Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Top 20 Favourite Alfred Hitchcock Movies

The lovely and talented Kate Gabrielle of Silents and Talkies recently did a post on her twenty favourite movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock being one of my favourite directors of all time, I thought I would do one too. It is perhaps a testament to his long career and the quality of his work that anyone could compile a list of his or her favourite films that Hitchcock made!

Here I must note that I do not include The Lodger, although I do love it, as I see silent movies as a different medium from talkies. What makes for a good silent might not make for a good talkie and vice versa!

 1. North by Northwest
 2. Rear Window
 3. Vertigo
 4. Dial M for Murder
 5. The Birds
 6. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
 7. The Trouble with Harry
 8. The Lady Vanishes
 9. The 39 Steps
10. Shadow of a Doubt
11. Psycho
12. Rebecca
13. Sabotage
14. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
15.  To Catch a Thief
16. Notorious
17. Spellbound
18. Foreign Correspondent
19. Lifeboat
20. Saboteur

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nan Martin R.I.P.

Nan Martin, who appeared frequently on television, film, and stage, passed on Thursday at the age of 82.

Nan Martin was born in Decatur, Illinois on July 15, 1927, but was raised in Santa Monica, California. Her acting career began when attending the University of California, Los Angeles part time and she was received a role in the school's production of The Gentle People. Eventually she moved to New York and made her debut on Broadway in 1950 in the play  A Story for a Sunday Evening. The following year she appeared in ta revival of The Constant Wife.

Nan Martin made her television debut on Studio 57 in 1955 and her film debut in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit the following year. From 1955 to 2005, Martin would then have an incredibly prolific career. On Broadway she appeared in a revival of Makropoulos Secret (1957), J.B. (1958), The Great God Brown (1959), a revival of Lysistrata (1959), a revival of Henry VI Part I (1960), Under the Yum-Yum Tree (1960), Come Live with Me (1967), Summer Brave (1975), and The Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1976).  In California she was part of the South Coast Repertory, with which she performed in such plays as The Road to Mecca, Buried Child, and All My Sons.

 Nan Martin appeared very frequently on television. In the Fifties she guest starred on such shows as Robert Montgomery Presents, Sunday Showcase, and Play of the Week. In the Sixties she guest starred on Ben Casey, The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, The Defenders, The Fugitive, Perry Mason, and Mission: Impossible. In the Seventies she guest starred on Bewitched, The F.B.I.,and Ellery Queen. In the Eighties she guest starred on Hart to Hart, Star Trek: the Next Generation, Columbo, and The Golden Girls. She was one of the stars of the series Mr. Sunshine and appeared in the mini-series The Thorn Birds. In the Nineties she guest starred on The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and ER. She was a semi-regular on The Drew Carey Show as Mrs.Louder. In the Naughts she guest starred on Six Feet Under, NYPD Blue, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Las Vegas.

Nan Martin also appeared in a large number of films. In the Sixties she appeared in the 1964 version of Toys in the Attic, Hamlet, The Art of Love, For the Love of Ivy, and Goodbye, Columbus. In the Seventies she appeared in The Young Nurses, The Other Side of the Mountain, Jackson County Jail, and A Small Circle of Friends. In Eighties she appeared in All of Me, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3:  Dream Warriors. From the Nineties into the Naughts she appeared in Last Gasp, Big Eden, Forever Lulu, and Cast Away.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jay Leno's Catastrophic Return to The Tonight Show

Last night Jay Leno made his return to The Tonight Show. From NBC's behaviour when they decided to bring Leno back to the show, even from the promos they aired during the Olympics, it seems obvious that they not only hoped Leno's return to The Tonight Show would be a triumphant one, they honestly believed it. Now that Jay Leno's return has aired, however, it must seem obvious to most, perhaps everyone but NBC and Leno's most loyal fans,  that it was anything but triumphant. Indeed, if last night's show was any indication, it seems apparent that Leno may not stay on The Tonight Show long.

The plain truth is that critics' reactions to Jay Leno's first episode back on The Tonight Show were underwhelming to say the least. The consensus  of most critics was that Jay Leno simply trotted out the same old material for his return engagement on television's oldest late night show. Frazier Moore of the Associated Press summed it up as "the same old Jay with pretty much the same old Tonight Show." Raju Mudhar of The Toronto Star noted, "...what was remarkable with these guests was how unremarkable Leno was. It really was as if he had never left." James Poniewozik of Time noted  that the monologue "...could largely have been a Leno monologue from before The Jay Leno Show, right down to a set of jokes about the previous Presidential administration." Some critics were even more vicious with regards to Leno's performance. In USA Today Robert Bianco (not a critic I often agree with) referred to Leno's monologue as "tired, lame, and unfunny."

Now I must confess I did not watch Jay Leno's return to The Tonight Show out of protest over their treatment of Conan O'Brien, but it is hard to ignore the reviews it received,  the vast majority of which are negative. I might be inclined to ignore Robert Bianco's review (as I said, I don't often agree with him), but when every single critic I've read also sum up Leno's return to The Tonight Show as tired and stale, I have to believe it probably was. And to be honest, it does not surprise me. Jay Leno's prime time show was nearly the same as his version of The Tonight Show. And his version of The Tonight Show has changed very little in the past sixteen years. Jokes which are moderately funny at best. Repartee with his bandleader. Lame routines (Jaywalking, anyone?). In the history of late night hosts, Jay Leno ranks among the least original and the least cutting edge. Although he is not necessarily a bad host, he is the very definition of a mediocre host.

Of course, regardless of the reviews, Leno did beat Letterman in the ratings. Early ratings estimate that 6.6 million people tuned into see Leno return to The Tonight Show. While this might seem like a victory, I rather suspect it should not be considered such. It is lower than the 9.2 million who watched Conan O'Brien's debut on The Tonight Show last year. It is much lower than the 17.7 million viewers who tuned in to the first outing of The Jay Leno Show, a show whose ratings dropped dramatically over the following weeks. While I have no doubt that loyal Jay Leno fans tuned into the show last night, I rather suspect many tuned in out of curiosity. I also believe that the ratings will drop drastically in the coming weeks. By April Letterman might not only be beating Leno, he may well be trouncing him. Quite simply, NBC may have a ratings catastrophe on their hands.

Indeed, the makings for a ratings catastrophe have been there ever since NBC decided to return Leno to late night. It's not simply the case of Leno trotting out the same old jokes and same old routines. Comedians have made it on stale material before. It is the fact that whole late night war from the beginning of the year substantially changed Leno's image. Previously he was well liked. People thought he was a nice guy. Now many think of him as an absolute jerk. Some even share Howard Stern's sentiment expressed on CBS' The Early Show, "Just the mere mention of Jay Leno's name makes me want to vomit." Given the level of animosity that still exists towards Leno and the fact that neither Leno nor NBC have made an effort to make amends with the viewing public, it seems likely that viewers might start staying away from Leno in droves. In the end, his return to The Tonight Show may be shorter than Conan's stint on the show. When that happens, maybe at long last NBC will realise how grave their mistake was in betting on the wrong horse.

Monday, March 1, 2010


The past several days I have had a cold severe enough that I called into work today and went to the doctor. Indeed, my nose was so congested that Saturday night I had difficulty getting to sleep. That is, until I took NyQuil. For those of us with severe colds, NyQuil is something of a miracle drug. Not only does it relieve symptoms of a cold, but it actually lets one get some sleep at the same time. The adverts are not mere hyperbole when they proclaim Ny Quil to be "The nighttime sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine."

Prior to the late Sixties, the vast majority of cold remedies were sold as tablets. Liquids were only reserved for treating coughs. Vicks' Reserch and Development team then formulated a liquid cold remedy that would also help people sleep. As to how NyQuil received its name, no one is quite certain of that. According to the Vicks web site, one legend is that it came from the phrase "nighttime tranquillity." NyQuil was first test marketed in 1966. In the fall of 1968 it was introduced to the general public with a blitz of television commercials and print ads. It was in 1979 that the classic slogan "The nighttime sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine" was introduced.

Over the years, beyond its packaging, NyQuil would change very little. It was in 1987 that a cherry flavoured version of the medicine was introduced. In 1991 NyQuil LiquiCaps were introduced. Not only was it the first time that NyQuil was sold in something other than a liquid, it was also the first time that a liquid cold remedy was placed within a capsule. Eventually it would lead to nearly every Vicks cold medicine product to be sold in solid form. In 2006 NyQuil Sinus was introduced.

It was also at this time that a significant change was made in the NyQuil formula. NyQuil originally contained the nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used in making metaaphetamines. In 2006 the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act was passed, seeking to stem the spread of metaaphetamines. According to the new law, all pseudoephedrine-containing medicines would have to be kept behind pharmacy counters and every single purchase recorded. Vicks decided that to keep their products in easy reach of consumers, they would remove pseudoephedrine from all their products. The pseudoephedrine in NyQuil was then replaced with phenylephrine. When many protested that phenylephrine was less effective than pseudoephedrine, Vicks introduced Nyquil-D, essentially the original NyQuil formula. As it contains pseudoephedrin, NyQuil-D is kept behind pharmacy counters.

 Here I should perhaps say something about NyQuil's daytime equivalent, DayQuil. Development on DayQuil began even as NyQuil was being test marketed. Although tested under the name DayQuil, it was introduced in 1976 under the name DayCare. Unfortunately, DayCare would not prove to be the success that NyQuil was. It was reintroduced in 1992 under the DayQuil name.

Below is an early advert for NyQuil, I suspect from the late Sixties or early Seventies. Notice the well known slogan is absent.

Below is a 1993 commercial, by which time the well known slogan was in place. By the way, if the actor in the advert seems familiar, it's because it's Nathan Lane.

Finally, here is more recent commercial which aired during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. It stars short track star Apollo Ohno (sadly, they did not make one with Lindsey Vonn, whom I much prefer looking at....).

When NyQuil was introduced in 1968, it was revolutionary. At the time liquid cold medicines were nearly unknown. Since then it has generated many spinoff products, everything from NyQuil Cold/Flu Multisymptom Relief to NyQuil Sinus, LiquiCaps, and even DayQuil. It has also inspired many imitators over the years, products which also seek to treat cold symptoms while providing for a good nights sleep. Arguably, it has been one of the more successful products of the late Twentieth Century.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

How Gunsmoke Gunned Down Gilligan's Island

There can be no argument that Gilligan's Island was one of the most successful television series of all time. The show has been translated into over a dozen languages and aired in 74 countries. It even managed what seemed impossible, surpassing I Love Lucy in syndication. What might surprise many of the show's loyal viewers, at least those unaware of its history, is that Gilligan's Island only ran three seasons. Many might conclude that it was simply cancelled due to poor ratings. After all, this is why the vast majority of shows are cancelled. In truth, however, Gilligan's Island had respectable ratings until the very end. Its cancellation came about not due to low ratings, but the feelings at the upper reaches of CBS about the show and about another legendary show called Gunsmoke.

The seeds for Gilligan's Island were sown even as it debuted on CBS on September 26, 1964. Even today Gilligan's Island is sometimes cited as an example of bad television, but the reviews which came in from critics in the wake of its premiere were ever worse. Gilligan's Island was firmly trounced by critics at the time. Not only were the notices bad on the whole, but many critics cited it as one of the worst shows ever made.This did not sit well with the head of CBS William S. Paley, who always prided himself on the quality of programming on the network.

Unfortunately for Mr. Paley, Gilligan's Island proved to be a hit. Not only did it routinely win its time slot, but for the 1964-1965 season it ranked #18 in Nielsen's top twenty five shows. At the time CBS had a policy in scheduling to keep successful shows in the same time slot; however, an exception would be made for Gilligan's Island, which had proven to be an embarrassment to the network. The series was then moved from its 8:30 PM Eastern Saturday time slot to 8:00 PM Eastern Thursday for for the 1965-1966 season. The change in time slot hurt Gilligan's Island very little in the ratings. The show came in 22nd n Nielsen's top twenty five shows. For its third season Gilligan's Island was moved once more, this time to 7:30 PM Eastern Monday. While the show fell out of the top twenty five shows according to Nielsen for the season, its ratings were still respectable and it consistently won its time slot. CBS not only renewed Gilligan's Island, but decided to keep it in the same time slot. It would be followed by a new situation comedy entitled Doc, starring Eldon Quick as a young physician hired by an older physician played by John McIntire.

While Gilligan's Island was set to return in the same time slot for the 1967-1968 season, a television stalwart was set to go off the air. Gunsmoke was one of three Westerns to debut in the fall of 1955 (the others were The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and Cheyenne) and spurred the phenomenally huge cycle towards Westerns in the late Fifties. From 1957 to 1961 it was the number one show on television. Unfortunately, after Gunsmoke was expanded from a half hour to an hour, it experienced a slide in the ratings. By the 1966-1967 season it had fallen to #34 for the year in the ratings. While this was still respectable, it was a far cry from the days when it was the #1 show on the air. At the same time, its audience had grown older and its audience was largely rural. It was then in the 1966/1967 that the programmers at CBS decided to cancel Gunsmoke at the end of its twelfth season.

The outcry was immediate. Critics and viewers alike were outraged. Senate Robert Byrd even criticised the network's decision on the Senate floor. Even with such outcry, it is quite possible that CBS would not have given Gunsmoke a reprieve had it not been for one thing. Quite simply, Gunsmoke was among the favourite shows of both William S. Paley and his wife Babe. When he saw that Gunsmoke was not on the fall 1967-1968 schedule, he immediately called CBS vice president Mike Dann and demanded that the show be renewed. With visions of losing their jobs, CBS' programmers then rushed to find a solution to their scheduling dilemma. Unfortunately their solution would not be one that would be pleasing to the cast and crew of Gilligan's Island.

As mentioned above, Gilligan's Island had received atrocious notices upon its debut. This had won it no love from Wlliam S. Paley, who wanted programming on CBS to be high in quality. At the same time CBS' affiliates had shown an extreme dislike for the new sitcom Doc, which was set to follow Gilligan's Island. It was then decided that Gilligan's Island, which had always been a bit of an embarrassment to Mr. Paley, and Doc, which was not popular with the affiliates, would be cancelled and Gunsmoke would return in the 7:30 PM Eastern Monday time slot.

The repercussions of the reprieve Gunsmoke was given would not end with the cancellation of Gilligan's Island. In its new time slot, Gunsmoke made a miraculous recovery. It jumped from the bottom of #34 to the top ten for the 1967-1968 season. With such phenomenal ratings, the shows on NBC and ABC could not compete. On NBC The Monkees, which was directly against the first half hour of Gunsmoke, saw a drop in its ratings. The Man From U.N.C.L.E, whose first half hour aired against the second half hour of Gunsmoke, had already seen a drop in its ratings in its third season. In its fourth season its ratings dropped even more. As to the new series on ABC, Cowboy in Africa, it never had a chance. In the end, Gunsmoke would run another eight years. As to Gilligan's Island, it went onto become a sensation in syndication.

It was William S. Paley and his wife's love of Gunsmoke that would ultimately be the reason that Gilligan's Island ran only three seasons. What is more, the return of Gunsmoke would take down three other shows on the competing networks, two of which (The Monkees and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) are counted as classics in many quarters. While no one can say how things would have unfolded had Gunsmoke not been renewed and moved to Monday night, one can probably guess that things would have unfolded very differently.

(Credit Where Credit is Due Department: In addition to the usual news archives and IMDB, I relied a good deal on Inside Gilligan's Island by Sherwood Schwartz. This book is not only useful for anyone curious about the history of that series, but for anyone who wants an inside view on the inner workings of television series and broadcast networks in the Sixties).