Channel Surfing

May 17, 2011

Regular reader Mitchell Hadley has launched a new blog about classic television, called It’s About TV.  Not much content there yet, but elsewhere Hadley has a long piece on the history of “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” the “first made-for-TV opera,” which should serve as a preview of things to come.  Hopefully It’s About TV will take the place of the lamented TV Obscurities blog, which has kept its promise of going dark.

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Also newly blogging: radio and television historian Martin Grams, Jr.  I enjoyed Grams’s most recent piece, on the history of the 1966-1968 Batman TV series, which (like his books) draws on extensive archival research.  Indeed, because of the source, it’s more a history of the Batman that wasn’t: actors who almost guest-starred as Batvillains (Greer Garson?!), movie sequels that weren’t (Batman vs. Godzilla?), off-screen shenanigans (Shelley Winters was a bitch).  Grams explains why John Astin briefly replaced Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, and reprints a survey of the popularity of the series’ recurring villains, which Catwoman wins by a wide margin (crotch vote!) .

In his Twilight Zone episode guide, Grams deliberately avoided critiquing the series, but he pronounces the sixties Batman “stupid.”  He prefers the recent Christopher Nolan films.  I wish he’d expand those opinions into a longer editorial.  I adored the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman when I was a kid, but I have to admit that I wasn’t as impressed when I stumbled across it again during college.  And while I thought Batman Begins was awful, I liked most of The Dark Knight.  So I guess I’m ambivalent, or agnostic, on the subject of screen Batmen.

Grams’s essay includes scans of about a half-dozen documents from Batman‘s production files, which are taken from his personal collection of some 3,000 such items.  Those are fascinating to look at, and come with a hilarious screed warning “obsessed fan boys” (shouldn’t that be one word?) not to bother asking for copies.  Grams doesn’t say where he acquired these documents, but I’d wager that they come from to the archives of the University of Wyoming, which holds the papers of Batman executive producer William Dozier.  (If you’re wondering, why Wyoming? I’m told it’s simply because for a while the archives there were actively soliciting the papers of people who worked in movies and television.) I’m somewhat less clear about why an individual would want to amass a roomful of paperwork on a TV show he doesn’t even like.

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I just noticed this small but remarkable trove of behind-the-scenes photos from The Andy Griffith Show.  It’s been around for a couple of years, but now the people responsible for it are on Facebook, apparently with some new images that are exclusive there.  (That link probably won’t work unless you’re a member of Facebook, and already signed in).  Andy Griffith Show director (and former character actor) Bob Sweeney is prominent in a number of the photos, and I wonder if perhaps they originated from his personal collection.

Related to that is this wonderful, thorough site devoted to the Desilu (formerly RKO) backlot, where The Andy Griffith Show was filmed.  You may tear up when you see downtown  in various stages of disrepair, prior to its demolition in 1976, on this page.

I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing a favorite photo below, from the 1963 episode “Mountain Wedding.”   Andy looks like I feel most days.

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