Sunday, September 13, 2015

Gonna Party Like It's SPACE:1999

From 2009...but updated today!

I've never been a real sci-fi geek, but I know what I like. In terms of films, I always preferred LOGAN'S RUN over STAR WARS. So freeze me in carbonite. On TV, I liked the original STAR TREK, but can say I've ever even watched any of the revivals. I just never found them that appealing. Sorry. I'm not saying they're bad, I just didn't feel the need to watch 'em. I also can honestly say I've never watched any of the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA shows - old or new. I know how the recent show is supposed to amazing and all that, and I may get around to watching it one day - but I just don't have the bandwidth right now. I did absolutely love V - at least the miniseries before it became a weekly, but the ABC revival didn't interest me much. I mean once you know that they're lizards, what's the point?
As a kid, I was quite a bit obsessed with the short-lived British import, SPACE: 1999. My recollections of the show are a bit cloudy, but I do recall that I loved the way it looked, but was a bit bored by the talkiness of the show. After all I was 11 years old at the time.
SPACE: 1999 ran for two seasons from 1975-77. In the show's storyline, there is a totally catastrophic nuclear/lunar accident that takes place on September 13, 1999 (16 years ago today!) that knocks the moon out of its orbit and flings the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha into the far stretches of outer space. Then the fun begins!

The first season opening title sequence is one of the best in all TV history.
For some reason they decided to mess with greatness and create another totally awesome open sequence for season two. Still great, but not nearly as powerful as the first.
Then-married US TV stars Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (both of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE fame) headlined the show in an attempt to make the show seem more "American".

The show was produced in the UK by sci-fi powerhouses Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (THUNDERBIRDS, UFO, etc.) and distributed internationally by Lord Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment.

Who doesn't get douche chills when they hear or see the famous ITC logo animation?
The syndicated series aired on Sundays at unusual time period of 6:30 PM on WPIX in New York for the two original seasons, with reruns airing in various time slots over the next few years.
Also starring were in season 1 was Barry Morse and the stunning Catherine Schell joined the cast as the fabulous shapeshifting alien Maya in season 2.

Guest stars included international names like Christopher Lee, Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Judy Geeson, Ian McShane, and Sarah Douglas.
SPACE:1999 was visually the coolest TV show up till that time, with sets, costumes and special effects on par with feature films of that time period.

Apparently the Blu-ray transfers of the show are pretty great - will have to check it out someday soon.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Remembering BEACON HILL

Due to the success of both DOWNTON ABBEY and the overall revival of interest in period drama- witnessed by shows on both PBS and cable - NBC gave a bright green light to Julian Fellowes’ THE GILDED AGE - a serialized drama set in late 19th Century New York City and focusing on the rising and plunging fortunes of “the princes of the American Renaissance.” The show was announced in 2012 and Fellowes will finally begin writing it later this year when his work on DOWTON ABBEY wraps up.

This news led me to recall BEACON HILL, what was considered by many to be one of the biggest flops of the 1970s. BEACON HILL was CBS's costly (the pilot reportedly cost a million dollars!) and overhyped attempt to recreate the magic of the original UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS. 

The series dealt with he Lassiter family in 1920s Boston, a wealthy Catholic clan. and their staff of servants. The show opened on Prohibition Eve, January 15, 1920 as The Lassiters celebrated with their last drinks. Subplots dealt with brothels, affairs with professors and dalliances with between Lassiters and their staff.

Rather than filmed, the show was videotaped like a sitcom or daytime soap, much like many PBS imports from England. Ratings for the August 26th premiere were healthy (25.4 rating/44 share), but subsequent episodes nosedived, and despite  John Hawkesworth, the producer of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, being called over from Britain to assist.

The patriarch was Benjamin Lassiter (Stephen Elliott, later Douglas Channing on FALCON CREST) - a self-made businessman who dabbled in the corrupt Boston politics of the day.

Benjamin’s wife was Mary Lassiter (Nancy Marchand, later the matriarch of THE SOPRANOS) - an elegant society woman who was past her best years.

The Lassiters had five children:

Maude Palmer (Maeve McGuire, later Countess Elena DePoulignac on ANOTHER WORLD) a conventional mother of four, married to the pleasant Richard, who had an interest in yachting (played by the versatile Edward Herrmann).

Emily Bullock (DeAnn Mears, later Judge Maria Gance on LAW & ORDER) was a caustic, jealous beauty. She was married to Trevor (Ray Cooper) who was "old Boston, old money".

Betsy Bullock (TV-movie stalwart Linda Purl) was Trevor and Emily's spoiled 18-year-old daughter.

Fawn Lassiter (daytime soap graduate Kathryn Walker) was artsy, freethinking and sexually liberated - and engaged in an scandalous affair with an Italian piano teacher.

Rosamund Lassiter (Kitty Winn from EXORCIST 1 & 2) was an “old maid” at age 29 - she had a keen business sense and was sleeping with the family chauffeur (Paul Rudd, later Earl Trent on KNOTS LANDING).

Robert Lassiter (David Dukes, later Joseph McPhee on DAWSON’S CREEK) - the lone male heir - had returned from France after the Great War minus an arm and full of bitterness. In one controversial plot, Robert visited a black brothel.

Arthur Hacker (British Music all star George Rose) was the family butler, and like his UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS counterpart, Mr Hudson, he was a father-figure below stairs.

He was married to  Emmeline (Beatrice Straight, later Queen Hippolyte on WONDER WOMAN) a poker-playing Irish housekeeper.

Emmeline’s niece, Maureen Mahaffey (Susan Blanchard - later Tina in the notorious MR. T. AND TINA) was also employed in the house as a maid.

The Lassiter cook, William Piper was African-American (Richard Ward - who later played Steve Martin’s father in THE JERK).

There was a footman named  Terence O'Hara (played by David Rounds, Mel’s cousin Wendell on ALICE) as well as maids Kate  (Lisa Pelikan) and Eleanor (Sydney Swire).

Also appearing: Ken Kercheval (DALLAS), Robert Prosky (HILL STREET BLUES), Michael Nouri (FLASHDANCE) and Holland Taylor (TWO AND A HALF MEN).

The series was produced by the Robert Stigwood Organization with music by Marvin Hamlisch (A CHORUS LINE). It was never rerun, never syndicated, and never released on home video. The show was put out of its misery after only 11 of the 13 episodes had aired. Let’s hope THE GILDED AGE has a better fate.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Can 2 divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

With CBS airing a new version of THE ODD COUPLE starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon beginning tomorrow night, here's a post from 2008 when I was just starting to watch season 4 of THE ODD COUPLE on dvd, and I declared that the show, in my opinion is the second greatest American sitcom ever. That's right, I said it.
After MARY TYLER MOORE, no other US sitcom is more consistently funny, well-acted or holds up as well over the years. Based on Neil Simon's Broadway play and adapted into a 1968 feature starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. The TV version, starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall premiered on September 24, 1970 and ran for five seasons in a variety of timeslots on ABC - usually on Thursday or Friday nights. The series was never a Top 10 hit, and actually was in danger of cancellation every season it aired. The first season is quite unremarkable, having been filmed with one camera and an added laugh track. The show really came to life in season two, when a live audience was added to react to the mis-matched antics of Oscar and Felix.
The show really took off in popularity in the late 1970s when syndicated reruns aired on local stations. Channel 11, WPIX air four episodes a night. Two in early evening and two at 11PM. I watched them all, repeatedly. And watching them again now on dvd is, to quote a friend of mine "a sheer delight".
What makes the show so great? Well, Felix and Oscar are such great, unique characters - and because of that, so many later sitcom characters borrow freely from them. You can certain see traits of fastidious Felix in Sheldon from BIG BANG THEORY and Niles from FRASIER. Oscar's grouchy brashness has influenced a whole generation of cranky comedy curmudgeons, notable EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND's Frank Barone. While the show lacked continuity in so many instances (don't get me started!), the interplay between the two leads and excellent supporting players make this the best thing Garry Marshall has ever been part of. While the show "jumps the shark" with celebrity guests (Monty Hall, Howard Cosell, Paul Williams, etc.), it makes up for it with clever plots that incorporate the guest stars into the world of Felix and Oscar. Since Felix is a portrait photographer and Oscar is a sportswriter, it makes sense that they encounter these folks in New York City. Why not? I once rode in an elevator with Howard Cosell. He had big ears. AND I was a contestant on the most recent version of LET'S MAKE A DEAL! (Even though that happened in L.A. and Billy Bush-yuck!-was the host, but Monty was there. See photo below)But enough about me. While I was watching the classic PASSWORD episode recently, with guests Betty White and Allen Ludden, I wondered if any other MARY TYLER MOORE alumni ever appeared on THE ODD COUPLE. With a little research I discovered that in addition to Betty White ("Herself" on OC,"Sue Ann Nivens" on MTM), there was Bill Quinn ("Dr. Melnitz" on OC,"Dr. Walter Richards," Mary's dad on MTM), Penny Marshall ("Myrna Tuner" on OC, "Paula" on MTM), Barbara Colby ("Monique" the drunk bartender on OC, "Sherry" the hooker on MTM) and the late, great Brett Somers ("Blanche Madison" on OC and "Aunt Rose" on MTM). Not bad, considering the shows aired on different network during roughly the same period.
Both actors won Emmy Awards for their roles. Jack in 1971 and 1973, Tony in 1975 - after the show was cancelled. The duo reunited for a misguided 1993 CBS TV-movie called THE ODD COUPLE: TOGETHER AGAIN. I guess ABC's miserable MARY & RHODA reunion movie was payback. Jack and Tony had become best friends in real life, and after Tony's death in 2004, Jack wrote a memoir about their relationship, called Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship. The book has been hailed as a touching portrait of a professional partnership that, in the end, became deeply personal. The book includes over 50 photographs, many from Jack and Tony's private collections, and a DVD of never-seen-before outtakes from THE ODD COUPLE.
In the 1980s, THE ODD COUPLE was revived - with an an almost all African-American cast. Demond (SANFORD & SON) Wilson is Oscar and Ron (BARNEY MILLER) Glass is Felix. THE NEW ODD COUPLE could have been a descent show if they didn't decide to recycle scripts from the original series that were already considered classics by fans of the show. Ironically another black version of a Neil Simon play, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK only lasted 12 episodes on ABC in 1970, also airing on Thursday evenings. I'm holding out for a new version of THE SUNSHINE BOYS with James Earl Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.

And now it's 2015 - and THE ODD COUPLE is back on Thursday nights - this time on CBS. Will the third time be a charm?