April 17, 2010
Today I’m pleased to introduce the McGarrett Facepalm™, this blog’s long-overdue symbol for those forehead-smackingly egregious clusterfucks that occasionally invade Classic TV History Land.
In case you hadn’t noticed already, that’s the McGarrett Facepalm™ right there at the top of this post. Please feel free to copy and redistribute the McGarrett Facepalm™ until it becomes a “meme.” At least, I think that’s what the kids call those things.
Some of you who know me personally may have noticed that my Hotmail and Facebook accounts were compromised a few days ago. Unbelievably, this mess is still being untangled. Hence the inaugural McGarrett Facepalm™.
If anyone has tried and failed to contact me this week, you can reach me via the e-mail address for the main Classic TV History website. Which is: stephen [at] classictvhistory [dot] com. There’s also a direct e-mail link at the bottom of almost every page on the site, including this one, if that’s easier.
Now we return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Tune in on Monday for a new piece that I have provocatively titled . . . “Sixty-Nine.”
November 20, 2009
Just in case you were wondering, the invaluable, exhaustive series of Italian neorealist films currently playing at New York’s Lincoln Center is the primary culprit behind the dearth of posts here lately. Unfortunately, the drought may continue until after Thanksgiving. A few long pieces have encountered last-minute delays, but I’m confident that I’ll get those untangled and have plenty of new content to offer in December.
In the meantime, if you’re starved for a classic TV fix, allow me to point you in the direction of Ralph’s Trek. That may sound like a trip to the supermarket. But Ralph is actually Ralph Senensky, one of the top episodic television directors working between the early sixties and the late eighties, and his “trek” is a lovingly crafted new blog that chronicles his adventures in Hollywood, one episode at a time.
Ralph has been a personal friend for over a decade. He is also the rarest of treasures for a journalist: an impeccable source with an eye for detail and an encyclopedic memory. There’s really no way I can exaggerate the extent of Ralph’s recall; out of hundreds of interviews with his contemporaries, I’ve only spoken with one other person who could come close to matching the depth of his recollections. The first time I interviewed Ralph, it was by phone for a 1998 story about Arrest and Trial. Ralph began an anecdote by telling me the exact date, in May of 1963, on which a particular scene from one of his episodes was filmed. Usually I’m skeptical about details that specific when they emerge in the context of an oral history. But, as it happened, I had copies of Arrest and Trial’s daily production reports piled on my desk that afternoon. I thumbed through them as we were talking and, of course, Ralph had the date right. That taught me to never question the factual accuracy of anything Ralph told me, unless I had overwhelmingly contradictory evidence at hand.
Ralph is now eighty-six years old and yet for the last couple of months he’s been outpacing me in his blog output by a sizeable margin. Ralph’s Trek now contains a solid afternoon’s reading about series including Dr. Kildare, Route 66, Breaking Point, The Twilight Zone, 12 O’Clock High, and The Waltons, plus clips and even the occasional document from Ralph’s archives. Enjoy.
July 22, 2008
Fulfulling a promise I made a while back, I’ve added my interview with Richard DeRoy to the oral history archive on the main website. DeRoy, who passed away in March, was a talented freelance television writer for close to forty years. He should be, but is probably not, best known as one of the primary creative forces behind the TV version of Peyton Place, a huge popular hit of the sixties that has yet to earn the critical respect from historians that it deserves.
As a reader, I think of question-and-answer formatted interviews as easily digested morsels – informal, conversational, and usually without any big, blocky paragraphs. As an author, I always expect to breeze through them as well. After all, it’s the interview subject who does all the hard work, right? In practice, it always takes a great deal longer than I anticipate to edit, annotate, and introduce these oral histories. The usual delay has made a hash of my plan to upload Richard DeRoy’s interview, as a sort of tribute, right after I learned of his death in early April.
However, I can at least make some amends by pointing out that the piece has become timely again, in that the Sundance Channel will be screening DeRoy’s only significant feature film, Robert Wise’s Two People (1973), twice this month. It’s playing on Tuesday, July 22 at 12:50AM ET and Monday, July 28 at 4:00AM ET (those are “night before” dates, so technically it’s July 23 & 29). Because Two People was a financial failure it has been seen very rarely since its initial theatrical release, and I for one am eager to take a look.
A related aside: It’s worth noting that another key Peyton Place contributor, the character actor Henry Beckman, also died recently. Beckman played the father of Barbara Parkins’ teen tramp Betty Anderson, a disgruntled factory worker who eventually slid into mental illness. Like the contemporary Lost, Peyton Place was a show that skimped on the budget by mostly casting unknowns, then became a massive ratings success and began to add more expensive and better-known performers to its cast. This gave Beckman, a supporting player both before and after Peyton, a great deal more screen time than he usually enjoyed. And although the nature of the role encouraged a certain mastication of scenery, I think Beckman’s George Anderson is a lot of fun to watch. Beckman, who ended his life in Spain and began his long career in Canada, travelled quite a journey.
December 22, 2007
I’m taking three weeks off to goof off and work my way through some of the enormous pile of unwatched old TV shows write. So there won’t be much in the way of updates here for a while unless there are obits that require attention . . . and let’s hope there aren’t.
Unlike all of your favorite scripted TV programs, however, I will be back in January with some exciting new content . . . including oral histories for the website with (among others) one of my favorite action writers of the ’60s, and a talented specialist in doctor shows.
December 3, 2007
I’ll be posting some more substantial content here in the next few days, but first, here’s a quickie blog entry to note with the launch of my website devoted to all things TV. I’m putting up this post mainly to create a space for comments on the initial content of the site. Interviews with five television pioneers. Long looks at the production history of two classic shows. Throwing down the gauntlet on the best 100 episodes ever (well, only half of them for now). Surely that’s worth a response or two, hmm? Don’t make me beg.
This also seems like a good place to offer up a shout of gratitude to my father for the eleventh hour technical support, and to Jonathan Ward and Stuart Galbraith IV for some feverish proofreading. The usual disclaimer: Everything that’s still bad is not their fault.
Check back soon for some thoughts on one of the enduring cult shows of the ’80s . . . .