Classic Television Thursday #025 – Rod Serling On The Mike Wallace Interview (1959)

mw1Something different for this week.

Long before he became the head reporter and interviewer on 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace gained notoriety for an interview show called Night Beat which aired from 1955-1957 on the Dumont network’s New York affiliate WABD during a late night time slot. This led to ABC picking him up for a late night talk show called The Mike Wallace Interview. Each episode ran 30 minutes and featured Wallace one-on-one with personalities as varied as Steve Allen, Pearl S. Buck, Bennett Cerf, Salvador Dalí, Kirk Douglas, William O. Douglas, Erich Fromm,Oscar Hammerstein, Samuel David Hawkins, Robert Hutchins, Aldous Huxley, and Henry Kissinger, along with many others.

mw2Among those “others” was Rod Serling, who at the time was only a week or so away from debuting a new show that he was writing, directing , and producing called The Twilight Zone. At this point in his life, Serling was well known as a television script writer, but he had also become increasingly frustrated with censorship by the networks and the increasing involvement of advertisers and their influence on what did and didn’t make it on the air. He is quite frank in this interview, and as always come across as not only extremely knowledgeable, but as a fairly harsh critic of the medium for which he had an obviously great love, but sincerely felt could be doing more than it was at the time. Serling also acknowledges his insecurity about leaving the medium either for Hollywood or Broadway.

Time, of course, has since vindicated Serling, at least as far as Twilight Zone was concerned, but at the same time, one has to wonder what Serling would make of the state of television today and whether he would even be given the chance to make the kind of impactful shows that he did back in the day.

Anyway, all of that just leads, ultimately, to meaningless speculation. So rather than go any further with that, I’ll just let you listen to and watch the man speak for himself.

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Television Thursday #023 – Kraft Television Theatre – Rod Serling’s “Patterns” (1955)

kraft1I’ve written quite a bit about Rod Serling and his work in early television, especially his live teleplays for various anthology shows. What’s amazing is not so much his prolific output, many writers were able to churn out perfectly adequate scripts for these shows – that’s how they were able to stay on the air, after all – but how many of them are so superior to all those “adequate scripts” that surrounded them. Here’s another case in point.

Patterns“, which debuted on the Kraft Television Theatre show on January 12, 1955 and starred Ed Begley (Sr.), Everett Sloan, Richard Kiley, and featured a very young Elizabeth Montgomery in a supporting role, proved so popular that the cast and crew were brought together again for a repeat performance a month later on February 9th. This was, after all, the era of live television, and before the widespread recording of these shows allowed them to simply be re-run at the network’s discretion. It is, as this TV Week article describes it, “”a tale of corporate morality—or the lack of it—and such everyday battles as the ones waged between conscience and ambition.”

kraft2“Patterns” was so good that Serling won the first of his six Emmey awards for it, and it was also made into a theatrical movie in 1956.

I’m not going to write much more about the show here, referring those interested in more information about it to the above article, which not only gives a good synopsis of the show, but also speaks to just what it is that makes this teleplay work so well. Instead, I’m just going to invite you to sit back and enjoy the show.

By the way, I mentioned that the show was not recorded for rebroadcast by the network, so what your seeing below is actually a kinescope of the original January 12 broadcast, which is why the quality is not perfect, but it’s definitely watchable, and even includes the original commercials that were broadcast within the show. A real treat for those of us who love early TV.

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Television Thursday #020 – Playhouse 90: Forbidden Area (1956)

p90What do I need to say here? Charlton Heston, Vincent Price, Tab Hunter, Diana Lynn, and Victor Jory, all starring in a screenplay adapted by Rod Serling and directed by John Frankenheimer.

What could possibly bring all of this talent together? It’s “Forbidden Area”, the premiere episode of Playhouse 90, the acclaimed 1950s television anthology series.

Oh, and did I mention that it was broadcast live? And hosted by Jack Palance?

Yeah, I’m just going to get out of the way of this one, and let you enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

Classic Television Thursday #003 – Playhouse 90: Requiem For A Heavyweight (1956)

(Yes, I know, this is a little late going up this week, but here it is, nonetheless.)

p90Last week, in writing about the Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man”, I stated about Rod Serling “[E]ven if the only thing he ever wrote was Requiem for a Heavyweight, he would still be worth remembering today.”

Actually, Serling wrote two versions of the story, one for the television anthology program Playhouse 90 in 1956, the second as a stand-alone feature film which was produced in 1962.

The Playhouse 90 version, which, since this is a classic television feature, is the one I’ll share with you today, features a number of notable names, including Jack Palance in the lead as Harlan ‘Mountain’ McClintock, Other notables include Kim Hunter, Ed Wynn, Keenan Wynn, Max Baer, and Eddie Cantor.

Those who have seen the movie version will note that this production is quite a bit different, including a much more upbeat ending.

By the way, it should also be noted that this show was broadcast live, with the commercial segments used to cover costume and set changes.

 

Classic Television Thursday #002 – Twilight Zone: The Obsolete Man (1961)

om2I could easily do an entire series of entries that solely focused on the screenplays written by Rod Serling. Mr. Serling has long been considered one of the greatest-ever writers for television, and it is easy to see why. Even if one discounts the numerous scripts that he wrote for The Twilight Zone, he would still have a record with an incredible output, writing numerous scripts (many of them either award-winning or well known even today) for series such as Playhouse 90, The Lux Video Theatre, Suspense, Kraft Theatre,  Studio One, and many, many, many many more.

Heck, even if the only thing he ever wrote was Requiem for a Heavyweight, he would still be worth remembering today.

Anyway, today I want to take a quick look at one episode that he wrote for The Twilight Zone, an episode entitled “The Obsolete Man” which was first broadcast in June of 1961. In some ways this script showcases both the best and the worst of Mr. Serling’s writing at the same time. There are definitely places where it can be seen as heavy-handed and pedantic, but at the same time it has a message that could just as easily have been written today as in the early 60s. As a matter of fact, it seems quite prescient, and worth considering now. Here’s a YouTube clip that combines the opening and closing monologues of the episode.

You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for Mankind – in The Twilight Zone.

om1Like I said, words that could just as easily have been written today, and considering the current turmoil in so many countries (including our own) over not only human rights, but also the way that we need to respond to the technological advances that have been made in the last few years and how to use those advances in ways that help, rather than cause further problems (unlimited surveillance, the 24/7 news cycle, the loss of privacy due to social media, etc,) and how governments can respond to and use those advances both for good and ill, well…

I’ll stop there, because this is meant to be a post about television, not politics. The point is, simply, that in writing those words, Mr. Serling once again proved himself an insightful commentator not only on the human psyche, but also the human condition.

Unfortunately, there’s also, it seems, no place, even with all of the programming that the networks and cable channels eat up today for the kind of anthology series that would prove conducive for writers of Mr. Serling’s caliber to showcase their works.

Anyway, here’s the full episode for you to watch for yourselves:

Oh, one last note. If you watch the episode, you’ll notice that it features Burgess Meridith, who also stars in my all-time favorite TZ episode “Time Enough At Last”. But that’s a post for another time.

A Portrait of the Macabre: Night Gallery (1969)

I’d been threatening 12-year-old Hannah with the pilot movie for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery for awhile now, and last night she finally acceded to the inevitable and agreed to humor the old man by watching it with me.

Rod Serling's Night Gallery is referenced in t...

For those who don’t remember it, Night Gallery was Serling’s follow-up series to the Twilight Zone. It ran on NBC from 1970 to 1973, with the first two seasons made up of hour-long shows with two segments each, and the third season made up of 30 minute shows with only one segment. The series differed from Zone in a number of ways. First, as the title implies, the series revolved around paintings in a supposed art gallery which would be unveiled by Serling as he introduced each one. Second, the emphasis was much more on horror as opposed to the more sci-fi or fantasy bent of Zone. Third, though Serling did create the series and wrote many of the stories, his input was much more limited this time around, and by the time the third season rolled around, his involvement became even more limited. Finally, there is the matter of Serling’s “hosting” duties – though he did  narrate an opening for each segment, he didn’t do the same kind of ending narration for each story that he had done for the stories in Zone, and, in my opinion at least, that made the stories here much less effective, as often it was Serling’s closing remarks in Zone that often added that final perfect nail that made those episodes so memorable.

Anyway, the pilot episode was actually created as a TV movie of the week and aired originally, according to Wikipedia, on November 8, 1969. It’s an anthology which fits neatly into the genre that was quite popular at the time, both on television and in theaters. Consisting of three stories, it’s memorable as both the directorial debut of some kid named Spielberg and as one of the last performances of the late Joan Crawford. It also features, in the opening segment, one of my personal all-time favorite actors, Roddy McDowall, along with the great Ossie Davis.

Okay, so back to last night. As I said at the top, watching this with me was really a case of Hannah indulging her dad since she had no homework that needed to be done and really nothing better to do. Plus she knows, though she’d probably only admit it reluctantly in public, that I’ve got a pretty good record of picking out movies and TV shows from the past that will interest her.

cemetery2Now I’m not going to bother going into much of a recap of the three stories that make up the pilot, as that info is easily available, and they’re not hard to find, either on DVD or online (as a matter of fact, I’ll be embedding the first one at the bottom of this post), but I will say that in my opinion the first one, entitled “The Cemetery” is definitely the best and gets the proceedings off to a good start, and that seems to have been proven out in last night’s viewing. It’s actually a fairly standard monkey’s paw variation that hinges largely on McDowall’s not quite over-the-top performance as the scheming nephew who may or may not be going mad.

As the story began to unfold, both Hannah and I were quite amused by the interplay between McDowall and Davis, who plays the household butler/caretaker to Roddy’s dying uncle, making little quips to each other as things amused us. At one point Hannah even said “I know if I were taking this seriously, I’d probably be pretty creeped out by now, but…” However, as the story continued to unfold, the room kept getting quieter and quieter, and by the end, she was completely drawn in, eventually admitting “Okay, that was pretty creepy.”

night_galleryThe second story, the Spielberg/Crawford collaboration “Eyes”, while still quite effective, does pale a bit in comparison, and unfortunately, the third tale, “Escape Route”, though it does have perhaps the most striking painting of the night at it’s center, simply doesn’t hold up anywhere near as well as the other two. Those are my thoughts. at least, and that was pretty much the girl’s take on it, too, though as is often the case with anthologies, your own mileage may vary.

Nonetheless, the evening was fun for both of us, and the bottom line is that I would definitely recommend watching the pilot, either simply as a stand-alone anthology movie, or as an entre into watching more of the series. For our part. well, I think maybe Gallery will be one of those things we can just watch an episode of here and there when we’ve got a little time to pass and there’s nothing that appealing in the queue. And I suspect maybe next time I bring it up there may not be quite so much reluctance.

Oh, and as promised, here’s that opening segment, “The Cemetery”:

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

The Dump Bin: 14 Links To Help You Pass Your Sunday

It’s Sunday again, which means it’s time to close some tabs. Time to point you to some interesting stuff I’ve run across on the interwebs the past week or so. Yep, it’s time for another trip to the Link-Dump bin.

1) Let’s get things started this morning by breaking the fourth wall. Here’s a great compilation of scenes from 54 different movies that in various ways acknowledge the fact that they are actually in a movie or otherwise acknowledge that there is an audience “out there” watching their actions:

2) From Cinephilia and Beyond – a roundup of free and open-source software for aspiring film makers that includes things to take you all the way from screenwriting through editing, working on sound, to distributing your final product.

3) Film School Rejects has a new podcast up discussing exactly what is going on with SFX houses – more specifically why, when movies seem to be becoming more-and-more dependent on them, so many seem to be failing and/or filing for bankruptcy.

4) Want another look at the upcoming Star Trek movie? Ok, here’s the latest teaser trailer. just for you:

5) Speaking of upcoming movies, one of the ones I’m most looking forward to is the new Evil Dead remake. It premiered this past weekend at SXSW in Austin, and the early reviews are starting to come in, which means it’s time for me to stop reading about it, because I want to go into it relatively cold. I will, however, go ahead and point you to this one from the guys over at Criterioncast. The bottom line? “…this film will be just what the doctor ordered for a generation of horror fans who have become fed up with CGI blood and those looking for something that is simply genuinely frightening. Aggressive, brutally unflinching, and with a mix of fan service and a fresh tone, Evil Dead is simply the horror film that we have all been waiting for.” Yeah, that’s all I need to know.

film-twilight-zone6) Dangerous Minds presents this “lost” interview with television pioneer, screenwriter, and Twilight Zone creator and host Rod Serling.

7) Here’s a red-band trailer for those of you who don’t think vampires should sparkle in the sun or spend their time pining over barely legal high schoolers. Kiss of the Damned is supposed to hit theaters in early May of this year, but I suspect you’ll probably have to search it out, as it probably won’t hit many screens.

ap_edward_burns_tyler_perry_jp_121017_wblog8) In the guise of a review of Tyler Perry’s 2012 movie Alex Cross, Daily Grindhouse’s jonnyabomb takes a look at the phenomenon that IS Tyler Perry and asks a question that only his fans can really answer: why and how does he keep “crapping out” 2-3 movies a year, and why can theaters expect full houses for them? I don’t know the answers, but I do know it’s true.

9) All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is actually a pretty good slasher film with a neat little twist or two in the post-Scream tradition. At least it was when it was first made seven years ago, and when I first saw it about five years or so ago. Here’s a look at the trailer for it that was made “way back when”:

So why is it only now getting a US release? Bleeding Cool has the skinny.

10) San Diego’s KPBS has a report on what sounds like a very interesting experiment: Drive-By-Cinema.

11) For sale: one slightly-used, but VERY special lion costume.

12) For your amusement, here’s a “Bad Lip Reading” cut featuring Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy from last year’s Amazing Spider-Man:

goreywaroftheworlds113) 20th Century Fox is prepping a new version of Frankenstein which will apparently be told from the perspective of the hunchbacked Igor. No word yet on who’s playing the doctor or the monster, but according to Geek Tyrant, a certain wizard has been lined up to put on the hump.

14)  Finally, why am I including this link to Brain Pickings’ article on Edward Gorey’s illustrations for H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds? First, because I find the concept fascinating, and second, because of my love for this: