Saturday, May 23, 2009

Your Holiday Weekend.

Please have a very safe and happy one!

Herbie J

Monday, May 18, 2009

Discover Your "Inner Kevin" With A Look Back At "The Wonder Years"

I cry each time I watch "The Wonder Years."

Can't help it. It's just too good

The show debuted on ABC in 1988 as a five-part mini-series and ran its original course until 1993. It's central lead, the wiser-than-his-then years Fred Savage, embodied the young "Kevin Arnold" so well, he was like a one-actor time machine, taking us back to the late 1960s and early 1970s (the era in which the show was premised) with psychologically-nutritious precision.

Remember the episode in which his hippie sister, "Karen," played by Olivia d'Abo, painted flowers on his pants?

My sister did that to me.

Remember how Kevin initially kissed long-time first-love "Winnie Cooper" (portrayed by Danica McKellar) in the woods in the first episode?

I was reminded of my real-life first kiss (with Linda Morales behind the gift-department at Sibley's department store in downtown Rochester, New York).

Yeah, that's it. Maybe that's why I love the show so much. It's MY life. I'M Kevin Arnold. He even looks like I did when I was 11-years-old. The hair, the little Roman nose. It's all the same (and I've got pictures to prove it!).

His best friend "Paul Pfeiffer" (Josh Saviano)? He looks just like Gary Sanfillipo, who was my best friend, while growing up on Erie Street in Rochester.

Kevin's father, "Jack" (Dan Lauria)? Yeah, my father Herbie Pompeii was in the same boat. He made some wrong career choices, too. He was a little frustrated with his position in life. But that didn't stop him from loving me any less than Jack loved Kevin.

Besides, like my Dad had my loving Mom Frances by his side, Jack had his wife "Norma" (Alley Mills) to ease his troubles.

And who hasn't had a "Wayne" (Jason Hervey) for a mean-spirited older brother or neighborhood bully at one point in their lives?

But everyone knows that good always wins out over evil.

At least that's the way it is on "The Wonder Years." Maybe that doesn't come across so directly, but ultimately, that's the message.

Every time Kevin's life seemingly doesn't work out as he plans, somewhere, by the 29th minute, he becomes all the richer for the experience. What doesn't kill him, makes him stronger, and all that stuff – stuff that was so skillfully interwoven into the sound narrative of "The Wonder Years" (compliments of supreme voiceover work from Daniel Stern as the adult Kevin).

No - we all didn't grow up in the suburbs like Kevin. (The old red-brick house in which I was raised remains in the Rochester inner-city neighborhood next to where now stands Frontier Field, and down the street from "Rocky's"). But, somehow, through the magic of television, the experience remains the same.

And "The Wonder Years" remains a television classic.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A "Wonder Woman" Mosaic (featuring commentary from exclusive interviews with Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner)

What’s the bet way to describe Lynda Carter’s interpretation of the comic book/TV heroine “Wonder Woman”? Simply wonderful.

From 1975 (in ABC’s World War II setting) to 1979 (the CBS contemporary version), the statuesque actress portrayed the superheroine with humor, grace and style, entertaining viewers of all ages. Carter’s “Wonder Woman” endures today as a pop icon through reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel and elsewhere.

Many fans were drawn to the program because Carter – a former Miss World USA – was (and remains) stunning, dressed in her patriotic one-piece. But others tuned in simply because Carter made “Diana Prince” human and approachable. “That’s exactly what I tried to do,” she says. “Wonder Woman possessed super powers, but her special abilities did not solely define who she was. With Wonder Woman, people had a chance to see something that they hadn’t seen before on TV – a physically able, emotionally and psychologically stable, independent woman with a fantasy element.”

In March 1974, ABC aired the first “Wonder Woman” pilot, written by John D.F. Black, and directed by Vincent McEveety. This updated reworking of the Charles Moulton 1940s comic, featuring Cathy Lee Crosby, didn’t score with the critics, viewers or network execs. Crosby’s Diana Prince lived in contemporary times, had blonde hair and appeared without her classic star-spangled wardrobe. She was athletic but lacked super-powers., and her double life as Wonder Woman was not clearly defined. In the pilot, she left Paradise Island to combat villains with “Steve Trevor” (Kaz Garas) and the U.S. government, and helped bust an international spy ring run by Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban).

By late 1975, Carter had replaced Crosby as “The New, Original Wonder Woman” in a second, successful version, along with Lyle Waggoner as the new Trevor. In this incarnation, set during World War II, U.S. Army pilot Trevor was shot down by Germans in a remote section of the Atlantic, crash-landing on Paradise Island, an uncharted isle inhabited by agile, nubile and immortal Amazons. “Princess Diana” nursed Trevor back to health, fell in love with him and returned to America with him (after erasing his memory of Paradise Island with a drug). Before long, as Wonder Woman, she was facing Nazi spies out to steal an advanced bomb prototype.

In 1977, “The New, Original Wonder Woman” left ABC for CBS and became a weekly series entitled “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.” Its third pilot, written by Stephen Kandel and directed by Alan Crosland, took place 32 years after WW II, with the immortal Princess Diana having lone since returned to Paradise Island. She again discovers a drowned U.S. aircraft on the island, this time carrying government agents. One passenger, to Diana’s amazement, appears to be a youthful Trevor. The agent is, in fact, the original Trevor’s dead ringer of a son (also played by Waggoner), who works for the Inter-Agency Defense Command (IADC). Diana resurrects her Wonder Woman persona and teams with Trevor, Jr. to combat evil, assisted by IRA (a.k.a. “Internal Retrieval Associative”), a talking computer who knows her true identity.

Though producers Wilfred Baumes, Charles B. Fitzsimons and Mark Rogers worked on the various shows, it was executive produced Douglas S. Cramer, a one-time Paramount Pictures Television producer responsible in part for such hits as "Love, American Style," "Mannix" and "Room 222," who initially retooled “Wonder Woman” to match Moultan’s classic imagery.

According to Cramer, the key to Wonder Woman’s success was four-fold, starting with the “Ugly-Duckling-in-a-Swan” transformation. “There really was the sense that this plain, ordinary woman Diana Prince could turn into someone special like Wonder Woman. This aspect, which gave hope to many who were without hope, was really at the heart of the show’s appeal.”

Next, there was the non-lethal content. “Virtually no one was ever really killed on the show,” Cramer says. “People would get tossed and even shot at, but on one would ever die. They would always bounce right back.”

Another component was the mythical “Wonder-Land” aspect. “Wonder Woman’s heritage, her coming from another place [Paradise Island] was equal to the “Superman” mythical, extraterrestrial origins. That concept has always appealed to people.”

Finally, and most importantly, there was the “Women’s Liberation” element. “We have to remember that the series appeared just as women in the country were really beginning to voice their emancipation. In many ways, Wonder Woman was a sign of the times.”

But sultry super-suffragettes do not a series make. Enter Waggoner, the handsome romantic-comedy veteran of “The Carol Burnett Show,” who played both the WW II flying ace Trevor and his secret agent son. “Wonder Woman” writer Stanley Ralph Ross, an acquaintance of Waggoner’s, wrote Trevor with him specifically in mind. “He called me and told me so,” recalls the actor. He said, ‘This is the perfect Lyle Waggoner part.’”

Lyle was always so chipper on the set,” says Carter. “I think because his business off to a good start.” Waggoner, while filming “Wonder Woman,” began Star Waggons, Inc. – a manufacturers and supplies of studio location trailers that’s still the top choice of most Hollywood production companies. “He was also just a really content and happy guy. All that joy and excitement bubbled over into his performance.”

“He was ideal,” notes Cramer. “With his good looks, leading-man ability, years of experience and comic polish from the Burnett show, there was no one better to fid the role.”

“In fact,” Cramer adds, “all those cast around Lynda were essentially comedic actors. We had Richard Eastham (as “General Blankenship”) and Beatrice Colen (as “Corporal Etta Candy”), and they were each tremendous at playing camp, and adept at comedy.”

Despite the Ross connection, Waggoner had to addition. “And I almost didn’t get it,” he laughs. “I knew it was a cartoon, and that it was put-on, but you had to play it with a straight face. You had to say silly lines, seriously, and hopefully make the viewer at home smile.”

Waggoner’s tongue-in-cheek performance fit perfect the “war-corn” premise of the 1940s "Wonder Woman," and he was “quite fond” of those early shows. But the second season saw the war’s end, which did not please Waggoner. “They should have kept it the way it was,” he says.
“The entire laugh-at-yourself view of the show was gone when we moved into the 1970s. There were not many shows at the time that took jibes at themselves like we did. It was unique, and I was sorry to see all that altered.”

One alteration Waggoner couldn’t get used to was the change in the Prince disguise. Gone was the uniform that Yeoman Prince had worn during WWII, along with her military cap and hair tightly done up in a bun. After a few episodes in the present, Diana Prince now looked more glamorous, sporting only glasses as a ruse, and son she was not wearing even those; her raven tresses were likewise only swept back in a pony tail.

“I always felt silly playing Steve in those moments,” Waggoner admits. “To look straight at Diana and not be able to say that I recognized Wonder Woman, now that took a bit of acting. I just think the show would have stayed on a lot longer if they had left her fighting Nazis. It was so much more fun.”

Carter entered the hero biz through Alan Shane, head of casting for Warner Bros. (proprietor of “Wonder Woman”). Shane introduced Carter to Cramer, who was responsible for her getting the part. “She was so far ahead of any other actress up for the role,” insists Cramer.

Unfortunately, ABC didn’t agree, preferring someone with more experience. “There were those at ABC,” Cramer notes, “who felt that Lynda could not have carried a show of her own, because she had not previously appeared in a series. But the minute she stepped into that wild costume, I knew – and we all knew – that we had found our Wonder Woman.”

That included co-star Waggoner, who had screen-tested with all the actresses, auditioning for the amazing Amazon. “Lynda, in my opinion, looked the part. And I don’t know much weight that carried, but that was my suggestion.”

Cramer, however, was easily Carter’s staunchest supporter. He even refused, at one point, to produce the series f it didn’t feature her. “Unless I get to cast this girl,” he said, “you can forget it. She is Wonder Woman. She resembles her exactly, she can pull it off, and there’s just no point in doing it without her.”

Ironically, Carter had tested for – and of course didn’t get – the first Wonder Woman pilot. “I didn’t even get a callback for that one,” she says. But eight or nine months later, when Cramer set out to revamp the concept, Carter’s phone rang, and an interview for the second pilot was scheduled.

“I walked in,” Carter recalls of the conference, “expecting, of course, that anyone who was anyone in television would be there. And they were, the whole gang: Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson, Suzanne Sommers, Lindsay Wagner, Cheryl Ladd. We all went to the same auditions, at the time. None of us had done that much, just a couple of commercials, and small parts on various shows. Kate was really the only one with any extensive experience [i.e. “The Rookies”]. The interesting thing is that we didn’t have much to do a cold reading, which I’ve never been too fond of anyway. I never won a role from doing one. I’m terrible at them. I freeze up.”

It didn’t matter. Cramer had warmed up to an early screen test of Carter’s, and told her it was unnecessary for her to audition. “So, I just went home,” the actress says, “very keyed up and excited. Here I was, this brand new actor, just starting out and studying, without anything but a couple of bit roles to my name, and Doug [Cramer] was ready to cast me in the lead. He really went to bat for me, and I was thrilled.”

As was ABC when the second “Wonder Woman” pilot became a hit. Periodic one-hour specials followed, broadcast by the network to fill in for its other superheroine, “The Bionic Woman” (temporarily off the air while Wagner recuperated from an auto accident).

ABC passed on the show after two years. “They believed the WWII storylines were too limited,” Carter says, “with the only major villains being the Nazis. They thought if we took it into the 1970s, there would be more to explore, from a creative standpoint.”

Jerry Lieder, then president of Warner Bros. Television, went to CBS with the notion of shifting the series ahead in time. CBS bought the idea, hook, line and magic lasso. “It was a fresh approach,” admits Cramer, who was initially afraid of the change, “which CBS thought would reach a wider audience. Because, a the time, the other superhero shows, like ‘The Incredible Hulk’ [also on CBS] and ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ [ABC], seemed more real in comparison, if you can imagine anyone saying such things about SF-adventure shows.”

Cramer believed it was the campy WWII version that first appealed to viewers, and told Lieder that “there was no way to play it straight in a contemporary setting, and that it must be produced with its tongue firmly implanted in its cheek. Those few [WW II] episodes are the ones people still talk about and remember the most.”

After talks between Lieder and Cramer, the idea was sold to CBS. The network executive in charge of series production at the time was programming whiz Brandon Tartikoff, who, Cramer notes, “also understood exactly what the concept of Wonder Woman was supposed to be.”

“Many people involved with the show,” adds Cramer, “were just really grown-up children. We had writers like Bruce Shelby and David Ketchum [who penned dozens of “Love, American Styles” for Cramer at Paramount]. They had never done one-hour drama shows before, and they needed the story and dramatic bets worked out for them. But they brought the humor to “Wonder Woman” that I thought it required.”

Also aboard from “Love, American Style” was Stuart Margolin (“Angel” from “The Rockford Files”) who directed several episodes of “Wonder Woman”. The behind-the-camera talent included directors Seymour (“Bewitched”) Robbie, Alexander Singer, Michael Caffey, Jack Arnold, John Newland, Gordon Hessler and the late Herb Wallerstien.”

“Herbie was always a frustrated director,” Cramer states, “so we let him direct Wonder Woman, mostly because his particular sense of the world was right for the show. He had the passion that we all shared. We were all very clear on the show’s vision, and respected that vision. We were all very particular on what Wonder Woman and Steve would or wouldn’t do. There were often long, detailed discussions about [where] she, under, one circumstance with one particular villain, would or would not use, for example, her magic lasso.

“The one that that we didn’t do, that I always wanted to do,” says Cramer, “is run with more regular heavies, as on Batman. But everyone was really afraid of doing that.”

Today, with countless old TV shows reincarnated as movies, can a theatrical version of “Wonder Woman” be far away?

“It has been in development at Warner bros. for four or five years,” says Cramer. “I tried to sell it myself on a number of occasions, but I kept on getting turned down because I’m not known in the feature film world. Now, however, Jon Peters is developing one” with director Ivan (“Ghostbusters”) Reitman. At one point, Lois & Clark’s Debra Joy Levine was developing a “Wonder Woman” TV project.

If he could be part of a “Wonder Woman” revival, who would Cramer cast in the lead? “I would definitely go with an unknown,” he replies. “It would be a huge mistake to go with someone like a Jennifer Aniston, God help us, or a Cameron Diaz. The strategy must be like it was when we did the series with Lynda, who was an unknown, or like when they remade Superman.”

So would Carter slip back into those togs for a feature film version? “You never know how things will turn or what’s around the corner,” says Carter, who lives in Washington, DC, with her husband lawyer Robert Altman, and their two children, James and Jessica. “Wonder Woman has always had a life of her own for whatever reason. Why it reached into the hearts of so many people may never be full explained.”

Carter still gets lots of fan mail including “a wonderful letter” from a woman who, in a college thesis, named Wonder Woman as the inspiration for her career. “She came from an underprivileged background,” Carter explains, “and she went out and attained what she wanted in life because of “Wonder Woman.” It all stemmed from when she first watched the show as a little girl, when the ideas of who she wanted to be, coupled with the determination to be that person as an adult, were just forming. I was overwhelmed.”

The actress viewers her experience on Wonder Woman as “a phenomenon unto itself. “I enjoyed doing the series,” she says, “especially the stunts, and that twinkle-in-your-eye humor. We never made fun of anything but we had fund with the material.”

“I’m grateful for everything that the show has allowed me to do as a performer,” says Lynda Carter. “’Wonder Woman’ gave me a start. She was the big hand up that helped me to realize all of my dreams, and all of the things that have happened, subsequently with my career [singing, TV movies, feature films; a Maybelline cosmetic contract). “I was young and somewhat na├»ve back then. Yet what I learned was substantial, and it was all because of ‘Wonder Woman.’”

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Note: Portions of this article originally appeared in the March 1999 edition of STARLOG MAGAZINE.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How Classic TV Thrives In Trying Times

Nostalgic cable television programming like that seen on TV Land, Nick at Nite, and to some extent, the Hallmark Channel and TBS, are a hit with the watchers. The generation that worshipped The Brady Bunch and who lived The Wonder Years is fast increasing, and connecting with new generations everyday to become the prevalent consumer.

With large screen adaptations of small screen favorites (i.e. Star Trek) on the rise, the big TV picture is expanding, as is our consciousness of its social ties. Perennial outings like The Bob Newhart Show and I Love Lucy continually find new fans via syndicated reruns. Again and again, archetypal comedies, dramas, action-adventures, mysteries and even musical-variety shows and specials have become learning canals for today's viewer.

While the influence of classic television programs can no longer be denied, questions abound:

Have programs from the past affected the way we live in the present? Have we really learned "what love's got to do with it" from Samantha and Darrin on Bewitched? Have we discovered sincere inner-strength from the "ancient" wisdom introduced to the mainstream viewer through Kung Fu? Are we more tolerant of those who happened to be different because Star Trek made us so?

Channels switch and signals cross, but the focus is clear: We have indeed learned a lot about life from watching classic TV - and we continue to do so.

Maybe yesterday's young television viewers have developed into today's hip parents because they screened the strong results of classic TV parentage, the kind played so entertainingly and effectively by say, Nancy Walker as Mrs. Morgenstern on Rhoda (the 1970s spin-off from that same era's Mary Tyler Moore Show. The pressure was off because such likable performances outweighed the quirkiness of what could have become an unlikable character. The viewer was better prepared to acquire lessons on how not to be a mother from a funny, non-preaching fictional personality, and walk away with an inspirational thought in the process.

The contemporary twentysomething, thirtysomething, fortysomething and fiftysomething Mom and Dad may view a troubled child and subliminally (or consciously) recall the compassion presented on The Donna Reed Show or Family Affair, and ask, "Do you wanna talk about it?"

Classic shows like Father Knows Best, The Bionic Woman, and Perry Mason cater to the highest common denominator in each of us. They encourage family values, scientific and medical education, observational skills, spiritual support, and true friendships.

The Rockford Files, The Odd Couple and The Beverly Hillbillies have it down on how to entertain viewers, while offering balanced and somewhat imbalanced characters in a psychologically-nutritious manner.

It is true that classic TV programs, or any television shows, do not necessarily and/or directly create good (or "bad") behavior in the audience. Yet, with a series like The Waltons, a significant number of viewers may be affected in a positive way and experience the magnification of good-hearted feelings.

How much of an effect past television favorites have on society depends on the amount of power and suggestion that the audience is willing to grant them and which programs they choose to watch. Either way, today's central demographic patron is yesterday's child, long-hungry for a TV era gone-by - especially in these trying times.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My "Star Trek" Review

Director/producer J.J. Abrams' new "Star Trek" feature film is entertaining, fast-paced and a sweet ride. From a general technical and creative standpoint, it is a solid piece of science-fiction entertainment.

As an ultimate "Star Trek" film, however, it falls short - mostly because "Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry isn't alive to have creative control.

Original "Trek" fans always wanted the original cast in their original roles back on television. The fans never asked for a "Motion Picture" in 1979 to ignite a feature film franchise. They never requested a "Next Generation" or a "Deep Space Nine" or a "Voyager" or an "Enterprise" on the small screen. All the "Trek" films and small-screen sequels remain fine additions to the "Star" universe.

But true "Trek" fans forever begged for William Shatner's "Captain Kirk" and Leonard Nimoy's "Mr. Spock" to spar once more with DeForest Kelly's "Dr. McCoy" back on TV (denoting and embracing the "Triad" relationship ("Kirk's" stoic balance betwixted "Spock's" logic and "McCoy's" emotion).But that never happened.

Instead, "Trekkers" received a whole TV generation ahead of "Kirk/Spock/McCoy" ("Next Generation"); a few generations before them ("Enterprise"); space-jumped around them a little bit (on "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager"); the original crew went to the movies (about which even "Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry wasn't that excited; for as he once complained, the movies became about the adventures of the characters, and not the adventures of the Enterprise; big difference.)

Certainly now, any chance of the original actors reprising their original characters in new small screen adventures will never transpire (as so many of the initial cast members have passed away, along, of course, with Roddenberry himself). (Original fans can only surmise the number of new-original episodes they could have been produced if filming had revamped of the original series - instead of "The Motion Picture" - in 1979 and continued until at least 1999 (when DeForest Kelly died)?!

That said, the new "Trek" cast, headed by Chris Pine as "Kirk" and Zachery Quinto as "Spock," are outstanding. Abrams' direction is as crisp and slick as can be, as are all the tech credits. For all intents and purposes, this new movie is a wonderful sci-fi film. If not a sincere "Trek sequel, it is without a doubt, a valiant, and very contemporary, hip attempt.Yet, it is the film's "war" slant that is disconcerting, as it is with many sci-fi films and TV shows, in general (case in point: the upcoming "Terminator: Salvation" movie).

Adventure is good for the soul; frequent war-movies, sci-fi or otherwise, are not.

There must be another way to display action sequences beyond the confines of a war-ridden script? (The original "Trek" series did it all the time.)

With any true, new "Trek," let's have an imaginative, wonderous, spectaclular feature film, TV series or webisode - all of them filled with some kind of discovery of an astounding new alien race. Let's see some beautiful visuals...with near-blinding light and color.For such is not the case in viewing the new "Trek."

Where is Roddenberry's original ethereal, vision, and well, heart, which explored strange new worlds...undiscovered countries, and exuded charm and exhilarated the audience, first and foremost with imaginative storytelling?Roddenberry's initial "Trek" employed spectacle, fancy, aptitude, humor and adventure, all wrapped within a neat package that soared with a display of a media mosaic of imaginative universe, filled and presented with fanciful disclosure.

Where is any of that in Abrams' "Trek"?

Indeed, it is wonderful to at least see a return to the costume colors from the original "Trek" uniforms. And yes, it is no easy task for any genius to recreate the wheel (and Abrams is a genius). But does it have to be such a dark, violent war-ridden wheel? Does it ALWAYS have to be such a dark, violent war-ridden wheel?

Bottom line: I want this film to make a billion dollars at the box office, for "Star Trek," for Paramount, for all the people working for Abrams, behind and in front of the camera, and in his office - and for the industry in general. Anything that will bring attention to the original "Star Trek" television series, of course, and "Star Trek," in general, is okay with me.

Next time, however, I just want it to be perfect.