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Monthly Archives: June 2011

This site specializes in short series.  This week there’s a guest article about a one-night wonder… which was part of one of the longest running series in television history.  Read about how it didn’t succeed on its own, but may have led to a modern-day resurgence.  It’s about time….

Five quotes: 

It  would still be with him years later… and he wasn’t the only one.

“Some people are going to love you – some people are going to hate you.  It’s as simple as that.”

…a kiss is still a kiss… and this kiss is what got the most notice, no matter what the context.

“…we sadly were in a time where we weren’t allowed to make the script as fantastic as it could have been.”

…they were under the impression that fans considered their movie to be the “red-headed stepchild”…

Come read a great article about one night fifteen years ago, the legacy it drew from, and the groundwork it laid for the future… here on Friday @ 8/7 Central. 

–Tim R.

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We all love those budget-busting “special” episodes of shows.  Big season premieres, cliffhanger endings with huge stunts, special effects space battles, or casts of thousands.  Television and spectacle can be brought together… but there’s usually a cost.  There’s only so much money to spread around in making a television show, and not all episodes are created equal.  For those “extra-special” episodes like the ones mentioned, the budget becomes a balloon, larger and larger by necessity.  Locations, night shooting, extras, costumes galore….

New Caprica, from the modern Battlestar Galactica

Where does the money come from?

The Pacific Princess visits Alaska

Rarely (and I DO mean rarely), the network will come up with extra cash for an especially terrific idea, or additional money can be put in the budget for doing things out of the ordinary.  The best example is The Love Boat, in which about twice a year the cast and crew did a special episode on a REAL ocean liner (instead of their Hollywood soundstage set), sailing into the Mediterranean or up the coast of Alaska for a bonus length episode.  Of course, even this was figured into the budgets of other outings, as many of the “establishing shots” used for generic shipboard life were filmed on these excursions to be dropped in the middle of “regular” episodes.

The final episode in comic form

The Middleman producers actually canceled its final ordered episode in order to give the extra cash to the previous installment, making its television finish stronger with more locations and special effects.  Any remaining money was spent on a comic book version of the “lost” thirteenth episode, where drawing laser-shooting robot kangaroos cost much less than building them.  But these are aberrations.  In the normal scheme of things, TV series have a set amount to spend on each episode, and if you overspend in one place, you have to make up for it somewhere else.  Hence, the existence of “The Bottle Show”.

Producers both love and hate them.  Audiences often do too, depending on how well they’re executed.  But “The Bottle Show” is a necessary and important part of any successful (and sometimes unsuccessful) TV series.  Modern television would likely not be possible without it.  And here’s the reason why…

When networks buy a show from a production company, they typically spend a certain amount of dollars in a “license fee”, allowing the network the right to air each episode a certain number of times (usually twice).  Producers then use this money to make the series… but here’s the problem:  most shows cost more to make — a LOT more — than the typical license fee provides.  Most comedic or dramatic shows are made on deficit spending, with the hope that the series will last long enough to be sold later to individual stations as rerun fodder.  Production companies then get bundles of cash for something they’ve already spent the money on to make… as long as there’s enough episodes “in the can” to sell.

Realizing that the whole purpose of this website is to celebrate short-lived shows, most of the series featured here never made their money back, let alone saw a profit.  In fact, many weren’t even close.  But just to make sure each series at least has a shot at success, many series are “front-loaded”.  In practical terms, this means shows are often given larger budgets early on, in the hopes of attracting an audience (with bigger and better sets, effects, and locations).  The idea is, audiences will stick with a show despite a slightly smaller budget later, if they’ve developed their allegiance already.  The ultimate goal is to gain a longer life on the network… and orders for enough episodes to gain the magical “rerun sales” figure.

Less is (Buy) More

That number, roughly, is 100 episodes.  In theory, 65 is enough, as it allows for a show to be “stripped” (run every weekday) for 13 weeks, meaning a quarter of the year, before the package is repeated again.  100 is a more comfortable number, as then there are at least 20 weeks worth of episodes.  Everything after episode 100 is gravy as far as a studio is concerned, because then sales to individual stations are almost guaranteed.  Deficit spending now becomes investment spending with a certain return.  (As an aside, this is why the producers of Chuck took less money for their show than usual to gain a renewal for the coming 5th half-season.  They needed to get to the magic number of 100, and were willing to take less cash up front in order to guarantee making more money on future sales.)

Production companies need this kind of success, because the vast majority of their shows each season are UNsuccesful, and all those failures have to be paid for somehow.  Finding that one winner in a sea of also-rans keeps studios in business, and if they happen upon the show that runs practically indefinitely, then it’s a license to print money.  But keeping shows on the air, and affording them in the process, is the real trick.

Body of Proof -- Not dead yet.

Borderline shows are looked at more closely if their production company is an arm of the network.  ABC Studios is one of the companies involved in making the spring replacement series Body of Proof, and despite fair to middling ratings the show was renewed for fall.  Why?  Because the network already had an investment in the series (unlike, say, the science-fiction remake V, which had comparable ratings, but was made by Warner Brothers).

With or without help, the problem is in getting to 100 episodes without breaking the bank.  Again, only so much money is allocated to each show for a season’s run.  So, if a series has been “front-loaded”, or if certain episodes cost extra money for one reason or another, then the money has to come from somewhere.  Most likely, the production company will “borrow from Peter to pay Paul”, and take the money out of a different episode’s budget… and that usually results in “the bottle show”.

Captain times two

We’ve all seen them, although some of them are good enough to slip under our television-viewing radar.  Identifying characteristics typically include a dialogue-heavy episode, only one (or even zero) unique sets, and an absence of location shooting and guest stars.  An obvious example is an episode of Star Trek:  The Next Generation titled “Time Squared”, which takes place entirely onboard the standing Enterprise sets.  It also features only one major “guest” part, and that isn’t really a guest at all… it’s a double of Captain Picard, played by series regular Patrick Stewart.  Saving money on this episode let the production company spend it elsewhere, such as the season-ending cliffhanger The Best of Both Worlds, recognized as one of the best episodes of the entire Trek canon.

In the bar set on Leverage

Other shows throughout television history have used the same idea, to better or worse effect.  One of my favorites (as I’ve mentioned previously) is current TNT show Leverage.  Recently, during its second season, an episode featured primarily the two standing sets (a bar and upstairs living area).  Only one other set was needed, a warehouse, conveniently located next door to the shooting stages in real life.  The episode dealt more with the regular characters (using one primary guest star), and fans got a look into what made the lead character really tick, especially dealing with his alcoholism… when he’s forced to start drinking again.  The title of the show?  The Bottle Job, of course!

The best “bottle” shows are the ones which embrace the concept, instead of just treating it as a necessity.  Confining characters in the small space of one or two sets allows for deeper introspection, if written correctly.  Many times, bottle episodes will literally involve trapping characters in a location, thereby not only forcing the cheaper use of sets, but allowing actors the additional motivation of limited space and options.  Especially on television, limiting options makes for better entertainment, as characters are forced to confront themselves instead of some outside force… and viewers are all the better for it.

“Even if financial realities didn’t enter into it, I feel as a showrunner that there should be a certain shape and pace to each season, and the really high highs that you try to get to at the end of a season — the big dramatic moments of action and violence, the big operatic moments you’re striving for — I don’t think would land as hard if you didn’t have the moments of quiet that came before them.  The quiet episodes make the tenser, more dramatic episodes pop even more than they usually would, just by their contrast.”
–Vince Gilligan, creator/producer of Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad has won multiple Emmy awards, but even critical favorites have to deal with budget issues.  They just do it better.  Arguably one of the best episodes of ANY show last season was their “bottle” show, called “Fly”.  Taking place on mostly one set, with two regulars and a few extras, “Fly” was an examination of character built around a battle with, as one participant put it, “a contaminant”… a rogue fly.  But emotions were drawn out, obsessions laid bare, and viewers discovered deeper layers to the two involved, thanks to the capable hands of writers and actors who didn’t need spectacle.  (Oh, and the production saved some money too!)

There are points where not just money, but time becomes an issue.  Most hour-long dramas use anywhere from seven to nine working days to shoot an episode, but sometimes episodes take longer to make than they’re scheduled for.  Scenes shot previously turn out to be unusable for one reason or another, or time simply runs out.  The choices are to either pay overtime (which some shows actually budget for, but others avoid like the plague) or to do a special type of bottle show known as a “clip show”.

Eureka: You Don't Know Jack

These are even easier to identify.  At its worst, “clip shows” are just a reason for characters to “remember” previous events, which are then seen using shots from earlier episodes.  Others use a bit more effort, such as when the SF comedy-drama Eureka used a mechanical memory device run amok to trigger the clip sequences.

Voyagers! reinvented itself through the use of a clip show.  Producers filmed what they believed to be their final episode, The Trial of Phineas Bogg, and saved money by having “evidence” shown at the trial in the form of clips from previous episodes.  A surprise renewal allowed them to not only make more stories, but to utilize the “villain” character they’d created for the trial, giving the protagonists a continuing enemy in subsequent adventures.  In this case, the clip show served multiple purposes, even though it was not necessarily intended as such.

The important thing (as far as the producer’s time and budget is concerned) is the “new” sequences shot for a clip show only take three or four days to film (with limited sets) instead of seven to nine, thereby shaving half an episode off both the schedule and the profit-and-loss sheet.  This time and money can be used not only for “special” episodes, but also when there are unforeseen problems elsewhere, avoiding busting previously well-intentioned plans.

“I hate bottle episodes.  They’re wall-to-wall facial expressions and emotional nuance.  I might as well sit in the corner with a bucket on my head.”
—Abed, from the bottle episode Cooperative Calligraphy on Community

Abed has a point, even though it was a rather “meta” one, featured in an obvious bottle show on the sitcom Community.  The irony of his “hating” a bottle show when his character is in the middle of such an episode may have been a way for the writers of the show to express their own frustrations with having to make one.  But some television writers actually welcome the exercise of being forced to write with limited access to a variety of sets or large casts.

The One Where No One's Ready

The crew of Friends tried to write at least one bottle episode every year, not because they had to, but because it was an excuse to stretch production muscles they didn’t ordinarily use.  Friends was a huge hit, and could have afforded most anything they wanted filming-wise, but some of the most popular episodes are ones which rely on the base cast and two or three already built sets.  Restricting your characters often results in the best stories, and a few of the bottle episodes of Friends are recognized as gems of the series.

So, are bottle shows a blessing or a curse?  It depends on the show, really.  Done well, they can be highlights of creativity, forcing actors and crew into achieving some amazing television.  Done poorly, they are easily recognized for their original purpose:  to make a cheap episode.  But they are a necessity in either case, or else fans wouldn’t get to see overwhelming space battles, casts of thousands (or at the very least, hundreds), and the opportunity to go “Wow, that was amazing!”  And amazing television can still move us, enthrall us, and entertain as well as any other medium.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit down, open up a bottle of my favorite beverage, and find something terrific to watch.  And, if it’s done right, I may even be looking forward to enjoying a bottle show.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Time for another more general post, about a television phenomenon we’ve likely all seen.  When it’s done badly, we pretty much universally hate it, but when it’s done well, we almost don’t even notice it happened.  We congratulate the powers-that-be on a job well done, not even realizing their extra efforts were for the most crass of reasons:  money.

Five quotes:

…the budget becomes a balloon, larger and larger by necessity.

But just to make sure each series at least has a shot at success, many series are “front-loaded”.

Everything after episode 100 is gravy as far as a studio is concerned…

But emotions were drawn out, obsessions laid bare, and viewers discovered deeper layers to the two involved…

“I might as well sit in the corner with a bucket on my head.”

Open up a cold, refreshing drink and examine something that only exists in television… and helps make it successful, no matter how much fans might wish otherwise, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

A young off-duty New York cabbie spots a pretty girl on the street, trying to hire a ride.  Intrigued, he decides he’s now “on duty” and stops for her.  She likes the guy too, and after a few “meet cute” visuals, she exits at the school where she teaches.  That afternoon, as she leaves, guess what cab (and what cabbie) is waiting for her?  Before anyone can say “musical montage”, we see scenes of a young couple newly in love, kissing sweetly.  Then, unfortunately, the following exchange occurs:

Bridget meets Bernie

“You know, this is crazy.  I don’t even know your full name!”

“Bernie… Steinberg.  What’s yours?”

“Bridget.  Bridget… Teresa… Mary… Colleen… Fitzgerald.”

“I think we have a problem….”

–the first actual lines in the pilot episode of Bridget Loves Bernie

Such is the set-up for one of the more popular romantic comedies of the early 1970’s, Bridget Loves Bernie.  It was a tumultuous time in America, with the ending of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the fall of the Nixon Presidency.  Public opinion was changing on lots of things, both political and societal, and in the midst of this change came a romantic comedy about two people deeply in love… and their families, who were as opposite as they could be.

“The important thing is for us not to over-react.”
–Bridget’s father to her mother, about to meet Bernie

Bridget (Meredith Baxter) was a schoolteacher from a rich Catholic home.  Her parents Walter and Amy (played by TV vets David Doyle and Audra Lindley, respectively) were very traditional stock, and despite the quote above, they’re very good at over-reacting.  They really only accept Bernie (and his Jewish faith) because it seems a lesser difficulty than their initial fear of Bridget bringing home an African-American (or, as Amy puts it in the vernacular of the time, “colored”).  They try to put on a brave face, but make just about every possible “enlightened” mistake they could make along the way.  Their efforts of acceptance make walking on eggshells look easy.

Of course, if the Fitzgeralds have eggshells, the Steinbergs make omelets.  Sam and Sophie Steinberg (Harold J. Stone and Bibi Osterwald) own a deli, and are a bit awed by the wealth of the Fitzgeralds.  We meet them (and their underdog attitudes) as they arrive at the Fitzgeralds, looking for a missing Bernie.  Bridget is also missing, and so the opposing families are united in their worry.  The only things they agree on are the safety of their children, and that their relationship should be stopped before it starts….

That’s kind of difficult when Bridget and Bernie have taken matters into their own hands.  They were missing due to having an appointment at the courthouse, and their civil marriage ceremony.  Even with no priest for the Fitzgeralds or rabbi for the Steinbergs, Bridget and Bernie are still married (a fact the parents will now have to get used to).  Although it’s too late for the parents to stop the wedding, they’ll still interfere in their own ways.

Bridget and Bernie do have some allies in all this.  Bridget’s brother Michael (Robert Sampson) is a priest, but is likely one of the more level-headed members of this bunch (and understanding of the relationship).  Bernie’s uncle Moe (Ned Glass) is a guy for whom religion is important, but practicality and people will trump it every time.  And finally, we have the couple’s friend Otis (William Elliott), who shares cab-driving duties with Bernie.  Otis happens to be the African-American initially mistaken for Bridget’s beau, giving a friendly perspective on the trials the young couple is going through.

Living above the deli in Bernie’s small apartment, Bridget Loves Bernie uses the marriage, and the families and friends, to examine many of the social issues of the day.  Religious differences, political alignments, social classes, racial prejudices, and pretty much every other disparate point of view are on display here.  The surprising part is, this wasn’t new news, even in 1972.

Broadway cast of Abie's Irish Rose, 1927

“Showing that the Jews and the Irish crack equally old jokes.”
–theatre critic commenting on Abie’s Irish Rose

Bridget Loves Bernie is primarily based on an old Broadway play called Abie’s Irish Rose from the 1920’s.  Made twice into a movie (and forming the basis for more), the critics thought the show was rehashing old ideas and prejudices even then.  The play was, however, a popular success, setting (at the time) the record for the longest running Broadway show EVER.  It was also made into a radio series, running for two and a half years.  Audiences loved the idea of feuding families, as the concept had likely been around even longer (say, Romeo and Juliet?)

You would think, especially after the turbulent ’60’s, America might accept such a television series.  After all, the success of CBS’s previous season hit All in the Family (and its groundbreaking use of the Archie Bunker character) likely meant the audience was more than ready for such a comedy.  Bridget Loves Bernie was slotted in the half-hour immediately following All in the Family, and achieved enough viewer interest to become a top 5 success on all of television for the season.

But success brings attention, and attention sometimes brings controversy.  Archie Bunker was, for most people, lovably WRONG in his attitudes, demonstrably so.  Most watching All in the Family agreed.  But when Bridget Loves Bernie presented, in a bit more realistic way, disagreements many families were currently dealing with (prominently featuring religion as a sticking point), all of a sudden tradition, religion, and faith take on a slightly different color.

People get blind spots when discussing religion; more so than many other personal positions.  It tends to define much of who we are as individuals, as family, as class.  Religion, sometimes more than ethnic background, forms the basis of identity, and when we see it (supposedly) tossed away by our youth, over-reactions are common.  It is no wonder that the Steinbergs and the Fitzgeralds argue, as the relationship seems to threaten their own life-identities… or, at the very least, the identities they had believed true for their own son or daughter.

But here’s the big difference, one which was true in Romeo and Juliet, in Abie’s Irish Rose, in Bridget Loves Bernie, and even today.  RELIGION IS NOT FAITH.  Bridget truly loves Bernie, not in spite of his being Jewish, but because he’s Bernie, and that encompasses everything about him, including the fact that he and his family are Jewish.  Bernie does the same, loving Bridget (and, by extension, her family) for everything she is.  Both of them do so, allowing for their parents misconceptions and misunderstandings, for the sake of each other.

Bridget and Bernie, bridging the gaps

Love is that strong.  Faith is that strong.  Religion, on the other hand, is just rules, made by others, for the practice of faith.  But true belief, in each other, and in whatever supreme being you may have, is what makes faith real, concrete, and part of our lives.  Religion is just the (sometimes unnecessary) trappings thereof.  Bridget, Bernie, and their friends and families, learn to live beyond religion, but not beyond faith.  Your faith does not, and never will, threaten mine… and mine will never threaten yours, if we can simply agree to have both love and faith.

Some people had problems with this, as tightly woven the concept of religion was in their lives.  It was the same way with Abie and Rose’s parents, and the same with Bridget and Bernie’s, at least at first.  But some didn’t let go of this idea, and were outraged that they were somehow being portrayed as “wrong” on television (they weren’t… that’s the blind spot).  Encouraged by religious leaders, complaint letters were sent to the network (even by people who’d never sampled the show), and although the series was extremely popular, CBS got tired very quickly of all the negative publicity.

Despite all this, the show was hugely popular.  As I said, during its one and only season Bridget Loves Bernie was the #5 rated show on television… and thanks to the pressure campaign, it was still canceled.  These days, corporate masters would simply say all the right things and placate those who generated a disproportionate response, and keep Bridget Loves Bernie on the air.  And, as much as I would love to say the show would be kept on for the right reasons, it would be kept on only for the money it would generate… which tells you about the type of “faith” television networks believe in these days.  But at least the series would have continued, and positive messages of love and belief might have triumphed over blind spots and over-reaction.

Bridget Loves Bernie was that rare show that tackled topical subjects with a heart… and its heart was broken.  I would like to hope that people can find a way past their differences if love is truly in their hearts… and at the very least, understand and allow for differences along the way.  This is true for families, and just as true for strangers along the way.  Messages are more important that individual shows.  Allowing others to love, in their own way, harming no one else, is the message I will always have faith in.

Bridget:  “Our poor parents.  We chose each other.  It’s going to be tough on them.”

Bernie:  “I wouldn’t worry.  We’re going to be there to help them through the rough spots.”

MEREDITH BAXTER (Bridget Teresa Mary Colleen Fitzgerald Steinberg) had success early, as she’d been in the television business less than two years when she was cast as Bridget.  In 1976 she became a supporting member of the cast of Family, earning two Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama.  Her most popular role was as Elyse Keaton in Family Ties, which ran for seven seasons.  She’s the author of Untied:  A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering, which discusses her life amid alcoholism, breast cancer, and her decision to openly declare her homosexuality.

DAVID BIRNEY (Bernie Steinberg) has earned Broadway credits, appearing in Amadeus and Man and Superman, in addition to numerous other stage roles in major theatres across the country.  He’s starred in a number of TV series, including Serpico and St. Elsewhere.  He’s best known on television for roles in various miniseries, including a star turn in the early American drama The Adams Chronicles.

DAVID DOYLE (Walter Fitzgerald) is a television veteran, guesting on numerous series.  As the featured male on Charlie’s Angels, he was surrounded by beautiful women on a regular basis (yet still shone enough to earn himself an Emmy nomination).  In his later years, he specialized in voice-over acting for many animated series, until his death in 1997 due to a heart attack.

AUDRA LINDLEY (Amy Fitzgerald) played many years on two soap operas, Search for Tomorrow and Another World, before making it to prime time with Bridget Loves Bernie (where she was nominated for a Golden Globe).  She reached stardom in her memorable portrayal of Mrs. Roper in Three’s Company, although the spin-off featuring her character not as successful.  She continued acting in recurring parts on both Friends and Cybil, until her death in 1997 at the age of 79 (supposedly with her next Cybil script on the table next to her!)

HAROLD T. STONE (Sam Steinberg) found Broadway fame as a young man, appearing on the Great White Way in 1939.  A few years later, he headed west and found a film career as a steadily working actor in movies.  He found his niche in the early days of television, appearing in well over 150 different shows.  He was a regular on My World and Welcome to It as well as Bridget Loves Bernie, but was best known for the many tough-guy guest roles he played on ’60’s and ’70’s series.  He passed in 2005 at the age of 94.

BIBI OSTERWALD (Sophie Steinberg) never achieved stardom, but in her lengthy career she did perform guest roles in series such as Route 66, All in the Family, Remington Steele, and Home Improvement.  One of her favorite roles was Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly, where she once was understudy to famed dancer Ginger Rogers.  She died of lung disease in 2002.

ROBERT SAMPSON (Father Michael Fitzgerald) was a surprising choice for comedy in Bridget Loves Bernie, considering in most of his career he’s been featured in dramatic roles.  He appeared on many early TV series, including the original Twilight Zone, Bonanza, and Combat!  After Bridget Loves Bernie, he was seen on Police Story, Falcon Crest, Matlock, and Profiler.  He was also featured in the cult horror film Re-Animator, in a significant enough role that he still makes convention appearances to this day.

NED GLASS (Uncle “Moe” Plotnick) made a career out of playing slightly disreputable small-time crooks, usually for laughs.  He played opposite comedic legends like The Three Stooges, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, and Phil Silvers.  He was nominated for an Emmy for his role in Julia, and performed with everyone from Elvis Presley and Jack Lemmon to Herbie, the Love Bug.  He passed, after a lengthy illness, in 1984.

WILLIAM ELLIOTT (Otis Foster) was a recurring character on Adam-12, but other than his role on Bridget Loves Bernie, he’s best known for his roughly eight-year marriage (and later divorce) to Grammy-winning singer Dionne Warwick.  Elliott died in 1983 at the age of 49.

Bridget Loves Bernie has never been available on DVD.  Two episodes are available on YouTube, including the pilot, where you’ll also find the appropriately titled theme song, “Love is Crazy”.  Bridget Loves Bernie holds the distinction of being the highest rated full season show ever canceled by one of the big three networks (finishing at #5 for the year), and in this day of money and corporate decision-making, it’s doubtful that record will ever be broken.  There has been a multitude of information written about the subsequent marriage and eventual break-up (and further reasons for it) between the show’s stars, Meredith Baxter and David Birney, but this website is NOT the place for such intensely personal discourse.  Quite honestly, the themes of the show are much bigger, and so they are the focus of this article.

We love you, too.

One would like to think that, in our modern, more enlightened (?) times, the types of differences examined in Bridget Loves Bernie would no longer be prominent.  Mixed marriages of religion, not to mention race, are becoming much more commonplace, and for many don’t even rate a mention, let alone an argument.  And yet, newer disagreements are taking place all across the land, for many of the same reasons.  The fight for gender equality and the rights of civil, let alone religious, marriage for same-sex couples divides many families and households.  The depiction of Catholic vs. Jew seems almost quaint for some… and yet for others it is a difference causing permanent separation between loved ones.  The battles are old.  Just the fighters are new.

And yet, here’s the common thing, the one thing that gives me hope all along the way.  Love wins out, every time.  Only those who close their hearts and cling to rules instead of humanity lose, and they do it only by their own choice.  There’s a reason the show was called Bridget Loves Bernie… and it’s because, after all is said and done, it is not religion, or social class, or anything else that matters.  The only thing that matters is love….

Vital Stats

24 aired episodes — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 16, 1972 (the day before CBS aired the first episode of M*A*S*H)
Final aired episode:  March 3, 1973 (no pre-emptions — you don’t pre-empt a hit)
Aired at Friday, 8/7 Central?  Saturdays, 8:30, 7:30 Central.  A year later, this Saturday night became the best night of television on television, with the five shows airing on CBS all making Time Magazine’s list of the best 100 TV shows in historyBridget Loves Bernie, if it had survived, could easily have been there too.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

This week, the focus is on a romantic comedy that reflected the differences we all bring to relationships… and the families that cling to them.  Sometimes, it’s a struggle just to find common ground… and sometimes, the only thing holding everyone together is love.

Five quotes:

“You know, this is crazy.  I don’t even know your full name!”

Their efforts of acceptance make walking on eggshells look easy.

Sometimes more than ethnic background, religion forms the basis of identity…

“We’re going to be there to help them through the rough spots.”

The battles are old.  Just the fighters are new.

Read about the highest rated show ever canceled after just one season, and the problems it caused, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

If you could go back through time and change everything, so it all turns out special instead of ordinary, would you do it?  Many of us would.  It would be more than tempting.  But when you meet someone who seemed to be living that charmed existence, then you start to suspect that maybe there’s some time travel involved, some science fiction way of making all those moments part of one life.  The surprising thing is, yes, there’s both time travel AND science fiction, but the man is very real.

“Of all the television shows I produced The Time Tunnel was my personal favorite.”
–Irwin Allen

Project Tic-Toc -- The Time Tunnel

Let’s go all the way back to 1966.  ABC is looking for a show that can be made cheaply, and feature a couple of good-looking guys they can market to the younger crowd.  They turn to Irwin Allen, creator of shows like Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Land of the Giants.  The show they get is called The Time Tunnel.

Originally set slightly in the “future” of 1968, The Time Tunnel is, obviously, a time-travel show.  The cheap part is the extensive use of the Universal film library (a tactic also used in fellow time-travel series Voyagers! years later).  The first of the good-looking guys is Dr. Anthony Newman (James Darren), a young and brilliant scientist obsessed with the creation of the Tunnel, a device to travel either forward or backward in time.  Setting the stage for future time-travel shows, Tony is forced to prematurely test his machine or lose government funding (a premise echoed on Quantum Leap, among others).  He uses the equipment to prove his theories… but of course, nothing ever goes as it should.

Tony and Doug

His friend and fellow researcher Dr. Douglas Phillips (Robert Colbert) tries to rescue Tony by leaping into the tunnel after him, ending up in the same time era as Tony… on the Titanic, just before the iceberg strikes.  They try desperately to warn the Captain of the impending danger, but their words go mostly unheeded.  As the disaster happens, they finally get through to those in charge… and their efforts allow the sparing of those few who survived, just as the history books said.  They had a part to play, history just didn’t tell us they were there.

“The control of time is potentially the most valuable treasure that man will ever find.”
–Dr. Douglas Phillips

As the ship sinks, they are “saved” by those back at the Time Tunnel complex, but the scientists at the base cannot yet control where our heroes might end up… and they can’t be sure Tony and Doug will ever be able to get back home.  Our heroes get stuck (of course), traveling from one era to another.  They visit everything from Biblical times, facing the fall of the Walls of Jericho, to ending up on a spacecraft mission to Mars.  And yes, they even do the standard Pearl Harbor story from WWII.  But there are plenty of other eras to explore, and plenty of other adventures waiting, past and future.

Trying to get our team home

The team from home base (known as Project Tic-Toc) is trying to get the scientists back, but thanks to the Tunnel, they have their own emergencies to face.  Lt. General Heywood Kirk (Whit Bissell) is in charge, with assistance from Dr. Ann McGregor (Lee Meriwether) and Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba).  They end up fighting off alien invaders, foreign spies, and even a renegade pirate captain brought back through the Tunnel.  Although they seem to have sporadic success in bringing others to the base, they never seem to be able to help Tony and Doug get back where they belong.

Of course, that little problem didn’t stop the series from ending too soon.  A thirty episode first (and only) season later, and The Time Tunnel journeys were no more on network television screens.  ABC had offered to renew the series, but wanted the budget cut by a third, and Irwin Allen (realizing how much he was already using stock footage and reusing items from his other series) said no.  The reruns were syndicated, and stations ran The Time Tunnel along with some of Allen’s other shows (Lost in Space, Land of the Giants) in package deals.  Although it was only made for one year, The Time Tunnel showcased many different eras.  And it wasn’t the only one to cover a lot of ground….

“I think Ricky Nelson said it best in ‘Garden Party’:  ‘You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.’  If you’re content with doing what you’re doing, stick with it.  If not, find the road that takes you there.”
–James Darren

Darren in Gidget Goes to Rome

Born James William Ercolani, The Time Tunnel was the first television starring vehicle for actor James Darren.  Although he was a rather young actor, it was hardly his first role.  He had been noticed onscreen as teen love interest Moondoggie, surfer and boyfriend of the young Gidget in the popular movie series.  A versatile performer, he was a singer with Las Vegas connections to Sinatra, Martin, Bishop, and the rest of the legendary Rat Pack entertainers.

Initially a musician, Darren had a #3 pop hit (and gold record) with the song Goodbye Cruel World.  His Gidget movies were really an offshoot of that musical success (considering he couldn’t surf, and could barely swim), but he proved surprisingly adept in front of a camera as well as a live audience.  Performing in Vegas and headlining a major network television show would be significant career highlights for most actors, but in Darren’s case, he was barely beginning.

He was hired on The Time Tunnel as an obvious heart-throb for younger viewers, and his likeness showed up in numerous “teen” magazines of the time.  Tiger Beat, Teen Screen, and many others of the day were filled with pictures and (phony) articles about his life and pastimes.  Although these were primarily publicity outlets used by movie and TV to promote various projects, achieving success at the time meant making their pages, and Darren was definitely a success already.  ABC believed in his ability to attract viewers, and although The Time Tunnel only ran one season, it was more due to the style of the show (and its sometimes over-the-top plots) than it was the acting of Darren and co-star Cobert.

Throughout the ’70’s Darren toured extensively with Las Vegas friend and comedian Buddy Hackett, with Darren and Hackett bringing a bit of Vegas to the rest of the country.  The tour was hugely successful, although it did take Darren out of the spotlight of television and movies for an extended period.

Darren and Locklear on T.J. Hooker

That all changed in the early ’80’s, when Darren was cast as partner to Heather Locklear in William Shatner’s T.J. Hooker police series.  Darren’s Officer Jim Corrigan was the most consistent of the cast, usually being the voice of reason to the antics of Shatner’s Hooker and the younger “rookies” the cops were teaching.  T.J. Hooker lasted five well-remembered seasons, during which Darren developed a passion for what would become the next stage of his career.

For the rest of the ’80’s, Darren became a force behind the camera.  After directing the final episode of T.J. Hooker, Darren was given his first pure directing opportunity by Producer Stephen J. Cannell on The A-Team.  Initially specializing in more action-oriented dramas like Hunter, Werewolf (directing almost half the series episodes), and Silk Stalkings, he later used his talents on episodes of Beverly Hills 9210, Melrose Place, and Savannah.  As a singer-turned-actor-turned-director, he’d once again found something he was not only good at, but which he enjoyed.

Vic brings the swinging '60's to outer space

While directing was much of Darren’s career through the ’90’s, a chance meeting with Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine Producer Ira Stephen Behr led Darren full circle back to his Rat Pack days.  Behr was casting a character for his show, and was looking for someone to play a holographic image of a late 1950’s crooner from Las Vegas.  While Darren didn’t initially want the part (believing it to be a bit too “on-the-nose”), upon closer inspection he realized he could really have a lot of fun with the portrayal.  Darren’s dislike of “reading” for a part took an interesting turn when, at a meeting with Behr and the other producers, he simply “slipped in” lines from the script, as if he was the part in real life.  Behr and the others were overjoyed with the “performance” (especially once they were let in on it), and Darren was hired as Vegas headliner Vic Fontaine.

It's Only a Paper Moon

While the part was written for only one episode, Darren’s presentation of Vic was enormously popular with fans, leading to a semi-regular gig and featured roles on numerous episodes.  His performance with another DS9 semi-regular, Aron Eisenberg, in It’s Only a Paper Moon is rather amazing, considering it’s primarily a two-hander acting demonstration in a series with nine regulars… almost none of whom are really highlighted in the episode.  In Paper Moon, it’s his acting chops which are on display, and Darren comes through wonderfully.

Darren, as Vic, also got to sing in the finale of the series, a good-bye to the cast set to the standard of “Just the Way You Look Tonight”.  One of the best sequences of the series, and a fond farewell to those who were a part of it, the song was appropriate to both the end of the show and to Darren’s terrific singing voice.

Since then, Darren has been semi-retired, appearing at various Star Trek conventions (performing Saturday night concerts, of course), and has recorded two CDs of music in his Vic Fontaine-Rat Pack style (including many of the songs from Deep Space Nine).  In addition to reissues of some of his earlier albums as CDs, he’s also been the featured guest at many different symphony orchestras with music from his vast career.  Some of these have even used Darren singing “Surfin’ Craze”, a song he performed in 1965 on an episode of The Flintstones as Jimmy Darrock, teen idol.  (Darren is one of only five real people parodied on the original Flintstones).

Now and Then

JAMES DARREN (Tony Newman) was the feature of this article, so I don’t have to go into any more detail here, except to add that he and his wife are Godparents to Frank Sinatra’s first grandchild, Angela, and that his son Jim Moret has been a featured correspondent on CNN and Inside Edition.

ROBERT COBERT (Doug Phillips) was a common sight in many early TV westerns, and his youthful likeness to James Garner got him a spot as the younger brother Brent in a few episodes of Maverick.  Content with being a working actor, Cobert never really wanted stardom, just desired to be a working actor.  An original cast member of the soap The Young and the Restless, his last notable role was as David Hasslehoff’s father in Baywatch.

WHIT BISSELL (General Heywood Kirk) is a science fiction fans definition of “character actor”, having been featured in numerous SF films of the ’50’s and ’60’s.  He turned Michael Landon into a teen-age werewolf, appeared in the 1960 movie version of The Time Machine, and ran a space station overrun by Tribbles on the original Star Trek.  He was seen as various authority figures throughout history in the docu-drama series You Are There, and was the trusted face making sure thousands knew they “were in good hands with Allstate”.  He passed away in 1996.

LEE MERIWETHER (Dr. Ann McGregor) won the Miss America pageant in 1955, leading to a hosting gig on The Today Show.  As an actress, she’s known for her turn as Catwoman in the 1996 Batman movie (as television Catwoman Julie Newmar was unavailable at the time).  For seven seasons she played Betty Jones, daughter and assistant to Buddy Ebsen’s detective character Barnaby Jones.  Meriwether also portrayed Lily Munster in the revival series The Munsters Today.

JOHN ZAREMBA (Dr. Raymond Swain) was one of the first television stars, featured in the counter-intelligence series I Led 3 Lives in the early ’50’s.  Another “typed” actor, he played many doctors and judges in various shows, including a medical examiner in Perry Mason and a colleague on Ben Casey.  He died in 1986, appearing in a role on Dallas earlier that year… again, as a doctor.

The cast of The Time Tunnel

The Time Tunnel is available on DVD in a split set, 15 episodes each, plus different and extensive extras on each set.  The second set contains as a bonus the attempted 2002 “remake” pilot from Fox, plus the full-length pilot for a similar Irwin Allen series from the ’70’s called The Time Travelers.  All thirty episodes of the original are also available on Hulu for streaming.  There were a couple of books written based on the series, as well as a children’s board game, and for a one-season series from the late ’60’s with no original comic book basis, The Time Tunnel is very well-remembered.  (There was a comic book, but it came after the series and only lasted a few issues.)  In another blast from the past, the iconic theme song was created by Johnny Williams, now known as John Williams, the writer of other memorable music for the movies Star Wars, Jaws, and Indiana Jones.  Truly, The Time Tunnel, and Darren, have both stood the test of time.

“…people look at me and say, ‘You’re the luckiest guy in the world.’  And I just have to say, ‘I know.'”
–James Darren

Darren is really a man of many eras, so it was fitting that he appeared on a series like The Time Tunnel.  He got to do a little of everything there, and his lengthy and successful career has been similar.  I was fortunate enough to spend a dinner with him and a few friends one evening, and a wonderful, interesting time was had by all.  James Darren is a true gentleman, a true talent, and a truly terrific human being (even though most these days know him as a hologram….)

From his days in the Rat Pack to his trips through The Time Tunnel, from his time on the beat of T.J. Hooker through directing, coming full circle to running Vic Fontaine’s holographic Vegas lounge years later on Deep Space Nine, Darren has been not only a class act, but truly timeless.  Whether you remember him as Moondoggie or Tony Newman, Jim Corrigan or Vic Fontaine (or even Jimmy Darrock), Darren’s talent and ageless grace have touched many, and I’m grateful to have been one of them.

Vital Stats

30 aired episodes — none unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  September 9, 1966 (the day after the original Star Trek premiered)
Final aired episode:  April 7, 1967 (The series was only pre-empted ONCE in thirty episodes!)
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Of course!  Another perfect show for the time slot, and one which almost survived it!

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Heading a few decades back this week, which was miniscule compared to the leaps taken by the heroes of our story.  They discovered a wide variety of situations, appropriately enough for one of the stars, whose own life was made up of multiple achievements of his own.  Five quotes:

He uses the equipment to prove his theories… but of course, nothing ever goes as it should.

“If you’re content with doing what you’re doing, stick with it.  If not, find the road that takes you there.”

…he’d once again found something he was not only good at, but which he enjoyed.

…he simply “slipped in” lines from the script, as if he was the part in real life.

“…people look at me and say, ‘You’re the luckiest guy in the world.’  And I just have to say, ‘I know.'”

I was lucky enough to meet the gentleman in question, and he’s worth every minute I spent with him.  Find time to learn about him and one of his shows, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

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