The Day the Running Started

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 . . . .


54 Responses to “The Day the Running Started”

  1. Ron Evans Says:

    Some of my nominations:

    Bus Stop: A Lion Walks Among Us…this one stimulated Congressional investigation of violence on tv

    77 Sunset Strip: Silent Caper….Roger Smith pulls off an hour episode with no words of dialogue

    Twilight Zone: Time Enough at Last…Serling shows us the fate of the self-indulgent

    Twilight Zone: Invaders….Agnes Moorhead also does a wonderful job in an episode with no dialogue

    Naked City: Case Study of Two Savages…sometimes violence is simply crude and random….

    Naked City: Golden Lads and Girls….goes head on with the subject of domestic violence…one of the first to do so

    Route 66: Black November…the first episode is film noir writ large.

    Defenders: Ordeal…vengeance is enacted in a most bizarre way by a woman scorned

    Ben Casey: A Cardinal Act of Mercy…Kim Stanley and Glenda Farrell both win Emmy’s in this dark look at drug addiction

    Insight: A Gun for Mandy…Lois Nettleton wins an Emmy in this tragic indictment of gun ownership

    Dr. Kildare: Lullaby for an Indian Summer…a surprisingly believe early treatment of pregnancy in the autumn of life

    Dr. Kildare: The Life Machine…kidney dialysis is brand new in the mid 60s…hard decisions must be made

    It’s a Man’s World: Winter Song.a warm and tender treatment of the transition from childhood to adolescence

    Stoney Burke…this and Naked City: Prime of Life, both show the wrath of tv writers after the cancellation of a great show is announced

    Combat: Hills are For Heroes…a powerful look at what happens when bravery is trumped by futility

    Nurses: The Saturday Evening of Time…Peggy Wood confronts aging, the end of a long career, and a bleak road ahead….one of the best treatments of aging issues in tv of that era

    Outer Limits: The Zanti Misfits…outcasts come in small packages, but are no less frightening

    Eastside West: Few 60s shows more powerful that Who Do You Kill or No Hiding Place, two provocative treaments of racial prejudice.

    Fugitive: Nightmare at North Oak…often considered the best entry from this series, as the fugitive receives help from a most unlikely source…

    Channing: Last Testament of Buddy Crown….Buddy is different, or so say the young men troubled by his behavior

    Bob Hope Chrysler Theater: A Small Rebellion…Simone Signoret and George Maharis as two actors in conflict…epic performances

    • Thomas E. Rudy Says:

      Alfred Hitchcock Presents –The Glass Eye ( episode) staring Jessica Tandy and William Shatner. Story of a lonely spinster who falls in love with a seemingly handsome charming ventriloquist until a horrifying evening encounter with him changes both their lives forever. Easily the eeriest and most frightening series episode in his entire television run. I believe it won an Emmy award.

      • Peter Shapiro Says:

        My favorite Defenders episode (I’d love to see it again) is “The Voices of Death,” about a woman accused of murdering her drunken, abusive husband. (She’d stand a better chance today–the courts are more sensitive to the problem of domestic violence–but this episode was a powerful indictment of the capriciousness of the criminal justice system, made especially so by the use of voice-overs in which each of the leading characters reacts privately to what is going on. (When the defendant loses her temper during cross-examination, E.G. Marshall thinks, “He’s killing her,” the DA thinks, “She’s killing herself,” and Robert Reed adds, “We’re all killing her.” Marshall’s final voice-over is especially powerful—as he approaches the woman’s kids to deliver the bad news, his voice-over says, “How do I tell them? God give me the strength to tell them.” After more than fifty years I still remember it vividly.

  2. Neville Ross Says:

    My Best Epsiodes?

    Here goes:

    Superman-The Animated Series-Apokolips….NOW!, part 2:One of the most tragic endings for an animated series, especially on Saturday mornings. Metropolis SCU officer ‘Terrible’ Dan Turpin makes the ultimate sacrifice in the fight against an invasion by Darkseid. ‘Nuff said.

    Buffy The Vampire Slayer-The Body: Joyce Summers dies,and everybody must deal with the fallout, especially her two daughters, Buffy and Dawn.

    Buffy The Vampire Slayer-Once More With Feeling: The musical episode that EVERBODY sings to at conventions!

    Batman: The Animated Series-Heart Of Ice: The tragic story of Dr. Victor Fries/Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) and his misguided attempt at justice against a corporate head and his cost-cutting measures.

    Star Trek: The Next Generation-Sarek: How does one deal with losing one’s facilities as one gets older, especially if you’re a Vulcan? This episode shows how in painful detail, with great performances by Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart.

    Star Trek: The Next Generation-The Inner Light: Living eighty years in thirty minutes-what an amazing journey.

    The Twilight Zone-Three O’ Clock: Karmic justice was never this precise as it was for Oliver Crangle (Theodore Bikel) who suffers when his own attempt to get rid of all the ‘evil’ people gets him instead.

    Star Trek-Court-Martial: What is the measure of a man? And what does he do to defend himself?

    Star Trek: The Next Generation-The Drumhead: What are universal rights, and how do we protect them when terrorist calamities happen?

    Star Trek:Deep Space Nine-In The Pale Moonlight: How far will Captain Benjamin Sisko go to enlist Romulan help in the Dominion War? Pretty far.

  3. Brian Cuddy Says:

    Fascinating choices.

    Some other ideas:

    The Psychiatrist: “Par for the Course”. Clu Gulager as a vital young golfer dying from cancer. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

    The Psychiatrist: “The Private World of Martin Dalton”. About a 12-year old boy with emotionally remote parents who tries to escape into a dream world. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

    The Senator: “Power Play”. Hal Holbook and Burgess Meredith face off in an acting duel. Stunningly directed by Jerrold Freedman. Written by Ernest Kinoy.

    77 Sunset Strip: “Once Upon a Caper”. Rex Randolph is told three very different versions of how Bailey and Spencer got together. Written by Roger Smith.

    The Lieutenant: “The Proud and the Angry”. Rip Torn as a tough drill sergeant who may be responsible for the death of a trainee. Lt. Bill Rice (Gary Lockwood) goes
    undercover as recruit to investigate Torn’s methods.

    The Dick Powell Show: “Thunder in a Forgotten Town”. Jackie Cooper as a Korean War POW who is released by the North Korerans ten years after the war ends. Cooper, an angry, brooding man, returns to his home town. No one is glad to see him except his old best friend who is now mayor (David Janssen). And then Janssen mysteriously dies. A good pulp melodrama. One of the writers was Richard Carr. Bernard Kowalski directed.

    Lou Grant: “Hollywood”. Animal investigates an unsolved 1940’s murder. Laraine Day, Howard Duff, Paul Stewart and Margaret Hamilton are among the guest stars.

    Police Story: “Little Boy Lost”. Detective Robert Forster investigates the disappearance of a young boy.

  4. Stephen Bowie Says:

    I’ve never seen it, but that Clu Gulager episode of THE PSYCHIATRIST just came up in passing at a taping session I attended with Roy Thinnes. According to Thinnes, the series had already been cancelled before the producer-writer, Jerrold Freedman, finished the script, and the ending of the episode was basically improvised by Thinnes, Gulager, and Spielberg. Freedman told them by phone, “Trust Steven.” Since Freedman hadn’t had time to write any dialogue, the three of them decided to play the scene without words.

  5. Brian Cuddy Says:

    TV Guide did an interview with Spielberg shortly after “Duel”. He said now that “The Senator” and “The Psychiatrist” were gone, he wanted to focus on TV movies and eventually feature films. He didn’t want to do any more episodic television. He knew that whatever he did now had to be good. He said he was working on a script called “Slide” (which became “The Sugarland Express.”)

    Spielberg talks a little about his early TV work on a recent “Duel” DVD release. He says he wasn’t that happy with the material he was getting at Universal. He was directing episodes of shows he didn’t like that much. And the shows he did like wouldn’t hire him.

    Jerrold Freedman was a friend of Spielberg who asked him to direct a couple of episodes of “The Psychiatrist”. Spielberg said Freedman offered him complete artistic freedom to do whatever he wanted. Freedman told him to make an avant guarde film if he wanted to and Spielberg said that is what he did. Spielberg also talks about how “wild” Gulager was and how he improvised a scene in the hospital when Thinnes and some of his other friends bring him the 18th hole of a golf course. Spielberg still seems proud of that work. I think Spielberg was 24 or 25 and Freedman was 28.

  6. Stephen Bowie Says:

    As with Sydney Pollack, I think Spielberg abruptly stops being interesting right after the episodic TV and the first couple of features. If Universal (or one of the companies that’s sublicensing their TV product) were smart, they’d issue a DVD collection of Spielberg’s TV episodes; marketed properly, it’d probably outsell any given season of IRONSIDE or NIGHT GALLERY by a wide margin, and we’d get a few episodes of obscure series that will otherwise never see the light of day.

  7. Brian Cuddy Says:

    Some other memorable (to me) television episodes:

    Checkmate: “The Murder Game”. An Agatha Christie like murder mystery by Douglas Heyes. An attorney who never lost a capital case finds out that one of his clients was guilty. He plans to murder the murderer at a party he is throwing. He invites Don Corey and Carl Hyatt of Checkmate to the party to see if they can stop him.

    The Outer Limits: “Demon with a Glass Hand”. Robert Culp at his coolest. A lovely Arlene Martel. Stunning direction by Byron Haskin. Amazing black and white photography. Superb script by Harlan Ellison.

    Route 66: Ever Ride the Waves in Oklahoma?”. Jeremy Slate as an arrogant surfer who Buz blames for the death of a young man. Buz decides to take Slate down.
    Directed by Robert Gist. Written by Borden Chase and Frank Chase.

    Maverick: “Gun-Shy”. A very funny send-up of “Gunsmoke” written by Marion Hargrove and directed by Leslie Martinson. James Arness did not find it amusing.

    Gunsmoke: “Cale”. Matt tries to help a difficult but decent young man (Carl Reindel) who may have broken the law. I think Reindel was up for a regular role on “Gunsmoke” as Cale but the producers finally went with Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper. The script was by Kathleen Hite who did many fine episodes of the series but who quit out of loyalty when producer Norman MacDonnell was fired.

    Hennesey: “The Nogoodnick”. Written by Richard Baer. Charles Bronson guest stars as Lt. Commander Steve Ogrodowski, a Shore Patrol investigator. Hennesey has a young man in the infirmary who is accused of a crime. Hennesey believes the young man may be innocent and begins looking into the matter. Bronson is absolutely furious when he learns that Hennesey is infringing on his investigation. He has a show down with Hennessey where he violently pushes him up against a wall. Hennessey is almost speechless and he is trembling. I don’t think I have ever seen a series lead so completely humiliated. It turns out Hennesey’s young patient is guilty as sin.

  8. Stephen Bowie Says:

    “The Murder Game” is a classic, another instance of a great episode emerging from a mediocre show. Douglas Heyes did some similar locked room-type material on the Lawyers segments of THE BOLD ONES, where it didn’t work out as well. Talented guy though; I’d like to know more about him.

    I was trying to set up an interview with Richard Baer when he died in February, and even if I had talked to him, I wouldn’t have known to ask about that HENNESEY episode. I feel like I’m forever playing catchup on this stuff.

  9. Brian Cuddy Says:

    The Senator: “A Single Blow of the Sword”. An arrogant senior civil servant is a staunch opponent of the welfare system. Logan Ramsey, who I had never seen before, made a marvelous opponent for liberal Senator Hays Stowe (Hal Holbrook). The episode was written by Jerrold Freedman and was directed by John Badham. This was only the second TV episode that Badham directed, and he was already brilliant. “The Senator” used no background music which was enormously effective. I wonder why someone doesn’t try that again. Badham likes to show TV screens in his early TV episodes (something John Frankenheimer also liked to do as you point out in your essay.) Badham who was associate producer of “The Senator” received an Emmy nomination for the episode, but lost to Daryl Duke for another episode of “The Senator”.

    Badham’s first directing episode was called “Someday They’ll Elect a President” (the “They” was organized crime.)It was written by Leon Tokatyan. It was also a strong episode.

    I became a big fan of Badham, but I don’t think he has done anything yet that matches his work on “The Senator”.

    Gunsmoke: “The Gallows”. Written by John Meston and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. Jeremy Slate as a likeable young man who gets into a dispute with a difficult older man over $100. Both men stuggle over a knife after drinking heavily. When Slate wakes up, the other man is dead with a knife in his chest. While Matt Dillon is bringing Slate back to Dodge to stand trial, Matt is shot by a deranged man. Slate takes the bullet out and nurses Matt back to health. Slate is sentenced to die at his trial, despite Matt’s strong testimonay in Slate’s behalf. Matt lets Slate go when he is taking him to be hung. Slate rides off but eventually changes his mind and catches up with Matt. Slate is hung in Hayes City.

    Director Andrew McLaglen showed a lot of talent on shows like “Gunsmoke”, “Have Gun Will Travel” and “Perry Mason” but his eventual movie career was a little disappointing.

    I Spy: “Home to Judgment”. Written by Robert Culp. Excellent direction by Richard Sarafian. Culp and Cosby are back in the United States. They are on the run from assassins. They seek shelter with Culp’s relatives. Aunt Alta (Una Merkel) and Uncle Harry (Will Geer) live on a farm in the midwest. The suspenseful episode has a Hitchcock feel to it. According to a DVD commentary by Culp, Cosby thinks this is the best episode of the series. Cosby loves Una Merkel’s performance although writer Culp thinks she is all wrong for the part. As usual, I think Cosby’s judgment about the episode and about Merkel is on the money.

    Twilight Zone: “In His Image”. George Grizzard was never more appealing than in this episode. Directed by Perry Lafferty and written by Charles Beaumont.

    The Eleventh Hour: “Something Crazy’s Going on in the Back Room”. Directed by Robert Gist. Written by Jerry De Bono. The cast makes this memorable. Dr. Paul Graham (Jack Ging) is doing family therapy. The family: Angela Lansbury and Martin Balsam as the parents, Tuesday Weld as the daughter and Roy Thinnes and Don Grady as the sons. This was the first time I saw Roy Thinnes.

    The executive producer of this fine psychiatry series was Norman Felton (“Dr. Kildare”, “The Man from Uncle”). When Felton decided to do another psychiatry series seven years later, he hired Roy Thinnes to play “The Psychiatrist”.

    Bourbon Street Beat: “Target of Hate”. Written by Richard Matheson and William L. Stuart. James Coburn, Richard Chamberlain and John Marley plan to assasinate a political candiate. They take over Rex Randolph’s elegant home (which is also the office of “Randolph and Calhoun”). The candidate is scheduled to make a speech outside the home. The script uses all four of the series stars (Richard Long, Andrew Duggan, Arlene Howell and Van Williams.) Each of the regulars as well as the guest stars have some fine moments. Leslie Martinson’s direction is very good as is the black and white photography. The script was probably based on the movie “Suddenly”. A strong series episode from Warner Brothers, who weren’t noted for spending much money on their television product.

  10. Brian Cuddy Says:

    12 O’Clock High: “The Loneliest Place in the World”.

    This should have been one of the great TV episodes but wasn’t.

    Quinn Martin made one of the stupidest creative decisions in television history when he fired Robert Lansing. Martin apparently didn’t like Lansing’s brooding, low key, pensive and intense performance from the beginning. (And Lansing may not have shown Martin enough respect.) It was obvious to everyone else that Lansing’s performance was brilliant but Martin had something lighter and less layered in mind. Its hard to fathom the decision since Vic Morrow’s war weary performance on the highly rated “Combat” seemed to be cut out of the same cloth as Lansing’s. And so, for that matter, did David Janssen’s performance on Martin’s “The Fugitive”.

    You have to wonder why Martin hired Lansing in the first place. Maybe Paul Monash, who developed the show for 20th Century Fox, hired Lansing.

    Anyway, the death of Brigadier General Frank Savage should have made a great emotional episode. Maybe Savage is shot down and is captured by the Germans. The Germans hold Savage in key factory that the Americans need to destroy. Colonel Gallagher (Paul Burke) decides he needs to bomb the factory even if it means
    the certain death of Savage. Maybe Savage has a plan to escape.

    Lansing refused to be in the episode because he said his part wasn’t strong enough, and indeed Savage is dead at the end of the opening tease. Martin should have found a way to get Lansing on board. The year after Lansing was fired he worked as a guest star on other peoples’ shows (“Slattery’s People”, “Gunsmoke”, “The Virginian”) so he was available for free lance work. Martin should have had an episode written that was so strong Lansing couldn’t turn it down.

    Gallagher dealing with his guilt over Savage’s death and his trying to stretch to replace a great commander could have given the second season some real emotional weight. Maybe Gallagher’s men are reluctant to accept him as their new leader (similar to much of the audience’s reaction.) Some flash-back scenes of the strained realtionship between Gallagher and Savage could have been effective. Gallagher might have appeared an underdog, and people might have started rooting for him.

    But Quinn Martin pretty much squandered all opportunities that the death of a great series hero provided.

  11. Stephen Bowie Says:

    THE SENATOR was not only well written (I think between us Brian and I have singled out almost every episode), it was also formally innovative. Not only was there no scoring, but it was shot in a lot of either authentic locations or sets with ceilings, and the lighting was designed to capture that drab, fluorescent haze of office building interiors; it was one of the only TV shows of the era to approximate the grungy, naturalistic look of the 70s “New Hollywood” movies of Altman, Pakula, Hal Ashby, etc. Several episodes also incorporated cutaways to mock-documentary “man-on-the-street” interviews. The political documentaries of Robert Drew and Emile de Antonio (and maybe some of the TV docs from Wolper, Mel Stuart, etc.) probably inspired the look of the show.

    It’s pretty amazing something so distinctive could come
    out of the drab, cookie-cutter backlot factory that was Universal at that time; I’m guessing the unsung hero was the producer, David Levinson. Levinson produced the final season of “Doctors” segments on THE BOLD ONES and there are at least a half-dozen masterpieces in there, too.

  12. Brian Cuddy Says:

    World Premiere Movie: “The Law”. Written by Joel Oliansky based on a story by William Sackheim. Directed by John Badham. Produced by William Sackheim. Oliansky, Sackheim and Badham worked together on “The Senator” in 1970. They hit another one out of the park in 1974 with this Frederick Wiseman like look at the justice system.

    A world famous football player is murdered. Public defender Judd Hirsch is assigned to defend slow witted druggie Gary Busey, who doesn’t know who Tom Seaver or Ernest Hemingway is but does know Herman Hesse. Sam Wanamker is the show-boating nationally famous attorney who says he was played by George C. Scott in a movie. None of the cast were stars at the time, which is pretty much unheard of for a TV movie before or since. The network thought George Segal might be good in the Hirsch role, but somehow Sackheim convinced them that known actors would detract from the realism.

    The script was so good you could easily imagine it as theatrical film with Dustin Hoffman or Gene Hackman. Olianksy thought “And Justice for All” with Al Pacino was an uncredited rewrite of “The Law”.

    This is still probably John Badham’s best film. I think its a great legal film, on a par with “Anatomy of a Murder” and “The Verdict”.

    ABC Movie of the Week: “A Cold Nights Death”. Written by Christopher Knopf. Directed by Jerrold Freedman. Two scientists at a research center in the Arctic begin to wonder how their predecessors died. Robert Culp and Eli Wallach are superb as the scientists. Jerrold Freedman’s direction was sensational. The film had a look and sound and feel that were stunning and original. It didn’t look like a Movie of the Week. Freedman’s work was similarly stunning on the “Power Play” episode of “The Senator”. I think he was going for a cinima verite look on both projects. “A Cold Nights Death” is a beautifully made little thriller.

    Movie of the Week: “The Night Stalker”. Written by Richard Matheson based on a story by Jeff Rice. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. A vampire is stalking modern day Las Vegas. A down and out, wise guy reporter is on the case (Darren McGavin uncorking a terrific performance). Great entertainment. Hitchcock wasn’t getting scripts this good at the time. The direction by Moxey was just as impressive as Spielberg’s on “Duel”.

    ABC Sunday Night Movie: “One of My Wives is Missing”. Written by Peter Stone, based on a play by Robert Thomas. Directed by Glenn Jordan. James Franciscus can’t find his wife. Sexy Elizabeth Ashley finally shows up claiming to be the wife. But Franciscus says this is not my beautiful wife. Jack Klugman is the cop on the case. An absorbing mystery with an ending I didn’t see coming.

    World Premiere: “Guilty or Innocent: The Sam Sheppard Murder Case”. Written by Harold Gast, based on a story by Lou Randolph. Directed by Robert Michael Lewis. George Peppard is very fine as Dr. Sheppard. Harold Gast had written for “The Defenders” and “For the People” and had produced “Judd for the Defense”. Gast knew how to make a compelling legal drama. Peppard had not been used to best advantage on the “Banacek” series. I think he might have been more interesting as Philip Marlowe or Travis McGee. Maybe he could have toned down his natural arrogance just a little.

    Twilight Zone: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. Written by Richard Matheson. Directed by Richard Donner. Thirty-four year old William Shatner has just recovered from a nervous breakdown. He and his wife are heading home on a plane flight. Complications ensue. Arguably the best series episode ever. William Shatner is a walking history of TV, starting with “Studio One” and “Playhouse 90” and moving forward to the present. I hope TV historians are taking note.

    Run For Your Life: “Hoodlums on Wheels”. Written by Halstead Welles (the screenplay for “3:10 to Yuma”). John Drew Barrymore and his gang of beatnik/Hell’s Angels terrorize a resort town. They take the residents of a house prisoner, including hero Paul Bryan (Ben Gazzara). Lovely Karen Jensen is also one of the prisoners. A standard plot for a series episode, but here the writing, directing and acting made it a standout episode. Barrymore tries to kiss Gazzara in one scene and Gazzara spits in his face. Universal’s “Run For Your Life” was one of the best shows of its time.

    Alfred Hitchcock Hour: “Forecast: Low Clouds and Coastal Fog”. Written by Lee Erwin. Directed by Charles Haas. Inger Stevens lives at the beach with her much older, rather emotionally remote husband. The husband goes away on business despite Inger’s asking him not to. Three beautiful young beach boys keep Inger company (Chris Robinson, Peter Brown, Richard Jaeckal). So does a lecherous novelist who lives next door (Dan O’Herlihy). One night a Hispanic man (Christopher Dark) knocks on Inger’s door, begging for help. Inger is afraid and doesn’t let him in. This leads to the death of the man’s wife. Who killed the wife and is the man out for vengeance against Inger? As a kid, I think I had a crush on Inger Stevens from her fine early 1960’s guest star roles. Inger and the rest of the cast are excellent in this episode and so is the moody direction.

    The Millionaire: “The Hub Grimes Story”. Written by Doris Hursley and Frank Hursley. Directed by John Brahm. Chuck Connors as a former football player who is confined to an iron lung due to polio. Michael Anthony gives Connors a million dollar check. Anthony has to put a pen in Connors mouth so he can sign the agreement to get the check. The money can’t get back Connor’s health but he can live better. Someone starts trying to kill Connors. The thriller apsect of the show paled next to how you were forced to identify with Connors condition. I found it a very unsettling show.

  13. Brian Cuddy Says:

    World Premiere: “A Case of Rape”. Written by Robert C. Thompson (“They Shoot Horses Don’t They”). Based on a story by Louis Rudolph. Directed by Boris Sagal. Produced by David Levinson (“The Senator”).

    Elizabeth Montgomery was excellent in this harrowing drama. Also in the cast: Rosemary Murphy, William Daniels, Ronny Cox, Cliff Potts and Tom Selleck.

    Columbo: “Murder by the Book”. Written by Steven Bochco based on a story by Richard Levinson and William Link.
    Directed by Steven Spielberg.

    Peter Falk only wanted proven directors during the first season of “Columbo”, terrific pros like Bernard Kowalski, Jack Smight and Norman Lloyd. But after producers Levinson and Link showed Falk part of Spielberg’s “Par for the Course” episode of “The Psychiatrist”, Falk agreed to give Spielberg a chance.

    Spielberg’s direction was superb. It looked and sounded far richer than any other of the first season episodes of “Columbo” or any other series for that matter. And Speilberg was able to restrain those two magnificent hams Peter Falk and Jack Cassidy without taking away the fun. And he got fine, fresh work out of supporting players Martin Milner, Rosemary Forsyth and Barbara Colby. Spielberg was already a more facinating director than the great TV pros. Maybe he went over budget or over the alloted time, but if he did, the results were well worth it. I think Spielberg was 25 at the time. This was his last TV episode for many years.

    Hong Kong: “Jumping Dragon”. Written by Robert Buckner (“Yankee Doodle Dandy”). Directed by Jus Addis.

    Two fisted foreign correspondent Glenn Evans (Rod Taylor) is romancing a lovely blond stewardess (Taina Elg) in hopes of breaking a smuggling story. In the last scene, heavy Jay Novello has the drop on Evans and Elg. Evans makes a move and Novello pushes Elg out of the plane into the nighttime sky. Taylor’s acting is quite good in simultaneously registering disbelief, anger, grief and guilt. A decidedly unhappy ending for an adventure series episode and a very memorable one.

    Robert Buckner was credited as the creator of “Hong Kong” but the series was clearly based on the movie “Soldier of Fortune” written by Ernest Gann. “Hong Kong” made Rod Taylor a star even though it only lasted a year. Taylor was dazzling in all facets of the role of Glenn Evans, whether romancing the beautiful guest stars, fighting with the villains or bantering with buddies Lloyd Bochner and Jack Kruschen. The producer was Herbert Hirschman, who had worked with Taylor on “Playhouse 90”.

    Hong Kong: “Colonel Cat”. Written by Robert Buckner. Directed by Budd Boetticher (“Seven Men for Now”).

    Colonel Cat (Teru Shimada) was the brutal commander of a Japanese POW camp during World War 11. The deadly Cat is a master of the martial arts including kung fu. He may be the most deadly man alive, and he has escaped from prison and is in Hong Kong. The climactic fight scene between Rod Taylor and Colonel Cat is a humdinger, a fight to the death. Taylor uses good old fashioned American boxing against Cat’s devastating martial arts. A beautifuly staged and acted fight.

    Roy Huggins was the head of TV production at Fox at the time, and he probably contributed to the quality of “Hong Kong”. Huggins used Boetticher to direct the first three episodes of “Maverick” so he probably brought him in for “Hong Kong”. Boetticher didn’t disappoint him.

    Rod Taylor had another memorable fight scene at the end of the movie “Darker Than Amber”. William Smith was his great opponent in that one. Smith says Taylor was the toughest guy he ever fought and he never wants to do it again.

    “The Missiles of October”. Written by Stanley Greenberg. Directed by Anthony Page. Produced by Herbert Brodkin.

    An excellent docudrama about the Cuban missle crisis. Hal Holbrook was the first choice to play JFK, but he was ill or injured. (Holbrook had worked with the same creative team on “Pueblo”.) But even the great Holbrook might not have been as good a JFK as William Devane was.

  14. Brian Cuddy Says:

    Police Story: “Dangerous Games”. Written by Robert Collins. Directed by John Badham.

    James Farentino as undercover cop Charlie Czonka. Czonka has learned to use people on the job to get what he wants, and this carries over to his personal life with his girl friend (Janet Margolin). Czonka knows how to play roles and to be what people want him to be. This hero is one cool customer. Elizabeth Ashley plays a prostitute who Czonka forcibly persuades to help him get a bad guy (Fred Williamson). Ashley and Farentino had once been married so this must have been an interesting shoot. In one touching scene Ashley asks Farentino if she is still attractive. Ashley later gets her face slashed for helping Czonka. Czonka says he is sorry.

    Writer Robert Collins went on to direct the episodes he wrote. He excelled at both jobs. His episodes were among the best of the series. “The Wyatt Earp Syndrome” with Cliff Gorman was one of his best efforts.

    “Police Story” was a fine drama series, but one thing I hated was the background music. It was horribly obtrusive and overdone. Less would have been a lot more.

    Lou Grant: “Venice”. Written by Patti Shea and Harriett Weiss. Directed by Paul Stanley.

    Animal sees a drowned woman in Venice who was probably a suicide. He looks into the woman’s past to try to find a motive. A compelling mystery/character study.

    It took me a while to warm up to “Lou Grant”. I didn’t like the bright look of the show. To me a newspaper drama set in Los Angeles should have had a rich noir look. I also didn’t like the light weight opening theme
    music. But the show quickly sucked me in. I grew to love the characters and the stories. It was perhaps the only show of its time I tried never to miss.

    Lou Grant: “Samaritan”. Written by Elliot West. Directed by Paul Leaf.

    Ben Piazza as a middle aged reporter who thinks a serial killer from long ago is back at work.

  15. Pat Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more about Robert Lansing, he was a terrific, great actor, however he will admit that during that period in his life he was a very bad alcoholic and was difficult, perhaps that was why Quinn Martin decided to write him out.

  16. Brian Cuddy Says:

    Thanks for the thoughts on Robert Lansing. It seems more actors had serious drinking problems than didn’t. So did many great novelists like Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald. I guess it was just part of being a man in the early to mid 20th century. What a waste of talent.

  17. Brian Cuddy Says:

    Sarge: “A Terminal Case of Vengeance”. Written by Joel Oliansky. Directed by John Badham. Produced by David Levinson. Oliansky, Badham and Levinson had worked together the previous season on “The Senator” with Hal Holbrook. Oliansy and Levinson won Emmys for their work on “The Senator” and Badham recieved a nomination.

    This was the first regular episode of “Sarge”, and it appeared Levinson was determined to match his fine work on “The Senator”. Jack Albertson played a man who learns he only has a short time to live. Many years earlier Albertson had been brutally humiliated in front of his young son by a gangster (Roy Poole). Albertson has been brooding about this event since, and he now has a bizarre plan to humiliate the still very dangerous gangster as payback. Sarge tries to find Albertson before it is too late.

    Mike Farrell played Alberton’s now grown son. James Wainwright and Barra Grant were other guest stars.

    Forty-six year old George Kennedy was in top form as Sarge, a cop turned priest. Peter Falk got most of the attention that year for his amazing performance as Columbo, but Kennedy was in many ways just as cool.

    One thing I didn’t like about “Sarge” was the freeze frame ending. Producer David Levinson was trying to give his shows their own distinctive look the way Quinn Martin did. The freeze frame had worked very well on “The Senator”, sometimes even to the point of being haunting. But on “Sarge” it just seemed trite, particulary since each freeze frame was always on a solo George Kennedy. It was probably in Kennedy’s contract. The guest star wasn’t even in the close up.

    David Levinson had used no music background on “The Senator”, which was stunningly effective. On “Sarge” David Shire gave some effective, understated backgound music.

    Sarge: “The Combatants”. Written by Walter Black. Directed by Walter Doniger. Don Johnson as a sweet, naive boy from the hills of Kentucky who has joined the Marines. Morgan Woodward was extremely scary as the near psychotic drill sergenat who has it in for Johnson. The episode ends with the hulking Sarge and Woodward fighting it out in a burning building. Randolph Mantooth gave a juicy performance in this episode as a cunning company clerk. Lindsay Wagner played Johnson’s girl friend. Tom Selleck was a Marine captain who is asked to help Sarge. Gordon Pinsent and Jeff Morrow were also in the cast.

    The Fugitive: “Fear in a Desert City”. Written by Stanford Whitmore. Directed by Walter Grauman. This was the pilot episode in which 32-year old David Janssen created his hugely sympathetic portrayal of Dr. Richard Kimble. There were many great series performances in the 60’s, but perhaps none better than Janssen’s. Film director Paul Schrader once asked Christopher Walken to study old episodes of “The Fugitive” for an upcoming role. Schrader said Janssen was the only actor who could make being passive sexy. Director Walter Grauman probably deserves a lot of credit for helping Janssen to get the character of Kimble up and running. As far as I know, Janssen had never before given such a compelling performance.

    The pilot has classy guest stars in Vera Miles, Brian Keith, Harry Townes, and Dabbs Greer. All the DNA for the show was already in place: Kimble’s tremendous decency, Kimble’s desire not to stand out, Kimble’s ability to attract the most magnifent women, and Kimble’s affinity for children. And best of all Kimble wasn’t a two bit hero who would win every fight and laugh in the face of danger. You could actually smell the fear on him. TV series drama is largely about great series performances, and this was one of the best. It was hard not to identify with Richard Kimble.

  18. Brian Cuddy Says:

    I think I made a mistake on my posting about “The Fugitive”. Paul Schrader advised Wilem Dafoe, not Christopher Walken, to study Janssen’s work. It was for a film called “Light Sleeper” (1992), where Dafoe played a drug dealer who was a former drug addict.I read it in “The Sunday New York Times” entertainment section at the time the movie was released.

  19. MDH Says:

    Hawaii Five-0, “R&R — &R.” Written by Bill Stratton; directed by Leo Penn.

    Five-0’s fourth year was spotty at best, as the series had long since settled into formula and was thoroughly dominated by Jack Lord at the expense of his co-stars. But this episode — the season finale, at least broadcast-wise — is a stunner.

    The plot, about a Vietnam vet turned serial killer, is stock “Five-0” fodder on the surface, but it imparts a genuine and surprising sense of loss for the murderer’s victims and their loved ones — and, more pointedly, for the families of American soldiers at that point still dying in Southeast Asia. It’s visceral and quietly damning of the war, and unlike anything the show had done up to that point. Stratton and Penn did some amazing work here, and the cast rises to the occasion.

    For what it’s worth, this episode convinced me to keep going with the Hawaii Five-0 DVD sets.

  20. Gary Dalkin Says:

    As an Englishman I find the list fascinating, full of intriguing information about many shows I’ve never, or barely heard of. Just two points. Though you do address the fact that the list only covers American shows the title doesn’t reflect this. It really should be called ‘The 100 Greatest American Television Episodes of All Time’. And secondly, you wrote ‘it’s not that The Prisoner and Ricky Gervais’ The Office aren’t eminently worthy, but they are products of another culture and an altogether different (i.e., non-commercial) set of production circumstances.’ This is not true. The Prisoner was made for the ITV (Independent Television) network in the UK, which is and always has been a commercial operation and therefore directly comparable with the American production system. It is why many ITV shows, especially from the 1960’s, had much longer episode runs than BBC series. The intention being to sell them to America, if not to the networks, then at least to syndication.

  21. Brian Says:

    Kung Fu: “King of the Mountain”. Written by Herman Miller. Directed by Jerry Thorpe.

    The first regular episode of the series after the fine pilot movie. Caine is working for a beautiful widow (Lara Parker) who owns a small ranch. The widow has a sensitive young son. Caine has trouble keeping his eyes off the widow. A bounty hunter (John Saxon) has tracked Caine down. The climatic fight between Carradine and Saxon is beautifully handled by the actors, the stunt men, and the director. Carradine and Saxon have a lot of charisma and Parker is stunning. The series story telling is rather innovative, telling two parallel stories, one a flashback of Caine as a boy and the other Caine’s current adventure. The show is also visually interesting, something rare in the 70’s. A nice try for something different.

    Bonanza: “The Crucible”. Written by John T. Dugan. Directed by Paul Nickell.

    Lee Marvin thinks he is a better man than Pernell Roberts because he came out of nothing. Roberts was born with a silver spoon. The two men are alone in the desert struggling to survive. Who is the stronger man? A good actors duel. Marvin and Roberts had both played the heavy in Budd Boetticher westerns.

    The New Breed: “Ladies Man” (1961). Written by Alfred Brenner. Directed by Walter Grauman. If I remember this episode correctly, Robert Redford played a serial rapist. Anne Francis was a victim and Martin Balsam was her husband. Leslie Nielsen played series lead detective Lt. Price Adams, just the kind of role Nielsen would skewer decades later. The subject matter was quite adult for a show that aired at 8:30 pm. The material was handled in a low key, non sensational way. Redford was very effective. Producer Quinn Martin surely would have recognized Redford’s star potential. I wonder if he offered Redford a series. Redford might have made a good Richard Kimble. Redford later made a fine fugitive in the movie “The Chase”. Meta Rosnenberg said she did offer Redford the lead role of the psychiatrist in “The Breaking Point”.

  22. Todd Pence Says:

    Here’s my list of the fifty greatest episodes of the 1960’s, presented in chronological order by the date they first aired:

    ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS – “Man From the South” (1/60)
    THE UNTOUCHABLES – “The Rusty Heller Story” (10/60)
    THRILLER – “The Hungry Glass” (1/61)
    HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL – “A Quiet Night in Town” (1/61)
    THE TWILIGHT ZONE – “The Invaders” (1/61)
    ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS – “Incident in a Small Jail” (3/61)
    THE TWILIGHT ZONE – “It’s a Good Life” (11/61)
    ROUTE 66 – “The Mud Nest” (11/61)
    THE DICK POWELL SHOW – “The Price of Tomatoes” (1/62)
    ROUTE 66 – “A Long Piece of Mischief” (1/62)
    NAKED CITY – “Today the Man Who Kills Ants is Coming” (3/62)
    BUS STOP – “I Kiss Your Shadow” (3/62)
    BONANZA – “The Crucible” (4/62)
    ROUTE 66 – “Man Out of Time” (10/62)
    IT’S A MAN’S WORLD – “A Drive Over to Exeter” (10/62)
    THE DEFENDERS – “Madman” (10/62)
    BEN CASEY – “A Cardinal Act of Mercy” (1/63)
    NAKED CITY – “Prime of Life” (2/63)
    THE FUGITIVE – “Never Wave Goodbye” (10/63)
    PERRY MASON – “The Case of the Deadly Verdict” (10/63)
    EAST SIDE / WEST SIDE – “Who Do You Kill?” (11/63)
    THE BREAKING POINT – “And James Was a Very Small Snail” (11/63)
    ARREST AND TRIAL – “Journey Into Darkness” (12/63)
    DR. KILDARE – “Tyger, Tyger” (1/64)
    THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR – “The Jar” (2/64)
    CHANNING – “Wave Goodbye to the Fair-Haired Boy” (3/64)
    CHRYSLER THEATER – “The Game With Glass Pieces” (5/64)
    MR. NOVAK – “With a Hammer in His Hand, Lord, Lord!” (9/64)
    THE VIRGINIAN – “Felicity’s Spring” (10/64)
    12 O’CLOCK HIGH – “A Sound of Distant Thunder” (10/64)
    THE OUTER LIMITS – “Demon With a Glass Hand” (10/64)
    THE FUGITIVE – “The Survivors” (3/65)
    CHRYSLER THEATER – “The Game” (9/65)
    SLATTERY’S PEOPLE – “The Unborn” (10/65)
    THE LONER – “The Homecoming of Lemuel Stove” (11/65)
    TRIALS OF O’BRIEN – “No Justice For the Judge” (12/65)
    COMBAT – “Hills are For Heroes” (3/66)
    THE TIME TUNNEL – “The Day the Sky Fell In” (9/66)
    RUN FOR YOUR LIFE – “The Committee For the 25th” (10/66)
    STAR TREK – “The City on the Edge of Forever” (4/67)
    MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – “The Seal” (11/67)
    STAR TREK – “Journey to Babel” (11/67)
    GUNSMOKE – “Stranger in Town” (11/67)
    JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE – “To Kill a Madman” (11/67)
    THE INVADERS – “The Ransom” (12/67)
    CIMARRON STRIP – “A Knife in the Darkness” (1/68)
    STAR TREK – “The Empath” (12/68)
    MANNIX – “View of Nowhere” (12/68)
    THEN CAME BRONSON – “Amid the Splinters of the Thunderbolt” (10/69)
    THE BOLD ONES – “If I Should Wake Before I Die” (10/69)

  23. Brian Says:

    Fasinating list. Thanks. I’ve seen a lot of those episodes. You made nice choices. I’d like see your next fifty.

  24. MDH Says:

    Absurd as it sounds, I’d add a sixth-season episode of — wait for it — Knots Landing called “Love to Take You Home” to the list.

    Derision runs high for this series, and in most ways it’s deserved. What started out as a modestly insightful little melodrama about the stresses and strains of suburban bliss became, over an unimaginable 14 seasons, wealth-fetishizing domestic tragedy porn that relied on the hoariest of soap cliches (the return of long-lost offspring and/or siblings, kidnappings, life-or-death surgical procedures, etc.) and resorted to character and plot turns that made no sense and wrecked what little credibility the show maintained. I blame Ronald Reagan — the series was just getting its legs when he was first elected — but then I usually do.

    That big-ass caveat aside, Knots was frequently surprising in its emotional frankness and refusal to wrap up every story line with a neat, happy resolution. “Love to Take You Home,” written by series producer Peter Dunne, directed by Larry Elikann, and broadcast in November 1984, is one of the best examples of this.

    It features a nice guest performance by Albert Salmi (one of my favorite TV character actors in one of his last roles), as the tight-ass Evangelical Christian minister father of semi-regular character Joshua Rush, played by an impossibly young Alec Baldwin. (As if that lineage isn’t hard enough to get your head around, Julie Harris plays Salmi’s ex-wife and Baldwin’s mother, and Joan Van Ark is somewhere in the mix, too.) Pops has come to rescue his boy from the debauchery of Southern California and return him to Tennessee, but Joshua’s not eager to go. Lisa Hartman’s his saloon-singing squeeze, so who can blame him?

    What makes this episode memorable is how it painstakingly reveals the pain and loneliness beneath the elder Rush’s harsh stoicism, and uncovers the toll it’s taken on him and the rest of his family. Salmi has a great semi-breakdown near the end, and the tears Knots so shamelessly jerked in most of its entries feel earned for a change.

    This is the kind of equivocal character sketch that soap operas, that most American of art forms, do best, and when Knots Landing dispensed with the shallow, sub-Dynasty glitz it lazily adopted in this part of its run it was tops in the form. It may have fallen short of its goal of consistently essaying the terror inherent in domesticity, but it showed what a committed cast and talented, largely unsung crew could do with an hour of television.

  25. Brian Says:

    The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: “I Saw the Whole Thing” (1962). Written by Henry Slesar. Based on a story by Henry Cecil. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

    John Forsythe is a mystery writer who confesses to driving away from a serious car accident without stopping. Forsythe acts as his own lawyer at the trial. He pleads not guilty even though there are several eye witnesses, each who says he was driving recklessly. In the end it turns out Forsythe is the wrong man, and the eye witness testimony is less than reliable.

    Forsythe had been directed by Hitchcock in “The Trouble with Harry” (1955) and would work for him again in “Topaz” (1969).

    The Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre: “Exit From a Plane in Flight” (1964). Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Ron Winston. Produced by Dick Berg.

    Hugh O’Brian plays a self-hating movie star who was a paratrooper during World War ll. He returns to make a parachute jump as publicity for a movie, but he is now terrified of making a jump. Lloyd Bridges plays a friend who served with O’Brien in the paratroopers during the war. Bridges stayed in the army and is now a sergeant. Bridges seems to have turned out a more admirable and happier man than O’Brien, even though he is living a more modest life. In the end O’Brien is too afraid to make the jump. O’Brien wonders why a man who hates himself as much as he does is so afraid of dying.

    Shortly before writing this episode, Serling had gone back to his old paratrooper unit and made a jump. Serling made the jump with no trouble, but you have to wonder if some of O’Brien’s self-hatred belonged to Serling.

    The Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre: “A Game With Glass Pieces” (1964). Written by Howard Rodman. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg.

    George Peppard plays struggling unknown Hollywood actor Buddy Wren. Buddy is a talented but deparate guy. He can’t get work. Buddy is at the end of his rope. He appears to be nearing a nervous breakdown or maybe suicide. Darren McGavin plays a very talented actor who Buddy greatly admires, but McGavin has quit acting to be a waiter since he can no longer find work. At the end of a very discouraging day, Peppard goes into the pool in his apartment complex and doesn’t come up. When he finally does come up, someone asks him what he was doing. Buddy says he just wanted to see how long he could hold his breath.

    This was one of George Peppard’s finest performances. Others in the superb cast included Don Gordon, Madlyn Rhue, Diane Ladd, Seymour Cassel, Marvin Kaplan, Arte Johnson, and Bert Freed.

  26. Joseph Harder Says:

    One episode that should be included, at least on the basis of its script, is the pilot episode of Slattery’s People, What is Truth? Slattery is given the disagreeable task of chairing a commitee investigating his good friend and fellow legislator, Harry Sanborn.( Jmes Whitmore).
    Slattery’s People is one of the great’forgotten TV shows” it really should be on DVD. ( Imay be prejudiced, since I teach political science.)

  27. Joe Gosselin Says:

    100 Best TV Episodes nominees:
    ER “Love’s Labor Lost”
    The West Wing: “In Excelsis Deo”
    Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever”

  28. Brian Says:

    12 O’Clock High: “Golden Boy Had Nine Black Sheep”. Written by Al C. Ward. Directed by Don Medford. This was the first episode shown, although it wasn’t the pilot. Brigadier General Frank Savage (Robert Lansing) gives a brutal dressing down to Captain Joe Gallagher (Paul Burke) for continually aborting missions. “Today you have made the worst enemy of your life… I hate you worse than a Nazi, because you’re supposed to be on our side….You are a disgrace to your country, to West Point, to the uniform I hate to share with you, to the 918th and to your father….I’m going to make you lay square eggs”. The scenes between Lansing and Burke were beautifully written and played. The episode plot was a direct lift from the fine movie where Gregory Peck has similar problems with Captain Ben Gately (Hugh Marlowe). In the movie Gately takes over for Savage when Savage has a nervous breakdown. In the series, Burke took over for Lansing after he was fired by producer Quinn Martin. Lansing gave the best series performance of 1964-65. He should have won an Emmy, although he wasn’t even nominated. When Burke took over for Lansing, the magic was gone even though Burke was a strong actor. Burke was never able to get out from under Lansing’s shadow.

  29. sheila Says:

    Modern Warfare!!! Community Season: 1 episode: 23

  30. Larry Granberry Says:

    What I feel after reading this list is sadness – so many of these shows will never see the light of day in syndication, or release on DVD/Blu-Ray.
    I really hope your wish for a TV TCM would come true, but I’m not holding my breath.

  31. Brian Says:

    “The Raider” on Playhouse 90. February 19, 1959.

    Written by Loring Mandel. Directed by Franklin Schaffner. Produced by Herbert Brodkin. Associate producer Herbert Hirshman.

    Paul Douglas is a ruthless corporate raider who will do anything to win, including using his seductive wife as bait. Douglas wants to takeover a company where Frank Lovejoy is the workaholic C.E.O.

    Lovejoy loves the chairman/founder of the firm (Donald Crisp), who is like a father to him. Crisp is a decent, principled old man who trusts Lovejoy completely and gives him full latitude in running the company and fighting the takeover.

    Rod Taylor is a brilliant young engineer/inventor who is a director of the company. Taylor’s creations are the lifeblood of the company. Taylor is also a very principled man, but perhaps not as strong as Lovejoy.

    Lovejoy wants to save the company for the old man. But Douglas discredits Crisp at a shareholder meeting for using company money for personal travel expenses. Douglas makes Crisp look like a crook in front of the shareholders. Crisp is devastated.

    To try to appease the shareholders, Lovejoy fires the old man. Taylor is furious and decides to leave.

    Lovejoy insists that finally it isn’t the people that matter most. What matters is that the corporation go on. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether Douglas or Lovejoy wins the proxy fight. The company has been hollowed out. In going all out to fight Douglas, Lovejoy has become as bad as Douglas.

    A smart, absorbing drama with complex characters and a fine cast.

  32. MDH Says:

    THE X-FILES, “Field Trip,” May 9, 1999. Teleplay by John Shiban and Vince Gilligan, story by Frank Spotnitz. Directed by Kim Manners.

    Sorry, Stephen, but while “The Post-Modern Prometheus” has its moments, and Chris Owens’s touching turn as Mutato (in just one of his three thankless roles in the series), in general it’s narrow-minded and absurdly self-indulgent, and to my mind Chris Carter’s low point as an X-FILES writer-director. Luckily he redeemed himself a season later with “Triangle,” which is every bit the tour de force “Prometheus” tries to be. For my money, the best X-FILES episode, and one of the best hours of television in any series, is season six’s penultimate one, “Field Trip” — the middle third of a trio of incredible, offbeat next-to-last episodes (between “Folie a Deux” and “Je Souhaite”) in the show’s run.

    The sixth season is an odd one all around. It has the highest number of comedic episodes, and even manages to pull one off (“Monday”) that balances comedy and suspense with perfection. It’s also relentlessly meta — in “Monday,” “Milagro,” the hilarious “Arcadia,” even “The Beginning” (which openly rebukes the events of FIGHT THE FUTURE), the season rarely misses an opportunity to flog THE X-FILES’ TV-centric insularity, ever-knottier plot contrivances, and especially the trap its success had become for its stars and creator. No, I don’t feel sorry for them either, but it had to have become a serious fucking drag by that point. And yet season six is also the lightest, most confident, and most purely fun of the nine. And, obviously, my favorite.

    “Field Trip,” however, takes the above traits to an intense and uncomfortable level. It weaves a fascinating loop-the-loop narrative that’s a kick to tease out (give it a couple of viewings), but it also picks so aggressively and clinically at the scabs the series had built up by then that it becomes truly disorienting. In that sense it’s a brilliant flash before the strained, tedious decline of the subsequent three seasons, and possibly a stab at cutting some ties.

    And not at all funny. Something grave seems at stake in “Field Trip” — not only do Mulder and Scully lay out the persistent rift in their partnership early on (from both sides it goes something like, “You never trust me, and I’m usually right”), they nearly die making their point. Unbelievably, this is also the season in which they also fucking fall in love.

    Did I say nearly die? “Field Trip” is actually beautifully equivocal on that point. In a snit and pursuing a case, our heroes separately enter a vast mountain cavern filled with psychedelic-fungi vapor and secreting hydrochloric acid, get lost, become immobilized, and, as they’re moved through the mountain’s digestive tract, experience one lurid shared hallucination after another. In the process they’re expelled from the ground twice — the first time shit out lazily and alone, the second time delivered by emergency personnel like newborn babies. One escape is plainly in their heads; the other… well, there’s only the barest hint that it’s the real thing. For all we know Moose and Squirrel remained underground melting for three more years, their collective long, strange trip becoming increasingly dire.

    For what it’s worth, computer-chip neck implants, a gray alien, and the Lone Gunmen all turn up in “Field Trip” for the purposes of mockery, and Mulder even dies tragically (and resurrects heroically) at least once. And the monster of the week is called Brown Mountain, so maybe it’s funny after all.

    Clearly THE X-FILES was past the point of ambivalence about its success by this episode. It was downright belligerent toward it, and the result is claustrophobic, liberating, a lot of fun, and a little bit wistful.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Nice thoughts on this one, MDH, although of course your comments on “Prometheus” make you dead to me.

      You know, seasons 5-6 and maybe 7 are the only ones where I have some holes, and I can’t remember now how extensive they are; but they fell into the gap between the episodes in the initial syndication package on FX (which is how I discovered the series) and the first-run broadcasts. One reason why I’m looking forward to watching the whole series again down the road a ways.

      • MDH Says:

        “Prometheus” seems to be a love it or hate it deal, which is unusual for THE X-FILES. I’m even more lukewarm on “Bad Blood,” another season five episode ‘Philes cream themselves over. Luke Wilson’s fake choppers are a riot, though.

        I finished a full-series re-watch not long ago (with some strategic omissions here and there), and never expected to like season six as much as I did; it’s around where I quit watching during the original run. Five is generally great, too, but seven is where the exhaustion really starts to show. It picks up somewhat near the end, Duchovny’s godawful “Hollywood A.D.” notwithstanding, and “Requiem” would’ve made a beautiful series finale (although I really dug “The Truth”).

        Withdrawal symptoms upon re-watch completion are acute, but I guess that’s what FRINGE is for.

  33. It is utterly absurd that shows like Slattery’s People, The Great Adventure and Ben Casey are moldering in the vaults. In fact, on my blog, The Decaf Drinking Papist, I listed nearly thirty shows from the sixtiers alone that should be on DVD. Ihad occasion to catch an episode of Channing with Agnes Morehead and James Earl Jones called “Freedomis a Lovesome thing, God Wot!”It it was at all representative of the shows quality, Iwould have to say that Channing is one of th most unfairly overlooked and under-rated shows in TV history.

  34. Muldfeld Says:

    No “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, which is far better than “Next Generation”? “The Pale Moon Light” is the single best Star Trek story of all time.

    Also, the best episodes of “The X-Files” were mythologies, my favorites being Season 3 finale “Talitha Cumi” and especially Season 5’s “Redux II”. Perhaps Season 4’s “Paper Hearts”. “Post-Modern Prometheus” loses its standing due to many broad jokes; I’d rather nominate “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'” as the best comedy episode of “The X-Files” with that usual Darin Morgan thread of deep insight into humanity.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Certainly can’t argue with your X-Files choices. As for DS9, I was initially enthusiastic but thought the writing wavered; honestly, I bailed around the third or fourth season (so I’ve never seen the episode you mentioned). I could see going back to it someday.

      • Muldfeld Says:

        You simply must get into DS9. Indeed, the writer of your favorite TNG episode (Peter Allan Fields) did ground-breaking work in especially the first 2 seasons of DS9, focussing on Odo. Quite frankly, unlike TNG, which usually had a lame 2nd part to any 2-parter, DS9 never did. Start with the 4th season. The 5th season’s my favorite. The 6th has both some of the best and worst episodes; the 7th is a bit of a decline, but is far better than TNG’s last 2 seasons, and Ron Moore’s scripts that year are among his very best of Trek. DS9 is special for being the most political and honest Trek — its themes on the causes of terrorism, the nature of occupation, and realistically grey villains driven by insecurity resonated especially after 9/11.

        If you really want a small number of episodes to test, try Season 5’s 2-parter “In Purgatory’s Shadow” and “Inferno’s Light”, then the 6-part arc starting with the 5th (and best) season finale “A Call to Arms” through Season 6’s “A Sacrifice of Angels”. Easily better than anything TNG did — and certainly that buffoon who accused the DS9 writing staff of stealing ideas from him, J. Michael Straczynski.

  35. Muldfeld Says:

    What’s every bit as good as any season of “The X-Files” is “Millennium” Season 1 — after which the show was ruined by Morgan and Wong running the show into morally simplistic territory as well as Chris Carter being distracted by the X-Files and its film. That first season’s incredible with very different themes from “The X-Files” and a great, subtle set of characters, although the wife can be a bit cloying. It’s frightening, but powerful.

  36. Brian Says:

    Slattery’s People: “Question: What is Truth?” (9/21/64).

    Executive Producer/Creator/Writer: James E. Moser.
    Producer: Mathew Rapf.
    Director: Lamont Johnson.

    This was the well produced pilot and first episode. Jim Moser had already put the excellent “Ben Casey” together for Bing Crosby Productions. Here he tried to make a hero out of the minority leader of an unnamed state legislature. An original concept for a series, and Moser and company gave it a strong execution.

    Slattery (Richard Crenna) is asked to investigate fellow representative and old friend James Whitmore, who is accused of unethical conduct. The Speaker of the House (Tol Avery) says everyone knows Slattery is a hard head, and will get to the truth of the matter even if Whitmore is his friend.

    Slattery investigates and doesn’t like what he finds. Slattery and Whitmore are sparing on the floor of the state assembly. Whitmore says of his old friend Slattery: “Beware the knight on the charging white horse. It may be a dye job”. Slattery eventually takes Whitmore down.

    Richard Crenna really broke loose from his comedy background with a fine dramatic performance. I saw a promo for the series on CBS the week before the show started. I remember thinking wow this looks good. I couldn’t believe how good Crenna was in just the short scene shown. And how good the production values were. Crenna was nominated for an Emmy that season.

    The pilot was shot in Seattle in the state house. The last scene was late at night with Crenna lighting a cigarette after a tough day. The lit capitol dome was in the background. A stunning final shot.

    The pilot started shooting 11/22/63, the day Kennedy was murdered.

  37. Brian Says:

    Kraft Suspense Theatre: “The Long, Lost Life of Edward Smalley” (12/12/63).

    Executive Producer: Roy Huggins

    Producer: Robert Altman

    Written by David Moessinger based on a story by Moessinger and Robert Altman

    Directed by Robert Altman

    Edward Smalley (Richard Crenna) is an angry, confused, and perhaps unhinged middle-aged man. When brilliant, cynical lawyer James Whitmore refuses to see him, Smalley breaks in, and he is carrying a gun. Whitmore can’t remember who Smalley is.

    Flashback to World War II. Smalley is a young soldier. But Smalley is a confused, inarticulate, ineffective young man who may be mentally ill. He is shunned and ridiculed by the other men in his squad. When his sergeant tries to wake him from a deep sleep, Smalley kills him thinking his sergeant is a German.

    James Whitmore is the JAG attorney assigned to defend Smalley. Smalley wants to tell his story to the jury. He is sure they will understand. Whitmore tells him the jury will see a rambling, incoherent, unappealing man who they will convict. Smalley is devastated. Whitmore gets Smalley off. But Smalley has been brooding on what Whitmore said for the last twenty years.

    I think Whitmore finally calls the police who take Smalley away. Whitmore is not a bad man, just a tough, practical, cynical one.

    Whitmore and Crenna were excellent, although I remember thinking at the time that Bruce Dern might have been even better than Crenna.

    Whitmore and Crenna must have made this episode a little before the “Slattery’s People” pilot.

    Also in the cast were Arch Johnson, Ron Hayes, and Philip Abbott.

    Robert Altman had worked earlier for Roy Huggins on “Bus Stop”.The previous season Altman had worked on “Combat!”. Altman wasn’t quite able to get the great look he got on “Combat!” on “Edward Smalley”.

  38. Brian Says:

    Slattery’s People: “A Sitting Duck Named Slattery” (9/17/65).

    Written by Preston Wood.

    Executive Story Editor: Fred Freiberger.

    Slattery is the victim of a sniper’s bullet. Carroll O’Connor is the cop on the case. Kathie Brown was introduced as Slattery’s girl friend, a TV journalist.

    This was the first episode of the second season.

    Preston Wood also wrote two other solid episodes of “Slattery’s People”. One of them was called “The Hero”, about a war hero (Earl Holliman) being groomed for a big political future. Slattery thinks Holliman may have feet of clay.

    Fred Freiberger went on to be Executive Story Consultant for another superb political drama: “The Senator” (1970), with Hal Holbrook as Senator Hays Stowe.

    Preston Wood is also credited with the story for the first episode of “The Senator” (9/13/70), although the episode was written by Joel Oliansky (“The Law”). Stowe receives a death threat. Gerald S. O’Loughlin is one of the cops assigned to protect Stowe when he makes a speech at a college. The episode was originally titled “The Meaning of Violence in the 70’s” but was later changed for the second airing to the less pretentious “To Taste of Death But Once”.

    Joel Oliansky won an Emmy for the episode.

    The great David Rintels also worked on both “Slattery’s People” and “The Senator”.

    Rintels wrote a very fine “Slattery” about the electronic surveillance of citizens called “He Who Has Ears, Let Him Bug Somebody Else”. Rintels later wrote the two part episode of ‘The Senator” about a Kent State like tragedy. Rintels received an Emmy nomination for his episodes of “The Senator”.

    David Rintels wrote a pilot for Bing Crosby Productions (which made “Slattery’s People”) called “The Cliff Dwellers”. It aired in 1966. Hal Holbrook and Carol Rossen had roles. It was the story of a group of college friends who meet ten years after graduation to mourn the death of a friend who committed suicide. I wonder if Lawrence Kasdan was watching that night.

    • Brian Says:

      Hal Holbrook played an idealistic politician in “The Cliff Dwellers”, but I don’t think he was slated to be in the series.This was the first time I saw Holbrook and I thought he was terrfic. Holbrook married Carol Rossen at the end of 1966. I wonder if they met making this show.

      Irving Elman was the producer of “The Cliff Dwellers”. Elman produced the second season of “Slattery’s People”. Elman also worked on “The Eleventh Hour”, “Ben Casey”, and “Matt Lincoln”.

      Boris Sagal was the director. Sagal had previously worked with Carol Rosen on “Dr. Kildare” and the pilot for “Cain’s Hundred”.

      Others in the cast included Bert Convy, Robert Hooks, and Beverlee McKinsey.

  39. this was one of the best written, best acted TV shows ever. It is ridiculous that it is not on DVD..

  40. Brian Says:

    The Senator: “Someday They’ll Elect a President”. (1/17/71)

    Written by Leon Tokatyan

    Directed by John Badham

    Produced by David Levinson.

    Associate Producer: John Badham

    Unofficial Executive Producer: Willam Sackheim

    This was John Badham’s first television episode as a director.

    Jordan Boyle (Michael Tolan) is Chief Legislative Aide to Senator Hays Stowe (Hal Holbrook). Boyle and Stowe have been close friends since law school and had worked together in the Justice Department where Stowe was a U.S. Attorney.
    Boyle is called before a Senate crime committee. Boyle doesn’t know what he is accused of and decides to take the fifth ammendment, as is his constitutional right. Stowe tells Boyle that his career wil be over if he takes the fifth since people will assume he is guiltly of something. A furious Boyle asks Stowe why doesn’t he just fire him. Stowe says they both know it may come to that.

    Leon Tokatyan’s script cleverly put a wedge between the two best friends.

    This was Michael Tolan’s biggest role in the series. TV Guide even gave him top billing over Holbrook for the episode.

    “The Senator” did a nice job of handling the relationship between the idealist Stowe and the realist Boyle. Their relationship was often the understated emotional core of the show.

    John Badham became producer David Levinson’s go-to director. Badham received an Emmy nomination for his second episode of “The Senator”. Badham directed two episodes of Levinson’s “Sarge” and three episodes of Levinson’s “The Bold Ones: The New Doctors”.

    Levinson and Badham were both protege’s of ambitious curmudgeon producer William Sackheim. Sackheim also mentored Richard Alan Simmons, Howard Rodman, Frank Pierson, Alvin Sargent, Carol Sobieski, Steven Bochco, and perhaps David Chase.

    David Levinson is currently an executive producer of “Nikita”. Badham directed the 10/26/12 episode of “Nikita”. (Badham previously directed “Point of No Return” which was a remake of the French film “La Femme Nikita”.) It made me happy to see these two big, brave talents reunited over 40 years after “The Senator”. It’s very encouraging that they are both still working. Maybe they can talk Hal Holbrook into guest starring in another episode.

  41. There are excellent articles on Slattery’s People on both The Paley Center Website. ( By Somebody named “Joseph Harder”) and on the latest Television obscurities.
    The second season episode “Rally Around Your Own Flag, Mister”. had Slattery sending a trouble shooter played by the great Warren Oates to infiltrate a John Birch-like vigilante group.
    I can think of two superb episodes of another show which has been utterly forgotten, Channing. In “Freedom is a Lovesome Thng, God Wot!” with Agnes Moorehead and James Earl Jones(!) as a Math professor and an economics Professor who clash over the future of a bright young Black student (leon Bibb.)nd, perhaps even better, A Bang And A Whimper. The great Robert Stephens played an alcoholic, self-destructive, Irish poet(Shades of brendan Behan, and Susan ( Imitation of Life) Kohner played a faculty wife who becomes infatuated with him.

  42. Brian Says:

    Party Girl: The Nurses (3/28/63)

    Produced by Herbert Brodkin. Associate Producer Gerald Mayer.

    Written by 21-year old Larry Cohen.

    Directed by 34-year old Stuart Rosenberg. (Robert Gist is also given director credit on imdb but not on the actual episode. Maybe it was a troubled shoot.)

    Inger Stevens had starred in the 1959 Playhouse 90 episode “Diary of a Nurse”, which served as the inspiration of “The Nurses” , the same way a Studio One drama served as the inspiration for “The
    Defenders”. Stevens played a naive, terrified young nurse named Gail Lucas. “Diary of a Nurse” was written by Arthur Hailey (“Airport”, “Hotel”).

    Inger did a lot of excellent work as a busy guest star in the early 1960’s. But she stayed away from shows shot in New York because she had an ex-husband/ex-agent there who she wanted to avoid.

    Brodkin convinced Inger to come back almost 4 years after the pilot for a challenging guest role as a model/prostitute who has a heart problem (but not apparently a heart of gold). This was one her best, most hard-edged performances. Stevens was 28 years old.

    Eighteen-year old Zina Bethune was now Gail Lucas.

    James Broderick (“Brenner”) plays a doctor who becomes infatuated by Stevens’ beauty and apparent sophistication. But his attitude subtly changes when he learns Stevens is a hooker. Head Nurse Shirl Conway finally sets Broderick right.

    Others in the exceptionally strong cast include Vincent Gardenia as a sympathetic client of Stevens and Inga Swenson as another patient at the hospital who has a leg amputated. The usually likeable Tim O’Connor gives a terrific performance as Inger’s ultra-nasty pimp. Joseph Sweeney (“12 Angry Men”) plays Swenson’s doctor. Arlene Golonka plays another prostitute who is given Stevens’ job and luxury apartment when O’Connor learns of Stevens’ heart condition.

    Stevens has a heart attack talking to Broderick. She looks at herself in a floor length mirror as she is dying. It’s a hard scene to watch.

  43. Brian Says:

    The Defenders: “Kill or Be Killed” (1/5/63)

    Written by Larry Cohen.

    Directed by Sydney Pollack.

    Preston and Preston have defended Gerald S. O’Loughlin on a murder charge. They get him the chair.

    O’Loughlin is innocent.

    The police find the real killer.

    But O’Loughlin is already on the night-time train ride to death row, state prison. Fate moves its huge hand. There is a train wreck. O’Loughlin escapes… but he kills a police officer during the escape.

    Larry Preston convinces the fugitive to turn himself in.

    O’Loughlin is tried again for murder –this time for a murder he is guilty of.

    Simon Oakland was the prosecutor and Joanne Linville was O’Loughlin’s wife.

    The similarities to “The Fugitive” have always been startling to me. But this show aired eight months before “The Fugitive” began. However, the pilot for “The Fugitive” was made in November 2012. Maybe Cohen knew about “The Fugitive” from the trades and the idea sparked his imagination.

    Another influence could have been “A Covenant with Death”, a 1964 novel by Stephen Becker which explored a similar situation.

    Cohen later wrote two episodes of ‘The Fugitive”.

    Gerald S. O’Loughlin was an extremely attractive guy and a strong actor. I wish he had been given a series around this time. He might have been good in the Darren McGavin role of the private detective in “The Outsider”.

    Thirty-five years later Showtime made three movies of “The Defenders” starring E.G. Marshall as Larry Preston and Beau Bridges as Ken’s brother Don. One of the movies was written by Larry Cohen and reworked the “Kill of Be Killed” episode with James McDaniel as the fugitive. But this time the show more resembled the movie “The Fugitive” rather than the TV show.

  44. Brian Says:

    Sarge: A Push Over the Edge (10/26/71)

    Written by David Levinson. Based on a story by Stanford Whitmore.

    Directed by John Badham.

    Produced by David Levinson.

    George Kennedy plays a former detective sergeant who becomes a priest/detective.

    Vic Morrow gives a hard-edged, non-glamorous performance as a burned out detective sergeant.

    Morrow is trying to track down a serial killer with a foot fetish who kills women he meets in bars.

    Gerald Hiken is the mIld looking deranged killer.

    Morrow becomes more and more frustrated and eventually becomes almost as mentally unbalanced as Hiken.

    Sarge tries to help by getting Chief of Detectives Barney Verick (Ramon Bierii) to take Morrow off the case.

    But Morrow continues the trackdown on his own time.

    Marion Ross played Morrow’s wife. Bart Burns and Felton Perry were also in the cast.

    This was only the fifth TV show young Badham directed. Badham suggested Morrow try saying his lines quicker. Morrow said “NEVER tell me to speed up!”

    Morrow was a tough customer, but I guess he knew what he was doing. His performance is superb.

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