The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

12Dec/100

Video Theater 011: Sherlock Holmes: The Christmas Pudding

A serial killer threatens to get Holmes before he's executed.

Episode 23 of the 1954-55 Sherlock Holmes series.

3Dec/100

Cos and the Classic Revivals

By the time the 1990s rolled out, Bill Cosby was huge.  He'd had many great efforts in television and other forms entertainment. He was supercool superspy Alexander Scott in the groundbreaking I Spy series. He was producer and host of the award-winning Fat Albert Series. However, his greatest success was the Cosby Show, which provided 1980s family friendly comedies that had gone missing for so many years (and have since disappeared again.)

Cosby in the 1990s brought two classic TV concepts back to the American screen.

The first was Groucho Marx's classic, You Bet Your Life. Cosby was a huge fan of Marx and considered him one of the four best comedians of all time along with Charlie Chaplain, Buster Keaton, and W.C. Fields. Unlike the other three, Cosby actually got to know Marx a bit. More than anything else, he'd admired Marx for You Bet Your Life.   Cosby had even met the old producers of You Bet Your Life to get a chance to do it and been turned down. In the 1990s, on the heels of the Cosby show and becoming a $90 million man, Cosby could pretty much get any project he wanted and so he got to follow in the footsteps of one his heroes in the 1992-93 version of You Bet Your Life.

The show may have been a little too early. A revival of You Bet Your Life could have gone well in the reality TV era, but alas made it only one season in syndication, and was not widely viewed or known. The only video clips available are from those folks sharing appearances by their relatives on the show. These two clips from the show are priceless comedy, although they go on a little long, it's worth a viewing:

Cosby wasn't done bringing classic concepts to a new audience. In the late 1990s, he revived another vintage TV concept. Art Linkletter did his House Party show for 24 years over CBS radio and television, and had been best remembered for its Kids Say the Darnedst Things segment.

Cosby once again revived a classic concept as he took his turn questioning kids and hearing the surprising answers they gave.

The big difference between You Bet Your Life and Kids Say the Darnedst Things is that Art Linkletter was still alive and in fact Linkletter worked with Cosby on the program. When I watched Kids Say the Darnedst Things for the first time, I was very curious as to who Linkletter was. I had no idea, growing up.

Cosby introduced Linkletter to a new generation. Most episodes of Kids Say the Darnedst Things featured some footage of some of Linkletter's most hilarious moments.  Linkletter, in his mid-80s at the time, appeared frequently on the show. Cosby always showed a warm regard for Linkletter and never illustrated it better than with a touching surprise tribute to the man on CBS:

Those who saw Linkletter and Marx in their prime feel that Cosby's efforts were not as good. There's certainly something to it as both Linkletter and Marx performances were definitive. 

I don't think the point of Cosby's effort was displace either of these two legends. Rather, Cosby did the shows because he enjoyed and loved the originals, and his efforts helped to bring awareness of the originals back into the public mind. And there's nothing better for a top entertainer to do than that.

8Oct/100

Green Acres on the Radio

Green Acres

If you mention Green Acres, people think of the 1965-71 Sitcom starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. But fifteen years before Green Acres came to TV,  it came to radio.

CBS broadcast Granby's Green Acres as a Summer replacement series. Granby's Green Acres told the story of John Granby, a Banker who got fed up with city life and took his wife and family to relocate to a farm.

Sound familiar?

The radio Green Acres were written by a 33-year old writer, who would go on to write 150 of the 170 TV episodes of Green Acres.

There were quite a few similarities between the radio and TV versions of Green Acres. Both featured a scatter-brained Mr. Kimball (although the radio Mr. Kimball ran the county store rather than being the County Agent.) Granby also had a farm hand named Eb. The radio show had some good bits that Sommers would dust off for early TV episodes.

An early Green Acres TV episode where Oliver can't decide what to plant has its basis in the radio episode, "Mr. Granby Plants a Crop."

And this great little bit of dialogue also came from the radio show originally:

Oliver: I'd take a seed, a tiny little seed, I'd plant it in the ground, I'd put some dirt on it, I'd water it, and pretty soon, do you know what I would have?
Lisa: A dirty little wet seed.

At the end of the radio run. John Granby (Gale Gordon) told listeners to send letters in to their local CBS station with their thoughts on Granby's Green Acres.  The show never returned to the air.

There were many reasons the show didn't make it in 1950. One big one might be that Granby's Green Acres was not a show that audiences were ready for. Americans had migrated in large numbers to cities like New York and Los Angeles in search of economic opportunities. Granby's desire to move to the country seemed absurd. When Green Acres appeared on TV, it was a very different world with violence and unrest, crime on the rise, and social unrest. Moving to Hooterville sounded a lot less crazy and made us more sympathetic with Mr. Douglas.

The biggest problem with Granby's Green Acres may have been that it just wasn't ready for prime time. Granby is too much of a cantankerous blowhard.  The radio version gives you an appreciation of the talent with which Eddie Albert played the role of Oliver Wendell Douglas, as a complex mix of bombast, idealism, practicality, and romance that made the character a joy to watch.

In the radio version, Sommers only had given real airtime to Mr. Kimball from the store, and a know it all County Agent who always ate Granby's supper.  Pretty thin gruel.

Not continuing Granby's Green Acres was a smart decision. Even with great comics like Burns and Allen leaving radio for television, radio comedy was still undergoing a golden age and Sommers creation simply was not in the same league as shows like Our Miss Brooks,  Life of Riley, and Life with Luigi. 

It also had a nice aftermath. Sommers continued to develop as a writer and work the world of television, writing on such shows as Amos and Andy, Dennis the Menace, and Petticoat Junction.  When Green Acres came back, it became one of television's best sitcoms.

It featured Pat Buttram turning in the role Mr. Haney who was always trying to sell Mr. Douglas something, Eva Gabor as the sweet but often confusing Hungarian Princess Lisa Douglas,  and the Ziffels who treat their pig like he's their son, and much more.

While the radio show didn't have these elements, it serves as a rough draft of Green Acres, which makes it an interesting listen.

Related:

IMDB has the first five season of Green Acres available for instant watch.

Play
3Oct/100

Video Theater 009: Sherlock Holmes: The Cunningham Heritage

Sherlock Holmes (Ronald Howards) meets Dr. Watson (Marion Crawford) and they deal with their first adventure as a woman is suspected of killing her wealthy boyfriend.

Episode 1 (1954)

2Oct/100

50 Years of Yabba Dabba Do

It's rare for a TV show that turns 50 years old to be remembered, yet alone to make the front page on Google, but that's what happened to the Flinstones.

The show began in 1960 on ABC and has spawned numerous TV spinoffs, movies, and one-shot TV specials. Some of these efforts have been of dubious quality, but what keeps the remakes and spinoffs coming is that the show has so many fans that anything with the Flinstones in it will have an instant appeal.

The 1960-66 original TV run remains the bedrock (pun intended) for the Flinstones franchise. The show is in the same style of other classic "everyman" sitcoms such as The Life of Riley and The Honeymooners.  The show was lead by veteran radio and cartoon actors Alan Reed and Mel Blanc. It was strengthened by good writing that took advantage of the show's fantastic setting and the opportunities presented by cartoon physics.

What has made the show so popular for so long?

The first key is animation. Parents introduce their kids to cartoons such as Looney Tunes and Disney's gigantic cartoon collection.  They're the type of shows that parents have no problem introducing their kids to. And the grown up nature of the Flintstones helps to keep kids fans after they've grown up, even if they don't advertise it. They just buy the DVDs for the kids.

The second thing is the fantastic stone age setting. With pet dinosaurs instead of pet dogs, cars that move by the passengers and driver running, stone-age Television, and all the conveniences of living in Bedrock make the setting timeless, and help make the show as enjoyable and accessible today as when it first aired.

The Jetsons, which launched two years after the Flintstones, has endured, but with far fewer spin-offs and less prominence. The reason The Jetsons has enjoyed a lesser success is that it's set in the future and its vision of the future often seems dated. After all,  2062 is only 50 years away and its unlikely to be the world the creators of the Jetsons imagined.

The other advantage that The Flintstones has is the relationship between the Rubbles and the Flintstones. The friendship and love between the classic characters makes the show speak to every generation.   

Shows about the present and the future become dated far more easily than shows about a fantastic past, and shows that feature great friendships will last the longest of all.

Links:

Watch the Flinstones at AOL Video.

28Aug/100

Johnny Staccato Paroled onto DVD

Back in May, I wrote about TV detectives locked in Copyright jail. (i.e detective shows that are unavailable as they are under copyright and not being actively marketed by their copyright owners.) We can strike one detective from the list. All 27 episodes of Johnny Staccato, that Jazz Pianist Private eye played by John Cassavettes are being released on DVD this October 12th.

Kudos to Timeless Media Group for another great DVD release. From Crime Dramas like Checkmate to Westerns like the Virginian and Branded, they are doing great work in preserving some of the great forgotten shows of years past. Hopefully, Johnny Midnight and Felony Squad will get their chance soon.

5Aug/100

EP0204: Sherlock Holmes: Murder Beyond the Mountains

Basil Rathbone

*During a time when Sherlock Holmes was believed to be dead, he confronts a murder mystery at a Tibetan monastery.

Original Air Date: January 14, 1946

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5Jun/101

The People You’ll Meet When Climbing a Building

Someone has put together a mash-up of some high profile cameos that Batman and Robin ran into during the 1960s Batman series.

Old Time Radio fans will recognize the names of some of these stars: Howard Duff (Sam Spade on the radio, but making the cameo in his role as Detective Sergeant Sam Stone of Felony Squad), Jerry Lewis from Martin and Lewis, Art Linkletter from People are Funny and House Party, Edward G. Robinson from Big Town and many other productions. It's some light Saturday fun that reminds me of the unique place that the 1966 Batman show has in my heart.  While, it's certainly not the best Batman TV show ever, it has the rare quality that makes a TV show in demand more than 40 years after going off the air.

29May/100

TV Detectives Locked in Copyright Jail

Recently, I got the Best of TV Detectives (affiliate link), a 150 episode collection of TV Detective shows. Despite the fact that not all of them were detective shows. (Two public domain episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and a few crime dramas) it's been quite a treat to catch some of these shows for the first time.

There was Front Page Detective with David Chase which called to mind some of the great radio detectives in its characterization. Racket Squad, Public Defender, Code 3, and the Court of Last Resort played off of Dragnet in their mix of entertainment and education about various aspects of law enforcement and crime. The set has further spurred my interest in other TV Detective shows, long forgotten to see what can be found.

The shows can be divided into the following categories:

1) Mostly/Completely in the Public Domain: TV shows made before 1964 were given a 28 year copyright term, renewable for another 28 years.  Those shows that didn't renew entered the public domain. Each episode had to be renewed individually. That's why you'll find episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show (an otherwise copyrighted show) in dollar DVD bins. However, some shows simply didn't renew at all. Some had a very good reason. Their network had gone belly up. The DuMont TV network produced several early television shows, but within 28 years, they were out of business, and whoever had been assigned Dumont's Copyrights let them lapse. Other shows just lapsed for whatever reasons, perhaps official inattention as the shows weren't being syndicated.

Just because a show has lapsed into the public domain doesn't mean the public can actually see it. If there's no film left, it might as well not exist.

Shows that have lapsed completely or mostly into the public domain tend to have a variable nature about the number of shows available, usually a sparse few episodes claimed from a TV station that had paid to syndicate the show one at point. The economics is simple. There's no one with an economic incentive to care for the show or care if its episodes survive. The results: spotty prints, few prints, and many adventures lost.

2) Shows with few episodes in the Public Domain:

This category of shows was mostly renewed, but a few episodes slipped into the public domain. Examples of this include one episode of the 1960s TV show Burke's Law that lapsed into the public domain, as well as two episodes of the very cool Peter Gunn. Next to actually being released commercially on to DVD, this could be the best possible situation for a TV Detective. An episode or two in the public domain. Fans are teased by the cheap public domain episode and made curious about other episodes, which can lead to the release of a full box set. Those who knew 1960s Detective Series Checkmate has only been available on bootleg DVDs, but the popularity of public domain episodes spurred a release of the Best of Season One and the The Best of Seasons Two. Now a complete set of all 70 episodes is set for release this year.

Copryighted And Actively Available: This is a good state for the show be in. Those shows that have been fully copyrighted and are fully available are available to watch. Shows like Perry Mason and the Rockford Files are easily accessible to mystery fans on TV and DVD, and in many cases online. Copyright preservation helps to ensure quality condition (usually) of prints, while some public domain shows can be of variable quality.

However, there is a downside to continued copyright protection when a series remains under protection but is completely unavailable.  Unlike, the public domain series, no third party can come in and make episodes available. I found quite a few interesting sounding detective serials that I'd love to see, if only they would release a DVD. Here are a few detective shows from the 1950s I'd love to see, if the respective owners would release them:

1) Johnny Midnight:

In Copyright Jail until: 2056

Edmond O'Brien, eight years after leaving Yours Truly Johnny Dollar returned to the serial gumshoe role as Broadway Star turned private detective named Johnny Midnight.  You can't really go wrong with Edmond O'Brien as a detective. (see DOA and the Killers for more proof.) So this sounds like an interesting series.

2) Johnny Staccato:

In Copyright Jail until 2055

John Cassavetes stars as Johnny Staccato, a Jazz musician who is a private detective. It makes me think of a  mix of Pete Kelly's Blues and Man with a Camera. I haven't seen much with Cassevettes. He was a television pioneer who spent much of his career behind the camera, but he was very good in a 1972 Columbo movie, Etude in Black. Rated 8.7 out of 10 by IMDB users.

3) The Line Up

In Copyright Jail: Until 2055

The Line-up was based on an old time radio show of the same name and was one of the string of police procedurals that came out after Dragnet. It was set in San Francisco and ran in syndication for many years as San Francisco Beat.  Doing a copyright search, some episodes of this show have fallen into the public domain but the public domain shows haven't come into any type of circulation. IMBD.com user rating: 6.9

4) Felony Squad:

In Copyright Jail: Until 2064 

This is a show that's a fascinating must for fans of Old Time Radio.  It stars Sam Spade's Howard Duff  as Detective Sam Stone, who works in a major crimes unit in a Western City. The show also featured Ben Alexander of Dragnet as Desk Seargent Dan Briggs. Rated an 8.7 on IMDB. It should be noted that this show at one point, had a few episodes released on VHS, but not released on DVD.

It's interesting to read about the show, however it would be even more interesting to watch it.  Hopefully, copyright owners will take note and begin to release legal authorized versions of these shows on websites like Hulu or DVD, so that a new generation of fans will enjoy them.

It should be noted that Hollywood can make some bizarre decisions with these DVD releases. (There are more official seasons of Bonanza available to watch in Germany than in the United States.) If you think these shows belong on DVD, or there are other shows not currently on DVD that you'd like to see, you can go to TVshowsonDVD.com and let your voice be heard by voting for your favorites.

15May/100

Bill Cosby’s Detective Show

One of the Google searches that hit the site recently was for "Bill Cosby Detective Show." People remember Bill Cosby for his Comedy, particularly the ratings sensation, The Cosby Show. But, Bill Cosby did try his hand as a TV detective.

 

It was 1994 and Cosby's first project after the end of the Cosby Show and his choice was the Cosby Mysteries which followed recently retired police officer, Guy Hanks as he found himself retired after a heart attack and winning the lottery on the same day, but still drawn back to serve as criminologist solving cases for the NYPD or occasionally private clients.

The mysteries were well-written with surprising twist and turns, and plenty of tension. The character of Guy Hanks was typical Cosby. There was always the light touches that are in most Cosby Characters (going back to Kelly Robinson in I Spy.)  He and Police Detective Adam Sully (played by James Naughton) had good chemistry. He also had a good sidekick in aspiring young criminologist, Dante (Mos Def.) Cosby as an elder mentor always make for good entertainment.

The show had some fantastic episodes. My favorite featured Douglas Adams (writer of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as a husband who runs into Hanks at the Party and has a discussion about the art of murder because he's about to murder his own wife, and Hanks has to stop him without leaving the party.  In another, his Cosby show wife, Phylicia Rashad played an old flame and competing criminologist.

It was a fun show that sadly lasted only for 19 episodes. There are a number of reasons why. Cosby pointed to the timeslot quipping that with the Cosby Mysteries, "The biggest mystery was when it was on."

The show may simply have come too late. Cosby chose to make the show a character-driven detective story rather than using violence and sensationalism to gain ratings.  The PG Detective shows that had been popular through much of the 1970s and 1980s with TV shows like the Rockford Files, Quincy, and Magnum PI, were passing from the scene.

Matlock had been forced to jump networks from NBC to ABC in 1992. The 1990s saw CBS fail with a revival of Burke's Law and later in the 1990s drew a blank with Buddy Faro. Angela Lansbury continued to have success with Murder She Wrote, though that would also disappear in 1996.

The TV mystery and cop series that would take to the air in the 1990s and since have tended to be more lurid and violent, and to really sell the show based on that. Of course, there are exceptions, but the PG detective show may be the hardest one to make today.

The Cosby Mysteries' biggest problem may not have been that there was something wrong with the series but not enough right. Two truly sucessful PG Detective shows that each managed eight seasons on the air were Diagnosis Murder. (1993-2001) and Monk (2001-2009). Both shows succeeded by being more than detective shows. The quirky Mark Sloan and the Neurotic Adrian Monk made for shows that you didn't have to be a mystery fan to enjoy, with plenty of comedy. In Diagnosis Murder's case, they also made use of guest stars, bringing several old TV detectives back to television such as Mannix, Adam 12 co-stars Martin Milner and Kent McCord, and Andy Griffith as Matlock, after Matlock was cancelled by a second network.

The biggest problem with the Cosby Mysteries was that its creators didn't understand that a good mystery wasn't enough to hold an audience. Still, fans of good mysteries would do well to give the Cosby Mysteries a look if they see it on reruns. Unfortunately, the show has not been released on DVD.

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