The Secrets of Isis

Mallory Archer and her ad hoc family on Archer will no longer work for ISIS, thanks to a certain bunch of a-holes who are using the same name to rain death and destruction in the real world. Sad as I am about that, I can’t help but remember that Archer wasn’t the first pop culture use of the name Isis.secrets_of_isis

I had only the vaguest memory of The Secrets of Isis, and the corresponding Viewmaster slides that I once owned. It’s about a teacher, Andrea Thomas (JoAnna Cameron) who possesses an amulet belonging to the Egyptian goddess Isis. The amulet allows her to channel the goddess and fight for justice. Andrea/Isis also appeared in DC comics in the late 70s but the TV show came first, rounding out the Shazam!/Isis Hour on Saturday mornings on CBS. She’s said to be the first female superhero to star in a live action TV show. Continue reading

Happy Days (Backdoor Pilot)

Love American StyleHappy Days turns 40 today, so people who felt dated by looking back at the 50s from the perspective of the 70s… well, they’re dead now. No, that’s not nice, but I remember as a little kid thinking that Happy Days was actually a show made in the 50s, seeing my dad sing along to such hits as “Splish Splash, I Was Taking a Bath.” I wonder if kids today are confused about The Goldbergs. I guess the lesson here is, every generation likes its nostalgia.

Happy Days actually spun out of another show, Love, American Style, so the episode in question turns out to be a backdoor pilot. It’s a fitting origin for a show that spawned no fewer than seven spinoffs. (How many can you name? I’ll list them after the jump.) Continue reading

Merry Pilots

JesusYou 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! Continue reading

Welcome Back, Kotter (for real this time)

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. Continue reading

The Incredible Hulk

Although the character The Incredible Hulk was born in 1962 and took animated form in 1966, the television series that ran from 1977-82 is probably responsible for introducing the masses, including us Gen-X kids, to the gamma radiation-fueled green guy. More recent live action portrayals have been underwhelming at best, until The Avengers. I don’t know if everyone was as pleasantly surprised with Mark Ruffalo‘s Hulk as I was, but I think it was partially because he reminds me of the actor imprinted on my memory as THE David Bruce Banner, Bill Bixby. (His name on his tombstone is David Bruce, though he goes by David on the show and Bruce in The Avengers. If anyone can explain this, please do.) Continue reading

Wonder Woman

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? Continue reading

Welcome Back, Kotter

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.

Unaired Sesame Street Pilot Clip

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.

Three’s Company

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 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.