Thursday, August 11, 2005

Barbara Bel Gedes R.I.P.

Lung cancer has taken the life of another well known person. Actress Barbara Bel Geddes died of the disease at her home Monday, at age 82.

Barbara Bel Geddes is probably best known for her role as Miss Ellie on the nighttime soap opera Dallas, one of the mainstays of American television in the Eighties; however, her career extended far beyond that role. In fact, she was very successful on the stages of Broadway. The daugher of architect and stage designer Norman Bel Geddes, Bel Geddes made her debut on Broadway in 1941 in the play Out of the Frying Pan. By 1946 she would win a Theatre World Award for her role in the play Deep Are the Roots, directed by Elia Kazan. Over the years Bel Geddes played in several Broadway productions. She was the first actress to play Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. She also appeared in the plays The Living Room (1954), Mary, Mary (1961), and The Sleeping Prince (1956), among others.

Bel Geddes was primarily a stage actress, so her movie and television credits are few. That having been said, they are very notable. She made her screen debut in the role of Jo Ann in the movie The Long Night in 1947. She also appeared as eldest daughter Katrin in I Remember Mama (1948), a role for which she received an Oscar nomination. Among her other notable films were Fourteen Hours, Panic in the Streets, and Vertigo (in which she played Midge, Scottie's best friend and confidant). On television, beyond her role as Miss Ellie on Dallas, Bel Geddes appeared on various anthology shows (Robert Montgomery Presents, Campbell Playhouse, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars), and Studio One) and she made guest appearances on Daniel Boone and Dr. Kildare. She appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents many times. In fact, her most famous role besides Miss Ellie on Dallas may have be her guest appearance in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Lamb to the Slaughter. There she played a wife who murders her philandering husband with a leg of lamb, then serves the murder weapon to the unsuspecting detectives investigating his death.

I never had the opportunity to see Barbara Bel Geddes on stage, but from her few TV and screen apperances I have no doubt she was an immensely talented actress. While her role as Miss Ellie may come to many's minds when they think of Barbara Bel Geddes, I tend to identify her more with her apperances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and her role as Midge on Vertigo. In both "Lamb to the Slaughter" and Vertigo, Bel Geddes was amazing. She brought a frankness and causalness to her roles that not many actresses could have. Indeed, I have always been impressed with her performance as Midge in Vertigo. She and Jimmy Stewart seemed to have a marvelous rapport. She was very convincing as a woman who watches the man she loves (although that love was sadly unrequited) descend into madness. I don't think any other actress could have played the part quite as well. Indeed, I think it very sad that so many only think of Barabar Bel Geddes as Ellie Ewing on Dallas and remain unaware of the many other roles she played, both on stage and on film. She certainly deserves to be remembered for so much more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

The New TV Season

Here in the United States, the new TV season begins next month. And as always the networks have been advertising all summer long about new shows and new excitement coming in the fall. Unfortunately, it seems to me that for the most part this fall will simply bring more of the same old thing to American network television.

Indeed, even though it has now been five years since CSI: Crime Scene Investigations debuted, the coming season will see the debut of yet more police procedurals. On CBS Criminal Minds will follow a group FBI profilers. On Fox, Bones will centre on a forensic antropologist often consulted by the police. Also on Fox, Killer Instinct follows the San Francisco Police Department's Deviant Crime Unit. While I have always been a fan of CSI and Law and Order, there is a point where there is too much of any one of sort of show on television. In the case of police procedurals, I think American television reached that point years ago. I suppose it might be different if these shows turn out to be substantially different from the other police procedurals on the air, but from the descriptions I have read, they probably won't.

Of course, if there is one genre of show that has been done to death in the past several years it is that of the reality show. Unfortunately, this coming season will see a few more of them. NBC is debuting three alone. Now I really cannot object to Three Wishes, hosted by Amy Grant. The idea behind the show is that deserving individuals and communities will be granted wishes. While the show does not sound like my cup of tea, it seems innocuous enough and even sweet. On the other hand, I have to question the need for an edition of The Apprentice with Martha Stewart (I didn't like the show to begin with). I also have to wonder about the point behind Tommy Lee Goes to College. Is anyone really interested in Motley Crue's drummer going to the University of Nebraska? I suppose that NBC thinks it might be funny. To me it sounds dull. After all, it is not as if we have not seen reality shows placing celebrities in unusual situations before...

I have to admit, however, that I find even reality shows preferable to the few new legal dramas debuting this coming season. Between 1995 and 2003, around 18 different legal dramas aired on network television. In other words, there was a bit of a glut of them on American television for a while. And, quite frankly, I can see no signs that the American people are eager for more legal dramas. While Boston Legal did well in the ratings, both Law and Order: Trial by Jury and Kevin Hill were cancelled. I don't see how the WB thinks Just Legal will succeed, nor can I see how Fox thinks Head Cases will succeed either. Quite frankly, I rather suspect the American people are simply tired of legal dramas.

Of course, I cannot say that there is going to be nothing new on American television this fall. The success of Lost and Medium have resulted in several genre shows (that is, sci-fi, fantasy or horror shows) debuting this season. And I must admit that it seems like it has been some time since theere have been any new genre shows on most of the networks. Unfortunately, many of these shows seem downright derivative to me. Both Invasion on ABC and Threshold on CBS centre on alien invasions, something which Hollywood drove into the ground long ago. Who knows exactly how many movies about alien invasions there have been? It isn't even something new on American television. The Invaders, V, and the syndicated Earth: Final Conflict all centred around alien invasions. As to the other genre shows, The Ghost Whisperer sounds like an outright ripoff of Medium. Of the new genre shows debuting this fall, only three seem to me to have any sort of potential. One is Surface, debuting on NBC, which centres on the discovery of a new lifeform in our oceans. While I'll admit it could turn out really bad, there is also the possibility that it could turn out really good. Another show with possibilities is Supernatural, debuting on the WB. It involves two brothers travelling the United States, fighting the supernatural forces that killed their mother. While I'll admit that the concept may not be that original, it at least sounds more interesting than alien invaders or mediums. Finally, there is Night Stalker, a revamp of the Seventies series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, debuting on ABC. This sounds like the most promising show debuting on any of the networks this fall. It is being produced by veterans of The X-Files (Frank Spotnitz and Dan Sackheim). And unlike the original, they have actually given Kolchak a reason to encounter the supernatural--a mysterious attack which injured him and left his wife dead.

One thing that has me very curious about the coming season is that out of all the shows debuting on the American networks, not one is a quirky, nighttime soap opera. I would have thought that with the success of Desperate Housewives the networks would have rushed to get more on the air. I would have thought we would have seen at least five or six Desperate Housewives imitations. Now don't get me wrong. I am not complaining. I have never seen an episode of Desperate Housewives and, beyond Melrose Place and a nighttime version of Dark Shadows, I've never cared for nighttime soap operas. That having been said, I do think this a bit strange. In fact, it could be the first time in American broadcast history that producers did not rush to imitate the most successful new series on television...

At any rate, I cannot say I am really looking forward to the new fall season. It seems to me that it is simply more of the same old thing, with more police procedurals, more legals dramas, and more reality shows. Even the genre shows which are debuting this season seem like retreads of other shows. I guess one can only hope that the 2006-2007 season will be better.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Peter Jennings 1938-2005

Last night ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings died after a battle with lung cancer. He was 67 years old.

Peter Jennings was born in Toronto, Ontario on July 29, 1938. He was the son of legendary CBC (Candadian Broadcasting Corporation) anchorman Charles Jennings, who was both CBC's first anchorman and head of their news department. Peter Jennings' broadcasting career began when he was very young. At age 10 he became the host of Peter's Program, a show which featured young talent. As an adult he became a disc jockey at a small radio station in Brockton, Ontario. After covering a train wreck for CBC, he came to the attention of CTV, who hired him as a co-anchor on their late night news. His work at CTV brought him to the attention of ABC (American Broadcasting Company), who hired him 1964.

It was in 1965, at the tender age of 26, that Peter Jennings became the youngest man to ever anchor a nightly network newscast. Unfortunately for ABC, Jennings could not compete with Walter Cronkite at CBS and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley at NBC--three of the biggest names in network news history. He was replaced in 1968. Jennings spent ten years reporting from abroad, even establishing the first American television news bureau in the Middle East.

It was in 1978 that Peter Jennings once more found himself behind the anchor desk of a nightly newcast. He became one of a three anchor team (along with Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson) for ABC's World News Tonight. Jennings anchored from London, Reynolds from Washington, and Robinson from Chicago. In 1983 Jennings became the sole anchorman for World News Tonight. In addition to his duties as an anchor, Jennings was also responsible for various primetime specials focusing on various important issues. The specials focused on everything from abortion to Middle East relations to the life of Jesus. Over the years Jennings won 14 Emmys, two Peabody awards, the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award, and many others.

I cannot say I have ever been a regular viewer of ABC World News Tonight. Growing up, like many Americans, I watched The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. As an adult I tended to watch either the CBS or NBC evening news. That having been said, I do have to say that I thought Peter Jennings was a fine journalist. What always appealed to me about Jennings is that, when covering any news event, he seemed able to throw out the most obscure facts. It was as if he had to let the viewer know every single detail. He also seemed to me to be a man of integrity. In a time when many news outlets tended to focus on the more sensational or trivial aspects of the news (remember all the coverage devoted to the O. J. Simpson trial?), Jennings seemed insistent on keeping the news focused on more important issues. I find it very sad that he had to die before his time. I could have easily seen Peter Jennings continuing for many more years.