Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Silver Surfer

This has been a year of disappointing sequels. Both Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third were vastly inferior to the previous movies in their respective franchises. Besides Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, another exception is The Silver Surfer--I mean Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

While I know there are those who will disagree with me, I felt that Fantastic Four was a huge disappointment. In my opinion the first movie started far too slowly and concentrated too little on the characters themselves. Indeed, both Reed Richards (Ioann Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jennifer Alba) could have been cardboard cutouts. This was no fault of the performers, but of screenwriters who gave them nothing to work with. Worse yet, the script altered Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) so that he was no longer recongisable as one of the greatest supervillains in comic book history.

While Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is nowhere near as good as Batman Begins or the first two Spider-Man movies, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Reed and Sue actually have personalities in this film. What is more, the bickering that made the comic book so popular is readily present in this film. Even Dr. Doom has been given a makeover, appearing more loyal to the Victor Von Doom of the source material (although nowhere does the film mention he is the dictator of Latveria). And while the first movie dragged, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer moves at a good pace.

Of course, much of the reason this film is superior to the original is the presence of the Silver Surfer. As voiced by Laurence Fishburne, the Silver Surfer is one of the film's most interesting characters. Something of an enigma, the Surfer emerges as a three dimensional character through the miracle of CGI and the voice of Fishburne's vocal talents.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is hardly a perfect movie. Marvel Comics fans may be disappointed by some of the changes made to the Silver Surfer (I suppose the filmmakers felt the comic book's Surfer was a bit too powerful). And I must admit that I would still like to see Dr. Doom established as the dictator of the country of Latveria. Here I may be accused of nitpicking. That having been said, the movie does have one plot hole that many viewers may not notice, but others may well find a fatal flaw in the film (I won't reveal it here so as not to spoil the film).

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. That having been said, it is a good movie that does not fail to entertain, particularly if one does not think about it too much.

Friday, June 22, 2007

TV Show Revivals Part Three

The Nineties would see a dramatic decline in the number of TV show revivals. In fact, the decline was so dramatic that the Eighties had as many TV series revivals as, if not more than, the Nineties and the Naughts combined. The question must then be asked, "Why did TV show revivals decline in the Nineties and the Naughts?" It is certain that nostalgia for old TV shows did not disappear. Indeed, if anything it would seem to be have increased in the Nineties and the Naughts to a point more than even in the Eighties. One need look no further than movies, TV shows, and music from the past twenty years. Pop culture references increased dramatically in these media, particularly as Generation X came of age. The movie Detroit Rock City featured clear references to the cartoon Underdog. The Simpsons has made references to TV shows from the Sixties version of Batman to All in the Family. Dr. Dre in his song "Light Speed" made reference to Optimus Prime of Transformers. It is quite clear that TV show nostalgia has not disappeared. This should be no surprise. By the late Nineties television had three generations who had grown up with it: the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.

The mostly likely culprit when it came to TV show revivals being less common in the Nineties and the Naughts was, quite simply, the ratings. The vast majority of TV series revivals have lasted a season or less. Even when a TV show revival features some or all of the original cast, it is rare for it to run over one season. As to why TV show revivals don't always capture ratings, I suspect that this may simply be because they often don't capture the feel of the original shows. This is the case even when the series features members of the original cast and even when it features members of the original production team. No better example of this could be seen than Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although the show was a hit, many original fans complained that it "isn't like the original show." Star Trek: The Next Generation survived this criticism, but many shows did not.

At any rate, while there were fewer TV show revivals on American television in the Nineties than in the Eighties, they were not precisely uncommon. In fact, two such revivals debuted in 1991 alone. In January 1991 the daytime soap opera Dark Shadows was revived as a primetime series on NBC. The new series featured an entirely new cast. And while it was loyal to the original to a large degree, it could also be considered a re-imagining. An example of this is the fact that on the original TV show the vampire Barnabas Collins did not appear until the series had been on for nine months, while on the new series he appeared in the very first episode. Regardless, the new version of Dark Shadows only lasted two months. NBC scheduled the series on Friday night, a time slot that is nearly certain death for any genre show. The show also had the misfortune to debut at the beginning of the Gulf War, so that it was often preempted by war coverage.

The second show which debuted in 1991 was a revival of WKRP in Cincinnati, under the title of The New WKRP in Cincinnati. Original cast members Gordon Jump, Richard Sanders, and Frank Bonner returned to the series, accompanied by new characters. Cast members from the original series would also make guest appearances, including Howard Hesseman as "Dr. Johnny Fever." The new series would not repeat the success of the original, only lasting two season in syndication.

The 1993-1994 season would see the revival of four series. In 1987 a film based on the Sixties The Untouchables, directed by Brian De Palma, became a box office success. With the success of the film, reviving the series probably seemed like a good idea. The new version of The Untouchables can best be described as a re-imagining. The show featured an entirely new cast. And while it was nearly as violent as the original series, like the film The Untouchables it tended to be more character driven. Sadly, the new series did not last nearly as long as the original. In first run syndication, it only lasted two years.

The same season would see the debut of another TV show in first run syndication. Kung Fu: the Legend Continues was a continuation of the Seventies Kung Fu. While the original followed Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) wandering the American Old West, the new version followed his grandson (also named Kwai Chang Caine) wandering America in the present day. I must point out that the idea of the original's Caine actually producing offspring was always a sore point with my best friend; many Shaolin monks are celibate! On a personal note, even though David Carradine played Caine's grandson, I always thought that it did not have the same flavour as the original series. The unique situation of Caine, essentially an outcast wandering the Old West (keep in mind that racism against Asians was prevalent in that time and place) that existed in the original series was entirely lost in the new one. Regardless, Kung Fu: the Legend Continues actually ran longer than Kung Fu. While the original series ran three seasons, Kung Fu: the Legend Continues ran four seasons.

January 1994 saw the revival of the TV series Burke's Law. The series was essentially a continuation of the Sixties show of the same name , complete with Gene Barry returning as Burke. In the new series Amos Burke was assisted by his son Peter. The new show was very much like the original series, with plenty of big name stars and beautiful women. In the end, however, it only lasted a little over a year.

The fourth TV show revival to debut in the 1993-1994 season was a summer replacement. The Sixties series Route 66 had originally followed Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock as they traipsed Route 66 in a Corvette. The 1993 revival followed Nick Murdock (the grandson of Buzz) and Arthur Clark as they travelled Route 66 in the Corvette that Nick had inherited from Buzz. The series was fairly loyal to the original, but it did not get the ratings that the Sixties series had. The new Route 66 only lasted four episodes and was not renewed for the fall.

Nineteen ninety five would see the debut of a series that was also a continuation of a Sixties series. Fox revived the popular show Get Smart, with Don Adams and Barbara Feldon returning as Maxwell Smart and Agent 99. Also returning was David Ketchum as Agent 13. Max was now Chief of Control. His son, Zach Smart (Andy Dick), was now a spy for Control. He was teamed with Agent 66 (Elaine Hendrix). The series was very short lived, lasting only a little over a month.

It was during the 1995-1996 season that premium channel Showtime revived yet another Sixties series. The Outer Limits was a sci-fi anthology show that originally ran from 1963 to 1965. Unlike its contemporary, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits was almost purely a science fiction series, and its episodes almost never had twist endings. Although it only lasted two years, it had remained popular since the Sixties. The series revival was largely loyal to the original, concentrating on sci-fi stories. Airing on a cable premium channel, the new series could afford to be a bit more violent and sexually explicit than the original had been. While made for a premium channel, the new Outer Limits would enter syndication a season after its debut. It was also fairly successful. It ran from 1995 to 2002.

The 1998-1999 season would see the revival of two series. UPN revived The Love Boat with The Love Boat: the Next Wave. The Love Boat: the Next Wave was essentially a continuation of the original series, with a new cast. Several of the original cast would make guest appearances. While the original series ran for nine years, however, The Love Boat: the Next Wave would not see the same success. It sank after one season.

That same season what was then the Fox Family Channel (now the ABC Family Channel) tried to revived The Addams Family. After two feature films, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. To a degree, the new series was more a re-imagining than a continuation, and largely drew from the movies rather the original show. For instance, on the Sixties series, Uncle Fester was Morticia's uncle (hence he would be Gomez's uncle in law), but in the movies and the show revival, he was Gomez's brother. The new series remade several of the original's episodes. That having been said, the new series was generally considered inferior to the original show and the movies. Perhaps for that reason it only lasted one season.

One major difference between the Nineties and the Naughts is that while the Nineties saw nearly as many sitcoms revived as dramas, the majority of TV show revivals in the Naughts have been dramas. Indeed, the first such revival of the Naughts was a drama--a revival of the Sixties series The Fugitve, in the 2000-2001 season. The new series remained fairly loyal to the original show, with the falsely accused Dr. Richard Kimble on the run from the law. It would not see the original show's success, however, only running one season.

The following season PAX TV (a small, "family oriented" network of the early Naughts) would debut what was supposed to be a prequel to Bonanza entitled Ponderosa. It featured the early adventures of Ben Cartwright and his young sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. While it was supposed to be a prequel to Bonanza, however, Ponderosa should perhaps best be considered a prequel and a re-imagining of the original show. For instance, Ponderosa has Ben Cartwright settling in Nevada along with his third wife, Marie, and his son Little Joe. According to the original series, Ben had not even met Marie when he settled the Ponderosa, so that Little Joe was not even born. This was only one of many differences in the shows' continuities. At any rate, the series was not a hit. It only lasted one season.

The year 2002-2003 season would see two TV show revivals, one of which was the only sitcom resurrected in the Naughts. Family Affair was a quiet, wholesome comedy that had aired for five years in the Sixties. The new series was most definitely a re-imagining of the original. While the original had been a quiet comedy that was almost cloyingly wholesome, the remake relied heavily on slapstick and often brought up subjects that would be taboo on the original (i.e. sex). The show also received some very poor reviews. It is perhaps a wonder that it even survived most of the season.

The 2002-2003 season also saw yet another revival of Dragnet (I'm not sure, but discounting the continuations of Star Trek, this might make it the most revived show of all time). The series was initially loyal to the original, with Ed O'Neil in the role of Joe Friday. With its second season the show was renamed L.A Dragnet (which seemed to me be a bit repetitious as the show had always been set in Los Angeles), with Joe Friday receiving less screen time than younger detectives. The change apparently didn't sit well with viewers. It lasted only five episodes into the 2002-2003 season, although the USA Network would air some of the previously unseen episodes.

Late in the 2002-2003 season NBC debuted a continuation of Hunter, with Fred Dryer returning as Rick Hunter and Stephanie Kramer returning as Deedee McCall. While the original series ran from 1984 to 1991, the revival only managed to last five episodes.

The most successful revival of the Naughts would definitely be the re-imagining of the Seventies series Battlestar Galactica which debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2004 and is still on the air. The new Battlestar Galactica is also definitely a re-imagining of the original series, making some drastic changes to the show. The robotic Cylons of the original show are now humanoid in appearance on the new show. The character Starbuck underwent a sex change, going from male to female (the original was played by Dirk Benedict of A-Team fame). The culture in the new Battlestar Galactica is also closer to that of 21st century North America or Europe, albeit with advanced technology. This did cause considerable controversy among fans of the old series. While no fan of the original (I watched it as an adult a few years ago and discovered the show I watched as a kid was, well, bad...), I have to admit I did not like the idea of the Cylons being humanoid in appearance, and I was actually upset at Starbuck being female (no offence to my female readership, but Dirk Benedict was just so cool in the part--the only good character on the original show--and it's not like the original didn't have female characters they could have played up in the new show). Despite the controversy over changes from the original, the new Battlestar Galactica proved to be a success. It is the highest rated show ever on the Sci-Fi Channel and has received plenty of kudos from critics. I have never seen the series, but my best friend states that he feels it is overrated. While he believes it is a good show, it is not a remarkable one, and certainly not one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time (it falls far short of the original Star Trek and Farscape. for instance).

The final show to be revived so far in the Naughts was another re-imagining. Kojak, already revived once, would be reimagined in the 2004-2005 season. The new series cast Ving Rhames as Kojak and retained such characters as Captain McNeil while introducing a new character, Assistant District Attorney Carmen Simone. This reinterpretation of Kojak only lasted nine episodes.

Particularly in the past 27 years, TV show revivals have been a part of American television. And while many have failed, nostalgia for old shows and the success of such series as the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica dictate there will probably be more. Indeed, Seventies series The Bionic Woman has been re-imagined for NBC this fall. Who knows? In twenty years we could see new versions of The X-Files and Everybody Hates Chris....

Thursday, June 21, 2007

TV Show Revivals Part Two

The Eighties saw more TV show revivals on American television than any other time in history. The reasons for this were most likely very basic. First, the late Seventies and early Eighties saw a cycle towards television show reunion TV movies. The cycle started in the late Seventies with such reunion telefilms as The Father Knows Best Reunion (1977), Halloween with the Addams Family (1977), and Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis(1977). Ultimately the cycle would include such reunion movies as Rescue from Gilligan's Island (1978), The Wild Wild West Revisted (1979), The Return of Frank Cannon (1980), and The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies (1981). From TV show reunion movies, it was only a small step towards simply reviving TV shows.

The second reason for the plethora of TV show revivals in the Eighties was probably the same for the TV show reunion movies in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Quite simply, it was a matter of nostalgia. By 1977 there had been American network TV broadcasts for thirty years. By 1987 there had been American network TV broadcasts for forty years. By the Eighties, then, there had been about one and a half generations grow up in front of the TV screen (many Baby Boomers and the older Gen Xers). This permitted sufficient time for nostalgia about various TV series to have developed. As a result, the networks and studios most likely perceived a demand for reviving old TV shows about which many were probably nostalgic.

Despite this, the first TV show to be revived in the Eighties was a recent creation. Battlestar Galactica aired on ABC during the 1978 to 1979. And though its ratings were respectable, the network felt that the show was too costly for no higher than its ratings were. The cancellation brought protests from the show's fans, which led ABC to revive the show as Galactica 1980. On Galactica 1980 the Galactica had finally found Earth. As Earth was still less technologically advanced than the Galactica and its ragtag fleet,the Galactica's crew decided to ease Earth into the advanced technology, all the while protecting the location of Earth from the Cylons. Galactica 1980 had a much smaller budget than Battlestar Galactica and was forced to basically become a children's show due to a FCC ruling that dictated any show on at 6:00 PM CST must be "family entertainment." Between the budget and restrictions of the kind of scripts they could do, Galactica 1980 displeased the original series' fans and got lower ratings as well. It lasted only a few weeks.

The same year saw a revival of Sanford on NBC, with Redd Foxx returning as the curmudgeonly junk dealer. His son Lamont had gone onto bigger and better things, so Sanford now basically ran the business on his own. The series failed to capture the original's ratings and went off the air after a short run. The failure of the revival of Sanford and Son did not detour others from reviving old shows. After one revival as Young Maverick on CBS, Maverick was revived again as Bret Maverick on NBC in the 1981-1982 season. James Garner returned as the shifty eyed gambler, who had finally settled down in Sweetwater, Arizona as a rancher and owner of the local saloon. Jack Kelly appeared in one episode as Bret's brother Bart. Unfortunately, the series did not repeat the success of the original. It lasted only one season.

Sanford and Son was not the only sitcom revived that year. The Brady Bunch would also see a brief revival. Beginning with a telefilm to kick off the series (The Brady Girls Get Married), The Brady Brides was a continuation of The Brady Bunch, in which two of the three Brady daughters get married. Earilier the Bradys had returned after a fashion, in the spinoff variety series The Brady Bunch Hour in 1977. The Brady Bunch Hour did not last long, and neither did The Brady Brides. It only ran nine episodes. While The Brady Brides was a sitcom, a more bizarre revival would arrive in 1990. The Bradys was a drama based on the old sitcom. Like The Brady Brides, this new series was a continuation of the The Brady Bunch. It proved even less successful, running only five episodes.

For the next few years only sitcoms would be revived, some in continuations of the original series and others as re-imaginings of the series. One of the re-imaginings was The New Odd Couple, based on the classic series featuring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman (which was based on both the movie and the play), which aired briefly during the 1982-1983 season. This version only changed one thing: Felix and Oscar were African Americans. The fact that the new series then differed very little from the original may have led to its failure. The original was then still quite popular in syndication.

The 1985-1986 season would perhaps be the season in which the most revivals of old shows would debut. Two of these were revivals of sitcoms that debuted off the networks. Following the success of the TV reunion movie Still the Beaver in 1983, Ted Turner revived the show as The New Leave It to Beaver. The series followed Beaver's life as an adult and as a single father following a divorce With many of the original cast returning to the show, it proved to be a small success, lasting four seasons. That same year saw the debut of What's Happening Now, a revival of the ABC Seventies comedy What's Happening. What's Happening Now reunited many in the original cast and was more or less a continuation of the original show. It ran for three years in syndication (ironically running one episode longer than the original).

Curiously, the two other shows revived were anthology series, a format that had been dead nearly since the early Sixties. CBS brought back The Twilight Zone, Robert Serling's classic fantasy/sci-fi show. The new series featured scripts by Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and George R. R. Martin, The episodes were both remakes of episodes from the original and brand new teleplays. It would ultimately run three years on CBS. The other anthology show to be revived was Alfred Hitchcock Presents, debuting in 1985 on NBC as The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The presence of Hitchcock was insured by colourising some of his introductions for the original series for use on the new one. Like the new Twilight Zone, it also featured remakes of episodes from the original series as well as original episodes. The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents was cancelled by NBC after one season, it returned to the air in January 1987 on the cable channel USA Network. There it ran for another two years.

The 1986-1987 season saw the revival of two more sitcoms. In 1985 a movie based on on the novel Gidget, the Gidget movies, and the short lived 1965 TV series Gidget (which introduced the world to Sally Fields) aired entitled Gidget's Summer Reunion). The telefilm was successful enough to inspire a new syndicated sitcom called The New Gidget. I suppose this series could be considered both a continuation of the Sixties sitcom and a re-imaginging of it. The New Gidget featured an entirely new cast (indeed, as Gidget Caryn Richman looked very little like Sally Fields), but at the same time it seemed to draw upon the original series for inspiration, with Gidget and Moondoggie now married.

The other sitcom to be revived in 1986 was The Monkees. With a wholly new cast and characters and a slightly new name, The New Monkees would seem to be a re-imagining of the original series. It debuted in the wake of a new Monkees craze brought on by MTV's airing of the original series. with Monkees creator Bob Rafelson in the producer's chair. Released to syndication, the series bombed, only lasting a mere 13 episodes.

Nineteen eighty seven would see the debut of what could be the most successful TV show revival of all time. Since its cancellation in 1969, Star Trek had grown into an outright phenomenon. It had been revived as an animated series and a series of feature films. An attempt was even made to revive Star Trek as a TV show in the Seventies (Star Trek Phase II). In 1987, then, a new Star Trek series must have seemed like a sure thing. While Star Trek: The Next Generation had an entirely new cast (and an entirely new ship), it was essentially a continuation of the original Star Trek. In fact, it could even be described as a sequel. It was set in the same universe, around 80 years after the original show. And while it took some time for Star Trek: The Next Generation to be accepted by many older fans, it would prove successful enough that further (and in my opinion superior) Star Trek series would be created: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993), Star Trek: Voyager (1995), and the prequel Star Trek: Enterprise (2001). Star Trek: The Next Generation also marked a shift in television revivals. Whereas most of the revivals prior to Star Trek: The Next Generation had been sitcoms, in the years following Star Trek: The Next Generation there would be many dramas revived.

While the success of Star Trek: The Next Generaton would result in further Star Trek series, not every series revival was so successful. Sea Hunt had been a successful syndicated series that ran from 1958 to 1961. The new series was a re-imagining of the original, with Ron Ely in the role that Lloyd Bridges made famous. It only ran for 22 episodes. The new Mission: Impossible which debuted the following year would also fail. Debuting in the fall of 1988, the new Mission: Impossible was essentially a continuaton of the original, with Jim Phelps (again played by Peter Graves) working with a new Impossible Missions Force. The new series managed to survive its first season, but it ended its second season after only 15 episodes.

The same year would see a revival of the Sixties sitcom The Munsters. The Munsters Today was a continuation of the original series, with the explanation that they had been put into suspended animation for the last twenty two years. Shot on a shoestring budget with an entirely different cast, The Munsters Today was generally considered inferior to the original series (which is saying something, in my opinion). Despite this, it actually lasted longer than the original show (while both ran for two years, The Munsters Today had 72 years while The Munsters only had 70.

Not surprisingly, 1989 would see more TV show revivals. Two would be abject failures. The New Dragnet, yet another revival of the classic show, aired for only one season. With an all new cast, it may have suffered from comparisons to the original. A new version of another Jack Webb series, The New Adam-12, also debuted that season to little success. It only lasted one season as well.

The Eighties ended with the revival of Kojak, itself a part of The ABC Mystery Movie, a revival of sorts of The NBC Mystery Movie. The new Kojak was one of a group of rotating elements (of which a revival of Columbo was also one). The revival was a continuation of the original series, with Theo Kojak now an inspector on the Major Case Squad. The new version lasted only one season, not quite as long as the revival of Columbo (which outlived The ABC Mystery Movie just as it had The NBC Mystery Movie).

With the close of the Eighties, the number of TV show revivals would slow down a great deal. In fact, the Eighties had at least as many TV show revivals, if not more, than the Nineties and the Naughts combined.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

TV Show Revivals Part One

There have been network television broadcasts in the United States for nearly sixty years now. As might be expected, many TV shows which had been cancelled would be revived later. The reasons for this tend to be very basic. The first is the very nature of television, or of most mass media for that matter. An idea which has been successful or popular before will naturally be preferred over an idea which has never been tried. In other words, the American television networks will naturally prefer ideas that have been successful before. Generally this will take the form of debuting shows of a particular genre following a hit in that genre. For instance, in the wake of the success of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation a spate of new police procedurals debuted. Sometimes, however, this tendency to rely on the tried and true will result in old shows being revived.

The second reason for TV shows is simply nostalgia. Network broadcast television has been around for literally decades, and as a result many people will be nostalgic about particular shows. Because of this some shows may well see revivals to take advantage of such nostalgia. This is made all the more likely as many creative people in television are themselves nostalgic about certain shows and will naturally seek to revive them.

While the reasons for TV show revivals are basic, the types of TV show revivals are a bit more complex. Some TV show revivals are simply continuations of old series. That is, they are in effect sequels to old TV shows. Most often these revivals will feature at least some of the cast of the original series, such as Dragnet 1967 and The New WKRP in Cincinatti. In other cases such revivals will feature entirely new casts. Examples of these are the Star Trek series following the original series. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Enterprise all take place in the same reality as the original show, but are set many years later with new characters (Star Trek: Enterprise was a prequel set many years prior to the original series). In other cases, TV show revivals are what might be termed "re-imaginings," entirely new versions of shows with entirely new casts. Examples of these are the revivals of The Untouchables which aired from 1993 to 1995 and the revival of Battlestar: Galactica currently airing on the Sci-Fi Channel. It must be pointed out that in some cases the lines between the two types of TV shows revivals are not so clear. The short lived PAX series Ponderosa was ostensibly a prequel to Bonanza, but it departed from the original series in such dramatic ways that it might as well be considered a "re-imagining" of the original series.

For most of American network television's history, TV show revivals have largely been confined to game shows and animated series. Game show revivals occurred as early as the Seventies, with game shows from the Fifties being revived in that decade. Examples of this are The Price is Right (first aired in 1955 and revived in 1972) and Match Game (first aired in 1962 and revived in 1973 and again in the Eighties). Animated shows have been resurrected in some form another nearly as frequently as game shows. Indeed, for many in the Seventies and Eighties it must have seemed as if the bulk of Hanna-Barbera's output consisted of revivals of The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You.

While game shows and animated series were frequently revived, however, it was rare that sitcoms and dramas would be resurrected prior to the Seventies. Much of this might have been due the relative youth of the medium. Indeed, by 1967 network television was a mere 20 years old. This was perhaps not enough time for nostalgia about many series to have set in. Regardless, TV show revivals would appear with more frequency in the Sevemties, and by the Eighties they would almost seem commonplace.

Curiously, the first revival of a sitcom did take place fairly early in the history of American television. The Life of Riley was a succesful radio show that had debuted in 1941 with William Bendix in the role of Chester A. Riley, a riveter at a California aircraft plant. The show aired on radio until 1951 and was successful enough to be adapted into a feature film in 1949. Naturally, it was considered ripe for television adaptation in 1949 as well. Because of a film commitment, Bendix was unavailable for the role of Riley in the new TV show. Instead, a young comic named Jackie Gleason was cast in the role. This version of The Life of Riley received low ratings. Complicating matters was the fact that Jackie Gleason wanted to move on to bigger and better things (which he did). The series then ended in 1950 after only five months on the air.

The Life of Riley was still considered a commodity ripe for television adaptation, despite the first series' failure on television. William Bendix made his TV debut as Chester A. Riley in a revival of the TV show in 1953. This version proved to be a hit, lasting a full five years. It must be noted that while his version of the series was a failure, The Life of Riley may have had a lasting influence on Jackie Gleason. The blue collar Riley can be considered the prototype not only for Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners, but Archie Bunker of All in the Family and Dan Conner of Rosanne as well.

While The Life of Riley received a new lease on life, this was the exception, not the rule. In the Fifties and Sixties, when most TV shows were cancelled, they were never revived. It must have seemed a curiosity in 1967, then, when Jack Webb revived his TV show Dragnet. Dragnet 1967 debuted in the 1967-198 season. Jack Webb returned in the role of Joe Friday. His new partner, Bill Gannon, was played by Harry Morgan. The new series proved somewhat successful, running until 1970. Although widely regarded as inferior to the Fifties version, Dragnet 1967 (the title changed with each year) still has a following.

Dragnet was the only series revived in the Sixties. On the other hand, the Seventies would actually see several shows revived in some way, shape, or form. The first of these was the classic Danny Thomas sitcom Make Room for Daddy In 1970 it was revived under the title Make Room for Granddaddy. Danny Thomas returned as Danny Williams in Make Room for Granddaddy, as did many of the original cast. The series found Danny and his wife taking care of their grandson Michael while his daughter Terry and her husband (who was in the Army) were stationed overseas. Hans Conried even put in appearances as Uncle Tonoose, perhaps the most popular character on the original series. Unfortunately, Make Room for Granddaddy would not last. It was cancelled after only one season.

Nineteen seventy two would see one of the strangest revivals in television history. In the Sixties Peyton Place, a soap opera based on the novel and movie of the same name, was one of the most popular prime time series on ABC. It ran for five years, from 1964 to 1969. Its success would turn both Ryan O'Neil and Mia Farrow into stars. In 1972 NBC revived the series as a daytime soap opera, under the title Return to Peyton Place. Only three members of the prime time show's cast appeared in the series. It may have been for this reason it failed. It only ran until 1974, an extraordinarily short time for a soap opera.

The 1973-1974 would see the revival of no less than three series, the most of any season up to that time. One was a classic mystery series. Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr, based on Erle Stanley Gardner's series of novels featuring the crime solving lawyer. It proved to be a big hit for CBS upon its debut in 1957. It lasted until 1966, ending not due to ratings, but due to Burr's desire to move onto other things. The New Perry Mason debuted in September 1973. If Return to Peyton Place seemed odd, The New Perry Mason may have seemed even stranger. The fact is that The New Perry Mason was not a continuation of the first series, but could be considered a re-imagining of the series or, at the very least, a new take on Erle Stanley Gardner's novels. It featured none of the cast from the original series, and even featured characters from the novels who rarely appeared on the first show (such as Gertie, Perry's receptionist). With the original still in reruns throughout the United States, the new series probably did not have a fighting chance. It went off the air after only 15 episodes.

The second TV series was a continuation of a show rather than an attempt to re-imagine it. Ozzie's Girls was essentially a sequel to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The series had debuted on radio in 1944 and centred around Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their family. It made their transition to television in 1952, airing on ABC. Although rarely seen today, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet left its mark on television history in more than one way. Unless one counts The Simpsons, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is the second longest running sitcom of all time (after The Jack Benny Programme). Furthermore, the series featured what could be considered some of the earliest rock videos (their son Ricky Nelson was a rock singer and often his songs would showcased in video segments on the series). Quite naturally, Ozzie Nelson, the brains behind the series, may have felt that the show was ready for a revival in 1973. He developed a new series called Ozzie's Girls. With their sons gone, Ozzie and Harriet rented their rooms to two college co-eds. The Nelsons, accustomed to dealing with boys, then found themselves dealing with young women. The series was syndicated, which may have been part of the reason it did not repeat the original series' success. It ran for only one season. While running in syndication probably put it at a disadvantage to network offerings, the more central reason it failed may have been that Ozzie and Harriet's time had passed. Their quiet, wholesome brand of comedy, was out of fashion by the Seventies.

The third series to be revived in the 1973-1974 was Your Hit Parade. Even by the time it first aired on television, Your Hit Parade was an old show. It had debuted on radio all the way back in 1935. Immensely popular, each week the series featured the top hits of this week as sung by the show's regulars. The original TV series debuted in 1950. The series went off the air in 1959, a victim of the rise of rock and roll and the desire of young viewers to see the latest hits performed by the original artists. The 1974 revival was a summer replacement series. It followed the format of the original show save for one thing. Rather than perform the latest hits, the show featured the hits from a particular week from the Forties or Fifties. This probably put the show at a disadvtange from the beginning. Quite naturally it skewed towards older viewers, the kiss of death for any series in the Seventies. It was not picked up for the 1974-1975 season.

In 1978 a television movie would lead to the revival of an old TV series. Maverick was one of the most legendary Westerns of the Fifties. It concentrated on various members of the Maverick family, ne'er do wells who would generally rather play cards than draw a gun. For the most part the show centred on Bret Maverick (the role which made James Garner famous), a gambler and sometimes conman travelling through the old West. Not particularly good with a gun, Bret would rather talk his way out of a fight than shoot his way out. Bret's brother Bart (played by Jack Kelly) was a gambler like Brett, although a bit better with a gun and a bit more heroic. A third Maverick, Beau (played by Roger Moore), was Brett and Bart's cousin educated in England. Like Bret and Bart, he was a gambler. He was also a bit more of a womaniser. Yet another Maverick (it must have been a huge family) was introduced in the show's next to the last season, Bret and Bart's brother Brent Maverick (played by Roger Colbert). Brent was probably the most like Bret of any of the Mavericks. Maverick proved to be a hit, lasting until 1962.

With Maverick still popular in the Seventies, a TV movie called The New Maverick aired in 1978. The movie reunited James Garner and Jack Kelly as Bret and Bart and introduced yet another Maverick, their young cousin Ben (the son of Beau). The success of the series led to a new series, Young Maverick, which featured the adventures of Ben. Sadly, Young Maverick would not repeat the success of the original series. Only eight episodes aired before it went off the air.

While the Seventies saw relatively few TV series revivals, the Eighties would see a dramatic increase in the number of such revivals. Indeed, when it came to TV show revivals, it could well be considered a Golden Age.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

L'Armee des ombres (Army of Shadows)

In the United States, director Jean-Pierre Melville is best known for the film Le Samourai. As widely acclaimed as that film was, however, it is not his masterpiece. That would be L'Armee des ombres or, in English, Army of Shadows. While Le Samourai would be released in the United States and United Kingdom not long after its release in France, L'Armee des ombres would have to wait until long after its French release in 1969 for an English speaking audience. It was not released in the UK until 1978. We Americans had to wait even longer. It was just released here last year. That is particularly sad, as L'Armee des ombres is arguably Melville's best film.

L'Armee des ombres was based on Joseph Kessel's novel about the French Resistance in World War II. Because of this Jean-Pierre Melville was perhaps the best possible director for the film, having been part of the Resistance. Indeed, Melville's experience informs Army of Shadows with an authenticity that another director might not been able to produce. This is not a simple minded action movie or a piece of patriotic propaganda. L'Armee des ombres is a dark, serious minded film.

Indeed, L'Armee des ombres portrays a world where good and evil are very relative terms, the outcome of any given action ultimately determining whether it is right or wrong. It is a time and place where individuals fighting for their nation's freedom must always be careful that they do not lose their humanity. The movie brings to mind Nietzche's famous quote, "He who fights monsters must take care lest he become a monster." It is a world where duty comes above all else, where sacrifices, even of what one loves the most, are part and parcel of life.

Melville's direction is very stylised. The film utilises a drab colour scheme, where the sky always seems to be cloudy. Throughout the film Melville uses edits, pans, and contrasts to add to the movie's dreary atmosphere. At the same time, however, Melville directs L'Armee des ombres with a sense of detachment that English speaking viewers might know from the oeuvre of Kubrick. In many ways, Army of Shadows seems much more like a piece of cinema verite than a work of fiction.

The cast is also remarkable. Lino Ventura is wonderfully understated as civil engineer Philippe Gerbier, who becomes one of the heads of the Resistance. Simone Signoret, so often cast as women of a shady nature in her earlier films, is convincing as Mathilde, Gerbier's chief assistant. Not one single performance is off key, remarkable in a movie where the characters are all three dimensional and very complex.

I have to warn anyone wanting see this film that, in case one hasn't guessed by now, L'Armee des ombres. The satisfaction of watching L'Armee des ombres does not come from seeing the heroes defeat their opponents, but rather from looking into the struggles of a group of people as they fight for freedom without losing their honour. It is fascinating to watch and quite possibly one of the best World War II movies ever made. It is a shame that Melville's masterpiece did not reach America sooner.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mala Powers and Mr. Wizard

Two pop cultures recently died. One, Mala Powers, was an actress who made many guest appearances on TV shows in the Fifties and Sixties. The other, Don Herbert, better known Mr. Wizard, taught science to a generation through the miracle of television.

Mala Powers passed on June 11 at the age of 75. She had been battling leukaemia. She had begun her career in films, but would eventually become a guest star on various TV shows.

Mala Powers was born Mary Ellen Powers on December 20, 1931 in San Francisco. When Powers was nine her parents moved to Los Angeles. She went to the Max Reinhardt Jr.Workshop where she appeared in her first play. She continued to study acting, making her first appearance in the Dead End Kids film Tough as They Come in 1942. Not wishing for her daughter to become a child star, her mother told her that she should study more before taking any more acting jobs.

It was at age 16 that Powers started acting on radio shows. In 1950 she appeared in her second film, Edge of Doom. Her breakthrough would be in the 1950 movie Outrage (not to be confused with The Outrage, the 1964 American remake of Akira Kurosawa's Rashoman), playing a rape victim. For her next role she played Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950).

Under contract she appeared in such movies as Cyrano de Bergerac (in which she played Roxanne), City Beneath the Sea, City That Never Sleeps, and The Storm Rider.

Unfortunately, Powers' film career would be interrupted by illness. While in Korea on a USO tour, Powers contracted a blood disease which nearly killed her. When she was healthy enough to work again, she found herself cast in B movies. She appeared in such movies as City Beneath the Sea, City That Never Sleeps, Rage at Dawn, Bengazi, and Storm Rider.

As the Fifties wore on, her career would increasing consist of television appearances. Her first appearance on TV came in 1953 on Pantomine Quiz. Her first actually bit of acting on television was in an episode of Studio 57 in 1955. In the late Fifties she guest starred on Zane Grey Theater, Wagon Train, Bonanza, and Bourbon Street Beat. By the Sixties the majority of her career was spent in television guest appearances. She guested on such shows as Maverick, Surfside 6, Thriller, Rawhide, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Daniel Boone, Ironside, and Murder She Wrote. She still appeared in movies from time to time, including Daddy's Gone A-Hunting, The Doomsday Machine, and Hitters (her last film appearance). Powers also had a stage career. In 1964 she appeared on Broadway in Absence of a Cello. Her final apperance on stage was in Mr. Shaw Goes to Hollywood in 2003 at the Laguna Playhouse in California.

Powers was a talented actress whose career never quite recovered following her illness. This was unfortunate, as she was capable of much more than guest appearances.

Don Herbert, better known to the world at large as Mr. Wizard, passed on July 12 at the age of 89. He had been battling bone cancer.

Don Herbert was born on July 10, 1917 in Waconia, Minnesota. Herbert attended University of Wisconsin-La Crosse as an English and General Science major. In World War II he enlisted in the Army where he became a B-24 pilot with the Fiftieth Air Force. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters and was a captain by the end of the war.

The war over, Herbert took a job at a radio station in Chicago. He also performed on stage at times, as well as radio shows from Captain Midnight to Jack Armstrong. He wrote scripts for Curtain Time and First Nighter. Herbert's career would not be in acting, even if it was spent before a camera. He developed an idea for a TV show which would seek to teach science to youngsters through using ordinary household items. Initially he wanted to give the show a rather generic name, but suggestions from an ad man eventually resulted in the title Watch Mr. Wizard. Watch Mr. Wizard debuted on March 3, 1951. The series became very popular. Mr Wizard clubs were founded across the United States, with a membership of 50,000 by 1965 when the series was cancelled. The series was awarded the Peabody Award and three Thomas Alva Edison National Mass Media Awards. Both the National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society cited Watch Mr. Wizard for teaching children about science. Much of the show's success was due to the fact that, like the best children's show hosts, Herbert never talked down to children.

The cancellation of Watch Mr. Wizard did not mean Mr. Wizard would leave television. Don Herbert produced the series Experiment for National Educational Television (now PBS). Herbert would return to NBC in Mr. Wizard in the 1971/1972 season, but the revival did not last. Though his new series lasted only one season, Herbert would produce a series of thirty second Mr. Wizard Close Ups for NBC in the Seventies. Still later he would appear on CBS's children show Razzmatazz. In 1983 he returned to television again in Mr. Wizard's World, which lasted until 1990. Mr. Wizard also appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman.

Frank Herbert also wrote several books on science for children, including Mr. Wizard's Science Secrets and Mr. Wizard's Supermarket Science.

Even though Generation Y and even members of Generation X have never heard of him, Mr. Wizard would have a lasting impact on pop culture and even science. Herbert proved that science could be entertaining, thus paving the way for future children's shows about science. Both Bill Nye the Science Guy and Beakman's World have been publicly acknowledged as being inspired by Watch Mr. Wizard. More important than its impact on television may have been its impact on its young viewers. Many scientists who had watched Mr.Wizard as a child had become interested in science through his TV show. More so than many children's show hosts of his era, Don Herbert had a lasting impact.