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Monthly Archives: January 2012

I use the promos to give some background on each show, to prepare people to read about each week’s series… but there’s no way I could put enough information in here to explain this one.  Even the show had troubles doing so… and maybe that’s why it didn’t succeed.  Multiple flashbacks, with multiple dream sequences and characters with multiple alter-egos, and that’s just in the two versions of the pilot episode.  We’d need an Oracle to understand it all… thankfully, we’ve got that too.

Five quotes:

“Myths are just the truth a few generations later.”

It also caused her to go into the vigilante business like her legendary father….

“Never send a businessman to do a psychopath’s job.”

…there’s a lot of information that has to be dumped into the audience’s lap…

“Cold, wet, and hell on your nails.”

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If you can keep up, there’s a heck of a ride in here.  Hunt this one down, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

“…there are a lot of good people in the world.  And a lot of good fantasies.”
–Studio promotional flyer for Good Heavens

Things have been going rather well for me lately.  Although life is never perfect, I’ve been blessed with opportunities I would never have had previously, and found situations (and new friends) where I would never have even looked as recently as a year or so ago.  What amazes me most about some of the new situations I find myself in is how they came about, and how perhaps one simple change I wasn’t even aware of at the time led me to where I am now.

So, of course, I get to relate that to a television series from the past… one that also rewarded big dreams and little choices, and told stories about characters who’d also been searching for an improvement in their lives.  Sometimes, all it takes is a good deed, and a wish.

In the 1976 comedy Good Heavens, television veteran Carl Reiner starred as Mr. Angel, a kindly and somewhat mysterious man who helped change people’s lives.  He rewarded those who did simple, good deeds (such as a husband who went out in the middle of the night in pouring rain to get food for his pregnant wife to satisfy her strange cravings).  Suddenly, Mr. Angel would show up in their life and offer them the slightest of rewards for their small good effort.  He’d give them one wish.

Fame, love, success, privacy, you name it, he would give them an opportunity to find it.  The only rule about the wish was that no one could simply wish to be rich; he wouldn’t give anyone just money (and there’s a reason why there’s a saying about “money doesn’t buy happiness”).  The chosen person would make their fondest wish, and the rest of the gentle half-hour would be filled with their exploits as their wish came true… and what they would do about the result.

The best wishes are simply possibilities, you see.  They might involve a goal, perhaps (such as playing professional baseball, or meeting a person who has all the qualities you’ve always desired in a potential mate), but the real happiness comes once those goals are met.  One aspiring actress character on the show wished for “her big break”, but that simply led to her breaking a limb.  Of course, when she ends up in the hospital, she ends up meeting someone else there who can help her in her career, so her “break” finally comes… but not nearly in the way she believed it would.

The wishes provided by Mr. Angel were just starting points for the process, and whatever real happiness could be found by the individuals involved came more from themselves than any wish granted.  As the quote above said, there are a lot of good people out there.  Sometimes, they just needed an opportunity, and that’s what Mr. Angel was all about.

“I hope it inspires people to walk around doing good deeds for others, hoping they’ll be visited by a Mr. Angel.”
–Carl Reiner

Good Heavens itself likely received a push of its own, or at the very least found an opportunity it may have lacked earlier.  The idea was originally pitched a few years earlier to ABC by executive producer Reiner (a job he also held on the series when it finally made the air).  Called Everything Money Can’t Buy (which is where the name of this article came from), it starred Oscar winner José Ferrer as the mysterious lead, and featured the character of Mr. Angel more prominently in each story.

In the development process, Everything Money Can’t Buy became Heaven Help Us, before ABC finally bought Good Heavens (with Reiner as the star).  Reiner’s Mr. Angel was only seen in a few minutes at the beginning and ends of episodes, and the focus was really on the anthology aspect of different characters and settings each week, with just the “wish” as the starting point for each story.  Besides, Reiner was busy with the producing aspects of the show, and reckoned that since he was working on the show on a regular basis anyway, he may as well work a day in front of the camera as well as his normal job behind it.

ABC was happy, as they got a star who worried as much about the bottom line as any other producer, and yet came with some notoriety of his own which they could promote.  Carl Reiner had been a producer/writer/actor on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the early days of television, and had a hand in making numerous shows in the years following.  His partnership with friend and movie producer/director Mel Brooks had led to comedy projects including the movie Oh, God and various recorded installments featuring The 2000-Year Old Man (including records, TV specials, and public appearances performing their characters).

“Playing an angel is gratifying, because I’m able to do things for people and it’s like being a father who helps his children.”
–Carl Reiner

Reiner also had rather famous off-spring, as his son is well-known director Rob Reiner, who’s directed the iconic movie version of The Princess Bride, and is best known to television audiences as Mike “Meathead” Stivic in the landmark series All in the Family.  He truly did keep the idea of Good Heavens “all in the family”, because Rob appeared in the pilot episode of Good Heavens and helped to finally sell the series.  Rob grew up in the business, and perhaps having Carl’s name would have opened a door or two, but it was the successful work Rob established for himself when given the chance that made his own career shine.

Reiner guesting on Hot in Cleveland

Carl himself is no stranger to television audiences, having reprised his Dick Van Dyke Show role of Alan Brady in an episode of Mad About You decades later.  He also currently has a recurring role on the TVLand series Hot in Cleveland (which has just been renewed for a fourth season premiering later this year), and was featured in the Ocean’s Eleven series of movies.  Reiner’s life has been a good one, and even he has said that it was the meeting of opportunity and preparation that made the difference… a concept that informed the basis of Good Heavens.

Realize that Mr. Angel only provided an opportunity for the characters on Good Heavens.  Whatever happened afterwards was a result of the characters’ own desires, actions, and dreams.  So very many people have chances to make their lives and their world a better place, moment by moment, yet those very people let those moments pass them by, thinking their dreams will never amount to anything, or that the effort will be too great, or the people around them will be unhappy with their new choices.

Guess what?  They’re wrong.

Just as Rob Reiner had to prove himself with his work, each one of us must prove ourselves in our own endeavors.  Having that open door, or that opportunity, or that wish come true is all part of the battle.  And it doesn’t really take a Mr. Angel to provide it for us, but it does take an awareness of the possibilities available.  So when that door opens, or that opportunity arrives, the wishes and dreams of the past become the realities of the future.

It's amazing what can happen

And they don’t have to always be exactly as we pictured them, either.  Sometimes, they’re even better.  In my own life, I had what I believed was a good, although not spectacular, existence.  Then an accident and subsequent health issues shortly thereafter caused me to truly become depressed about the possibilities of my life.  But out of those ashes, this blog was born, as a way to be creative when other avenues I’d previously walked were unavailable to me, and slowly (and with the encouragement of others), I discovered much, much more.

I found a new occupation, one I’d never previously even imagined, and it’s led me to deal with things and places I’d not even dreamed of.  I utilized some of what I’d attained in the past, but it also now challenges me daily, making me realize what I really can do instead of focusing upon what I’d lost before.  The planning of an upcoming vacation to see friends both old and new also happened during this time, and suddenly a few things about both work and play seem to have “fallen into my lap”, as if I’d wished for them and Mr. Angel made them come true.

But some around me reminded me that I’d already done the “dirty work” to make these dreams come true.  I realized the upcoming wonders of my life are all based upon the small things I’d done previously, just magnified by time and chance into something much more.  My wishes were always there, ready to be granted.  I just needed to grant them for myself….

CARL REINER (Mr. Angel) has had a prolific career in both television and movies.  As an actor, he’s been featured in everything from Your Show of Shows in the 1950’s to his occasional role on the currently filming Hot in Cleveland.  In between, he’s best known as Alan Brady on the original Dick Van Dyke Show, as well as making appearances on Mad About You, Ally McBeal, House, M.D., and Boston Legal.  His film career includes parts in the Ocean’s Eleven series of movies, as well as the classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Steve Martin’s The Jerk.  He directed a number of movies with Martin, including The Man with Two Brains and All of Me, as well as the original Oh, God (which occurred roughly the same time as Good Heavens, and may have had something to do with the choice of subject matter for the series).  He’s won eight Emmy Awards, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (since 1960!), and was given the prestigious Mark Twain award for Comedy from the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

“Television keeps you working.”
–Carl Reiner

The series did rather well in the ratings, finishing in the top twenty for the 1976 spring season for ABC.  But at the time, ABC was swamped with popular programming, and as the #1 network they almost had an embarrassment of riches.  Although it was a popular gentle comedy that skewed slightly older in demographics, ABC was after a younger audience (for their advertisers) and Good Heavens didn’t quite fit that bill.  Besides, room had to be made for their upcoming fall slate of shows, which included new things like the original Charlie’s Angels… shows that didn’t pair well with Good Heavens.  So Reiner’s anthology show was never put on the schedule for the fall, and kind of just disappeared into the memories of viewers… much like Mr. Angel would disappear at the end of each episode.

Good Heavens has never been released on DVD, and I really haven’t found any clips anywhere.  I can find a few mentions on various websites (the usual suspects like IMDB and such), but except for a few pictures here and there, the series pretty much still exists in the minds of those who saw it back in 1976.  And you know something?  That’s somehow appropriate, simply because the subject matter of Good Heavens is really about individuals finding their own way towards their dreams, and that’s not always something to be shared with the world at large.  The important part isn’t the sharing… it’s the doing.

Good Heavens

Everyone would like a little nudge once in a while, even if we don’t actually ask for it.  Sometimes, the presence of a Mr. Angel would be welcome, if only so we didn’t have to do everything ourselves, and the opportunity to become more than what we already are would be handed to us.  But that’s not the way the world works, and honestly, that’s not how television works either.  And while some see the medium as a time-waster and a place to forget about all those dreams and wishes, I’d prefer to see it as just a window that opens when other doors might be closed, and a place to gather ideas and plans for new wishes to be made.

And then, I turn off the set and find a way to make those dreams come true.  And if a certain Mr. Angel happens to think that my efforts are worthwhile, then I might get that gentle nudge.  But even if I don’t, I now know in my heart that my hard work and discipline will reap rewards sometime in the future, although I may not always know now what those rewards will be.  And with good friends teaching me perseverance, compassion, and joy, there’s no stopping me.  The sky’s the limit… up to and including Good Heavens.

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Vital Stats

13 half-hour episodes — none unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  February 29, 1976 (yes, leap day)
Final aired episode:  June 26, 1976
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Nope, it was on Thursday evenings, oddly paired with On the Rocks, a comedy set in a prison.  Think about that.  Not the best opportunity ABC could have presented audiences with.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Ever have one of those days (or weeks, or whatever) when things just seemed to fall into place?  Positive vibes and unexpected opportunities present themselves in an unexpected way?  It’s been like that for me lately, and it made me search out a rather unknown show that provided the same little “nudge” in the right direction.

Five quotes:

“…there are a lot of good people in the world.  And a lot of good fantasies.”

…you name it, he would give them an opportunity to find it.

“I hope it inspires people to walk around doing good deeds for others…”

Whatever happened afterwards was a result of their own desires, actions, and dreams.

And then, I turn off the set and find a way to make those dreams come true.

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A little-known show from many years ago, and although others have used the idea with some success, this is the most pure in form.  Do a good deed for someone, and then reward yourself with a visit this week to Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

Jack of All Trades is like a gourmet meal for goofballs.  If you took a dash of Wild Wild West, add a dash of Get Smart on top, and a garnish of F Troop, and a helping of Moonlighting… that’s what you’d get.”
–Bruce Campbell

Back when I started this website, one of the first articles I wrote was about The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., headlined by cult hero Bruce Campbell.  The series is one of my favorites, and the show got an unfortunate early demise despite its wild adventure and comedy mix.  There’s a reason the article for it was called “Just under over-the-top”, as it described perfectly the fun tone and presentation.  But Bruce Campbell has done much more in his career, and there’s one other show he later did which fits on this site.  The show is called Jack of All Trades… and it abandons all pretense of being UNDER over-the-top.  Here, there’s no longer any subtlety involved… and in this case, that’s a good thing.

In the 2000 series Jack of All Trades, we meet Jack Stiles (Bruce Campbell), an entertaining rogue if ever there was one.  A former spy (or “secret agent”, before the term was popularized), he worked for the early US Government during the Revolutionary War, and was now entrusted with preventing the formerly allied French from gaining a foothold in a slowly building America.  Despite their differences (and there are many), he teams with a British agent, the lovely Emilia Rothschild (Angela Dotchin), and they establish themselves on the tiny East Indies island of Palau Palau, hoping to fight the enemy French from within their own colony.

In order to fool the French,  Jack pretends to be the manservant of the regal Rothschild, while Emilia takes on the bearing of a respected member of society’s elite (and supposedly on the side of the governing French).  She and Jack are really there to spy on their mutual French enemies and foil their plans for world domination.  And while there’s an obvious attraction to each other, neither is used to taking any orders from someone else, and both sexual tension and friction are played in equal measure amidst the rollicking adventure.

Croque

To help with fighting the French, Jack also takes on the alias of the legendary Daring Dragoon, a supposed local legend and masked hero.  Using both covers as Emilia’s attaché and the local populace’s fascination with the “reappearance” of the Dragoon, Jack and Emilia embark upon their true mission:  opposing the brother of Napoleon, Governor Croque (Stuart Devenie),  and Croque’s personal lackey, Captain Brogard (Stephen Papps).  Our heroic pair then proceeds to foil various plans and schemes of others, including many historical figures like Bonaparte himself.  In reality, Emilia is often Jack’s assistant instead of the public portrayal as his superior, and she’s also rather adept at mechanical invention, coming up with various devices to foil villainous plots along with the swashbuckling of Jack’s Daring Dragoon.

Brogard

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Captain Brogard:  “So, we meet again, Mister Fancy Sword and his flowing cape.”

Jack (as the Dragoon):  “Give me some credit, will ya?  You know how hard it is to wear this thing and still look dashing?”
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the Daring Dragoon

Between the Zorro-like pastiche of the Dragoon, the deus ex machina of some of Emilia’s machines, and the general lack of historical accuracy given in the production of the series, there’s no two ways about it:  Jack of All Trades was designed purely as an action romp, complete with cartoon character villains and plot holes big enough to drive war cannons through.  But that certainly didn’t stop the show from being entertaining, and that was the whole point.

From the opening, you knew this show was different.  The rousing theme song features a large cast, clever lyrics, explosions, dancing pirates (even one with a peg leg, on a table no less), and a talking parrot.  Subtlety be damned, this was in-your-face joyful fun.  It did such a fine job of setting the scene and demonstrating the style of the series, it was nominated for an Emmy!  Jack of All Trades was no place for sensitive drama or introspective scripting, and the theme alone let everyone see just what they were in for.

And the show delivered on that promise, at least most of the time.  There is some good role reversal going on between Jack and Emilia and the roles they have to play for the French leaders in order to keep their true identities hidden, and whenever Jack dons the garb of the Daring Dragoon Bruce Campbell simply shines.  Stories included numerous French attempts at conquest with Napoleon Bonaparte, a meeting with explorers Lewis and Clark, and faking the death of one of the principals to clear the name of the Dragoon.  And just when you thought the show couldn’t get any crazier, they broke out the Marquis De Sade, and a sex-game based triathlon ran in pseudo-fetish costume (or at least as “costumed” as television could get in the year 2000).

Governor Croque: “The Marquis de Sade is my second cousin, twice-removed.”
Jack Stiles: “I can see why you removed him.”

Trying to be true to the actual setting of 1800 was a lost cause, and even became a running gag at times.  Canada was constantly mistakenly(?) mentioned as being under French control instead of British, and historical characters visited Palau Palau even though their own “real” timelines never had them near the place (or even alive at the time).  Jack of All Trades was never designed for the remotest attention to detail or reality, it was simply designed as silly, fun entertainment.  And that’s just the way Bruce Campbell wanted it.

“I have a good time.  It’s one of the reasons I took Jack of All Trades.  It’s like a guarantee that I will have fun every day .”
–Bruce Campbell

Modern audiences might know Campbell from his current run as sidekick/mentor Sam Axe on the USA series Burn Notice.  He’s played the part since 2007, which is easily the longest running regular gig he’s had in television, although he’s known for many others.  He was an occasional guest (and fan favorite) as Autolycus on both Hercules:  The Legendary Journeys and sister series Xena:  Warrior Princess, both of which were shooting in New Zealand before and after his stint in Jack of All Trades.  I’ve mentioned his star turn in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. previously. He’s also had a movie career which includes the cult favorite Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies, cool zombie pictures that became influences on the current television hit The Walking Dead.

Campbell is a successful bestselling author, with tongue firmly in cheek, writing the semi-autobiographical tomes Make Love!  The Bruce Campbell Way and (making fun of his chiseled good looks) If Chins Could Kill:  Confessions of a B-Movie Actor.  He knows his niche, and while he’s possessed of great dramatic skills when they’re necessary (a stunning two-part Homicide:  Life on the Street comes to mind), his personality and desire seems to be more in line with poking fun, both at himself and others, with the characters he plays.

He’s also become associated with good friend Sam Raimi, a producer of film and television who has used Bruce in many of his vehicles (as listed above), but considers Campbell his “good luck charm” and will find small roles for him in various films.  Whether he’s a wrestling ring announcer or a French waiter, or his part ended up on the cutting room floor, Raimi wouldn’t make a film without him.

Fortunately, the aims of Jack of All Trades dovetailed with Raimi’s needs, and the series was shot utilizing some of the resources Raimi had already set up for Hercules and Xena in New Zealand.  The monetary exchange rate was excellent at the time, and a production which would cost millions of dollars in Hollywood only cost a bit over half of that down under.  An added plus was locations and scenery that simply wasn’t available in California, especially when you’re trying to replicate (even inaccurately) a South Sea island like Palau Palau.  The only real problem was time… but not in the way you might think.

Cleopatra 2525

When Jack of All Trades premiered, it was paired with a futuristic series called Cleopatra 2525, and sold as a set known as the “Back-to-Back Action Pack”.  It was also sold as only a 30-mintue program, with Cleopatra 2525 filling the other half of the hour.  Once you remove the necessary commercials (as they pay for the production), and the elaborate opening credits and any end credit sequence (required by various unions, no matter how they’ve been shrunk on modern-day shows), you’re left with an actual available running time of only about 20 minutes per episode, if you’re lucky.

That may be enough for a typical situation comedy, with a modest plot set primarily in a living room or office.  It becomes a terrible burden, however, when trying to make a period show set on a South Sea island, with multiple characters foiling elaborate schemes, plus character relationships and secret identities, not to mention trying to add action/adventure qualities with an over-the-top comedic tone.  Jack of All Trades really tried to be exactly that:  a show which presented all types of things to all people, in the name of entertainment.  But ultimately it couldn’t do everything it had hoped, primarily because of the time constraints.

But at least it had fun trying.  And perhaps “fun” is the one quality most important in any show, for viewers, cast, and crew.  And, as the opening credits sang, if you didn’t know that… you don’t know Jack.

All about the fun

BRUCE CAMPBELL (Jack Stiles) and his career are detailed in the article itself, but mention should be made of his recent trip overseas to visit US troops during the recent Iraqi conflict, and of his brother Don’s involvement.  Don has almost 30 years of experience in the military, and the brothers support each other in their endeavors.  Bruce has appeared at multiple sites in support of the troops, and Don has helped with some of the military-related roles Bruce has played over the years.  Entertainment takes many forms, and is especially valued by those whose hard work helps make us free to enjoy those moments.

AMANDA DOTCHIN (Emilia Rothschild) is a native of New Zealand, and her career has been primarily down under.  She’s best known there for the Lawless series of TV-movies, where won awards for her portrayal of a private investigator.  She left the acting business a few years ago and moved to Great Britain, where she now makes a living in the fashion industry.

STEWART DEVENIE (Governor Croque) is another New Zealand actor, and a favorite of director Peter Jackson.  He’s had an extensive theatre career as both an actor and director, and taught acting at the New Zealand Drama School.  He also founded the Playfair Ltd. theatre company, based in Auckland.

STEPHEN PAPPS (Captain Brogard) also appeared in both Hercules:  The Legendary Journeys and Xena:  Warrior Princess before joining Jack of All Trades.  Continuing his acting in Australia and New Zealand, he was seen in America most recently guesting on Legend of the Seeker (which filmed, like Hercules and Xena, in New Zealand).

Jack of All Trades has been released on DVD (although there aren’t any extras included), so you can enjoy all the fun and adventure for yourself.  Bruce Campbell has his own site, of course, full of information about his previous projects, his current stint on Burn Notice, and upcoming appearances at various conventions around the country.  He may be a self-confessed “B-movie” actor, but many would love to have his career, his fans, and his popularity.  On his site, just as in Jack of All Trades, you can see why.

No matter what the Hollywood power structure might believe as a business, for viewers television will always be primarily an entertainment medium.  One which is invited into our homes, as a part of our everyday lives, to bring us both dramatic and humorous moments to make our existence more interesting or, at the very least, provide an outlet for escape.  Depending upon the scene and the episode, Jack of All Trades did this well, with likable characters and humor, in a setting and style seldom found on most programs.

Much of the credit has to go to Bruce Campbell, for although he’s a self-proclaimed B-list actor, he’s been a welcome part of many productions, and his executive producer credits on both Jack of All Trades and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. meant his trademark humor was more than evident.  It only proves that, even though he plays a supporting role on the current Burn Notice, when the series was tapped for a special TV-movie, it focused upon his character and his backstory before the show continuity began.

Campbell may not be a star in the strictest Hollywood sense, but for those who appreciate his humor and dedication, he’s one of the brightest stars in both television and movies.  He doesn’t have to master Hollywood, especially when he can become popular on his own terms.  To those who love his work, he’s already a Jack of All Trades, and a master of entertainment.

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Vital Stats

22 half-hour episodes — none unaired — available on DVD
Syndicated
First aired episode:  January 22, 2000
Final aired episode:  December 2, 2000
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Perhaps, but not likely.  Since the series was syndicated, it aired at various different times on different stations who bought the rights.  It also was known to flip-flop with Cleopatra 2525 at times, occasionally airing before it, and occasionally airing after.

(By the way, this didn’t fit in the article, but I found a picture that’s the very definition of “cult hero”:  Here’s Bruce Campbell, wearing Clan Campbell tartan dress, posing with Conor Macleod’s Highlander broadsword, in front of statues of Robert the Bruce and William “Braveheart” Wallace, at Edinbrugh Castle in Scotland.)

Thanks to the HeroChan website for this!

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

As they would say in the cartoons, it’s time to buckle those swashes and get ready for some derring-do.  This show may not have been animated, but the action and adventure certainly was.  In fact, there’s almost more entertainment than could packed into a regular show.  And the hero of the piece?  Well, he’s been a hero throughout his career… but maybe not a grade-A one.

Five quotes:

Here, there’s no longer any subtlety involved… and in this case, that’s a good thing.

…an entertaining rogue if ever there was one.

“You know how hard it is to wear this thing and still look dashing?”

“It’s like a guarantee that I will have fun every day .”

…a show which presented all types of things to all people, in the name of entertainment.

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A lively and fun show, existing for no other reason than to entertain, and a star whose work has always existed to do the same.  There’s a little of everything to be found, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

“A fascinating subject, the Bermuda Triangle is like the ‘open sesame’.  It was there as a doorway into an infinite number of stories that had to do with the imagination more than anything.”
–Executive Producer Bruce Lansbury

There have been many ships and planes “lost” in what is known as “the Bermuda Triangle,” a mysterious area of the Caribbean just south of the US, with unexplained phenomena and unusual happenings.  At least, that’s the way it was back in the ’70’s, when imaginations ran wild with ideas of various people being transported to who knows where, or even who knows when.  While it was always a wonder about where they ended up, one show in the ’70’s decided to use those concepts to tell stories about all sorts of possible destinations.  On this show, it was all about The Fantastic Journey.

The (ultimate) cast of The Fantastic Journey

The Fantastic Journey aired 10 episodes on NBC beginning in 1976.  The initial pilot concerned a small group of scientists exploring the questions of the Bermuda Triangle, and becoming part of the unknown themselves when their sailing vessel is swallowed up by a mysterious green cloud (and you KNOW it’s mysterious because it’s GREEN, such easy television shorthand that it got used in a similar show a decade later).  The passengers awaken on an island, shipwrecked, unable to contact the mainland, and wondering how to survive.

Included are Dr. Fred Walters (Carl Franklin), a doctor just graduated out of school, who was acting as the medical advisor for the group.  He is joined by young Scott Jordan (Ike Eisenmann), the son of the scientist in charge of the expedition, and a history buff whose inquisitive nature sometimes causes problems.

These two meet up with Varian (Jared Martin), who first appears to them as an Arawak Indian, but he’s actually in disguise.  While the island they’re on apparently is somewhere in the 16th century, complete with renegade pirates, Varian is actually from the year 2260, and is just as stranded as Dr. Walters and Scott.  A pacifist by nature and belief, he uses a “Sonic Energizer” to focus his thoughts and do everything from heal injuries to open locked doors and create explosions.  (Think of Doctor Who‘s “sonic screwdriver”, except it looks like a fancy tuning fork.)

While there were others who survived the wreck, they didn’t survive the pilot, as some characters (including Scott’s father) were “lucky” enough to be sent home, as the initial episode was “adjusted” to eliminate them, leaving only Varian, Dr. Walters and Scott.

“The original idea was to go both directions in time.  In the pilot we had gone back in time.  NBC didn’t like that.  They said the past was boring and that we should only go forward in time.  But we couldn’t go out and shoot another pilot.  They decided to find some way to shoot some new footage about the future and insert it.  Also, the pilot was two hours long and they wanted to show it in an hour-and-a-half time slot as an extra-long episode to kick off the series.  So all these things were going on.”
–Jared Martin

Varian becomes the de facto leader of the small band, and he tells them the island they’re on houses many different times and places, all at once, and their way home lies somewhere in a place called “Evoland” many “time zones” away.  Their first journey after the pilot leads them away from the 16th century into a place called Atlantium, where they gain another traveler (or, really, two).

Liana and Varian

Liana (Katie Saylor) is a woman with an unusual heritage, said to be the daughter of an extraterrestrial mother who joined with her human father.  Deceptively strong due to her mixed parentage, she also possesses increased mental abilities, including telepathic skills.  She utilizes these with her pet, Sil-el, who appears to us as a cat (but quite possibly could be something more).  Liana doesn’t trust the new government of Atlantium (nor should she, honestly), so she decides to join Varian and company on her own search for home.

Varian, Dr.Willoway, and guest Joan Collins in the episode "Turnabout"

The next stop of the group, in the third episode, picks up another member for their journey.  Dr. Jonathan Willoway (Roddy McDowall) is a scientist from the 1960’s, but years ahead in pure scientific knowledge.  Trapped in a world of androids, he sees the group as a way to avoid his confinement and, although he has few skills to get along with other humans, he becomes a reluctant addition to the party.

At least initially, Willoway inhabits the “villain” role in stories, due to his selfishness and inability to relate to the others.  While at first this plays more like the comedic Dr. Smith of Lost in Space, McDowall’s talents (and some extensive script work) create a much more likable character in later episodes.  While there are still opposing views in place (Varian’s pacifist nature, Scott’s inquisitiveness, Liana’s non-human values), the group goes on together for the good of all.

“When I first brought it to the network, they kept trying to hammer it into a science fiction mold.  It was originally called The Incredible Island where all things could happen and did, you know, and it was a place where you could tell all kinds of stories, just as Serling did in Twilight Zone.  And basically we ended up doing that.  We didn’t do sci-fi at all. I leaned towards science fantasy, which permits you to a broader range of story and it pushes the imagination a little more than pure science fiction.  Science fiction tends to become the victim of rules and regulations and what has been done before and a categorization process.  That happens in science fiction.  Science fantasy allows you to express yourself in any way you want to as long as it opens the mind.”
–Bruce Lansbury

The world of Atlantium

It also makes telling stories much easier when you don’t have pesky rules around to get in the way.  Lansbury’s original idea was much more based in historical settings, although futuristic ones were possible.  As a history buff, Scott was going to be one of the sources for information, as was Dr. Walters for his medical knowledge.  But in a purely science fiction/fantasy premise, characters with advanced ideas were needed, especially when their explanations could be adjusted for story purposes; hence, the addition of Liana and Dr. Willoway to the group.

All those changes would suppose the series was about the characters themselves.  Perhaps that would have been more true if The Fantastic Journey had lasted longer than a mere 10 episodes.  But initially, the series was about the amazing places the group would discover as they made their way towards Evoland and, possibly, a way home.  It was not about significant character growth.

“The difference between doing something like this and doing a contemporary show is that everybody knows the whole typical format, the whole set; they know the stereotypes — they know everything — whereas, when you’re talking about something futurist, that’s fantasy.  You have to create that atmosphere for them.  You’ve got to make them believe that place.  More than anything else, they’ve got to get a feel of the place that you’re talking about.”
–Carl Franklin

There’s a good reason the show’s title is The Fantastic Journey.  It’s really about all the places they went, and the cultures they encountered.  While I admit freely that I may have been a bit disparaging of this series at one time (especially when I discussed a similar series, Otherworld), more recently I’ve discovered something that’s true about many shows:  different shows balance character and context in vastly different ways.  Two shows (like The Fantastic Journey and Otherworld in this example) might be very similar in premise, but they can be light years apart in execution.  And while I may like one over the other, for reasons of personal preference, they can both be successful at what they wanted to do.  I came to see The Fantastic Journey in a new, better light, simply because I realized it wasn’t about the characters, and my desires for their growth.  It really was about the journey… and showing the journey is exactly what the show set out to do.

A "women's liberation" story in scantily clad costumes. Of course. Welcome to the '70's.

The world encountered might be one filled with only children, or an examination of violence among a society of pacifists, or the old SF saw about a world run by only women and the idea of “male liberation.”  Each world was used to portray, through both the world itself and the reaction of our “outsider” characters, different points of view in a dramatic context.  And although the 1970’s view of “right” often prevailed, there’s enough shown from the more futuristic characters to see that there might be better ways to approach things than what existed in the past.

Because of this emphasis on message over character, individual advancement and growth of the regulars became pushed to the background, to the detriment of some very good actors.  But hopefully the actors knew that going in, simply because the stated premise of the show wasn’t about them, but what they encountered.  If it was just about the characters, Lansbury and company might have just kept the original cast from the pilot and gone on from there, but they didn’t.  They assembled points of view instead.

“Coming out of the pilot, we dropped two characters and acquired two more.  We acquired a girl from Atlantium and we acquired Dr. Willoway.  They were to balance a cast with Ike Eisenmann’s character and the black doctor, and it worked out in Varian who was a musician who healed with music.  And he was a very popular character incidentally.  But basically it was looking for a balance that would give us stories that went in every direction.  We always had a villain, so that you saw the darker side of human nature, and the better side of human nature hopefully always prevailed.  We overcame that dark side and looked to a future which was brighter.”
–Bruce Lansbury

There’s a balance on most shows between “character” and “situation,” and each show on television weighs that balance differently.  Some shows lean heavily toward the “character” side of the equation, and that’s where I believed Otherworld thrived, even when their premise and the “civilization of the week” ideas of The Fantastic Journey held much in common.  But I’ve since realized both shows succeed on their own merits, simply because The Fantastic Journey, even in its title, set out to be about the trip and not the people involved.  I criticized the show for having characters as ciphers, merely to set out different points of view for each society they met… and yet, since that was the actual goal, the creators and actors really did do their jobs admirably.  In my limited view, I just thought, initially, that it should be a different job.

But I was wrong.  Even the labors involved in the recasting (which took three episodes of the series to accomplish) showed that the producers were more interested in exploring the ideas inherent in the portrayed societies than in our characters’ growth.  Their character reactions were interesting, certainly, but served a wider canvas than just the effects upon their person.   The commentary on each society was designed to show the characters from our own time a new and sometimes better place.  That commentary also meant to show the “future” characters that those from our time might actually have gotten something right, something they may have lost in their attempts at enlightenment.  We current-day humans may not have all the answers, but we’ve got a few good ideas, and we’re willing to both teach and learn from the future.

And I’m willing to learn, too.  It’s all part of The Fantastic Journey.

In a search for answers to the Bermuda Triangle, Dr. Walters and Scott found an entire world full of ideas, choices, and discoveries to experience, and others joined them in their travels searching for their own solutions.  And while The Fantastic Journey was about those larger notions, the most important one was ultimately finding their way back, utilizing the differences and strengths of each other to help in their own travels.  And together, through all these wonderful experiences, they might actually find their way home, and learn something along the way.

CARL FRANKLIN (Dr. Fred Walters) was a guest star on many shows in the ’80’s, most notably as a recurring character chasing The A-Team.  He’s focused primarily on directing since the early ’90’s, most recently with an episode of Falling Skies this past season.  As a director and screenwriter, he (and the film) won multiple awards for Devil in a Blue Dress, a film noir set in the late ’40’s featuring Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle.

IKE EISENMANN (Scott Jordan) is well-known to genre fans as Cadet Peter Preston in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and made his mark starring in the original Disney films Escape from Witch Mountain and the sequel Return to Witch Mountain.  In later years, he worked in post-production roles on many animated and live-action projects, both becoming a sound engineer and lending his voice to occasional characters.

JARED MARTIN (Varian) first came to prominence in The Fantastic Journey, but he’d appeared in many series previously, including The Rookies, Night Gallery, and Columbo.  He’s best known to the public at large for his recurring role as “Dusty” Farlow on Dallas, and was one of the leading fan suspects for the famous “Who shot J.R.?” plot (even though the producers hadn’t considered him at the time!)  He starred in the television version of War of the Worlds, and later created the Big Picture Alliance, helping introduce inner city youth in Philadelphia to filmmaking and production, a task he was heavily involved with for the next 15 years.

KATIE SAYLOR (Liana) had appeared on Police Story and Cannon prior to her role on The Fantastic Journey.  She unfortunately became severely ill during production of the series, forcing her to bow out of the final two episodes, and her recovery apparently took approximately a year.  She retired from the acting business as a result of her health issues, and reportedly passed away due to cancer in 1991.

RODDY McDOWALL (Dr. Jonathan Willoway) was featured on this site for his lead role on the televised version of Planet of the Apes, portraying a similar character to the ones he’d played in the original feature film series.  Popular and well-mannered, he’s remembered as one of Hollywood’s last real gentleman stars, and his collection of early film and television memorabilia now is kept by the Motion Picture Academy (the people who give out the Oscars).  Willoway was actually written specifically to interest McDowall in the part, as the producers wanted him to join their series… and after reading the script, he did!

The Fantastic Journey is unavailable as a commercial DVD, so the bootleg route is the only reasonable way to see them all.  The opening is available on YouTube, as are a few episodes (in chunks, of course).  The show itself is well-remembered by many, even though it lasted a relatively short time, and there’s a great fan site here with information on the series stars, episodes, and a few articles published during the original run.

Ready for the next journey

“For the near future, at any rate, I think the future of science fiction will be in the movies, not on TV., which is sad.  The people who most need to be educated are the ones who don’t go to films, who sit at home, turn on the TV set, and absorb anything that comes their way.”
–Jared Martin, on the demise of The Fantastic Journey

Oddly enough, the above quote comes from Martin in early April of 1977, not quite two months before the original Star Wars opened in movie theaters and Hollywood (and science fiction) were changed forever.  Perhaps if The Fantastic Journey had held on a bit longer, it might have been part of the fans’ journey as well, towards a new and different world for both the series and for science fiction and fantasy in general.  An unexpected enlightenment waited just a bit farther down the road.

And maybe that is the ultimate purpose of any journey, whether it’s one of a televised nature or a personal one.  Those that feel the goal is the nebulous idea of “enlightenment” sometimes forget that it’s not really a goal per se.  Enlightenment is never really fully achieved, but it’s the path taken to get there that brings us home, full of fresh ideas and wonder.  And that’s what all the characters in The Fantastic Journey were really after, once you look at it that way.  All any of them wanted was their own version of enlightenment, their own way home.

-

Vital Stats

10 episodes — none unaired (although a rumored 11th script, Romulus, is apparently out there)
NBC Network
First aired episode:  February 3, 1977 (90-minute pilot)
Final aired episode:  June 17, 1977 (airing two months after the regular run of the series ended in April)
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, the series normal timeslot was Thursdays at 8/7, up against hits The Waltons and Welcome Back, Kotter.  The journey to ratings success was troublesome to begin with.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

When you’ve lost your way, sometimes it’s not so much where you’re going, as what you discover during your search.  For five very different people, what they encounter is far beyond their normal lives, no matter where (or when) they originally came from.  They’d like to get back home, of course, but until then, who knows what they’ll run into?

Five quotes:

…and you KNOW it’s mysterious because it’s GREEN…

“They said the past was boring and that we should only go forward in time.”

“Science fiction tends to become the victim of rules and regulations…”

“You have to create that atmosphere for them.  You’ve got to make them believe that place.”

…we’ve got a few good ideas, and we’re willing to both teach and learn from the future.

-

Come join a trip to the unknown, where the journey is much more important than the destination.  Departure will be on this Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

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