Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Tale of Two Islands

Hanna-Barbera created two live action "wrap-around" shows for Saturday Morning.  Basically, they were costumed characters engaged in skits and music who introduced various cartoon shorts.

The first, on NBC in 1968, the iconic "Banana Splits Adventure Hour" (with characters created by Sid and Marty Krofft) included a live-action serial called "Danger Island."  Remember "UH-OH CHONGO" or words to that effect?  These very colorful and well-made episodes starred Jan Michael Vincent and were directed by Richard Donner who would go on to help "Superman: The Movie", "The Omen", and the "Lethal Weapon" franchise.  

Nine years later, "The Skatebirds" premiered on CBS.  Less revered than its predecessor, these roller fowls introduced the live action "Mystery Island."  You think they could have come up with something a little different.  Well, there was a little more sci-fi to compete with the Filmation live-action kidvid at the time.  

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pray For the Wildcats

On the last post, I made reference to this ABC Movie of the Week where Andy Griffith plays a sadistic businessman torturing his professional co-horts on a desert motorcycle trip.  This is one of the most bizarre TV movie memories I've had (a close second is retiree Martin Balsam beating up gang members in "Siege"). This is a cast made in boomer heaven:  William Shatner (playing the good guy), Robert Reed and Marjoe Gortner (child preacher).  Watch this clip at your own risk.

Andy Griffith / Dick Van Dyke : Same timeline

I had recently seen Andy Griffith in a marvelous performance in the indie film "Waitress." He did this film a couple of years ago playing a lovable but crusty cafe patron. Yesterday, I saw Dick Van Dyke make an appearance on "The Bonnie Hunt Show." It dawned on me that with all of the celebrities of yore that have passed on lately, these two guys are still going strong. And then I pondered on how their careers paralleled. I have lots of free time.

1960-1968: "The Andy Griffith Show" CBS. Major hit.
1961-1966: "The Dick Van Dyke Show" CBS. Major hit
Both produced by Sheldon Leonard with connections to Danny Thomas and Desilu studios.
Andy Griffith was a spinoff from the Danny Thomas Show and Dick Van Dyke had similar styling to the Danny Thomas Show.

Both guys left hit series in the late '60's. Then in the early 70's both came back. Both on CBS.
After Griffith failed in a comedy-drama "Headmaster", he immediately did "The New Andy Griffith Show" in 1971. He tried to rekindle the old magic with some of the same writers and similar small-town settings. It didn't work.
Van Dyke came back with "The New Dick Van Dyke Show." Also in 1971. But this show had many format changes over a three year run and never really found its legs. Also created by Carl Reiner with inside TV jokes.

Then in the early 70's, both made controversial made for TV movies for ABC.
In "Pray for the Wildcats," Griffith played a crazed businessman that takes three cohorts on a motorcycle trip through the desert. He was nuts.
In "The Morning After," Van Dyke (in a semibiographical performance) played an alcoholic. Very dour stuff.

In the eighties and nineties, both guys would come back playing in detective/lawyer shows.
Griffith: Matlock
Van Dyke: Diagnosis Murder

Both Griffith and Van Dyke are TV pioneers.

Do Pirhannas Dream of Diving Pigs? Remembering Aquarena Springs

Do you remember Aquarena Springs in San Marcos?

This was a laid-back theme park on the San Marcos River.  Attractions included:  A glass-bottom boat, a mermaid show, Ralph the diving pig, a skyride (every park had a skyride in those days), a "space needle" with a viewing room that went up and down, a hotel, a golf course, a "submarine theater", a midway with dancing chickens and other "carnival-style" animal abuse, and a gift shop.

In the seventies, my parents and I would drive up from San Antonio and meet our Austin relatives there for a picnic (near the golf course).  Later that decade, when I lived at Lake McQueeney, I remember a "casting call" for hot girls in bikinis.  This was for the low-budget "Pirhanna" which was shot at the park.  This girl Peggy, who I had a crush on in high school,  regaled us with tales of being on this Hollywood set and participating in "panic" scenes a la Jaws.  This involved screaming and running out of the swimming area with other scantily clad teenagers and beer belly locals.

Fast forward a couple of years and I actually was attending Southwest Texas State University (now sadly renamed Texas State University) and educumakatin' myself right near the park.  I took a couple of hikes back in the lush hill country behind the hotel but never really took in the attractions much.  Some twelve years or so after graduating I was doing some writing and decided to drive up from SA and stay at the hotel to do one of those "solitary retreat" things.  Little did I know, the park (which had been sold to the university years earlier and remade into an aquatic educational center) was going to close soon.  This retreat turned into "The Shining."  The old hotel had a moldy, mildewy smell.  The halls were vacant.  It was dark and grungy.  But cool, in a "Barton Fink" kind of way.  I would lay at the pool with my tablet.  Just me and the swans...I believe Ralph had retired by that time and was taking care of the abused chickens.

Two years ago, the wonderful Alamo Draftouse had an outdoor screening of "Pirhanna" at the park.  What a wonderful night.  The park was closed.  Most of the attractions were still there but ghostly and vacant.  The skyride launching pad, the submarine, the gift shop, the needle.  And in the distance, you could see "Old Main."  That was the university landmark:  a beautiful old castle-looking building that housed the journalism department.  The full moon, Old Main peeking out ominously from trees, the broken down carnival, and the reliving of killer fish where the blood originally flowed led to a surreal evening. The film was shown on a large screen right on the waterfront.  The director, Joe Dante ("Gremlins", "Twilight Zone", "The Howling", etc) was in attendance and couldn't have been more kind as I asked him if he remembered Peggy in the polka-dot bikini.  John Sayles, who wrote this script, was not there but he should have been.  I think he would have been inspired to do a character-driven piece on old amusement parks that end up closed down:

Thanks for being there.  They are eating the guests.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


One year after "The Odd Couple" went off the air, Tony Randall ("Felix Unger") returned to ABC prime time in a situation comedy produced by MTM. In "The Tony Randall Show", Tony played a judge in Philadelphia. This was an extremely funny and well-written show. It was produced by Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, the two comedy writers-producers responsible for the classic "Bob Newhart Show". Pretty good pedigree. I have very fond memories of this show and its theme music. Tony's hangdog assistant was played by Barney Martin who later played Jerry's dad on "Seinfeld". After one season, the program moved to CBS for a season. This show needs to be released on DVD.

After writing and producing a surprisingly tasteless "Animal House" rip-off originally titled "Mad Magazine's Up the Academy" (directed by cult filmmaker Robert Downey Sr.), Patchett and Tarses produced an ABC sitcom about a convenience store which lasted a couple of episodes after tons of hype. They had an interesting guest star in one episode:

Speaking of Dave, he often had Tony Randall as a guest on his show. Randall, always classy, was a great sport usually appearing in a gag sequence. Some funny clips from early NBC-era Dave and lastly a classic clip from CBS Dave:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Odd dog mind meld

No, this isn't the newest band.

In the early seventies, there were two hippie trippy programs that somehow were the same thing in my memory until I was able to sort it out later in life. This is one reason why those of us growing up during this time THOUGHT we were on drugs but weren't. It's kind of like an acid trip for geeks.

"The Point" was an ABC special broadcast in 1971. It was based on a fable and music (and album) by Harry Nillson. Nillson's music is definitely one of the more pronounced soundtracks of this time what with the hit "Everybody's Talkin'" from "Midnight Cowboy" and the Coconut song popularized by the Muppets among his work. I had a pretty progressive speech-drama teacher in sixth grade and he showed us "The Point" on a TV monitor in class. This was in SEGUIN, TEXAS mind you. Dustin Hoffman provided the voice of the father, but Ringo Starr dubbed the voice for the British release on VHS. I can't remember which voice I heard. Here's the music and premise:

"The Boy and His Dog" is an incredible film based on a novella by famed writer Harlan Ellison. It's an post-apocalyptic vision (very Mad Max for its day) with a young Don Johnson scavenging for food and sex with his talking dog. Well, they speak telepathically.Alvy Moore (Hank Kimball in "Green Acres") co-produced it and actually had a decent part in it. Now, I never saw this movie as a kid. It was R-rated and difficult to find on video in later years. I have no idea where my memory of it comes from except perhaps reading about it. I finally saw this film around six years ago and it blew me away. Here's why:

So, the POINT of this blog about a BOY and his DOG is....well, there is no POINT. I just can't understand why these two very different stories about A BOY AND HIS DOG (albeit both pharmaceutically inspired) somehow conjoined themselves for thirty-odd years in my brain.

If anyone out there has similar media mind melds, I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Every celebrity who was alive in 1978

Some stage manager got fired after this fiasco. You don't tick off Archie Bunker, Bea Arthur, Lucy, Carol, Ed Asner, Lassie, Sheriff Taylor, Mike Wallace, Glen Campbell, Matrshall Dillon, John Amos, Dale Evans, Bert Convy, Wonder Woman, Captain Kangaroo and half the Waltons and get away with it! It's a good thing Andy Rooney wasn't there.

Facebook Import: ABC- Still the One...then came Cosby, Seinfeld, Rachel, etc

In the fall of 1977, the coolest hippest thing (at least for a guy starting high school as I was) was to be watching ABC. This was when the network was king. The "t and a" revolution was just starting -- jiggle TV they called it.
I had my Farrah poster and a huge crush on Kristy McNichol. It started with "Happy Days'. Then came "Barney Miller", ", "SWAT", "Charlie's Angels", "Welcome Back Kotter", "Baretta", "Starsky and Hutch", "Family", "Laverne and Shirley", "What's Happening", "Three's Company", "Battle of the Network Stars", "Donny and Marie", "Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew", "Bionic Woman" "Six Million Dollar Man", and "Eight is Enough".
With the epic mini-series "Roots" and "Rich Man Poor Man", ABC had quality programming to add to it's credentials but CBS with it's roster of Norman Lear sitcoms, MASH, and the MTM stable of comedies and dramas still had the upper hand in that department.

This fall, ABC brought out "Love Boat" and "Soap" (with all the added controversy) and Redd Foxx's new variety show (which lasted only a few episodes but I loved it). Also premiering was a sitcom that took place in Plains, Georgia called "Carter Country" (read Jimmy) dealing humorously with race relations in the south. Finally, "Fantasy Island" would arrive midseason.

Oh, yeah--and "Monday Night Football" to boot. Plus Barbara Walters just moved over to ABC from "The Today Show".

It was this weird mixture of post-Brady Bunch/Partridge Family teenybopper family fare with innuendo and pushing the limits (Three's ( Soap, and Redd Foxx's variety show) and the aforementioned "T and A" (Three's Company, Charlie's Angels).

So, Justin Timberlake talks about Bringing Sexy Back. Well, ABC brought it back the First Time....and on network TV...scarin' the hell out of everybody.

Two fun clips:
This one is an overall promo touting ABC as ending world hunger and curing cancer.....but it so exemplifies the mid-seventies. Whereas contemporary TV shows and films try so hard to mimic this era , this clip speaks volumes.

And this clip, from 1978, is great. It shows all the stars at the time in this big happy gathering. We added "Mork and Mindy", "Taxi" , "Vegas" (before Paris was there--both of them) and "Battlestar Galactica (The FIRST ONE, with Papa Cartwright) . Ya gotta love it! This is almost as good as Robert Evan's Anti-Drug NBC lovefest in the early eighties. Put your disco ball up for this one.

Norman Fell went out with a smile on his face, I'll tell you that!

More on ABC in another post