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.
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.
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.
October 21, 2009
Production designer Serge Krizman died one year ago, on October 24, 2008, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 94. Krizman’s death was reported at the time in his hometown paper, but has not yet been noted by any entertainment industry sources.
Krizman was the initial and/or primary art director on at least four important television shows: The Fugitive, Batman, Harry O, and The Paper Chase. He also designed sets for the Schlitz Playhouse, Happy Days, Charlie’s Angels, T. J. Hooker, and a number of other series and made-for-television movies.
Because of The Fugitive’s continued popularity, Krizman may be best remembered for his work on that series, which was realistic in its look and somewhat ahead of the curve in combining studio sets with extensive Southern California location work. (At the time, most TV dramas stuck to the backlot, if they went outdoors at all.) Krizman even attended at least one Fugitive fan convention in the nineties. But the most important item on his resume is unquestionably Batman. Very few television series can claim production design as the defining element of their creative makeup; Batman tops that list. Krizman’s designs drew on the DC comic, of course, but also expanded to include elements of exuberant camp and dry visual humor that were unique to the TV version. For that credit alone, Krizman merits a mention in the annals of television history.
That obituary in the Santa Fe New Mexican does a nice job of filling in some details of Krizman’s eventful life, but the author commits one serious error that I think is worth singling out. The obit lists a purported tally of the individual episodes of various series on which Krizman worked: 70 Batmans, 17 Fugitives, 13 Charlie’s Angels. I can guess where those stats were sourced. Wait for it: my old nemesis, the Internet Movie Database.
The problem is that the IMDb is still hit-or-miss in listing the episodic television credits of many people, especially “below the line” crew members. It will scoop up a few mentions on one series, and every credit on another, without much rhyme or reason. In that way, the database presents a very distorted portrait of the significance of specific shows within an individual’s career (or, conversely, the extent of a person’s involvement on a particular series). Just in the year since his obituary has published, the IMDb’s totals of Krizman’s Fugitives and Batmans have ticked upward by a few episodes.
I don’t have credit transcripts of any of those shows handy, so I can’t provide the correct numbers. But I can point out that, while Krizman was credited on all twenty-two episodes of Harry O’s first season, the IMDb records him as the art director for only two. The IMDb contains a lot of traps into which inexperienced users can fall, but that’s no excuse for journalists to depend on it for “facts” that cannot be confirmed from reliable sources.
Krizman in the early 1990s, at the Goldwyn Studio during one of the Fugitive fan reunions.