Followers of my blog know that I’ve been participating in a TV Show Draft, which just wrapped up. It’s like a Fantasy Football Draft, in that there are a predetermined number of rounds. Each participant waits their turn and announces their pick – and writes about it.
The blog started at Hanspostcard’s site, and it was picked up by Max over at the Power Pop blog when Hans had to take a break. Max and I actually spoke when Hans had to take his break. There were emails between the participants discussing whether or not the draft should continue.
Max stepped up and announced that he would be willing to host the draft on his site so it could continue. For that, I need to extend a thank you to him. It would up being a very entertaining draft that introduced me to shows I had never heard of, shows that I wasn’t sure about watching, and old favorites.
I also extend a thank you to all of the bloggers who posted their draft picks. There was quite a variety throughout the draft. More on that in a minute.
I’m happy I got to write on the shows I did. I also enjoyed seeing other people’s take on some I was familiar with. I look forward to checking out some of the news ones that peaked my interest.
Because there were so many other great shows chosen, and because Max put them all in one place, I wanted to share the link so YOU can read them, too.
We have reached the final round of the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft. I want to take a moment and thank Max from the Power Pop Blog for taking up the reigns and helping us continue this round in Hans’ absence. It truly has been a fun draft!
For my final pick, I have gone back to another classic – The Untouchables. The show ran from 1959 to 1963 and starred the great Robert Stack as Eliot Ness. It is hard to imagine anyone but Robert Stack in the role of Ness, but believe it or not, Desi Arnaz had originally offered the role to actor Van Johnson. Supposedly, he wanted double what they were offering to pay for the role, and it ultimately went to Stack.
When asked about the character some years later, Stack said, “Ness was a precursor of Dirty Harry. He was a hero, a vigilante in a time when breaking the law meant nothing because there was no law because Capone owned Chicago, he owned the police force.”
The show was based on the book of the same name written by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley. Brian De Palma would use the book as the basis for his 1987 film of the same name.
According to Wikipedia:
The series originally focused on the efforts of a real-life squad of Prohibition agents employed by the US Department of Justice and led by Eliot Ness (Stack) that helped bring down the bootleg empire of “Scarface” Al Capone, as described in Ness’s bestselling 1957 memoir. This squad was nicknamed “The Untouchables” because of its courage and honesty; squad members could not be bribed or intimidated by the mob. Eliot Ness himself had died suddenly in May 1957, shortly before his memoir and the subsequent TV adaptation were to bring him fame beyond any he experienced in his lifetime.
The pilot for the series, a two-part episode entitled “The Untouchables,” originally aired on CBS’s Westinghouse Desilu Placyhouse (and was introduced by Desi Arnaz) on April 20 and 27, 1959. Later re-titled “The Scarface Mob”, these episodes, which featured Neville Brand as Al Capone, were the only episodes in the series to be more-or-less directly based on Ness’s memoir, and ended with the conviction and imprisonment of Capone. CBS, which had broadcast most of Desilu’s television output since 1951 beginning with I Love Lucy, was offered the new series following the success of the pilot film. It was rejected it on the advice of network vice president Hubbell Robinson. ABC agreed to air the series, and The Untouchables premiered on October 15, 1959. In the pilot movie, the mobsters generally spoke with unrealistic pseudo-Italian accents, but this idiosyncratic pronunciation was dropped when the series debuted.
The weekly series first dramatized a power struggle to establish a new boss in Capone’s absence (for the purpose of the TV series, the new boss was Frank Nitti, although this was, as usual for the series, contrary to fact). As the series continued, there developed a highly fictionalized portrayal of Ness and his crew as all-purpose, multi-agency crime fighters who went up against an array of 1930s-era gangsters and villains, including Ma Barker, Dutch Schultz, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano,and in one episode, Nazi agents. On many occasions during the series run, Ness would blatantly violate suspects’ Fourth Amendment rights with no legal ramifications.
The terse narration by gossip columnist Walter Winchell, in his distinctive New York accent, was a stylistic hallmark of the series, along with its ominous theme music by Nelson Riddle and its shadowy black-and-white photography, which was influenced by film noir.
The series produced 118 episodes which ran 50 minutes each. Though the book chronicled the experiences of Ness and his team against Capone, and in reality the Untouchables disbanded soon after Capone’s conviction. The series continued after the pilot and book ended, depicting the fictitious further exploits of the Untouchables against many, often real life, criminals over a span of time ranging from 1929 to 1935.
The show came with some controversy. Italian-American groups protested over what they felt was an unfair presentation of their people as Mafia-types. “We are plagued with lawsuits after certain shows” one of the show’s producers Josef Shaftel explained, noting that the series was “heavily insured against libel.” With good reason – the first lawsuit against the show was instigated by Al Capone’s angry widow. She didn’t like the way her deceased husband was made into a running villain on the show and wanted a million dollars for unfair use of his image. (She lost.)
The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover were ticked off too. They were the ones who collared the famous names that Ness was supposedly busting each week on TV and they rightfully wanted credit for it. The second episode of the series, for example, depicted Ness and his crew involved in the capture of the Ma Barker gang, an incident in which the real-life Ness played no part. The producers agreed to insert a spoken disclaimer on future broadcasts of the episode stating that the FBI had primary responsibility for the Barker case. Even the Bureau of Prisons took offense, complaining that the show made their treatment of Al Capone look soft.
The show itself was considered one of the most violent television shows of its time. Of course, by today’s standards it’s not that bad, but it was violent enough at the time to spark protests from parents who were worried about their children seeing this violence.
This is one of those shows that I just love! Robert Stack’s delivery of almost every line as Ness is perfect. He won an Emmy in 1960 for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series for his portrayal of Ness.
Despite the fact that many of the stories are fictionalized to work the Untouchables into them, they are great! The show really was a forerunner to shows like The FBI, Crime Story, and even Hawaii 5-0. I love the film noir feel of it. Every episode plays like a good 50 minute movie.
The Lebanon Pennsylvania Daily News said of The Untouchables: “Between the hard-nosed approach, sharp dialogue, and a commendably crisp pace (something rare in dramatic TV at the time), this series is one of the few that remains fresh and vibrant. Only the monochrome presentation betrays its age. The Untouchables is one of the few Golden Age TV shows that deserves being called a classic.” It really does hold up well.
As I have mentioned before, one of the things I love about these old shows is seeing big stars (who are not quite yet stars) show up. In regular roles throughout the series you could see Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale on the Beverly Hillbillies), Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Nichols, Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Harry Morgan (Col. Potter on MASH), and Henry Silva.
The list of guest star appearances is long and amazing. They include: Jack Elam, Paul Frees, Jim Backus, Sam Jaffe, Martin Balsam, John Dehner, William Bendix, Whitt Bissell, Charles Bronson, James Caan, James Coburn, Mike Conners, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Norman Fell, Alan Hale Jr., Brian Keith, Jack Klugman, Cloris Leachman, Jack Lord, Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, Elizabeth Montgomery, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Ricardo Montalban, Rip Torn, Jack Warden, Dick York, Cliff Robertson and so many more!
You know, they play reruns of Law and Order on TV all the time. Many of the shows I have seen numerous times. I know what’s going to happen, yet I still watch (a lot like my previous picks – Perry Mason and Columbo). The Untouchables is a show that could very easily be rerun like a Law and Order. It is that good.
I love Walter Winchell’s narration
And I love the theme song!
It has been so much fun writing on some of my favorite shows. It’s been just as fun to read about the shows picked by other members of the TV Show Draft. I hope you have enjoyed my picks…
We have come to the eighth round of the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft. I have already picked Columbo and Perry Mason, and for this round I have another mystery show. I’ve noticed a few of the other participants have picked some great BBC shows, so I guess it is now my turn. For this round, I pick Sherlock.
The series ran from 2010 – 2017. Series 1 aired in 2010, Series 2 in 2012, a Christmas mini-episode ran in 2013, Series 3 ran in 2014, a special “period” show aired in 2016, and Series 4 aired in 2017. What I love about this show is the modern take on a classic character. Having Sherlock Holmes solving crimes in modern day was the draw for me and it did not disappoint.
The show features Sherlock Holmes, who is a “consulting detective”, along with his flatmate Dr. John Watson solving crimes in a modern-day London. He helps Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade, who at first is a bit suspicious of Sherlock. Over time, however, he realized Sherlock’s intelligence and ability to help solve various crimes and considers him an asset.
Dr. Watson documents their adventures on his personal blog and Sherlock becomes a sort of celebrity. This leads to a lot of press coverage and ordinary people and the British government seeking out Sherlock for help with cases.
The show features various crimes and villains, however, a recurring feature is the battle between Holmes and his archenemy, Jim Moriarty. Many of the stories in the series have been adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were both writers for another BBC show – Dr. Who. They were both huge fans of Sherlock Holmes. They were both no stranger to taking Victorian stories and adapting it for television. The two men spent many hours during train rides discussing creating a new series featuring Sherlock Holmes. Moffat’s wife suggested that the two begin developing the show before someone else stole the idea.
Sherlock Holmes – Benedict Cumberbatch
According to Moffat and Gattis, Benedict Cumberbatch was immediately the guy they wanted to play Holmes. They had seen him perform in Atonement and thought he was perfect. A producer said that he was the only one they actually saw for the role. According to one article: “The part is modelled as a charismatic secondary psychopath or “High functioning sociopath” as Sherlock self-describes, unlike Doyle’s rendering as a primary psychopath, thereby allowing more opportunity or ambiguity for traits of empathy.” Cumberbatch told the Guardian, “There’s a great charge you get from playing him, because of the volume of words in your head and the speed of thought—you really have to make your connections incredibly fast. He is one step ahead of the audience and of anyone around him with normal intellect. They can’t quite fathom where his leaps are taking him.”
Dr. John Watson – Martin Freeman
Actor Matt Smith was originally the actor Moffat and Gattis had in mind to play Watson, but there was something about him, the chemistry with Cumberbatch, and the way he played the character that they didn’t like (They would eventually cast him in Dr. Who). Eventually, Martin Freeman won the role. Moffat says of Freeman, (he is) “the sort of opposite of Benedict in everything except the amount of talent… Martin finds a sort of poetry in the ordinary man. I love the fastidious realism of everything he does.” Freeman, when considering his character, says he is “a ‘moral compass’ for Sherlock, who does not always consider the morality and ethics of his actions.“
DetectiveInspector Lestrade – Rupert Graves
According to Moffat and Gattis, many auditioned for the role, but they all seemed to have a comedic take on the role. The creators liked Graves’ approach to it and he was cast. There is some great interplay between Lestrade and Holmes throughout the series. He works for Scotland Yard.
Jim Moriarty – Andrew Scott
Scott is fantastic as Moriarty! Moffat said, “We knew what we wanted to do with Moriarty from the very beginning. Moriarty is usually a rather dull, rather posh villain so we thought someone who was genuinely properly frightening. Someone who’s an absolute psycho.” They certainly achieved this. There were times I was genuinely freaked out by his performance! The creators never intended to have a “confrontation” scene between Holmes and Moriarty, but then they saw Scott’s audition and they knew that they HAD to!
Other Cast Members
Amanda Abbington – Mary (Morstan) Watson
At the time of the series, Amanda Abbington was Martin Freeman’s real life partner. She was cast to play John Watson’s girlfriend/wife.
Mrs. Hudson – Una Stubbs
Mrs. Hudson is Holmes’ and Watson’s landlady. She brings a wonderful bit of comedic dialog to every interaction and scene. Interesting story – Una has known Benedict Cumberbatch since he was 4 years old and she has worked with his mother!
Molly Hooper – Louise Brealey
Molly Hooper works at a morgue at a London hospital. She also has an apparent crush on Sherlock. Because of her work position and crush on him, Sherlock frequently exploits her to let him examine or perform experiments on victims’ bodies. In the first episode of the series she allows him to hit a corpse with a riding crop to see how it might bruise in post mortum.
Mycroft Holmes – Mark Gattis
(SPOILER ALERT) When Mycroft first appears in the series, you really have no idea who he is. He is this mysterious man who tries to get Watson to spy on Sherlock for him. You only learn later on that he is Sherlock’s brother. Mycroft is even more skilled at deduction, correcting Sherlock on occasion and beating him in deduction exercises, as well as lacking enthusiasm for “legwork”. His intellect is borderline superhuman. The sibling rivalry between the two lead to some very good scenes.
Sally Donovan & Phillip Anderson – Vinette Robinson & Jonathan Aris
Srgt. Sally Donovan often works with Lestrade on cases. She resents Sherlock’s presence at crime scenes and treats him with extreme disrespect and rudeness, cruelly calling him a “freak” to his face, and warns Watson that Sherlock is a psychopath who will one day get bored of catching killers and become one himself.
Phillip Anderson is originally a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Forensic Services. From the series opening, it is clear that Anderson and Sherlock have history of mutual dislike with Sherlock repeatedly humiliating Anderson and Anderson refusing to assist him at crime scenes.
Why I Picked It
Growing up, I had read a few of the Sherlock Holmes books. I has seen Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in movies, and certainly heard many old time radio shows featuring Holmes and Watson. I was intrigued to see just how Sherlock would play out in modern times.
I began to watch the first episode and all it took was the first meeting of Sherlock and Watson, and I was hooked. The way Sherlock is able to tick off things about Watson after just a couple minutes was awesome. Here is that scene:
Pardon me while I sort of digress for a moment.
One of the shows I considered picking in the draft was House, M.D. starring Hugh Laurie. I had heard it said that House was based on Sherlock Holmes. House would often make brilliant deductions about his patients, and often was able to rattle off things about people because of his keen sense of observation – just like Sherlock Holmes. When I began to watch Sherlock, I immediately noticed just how much the two were alike.
The two characters are very similar. Check out the following links:
Now, back to why I picked it. I love a good mystery, obviously. I was fascinated by the way Sherlock worked and how he figured things out. Sherlock is a bit different that my earlier picks of Columbo and Perry Mason. I loved watching him sort through all the things that helped get him to the final conclusion.
I love good characters. This show is full of them. There are times I laugh out loud at some of the interactions. One of my favorite exchanges between Sherlock and Lestrade happens in the first episode. Sherlock, Watson and Lestrade are in a room and Sherlock yells, “Shut up!” Lestrade answers back, “I didn’t say anything.” Sherlock adds quickly, “You were thinking. It’s annoying!”
Holmes and Watson are the perfect team. They play well off each other. The same holds true for Cumberbatch and Freeman. Their chemistry is magical. I remember seeing the Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law and thinking they had good chemistry, but Cumberbatch and Freeman’s chemistry is far superior.
In between Series 3 & 4, Sherlock aired a special on New Years Day of 2016. The Abominable Bride was set in Victorian London. Set in the time of the original books, it takes Sherlock out of the modern day and places him back where we all know him from. Moffat stated that “The special is its own thing. We wouldn’t have done the story we’re doing, and the way we’re doing it, if we didn’t have this special. It’s not part of the run of three episodes. So we had this to do it … It’s kind of in its own little bubble.”
The special won an Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie at the 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards. If you only watch one episode – I’d suggest this one.
The final episode of Sherlock aired in 2017. Steven Moffat stated that He and Mark Gattis had fifth series plotted out, but weren’t ready to fully produce it. Whether or not a new series of shows will come to fruition is still up in the air.
When Benedict Cumberbatch was asked about whether or not Sherlock would make more episodes, he said, “I’m the worst person to ask because my slate’s pretty, pretty full at the moment, as is Martin’s and all the other key players involved. So, who knows? Maybe one day, if the script’s right. And I say ‘the script,’ maybe it could be a film rather than the series. Who knows?”
Sherlock is a multi award winning show full of mystery, adventure, comedy, and fun. If you have never seen it, I highly recommend it.
For my next pick in the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft, I chose a show that is one of my all time favorites. I don’t remember when I first was introduced to this show, but I am guessing my dad had something to do with it. Early on in the draft, I chose Police Squad, which only aired 6 episodes. This show is known for its “Classic 39” – The Honeymooners.
This isn’t my first blog about the show. Some time ago, I took part in a “Favorite TV Episode” Blogathon and picked 2 of my favorite episodes to present. You can read that blog here:
When you examine 50’s TV shows, there was very little struggle involved. Think about it. I Love Lucy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Andy Griffith Show, and Leave it to Beaver all showed families who were living in nice homes or apartments, showed no signs of financial struggles, and while there may be a misunderstanding here and there, it was mostly “bliss.” In 1955-1956, however, The Honeymooners focused on two couples from New York, who were struggling to get by.
The show focused on the lives of Ralph (Jackie Gleason) and Alice Kramden (Audrey Meadows), and Ed (Art Carney) and Trixie Norton (Joyce Randolph). One article I found on the show says this about Gleason’s Kramden character: Ralph was the get-rich-quick scheming, short-tempered, soft-hearted guy who was always striving for greatness, but never made it out of that two-room Brooklyn apartment. And that’s one of the main attractions for even the most casual of viewers: the characters are so identifiable. As Jackie himself said at the time, “Everything we did could have happened. People like the show, because we are them.”
The show began as a simple sketch on the DuMont Television Network, on the Cavalcade of Stars. The original hosts were Jack Carter and Jerry Lester, but in July of 1950 comedian Jackie Gleason took over the hosting duties. In the process, Gleason took the struggling show and turned it around to be a hit. The show, which featured comedy skits and a number of different performers each week, was broadcast live in front of a theater audience. In 1951, Jackie and his writers came up with the idea for a sketch called The Honeymooners. It was about a struggling couple living in Brooklyn who frequently fought, but in the end, there was no question that they loved each other.
Leonard Stern was a writer on both The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show. In an interview with the Archive of American Television he stated, “We started doing one sketch of The Honeymooners every five or six weeks and the response of people on the street was tremendous. So we started doing them every other week. Eventually, though, everyone, including Jackie, lost interest in the other characters in the different sketches, so we started to do them every week until the fatigue level hit its high and we’d have to take a break. I think Gleason had fun doing them, because he recognized the impact Kramden and Alice and Norton and Trixie were having on the audience. I’m not a great fan of ratings, but let me say that 53% of the total television audience was watching the show. There’s nothing like that in existence today. It was astonishing and the show itself was live. Remember, the audience of 3,000 people filled that theater. You earned your laughs. It was a resounding success and very exhilarating for all of us. It was opening night every week.”
When Gleason left the Dupont Network and went to CBS, he hosted the Jackie Gleason Show, where the Honeymooners sketches continued. In the 1952 season, the sketches usually ran between seven and 13 minutes. In the following season, and those sketches ran for a minimum of 30 minutes, and sometimes longer. Then, in the 1954-55 season, they actually filled the entire hour of The Jackie Gleason Show, and was doing so well in the ratings that it occasionally surpassed the viewership of I Love Lucy. That is almost unheard of!
In the 1955-56 season, The Jackie Gleason Show literally became The Honeymooners! It aired as a half-hour sitcom that was filmed in front of a studio audience. In total, 39 episodes were produced, and these episodes are the ones that are still being broadcast today. These 39 episodes are the ones that most people remember.
I read an article that said Jackie Gleason had actually been given a three-year contract from CBS for 78 episodes of The Honeymooners to be produced in the first two seasons. The contract also included an option for a third season of 39 more. For whatever it is worth, Gleason felt the quality of the scriptwriting couldn’t be maintained, and the show was mutually canceled by him and CBS.
A Closer Weekly article says: What’s particularly impressive about The Honeymooners living on the way it has is the fact that back in the day, there needed to be a minimum of 100 episodes of a show available so that local stations could run it five days a week. Any less made syndication difficult, since the cycle would be repeated that much sooner. But then there was The Honeymooners, with a mere 39 episodes to offer up, yet it worked. And continues to do so.
In a 1996 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Jackie was asked why the show ended. He told Carson, “We were running out of ideas. I liked The Honeymooners and I liked doing them, and I didn’t want to denigrate them by forcing scenes that didn’t mean anything. So I wanted to quit, but they didn’t believe me. They thought I had another job someplace, but I didn’t. I’m glad I did stop them, because what we had done was good and if we had gone any further, we might have spoiled it.”
Those “Classic 39” are classic for a reason. They are still funny. The situations that The Kramdens and the Nortons muddle through every week will make you laugh, cry, think, and smile. They still hold up today. Each one of them has memorable scenes and quotable lines.
In one episode Ralph tells his boss he is a great golfer and is immediately asked to go play a round with him. Now Ralph needs to learn how to play – and fast. He finds the perfect teacher in his best friend Ed Norton. In pure Art Carney fashion, Ed reads from a book that you must “address the ball,” to which he takes the club, stands in front of the ball, looks down and says, “Hello, Ball!”
An episode of the show was featured in the movie Back To The Future. When Marty McFly winds up in 1955, a family is watching the episode The Man From Space. Intending to win the $50 first prize at the Racoon Lodge’s costume ball, Ralph decides to create his own outfit. And what an outfit! After appropriating (among other things) a faucet, a pot, a radio tube and the icebox door, he presents himself as the Man from Space.
In another episode, Alice says she wants to go dancing. Ralph has Ed come over to teach him how to dance. Ralph’s outfit is hilarious (he tells Alice it is “what all us cats wear! I’m hip!”). The dance (to the song The Hucklebuck) is worth the watch.
In another classic episode, Ralph and Norton appear on a TV commercial trying to sell their Handy Housewife Helper, a kitchen gadget that can, among other things, open cans, remove corns and “core a apple.” In the inspired, ad-lib-laden episode, “Chef of the Future” Ralph demonstrates the wonders of the gizmo to “Chef of the Past” Norton. Rehearsal goes great, but in front of live cameras, Ralph freezes up.
Art Carney was the perfect second banana. The play between him and Gleason is classic. In one episode Norton’s sleepwalking becomes a waking nightmare for Ralph. Ralph can’t get any sleep because he’s been asked to keep his pal from wandering off on late-night strolls around the neighborhood.
Another classic episode takes place at the pool hall where Ralph gets into an argument with the diminutive guy named George. “My friend is even bigger than me,” he tells Ralph. “I have a friend Shirley that’s bigger than you,” Ralph counters. But then he comes eye-to-chin with George’s friend, the towering Harvey, who challenges Ralph to a fight. This prompts Norton to observe: “He’s even bigger than your friend Shirley.”
Many of the plot lines from the classic episodes made it into the Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy novelty hit “The Honeymooners Rap.”
In the 1980’s, Jackie Gleason announced that in his vault he had found a number of Honeymooners skits from The Jackie Gleason Show that had been shot on Kinescope, which is a way of filming directly through a lens that actually focused on the screen of a video monitor. 107 of those skits were released on DVD and syndicated to television stations. These would have been shot before the “Classic 39” and two of them stand out to me.
Jackie had been a guest star on the Jack Benny show, so Jack makes an appearance in one of those “lost” episodes as the Kramden’s landlord. The rent is being raised and Ralph is mad. When there is a knock on the door, Ralph opens it and Jack Benny is standing there. The audience chuckles in anticipation. Ralph calls to Alice that “the Landlord’s here” and the audience erupts. Benny stands there quietly as Ralph reads him the riot act! He calls him a “penny pincher” (which plays into Benny’s “cheap” character”) and says that he pinches a penny so hard that when he is through “both heads and tails are on the same side of the coin!”
In another lost episode, Ralph must lose weight for work. All through the episode he is starving. Finally, he is left alone in the apartment and sitting at the kitchen table. He notices a cake pan. He lifts the lid and sees the cake. His eyes bulge and he goes nuts. As he is about to tear into the cake Alice walks in. “Everybody get back,” he yells! The brief 3 minutes of him staring at the cake before getting ready to eat it is comedy genius!
As brilliant as Jackie Gleason was as Ralph Kramden, he never won an Emmy Award for it. Art Carney, however, won 5 Emmy’s for Best Supporting Actor on The Honeymooners and the Jackie Gleason Show.
The Honeymooners influenced a huge 1960’s cartoon – The Flintstones. It is a blatant rip off of the show, and was a huge hit. It is said that Gleason considered suing Hanna-Barbera Productions because of the similarities, but decided that he did not want to be known as “the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air”
The Honeymooners is over 65 years years old! Joyce Randolph, who played Trixie Norton is 97 years old and still going strong. I wonder if Gleason ever thought that those 39 episodes would still find an audience today and that they would still bring much laughter.
If you have never seen an episode, I encourage you to do so. The two episodes I mentioned in a previous blog are good places to start – TV or Not TV or A Matter of Record. Most are available on Youtube.
Welcome to my fourth round pick in the Hanspostcard TV Draft. Last round I chose Perry Mason, which was the ultimate court room “whodunit!” You never knew who committed the crime until the end of the episode. I thought it appropriate to choose Columbo for this round, because it is almost the exact opposite of Perry Mason, in that you know who the killer is right from the get go. It was called a murder mystery where the murder was no mystery.
The show pioneered the “inverted mystery” technique/format. Almost every show begins with a crime and the audience knows who the culprit is. Then enter the LAPD’s Lieutenant Columbo who spends the remainder of the show looking for clues, pestering the criminal, and eventually solving the case. The show was not a “whodunit” like Perry Mason, but rather it has been described as a “how’s he gonna catch him?”
The first season of Columbo began in September of 1971. I know that most of the shows being picked by others in the draft ran on a weekly basis. Columbo did not. Most episodes were featured as part of the NBC Mystery Movie rotation. It ran for 35 years with a total of 69 episodes.
The show was created by schoolmates Richard Levinson and William Link. The character first appeared in 1960 on The Chevy Mystery Show in an episode called “Enough Rope.” That episode was then adapted for a stage play entitled Prescription: Murder, which was then adapted for television in 1968. Columbo was played by Bert Freed in Enough Rope and by Thomas Mitchell in the stage version in 1962.
The writers of the show had originally wanted Lee J. Cobb to play Columbo, but he was unavailable. They next approached Bing Crosby, who turned down the role because it would take away from his time on the golf course. Peter Falk came across the script for Prescription: Murder and contacted Levinson and Link and said, “I’d kill to play that cop!”
They weren’t really sure about Peter Falk, who was only 39 at the time. They envisioned the character as being older. He won the role, and he plays him as a much straighter, cleaner, and firmer Columbo in the first episode. It was a huge hit! The Columbo quirks and mannerisms that fans came to know and love would develop as he continued to play the role.
Peter Falk really threw himself into the role. He wore his own clothes. The suit was one that he had dyed brown, because he felt that looked better. He wore his own shoes. The world famous raincoat was one that he purchased in New York City while caught in a rainstorm. It cost him a mere $15. One difference between Peter and Columbo – Columbo preferred cigars, while Falk enjoyed cigarettes.
I am currently reading a fantastic book on the show written by David Koenig.
Columbo is like no other cop. Koenig says, “There was nobody or nothing like Columbo at all before him. All the detectives were these hardboiled, emotionless, tough guys. And he was the opposite of that in every way. He hated guns and violence.” He describes the show this way, “Columbo wasn’t really a cop show. It was a drawing-room mystery done backwards with a cop as the lead. It was an anti-cop show.”
During the first few seasons of Columbo, it really set the standard for what some refer to as “event television.” There were some fabulous guest stars who played the murderer. Those stars included Gene Berry, Jack Cassidy, William Shatner, Dick Van Dyke, Ruth Gordon, Robert Vaughn, Anne Baxter, Janet Leigh, Robert Culp, Donald Pleasence, Eddie Albert, Leonard Nimoy, Johnny Cash, and Patrick McGoohan – just to name a few!!
After the murder, when Columbo finally shows up, his genius is hidden by his often confused look. It is also hidden by the way he is dressed and by his friendly demeanor. He is looked upon as a stupid fool. The killer has no idea what a brilliant man Columbo is and they are lured into a false sense of security. The killer becomes even more arrogant and dismisses Columbo as a dope, only to be caught in the end.
One of the things that certainly added to the character was his little idiosyncrasies like fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence, asking to borrow a pencil, or being distracted by something in the room in the middle of a conversation. Falk adlibbed those moments on camera while film was rolling as a way to keep the other actors off-balance. He felt that it really helped to make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo more genuine. It really truly worked.
On the show, the murderer is often some famous person, or someone who is cultured or from high society. Either that, or some sort of successful professional (surgeon, psychologist, etc…). Paired up against Columbo, it is gold! The interactions between the two become such a marvelous part of the show and brings out Columbo’s character and cunning genius!
In those conversations Columbo is often confused. He doesn’t know anything about classical music, chess, fine wines, photography or pieces of art. One article on the show stated that his “ignorance” will often “allow him to draw in the murderer with a cunning humility that belies his understanding of human behavior and the criminal mind.”
The last episode of Columbo aired in 2003 and was entitled “Columbo Likes the Nightlife.” Falk had planned for one final episode. It was to be called “Columbo’s Last Case” which was to begin at his retirement party. There was a lack of network interest and with his age and failing health, the episode was never to be.
Columbo remains as popular as ever. It was one of the most watched shows on streaming platforms during the pandemic. Author David Koenig says about the show, “It has stood the test of time for 50-plus years now. That character is still vibrant and alive, appealing to people. People love that central character, that basic format, the fact that it’s not political, it’s not violent, it’s not all the things television shows are today, it’s something different. And that is charm. That’s what people love about it.”
Steven Spielberg directed the first episode of Season 1 – Murder by the Book.
Peter Falk won 4 Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Columbo (1972, 1975, 1976, and 1990)
He also won a Golden Globe Award for the role.
Patrick McGoohan played a murderer more times than any other actor – 4 times. Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp each had 3 times, William Shatner and George Hamilton each played a killer twice.
Columbo’s name is never revealed – although a close up of his badge in the first season says it is ‘Frank.’ The creators of the show have stated that his first name was never known, so take that however you want to.
Columbo drives a 1960 Peugeot 403 convertible.
Columbo’s favorite food is chili and black coffee is his drink of choice.
In the 1972 episode entitled, “Etude in Black,” Columbo rescued a basset hound from the dog pound. The dog could be seen in many other episodes, and was as close to a sidekick/partner as Columbo ever got.
In 1997, the episode Murder by the Book was ranked #16 in TV Guide’s “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time” list.
In 1999, Lieutenant Columbo was ranked #7 on TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time.”
There is a bronze statue of Columbo (and his dog) in Budapest, Hungary. It was unveiled in 2017. Peter Falk is rumored to be a distant relative of the well-known Hungarian politician Miksa Falk (1828-1908).
I thought I would close with little treat for you. In one of the Dean Celebrity Roasts, Frank Sinatra was the Man of the Hour. Now, these roasts were often edited down to make sure all the best stuff was shown on TV. In Lee Hale’s book, he stated that there was only one performance that was shown in its entirety – Peter Falk’s appearance during the Sinatra roast.
Falk appears from the audience – as Lt. Columbo. The entire 11 minute bit is just priceless. It is a must see. Enjoy:
This was not my original choice for my next pick in the TV show draft. Yes, it was on my list of shows, but I had planned on writing about it later in the draft. I decided to move it up the list because after binge watching some episodes as I recovered from my surgery, I realized I could tie it in with my first draft pick.
You may recall that my first pick was Police Squad – a show that was cancelled after 4 episodes (of 6) aired. The reason given for its cancellation was that people had to watch it to get the jokes. The top brass said that it required too much of the viewer. I guess they thought that no one would actually watch and pay attention to what was happening on the screen.
As I sat and watched episodes of Mission: Impossible, I realized that it truly was a show that viewers HAD to watch. There are LONG periods of action scenes where there is no dialogue and the characters are executing the episode’s plan. Maybe that required wiring up a camera, or cutting a false bottom in a safe, or creating a fake set to fool someone. These scenes were silent, with the exception of suspenseful music playing underneath. The bottom line is that half the fun of this show is watching how the team gets the plan to work. People were obviously watching, too, because the show lasted for 7 seasons.
Bruce Geller created the series, which focuses on a small team of government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force. In early seasons, the team was used for secret missions against third world dictators, evil organizations, and Iron Curtain governments. Later seasons they were used for battling organized crime, con men, and corrupt industrialists. Occasionally, the mission would be a private one on behalf of members of the team itself. The show never really says who is the organization that oversees the IM Force, but it seems to be some sort of independent agency of the US government.
The episodes almost always began with the team leader going to some place (phone booth, roof top, police box, etc…) and finding a tape machine and envelope. The voice on the tape would then offer the team leader the scenario and instructions. The team leader ultimately has the choice whether or not to accept the mission, as the voice would say, “Your mission, should you chose to accept it …” The voice would then warn, “If you or any member of your IM Force should be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Finally, the tape would “self destruct.”
In the first season, Steven Hill is the head of the team. He plays Dan Briggs.
There are many stories surrounding the fact that he only appears in the first season. Some say he was a very difficult person to work with. Other stories say that his religious responsibilities interfered with the shooting schedule. Still others say that he just wasn’t able to do all that was required physically to play the role. At any rate, as the first season winds down, it seems he gets less and less screen time.
He was replaced in the second season by Peter Graves, who plays Jim Phelps.
After receiving listening to the mission and the self destruction of the tape, the team leader would retreat to his apartment where he was to assemble his team. He would pull out a briefcase with photos of various team members. He would pull out photos one by one. Each member had some special skill and if that skill fit the mission, the leader would pull that photo and place it in a pile.
He almost always picked the same people, but occasionally, there would be a guest star and the photo would allow the show to introduce them. In later seasons, they would skip this scene all together, assuming that the viewer understood that the leader had chosen the team.
The regular line up of agents included:
Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain) – a fashion model and actress
Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) – an actor, make up artist, magician, and “man of a million faces”
Barney Collier (Greg Morris) – a mechanical and electronics genius
Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus) – world record-holding weigh lifter
As cast members left the show, the ones that replaced them often had the same kind of skills. Other actors included Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Ann Warren, Lee Meriwether, and Sam Elliot. Only Greg Morris and Peter Lupus appear in every season of the series.
Once the team was chosen, they would assemble in the team leader’s apartment to discuss the plan of how they were going to accomplish the mission. It is during this scene that we often are introduced to one or more of the specialty gadgets that they would use.
Once the plan was in place, the remainder of the show focused on putting the plan in action. This is where the viewer really had to pay attention. So much action happens without any dialogue at all.
There are times that you are on the edge of your seat as you are watching the action. The team members are always seconds away from being caught or discovered. It is always fun to watch how this intricate plan comes together piece by piece. In most cases, the action of the show lasts right up until the final seconds. At that time, the mission would conclude with the IMF team making their escape.
One of my favorite things about the show is the fact that they were always able to create some sort of rubber mask to impersonate someone. Usually this would involve Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), the master of disguise. He always seemed to be able to mimic the voice of whoever he was playing (with the help of overdubbing, of course).
While much of the content of the show is very dated, it still holds up today. I don’t ever tire of watching it.
You simply cannot talk about Mission: Impossible without mentioning the theme song! It is perhaps one of the most recognizable theme songs in all of television. It was composed by an Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin. What is unique about the theme is that it is written in 5/4 time. It is an unusual time signature. The Mission Impossible Theme and Dave Brubeck’s Take Five are the two best known songs written in that time signature.
Schifrin wrote a book entitled Music Composition for Film and Television. In it, he stated that he sometimes would use Morse Code as inspiration for songs. In Morse code, the letter M is two dashes and the letter I is two dots (M I = Mission Impossible). As you listen to the theme song – you can here those letters in Morse code (Dash Dash Dot Dot – Dash Dash Dot Dot).
Schifrin won two Grammy Awards for music from the show.
Mission: Impossible remains one of the great shows of classic television. I’m off now to think about my third draft pick.
This blog will self destruct in 5 or 10 seconds …..
This blog is part of the TV Show Draft that is being hosted by Hans from Slice The Life. He is the same guy who hosted the Song Draft I took part in last year. This is the same idea. All the participants will pick their “draft picks” like one would pick a player in a fantasy football draft. Once a show is picked, it is out of the running for others to pick.
That in itself makes this draft more difficult for me. I mean, there is no shortage of shows to write about. However, I have a feeling that many of the picks on my list are also picks on some of the other bloggers. Because of this, I have an extra long list in case I have to make a last minute switch of my pick.
For my first pick, I went with a show that despite only being on the air for 6 episodes, makes me laugh every time I watch it – Police Squad!
In 1980, Airplane! was a major hit at the movies. One of the reasons I think it was such a hit was the fact that you had actors and actresses known for playing dramatic roles in this comedy film, playing it completely straight! Watching Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Peter Graves saying completely ridiculous lines as serious as possible only added to the humor of the film. How they kept a straight face with everything else that was going on in the background always amazed me.
To me, Leslie Nielsen was perfect for this movie. His role as Dr. Rumack is fantastic. His booming baritone voice saying those lines in all seriousness is just hilarious. No wonder he was the one who David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker approached him to play the lead, Detective Frank Drebin, in this TV series.
The series was basically a TV version of Airplane! There would be straight dialogue, silly jokes, word play, and all kinds of sight gags to watch for in the back ground. It was going to spoof cop shows. As a matter of fact, much like Airplane! which was almost a line by line copy of the movie Zero Hour, Police Squad lifted a plot and even dialogue from the TV show M Squad. It also drew from the show Felony Squad. The opening credits are very similar to M Squad (which starred Lee Marvin).
The opening narration was done by Hank Simms, who had done announcing on many other great shows. His narration is done is a matter of factly stern voice. He announces Leslie Neilsen and Alan North. Both enter scenes in which they pull out their guns and begin firing. Then, he announces “… and Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln!”
The scene is Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. When his hat is shot off, he gets up and returns fire with his own gun! This is one of two running gags in the credits.
The other gag is just priceless. The gag introduces each weeks guest star.
In the credits, the guest stars are killed off and never appear in the rest of the show!
Guest stars included Lorne Greene, William Conrad, Florence Henderson, Robert Goulet, and Florence Henderson. Word is that they shot a scene of John Belushi, but when he died of a drug overdose, they reshot with another guest star.
The final gag of the opening credits was a simple (and stupid) one. The title of episode would appear on screen, but the announcer would call the episode something completely different. For example, the first episode shows on the screen as “A Substantial Gift,” but the announcer reads “A Broken Promise.”
The Naked Gun movies were direct spin offs of the TV show. Alan North played Ed on the show, while George Kennedy played him in the movies. Peter Lupus (who is brilliantly funny on the show) plays Norberg on the show, while OJ Simpson plays Nordberg (yes, spelled differently) in the movies. Many of the scenes from the movies were adapted from scenes from the show.
The show consisted of dialogue that at times reminded me of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” Here is an example from the first episode:
[Frank and Ed are interviewing a witness to a shooting]
Sally: Well, I first heard the shot, and as I turned, Jim fell.
Frank: Jim Fell’s the teller?
Sally: No, Jim Johnson.
Frank: Who’s Jim Fell?
Ed: He’s the auditor, Frank.
Sally: He had the flu, so Jim… filled in.
Frank: Phil who?
Ed: Phil Din. He’s the night watchman.
Sally: Oh, if only Phil had been here…
The deadpan delivery of Leslie Nielsen on this show (and in the Naked Gun movies) made him comedy gold! In a scene where he and Ed are interviewing the widow of a man shot in a robbery, Drebin simply says:
“We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.”
The show aired on ABC in 1982. After 4 episodes aired, the show was cancelled. The last two episode aired later that summer. So why was such a funny show cancelled? That question was posed to Leslie Nielsen in an interview for the DVD release. He stated that ABC said “Police Squad! was canceled because viewers had to pay close attention to the show in order to get much of the humor.” In other words, people had to WATCH the show to get it. TV Guide stated that was “the most stupid reason a network ever gave for ending a series.”
Nielsen also stated that “the premise was more effective in the successful Naked Gun films because the much larger screen size in a cinema meant viewers saw more of the visual gags.”
There certainly is some truth to that, as the movies were very successful. It is interesting that the creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening said, “If Police Squad had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.”
One of my favorite lines in the series comes from the third episode of the series. After a small group of mobsters blackmail various store-owners, Frank and Norberg go undercover and set up a key-making and locksmith store. The mobsters offer Frank “protection” in exchange for money, but Frank declines. While they attack the store with guns, Frank and Norberg’s Locksmith store remains, enraging the mobsters’ boss (played by the great Al Ruscio). Frank goes to see the boss and walks in unannounced:
Dutch Gunderson: Who are you and how did you get in here?
Frank: I’m a locksmith. And, I’m a locksmith.
I need to interject here and say that Peter Lupus, who of course is known for his role as Willy on Mission: Impossible, is just hilarious! He was a body builder turned actor and was fantastic in Mission: Impossible. He really shows his comedy chops in Police Squad. I wish he had been in more episodes. He is almost over the top in everything he does.
In one episode, the crew is searching for a kidnapped girl. When the kidnapper calls, he is told to get a tap on the phone. As the call is going on you see him in the background banging and destroying the phone. It is a classic payoff when they ask if they got a tap on the phone ….
Later in the episode, mime comes through a window and acts out the “ransom note.” In a very funny scene, Frank, Ed, and Norberg (Lupus) are playing Charades to guess the answers. Peter Lupus steals the scene. He is so hysterically funny!
In the final running gag, the end of every episode featured Drebin and Hocken talking about the week’s criminal going to “Stateville Prison”, and mentioning the names of the criminals from all previous episodes. The scene ended with an imitation “Freeze Frame” with the actors trying to stand still while various things happened to or around them (such as Hocken pouring coffee into Drebin’s cup until it overflows and starts burning him.)
Those were so fun to watch. I wonder just how hard it was to get them to not react while everything around them went crazy?
I am so glad to have the entire series on DVD. It is a “go to” when I need to really laugh out loud. What a shame that this show never caught on. At the same time, if it had, would they have ever ventured out and made the Naked Gun movies? Who knows?
A radio friend discovered my blog on accident. He was doing a search on Honey Radio and my blog came up. He messaged me and asked “Is this yours?” After messaging back and forth, I told him to let me know if there was any specific topics he’d like to see on the blog.
It’s been some time since I have done a “Question and Answer” blog, so I may do that again. I also am considering hosting a guest blogger. If you are interested, let me know.
There are a couple things on the way that I am excited for. First of all, next month I will be taking part in the Ultimate Decades Blogathon. It’s a cool idea where you can write on movies released in years that end in “2.” 1932, 1942, 1952, etc… You can imagine my excitement when I remembered that The Godfather was released in 1972.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film. While I have eluded to it in many other blogs, I am excited to dedicate an entire blog to the movie. I plan on finishing a book that recently came out about the movie …
Watch for this blog in February. #UltimateDecadesBlogathon
I am also looking forward to the TV Show draft, which is currently on hold for a bit, but should be starting up soon. My first pick is a show that only lasted 6 shows and spawned a successful movie series. More on that soon.
I was notified by Word Press that this blog hit a milestone!! Had I been paying attention, I would have made Blog #500 something a bit more special. Instead, my last blog (#500) was about how tired I am!
As I sat down to write Blog #501, I thought on how far this blog has come. I never started this blog to gain hundreds of followers, however, I have. Originally, I started the blog as a way to write down my feelings and thoughts as I went through some troubling times. Then I thought it would be a good place to write some memories down so my kids could look back and read them. It has evolved into a place where I can write about personal things, and not so personal things.
I am glad that the details of how my wife and I came to be together are here. I am also glad that I have detailed blogs about the the birth of my son and daughter. There are also many memories of my mom, so that my kids who never had the chance to meet her, will be able to read about her. I hope that they will be able to come here to read about the special people in my life – my wife, my kids, my parents, my grandparents, my teachers, my co-workers and mentors, and my friends.
It’s also fun to look back at the special “events” I took part in. Recently, I took part in a song draft, which allowed me to feature 10 great songs. There was a bit more pressure than just picking a song and writing about it. It was hard to pick just 10! Blogging about TV shows and movies as part of blogathons has been fun, as well. I’m looking forward to a TV show draft, similar to the song draft, coming soon.
What Have I Learned?
So, just what have I learned after 500 blogs?
1. It’s not easy!
I read somewhere that most people who start a blog quit writing after a month. I am glad that I have continued to write, although finding stuff to write about is not always easy. There are many days where I sit and have nothing to write about. In those moments, I turn to Daily Writing Prompts. Sometimes they will be helpful, but many of them are worthless.
Some days are easier than others. Many times a song will bring about a memory I can share. Other times a conversation will spawn something worth writing about. My kids are a constant source of writing material and funny stories and for that I am grateful. I love bragging about them.
The key for me is to just keep writing. I plan to do just that.
2. I’ve met some really cool friends
When I created my blog, I started to search for blogs about music and movies. I started following some of them and by doing so, found there many people who share similar likes with me. I began to comment on their posts and they commented on mine. By doing so, I have really gained some neat friendships with people I have never seen face to face. I’m thankful for each of them
3. I often wonder if I make a difference
I guess I hope that someone who goes through my blog will find an occasional “nugget” that they can use in their daily life. It’s not easy to put your life out on the internet for everyone to see, but if someone can learn something from the challenges I faced and the issues I worked through, I will be happy with that.
More recently, I have blogged a little bit more about my faith. I was always told to not discuss religion and politics. I follow a few blogs who share my beliefs and I appreciate them. I know that not everyone is going to share my beliefs and that is ok. That being said, I am also not going to be afraid to post more about it and am always happy to discuss it with others.
4. I really enjoy blogging
I’m not sure I could ever be a reporter or a writer where there were deadlines for articles. I enjoy sitting and writing about my passions, my experiences, my family, and my life. I love being able to write down things that I can go back and reread and relive those moments.
I have put quite a bit of time into this blog, and don’t make a dime off it (Although, I hear that there are many bloggers who DO make money off theirs)! It has never been about making money. It has never been about having a blog republished. It has never been about having millions of followers. This blog is my little spot on the internet to save my thoughts and share them.
How about your feedback?
What do you like best about this blog? What would you like to see more of? Would you ever consider being a guest blogger on my site? Tell me your thoughts. I appreciate you being here and reading my blog and hope to keep posting things you find interesting.
So what is next? 500+ plus blogs I hope and I am excited to continue sharing “me” with you!