Wednesday, April 21, 2021

This Day in TV History: Geraldo vs. Al Capone's Vault

35 years ago tonight, in a live television extravaganza, Geraldo Rivera explored the long-untouched vaults of notorious gangster Al Capone and found some dusty bottles. The flop was a huge embarrassment but a ratings success if a constant joke that followed Rivera around for years.

The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults was a two-hour syndicated special that took viewers into the bowels of Chicago in search for Capone's lost treasures. A team of experts went in with Rivera, including personnel designed to deal with possible dead bodies! Tribune Entertainment distributed the show, and I remember my beloved Channel 11 in New York airing it. One of the producers was Doug Llewelyn from The People's Court.

For further reading, this Mental Floss oral history is fun, and Noel Murray provides perspective on the event at The AV Club. He references the Floss story and adds detail on Rivera's status at the time (looking for a comeback after a highly publicized exit from ABC) and the impact of the event.

Let's take this opportunity to squash one persistent but false rumor: This gentleman was not involved with this special in any way, shape, nor form:

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Promo Theatre: Two of Us and Private Benjamin on CBS

In the 1980-1981 overview episode of our most recent season, we talked a bit about two midseason programs on CBS.  To be fair, many shows ended up as "midseason" debuts of sorts because of the writer strike we discussed, but this pair of sitcoms wasn't even in the "waiting in the wings" section of that season's TV Guide Fall Preview. 

Here is a vintage promo for the shows:

Each premiered April 6, 1981, but while Benjamin had some modest success, earning an Emmy for co-star Eileen Brennan and lasting parts of 3 seasons, Peter Cook's Two of Us was canceled a year later despite being retooled to add Tim Thomerson when it made the Fall 1981 schedule.

Here is a promo for the premieres of the two shows:

Monday, April 19, 2021

Murder, She Wrote Monday: Episode #3-4: One White Rose for Death

It's entirely possible for Murder, She Wrote to deliver a well-produced, professional, solid episode and for that same episode to leave me kind of flat. Such is the case with episode 4 of the third season, "One White Rose for Death," which suffers from being thematically similar to season 1's "Death Takes a Curtain Call." To be fair, in "real life," almost two years separated the two installments, while in "me watching the show on streaming today" time, it was way less.

"White Rose," like "Curtain Call," features a practitioner of the fine arts involved in Cold War/Communist Bloc intrigue and possible defection. Yet this episode lacks one key element of the earlier story: William Conrad! The former Cannon (and many other wonderful things) is one of the best guest stars of season 1 and is not approached by anyone in this season 3 show. Oh, "White Rose" has plenty of fine actors such as Bernard Fox, but it doesn't have a guest as fun as Conrad.

It's an interesting setup this time out. Jessica is attending a concert in Washington D.C. by a famed East German violinist (Jenny Agutter) and suddenly gets entangled in a situation with her old pal British agent Michael Hagerty (palpable sexual tension between Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, folks); they hole up in the British Embassy, where a murder is committed! The Embassy itself is a pretty cool set and the kind of thing you just don't see in Cabot Cove, yet by this point in season 3 I am anxious to get a Cove episode again.

There isn't anything wrong with this one--the art direction and the performances are impressive, and the mystery is fine--but it lacked something for me. I really do think it felt a bit too familiar overall after having seen the Conrad episode, which was more entertaining. This one is a reminder to me that I am not really watching MSW for quality television and airtight mysteries. I'm watching it for the entertainment value of the guest stars, and the ridiculousness Jessica finds herself in each time out. So while I admire the international intrigue and geopolitics of this episode, it falls short of top tier for me despite being probably the best-acted one I can remember seeing in some time.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Top Ten #116

1) It Takes Two: Thanks to one of the new members of our Facebook group, Trevor, for posting a link to the first epsiode of this short-lived Richard Crenna/patty Duke sitcom. it's worth a look if only for this theme song by BOTNS fave Paul Williams and Crystal Gayle!

2) Nipsey Russell: It's National Poetry Month, everyone! In my opinion, we haven't really had a decent poet laureate since Nipsey and maybe Leaping Lanny Poffo:

3) Fred Astaire: The AFI tribute special to the legend aired on this day in 1981.

4) WrestleRock Rumble: Because another of our Facebook group friends, Geno, mentioned this last week, and I never want to miss an excuse--uh, chance--to post this. Talk about POETRY!

5) Diana!: On April 18 1971, Diana Ross starred in her own special to promote a new solo album. along with guests Danny Thomas, The Jackson 5, and Bill Cosby. It's reportedly the first time Jacko, who did a Sinatra impersonation, performed solo on television.

6) Lineman Appreciation Day: Props to all the linemen out there:

7) Check It Out!: Not only is this show the talk of our group (Well, OK, I tried to make it happen, but would you believe it missed it by that much?), but the first season is on Pluto TV. This has to have one of the worst theme songs ever, a "try hard" attempt at 1980s-style rap that, unfortunately, sets the tone for the show:

8) Martin Short: He's a national treasure, I tell you--not my nation, but so what? Enjoy this clip the Carson estate posted this week:

9) National Columnists Day: We can't let this day go by without posting a pic of the great DVP as Thomas Bradford of the Sacramento Register!

10) Felix Silla: R.I.P.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

This Day in TV History: Farewell to The Brady Brides!

40 years ago, a nation already reeling from the assassination attempt on President Reagan, the recessionary economy, and the recent loss of North Carolina in the NCAA basketball championship game suffered one more setback as NBC broadcast the final episode of The Brady Brides.

Our extensive coverage of The Brady Bunch in our season 8 opener didn't have much time to cover all the spinoffs, but, well, Brides of them. I can't in good faith defend the effort, which put Marcia and Jan together as newlyweds who had to move in together with their respective husbands to afford a house of their own. Ann B. Davis reprised her role as Alice, but didn't live with the gals. She just hung out and cleaned up sometimes, I think. Florence Henderson became a semi-regular, too.

The series was conceived as a TV movie at first, but NBC, perhaps desperate for content in this strike-altered season, decided to split it up into "episodes" and run it as a multi-week event. Is there where HBO Max got its first ideas for the Snyder Cut?  The 3 half-hours did well on Friday night in February, so NBC went ahead with the regular series after a week's absence, but it only lasted a couple of months.

Barrry Williams' book Growing Up Brady and other sources imply that the success of the 3 split-up episodes instigated the regular series, but it seems likelier that they changed course during the production of the movie. Lloyd Schwartz indicated they really hustled to get a series on the air, and they must have because just two weeks after the opening "arc"/movie, they had a string of new episodes ready. 

Note that, as reviewer Stuart Galbraith points out in his take on the 2019 epic Brady DVD set:

 The ninety-minute reunion film featured the entire original cast (for the only time after the original series ended). It was shot on film and goes through the usual paces. However, after Marcia (Maureen McCormick) and Jan (Eve Plumb) actually get married and the show seems to be reaching its obvious conclusion, everything shifts in the last half-hour to the siblings' anticlimactic antics as newly marrieds, on a set that, suspiciously, looks like a standard three-camera sitcom family room. (The first hour of the show is a one-camera, 35mm job, like the original series.) My guess is that the show was originally conceived as a one-hour special, but then Schwartz talked the network into letting him add another 25 minutes that would serve as a backdoor pilot. Sure enough, the series that followed, The Brady Brides, was exactly that, a typical sitcom filmed before a studio audience. It lasted only seven episodes.

Whatever the case, the series didn't last, and while those involved blamed a network regime change and Grant Tinker not caring for the show, I think it's proof that apart from the original, audiences like one occasional dose of the Bradys more than repeated weekly ones. On numerous occasions, someone brought the gang back for a movie or special, got great ratings, and was then disappointed when the ensuing ongoing project didn't  stick. As far as I know, nobody went into a pool in this version of the Bradys, which makes it inferior to the infamous variety show.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Happy (early) birthday, Daffy Duck!

Multiple sources cite April 17 as Daffy Duck's birthday, but were gonna celebrate a day early!  The character debuted in Porky's Duck Hunt on this date in 1937 and went on to a great run in films and TV...sullied somewhat, IMHO, by his relegation to a stooge for Bugs Bunny after many of the most famous Chuck Jones Looney Tunes.

Let's celebrate this day with a look at Duck's underappreciated work as a spokesman for public service causes:

Daffy was a fixture on Saturday mornings for years and even had his own program for a while on NBC. Is that theme song inspired by the Wing and a Payer Drum Fife Corps version of "Baby Face"?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

We got a collective extension, but it's still Tax Day

 So why not watch two of the greats help us out?

Do you think the IRS had any trouble getting stations to run its PSAs? I doubt it! 

Looking at this 1977 spot with modern eyes, you can't help but lament the fact that two of the most innuendo-spouting performers of the era recorded a "clean" public service announcement. There's not even one suggestive comment about Rue helping Norman "get an extension." She says nothing when he uses the phrase "tax package." Sure, Fell's character makes a mild alimony joke, but it's rather tame. What a missed opportunity!