Archive

Monthly Archives: January 2011

“This is not a docu-comedy, you know.  It’s not a story about news or a story about Boston.  It’s a story about people.  Goodnight Beantown is just a medium to bring together two adult people and try to do adult stories.  And I don’t mean X-rated adult.  I mean intelligent adult, where people get together and talk and spar with each other.”
–Bill Bixby, talking about fellow star Mariette Hartley and Goodnight Beantown

Chemistry on a television show cannot be overrrated.  It’s that mysterious quality characters (and actors) have that keeps audiences coming back for more, even when sometimes plots or situations aren’t quite perfect.  When a show doesn’t have it, even the best premise can die quickly.  Find people you like in roles that show off that rarity, and suddenly a viewer becomes a fan of most anything they do.

Casting directors crave that valuable chemistry, searching for the right person to be both believable in a part and still let their own qualities shine through.  They hope to hire the stars that may have previously built up that fan base and will bring viewers to a show.  It’s true in drama, comedy, and even in local newsrooms, where many anchor pairings have either reached new lows or new heights depending upon how well they got along.  Sometimes, it’s saying hello to disaster.  Sometimes, it’s waving Goodnight Beantown.

Matt, Susan, and Jennifer

The gentle romantic comedy Goodnight Beantown premiered on CBS in 1983.  The title comes from the sign-off line used by long-time Boston anchor Matt Cassidy (Bill Bixby), the respected star of WYN-TV’s nightly newscast.  But local broadcasting was changing in the ’80’s, and “hard” news was quickly being replaced by a “softer” approach.  Those in charge brought in a new co-anchor, Jennifer Barnes (Mariette Hartley) to join Cassidy as on-air host and bring a new perspective to the presentation.  Needless to say, Matt did NOT approve of the idea of him needing help, to the point of deliberately reducing her sign-off to a little wave goodnight.

A professional rivalry ensues, with her stealing his catch-phrase the next night.  After some escalating one-upmanship, a rather prickly professional relationship is born, as they both learn to respect each other’s work.

A personal relationship might also be in the news, although they don’t know it right away.  As he leaves for work on the first day of this new arrangement, Matt helps the 13-year old Susan moving in across the hall of his duplex.  Susan convinces Matt that her mom would be a terrific blind date for him, and later convinces mom that the cute guy across the across the hall is interested.  When the professional rivals discover they’ve been set up as potential love interests for each other, a push-pull relationship is born.  With a gentle nudge from Susan, they could probably fall in love, if only they didn’t have to work together.

Bringing work home: L-R, Jennifer, Valerie, Matt, Albert, Frank

Back at work, other changes would soon occur at WYN-TV.  Valerie Wood (Stephanie Faracy) was a “Features” reporter on “lifestyle” stories.  Valerie’s overly sensitive heart may have been in the right place, but her brain was occasionally on vacation.  Sports reporter Frank Fletcher (Jim Staahl) was always on his game… and when he wasn’t chasing after other skirts, he had an unrequited crush on Valerie, who was oblivious to both his interest and his supposed charm.  This crew was watched over by news director Albert Addleson (G.W. Bailey).  He did his best to control these various personalities in his newsroom, at least for the 30 minutes they were on the air.

“How come my opinions are always opinions and yours are always facts?.”
–Jennifer Barnes to Matt Cassidy, debating as usual

Yes. No. Yes. No... Maybe.

Before the nightly cameras rolled, the fur flew at work.  Matt was very much a traditionalist, not chauvinistic per se, but rather set in his ideas about how news should be gathered and presented.  Jennifer was probably a bit more aggressive in her pursuit of stories (if only to prove herself), and more willing to use unusual methods to cover them (like when she investigated “ladies of the evening” in Boston… and Matt got arrested when he “propositioned” her to stop.)  Yes, the relationship was sometimes adversarial, but it was surprisingly smart.  It didn’t resort to immaturity, and was a welcome change portraying two reasonable adults with opposite points of view who ultimately could get along (and even fall in love despite their differences).

“Mariette is so much fun to play with.  The kind of verbal tennis we play on the show is the same way we do in our personal lives.  We start in makeup in the morning and one of us throws a verbal challenge at the other.”
–Bill Bixby, again talking about Mariette Hartley

Real adult relationships (the kind that don’t constantly rely on sexual tension) are tricky to portray on television, because if that mysterious thing called chemistry isn’t present, then those portrayals don’t stand a chance.  Fortunately, both Bixby and Hartley had built up plenty of goodwill over their individual careers among the viewing audience, and they made a pretty good romantic-comedy team.  They had actually played husband-and-wife previously, with Hartley earning an Emmy for her dramatic performance as the doomed wife of Bixby’s David Banner on the second season premiere of The Incredible Hulk.

“I know I am associated with television and I can’t seem to break that.  It seems to be my lot.  You could do worse.  I could be not working at all!”
–Mariette Hartley

Smile for the Polaroid camera

While some thought her award was more due to her spectacularly well-received series of Polaroid commercials with James Garner (of Maverick and The Rockford Files fame), Hartley had been a well-known and popular actress for many years.  Memorable roles in everything from the original Star Trek to prime-time soap Peyton Place and numerous guest star television roles had given her significant recognition.  Her performance in Goodnight Beantown was enough to earn her a second Emmy nomination, this time for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.  She’s such a television favorite that she’s one of the few women who have received Best Actress nominations in Comedy (Beantown), Drama (Hulk and Rockford Files), and Limited Series categories (M.A.D.D., Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

“I have even more rapport with Bill than with Jimmy.  Bill is quicker–he’s like a terrier while Garner is more of a sheepdog.”
–Mariette Hartley on working with Bixby and Garner

Bixby had already been beloved by television viewers for many years.  His previous series included My Favorite Martian, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Magician, and The Incredible Hulk.  That’s over 280 episodes and eleven and a half seasons of being welcomed into people’s living rooms prior to Goodnight Beantown.  Here was a man who had earned not only viewers’ respect, but their loyalty.

Bixby was also a producer and occasional director on Goodnight Beantown, so he was particularly concerned with the portrayals of all the characters, even if some others wanted him to be the “star” attraction.  He was more than willing to share the limelight with his fellow actors, knowing it was the relationships between them that would ultimately sell the show to viewers.  This sometimes meant his Matt was the one to be “wrong” in some way, in order for Hartley’s Jennifer to be an equal foil.  Bixby was secure enough as an actor to be shown in a less than flattering light.  His fan base liked him so much he didn’t always have to be “right” as long as he wasn’t a complete villain.

Between them, Hartley and Bixby had that mysterious chemistry.  The two were great real-life friends, and brought their underlying respect and camaraderie to the onscreen relationship for all the world to see.  Goodnight Beantown premiered as a mid-season replacement (starring  Bixby, Hartley, and Gold with different supporting players) in the Spring of 1983, and although only five episodes were produced and aired at the time, the promising tryout of the show earned it a Fall slot on the CBS schedule.  But that Fall slot might not be all it was cracked up to be.

“We’re doing fine in the ratings.  We’re number 26 right now and that is exactly where I want to be.  I never wanted to be number one—ever.  This year is getting off to the same kind of start as ‘Eddie’s Father’ did on its first year.  I think we have a good basic sound following audience which is still finding us.   And that is what every show needs.  We’ve had everything you can imagine thrown at us by other networks.  They’re stunting with heavy-duty movies.  But we know they’re going to run out of movies sooner or later.”
–Bixby on the beginning of the Fall season

CBS knew the Fall was going to be difficult, even with the promise Goodnight Beantown showed.  The Sunday night time slot for the show was the most competitive on television that year, and Beantown was the newest show of the bunch.  In the hopes of gaining even more of an audience, changes were made.

No, do it THIS way...

G.W. Bailey’s Addleson was added to the show at this time.  The show’s previous news director (played by George Coe) was deemed too similar to the point of view of Bixby’s Matt.  Addleson was more comical, and more middle-of-the-road between Matt and Jennifer.  The new season also brought the addition of Valerie and Frank, giving the two news anchors other people to bounce their personalities off of (and not be quite so directly confrontational with each other).

The net result of these changes made for a better show from a dramatic and scripting point of view, but the power of the Hartley and Bixby chemistry together was diluted in some ways.  The tone and the comedy were a bit softer and more intelligent than the prevailing shows it aired with, so when push came to shove it was the odd show out.  The stars sharing their screen time with others to that degree plus the added competition for the series in the Fall led to a final sign-off (and a little wave goodnight) for Goodnight Beantown.

BILL BIXBY (Matt Cassidy) hosted the kids’ series Once Upon a Classic, featuring dramatizations of many favorites of literature.  He was also a prolific television director in addition to his previously mentioned work.  He directed 3 episodes of Goodnight Beantown, as well as helming duties on Sledge Hammer!, two of the three sequel Incredible Hulk TV-moves, and Wizards and Warriors.  He was a regular director on the sitcom Blossom, his last assignment finishing just six days before he succumbed to a battle with cancer in 1993.

MARIETTE HARTLEY (Jennifer Barnes) has performed in many issue-oriented TV-movies, and she’s passionate about those causes because she’s had to deal with many of them in her own personal life.  Her family history includes alcoholism, suicide, and depression, and her own diagnosis with bi-polar disorder.  Her best-selling memoir Breaking the Silence was published in 1990 detailing her life and struggles.  She is a co-founder of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

TRACEY GOLD (Susan Barnes) had quite a career just as a teen actress, playing daughter in various series to Shirley Jones (Shirley), Nell Carter (the original pilot for Gimmie a Break!), and Alan Thicke (Growing Pains, her most famous role).  She later had her own personal battles with anorexia nervosa, detailed in her book Room to Grow:  An Appetite for Life.

G.W. BAILEY (Albert Addleson) is best known for his role as Rizzo in the M*A*S*H television series.  He also appeared as a regular on St. Elsewhere, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, and the Police Academy series of movies.  Currently he can be seen on The Closer on TNT.  For the last 10 years he has been the executive director of the Sunshine Kids Foundation, providing transportation and events to kids suffering from cancer.

STEPHANIE FARACY (Valerie Wood) was a featured actress in the landmark mini-series The Thorn Birds, and later became a regular on His and Hers and True Colors.  She’s a working guest actress, having recently appeared on Castle, How I Met Your Mother, and Desperate Housewives; and Get Him to the Greek on the big screen.

JIM STAAHL (Frank Fletcher) has segued from comedic actor to comedic writer, having written for numerous adult and kids shows like Sledge Hammer!, Bobby’s World, and Dragon Tales.  His acting career included regular appearances on Mork and Mindy and Curb Your Enthusiasm.  He also teaches comedy writing for the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program.

“I’m disappointed only in the sense that we were trying to aspire to something a little softer and not quite so hard-hitting… and communicating between two male and female adults.  And we did it.”
–Bill Bixby

Goodnight Beantown isn’t available on DVD, but two episodes are on YouTube for streaming in chunks.  There are great fan sites devoted to both Bill Bixby and Mariette Hartley (and I’m grateful to both sites for many of the individual quotes used in this article).  Much more information about their legacy on television and in life can be found there.  These sites are two more examples of the devotion these stars engender in their viewers even today.  And just for fun, here’s a YouTube link to one of the Hartley/Garner Polaroid commercials from 1981.

A final wave Goodnight

Very few actors and actresses like Bixby and Hartley become so welcome on our TV sets and in our living rooms.  Even more rarely do they come together in the same vehicle for our enjoyment.  Despite the changes that were made in order to supposedly “help” the show, nothing anyone altered could replace the basic idea of chemistry.  It is what makes the best characters work, the best relationships work, and the best television shows work.  Mess with that magic and you invite peril.  But there will always be a place in our hearts and on our screens for those we love.

Vital Signs

18 episodes — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  April 2, 1983
Last aired episode:  January 18, 1984
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  No, the most competitive slot that year was Sunday nights.  The show aired at 8/7, then 9:30/8:30, then 8:30/7:30 for a set of reruns late in the ’84 season.

Comments and suggestions welcomed as always.

–Tim R.

Advertisements

News flash:  a gentle and intelligent romantic comedy this week, about two people with very different opinions about almost everything (except how right they might be for each other).  Two of television’s popular performers in a comedy with a few laughs and lots of smarts.  Five quotes:

“…I mean intelligent adult, when people get together and talk and spar with each other.”

…they could probably fall in love, if only they didn’t have to work together.

“How come my opinions are always opinions and yours are always facts?”

They had actually played husband-and-wife previously…

It is what makes the best characters work, the best relationships work, and the best television shows work.

Stay tuned for the late-breaking story this week at Friday 8/7 Central!

–Tim R.

Roddy McDowall as Galen

“This–appliance, I suppose you should call it–is an ordeal.  I have to get up at 4 a.m. and spend three hours in makeup while they mold it on me before I come to work.  It’s unbearably hot.  I insist on a day off in every script so my flesh can breathe.”
–Roddy McDowall, detailing the trials of playing Galen on Planet of the Apes

Making a television series is very difficult, much more than most people realize.  All members of the production work long days (and long nights).  Work takes its toll, corners get cut for time and budget, and quality sometimes suffers.  Even for an ordinary series, production is like a runaway freight train, and anything in its way gets run over.  Imagine what kind of problems ensue for a science fiction show with significant location shooting and major make-up time for most of the cast.  This certainly wasn’t paradise… it was the Planet of the Apes.

Burke and Virdon, literally out of time

For five of six years running (1968-1973) movie houses had played to large crowds with the continuing saga chronicled in the Planet of the Apes films.  CBS believed it would have a definite winner on its hands with a TV series based on the franchise.  While the basic story was similar to the first movie, the TV version involved 1980 astronauts Pete Burke (James Naughton) and Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) crash-landing on Earth in the distant future.  Man had become a lesser slave species in that future time, and the dominant forces were Apes.

General Urko and Dr. Zaius

The most curious of these Apes were the chimpanzees, shown through Galen (Roddy McDowall).  He was a younger, more open-minded ape wanting to find out about these strange new humans, befriending them even though they (and now he) were seen as outlaws by the rest of the Ape community.  Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman) was the intelligent, scientifically minded orangutan, originally Galen’s mentor, who also wanted to “save” the new humans, but only to experiment on them.  The military was mostly gorillas, led by General Urko (Mark Lenard).  He was afraid that these astronauts would lead the remaining passive humans in an insurrection against the Apes, and was therefore motivated to hunt them down and kill them.  Of course, he was literally aping previous human behavior….

“… you’ll destroy me.  As your kind once destroyed its world.  Your science and your machines… very few know your history, and very few will ever know.  Your cities… death and destruction.  We don’t want them.  We don’t even want their memory.  Yes, you did it to yourselves.  As you would do it again….”
–Dr. Zaius

The humans had done it before, just not against the Apes.  Man had hunted down their own kind, almost to the point of extinction.  The “twist” ending of the movie when viewers find out that human civilization had fallen through its own war and violence was part of the initial storyline of the series, with Dr. Zaius and Urko (among a few others) trying to keep that knowledge secret and preserve the Ape status quo.  Ironically, much of Ape society is as violent and aggressive as humans were, if only because of their fears of humans.  Only Galen, through his desire for understanding and friendship across the fear, is willing to create the sympathetic bridge showing the superiority of understanding, no matter what.

If the scripts had shown this intellectual premise more, the series might have been successful.  But the network believed enough people would tune in for Apes and action, and with all the other roadblocks of production, maybe they hoped those would be enough.  They weren’t.

“The scripts were emphasizing action and interaction with the apes rather than deep storylines. The producers would get awfully upset if we didn’t have some kind of action going in the first five pages of a script.”
–Ron Harper

What followed was a mostly straightforward exercise in formula.  Many of the episodes had the basic template of:  our heroes are being chased, one of the trio is captured, the other two figure out how to help him escape, and the three run away again until the next episode.  The design in various forms had worked well enough in the movies previously, and CBS was so sure the idea would gather viewers they bought the series for television with no pilot at all.  Who needed a pilot when there were already five theatrical movies to show how it’s done?

“If the actor does not make that mask come alive, the whole characterization falls apart.”
–Marvin Paige, casting director for Planet of the Apes

Remember, you volunteered.

The biggest concern (initially) was replacing Roddy McDowall, the actor who had played the various lead chimps (Cornelius and Caesar) in four of the five movies.  Thinking he wouldn’t want the weekly grind of television production, the producers were pleasantly surprised to find that McDowall wanted the part, even after all the time he’d already spent under the chimp makeup.  Because of previous problems with the makeup, McDowall had to have surgery to remove cysts that had developed on his eyes, and his face was therefore insured for $1 million dollars from Lloyd’s of London.  His contract also stated he was to be given at least one day off per week in order to rest his face from the toll that the ape makeup took on his skin.  (A four-day work week sounds cushy, but realize he couldn’t eat solid food while wearing the chimp makeup for 12 hours a day!)  Still, with his experience and talent, no one else was better suited to play the part.

Many of the “background” Ape characters were given generic masks used in multiple episodes.  Featured guest stars were also given this type of treatment simply because there wasn’t time to create the kind of tailored appliances that McDowell, Coleman, and Lenard received.  That may have been a blessing in “disguises” for the smaller parts, as Mark Lenard notes about playing General Urko:

Ape soldier and General Urko

“If I’m supposed to report on the set in my makeup at eight in the morning, that means I have to be at the studio by five to be ready on time.  It’s terribly hot in there.  I’m under five layers of fur and leather.”

At least gorilla makeup allowed for solid food, but even then lunch caused problems for Lenard:

“At first, I had to use a mirror to make sure I was getting the food in my mouth.  But now I can eat without the mirror.  I can eat almost everything, but some things are impossible to handle.  I ordered spare ribs one day, and I simply couldn’t manage them.  They sat on my plate and I just looked at them.”

As humans, filming Planet of the Apes wasn’t easy for Naughton and Harper either.  The series used many outdoor locations, primarily on a ranch outside of Malibu.  Instead of enduring makeup hassles, they endured physical ones brought on by the pace of shooting.  Filming began in July during a hot Southern California summer, with the actors often racing for their onscreen lives.

“We were given seven days to do an episode but, I swear, some weeks it felt like we were knocking them out in five days or less.  The human beings in this show never rode horses and so we were always running and always being chased by the apes.  Some directors, particularly if a script was a little thin, would say, ‘Okay, go out there about 2-300 yards and run into the camera.'”
–Ron Harper

Even when they got a chance to cool off, it turned into a physical trial.  You’d think a nice cool dip in the ocean would be a relief, but….

“We had an episode [Tomorrow’s Tide] where Jim and I had to be filmed underwater being menaced by a shark.  We had to go down 35 feet into the ocean, with lead weights tied to our rags, wearing a mask and a breathing device.  They brought in the cameras and a mechanical shark.  At the director’s signal we had to take off the mask and swim around and try to act.  They figured they would save air by starting us at the bottom rather than having us free dive into the water first.  But it was real cold and, after a couple of hours, they basically had to haul us out because we were close to getting hypothermia.”
–Ron Harper

CBS' idea of promotion: Roddy McDowall on The Carol Burnett Show

For their part, the network put more effort into promotion than they did into the series itself, thinking that name recognition and the simple novelty of seeing the incredible makeup was enough.  CBS had bought into a franchise that had made millions of dollars over the last decade, was already well-known by viewers, and brought with it ready-made merchandising galore.  If only the network had remembered to actually produce stories that were consistently worth watching.

There were some good ideas here about large topics like race relations, militaristic and scientific points of view, and political upheaval.  But those ideas weren’t developed as well as they could have been, and it’s hard to marry those ideas with a series format that was really designed to be action/adventure from the start, especially when producers were pressed for time and money.  Action is easy, ideas are hard, and Planet of the Apes was already difficult to make.  Thanks to CBS thinking they were going to have an automatic hit simply due to pedigree, the network scheduled it against NBC comedies Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man, which happened to be the #2 and #3 rated shows on television at the time.

The obvious result was that astronauts Burke and Virdon weren’t just lost in time, they were pretty much lost at sea when the series was canceled after three months and 13 aired episodes.  (Literally lost at sea.  The final aired episode ends with the astronauts and Galen drifting on a raft to who knows where.)  They were luckier than the other network competition, as ABC’s Kodiak only lasted a month (4 episodes), and The Six Million Dollar Man (whose scheduled start time was at the half-hour mark of Planet of the Apes) was only saved by moving it away to an easier time slot.

Well, at least one crash-landing astronaut survived… but he ended up with bionic parts and 100 episodes.

They didn't survive past Christmas

RODDY MCDOWALL (Galen) had such a lengthy showbiz career, it’s a shame he’s best known for a role which never showed his real face.  Starting as a child actor in 1938, he appeared in movies as varied as Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Disney’s That Darn Cat.  A stalwart of the live TV era of the ’50s, he easily segued into a likeable TV presence with series regular roles in The Fantastic Journey and Tales of the Gold Monkey, plus more guest roles than you can count.  In his later years he was a common but distinctive presence in many voice-over productions, including Pirates of Dark WaterThe Black Hole, Pinky and the Brain, and A Bug’s Life.  McDowall passed on due to lung cancer in 1998, a talent definitely missed.

(An aside on McDowall:  He was almost universally loved both in and out of the industry, and one of the best historians of Hollywood.  His own photography is the centerpiece of the Motion Picture Academy’s historical collection, and in due tribute the entire collection is named after him.  He was also an avid archivist of film and video (before the advent of VCRs and DVDs), to the point that he was arrested in 1974 (the same year as Planet of the Apes on TV) for his private collection valued THEN at over $5 million dollars!  He was not charged, and although he was one of the early video “pirates” in theory, his preservation of long-lost gems from the history of Hollywood served a most valuable purpose.)

JAMES NAUGHTON (Pete Burke) won two Tony awards on Broadway for his lead musical roles in 1990’s City of Angels and 1997’s Chicago.  Movie roles included The Paper Chase, The First Wives Club, and The Devil Wears Prada.  On television, he appeared in Faraday and Company, Who’s the Boss?, Brooklyn Bridge, and Gossip Girl.  In recent years he’s hit the cabaret circuit, performing a one-man show to great reviews.

RON HARPER (Alan Virdon) got his TV start on various Westerns, but was best known as the lead character in the war series Garrison’s Gorillas.  Geek fans know him as Uncle Jack in the final season of the original Land of the Lost.  Other significant parts included two years on the soap series Generations and guest parts in Remington Steele, The West Wing, and Cold Case.

BOOTH COLMAN (Dr. Zaius) acted constantly on TV from the ’50’s through the ’70’s, in shows like The Untouchables, Bonanza, The Flying Nun, and Mission:  Impossible.  After a stint on General Hospital in the ’80’s, he made a tradition out of performing as Ebenezer Scrooge onstage in A Christmas Carol, recreating the role over 500 times back in his “home theatre” near Detroit for many, many years.

MARK LENARD (General Urko) was used to makeup, donning pointed ears for the role of Spock’s Vulcan father Sarek on the original Star Trek, a part he revisited multiple times in animated, movie, and subsequent series stories.  In other Star Trek appearances, he also portrayed a Romulan and a Klingon, making him a fan favorite at numerous conventions.  Non-Trek roles included the antagonists in the comedy series Here Come the Brides in the late ’60’s and Cliffhangers in the ’70’s.  He died of multiple myeloma in 1996.  (I had the pleasure of meeting him once, and seeing him perform on stage.  He was a great and gracious man.)

Animated Apes

Despite its limited run on television, the Planet of the Apes franchise was still very successful.  Merchandising and spin-off material included comic books (and a daily syndicated newspaper strip), action figures, novels, even coloring books and an animated series called Return to the Planet of the Apes on Saturday mornings.  Director Tim Burton filmed a remake of the original movie in 2001, although it was not received nearly as well as the previous movies.  Many resources exist that look at the entire saga, but specifics on the TV show are featured on Kassidy Rae’s fantastic site detailing the series, its stars, and its production.  The series is also available on DVD, and it includes the one unaired episode.

“After a while there was a real sense on the set that this show was not long for this world.  There was shock and despair and I think that came with much reluctance because everybody had such high hopes for the series.  The feeling on the set was ‘What happened here?  This was supposed to have been an automatic three-year run.'”
–Ron Harper

High hopes are not enough, nor is a clever gimmick.  Understand that hard work in story, performance, and promotion are necessary, or else shows end too quickly.  In the case of Planet of the Apes, it was like the ancient humans of their storyline:   Through lack of understanding (and lack of better storytelling), they ended up bringing on their own demise.  Once again, they did it to themselves.

Vital Stats

13 aired episodes — one unaired (Many of the aired episodes were later syndicated as TV-movies, splicing two episodes together into one presentation.  Roddy McDowall donned the ape makeup one last time to film linking footage and opening/closing material that was added to these episodes.)
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 13, 1974 (Yes, Friday the 13th… an ill omen, to be sure)
Last aired episode:  December 20, 1974
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Definitely.  Of course it did.  This was a perfect show for the network thinking in that time slot.  Most of the leads aren’t human!

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Back to the future this week, and a visit to a world that’s not ours anymore.  Showing such a world on a TV budget and schedule is difficult enough, but this show had the added feature of needing much of the cast arrive on set three hours early every day just to prepare.  Nothing like a challenge, is there?  Five quotes:

“Your cities… death and destruction.  We don’t want them.  We don’t even want their memory.”

“The producers would get awfully upset if we didn’t have some kind of action going on in the first five pages of a script.”

…was so sure the idea would attract viewers that they actually bought the series for television with no pilot at all.

“I ordered spare ribs one day, and I simply couldn’t manage them.  They sat on my plate and I just looked at them.”

“But it was real cold, and after a couple of hours, they basically had to haul us out because we were getting close to hypothermia.”

Work as hard as you want, and your show may still not be successful.  But the effort is definitely worth it, as you’ll see this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central!

–Tim R.

“There are rumors of a conspiracy called the Global Frequency.”

“A group of spies, experts, and ordinary people…”

“They save us from threats that no one else sees or understands.”

“The Global Frequency is real.”

Global Frequency.  It sounds like an urban legend, a fairy tale.  Who’d believe there was some type of shadowy, secret organization that acts all around us, yet is never really there?  Yes, you might describe the unknown and mysterious group portrayed onscreen this way, but the amazing thing is, you could also describe the show itself in very similar terms….

Miranda Zero, leader of the Global Frequency

Global Frequency told of an “independent, covert intelligence group” put together by the enigmatic Miranda Zero (Michelle Forbes).  She has identified the world’s greatest minds, experts in every possible field, and given each a special phone equipped with scanning abilities, sensors, and all sorts of wonderful extras.  None of these agents know any of the others, so their organization is both hidden and widespread.  The only thing each of them understands is that someday, sometime, that phone might ring… and hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions of people’s lives will depend on what they do next.

Coordinating all these experts is Aleph (Aimee Garcia), a multi-lingual tech expert who’s masterful at gathering and analyzing information among these specialists from the hidden and secret Global Frequency “control center”.  From there, she and Miranda examine all the unusual happenings in the world and, with the help of the individuals in their network, stop problems before they spiral out of control.

“If you even knew just how many ultra-secret nightmares the government was covering up you would never sleep again… just curled up under your bed, weeping and waiting for the inevitable hellish apocalypse.”
–Aleph, knowing just how to reassure someone in her own particular way

The problem in the pilot is a big one, as discovered by Sean Flynn (Josh Hopkins).  Sean is a former Boston cop, now in San Francisco hoping to make a fresh start, when he discovers a half-dead man in an alley.  Actually, the man is completely dead — there is literally only half of him left to find!  The entire right side of the man’s body is gone, as if that part of him had been caught in an explosion and the rest of his corpse was unharmed.  Oh, and poor Mr. Dead Guy is holding a phone in his (remaining) hand, which starts ringing — it seems before his untimely death he was part of the Global Frequency.  Answering it, Sean finds himself caught up in an organization he’s only heard of as a phantom group, almost only as rumor… until you’re part of it.

Dr. Katrina Finch (Jenni Baird) has a phone that rings as well.  She also has six separate doctorates and the smarts about particle physics to probably recreate the big bang… with enough left over to tell you how to make it bigger next time.  Dr. Finch gets to team up with Flynn, since she’s the resident expert who might be able to figure out what happened to the poor guy Flynn’s found… and how to stop it from happening to about three million people in the next hour.  With a little help from the Global Frequency’s people network of knowledge and skills, Flynn and Finch together might actually be able to save them all… if they don’t die in the process first.

“Everybody knows the agencies that are supposed to protect us never talk to each other.  So, some of the best, scariest intelligence agents solved the problem.  Now, they spy on the spies.  They get all the pieces, they put them together, and they stop whatever’s coming — whatever the cost.  (…)  Miranda knew that with all the secret horrors out there no one group could solve every problem.  So, if you are the best at what you do, no matter how strange or obscure or mundane, one day Miranda Zero appears on your door and hands you the phone.  That means that what you do will save lives.  You are needed.  I’m needed.  You never know who’s on the Global Frequency.”
–Dr. Katrina Finch, explaining the Global Frequency to Flynn

Based on the graphic novel series of the same name written by Warren Ellis, Global Frequency was a rare combination of dark and uplifting at once.  The situations were threatening, the characters were far from being typical heroes, and governments and other large groups were portrayed as seldom having people’s best interests at heart.

You are now on the Global Frequency....

But the solution to these threats was found in the best of each and every individual — the belief that, when asked, each person could (and would) do extraordinary things for all.  No one knew when that phone call might come, but they were all well aware of the stakes when it did.  The goodness and strength of human nature would show itself in spite of organizations and governments that might oppose them.  Ordinary people could change the world….

The series’ format was designed so each week would see our regular characters, but they would interact with other members of the group brought in for special skills and intelligence needed in that episode.  Some of them might appear in multiple episodes, but any of them could be “killed off” at any time, hopefully creating unpredictable drama and loss along the way.  Even the regulars would not be immune to this, and Executive Producer/Writer John Rogers (Leverage) has stated that at least one of the original characters wouldn’t last past episode thirteen….

It’s too bad the show never got to episode two.

“The only time I ever read a comic and said, ‘Jesus, that should be on the screen’, I found out that somebody else was already developing it, and it was Global Frequency.  It should be a TV show.  I adore it.”
–Joss Whedon, producer of television’s Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse

Global Frequency Issue #1

The Global Frequency organization was portrayed on the show as practically an urban legend.  It was one of those things that everyone had heard of, but no one really thought existed.  That mysterious status has stretched to the existence of the series itself, thanks to the odd and unusual history of the project.  A pilot for The WB network in 2005, it looked like a sure cinch for a 13 episode mid-season order.  Global Frequency had the kind of buzz that would make it one of the best shows that year.  (Of course, it would have helped tremendously if it had actually AIRED….)

The pilot episode was received with great enthusiasm by the WB network and the studio.  A writing staff was assembled (reportedly many of the writers from the series Angel which had recently finished its run) and more production staff were gathered (including J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame as showrunner).

Then there was a change in regimes at the head of the network.  Suddenly, those who had championed the series at the executive level were no longer in power, and the plug was pulled on Global Frequency.  There would be no series.  The show itself almost never existed as far as the public was concerned.  And no one would ever see what had been created….

But a rather odd thing happened, very similar to the show concept of “ordinary people connected to change the world”.  Someone (to this day it is unknown exactly who) leaked a copy of the pilot episode onto the internet, where it was discovered by fans who absolutely LOVED it.

We do what we must do

Word traveled (quietly but quickly) through the well-connected internet about this terrific show that The WB had passed on.  (You’d swear they all had special phones or something!)  More and more people found the pilot through various means (not necessarily legal ones).  A movement to get the show on the air started, big enough that media outlets around the world covered the “leak” and subsequent commotion.

Like the covert group shown on television, it was ordinary people sharing their passion through unregulated connections, unfettered by a large organization (such as the WB network) that hadn’t allowed something as good as Global Frequency to prosper.  And although there was never any series aired or any more episodes filmed, the idea was still there.  The underground sharing system of the pilot (and the enthusiasm generated in its fans) has continued to this day, as hidden as if Miranda Zero herself had organized it all.

MICHELLE FORBES (Miranda Zero) bears a striking resemblance to the original comic incarnation of Miranda Zero.  Many previous roles gave her significant notoriety (and geek credibility), having had memorable roles in Star Trek:  The Next Generation, Battlestar: Galactica (2004), and True Blood as well as voice work in the Half-Life series of video games.  Mainstream work includes Homicide:  Life on the Street, 24, Prison Break, and In Treatment.  She learned sign language in only a week for her role in the British TV-movie series Messiah.

AIMEE GARCIA (Aleph) has been a regular in many series.  Starting as a teen, she was seen in American Family, Greetings From Tuscon, All About the Andersons, and George Lopez.  Most recently she was part of the NBC series Trauma, and will be seen shortly as a regular in ABC’s Off the Map.

JOSH HOPKINS (Sean Flynn) should be more of a household name, considering he’s been a regular/recurring player in no less than 11 different series since 1998.  New York:  Undercover, Ally McBeal, Cold Case, Swingtown, Private Practice, and Cougar Town have all benefited from his continued presence.  He’s also an accomplished musician, appearing (among other places) at the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago in 2007.

JENNI BAIRD (Dr. Katrina Finch) was born and raised in Australia.  Her career there was highlighted by a starring role in the medical drama All Saints, giving her the impetus to come and try her hand in Hollywood.  She immediately landed the Global Frequency pilot, but after that didn’t go to series she found a regular role in the fourth season of USA’s The 4400.

“What’s Global Frequency?  Well, imagine The X-Files has world-class sex with Alias, and produces a mutant offspring with a taste for crank that lives 20 minutes in the future…”
–Chuck Lawson, writing with enthusiasm about Global Frequency

For a show that “doesn’t exist” there’s a surprising amount of material available, including (of course) the original graphic novels upon which Global Frequency is based.  Both TV writer/producer John Rogers and original creator Warren Ellis have written about their experiences bringing the show to life and the strange journey it has taken since.  There’s also a terrific fan location, FrequencySite.com, featuring some pictures and information on this particular incarnation (including the excellent cast photo found below).  While I can’t really encourage anything like illegal downloading and such, I would hope that all fans of great TV could find a way to see this someday.  In the meantime, here’s a YouTube clip featuring about 7 minutes of the best of the pilot, taken from various scenes (and not giving away the ending, fortunately).  UPDATE:  Some unknown person has uploaded THE ENTIRE PILOT EPISODE to YouTube.  Check it out while it lasts!

The best show no one ever got the chance to see

Ahh, what might have been….  Global Frequency is one of those shows that was snatched away from viewers despite its promise and possibilities.  These are the types of productions that all of us at home are normally never aware of.  But thanks to the “leaking” of the pilot and the massive impact of the internet, those who wish to can find and enjoy its potential.  And the urban legend might yet continue, since as recently as about a year ago The CW (successor to The WB) expressed interest in a possible revival of the concept, and a new script was being developed for the project.  Global Frequency, as quietly as ever, still lives on….

Although it won’t be exactly the same, you really never know.  The existing conspiracy of viewers can only hope whatever people might come together to resurrect the series are like those whom Miranda Zero has made part of the fictional Global Frequency — the best at what they do, no matter how unusual or mundane.  Together they can all create even more possibilities for thought-provoking adventure, excitement, and a reminder that each of us still has the ability to change the world.  Although none of us can yet see what may be coming, Global Frequency is still out there, somewhere….

It’s not an urban legend… we’re all just waiting on the phone call.

Vital Stats

It really does no good to do stats on a series that doesn’t “officially” exist.  One episode is out there, unfortunately unaired.  I would hope you get the chance to see it sometime.  It’s one of the few shows I’ve found that’s worth whatever efforts you have to make to see it.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Coming this week is something so obscure, it’s practically an urban legend (as are the characters portrayed onscreen).  If you still come up empty after reading this week’s clues, know this:  Zero is excellent.  If you’re the best at what you do, no matter how strange or obscure or mundane… you’re needed here.

I hope my description is intriguing enough to make you want to come read about it.  Five quotes:

“They save us from threats no one else sees or understands.”

…and hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions of people’s lives might depend on what they do next.

“So, some of the best, scariest intelligence agents solved the problem.  Now, they spy on the spies.”

That mysterious status has stretched to the existence of the series itself…

“Well, imagine The X-Files has world-class sex with Alias…”

And it’s just half a decade old.  If all that has you curious, you don’t have to wait by the phone.  Just be back here Friday @ 8/7 Central!

–Tim R.

“If things get weird, or weirder, or strange, or just if you’re not sure what’s going on, just… you just call me, all right?”
–Harry Dresden in The Dresden Files

Weird, weirder, and strange are exactly what Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden deals with best.  (Yes, that’s his full name.)  If things aren’t quite what they seem, then he’s the one with the magic touch to figure them out.  And when I say magic, I mean Grade-A sorcerer-type spells and magick that could put Harry Potter to shame.  Because Harry Dresden is the only Wizard in the Chicago phone book.

Based on a series of novels by author Jim Butcher, The Dresden Files was a 2007 Sci-Fi Channel series relating the adventures (both magical and mysterious) of Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne).  A private detective by trade, he’s blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to do magic in our ordinary world.  And he’s not the only one….

Harry is assisted by Bob (Terrance Mann), a ghost who walks through walls, can’t interact with anything physically, and whose essence lives inside a skull that Harry keeps.  Bob is well-versed in the knowledge of arcane magic, but has to rely on Harry to actually create and perform the actual spells and such (due to his inability to manipulate things physically).  Although rather snarky (and who wouldn’t be after hundreds of years stuck in a skull), Bob is a source of information and insight to Harry, which comes in handy when dealing with the aforementioned “weird” happenings all around him.

Harry also has to deal with the magic hierarchy, personified by Morgan (Conrad Coates).  Morgan is a Warden of the High Council, who is the enforcer of rules for those who have magical ability.  Since Harry often has to deal with rather negative elements in his investigations, he and Morgan often clash on methods, but they also have a grudging respect for one another, and are as likely to be on the same side in a fight as they are in opposition.

The skeptical Lt. Murphy

All this magical stuff is a bunch of hogwash for Chicago Police Lt. Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz), but she knows Dresden is good in a pinch, especially during some of her stranger cases.  She’s trained to find evidence, not believe in hocus pocus, and she’s very good at her job… and although (like Morgan) she can sometimes be antagonistic to Harry while trying to do that job, she sees him as an ally and a friend.  But she doesn’t see magic, and Harry tries to keep it that way… with limited success.

“You have all of this fantasy element coupled with these really real people, so it almost makes it more believable.  You don’t feel like it’s a fantasy, you feel like this is really stuff that could be happening.”
–Valerie Cruz

The Dresden Files is really a detective show masquerading as a SF/Fantasy series.  Whereas most private eyes would deal with missing persons and cheating spouses, Dresden gets to deal with bringing an already dead murderer to justice and spectral dragons invading his combination home/office.  Harry is a reluctant hero, with darkness in his own past, and he just wants to get through most days with as little hassle as possible… but he also wants to do the right thing for those who can’t help themselves, especially when he’s the one with the “power”, quite literally, to do so.  But again, it’s a power that Harry has to keep hidden from “ordinary” people (like Murphy), thanks to the edicts of the High Council.

Of course, magic has always been about creating something that isn’t necessarily real to the rest of the world.  Sort of like television, really.  And the magic of television is ever-present in the making of The Dresden Files.

“The show is not the books. It is not meant to follow the same story. It is meant as an alternate world, where the overall background and story-world is similar, but not all the same things happen. The show is not attempting to recreate the books on a chapter-by-chapter or even story-by-story basis.”
–Jim Butcher, author of the books on which the series is based.

“As much as I love demonic monkeys flinging flaming poo at people, which is the opening scene in one of Jim’s books… that doesn’t quite play as well on television.”
–Executive Producer Robert Hewett Wolfe of The Dresden Files

Harry from the book "White Knight"

The changes between the books and the series are significant, focusing on different needs and different strengths for a different medium.  The Dresden Files took many of the best qualities of the books, using them to make a great television series.  The world of magic is much more elaborate in the novels, yet streamlined for television.  Budgets forced more emphasis on characters instead of action and spectacle.  Even small details were changed, like Dresden’s wooden magic staff becoming a hockey stick in order to look less out-of-place in a normal world, or his trademark long black duster becoming more of a rumpled worn leather jacket.  But that adaptive process was magical in its own way, considering what the creative team had to do in order to portray that world on our screens every week, especially with the limitations of budgets and real-world locations.

Here are a series of quotes by Executive Producers Robert Hewett Wolfe and David Simkis on how their creative “magic” adapted the show for television.  For example, in casting process:

“We had a very long process to find Murphy.  In the books Murphy is a 5-foot tall Irish blonde… and so there was quite a bit of controversy when we cast a Cubana, a Cuban-American actress.  But we just thought that she brought the best qualities of, again, both that sort of humanity, but also the strength.  I believe that Murphy knows how to fire a gun, and wouldn’t hesitate to if you were a ‘perp’.”

The character name also had to change to Connie (from Karrin in the books) due to legal reasons, as there was at the time a real Chicago policewoman named Karyn Murphy!

The production adapted sets:

“Our Police District, which is actually an old Mercedes-Benz dealership in a different part of Toronto from the main sets.  We just took over the lease, I think, and we put all these dividers in.  (…) The whole place is basically just a reclaimed and remodeled car dealership that we grabbed the lease on, and it saved us from building any walls and was a really nice and economical way of creating that environment.”

It even re-designed characters, considering in the novels Bob is just a disembodied voice housed in a skull:

By the way, that's an axe wound in the back!

“It just became pretty obvious early on that if Dresden was going to have a confidante, that if he was going to have a friend, if he was going to have a ‘Watson’ so to speak, somebody who he could share these mysteries with and sort of bare his soul to,  that you just can’t get any sort of expression or any sort of sympathy from a skull, whether it’s flaming or not flaming or whatever it was doing.  Or however intriguing the voice is, or the voice artist would be.  So the decision was made very early on once we all sort of had the pilot in hand to re-cast that role, or cast that role for the first time.”

Let's trade accents, OK?

Here is one of the best bits of magic human actors can make.  Paul Blackthorne is actually English and Terrance Mann is American, but whenever the cameras started to roll they both had to switch accents so Dresden was the Chicago detective and Bob was the ghost who had originally lived in Britain!

Not only did the producers not follow the same story elements, they really didn’t even follow the same city:

“One of the nice things about [filming in] Toronto actually is those kinds of locations that really you don’t necessarily have the same quality of in Los Angeles that don’t look like Chicago.  (…)  It was really important to us, if we weren’t going to shoot in Chicago, to shoot in someplace like Toronto.  That looks a lot like Chicago, where we could actually pull off a credible Chicago, to the point that we showed the pilot to a critic from WGN she didn’t realize that we shot in Toronto.”

They even went so far as to cheat the weather:

Morgan watching over Harry (as usual)

“The first morning of the first day, pouring rain.  In fact, the single rainiest October day in Toronto history!  (…)  We’re actually at the lakeshore to “play” the water, but you can’t see it (…) and [Harry and Morgan] are under a tarp to catch the rain so they don’t get soaking wet, which I like to think is a little subtle bit of wizardry.  Neither one of them wants to get wet in the rain, so Morgan puts up a little magical umbrella, but you can see the rain occasionally in the foreground and they’re clearly dry as a bone.  So weather-wise it works for Chicago, unfortunately it just obliterated our background, and you look at the two of them, they’re sitting there in the rain, completely dry.”

So, the trick here isn’t that Harry Dresden is capable of magic, or even that his magical world interacts so often with our mundane one.  The trick here is that producers, directors, writers, actors, and an army of crew members can take those worlds and create them on television for us to enjoy and marvel at, and although we all know many of the obvious “special effects” that are used, it’s the magic of television that creates even more we never notice, all in the service of telling us a great story.  And that’s really the best magic trick of all.

PAUL BLACKTHORNE (Harry Dresden) starred in a couple of series in his native England (Peak Practice and Holby City) before plying his trade in Bollywood (in the film Laagan) for which he learned to speak Hindi.  Coming to America, his regular roles included the series ER, Lipstick Jungle, and a villain on season 3 of 24.  He is in demand as a guest actor as well, having recently appeared on Leverage, White Collar, and Warehouse 13.  An avid photographer, his work has been exhibited in London and New York.

TERRANCE MANN (Bob) has a Broadway résumé that reads like a “greatest hits” collection, including 2 Tony nominations and starring roles in Cats, Le Misérables, Assassins, Beauty and the Beast, The Addams Family, and The Scarlet Pimpernel.  His first big movie role was in the film adaptation of the musical A Chorus Line.  On acting, he said, “Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good.”

CONRAD COATES (Morgan) is a Canadian actor and has appeared in recurring roles in Kyle XY, The Zack Files, and La Femme Nikita, and Degrassi: The Next Generation.  He has guested on numerous Canadian-based productions, including Warehouse 13, Slings & Arrows, Earth: Final Conflict, and War of the Worlds.  He also landed a part in the recent Tron: Legacy feature film.

VALERIE CRUZ (Connie Murphy) has been seen as a regular on Dexter, True Blood, Hidden Palms, and the first season of Nip/Tuck.  Guest shots have included roles on Crossing Jordan, Grey’s Anatomy, Invasion, and Dollhouse.  Her Cuban ancestry helped her gain the role as Dr. Zita Alvarez in the upcoming ABC medical series Off the Map.

Harry, Murphy, Bob, and Morgan. A magical cast.

The Dresden Files is available on DVD, with a couple of commentaries and a behind-the-scenes featurette that details some of the process of turning the book series into the TV version, and the episodes are also available at Hulu.  The books are still going strong, and you can find them in various formats at Amazon.com as well as most popular booksellers.  Author Jim Butcher has his own website where you can find out about upcoming books and more, including comic/graphic novel adaptations, the audio book versions read by actor James Marsters, and even a role-playing game so you can enter the world of The Dresden Files yourself.

If you ever hear mysterious sounds that go “bump” in the night, or a long-dead acquaintance suddenly re-enters your life, there’s really only one place to go, and only one man who can help.  I happened to stumble across a business card once that might do you some good.  It says:

“Harry Dresden – Wizard.  Lost items found.  Paranormal Investigations.  Consulting.  Advice.  Reasonable Rates.  No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.”

Just call him up.  Because although he’s not on TV anymore… he’s in the book.

Vital Stats

12 aired episodes – none unaired (although the pilot was lengthened to 2 hours at one point and shown as a movie version.
Sci-Fi Network
First aired episode:  January 21, 2007
Last aired episode:  April 15, 2007
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Sunday at 9/8 actually, garnering decent ratings in a highly competitive timeslot, but it likely would have done better with Friday airings since Sci-Fi had developed an audience there already.

Comments and suggestions encouraged, as always.

–Tim R.

%d bloggers like this: