On Adam West

Back before I moved to this side of Murfreesboro, I lived in a little blue house. Every day, when I would come home from school, I would get a peanut butter sandwich and watch the 1966 version of Batman. That was Adam West. In the cartoons and shows I watched growing up, from Fairly Odd Parents to Goosebumps, I saw Adam West play the hero.

He was my favorite character in Family Guy and managed to do so without a single Batman reference. He was the Gray Ghost, the hero that inspired Kevin Conroy’s Batman. He played Thomas Wayne for Diedrich Bader’s Batman. Adam West was a kind-hearted man who could take a joke. He loved being lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and reveled in camp.

I am filled with sorrow at his passing. He was everywhere in my life and his work will live on, but he will be so tremendously missed. Adam West represented the Silver Age of Batman. An age where light heartedness and justice could be one and the same. Adam West was so much more than that though, but he thrived in it regardless.

Thank you. Thank you for always being you and not forcing yourself to change. Thank you for always bringing a smile to my face. Thank you for introducing me to Batman. Thank you for everything.

I will miss you.

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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!!

 

A Continued Look at Television in my Life

My favorite show of all time was the 1965-1968 Irwin Allen space-drama, Lost in Space. It premiered exactly 30 years before I was born and was a fierce competitor with the original Star Trek and Adam West’s Batman.

Now, I’m sitting with many tabs open on radio and the history of radio broadcasting in the good ol’ US of A and I can’t think of a better time to type out a brief synopsis on why I love this show and why it didn’t deserve to be forgotten.

The first episode of Lost in Space was an hour long pilot that left out many of the elements that would make the show successful enough to make Billy Mumy able to compete with William Shatner and Adam West.

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The episode was about the first family being sent to Alpha Centuari; the Robinsons. In the pilot, they get on to their spacecraft, the Gemini XII, and get thrown off course. This results in the Robinsons getting hopelessly lost in space (Ha-HA) and the series was about the family’s quest to get home.

Irwin Allen was a master story-teller and it showed. The show was picked up, but there had to be some changes and those changes resulted in the first few episodes of Lost in Space retelling and reshooting scenes that were seen in the pilot, which was the most expensive pilot ever produced at the time. Guy Williams, TV’s Zorro, and June Lockhart, the Mom on Lassie, were the parents of Penny, Judy and Will Robinson. The ship was piloted by Mark Goddard’s Major Don West (my Mom had the BIGGEST crush on him and still does. She actually chats with him on occasion on Facebook, where the Lost in Space fandom still thrives). Also, in probably the most interesting little factoid of the show, the music was composed by Johnny Williams (as he is credited) who went on to compose a few movies for a couple of directors (Star Wars, Jaws, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Exra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Return of the Jedi, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Jurassic Park, Superman, Schindler’s List, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, aaand you pretty much get the point. He’s arguably the most famous modern conductor of all time.).

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Now, three interesting changes were made to the show when it was picked up and all were seen in the second first episode. The smallest one was that the Gemini XII was renamed the Jupiter II presumably because it was easier to say. The other two were additions that became the base of what made the show able to stand against the other greats of the time; Dr. Zachary Smith and Robot B-9. Dr. Smith was played by TV’s first Special Guest Star, Jonathan Harris, who was praised for his slimy yet camp portrayal as a double agent that ultimately gets stuck on the Jupiter II when it takes off and his weight is what throws it off course, dooming the crew. Robot B-9 (just called “The Robot” in the show) was a suit designed by Robert Kinoshita (the man who created Robby the Robot, a very famous ‘face’ around Hollywood who actually appeared in two episodes of Lost in Space and an episode of Columbo which I will talk about later) that was worn by Bob May and voiced by the show’s announcer, Dick Tufeld. The Robot was, as some merchandise put, a General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Robot that would determine the safety of a planet’s atmosphere for the Robinsons.

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He also happens to be my favorite fictional character ever and has had a profound effect on how I view things…no, really. You see, the Robot simultaneously became Dr. Smith’s henchman because he couldn’t refuse orders, the Robinson family’s protector from hostile inhabitants of the planets they landed on because of his defense system (these kickass claws would shoot lightning out of them), and became friends with the youngest of the Robinsons and was a protector. Over time he developed a personality and when the Robot was endangered, the Robinsons eventually fought to keep him safe, as he was now a member of the family. This is important because, initially, it was considered to dump the Robot so the weight of the Jupiter II would be manageable for an easy take-off, but he had become invaluably so they mined more of the planet to get the proper fuel for everyone, including Dr. Smith, to come along. Growing up, I saw this as a symbol. The Robinsons, Major West, and Dr. Smith were all straight and white and American. The Robot was none of these things. The Robot was a blank slate that filled in for everyone else in my mind and if the Robinsons could show love, understanding, and care for someone different from them, so could I. The Robot was my personal symbol to fight sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and all the other nasty things in the world. That is why it is my favorite show.

Eventually the show was cancelled and nowadays people don’t know it like they know Star Trek or Batman, but I will never forget this show and neither should you.

Join me in the not-too-distant future for a look at another show that melded my, Mystery Science Theater 3000.

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Television in My Life

Well, this draft has been sitting on my laptop for over a week and I’ve decided that, instead of scrapping it, I would revitalize it. Breath life into it.

SO, we’ve been discussing television and how it has changed, how it affects us, and how we affect it in my EMC 2410 class. We recently had a project that put us into groups and we had to come up with an original topic for a show and write a short treatment and the first ten pages of the pilot episode. My unfortunately common absences in that class got me into a group with two very nice people, but they didn’t really want to write anything. I got stuck with the had work, but I feel like I pulled it off. That project made me understand the hard work that goes into a good Television script.

It got me thinking…what kind of scripts went into my five favorite shows? To start off, my favorites are Doctor WhoLost in SpaceMystery Science Theater 3000Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and Columbo. And all of them have very different pilot episodes, ad I want to look at all of them and their impact on TV.

 

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Doctor Who is probably the most famous of my personal favorites. It has been on and off the air since 1963 and has changed formats since the first episode. Now, a notable thing about the first episode is that it wasn’t seen that much. There were large power outages around England and the previous day was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated so many people were following that news. Due to it not being widely seen, the first episode, titled An Unearthly Child, was re-aired and met with a storm of praise. The new hit was an old grumpy man, his granddaughter, and her teachers rocketing through space and time.

 The show was serialized, which means the whole story was told over 4-6 episodes with one episode each week ending on a cliffhanger. Now, Doctor Who wasn’t the first science-fiction show, serialized show, or popular fantasy show, but it did last for a very long time, with different actors taking on the helm of the titular Doctor and created this wide universe of historical tales, alien invasions, interplanetary governments, and regular people doing incredible things.

After it was put on hiatus in 1989, it had one television movie and was eventually brought back on with new stories in 2005. The 2005 series, affectionately dubbed “NewWho” didn’t reboot the series, but made it accessible to people who didn’t have access to the previous forty plus years of stories. The massive universe that the Doctor and the TARDIS existed still and now many generations of fans can bond over the same stories.

The show has now been on for 52 years and still continues to impress old fans and draw in new ones with fantastic story telling intermingled with respect for the men and women that made the show possible way back in the early sixties.

This show is one of the longest running, non-soap opera, shows on television and its fanbase of Whovians continue to be inspired to follow their dreams, because the Doctor would want them to.

In fact, two recent men who portrayed the Doctor, David Tennant and Peter Capaldi, became actors partly because of the classic series of Doctor Who that they grew up with.

Well, I don’t want to create a HUGE blog entry, so I will break up the analyses of my favorite programs into four or five different blog posts. In the mean time, here’s to the madman in his telephone box. doctor-who-an-unearthly-child-a