Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The reason I find myself stopping at one of these channels (besides hoping to see Claudine Longet guest star as a murderer) is that as a kid growing up in LA, I recognize most of the locations that they used. So it’s kind of like stepping into a time machine, except the past is in black-and-white and I can fast forward through the assisted living commercials.
But a lot of local landmarks that have long since been turned into Jiffy Lubes and Casa de Cockroach apartments reappear in all their glory behind Honey West and Amos Burke.
ROUTE 66 is a great one for Way Back Machining. One week they were in the old Marineland and the next they stopped off at Jungle Land, home of many ferocious tranquilized animals. It’s a good thing the scenery is so nostalgic because the show itself was terrible. The dialogue tried to be Paddy Chayefsky and actor George Maharis tried to be, well… an actor. Long florid speeches filled with imagery and dripping with classical references describe a dog that chewed up a garden. What’s disconcerting is that at the time this show originally aired in the ‘60s I thought it was incredibly deep. Of course that's not why I watched it. I was just hoping to see Claudine Longet with a gun.
What struck me most about these old hour shows is how cheesy the production values were. Today a cable show like SUITS and THE AMERICANS looks as sumptuous and well lit as a feature. If they get 3,000,000 viewers a week they're lucky. Back then, on network television drawing an audience of 30,000,000 those old shows looked like they were made for $22. Except for Jack Webb-produced shows like DRAGNET and ADAM-12. $22 was the budget for the entire season.
I think the difference is that audiences today have much higher expectations. They can spot a cheapo production. With HD cameras they can make home movies that look way better than KOJAK. (By the way, I see a lot of San Fernando Valley locations in KOJAK – a show set in New York.)
That’s something else I'm always on the lookout for – LA locations masquerading as other parts of the world. I once saw the Burbank airport substituted for Miami. Can’t think of many mountain ranges behind the actual Miami airport. The Fugitive traveled all around the country but one out of three small towns all seemed to have the same Main Street. How dumb was Inspector Girard that he never figured that out?
So even though a lot of these programs don’t stand the test of time I still have a great fondness for them. What a treat that the Los Angeles of my youth has been so captured on film. I feel bad that kids growing up in Los Angeles today won’t have that same luxury. With production costs what they are, it’s now the kids in Vancouver who will be able to look back and see their city as it is today.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM