Thursday, April 22, 2021

Happy Earth Day and Happy Byron Allen Day!

It's also Byron Allen's birthday. The two have a lot in common. Both have been around for what seems like forever. Both are massive forces with their own gravitational pulls. Uh...both have been featured on NBC?

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!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

This Day in TV History: Celebrate Easter with the Berenstain Bears

Disclaimer: In our ongoing effort to avoid potentially divisive and/or controversial topics, we are in no way going to address the Mandela Effect and the chance that it may have been Berenstein Bears at one point.

On this day 40 years ago, NBC looked ahead to Easter (Is Easter the most variable holiday of them all? It's been a week and a half this year, but in 1981 it was the upcoming weekend) with this new original animated special,:

The special was third of 5 annual Berenstain bears cartoons aired during the "dark years" of NBC. I haven't seen it in a while, but it is not at all hard to find if you want to check it out (sorry for the flashback to yesterday's post, and the official Bears Facebook account has posted the video free for all to see.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hey, Check It Out, it's Don Adams' birthday!

One of the most fascinating yet underreported aspects of 1980s television is the off-network first-run sitcom. We talked about What a Country! a few seasons ago, and in our TBS episode we discussed Rocky Road, but there are so many more to remember or discover.

On what would have been the late Don Adams' birthday, take a look at his 1980s sitcom Check It Out! Apparently exclamation marks were big in the world of non-network sitcoms back then. Let's all revisit the Canadian series with this 1985 promo (Yes, we have to!):

This is filled with things that are supposed to look funny--no, make that zany--but don't really inspire confidence that the series itself is going to provoke laughter. As a result, I declare this promo an utter failure, but then they didn't have much to work with apart from star Adams' incredulous mugging at the "zany bunch of employees." That's right, folks, the USA Network voice-over guy really describes them as zany. Nice try, and no disrespect to the great Alan Kalter, but the promo copy is really straining to suggest ensuing hilarity.

It's amazing to me this show lasted 3 seasons and over 60 episodes. Produced in Canada for CTV, it made its way to the USA on, as this promo proclaims with pride, the USA Network. What a country, indeed.

The sitcom was an adaptation of Britcom Tripper's Day produced jointly by DLT Entertainment (the production company that hit it big with Three's Company) for the two networks, making this the best Canada/USA team-up since..uh, I dunno, something with Alpha Flight and the X-Men? In 1986 the reruns hit syndication, but while it aired on New York's Channel 5, I remembered it only as a USA show and totally forgot it was anywhere else.

I didn't forget the show itself, though...try as I might.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Murder, She Wrote Monday: Episode 3-3: Unfinished Business

One of my favorite performers of the early days of television is Don DeFore. Smooth and professional, he was a perfect foil for the titular Hazel and an enjoyable regular as Ozzie (of Ozzie and Harriet, natch) Nelson's neighbor Thorny. He even seemed polished in grittier work like movies Too Late for Tears and Southside 1-1000.

It was a big pleasant surprise to see him pop up in "Unfinished Business," a Murder, She Wrote that debuted October 12, 1986. For one thing, I don't remember him being in much at all post-Hazel, let alone 15 years after the fact. For another, his resort proprietor is kind of unkempt. Disheveled Don DeFore is not a frequent presence in my TV memory!

Just by existing in this one, he steals the whole thing from an impressive roster of character actors. Pat Hingle is prickly as a retired lawman trying to solve an old case, J.D. Cannon is the local lawman who gets involved when a new murder occurs at the lakeside cabin resort DeFore owns, and Lloyd Bochner is a doctor who may be involved somehow. All this plus Erin Moran and Hayley Mills!

What interests me is that, speaking of "that guys," series regular William Windom gets a little bit of a showcase for his Seth character.  Dr. Seth is of course Jessica's "close personal friend," and she works to clear him on some serious charges at this declining resort--but what secrets is Seth hiding? I like seeing Windom have a bit more to do than make sarcastic (yet genteel) comments about the idiots in Cabot Cove.

The woodsy setting is a nice change of pace, and the performances are fun, but the story is lacking.  The resolution is a real head scratcher that doesn't bring a satisfaction closure to everything. The plot is credited to longtime scribe Jackson Gillis, who knows what he's doing, but we had to try to cobble together an explanation that made some kind of sense. Maybe some key scenes were excised in post production.

But, hey, Don DeFore with stubble! Turns out this is his next-to-last role, followed only by an appearance on St. Elsewhere in 1987. I never expected to see him on Murder, and it points out the real joy of the show: the surprise of seeing who turns up each week.

Viewers in 1986 may have thrilled to a Tom Bosley/Erin Moran reunion. It's interesting to see Sheriff Tupper out of his jurisdiction, another nice change of pace.  I still think this episode could have been much better, but this was one where the guest cast carried the program and made it a solid outing.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Top Ten #115

1) Murder, She Wrote: Murder Monday debuted here on the site last week with a look at Jessica under the big top (as a lion tamer? a sword swallower? You will have to click here to find out) and will be back tomorrow!

2) Mason Reese: Here's a birthday that will make a lot of people feel old: Former child acting sensation and pitchman Reese is 55 today! As a treat, enjoy the failed TV pilot Mason uploaded by Reese himself! It's a total misfire, so much so that ABC burned it off on July 4 two years after its production:

3) Starsky & Hutch/Charlie's Angels/Partridge Family: These 3 are among the new old series just added to Tubi TV--or partially so. Pity the poor soul who has already torn through the first couple seasons of Charlie's Angels and now has to wait for season 3.

4) Police Story: Decades is having a marathon this weekend but not, much to our chagrin, showing the episode with Michael Learned.

5) Louise Lasser: Happy birthday to the star of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and also one of the most notorious episodes of Saturday Night Live.

6) Larry Holmes/Trevor Berbick: This fight for the WBC Heavyweight Champeenship of the world aired live on HBO on this day in 1981. I won;t reveal who wins (the fight is online if you want to watch it), but the bad blood lingered and led to this bizarre moment in 1991:

7) National 8-Track Tape Day: Rock on!

8) Crash Island: This NBC movie debuted 40 years ago tonight. The cast features a group of young actors, Warren Berlinger, and Meadowlark Lemon because he was everywhere!

9) Jem: The prices on these just-announced Super 7 action figures will likely be truly, truly outrageous, but they do look good:

10) Walter Olkewicz, Anne Beatts, james Hampton:  R.I.P. to all. 

Here's Olkewicz ducking out of Bill Tush's show to go bowling:

Beatts was responsible for so much comedy in the 1970s and 1980s, including of course the short-lived but fondly recalled Square Pegs:

Here's the late James Hampton in a 1970s spot:

Saturday, April 10, 2021

This Day in TV History: Two short-lived comedies debut on CBS

OK, these two interesting but failed sitcoms actually debuted 40 years ago yesterday, but you can understand why we wanted to give Digger Doyle the spotlight on Friday. So today let's look at the two programs that preceded that episode of Magnum P.I. on April 9, 1981.

At 8:00, CBS began the night with the premiere of Checking In, Marla Gibbs' spinoff from The Jeffersons.  Maid Florence becomes the "executive housekeeper" at a swank New York City hotel. The T.A.T. Communications (soon to be Embassy) program also featured Larry Linville as Gibbs' boss, who sounds like a classic Linville-style foil; and Liz Torres, but the most interesting regular to me is R&B singer Ruth Brown!

The series is rarely seen, though one episode made it onto the complete series set of The Jeffersons as a bonus feature. Gibbs returned to the flagship program after a paltry 4-episode run on the spinoff. That season's TV Guide Fall preview issue lists this one in the "In the Wings" section and says CBS calls the then-titled Marla Gibbs Show "a definite replacement series."

After Checking In, another sitcom appeared for the first time: Park Place with Harold Gould as a lawyer who runs a NYC clinic offering free legal aid. Of course the lawyers on staff are themselves in need of various forms of aid! It lasted a mere 5 episodes.

Brooks and Marsh's Complete Directory to Prime Time Shows says that Park Place was inspired by "urban gang comedies" like Barney Miller and Taxi. The capsule description amuses me with its rundown of all the character types who make up Gould's staff of young lawyers:

"Jeff O'Neil, the naive eager beaver; Howie beach, the status-seeking opportunist; Jo Keene, the aggressive women's libber; Mac MacRae, the wheelchair-ridden Black Vietnam veteran; and Brad Lincoln, the inexperienced young Harvard graduate trying to obtain some recognition from his peers. Frances, the efficient but spaced-out secretary; and Ernie, the hip receptionist, round out the cast."

That show must have written itself with such an array of rich characters!

One more note: This episode has one of the best behind-the-camera name combos ever. It was created by Reinhold Weege, whose Starry Night Productions later got a hit with Night Court; and directed by longtime vet and former The Bob Newhart Show star Peter Bonerz.

Friday, April 9, 2021

This Day in TV History: Magnum Meets Digger

Mike here taking a crack at the history books and a quick look back at one of our favorite episodes of one of our favorite shows, featuring two of our favorite stars! 

Forty years ago, the Magnum P.I episode "J. Digger Doyle" premiered on CBS, bringing together Tom Selleck and his magical mustache with BOTNS four-timer(!) Erin Gray. I don't like peanut butter, but if I did, I imagine the fabled mixing of chocolate and peanut butter might go over as well as this pairing. As a bonus, the episode includes a good deal of Orson Welles as the voice of Robin Masters.

Of course, we discussed the episode at length on the podcast. In short, some bad guys want to steal Robin Masters' latest manuscript, and Gray's Digger Doyle arrives in Hawaii as an at-first undercover security agent. Digger and Magnum go through a whole range of emotions together, and Gray and Selleck play them all with great ease.






Anger and betrayal

More ooh-la-la-la

More annoyance

Good times!

Some notable trivia courtesy Magnum Mania! (where they rate this episode number 11 in their top 40).

  • If things had worked out, this episode could have led to a Digger Doyle series for Gray. Alas, they didn't, and she went on to star in Silver Spoons, but we can dream.
  • The first use of Higgins' full name Jonathan Quayle Higgins III.
  • The first time TC called Higgins Higgy-Baby.
  • The episode complicates but--at least according to Magnum Mania!--doesn't put the kibosh on the Higgins is really Robin theory.
If you haven't seen the episode, we give it our highest recommendation! Rick has his dreams about making Ed McMahon a BOTNS five-timer, but personally, I'm more interested in finding a way to give Erin Gray that "honor." 

Hmm. Maybe we can find an episode of TV's Blooper's and Practical Jokes featuring Gray and Bill Lucking and make everyone happy!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

This Day in TV History: Hardhat and Legs (1980)

On this night 40 years ago, CBS' Wednesday Night Movie was an encore presentation of 1980's Hardhat and Legs.  Yes, this movie is exactly what you think. Here is the summary from Google:

An amorous construction worker begins a complicated and humorous romance with an attractive sex-education teacher.

The stars are Kevin Dobson and Sharon Gless. Can you guess which one plays the construction worker and which one the attractive sex ed teacher?

IMDB fleshes it out a bit more. Gless' character is a socilaite, and Dobson's hardhat has a gambling problem.

Co-written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin (yes, that Gordon and Kanin; this was the first movie they wrote together since 1952's The Marrying Kind), this sounds so lovable in its old-fashioned title and premise. For what it's worth, it receives several positive viewer reviews on IMDB, and it must have done something right if CBS reran it a year and change after its February 1980 debut.

it does sound a little dated, though, doesn't it? But that didn't define CBS in 1981. Let's look at what preceded it on April 8, 1981.  OK, it's an episode of Enos titled...uh, "The Shaming of the Shrew." Never mind!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A word on Warner Archive

There is a lot of ambiguity about the status of Warner Archive. Oh, it's cranking out Blu-Rays in 2021 and probably into 2022, but as for its viability as a long-term concern, no one is really sure in the wake of the WB shop website (which was run by a third party for years) and the layoff/reassignment of key employees like George Feltenstein.  There are reports that Feltenstein, the heart of the division, is a consultant with the company, but when answering listener mail on the recent final podcast, he couldn't give an emphatic reassurance that WA would continue to thrive.

Why am I bringing all this up? Well, the fact that it was the final podcast is concerning. I will miss the guys and their insight into not only new releases from the WA, but also home video in general and film restoration.

Unfortunately, for quite some time now, Warner Archive has concentrated on Blu-Ray upgrades, apparently in conjunction with an ongoing restoration and preservation effort for the vast Warner Library and the need for product for HBO Max. That is spawning a lot of great discs, but the "unfortunate" part is a good deal of  the original mission of the WA was to put stuff out on DVD with an MOD model that put all kinds of obscurities into the hands of consumers.

The television-on-dvd efforts led to a lot of long-buried shows from the BOTNS era seeing a little daylight. I admit I found the Archive prices a little much for many of the shows which would have been blind buys for me, but I was an enthusiastic (albeit ultimately disappointed as the company abandoned it) supporter of Warner Archive Instant, a wildly idiosyncratic streaming on demand service scrapped when Warner gained a corporate parent that didn't want to deal with it.  That led to Filmstruck, which scraped away most of the rarer movies and TV shows, and then that was killed off.

One of the shows that the guys at WA championed early was Search, one of our favorite shows of the era and partial inspiration for our podcast. I watched that on Warner Archive Instant along with programs like Flo, Beyond Westworld, The Man from AtlantisThe Jimmy Stewart Show, The Practice (1976), Harry O, Bronk... Good luck finding any of those on HBO Max.  That's not even including the TV movies on there (and on DVD through the archive) and the pre-1970 series like Dr. Kildare, Cain's Hundred, The Man from Shenandoah, and Maya

Where is all this stuff now? Still in the Warner vaults. Mr. Novak season 1 came out several years ago, and season 2 doesn't seem to be on the horizon as WA concentrates on animation and more recent fare. It's good that something like Head of the Class is remastered for disc and for HBO Max, but I miss the days when you could get something like McLain's Law out of nowhere. There are so many BIG WB shows not on streaming right now that I don't think we'll ever get the smaller ones. The final Warner Archive podcast is another reminder of all the stuff we won't get to see anymore, but at least most of these shows I mentioned here are still available on good, old DVD...for now.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

By popular demand (sort of): More on I''m a Big Girl Now

Friend of the show Dann mentioned on our Facebook group that the short-lived 1980-1981 sitcom I'm a Big Girl Now also included Sheree North and Marty Short. Well, one of them makes the cut in this TV Guide Fall preview close-up:

In the absence of actual full episodes to watch, I can only conclude that the best thing about this show is that it gave Ernie Anderson a reason to say 'I'm a big girl now!" The pro he is, Anderson emphasizes the word big each time he recites the title.

Here's another promo, this one for an episode premiere 40 years ago this Saturday:

Monday, April 5, 2021

Murder, She Wrote Monday: Episodes 3-1 and 3-2: Death Stalks the Big Top

My antennae go up whenever an hourlong TV show has a two-parter. Sometimes it leads to a gem, but often it means stretching out a single-episode with filler. Sometimes a radical change in the show's premise or an expansion of the milieu warrants more time--we will see an example later this season--but does "Jessica goes to the circus" really need a two-parter?

The short answer is no, but "Death Stalks the Big Top" is a fun outing nonetheless. It doesn't really take advantage of the traveling circus theme, though, even with the extra running time, and here's one big waste: How in the world do you have BOTNS fave Greg Evigan as a guest star and not have him sing?

The episode has a bizarre structure: We start in Washington D.C. as Jessica arrives in town for the wedding of her niece (a young Courtney Cox). On a flimsy pretext, Jessica flies right back out of there to track down a relative (this is all on late hubby Frank's side)  presumed dead. I think she just wants to get away from her niece's snooty, annoying family, but Jessica has a mission that takes her into the world of the circus and of course gets her involved with a murder and an obnoxious small-town D.A. (Ronny "No relation to Courtney" Cox).

The main guest star is Jackie Cooper, who is likable enough and gets some showcase scenes.  The circus is really more like a carnival, and we are supposed to think of them as tight-knit carnies who don't like outsiders. There is some family intrigue, an annoying kid, and MURDER!

Here is the best reason to see this episode: In order to get a foothold in the closed-off circus community, Jessica "goes undercover" as a local general store owner. To get in character, she dons outlandish clothes and some kind of Southern accent. It works--both to get an "in" and to double me up with laughter. Even before season 3, my better half and I enjoyed joking about Jessica's endless array of nieces and nephews, so we had a good laugh about that, but nothing tops that glorious scene.

I haven't mentioned guests Marty Balsam, Florence Henderson, and Laraine Day, who seem underused even in a two-parter, but Gregg Henry has a nice juicy part as one of the local law enforcers. Did this need to be a two-parter? No, it didn't, but it's entertaining enough even if lacking the showcase Evigan performance for which you keep waiting.

Next time on Murder, She Wrote Monday: William "Seth" Windom gets a run for his "That guy" money, and one of my favorite old-school actors makes a surprise appearance.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Top Ten #114

1) It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown: Happy Easter, everyone! It's time for me to revisit this one for the first time in years now that it's on Apple Plus--much like I finally saw the Valentine's Day special again this year. Next on the clock is the Arbor Day show, so come through for us, Apple!

2) Fred Astaire: With all due respect to Chuck Brown, that special is Snoopy-centric, so I consider Astaire, the narrator and host of The Easter Bunny Is Coming to Town, to be "Mr. Easter."

3) Johnny Carson: How about another look at the suave Carson as host of the Academy Awards, which we mention on our bonus episode this week?

4) The Bermuda Depths: This Rankin-Bass live-action TV movie had about 5 different release dates listed for its new Blu-Ray release, but I am pretty sure it's out now. The off-kilter fantasy doesn't have Fred Astaire, but it does have Connie Sellecca!

5) Here Comes Peter Cottontail: This other Rankin-Bass Easter special premiered on this day in 1971. It was hosted by Danny Kaye, not Fred Astaire.

6) Nancy McKeon: Happy birthday!

7) Vitamin C Day: Celebrate with a nice glass of orange juice!

8) Godzilla and King Kong: The two stars face off this week in the new HBO Max premiere film, but they had their showcase programs back in the day (to say nothing of the underseen Godzilla vs. King Kong vs. Fred Astaire). Remember the big presentation of the 1976 Kong film on NBC:

And of course the King of the Monsters had his own NBC cartoon series:

9) Police Woman: Decades is running a marathon this weekend, but sadly not showing the one with Michael Lerner. Nor is there an episode with Fred Astaire on the docket.

10) Craig T. Nelson: Happy birthday! Here's a glimpse of the 1984 Call to Glory:

Saturday, April 3, 2021

This Day in TV History: Friday, April 3, 1981

Today we take another look at TV 40 years ago via the TV Guide from the Dallas/Fort Worth area for that week. Let's go back to Friday, April 3, 1981, and see what was happening.

What better way to start this post--nay, the weekend--than with a hilarious hour of comedy?

ABC followed that with 1979 TV movie Vampire. In her weekly look at TV movies in this issue, Judith Crist refers to the production's "only distinction--beyond wasted talents--being that Richard Lynch's handsome vampire is a blond hailing from Hungary instead of a brunet from Transylvania."

Nothing else warranted a display ad nor close-up on this Friday night. NBC offered Harper Valley P.T.A., The Brady Brides, Nero Wolfe, and its time filler--uh, public affairs program NBC Magazine with David Brinkley.

CBS was the big dog on Fridays in 1981, and on this night it had new episodes of The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard, and of course Dallas.

Here's an interesting "Remember this was 1981" note: At 11:00 Central time, so midnight on the East coast, CBS was scheduled to air an NBA Western Conference playoff game! Well, at least it wasn't tape delayed. Looking back at the schedule, this must have been either the Rockets and the Lakers or the Suns and the Kansas City Kings.

ABC had an episode of Fridays with Father Guido Sarducci and Jefferson Starship, and on NBC late night, Skip Stephenson and Byron Allen hosted a Midnight Special with guests CCR and Waylon Jennings, plus for some reason a look at ABC series Vega$. A little earlier on channel 11, viewers at 10:00 got a chance to see one of the most famous TV episodes of all time:

Friday, April 2, 2021

This Day in TV History: Thursday, April 2, 1981

With the aid of the same TV Guide we used in this week's bonus episode, let's look at what happened on the airwaves 40 years ago today--Thursday, April 2, 1981:

Perhaps the biggest event is the premiere of a short-lived but acclaimed TV show that has come up on the podcast several times. It's Michael Lerner--wait, no, it's Michael Learned--in the debut of Nurse:

The only NBC program to get a display ad is My Father, the Circus King, a special showcasing famed tiger trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus.  The documentary is through the eyes of his son, and the special is under NBC's Project Peacock banner promoting specials aimed at young audiences.

On ABC, there's a new look to Thursday night's lineup, as this ad tells us:

As we mentioned yesterday in our Show Notes for this week's bonus episode, the attempted assasination of Ronald Reagan earlier in the week had caused pre-emptions. One of them was this scheduled episode of Mork, and you can see why when you see the capsule:

Remember that this is a Dallas/Fort-Worth edition, and so the times are Central.  You can see here that CBS had a cool-sounding episode of Magnum leading in to that Nurse premiere. Preceding that, on The Waltons, John-Boy is promised a job at the university "if he can create a television department." I want to see that one!

NBC had a two-hour Flamingo Road after the circus special. ABC followed its leadoff comedies with Barney Miller, Taxi, and a 20/20 with Geraldo Rivera reporting on terrorism from the Middle East.

Elsewhere on the dial, the PBS affiliate, channel 13, had Sneak Previews, Paper Chase, and a National Geographic spotlighting the National Parks. Outside prime time, independent station channel 39 had a Wonder Woman rerun with Joan Van Ark and Ted Shackelford! At the same time on channel 21, Yvonne Craig guested on The Wild Wild West.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Show Notes: TV Guide Game (March 30, 1981 listings)

*Here is a look at the cover of the issue we use for this week's game: The March 28-April 3, 1981 Dallas-Fort Worth edition. Specifically we look at  Monday, March 30.

*The video playlist for this episode is right here! It's worth it just to hear Ernie Anderson ask, what's up with Pat Benatar?

*Special shout to our listeners in the Central time zone!

*The assassination attempt on President Ronald Regan occurred at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and network coverage of the ongoing events pre-empted much of the scheduled programming.

*The Bugs Bunny Easter Special premiered April 7, 1977 and was bumped for news coverage on this night. CBS resumed programming at 9. The show had a storyline about the Easter Bunny being ill and showed selections from 10 different classic toons like Rabbit of Seville and Robin Hood Daffy.

*The MASH episode was one that was pre-empted by coverage of the President Reagan situation. According to this site, the original episode, "The Life You Save," was replaced with one that did not deal with a sniper attacking the camp. "Life" eventually ran May 4.

*The Lou Grant episode, a rerun, is the fourth-season opener, "Nightside." You can catch it in the aforementioned video playlist.

*The NCAA final is Indiana beating North Carolina 63-50, led by future Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. The NCAA made the decision to play just 30 minutes before scheduled tipoff, and the game started a bit late.

*The Sportsworld boxing showcase on NBC featured Chris McDonald, a Silver medalist, stopping Steve McDonald on the undercard of an Atlantic City event from Bob Arum headlined by Bobby Czyz and also featuring future heavyweight contender Tony Tucker.

*Show Business is a pilot for a new magazine program; in some markets it would air after the Oscars. 

*The 53rd Academy Awards were moved to the enxt night and were indeed scheduled for a 10pm EST start.

*It appears that after Wendy and Me and before The Sunshine Boys,  Oh, God! George Burns was not a regular presence on TV. After the success of Oh, God!, he was a fixture, appearing often on all 3 networks and in 1985 presenting the anthology George Burns Comedy Week.

*Speaking of Rona Barrett, as we do in this episode, Tomorrow was pre-empted Monday night because the original episode was looking at the influence of gangs on Reagan's cabinet (?) according to that same MASH site.

*Here's a little dose of culture if you aren't into the options Mike chose:

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Women's History Month: 10 shows we'd like to see streaming or on DVD

In honor of Women's History Month, I compiled yet another list of unavailable (for the most part) TV shows from the 1970s and 1980s that should be available on streaming or DVD.  The guidelines are the same as last month's Black History month post, but these shows are fronted by female leads. The following programs are unavailable on the major streaming services in the USA (unofficial uploads to sites like YouTube and DailyMotion are welcome but do not count) and have not received official DVD/Blu-Ray releases. Here we go:

Amy Prentiss This was on our radar even before the passing of star Jessica Walter last week, but i bet a lot of people reading her obituaries thought, "Wait, she won her Emmy for what, now?" I recently heard Cy Chernak suggest that this Ironside spinoff was ripped off by Prime Suspect.  In the series, the Emmy-and-Batty 9for a different project)-winning Walter becomes head of the SFPD and meets a lot of resistance.  Also starring Art Metrano! Only several episodes, but it could get plunked on Peacock or packaged with other NBC Mystery Movie selections.

All's Fair: Not all Norman Lear shows have been part of the national consciousness. I don't expect to see a live recreation of one of these episodes anytime soon.  I'd like to see a good, old original episode of it, though. The concept seems to be from another century now, and that's because it is! Bernadette Peters and Richard Crenna are liberal/conservative newspeople who are separated by age and background as well as political beliefs. It also stars Michael Keaton and Jack Dodson.

Madame's Place: Let's not minimize the significance of Madame just because she was Puppet-American. This show is high on camp value but low on exposure in the last, what, 30-some years? I imagine it would have an instant cult following were it made available, but perhaps clearances make it impossible.

Double Trouble: I get a rush of nostalgia whenever I see a snippet of or promo of this 1980s NBC sitcom which had a seemingly endless rerun stint on USA Network soon after its original run. The Sagal twins starred, but stalwarts Donnelly Rhodes and Barbara Barrie were also in the cast along with scene stealers Jonathan Schmock and (future Arrested Development  creative force) Jim Valelly.

This is kind of a limbo show in that no one runs it anymore yet I bet it would have high, "Ohhh, yeah, THAT show!" factor among children of the Eighties. It was an unexceptional sitcom about teenage life, but the twins were charming enough to make the show worth another look.

Jeannie: How about a cartoon for our list? I Dream of Jeannie has never been out of syndication and is frequently a national presence on cable or on diginets, but this animated spinoff is way out of circulation. The series ran only one season of originals and subbed Julie McWhirter for Barbara Eden; in fact the entire cast was replaced and Jeannie "served" a teen surfer voiced by Mark Hamill.

Flying High: Anything with two-time Batty Award winner Connie Sellecca should be available, says I.

Gimme a Break!: Nell Carter's star vehicle is barely mentioned today but was one of NBC's more bankable shows during its grim pre-Cosby years. This show was a rerun staple in the 1980s. Yes, Antenna TV has carried it in recent years, and other stations, too, and, yes, it got a DVD release years ago. But the DVDs are out of print, and I feel that this series just isn't talked about as much as one would think a family-friendly 6-season, 137-episode sitcom would be.  Hey, networks, looking for a throwback Black-themed sitcom and don't want to carry Cosby's stuff? Here's an option!

The Late Show with Joan Rivers Not to be confused with That Show with Joan Rivers, a more obscure talk show that has received exposure in the streaming era, probably by virtue of being fortunate enough to be available enough to be released by someone who is motivated to do something with old shows. Rivers was an excellent host, and while the work of her friend-turned-foe Johnny Carson is all over the place these days (and I'm glad for it), you have to scour YouTube for examples of Rivers' highest-profile pre-E! years series. It's worthy of more attention than just the infamous falling out with the King of Late Night.

Tracey Ullman Show: It deserves to be remembered for more than just being the launching pad of The Simpsons. Ullman has had, what, a dozen shows with some variation of her name in the title? This is the one I'd like to revisit, one of the flagship early Fox Network programs.

Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters: I'm sure it's impossible, but the Mandrells were huge in the early Eighties.  Music, comedy, and more were the hallmarks of this variety series that ended too soon when Babs stepped out of the singing life to rest her voice. It was maybe the last of the big primetime network variety shows, and it was a solid performer for NBC on Saturday nights at a time when it didn't have a lot of hits. Plus it had Krofft puppets!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The TV Guide Game March 30, 1981

This week, we go back 40 years for the TV Guide game to March 30, 1981, when a major historical event disrupted the TV schedule. Rick tries to guess what Mike would have watched from the originally planned schedule, and we ponder a number important questions raised by the schedule and the day's events.

Check out this episode!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Top Ten #113

1) Jessica Walter: We salute the late great Walter, who won two Battys for her portrayal of Morgan le Fay in Dr. Strange

2) Leonard Nimoy: Speaking of Batty winners, Season 8 superstar Nimoy is getting a statue outside Boston's Museum of Science. Let's hope it's too big for Columbo to pick up and slam on his desk.

3) William Shatner: We can't let our guy Bill be overshadowed by Leonard, can we? Props to the living legend, who celebrated his 90th (!) birthday this week. Also, check out this cool article about one of his 1970s guest shots.

4) The Fall Guy: Decades has a weekend-long marathon because what better way to celebrate the arrival of Spring than by watching dozens of episodes of Fall?

5) Play It Again, Charlie Brown: You may be getting ready for the Easter Beagle, and don't you worry, sports fans, that special is making the list next weekend, but  tonight in 1971, CBS premiered this one, which centers on Schroeder! It doesn't appear that Apple Plus is going to show this one, but it is available on home video and can be found if you look around online.

6) Album Tracks: After seeing this great segment from this rock-oriented show that aired on NBC Owned & Operated stations, I want to see more! Check our pre-MTV Bob Pittman and Lee Masters here:

7) The 1980s "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers: You may have known that HBO was producing a television  series based on the glamour team of the fantastic NBA Eighties, but did you know Michael Chiklis and Adrian Brody were slated to play Red Auerbach and Pat Riley? I just found out, and I can't wait to see this.

8) Betty Buckley: The former star of Eight Is Enough (and, OK, many other things) was on The Carson Podcast this week, and also, 40 years ago, the show spotlighted her (and Grant Goodeve) singing in a special epsiode as the family somehow had to do a telethon Joanie organized for "Unified Charities."

9) George Segal: R.I.P. The bulk of his TV series work came after our era, but he was a frequent presence on the small screen throughout his career. He starred in the short-lived 1987 series Take Five:

10) Richard Gilliand: Shout-out as well to the veteran actor known for shows like Designing Women.

Friday, March 26, 2021

This Day in TV History: The biggest detective show premiere ever?

50 years ago tonight, the pilot movie for Cannon premiered on CBS. William Conrad's rotund detective may not get the critical or popular love that a character like Columbo does, but give him credit: The series proper premiered Fall 1971 and went on for 5 seasons and 122 episodes, a great run.

The show still doesn't get much respect.  Yes, it had a high-profile run on TV Land when that channel launched...but the promos often mocked Frank Cannon's size:

Yes, the complete series is on DVD, but CBS licensed it out to VEI, which issued a set that, whole complete and lacking major problems, is workmanlike and unrestored. You can judge whether that's actually appropriate for the series.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Happy birthday, Haywood Nelson!

Happy birthday to Mr. Nelson, born this day in 1960. He's best known as the naive but good-hearted Dwayne Nelson on What's Happening!! but also has a regular spot on Grady and was in numerous commercials. But did he ever have a finer moment than this?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

And now a word from their sponsor: Lauren Bacall for High Point coffee (1982)

Even though she has a pleasant demeanor in this ad, even though she is (for the most part) smiling the whole time, even though I know she is making an effort to sell me something...Lauren Bacall scares the bejeezus out of me in this commercial.

But I like it! I don't drink coffee, but I am not going to argue with Ms. Bacall!

Can you imagine the glare some idiot would have received if he asked on set, "You know how to derink coffee, don't you? You just put your lips together...and slurp."

Thanks to prolific uploader EWJXN for this clip

Monday, March 22, 2021

Introducing Murder, She Wrote Mondays on BOTNS!

I have a confession to make: After doing prep for our Murder, She Wrote episode, I became-well, not hooked on the show, exactly, but let's just say in my household, we are enamored with our ritual of watching an episode of Murder, She Wrote every Monday--because the show and day start with the same letter, you see--and then committing a real-life murder afterwards.

Just kidding about that last part! What I like to do afterwards is tell my co-conspirator Mike about why the episode was so cool (it almost always is), though I usually wait until the next day to let the episode simmer.

Is the long-running Angela Lansbury vehicle a "great" show? Well, I don't know, but it is a fun show.  The ridiculous plots, the bucolic yet shady Cabot Cove, the endless parade of relatives who get embroiled in murder...It's all great, and that's not even mentioning the show's best asset: Its weekly lineup of guest stars, many of whom are figures we have praised on this very podcast for their work in other vintage television programs.

So now, because Mike suggested it--blame him if you don't like it, but don't blame Amos Tupp-AH, who is a humble lawman just doing his job--I will share these thoughts each Monday with you. We'll start with season 3 since, well, I saw those earlier episodes a while ago.

Here's what you will not get in Murder, She Wrote Monday posts:
*Comprehensive plot summaries
*Video clips
*Detailed production notes and histories

Here's what you will get:

I expect most posts will be focused on something that strikes me about each episode--a guest star, a line of dialogue, an accent, etc. Hopefully we will all have fun with this.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Top Ten #112

1) Charlie's Angels: The original pilot movie for the series debuted on this date in 1976. Critics, academics, and social workers hailed it as the dawn of a new era in television, one that would prove there was room for thoughtful depictions of the human condition and not just simple entertainment appealing to prurient interests.

2) National Single Parent Day: Who is your favorite TV single parent? I mean ones that we know of; I'm assuming that Vicki form Small Wonder didn't get knocked up in high school.

Here's one we haven't talked about much on the site:

3) The Greatest American Hero: Yes, it's time for another shout for one of our favorites, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this past week!

4) The White Shadow: It's a timely marathon on Decades as March Madness gets into gear this weekend and the channel runs 43 episodes of the CBS show we discussed in our first season.

5) Gunsmoke and Mission Impossible: Congrats to the two series for their nominatons for Best Box Set in the Home Entertainment Media Play Awards.  I thought the MI Complete Series box was huge until I saw the Gunsmoke Complete Series box, which I think can be used as a fallout shelter after you remove the discs.

6) Frances McDormand: Congratulations to the former Leg Work actress on her Academy Award nomination for Best Actress!

7) National Countdown Day: Anyone remember short-lived music video countdown show Hot!? It aired in first-run syndication in 1984.  Here's a great summary of what it was about, and here is a clip of the program:

8) Battlestar Galactica (the original, natch) and Buck Rogers: Both series launched on Tubi this week.

9) Hill Street Blues: The episode NBC aired this night in 1981 is titled "I Never Promised You a Rose, Marvin," and I have to admit I am still laughing at that.

10) Yaphet Kotto: R.I.P.  Kotto didn't do a ton of regular series TV work until Homicide in 1993, but he was nominated for an Emmy for his role as Idi Amin in 1977's NBC movie Raid on Entebbe (not to be confused with 1976's ABC movie Victory at Entebbe):

He also starred in 1983's short-lived For Love and Honor:

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Looking at the latest issue of RetroFan magazine

 It's time for another unsolicited plug for my favorite pop culture magazine out there right now, TwoMorrows' bimonthly RetroFan! The current issue, with cover stars Mark Goddard and Marta Kristen from Lost in Space, has a lot of interest to 70s and 80s TV fans, including:

*A look at Bob Crane's oft-forgotten career as a superstar radio personality (Hey, The Bob Crane Show was in 1975...and Hogan's at least ended in 1971).

*Andy Mangels' comprehensive history of Dynomutt and Blue Falcon.  Mangels has become my favorite regular in the mag; his stuff always delivers!

*Will Murray's look at the not-so-clear origins of Archie Andrews.

*A look at 1970s Partridge Family trading cards.

In addition to that and the Lost in Space coverage, you get amusing pieces on generic products (trust me, it's very entertaining), the World Famous San Diego Zoo (itself a fixture of 70s and 80s pop culture, though more on that is coming in part 2 next time), and more!

I have seen the magazine at Barnes and Noble, but it's always available in print and digital online. Check it out, and tell 'em BOTNS sent you!

Friday, March 19, 2021

National Poultry Day: Wheel...of...CHICKEN!

Let's celebrate by playing WHEEL OF CHICKEN with Frank Perdue:

Well, actually, I guess the point is that if you buy his product, you don't have to play Wheel of Chicken. But doesn't it look kind of fun to spin it and take your chances?

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Happy 40th birthday to "The Greatest American Hero!"

On March 18, 1981, The Greatest American Hero premiered on ABC with its two-hour pilot. We covered the show in our most recent season and loved revisiting it so much that we gave it multiple Battys. As we mention on the podcast, the series is easy to find streaming for free, so you have no excuse! Go watch it!

50 years ago tonight, NBC ended its prime time with an original Arte Johnson special titled--you guessed it--Ver-r-r-y Interesting. It was produced by the same team that did Laugh-In and featured guests like Bing Crosby, Elke Sommer, Billy de Wolfe, and Joe Flynn.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Happy St. Patrick's Day from BOTNS!

Today it will be nice to celebrate with a Shamrock Shake. I don't care how "authentic" it is, I don't even care how 'good" it is, and I certainly don't care how healthy it is. I just want one!

Does anyone else miss Uncle O'Grimacey? I guess he went out with the Irish urban beat cop.

The Shamrock Shake debuted in 1970 and was reportedly lemon lime, though I refuse to believe that. I hope to get some minty goodness today even though, like so many other things in life, the treat itself ain't what it used to be.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

This Day in TV History: Project Peacock presents Donahue and the Kids

NBC had a rough 1980-1981 season after a promising start led by Shogun, but it produced acclaimed work. Project Peacock was a series of prime time specials aimed at kids. 

Perhaps the most famous of them is January 1982's The Electric Grandmother, based on Ray bradbury's I Sing the Body Electric. Other specials include How to Eat Like a Child with Dick Van Dyke and The Big Stuffed Dog by Charles M. Schulz. The latter is the saga of a stuffed Snoopy--an adventure featuring Abe Vigoda, Noah Beery Jr., Gordon Jump, and Robert Ginty!

40 years ago tonight, the second of the series, Donahue and Kids debuted. Phil Donahue talked with kids who confronted lige-threatening illnesses in this hourlong program, which won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program.

The ideas of Donahue doing his regular show with a bunch of kids sounds funny, but this was a serious topic; the focus was on Gerald G. Jamplonsky's Center for Attiudinal Hearing, a California institute devoted to teaching kids positive thinking.

Monday, March 15, 2021

This Day in TV History: Robert Forster IS Banyon!

50 years ago tonight, Banyon premiered on NBC. The Robert Forster P.I. series (it was written especially with him in mind) lasted a mere 16 episodes but still sounds cool.

After this airing of the two-hour pilot, the series made the Fall 1972 schedule for Fridays at 10:00 P.M. but was off the air by the end of January 1973. Martin was brought on after the movie, which must explain the year-and-a-half gap before the series proper began. Forster was the only cast member to make it to the regular series, which co-starred Joan Blondell and Richard Jaeckel.

Less than a year ago, to mark the late Forster's birthday, we picked this series as a "What We'd Like to See," and it still has that status! Here is a great post summarizing the original movie and recounting how original creator Ed Adamson was apparently edged out by Martin. The author calls the role, at least in the pilot, a rare misfire of a performance by Forster, but I am still intrigued.

The Quinn Martin show set in 1930s Los Angeles is controlled by Warner Brothers but presumably has some kind of issue preventing it from home video release. I don't think the show even made it to the dearly departed Warner Archive Instant streaming service.