Archive for the ‘1970s’ Category
You wouldn’t think Christmas would be a particularly propitious time to set your pilot. Pilots usually air in the fall, or just after the holidays. And Christmas is the season for marathons of shows and movies you already know and love. But when you think about it, the holidays are rife with drama and emotion — often of the familial warfare variety. So there’s some material there.
There are a handful of pilots — that I’m aware of — that are set during the holiday season. Here’s a list. Are there others? Please leave comments if you know! Read the rest of this entry »
You have to be pretty cool to get applause just for getting out of bed. Apparently Gabe Kaplan was that cool in 1975. The opening scene of the pilot (which is listed as episode 2) of Welcome Back, Kotter consists of his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman – Is it me, or does she look like she could be a Deschanel?) attempting to fold him up in their hide-a-bed. He leaps up and the applause track roars.
When Robert Hegyes, aka Juan Epstein, died back in January I promised a post on this pilot, but never quite got around to it. (I do have a day job.) But I cannot let the passing of Ron Palillo, aka Arnold Horshack, pass unmarked. He may be the most memorable — certainly the most imitated — character from the show. Read the rest of this entry »
The Wonder Woman series had a few false starts before the 1975 TV movie, which spawned the well-remembered Lynda Carter series. Even when it finally got off the ground, the show — full title, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman — only lasted one season before it was retooled and moved to another network (CBS).
In recent years, other attempts at bringing the DC Comics property to the small screen have failed, including one led by Joss Whedon. You could hardly escape last year’s debate about Adrianne Palicki’s pants. Why is bringing the Amazonian princess to life such a challenge? And what did the 1970s series get right that others missed? Read the rest of this entry »
With today’s passing of Robert “Juan Epstein” Hegyes, I am eager to review the pilot of Welcome Back, Kotter. I’m curious to see if I would even remember the pilot, because although I loved the show, I have only vague recollections of it. For the record, I always thought that Epstein was the cutest. (Sorry, John Travolta.) At the moment, I don’t have time to watch the whole thing and do it justice, so I thought I’d just mention a few details .
The show debutued in September of 1975. The pilot episode titled, appropriately, “Welcome Back,” was actually either the second or third to air depending on whether you believe Amazon or Wikipedia. The wacky order is a reminder of a time when sit-coms were totally episodic and you could figure out exactly what was going on by choosing any episode at random.
Here’s a clip:
The pilot is set on Gabe Kotter’s first day teaching at his alma mater, James Buchanan High School in New York City. He finds out that his students, the legacy of a gang he himself founded, are a bunch of aspiring young criminals. All of the main characters appear in the pilot, but I couldn’t say whether Epsetin shows up with a note signed “Epstein’s Mother” in this one. More later.
For even more fun here’s a “Where Are They Now?” for the cast.
I love discovering unaired pilots, even just clips of them. There is a story circulating the interwebs about how Sesame Street is searching for “the missing Gordon,” and they’ve posted this clip in hopes of finding him. I don’t really care if they find him. I’m just excited to see a clip from an unaired Sesame Street pilot! If you grew up in the 1970s there’s a real heartstring-tugging moment in here… you’ll see what I mean.
Watching the pilot episode of Three’s Company for the first time in–I’m gonna say 25 years–I was slightly horrified to discover that I not only remembered the plot, which is pretty straight forward, but individual jokes, word-for-word. I guess this sit-com that ran from 1976 to 1984 made a bit of an impression on my young mind.
What I remember most are the final moments when Janet tells Jack how she convinced Mr. Roper to let him live there. “I also told him that you were gay,” she says, and Jack falls off the couch. I had to ask my mom what gay was. I’m not sure I understood it even after her honest and open-minded explanation, but the ruse of Jack pretending to be gay is at the heart of the show’s premise.
In case you don’t remember or are under 30, the pilot opens with two women, bombshell Chrissy (Suzanne Somers) and petite Janet (Joyce DeWitt) cleaning up the remnants of the previous night’s party. Their modest two bedroom apartment isn’t much worse for the wear, except for a punch ladle that has turned green from soaking in a mysterious alcoholic liquid. They quickly discover a man asleep in their bathtub. They wake him by turning on the shower and wielding the discolored ladle as a weapon.
The man in the tub is Jack (John Ritter). He’s a little doofy, and taken with Chrissy, but seems like a reasonably nice, normal guy. The women are looking to replace their previous roommate, for whom last night’s bash was a going away party. The clincher is, he’s an amazing cook. Deciding he would make an ideal roommate, they plan to invite him to move in. Here’s where you have to use your mental wayback machine. Since that would be no big deal, this show could never work today.
Each of the trio has his or her own quirks, but the wacky in the show comes from the Ropers, an older married couple who live downstairs and manage the building. The writers hit us over the head with the fact that Mrs. Roper (Audra Lindley) has a sexual appetite that scrawny Mr. Roper (Norman Fell) just can’t satisfy. This role reversal, if you consider it that, is another point where the show was probably edgy for its day.
When Mr. Roper catches a glimpse of Jack, Janet tells him Jack is a woman. Then, a rather masculine woman shows up to view the apartment. Mr. Roper mistakes her for a man. Thus we’re introduced to this show’s convention of misunderstandings; somebody is always not what somebody else thinks. (Chandler: “I think this is the episode of Three’s Company where there’s some kind of misunderstanding.” Pheobe: “Oh, then I’ve already seen this one.”)
When everything comes out in the open and Mr. Roper finds that the women are planning to have a man move in, he is outraged. However, Janet quickly smooths things over, only we don’t know how until that final moment I mentioned above. So, we’re set up for all kinds of potential misery, with a straight man forced to pretend to be gay, while simultaneously attracted to his hot roommate.
One more thing that would happen today that didn’t then: Jack and Chrissy never get together. Granted, her character left the show after four seasons, to be replaced by other hot blondes. But in a sit-com pilot today, where a guy and two girls were introduced in this situation, it would be almost a given that somebody was sleeping with somebody in the season 1 finale. So watch this show, if not for its campy humor and laughable 70s attire, for the fact that it’s different from what we’re watching these days.
The Brady Bunch–the show as well the members of said ‘Bunch’–have been analyzed to the point where you might want to be beaten to death with a Tiki god statue if you hear one more Brady legend. Here is some history. And it’s been referenced to death in pop culture. (I still love that bit in Reality Bites about how things don’t go back to normal after a half hour, becuase Mr. Brady died of AIDS.) However, yesterday’s news that Sherwood Schwartz died warrants a mention of this, his most enduring creation.
The pilot episode of The Brady Bunch, “The Honeymoon,” aired on September 26, 1969. Mike and Carol get married in Carol’s parents’ backyard. Then they leave on their honeymoon, only to find that they miss the kids so much that they go back for them–and thus begins five seasons of family love-hate. If you are from this planet you have probably seen it. If not, or if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can watch it here.
Two things have always bugged me about this pilot. Although the former Mrs. Brady is mentioned when Bobby struggles with whether to put away his mom’s photo, why does no one mention the former Mr. Martin (Carol’s previous husband)? But more importantly, what’s up with the cat? Tiger, the dog, at least hung around for a few episodes, but the cat, Fluffy, was never seen again after the pilot.
Mary Tyler Moore, a.k.a The Mary Tyler Moore Show is considered to be such a seminal work of television that I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had never seen it before. In my defense, I wasn’t born yet when it came on the air. But, it turns out, the show is so relevant and, for lack of a better word, timeless, that it is thoroughly worth watching in 2011. Apart from the landline phones and typewriters dotting the set, it could be a show currently on the air. Even the clothes don’t look dated.
The show opens with the theme song–no cold open–and that sequence lays the basis; our protagonist is moving to a new city to make a new start, on her own. We meet the thin and stylish Mary Richards as she arrives to look at an apartment. Showing her the real estate is friend Phyllis (Cloris Leachman–OMG, that’s Maw-Maw!), with grade school-aged daughter Bess in tow. We learn that Phyllis lives downstairs while a woman named Rhoda, who Bess calls Aunt Rhoda, lives upstairs. Rhoda herself (Valerie Harper) is revealed a moment later, positioned from the start as a foil to Mary.
Phyllis is charged with the task of telling the audience Mary’s story, by telling it to Rhoda. For two years, Mary supported a doctor named Bill through his medical residency, only to find him unwilling to get married. A lot is implied with this story, both about women’s expectations of marriage in general, and about Mary as an individual. Even today some women might expect a marriage proposal as a given after two years of dating, in one’s late 20s. (It hasn’t yet been mentioned at this point in the episode, but Mary is 30.)
Mary’s decision to walk away rather than wait around could be given a great deal of discussion–about how it’s brave, liberated, self-respecting, or whatever. But they don’t waste time on that. And it although it may have been an unusual move in 1970, it’s been considered a worthy premise for introducing a strong female character ever since. (Rachel on Friends, Grace on Will and Grace, and Penny on The Big Bang Theory are positive examples. In the pilot of the more recent Happy Endings, the runaway bride character is treated more like a foolish bitch, while we side with the groom.) We could also look at Mary’s actions as petulant; if she can’t have a diamond ring she doesn’t want anything. However, any doubts about Bill’s worth as a partner are put to rest when we meet him later in the episode. He brings Mary stolen flowers and is generally oblivious to her feelings. The breakthrough was that this single female protagonist was a first. Now that it’s more common, it’s no less interesting.
Mary’s home life forms one half of the show’s world, while her new workplace forms the other. She arrives at a the studio of WJM-TV News to interview as a secretary, a job that has already been filled. The boss, curmudgeonly Lou Grant (Ed Asner) whisks her into his office to conduct an interview anyway. His inappropriate line of questions–How old are you? What’s your religion? Would you like a drink?–at first seem to be a sign of the times, ala Mad Men, but then Mary points out that his questions are illegal.
The character of Lou could have come off kind of skeevy, even intimidating, but instead he seems like kind of a teddy bear with a gruff exterior. He shows up at Mary’s house drunk and even though Mary suspects he’s hitting on her, it doesn’t really look that way to the audience–today’s audience, at least.
Mary gets the job of Associate Producer which, Lou tells her, pays $10 less a week than the secretarial job she came for. ”If you can get by on $15 less a week, I’ll make you Producer,” he says.” “No, no,” she says, “I think all I can afford is Associate Producer.” The humor flows naturally from the conversation this way. On my first viewing I didn’t even notice the laugh tracks — a sign that the jokes are genuinely funny. This one example of dialogue also illustrates Mary’s cheery outlook and, as Lou puts it, “spunk.”
There is no clear set-up for a love interest here, a staple of the modern sit-com. If this were done today Mary would no doubt have a gorgeous buy exasperating neighbor who she instantly hates. Instead, the Mary-Rhoda relationship fills this need, a much more interesting choice that allows much room for exploring the lives of single women in the city. They continue to fight over the apartment throughout the episode, but the groundwork is there for a true friendship. “You’re really a hard person to dislike,” Mary tells Rhoda, who comes back with, “I’m having a hard time hating you, too.”
Clearly audiences found the whole cast lovable. Lou, Rhoda and Phyllis all got their own spin-offs. You can see why right from the start.
It seems like you can’t go a day without hearing about another upcoming reboot of an old movie or TV show. Currently, viewers of the small screen are speculating about new takes on Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Beavis and Butthead, Dallas, Miami Vice, Teen Wolf… there’s even been the threat of a Bryan Fuller-helmed Munsters remake.*
A pilot for a reboot has a unique task. There is the assumption that most viewers are already familiar with the property, and there is going to be a niche audience that is much more than familiar. The diehard fans are poised to critique every detail. So what makes a pilot for a reboot successful?
There are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to approach. At one end, the pilot could say to the viewer, “Forget everything you knew about previous incarnations of this property.” The story basically starts over, in the present day. V is an example. Viewers need not have a clue about the 1980s mini-series and following TV series. In fact, they might be better not having seen the original and having the whole lizard reveal spoiled for them.
At the other end, a pilot can dive in to a storyline already in progress. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles does this really well. We last saw Sarah and son John in 1991, when John was about 12 years old, so the show now has to bring us up to 2008, when it debuted. The pilot opens in 1999 and, staying faithful to the timeline set forth by the movies, John is introduced as a teenager. We learn in the opening scene Sarah is haunted by the same nightmares of worldwide destruction that we remember. In order to get us to the right year, the writers have the new Terminator, played by Summer Glau, bring the characters forward in time to 2008. If you’re actually new to this, it’s likely you just won’t care about these characters. It’s also likely you’ve been living under a rock.
On the lighter side, 90210 stuck with the timeline set forth by its predecessor, Beverly Hills 90210. The newer show had some fun updating viewers on the lives of characters we once knew, even bringing some of them back so we wouldn’t always be stuck remembering them with hideous hairstyles.
According to Ramon Rodriguez, who has been cast as Bosley, the new Charlie’s Angels is set to go in a new direction. However, the movies already took a big step away from the camp of the original series. So what, exactly, are they moving away from? And do we care? Does a show’s pedigree matter, or only that it’s good?
There’s still a long way to go with all of the aforementioned reboots, and no telling how much restructuring they will go through on their way to the airwaves—if they even make it that far. Then will each one be a 90210? Or a Melrose Place? Once they debut, fans will no doubt have their expectations well in place.
*Here’s an update on the Bryan Fuller Munsters remake, 8/11/11