The Muppet Show

TV classics: The Muppet Show

USA 1976-81, 5 seasons,  122 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, color. Created by: Jim Henson. Cast: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Louise Gold, Steve Whitmire, Kathryn Mullen, Eren Ozker, John Lovelady

Plot summary: It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.

The Muppet ShowReview: Julie Andrews sang with them, Shirley Bassey annd Petula Clark. Johnny Cash appeared for a gig and Madeline Kahn. Nancy Walker joked with them and Harry Belafonte. Roger Moore paid them a visit and Liberace. The list is long and colorful: stage, TV and film stars standing in line to perform with the fluffiest gang on television, the Muppets.

Created by puppeteer Jim Henson, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and company took television by storm in the late summer of 1976. Set in the Muppet Theater, The Muppet Show is a variety program for children and adults alike. With recurring skits such as Pigs in Space, Musical Chickens or Muppet Labs, the Muppets put their famous guest stars in the middle of their chaotic show and at the heart of turmoil, fun and drama behind the scenes. As one of the central stars of the The Muppet Show, Miss Piggy is the warrantor for melodrama and jealousy fits, an epitomized Diva whose love for “Kermie” is as tempestuous as her performances. A direct opposite to his girl-friend, Kermit the Frog hosts the show with as much dignity as his colleagues permit and always finds a way to keep the ball rolling on stage. They are supported by regulars such as Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal who each have trademark acts which range from telling bad jokes over doing doomed stunts to playing drums.

Who doesn’t remember their favorite scenes and characters or Statler and Waldorf’s encouraging interjections from the balcony?! With the first three seasons available on DVD, The Muppet Show can now be revisited by old fans and new ones alike. Beaker, Rawlf and Camilla the Chicken are already starting the music and lighting the lights. It’s time for The Muppet Show tonight!

Oh, Susanna

TV classics: The Gale Storm Show

USA 1956-60, 4 seasons,  143 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS and ABC, black & white. Created by: Lee Karson. Cast: Gale Storm, ZaSu Pitts, Roy Roberts and James Fairfax.

Plot summary: As a cruise director, Susanna Pomeroy sees the world and meets people from all around, including guest stars such as Pat Boone.

Gale StormReview: Two decades before Love Boat would hoist its sails to become a family favorite for almost a decade, The Gale Storm Show (aka Oh, Susanna) premiered on CBS, featuring  the popular singer/actress as cruise director Susanna Pomeroy. Traveling the world on a ship, the show’s star was supported by silent film veteran ZaSu Pitts as the title character’s best friend Elvira Nugent, as well as by recurring crew members Roy Roberts (as Captain Huxley)  and James Fairfax. Berthing in different harbors each week, Susanna and Nugie went on new adventures in exciting countries and cities, meeting interesting locals and colorful guests.

Designed as a sitcom with variety elements, Gale Storm did not only get a chance to attract her audience as an actress and comedienne, but also as the talented cover songstress she had developed into after the completion of her first television success, My Little Margie. Her trademark whistle, although used differently in both hit shows, is one of many memories her fans still associate with Gale Storm and her infectious on screen personality. Always good-natured, wholesome and amusing, Gale Storm was a wonderful entertainer who brought her fans a lot of laughter and joy when TV was still in its infancy. Today, only twenty-four episodes of The Gale Storm Show are available on DVD, an unfortunate fact that deprives old fans and new ones of the full glory and glamor of a lovely program named after its versatile leading lady.

 

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.

12 Angry Men

Talkie of the Week: 12 Angry Men

USA 1957, 96 minutes, black & white, MGM. Director: Sidney Lumet, Written by Reginald Rose, Based on his teleplay. Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec and Robert Webber.

Plot summary: Twelve jurors discuss the case of a young man they were chosen to adjudicate on. Together, they examine evidence and testimonies to reach an unanimous verdict.

Review: Originally produced live and broadcast on CBS in 1954, 12 Angry Men was a success with critics and TV audiences before the teleplay was brought to the big screen to win three Academy Award nominations. Starring Henry Fonda as famed juror #8 whose intellectual curiosity saves a young defendant from being convicted upon neglect, the motion picture adaptation offered an atmosphere of density and literal anger, mixed with an almost tangible heat that added fuel to a starting fire. Relying on a stellar cast of character actors, 12 Angry Men was shot in a claustophobic setting, a juror’s room with only a restroom serving as a possible escape. Suspense erupted from the men and their tingling aggression brought on by prejudices, disinterest and their own personal struggles.

Fifty-five years ago, the film captivated audiences on the big screen but wasn’t completely successful until it found its way back to American TV. Today, the film is every bit as entertaining and tension-packed as it was upon release. Benefitting from vivid dialog and a darkish quality in black and white, 12 Angry Men is the kind of classic that will never grow old. Available on DVD and Bluray, the film has the potential to attract a whole new generation of movie buffs who – like their parents and grandparents – will find themselves engrossed in the plot as soon the jurors are in session.

Have a look at impressions from the movie here.

The Phil Silvers Show

TV classics: aka Sgt. Bilko

USA 1955-59, four seasons, 143 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Cast: Phil Silvers, Paul Ford, Allan Melvin, Harvey Lembeck, Mauriece Gosfield, Joe E. Ross, Billy Sands, Herbie Faye, Mickey Freeman, Bernard Fein, Maurice Brenner, Jack Healy, Terry Carter, Karl Lukas

Plot summary: Hold on to your wallet when Sgt. Bilko is in command.

Review: Military-themed shows have been around since the early days of television, but unlike NCIS, JAG or Army Wives, The Phil Silvers Show did not focus on country and honor, it rather dealt with a cheeky Sergeant Bilko and his men at a small fort in heartland America. Bilko, always protective of his subordinates and oddly paternal, was the perfect conman. Although untalented for making money, he didn’t miss a chance to invest plenty of it in obscure schemes and poker games and, as a reliable loser, wasn’t able to return any of his men’s (in)voluntary investments. He wasn’t hated though but rather liked – a charming character played by Phil Silvers with a perfect blend of quirk and charm. He was supported by an ensemble cast of formidable chums, Allan Melvin and Harvey Lembeck as his partners in crime, as well as Paul Ford as Colonel Hall. A large recurring group of guest stars topped off each episode with hilarity and exaggeration, a perfect treat for anyone who enjoys classic comedy and has a heart for a dazzler who’s too clumsy to run away with your savings.

The first season of The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko) is available on DVD. To refresh your memories of this hilarious show, you can check out the pilot here.

MASH

TV classics: M*A*S*H

USA 1972-83, eleven seasons, 251 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, color. Cast: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Gary Burghoff, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, William Christopher, David Ogden Siers

Plot summary: During the Korean War, the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital struggles to keep the Army in business and their own morale afloat. Thank goodness for irony, puns and practical jokes!

Review: Based on Richard Hooker’s book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors and Robert Altman’s feature film adaptation, the M*A*S*H TV series presented life at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War in the 1950s. Led by Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, the show started out as a comedy with a serious undertone and later changed into a drama with comedy elements. Often referring to political situations, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as America’s role in the Cold War, the show looked into the lives of Army doctors and their patients without an overexposure of cruelties. Despite changes in the writing staff and creative team over the course of eleven years, the quality of the show remained top notch, allowing its characters to grow and change from their weak start in 1972 until their popular farewell in 1983.

Rewarded with numerous Emmys and Golden Globe Awards, M*A*S*H was also honored with the prestigious Peabody Award in 1976 for its uplifting yet relevant nature. Blessed with a talented cast of actors throughout its entire run, the show was a hit amongst viewers in the US and around the world who appreciated the mix of laughter and tears, as well as the many critical questions the show raised over the years. Originally produced with a laugh track to please the network, the show was broadcast without it in a variety of countries and is available in both versions on DVD. As an old-school dramedy program, the show is every bit as entertaining now as it was when it first went on the air, with one major difference to a lot of programs today: M*A*S*H never lost itself in a depressing atmosphere. Based on a lot of interviews with and reports from actual Army doctors and nurses, the show was far from being out of touch with reality. Instead of merely dwelling on the gruesome reality of war however, the show offered a glimpse of humanity, irony and pragmatism, a rare treat in a world that’s obsessed with a darker shade of realism today.

The Burns and Allen Show

TV Classics: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

USA 1950-58, eight seasons, 291 episodes 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Announcer: Harry von Zell, Cast: George Burns, Gracie Allen, Bea Benaderet, Larry Keating, Ronnie Burns, Fred Clark and others

Plot summary:  Gracie is a normal housewife who frequently confuses her husband and neighbors with a rather hilarious if not peculiar sense of logic.

Review: When George Burns and Gracie Allen first appeared on television on October 12, 1950, the comedy duo had already successfully jumped through the hoops of Vaudeville, motion pictures and radio for many years. Landing one of the new medium’s instant hits, The Burns and Allen Show introduced its audience to a married couple whose everyday adventures were shaped by a housewife’s genuine logic. Twisting words and ideas without deliberate intention, Gracie’s actions and stories often brought her husband to the verge of humorous desperation and made her an endearing friend to neighbor Blanche Morton (played by Bea Benaderet).

Originally shot in front of a live studio audience, the show was later filmed on set alone and broadcast with recorded reactions from a real audience. With his weekly comments on each episode and his “Say good night, Gracie” farewell, George Burns was an integral part of a show that actually circled around the charming but simple mind of Gracie Allen’s alter ego. A classic today, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show is a real treat for anyone who is looking for some diversion after a long day at the office. The episodes are short, crisp and entertaining, and never dwell on potentially unpleasant topics. Selected episodes are available on DVD or on The Internet Archive, including radio episodes and other appearances of one of America’s funniest married couples.