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Notes on
written 2001

As anyone who's wandered over to my television web pages main site can tell you, this actually should be subtitled "Shows I Would Have Done Web Pages On, but I Didn't Have Time and Besides, Someone Has Done One So Much Better." But that's not exact in all cases, either. In any case, these are the other denizens of "the box" that I wouldn't have missed for the world.

Do follow any links at series' titles!

Babylon 5 (1994-1999)
Often described as "Casablanca in space," when B5 premiered, many folks—alas, like me—dismissed it as just another space-station saga like Star Trek: Deep Space 9. But it was hard to dismiss all the interesting characters that were appearing across the small screen in subsequent weeks: a commander with a secret, a second-in-command female character who didn't resort to stereotypes, a hard-talking security chief, and some of the most intriguing alien personalities outside of the best science fiction books. Characters lived, died, and grew emotionally, and sometimes didn't return, and embracing each individual story was a larger one: a novel for television told in a five-year format. Yes, I too became hooked...

Blake's 7 (1978-1981)
Picture Star Trek's benevolent Federation gone wrong: the Earth is so ravaged people live in domes with the socially prominent Alpha grades on top and the menial Deltas doing all the dirty work, the Federation space force a bullying dictator that takes over planets, the "bad guys" those that fight for freedom. "Bad guy" freedom fighter Roj Blake, convicted on false child molestation charges and enroute to a prison planet, makes a break for it with several of the other convicts, including a brilliant but dour computer hacker-cum-embezzler named Kerr Avon, savvy smuggler Jenna Stannis, and the clever but servile thief Vila Restal. What they escape on is an alien ship with advanced technology that they name "Liberator," which Blake plans to use to overturn the Federation—but the rest of the crew wishes he wasn't quite so...focussed. Thus, through cast changes (including Blake, who leaves after series 2), the intrepid seven wander the galaxy escaping the Federation, helping overthrow their governments, quarrelling among themselves. The actors are fab, especially Paul Darrow and Michael Keating, the sets are BBC cheesy, and it's all great stuff.

Dave Allen at Large (syndication, late 1970s-1980)
With the success of Monty Python's Flying Circus, American syndicators began searching for British skit comedies. Some stations got the bawdy, chubby Benny Hill, whose nudge-nudge wink-wink risque comedy became the talk around the coffee machine next day. The lucky stations got Dave Allen, the roguish Irish comedian who not only got risque, but risky, with pokes at religion and death that made jaws drop, especially in Irish Catholic Boston. Nevertheless, WSBK 38 (the real WSBK, not the one for so long Borg-ized by UPN), broadcast this sharp, funny series latenights, and it was popular enough that Allen toured the States with his stage show, opening at the Wilbur Theatre in The Hub. Needless to say two friends and I were waiting at the stage door that night. Allen's comedy was cleverer than Hill's, and his shaggy dog stories were a riot. One could only hope someone would bring back some of these hilarious shows.

Doctor Who (1963-present)
Somewhere in the mid-1970s I discovered—almost "hiding" on WGBH Boston's sister UHF station—a series I only knew from references in British novels. My initial description was "the Doctor is your typical British eccentric." I soon learnt better! Hardly had I come to know Jon Pertwee in the role than presto-chango, someone mentioned regeneration and there was Tom Baker! Baker's American TV run—and the flamboyant introduction by Harlan Ellison in four American Who novelizations—soon introduced thousands of folks this side of "the pond" to the peripatetic Time Lord and the series for a long time was a staple of PBS stations who found it attracted viewers, not to mention pledgees, to their ranks, each with their favorite Doctor. Me, I'm still a Pertwee fan, followed by T. Baker, McCoy, Davison, and C. Baker (having only seen bits of Hartnell and Troughton, I can't judge), but I love every under-budget histrionic bit of footage of every ep. The reborn series with Christopher Eccleston and now David Tennant is fab, too (wow, they have a budget now!).

Ellery Queen (1975-1976)
Several incarnations of the Dannay/Lee hero came to the silver screen and small screen over the years, but this classy effort by Richard Levinson and William Link (Columbo) was done as a delightful period piece (year: 1947) with the appropriate props and backgrounds that well-mixed humor along with sleuthing, not to mention a splendid running queue of character actors as guest stars (some from radio, where Ellery also had a presence). Ellery was played brilliantly by the Jim Hutton and David Wayne was perfect as his father, Inspector Richard Queen. Supporting characters included cigar-chomping reporter Frank Flannigan (Ken Swofferd) and the irritating but always entertaining Simon Brimmer (played to the hilt by the always entertaining John Hillerman), the egotistical host of a radio mystery series who always thought he was one up on the younger Mr. Queen. Never trust what "Simon says"...

Faraday and Company (1973-1974)
If your first question is "What?" don't worry, I forgive you. I'm sure only a minute group of devotees of NBC's Mystery Movies, most well known for Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan and Wife would recall this four episode series starring Dan Dailey, Geraldine Brooks, James Naughton and a pre-Cagney and Lacey Sharon Gless. The pitch: hardboiled gumshoe Frank Faraday (Dailey) was imprisoned 28 years earlier in a banana republic for a crime he didn't commit. Freed during a revolution, Faraday reaches the American embassy and is sent back to the States, where he discovers his old agency very much alive, run by his old secretary Lou (Brooks) and Steve (James Naughton), his son (by Lou, who was always in love with him). Gless is Holly, the agency secretary. First thing Frank does, of course, is solve the crime that got him incarcerated. Subsequent stories were about Faraday adjusting to the "new way" of doing detective work, and, as it always works out in these stories, showing that the old methods are sometimes the best. The series didn't live up to the promise of the pilot and wasn't great art, but was a fun show nevertheless. Pity it had such a short run. Also a delight from the same rotating series: The Snoop Sisters starring Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick, with Bert Convy and the always entertaining Lou Antonio (which is at least available on DVD!).

Fury (1955-1960)
Just one of a wonderful collection of live-action children's series that were so delightful back in this era. The pallid, badly-drawn cartoons and the preachy live-action series of today just can't hold a candle to those great adventure series that occupied the Saturday and Sunday morning time slots. Fury was one of the best, about an orphan boy who befriends an "untamable" black stallion in the modern West, featuring Bobby Diamond, Peter Graves, William Fawcett, and a pre-Gallegher Roger Mobley. There used to be a nifty "Broken Wheel Ranch" web site devoted to the series, but it's gone.
Here are a few more titles to savor:

Get Smart (1965-1970)
I was a bizarre kid (or so they tell me) <g>. No rock group members or teenybopper heroes for me (the only actor near my own age that I liked was Roger Mobley). When I finally experienced my first crush on an older man it was neither Ringo Starr nor the numerous young actors they put on series in the late 60s to entice the younger generation. I only had eyes for Don Adams. So what if Max kept putting his foot in his mouth? He was cute, funny, and had a majorly cool job! I envied 99 even as I felt bad for the Chief. The first three years saw the best of Get Smart; the scripts (not the wedding) in fourth season wore out their welcome fast, and I still shudder thinking about that fifth season on CBS. No matter; I love it still, especially my favorite episodes "Island of the Darned" and "99 Loses CONTROL." Ringo, eat your heart out: Don Adams rules!

He and She (1967-1968)
Real-life husband and wife Dick Benjamin and Paula Prentiss starred in this all-too-short-lived sitcom about cartoonist Dick Hollister and his wacky wife (weren't they all wacky in the 1960s?) Paula. They came with the requisite wacky neighbor (Kenneth Mars as Harry the fireman who visited the Hollisters by walking over a plank stretched between the firehouse and the Hollisters' upstairs window) and wacky janitor (Hamilton Camp). The piece-de-resistance in this already amusing melange: Jack Cassidy as the supremely egotistical Oscar North, star of the television series Jetman, based on Dick's comic strip of the same name. The offbeat scripts were already funny; Cassidy just provided the flavorsome icing to an already luscious cake.

House, MD (2004-2012)
Can you see the pitch for this one? "There's this doctor, he's like Sherlock Holmes, but he solves medical mysteries rather than criminal ones. Except he's not very nice. In fact, sometimes he's downright nasty—to his co-workers, his subordinates, even to his patients! Oh, yeah, and he's addicted to painkillers..." And darn it, it works. The pain-riddled, sarcastic and unshaven Dr. House not only attracts puzzle-lovers, he's become a grumpy sex symbol, all thanks to the sterling, American-accented portrayal of Hugh Laurie, the British actor famous for his pompous asses in Jeeves and Wooster and Blackadder (and amiable other persons, like Stuart Little's dad). Those familiar with his British work are surprised that he can sound so American, while there are Americans unfamiliar with his resume who don't realize he's British. The health mysteries are convoluted, and there's a super supporting cast including Robert Sean Leonard, the man who deserves a Nobel Prize for putting up with House as a friend.

Jeopardy (1964-present)
There were charming game shows and stupid game shows, ones that made a lot of sound and fury—and a couple you actually had to have some brains to participate in. The jewel in the crown of the latter was NBC's Jeopardy, originally telecast at noon Eastern time daily on NBC and probably the best excuse a kid ever had for wanting to stay home sick from the school (the other being the network coverage of the Gemini and Apollo space missions). I'm sure there were other kids like me who dreamed of turning 18 (there were no "teen tournaments" in those days) and going to New York to try out for Jeopardy. Alas, the network version was gone before I reached that halcyon age, but the syndicated one is still a staple. (Having heard this, guess which is my favorite scene in Airplane II.)

Jonny Quest (1964-1965)
After decades of friendly and bumbling speaking animated animals, Hanna-Barbera came up with a new winner: an realistic animated adventure series about a youngster, his scientist father, their bodyguard, their Indian ward, and a bulldog pup, based on the old adventure comics and serials of the 1930-1940s. This was before the kibosh was put on the action in action-adventure children's programming, so the series is nonstop motion: sinister villains, one very canny and alluring female character who everyone remembers even though she was only in two episodes, hidden treasure, gunrunners, laser guns, madmen, supernatural monsters, and all the cool Hindu magic Hadji could do. There were later sequels made, all politically and ecologically corrected, but this is the first and the best: hey, you didn't think I named one of my budgies "Bandit" for nothing, did you?

M*A*S*H (1972-1983)
You can say it turned out to be four times longer than the original Korean War, or that, especially in later years, it was intensely preachy, or that it was really about Vietnam masquerading as Korea. Whatever the complaints, it still turned out some of the most watchable episodes ever broadcast on TV: from the warm camerarderie of "Movie Tonight" to the somber "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" and the stunning "The Interview" to the novel "Point of View" and "Life Time." Cast changes only made the mix stronger (and in some cases better, as Dr. Winchester was a definite improvement over Dr. Burns); it was when the scriptwriters faltered that the show did so as well. Take a letter, Hawkeye, and I'll watch...

Monk (2002-2009)
"It's a jungle out there" to poor Adrian Monk—he's a former policeman turned special investigator after the violent death of his wife. If it sounds simple, it isn't, for our hero suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder which was only made worse by the tragedy, the reason he had to quit being a police detective. Think of Sherlock Holmes equipped with wet wipes to clean his hands, a squeaky-clean apartment, and a fear of almost everything. Tony Shalhoub is delightful as the title character, with Bitty Schram playing his long-suffering nurse/business partner Sharona Fleming (later Traylor Howard as the cute but often exasperated Natalie Teeger), who keeps the wet wipes well stocked. Ted Levine and Jason Gray-Stanford round out the entertaining cast of this comedy mystery series.

Perry Mason (1957-1966)
My husband and I have become addicted to this vintage series (read: we have the DVDs) which was a favorite of my mother's. Plots are simple: unpleasant person (either professional criminal like a blackmailer or extortionist, or a really nasty business owner/rich person) is murdered. Innocent person is involved and eventually accused of the crime. Perry Mason, attorney extraordinaire, takes the case, faces obstacles from district attorney Hamilton Burger or cynical police detective Arthur Tragg or sometimes the fibs of his own client, has legwork done by his PI friend Paul Drake and phone- and legwork done by his smart and dedicated secretary Della Street, and somehow pulls a rabbit out of the hat in the last seven minutes of the show, usually after a witness bursts out with a hysterical confession. The fun is watching the odious victim get his/hers, trying to figure out who hated him/her (nearly everyone, including lots of sycophant pretenders) enough to commit the murder, and the endless courtroom rivalry between Mason and Burger and Mason and Tragg. The show lost a little of its edge when Ray Collins (Tragg) got sick and left the cast, and wasn't quite the same through William "Burger" Talman's "ostracism" (fired for violating a morals charge, rehired when found innocent), but it's all a pleasure to watch. (Note: there are some episodes where Mason himself is missing (Raymond Burr had surgery) and he's replaced by several neat guest stars, including a terrific Bette Davis and venerable Walter Pidgeon.)

Quantum Leap (1989-1993)
The opening narration set up the situation: brilliant scientist tests a machine that may enable him to time travel within his own lifetime and ends up "leaping" into the bodies of persons that need help, "putting right what once went wrong." One week Dr. Sam Beckett might be a man during the Cuban Missile Crisis trying to keep his "brother" from ruining his life by shooting a neighbor trying to get in his bomb shelter, the next he might be a woman trying to fend off sexual harassment that will ruin her life. The spark which brought this series above the "Mary Worth" norm is the marvelous chemistry between star Scott Bakula and co-star Dean Stockwell, as Beckett's holographic advisor from his own time, Al Calavicci, he of the wandering eye for the ladies and a taste for bizarrely colored clothing. Heck, there are people who watch this series just for Al! [Linda waves hand enthusiastically.]

St. Elsewhere (1982-1988)
Fresh from his success with his then novel Hill Street Blues, producer Steven Bochco went on to create a similar series about a hospital: not the shining halls that Doctors Kildare, Brackett, and Welby strolled, but rather a poor relation, the fictional St. Eligius in Boston. While the motley crew of residents—including the screwball Fiscus, the earnest Morrison, and the offbeat Ehrlich—learned their craft from senior medicos Auschlander, Westphall, and Craig (William Daniels in a bravura role as the tempermental but genius heart surgeon), and we ran into situations from the serious—a heart transplant, a rapist running rampant, nurses with breast cancer and buliemia, a doctor with AIDS—to the bizarre—an annoying patient dies after being "folded up" in a malfunctioning hospital bed, another comes to the hospital with her deceased pet collie, who she had stuffed. The best part of the series might be finding the dozen or so inside jokes the writers managed to fit into every episode, ranging from references to pop songs, characters in other TV series, and movies to wordplay that would have made Bennett Cerf beam. And when the series concluded, there was that final scene that blew everyone's minds...

Star Blazers (syndicated, 1979-1981)
"You have to watch this show," my best friend insisted, so I did. I evidently should have watched it the first time when I wasn't sick: the plot made no sense. A month or so later I watched it in a better frame of mind, and, since by then I'd discovered it was a serial type story, from the beginning—and was blown away. A cartoon with character development! With lead and supporting characters who actually grew older, made mistakes, and learned from them, and who fell in love. In-credible. Despite the very odd sight of an old Japanese battleship refitted as a space ship, I got to the point where both seasons' storylines were very real. I even wrote Star Blazers fan fiction and created my own third season (as WXNE, who inherited the series, refused to show it, and chopped out any parts that didn't fit their Christian philosophy out of the other two seasons). And boy, did I wish Mark Venture was a real guy...

Star Trek (1966-1970)
How could I leave this one out? Although never a full-fledged "Trekkie" I can still watch a minute or so of a Trek teaser and know which episode it is. I was the anomoly in Trek fandom anyway: I neither lusted over Kirk or gazed soulfully at Spock—my favorite character was always Dr. McCoy! And "The City on the Edge of Forever" and "The Trouble with Tribbles" are still two of my favorite television moments.

Strange Paradise (syndicated, 1970s)
While the rank-and-file schoolkid of the early 70s was hooked on that cool vampire Barnabas in Dark Shadows, there were the rebels among us who gave our heart to a bizarre syndicated clone series from Canada. Where Dan Curtis' classic epic had vampires and a werewolf, we Paradise denizens had an old mouldering castle named Maljardin on a Caribbean island, an evil Frenchman who kept possessing the body of his lookalike modern counterpart to do nefarious deeds, zombies, and a formidable if elderly voodoo priestess with the mysterious name of Raxl. The sets were definitely "BBC £1.98 budget" and it was all done on the usual cheesy videotape, but as far as the series' fans were concerned, Barnabas had nothing over Jean-Paul Desmond. It didn't hurt that Colin Fox, really foxy, either.

Voyagers! (1982-1983)
The big problem with network children's programming is that the executives seem to automatically assume that the juvenile audience has no more brains than God gave a goat. Still, the premise of this SF let's-teach-'em-some-history time travel series was so intriguing that hundreds of adults watched anyway: time, Voyagers! theorized, often goes astray, and time travelers called "Voyagers" had to put "history back on track; give it a little push where it was needed." One time traveler named Phineas Bogg inadvertently picked up a twelve-year-old orphan named Jeffrey Jones and before you could say Marco Polo, they were both flung into historical adventures with such luminaries as Billy the Kid, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Samuel Gompers, and Annie Oakley. Alas, Voyagers went up against the indestructible 60 Minutes; even eternity wasn't a match for that hour of power.

What's My Line? (1950-1967)
"Will you enter and sign in, please?" and "Is it bigger than a breadbox?," the two catchphrases from that most classic of game shows, are still understood today due to its classic appeal. The gimmick was simple: four celebrity panelists try to guess the "unusual" occupation of the contestants, and then, blindfolded, try to ascertain who the celebrity guest is as the grinning celeb gleefully disguised his or her voice. The entertainment came from allowing the panel to go off on tangents, having one of them utter something that back in the 1950s was practically scandalous, and listen to them chatting and bantering about before and after a game. The erudite John Charles Daly was the host; the most remembered panelists included Broadway columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, actress Arlene Francis, and publisher, ranconteur, and punster Bennett Cerf. With everyone dressed to the nines in evening gowns and tuxedos, this is a charming and funny relic of the days when game shows had some class, a veritable—well, "breadbox" of humor. Save me a dozen loaves, please.
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