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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.

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