We are in the midst of our western series, and today we turn our attention to a show that was on ABC for four years, from 1965-1969: The Big Valley. Created by A. I. Bezzerides and Louis F. Edelman and produced by Levy-Gardner-Laven (a trio of Jules V. Levy, Arthur Gardner, and Arnold Laven).
The series is set on the Barkley Ranch in the 1870s, home of the Barkleys, one of the wealthiest families in the area. The ranch is based on the 30-acre Hill Ranch which existed from 1855-1931. Lawson Hill was murdered in 1861 ad then his wife Euphemia ran it. They also had three sons and one daughter. Today the ranch is covered by Camanche Reservoir waters. The exterior shot of the house used in the show was also Tara in Gone with the Wind.
On Big Valley, Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) runs the ranch with the help of her sons Jarrod (Richard Long), Heath (Lee Majors), and Nick (Peter Breck) and daughter Audra (Linda Evans).
Heath was her husband’s illegitimate son, but she considered him her own child. He never met his father who had never been told of his existence; Heath learned it from his mother on her deathbed.
Jarrod was an attorney and was refined and well educated. He was briefly married but his wife was killed shortly after by a bullet meant for him. Nick was the younger, hot-tempered son who helped his mother run the ranch. He was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. He had a great sense of humor and was very loyal to his family.
Audra was rather bold for the times. She was a tomboy but had a soft heart and tended to children at the local orphanage.
There was another younger Barkley, Eugene (Charles Briles), who was a medical student at Berkeley. He was seen off and on through season one, then drafted into the army and never really mentioned again.
Considering that the show was only on the air four years, a lot of stars appeared. A small sample includes Jack Albertson, Lew Ayres, Anne Baxter, Milton Berle, Charles Bronson, John Carradine, Yvonne Craig, Yvonne DeCarlo, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Goulet, Julie Harris, Ron Howard, Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, Leslie Nielsen, Regis Philbin, Lou Rawls, Pernell Roberts, Wayne Rogers, Katharine Ross, William Shatner, and Adam West.
The Big Valley was a western but with a few twists and never predictable. It was the first time a woman would have the lead in a western. The Barkleys may have been wealthy, but they were raised right. They were hardworking and fought for the underdog, making sure justice prevailed. However, it was not a cliché; no one could be trusted and nothing was exactly as it looked. Characters who appeared angelic ended up being truly evil.
Unfortunately for the show, it was coming in at the end of the western’s popularity and was never in the top 30 during its time on the air. The other new shows that began when it did included Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, Lost in Space, F Troop, and The Wild Wild West.
However, it received good reviews, and in 1966, Stanwyck was nominated and won the Emmy for drama series. She would also be nominated in 1967 and 1968, losing to Barbara Bain from Mission Impossible both years.
The theme was composed by George Duning. In 1966, a soundtrack from the show was released in mono and stereo versions. During his career Duning would work on more than 300 movie and television scores.
Like many television shows in the fifties and sixties, Dell Comics published six comic books based on the show. For some reason, I did not see much in the way of merchandising for this show compared to other westerns or shows from the sixties.
The cast got along well. Evans and Stanwyck were exceptionally close and rehearsed at Barbara’s house every Saturday. When Arthur Gardner was interviewed on the Television Academy, he said that Stanwyck mentored the younger cast members. He said “he could not praise her enough” for the work she did.
It’s too bad the show didn’t begin earlier in the decade; it might have been able to stay on the air a bit longer. It was a unique concept with a powerful woman as the star. You can currently see it on Me TV on Saturdays as well as a few other networks.
We are wrapping up our series, “Girls, Girls, Girls.” At the beginning of the month, we learned about a show that featured four women who spent much of their life together for seven years (Designing Women). Today we end our series with another show that featured a quartet of women that also ran for seven years.
In September of 1985, a new type of sitcom debuted. This show featured four retired women who lived life together, relying on humor to make things work. The show, Golden Girls, was on the air seven years, ending in 1992 and producing 177 episodes. The show was always on Saturday nights with the seventh season moving to an earlier hour.
I read two different versions about the creation of the show, so take your pick. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. One version is that the idea came from Brandon Tartikoff, an NBC executive. When he was visiting his aunt one day, he noticed that she and her next-door neighbor who was her best friend, argued a lot but loved each other. He thought the concept would make a great show.
The other version
credits NBC senior vice president Warren Littlefield. He was in the audience
when Selma Diamond and Doris Roberts acted in a skit called “Miami Nice,” a parody
of the popular Miami Vice. The skit featured old people living in Miami.
Either way, Susan Harris created the show itself, and it was produced by Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions, with Tony Thomas and Harris serving as original executive producers. After the first year, Harris was not as involved with the show, but still oversaw the scripts.
The four main characters are quite different which is probably why the series was so successful. Blanche (Rue McLanahan) owns the house in Miami. Two women, widow Rose Nylund (Betty White) and divorcee Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) respond to an ad on a grocery store bulletin board to become Blanche’s roommates. In the pilot episode, the retirement home where Dorothy’s 80-year-old mother Sophia (Estelle Getty) lives burns down, so she joins the trio. All four of the characters appeared in every episode.
Blanche worked for an art museum. She grew up in a wealthy family, living on a plantation outside Atlanta. When she married her husband George, they moved to Miami. With six kids, Blanche should be a busy family matriarch, but she was man-hungry and always involved in some romantic entanglement much to the chagrin of Rose.
Dorothy was a substitute teacher. She became pregnant in high school and married the father, Stanley. Stan and Dorothy moved to Miami but after 38 years of marriage, he had an affair with an airline stewardess and left Dorothy.
Rose lived most of her life in a small farming town, St. Olaf, Minnesota. She and husband Charlie were happily married with five children. After he passes away, she moves to Florida and works at a counseling center. At one point she works for a consumer reporter at a local television station. Rose had an on-again, off-again relationship with a college professor, Miles Webber, during the run of the show.
Sophia left Italy to get out of an arranged marriage and ended up in New York where she met Salvadore Petrillo. Sophia also has a variety of jobs on the show, including a fast-food worker and a developer of a spaghetti sauce and sandwich business. Sophia is the only character to marry during the seven seasons. She married Max Weinstock, but they separated soon after the wedding.
The role of Sophia was the first one cast. Estelle Getty had received rave reviews for her performance in Torch Song Trilogy. Although Getty played Dorothy’s mother, in reality she was a year younger than Arthur. It took Getty three hours in make-up to transform into the older Sophia, donning a white wig, heavy make-up and thick glasses. Apparently, even though she was an experienced actress, she suffered from stage fright and often froze on camera. This affliction got worse as the show continued, and by the fifth season, she was reading her lines from cue cards. McClanahan tried to describe what Getty suffered with, “She’d panic. She would start getting under a dark cloud the day before tape day . . . you could see a big difference in her that day. She’d be walking around like Pig-Pen under a black cloud. By tape day, she was unreachable. She was just as uptight as a human being could get. When your brain is frozen like that, you can’t remember lines.”
was cast as Rose and White as Blanche. White had portrayed Sue Ann Nivens, a
man-crazy woman, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Director Paul Bogart felt
they should switch roles.
up with the idea that Blanche should have a southern accent which she exaggerated
to make the character more interesting. Apparently, one of the set jokes was
where Rue McClanahan might be sleeping on the set. She was often found napping
in different places.
Although Harris created Dorothy as a “Bea Arthur type,” the producers originally wanted Elaine Stritch for the part, but her audition did not go well. Arthur didn’t want to do the show because she didn’t want her and McClanahan to be portrayed as Maude and Vivian as they were in the show Maude. After reading the script and learning about the role switch of her coworkers, she came on board.
Costume designer Judy Evans created a different look for each of the cast members. Rose was down home and Midwestern. Sophia relied on comfortable clothing. Dorothy had a “pulled-together, no nonsense” look. Blanche was sexy with flowing outfits. Rue had a clause written into her contract that she be allowed to keep all Blanche’s clothing, which was custom made. By the end of the series, she filled thirteen closets with the designer wardrobe. Late McClanahan would create a more affordable line of clothing for QVC, “A Touch of Rue” based on Blanche’s show wardrobe.
While the characters argued from time to time, you knew they loved and cared about each other and were a family, even if they made each other crazy at times. In reality, Arthur was very difficult to get along with. Betty White, who seems to love everyone, admits she did not have a good relationship with Arthur. Apparently, White’s positive and perky manner irritated Bea. McClanahan said Bea was very eccentric and hard to be friendly with. However, White, always the professional, never revealed their difficulties until after Arthur passed away. White and McClanahan became close friends during the show’s run. White always loved game shows and she found a kindred spirit in Rue. They frequently played games between takes.
The house was
often a fifth character on the show. The exterior of the home, which was supposed
to be at 6151 Richmond Street, was part of the backstage studio tour ride at
Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the first two seasons. Designer Ed Stephenson
used a “Florida look” for the home with wooden accents, columns, cypress doors,
rattan furniture, and tropical prints. Of course, Blanche’s bedroom featured pink
carpeting and a vanity table. Dorothy’s room was filled with books and
intricate wallpaper. Rose’s walls are covered with clouds, and her room contained
a lot of ruffles and chintz. Sophia’s room was also modern with dainty floral
wallpaper and mahogany furniture covered by bedding with a satin trim.
If you watch the scenes in the kitchen, you will notice that although four people live there, there are only three chairs at the table. If all four girls were sitting there, someone had their back to the camera, so the director solved the problem by only having three of them in the scene at a time.
plots would feature one of the characters mired in a problem, typically
involving their family, their love life, or ethical dilemmas. When they gathered
around the table to talk, the stories they told would help each other, even
though Rose’s stories from her youth typically had no connection to the current
problem and Sophia’s stories were often made up. Many controversial issues were
covered during the show including same-sex marriage, elder care, homelessness,
HIV/AIDS, immigration, death, assisted suicide, and discrimination whether racial,
sexual or gender.
The critics praised the show, and the public adored it. For six of the seven seasons, the show ranked in the top ten. Both Betty White and Estelle Getty received seven Emmy nominations during the seven-year period, while Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan each received four. Fun fact, all of them won an Emmy during the run of the show. Overall, the show received 68 Emmy nominations.
Mother loved the show so much that she asked the quartet to come to England and
perform for her personally. When the cast assembled in London, they appeared in
an episode about the visit to the Queen.
seventh season, when the show had dropped into the top 30, Bea Arthur decided
to leave the show. In the finale, Dorothy finally meets the man for her, who
happens to be Blanche’s uncle Lucas (Leslie Nielsen), and they move to Atlanta.
Sophia is uncertain whether she should move with them or stay in Miami and, in
the end, decides to stay in Florida.
series ended, White, McClanahan, and Getty reprised their Golden Girls roles
and starred in The Golden Palace about a hotel. The series ended after
the first year and never enjoyed the rankings of the original, coming in 57th
for the year.
Harris developed two spinoffs from the original series. Empty Nest starred Richard Mulligan as pediatrician Harry Weston who lives next to the women with his two grown daughters. The show was also very popular and lasted seven years as well.
Empty Nest then launched a show about some of the nurses who worked in Weston’s hospital, simply titled Nurses. While this series was never as popular as Golden Girls or Empty Nest, it did last three years.
enjoyed The Golden Girls, I actually did not watch it often. I think maybe because it was on Saturday
nights during a time that I was not likely home in the evening. I did enjoy it
when I caught an episode but was never the fanatic many of my friends were. I
think I should let the “Girls” have the last words about their series:
Dorothy: You know, sometimes I can’t believe my ears. Sophia: I know. I should’ve taped them back when you were seven.
Sophia come home after Sophia’s best friend’s funeral]
I guess Phyllis Glutman will be my new best friend.
Dorothy: I thought you hated Phyllis Glutman.
Sophia: I do, but at the rate my friends are going, I won’t have to spend too much time with her.
We are in the midst of our Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem series this month. In the mid-1960s, westerns were still the most popular show on television with rural sitcoms coming on the scene. Crime shows still had their fair share of air time, but spy shows were non-existent. With the end of the Cold War, Bond movies, and books like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, these types of thrillers were bound to hit the small screen. From 1964-1968, The Man from UNCLE took us behind the scenes to observe the dangerous life of special agents.
Beginning on Tuesday nights on NBC, the show was produced by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The creator, Norman Felton, asked Ian Fleming to act as a consultant. (Some sources list Felton as the sole creator; some credit Sam Rolfe as a co-creator.) The book The James Bond Films mentions that Fleming suggested two characters: Napoleon Solo and April Dancer. Napoleon Solo became one of the main characters on The Man from UNCLE, and we will learn more about April Dancer later. Solo was also a villain in the movie Goldfinger. Originally titled “Solo,image of ” the popularity of the film led to a title change in the television show to The Man from Uncle.
Solo (Robert Vaughn), being an American, was set up in a partnership with a Russian, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). The duo would take on multinational secret intelligence work under UNCLE, The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. They sometimes worked with Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) who headed up an English organization. They frequently went up against THRUSH. We never learned who was part of THRUSH or what their goals were, apart from taking over the world of, course.
supposed to be the typical ladies’ man, with Kuryakin being the intelligent,
funny, and loyal partner, but McCallum turned into an instant celebrity.
Hysterical fans attended promotional appearances and magazines gave he and his
wife Jill Ireland little peace and quiet. One article I read discussed an
incident in Baton Rouge, LA when McCallum was locked in a bathroom so the
police could clear out the screaming women. When he was supposed to do a spot
in a Macy’s store in New York, police had to disperse 15,000 screaming women
who made it too dangerous for him to appear and did “a colossal amount of
damage” to the store.
Solo and Kuryakin accessed their secret headquarters through a tailor’s shop, Del Floria’s.
interesting twist, the creators decided to feature an “innocent character,”–a
Joe Doe or Jane Smith who the viewers could identify with—in every episode.
music was created by Jerry Goldsmith, changing slightly each season as new
composers came on board, eight in all.
With the exception of one show, the episodes were titled “The ______ Affair.” Every year at least one two-part show was aired. The pair of shows became theatrical films released in Europe. Additional footage was added to the movies. Some of these films were later seen on American television and include To Trap a Spy (1964), The Spy with My Face (1965), One Spy Too Many (1966), The Spy in the Green Hat (1967), and How to Steal the World (1968), among others.
Although stuntmen were hired for the two leads, they also did their own stunts. Typically, the actor and stuntman did each stunt, and the final version combined the best of them. However, McCallum tried to avoid heights, and Vaughn disliked water scenes.
Like Get Smart, the recurring characters were a small group, and guest stars were necessary for each episode. Both high-profile and up-and-coming actors were eager to appear on the show. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy can be seen together in “The Project Strigas Affair” two years before they starred on Star Trek. Other actors who appeared include Judy Carne, Joan Collins, Yvonne Craig, Broderick Crawford, Robert Culp, Chad Everett, Barbara Feldon, Anne Francis, Werner Klemperer, Janet Leigh, June Lockhart, Jack Lord, Ricardo Montalban, Leslie Nielsen, Carroll O’Connor, Vincent Price, Cesar Romero, Kurt Russell, Sonny and Cher, and Telly Savalas.
spies need technological gadgets to get a leg up on the competition. Some of
their communication devices included a security badge and a business card. They
could also communicate with a portable satellite disguised as a cigarette case
or fountain pen.
Like all good crime fighters, the duo needed a car, and theirs was a Piranha Coupe, based on the Chevrolet Corvair.
also a necessity in their line of work. The UNCLE Special was a semi-automatic
weapon which was useful except at night when THRUSH had access to a
“sniperscope” which allowed the villains to shoot in total darkness.
props, and clothing for the show were so popular that they are exhibited in the
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The CIA also exhibits some of the show’s
Season 1 was a great success even though partway through the season, the show moved from Tuesdays to Mondays. With season 2 came more “tongue-in-cheek” dialogue, and the series switched from black and white to full color. Athough the show was moved to Friday nights, its popularity continued.
added a campy element, a la the Batman
and The Monkees craze, against the
stars’ wishes. The ratings decreased and the show never attained the same
quality and ratings again. It was renewed for a fourth season but cancelled
partway through when there was no increase in viewership.
Although the show was only extremely popular for two years, it garnered eight Emmy nominations and five Golden Globe nominations, including a win for David McCallum as best star in 1966.
like all popular shows from the 1960s, a tv movie was made a few years later
and a big-screen remake came decades later.
The Return of the Man from UNCLE: The
Fifteen Years Later Affair
was seen on CBS, not NBC, in 1983 with both Vaughn and McCallum reprising their
roles. At the beginning of the movie, we learn that although THRUSH was
obliterated with the arrest of its leader, he has now escaped from prison.
Rather than stick with the chemistry of the two leads, the tv movie pairs each
lead with a younger agent.
In 2015, Guy Ritchie’s big-screen The Man from UNCLE was set in the 1960s featuring Solo (Henry Cavill), Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), and Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). The trio must work together in a joint mission to stop an evil organization from using Gaby’s father’s expertise in science to build a nuclear bomb. All the while, they don’t totally trust each other, and secretly put their own country’s agendas first. As far as reboots go, the film was actually a good rendition of the original show.
Of course, there was no limit to the merchandising in connection with the show. Several comic books based on the series were published, as well as two dozen novels. In addition to membership cards, viewers could show their love
for the show with board games, action figures, model kits, lunch boxes, and toy guns.
I did promise to get back to April Dancer. Halfway through The Man from UNCLE series, the network released a spin-off, The Girl from UNCLE starring Stefanie Powers as April Dancer. Not as popular as the original, it was cancelled after one season.
Dancer works with British agent Mark Slate (Noel Harrison). Leo G. Carroll appeared as Mr. Waverly in this series also. Luckily Powers was fluent in several languages, because Dancer often went undercover with a foreign accent.
Unfortunately, Dancer reeled in the bad guys, but Slate was the one who got to kill them. However, April did get some cool gadgets such as a perfume atomizer that sprayed gas and exploding jewelry.
also used Goldsmith’s theme music in an arrangement by Dave Grusin.
Both The Girl from UNCLE and The Man from UNCLE are available on DVD.
Although The Man from UNCLE was only hugely popular for two years and The Girlfrom UNCLE never attained a fan base, the shows ’ concept spawned a huge pop culture obsession. At one point, more than 10,000 letters a week were delivered to the network. The show sparked an interest in spy shows that would pave the way for future shows such as Mission Impossible; The Wild, Wild West; I Spy; and Get Smart. Like The Man from UNCLE, each of these shows would result in reboot big-screen movies in later decades, as well as a large output of memorabilia.
that this show feels dated now with the current technology, yet GetSmart
continues to be a hit. I think the humor and campiness of Get Smart keeps it relevant which is ironic, because that is what
basically brought about the end of TheMan from UNCLE. Despite its current non-relevancy,
it was an important part of pop culture and deserves to be celebrated for its
cult status in the mid-sixties and the realistic portrayal of spies to
generations of viewers.
As we continue our Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem series, we move from Maine where senior citizen Jessica Fletcher solved mysteries to the streets of Los Angeles, where a hip trio infiltrates the counterculture to solve crimes.
1968 till 1973, The Mod Squad was a
unique concept. Created by Buddy Ruskin, a Los Angeles police officer, the show
took eight years to become a reality. Ruskin based the concept on his time as a
squad leader for an undercover narcotic division in the 1950s.
Spelling was the executive producer. Spelling worked on a number of projects
from 1960 onward, but his biggest hit shows were still in his future when he
took the helm of The Mod Squad.
As soon as the jazzy theme song by Earl Hagen began, we knew this was a different type of show. The sixties hippie culture and counterculture drug scene had not been explored in depth on television before.
In order to
get the necessary evidence, three young team members were trained to go
undercover to solve cases. Michael Cole was Pete Cochran, a wealthy kid who was
arrested for stealing a car; Peggy Lipton was Julie Barnes, who had run away
from a bad home situation; and Clarence Wlliams II was Linc Hayes, who was
arrested during the Watts riots. Captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews) supervised
the trio. He mentored them and provided “parently” advice and wisdom. He
hand-picked them for his team. (Similarly, Spelling’s Charlie’s Angel’s would also feature a father figure hand picking
three non-traditional members for his crime-solving team.)
None of these kids were innocent, and their records were eliminated when they chose to work with the LA police. But they soon realized they had the ability most cops did not to inconspicuously fit in to help stop criminals from killing or hurting other young adults.
Similar to Room 222, which aired almost the same
time, The Mod Squad covered a lot of
socially relevant topics: abortion, domestic violence, drug addiction, child
abuse, police brutality, illegal immigration, and racism. Though the pilot was
written sixty years ago, these issues are still on the front page today.
The writers, including Tony Barrett, Harve Bennett, Sammy Hess, and Buddy Ruskin, created realistic characters. These three outcasts were a bit rebellious; they lived in the gray instead of black or white. They understood good people sometimes did bad things, and racism and domestic violence were not to be tolerated. Their speech and clothing marked them as quintessentially 1960s. Linc often said “Solid” or “Keep the faith.” You would probably hear “groovy” at least once an episode.
The team traveled in an old green 1950 Mercury wood-paneled station wagon that they affectionately referred to as “Woody.” Unfortunately, it was burned in an accident at the end of the second season.
The show was definitely controversial. It aired at a time when westerns, rural sitcoms, and Lawrence Welk were popular. The episodes pushed the envelope a bit on topics that had been taboo on television in the past. The team was like a family and on one episode, Linc gave Julie a brotherly kiss on the cheek which had the network up in arms, but not one complaint came in. Their relationship with Captain Greer helped America see how the generation gap could be bridged.
controversy, the show attracted a lot of famous guest stars. Some of the actors
who can be spotted during the show’s run include Ed Asner, Jim Backus, Tom
Bosley, David Cassidy, Tyne Daley, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Dow, Andy Griffith,
Carolyn Jones, Leslie Nielsen, Stefanie Powers, Vincent Price, Robert Reed,
Marian Ross, Sugar Ray Robinson, Martin Sheen, Bobby Sherman, Danny Thomas,
Daniel Travanti, and Billy Dee Williams.
Each episode ended with the squad walking away from the camera.
The show was
extremely popular given its uniqueness. It was the 28th most popular
show its first year and number 11 in its third season. The show received seven
Emmy and four Golden Globe nominations. In 1970, it was nominated for
Outstanding Series. During its final year, it only ranked 54 and the “hipness”
of the show was starting to age a bit, so it was cancelled.
It did have
an afterlife. In 1979, a tv movie, The
Return of the Mod Squad, aired on ABC with the original cat. In 1999, a
big-screen film was released starring Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Epps, Claire Danes,
and Dennis Farina. Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember it; not many people do.
The Mod Squad could be seen on MeTV in 2014 and 2015. Apart from that, it has not fared well in syndication. Like Room 222, the show can feel dated quickly due to its language and fashion.
The show is still celebrated for its ground-breaking scripts, and in 1997, TV Guide included an episode, “Mother of Sorrow” as 95th of the greatest 100 episodes of all time.
While you probably won’t find it on television, it is available on DVD. Although the show may not be known by many people today, it was one of the first shows to break the barriers of going where television had not been before. In many ways, it paved the way for the creation of shows such as All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Miami Vice. What more could you ask for: relevant topics, well-rounded characters, and exciting plots. Although its language and fashions date it, it captures a unique time in our history and is worth exploring.
We are kicking off a new series: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. Perhaps no person represents this theme better than Jessica Fletcher, the crime solver behind Murder She Wrote.
Airing on CBS from 1984-1996, Jessica (Angela Lansbury) is one of our longest-running sleuths on television, averaging more than 30 million viewers a week in its prime. The series produced 264 episodes and four made-for-television films. The title was a play on words from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple story, Murder She Said from 1961.
Although it’s hard to picture anyone else in the role, Lansbury was not the first choice for the part; both Jean Stapleton and Doris Day turned down the role.
The creative team who worked on Murder She Wrote was the same team behind Columbo—Richard Levinson, William Link, and Peter S. Fischer. While Columbo’s tag line is “Just one more thing,” Jessica’s is “I couldn’t help but notice.”
Jessica lived in Cabot Cove, Maine. (Spoiler alert: the show was actually filmed in Mendocino, CA.) She was a widow and retired English teacher who becomes a successful mystery writer. Her first novel was The Corpse Danced at Midnight. Although she has no children, she has a network of friends and extended family in her small hometown. She had four siblings but only Marshall, a doctor, was seen on the show.
We get to know many of the town folk. Dr. Seth Hazlitt (William Windom) is the local doctor and one of Jessica’s best friends and a potential romance. Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) works with Jessica often on crime cases. Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak) takes over when Tupper retires and moves to Kentucky. Jessica’s nephew Grady (Michael Horton) seems to get in trouble with the law often despite his aunt’s influence. Jean O’Neil (Madlyn Rhue) is the local librarian. Sam Booth (Richard Paul) is the mayor and is voted in every year because he promises to do nothing and that is exactly what he does. Eve Simpson (Julie Adams) is the local realtor and gossip extraordinaire. Loretta Speigel (Ruth Roman), keeps up with Simpson’s gossiping and is a hairdresser. Ethan Cragg (Claude Akins) is a fisherman.
none of us would want to live in Cabot Cove because there was a huge number of
murders occurring there over a twelve-year span. In fact, the term “Cabot Cove
Syndrome” was coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote
locations. During season eight, Jessica rents an apartment in New York City to
teach criminology and participate in more murder cases.
The police around the town never seem to learn. They are always ready to arrest the wrong person until Jessica solves the case. Some officers appreciate her help, knowing her skill for deducing the murderer while other officers dread seeing her show up at a crime scene.
Several characters who Jessica worked with regularly included insurance investigator Dennis Stanton (Keith Mitchell); private investigators Harry McGraw (Jerry Orbach) and Charlie Garrett (Wayne Rogers); British agent Michael Haggerty (Len Cariou); and NYPD detective Artie Gelber (Herb Edelman).
Cabot Cove was almost another character on the show. Viewers loved getting to know the charming town with a population of 3650. Jessica never drove a car around town; she biked or took a cab.
With twelve years’ worth of shows, it is not surprising that the guest star list is formidable. Just a smattering of stars include Ernest Borgnine, George Clooney, Neil Patrick Harris, Buddy Hackett, Janet Leigh, Julianna Marguiles, Leslie Nielsen, and Joaquin Phoenix
In its final season, the show was moved from its Sunday night slot with loyal viewers to Thursday night against Mad About You and Friends. The show went from 8th to 58th in the ratings and was cancelled. Although Lansbury considered retirement several times during the show’s airings, she was blindsided by the move. In a Los Angeles Times article, she was quoted as sharing “I’m shattered. What can I say? I feel very emotional about it. I just felt so disappointed that after all the years we had Sunday night at 8, suddenly it didn’t mean anything. It was like gone with the wind.”
Obviously, the show was popular with viewers staying on the air for twelve years, but it was also popular with critics. Lansbury received an Emmy nomination for best lead actress in a drama every single season the show was on the air. Unfortunately, she never won.
Often when you picture a crime solver, it’s someone who is young and sexy, such as the cast on Charlie’s Angels or Magnum PI. Jessica Fletcher does not pretend to be young or anything other than a middle-aged woman from Maine. But she does like to travel, she has romantic relationships with men, and has interests and a career. What you see is what you get. Perhaps that was the biggest reason for her popularity during those twelve years.
The show continues to do well in syndication, appearing on WGN mornings and the Hallmark Mystery and Movie Channel at night. Spend some time with the good folks in Cabot Cove and watch Jessica Fletcher solve a few murder mysteries. No one embodies murder, mystery, and mayhem more than she does.
As I finish 1980s Rewind today, I chose a heart-warming show that followed the typical formula by standing it on its head, Who’s the Boss. The show was created by Martin Cohan and Blake Hunter. Cohan was a producer and writer for The Bob Newhart Show and wrote for many other shows including The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hunter wrote and produced episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati.
Instead of the successful senator who hires a housekeeper like The Farmer’s Daughter, on this show Angela Bower (Judith Light), an advertising executive, hires Tony Micelli (Tony Danza), a former baseball player (St. Louis Cardinals) to be her housekeeper. Instead of Uncle Charlie like My Three Sons, the show has Mona (Katherine Helmond), Angela’s mother giving wise advice and sarcastic comments. Tony has a daughter Samantha (Alyssa Milano) and Angela has a son Jonathan (Danny Pintauro). All together they form one typical family unit. The show was on ABC for eight years from 1984-1992, so viewers literally watched the kids grow up. Tony is laid back and flexible, while Angela is a bit more uptight and organized. Angela and Tony functioned as parents on the show, but they also had the possibility of a romance between them.
After a shoulder injury, Tony is forced to change careers. He wants his daughter to experience a better life. The Bowers live in Connecticut in an upscale neighborhood. Originally, the show was titled “You’re the Boss,” but it was changed to plant a question of who really ran the house. However, viewers all realized that the kids were really the bosses.
The cast jelled very well together. They had their differences of opinion, but they grew close and experienced the normal family ups and downs when five very different people spend so much time together. Mona’s wit and targeted observations kept things light and funny.
During most of the series, Tony and Angela try to avoid the romance developing between them. They both date other people. They also become best friends, relying on each other as a husband and wife would. They often discuss issues the kids are having. They both “parent” each of the kids. They both grow and change during the course of the series. Angela becomes less tense and risks opening her own firm. Tony enrolls in college. Producers always seem to waiver “between should they get together or not.” Shows like Castle, That Girl, and Friends struggled with keeping the magic alive and keeping the show realistic. Somehow the producers and writers for Who’s the Boss kept the tension and potential romance alive for seven years. During the last season, they realize they are in love with each other.
There were many stars who appeared on the show during the years including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Mike Tyson, and Leslie Nielsen. One of the episodes was when Robert Mandan appeared on a few episodes as Mona’s love interest. Mandan had played her husband on the show Soap.
The theme song lyrics were written by creators Cohan and Hunter. Titled “Brand New Life,” the music was composed by Larry Carlton and Robert Kraft. Three different versions were used over the years: Larry Weiss sang it from 1984-1986; Steve Wariner from 1986-1989; and Jonathan Wolff from 1989-1992.
Early reviews were lukewarm. Critics liked it but they were a bit dismissive of it being a real hit. Viewers didn’t agree. They loved the show. During its tenure, the show was nominated for more than forty awards, including ten Primetime Emmys and five Golden Globes. From 1985-1989, it ranked in the top ten.
The show aired on Tuesday nights for the first seven years. In the fall of 1991, the network moved the show to Saturday nights against The Golden Girls. The ratings went down after the move and the network decided to cancel the show. There was a great debate about whether Tony and Angela should marry in the finale. Sam had married earlier in the season and Tony and Angela admitted they were in love. However, Danza was opposed to the marriage and there was a concern that if a wedding took place, it might affect the syndication options. Instead of a wedding, Tony and Angela break up. But in the last scene, Tony is at Angela’s house applying for the job of housekeeper, very similar to the very first episode of the show.
The show created a spinoff but in a far-reaching definition of spinoff. In one episode, Leah Remini was a friend of Sam’s, a homeless model. Beginning and ending in 1989, the show Living Dolls starred Remini, Michael Learned, and Halle Berry.
While Tony went back to school during the series, Danza emulated him in real life. He graduated with an education degree. He wrote a book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High. He taught English at a school in Philadelphia.
The cast of Who’s the Boss was a close-knit one, and they still keep in touch almost twenty years later. Light commented that they are all still close and she said she probably kept in touch with Tony the most. “He checks in all the time just to see how the kids are doing, he’s very sweet.” Danza once discussed how emotional it was for him to give Milano away as a bride on the show. “She was like my little girl, you know. She started on this show when she was 10. Now she’s 19, we married her off. I mean, it’s easy to get emotional, it really is.”
Milano was also very close to Light. A couple of years ago, the two stars ran into each other for an event, and Milano tweeted, “Nothing makes me happier than seeing Judith Light. Nothing.”
They were all saddened by the death of Katherine Helmond in March of 2019. Danza also discussed Helmond in an interview. “Katherine Helmond was a remarkable human being and an extraordinary artist; generous, gracious, charming and profoundly funny.” After her death, he commented that “She was such an influence on me. No matter what problem I had, I could go to her. Very few people could match her. She was a consummate professional. She never made a mistake and she always got the laugh. She was the sexy older lady who could keep up with the young people. She just had a way about her.”
Light also discussed Helmond. “She taught me so much about life and inspired me indelibly by watching her work. Katherine was a gift to our business and to the world and will be deeply missed.”
Her television grandchildren also remembered her fondly. Milano paid the following tribute to her: “My beautiful, kind, funny, gracious, compassionate rock. You were an instrumental part of my life. You taught me to hold my head above the marsh! You taught me to do anything for a laugh! What an example you were!” Pintauro said she was “the best TV grandmother a boy could ask for. Even still, I’m just as devastated as I was when I lost my real grandma. A beautiful soul has left us for the next chapter, may you make them laugh Katherine!”
This is another one of those undervalued shows. Although there were some really great shows on television during the mid and late 1980s, some of the top-rated shows on in this decade included Knot’s Landing, Charles in Charge, Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, and Facts of Life. Who’s the Boss was a much better written and acted show than any of these. The show combined the best elements of sitcoms and created a fresh approach to a family comedy.
There was no specific category for the Wild Wild West when it first debuted in 1965. Part western, part spy show, part thriller. Now, it might be called steampunk. Westerns had been extremely popular through the 1950s and into the 1960s, but in the mid-1960s, the spy genre was gaining ground. Creator Michael Garrison combined the two. Secret Service agents Jim West (Robert Conrad) and Artemis Gordon (Ross Martin), work for President Ulysses Grant and travel the country by luxury train, the Wanderer. Oh yeah, and they have a ton of technology to make the job more exciting. Artemis is a master of disguise. Like James Bond, they had clever gadgets on hand, beautiful women in the wings, and delusional, but brilliant, enemies to fight against.
The series debuted in 1965 and ran for four seasons, resulting in 104 episodes. Unfortunately, Garrison died a year into the show and didn’t live to see its completion. The show was filmed at CBS Studio Center. The 70-acre lot was used for Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and Gilligan’s Island as well.
The theme song was written by Richard Markowitz. The intro had an animated sequence that continued to be filled in throughout the show. This was quite unique to this program.
Conrad claimed to be the 17th actor to audition for the role of James West. Originally, Rory Calhoun was announced as the co-star. Conrad wore three-inch heels to hide that he was only 5’8”. Due to his height, the casting office was barred from hiring women over 5’6” for the show. The first few episodes used stuntmen, but Conrad felt that it slowed production down too much, so he volunteered to do his own stunts. During season three, he fell from a chandelier and hit a concrete floor, leaving him with a concussion and weeks of hospitalization for dizziness.
Ross played over 100 different characters during the run of the series. He sketched out the ideas for the characters himself and then worked with the make-up artists to get the right look. During the fourth season, Martin broke a leg when he dropped a rifle, stepped on it, and rolled his foot over it. When the shell ejected, it burned his eye. Ross also suffered from a heart attack in 1968. Several other agents “filled” in for Martin while he recuperated.
Considering the show was only on for four years, it featured a number of guest stars including Ed Asner, John Astin, Jim Backus, Ed Begley, Victor Buono, Jackie Coogan, Yvonne Craig, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Elam, Norman Fell, Bernard Fox, Mary Frann, Beverly Garland, Alan Hale Jr., Boris Karloff, Richard Kiel, Ted Knight, Harvey Korman, Martin Landau, Sue Ane Langdon, Peter Lawford, Ida Lupino, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Phyllis Newman, Leslie Nielsen, Carroll O’Connor, Pat Paulsen, Suzanne Pleshette, Richard Pryor, Don Rickles, Pernell Roberts, Katherine Ross, William Schallert, Vito Scotti, Ray Walston, Jesse White, and Keenan Wynn.
The train was also a co-star of the show. The spies had two different trains. The first was used for season one when the shows were filmed in black and white. It was a Sierra Railroad No. 3 which was not built until 1891, a mere technicality I guess. The Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works built it in New Jersey. Footage was shot in Jamestown, California. This same train was the Cannonball in Petticoat Junction.
The shows filmed in color featured a train decorated with green and gold and it was full of fun gadgets. This one was built in 1875 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. It was used in many films over the years.
Both these trains are on display at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. They were only featured in exterior shots. The interiors of the trains were designed by art director Albert Heschong with set decorator Raymond Molyneaux. It reportedly cost $35,000 in 1965. To put this in perspective, the average house in 1965 cost less than $4,000! The train was as resourceful as West and Gordon. A remote control under the table could immediately lock the door. A statue turned upside down unlocked a wall safe. A telegraph set was hidden in a book on the desk. Pistols could be fired by activating a fireplace switch. The pool table had exploding balls while cue sticks could fire bullets.
Many of the guest stars were villains in the show. The most famous villain was Dr. Miguelito Loveless played by Michael Dunn. He had a recurring role, appearing on ten episodes. He always managed to escape at the end of the show. West and Artemis never did catch him, and a TV movie filmed later relays that he died in 1880 from ulcers brought on by the stress of his plans always being foiled by West and Gordon.
Like Batman, Jim West always seems to have the right gadget at his disposal when he needs it. Some of his more fun props included a sleeve gun as well as a gun concealed in his heel. He also occasionally carried a blowtorch in his heel. Passkeys were stored under his lapel. He kept a variety of fuses sewn into hems in his clothes. To descend into a pit or be hoisted up on a roof, he had a hand-held motor-driven winch. Glass cutters which often are useful were available. Wires placed in his hat had many uses. Battery-powered drills helped the boys escape metal cages. His kit bag held a large balloon. A miniature player made villains think shot guns were being fired. Of course, every smart secret service man wears a bulletproof vest and is always equipped with tear gas or smoke bombs. They even had a cigar that would produce smoke when thrown on the ground and a coin that exploded when exposed to heat.
There typically were two fights in each episode choreographed by Whitey Hughes. Following the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, a National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence was formed. Violence on television was listed as one of the problems, and The Wild Wild West was cited as a violent show. So, despite high ratings, the series was cancelled near the end of its fourth season as a concession to Congress over television violence.
However, the show was then released into syndication and at one time was listed on 99 different local channels, so the violence on television was not curbed by its cancellation.
Several books and comic books were created based on the show. In 1979, the two stars returned to television with a movie, The Wild Wild West Revisited. In 1980, they showed up again in More Wild Wild West. Rumors existed that the duo would do a reboot of the series, but Ross died in 1981 so it never came to fruition.
A movie was made in 1999 based on the original show, but it was not received well. Will Smith later expressed regret for his role in the film. The Golden Raspberry (Razzie) is awarded to the worst films. When the 1999 film was awarded five Razzies, Conrad accepted them on behalf of the movie to show his displeasure with the remake.
The show’s success primarily stemmed from the fact that Artemus and West trusted each other completely, and their banter and technological gadgets made the show a pleasure to watch. And did I mention, the boys loved women on and found a romance on every show. We’ll let the characters have the last word:
Artemus Gordon: “Naomi. ’My sweetness’. That’s what Naomi means in Hebrew, did you know that ?”
Naomi Buckley: “Really ? And what does Artemus mean ?”
James West: “It means ’He who wastes little time‘.”