Magazines 1980-1989




In the 1980s, I got the job that would define my career as an editor at Habitat magazine, a publication about co-ops and condos.It started with a handshake. In March 1982, I was all of 25 and I had been without a full-time job for a year or so. My first gig out of college had been at Firehouse magazine (1978-1981), where I learned all I ever wanted to know about the fire service industry. After two-and-a-half years on that job, first as assistant editor and then as associate editor, I had had enough. I left for a gig at Americana magazine – which started as a promising partnership and ended up a disaster. I left after six months – writing about firefighters was more my thing apparently than making rocking chairs seem interesting – and I took off for a year to write my first book, produce cable TV's Videosyncracies, and discover improvisation. And then I got my job at Habitat. While there, I wrote a great deal of freelance stories for various pulcications, and in the process, met a number of my childhood idols: Patrick McGoohan, Raymond Burr, the cast of Monty Python. And I got paid for it too! Nice work if you can get it and for a while, I did.   

A Chorus Line




1985. Michael Douglas, Alyson Reed, Terrence Mann, Audrey Landers; dir. Richard Attenborough: 117m. (PC-13) Hi St D cc $79.95. LV $34.95. CED. Embassy. Image; excel. 

If A Chorus Line is a play about faith, the overpowering, almost mythical belief actors have in their profession, then A Chorus Line: The Movie is an appalling demonstration of a director's lack of faith in his material. Granted, the show's story and structure have defeated many in the 10 years it took the musical to reach the screen. It is an intensely theatrical experience, a show in which actors, alone on a bare stage, reveal their loves, fears, and dreams to the voice of a faceless, offstage (and to them, omnipotent) director. 

What's amazing is not the film's failure-artistic success would have been a surprise-but that it fails so miserably. Director Richard Attenborough evidently believed so little in the musical that he has junked its key elements. No longer a play about actors, it is now about two sophomoric lovers: the director, Zach (Michael Douglas), and chorus girl/dancer Cassie (Alyson Reed). The other actors' lives and monologues become fodder for the pair's fights and flashbacks. 

Never has a director worked so hard against his material. Dance numbers are effectively obliterated by closeups, reaction shots, and jumpcuts. Backstage scenes, extraneous exteriors, and silly flashbacks open up the intense, intimate audition situation. The movie's style is wildly inconsistent, starting off cinema verite and then jarringly turning to highly stylized songs. And those songs: badly overdubbed and accelerated to a disco beat, they parody the originals, which were gritty, amusing, and simple. "What I Did for Love" has been given to Cassie, changing it from a moving actor's hymn to a trite lover's lament. 

But that's par for the course in this predictable mishmash. It certainly says something that 10 years after seeing the play I can still remember moments and characters vividly. Ten minutes after this ended, all I could remember was how infuriatingly bad it was. 



A Dog's Life



For over 200 years, the dalmatian has been the firefighter's most faithful friend


"Bessie would always follow me into a burning building in the old days," recalled a Manhattan Fire lieutenant in 1916, "and stay one floor below the fighting line, as the rule required ... Bessie knew as much about the risks we ran as we did ...

"The companies that have been motorized find their dogs will not run ahead of the gasoline engines and trucks. They miss the horses and are afraid of the machine; .. I'm afraid she is the last of the mascots."

But the lieutenant was wrong. In 1976, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, firefighters held a graveside ceremony 'for Shadow, their ll-year-old dalmatian recently deceased, noting: "We dedicate this stone not to a dog, but to a friend of the firemen of the Arsenal." In 1978, the Fayetteville, Arkansas, department used Sparky, a four-year-old dalmatian as a prevention tool. In 1979, another Sparky, a three-year-old dalmatian, joined Los Angeles' Engine 103 on runs. And in 1980, Caesar, a 10-year-old dalmatian, walked out with the striking members of Chicago's Engine 22. When the city attempted to evict the dog from the firehouse, the men protested and won his case, calling him "a symbol of the firehouse."

The dalmatian is more than that. For 200 years, he has been a symbol of firefighters throughout the United States. At fires, at prevention activities, and in the firehouse itself, the spotted, sleek dog has been in theory and in fact the firefighter's most faithful friend.

That relationship developed because of another, earlier, friendship between dalmatians and horses. In 1940, Clyde E. Keeler and Harry C. Trimble, two _ Harvard University researchers, observed: "Dogs of the Dalmatian breed have definite differences with respect to the eagerness with which they follow horses and carriages. Since approximately 70 percent of the animals [we] tested chose those positions which entitled them to be rated as 'good' coaching dogs, it is evident that this is well entrenched in the breed."

Alfred and Esmeralda Treen in The Dalmatian (1980), put it more simply: "The dalmatian is built to run hard for long distances ... he is the only dog that was traditionally bred and trained to run with the horse-drawn vehicles. When he has the chance he is still delighted to go with the horses."

The dog's origin is less clear. The Treens report that a young 16th century Yugoslavian poet, Jurij Dalmatian, owned dogs that could have been dalmatians. "The interest in my Turkish-dogs grows in all Serbia," he said in a letter. "These dogs are so popular that they call them by my name-Dalmatian. This new name is already more and more ingrained."

A. Croxton Smith observed in 1931: "Attempts have been made, without being convincing, to divorce [the dogs] from their association with Dalmatia, the pre- War province of Austria bordering the eastern side of the Adriatic. One writer in 1843 endeavoured to show their connection with the Bengal Harrier, whatever that was .. .In the absence of any better evidence, I think we are safe in assuming that the breed did come from Dalmatia or neighboring regions."

Rowland Johns noted in Our Friend the Dalmatian (1933): "No one seems to know when the breed began. There was once a story that he was part tiger and came from Bengal. That was a pretty idea but a poor invention. Far more plausible was the idea that he lived in Denmark and worked for the peasants as a draught-dog, but that theory has not much value. The dog used in Denmark being the harlequin Great Great Dane, which, being also spotted, no doubt was confused with the Dalmatian ... The only thing we know is that he has always been called the Dalmatian and he probably came direct from that part of Southern Europe."

The dogs became known in continental Europe during the Middle Ages as they accompanied Gypsy caravans across the countryside. In addition to teaching the dogs tricks, the gypsies found that the animals were good guards. The dalmatians would stand watch over the horses by night and run with the wagons by day.

The practice was carried over to 17th century England where the dogs (called coach dogs) were used to guard stables. "A good Coach Dog has often saved his owner much valuable property by watching the carriage," wrote T.J. Woodcock in 1891.

"It is a trick of thieves who work in pairs for one to engage the coachman in conversation while the other sneaks around in the rear and steals whatever ... valuables he can .. .I never lost an article while the dogs were in charge, but was continually losing when the coachman was ... "

It was also fashionable to have a dalmatian running alongside or under a coach when on the road (coining the phrase "putting on the dog," meaning to do something as a show of wealth).

Observed Woodcock: "In training for the carriage, it is usually found necessary to tie a young dog in proper position, under the fore axles, for seven or eight drives before he will go as required. Some bright puppies, however, require little or no training, especially if they can be allowed to run with an old dog that is already trained."

In America, mention of the dalmatian can be found as early as 1787 when George Washington noted in a letter to his nephew: "At your aunt's request, a coach dog has been purchased and sent for the convenience and benefit of Madame Moose: her amorous fits should theretofore be attended to, that the end for which he is sent may not be defeated by her acceptance of the services of any other dog."

As American cities grew and volunteer fire companies were organized, dalmatians were employed to protect engine company horses that transported equipment to the fire scene. The dalmatian's outgoing and loyal personality endeared it to firefighters, and soon the spotted faces could be seen in many firehouses as guard dogs and mascots.

After work, dalmatians would often run alongside a trolley, following a firefighter home for a free meal. Noted one firefighter: "I got a street car pass for [our dog] and I guess she is ... the only dog in this city that could hop on and off a car without causing trouble ... She knew the right comer as well as I did and travelled the line alone if she missed me."

The Treens report that in 1910, "the Westminister Kennel Club offered a special class for Dalmatians, dogs and bitches, owned by members of the New York Fire Department. The results of the show indicate that first place was won by Mike [of Engine 81. .. Bess, owned by Lieutenant Wise [of Engine 39], was second. Smoke II, owned by Hook & Ladder No. 68, came in third ... "

With the switch to horseless carriages, the dalmatian disappeared from the firehouse--at least for a time. Kate Sanborn, in Educated Dogs Of Today (1916), writes: "For five and a halflong years Bessie cleared the

crossing at Third Avenue and Sixty-seventh Street for her company, barking a warning to surface-car motormen, truck drivers, and pedestrians, and during all that time she led the way in everyone of the average offorty runs a month made by No. 39. Then like a bolt from the sky the three white horses she loved were taken away, even the stalls were removed, and the next alarm found her bounding in front of a man-made thing that had no intelligence--a gasoline-driven engine. Bessie ran as far as Third Avenue, tucked her tail between her legs and returned to the engine house. Her heart was broken. She never ran to another fire."

The dogs disappeared, but firefighters missed them. During the 1930s and' 40s, mascots began to reappear in firehouses. While many kinds of animals were kept, including cats, monkeys, birds, dogs of other breeds, and even

a pig, firefighters seemed to gravitate toward their traditional mascot.

During the mid-1950s, dalmatians reached their height of popularity in the U.S., partly because of the Walt Disney film 101 Dalmatians. After the film, the breed soared in popularity, becoming a favorite among American dog owners.

With the revived popularity of the dog came the old stories of their intelligence and loyalty, as well as their ability to sniff out fires and perform heroic deeds. One dog, while hospitalized for laryngitis, tried to break out of his ward when he smelled a fire nearby. The commotion he raised helped uncover the fire. In Boston, during the Second World War, fire commpany dalmatians were trained for civil defense emergency service. They carried messages and Red Cross supplies and guarded property during and after air raids, as well as locating wounded persons under debris. In the late 1940s, one fire magazine reported that dalmatians were "again in the driver's seat."

But dog popularity changes. In 1976, the dalmatian was only 33rd on the American Kennel Club's new registrations list. Nonetheless, firefighters still enjoy the breed (see box), and dalmatians can now be found in firehouses throughout the country. Their special place with the firefighter is symbolized in New York's Greenwich Village. A painting on a firehouse door shows a fire engine racing to a blaze. Two firefighters are sitting in the front seat; between them is a friendly, speckled face, on its way to another fire. ~



Engine 44 in Manhattan is housed ina firehouse that is old-fashioned in ways other than appearance. Neighborhood residents bring cakes and cookies to the men on duty, children know the firefighters by name, and a frisky dalmatian called Sparky bounds around the station.

"We had another dalmatian before," says firefighter Frank Nolan. "He spent 15 years of service with us." When he died two years ago, a Long Island kennel donated a new dalmatian, six months old, to the bereaved company.

Sparky is very playful and makes "a lot of noise" when strangers come into the station house. He stays out of the way when the men are preparing for runs and remains in quarters when they're out.

"It took awhile," says Nolan, "but he seems to be getting engine-wise now. He's a bright dog." The junior man on duty takes him for his daily walks around the community.

"He gets us known," notes Nolan.  "He's an asset to the firehouse. The children come in and give him a cookie. People come to see him. It's a nice rapport: he brings the neighborhood in. f They come to see the dog, not the firemen.”


New Dog, Old Tricks

Teaching a new dog old tricks is part of the job at the Fayetteville, Arkansas, Fire Department. For the past five years, the men of the "A" shift have used Sparky, a six-year-old, 50-pound dalmatian, to spread the fire prevention message. As trained by Lt. Larry Poage, Sparky demonstrates the dos and don'ts of fire safety to school children. A don't: Sparky stands up in the smoke. A do: Sparky crawls to safety by following the family escape plan.

"The lieutenant lectures and Sparky performs," says Fayetteville firefighter Dennis Ledbetter. "The children really like the show better than anything else we have tried." ~

Firehouse/July 1980 


Ray Parker has written for Quarterly Shorts. This article was prepared with material supplied by Paula Reisenuiitz, Elaine Gewirtz, Dennis Ledbetter, and Collette Coyne

Art Schneider



A Veteran Editor a Cut Above the Rest. 


For Art Schneider, A.C.E., it was one of the most memorable moments in his life. Bob Hope was taping a 1965 comedy special.


on NBC and Schneider, Hope's videotape editor since the 1950s, was standing offstage when Hope called him out. "Most of you don't know what goes on behind the scenes during the editing of our show," began Hope. "We have a man in the basement ... who fixes all our mistakes, and we'd like to honor him tonight with the annual Bob Hope Show Crossed Scissors Award for Jump Cutting Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. 


To many in the industry, Schneider has always been known as "Jump Cut," the editor's editor, racking up screen credits and awards almost since the beginning of television. As an NBC staff engineer from 1951 to 1968, Schneider edited over 500 variety shows, documentaries, music specials, series and news programs, winning four Emmys in the process. His work helped define the medium. 


From the start, Schneider's modus operandi has been to edit quickly, efficiently and seamlessly. To improve video editing in the '50s-a cumbersome process, which involved the hand-splicing of tape-he worked with his colleagues at NBC to develop the first offline editing process as well as an early time-code system. As chief editor of the network's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in in the late '60s, he was notorious for his organization and imagination. 


"To edit Laugh-in, we had to adapt the technology to our concepts and not vice versa," says Laugh-in Creator and Producer George Schlatter. "At the time, video editing was primitive and considered a technician's job. Art helped change that. It became an artistic job." 


Schneider's ambitions once lay elsewhere. When he was 18 and a model-airplane enthusiast, he entered the University of Southern California with the goal of becoming an aeronautical engineer. He explains, however, that he couldn't master the math required for the field. "I changed my major three times before I finally settled on cinema studies," he recalls. "There's not much math in that." 


Schneider soon found he had a knack for cutting film, and it was during his senior year that a professor introduced him to an NBC executive searching for a film editor. "The job they offered was simple-editing leaders onto kinescopesbut they didn't want to spend the time training beginners how to edit," recalls Schneider. "They wanted someone who already knew how to do it." 


A four-hour job interview led to what would be a 17-year career at the network. Although eventually he became the network's supervising editor, he began as a "Group 2 Engineer" -handsplicing videotape and film, and operating kinescope machines and camerasbecause the term "editor" was not officially sanctioned by NBC until the '60s


Schneider worked constantly, averaging 40 to 50 shows a year and racking up such credits as 51 Bob Hope shows, three critically acclaimed Fred Astaire programs, and specials starring Judy Garland, Pat Boone, Milton Berle and Jack Benny. "My USC training in cinema really helped," he says-particularly for specials, "which were tricky. You couldn't just grind them out like [you might on a] series. The star wanted to put the best foot forward." 


In 1967, Schlatter, a former colleague from NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour, apI proached him with the Laugh-in pilot. "I thought it had a funny name and a pretty thick script," Schneider recalls, "but I said, 'Fine, I'll do it.' " The script was thickfour inches, to be exactand, at a time when 80 edits an hour for video was considered excessively complicated, Laugh-in weighed in at about 400. "It was a gargantuan task," says Schlatter, "and Laugh-in may have been the first show on TV whose editor was recognized for the contribution he brought to the whole." 


With its quick blackouts, short sketches and zany music pieces, Laugh-in was an editor's nightmare. Schneider, with Schlatter at his side, spent three weeks of 20-hour-a-day edits to produce the pilot. "At the end of the first assembly [which took five days], George didn't like what he saw. He sat back and cried, 'What have I wrought?' " recalls Schneider, who wound up recutting the program five times. "After the fifth, George was satisfied, but I was still bothered by something that didn't quite click. I couldn't sleep, thinking about it." Then, as he lay in bed, he had an inspiration: 


He would add a tag scene after the closing credits-a discarded piece of footage of Arte Johnson as a Nazi saying, "Verrrry interesting." Not only did Schlatter love the touch, the bit became a catchphrase of the series. 


In 1968, Schneider left NBC to form, with Schlatter, Burbank Film Editing (where he continued to work on Laughin). Schneider left in 1970 to work at CFI, where he stayed until 1976 and helped develop the first CMX 300 on-line editing system. From there he freelanced on a variety of projects, including off-net hours for syndication and documentaries on pollution. In addition, he served on the board of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; became a member of the SMPTE education committee; and began writing (over 50 articles) and lecturing on his profession. 


Although recently semi-retired, the 59year-old editor is keeping busy. In March, for example, Focal Press published Electronic Postproduction and Videotape Editing, Schneider's history of and guide to working the TV editing business. And he is currently writing a new book, A Dictionary of Postproduction Terms. 


"To be successful," Schneider concludes, "you have to be very, very dedicated. And you have to work your butt off." 


WRAP, September/October 1989

Books Into Movies

sites/default/files/BOND BOOK COVERS_0023.jpgOver the past fifty years, many techniques have been used to adapt blockbuster books for the screen. While some approaches to this formidable task have pitted the original author against the screenwriter, all of the following techniques have resulted in great movies.



This tack was best summed up by Adolph Zukor, figurehead chairman of the board of Paramount during the 1940s. When asked about Paramount's version of For Whom the Bell Tolls, an intense Hemingway novel with a provocative political backdrop, he replied, "It is a great picture, without political significance. We "are not for or against anybody"

Another example is John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a book meant by its author "to rip the reader's nerves to rags. I don't want him satisfied." Though the novel attacked capitalism, the film was a softened version of Steinbeck's original ideas. Interestingly director John Ford, who won an Academy Award for his efforts, did not read the book.

Bernard Malamud's The Natural, about baseball player Roy Hobbs, a man who destroys himself, became a story about Roy Hobbs, a man who overcomes the beast in himself. At the end of Malamud's novel, Hobbs strikes out causing his team to lose the World Series; but in the film, Hobbs hits a grand slam homerun, saving his team and the Series. As one of the adapters, Roger Towne, explained, "The duties of a screenwriter are not just as a technician to adapt a book. In large part, they are to reflect the attitude of his time. Malamud wrote the tale on Roy Hobbs [coming out of  the attitude formed by that terrible calamity of World War II, [so] you can understand why the fates would conspire to bring a good man down. From the vantage point of 1984, in nuclear shadow, I'm writing about the ability of man to overcome defeat. I would love to keep the vision of man's perfectibility alive."



Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick's  Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? took ten years and a half-dozen adaptations to reach the screen. In the process, it went from cautionary tale to slapstick comedy to science-fiction film noir Dick, who frequently fought with director Ridley Scott once observed, "Scott's attitude was quite a divergence from my original point of view since the theme of my book is that [the hero] is dehumanized through tracking down the androids. When I told him this, Scott said that he considered it an intellectual idea, and added that he was not interested in making an esoteric film."

Yet often the director does know best in translating ideas from one medium to the other. Milos Forman's version of Ken Kesey;s One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest took a metaphorical novel of highly stylized characters and ideas and turned it into a drama about people. Although Kesey blasted the movie without seeing it, Forman defended his changes, "In film, the sky is real, the grass is real, the tree is real; the people had better be real, too."



Director Howard Hawks once bragged to Ernest Hemingway "I can make a picture out of your worst story ... that piece of junk called To Have and Have Not." Hawks made a good movie, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, but he did it by ignoring the book and remaking Casablanca.

Woody Allen pulled the same trick (although more blatantly) with Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, which uses Dr David Reuben's question-and-answer sex manual as the starting point for a series of comic sketches. The question, "How Accurate Are the Findings of Sex Clinics?", for example, is answered with a silly fifteen-minute story about a mad sex doctor who studies sexual functioning in hippopotamuses.



This involves taking a true story and making it into a "fictionalized" movie. Screenwriter William Goldman once explained his problems in adapting Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men. The Watergate cover-up story into a film: "Great liberties could not be taken with the material. Not Just for legal reasons, which were potentially enormous. But if there was ever a movie that had to be authentic. it was this one..... We were dealing here with probably the greatest triumph of the print media in many years, and every media person who would see the film would have spent time at some point in their careers in a newspaper... We had to be dead on, or we were dead."

Screenwriter Goldman was dealing with a book with no dramatic structure, little dialogue, hundreds of names, places, and facts, and an outcome – President Nixon's downfall – that was known at the outset. He handled these handicaps by throwing away half the book and focusing on thirteen key events in the story.



This is best exemplified by Goldfinger, the third and the best of the James Bond movies. The Ian Fleming novel finds criminal Auric Goldfinger planning to rob Fort Knox. As coscreenwriter Richard Maibaum observed, "Fleming never bothered his head about how long it would take to transport $16 billion worth of stolen gold bullion or how many men and vehicles would be required. Obviously. it would take weeks, hundreds of trucks, and hundreds of men." Maibaum and partner Paul Dehn improved on this by having Goldfinger plan to contaminate the gold (and thereby increase the value of his hoard). They also improved on the book by eliminating coincidences, improbabilities, and the most hackneyed cliche of the story, Bond being menaced by a buzz saw (it was replaced by a laser beam).



A prime example of this is The World According to Garp. an incredibly convoluted, picaresque novel, loaded·with subplots and digressions. The screenwriters pruned it down to its essentials, retaining much of the flavor if not the detail of the book.



In this technique, an adapter takes a simple story and makes it into a "Meaningful Story." The best example is the film Greystoke. The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, which transforms Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle superman into a symbol of natural man destroyed by civilization. Earlier Tarzan movies, such as the 1918 Tarzan of the Apes and the 1932 Tarzan the Ape Man, employed the same material without the metaphors.sites/default/files/TARZAN_0002.jpg

Whatever the approach used by producers and screenwriters, the final word comes from fans of these great films and the fans have spoken by making their favorites among the best-selling and the best-renting home video entertainment.


THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951), C, Director: John Huston. Book: CS Forester. Screenplay: James Agee and John Huston. With Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart CBS/Fox.

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976), C, Director: Alan J. Pakula. Book: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Screenplay: William Goldman. With Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. Warner.

THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971), C, Director: Sidney Lumet Book: Lawrence Sanders. Screenplay: Frank R. Pierson. With Sean Connery and Dyan Cannon. RCAI Columbia.

BEN-HUR (1959), C, Director: William Wyler. Book: Lew Wallace. Screenplay: Karl Tunberg. With Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, and Stephen Boyd. MGM/UA.

BLADE RUNNER (1982), C, Director: Ridley Scott. Book: Philip K. Dick. Screenplay: Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. With Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer. Ernbassy. -

EAST OF EDEN (1955), C, Director Elia Kazan. Book: John Steinbeck. Screenplay: Paul Osborn. With James Dean, Julie Harris, and Jo Van Fleet. Warner

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (1972), C, Director: Woody Allen. Book: Dr. David Reuben. Screenplay: With Woody Allen, John Carradine, and Lou Jacobi. CBS/ Fox.

THE EXORCIST (1973), C, Director: William Friedkin. Book and Screenplay: Wil· liam Peter Blatty. With Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, and Linda Blair. Warner.

THE GODFATHER (J972), C, Director Francis Ford Coppola. Book: Mario Puzo. Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo. With Marlon Brando, AI Pacino, and James Caan. Paramount.

THE GODFATHER, PART" (1974), C, Director: Francis Ford Coppola. Book: Mario Puzo. Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo. With AI Pacino, Robert Duvall, and Robert De Niro. Paramount.

GOLDFINGER (1964), C, Director: Guy Hamilton. Book: Ian Fleming. Screenplay: Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn. With Sean Connery. Gert Frobe. and Honor Blackman. CBS/Fox.

GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), C, Director: Victor Fleming Book: Margaret Mitchell. Screenplay: Sidney Howard. With Vivief'l Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard. MGM/UA.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940), B/W, Director: John Ford. Book: John Steinbeck. Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson. With Henry Fonda, Jane Darwe!/. and John Carradine. CBS/Fox.

GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1984), C, Director: Hugh Hudson. Book; Edgar Rice Burroughs. Screenplay: P.H. Vazak (Robert Towne) and Michael Austin. With Christopher Lambert. Andie McDowell, and Ian Holm. Warner.

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), C, Director: Norman Jewison. Book: John Dudley Ball. Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant. With Sidney Poitier. Rod Steiger, and Warren Oates. CBS/Fox.


JAWS (1975), C. Director: Steven Spielberg. Book: Peter Benchley Screenplay: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. With Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. MCA.

THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN (1984), C, Director: Christopher Morahan and Jim O'Brien. Book: Paul Scott. Screenplay: Ken Taylor With Peggy Ashcroft. Eric Porter, and Tim Piggott-Smith. Simon and Schuster.

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN (1974), C, Director: Stuart Rosenberg, Book: Thomas Rickman. Screenplay: MaJ Sjowall and Per Wahloo. With Walter Matthau, Bruce Dern, and Lou Gossett. Key.

LOVE STORY (1970). C, Director: Arthur Hiller. Book and Screenplay: Erich Segal. With Ali MacGraw. Ryan O'Nea', and Ray Milland. Paramount.

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935), B/W, Director Frank Lloyd. Book: Charles Nordhoff and James Hall. Screenplay: Talbot Jennings and Jules Furthman. With Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, and Franchot Tone. MGM/UA

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962), C, Director: Lewis Milestone. Book: Charles Nordhoff and James Hall. Screenplay: Charles Lederer With Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris. MGM/UA

THE NATURAL (1984), C, Director Barry Levinson. Book: Bernard Malamud. Screenplay: Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry With Robert Redford and Robert Duvall. RCA/Columbia

OF MICE AND MEN (1939), B/W, Director: Lewis Milestone. Book: John Steinbeck. Screenplay: Eugene Solow With Lon Chaney Jr and Burgess Meredith. Prism.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975), C, Director: Milos Forman. Book: Ken Kesey Screenplay: Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. With Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, and Brad Dourif. HBO/Cannon

A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984), C, Director David Lean. Book: E.M. Forster Screenplay: David Lean. With Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee. and Peggy Ashcroft. RCAI Columbia.

PSYCHO (1960), B/W, Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Book: Robert Bloch. Screenplay: Joseph Stefano With Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. MCA,  

PRIZZI'S HONOR (1985), C, Director: John Huston. Book: Richard Condon. Screenplay: Richard Condon and Janet Roach. With Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, and Anjelica Huston. Vestron

THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), C, Director Philip Kaufman. Book: Tom Wolfe. Screenplay: Philip Kaufman With Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, and Ed Harris. Warner.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964), B/W, Director: John Frankenheimer. Book: Fletcher Knebel. Screenplay: Rod Serling. With Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Ava Gardner. Paramount.

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983), C, Director: James L. Brooks. Book: Larry McMurtry Screenplay: James L. Brooks. With Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson. Paramount.

THE THIN MAN (1934), B/W, Director: WS Van Dyke II. Book: Dashiell Hammett Screenplay: Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. With William Powell, Myrna Loy and Maureen O'Sullivan. MGM/UA.

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944), B/W, Director: Howard Hawks. Book: Ernest Hemingway Screenplay: Jules Furthman and William Faulkner With Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, and Lauren Bacall. MGM/UA.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), B/W and C, Director Victor Fleming. Book: L. Frank Baum. Screenplay: Noel Langley and Florence Ryerson. With Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, and Margaret Hamilton. MGM/UA.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (1982), C, Director: George Roy Hill. Book: John Irving. Screenplay: Steve Tesich. With Robin Williams, Mary Beth Hurt, and Glenn Close. Warner.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939), B/W, Director: William Wyler Book: Emily Bronte. Screenplay: Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. With Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, and David Niven. Embassy.


Gone With the Wind. David O. Selznick’s marvelous three and one half  hour version of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize winner was one of the most eagerly awaited motion pictures of 1939. Not only that, it set new standards for filmmaking techniques and fidelity to text. Until Gone With the Wind, adaptations of books were in most cases only marginally faithful to their sources. (In fact, Mitchell received hundreds of letters from fans asking her to prevent the filmmakers from “changing the story as they always do in Hollywood.”) Selznick was so scrupulous that 17 different writers worked on the picture at different times, condensing its mammoth plot – approximately 150 characters were reduced to around 50; heroine Scarlett O’Hara’s three children became one; the Ku Klux Klan disappeared. The movie is a successful rendering of the essence of the novel – a super-soap-opera about the trials of Scarlett, whose rise and fall and rise again corresponds with the fortunes of the Old South. And whether you read the book (over 1,000 pages) or see the movie, it’s a long, wonderful experience.


The Godfather. This movie and its sequel, The Godfather, Part II, are brilliant transformations of a simple crime novel. Mario Puzo wrote the book in 1970 and collaborated with director Francis Ford Coppola on the screenplay, using the story of Vito Corleone, the Mafia Godfather, as a metaphor for the American success story. The book is fast-paced, uninspired melodrama; the film aims for much more. The story is of one immigrant family's rise and fall, as familial love disappears in the face violence.        


The African Queen is essentially a three-character story about a man, a woman, and a boat. The man is Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a gin-soaked riverboat captain in World War I Africa. The woman is Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), a missionary And the boat is The African Queen, a steam-engine launch that Allnut and Sayer pilot in a mad quest to sink a German warship. Their odyssey pitting them against white-water rapids, leeches, and nasty Germans, is propelled by wonderful comic performances and a clever script that considerably improves on C.S. Forester's overly serious novel. "To be faithful to the author," noted director/adapter John Huston, "sometimes means changing the author." In the case of The African Queen, the changes are right on target.


The Thin Man was a surprise hit in its day. Filmed in two weeks in 1934, it paired witty William Powell with ravishing Myrna Loy in what became the Thin Man entries. Based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, it was also a first for American cinema: a screwball comedy/ mystery that introduced Hammett's boozing, wisecracking, husband-and-wife sleuths, who were supposedly based on the author himself and Lillian Hellman. The script and dialogue made chanqes in the book's characterizations (the wife, Nora, changed from a tough cookie to a world-wise innocent, while the husband, Nick, changed from a fast-talking gumshoe to a silghtly inebriated amateur detective), which were overall improvements. The Powell-Loy exchanges are witty and the movie is a pure delight.

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Ben-Hur. The epitome of the epic film, Ben-Hur woneleven Oscars and has been called the "thinking man's epic" It's not hard to see why. Based on a sprawling book by Lew Wallace, Ben-Hut is the story of friendship betrayed, of revenge sought and won. It is the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and his boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd), who feud and eventually fight to the death in a justly famed chariot race. Like the novel, the movie is packed with events, but the focus is always on the theme of becoming what you hate. Heston deservedly won an Academy Award for his complex portrait of a flawed, driven man.


Wuthering Heights, This beautifully photographed version of Emily Bronte's gothic classic pares down the three-generational plot of the original and concentrates instead on the tragic love affair of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Cathy (Merle Oberon). It was Olivier's first major American film, and it made him a star. His brooding presence gives the movie much of its passion and pathos –  he says as much with a look as Bronte manages with pages and pages of speeches. The movie is helped tremendously by effectively sentimental dialogue: “Be with me always. Drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life. I cannot live without my soul.” We dare you not to cry at this ultimate tearjerker.


The Jewel in the Crown

Based on Paul Scott's four-volume Raj Quartet, this 14-part British TV series restructured the original story but is otherwise a brilliantly faithful adaptation. It is the tale of England's passion for India and of one Indian man’s love for a white woman. It is also a tale of rape, religion, sadism, and independence, featuring a vivid collection of characters who will move you with their loves, their hates, and their deaths. The writing, the performances, and direction are all superb, and if India was the “jewel” of the British Empire, The Jewel in the Crown is the gem in Granada Television’s collection.


VIDEO TIMES/March 1987

Chimney Sweeps


As fall turns to winter, Harry Richart's phone rings off the hook. Richard Nixon, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Bette Midler, among others, begin calling for help. "The cold season is the heating season," says Richart. "That's the best time for me."

Harry Richart is a chimney sweep.  For twenty-two years he has cleaned chimneys, restored old fireplaces, and instructed others on the safety techniques involved in burning solid fuel.

Although the extent of Richart's work is unusual (he owns his own chimneycleaning company), his devotion to the profession of chimney sweeping is not. The 600-member National Chimney Sweep Guild estimates that there are several thousand sweeps, both full-time and part-time, in the United States-including mailmen, ironworkers, firemen, plumbers, and housewives. A Philadelphia sailor cleans chimneys on his Navy base, while a Tulsa, Oklahoma, college student left marketing to work in fireplace flues.

"The energy crisis got people interested in heating with wood and coal," says Richart. "And that built up a need for sweeps. "


The Winter Flue

When wood burns, it leaves deposits of creosote, an inflammable substance caused by the condensation of volatile gases. If it is not removed, creosote can block the chimney flue and constitute a fire hazard. "I had a case where an eight-inch round chimney was plugged up six feet solid with creosote," Richart recalls. "It's a miracle it didn't burn the house down."

In colonial America, creosote was frequently removed by setting the chimney itself on fire, an approach that often destroyed the house in the process. Another method involved tying a rope around a white goose's leg and lowering the bird down a stack. Its flapping wings would dislodge the creosote, and the blacker the bird became, the cleaner the chimney.

When these methods proved particularly ineffective, the idea of using chimney sweeps was imported from England. English sweeps began working in the late sixteenth century, when dirty chimney flues resulted in a record number of fires. The early sweeps climbed and cleaned most two-by-three-foot stacks. However, the proliferation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of zigzagged, narrower chimneys built to heat taller buildings more effectively forced sweeps to employ very young "climbing boys" as workers. The high number of smoke- or fire-related deaths among these children led to the outlawing of their use in the mid-nineteenth century.

To replace the boys, sweeps developed more complicated tools. William Hall's patented 1820 sweeping machine, made of hollow rods and cane bent to the shape of the narrowly angled London flues, employed a brush and malleable whalebone spikes. The sweep stood in the fireplace and extended the long rod up the chimney. In the 1850s, an American added a wheel to the brush, which was hand-turned and later motorized.

Sweeps Get The Squeeze


In Europe, sweeps considered themselves professionals, establishing apprentice systems and guilds to regulate the business. In America, however, the trade was first considered highly disreputable.

Typical sweeps, described by historian Ceorge Phillips in The American Chimney Sweeps, were "garbed in the tawdry. sartorial splendor of ill-fitting, frayed frock coats, baggy, often patched striped trousers, and battered silk hats perched rakishly on their woolly polls .... "

The introduction of gas heating in the twentieth century seemed to mark the end of the trade in America, at least, as more and more sweeps went unemployed.

But renewed interest in solid fuel revived the industry; many younger men joined the ranks of those veterans, such as Harry Richart, who had continued operations even during the lean oil-andgas days. Most of the newcomers have been trained on the job by veteran sweeps or else have gained their knowledge from such chimney-sweeping schools as August West in Connecticut or Black Magic in Vermont.

Climbing The Ladder

Apprentice sweeps learn how to employ wire or soft brushes, a metal scraper, and a hammer and chisel to remove creosote, and they are often instructed in the use of motorized cleaning equipment, such as a high-volume, compact vacuum cleaner that removes 700 cubic feet of air per minute.

Often the sweeps learn their trade from their fathers, since sweeping is traditionally a family affair. Richart's two sons have been sweeps since they were old enough to climb a roof and are now fully qualified workers. For forty years, another sweep in Newark, New Jersey, has owned the business that he inherited from his father, who had owned it for fifteen. There are a number of husband and wife teams. Mary Ann and Gary Beaufait of South Carolina are both sweeps, and their son is in training.

"There's no such thing as a sweep who puts on a hat and starts sweeping chimneys," says Richart. "You can't do it without experience. Every day I go out on the road, I find problems I never came across before."


Soot, Alors

Richart's TriState Chimney Sweeping Company operates four trucks, manned by a sweep and a "helper," which cover New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Like most successful sweeps, his people average seven or eight cleanings per truck a day at about $45 per cleaning. TriState conducts a free chimney inspection with each cleaning, checking for cracks and loose bricks, and also offers renovation and restoration services at extra cost.

This last service is not typical of sweeps, but it is one of the elements that allow Richart to keep operating year round. "Sweeping is a seasonal business," he explains. "Most new sweeps start in the winter and say, 'My God, look at the money I'm making.' But they forget about those five months they're doing nothing and can't pay the bills."

Established sweeps usually maintain lists of regular customers, send out notices reminding them that a chimney checkup is needed, make an appointment, and come by to inspect the chimney.

"If it's very dirty when we clean it," says Richart, "we make a note to come back in a month and a half and see what it looks like then. "


A Safety Checklist

The amount of use a fireplace or furnace receives determines the frequency of the visits, although according to chimney sweep Mark Swann, president of Top Hat Sweeps, home owners should request more frequent inspections in the following situations:

One-story chimneys. These don't draw as well as higher chimneys and can dangerously malfunction.

Airtight buildings. The chimneys may not draw properly.

Chimneys on the outside walls of houses. These may not become warm enough to draw correctly,

Wood stoves. The pipe connecting the stove to the chimney may need to be cleaned every two weeks, a task that a sweep can teach a home owner.

Old chimneys. Although they smoke' less and give off more heat than modern chimneys, their general lack of ceramic flue liners makes them more dangerous. They should be swept often.

A chimney should be cleaned at least, once a year, and if the home owner is using an airtight stove, twice-yearly cleanings would be in order. Use older, hard wood; green (young) wood produces a great deal of smoke and creosote.

"The key to chimney safety is education," notes Richart, who, as a member of the board of directors of the five-yearold National Chimney Sweep Guild, hopes to increase the professionalism of sweeps and the safety of home owners.

The guild set up a chimney-sweep certification test, which resulted in the certification of 242 swpeps. It is currently working with the Fire Trade Center and the Office of Consumer Affairs in Washington, D. C., to improve federal laws regulating the use of wood-burning stoves.

"People try to cut corners," says Richart, a certified fire inspector. "Instead of cutting the draft in a stove down to a quarter of an inch, as the operating manual instructs, they say, 'Mine burns better when it's open all the way.' But they don't realize that now they're feeding more oxygen into that stove chimney and it's going to have a creosote buildup." If the instructions are unclear, or if you're using an old fireplace, the guild suggests that you indeed call a sweep.

The guild is also planning to conduct a series of fire-safety seminars around the country. In addition, it hopes to set up the sort of training system that exists in Europe, where a sweep works as an apprentice, then asweep, then a master chimney sweep. "A chimney sweep over there is well respected," Richart notes.


Miles To Go Before We Sweep

Possibly because it detracts from that professionalism, the sweep's traditional Dickensian costume-black top hat and tails-is mostly eschewed by older sweeps unless it is specifically requested.

"Sweeps have come a long way," remarks Richart. "But we still have a long way to go and a lot to do. Our main concern is safety. We educate and we clean. And that's important because so many houses are going to the ground on account of poor installation and dirty chimneys. " •


Christmas Movies

The Spirit of Christmas Past

Ever-popular holiday movies and specials are back on the box this year.


Holiday spirit or holiday humbug? Charles Dickens enjoyed writing Christmas stories that fairly vibrate with good cheer, sentiment, and warmth. His contemporary, Anthony Trollope, thought such tales were a cynical exploitation of the season. No matter who was right, the equivalent of the Victorian Christmas story is still intact and is on the air today. Christmas-oriented movies and specials and holiday episodes of regular series appear throughout December-many rerun from past years and all emphasizing love, harmony, and the importance of relating to others.

If past practices are followed, the movies and TV programs that will be shown this season should include most of the ones in the following list. Although there will be some new programming, stations prefer the traditional 'because, says one observer, "people like to anticipate these specials. There are so few things they are sure of these days."


A Christmas Carol. Perhaps Charles Dickens' most popular story, his 1843 A Christmas Carol has been the basis of countless movie and television? adaptations, most of which invariably tum up on the tube during Christmas week., Among theatrical films, there is a 1935 British version called Scrooge, a 1938 MGM film starring Reginald Owen, a 1951 adaptation with Alistair Sim (generally considered the best), and a 1970 musicaJ (also titled Scrooge) with Albert Finney singing Leslie Bricusesongs. A 1979 made-for- TV movie called An American Christmas Carol updates the story to 1933, casting Henry[[wysiwyg_imageupload:452:]] "The Fonz" Winkler as a New England version of  Scrooge. Jim Backus's Mr. Magoo and the voice of Walter Matthau are featured in two cartoons, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and The Stingiest Man in Town. (Matthau is Scrooge, and a non-Dickensian figure, B.A.H. Humbug, narrates.) A puppet version, also called A Christmas Carol, is frequently shown on the networks or public television. And finally, such comedy series as The Odd Couple, Bewitched, The Honeymooners, and WKRP in Cincin nati have produced Christmas Carol stories in which the program principals take on the roles of Scrooge, the ghosts, and Bob Cratc·hit.


Miracle on 34th Street. The best of the Christmas goodwill movies, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), is show'n every year'on local stations during the' holidays. This amusing story about a Macy's Santa Claus who must' prove in court that he is the real Kris Kringle won Academy and Golden Globe awards for writer-director -George Seaton and for Edmund Gwenn, who plays Santa with just the right amount of naivete, charm, and worldly wisdom. Co-starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, and a young Natalie Wood (as the girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus until the end), the film delivers a message that never gets sentimental-to trust and believe in people. Although it ~as remade in 1973 with Jane Alexander, David Hartman (now host' of Good Morning America), and Sebastian Cabot, the 1947 version still remains the favorite.- (A 1977 TV Guide poll ranked it number 9 in a list of the 13 most popular movies on TV; Casablanca and King Kong headed the list.)


March of the Wooden Soldiers.  Originally titled Babes in Toyland (but renamed to avoid confusion with the 1961 Walt Disney movie), this 1934 film was among Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's most financially successful efforts and the most ambitious project undertaken by their producer, Hal Roach. Casting Laurel as Stanley Dum and Hardy as Oliver Dee (characters who incorporated attributes of Mother Goose's Simple Simon and the Pieman), two employees of a cantankerous Santa Claus in a Toyland populated by human-size mice, pigs, and rabbits, Roach and his collaborators completely discarded most of the Victor Herbert operetta on which Babes was ostensibly based, keeping only some of the score. As one critic pointed out, Roach combined "elements of Mother Goose with the hoariest of screen villains, the heartless landlord, and bogeymen straight from the Brothers Grimm." The movie was a critical success as well, with critic Andre Sennwald, in the December 13, 1934, issue [[wysiwyg_imageupload:453:]]of The New York Times, calling it "authentic children's entertainment and quite the merriest of its kind." In 1954 NBC produced its own version with Wally Cox and Today show host Dave Garroway. Disney's version featured Ray Bolger and two Laurel and Hardy imitators.


Great Expectations. Although Dickens' great book has almost nothing to do with Christmas, apparently TV programmers find its Victorian flavor especially appropriate, because various film adaptations appear regularly this time of year. Although adaptations of the novel were made in 1934 and 1974, most stations prefer to broadcast the superlative 1946 David Lean version. Dickens' story of a young boy, Pip, brought up with "great expectations" of love and money, is a romantic tale of disillusionment and mystery. Noted Gerald Pratley in The Cinema of David Lean: "What Olivier has done for Shakespeare on the screen, Lean has done for Dickens." Great Expectations is perhaps the most effective translation of novel into movie ever made, the first adaptation of a Dickens story to masterfully capture the flavor of a novelist many claim to be well suited for the screen. Although Lean and his cowriters pared and edited the mammoth 1861 novel, they retained the right scenes and characters to capture the spirit of the story. Here is the convict Magwitch (Finlay Currie) confronting the young Pip (Anthony Wager) on the desolate moors. Here is Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) in her decaying mansion, Satis House, plotting revenge on the world. Here is Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan, repeating his role from the 1934 version), the imperious lawyer only interested in "facts, facts, facts." And here are Alec Guiness (in his first film role), John Mills, Valerie Hobson, and Jean Simmons brilliantly bringing life to Dickens' gallery of unforgettable characters. Great Expectations earned a place on The New York Times' list of "10 Best Films" of 1947, Academy Award nominations for best picture and director, and awards for cinematography, art direction, and set decoration.


A Crosby Christmas. Almost as much as Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Bing Crosby came to epitomize the Christmas spirit, through songs such as "White Christmas" and his holiday TV specials. He also appeared in four very popular Christmas movies. Holiday Inn (1942), [[wysiwyg_imageupload:454:]]co-starring Fred Astaire, was the comedy in which he first sang "White Christmas," later reprising it in the 1954 movie named after the song. "It's a great song with a simple melody," he said in his autobiography, "and nowadays anywhere I go I have to sing it. It's as much a part of me as 'When the Blue of the Night' or my floppy ears." Despite the song's popularity, Going My Way (1944) is generally considered his best film. As Father Chuck O'Malley, a boyish priest who teaches the crusty Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald) how to cope with life, Crosby earned an Academy Award (he repeated the role in The Bells of St. Mary's, another Yuletide favorite, opposite Ingrid' Bergman). The movie also won Academy Awards for Fitzgerald and writer-director Leo McCarey, and a Golden Globe as best picture. It also inspired a short-lived 1963 TV series starring Gene Kelly and Leo G. Carroll.


It's a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra's movies, although "Capra corn" to some, epitomize the Christmas spirit. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Meet John Doe (1941), Capra trumpeted human virtues in sentimental stories of Americana. It's a Wonderful Life, made in 1946, was his most whimsical, a "Christmas Carol" tale reaffirming the common man's essential goodness. The movie, Capra's first postwar effort for his own company, Liberty Films, was based on "The Greatest Gift," by Philip Van Doren Stern, a short story written for a Christmas card. Dalton Trumbo and Clifford Odets had worked on the screenplay for another producer, but when Capra bought the property (for $50,000), he used other writers and concocted scenes of his own. The movie tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a would-be suicide who believes his life is a failure until his guardian angel (Henry Travers) shows him what life would have been for his family and friends if he hadn't existed. In the end, the townspeople gather to support George in his greatest financial struggle, proving that no man faces the world alone as long as he has friends and love. It's a Wonderful Life, which received five Academy Award nominations (but no awards - The Best Years of Our Lives took them all that year), is Capra's own personal favorite among all his films (he watches it each Christmas). It was remade for television in 1977 as It Happened One Christmas, with Marlo Thomas in the Stewart role.


The Homecoming-A Christmas Story. Before there was The Waltons, there was this 1971 forerunner, a TV movie featuring Patricia Neal, Edgar Bergen, and Richard Thomas in the kind of warm family tale that became a staple on the popular series. The story, based on Earl Himner Jr.'s recollections of his youth (previously the basis for the 1963 Henry Fonda movie Spencer's Mountain). won critical kudos, a Christopher Award, and three Emmy nominations. It also convinced CBS to try a, series, and although The Waltons was a slow starter in tho ratings, it became the most popular show in its tirneperiod for seven years. The Homecoming, rerun almost every year, appeared five times on Variety's "Toprated Movies on TV, 1961-1979" list, a record for a TV movie.


[[wysiwyg_imageupload:455:]]Made-for-TV Christmas Movies. The made-for- TV-movies most frequently shown on local and network television include a cross section of good, bad, and indifferent stories, all linked together by the goodwill, importance-of-human-relations theme. A Dreamfor Christmas (1977), written by Earl Hamner Jr., is the saga of a black congregation's struggle to survive in 1950s Los Angeles. A Christmas to Remember (1978) features Jason Robards as an old man, embittered by the death of his son, who learns how to love again by bringing up his grandson. The Gathering (1977), an Emmy winner that spawned a 1979 sequel, The Gathering, Part II, stars Ed Asner as a crusty businessman trying to work out his tangled family relations on the Christmas before he dies. Silent Night, Lonely Night (1969) brings Lloyd Bridges and Shirley Jones together as a lonely couple during a brief Christmas Eve encounter. The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (1978) features Fred Astaire playing seven different roles in a you-can-have-it-if-youwish-for-it collection of stories. Christmas Lilies of the Field, a whimsical 1979 sequel to the 1963 theatrical film, finds Billy Dee Williams helping a group of nuns, while Sunshine Christmas (1977) follows musician Cliff De Young home to his estranged family for the holidays. On the historical side, The Nativity (1978) recreates'the courtship of Mary and Joseph, and the first Christmas; and Christmas Miracle in Caufield, U.S.A. (1977) shows what happened on Christmas Eve 1951 when coal miners were trapped underground' by an explosion.


Amahl and the Night Visitors. On Christmas Eve 1951, NBC broke new ground with an opera, by Gian-Carlo Menotti, specifically written for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and the network rebroadcast the story every year until 1966. Well received by critics and viewers, the story concerns a crippled boy's encounter with the Three Wise Men on their way to the Christ child, and the Christmas lesson he learns about giving. In 1978 NBC staged a new version" filmed in London and Israel, which has been rebroadcast on public television every year sInce.


Children's Specials. The best children's specials are usually the older ones. A Charlie Brown Christmas, first broadcast in the 1960s, shows there is more to Christmas than commercialism. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), with Burl Ives singing the hit song, uses stop-motion (animation of three-dimensional figures) to tell how Rudolph saved Christmas. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) is a Dr. Seuss cartoon-poem narrated by the late Boris Karloff, while Frosty the Snowman (1970) depicts the life of a happy snowman. "When things are produced for little children," an ABC executive remarked in TV Guide, "they have a new audience every year. Peanuts specials will run till the sprocket holes wear out."


Christmas Videotapes. If you can't catch a special or TV episode when it is broadcast, you can always record it on videotape or, sometimes, rent or buy it. The above-mentioned movies available on tape include: Scrooge (1970), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Holiday Inn (1942), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), and Babes in Toyland (The March of the Wooden Soldiers, 1934). Also available are three special Christmas tapes: The Night Before Christmas and Silent Night, Holy Night, both holiday cartoons; and Merry Christmas to You, a compilation of cartoons and Christmas episodes of Lassie and The Lone Ranger from the 1950s. Prices begin at $64 in most stores. 


DIVERSION, December 1982

Cinema Spin-offs


What do Casablanca, Private Benjamin, Planet of the Apes, Shaft, The Third Man, and The King and I have in common? When these popular movies were transformed into television series, they all failed miserably.

This is the age of endless cinematic sequels-from Rocky III and Star Trek II to James Bond XI. But for years, television has been going the sequel mill one better by reincarnating hit movies as all kinds of small-screen fare.

The list of adaptations ranges from such comedies as M*A*S*H, Going My Way, and The Odd Couple to dramas and adventure series like King's Row, Dr. Kildare, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Fame. In 1982 new spinoffs from the movies included9 to 5, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and The New Odd Couple. And this past spring, yet another TV version of Casablanca came and went as three-week series.

No Knack For Knockoffs

Although few of these stepchildren succeed, the ones that do, such as M*A*S*H and the original Odd Couple, usually inspire the network executives to new heights of imitation. Karl Tiedemann, a former writer on NBC's Late Night With David Letterman, says, "The thinking runs that if a movie is a hit, a TV series with the same elements will also be a hit."

"Hollywood is a town of memory and insecurity," adds Josh Greenfeld, the screenwriter of Harry and Tonto, a successful movie that was considered for a TV pilot. "You get a head start and a pilot deal more easily because producers have a better idea of what they're going to get."

But hit movies rarely make waves in the TV ratings. "There are different requirements on television," notes Stefan Kanfer, senior editor and media watcher at Time magazine. Good characterization can be more crucial in a TV show than in a theatrical film.

"The Odd Couple is basically a one-joke idea," says Tiedemann. "So was Barefoot in the Park [which premiered at the same time]. Barefoot was likable but had thin and superficial characterizations. They were not very interesting. But in the TV version of The Odd Couple, certain aspects of the film characters were well developed. Felix became a person who always wanted to help and who always went one step too far and regretted it. It was great character comedy."

Cashing in on M*A *S*H

Characterization was also the key to the long-running M*A*S*H series, which began life as a novel and then in 1970 became an unexpectedly successful Robert Altman film starring Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland. When M*A*S*H came to CBS in 1972, it seemed an unlikely vehicle for television: a black comedy about the wild goings-on in an army medical unit during the Korean War.' In fact, it almost' didn't survive its first season.

"What made M*A*S*Hultimately work for television," says Bill McLaughlin, creative director for the cable TV comedy show Videosyncracies, "was that it got away from the wackiness of the movie and eventually settled into a show about relationships. The movie was not all that personal. It was more a situation movie. As the television program grew, so did the characters. We cared about them."

And now M*A*S*H will have an afterlife, in more ways than one. The original series has been syndicated and will therefore live on in rerun heaven. The sequel, AfterMASH, is scheduled to debut sometime this fall.

Another military comedy, Private Benjamin, took a different approach. The movie on which it was based starred Goldie Hawn and followed a young woman's growth in boot camp from spoiled child to responsible adult. As in the M*A *S*H TV series, the central character evolved in the course of the story. In the television version, however, such change was problematic. "We can't resolve the conflict like the movie did," said Benjamin star Lorna Patterson in 1981. "As soon as Judy Benjamin matures as a woman and a human being, the series is over."

But without that character development, there was little to interest viewers. “It was just another wacky sitcom with flat characters," recalls McLaughlin. Not surprisingly, Private Benjamin lasted only about a year and a half.


Not Always a Great Notion

Going beyond the original concept does not always work either, as Michael Rennie found out in his 1959 TV series, The Third Man. Adapted from the 1949 film, which starred Orson Welles as mystery man Harry Lime, the TV show filled in the blanks and turned Lime (played by Rennie) into a suave financial speculator and amateur sleuth. There was little that made the series stand out from other crime shows, and it lacked the atmosphere and suspense of the famous movie. The series died quickly.

Altering the concept can also, paradoxically, strengthen the point of the original story. For example, 9 to 5, based on a Jane Fonda-Lily Tomlin-Dolly Parton movie that broadly caricatured male-chauvinist and feminist attitudes, was softened for television.

"I wanted more warmth," Jane Fonda, one of the producers of the series, told TV Guide. "The boss, for example, was too much of a buffoon, a straw man for the secretaries. We redesigned the role . . . to make him a worthier human opponent for them, less a chauvinist cartoon .... The series 9 to 5 is less pointed than the film, and a heavy-duty feminist series we’re not and never will be. We're not going to do an issue a week-it has to be very subtle or it's boring. And boring shows don't last."

Monkeying with the Movie

When it debuted in 1974, Planet of the Apes seemed likely to succeed on television. Based on a popular film and its sequels-which CBS had recently broadcast to tremendous ratings-the TV series starred Roddy McDowell in a re-creation of his movie role. Nevertheless, it ended up among the lowestrated programs of the season.

"Planet of the Apes didn't have a strong premise," says Time's Kanfer. "In the original movie, there was a good idea for the ending: the ape-ruled planet turned out to be Earth. But once you found that out, all you could do was watch the costumes."

Apparently, the presence of a star from the movie makes little difference to audiences. Shaft, a series based on three black exploitation adventure movies, featured Richard Roundtree in the same title role he had created on the big screen. But the leather-jacketed, foul-mouthed, violent sleuth was sanitized so much for TV that there was hardly any resemblance between that character and his cinematic namesake.

Yul Brynner, another movie star, made the jump to television as the popular Siamese monarch he had played in The King and I, a stage and screen success. The series, Anna and the King, was a flop, despite the actor's

"Brynner performed as regally as he had in the film," says Jim Sirmans, a spokesman for CBS. "The fault was probably not with him." Adds Kanfer, "When a movie star goes into a TV series, the public perceives it as a step down for him, indicating that he can't get film parts anymore. And that can be a mark against the series."


But the public's memory of the original star does not always hurt a replacement. "There's a danger, in doing a part originated by someone else," admits Linda Lavin, star of the popular Alice (based on the 1975 movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore). "But I was very moved by its personal and human qualities. I like Alice."

"Ellen Burstyn won an Academy Award for Alice' Doesn't Live Here Anymore," says Sirmans. "Yet now everyone thinks of Linda Lavin as Alice. That's what TV will do. Viewers see the performers every single week so there's that constant exposure, which reinforces audience identification. I'm not saying it's good or bad. It’s just the way TV is.”

"A successful adaptation depends on whose hands you have working on it," he continues.  “It always begins with the writer, the actor, and the director. Can you imagine M*A*S*H in less talented hands than Larry Gelbart's? Or having a less experienced cast than Alan AIda and the rest?"

Den of Thieves

But television is also a highly imitative medium, and what it doesn't adapt, it often copies outright. "If television executives detect a trend, they will steal," remarks Greenfeld. "Happy Days obviously derives from American Graffiti, Tales of the Gold Monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Why buy the movie for TV when you can imitate it? You know, larceny is the cheapest form of flattery."

In the future, however, the television industry might not have as many opportunities to create new series based on movies. "I don't think M*A *S*H would have gotten on the air today," comments Greenfeld. "The movie companies would have made M*A*S*H II. They feel they're better off turning one'successful movie into another successful movie." And judging from the track record, they may be right.


Comedy on the Rocks


My friend Michele is a screwball. She's beautiful, bright and befuddled, and talks in paragraphs, not sentences, with barely a breath between words. You ask her one thing, she answers a dozen-usually going off on tangents you never knew existed. Conversations with her sometimes remind me of one Carole Lombard has with William Powell in 1936's My Man Godfrey: "You're more than a butler. You're the first protege I ever had ... Like Carlo ... He's mother's protege. It's awfully nice Carlo having a sponsor because he doesn't have to work and he gets time for his practicing but then he never does and that makes a difference ... Do you play anything, Godfrey? Oh, I don't mean games or things like that, I mean the piano and things like that. .. Oh, it doesn't really make any difference. I just thought I'd ask. It's funny how some things make you think of other things. " 


Other times, I feel like Cary Grant in 1938's Bringing Up Baby, when he tells  Katharine Hepburn, "Now, it isn't that I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you, but-well, there haven't been any quiet moments." 


Yes, Michele would fit right into a screwball comedy. 


Screwball films are known for their beautiful, batty women whose fast speech and zany actions conceal a brainy purpose (usually to ensnare a man). They are also known for their outlandish yet strangely down-to-earth plots, their sentimental cynicism and, as critic Otto Ferguson put it, "their frequency of absurd surprises that combine sight, sound, motion and recognition into something like music." 


The genre was a product of a particular period. In the mid-1930s through the mid-1940s, crisis and change in American life left people feeling as dizzy (from the Depression and World War) as the onscreen heroes listening to the screwball girls. 


The masters of the form included a handful of directors who did nothing else quite as well-Preston Sturges, Frank Capra, Gregory La Cava-and others, like Howard Hawks and W.S. Van Dyke, who moved with ease among comedies, adventures and dramas. The screwball film began inauspiciously enough with Capra's low-budget it Happened One Night (1934) and Hawks' Twentieth Century (1934). The former, a sleeper hit, was a change of pace for Capra, who had been known for action pictures and melodramas like Dirigible (1931) and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933). No one had much faith in it, either: Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, forced into the movie by their studios, badmouthed it. Hollywood insiders predicted disaster.





Its surprising success, however-Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress Os cars-led to a rash of screwballs and a new career for Capra, who went on to shoot such likeminded populist comedies as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Meet John Doe (1941). The genre blossomed with Van Dyke's The Thin Man (1934), La Cava's My Man Godfrey (1936), Hawks' Bringing Up Baby (1938) and the lunatic body of work by Preston Sturges


Sturges is the king of the screwball. The European-educated inventor and songwriter began writing Hollywood screenplays in the 1930s (including a supposed forerunner to Citizen Kane called The Power and the Glory, and an excellent comedy with Claudette Colbert, Midnight). But he was unhappy with the interpretations of his scripts and, in 1940, negotiated a then unusual writer-as-director deal. Over the following four years he turned out a string of brilliant, manic hits: The Great McGinty (1940), Christmas in July (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). But the enfant terrible was a briefly burning light; he seemed to run out of gas after that. "Sturges is a fascinating director," wrote critic David Thomson, "deeply rooted in a merry, corrupt but absurd America, as wayward and frequently misled as an inventor but, at his best, the organizer of a convincingly cheerful comedy of the ridiculous that is rare in American cinema." 



Although each individual director perfected and expanded the form in some way, screwball comedies-as established by Hawks, Capra, et al.-invariably follow a formula. Usually there's a heroine who's either smarter than the guy, daffier than the guy or colder than the guy. In the course of the movie, she will sequentially despise him (but still get entangled in his affairs), come to admire him (even as she fights with him) and finally realize she loves him. In the process, she will also change from spoiled or cold or daffy to concerned or warm or slightly less daffy. 




Then there's the guy. He's either cynically sentimental, using a wisecrack to cover his feelings (Claudette Colbert to Clark Gable in It Happened One Night: "Your ego is absolutely colossal." Gable: "Yeah, not bad. How's yours?"), or else hopelessly repressed and befuddled. In the first instance, the heroine brings out the romantic in the hero, as he comes to realize that there's more to her than he thought. In the second case, the hero realizes there is. more to life than being straitlaced, as Roland Young does in Topper (1937), the story of a spiritually "dead" banker who is brought to life by two carefree ghosts (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett): "I want to dance! I want to drink! I want to sing! I want to have fun!" 


That's the other classic key ingredient: the almost childlike nature of the heroine, who constantly defies convention and thereby helps unstuff the hero's shirt. There's a child inside all of us, say the best realizations of this genre, repressed by the constraints of society. To be slightly crazy is to be imaginatively free. And, notes critic Gerald Weales, "if the craziness is seen as a function of wealth in the 1930s, it is because irresponsibility in that decade was most easily identified in terms of the cushion that money put under it." 


Besides the girl, the guy and the crazy antics, there are the Pursuit and the Misunderstanding. In The Awful Truth (1937), husband Cary Grant suspects wife Irene Dunne of philandering. They have a childish fight which ends in divorce-even though everyone knows they really love each other. (The battle is another element of the screwball, for as Hepburn puts it in Bringing Up Baby: "The love impulse in a man frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict. ") The movie is the tale of their pursuit of each other, as each tries to break up the other's intended remarriage to someone else. 


On the way, there is slapstick (another typical screwball device), fast dialogue and much cynicism. Says Grant with tongue in cheek, "There can't be any doubts in marriage. Marriage is based on faith. And if you've lost that, you've lost everything." Yet underneath lies the rich vein of sentimentality which once prompted Sturges to remark, "Fish and guests stink after three days, they say, but your wife isn't a guest but definitely a part of you-your other half for better or for worse ... and you die without her." 


On the surface, the screwballs project a dark world where, as a character in Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) notes, "everyone suspects the worst of everyone else." In that film, for instance, misunderstandings pile on top of each other so fast and so brilliantly that you're left breathless. It's the story of Trudy Kockenlocker, a small-town gal who gets herself into a pile of trouble when she goes out dancing with soldiers against her father's orders. She ends up married and pregnant but doesn't know who the father is. The movie deals hilariously with her attempts to untangle the mess and her discovery that she loves the hero, a schnook named Orville Jones. 




There are many witty moments, among them Constable Kockenlocker's speech about daughters. "They're a mess no matter how you look at 'em, a headache till they get married-if they get married-and, after that, they get worse ... Either they leave their husbands and come back with four children and move into your guest room or their husband loses his job and the whole caboodle comes back. Or else th~y're so homely you can't get rid of them at all and they hang around the house like Spanish moss and shame you into an early grave." 


Kockenlocker, a far cry from Frank Capra's patented sentimental dads, is another screwball staple: the eccentric secondary figures, who are often funnier than the leads. The trend began in It Happened One Night, when Gable and Colbert are picked up by a farmer who likes to sing. When he learns they're not hungry, he improvises a song called "Young People in Love Are Very Seldom Hunnn-gry." 


On the long list of great supporting players, one of the best is gruff, thickheaded William Demarest. He plays Billdocker in Christmas inJuly (1940), Kockenlocker in Miracle and the Amazon explorer Muggsy in The Lady Eve (1941) who, disgusted by the effete eating habits of the rich people he is with, requests "a spoonful of milk, a raw pigeon's egg and four house flies. If you can't catch any, I'll settle for a cockroach." There's also the suave cardsharp  father (Charles Coburn) in The Lady Eve, and Wienie King (played by Robert Dudley) from The Palm Beach Story (1942). He doesn't hear well, but. speaks to the point: "I'm the Texas Wienie King. I invented the Texas Wienie. Layoff them-you'll live longer ... It's a good business, if you know where to get the meat cheap. That's my secret and I'm not telling." 


This kind of revealing disconnection is another key to the screwball, perhaps even more so than the sometimes overly complicated plots. Writer/director Sturges underlined that with his wonderful twist ending in The Palm Beach Story, a manic farce in which stolid Joel McCrea pursues runaway wife Claudette Colbert. She loves him but can't live with him because of his lack of money (she also thinks he'll be more successful without her). She meets millionaire lover John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), a man who gives 10 cent tips because "tipping is un-American" and says things like, "Chivalry is not only dead, it's decomposed. " His sister is zany Mary Astor who has a yen for McCrea. Suffice it to say, Sturges manages to get all four of them happily married in one of the neatest comic deus ex machinas ever put in a script. 


Sturges once concocted a list he called his "11 rules for box office appeal, " which is as revealing about screwball genius as anything any critic could write: 


A pretty girl is better than an ugly one. 

A leg is better than an arm. 

A bedroom is better than a living 


An arrival is better than a departure. 

A birth is better than a death. 

A chase is better than a chat. 

A dog is better than a landscape. 

A kitten is better than a dog. 

A baby is better than a kitten. 

A kiss is better than a baby. 

A pratfall is better than anything. 




Sturges' work was among the last wave, however. There were variations on the form – the Thin Man series with William Powell and Myrna Loy had already married it with mystery, and the fast-paced dialogue had been carried into such films noirs as Double Indemnity (1944) – but by 1945 the screwball era was over. As critic Pauline Kael adroitly observed: "By the end of the '30s, the jokes had soured. The comedies of the' 40s were heavy and pushy, straining for humor, and the comic impulse was misplaced or lost. The comic spirit of the '30s had been happily self-critical about America, the happiness born of the knowledge that in no other country were movies so free to be self-critical. It was the comedy of a country that didn't yet hate itself." 



There have been sporadic attempts to revive the genre, including Madonna's recent fling as a Marilyn Monroe/Judy Holliday type in Who's That Girl? The 1973 What's Up Doc?, an equally hollow film, has Ryan O'Neal playing the Cary Grant part from Bringing Up Baby and contains all the necessary elements-pursuit, misunderstandings, zany comedy-but none of the soul or imagination. 


Desperately Seeking Susan (1985, also with Madonna), Something Wild (1986) and After Hours (1986) stake a much better claim to being the screwballs' successors. Although lacking the crisp repartee, Susan took the form of the '30s comedies and gently updated it to the '80s, with sentiment, cynicism and even jabs at the idle wealthy. Jonathan Demme's Something Wild goes even further, cleverly elaborating on what has gone before. In it, a conservative banker meets a zany stranger who helps release the "real man" inside. There is also a misunderstanding, a separation and a reconciliation. But unlike the prewar films, this picture veers off into brutal, deadly madness. The heroine's husband is an ex-con who drags the protagonists into a horribly violent climax, as gripping and appropriate to these times as the zaniness of the original screwballs was to theirs. 


The 1980s screwball has fallen off into psychosis. Nowhere is this more evident than in After Hours. The bored protagonist, New York word processer Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) heads downtown for a blind date. What he finds is as insane as the best 1930s screwball adventure, beginning with a wild cab ride in which he loses all his money. The movie soon becomes a pursuit-not of a woman, but of an idea: getting home in one piece. 


There is a logic in After Hours, the logic of a nightmare, yet there is no romance and no transformation for the protagonist. In the 1930s, the screwballs offered audiences an escape, as well as hope for the future. A character in My Man Godfrey could look at the world with amusement, noting, "All you need for an (insane) asylum is a room and the right kind of people." In the 1980s, zaniness has become dangerous and the characters cry out, "Why do I deserve this? What have I done?" 


That's why people like Michele enchant me. Because they make me think of that wonderful moment in The Lady Eve when love is triumphant and Barbara Stanwyck asks her lover (Henry Fonda): "Why didn't you take me in your arms that day on the boat? Why did you let me go? Why did we have to go through all this nonsense? Don't you know you're the only man I ever loved, you big fathead? Don't you know I couldn't look at another man if I wanted to? Don't you know I've waited all my life for you, you big mug?"


VIDEO, November 1988

Doctors on Film

Richard Chamberlin as Dr. Klldare.Saintly surgeons: Raymond Massey (left) and Richard Chamberlain in Dr. Kildare.


The Changing Image of the Doctor on Film and in Television



written for MD, October 1989

When Evan Flatow graduated from Columbia Medical School, the keynote speaker was not a cardiologist or a surgeon. He was Alan Alda, the actor. "Ours was the first to have a non-medical figure address our college," recalls Flatow, who now practices in New York. "Everyone was impressed by his character (Dr. Hawkeye Pierce on TV's M*A*S*H). You know, they say a non-doctorr can give a better commencement address than a doctor. And it's true."

Many doctors are also saying that television and film physicians make better doctors than the real thing - at least in the public's eye. "I became a doctor in part because of Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare," notes Dr. Peter Hesslein, associate professor of pediatric cardiology at the University of Minnesota. "When I was coming out of college in the sixties and early seventies, I had a strong urge to be a public servant, and those shows made medicine seem very attractive. Agrees Dr. Thomas Barnard, a cardiologist in New York: "I saw Dr. Kildare as a kid. It was exciting and glamorous." Indeed.

At the height of their popularity in the early 1960s, Kildare and Caseywere watched by 32 million teenagers a week. Comic books, board games, record albums, and even a popular "Ben Casey"' medic's shirt flooded the market, while Kildare star Richard Chamberlain became a recording star with a vocal version of his show's theme. "Ben Casey was sort of like a surgical Perry Mason," observes Carole Mann, a fan in Amarillo, Texas, in Cult TV. "He was the kind of take-charge guy that I thought I'd want to marry - totally in control."

To the public at large, that was the standard image of a doctor: "We were made into kind of demi-god," says Dr. Christine Edwards-Freeman, a New York-based obstetrician and gynecologist, an all-knowing figure, dispensing words of wisdom with a helpful injection. Those beliefs were borne out by a poll taken in the 1960s that found the public rated physicians second only to the Supreme Court justices for compassion, integrity, and sagacity. No longer. In an age of cynicism, doctors – like most extablishment figures – are viewed with increasing mistrust.

"We now get a lot of negative press," claims Dr. Steven Lamm, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. Agrees Hasslein: "People used to expect miracles from doctors. We were viewed as geniuses. Not anymore."

An October 1989 New York Times op-ed article, for example, discussed hospital care, concluding with the observation: "We can no longer assume that the interest of the health provider is in the best interest of the consumer. Health care is big business." How did it come to that? And what role did films and television play in the real-life doctor's fall from grace? To understand, we must examine the fictional physician's long-standing image.

"He was usually strong-willed and humanitarian," notes Dr. Mark Goetting, of the pediatric-intensive care unit at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. "He was good, but shallow in the sense that there was almost never a struggle about the right or wrong of what he was doing. There would never be a questioning of medicine or of the procedure."

In such films as Calling Dr. Kildare, Magnificent Obsession,and The Quiet Duel, the physician was a noble superman who could cure illnesses in a single bound. So great was his power that on Emergency, a 1970s TV series about paramedics, he could operate on a lamb suffering from smoke inhalation and cure him. To Ben Casey (Vince Edwards), the "operating room [was] like a church," and the surgeon was the divine messenger. So much so, in fact, that in The Citadel(1938), the idealist new doctor (Robert Donat) must battle mistrust and hatred to cure tuberculosis. "I'm not going to be influenced by ignorance and superstition!" he cries out messianically. "I'm working for these people and will not let their stupid prejudices stop this work!" As the elderly Dr. Zorba (Sam Jaffe) explains on Ben Casey: "We ae not just men. We are doctors...Therefore we can and must work under great stress."

Ben Casey comic book.

Ben Casey comic book.

Even when doctors are shown to be less-than-good – as they are in The Citadel in which most physicians are more interested in relieving bank accounts than pain – the bad side is depicted simply to highlight the good. "Your work isn't [to earn] money," remarks the hero's wife (Rosalind Russell). "It's bettering humanity."

That impression persisted through countless films and TV series, aided and abetted by the American Medical Association (AMA). To needy producers and writers, the AMA offers lists of doctors who can act as consultants. To news reporters, it provides footage and reports on the latest medical breakthroughs, along with packaged interviews of physicians. Consequently, in such TV shows as The Doctor, Doc Corkle, Doc Elliiot,, D. Hudson's Secret Journal, Medic, Rafferty, The Nurses, Marcus Welby M.D., The Interns,and Casey and Kildare, the physicians as missionary soon became a cliched portrait as the medico offered drugs and psychological insights.

"You chose the wrong girl," dynamic Dr. Joe Gannon (Chad Everett) advises a patient on Medical Center. "She was unhappy, lonelly. She's willing to trust her life to you. If that doesn't make you somebody, then all your dreams and fantasies weren't true!"

The effect all these shows had on the public was clear-cut. "Adult patients in general expect a doctor to wear a white coat, be slightly gray at the temples, stroke his chin and say, 'hmmm,' a lot," notes Hesslein. Agrees Lamm: "The physical appearance of the doctor on TV is of a suave, sophisticated, and elegant person. And on TV, hospitals are always neat and orderly – not frenetic as many hospitals are. We can't meet those expectations." The film and TV doctors spend whatever time it takes and whatever care is needed to find a solution.

On Ben Casey, the smolderingly handsome Casey becomes obsessed with the problems of an elderly architect who may or may not have suffered a stroke. On Trapper John, M.D., recalls Goetting, "Trapper would buck the system and lose his temper – not because he was a person who was having a bad day but because he was indignant that he didn't have enough money to treat a patient. When a doctor failed – as one did on Medical Center, collapsing from overwork – it was only because he was so dedicated and selfless that he was pushing himself to an extreme. Explains Goetting: "Here is a person so concerned, so essential, that he is running himself down."

The Citadel: MDs as fallen angels.The Citadel: MDs as fallen angels.

In addition, doctors always knew best. "Their course is always well-planned and interference would be for some social reason, like a religious objection to the transfusion of blood," notes Goetting. "There was never a questioning of the medicine or the motivation of the physician. The doctor was always right."

In Life for Ruth, for example, a dedicated doctor (Patrick McGoohan) battles the religious beliefs of a young girl's parents in an attempt to get her a life-saving blood transfusion. Because of such portraits, notes Edwards-Freeman, "everyone comes to the doctor with a pain and you're supposed to feel them and say, 'Ah ha! This is why you're suffering,' and then cure them. The media has built us into gods." Adds Barnard: "Most of these shows succeed in terms of technical accuracy, except that the doctors always had a textbook case, with the latest state-of-the-art therapies available. In real life, however, you don't have a textbook disease. Usually you have an array of complicated problems: diabetes, heart disease, hyper-tension, problems at home with your wife. Real [health-care] problems don't fit into a slot as neatly as we like."

The media image has created some dangerous stereotypes, as well. "In cardiac arrest, less than 10 percent of the patients will wake up. You may be able to get the heart restarted, but there is usually massive brain damage. Yet if you watch Emergency, you'd think CPR is wonderful. It creates the impression among the public that once the paramedics arrive, everything will be okay. That's not the case."

Similarly, many medical shows put forward almost magical surgical solutions – heart and liver transplants, for instance – that mislead the public. "Heart transplants are not performed that often," explains Barnard. "You have to have the right patient and the right situation. You wouldn't give a heart transplant to someone who had a multi-system problem, where the heart is sick and so is the liver and something else might fail." Medical Center's James Daly (left) and Chad Everett.

Medical Center's James Daly (left) and Chad Everett.

Television images create other misconceptions, too. "People expect to see a male doctor," says Dr. Marcia A. Harris, a New York obstetrician and gynecologist. "A lot of times, patients can't accept the fact that I'm a doctor. They think I'm a nurse. Especially the older womem. They'll say, 'Send me the real doctor.' I say, 'Honey, I'm as real a doctor as you're going to see.'"

Other times, the sick cannot understand why there is no answer for their ailment. In Ben Casey, a stroke victim is cured through surgery (after Casey discovers it wasn't a stroke after all), while on Medical Center, a young woman with a benign tumor on her spine is saved via an operation (and also finds true love with another patient). Marcus Welby takes such cures to ridiculous extremes, as the folksy Welby (Robert Young) diagnoses and treats the most exotic diseases imaginable.

"For a family pediatrician," observes Barnard, "he saw an amazing variety of diseases – the kind that a major medical referral service like Massachusetts General Hospital might see. He would always find the cure." (While in medical school, Barnard and his fellow students often tried to diagnose the weekly rare disease before Welby did. "It was a great game," he says.)‘

Yet, claims Edwards-Freeman, "the TV producers have, if you'll pardon the expression, 'doctored' things up a bit. Illnesses don't always work out well." Agrees Lamm: "Television has greatly exagerrated our ability to cure everybody. We are given omnipotence." In real life, adds Barnard, "sometimes people get better and go away and you never know what it was that was bothering them. That's disconcerting to a patient. He never knows what he had; but you can't have doctors on shows come in and say, 'We don't know what you have. Rest at home and come and see me in two days.' That's not what people expect." Barnard cites the first experience he had with AIDS in 1978. "We took tests, offered treatment, but just couldn't figure it out. And that happens real often. But the shows give you the idea if you get something, go to the doctor, he'll put a label on it, give you some medicine, and you'll get well." Lionel Barrymore (left) and Lew Ayres in a Dr. Kildare movie.

Lionel Barrymore (left) and Lew Ayres in a Dr. Kildare movie.

That raises another issue: depicting the mundane. Not every case is as dramatic as the ones on television, and some require extensive and boring treatment. "The media want a cure for cancer every day," says Dr. Alan Matarasso, a New York plastic surgeon. "When they do a TV program or a movie, they're not interested in the nuts and bolts work, they want action. But 50 percent of an intern's time is not spent cutting up victims: it's doing scut work: drawing blood, taking someone to a chest X-ray."

Adds Barnard: "There are a lot of things that are chronic, that patients have to live with. And chronic problems are not very dramatic. You don't see a guy coming in for treatment – one day he's better, the next day he's worse. That's not very exciting."

By not showing such aspects of the physician's work – as well as ignoring his paper work and home life – these programs made it difficult for patients to understand why doctors couldn't spend as much time with them as the TV physicians do. "On television," remarks Lamm, "a doctor sees one patient throughout the show. I'm seeing 30 patients a day. There was a time when physicians would go to the office early, see maybe 40 patients, then go on house calls, then get home at 10, 11 at night. Today, physicians are demanding a little more of a private life. A lot of doctors are not willing to work from 8 A.M. to 11 P.M. It's not good for a normal human being and is counterproductive. If I go home at 7, I'll be a more sane individual."

Yet the image persists. On Quincy, a crime show about a crusading forensic pathologist who is a former private practice physician – Dr. Quincy (Jack Klugman) will order multiple tests on individual cases, undertaking a lot of the investigative footwork himself. "It's very unrealistic," complains Goetting. "In Detroit, the average number of bodies that arrive for an autopsy in a morgue is 11 per day. Plus there is a very tight budget. If the state ordered the number of tests Quincy did, or spent that much time on individual cases, the other cases would suffer. On Quincy, it looks like time and money are no object. The mission is paramount. That's just not accurate."Toshiro Mifune in The Quiet Duel.

Toshiro Mifune in The Quiet Duel.

Money restrictions are the reality. With rising costs caused by rent, staff, malpractice insurance payments, and medical school bills, many doctors must see as many patients as possible. "Bill Cosby plays a doctor on The Cosby Show but he always seems‘ to be at home," says Edwards-Freeman. "I guess personal envy is involved, but I wonder how he does it." Agrees Dr. Michael Mitchell, a New York pediatrician: "You are on call 24 hours a day. Marcus Welby hurt our image. You would see Welby, with no bags under his eyes, always refreshed, smiling, perky. He was never rushed because he had a roomful of people in the waiting room."

"The costs of doing health care, malpractice insurance, and hiring a well-trained staff are causing physicians to become businessmen," notes Dr. Richard Stein, acting chief of cardiology at the State University of New York Health Science Center. "We have to charge more, see more people, and our income is still diminishing. If I was primarily interested in money, it would make more sense today for me to get a two-year MBA or a three-year law degree. That's more cost-effective than four years in medical school and six years in post-graduate."

Such costs are cutting into the humanitarian aspect most often depicted on television. Matarasso points to a colleague who did Medicare work and was reimbursed only 37 cents. So he says, 'To hell with it. I won't see indigent patients, only well-heeled ones.' The government says take care of the indigent, but what profession can afford to do pro bono work? If I go to a clinic and stitch on some guy's hand and it doesn't work properly because the guy didn't follow instructions, some lawyer can sue you for malpractice. I did it for free, so who needs it? They say there are two ways to get rich: win at Lotto or sue a doctor.'

These pressures were rarely explained in medical shows – until St. Elsewhere premiered on NBC in 1982. Here was a new kind of doctor show, one that explored the personal stresses of being a physician. Depicting a seedy hospital called St. Elgius in Boston, a typical episode might depict a doctor being mugged in an emergency room, a mentally ill patient wandering the halls, and/or two doctors making love on a slab in the morgue. "That series came closest to my experience as an intern," notes Dr. Elissa Ely, a Cambridge psychiatrist who did a medical internship. "The doctors suffered. They laughed. They cried. They lost patients. It was bloody." On it, doctors made mistakes. In one installment, a patient died because of the faulty administration of a drug. "The doctor involved falsified the records," recalls Goetting. "That kind of thing happens. The program also showed conflicts that go on at hospitals: nurses bickering with doctors, rivalries and mistakes among interns. The accent was on the interpersonal." Dr. Craig (William Daniels) in St. Elsewhere "was dogmatic, condescending, arrogant," adds Goetting. "Technically, he's a good surgeon, but he offends people because he's so arrogant. On occasion, he would make a mistake. But you could understand why."

Nonetheless, for all St. Elsewhere's realism, many physicians feel it, too, is a fantasy. "There's just more drama than you'd find in an average hospital," remarks Barnard. "People being killed in car wrecks, murderers and rapists running loose – it does happen, but not every week. That can skew the perspective." Some claim, though, that such shows have really helped create a balance by offsetting the omnipotent image of the past. "I don't know if the stereotype of the decadent doctor first appeared on TV or if TV just reflected a public perception," says Goettling, "but television doesn't depuct physicians as missionaries anymore. It depicts them as people of undistinquishable motivation."

David Morse in action on St. Elsewhere.David Morse in action on St. Elsewhere.

"What's good about these medical shows is that they show a side that nobody in medical school bothers to explain," remarks Dr. Charles Goodrich of New York. "There is a human side to being a doctor. Students are taught medicine but not how to help the human being to get better and healthy, which is a complex affair, involving science and sociology."

Notes Lamm: "A lot of physicians treat the disease, but it takes a lot longer to treat the patient. In the old days, all we could do was hold their hands and watch them die. But now medicine is so much better, we don't have to spend as much time with them."

Lamm recalls a visit from an 82-year-old woman with a cough. Within a minute and a half, he had diagnosed the problem, "but I couldn't just say that. It wouldn't have been satisfactory to her. I had to hold her hand and explain the symptoms, that she'd have this cough and that it was normal and tell her that she'd live. That's important – and it takes time." "Until we face the fact that cures are not just microbiological, we're going to miss the boat," adds Goodrich. "You've got to look at the psychosocial cause of a disease, as well. The roots of cancer lie in a subtle interweaving of internal and external stresses. AIDS is a good example. There is a human health solution: reduce AIDS risk behavior rather than just treat the disease." In the end, most physicians agree that all cinematic and video doctors are based on an important societal need.

"From a patient's point of view, a lot of what we do is magic," explains Hesslein. "I think for our work to have an effect, that has to be. I firmly believe that if a patient believes in what you're doing, you're on the right track. He will feel better no matter what you do. That's why shows like Kildare, andCasey had a strong public following. Patients like to look on us as almost faith-healers, and we may be happy to foster that belief. It might not be an honest view. But it's what people want doctors to be."

Epics (1)


In the beginning there was The Robe. And The Robe was without shape or stars. But Hollywood said, "Let it have Spectacle and Romans. And let it have Cinemascope." And it was so. And the public said that it was good. And lo, Hollywood said, "Let there be The Ten Commandments." And The Ten Commandments begat Ben-Hur. And Ben-Hur begat El Cid. And Hollywood never rested. For the epics were not always good, but they were extremely profitable.

The Robe was really not the first epic. Silent films and movies in the '30s and' 40s featured Romans, knights, and assorted swashbucklers ­­– but it was the first of its kind, setting a trend that would continue for a decade. Why did the epic come about? And more important – what is it? A number of epics are now on tape, offering a good opportunity (in this selective and informal survey) to answer those questions and another one: how well do these widescreen extravaganzas hold up on tape?

The epic arose because of television. To retaliate against TV's studio-bound black & white dramas, which were drawing audiences away from the theaters, Hollywood mounted a series of brightly costumed adventures, shot in exotic locales in full color and widescreen (The Robe was the first major Cinemascope production). These epics usually had a high moral tone, which the most successful exploited to the fullest, allowing the viewer to experience sex and adventure vicariously while feeling it was all for a good cause. "You talk about the wages of sin, so you must show sin," Jesse Lasky Jr., one of Cecil B. DeMille's screenwriters, once explained. Indeed, the best epics appealed to morality – but were also good action films in which a virtuous hero, reluctantly joining a battle, overcomes tremendous odds to achieve some quest-like goal, often involving a romance. This was the pattern that most followed, and The Robe set the trend.

The Rise and Fall of the Epic

(1) The Robe (1953). Based on a book by doctor-turned-writer Lloyd C. Douglas (author of Magnificent Obsession), the story delineates the adventures of the Roman centurion Marcellus (Richard Burton) who, through Christ's teachings,' changes from a drunken playboy to a freedom-fighting Christian. Marcellus romances Diana (Jean Simmons) and has a couple of sword fights, but most of the movie deals with smiling Christians (who resemble modern-day "moonies") talking about "His" teachings.

Burton scowls throughout most of the story, and no wonder: it is heavy on irony and predictable soapy music. It is the sort of tale that jntroduces an eloquent Judas mournfully talking about how he betrayed Jesus, and offers a nervous Pontius Pilate constantly mumbling about how he must wash his hands. Burton and Simmons get to walk off into the clouds in the end in a kind of wonderful martyrdom; the rest of us aren't so lucky. The Robe was a huge success (it was followed by a sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators) butthe Cinemascope, costumes, and religious tone probably had more to do with that than the banal story and dreadful acting.

The transfer does justice to the quality of the movie. The print is poor, with colors beginning to lose their definition: the reds are vibrant, the blues are beginning to tum purple, and much of the movie looks (unintentionally) like an EI Greco painting. The scanning and panning are equally poor. At one point Burton addresses a soldier offscreen; a pan begins, but before it is complete a whole exchange has taken place and we have seen neither party. Because director Henry Koster employed many wide shots to take advantage of Cinemascope, there's also a cropping problem in many sequences. And Tape I ends abruptly in the middle of a sentence.

(2) The Ten Commandments (1956). The success of The Robe let loose a torrent of Biblical movies and inspired Cecil B. DeMille to remake his silent film, The Ten Commandments, a huge success showing how Moses freed the Jews.

It's hard to decide what's funnier in this camp classic: the inane dialogue, which often sounds as if it had been created in a

fortune-cookie factory ("Have the days-of darkness not made you see the light?"), or the ridiculously arch performances, led by Charlton Heston as Moses. DeMille had seen the actor in Dark City and reportedly liked the way he waved. Heston does his best, but the weight of the character ultimately brings him down. His Moses – initially an interesting character torn by love, ambition, and duty – finally becomes so clear-seeing and virtuous as God's prophet that he is a prig and a bore, uninterested in anything but communing with God. And no wonder: Heston did God's voice too.

The movie's fun lies in the first half, a sort of Dallas-in-Egypt, with the scheming pharaoh's son (Yul Brynner), sultry sexpot (Anne Baxter), evil overseer (Vincent Price), and traitorous Jew (Edward G. Robinson). For romantic interest, John Derek (later Bo's husband) plays Joshua, a headstrong slave in love with Lilia (Debra Paget), who is handy with his fists but pretty bad when it comes to delivering the lines.

The second half of the movie, the exodus, is action, action, action. DeMille knows his audience: when Moses becomes a virtuous party-poop, the special-effects boys take over. And Part II never lets up: there is the pillar of fire, the plague of death, the burning bush, the staff that turns into a snake, the Nile running red, and the famous parting of the Red Sea (which won the film an Oscar). There is also a racy orgy which takes place while Moses is on Sinai watching God write out the Ten Commandments with a pretty nifty finger of flame.


The Ten Commandments is a wild vaudevillian's movie with a little bit of everything except real characters, and it was wildly successful, becoming the second most popular movie of all time. "DeMille's movies are barnstormers," wrote critic David Thompson in 1975, "rooted in Victorian prestige, shamelessly stereotyped and sentimental, but eagerly courting 20th century permissiveness, if only solemnly to condemn it. The movies are simple ... but. .. the energy of his imagination seldom flags."

Nor does his attention to imagery – and The Ten Commandments has some striking visuals. Unfortunately, they suffer tremendously in this transfer. Colors vary between too bright or

washed out (as in The  Robe), and sound is bad, decreasing steadily until God's voice sounds like a whisper. There is also dust on the print. Luckily, there is little problem with image ratio since DeMille shot in Vista-Vision, which is closer to the TVscreen aspect ratio than Cinemascope.

(3) Ben Hur (1959). The success of The Ten Commandments led to this film, the epitome of the epic form, which won 11 Oscars and has been called the "thinking man's epic." It's not hard to see why. A remake of a silent film based'on a book by Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur is the story of friendship betrayed, of revenge sought and won. It is the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and his boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) who feud over the Romans' treatment of the Jews and eventually fight it out to the death in a justly famed chariot race.

The movie is episodic: Ben-Hur is imprisoned, meets Jesus, spends three years as a galley slave, fights in a sea battle. becomes a Roman citizen, battles Messala, rescues his family from a leper colony, witnesses the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus is a figure in the film (it opens with his birth), but He is subtly used, crossing Ben-Hur's path at key plot points (He gives Ben-Hur water; the favor is returned on Calvary).

The religious events are trimmings that help focus the story on its theme: the danger of becoming what you hate. The movie holds your interest because it keeps its attention centered on this idea – on the transforming effect of Ben-Hut's hatred of Messala – and on its converse. the forgiving power of love as epitomized by Christ. Heston justly won an Academy Award for his complex picture of a f1awed, driven man.

As for the transfer: the print's colors are washed out. with reds once again predominating. The end of Tape I is abrupt. but the pans and scans are fairly well-done and subtle, and the chariot race doesn't seem to suffer as much as it might have. But someone should have struck a new print. This movie would have been worth it.

(4) EI Cid (1961). As a follow-up to his triumph in -Ben-Hur, Charlton Heston starred in this l2th-century adventure story about Spain's nearly legendary hero EI Cid (The Lord), who successfully led the Spanish against an invasion by the Moors.

This movie was the beginning of the end of the epic form, taking the idea of honor and virtue to a ridiculous extreme. Get this: Heston is engaged to Sophia Loren and they love each other passionately. Loren's father calls Heston a traitor. Heston's father calls Loren's father a liar. Loren's father slaps Heston's father, who is now insulted. Honor being everything, Heston asks for an apology. When he doesn't get it, he kills Loren's father in a sword fight. Loren's father, with his dying breath, then asks Loren to avenge him. She does so by marrying Heston but hating him. This goes on for a good hour before the two make up. It's typical of the convoluted storyline that cripples the film.

El Cid tries to be a big epic like Ben Hur, but lacks that film's simplicity: Ben-Hur's driving need was revenge, which tied the whole thing together. In El Cid you really have to be a Spanish history major to follow most of the plot, involving Prince Alfonzo, AI Kadir, Don Diego, and other unknown notables. And Heston's EI Cid character is a concept, not a person: so noble, so perfect that he becomes dull after about 30 minutes, making the movie a series of meaningless battles.

The film is not helped by the transfer.  El Cid was shot in widescreen and characters are constantly cropped out during conversations. The poorest moments occur during a dramatic joust: most of the tension is dissipated by confusing panning-and-scanning which makes it unclear who is who or what is going on. There also seem to be some registration problems: image and color fluctuate badly at the opening. Once again the colors are washed out or too bright, with reds predominating.

(5) Cleopatra (1963). El Cid may have been bad, but it made money. This turkey killed the epic form more or less permanently and nearly closet! its chief investor, Twentieth Century-Fox, as well.

The story behind the screen is actually more interesting than the one on it. Begun in 1958, the film was started and stopped four times. It had two different directors, two Caesars, two Antonys – but only one Cleopatra. She was, of course, Elizabeth Taylor, and she demanded $125,000 for 16 weeks' work, $50,000 for every week of work that went over schedule (that eventually amounted to about 104 weeks), $3,000 a week for expenses, and 10 percent of the gross. She got it all – and not only that: her third husband, Eddie Fisher, reportedly was paid $1,500 a day to see that she turned up for work.

All this is reflected on the screen. The movie is an opulent, irresponsible bores. dominated by Taylor's Cleopatra, a spoiled bitch fashion plate who wears about 15 different hairstyles in the course of the story. The film's only saving grace is Rex Harrison (who called the movie a "bizarre" experience) as Caesar. He is witty and charming, an oasis of sanity among the goings-on. When he disappears at the end of Part l, Burton's Marc Antony takes over, just as sour and self-pitying a character as his Marcellus in The Robe. It's hard to believe that Taylor and Burton began their off-screen romance here, since their on-screen affair is tepid.

Cleopatra is a pointless movie with no message except don't fall in love, and it is a near-total failure except in the transfer. The colors are rich and vivid and the panning and scanning done skillfully, usually corresponding well with the on-screen action. The wide screen ratio is well-handled, with actors only occasionally cropped out of a scene noticeably. Too bad the film is not worth the extra effort that apparently went into the tape.

(6) The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). This one suffered from the Cleopatra backlash and its failure destroyed the company that produced it. The Fall of the Roman Empire is a series of battles and intrigues only worth watching for some nice turns by Alec Guinness and James Mason as two thoughtful Romans. Stephen Boyd, in a role rejected by Charlton Heston, is dull as the hero, though Sophia Loren is as beautiful as ever. The movie details Guinness' and Boyd's attempts to deal with the barbarian hordes. They fail, naturally, but take nearly three hours to do it.

The transfer crops people out in conversations, scans obtrusively, and offers murky color. Overall, The Fall is one to avoid.


The Myth as Epic

(7) Jason and the Argonauts (1963). After Cleopatra, the successful epic was forced to take a new form, drawing its inspiration from classical antiquity and relying more on special effects than ever before. Jason, the best example of this new form, is the work of special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen (The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans). Following the adventures of Jason and his men in search of the magical golden fleece that will make him ruler of ancient Greece, the movie offers the 50-foot bronze giant Talos, the flying Harpies, the seven-headed Hydra, the gigantic Olympian gods (and Olympus itself), Poseidon holding apart the "clashing rocks," and the sword-wielding

living skeletons (the "Children of the Hydra's Teeth," to be more precise).

As with DeMille, the story and dialogue are pretty hokey – but the special effects are wonderful, skillfully achieved through the painstaking stop-motion process (the frame-by-frame animation of three-dimensional figures). The skeleton fight. for instance, is a frenetic, brilliantly choreographed (and tongue-in-cheek) battle that becomes even more wonderful when you realize that it is staged between six-foot-tall men and six-inch miniatures.

Jason and the Argonauts is the stuff of dreams, cleverly tapping into a childhood love of fairytales and an adult longing for the simplicity of myth. It is complemented by Bernard Herrmann's throbbing score and colorful Greek locations.

The transfer is excellent with fine color reproduction and only occasional problems with scratches and splices on the print. Scanning and panning are unobtrusive.

(8) Camelot (1967). Lerner & Loew's last Broadway musical, an adaptation of T.H. White's The Once and Future King, became this overblown film, directed by Joshua Logan as though he were doing a TV variety show. Richard Harris is Arthur, given to long speeches to himself, theorizing about the issues facing the world; Vanessa Redgrave is Guinevere ("Jenny" to her friends), a fairly no-nonsense sort who has a good voice; and Franco Nero is an Italian-accented Lancelot ("Lance"), who of course betrays Arthur by loving the queen and thus sows the seeds of destruction for the Round Table.

None of the mythic qualities of the Arthurian legend are captured, and the whole movie has the dried-out prepackaged look of a bad Broadway musical. It is justifiably one of the 40 biggest flops of all time, though the transfer is fine, with rich color and fairly smooth scanning (in some scenes, however, a simple crop would have been better-and clearer).

(9) Excalibur (1981). John (Deliverance) Boorman's retelling of the Arthurian story certainly 'has more meat than the tepid 1967 musical, but also has its own failings. The film is a sometimes mystical, mostly gory rendition of what Mallory tells us happened to the king and his cohorts in his Morte d'Arthur. Those familiar with the poem or the history might have better luck understanding some of the events. Others will at times find themselves wondering who is who, and why they are fighting so fiercely.

Nonetheless, the movie, which tries to cover too much, has its moments, most of them taken by Nicol Williamson's Merlin. He plays the character as a figure out of nightmare-sometimes friendly, sometimes creepy, but always there at the right time. His is the most vivid perfomance: everyone else is more or less a cipher, lost in the battles, spells, and speeches. (The worst comes from Arthur, when he decides how he will form the Round Table in a kind of You Are There monologue.) The transfer is fine, with no noticeable tracking or scanning problems.

The Epic Parodied

(lO) Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)/Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). With the epic dead (reborn as the mini-series on TV), the British Monty Python troupe resurrected the form and parodied it in these two films.

Brian is the better of the two, if only because it sticks more closely to a coherent plot, neatly spoofing conventions of the genre. (In fact, the pre-credits sequence is a direct takeoff of the opening of Ben-Hur, with three wise men following a star-but to the wrong baby.) Brian is constantly being mistaken for the .Messiah in the movie and in the process becomes involved with an inept jewish rebel group (the People's Liberation Front of Judea, bitterly opposed to a rival group, the Judean People's Front), a lisping Pontius Pilate (who sounds like Porky Pig and has a friend, Bigus Dickus, who "came all the way from Wome"), and a man who keeps getting crucified for a lark. The climax finds the cast on crosses singing a Camelot-style number called "Always Look on the Bright Side."

The Pythons' earlier Holy Grail mined the Arthurian vein, though less successfully. It is episodic, like Excalibur, featuring the quest, a pompous Arthur, and some hilarious sequences involving the Holy Hand Grenade, the killer rabbit, a knight who wants to keep fighting even after all his limbs have been cut off, and a balladeer who sings nobly about his master's cowardice. There's also a bouncy song-and-dance number called “Knights of the Round Table."

Both films are adequately transferred, though some of the colors are washed out. Nonetheless, both bring welcome relief from the weight and virtue of some of the epics, recalling the greatness – and the absurdities – of a once-proud form.  

VIDEO, 1984

Evergreen TV


After nearly 5,000 syndicated telecasts in Portland, Ore., Perry Mason is still a hit. The 271-episode, former CBS series has been running continuously on KPTV since 1966, in prime time, fringe and, now, daytime. Not only that, in a five-station market, Perry is the second-ranked program at noon, Monday through Friday, and tops key demographics of every series with which it competes, including Live With Regis & Kathy Lee and Hollywood Squares, as well as a newscast.

"In February, KPTV did a [5 rating/19 share] in the Nielsens with Perry," notes Janeen Bjork, VP and director of programming for Seltel. "It's awesome. Most old shows don't do this well."

Or do they? How about CBS affiliate WFMY-TV's 25-year-old Andy Griffith Show beating Donahue (15/35 to 12/25) in Greensboro, N.C.? Or, in Los Angeles, KTLATV's 30-year-old Bonanza, taking its time period in a 10-station market every weekday at 11 a.m.? Then there's WPWR-TV's Green Hornet marathon in Chicago, which made the independent the number-two station for its three-hour time period, putting it ahead of three other indies and two affiliates. In New York, Arbitron recorded a 4/5 for WWOR-TV's Thursday 8-p.m. runs of The Untouchables in February, compared with a 4/7 for Hunter on Tuesdays.

So, some of the big news in syndication these days is of old series: The Andy Griffith Show, Star Trek, The Honeymooners, Perry Mason. "Some series simply do not date," observes Steve Bell, senior VP and general manager of KTLA. "They have dynamic performances, memorable routines, and quality scripts that are classics. They are the kinds of shows you just want to see again and again." Joseph B. Zaleski, president, domestic syndication for Viacom agrees: , 'Classic TV series are still an important part of programming for independents and affiliates. [Whether black and white or color], they won't go away. They are building blocks for a station."

And yet for all the "evergreens," there is a small forest of series whose leaves have fallen-shows that for one reason or another stations can do without: Guns of Will Sennett, Topper, Gunsmoke, Mayberry RFD, even the critically acclaimed Mary Tyler Moore Show. And duds can be dangerous. "There are no more throwaway time periods," suggests Jim Kraus, senior VP and director of sales for MCA-TV. "It is running tight everywhere. Every station needs to generate money from every time period. They can't have wall-to-wall Cosbys, but after they make a commitment to The Cosby Show, they have to have other shows around it." With that ever-tightening and increasingly more competitive marketplace, how-and why does an independent find a goldie among the oldies? How does one discern the classic from the klunker?

"No one knows what will work and what won't," claims Burt Rosenburgh, VP, Evergreen Division, Worldvision. "Stations should choose by their gut reaction to a show. Once you enter the realm of older product, we're talking about day-old bread. It's no longer an intelligent decision based on ratings. It's what you like."

Adds Vicky Gregorian, program director, WSVN-TV Miami: "It's hard to make generalizations [in this area] because things change in every market. Look at Andy Griffith. That'll probably go to the year 3000 in Roanoke, Va. That's their cup of tea, just like The Twilight Zone is in Boston. That appeals to a college crowd and is easy to sell there, but that doesn't mean it translates to a success in other markets."

Most station managers and syndicators agree, however, that there are certain criteria to follow in selecting evergreens. Chief among them is timelessness. Such shows as All in the Family and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, big hits during their network runs, have not fared well in syndication because of their topicality. Similarly, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a critical and popular hit on CBS for seven years during which Mary Richards symbolized the independent woman of the '70s, is among the least requested off-net sitcoms in syndication, playing in only 19 markets. "It just shows," notes Jack Fentress, VP and director of programming at Petry National, "you can have star value and a network run and those aren't necessarily long-lasting syndication elements. You don't want a show that deals with social or moral issues of the day."


In addition, a successful oldie must have strong storylines and well-written characters – two qualities frequently cited for Perry Mason, Star Trek, and I Love Lucy, three of the top evergreens. A former network hit like Daniel Boone, on the other hand, has virtually disappeared today because, KTLA's Bell notes, "it looks dated and tired. The pacing was slow." A series that depends on regular viewing of every episode – a Dallas or Hill Street Blues, for example, which follow sequential storylines over a number of episodes – suffers because audiences seldom make a daily commitment to a stripped program.

Another factor in making an evergreen a hit is the acting. "Sometimes you have stars who weren't stars at the time they appeared in the series," notes Bell. "You can promote that – Clint Eastwood in Rawhide or Robert Redford in an early Twilight Zone."

Then there is the audience composition. The classic example of how this helps is the original Star Trek. Although the science-fiction series had an unspectacular three-year run on NBC in the 1960s (never rating higher than 52nd), it became a hit when syndicated in the 1970s, so much so that series producer Paramount created Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original is now in 119 markets. Besides the timelessness of Trek's science fiction stories and the appeal of its characters, the show attracted a traditionally elusive youthful audience in early and late fringe periods. "Star Trek is unusual because it is like a half-hour," notes Greg Meidel, exec. VP and general sales manager for Paramount Television. "Usually hours are story-driven, but Star Trek is like a sitcom. It is character-driven, so you can play it anywhere and it works. It always attracts an audience."

Keith Samples, senior VP and general sales manager for Warner Brothers Domestic Distribution, first notes that independents cater heavily to kids and men. "That's an independent's lifeblood. A show like Mary Tyler Moore had a successful network run, but it really appealed to a network audience: women. That doesn't translate as well on an independent."

Conversely, appealing to a different audience segment has made evergreen successes out of critically lambasted series like Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch and I Dream of Jeannie. "Those were originally meant for adults in one era," notes Bell, "and now they are transplanted for kids."

The children's market, in fact, is an evergreen story all its own. "We are running The Flintstones and Woody

Woodpecker with success," says Gayle Brammer, VP and general manager, KDAF-TV, Dallas. "Kids keep watching cartoons and don't care if they're old or new."

Those shows have done "extremely well" in the last five or six years, says Jack Irving, exec. VP and director of media operations for The Program Exchange. "The Flintstones and Woody Woodpecker consistently rank among the top 10 kids' shows in the country. With children, the universe changes every few years and you get a completely new audience." Jim Gabbert, president of KOFY-TV San Francisco, puts it simply:  "Long live Popeye! He picks up kids and we're getting a lot of adults for him, as well."

"When you're going from animation to adult fare, some of the evergreens make great transitional programming," says Paramount's Meidel. "The Brady Bunch, to this day, can challenge any sitcom at 5 p.M. Gregorian agrees. "When I was at [WLVI -TV Boston]," she says, "we used to double-run Brady Bunch and it was the number-one kids' show for years. I think we had renewed it for its 16th run. We couldn't get enough runs out of it. That was a real family show that everyone could enjoy."

The Brady Bunch also has a hefty number of episodes, another item that helps an evergreen succeed. Shows like Perry Mason, with 271 episodes, and Bonanza, with 310, can be stripped for a year or more without repeats.


On the negative side, however, buying such a large quantity of episodes can be a major investment, even at the kinds of prices evergreens usually fetch. "I've toyed with the idea of picking up Rawhide," says Bell, "but I haven't done it because it's such a big commitment. You have to buy 200 episodes. Viacom never really tried to market it by offering a reduced number of episodes." Neal Sabin, director of programming at Chicago's WPWR-TV, puts it into perspective: "It can get expensive. If it's $200 an episode, 500 can run you $100,000."

This summer, WWOR will test Bonanza in the Thursday night slot where it was double-running The Untouchables. Director of Programming Ferrall Meisel says The Untouchables did very well when tested as three Saturday night two-hour specials, but that the Thursday night numbers have eroded. "It's on on a tough night, up against Cosby and the whole NBC lineup," he says.

"Now, we're bringing back Bonanza as a test. The thing that intrigued us was the quality of the prints. Republic has done an excellent 35-millimeter to one-inch digital transfer and the color is remarkable," Meisel says. "It's a drama with a western backdrop and Lonesome Dove's numbers indicate an interest in dramas with western backdrops, if produced properly. We will study the show's July demos before we put it on regularly. Syndicators are generally willing to have a test like that, especially if they want to launch a show in a market as tough as New York."

Such caution is becoming the norm for stations. "Everyone is paying off mid~80s deals," WPWR's Sabin continues. ''A lot of current product is just sitting there." At press time, ALF, Perfect Strangers, Amen and Golden Girls had not been sold in Chicago, Sabin said.

With the softening of the ad market in the last 18 months, the stiffening of competition, and the sale of TV stations, most report that buying has slowed. ''A number of stations are carrying a lot of debt," explains Samples. "In the past, they owed little and could pump a lot into programming. Now they have a large debt service and the first thing they do is pay interest to the bank. They are cautious in how they buy." Worldvision's Rosenburgh describes the same scenario. "There was a slowdown in the market because of the failure of a number of stations and because ad sales were not that good."

As a result, Gregorian picks up the story, stations can't afford to buy defensively or let something sit on the shelf anymore. "We've been burned in the past. At WLVI, I had Welcome Back, Kotter, Sanford and Son and Archie Bunker's Place. They were vestiges of an aggressive marketplace. We had wanted movies, so we said we'd take these shows [from the movie distributors] and figured we'd find a place for them. We never did. Something better always came along. It always does."

Some, including WPWR's Sabin, have turned these “shelf-shows" into a plus. "I looked at all we owned and asked myself, 'How can I use these?' " His answer was a regular Sunday oldies marathon. It has produced some impressive numbers. Three hours of The Green Hornet in February averaged a 4/9 in Nielsen and a 5/12 in Arbitron. "For one Green Hornet half hour we got a 6 rating," notes Sabin. "People were amazed." In a soft market, Sabin claims his station is the only one that's shown a share increase over last year. "We were up a point over February and March 1988. Everyone else is flat or down. Part of that is creative scheduling."

Such stunting is another key element in defining a perennial: how the show is promoted. "Look at [Nickelodeon's] Nick at Night," notes Gregorian. "It costs $50 to put Mr. Ed on, but through clever promotions, they make it seem like an important show."

"Some shows you can't kill, no matter what you do," adds Bell. "But others you have to nurture and make audiences believers, the way you are." Perry Mason, for instance, running three times a day on KOFY in San Francisco, flopped at 10 p.m. Sunday nights on New York's WPIX-TV. "They didn't give it a chance to develop a following,’ insists Viacom's Zaleski. "You have to change audience viewing patterns."

"My experience with classic programming," observes KOFY's Gabbert, "is you have to back it up with more recent programming. Before Perry Mason, which we run at 7 p.m., we have The A-Team. Before that, we have the old Leave it to Beaver and The New Leave it to Beaver. By mixing the old and new, the classics seem fresher and so does the station."

In fact, no matter how good the promotion, lack of freshness is the greatest danger in relying too much on oldies programming. KXLI-TV St. Cloud, Minn., for instance, attempted to run prime-time perennials five nights a week, checker-boarding them into genre nights: western, comedy, police, etc. "They got more attention in the media than they did viewers," says Donald O'Connor, president and general manager at KTMA-TV Minneapolis, which competed with KXLI until it became a KTMA satellite station. "It wasn't a bad idea, but you're competing with the networks [in checkerboard programming] and just because it's old doesn't mean it's good. I'm not sure Topper was ever a good show."


Indeed, warm nostalgic feelings can draw viewers to an evergreen, but if the reality of the show falls short of their recollections, they won't stay around. "I think too much is made of nostalgia," notes Kraus. "If it's a good show and the station can make money on it, it comes off the shelf. But that's a function of the market. The station has to be able to sell it to advertisers."

Topper didn't work on KTLA because "It was more stylized than I remembered it," says Bell. "The sense of , charm that I remembered had evaporated." At WPWR, Sabin recalls that The Fugitive was one of the most requested programs, "but when it went on, it didn't pull numbers. The pacing was more subtle than viewers today expect."

KOFY's Gabbert agrees. "You've got to be careful. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was heavily requested here. The first week we ran it in 1986, it did 5 ratings at 5 p.m. every night. The following week, it dropped to 1s and even fractions. I couldn't figure it out. Then I was talking to someone who said he had watched four or five shows the first week and then stopped. He said he didn't remember how boring it was. It was a camp show for its era, coming off the James Bond spy craze, but it's pretty awful in the '80s."

Few complain about black and white programming, however, although all report that pristine one-inch transfers are crucial. "The Munsters looks better today than it did originally," says Bell, "and Topper looked terrible. It was scratchy and seemed old." Some even say that black and white works to certain series' advantage. "World War II was a black and white war," says Rosenburgh. "I think Combat in black and white just looks more realistic." Nonetheless, Gabbert says he stripped the 26 color Combats during a sweeps period and "they did better than the black and whites. I usually mix black and white U.N.C.L.E.s in with the color ones." Harlan Reams, now general manager of KAUT-TV Oklahoma City, says he preferred using the black and white Andy Griffiths when he was running KSAS-TV in Wichita, Kan., simply because "they were funnier." And Zaleski notes that I Love Lucy, in monochrome, is still going strong, while "you can't give away" The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy, both in color.

The chief drawback to black and white is one of image and perception. "It gives us the image indies are trying to get away from, that of being a rerun station," notes Reams. ''At least with color series, even though they're reruns, there's the illusion that it's newer."

"That is a danger if you rely on these shows too much," agrees Petry's Fentress. "You don't want to give your station that 'old' look. If you keep evergreens as part of your inventory for marginal time periods, fine. But if an independent uses them as a primary source, it's in trouble."

In the end, though, it's not the age, but the quality of the show. "It's hard to overpay for a successful program," notes Martin Brantley, president and general manager of Portland's KPTV, "but you almost always overpay for one that doesn't work." Most agree that evergreens, in general, are an efficient buy for stations in need of programming. "Many different time periods have opened up now," says Paramount's Meidel. "Many stations are doing 24-hour programming and a lot need shows like Mission: Impossible, Mannix and The Untouchables for late night. And although we try to maximize revenues, some of these shows are priced quite inexpensively. If a series is running in late night, the revenue base is not there to justify high rates."

''A lot of [syndicators] are willing to do a six-month deal:' observes Bell. "Some will offer limited runs or will put money behind the promotion. If it works, they'll restructure the deal for a longer term. They get what they want-numbers they can sell-and we get a shorter commitment." Brantley seconds that notion:  "Syndicators are willing to listen to different time periods, like daytime, which may not generate a whole lot of money. They're more willing to make deals to get this old product off the shelves."

"I think evergreens are wonderful," notes Rosenburgh. "They are highly promotable, usually with a fan following. You're not gambling a tremendous amount of money, and their appeal lasts forever." Concludes Hank Price, president and general manager of WFMY:  "They're just old. And I figure, no one gets tired of Shakespeare and he's even older than Andy Griffith."


Fawlty Towers

1975, 1979. John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs; dir. John Howard Davies, Douglas Argent, Bob Spiers. 4 cas. 90m. ea. $29.98 ea. CBS/Fox. Image: good.CleeseCleese



from VIDEO, March 1987

Everyone has stayed in a bad hotel at one point or another, but it's unlikely anyone has ever had the ill luck to check into a seaside resort hotel as horribly run as Fawlty Towers. The Spanish waiter speaks no English; guests die; and there is sugar in the salt shaker. And if you try to complain you could get involved in an exchange like this:

Guest: "These prawns are off."

Hotel Manager: "But you've eaten half of them."

"Well, I didn't notice at the start."

"You didn't notice at the start?"

"Well, it was the sauce. I wasn't sure."

"So you ate half to make sure. Do you want another first course?"

"Well, cancel it."

"Cancel it! Deduct it from the bill is what you mean."

"As it's inedible."

"Only half of it's inedible, apparently."

"Well, deduct half now and if my wife brings up the other half during the night we'll claim the balance in the morning."

That's the kind of place Fawlty Towers is, primarily because that's the kind of man hotel manager Basil Fawlty (Cleese) is-a toadying, bullying, hilarious hotelier who can turn a fire drill into an exercise in insanity and can never, ever get anything right. To Basil, hotel guests are an encumbrance, people who "expect to be waited on hand and foot while I'm trying to run a hotel...poking around for things to complain about." Basil is hindered and helped by Manuel the nitwit waiter (Sachs), whose broken English is only' matched by his broken intelligence, waitress/maid/aspiring artist Polly (Booth), and his wife, Sybil (Scales), a sharp-tongued engine of efficiency.

The 12-episode BBC series is pure genius, a show that alternates between side-splitting farce (Basil and Manuel trying to find a runaway rat while a hotel inspector prowls about) and cutting dialogue. To call Fawlty Towers the funniest series ever made may be an overstatement, but not much of one. It is certainly the funniest show ever made about a hotel-a wild, terrific comedy feast that is nearly flawless.

CBS/Fox has released the entire series on four cassettes of three episodes each. Check in!

Four Reviews from 1985


Our Town

B&W. 1940. William Holden, Martha Scott, Frank Craven, Fay Bainter; dir. Sam Wood. 89 min. Beta, VHS. $19.95. prism. Reproduction: C

Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning ode to small town America at the turn of the century may seem appealing to many viewers in this age of "traditional values. " However, the rest of us can only be numbed by the wealth of detail about mythical Grover's Corner, New Hampshire (how many folksy aphorisms can you stand in 89 minutes?). The movie lacks the play's novel bare stage setting and criminally tampers with the ending (although Wilder himself worked on the script). Its two main strengths are young Holden as the tongue-tied Gibbs and a rousing Score by Aaron Copland. The B& W print is washed out and loaded with splices, scratches, and dirt, making it hard to appreciate the wonderful production design by William Cameron Menzies.


Wally's Workshop:

Painting & Staining

Color. 1985. Wally & Natalie Bruner. 30 min. Beta, VHS. $9.95. Kartes. .

Ever wanted to give new life to old toys?  Match wood grain on different pieces of furniture? Paint a wall in one-tenth the time it normally takes? Then check out this no-nonsense look at painting and wood-staining – it could put the old-fashioned do-it-yourself manual out of business. Wally Bruner, former host of TV's What's My Line? is the crisp and efficient guide, hardly waiting for the camera to keep up with him as he paints rooms, sprays stools, and repaints children's toys on a revolving platform. Wife Natalie, knowledgeable but slightly befuddled, watches in awe as Wally demonstrates the basicsof spraying, roller-painting, and staining wood. VHS quality is as' fine-" grained' as the work onscreen.


The Men B&W. 19.50. Marlon Brando, Teresa  Wright, Everett Sloane, Jack Webb; dir. Fred Zinnemann. 85 min. Beta, VHS. $39.95. NTA. Reproduction: B +

"Paraplegics are people, too" is the message of-this Stanley Kramer production, written by Carl Foreman and directed by Zinnemann. It began Kramer's "social drama" series of the '50s and '60s dealing with real-life controversies (The Defiant Ones and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? were two other entries). The subject here is the paralyzed war vet (Brando in his first feature role), and the story shows how he overcomes his handicaps. Though well-intentioned, the movie is overly didactic (lots of details on the bowel movements of the paralyzed) and soap-operatic (“I'm not marrying a wheelchair! I'm marrying a man!”). Brando's fine, as is the crisp VHS transfer.


Let's Go to the Zoo Color. 1985. Bob Keeshan, Hugh Brannum, Cosmo Allegretti; dir. Jim Hirschfeld, Peter Birch. 58 min. Beta, VHS. $39.95. MaljacklMPI

Very young children are the target for Let's Go to the Zoo, another installment in Bob Keeshan's Captain Kangaroo Video Showcase series. As he has for over 20 years, Keeshan as the Captain mixes the educational with the silly, bringing a childlike sense of wonder to everything he does as he and his cohorts (most notably Hugh Brannum as Mr. Greenjeans and Cosmo Allegretti as a moronic sidekick named Dennis) feed and discuss zoo animals in New Jersey, California, and New York. They are aided by (at times a bit grainy) film footage of animals in their natural habitat and by didactic songs. Though adults might find the Captain's singsong delivery trying at times, kids will probably enjoy the show – and may even learn something too.



Hanna K.



Color. 1983. Jill Clayburgh, Gabriel Byrne, Muhamad Bakri; oir. Costa-Gavras. 111" min. Beta, VHS. MCA ($59.95). Reproduction: B.

You can't fault Jill Clayburgh for her intentions, or Costa-Gavras. The two have been involved in a number of daring socially conscious films (An Unmarried Woman, Missing, Z) that have attempted to teach as well as entertain. But all their first collaboration teaches is how not to make a good movie. Hanna K., which could have been subtitled An Unmarried Woman in Israel, is muddled propaganda which pro-Israelis will think pro-Arab and everyone else will find boring.  

The film attempts to explore prejudice, telling the story of a young attorney, Hanna Kaufman (Clayburgh), searching for her spiritual identity in modern Jerusalem. The plot finds her defending an Israeli-born Arab who 15 trying to reclaim his birthright. The task proves £ormidable. "He was born here," she says. "He is not a citizen," is the reply. "We cannot grant citizenship to everyone who asks for it. It would make us a minority in our own country."

This is a noble idea, but poorly executed. Characters are points in a thesis, not people in a drama; the men are insensitive bigots and chauvinists, as easy to hate as they are hard to believe. Perfunctory performances (often unintelligible because of thick accents) and uninspired direction don't help. Director Costa-Gavras, who got so much out of the political thriller Z, here creates no tension, opting for a travelogue style blended, with all the worst elements of soap opera. Slow shots of Jerusalem are accompanied by dialogue as sharp as a spoon: "It has serene feeling. Ever so much has happened, yet it seems so serene."

The VHS transfer is adequate. Color is a little weak.



Hitchcock Rarities



Rare Hitchcocks Rediscovered 


Those who wondered what Alfred Hitchcock did before Psycho (or North by Northwest. Vertigo and Strangers on a Train. for that matter) will be happy to learn that Hollywood Select has released 17 of his earliest films, some never before available on video. Among the treasures are a film – the director called "the first true Hitchcock picture"- The Lodger, a 1926 silent about Jack the Ripper-as well as some atypical entries. The Ring (1927) is a story of two prizefighters in love with the same woman. Champagne (1928) is a romantic melodrama which Hitchcock claimed was "the lowest ebb of my output." The Manxman (1928), his last silent picture, concerns a poor fisherman, a lawyer and the woman they both love. There's also Juno and the Paycock (1930), based on the Sean 'Casey play; Waltzes from Vienna (1933). a biography of Johann Strauss, which Hitchcock described as "a musical without music made very cheaply," and Rich and Strange (1932), perhaps the most fascinating of the bunch. The dialogue and characterizations in this tale of a middle-class couple traveling abroad are from the stone age of cinema, but the innovative cutting and other effects mark Hitchcock's early genius. 

To call these titles rare is an understatement. Prior to this release, many existed only in film libraries or in private collections. According to Conrad Sprout, the president of Hollywood Select, there are just two copies of Juno in this country. He had to send a messenger. to England to obtain a copy of Waltzes. "I know where to find them," he says, "because I'm a movie buff and a collector myself." 


VIDEO, October 1988 

I Am a Fugitive


I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang 

B&W. 1932. Paul Muni, Clenda Farrell; dir. Mervyn Le Roy. 76 min. Beta, VHS. $59.95. Key. Reproduction: B


Despite its hokey title, this early sound classic is tense and exciting. One of Warner's Depression-era "social protest" films, I Am a Fugitive features the great Paul Muni as James Allen, a down-and-outer sentenced to 10 years' hard labor in a Southern chain gang for a petty crime he didn't commit. Allen is innocence betrayed, and the movie makes a telling case against the inequities of a system that allows society's poorest to suffer the most. But the film's drama is not all didactic: there are two thrilling escape sequences and a suspenseful manhunt in which Allen bareiy avoids capture. Director Mervyn Le Roy (who later produced The Wizard ofOz, ofall things) opts for a documentary style which effectively builds tension until the downbeat ending. The VHS reproduction is fine for a film this old, with good sound. 


VIDEO, 1988


Improv: A History



from DIVERSION, February 1982
Improv: Early Years 

Three men and two women stand on a bare stage. Suddenly, quickly, each says one word at a time. "Jim" "went" "to" "see" "his" "mother." Faster and faster, they speak until the five sound like one person telling one complete story. It is an impressive performance, and even more impressive when one realizes that it is completely improvised.

When most people think of improvisation, they think of quick jokes, one–liners, and stand–up comedians. Yet when most stand–up comedians think of improv, they are puzzled. "Most of them think we have a wonderful storehouse of one–liners that we just associate with the situation," said Paul Zuckerman, producer and former cast member of Chicago City Limits, a New York improvisational troupe. "People don't really understand what improv is."

Improvisation is the "comedy of the moment," and it has become so successful since its rebirth in Chicago many years ago that dozens of improvisational groups have sprung up around the country, with a solid handful in New York City. It's no wonder, too: improvisational alumni include Robin Williams, Chevy Chase, Alan Alda, and Joan Rivers. Such TV series as Saturday Night Live and SCTV often developed material using improv techniques, further giving respectability to improvisation's brand of fast–paced humor.

What is improv? It has its basis in the commedia dell'arte, an Italian Renaissance form of theater in which a traveling comedy troupe would perform farces without a written script. Though the basic scenario was agreed upon, the pacing of the story often depended on audience reactions.

Modern improvisation started in Illinois in 1955 when students from the University of Chicago began performing improvised skits from their own scenarios. This group developed into the Compass Players and later into Second City, from which many other improv groups are descended. In the near–vacuum of political humor of the early '60s, Second City's off–the–cuff comedy –– dealing with literature, the Church, Korean War veterans, Joe McCarthy, and marijuana –– was as unusual for its material as it was for its method.

Compass PlayersCompass Players 

"When we started out at the Compass," recalled Del Close, one of the company's early members, "we were entertaining each other and our peers. Where did you go to hear jokes about Dostoevski or Newton's third law? Certainly not the burlesque house. And in the anti–intellectual environment of the Fifties, it took a certain amount of courage to stand up in public and admit that you had an education you weren't ashamed of."

Del Close: Compass PlayerDel Close: Compass Player

Taking a chance is one of the most important elements of improvisational work. But the risk is somewhat less than it might seem to the audience because the improviser is guided by training and by discipline learned and developed through a series of rehearsal/performance "games."

All these games involve skills that everyone everywhere uses without even thinking twice: listening, observing, and communicating. In fact, everyone improvises every day because everyone speaks off the cuff, without using a script: You listen towhat people tell you; you observe how they say it (are they angry or happy?); and then you communicate your response, either verbally or non–verbally. Everyone goes through this process –– but only improvisers turn it into an art form.

Improvisers also build on trust. First, they trust that their partner will help them –– and second, they train themselves to trust their first response to a suggestion by the audience or an idea by their colleagues. Trusting is one of the things that gets in the way of everyone when he or she is trying to create: every person can be spontaneous –– think of when you are having a good time joking around with friends; or of the spontaneity of children, who say the first thing that comes into their heads.

What gets in the way of spontaneity is our own self–censorship, our feeling –– taught us by our parents, our peers, our employers –– that there are certain "acceptable" and "unacceptable" things, and that we can look foolish if we do the latter and not the former.

Improv is about teaching a person that it is okay to look foolish and say silly things; that only by saying what is silly can you get to what is truly funny. The more you trust yourself, the more amusing you can be.

Similarly, an improviser must build up a bond of trust with his colleagues. Part of that means never denying the reality set up by his partner. When Joan Rivers was with Second City many years ago, said Close, "she would break the reality of a scene in order to get a laugh. Someone would say, 'What about our children?' and Joan would say, 'We don't have any.' Okay, you get a quick, easy laugh, but you've also punched a big hole in the scene. All the actors have on stage is each other's belief and faith and if that's gone, then you've just got cheap wit."

Improv is also about making assumptions. An improviser always tries to add information to a scene, in an attempt to be "active" and not "passive." An improviser asking "non–assumptive" questions –– ones that offer no information about him or the other character –– can cripple his partner because such questions do not further a scene. A player who asks, "What's that?" doesn't give his partner anything with which to work; he establishes no connection between them. On the other hand, a question like, "Aren't you ever going to take out the garbage?" implies both that the two know each other and that they have a particular conflict.

"Once the audience suggested 'film noir,'" recalled CCL's Paul Zuckerman about an improv exercise in which the improvisers tell a story using different movie styles. "What did that mean? I thought, it's a French word meaning 'black' or 'night,' and I thought of a school of film where you have incredible use of shadow. So I used that kind of imagery. Rather than saying, 'I don't know, so I'll just try not to be noticed.' You have to make a strong assumption."

CCL's Zuckerman: noirish 

CCL's Paul Zuckerman: noirish


Improvisers also observe their own body language, and trust that it will suggest ideas to them. "It is possible to get a clue from your body as to what kind of character you might be," explained Close. Standing pigeon–toed, for instance, with head bowed, might suggest to the improviser that he is a passive, submissive character; he might approach the cast member on stagehesitantly. If he thrusts his chest out, however, and holds his head high, that might suggest he is a powerful figure, on his way to the presidential suite.

Using your physical and emotional self is crucial in improvisation because the improviser, with so little time to think, is often playing a thinly disguised version of himself. You might be playing a pair of doctors and you don't know much about doctors. What's more important is that you're two men who happen to be doctors. The scene should not be about medicine but about how two people react –– realistically –– to a life and death situation.

On stage, of course, none of these theories are obvious. The improvs are fast and clever, and the audience responsive. Improvisation, in fact, is a mystery, and the reason audiences are interested is because everyone is trying to find the solution. "Improv is mutual discovery, mutual support," noted Close, "[it is] the adventure of finding out what it is we're doing while we're doing it. All you know is where you've been. You don't know where you're going."




In Case of Fire


How To Protect Yourself When You're Staying At A Hotel

You are in a hotel on a business or vacation trip, asleep in your room. Suddenly, you smell something strange. You open your eyes and see clouds of smoke billowing outside your window. What do you do? Do you run out of your room screaming, "Fire!" or do you drop to the floor and crawl to the elevator?

In the wake of four recent major hotel fires in Illinois, Nevada, and New York that killed 137 people, more and more hotel pa trons are asking these and other questions. "It's evident people are more concerned," notes one hotel owner. "Thcv ask where the exits are and if we ha~ve sprinklers. They never did before."

Hotels are usually inspected for fire safety measures, but fire departments often do not have effective enforcement powers. In some states. the fire codes are simply not strong enough to protect rcsidcn ts. Many ci tics, such as New York, require that new buildings have sprinkler systems. But there are usually dangerous exceptions. The I IO-storv World Trade Center, for instance, i; voluntarily installing sprinklers-but it is exempted from the sprinkler rule because it is jointly owned by New York and New Jersey, which have different fire equipment requirements.

In the case of Las Vegas, Nevada, where eighty-four people died and over seven hundred were injured in a fire at the MGM Grand Hotel, the local building code had been changed to require sprinklers throughout any building over seventy-five feet tall. But the new ruling was not retroactive. The twenty-six-story MGM was not required to have sprinklers on any of the floors from the second to the twenty-fifth. There also were no smoke detectors; the stairwell doors could only be opened from the inside at the ground level; the manual alarm system was not connected to the fire depart men t (and never sounded); and the ventilating system did not have automatic fire dampers.

These were just some of the deficiencies that made the MGM fire a tragedy. But they are not unique, and hotel fires are not unusual. Captain Richard Kauffman of the Los Angeles County Fire Department reports in a pamphlet on hotel fire safety that the United States has an average of five thousand hotel fires a year.

Nonetheless, if more hotel guests followed a few simple safety procedures, more lives could be saved.

One elementary rule that was not followed at the MGM fire concerned the use of elevators. Many tried to escape in them. Yet fire and smoke spread up elevator shafts, and electrical power can be lost, trapping anyone inside an elevator. 

"One elevator we opened had two people dead in it," an MGM rescue worker told Firehouse Magazine. "The one across from it had three people dead in it. They were on the bottom floor-if they could have just forced the doors open. But they weren't thinking and didn't try ... Or they had inhaled so much smoke that they just didn't have the strength."


Rules To Memorize

First, find out how many fire exits there are on each floor. Two exits for each wing, in addition to the main exit, is a good sign. Look into the fire protection systems. The safest hotel will have sprinklers in all the rooms and hallways. Are there portable fire extinguishers in the hallways and smoke detectors in the rooms' (You can buy portable smoke detectors.) Check out the fire exit doors. Do they open and close easily? If there is a problem, report it to the manage-J ment ,

Then, find out on which side of the hallway your floor's exits are located, and count the number of doors from your room to the exits. If the smoke is thick during a fire, you must be able to find either exit-in case one is blocked-without being able to see.

Practice opening and closing the windows of your room. Know where your key is. Many people died in the MGM fire when they rushed out of their rooms at the first alarm, found the smoke-filled hallways unmanageable, but were unable to return to their rooms because they did not have their keys. Know the fire and police department phone numbers to call in an emergency. If you have a balcony, know whether it adjoins other balconies. If there is heavy fire in your room, you may ha ve to move from one balcony to another.


When A Fire Starts

If you are asleep and smell smoke, do not sit up. Smoke rises and if you roll out of bed to the ground, chances are you can avoid contact with it. Smoke is very disorienting, and just taking a whiffofit can cause panic. Instead, roll to the floor and orien t yourself. Is the smoke in your room? If it isn't, call the fire department; tell them what room you are in and that you smell smoke. Be specific. Do not say, "There'sa fire here." Firemen can waste time searching for a fire on your floor when it is actually a floor or two below.

If there is smoke in-your room, open a window. Do not break it; you may have to close it later. If smoke is outside the window, close the drapes and remove everything combustible from the window area.

Next, go to the door. If the handle is not hot, open the door a crack, keeping the palm of one hand pressed against the door, ready to slam it shut if fire or smoke are outside.


Close All Doors


If the hallway is free of smoke, crawl out, taking your key with you. Crawl along the side of the hallway on which the nearest exit is located, and count the doors until you reach the exit.

At the exit, stand up and walk down the stairs, grasping the railing as you go. Be sure tha t you close the stairwell door here. Fire and smoke can often spread from floor to floor through open doors. (As a general rule, if you are coming away from a heavy fire to a clear area, always close the door behind you. Depending on the material of which it is made, a closed door can stop a fire's spread for as much as forty-Iivc minutes.)

If there is already heavy smoke in the stairwell, or if you encounter it as you go down, turn around and go up to the roof. In most cases, this is the safest place, and firemen have a better chance of reaching you there with aerial ladders.

Remember, though, to prop open the exit door to the roof. This will vent the smoke. Smoke and heat rise and, if

they have no escape point, will spread horizontally on the floors below the roof (or else become thicker in the stairwell itself), Also, if the stairwell is vented, the fire stairs might become clear of smoke, so that firemen can use them for rescue efforts. Once you are on the roof, wait at the windward side (the side from which the wind is blowing) for firemen.


If You're Trapped In Your Room

What should you do if you cannot get out of your room because the door is too hot and the fire is right outside? Many people jump. Don't. Your chances of survival are better in the room.

First, fill the bathtub with water.

Stuff wet cloth in the cracks of the bathroom door to keep smoke out. Use your trash can to apply water from the tub to the door to keep it cool. Apply water to the walls, too, if they 'are hot. You might want to prop a mattress against the door. Keep it cool, though.

You can help filter smoke out by tying a wet towel around your nose and mouth, folded in a triangle. Remember: most fire deaths are not caused by flames but by smoke inhalation.


In A Hot Situation, The Safe Stay Cool

The most important rule is: Do not panic. "As long as you can breathe, you're in good shape," says Ed Sere, a fourteen-year-veteran New York City fireman. "Even the best people can lose control. Take a polyutherane mattress fire. The mattress gives off a lot of acrid smoke; a lot of people go out of their minds because it seems like the whole world's on fire:' But it's a ten-cent fire. Nothing is really burning.

"It usually doesn't matter what's burning: If you have an escape plan, your chances are better. You've got to be able to react without thinking, however, so you should keep your plan simple, keep it basic, and, above all, keep practicing it. You can learn a thousand things, but if you can't do them automatically, when that first whiff of smoke hits you, you'll forget everything." •


Interview Tips


Interview Techniques and Resume Tips for the Job Applicant

Color. 1985. 60 min. Beta, VHS. $49.95 + $3.75 S&Hformail orders. BennuProduetions (165 Madison Ave., N. .C. 10016).

Is your employer into leather? How about silks? If he isn't, he probably should be, judging from the choices offered in this tape-a sometimes hilarious. sometimes helpful look at what you should and should not do during job hunts.

The "should nots' are demonstrated at the top, with a fairly amateurish staging of an employment interview in which a Felix Unger type cross-examines an Oscar Madison-like applicant. The sound is pretty bad here, and the acting worse. but the points made are good. You are told that "flashy items may distract the interviewer and interrupt his thought pattems"-so keep that jewelry to a minimum. Too much makeup is bad too; so is smoking (unless you use a breathalizer) and sweaty palms. If you sweat, bring a handkerchief (but be careful with the cologne). One-hundred percent leather belts are a must. So are ten percent silk ties, 100 percent leather briefcases, and 100-percent wool pin:stripes in grey or navy blue.

Throughout you are told to be "the navigator of-your own interview," and to do that you are offered pointers on how to prepare a resume (on 100-percent Bond paper-through a resume service), how to research a job before the interview (even how-to research the interviewer), how to speak (in a politely forceful singsong), and how to sit (be careful about crossing those legs: 'There's nothing worse than exposing hairy ankles").

It’s a “Hints from Heloise” affair, the nadir being a "You Are There" interview sequence in which the camera walks into the room as your eyes and ears and you must answer the questions of the interviewer. Nonetheless there are some useful suggestions (emphasize your strengths, never criticize your previous employer) and those who are interested in a taped lecture might want to check this out. But those who want an imaginative video that shows rather than tells will prefer to pass-or read the book.


You Can Win Color. 1985. Dr. Tess Albert Warschaw (host). 60 min. Beta, VHS. $39.95. MCA.

John Lennon once that "There are no problems, only solutions." The makers of You Can Win, a videcrguide to success through collaboration would probably agree. The tape is a well-staged examination of the “win-win"philosophy as postulated by Dr. Tess Albert Warschaw. She is the advocate and (monotonous) host of the show which illustrates  successful negotiation in a series of anusing and well-conceived vignettes covering a wide range of topics: asking for a raise, avoiding family crises,  getting the job assignment you want, solving the problems of the heart (and the bed).

 Warschaw discussses six different.negotiating category – "The Dictator," "The Jungle Fighter," "The Silhouette," "The Big Mama, " “The Win-Win,” and "The Soother," which are then personified in a series of scenes covering different areas (money, sex, family). A "Dictator," for instance, is direct and intimidating and must have his own, way, as shown: in one mini-drama where he demands is restaurant table no –or else. "The Soother,” on the other hand,  would drather  avoid conflicts, while HIhe Big Mama" gets her way by cajolery, flattery but no cage.· A1l are unhappy at one time or an0tiler, though, because they cannot always ¥[in-and when they do, they make enemi~s. The whole point is collaboration to know why you and others operate thy way you do and then, as Warsqhaw puts it, "find ways to win in which nobody loses."

The tape has charm, grace, even humor, and transforms what could have been a dull lecture on the power of persuasion into an informative and entertaining story about people. It's helped by good writing and acting, imaginative camera setups, and sharp colors. You Can Win and "win-win" might not get you everything you want, but it could eliminate some of the mysteries of why you do what you do. And in this neurosis-ridden age of competition through destruction, that's nothing to scoff at.

VIDEO, November 1985

Les Goldberg, director

FOR LES GOLDBERG, a veteran photographer and novice director who's first spot was for Ralph Lauren's perfume Safari, fashion equals excitement. "Some of the most creative: work in advertising is done by fashion clients," he notes. "Whether it's Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren or Donna Karan, they have a tendency to take chances."

And Goldberg knows a thing or two about fashion-and risks. As a successful fashion photographer, he handled print ads for heavies such as Ralph Lauren, Revlon, Cover Girl and Max Factor. And as a would-be filmmaker, he sunk his own money into an independent short film.

Goldberg, who grew up in New Jersey, traveled to Woodbury College in Los Angeles to study business, explains "I was artistic, but 1 didn't know a thing about business." That soon changed. Goldberg moved back to New York, taught himself photography and, at 21, opened his own photography studio.

nn“I’d always wanted to do a film," he says. "It was in my blood from the beginning.” It was while still doing his print work that Goldberg began experimenting with - Super 8mm and 16mm movie cameras. Then, in 1988, a break by shooting both the photographsantfthe-film of a print campaign for Australian Harper's Bazaar, that he later cut into a three-minute video.

"That gave me the courage to do my second movie, which was a 12-minute narrative short," he says. Shot in five days on Long Island, the 16mm love story, Someone Else, debuted nine months later at the Independent Feature Film Market in New York. A number of studios expressed an interest in Goldberg, and he was quickly enlisted by his old employer and friend Ralph Lauren to shoot a commercial for a new fragrance called Safari.

"I hadn't worked for him in 10 years, but he saw my first short and - a rough cut of Someone Else and he liked both very much," recalls Goldberg, who ended up going to Africa to shoot a sweeping David Lean-style spot about an adventurous young woman on safari. It was a lushly shot mini-epic and although the agency Carlson & Partners in New York ultimately recut it to emphasize the girl over the storyline, Goldberg's style impressed Boss Films, a Los Angeles-based special effects house founded by Academy Award-winning director Richard Edlund. They felt Goldberg was just what they needed. Says Judy Wolff, a partner inl Boss-Films, "We loved Les' cut of the Lauren spot and found it very European: it looks like those beautiful French films by Claude Lelouch."

Goldberg is heartened by the fact that many more feature film directors are making the jump to commercials-a fact he sees as only helping directors like himself make the jump to feature films. "People are more open to directors working in all mediums now," he muses. "People are more relaxed about it. Look, Adrian Lyne was a commercial director before Fatal Attraction. And there's always Stanley Kubrick," he's quick to point out, "he started in still photography also." Stranger things have happened.

SHOOT, c. 1989

Meal with a Munster



For some actors, typecasting and old age can be real roadblocks, but not for AI Lewis. The 77-year old veteran, best known as Grampa on The Munsters (1964-66) and Officer Leo Schnauser on Car 54, Where Are You? ('61-63), recently starred in Coinic Cabby, a made-for-video release from Vestron, and has launched another career as the owner of a New York restaurant calledyou guessed it!-Grampa's. The menu of pasta, fish and chicken (no red meat) is for the health-conscious., the eatery's initial appeal, however, is for Munsters fans. 


Lewis says 99 percent of the first-timers come because of the TV connection but return for the food. "I'm beyond famous, I'm a cult," he remarks, noting that The Munsters is still seen in 44 countries. The actor plans to franchise his restaurant in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. "What's the difference between selling a ticket for a show and selling a ticket for a restaurant? If people like a show, they applaud and tell friends. If they like the food, it's the same thing. They come back." 


Video Sept 1987




To some, typecasting and old age can be a road block. Not to Al Lewis. At 77 , the erstwhile actor, best. known as Grampa on the 22-year-old video series The Munsters, has begun a new career as the owner of a New York restaurant called - what else? - Grampa's. The menu of pasta, fish, and chicken (no red meat) is for the health conscious, however t.he eatery's initial appeal is for  Munsters fans. Lewis says 99 percent of the first-timers come because of the TV connection but return for the food. "I'm beyond famous, I'm a cult," remarks Lewis, who notes that the show is still seen in 44 countries. The actor plans to franchise his restaurant in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, but scoffs at suggestions that this is a new turn in his career. "What;s the difference between selling a ticket for a show and selling a ticket for a restaurant? If people like a show, they applaud and  tell friends. If they like the food, it's the same thing. They come back." Can an Addams Family catering service be far behind?


Written c. July 1987

Memorable Moments in TV

Television is the most eclectic medium in the world. On its screen, politicians -hehave like actors, actors suddenly become politicians, the tasteful is paired with the tasteless, and the real is seamlessly blended into the unreal, as sitcoms like I Love Lucy play alongside documentaries like "Harvest of Shame. "What stands out in all that diversity? Any opinion, of course, would be purely subjective, but for the record, here is one bleary-eyed watcher's list of 17 memorable moments in the medium, chosen for their significance as events of drama, history, and/or just plain muddleheadedness.





The most famous event of the 1952 presidential campaign was Richard M. Nixon's "Checkers Speech," telecast live on NBC on September 23, 1952. In it, the vicepresidential candidate defended himself against charges of using a secret campaign fund. He described his humble beginnings, his war record, his simple family life (Pat was seated near him), and his triumphs in Congress. He concluded by saying that he had received a campaign gift, a spotted cocker spaniel his children had named Checkers. "You know," Nixon intoned, "the kids, like all kids, love that dog, and I· just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're going to keep it." This down-home, sentimental appeal was immensely successful-after the broadcast the Republican party was swamped by calls and letters supporting the young senator-and professional politicians all over the country took note of TV's power to sway the voters with a well-staged show.




[[wysiwyg_imageupload:1428:]]Not every political show won the highest ratings. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were inaugurated in the first coast-to-coast live television transmission at noon on January 20, 1953. But that event was overshadowed by another: the birth on the previous day of Little Ricky on the I Love Lucy show. For three months, Lucy's producers had built episodes around star Lucille Ball's real-life pregnancy; by January 19, when, by coincidence, the birth of both Lucy's fictional and real babies occurred, the viewers and the press had become hooked. More than 70 percent of all television watchers that evening were tuned to the birth, which crowded the inauguration out of many newspaper headlines and cemented the popularity of the sitcom form in general and I Love Lucy in particular. The viewing audience continued to increase, and by April 1952 Lucy had become the first program in television's history to be seen in 10 million homes. The baby show made it number one in the ratings, a position it held for four out of the next six years. In the future, ailing sitcoms would pump up their ratings with similar special events-births, marriages, deaths-although never to quite the same effect.




3 "THERE IS NOTHING LIKE ... " To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Ford Motor Company bought two hours simultaneously on CBS, NBC, and ABC for June 15, 1953, I and recruited Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, and other Broadway luminaries to present the first all-star special on network TV. Although clips were shown from such movies as The Birth of a Nation and of sporting events such as Babe Ruth's 60th homer, most viewers best remember the musical numbers performed by Merman and Martin, including "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "There is Nothing like a Dame." The show's musical-comedy pieces, choreographed by Jerome Robbins, became models for future variety programs.

4 JULIE'S SWAN SONG. Probably the most popular entertainer on early television was Arthur Godfrey, who hosted a series of weekly TV shows between 1948 and 1959-Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, Arthur Godfrey and His Ukelele, Arthur Godfrey Time, and The Arthur Godfrey Show--as well as a radio program each week, all (except Talent Scouts) featuring music, conversation, and a "family" of regulars. One member, young singer Julius La Rosa, became a cause celebre on October 19, 1953, when Godfrey, apparently upset that La Rosa was becoming too popular on the show, fired him on the air. Mter La Rosa had sung "I'll Take Manhattan," Godfrey noted that the singer was an Arthur Godfrey discovery and added, "That was Julie's swan song with us; he now goes out on his own, as his own star." The subsequent press furor tarnished Godfrey's Mr. Nice Guy image. His popularityand ratings-were never the same again.



Senator Joseph McCarthy was something of a master manipulator of the media, and he used television as one of his rnost effective forums for accusations. CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow was the first to take a public stand against the senator in three memorable See it Now broadcasts, on March 9, March 16, and April 6, 1954. The most severe blow to the senator's prestige, however, came in the spring of 1954. A series of Senate hearings had just begun (on April 22) to examine charges that McCarthy had tried to pressure the Army into giving preferential treatment to a member of his staff who had been drafted. In the televised hearngs McCarthy appeared pushy and insensitive, especially when he crudely tried to besmirch the reputation of a young aide to Special Army Counsel Joseph Welch, who movingly exclaimed, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? Have you no sense of decency at long last?" McCarthy was condemned by the Senate on December 2, 1954, by a vote of 67 to 22.


6 ''A REALLY BIG SHOW." For 23 years, beginning in 1948, Ed Sullivan mixed comedy, music, dance, acrobatics, and anything else he found interesting on his Sunday night variety program, The Toast of the Town (later changed to The Ed Sullivan Show). But his most famous (and most highly rated) guests were probably Elvis Presley and The Beatles. For a fee of $50,000, the 21-year-old Presley appeared on the shows of September 9, 1956,  October 28, 1956, and January 6, 1957. The first show created controversy over his "lascivious posturings"; by his third appearance, when complaints had continued to build, the camera would only show him in close-ups. Years later, on February 9, 1964, Sullivan introduced The Beatles to the American public, helping to boost their popularity here, as well as earning record ratings for his show. For the next decade, rock 'n' roll acts became a staple on the series.  



Before 1here was Johnny Carson there was the emotional Jack Paar, who made the late-night Tonight Show one of NBC’s biggest successes from 1957 to 1%2. Paar was more unpredictable than Carson, and on February 11, 1960, the host, piqued that NBC had censored an off-color joke of his the night before, angrily chastised the network and walked off. His sidekick, Hugh Downs, was left to emcee the show, and Paar Was not coaxed back until March 7, when he attacked the press for criticizing his actions.

8 "HE'S BEEN SHOT!" Within 48 hours of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, his accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself murdered before the stunned eyes of millions watching live coverage on NBC. The Dallas police, trying to oblige the media, had made something of a circus of Oswald's arrest. An officer noted that the case was "cinched," displayed the "murder weapon," and said there were "apparently fifteen witnesses to the killing." To accommodate television, a late-night jail transfer of Oswald was moved to midday. At 12:21 EST on November 24, Oswald appeared between two officers in a crowded basement garage. Suddenly, a man in a hat (Jack Ruby) shot him. TV, noted one critic, was now affecting events simply by being there.


LIVE DEATH. The tide of public opinion was beginning to turn against the Vietnam War in early 1968. In February, the T et Offensive, a major Vietcong victory, made a mockery of U.S. claims that a U.S. victory was near. Viewers were further stunned later that year when NBC News showed a South Vietnamese police chief putting a revolver to the head of a Vietcong prisoner and pulling the trigger; the man collapsed, blood spurting from his head. Such images became a staple of nightly newscasts, dispelling most of the public's heroic notions about the war.

1 0 "THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING." The 1968 Democratic Convention, held in Chicago in late August, was the most tumultuous in years, symbolizing more than anything else the deep ideological split in the United States over the Vietnam War. A public-relations fiasco for the Democrats and Chicago, the television coverage intercut the convention hall speeches with vivid scenes of violence outside: the Chicago police fighting youthful antiwar protesters with nightsticks, tear gas, and Mace. "The whole world is watching," chanted the protesters, and Americans were infuriated by the police, frightened by the protesters, and angry with the television medium itself for forcing them, in one observer's words, "to ch~se sides."

11 “NOW LISTEN, YOU QUEER.”All the excitement of the 1968 Democratic Convention did not take place on the streets. As part of the convention coverage, ABC hired archconservative William F. Buckley and liberal Gore Vidal to comment on the proceedings. The chemistry was intentionally provocative: Buckely and Vidal had been frequent antagonists, ever since their separate appearances on Jack Parr’s Tonight Show in the early Sixties. At the 1968 Republican Convention –– held first that year –– the two engaged in heated debates that frequently became personal, but nothing matched their last exchange during the later Democratic confab, when the two began arguing about the attitudes and actions of the Chicago police and the antiwar demonstrators. "As far as I'm concerned," said Vidal to Buckley, "the only cryptoNazi I can think of is yourself." Buckley's retort: "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered." Moderator Howard K. Smith stepped in: "Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Let's not call names." Buckley: "Let Myra Breckenridge [an allusion to a book Vidal had written about a person who undergoes a male-to-female sex change] go back to his pornography and stop making allusions to Nazism .... I was in the infantry in the last war." Smith finally ended the proceedings by remarking, "There was a little more heat and a little less light than usual, but it was still very worth hearing."


12-HEIDI AND THE FOOTBALL GAME. The New York Jets-Oakland Raiders football match, carried live by NBC on November 17,1968, had one minute of playing time to go, with the Jets comfortably ahead. NBC cut from the promoted TV version of Heidi on schedule. The decision meant that football fans missed an incredible comeback that won the game for Oakland in the last minute. NBC was punished for this miscalculation with a flood of angry calls and letters.



13 "ONE SMALL STEP." On July 20, 1969, as some 300 million to three quarters of a billion people watched and/or heard, Neil A. Armstrong set foot on the moon, proclaiming, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." That leap was debated: the Apollo program, which culminated in the moon landing, had cost taxpayers $25 billion. Many critics likened it to the building of the Pyramidsprestigious but useless. To others, however, it was a glorious day, proving that nothing was impossible.
















14 "A HUMOROUS SPOTLiGHT." On January 12, 1971, American television was changed forever by the premiere of All in the Family. Based on a British program about a bigoted father and his liberal son, the U.S. series chronicled the adventures of right-wing, blue-collar worker Archie Bunker and his family: "dinghat" wife Edith, "meathead" son-in-law Mike, and liberal daughter Gloria. The series was a groundbreaker for a number of reasons, including its treatment of such controversial subjects as birth control, homosexuality, and abortion and its use of many previously unbroadcastable words. It also dealt openly with politics, sex, and bigotry, which was unusual in television until then. Although network executives were concerned about audience reaction to the show (even preceding it with an announcement that "All in the Family. . : seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, our prejudices, and concerns ... "), the opening episode hardly caused a murmur. By the summer, however, it was the mostwatched program on TV, proving that audiences could accept subjects previously deemed unacceptable-if they were treated in an intelligent fashion. Rather than its shock value, All in the Family (which is still running, now as Archie Bunker's Place) owed its success to its literate scripts. good ensemble acting, and believable situations.



The most compelling –– because it was real –– series since the Army-McCarthy hearings was the Senate's investigation into President Richard M. Nixon's involvement in the June 1972 break-in of the Democratic Committee's Washington offices at the Watergate apartment complex. The 1973 summer hearings, covered live on a rotating basis by the networks and rebroadcast in full by PBS in the evenings, featured a cast of tight-lipped administration officials and probing senators. The hearings' ratings grew steadily, as did the public's respect for PBS, which allowed millions of working men and women to view the hearings. In June, former Nixon counsel John Dean presented dramatic, damaging evidence. But in retrospect the most damning moment came ·on July 16, when former Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield admitted that the president had taped many of his own conversations. The tapes became the focal point of more drama in subsequent hearings as the senators tried to obtain them.

16 NIXON EXITS. By July 24, 1974, Watergate had led to formal House impeachment hearings, the first since the Civil War. Three articles of impeachment had been voted when President Nixon released a tape indicating that he had obstructed justice in the Watergate affair. On August 9-in a speech covered live by all three networks-he resigned, refusing to admit any wrongdoing. Then, in a farewell speech to his staff, Nixon asked for forgiveness; three years later, in a TV interview with David Frost, he said he had been wrongbecause he had given his enemies a "sword, which they twisted" with glee.


17 WHO SHOT J.R.? For 13 years, the highest-rated episode from a TV series was the last show of The Fugitive, seen in August 1967 by over 50 percent of the American audience. Then on November 21, 1980, Dallas, a nighttime soap opera depicting the proctivities of Texas wheelerdealers, broke that recordas well as those set by the Super Bowl, the World Series, and Roots. The despicable lead character, J.R. Ewing, had been shot in the last episode of the previous season. Throughout summer reruns an intensive publicity campaign by CBS built up interest in the assailant's identitymagazines featured cover stories, bookies took betsuntil November 21, when CBS staged a "Dallas Week," screening four episodes. The last one revealed that the culprit had been J.R.'s mistress. The episode, and the series, helped propel CBS back into the number-one spot after a two-year reign by ABC. •




A NOTE FROM TS: This article was one of my most popular, appearing first in DIVERSION, and then in newspapers like the Times-Union in Rochester, N.Y., the San Francisco Chronicle, and even the tabloid paper, The Star. I also appeared on radio's Rambling With Gambling, among others. These days, publications like Entertainment Weekly have made such "Top 10" and "Top 20" lists something of a cliche, althouh back in the early 1980s, I guess it was something of a novelty.






Monty Python


From: VIDEO, January 1987

And now for something completely familiar. Those who have been aching to add the Piranha Brothers, the Ministry of Silly Walks, and the Dead Parrot to their video collections should take heart. Those who don't know what we're talking about, be warned: Monty Python's Flying Circus is finally coming to video.

The British television series, which had passed over such possible titles as Owl Stretching Time and A Horse, a Spoon and a Bucket, was created by five Britons and an expatriate American from Minneapolis. It was a television groundbreaker that combined eccentric sketch comedy (a clinic where you pay to 'argue, be insulted, or be hit on the head) with bizarre,animation (a baby carriage that devours passersby). It came to America via public television in 1974 but was never available on tape until now.

"We didn't know when the best time to release them was," says Python animator-turned-film-director Terry Gilliam. "Since we got the [ rights to the show a while ago, we've been discussing the best way to present them. We could have sold to network TV and made a lot of money, but we finally said, forget it. We wanted 'them to go out without commercial breaks."

Monty Python's Flying CircusMonty Python's Flying Circus

The group decided to sign with Paramount Home Video after Python representatives met with Timothy Clott, the company's senior veep in charge of home video. Not only had Clott been very successful with his carefully packaged and advertised Star Trek videos, he was also a knowledgeable Python fan from way back.

"They were encouraged," says Clott, "and they were happy with our marketing plans." Paramount will release two 60-minute volumes at $24.95 apiece every three months. Each will contain two episodes linked thematically, not chronologically, and each will be packaged with bizarre Gilliam artwork. "There are diehard Python fanatics in every marketc place," notes Clott.

The same fans will also be happy to learn that a Flying Circus first cousin is also coming to video: Fawlty Towers. The 12-episode sitcom was created by Python John Cleese after a stay at an English seaside hotel. "The manager was so rude he Was fascinating," recalls Cleese. "He thought the guests were sent along to annoy him and prevent him from running the hotel."

That became the basis for this frantic farce, among the most hilarious-if shortlived--comedies ever made for television. Late guests, angry guests, even dead guests all get the same, bad-tempered treatment from hotel owner Basil Fawlty (Cleese), aided and rrustrated by his sharp~tongued wife, Sybil, his clever assistarlt, Polly, and his nitwitted Spanish waiter, Manuel. The series, taped in 1975 and 1979, ended when Cleese became bored with it, and is now coming to video in its entirety from CBS/Foxas part of the BBC's 50th anniversary celebration.

from VIDEO, January 1987

Original appearance in VIDEO

Monty Python's Flying Circus



1970, 1972. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin; dir. Ian McNaughton. 3 cas. 60m. ea. $24.95 ea. Paramount. Image: good. 


What has six heads and makes you laugh? Monty Python's Flying Circus, the groundbreaking British series which began a whole style of television humor (and whose traditition, if not wit, went into Saturday Night Live). Its 45 episodes, filmed between 1969 and 1974, have inspired a cult following unsated by a plethora of books,· albums, .stage shows, and feature films. 


The show was created by five Britons and an American for the BBC to fill a late-night slot originally occupied by a religious program. (As one Python observed, "We were initially seen by insomniacs, intellectuals, and burglars. ") Their off-the-wall humor knew no limits and made no exceptions, poking fun at TV, the clergy, politicians, movies, pretentiousness, pomposity, and life in general. Before Python, TV sketches had beginnings, middles, and ends. The group did away with that, frequently having characters stop scenes by saying, "This is silly," and walking off, or just having a piece of bizarre (and often violent) animation take over. (In one bit, Graham Chapman's head is sawed off and used in the cartoon that follows). 


This collection of six shows from 1970 and 1972 features a cross-section of some of the Pythons' best work: the Ministry of Silly Walks (a government agency that gives grants for silly walk research); th~ Attila the Hun Show (in the style of the'Debbie Reynolds Show, with silly opening song, American accents, bad jokes, and a laugh track); the Argument Clinic ("I came here to have a good argument"); the Spanish Inquisition ("No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" cries out an inquisitor, who tries to torture his victims with "the comfy chair" and "the soft cushion"); the Charades Trial (in which a jury gives its verdict through a game of charades); the Summarize Proust Competition (in which contestants are given 15 seconds to summarize the author's works); and a James Bond-style film (with snazzy credits) called The Bishop (who rides around in a sports car to the tune of Peter Gunn). 


The Pythons excelled at mock documentaries, and these tapes feature a . classic: an examination of the Piranha .~ Brothers, a pair of unsuccessful gangsters. A criminologist explains, "A murderer is only an extroverted suicide," and a Piranha colleague breaks down on camera, exclaiming, "I've seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than see Doug." Interviewer: "What did he do?" Criminal: "He (long pause, biting his lip) used sarcasm ... dramatic irony, metaphors, pathos, puns, parody, and satire. " You could say the same about Monty : Python's Flying Circus. Or as George Harrison once observed, "Let's face it. : There are certain things in life which : make life worth living, and one of those : things is Python,"


VIDEO, February 1987 

Movie Remakes (1)


John Huston's classic, The Maltese Falcon, was a remake of an earlier film. So were such popular favorites as The Wizard of Oz and the Frankenstein that made Boris Karloff famous. Indeed, for almost as long as men have made movies, they have remade them.

Currently, Hollywood is going through an especially fecund period of deja vu, with over a hundred old titles in various stages of development, ranging from the recently released Cat People and the soon-to-be-released The Thing to pending remakes of Psycho, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Dodsworth.

Money (Double) Talks

The most frequent reason for recycling a film is financial. Since a film's profits are realized only after production, promotion, and exhibition fees are paid, a movie must earn close to three times its budget. Since an average feature film can cost as much as $15 to $20 million, and movie audiences seem to be dwindling, many companies aren't willing to take too many chances. "Doing a remake is easier and cheaper than writing an original," says Wilbur Stark, who coproduced Cat People (1942) and The Thing From Another World (1951). "You have the story. You have the characters. All you have to do is contemporize them."

But does the financial potential of remakes justify them? Don't they close off the avenues of original work, especially with fewer films being made each year?

"You've got to replenish the cash flow in the industry," says a spokeswoman for Paramount. "One way to do that is with surefire hits. Once that money is back in the business, then you can afford to take the Apocalypse Now risks. And the remakes aren't getting in the way of such films as On Golden Pond and Shoot the Moon."

Of course, remaking a film is no guarantee it will be a hit. "The story is there," says John Tarnoff, senior vice president of motion-picture production and development for MGM, "but that perceived advantage can be deceptive. You can be seduced by the fact that the picture worked once and not properly make it work on its own terms. "

Consider the 1976 version of King Kong, for instance. The 1933 movie's most famous image is that of Kong precariously straddling the Empire State Building's phallic tower and fighting off rickety W orld War I biplanes, all for the love of heroine Fay Wray. The modern remake, a semi-spoof, changed the location of the climax from the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center, but battling super-powered jets on the top of the boxlike World Trade Center could not compare in power and symbolism with the first image. Moreover, the new version played the story's beauty-andt-he-beast theme more for laughs than for suspense.

Improving On An Original

Tampering with a classic can be very risky, but if the original film is unknown or undistinguished, a director with vision can bring home a winner. Dashiell Hammett's crime novel The Maltese Falcon was filmed twice – in 1931 (as Dangerous Female) and in 1936 (as Satan Met a Lady) – before Huston made the definitive version in 1941, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre. There were two black-and-white silent film versions of The Wizard ofOz, but Victor Fleming had sound, color, and music – and Judy Garland – to work with when he directed the 1939 version we all know and love. Frankenstein was first made in 1908 as a silent film. James Whale's 1933 sound version, using improved makeup techniques for the monster, became a seminal American horror film.

Blake Edwards's recent hit, Victor/ Victoria, is a remake of a 1933 German movie (Viktor/Viktoria). "The remake can suffer, depending on how famous the original is," says Tarnoff. If you're going to remake Gone With The Wind, watch out, but a great many people, however, hadn't seen the first version of Victor/Victoria. The new version has a 1980s sensibility and is more open in its treatment of homosexuality. "The subject matter, in 1933, could have been called promiscuous," says Allan BucHhantz, the owner of all remake and ancillary rights. "The new movie is awfully close to the first version, but what couldn't be done then, we do now-but better. Robert Preston plays a gay man who is delighted with himself. We're not shocked by him. We're not laughing at him. We're laughing with him."

On the other hand, more explicit sex is not always enough to make a new version of a film better. The Postman Always Rings Twice was made in 1946 during a period in which the film censors would not allow the sort of steamy sex described in the James M. Cain novel on which it was based. The 1980 version was more faithful to the novel in its vivid seduction scenes but, by leaving nothing to the imagination, lacked the suggestive eroticism of its predecessor.

Technological Advances


Cat People and The Thing, two of the newest remakes, have classier special effects than those of their predecessors, which Alan Ormsby, screenwriter for the new Paul Schrader-directed Cat People, thinks is a necessity nowadays. "Today you're dealing with a situation where each film is trying to outdo the one before, and the audience has come to expect that, especially in terms of technology and state-of-the-art effects. That's one of the reasons why people will leave the house to go to the movies. " The low-budget original version of Cat People, produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur in 1942, only suggested that a woman was turning into a panther; the new movie shows it.

Director Schrader believes that a remake, though derivative, can be very original. In a recent interview in American Film, he said: "Remakes, sequels, parodies, are what I call back-born movies. They come off something else....Cat People, though, has had its story and sensibility totally rethought."

In the case of The Thing, producer Stuart Cohen felt the original did not deal with the central concept of the John W. Campbell story on which it was based. "The creature has the ability to assume the exact likeness and behavior of any life form it has consumed," he points out. "Nor did the producers use the psychological aspects of Campbell's novel. As much as we like the first film, the remake – apart from the Antarctic setting – bears very little resemblance to it."

The Remake As Homage

Money isn't the only motivation for remaking a movie. Sometimes it is a filmmaker's love of the original. "What's happened in the movie business," says MGM's Tarnoff, "is that we've come of age. We now have a body of films to look back on, films that have a timeless appeal."

Philip Kaufman's 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, for instance, was a remake of a 1956 B-movie starring Kevin McCarthy, directed by Don Siegel. The new film improved on the original's special effects, but kept the thrust of the first story, only making it darker and more universal. Kaufman's respect for the original was apparent, and he even included cameo appearances by Siegel and McCarthy (in a reprise of his original role, which moved the remake closer to sequel status).

"The audience reacts to the repetition, the familiarity, very warmly," notes Tom Mankiewicz, screenwriter for three James Bond movies and creative consultant on the Superman movies.

And, as producer Stark points out, it has been said that there are really only 27 basic plots in the world. "You can give the same story to five different directors, and it will turn out five different ways," he says. "They could all be good. But then again, they could all be bad."


Movie Remakes (2)


"Everything comes in circles," Sherlock Holmes once observed. "The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. It has all been done' before and will be done again." The fictional detective should know-he lived the adage himself by appearing in no less than ten versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles between 1917 and 1978. In Hollywood, as elsewhere, nothing succeeds like excess, and for as long as there have been movies there have been remakes. From The Fly and Little Shop of Horrors to Down and Out in Beverly Hills and VictorlVictoria, the remake is a cinematic staple.

"Doing a remake is easier and cheaper than writing an original," notes Wilbur Stark, a film producer who was involved in the remakes of The Thing and Cat People, two B-movies redone in the early '80s. "You have the story. You have the characters. All you have to do is contemporize them."

But time frame is hardly the only area ripe for revision: music can be added, special effects improved, point of view changed. Paul Mazursky used Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932) as the basis for Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986). Both movies tell the story of a tramp who tries to kill himself and the family that takes him in. But where Renoir focuses on the hypocrisy of middle-class life and the spontaneity of the common man, Mazursky considers the lure of wealth and its effect on different people. The French hobo ultimately rejects the bourgeoise and their values; the Beverly Hills bum accepts them.

Similarly, Akira Kurosawa's threehour epic, The Seven Samurai (1954), provided the uncredited basis for The MagnificentSeven (1960) and 1980's Battle Beyond the Stars. (Oddly, Robert Vaughn plays essentially the same role-a burned-out gunfighter-in both remakes.) Kurosawa's film about seven penniless samurai who defend a peasant town against brigands is at times lyrical, humorous and exciting as it looks at friendship, fear, love and death. The later movies variously change the setting to Mexico and a distant planet and use the form but little of the original's heart or wit. In one telling scene, the seven samurai arrive in the village and discover that everyone is hiding. "They are afraid," eXplains an old man. The irony of the farmers fearing their rescuers underlines one of Kurosawa's points: the loneliness of the samurai life. The same scene appears in both remakes, but without any poignancy; Battle Beyond the Stars undercuts the impact by showing the friendliness of the oppressed people.

Some remakes lose the original point entirely. Consider, for example, Against All.Odds (1984), a radical reinterpretation of Out of the Past (1947). Both films contain certain specific elements: A man searches for the girlfriend of a gangster he knows. He finds her and they fall in love. They flee together. The man's best friend, working for the gangster, tracks them down. She kills the friend and escapes. He, stays behind and buries the body. She returns to the gangster and tells all. The gangster tries to frame the hero. The hero eludes the frame.

Yet, for all that, the movies are dramatically dissimilar-in tone, style and sensibility. The earlier tale is classic film noir, laced with tough-talking, chain-smoking characters and a cynical, world-wise hero (Robert Mitchum) in love' with a bad, bad I; woman (lane Greer), who gets more wicked as the movie progresses. In Against All Odds, the protagonist (leff Bridges) is an idealistic innocent in love with a confused beauty (Rachel Ward) who is frightened into treachery. The darkest qualities of Out of the Past were sanitized in Against All Odds. Instead of climaxing with the hero's death, the movie ends with the hope of reconciliation for the separated lovers. The plot is the same; only the content has been changed to protect the innocence.


Changing mores frequently have an effect on how a movie is redone. VictorlVictoria (1980), for instance, is an update of a German play and film from the '30s. "The subject matter in 1933 would be called promiscuous," observes Allan Buckhantz, who obtained and sold the right to remake the original production. "The new movie is awfully close to the first version, but what couldn't be done then we do now-but better. Robert Preston plays a gay man who is delighted with himself. We're not shocked by him. We're not laughing at him. We're laughing with him."


By the same token, Paul Schrader's Cat People, the 1982 retread of a 1942 film, employed sensational special effects to portray a woman who turns into a murderous panther. The earlier film, directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Val Lewton, only implied the changes; the new version shows them in gruesome, frightening detail. Although the effects are extraordinary, there is something to be said for subtlety, as Tourneur and 'Lewton did in the' 40s. "Audiences will people any patch of prepared darkness with more horror, suspense and frightfulness than the most imaginative writer could dream up."

More can be more. The special effects improvements on remakes of The Fly, The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, three classic B-movies, were not gratuitous. In fact, they were essential. With The Thing (1982), for example, the producers went back to the 1951 Howard Hawks movie's source material, a short story called "Who Goes There,” which is about is a an alien invader in an Arctic outpost. As Stuart Cohen, the producer, noted when the movie was released, "Why revmake the Hawks film? That film was good fun, very well made, and very much of its time. But Hawks must have felt the original story was too complicated, or the effects beyond the film technology of the time, because he never utilized the central concept of the novella. The creature has the ability to assume the exact likeness and behavior of any life form it has consumed. Nor did Hawks use the psychological aspects of Campbell's novel. As, much as we like the first film, this film – apart from the Antarctic setting – ears very little resemblance to it."

Indeed, the movie's creeping claustrophobia and lurid violence is closer in spirit to Alien than its actual forebear. While the original is a straight forward actioner, the recent version is a paranoid terrorfest, reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That 1956 movie was itself remade by Phil Kaufman. His 1978 version (which features cameos by the original's star, Kevin McCarthy, and director, Don Siegel) takes many of the ideas of the first movie but broadens them, both visually (with enhanced effects) and thematically. The soulless invaders aren't just taking over a small town, they're after the world. Kaufman uses fish-eye lenses, hand-held cameras and deft editing to create a constricting sense of anguish nowhere present in the low-budget original. And unlike Siegel's film, the new movie has believable people full of individualistic quirks. When they become "possessed" by the aliens and lose those traits, the point about what it means to be alive becomes all the more telling.


The 1986 Fly took elements from its namesake, but only as a starting point for new ideas. In the 1958 original, a scientist's experiment goes awry and his head is switched with, that of a fly. Outside of one nightmarish image in the climax – the fly with a man's head trapped in a spider's web squeaking, "Help me!" – the movie is a stilted, talky bore. The new edition is significantly different: a love story about a scientist whose dangerous experiments slowly turn him into a huge fly. As Stuart Cornfeld, the producer, noted recently, "The metamorphosis concept was arguably more scientific and certainly more dramatic. It allowed us to explore the physiological and psychological changes in our hero simultaneously."

By rethinking the material, filmmakers can get more out of a picture than was originally there. Dashiell Hammett's crime  novel, The Maltese Falcon, was filmed twice, in 1931 and 1936, before the definitive 1941 version, in which a perfect cast (Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet) made the crucial difference. For His Girl Friday (1940), director Howard Hawks added a new layer of sexual tension to a 1928 play and 1931 film, The Front Page, by making one of the two male protagonists a woman. A 1981 remake switched the role back and flopped, while a 1988 version will try it Hawks's way, though changing the setting from a newspaper to a television station.

Perhaps the greatest remake is Alfred Hitchcock's 1956 version of his 1934 hit, The Man Who Knew Too Much. The director used his original movie as a blueprint for the later one, dropping scenes that didn't work, adding more subtle humor and improving on the main set piece: the assassination attempt at London's Albert Hall. As Hitchcock himself put it in 1967, "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional. "

Sometimes, however, rethinking a film proves to be a mistake. The 1976 King Kong tried to improve on the 1933 movie by, among other things, moving the climactic scene from the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center. The image of Kong precariously straddling the phallic ower as he battles rickety World War I biplanes for the love of heroine Fay Wray is a classic piece of cinema; fighting super -powered jets on the top of the box-like World Trade Center just doesn't compare. And the tone of the second is jokey and hip, making fun of the ape- rather than fearing and pitying him.

Some of the most obvious and successful variants are films which became musicals. Pygmalion (1938) was transformed into My Fair Lady (1964); The Shop Around the Corner (1940) into In the Good Old Summertime (1949); and A Star Is Born (1937) into two musical versions of A Star Is Born (in 1954 and 1976). The last-named actually had its genesis as What Price Hollywood?, a 1932 tearjerker about the rise of a starlet at the expense of her actor husband. The 1937 film expanded on the material, with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March as the couple, but the definitive version has Judy Garland, James Mason, and an album's worth of songs. Ironically, in both versions the rising starlet was played by a fading star, while the self-destructive husband was portrayed by a dynamic newcomer. The recent revamp cast Barbra Streisand (who also produced) and Kris Kristofferson as the duo, and pointlessly changed the setting to the rock 'n' roll world.




The latest musical remake is Little Shop of Horrors, the 1986 film of a 1970s off-Broadway musical adaptation of a dreadful 1960 B-picture. Although the producers tried to disassociate themselves from the Roger Corman original, the new Little Shop is basically the same story and-with one or two exception-about as interesting.

In spite of many artistic and commercial failures, remakes will continue. In fact, the James Bond series – the most successful in history –is virtually a collection of remakes, since the producers have been retreading more or less the same story for 25 years. As Tom Mankiewicz, a screenwriter for three of the films, puts it: "The audience reacts to the repetition, the familiarity, very warmly, In Bond at least you're ripping it off from yourself. And, after all, once you've got a car that goes underwater, a car that flies, a chase on a double-decker bus, a chase in this and a chase in that, where else can you go?"

Where indeed? As Wilbur Stark observes: "There are 27 basic plots in the world. You can give the same story to five different directors and it will turn out five different ways. They could all be good. But then again, they could all be bad." 

VIDEO, November 1987

Peter Lorre



The pudgy moon-faced man cowers before the crowd, his eyes darting back and forth.

"Always," he says softly, "there's this terrible force inside me, driving me on. I'm always afraid of myself. Of people. Of ghosts." His voice is rising, becoming frantic. "Always I must walk the streets alone. And always I am followed-soundlessly. YetI hear it. It's me, pursuing myself. I want to run-to escape-from myself. But I can't. I can't escape. I must obey. Forced to run endless streets, pursued by ghosts. Ghosts of mothers. And of those children. They are always there-always!" He is screaming now. "Who knows what it's like to be me? How I'm forced to act. How I don't want to but must!"


It is Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert, pleading for his life in the climactic moments of Fritz Lang's M (1931), the story of a man driven by a compulsion to kill. It was Lorre's greatest role. It was also, in a way, a blueprint for his life. Like Beckert, Lorre was a man pursued by and pursuing his past, never able to obtain what he wanted in a 33-year film career which can now be seen on tape. He was tragically stymied by his talents and compulsions.

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:280:]]Born Laszlo Loewenstein in Rosenberg, Hungary in 1904, Lorre became fascinated with improvisational acting and psychology at an early age. "Psychology was Lorre's first love; his avocation," notes Stephen D. Youngkin in The Films of Peter Lorre. "He numbered among his patients the characters he rendered on screen." Performing in clubs and small theaters, the actor eventually caught the eye of playwright Bertolt, known for his "social" dramas, such as The Threepenny Opera. The writer was fascinated by Lorre's ability to suggest so much with so littleby widening his eyes or lowering his whispery voice-and there was a strange dichotomy in his boyish face and half-closed eyes. He seemed both innocent and malicious at the same time-a child ready to kill.

Lorre himself was aware of his unusual looks and exploited them fully. He realized he was not a traditional leading man, and so was reluctant to sign with director Fritz Lang when the filmmaker approached him in 1930 with a movie role. It was the part of a child murderer, based on the real case of a psychopath who killed because he had to. The story fascinated Lang as a treatise for the care of the insane, and he saw Lorre as perfect casting: he looked so cherubic himself, how could he be a killer?

For Lorre, who eventually accepted, the role meant more: it was an opportunity to capture a psychologically dense personality onscreen and make him attractive. The audience would feel for him even as they loathed him. "It is all a matter of understanding," he explained. "I did not see the actual murderer. I did not need to ....murder. His voice, his looks, his attitude all indicate a man betrayed; you can feel for him even as you fear him. "I won't go back!" he yells when threatened with a sanitarium. "You won't make me!" Yet all he could do was go back. "I remember that he referred to his work as an actor as 'making faces'," remarked a colleague, Margaret Taichet, in The Films of Peter Lorre, "and I'm sure there was a bit of boredom and bitterness that he did always get the same type of roles. "
A planned Broadway stage production of the life of Napoleon fell through. His personal finances were shaky, as was his health. In despair, he took on more horror parts, and his self-image reached a low ebb. (Typical of the fan mail received and the replies he gave was this exchange: "Dear Master, I would love to be tortured by you." Lorre: "You have been tortured enough by going to see my pictures.")

Then John Huston cast him as the effeminate Joel Cairo in his remake of The Maltese Falcon (1941), starring Humphrey Bogart. The performance-a mixture of childishness, menace, and suavity combines much from before, but is also a masterpiece of understatement. Cairo seems like a child playing grownup and he is compelled, once again, to kill and to search for the elusive, priceless falcon. More importantly, though, work on the movie rejuvenated Lorre's life. The camaraderie of the Warner Brothers production-Huston, Bogart, Lorre, and others would play cards between takes - helped Lorre enjoy his work, and he felt opportunities were opening up again.

He did more for the studio, most notably Casablanca (1943), in which he makes a small part a telling one. His two scenes bring out the essential Lorre: the slippery kid, wanting so much to be liked ("You must be impressed with me now") and the man trapped by powers beyond his abilities ("Rick! Rick! Help me, please! "). It is Lorre's life again, and he plays it with fervor.

These were to be his last great movies. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) demonstrates his gift for comedy, taking the helplescompulsion of M to comic levels. It also introduces a new Lorre figure, also probably taken from the frustrations of his life: the happy boozer who copes with murder and mayhem through the bottle.[[wysiwyg_imageupload:281:]]

The films got worse now, and Lorre was never able to break away. He tried in vain to sell his old mentor Brecht's film treatments, and when the playwright left Hollywood in disgust was tempted to join him in a new European theater-company project.
It had been Lorre's dream to do serious work again, but it was too late. He didn't have the strength to give up what he had become.

"I can't stand living in Europe," he explained later. "I like Hollywood .... It is not a crazy, nervous place. An actor is less bothered here than anywhere else. You can live your life as you please and nobody cares." That was the problem. Nobody did care-about all the work Lorre put into his roles (the New York Times remarked that "Hollywood has used Lorre's tricks but not his talent"), about his frustrations, or about his money worries. He had been twice married now and had put his finances in the hands of an incompetent business manager. When it all came apart, Lorre returned to Germany in disgust.

There he made one last attempt to escape from the "ghosts" of his terror-movie past. Der Verlorene ("The Lost One"), written and directed by the actor, was a grim, realistic story of the aftereffects of World War II on Germany. Lorre played another tortured soul, as psychologically layered as Beckert had been, and also compelled in the end to murder. He put his all into the movie. "With a patience which I had never before experienced," noted an actress in the film, "Lorre tested further and further, until one gave oneself up almost unconsciously in order to be the person that one had to portray .... The filming was hard but wonderful."

Yet the movie was a critical and commercial failure. It was, commented critic David Thomson, the "turning point that failed to turn ... a worthy film that lacked his poetic eccentricity as a supporting actor."

For Lorre, it was effectively the end. He gave up trying to be a serious actor and relied only on his tricks-not his talent-to get by. Entering a sanitarium afterwards, he gained 100 pounds and became a grotesque parody of himself (when appearing in Five Weeks in a Balloon, Groucho Marx asked him, "Do you play the balloon?"). It was as though the lack of control in his career had been externalized in his girth.

He played in comedies, melodramas, horror parodies in movies, on television (which he hated), and on radio. He became, in such films as Tales of Terror (1962), a hollow man, a Beckert compelled to act no matter how degrading. "Making movies used to be such fun, " he said near the end of his life. "It isn't any longer. Now it's a very coldhearted business."

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:282:]]Yet, finally, his work has not been ignored. "Lorre is one of the great screen personalities, " wrote David Thomson in A Biographical Dictionary of Film. "Perhaps he was a genius frustrated by the various sanities and insanities of the world. But perhaps he came very close to the very nature of film with his extraordinary combination of impact and nonsense. He hardly seems dead, just as it is difficult to believe that he was ever clinically alive. He was Peter Lorre, and that was unmistakably something that no one else was capable of being."

He died suddenly in 1964 of a cerebral hemorrhage. His last film was called, appropriately enough, The Patsy.

VIDEO, 1984




Pied Pipers of Animation



Alan Goodman can't draw a straight line but knows who can: the animators, technicians, and other creative types that have helped make his company, Fred/Alan Inc., a New York-based haven for the unusual, the unorthodox, and the successful.

With his partner, Fred Seibert, Goodman was responsible for  creating MTV's logo and much of its initial on-air style, for revamping Nickelodeon's image from dull kid's station to popular channel for with-it youths, and for developing the innovative logo graphics and personality for Nick at Nite, Nickelodeon's evening service.

Their approach has always been slightly offbeat. When Nickelodeon needed a facelift, they broke a classic rule of station identification: Never lose your logo. "The logo shape is considered inviolable;' says Goodman. Not to Fred/Alan Inc. The team used the color orange as the identifying mark and then animated an ever-changing logo that could be a setting sun one moment and dripping water the next. The audience lapped it up, with hundreds of children sending in their own drawings of how they saw the logo. In addition, the team had a 1950s rock group perform "do-wop" station identifications which were so successful that viewers who could hardly speak were trying to sing the station's call letters.

"Most of children's programming and promos play down to the audience;' observes Goodman. "We try to make the images as unusual for them as they are for us, and also try to see it from their point of view: as kids in an adult world:'

That could also be the credo for the 34-year-old Goodman and his 36-year-old partner, who usually approach a problem as outsiders looking in. It's no wonder, too. Seibert went from a radio station job to Cinemax and from that to the nascent MTV.

His old friend Goodman, a CBS Records publicist, joined him in preparing an advertiser's promo tape for MTV. "I had never worked in television or produced animation before;' recalls Goodman, "so Fred thought I was perfect for it."

Their tape was so successful that the duo went on to design the station's logo. "Usually TV graphics are created by print people and then translated by a technician into a video image;' notes Goodman. "They make it spin, or make it glittery - do something for a 'TV' look. And they all start to look the same. We tried to think about logos in terms of television. Most stations don't even think about promoting their identity. There are 36 cable channels out there and to stand out you have to know what you're about;'

Goodman and Seibert have been so adroit at broadcast philosophy that they have just been called in by MTV to reevaluate and revamp the station's look and on-air promotions, and have also done commercials, a movie trailer, and a Showtime comedy special with Gilbert Gottfried. In addition, a development deal with Showtime for a sitcom is in the works.

"We use cell animation, computer graphics, clay animation-whatever works," remarks Goodman, who adds that many creative directors elsewhere send demo reels they don't know what to do with to Fred/Alan Inc. and its staff of 16. "There's one animator in Canada who created the most violent, brilliant, three-minute cartoon I've ever seen called Loopo the Butcher;' says Goodman. "Everyone who saw it would say, 'I like it, but no one else will. It's not commercial.' And that would be that. We use him. The cartoon is silly, outrageous, and gross but we try to encourage that kind of thinking. We want to look at teievision in a different way. You have to."            


wrap october 1987

Public Access TV



What would you say about a television schedule that included Midnight Blue, an erotic variety show produced by Al Goldstein of Screw magazine; Emerald City, a program about life in homosexual communities; and The Irish Freedom Show, a series featuring a socialist host offering pro-IRA opinions?

Unusual? Impossible?

Unusual, yes; and impossible on most television stations-but not on public access television, a growing phenomenon throughout the United States.

Public access means just that: almost anyone who applies for a spot on a cable system's access channels may present a program free of charge. The concept of public access began in New York City in 1970.

Two companies offered to use cable systems to overcome the city's television transmission difficulties. Because TV signals were often distorted as they bounced off the city's skyscrapers, the companies planned to "wire up" the city and then broadcast all TV programs (for a monthly fee) via coaxial cable. (In Pennsylvania, during the late 1940s, a mountaintop antenna and cable had been successfully employed to transmit distant signals to rural areas.)

Four Stations Are Established

After much debate, the city finally approved the plan, stipulating that in exchange for operating authority, the cable companies had to provide at least four public access stations for community use. On two of the stations, public access time would be available free, on a first-come, first-serve basis, to anyone who applied. There would be neither advertising nor censorship, although in extreme cases cable operators could request changes in a program or refuse to broadcast material that might make them liable to criminal prosecution.

The third station would be a "leased access" station, which would accept advertising (and cost $25 per half hour to get on), while the fourth, a "municipal access" station, would be used by the city government.

Within ten years, New York had become the public access leader of the country, carrying well over 200 hours of programming a week, programs that ranged from talk shows, community documentaries, and comedies to avantgarde video presentations, left- and right-wing political speeches, and sexoriented entertainment.

Public access proved so successful, in fact, that in 1972 the Federal Communications Commission required cable operators to provide access stations in every cable market with 3,500 or more subscribers. Although this rule was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, many cities still insist that any franchise-holder offer access stations as proof that it has the community's interests at heart. In Chicago, for example, the city council is currently studying several different proposals for cable systems, and one of the council's recommendations is that 25 percent of any system's channels be allotted to public access programming.

The appeal of access is its-capacity for "narrowcasting"-broadcasting to a spec cialized audience-which is possible because there are no ratings or sponsors with whom to contend. Individuals, communities, or an organization may produce whatever types of programs they choose.

The Arthritis Foundation, for instance,  produces a regularly scheduled series called The Arthritis Clinic, which might never have been carried by crowded, non cable systems. Other independent producers offer programs focusing on such diverse topics as tarot, the Talmud, Bulgaria, astrology, the Bible, environmental issues, sports handicapping, the American Indian, communism, feminism, parapsychology, and the martial arts. As one observer puts it, "Access is a global village of ideas."

Many access producers espouse a single specific view; Irish Circle, seen in San Francisco, solely features pro-IRA demonstrations for an hour every week. Others, like Sari Bodi, a coproducer of the comedy series Videosyncracies, hope to gain television experience.

"We see it as a training ground," says Bodi, who began in cable the way many in New York do: on a live talk show 0 broadcast out of ETC studios, a "budget" facility capable of transmitting live programs.

Talk shows are the easiest type of program to produce, and ETC studio is the cheapest in New York. Partly because it offers Iive transmissions, but also because it utilizes volunteer labor, secondhand 0 or homemade equipment, and cramped studio space, ETC can keep production costs down. As a consequence, though, production values are low, most ETC programs have a washedout, secondhand look, with poor sound quality and frustratingly clumsy camera work.

Voluntary Action


"Talk shows are about all you can do at ETC," says Bodi, "and we wanted to do more, to experiment with the rnedium.

So she and a few other co-workers from the talk show devised their own program, found a time spot, and relocated to Young Filmakers, a new, relatively low-budget, nonprofit studio. While YF cannot broadcast live, it provides more studio space, more sophisticated equipment, and more room for innovations, and because its cameras are more sophisticated than ETCs, special effects and other post production work ,(such as editing) are possible.

The writers and performers of Videosyncracies are representative of the cross-section of volunteers typical of access programs: a pair of advertising executives, a circulation promotion consultant, a house painter, members of local improvisational companies, and a professional puppeteer (who also handles one of the cameras and acts as the show's offscreen announcer). The technical crew, similarly diverse, is also volunteer.

Crossing The Channels

"Many on access don't aim for more and see this as the end-all," says Bodi. "But forus it's a stepping-stone to something beyorid access. There are a lot of talented people with untapped energy out there, and there aren't enough spaces for them in the regular television market."            

Ferris Butler would agree. Formerly producer of an access comedy program called Waste Meat News, Butler considered the show a-learning experience, rewarded by his being hired to write for Saturday Night Live.

Working on access is indeed a learning experience-whether it is learning about the problems of reserving a "fishpole boom" microphone or of finding funds for the next program (funding often comes from a producer's pocket, although there are some grant-supported programs}.

An Academic Exercise

One college offered a course in television production, taught by network TV producer Barry Downs. Each week, the students elected a director, a producer, and writers, and then chose a topic to cover on their own access program. Another series, the two-year-old Love and Logic, taped every week at Young Filmakers, distributes the cost and rotates responsibility for production among its nine members, who interview guests, introduce singers, and offer twenty-fiveminute monologues. One of the show's former members is now employed by the Cable News Network.

Access is also used as a forum for video artists. SoHo TV, which began in New York in the late Seventies, features works by video artists. The series, elevated from access to Manhattan Cable's more prestigious Channel 10, is now seen on stations throughout the country, as well as in England, Holland, and Mexico.

Arguably more successful, but indisputably more controversial, is access's soft-core pornographic programming. On The Ugly George Hour of Truth, Sex, and Violence, former pornography film star George Urban coaxes women he meets on the street to undress in front of his portable video camera. On Midnight Blue, another series, produced by the publisher of Screw magazine, naked women undulate to belly dance music. Programs of this sort are roughly equivalent to R-rated films.

Seeing Red About Blue

Critics have lambasted such series (and their success: Urban is reportedly looking into European dist~ibution deals, while Midnight Blue is already being shown around the country) and have also upbraided cable franchise owners for allowing them air time.

One New York congressman, incensed by its suggestive content', showed tapes of Midnight Blue in Congress, citing the program as justification for tightening cable regulations. In the summer of 1980, a group of conservative senators introduced a bill that would have effectively eliminated access opportunities of any sort, but it stalled in Congress.

Cable operators were also opposed to access-at least initially. Aside from the headache of dealing with countless amateur producers and a variety of community groups, there was little profit to be gained. But this is changing.

Clarence Grier, channel coordinator at Manhattan Cable Television (MCTV), estimates that access is responsible for 10 percent of MCTV's subscribers. "Say a producer puts a show 'on the air and doesn't have cable," says Grier. "He'll make certain he gets it so that he can see his show, and his friends will buy cable, and his family, and so on. It's a ripple effect."

'The Die Is Telecast

Cable programmers are also.excited about the recent innovations in access. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, a twoway access setup allows viewers to respond-usually through a "yes-no" vote-s-to issues presented in the community meetings telecast over the local cable system. In New York, MCTV runs Telelessons, college courses for which students can receive credit.

Grier also sees access as a way of dealing with municipal cutbacks. ''There often aren't enough grade-school teachers to teach Spanish. But with a cable system, we can lock all the classes into one teacher in a studio and give classes that way."

Such techniques are only a few of the developing possibilities of cable, and access in particular. "People are often alienated by the mass-market programming on network television," Sari Bodi remarks. "But with access you can find out what's happening in your community, what other people are doing in your local environment – it's more personal. As other media are becoming more broad-scale, television, through cable, is becoming more select."

Diversion, November 1981



Ian Fleming's 007 was a fantasy. Sidney Reilly was real. He was

the greatest espionage agent of all time

Spies have come back into fashion. From the movie-screen exploits of Sean Connery and Roger Moore as James Bond to the novels of John le Carre, undercover operatives seem to be surfacing everywhere. Public television enters the spy game this month with a $10-million British production, Reilly: Ace of Spies.

What is behind the revival of secret-agent mania? In an essay about the 007 movies, film historian Drew Moniot observes that spies come back into vogue whenever political tensions in the world increase. During crises people search for a source of stability. Spies seem to reassure us that the "alienation, dehumanization, and loss of meaning" in the modern world can be overcome by an adventurous individual who gains control of his own destiny.

Sidney Reilly, an infamous real-life operative, was a kind of modern antihero who made up his own rules. The twelve-part series, based on Reilly's life, is the season's premiere program of Mystery! It is underwritten by the Mobil Corporation and produced by WGBH, in Boston.

Sam Neill, who plays Reilly, has the dark good looks, suggestive eyebrows, and dimpled smile that might remind some of the dashing young Sean Connery. He is best known for his starring role in an Australian film, My Brilliant Career. Neill promises that the series won't be predictable cloak-and-dagger intrigue. "The curious thing about this series," he says, "is that it doesn't follow any particular formula. It wolild be nice if! could say it's like John le Carre or Upstairs, Downstairs or James Bond. There is a lot of it that is romantic. It has thriller elements, spy-story elements, period-drama elements. It has elements of a number of different genres."

Though some believe Reilly was the inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond (Fleming denied it), Reilly wasn't typical Bond-style spy material. In fact, he wasn't even British. Born in 1874 near Odessa, Russia, Reilly was raised in a wealthy family. Ever the master dissimulator, Reilly left no definitive proof of what his original family name was. Robin Bruce Lockhart, who knew Reilly personally, wrote the book, Reilly: Ace of Spies (Penguin Books), that inspired the current series. Lockhart reports that his Christian name was Georgi and that he took the name Sigmund Rosenblum only after learning he was the illegitimate son of his mother's physician, Doctor Rosenblum. Michael Kettle, a historian who spent many years researching his own book, Sidney Reilly: The True Story (Corgi Books), insists that Reilly was born Sigmund Georgievich Rosenblum and abandoned his family after having been forbidden to marry his first cousin.

The contradictory stories are representative of the mystery in which Reilly hid himself. The stories, Neill observes, are a justification for and an indication of the kind of person Reilly was: untrusting and bitter, feeling betrayed and alone.

He might or might not have studied at the University of Vienna, but we know that he was eventually enlisted by the British Secret Intelligence Service as an operative. (Again, accounts differ on the particulars.) He assumed the name Reilly around the tum of the century and was soon performing hazardous assignments for British intelligence. Reportedly, one World War I escapade brought Reilly face-to-face with Kaiser Wilhelm II. Another story has it that as he sold Germanbuilt ships to Russia he was simultaneously sending the ships' blueprints to England. A master of languages and disguises, Reilly was also ruthless in his dealings with other agents and cruel in his relations with women. He kept dozens of mistresses, married bigamously at least twice, and had an affair with his half sister that ended in her suicide ..

In an attempt to know Reilly better, Neill researched his part extensively; he even consulted a psychologist to, find out how Reilly might have reacted to the discovery that he was an illegitimate child. "She told me that such a revelation could cause somebody to become extremely bitter, trusting nobody. They'd have felt they'd been betrayed. And they'd be really very dangerous." Explaining Reilly's relationships with women, Neill observes that the spy "felt betrayed by his mother. She died when he needed her most, and she produced him as illegitimate. He might have had an unacknowledged desire to revenge himself against womankind."

Among the other performers in the series is veteran stage, screen, and TV actor Leo McKem (who played Horace Rumpole in Mystery/'s Rumpole of the Bailey) as Sir Basil Zaharov, a munitions dealer. Also appearing, as Dzerzhinsky, head of the Russian secret police, is Tom Bell, who was the father in Masterpiece Theatre's Sons and Lovers.

Neill says the series is interesting historically: "It has to do with the career and the complexities of a strange guy. In a way, I think Reilly is a kind of modem character."

And why does Neill think that spies are so appealing now? "Most of our lives are pretty dull, really. And here's a guy who had an extraordinary life and made an enormous difference to the affairs of his time. One ofthe directors of the series used to say, 'Reilly enjoyed screwing history.' And that's right. He was a cold bastard, but in the end he became a humane one. That's a victory of sorts." 



Reviews 1984-1988


The Last Laugh

B&W. 1924. Emil Jannings, Mary Delshaft, Kurt Hiller; dir. F. W. Murnau. 74 min. Beta, VHS. $19.95. Kartes. Reproduction: C

The Last Laugh is unusual because it uses no title cards; everything is explained through visuals. It is, as Hitchcock might have said, pure cinema.  It is also relentlessly downbeat: a stylized tale of a fall from grace, in this case that of an old doorman (Emil Jannings), proud of his job and uniform, who finds himself demoted to lavatory attendant. German director F. W. Murnau, who made the vampire movie N osferatu and the semisound classic Sunrise, uses all the cinema's tricks including superimposition, close-ups, cutaways, panning shots, and lighting to depict the deteriorating psyche of the protagonist. He offers a vivid lesson about the dangers of pride and the cruelty of the world, only partly blunted by a ridiculous comic epilogue. (In it, Iannings inherits a fortune and his problems are solved; whoever added sound effects to this print also included a spoken apologia for this sequence.)

Murnau is one of those "might have been" directors whose reputation rests on a handful of movies but who died in a car crash just after he moved to Hollywood, and before he realized his full potential. His work is subtler than Abel Gance's (whose flashy Napoleon received such acclaim a few years ago), yet his achievement is in some ways more-impressive.

Unfortunately The Last Laugh is hurt by the inferior quality of this VHS rendering. Much of the movie's effect depends on its imagery. But in this version it is often unclear what is going on: the whites are washed out, the blacks muddy. In addition the music and sound, tacked on by some later producer, are often obtrusive, working against the images Murnau labored so hard to create. Which is all too bad, because this movie, more than most, depends on the look. As it is, few could sit through it and fewer could recognize the work of genius.


The Original Keystone Comedies, Vol. 1 B&W. 1915. Roscoe Arbuckle, Edgar Kennedy, Mack Swain. 46 min. Beta, VHS. $19.95. Kartes. Reproduction: B

Poor "Fatty" Arbuckle. All he ever wanted was to be in show business. From his childhood in the 1890s on, he performed wherever he could-singing at socials, working with a touring theatrical company, collecting tickets, doing a blackface number, singing ballads in a nickolodeon-until finally he was cast by producer Mack Sennett as a "Keystone Cop. " Stardom soon followed in a series of one- and two-reelers that exploited Arbuckle's girth and babyface looks.

The pity is, it didn't last long. In 1921 an actress died at a wild Hollywood party. Arbuckle was there and was accused of killing her ("Roscoe hurt me," she reportedly said before dying). Three trials later he was acquitted, but his career was finished. "Arbuckle was made a scapegoat," wrote historian David Thomson, "as though after calling a man 'Fatty' for years and rejoicing at his humiliation on film the public could only move in on him with trained hostility." Arbuckle did some odd directing here and there (under the name Will B. Goodrich, or "Will Be Good" -get it?) and even made a pathetic return to vaudeville. But the spark was gone.

It's not much in evidence in these three films: public-domain items from the start of Arbuckle's career. All feature the comedian running; fighting, running, and fighting (along with the rest of the cast). The plots are fairly interchangeable, involving mistaken identities, petty jealousies, and Fatty's continual humiliation. They're really just live-action cartoons with none of the pathos of Chaplin or the cinematic invention of Keaton. As such, however, they should be entertaining for the kids and perhaps for diehard silent-movie buffs.

The VHS transfer is fine, although the movies are washed out and shaky in the manner of most films of that era. Musical accompaniment has been added with little ill effect.

VIDEO, 1984


Weight Watchers' Magazine Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle Color. 1985. Lynn Redgrave, host; dir. Michael Wiese. 60 min. Beta, VHS. Vestron.

It was inevitable that someone would come up with this, a video version of the highly successful Weight Watchers'Magazine. Lynn Redgrave (a celebrated fatty in the film Georgy Girl, now thin) hosts, conducting interviews with "Success Stories" (others who have lost pounds via Weight Watchers). Dr. Henry Grayson uses phrases like "locus of power" and advises viewers to take responsibility for themselves. The tape is slickly produced and has something for almost everyone-tips on cooking, exercise, walking, swimming, even makeup, interspersed with some rather broad and unfunny spots by the High-Heeled Women, a New York comedy troupe. There's good advice here but it can be boiled down to one idea: if you really want to lose weight, you can.


You and Your Dog

Color. 1985. Dr. Michael Fox. 51 min. Beta, VHS. Video Associates (5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A., Calif. 90027).

This tape works best as an instructional. It is worst when it attempts to be funny or dramatic. The host is Dr. Michael Fox, a knowledgable and award-winning veterinarian who has made pet care and pet rights his particular concerns. His tour of treatment ranges from "How to Adopt a Pet" and "Getting Your Dog Used to People" to "The Importance of Play" and "Neutering." Although the background muzak is terrible, the tape succeeds admirably as a live-action pet-care book-with an assortment of cute canines that will melt the hardest heart.

VIDEO, 1985


The Waltons: A Retrospective Color. 1980. Richard Thomas, Will Geer, Ellen Corby, Ralph Waite, Michael Learned. 120 min. Beta, VHS. Karl! Lorimar.

It can be sentimental and corny, but at times The Waltons: A Retrospective can also be effective drama. Using a character's birthday as a jumping off point for memories, the two-hour show hits all the highs and lows of the series' first eight yearsfrom puppy loves and anniversaries to diseases and deaths. The most effective sequences involve Will Geer (who died during the run of the show and is touchingly mourned in one clip) and Richard Thomas. The nadir comes when host Earl Hamner Jr., who based the series on his experiences growing up, introduces members of his own family. They are "interviewed" by their Waltons counterparts in hokey, scripted spots that emphasize the kind of sweet artificiality that is the series' greatest weakness.


Agatha Christie's

Partners in Crime: The Crackler Color. 1982. FrancescaAnnis, james Warwick; dir. Christopher Hodson. 60 min. Beta, VHS. Pacific Arts.

Christie's mysteries are usually cheats: puzzlers that don't give the reader all the clues. Partners in Crime, the British TV series about Christie's 1920s husband-and-wife sleuth team Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, is not only a typical Christie cheat-it's also confusing and dull, so that by the time you reach the solution you have little interest or consciousness left. James Warwick and Francesca Annis (Lillie) are fine as Tommy and Tuppence, a sort of British Nick and Nora Charles, and the plot=-something about counterfeiters in high society-could have been done on The Saint, but it's a leaden affair. The main plus: the period costumes and sets are lovely to look at (and well-reproduced).

VIDEO, 1986


The River

Norma Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Thomas E. Breen. Dir. Jean Renoir. 1951. Connoisseur Video Collection. (NR)

Fans of Jean (Rules of the Game) Renoir and/or exotic nlocales will  enjoy this turgidly paced melodrama, ostensibly about children and adults growing up in India. What it's really about, though, is Indian customs and philosophy, best summed up by the moral of the story: "We must accept life for what it is." Based on a novel by Rumer Godden (who co-wrote the screenplay with Renoir), The River features beautiful location photography and seemingly endless narration -- all of which makes you depended on the river spiritually and physically"). For the feel like you wandered into an Indian Tourist Board production ("people record, the plot involves a one-legged man searching for inner meaning, a young girl who loves him, and a cobra that kills a small boy. The cobra has the best part.

V, 1988

Ripping Yarns



1977,1979. MichaelPalin, Terry Jones, Ian Ogilvy; dir. Terry Hughes, Jim Franklin, Alan Bell. 90 min. $29.98. CBS/Fox. Image: good. 


Ripping Yarns is the sort of comedy where prep school students are nailed to walls, tied in sacks, and forced to participate in 24-mile, one-legged hops; where a prisoner-of-war hopes to escape by building an airplane out of 1400 toilet paper rolls; and where a failing soccer team is sold for scrap to a metal dealer. It's the type of show where an Orson Welles-like host can't remember his lines and a Professional School Bully "is allowed certain privileges, such as having unmarried Filipino women in his room, smoking opium, and having a sauna instead of morning prayer." 


Ripping Yarns, a program that only Britons could make but which everyone can enjoy, was written by two men attuned to the absurd in both life and literature: Michael Palin and Terry Jones, late of Monty Python's Flying Circus. The nine-episode BBC series was created in 1977 as an affectionate parody of the adventure stories the pair grew up withtales of sports heroes, British spies, and Indian princes.


The result is weird and wacky comedy, with Palin excellent in three very different roles: inept schoolboy Tomkinson, crafty P. O. W. Phipps, and fanatical soccer enthusiast Gordon. Tomkinson is the best part, mostly because of the inventive script, a tale of supreme ineptitude loaded with wonderful jokes. (In shop class, the boy builds a 1500-ton model of a ship and is reprimanded because "it's not a model if it's full-scale; take it down at once!") As Phipps, he is stymied by his fellow prisoners, who tell him "there is a proper way of doing things" and that he must present his escape plans to six different escape committees for approval. Very British. Very amusing. 


There are a pair of additional volumes-More Ripping Yarns and Even More Ripping Yarns-that contain the other six episodes, including "Across the Andes by Frog," which is quite a trip. 


Sci-Fi Horrors


We have always been afraid of things that go bump in the night, of ghosts and ghoulies and spirits that mirror our fear of the unknown. But since the A-bomb exploded over Hiroshima, America's fears have become less fanciful, and more deeply rooted in reality. Technology, the cold war, nuclear apocalypse; the modern world is rife with potential demons and killers. As the Edmund Gwenn character puts it in Them! (Warner, $59.95): "When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door into a new world. What he will eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict." 

Since the early 1950s, sciencefiction filmmakers have reflected, consciously or unconsciously, the public's anxieties, and have created some of the wildest and most thought-provoking movies ever made. Noted science-fiction director Jack Arnold agrees: "I think science-fiction films are a marvelous me~ium for telling a story, creating a mood, and delivering whatever kind of message should be delivered." 



Arnold was responsible for one of the earliest films of the "what scares us" genre: 1953's It Came from Outer Space, a subtly disturbing story about aliens who crashland in the American desert and are hunted and nearly killed by terrified humans. "It said that we as a people are afraid of anything that is different from us," the director explained. "If it's different, we hate it, we want to- destroy it. That's our failing as human beings." 

Sometimes, though, that "failing" is the only thing that keeps us alive. More typical of the "invaders are coming" school are 1951 's The Thing (RKO, $29.95) and 1954's Them!, which featured menaces that cannot be reasoned with. In The Thing scientists and soldiers uncover a spaceship buried in the arctic ice. Its hulking pilot (James Arness) turns out to be a soulless, living vegetable bent on destruction. A scientist who tries to communicate with the visitor is brutally brushed aside; it's left to a group of resourceful soldiers to engage the alien in a violent battle to the death. 

The creature in The Thing could have been a metaphor for the Russians as seen by 1950s America: emotionless, fearless, destructive. Similarly, the giant ants created by atomic radiation in Them! are perhaps another symbol for the "warloving" communists. In both movies there is a subliminal fear of science run amok, a fear of the bomb,which like the giant ants in Them! was rapidly proliferating beyond man's ability to control it. Them! screenwriter Ted Sherdeman noted:"Nobody' trusted the atomic bomb at the time." It was no coincidence that Them! (Warner Brothers' biggest-grossing release of 1954) was released soon after the ,Russians exploded their first hydrogen bomb. 

Our fear of Russia also brought' a paranoid fear of brainwashing and foreign subversion. Invaders from Mars (Nostalgia Merchant, $29.95)-William Cameron Menzies' chiller about martians who take over the minds of humans· as a prelude to invasion-is an early (1953) example of Hollywood's preoccupation with this fear. But the definitive expression of such anxiety has to be Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Republic, $59.95), made in 1956. Based on Jack Finney's short novel The Body Snatchers, the movie is a grim chronicle of the relentless takeover of a small California town by alien pods. Humans are replaced with duplicates, exact in every detail' save one: They have no emotions. "There's no room left for love," explains one of the pod people. "It doesn't last. Life is simpler without it." The move is supremely successful as a thriller, but Invasion works on another level: as a parable about the dehumanization of man. 




The fear of dehumanization has been expressed often by science fiction authors, from H. G. Wells to Philip K. Dick, and in movies, from Metropolis (Vestron, $79.95) to Brazil (MCA, $79.95). In one especially colorful film, 1953's The War of the Worlds (Paramount, $59.95), inhu- 

man machines commandeered by equally inhuman martians nearly destroy the earth, but it was in the sixties and later that our fear of technology came into sharp focus. Films such as 1964's Fail-Safe (RCA/ Columbia, $69.95) and 1983's WarGames (CBS/Fox, $79.95) suggest that our growing dependence on machines may prove to be fatal. In both films, computers malfunction in such a way as to bring the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Fail-Safe, which is loaded with speeches that keep hammering this point home, ends with the unsettling image of New York City destroyed, ironically, by American bombers, in atonement for the accidental destruction of Moscow. 

In 1964 director Stanley Kubrick gave us Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (RCA/Columbia, $69.95), showing a military chain of command run by lunatics. Dr. Strangelove's dark satire says that there is no hope for survival: Machines cannot protect us because they are built by men who are insane with their quest for power. Our only solution is to rid ourselves of the bombs-or else man's fate may reflect the movie's chilling conclusion ... the world's destruction. 

But Dr. Strangelove's humor kept the film from being as harrowing as other nuclear-aftermath movies that have dealt with our fear of the bomb. The best of these films is probably On the Beach, Stanley Kramer's sober 1959 production featuring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins, as survivors of thermonuclear war. All are in Australia, helplessly waiting for the nuclear fallout to drift south and kill them. 

The movie, based on Nevil Shute's novel, is really a soap opera with a message, and it works wonderfully well. The everyday moments of these characters' livesfeeding a baby, riding a horse, going on a date-become tremendously important and moving, because each could be the last. Many scenes in the film are wrenching, and the viewer has to agree with one character, who cries out in anger: "It's unfair! I didn't do anything! Nobody I know did anything!" This outcry gives voice to two realizations: The characters' deaths are unjust, but also unavoidable. 

The movie was controversialthe New York Daily News called it "defeatist ... [a] would-be shocker, which plays right up the alley of the Kremlin and the western defeatists and traitors who yelp for the scrapping of the H-bomb." But On the Beach was also a huge popular success and a worldwide money-maker. With its mixture of documentarystyle realism and heart-tugging sentimentality, the film set the standard for such subsequent "aftermath" epics as The Day After (Embassy, $79.95), Testament (Paramount, $59.95), and Threads (World Video, $64.95). 




A film that used the postwar theme as a starting-off point is '1968's Planet of the Apes (Playhouse,' $59.98). This thoughtful thriller encapsulates many of the fears of the fifties and sixties and is one of the most underrated sciencefiction films to date. 

Charlton Heston is George Taylor, the last survivor of a quartet of U.S. astronauts who have landed on a topsy-turvy world where apes are the rulers, humans the beasts. Heston is perfectly cast; with his streamlined physique, he is the "perfect man" II la Michelangelo, constantly on the run to avoid the ape masters who want to lobotomize, castrate, or kill him. Rod Serling and Michael Wilson's philosophical script is given passion and energy by Franklin J. Shaffner, a director who stages action scenes with remarkable vigor. 

The final irony of Planet comes when Taylor discovers that he has landed on the future planet Earth: Man has destroyed himself with the bomb and opened the door for apes to take over the world. 

Besides starring in three more Planet of the Apes movies (the entire set is available from, Playhouse for $299.90: Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes), Heston also appeared in two other sciencefiction parables. In 1971 's The Omega Man (Warner; $59.95), he's the last survivor of a civilization destroyed by germ warfare, a rarely expressed cinematic fear. This frequently powerful movie pits Heston against killer mutants who have been created by a blunder of science. 

Even more forceful in its message is 1973's Soylent Green (MGM/ UA, $59.95)~ The near-future world is overpopulated (New York City has forty million inhabitants); the world  is grossly polluted (a green smog keeps temperatures in the ninetydegree range, day and night); and the world is dehumanized (lovemaking is handled by licensed prostitutes known as "furniture"). As director Richard Fleischer observed: "The idea was to make the people as recognizable to the people of today as possible, because it's a very short extrapolation from what we have presently in our society." In other words, the horrors of the future are right behind us-and gaining fast. 

The ultimate mirror of our fears has to be Terry Gilliam's Brazil, one of the most visually stimulating films ever. Essentially a reworking of George Orwell's famous novel 1984, Brazil is the tale of a man swamped by a heartless and faceless bureaucracy. The story suggests that dreams are the only escape from the cold realities of the postmodern life in which the protagonist lives. Only in his dreams do romance, adventure, and pleasure exist-only in his dreams does he truly live. 




Prophecy? Warning? Fantasy? The year 1984 has come and gone and 1984's vision has not come to pass. Perhaps cautionary movies like these help to cool things off by giving our fears a release valve they might not otherwise have. But we must not turn our backs on their warnings. Consider 1979's The China Syndrome (RCA/Columbia, $69.95), a story about an accident at a nuclear plant. Twelve days after the movie opened, the Three Mile Island accident was in the news. As one observer commented: "The bull's-eye hits in the picture are remarkable. China's reactor has a defective pump that vibrated itself into destruction; Three Mile Island had two defective pumps that vibrated so badly that they were stopped to prevent destruction. China's nearmeltdown threatened an area the size of Pennsylvania. Three Mile's was in Pennsylvania." 



VIDEO TIMES/October 1986



The publisher didn't believe in Charles Dickens' Christmas book – the author had to use his own money to finance its five-shilling color-plated first edition. But A Christmas Carol has always been popular: on the day it was first published, December 25, 1843, it sold 6000 copies. Since then it has earned additional fame through scores of dramatizations, including many film and television versions. Eight of these are now on tape, and they star an unusual cross-section of performers, from Alistair Sim and Henry Winkler to Mickey Mouse and Mr. Magoo.

"Should all of Charles Dickens' marvelous creations, from Mr. Pickwick to Edwin Drood, be suddenly threatened with extinction, the story of Mr. Scrooge would certainly survive," observes Michael Patrick Hearn in The Annotated Christmas Carol. "It has become part of Christmas folklore. " What most modern readers don't know, however, is that at the time of the story, the Christmas tradition itself was threatened with extinction. The Industrial Revolution had given impetus to a recent trend of people turning away from holiday cheer and charity, and by the mid-19th century many did not even look on the day as a holiday.


Dickens, who fondly remembered the old traditions (which were maintained more in the country than in the city), wanted to revive them, and the good will that went with them. He was also concerned about the plight of the poor, who depended ahnost. entirely on volunteer charity. "My heart so sickens within me when I see these scenes, that I ahnost lose the hope of ever seeing them changed, " he wrote after visiting a school for poverty-stricken children.

The author soon hit on the idea for A Christmas Carol as a way to address the issue. In the story he reworked a pair of previous tales to tell the saga of aged miser Ebenezer Scrooge-cruel to his underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit, uncaring of charities, and scornful of the Christmas spirit, which ·he called "humbug." On Christmas Eve Scrooge is visited by four ghosts: his former partner Jacob Marley, chained and damned because he refused to do good while alive; and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. These ghosts take Scrooge to witness scenes of his youth, of current Christmas cheer he is missing, and of his death and the joy it causes his debtors and "friends."

The story is most effective in its use of Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit's "good as gold" crippled son, who will die from poverty if Scrooge does not change, and in its comment on the restorative powers of memory. It is by remembering, by seeing how he once was-kind, generous, unconcerned about the security of money-that Scrooge first begins to change, and to believe in Christmas. "Scrooge," notes Edgar Johnson in his definitive biography of Dickens, "is the embodiment of all that concentration upon material power and callous indifference to the welfare of human beings that the economists had erected into a system, businessmen and industrialists pursued relentlessly, and society taken for granted as inevitable and proper. The conversion of· Scrooge is an image of the conversion for which Dickens hopes among mankind."

The success of the book was more than Dickens himself could have predicted. Beyond the book sales, there were unauthorized stage versions, plagiarisms, and even a "sequel” (a book purporting to tell the life of Scrooge and Tiny Tim until the former's death). There was also a whole new genre: the "holiday book," which Dickens (and his contemporaries) continued to write every year, reworking the Carol's elements of the supernatural and holiday redemption.

And then came the film versions: silents in 1908, 1911, 1913, and 1914, then a slew of talkies, including a new TV adaptation this year starring George C. Scott. Most of these are now available on tape (the most noteworthy exception is the 1938 MGM adaptation starring Reginald Owen) and all offer something of interest to someone. Here's a chronological rundown of what's around, with particular attention paid to the humbug mixed in with the genuine holiday goods.

Scrooge (1935). For Carol collectors only: This was the first sound version of Dickens' story and it stars Sir Seymour Hicks, a distinguished British stage actor who had appeared as Scrooge in a 1914 silent version. His is the best performance in this fairly inept low-budget British production, represented here in a deteriorating print from Reel Images/Video Yesteryear. Dark figures walk in shadowy streets, made even more shadowy by the film's poor contrast. But that's the least of the film's problems.

Technical tricks were then limited in the struggling British film industry, so when Marley makes his appearance all we see is an opening door, a terrified Scrooge crying to the empty air, "Who are you?" and the reply: "Look well, Scrooge, for only your eyes can see me." Then the miser has a talk with a chair in the best Topper tradition. The visits to the past and present are equally wretched.

Although Scrooge's childhood is cut entirely, other familiar characters are here:

Tiny Tim, singing an off-key "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"; Bell, his ex-fiance, delivering her lines with what sounds like a German accent; and Bob Cratchit, looking and acting a lot like a humorless Stan Laurel. Hicks tries to overcome it all and has some success in making his character believable. And Dickens' happy ending still has a nice feeling, but it's not enough to pull this one out of the dumpster. As a curiosity Scrooge is fascinating. As drama it's dull.


A Christmas Carol (1951). This might be called the "Psychological Scrooge." More than any other version, Brian Desmond Hurst's adaptation, scripted by Noel Langley, emphasizes the motivations that guided Scrooge, making him less a symbolic figure and more a complex, tragic everyman. "Nobody ever cared for me, " the child Scrooge says to his sister. "Nobody ever will." This fear and its effects are shown in a series of new scenes, extrapolated from ideas in the story, in which young Scrooge betrays his kindly employer, abandons his fiance, and buys out his former' mentor. A deathbed encounter between Marley and Scrooge shows the depths to which his fear has taken him, unmoved by his best friend's passmg.

The 1951 Carol was created by two past masters of adaptation, Hurst and Langley, who between them had worked on' The Wizard of Oz, Ivanhoe, The Pickwick Papers, and Tom Brown's Schooldays. They were helped by a lively crew of professionals: Alistair Sim, Mervyn Johns, Michael Hordern, and Ernest Thesiger in a wonderful cameo as an undertaker waiting outside the door of Marley's room for him to die ("Ours is a highly competitive profession"). As Dickens enthusiasts, Hurst and Langley brought a loving attention to detail: the London stock exchange was used as a backdrop for one scene, real Victorian toys were employed for Tiny Tim's scenes in a toyshop, and Dickens' dialogue was used constantly.

And even when the words aren't his, they are unerringly on-key: "A message from Mr. Marley to Mr. Scrooge. Just say that Mr. Marley ain't expected to live through the night and if Mr. Scrooge wants to take his leave of him he should nip along smartly or there won't be no Mr. Marley to take leave of as we know the use of the' word." New scenes added – such as young Scrooge at work with young Marley (here played by Patrick Macnee, later of The Avengers) – are seamlessly Dickensian. Most wonderful of all, though, is Sim, who makes Scrooge's gradual transformation, from uncaring to joyful, completely believable.

The main fault in what is probably the best production yet are the tacky special effects (a twirling hourglass on wires represents the passing of time). These are not enhanced by the shockingly bad condition of the print used to make this tape. Besides scratches and dust, many frames are missing (which causes a lot of skipping), and the black & white contrast is poor, giving the darker scenes, obviously lit for atmosphere, a washed-out look. Inaudible sound often compounds the difficulty of understanding thick English accents. This Christmas Carol is a good film given a bad presentation.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1964). The premise of this TV musical, produced when the myopic Mr. Magoo was reaching the peak of his popularity, was typical of many TV adaptations of the Carol: the producers would take familiar series characters (such as Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple, or Ralph and Norton in The Honeymooners) and cast them as Scrooge, Cratchit, and the ghosts in a retelling of the tale, usually done as a dream or a stage production.

In this Carol the miser is played by Quincy Magoo (astute casting since he could never see the world clearly in any of his previous cartoons). The plot follows the main points of the story (though it inexplicably switches the chronology of the Spirits of Past and Present), using a silly device in which Magoo acts as Scrooge in a hit Broadway version (though all the special effects and scene changes shown would have been impossible in any theater I know).



It's all pretty dreadful, from a series of forgettable Broadway-style tunes by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill ("I'm All Alone in the World," "Razzleberry Dressing," "Ringle, Ringle, Coins When They Mingle") to the limited animation employed (popularized by Hanna-Barbera Productions in The Flintstones and The ]etsons; George Jetson seems to be playing Cratchit). The colors are flat, the characters lifeless and jerky, and the whole show is inspid and commercial. The tape is also terribly reproduced, giving the whole thing an ancient look. Strictly for kids, and not very demanding ones at that.

Scrooge (1970). In 1968 Lionel Bart's musical Oliver!, based on Dickens' Oliver Twist, came to the screen, and it was such a hit that Leslie Bricuse (Dr. Doolittle, Goodbye Mr. Chips) conceived, wrote, and scored a musical rendering of the Carol. There had been musical versions before, but none as lavish as this colorful production, just released on video by CBS/Fox. Originally shot in widescreen, the movie's images are noticeably truncated in some spots, and there also seems to be a phasing problem in many points (the corner of the image often shakes and is out-of-focus).

Aside from these difficulties, however, the film is top-notch, a lively "family" adaptation that is best when it is faithful to the original tale and dialogue, worst when it gets too cute-as in an added sequence in which Scrooge visits Marley in hell and has a huge chain placed aroµnd him. The Oliver! -like songs include the popular "Thank You Very Much," "I Hate People," and "Father Christmas." There's a lot of dancing, good cheer, and special effects, ably hat!dled by a cast that includes Alec Guinness as Marley's ghost; Edith Evans, Laurence Naismith, and Anton Rodgers. Albert Finney looks as though he is enjoying himself as the miser and has an affecting scene when he watches and vainly tries to change his past. Dickens might have enjoyed this one. Ronald Neame, who handled The Poseidon Adventure, directed and seems to have based many of his camera setups on the 1951 Carol.

An American Christmas Carol (1979). You can almost see an executive coming up with the idea for this TV movie: "A Christmas Carol is old-hat. Let's update it to Depression-era America and get the hottest star on TV today, Henry Winkler. It can't miss."

Surprisingly, it doesn't, thanks in large part to Winkler's sensitive performance as the Scrooge character, renamed Benedict Slade, an unscrupulous loan shark in Concord, New Hampshire in 1933, and also thanks to Jerome Coppersmith's excellent script, which captures the spirit of Dickens' story without sticking to the letter. For instance, the ghosts are all here, but this time; in best Wizard of Oz fashion, they are people Slade/Scrooge has cheated.

The approach makes the story even more universal (if that's possible), showing that the facts of the tale may change but the essential truth remains: we so often shut our eyes to what is around us, pretending we don't know, when we really don't want to know. When Slade sees the effects of his actions (courtesy of the three spirits), he tries to excuse himself by pleading ignorance. But as the Cratchit figure (well played by R. H. Thomson as a decent man trying to keep his job and conscience) explains to his daughter at Tiny Tim/ Jonathan's grave: "When someone is remembered with love, their spirit never , really dies. So instead of looking for someone to blame, let's make a promise to each other. We will always remember little Jonathan."

Memory is movingly worked into this version, with touching performances by Susan Hogan and Chris Wiggins, and a superb job by Winkler as Slade, aged 22, 36, and 80. The scene in which he brings the means of salvation to Little Jonathan is so well-played that it brought tears to my eyes; it is an effective use of sentiment in which Winkler's actions belie his external crustiness. He becomes a lovable curinudgeon whose bark is no longer as vicious as his bite.

The direction, by Eric Till, is crisp, using" visual cues to imply future events (a burning cigar on a desk tells how a fire in the next sequence began), and the lighting recalls the sepia look of old Christmas cards. There are no technical problems to speak of; the colors are well-reproduced, and the sound is fine. "This is an entirely new approach to the Dickens story," Winkler said in 1979. Yet in being new, the filmmakers really went back to the basics and came up with a thrilling interpretation of the same message of charity and goodwill upon which Dickens himself was so keen.

A Christmas Carol (1982). This Australian animated film is part of "The Charles Dickens Collection," a series of Dickens adaptations acquired by Vestron. In style it is much like the old Classics Illustrated comic books, and as such it is faithful to the source material and can serve as an introduction to the story if nothing better is on hand. Beware: the colors are flat and dull, and the animation – though pretty good by modern standards – is jerky and limited compared to Disney or the old Warner Brothers cartoons. The voices often don't match the intent of the words (the Ghost of Christmas Past seems peevish, and Scrooge is cruel even when he's trying to be nice). It's a wonderless retelling, a message without any merriment.

Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983). Walt Disney's name has become synonymous with kid's stuff. A Christmas Carol is essentially a child's story, for as Dickens said, "If we can only preserve ourselves from growing up, we shall never grow old and the young may love us to the last. Not to be too wise, not to be too stately, not to be too rough with innocent fancies, or to treat them with too much lightness are points to be remembered."


That could be the credo for this wonderful half-hour cartoon, which returns to the form the studio pioneered. This version (Disney's second) casts familiar characters in the roles: Scrooge McDuck is the miser (with the voice of Alan Young, Mr. Ed's Wilbur, who also worked· on the script), Mickey Mouse is Bob Cratchit, the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Goofy is Marley. As one animator points out in the revealing Making of Mickey's Christmas Carol tape: "There was a challenge in every character in this picture because the part the cHaracter was playing sometimes didn't meet up exactly to the part the character was .... Goofy is a fumbling, bumbling idiot. .. but he had to play Marley, who has to scare Scrooge somehow .... That was a big problem. . . I think we handled it successfully. "

They do it by remaining faithful to the tale's main points and having fun in the process (Goofy trips and falls down the stairs; the Giant/Ghost cries "Fe Fi Fo Fum-" before recollecting that he isn't supposed to say that). The animation is wonderful, excellently reproduced on this flawless tape: fluid and colorful, with rich tones and textures that suggest life on every frame, trom Scrooge's glistening golden pile of money to an ominous graveyard scene. This last is Disney at its best: somber purples, mixed with a red glow in the sky, create an effective mood as Mickey/ Cratchit bids farewell to Tiny Tim. Then follows a nightmarish sequence of flames and death for Scrooge.

Mickey's Christmas Carol is the sort of cartoon they weren't supposed to be making anymore: the characters and background are constantly moving, and it's exciting to watch, the kind of work that fills children (young and old) with the sense of wonder that is a part of Dickens' story.

Scrooge's Rock 'n' Roll Christmas (1983). When A Christmas Carol had reached the peak of its popularity, Dickens was ilispirited to see the crop of plagiarisms and bastardizations that soon appeared. These ranged from a theatrical· dramatization, A Christmas Carol; or The Miser's Warning, to an outright ripoff, "A Christmas Story reoriginated from the original…and analytically condensed for this work;" Such unauthorized adaptations were par for the course, though they still infuriated Dickens, who complained to a friend that his work had been "made to appeared a wretched, meagre, miserable thing; and is still hawked about with my title and my name-with my characters, my incidents, and whole design."

One wonders what he would have thought of this misconceived video, a "free adaptation" that has, little to do with Dickens, the Carol, or the spirit of Christmas. Opening in a dimly lit workroom on Christmas Eve, the tape introduces us to a rather ratty looking Scrooge bemoaning the humbug of Christmas. Then a pretty young woman, looking like an over-aged Alice in Wonderland, enters the workroom thinking it's a record store. She uses a magic crystal ball to cheer Scrooge up with performance videos of, among others. Three Dog Night, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and Bobby Goldsboro, all singing big Christmas hits.

The premise is bad enough, but the videos are even worse: bland demo tapes for the stars, who frolic in the snow or stand in front of Christmas trees lipsyncing such tunes as "White Christmas," "Rocking Around the Christmas Trees," and "Jingle Bell Rock. " The nadir probably comes during "Do You Hear What I Hear?" – a saccharine song warbled by Love and Mary Magregor, who hold a bored six-pound sheep between them (I wonder what it was thinking?).

The clips are interspersed with inane commentary by the pseudo-Alice and the cantankerous Scrooge-who, as played by Jack E1am, seems more like a drunken Grizzly Adams than Dickens's creation ("I didn't see no dogs," he quips after a song by Three Dog Night). The whole extravaganza, well-reproduced on tape, was directed by Bob Franchini and Lou Tedesco. It is the worst sort of holiday Dickens' exploitation, the kind of kitschy music-hall variety show I thought no one had the nerve to produce these days. Bah, humbug indeed.

VIDEO, December 1984

Star Trek: The Cage


It was billed as the first-time-ever public screening of Star Trek's original pilot: although it wasn't (Star Trek conventions have shown it for a decade), Trekkies, TV buffs, and reporters gathered at New York's Museum of Broadcasting in August to watch the show and hear Trek creator Gene Roddenberry expound on the whys and wherefores of the pilot and the series.

The show was commissioned by NBC and filmed in 1964 after Roddenberry, a successful TV writer and producer, had sold the network on the idea of an action-adventure series set in space. Jeffrey Hunter, whom Roddenberry had seen in King of Kings as Jesus Christ, was cast as the somber Capt. Pike, while Leonard Nimoy played Mr. Spock, the alien with the pointed ears. The network was disappointed by the show, calling it "too cerebral," but impressed enough with the special effects and concept to ask for a second pilot. This one starred William Shatner as Capt. Kirk and was more action-oriented. ("We even had a fist fight in the end," noted Roddenberry.) Star Trek was born.

The Cage, however, had cost NBC a lot of money. When pressed by budgets and deadlines during the run of the series, Roddenberry incorporated the bulk of the footage into a two-part episode, The Menagerie. Rather than make a duplicate print of The Cage, though, cost-conscious technicians chopped up the only copy, snipping out the scenes they needed.

When Paramount went to release the first pilot on videocassette earlier this year, it discovered the only complete copy was a black and white version owned by Roddenberry. Undaunted, the company mixed color footage used in The Menagerie with the missing monochrome scenes to create the composite they are issuing, (Roddenberry refused to colorize the B&W material, saying that colorization "looks fake.")

The Cage is a fascinating experience for fans, adding texture to familiar scenes from The Menagerie, Although only about 10 minutes has been added back, the restored bits include the opening credits, a silly traveling-through space sequence, and a line that apparently upset NBC censors. When Pike remarks on guest star Susan Oliver's outfit, she replies: "Well, I have to wear something" –pause, suggestively – "don't I?”


Star Trek: The Original Series



Produced for Home Viewing


Color. 1966. Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Corbomite Maneuver, Mudd's Women, The Naked Time, Charlie X, The Enemy Within, The Man Trap, What Are Little Girls Made Of?, Dagger of the Mind, Miri. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly; dir. various. 50 min. ea. Beta, VHS. $14.95 ea. Paramount.

Its creator Gene Roddenberry called it a "Wagon Train to the stars," but that earlier series has been forgotten while Star Trek cruises on, rerunning and rerunnirig around the country. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, and the other denizens of the huge 23rd-century stars hip Enterprise-along with phrases like "Beam me up Scotty," "He's dead Jim, " and "To boldly go where no man has gone before"-are more familiar to some people than their own families. Why? Though you can look for the answer in books, at conventions, even in Ph. D. dissertations, the show itself is still the best place to look-and Paramount's release of all 79 episodes on videotape will sure help.

The first 10 episodes-beginning with the series' second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and running through "Miri"-show what all the fuss has been about. A typical episode presents the heroic Captain Kirk (William Shatner) with a seemingly insoluble dilemma, such as a plague affecting the1crewmembers ("The Naked Time") or a menacing alien capable of destroying the ship ("The Corbo mite Maneuver"). The solution usually reaffirms what it means to be human, and entails the assistance of Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Chief Medical Officer McCoy (DeForest Kelly). They are two sides of the human coin-one is logic, the other emotion-and Kirk's wit and decisiveness balance them out.

Humanity is what the series is about, for all its sci-fi trappings. The best episodes deal with human issues from growing up ("Charlie X") and sexism ("Mudd's Women") to penal systems ("Dagger of the Mind") and computers ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?"). In "The Naked Time" the crewmembers are affected by a virus that forces them to reveal their innermost selves: their fears, hopes, and dreams. In "The Enemy Within" Kirk is divided into two parts of the same man: one savage, the other compassionate. In "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" a brilliant scientist transplants his mind into an android body but finds that his soul is missing. He can think, but he is not human. To be so, says Star Trek, is to feel. To make mistakes. To be emotional. To care.

The best Star Trek is the stuff of opera: stylized morality plays with characters painted in broad strokes that allow the viewer to empathize. As David Gerrold, a former Star Trek writer, put it in The World of Star Trek: "We want to be as brave as our Captain Kirks, as cool as our Mr. Spocks, and as outspoken as our Dr. McCoys. We long to be as colorful and as larger-than-life as they are."


For the uninitiated (if. there is such a thing), the best of the first 10 are "Charlie X," a witty yet disturbing episode with Robert (Strangers on a Train) Walker's lookalike son as a human with strange powers, learning what it means to live in society; "The Naked Time," which spotlights all the leads in moments that would eventually become familiar as shtick (was this the first time Scotty warned that· "the engines can't take much more of this, " or that Spock cried?); and "Where No Man Has Gone Before," with Gary (2001) Lockwood and Sally (M*A *S*H) Kellerman as two crewmen transformed by an alien energy field. Shades of 200 l! Yet Kirk's message is melodramatically telling: "Do you like what you see? Absolute power corrupting absolutely?" The best episodes have calculated histrionics and well-staged action. They are notable for the wildly varying performances of Shatner, who can be both terribly good and terribly bad-all in the same episode (see especially "The Enemy Within").

In the end, what do you say about Star Trek? That it has a message? That it has good character types? That it has concepts? And that it now has the welcome familiarity of an old friend? Yes, and you can even say it's fun.

 The transfer is excellent, the majority of the episodes exhibiting crisp color and sharp sound. The earlier shows have faded a little, but not too noticeably. That the shows are uncut is a delight. 

VIDEO Magazine, 1984


Superman IV


Superman IV: 

The Quest for Peace 

1987. Christopher Reeve, Gene.Hackman, Mariel Hemingway, Margot Kidder; dir. Sidney]. Furie. 90m. (PC). cc Hi St $89.95. LV CX $34.98. Warner. Image: good. 



Superman is 50 this year and there's a superload of merchandise being unleashed, from the 1940s Superman cartoons to the Man of Steel's fourth big-screen adventure, The Quest for Peace. The ultimate hero was created at the tail end of the Great Depression by two high school kids. A man who could leap tall buildings with a single bound and bend steel in his bare hands seemed like a nifty fellow to have around in a pinch. But where's the fun or suspense in watching an invincible man? 

The many comic book, screen and TV incarnations of the Man of Steel have faced the problem in various ways, from creating kryptonite, the deadly green rock that takes away Superman's powers, or other . super-beings equal to the red-and-blue costumed hero. 

That's the ploy in Superman IV, probably the best of the series. Like the earlier TV adventures, this one makes more with less: what it lacks in spectacular stunts it makes up for in wit and an interesting plot. There are also nifty fights in which Superman is almost bested by Nuclear Man, a monosyllabic heavy. On the downside, the special effects work is shabby and the background details careless. Performances are fine, though Reeve's Superman is such a humorless stick, you have to agree with villain Lex Luthor (Hackman) when he observes, "You're such a workaholic, Superman."



TV Executives




Dave Higgins likes the predictable. "You can always be creative when you have an order to fall back on," he notes. "I' know some very creative people who are too willing to trust their instincts and not do a proper job of preparation. 1 get nervous about that."

Dave Higgins also likes the unpredictable.

"He's a real nut about trolleys,” observes Reid Johnson, a long-time colleague. "For a wedding anniversary one year, he and his wife rented a train car and took 40 people out on a dinner trip. He enjoys doing things in a grand way.”

Higgins, the recently appointed director of broadcast operations at CBS-affiliate WCCOTV Minneapolis 1St. Paul, is like that trolley in many ways. The I5-year station veteran is steady and dependable-a man who learns from his mistakes. Says Higgins: "You have to look at the process, at what worked and what didn't and why.”

Today, the 40-year-old former general manager of WCCO is reviewing everything-he oversees the engineering and production departments=In his station's tight ratings race with the other network affiliates. "For the first time, NBC [KARE-TV] is competitive” he says. "In the last two or three years, to try and take a leadership position, we've made commitments to paintbox systems and SNG vehicles at the expense of field camera replacements. Those are overdue.”

Having the equipment for remotes and live coverage is more important than ever, says Higgins, because of a "renewed interest in local programming that reflects the increasing importance of attracting new local business.”

Local production activities range from an annual summer concert and a fall marathon to the biggest event of the year: the Minncsota Stale High School HockeyToumarnent, which attracts 100,000 people over the course of three days. Higgins has a tight lock on directing much of it.      

"I love directing;' he admits, "but I'll probably do less and less. Part of my mission is to improve overall productivity and lI'hd new directions. We are inctined to be more conservative about new ventures now because of our resources, but we haven't tightened the budget significantly on news." WCCO is known for its top-flight local newscasts and, nationally, for its semi-regular, much-awarded documentary series, The Moore Report.

Higgins lives in Minneapolis, two miles from work, and has a young daughter. He admits to reading "escapist literature;' but seems most comfortable talking about TV directing, which he has done most of his professional life.

He finds inspiration in the work of great sports directors because of "the opportunities they have created for themselves to make a lasting contribution;' he says. "They set standards and invented new ways of presenting an event to a viewer.

"Sports Illustrated once did an article on T.V's coverage of sports. They said the presence of TV at an event changes the event, and the producer and director are truly the eyes and ears of the viewing public. What they decide is important is what the public is going to get. I think those are two very good points to remember."

VIEW, June 15, 1987






Steve Lowe knows how to improvise and make it pay. In 1973. when only 22, he and Brian Capener took cameras and equipment to lsrael, Romania, and Belgium to shoot a Salt Lake City dance troupe. "It was so low-budget. we'd often have to draft a dancer to ,monitor the audio levels," recalls Lowe. The result, A Time to Dance, won a regional Emrny when it was broadcast on PBS’s KBYU-TV. "I ran into Brian a little while ago,” says Lowe. "And he said, “It's a good thing we didn't have much experience then or we'd have said it could never be done.”

"Never say never" could be Steve Lowe's motto. As the recently appointed director of syndication and production services at CBS-affiliate KSL-TV Salt Lake City. Lowe is an innovative workhorse who manages to find dollars where others never looked. "It’s a selflf starter," observes William R. Murdoch, the vice president and general manager of the station. "He created the post he's now in when we when we were looking for ways to generate more revenue."

Lowe joined KSL four years ago after a stints at KBYU and in commercial production. It is KSL’s forte, live sports coverage, that Lowe first made his mark, negotiating an exclusive three-year contract with Brigham Young University to televise its popular football games. It was a canny movesince the games have earned 30-35 shares for KSL and are now the linchpin of Lowe's syndication plans.

"People in this region are more interested in local events than other [programming):' he says. "Local production is on the upswing. There was a time when it was going the other way. But people would rather see BYU football than UCLA-Stanford, and advertisers are very interested in buying local time." Lowe has sold BYU games rights to 16 regional stations in Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, Arizona and California.

"People in this region are more interested in local events. There was a time when it was going the other way."

KSL produces TV spots (primarily under its commercial arm, Video West) for everything from the neighborhood grocery store to the local car dealer. This venture regularly conflicts with the station's news production schedule and so Lowe must wear two hats, juggling commercial clients and KSI’s needs. "We have a mobile unit, an in-house facility-the works," he says."The only conflict is in terms of time. Generally the commercial clients take precedence, but even with that situation, there are times when we say to the commercial client. 'You can't get in this week.”

Lowe often spends 14 hours a day at his job, which is 15 miles from his home, wife and four children in Farmington, Utah. "My dad was not in television, but he was an extremelv hard worker. I got it from an early age that it could be fun to work" His only hobbies are logistical planning in the military reserve and reading books like Megatrends. "I'd like to try and anticipate what's coming next," he notes.

JUNE 15, 1987


TV Industry Stories (1)



BURBANK-In what is being billed as a TV first, a broadcast network, NBC, is producing a program for The Disney Channel, a national cable service. "It's simple, really," says Gene Walsh, VP/media planning for NBC Productions, who is responsible for the new show. "We're a supplier of shows, so we supply:' 

The product is nothing out of the ordinary. A sitcom called Good Morning Miss Bliss, it features Walt Disney contract player Hayley Mills and chronicles the adventures of, in Executive Producer Peter Engel's words, "the last of the great teachers:' Although the pilot was well received by NBC's executives and the public-it won its time period against a James Bond movie and a miniseries when it aired on July 11, 1987 -the net- 

work, top-heavy with successful skeins and/or previous commitments, passed. "I think it was a little too soft, too family oriented for them;' opines Engel. But those were virtues to the folks at TDC, which was looking for a network-quality, first-run series. 

After 13 episodes are produced at the NBC studios in Burbank, the series will originate from the Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. (see related story in this section). 

An NBC spokesman reports that the show starts on the West Coast so that production heads at both NBC and Disney have easy access to Miss Bliss as its concept is being developed. In addition, a larger pool of technical and creative talent to draw from in Burbank is expected to help the show "get into a groove;' before it is moved to the new facility. 

The four-camera, videotape series is being posted in Orlando at the new Disney-MGM postproduction facility installed by the Post Group, in addition to the California facilites. The writing staff will be headquartered in both locations. 

The deal gives Disney 80 episodes to run over two years, with NBC then having the option to pick up the series for network broadcast. After that, Buena Vista, Disney's syndication arm, could syndicate. Observes Engel: "Disney gets shows with more production values than cable normally has, and NBC gets 80 episodes of a show already paid for in another venue. It's a new distribution pattern - horizontal rather than vertical. 

"There is no real difference in doing it for Disney rather than NBC;' Engel continues. "Maybe there are not as many people involved in the approvals process, and budgets are not as high, but since we have 80 episodes we can amortize a lot. We can make firmer deals and offer more employment. And we may be able to make dollars go farther in Florida. But no one will be able to see the difference in quality between this show and the network pilot."



• SEATTLE -Call it a costs=aving measure. Or call it an innovation. But don't call it a "minibureau."

"We don't really have a name for what we do;' says Scott LaPlante, the news operation manager at Seattle NBC-affiliate KING-TV. "I'm sort of a liaison for NBC News. I work for KING, but when NBC needs something done, I get it for them:' 

LaPlante's role is the latest wrinkle in network news operations-the network news bureau that isn't a bureau. It all started in December 1987 when, according to an NBC spokesman, the network acknowledged a few facts: "The Northwest is an important area to cover. KING has an outstanding news organization. Why not take advantage of that?" 

Instead of spending the money to open up a full-fledged bureau, NBC contacted KING News Director Don Varyu and asked him if he had someone who could lineproduce stories in Seattle and the outlying areas, as well as keep an eye out for material that might be of national interest. Varyu tapped LaPlante, who supervises photography and editing at the station and also coordinates satellite feeds of Northwestern news footage to NBC affiliates nationwide. 

"Scott works for us but takes time out for NBC projects;' says Varyu. "It's a real juggling act and he does it well."

According to LaPlante, who supplies story ideas, sound bites and even segments (via satellite)for the Today show and News at Sunrise, the arrangement benefits both network and affiliate: "They may come to me and say: 'We're doing a segment on the environment. Can you give us anything?' On the other hand, I may be doing 'a story for KING that is of national interest, like the one I suggested on the Portland Symphony conductor, James DePreist ... he's a real Renaissance man:' 

Although KING acquired no new ENG equipment (LaPlante did get a computer hook-up. with NBC News so he could keep track of what stories are on tap), there are other benefits. "The network was interested in covering Mary Decker when she ran in Eugene, Ore., because she would be in the Olympics,"' says LaPlante. "I went down there as line producer and covered it for them. NBC picked up the tab, but KINGbenefited because we got material out of it, as well:' 

LaPlante works with NBC correspondents and technicians, but has also used local crews for fast-breaking news. "If something big happens in Alaska, I'm three or four hours ahead of L.A. where the networks have full bureaus:' 

The savings to NBC are hard to calculate, but they can only be large, since complete news bureaus usually employ a minimum of 25 people. "Cost is certainly a factor;' notes an NBC spokesman. Is it a trend? Not if you ask CBS and ABC. Says a CBS spokesman: "If we felt we needed a bureau in Seattle, we'd set one up:' Adds Elise Adde, director of news information at ABC News: "We have no plans for minibureaus. We are perfectly happy with the bureaus we have." 


wrap. september 1988

TV Industry Stories (2)


SUPERBOYwhich follows the adventures of Superman at a collegiate 19, is streaking across TV screens nationwide this fall. Presented by AlexanderSalkind and executive-produced by his son, Ilya-the team that produced the first three Superman theatricals - Superboy has been an exercise in super-speed, and a trial by fire for the fledgling MGM-Disney Studios in Orlando. 

Announced in February for an October air-date, the series is the first ever to be shot at the studio, a new venture that includes three convertible sound stages and a 1,000-foot, New York City-street set. "We chose Orlando because of the great variety of locations in the surrounding area;' notesIlyaSalkind. "You have everything... [except] mountains." 


In addition, all post work is being done at the facility by 

The Post Group, which is running Disney-MGM Studio's postproduction arm. At Post, the processed film is transferred to tape via a Rank Mark IV, with a colorcorrected one-inch master then made into laser discs with an ODC (Optical Disc Corporation) machine. Off-lining is then done on the CMX 6000 random access editing system, with the resulting edit decision list taken to the on-line editing stage where any special effects elements (such as x-ray vision) are incorporated. Special effects are created from a Digital FIX machine in conjunction with an Abekas A-64. 

Many of the special effectsincluding the blue-screen flying sequences perfected by Superman III-have been borrowed from the Superman features. "The new things;' Ilya Salkind explains, "are complete electronic motion control, which we didn't have [when we started the movies in 1978]. There is also the extra kick of TV electronics and the fact that things which may not look wonderful on the big screen are fine on the smaller screen." The series, which is being shot in 35mm, is being transferred to tape for effects. "You have a vast improvement on look and a sharper image when you use film," Salkind adds. "We never even thought of tape [as the primary medium]." 


Although Superboy is Salkind's first television venture, he is being assisted by familiar faces and TV veterans. From the Superman features, BobSimmonds is the line producer and Colin Chilvers, who won an Academy Award for special visual effects on Superman: The Movie (the original film), is one of three directors. (The other directors are Jackie Cooper, who played Perry White in the movies, and Reza Badayi, whose credits include Cagneyand Lacey.) From TV, executive story consultant Fred Freiberger produced the last season of the original Star Trek, while writers Michael Morris, Howard Dimsdale, Ed Jurist, Bernard M. Kahn and Robert Barbash wrote for programs including All in the Family, Quincy and The Six MillionDollar Man. 

The first 13 half-hour episodes, syndicated to 92 percent of the U.S. by Viacom Enterprises, are budgeted at $500,000 apiece. "We take seven days to shoot, and 10 days in postproduction," observes Salkind, who admits the pace is. a challenge compared to the more leisurely world of films: 

"We don't have six months to solve a problem." Costs are much lower than in Hollywood, he notes, and after an initial shakedown period -':'which you would have anywhere''--the crews (local and L.A.-imported) have been top-notch. "Some are even working 16-, 17-hour days," he adds. 

Nonetheless, Salkind claims the program will not take the kind of shortcuts the original Superman TV series took in the 1950s, when special effects were amortized by using the same shots over the course of 104 episodes: "You can't cheat like that. Of course, sometimes he flies in the same way, but we will always re-do it." 

To Salkind, however, the most immediate concern is not effects but character. "The original TV series had very good characterizations that the audience could relate to. That is very hard to do and it all really boils down to that. Special effects can help a show, but if the characters are not there, you have nothing." 


wrap • october 1988






NEW YORK-The robocams are fighting it out. NBC made the first move, spending two years developing robotic cameras for NBC Nightly News and NBC News at Sunrise. That $750,000three-cameras-on-tracks system made its debut in March (WRAP 4/88). Then New York independent WPIX-TV followed with a robotic studio (which one source says cost $200,000). Now ABC has announced that it is developing its own robot setup, that will begin on-air testing inthe first quarter of '89. 

"We don't like anything that we see now," asserts Eric Rosenthal, general manager of audio-visual system engineering at ABC. He feels that WPIX's trackless robocams - Ikegami cameras utilizing Vinten Equipment Inc.'s MicroSwift servo-control system oscillate if they are raised too high on their pedestals. "They have too much play in their bearings, and they have 'a rubbery feeling. I don't feel like I have control; the camera and. joystick don't move as one." As for NBC's system, manufactured by Evershed Power Optics, Rosenthal says: "Having those tracks means they're not very flexible. If one camera goes down, it's very hard to replace it." 

Not so, counters NBC's Bobby Lee Lawrence, general manager of news engineering, who has supervised the network's project:"We always have another camera standing by on set in case a camera goes down, which has very rarely happened. And if the mechanics of the tracks fail, we can switch to manual and someone can go in and push it." 

That problem actually occurred on one news broadcast when the camera started "a lateral move"without instructions. On-air Anchor Connie Chung began moving with the camera, but was saved any embarrassment when the system was switched to manual. "Sure there are bugs to iron out;' says Lawrence. "The motors were underspeed. We found that after two weeks they started running down and the cameras would not respond as quickly. We've fixed that by upgrading to a stronger motor." 

NBC's next move is to install robotic cameras in Washington, D.c., Burbank, Calif., and London, and after that-probably in two years - the network will add what WPIX already has: a computer-operated switcher, saving $100,000 on a staff job. 

These moves don't phase ABC. Notes Rosenthal: "We were not looking to be the first. We are interested in solving problems in a long-term fashion. We are currently looking at many systems - TSM [Total Spectrum Manufacturing Inc.] and others-that are quiet, lend themselves to state-of-the-art control and are flexible. We are also adding our own designs." Adds Julius Barnathan, president of ABC broadcast operations and engineering: "We are looking at NBC only to find out what not to " 

"A year ago, ABC said they had no interest in robots," counters NBC's Lawrence, "so I think it's wonderful that they're doing this. I'm glad they don't like our system or WPIX's. Ours was the first in the industry and the first is not necessarily going to be the best. ABC will learn from mistakes and maybe come up with a better system - and that can only enhance the industry."

WRAP, 1988




• LOS ANGELES- Jim "Bullet" Baily, a 33-year-old Australian stuntman, was keen on setting a world record-and on appearing on American television-when he arranged an unusual gimmick. He would drag behind a car on his stomach and let go at 85 m.p.h. The car would then swerve away, with Baily carried by the momentum through a 306-foot, 1,600degree flaming tunnel. Baily would wear a protective suit but only had a minute of oxygen. "Because of the flames, we couldn't really see him if he got stuck in the middle;' recalls Producer· Joshua Morton, who filmed the event on four 16mm cameras in 1981. "If he didn't make it through, he didn't make it-period;' Baily made it, zooming in and out of the flames in 4.2 seconds. 

Now, seven years after Baily's accidental death, which occurred during another stunt, the segment has found a home in Jericho Productions' Playing with Fire, part of the Arts & Entertainment Network's Living Dangerously series, airing this season. Although the episode uses archival footage of famous stunts of the past as background, the bulk of the one-hour show offers film and TV excerpts of Baily, as well as contemporary interviews with people who knew him. 

Morton, a self-styled "microproducer;' assembled Fire in three months for $80,000, combing UCLA archives for vintage footage and the U.S. and Australia for clips of the stuntman. The result was a potpourri of material, from Betacam and 3/4-inch tape to 16mm film and 35mm black-and-white film and slides. 

"I shot the interviews on Betacam for cost reasons;' notes Morton, who generally employed a BVW 505 Betacam SP CCD camera. "I have a film background, . but I really think the tape here looks great. It's all a question of how you light it. We used available daylight with some fill thrown in;' 

Due to the variety of formats, editing the program took some careful juggling. According to Morton, the process started off at Starfax in Los Angeles, where the material was transferred to halfinch tape. Morton then off-line edited at his home on a Panasonic AG-6500 before continuing the process at Varitel Video in Los Angeles. From a computerized edit list compiled by Morton, Varitel transferred all Fire footage-except for the Beta, which was edited as is-to oneinch for on-line editing. Ampex ADO and Quantel Paintbox workwith sound effects added to the archival footage at Coley Sound. 

"I used a Paintbox for a logo and the ADO for a bumper montage of slides ... and the opening and closing credits;' explains Morton. "We had to reposition them on-line to make them smooth. We did some color enhancing, too, but in general I didn't do a lot of fancy 

stuff. The material was so strong on its own, I just did straight cuts. That's what a documentary is to me." 

Baily's fatal adventure proved the most difficult to salvage on tape as it "wrinkled and looked like a VHS copy;' says Morton. He explains that Baily, intent upon recording himself as he hung (via a glider hitch) from the wheels of a small airplane taking off, attached a camera, using a 3/4-inch work tape, under the wing of the plane. Not satisfied with the taped results, Baily repeatedly tried the stunt as he repositioned the camera at different angles, until his 300-foot plunge. 

While Morton is utilizing this last tape in Fire, he insists that the' program is not meant to be sensationalistic. If anything, he stresses, it's to show that Baily went too far too fast. "For years I've had this material;' says Morton. "I know it sounds like bull, but I really mean it; I wanted Jim to have his moment. I wanted to finish his story." 


WRAP, 1988




ADAMS, MASS.-As winner of an MTV contest called MTV At My Place With Belinda Carlisle, Dawn Wellspeak and her Adams, Mass. home have become the stars of MTV's game show, Remote Control, its dance program, Club MTvand several video-jocky (VI) segments. 


One fan's fantasy can be a producer's nightmare, however, as the MTV staff had only one week to prepare. "It could have been a studio apartment," says Lauren Corraoproducer'for the Remote Control segments, who says that although the house was not spacious - it included seven rooms and two bathrooms, all eventually occupied by equipment and crew-it was workable. NEP supplied the equipment, which besides lights, soundboardsmics and monitors, included two one-inch hand-held cameras on tripods and one Steadicam. "While they were setting up on Tuesday night;' notes Corrao, "we were able to free up the Steadicam to shoot some VI segments." 


Part of the setup involved building a wall between the living room and dining room that the Remote Control host would tear down on the air. "I wanted to knock down a real wall;' jokes Corrao, "but they wouldn't let me." She and her colleagues did have their way in everything else, however, like rearranging furniture, drilling holes in the driveway for a tent, parking a tractor trailer on the front lawn, and painting logos on the house itself. 


By the time the equipment was set up, there was barely room for the Remote Control contestants. Says Corrao: "The basic idea was not to build a set and put it in someone's home, but to actually get the feel of their home. We used very few outside props. My only regret is we couldn't fit in a studio audience;' 


The show also adaptedMTV's standard formats. Instead of "Beat the Bishop," for instance in which a "bishop" races around the studio collecting props while a contestant tries to figure out a math problem, the home-grown Remote featured "Beat Your Mom," with Dawn's mother racing around the kitchen collecting pot holders. 


The biggest worry of the dayand-a-half shoot was the weather, as Club MTV was to be shot in the backyard. Naturally, it was pouring on the morning of the taping, so the production company ordered tents and debated whether to move the festivities into the garage. While Remote Control and VI segments were being shot inside, however, the rain let up enough for the show to go on as planned. 


"It was really fantastic;' observes Corrao of the experience. "That's what TV production is all about: figuring out how to get a problem solved." The house, incidentally, was restored to normal, except for one change: "We painted a big MTV logo across the front of the house" says Corrao, "and had paintings of dancing legs on the back for Club MTvI heard they're keeping the MTV logo; I don't know about the legs."


WRAP, October 1988


TV Industry Stories (3)

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:511:]]KTRK-TV HOUSTON 

Station Profile


 KTRK-TV is "so strong;' says Ken Hoffman, TV columnistfor the Houston Post, "they could run my home movies, unedited, and still earn 25 shares." Hoffman is exaggerating the strength of this Capital Cities/ABC 0&0, but not by much. In reality, for example, KTRK's 18-year-old Million Dollar Movie soundly beat two shows in King World's power trio in Arbitron's May '88 book:The Oprah Winfrey Show, by a full rating point, and Jeopardy, by two points. Both air on CBS affiliate KHOU-TV


Other examples of the station's dominance: From 9 a.m. to midnight, the May Arbitron book gave KTRK a 9 rating/23 share versus a 6/16 for KHOU and a 6/14 for NBC-affiliate KPRC-TV. KTRK's local news hour at 6 p.m. earned a 13/25 in May, equaling the other affiliates' numbers combined (KHOU, 7/14; KPRC, 5/10). At 10 p.m. the station pulls a 19/33 versus KPRC's 9/16 and KHOU's 9/15. Even ABC's less than spectacular prime-time schedule is consistently number one in the city-thanks, says former news' director Jim Topping, to KTRK. "The station has such a strong identity;' he observes, "that when people are making up their minds for evening viewing, they gravitate to KTRK." 


Loyalty and affection are the , magic words for the station. "They have an infallible touch for being part of the community;' says the Post's Hoffman. Paul Bures, KTRK's president and general manager, concurs: "We try to identify and address issues of concern to Houston/"


More practically, remarks Topping, now general manager of CapCities/ABC 0&0 KGO-TV San Francisco, HUT levels indicate that local viewers are voracious newshounds, especially where their community is concerned. "They have a strong sense of identity and regional pride;' he notes. 


KTRK feeds that appetite by placing a strong emphasis on local news and public-affairs programming. It is the only station in the market that runs a full hour of news at 6 p.m. (following a 5-5:30 newscast and World News Tonight at 5:30). According to Topping, "that move gave us an advantage. We could cover more stories in depth and give more time to breaking local stories [than our competitors]." In 1983, the 85-person news departments lightly larger than KHOU's and on par with KPRC's began a series of "task force" reports in which six reporters would spend 30 minutes on a story from six different angles."


The most recent' task-force feature, in May, was a look at the drug epidemic' in Houston, analyzed from the point of view of a neighborhood resident. That report was also tied into a half-hour documentary, two talk shows focusing on black and Hispanic neighborhoods, a special segment on Good Morning, Houston, a 7-a.m. news feature and an editorial. 



"The response was tremendous;' recalls Bures, "with many people requesting we repeat the half-hour special:' KTRK did, in prime time, and it beat CBS and NBC shows in the time period, as well as an Astros baseball game on an independent station. 


A kindred approach is also employed with Cood Morning, Houston, the Monday-Friday 9-a.m. show that regularly beats its network competitors by asmuch as five points. (May Arbitron figures gave it a 7/28 over 2s at the other affiliates.) "That is a very important show for us;' observes Bures of the 16-year-old talkfest. "We did a careful appraisal of who's watching and designed a thoughtful, informational program that helps people understand how to live better." 


"When you watch [Good Morning, Houston];' says the Post's Hoffman, "you feel like you're taking a rocket back to the 1950s. It's dominated by this male host, a big lug of a guy, and the female cohost who does morning exercises" But Hoffman also thinks the station is incredibly canny. "Jim Topping was always right on top of everything;' he says. "If another station let a reporter go, he would pick him up. I remember a radio reporter who had a very aggressive style. His station fired him. Topping hired him and molded him into a friendly and successful TV personality for the station. Topping saw opportunities and took them:' (At press Jime, Topping had not been replaced at KTRK.) 


In early fringe, Hoffman says the station has eschewed syndicated fare or talk shows (it has only The New Sea Hunt and Donahue) for Million Dollar Movie, one of the last of the afternoon film showcases. In May, the movie earned an Arbitron 8/22 against a 7/18 for Oprah (KHOU) and a 7/18 for Ceraldo (KPRC) in its first hour, increasing its lead as the afternoon wore on. "We are discriminating in our library;' explains Bures. "We try very hard to put films on that will play well in this marketplace-like westerns-rather than looking at what New York critics like."


The Houston market has been hurting lately with the dismal state of the oil business. But the situation is improving, says Bures, who became president and general manager in 1986. "It is substantially better than it was a year ago. The future is not all blue skies, but it's promising."


As for KTRK: "We see no changes. The biggest challenge in being number one for so long is in how we evolve .... We must always satisfy three masters: our community, our shareholders and our station."



VIEW, AUGUST 15, 1988 


TV Industry Stories (4)






Station Profile 


Call it the tail wagging the dog or a helping hand from along-time partner. Or just call it a typical move for an atypical station: CBS-affiliate WJXT-TV Jacksonville, Fla., spent nearly 50 percent of its in-house promotion budget during last November, February and May's sweeps promoting CBS prime-time series Dallas, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing. 

"We thought it was time to stop criticizing the network for things that weren't their fault;' explains VP and General Manager Gus Bailey Jr., citing the takeover bids and management turmoil that have plagued CBS. "That's affected their ratings and we thought we should do what we could to help them:' 

Also, he admits, to help the station. Since it began broadcasting 39 years ago, WJXT has never ranked anything other than number one from sign-on to signoff. In fact, doing the unusuallike running such off-net hours as Hawaii Five-O in early fringehas become a trademark of the station. And CBS's prime-time schedule, often number three in the rest of the country, is number one on WJXT

"Consistency;' says Bailey, is key to WJXT's success, "and a belief by the viewers that we care about them:' As evidence of the first factor, the general manager cites the station's stable personnel roster. WJXT weatherman George Winterling, for instance, has been with the station for 25 years. "We did a study;' Bailey notes, "and we found the average length of employment for full-time employees here was 11 years. That's a long time in this business. I'm only here seven years-I'm a newcomer."

In January WJXT added a more efficient computerized closedcaptioning system for its news programs. "Jacksonville has a much -larger- th an -ave rage hearing-impaired community," explains Bailey. "Sure [the rrew system is] expensive, but we felt it was important to service that group."

According to Bailey, WJXT also serves the community via tough investigative news reports and prime-time specials on topics of concern to the community, such as odor pollution, car tolls and the inmates of Florida's death row. "Some of the largest number of inmates are executed in Florida;' he says. "We wanted to look into that so we did a prime-time special, 'Death in the Sunshine: Most stations shy away from that kind of thing."


WJXT has been rewarded by impressive numbers for all of its news programs. Its noon news had a 64 share in the May Arbitrons (compared with a 17 share for NBC-affiliate WTLV-fV's ll:3O-am. news). At 6 p.m., WJXT pulled a 49 share (compared to a 22 for WTLV and a 7 for WJKS:rV, the ABC affiliate). At 11 p.m. WJXT had a 43 share, WTLV, a 20 and WJKS, a 9. From sign-on to signoff, WJXT averaged a 33 share in the six-station market. "In the May book;' claims Bailey, "we ranked second in the U.S. from sign-on to sign-off for five-station or lar~er markets."

WJXT has also been highly decorated for its news and journalistic achievements. The station won the du Pont award twice, as well as the Region 14 Award of the Radio:rV News Directors Association for best overall news reporting in a four-state area. Bailey says WJXT's parent corporation, PostNewsweek, has further rewarded 

the station by agreeing to upgrade the station's facility. In 1990, operations move from a 28-yearold building into a completely new one. 

Other changes are underway at WJXT-some of them as a result of the competition. WTLV, recently acquired by Gannett, is making an aggressive effort to be more competitive with WJXT. The NBC affil has scheduled some potential ratings damagers for the fall: The Cosby Show at 5 p.m. will lead in to the region's only 5:30 newscast, with Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy from 7-8. These last two shows were taken from WJXT

Bailey is concerned but not worried, and is responding with a two-hour talkathon from 4-6 that pairs Oprah with Ceraldo (currently on WTLV). Says Bailey: "We hope to build up a good head of steam;' that hopefully will propel the station's 4-8-p.m. block past WTLV's schedule in the rating books. 

As for the future, Bailey has noted that the NBC affiliate has had success-45 shares-with a pre-1Oday news show, so he plans to start his own 6-7-a.m. program in the fall. "Weve put it off, frankly, because of the turmoil with the CBS morning show. We felt we didn't have as strong a show to wraparound as Cood Morning America or 1Oday. But if an NBC station can do that well, we figured we might as well give ita shot:' 

There has also been talk of network hopping. "NBC approached 

[WJXT] some time ago about switching," says Nancy McAlister, TV critic for the Florida TimesUnion and Jacksonville Journal,"but they decided to stick with CBS. I think Bailey feels you can't jump ship when the network is down. Ratings are cyclical." 

The bottom line for WJXT, however, seems to be a sense of responsibility. "We have an image oflong-time stability and of caring about the community. And once you get that image, you don't squander it, you build on it, constantly improving it and making it better," Bailey says. "You have to keep on refurbishing and renewing yourself. You owe that to the community. And, practically speaking, it's much harder to jump start a station if you let it go bad than if you keep it running well all along."


VIEW, AUGUST 15, 1988

TV Spies


A sneak review of the great cloak-and-dagger series of the 60s and 70s

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but what happens when the imitation is better than the original?

Spies are in vogue again. The original cinema spy, James Bond,  recently resurfaced in Never Say Never Again and Octopussy and has also appeared successfully on video tape and disc (1967's You Only Live Twice is one of the most popular '60s vintage tapes available).

Yet on TV, secret agents have never left. Local broadcast stations throughout the country constantly screen such vintage series as I Spy, Mission: Impossible, and The Avengers, and now cable programmers and cassette/disc makers are expanding interest in these old-but-good programs even further.

What is the appeal of spies – and '60s spy series in particular? "It is healthy fantasizing and myth-making," noted Dr. Joseph Fletcher, author of Situation Ethics, in 1966.

More significant, perhaps, was the arrival of spies at a time when America's real life hero, President Kennedy, had just been killed. "The Kennedy era extolled the virtues of the erudite class; it no less celebrated the vitality of youth,  remarked one critic. "The Cold War was yet an obsession with the American masses in the early

1960s: what then if one could capture both the obsession and the vitality into a singleart form?"

Sixties spy series are now as much fodder for nostalgia as sixties presidents. Yet many of the series have an interest beyondmemories of the good old days. Although all capitalized on the success of the James Bond series – employing wit, women, suspense, and gadgets – some also developed idiosyncratic personalities and built up cult followings of their own. The best were British offerings, The Avengers and Secret Agent, but America was not far behind with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy.

Tweed and Leather

The Avengers was the most unusual of the lot. It was a black comedy involving the exploits of John Steed, "top professional, and his partner Mrs. Emma Peel, "talented amateur." In the course of 52 episodes Steed and Mrs. Peel investigated a slew of bizarre murders and mysteries that usually endangered the entire free world (or at least parts of England).


Steed was the proper English gentleman, a modem-day Scarlet Pimpernel with three-piece suits, steel-plated bowler, and rolled-up umbrella concealing a sword. Played by 43-year-old Patrick Macnee, the agent had a ready smile and quick quip for anything. He was rarely fazed by dangers or the unexpected, good with his fists, and hardly ever used a gun, "I'm satirizing my own class,” said Macnee in 1963, "hunting, fishing, shooting, and Eton."

Mrs. Peel, portrayed by 27-year-old Diana Rigg, was also good with her hands. An expert in judo, Mrs. Peel dressed in slinky leather outfits and one-piece jumpsuits (known as her Emma Peelers) which emphasized her feline qualities. Mrs. Peel and her predecessor Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) struck a mighty blow for feminism. She was no shrinking violet “I'm a first for television,” Blackman noted when she joined the series in 1962, "the first feminist to come into a television serial, the first woman to fight back." More important, little was made of this with either Mrs. Gale or Mrs. Peel; it was taken for granted that a woman could be an equal partner with a man.

Although the series made inroads for women – just as U.N.C.L.E., by having a Russian and American working together, and I Spy, with a black man and white man as heroes, made points for coexistence and cooperation – it's best known for its bizarre and nightmarish view of life. In The Avengers, the world is strangely warped and unreal. As producer/writer Brian Clemens explained when the series was first brought to America: "We admit to only one class ... and that is the upper. Because we are a fantasy. we will not show a uniformed policeman or a colored man. And you will not see anything so common as blood in The Avengers. If we did introduce a colored man or a policeman, we would have a yardstick of social reality and that would make the whole thing quite ridiculous. Alongside a bus queue of ordinary men-in-the-street, Steed would become a caricature… There may be hundreds of bodies littered about, but we don't dwell or linger on them. We don't regard ourselves as a violent show."

And as Avengers historian Dave Rogers has pointed out in a book on the series: "Clemens quickly realized that the way to break into the American market (and thus ensure a profit) was to create something with which the Americans themselves could not compete. So the formula was to British ...a lift is a lift, never an elevator. It is this Britishness that fits the fantasy world so appealing to the Americans."

This stylization extended to every aspect of the show, which routinely opened with a strange mini-adventure that would set the stage for the rest of the program. In one opening, for instance, the camera shows the viewer a quaint British village. Bucolic music is heard and two men are seen sitting outside a small house-relaxed, lazy. "Nice day, Hubert," says one. Suddenly, an older man comes flying through a nearby doorway, landing at the feet of Hubert and his friend. Another man appears carrying a gun. With two quick muffled shots he kills the prone man and walks off. The body lies still. "Nice day, Hubert," repeats the seated villager, looking at the corpse, "but it looks like rain." The word "Murdersville" appears on the screen.

The Avengers thrives on the bizarre, notes Alan Saly, a former employee of CBS News who is working on a study of the series. "Death must be proper, sophisticated, unreal, and, bring to bear a chilling fascination. It presents a distorted view of the world which nonetheless is revealing of the stresses and strains in our society." The situations faced by Steed and Mrs. Peel included a killer pussycat ("The Hidden Tiger"), a department store which was actually a bomb ("Death at Bargain Prices"), a man-eating plant ("The ManEater of Surrey Green"), and a village which hired itself out to murderers as a discreet place for killing ("Murdersville"). The Avengers had the quality of a dream. A touch of recognizable realism drew in the viewers while the heroes' charm and resourcefulness kept them from running away.

The series always had a mystery as well.

In fact, it had all the best qualities of radio dramas and movie serials of the 1930s. There was usually a mysterious murder, followed by clues and eccentric witnesses, usually followed by more murders (usually

of the witnesses) to hide the clues.

"When you are dealing with a make-believe world populated by larger-than-life villains, " remarked producer/writer Clemens, "it is difficult not to get into bizarre situations .... My own technique, when I thought of an idea, was to draw up 12 good dramatic moments and lead in and out of them.' I needed 12 for a 50-minute script. If I'd only got six I was only halfway there."

Us and Them

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was the closest American equivalent to The Avengers. It too featured stylish violence. Its villains and situations were also strange', but unlike The Avengers, U.N. C.L.E. attempted an appearance of reality. "U.N.C.L.E. was about a CIA-type organization (The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) headed by Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), who sends his top agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) on missions against THRUSH (Technological Hierarchy for the Repression of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity). Besides the bizarre, U.N.C.L.E. employed the gadgetry that helped popularize James Bond. Solo had a communication device hidden in his pen and Kuryakin had a pistol which could turn into a rifle. Like Steed and Mrs. Peel, the two approached their missions with ready wit and tongue in cheek, making the violence more palatable.

U.N.C.L.E. also capitalized on the Saturday-morning serial style. Each episode would be divided into four acts, ending with a cliffhanger to be resolved after the commercial. A swishing camera pan would change scenes and title cards would announce new locations ("Somewhere in Venezuela" or Argentina, or wherever), It couldn’t be taken too seriously-after all, agents gained admission to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters through an ordinary tailor shop (“But is it ordinary?” queried a voiceover announcer) while the episodes would have titles such as "The My Friend the Gorilla Affair."

Despite this, and despite the series’ use of fantastic villains from pirates to vampires, the show emphasized reality. There was even a title card at the end of each episode thanking U.N.C.L.E. for its cooperation in producing the series. "U.N. C.L.E. is a probable show," David McCallum said in,1965. "I bought a Popular Electronics magazine not long ago. It featured a new gun. It is now the THRUSH gun."

Black and White

This emphasis on reality was carried even further by one of the '60s' most enjoyable espionage series, l Spy. A landmark for its use of a black man as a costar, the series featured Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson, an international tennis champion, and Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott, his trainer. The two men roamed the world playing tennis but were really agents on missions for the CIA.

Besides being a well-produced travelogue (shot on location), I Spy was fun for its characterizations. Robinson and Scott had amusing exchanges on everything from Scott's boyhood in Philadelphia to Robinson's feelings about life in the spy business; they had a nice camaraderie that was real. "Life is good," says Culp in one exchange. "It's better than that, man," replies Cosby. "On a day like today there's'a wonderfulness from the sky and the sea and the people that kisses you all over the neck and nose." Culp: "Name another day when such a report to the Pentagon was written by two fine American spies."

But the overall tone was serious. Humor was worked in between the cracks, with Robinson and Scott often defusing tense situations with jokes. Cosby's Scott was a Rhodes Scholar who-spoke many languages (one of the "realistic" touches of the series was having foreigners speaking their own languages to each other, not accented English as some series, did). Culp's Robinson was intelligent, athletic, and laid-back. Culp and Cosby played their roles with an insolent cool-dropped as soon as they had to whip into action. For Robinson and Scott, demeanor was a mask. Spying was necessary, but dangerous. The only way to do it was by keeping a humorous perspective, depending on their wits and their friendship.

And the series was a story of companionship, of the need for working together to solve unpleasant problems. "Kelly and Scott are equals," says Ed Goodgold in a study of the series. "If a silly question has to be asked or a silly mistake made, both are capable of making it. Neither member of the team is infallible."

"Prejudice is based on ignorance," Cosby said in 1967. "Many people have preconceived ideas about Negroes. On I Spy, they've seen I'm an everyman. The fact that I'm colored is as relevant to the role as being fat, tall, or pock-marked might be." Like The Avengers, I Spy helped break discriminatory barriers by ignoring them.

The series' best qualities were encapsulated in "Home to Judgement," which found the agents returning home to Kelly's uncle and aunt's, seeking shelter from a nameless, faceless foe. The episode showed the serious, dangerous quality of the spy's life: humor was not a luxury, it was a defense. The world could be ugly.

This realism was emphasized by Fouad Said's inventive photography, which often had a handheld cinema-veritelook. Fights were violent and jarring, with close-ups, quick cutting, and often no music. Even the opening credits came on suddenly, without the normal 15-second pause between pre-credits sequence and titles. You were thrust into the story much as the spy was thrust into a mission. It gave the series a kinetic frenzied, realism from the beginning, counterpointed by the low-key Culp and Cosby.

Alienated and Alone


The epitome of this realistic style was Secret Agent, a British series which began life as Danger Man in 1961 and was reborn in '64 when the Bond films took off. Patrick McGoohan played John Drake, who traveled all over the world dealing with foreign agents, defectors, and missing secrets. The scripts were complex and witty-less '30s serial, more John Le Carre spy- "procedural." McGoohan, proud that Drake rarely used a gun or kissed a girl, reportedly turned down the Bond role because of its sex and violence. "Drake is all moral," he said in 1966.

"He's all business. Ladies might show an interest, for example, but he doesn't reciprocate. Bond is sort of cartoon-strip fantasy, with morals that I find questionable. Bond is a not-so-good guy. Drake is a really good guy. And that's why-if you can imagine it-Drake' would always' beat Bond in a fight."

As compared with Bond, or even Solo and Steed, Drake was something of an anti-hero, often questioning his superior's values and the stated "necessity" for what he was doing. He would call a spade a spade: wiretapping was wiretapping, assassination was murder, and we could see their effects on people. The show accurately reflected the growing distrust of government brought about by the Vietnam War. In one program, "Yesterday's Enemies," Drake makes a deal with a spy to gain ·Wormation. When this is obtaipea~ Drake's boss routinely has the man killed. We later see the effects on the spy's widow and the disgust of Drake, a moral person in an amoral business,

If was this emphasis on the real that made Secret Agent the best of the spy lot and one of the more instructive TV adventure series of the '60s. By showing the sordid side, McGoohan's character took the glamor out of the spy business-but not all the heroism. We could believe in him because he wasn't perfect or completely happy. Drake tried and could fail. But even in the face of that failure, he kept his wits and principles about him. He could feel compassion, but could also subjugate it for a higher ideal.

The bad guys were often charming and not all bad, and the good guys were often nasty and not all good. In one episode, "To Our Best Friend," an old companion and colleague of Drake’s is suspected of being a double agent: Drake's superior wants him to find out if he is or not. Drake initially refuses, not wanting to spy on a comrade – but eventually accepts, realizing that his colleague will receive justice only from his old friend.

Secret Agent gave us a microcosm of the world at large by presenting grey heroes and villains who tried to use their heads-and not their fists to get out of tight spots. And even when they succeeded, they weren't always sure of the value of their success. It is this uncertainty that makes Secret Agent so entertaining. It tried to teach us that the world was made up of complex problems which could not be solved with a joke and a gun. Sometimes there were no satisfying solutions.

Secret Agent was different from The Avengers, I Spy, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in another way: it depicted a loner, a manwho was clever but kept much to himself. "I have no character," McGoohan said once. "I assume one." As such, Drake-more than Steed, Mrs. Peel, Solo, Kuryakin, Robinson or Scott represented the modern man, alienated by society and dependent only on himself.

Cryptic and Art-Driven

The Prisoner was Patrick McGoohan's sequel to the Secret Agent series, combining elements of that show, The Avengers, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The first episode, "Arrival," introduces the hero: a former secret agent (McGoohan) who has quit his job and been abducted and imprisoned in a carnival-like seaside town known only as "The Village, " where everyone has a number instead of a name.

"A lot of people are curious about what lies behind your resignation, " says the Village leader, Number Two (Guy Doleman). "You had a brilliant career, your record is impeccable .... They want to know why you suddenly left." The main question for the hero (known only as Number Six) and the viewer is, who are "they"? Are they his own people testing him? Or are they a foreign power attempting to pry secret information from him? The answers are as unclear as Village loyalties, and beneath the carnival gaiety of the town fear and suspicion predominate.

The series, produced in 1967, sprang from Secret Agent (indeed, the theme from that series wailed, "They've given you a number and taken away your name"). "I've always been obsessed with the idea of prisons in a liberal democratic society," said McGoohan in 1968. "I believe in democracy,. but the inherent danger is that with an excess of freedom in all directions, we will eventually destroy ourselves."

"I also wondered," added George Markstein, the script editor for the series, "what happened to a secret agent who is in possession of sensitive knowledge and wants to retire? Everyone thinks there's an ulterior motive-you're writing a hot memoir or selling out to the other side. Jf he wants to quit, certain things may happen. He may go into limbo."     .

That became the concept for The Prisoner, which was seen in America in 1968. "It is television's first genuine work of art, .. said Toronto English Professor Stewart Niemeier, who subsequently used episodes from the series for a college course, Added critic Hank Stine in 1970: "The show is a Chinese puzzle box of shifting illusion, allusion, and reality. Nothing can be taken for granted."

With quick cuts, odd camera angles, and cryptic dialogue, the viewer is often put in the same disoriented position as the hero. "There are, within it, answers to every single question that can be posed, claimed McGoohan. "But one can't expect an answer on a plate saying, 'Here you are; you don't have to think; it's all yours; don't use your brain'."

For all that, the best episodes are the more conventionally constructed: "The Schizoid Man, " in which the Prisoner is faced with a double of himself and comes near to the breaking point in· a real-life identity crisis; "Free for All," parodying the empty promises of an election campaign; and "The Chimes of Big Ben, .a "great escape" story. All are well done, and any episode of the series is worth in investigating.    

Now and Then

About the only disadvantage of reviewing and re-viewing these sons of Bond is that it takes a collector's passion to seek them out in video stores-and especially in cable listings and swap lists. But the connoisseur will find such logistical problems worth attempting to conquer when the alternative is to settle for the status quo of today's uninspired cops 'n' robbers fare. There are no more credible secret agents and men from U.N.C.L.E. in the offing for the near future, so we must seek them out where and when we can.


What’s Available (1983)


What's available? At your neighborhood store, not a whole lot, unfortunately. (See accompanying list for exact details.) A couple of black-andwhite Diana Rigg/Patrick MacneeAvengers episodes, including "Dial a Deadly Number" (1965), have been issued by Video Yesteryear. With luck, more will follow. "Number" is a fairly typical installment, involving death by telephone-answering device.

Until more becomes available on: tape, the spy fan will have to settle for home recording. A number of '60s spy series are rerun on broadcast and cable around the country, so there is a good selection. I Spy and The Avengers are shown often; Secret Agent less so, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E: not at all. The reason for U.N.C.L.E.'s

absence: in 1975, in a wave of television-violence protests by parents, U.N.C.L.E. was heavily criticized and subsequently removed from syndication. All that's available is a series of eight U.N.C.L.E. movies compiled from episodes of the series (The Spy with My Face, To Trap a Spy, One Spy Too Many) and a new TV-film, The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. :The 15Years Later Affair, which reunites the original stars and adds Patrick Macnee in the late Leo G . Carroll's role and George Lazenby, a former James Bond, as a spy known only as JR

Other '60s spy series in syndication include Mission: Impossible, a stylish program that ran for seven years,

about an "impossible mission force," which would gleefully upset the governments of other countries, manipulate leaders, and break laws in the interest of world peace; Get Smart, a clever spoof of the Bond films, with Don Adams as Agent 86 of CONTROL in battle with KAOS (the series ran for five years and spawned a theatrical film in 1980, The Nude Bomb); The Saint, a mystery/spy-type series about a Bondian rover, featuring Roger Moore; and The Wild Wild West, a sort of Avengers-Bond out West, chronicling the adventures of two spies in 1860s America who used a trainload of gadgets to battle bizarre villains. –T.S.


The Avengers


B&W. 1965. British TV series episode "Dial a Deadly Number," with Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee. 55 min. Beta. $39.95. VHS. $42.95. Yesteryear.

The Avengers

B&W. British TV series episode "The , House that Jack Built" with Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee. Beta, VHS.


Mission Impossible # 1

B&W. 1966; U.S. TV series episode . "Odd Man Out" with Steven Hill, Mar- ; tin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Mor- , ris, Peter Lupus, Mary Ann Mobley, f Monte Markham, 100 min. Beta, VHS. Dimensions.

Mission Impossible #2

B&W. 1967. U.S. TV series episodes with Steven Hill, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Eartha Kitt, Barry Sullivan. Includes "The Traitor" and "The Psychic." 100 min. Beta, VHS. Dimensions.

Mission Impossible #3                            'V

B&W. 1966, 1967. U.S. TV series episodes with Martin Landau, Barbara \ Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Steven Hill, Peter Graves, William Windom. Includes "Ransom" and "The Widow." 100 min. Beta, VHS. Dimensions.


Secret Agent

B&W. 1964. U.S. TV series episode "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove," considered the inspiration for The Prisoner series. 60 min. Beta, VHS. Vintage.


The Honeymooners

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:285:]]The Honeymooners:

The Lost Episodes

B&W. 1985. Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Joyce RandolPh; dir. Frank $atenstein. 55 min. ea. Beta, VHS. $29.95 ea. Maljack/MPI.

He is the most famous bus driver in the world-which is remarkable given that he is also a loudmouth, a braggart, and a little thickheaded. But he is Ralph Kramden, and as the focus of The Honeymooners his schemes, passions, and whopping mistakes have become well-known and beloved. Now, with Maljack/MPI's release of recently unearthed Honeymooners kinescopes, the story, as they say, continues.

It began in TV's golden age of the early 1950s. As part of TheJackie Gleason Show, The Honeymooners was originally an eight-minute sketch about a quarreling husband and wife (Gleason and Pert Kelton, later replaced by Audrey Meadows). It soon grew to 15 minutes, 30 minutes, even an hour. As it grew, so did the characters. Soon Ralph and Alice had neighbors: sewer worker Ed Norton (Art Carney) and his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph).

"Unlike I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners wasn't a farce," recalls one of the show's writers. "Lucy would blacken her teeth and Ricky wouldn't know her. We never did that. We worked from a possible-though perhaps not probable-premise.:. and proceeded from there." Premises like Ralph competing for a "pot of gold" on a TV quiz show ("Go for the gold," says Alice, "you've already got the pot"); or, Ralph mistaking dog food for his wife's pate and trying to market it (everyone thinks it tastes great); or Ralph trying to impress his old high-school rival by pretending he's president of the bus company ("I run things," he explains).

It all became as familiar as ritual and The Honeymooners went on to become a fixture on Gleason's show for years, eventually spinning off into the 39 episodes now in syndication, Later, it was as an hour-long Christmas special in 1978. The series' durability came from its familiarity and from its characters: Kramden as a comic Everyman, Norton as his wise/dumb sidekick, ready to rib Ralph but also ready to help, no matter how crazy the idea.

"The poor soul hasn't got a hell of a lot of .ability," observed Gleason recently, "but he keeps trying. He gets schemes and the schemes are all to make him and Alice happy. And he fails. And when he fails, she feels a great deal of affection. She knows why he did it."

It's terrific news that Gleason has unearthed 75 kinescopes of the series, episodes seen only. once and then stored away. Among these well-preserved and restored shows are some real curiosities. In one Gleason plays all the characters made famous on his variety show. While Ralph is out shopping for Christmas, Alice and the Nortons are entertained by Reggie Van Gleason, Joe the Bartender, and the Poor Soul. Another program, filmed when Gleason was laid up in the hospital, parodies Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person show by staging an interview with Ed Norton's father (also played by Art Carney).

The first tapes from Maljack are mostly from 1953. Volume 1 demonstrates classic Kramden misunderstandings. "Letter to the Boss" has Ralph thinking he is about to be fired. After writing an angry letter to his boss, he finds he is about to be promoted instead and spends the rest of the story trying to get his letter back. In "Suspense," Ralph overhears Alice rehearsing for a play and believes she is plotting to kill him. Volume 2 spotlights Art Carney in one of the most talked-about "lost" episodes, "Norton Moves In," which finds Ralph and Ed sharing an apartment-and a cot. The second tape also features "Songs and Witty Sayings," a 1955 episode in which Gleason and Carney impersonate Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, to whom they often have been favorably compared (Stan and Ollie were reportedly big Honeymooners fans themselves).

Because the show was performed live, it has the immediacy and excitement of a stage production: props break, actors ad lib, and the audience applauds when each star enters. It is a style of television that cannot be recaptured today. As Gleason used to put it, "How sweet it is."

January 1986 Video 

The Hunt for Red October


20,000 LEAGUES (approx.) UNDER THE SEA

CAPTAIN MARKO RAMIUS (SEAN Connery) presides over the Red October, a new top-secret Soviet sub that runs fast, silent, deep, carrying a payload of missiles that could wipe out a dozen cities in a flash.

Nearby, in the icy depths lurks the Dallas, an American attack submarine. Ace CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) and Captain Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) look over a sonar operator's shoulder at a bank of computer screens, trying to pinpoint the exact location of the Red October. Meanwhile, miles away, another Soviet sub – a more compact attack vessel – races across the North Atlantic towards them both and' the cat-and-mouse drama of The Hunt for Red October begins in earnest.

Much of that drama unfolds inside these three subs. The interiors look great – clean, sleek, ultra high-tech – but are they actually anything like the real thing? Is this really what the inside of a state-of-the-art nuclear sub now looks like? Well, yes ... and no.

Getting the right look and feel for The Hunt for Red October required the active cooperation of the U.S. Navy. Luckily for rhe filmmakers, the military'S recent experience with Hollywood had eased the way.

"Top Gun did well as a recruitment tool for pilots," says James H. Patton Jnr., a retired Navy sub commander who consulted on the film. "But it probably hurt the submarine force because we compete for the same kids."

The Navy wanted a promotional vehicle to call its very own, notes Capt. Michael T. Sherman, director of the Navy Office at Information West.

"The problem with submarines though," he adds, "is that when the public sees them, they are tied to a pier. We do a good job at sea, but we can't take the public out there."

The Navy could, however, take the film's production team out to sea, and they did. Production designer Terence Marsh, art director

Dianne Wager, and set director Mickey S. Michaels, along with other production crew and cast members, climbed on board during scheduled sub manouevers to get a feel for the real thing.


One look around two U.S. subs, a Los Angeles class (like the Dallas) and a larger Ohio class – was enough to convince Marsh that some alterations were indeed necessary for the film. It turns out that the inside of a modern sub actually looks more like something out of a World War II picture: ­cluttered, greasy, and designed more for action and access than for show.

"It just didn't look 1980s high-tech," recalls Marsh. "And what looks right to the audience is right, we always say."

A few changes were, therefore, put into effect. Working from military research books, defence industry manuals, and pictures that the Navy let them take after covering the top-secret stuff, like speed gauges and depth gauges, Marsh's production team took the basic elements of a real sub's control room, rearranged them, and then dressed them up for the movie.

Creating the look of the two Soviet subs, the Red October and the Konvaloc, called for a considerable amount of guesswork.

"We had no basic invitations to visit the Russians," says Marsh, "but we had references, We knew we couldn't be far wrong if we based our design on common knowledge, then added our own touches of 'Evil Empire', like an ominous black-and-chrome colour scheme."

Whatever his methods, Marsh certainly seems to have achieved a striking likeness to the real thing in the case of the Dallas. One report has it that a member of the Navy top brass took a tour of the set, realised that some elements looked too accurate, and immediately reported the entire production crew to the FBI _ apparently unaware that the military had been cooperating all along ..


Not surprisingly, the film's submarine consultants don't have too much to say about the accuracy of the movie's overall look. James H. Patton Jnr. simply cites the military community's code regarding U.S. military capabilities: "Don't confirm. Don't deny. Do not attest to validity."

As for the realism of the sub chase scenes, Capt. Michael T. Sherman is equally vague. "I can't tell you how deep subs go," he says. "That's classified. The official Navy position is 'in excess of 400 feet'. So when the movie sub goes down 1,200 feet, that's Hollywood. But it is credible."

One thing about the movie that appears less credible is the Red October's periscope. In order to differentiate 'between the "cons" of the U.S. and Soviet subs, the production team wanted a traditional recessed area for the Soviet ship's penscope.

"I advised them that technically this was unlikely," says Patton. "They listened, but they went ahead anyway because they wanted this visual effect."

Wait a minute. How can these U.S. Navy guys be sure that this isn't what the inside of a Russian sub looks like?

"I have no knowledge of the inside of a Russian sub," says Capt. Michael T. Sherman.


"I have no knowledge of the inside of a Russian sub," says James H. Patton jnr.

EMPIRE, March 1990

The Information Explosion



From morning till evening, from brief updates to breaking stories, the hottest areas of television programming these days are the news shows

The number one television show in America is not Dallas or M*A*S*H. It is 60 Minutes, the hour-long news magazine program. The show that has finally begun eating into Johnny Carson's Tonight Show ratings is not Fridays, late movies, or reruns of The Love Boat. It is ABC News Nightline, a half-hour news series. And the show that s making network-owned WNBC-TV in New York City competitive with its two network-owned rivals in early evening, WCBS and WABC, is Live at Five, a news-and-talk show.

The big news in television these days is news. In the early morning and the late evening, from local and network stations to the ever-growing cable field, news proramming is beginning to dominate the airwaves as it never has before. "We're in he middle of a news explosion in this country," notes one industry observer. And although there are many reasons for that, the main one is economics.


The Sense of the Dollars and Cents

For instance, 60 Minutes charges $385,000 for a one-minute commercial .pot; it sells six such spots per show. According to a March 21, 1982, article by Tony Schwartz in The New York Times, the series costs between $300,000 and $400,000 an hour to produce. Even allowing for inflation, that leaves it a tidy profit in 1982 – it earns CBS more than $1.5 million in revenues each week, Schwartz reports – especially when one considers that a highly rated entertainment program like Dallas or Lou Grant could cost almost twice as much to produce.

Those high ad rates are the result of high ratings, and the reasons for such ratings are as varied as the news programs of which they are barometers.

The time slot of 60 Minutes, for example has made a difference for it. When the series debuted in September 1968 as a biweekly program on Tuesdays at 10 P.M., it went nowhere. Ratings improved when it was moved to Sundays. "We benefited from the football games that preceded us," notes Aristides X.Maravel, a spokesman for the show. "People just left their sets on. "

In addition, the competition on Sundays was weak. The Federal Communications Commission had earlier ruled that Sundays from 7 to 8 P.M. were to be used for family-oriented or public affairs programming, so NBC and ABC both aired children's fare.

Therefore, 60 Minutes could grab a relatively large adult audience and hold it by featuring an intriguing mixture of 15-minute news pieces, ranging from the investigative to the humorous, in settings all the way from New York to Afghanistan. "They're going places people never heard of and coming up with great little stories," says Maravel.

Other series tried similar techniques. ABC’s 20/20, in a regular berth against weak competition, was moderately successful. NBC's string of 60 Minutes-like programs was not. (These included First Tuesday, which ran monthly for two hours from 1969 to 1971 and for an hour from 1972 to 1973; Chronolog, on monthly from 1971 to 1972; Weekend, which took over, also monthly, from 1975 to 1979; Prime Time Sunday, on weekly from June to November 1979, in 1980 becoming Prime Time Saturday; and NBC Magazine, which debuted in 1980 and is still running once a week.)


Programming Personalities

Although time period and content are important, so are patience (both 60 Minutes and 20120 took time to build up their audiences) and personality. Many attribute the failure of Prime Time Sunday to anchorman Tom Snyder's controversial image, which turned off a number of viewers. Similarly, 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt attributes his series's success to the coanchors, currently Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer, and Ed Bradley, the continuing characters in the 60 Minutes story.

"People tune in to see what Mike, Harry, Morley, and Ed are up to this week," explains Maravel. "It's a personalized journalism where you have the same four correspondents each week."

Personalized journalism has long been the staple of the morning news programs, ever since Today premiered on NBC in January 1952. Unlike 60 Minutes, both Today and its main competition, ABC's Good Morning America, intersperse news stories with consumer tips, weather reports, and such "soft" news features as celebrity interviews. The format was originally designed so that early-morning viewers could prepare for work or school without having to watch what was on the set-or even stay tuned for the whole program (hence, its repetition of the news headlines four times in its two-hour period). The one link between these diverse elements has been the anchor, and his personality has always been a big drawing card. When Today began, the host was Dave Garroway; his most popular cohost was a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs.

Today was a success, and neither ABC nor CBS seriously challenged it until the late seventies; then ABC introduced Good Morning America, which featured former actor David Hartman as host, thereby blurring the lines between news and entertainment personalities even further. Hartman operates not at a news desk as the Today anchors do, but from a living room set (which a New York Times critic called "an impractical designer's idea of gracious country living"). GMA uses many of the same techniques as Today, but it often stresses entertainment and Hartman's personality over news. "It's a recipe," notes one observer. "A teaspoon of stardom, a teaspoon of news, a pinch of controversy, but no continuity." Nonetheless, GMA picked up viewers until, by the 1980s, it was frequently beating Today in the early-morning ratings.


Morning Becomes Electric

CBS initially tried a different approach. After its own imitation of Today, The Morning Show, failed in the 1950s, the network scheduled a conventional half-hour news program, which was expanded to an hour in 1969. Morning, as it was finally called, never competed successfully with its rivals, however, because it never ran beyond eight o'clock. (The 8 to 9 A.M. period was for years occupied by a favorite with parents' groups and the FCC, the well-respected children's show Captain Kangaroo.) Last year the show was expanded to 90 minutes, from 7:30 to 9 A.M.; in March of this year, the program was renamed the CBS Morning News and expanded to two hours, from 7 to 9 A.M., with a new, youthful coanchor (Bill Kurtis, who was the anchor for WBBN-TV in Chicago) joining Diane Sawyer, a new, former Good Morning America producer (George Merlis), and more of an emphasis on entertainment. This apparent shift is one more indication that personality is frequently more important than content in television news.             

"There was a day," noted Fred Friendly, CBS news president from 1964 to 1966, in a December 1981 New York Times article, "when the conscience of CBS insisted that quality and class and seriousness came before ratings. That era is ending. The engine that rubs it all now is ratings. You can't establish a tradition and a tone for a broadcast if you play musical chairs with the people on it every time the ratings go up or down. It builds havoc and furtiveness into the system. "

Local news stations had long ago shown that "happy talk" – banter among members of news teams – was good for the ratings. Many local stations, in fact, were finding Today-type interview programs very profitable, especially with the cost of syndicated programming rising. Stations in New York, Denver, Boston, Albany, and St. Louis, among others, have expanded their news from a half hour to one or two hours, usually breaking up the news reports with interviews and consumer features. KNBC, the NBC-owned-and-operated station in Los Angeles, which experimented with a two-hour news show as early as 1969, found it so successful that it now runs news almost-continuously from early afternoon through early evening.



Dealing in Depth

At the opposite end of the spectrum is ABC News Nightline, an 11:30-to-12-p.M. news series that stresses content over anchor Ted Koppel's personality. Focusing on one subject per night, Nightline features background reports and live interviews with experts and participants in a news story. The format was borrowed from the Public Broadcasting System's successful MacNeil-Lehrer Report, on nightly at 7:30 P.M.; the program itself evolved out of a series of 11:30 P.M. news specials, broadcast by ABC during the Iranian crisis, that did surprisingly well against NBC's longtime ratings champ, Johnny Carson.

The 11:30 spot was frequently used by the networks to broadcast news specials, but no one had ever tried to program a continuing news series in that period. Explains one observer: "Nobody thought Sunday afternoon was an important time until the NFL was invented. A dead time is a dead time only until you put on something that interests people. "

With Nightline, ABC had nothing to lose. Every entertainment show it had scheduled against Carson had died, Yet Nightline didn’t; during its first three months it earned a Nielsen rating of8.4 to Carson's 8.6 (during prime time, one rating point is worth well over $60 million to a network).

Koppel's no-nonsense personality certainly had something to do with the ratings, but, as Robert MacNeil observed of his own show in a recent TV Guide article, another reason might be that "a program that tries hard to give many sides of an issue ... reaps an extraordinary harvest of public gratitude .... We constantly find people relieved that we do not preach to them, that we don't tell them what to think. We make each viewer his own pundit ... looking over our shoulders as we interview leading 'sources.', ... We don't wrap it up in a tidy package. We let the viewer do that. "

Whatever the reason, by the fourth quarter of 1981, ABC was charging record ad rates for a late-night, non-entertainment series: $30,000 per 30-second commercial, which compares favorably with the Tonight Show's rate of $35,000 per 30-second commercial.

"Ten years ago when inflation was low and gasoline cheap, you could program more entertainment," noted Bill Lord, the ABC News Nightline executive producer when the series began. "But that kind of program is dying on the vine because people want more information in order to cope with their increasingly complicated lives. Besides, a lot happens between 7:30 and 11:30."

The success of Nightline led CBS to announce its own late-night news-and-information service in March 1982. Slated to begin in September, the three-hour, Monday-to-Friday program will run from 2 A.M. to 5 A,M., combining breaking news stories with interviews and seven- to eight-minute feature stories, “In the early morning hours,” explains Van Gordon Sauter, CBS News president. “Europe is just coming alive, and we’ll have time for a lot of material from abroad and wouldn’t normally find its way onto our morning news.”


The Cable Connection

In June 1980, Ted Turner, an Atlanta business man launched the Cable News Network (CNN). Using satellite communications and cable television systems, CNN signed on a number of familiar, former network reporters, such as CBSs Daniel Schorr, ABC's Bernard Shaw, and NBC's Mary Alice Williams, to combine the soft-news approach of Today with the feature aspects of 60 Minutes and the analyses of Nightline. In addition, it often live reports of breaking stories (CNN was the first with pictures from Rome after the shooting of the pope because it has daily satellite transmission (from around the world.) By April 1982 CNN was reaching more than 1.5 million households over more than 2,000 cable television systems, and Turner expects to break even by the second quarter of 1982.

Cable News Network has been so successful that last August, ABC and Group W (Westinghouse) announced plans for their own 24-hour cable news service, Satellite News Channel, to begin operation on June 21, 1982. To be carried by 24-hour regional affiliates, the service will begin a "newswheel" that repeats and updates stories every 18 minutes. Not to be outdone, Turner responded with a similar channel, CNN-2, which he got into operation on New Year’s Eve, 1981.  ABC-Group W promptly announced a commitment to a second around-the-clock news service, Satellite News Channel to begin broadcasting sometime in the fall of 1982, which will feature in-depth news reports.

"We treatour services as just that – a service,” says a spokesman for Satellite News, Daniel Ruth. "It’s akin to walking into a darkened room. You want light. You flip on the light, you do whatever it is you have to do in the room, and when you’re done, you leave and turn the light off. The same applies here. When you want news you’ll flip us on. You’ll get your news for as long as you want to watch it, and when you don’t want the news anymore, you turn it off. The service is not designed to compete with other programming.


A Need for News

All these news programs succeed tosome degree because of their personalities, time slots, and content. But perhaps, most imoportantly. they succeed because of the more complicated society in which the viewers live.

"With more working women," says SNC's Ruth, "with changes in the traditionalmale-female roles, with a more highly educated consumer in the marketplace, you have a situation where people need information more often. Most people want to find out what’s going on. There’s a lot of news going on twenty-four hours a day.”



The Life of Python


Monty Python, the six-man British comedy troupe that brought you "The Ministry of Silly Walks," "The Dead Parrot," and "The Man with a Tape Recorder Up His Nose," is quite alive and all over the tube. And not just in Monty Python's Flying Circus, their now legendary series.

Available on videotape are their first and last movies, And Now for Something Completely Different and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, featuring collections of offbeat sketches. There are also the "narrative" films that came in between: the loony Monty Python and the Holy Grail (more or less about King Arthur, showcasing the Holy Hand Grenade and the Killer Rabbit); Monty Python's Life of Brian, sending up biblical epics (with a cameo by Christ); and Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, capturing the freshness (in both senses) of the troupe's stage show.

The group – called madcap, tasteless, unfunny, and innovative – has not performed together since 1983. Yet its members (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) are still going strong. On the hig screen, Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a feature film starring Idle and free-form Pythonesque comics like Hobin Williams, is tentatively scheduled to open around Easter. The film follows A Fish Called Wanda, the summer box office hit starring Cleese and Palin.

On stage, Chapman has been touring the States with a one-man stage show, while Idle has appeared in a critically acclaimed television production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, whieh aired in October on PBS's Great Performances series. And finally, there is the original show itself. Since its American premiere in 1974, Monty Python's Flying Circus hasn't left the airwaves for long, cropping up first on public television and now nightly onthe MTV cable network.

"It's amazing it's held up so long," said Cleese recently. Amazing, too, is that there is so much Pythonabilia around: 45 episodes of the original 30- minute series (16 have been released on tape), five movies, tell record albums, and six books. Not to mention the group's solo efforts: such films as Time Bandits, Brazil, Clockwise, The Missionary, and Personal Services; such TV efforts as Fawlty Towers, Ripping Yarns, and The Rutles. And their influence is felt constantly. Saturday Night Live and SCTV both acknowledged their debts to Python's brand of silly yet sophisticated sketch comedy, while the English language has accepted "Pythonesque" as a new word, loosely defined as "offbeat humor, bordering on the tasteless and/or insane."

Comic Departures

This was hardly standard British TV fare when the Pythons debuted in the late 1960s. British television programming of the time more or less reflected venerable British vaudeville: a lot of stand-up comedy, some satire, some sketches, a few songs. Nothing was very risque or very visual. Five of the Pythons – Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Jones, and Palin – had, in fact, written (and occasionally appeared in) such shows; Chapman, a non-practicing M.D., and Cleese, a would-be barrister, had even written the pilot for a popular, conventional sitcom entitled Doctor in the House.

In 1969, however, things changed.

The five, who had known or known of each other in the past, joined forces (along with expatriate American cartoonist Gilliam) to write and star in a new 30-minute comedy for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Monty Python's Flying Circussnuck onto the tube in October 1969 as a late-night replacement for a religious talk show. Few were watching, and few at the BBC knew what to expect.

The ambiguous title – alternatives were "Owl Stretching Time" and "A Horse, a Spoon, and a Bucket" – was meant to keep as many people in the dark as possible. When it premiered, it was like no other series. The Pythons were the first true video comedians, using the medium brilliantly to poke fun at politicians, the clergy, the military, doctors, surrealism, documentaries, television, and life in general.

"When we decided to do Python," recalls Jones, "I was thinking, 'What kind of shape are we going to give it'?' And I remember looking at Spike Milligan's show, Q5, on television and thinking he was doing outrageous things in comedy. He'd start a sketch, then it would suddenly turn into something else. Or someone would push a door on-screen and he'd walk through it. I suddenly realized we had all been writing cliches until then."

The Pythons planned their comedic chaos very carefully. Sketches would not simply follow one another or be separated by guest singers, as was the custom. Instead, there would be routines, non-sequiturs, subtitles, voiceover narration, and general silliness, all tightly linked. "We tried to interrelate everything," says Gilliam.


In one show, for instance, a sketch called "A Book at Bedtime" finds a man reading a description of a picturesque castle aloud, stumbling over words he can't pronounce. The scene shifts to the castle being described; a Scottish Highlander falls from a turret. Next we are in a segment about "Kamikaze Highlanders" who jump from turrets. One man remarks to another, "We have no time to lose," which segues into a sketch about the "No Time to Lose Advice Center" where people are given advice on how to use the expression. This turns into a cartoon about "No Time Toulouse," a French impressionist gunslinger in the Old West, before a return to the "Kamikaze Highlanders." More sketches follow before the show comes full circle, ending with the "Book at Bedtime" sketch.

The format came about partly because the Pythons, as writers, had felt trapped by what they called "the tyranny of the punch line"-the requirement of concluding a funny sketch with a joke, and a good one the writers hoped. "We kept seeing so much good work being done by other people that was always weakened by a weak ending," says Gilliam. "So we did the obvious thing. We said, 'Let's get rid of the weakest link.' "

Gilliam played an important role in that decision. A former magazine illustrator, the transplanted American had made a mark on British television with Elephant, an animated short film. In that stream-of-consciousness exercise, a man is hit by a falling elephant, squashed, and then transformed into something else.

"Terry had been very worried about it, because he said, 'It doesn't really make sense,''' notes Jones. "I said, 'Why don't we take the use of freedom that Spike Milligan's got-not having punch lines-and lise Terry's animations to flow in and out of sketches?' "Besides giving the series a shape, Gilliam's wild animations-a TV set drilling holes in a man's eyes, a man slicing off his head while shaving-gave the series a violent tone that bled over into some of the sketches. "Sam Peckinpah's Salad Days," for example, opens with a tennis garden party. A ball is tossed to one of the picnickers, hitting him in the head, which suddenly explodes. Another man grabs the arm of a companion and it comes off, spurting a fountain of blood in slow motion. And so on.

The Pythons wrote and performed their own material. ldle and Gilliam would usually create alone, while Chapman and Cleese and Palin and Jones would collaborate. Recalls Palin: "Terry and I would write together for a week, working quite closely in the same room, swapping ideas. Then, at the end of that there'd be a [group] reading session. And you could tell from the laughter around the table when something had worked and when it hadn't."

Group discussion led to more rewriting, with one member often suggesting ideas another would write. Palin recalled a difficult car salesman wit whom he had dealt – "He would never admit there was anything wrong with a car" – and Cleese and Chapman turned it into a sketch about a customer trying to return a parrot that was sold to him dead (and nailed to its perch). Similarly, Chapman and Cleese tried to write a sketch about a "Ministry of Anger" and Palin and Jones turned it into the "Ministry of Silly Walks."

"In 'Python,''' notes Palin, "any loose ends could lead to something that made a nice surrealistic whole."

Low Budgets, High Creativity

Through it all, the deadlines (ten days to do a show) and a slim budget led to great creativity. "Necessity always makes us make leaps," remarks Gilliam. "That was the advantage in television. We did nothing but take chances to fill up that half an hour every week. I've always been convinced that with enough money we could really have been mediocre beyond belief."


But they weren't, and in 1974, just as American audiences were discovering the bizarre Brits, the group began to splinter. "What I hate most is repetition," explains Gilliam. "I hate the feeling that I know the answers to things. I like being constantly surprised." Adds Palin: "There's a certain desire within you to try and find out what you can do on your own."

Although they went solo, they kept their partnership-they set up a group company, Prominent Pictures – and their unique vision of the world. Cleese, for instance, co-wrote and starred in the brilliant, biting satire Fawlty Towers, a 12-part TV show about a rude hotel owner. Idle created The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, a mock documentary of a Beatles-like rock group, which employed the same techniques he had used in Python's "Hell's Grannies" (a look at a small town terrorized by "Senile Delinquents" on motorcycles). And animator Gilliam took his slightly warped visual sense into Brazil, a tale of comedy and terror that is probably the most unusual-looking film ever.

As a matter of fact, the real-life behind-the-scenes story of Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen could almost have been written as a Python sketch. The story, based on popular tales of an 18th-century adventurer, Baron Munchausen, features 6O-foothigh moon men with detachable heads, a man balancing on top of a fountain of hot air above an erupting volcano, and, says Gilliam, "a horse that's chopped in half by a portcullis. And the Baron's riding around on the front half not realizing the back half isn't there. And he sews the two halves together using laurel branches."

Such fantastic scenes echo Gilliam's cartoons but were much harder to accomplish with real people and objects. "The difficulty is you're doing an eighteenth-century science fiction fantasy film, not dealing with spaceships and [more easily animated] mechanical things." Such troubles would make the movie difficult to film in any event, but Gilliam has also had to contend with 8,000 extras, shooting mishaps (in one instance, the cast flew to Spain for location filming, but all the costumes

were left behind in Rome), and financial problems. Some $2 million was spent on preproduction, and unforeseen delays meant the whole film was put on hold for a week, costing another $1 million. Then, in the middle of the film's 22-week shooting schedule, Alan Buckhantz, a Lithuanian movie investor who holds rights to a Czechoslovakian film about Munchausen, filed an $80 million lawsuit, saying Gilliam was stealing his property.

Other problems occurred: InNovember 1987, the movie was shut down for two weeks because it looked like it was going $10 million over its $25 million budget. Star Sean Connery quit when his part was reduced to almost nothing (he was replaced by Robin Williams). Scaffolding on a set collapsed and delayed filming for a week. There was even talk of firing Gilliam.

Nonetheless, the ex-Python persevered through it all, retaining much of his original concept (although he trimmed his 126-page script by 44 pages). Remarks Gilliam, "Each film becomes a little battle, and it's about discovering something. Munchausen is about mortality, about an old man who is choosing to die because the world doesn't need liars and fantasists and outrageousness. Or so it seems. And Munchausen comes back to life basically because a little girl listens to his stories. If you're a liar, you've got to have an audience."

The Ealing Influence

That could also have been a theme of Cleese's A Fish Called Wanda, a movie that draws not only on Python's collaborative methods but also on an earlier British film tradition: the black comedy of such 1950s Ealing Studios films as The Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts and Coronets. That's no coincidence either, since writer/executive producer/ star Cleese called in 78-year-old director Charles Crichton, the director of Mob and The Ladykillers, to collaborate on the original story and to direct.


The tale, about how a dull barrister (Cleese) gets involved with three zany robbers, is pure Ealing. But the villain, OUo (Kevin Kljne], is pure Python; a moronic hit man who likes to read philosophy. "Don't call me an ape!" he yells, adding, "Apes don't read Nietzsche!" Responds Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), "They do! They just don't understand it!"

Wanda owes much to Python in the behind-the-scenes collaboration between Cleese and his fellow actors. Cleese took notes from his costars and made his character, Archie, less of a caricature and more of a person, a man in love.

More like the Python of old and less like Wanda, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a film that questions how we look at the world. "I've put Munchausen at the end of the eighteenth century," notes Gilliam, "the age of reason, the age of enlightenment, which was really the beginning of the scientific thinking that dominates our world now. Munchausen is really a throwback, a baroque character, because his world is the incredible, fantastic one that doesn't exist in this world of science, of reasonable men."

Like that of the Flying Circus, Munchausen's universe is one where a balloon is made out of silken underwear and a man can ride on a cannonball. "On the moon," says Gilliam, "there are sixty-foot-high people with detachable heads that float around separately. While their bodies are getting on with physical things, their heads can deal with other matters."

For the Pythons en masse, other matters are solo matters. "There is a ten percent chance we'll work together again," predicts Palin. "John [Cleesel is dead set against it, which is silly really because nothing is absolute in this world. Everything changes."

Or as Cleese once said to a radio interviewer, "As you get a bit older and you develop more and more of your own style, it's harder for six of you to agree. I don't think we can do it again unless, miraculously, we all got one idea that we thought was fantastic." 















Tom Soter has written for Video, American Film, and World Screen News. He has applied for a grant to develop his own silly walk.



The Mini-Series Makes a Maxi-Splash


This season, for the first time, CBS has joined ABC and NBC in developing a programming concept that first took hold with the broadcasting of Roots. "We had never gone into the miniseries before, because we were very fortunate to have a strong weekly series lineup," notes Jim Sirmans, associate director of TV press for CBS Entertainment. "Why preempt M* A *S*H to put on something as chancy as a miniseries? The other networks had less to lose. But now the reason we're doing miniseries is simple: ABC scored so heavily with The Winds of War and The Thorn Birds, we were encouraged."

Between February and May the big three will be presenting the miniseries in force. Among others, there will be NBC's Celebrity, A.D., V Part II, The First Olympics; CBS's Master of the Game and George Washington; and' ABC's The Last Days of Pompeii, all featuring celebrity casts, complicated plots packed with passion and adventure, exotic settings, and broadcast dates that stretch over several nights. The multipart dramas seem here to stay-and each network is betting they'll help win the ratings race.

"The miniseries gives the audience something to look at that they don't see  every day," says Susan Baerwald, vice president for miniseries and novels for television at NBC. "They get people out of their armchairs, take them where they haven't been before."

Along with a captivating newness, a miniseries also has to be relevant to contemporary life. The Last Days of Pompeii "deals with the eternal verities: love, hate, passion, revenge," says scriptwriter Carmen Culver, "but there are much more specific links. For instance, in the story Franco Nero plays an evil high priest trying to get hold of girls and make them slaves of the cult of Isis. When I was writing the script, the papers were full of stories of young people leaving their homes to go and join various religious groups." Director Peter Hunt is more blunt: "It's Peyton Place in Pompeii."

Birth of a Notion

Inspired by television in Britain, where classic novels (The Mayor of Casterbridge, Madame Bovary, Vanity Fair) and contemporary fiction (Clouds of Witness, The Glittering Prizes) are frequently adapted to 6- to 12-hour shows rather than the 2-hour format popular on U.S. networks, the miniseries first appeared on public television in the United States. But it was not until 1977 that the major networks took notice of the form.

That was when ABC showed Roots, the multi-generational saga of black American history based on the book by Alex Haley. Broadcast in 12 hours over eight consecutive nights, Roots was a gamble: never before had a network preempted a whole week for one-show. If the program bombed the first night, the entire week's schedule would fail. But the gamble paid off: Roots was the highest-rated series ever (each episode ranked among the 13 highest-rated programs of all time). Some 130 million viewers watched the eight installments, and its success propelled then thirdplace ABC into the top spot over CBS and NBC.

Six years later, all three networks are using miniseries in their constant ratings war against each other and against the threat of cable television. But they are paying the price, for high scores in the ratings mean heavy investments. "They cost a lot to make," remarks Erin Dittman of Alan Landsburg Productions, which coproduced last fall's Kennedy miniseries. "The producers of Shogun paid a lot of money Japanese government to film· on location. When regular TV movies need location work, they usually) go to Texas."

Besides upping the costs for non-studio work, locations can present other problems as well. On NBC's Marco Polo, for instance, the cast and crew spoke eight different languages: English, Italian, "French, Arabic, Berber, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese dialects), Mongolian, and Japanese. "To communicate something to a Mongolian actor," star Ken Marshall recalls, "the message would sometimes have to go from English to Italian to Chinese to Mongolian-and back again."

But the results are usually worth the effort. In a recent competition between two theatrical-release films on television and a mini, the mini won handily. "Feature films are not doing as well as they used to on the networks," says Susan Baerwald. "Heaven Can Wait, The Cannonball Run –  a lot of money was paid at one time for these movies. But they're not drawing huge audiences because of previous exposure on cable. Miniseries draw big ratings because people are looking for new product."

The Shape Of Things To Come

"The miniseries is an obvious move for cable to make," notes Tom Aldredge, an actor who appeared in the PBS miniseries The Adams Chronicles. Adds Ron Abbott, an independent TV and theatrical producer, "The form makes tremendous sense. Something like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (a miniseries shown on PBS based on the novel by John Le Carre) is the epitome of the form. You can't do the book justice in a two-hour film. But in six hours you can get all the story points and characters that the book had. It allows the actors to create something in depth."

"The danger, " remarks Tom Aldredge, "is that the form can indulge itself in extraneous detail: The series can be stretched out too much. The Winds of War could very easily have been told in a one-hour film."

In a miniseries, characters are important, but the story is even more crucial. "It's got to be compelling," says Susan Baerwald. “It’s got to get you from one night to another. Gloria Vanderbilt, in 1982's Little Gloria, Happy at Last, was a fascinating character" but a portrait of her wouldn't have gotten people to tune in for two nights." What did it was a cliffhanger: would she keep custody of her child or wouldn't she? "It was a universal crisis everyone could relate to," explains Baerwald.

Mini Minuses

Many industry observers feel that minis have a serious drawback. In the past, TV series have made money not on their first runs but in their reruns; the more episodes available, the more profitable the repeats. Minis, with only four to twelve hours of material, are hampered. And so far their rerun ratings have not been promising. Shogun, NBC's Japanese miniseries, did respectably on a second showing, but ABC's biblical-era Masada bombed, sinking the network's whole week.

"That's what scares us about the miniseries," notes Sirmans. "If it fails you are out of a few bucks-and if affects your entire programming schedule because it's on more than one night. They do tend to fall down on second runs, but they still make money. And you can show them all over the world, cut them into movies, sell them on videocassettes. "

Producers of minis are in a Catch-22 situation. Part of the format's appeal is the extensive production schedule, allowing more time for script development and location work. Yet when a miniseries such as The Winds of War is a success, an immediate sequel of the same caliber is difficult to produce.

"It’s hard-to get ,the same actors," notes Baerwald. "And will people remember the story by the time the sequel is ready? Will they care?" Nonetheless, NBC is attempting a follow-up to its successful Jesus of Nazareth called A.D., this time chronicling the events after Jesus' crucifixion, as well as a sequel to last year's sci-fi epic V.

As for the future of the miniseries, Roots producer David L. Wolper has predicted that broadcast TV will eventually become all minis as a way to combat cable. But this seems unlikely, since cable itself is using miniseries as an audience lure. And as Baerwald puts it: "We must be careful that we do not glut the market. The miniseries' main appeal is that they're different. They create an event. If we create too many of them, they'll no longer be special." •


The Road Revisited


NOTE: This story, written for MILLIMETER, a trade magazine, demonstrated to me the pettiness of some editors. I had written for  Peter Caranicas, an excellent editor, at BACKSTAGE, SHOOT, VIEW, WORLD SCREEN NEWS, and WRAP – all trade publications, most defunct – for a number of years. When he moved to MILLIMETER, he asked me to write a story for him. I did. It worked out fine and I wrote another one for him. After he left, his assistant (a woman named Allison, though I can't remember her last name) took over and assigned me a piece on Chicago post-production. After that, she gave me a story on the 1988 Winter Olympics. After I turned it in, I gor a frenzied call from Allison telling me that the story was terrible; not what they wanted. I took notes on what she needed and told her I'd redo it. I only had 48 hours. She said she doubted I could fix it. Under incredible pressure, I contacted additional sources, then restructured and rewrote the piece. I turned it in on time. I didn't hear a word from Allison. A month or so later, the article appeared in MILLIMETER and found this notice in the "bio box": "Tom Soter is a New York-based free-lance writer. Portions of this feature were contributed by Dan Ochiva." I thought, "Gee, I guess they must have had to do a lot of rewriting." I examined the piece; there was one paragraph that I hadn't written; the restructuring and additional reporting were all as I had written them. Giving Ochiva a credit for such miniscule work was a big "Screw you" from Allison to me. Why? Perhaps she wasn't happy that I had proved her wrong? That would be weird, but whatever the reason, I never heard from her. No thanks for the rewrite, not a word. Pettiness. I never wrote for MILLIMETER again.

It can be as dramatic as Israeli athletes taken hostage by terrorists or as mundane as working with behind-the-scenes crews who Insist you speak their language. Whichever, the Olympics have always provided challenges for the mobile units that have reported them, and this year should be no different. "I'm really looking forward to it," says Thorn Kroon, sales and marketing manager at Seattle's Northwest Mobile Television, a division of King Broadcasting. "The Olympics are why we're in this business."

Certainly it's a test-one in which coverage has altered dramatically over the years. In 1947, when Harry Coyle, then with the Dumont Network and now coordinating producer of baseball with NBC Sports, covered his first sports events, his mobile unit was a station wagon that carried three film cameras specially adapted for TV transmission. There were no zoom lenses, no videotape, no slow-motion instant replay. It was just a monitor, a switcher, and those cameras fixed into three shots: medium, long, and dose-up.

Times have changed. The mobile business really took off at the 1984 Summer Olympics when, according to Barbara Seipt, unit manager at ABC, virtually every mobile unit in the country was on hand for ABC's international coverage. As the "host" network, ABC was not only responsible for its own cameras, it also had to supply feeds to every station in the world.

Like so much dew on a summer field, dozens of new mobile businesses sprung up in response. "There was a glut," recalls Kroon. "But the new companies didn't think much about what they'd do after the Olympics." Soon, the business began drying up; so did the mobiles.

"There's a lot of consolidation in the industry right now," continues Kroon, "and that's raising the entry-level stakes for mobile trucks. It costs $10 million to compete with the major mobile companies. That means the boutique-style companies-single-unit mobile operations-will have to operate differently. They have to be much more careful about mistakes since they're working closer to the line. My mistakes are spread over 13 trucks. They only have one."

Indeed, the minnows are being gobbled up by the ever-growing whales: Northwest absorbed Orange Coast Video, Sun Television, and Bay Area Mobile; Unitel took over Clearwater; and NEC bought TEP. Not only that: Congressional tax revisions have made a difference, too. Investment tax credits have changed severely for broadcast equipment, so investors are not as ready to put money into broadcast equipment. There are fewer write-offs.

"To prosper," says Susan Devlin, vice president at Unitel, "you have to run your mobile company like a business. It's very high cost: You have to maintain your equipment and keep it stateof-the-art. Many don't understand that."

Says Kroon: "How you support your equipment is crucial. We have set up field shops in our major markets. (Northwest Mobile, the largest mobile operation in the Ll.S; runs trucks out of Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Carlos, California, and Kent, Washington.) The biggest thing in developing a client base is keeping on top of things. If equipment is needed or something happens, you have to be able to meet demands. You can't always go to a rental house. We have more credibility in that market by having facilities there."

"It's cost plus what you think the clients want," observes Ken Degerness, vice president of mobile production at Calgary-based CFCN, which will be sending its truck to the Olympics for Canadian television. "If switcher 'A' is worth $100,000 and switcher 'B' is $150,000, you might say go with 'A.' But if 'B' is a recognizable name brand and more salable to the client, you go with that. It keeps you on top of the market."

State-of-the-art on wheels used to be the name of the game, but as Kroon points out, the arms race has slowed. "Although it's a cliche, the challenge until now has been to capture the 'leading edge of technology.' Well, the leading edge seems to be flattening out. The industry is going through a refinement period-digitaleffects devices are cleaner, camera lenses are sharper, and Chyron graphics are more sophisticated. MIl, CCD cameras, and HDTV are on the horizon but right now we're cleaning up lots of ideas that have been around for a while."

One such idea: Centro Corp. came up with a system in which tape decks were attached to racks on casters. Servicing the tape machines became easier, removing the need for service door on the sides of the truck, and duplication of equipment was eliminated. "You can roll them in or roll them out of a fixed facility," explains C. Stanley Ellington, the Centro design consultant who came up with the plan. NBC, in fact, moved two VTRs from one of its trucks designed with the system to a Brooklyn studio for use on The Cosby Show.

The idea of "containerization" has been spreading. Toronto EFP, based in its namesake city, used the cargo shippers' approach by creating removable racks in its "Promo" truck for all stationary equipment. "We did a lot of research before we built Promo," says company president George Dyke. "It was designed to complement multicamera production shoots like rock concerts or sporting events. Producers preferred to shoot these in Betacam, but also needed a control room to package the show more effectively for postproduction later." Working with an empty custom Ford-van chassis, Toronto EFP employees designed and built lightweight steel racks. When the time comes to move or ship the equipment, a thin brushed aluminum shell



ticipating companies are taking special precautions. "We're putting heaters in all our lenses to keep the function in," says Dick Horan, vice president of Challenger and two-time Emmy-winner for his work as ABC's technical manager at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. "We're also placing hot boxes in the mobile units to keep the motor from setting. We have reengineered the heating system in the truck."

Then again, the weather may not play up to expectations. Horan notes at Lake Placid, in 1980, "it was not as cold as usual. It was not disappointing. Just a bit above disappointing." But that wasn't as bad as Innsbruck, in 1976: The Austrian army had to combat mild weather by trucking in snow from northern Europe.

This year, there could also be difficulties linking up with foreign broadcast technicians. "There are minor nuances about how things are done in setting up and running the equipment," explains Kroon. Adds Horan: "In 1976, the Canadian crews at the Summer Olympics in Montreal made us talk to them in French. Everyone was running around with their French-English dictionaries."

Technical innovations should help simplify matters. In 1976, when Dick Horan handled ski-jumping coverage for ABC, existing cable wires  could not stretch the 8,000 feet today's cable can. Events had to be shot with (at the time) less dependable microwave cameras. No longer.

Technicians were also limited by space. "Trucks have gotten bigger," remarks Horan. "Back then, the consideration was equipment, not people. In the 1980s, creature comforts improved. Trucks in the 1970s were 40-feet long. Now, most are 48. It doesn't sound like much, but eight feet is a lot of space."

Adds Devlin: "Technology is getting smaller, but there's more of it. Ten years ago, a camera control unit would take up a whole rack. Now you can put: , three in a rack. But in those days, you weren't concerned with digital effects. The equipment is getting smaller, but more pieces are expected on board."

Small equipment will probably make for more -exciting coverage, as well. Flying Tiger, a New York-based company has created custom mounts to fit motorcycles and trucks of its own design for better .coverage of marathons, bike races, and rowing. Flying Tiger co-owrier Tony Foresta first reconstructed a Honda Goldwing motorcycle five years ago to cover a marathon for A'BC Sports. "We've tried to develop new devices while thinking

about the athlete's requirements," says Foresta. Among the recent additions to Flying Tiger's fleet is a low-slung camera car built on a Volkswagen chassis. Designed to be low enough that runners could still look over its roof to see the timing car's numerals, the vehicle also serves as a platform for the recently acquired and declassified Wescam gyro camera mount. Made by Westinghouse Aerospace for a secret defense project in the 1970s, the stabilized mount (now sold by Alan Gordon Enterprises) shields and stabilizes the entire camera, enclosing it within a plexiglas sphere. "We use it with an Ampex CCD (Betacam) camera, controlling its movement with a joystick," Foresta says. "You can use a 250mm lens while driving down the road at 30 mph, and the image is extremely stable."

ESPN has also used in-car CCD, microwave cameras at races, and has even placed one on an umpire at a baseball game. "Cameras are becoming smaller and more durable," says Steve Ulman, manager of production services at ESPN. "The microwave cameras give you a great deal of versatility. Being tied up by a wire to a truck is inconvenient."

Other companies are experimenting with the more durable CCD cameras (which many insist are not yet up .to par on picture quality) and KU uplinks on trucks. Wesley Gordon, a sales engineer with Centro, sees satellite dishes on most mobile units eventually. "It started as a joke at NBC," he remarks, ' "but they took the ball, ran with it, and now they're getting good use out of it." Gordon feels with so many broadcasters wanting to use KU bands, having portable uplinks will offer truck owners more control.

But Kulchar, for one, is skeptical.  "It's the 'me-too' syndrome.' I can remember when helicopters were the rage. If you didn't have one, you were a non-TV station. Now, if you can't uplink with Peoria, Illinois, it's the same thing. For Uriitel, KU is really a different area. It's our choice not to get into it. Maybe 10 percent of our jobs need to be uplinked on the site. It's more of a transmitting task than a video chore, and there are a lot of companies that provide that service."

It's also very unlikely the big trucks will disappear. They're a necessity at events like the Olympics where miniature studios have to be set up on location. If anything, they will become more elaborate as they attempt to stay ahead of the market.

"Mobile units usually have the latest technology long before local stations," says Kroon. "That's where technical equipment is field-tested. You've got some real hot-dog producers and directors out there who like to try things and take more risks. Equipment gets refined at the station level, of course, but a lot of times, the birth of ideas begins here in the field." 


The Untouchables




The Untouchables 


1987. Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery; dir. Brian De Palma. 119m. (R) Hi St cc V $89.95. B $29.95. LV St $34.95. 

Paramount. Image: good. 


"When he pulls a knife, you pull a gun," advises policeman Jimmy Malone (Connery) in The Untouchables. "When he sends your man to the hospital, you send his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way." The brutal era of gang warfare that defined the Windy City in fact and fiction during the 1920s provides the background for this bigscreen update of the '60s TV series. While the movie is engrossing and well-made, its  morality is deplorable. 


De Palma and screenwriter David Mamet have taken real-life hero Eliot Ness and turned him into a pantywaist. The real Ness was an agent sent to Chicago by the Treasury Department to clean up AI Capone's bootlegging operation, which had been winked at by local authorities on the

.take. Ness' team became known as the Untouchables because they couldn't be bought and worked aggressively to enforce the law. 



In the TV film, The Scarface Mob, and the subsequent hit series, Robert Stack played Ness as a no-nonsense he-man, solid, savvy and cynical, an avenging angel for the public good. The film makes Ness (Costner) a young and idealistic family man and turns The Untouchables into a kind of perverted Star Wars, with Sean Connery as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ness as Luke Skywalker. 


Malone-teacher, father and soul of the team-is a 20-year veteran cop who has given up on fighting the corruption around him but sees a new opportunity in Ness. Playing on his well-known reputation for integrity, the actor is terrifically moving (and amusing) as a vulnerable, tough and fascinatingly complex figure. He is the heart of the movie, which aims for epic status from the first shot-a striking overhead view of Capone (De Niro) holdingcourt as he is being shaved-to one of the last-a man plummeting from the top of a building.


Cinematic flamboyance is Brian De dr Palma's signature. The director uses dozens of impressive movie tricks-pans, tracking shots, slow motion-with the cold GI efficiency of a brilliant film student. But it's inl as hollow as Costner's Ness, and the technique is nothing more than a glossy cover for a dirty book. The message-the ends tit justify the means-is more than objection- vi, able, it completely undercuts the actual ur heroism of the Untouchables and is itself  undercut by the reality of what happened to ill; Capone. In the end, he was thwarted by the ca law, not in spite of it, jailed for non-payment of income tax. 

VIDEO, June 1988

Unforgettable Year


1987: The Unforgettable Year 

1988. Tom Brokaw; dir. Marcia Ku)Per Schneider, 75m. V only. $24.95. Wood Knapp. Image: good. 


If you like NBC Nightly News, you'll love this compilation of 1987's big events, as reported by the network. TV newscasts are essentially headline. services, so if you can imagine a 75-minute headline, you have a pretty good idea what this is like. 


This answer to a news director's prayers. ("What can we do with yesterday's reports? ") recycles items about everything from the Wall Street crash and. the NFL strike to the sexual follies of Gary Hart and Jim and Tammy Bakker in a kaleidoscope of images and words, reducing the major and magnifying the minor. Conservative activist Howard Phillips is seenCalling Ronald Reagan a "useful idiot" for Soviet propaganda; the Pope kisses an armless man who has played the guitar with his f~et; forest fires rage out of control; a little girl is rescued from a well; another child is the sale survivor of a major air crash. Memorable lines are replayed, from Ollie North's claim that the IranContra plan was a "neat idea" to comedian Mark Russell's quip: "There is no smoking gun [in this scandal]-we sold it to Iran." 


Yet everything takes on a sameness in this report, which is clever, slick and disc1udes with an interminable number of clips of departed stars, such as Fred Astaire dancing, Liberace preening and Rita Hayworth slinking. 1.987: The Unforgettable Year is symptomatic of the worst and best of TV news: glitzy, simple-minded and powerful. 



Young Comedians All-Star Reunion.

Robin Williams, Harry Anderson, 1986. dir. Walter Miller. HBO. Image: good. 60m.

Comedy isn't pretty, Steve Martin once said, but it shouId at least be funny. 


This HBO special offers five big-name comedians introducing five "stars of the future," most of wjom will probably find this their pinnacle. There's  Howard Busthis, a clean-cut guy telling sex jokes. ("Last night my girlfriend and I had violent sex. I pulled down my pants and she kicked me in the groin.") Barry Crimmins. a chubby man' with a walrus moustache. offers jokes about the death penalty. acid rain and Grenada. John Mendoza, who sounds like a bitter, nasty Rodney Dangerfield, has the best zingers of the bunch. which isn't saying much. "You ever wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup? ... You ever wonder what kind of sexual protection the woman is using? My date was using foam. By the time I found out. I looked like a mad dog." 


Sex and failed relationships are the staples of these monologues. taped before appreciative audiences in Toronto, Los Angeles. Boston. New York and San Francisco. The veterans' bits, performed before they introduce the newcomers. show the startling difference: Harry Anderson's charming. low-key magic tricks and Robin Williams' off-the-wall free associations are as brilliant and unpredictable as their guests' material is forced. 


It's true, you can try too 'hard. As Groucho Marx noted upon meeting a woman who had 20 children because she "loved her husband." "I love my cigar. But I take it out of my mouth once in a while." 


68 VIDEO MAY 1988 



Add Image: 

Video Bar


Hey Bartender!

Bored by those endless football games while you teeter on a bars tool drinking . Schlitz? Tired of the convoluted soap opera that distracts your date in the diner? Cheer up, video Muzak is here, Video Television (VTV), billed as an elbow-bender's balm, enters the scene this month at over 500 clubs, restaurants, and bars throughout the U. S. As a child of MTV, VTV is an eclectic concoction of music videos, comedy and film clips, and advertisements. Steve Martin tells jokes. Betty Boop sings. Camel cigarettes looks for Real Men. And Flash Gordon conquers the Universe. Video snippets from the worlds of sports, fashion, music, and history round out the picture. Much of it is public domain material, though HBO, among others, okayed many of the film and concert clips.

Jay Coleman, publisher of Rockbill, dreamed up the idea when he was asked to do a Camel cigarette commercial to screen in dance halls. The ad was an award-winning hit with Camel, but Coleman was frustrated by his lack of control over who was watching, when, and hpw often. VTV is his attempt to 'correct that.

What VTV comes down to is another outlet for advertising. Cigarette and hard liquor ads that are now forbidden on broadcast and cable TV can play on VTV because it is delivered by Federal Express, not the airwaves. "What better place to advertise liquor than in a bar?" asks Jane Yusko, VTV's sales director. "The ir products are sold there, so when a commercial for a brand comes on it reinforces the customer when he's about to order."  But the health-conscious need not worry: VTV is also airing public service spots on drunk driving.

The service's subscribers get 8 hours of programming a month. In return they play the tapes 20 days a month, 4 hours a day. At the end of each month, they exchange them for new tapes. One source estimates that 500,000 people will watch VTV, if 'watching' can be said to accurately describe what they'll do. After all, how many people 'listen' to MuzaK? Then again,it could be a videoholic's dream.

44 Video February 1986



Monty Python's Flying Circus

MAY 1987

And now for something completely Python: the complete (well, almost) history of the show that nearly began as Owl Stretching Time and A Horse, A Spoon, and a Bucket, yet went on to become one of the most successful, ground-breaking comedy programs in television history. Monty Python's Flying Circus, the half-hour series, ran on British TV from 1969 to 1974. On Python, anything went-a Minister of Silly Walks who goes off to work, a house that devours people and neighborhoods, a talk show host who blithely interviews a stuffed cat. 

"We always felt, 'we'll do what makes us laugh'," recalls Terry Jones, one of the six members of the group. And though some viewers don't agree, calling the team's work tasteless and unfunny, many more have joined in the fun, turning their 45 shows (just now coming out on tape), movies, records, and books into hits.

Monty Python's Flying Circus, influenced by British radio's seminal Goon Show (with Peter Sellers), snuck onto the U. K. scene in October 1969 as a late-night replacement for a religious talk show. Few were watching, and even fewer at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) knew what to expect. (The ambiguous title was meant to keep as many people as possible in the dark.) The series had been sold on the basis of previous work by the six Pythons-Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin-who had all worked on such popular programs as At Last the 1948 Show, The Complete and Utter History of Britain, and The Frost Report.

But Monty Python would be like no other series, and would change the nature of television humor. The Pythons were the first true video comedians, brilliantly using the medium to poke fun at TV, politicians, doctors, the military, the clergy, the upper classes, surrealism, documentaries, and life in general.

"When we decided to do Python, "recalls Terry Jones, "I was thinking, 'What kind of' shape are we going to give it?' And I remember looking at Spike Milligan's show, Q5, on TV and thinking he was doing outrageous things in comedy. He'd start a sketch and then it would suddenly turn into something else. Or someone would push a door onscreen and he'd walk through it. And he just didn't bother about finishing off everything. I suddenly realized we had all been writing cliches till then. "

The Pythons planned their comedic chaos very carefully. Sketches did not simply follow one another; they didn't have guest singers separate segments, as was the custom. Instead, there were routines, animations, non sequiturs, subtitles, voiceover narration, and general silliness, all tightly linked. Notes Terry Gilliam, "We tried to interrelate everything."

In one show, for instance, a sketch called "A Book at Bedtime" finds a man reading aloud a picturesque description of a castle, stumbling over words he can't pronounce. The scene shifts to the castle being described; a Scottish highlander falls from a turret. Next is a segment about "Kamikaze Highlanders" who jump from turrets. One man remarks to another, "We have no time to lose, " which segues into a sketch about the "No-Time-to-Lose Advice Center," where people are given advice on how to use the expression. This turns into a cartoon about "No-Time Toulouse," a French Impressionist gunslinger in the Old West, before a return to the Kamikaze Highlanders. More sketches follow; the show ends full circle with the "Book at Bedtime" sketch.

In their former lives as writers, the Pythons had constantly felt trapped by the "tyranny of the punchline," the requirement of concluding a funny sketch with a brilliant joke. "We kept seeing so much good work being weakened by a weak ending, " says Gilliam. "So we did the obvious thing: get rid of the weakest link."

Gilliam played an important role in that. A former magazine illustrator, the transplanted American had made a mark on British'television with a limited-animation cartoon short, Elephant. In the stream-of-consciousness exercise, a man is hit by a falling elephant, squashed, and then transformed into something else.

Eric Idle (left and Michael Palin in Life of Brian.Eric Idle (left) and Michael Palin in Life of Brian.

"Terry had been very worried about it, because he said, 'It doesn't really make sense'," notes Jones. "I felt, 'Why not amalgamate the freedom that Spike Milligan's got-not having punchlines-and use Terry's animations to flow in and out of sketches'?"

Besides giving the series a shape, Gilliam's wild animations (a TV set drilling holes in eyes, a man slicing off his head while shaving) gave the series a violent tone, which bled over into some of the sketches. "Sam Peckinpah's Salad Days," for example, opens with a tennis garden party. A ball is tossed to one of the picnickers, hitting him in the head-which suddenly explodes. Another man grabs the arm of a companion and it comes off, spurting a fountain of blood in slow motion. And so on.

Surprisingly, the BBC gave the Pythons little trouble until their third year. "They started to get more interested because it was more successful," observes Gilliam. "They had to show their involvement. We had one session where the BBC gave us this huge list of things that had to be dealt with. They were totally misinterpreting everything that was going on. In one of the sketches, John pushes a severed leg through the door and says, 'Sign here.' And that was referred to as the scene where the man pushes the giant penis through the door."

The Pythons both wrote and performed the material. Usually Idle and Gilliam would create alone; Chapman and Cleese and Palin and Jones would collaborate. Recalls Palin, "Terry and I would write together for a week, working quite closely in the same room, swapping ideas around. Then there'd be a reading session. You could tell , from the laughter around the table when something had worked and when it hadn't." The group would discuss the material for several days, followed by more rewriting. Idle soon became known for his wordplay, Chapman and Cleese for their logic and acerbity, and Palin and Jones for their flights of fancy and imagery.

Ideas suggested by one member were often developed by another. That process led to "The Pet Shop," a classic piece in which a customer has an incredibly hard time trying to return a parrot that was sold to him dead, nailed to its perch. "It's based on a guy I originally bought a car from," says Palin. "If anything went wrong with it, he would never admit it. There was always some excuse. You'd say, 'The brakes don't work' and he'd say, 'That's because it's new. It needs a bit of adjustment.' 'But I went down a hill and nearly killed myself. ' I remember telling John about this character and he thought it was very funny. Then he and Graham wrote something. It was Graham who had the idea that it should be a parrot." Similarly, Graham Chapman recalls trying to create a sketch with Cleese about a "Ministry of Anger," which Palin and Jones turned into a "Ministry of Silly Walks."

"In Python," notes Palin, "any loose· ends could lead to something that made a nice, surrealistic whole." says now.

Monty Python is back.Monty Python's Meaning of Life


Through it all, the deadlines-ten days to do a show-and a slim budget led to great creativity. "Necessity always makes us make leaps," remarks Gilliam. "That was the advantage in television. We did nothing but take chances to fill up that halfhour every week. I've always been convinced that with enough money we could really have been mediocre beyond be lief. Case in point-Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Had we the money, we would have had horses, not men pretending they were horses banging coconuts to make galloping noises."

In 1972, the group made its first tentative step into the film world with And Now for Something ComPletely Different, a remake of about 40 TV pieces. The idea was to introduce the troupe to America, but the movie--over which they had little control –pleased neither the Pythons nor their potential audience, and was a disappointing flop.

It wasn't until 1974 that the team made it in the U.S. in, of all places, Texas. A local public broadcasting station picked up the series-both commercial and public television had rejected it as "too British" -and the ratings were great. A cult developed, and the Pythons began turning up on other PBS channels around the country. By then, a second movie was in the works, and the series itself was on the wane. John Cleese had become bored ("I felt we were just repeating ourselves," he says) and refused to do any more TV. (Six episodes were made without him.) The group turned again to film, this time retaining creative control. The result was a parody of the Arthurian legend, directed by Jones and Gilliam: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

"We did feel we had exhausted Python on TV by then," recalls Palin. "But Terry Jones, myself, and Terry Gilliam were interested in cinema. We were going to set up a film anyhow and it seemed a shame not to get all the Pythons in." Holy Grail has all the best elements of the series, hung loosely on a quest plot.

The episodic narrative finds Arthur and his knights encountering a killer rabbit, a three-headed knight whose heads are always arguing among themselves, and socialist peasants debating the class system. The movie was a hit, helped perhaps by a Python stage show in America (a later tour was captured in the film Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl), records, and publicity surrounding a lawsuit the group brought against ABC-TV when the network aired heavily edited versions of the programs. The landmark court ruling that favored the Pythons' position and more generally strengthened artists' rights. Michael Palin

Michael Palin

By 1975, the troupe was in a paradoxical position: the components of this internationally successftll unit were all anxious to work as individuals. "What I hate most is repetition," observes Gilliam. "I hate the feeling that I know the answers to things. I like being constantly surprised." In Palin's view, "There's a certain desire within you to try and find out what you can do on your own. When I'm in a group, I tend to be more submissive so I'll blend in. There are certain times when I can only express what I want when I'm out on my own."

The six began to work apart, with varying initial results. John Cleese created the 12-episode sitcom, Fawlty Towers, a brilliant farce about a rude hotel owner. "It was my most successftll non-Python effort," he now notes. "It's about as funny as I can be." Eric Idle appeared on Saturday Night Live (as did Michael Palin), developing the creative alliances that led toa mock documentary on the "pre-fab four," the RutIes, a legendary singing group whose career very much resembles the BeatIes'. Michael Palin and Terry Jones collaborated on Ripping Yarns, a nine-episode TV satire of "boys' adventure" stories. Graham Chapman wrote a semi-factual book called A Liar's Autobiography, Volume VI,· and appeared in a film, The Odd Job. Terry Gilliam wrote and directed Jabberwocky –with Palin in the lead-a dark, vulgar story about a medieval peasant fighting a monster.

By 1978, the group had reconstituted itself to create its finest work, Monty Python's Life of Brian. The story of Brian Cohen, a contemporary of Jesus, roughly parallels the life of Christ. It had started as a title,]esus Christ: Lust for Glory, but the Pythons eventually decided that Christ's preachings were not a good subject for satire. The movie instead went after the followers of Jesus who distorted his message. Says Cleese, "I think Life of Brian was the most successful Python film. It was about important matters and had a good story."

That story involves a lisping Pontius Pilate, a group of revolutionaries who would rather argue than revolt, and wild crowds who keep mistaking Brian for the Messiah. "There's a fairly simple point to the film," observes Palin. "Don't believe everything because you're told it by somebody wearing some sort of outfit. Just have a little think."

The movie was strongly protested by religious groups who had never seen it; the controversy made it the Pythons' biggest money maker up to that time. As Palin notes, "It was our most successful because of an intelligent script, good performances, and a lot of help in the publicity from nuns, bishops, and Mrs. Strom Thurmond."

"After Life of Brian," recalls Gilliam, "there was great pressure on us to do another film quickly to take advantage of the success. We were all greedy enough to go along with that line of thinking and we tried it. It didn't work. The chemistry just wasn't right. We didn't need to make the film, so we stopped."

Gilliam then directed two critically and commercially well-received fantasies: Time Bandits, featuring Palin, Cleese, and Sean Connery, and Brazil, a 1984-type tale with Palin as a villain. The latter brought Gilliam into a bitter conflict with Universal Pictures, which initially refused to release it, claiming the story was too downbeat. After a year of acrimony, the movie appeared, to great acclaim. Idle wrote a play, Pass the Butler, for London's West End. Chapman starred with Idle and Cleese in a misconceived pirate spoof called Yellowbeard; Palin made two entertaining comedies, The Missionary and A Private Function. Cleese began a company to produce corporate training films; Jones wrote a children's book.

Terry Jones in The Meaning of Life.Terry Jones in The Meaning of Life.

The group came together in 1983, for what could be the last time, to do a sketch movie, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. "Getting six people together to try and make a narrative film is very difficult, " observes Gilliam. "Everybody had been going his own way. It was more difficult to get everybody to agree on things. We wanted to do a film as a group and the easiest way to do it was to find a backbone that we could string a lot of sketches on."

Jones directed, and the final result works on many levels, poking vicious fun at the church, snobs, Americans, and fools. Meaning of Life provides a fitting coda to the group's collective work. Monty Python ends as it began, with sketches that push the boundaries of taste as far as they can go. "I feel comedy ought to be about something, but I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to say that's the only purpose," Jones observes.

As for the future, "There is a ten percent chance we'll work together again," says Palin. "John's dead set against it, which is silly really, because nothing is absolute in this world. Everything changes."

Street Performers



  By Tom Soter 

published in Japan, 1987
Translated from the Japanese

Sean GrissomSean Grissom

New York's Columbus Avenue is a residential street, lined with 10- and 1l-story buildings. At night, however, it becomes an unofficial entertainment center, in which a man juggles fire for a crowd of onlookers, another races turtles, and classical musicians oboists"
violinists, miramba players, and cellists -- offer Bach, Brahms, and Haydn in a ''lay they've never done before. On the street.

Street performing has been a way of life in New York for almost as long as there have been streets. And more and more classical musicians are taJdng to the open air for various reasons,and with varying results. There's Sean Grissom, the 26-year-old commercial artist from Texas, whose "Cajun Cello" – a modified antique cello which allmiS him to perform bluegrass music as roll as the classics – has won him numerous street contests (as well as three trips to Japan).

Or Robert Teitelbaum, the 33-year-old former contracts collection agent who spent seven years at a job he hated before giving it all up for music on'the streets. Or Ronald Viogiani, 22, the low-level clerk at the Fashion Institute of Technology and grandson of an amateur drummer who dreams of Carnegie Hall – but for now plays on the streets and in the parks of New York.

They're all tied together by their love of music and their work on'the streets, yet all have different approaches to this unusual profession. "A lot of performers get into this late in life," says Teitelbaum. "It's not the sort of career choice you make early on. You fall into it."

Take Teitelbaum himself. He had studied music for four years and then entered a graduate program in which he practiced on his marimba four or five hours daily. Then, one day, he woke up and said to himself, "I'll never practice again." And he stopped playing. For seven years.

"I said, 'Why am I doing this?' I forgot the reasons why I went into it. Then I was training to be a classical performer, I had lost that special something that had drawn me into music. I wasn't in love with it anymore."

Street performing rekindled the romance. The ex-musician was working for his family firm at a contracts collection agency and also taking a course in marketing when he saw a miramba player on the street. He was fascinated by her grace, her music, and the warm response of the crowd. He became excited about the miramba and seven months later he was out on the street himself. "Part of performing is an ego trip," he notes. "I wouldn't be there if people dictll't smile and respond. Part of the gratification is knowing you did it \rell."

"Street performing changed my perspective on what muSic is and what performing' should be," observes Valerie Naranjo, the marimba player who so inspired Teitelbaum. The 27-year-old musician came to New York from Colorado in 1981 and needed a quick thousand dollars for graduate school studies. She took her seven-foot long, l40-pound marimba -- a percussion instrument that creates many haunting melodies when struck .. lith mallets in front of the Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue and played. And played. And played.

The crowds were large and generous, and she made as much as $25 to $50 an hour playing Bach, the Beatles, and contemporary West African music. "It's a balance between what I want to play and what people enjoy listening to," she says. "Hopefully, there's overlap."

Although money was her original objective, that soon changed. "I stopped seeing myself as the center of the performance. The center was the energy created by bringing people together with the music and the instruments. Not enough of that goes on. 'We live in a society where the arts are a commodity and an industry rather than something that people share. That's unlike India or Africa where people as a whole participate in art as part of their lives. The closest thing to that here seems to be street performing. It makes something as mundane as walking home from 'work an artistic experience."

Indeed, the success of street performing has led to sUbway performing, a t'io-year-old, city-sponsored arrangement called MUNY (Music Under New York). Funded with a $70,000 grant, the program allows 50 musicians to play classical, jazz, and blues at selected sub'vay stations throughout New York. "The crowd down there is different," says Naranjo. "They're working people. They take it much differently than people strOlling around Central Park do. In the parle, I feel it's more of an entertainment. In the subway, it's much more a salve because everything is so unpleasant."

"I don't like that kind of crOWd," notes Teitelbaum. "It's rushing by you. I like to catch people in a leisure situation. A rush hour crowd tosses you a quarter and listens for two seconds. That's tainted money. They're giving it for pity, not because they enjoy the music. I \vant people to listen."

That was Gary Kvo' s approach, as well. A 22-year-old Julliard Music School student, he needed money when he first came to the city three years ago from a small town in Connecticut. He brought his sky blue-colored violin out on the street, hOOked it up to a battery-operated amplifier and began playing classical music. Small groups of people would gather aria applaud. They were all struck by the intense young man who refused to talk to anyone and seemed to be alone in a world of Dvorak, Stravinsky and Handel -- a world far removed from the rumbling streets.

Page of original article, in Japanese.Detail from a page of the original article, in Japanese.

"I wasn't doing a comedy show," says Kvo, who numbered among his audience Yoko Ono (she once dropped a 20-dollar bill in his case). Yet he admits that are great differences between the street and the concert hall. "When you're performing for concert audiences, they're there because they want to hear you. When you're on the street, you have to grab people's attention. Playing on the street doesn't mean lowering the quality. It's just a different demand. If you can find something people like, you're in luck. It kind of challenges you to see how fast you can do get them. You sell yourself."

"On stage," adds Robert Teitelbaum, "you're 30 feet away. On the street, you can reach out and touch your audience. Doing the street has made me less of a musician in the classical sense and more of an entertainer. It's different from the concert hall because you have to coerce them. If you played classical music beautifully you wouldn't attract them. You need more razzle dazzle." Kvo 'concurs. "Lively music worles better than slOl,er pieces. Often I would play one piece that looks a lot more difficult than it is."

Teitelbaum has adopted different tactics for different crowds. lilt works better if I have a 20-minute set and then pass my hat. That breaks up the shows and gives a definite point for people to contribute., I've also added audience participation, where audience members come up and join me for simple duets on the marimba. I got the idea from watching people 'iatch me. They always want to come up and hit it. So I'm fulfilling a need for them to become involved." Tei telbaum' s course in marketing has also been a big help. "You have to understand your ma;:-ket. I look at what happens when I play certain tunes, or make changes in my presentation. A lot of performers don't do that. They just play. They don't seek out crowds and locations that are suitable to their music. It's like the guy who sits in a dark corner and strums his guitar and wonders why no one pays attention. What to do and how to do it ma]{es a big difference in the attention you get."

Sean Grissom would agree. An unorthodox cellist, he is probably the most visibly successful classical performer on the New York streets. Besides making a living from his curbside earnings, he has traveled to Japan three times, the first as a representative of the United ,States at the World Street Entertainers Festival, where he hobknobbed with street performers from England, Holland, Brazil, and ~rance. This year, he will spend six weeks in ToJ'Y0 and Osaka for the Fuji Television Electronics Exposition.

"It's the damndest thing," he observes. "From playing on the street to going to Japan. I love to see my snob colleagues in the classical business who look do,m on street performing. When they hear what I'm doing it really shakes them up."

He has also started a small record company called Endpin to publish, record, and sell his street music. In 1986, he sold over 3,000 cassettes of Cajun Cello Live! and he has just order 2,000 more. He met his business partner/manager through a street performance connection and \Vas also elected to the New York Cello Society because of the notoreity he had gained on the street. Grissom, who has degrees in commercial art and music performs an interpretation of the Japanese song "Cherry Blossom," as well as cello arrangements of Bach, Dvorak, Saint-Saens, the Beatles, and a Spanish flamenco number. "I get people to listen \~ith the lively music and then sneak into the·classical stuff."

He has ingeniously adapted his cello to the street, mounting a tiny taperecorder in the rocJ{ of it which provides piano accompaniment. He has also added a strap to the instrument so he can dance to his tunes and more freely interact with the crowd. He receives nickels, dimes, subway tokens, Atlantic City casino chips, and foreign coins (he has a collection of ones from Brazil, France, and Holland). "The street's been really good," he notes. "I got skilled on the streets and I can do my o\m thing. I don't have to deal with the hassles of a club unless I want to. I can make more on the street and play for five hours." Page of original article, in Japanese.

Page of original article.

But there are a number of drawbacks that all classicists report -- not the least of "hich are the rough conditions. The police can be the biggest problem. Gary Kvo remembers collecting a crovd of 15 or 20 people with his music and noticing that a police car had pulled up to the curb. An officer got out and stood watching the show. Kvo felt his time "laS up. Although there is no la\V against performing on the street, the POlice can arrest performers for disturbing the peace. "I thought he was going to wait for me to finish IiIy act and then take me away," recalls Kvo. At the end of the performance, however, the officer \ialked up to the artist, handed him a five dollar bill and said, "You're good."

There are also weather problems. Grissom played for only 10 minutes in 120-degree heat and nearly collapsed, while Teitelbaum was caught in many thunderstorms that could have damaged his instrtnnent if he hadn't brought a tarpaulin. And Kvo often had to stop if the wind became too strong and started blowing away his money.

But the biggest headache is coping with the noise. "It's very hard to play outsid~/" says ~ona~d Viogiani, the 22-year-old clerk who is a clarinetist with the New Trio d'Anches, a woodwind trio that won a scholarship to study in France. "There's nothing to keep the sound fran going straight up. There are no accoustics. You have to play really loud and that's a strain for 2\ or 3 hours."

Viogiani's group also had a bizarre experience one evening. "At the height of the day, our trio was playing on the street, and right across from us was another trio -- two flutes and a cello -- doing the exact same Haydn piece 'ie were doing. They were competing \Vith us. We'd do a movement, then they'd do a movement. The sounds began to meld and it didn't sound very good."

Then there are crowds. Teitelbaum once had ,stones thrown at him, while Grissom was doused with water at least five times. Kvo's experience was even more daunting: he ~~s playing his violin when a drunken man turned up and poured a bottle full of ciagrette ash onto the performer. Kvo lost his temper and pushed the man to the ground. The drunk responded by destroying the musician's amplifier. The incident shook Kvo up so much that he retired from street performing a month later.

There are also the good audiences. Valerie Naranjo remembers playing for a middle-aged group of people in front of the Metropolitan Museum who came to her defense when an irate man tried to have her removed. Grissan l'laS once dragged off the street by enthusiastic party-goers who brought him to a party (and paid him to be) a musical gift for the host. Anqther time, a woman pleaded with Grissom by long-distance telephone, insisting he come out to San Francisco -- at his own expense - to entertain guests at her home. And a Teitelbaum performance once touched a former miramba player so much that he asked if he could playa tune on Teitelbaum's instrument.

Page of original article, in Japanese;.Page of original article.

"I believe in the healing power of art, of music, of those kinds of things things that bring people together," say Naranjo. "The most concrete way I've been able to manifest that is in street performing. The end result is the audience is made much happier and I'm made much happier."

There are, of course, the Aaron Minskys of the 'iOrld -- the unhappy and unlucky street performers. A classical cellist by training, Minsky had heard' there ''laS good money in street performing. "A friend of mine had made $70 one afternoon," he recalls. "I was hard pressed for cash, so I took out my cello and played on the street for a whole afternoon. I made five dollars."

Another friend told him that he should go out with a quartet since most quartets maJ<, where he had heard people were more generous. They went. And played classical music, blues, and fi~ally, in disgust, a weird atonal improvisation. No one stopped, except for a long-haired , drugged-out man "no said, "You guys should be on television."

Minsky's spirits brightened when a young man who had been successfully selling ties nearby took pi ty on them and offered each of the quartet a free $10 tie. After he left, however, they found out that it had been a joke: the man had sold them children's ties. Nonetheless, the group put them on and continued playing their atonal improvisation until a passerby took a polaroid of the foursome. Minsky asked if he could keep it as a souvenir," he said to his friends. "That's a picture of the last time I played on the street." And it was.

"Street performing's not for everyone," says Grissom. "But it's important. When you're in school, you're given tools but you're not told how to get work. I found the street just offered a way to take the tools and do something with them. Adds Viogiani: "It's hard to get a job in an orchestra. Vacancies are only created when musicians retire or die. That's why I turned to this sort of music."

Most street performers hope to go on to bigger things. "I don't want to be 50 or 60 and say, 'Come on, kids, comer see granddad on the street. But a few feel like Robert Teitelbaum, who observes: "I have no desire to stop playing on the street. A lot of people are out there too be discovered. Not me. I want to do what I'm doing. If someone offered me a world tour, I'd turn it down. Unless it was a tour of street performing that is."



If classical musicians are a rarity on the street, improvisational comedy groups are even more scarce, akin to an endangered species. I have the unique distinction of being in the only improv group to play successfully on those streets for over a year, and the only one to appear in the Village Voice's Festival of Street Entertainers in 1985. I got into it by accident. A writer and editor by trade, I began studying improvisation in 1981 to improve my writing skills. I liked it so much, hmiever, that I "laS soon performing with a six-person group in nightclubs around the city.

One evening, however, our club date was unexpectedly cancelled. The six of us were standing on the street when one of the group said, "Why don't we perform right here?" We did and within an hour iie had a crm,d of 50 or more watching us sing, dance, and perform comedy skits created fran their suggestions. In less than an hour we had made ovef $100.

After that, we iiere hooked. we more or less shunned the clubs and instead were on the streets, in the park, and an~1here outside we could find to perform. It was a thrill to have groups of 100 and 200 people watching us, and our 'work got better and better depending on the size of the audience.

We had our share of mishaps. Once a pair of drunken teenagers interrupted a show and joined in a skit. Another time, we were singing an improvised song \ihen a rain of ''later came pouring down on us from an apartment windOli above. We were drenched, but cheered up when our audience started yelling abuse at the person in the window.

And then there was the policeman who very politely asked us and our crowd of about 50 to move across the street because were blocking pedestrian traffic. We did - and like the children in the Pied Piper fairy story, the crowd happily followed us! We finally gave up the streets -- not because it became less fun but because it got too cold. But if you asked me what the most exciting creative work I ever did ,laS, I wouldn't hesitate in my reply: creating a crowd out of thin air.

Star Trek


The scene is familiar. On the bridge of the starship Enterprise, control center, the "Star Trek" crew is once again facing an alien life-form that is threatening humanity's very existence. But wait! There is no halfhuman, half-vulcan Mr. Spock in sight. Where's Captain Kirk or Dr. McCoy? Beam me up, Scotty-a guy named Picard is commanding the Enterprise, and on board with him are an android named Data and a beautiful half-human woman named Troy. Have aliens taken over the Enterprise at last?

Not exactly. This crew is part of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," a syndicated series created by "Star Trek" originator Gene Roddenberry that picks up the action on board the Enterprise 78 years after the adventures of the old crew. And if you've never heard of "Star Trek," new or old, come out of your cave: It is simply the most remarkable success story in television history, a show that has inspired books, record albums, movies, doctoral dissertations, and hundreds of fan clubs throughout the world.

In the Beginning
It all started in 1964, when Roddenberry, a writer of TV westerns, dramas, and crime shows, finally got fed up with the restraints placed on him by network censors. "You really couldn't talk about prejudice, sex, labor management, or war," he noted recently. "I decided 1 was going to leave TV unless 1 could find someway to write what 1 wanted." Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock.

Roddenberry let out his frustrations by creating a science fiction series in which he could deal with moral issues disguised as outer space plays. Vietnam, nuclear war, women's rights, racism-they all came under the microscope in "Star Trek," albeit in the manner of action and adventure on other planets. "It apparently went right over the censor's heads," says Roddenberry, "but all the fourteen-year-olds in our audience knew exactly what we were talking about."

The "Star Trek" odyssey began in 1966 on NBC, with an opening narration that explained: "Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before. " The series detailed the adventures of a huge starship in the 23rd century as it investigated unknown planets in unknown galaxies. The 430 crew members included the young, dynamic Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner); the apparently all-knowing Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy, with pointed ears); and the hot-tempered Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley). A typical episode presented Kirk with a seemingly insoluble dilemma: a plague affecting the crew or a menacing alien capable of destroying the ship. His solution, devised with the help of Spock and McCoy, usually reaffirmed what it means to be human.

The issues "Star Trek" confronted ran the gamut from growing up and sexism to penal systems and computerization. In one episode, for instance, a brilliant scientist transplants his mind into a robot's body, but finds that his soul is missing. He can think, but he cannot feel or make mistakes or be emotional. The lesson: He is alive, but he lacks the qualities that are the essence of humanity.

The program is fascinating partly because its effects were done so ingeniously. Unlike such high-tech sci-fi series as "Battlestar Galactica," which had brilliant special effects, "Star Trek" was made quickly and produced on a shoestring budget: Two-dollar saltshakers doubled as medical instru- ' ments; alien landscapes looked like yesterday's studio set. But it didn't matter. "Star Trek" valued characters and drama over effects, and its followers loved it.

Nimoy and Nichele NicholsLeonard Nimoy and Nichele Nichols.

"'Star Trek' came along at a time when most television leads were antiheroes," Roddenberry said in a 1976 interview. "On 'Star Trek,' we decided to go for real heroes in an oldfashioned sense, people whose word was their bond, who believed that there were some things more important in life than personal security or comfort."

The Enterprising Kirk
Kirk, naturally, was a captain's captain, a hero's hero. "People are fascinated by Kirk," noted Shatner in 1983. "He's somebody who fights nature in order to have sway over his own fate. For most people, that's impossible." Or as David Bianculli, a television critic, put it: "Kirk's character was app~aling because he was cerebral, so he was always addressing the big, issues, like what humans are here for, how humans should interact, how to succeed through nonviolence. That was different; in 'Gunsmoke,' for exam, pie, you never saw, Matt Dillon agonizing over whether to pull the trigger."

Despite all its qualities, in its initial appearance "Star Trek" was a failure. NBC, unsure of how to promote it, constantly shifted the show from time slot to time slot, and by 1969 it was being bested by "Iron Horse" and "Mr. Terrific." After 79 adventures, the Enterprise went into dry. dock. But, like the phoenix or Count Dracula, "Star Trek" wouldn't stay down. The show was immediately put in syndication on stations around the country and quickly gained a new audience-people who had never seen it in its original time slots. And people didn't just watch it-they virtually lived it. Fan conventions began in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. A cartoon version ran on Saturday mornings in the 1973-74 season. Comic books, novels, and toys inundated the market. "Star Trek" was a cult phenomenon. By the mid-1980 s, the series's owner, Paramount, reported that it was the most successful syndicated show ever, topping such perennial favorites as "Perry Mason" and "Little House on the Prairie. " Over 140 stations carried it, and many ran it every day of the week.

Brochure from Trek convention.Brochure from the second Star Trek convention in 1973.

Celluloid Heroes
You didn't have to hit Paramount over the head with the show's nationwide popularity: The studio reassembled the original cast in 1979 for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, an effectsladen, duller-than-dirt epic that missed the point of the show's success. That disaster, however, was followed by three sequels that were right on target: stories about people, about choices to be made and issues to be resolved, all done with drama, humor, and a great deal of panache. But there was a problem. The "Star Trek" following was getting stronger as the cast was growing older. How could the Enterprise continue laying its golden eggs over the next 20 years? "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is the answer. A new syndicated series with a new cast, "The Next Generation" replaces the fiery young Kirk with JeanLuc Picard, an aristocratic, bald French-Englishman in his 50s. Instead of Spock, there is Data, an android who wants to be human. But that's where the similarities cease. For as production associate Susan Sackett put it when the'series began, "Weare not putting clones of the original characters into this. The reason Gene set the new series [long] after the original series was to free it from the old 'Star Trek' pattern. It gives us a chance to take it a step beyond."

Future Shock
The new starship Enterprise contains even more unusual crew members than its predecessor: aliens, the android, many more women in executive positions, and even a 16-year-old boywonder who gets on the captain's nerves. The Enterprise itself is fancier, and the show's budget is vastly bigger (at about $1 million an episode, it is in fact one of the most expensive science fiction series ever).

But the stories have been typical "Star Trek," showcasing issues rather than ray guns and attempting topicality in the guise of sci-fi. In one episode, for example, the crew tries to cope with hostage-takers, yet seeks to understand rather than destroy them. "Terrorists feel that they have been wronged," Roddenberry told the fan press. "They feel very passionate about their beliefs. Today, in the United States, we should be exploring why they feel that way. What could we possibly have done wrong? And how can we fix it? The answer is not the current answer, hating them. And the answer in 'Star Trek' is not going to be hating them." Cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation

What the new show lacks, however, is the strong chemistry among the characters that sparked the original series. There is an almost familial bond between Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest that makes the first "Star Trek" watchable even when the story lines are weak. But on "The Next Generation," there are too many personalities that aren't meshing. And the writing! In one episode, the "away team" (or landing party) beams down to a pleasure planet where breaking a law-any law-means death. There is no appeal, no chance to claim mitigating circumstances. Though the point that laws must take events into account is valid, the tale is handled with incredible ineptitude, culminating in a silly deus ex machina. It's boring, too, so full of talk that it might be mistaken for a PBS debate show, and there's very little drama.

Will "Star Trek: The Next Generation" succeed? So far it is a hit in the ratings (Variety, the show business trade paper, offered the headline: "'Star Trek' Earns Hyperspace Ratings"). And its critical reception has been nothing if not warm, although the ~ original cast initially expressed some :g resentment. "I think they're trying to "'- fool the public," James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer Scott, told Starlog, a fan magazine. "They are calling it 'Star Trek' when we know what 'Star Trek' is, which is the characters." Added Leonard Nimoy: "We were lucky to catch lightning in a bottle with the characters we had. I don't know if they can do it again." But Nichelle Nichols, alias Lieutenant Uhura, was more encouraging: "It has the genius of Gene Roddenberry behind it. He did it once; there's no reason he can't do it agam.

Sci-Fi High
And though some might argue that the success of the new "Star Trek" depends on whether the drama is better written or the characters develop chemistry, "Star Trek" has really gone beyond that, gone beyond even its creators' grandest dreams. "Star Trek" has become as much a part of America as the Rose Bowl and Cabbage Patch dolls. It's no wonder that a recent poll of critics, science fiction writers and editors, and TV watchers rated the old series the number one science fiction show of all time. D. C. Fontana, the original show's story editor and the new one's script writer, explained it: "The stories appeal to generation after generation. I was talking to a twenty-threeyear-old real estate broker. He was only three or four years old when the show originally ran. When he got to college, everybody gravitated toward watching 'Star Trek' reruns because they found something in them, something that spoke to them. And that's 'Star Trek"s continuing appeal. The characters are still speaking across twenty years to today's generation. "

Raymond Burr


from VIDEO, September 1986 

 Raymond Burr is big-perhaps 300 pounds-with blue cow eyes that seem to stare into your soul. At 69, his hair is short-cropped and gray and he wears a trim goatee that covers his oval face. He is talking about Perry Mason, which is not surprising, since the lawyer-detective has recently catapulted Burr back into the limelight. In 1985, he played the late Erie Stanley Gardner's creation-as he had 271 times before-in Perry Mason Returns, an NBC TV-movie. It was the most-watched television film of the year, beating everything (including The Cosby Show). In May, he returned in Perry Mason: The Case of the Notorious Nun, and is presently working on three more Masons. "I begged CBS [the original producer of Mason] to let me do a two-hour movie for nine years," he says. "They wouldn't. When NBC offered me this, I jumped at it."

He has always believed in the principles of Perry Mason, which he sees as a reaffirmation of the world's best justice system. He would probably agree with Gardner's assessment of Mason's appeal: "Mason is for the underdog. People want to know that there is someone out there looking out for their rights."

That identification helped make the series one of the most successful in TV history and earned Burr a pair of Emmy awards. Among the top-rated programs during its CBS run (1957-1966), it has never left the airwaves, showing without interruption in over 70 countries and in hundreds of cities throughout the United States. Taping and collecting all the episodes has become a popular hobby for fans.

Surprisingly, Burr was no one's first choice for Mason. Between 1946 and 1956, he had appeared in 60 movies, usually – because of his imposing bulk – as a villain. He threatened the Marx Brothers in Love Happy, chased Lex Barker in Tarzan and the She-Devil, stalked Natalie Wood in A Cry in the Night, and stared across a courtyard at Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window, where he was both moving and menacing as the pathetic wife murderer. He appeared in virtually anything, from Godzilla (inserted, as American reporter Steve Martin, into the 1954 Japanese film) to George Stevens' A Place in the Sun, where he was memorable as the limping district attorney opposite Montgomery Clift.

Despite their varied significance, all these films were essential to his craft. "Acting is just another form of communication, " he says. "And if you can not communicate-if you don't have the opportunity-then you could be the world's greatest actor, but it means nothing."

He grew tired of playing heavies, however, and decided that TV was his ticketout. When Perry Mason came up, he was asked to audition for the role of district attorney Hamilton Burger. He insisted they let him try out for Mason as well. When Erle Stanley Gardner saw him he said, "That's Mason," and Burr beat out Fred MacMurray and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. for the part.

Burr threw himself into the role with the dedication of a true believer, although he now claims, "I prepared for it the way I prepare for any role." He talked with "countless" judges and "countless" lawyers and then went to "countless" courtrooms to see the system at work. During the series, he double-checked each script with six appellate judges. During production, he lived in a bungalow near the set, usually rising at 3 AM to study his part. 

BURR AND HALEIt paid off. Perry Mason was a hit, as formulaic as Greek tragedy but much more entertaining. As TV historians Harry Castelman and Walter J. Podrazik observed, "Perry Mason was a triumph of technique over format, because every episode in the series was identical ... The series was a straight whodunit, complete with a full range of suspects and clues that allowed the viewer to become an armchair detective." The shows (which had such colorful titles as "The Case of the Treacherous Toupee" and "The Case of the Grinning Gorilla") usually climaxed with exchanges like this:

Mason (pausing, then staring thoughtfully at the witness): "All right, Miss Howard, let's get down to cases. Mr. Granger gave you the gun, the weapon used to murder George Lutz. You returned a different gun. You knew Mrs. Granger was going to be on that hilltop. You destroyed evidence. If you are not trying to protect someone, then you murdered George Lutz!"

Witness: "No! No! I didn't! It was an accident! It was Mrs. Granger, she was supposed to be the one ..."

Mason: "You mean you deliberately aimed at Mrs .Granger and Lutz got in the way?"

Witness: "No! I didn't say that! I didn't shoot Mr. Lutz!"

Mason: "Then who did?"

Witness (pointing to a man in the courtroom): "He did it! Herbert! Herbert Dean!" (Gasps from the gallery.)

Burr remembers if all with a brooding sadness. His usually booming voice lowers as he stares straight ahead. "The only regret I have in my whole life is that I did Perry Mason for too long. I should have gotten married, had children. Had a life." He doesn't mention that he was married three times, that two wives died suddenly and that a third divorced him. He doesn't talk about his only child, either, who died of leukemia. AlIne does say is: "I was so tied up with that show. I built one of the most beautiful homes in California, and I never lived there."

The show wasn't all that occupied him. .With it came a commitment to do good, to carry the character over into real life. And so this Canadian hardware merchant's son who took up acting after seeing Philip Merivale onstage in Death Takes a Holiday became a real-life crusader for justice. He made thirty goodwill trips to Korea and Vietnam during the wars there, visiting the wounded and conveying messages home; provided financial support to foster children in five countries; delivered scores of speeches before lawyers and law enforcement groups; arid engaged in ceaseless fundraising and lobbying activities for the Cerebral Palsy Association, National Safety Council, B'nai B'rith, and the March of Dimes. It was such a crusade that led him to Ironside.

"After Perry Mason, everybody said I would never work another day in anything," he remarks. "And the writing was on everybody's wall that you would never be able to make a success doing a show about a handicapped person. And I thought, 'All the handicapped people out there-if they're being told this every minute of every day, what is that doing to them?' "

Ironside was almost as big a success as Mason, running from 1967 through 1975. Burr's company produced it, and he made it more personal: the crippled chief of detectives was plainly vulnerable, fighting his physical pain and helplessness by crusading against injustice. Burr was soon on the road campaigning for the rights of paraplegics. "I have been to forty states, and we changed the laws in every one," he notes. "If you look into it, you'll find that people in wheelchairs can't vote because they can't get through the polling booth. Or into government offices. Try going to City Hall in a wheelchair. Or anywhere. We've gotten curbs lowered so handicapped people can go down in the street. Handicapped people want to do it for themselves."Burr as Ironside

Burr as Ironside

He is still obsessed with work. To him, it equals living. And yet he seems to be searching for something. Respect? Truth? People? He remembers Pope John XXIII, whom he knew and portrayed in a TV drama. He talks about Henry the Navigator, "one of the most significant figures in history. Without him, Columbus wouldn't have discovered America. This country might not have been discovered for another 200 years."

He seems to know so much, to do so much, to still want so much more. All types of people fascinate him. ''I am most at home with the Fiji Islanders and the Portuguese," he notes. 'They have a great deal of respect for each other. As perfect strangers, they respect their fellow men more than any other nationals in the world." Until recently, he owned a 4000-acre Fiji island, where he raised orchids and helped build a school. These days, when he is anywhere for long, it's southern California.

He resents every wasted minute. "There are two things I cannot stand. One is people who lie to me and people who are late. That's the most disrespectful thing in the world. I don't care when you make the but 1 have no idea what to do with my if you're half an hour late. Arid the time you're late, I'm not going to be there."

The threat is tempered with a laugh, and the moment sums up much of what Burr is about: generosity mixed with impatience, selflessness with sarcasm, confidence with insecurity. He recalls a painter who asked him to pose for a portrait. The actor consented, but only if the artist would paint both the canvas, showing Burr's front and back. There's a chuckle in his eyes as explains. "I don't like my face, and I to be able to turn it to the wall." He smiles, adding, "I think it's a wonderful idea – to just have your back to the room."