Monday, January 28, 2008

The future of television...and BURKE'S LAW

I’ve been fortunate to work on some shows that are still being shown today. MASH in particular has stood the test of time (granted you have to go up to channel 200+ now to find it but it's there). And it got me wondering – which of today’s hits will still be around in twenty-five or thirty years? Will LOST and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA still seem very cool or will the Y-generation look back and say, “Jesus, how turn of the century"? Will the procedures used by the twelve CSI shows seem archaic in a few years? (“Look at that. DNA. Were they cavemen back then?”) My guess is LAW & ORDER will hold up, 24 (a show that I love) will look ridiculous. The SIMPSONS will go on forever and be the first show from Earth to be a hit on Jupiter.

What shows do you think will survive and which will not? I keep hoping ALMOST PERFECT will be re-discovered but that dream is starting to dim.

I bring up this topic because recently on the American Life network I caught an old episode of BURKE’S LAW. When this show premiered in 1963 I thought it was the coolest show EVER. How could it not with this dynamite premise – middle aged heartthrob Gene Barry is a police captain solving murders. He is also incredibly rich, lives in a mansion, has an Asian houseboy (allowing him to make Charlie Chan jokes), and drives around investigating crimes in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. (Very similar to THE SHIELD.) Every hot babe who could easily be his daughter swoons and throws herself at him whenever he pokes around a murder site (always in a tailored suit). There is no action whatsoever. He just questions different guest-star celebrity suspects and eventually put two-and-two together, usually while sipping champagne with some flight attendant on her 18th birthday.

Talk about wish fulfillment. What 13 year-old hormonally challenged boy didn’t want to be Captain Burke (except for maybe the 45 years old part…that was kind of ick)?

I hadn’t seen an episode in a gazillion years. Much to my complete and utter shock BURKE’S LAW didn’t hold up. For the first time I started thinking – how much was he on the take to afford that mansion and sweet ride? God, those girls were golddiggers! It’s not that he was suave, it’s that he had bucks. Larry King could have played that part and scored just as well. Every suspect was a loon. In the episode I watched Michael Ansara was a fitness expert who went around with a bow and arrow, Fernando Lamas was an insane guitar store owner, Jim Backus played a guy in a Hawaiian shirt who just kept confessing for reasons known only to the writer, Diana Lynn was a drunk over-sexed widow stuffed into slacks like they were sausage casing, and in his most over the top performance (which is really saying something) -- William Shatner was a beatnik. The only bright spot was Joanie Sommers, one of my favorite singers of the 60s (jazz, pop, Pepsi) doing both a number and a scene in which she dished out gobs of incomprehensible exposition.

After one season, either ABC or producer (Aaron Spelling) decided that this format wasn't happening and retooled it. Next season Captain Burke left the force and his mansion and became AMOS BURKE SECRET AGENT. Even at 14 I knew this was a crock of shit.

Television series have clearly evolved over the years. The production values, depth of character, and storytelling – especially in dramas – have advanced to where they’re often feature quality. At least that’s what we think now. Let’s see in thirty years. Please check back with me then. I'll be the pathetic guy at the Hollywood Collectibles Show handing out cast photos of ALMOST PERFECT.

66 comments:

gottacook said...

Ha! - I never saw an episode of BURKE'S LAW but, now that you mention it, I clearly remember reading the then-current (maybe a year or two old) MAD magazine parody of it, wherein it's suggested that Burke and a passenger could go bowling in his car (among other things) if they wanted to.

I remember Gene Barry most clearly from THE NAME OF THE GAME, especially the episode L.A. 2017 (directed by the yingele Spielberg), and from the 1967 TV movie PRESCRIPTION: MURDER, Peter Falk's debut as Columbo three or four years before his series began.

oscar host said...

"And the award for incomprehensible exposition goes to..."

CDLeeth said...

Almost Perfect WAS a great show. I'd forgotten about it. Thanks for reminding. Is it available on DVD?

I was only 3 when Burke's Law came out, but I think I saw reruns. Maybe it was the reason I never liked Gene Barry.

John Pearley Huffman said...

It seems kind of scattershot as to what TV shows will worm their way into long-term cultural relevance.

Robert Reed was right, The Brady Bunch really was terrible. But today, kids born twenty-five years after it went off ABC can sing the theme song.

Gilligan's Island was absolutely savaged by critics when it first hit the air in 1964, but today it's hard to not appreciate how stupidly funny it really is. Or how well each of the characters work as archetypes. Or for that matter, how unequivocally such solid performers as Jim Backus, Alan Hale and Bob Denver dove into their parts. And again, everyone knows the theme song.

Looking back at long those two have lasted, you'd think that Sherwood Schwartz was the greatest genius in the history of TV. Meanwhile, does anyone still watch All in the Family? Or Maude? You know, the shows that certified Norman Lear as a master of televised art.

That doesn't mean however, that good shows don't last too.

The kids who watched I Love Lucy back when it first went on the air are old enough to collect Social Security now. But the show is still hugely entertaining.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show may be archaic in their settings now, but they're still solidly remembered. Not monsters like Gilligan, but respectable. Cheers, Taxi and WKRP in Cincinnati will all likely be similarly remembered.

And don't understate where MASH stands. That show still shows up all over the place. Not just on backwater cable channels but in local syndication.

Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone is probably the only anthology series that will still earn an audience in the future. And if any show should have aged, it's Star Trek -- but that's still so strong that Paramount put new effects on the series and put it back out in local syndication.

But as arbitrary as all this seems, it's still fun to guess.

My guess is that a few of today's shows will only grow in stature over time. The Office's audience will grow as its characters grow more familiar. 30 Rock is timelessly silly and that worked for Gilligan and Lucy.

Meanwhile none of today's dramas stand a chance of being relevant 30 years from now. Really, who cares what happens to Dr. Greene on ER if you already know he's destined to die in season eight? And the shows are no fun to watch if you're a kid -- no mysteries to solve, no overacting to revel in, and too much work to follow all the continuing story lines.

And Seinfeld seems destined to air back-to-back with I Love Lucy into eternity.

Allen L. said...

Friends might go on in perpetuity.
But nothing from today. For good reason. There's too much noise in the pop culture ionosphere. It's nearly impossible to break through and, if you do, when you are done, it's time to voraciously devour the next thing.
too much choice. We don't need this much choice.

I was on an episode of the remake of Burke's Law. One of my very first television jobs. I remember that the show was doing so poorly the craft service table consisted of potato chips and cole slaw. I named it Burke Slaw. I was never brought back.

Jake Hollywood said...

Even though Burke's Law doesn't hold up, something like McMillan& Wife might, and Columbo surely will...one has to wonder if it's the quality of the writing (all pretty similar) or if it's the actor star power.

Gene Barry wasn't all that great as Bat Masterson, and when compared to Richard Boone in Have Gun-Will Travel, Barry still comes up short. Again, a question of writing vs the actor.

Chemistry in a part, the believability in the character, I think determines if a show will hold up over time.

But I tell you, Barry sure knew how to make himself successful. He (along with his son(s) is one of the biggest property moguls in all of Los Angeles.

Steve Peterson said...

I don't think Lost will live on in re-runs, but I do think new generations will find it and watch through the five or so seasons to see the whole story arc. I'll likely re-watch it a few times. These sorts of serialized TV shows that have an overall arc I think will generate a lot of 2% residuals over the next 50 years.

From my youth, Columbo has held up extremely well.

But a couple years ago I was finally able to NetFlix the old British series UFO, which I had been wanting to see again for years. Unfortunately, my memories were vastly superior to the reality.

D. McEwan said...

I think ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS is another anthology series that holds up. Remember that living on in the future is more likely to be tied to DVDs than reruns, hence a certain, recent, ongoing strike.

Actually, BURKE'S LAW ran two seasons in it's original format, before being turned into that even dumber spy series I remember seeing Gene Barry on a talk show after the cancellation, bitching about the format change, saying "The took a jewel and turned it into dog food."

My mother had the hots big time for Gene Barry. She'd watch BURKE'S LAW every week, and just purr over Gene Barry, loudly envying every chicklet he made out with, right in front of my dad. (Next to my dad, Gene Barry WAS hot.)

I remember the Smothers Brothers being joint suspects one week. Special Guest Suspects. And Burke's sidekick was Gary Conway, who had played the title role in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, and went on to be the first-ever Playgirl nude ceterfold, just so there was a hot guy for the under-40 set.

When the BURKE'S LAW revival came in the 1990s, My mother, then in her 70s, taped every episode, and watched them over and over, always cooing about the then considerably stiffer ancient Barry, "He's still so attractive!" which was Mom Speak for "I'd still do him."

Sorry BURKE'S LAW fans; when Mother died, we taped over her BURKE'S LAWs.

But when I met Gene Barry a few months ago, I was able to tell him (For Mom): "My mother had the hots for you for 40 years." Though I had to bellow it, as he doesn't hear all that well anymore.

What we have to hope, is that 20 years from now, we don't have LOST reunion TV movies, or THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS ON LOST ISLAND.

I still want to see the flash-forward episode where Gilligan says to The Skipper, "We have to go back!"

Michael Zand said...

Watched the first two episodes of AMC's brilliant new mini series, "Breaking Bad," tonight. This one the darkest, funniest, black comedies I have seen anywhere, in film or tv. It's brilliantly written and acted will stand the test of time. Who'd'a thought that AMC would come up with some of the best new shows on TV. Highly recommend.

Ahomer said...

Let's not forget Barry's return in more hip format within the short-lived series "The Name of the Game", where I think he (or Tony Franciosa depending on the week) did a good enough job for surviving re-runs.

But I have to say, I'm of the opinion his Flintsones parody did a better job of acting than he did.

As for Lamas as "an insane guitar store owner" - - is there any other type?

David Bishop said...

I miss shows that were A QUINN MARTIN PRODUCTION, ideally with an EPILOG title card on the tag.

D. McEwan said...

Looked up BURKE'S LAW on IMDb. Aaron Spelling. I should have guessed.

4 episodes were written by Harlan Ellison!!! So when 18 year old hot babes were falling out of their bathing suits to smooch Gene Barry, it was science fiction!

But it's got to be worth seeing again just for those guest suspects! William Bendix with Sir Cedric Hardwicke! Zsa Zsa one week, and Eva Gabor the next. Soupy Sales! Bruce Cabot, Fred Clarke, Paul Lynde (As the straight guy who wanted to smooch Burke), Mary Astor, Don Rickles, Terry Thomas, Diana Dors (Guess who she'll be smooching), David Niven in the same episode with Ken Berry (Talk about natural chemistry!), Annette Funicello (Please tell me she didn't smooch Gene Barry), Gloria Swanson (Smooching with Barry?), Elsa Lanchester, Agnes Moorehead (Some hot Burke smooching that week! Agnes, Elsa, and Gene, that's one hot three-way smooch!), Edgar Bergan, Spike Jones, Tab Hunter (Probably didn't smooch Barry), Betty Hutton, Buster Keaton, Gypsy Rose Lee, Basil Rathbone, Hugh Hefner (As himself. Did all his own smooching.) They did 64 episodes of the original format, and only 17 spy episodes. I'm sure you're right that they're terrible, but I'd watch them again, just to see all these mid-60s guests. They used so many guests each week, and did so many episodes that a lot of them did two or even three appearances. (Cesar Romero was on at least 4 times.) A second role for Annette Funicello? That must have stretched her versatiltiy past the breaking point.

Anonymous said...

From the Burke's Law era, I'd like to see Honey West with Anne Francis, the American Emma Peel.

We already know now Law and Order holds up. On TNT, they mix episodes from years 1 to 18 in reruns seemingly at random.

Another recent action show that holds up is JAG.

howie said...

The mention of Honey West is interesting since there was a crossover episode between it and Burke's Law. I suspect it was the Honey West pilot, in a fashion.

Also, as a kid I didn't realize that Burke's Law was actually Spelling's first effort at his "Love Boat" format; letting over the hill actors say stupid things for an hour and broadcasting it to millions.

I had clearly noticed the similarity when I saw the early '90s remake-it was fittingly teamed with "Diagnosis Murder" in the CBS lineup, I think-but I didn't realize until American Life began showing the '60s version that it was just as silly.

Mike McCann said...

Hey, anon and Howie, good news... HONEY WEST is set for a home-vid release later this year from VCI (same company that's distributing the upcoming BURKE'S LAW set -- Season 1, Volume 1 goes on sale March 4th).

So we'll all have the chance to see how well it's stood up over forty-plus years.

Jen said...

MASH is on channel 54 for me.

And I watched All in the Family when it was on TVland, a lot more than I ever watched Gilligan's Island.
My age = 22.

I watched Honey West a few times too, but mostly for the cat she had. Ocelot, maybe?

And they put out all 6 seasons of Hogan's Heroes, so I assume they sell relatively well. I have a couple seasons on DVD. I watched that with my dad as far back as I can remember.

Paul Duca said...

"When you lie on your back and cry in your pillow, tears get in your ears...Boulder's Rule"
(from the FLINTSTONES, where Amos Burke devolved into Aaron Boulder)

Jon J said...

I just bought the entire run of Peter Gunn on DVD. Each episode is very much like the next but Mancini's music makes it all better.

Anonymous said...

It can be a weird experience watching shows that you loved as a kid. The "Time Tunnel" DVDs were a sad disappointment for me. I loved that show as a kid. It's still nostalgic fund for me. But wow! is it bad. The same with "Daniel Boone." And I've started watching "12 O'Clock High" on American Life. I had such great memories of that one, but what I remembered was the flying sequences. What I had forgotten was the soapy stuff. Some of them are unwatchable. But I will say this, Robert Lansing was an awesome leading man as Gen. Savage. Why he didn't have a better career is beyond me. American Life shows "Combat" too. I'm scared to watch it. I don't want to lose my fondness for that great old show just because it's silly by today's standards. One show that hasn't aged well at all is "St; Elsewhere." I was a huge fan. But its medical stuff is so low tech now that it's hard to watch.

CarolMR said...

When BURKE'S LAW first aired I was about 13 or 14. Loved the show and Gene Barry. I thought he was the most magnificent man I'd ever seen on TV. And, yes, he was wonderful on the COLUMBO pilot.

I remember on the old HOLLYWOOD SQUARES show Paul Lynde would poke fun at Barry every chance he could. I'll never forget this question:

Peter Marshall: Freud said there are three parts to the human personality - ego, superego, and...?

Paul Lynde: Gene Barry.

Robert said...

Mission Impossible. It was the height of complication. My dad used to say that if you weren't there when they lit the match, you'd never catch up. Then I got the first year on DVD. Ugh. Take a nap, wash the dog, make a sandwich, and you can still figure out the stiff and overacted plot if you miss 3/4 of it.

marquis de sade said...

I love to spend a winter evening in front of a roaring fire watching reruns of either the Jerry Springer Show or AfterMASH. But then again, I like driving carpet tacks into my kneecaps with a ballpeen hammer.

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I still find Monty Python absurdly silly, even if I don't understand the political references. I caught some first season "X Files" and although the clothes were dated, it still seemed strong because of the relationships and atmosphere. I think "Buffy" also will hold up well. I am curious to rewatch "The Prisoner" and "Twin Peaks" to see if they seem dated or as surreal as I remember.
Kathryn

VP81955 said...

"Frasier" will have a long shelf life, although its clientele will be more the TV equivalent of the art-house crowd than those watching reruns of "Seinfeld" or "Friends."

You're right about dramas, though: most of them won't hold up well. Come 2038 or so, people will look at them the same way we look at the pre-Code films Turner Classic Movies programs in the mornings -- curious artifacts of a bygone time.

Carlo Conda said...

Lost will live on in my heart. I don't really care if it does in others'. Haha

Scott said...

MASH will always stand the test of time because it's set was already 20-30 years old in the 70s and 80s. So time doesn't affect it.

The Simpsons, Seinfeld and Friends will last
I hope Raymond lasts because it's primary stories of marriage and family are timeless.

The Cosby show still works especially the early seasons. And the spinoff, "different world" still holds up.
Roseanne still works well.

Of today's comedies, i'm not sure what will survive. It's easier for animated shows to continue on. The rest, while humorous, can feel dated and contain too much topical humor.

Of the dramas, Law & Order will always be on. CSI, the original will be gold. Without a Trace as well. And even Cold Case, since it's stories are already dated.

Oh, of course American Gladiators was on during the 80s and 90s. It's still on reruns, this time on NBC

Anonymous said...

Most dramas fail to hold up 20 years later because every new show takes what's best about something and pushes further. Hill Street Blues was state of the art brilliant when it came out. Now, since we've cannibalized it to death, the original feels old and slow. Comedies that play on the human condition will hang in there: Lucy, Friends, Raymond, etc. Mary Tyler Moore already feels somewhat dated and so 70s whereas Dick Van Dyke still works even though it's filled with dated thinking. Burke's Law and all those gimmick shows can't hold on. American Life or whatever it's called played Honey West a few years back and as much as I loved that show then (as well as Man From UNCLE) it's that awful now. It's just they are shows of their time as 24 is now. We can enjoy them, love them (well, maybe not last season) but they won't stand the test of time. But we can still love them for the nostalgic memories that flood back as we watch them. It's just sad to think some people will wax ecstatic over things like "According to Jim."

Corinne said...

I have often wondered why MASH was eternal. Era doesn’t have much to do with it, I don’t think. After all, Happy Days was set 10-20 years earlier than taped but it is not a show I could watch night after night now

I think what makes a show timeless is subject matter and it’s ability to be understood as one ages, grows, and possibly matures.

War, sadly, is timeless.

When I was 8 watching MASH I could not watch the surgery scenes. The sight of blood made me ill.

As a teenager, I was old enough to understand the obvious humour.

In my 20’s I was able to understand more of the subtle and underlying humour and horrors.

Now in my late 30’s, I bring to it many more of life experiences. I have a greater understanding and appreciation of history. I have a larger knowledge base. An adult who has lived and experienced so much more and can appreciate the horrors, need for humour in times of crisis, the devastation war brings.

Add to that brilliant writing, casting, and acting into a wonderful, multidimensional mix.

I fully expect that in my 40’s, 50’s and so on, I will continue to find relevance, poignancy, and humour in MASH. As I continue to grow in life’s experiences, so will I find relatablity in the show. It is timeless in it’s subject matter, relevant in it’s portrayal, and adept at revealing the need for laughter in times of horror, hurt and distress.

And there will always be tears, in anticipation, even before the doors open to the surgery and Radar walks in to share the news of Colonel Blake’s death. Once I mourned the death of a character, now I cannot comprehend the thought of any of my 3 sons going to war. A scene I have watched countless times and still hits the guts anew.

Too many shows lack dimension, depth. They fit a certain time and climate but time and fads move on and changes.

MASH is like a good novel. Regardless of how many times you’ve read it, know the punch lines, the teary parts, and what’s going to happen next, you commit to the story and characters time and time again.

Really. Is there anything as comparable?

Sean said...

Certainly some of "24"'s subject matter may not stand the test of time(No Chloes in the future, just robots with even more sass) but what about the overall theme of terrorism and "good vs. evil"? I highly doubt the world will be rid of evil and terrorism within 30 years.

Plus, they're willing to do just about anything for the sake of the story. "Hill Street Blues" (and to some extent, "Law & Order") were/are formulaic. Yes, it may not feel as fresh as it is today but I don't think it'll be as bad as "The Mod Squad".

In any case, I think it will fare better than medical shows like "House"(which I love) and "Grey's Anatomy"(which I don't).

AnimeJune said...

My father bought HAWAII 5-0 for Christmas this year, as it was his favourite show in junior high (for a French class, he actually ripped off a script from the show and awkwardly translated it - the final line being: "Livre-lui, Danno!" [Book'em Danno!])

I've been watching it with them, and it's held up surprisingly well - they dealt with serious stuff, although the fashions, naturally, didn't last (was that woman wearing a black miniskirt to her infant daughter's funeral?).

If anything lasts, I think the OFFICE will -- it deals with such universally painful areas.

Jaded and Cynical said...

Television series have clearly evolved over the years. The production values, depth of character, and storytelling – especially in dramas – have advanced to where they’re often feature quality.

You're being much too kind to the movie industry, Ken.

I'm in the UK, and our top three box office films this week include PS, Ilove You, and Alien v Predator - This Time It's Personal.

I'd take any one of the best dozen TV shows over any random Hollywood blockbuster.

Tiny Writer said...

"Jaded and Cynical" beat me to the punch. The best of modern day TV shows (not to say there isn't also a ton of crap) like Lost, The Shield, Man Men and comedies like 30 Rock, Office, etc. are so vastly inferior to the vast bulk of feature product (again, as a general rule) that the movies should be ashamed of themselves.

Hell, I'll even take "According to Jim" over "Meet the Spartans" any day of the week.

Carlo Conda said...

Tiny Writer, don't you mean the television shows (like Lost etc) are 'superior' than movies?
You said they are 'inferior' to movies, which didn't make sense to me, because you later say that the movie industry should be ashamed. :S

jbryant said...

A 45-year-old Gene Barry pulling young chicks is more believable than Jack Klugman doing the same in Quincy, M.E. :)

I caught a couple of "Hawaii 5-0" reruns on KDOC last year and was quite surprised at how involving they were. They used to run "Combat," too, and the ones I saw were excellent (Robert Altman directed a number of them). I have the first season box of "Have Gun, Will Travel" and it's wonderful. "The Rifleman" also holds up beautifully, I think, with its timeless mix of father/son bonding and blowing guys away with a repeating rifle.

The 50s "Dragnet" is undeniably "dated," but packed with brilliant filmmaking acheived with modest means.

"Columbo" will never die, because Falk is inimitable (unless you're Kevin Pollak - they should do a "Columbo and Son").

Remember when TVLand used to run older stuff like "Have Gun," "The Detectives," "Honey West," "The Joey Bishop Show," etc., mostly on Saturdays? Now it's all safe bets like Andy Griffith and M*A*S*H (awesome shows but not exactly underexposed) and crap like Charlie's Angels. It's like oldies radio stations that play only Beach Boys and Motown. Great, but there's so much stuff ripe for rediscovery!

benson said...

I'm not privy to TVLand's ratings, but my guess is the older stuff either doesn't attract enough viewers or the demos of those who do watch are "desirable". Plus now they've started going after the same 80's movie crowd that AMC started going after a few years ago.

I'm still waiting for the technology to where I can download just about any show that's ever been done, rather than hoping that one of the major distributors will take a chance on packaging a series. Gotta believe if you can bypass the packaging costs, then more obscure stuff will become available.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

More than story and character, I wonder if audiences 50 years hence will consider contemporary film/video-making techniques. I simply cannot watch a show that's rife with those annoying MTV-inspired jump cuts, floating cameras, off center framing, harsh rear lighting, supersonic zooms, etc. Since I own an attention span, I prefer he camera to rest on a subject for more than 3/10 of a second. Much more.

As for Burke's Law, I watched it as a senior in high school and enjoyed it, but even then I knew it was campy. Burke was independently wealthy, thereby making him akin to the upper crust amateur sleuths of the '30s and '40s, like Philo Vance or Nick Charles. I don't know how I'd like it today, but I'm sure I'd get a warm nostalgiac feeling and enjoy seeing the old celebs.

jbryant said...

benson: Oh, I don't doubt TVLand's scheduling choices are ratings-driven (be shocked it they weren't!). It's just frustrating.

I'm with you on the "on demand" technology though, and the choices already seem to be multiplying in that regard. Also, didn't Sony just sign a deal with Hewlett-Packard or somebody to burn DVDs of less commercially viable catalog films on demand? Or at least in smaller quantities than the usual commercial release?

VP81955 said...

As for Burke's Law, I watched it as a senior in high school and enjoyed it, but even then I knew it was campy. Burke was independently wealthy, thereby making him akin to the upper crust amateur sleuths of the '30s and '40s, like Philo Vance or Nick Charles.

That loud rolling over you just heard came from the grave of William Powell, who portrayed both Philo and Nick on screen.

benson said...

jbryant...Amen, brother!

I guess I'm just tired of shows I like being pushed aside for "coarser" programming. I don't get ALN, am a little burnt out on TVLand, and don't have a fancy DVR (and am envious of my kids, who do). Plus, most of the stuff I like is either not available or stopped being packaged after a season set or two. For example, I'd love to have both the entire Newhart series, all the MTM's, the aforementioned Tony Randall series, but then, we're also talking budgetary issues (mine, not the distributors).

Cage Free Brown said...

I hadn't seen "Burke's Law" before it turned up on "American Life Network". I'm yet to sit through a whole episode but I find it transfixing for 18 minutes at a time.

I think what's dated most about the show is what I like best about it. it's sort of like watching Hef in his bathrobe solving crimes.

me, I prefer that to watching caring twenty to thirty year old doctors and cops and lawyers. all that stuff is going to look like "L.A. Law" and "St. Elsewhere" in a few years. sure, there's some quality but they will be obsolete and replaced with a new batch of 19 to 23 year old doctors and cops and lawyers soon enough.

I'd rather watch Hef solve crimes in his pajamas.

Anonymous said...

Asked once about his early training in Hollywood, Burt Reynolds quipped, "I studied humility under Gene Barry." A throwaway line that made me laugh, though I'm not sure why.

You know where Dragnet holds up sturdily? On radio. I've caught a number of episodes on Sirius satellite, and the pacing, the pauses, the clipped dialogue have a distinct, original rhythm, and there's no attempt at the sort of social relevance the TV show peddled whenever Jack Webb and Harry Morgan traded rueful head-shakes over some stoned hippie chick.

--James Wolcott

John Pearley Huffman said...

Not that I'm obsessed with this subject, but...

One of the shows that's held up extremely well is Bonanza. There's a certain timelessness to it since it's a western and the writing is stronger than I ever imagined it could be. The Big Valley isn't as strong a show, but I love it strictly for Linda Evans (I've been in love with Audra Barkley since I was three) and Lee Majors saying "Boy Howdy."

Also, I've bought all the DVDs for The Rockford Files and that show still rocks. Particularly the episodes written by David Chase who'd go on to create, of course, The Sopranos.

And Gene Barry was absolutely smashing opposite George Hearn in the original Broadway production of Les Cage Aux Folles. I saw that four times since my sister was in the chorus (her first Broadway show).

John Pearley Huffman said...

I can't believe I used the word "smashing" in that previous comment. I'm starting to write like Roddy McDowell.

D. McEwan said...

I also bought the first season of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, by error. (I had intended to buy season 3, and now have. Why? Because a dear friend of mine, now 32 years dead, played a small role in one episode. When a friend has been dead 3 decades, you will buy a whole season of a show to get five minutes of seeing him alive again.)

The show actually improved after the first season, but not much. I remember when it was originally on, I thought Stephen Hill was the worst excuse for an actor I'd ever seen; incredibly boring. Then 30 years later he's on LAW & ORDER and he's wonderful, and I realized that he just couldn't act down to the level of the scripts. What does it say about a show, when replacing Stephen Hill with Peter Graves improves it?

When I booked Leonard Nimoy onto the Whittington Show, he had just quit MI. I asked him why he'd quit, and he said, "I was bored." I didn't understand then how he could play Spock year after year (He's playing him again, right now.) but get bored doing a show where he played essentially different characters each week. Now I see those shows, and I understand.

I watched a third season show two days ago, in which Lee Meriweather clmbed onto the roof of a bunker in a third world, eastern bloc country. This country apparently had it's own Griffith Park Observatory, which was clearly visible in the background, as was the Paramount soundstage a few yards from her. I believe she was on the roof of the building where Ken had his CHEERS & FRASIER offices.

One old show that, when viewed again decades later, I thought still held up quite well was DOBIE GILLIS. When it reran on Nick at Night in the 1990s, I watched again, and it was still hilarious and stylish.

Jaded and Cynical said...

Have to give a shout out to I, Claudius.

The BBC put it on the schedule recently - fully thirty years after the programme was made - and it's still magnificent.

jbryant said...

James Wolcott: Firstly, THE James Wolcott? Cool. Secondly, I haven't heard the Dragnet radio shows, but I know the 50s TV series "repurposed" a lot of them (and the 60s version repurposed a lot of the 50s episodes). And of course the 50s show is also blessedly free of hippie-related social relevance, and therefore less campy.

d. mcewan: Dobie Gillis is my favorite classic TV series. I was but a tot when it premiered, but I discovered it in syndication in 1975 while spending the summer with relatives in Florida. Then it popped up in the late '80s on The Family Channel, which I think had been the Christian Broadcasting Network. It was on every night and I was in heaven.

Kevin G. said...

I noticed someone mentioned Combat! up in one of the earlier posts, and I'd have to say that it still stands up pretty well. My dad liked the show when he was young, and recently ordered them, so I watched some with him, and I was sorta surprised that I liked 'em.

As for TV shows nowadays that might stand up, well, there's Law and Order of course, Lost will probably become similar to how Twin Peaks is regarded... other than that I don't see much withstanding the test of time, House might.

Carlo Conda said...

I gotta say that Arrested Development seems pretty timeless to me. That show is on a whole different wavelength of it's own in regards to it's general 'feel'. I can see it holding up, though it's not ragingly popular even now.

dougR said...

Talk about a show that doesn't hold up: when I was a kid, I devoured every episode of Captain Video. Outer space! Time travel! Alien nations! Weird machines that gurgled and sparked! Interstellar drama! Now if I want a laugh I toddle over to the Mus. of Radio & TV and look at the few remaining episodes: cardboard sets, improbably costuming (you could tell an actor played an alien because he wore an ancient Greek pleated skirt and breastplate), cheesy props (actor reaches across table, accidentally knocks "communicator" over, revealing it as a cardboard cutout with an easel back), and tons of war surplus radio equipment tarted up to look like inventions of the future. And a whole lot of B-list New York actors, coping with the ludicrous plot lines with high seriousness, just trying to earn a buck.

Here's a show that DOES hold up, lots of luck finding it: The Trials of O'Brien, Peter Falk's first series, in which he plays a tough-street-kid-turned-New York lawyer. His secretary? The young, delectable, wisecracking Elaine Stritch. Guest stars (in the only episode in the Mus. of R&TV): Milton Berle in a straight role (he does overact a little, but they all kind of did back then) and Hal March. If there were enough episodes of THAT show to put on DVD, I'd buy it fast.

Anyone remember a summer replacement starring Patrick O'Neal called Diagnosis Unknown? As I remember, he was a microbiologist, and solved crimes using science! The CSI of its day!

The Crutnacker said...

With all the Lost promos about them getting rescued, is there anyone out there who is praying that their rescuers are the Harlem Globetrotters?

Friends comes on after our 10 O'clock news, and I find myself watching it, and shockingly, remember large parts of each episode. It still seems to hold up.

St. Elsewhere, as someone else mentioned, was one of my favorite shows. It's still a good show, but does NOT hold up as well as I would have hoped.

Homicide was on the other night, and I found myself watching it. Even with the grittier shows that have followed, it still held up.

As for Gilligan's and Brady Bunch, I have to say that the Brady Bunch still holds up for me while Gilligan does not. Yes, Brady sucked, but the episodes are distinct enough, whereas with Gilligan, I only remember the one where they tried to get off the Island, even after years of watching it in reruns.

I watched more M*A*S*H than any living person (it aired sometimes three times a day on my local station, and I'd watch each). I still think it holds up.

There is one show that I watched religiously as a child that still holds its own for adults. That's Leave it To Beaver. Even 50 years later the show still seems to have latched onto some truths of childhood and the show was warm and funny without being sappy.

TCinLA said...

I'd have to agree with the guy who gave a shoutout to "I Claudius." It is timeless. Another one would be the original (black and white) "The Forsyte Saga." I'll also bet that "Upstairs Downstairs" would still be interesting. Ditto "Elizabeth R" with Glenda Jackson.

I think "The Sopranos" will hold up.

"Deadwood" will be something people will search out.

"Hill Street Blues" does hold up, having seen an episode recently (if you realize it was the "mother ship" for "NYPD Blue," all the "Law and Order" shows, and "Deadwood," you can see how seminal it was - I'll never forget them killing off Hill and Renko in the pilot, the two most interesting guys there, and having to figure a way to bring them back) I would also say that the "children" of Hill Stret - Law and Order, HYPD Blue, Deadwood - will all stand the test of time.

I think if you look at my list, there is one thing they all have in common: great writing. Great writing attracts great actors and inspires great work. It does indeed all start with the word.

estiv said...

The consistent theme here of disappointment at once again viewing shows we once loved, and what dougr wrote about Captain Video, reminded me of something I once read.

The story is that when George Lucas first became successful in Hollywood with American Graffiti, he decided to use some of his newfound clout to watch some of his favorite old TV shows. Remember that this was (in 1973) before home video, let alone a zillion cable channels or DVD--nostalgia could run free in one's mind. If you wanted to see a very old TV show you either got lucky with your local station or had to have enough pull to arrange a private showing at a studio in LA.

Lucas decided to see his biggest favorite from childhood, Captain Video. It was absolutely awful, and he was shocked. But he had an idea: what if he made a movie like that, a silly space opera, but with decent production values and adequate acting? People might like it. Several billion dollars in box office receipts and millions of besotted fanboys later, Star Wars still proves that if you remake crap with better ingredients, you can do pretty well.

Roger Burke said...

As another Jew actually named Burke (albeit largely only of the persuasion from the waist down), I’d have to say we may have missed the point. It wasn’t that Amos Burke got girls, it was that he got shiksas – by the carload. Go ahead look it up everybody.

You’ll find Gene Barry on all those “you didn’t know he was Jewish lists,” (followed by an almost equal number of “I couldn’t care less," lists). Why the hell do you think he took that first series with the hat? In fact the working title was Bat Mitzvah Son. OK save the friggin’ rimshot.

I only looked it up because a friend used to hang with that Gene Barry, Jan Murray, Jack Carter, Red Buttons old Jewish comic crowd (I assume at Hillcrest) and I was trying to figure out how Barry fit in. Went back with that bunch to Brooklyn and on to the Borscht Belt where he started as a singer.

I think we even had a wing named after him at out Katskill Komedy Kamp (Camp SheckyLenny).

D. McEwan said...

I have I CLAUDIUS on DVD, and have wathced it six or seven times. It is great. The books are fantastic reads also. (Books? What is he talking about?)

Can you be serious about LEAVE IT TO BEAVER? On the rare occasions I pause on it in a channel-surf, it always makes me cringe. And whose Mom spent all day in the kitchen in heels and pearls?

The early DOCTOR WHOs were big on aliens in pleated skirts also. In one very early episode, THE DOMINATORS, the aliens were wearing living room drapes.

My all-time favorite early-TV sci-fi prop was the ray gun brought up by the mole people in SUPERMAN & THE MOLE MEN, the only two-parter on the old ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN with George Reeves, first released as a feature film. The ray gun is an Electrolux vacuum cleaner with a large tin kitchen funnel stuck in one end.

I was also amused by the Whamm-O Air Blasters used as ray guns in the film SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS. In that film, the space ship had cool-looking vertical grooves over the arches at the top of the space ship doors. Mid-way through shooting, the director's eight-year old son (Who was my next door neighbor for a while, which is my source for this story) pointed out that this meant they had no air seal, and all the air would be sucked out of the rocket. "Shut up kid. We can't afford to reshoot."

VP81955 said...

James Wolcott: Firstly, THE James Wolcott? Cool. Secondly, I haven't heard the Dragnet radio shows, but I know the 50s TV series "repurposed" a lot of them (and the 60s version repurposed a lot of the 50s episodes). And of course the 50s show is also blessedly free of hippie-related social relevance, and therefore less campy.

I haven't seen the '50s TV "Dragnet," but I've heard many of the radio programs and they are indeed excellent. You don't really appreciate how good they are until you hear some of the hackneyed earlier police/detective radio series (including a few Jack Webb was himself on).

"Dragnet" and "Gunsmoke" are arguably the two greatest radio dramas in history, and you can hear them back-to-back each Sunday night as part of "The Big Broadcast" on WAMU-FM in Washington, hosted by Ed Walker (Willard Scott's longtime partner on D.C.'s famed "Joy Boys" radio team of the '50s and '60s). "Dragnet" airs at 7:30 ET, "Gunsmoke" at 8. Find them at http://www.wamu.org.

d. mcewan: Dobie Gillis is my favorite classic TV series. I was but a tot when it premiered, but I discovered it in syndication in 1975 while spending the summer with relatives in Florida. Then it popped up in the late '80s on The Family Channel, which I think had been the Christian Broadcasting Network. It was on every night and I was in heaven.

"Dobie" was the first show I can recall watching regularly, and its satire still captures the early-'60s zeigeist better than any show of its era. I interviewed the great William Schallert (Mr. Pomfret) some years ago, and he told me the series was purposely designed to move at a fast pace, a la "His Girl Friday." In some ways, I'm still amazed Pat Robertson's channel actually aired something so subversive.

benson said...

Mark Evanier has a related post to this discussion today on his blog...

www.newsfromme.com

Anonymous said...

Gene Barry carried over his fan base from Bat Masterson when he had Burke's Law. I watched it as a kid and enjoyed it for what it was, rich playboy police captain interviewing wacky suspects each week. Each episode a comedy-who done it. And it had the pilot for Honey West. Both shows coming out on DVD this year. Looking forward to watching both. BL lasted two seasons before changing format to the awful Amos Burke, Secret Agent, which deserved to crash and burn. Any old show will wind up with a fan base by someone who misses it.

jbryant said...

I'm with crutnacker on "Leave It to Beaver." Both the humor and heart hold up nicely. The "housework in pearls" issue doesn't negate that for me.

pat reeder said...

"House" is the only contemporary series I buy on DVD, and I think it will hold up for decades for the same reasons I own "Columbo" on DVD: great writing, an endlessly fascinating character, and one of the best matches of actor and character in history. Also, the witty dialogue and the format of solving one medical mystery per show will attract new viewers who already know the direction of the soap opera elements.

"Gray's Anatomy," on the other hand, is all soap opera and will have a limited shelf life for the same reason reruns of "Dallas" don't draw an audience. Hell, I got sick of that and tuned out after the first season. The episodes were new, but they already felt like reruns. There are only so many times I can watch people cry nobly to Lilith Fair music before hurling something at the screen. Possibly my lunch.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Add me to the Leave It to Beaver camp. I love that show and would watch reruns forever if they'd show them.

Ed said...

Gunsmoke will be on that rocket ship with the Simpsons. The timeless values of honor and courage will always hold up.

This is why JAG still works. Perhaps my very favorite sequence of any show ever - on Magnum PI, Paul Burke is an admiral in dress whites awaiting the arrival of a Vietnamese envoy in Hawaii. His staff was explaining how there were spies and other nefarious types involved with the envoy's mission. The admiral (Burke) exposits how our former enemies, in time, become valued friends. Then he salutes and the camera sweeps around as the envoy deplanes. The timing was exquisite and the message was mind-blowing. Man, Belasario sure does know how to incorporate big ideas into buddy shows.

Zarvos said...

I like the older shows and comedies any way I can get them. Any one of them can look dopey by today's standards, but that's what I like about them. Granted, there were some really bad ones, but you have to remember, TV was mostly escapist entertainment before the 70's and beyond. Sure, Burke could be rather unbelievable in relation to real life, but who wanted that? TV was evolving into what it is now, and there's a lot of stuff that doesn't hold up well due to broadcast standards and practices at the time. The old stuff represents a moment in time where the mores and attitudes were entirely different than they are in the decades to follow. There's a lot of stuff I see today that's even more impossible and/or moronic, but it seems to be the flavor of the day and sure to be hailed as a classic in the future.

Randwolf said...

I was watching Oprah once and somehow "Leave It To Beaver" was mentioned. The twenty-something girl Oprah was interviewing said her parents wouldn't let her watch it because it was just "mythology." I think that's because the farther in time we get from something, the more unreal it seems. But I grew up in that era (Beaver would have been my older brother), and I can remember things being the way they are portrayed in that show. Sure there were dysfunctional families in the '50s, but I can remember families just like the Cleavers, too. I even saw my mom in pearls and heels doing housework. People just dressed up a lot more back then.

Anonymous said...

Joanie Sommers I ahve a cup from late 60's with her photo on a pepsi long cup. with the words of "those who think young.... how does one get a value or a lover of this woman..

ClassicTVfan said...

A couple of corrections, Burke's Law lasted 2 seasons before it changed to the secret agent format. And Amos was clear in more than one episode that he had his Daddy's money, so he was not on the take. That said, I have been enjoying the DVD's of season one immensely. I think part of the attraction of the show was that they did not take themselves too seriously. Yes it was a "murder mystery," but they never forgot the underlying premise and had fun with it. Is it great TV? No. Is it still fun to watch? I say yes.

The real fun in this series is seeing all the old (many deceased!) veteran actors getting a chance to play a little. At the opposite end were many young actors who went on to shows of their own. One example is Elizabeth Montgomery who all but steals the second episode of the series in a pre-Bewitched role that shows her playful side could also be very seductive.

Craig said...

I loved and will always love Burke's Law. Of course it was impossible because it was a joke right? All those great old a(and future)stars in each show. I'm looking to see if my local Comcast has American TV Network. I'm sure someone mentioned that Burke's Law ran two years. I was so disappointed at "Secret Agent" that I only watched it once. Gene Barry was the greatest!