Saturday, January 6, 2024

The Hollywood Palace Turned 60

Today the television variety show The Hollywood Palace is perhaps only remembered by those of a certain age and fans of classic television, as well as television and music historians. While it may not be well remembered today, it was very much a success while it was on the air. The Hollywood Palace boasted guests ranging from such classic movie stars as Ginger Rogers to popular comedians such as Bob Newhart to acrobats to rock acts such as Paul Revere & The Raiders. While it never ranked in the top thirty shows for the year, it received respectable ratings, particularly for the then struggling network ABC. Ultimately, it ran for seven seasons. The Hollywood Palace debuted on January 4 1964, so that the show just turned sixty.

The origins of The Hollywood Palace can actually be traced back to a show on an entirely different network, namely the late night show Tonight on NBC. It was in 1962 that popular host Jack Paar left Tonight. Johnny Carson, who had hosted his own short-lived variety show, The Johnny Carson Show, on CBS and was then the host of the game show Who Do You Trust? on ABC, was chosen as Jack Paar's successor as the host of Tonight (even then referred to informally as The Tonight Show). NBC would have to wait for Johnny Carson, as his contractual obligations to ABC and Who Do You Trust? producer Don Fedderson would not make him available to host The Tonight Show until October 1 1962. In the interim NBC relied on a number of guest hosts on The Tonight Show, a short list of which included Joey Bishop, Jack Carter, Bob Cummings,  Jimmy Dean, Arlene Francis, Art Linkletter, and Groucho Marx. Among these guest hosts was actor and comedian Jerry Lewis, who hosted The Tonight Show for two weeks. Jerry Lewis's stint as a guest host on The Tonight Show proved so successful that NBC, CBS, and ABC made offers to Lewis to star in his own show. ABC won in the end, although at a substantial cost.

Jerry Lewis signed a contract for $8 million per season with forty-two episodes a year with ABC. The contract also gave Jerry Lewis complete creative control. For the talk and variety show, The El Capitan Theatre (now the Avalon Hollywood), at one time home to The Colgate Comedy Hour, Truth or Consequences, and This Is Your Life, was completely renovated at an enormous cost, and renamed The Jerry Lewis Theatre. Ultimately, The Jerry Lewis Show, a two-hour talk and variety show airing on Saturday night, would be the most expensive variety show in the history of American television.

Unfortunately, The Jerry Lewis Show would also be a complete and utter failure. It debuted on September 21 1963 to largely hostile reviews. Worse yet, while the first episode of the show did well enough in the Nielsens, the ratings dropped precipitously over the next few weeks. It was then on November 10 1963, less than two months after it had debuted, that ABC announced that The Jerry Lewis Show had been cancelled. The cancellation did cost ABC dearly, as they had to buy out Jerry Lewis's contract. The star walked away with around $10 million, although some have claimed it was even more.

The debacle that was The Jerry Lewis Show left ABC in a bit of a lurch. Not only had they spent an extraordinarily huge amount of money on a show that bombed, but they were now left with nothing to air on Saturday night at 9:30 PM Eastern/8:30 PM Central. ABC partially rectified this problem by giving the 10:30 PM Eastern/9:30 PM Central back to their local affiliates. As to the hour beginning at 9:30 PM/8:30 PM, it would now be occupied by a hastily thrown together variety show. What was once The El Capitan and then The Jerry Lewis Theatre was renamed The Hollywood Palace, which was also the name of ABC's new variety show replacing The Jerry Lewis Show.

The Hollywood Palace differed from other variety shows of the era in that it did not have a regular host, and instead used a different host each week. Legendary crooner Bing Crosby hosted The Hollywood Palace more than anyone else, a total of 32 times (including the Christmas editions of the show). Other notable hosts on the show included Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Ernest Bognine, Joan Crawford, Bob Cummings, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Dean Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Phil Silvers, and Adam West. As might be expected, when he hosted the March 7 1964 edition of The Hollywood Palace, Dean Martin had to take a poke at his former partner, remarking that he would like to thank Jerry Lewis for "...building me this theatre." Among the regulars on the show would be one who would soon be famous. For a time Raquel Welch served as the show's "Billboard Girl," who was responsible for placing the names of the acts on placards. Dick Tufeld served as the show's off-screen announcer.

The Hollywood Palace has often been compared to The Ed Sullivan Show in the variety of acts booked on the show. That having been said, The Hollywood Palace was able to book acts that Ed Sullivan never could. An adjacent parking lot was sometimes used for trapeze and high-wire acts that The Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City could never accommodate. The fact that The Hollywood Palace was in Hollywood was another advantage it had over The Ed Sullivan Show.Quite simply, being located in Los Angeles, acts could be easily flown in from Las Vegas, giving the show access to many comedians and musicians.

Regardless, The Hollywood Palace featured a wide variety of acts throughout its run. Stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood were represented on the show by such legends as Dan Dailey, Bette Davis, Ann Miller, Jane Powell, and Cesar Romero. Several popular comedians appeared on the show, including Burns & Schreiber, Jack Carter, Shecky Greene, Pat Morita, Bob Newhart, and Rowan & Martin. Among the most frequent acts on the show was the performing elephants Bertha and Tina. Also appearing on The Hollywood Palace were such novelty acts as the acrobats the Hardy Family, The Berosini Chimps, The Flying Wallendas, and Les Salvadori (an Italian clown troupe).

For the first season Les Brown and His Band of Renown served as the show's house band. Starting with its second season and for the rest of its run, Mitchell Ayres and His Orchestra were the house band on The Hollywood Palace. The show featured a number of notable singers, including Rosemary Clooney, Mary Costa, Vic Damone, Nat King Cole,Eydie Gormé, and Nancy Wilson. Of course, today The Hollywood Palace may be best remembered for the American television debut of The Rolling Stones. Unfortunately, that debut was less than pleasant for The Stones. The host of the night Dean Martin made the band the butt of several jokes. While The Rolling Stones recorded two songs, ultimately only 45 seconds of the band would make it into the June 13 1964 edition of the show. Fortunately, for The Rolling Stones, their second song (a cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away") would air on the second episode of the second season without ridicule. Ultimately, The Hollywood Palace would feature several rock and R&B acts, including The 5th Dimension, Buffalo Springfield, The Jackson 5, The Mamas & the Papas, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Supremes, The Turtles, and We Five. While The Beatles never appeared on The Hollywood Palace, their promotional films for "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" were shown on the February 25 1967 edition of the show.

Ratings for The Hollywood Palace  dropped in its seventh season, perhaps due to competition from Mannix on CBS and NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on NBC. ABC then cancelled the show, with its last edition airing on February 7 1970. Fittingly enough, it was hosted by Bing Crosby, who had also hosted the first edition of the show. Sadly, very little has been seen of The Hollywood Palace ever since. The residuals for the many performers on the show, not to mention union contract fees for musicians, simply made it too expensive to be syndicated as a rerun. PBS aired a compilation of clips from The Hollywood Palace on December 16 2004 titled Christmas at the Hollywood Palace. There are clips from the show to be found on YouTube and there are also several unofficial DVD releases. It is not available on any streaming service.

Ultimately, The Hollywood Palace was much more than a hastily thrown together replacement for the failed Jerry Lewis Show or a knock-off of The Ed Sullivan Show. It was a showcase of acts ranging from stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood to current comedians and rock acts to novelty acts such as dancing elephants and performing chimps Although remembered only by a few and currently unavailable, the show has a definite place in television history. One can only hope that the entire series will become widely available one day.

Friday, January 5, 2024

The Late Great Glynis Johns

In some ways the term "legend" seems insufficient to describe Glynis Johns. She had success in motion pictures, on Broadway, and on television. She appeared in such movies as Miranda (1948), The Court Jester (1955),. The Sundowners (1960), and Mary Poppins (1964). On Broadway she originated the song "Send in the Clowns" in the production A Little Night Music, a song that Stephen Sondheim wrote specifically for her. On television she made numerous guest appearances, and starred on the shows Glynis and Coming of Age. Glynis Johns was nothing if not prolific and she had a particularly long career. Miss Johns died yesterday, January 4 2024, at the age of 100.

Glynis Johns was born on October 5 1923 in Pretoria, Union of South Africa to acting royalty. Her father was legendary Welsh actor Mervyn Jones, now known for such movies as Jamaica Inn (1939), Dead of Night (1945), and Scrooge (1951). Her mother was concert pianist Alice Steele-Wareham. Glynis Johns's mother gave birth to her while she was on tour. Glynis Johns took to entertainment while she was still very young. She was five years old when she enrolled in the London Ballet School. By the time she was ten years old she had already earned over two dozen gold medals in dance from competitions throughout England. In addition to being a trained dancer, Glynis Johns was also a skilled pianist and singer.

Glynis Johns was only 13 years old when she made her film debut in South Riding in 1938. In the late Thirties she also appeared in the films Murder in the Family (1938), Prison Without Bars (1938), On the Night of the Fire (1939), Under Your Hat (1940), The Briggs Family (1940), and The Thief of Bagdad (1940). It was in the Forties that she achieved stardom. She appeared with her father, Mervyn Johns, playing his daughter, in the movie The Halfway House (1944). In 1948 she starred as the mermaid of the title in the enormously popular movie Miranda. Glynis Johns would play Miranda twice more, in a cameo in the movie Helter Skelter (1949) and in the film Mad About Men (1951), which Rank Films insisted was not a sequel despite the fact that Glynis Johns played the same character as in Miranda. During the Forties she also appeared in the movies The Prime Minister (1941), 49th Parallel (1941), The Adventures of Tartu (1943), Perfect Strangers (1945), This Man is Mine (1946), Frieda (1947), An Ideal Husband (1947), Third Time Lucky (1949), Dear Mr. Prohack (1949), and State Secret (1950).

By the Fifties Glynis Johns was an established star. She appeared in two swashbucklers made by Disney, The Sword and the Rose (1953) and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953).  She was the female lead in the classic comedy The Court Jester (1955). She also appeared with her father in The Magic Box (1951) and The Sundowners (1960), for which she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She also appeared in such films as Flesh and Blood (1951), No Highway in the Sky (1951), Appointment with Venus (1951), Encore (1951), The Card (1952), Personal Affair (1953), The Weak and the Wicked (1954), The Seekers (1954), The Beachcomber (1954), Josephine and Men (1955), Loser Takes All (1956), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), All Mine to Give (1957), Another Time, Another Place (1958), Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), and The Spider's Web (1960).

In the Sixties Glynis Johns played what may be her best known role, that of suffragette Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins (1964). She also appeared in the controversial movie The Chapman Report (1962) and the comedy Dear Brigette (1965). She also appeared in the movies The Cabinet of Caligari (1962), Papa's Delicate Condition (1963), Don't Just Stand There (1968), and Lock Up Your Daughters! (1969).  In the Seventies Glynis Johns appeared in the movies Under Milk Wood (1971), The Vault of Horror (1973), and Three Dangerous Ladies (1977). She provided the voice of Swallow in the animated short "The Happy Prince" (1974). From the Eighties through the Nineties, she appeared in the movies Nukie (1987), Zelly and Me (1988), The Ref (1994), While You Were Sleeping (1995), and Superstar (1999).

As mentioned earlier, Glynis Johns also had a career on the stage, and she appeared on stage while she was still a child. She was eight years old when she appeared in the play Judgement Day at the Phoenix Theatre in London. In the Thirties she also appeared on the British stages in the short play St. Helena at The Old Vic in London, as well as The Children's Hour, The Melody That Got Lost, and Quiet Wedding.

In the Forties Glynis Johns appeared on stage in the play Quiet Weekend at the Wyndham Theatre in London and once more in Judgement Day (this time in an older role) at the Phoenix Theatre. She was only played the title character in a production of the play Peter Pan a the Cambridge Theatre in London. She also appeared in the plays I'll See You Again in 1944 and Fools Rush In in 1946.

Glynis Johns made her debut on Broadway in the title role in Gertie in 1952. She also appeared on Broadway in Major Barbara from 1956 to 1957. In the Sixties she appeared on the West End in he King's Mare at the Garrick Theatre. In 1963 she appeared on Broadway in Too Good to Be True. In the Seventies she appeared on Broadway in A Little Night Music and The Circle. In London she appeared in Come as You Are and 13 Rue de l'Amour. She also appeared in various productions elsewhere.

Glynis Johns also had an extensive television career. She made her television debut in 1952 in an episode of Studio One. In the Fifties she made guest appearances on Lux Video Theatre, The Errol Flynn Theatre, and The Frank Sinatra Show. In the Sixties she had her own short-lived sitcom on CBS, Glynis. She played Glynis Granville, a mystery writer who solves mysteries with the help of her husband, defence attorney Keith Granville (Keith Andes). Glynis Johns played the villain Lady Penlope Peasoup in a multi-part episode of Batman, with with Rudy Vallée as her brother Lord Marmaduke Ffogg. She also guest starred on the shows Adventures in Paradise, The Roarings 20's, General Electric Theatre, Naked City, The Dick Powell Show, Dr. Kildare, The Beachcomber, Saints and Sinners, The DuPont Show of the Week, The Lloyd Bridges Show, Burke's Law,The Defenders, 12 O' Clock High, and ITV Playhouse.

In the Eighties Glynis Johns was a regular on the show Coming of Age. She guest starred in an episode of Cheers as the mother of Diane Chambers (Shelley Long). She also guest starred on The Love Boat; Murder, She Wrote; and The Cavanaughs, She appeared in the mini-series She provided a voice for the animated TV movie Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School. Glynis Johns appeared in the mini-series Little Gloria...Happy at Last and Le crime d'Ovide Plouffe. In the Nineties she played the voice of Darjeeng in an ABC Weekend Special adaptation of The Secret Garden.

Glynis Johns was that rarest of people, a true multi-talent. She could act. She could dance. She could sing. And she could play piano. Chances are good that Glynis Johns will always be best remembered as Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins, the easy-distracted wife and mother who is at the same time a devoted suffragette. While this may be the case, she played a wide variety of roles. She will also be remembered as the flirtatious mermaid Miranda in the movie of the same name and the film Mad for Men. In contrast, she played the femme fatale Joan Burns in Third Time Luck, who finds herself caught between two gamblers. In The Chapman Report she played housewife Teresa Harnish, who finds herself lusting after a younger football player (Ty Hardin). She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Sundowners  for good reason. As Mrs. Firth, the loud, overly talkative, and flirtatious owner of the local pub, she is easily one of the best parts of the film. She also shined as Maid Jean, easily described as a female Robin Hood, in The Court Jester.

Glynis Johns also did well in her many television roles. She was one of the best villains on Batman, playing the diabolical Penelope Peasoup. In the Naked City episode "The Hot Minerva" she played a museum curator whose museum has been the victim of theft. In The Defenders episode "The Thief," Glynis Johns played Catherine Collins, a kleptomaniac facing life imprisonment. Of course, Glynis Johns also had a very successful stage career, and won the Tony Award for Best Actress of a Musical for her role as Desiree Armfeldt.

Glynis Johns was a singular talent who played a wide variety of roles over the years. If she was so prolific and her career was so long, it was because of her enormous presence as an actress and her ability to transform herself into a wide variety of characters. It's not many actors who played everything from a mermaid to a suffragette to femme fatales.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

The 40th Anniversary of Night Court

Night Court
was among the most successful sitcoms of the Eighties. It ran for nine seasons, and for four of those seasons it numbered among the top twenty shows each year. It was nominated for several Emmy Awards and won four awards. Following its broadcast network run, Night Court found success as a syndicated rerun on both local stations and cable channels. In the long run Night Court would see more success than many shows that were higher rated during their network runs.

Night Court centred on the night shift of a Manhattan Criminal Court. It was presided over by an unconventional, young judge, Harry T. Stone (Harry Anderson), who was an amateur magician and possibly the biggest Mel Tormé fan in the world. The public defender and Harry's love interest for most of the show's run was Christine Sullivan (Markie Post), who was extremely honest as well as a bit naive. The prosecutor was Dan Fielding (John Laroquette), an egoistical, sarcastic womanizer. The bailiffs for much of the show's run were Bull Shannon (Richard Moll), a dim-witted but gentle giant of a man, and Roz Russell (Marsha Warfield), whose surly exterior hid both shyness and a warm heart. "Mac" Robinson (Charles Robinson) was the court clerk on Night Court for most of its run. He was possibly the most conventional character on the show, possessed of a good sense of humour and genuine affection for his friends.

Night Court was created by Reinhold Weege. He was a former journalist turned sitcom writer, who had served as a writer, story editor, and producer on the classic sitcom Barney Miller and a writer on its spin-off Fish. To a large degree Night Court resembled Barney Miller. Just as a large number of eccentrics and off-the-wall characters would find their way to the NYPD 12th Precinct on Barney Miller, so too would a large number of eccentrics and off-the-wall characters find their way to Harry T. Stone's court on Night Court.

While many might think the whole idea of a night shift of a criminal court was created for the TV series, there actually is a night shift of the New York City Criminal Court that operates from 5 PM to 1 PM. The purpose behind having such late hours is because of the sheer number of arrests in New York City, over 100,000 each year. In having evening hours, the defendants' Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial can then be guaranteed. The offences handled in the night shifts of the New York City Criminal Court range from traffic tickets to shoplifting, although more major offences may also be covered. It must be pointed out that New York City isn't the only municipality that runs night courts. Chicago, Los Angeles, and other jurisdictions throughout the country also have night courts.

It was the night shift of the New York City Criminal Court that inspired Reinhold Weege to create Night Court. In particular, it was the judges on the benches of New York City's night courts that interested him. In the 2002 E! documentary TV Tales: Night Court, Reinhold Weege said, "There were stories in the newspaper at the time of judges with serious emotional problems who the state had a hard time getting rid of. I thought, gosh, it would be terrific if we could get a judge through the system who was a little off centre, a little wacky." It was then those judges who led to the creation of Harry T. Stone, who was not only the youngest judge in New York City history, but possibly one of the more eccentric.

Contrary to popular belief, Night Court was not created for Harry Anderson, although he certainly made the role of Harry T. Stone his very own. Harry Anderson was a magician and comedian who made multiple appearances on Saturday Night Live. It was in 1982 that he first appeared in the recurring role of grifter Harry "the Hat" Gittes on Cheers. It was through one of Harry Anderson's appearances on Saturday Night Live that he came to the attention of Jeff Melman, a producer and director on Night Court. Mr. Melman thought Mr. Anderson would be perfect for the role of Judge Stone. Harry Anderson would ultimately have some impact in shaping the character of Harry T. Stone, to the point that in some ways he was playing himself.

Night Court would see several cast changes in its first three seasons. The court clerk on the show was originally Lana Wagner (Karen Austin), who appeared in only the first ten episodes of the show. It had been planned that she would be a romantic interest for Harry. She was replaced as court clerk by Mac Robinson, played by Charles Robinson, who would remain with the show for the rest of its run. The public defender on Night Court would also change early in the show's run. In the pilot Gail Strickland played the role of public defender Sheila Gardiner. For the regular series she was replaced by legendary actress Paula Kelly as Liz Williams, who even received a nomination for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for the role. For reasons that are now unknown, Paula Kelly left Night Court after its first season.

Initially Paula Kelly was to have been replaced by Shelly Hack as the new public defender, Christine Sullivan. As it turned out, Miss Hack did not even make it through one episode, as Reinhold Weege decided she was not right for the part and she decided she was not right for the show. The episode "Daddy for the Defense" was then reshot with Markie Post as Christine Sullivan. Unfortunately, Markie Post was playing Terri Michaels on The Fall Guy at the time, and as a result was not available to star on Night Court. For most of the second season, then, Ellen Foley as Billie Young was the public defender and a love interest for Harry Stone on Night Court. Ellen Foley, who had sung with such artists as Meat Loaf and Blue Oyster Cult, left Night Court to further pursue her singing career, as well as other acting roles. By this time Markie Post was free to leave The Fall Guy, and she returned to the show as public defender Christine Sullivan. She remained with the show for the rest of its run.

Perhaps the most famous changes in the cast of Night Court would be the bailiffs. While Richard Moll as Bull Shannon was with the show from its beginning to the very end, the role of the other bailiffs on the show would change out of necessity. Comedy legend Selma Diamond, who had written for everything from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet to Your Show of Shows, originally played tough, wisecracking bailiff Selma Hacker on the show. Sadly, Selma Diamond died not long after the second season of Night Court ended from lung cancer at the age of 64. She was replaced by Florence Halop as bailiff Florence Kleiner. Florence Halop's career dated back to the Golden Age of Radio. Florence Kleiner was feisty much like Selma had been, but also loved motorcycles and heavy metal. Sadly Florence Halop died at age 63 from breast cancer. She was replaced by Marsha Warfield as bailiff Roz Russell in the fourth season. She remained with the show for the rest of its run. Fortunately, following the third season Night Court would see no more changes in its cast, with Harry Anderson, John Laroquette, Markie Post, Richard Moll, Marsha Warfield, and Charles Robinson remaining with the sitcom for the rest of its run.

In addition to the regular cast, there were characters who appeared before Judge Stone repeatedly. Among these were hillbillies Bob and June Wheeler, played by Brent Spiner and Annie O'Donnell who seemed to have the worst luck in the world. Yakov Korelenko (Yakov Smirnoff) was a Russian immigrant who appeared on the show from time to time. Al Craven (Terry Kiser) was a somewhat sketchy newspaper reporter for The Manhattan Gazette, constantly seeking a "big scoop."

While the cast would change over time, so too would the tone of Night Court. During it first season Night Court was a good deal like Barney Miller. Barney Miller was more or less grounded in reality, with the officers of the 12th Precinct having to deal with a succession of suspects and complainants who ranged from mildly eccentric to outright neurotic. For its first season Night Court was much the same way, with Harry T. Stone's court having to deal with a parade of oddballs. It was during the second season that Night Court gradually became unmoored from reality, so that its humour went from being dry and quirky to being broad and sometimes even surreal. The shift in the show's tone can be seen in the character of prosecutor Dan Fielding. During the first season Dan was very conservative and restrained, He even smoked a pipe. Over time Dan evolved into the scheming, egomaniacal womanizer now familiar to viewers of the show. By the seventh season of Night Court, the show was so far removed from reality that Wile E. Coyote could appear as a defendant on the show, charged with harassing The Road Runner in the episode "Still Another Day in the Life."

Of course, while Night Court would grow broader and more surreal in its humour over time, one thing that was consistent from its first season to the very end was that the show never dealt with serious issues. During the Eighties television situation comedy was still feeling the influence of such "relevant" sitcoms of the Seventies as All in the Family and Maude. It was the era of the "very special episode," an episode in which a sitcom tackled often controversial social issues, such as drugs, racism, teen pregnancy, and so on. In intentionally avoiding any heavy issues, Night Court was further set apart from other sitcoms of the era.

Night Court was set to debut in the fall of 1993, but NBC delayed the show's debut out of concerns over the show being Harry Anderson's first lead role on a TV series. It finally debuted on Wednesday, January 4 1984. Reviews for the show upon its debut were mostly positive, with Gail Williams of The Hollywood Reporter stating, "Night Court is a consistently funny sitcom created by Reinhold Weege.." Noel Holston in The Orlando Sentinel, wrote of that Night Court "...just may turn out to be the most ingratiating sitcom to hit the air since Cheers." While some critics liked Night Court, others did not. Howard Rosenberg began his review with the line, "Here come da judge, but not da laughs."Marilynn Preston of The Chicago Tribune went even further, writing that Night Court " the most idiotic TV sitcom I've seen all season."

For its first season Night Court was not a smash hit in the Nielsen ratings, although it did not do badly. It came in at no 40 for the year. For its second season NBC moved Night Court from Wednesday night to Thursday night, following Cheers. Its ratings rose to no. 20. Night Court would continue to perform well in the ratings, rising to no. 11 in its third season and no. 7 in its fourth and fifth seasons. Unfortunately, in its sixth season NBC moved Night Court back to Wednesday night. Its ratings fell to no. 21 for the year. For its final seasons the show's ratings would drop, to no. 28 in its seventh season and to no. 50 in its eighth season. Ratings rose slightly for its ninth and final season, when it was at no. 46 for the year.

Unfortunately, Night Court would be denied a proper series finale. It was presumed by the producers and everyone else involved with the show that its eighth season would be its last. Harry Anderson even moved his family to Seattle, agreeing to commute to Burbank for the show's final episodes. So sure were producers that the eighth season would be the final season that they conceived a finale in which Harry and Christine marry, Dan Fielding becomes a priest, and Bull was going to move to Pennsylvania's Amish country. All of this was dashed as NBC decided there would be a ninth season of Night Court. The season finale was then drastically altered, although Harry does finally declare his love to Christine. While the renewal of Night Court in its eighth season was unexpected, so too was its cancellation in its ninth season. The producers had to hastily throw together the show's series finale, one in which Christine was elected to Congress and one in which she and Harry don't get married.

That the series finale was a sore point with many of the show's fans can be borne out by the 30 Rock episode " The One with the Cast of Night Court." In "The One with the Cast of Night Court," Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), the star of the fictional sketch comedy show TGS, brings Harry Anderson, Markie Post, and Charlie Robinson to NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to stage the wedding between Harry T. Stone and Christine Sullivan that never happened on Night Court in order to make NBC page Kenneth Purcell (Jack MacBrayer) happy. There can be no doubt that many Night Court fans were happy as well.

Night Court would prove successful as a syndicated rerun on local stations after its original network run had ended. It would also have a successful afterlife on cable channels, airing on A&E, TV Land, and Encore Classic. It aired on the broadcast network Laff for many years and can currently be found on Catchy Comedy. It can currently be found on various streaming services as well.

The continued popularity of Night Court would result in a sequel series, also titled Night Court, that debuted on NBC on January 17 2023. In the sequel series Abby Stone (Melissa Rauch), the daughter of Harry T. Stone, takes over her father's former position as a judge at the night shift of the Manhattan Criminal Court. John Laroquette returned as Dan Fielding, now a widower and a public defender. He was the only character from the original show to return in the sequel. Reinhold Weege having died in 2012, the new show was developed by Dan Rubin, who had previously worked on The Michael J. Fox Show and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The sequel has received generally favourable reviews, although given Abby's mother on the show is not Christine Sullivan, some fans might not care too much for it.

Night Court was a nearly unique show when it first aired. Aside from Cheers, it is the one of the few sitcoms from the Eighties that never had a "very special episode," that never tried to tackle a serious social issue in a sitcom format. On Night Court, punchlines and gags reigned supreme, and it never let reality get in the way of a good joke. What made all of this work was that the show had very well-developed characters coupled with unusually good scripts. There was a reason Night Court received so many Emmy nominations. While many sitcoms from the Eighties seem extremely dated today, Night Court remains timeless.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Announcing the 10th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon

It's that time of year when I announce the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon. This will be the 10th Annual TV Show Episode Blogathon. The previous nine blogathons were successful, so it is back for another year.  For those unfamiliar with the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, it is a blogathon in which bloggers write entries about their favourite episodes of their favourite classic television shows. This year it will take place March 22, 23, and 24.

Here are the ground rules:

1. Posts in the blogathon must be about an episode from a scripted drama. Episodes of reality shows, talk shows, game shows, and variety shows are ineligible. That having been said, posts can be on episodes from any genre of scripted dramas: animated shows, anthology shows, detective shows, police procedurals, science fiction shows, situation comedies, and so on. I also have to say that episodes can be from scripted dramas that aired at any time of day. They don't have to be from prime time alone. If one wanted to write about his or her favourite episode from his or her favourite Saturday morning cartoon or daytime soap opera, one could.

2. Because this blogathon is dedicated to classic television and I think a classic is something that must have stood the test of time, episodes must be from shows that are at least 25 years old. That means one cannot write posts on episodes from shows that debuted after 1999 (nothing from The New Adventures of Old Christine, let alone Abbott Elementary). Now here I want to point out that the episode itself does not have to be 25 years old, only the show on which it aired. Law & Order (the original, not the revival) debuted in 1990 and ran until 2010, so that its final season aired after 1999. Because Law & Order is over 25 years old, however, one could still write about an episode that aired in the 2009-2010 season.

3. Given my love of British television, it should come as no surprise that posts do not have to be about episodes from American shows alone. Posts can be about episodes from any show from any country as long as the show is a scripted drama and debuted over 25 years ago. If you want to write about your favourite episode of The Saint, The Little Hobo, Jaianto Robo, or Escrava Isaura, you can.

4.  I am asking that there please be no duplicates. That having been said, if someone has already chosen to cover "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" from The Twilight Zone, someone else could still write about another Twilight Zone episode.

5. In keeping with ground rule no. 4, I am asking that if you participated in the past years' blogathons that you write about a different episode from what you did the past years. That having been said, you could write about an episode from the same show.  If you wrote about the Star Trek episode "Amok Time" last year, then you could write about the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" this year.

6. I am not going to schedule days for individual posts. All I ask is that the posts be made on or between March 22, March 23, or March 24 2024.

7. On March 22 I will set up the page for the blogathon. I ask that you link your posts to that page. If you want you can use one of the graphics below or make your own!

If you want to participate in the Favourite Television Show Episode Blogathon, you can simply comment below or you can get a hold of me on Twitter, Mastodon, Spoutible, or BlueSky at mercurie80 or at my email:  mercurie80 at

Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come March 22 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon.

A Shroud of Thoughts: Nurses, "The One After the Earthquake"
Realweedgiemidget Reviews: Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Second Chances"
Moon in Gemini: Laverne & Shirley, "Guinea Pigs"
Films From Beyond the Time Barrier: Beasts, "The Dummy"
Liberal England: Dead of Night, "The Exorcism"
Taking Up Room: Family Ties, "The Boys Next Door"
Hamlette's Soliloquy: Cheyenne, "White Warrior"
The Midnite Drive-In: Star Trek, "The Trouble with Tribbles"/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Trials and Tribble-ations"
Smoke in the Library: The Twilight Zone, "Steel"
Whimsically Classic: The Andy Griffith Show, "The Pickle Story"
Starlight and Saucepans: Jeeves and Wooster, "Introduction on Broadway"
The Nostalgic Italian: Police Squad (Season 1, Episode 2). Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment)
Another Old Movie Blog: The Waltons, "The Pony Cart"
Crítica Retrô: The Addams Family, "The Addams Family Goes to School"
Dubsisim: The Rockford Files, "The Queen of Peru"
John V's Eclectic Avenue: The Bionic Woman, "Black Magic"

Below are some graphics you can use for the blogathon (or you can always make your own)!

Monday, January 1, 2024

Happy New Year 2024

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts it is customary to open the New Year with vintage pinups. Without further ado, here they are:

First up is Gloria DeHaven, who is celebrating the New Year 1955 with balloons.

And here's Paulette Goddard celebrating the New Year.

June Havoc is covered in confetti.

Debra Paget is stepping into 1953.

Barbara Eden is welcoming the year 1963.

And Thelma Todd is forging ahead into 1932!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Goodbye, 2023

In many ways 2023 was not a good year from me. Earlier this year I had health problems ranging from my blood pressure medication ceasing to lower my blood pressure to problems with thermoregulation, probably due to what I had thought was the flu last December, but I am now convinced was COVID-19. From April into June I was then somewhat miserable. Fortunately, I  have been feeling much better since then, although there was one event this year that put me in a foul mood, not to mention every other Turner Classics Movie fan.

Quite simply, in June, Warner Bros. Discovery seemed intent on gutting TCM, with massive layoffs at the channel. Among those who were laid off were people who had been with Turner Classic Movies for literally years, including Pola Changnon, general manager of TCM (who had been with the channel for 25 years), Charles Tabesh, senior vice president in charge of content and programming (who had been with TCM from the beginning), Genevieve McGillicuddy, vice president of enterprises and strategic partnerships (who organized the annual TCM Classic Film Festival), and Anne Wilson, vice president of studio production. To TCM fans it seemed as if for the first time in the channel's 29 years of existence that it was under threat. The backlash was swift, immediate, and massive. And it wasn't simply TCM fans who were outraged, but celebrities ranging from actor Ryan Reynolds to such legendary directors as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

Fortunately, the outrage on the part of TCM fans would have some effect. Charlie Tabesh was restored to his post, and Genevieve McGillicuddy returned to Turner Classic Movies as well. Actor Brian Cox, a long time Turner Classic Movies fan, recently said that "the guy who runs Warner Bros. Discovery now" (David Zaslav, CEO of the company) doesn't understand the value of TCM, and added that he will defend it to the death. Sadly, I think Mr. Cox is right about Zaslav not understanding the value of Turner Classic Movies, so that many TCM fans, myself included, are still concerned about the future of the channel.

Of course, 2023 was also a sad year insofar as the many beloved celebrities who have died this year. Sadly, among them was one who was a friend of many classic movie fans, myself included. Bobby Rivers, film critic and celebrity interviewer who had his own show on VH-1, died only a few days ago. I had first started interacting with Bobby through social media around 2012 or 2013, and I remember many wonderful discussions with him on subjects related to classic movies and classic television.  Bobby was an original participant in TCMParty, the group of fans who live tweet movies on Turner Classic Movies using that hashtag and he was friends with many TCM fans, so that he was and still is heavily mourned. Here I want to stress, Bobby wasn't the only well-known person who had taken part in TCMParty to die this year. Film historian, author, editor, and filmmaker Cari Beauchamp died earlier this month. Cari was a close friend with many of my close friends and even a mentor to some of them. Cari was both well-respected and well-loved by TCM fandom, so that her death sent shock waves through the community. Earlier in the year Newton Minow, who was Chairman of the FCC during the Kennedy administration, died at the age of 97. I never knew Mr. Minow, but he has always been one of my heroes. Like many classic movie fans, I have had the privilege of interacting with his daughter Nell Minow on various social media services over the years.

The year 2023 saw the passings of several beloved stars from film and television. To list them all would take the better part of this post and I apologize for leaving some people out, but among them were: Cindy Williams, who starred in American Graffiti (1973) and played Shirley on the classic sitcom Laverne & Shirley; Lisa Loring, the original Wednesday Addams on The Addams Family; Italian sex symbol Gina Lollobrigida; Melinda Dillon of A Christmas Story (1983) fame; the legendary Raquel Welch; Stella Stevens; Richard Belzer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fame; legendary producer Walter Mirisch; stuntman and filmmaker Ricou Browning; B-movie producer Bert I. Gordon; legendary actor Topol; Lance Reddick, Charon in the "John Wick" movies and other films; legendary singer and actor Harry Belafonte; George Maharis, forever Buz Murdock on Route 66; Barry Newman, who starred in the movie Vanishing Point (1971) and the TV series Petrocelli; the legendary Glenda Jackson; Alan Arkin, who appeared in films from The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966) to The In-Laws (1979); Bob Barker, host of Truth or Consequences and The Price is Right; Arleen Sorkin, legendary soap opera star who also inspired DC comics character Harley Quinn; David McCaullum, who played Ashley-Pitt  in The Great Escape (1963) and cool Russian agent Illya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; Phyllis Coates, popular pinup and the first Lois Lane on the TV series The Adventures of Superman; Mark Goddard, who starred in the shows Johnny Ringo, The Detectives, and Lost in Space; Lara Parker, forever Angelique on Dark Shadows; Richard Roundtree, best known as private eye John Shaft; Richard Moll of Night Court fame; Matthew Perry, forever Chandler Bing on Friends; television director Robert Butler; movie and TV star Marisa Pavan; legendary television producer and writer Norman Lear; legendary actor Ryan O'Neil; Andre Braugher, who appears in such films as Glory (1989) and The Tuskegee Airman (1995) and starred on the TV shows Homicide: Life in the Streets and Brooklyn Nine-Nine; and legendary comedian and folk singer Tom Smothers.

The year 2023 also saw several legendary music talents pass on, including: guitarist Jeff Beck; folk singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot; music legend Tina Turner; Ed Ames of the Ames Brothers; legendary crooner Tony Bennett; Robbie Robertson of The Band; Gary Wright, known for his work with Spooky Tooth and his solo career; power pop legend Dwight Twilley; Denny Laine of The Moody Blues and Wings; and The Pogues' front man Shane MacGowan. Several legends in the field of comic books and cartooning also died this year, including: Joe Giella, the legendary artist known for his work at DC Comics during the Silver Age; comic book writer Steve Skeates, known for his work on Aquaman; the legendary Al Jaffee, the longest running contributor to Mad; John Romita Sr., well-known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man; and comic book artist and writer Keith Giffen, who created Ambush Bug and co-created Rocket Raccoon and Jaime "Blue Beetle" Reyes.

Of course, entertainment news in 2023 was dominated by both the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) going on strike at very nearly the same time. It was the first time that both writers and actors were on strike since 1960. Central to the concerns of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA were residuals from streaming and the use of artificial intelligence (AI). The writers were concerned that Hollywood might employ AI to write whole scripts. The actors were concerned that AI could be used to replicate their likenesses without any compensation. The WGA's strike began on May 2 and ended on September 27, making it the union's second longest strike, tied with the 1960 strike, after their strike in 1988. In the case of SAG-AFTRA, it was the longest strike in the union's history.

As might be expected, the reactions of studio executives were unreasonable, to say the least. For example, Bob Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, claimed the actors' demands were "not realistic." I hate to tell Mr. Iger, but from my standpoint as a consumer, the idea that he deserves to be paid $27 million is not realistic. I watch movies and TV shows because of the people who write them, the people who direct them, and the people who act in them, not because of who the CEO of the studio is. Indeed, I agree with John Cleese, who said on Twitter, "I keep reading that film studios are contemplating replacing writers and actors by using Artificial Intelligence to mimic their talents. Surely it would be easier and more efficient to replace executives, since they have no talent at all."  It would certainly save the studios a lot of money, money that could be used to pay directors, writers, and actors.

Another big news story in movie news this year is the idea that "superhero fatigue" has set in after over a decade of superheroes dominating the box office. The fact is that several superhero movies did fail at the box office this year, including Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash, Blue Beetle, and The Marvels. That having been said, there were some successful superhero movies this year as well. Of the top five highest grossing movies of 2023, two were superhero movies, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and the animated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. I am undecided as to whether audiences are actually tired of superheroes or if they are being choosier about which superhero movies they want to see at the theatre. Indeed, of the superhero movies released this year there are only two I would have liked to have seen at the theatre Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Blue Beetle (which, sadly, did not do well at the box office despite being a good movie). Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is still in theatres, and so far it seems to be falling short of expectations.

Of course, superheroes aren't faring well on television either. The CW, long-time home to various DC Comics superheroes, has pretty much cancelled all of their superhero shows with the exception of Superman & Lois, whose fourth season will be its last. Streaming service Max cancelled both Titans and Doom Patrol. While The CW and Max were cancelling superhero shows, Disney+ seems to have a full slate of them for next year, including Echo, Ironheart, X-Men '97, Agatha: Darkhold Diaries, Daredevil: Born Again; and Spider-Man: Freshman Year. I guess 2023 was a bad year for those of us who are DC fans, but a bit better for Marvel fans.

Regardless of whether superheroes will continue to be popular, it is certain that Barbie is. Barbie was the big movie this year, raking in a whopping $636 million. I can fully understand why. Aside from being based on an iconic and still popular property, Barbie is also one of the best movies to come out this year. Among the other top grossing films of this year were The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Oppenheimer, The Little Mermaid, Avatar: The Way of Water, and John Wick: Chapter 4. Despite the phenomenal success of Barbie, at the moment it seems a sequel is unlikely. I think that may be just as well, as the film's story is pretty much wrapped up by the end of the movie.

As far as television goes, this year saw The CW continued to do away with superhero properties, as the long-running The Flash ended and it was revealed that the fourth season would be the last for Superman & Lois. One of my favourite show, Reservation Dogs, ended in its run on Hulu after three seasons. Another one of my favourite shows, Doom Patrol, also ended its run. Of the new shows to debut this year, only Lawmen: Bass Reeves really grabbed me. Other than that, my favourite new shows were ones that have been on a while: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and Our Flag Means Death.

While for others the biggest movie news of the year may have been the  WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the phenomenal success of Barbie, or the failure of various superhero movies at the box office, for me the biggest news this year was the premier of Ninety Minutes Later at the SAFILM-San Antonio Film Festival in August. Ninety Minutes Later is a documentary on my dearest Vanessa Marquez's life, career, and tragic death. It is directed by Cyndy Fujikawa and produced by Daniel Villareal, one of Vanessa's Stand and Deliver co-stars (he played Chuco in the movie). It has since played at the OC Film Fiesta, the Pembroke Taparelli Arts Festival, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, and  the Vail Film Festival. I am hoping that a distributor will pick it up. As I see it, the more people who see Ninety Minutes Later, the greater the possibility that Vanessa will finally get justice.

I have no idea what 2024 will bring. I should have another book out next month. And I hope to get another book out later in the year. I am also considering creating a Substack newsletter (I am debating that). As to A Shroud of Thoughts, it will turn 20 on June 4 2024. Regardless, I hope 2024 is a better year for me and I hope it is a better year for you as well.