Archive

Monthly Archives: July 2010

Throughout the long history of television, there have been many detective, doctor, lawyer, and even newspaper shows.  The vast majority of these have featured hard-hitting, clever, or even cerebral male heroes as their central characters, each using his own methods to solve the murders and catch the villains.  Lately, however, there’s been a decided shift in that dynamic:  the female detective (not to mention the female medical examiner, the female lawyer, and the female reporter).  Each of these were roles that, at one time, were exclusively male territory on television.  Current shows like Castle, Bones, and The Closer all feature strong, original female leads in traditionally male roles.  Specifically, you could almost say that the fairer sex has joined forces and become the new crime fighting team on television… so much so that, not long ago on TV, in 2007, ABC decided to do exactly that with Women’s Murder Club.

The success of Women’s Murder Club was that females were being used in traditional male roles.  In fact, it was about damn time THAT happened.  The failure came from not understanding how the source material should be used as a television series in the first place.

“The pilot we originally saw of Women’s Murder Club was radically different than the episode that was aired [as the premiere].  The original pilot was Law & Order with chicks; the redo was Sex and the City with homicide.”
–Kristin Dos Santos, critic from E! Entertainment Online

Cindy, Claire, Lindsey, and Jill -- The Women's Murder Club

Using characters based on the books by James Patterson (1st to Die; 2nd Chance; 3rd Degree;  you get the idea, it’s obviously a continuing set of novels), Women’s Murder Club features a group of women who were not only capable of catching the crooks, but of telling personal, emotional stories as well… the best of both worlds, as far as the television business was concerned.  And if you’ve got a series of mystery books featuring heroines, especially ones which appeal to female viewers, why not make a series of it on television as well?

Well, here is the problem… it’s not that you’ve merely changed the sex of the traditional protagonists from male to female, or decided to tell stories from a different point of view.  The problem is one of properly using the medium, not the sexuality.

It’s a great book series, turned into an OK TV show.  And that’s not doing justice to the audience, let alone the stories and the characters.  The series, especially on screen, deserved better.

First, some background on the actual characters:  Our heroines on this show are led by San Francisco homicide detective Lindsey Boxer (played by Angie Harmon), a second-gen police detective and divorced workaholic who had become obsessed with the “Kiss-Me-Not” killer (who’s the “big-bad” nemesis through the season).  Her best friends are Medical Examiner Claire Washburn (Paula Newsome), who provides the happily married perspective to the group, but also speaks as the “more responsible” voice of reason, most of the time.  Lawyer Jill Bernhardt (Laura Harris) works for the D.A.’s office, and can’t seem to tell the difference between sex and love, as noted by the number and type of men she ends up with (and without).  Finally, there’s the new member of the group, junior reporter Cindy Thomas (Aubrey Dollar), who’s always trying a bit too hard to be accepted by everyone and become part of “the team,” instead of realizing that “the team” is more based on the friendship of the women, and the cases are just part of the work they share…

working it all out together

And that’s probably where both the strength and the weakness of the series first manifested itself.  ABC and the producers didn’t know whether they wanted the show to be a police procedural that happened to have an all-female cast, or be a relationship show that happened to have a crime background.

Using typical television shorthand, the characters were originally more defined by the jobs they had to perform rather than the “people” that they were.  The “procedural” part of the show was paramount, as it was easier to use, say, Cindy, as “the reporter” (and a source of exposition) than it was to develop her relationship to not just one, but ALL of the women, while still telling the crime-of-the-week.  Then, as the show developed, and the actors became the “voices” of their characters, the characterizations took center stage.  They were definitely interesting, but then there was no time left for a proper version of that week’s mystery.

The few times when both characterization and plot seemed to jell together, somebody still got short-shrifted.  With four main characters and a few continuing minor ones, plus the case of the week, and trying to involve everyone (with their different jobs and different points of view), there’s just too much in this mix.  Especially for an episodic procedural-based series that had to wrap up most storylines in 43 minutes, plus commercials.  Women’s Murder Club, as a TV series, still just seemed to lack something.  The books, honestly, have the opportunity to do it all.

Most simply explained, books allow the reader to get inside the heads (and emotions) of all the characters, and a 300-page book will give the time necessary for both the investigation of the case, and the investigation of the women personally.  If the TV presentation of Women’s Murder Club had been a bit more serialized (in other words, more book-like, as it did become nearer to the end of the run), then perhaps a better connection could have been made with a sizeable audience… but between getting a late start on a balanced storytelling path, plus its original deadly Friday night time slot, the odds were against it.  Adapting a series of books into a series on television is a much different beast than just making a new show, and I’m not sure that either the producers or ABC realized that, or at least realized it in time to save the show.  ABC moved the show around a bit, trying typical television wisdom to gain more exposure, but that strategy has always been a gamble for any series, as regular viewers don’t find the changes, and new viewers don’t know the character relationships that have now already been set up.  In that situation, there’s no longer a “Chapter One” (or even a reprise) to set up the characters and the story.

“We decided not to take stories from the books for the show because 70 million people have read them.  Se we wanted to be able to kind of surprise people.”
–Original Producer Sarah Fain

Fain and other producers were let go after the first 10 episodes of the 13 episode run (another show affected by the 2007-2008 writers’ strike).  A new showrunner and production team was brought in, and changes made after the strike, including a quick wrap-up of the “Kiss-Me-Not” killer storyline; introduction of a new love interest and family relationship for Lindsey; and a new Tuesday night time slot.  But with only three episodes left in the initial order, and those airing almost FOUR MONTHS after the original episodes, in a different time slot on a different night, these changes simply weren’t enough for Women’s Murder Club to make it to another season.  As a television series, it never found an effective “voice”.

Yet you had a book series millions of people love…  how many changes would (or even should?) you have made?  There’s no easy answer, unfortunately.  It all comes down to the differences of television versus books, their methods of storytelling, visuals as opposed to emotions, and simply pressures of time and finance against more lengthy presentation and depth.

There’s also one other small problem with doing a TV series based on a book series, and that is, unfortunately, age.  Television wants (no, NEEDS) to appeal to a young demographic, in order to attract advertisers to pay for the commercials (and the hefty bills).  Books, especially Patterson’s, have a tendency to skew… well… older, as much as I hate to say it.  Women’s Murder Club actually didn’t have bad ratings (in fact, it WON its Friday night slot 9 out of 10 weeks).  The problem was this:  according to Variety, the average person watching Women’s Murder Club on TV, statistically, was a 57-year-old female.  That is NOT the audience advertisers pay for, no matter how many of those viewers there are.  While there may be enough of “that audience” to make a book series successful, it’s not going to keep a TV series on the air for any length of time.  At least, not without a lot of younger people watching as well, and ABC provided no lead-in show or promotion that would encourage such a thing.  Bones (on FOX) skewed much younger, despite also being based on a book series and (ostensibly) a procedural, but it emphasized the primary relationship between Bones and Booth more, and also had American Idol (the most popular show on television at the time) as its lead-in for two years–advantages Women’s Murder Club could never have hoped to compete with.  And this is despite both shows having comparable total viewer numbers, just not in the same age groups.

A bit more exclusive Women's Murder Club -- Rizzoli & Isles

There’s a pretty good clip, done as a promo with author James Patterson, for when the series was about to begin, showing the cast going through its paces.  Although there’s no DVD release of the series, there’s still the ongoing book series, going strong, with all the advantages and none of the handicaps of the TV version.  (Be aware, however, that there are some characterization differences in the books versus the TV series, as well as other changes made in the transition process).

TNT has started a new series called Rizzoli & Isles (starring Angie Harmon again, practically playing the same character), based on a book series by Tess Gerristen. It’s also about a police detective and medical examiner who “happen” to become great friends, albeit with a few more character differences than were showcased in Women’s Murder Club, and a few less actual regulars.  Let’s hope it is more successful and this adaptation is more “television friendly”.  At the very least, it will be interesting to compare the book and TV versions and see what has (and hasn’t) changed, especially since Rizzoli & Isles will be a cable series, and a (hopefully) different sensibility.  It will also be interesting to see how different the television presentation of Rizzoli & Isles really is from what we got to see on Women’s Murder Club.

ANGIE HARMON (Lindsey Boxer) is best known as D.A. Abby Carmichael on multiple seasons of the original Law & Order.  That was preceded by a lengthy gig on Baywatch Nights, plus the series C-16: FBI.  Her husband, pro football player Jason Sehorn of the New York Jets, proposed to her live on The Tonight Show.  She said yes, and they now have 3 children.  (Oh, and she’s no relation to actor Mark Harmon.  All they share is talent!)

PAULA NEWSOME (Claire Washburn) was a regular on the series The Lyon’s Den, and has guest roles on series as varied as The New Adventures of Old Christine and N.Y.P.D. Blue.  She’s most recently been seen in episodes of FlashForward and Drop Dead Diva.

LAURA HARRIS (Jill Bernhardt) was originally a voice-over actress (as a regular on My Little Pony, of all things).  Her on-screen career includes episodes of the second season on 24, a regular on Showtime’s Dead Like Me, and, most recently, Defying Gravity.

AUBREY DOLLAR (Cindy Thomas) has appeared on American Gothic, multiple episodes of Dawson’s Creek, and was a regular on the short-lived (and rather odd) Point Pleasant.  Most recently she appeared in the revival of Cupid and the final season of Ugly Betty.

Surprisingly, there are three different computer games available based on the Women’s Murder Club (they’re primarily “hidden object” games, with a few puzzles thrown in to a mystery plot), but if you’re into that sort of thing, then go for it.  One more “medium” for the stories and the characters to explore.

Don’t get me wrong here.  As you can tell from this blog, I love TV.  I also love to read, go to live theatre, and watch movies, and I find that each of those mediums are very different creatures, with very different requirements necessary for their storytelling.  No one medium, by definition, is any better than the others, it’s just that there are certain ways that some STORIES are more effectively told, and the strengths and weaknesses of each are different.  Many characters fall into the same situation, as they lend themselves best to particular modes, although some CAN effectively be translated, with the right adjustments.  (See my article on Ellery Queen for such an example.)  I love good stories, and I love all those mediums to tell them in.  Just, please, make sure that whatever story you tell me, you tell it to me the best way… and I’ll enjoy it even more.

Vital Stats

13 aired episodes — no unaired episodes.
ABC Network
First aired episode:  October 12, 2007
Last aired episode:  May 13, 2008
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central:  Close.  For most of its run, it was Friday 9/8 Central, until January 2008.  The final “revamped” episodes aired four months later, on Tuesdays at 10/9 Central.

Comments and suggestions are welcomed, as usual.

–Tim R.

Another show from the last couple years, this time with a discussion of what it should have been, considering what it originally was.  It’s not always what you say, but it’s how you say it….

Five quotes:

The problem is one of properly using the medium, not the sexuality.

…and can’t seem to tell the difference between sex and love, as noted by the number and type of men she ends up with (and without).

They were definitely interesting, but then there was no time left for a proper version of that week’s mystery.

In that situation, there’s no longer a “Chapter One” (or even a reprise) to set up the characters and the story.

This is NOT the audience advertisers pay for, no matter how many of those viewers there are.

Thanks for continuing to follow Friday 8/7 Central.  It’s still growing, and more people are joining the club all the time, thanks to you.  I appreciate it, and urge you again to come back Friday for yet another look at another great show!

–Tim R.

“I look out on this city of night… and tonight I am one with it.  I see the pathways and crossroads… the rush of possibilities, and I feel every point of light that is a life; each with its wonders and terrors.  I see how, in a single night, a world can be transformed.  How in one terrifying and wondrous moment my world was transformed… on a night as dark and glittering as this… two years ago, I found Catherine….”
–Vincent, from Beauty and the Beast

A new world... and a new love... awaits

Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton) is a Radcliffe grad, a young and beautiful corporate lawyer; a woman who seems to have it all–except a true motivation and reason for living, rather than just existing in her (relatively privileged) world.  That all changes on one fateful night when, mistaken for someone else, she is horribly beaten, scarred, and left for dead.

However…

She’s found by Vincent (Ron Perlman), who also hides his “scarred” face (but never his compassionate heart), and taken underground.  Unknowingly, Catherine has just entered a world apart from hers, a world unknown to her… Once Upon a Time, in the City of New York.

“We’re below the city, below the subways.  There is a whole world of tunnels and chambers that most people don’t even know exists.  There are no maps to where we are.  It’s a forgotten place.  But it’s warm and it’s safe, and we have all the room we need.  So we live here and we try to live as well as we can, and we try to take care of each other.  It’s our city, down here.”
–Vincent, introducing Catherine to the world she never knew.

Catherine discovers a society of people who have, whether through necessity or choice, walked away from “the world above” and created their own existence below the city of New York.  A community based on peace and understanding, greater than any individual, who never turn their backs on anyone… especially an unusual child left on the steps of St. Vincent’s hospital years ago.

Vincent and "Father" -- Noble and True

The child was brought to Dr. Jacob Wells, one of the founders of this group.  Jacob is popularly known as “Father” (Roy Dotrice), both for his role in creating this new and just society, and for essentially being the “father” of the young foundling, who has grown up to become Vincent.  For you see, Vincent, while he has the greatest heart and soul of any human, looks more like a lion, with fur, claws, teeth…. and nobility.  And it is he, at the risk of discovery by the world “above”, who brought Catherine here to be healed by Father.  It was Vincent who brought to her light… and life, again.

Catherine’s injuries included, for a time, her eyesight, and so she only knew Vincent (at first) through his voice, his tenderness, and his compassion… and fell in love with him, and he with her as well.  And although she recoiled at her first sight of him, her heart overcame her surprise, gladly, overwhelmingly, and soon a love of the ages was born.  Theirs is an inspired love, a connection, stronger than fate, emotion, or passion.  It is the kind of love destined to last longer than time itself, and greater than words are ever needed to express.

Thanks to that love, and the discovery of an entirely different life, Catherine returns to “her” world with a new mission, to become a “Helper”, both to the underground group, and to the downtrodden others with nowhere to turn in the world above.  The former corporate lawyer takes a job as an overworked assistant for the D.A.’s office, with her new boss Joe Maxwell (Jay Acovone) and a new-found purpose to help others.  And thanks to the “connection” she still shares, Vincent can sense when she is in trouble and come running to help when needed.  Now, if this was an ordinary TV series, that would be the extent of the premise.  But Beauty and the Beast was no ordinary show, not by any stretch of the imagination.

If CBS had their way, the show would have simply been a formulaic “damsel in distress” show, with Catherine investigating the week’s crime, ending up in danger, and Vincent rushing in to save the day (and then off again, unseen, as her mysterious “savior”).  The focus would have been on the world “above”.  But that’s not quite how it happened.  The fans (and there are a lot of VERY loyal fans) responded, not to the “fears” of the world above, but to everything else the show had to offer in the world “below”….

“At last, a few people learned to put aside their fear, and we began to trust each other, to help each other.  Each of us grew stronger; those who took the help, and those who gave it.  We all were part of one another, one family, one community.  Sometimes we forget this, and so we meet here each year to give thanks to those who have helped us, and to remember– even the greatest darkness is nothing, so long as we share the light….”
–The candle-lighting opening of Winterfest, a tunnel community celebration.

Those who “shared the light” included people like Jamie, Mouse, Winslow, Kipper, Pascal, Mary, and the others who lived “below”, and to their “Helpers”, the people topside who kept their secret, like Catherine.  The show created a wondrous world beneath the mean streets of New York, a new world where people seemed to have become better than most of our “usual” society; where communication meant quotations of Shakespeare, and dreams were based on virtue instead of avarice.  Most of all, it was a world that could create the amazing connection between Vincent and Catherine, where even dreams pale in comparison to their relationship….

“…for we have a bond stronger than friendship or love… and although we cannot be together, we will never, ever, be apart….
–Catherine, in the opening credits.

Not only was there a bond between Vincent and Catherine, but there became a bond amongst the fans of the show.  After premiering in 1987, it quickly spawned a fandom similar to that of Star Trek and some other “niche” shows, even more so in dedication, if not in size.  The televised “tunnel” community, as Utopian as it was, became a model for the “fan” community.  And that, truly, is the lasting legacy of the show, and the uniqueness of its fans.  Lifelong friendships have been made because of this show.  Lives have changed because of this show.  And if you think this is hyperbole, then I invite you to visit the Yahoo Groups site of Beauty and the Beast fans, still going strong (and I mean STRONG) almost a quarter of a century later.

There have been yearly, in-person conventions, the most recent being just this past month in San Diego.  This year’s convention also included a surprise visit from the Beauty herself, Linda Hamilton, whose appearance was webcast and just put online, and next year’s live gathering will be held in New Orleans (More info on live gatherings can be found here).  But, in keeping with the “underground” nature of the tunnel society, the fans have adopted their own yearly Winterfest, a virtual celebration unique to the show.  Online, you can find fan fiction, artwork, poetry, games, articles, opinion, and lots and lots of general love and joy for all those other souls who wish to share, as Vincent once put it, “their better selves”.  Each year, a weeklong online celebration is held, with all this and more….  And, as Winterfest on the series always started with a candle-lighting ceremony, symbolically pushing back the darkness of the ordinary world, so too do all these people connect with each other, virtually and in reality, to bring light into each other’s lives.  Of all the shows and fans I’ve talked about in this column, Beauty and the Beast fans continue to be, as a whole, the most passionate, the most involved, and the most positive people I’ve ever met.  They’ve truly created their own community, all based on a wonderful hidden world, the positive themes of the show, and the characters they love.

crossing over into a new and wondrous world

LINDA HAMILTON (Catherine Chandler) was told by her college drama instructor that she’d never make a living as an actress.  She then went on to star in the first two Terminator movies (as well as Beauty and the Beast), and supposedly earned $1 million for her part in Terminator 2, not to mention being considered at one time for the part of Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.  She has suffered from bi-polar disorder for much of her life, and has become an outspoken advocate for others with the condition.  She continues to act occasionally, and will have a regular role on the Showtime series Weeds in the coming season.  She’s also been announced as the (long-lost) mother of the lead character this fall on Chuck (which means, in some fictional world, she was married to Chuck‘s father, Scott Bakula, which makes genre fans cheer even more….)

RON PERLMAN (Vincent) was a “faceless” actor for most of his early career, playing behind the Beast makeup as Vincent, but also doing numerous voice-over roles in commercials and animation.  He finally was seen, himself, regularly in the TV version of The Magnificent Seven, then followed with more voice-over work until his movie (and mask) work in the Hellboy series.  He is currently seen, sans masks, as one of the leads in the critically acclaimed series Sons of Anarchy.

ROY DOTRICE (Father) dates his television career back to 1957, and until Beauty and the Beast was usually cast as the heavy in guest roles on series like Tales of the Gold Monkey, Remington Steele, and The A-Team.  He was a regular on Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Madigan Men, and played the “ultimate” father role of Zeus on Hercules.  Most of his work in recent years has been in England, in addition to a cameo with Ron Perlman in the movie Hellboy II.

JAY ACOVONE (Joe Maxwell) kept being “that guy who keeps showing up” in various series, not quite a regular, but playing the same character multiple times.  He’s been in multiple episodes of Murder, She Wrote, Renegade, Silk Stalkings, Providence, and Stargate SG-1, including the final movie episode of that show.  He’s also been on a number of episodes of General Hospital.

The show is set in New York, obviously, and fans thought it would be a great idea to sponsor a bench in Central Park (near a “supposed” location of one of the entrances to the tunnel world, in the show).  Through the monetary efforts of fans, a park bench was installed, with a very specific inscription.  It said:

“Even the greatest darkness is nothing,
so long as we share the light.”
Beauty and the Beast (TV)  1987-1990
Dedicated by its devoted fans.

There’s a complete series DVD set (as well as individual season sets), but they’re remarkably devoid of extras.  A “soundtrack” album, titled Of Love and Hope, was also released, and it not only includes some of the gorgeous music from the show, but also Perlman, in character as Vincent, reciting Shakespeare sonnets and other famous literature, much of it featured on the show itself.  And here’s the opening of the show on YouTube, where you’ll also find many other fan-created videos using scenes of the show, especially numerous love themes, for obvious reasons.

“SND” fans (and you know who you are), please read no further.  I have to be complete, and at least mention, briefly, what else exists, and what “SND” means.  For those who wish to continue, please do so after the Vital Stats section, where I will add more to the story of the show.  For those who wish to remember the show as it should be, thank you, for your love, and for your light.  –Tim R.

Vital Stats

44 episodes of the first two seasons — 12 more episodes (explained below) — no unaired episodes.
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 25, 1987
Last aired episode:  May 26, 1989 (second season);  August 4, 1990 (third season)
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central:  Most definitely yes, and one of the best shows ever to do so.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always….

——

Now then….  I’m going to break a couple of rules here with this blog:  First, and most obviously, I just wrote about a two season show that ran 44+ episodes, a bit longer than most.  This show was so good, so important, and so personal for me to write about, that I felt I needed to.  Besides, I “connected” with the true love of my own life (whose name also happens to be Catherine) while this show aired, and I’d be more than remiss if I didn’t dedicate the best of this article above to her.

However…. here’s the second broken rule:  I didn’t talk about the whole show.  Deliberately.

Just to be complete, I have to mention the third season.  Beauty and the Beast was essentially “canceled” after its second year, rabid fan base and all… except that CBS ordered 12 more episodes to be aired at mid-season, ultimately on Wednesday nights.  The problem with this was, Linda Hamilton’s contract specifically said that if the show got any less than a full season order (or a fall season order, there’s some conflict about that…), then her participation was not guaranteed… and it’s kind of hard to have a show called Beauty and the Beast without the Beauty.  Linda agreed to approximately 10 days of shooting, to resolve the cliffhanger ending of the second season, and her scenes were interspersed throughout the 12 episode third season… aired out-of-order, no less, thank you CBS.  And the writers, in their infinite wisdom, introduced another female lead (Jo Anderson) to “search” for the now missing Catherine, and, in the ultimate insult to the fans, KILLED OFF the Beauty of Beauty and the Beast.  On television, at least, Catherine was dead.

Outrage is too mild a word.  Hell, Revolution is too mild a word.

Suffice to say, most fans completely IGNORE the third season, and any and all events therein, to the point where the acronym “SND” was developed online, meaning “She’s Not Dead” (referring to Catherine, of course).  Therefore, Vincent, Catherine, and the tunnel world still exist, if only in the hearts, minds, and joy (not to mention the fan fiction) of those who have been touched by the show.  You can’t (and SHOULDN’T) even mention 3rd season on the newsgroups, at least without significant fair warning, such is the negative reaction of many to the portrayal of those events, even now.

In other words, the fans have taken Beauty and the Beast, and the love of Catherine and Vincent, as their own, and refuse to see the darkness that the show became.  You see, there’s also a benediction at the end of Winterfest on the show, and I think it’s best to end this piece with it, seeing how the fans feel about not only third season, but the series as a whole:

“Darkness almost engulfed us, but our unity gave us strength.  Our shared light showed us the truth.  As we part for another year let us remember… Darkness is only the absence of light… and all winters end.”

The love between Vincent and Catherine may have had a winter, but it will never end.  No matter what happened in the “television” world, there’s far too many in “our” world who will never let it happen.  Their light will always be shared… and the story continues….

Vincent and Catherine at Winterfest -- A Love Lasting Forever and Always

The best example of this type of show in television history, but then, I’m personally biased.  Almost a quarter of a century has passed, and yet this show still has a huge following, even when the “powers that be” tried mightily to completely mess it up… and the fans wouldn’t let them.  This one’s personal….

-Five quotes:

“There are no maps to where we are.  Its a forgotten place.”

The fans (and there are a lot of VERY loyal fans) responded…

…a new world, where people seemed to have become better than most of our “usual” society…

Lifelong friendships have been made because of this show.

“Even the greatest darkness is nothing, as long as we share the light.”

Come back Friday 8/7 Central, and fall in love with this show all over again.

–Tim R.

Yes, I know you’re all busy reading about The Quest, and I thank you for that.  But we have a breaking news bulletin:

I finally found a bunch of the creator links for the pop culture references in the final five episodes of The Middleman, and have edited that post (The Organization Too Secret To Know) with those links at the bottom, just before the Vital Stats section.

Enjoy!  We now return you to your regularly scheduled obscure TV show, The Quest.

–Tim R.

Here’s an idea for a new reality show:

Let’s take a group of people from the USA, unknown to each other.  Different sexes, ages, races, and backgrounds (just like Big Brother or Survivor).  Plop them into a series of challenges, all over the world (like The Amazing Race, without the race part), where each week a winner will be chosen.  Some of the competitions will accentuate strength, some compassion, some intelligence, some bravery, or perhaps a combination of a number of these (like so many other reality shows).  Some of the contests are planned, and some are improvised on the spot.  At the end of the series, a winner will be chosen from these lucky few contestants, and that winner, instead of getting a million dollars, or a fancy restaurant, or some grand and gaudy prize, will instead get to RULE THEIR VERY OWN COUNTRY!!!

I can hear reality producers climbing over themselves already, trying to be the first to pitch it to a network.  There’s only one problem…. It’s already been done.  As a fictional series, back in 1982, called The Quest.

Here’s the set-up, at the top of every episode:

“GLENDORA.  Jewel of the Mediterranean.  A thriving and modern kingdom.  Today, Glendora is faced with problems of succession — His Majesty, Charles Philippe, being without issue and unlikely to produce an heir….”

Sir Edward

Our “host” and narrator is the venerable Sir Edward (John Rhys-Davies), Minister to the King.  He has been entrusted with the sacred honor of figuring out who will be the next ruler of the glorious country of Glendora.  (OK, so Glendora is actually about the size of Manhattan, and it only exists because of a long-lost, almost forgotten treaty with France that gives it sovereignty, with a few conditions attached.)  The problem facing Sir Edward is that the King is rather old, and unlikely to be having any children to carry on the bloodline (no matter how randy the old coot might be, even in his late ’80s).  And one of the conditions of the ancient treaty is that there has to be a ruler of Royal Blood, or the land reverts back to France.  But there just might, MIGHT, be a way out of this problem… so the opening narration continues:

“But four Americans have been found who are of the Royal bloodline.  They have been knighted, and sent forth as their forebears were, to demonstrate those qualities which most become a King… compassion, honor, courage, dignity….”

So, consulting the old (and I mean Middle-Ages-style old) family tree reveals four possible royal heirs, each with a distant connection to the throne, and each with absolutely no clue as to their possible birthright… and no way to tell which might be the “most rightful” heir.  Hence, a competition.

The choices for the next ruler of Glendora -- cast of The Quest

Introducing our possible rulers:  There’s Dan Underwood (Perry King), a professional photographer, self-professed ladies’ man, and all-around hero type, although not exactly blessed in the brains department, but when you’re as good-looking as he is, brains are an afterthought.  Next, there’s Carrie Welby (Karen Austin), a shoe-buyer for a department store chain, who’s been held down by a glass ceiling and wants to prove that she can be more than just Queen for a Day.  Cody Johnson (Ray Vitte) is a street-smart con artist who sees his chance to finally hit the big time, although he’s been known to panic at the first sign of trouble.  And finally, there’s Art Henley (Noah Beery, Jr.), a retired Kansas county sheriff, with an old-fashioned and laid-back way of looking at life, and a general distrust of most situations (including his new “cousin” Cody)….

These four are now globetrotting together around the world, from Texas to the middle of Africa, trying to prove their worth to Sir Edward, and to King Charles himself (Ralph Michael), and perhaps trying to keep the King OUT of trouble considering his penchant for skirt-chasing and absent-mindedness.  The competitions are rather straightforward, once the group figures out what it has to do.  But Sir Edward has this habit of trying to put the quests in the form of poetry… and when I say poetry, I mean very BAD poetry, as he considers himself to be something of a bard of the olden times, no matter what lack of talent he may have.

So, we have lots of people with both good and bad traits, traipsing around the world, finding this, saving that, finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, being royally brave, sometimes royally confused, and getting into all kinds of well-meaning trouble with the hopes of somehow finally acquiring the Crown.

It was a rather innovative idea for a comedy-adventure, considering the idea of “reality” shows hadn’t really been thought of yet, and most hour shows on the air were of the cop/lawyer/doctor variety.  Television at the time certainly didn’t have many “heroes” like this, let alone this type of “goal”, and adventures were not on such a worldly scale.  Oh, and there’s one other little complication….

“Only one can wear the Crown, and this has fostered a competition… although they are united in their battle against the exiled Count Dardinay, an evil opponent who seeks to thwart them….”

If the King dies before a successor is chosen (one more thing to deal with, making sure His Majesty stays alive until the contest is finished), then the treaty is broken and the land goes back to France.  And Count Dardinay (Michael Billingtion), who has been exiled from Glendora for conspiring against the King, has made a deal with the French that says if the land goes back to France, it will be under his ownership.  So, we have four “contestants” competing with each other, but united against the scheming Count (who could just as easily kill all of them instead).  So, everybody has to try to win, watch their back, help or hinder their competition, but only at their own risk, and never really know what each “challenge” is actually about until it’s over that week.  Oh, and deal with the King, too, whatever he may be up to (including, once, being stuck in the large boiling pot belonging to cannibals).  I did say he was a bit absent-minded… even though he and Sir Edward will have the final say on who the winner will be….

Of course, the big winner was… CBS, with Dallas and Falcon Crest.

And the winner is....

The Quest aired on Fridays, on ABC, in 1982.  The biggest problem with The Quest wasn’t its quality, or its scripts, or its production value, or even its concept.  No, the biggest problem with the show was very simple.  It was 1982, and on Friday night television, there was Dallas and Falcon Crest… and nothing else.  They were top ten shows in all of television from 1980 – 1985 (Dallas was #1 four out of five of those years), and everything else programmed against them simply died.  So, just because they had to put SOMETHING there, ABC trotted out this unusual, different, sacrificial lamb to the slaughter… which was a real shame because, given time to grow, this had the makings of a true gem of a show.  ABC tried to do something REALLY different with the time slot, and it just didn’t work there (but to be fair, neither did anything else).

The Quest even had a great pedigree.  It was created and produced by Stephen J. Cannell and Juanita Bartlett., who were royalty themselves as far at TV went at the time.  They had recently come off of six seasons of TV classic The Rockford Files and had started The Greatest American Hero a year or so earlier for ABC.  Later, they were responsible for shows like Scarecrow & Mrs. King and The A-Team, as well as many others.  Cannell himself said a few years later that The Quest was one of the best ideas he’d ever had for a show (at the time), and that he was very disappointed that it didn’t really have a chance.  But then, almost nothing had a chance against J.R. Ewing and Dallas in 1982.  Not even if you were of Royal Blood.

PERRY KING (Dan Underwood) is best known for his next Stephen Cannell series, playing Cody Allen on the series Riptide for its three-season run.  Also a regular for a time on the original Melrose Place, he was almost cast instead of Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the original Star Wars movies, and actually did play the character in the audio adaptations.  King is an avid motorcycle enthusiast and has amassed quite a large collection of various collectible bikes.

After The Quest, KAREN AUSTIN (Carrie Welby) was a regular on the first season of Night Court, and played recurring characters on shows like St. Elsewhere, L.A. Law, The Trials of Rosie O’Neal, and Murder One.  She is also well known to SF audiences, playing roles in episodes of Sliders, both Star Trek: DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager, and as recently as the revival of Battlestar Galactica.  She’s still acting, appearing occasionally as a judge on CSI: Miami.

RAY VITTE (Cody Johnson) had a good run before The Quest, appearing in That’s My Mama, Doc (the 1976 version), and What’s Happening? and the movie version of 9 to 5.  His promising career was cut short the year after The Quest, when he died in a scuffle with L.A. Police in February of 1983.

NOAH BERRY, JR. (Art Henley) had a long and memorable run as Jim Rockford’s father “Rocky” on The Rockford Files (also with Stephen Cannell), and had made his name in many of the early TV westerns, including Death Valley Days, Hondo, Bonanza, The Virginian, and many others.  His career actually goes much farther back than that, with one of his first movie appearances dating back to The Mark of Zorro in 1920.  He passed away late in 1994.

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES (Sir Edward) is primarily known for three genre parts.  Of course, he played Sallah, the guide for Indiana Jones in both the first and third movies of the series; Prof. Maximilian Arturo in the series Sliders; and of course he played the dwarf Gimli in the three Lord of the Rings movies.  He’s also had a significant number of voice-over roles in animated projects, including Pirates of Dark Water, Gargoyles, and Justice League.

RALPH MICHAEL (King Charles) has spent most of his acting years in British television, appearing in shows dating back to 1937.  More modern appearances included parts in Doctor Who, A Tale of Two Cities, and Jeeves and Wooster.  He left us in 1994, having acted almost until his passing.

MICHAEL BILLINGTON (Count Dardinay) had screen-tested a number of times for the coveted role of James Bond in the sixties and early seventies.  Another actor with primarily a British career, he found success in the series U.F.O. and The Onedin Line.  His American appearances included guest parts on Magnum, P.I., Hart to Hart, and The Greatest American Hero.  He returned to British TV in The Collectors in 1986, and actually got to play a Bond villain in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Sources differ on exactly how many episodes actually aired (the show was preempted locally by many stations for sports broadcasts and such, figuring they could make more money against Dallas that way by owning all the commercials instead of sharing them with the network… that’s how powerful Dallas was then).  Counting the pilot, likely five episodes actually aired (although some sources list seven), and there were a total of nine actually made.  To complicate matters even further, apparently only eight of them are available on bootlegs of varying quality (and no official DVD release), so if anyone has a copy of the unaired episode titled A Prince of a Fellow, please contact me IMMEDIATELY!!  Meanwhile, there are eight episodes floating around out there, at least, including the pilot that sets everything in motion.  YouTube has the opening credits available, with the fabulous Mike Post writing the catchy opening theme and lyrics (like he did with many Cannell shows).

And hey, with all the interest in genealogy these days, who knows?  There may even be a King or Queen in your own ancestry, and you could be heir to your own throne of some small, distant country!  Think of it… Ruler of all you survey! Or at the very least, you might get a reality show out of it.  You could be a reality star–in a race for a place in the Royal celebration!  A new Quest for Kings and Queens….

Vital Stats

Five (?) aired episodes — four unaired (one unavailable at this point) — nine total.
ABC Network
First aired episode:  October 22, 1982
Final aired episode:  November 19, 1982
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  No, but later on Friday nights, again up against Dallas and Falcon Crest; unfortunately for The Quest.

Comments and Suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Here’s one I almost guarantee you won’t know.  It aired against one of the most popular shows in television history at the time, during one of its most popular seasons.  Which meant, you could take chances and put quirky and odd shows up against it, and people would just say your network (especially last-place ABC) was “counter-programming”.  Good thing, or we never would have gotten this oddity.  From prolific producer Stephen J. Cannell, one of the few fictional shows he did that really didn’t succeed, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  And it could almost be a reality show today….

Five quotes:

I can hear reality producers climbing all over themselves already, trying to be the first to pitch it to a network.

“They have been knighted, and sent forth as their forebears were…”

…and when I say poetry, I mean very BAD poetry, as he considers himself to be a bard of the olden times…

(including, once, being stuck in the large boiling pot belonging to cannibals)

…if anyone has a copy of the unaired episode A Prince of a Fellow, contact me IMMEDIATELY!

There, that should be enough to get you started on your quest.  Or at the very least, get you curious enough that you come back to see what show I’m talking about this week on Friday 8/7 Central!

–Tim R.

%d bloggers like this: