Saturday, February 1, 2020

Robert Sampson Passes On

Robert Sampson, who had regular roles on Bridget Loves Bernie and Falcon Crest as well as guest starred on such shows as Alfred Hitchcoc Presents and Star Trek, died on January 18 2020 at the age of 86.

Robert Sampson was born on May 10 1933 in Santa Barbara, California. He made his television debut in a guest appearance on Meet Corliss Archer in 1954. In the Fifties he had a recurring role on the TV show Steve Canyon. He guest starred on such shows as Matinee Theatre, Man Without a Gun, Goodyear Playhouse, The Deputy, Markham, One Step Beyond, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and Adventures in Paradise. He made his film debut in an uncredited role in The Bamboo Prison in 1954. In the Fifties he appeared in such films as 5 Against the House (1955), The Peacemaker (1956), Up Periscope (1959), and Strangers When We Meet (1960).

In the Sixties Mr. Sampson guest starred on such shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Sea Hunt, The Asphalt Jungle, Rawhide, The Lawless Years, Outlaws, Frontier Circus, 87th Precinct, Tales of Well Fargo, Alcoa Premiere, The Twilight Zone, Thriller, The Virginian, Bonanza, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Outer Limits, Combat!, Ben Casey, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, That Girl, Star Trek, Gunsmoke, I Spy, T.H.E. Cat, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, Green Acres, Mayberry R.F.D., and The Immortal. He appeared in the movies A Fever in the Blood (1961), Look in Any Window (1961), The Broken Land (1962), Hero's Island (1962), Della (1965), The Restless Ones (1965), For Pete's Sake (1966), and Zig Zag (1970).

In the Seventies Robert Sampson was a regular on the short-lived sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie. He guest starred on such TV shows as Mission: Impossible; Lassie; Ironside; Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law; Sarge; Griff; Adam's Rib; Hawkins; McCloud; The Wonderful World of Disney; Switch; Police Woman; Police Story; Good Heavens; The Jeffersons; The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries; CHiPs; The Rockford Files; Wonder Woman; and The Love Boat. The Sky's the Limit (1975), Mr. Ricco (1975), and Paura nella città dei morti viventi (1980).

In the Eighties Mr. Sampson had a recurring role on Falcon Crest. He guest starred on such shows as Dallas, Code Red, Strike Force, Hill Street Blues, Dynasty, Quincy M.E., Capitol, Knight Rider; The A-Team, Trapper John M.D., Knot's Landing, Magnum P.I., Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Hardcastle and McCormick, The Colbys, Amen, and Matlock. He appeared in the films Re-Animator (1985), Double Revenger (1988), Robot Jox (1989), and The Dark Side of the Moon (1990).

In the Nineties he guest starred on the shows Santa Barbara and Profiler. He appeared in the movies The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992), Indecent Behaviour (1993), and Annie's Garden (1997). In the Naughts he appeared in the films Shadow People (2007) and Faded Memories (2008).

If Robert Sampson guest starred on so many television shows, it is perhaps because he was very versatile as an actor. He played a Catholic priest on Bridget Loves Bernie and the local sheriff on Falcon's Crest. Over the years he played everything from mob hit man Vincent "Mad Dog' Coll on The Lawless Years to cavalry officer Lt. Meadows on Rawhide to an ophthalmologist on Dynasty. It was his versatility that made him so much in demand as a guest star on various TV shows. 

Friday, January 31, 2020

TCM's 31 Days of Oscar 2020

I must confess that I have always had mixed feelings about the 31 Days of Oscar on Turner Classic Movies each year. It always makes me a bit sad that the 31 Days of Oscar pre-empts TCM's regularly scheduled programming, meaning no Noir Alley, no TCM Imports, and no Silent Sunday Nights. This is made worse for me in that some years (this being one of them) the movies I want to see the most are scheduled at awkward times during the 31 Days of Oscar. This year there are only ten movies that I absolutely must see airing in primetime out of the whole 31 days. That having been said, during the 31 Days of Oscar Turner Classic Movies does air a whole lot of truly great films. In fact, I have trouble deciding if TCM shows more great films during 31 Days of Oscar or Summer Under the Stars.

Below are my picks for this year's 31 Days of Oscar. I have to warn you that you might want to DVR some of them, unless you stay up all night or don't work during the day!

Sunday, February 2
6:30 AM Eastern/5:30 AM Central Ninotchka (1939)
12:00 PM Eastern/11:00 AM Central The Maltese Falcon (1941)
8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Monday, February 3
4:45 AM Eastern/3:45 AM Central 42nd Street (1933)
12:00 AM Eastern/11:00 PM The Great Race (1965)

Tuesday, February 4
10:15 PM Eastern/9:15 Central Road to Morocco (1942)

Wednesday, February 5
2:00 AM Eastern/1:00 AM Central White Heat (1949)
11:45 AM Eastern/10:45 AM Central North by Northwest (1959)
5:45 PM Eastern/4:45 PM Central The Caine Mutiny (1954)
8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central The Apartment (1960)
12:30 AM Eastern/11:30 PM Central Cat Ballou (1965)

Thursday, Feburary 6
2:15 AM Eastern/1:15 AM Central The Dirty Dozen (1967)
5:00 AM Eastern/4:00 AM Central The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Friday, February 7
1:30 PM Eastern/12:30 PM Central Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Sunday, February 9
6:45 AM Eastern/5:45 AM Central Mystery Street (1950)

Monday, February 10
12:45 PM Eastern/11:45 AM Central The Front Page (1931)
12:00 AM Eastern/11:00 PM Central Network (1976)

Wednesday, February 12
3:30 AM Eastern/2:30 AM Central The Great Escape (1963)
8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central To Be or Not To Be (1942)
10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central My Man Godfrey (1936)

Thursday, February 13
8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central When Worlds Collide (1951)

Saturday, February 15
3:00 AM Eastern/2:00 AM Central Cool Hand Luke (1967)
6:00 PM Eastern/5:00 AM Central Gaslight (1944)
8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central Casablanca (1942)

Monday, February 17
3:00 AM Eastern/2:00 AM Central Young Frankenstein (1974)

Wednesday, February 19
6:00 PM Eastern/5:00 PM Central The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Friday, February 21
12:00 PM Eastern/11:00 AM Central It Happened One Night (1934)

Saturday, February 22
6:15 AM Eastern/5:15 AM Central Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Sunday, February 23
3:00 AM Eastern/2:00 AM Central Planet of the Apes (1968)
10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central Gone with the Wind (1939)

Monday, February 24
10:00 AM Eastern/9:00 AM Central The Red Shoes (1948)
12:00 AM Eastern/11:00 PM Central 8 1/2 (1963)

Thursday, February 27
10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central Kiss of Death (1947)

Friday, February 28
9:00 AM Eastern/8:00 AM Central Mrs. Miniver (1942)
1:15 PM Eastern/12:15 AM The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Saturday, Februrary 29
6:15 AM Eastern/5:15 AM Central Brewster's Millions (1945)
6:00 PM Eastern/5:00 PM Central The Graduate (1967)

Sunday, March 1
6:15 AM.Eastern/5:15 AM Central The Thin Man (1934)
1:30 PM Eastern/12:30 PM Central 12 Angry Men (1957)

Monday, March 2
4:00 PM Eastern/3:00 PM Central Strangers on a Train (1951)
8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central Laura (1944)
9:45 PM Eastern/8:45 PM Central The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
11:45 PM Eastern/10:45 PM Central My Fair Lady (1964)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Fred Silverman Passes On

Fred Silverman, a network executive who worked at CBS, ABC, and NBC and later became a successful television producer, died today, January 30 2020, at the age of 82.

Fred Silverman was born on September 13 1937 in New York City. His father worked for Sears as a radio and television repairman. As a child Fred Silverman collected radio scripts that he obtained from porters working for the radio networks. He graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor's degree and then earned a master's degree from Ohio State University. His master's thesis analysed ABC's programming practices from 1953 to 1959, during which time the network went from having few hit shows to several.

He broke into television in 1961 at WGN-TV in Chicago, editing commercials there. He oversaw the development of children's programming at the station, including Bozo's Circus. He also oversaw repackaging old Boma the Jungle Boy movies and kid's movies aired in the afternoon under the heading Family Classics. He left WGN in 1963 for WPIX in New York City. He was only at WPIX for six weeks before being hired by CBS as director of Daytime Programming.

As the head of Daytime Programming at CBS, Fred Silverman created a hit line-up of Saturday morning cartoons in 1966, capitalising on the superhero craze with such shows as Space Ghost and Dino Boy, The New Adventures of Superman, and The Lone Ranger. While CBS's superhero cartoons proved very successful, to the point that NBC and ABC debuted their own superhero cartoons the following season, they also led to backlash from moral watchdogs concerned about the violence in the cartoons. It was then in 1968 that Fred Silverman successfully shifted CBS's Saturday morning line-up to more humorous fare such as The Archie Show and Wacky Races. In 1969 Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? debuted on the network, eventually becoming a franchise that lasts to this day.

In 1970 Fred Silverman was promoted to Vice President, Programs at CBS. As such he would become the architect of the Rural Purge. While the Rural Purge would see the cancellation of shows that arguably had much more life in them (notably Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw, CBS would see the debut of several hit shows in the early Seventies, including such shows as All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Waltons, Kojak,and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.  Fred Silverman was also responsible for re-introducing games shows to the CBS daytime line-up, including such hits as Match Game and The Price is Right (which still airs to this day).

It was in 1975 that Fred Silverman moved to ABC, where he was named president of ABC Entertainment. While Happy Days had debuted before his move to ABC, Fred Silverman was responsible for saving the then low-rated sitcom from cancellation. It was while he was at ABC that the network debuted such hits shows as Laverne & Shirley, Charlie's Angels, Three's Company, The Love Boat, Soap, and Fantasy Island. He pioneered the mini-series on American television by airing both Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. Under Fred Silverman's watch, ABC became the number one network for the first time in its history.

It was in 1978 that Fred Silverman moved to NBC, where he was made President and CEO. Unfortunately he would not see the success at NBC that he had at CBS and ABC. Mr. Silverman would see some successes at NBC, including CHiPs, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, Hill Street Blues, and the mini-series Shogun. He also made the series commitments that led to Cheers and St. Elsewhere, even though both would debut after he was gone from NBC. At NBC, however, Mr. Silverman's failures far outnumbered his successes, including Hello, Larry; Pink Lady; Supertrain;  and The Krofft Superstar Hour. Things were so dire that in 1981 NBC had its worst season in its entire history. As a result, Fred Silverman found himself ousted as president and CEO of NBC.

Fred Silverman would not remain down for long. Leaving NBC in 1981, he founded the Fred Silverman Company. Often in conjunction with Dean Hargrove Productions, the Fred Silverman Company not only revived Perry Mason as a series of TV movies, but also produced such hit shows as Matlock, Jake and the Fat Man, In the Heat of the Night, and Diagnosis Murder.

As legendary as Fred Silverman was as a programmer, he did make his share of mistakes. While the Rural Purge was to some degree necessary to clear the way for new shows, it also saw the cancellation of shows that arguably still had life in them (Hee Haw would last over twenty more years in syndication). It was on his watch that a number of ill-fated shows were launched at ABC and NBC, including The Brady Bunch Variety Hour; Hello, Larry; The Big Show; Pink Lady; and Supertrain. That having been said, his successes far outnumbered his failures, to the point that it could be said with some certainty that he was a programming genius.

Indeed, it was arguably Fred Silverman who put the Saturday morning cartoon on the map. His successful spate of superhero cartoons an later comedy cartoons insured that CBS would dominated Saturday mornings in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Once he became Vice President, Programs at CBS, he saw the debut of such hits as All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Maude, and Kojak. At ABC he also saw success, with such hits as Laverne & Shirley, Charlie's Angels, Three's Company, and Soap. Once his career as a network executive was over, he was able to become a successful television producer, producing shows that are still aired in syndication to this day, including Matlock, In the Heat of the Night, and Diagnosis Murder. It must also be noted that Fred Silverman did not rely on any one formula at programming. At CBS he was responsible for a number of socially relevant sitcoms and detective dramas. At ABC his programming tended to be more escapist fare. Fred Silverman seemed to have a knack for knowing what audiences wanted at any given time.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Nicholas Parsons Passes On

Nicholas Parsons, long time presenter of the British radio comedy panel show Just a Minute and the British version of the game show Sale of the Century, as well as appearances in movies and narrative television shows, died on January 28 2020.

Nicholas Parsons was born on October 10 1923 in Grantham, Lincolnshire. He attended St. Paul's School in London. Although he wanted to become an actor from when he was young, his family wanted him to go into engineering. It was after he left school, then, that he spent five years as an engineering apprentice at Drysdales, a manufacturer of marine pumps, in Clydebank, a town near Glasgow, Scotland. During World War II he had been offered a position in the Merchant Navy, but he had to decline after falling ill with pleurisy.

It was while he was still working as an engineering apprentice that he was discovered by talent scout and radio personality Carroll Levis. Following World War II, Mr. Parsons became a full time actor. His stage debut was in The Hasty Heart at the Aldwych Theatre on the West End in 1945. He made his television debut in 1946 in the production Hay Fever. He made his feature film debut in The Master of Bankdam in 1947. On stage he spent two years in repertory at Bromley. On television he the television short "The Princess and the Woodcutter" and guest starred on BBC Sunday-Night Theatre.

In the Fifties Nicholas Parsons was a regular on the television shows The Eric Barker Half-Hour, Look at It This Way, Here and Now, and the children's puppet show Four Feather Falls. He was a host on the shows What's It All About?, They're Off!, and Dial M for Music. Mr. Parsons was a regular on The Arthur Haynes Show.  He guest starred on The Passing Show, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Adventures of the Big Man, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents, Saturday Playhouse, and Saturday Spectacular. He appeared in the feature films To Dorothy, a Son (1954), Simon and Laura (1955), An Alligator Named Daisy (1955), The Long Arm (1956), Eyewitness (1956), Brothers in Law (1957), Happy is a Bride (1958), Too Many Crooks (1959), Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959), Upstairs and Downstairs (1959), Let's Get Married (1959), and Doctor in Love (1960).

In 1967 Nicholas Parsons began hosting the comedy panel radio show Just a Minute. He would continue to do so until 2019. Nicholas Parsons appeared on every single show, either as the host or a panellist without interruption until 2018, when he missed two shows because of illness. He would later host a television version of Just a Minute starting in 1994. In the Sixties Mr. Parsons was also the host of the television show Know Your Onions. Beginning in 1969 and until 1974 he was the announcer and a regular on The Benny Hill Show. He continued to appear on The Arthur Haynes Show. He appeared in the mini-series Night Train to Surbiton. He was a regular on The Very Merry Widow and How and the American sitcom The Ugliest Girl in Town. He guest starred on Vacation Playhouse. He appeared in the movies Carry On Regardless (1961), Murder Ahoy (1964), Every Day's a Holiday (1964), The Wrong Box (1966), The Ghost Goes Gear (1966), and Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (1968).

Starting in 1971 Nicholas Parsons began hosting the British version of the American game show Sale of the Century, something he would continue to do until 1983. He continued to appear on The Benny Hill Show until 1974. He was a guest on such shows as Password, The Golden Shot, This is Your Life, Those Wonderful TV Times, and Star Games, 3-2-1. He guest starred on Comedy Playhouse and The Morecambe & Wise Show. He appeared in the films Danger Point (1971) and Spy Story (1976).

In the Eighties Nicholas Parsons hosted Super Troupers and Blankety Blank. He was a guest on such shows as Look Who's Talking, Family Fortunes, The Russell Harty Show, Punchlines!, Looks Familiar, A Question of Entertainment, Scruples, You Bet!, Roland's Rat Race, The Joke Machine, and Laughlines. He guest starred on The Little and Large Show, Who Dares Wins, Roland Rat: The Series, and Doctor Who.

In the Nineties Mr. Parsons was the presenter on TV shows Kappatoo and Cluedo. Starting in 1994 and until 1999 he was the host of the television version of Just a Minute. He also appeared on such shows as A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Spatz, TV Squash, Public Enemy Number One, The Music Game, Auntie's Bloomers, The Clothes Show, Surprise Surprise!, Cryer's Crackers, Countdown, Give Us a Clue, Our House, and The Weakest Link.

In the Naughts Nicholas Parsons appeared in the film Lady Godiva (2008). He narrated the TV show The Wotwots. He guest starred on Agatha Christie's Marple. He was the host of Loose Women. He  was a guest on such TV shows as A Question of TV, Kelly, Through the Keyhole, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Arena, Breakfast with Frost, Gameshow Marathon, Screenswipe, Timeshift,  and The Funny Side of...

In the Teens Mr. Parsons guest starred on Comedy Lab. He was the voice of Dagon on the mini-series Good Omens. He was a guest on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, Pointless Celebrities, The Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture, and Rebirth of a British Icon V7497.

Nicholas Parsons's last edition of Just a Minute was on September 23 2019. He had been the show's host for fifty-two years.

In the United Kingdom there can be no doubt that Nicholas Parsons will always be remembered as the host of Just a Minute and Sale of the Century. Tony Hall, the outgoing director of the BBC said of Mr. Parsons, "Very few people have done so much to entertain audiences over the decades, and no one deserves to be called a broadcasting legend more than Nicholas Parsons. His charm, inventive intellect and ability to create laughs were unsurpassed..." On Twitter Stephen Fry tweeted, "He ruled Just A Minute for Just a Lifetime. A stunning achievement: never scripted, always immaculate. From comedian's sidekick to great institution, via Sale of the Century and much more. Unrivalled continuity, professionalism and commitment." It seems likely that Nicholas Parsons's run on Just a Minute will never be surpassed.

While Just a Minute and the British version of Sale of the Century were unavailable in the United States, Americans would be familiar with Nicholas Parsons through his film and television appearances. He was a wonderful actor, his years as a straight man giving him a knack in particular for comedy. He was delightful as Army officer Alan Frazer Scrope in The Wrong Box, and he gave a moving performance as the vicar Reverend Wainwright in the Doctor Who serial "The Curse of Fenric." Even when a particular movie wasn't very good, as in the case of The Ghost Goes Gear, Nicholas Parsons always was. In the end Nicholas Parsons was an extraordinarily talented man, as a straight man, an actor, and a game show host.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Godspeed Jack Burns

Jack Burns, who was a comedy partner to both George Carlin and Avery Schreiber, was a writer on The Muppet Show, and appeared on TV shows from The Andy Griffith Show to Fridays, died on January 26 2020 at the age of 86.

Jack Burns was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 15 1933.  In 1952 he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Korean War. Following his service Jack Burns studied radio at the Leland Powers School in Boston. He became news director at WEZE in Boston, where he met George Carlin, who was an announcer and disc jockey at the station. The two bonded and two formed a comedy team, doing routines on the air. After George Carlin was fired from WEZE, the two of them moved to KXOL in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1960 Burns and Carlin moved to Los Angeles where they went to work for radio station KDAY. That same year the comedy team made their television debut on an edition of Tonight Starring Jack Paar.  Burns and Carlin's material would appear on the 1963 record album Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight, even thought the team had broken up in 1962.

It was also in 1962 that Jack Burns joined the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. It was there that he met Avery Schreiber and the two formed the team of Burns and Schreiber. In the Sixties the team appeared on The Jack Paar Show, Oh My Word, The Kraft Summer Show, The John Gary Show, The Roger Miller Show, The Perry Como Show, The Merv Griffith Show, The Kraft Music Hall, The Glenn Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Hollywood Palace. Burns and Schreiber hosted the variety show Our Place. Jack Burns also appeared on shows without Jack Burns. He appeared solo in episodes of The Entertainers and Happy Days (the 1970 variety, not the better known sitcom).

In the Sixties Jack Burns also began acting. He was Deputy Barney Fife's short-lived replacement, Warren Ferguson, on The Andy Griffith Show. He guest starred on Occasional Wife, Premiere, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, and Hee Haw. Mr. Burns also appeared in movies, including Goldstein (1968) and The Night Raided Minsky's (1968). It was also in the Sixties that Jack Burns began writing for television. He wrote for The Kraft Music Hall, The Glen Campbell Comedy Goodtime Hour, and Hee Haw.

In the Seventies Jack Burns was a regular on the short-lived sitcom Getting Together and a regular voice on the animated sitcom Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. He guest starred on the show The Partridge Family; Nanny and the Professor; and Love, American Style. Burns and Schreiber appeared in their own television special, The Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour in 1973. Burns and Schreiber appeared on the shows The David Steinberg Show, The Midnight Special, Jack Paar Tonite, The Dean Martin Show, Flip, The Mike Douglas Show, ABC's Wide World of Entertainment, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He appeared solo on Saturday Night Live and Hee Haw. As a writer he worked on The ABC Comedy Hour, The Melba Moore-Clifton Davis Show, The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, and We've Got Each Other. He was one of the original writers of both The Muppet Show and Fridays. He co-wrote The Muppet Movie (1979).

In the Eighties Jack Burns was a regular on Fridays. He guest starred on Brothers; The New Love, American Style; and CBS Comedy Playhouse. He was a writer on Brothers, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and Dolly. In the Nineties he was a guest voice on Darkwing Duck, Mother Goose and Grimm, and The Simpsons. Jack Burns was the voice of Sid the Squid on Animaniacs. He guest starred on Silk Stalkings. He appeared in the film Sour Grapes (1998). In the Naughts he guest starred on the sitcom The Pitts.

Whether as part of the comedy teams of Burns and Carlin or Burns and Schreiber or on his own, Jack Burns was a comedic genius. With Avery Schreiber, Jack Burns created cutting edge routines and played everything from a racist cab driver to a dishonest evangelist. Jack Burns was equally impressive as a solo act. While there was no way that he could fill Don Knotts's shoes on The Andy Griffith Show, his character Warren Ferguson was a funny character. He played a by-the-book county official on The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, a fast-talking used cars salesman on Nanny and the Professor, and the fanatical anti-Communist Ralph Kane on Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. As a writer Jack Burns was responsible for some of the funniest bits on shows ranging from Hee Haw to The Muppet Show. He was an extraordinary comedic talent.