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Jack of All Trades is like a gourmet meal for goofballs.  If you took a dash of Wild Wild West, add a dash of Get Smart on top, and a garnish of F Troop, and a helping of Moonlighting… that’s what you’d get.”
–Bruce Campbell

Back when I started this website, one of the first articles I wrote was about The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., headlined by cult hero Bruce Campbell.  The series is one of my favorites, and the show got an unfortunate early demise despite its wild adventure and comedy mix.  There’s a reason the article for it was called “Just under over-the-top”, as it described perfectly the fun tone and presentation.  But Bruce Campbell has done much more in his career, and there’s one other show he later did which fits on this site.  The show is called Jack of All Trades… and it abandons all pretense of being UNDER over-the-top.  Here, there’s no longer any subtlety involved… and in this case, that’s a good thing.

In the 2000 series Jack of All Trades, we meet Jack Stiles (Bruce Campbell), an entertaining rogue if ever there was one.  A former spy (or “secret agent”, before the term was popularized), he worked for the early US Government during the Revolutionary War, and was now entrusted with preventing the formerly allied French from gaining a foothold in a slowly building America.  Despite their differences (and there are many), he teams with a British agent, the lovely Emilia Rothschild (Angela Dotchin), and they establish themselves on the tiny East Indies island of Palau Palau, hoping to fight the enemy French from within their own colony.

In order to fool the French,  Jack pretends to be the manservant of the regal Rothschild, while Emilia takes on the bearing of a respected member of society’s elite (and supposedly on the side of the governing French).  She and Jack are really there to spy on their mutual French enemies and foil their plans for world domination.  And while there’s an obvious attraction to each other, neither is used to taking any orders from someone else, and both sexual tension and friction are played in equal measure amidst the rollicking adventure.

Croque

To help with fighting the French, Jack also takes on the alias of the legendary Daring Dragoon, a supposed local legend and masked hero.  Using both covers as Emilia’s attaché and the local populace’s fascination with the “reappearance” of the Dragoon, Jack and Emilia embark upon their true mission:  opposing the brother of Napoleon, Governor Croque (Stuart Devenie),  and Croque’s personal lackey, Captain Brogard (Stephen Papps).  Our heroic pair then proceeds to foil various plans and schemes of others, including many historical figures like Bonaparte himself.  In reality, Emilia is often Jack’s assistant instead of the public portrayal as his superior, and she’s also rather adept at mechanical invention, coming up with various devices to foil villainous plots along with the swashbuckling of Jack’s Daring Dragoon.

Brogard

Captain Brogard:  “So, we meet again, Mister Fancy Sword and his flowing cape.”

Jack (as the Dragoon):  “Give me some credit, will ya?  You know how hard it is to wear this thing and still look dashing?”


the Daring Dragoon

Between the Zorro-like pastiche of the Dragoon, the deus ex machina of some of Emilia’s machines, and the general lack of historical accuracy given in the production of the series, there’s no two ways about it:  Jack of All Trades was designed purely as an action romp, complete with cartoon character villains and plot holes big enough to drive war cannons through.  But that certainly didn’t stop the show from being entertaining, and that was the whole point.

From the opening, you knew this show was different.  The rousing theme song features a large cast, clever lyrics, explosions, dancing pirates (even one with a peg leg, on a table no less), and a talking parrot.  Subtlety be damned, this was in-your-face joyful fun.  It did such a fine job of setting the scene and demonstrating the style of the series, it was nominated for an Emmy!  Jack of All Trades was no place for sensitive drama or introspective scripting, and the theme alone let everyone see just what they were in for.

And the show delivered on that promise, at least most of the time.  There is some good role reversal going on between Jack and Emilia and the roles they have to play for the French leaders in order to keep their true identities hidden, and whenever Jack dons the garb of the Daring Dragoon Bruce Campbell simply shines.  Stories included numerous French attempts at conquest with Napoleon Bonaparte, a meeting with explorers Lewis and Clark, and faking the death of one of the principals to clear the name of the Dragoon.  And just when you thought the show couldn’t get any crazier, they broke out the Marquis De Sade, and a sex-game based triathlon ran in pseudo-fetish costume (or at least as “costumed” as television could get in the year 2000).

Governor Croque: “The Marquis de Sade is my second cousin, twice-removed.”
Jack Stiles: “I can see why you removed him.”

Trying to be true to the actual setting of 1800 was a lost cause, and even became a running gag at times.  Canada was constantly mistakenly(?) mentioned as being under French control instead of British, and historical characters visited Palau Palau even though their own “real” timelines never had them near the place (or even alive at the time).  Jack of All Trades was never designed for the remotest attention to detail or reality, it was simply designed as silly, fun entertainment.  And that’s just the way Bruce Campbell wanted it.

“I have a good time.  It’s one of the reasons I took Jack of All Trades.  It’s like a guarantee that I will have fun every day .”
–Bruce Campbell

Modern audiences might know Campbell from his current run as sidekick/mentor Sam Axe on the USA series Burn Notice.  He’s played the part since 2007, which is easily the longest running regular gig he’s had in television, although he’s known for many others.  He was an occasional guest (and fan favorite) as Autolycus on both Hercules:  The Legendary Journeys and sister series Xena:  Warrior Princess, both of which were shooting in New Zealand before and after his stint in Jack of All Trades.  I’ve mentioned his star turn in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. previously. He’s also had a movie career which includes the cult favorite Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies, cool zombie pictures that became influences on the current television hit The Walking Dead.

Campbell is a successful bestselling author, with tongue firmly in cheek, writing the semi-autobiographical tomes Make Love!  The Bruce Campbell Way and (making fun of his chiseled good looks) If Chins Could Kill:  Confessions of a B-Movie Actor.  He knows his niche, and while he’s possessed of great dramatic skills when they’re necessary (a stunning two-part Homicide:  Life on the Street comes to mind), his personality and desire seems to be more in line with poking fun, both at himself and others, with the characters he plays.

He’s also become associated with good friend Sam Raimi, a producer of film and television who has used Bruce in many of his vehicles (as listed above), but considers Campbell his “good luck charm” and will find small roles for him in various films.  Whether he’s a wrestling ring announcer or a French waiter, or his part ended up on the cutting room floor, Raimi wouldn’t make a film without him.

Fortunately, the aims of Jack of All Trades dovetailed with Raimi’s needs, and the series was shot utilizing some of the resources Raimi had already set up for Hercules and Xena in New Zealand.  The monetary exchange rate was excellent at the time, and a production which would cost millions of dollars in Hollywood only cost a bit over half of that down under.  An added plus was locations and scenery that simply wasn’t available in California, especially when you’re trying to replicate (even inaccurately) a South Sea island like Palau Palau.  The only real problem was time… but not in the way you might think.

Cleopatra 2525

When Jack of All Trades premiered, it was paired with a futuristic series called Cleopatra 2525, and sold as a set known as the “Back-to-Back Action Pack”.  It was also sold as only a 30-mintue program, with Cleopatra 2525 filling the other half of the hour.  Once you remove the necessary commercials (as they pay for the production), and the elaborate opening credits and any end credit sequence (required by various unions, no matter how they’ve been shrunk on modern-day shows), you’re left with an actual available running time of only about 20 minutes per episode, if you’re lucky.

That may be enough for a typical situation comedy, with a modest plot set primarily in a living room or office.  It becomes a terrible burden, however, when trying to make a period show set on a South Sea island, with multiple characters foiling elaborate schemes, plus character relationships and secret identities, not to mention trying to add action/adventure qualities with an over-the-top comedic tone.  Jack of All Trades really tried to be exactly that:  a show which presented all types of things to all people, in the name of entertainment.  But ultimately it couldn’t do everything it had hoped, primarily because of the time constraints.

But at least it had fun trying.  And perhaps “fun” is the one quality most important in any show, for viewers, cast, and crew.  And, as the opening credits sang, if you didn’t know that… you don’t know Jack.

All about the fun

BRUCE CAMPBELL (Jack Stiles) and his career are detailed in the article itself, but mention should be made of his recent trip overseas to visit US troops during the recent Iraqi conflict, and of his brother Don’s involvement.  Don has almost 30 years of experience in the military, and the brothers support each other in their endeavors.  Bruce has appeared at multiple sites in support of the troops, and Don has helped with some of the military-related roles Bruce has played over the years.  Entertainment takes many forms, and is especially valued by those whose hard work helps make us free to enjoy those moments.

AMANDA DOTCHIN (Emilia Rothschild) is a native of New Zealand, and her career has been primarily down under.  She’s best known there for the Lawless series of TV-movies, where won awards for her portrayal of a private investigator.  She left the acting business a few years ago and moved to Great Britain, where she now makes a living in the fashion industry.

STEWART DEVENIE (Governor Croque) is another New Zealand actor, and a favorite of director Peter Jackson.  He’s had an extensive theatre career as both an actor and director, and taught acting at the New Zealand Drama School.  He also founded the Playfair Ltd. theatre company, based in Auckland.

STEPHEN PAPPS (Captain Brogard) also appeared in both Hercules:  The Legendary Journeys and Xena:  Warrior Princess before joining Jack of All Trades.  Continuing his acting in Australia and New Zealand, he was seen in America most recently guesting on Legend of the Seeker (which filmed, like Hercules and Xena, in New Zealand).

Jack of All Trades has been released on DVD (although there aren’t any extras included), so you can enjoy all the fun and adventure for yourself.  Bruce Campbell has his own site, of course, full of information about his previous projects, his current stint on Burn Notice, and upcoming appearances at various conventions around the country.  He may be a self-confessed “B-movie” actor, but many would love to have his career, his fans, and his popularity.  On his site, just as in Jack of All Trades, you can see why.

No matter what the Hollywood power structure might believe as a business, for viewers television will always be primarily an entertainment medium.  One which is invited into our homes, as a part of our everyday lives, to bring us both dramatic and humorous moments to make our existence more interesting or, at the very least, provide an outlet for escape.  Depending upon the scene and the episode, Jack of All Trades did this well, with likable characters and humor, in a setting and style seldom found on most programs.

Much of the credit has to go to Bruce Campbell, for although he’s a self-proclaimed B-list actor, he’s been a welcome part of many productions, and his executive producer credits on both Jack of All Trades and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. meant his trademark humor was more than evident.  It only proves that, even though he plays a supporting role on the current Burn Notice, when the series was tapped for a special TV-movie, it focused upon his character and his backstory before the show continuity began.

Campbell may not be a star in the strictest Hollywood sense, but for those who appreciate his humor and dedication, he’s one of the brightest stars in both television and movies.  He doesn’t have to master Hollywood, especially when he can become popular on his own terms.  To those who love his work, he’s already a Jack of All Trades, and a master of entertainment.

Vital Stats

22 half-hour episodes — none unaired — available on DVD
Syndicated
First aired episode:  January 22, 2000
Final aired episode:  December 2, 2000
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Perhaps, but not likely.  Since the series was syndicated, it aired at various different times on different stations who bought the rights.  It also was known to flip-flop with Cleopatra 2525 at times, occasionally airing before it, and occasionally airing after.

(By the way, this didn’t fit in the article, but I found a picture that’s the very definition of “cult hero”:  Here’s Bruce Campbell, wearing Clan Campbell tartan dress, posing with Conor Macleod’s Highlander broadsword, in front of statues of Robert the Bruce and William “Braveheart” Wallace, at Edinbrugh Castle in Scotland.)

Thanks to the HeroChan website for this!

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

“Unfortunately, having the Mattel tie-in has worked against the show in the sense that syndicators have assumed that it is only something for kids.  This show was definitely created with an older audience in mind.”
–Gary Goddard, Creator of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

It is not enough to create a good television show, because even the best shows can fail due to awkward scheduling, inadequate promotion, or just plain bad luck.  I wouldn’t have featured many of the failed series on this website if not for outside forces affecting the quality of a series and the opportunity of an audience to find gems that were otherwise hidden.  Even the best laid plans become fouled up when the creative sides of the equation don’t quite mesh with the financial or promotional sides, and that’s exactly what happened to Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future takes place in the apocalyptic remnants of North America after a devastating war.  The year is 2147, and mankind has fought the Metal Wars against machines… and lost.  The remnants of humanity have banded together into small resistance groups, one of which is led by Captain Jonathan Power (Tim Dunigan).  He and his team continue to fight the evil Lord Dread (David Hemblen) and his mechanized army, utilizing “power suits” that enable their wearers to become armored fighters, capable of being on an equal footing with the enemy machines.

clockwise, from bottom:  Power, Hawk, Tank, Scout, Pilot

clockwise, from bottom: Power, Hawk, Tank, Scout, Pilot

Power’s team includes Major Matthew “Hawk” Masterson (Peter MacNeill), whose specialized power suit gives him the ability to become a one-man aerial attack unit; Lieutenant Michael “Tank” Ellis (Sven-Ole Thorsen) who becomes their “ground and pound” assault member; Sergeant Robert “Scout” Baker (Maurice Dean Wint) with specialization in communications and espionage and a suit which can mimic some of the mechanical enemy; and Corporal Jennifer “Pilot” Chase (Jessica Steen) who can drive or fly almost any vehicle and is particularly adept at tactical systems.  Together, they make up the Soldiers of the Future, dedicated to defeating the continued plans of Lord Dread.

Yes, it sounds a bit like the show was designed to sell toys.  While that might be a factually true statement, it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Despite the rather simplistic sounding names of the characters and the series, there might just be a show in here somewhere… if only we could get past the whole “toy” idea….

“And uppermost in our minds was the fact that not every viewer would be pointing a jet gun at the screen.  We had to make sure that the show also stood on its own without the gaming effect.  And, for the most part, I think we have.”
–Gary Goddard, Creator

Preparing for their transformation. Power ON!

What kind of show did Goddard and his team make?  One that was a far cry from just a sales platform for toys and action figures.  The very first episode of Captain Power deals with a lost love of Jonathan’s, possible betrayal, and more than hints at possible jealousy and an intimate previous relationship for Power.  Characters related as adults, in a world of devastation and occasional hopelessness.  The good guys sometimes doubted their own effectiveness in the face of tremendous odds.

Captain Power wasn’t afraid to journey into some very dark places.  The lead bad guy turns out to be something quite different after all, and is ultimately brought down by the very machines he helped.  Some characters hold secrets that could betray those who trust them.  And one character is forced to decide whether to make the ultimate sacrifice for their side.

“This is pretty ambitious stuff for a kid’s show.  There is an overview story that continues to grow and expand as the series progresses.  Each episode tells a story but each story is part of the ongoing Captain Power saga.  There’s a wide spectrum of human emotion on display in this show.  There have been hints of romance, violence, the sense of loss;  it’s all here.  We are working, storywise, on a bleak canvas.  But we’re working very hard, within the context of a science-fiction adventure series, to present adult themes and to emphasize human qualities.”
–Gary Goddard, Creator

This isn’t The Care Bears by any means….

While Captain Power may have been a success out of the gate, the series suffered from an obvious “mixed signals” message.  Many of the local stations who bought the series believed they were getting a purely kiddie SF show, and scheduled it as such, especially with the associated toy and game blitz that Mattel had timed to release with the premiere.  TV and magazine ads touted the “play-along” features of the series far and above the actual storylines or characterizations.  The insistence upon rather basic naming conventions for the villain (Lord Dread, really?) and simplistic terms for the leads (Hawk, Pilot, Scout, etc.) made it very easy to assume that the target audience was the younger set.

Of course, with storylines developed for adults in mind, there’s a dissonance here.  Anyone over the age of 20 who hadn’t seen the episodes likely believed it was a kid’s show.  Those who were lucky enough to discover there was more here than a TV infomercial for toys likely weren’t going to shout it from the rooftops anyway, just for fear of being ridiculed for watching “children’s” programming.  Meanwhile, many SF allegories portrayed everything from the rise of the youth in the Nazi party in the late 1930’s to the devastation of a post-apocalyptic North America, ideas which flew completely over the heads of those little ones who were simply waiting for the action sequences in order to shoot their toys at the screen.  Captain Power, as a show, didn’t aim at a very clear target.

The (computer generated) enemy Sauron

Taken on its financial merits as a TV show, Captain Power had the earmarks of a syndication success.  Broadcast in almost 100 US markets and 20 foreign ones, the Mattel corporation believed the show would help them sell a tremendous amount of playsets, action figures, and similar merchandise.  Mattel thought so much of the concept that the company footed much of the bill for the first season’s worth of episodes.  But a show sponsored by a toy company is a bit of a devil’s bargain….

Captain Power toys would be the hit of the fall, using new “interactive” technology featured on the series.  Various spaceship and “laser gun” toys Mattel sold could sense the special lighting used on the villains in episodes when they aired.  The targeting system allowed viewers to play along, trying to shoot on-screen enemies.  If you “hit” enough opponents, you’d hear an audible signal denoting your victory, while defeat meant, for example, the viewer’s action figure in the cockpit of the specially designed fighter ship would be ejected.

And all of this is well and good, especially if you’re making some commercials or ads for your new toys.  But when the toymaker is “footing the bill” for upwards of a million dollars an episode, they might insist on a bit more of the toy features at the cost of adult storylines.  The problem becomes, when does the show stop and the selling begin?

Magazine ad for Mattel's interactive toys

Making the show was a constant battle between those who wanted to create actual television drama and those who wanted to sell the show and its related merchandise.  And, since the finances were primarily being paid for by Mattel, guess who won most of the battles?  While Mattel put a tremendous amount of money into the toy line, the interactivity of the toys themselves was not spectacular, and accusations (by various watchdog groups) of the show being nothing more than a half-hour commercial didn’t help.  Nor did Mattel’s insistence on the interactive segments that pretty much stopped the drama for a couple of minutes every episode.

Tim Dunigan as Captain Jonathan Power

“But I do get the feeling that some stories could have been better if we weren’t obligated to put a certain amount of interactivity into each episode.  We’re doing substantial work on Captain Power and it gets awfully tempting for me to sometimes say, ‘Hey, how about only 20 seconds of interactivity and a little more dialogue?'”
–Tim Dunigan, Captain Jonathan Power

The watchdog groups were of particular significance, because although Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was seemingly a ratings and financial success, the publicity brought by some of these groups had a detrimental effect on both the creators of the show and Mattel.  Newspaper articles and feature stories on CNN caused controversy, and while Goddard and his creative team fought valiantly for the dramatic core of the show, Mattel decided that the negative publicity wasn’t worth the money they were spending, and the plug was pulled on the show.

A second season’s worth of scripts were already outlined and written, creating new characters and changing the direction of some of the previous regulars.  While Mattel was still deciding the fate of the toy line, the writing staff had already charted new dramatic courses for the characters in the war-torn world of 2147.  While Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future wouldn’t live on to a second season, those few who fought through the mixed messages of its initial promotion and subsequent presentation found a show worth seeing, and a show worth keeping in memory.

TIM DUNIGAN (Captain Jonathan Power) was the original “Face” in the pilot episode of The A-Team, a role which went to Dirk Benedict when the show went to series.  He also played Prince Blackpool on Wizards and Warriors, and Davy Crockett in a series of TV specials for Disney.  He retired from acting in 2002, becoming a mortgage broker.

PETER MacNEILL (Major Matthew “Hawk” Masterson) has a long history on TV and in movies, having appeared as a regular in Rin Tin Tin: K9 Cop, Queer as Folk, and Rookie Blue.  A native of Canada, he’s also a frequent guest star in many Canadian series to this day.

SVEN-OLE THORSEN (Lieutenant Michael “Tank” Ellis) is, at 6′ 5″ tall, a giant of a man, easily cast as a human “tank”.  He’s performed in over a dozen Arnold Schwarzenegger films, and coordinated stunts in many of them as well.  He speaks four languages, is a former world record holder in power lifting, and a black belt in Karate.  He’s probably best known for playing Tigris of Gaul, the legendary fighter in  the film Gladiator.

MAURICE DEAN WINT (Sergeant Robert “Scout” Baker) has been featured in many Canadian and Canadian-based productions.  He was a regular in William Shatner’s Tekwar series, and also was seen in PSI Factor, ReGenesis, and Blue Murder.  His most recent work on American screens was in the SyFy series Haven.

JESSICA STEEN (Corporal Jennifer “Pilot” Chase) appeared on the ABC soap opera Loving, leading to being cast as a regular in the critically acclaimed series Homefront for two seasons.  She returned to SF, appearing in the ensemble cast of Earth 2, and later became a pilot in the movie Armageddon (supposedly because her role in Captain Power was remembered fondly by movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer).  Recurring roles in both NCIS and Flashpoint followed, and she is currently one of the stars of the Canadian series Heartland.

DAVID HEMBLEN (Lord Dread) is best known for his SF role as Jonathan Doors in the five season syndicated series Earth: Final Conflict.  British by birth, he also has made recurring appearances in A Nero Wolfe Mystery and La Femme Nikita.  He’s also done numerous voices for animated series, including The Silver Surfer and multiple incarnations of The X-Men.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is remembered by some who have dedicated significant resources to celebrating both the adult and the child aims.  Various fan-made websites note both the serious nature of the storylines and the collection of toys available.  They also feature versions of the commercial video tapes made for play with the original battle toys, with a larger amount of time dedicated to the interactive portions of the series.  Recent activity reported by TVShowsonDVD.com mentions documentaries currently being recorded, likely for inclusion on a DVD release of the series (and fans are cautiously optimistic on such a development at this point, although no particular studio or date has been noted).

It will be interesting to see what approach the developers of the DVD release take, and whether the adult/storyline or the kid’s/toy angle is most prominent in the presentation.  Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future could, as shown above, easily play both parts, and that was most certainly its ultimate downfall as a series.  If people can get past the names and the toys, they discover the possibilities of a terrific show… and maybe now, those who were kids twenty years ago will pick up the DVDs for nostalgic purposes and find out about the ideas that were there all the time.

Perhaps Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future needed to wait until our future arrived to find their real target audience:  those who loved it when they were kids, and now can fully appreciate it when finally grown up.  It didn’t take a revolutionary new toy to hit the target… it just took time.

Vital Stats

22 aired episodes — none unaired
Syndicated
First aired episode:  September 1, 1987
Final aired episode:  March 27, 1988
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  No, in syndication, the local stations picked the time slot, which means in places it aired in primetime, and in others it aired Sunday mornings at 6am.  It all depended on what local station managers believed was the real target audience for the show, and no matter what they believed, they were likely wrong.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

Television has this amazing habit, as it keeps using the same ideas, but finds new ways to present them.  Due to different eras, styles, and creative personnel, a simple four-word idea evolved into three very different series.  About all they had in common was that each focused on the relationship between two very different lead characters… and the fact that each of the shows lasted one season or less.  Oh, and that four-word idea?  “Human Cop — Robot Partner.”

VERSION 1.0:  ABC tried this idea when it premiered a “buddy comedy” titled Holmes and Yo-Yo.  Set in the then present day of 1976, it featured Alexander Holmes (Richard B. Shull) as the human cop, who was such a bumbler that his incompetence kept putting all of his former partners in the hospital (accidentally, of course).  When no one would partner with him any longer, he was finally teamed with rookie cop Gregory Yoyonovitch (John Schuck).  During their first assignment, “Yo-Yo” is shot (of course, due to Holmes ineptness).  Surprisingly, Yo-Yo is relatively unharmed, but Holmes discovers Yo-Yo’s “secret”:  that he’s actually a robot, being tested for police work, and no one but his creator and the officers’ Captain (Bruce Kirby) are supposed to know his true nature.

The Slapstick Version: Holmes and Yo-Yo

Trying to keep the secret of Yo-Yo’s identity was difficult, since a female fellow officer was falling for him (and Yo-Yo, programmed for friendliness and not love, is totally oblivious of this).  It also didn’t help that his robotics weren’t nearly perfected, and he was affected by everything from elevators to magnets to garage door openers.  What follows is 13 episodes of slapstick humor and sight gags, usually involving either Holmes clumsiness putting Yo-Yo into ridiculous situations, or Yo-Yo’s lack of understanding of human behavior and Holmes’ trying to cover for his partner’s true nature.  The comedy was broad, hoping to invoke the style of famous teams like Martin & Lewis, and Gleason & Carney (the show was produced by Leonard Stern, who’d written for The Honeymooners and Get Smart, so you can tell the tone the series was going for).  Shull and Schuck were actually very good physical comedians, but the material they had to work with was almost too outlandish, and the Holmes and Yo-Yo series (and buffoonery) soon ended.

But that four-word “high-concept” idea was still out there… and the idea of “human cop–robot partner” might still work, if someone took a completely different approach….

VERSION 2.0:  Producer Dick Wolf (creator of the long-running Law and Order franchise) tried his hand at this idea in the summer of 1992.  NBC’s Mann and Machine was set in the “near future”, and inhabited a similar but slightly more advanced world than what we know of today in 2010.  Its plots took a much more traditional “cop show” tone, just with a few futuristic touches.  Robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are beginning to become more commonplace in this era, and human police detective Robert “Bobby” Mann (David Andrews) ends up being paired with the newest generation model, a beautiful female robot named Eve (Yancy Butler).  Again, almost everyone else (except their boss) is supposed to think that she’s human… and according to her creators, she almost is….

The Serious, Edgy Version: Mann and Machine

“There’s only one thing that separates the machine mind from its human counterpart, and that’s the ability to learn from experience.  Eve is the first creation of artificial intelligence capable of assimilating “emotional” material.”
–Dr. Anna Kepler, Eve’s creator, in the pilot episode

Eve is programmed with an incredible amount of knowledge… but emotionally, she’s at the level of a seven-year old, still learning about human behavior (and everything from “little white lies” to the concept of modesty, since she thinks nothing of disrobing in front of Mann at one point).  But she learns very quickly… and Mann, with all his great instincts as a policeman (and bad habits as a human being) gets to be the one to teach her.

The stories utilized both Eve’s advanced abilities and Mann’s street sense to solve crimes, and the only real downfall of the series was that the presentation of the show almost tried to be too futuristic.  With jerky, oddly edited action scenes and vaguely unsettling electronic music, the characterizations and plots were undermined by the attempts at being “cutting edge” in style, and the show’s emotional core suffered as a result.  When the film editors don’t get in their way, Butler shines in one of her early acting roles as Eve, and Andrews does a fine job presenting Mann as a character that, in lesser hands, would be unlikable, but here is simply a fallible human, and therefore the best teacher Eve could ever have.  Their Captain is portrayed by actress S. Epatha Merkerson, who started playing the boss of other cops (but essentially the same character) for 16 seasons on Wolf’s long-running Law and Order, shortly after Mann and Machine‘s 9 episodes ended.

So… the broad comedy didn’t work, and neither did the slightly futuristic drama.  What’s left?  Well, the next version took a little of both , and some inspiration from the movies, and came up with a far different approach….

VERSION 3.0:  Move forward a couple of TV seasons to 1994, and a few more years into the future.  RoboCop:  The Series was based on the movie franchise, which had gone through 3 films, although the last two weren’t nearly as successful as the first.  Therefore, the series threw out any continuity of those two sequels, and returned to the original for its inspiration.

“We always felt RoboCop was a lonely hero who could not express who he is.  The television series is an opportunity to explore the ethical honing of RoboCop’s character against a more science-fiction like setting.”
–Michael Miner, co-writer of both the original film and the series pilot episode

It’s now a few years after the events of the original movie, in which cop Alex Murphy (played in the series by Richard Eden) had been critically wounded, and what was left of him was fused with a robotic shell and computer programming.  The result, RoboCop, is an armored law enforcer, with supposedly no memory of his prior existence, and instructions to serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law.  However, RoboCop’s discovery of the wife and son he’d had in his previous life as Murphy trigger troubling memories and images, and a slow realization of the humanity he has lost.  His partner in the TV series, Lisa Madigan (Yvette Nipar), also discovers the truth, and promises to keep secret the existence of his slowly recovering memories, while helping to protect his former family and encouraging Murphy to tell them what has happened to him.  This forms the emotional core of the episodes, as Murphy/RoboCop must deal with the present while reaching back to try and grasp his elusive past.

The Schizophrenic Version: RoboCop: The Series

“They need a husband… and a father.  I cannot be that.  But I can protect them.”
RoboCop/Murphy to Madigan at the end of the first episode

This heartfelt character arc was oddly combined with a darkly comic tone (which both the series and the original movie shared).  It presented sharp ironic satire bordering on the absurd, in a heightened and almost parody-like demonstration of present day attitudes taken to extremes.  In fact, it’s probably a good thing that the show was syndicated and sold directly to local stations, because if it had been on a major network, it could never have gotten away with the spirited jabs it took at almost any target.  Religion and politics were both satirized, and corporations and crooks ran almost everything, while the populace looked the other way (as long as they weren’t inconvenienced).

RoboCop is also a comedy, social satire in the broadest sense, we were always thinking about the next crazy character, place name, or situation which would pillory our existing institutions.”
–Ed Newmeier, the other co-writer on the original movie and series pilot episode

The one thing that was different from the original film was a significant lack of over-the-top violence, which simply wasn’t acceptable on broadcast TV in 1994, even in syndication.  So, instead of violence, irony ruled the day.  In a world that had willingly given up its own humanity in trade for material comfort and the illusion of contentment,  RoboCop/Murphy represented a journey back to humanity.  He not only was our protector, he represented hope.

Compare the above two quotes of the co-writers.  Just like RoboCop/Murphy, the feeling you get is a severe case of split personality for both the character and the show.  This, to me, is the best explanation of why RoboCop:  The Series only lasted one 22 episode season.  The juxtaposition of styles and substance might work over a two-hour movie (and even then, it didn’t work for the two sequels), but it’s just too difficult to balance and maintain over an entire series.

Comedy, drama, or irony?  Network or syndicated?  No matter what approach, apparently there were still too many “bugs” in the (television) programming for any of these versions of “Human Cop — Robot Partner” to succeed.  But maybe someday….

RICHARD B. SHULL (Alexander Holmes) appeared in many comedy roles on TV and film including Hart to Hart, Alice, and The Rockford Files, but his first love was theatre.  He appeared in numerous Broadway productions, including Victor/Victoria and Goodtime Charley, for which he received a Tony award nomination.  He passed away in 1999, acting almost literally until the end, part of the cast of the Broadway play Epic Proportions.

JOHN SCHUCK  (Yo-Yo) has had a wide range of roles, known as a comedic actor earlier in his career as Sgt. Enright in McMillan and Wife, and Herman Munster in the revival series The Munsters Today.  He’s used his dramatic muscles in numerous science fiction shows, including Babylon 5, and both the fourth and sixth Star Trek movies.  He also toured for many years as Daddy Warbucks in the musical Annie.

DAVID ANDREWS (Bobby Mann) was in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street movie, as well as playing supporting roles in the movies Fight Club and Apollo 13.  On television, he appeared in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon and was a regular on the final season of JAG.

YANCY BUTLER (Eve) is best known for starring in the two-season cable series Witchblade, but also starred in the short-lived series Brooklyn South and South Beach.  She was also featured in multiple episodes of Third Watch and the soap opera As the World Turns.

RICHARD EDEN (Alex Murphy/RoboCop) spent a season on the NBC soap Santa Barbara and appeared regularly on Emerald Point N.A.S. He also guested on numerous Canadian-filmed syndicated series in the ’90’s, including Tarzan, Forever Knight, Total Recall, Earth:  Final Conflict, and Relic Hunter.

YVETTE NIPAR (Lisa Madigan) played recurring parts in Brisco County Jr. and 21 Jump Street.  She’s also made appearances on everything from Murder, She Wrote to Chicago Hope to Party of Five to Profiler.

Holmes and Yo-Yo exists almost only in the memories of those who saw it originally, with little information or resources online.  One episode is available, in chunks, on YouTube.  You can also find the pilot of Mann and Machine on YouTube, in addition to further episodes (again in chunks).  There are also bootleg DVDs of the Mann and Machine available in various places on the web, but there’s never been an official release of either of these two shows.  RoboCop:  The Series did receive an official DVD release in Canada, but it’s still Region 1 and therefore playable on North American DVD machines and available from Amazon Canada.  There’s also a great site dedicated to the entire RoboCop mythology, with excellent information on all the movies, the animated series, comic books, and everything else from that universe.

Whether in comedic, dramatic, or ironic terms, by contrasting a human cop and a robot partner we are not just entertained, but discover some facet of our own humanity.  One has to wonder, however, why these robots keep wanting to be human… when humans themselves don’t seem to appreciate the lessons of these shows enough to keep them on the air.

Someday, someone will come up with VERSION 4.0 of this theme, and try it again, and maybe this next show will find an audience that appreciates that message… and be reminded of their humanity in an increasingly technological world.  Until then… the idea is still there, waiting.  Just four words….

Vital Stats

Holmes and Yo-Yo
13 aired episodes — none unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  September 25, 1976
Final aired episode:  August 8, 1977, although the series had stopped airing the previous December, with the last episode unaired until late summer of the following year
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  No, its scheduled time slot was Saturdays at 8/7 Central.

Mann and Machine
9 aired episodes — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  April 5, 1992
Final aired episode:  July 14, 1992, but the show skipped the entire month of May and most of June, essentially having been cancelled already, and again, the remaining episodes were burned off in the dead of summer with no promotion.
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Again, no.  The series aired on Sundays at 8/7 Central, with the “burned” episodes airing on Tuesdays.

RoboCop:  The Series
Two-hour pilot and 21 hour episodes aired — none unaired
Syndicated
First aired episode:  March 18, 1994
Final aired episode:  November 26, 1994
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Possible, but unlikely, as local stations across the country who bought the show could air it when they pleased during the week, which meant that some stations aired it in prime time, and others buried it at 2am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, meaning very few viewers.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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