Among the Missing: “Alas, Babylon”

August 23, 2012

Welcome to Nukeland.

Here in these United States it’s been a long time since we’ve had a good, scary dose of nuclear fear.  Remember walking around feeling like some unseen enemy (or just the power plant upstate) could suddenly vaporize you or leave you glowing green while your guts slowly leak out of every orifice?

I’m just old enough to have experienced the last one, in the early eighties, when Reagan desperately pumped more life into the flagging Cold War.  Movies like The Day After and Testament played on television downstairs while I huddled in bed, peering out my window and waiting for the inevitable mushroom cloud to bloom in the night sky.

Nuclear paranoia is one of my favorite little subgenres of television drama (and even comedy: think Sledge Hammer!).  It reached full bloom in the eighties but you can trace it all the way back to the early days of Uh-murr-kuh’s throwdown with the Russkies.  There’s a Medic episode that has Los Angeles glowing green, a truly disturbing Way Out in which the devil infiltrates an Air Force bunker to launch some nukes, a Nevada nuclear test that irradiated some key characters on Crime Story (made in the eighties, of course, but set in the fifties), a fistful of post-apocalyptic Twilight Zones, and even a Dr. Kildare about H-bomb survivors that’s a sort of Nagasaki, Mon Amour.

I’ve seen all of those and they’re great, but there’s one that’s driving me crazy, that I’ve looked for for years and can’t get my hands on: “Alas, Babylon,” Playhouse 90’s 1960 adaptation of the Pat Frank novel about survival in a post-Holocaust world.

Frank’s novel is straightforward, quietly terrifying account of a one-day war and the year that follows, in which a young loafer, Randy Bragg, gradually toughens and matures and becomes the leader of a motley community of survivors.  Frank, a hard-drinking ex-reporter, was an adoptive Floridian and he nails the atmosphere of that sweaty, sun-drenched, slow-moving place better than any Florida writer I’ve read, except maybe John D. MacDonald.

Alas, Babylon was published in 1959, the same year that Stanley Kramer made On the Beach, that movie stars-on-a-submarine white elephant that is the blandest of all movies about the end of human civilization (an impossibility, one would think, but no).  More closely than either the Kramer film or the Nevil Shute novel upon which it is based, Frank’s book resembles Lynne Littman’s astonishing Testament (1983), perhaps the best (or at least the most depressing) American film of the eighties, which chronicles the slow, quiet, inexorable death of a small town as it succumbs to fallout, starvation, and infrastructure collapse.

*

By 1959, Playhouse 90 was falling apart.  Three years earlier it had begun life as the showpiece of the live anthologies.  Now it was something of an albatross, a loss leader that CBS could point to as evidence that quality television was still alive and well (even if it wasn’t).  After two seasons in the hands of the capable Martin Manulis, Playhouse 90 had been split between three big-name live dramatic producers: Fred Coe, Herbert Brodkin, and John Houseman.  If anything, the year under their tenure – which included “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Child of Our Time,” “The Velvet Alley,” and “Judgment at Nuremberg” – was even better than the first two.

For the fourth season, the multi-producer arrangement continued, with Coe and Houseman handling six each of a planned twenty-three segments, according to a Variety story dated July 15, 1959.  The remaining eleven were to be divided between Brodkin and Peter Kortner, who had been a story editor and associate producer on Playhouse 90 since the show’s debut.  A journeyman among giants, Kortner was nevertheless given the first two airdates in the 1959-1960 season, and prepared two ambitious shows for them: Rod Serling’s original “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” for October 1 and “Alas, Babylon” for October 8.

But things did not go as planned.

By midseason, CBS had cut the episode order down to seventeen and dislodged Playhouse 90 from its Thursday night timeslot.  The fourth season had been a last-minute reprieve in the first place, and fully half of the series’ commercial spots remained unbought, leaving CBS about $4 million in the red.  The final episodes drifted around the schedule, airing as special events.

Somehow, Serling’s “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” went from the first to the last.  The writer’s only contribution to Playhouse 90’s last season, Serling’s Warsaw ghetto story (with Charles Laughton as a rabbi) wasn’t broadcast until May 18, 1960, when it became the series’ final episode.

As for “Alas, Babylon,” it was swapped with the Serling piece and announced, on July 27, as the fourth season premiere.  The symmetry was irresistible.  The very first episode of Playhouse 90, “Forbidden Area,” had also been an adaptation of a Pat Frank novel; now another one would open what was certain to be the final season of the show.  (The two Frank-derived segments bookended a trilogy of nuclear 90s, with another story of post-atomic survival, Dorothy and Howard Baker’s “The Ninth Day,” in the middle.)  But on August 20, the network announced that “Alas, Babylon” would be pushed back to an unspecified date, to accommodate the availability of Charlton Heston, who had agreed to star in it.  In its place to kick off the season was “Target For Three,” a well-reviewed fictionalization of the recent revolution in Cuba.

The status of “Alas, Babylon” remained unclear until, finally, CBS announced on February 4 that it would be shown on April 3, 1960 (making it, ironically, the penultimate original Playhouse 90).  The cast now comprised Don Murray as Randy Bragg and Dana Andrews as his Air Force officer brother, along with Rita Moreno, Barbara Rush, Everett Sloane, Kim Hunter, Don Gordon, and a very young Burt Reynolds.  No mention was made of Heston (and it’s uncertain which of the brothers he would have played; it’s hard to imagine him as the easygoing wastrel Randy, but Mark Bragg was probably too secondary a role for Heston).

In the interim, the film version of On the Beach – a December 1959 release – had opened to generally good reviews and, in effect, “scooped” “Alas, Babylon,” which had blown its chance to debut ahead of the similar and much more high-profile Kramer project.

New York Times television columnist Val Adams sniffed a conspiracy, writing an October 4 piece subtitled “Alas, Babylon – Alas, CBS, where is it?” in which he hinted that the Heston excuse was a fiction.  Adams speculated that the network had become gun-shy as a result of an old controversy over the third season premiere, “The Plot to Kill Stalin,” which had so annoyed the Soviet Union that it kicked CBS’s correspondent out of Moscow.  Could “Alas, Babylon” cause another international incident?

In fact, though, the Heston story was plausible.  His atypical commitment to live television even after establishing himself as a movie star (“Actor Charlton Heston likes doing live TV,” was the headline for a June 14, 1959 Hartford Courant interview) had of necessity ended with the extended location filming of Ben-Hur in 1958.  But Heston noted in his autobiography that he spent an idle “few months” mostly playing with his young son in Los Angeles in between the lensing of The Wreck of the Mary Deare during the summer of 1959 and publicity duties prior to the premiere of Ben-Hur in December.  “Alas, Babylon” was probably taped during that window and it could indeed have been rescheduled following a tentative commitment from Heston.

And had “The Plot to Kill Stalin” really been the problem, wouldn’t CBS have killed “Alas, Babylon” long before it went in front of the camera?  Still, the unusual duration of “Alas, Babylon”’s limbo – it was benched for six months, nearly the entirety of the television season – does suggest a deficit of enthusiasm on the network’s part.

*

Speaking only in terms of prestige, “Alas, Babylon” was a product of Playhouse 90’s “B team.”  David Shaw, who wrote the teleplay, was the humblest of the major television playwrights, content to adapt others’ work and more chameleonesque in his style than Chayefsky, Serling, or Reginald Rose.  But some of his originals, especially for The Defenders, are urgent and precise; he may have been a better match than the verbose Serling for Frank’s matter-of-fact prose.

The director of “Alas, Babylon” was Robert Stevens, who had also done “Target For Three.”  The most famously temperamental of live television directors – Jeff Kisseloff’s industry survey The Box contains a section of “Robert Stevens stories” – Stevens was also an underrated talent with a penchant for chiaroscuro lighting and fluid, sweeping camera movements.  Equally versatile on film, he became the only director to win an Emmy for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Hitchcock himself never did) with the scary episode “The Glass Eye.”

The well-publicized delay in getting “Alas, Babylon” on the air, coupled with Playhouse 90’s clear lame-duck status, was blood in the water for the critics, who were not kind to the show.  Lawrence Laurent of the Washington Post, Times Herald had liked Frank’s novel but sniffed that its “sweep of grandeur . . . was reduced, on television, to an unhappy love story.”  Fred Danzig of UPI was more specific, complaining that Shaw’s “pompous, obvious dialogue . . . served to magnify the artificiality of the characters” and that his adaptation “managed to grab all the stereotyped, sharp-edged blocks of action and emotion in the book and reject all the subtleties.”

John Crosby, one of the nation’s most respected television critics, wrote:

The narrative moved like lightning from uneasy peace to total disaster with a sure-footed mounting excitement that left me breathless.  The transitions . . . were particularly dramatic.  In one of them, for example, the action shifted suddenly, explosively from a character quoting the Alas, Babylon passage from the Bible to jet bombers streaming through the sky; in another from the drunken hero at a supermarket to the quiet orderliness of the underground “push button” headquarters.

But Crosby, somewhat unfairly, used the occasion to proclaim an overall fatigue for apocalyptic fiction.  Had “Alas, Babylon” been shown half a year earlier, the headline over Crosby’s Hartford Courant review might not have been “End of World Fiction Is Getting Boring.”

In The New York Times, John P. Shanley just seemed shell-shocked.  Shanley praised the show’s dramatic effectiveness but wondered

what good purpose could be served by many of the vivid moments of terror and hysteria depicted during the program.  A small child runs back into her home after a nuclear explosion, screaming “I’m blind, I’m blind.”  A physician is brutally beaten by a group of addicts after the blasts have cut off their regular source of supply.

But, you know what?  All that stuff that freaked out the critics back in 1960 sounds pretty fucking awesome now.

The show opens with a dead man’s narration (a device that Laurent correctly noted was cribbed from Sunset Boulevard): “My name is Mark Bragg.  I’m dead.  Ninety-two percent of the world’s population is dead.  I was one of the first.  I was lucky.”  If the remaining eighty-nine minutes are as stark as that one, then I’m in.  Was “Alas, Babylon” a dud?  Or could it have been ahead of its time, miles ahead if its time, too hard to take except maybe now, at a remove, when the nukes are still out there but the sweaty thumbs aren’t twitching quite so hard over the buttons?

*

The UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Paley Center for Media both possess large caches of Playhouse 90 episodes – between them, more than half of the 134 episodes are available for study – but neither has a copy of “Alas, Babylon.”  It’s also not among the cataloged holdings of the Library of Congress, the Museum of Broadcasting in Chicago, or the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research.

It is likely that CBS has the original 2” master tape, or at least a kinescope, of “Alas, Babylon” in its vaults.  Playhouse 90 was a prestige product from the outset, less likely than just about any other show to have had its elements tossed or reused.  I’ve even heard that CBS’s Playhouse 90 tapes were preserved and transferred to a more stable video format at some point.

Of course, that’s of little use to anyone who would actually like to see the show, and judging from the internet comments of some fellow nuclear paranoiaphiles (see here and here), I’m not the only one in that camp.  It’s only enough to whet the appetite, but Getty Images does have a small selection of production and publicity stills from “Alas, Babylon” on its website.  For now, that will have to suffice.

*

In what will be an occasional column on this blog, I’m going to start writing about some television shows that I haven’t seen – and that you haven’t, either, unless you were born during the baby boom or earlier. 

I’m talking about live, or videotaped, or even occasional filmed shows that are verifiably lost, or that, if they do exist, reside only in a corporate vault, inaccessible to the public.

My idea here is to pick out a few specific episodes or specials that I, personally, would really love to see, and create a little virtual shrine for them.  And, who knows, perhaps a little attention paid will help coax a last copy out of the closet or the vault . . . .

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28 Responses to “Among the Missing: “Alas, Babylon””

  1. D.B. McWeeberton Says:

    I’d love to see this–I just read the book a couple of weeks ago, since I’m on a mid-century post-apocalyptic kick, and it would interesting to see how it could be compressed to a tv-sized production.

  2. Larry Granberry Says:

    I hope one of the ones you will look at (and it may very well be available, but is not on DVD or any other home video format to my knowledge) is the 1960 production “The Sacco-Vanzetti Story.” I would love to read your thoughts on that one.

  3. Sixties vision Says:

    Great article. Im facsinated by shows such as Playhouse 90 although I’ve never had a chance to se them. I hate to think it but the more years that role by the chances of these mid century gems being released are slim. The younger generation just doesn’t have an interest in this stuff. It seems essential that the various archives be made available on the Internet.

  4. Joge Perez Says:

    I understand your comment about On the Beach being bland -as far as a sci-fi film goes- but I for one have always loved it, and it includes two of the more heart rending scenes ever, in my opinion: the sailor who leaves the submarine to enjoy his birthplace for a few days although he knows he’s going to die, and the old newspaper pages blowing sadly in the wind in the empty New York City streets…

  5. Lisa mateas Says:

    I just read the book a couple of months ago, also on an apocalyptic kick like D.B. above. Wish this were available and maybe somebody will come up with a copy sometime — we can hope!

    Great article!

  6. bobby J. Says:

    There maybe a couple of ways to pry these legendary ‘Playhouse 90′ shows and have them for public consumption.

    Stephen, we really need an engrossing piece – such as your ones on ‘The Invaders’ and ‘East Side, West Side’ and as grippingly compassionate, wise and as involving as your piece on the producer whose past his hid a horrid, deranged tragedy. A comprehensive piece on the show, accompanied by an episode guide, with writers, directors and casts would help. From the wiki on ’90’ there is a link to the preservation of old shows and a quote by Salome Jens on the foremost actress of her age – Kim Stanley, often dubbed by the “the female Brando” and how she would do ’90’ because it was a form that didn’t come from the rather tedious way films were – assembling the performance by adding up the cut up pieces of film. That kind of selling of the great meeting point of movie stars and the exciting and emerging new faces of the future “New Hollywood” and the electric atmosphere
    that spruced up the the live nature of the show, the critical plaudits, and the final sad lose by it’s being tucked away on shelves. The more intense the piece with the stars/actors, directors (and how these directors conquered Hollywood, the films they made and presaging the likes Spielberg by a good decade), writers, producers and critical responses and then the sad lose of it all, with most dedicated TV Nostalgia channels stripping easy comedies. The piece should sell the show but not too blatantly, just by the sheer quality of it. Next…

    1/ One would be to find out who runs ‘Warner Archive’ and so solicit them. Get them into thinking of getting licences for the distribution golden age drama made by other broadcasters. (It could be their payback for good awful mediocrity of the westerns and cop shows they foisted up.

    2/ Two would be to solicit ‘Google’, if they can do books (in a very underhand way, I might add) why not TV shows with some of the best talent around. And maybe into that mix, it might also be an idea to mention it to ‘Apple’. And it might be a good idea to mention all the great actors involved. If “content is king”, this content has been lost the millions upon millions. I also suspect that these show are all public domain. Something, which, if mentioned in the piece, is more than likely to elicit interest.

    3/ And finally, we in the UK have a niche channel called ‘BBC Four’ – which apart from PBS documentaries and HBO dramas, is one of the last refuges for discerning adults (though that may change a little – the ‘BBC Two’ recently broadcast ‘The Hollow Crown’ based on Shakesphere’s history cycle, quite an achievement apart from a terrible last segment of ‘Henry V’, ‘Parade’s End’ their co-production with HBO, a second version of ‘I, ‘Clauduis’ and most ambitious of all a four part adaption of Phllip K. Dick’s award-winning ‘The Man in the High Castle’). BBC Four has been known to have shown archive material and your piece might be able to get their imaginations to fly. If you do a piece, it could be printed off and some DVD copies of ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ and ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ sent with it. We also have semi-publicaly funded ‘Channel Four’
    which in it’s early days showed ‘The Golden Age of Television’. That’s another option. A mention of the prestige value of showing such an outstanding quality milestone for niche channels might be embedded in the closing of the piece.

    I think that’s the only way to get these out, to have other corporations doing the fighting for us, to use to sell adverts on the side, or embedded on Google Video, to have a quality niche channel request them for broadcast (the piece might mention who holds copies in closing, and if known – the masters), or get Warner’s interested.

    Just some ideas. On this site, it might be an idea to ask readers to print out copies of the article and send them to the heads of programming, ect.

    Anyway, got to run – I have the last episode of ‘Invasion (2005) to watch, I’m flabergasted that they could cancel the show, it’s a lost gem, one worthy of a cult.

    PS: Would love see a piece on James ‘The Smiling Cobra’ Arburey’ – couldn’t stop thinking about him whilst reading the piece on ‘The Defenders’. Now that’s another show that we need a detailed piece on, something to send to the very same people mentioned above. I’ve long had the impression he was the single most powerful force in US broadcast history – one that owners like Paley were swayed by until a coup attempt and he was a force for the destruction of quality television in the US.

    Here are two quotes about ‘The Defenders’ :
    “….to do an entertaining series about the reality of life in New York from the real point of view… I think we were able to tackle some difficult subjects and do them quite well. We had marvellous writers directors, we had marvellous directors and we had New York actors. And we didn’t have anyone to tell us that what we were doing was incorrect or wrong.”

    ” ‘The Defenders’ almost changed the face of Television. It was then that something called ‘Beverley Hillbillies’ came along, and some others like it, and that changed it right back.” – Herbert Brodkin, from ‘Television’ by Francis Wheen.

    The Smiling Cobra’ was also the one who got woeful ‘The Munsters’ rushed out to compete with the delightful ‘The Addams Family’, got Serling to use poor quality Video Tape for ‘The Twilight Zone’ and haranged him as cited in Sander’s biography of Serling. It took two decades to undo the damage and it’s quite possible that it still hasn’t been undone, until a different mode of finance came along with HBO. Though that could be me reading too much into history.

    Anyway, got to run…

  7. bobby J. Says:

    PS: If you like to post WW3 scenarios, two of the best works are ‘The War Game’ – banned by the BBC and regarded as a masterpiece, it’s here:

    The War Game (1965)tv

    Threads (1984)tv

    When the Wind Blows (1986), a film

    they are three of the very best, if not the best


  8. I’ve been looking for “Alas, Babylon” for several years. I wanted to write about it in HOLLYWOOD ENIGMA: DANA ANDREWS, which University Press of Mississippi has just published. Dana Andrews was very proud of his work on “Alas, Babylon.” He was going through a period of sobriety, and his work on this program got him the starring role on Broadway with Anne Bancroft in “Two for the Seesaw.” He also spoke of his work in “Alas Babylon” as one of his best performances. I know because his daughters told me so. I hope efforts to pry the program from the vaults are successful.

  9. Sam Says:

    Vault holdings at CBS on shows that had no syndication value to the company are spotty at best. Much has been lost or discarded over the years. This is based on my experience there a few years ago doing some research on early television.

    Regarding someone’s question about the show’s public domain status, so far as getting a legitimate release of something like this is concerned, there are legal issues that extend beyond the question of copyright. Underlying literary rights would have to be negotiated with the author’s estate. Music clearances would have to be arranged. Clearances with the estates of actors involved are often necessary. The legal snarls you run into are often bigger than people imagine, who tend to think that the only issue is whether or not a valid copyright exists. This is why there has been so little interest in legitimate release of these kinds of live television dramas. The problems you run into getting everything cleared legally are, unfortunately, not outweighed by commercial value. There simply isn’t enough interest to justify (in the minds of most companies) going to the trouble and expense necessary to get these kinds of shows released.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Don’t have many specifics on this, but I’ve also heard that the copyrights to Playhouse 90 may not all belong to CBS – that some of them were copyrighted by paper companies formed just for the production of a specific segment, as was the case with a lot of ’60s anthologies and ’70s TV movies – which if true would increase the clearance difficulties exponentially.

  10. bobby J. Says:

    That’s why Google is such a great choice to lobby. They literally broke every rule in the book to digitise tens of millions of books, from the US to Europe, and then when back to negotiate new terms. Why couldn’t they offer the same terms to the Paley Center and all the other film libraries?

    As for the actors and writers or their estates, most don’t even know of the existence of such agreements – if they exist, which would make these “orphan works” – such as the copyright for many pre 1963 pulp magazines whose individual short stories and features – the author passed away without renewal (26 or 27 years after the work premiered), can’t be traced, or is completely unknown. All radio shows for first 30 plus years have no copyright, 1000s of short stories are in a similar situation. With film and TV, the elements are turning in vinager sludge in the cannisters. Google just went and made agreements and when they had digised everything, they had a new agreement with the authors who had stakes in the works or their estates. A very rough shod way, but at least that cultural element has been saved.

    • Neville Ross Says:

      Except that you can’t just do that anymore, Bobby; what if the heirs to the writers of the episodes are alive and want their cut? They can’t just be told to ‘get lost, who cares about what you’re entitled to’ and leave it at that. All the legalities have to be followed, or as was said in the novel Dune, ‘The forms must be obeyed’.

    • JW Says:

      With television and music, I would think the copyright headaches would be enormous. I can’t imagine Google getting involved in that right now, though I could be wrong.

      With regard to Google’s book project, I don’t think any of those “cultural elements” were ever really in danger of disappearing. They were in libraries, where they should be, and where the public could have access to them. Google is not necessarily digitizing unique material that was ever in danger of being destroyed (though they did argue that in court) – they were simply out to provide access to books online (not a bad idea), with the hope that US copyright law would bend to their, or the people’s, will. And, one would assume, we’d then live in a world where all online book advertisements would be controlled by Google.

      In my opinion, the Google Book Project from the beginning was marred with hubris – it’s hard for the public to judge its success. I don’t think Google anticipated the massive negotiation and eventual settlement that came down with publishers and authors. I definitely recommend reading the settlement. Several original partner libraries (including Harvard) have now pulled out of the deal.

      There is indeed a race to digitization, and I wonder if Google’s eventual hubris allowed that door to at least partly close on them – massive public domain scanning projects are happening all over the world. If you want to explore other digitization projects that are up, running, successful and easy to use, I highly recommend exploring HathiTrust and Gallica. I guess it’s true that it’s tough to fight Google as they are so well-heeled, but it’s amazing how many different institutions are successfully digitizing their unique material and making it available.

  11. bobby J. Says:

    True, but one of my conjectures is that these ‘Playhouse 90′ are most linkely in the public domain – which can be checked. And as episodes of ‘Dragnet’ and a ‘Thriller’ prove – among others – their are no residual payments due then.

  12. Sam Says:

    With all due respect, Bobby, your view of how this works is terribly simplistic and ignores a lot of very real legal issues that no legitimate entity is going to ignore in trying to make shows like this available. For television programs, it just isn’t as simple as whether or not a copyright exists.

  13. Lee Says:

    If The Criterion Collection, which is not dealing in millions of units per title by any means, can work out the licenses for live TV dramas as special features, then this problem can’t be insurmountable or entirely cost prohibitive.

  14. bobby J. Says:

    Some very interesting perspectives here, the other option of getting niche channels involved is also an option – remember the British Channel Four broadcast ‘Naked City’ and many other rare gems in the early ’80s, when the program and film buyer for the whole independent sector – Leslie Halliwell (who published the first Film Guide and and accompanying TV guide too, brilliant reference books that did the work IMDB years before and became apart of the culture on the level of the Oxford Dictionay) – became the buyer of vintage film/tv classics and programmed them in the manner of ‘The National Film Theatre. A tv channel may have muscular leverage.

    As for Google – I read today that much of the Hathitrust material came from them. It’s strange, but many of the runs of slick/pulp magazines held by libraries are missing chunks of years. With all of these libraries collaborating – they can fill the missing ones for collectors such as myself. I can read Sherlock Holmes stories from ‘The Strand’ on a ipad. Many of the pulps have been disintegrating due the poor quality paper they were printed on, alas.


    • Re Channel 4, you’re talking about thirty years ago. There isn’t a cat in hell’s chance of them doing anything of the kind today. The more “niche” TV channels there have been, the cheaper and lazier their programming has become.

  15. Lawrence Fechtenberger Says:

    I have to ask: John Patrick Shanley?

    Obviously, you cannot mean the writer of MOONSTRUCK and DOUBT, as he was born in 1950, making him rather too young to have been reviewing television for a newspaper in 1960. Presumably you do not mean his father, who Wikipedia identifies as a meat-cutter. Was this a relative–an uncle, a cousin? Or is the identical name merely a coincidence?

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Er, thanks … I believe I supplied the “Patrick” myself and have corrected the post. The gentleman’s byline was actually “John P. Shanley” and while I’d be surprised if the “P” didn’t stand for Patrick, he was indeed not the same guy who wrote Moonstruck.

  16. Mike Doran Says:

    In the field of Amazing Coincidence:

    Over at a blog called Mystery File, a bunch of us have been speculating about a CBS project from this same time frame: A TV series version of “Nero Wolfe” starring Kurt Kasznar as Wolfe and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin.
    The available information is spotty at best; we can’t seem to find out whether this show was filmed or taped, or whether episodes were produced past the pilot – reports vary wildly. Supposedly the Wolfe series had both a time slot and a sponsor, but lost both (to Jackie Cooper’s “Hennessy”) just before a premiere date.
    As to the production itself, we know of a producer (Edwin Fadiman), a writer (Sidney Carroll), and a director (Tom Donovan), but no cast members other than Kasznar and Shatner. Based on what I’ve read here about CBS’s record-keeping, as well as the possible involvement of Jim Aubrey, I guess we likely won’t find out much more.

    What a damn shame …

    • Neville Ross Says:

      Eventually, Nero Wolfe did come to TV, in the early ’80’s on NBC, with William Conrad (Cannon) as Wolfe and Lee Horsley (Matt Houston) as Goodwin: Nero Wolfe

      Plus, as is now known, a recent new TV show was made that was shot in Toronto and was faithful to the original stories, starring Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Goodwin: A Nero Wolfe Mystery

      All the same, I’d love to see this version of Rex Stout character, if only to see Shatner in an early role and Kasznar in something that wasn’t his role in that piece of shit show Land Of The Giants.

      • Mike Doran Says:

        I believe all the Wolfeans in the room are familiar with the NBC/William Conrad version (produced by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, possibly as penance for creating “Charlie’s Angels”), as well as the A&E/Maury Chaykin version (the definitive filmic Wolfe to date).
        Just to be annoying completists, let’s include the ABC/Paramount TV pilot from the mid-70s, written and directed by Frank D. Gilroy (“The Subject Was Roses”), which starred Thayer David (of “Dark Shadows” fame), and which didn’t get an airing until after David’s death (which likely didn’t enhance the sales potential).

        Over at the MysteryFile blog, we all got to speculating as to why the CBS/Wolfe project simply vanished wthout trace.
        My own theories centered on Rex Stout, whose antipathy toward film and TV was well-known; my guess was that he retained some kind of ‘approval’ on the series and just stopped it cold when it failed to meet his standard. Note in this context that all the Wolfe projects that did come to fruition only did so after Stout’s death.

        That said, the explanations above about CBS’s carelessness with their archives should also be considered here.

        All these questions, and …
        … no answers at all?
        Hmmmm …

  17. Cora Baucom Says:

    I have been searching for the Playhouse 90 version of Alas, Babylon for years waiting for it to be available on dvd.

    Constant disappointment has not dampened my wish that this movie will be available. I think a remake would be too far removed from the source to have the same feeling that this one probably had. Even though I was a little girl at the time, I can’t imagine any current producer recreating the scene and feel of the cold war as well as those people living in it could have.

    I bought a copy of On the Beach in movie format to try to get the same effect and never used it because it just didn’t come close enough to reflecting that novel, and it certainly cannot rival the richness that Pat Frank’s story contains.

    I used the novel in my American Literature classes with great success in helping teenagers think through what they might use to take personal responsibility for themselves and to deepen their appreciation of the science fiction “prophets” who seriously look at how human nature works in different settings. It also allowed the students to analyze gender roles, realistic equality based on respect, and just about every literary concept in my game bag.

    I am ready for the dvd and will help anyone who has a plan to share to help make it available.

  18. Mary Jo Melancon Says:

    OK, I am on a mission. Recently read the Dorothy Yhnak book “Law and Order”, which was made into a TV mini-series (or movie-of-the-week, conflicting information) in 1976. I would love to get it on VHS if it is still available. It was on NBC and was produced by a company called A.P.A Productions/Paramount Television. So far, nothing but dead ends. Any ideas on how to proceed? Thanks much.

  19. Larry Granberry Says:

    The BBC has many lost episodes that if found would be a treasure trove: Most of the “Doctor Who” stories with WIlliam Hartnell and Patrick Troughton; the missing parts of “The Quatermass Experiment”; and my personal favorite, the first season of “The Avengers,” with Ian Hendry as Patrick Macnee’s partner.

  20. maddogmarley Says:

    I actually saw this original episode when I was a freshman in high school. I can’t remember much about it other than it scared me to death. I have a vague memory of doing an English class book review of On the Beach on top of it. ack! One TV play you didn’t mention , which might have been a nuclear war play, but maybe not, was produced on Climax! and involved a mysterious green fog floating under windows and doors killing everyone.. While perhaps not a “war” play per se, it must have been related to the genre.


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