Monday, October 22, 2007

VIVA LAUGHLIN

There’s a reason most musicals don’t work on film. People in real life, as a rule, don’t break out into song. And there are no orchestras and background choruses on stand-by should they decide they do want to punctuate a conversation with a power ballad. Unless the project is so highly stylized that even Liza Minelli doesn’t think it’s real, musicals in real life settings tend to be well…creepfests.

Seventeen years ago, Steven Bochco decided to do a show combining a police drama and musical theater. It’s like if Reeses’, instead of combining chocolate and peanut butter, combined chocolate and toilet bowl cleanser. COP ROCK was an unmitigated disaster.

Well, I’m proud to announce that COP ROCK is no longer the worst most embarrassing show in the history of television. The monkey is off their back. There is now VIVA LAUGHLIN, so stupendously awful that no show will ever succeed in that time slot for the next 99 years.

In this series they trade cops for a casino operator but it’s the same premise. Actors inexplicably launch into songs and dance numbers. Imagine Warren Beatty in BUGSY suddenly breaking into “I’m a Pepper, You’re a Pepper, Everyone loves Dr. Pepper”. That’s VIVA LAUGHLIN.

It was originally a hit in England but so was THE RICH LIST.

And how does something so utterly absurd get on a major network? Hugh Jackman is one of the executive producers. Network honchos got to have dinner one night with Hugh Jackman – take their picture with him, maybe get him to autograph their cocktail napkins.

I missed the pilot, which I hear was jaw dropping. But I did catch up to episode two (which, considering the ratings) also became the series finale. CBS Berlin called yesterday.

First it started with the now obligatory “Previously on” section (even sitcoms have that now). For three minutes there was this dizzying montage of unrecognizable characters blurting out random phrases. “He’s dead!” “I’ll call her in the morning.” “Did you pick up my cleaning?” “Ace beats a three.” “That Flomax really works!” Thanks. I’m all caught up now.

Then on with the show. Lloyd Owen is the star. Picture Mike Brady’s evil twin who talks like Greg Germann. He speaks in this bad Raymond Chandler dialogue. “Y’know yer problem, you play fair.” And his image as a tough guy isn’t compromised the slightest when he suddenly breaks into “I’m Still Standing” and dances up and down escalators in a pathetic attempt to recreate the Christopher Walken music video.

He has a sidekick. The “Boo Boo” to his “Yogi”. In this case, a schleppy Jewish guy. Who better to fret over the books and debt notices than a Jew? And nice touch having him sing along with “Money, that’s all I want”.

Melanie Griffith (shot lovingly through a filter of cheesecloth) plays a character named Bunny Baxter. That’s really all you need to know except Melanie’s face work came out much better than Candice Bergen’s.

Other names in this series are Nicky Fontana, Jonesy, Ripley, and Cheyenne. It’s as if everyone in Laughlin, Nevada is named after a member of the Village People.

Rounding out the group are Madchen Amick (as long as she doesn’t do comedy I’m in love), some Ryan Seacrest type pretty boy detective, and former U.S. President, Wayne Palmer from 24 (still blending into any background he stands in front of).

The episode began with two detectives spitting out five minutes of the most convoluted exposition I’ve ever heard. It would have been easier for the Nazis to break Navajo codes than to decipher this backstory.

Then an hour of hard-boiled clich├ęs, this Mike Brady/Greg Germann (who leaves visible slime trails wherever he goes) flashy musical numbers sung by people who can’t sing, and the following plotline:

In order to get more people into his establishment, Mike/Greg tries to lure a big high roller from President Palmer’s casino to his. How? By enticing him with a hot chick. Ah, but there’s a delightful twist. He only likes fat chicks. So Mike/Greg enlists the help of an obese employee, who of course doesn’t have a problem with the idea of some weasel she’s never even met sleeping with her. In fact, she’s downright flattered that Mike/Greg asked.

And if that wasn’t scummy and reprehensible enough, there was this exchange of dialogue:

Mike/Greg explains he’d like her to turn on the charm and suck him in and she says, “If he’s that good looking I might do more than suck.

CLICK.

COP ROCK, please come back! I swear, I’ll never make fun of you again. Or SHOWGIRLS. Or PAINT YOUR WAGON.

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Ken, but it doesn't sound any crazier than the Musical Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which we have preserved on tape it was so funny).

For that matter have you seen "Maximum Bob" or "Suburban Shoot Out"? (1st season of SSO wa the best)

Very funny - crazy, but funny.

Shell

SK said...

Is this the Yanks spoiling Blackpool
in the same way they did with Coupling, Ultraviolet, Absolutely Fabulous, Red Dwarf, etc, yadda, blah, and so on, and the other, and Doctor Who?

(It looks to me like a lot of the flaws come from taking a format that worked very well for a six-episode serial with a beginning, a middle and an end and trying to extrude it into a long-running series by randomly throwing in storylines and characters - surely anybody should have been able to see that wouldnt' work?)

Brock said...

COP ROCK and PAINT YOUR WAGON... omg... i think the only way to beat viva is to combine these two...

Jonathan Morris said...

Don't blame the UK for 'The Hit List'. It wasn't a hit here - it hasn't even been shown here yet.

I'd recommend checking out the original version of 'Blackpool'. Something strange happens to shows when they cross the Atlantic. 'Teachers' left our shores as a single-camera drama and arrived in the USA as a multi-camera sitcom.

Have you ever adapted a UK show for the US?

Hugh Betcha said...

Minnelli. Liza Minnelli. With two n's. Like her dad -- famed Oscar-winning MGM musical director Vincente Minnelli. He did MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, THE BAND WAGON, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and GIGI -- musicals that worked on film.

Sebastian said...

"Once More With Feeling" was the best Buffy Episode ever :-)

As a special it works I think, because you already like the characters and look at it as if they were staging a play. "Scrubs" does a great job doing musical episodes too, although I didn't like the second one that much (except the "Everything comes down to poo" song ;-) )

Anonymous said...

I agree...with ONE single exception. "Pennies From Heaven" (Steve Martin, Christopher Walken in an amazing dance number).
Steve Marting threw me the first (couple) time I saw it, expecting his typical fun, but when you tune in to it as dark...it works.
Probably because it is the story of a guy that "buys" all the Busby Berkeley, movie musicals as real.

There is a LOT of there, there.

SK said...

Bob Hoskins! Bob Hoskins! Not Steve Martin! Bob Hoskins!

D. McEwan said...

I was one of the handful of people who loved COP ROCK, and have watched the entire series twice. I understood why people hated it, but it got me off.

But I'm a muscial freak. I'm sure I annoyed the gentleman I was seated next to at your play this evening when I was singing along with the pre-performance playing of the HOW TO SUCCEED original cast album, but damn it, I know and love those songs,and Abe Burrows for Heaven's sake. I shut up during the play, and didn't even sing along to the NANNY theme song when it cropped up. (as a symbol of professional whoring humiliation. So perfect!)

(BTW, off-topic for a moment. I really enjoyed your play. Much better than the not-dissimilar DIVA that Annie Potts did in Pasadena last year. MUCH. Loved Mike McManus - as usual - and a strong cast overall. The young cute guy even looked good in his one half-nude scene, and I take my male onstage nudity seriously. Folks, if you get a chance to catch it. Do so.)

I loved the BUFFY musical episode, and not because I already loved the characters. In fact, it's one of only two episodes of BUFFY I ever saw.

But VIVA LAUGHLIN, YIKES! I also missed the premiere (Hugh! My darling Hugh!), and I'm afraid I did not make it through the whole second episode. CLICK! Ghastly. Not even a guilty pleasure, like good ole COP ROCK.

I know I say it every year, but this year really is the worst fall season ever. Me wants LOST. February is still so far away.

Oh, to "SK", I saw the first of the two American pilots for RED DWARF, and I did not think they ruined it. They tried to ruin it, and their Rimmer was awful, and Cat was dull, but Bierko made a smooth, sexy Lister I rather enjoyed, KRYTEN was the same actor and the same character as in Britain and he worked, and of course, Jane Leeves was Holly, and a delight. Through amazing manuvering and nightmarish negotiating, Doug Naylor managed to get the cast to insist on using his script instead of the apparently horrible-beyond-belief script the American producers had wanted to use. Fortunately it failed to sell, and Jane was free to do some other show that went quite well, while Robert Llewellyn was free to return to the original series.

The American DOCTOR WHO actually was the reverse of the problem you stated. They took a LONG-running serialized show (It ran for 26 years!) and made a one-off, single episode version that was wrong in every possible way. The current BBC Wales DOCTOR WHO revival is wonderful.

What you describe does accurately state what they did with QUEER AS FOLK, but you know, that one worked.

There have been three American attempts at FAWLTY TOWERS. The first starred Harvey Korman as Basil, and Betty White as Sybil, and they shot the Hotel Inspectors episode pretty much as originally written, with American references replacing the British ones. Sadly, Korman was not up to Cleese's standard by light-years, (Think Steve Martin's Bilko, or Steve Martin's Clouseau.) so it was blah and forgettable. Betty White was good, as always.

The second actually had a six episode run, as AMANDA'S PLACE, with Beatrice Arthur as Basil Fawlty. Yes, they reversed Basil & Sybil's genders, and wrote "Original" scripts tailored to Arthur. It was dreadful.

I recall almost nothing about the third try, beyond the Manuel being played by a very good actor, Rick Batalla, whom I had directed on stage a few years before.

But remember, ALL IN THE FAMILY (And SANFORD AND SON as well, though it's not a series I remember fondly) were Americanized Brit-coms, and they will keep trying to capture that lightening in a bottle forever.

D. McEwan said...

Sorry SK, having seen both Bob Hoskins PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and Steve Martin's, I really perferred Martin's, although Hoskin's was excellent. But you know what? It condensed so well, the original seemed overlong and over-written, and it didn't have Christopher Walken dancing. Martin was no Bilko and no Cleoseau, but he made PENNIES FROM HEAVEN his own.

Of course, I could be prejudiced. My brother did some of the sound editing on the Steve Martin version.

But pretty much anything WITH Christopher Walken is gong to be better than the same thing without Walken, especially if dancing is involved.

SK said...

All I can do is stand open-mouthed at 'smooth, sexy Lister'.

I mean...

Just...

But...

Uh?

wizardru said...

Wait, wait, wait...

Viva Laughlin is supposed to be a US version of Blackpool? How....I mean....

Oy.

Tom Quigley said...

Ken, you're dead on in your assessment of this show. I hadn't seen anything so bad since a syndie about 10 years ago called "Acapulco H.E.A.T.".... I was hoping for Hugh Jackman to suddenly morph into his X-Men character just to give the show something worth watching.... And as if to top off a rhubarb-flavored sundae wih a rotten cherry, in the pilot you also had to endure hearing Melanie Griffith warble her way through Blondie's "One Way or Another..." I needed to take two extra-strength Tylenol sfter seeing that....

benson said...

All this 'Americanization' talk reminded of the attempt in the mid 70's to do an American version of "Are you being served". Beane's of Boston, with Alan Sues as Mr. Humphries, Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Slocombe, and John Hillerman as Capt. Peacock.

It'd be fun to see that pilot.

Bitter Animator said...

I've always hated musicals. Partly because I am a straight male but mostly because I hate most things. That said, I think it's a little unfair to say that musicals don't work on film and just cite Cop Rock and this latest travesty.

Women seem to love musicals. And there used to be a ridiculously high number of musicals, most of which seem to get aired at Christmas time. That Moulin Rouge thing did okay, didn't it? Okay, I couldn't watch more than half of it because the strobe editing sent me into a seizure but people seemed to like it.

Maybe it's just that people don't want it as their primetime show?

But I'll tell you something - had Shatner and Nimoy burst into song on Star Trek, I guarantee you the show would never have been cancelled. That would have been television gold.

VP81955 said...

How many of us forget that "Xena: Warrior Princess" did not one, but two musical episodes before "Buffy"? (It helped that Lucy Lawless is a trained singer with good range, as she showed last year on "Celebrity Duets." Lord, I wish someone would write a good sitcom vehicle for her.)

Jeff said...

I'm sad to say that I missed Laughlin. Coz I loves me some bad TV. But the thing I find most curious about the show is how it was marketed. Nowhere in any of the print or TV ads for the show was there ANY mention of the singing and dancing.

Which is fine if you believe that musical TV shows don't really work. But it really does beg the question, "If you're embarrassed that the show has singing and dancing in it, why the hell did you pick it up as a series in the first place?"

I've worked in the TV promo biz for a while and I see this every TV season: a show being marketed as something it really isn't. Or, at the very least, some key aspect of a show being hidden in the ad campaign. The thinking, as retarded as it may be, is that you want to "get people in the door." So, apparently, the best thing to do is promote the show as something you THINK people would watch (as opposed to what the show actually is) and hope that instead of audiences feeling duped or ripped off when they discover that they got a Chef Salad instead of a Steak Dinner, that they will actually be pleasantly surprised with the show. And they'll fall in love anyway.

Or something stupid like that. (I am presuming that there is an actual logic to this, which I realize is adorably naive.)

I'm sure there are people out there who might have enjoyed the show. I did say "might" and I would like to reiterate that I didn't see a moment of either episode. But there could have been an audience for the show. Unfortunately, those people probably had no idea that "Viva Laughlin" had singing and dancing in it, mistaking it for yet another drama set in a casino -- some sort of "Las Vegas"/"CSI" hybrid.

Coz that's the way it was marketed. And as stupid as it might have been to green light the pilot or to order it to series...marketing it as just another drama is even stupider.

estiv said...

I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned the name Dennis Potter. He wrote both the original (Bob Hoskins) version of "Pennies from Heaven" as well as "The Singing Detective," which everyone but Steven Bochco thought Steven Bochco ripped off without attribution for "Cop Rock." Potter's own personal combination of a love of old Hollywood musicals and a grim outlook on life in general made those two works something special, because they were both about exploring the distance between what we want from life and what we usually get. I haven't seen "Blackpool," but it sounds like it's definitely a descendant of his work. This kind of thing can work--he proved it--but it may be even trickier than farce to pull off.

Charles said...

I love musicals. From traditional stage ones to movie adaptations to musical episodes of tv shows. I think South Park: Bigger Longer Uncut is a brilliant parody of movie musicals, and "Once More with Feeling" is my second favorite Buffy episode.

So I was almost genetically predisposed to like Viva Laughlin. But I watched only about 3/4 of the pilot, and none of the second episode.

One of the glaring problems I had with Laughlin is one that I haven't seen anyone else address: This wasn't a musical in almost any traditional or nontraditional sense, in that they left the original vocal tracks intact on the songs they used, often masking the actor's singing. I mean, come on guys. Hugh Jackman has a Tony award for best actor in a musical, and I can't clearly tell if he's singing or if it's the orginal vocalist?

It wasn't just a bad attempt at doing a musical, it was a bad, lazy attempt at doing a musical.

Anonymous said...

Off topic question:

What do you do when your sitcom leading stars hate each other's guts?
(as rumored for one new sitcom on FOX)

Do you play it up with the plotting?

The Pale Writer said...

anyone remember that old norm macdonald skit on SNL in which he's part of a WEST SIDE STORY-ish gang that suddnely breaks into song... only macdonald doesn't and is openly questioning it? "hey, where's that music coming from? why are you guys singing? we're in a gang, here - we don't sing!"

brill. i miss norm macdonald.

blogward said...

From what I've managed to glean on YouTube of VL, singing doesn't come into it. I've seen better performances by people wearing ipods on the bus.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the reason that Viva Laughlin sucked be that the writing, acting, plot, and the music sucked, as opposed to it being a terrible concept?

I actually liked Cop Rock at the time (so yeah, question my taste--at least it was better than NYPD Blue, a show whose popularity always baffled me.) More importantly, the musical episode of Buffy was pure frickin genius--and if you have any doubts just watch it, twice. More. Once More with Feeling was not just perfectly executed--with insanely clever songs, performed unbelievably well by the cast, and colored with the mix of tragic/funny/poignant of Buffy. That particular episode was essential in terms of moving the entire season forward in terms of plot and character; and the choice to use a musical format was not a crazy novelty but felt more like a logical, even inevitable decision.

The point is: can't you think of a handful of ambitious, even crazy-sounding ideas, that in fact worked because of imaginative and flawless execution?

Michael said...

Here's a list of British TV series remade for the US market, and a list of American shows remade for the British market (both via Wikipedia).

Mark said...

It seems to me that in Australia, the show "Number 96" was a soap with more comic relief than your typical 70s U.S. soap. When NBC Americanized it after a lot of hype (this was the Fred Silverman era), lo and behold, it had a laugh track! (It was shot multicam tape like a daytime soap, but the "audience" sounded Carroll Pratt-ish.) NBC didn't promote it as a sitcom, though--no wonder it was just as big a bomb as "Viva Laughlin."

Michael Zand said...

I wrote this right after the premier of Viva Laughlin but didn't get around to posting it.

"Cop Rock" was like the Hale Bopp comet which comes around every 2400 years. I was fortunate enough to see the comet clearly in the beautiful night skies of Kauai. I was not fortunate in that I saw at least two episodes of Stephen Bochco's abortion and the memory still haunts me.

Positive that the comet and Cop Rock were once in a lifetime events, I was ready to take the good with the bad. That is, until Viva Laughlin premiered last night and the ghost of Cop Rock rose from the dead.

Actors singing and dancing badly to rock standards -- Melanie Griffith trying to sing and move while being shot through a mattress to hide all the work. Who told that poor child she could sing?

At least "Showgirls" was glitzy, dreadful and so over the top that it was hilarious. This was just depressing. I happen to love musicals (and I am a straight male) but this will set them back musicals for another twenty years.

BigTed said...

At least for "Cop Rock" and most of the other examples people have given here, they wrote new songs that were genuinely intended to advance the story. Not only did this show simply play songs we've heard a million times before, they did it in an incredibly cliched way. ("Viva Las Vegas" for a casino owner? "Sympathy for the Devil" for a, um, devilish guy? Yikes!) And even a karaoke bar lets you supply your own vocals, rather than just playing the old records for you to sing along with. Even if the plot, characters and actors weren't so dull, the music would have sunk this show completely.

Anonymous said...

A lot of smoke and mirrors with Laughlin. The old department store at Wilshire and Santa Monica was turned into the TV casino. On an exterior scene with President Palmer it was pretty easy for us locals to make out the Beverly Wilshire sign.

Chatsworth doubled for Laughlin exteriors most of the time.

This show was so wrong on so many levels I'm speechless

b

Anonymous said...

I liked Mark Lisanti's line on Defamer

"the debut of CBS's conceptually adventurous Viva Laughlin bombed so badly that network corporate overlord Les Moonves may order the execution of everyone involved after its next airing."

jbryant said...

Another musical-lovin' straight male here. Seems to me we weren't such a rare breed a couple of decades ago. I've never understood the old "in real life, people don't break into song and dance" argument. Folks who have no problem with stories about superheroes, vampires, lost arks, talking animals, or giant robots from outer space, can't sufficiently suspend their disbelief long enough to enjoy a good musical? Sheesh.

"Good musical" being the key, of course. Sounds like "Viva Laughlin" is simply bad in a way that goes beyond genre. As many here have noted, the Buffy musical episode is sheer genius, both in conception and execution. Original songs help a lot, but the Xena musicals that vp81955 mentions also worked rather well by repurposing oldies (with new lyrics that fit the story).

I'm hoping the success of Disney's "High School Musical" films (which I haven't seen) means many of the younger generation are less squeamish about song-and-dance. Maybe that'll lead to some newer musicals that can stand with the best of the older ones.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I am not gay and I liked Cop Rock too.

One thing I have always admired about Steve Bochco's work is that he is a smart man, who is afraid of emotion and always tries to find a way to make his work emotional without resorting to obvious tricks. Seen in this light, some of Cop Rock actually works. Like the scene where a cop is shot in a firefight on the street and in the scene where his partner is waiting for the ambulance to arrive knowing it will come to late to save him, he sings for him... or the courtroom scene where the jury sings the accused is guilty to a Randy Newman song. I have to add, I saw the show in the BBC version which was five minutes (and probably one song) longer. If they ever do a DVD (maybe when people stop badmouthing it) I hope they use the longer version.

Where the series went wrong, in my opinion, was that it was the first series to do one story over a whole season. We are used to this now, with series like 24, but on Cop Rock hardly anything ever happened. It seemed as if the songs took up all the space and nothing was left for any story. Bochco did that better a year klater, when he took that is his next trick in Murder One.

I've been looking for copies or a rerun ever since, but never come across it. One of the posters says he saw it twice... where did he see it the second time?

Ger A.

Todd Mueller said...

When picking apart musicals, I think it helps to look at its many flavors.

JUKE BOX MUSICALS use pre-existing songs and can be further broken down into:

MIX TAPE MUSICALS: tunes from multiple sources (VIVA LAUGHLIN, MOULIN ROUGE, THE SINGING DETECTIVE, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN)

GREATEST HITS MUSICAL (BIO): tunes from a single source used to tell that source's story (JERSEY BOYS, BUDDY)

GREATEST HITS MUSICAL (STORY): tunes from a single source grafted to an independent story (MAMA MIA, OUR HOUSE)

GREATEST HITS MUSICAL (REVUE): stuff the story, gimme the music. (THE WORLD GOES ROUND, SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM)

And then, of course, there's the TRADITIONAL MUSICAL, which uses original music and lyrics. (from SHOW BOAT to AVENUE Q)

To Ken's point, while there does indeed seem to be a modern tendency towards the creepfest, it's not impossible to create a non-creepy screen musical in a real life setting. HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL seems to have done it. And quite lucratively, I might add. But I think it's important to note that HSM is, in fact, a traditional musical. New music and lyrics (albeit mediocre), specifically built for the story. That, I think, is the key. LAUGHLIN is a juke box musical, a much trickier beast. Not impossible, just trickier.

For my money, If they would have anchored the story in the 50s, during the days of Louis Prima and Sam Butera, and used some of the lesser known jems from that period's fantastic song book (as well as casting the still amazing Keely Smith)... I would have been right there with them, yelling SING, SING, SING!

...and for those of you who didn't get a chance to see it, Ken's play was laugh-tastic. Well worth the 8 bucks.

jbryant said...

ger: Cop Rock ran on cable within the last few years, I believe on VH1. They had a marathon showing of the entire series. Unfortunately, I only got to see a few minutes, so I can't weigh in with an opinion.

Thomas said...

To which I remind people of Cop Rock's 2 Emmy wins

Outstanding Achievement in Music and Lyrics by Randy Newman for its pilot episode.

and to Joe Ann Fogle for Outstanding Editing for a Series - Single Camera Production also for its the pilot episode.

And its other three nominations:

Outstanding Achievement in Music and Lyrics
Ron Boustead (composer/lyricist)
Greg Edmonson (composer/lyricist)
For episode "Oil Of Ol'Lay".

Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series
Gregory Hoblit (director)
For the pilot episode.

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series
Mark Server (production mixer)
Robert Appere (re-recording mixer)
Ron Estes (re-recording mixer)
Gary D. Rogers (re-recording mixer)
For episode "Oil Of Ol'Lay".

maven said...

I watched all of VIVA BLACKPOOL and really enjoyed it. So when I heard there was going to be a VIVA LAUGHLIN, I couldn't wait. I think I lasted 5 minutes or half-way through Melanie Griffith's first number.

D. McEwan said...

A & E reran COP ROCK late night about ten years ago, which is when I rewatched it.

SK, take a deep breath. Relax. Yes, Craig Bierko's white, hunky Dave Lister was miles away from Craig Charles's black, scruffy Lister, but they have a similar type of charm, and the characterization worked. And I found both versions of Lister sexy, albeit Charles's in a much less obvious way. And both landed their jokes.

An American ARE YOU BEING SERVED with Alan Sues as Mr. Humphries? Yikes! I'd love to see it, but Alan Sues replacing sweet little John Inman (The greatest last name for a gay actor ever.), there's a sledgehammer being used as a sewing needle. (I may be prejudiced. Inman was a fan of my Tallulah Morehead.) I'll bet John Hillerman was perfect as Captain Peacock. I'm trying not to imagine Charlotte Rae's Mrs. Slocombe making her endless pussy jokes. No one wants to see that.

Jbryant, you have a real point about what audiences accept and don't. But what if Superman flew, AND broke into song? He did in the TV adaptation of the Broadway musical IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE, IT'S SUPERMAN (Title way too long!) Man, did that suck. Some good songs ("You've Got Possibilities" is from that score.), but a very cheap, juvinile execution, and a charisma-free actor as Superman (Never heard from again.) No one wrote: "You will believe a man can sing."

Tor Y. Harbin said...

That third version of FAWLTY TOWERS: from what I remember, it was called PAYNE and it starred John Larroquette.

Never watched it, but I knew of it.

coake said...

Count me as another straight guy who liked Cop Rock. My memory of it is hazy now, but I do remember a scene around a campfire, where I was surprised to find that Ronny Cox is a pretty good singer.

ajmilner said...

When COP ROCK ran on ABC, David Letterman made this proposal:

1) they start each show by having the cops arrest Bruce Springsteen/Bob Seger/Phil Collins for running a red light or double parking;

2) the cops then spend the next hour fighting bad guys and having shootouts WITHOUT singing;

3) the wrapup of the show should be in traffic court, where the judge tells the real-life guest star rocker, "We'll let you off -- only if you perform a number for us." Rock star then whips out a microphone and sings his Top Ten hit to the delight of the court.

what if Superman flew, AND broke into song? He did in the TV adaptation of the Broadway musical IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE, IT'S SUPERMAN (Title way too long!) Man, did that suck. Some good songs ("You've Got Possibilities" is from that score.), but a very cheap, juvinile execution, and a charisma-free actor as Superman (Never heard from again.) No one wrote: "You will believe a man can sing."

I have this on a bootleg DVD. As Bart Simpson once said, "I didn't think it was possible, but this both sucks AND blows."

The Crutnacker said...

Perhaps if CBS changes the name of the show to CSI: Laughlin the could have a hit?

Maybe they thought the title said "Viva Laugh-In" and thought it was a revival?

Perhaps they were trying to appeal to the seven people who still watch the Tony Awards by greenlighting a show with Hugh Jackman.

Maybe they thought Hugh Jackman was the character's name and they could do some clever Two and a Half Men sex talk with his name.

I have to agree that this season has sucked. Returning and new shows have bored the crap out of me. CSI sucks this year. Law and Order (all seven of them) sucks this year. Sitcoms all seem to be the same as last year. I know it is a bad year when Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters are the highlight of my week.

Dave said...

I loved Cop Rock, and I really wish they'd release it on DVD.

Of course, I think most of the other fans of Cop Rock already posted here, so we might not make up enough of an audience...

Anonymous said...

IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE, IT'S SUPERMAN was actually pretty good in its initial failed Broadway run in 1966, or so I thought when I was 9 1/2 (I saw it with my folks; we drove to NYC from the Lehigh Valley, PA, during Passover). The songs were by Adams & Strouse who had done Bye Bye Birdie. Linda Lavin sang the aforementioned "You've Got Possibilities" (no, she wasn't playing Lois Lane). Oddly enough, the writers of the book of the show (David Newman and Robert Benton) went on to co-write the 1978 Superman feature, which has a lot more to do with the traditional Superman story (the musical had almost no recognizable characters besides Clark and Lois; the big name in the cast, top-billed, was Jack Cassidy as a Daily Planet columnist named Max).

Gottacook

Rob said...

Scrubs got it right.
I even liked the musical Buffy episodes--especially because they made fun of themselves, had fun with it, incorporated it into the story and it wasn't week after week!

Maybe we must suffer this plague now because the execs are getting younger and younger so they have no sense of history. Cop Rock took itself seriously and was week after week...or did it last that long?

Next: Aaron Sorkin Does A Few Good Men: The Musical! Can't wait to see Jack do the big number in Gitmo: It's Raining Enemy Combatants!

Harold X said...

You could tell how clueless the producers of "Viva Laughlin" were when they used "Viva Las Vegas" as their theme song.

Not even "Las Vegas" was that trite -- and they had the chance before the song was a Viagra commercial.

SK said...

But the whole point about Red Dwarf, the entire joke, the fundamental set-up, was that the last human being alive, the one representative of our race going farther than anyone had ever been into the cosmos, was... scum. A slob whose idea of fine dining was to strain last night's curry through his sock before he had it for breakfast.

To make him somebody you might want to spend time around, hell, to make him somebody you might want to be, misses the entire point.

(I think, this is one of the fundamental differences between UK and US sitcoms and why the remakes so often fail spectacularly: the US have this bizarre idea that people in sitcoms should be people the audience aspires to be*. That applies whatever their circumstances: whether they are living in big clean flats in New York City, which of course would be nice, or stuck in a war zone, where the audience wishes that if they were stuck in a war zone they could be as witty and as profound and get one over on the stupid brass as often as the sitcom characters. The US audience is meant to root for the characters and want them to succeed. Whereas UK sitcoms are about people the audience is meant to hate, and want them to fail. In short: you're not meant to like Lister (except by comparison with the Cat and Rimmer, and that's hardly saying much!), and if you do, something's gone very very wrong. I mean, 'the last human being... and he's a slob' is funny. 'The last human being... and he's a handsome, fine, suave example of a man' -- where's the humour? Where is the funny?)


* There are occasional exceptions, but hardly ever properly: wasn't even Frasier given some redeeming qualities?

John F. Opie said...

Hi -

Ahhhh, Madchen Amick. The best reason to ever have watched Twin Peaks after the first season. Maybe the only reason.

Who did she annoy to be cast in this one?

John F. Opie said...

Hi -

Ahhhhhhh. Madchen Amick.

The best reason ever to have watched the second season of Twin Peaks.

Possibly the only reason to do that.

What *did* she do to get cast in this???

John

Charles said...

Since there appears to be a preponderance of Cop Rock fans on the board, I just wanted to make you aware that a number of songs that were used in that show are used in Randy Newman's Faust (or, maybe, Randy Newman's Faust). Not sure which one they were written for, but the concept album Faust came out well after Cop Rock went off the air, so I'm guessing they were original with Cop Rock.

Anonymous said...

Also, on the issue of characters bursting into song:

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS.

One of the best shows on TV this year.

So, all in the execution, rather than the form, perhaps.

D. McEwan said...

SK,

It's not so much that we're supposed to aspire to BE the characters, but rather something my first comedy mentor drilled into my head years back: likeability. "If they like you," he used to tell me, "You can get away with anything." Also, there's the thought that people invite TV characters into their living rooms each week. They want to be sure their charcters are welcome.

Bierko's Lister wasn't suave. He was very attractive looking and he had charm, but he wasn't suave. And Craig Charles is certainly not unattractive either, and has loads of charm.

Have you seen the first American RED DWWARF pilot? I have; in fact, I have a tape of it. The second, in which CAT became a female - BECKER'S Terry Ferrel in fact - I have not seen. I hear it was a mess.

Bierko's Lister was a slob, he just wasn't as big a slob as Craig Charles's. He still ate disgusting foods. He was still a screw-up, but yes, in fine old American TV tradition, the last human being alive was a really handsome slob. And both Listers had charm. (And they had a Kochanski who could actually speak clearly, unlike C.P. Grogan, who seemed barely able to form words.)

Had the series sold and gone on, with Doug Naylor back in England, it would probably have spiralled down into chaos, so I never mourned that it didn't sell, but while it was unquestionably inferior to the original, it wasn't ruined either.

And I don't know how to break it to you, but Craig Charles's Lister was very likable. I have the whole British series on DVD, and before the DVDs came out, I'd taped the entire 8 seasons off the TV. I've watched them, begining to end, multiple times and believe me, the American pilot was superior to the entire 7th and 8th seasons of the original. And even season 6 was full of story retreads. Lister even remarks on it at one point, asking how the same person can keep getting into the exact "same smeg" (messes, for the uninitiated.), because the ideas were used up.

Truely unlikable protagonists on American sit-coms are rare. The two season series BUFFALO BILL with Dabney Coleman was one, BECKER another, and Archie Bunker was the hateful motherload. BUFFALO BILL and BECKER relied on the audiences already liking the star to get past the character's nastiness. Archie Bunker had Edith loving him to make people think that somewhere under all the bile was a good man. (There wasn't though.) And by the time of ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE, he had been softened into a loveable old curmudgeon.

Many of your points are true, but if you think RED DWARF survived for 8 seasons witout the viewers loving Lister, and loving him from episode one on, you're wrong. And you just can't pronounce a show you didn't see as terrible. (And here's a fact: for the first two seasons, RED DWARF weas really just an English remake of the extremely American THE ODD COUPLE, only in space 3,000,000 years in the future.)

As for "Ruining" RED DWARF, or any other American TV hack job remake, I would mention Stephen King's reply when asked how he felt about Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING "Ruining" King's book: "He hasn't ruined it. There's my copy right there on that shelf. It's just fine. He just made a bad movie."

Wait a minute! "SK"? Are you Stephen King? or worse, Stanley Kubrick back from the dead?

Aaaaaahhhhh!!!

VP81955 said...

Original songs help a lot, but the Xena musicals that vp81955 mentions also worked rather well by repurposing oldies (with new lyrics that fit the story).

That was true for the second "Xena" musical ep. The first one had largely original music, and no oldies that I recall.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Charles,

I have a bootleg cd of Randy newsman' songs for Cop Rock (including his own piano demo versions) and you are right. Sandman's Coming is the best that's redone for Faust. But it is not nearly as poignant there. In Cop Rock it's a lullaby sung by a drug addict mother who has fought to get her child back and now resells it for drug money while she is waiting for the man to come and get the kid and give her the money. Sandman's Coming. And in the last verse you realize it's as much about the drug induced haze that she is waiting for as it is about the kid being taken away.

The role is played and sung by Kathleen Wilhoite, a wonderful throaty version. When she says 'don't hate me, baby' before the last verse it's just perfect drama. Which is the big secret why Cop Rock worked when it worked. It provided the songs with a dramatic background, rather than the other way around.

Putting Sandman's Coming in Faust was just another sign of how desperate Randy Newman was witht hat musical.

Anonymous said...

So perhaps the show of support for Cop Rock indicates that this type of show COULD work. And kudos to the last post-er, I remember getting goosebumps from that very song in that episode.

Maybe the weekly grind is even grindier for a weekly musical than a weekly comedy. Maybe one of the reasons the show flopped was that it was just too hard to execute consistently on a weekly basis....

And by the way--why do so many "non-gay" guys need to be so butch when confessing their love of musicals? What's the big deal?

jbryant said...

vp81955, thanks for the correction. Even though we have all the Xena season box sets, I haven't watched all of them by any means. It's quite possible I've seen only the second musical.

anonymous, I think the admissions of being straight started in response to bitter animator's post: "I've always hated musicals. Partly because I am a straight male but mostly because I hate most things." I don't think anyone's trying to sound butch. I mentioned it mainly in support of my point that it wasn't that long ago that a love of musicals didn't necessarily bring one's sexuality into question. But the kneejerk reaction these days seems to be along the lines of bitter animator's comment. Not sure why anyone would think being gay is a prerequisite for enjoying some of the greatest music, lyrics, singing and dancing our culture has produced, but what're ya gonna do?

Anonymous said...

Viva Laughlin beats out Cop Rock as the worst Tv series of all time? Ummmmm...sorry, maybe as musical Tv goes, but as TV shows go My Mother the Car has to take first place in the Worst Tv Show of all department...

Mike Rinaldi said...

Wow, I'm surprised no one has mentioned "Hull High." It came on the same year as "Cop Rock" but didn't get cancelled quite as quicly, probably because singing teachers and students in a high school was more acceptable to an audience than singing cops. The one thing for which "Hull High" deserves to be remembered is introducing the world to Nancy Valen. One of the most beautiful women ever to grace the planet Earth.

Anonymous said...

I switched over from baseball to watch the first few minutes of the second episode of Laughlin. I'd heard about the musical aspect and wanted to see a song. And there weren't any songs! Okay, there probably were, but not while I was watching. It was this long-winded exposition and after about five minutes I switched back to baseball because I didn't want to think about these characters. I just wanted to see a song!

I mean that's why CSI: Miami is the most popular show in the world. In the opening montage, before you even see a dead body, guaranteed, there's girl in bikinis. The show's crap, but doggone it, you get your bikinis.

I tuned in to see a musical and didn't a musical number quickly enough.

-Used Listen to Ken Call Orioles Games

Anonymous said...

But the whole point about Red Dwarf, the entire joke, the fundamental set-up, was that the last human being alive, the one representative of our race going farther than anyone had ever been into the cosmos, was... scum. A slob whose idea of fine dining was to strain last night's curry through his sock before he had it for breakfast.

Lister was indeed a slob (and yes, that was the entire point of Red Dwarf, which the American remake entirely missed) but he was not scum. He was a very likeable guy (for the most part).

Incidentally, Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) mentions in his wonderful autobiography The Man in the Rubber Mask that the original idea was to cast a short fat slobby Hispanic actor as Lister for the American remake, but then NBC got cold feet, fearing that they'd be blasted for perpetuating negative stereotypes about Hispanic-Americans (again, completely missing the point).