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by Adam Ferenz

A simple premise, this. In the first half of an episode, the police investigate a crime and in the second, the courts sort out the mess. In Dick Wolf’s legendary series, which is currently tied with Gunsmoke as the longest running dramatic series in US primetime history-it will be equaled by the spinoff, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit-this is a formula that held up, as did the idea of “ripping the stories from the headlines” and frequently rotating the cast. Lawyers and police come and go, and New York City is always there, a backdrop that is never quite a character but certainly felt.

The cast is likely what most people will remember, aside from the formula. Audiences will think of Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy, or Steven Hill as his boss at the DA’s office. They will think of Jerry Orbach, as Detective Lennie Briscoe, and maybe also Chris Noth as Mike Logan, Benjamin Bratt as Rey Curtis and Jesse L. Martin as Ed Green. They might recall S.Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Anita Van Buren. These are just a few of the-longer tenured-faces to pass through the halls of justice on NBC’s venerable offering.

The show could be prone to gimmicks-stunt casting, crossovers, though the ones with Homicide: Life on the Street worked-and, prior to a late run creative rebirth, recycling stories and beats. That last cast, with Merkerson still there as Van Buren, Waterson now in the big chair at the DA’s office, aided by Linus Roache and Alana De Le Garza’s Michael Cutter and Connie Rubirosa, helped the show regain the luster lost during a good half decade in the wilderness. They were joined by Anthony Anderson’s Kevin Bernard and Jeremy Sisto’s Cyrus Lupo. It was good to see the series close out the final three years without any turnover, and to regain a creative high it had not achieved in over a decade. Alas, it was not enough to save the series and, once it tied Gunsmoke as the longest lived US dramatic series in primetime, NBC pulled the plug. Continue Reading »

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by Lucille Juliano

This drama series was based on the classic and beloved “Little House” book series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and published HarperCollins.  The first publication of the Little House on the Prairie novel was in 1935 and has won the hearts as well as the imaginations of young people around the world.  Laura’s books are a memoir of her real-life experiences growing up during the trying times of the Midwest during the late 1800s.  They tell a story of when life was much simpler. A time when your neighbors would lend a helping hand and obliging communities would work together to prevail against ill fortune. The stories had family values, were inspirational, and told about connections, love, courage, optimism, and happiness.  Since the “Little House” book series has had legions of fans for generations, it should be no surprise that the television series remained on the air for nine seasons and had three TV movies during its tenth year. “Little House on the Prairie” can be found on television today and is broadcast in many countries worldwide.  The complete series is available on DVD and individual seasons are available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.

The Ingalls Family was introduced to millions of viewers in March of 1974 in a made-for-TV movie entitled, “Little House on the Prairie:The Pilot”  and was picked up as a series in September of 1974 on NBC. The show was considered a top-rated series and earned several Emmy, Golden Globe, and Western Heritage Award nominations and wins.  It also has two international awards to its credit.

At the show’s inception Charles and Caroline Ingalls (played by Michael Landon and Karen Grassle) had three young daughters, Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson), Laura (Melissa Gilbert) and Carrie (Rachel and Sidney Greenbush).  These girls literally grew up on the show and were a part of many coming of age stories. Caroline and Charles were also the center of some of the episodes and let us not forget the family’s lovable mutt, Jack, who was also a part of the mix. Continue Reading »

by Adam Ferenz

A series that is blacker than coal, moody, depressing and yet with an ending that will leave a viewer out of breath while also (slightly) comforted that it is all over. Based on a series of books, and loosely inspired by the Yorkshire Ripper murders of the 1970s and 1980s, this story of police and political corruption and cover up in the north of England is set in three different periods, focusing on mostly different casts of characters, with each episode of the trilogy revolving around a new character, including journalists and police on both sides of the crimes depicted.

One noteworthy aspect of the series is that each episode is shot using a different technique and camera, including 35mm and a Red One digital camera. Each seems perfectly suited to the mood, particularly the Red One, which is used for a story where everything comes into focus, but still, somehow, does not feel real, as though truths are just out of reach. It is not just the camera that impresses. It is the way the entire production evokes a mood, and creates atmosphere and tension that is rarely found on television.

Split into three parts, the first section, set in 1974, concerns, initially, the story of reporter Eddie Dunford, played by Andrew Garfield, who winds up in a very dark place when his investigation in local real estate magnate, John Dawson, played by Sean Bean, indicates ties to local criminal activities. Including, of course, potential cover for a series of missing girls. Along the way, he meets crooked cops and politicians, some of whom return for the next two parts, set in 1980 and 1983. The series quickly becomes something more, and largely leaves these characters in the rear view mirror. Continue Reading »

119. Columbo

appearance

By Stephen Mullen

Somewhere in Los Angeles are two people who hate each other – or at least one of them hates the other one. Maybe we will see them together; maybe we will see them separately; maybe we will just see one of them, going about some strange ritual. Maybe they’ll talk – maybe they will be, or act, friendly, but more likely they will quarrel. Either way, one of this is going to kill the other. Maybe we see the killer covering up the crime; maybe we now recognize that their rituals were aimed at hiding the crime. By the time the first commercial comes, it looks like they will get away with it. When we come back, the police are on hand. Among them is a dumpy looking guy in a raincoat, who putters around, and notices things; he sticks his nose into conversations; he looks at the bodies; he talks to the relatives. He probably talks to the killer, and he’ll probably notice something when he does. By the end of the first scene we know there’s more to this guy than meets the eye. Over the next hour, he’ll keep running into the killer, and it’s going to take the killer longer to catch on that there’s more to him than meets the eye, but he will – but by then it will be too late.

That is Columbo, and for my money, it’s the best show ever made on network television in the USA. Columbo ran 7 years in the 1970s, came back for a couple more seasons and string of TV movies in the 80s and 90s, and every episode (except one or two here and there) fit that description above. The shows were a series of little movies, 90-100 minutes long, airing in rotation with a number of other shows (McCloud and McMillan & Wife, later Hec Ramsey too) in its first run – the longer production schedules (a show a month, instead of a show a week) meant episodes were made with a lot more care than the average TV show of the time. They looked it. It starred Peter Falk, and brought in high profile guest stars, writers and directors, as prestige television has always done. Columbo’s early years boast Steven Bochco and Steven Spielberg at the start of their careers; later years featured people like Jonathan Demme, and along the way, any number of Hollywood veterans and actors got a shot behind the camera – Richard Quine and Leo Penn; Ben Gazzara and Patrick McGoohan. And of course a parade of guest stars, to kill and be killed, or sometimes to offer dubious advice in the role of lawyers or uncles or ex-husbands and wives. Continue Reading »

With friend and colleague Broadway Bob at White House

by Sam Juliano

The second annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival is one week away, and Jamie Uhler, the project’s founder will again be launching the noble enterprise.  A day-by-day schedule has been sent out to the participating writers, who will follow the guidelines that defined last year’s festival.  The AFOFF will pre-empt the Greatest Television Series Countdown Part 2 for the second time, but that show will resume after the ten day tribute to our late beloved mentor has concluded.  Speaking of the television countdown kudos to all the writers, who again have risen to the challenge with superlative essays, and a special tip of the cap to the indomitable television scholar Adam Ferenz, who has brought quality and prolific attendance to a project I feel I have personally let down.  Brian Wilson, Pierre de Plume, Brandie Ashe, Stephen Mullen, John Greco, Dennis Polifroni, Robert Hornak, Lucille Juliano, Jon Warner, Patricia Perry, Benjamin Hufbauer and Samuel Juliano IV have all brought magisterial work to make the project fly.

I served as a chaperon for the annual Washington D.C. 8th Grade Field trip for the sixth consecutive year from Wednesday through Friday and though this was a rain-soaked affair we had a fabulous time walking many miles taking in the usual attractions and memorials. Continue Reading »

by Adam Ferenz

This series, based on the book and film of the same name, concerned the travails of a group of law students at an Ivy-League school, as they labored to prove themselves in their chosen profession, and to please the officious professor Kingsfield, played by John Houseman, who reprised his Oscar-winning role from the film. Starting out on CBS, the series ran for one season there, during the 1978-79 season, roughly covering the same material as the book and film, but with a slight emphasis on the lives of the characters, outside the classroom. When the series was picked up by Showtime, four years later, it became even more of an ensemble and balanced the stories between classroom and private concerns. The content was only slightly riskier than that, by then, starting to be found on network series in such programs as Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. The series would end in 1986.

This is a series that even for when it arrived, was highly unusually. Always laconic, the series had rhythms seldom seen on American broadcast television. It also had a cast that was not traditionally “handsome” or “pretty” though nothing as extreme as what would be seen in much later programs like Homicide: Life on the Street. It was this lack of convention that made it a difficult series to pin down. Somewhat of a high concept, the series had a defined end-graduation from school. This was also a series which managed to cast both for and against type, unafraid to show people who you could believe might become lawyers, from the unconventional James Hart, who passes for the series lead, to the slightly schlubby Bell, who ends up one of Hart’s better friends.

Yet, the series never shirked from showing how school life impacted the students. The anxiety, the boredom, the ways sex and substances filled the hours between courses and occasionally fueled activities in and out of the classroom. Never prurient, nor prudish, the series was remarkably matter of fact in its approach to all things. It also followed a remarkably consistent path for its characters, from eager students, to “battle” tested new attorneys, ready to defend or prosecute. Sadly, the series Showtime run was long unavailable, and even now, only the first three seasons are on dvd. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

The characters on Green Acres are distinctly cartoonish.  Each was amplified, stretched, exaggerated and subject to slapstick punishment at any moment.  The element of surprise was sometimes delightfully original, though of course like all shows re-runs demanded a different sense of appreciation.    Green Acres showcased contractions like the Heney Egg-Layin’ Inducing Machine, bringing to mind the Wile E. Coyote Acme catalog.  The characters’ voices were as diverse as Mel Blanc’s repetoire, and the background scenery was tongue-in-cheek, a parody recalling Fred and Wilma Flinstone’s home in Bedrock.

The real charm in Green Acres for many were the supporting characters.  Some might opine it is the chemistry between Oliver and Lisa, on par with George and Gracie, albeit with a bit more sophisticated stupidity.  The townspeople were probably even more absurdly animated than Oliver and Lisa and were played straight.  As to the imaginative and colorful sets, the show was a breath of fresh air at a time when Dick Van Dyke and Gomez Addams were grey.  The pacing was also on par with cartoon speed, and coming as it did from the studio that produced Mister Ed.

The Green Acres years were 1965-1971 located at Stage 5 at general Service, where 170 half-hour episodes were put on film.  They were shot on 35mm film with a single camera, no videotape, no live audience, and because of Eva Gabor’s incidence it was a closed set much of the time.  Filing was also out of sequence.  The initial peak into the world of Oliver Wendell Douglas came by way of a narrated prologue, with host John Daly acting as newscaster, providing a formal introduction to the premise.  This was of course preceded by the opening sequence and theme song.  Cleveland Emory rightly called the series a hybrid of The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, two other shows with added laugh tracks.  Of course Green Acres was never made to be taken seriously.

 

more to come.