Television in My Life: Series Finale

One interesting thing about TV is how quickly it can change. Rarely is something a staple for so more than a few years to a decade. Soap operas, Johnny Carson, and new reporters are some of those things, but a character? Sure, The Doctor from Doctor Who is one of the most enduring TV original characters, but he hasn’t been played by the same actor for a bulk of his time on the boob tube. Imagine a character that was played by the same man from the late sixties to the early 2000s.

That character was the titular character in Columbo. His first appearance by Peter Falk was in a TV movie that eventually took off into a series of mostly monthly NBC Mystery Movies which then became the ABC Mystery Movie until Falk’s final performance as Lieutenant Columbo.

So, does this count as a traditional TV show?

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The format of the show isn’t a regular whodunnit, but rather a howcatchem. Virtually every episode start outs with the murderer either finishing the job or the events leading up to it. So, the audience always knew who the killer was. The entertainment of the show came from seeing how Lt. Columbo would catch the killer.

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In the first movie, Gene Barry (famous for War of the Worlds and Burke’s Law) was the killer. The set off a trend of the killer being a recognizable face, much like how the Special Guest Stars in Batman were the villains. Donald Pleasance, Janet Leigh, William Shatner, Patrick McGoohan, Vera Miles, Ricardo Montalbon, Richard Kiley, Roddy McDowell, Martin Landau, and Johnny Cash were just a few of the killers in the 30 plus years of Columbo’s reign as an undefeated investigator.

The tics that the Lieutenant had were very recognizable to those who watched the show, and even though it hasn’t been on for over a decade, he is still parodied in all forms of media. Rumpled rain coat, gruff voice, messed up hair, cigar, scatter brained, crappy car, and offset gaze (the latter due to Falk’s own glass eye) always caught the often arrogant killers off guard. They didn’t think he could discover their perfect crime and sometimes they even befriended him, but at the end of each episode. They were always caught. Usually, he would gather the evidence and present it to a dumbfounded killer. They always went quietly.

Unfortunately, Peter Falk’s severe case of Alzheimer’s and early onset Dementia prevented him from reprising the role of Columbo one last time before his death in 2011. His performance lives on as one of the most highly regarded in television history though.

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Oh, just one more thing…these five shows are my favorites, but I could do blog posts on so many other series; The Prisoner, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Batman, Quantum Leap, The Jack Benny Show, Beverly Hills, 90210 and so many more have been a part of my life.

Television in my Life: The Penultimate Part

Darren McGavin was one of those guys who was in a little bit of everything. He was a character actor through and through and definitely someone who you knew without knowing his name. He is most famous for his role as the Old Man in A Christmas Story, but I always knew him first as Carl Kolchak. Kolchak: The Night Stalker was a spin-off of two very successful television movies produced by Dan Curtis, the same man behind Dark Shadows. They were about a reporter who knew that the supernatural was a very present and real threat and fought the establishment to keep innocent people safe. After getting kicked out of Las Vegas and Seattle, Carl Kolchak eventually found his was to Chicago, where the series takes place. 018-kolchak-the-night-stalker-theredlist

It only lasted for a season, so it is another show that never got the acclaim it deserved. It did get an ongoing comic book though and, as I’ve discussed before, the fan base is a very welcoming and dedicated. There isn’t much to say about this show other than it did inspire another show that put the truth out there and was a mega hit. That’s right, Mulder and Scully wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for Carl Kolchak.

I’m more a fan of Darren McGavin than I am David Duchovny, so that’s why this article isn’t about The X-Files. I just prefer reporters in the seventies I guess.

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An Aside…Jonathan Frid

Today would have been Jonathan Frid’s 91st birthday. He played Barnabus Collins on the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows  from the late sixties to the early seventies. He was introduced about 100 episodes in, it was a soap opera so in the few years it was on the show managed to pump out over 1000 half-hour episodes, as a villain that would besiege the modern day Collins family. He was cursed with vampirism in the 1700s and had been awake in a crypt for centuries.

He was an absolute hit with audiences though. He was seen, much like Bela Lugosi before him, as a sex symbol for all the people watching a midday soap opera. I think that he is a perfect example of a fad icon. The show was on everyday for a few years and Dark Shadows was a HUGE deal, but it faded fast. Frid became one of many figures that would be replaced by all but the most dedicated of fans.

My Mom is one of those fans and I have seen hundreds of episodes of Dark Shadows. It is a soap opera and it is very hammy and dull at times, but Barnabus was definitely the highlight of the show. He brought class to the dark world of Collinsport, Maine. Rest in peace, Mr. Frid.

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Another Look at Television in My Life

I beleieveeeveve I’m going to talk about a shot that isn’t super well-known, but has once fierce fanbase. In the not too distant future, two men from Minnesota decided that they had a great idea to pay back all of the bad movies they were forced to sit through.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 premiered on a local KTMA channel on Thanksgiving in the late eighties and it was so popular that ,after the first season, it was picked up by the precursor to Comedy Central.

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The show is sort of a horror-host/feature film format. It is about Joel Robinson (later Mike Nelson) who was shot into space by some mad scientists to experiment on him. They would force him to watch bad movies. Instead of having control of the movies, he used those special pars to make his robot friends. Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy, Cambot and Magic Voice all helped Joel survive on the Satellite of Love. The mad scientists forced him and two of the bots to watch a terrible movie. In return, they would talk back to the movie or “riff” it.

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The show became a cult hit and loved the idea of people  taping the show and showing their friends the tapes. My Mom has many of the episodes on tapes that she recorded herself. I grew up watching the show and I learned that a sharp wit will take me further in a conversation than an angry word ever could.

So, the residents of the Satellite of Love rose in the ranks of horror hosts and still sit with alumni such as Zacherly, Elvira, and Svengoolie.

The show still thrives to this day, a recent Kickstarter has guaranteed that the show will come back in it’s classic format for at least six episodes. Also, for the past ten years, some members of the show have been running the website Rifftrax which has hundreds of movies and short films being riffed by some of the masters.

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Now, I’m past the halfway point of these shows. After I finish up on Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Columbo I will talk about certain radio shows that I’ve grown up with and enjoyed. Next up, Darren McGavin in a seersucker suit!!