Saturday, July 20, 2013

Captain Kangaroo

Captain Kangaroo Bob Keeshan was only 28 years old in 1955 when he and producer Jack Miller created 'Captain Kangaroo.' Television was a relatively new addition to most American homes - there had never been a generation of kids exposed to home-video entertainment before, so the series was designed to give kids a gentle alternative to the frenetic nature of most children's shows of the day (of which 'Howdy Doody' was one of the worst offenders).

Watching an episode of Captain Kangaroo show from the early-sixties, one is struck by the achingly slow pace and overall gentle nature of the show.

Here's the classic Captain Kangaroo opening from the 1960s:

Episodes of Captain Kangaroo are very rare, CBS destroyed them all! Only a few have been unearthed, one black & white episode and a few colors. Here's an entire episode from 1976 after the production was updated and modernized. Notice how it starts with shout-outs from CBS primetime shows, Dolly Parton is the guest star:

Read all about the history of Captain Kangaroo at TVparty!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Bette Davis Show?

Bette Davis on TV
Bette Davis really wanted a weekly TV series, primarily for the money and security it offered. By the mid-1950s her movie career had cooled considerably and offers weren't coming in.

Bette didn't want to be another dizzy dame on TV, she was no Lucy-type, she had a different idea for her television pilot in 1958. Paula was a light comedy/drama centered around a top Broadway theatrical agent, her agency and the eccentric writers they took on.

In this TV show, the women wouldn't be played for laughs, they would do the playing.

Bette Davis on TV Her last motion picture smash had been All About Eve in 1950, followed by mediocre films that failed to generate any box office excitement, to say the least. So naturally Paula was essentially All About Eve for the small screen. Bette could have easily been playing Margot Channing, substituting the cigarettes and booze from All About Eve for telephones and eyeglasses in this TV production.

Bette's real life husband Gary Merrill was cast as Paula's husband, a playwright there to provide her with male eye candy for opening nights and provide some familial warmth for the closing of the show. Hey, he likes her... you will too.

There was no question who was in charge in front of and behind the camera. And with good reason. Davis's command of the medium far outstripped anyone else's and she knew it. I can think of no other actor working in television in the 1950s (except James Dean) who could touch her confident artistry.

Oddly, the night before Paula was filmed, Bette and her husband - who had a disastrously rocky relationship - were almost killed in a fire at LA's fashionable Chateau Marmont. The infamously contentious couple split soon after this pilot failed to get picked up.

More about Bette Davis on TV at TVparty!

Vivian Vance Was Almost a Regular on Rhoda?

Vivian Vance in Rhoda

Beloved TV icon Vivian Vance made one of her last appearances in primetime as the neighbor in a delightfully clever 1975 episode of Rhoda. She fell easily back into the sitcom rhythm, as if she'd never left our screens (she hadn't in a sense, with the popularity of I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show reruns).

This was when Rhoda dropped the idea of the lead character having a husband, during season 2. The show was a hit with lots of characteristics that caught on in a big way (the mom, the sister, Carlton the doorman) but it was the husband that was a drag on the comedy.

But divorce, and the fighting you'll see in this episode that led up to it, was still frowned upon in 1975. The writers knew it would be difficult to get that carefree Rhoda character back into the bottle after that. Hence the children performing the theme song, anything to take the edge off. They basically had to make her husband such a jerk that no one could fault Rhoda for splitting with him.

Valerie Harper and the producers enjoyed the experience of working with Vivian Vance so much they considered offering her a regular on the series - but Vance had been diagnosed with cancer in 1973 and was too fragile for the weekly TV grind. She'd left that behind a decade ago as the co-star of the number 1 show in the nation, The Lucy Show. If it wasn't worth it to her then...

Still, the addition of Vivian Vance might have saved Rhoda from the slow ratings death that was to come.

Her fragility was proven tragically true in 1977 when Vivian Vance suffered a debilitating stroke while filming a TV special, Lucy Calls the President, the first scripted show she'd done with Lucille Ball since her final appearance on Here's Lucy in 1972. A pro to the last, she finished filming the special before seeking medical attention.

Vivian Vance died in 1979.

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!

Soul Alive!

Soul Alive Soul Alive starring WWRL radio DJ  Gerry "Golden Voice" Bledsoe aired during 1978 in New York City for an hour on WPIX channel 11 Saturday mornings at 11:00am.

A staple of TV markets around the country in the 1960s, local dance shows fell out of favor at the end of the 1960s and we aren't likely to see a revival. (Then again, you never know. Similar in nature, nationally broadcast Dance Party USA was a hit in the 1980s.)

With the Disco craze in full swing and nationally syndicated Soul Train a hot commodity on Saturdays afternoons, WPIX saw an opportunity to bring that stone cold dead format back to TV screens.

The main feature on Soul Alive was the heated competition between dancers representing some of the City's top discotheques or local high schools. The winning couple's names were delivered via the 'Mechanical Hand' - they could collect a bounty of prizes including a trip, new sound system or they might end up with a package that included Bic disposable shavers. They were new then!

Big name guest stars frequented the program, after all, this was the number one TV market in the world and a lot of record albums were sold in the city of New York. A LOT! On this episode, Cissy Houston lip-synced her latest single while the Rolling Stones appeared in a video.

One unintentionally hilarious segment had the dancers revealing their working life in pictures that were mixed into their solo spots. Similarly, when schools competed, a profile of the student body was aired.

Click for more Soul Alive stories and ultra-rare video! You're gonna love it...

1966 Batman TV Show Coming to DVD? YES!

Batman TV show on DVd Yes, it's true - by Warner Home Video is releasing the 1966 Batman series on DVD in 2014. Burt Ward and Adam West will be recording episode commentaries it's been reported.

The show has been tied up for over a decade, in part because of a dispute with the William Dozier family, he was the creator / producer of the production. The Dozier's contend they are owed money from airings of the show on cable and won't release DVD rights until it is settled.

Previously, in 2013, Warner Bros. announced recently that they had secured the rights to market the likenesses of the characters from the 1966-68 Batman TV show for toys and other products.

Click over for the story behind the Batman TV Show

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie

Opening to the Saturday Superstar Movie
Brady Kids cartoon

ABC Saturday Superstar Movie
9:30 Saturday Mornings 1972 - 73

TV-movies were big winners for ABC in primetime so they tried an anthology program for the kiddie set. It worked for CBS and the New Scooby Doo Movies.

ABC fielded a wide range of concepts for their cartoon movies -'Willie Mays and the Say Hey Kid', 'Yogi's Ark Lark', 'Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies', 'Oliver and the Artful Dodger', 'Lassie's and the Spirit of Thunder Mountain', 'That Girl in Wonderland' and 'Popeye'.

'The Brady Kids' starred the vocal talents of the original cast members, this was on the first episode of SSM to give a big launch for the new Brady cartoon series that started on Saturdays that fall.

Highlights for the first season included an animated reboot of 'Nanny and the Professor', again with the original cast of the ABC primetime series (Juliet Mills, Richard Long, etc) reunited. The family and Nanny got involved in a spy adventure that started when the boys found a stolen microdot. This was charming, as I recall, but then I loved the sitcom and was sorry to see it go the year before.

'Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family' was based on the ABC hit  'Bewitched'.

'Mini-Munsters' was the first of MANY attempts to revive 'The Munsters', the only original cast member in this production was Al Lewis as Grandpa. The network failed to pick up this pilot.

Gidget Cartoon Saturday mornings 1972"Robin Hoodnick" Lennie Weinrib did most of the voices for a cartoon version of the goings on in Nottingham Forest.

"Gidget Makes The Wrong Connection" - an animated Gidget and her beach pals gets mixed up with gold smugglers.

Most if not all of these 'movies' were pilots for possible Saturday series, many (like Lassie) actually graduated to weekly status. These mini-movies were produced by Filmation, Rankin-Bass, Hanna-Barbera and others.

ABC Superstar MovieThe 1973-74 season saw the coming of The New Saturday Superstar Movie. Despite the word 'New' in the title, only three fresh episodes aired this season.

Still, the second season started with a bang - 'Space Family Robinson', the animated adventures of the 'Lost in Space' Robinson family... well, sort of. The original Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) was on hand but (for legal reasons) this was a slightly different Robinson family he's now marooned with. Another possible Saturday morning series that was ultimately shelved from Hanna-Barbera.

This was a very weird production, guess they decided to do 'Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space' instead - it was basically the same concept. Clever character designs by Alex Toth made this (and Josie) watchable.

Other new features this season -  'Nanny and the Professor and the Phantom of the Circus', modeled on every Scooby Doo episode ever. The original cast of this much-loved primetime series (Nanny and the Professor, 1970-71) returned a second time in cartoon form.

'Luvcast, USA' was a 'Love American Style' cartoon-style with three segments about love potions and feminist werewolves. Now that's scary! 

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!

Bob Barker's Game Show Fail

Here's a unsold 1971 pilot for a game show starring Bob Barker called Simon Says where members of the studio audience filled out a questionnaire before the taping and a 'computer' selected a few to tell their unusual stories. The contestants were then given an opportunity to win prizes if they are able to answer trivia questions.

This weird format allowed the host to use one of his best skills, an opportunity to connect with ordinary people and elicit laughs, an ability he honed during his decades long run on Truth or Consequences.

Notice the announcer was Johnny Olson who joined Bob Barker just a year later on The New Price Is Right a 40 years later the show is still going strong.

Here's the very first episode of TNPIR from September 4, 1972 where Johnny Olson calls for the contestants to stand before he yells "C'mon down!" for the very first time. This is the actual network taping from the summer of '72 with the original slate and commercials...

Television's First Star: Broken and Abused!

As early as the 1920's, RCA engineers in New York were trying to develop a workable television broadcast - in 1926 they beamed this blurry picture of a rotating ceramic 'Felix the Cat' statue to the far reaches of Kansas.

The dozen or so primitive two-inch, 60 lines per screen receiving sets between those two points picked up the moving image with the same enthusiasm that you probably felt when you found a really cool website back in the mid-1990s.

Felix didn't reign as television's biggest (and only) star for long - as the months wore on he fell off his rotating pedestal one too many times and was replaced by a paper-mache Mickey Mouse.

As you can see in the promotional film below broadcasters had the technology to bring TV to the masses by the 1940s but war shortages made a television rollout impossible, no parts to make the sets. It wasn't until the prosperous nifty fifties that America - especially the kids at first - fully embraced this new technology.

- Scott Sherwood writes: "Of course, you didn't tell the real reason that Felix was replaced by the Mickey Mouse statue, and who can blame you? We've all heard the sordid stories of Felix and his drinking; the arguments with the RCA engineers; his inability to remain on the rotating platform. These are the stuff of tabloids, and the press of the 1920's had a field day with Felix's problems at the RCA test studios. Hopefully, though, a new generation will come to love and respect Felix's work at this point in his career. It was some of his finest work."

The Brady Bunch Sex Dungeon?

Classic TV blogIn the early-1990s I was at a party in Hollywood talking with the most amazing looking guy. He was a male prostitute it turned out, not a street level guy but a high priced call boy, I guess you would call him. He told me one of his clients was a real freak, with a torture dungeon set up in his home, and the guy was a famous TV star but the 'trick' refused to reveal his name.

I said, "Give me a hint."

He indicated, "The person starred in two TV series at the same time in the 1970s, one a drama and one a comedy." I thought of Robert Reed immediately who was on The Brady Bunch and Mannix at the same time. His reaction didn't give anything away (he was a prostitute, after all, the original poker face masters) but I can't think of any other TV star that fit that description... can you?

TVparty! is classic TV!

Sunday, July 14, 2013


One of my fave game shows of the past was Concentration, kinda like Wheel of Fortune but Concentration was all visuals. Here's a Challenge of Champions episode from 1969.

Already this show was archaic by '69, notice they were still using live organ music. The daytime version ran for 14 years on NBC, from 1958 - 1973, the longest running game show on that network.

I can still remember the clunky sound of the turning squares.

The last daytime episode of Concentration:

 Here's an article on the guy who designed the Concentration puzzles.

Ben Stiller's First Network TV Appearance

Here's a July 1974 syndicated  episode of the $25,000 Pyramid where something fairly remarkable happens. Well, a couple of things, watch the whole episode it's very exciting, William Shatner and Anne Meara are the celebrity players.

But at the very end comedian Anne Meara calls her son "Benny" to come join her on stage - and sure enough Ben Stiller, 8 years old, comes running into the scene. You won't see much of him, the camera misses him at every opportunity - ironic I guess. It would be another decade before he was hired as a TV actor.