Screen Couples

We all know them: the Stoneses, the Andersons or the Stephenses. For some, they may be a guilty pleasure, for others a mere necessity to get a story told. For me, they are the cherry on top of any tale: fictional couples and their personal stories. On the fringes of drama, comedy and mayhem, romantic innuendo has always been my favorite treat. From Date with the Angels and Family Ties to Murder She Wrote or Babylon 5, I have a weakness for double entendre paired with a healthy sense of humor, smarts and mutual respect.

Della and Perry1) Perry Mason and Della Street, for example, have been my favorite couple for more years than I care to admit. On paper, radio and screen, the lawyer and his secretary know how to put a smile on my face. Committed to their work as much as to each other, the true nature of their relationship has always remained a mystery. For some fans, they are the best of friends while others suspect some hanky-panky behind closed doors. For me, they have long been married, the epitomized working couple who combines independence with traditional values. And that’s the beauty of those characters and their story. They ignite your imagination and tease you to the point of sizzling frustration with a simple look, remark or smitten smile. It is a tradition Erle Stanley Gardner himself started in The Velvet Claws in 1933 and lasted until 1994 when the last Perry Mason TV movie aired on NBC. Perfected by its signature cast, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, Perry and Della have since lived on in the hearts of many fans, the flame of their romance burning more and more brightly towards the series’ end.

Jennifer&Jonathan2) The second couple I have loved for as long as I can remember are Jennifer and Jonathan Hart. Sophisticated, rich and charming, the Harts had everything including a mutually executed interest in solving mysteries. Following in the footsteps of TV’s Mr. and Mrs. North, they dug up trouble where it’s usually hard to find but their love for each other made their cases stand out from others. Together, they were invincible and (much like Della and Perry) have stood the test of time. A mere decade after Hart to Hart was canceled on ABC, the couple returned to television in 1993, matured, refined, and every bit as committed to each other as they had always been. Today, the Harts are still a dream couple for their fans, a twosome who showed their audience the ingredients of true love and how it beautiful life can be even if you are denied to have your desired offspring.

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TV Intros

As requested by Ben Masters on Facebook, I am following up on my TV themes post and have a look at the visual aspect of TV intros. I don’t know about you, but if an intro is well done, I’m already getting into the mood for a show I want to watch. If the music and visuals match, the better the effect. So when I think about intros without primarily listening to the songs, the shows that have had a lasting effect on me with their introductions are definitely Charlie’s Angels, Bewitched and (you probably guessed it) Perry Mason. Like many other fans (so I’m sure), I’ve always wanted to know what was in that silly script that brought out Raymond Burr’s handsome dimple smile.

Charlie’s Angels, like Hart to Hart or Babylon 5 used narration to add to their pictorial introductions, explaining the background or premise of the show. While Lionel Stander introduced his screen bosses with scenes from the Hart to Hart pilot and only slight textual changes in the five years the show was on TV, Babylon 5 used a different introduction every season. Merging scenes from the show with the voices of lead characters, the season intros offered an outlook on the individual seasons, as well as a quick summary of what you needed to know to follow the plot of this complex show. And since I’m speaking of the 90s, who could forget ER, Home Improvement, Touched by an Angel, The X-Files or Chicago Hope – all equipped with visual intros that made clear what to expect from these specific program. Friends and Mad About You, two sitcom flagships of the era, also put us right into a quirky, urban mood, something Sex and the City would perfect in 1998 by making Manhattan a visual main character.

Looking at the evolution of these TV intros, in the 1980s, Cagney and Lacey and Scarecrow and Mrs. King already used their urban setting (New York City and Washington DC), as well as scenes from episodes to give the audience an idea of the content and nature of each show. The Golden Girls and Who’s the Boss did the same while The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Roseanne or Valerie primarily introduced us to the type of family we were about to visit for half an hour every week. In the 70s, the intros of Happy Days, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Family set the tone for very different shows while the 60s had already distinguished themselves from the often sponsor-laden intros of the 1950s. As the first era to introduce color TV, the 60s loved to use colorful effects and a contemporary style of music that showed a development away from family-friendly entertainment to more adult-oriented shows. While Hazel still proved to be traditional and rather quiet in the early 60s, Ironside‘s intro made clear the show was going to be filled with action, not unlike Adam-12.

In the new millennium, The West Wing tackled the unthinkable and turned politics into popular TV, the show’s intro already setting the mood and quality of a show that had a good run of seven seasons. The original CSI uses a similar pattern, creating a symbiosis of music and images, teasing the audience without giving too much away while the intro to the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica did not only set the tone for a dark-edged series, but also treated its audience to a glimpse into each new episode. Whether you enjoy the classic style of merging video material with a catchy tune like Trapper John M.D. did in in the late 70s and early 80s, prefer graphics as used in Cheers or are fond of the genuine way The Closer interlaced its credits with an already commencing episode – TV show intros are a like a good business card. Selling your product without being obtrusive while making a lasting impression on your audience.

Getting in the Mood

TV themes. Do you remember when they lasted longer than only a couple of seconds? When the sound of your favorite show put you in the mood for an episode of fun, suspense or tears? Did you know the lyrics by heart? Did you recite them or sing along? Do you still find yourself humming those songs while you cook, do laundry or are cleaning up? Do they still put you in a good mood like they used to? Bring back memories of characters once dear to you like friends or relatives?

Today, a lot of shows save up time by using trademark teasers rather than songs that last longer than a mere moment. Castle, Malibu Country, The Good Wife are some of my favorite examples. If you sneeze, you may miss the catchy intro. Sad news for anyone who suffers from hay fever or catches a cold. There are exceptions no doubt: Elementary Downton Abbey or Rizzoli & Isles. I enjoy all of these shows once in a while but the less new programs offer a catchy melody or song, the more I miss that positive trigger classic television used to lure me in. Granted, for the sake of commercials, screen time has been cut down over the years. While a Perry Mason episode still lasted an average of 50 minutes and Bewitched an entertaining 25, most shows only get 43 (or 21) minutes today. So while it was great to hum along to Family Affair or Hart to Hart in the past, it makes sense for Go On to save up time and use those theme song seconds for the storyline.

Although I know the reasons and appreciate a couple of contemporary programs for their beautiful tunes, I still miss those beautiful TV songs that used to stick with me all week. Bugs Bunny, The Mickey Mouse Club, The Flintstones. I Love Lucy, The Muppets, Bill Cosby, Growing Pains. Murder She Wrote, Family Ties, The Golden Girls. Love Boat. Cagney and LaceyScarecrow and Mrs. King. Even shows I didn’t like for anything but their catchy themes such as Family Matters or Full House. Do you still remember your favorite melodies?!

Vintage Christmas

So this is it, only one day left till Christmas Eve.  Let’s doll up and spend the holidays with some of those joyful classics. Have yourself a charming vintage Christmas. And bless y’all!

Christmas songs:

Christmas TV episodes:

Christmas radio:

The 2000s

The 2000s

The new millennium started with a scare that influenced pop culture as much as everyday life. 9/11 in 2001 and the beginning of a lasting financial crisis in 2008 – the 21st century’s first decade did not live up the promise of a pampered life. But like in most crises, pop culture, fashion and the media took the turn towards entertainment. Reality shows seemed to increase by the minute, an interest in the clothes and trends of the 1980s was reborn with a vengeance, long retired musical acts from the 1990s celebrated their revivals and tabloids ran scandals and mayhem about an endlessly growing teenage starlet generation. Comebacks now referred to returning artists who had taken a break from their work for sometimes less than a year and everyone who knew how to submit an application to a song contest was labeled a star. New rules applied, enforced by social networks, youtube and the ever-growing internet media. Andy Warhol’s famous prediction that in the future everyone would claim fifteen minutes of fame seemed to turn into reality.

Apart from scripted reality, TV also offered a whole new set of new shows such as CSI (and its respective spin offs), Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, NCIS or Lie To Me. The credo was to present established genres from a new angle with characters who are skilled, a tad odd but also likeable. There’s no such thing as too screwed up as long as the characters excel at work and find a way to communicate with their peers. Slowly but thoroughly the nerd turned into a new hero and women were allowed to be just as silly, pitiful or sorry as men. The Gilmore Girls met the voice of an entire generation of young women and The O.C. brought soapy material back to prime time. Fantasy and science fiction was still on the rise, offering a variety of shows with strong female leads such as the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, Dark Angel or Pushing Daisies. Brothers & Sisters, Monk, Castle and The Good Wife used more traditional ways of presenting their genuine leads, nicely blending school-book storytelling with a fresh set of ideas. Veronica Mars, The Closer or Rizzoli & Isles offered a new insight into women of the new century, a lot less grim and sexed-up than some of their predecessors but every bit as empowered.

Another TV trend was the publication of shows on DVD – contemporary ones, short-lived hits or vintage shows such as Perry Mason, The Donna Reed Show, Bewitched or I Love Lucy. As an addition to on-going re-runs on TV or Hulu, those retro shows attracted an audience already familiar with their favorite childhood stars, ranging from baby boomers to a generation that had fallen in love with the classics in the 1980s and 90s. The shows offered an alternative to the different values, aesthetics and storytelling of contemporary shows that were sometimes perceived as unsuitable for families or plain unoriginal.

At the movies, Pixar was still one the rise slowly pushing old-school animation out of the market with films such as Monster Inc. or Finding Nemo. Serial adaptations were popular such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight or The Chronicles of Narnia, showing a preference for a blend of fantasy and improved special effects. Action movies, buddy films, comic book adaptations and science fiction sagas also met the audience’s increasing interest in fairytale worlds, video game aesthetics and escapism. The 2000s also brought on a growing interest in Meryl Streep’s diversity in films such as Mamma Mia!, Doubt or Julie & Julia. There was also room for Nancy Meyer’s love stories that featured a mature cast of stellar actors, such as It’s Complicated or Something’s Gotta Give, as well as for numerous other romantic comedies. All in all, the 2000s featured a diverse list of film titles, including The Inconvenient Truth, Lions for Lambs or The Visitor. Like in previous decades, popular successes were not the only contribution and it will be interesting to see where this new decade of the 2010s is headed.

The 90s

The 1990s

In the 1990s the motto was anything goes: grunge style or casual, leggings, neon colors, bike shorts and a comeback of hippie clothes. Mothers often dressed like their daughters, over-sized Ts and sweatpants made good exercise outfits or worked as simple slouching-at-home attire. Musically, Nirvana released their debut album “Nevermind”, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey made it big, Lauryn Hill entered the scene, as well as a very young LeAnn Rimes, and En Vogue or BoyzIIMen were popular doing contemporary R&B. Cell phones and the internet slowly entered American lives, changing them forever, and DVDs also began to replace VHS releases by the end of a decade that lived on the excitement and fear of a new millennium to come.

On TV, The X-Files stirred up conspiracy theories and fed on the Y2K spirit of doom. Science Fiction became more popular and darker in their plots, often featuring women in positions of power and command, while sitcoms presented entertaining shrewds with their best girlfriends e.g. on Cybill, High Society or Sex & the City. Ally McBeal introduced another popular female lead of the decade, Home Improvement was a rather old-fashioned example of a family comedy show and The Nanny successfully imitated I Love Lucy while managing to create a genuine heroine from Queens.  Judging Amy and The West Wing tackled more sophisticated themes, embracing an audience that wished to go beyond mere entertainment while Chicago Hope and ER fought for the spot of best medical drama. Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman revived the Western genre in a nontraditional way, Sabrina bewitched teenagers and families alike and Picket Fences added to the decade’s need for odd-ball characters with eerie pasts and endearing flaws. Nick-at-Nite had successful reruns of many popular classic shows, including “Lucy Tuesdays” and “Bewitched Be-Wednesdays”, reminding audiences of the before while an increasing need for the beyond was explored on many Star Trek spin-offs and emerging mystery shows like Buffy or Charmed.

In movie theaters, Disney had its golden age in the 1990s, producing smash hit features every year. Awarded with Academy Awards for their genius musical scores for many consecutive years, the studio did not only create classics such as The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, but also used its creative overflow on numerous spin-off TV shows. Sneakers, Fried Green Tomatoes at Whistle Stop Cafe, Pretty Woman or Sister Act were some of the last old-school Hollywood classics Tinseltown knew to breathe life into and Dances With Wolves did bring back the myths and struggles of the Wild West from a unique perspective. All in all, the 1990s often seem to have been a decade of indecisiveness or freedom of choice, depending on your point of view. It was the long goodbye of the 20th century, its history and rules tossed together in one big salad bowl, looking for a new ingredient to spice up the new millennium.

The 70s

On the next couple of Fridays I will bring you information about and recommendations from beyond my favorite decades, starting today.

The 1970s

Fashion in the 70s was colorful with patterns that could make you dizzy. Skirts were super long or super short. You had knee-high boots and ethno-chic tunics. Trousers were flared and paired with platform shoes. Popular colors were hippie rich and often psychedelic. A deep rich brown combined with a bright orange and sunny yellow, or a combination of colors that weren’t necessarily easy on the eyes. 1970s fashion was about fun, second wave feminism and comfort. The music world presented ABBA from Sweden and Saturday Night Fever on dance floors worldwide. Glam rock and punk entered the scene, while microwave ovens became more popular in US homes.

On TV, Mary Tyler Moore had her successful debut, as well as The Muppets. Following affirmative action, Woodstock and the relaunch of an arduous gender debate in the 60s, 1970s television was the mirror of a society still heavily entangled in the Vietnam war. M*A*S*H was a direct answer to the pains and fears of an entire generation, inspired by its preceding feature film and novel. Other examples for successful shows from that era are Happy Days, my decade favorite Hart to HartThe Love Boat, or The Waltons with their rather classic entertainment qualities. New family realities and changing structures were picked up on The Brady Bunch, The Odd Couple, The Partridge Family or Three’s Company, the ongoing debate on gender equality on a variety of shows that circled around female leads. Not that TV hadn’t presented women as central heroes before, but the tone had changed and the atmosphere. Charlie’s Angels, Maude, Police Woman or Wonder Woman didn’t have much on Lucy Ricardo, Donna Stone, Samantha Stephens or Susie McNamara. It was a different fabric these “new women” were made of, independent and hard-boiled yet often sexed up. They were supposed to find their way in a man’s world, no matter what, and their wardrobe and wisecracking attitude helped them accomplish that goal.

On the silver screen, gritty, sexed-up, shocking or taboo-breaking was in vogue: The Godfather, The GraduateKramer vs. Kramer, Norma Rae, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Taxi Driver were big hits, as well as the emerging genre of disaster movies kicked off by the adaptation of Alex Haley’s Airport. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of either one of these films although I have always greatly appreciated each film’s stellar cast. Cabaret or Love Story  are more my cup of tea, along with the surfer movie Big Wednesday for three simple reasons: California, William Katt and his mother Barbara Hale. I guess you can see my priorities.

Classy TV Ladies

So this is the odd Friday post after I was indisposed last week. Sorry about that! But this week I’m back and on a roll about something a dear friend of mine stirred up over breakfast only yesterday. Whatever happened to the warmhearted, caring and classy TV lady?! Mind you, I may jump decades a little in this entry, but I can’t help it. Where did my darling women go?! You know the bunch: Donna Stone, Samantha Stephens, Jennifer Hart, Elyse Keaton, Amanda King, Claire Huxtable,  JB Fletcher or Maggie Seaver?! All essentially different characters but obviously of undesired making these days. Or are they?!

When the topic arose yesterday morning, I found my friend raving about these shows: The Cosby Show, Family Ties and Growing Pains. All shows with strong working mother types. Granted, all comedy shows and not all too popular in style anymore – at least not production-wise, DVD sales however tell another (more successful) story. So the 1980s may be in vogue and families could be buying these childhood memories for their own kids these days, but isn’t it strange how appealing those stories and characters still are, especially to young women who seem to grow tired of being bombarded with a sexed-up stereotype of power Barbie?!

You see, I greatly enjoy Castle and The Good Wife, both shows with strong, likeable female leads. Brothers & Sisters also featured a motherly type of rare making in today’s shows and a bunch of crazy yet charming (adult) kids.  But these shows seem to be on the endangered species list. How many other popular programs can you name that make you feel like coming home to a family of respectable adults who really nurture their kids?! Donna Stone (The Donna Reed Show) and Samantha Stephens (Bewitched) really seem to be from another lifetime when you watch them doting on their families in the 1950s and 60s. But weren’t Maggie Seaver, Claire Huxtable and Elyse Keaton just the same only two, three decades later?! All working moms but always capable and affectionate towards their families despite their equally cherished careers?! And what about those female characters without children, like JB Fletcher, Jennifer Hart or my all-time favorite Della Street?! How come they were so much less neurotic and snotty and able to smile even if they were up to their necks in hazard?!

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me but although I greatly enjoy some of what TV has to offer these days, including The Closer with its quirky female characters or Rizzoli & Isles with that team of unalike female leads, I cannot help but wonder why there are so few shows out there who pick up on that yearning for a more mature kind of female characters who are in touch with both, their professional qualities and their warmth. The West Wing did good in its own unique way without the sexual (yet highly entertaining) in-your-face attitude of Sex and the City, granted. But with all due respect for feminism and women’s lib, was Della Street that much less liberated by choosing to be a working girl and dressing adequately for success? Or did Claire Huxtable ever make a secret of loving her family but, at the same time, struggling to combine it with her dedication to her profession?! Hardly so, yet they both never came across as dodgy, moody or condescending. They were charming instead and had a respectful sense of humor about their situation, the men in their lives and the obstacles that came with both, something I greatly value when I now watch DVD reruns of the shows they were such pivotal parts of.

Call me a hopeless romantic or an idealist but I like to see the best of both worlds depicted on screen: female characters who get to prove their skills with implicitness in both their workplace and at home (husband and children included or not). I loved growing up with that image and it has always instilled a sense of tranquility in me that there is more to life than only the choice between Cagney or Lacey, Mary Tyler Moore or Sue Ann Nivens, mother or career woman. And I hope there will be a larger variety of shows which introduce independent yet sane and benign female characters again who make me feel like coming home.

Bewitched

TV classics: Bewitched

USA 1964-72, 8 seasons,  254 episodes, 25 minutes each, ABC, black & white (1964-66), then color. Created by: Sol Saks. Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, Dick Sargent, Agnes Moorehead, David White, Erin Murphy, Also starring: George Tobias, Kasey Rogers, Alice Pearce, Sandra Gould, Marion Lorne, Bernard Fox, Diane Murphy, Irene Vernon, Maurice Evans, Paul Lynde, David Lawrence

Plot summary: When young witch Samantha marries mortal Darrin Stephens, she swears to abandon her powers and be a normal suburban housewife instead – very much to the dismay of her overbearing mother Endora who constantly frowns upon her daughter’s mortal ambitions and thus interferes with her life whenever she can.

Review: There are shows that are a pleasure to grow up with. Bewitched is one of those: funny, entertaining and lovely – from its main cast right down to every single recurring guest star. Elizabeth Montgomery (as leading lady Samantha Stephens) is a joy to watch mastering her weekly endeavors, always caught somewhere between her husband’s wish to keep their quiet little life as simple as possible and the scheming of her eccentric mother Endora, a witch to the core.

Samantha‘s struggle to please both parties and make the best of both worlds guarantees colorful adventures with characters from another world: warlocks, mythical creatures, kings and queens. Some of the most memorable ones sure are Samantha’s aunt Clara, Doctor Bombay, Samantha‘s father Maurice and uncle Arthur – all of which were beautifully cast, written and costumed. Dick York, equally well cast and convincing as Samantha’s husband Darrin Stephens (later replaced by Dick Sargent who did a fantastic job stepping into his predecessor’s big shoes in 1969) brings a genuine mixture of goofiness and earthiness to the table. His turf wars with mother-in-law Endora are a real treat, also due to the magnificently haunting talents of Agnes Moorehead, her sense for timing and her always dramatic exits.

The show lived off its cast and many creative storylines. Darrin’s boss Larry Tate, Samantha’s in-laws, quirky neighbor Gladys Kravitz and last but not least the Stephens’ children Tabitha and Adam – they all added to an atmosphere of gaiety and make-believe. They have tickled risible muscles of children and adults alike, and have created loving on-screen memories for everybody who is still in touch with her or his childhood heart.

Available on DVD. Bewitched theme song / intro

Side note: Bewitched has been referred to on many TV programs throughout TV history, e.g. on Roseanne, The Nanny and Charmed. The show itself used I Love Lucy storyline mimicry in a couple of episodes and was made into a feature film in 2005, starring Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell and Shirley MacLaine. A 1977 spin-off series called Tabitha was short-lived.

Remakes

Although it may sometimes seem as if remakes are a contemporary idea, they actually go back to the 1920s (e.g. The Battle of Sexes, made in 1914 and then again 1928, each directed by D.W. Griffith) and the 1930s when talkies became more popular than silent movies. When studio bosses decided to re-do successful films. Hollywood, after all, has always been an industry.

But as old as its core motivation, the discussion of remakes has also remained the same – is it necessary to re-tell a story that has worked before? Can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas? New characters and plots?

Well, in times of reshaping and relaunching TV shows from the 1970s and 80s, I guess the answer is clear. It is often cheaper to pick up on an already established franchise. May seem more sensible. Almost like an homage – although  how could it be  if everything that used to work and made a product genuine is being replaced, updated and beautified?

Opinions will always differ on remakes. I myself was thrilled when I first heard about a new version of The Women back in 2008. Annette Benning’s name truly pleased me when I saw it listed for the project. Then I saw the movie. And in spite of Ms Benning, it paled in comparison to the original movie from 1939 on all levels.

But remakes can work. There are examples, sometimes unknown to us today. Love Affair from 1939 for example, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. It was remade by the same director, Leo McCarey, in 1957 with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, called An Affair to Remember. And then again under its original title in 1994, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, plus Katherine Hepburn.

The Window from 1949 (see Talking Classic‘s first “Talkie of the Week” entry) was also remade in 1966, under the title of the short story the film was originally based on, The Boy cried Murder. I have not yet seen this version but would love to see how and if they made it work.

Father of the Bride and Father’s little Dividend from 1950 and 51, directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Spencer Tracey, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett, were also remade in 1991 and 95. Then with an all-star cast led by Steve Martin and Diane Keaton.

What’s striking about the remakes of Father of the Bride and The Women though is the almost screwball-like quality paired with hysterics. Although equally well cast, the films don’t live up to the originals. It may be a reflection on the 1990s and 2000s, but the adaptations seem to lack a sense of sincerity in their otherwise entertaining and comedic plots. Steve Martin is not a Spencer Tracey, Diane Keaton is no comparison to Joan Bennett, nor is Meg Ryan a Norma Shearer. How could they be? They live in different times and so do the stories that were told so beautifully in their own time, with their original cast.

Now another remake is being discussed, green-lit by Warner Bros. The Thin Man is supposed to be redone, starring Johnny Depp and Rachel Weisz. I personally adore the original six movies which came to theaters between 1934 and 1947. William Powell and Myrna Loy. What better a pairing could you find? I am not convinced that you could replace them. Or that the plot will work in a new movie with a contemporary perception of Dashiell Hammett’s characters. Mind you, it worked to base a couple on Nick and Nora on TV in the 1980s. Hart to Hart was a good success. But William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora are so iconic – just have a look at the screen version of Bewitched  from 2005. Another example for an over-the-top version of a classic hit franchise. It disappointed fans and didn’t exactly score with the critics. However, the film did bring in some money, so if that’s the old motivation, I better keep spending it on the originals. And hope for more of them to be released on DVD.