Archive for the 'US TV' Category

04
Mar
13

Dragons: Riders of Berk arrives on UK TV

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There was some good news at the weekend for British fans of 2010’s animated film, How to Train Your Dragon, as the TV spin-off arrived on the Cartoon Network.

Dragons: Riders of Berk picks up a short time after the events of the Dreamworks film, when (and this is a spoiler if you haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon) the Vikings of Berk and their dragon neighbours are living in harmony.

Well, as harmoniously as can be expected when you’re talking about flying beasties that breathe fire.

Now it’s up to the humans to stop killing the dragons and train them to help them in their daily chores, with the first double bill of episodes neatly reminding fans what had gone before while informing newbies what they’ve missed.

The young voice cast from the film has been retained for the TV series, including Jay Baruchel as lead Hiccup, while the adult actors are now Americans pretending to be Scottish as Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson are off doing bigger things.

Thomas Wilson (Biff from the Back to the Future series) is Bucket while ex-Doctor Who David Tennant is also due to pop-up in a future episode as Spitelout Jorgenson, recreating his role from the movie.

The series retains the computer generated look of the feature film and much of John Powell’s terrific score, a soundtrack I’ve been listening to regularly for a few years now. Composer John Paesano joins the series for weekly scoring duties.

Two seasons have been commissioned and 40 episodes are in the works, with season two to be called Defenders of Berk. Season one began in the US in August 2012 so we’re a bit behind, but judging by these first episodes it’s a programme worth sticking with and I can’t wait to follow the adventures of Hiccup, Toothless and co.

We’re also promised two new feature films in 2014 and 2016, meaning the How to Train Your Dragon franchise should be a long and fruitful one, something worth celebrating in this world of soulless sequels.

Dragons: Riders of Berk airs on the Cartoon Network on Saturdays at 10.30am and 6.30pm.

27
Sep
12

Introducing Cannell Channel Day

“I sit down and I try really hard to do something I’d want to go home and watch myself. How could I know what 30 million people want? I didn’t, but I know what Steve Cannell wants. If I sat in a screening room looking at an hour of television that was really good I’d go “yes, that’s what we’re trying to do!” Stephen J Cannell, Pioneers of Television

Stephen J Cannell was the guy who brought us such TV classics as The A-Team, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, Hunter, Wiseguy and The Greatest American Hero back in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Here are a few more of his series to jog your memory:

Cannell knew he wasn’t writing Shakespeare but he also knew that popular hour-long dramas didn’t have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. He entertained the masses and is still doing so years after his biggest hits have left prime time TV schedules, these days through DVD releases, cable channel reruns and YouTube clips.

Sadly, Stephen J Cannell passed away on 30 September 2010 at the age of 69, soon after a film adaptation of The A-Team had hit cinemas and a 21 Jump Street adaptation was being mulled over in another part of Hollywood.

I’ve written on this blog before about Cannell’s influence on my life and my love of TV and film, with one of my earliest memories involving the watching of The Greatest American Hero on Australian TV in 1982, at the age of five. Those memories mainly involve Ralph (William Katt) flying into walls and hearing the incredibly catchy theme tune over and over again…

With The A-Team pulling in audiences around the globe during the mid-80s, Cannell cemented the reputation he’d built up with his earlier award-winning drama, The Rockford Files, as one of the most successful, and most prolific, creator/writer/producer/directors in the business.

He not only made deals with the networks to make his shows, he made a deal with the viewer. We gave him an hour of our time and he gave us some dramatic, funny, smart, knowing and memorable TV in return. Everyone was a winner.

OK, so what’s the point of this lengthy preamble?

Well, with Sunday marking the second anniversary of Cannell’s passing, I wanted to celebrate his life by rewatching some old episodes of his TV series, as I’ve got a fair few in the house…

Part of my Cannell collection

Part of my Cannell collection

But, in this age of social media (if Cannell was making The A-Team now you could probably tweet the guys for help), I realised I could spread the word a bit further than my living room, alerting a few others to the fact that Sunday is a day for sticking on an episode of a Cannell production, effectively tuning it into the Cannell Channel for 50 minutes.

As a result, I’ll be sending out a few tweets from now until Sunday using the #cannellchannel hashtag, advising that anyone with a passing interest in Stephen J Cannell take some time to remember his legacy by creating their own Cannell Channell.

Perhaps you have The A-Team on DVD (TV show or film) or fancy downloading an episode from iTunes, have Netflix in the US to watch The Rockford Files or want to sample an episode of his series via YouTube, including:

Then simply tweet your thoughts on the show using the #cannellchannel hashtag or leave a comment below, including suggestions for any other videos worth checking out. On the off chance that anyone who worked with Cannell is reading this, please feel free to leave a memory of him in the comments.

You can also find out more about Cannell over on IMDb or hear him discuss his career on the excellent Archive of American Television website.

In the event that nobody else wants to join in on Sunday I’ll watch a few episodes of Cannell series I haven’t got around to yet, mainly from the Prime Time Crime Collection.

Of course I do hope a few others can find the time to remember Cannell, after all I love it when a plan comes together…

07
Aug
12

The Search for Fraggle Rock

It shouldn’t happen to a TV show. The result of months of work by a team of professionals, who then pass it on to a broadcaster to transmit to a few million viewers who then (hopefully) embrace it to their collective bosoms, a great TV programme should then be allowed to retire to an archive somewhere, occasionally receiving visitors in the shape of satellite channels or a DVD company.

In the case of Fraggle Rock, Jim Henson’s 1980s series which brought weird puppets and conflict resolution to teatime telly, something seems to have gone badly wrong in those archives.

Henson’s dream was to have series that appeared to be small-scale to the casual observer, but which underneath was a complex network of international co-production deals and filming schedules. The theory was that children would react better to a series made in their language and with references they understood.

Each episode would start in the “real” world with some business about an old man called The Captain (Fulton Mackay) living in Fraggle Rock lighthouse with his dog, Sprocket. After a few minutes the scene would then switch to an underground world of Fraggles, led obstensibly by young Gobo (Jerry Nelson). There would then follow an adventure in which one Fraggle would get into trouble and the others would save him/her while learning a valuable lesson about life.

If you watched Fraggle Rock in the UK then the lighthouse “wraparound” bit will sound familiar, though Fulton Mackay was replaced by John Gordon Sinclair and Simon O’Brien in later years. If you lived in America, Australia, Scandinavia, Spain or numerous other countries you would have seen Doc (Gerry Parkes), an inventor, interact with Sprocket. Doc’s mini-adventures took place in his garage.

French and German audiences again got their own wraparounds with local actors playing Doc.

Though Fraggle Rock went on to become a huge success around the world, spawning 96 episodes in total, that simple idea involving co-production deals would be the series downfall when it came to repeats, at least it was here in the UK thanks to TVS, a now defunct TV station, producing the UK wraparounds.

When TVS lost their licence in 1992, their back catalogue, and the documentation detailing it, was a victim of massive upheaval behind the scenes, resulting in only 12 episodes of the UK Fraggle Rock now officially remaining in the vaults. These were released on DVD a few years ago from HIT Entertainment on Region 2.

A bit of research (well, Googling) over the years from yours truly leads me to believe that, despite HIT contacting The Jim Henson Company to enquire about the episodes, the original master tapes are indeed missing. As is usually the way of these things, the fans are also doing a bit of digging around and, according to some recent posts on a missing episodes forum, we can add a further 17 broadcast quality episodes held by the BFI to the 12 that came out on DVD.

According to that post, fan Alex Taylor has a further 28 episode recorded off air (on his own video recorder), bringing the total number of Fraggle Rock UK episodes known to exist up to 57 – he’s kindly listed them all over on his own website.

I was fortunate enough to interview the producer of the UK wraparounds, Victor Pemberton, a few years ago and he mentioned that he at one time had every episode on VHS but that he wasn’t sure if he still had them in the basement.

The reason for my summing all of this up is that this week saw The Jim Henson Company upload six new clips to their excellent YouTube channel featuring Fulton Mackay as The Captain. Of the six clips, three now only exist as fan owned, off air, non broadcast quality episodes – The Trash Heap Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Sir Hubris and the Gorgs and The Garden Plot – and yet they all look in perfect condition to me:

So what does this mean for the existence of more UK episodes at The Jim Henson Company? Are these merely clips that have been lying around that have now been put online in isolation? Or are these excerpts from full episodes held by Henson that could, theoretically, be released in full? Do they have more clips still to be put online?

I’ve been holding back publishing this post for a few days as I’ve emailed the team at Henson to ask what the situation is, but assuming they’re busy with more pressing issues I may not hear back for a while.

It’s also useful to raise the subject once again in case any reader of this post has an episode on VHS that is missing, presumed gone. If so, feel free to let me know in the comments and we can try to get it into some new archive…

09
Sep
11

Maverick returns to British TV

James Garner as Maverick

Great news for fans of Maverick, the 1950s TV series starring James Garner and Jack Kelly as Bret and Bart Maverick: it’s finally back on UK television, every day at 12.30 on TCM UK.

I say “fans” of Maverick but in reality I mean “those perhaps aware of the 1994 movie but who are unlikely to ever have seen an episode of the TV show as it hasn’t been shown here in decades,” but that’s a bit clunky.

I only noticed the repeat run after a bit of scrolling through the cable channels and a run through the TCM line-up, even though it’s not one I subscribe to. A quick email to TCM confirms that they have the rights to at least the first season, which debuted on US TV on 22 September, 1957. Although the website doesn’t make it clear where they’re up to, they will at some point be repeating the season again, going back to the first episode, The War of the Silver Kings.

I’ve been slowly making my way through the series on DVD (sadly, it’s not officially available anywhere, these are off-air copies) and this initial run is hugely enjoyable stuff, with Garner finding his feet straight away as the charming gambler travelling the old West and finding trouble in every town.

The series, created by Roy Huggins, who also gave us The Fugitive, was the first TV Western to add humour to its scripts, making it stand out from the glut of serious cowboy shows on American television.

Rather than start a fight, Maverick will try to talk his way out of a bad situation, looking after himself as much as possible. Sure, he’s a coward, but he’s a living coward, which beats being a dead one.

After a few episodes we’re also introduced to Bret’s brother, Bart, who’s up to the same game, only a few hundred miles down the road. Once in a while the Maverick’s team up to take on a particularly tricky foe, episodes such as The Wrecker and Trail West to Fury allowing Garner and Kelly to bounce off each other with the programmes trademark humour.

The latter episode also features a guest appearance by Dandy Jim Buckley (Efrem Zimbalist Jnr), one of many fellow con men encountered by the pair during their adventures.

Warner Bros stage 25The first few episodes are notable for the fact they were directed by Budd Boetticher, the famed B-movie Western director who reused many of the guest cast in his Randolph Scott collaborations, something I noticed while watching the Budd Boetticher Collection earlier in the year. The series isn’t just a series of one-liners, with a hefty dose of drama in amongst the humour and more than a few dead bodies.

The show would also go on to inspire the creation of The Rockford Files in the 1970s and Garner played the character of Maverick in a sequel series, Bret Maverick, as well as making an appearance in Richard Donner’s 1994 big screen version, with Mel Gibson making a decent addition to the Maverick clan.

In April 2011 I toured the Warner Bros set in Los Angeles, home to Maverick in the 1950s, and made a point of looking out for any signs of the show. If you enlarge the photo on the right you’ll find a mention, along with some of the distinguished films and series which were crafted on Stage 25.

Garner’s hat from the series is also on display in another part of the complex, but photos were banned

That’s a long way of saying that if you have TCM I’d recommend tuning in one of these days. Unlike today’s TV series there’s no arc or ongoing plot that you won’t understand if you miss an episode, just good, old-fashioned, entertainment that hasn’t dated too badly.

Continue reading ‘Maverick returns to British TV’

07
Aug
11

The Culp Collection #2: Last of the Good Guys (1978)

Denis Dugan and Robert Culp in Last of the Good Guys

This week’s entry into The Culp Collection, my irregular trawl through the various Robert Culp TV movies which have appeared on YouTube over the last year or two, is Last of the Good Guys, a 1978 effort from Columbia Picture Productions.

The 1970s saw Culp star in a raft of made-for-television films, with the genre a popular one for US TV networks keen to give their audiences 90 minute movies that they didn’t have to leave their homes to watch. Actors such as Culp, who was still appearing in the odd theatrical release, were still big draws for TV viewers, and he became a regular in films such as 1973’s A Cold Night’s Death and Last of the Good Guys.

This time around Culp is cast as the establishment figure of Sergeant Nichols, a no-nonsense cop running an LA precinct of oddballs which includes Dennis Dugan’s Officer Johnny Lucas and Larry Hagman (who’s given Special Guest Star billing) as Sergeant Frank O’Malley. When we meet him, O’Malley is close to retirement, which immediately sets alarm bells ringing in the minds of experienced/jaded TV viewers.

We soon discover that O’Malley has been ill for a while, but doesn’t dare tell anyone in case his pension is affected. As this film aired in the same year as the first season of Dallas, in which Hagman became a household name around the globe as JR Ewing, I’m assuming the two were filmed around the same time, but this is a very different Hagman to the oil tycoon. Hagman ensures O’Malley is a sympathetic character and it’s easy for the audience to feel for him.

It’s tricky to explain the plot without giving away what could be considered a spoiler, but what happens next is the crux of the film; look away now if you’d rather not find out. Still here? OK, well O’Malley dies, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves, until Lucas decides that he’s going to help his old buddy by pretending he’s alive right up until his retirement date, by which point he’s guaranteed a pay-out.

Knowing that Nichols won’t agree to the scam, Lucas convinces his colleagues to set up an elaborate set of tricks and ruses which essentially mean O’Malley doesn’t attend morning roll calls while Nichols slowly begins to twig that his men are up to something.

Continue reading ‘The Culp Collection #2: Last of the Good Guys (1978)’

22
Jun
11

New Stephen J Cannell website

Part of my Cannell collection

Well done to the team at Stephen J Cannell Productions for keeping the legacy of one of television’s greatest assets alive after his death: they’ve just launched a new website which remembers him and celebrates his career.

Regular readers will know that my love of Cannell’s output, whether that’s The Greatest American Hero, The Rockford Files or The Rousters, knows no limits – those are a few of my Cannell DVDs above.

A look around the new website reveals that they’ve ported a lot of content from the previous version but also added some new items. As well as information on the majority of his shows you can download Cannell’s scripts from each of them for free. Combine those with the online writing tutorials, both written and in video, and there’s a writing course just waiting to be taken.

I’m hoping that they keep adding new information from the Cannell vaults over the coming year, certainly some clips from the rarer shows that didn’t quite make it as big as The A-Team. Interviews with Cannell production staff would also be good to see.

For my own part in publishing more Cannell content, I managed to interview long-term Cannell friend and collaborator, Mr Jo Swerling, Jr, while on a recent trip to Hollywood. Jo produced many of Cannell’s series and had a lot to say about TV production in the 1980s. I want to get it online in the next month or so, but as our discussion lasted for almost two hours, it might take a while to write up.

In the meantime, head over to www.cannell.com and enjoy yourself. You can also join the Stephen J Cannell Facebook page for more updates

22
May
11

James Garner brought to book in The Garner Files

It’s taken me a while to mention here that James Garner has finally agreed to publish his memoirs in November.

The Garner FilesSimon and Schuster announced the news in March that The Garner Files: A Memoir is being written by Garner and author Jon Winokur, with the actor noting that he’d avoided writing the book before now because he feels he’s “really pretty average”.

Garner went on to say “I’m still a little uncomfortable, but I finally agreed, because people I trust persuaded me people might be interested and because I realized it would allow me to acknowledge those who’ve helped me along the way. I talk about my childhood, try to clear up some misconceptions, and even settle a score or two”.

This is a book I thought we’d never see, a chance to hear first hand about the life and career of one of Hollywood’s finest leading men (I’d suggest the finest). I’m interested to hear more about his time on Maverick in the 1950s and about some of those legal cases which saw Garner taking various film studios to court.

Hopefully we’ll also get some insight into his own acting process and perhaps his theory as to why he was never quite on a par with Eastwood or McQueen when it came to starring roles.

I’ve pre-ordered my copy from Amazon.co.uk, though it seems to be the US edition. I’m not sure if a UK edition is in the pipeline and I’d welcome any news on the subject.

As an aside, I stumbled across this excellent new article which asks whether 2011 could see a reapappraisal for Garner, thanks to the release of the biography and a raft of new DVDs from Warner Archive.




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