Monthly Archives: August 2010

What does it mean to be a hero?  What does it mean when you DON’T want to be a hero, but end up becoming one anyway?  And what’s worse, you never get to enjoy it, or get the credit….  There’s a great show in there, with a couple of great stars as well.

Five quotes:

“Because we’re nothing alike!  He leaps wide canyons, runs like a deer, swims like a spawning salmon… except for the spawning part, I can’t do any of that!”

“So I decided to give all the credit for my miracles to that imaginary miracle worker…”

After all, who can resist a fan who’s read everything you’ve ever written?

Therefore, he has a way with words, and can talk his way out of most situations when necessary.

“He has to assume a different posture, a different attitude.  There’s a slight voice change and there’s supposed to be an attitude change when he’s dealing with the outside world.”

It’s a different time, and a different world… and a different, very reluctant hero.  Tune in Friday 8/7 Central to find out about the hero he was meant to be.

–Tim R.

In this day and age, it’s hard to realize that most of us with cellphones hold more computing power in our hands than NASA used in the 1969 Apollo 11 moon shot.  Science fiction in 1972 showed us tech so advanced that… occasionally, we now laugh at it.  Computers filled entire rooms, communications were limited (even with the best equipment available) and information still took forever to gather, long enough to allow for large dramatic speeches that were necessary in order to stall for the time to get the goods on the bad guys.  That doesn’t make the shows any worse, or the stories any less interesting, just… well, a bit dated.

Welcome to Probe Control, the home of SEARCH

Which now brings me to Search, a “high-tech” spy show that ran on NBC starting in 1972.  Search had the requisite room full of computers, and a tech staff large enough to run the bridge of the starship Enterprise.  It did tell engaging spy stories with a very interesting hook:  Each of the spies was technologically “connected” back to the home base, both with physical “implants” and with miniaturized cameras and microphones.  Those “tech” implements could provide their status back to the base, halfway around the world.  Conversely, their specialized and advanced base team would provide to the agents any and all knowledge and information necessary for their mission.

(Today, you could do this with a Bluetooth-equipped smartphone/camera, maybe a laptop or netbook, and a decent wi-fi connection to YouTube, if you’re really interested in revealing secrets.  More tech shows up during one act of Leverage than ends up on a whole episode of Search, but we’re dealing with 1972 here….)

Besides the “tech”, the other unusual part of the series was that it had multiple rotating leads (and few shows have done this, notably ’60s series The Bold Ones and The Name of the Game).  Instead of building a show around one character or star, Search had three of them (Hugh O’Brian, Tony Franciosa, and Doug McClure), plus a regular supporting cast.  The leads never appeared together in the show–they just starred in their “own” episodes.  Each character had a “specialization” that allowed them to be the “right” agent, depending upon the type of mission (and therefore, whatever type of story the show wanted to tell that week).

“The concept was there from the beginning.  The network requested the three-star idea, which was always an alternative in the project.”
–Leslie Stevens, creator and producer of Search

This was in keeping with what NBC was already doing with its Wednesday night schedule that year.  Search ran at 10/9 Central, immediately after The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie.  This was significant, because the Mystery Movie ALSO had three “rotating” elements (being Madigan, Cool Million, and Banacek).  NBC could then mix and match (and promote) their preferred style for each evening, depending on which particular “shows” and “stars” they wanted to feature that week.

Cameron, Lockwood, Grover, and Bianco

The leads were Hugh Lockwood (Hugh O’Brian, the lead operative, code-named Probe One), Nick Bianco (Omega Probe, whose specialty was organized crime cases, played by Tony Franciosa), and C. R. Grover (a sort of “jack of all trades” substitute, brought in when a previous field agent had been killed or put out of action in the middle of a case, played by Doug McClure).  They were “connected” to Probe Control, manned primarily by Cameron (“Cam” for short, played by Burgess Meredeth, the only actor who appeared in every episode), who tried mightily to keep the agents on task and give them the info they needed.

Lockwood was more the “brainy” hero, who was good at figuring out whatever scheme might be going down.  Bianco, specializing in criminal elements, had more of a tendency to solve problems with his fists.  Grover, being the “sub”, had this habit of going “off the playbook” and improvising his way through, much to the consternation of the team back at Control.  And believe me, they needed that team.

You see, this wasn’t some government organization, or secret military group.  This was the World Securities Organization, a private company who specialized in recovering and protecting valuable people, things, and whatever else may need protecting… or finding, if it had been lost somehow.  This is why they had all sorts of wonderful tech “toys” to play with, and specialists back at Control to help use them.

Probe Control is watching you....

Primary among the “tech”, each agent was equipped with a miniaturized “scanner”, basically a thumbnail-sized camera that could beam back television pictures to Control.  It was also magnetic, and could be removed and placed in other locations, to be a “lookout” for the agents.  They looked like odd pieces of jewelry, which is why Lockwood’s is on a chain around his neck in the picture above, for example, while the other agents wore theirs as tie-tacks or on rings.  They were not only used for TV pictures, but could be used to “zoom” in on, say, combination locks, or even broadcast medical telemetry back to the technicians at Control in order to tell if a suspect was lying, due to their elevated heart rate or blood pressure.  (Of course, this had the unfortunate effect of working on the agents as well, especially when they “happened” to be in the presence of that week’s beautiful guest star actress… much to the embarrassment of Cam and glee of certain members of Control, who did little to hide their laughter.)

And that laughter was heard by the agents as well, who were “wired” up so that their conversations worked both ways.  In the event that spoken exchanges were dangerous, there were implants in the agents’ teeth that could be used as signals back to base to answer questions and exchange more information.  And the experts back at Control included people educated in medicine, interpretation of languages, psychological tendencies, and all sorts of other resources that might be necessary for the dashing spy of the early ’70s.

Similar to the filming of Voyagers!, the backlot and street sets of Universal were used heavily for this show, which supposedly took place all over the world.  There was only one standing set (Probe Control), although it was remodeled three times during the one-season of the show.  This was both to make it “brighter and more open” (and easier to shoot scenes on) and also to eliminate a seat or two (which meant a few less extras and a few dollars saved, which went straight into the location budget).  But what the show lacked in budget, it made up for in imagination, or at least, 1972 imagination.

Remember that the cold war was still on, so there were political enemies; we had a Probe agent who specialized in criminal investigations; and Mankind was still sending men to the moon, so tech was not an everyday thing for everyman, but something to be marveled at and used as the backdrop for action-packed and exciting adventure stories.  The difference being that, on Search, the “heroes” were being helped from half a world away.  It was amazing then.  Nowadays, we can all watch the World Cup in South Africa, also halfway around the world… and we still wish they had the TV replays of the soccer games at Probe Control, so they could have gotten some of the calls correct….

1972 tech, but it all leads to now....

Search may be dated now… yet it was but a few more years later that we got such shows as The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, which set new standards for TV character “tech”.  Still, Search was the first to prove that there were real applications for those whiz-bang gizmos, and it wouldn’t be all that long before we started seeing them more as regular parts of our lives.  Almost everything that was “new” and “different” on Search now exists, and some of it has been vastly improved upon since then… but somebody had to come up with a way to make it work first, and make it “cool”, and make it worthwhile.  Star Trek communicators may have invented “flip” phones, but Search imagined its own share of today’s “reality”, whether it’s medical telemetry across distances or digital imagery that can be magnified and manipulated.    Not a bad legacy for a show that only lasted a season….

The title sequence is the only time the lead actors all “appear” together on the series, and it’s found on YouTube hereSearch isn’t available on DVD, although the pilot episode was put out on VHS (called Probe, which was going to be the title of the series, until that title was found to be taken by a PBS show), but there are clips around, as well as the excellent Probe Control site.  They have more information on individual episodes, including some scripts, and a very rare collection of actual frame film clips from the show that were offered for sale back in the seventies.  There were also two books written by Robert Weverka, a novelization of the pilot (also called Probe), and a novelization of the second “Lockwood” episode, Moonrock.  (Interesting idea for a sci-fi tinged show, having to Search for a missing moonrock….)

HUGH O’BRIAN (Hugh Lockwood) appeared in eight episodes of Search (plus the pilot), but made his name and career playing Wyatt Earp in the Top Ten series, one of the first true hits of the television era and lasting seven years.  He also was proud of the fact that he was the last man ever “killed” onscreen by his good friend John Wayne, in The Shootist.  He’s dedicated most of his life to his charitable foundation (more about that below.)

TONY FRANCIOSA (Nick Bianco) was both a Tony nominee (for A Hatful of Rain) and Oscar nominee (for the film version of the same show).  Eager to act in any medium, he was also one of the rotating stars in The Name of the Game (mentioned above) and later starred in both TV versions of Finder of Lost Loves and another spy series, Matt Helm, along with his eight episodes of Search.

DOUG McCLURE (C.R. Grover) was also best known for a western series, starring in The Virginian.  In addition to his seven Search episodes, he also appeared in the original Gidget movie, and starred in the blog-fodder ’70s series The Barbary Coast with William Shatner.  He played four years on the syndicated comedy Out of this World in the late ’80’s, and has been immortalized, not just with a Star on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame, but by being part of the inspiration for the “Troy McClure” character on The Simpsons.

BURGESS MEREDETH (Cameron) had a solid movie career, best remembered as Mickey, the trainer, in the Rocky series of movies (for which he was nominated for an Oscar).  He appeared as a regular in three TV series (Mr. Novak; Search; and Gloria, the spin-off of All in the Family).  Among his many guest roles, he is well-known for his legendary appearances on The Twilight Zone (in arguably two of the best episodes, Time Enough at Last, and Mr. Dingle, the Strong).  And, of course, he appeared in 21 episodes as the most villainous fiendish fowl ever, The Penguin, on the TV series Batman.

The biggest science fiction-turned-fact lesson from Search isn’t actually from the show, but from one of its stars.  Hugh O’Brian has dedicated his life (and his fortune) to a non-profit organization called HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership).  Growing out of a meeting he had with famous intellect Dr. Albert Schweitzer, he now sponsors a yearly youth leadership council, an outgrowth of youth leadership development groups in all 50 states and over 20 countries.  It has helped over 350,000 young people become better leaders, and better people, since 1958.  O’Brian said this about the organization, and his hopes for the young people of the world:

“I do NOT believe we are all born equal.  Created equal in the eyes of God, yes, but physical and emotional differences, parental guidelines, varying environments, being in the right place at the right time, all play a role in enhancing or limiting an individual’s development.  But I DO believe every man and woman, if given the opportunity and encouragement to recognize their potential, regardless of background, has the freedom to choose in our world.  Will an individual be a taker or a giver in life?  Will that person be satisfied merely to exist or seek a meaningful purpose?  Will he or she dare to dream the impossible dream?”

“I believe every person is created as the steward of his or her own destiny with great power for a specific purpose, to share with others, through service, a reverence for life in a spirit of love.”

Given the state of the world today, some may still think of this as science fiction.  But I’m one of the few (if you haven’t noticed yet by some of my choices here on this blog) who truly BELIEVE in science fiction.  Not as something yet to happen, but as something that can affect each and every person in their lives right NOW, with ideas as great as you let your imagination believe.  In this case, there really is a “Search”… and it’s not a TV show, it’s a way to choose to live.

Vital Stats

2-hour pilot (called Probe), plus 23 hour episodes.  None unaired.
NBC Network
First aired episode:  February 21, 1972 (Probe pilot); September 23, 1972 (Search series)
Final aired episode:  April 11, 1973
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central:  No.  Wednesdays, 10/9 Central, although it had enough “tech” and SF to easily qualify for the normal Friday Night slot.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Peabody and Sherman, get your Wayback Machine ready.  We’re going back to the early ’70’s for one of the most high-tech shows of the era… which means, although the shows were interesting, the “tech” could probably be outpaced by your smartphone.  Still, the adventures were fun, and the lead… kept changing.

Five quotes:

the other unusual part of the show is that it had multiple rotating leads

NBC could then mix and match (and promote) their preferred style for each evening…

…being the “sub”, had this habit of going “off the playbook” and improvising his way through…

…whether its medical telemetry across distances, or digital imagery that can be magnified and manipulated.

“I believe that every person is created as the steward of his or her own destiny…”

Look for this lost gem this Friday 8/7 Central, right here….

–Tim R.

(Note from Tim R.:  I really didn’t write the vast majority of this article.  Davy Jones is appearing locally next week, and, as a timely favor, a dear friend (Jen J.) who HAPPENS to be a huge fan of The Monkees and their songs stepped in.  More from me next week, but until then…. a voyage back to both the ’60’s AND the ’80’s, and a musical trip that lasts forever.)

Back in the ’80’s, MTV really stood for “music television”; unlike today, it aired music videos almost exclusively.  As was pro forma for an adolescent of the time, I was a big fan.  In 1986, MTV began airing episodes of a TV show from the late ’60’s called The Monkees.  Though it wasn’t exactly a music video, my 14-year-old self fell in love, with both the show and the band… and I realized that, (like the title of one of their biggest songs), “I’m a Believer”.

In the show, The Monkees were four guys in their early 20’s, living together in a house on the beach, as they struggled to make it as a rock-n-roll band.  Each of them had a specific role in the band, and also in the group dynamic.

The Monkees (who used the actors’ real names as their “characters’) consisted of:

Micky, Peter, Mike, and Davy -- "Hey, Hey, It's The Monkees!"

Micky Dolenz, the zany one, always ready with a joke, a nonsensical comment, or a bad impersonation (which always sounded like James Cagney).  He was the crazy, upbeat energy of the group.  Micky played drums and sang lead and backup vocals.

Peter Tork, the innocent, kind-hearted, but somewhat dim-witted one.  Slow to get the jokes and frequently getting into trouble from which he needed rescuing, his beatific smiles warmed the heart.  Peter played bass guitar and sang backup vocals, but was rarely the lead singer.

Mike Nesmith, the smart one, was the straight man.  Standing taller than the other band members, he usually sported a green wool stocking cap, and did his best to take care of his friends.  Mike played guitar and sang backup and lead vocals, usually on more bluesy, country-rock type numbers.

Davy Jones, a Brit amongst the Yanks, was the cute one, always attracting the girls.  Thanks to special effects on the show, there’s a visible white “twinkle” in his eye when he falls in love, which happened quite often.  Davy played maracas and tambourine in addition to singing lead and backup vocals.

The show revolved around the antics of the guys, but while their motives are somewhat normal, their adventures are not.  Usually in an attempt to impress a girl, get a gig, or make some more money, the quartet landed itself in mayhem and mischief with princesses and policemen, mobsters and monsters.

Someday we'll land both the gig and the girl....

For example, in the episode The Monkees Get Out More Dirt, all four become smitten with April, the owner of April’s Laundromat (played by Batman‘s Julie Newmar), and attempt to cultivate one of her interests to win her heart.  Davy takes up painting; Micky dances ballet; Peter plays chamber music, while Mike develops an interest in motorcycles.  They end up dividing their beach house into four sections, as they pout, and then discover that all their combined attentions have driven poor April to a nervous breakdown!  In the end, April falls for a man named Freddy Fox III because, as she states, she’s “never met a singer before”.

In The Monkees Paw, Micky receives a shriveled monkey’s hand from a magician named Mendreck and accidentally curses himself into silence.  In a desperate attempt to keep a gig at which Micky is expected to sing, the band tries to convince the club’s manager that Micky is, in fact, singing with his feet.  When the club manager has none of it, the boys attempt to solve Micky’s problem by trying everything from chicken soup to speaking lessons to psychiatric help.  In the end, they must seek out Mendreck to get Micky’s voice back, along with their gig and their paycheck.

Although at times the plots were completely nonsensical, at other times, they held onto sense by the thinnest of threads.  But between the wacky story lines and the insane attempts  to keep themselves housed, fed, and dating, the shows were never boring – and having a song or two in each episode just made it that much more fun.

It’s hard to describe why I (and thousands of other MTV-generation kids) fell in love with The Monkees (both the band and the show) in the ’80’s.  The show was silly, innocent, optimistic, and made me smile.  The music was peppy and fun, and the tunes (such as “Daydream Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”) stuck in my head.  It was happy, wholesome, carefree stuff, very different from the diet of big-hair, big-ego, hard rock and metal MTV fed us the rest of the time.  Watching The Monkees made me remember being a kid, and watching Hogan’s Heroes or The Addams Family after school at Grandma’s house.  Maybe it was the novelty of the values of a different generation that made the show so appealing, but it seemed the show had a spirit that could cheer me up, and make me smile and sing.

Though I found it in the ’80’s, The Monkees originally aired between 1966 and 1968.  It was the brainchild of two producers, Robert Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who wanted to create a comedy about four friends struggling to be a successful band.  Influenced by The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, they wanted a young, zany show that broke the fourth wall and any number of other ’60’s filmmaking rules.  They picked two actors (Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz) and two musicians (Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork) to become The Monkees.  After hiring the four, Rafelson and Schneider created the characters, using the actors’ real names and basing their personalities roughly on those of the actors themselves (with the exception of Peter Tork, who is actually highly intelligent and a superb instrumentalist.)

We want to sing AND play!

The original concept for The Monkees was not JUST a television show, but a program marketing (and marketed by) the recording and sales of hit pop songs, such as their first single, “Last Train to Clarksville”.  This music was to be written and recorded by a stable of corporate songwriters and musicians, and not involve “the actors” in ANY creative manner.  Though two of the Monkees were actually musicians and the other two had at least dabbled in recording, the quartet was expected to contribute nothing but vocals, leaving the musical creativity and control in the hands of the production company.  The boys weren’t even expected to tour until they decided, on their own, to learn their characters’ respective instruments.

It was a model that worked, because The Monkees (both the show and the band) became a huge success.

Success, however, doesn’t always lead to acceptance.  The press, and some people in the music community, called The Monkees the “pre-fab four,” in contrast to the popular nickname for The Beatles, because The Monkees was both a TV show and a group manufactured by the entertainment industry to be a money-making marketing vehicle.  The band lacked, according to their detractors, the inherent values and ideals that music in the ’60’s was all about:  peace, love, individualism, enlightenment, anti-establishment, freedom, anti-war, etc.  In fact, they were the opposite of many of those ideals, being a product of “the Man”.

But the four young “actors”, as products of their era, did in fact hold to those ’60’s ideals and were frustrated by their inability to express them through their work.  With at least some musical experience of their own, they fought for, and won, a measure of creative control over the music and, by extension, the show and future projects.  Bobby Hart and Tommy Boyce (two of the “musician stable” handling the creative side) worked with the young men to “bring them up to speed.”  Mike became a proficient songwriter, and Peter (who had significant musical experience, remember), along with Boyce, Hart, and others, actually taught Micky how to play the drums!  (Micky had originally been a guitarist….)  Oh, and they all wanted to sing lead at one point….

“I’ve determined personally that there were actually two groups.  There was the one imaginary group on the show that lived in this imaginary beach house and had these imaginary adventures and was never successful on the television show but struggled to be successful.  Then there’s another group that was created when we went out on the road and we sang and we played and we recorded, and we became this supergroup, a real supergroup….
–Micky Dolenz, from a live interview

Their television show was still a hit, but not quite as strong in its second season as it was in its first.  Although the music kept going reasonably well, continuing disagreements between the group and the production company over the direction of the show and some of the “actors” music (and some conflict amongst the band members themselves) brought the show’s ride to at least a temporary end.  The Monkees TV show lasted 2 seasons, but the recording and the touring of the group itself lasted into the early ’70’s, though not usually with all four members.

In 1985, there was talk of doing a 20-year reunion tour.  Probably in an attempt to generate publicity for the tour, MTV began airing the original ’60’s episodes of The Monkees TV show.  The show fit well on MTV; according to some sources, MTV can trace its own heritage back to The Monkees.  First, the band is often called “the first music video group:”  each TV episode features two or more songs which play during video of a staged performance, or (like a concept video) during an action or fantasy sequence related to the story line of the episode, essentially creating a music video.

Second, MTV’s original programming format was created by Robert W. Pittman, who later became President and Chief Executive Officer of MTV Networks.  Pittman’s boss, John Lack, had shepherded a TV series called PopClips, created by former Monkee-turned solo artist Michael Nesmith.  In fact, Nesmith sold the idea of PopClips to Warner Brothers, who then turned it into MTV.

It’s unclear whether The Monkees aired on MTV as a direct result of this connection, but as the band found a new audience through the reruns on MTV, the tour gained momentum, playing at more and larger venues.  Parents and their adolescent children found something they could share, bond over, and both enjoy.  “I’m a Believer” became not just a song, but a connection.  The MTV exposure generated a renewed “Monkeemania”, and the “20-year” reunion tour lasted a lot longer than just that year.

“It’s incredible.  It’s like 50/50 now — the mothers and the daughters, fighting for the autographs!”
–Micky Dolenz, from a different interview

I saw the band on that tour.  The couple sitting next to me didn’t bother to lower their voices when they commented to each other that I was “too young to remember The Monkees.”  I didn’t care.  For those few hours I was happy and carefree, enjoying the music and the (natural) high that comes from experiencing innocent joy….

MICKY DOLENZ started as a child actor on Circus Boy, which aired between 1956 and 1958.  After The Monkees, Micky worked in many different performing arts, doing stage and film acting, voice-over work for animation, directing, producing, music recording and touring, and even painting and illustration.

PETER TORK was a Greenwich Village folk musician before The Monkees, and was proficient at many different instruments, including the harp (which he actually played in one episode).  Thereafter, he continued with his music, forming several different bands throughout the years, including his current band Shoe Suede Blues. He is currently battling a rare form of cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma, which affects the lower part of his tongue, but he’s not letting that stop him from touring with his band.

The mother of MICHAEL NESMITH, an underpaid secretary at the time, created the product we know as Liquid Paper, which generated enough money for the family to live quite comfortably.  This gave Mike the freedom to work on projects that may not have been financially lucrative, but advanced both the music and visual media industries.  His comedy/music video project Elephant Parts won the first Grammy ever given for Music Video which, along with his PopClips and Television Parts projects, really created the music video revolution.  His work can be viewed or purchased on his company’s website.

Despite his dream of becoming a jockey, DAVY JONES was a performance artist from a very young age.  He continues in that vein to this day, singing solo or with bands, and acting in stage and film productions.  A native of Manchester, Davy’s career spans both England and America – and the rest of the globe when he’s touring.

Still going for the gigs... and the girls

The popularity of The Monkees (both the show and the band) has lasted, with dips and swells, right up into the 2000’s; albums were remastered and republished with new material (Then and Now; The Best of the Monkees), two completely new albums were recorded (Pool It and Justus), DVDs of the series were sold, and even now, members of the band continue to tour the world performing Monkee material.  (If anyone happens to be in the vicinity of the Iowa State Fair on August 12, “the cute one” Davy Jones will be appearing live, and on one of the free stages no less…. so you have no excuse not to go!)  From whatever generation, being able to get a dose of that spirit and joy is what makes both young and old want to join in with The Monkees and still sing “I’m a Believer”.

Vital Stats

58 aired episodes, plus a TV special (33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee) and a theatrical movie (Head).
NBC network
First aired episode:  September 12, 1966
Last aired episode:  March 25, 1968
Actually aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Nope.  Monday nights at 7:30/6:30 Central (and somewhere, almost constantly, ever since….)

Comments and suggestions welcomed, as usual.

(P.S. A great big THANK YOU to Jen for guest writing this article, being the big Monkee fan that’s she’s been all the time I’ve known her.  If it wasn’t for her, I’d never have seen Micky and Davy performing together up in Minneapolis, and it was a fantastic entertainment experience, even if we got lost on the way there…. But I will say one thing.  “I’m a Believer” too.  Tim R.)

%d bloggers like this: