Friday, July 2, 2010

Ilene Woods, The Vocie of Disney's Cinderella, R,I.P.

Ilene Woods, who provided the voice for Cinderella in the Disney movie of the same name, passed on Thursday. The causes were linked to Alzheimer's Disease.

Ilene Woods was born May 5, 1929 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Although she wanted to be a teacher, her mother thought she belonged on the stage. Her mother saw to it that she had lessons in singing, music, and dance.She was only 11 years old when she received her own local, radio show. In 1944, when she was only 14 Miss Wood received her own show on The Blue Network (now ABC). During World War II she toured with the Air Force Orchestra.

Ilene Woods moved to Chicago to be a regular on the popular radio show The Breakfast Club. Afterwards she moved to Los Angeles where she became a regular on The Sealtest Village Store and made guest appearances on Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope's radio shows. She was only 18 in 1948 when her friends, legendary songwriters Jerry Livingston and Mack David, asked a favour of her: recording a demo of a few songs they had written for a Disney animated feature film.

It was two days later that Walt Disney called Miss Woods. He asked if she would take the role of Cinderella. She had beaten out 200 other singers who had auditioned for the role. On and off for the next two years Miss Woods spent recording dialogue tracks and songs for Cinderella.

In the Fifties Ilene Woods would sing on various television shows. She was a regular on Garry Moore's daytime variety show. In 1963 she married Ed Shaughnessy, long the drummer for the band on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Miss Woods retired from show business in 1972.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Composer Allyn Ferguson R.I.P.

Allyn Ferguson, who composed the themes for Barney Miller, Charlie's Angels, and other TV series, passed on June 23, 2010. He was 85 years old.

Allyn Ferguson was born on October 18, 1924 in San Jose, California. As a child he was something of a musical prodigy. He took trumpet lessons when he was only 4 years old and began studying piano when he was only 7. During World War II he was trained as a P-38 pilot, but the war came to an end before he could see any combat. After the war he attended San Jose State University where he received bachelor and master's degrees in music. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood in Massachusetts.

By the early Fifties Allyn Ferguson was attending Stafford University to earn a doctorate. It was at this time that he formed the Chamber Jazz Sextet, who would record three albums. It was in 1958 that he would move to Hollywood. His first work in film would be as the composer for the 1962 movie The Devil's Hand. He would score the films The Magic Tide (1962), Terror at Black Falls (1962), and Airborne (1965).  From 1966 to 1967 he would serve as a conductor on The Andy Williams Show. He would also score incidental music for episodes of the TV shows The Monkees and Bewitched.

By 1970 Allyn Ferguson had entered into a partnership with Jack Elliott, and together they would compose scores for TV shows and movies. The team of Messrs. Ferguson and Elliott composed the score for the movie Myra Breckinridge (1970). They went on to compose themes for the TV shows Lotsa Luck, Get Christie Love, Barney Miller, Charlie's Angels, Big Hawaii, A. E. S. Hudson Street, and Fish. Mr. Ferguson also served as a conductor on such TV movies as The Count of Monte Cristo, The Four Feathers, and The Man in the Iron Mask. In the Eighties and Nineties Mr. Ferguson composed scores for TV movies such as The Christmas Gift, The Last Days of Patton, Ironclads, Shadow of a Doubt, and High Noon. He also composed music for episodes of The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Murder She Wrote, and Diagnosis Murder.

There can be no doubt that Allyn Ferguson was one of the best composers to ever work in television. Indeed, with Jack Elliott he wrote two of the most memorable themes in the history of the medium, the themes to Barney Miller and Charlie's Angels. His work in TV movies and other TV shows was of an equally high quality, so much so that Mr. Ferguson was nominated several times for Emmy awards. He had talent that was matched by only a few other composers in the television industry.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Actor Corey Allen Passes On

Actor and television director Corey Allen, who played Buzz (who challenged James Dean's character to a chicken race) in A Rebel Without a Cause, passed on June 27 at the age of 75.

Corey Allen was born Alan Cohen on  June 29, 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1954 Mr. Allen graduated from the UCLA theatre department. It was that same year that he made his movie debut in the film A Time Out of War. In 1954 he also appeared in the film The Mad Magician in the uncredited role as Gus the Stagehand, and made his television debut in a guest appearance on Medic. He appeared in bit parts in the films The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) and The Night of the Hunter (1955) and guest starred on the TV shows Dragnet and Stories of the Century before his famous appearance in Rebel Without a Cause. In the film Corey Allen played the leather jacketed leader of a high school gang, Buzz, who challenges Jim Stark (James Dean) to a chicken race.

Despite his appearance in Rebel Without a Cause, much of Mr. Allen's career would be spent in television. In the late Fifties he guest starred on such shows as The Loretta Young Show, Casablanca, Studio 57, The Millionaire, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Relsteles Gun, Gunsmoke, Trackdown, Have Gun--Will Travel, Rawhide, and Dan Raven.  He also appeared in the films The Shadow on the Window (1957), The Big Caper (1957), Darby's Rangers (1958), Party Girl (1958),. and Key Witness (1960).

In the Sixties Corey Allen guest starred on such shows as Sea Hunt, The Rebel, Perry Mason, Bonanza, Dr. Kildare, Combat, and My Friend Tony. He also appeared in the films Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), and The Champion Report (1962). It was in 1969 that Mr. Allen moved into television direction, with an episode of The New People. Over the years he would direct episodes of Then Came Bronson, Mannix, The High Chapparal, Matt Lincoln, Ironside, Hawaii Five-O, Barnaby Jones, Police Story, Police Woman, Lou Grant, Quincy M.E., The Rockford Files, T. J. Hooker, Simon and Simon, Hill Street Blues, Murder She Wrote, Magnum P.I., Hunter, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and The Cosby Mysteries. He directed three  feature films: The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio (1971), Thunder and Lightning (1977),  and Avalanche (1978).  Mr. Allen would appear in acting roles twice more, in the film The Works (2004) and as the voice of Mr. Eagle in Quarantined (2009).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Televison Series Backdoor Pilots

Television's tradition of producing pilots for series goes back to the days of radio. A pilot is essentially a dry run for a television show--an episode length film meant to represent what a typical episode of a TV series would be like. It is through television pilots that networks can then decide whether to pick up a series or not. Essentially being test runs for television shows, pilots are not necessary meant to be broadcast. The original pilot for Gilligan's Island  was never aired, although footage from it was used in a later episode that involved flashbacks to how the Castaways got on the island. When pilots are broadcast, they are not necessarily the first episode of a series. The second pilot produced for Star Trek, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," was aired as that series' third episode. The pilot for Law and Order, "Everybody's Favourite Bagman," was aired as the sixth episode of that show.

Pilots can often be expensive to produce. And if the prospective television series for which the pilot was made is not picked up, the costs for that pilot can never be recouped. It is the sheer expense of producing pilots that led to the development of what is known as the backdoor pilot. The Slanguage Dictionary of Variety defines a backdoor pilot as "...pilot episode filmed as a standalone movie, so it can be broadcast if it is not picked up as a series..." Here it must be pointed out that this definition is not entirely accurate. While many backdoor pilots are filmed as television movies, there have been many that have also been filmed as episodes of pre-existing television shows. In fact, the use of episodes of TV series already on the air as backdoor pilots for prospective shows may well have occurred much more often in the history of television than the use of television movies as backdoor pilots.

The production of backdoor pilots as television movies may have happened most often during the Seventies. An early example of a television movie that also served as a backdoor pilot was the telefilm Then Came Bronson. Airing on March 24, 1969, Then Came Bronson was the pilot for the series of the same name, which debuted on NBC on September 17, 1969. ABC aired several television movies as backdoor pilots on their ABC Movie of the Week, the title given to the time slot reserved for made for TV movies. The pilots for such ABC series as Alias Smith and Jones, Longstreet, Kung Fu, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Wonder Woman all aired under the heading of ABC Movie of the Week.

Indeed, in the Seventies it seemed as if the entirety of Gene Roddenberry's work in television was in the form of TV movies that also served as backdoor pilots. In fact, Roddenberry's prospective series Genesis II would have no less than two backdoor pilots. The first, entitled Genesis II, aired on March 23, 1973 on CBS. CBS ultimately did not pick up Genesis II, preferring to pick up the series Planet of the Apes, spun off from the popular movie series. Gene Roddenberry would then produce another pilot for Genesis II, which would air under the title Planet Earth on April 23, 1974 on ABC. ABC did not pick up the series either. Another prospective series created by Gene Roddenberry whose pilot aired as a television movie was The Questor Tapes. The television movie/backdoor pilot The Questor Tapes aired on NBC on January 23, 1974. NBC actually gave the series the go ahead, but the show never came to fruition due to conflicts between Gene Roddenberry and both Universal and NBC. Another backdoor pilot for a prospective series by Gene Roddenberry was Spectre, which aired on May 21, 1977 on NBC. NBC did not pick up Spectre as a series.

Several of the most famous shows of the Seventies had pilots which also aired as TV movies, in addition to the shows whose pilots aired on ABC Movie of the Week listed above. The pilot for The Rockford Files aired as a telefilm on NBC on March 27, 1974. The pilot for Little House on the Prairie also aired as a made for TV movie on NBC on March 30, 1970. The pilot for The Incredible Hulk aired as a television movie on CBS on November 4, 1977. Although it would beocme much less common, the practice of creating backdoor pilots through TV movies would continue nto the Eighties. The pilot for Airwolf aired as a two hour movie on CBS on January 22, 1984. While the practice of using TV movies as backdoor pilots would pretty much die out as the Eighties progressed, it still occurs from time time to this day. The pilot for the reinvisioning of the series Battlestar Galactica would air as a two part TV movie on the Sci-Fi Channel in December 2003 and on NBC as well.

Of course, while the use of television movies as backdoor pilots has not been extremely common since the Eighties, the practice of using episodes of TV shows already on the air is still rather commonplace. Indeed, it is a practice that was established relatively early in the history of television. In the Fifties, when a backdoor pilot was aired, it was usually as an episode of an anthology series. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the legendary series The Twilight Zone. The script for the original pilot for The Twlight Zone, "The Time Element," was turned down by CBS in 1957, who showed little interest in the prospective series. It was only after Bert Garnet, then producer of The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse discovered the script in the vaults of CBS that "The Time Element" would see the light of day as an episode of The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. The episode proved so popular with viewers that it would lead to a second pilot for the series, "Where is Everybody," which would air as the first episode of The Twilight Zone.

In the Fifties it was not unusual that The Twilight Zone would get a lease on life as an episode of another anthology series already on the air. Indeed, Four Star Productions (founded by Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino, David Niven, and Dick Powell) would turn the use of backdoor pilots as episodes of their anthology series into an art form. In fact, many of Four Star Productions' Westerns originated as episodes of Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre. No less than six episodes of the Western anthology series would give birth to TV shows. The pilot for The Rifleman aired as the episode "The Sharpshooter." The pilot for Trackdown aired as the episode "Badge of Honour." The pilot for Johnny Ringo aired as the episode "Man Alone." Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre  was not the only Four Star Productions anthology series to feature backdoor pilots. The pilot for the detective series Richard Shayne aired as an episode of the anthology series Decision. Of course, not every show produced by Four Star Productions that featured an episode which was a backdoor pilot was necessarily an anthology series. An episode of  Trackdown, on which Robert Culp played Texas Ranger Toby Gilman, served as a backdoor pilot for the series Wanted: Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall.

Of course, Four Star Productions did not have a monopoly on using episodes of anthology series as backdoor pilots. The 1960-1961 sitcom Ichabod and Me originated as an episode of Robert Montgomery Presents aired during the 1956-1957 season ("Goodbye, Grey Flannel"). A full fledged, backdoor pilot, "Adams Apples," aired as an episode of another anthology series, G.E. True Theatre in 1960. The pilot for the series Run for Your Life aired as an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre, "Rapture at Two-Forty," on April 15, 1965. In the Seventies episodes of the series Police Story would serve as backdoor pilots for Police Woman, Joe Forrester, and Man Undercover.

In the late Fifties anthology series would be supplanted by shows with continuing characters, until they would become rare in the Sixties and nearly extinct since that time. This would not prevent producers from using episodes of shows already on the air as backdoor pilots for prospective series. Indeed, as pointed out above, an episode of Trackdown served as the pilot for Wanted: Dead or Alive. This was hardly an isolated case in the Fifties, as there are several other instances in which episodes of pre-existing shows would be used as backdoor pilots for prospective shows. Perhaps the most famous example of a show whose pilot was also the episode of another show is The Andy Griffith Show. Its pilot was the episode "Danny meets Andy Griffith' on the series Make Room For Daddy, which aired in February 1960. In the episode Danny Williams (Danny Thomas) would be arrested for speeding in Mayberry  by Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith). Of course, an episode of The Andy Griffith Show would in turn serve as a backdoor pilot for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.

The use of episodes of show already on the air as backdoor pilots for prospective series has more or less continued unabated since the late Fifties. In the Sixties an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ("The Moonglow Affair") would serve as a backdoor pilot for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. In the Seventies the pilot for Maude was also an episode of All in the Family. An episode of Happy Days would serve as a backdoor pilot for Laverne and Shirley. In the Eighties the pilot for A Different World was also an episode of The Cosby Show.

Using episodes of pre-existing shows as backdoor pilots is still relatively common today. In fact, the pilot for the most popular, hour long drama currently on broadcast network television, NCIS, was a two part episode of JAG ("Ice Queen" and "Meltdown"). In turn, the two part episode entitled "Legend" would serve as the backdoor pilot for the NCIS spin off NCIS: LA. An episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation would serve as the pilot for CSI: Miami, and an episode of CSI: Miami would serve as the pilot for CSI: New York.

Most viewers watching an episode of a show which is also a backdoor pilot can generally tell that it is a pilot for a new series. After all, such backdoor pilots are fairly obvious in that the episodes generally centre on a whole new set of characters rather than the regulars. This has led the web site TV Tropes & Idioms to term such pilot episodes as "Poorly Disguised Pilots." The experience of watching episodes of shows which were also backdoor pilots for other, prospective shows in reruns can be particularly strange when the prospective show was never picked up. The final two episodes of Green Acres would also be backdoor pilots for series that did not sell--the first centred on a hotel in Hawaii and the second on the ex-secretary of Oliver Douglas (Eddie Albert) and her new boss. The episode of The Brady Bunch, "Kelly's Kid's," which centred on an interracial family, was another backdoor pilot for a series which did not sell. The concept would later be reworked by Sherwood Schwartz as the short lived 1986 series Together We Stand.

Whether as a stand alone, made for television movie or an episode of a pre-existing show, backdoor pilots do have advantages over traditional pilots, not necessarily made for broadcast. Foremost among these is the fact that in airing the backdoor pilot, it can then recoup its costs. This is particularly true since the advent of DVDs, through which backdoor pilots of shows that did not even sell can make back some of their expenses. Another advantage of backdoor pilots is that can not only serve as a test run of a prospective series for network executives, but for viewers as well. By airing a backdoor pilot, network executives can then observe audience reactions to the pilot, decide if they want to pick up the prospective series, and even fine tune the prospective series to better suit viewers. Although most pilots are not backdoor pilots, it is perhaps because of these advantages that they have remained common throughout the history of American television.