The Edge of Night

TV classics

USA 1956-84,  7,420 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS and ABC, black & white and color. Sponsored by Procter & Gamble. Created by Irving Vendig. Announced by Bob Dixon, Herbert Duncan and Harry Kramer Cast: John Larkin, Teal Ames, Ann Flood, Laurence Hugo, Forrest Compton, Lois Kibbee and many others.

Plot summary: In Monticello, life is an endless cycle of personal drama, occasional laughter and crime.

Edge56Review: It is the dream of any author to create a character who resonates with a growing audience. As common as this dream may be, it rarely becomes reality. For Erle Stanley Gardner, that dream came true. The character he introduced in 1933 took America by storm: Perry Mason, the attorney who never loses a case. Accompanied by two faithful companions, Della Street and Paul Drake, Gardner’s hero soon tried his cases on paper and screen. First adapted for a movie audience in the 1930s, Perry Mason became truly successful on CBS Radio in 1943. Presented as a daily broadcast, the show was destined to also try its luck on television. Although originally endorsed by Erle Stanley Gardner, the program was ultimately created by Irving Vendig, the mastermind behind Mason’s radio success and renamed The Edge of Night. Following up on twelve years on radio, the television show was presented in daily cliffhanger installments which remained true to their roots of drama and crime. Only loosely based on Gardner’s original concept, The Edge of Night introduced Mike Karr as its central crime-fighting character who was supported by his love interest Sara Lane. Designed as a soap opera, the show was broadcast live on CBS from 1956 until its cancellation in 1975. It was then picked up on ABC for another nine years where it finally ended in 1984 without ever becoming untrue to its open end narrative.

As one of the first two half hour dailies of its genre it may be astonishing to hear that The Edge of Night first drew in a large male audience. At second glance, however, the afternoon time slot as well as the whodunit format are explanation enough. Although first perceived as TV’s daytime Perry Mason, the show soon grew into its own and attracted viewers from all backgrounds and age groups. Set in the fictional town of Monticello, the program did not focus on a single family or institution but rather on the entangled lives of a populace somewhere in the Midwest. John Larkin starred as one of the narrative connectors, an actor then still widely identified as the voice of CBS Radio’s Perry Mason. His Mike Karr was joined by Teal Ames as Sara Lane who met with a tragic and untimely death in 1961. Larkin himself was replaced by Laurence Hugo in 1962 who was then succeeded by Forrest Compton for the remainder of the show’s run. Not uncommon for its genre, The Edge of Night underwent many such character deaths and cast changes in its twenty-eight years on the air, none of which resulted in a fatal decline in ratings. What led to a drop in approval, however, was the unfortunate combination of network policy and Procter & Gambles’ influence on time slot changes.

Today, only a fourth of the original 7,400 episodes are available for syndication. Due to an unfortunate habit of erasing classic recordings, especially the early black and white episodes are a rare treat. For anyone who is familiar with the Perry Mason radio program from the 1940s and 50s, the quality of those few preserved episodes serves as a beautiful continuation of the suspense of once live recorded material. For soap opera fans, the show is also a true classic that deserves to be revisited where possible. Treat yourself to an early episode of The Edge of Night here, Tide commercials, announcer and original score included for the real experience.

The Millionaire

TV classics: aka If You had a Million

USA 1955-60, six seasons, 206 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Produced by Don Fedderson, Fred Henry. Cast: Marvin Miller, Paul Frees. Guest stars: Phyllis Avery, Carl Betz, Whitney Blake, Angie Dickinson, Barbara Eden, Beverly Garland, Ray Gordon, Barbara Hale, DeForest Kelly, Del Moore, Mary Tyler Moore, Agnes Moorehead, Maudie Prickett, Gloria Talbott, Robert Vaughn, Betty White, Bill Williams, Dick York and many others.

Plot summary: Millionaires are happy people or are they?

millionaireReview: In 1955, anthology programs were as popular on TV as procedurals are today. While most of them featured a different genre on a weekly basis, The Millionaire had a steady concept. John Beresford Tipton, Jr., a man as wealthy as he was generous, made out a check to complete strangers and asked his secretary to deliver them. He gave away one million dollars without any strings attached. Surprised by their sudden fortune, the recipients signed a legal contract to guarantee the anonymity of their unknown sponsor and were then abandoned to their fate. A blessing for some, a curse for others, Tipton’s gift always deeply affected the lives of people who had never dreamed of ever owning so much money.

Popular enough to be parodied on The Jack Benny Program and by Mad Magazine, The Millionaire attracted many guest stars who contributed to the show’s appeal. Although based on a simple idea, the program turned a similar situation into a new story every week and thus kept the original concept interesting for six seasons. Blessed with good scripts and the talents of Marvin Miller as Tipton’s bearer of glad tidings, the show created dramatic, funny and generally entertaining moments with actors such as Dick York, Betty White, Barbara Hale and Bill Williams. Successful for five years on CBS, the show was frequently rerun from 1960 to 1980 and temporarily revived on TV Land in the late 1990s. It is a pity that, today, the program has not yet been made available on DVD. It is a real gem for anyone who loves the Golden Age of television and a cordial invitation to dream of opening the door to Marvin Miller as Michael Anthony.

The Love Boat

TV classics

USA 1977-87, nine seasons, four specials, 249 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Produced by Aaron Selling, Douglas S. Cramer. Cast: Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Fred Grandy, Ted Lange, Lauren Tewes, Jill Whelan, Ted McGinley, Pat Klous. Guest stars: June Allyson, The Andrew Sisters, Eve Arden, Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Amanda Blake, Tom Bosley, Raymond Burr, Sid Caesar, Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse, Olivia de Havilland, Patty Duke, Joan Fontaine, Greer Garson,  Andy Griffith, Katherine Helmond, Celeste Holm, Gene Kelly, Werner Klemperer, Jack Klugman, Dorothy Lamour, Janet Leigh, Allen Ludden, Rue McClanahan, Leslie Nielsen, Lilli Palmer, Donna Reed, Della Reese, Debbie Reynolds, Marion Ross, Eva Marie Saint, Jaclyn Smith, Jean Stapleton, Gale Storm, Sada Thompson, Lana Turner, Gloria Vanderbilt, Betty White, William Windom, Shelly Winters, Jane Wyatt, Jane Wyman and many others

Plot summary: On the Pacific Princess, love and laughter are all-inclusive.

Love Boat crewReview: In 1976, three TV movies launched the career of a special ship, the Pacific Princess. Based on a non-fiction book by cruise director Jeraldine Saunders, the so-called Love Boat traveled the world with Captain Stubing and his crew. Each week, they were accompanied by a wide array of guests stars ranging from Hollywood legends to contemporary starlets. Split into three different stories, every episode focused on love, comedy and drama. Written by three sets of writers, the weekly plots rarely crossed over but instead made The Love Boat crew the pivotal element that held them all together.

The Captain (Gavin MacLeod), Doc (Bernie Kopell) and bartender Isaac Washington (Ted Lange) were the longest serving members of an ensemble that appeared to be tight on camera and off. They were supported by Gopher (Fred Grandy) and Julie McCoy, played by Lauren Tewes, a young actress who successfully earned her stripes on TV in the first seven seasons. Eventually, they were joined by Jill Whelan as Vicki Stubing, the Captain’s daughter, and Pat Klous as Jody McCoy, Julie’s sister and replacement for the last two seasons. In 1979, Charlie’s Angels checked in on the Pacific Princess to solve a case and simultaneously introduce Shelley Hack as the latest angelic addition. Collaborations like that were rare but boosted ratings for Aaron Spelling’s other projects, Fantasy Island following suit in 1980.

Popular around the world during its ten year run, The Love Boat offered an escape from the grim realities of politically callous times. At the height of the Cold War, the program was bubbly, glamorous and diverting. A perfect vehicle for old stars and new ones alike and thus an evening favorite for boomers and their parents. Shown in reruns for many years, the first two seasons were finally made available on DVD in 2008. A great treat for anyone who has fond memories of flares, weekly cameos and the famous theme song performed by Jack Jones (as well as by Dionne Warwick in 1987).

Family

TV classics: Family

USA 1976-80, five seasons, 86 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Produced by Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Selling, Mike Nichols. Cast: Sada Thompson, James Broderick, Gary Frank, Kristy McNichol, Elayne HeilVeil, Meredith Baxter Birney, Quinn Cummings.

Plot summary: Family life is not a walk in the park and no one knows that better than Kate and Doug Lawrence, two middle-aged parents who love and curse their kids at the same time.

family 1976Review: When Family premiered in the spring of 1976, the family shows had long been established on TV. Programs like Father Knows Best or The Donna Reed Show had coined the genre in the early days. Unlike its predecessors, however, Family dealt with issues and disputes in a serious way. Although joy and laughter belonged to the Lawrence’s household, the overall tone of the show was serious. In contrast to the early family sitcoms, Kate and Doug were loving but stern parents who had to deal with three children and their struggles.

Set in Southern California, the Lawrence family belonged to the upper middle class and led a comfortable life in Pasadena. Kate, played by a warmhearted but slightly melancholy Sada Thompson, was the female head of the household. A woman who had put her family before her own professional aspirations and thus fought with her own demons. Doug (James Broderick) was Kate’s husband and father of Nancy, Willie and Buddy. As an independent lawyer, he was the negotiator of the family, a strict man who had his convictions but wasn’t set in his ways. Nancy, the oldest daughter, was married in the beginning of the show but later divorced her husband. Selfish by nature and equally demanding, she had a difficult relationship with her mother whose own values differed largely from hers. Willie, the second-in-line, was a high school drop out who dreamed of becoming a famous writer. Buddy, the pet of the family, was his favorite sister. A tomboy on the outside, she was a teenage girl within. Insecure about her height and femininity, she slowly grew into a confident young woman who was a reliable and honest friend. As the youngest Lawrence offspring, she had suffered greatly after the loss of her older brother, Timothy, five years prior to the show’s beginning. His death a gash still tangible in the entire family.

It were topics like these that set the show apart from many others. Family didn’t shy away from touching uncomfortable or somber topics. Breast cancer, divorce and the doubts of an expectant mother are just some of the examples that made this program what it was: a story about a fictional family with realistic challenges and problems. Although not yet available on DVD as a complete collection, the first two seasons provide an insight into the difficulties and changes of the 1970s. Influenced by subjects and questions discussed at the time, the show now functions like a time capsule. No matter if you are fond of the era or critical of it like me, Family offers a wonderful cast and moving storylines. A real treat for anyone who wants to understand the sensitivities of a different time, as well as the roots of female characters who speak their mind. Kate Lawrence has always been one of my favorites, strong, hands-on and maternal. Here’s my favorite scene with her from the pilot, a great example of the style and tone of a show that started as a mini series and ended its run at the dawn of a new decade after five seasons.

ALF

TV classics: ALF

USA 1986-90, four seasons, 120 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Paul Fusco, Max Wright, Anne Schedeen, Andrea Elson, Benji Gregory.

Plot summary: He’s an alien life form who crashes into the Tanner’s garage. Needless to say that from that day onwards, nothing will ever be quite normal again.

ALFReview: In the 1980s, television offered a lot of gems for kids to grow up with. Out of this World, The Cosby Show and an odd fur ball called ALF. As a mixture of comedy and science fiction, the show was one of a kind. It stood out from a wide array of family shows by blending new ideas with proven concepts. It was directed at an audience who still had a heart for Mork and Mindy but also liked true-to-life puppets like the Muppets. Operated by creator Paul Fusco, ALF was a 285-year-old alien from a planet called Melmac whose sense of humor was as grown-up as his appetite. Loud, funny and always looking for trouble, the little alien soon won the hearts of the Tanners, the family whose garage he had crashed into with his flying saucer. Although still struggling to fit in with his human rescuers in the pilot, ALF quickly adapted to the habits and joys of American life. Glued to the radio, television and the fridge, the visitor from outer space made the best of his secret existence in the Tanner household and entertained his audience with comments on human customs.

Technically difficult and thus demanding in production, the show only lasted four short seasons and left its fans with a cliffhanger finale. Despite his untimely farewell, ALF has remained popular in reruns until today. Available on DVD since 2004, the show is now considered a TV classic and continues to entertain children and their parents in equal measure. Unfortunately, the boxsets are incomplete and only offer all episodes as shown in syndication and not the full length versions. For die-hard fans, however, there’s still hope for an improved release. Until then, the edited edition will have to do (unless you are lucky and still have your tapes from the late 1980s).

Don’t hear the theme song in your head?! Here’s the pilot episode to refresh your memories of how ALF actually came to our planet.

Top Cat

TV classics: Top Cat

USA 1961-62, one season, 30 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC, color. Production Company: Hanna-Barbera. Voice Talents: Arnold Stang, Allen Jenkins, Maurice Gosfield, Leo DeLyon, Marvin Kaplan, John Stephenson

Plot summary: He’s the boss. He’s the VIP . He’s a championship. He’s the most tip top – Top Cat.

Top CatReview: In 1961, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought a cat to life who was one of a kind. Top Cat and his gang, Benny the Ball, Brain, Choo Choo, Fancy Pants, and Spook. Set in Manhattan, the animated show felt like a mixture of The Phil Silvers Show and The East End Kids, a series of B pictures from the 1940s. TC (as Top Cat was called by his friends) was the perfect con-man. He always knew how to get the best for himself and his fellow alley cats. Charlie Dibble was their harmless enemy, a local policeman whose wit was no praise for the NYPD.

Like most Hanna-Barbera productions, Top Cat was not only directed at children and their parents but also at a general audience who loves to laugh. Following into the footsteps of The Flintstones, the show used pop culture references and adult topics in a fantastic world that followed its own rules. Unlike its predecessor, however, Top Cat only got a chance to shine for one full season. Since its cancellation in 1962, the show has lived on in comic books and reruns around the world, especially in the United Kingdom where the program is most commonly known as Boss Cat. Today, TV’s coolest cat is available on DVD. A wonderful treat for animation fans and geeks, or anyone else who enjoys the style and humor of TV’s Golden Age.

Three’s Company

TV classics: Three’s Company

USA 1977-84, eight seasons, 172 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, Norman Fell, Audra Lindley, Jenilee Harrison, Priscilla Barnes, Richard Kline, Don Knotts, Ann Wedgeworth.

Plot summary: To be allowed to share an apartment with two girls, ladies’ man Jack Tripper tells a lie to his landlords that turns his life into a comedy of errors.

three's companyReview: There are not a lot of things from the 70s I have fond memories of. Three’s Company, however, was one of the few series I thoroughly enjoyed as a kid. It may have been the odd mix of slapstick and comedy of errors that made me fall in love with it or the comedic genius of John Ritter who died ten years ago at only 54. The early seasons were my favorites, starring John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley. Based on the British sitcom Man About the House, Three’s Company was re-written and re-cast several times before it finally premiered on ABC in the spring of 1977. An instant hit, the show was promptly renewed for a second season and didn’t lose audience approval until its eighth and final season.

Today, the storyline is a pop culture classic. When Jack Tripper moves in with two young women, Janet Wood and Chrissy Snow, he is confronted with the scrutiny of his new landlord Mr. Roper who is not fond of the idea that a man shares an apartment with two single girls. So Jack and his roommates come up with a lie that temporarily saves the day, but also turns their lives into a game of hide and seek, of misunderstandings and double entendre. What sounds simplistic now was actually great entertainment. Jack Tripper, the ladies’ man with the ironic name, pretended to be gay and thus unmasked the hypocrisy of his respectable landlord. Mrs. Roper, the sensually charged (and constantly starved) wife of Stanley Roper, was well aware of Tripper’s lie but never gave him away. She enjoyed seeing her husband being messed about with too much.

Blessed with a talented cast who knew how to sell a charmingly silly storyline, Three’s Company started lasting careers but also survived cast departures, changes and additions. Following into the footsteps of its British predecessor, the show sparked off two spin-offs, The Ropers in 1979 and Three’s a Crowd in 1984, both of which were unfortunately short-lived.  Available in reruns and on DVD today, the show is still popular with members of all generations and tickles the risible muscles of anyone who’s fond of the late 1970s.

Don’t remember the show?! Watch the pilot here.