Saturday, June 24, 2006

Aaron Spelling R.I.P.

Aaron Spelling died Friday at the age of 83 after suffering a severe stroke June 18. According to The Guiness Book of World Records, he had produced more TV shows than anyone else in the history of television.

Spelling was born the son of Jewish immigrants in Dallas, Texas on April 22, 1923. After graduating college he went into acting. He appeared in such TV shows as Dragnet and Gunsmoke and such movies as Kismet and Mad at the World. He broke into writing with a script for Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre in 1954. Eventually, he would write for Wagon Train, Playhouse 90 and other shows. His career as a writer would lead to him getting the position of producer on Zane Grey Theatre.

Zane Grey Theatre would be the first of many shows Spelling would produce. Among the many series he produced were Burke's Law, Daniel Boone, The Mod Squad, S.W.A.T., Charlie's Angels, Melrose Place, and Charmed. Although many of his serious received phenomenal ratings, they were often held in low regard by critics. Besides his TV shows, Spelling also produced over 140 TV movies.

Given the sheer number of TV shows that Aaron Spelling produced, I cannot deny that he had an impact on my life. That having been said, to some degree I do have to agree with the critics. It seemed to me that many of Spelling's shows (Dynasty, Charlie's Angles, and Beverly Hills 90120 were simply empty, flashy, and souless spectacles. While I did not like many of his shows, I must say that there were those that I did enjoy. When I was a very young child, Daniel Boone was my favourite show besides Batman. And I must admit to having been a loyal viewer of Melrose Place (it had sort of an over the top, campy charm to it). And although I was never a regular viewer, I do think Seventh Heaven was one of the better family dramas to come along. As to Charmed, well, I always enjoyed that show as a campier take on horror and supernatural TV shows--it definitely had its niche. Of course, even if Spelling's shows often were not of a very high quality, the very fact that he produced a large number of them is an achievement in and of itself. Off the top of my head, I can think of no other televison producer who produced nearly the number of hours of programming that Spelling did. And I doubt anyone ever will again.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Top of the Pops is No More

Tuesday the BBC announced the cancellation of what may be one of the longest running TV shows in the world, Top of the Pops (also known by the acronym TOTP). For those of you who have never heard of Top of the Pops, it was a programme which featured performances of some of the current week's best selling songs. Its last episode will air on July 30.

Top of the Pops debuted in 1964. That first programme featured performers who would later become legendary: The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, The Swinging Blue Jeans, and The Beatles. Meant only to last a few weeks, Top of the Pops proved so successful that it would last 42 years. Over the years such artists as Status Quo (who appeared on the show more than any other band--87 times), Slade, The Boomtown Rats, Madonna, and The Spice Girls all appeared on TOTP. The show was at its height in the Seventies, when it attracted 15 million viewers. Unfortunately, in recent years its ratings had declined due to competition from cable, satellite, and the World Wide Web. In the end, Top of the Pops was not the attraction it had once been.

Speaking as an American who has only seen video clips of Top of the Pops, I must say that I am disappointed that the Beeb chose to cancel the show. Over the years it was a showcase for some of the most popular music artists in the world. I don't think any other show, not even American Bandstand, had as good a track record of drawing in the most popular musical acts to perform. I rather suspect that the cancellation of TOTP will leave a void in British programming (one that already exists on American television) that only a similar show could fill.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Please Return It

Right now I cannot sleep. As it is I haven't been in a particularly good mood the past few days. In fact, I have been rather blue. I won't go into why, but I will say that there is an emptiness in my life right now that needs to be filled.

At any rate, I find myself in the mood for rather tragic songs. I am really not sure if "Please Return It" by The Posies can be considered tragic, as I am not precisely sure what it is about (as is the case of many Posies songs). Near as I can tell, the singer has sent a letter that he now wants returned, presumably because the content might reveal feelings better left unsaid. It is a song I've had reason to identify with from time to time.

Anyhow, The Posies were one of my favourite bands of the Nineties. They were always pegged as "alternative (wasn't every band called "alternative" in the Nineties...)," but I would say that they are pure power pop. Their harmonies and guitar work are very reminiscent of various British Invasion bands (think The Hollies meet The Who) and there is quite a bit of influence from Big Star (the original power pop group) thrown in for good measure.

Regardless, here are the lyrics to "Please Return It," composed by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow.

Now, now is the time
Time to reckon
Time to beckon, be surprised
Like a letter
I just sent it, please return it, just forget it
When we live the life we live
It's never ours completely
Not completely
Like a movie, like a style, please return it, please return it
like a favor, like a glance, please return it, please return it

8, 8 is the hour
hour of our trials, ours too sickening to live
please return it
put it back, I take it back, I can burn it
When you let me live my life
You didn't do it completely but you were discreet
Like the year I spent comparing me to you, please return it
Like a servant, like a sewer, please return it, please return it

There's an "upside"--there has to be an "upside"
There's an "upside"--there has to be an "upside"
There's an "upside"

When you took me by surprise
That's half the fun of everything
Do you miss the point like I do?
In the certainty of friendships you can ask
Please return it
Bring the balance back to you
In returning

There's an "upside"--there has to be an "upside"
There's an "upside"--there has to be an "upside"
There's an "upside"--there has to be an "upside"

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Vincent Sherman R.I.P.

Director Vincent Sherman died Sunday night of natural causes at 99 years of age at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Los Angeles.

Sherman started out as an actor, appearing in several roles on Broadway starting with Volpone in 1928. He went onto appear in such plays as The Good Earth and Paradise Lost. He made his debut on film in the movie Counsellor at Law in 1933. Sherman's acting career was short, however, and it would be as a director that he would leave his mark in Hollywood.

Sherman's directorial debut was the B movie The Return of Dr. X. Sherman would go onto direct such movies as Nora Prentiss and The Adventures of Don Juan. His career was interrupted in the Fifties when a government agent told Warner Brothers that Sherman had communist ties. Sherman was associated with the communist party, although he knew people who did--guilt by association was enough to injure or end a film career during the Red Scare.

Sherman returned to directing movies with 1957's The Garment Jungle. With the TV series 77 Sunset Strip Sherman started directing in television. He would go onto direct episodes of Medical Center, The Waltons, and Baretta.

I can't say Vincent Sherman had an enormous impact on my life. That having been said, he did direct some films that I really liked, among them The Adventures of Don Juan and Mr. Skeffington. He may not be remembered as one of the all time great directors, but I rather suspect he will not soon be forgotten.

Monday, June 19, 2006


Tonight I am not feeling well and I feel slightly blue. For that reason I thought I would forgo a long blog entry and instead post one of my favourite poems. It is "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. Henley was an English poet and dramaticist who lived from 1849 top 1903. He collaborated with Robert Louis Stevenson on several plays and published no less than six books of poetry. The last one, In Hospital, included his most famous work, "Invictus (which means "unconquered" in Latin)." The poem is essentially a statement of the stiff upper lip mentality that characterised England during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.