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Monthly Archives: November 2010

From one of the most recent shows last week to one of the oldest ever featured here, the story of a show that never got the respect it deserved.  It was put on the air as a companion for another hit show, even though these characters were actually created first.  But how do you succeed when you’re considered the afterthought?  Five quotes:

Again, not what you would consider the actions of the best hero out there….

“I feel proud about that, and I don’t care what anybody says.”

…the only relationship the two shows had to each other was a storyline “previous connection” as rivals mentioned during the cross-over episodes.

“We really didn’t have time to develop anything except a stern guy who was out to do good.”

…although the release of a major Hollywood film based on the franchise is cause for some hope.

Come back this week and see how we roll, from decades past to next year, here on Friday 8/7 Central!

–Tim R.

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“It’s the NYPD.  If you’re not a little confused, you’re not paying attention.”
–Detective Jason Walsh to his new partner, Detective Casey Shraeger

Face it, certain jobs lead to stress.  Stress leads to coping mechanisms, both deliberate and unintended, and those mechanisms can be seen from the outside as something akin to crazy, when they’re actually the exact opposite.  In fact, strange actions and behavior can be explained as quite normal if looked at from a slightly different point of view, especially actions resulting from times of anxiety and pressure.  If you put a whole workplace of those “crazy” people and behaviors together, you end up with something unusual.

Actually, you end up with The Unusuals.

In the summer of 2009, ABC aired a series about the strangest cops you ever met.  They were New York City’s (occasionally) finest, the men and women of the Second Precinct, Homicide Division.  ABC advertised The Unusuals as being something of an Animal House with cops, a collection of the quirkiest officers you ever saw… and the crooks were crazy too.  Some of that was correct, but if the show had been truly advertised accurately, the comparison wouldn’t have been with Animal House.  Follow along this oddball path and I’ll tell you what great show from the past it was really like….

Walsh and Straeger

We enter the world of the Second Precinct through their newest member, Casey Shraeger (Amber Tamblyn).  Uncertain why she’s been transferred suddenly to the Second, her new boss Sergeant Harvey Brown (Terry Kinney) privately explains that he’s afraid of possible corruption in his unit and needs a pair of “outside eyes” to see what might be going on.  Casey is assigned to partner with Jason Walsh (Jeremy Renner), whose previous partner has been killed… and Casey’s first duty as Walsh’s new partner becomes (illegally) breaking into the deceased man’s locker and cleaning out all the stuff Walsh doesn’t want his widow and friends discovering about the guy.  While some might see this as devious behavior on Walsh’s part, he simply explains that no one is perfect, that we all have something to hide, and he’s taking care of his partner’s legacy… until they both find that the legacy might just include the hidden pasts of many of their fellow officers, and evidence that might lead to some of the (suspected) possible corruption.

Walsh:  “Here’s the difference between you and me.  You think people shouldn’t keep secrets.  I think that we are our secrets.”

Shraeger:  “I have secrets.”

Walsh:  “The vibrator on your bedside table is not a secret.  You know what a cop is to most people? A garbage man.  Go through people’s trash, look for clues, clean up their mess.  That’s the job, right?  Kills our marriages, kids hate us, we start drinking more…. But our secrets — that’s what keeps us sane.”
–From the pilot episode

Sane?  Really?  Perhaps, but not from the outside looking in….

Delahoy and Banks

Other cops in the division include Detectives Delahoy and Banks (Adam Goldberg and Harold Perrineau).  Banks has just turned 42, and it scares him so much that he wears a bulletproof vest 24/7.  Even when he goes to bed.  His father died at 42, his uncle died at 42, and he’s afraid that now it’s his turn.  So his strange behavior is odd, but nothing to compare with his partner Delahoy, who (unbeknownst to his fellow officers) has just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and really might be dying.  So standing in the path of an oncoming subway train might be seen as crazy, or as some kind of death wish… but maybe its a better way to go than a brain tumor.  Who knows?  Lunatic behavior isn’t always that way if you understand why….

Beaumont and Cole

Then we have partners Allison Beaumont and Henry Cole (Monique Gabriela Curnen and Joshua Close).  Beaumont’s initial secret is that she’s having a clandestine relationship with Walsh, but she later has to admit that she’s completely broke, and loses one of Walsh’s most treasured possessions during a Pawn Shop robbery.  But that’s not like losing your soul, which might be the fate of Cole.  His secret is coming back to haunt him as, before he found religion and turned his life around, he was involved in an armored car robbery back in Texas.   His old accomplice has found him in New York and is starting to blackmail him into helping continue a life of crime.  Cole’s choices are, like the old saying, “between the devil and the deep blue sea”, and the question becomes how long he will be used before he takes a stand that may be just as troublesome and difficult as his previous life had become.

Eddie Alvarez, getting along with his fellow cops

Finally, there’s Detective Eddie Alvarez (Kai Lennox), a stickler for rules, and a loner that is so much of an individual that he refers to himself in the third person.  Always.  Eddie Alvarez has few friends, and yet one of Eddie Alvarez’s most unlikely allies is the aforementioned Walsh, the only guy willing to be the kind of friend who will honestly tell Alvarez how badly he screws up and still buy him a drink afterwards.  In the cop brotherhood, rules are sometimes made to be broken, hopefully for the best of reasons, but that distinction totally escapes Alvarez, as does the ability to get along with his co-workers.  Oh, yeah, he also speaks multiple languages fluently… but no one (other than Walsh) wants to talk to him in the first place.

“We’re all freaks, aren’t we?  That’s a good thing.  To stand out, to be different.  Makes us good at what we do.  You just have to understand that there are more important things than rules.”
–Walsh to Alvarez, just before buying him that drink.

So, no crazy people here, just cops dealing with a plethora of personal situations and decisions, not to mention muggers, thieves, and a murder or two.  It’s enough to make anyone act a bit off-the-wall.  But the cops aren’t crazy.  Some of the crooks, on the other hand….

“Sometimes the writers ask me, ‘Are these stories too unusual?’  I tell them that they can write things as strange as they want, because anything is possible out there.”
–Jim Nuciforo, former policeman and advisor to the series.

Welcome to The Murder Store

This is like giving TV writers carte blanche to go crazy themselves.  And the writers of The Unusuals took full advantage.  Delahoy and Banks discover a hidden store that sells items people can use to murder other people, and decide to set up a sting operation to find the kinds of people who might try to do so.  Like the guy who wants to know if the cleansing agent will get brains out of tire treads.  Of course, the problem is that while they’re dealing with this particular crazy, a battered wife comes in and steals all the poison necessary to kill her abusive husband, and now a moral dilemma develops over what to do about the wife, who believes her only recourse is to get rid of her tormentor.

Then there’s the inept crime family that goes on a robbery spree… a few dozen brothers, cousins, and even an in-law or two, at the same time, all across the city… but why is it happening now?  The officers are also on the lookout for a guy dressed up in a hot dog suit who “may or may not be wielding a samurai sword”.  Or they’re bringing in a clown in full circus makeup accosting passersby, telling them that laughter is a better choice than immorality.  How about catching the crook who’s stealing the identities of people… including those of the cops who are on the case!  All this is accented by occasional commentary from the unseen dispatcher in a voice-over, like a Greek chorus with punch lines….

They even catch a serial cat killer… who confessed once he was locked in a squad car full of felines.  Not until after a few scratches and bites, of course… well, maybe just before, but hey, cats have issues too….

These aren’t your ordinary burglaries and murders, and probably not the kind of stories that CSI is going to be taking on.  But they were entertaining, funny, dramatic, and showed how truly screwed up life can be… and how “crazy” coping with it can become.

“There are a lot of good shows that in some aspects are close to reality.  But this show captures what I think is the most important aspect of the job, which is that police work is very serious but you don’t have to always be serious. For this type of work, you need to have a sense of humor.”
–Jim Nuciforo, on why The Unusuals isn’t really so unusual.

I have both an uncle and a friend who are former cops, and they tell the most outrageous stories about their experiences.  Everything from really dumb criminals that tried to convince the officer that, after they were searched,  “the weed was mine, but the heroin wasn’t”; to going undercover infiltrating the Klan in Alabama and being threatened with a noose ready for his neck.  (And don’t even get started on what happened with the chickens.)  Every day we hear about the idiot burglar who robbed a bank and drove away in a car with his name on the vanity license plates, or the person who robs a restaurant after eating a meal, and paid for the meal with his credit card that is linked to his home address.  These are the crazy ones.  Crazy stupid.

And yet, what about the brave people (like my uncle and my friend) who, day after day, go out and protect each and every one of us from these “geniuses”?  Stupid criminals can be just as deadly, even more so, than intelligent ones.  And my uncle, my friend, and their fellow cops put themselves on the line, again and again, to make our world safe.  They don’t get enough praise, or enough thanks.  So, a public thanks to my uncle Frank, my friend Larry, and to all the others like them who do what they do, even if it makes them a little “crazy” at times just to cope with it all, so the rest of us don’t have to deal with it.  They deserve our gratitude and respect.

AMBER TAMBLYN (Casey Shraeger) did six years on General Hospital before landing the starring role in the short-lived (but critically acclaimed) Joan of Arcadia.  She’s currently seen on the medical drama House, and has also published two books of her original poetry.  She’s a heroine to this blog with the comment, “I’d rather be on a good show that only runs two years than on a dumb show that’s a hit for eight years, which is usually the case these days.”

TERRY KINNEY (Harvey Brown) has an extensive theatre career (including a Tony nomination), and is one of the founding members of Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theatre Company.  His television career includes a featured role on Canterbury’s Law, and a recurring role last season as a foil for Simon Baker’s The Mentalist.

JEREMY RENNER (Jason Walsh) is an Oscar nominee for his lead role in the 2010 Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker.  Upcoming roles include Hawkeye in the super-hero flick The Avengers and a featured role in the next Mission:  Impossible installment, subtitled Ghost Protocol.  When not busy acting, his hobby is restoring old Hollywood homes, and he has also been a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.  And the man has a singing career on the side as well… we should all be so talented!

HAROLD PERRINEAU (Leo Banks) was one of the castaways on Lost for its first two seasons, also making appearances later (earlier?) in that time-hopping show.  He was also a regular on the HBO series Oz, and currently is concentrating on a singing career in Los Angeles (can you imagine what a musical episode of The Unusuals would have been like, with all these legitimate singers?)

ADAM GOLDBERG (Eric Delahoy) had a featured role in another Best Picture winner, Saving Private Ryan, and has done parts as varied as voices for numerous cartoons (and Babe:  Pig in the City), to producing and writing the independent documentary Running with the Bulls.  Another accomplished singer, he currently plays with a group called LANDy and has released both rock and jazz albums on his own.

MONIQUE GABRIELA CURNEN (Allison Beaumont) was first noticed in the independent movie Half-Nelson, but her big break came as a rookie cop in the mega-blockbuster film The Dark Knight.  She is currently seen as a regular on the FOX TV series Lie to Me, joining the cast at the end of the second season.

JOSHUA CLOSE (Henry Cole) grew up in Ontario, Canada, and has performed in numerous Canadian television shows.  He was featured in Steven Spielberg’s sprawling epic mini-series The Pacific, and has done guest shots on The Glades, Life as We Know It, and Law & Order: LA.

KAI LENNOX (Eddie Alvarez) has bounced between movies and television, with roles on such series as NCIS, Bones, and American Dreams.  His movies have included parts in Jim Carrey’s Yes Man, 40 Days and 40 Nights, and He’s Just Not That Into You.

All 10 episodes are available on DVD as an Amazon exclusive for purchase, so don’t try to find them at your local store, you’ll have to go there if you want to own them.  The episodes are available for streaming on both Crackle and Hulu, so you can catch up on the entire series there, or discover it for the first time.  I actually missed it myself during its network run, and kick myself for doing so, simply because the original ad campaign by ABC was a bit misleading to me.  If I’d realized the amount of good drama that was there, instead of just the comedy elements ABC emphasized in their promotion, I probably would have been there immediately from the beginning.  The best part of the promotion?  A twitter feed from the unseen “voice” of the dispatcher, promoting the show and giving pithy speeches in character.  A “making of” blog with many interviews and pictures is also available.

The Second Precinct, working for all of us.

Oh, and the other show that The Unusuals should really be compared to?  M*A*S*H… especially in its later years.  In both shows, we see people who are brilliant at what they do (even if they are flawed as human beings) dealing with things and environments that would make weaker people fail or quit completely.  And yet, day after day, they survive, do their jobs, and (just to blow off a little steam) become crazier than a three-dollar bill.  And then they go back and do it again, saving lives, helping people, and finding some kind of humor along the way.  Pressure and circumstance can make the most sane individual crazy, and yet sometimes that environment helps those who can find their own brand of crazy stay just a little bit more sane.

Vital Stats

10 aired episodes — none unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  April 8, 2009
Final aired episode:  June 17, 2009
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  All but one episode aired on Wednesday nights at 10/9 Central, and the adult sensitivity of the show wouldn’t have allowed it earlier.  But it did allow some of the most creative and “crazy” plots around, and was more than worth the effort.

Comments and suggestions encouraged, as always.

–Tim R.

I swear, I have to be crazy to write this blog, but it keeps me from going insane.  Thankfully, JoAnn covered for me last week, but I’m back after spending some time with some really unusual people.  No, not my readers.  The shows, of course!  There are a few characters (besides me) who get that “slightly crazy” label as well, and all they’re trying to do is cope with their life and their job.  Of course, if you had their job, maybe you’d be slightly crazy too.  Five quotes:

“The vibrator on your bedside table is not a secret.”

Lunatic behavior isn’t always that way if you understand why….

…rules are sometimes made to be broken, hopefully for the best of reasons…

“I tell them that they can write things as strange as they want, because anything is possible out there.”

Like the guy who wants to know if the cleansing agent will get brains out of tire treads.

And believe it or not, this one is NOT science fiction at all!  We’re still entering some strange territory this week though, with a show that brings comedy, drama, and that wonderful essence of “quirky” that I love so much.  Come join me for the most recent show I’ve covered so far, this week on Friday 8/7 Central!

Seeing the world in a new way...

In 1984, Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen starred in a beautiful film called Starman.  Set in 1972 and having the requisite government chasers out to capture the alien visitor, it was also a commentary on being human.  In the film, the alien starman (Bridges) has taken on the likeness of Jenny Hayden’s (Allen) deceased husband.  As their time together progresses (for Jenny has become committed to helping him make a meeting with his home ship) we see in the starman the best of what humanity can be.  He comes to care for Jenny and, before he leaves, gifts her with the one thing she couldn’t have with her deceased husband… a child.  He asks only that Jenny tell the baby of his father, and where he was from.  Jenny promises.  The starman, near death, manages to meet up with his ship and escape the government’s clutches.  And we, the viewers, are left to believe Jenny goes on with her life, embracing her tiny secret that will make her a mother… end of story.  Until 1986, when Starman premiered on ABC as a television series.

Being a parent is a daunting task at times.  I’ve occasionally heard young couples state:  “we are waiting until we’re ready to have kids.”  Ha!  They will wait a very long time!!!  There is no book… no manual… no one that can truly prepare us for the role of being a parent.  You may read all the books out there about parenting skills, but even so, it is a “learn as you go” task.  I am a firm believer in that… perhaps that is why so many of us that were the eldest child in a family feel like we had it the hardest!  We were experiments!!!  By the time our siblings came along, our parents had the whole “parent” thing mastered.  Well, sort of… but imagine, if you will — what that role would feel like to someone who has never been a parent, yet has a teenage son (with all the angst that comes with that age) and no clue how a parent should behave or respond.  This is the fate awaiting our Starman upon his return to Earth.

“Why’d you leave?”
“I couldn’t live here anymore.”
“Why’d you come back?”
“You called me….”

Fourteen years have passed since the Starman’s previous visit to Earth.  This time, his visit has one purpose — to find his son and Jenny.  We learn that Jenny is missing and has been for some time.  Her son, Scott, has lived in the foster system, but is back at the orphanage because of the deaths of his most recent foster parents in a car accident; an accident that Scott walked away from.  Now Scott wants to find his mother, but all he has of her is the silver orb she left him with.  Unbeknownst to him, it is his strong emotions that bring the orb to “life” and calls the Starman back to Earth.

Paul Forrester (Robert Hays), a world-renowned prize-winning freelance photographer, is killed in a helicopter accident high in the mountains, just as the Starman arrives on Earth.  Needing a deceased body from which to take the DNA necessary to create a human form, the Starman takes on the identity of Paul and sets out on his search.  Upon finding his son, Scott (Christopher Daniel Barnes), Paul/Starman learns that his “family” has been separated for some time.

The orb brings them together

Initially, Scott does not believe Paul is his father… not until he sees Paul use a silver orb… and Paul doesn’t realize that Scott has some of his father’s alien abilities until he later witnesses Scott also using an orb, the one the Starman had left with Jenny so she could tell their child about his father.  An orb that can be a device for protection, healing, communication, and guidance.

Scott is not initially happy with this reunion; where was his “father” when he truly needed him while growing up?  But it doesn’t take him long to realize that Paul/Starman is unfamiliar with Earth’s teenage wiles, and he tricks Paul into helping him try to locate Jenny.  Unfortunately, like his first visit, this search is plagued by Agent George Fox (Michael Cavanaugh), the government official who believes that Paul and Scott are dangerous and wants to capture, examine, and, most likely, kill them.  But this series wasn’t really about the chase….

“ABC bought a show from us that we like, and they said, ‘We like it too, go try it’… We wanted to do small, optimistic human stories.  We wanted Starman’s innocence about the world to affect the folks with whom he comes in contact.”
–Executive producers Jim Hirsch and Jim Henderson, on the kind of series they wanted to create.

What was remarkable about Starman was that it was an hour-long drama suitable for family viewing.  It incorporated numerous “wholesome” values into its story elements.  These included, but certainly weren’t limited to, a terrific and warm relationship between a father and a son; problem-solving based on honest communication instead of argument; attitudes based on fairness and a lack of sexism, racism, or age discrimination; emotional drama instead of violence and car chases; and above all, a hopeful outlook on the future, humanity, and the planet as a whole.

The writing explored numerous social and environmental issues of the day, particularly literacy, endangered species, and the care of the indigent and disabled; topics still of relevancy today.  The humor in the show came not from crude insults and one-upsmanship, but from an affectionate look at the interrelationships of parents and teens.  The emphasis was on integrity, compassion, courtesy, responsibility, forgiveness, trust, friendship, and the courage to change one’s life for the better.  Tell me, where in today’s television programs will you find the same?

“One of the best examples of this in the show is a scene when Starman is walking along the beach with Scott, and turns to his son and asks, ‘How am  I doing — as a father?’  The boy is stunned (as was I!), and that pretty well sums up the kind of father Starman is.  Another scene has Scott turning to his dad and putting his arm around his dad’s shoulders, and saying, ‘How long do you think you would last without me to take care of you?’  I can recall no other single dad role model on TV that was as powerful.  Too bad all father/son relationships, or any relationship for that matter, couldn’t be the same.  Each needed the other, and each enriched the other in immeasurable ways.  And that’s what father-son relationships should be all about.”
–Fervent fan Chuck S. from the website http://www.tvdads.com, on the relationship of father and son.

From the moment Paul/Starman first meets Scott, it is obvious he hasn’t a clue how to be a father.  In fact, in many ways, Paul is a child himself.  He is learning about his new and different environment.  He is learning about life, in particular, human mores and behaviors.  Following his initial meeting with Scott, he comes upon a group of men, talking in a park about their teenagers.  Overhearing the conversation, Paul blithely joins the group, his attention rapt, absorbing all that is said.  At one point, he utters “I want to know about teenagers!” to which he’s asked “You got one?”  Paul replies swiftly to the affirmative, and is asked “You understand him?”  He replies simply “No”, to which he’s told “There you go… nobody understands them; they’re from another planet!”  And so the first of many lessons begins.  Later, in a conversation with reporter friend Liz Baines (Mimi Kuzyk), Paul admits “I want to help him, but don’t know how.”

Yet our alien should not feel so unqualified for the role of “dad”… many parents don’t always know how to help their children either!  I repeat — children do not come with a complete set of directions for the parents.  At the end of the first episode, Liz finally clues Paul in to the challenge he is facing.  “Takes time to raise a kid approximately 21 years, and you’ve already blown 14 of them,” she tells Paul as they watch Scott walk off to start the search for Jenny.  Paul replies, “I’m not from here… I don’t know how to be a father.”  Liz assures him that “Nobody does.  You just do your best and take your chances.”  Still unsure of his father, Scott confronts him on how long Starman will stick around this time, to which Paul responds with Liz’s wise words about how long it takes to raise a kid….

Many times, the role of “parent” was reversed for Paul and Scott, for here we had a 14 year-old boy teaching his alien father about life on Earth.  The issues of honesty and trust crops up often in Starman.  It is Scott who teaches Paul about honesty (especially when it regards others wanting something from you!)  In the episode Like Father, Like Son, Paul and Scott help a mother and her teen daughter, offering to provide them lodging for a night.  In his childlike innocence, Paul tells the mother that “You and I can take the big bed and the two kids can bunk together.”  Scott must rescue his erstwhile father from this major social error by lamely pointing out that his dad was “just kidding.”  Later, Scott and Paul are talking and Scott admits that he doesn’t feel he can “count on” Paul.  Unfamiliar with some of our language, Paul asks Scott to define what he means by “count on”, to which Scott tells him “To trust to do something asked of you to do.”  Paul feels certain they should trust one another, but Scott is still hesitant.  It takes a close encounter with a cougar for Scott to realize he truly is a part of the Starman, like it or not.  This particular episode really drove home the angst Scott was carrying around as the child of an absent father and a missing mom.  But a connection does start forming between the two, creating a moment that’s both special and ordinary at the same time:

Paul:  “Scott, you called me dad!”
Scott:  “Yeah, well, it was meant to get your attention… don’t fall apart.”

Ah… teenagers…

Ideally, every parent wants (or should want) the best for their child… be that an education, a place to call home, friends, family, security… and every child wants to stretch their wings and fly on their own.  And these universal themes were explored by the writers in subsequent episodes.  Scott and Paul/Starman, throughout the series short life, depicted a strong, respectful relationship.  It was a connection that explored not only what the father believed his son needed, but what Paul/Starman needed as well.  Their journey together on the search for Jenny created a bond nothing could break.  Did they ever find her?  Why should I tell?  In the process of trying to complete their family, they found each other….

“First, there’s the fact that our time slot was changed five times.  And we were up against hit shows every time:  Miami Vice, Falcon Crest, Dallas, Cosby, you name it.  Not to mention our time — 10:00 at night?  That was ridiculous.  Then we were pre-empted several times.  No one ever knew when the heck to watch us.  That’s what frustrated so many of these people… Starman was a really good show.  It said something we all believe in.  It became part of us.  Ratings and reviews don’t mean anything to me.  If people enjoy it, that’s important.”
–Christopher Daniel Barnes, Starlog Magazine, 1989

Few viewers even got the honest chance to find Starman in the first place, even though many of those that did became fervent fans.  Reviews were unkind (and unfair, based on a limited preview instead of actual episodes), and the idea of the show being “science fiction” [gasp!] discouraged many likely viewers from even trying it.  Typically for a misunderstood series, the promotion for it was inept at best, and the 22 episodes aired in six different time slots, facing off against major hit shows that had strong, established followings.  The ratings suffered, obviously, and in May 1987, Starman was canceled.

ROBERT HAYS (Starman/Paul Forrester) came on the television scene in the mid-1970s, playing guest roles on various programs.  He hit his stride in the industry though, with the movie Airplane.  Known as a prankster on the set of Starman, he once claimed that he and Paul Forrester/Starman, in one way, were alike…”He has a childlike innocence.  I’m childlike anyway, so I don’t have to worry about that…I just have to take my jaded side and make that innocent…”  Although an actor, director and producer, nowadays Hays can be found tinkering around his “…California home, raising his son Jake, surfing and taking care of my best girl, my dog.”

CHRISTOPHER DANIEL BARNES (Scott Hayden) has had a varied career over the years, from voice-over work as Peter Parker/Spiderman in the animated TV series and Prince Eric in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, to playing Greg Brady in the Brady Bunch movies.  Also known professionally as C.D. Barnes or C.B. Barnes, Christopher recently started a Doctoral program.

MICHAEL CAVANAUGH (Agent George Fox) is a versatile and accomplished character actor with innumerable series appearances to his credit, including:  The X-Files, Bones, The West Wing, and a regular role in the short-lived 1991 revival of Dark Shadows.  Also an accomplished vocalist, he has appeared on Broadway.  Michael continues to work in the industry and recently appeared in FlashForward as the Chairman of the SETI project, apparently still searching for aliens.

ERIN GRAY (Jenny Hayden) has been best known for two major television roles – Kate from Silver Spoons, and Colonel Wilma Deering from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  She has continued to appear in other series over the years, and was a recurring character on The Profiler.  Today, Erin and her husband work at producing Tai Chi and Chi Kung videos; Erin teaches Tai Chi as well.  For years she has been a spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and serves as a board member for Haven House, the oldest battered women’s shelter in the U.S.

The series is currently not available on commercial DVD, but if you want to make your voices heard, you can visit the “Spotlight Starman International” fan site or log in to tvshowsondvd.com and vote for the show.  There are, of course, bootleg copies of the series available, if you wish to go that route,  or you can view all the episodes online at YouTube.

...looking through another's eyes.

Society likes to compartmentalize…to assign labels and make judgments about things.  Starman did nothing of the kind.  Our alien visitor was truly innocent and it is through his eyes that we saw the best of our world, along with its flaws, as he and Scott made their journey together.  As I’ve said before, being a parent is not an easy job…it’s an adventure.  A wild ride where the parents and children hang on together and experience the highs and lows that life brings.  There is no perfect plan for being a parent; it is all “by guess ’n’ by golly”.  All we can hope for is a solid, loving, open, honest relationship with our offspring.  Perhaps we all need to take a lesson from Starman

Vital Stats

22 aired episodes — none unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  September 19, 1986
Last aired episode:  May 2, 1987
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  No.  In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific time it aired regularly, as it was bounced all over the place.

See you at the reruns!
JoAnn G. Morlan

(Thank you, JoAnn, for covering this one for me.  This obviously needed a parental touch, and you’re much more qualified than I could ever be in that regard.  Starman is a show well worthy of that perspective.  –Tim R.)

Growing up has always been a source of human stories, but sometimes it’s the parent that has the growing up to do, and lessons are learned by all in the process.  On this week’s show the process was different from most, but was still able to show how we all have to face that relationship, and find that connection that only comes from being a parent and child… even when you’re not sure which one has the most to learn.  Five quotes:

It incorporated wholesome values into its story elements.

Many critics panned it, and the label “science fiction” [gasp!] discouraged many from even trying it.

The writing treated numerous social and environmental issues of the day, particularly literacy, endangered species, and the care of the indigent and disabled; topics still of relevancy today.

There is no book… no manual… no one that can truly prepare us for the role of being a parent.

He is learning about life, in particular, human mores and behaviors.

Two people far from their homes, finding a home with each other.  Learn about them and their journey this week on Friday 8/7 Central.

Drive felt specific–it’s a secret cross-country road race with regular people–but it’s also incredibly broad.  Is it a comedy?  Is it action?  Is it a thriller?  Is is a drama?  Is it a melodrama?  Is it Magnolia?  Is it North by Northwest?  My feeling was that it was all those things.  It could be all those things because each of these little cars were worlds unto themselves, which would be pinging off of each other in the landscape of the larger concept.  That’s what appealed to me about it.”
–Tim Minear, co-creator of Drive

If you weren’t watching TV over just nine days in April of 2007, you missed the chance to see one of the most original dramatic television series ever… a series that never got the opportunity to reach the finish line.  Drive told the story of a highly illegal road race that started from the tip of Florida and was headed to unknown checkpoints across the country.  There were over a dozen regular and recurring characters, racing for a first-place prize of $32 million dollars.  Yet for many of the participants, it wasn’t the money that made them take to the highways.  There were other considerations.  Some of them simply had no choice….

Alex and Corinna

For instance, there is Alex Tully (Nathan Fillion).  His wife has been kidnapped, and to “win” her freedom he is told to head immediately from his home in Nebraska to Key West, Florida, the starting line for this unusual race.  He (reluctantly) ends up teaming with Corinna Wiles (Kristin Lehman), a mysterious woman who stows away in Alex’s truck to escape from her armed ex-boyfriend.  (But no one is as they initially appear, and nothing is what it seems.)  All Alex knows is that, in order to see his wife again, he has to find any way possible to finish first, but that also means that his own past secrets might get revealed along the way.  It doesn’t help that the detective on his wife’s kidnapping case suspects Tully of running away from Nebraska due to his apparent guilt.  And the organizers of the race are watching the racers every move, so if Alex (or anyone else) admits the existence of the race to the authorities, the consequences for them could be deadly.

Half-brothers Sean and Winston Salazar

The long reach of the people staging this illegal event  have not only blackmailed entrants into running the race, but the organizers apparently have enough influence to spring them from jail if they wish.  Convicted felon Winston Salazar (Kevin Alejandro) is inexplicably released from prison, and finds a strange cell phone in with his belongs.  A call on the cell phone tells him to head for Key West as well; it turns out that all the racers have been given these cell phones for communication and text riddles about checkpoints and destinations.  As his continued freedom is apparently dependent on winning, Winston shows up at his estranged father’s Miami residence for cash to run with.  In addition to finances, he gets his own partner in half-brother Sean (J.D. Pardo), who wasn’t even aware of Winston’s existence before this.  And another curious team joins the race.

Violet and John Trimble

Other teams include scientist and researcher John Trimble (Dylan Baker) and his daughter Violet (Emma Stone).  She suddenly discovers herself on the adventure of a lifetime, and that statement is more true than it seems; John hasn’t told her yet, but he apparently only has a year to live.

Ellie and Rob Laird

Young married couple Rob and Ellie Laird (Riley Smith and Mircea Monroe) are running pretty much just for the cash prize, although Ellie has hidden from Rob the fact that his military unit has been recalled for another tour of duty in Iraq, leading to him unknowingly being AWOL.  She’s hoping that they’d be safer together running the race than her husband would be in a war zone, but that may not be true, and betrayal sometimes has a very high price to pay.

Wendy, as alone as her son

The Katrina Trio (Leigh, Ivy, and Susan)

Other featured entrants include new mother Wendy Patrakas (Melanie Lynskey), forced into the race to protect her newborn son.  Finishing last in the first leg, she is given a penalty; she is assigned to kill another racer, or be “eliminated” herself.  Another entry is a team of three women from New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina.  Led to the race for different reasons, their journey is more about destiny than about competition or secrets (and it turns out that one of them doesn’t know how to drive anyway!)

Good, bad, or just a messenger for those in charge?

The mysterious organization running the race was officially represented by Mr. Bright (Charles Martin Smith), who would be waiting at the end of each leg to provide information, present penalties, or tell those finishing last of their elimination.  He seemed gentle and benign, but the organization had other more threatening operatives around every corner, and the racers could never be sure just who was watching their every move, and who was just another traveler along the way.

“Think of the race aspect of this show as the procedural aspect, the context of the case they are working on this week.  That’s the same thing here.  What’s the leg of the race they’re on this week, and how’s that going to help me metaphorically get to the heart of this character stuff?  Now, it’s not as simple as that, because you’re talking about 10 to 12 characters that all have very specific things that they need, want, that kind of thing.  So, one particular checkpoint may mean something very specific to one of the participants, but not every participant may end up getting to that checkpoint.”
–Tim Minear, on how different writing Drive is from writing any other series

Drive was an unpredictable concept, with a wide variety of stories to tell, and while each episode primarily focused on just a few of these teams, their stories intertwined in strange ways.  By the time of the fourth episode, a great many secrets have been revealed, new ones hinted at, team alliances are both forged and broken, and at least one of these characters dies unexpectedly.  It was a totally different way of telling stories, and an intriguing concept melded with characters that would otherwise never be found interacting with one another.  There was also the overarching mythology of the race itself, and the mystery behind the motives and methods of the organizers.  The unfortunate thing is that not only did none of the teams ever get to the finish, Drive didn’t get that far past the green flag at the start.

Personally, I’m beginning to think that this blog has the wrong name.  Although the time slot of Friday @ 8/7 Central has had a reputation for decades (and even a wikipedia entry) as the “death slot” for television, this is the fourth time in six months that I’ve covered a short-lived show that aired on Monday nights… airing in 2007 alone!  Drive had a two-hour premiere on FOX on a Sunday night, settled into its “permanent” slot the following evening, and aired just one more episode a week later before being canceled.  Four episodes, eight days, and it was yanked from the schedule.  ( I know the show was about speed, but did it really deserve this?)  Why did so many different and unique shows that season end their own race there so quickly?  And why did it happen so often in that particular year?

“We partially sold this concept by saying, ‘This is to The Amazing Race what Lost is to Survivor.'”
–Tim Minear, on the network perspective of the show

The initial reason is why the shows were so different in the first place.  The spectacular success of Lost on TV screens suddenly made every network start looking for the next large-cast mysterious continuing-arc show.  A season full of them failed (Threshold, Surface, Invasion) because they had been rushed to production too quickly and their plots moved too slowly, but the networks still thought the audience was ready for the right version of that style, and many other concepts were tried, from The Black Donnellys to Drive.  Other non-traditional shows were attempted, and I’ve covered Studio 60 and Creature Comforts here as well, but these unusual shows kept going up against the biggest non-Lost hits at the time, Monday night entries Deal or No Deal and Dancing with the Stars.  And while Drive (and the others) had devoted and passionate followings, by 2007 shows like this weren’t going to be given the time to develop those followings into the kinds of numbers the networks were hoping for.  They had to hit that starting line running….

Racing for an audience

It would have helped if the networks could keep track of the race better.  But those networks were panicking as well.  New technologies such as internet delivery of programs and home DVR watching were essentially robbing them not of viewers, but of MEASURABLE viewers.  Networks couldn’t charge advertisers for eyeballs they couldn’t count, and in 2007 there was no system in place for counting people watching shows through the new alternative distribution systems and delayed viewing.  Network numbers were down across the board, especially those of tech savvy younger age viewers in the 18-35 year-old group that advertisers crave.

So, we have a situation where shows had to have high viewer numbers quickly, yet shows were being designed with complex plots that took time to “hook viewers”.  Plus there was no way at the time to measure the most likely viewers to get “hooked” by these shows in the first place.  A recipe for disaster from the point of view of almost any producer of this type of show, and yet this is what they were asked for.  Drive and the others paid the price, as did anyone interested in quality programming that wasn’t run-of-the-mill ordinary.  We can blame the networks, we can blame the systems, we can blame the promotion or the scheduling, but ultimately the audience (whether measured or not) decided their allegiance far too late and in far too few measurable numbers, and shows like Drive barely got their engines started before they were moved to the pit lane.

“It’s sort of like my last three shows on FOX.  People hear rumors, then they download it or buy it on DVDs.”
–Tim Minear

And by “the pit lane,” I actually mean online.  The two unaired episodes of Drive (like unaired episodes of Black Donnellys and Creature Comforts) made their appearance on network websites, and the entire series of Drive is currently available for purchase on both iTunes and the Amazon On Demand service.  Production was halted after six episodes were completed (instead of the ordered 13), but producer Minear has posted online the shooting scripts of the four aired episodes and the two succeeding unaired scripts as well, so you can have a rare look and compare both the produced versions and the original scripts, to see both the similarities and differences in how an action-adventure series like Drive is made.  The online availability of the show also led to the unique opening titles and extended pilot intro being nominated for an Emmy award, even though the full sequence never actually appeared on any episodes (that 3-minute clip can be found here at the end of a brief article about the nomination).  “Online” broadcasts were then counted as “special airings,” and so even though the six-minimum broadcast Emmy eligibility requirement for a series wasn’t reached, the full Drive intro made it into the nominations for “Best Special Effects for a Movie, Miniseries, or Special”.  At least the credit sequence got to some kind of finish line….

NATHAN FILLION (Alex Tully) currently stars on ABC’s Castle.  He was the lead in Firefly, probably the “poster child” series for short-lived shows, and starred in the comedy Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place.  His first claim to fame was on the soap opera One Life to Live, and he’s also an internet favorite with his role in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

KRISTIN LEHMAN (Corinna Wiles) has had recurring roles on numerous series, including Kung Fu:  The Legend Continues, Forever Knight, Felicity, Strange World, Century City, and Tilt, and was a regular on the FOX series Killer Instinct.  A native of Ontario, she’s also starred in numerous Canadian productions, and is an accomplished ballet dancer.

KEVIN ALEJANDRO (Winston Salazar) was a regular in the series Sleeper Cell and Shark, and currently appears on both Southland and True Blood.  Recurring roles include performances on Ugly Betty and Weeds.

J.D. PARDO (Sean Salazar) has been featured on television in American Dreams, Clubhouse, and Hidden Palms.  He is best known for his award-winning performance in the Lifetime movie A Girl Like Me:  The Gwen Araujo Story.

DYLAN BAKER (John Trimble) isn’t in the opening credits of Drive (his first appearance there is actually episode six, and the series was canceled by then).  He has an extensive stage career, and was a regular on another short-lived series, NBC’s Kings, as well as ABC’s Murder One.  He’s appeared in the two sequel Spider-Man movies, and received an Emmy nomination for his recent guest role in The Good Wife.

EMMA STONE (Violet Trimble) actually was cast as Laurie Partridge after a reality-show search for a proposed remake of the classic Partridge Family series.  She’s been a popular movie actress, featured in the films Superbad, Easy A, and the comedy Zombieland.  She has numerous movies set to premiere in the next year, including Crazy, Stupid, Love with Steve Carrell and Friends With Benefits with Justin Timberlake.

RILEY SMITH (Rob Laird) has been featured on Freaks and Geeks, season 3 of 24, and Joan of Arcadia.  Guest star parts include series such as Leverage, Ghost Whisperer, Criminal Minds, and The Closer.  He also sings in his own rock band, The Life of Riley.

MIRCEA MONROE (Ellie Laird) guested on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sons of Anarchy, and Without a Trace.  She’s also been featured in a number of skits on Conan O’ Brien’s Tonight Show, and will appear in next season’s TNT legal series Franklin & Bash.

MELANIE LYNSKEY (Wendy Patrakas) burst onto screen in the movie Heavenly Creatures, gaining widespread critical acclaim.  Best known for playing slightly crazed neighbor Rose on the comedy Two and a Half Men, she’s also appeared in recent movie successes like The Informant and Up in the Air.  A native of New Zealand, she was told at her first American audition that she’d “never work in America… Maybe you can try England.”

ROCHELLE AYTES (Leigh Barnthouse) was recently a regular on The Forgotten with Christian Slater, and was featured in a number of episodes this fall on Detroit 1-8-7.  Her guest star roles included parts on Dark Blue, NCIS, Bones, and CSI:  NY.

TARYN MANNING (Ivy Chitty) can be found acting, singing, and designing her own clothing line.  She turned a one-shot role on Sons of Anarchy into a recurring part, and currently plays McGarrett’s sister Mary on the remake of Hawaii Five-O.  Her rock band is called Boomkat, and she’s also working on a solo album.  Her clothing line is named Born Uniqorn, and she’s written a featured blog at younghollywood.com.

MICHAEL HYATT (Susan Chamblee) appeared on Broadway in the musical Ragtime (if Drive ever wanted to do a musical episode, they sure had the cast for it!)  Featured TV roles included parts on The Wire, The Kill Point, and most recently Glee.  She proudly claims her heritage is “African-British-Jamaican-American”.

CHARLES MARTIN SMITH (Mr. Bright) has an acting career that dates back to the early ’70s and The Brady Bunch.  A much sought after guest star on television (including roles on recent shows such as Psych and Leverage), he’s also been a significant supporting actor in movies like Starman, The Untouchables, and a memorable early performance in American Graffiti.  He also has directed many projects, including episodes of the series Space: Above and Beyond, and the first televised episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The cast of Drive (look in the mirror... they're all being watched....)

“This isn’t just a race of speed.  It’s a game of strategy.  Getting there fast is never going to be enough.  You have to get there smart.”
–Corrina to Alex in the pilot episode

“Try not to be last.  It’s… bad if you’re last.”
–One of the organizer’s men to Wendy when she’s badly behind in the first leg

Both these quotes could just as easily be about the ratings race as much as they are about the cross-country race on Drive.  As a background for a wild variety of stories and people, Drive may not have reached the finish line or achieved the viewership that FOX had hoped for.  But in its brief start as a series it showed there was plenty of power under the hood, and it was more than ready to run a long, long time.  But sometimes, you find out that you thought you were entering a race where the quality of car would be vitally important… when the actual competition ended up being a demolition derby instead.

Vital Stats

4 aired episodes — 2 unaired (all available for purchase online)
FOX Network
First aired episode:  April 15, 2007
Last aired episode:  April 23, 2007
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  I wish, as there would have been less competition, but if Fox was going to yank it this fast in the first place, I highly doubt that any time slot would have been successful.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Another blink-and-you-missed-it show that was on and off so fast most people didn’t know about it, and one of the most recent to be featured here.  A show that had more regular cast than the number of days it lasted (told you it was fast).  On your mark… get set….

Five quotes:

But no one is as they initially appear, and nothing is as it seems.

“…because you’re talking about 10 to 12 characters that all have very specific things that they need, want, that kind of thing…”

“We partially sold this concept on ‘this is to The Amazing Race what Lost is to Survivor‘”

“It’s sort of like my last three shows on FOX.”

“Getting there fast is never going to be enough.  You have to get there smart.”

The first three minutes got nominated for an Emmy… it’s just too bad that the series never got to finish.  But come back for the final standings, this week on Friday 8/7 Central!

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