the orphan of a rainmaker who was taken in by the Cartwrights and later adopted by Ben. Jamie would continue to appear until the series' end.

Of course, the biggest cast change in the history of Bonanza occurred when Dan Blocker died from a post-operative pulmonary embolism following gall bladder surgery. Occurring not long before filming on the 14th season was about to begin, Dan Blocker's death left the producers in a difficult situation. Because Hoss was possibly the most popular character on the show and Dan Blocker was so identified with the character, there was no way that the part could be recast. Several scripts then had to be rewritten for the coming season. In the first episode of the season it was explained that Hoss had died.

It would be due to Dan Blocker's death that another character would be added to the cast. Tim Matheson played Griff King, a parolee who was placed in Ben's charge and worked on the Ponderosa.

Over the years there would be changes to Bonanza beyond the cast. Originally the scenes in Virginia City were shot on the Virginia City Western Street on the Paramount backlot. It had previously been used in Western movies, the first of which was Whispering Smith (1947).  As the years went by, however, the price for renting the lot continued to climb. In 1970 it was then decided to move production to Warner Bros. in Burbank. The first episode of the twelfth season explained the change in Virginia City's appearance. In "The Night Virginia City Died," Virginia City fell victim to a rash of arsons that burned most of the city. To a degree the episode had some basis in history. The Great Fire of 1875 destroyed much of the city.

There would be another change also made for the show's 12th season. Because the title sequence shot in 1965 (following Pernell Roberts's departure) was long out of date and because of changes to the cast, a new title sequence had to be shot. While previous title sequences had featured the Cartwrights riding in the Lake Tahoe area, the new title sequence featured the cast in action shots. Another change was that Bonanza now had a new theme song. David Rose had written "The Ponderosa" cue in 1959 for use in various episodes. In 1970 he expanded and re-orchestrated the cue and turned it into the new theme song for the show, "The Big Bonanza." "The Big Bonanza" was not particularly well received by fans and was ultimately used for only the twelfth and thirteenth seasons. Dan Blocker's death required a new title sequence for the fourteenth season and as a result a new version of the classic "Bonanza" theme was recorded with a faster tempo.

While Bonanza had remained phenomenally successful throughout the Sixties, its ratings would drop at the beginning of the Seventies. In the 1971-1972 Bonanza aired opposite two movie anthologies, The CBS Sunday Night Movies and The ABC Sunday Night Movie. Its ratings suffered as a result and it dropped from no. 9 in the 1970-1971 season to no. 20 in the 1971-1972 season. It was the first time in a decade that Bonanza did not rank in the top ten. With concerns for the ratings of Bonanza and newer shows wanting the timeslot, NBC decided to move the series. Beginning in 1967 NBC had been airing reruns of Bonanza under the title Ponderosa as a summer replacement on Tuesday nights. The reruns did well in the ratings and as a result it was decided to move Bonanza to 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central on Tuesday.

As it turned out, it would be the show's final season. Bonanza had a promising start to the season, ranking in the top 15 for the month of September. Unfortunately, ratings for the show began to plummet rapidly. By October it had fallen out of the top 25. By November it had dropped to no. 52. It was then on November 3 that NBC cancelled Bonanza after 14 seasons on the air. Although many theories at the time were offered for Bonanza's precipitous drop in the ratings that led to its cancellation, ever since the dominant theory for the show's cancellation was, quite simply, the death of Dan Blocker. Bonanza was able not only to survive, but to thrive following the departure of Pernell Roberts. It could not survive without Dan Blocker.

While Bonanza ended its run on January 16 1973, it was still arguably the most successful show of the Sixties and the most successful Western outside of Gunsmoke. To a large degree its success is not hard to explain. At the time that Bonanza debuted, most Western television shows centred on drifters or gunfighters, with but a few exceptions (The Rifleman was set on a homestead, while Laramie was set at a stage stop). Bonanza was set on a large ranch and centred on the family who operated that ranch. Further differentiating Bonanza from other Westerns of the time was that it featured relatively little in the way of gunfights or other forms of violence. Entire episodes of Bonanza unfolded with not even one gun drawn and conflicts were often resolved peaceably. Critics have described Bonanza as a "Western soap opera" and even a period piece that just happens to be set in 1860s Nevada. Regardless, it was clear that Bonanza was different from any other Western when it debuted in 1859.

Of course, there was another way in which Bonanza differed from other Westerns or even other dramas on television at the time. Quite simply years before "relevance" became fashionable on American television in the late Sixties, Bonanza addressed various social issues. Racism, anti-Semitism, religious intolerance, drug use, and others were addressed on the show. Much of the reason Bonanza could address various social issues was the same as the reason that Star Trek could. Set in a different time period (the Old West in the case of Bonanza), the show was able to approach issues that a show set in contemporary times could not even touch.

Yet another reason for Bonanza's success was that the format of a family operating a large ranch gave the show a flexibility that many other Westerns lacked. Bonanza did have episodes that played out like traditional Westerns, complete with gunfights and outlaws. At the same time, however, the majority of its episodes differed a great deal from those seen on other Westerns. Some episodes played out much as melodramas or soap operas. Others might be mysteries. Some of the best episodes of Bonanza were purely comedies. Over its 14 years on the air, there were episodes that were horror, legal dramas, medical dramas, and romances. Bonanza even dabbled in what would later be called "steampunk" (most notably in "The Infernal Machine"). Much of the success of Bonanza may have been due to the fact that it had something for everyone.

Above all else, much of the success of Bonanza was due to its characters and its cast. The best remembered shows, from I Love Lucy to Gunsmoke to Star Trek, all have one thing in common: memorable characters. When Bonanza debuted, it offered viewers four characters with distinct personalities. If Ben, Hoss, Little Joe, and Adam are remembered, it is because they were both well-written and well-acted.

That is not to say that Bonanza did not have its share of flaws. As mentioned above, Chinese characters were often treated as stereotypes. While they were less frequent, other episodes featured Native American and Mexican stereotypes. It should also be pointed out that over the years Bonanza also developed more than its share of formulas, stock plots which would provide fodder for a number of episodes. There are multiple episodes in which one of the Cartwrights would fall in love with a woman and even come close to marrying her, only to have her meet some horrible fate in the end. This stock plot was used so often that even Michael Landon joked about the Cartwrights having to be careful that their horses didn't trip over all the graves of all the women who had died on the show. Another stock plot that was used a bit too often on Bonanza was one in which one of the Cartwrights would be falsely accused of murder. Hoss alone was falsely accused of a crime no less than four times in the run of the series. Taken individually these episodes can be quite enjoyable, but after seeing several of these sorts of episodes one can't help but have a sinking feeling of deja vu.

As mentioned earlier, once it had left the air Bonanza  would continue to have a good deal of success as a syndicated rerun. This would lead to sequel, TV movies. Bonanza: The Next Generation aired in 1988. Although it was produced by David Dortort and was written by Paul Savage, it featured none of the original characters. It was meant as a pilot for a new series. It was followed in 1993 by Bonanza: The Return. A final sequel TV movie, Bonanza: Under Attack, aired in 1995. In 2001 a prequel series debuted on the network Pax-TV. Ponderosa portrayed the early years of the Cartwrights on the ranch, when Adam and Hoss were both teenagers and Little Joe still a young boy. Although made with David Dortort's approval, the show was created by Beth Sullivan, who had also created Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. Ponderosa contradicted the continuity of Bonanza at times, particularly with regards to the fate of Little Joe's mother Marie. On the original series she is said to have died due to a fall from a horse. On Ponderosa she is murdered by a miner. Ponderosa only lasted two seasons before it was cancelled.

Sixty years after its debut Bonanza remains one of the best known American television series of all time. Between its ratings, its long run, and its success as a syndicated rerun, there can be little doubt that it was the most successful show of the Sixties. What is more, six decades after its premiere, Bonanza is still being rerun on various television channels and is available on DVD and streaming. It seems likely that people will still be watching it sixty years from now.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Bonanza and Chevrolet

It was in 1961 that Chevrolet began sponsoring the TV show Bonanza. The car company's association with the Western would be a long one, lasting over a decade. Not only did Chevy's commercials appear during Bonanza, but the characters from the show would even appear in the company's print advertising. In 1964 Lorne Greene appeared as Ben Cartwright in a promotional record for Chevrolet.

Given the close association between Bonanza and Chevrolet, it should come as no surprise that the cast of Bonanza also appeared in sales films sent to dealers. A  1965 sales film not only featured cast members from Bonanza, but Robert Vaughn from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, and Agatha Moorehead from Bewitched as well. Here it must be pointed out that this was not the first "all star" sales film made for Chevrolet. A 1962 sales film featured the casts of Bonanza, My Three Sons, and Route 66. The 1965 sales film is below (if you have ever wanted to see Hoss interact with Endora, here's your chance...).


The following year, 1966, would see more sales films. Among them was this one, part of a series called "Impact 66."It begins with animation from the Jam Handy Organization, who had been associated with Chevrolet since 1936. While the above sales film was something of an all star project, this one only features Lorne Greene dressed as Ben Cartwright.


Of course, there were several other Chevrolet sales films that featured members of the Bonanza cast over the years. A few can be found on YouTube or at Archive.org. Chevrolet ended its sponsorship of Bonanza with the 1971-1972 season. By that point the company had sponsored the show for 11 years.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The First Couples to Share a Bed on American Television

Ozzie and Harriet in the episode "Costume Party"
Today viewers often look back in bewilderment at what the broadcast networks would not permit on American television. The closest a toilet ever came to being shown on an American television show prior to the Eighties was the Leave It to Beaver episode "Captain Jack," and then only the toilet tank was shown (for those who haven't seen the episode, Wally and Beaver get a baby alligator which they hide in the toilet tank). When a toilet was heard flushing on All in the Family (although it remained unseen), it was something of a revolution for American television. Similarly, women's navels would be forbidden on American television, so that Dawn Wells and Tina Louise on Gilligan's Island and Barbara Eden on I Dream of Jeannie would have to keep their bellybuttons concealed. From the Fifties into the Sixties only a few women's navels would slip through on American television, a notable example being Nichelle Nichols's navel on the Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror." It wouldn't be until Cher bared her navel on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour that the networks would lift their ban on bellybuttons. Among the things people believe to have been forbidden on American television were couples sharing the same bed. Given the broadcast network's standards and practices departments banning such innocuous things as toilets and women's bellybuttons, it might come as some surprise that this does not seem to have been a case.

Of course, viewers might be forgiven for believing that couples sharing the same bed was banned on American television from the late Forties to the late Sixties, as couples were shown sleeping in separate twin beds on several major shows. Despite Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz being married in real life, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were always portrayed on I Love Lucy as sleeping in separate beds. The same was true of Jim and Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best. Even as late as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob and Laura Petrie were portrayed as sleeping in separate beds. That having been said, while the couples on these shows slept in separate beds, there were yet other shows on which couples shared the same bed.

Indeed, it is a well known fact that the first sitcom to portray a couple sleeping in the same bed was Mary Kay and Johnny, which debuted in 1947. Among other things, Mary Kay and Johnny was the first American television sitcom. It debuted on the DuMont Television Network on November 18 1947. Mary Kay and Johnny starred real life couple Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns and centred around Johnny, who worked at a bank, and his wife Mary Kay. Not only did the show portray the couple as sharing the same bed, but it was the first show to portray a character's pregnancy. After Mary Kay became pregnant in 1948, it was incorporated as a storyline on Mary Kay and Johnny.

As to the next couple to share a bed on American television, that is a bit more difficult to determine, but there is a good chance that it was real life married couple Ozzie and Harriet Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The 1956 episode "A Day in Bed," in which Ozzie decides to spend the whole day in bed, shows that the couple have a double bed. Other episodes show Ozzie and Harriet in bed together, an example being the episode "Costume Party" from 1959. I have read claims that Ozzie and Harriet slept in separate beds, but if that was the case it was something that came to an end very early in the show's run. Of course, here it must be kept in mind that, like Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were married in real life, which may have made a difference.

Ozzie and Harriet weren't the only couple to sleep in the same bed in the late Fifties. The Flintstones debuted on ABC on September 30 1960 and portrayed Fred and Wilma as sleeping in the same bed. Many point out that here it may have made a difference that The Flintstones was an animated show. That having been said, it would not be long before a live action couple, whose actors were not married in real life, would be shown in the same bed.

The honour of the the first American TV series to show a couple whose actors were not married in real life sharing a bed goes to Bewitched. In the third episode of the series, "It Shouldn't Happen to a Dog," Samantha and Darrin Stephens are portrayed as sleeping in the same bed, even though Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York were not married in real life. The episode aired on October 1 1964.

As to the second series in which a couple was shown to sleep in the same bed, that would happen a few weeks later on November 26 1964. The tenth episode of The Munsters, "Autumn Kroakus," showed Herman and Lily Munster as sharing a bed.

By the mid-Sixties it seems that it was no longer unusual for couples on American network television to share a bed. On Please Don't Eat the Daisies, Joan and Jim Nash shared the same bed. Similarly, on He & She, Dick and Paula Hollister also shared the same bed. Of course, just like Mary Kay and Jim Stearns and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson before them, Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss were married in real life. While there are those who believe that Mike and Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch were the first couple to share a bed, they were not the first by a long shot. They were not even the second.

Of course, the $64,000 question is, "Why on some shows were couples shown sleeping in separate beds, while on others couple shared beds?" It seems possible that whether the actors were married in real life may have made a difference. It is notable that out of the early instances on American television of a couple sharing a bed, the couple was married in real life. Perhaps for that reason, Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Mary Kay and Johnny and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet were allowed to share the same bed. It is notable that on Father Knows Best and The Dick Van Dyke Show, on which the actors were not married in real life, they slept in separate beds.

While it seems likely that whether a couple was married in real life made a difference in the bed arrangements on shows, it does not explain why Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, married in real life, did not share a bed on I Love Lucy. Here it seems possible that the acceptance of couples sleeping in the same bed may have varied from network to network. It is notable that of the earliest shows on which couples shared a bed, a number of them aired on ABC. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Flintstones, and Bewitched all aired on ABC. In contrast, I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, and The Dick Van Dyke Show all aired on CBS. Quite simply, ABC's Continuity Acceptance department may have found couples sharing a bed more acceptable than CBS's Program Practices department did. Here there is also the possibility that it was something that varied from production company to production company.

The American broadcast networks in the Fifties and Sixties did forbid things that to us today seem wholly innocuous. For much of the two decades neither women's navels nor toilets were to be seen for the most part on American television. That having been said, couples sleeping in the same bed does not seem to have been among the things the networks absolutely forbade. Well before The Brady Bunch debuted in 1969, couples were sharing the same bed on American television.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Jacqueline Stewart is the New Host of TCM's Silent Sunday Nights

Turner Classic Movies has named Jacqueline Stewart the new host of Silent Sunday Nights. Jacqueline Stewart is a professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Chicago. She is the first regular host at TCM who is African American and only the third regular host at TCM who is a woman (the first being Tiffany Vasquez and the second being Alicia Malone).

Prof. Stewart's new position as host of Silent Sunday Nights is not the first time she has worked with Turner Classic Movies. A few years ago she co-curated the Pioneers of African-American Cinema box set, which dealt with the race films made in the first several decades of the 20th Century. It was at that time that she presented two nights of programming on TCM devoted to race films alongside Ben Mankiewicz. At the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival she was part of the "Through a Lens of Colour: Black Representation in Film" panel discussion. At the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival Prof. Stewart was the special guest at a screening of The Defiant Ones (1958) and part of "The Complicated Legacy of Gone with the Wind" panel discussion.

Jacqueline Stewart boasts an impressive resume when it comes to cinema, particularly the Silent Era. Her dissertation was even on silent film. She is a three time appointee to the National Film Preservation Board and is the chair of its Diversity Task Force. Her 2005 book Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity examined the relationship between African Americans and cinema during a period when cinema was just beginning and African Americans were migrating from the South to the cities of the North. At the University of Chicago she is also the founder of the South Side Home Movie Project, which archives home movies made by residents of Chicago's South Side, as well as the co-curator of the LA Rebellion Preservation Project.

Jacqueline Stewart begins hosting duties on Silent Sundays on September 15 with Lewis Milestone's comedy Two Arabian Knights (1927). Over the next few months she will be presenting a wide array of silent movies, including the early feature film Cleopatra (1912--produced by actress Helen Garner, it was the first film produced by any actor), Oscar Micheaux's The Symbol of the Unconquered (1921), Carl Theodor Dreyer's Master of the House (1925), and The Smart Set (1928).

I think that I can speak for most TCM fans when I say that we want our TCM hosts to be both knowledgeable about classic film and enthusiastic about classic film. Prof. Stewart meets both of these requirements wonderfully. In fact, I am not sure, but I think she might be the first TCM host with a doctorate. And Jacqueline Stewart is clearly enthusiastic about classic movies. When she speaks about classic cinema, she is clearly speaking about a subject she loves. For those reasons I am very happy that she is the new host of Silent Sunday Nights.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

(This post is part of the Costume Drama Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini)

The Count of Monte Cristo was written by Alexandre Dumas (père) and was serialised in the Journal des Débats from August 28 1844 to January 15 1846. The first single volume English translation of the novel would be published in January 26 1846 under title The Prisoner of If or The Revenge of Monte Christo. Whether in French or English, The Count of Monte Cristo would prove to be one of Alexandre Dumas's most popular novels, alongside such works as The Three Musketeers

As might be expected given the novel's popularity, it has been adapted to other media several times. The first film adaptation was made in 1908, with four more made in the Silent Era alone (in 1913, in 1918, in 1922, and in 1929). The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), directed by Rowland V. Lee, would be the first sound film adaptation of the novel. 

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) originated with producer Edward Small. Mr. Small had begun his career as a talent agent in New York City in 1917 and later moved to Los Angeles. Eventually he entered film production, producing movies both through his own production companies and Columbia. It was in 1932 that he and partner Harry M. Goetz formed Reliance Pictures, a company formed with financing from Art Cinema, a subsidiary company of United Artists. The first two films Edward Small produced for United Artists were I Cover the Waterfront (1933), a crime drama, and Palooka (1933), film based on teh popular comic strip Joe Palooka starring Jimmy Durante. The third was The Count of Monte Cristo (1934).

Edward Small hired Rowland V. Lee to both direct and write the film. Mr. Lee wrote a treatment for the movie with playwright Dan Totheroh. When Dan Totheroh moved to New York City, Rowland V. Lee brought Philip Dunne onto the project to write the dialogue. According to Mr. Dunne, he told Rowland V. Lee that he had never read The Count of Monte Cristo. Mr. Lee told him not to worry, that he would act it out for him. According to Philip Dunne, Rowland V. Lee did such a good job that he ended up using all of Mr. Dunne's dialogue. 

Fredric March was initially considered for the lead role of Edmond Dantès, the titular Count of Monte Cristo. Fredric March proved unavailable and as a result Robert Donat was cast in the role. Robert Donat was fresh from his success as Thomas Culpepper in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). British producer Alexander Korda then loaned Mr. Donat to Edward Small for The Count of Monte Cristo (1934). It would be the only film that Robert Donat made in Hollywood. Mr. Donat did not particularly like Hollywood and he also suffered from asthma that made travel unpleasant. He would go onto further success in his native Britain in The 39 Steps (1935) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). He won the Oscar for Best Actor for the latter film.

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) received generally positive reviews. Variety remarked of the film, "Monte Cristo is a near-perfect blend of thrilling action and grand dialog, both of which elements are inherent in Alexandre Dumas' original story." In his review in The New York Times, Andre Sennwald wrote of The Count of the Monte Cristo (1934), "In its third cinema reincarnation, "The Count of Monte Cristo, which began an engagement at the Rivoli yesterday, is still as passionate and grand as the waves that crash against the grim battlements of the Château d'If.." The National Board of Review also named it one of the 10 best films of 1934. It also did very well with audiences.

In fact, The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) was such a success at the box office that, along with MGM's Treasure Island (1934) and Alexander Korda's The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), it triggered an entire cycle of swashbucklers that would last into the early Forties. If not for The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), then, we might not have Captain Blood (1935), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), or The Black Swan (1942). The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) would also produce two sequels: The Son of Monte Cristo (1940) and The Return of Monte Cristo (1946).

Like the original novel, The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) centres on Edmond Dantès, a merchant sailor who is imprisoned for years and, after escaping, begins extracting revenge on the corrupt individuals who imprisoned him. That is not to say that there were considerable differences between the novel and the 1934 film adaptation. The novel is a complex and to large degree serious examination of the theme of revenge. The movie is a less complicated work whose emphasis is on swashbuckling. It is largely because of the novel's complexity that several major characters from the book do not appear in the movie and other character's roles are reduced in the film. There are also several plot points that differ in the book from the movie. In the novel Mercédès Mondego is Edmond Dantès's fiancée. Following his escape from prison, Mercédès and Edmond elect to part ways. In the movie they resume their relationship. In the novel Fernand and Edmond never engage in a sword fight as they do in the movie. There are several more ways in which the novel differs from the movie, changes made either because of the novel's complexity or simply to make the novel more accessible to American movie audiences in 1934.

While The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) differs a good deal from the original novel, that is not to say it is in anyway inferior. The novel is a classic that examines the idea of revenge. The movie is a well-executed swashbuckler. In fact, it is arguably one of the greatest films made in the genre.

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) would have a lasting impact. As mentioned earlier, it spurred an entire cycle of swashbuckler movies that would last into the Forties. What is more, its influence is still being felt in the 21st Century. Kevin Reynolds's 2002 adaptation of the novel would seem to owe a good deal to the 1934 movie (including his sword duel with Fernand). The plot of the 1980s graphic novel V for Vendetta would seem to owe something to the original novel, both dealing with imprisoned men who then extract revenge on those who wronged them. The 2005 film based on the graphic novel acknowledged this influence by making Count of Monte Cristo (1934) V's favourite film. It is safe to say that The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) will continue to have an influence. Indeed, after 85 years, it is still considered by many to be the quintessential film version of the novel.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Godspeed Carol Lynley

Carol Lynley, the actress who starred in such films as Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), and The Poseidon Adventure (1972), died on September 3 2019 at the age of 77. The cause was a heart attack.

Carol Lynley was born Carole Ann Jones in New York City. She started modelling as a child, working under the name Carolyn Lee. She was so successful as a model that she appeared on the cover of Life when she was only 15. She was in her early teens when she began acting. Because former child actress Carolyn Lee had already registered the name with Actors Equity, she changed her stage name to "Carol Lynley." It was a simple case of taking the final syllable of "Carolyn" and combining it with the name "Lee."

Carol Lynley made her television debut in an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1956. In the final years of the Fifties she appeared on the shows The Alcoa Hour, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The DuPont Show of the Month, Pursuit, Shirley Temple's Storybook, and General Electric Theatre. She made her film debut in the Disney film The Light in the Forest in 1958. In the late Fifties she also appeared in the films Holiday for Lovers (1959), Blue Denim (1959), and Hound-Dog Man (1959). She made her debut in Broadway in The Potting Shed in 1957. She originated the role of Janet Willard in Blue Denim on Broadway the following year.

The Sixties saw Carol Lynley's film career at its height. She starred in the films Return to Peyton Place (1961), The Last Sunset (1961), The Stripper (1963),  Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), The Cardinal (1963), Shock Treatment (1964), The Pleasure Seekers (1964), Harlow (1965), Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), The Shuttered Room (1967), Danger Route (1967), The Maltese Bippy (1969), Once You Kiss a Stranger... (1969), and Norwood (1970). She made several guest appearances on television during the decade, including the shows The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Alcoa Premiere, The Virginian, The Dick Powell Show, Run for Your Life, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Invaders, The F.B.I., Journey to the Unknown, The Big Valley, It Takes a Thief, The Immortal, The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, and The Most Deadly Game.

By the early Seventies Miss Lynley's film career was in decline. Despite a high profile role in The Poseidon Adventure (1972), most of her career was spent in television during the decade. She also appeared in the films Beware! The Blob (1972), Cotter (1973), The Four Deuces (1975), Bad Georgia Road (1977), The Washington Affair (1977), The Cat and Canary (1978), and The Shape of Things to Come (1979). On television she made several guest appearances on Fantasy Island. She also guest starred on the shows Night Gallery, The Sixth Sense, Orson Welles' Great Mysteries, The Magician, The Evil Touch, Thriller, Quincy M.E., Police Woman, Kojak, Future Cop, Hawaii Five-O, Richie Brockelman Private Eye, Sword of Justice, The Littlest Hobo, and Charlie's Angels. She appeared in several TV movies throughout the decade,the most notable of which was The Night Stalker (which would eventually lead to the TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker). She appeared one last time on Broadway in Absurd Person Singular.

In the Eighties she guest starred on the shows Hart to Hart, Baker's Dozen, The Fall Guy, Hotel, Fantasy Island, Tales of the Unexpected, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, Finder of Lost Loves, Night Heat, Another World, and Monsters. She appeared in the films Vigilante (1982), Balboa (1983), Blackout (1988), Dark Tower (1989), and Spirits (1990).

In the Nineties Carol Lynley appeared in the movies Neon Signs (1996), Flypaper (1999), and Drowning on Dry Land (1999). In the Naughts she appeared in the feature film A Light in the Forest (2003) and the short subject "Vic" (2006).

Carol Lynley's career began at what was in some ways a fortuitous time for her. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, blonde, teenage actresses were very much in fashion, examples of which include Sandra Dee, Hayley Mills, Tuesday Weld, and, on the other side of the Pond, Julia Lockwood. That having been said, Carol Lynley went beyond the wholesome, sensitive image of her early career. In Return to Peyton Place she played a bestselling author who returns to her hometown and has an affair with a married man. In Under the Yum Yum Tree she played a young woman whose boyfriend moves in with her (a strictly platonic arrangement) in order to determine how compatible they are. In The Pleasure Seekers she played a secretary who had just ended an affair and is in love with her boss. In Bunny Lake is Missing she played a mother whose daughter has disappeared (the "Bunny" of the title). In The Poseidon Adventure she played the singer of the ship of the title (although her singing voice was dubbed by singer Renee Armand). On television Carol Lynley played an even wider variety of roles. Starting out as one of many teenage blondes in Hollywood in the Fifties, Carol Lynley proved extremely versatile as an actress.