Remake News of the Day

Ever since Hawaii 5-0 has been rebooted, producers are trying to jump on the bandwagon of remake success. Only most of them don’t make it and fall on their fannies instead. Ironside, Charlie’s Angels and Dallas (which was just recently canceled) are recent examples of a trend that’s not new but feels increasingly overdone.

I know, I know. Battlestar Galactica did fairly well and Matthew Perry may actually surprise us as Oscar Madison in the revival of the Odd Couple. But what do I hear is in the works now for NBC? A Bewitched spin-off focusing on Samantha’s granddaughter? I’m stunned. Didn’t the movie version scar us deeply enough?!

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.

The Cosby Show

TV classics: The Cosby Show

USA 1984-92, eight seasons, 202 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Sabrina LeBeauf, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Lisa Bonet, Tempestt Bledsoe, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Geoffrey Owens, Raven-Symoné, Erika Alexander.

Plot summary: A lawyer, a doctor and their five lively children – come meet the Huxtables and their jazzy lives in Brooklyn Heights.

Cosby ShowReview: Since I’ve been looking at family sitcoms from the 1980s, how could I not mention my favorite family of them all, The Huxtables?! Led by Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad, the show was not only blessed with a cast of extremely talented actors, but also with great storytelling. Based on a lot of real life family issues, the Huxtable household was chaotic, lively and full of love. An unexpected but instant hit, The Cosby Show focused on an upper middle class family and their daily problems with a refined sense of humor that put the parents back in charge of their kids. Clair and Cliff, a lawyer and an OB-GYN, set the rules for their headstrong offspring as equal partners who never put their marriage second to anything. Balancing their careers and family, they also always took time for themselves.

Although the show didn’t shy away from touching serious topics such as teen pregnancy or living expenses, the Huxtables didn’t openly address racism but rather exemplified their values to their kids and audience alike. As an African-American family, they were proud of their education, history and family backgrounds. They loved jazz and promoted diversity without spelling it out. At Bill Cosby’s urging, the program was educational without being preachy. The Huxtables and their friends were not defined by the color of their skin nor referred to as anything but individuals. Although sometimes criticized for presenting an ideal that was far from reality for a lot of viewers, the show had a successful run of eight seasons with only the last one dropping noticeably in ratings. Available as a complete boxset, The Cosby Show can now be relished in all its unedited glory. For anyone who still remembers Rudy, Vanessa, Theo, Denise and Sondra, this is a real treat and a grand opportunity for fans to share their childhood favorites with their own children today.

Don’t remember Clair, Cliff and their kids?! Refresh your memories here.

Family Ties

TV classics: Family Ties

USA 1982-89, seven seasons, 180 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Meredith Baxter-Birney, Michael Gross, Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers, Brian Bonsall

Plot summary: In the Keaton household, two worlds collide. The parents are hip, the kids are square.

Family TiesReview: Hip parents, square kids was the pitch line to sell Family Ties to NBC. Originally focused on Elyse and Steven, the left-wing parents of a brood of three, the show picked up on the evolvement of the yuppie in the 1980s. Brought to life by a then still unknown Michael J. Fox, Alex Keaton was the oldest son of the family, a personified young Republican who idolized President Reagan. Alex was smart and funny, a perfect juxtaposition to his liberal parents, their values, likes and attitudes. It was that contrast that turned the show into an instant hit and pushed the baby-boomer parents on the sidelines of attention. Apart from Alex, Mallory and Jennifer Keaton were equally genuine characters. Mallory’s materialism was as defined as her brother’s enthusiasm for Reaganomics and, paired with her simple mind, turned her into a direct opposite of their mother and her strong feminist convictions. Jennifer, the youngest daughter, was the only Keaton offspring who followed into her parents’ idealistic footsteps and thus stood out with a mind of her own. Andy, the youngest addition to the family in season five, imbibed his brother’s conservative philosophy from his infancy, leaving Jennifer as the sole quasi-ally of the Keaton grown-ups.

Successful for seven consecutive seasons, Family Ties hit a nerve in the 1980s and reunited grandparents, boomers and their children in American living rooms. Lighthearted with a touch of sincerity, the show held its ground in a time when family sitcoms flourished on TV and also gave birth to a new star, Michael J. Fox. Fondly remembered by young fans and mature ones alike, the program also featured (now famous) guest stars such as Courtney Cox, Tom Hanks or Judith Light. Although already considered an 80s’ classic, Family Ties is every bit as fresh and entertaining as it was thirty years ago, in its freshman season. So for those of you who love to travel back in time or simply wish to pass on their childhood memories to the next generation, the program’s sixth season was just released on DVD with only the last one missing to complete your collection. Have fun diving back into the warmth and chaos of the Keaton family. I’m sure they will welcome you like a family member the way they used to back in the 1980s, no matter who you side with in an argument, Elyse and Steven, Jennifer, Andy, Alex or Mallory.

Want to get into the mood for some Keaton family banter? Watch the original Family Ties intro here.

Valerie aka The Hogan Family

TV classics: Valerie’s Family: The Hogans

USA 1986-91, six seasons, 110 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC and CBS, color. Cast: Valerie Harper, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Licht, Luis Danial Ponce, Josh Taylor, Edie McClurg, Sandy Duncan.

Plot summary: Valerie Hogan is a mother of three boys who know how to keep her on her toes, especially in the absence of her husband, an airplane pilot.

valeriecast-1Review: A couple of days ago, I read (like many of you I presume)  about Valerie Harper’s current struggle with brain cancer. Upon processing these sad news, I immediately remembered the shows I saw with her as I was growing up: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and, predominantly, Valerie. Starting in 1986, the actress starred in the now famous family show as Valerie Hogan, a mother of three boys whose idiosyncrasies seemed to increase as soon as their pilot father (Josh Taylor) had taken off to yet another international destination. Never shy of parental advice, witty comebacks and organizing skills, Valerie managed her boys with a mix of independence and charm. She was not exactly a housewife but later worked from home in order to better meet her family’s needs. David (Jason Bateman), her oldest son, always challenged her patience while Mark and Willie (Jeremy Licht and Danny Ponce) added trouble of their own to their mother’s daily tasks and duties.

Although a family program, Valerie (as the title may suggest) originally focused on the mother of the Hogan family, her life and struggles. Within the first two seasons, however, the show slowly shifted into a more adolescent direction and had a closer look at the three teenage brothers. Simultaneously, the comedy writers adopted a more realistic tone and thus paved the way for unexpected changes that occurred in season three when the female lead was axed from her own show. As a result of revenue issues, Valerie Harper’s character was killed off in a car accident and left her screen family in a state of shock. With Michael Hogan (Josh Taylor) stepping up to take care of his children, eagerly supported by his sister (Sandy Duncan) or their quirky neighbor Mrs. Poole (Edie McClurg), the show was aptly renamed Valerie’s Family: The Hogans. While the show found a successful way to cope with the sudden loss of their named star, Valerie Harper herself sued the network and production company for breach of contract. In response to the ongoing dispute behind the scenes, the actress’ name was completely dropped from the title by the end of season three and for its remaining seasons, the program was simply called The Hogan Family.

Although slowly declining in the audience’s favor after the transition from Valerie Harper to Sandy Duncan as the female head of the family, the show also broke ground by touching topics such as safe sex and AIDS. Unfortunately, however, the Hogans did not recover from switching networks from NBC to CBS in 1990 and was thus finally canceled in 1991 without a proper series finale. Today, selected episodes are available on Youtube and in occasional reruns. A DVD release has not yet been announced but fans of the show don’t give up hope for their childhood classic to finally be made available. Even though The Hogan Family took the path of many of its peers and went downhill towards the end of its run, the show still brings back good memories of a time when family entertainment was still a pivotal part of evening programming. With its iconic theme song and wonderful cast, the series has stood the test of time with old fans and new ones alike. Enjoy the pilot here and judge for yourselves. If you liked the show as a child, I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it again. Thank you, Valerie Harper, for bringing back the memories despite the sad circumstances. It’s shows like these that will keep you alive and healthy in our hearts forever.

Hazel

TV classics: Hazel

USA 1961-66, five seasons, 154 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC and CBS, black & white and color. Based on a comic strip by Ted Key. Cast: Shirley Booth, Don DeFore, Whitney Blake, Bobby Buntrock, Maudie Prickett, Ray Fulmer, Lynn Borden, Julia Benjamin.

Plot summary: In the Baxter home, Hazel takes the reins over her boss, his darling wife and their precious offspring. But who would mind with her warmth, street smarts and delicious cooking? After all, Hazel is the kind of gem any family would love to call their own.

HazelaReview: Hazel Burke is the kind of woman families dream of: she’s caring, funny and a true original. Her food is the best in the neighborhood and her attitude ranging from cheerful to saucy, her opinion mostly unasked for but always spot on.

For five years, Shirley Booth played Hazel and bewitched the fictional Baxter family as much as her audience, first on NBC and finally on CBS. In 154 episodes, Hazel looked after little Harold (Bobby Buntrock) and his parents Missy (Whitney Blake) and Mr. B (Don DeFore). Based on a comic strip by Ted Key, the show was created as a comedy program and primarily sponsored by the Ford Motor Company (later co-sponsored by Bristol-Myers). An instant hit on NBC, the show was nominated for four Emmys and one Golden Globe, including two consecutive awards for lead actress Shirley Booth. Shot in color for the majority of its run, Hazel was moved to CBS in 1965, introducing new cast members as well as Procter & Gamble and Philip Morris as new sponsors. Despite respectable ratings, the show was not renewed for a sixth season but was frequently rerun in the 1970s through 2000s.

Available on DVD, the show is still as fresh and funny as it used to be when it first aired on Thursday nights at 9:30 pm. With its sweet storylines, Hazel is the perfect gem for anyone who enjoys a mix of tender comedy and innocent family entertainment. As one of those shows circling around a female lead, Hazel has had a lasting effect on generations of children who longed to have a live-in maid whose tongue whipped up sassy remarks as fast as her hands whipped up culinary treats.

Want a taste of Hazel, watch a sample episode here on Youtube.

The Perry Mason Radio Show

In 1943, after having published some twenty odd successful whodunits, Erle Stanley Gardner signed a contract with Procter & Gamble to bring his fictional lawyer and his team to America’s living rooms. Although scarred by his experiences with Hollywood and Warner Bros’ six reluctantly successful screen adaptations, he agreed to broadcast Perry Mason as an afternoon program to entertain his target group and thus promote his books. Despite Gardner’s own deficiencies to turn his narratives into suspenseful scripts, Perry Mason premiered in the fall of 1943 and underwent several revisions until the author finally came to like the radio version of his famous character three years later. Improved by writer Irving Vendig in 1946, Perry Mason was brought to life by several actors, among them Donald Briggs, John Larkin, SanotsJohn Larkin & Joan Alexander Ortega and Bartlett Robinson. They presented a sophisticated, multifaceted lawyer who was in the habit of defending friends and enjoyed good food. He was supported by an ever-loyal and savvy Della Street, played by Joan Alexander, Jan Miner an Gertrude Warner. Their relationship, like in the books, remained a riddle: close-knit and intimate, yet respectful and professional, they shared a kiss more than once. Paul Drake, the smart-mouthed, brisk detective, was played by Matt Crowley and Charles Webster. Always kept on his toes by Perry’s cases and eager to banter with Della, he was an important ingredient to the slowly blooming success of a soapy yet suspenseful show. Broadcast five days a week in fifteen minute segments, Perry Mason solved his cases with the help of recurring guest characters such as Helen and Jake Jacobson, two news reporters who helped fool suspects or the prosecution more than once. Designed as a suspense program with melodramatic elements, the show lasted twelve consecutive seasons and was finally terminated in 1955. Followed by the still popular Perry Mason TV show (CBS 1957-66, NBC 1985-95) and The Edge of Night (CBS 1956-75, ABC 1975-84), selected episodes of the Perry Mason radio program are now available on The Internet Archive and Old Time Radio. Although incomplete and rather different in quality, the episodes are a wonderful treat for any Perry Mason fan, novice or seasoned, and a great addition to any radio detective collection.