Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Rudolph" Does It Again!

Anyone who reads this or any of my blogs or posts (at www.MediaBizbloggers.com or www.TVWriter.net) knows of my fondness for the classic TV Christmas special, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed-Reindeer."

I have written at length about its many wonderful moments and life-lessons, one of which, however, I have not yet addressed and will do so now:

Shortly after Rudolph arrives on the Island of Misfit Toys, with his friends, Yukon Cornelius (the arctic prospector) and Herbie/Hermie (the elf who wants to be a dentist), he believes he must venture out on his own to fulfill his destiny.  And he does so by breaking off a piece of land-ice, and using it as a drift-device to carry him on his way through the artic sea.

[I call his friend "Herbie/Hermie" because the name actually changes from the first half of the show to the second; it was a mishap in the production that has been documented by those associated with the special.  But for the sake of this post, I will from here on in refer to him as "Hermie."]

As Rudolph drifts across the frigid waters, he wistfully bids farewell to his dear friends, saying, "Goodbye, Cornelius.  I hope you find lots of tinsel.  Goodbye, Hermie.  Whatever a dentist is....I hope someday you will be...the greatest."

It is by far one of the most poignant moments in the entire special...and it says so much about Rudolph's touching and massive heart...leaving each of us, of course, with food for thought....especially what he says to Hermie:

Without understanding in the least anything about Hermie's intended profession, Rudolph only wants the best for his friend.  Not only does Rudolph want Hermie to succeed...to find his joy...to find his bliss...but he wants Hermie to be the BEST at what he aspires to be.

It's such an inspiring moment...and a telling lesson for us all:

To be happy for others...to wish only the best for our friends and family members...to send only good thoughts for increase and happiness of every kind.

What a true mark of integrity...what a true sign of well-wishing...what a true and joyous way to live.

Thank you, again, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," for your continued insight, all the magic you bring to television year after year - and for being the perfect representation of just how wonderful a medium television has the power to be.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Classic TV Preservation Society stands firm against bullying of any kind

A heart-breaking article about a bullied young-boy who killed himself was published in this morning's edition of The Los Angeles Times (which see link below).
 
Unfortunately, this is only one example of the horrific outcome of bullying.
 
As a child, and into my teens, I myself experienced bullying...usually by jealous, insecure, hurtful, mean-spirited and ignorant peers.
 
Thank Heaven, I had found the beyond-my-years inner-strength to the deal with a constant barrage of insults on what at times became a daily basis.
 
The young man in this article, and so many more young people like him - of all heritages, beliefs, cultures and creeds, was not as fortunate.
 
As the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation, my nonprofit that seeks to close the gap between popular and education (and which is now in the process of formally receiving its 501(c)3 status), I pledge to work diligently to eliminate the conditions that have lead to the alarming increase of teen suicides that result from bullying.
 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Classic TV’s “Twilight Zone” Comes To Crazy-Good-Life On Stage in “Unscripted”

Upon viewing a few “live episodes” of “The Twilight Zone Unscripted,” the theatre-goer not only gets the eerie feeling they’ve actually stepped into (and are seated in front of) The Twilight Zone but that they’re also in on the joke – and it’s funny.  Make that “very funny!”

With its uniquely improvisational take on the genius classic TV series created by Rod Serling, “Unscripted,” presented by the renown Impro Theatre Acting Troup  (at Garry Marshall’s beautiful Falcon Theatre in Burbank), delivers in all areas.
The audience actually becomes unhinged on the edge of their seats not so much because no one (including the theatre-goers and the actors) knows not what’s to happen next – but because no one is sure the performers on stage will be able to pull it off.

But pull it off they do – beyond a shadow of a doubt – and with a lot of talent.
Day in day out, from September 6 to September 29th, the Impro’s eclectic troupe of thespians of every age (including co-directors Stephen Kearin and Jo McGinely) present one of the most unique combinative productions to the hit the live stage in years.  In keeping with the on-going interest in all things pop-culture, and classic television in particular -  and to paraphrase the opening thematic lines of another great TV classic (in the guise of Star Trek), “The Twilight Zone Unscripted” takes the audience where no audience has gone been before.  And they keep on doing it, in four different ways, every night.

Upon topic and plot suggestions made from the audience and welcomed by the cast, “The Twilight Zone Unscripted,” and its optimum performers work like a well-oiled machine on its first run.  Every night is opening night and the nervous energy that actors crave to deliver the goods finds its proper way into the very core of the performers.  Shining bright with clarity and obvious joy for their work the “Unscripted” members deliver the goods, one after the other.  Edi Patterson, Dan O’Connor, Ryan Smith, Michele Spears and Floyd VanBuskirk each sizzle in their own gifted way with the right amount of balanced creativity, energy, on-the-spot ingenuity and just plain charm that improvisational acting requires.   Add to that the combined cast’s personal affection for The Twilight Zone TV series and all that it’s become (since its original CBS run from 1959-1964), and the audience is guaranteed a once-in-a-life-time ride that, unlike the television show, will never be repeated again.  
Submitted with 100% approval: “The Twilight Zone Unscripted” is must-see TV - live - on stage!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

“Man of Steel”: DC's Less Than Worthy Attempt To "Avenge" Marvel [By Herbie J Pilato]

In their mutation from the printed/digital comic book world into the live-action feature film universe, Marvel’s superheroes are overwhelmingly the victors while to DC’s camp go the spoils, the clunkers and the position of a distant second best.

Marvel not only continues to throw all the right the heroic punches, as much as it consistently enters the ring with sheer, unadulterated courage and innovative product. 
To put it simply, Marvel has guts – they deliver their superior human flicks in the right manner.  They stick to the mythology of their selected comic book origins and hold back on the edgy innovation.  It’s still there – but they don’t make such a big deal out of the alterations – as does DC.

For what seems like eons, DC, and its Warner Bros. studio partner, have been dragging their collective butt in spotty attempts to, for one, get their Justice League (as a group or individually) up on the big-screen.  Although their Christopher Nolan-directed Batman/Dark Knight trilogy was a massive hit, and the new Nolan-produced Man of Steel, directed by Zach Snyder, has granted a potent shot in the arm to the Superman franchise, the success of Marvel’s multi-guided Captain America/Thor/Iron Man/Avengers movies (not to mention their Spider-Man flicks, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield editions) have far superseded (sorry) DC’s less-than stellar entries into the genre (hello and goodbye Green Lantern). 
To put it simply again, Marvel’s wonder mutants are just a lot more fun to watch; they have more pep, the casting is spot-on – and their “joy factor” is tremendous.

On the other hand, DC’s super frenzy of motion picture heroes lack the vibrant spirit and color (in tone, cinematography and costume) of their comic book page origins.
Man of Steel (MOS), for one, is utterly vacant of joy – not to mention downright depressing (which itself goes against the very core of the original Superman comic-book mythology).  What it then lacks in figurative character it additionally lacks in characters, period, namely, The Daily Planet junior photographer Jimmy Olsen.

Most likely, Jimmy may show up in a sequel (probably in some dark form; which see later dark references).  But that’s not good enough.  He should have been in this initial reboot, if anything, in place of that ridiculous Steve Lombard reporter character (annoyingly played by Michael Kelly).
And are they kidding with the hand-cam cinematography?  Millions of dollars were allocated for this movie – and portions of it are filmed like a low-funded Billy Jack remake – minus the cinescope?!

Equally disturbing is the over-whelming volume of sound, the overt-destruction of Smallville and Metropolis (thousands had to die?!), and the excessive alien-space/sci-fi-ness to it all. 
It was all so distracting and disappointing, as were some of the casting choices, the actors and their acting; the writing, the dialogue and the directing.

Helmer Snyder might know what he's doing with large-scale, action-adventure landscaping, but when it comes to intimate scene-editing , and guiding actors and getting legitimately human emotions and interactions from and between them – well, Tom Whedon (The Avengers), he ain’t. 
I found myself actually shaking my head through a good portion of the film, in awe of how sophomoric was its execution in general; and while assessing specific aspects of it such as the miscasting of villain General Zod (played by Michael Shannon with a seemingly-Mary Poppins voice), and those Russell Crowe-Jor-El/mirror/on-the-Krypton-vessel moments (Seriously?!).

As to Henry Cavill, who embodied Clark Kent/Superman, the dude's great looking – but his presence just isn’t big enough, vertically and dynamically.  He's too short - and that cape was too long (it’s clearly dragging the ground, tattered and dirty in certain moments – and that no one would catch that – or that anyone would allow that to make it on screen – is head-shake worthy).  Cavill clearly worked hard to get that body - but Superman is BUILT...not developed.  There's a difference.
Christopher Reeve, who is considered by scores as the one and only true cinematic-Superman, was born with his form (God bless him), while Cavill had to develop (and sometimes pump it up before shooting (which was painfully obvious in a few scenes with the actor’s awkward physical movements).  Reeve was 6', 6," larger than life and had personality.  Cavill is just "life," minus the personality.

And although casting an African-American actor (Laurence Fishburne) as Perry White was a progressive move on the studio's part, having Amy Adams portray Lois Lane was a mistake.  She just didn’t do it for me.  (And since when does Lois Lane have red hair?  Apparently, since she developed absolutely no on-screen chemistry with Clark Kent.)
Overall, the MOS presentation was again, just too dang dark, dingy and sad and, consequently, I was sad upon leaving the theatre.

Unlike, the essence of DC’s Batman, Superman is not dark by nature.  Therefore, it’s totally acceptable that the Dark Knight trilogy would be dark in tone, in character, in story, and in execution.
But as explained in the earliest DC comic books (and to some extent, in the later editions) what transpires in the life and development of Superman, from an organic standpoint, is ultimately quite upbeat.  Firstly, in attempt to save his life (which they ultimately do), his parents jettison him from their dying home planet of Krypton to Earth.  He falls into the farm fields and loving arms of the childless Martha and Jonathan Kent (in MOS played by a ridiculous Diane Lane and an okay Kevin Costner).  They raise him to be a fine upstanding young man, who retains an assortment of additional extraordinary powers, including astounding strength, heat vision – and the ability to fly.

How cool is that?!
Super cool!

So, why in tarnation would the DC/WB crew decide to darken that world and destroy that optimistic and hopeful view with the heavy-laden Man of Steel?  As Cavill’s Clark tells Adams’ Lois in one scene, the S on Superman’s skin-tight garb is his home-world monogram for hope. 
Thank goodness he explained that because otherwise one wouldn’t have surmised as much upon viewing the rest of the MOS.

With its implementation of the movie, the DC/WB camp may have figured that since director/producer Nolan did such a great job with his dark take on Batman that he could pull a similar stunt with the Superman films. 
But such has not transpired.  In fact, with Man of Steel, the dark issues were merely intensified with Nolan’s decision not to direct the project, and to instead hire Snyder – who, as mentioned, guided the equally joyless (and very bloody) 300.  In effect, a Kick-Ass film director does not a kick-ass Superman film, make (or something like that).

Certainly, DC/WB made a noble attempt to hire Nolan and subsequently Snyder.
The objective was to think out of the box and make something really different.

That’s all fine and good.
But in doing so, one cannot - nor one should not - go too far outside the box, or one may not find any audience outside at the box-office.

Clearly, this did not happen with MOS.  The movie is doing extremely well.  But I’m not so sure that is a testament to its quality as more to its brilliant, massive and somewhat desperate-looking marketing campaign.
And please note: this cinematic opinion isn’t about a baby-boomer’s misunderstanding of a contemporary take.

Good is good; well-done is well-done – in any era and in any genre.
The music of Frank Sinatra and Beethoven will always be great music whenever it’s heard.  Casablanca and Citizen Cane will ever be considered genius filmmaking in any decade in which they are screened.

In like (or dislike) manner, sub-par movie-making is sub-par movie-making, whether the budget is a college-bound five thousand clams or a multi-million dollar studio-endorsed epic like Man of Steel.
With that said, in only in the last few minutes of MOS do we catch a mere glimpse of the fun the entire production might have  embraced and showcased from the get-go had Snyder, Nolan, DC or Warner Bros. saw the forest through their superhero tee’s and camera angles.

For my money, whoever is in charge of the sequel (or the Justice League, in general, for that matter), should hire a happy director (who will at the very least start things off by bringing back that original bright red and blue costume!).
Because this time, we have nothing but a loud, noisy, spiritless film in which Superman (spoiler alert) actually kills someone – which once more - goes against the very grain of everything the character has stood for from day one (in DC Action Comics Number 1). 

And if DC ever hopes to catch up with Marvel’s supersonic hero-based films and their perfectly-balanced mix of success, quality and sincere critical acclaim, then first off, Nolan and Snyder have to exit the arena.  From there, DC, WB, and whoever replaces Nolan and Snyder, will then need to step into the ring with their gloves off and they’re thinking caps on, and leave any clouded-egos at the door.
If not, the consequences will be dire, with less than worthy product like Man of Steel – the very core of which in the big-screen, superhero scheme of things, seemed like an empty and hallow re-telling of the Tin Man - without the heart or a personality.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Marie Osmond's New Hallmark Show Is Bright Spot on Daytime TV

Marie – the show – and Marie Osmond – the human being – are welcome entries to daytime television.

In the warm and welcoming tradition of yesteryear’s Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore talk/variety shows, Osmond’s new daily hour on The Hallmark Channel brings a class, elegance and sophistication to today’s TV that has been sorely missed for far too long.

A showbiz veteran of over five decades, with a seemingly immortal, youthful glow and energy, Marie Osmond is a non-stop powerhouse of talent on every level.  We all know she sings, dances, and acts to excel (the Friday night ABC variety show that she hosted with her also-charismatic brother Donny, is legendary in the world of classic television).  But many of her other diverse attributes may not be so obvious…at least not until you watch any segment of Marie.

Thankfully, Marie on Marie goes against the grain of the mean-spirited, edgy, non-stop sarcastic banter that is so prevalent on other talk shows of today.  Instead, Marie employs her wit and media savvy with a pervading grace that actually lets her guests talk, and she makes every attempt NOT to interrupt them.  She’s nothing but a cordial host, as if she was speaking and entertaining her guests and, subsequently, her viewers – in the intimacy of her own home.

In the Marie segments I have seen on television, and during a recent and delightful visit to see the show in person, that’s exactly the atmosphere that she creates.  She makes you feel “at home,” whether she’s chatting with a celebrity or a member of her studio audience.  Unlike many public personalities who are only “nice” when the cameras roll, Marie treats everyone the same: with respect.  On or off camera, she asks real questions about real life (“How’s your Mom?”), and plays no favorites, only because she makes everyone feel like they are her favorite.  As a result, the viewers at home are brought to the party as if by special invitation – and just plain don’t want to leave or have that party end.

A multi-entertaining icon, Marie’s truest talents rest with her God-given ability to communicate, her sense of humor (which is direct; but never hurtful or insulting), and her ability to see everyone as equal.  Her joyful spirit, combined with enormous talents, and her generous heart (she’s raised countless millions for with, for one, the Children’s Miracle Network charities), allows Marie Osmond, the gifted human being, to present Marie, the show – as nothing less than a gift to those who watch, embrace – and make – television.

In turn, Marie and Marie, make television history.


For more information, see link below.
http://hallmarkchannel.com/marie

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness?" Unfortunately, Yes. [by Herbie J Pilato]

I didn’t hate Star Trek Into Darkness.

I just didn’t love it.

I always want to love anything that has to do with Star Trek - and or classic television in general.

That’s just my thing.
But I’m a tough customer and I’m very protective of my genre.

And that’s just the way it is.

That said, from the second I first heard the title, Star Trek Into Darkness, I sensed their might be some issues, beginning with the last word “darkness.”
I’m so very exhausted by the recent obsessions in film and television with the apparently required “dark” and “edgy” tone, cinematography and content of everything.   Yes, it was clever for those in power (director J.J. Abrams and company) to be the first in the Trek film franchise to actually make the title the closest thing to a sentence (without a colon, as in Star Trek: Into Darkness).  But still – enough already with the dark stuff.

Remember when Star Trek used to be filtered with bright colors, imagination, stunning visuals, amazing stories, eye-opening elegance of exploring “strange new worlds”…going boldly “where no man…no one…has gone before?”  Remember all that?  It was all part of the unique genius of Gene Roddenberry’s original Trek TV series, and to a lesser extent, that first show’s small screen sequels and the earlier Trek feature films.
Unfortunately, it’s not part of Star Trek Into Darkness, or for that matter, Abrams’ initial 2009 feature film journey into the Trek universe.

Ok, fine…they got the costumes right in the new Trek movies…the somewhat correct shades of mustard, red and blue are all there.  And it’s very cool that these new Trek films take place in an alternate time period from the original shows and movies, which allow for parallel changes (i.e. like Kirk now being taller than Spock - as opposed to the other way around).  And I guess we could assimilate that to Trek’s original episode Mirror, Mirror on steroids.
But where are the NEW stories?  Where are the NEW aliens?   Where are the NEW concepts?  The NEW civilizations?   The NEW mysteries?   The NEW sophisticated inventions and gadgets?

Where? 

Not in Star Trek Into Darkness, that’s for sure.

Ultimately, this new Trek film is a pseudo remake of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (thus far and most likely forever the best in the movie series), but without the heart and soul.  The grit is there.  The action/adventure is there (maybe too much so).  The attempt to please original Trek fans is there but not much else.

The Trek cast is top notch in Into Darkness.  Chris Pine is fine as Kirk.  Zachary Quinto is precise as Spock.  Benedict Cumberbatch is great as yes, Kahn.  And so on.  And there are cool cameos by key classic Trek figures.  And that’s all fine and dandy, but still, there’s much to be desired. 
Although there may be certain “behind-the-scenes” reasons why things happened the way they did.

Shortly before Into’s world premiere, it was announced that Abrams would be jumping (space) ship and now also be responsible for rebooting, of all things, the Star Wars franchise…Trek’s main competition.  At first Abrams declined, but then, apparently, his wife convinced him otherwise.  It soon was made known in the press that certain ownership issues with Trek merchandising was one of the reasons why Abrams would leave Trek for Wars.

Upon seeing the half-hearted attempt of Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams must have made the decision to leave Kirk and crew behind half-way through his work on the film.
All of that said, Star Trek Into Darkness is a very nice action-adventure science fiction movie – but overall - it’s not Star Trek.

And I'm not sure any potential new Trek producer will ever be able to please my portended vision of Trek.  I’d love them to.  But I just don’t know if that will ever come to be.

In looking back over the near fifty years of the franchise, all any true original Trek fan ever wanted was the original actors (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelly, etc.) back on TV in a new Star Trek TV series.  No one asked for a feature film (the first being 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture), or any other TV Trek like a Next Generation, a Deep Space Nine, a Voyager, or (yikes!) an Enterprise.  Those were all very nice sci-fi shows. 

But they weren’t Star Trek.
And certainly now with the original cast in their very senior years, and two key members now gone (Kelley and James Doohan), Star Trek with the initial cast back on the small screen, every week, is never going to happen.

And in waiting for some producer/director somewhere to finally at least make a solid attempt to recapture Roddenberry’s original brilliance and grace, I’ll close with a few pen-ultimate Star Trek Into Darkness thoughts.
The closing credits were extremely well done.  But why were these clearly-opening credits placed at the end?  This same format was also utilized with Iron Man 3.  And both times the style was retro in nature, with regard to pacing and music, etc. 

But again...why at the end?
How astonishing would it have been if Abrams had in fact opened Into Darkness with for one, the iconic and original TV Star Trek musical theme that was employed at the film’s close?

Maybe he was afraid that the rest of the movie wouldn't have lived up to such opening credits?  Or maybe he wanted to save it for the end, in order to create a sense of "Now...we can begin the actual five-year-mission?"
Sadly, it so far has taken Abrams two new films in his Trek re-do to even re-start that legendary five-year-mission – which is where they should have been from the get-go.

Abrams’ first Trek flick should have been the first new exploration of that historic five-year-mission, instead of over-doing the origin story as was presented.

That said, the original Trek episode, Amok Time (NBC, 9-15-67), Spock is forced to fight Kirk for what he thinks is a duel to the death back on Vulcan in order for Spock to win over his true Vulcan lady love (T’Pring, played by Arlene Martel).  To save Kirk’s life, and yet retain Spock’s honor  - and unknowing to Spock - Dr. McCoy (Kelley) is able to simulate Kirk’s demise during the fight.
In doing so, Spock wins his true love, but, he decides his victory to be a hallow one.  The presiding Vulcan queen T’Pau (Celia Lovsky) wishes him to “Live long and prosper," but he replies, “I shall do neither.  I have killed my captain and my friend.”

Spock then walks over to T’Pring and concludes, “I have found that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting.  It is not logical…but often true.”
That’s kinda’ how I feel about Star Trek Into Darkness.

 

 


 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"The Brady Bunch" is Still the Best & Here’s (the Story) Why…by Herbie J Pilato




There’s a surreal quality circumventing The Brady Bunch that has transcended television time and space.

What first aired from the fall of 1969 to the spring of 1973 as ABC’s original half-hour family sitcom (created by executive producer Sherwood Schwartz – of Gilligan’s Island) has transmuted over the decades into syndicated reruns; with sequels, retrospectives and remakes on additional networks (CBS and NBC); for the big-screen and small; with DVD releases; on the live stage or the printed page; and certainly online.  First there was animated sequel, The Brady Kids (ABC, 1973)…followed by The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (ABC, 1976)…which gave birth to The Brady Girls Get Married (NBC, 1981)….which led to The Brady Brides (NBC, 1981)…and then onto A Very Brady Christmas (1988)…which morphed into the serious-minded The Bradys (1990)…followed a few years later by the first feature film, The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)….and the sub-sequent big-screener A Very Brady Sequel (1996); then straight-to-video with The Brady Bunch in the White House…along with additional incarnations.

Ok, but why?  What is the near-miraculous appeal of this increasingly popular and ever-expanding media-family franchise that made superstar names of Florence Henderson (who played matriarch Carol Brady) and Robert Reed (father Mike Brady); the former child-actors-turned-icons Barry Williams (Greg), Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Christopher Knight (Peter), Eve Plumb (Jan), Mike Lookinland (Bobby), Susan Olson (Cindy), and ever-affable Ann B. Davis (as the lovable, wise-cracking housekeeper Alice)?

In a recent view of reruns of the original series (which is now broadcast, among other places, six times in succession on like The Hallmark Channel), I began to comprehend the core of its appeal – through adult, yet-child-like eyes.

Before I began to re-watch the show, I transported myself back in time, and thought, “What if I was more a child?  What would I think if I saw The Brady Bunch through yesterday’s eyes?”

My reflection gave birth to this perception:

If I was a kid again and turned on the TV and was suddenly startled by a thin white line that streamed across the monitor, have it subsequently transform into a visual of an extremely welcoming woman with a pretty smile, only to have three similarly-facial clad young lasses appear to the left of the screen; followed on the other side of the screen by a pleasantly-handsome man and his three charming young sons…all of it happening as a bouncingly happy music with story-telling lyrics played in the background…I’d be hooked from the get-go.  I would have been mesmerized

The colors…in the Brady kitchen alone, all orange and blue, would have transfixed me.  Into this mix was the perfect home setting…the amiable-but-at-times conflicted personalities…the problems…the struggles…the challenges…all wrapped up within a thirty-minute time-frame.

It would be like watching a living cartoon…in the most beautiful, surreal way.

What more could any child want?  What more could any adult want then to view life through a kaleidoscope of loving-kindness that resolved all conflict?

We’d want to experience that feeling again and again, in as many ways as possible…in as many formats as feasible...including The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which many have unduly criticized - and secretly loved - over the years. 

But me?  I always outright loved it, for all the world to see.

The Variety show debuted two years after the original Bunch sitcom was cancelled – and I was in television heaven.  The original cast, sans Eve Plumb (who was replaced by Fake-But-Eager-Jan Geri Reischl), were all there, singing and dancing their Brady hearts out.
But they weren’t billed as Florence, Robert, Barry, and Maureen, and so forth who were hosting a TV variety show.  Instead, it was Carol, Mike, Greg and Marcia, etc. who were given the reigns.

Years later, A Very Brady Christmas (with a new Cindy, portrayed by Jennifer Runyon) became the highest-rated TV-movie of 1988, which inspired the thirtysomething-esque, more dramatic-oriented The Bradys weekly series (with Susan Olsen back as Cindy; but with Marcia now played by Leah Ayres) from early 1990…and so forth and so on into Brady-infinity. 

Again, there was something surreal about it all…and there always will be.

Thank the Brady gods.

 

Monday, May 06, 2013

From "Star Trek" to "Spider-Man": There's A Certain Way To (Re-) Do It!


There’s been resurgence in remakes of recent.  Classic television programs for the big-screen or small; classic films for the big-screen; classic concepts remade in general, whether they were remade from an original comic book or novel source.

            In the past few years there’s been small screen television re-treads of Battlestar: Galactica, The Defenders, and The Munsters.  More are on the way, as actors Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from A Christmas Story) are partnering with Paramount to develop a new Brady Bunch, while Warner Bros. is still dabbling with the possibility of re-doing Wonder Woman (for which a recent David E. Kelly edition did not fly).

            On the big-screen, classic TV shows have shown up in retrograde fashion with, for example, director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp’s Dark Shadows (based on the 1960s gothic soap), and the on-going adventures of Mission: Impossible featuring Tom Cruise, who is now also working on a re-do of TV’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Into this mix, producer/director J.J. Abrams, who helmed Cruise in Mission: Impossible 3, is now promoting his second Star Trek film based on Gene Roddenberry’s original genius Trek TV series.  Moreover, Abrams is further involved with a re-boot of the Star Wars franchise, which has long been in direct competition with the Trek universe; and that development alone poses an interesting triadic dichotomy:

            1] That any Trek associate, veteran or novice, would be aligned with a direct “rival” is nothing less than intriguing

            2] That Wars never began as a television series; but in the theatre and

            3] That Abrams would not only be re-doing a stabilized television franchise, but is also now re-booting an established film franchise.

            With regard to the latter, certainly other creative sorts have found themselves in similar shoes with, for example, the likes (and dislikes) of the Spider-Man and Superman feature film worlds.  Both S-Men initially commenced in comic book form (Spidey from Marvel origins; Clark Kent and company from DC origins), and went on to become small screen animated and live actions series.  But some have questioned the wisdom of re-booting feature film editions of these two superheroes so soon after their fairly recent early retreads (if only in the last decade).  Included in this unique re-club would The Incredible Hulk, with which Universal went back to the big-screen remake drawing board (to less than stellar results) with not one but two total Hulk re-dos within a five year span.

            However, The Amazing Spider-Man, introducing the new Peter Parker, now played by Andrew Garfield proved profitable, followed in the web-steps of the ultimately success of Tobey Maguire films.  And many are hoping the soon-to-be-seen Man of Steel will do the same with the Superman feature film series (although the late, great Christopher Reeve has continually proven to be a tough super act to follow).

            Any way the retread is sliced, it is no easy task to remake a small screen classic, whether or not it began in comic book or novel form, for either television or the movie-house.  And although those involved certainly always have the best of intentions, they do not always produce the best results.

            However, there are certain precepts and “rules” that could and should be adhered to help things along the way (all of which, once more, comes in threes):

            1] The given property’s core mythology must be respected

            2] If at all, possible, any living member of the original cast or production team of the original series or conceived project should somehow be involved

            3] The correct casting is pertinent, and that does not always mean that an A-list actor or actress should be cast as a solid draw.  Ideally, remakes should not be star-vehicles; the script and the story and the characters should be the star attractions; and everything should fall into place after that.

            But what might be the most important component to consider in remaking, per se, a classic television program, in particular, is to know when and when not to take the concept seriously.

            A few years back, The Brady Bunch was made into a glorious feature film, and the camp aspect played into the scenario very well.  The original television series (which still rules, by the way!), though not intended as camp, became camp in the process, although no less loved.  Consequently, camping-it-up nicely served the feature film transition – and the Brady franchise, in general.  The Brady Bunch Movie, released in 1995, pristinely incorporated camp into its very core and, in the process, became a satire.  So that worked.

            Conversely, such was not the case in 2004 with Ben Stiller’s Starsky & Hutch movie remake of the Aaron Spelling TV series.  Granted, the original series could never be considered Masterpiece Theatre; but it wasn’t campy either.  But for some reason, Stiller decided to go the satire Brady Bunch route.  (Maybe because he married Christine Taylor, who played Marcia, Marcia, Marcia in the Brady motion picture?) 

            What also didn’t work on a big-screen level was the aforementioned Burton/Depp Dark Shadows re-do from 2012.  There was a mistaken assessment that the original Shadows TV series was a campy series.  But such was not the case.  The low budget may have invited some to perceive the series as camp, but the writing and storylines and the always-solid acting (given the allotted time-frame and live-performing aspect of daily daytime production) on that so-named gothic soap raised the bar.

            Unfortunately, Burton and Depp most disappointedly decided to turn Shadows into a joke.  The first few minutes of the film were pure genius; but as the movie continued they decided to camp it up (as they, again, had assumed the original series camped it), but things went down-hill from there.  Adding insult to injury, the four main original Shadows actors (Jonathan Frid, Kathryn Lee Scott, Lara Parker and David Selby) were poorly and disrespectfully employed on-screen (you’d have to blink to see their cameos in an entry-party scene).

            In all, Shadows was a dark disappointment on so many levels.

            But such does not have to be the case with future remakes.

            Those who in control should trust their affection for the original concept they seek to re-do; respect the original material, and proceed with remake style, classic, elegance, and sophistication.

            If such is the case, then everything should turn out just fine. 

            Make that, re-fined.

            Er, re-make that re-fined.

            Oh, you get the (big) picture.

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Herbie J Pilato is the Creative Director of Pop-Culture Consultants, an entertainment consulting firm that specializes in remakes of classic television programming for the big-screen and small.  For more information, log on to www.pop-cultureconsultants.blogspot.com or email hjpilato@yahoo.com.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Unique Talent and Humane Soul of Lucie Arnaz


Lucie Arnaz is a dynamic combination of talent, personality, intelligence, humor, and demure that is rarely found in the world of entertainment.  The daughter of industry legends Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, Ms. Arnaz could easily have easily played upon her famous heritage.  But her iconic parents, whose contributions to the industry remain enormous, guided their daughter (and son Desi Arnaz, Jr.) with a gentle hand and a sophisticated elegance.  Raised in prestige and wealth, Lucie Arnaz could have easily adapted to the usual high-rollers game of arrogance and pomposity; inaccessibility and avoidance.  Instead, and by way of her parents’ best virtues, she’s opted from the word go to live her life with grace and kindness; discretion, integrity and humanity. 

Her career, which is vast and versatile, began with early performances on her mother’s second successful sitcom, The Lucy Show, and on game shows like Password.  In 1968, a regular role on Here’s Lucy (her mother’s third hit show) lead to guest-starring stints on other classic TV programs, like Marcus Welby, M.D., as well an energetic starring role on her own sitcom, The Lucie Arnaz Show.  Her comedic deftness was sealed with a performance as Detective Bess Stacey, in a dead-on satire of classic TV’s Cagney & Lacey for a profoundly entertainment episode of Murder She Wrote.  Into this mix, her dramatic abilities have been potently displayed on ground-breaking TV-movies like Who Is The Black Delia; feature films such as 1980 edition of The Jazz Singer; in the telling TV series, Sons & Daughters, and in several guest-starring appearances on shows like Law & Order.  Then, in 1993, she won an Emmy Award for television documentary Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie.
Certainly, Lucie Arnaz is her mother’s daughter when it comes to delivering the goods of both dramatic and comedic performances.  Ms. Ball ignited her career in a list of quality dramatic feature films before finding superstardom on TV with I Love Lucy in which she co-starred with husband Desi Arnaz (who was the grand conductor of that show’s every genius move behind-the-scenes).  So while the genetic pool of talent and ingenuity runs deep for Ms. Arnaz, even Lucille Ball made an important distinction between herself and her talented off-spring.  Ms. Ball believed she had to work at comedy; but her daughter Lucie?  That was a different story.  On more than one occasion Ms. Ball described Ms. Arnaz as naturally funny.

The additional talents of Ms. Arnaz in the area of song and dance have long been on display.  In addition to the countless musical performances she provided on Here’s Lucy (which, along with I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show, are all now available on DVD), she also appeared on Broadway in They’re Playing Our Song (for which she won the Theatre World Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in a Musical); co-starred with Tommy Tune in My One and Only (for which she won the Sarah Siddons Award); and appeared most recently in the hit live show, Latin Roots.  Other live events have included her performance and direction in the summer of 2010 of Babalu: A Celebration of the Music of Desi Arnaz and His Orchestra.  
Suffice it to say when it comes to entertaining Lucie Arnaz is a one-woman powerhouse.  And to top it all off, her humanitarian and charitable efforts to help the less fortunate goes without saying, but is more than worth repeating. Somehow, through it all, she has managed to retain a solid family life with husband of over three decades, actor-writer Laurence Luckinbill (with whom she has three children Simon, Joseph and Katharine; and two stepsons, Nicholas and Benjamin).

In short, Lucie Arnaz more than easily lives up to and exceeds her lineage on every level and, in the process, her fans and peers, along with her own immediate family, continue to have the good fortune of her presence.  Ms. Arnaz is living proof that star quality is not merely something one is born with.  This charismatic earth angel has clearly earned her talented wings, partially by way of Hollywood but mostly via a direct bee-line from Heaven.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Early Classic TV Families Weren't All That Black & White


Father Knows Best.  Ozzie and Harriett.  The Donna Reed Show.  My Three Sons.  Leave It To Beaver.
These are the top five iconic television classics that were filmed in black and white.

However, contrary to popular opinion, from an organically-aesthetic perspective, each of these shows and their characters were not all that black and white. 
In fact, they were very colorful and multi-dimensional.

At times, and in retrospect, when any one of these programs are referenced in the spectrum of television in particular, and popular culture in general, they are too many times pidgin-holed as too sentimental or lacking depth, story and character development.
In reality, such an assessment could not be further from the truth.

The characters on each of these shows interacted with one another on very real terms; they treated each other as honestly as possible within the context of their time.  The shows may be products of their time; but they delivered as honest a portrayal of family life as was possible by the medium of their era (early 1950s-to early 1960s).
For example, on Father Knows Best (which began on radio) Jim and Margaret Anderson, as played by the elegant Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, on several occasions became legitimately and realistically upset with and disappointed in their children (played by Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin).  In fact, during one particularly startling moment from the series, when all three children were acting selfishly, Wyatt’s Margaret berated them as a group and actually called them brats!

On The Donna Reed Show, the iconic film star of big-screen classics like It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), transferred to the small screen by portraying a character who fully embraced being a housewife and mother.  She cared for and adored her husband (played by Carl Betz) and children (Shelley Fabares, and real-life siblings Paul Peterson - a comedic genius from the word go - and Patti Peterson), but was always sure to correct them in very straight-forward terms if she believed they were off-track in any way, shape or form (particularly when it came to not displaying loving-kindness).
Fred McMurray, as the star of My Three Sons, was one of the first widowed parents on television, and always took an amiable, but firm hand in raising his trio of teens (Mike Considine, Don Grady, and more real-life siblings Barry Livingston and Stanley Livingston (the latter of whom joined the series after Considine left).

Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsly as Ward and June Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver, watched over their two young sons (Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow) with a close but a respectful eye, making certain to allow their children the space that each human being deserves – at any age - for their own personal growth.  Leave it To Beaver, in fact, was one of the most mature family sitcoms in history, despite the fact that its stories were essentially told from the perspective of its youngest child.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (which like Father Knows Best began on radio) displayed the king and queen of classic TV parentage raising their two sons, Ricky and David Nelson (who were in reality their real-life off-spring off-camera) with sound, spiritual hand; based on the very realistic stories of their very reality – as they were all playing themselves!

So, anytime anyone attacks these and other such family TV classics (even when they transferred into color) as being overtly-syrupy, I respond as did once the genius Michael Learned during an appearance on The Today Show.  Certain critics mistakenly attack The Waltons, the esteemed 1970s family series on which Ms. Learned starred as the matriarch, because, “Those who call our show too saccharine simply don’t watch it.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Classic TV Legends Gather to Share the “Love”


The worlds of classic TV and theatre are about to collide in a most amazing and hilarious way:

From February 1st to March 10th, The Greencourt Theatre In Los Angeles will present “When You’re In Love The Whole World Is Jewish,” directed by Jason Alexander, written by Bob Booker, co-produced by Danny Gold and Joey Riback, and featuring a stellar cast, including Lynn Adrianna, Barry Gordon, Brian Herskowitz, Michael Pasternak, Ellen Ratner, Robert Shampain, Rena Strober, and Jay Brian Winnick.

Renaissance man Alexander, best known as George Constanza on Seinfeld, is one of Hollywood’s most talented and multi-faceted performers.  Booker clocks in with over 500 hours classic television that he has produced and written.  Gold is defined by his very name when it comes to productions from not only the classic world of TV (such as the acclaimed DVD release of Kung Fu), but new classics such as the Award-winning documentary, 100 Voices: A Journey Home (released theatrically and recently screened on KCET-TV in LA).  Riback has appeared on or written everything from The Merv Griffin Show to Murphy Brown to The Sweet Life of Zach & Cody.

Classically-trained actress Adrianna, whose background is as rich in culture as it is talent, has appeared on new classic TV shows like Law & Order: Criminal Intent.  The ever-affable Barry Gordon is best known in the classic TV world from his stints on The New Dick Van Dyke Show and Archie Bunker’s Place.  And the long-lasting career of Brian Herskowitz fondly traces back as far as Eight is Enough.

This versatile cast, production team, and their colleagues now combine to deliver “When You’re In Love The Whole World Is Jewish,” the premise for which, according to its website, is this:

When a young Jewish boy decides he wants to marry his very gentile girlfriend, who knows nothing about Jewish customs or culture, he seeks the help of his Rabbi. The learned man then acts as a guide, taking the couple on a ride through the Jewish way of life, as a way of educating the young girl. This laugh-filled journey, incorporating twenty-five legendary comedy sketches and songs, covers every facet of Jewish life, from business and travel, to marriage and family, and is sure to appeal to all, because as the title of the show says, "When You're In Love, The Whole World Is Jewish."

The backstory?

In 1965, there was an innovative album that captured the public’s imagination, and it was titled “You Don’t Have To Be Jewish,” which was released by Kapp Records.  It featured the talented voices of additionally talented actors (and classic TV greats) like Lou Jacobi, Betty Walker, Jack Gilford, and Frank Gallop.

This collection of classic Jewish humor was written and produced by Bob Booker and George Foster, this collection of classic Jewish humor was, within weeks of its release, a Top 10 hit.  It also received a Grammy nomination as “Comedy Album of the Year.”

The following year a sequel was released, titled, “When You’re In Love, The Whole World Is Jewish,” once more produced Kapp Records, and featuring Jacobi, Walker, Gallop, who sang The ballad of Irving (which became a Top 10 hit).  This second album also featured a young actress from New York named Valerie Harper, who would go on to find classic TV fame of her own as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and then her own spin-off, Rhoda.

The forward story?

“When You’re In Love The Whole World Is Jewish” - the play - is a MUST-SEE classic TV and musical theatre world event!

 

For more information, click on: http://www.worldisjewishtheplay.com/