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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Monday, September 26, 2005
Missed By That Much

Just a few days after sitcom legend Bob Denver (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) passed away comes news of another death: Don Adams, the Emmy-winning star of GET SMART!

Unlike many fans, I didn't get to grow up with GET SMART!, since it was never rerun on any TV station in the Champaign-Urbana market. I remember seeing a couple of episodes in motels while on family vacations, but it wasn't until TV Land began airing it in the 1990's that I got to see GET SMART! on a regular basis. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, neither of whom had anything to do with the series after the pilot, GET SMART! is perhaps the only commercially successful spoof in TV history. Series like POLICE SQUAD, WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN (another Brooks show) and SLEDGE HAMMER! followed in GET SMART!'s footsteps, but none came anywhere near the five-season run or multiple Emmy trophies of their predecessor.

I actually came to know Adams through his voicing of Tennessee Tuxedo, a wisecracking penguin who teamed up with a dumb walrus named Chumbley on a popular cartoon series I watched a lot as a kid. He also appeared on the box and in commercials for an Aurora toy called Skittle Pool; I understand Adams won a Clio for directing the commercial.

GET SMART! is a marvelously clever TV series, a spoof of the many spy movies and shows that were so popular at the time, ranging from the James Bond movies to THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Adams was idiotic CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart, a bumbler who always somehow managed to stop the nefarious plans of rival spy agency KAOS, usually with the assistance of his gorgeous partner, Agent 99, played by the brainy and beautiful Barbara Feldon.

Catchphrases like "Would you believe...?", "Missed by that much" and "Sorry about that, Chief" became widely imitated, and running gags like the Cone of Silence and other wild gadgetry were hallmarks of the series. But most of all, GET SMART! was successful because of its star. Adams never really did much after GET SMART! went off the air, perhaps because of typecasting. He was certainly a very talented comic actor, a master of the double take and able to wring every last laugh out of a gag by punctuating the lines with that distinctive Maxwell Smart voice (which was not how Adams regularly talked, by the way).

Adams reprised the character in THE NUDE BOMB, which was one of the first (but not the first) times the cast of a successful television show got to star in a theatrically released sequel. Motion picture remakes of old TV shows are common today, but this was an example of a reunion movie being made for theaters, and was perhaps inspired by STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Universal released it with a PG rating in 1980, and it was not a critical or box office hit, probably because GET SMART!'s supporting cast, including Feldon, Dick Gautier (Hymie the Robot), Bernie Kopell (Siegfried) and King Moody (Starker) were not included in the film. Feldon's absence was a particularly stiff blow to GET SMART fans, and the cheap production values (the Universal tour plays a large part in the action) and clunker-filled script didn't give Adams much to chew on. Adams also came back to play Smart in the very good made-for-TV sequel GET SMART AGAIN! (which wisely featured the old cast, including Feldon) and in the short-lived 1995 Fox TV series GET SMART, in which Adams and Feldon played the parents of a new bumbling CONTROL agent, played by, of all people, Andy Dick (NEWSRADIO).

GET SMART! is scheduled for a DVD release early next year. It's a shame Adams didn't live to see them come out, but let's hope he was available to participate in some bonus features for the DVD. He apparently has been in ill health for several years now, and, at age 82, it seems unlikely he could have been too active with the DVDs, but it certainly would be a wonderful bonus for those of us who appreciated his fine talent.

Posted by Marty at 11:25 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 26, 2005 11:36 PM CDT
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Sunday, September 25, 2005
The Long Weekend
I'm not going to post much right now; I need to get some sleep. I spent a three-day weekend as the best man at my friend Kevin's wedding up north. Even though I really had few duties as best man, it still made for a long, exhausting weekend. So exhausting that even if I had been able to score with the blond hottie who was hostessing at Connie's Pizza Friday night, I might have had to beg off. And, hey, I was succeeding too. I just would have had to have put in a few hours groundwork with her at Fat Sam's, but it just wasn't to be. I find I'm much more successful with women I meet outside of C-U. I think part of the reason is that women from more urban areas are more open to strange men, more curious to learn more about people, regardless of their appearance. Maybe because they have more contact with strangers or because city life has made them more open-minded. I don't know, but I find conversing with strange women is a lot easier for me in Chicago or Atlanta or Los Angeles than it is here.

And I also think that women in this area are, frankly, not very pleasant. I know that won't be a very popular statement, but the number of interesting, attractive single women, particularly childless women, around here is about the same as the number of registered Republicans in south central L.A. And the percentage of those women who are actually nice people, well, we're talking microscopic numbers here. I've considered pulling a Tolemite and doing my own Shame Week of stories about how cruelly women have treated me, but my ego has taken enough of a beating, and I'm not sure I can stand to relive them. Even though some of the tales are, admittedly, pretty funny. I know you've heard the expression "cold shoulder", but I have actually received one. Brrrrr.

I'll post more about the wedding later. For now, I'll say that it was a good time and a very nice ceremony. I could have used a nice break during the afternoon, but the reception and the excellent prime rib there more than made up for it.

After driving home through a pounding rainstorm all the way from Orland Park, I spent the rest of today on the couch watching TV. Fox's KILLER INSTINCT is a real turkey. It's a stupid police procedural--a genre I really like, but even I'm beginning to get sick of them--starring a guy named Johnny Messner, who is a very bad actor, and a young actress named Marguerite Moreau, who is not much better. Moreau was fired after the pilot and was replaced by Kristin Lehman, but I won't be tuning back in for Episode Two. The great Chi McBride is wasted as the gruff black cop superior in this thin, obvious mystery series.

The teaser of THE WEST WING was a neat surprise, taking place three years in the future and giving us a sneak peek at what the characters will be up to after President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) has left office. Since the series will likely focus on the Jimmy Smits/Alan Alda presidential race until one of those actors/characters wins the White House, it will probably be the show's best chance to give its audience closure concerning its beloved cast. We find out C.J. is married to reporter Danny Kilcannon and has borne him a child, Toby is teaching at Columbia University, the Mary McCormack character has written a book, presumably about the Bartlet presidency, and Josh appears to be working for the current U.S. president, Matt Santos (Smits). Or is he? I doubt the show is showing its hand this soon, so maybe Josh has a new job three years from now. We'll see.

I'm really looking forward to Chris Noth's return to LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT. It's my least favorite L&O show and one I don't find essential, but Noth, a beloved former star of the original L&O (he was partnered with George Dzundza, Paul Sorvino and Jerry Orbach), is returning to star in half of this season's L&O:CI episodes, alternating with Vincent D'Onofrio. In just the few minutes of screen time Noth had in tonight's opener, he was a breath of fresh air, and it will be great to see him in his own episodes, partnering with Annabella Sciorra (THE SOPRANOS). I predict Noth will be the fulltime star next season, and D'Onofrio will be history.

Bengals are 3-0, baby! Take that, Bears fans!

Posted by Marty at 11:10 PM CDT
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Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Drive-In Memories
I watched a documentary tonight about the rise and fall of the American drive-in theater, and I thought it might be fun to share some of my own drive-in memories. You can let me know if it is.

First, some background, since I know so many people who have never attended a drive-in theater. And even if you do go, today's drive-ins aren't the same, I don't think. You generally get only one movie, as opposed to the two or more that were mandatory in the old days, and the movie is usually some big, homogenous blockbuster that might even still be playing in the multiplexes, so you aren't even getting the thrill of discovering something A) new and obscure or B) bold and exploitative. Drive-ins began to die out in the late 1970's, simply because land became so valuable that it was more profitable for drive-in owners to sell their property to developers to turn into shopping centers.

There are still a couple of drive-ins around here, but, eh, it's just not the same. It doesn't feel special, as it once did, to go to them. There are no promotions or gimmicks or music or any sense of community. You show up, pay money, park, and watch a movie. One. And you're outta there way before midnight.

Champaign-Urbana used to have two drive-ins: the Widescreen, which was on North Cunningham in Urbana, and the Twin City, which was on North Market in Champaign across the street from where Market Place Mall is now, where Heilig-Meyers is. My recollection is that the Widescreen was more likely to show mainstream movies, whereas the Twin City showed harder exploitation items. That's why my family--mom, dad, little brother and me--almost always went to the Widescreen. I only remember going to the Twin City once, in 1981 to see FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (we left before the second feature, WOLFEN). 1981 was also the year the Twin City closed, so I likely saw one of the last features there.

The thing I mostly recall about the Twin City is that you could see the screen from Interstate 74, and I'm convinced the first time I saw a naked woman was as a very young boy seeing all kinds of pink naughtiness bouncing around that silent arena on the way home from a family trip.

My folks used to take my brother and me to the Widescreen a lot. I remember sitting in the back seat in my pajamas eating popcorn out of this gigantic green Tupperware bowl and drinking Coke out of a Tupperware sippy cup. We always brought our own refreshments. This would have been in the early-to-mid 1970's. I don't know if it was on its original release or a re-release, but I clearly recall seeing PAPILLON at the Widescreen. I didn't realize it until I saw the film as a teenager, because I only remembered a beheading (PAPILLON was rated PG) and someone eating a bug. My parents were very strict about taking us to see R-rated films (there was no PG-13 then), and I didn't see one until I was about 14.

We saw a lot of Disney films at the Widescreen: GUS, THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG, NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN, THE NORTH AVENUE IRREGULARS. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that I saw just about every Disney picture that came out during that time. I also recall my folks being mortified by a PG movie we went to. It was a western about a treasure map that was tattooed on the asses of hot women, and the heroes had to go around stripping chicks to see the tattoos. Again, when I got older, I found out that was THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER with Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh. It's on VHS, but I have never gone back and rewatched it, although I have meant to for many years. I also recall being bored silly by THE NORSEMAN, a Viking picture I was excited to see because it starred Lee Majors, then the star of one of my favorite TV shows (still is, I guess), THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN.

The Widescreen closed in 1986, and I was just going away to college by then. I transferred to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and I was lucky enough to attend the Egyptian Drive-In in Energy, a few miles from Carbondale near Marion, a few times.

I believe the Egyptian had the largest drive-in screen in the world, and my first visit there was for a double feature of RAMBO III and ROAD HOUSE. I also saw K-9 with THE DREAM TEAM there. What was wonderful about the Egyptian is that it was independently owned by the old woman who started it with her husband back in the '40s. The concession stand was covered with autographed photos of celebrities who had visited over the years. It also had a DJ booth, and this woman would entertain before and between movies by playing old rock and country records with patter in between. It was a very festive place to be, and I'm sorry I didn't go more often than I did. My last visit was to see FATHER'S DAY and AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY while I was in town to help a friend move into an apartment in Carbondale.

Gibson City hosts the Harvest Moon, which I've been to a couple of times (the last was to see THE MARK OF ZORRO), but it just doesn't hold the same allure for me. There are only 14 drive-ins left in Illinois, though, and even if I never go back to one, I hope they last forever.

Posted by Marty at 9:34 PM CDT
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Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Glug Glug
Well, I tried. While I was watching MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL with Chicken last night, I was rolling tape on both PRISON BREAK on Fox and the premiere of SURFACE on NBC. Too bad I didn't get to see either of them. A thunderstorm must have glitched my cable box, because it clicked over to the wrong channel, and I ended up taping LAS VEGAS instead.

I saw the majority of SURFACE, I suppose, but between weather warnings taking up about 30% of the screen and occasionally preempting the show and WAND-TV going off the air for most of the fourth act, I was pretty lost. I should watch another episode or two to give it a fair shake, although I wasn't that thrilled with it, and I don't expect it to stay on the air long anyway.

Formerly called FATHOM, SURFACE stars the improbably named Lake Bell, who not convincingly portrayed a callow young attorney on THE PRACTICE, as a marine biologist who sees what might be a bigass sea monster deep below the Pacific Ocean. A wimp teenager in North Carolina sees some weird shit in the Atlantic, including some kind of alien egg, which he brings home and hides in the family fish tank. That ranks high on the List of Stupid Decisions. There's also a beer-guzzling Louisiana redneck (Jay Ferguson from EVENING SHADE) who has something to do with the show, but since the dumbfucks at WAND were off the air, I don't know what. He must have seen a monster too, because he's packin' up and goin' east to find it.

SURFACE's pilot was written, directed and executive-produced by its creators, twins Josh and Jonas Pate. These guys created a wonderful series called G VS. E, which originally ran for eleven episodes on the USA cable network. G VS. E was a wonderfully imaginative, clever, funny, fast-paced genre series about immortal angels tracking down and destroying Satan's minions in Los Angeles. It fell apart after it moved to the Sci-Fi channel for its second season of 11 shows. It was still decent, but that initial 11 was damn good. The Pates eventually took over L.A. DRAGNET during its aborted second season, which was good, but I felt the Pate brothers were too interesting to waste running a cop show, solid though it may be.

So I'm optimistic about SURFACE, even though the promo for next week's episode looks like a random group of alien-conspiracy cliches, including the government blackout and two kids keeping a baby alien as a pet in the bathtub. Wonder what the odds are of that "cute" pet getting mean and ugly in a big hurry?

NBC premiered MY NAME IS EARL, a very funny new single-camera sitcom starring Jason Lee (MALLRATS) as a New Jersey redneck and ne'er-do-well who decides to change his life after hitting the lottery and sets out to right the wrongs he has committed. The opener found him trying to get a wimp he bullied in grade school laid, which is harder than Earl thought when he discovers the guy is a "Homosexual-American". It's hard not to like Lee in this role, although his bitchy ex-wife (Jamie Pressly) and idiot best pal could get old quick.

I caught THE OFFICE for the first time--the U.S. version with Steve Carell, not the U.K. show. Working in an office, I related to some of the painful bits, but I thought this episode was a little too uncomfortable. It was funny alright, but in an edgy, shift-in-your-seat kind of way that doesn't play very well with prime-time audiences. Carell is obviously talented, and if THE OFFICE is going to follow MY NAME IS EARL, I'll probably check it out again. I can't get away from co-star Rainn Wilson anyway; in the last month, I've seen him in SAHARA and an episode of ENTOURAGE.

LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT opened with a strong show starring Robert Patrick, the T-1000 from TERMINATOR 2, as a just-released rapist who may or may not have attacked a woman he rode a bus with. The episode actually forgets about that rape to concentrate on the ethics of Detective Stabler (Chris Meloni) going undercover in Patrick's therapy sessions and getting close to the ex-con in case he rapes again. It's all very close to entrapment, and the point is made that Stabler's interaction with Patrick may have been the bell that set him off. Some surprising suspense and gunplay mark the climax, but it's the excellent performance by Patrick going head-to-head with the intense Meloni that made this a good show. It was great to see Robert Walden as a guest star too, even though his character disappears right after the opening titles. Walden was the bulldogish reporter Rossi on the old LOU GRANT show, and his retired detective on tonight's SVU was reminiscent of his earlier Emmy-nominated role.

Posted by Marty at 11:48 PM CDT
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Monday, September 19, 2005
Happy Bat-Birthday

Adam West, the greatest Batman of them all, turns 77 today. Someone told me today that if Nike had any sense at all, this photo would be the start of a brilliant new print ad campaign. Nike, make it happen.

Shatner pwns Alan Alda. After losing the Emmy to Shatner last night, Alda made a big show of ripping up his acceptance speech. He was probably just kidding, but there's no shame in losing an acting award to The One True Shat.

This is the most important DVD news of the year. THE ROCKFORD FILES is finally being released before the end of the year. While there's nothing inherently wrong with Season One sets of ADAM-12, BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP, EMERGENCY!, MCCLOUD, MCMILLAN AND WIFE and DRAGNET, why did Universal release these shows on DVD before ROCKFORD, which is guaranteed money in the bank. Maybe it's because...

...they were waiting for some sweet extras. Usually, Universal just dumps these shows with no special features, but according to this menu shot from TV Shows on DVD, they managed to land James Garner for an interview. I'm assuming the 90-minute pilot guest-starring Lindsay Wagner (pre-BIONIC WOMAN) and William Smith will be included. One of the series' defining moments is the great scene where Rockford sucker-punches the bigger and meaner Smith in a mens' room.

Look for it December 6, 2005.

Posted by Marty at 5:34 PM CDT
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Sunday, September 18, 2005
By The Way...
...does anyone actually give a damn to read essays about 25-year-old TV shows that nobody watched the first time they were on? My Comments file is not exactly overflowing with praise.

Posted by Marty at 10:55 PM CDT
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The World's Greatest Living Actor
Now Playing: 2005 Emmys
All hail the great William Shatner, an Emmy winner tonight for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, BOSTON LEGAL. This is his second consecutive Emmy; he won one for playing the same character, eccentric attorney Denny Crane, on THE PRACTICE last year. He was nominated once before a few years ago for a guest shot on 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN.

The Emmy show was very dull and uninspired, beginning with an insipid musical performance by Earth, Wind & Fire and the Black-Eyed Peas and including the first "Emmy Idol" competition, where celebrities sang TV theme songs so viewers could vote which was the best. The choice of celebrities and songs was bizarre, to say the least (including Donald Trump and Megan Mullally doing GREEN ACRES and Shatner teaming with an opera star to do STAR TREK), and who gives a damn about voting on stars practicing their karaoke skills? Seriously, who's actually picking up their phone and voting?

What a shock to see the reclusive David Letterman show up to present a tribute to the great Johnny Carson. That clip of Carson performing that magic trick for the little boy is still amazing; when is the last time you saw something that sweet on a late-night talk show? Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather took the stage in a tribute to their retirements and the passing of Peter Jennings. And the "In Memoriam" segment was anchored by an emotional clip of Jerry Orbach's last appearance on LAW & ORDER.

I thought LOST's win as Best Dramatic Series was a surprise. I seem to be in the minority when I say the show isn't very good, despite some expensive production values and a sharp cast, but even so, it's unusual for a series to win after its first year. I also thought DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, which I've never seen, but dominates the mass media, was a lock to win Best Comedy Series, but lost to EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND.

A few other winners off the top of my head: Felicity Huffman, THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART, Doris Roberts, Brad Garrett, James Spader, Patricia Arquette, Tony Shalhoub, Hugh Jackman, Blythe Danner, Jane Alexander, Geoffrey Rush, THE AMAZING RACE, Paul Newman and others I'm forgetting.

I've said this before, but can we please have fewer teenage flavors-of-the-month like Adrian Grenier, Mischa Barton and Rachel Bilson doing the presenting and more familiar faces? Every year, the Emmys' ratings go down, and I'm convinced that if the show brought on more performers that the world has actually heard of, it would help. I can't be the only person more interested in seeing Jane Alexander than Jennifer Love Hewitt, am I?

Denny Crane.

Posted by Marty at 10:50 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, September 18, 2005 10:52 PM CDT
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Last Week To Doomsday
Gobby gets married in less than a week, so last night was the bachelor party. It was pretty tame as these things go; only five of us partook (my brother remained in St. Louis), and there were no nude body parts of any kind. It was still a late night and a good time, and who knows when we'll get together like that again.

The festivities began around 5:30 at my place with an array of meat, cheeses, chips, snacks, beer and soft drinks. We chattered while one of my homemade compilations of trash movie trailers played on the Cyberhome. Talk about current musical acts, cars and idiots we went to school with in Mansfiend was frequently interrupted by comments inspired by the trailers, such as "Why do people continue to fuck with Charles Bronson? Don't they watch Charles Bronson movies?" and jokes about Chuck Norris Super Karate Action Jeans.

A little after 7:00, we went to Neil Street to meet our 7:30 reservations at Alexander's Steakhouse. For $20, you pick your own steak and grill it yourself, along with baked potatoes and buttery Texas toast. It's some of the best beef in town, and I don't mind the alleged inconvenience of grilling it. I like the sense of community...and the chance to snack on that grilled toast.

After pounding our 18-ouncers, we cruised through the U of I campus for a few minutes. I often go down there, but it had been years since the rest of the group traveled down there. Campustown has changed a lot in the last ten years, and certainly in the last 20 or so since we first started going down there. Almost everything from our high school years is gone--the movie theater, the arcade, the fast-food places.

We ventured over to the Rose Bowl in Urbana, a bar I'd never been to before. It has been around for decades; my dad told me he hadn't been in there in 45 years. I doubt it has changed much. Even the formica furniture has "1963 kitchen" written all over it. The clientele was very white with men favoring cowboy hats and Harley Davidson T-shirts and the women in hoop earrings, big hair and shirts that didn't go all the way to the waist, no matter how much they weighed. The average age of the band, which was pretty good and played covers by Elvis, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, etc., was about 53. Everybody seemed to be happy, and it really was not a bad little place to be.

Two pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon ("Fuck Heineken!"), and time to head back to my place to continue gorging on beer, flaming Cheetos, meat and cheese. I couldn't eat anything after the giant steak I had; I have no idea how those guys could eat.

Gobby had already picked out the first Crappy Movie of the night, a favorite of ours: KING FRAT. There's no way I can possibly defend liking this movie...I just do. It's a low-budget, filmed-in-Florida ANIMAL HOUSE ripoff, and your admiration for it will depend upon how many jokes about beer, farts, vomiting and all-around tastelessness you can take.

KING FRAT is about a fraternity at Yellowsprings College (yes, there's a urination joke there) populated with misfits, drunks, reprobates and party animals that is constantly battling with a fellow frat manned by uptight preppies, tormenting the dean and spying on sorority girls in various stages of undress. There's a corpse-napping, a costume party featuring a girl dressed as Lady Godiva, an inflatable doll, some offensive Native American stereotyping, a fart contest for money ("Holy shit! Fart contest!"), a guy in a gorilla suit and lots of beer-drinking. It's completely unoriginal and predictable, the students are at least a decade too old, the acting is mostly broad and sometimes amateurish, but there's a certain cheekiness in the proceedings that's easy to admire. Actor John DiSanti makes no attempt to disguise the fact that his fat, crude character of "Grossout" blatantly rips off John Belushi. He also wears a Howard the Duck T-shirt throughout the movie. I highly doubt Marvel Comics gave permission to use it.

After KING FRAT, it was REVENGE OF THE NINJA, a favorite of mine that attracted a lot of "ooohs" and "aahhhs" when we saw the trailer earlier. It's an incredible Golan-Globus production starring Sho Kosugi as a ninja who moves with his young son to Los Angeles after evil ninja graphically murder his entire family. He discovers his L.A. business partner and so-called friend Braden is using Sho to smuggle heroin into the country, and that Braden is also an evil ninja. This movie is about 90 minutes of nearly non-stop martial arts action, grippingly directed by Cannon regular Sam Firstenberg and choreographed by Kosugi. Some of the stuntwork looks very dangerous, like Kosugi being dragged behind a van, and even the little boy gets involved in the action scenes. MGM (accidentally?) put the original X-rated cut on the R-rated DVD, meaning there's more gore here than you saw on HBO in 1984.

Some of the party broke up at this point, but a few of us held on for one more: HOLLYWOOD COP, more insanity from the inept Iranian director of SAMURAI COP. And like that picture, HOLLYWOOD COP's entertainment value is hard to describe. It's just as incompetent as SAMURAI COP, but with some slumming stars and not quite as much hilarity. The wretchedness of the film is evident from the first fucking shot, which begins a bit too soon with the actors standing motionless waiting for the director to call "Action!"

Mobster Jim Mitchum (TRACKDOWN) wants back the $6 million a guy named Joe Fresno stole from him, so he kidnaps Fresno's son to hold for ransom. Fresno's ex-wife goes to a cop improbably named Johnny Turquoise (David Goss), or "Turk" or "Turkey" for short, to get the boy back. The investigation takes several ridiculous turns, such as stopping so Turk's partner Jaguar (a mugging Lincoln Kilpatrick) can make some bread oil-wrestling with two hot women. The script, filled with illogic and laughable dialogue (Turk tells a grieving husband whose wife has been raped in front of him, "Look, I know that guy fucked your wife and all, but..."), is matched in its incompetence by the inappropriate sound effects and photography.

It was about 3:30am by the time HOLLYWOOD COP mercifully ended, and sleep came quickly to those of us still standing. Gob's wedding is on Saturday. At least I'll get to have another steak.

Happy 30th to Shark Hunter. Hope your birthday party last night was at least as merry as ours.

Posted by Marty at 4:17 PM CDT
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Saturday, September 17, 2005
The Man With The Pyrite Gut

When NBC lured ABC president Fred Silverman over to take over their third-place (out of three, at the time) network, it expected big things. After all, in his three years at ABC, he made the Alphabet network a money-making machine, launching shows like STARSKY & HUTCH, THE LOVE BOAT, FANTASY ISLAND, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, THREE’S COMPANY, ROOTS and CHARLIE’S ANGELS.

Magic didn’t strike twice, as Silverman’s Midas touch turned to stone. Some of the programs developed by NBC during his reign from 1978 to 1981 rank among television’s most notorious flops. TV buffs know well what a laughing stock NBC became while pushing shows like HELLO, LARRY, SUPERTRAIN, THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO, B.J. AND THE BEAR and C.P.O. SHARKEY onto the television audience. NBC’s few hits were in late-night, where THE TONIGHT SHOW and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, which ripped Silverman a new one in an Al Franken-written sketch called “Limo for a Lamo”, in which John Belushi portrayed Silverman, were the network’s main source of advertising income.

Another Silverman-bred series that didn’t work was A MAN CALLED SLOANE, which was originally created by writer Cliff Gould (THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO) as a light spy adventure like the James Bond movies. The original pilot, titled T.R. SLOANE, starred Robert Logan (77 SUNSET STRIP) as Thomas Remington Sloane, an agent of UNIT battling a megalomaniac who plans to cause havoc with a massive death ray. The villain’s henchman was Torque (Ji-Tu Cumbuka), a 6’5” bald, black man with a mechanical hand who was clearly modeled after Richard Kiel’s Jaws character in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

NBC liked the idea and the Torque character, but not Logan, sending Gould and executive producer Philip Saltzman on a hunt for a new leading man. Silverman suggested Robert Conrad, one of television’s all-time most popular stars, who had hit it big in the 1950’s on HAWAIIAN EYE and in the ‘60s on THE WILD WILD WEST. Conrad was ubiquitous during the 1970’s, starring in several shortlived adventure series like THE D.A., ASSIGNMENT: VIENNA and BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP, as well as a ton of TV-movies and pilots. Saltzman reportedly argued that Conrad couldn’t possibly do A MAN CALLED SLOANE, because he was already starring as an ex-boxer in the NBC series THE DUKE. “No problem,” replied Silverman, “I’ll just cancel THE DUKE.” He did, and Conrad became Thomas Remington Sloane.

A MAN CALLED SLOANE was the first television series produced by Quinn Martin Productions after Martin sold his company to Taft Broadcasting. Martin was one of television’s great producers, shepherding successful shows like THE UNTOUCHABLES, THE FUGITIVE, THE F.B.I., BARNABY JONES and THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. Part of Martin’s deal with Taft, however, was that he had to relinquish hands-on involvement with QM shows, and SLOANE likely suffered as a result of his absence.

Thomas Sloane worked for a government agency called UNIT, which was based out of the back room of a Los Angeles toy store. There he and Torque, now a UNIT agent and Sloane’s sidekick, took orders from The Director (Dan O’Herlihy, held over from the unaired pilot movie) and used gadgetry designed by cute lab assistant Kelly (Karen Purcill). They also received constant field information and advice from “Effie”, a talking computer with the voice of Michele Carey (Elvis’ leading lady in LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE).

Like Conrad’s previous series, THE WILD WILD WEST, Sloane tackled a wide range of kinky baddies, including Roddy McDowall as a terrorist with a robot army, Robert Culp as a cosmetics entrepreneur plotting to take over the world by sending out gorgeous models to murder prominent men with their “kisses of death”, Richard Lynch as a master of disguise and Dennis Cole as a 100-year-old Nazi meddling with cloning. Nearly every episode featured at least one prominent guest star--Eric Braeden, Edie Adams, Monte Markham, Clive Revill (the villain in T.R. SLOANE), Michael Pataki--as well as several sexy women for Conrad to canoodle with. Jo Ann Harris, the striking star of the Quinn Martin series MOST WANTED, appeared in the final episode, “The Shangri-La Syndrome”, which was directed by Conrad and is probably SLOANE’s weakest hour.

It was all pretty silly, of course, but definitely watchable. Conrad’s physicality led to plenty of nifty stunts, chases and fights, and QM spared few expenses in whittling together colorful if cliched plots, sets, guest stars and location shootings. The camera loved Cumbuka, who purportedly didn’t get along with Conrad, but was certainly a striking figure blessed with the neat gimmick of a steel hand that could wield various tools and weapons like a radio transmitter, laser, saw, drill or screwdriver. Some felt Conrad, a rugged man of action, was miscast as a suave secret agent, but I think he’s just fine and has pretty good rapport with Cumbuka.

A MAN CALLED SLOANE began the 1979 fall season with decent ratings, knocking CBS’ PARIS, a Steven Bochco cop show starring James Earl Jones, off the air and spurring ABC to shift HART TO HART to another night. But when ABC shifted FANTASY ISLAND from Friday to anchor its hit Saturday lineup, which included THE LOVE BOAT, SLOANE’s number was up. NBC cancelled the series after just twelve episodes. Conrad continued to star regularly in TV-movies throughout the 1980’s, although he may be as quickly remembered today for his notorious temper tantrum on the first BATTLE OF THE NETWORK STARS, which led to him getting smoked in a 100-yard dash by none other than Gabriel Kaplan!

By the way, NBC eventually dusted off that T.R. SLOANE pilot and aired it in 1981, more than a year after A MAN CALLED SLOANE’s cancellation, as DEATH RAY 2000. This young 13-year-old couldn’t have been the only viewer that night who was confused to see Robert Logan in Conrad’s old role opposite Dan O’Herlihy…and Torque as the heavy!

Posted by Marty at 4:52 PM CDT
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Friday, September 16, 2005
Trees Made Of Glass
Now Playing: THRESHOLD
So far, the new fall television season has been surprisingly good. I've sampled three new series so far, and I enjoyed all three. I've already written about PRISON BREAK in this previous post, which continues to slowly piece together its intricate puzzle of a plot. Unlike LOST, which has garnered inexplicable acclaim, PRISON BREAK's story is actually going someplace, as each episode finds its hero making progress towards his goal of rescuing his brother from death row and escaping from the penitentiary.

THRESHOLD premiered tonight with a two-hour pilot on CBS. Its expensive production values and name cast made it look almost like a feature film; in fact, its action scenes and visual effects put it on about the same level as a decently produced direct-to-video thriller, although its script was tighter than exploitation movies tend to have.

The networks are covered in genre shows this fall, jumping on the supernatural bandwagon started by LOST's success. For some reason, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES hasn't spawned a gaggle of shows about bitchy middle-aged women, but every network has at least a couple of shows about spooks, monsters, space aliens or paranormal phenomena. THRESHOLD may well turn out to be the best of them.

Carla Gugino, the sexy actress who sparkled as the lead in ABC's late, lamented KAREN SISCO and brought an adult sensuality to the juvenile comic-book fantasy SIN CITY, stars in THRESHOLD as Molly Caffrey, a government contingency expert who concocts emergency plans for nearly any catastrophic event, from the melting of the polar ice caps to an alien invasion. Turns out that last one may have actually happened when a Navy ship is bombarded with unusual sounds and lights from a four-dimensional spacecraft that turns its crew first mad and then dead. Only the first mate (William Mapother, last seen as a psychopath on LOST) survives, and he's not exactly himself, shrugging off several bullets and a fall into the drink 80 miles from shore.

Deputy National Security Advisor Baylock (Charles S. Dutton) rounds up Molly and her crew, which includes Cavanaugh (Brian Van Holt), a soldier; forensic scientist and '60s radical Fenway (Brent Spiner from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION); lingustics expert Ramsey (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf; and nerdy physicist Pegg (Rob Benedict). The supporting cast is what makes THRESHOLD really stand out so far. Instead of filling the screen with young hotties, CBS has assembled a cast of actors who not only look unlike almost every other show that makes its police squadrooms look like a GQ shoot, but who also actually look as though they can do their characters' jobs. No one believed Rachel Nichols as an FBI agent and serial killer chaser in Fox's ridiculous THE INSIDE or Evangeline Lilly as LOST's improbably able bank robber and fugitive, but there's no question that Brent Spiner, for one, inhabits his fussy doctor entirely. For that matter, Gugino, beautiful though she is, proved in KAREN SISCO that she can project vulnerability, intelligence and strength, as well as sex appeal, and is entirely convincing commanding her band of government-sponsored alien hunters.

The premiere contained plenty of shocks, special effects, chases and gun battles to complement its intriguing story, which opens the door to future THRESHOLD adventures. One interesting twist is that Caffrey's bunch are essentially prisoners of the U.S. government, or at the very least material witnesses. In order to keep a lid on the possible extraterrestrial sightings, Baylock orders that the Threshold group be under surveillance at all times, to the point of having their phones bugged, and prevents them from rejoining the outside world as much as possible. This leads to understandable fear and frustration, particularly from Fenway, whose presumed experience with civil unrest during the late 1960's makes him not particularly trustful of Baylock.

I also appreciated that THRESHOLD put the title of the episode, "Trees Made of Glass" on-screen at the beginning of the show, a practice that used to be ubiquitous, but is now rarely done.

The other series that premiered this week that I really thought was fun is SUPERNATURAL, which represents the first WB series I've ever seen in that network's history. It's basically THE X-FILES Meets ROUTE 66, as two brothers cruise around the country in a classic sports car pursuing monsters and ghosts.

The opener, directed by David Nutter, the networks' go-to guy when making pilots (MILLENNIUM, TARZAN, JACK & BOBBY, WITHOUT A TRACE and many more), casts Jared Padalecki (GILMORE GIRLS) as Sam Winchester, a bright young Stanford student with an improbably hot girlfriend and a free ride to law school. That is, until his older brother Dean (Jensen Ackles from DAWSON'S CREEK and SMALLVILLE) breaks into his house one night with the news that their father is missing. This doesn't surprise or worry Sam very much at first, considering the Winchesters' interesting backstory.

When they were very young, their father heard their mother screaming, dashed up to baby Sam's room, and found her contorted body attached to the ceiling, where she burst into spontaneous combustion, burning the house to the ground. Suspecting some sort of evil supernatural force, the Winchester men went on the run, becoming experts in tracking, weaponry and monster-fighting. In an attempt to discover what happened to their mother, Sam and Dean spent their childhood following their father all over the country, investigating mysterious deaths and paranormal sightings. The interesting conceit is that Sam and Dean know ghosts and monsters are for real, and even though Sam has left the fold to tackle a normal life, concern for his father's safety, as well as an ingrained sense of adventure, lure him to a small California town, where the Winchester patriarch disappeared while apparently investigating the murders of several men by a sexy apparition in a white wedding dress.

The pilot ended on a note as downbeat as it was suspenseful, providing Sam with a believable incentive to chuck law school and accompany Dean to Colorado, their father's destination. Presumably, the brothers won't find Pop for awhile, as they drive around helping strangers FUGITIVE-style and singeing a few creatures in the process.

The dialogue occasionally stooped to tiring, ironic BUFFY-style cracks, and the two leads are too distractingly cute (par for the WB's course), but Ackles and Padalecki are certainly convincing as brothers, and Nutter packed enough style and shocks into the opener to lure me back for the next episode.

INVASION, SURFACE, THE NIGHT STALKER and GHOST WHISPERER are other new fall series with a basis in science fiction and horror, but they'll have to be pretty darn good to stack up next to SUPERNATURAL and THRESHOLD.

Posted by Marty at 11:29 PM CDT
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