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Josh Steinberg

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Back to the topic at hand here, one thing I’ve been thinking about the past couple days in the background of this discussion was how the rigid formatting of early television (say, the 50s through the 80s) worked against the premise of some shows, and have made them somewhat disappointing or hard to get into for me today.

Back then, it seemed that virtually every primetime show fell into one of two categories: it was either a sitcom or a procedural. And, to be fair, those are really versatile formats that have yielded and continue to yield excellent work. But they have limitations when you try to shove a setup or story that doesn’t fit into that format.

For me, The Prisoner is an example of that. I want to love that show. It should be a show I love. But it’s hamstrung by very clearly having a closed premise that would best suit a limited run serialized series being forced into a procedural framework. The first episode establishes a clear beginning and intended purpose, and the last two episodes conclude that story. But nearly everything in the middle is just variations on a theme, stalling to delay the inevitable end. After I watched the show, I read some vintage interviews and writing on the show that revealed creator/star Patrick McGoohan did in fact envision it as a short run, limited series, and was forced by the studio and network to add many more episodes than he had ever intended. It probably should have been six episodes and it wound up being something like eighteen. That there are multiple variations on running order of those middle episodes, each sanctioned by a different creative or studio or network entity, is almost proof in and of itself how inconsequential most of those episodes are.

I will happily watch the first episode again, and happily watch the final two again. But I always get bogged down in the middle when I try to revisit it. I still think it’s a really cool show with a tremendous premise that’s done a disservice by the rigid formatting of its time.
 

Desslar

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I think he and Barnaby Jones were like that (I may be incorrect about that, though).

I believe Barnaby Jones works urban cases as well, but I don't think that show is anything spectacular in terms of location work.

Vega$. I have fallen in love with 70's and 80's detective series. I always enjoyed Rober Urich as an actor. Picked up the complete series at Big Lots for a few bucks.

I hate it. Nothing rubs me the wrong way more than cheesy, goofy supporting characters in a drama series. Bart Braverman may be a sweet dude and a good actor, but he ruins the series for me. Love the theme music though.

Just recently starting watching Vega$ for the first time. To me this a must pick up for the Vegas locations alone. Dan Tanna (oof, what a name) - Urich - drives all over the city and it's cool to peer behind the scenes of all the glitz and pageantry. Lots of fun to check out the casino marquees to see who was performing in a given week.

In terms of story and character, yes, it falls a little short. Urich doesn't seem very invested in the lead role, Tony Curtis is barely even paying attention, and there's a lot of cheesy performances around them. I don't really understand the purpose (other than ratings) of the two blondes who hang out (live?) at Dan's warehouse apartment and do... what? Answer the phone occasionally? They don't really help his investigations, and there doesn't seem to be any romance angle.

Bart Braverman's attempts at comedy are way over the top, and he seems to think he's in a sitcom (something like Three's Company). Surprising that Michael Mann thought this character was a good idea., or maybe he was a network creation. There is one funny scene where he borrows a magician's suit to attend a funeral, and sheepishly pulls out one of those interminable multicolored magician handkerchiefs to dry his tears. This is followed by him also discovering a rabbit and doves in the suit, which strains the joke a bit.
 
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bmasters9

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Vega$. I have fallen in love with 70's and 80's detective series. I always enjoyed Rober Urich as an actor. Picked up the complete series at Big Lots for a few bucks.

I hate it. Nothing rubs me the wrong way more than cheesy, goofy supporting characters in a drama series. Bart Braverman may be a sweet dude and a good actor, but he ruins the series for me. Love the theme music though.

Many Aaron Spelling series (even the ones he did w/Leonard Goldberg, whether independently or alongside Columbia Pictures Television) don't hold up all that well for me; T.J. Hooker (which he and Leonard did w/CPT) had a remarkable opening title track, and also a great end title track, but it falls apart where performances are concerned (especially William Shatner in the title role; I thought he was far better as Capt. James T. Kirk of the Enterprise on O-R 60s NBC Trek than in the title role on Hooker).

Also, at one time, I was enjoying Hart to Hart, and had finished it on DVD; even so, only 6 of its 110 outings (two first-season ones, three third-season ones, and one fifth-and-final-season one) have anything worth anything on quality, IMO:

"Too Many Cooks Are Murder"
"Death Set"
"Hartless Hobby"
"Vintage Harts"
"Harts and Fraud"
"Pandora Has Wings"
 

Desslar

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Many Aaron Spelling series (even the ones he did w/Leonard Goldberg, whether independently or alongside Columbia Pictures Television) don't hold up all that well for me; T.J. Hooker (which he and Leonard did w/CPT) had a remarkable opening title track, and also a great end title track, but it falls apart where performances are concerned (especially William Shatner in the title role; I thought he was far better as Capt. James T. Kirk of the Enterprise on O-R 60s NBC Trek than in the title role on Hooker).

Also, at one time, I was enjoying Hart to Hart, and had finished it on DVD; even so, only 6 of its 110 outings (two first-season ones, three third-season ones, and one fifth-and-final-season one) have anything worth anything on quality, IMO:

"Too Many Cooks Are Murder"
"Death Set"
"Hartless Hobby"
"Vintage Harts"
"Harts and Fraud"
"Pandora Has Wings"

I love TJ Hooker. Shatner's outrageous scenery chewing makes the show. There's a decent amount of car chases and other action, and pretty solid locations. Still haven't seen the final season after the move to CBS. I have a feeling it won't measure up, as I have read it recycles a lot of earlier stunt footage and is more serious overall. I think the series also suffers in the last couple seasons from the replacement of Adrian Zmed with James Darren, the latter of which is so wooden he makes Shatner look like Olivier.

I own Hart to Hart and have tried getting into it, but a lot of the episodes are very bland, more soap opera than mystery or thriller, and there's not too many exterior shoots. All the bits with their... butler/chef/chauffeur (?) make me feel like I'm watching a version of Mr. Belvedere that is remarkably even more unfunny than the original. Don't like that character at all. Also, Robert Wagner seems just a tad out of shape for the occasional action scenes, such as battling an alleged marital arts master.

But, as a big fan of location shooting, I do have to give a big thumbs up for the episodes shot overseas. Very few U.S. series have done that (beyond the occasional London episode), and it is a treat to watch. Only seen London (there it is) and Greece so far, but I believe they visit a few other countries as well.

Some series take time for me to get into. I bought season 1 of the Rockford Files, & watched 1 episode and put it up. Probably 4 years later I grabbed the set off the shelf and got hooked. Had to make myself slow down. Same with the Hill Street Blues. I watched episodes years apart. Now I love it!

I won’t say I don’t like it but I struggle sometimes with Mission Impossible. My mom raved about it but it can be very repetitive. The FBI is worse. I LOVE 60’s & 70’s cop shows but I’ve dozed off on this one. I’ve only watched a handful of episodes though.
I am struggling with Hill Street Blues. The theme music is amazing, one of the best intros ever. But to me the show feels more like a mildly serious version of Barney Miller or Cheers than a crime drama. At least early on, most episodes seem to be 90% focused on the cast hanging out in the police station ("Norm!"), which is rather tedious. I keep wishing they would go hit the streets and actually do something.

Also don't find any of the leads particularly charismatic, with the exception of the lovely Veronica Hamel. Daniel Travanti as the lead is especially dull and usually irritable for unknown reasons. It's never explained why Hamel's character would even give him the time of day, much less date him. I guess that James Sikking is kinda fun as the nutty loose cannon type.

As for The FBI, I wonder if anyone has watched the entire run and can recommend the best season (s). The few episodes I have seen have been confined to conversations on bland sets with blander acting. That's not too surprising for the early seasons in the mid-60s when many shows were like that, but I wonder if they later upped their game to compete with the action and exterior shooting of rivals like Hawaii Five-O and Mannix.
 

JohnHopper

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Back to the topic at hand here, one thing I’ve been thinking about the past couple days in the background of this discussion was how the rigid formatting of early television (say, the 50s through the 80s) worked against the premise of some shows, and have made them somewhat disappointing or hard to get into for me today.

Back then, it seemed that virtually every primetime show fell into one of two categories: it was either a sitcom or a procedural. And, to be fair, those are really versatile formats that have yielded and continue to yield excellent work. But they have limitations when you try to shove a setup or story that doesn’t fit into that format.

For me, The Prisoner is an example of that. I want to love that show. It should be a show I love. But it’s hamstrung by very clearly having a closed premise that would best suit a limited run serialized series being forced into a procedural framework. The first episode establishes a clear beginning and intended purpose, and the last two episodes conclude that story. But nearly everything in the middle is just variations on a theme, stalling to delay the inevitable end. After I watched the show, I read some vintage interviews and writing on the show that revealed creator/star Patrick McGoohan did in fact envision it as a short run, limited series, and was forced by the studio and network to add many more episodes than he had ever intended. It probably should have been six episodes and it wound up being something like eighteen. That there are multiple variations on running order of those middle episodes, each sanctioned by a different creative or studio or network entity, is almost proof in and of itself how inconsequential most of those episodes are.

I will happily watch the first episode again, and happily watch the final two again. But I always get bogged down in the middle when I try to revisit it. I still think it’s a really cool show with a tremendous premise that’s done a disservice by the rigid formatting of its time.


Patrick McGoohan’s initial “serial” concept
“Arrival”
“Free for All”
“Dance of the Dead”
“Checkmate”
“The Chimes of Big Ben”
“Once Upon a Time”
“Fall Out”
 

bmasters9

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I love TJ Hooker. Shatner's outrageous scenery chewing makes the show. There's a decent amount of car chases and other action, and pretty solid locations. Still haven't seen the final season after the move to CBS. I have a feeling it won't measure up, as I have read it recycles a lot of earlier stunt footage and is more serious overall. I think the series also suffers in the last couple seasons from the replacement of Adrian Zmed with James Darren, the latter of which is so wooden he makes Shatner look like Olivier.

Here's something else that I think was pretty good about T.J. Hooker: at least one of its TV Guide promos (this one from '84, promoting the show on KTVX Channel 4 [ABC in Salt Lake City, UT]) had the 80s Torch Lady of Columbia Pictures (the logo then for that studio) as a logo for Columbia Pictures Television (and that logo had the Coca-Cola Company byline as was used then for CPT as well). How many other shows actually did that on their TV Guide ads (not only promoting the show, but also promoting the people involved [studio or other production company])?

hookerabcpromo1984w80sTorchLady.jpg
 

ScottRE

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I love TJ Hooker. Shatner's outrageous scenery chewing makes the show. There's a decent amount of car chases and other action, and pretty solid locations. Still haven't seen the final season after the move to CBS. I have a feeling it won't measure up, as I have read it recycles a lot of earlier stunt footage and is more serious overall. I think the series also suffers in the last couple seasons from the replacement of Adrian Zmed with James Darren, the latter of which is so wooden he makes Shatner look like Olivier.
I love this series, easily my favorite 80's cop series. Actually it gets more serious in the third season. I'd love to know the behind the scenes story of this show. It was successful as a kid friendly, formulaic action show with laughs and stunts, but then it turned and suddenly Hooker was on the night shift (with Romano, Sheridan and Corrigan with him) and the series got a lot more serious - almost as if Aaron Spelling stepped back and let others control the stories (I'm thinking Shatner himself was pretty hands on). The 4th season finale changed the format completely, but when it went to CBS Late Night for the final season, they went back to the established format (sans Romano - without explanation). The reuse of footage isn't obvious and shots of cop cars driving in the city look the same anyway. The two hour "Blood Sport" went to Hawaii and was a lot of fun. There's a great climactic fight on the side of some cliffs that still looks great.
 

Desslar

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Here's something else that I think was pretty good about T.J. Hooker: at least one of its TV Guide promos
View attachment 131904

LOL! That art is amazing! Love those cheesy promo drawings. Looks like Hooker is up against a magician Bruce Lee. Also - "Hooker will heat up your Saturday night." Wink wink. Where did you find this?

I love this series, easily my favorite 80's cop series. Actually it gets more serious in the third season. I'd love to know the behind the scenes story of this show. It was successful as a kid friendly, formulaic action show with laughs and stunts, but then it turned and suddenly Hooker was on the night shift (with Romano, Sheridan and Corrigan with him) and the series got a lot more serious - almost as if Aaron Spelling stepped back and let others control the stories (I'm thinking Shatner himself was pretty hands on). The 4th season finale changed the format completely, but when it went to CBS Late Night for the final season, they went back to the established format (sans Romano - without explanation). The reuse of footage isn't obvious and shots of cop cars driving in the city look the same anyway. The two hour "Blood Sport" went to Hawaii and was a lot of fun. There's a great climactic fight on the side of some cliffs that still looks great.

Thanks for the rundown! I have the complete series so I'll watch all of it eventually. Without knowing specifics, I imagine a few factors were behind changes in the last two seasons. Beginning in 1984, the networks started to cut back on budgets for action series (see remote control cars used for Dukes of Hazzard stunts in the last season). At same time, the popular Miami Vice introduced a darker, more serious tone to action dramas. So shows that wanted to stay on the air had to adapt - cut back on the budget and therefore action, and introduce more dramatic elements to compensate. For most of these shows this change didn't work and they still ended up cancelled. The end of the '85 season was a bloodbath for action dramas - TJ Hooker, The Fall Guy, Knight Rider, Hardcastle and McCormick, Airwolf, and Riptide all got the axe.

Just a few thoughts re: the formulaic, repetitive nature of classic TV shows. I think this is endemic to the "episodic" structure used back in the day, compared to the "serialized" format popular today. While I think the serialized approach can work extremely well with certain shows, I have grown somewhat tired of it in recent years, as it's pretty much the only structure used now, at least in scripted dramas. This approach lends itself well to "binging" a series in short order (something I'm not averse to, having just recently hoovered through all 8 episodes of Peacemaker S1 in a 24 hour period myself). But there is something to be said about the simple pleasures of the "episodic" structure employed by classic era TV programs. One of the chief benefits of watching older TV shows is getting a complete, self-contained story told in thirty minutes to an hour. This is rather a lost art these days, and I'd argue is a strength, not a weakness, when it comes to televised storytelling. There's just something really satisfying about being able to sit down and in a short period of time be told a complete story from beginning to end.

This focus on episodic storytelling does lead to a reliance on formula, certainly. Like Brad stated previously, if you like a given show's formula, then it just works for you, and if you don't buy into it, then it doesn't. Personally, this formula aspect doesn't bother me much, for two reasons. One reason is that, if done well, a formula can be a plus, not a minus. It's often this formulaic aspect which puts the "comfort" in comfort TV for many people. Viewers like the cast of characters and respond to a show's set-up, and want more of the same.

Another reason has more to do with personal viewing patterns. I'm probably fairly unique by the standards of this forum in that I rarely, if ever, watch any classic TV series straight through. In fact, I rarely watch more than an episode or two of a show at a time. Some shows I only watch an episode of once or twice a year, others, once every month or two. I go with my mood, usually, or perhaps I have some sort of plan to follow the career of a particular actor or actress. I'm often a cherry-picker, reading the plot synopses on Wikipedia or IMDB and choosing an episode that has an intriguing premise or a guest star whose work I admire. It's a style that works well for me and means that few shows ever outstay their welcome, and that their particular formula (even though I recognize it's there) doesn't grow stale for me. I know my "magpie" approach to classic TV viewing won't appeal to some, perhaps even many...but it works well for me, and keeps me cycling through my collection on a weekly basis. And, while modern serialized shows often benefit from it, IMO binge watching most classic television does it no favors whatsoever.

You are speaking my language here, especially with regard to viewing patterns. I never watch a multi-season series all the way through consecutively, and I am not at all into the concept of binge watching. I try not to watch more than one episode of a given series per week, to keep things fresh.

Mostly I hop around from series to series (and decade to decade) checking out things I've never seen before or not for a long time. I'll watch a few episodes of a series to get a feel for it, and then I'm off to watch something else. If there's a series I really like I'll eventually circle back and watch a full season of it.
 

bmasters9

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LOL! That art is amazing! Love those cheesy promo drawings. Looks like Hooker is up against a magician Bruce Lee. Also - "Hooker will heat up your Saturday night." Wink wink. Where did you find this?

This page of TV Guide advertisements from Oct. '84:

Also, did you notice that Columbia Pictures Television (the studio behind T.J. Hooker) advertised itself there?
 

billO'

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LOL! That art is amazing! Love those cheesy promo drawings. Looks like Hooker is up against a magician Bruce Lee. Also - "Hooker will heat up your Saturday night." Wink wink. Where did you find this?


My first quick glance at that promo I thought the killer was about to strangle Wonder Woman.
 

Desslar

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This page of TV Guide advertisements from Oct. '84:

Also, did you notice that Columbia Pictures Television (the studio behind T.J. Hooker) advertised itself there?
Thanks for the link - lot of great promo art there. It truly is a lost art form. I miss that kind of cheese.

I did notice the logo for Columbo Pictures Television. Would that have been unusual to include the studio information?
 

bmasters9

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I did notice the logo for Columbo Pictures Television. Would that have been unusual to include the studio information?

It might have been-- not many ads did that (I think I may have seen ads from old back issues of Broadcasting magazine that had similar logos [like Paramount's Blue Mtn., etc.]).
 

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You are speaking my language here, especially with regard to viewing patterns. I never watch a multi-season series all the way through consecutively, and I am not at all into the concept of binge watching. I try not to watch more than one episode of a given series per week, to keep things fresh.

With a serialized show, I feel that episodes are more like chapters in a single long story, and I don't have a problem bingeing them. It's rather like reading a long book that I'm enjoying -- I keep telling myself I'm going to stop at the end of the current chapter, but then I just plow ahead into the next one.

The only problem I have with bingeing a TV series is that I often forget which episode had a particularly great scene, because it all feels like one continuous work. In a book, it's easy to flip back through the pages to see where a certain event happened. Not so easy to scan through a bunch of TV episodes.
 

jayembee

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Serialization is great and all, but I also miss being able to have a favorite episode rather than enjoying, or not, the entire arc overall.
It's all good. A serialized series is akin (as I said above) to a novel. An episodic series is akin to a collection of short stories about a group of characters.
 

bmasters9

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It's all good. A serialized series is akin (as I said above) to a novel. An episodic series is akin to a collection of short stories about a group of characters.

Dallas on CBS (and TNT) being the former, and Emergency! on NBC being the latter.
 

Desslar

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I also found the original Mission Impossible also kinda repetitive and kinda boring as the seasons wore on.

For reasons I don't quite understand, I found I liked watching the late-1980s revived Mission Impossible a lot more.

I eagerly anticipated the debut of the 80s Mission Impossible. I had never seen the original, but loved 007, and was thrilled to have a spy show on TV. Especially since most action dramas were killed off in the mid-80s, and it was slim pickings by 1988.

The opening credits are fantastic, really get you pumped up for action. But... I felt the show itself repeats the main missteps of the original show (which I eventually saw), in that its ambition far exceeds its production values. Most of the episodes seem to revolve around an elaborate con with disguises, etc. to try to trick the villain into doing something. But with the limited resources of the show, I never found these deceptions the slightest bit convincing, and felt the villain should see through them almost immediately. Also just like the original show the action is mostly confined to indoor sets, and when they do go outside it's... Australia?

The actors are allowed to have a little more personality than the original cast, which is nice, but I'm not sure any of them are really standouts.

Still, I have nostalgia for the show, so I will pick it up eventually.

With a serialized show, I feel that episodes are more like chapters in a single long story, and I don't have a problem bingeing them. It's rather like reading a long book that I'm enjoying -- I keep telling myself I'm going to stop at the end of the current chapter, but then I just plow ahead into the next one.

The only problem I have with bingeing a TV series is that I often forget which episode had a particularly great scene, because it all feels like one continuous work. In a book, it's easy to flip back through the pages to see where a certain event happened. Not so easy to scan through a bunch of TV episodes.

As you pointed out yourself, my problem with binging is that each episode loses its individual identity if the content is viewed that way. Plus, the repetition gets to me after a while. I want to enjoy the opening credits, but I imagine 10 times in a row would get tedious. And the tropes really start to stand out if you watch multiple episodes at a time. "Look, the chief is blowing his top again... didn't that just happen 30 minutes ago? And 60 minutes ago?
 
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jayembee

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Dallas on CBS (and TNT) being the former, and Emergency! on NBC being the latter.

Not having watched either, I'll take your word for it.

Almost any vintage series works for the latter. A more extreme version, to my mind, would be something like The Name of the Game, where different reporters working for Gene Barry's character would rotate as the "star" of the episodes. Even more extreme, to my mind, were what have been referred to as "quasi-anthology" shows, in which the regular characters were often downplayed, with the focus primarily on the guest characters. Naked City (at least, after it changed to an hour-long show and Paul Burke replaced John McIntire as the star) and Route 66 being two examples.

A good book example would be The Foundation Trilogy. It wasn't a set of three novels, but a "fix-up" of shorter pieces all connected together by being set in the same future history timeline. And sometimes using (or referring to) characters from a previous story.
 

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The first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is superb. Then, like too many other series of those years, it fell into the "camp" trap and went downhill. By the time they realized what they were doing it was too late to save the show. At least it spawned The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. before it all came crashing down. I enjoy that one, too, but it's also of the "camp" style spy show though it works much better here than with its parent series.

I've not yet made it to S3 of I Spy but, yes, it can be quite repetitive with very similar story lines, especially when they ended location shooting due to expense (though the interiors, even then, are mostly obvious sets). In spite of that, I still love the series (it was one of those "must see" shows for me when it first aired). I've been quite sparse watching the series on DVD because I just don't want it to end.

Although I was hoping I would like it, the little I've seen of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. suggests it is an exclusively set/backlot-based type of show, and that just doesn't interest me.

I Spy is fun, both for the amazing international location shoots and the repartee between Culp and Cosby. I agree that some of the sets are jarringly fake looking. I was watching one episode where there was a thrilling chase down by the waterfront in Hong Kong, which anticlimactically ends with the heroes and their pursuers running into a tiny Batman-like store set, and engaging in wacky Biff! Bam! Pow! type fisticuffs that would have made Adam West proud.

But I didn't know they stopped location shooting at some point. Is it at the very start of season 3? If so, then I probably don't need to get that season.
 

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