August Is the Month Before Christmas

August 5, 2013


My 2,500-word overview of Ben Casey went up today at The A.V. Club.  It’s one of two one and one-eleventh bylines I’ll have there this week (which is one reason things have been a little sparse here lately).

The A.V. Club’s commitment to vintage TV is not new — my editor, Todd VanDerWerff, wrote about The Defenders and Route 66 under this “100 Episodes” umbrella last year.  But, still, I remain impressed and somewhat astonished that they’re introducing their vast readership to shows like Ben Casey, which are not just old but, in this case, not especially easy to see at present.  So please give it a read, and leave a comment there if you’re inclined, because I think the number and quality of comments are sort of like the A.V. Club version of Nielsen ratings.

(And the Ben Casey piece was originally meant to include some rare clips from the Classic TV History Archives — otherwise known as some boxes in my closet — but largely due to a snafu on my part it’s looking like that won’t happen.  Sorry.)

If you’re wondering, last month’s epic study of Vince Edwards, Director, was actually in the works before the A.V. Club piece materialized.  But, let’s go with it anyway and declare this The Summer of Ben Casey at the Classic TV History blog!  There are a couple of time-sensitive things in the pipeline first, but over the next few weeks I’ll loop back to Ben Casey and run a few “sidebars” here, comprised of odds and ends from my research that were too tangential to make it into the A.V. Club piece.  Also, if you haven’t already, now would be a good time to read my old interviews with the last surviving star of Ben Casey, the wonderfully irascible Harry Landers, and my favorite Ben Casey writer, Norman Katkov.

As long as I’m in plugging mode, I’ll also point out that a documentary on which I worked as the primary archival researcher, Casting By, premieres tonight at 9PM on HBO.  (I believe it’s also available on HBO on Demand.)  The director, Tom Donahue, was also foolish enough to put me on camera as a “talking head,” but if you keep your hand poised over the fast-forward button during the first fifteen minutes or so, you may be able to dodge that particular bullet.

Seriously though: Casting By focuses on two important early casting directors, Marion Dougherty and Lynn Stalmaster, both of whom got their start in television . . . so there’s enough material in there about shows like Kraft Television Theatre, Route 66, Naked City, and Gunsmoke that the film will be of interest to anyone who reads this blog regularly.  I’ve also gotten to know the filmmakers — particularly Tom, with whom I spent two icy days plundering the archives of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, but also the producers, Kate Lacey and Ilan Arboleda, and the cinematographer, Peter Bolte — and have had the privilege of tagging along on parts of their journey through the festival circuit to this impressive pickup.  (Said journey culminating in a premiere party last week where, appropriately, we all geeked out over the presence of favorite character actors like The Good Wife‘s Zach Grenier and Sledge Hammer himself, David Rasche.)  I think the results are very impressive.  So check it out.


2 Responses to “August Is the Month Before Christmas”

  1. 238neil Says:

    The Next Big Piece was worth waiting for. I’m surprised it produced so few comments on this blog and I hope it gets more action over at the A.V. Club.

    Mama watched the doctor shows when I was growing up but she didn’t take them seriously, so I saw Ben Casey a few times without feeling any need to think about it then or revisit it later. Thus I can’t say much about your essay except that the mixture of historical fact and observation of the episodes is a satisfying kind of criticism.

    Arthur Tashiro

  2. raito Says:

    You shoud’ve let me know you were coming…

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