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Not everyone realizes that THE THIN MAN television series from 1957
starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk is a part of the tragic story
representing the final chapter of a legendary studio. For years MGM
studio boss Louis B. Mayer believed television to be a passing fancy
and said it would never last. He refused to acknowledge the medium was
a permanent phenomenon and the wave of the future. He never recognized
it for what it was and for what it would eventually mean to the
The movie studio system was beginning to dissolve by the mid 1950's and musicals, MGM's signature product, was on its last legs, too. As television gained ground against movies, Mayer remained in complete denial about the medium. He ridiculed it and said it would never last. Even after Mayer was replaced by Dore Schary in the early 1950's who brought in a completely different view of picture making, television wasn't part of the equation. MGM did launch THE MGM PARADE, a weekly television variety show hosted by George Murphey, but it was a bleak attempt to recycle the studio glory days and shriveled up quickly. THE THIN MAN series in 1957 was a weak attempt to gain a foothold in television by flipping pages from the William Powell--Myrna Loy 1930's photo album. But MGM failed to create anything fresh for the new medium and the studio's efforts were too little, too late.
As a show, THE THIN MAN was a perky, but superficial recreation of the Powell--Loy classic. Though Lawford, Kirk, and Asta were pleasant, the show flopped. In contrast to all of the aforementioned, consider what WARNER BROTHERS was doing at that same time: recognizing the impact of getting into every living room in America by producing television shows. For WARNER BROTHERS wisely began churning out a cavalcade of productions--particularly westerns and detective shows that capitalized on the era's programming trends. MAVERICK, SUGARFOOT, LARAMIE, 77 SUNSET STRIP, HAWAIIAN EYE, SURFSIDE SIX, BOURBON STREET BEAT, CHEYENNE, COLT .45--all were WARNER BROTHERS productions. The corporate market share must have been staggering. The successes of those shows bolstered WARNER BROS. for years.
By the late 1960's, MGM was caught in the winds of change. The final nail in the coffin occurred when congress decreed that studios could no longer own movie theatres. Las Vegas Hotel magnate Kirk Kerkorian purchased MGM primarily for its trademark name and Culver City real estate. He later issued a statement that the studio was now a relatively insignificant producer of motion pictures. MGM tore down its legendary back lots and sold the land. Then it auctioned off many collectibles from its vast studio archives. Since then MGM has been bought and sold by so many people there is not enough space here to list either the names or corporate intrigue (even Ted Turner took over and couldn't make a go of it).
THE THIN MAN wasn't just another innocuous 1950's television series that bombed. It is a deceivingly important piece of the story of a great studio beginning a slow descent into oblivion. By failing to recognize that one either adapts to change or becomes extinct, MGM made a catastrophic miscalculation. This is not to say that failure to produce television shows was the primary reason for a great studio's collapse, for other important issues were most assuredly at play. But THE THIN MAN represented just one example of a once great studio falsely believing that sitting on the laurels of past successes holds the key to future survivability.
I was a child when "The Thin Man" was on television but for some
reason, I remember it very clearly. I think I was completely captivated
by the sheer sophistication of Nick and Nora Charles and the fact that
they lived in an apartment in New York City. Growing up in a house and
not in New York City, this was fascinating to me.
What I remember most is how beautiful Phyllis Kirk was and what glorious clothes she wore. I wish I could see this series today to find out if it's as I remember it. Kirk and Lawford seemed a most glamorous couple, and I have a feeling their relationship colored my own ideas about an ideal marriage - rich and childless.
This show was an attempt by MGM to get into TV and capitalize on one of their properties, and it didn't make it. Many years later, I had a chance to see the wonderful movies on which the series was based. I can't draw a comparison because I only remember the clothes and sophistication from the TV show. I guess that says something.
In the early '60s before TV ad rates became astronomical and before
small local stations joined large syndicated networks, the airwaves
were full of old movies and TV series reruns because no one much cared
about the ratings during off hours. Among the antique TV shows from the
early and mid '50s that were endlessly repeated were (probably
terrible) chestnuts like MY LITTLE MARGIE, OH, SUSANNAH!, PRIVATE
SECRETARY, THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE, AMOS 'N' ANDY, THE LIFE OF RILEY,
December BRIDE, TOPPER, I MARRIED JOAN, OUR MISS BROOKS, LOVE THAT BOB,
and one that I remember especially fondly, THE THIN MAN starring Peter
Lawford and Phyllis Kirk and with the sexy and incomparable Nita Talbot
in a recurring role.
I remember virtually nothing about it except the impressions it left me with: Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk seemed dry, pleasant and sophisticated and had a nice chemistry together. I knew nothing of Powell and Loy and the original series of films at the time, so Lawford and Kirk seemed delightful. And even in childhood, I LOVED Nita Talbot, who guested on lots of other series of the period. Tall, with a model's figure and bearing, she usually wore a Veronica Lake pageboy and had a wry, slinky beauty which suggested a cross between Lauren Bacall and Anne Francis. But her voice was honking and grating and she had a N.Y. accent as thick as a slice of corned beef. The incongruity was delicious and she was wonderful.
The only plot I remember in the series was one in which it was implied that a murdered woman (I seem to remember her as a waitress) had been hacked to pieces and hidden in a trunk -- precisely the kind of grisly detail a child would remember.
While I'm willing to believe this series was awful (certainly most or all of the others I listed must have been) I'd love to see several episodes again, and I'd love to know whatever happened to Nita Talbot.
This show was one of my favorites as a kid growing up in suburban Maryland. I was lucky enough to get home from elementary school just in time to catch the reruns every afternoon along with OH SUSANNAH with the Team of Gale Storm & Zasu Pitts...The Thin Man Came on afterward and it made a great double bill each afternoon. Mr. & Mrs. North with Richard Denning was also in the mix. Phyllis Kirk and Gale Storm were two of the prettiest women in the world to me at the time (Gale Storm singing "Tropical Heatwave" was a source of many wonderful dreams as a child...wink, wink, nudge, nudge...), even allowing for the below the knee fashions of the time. Phyllis was tall and oh so sexy in her short hair do's and long, lanky legs with those marvelous high heels. Peter Lawford was so suave, that I always wanted to be Nick Charles whenever I had the opportunity, like at "Teen Club" with the ladies, between classes with the ladies, etc. I was too young to know about the the Rat Pack, but of all of those guys, Lawford was the coolest, to me. His understated manner, and matter of fact conversational delivery of his lines were far ahead of his time, and made him one of my favorite actors of the time, and this show, the one I'd most like to see brought back on a DVD. of course, that one episode of OH SUSANNAH with Gale singing " 'Heatwave" would be nice, too!
After Dear Phoebe left the air after one season, Joseph P. Kennedy was
behind a second television show for his son-in-law Peter Lawford. The
famous Thin Man series was adapted to a half hour television format and
Lawford played Nick with Phyllis Kirk as Nora. Of course Asta was
around as well. No children however for the Charles as were introduced
in the six film series for MGM.
Lawford and Kirk were really up against it. William Powell had just retired and Myrna Loy was still active. People remembered the most famous screen couple ever created. Additionally and this is my own personal opinion, mysteries are no good in a half hour format, you need at least an hour to develop plot and alternative suspects.
Still The Thin Man on television was entertaining and got by on the charm of its leads.
Get TV just started running episodes of The Thin Man and at first I
found I couldn't watch more than a few minutes before moving on to
Eventually I got around to watch an entire episode and was fascinated. Not only are the prints crystal clear and without blemish, but the cars, clothes and guest stars are fascinating.
Then I became unable to take my eyes off spooky Phyllis Kirk with her Moe Howard bangs, crazy eyes and painted over Mommie Dearest Mouth. I remembered her from an appropriately creepy episode of The Twilight Zone'
After that came great pleasure from her reedy, yet husky voice and the wardrobe by Helen Rose.
Add in Peter Lawford and loving close-ups of both, and the thin plots and story lines become secondary.
The dialog is pretty witty for 50s TV, far better than the dumbed down lines in a great many TV shows of the 60s.
Flawed but a lot of fun. I think I'd buy the series if it ever comes to DVD to go along with another 50s favorite: Perry Mason.
I agree with Alice. Why is no one putting out a DVD collection of this wonderful TV program? I am a devotee of the William Powell, Myrna Loy classics; this is to underscore that for me, the Peter Lawford, Phyllis Kirk re-working of "The Thin Man" requires no apologies for its contemporaneity. There were seventy-two episodes (twenty-four a season), far more than I had guessed. For those of my generation (these episodes ran during my junior high school years), there is doubtless a dear nostalgia for the time; but there is a smooth sophistication here which I am noting many much younger people are beginning to re-appreciate. The exigencies of DVD production has long made me wonder at the odd and inexplicable choices. Some awful turkeys show up both in single releases and in compilations, as fine productions are overlooked.
The main draw of this show would be for fans of the excellent movie
series. However, it suffers by comparison. Peter Lawford and Phyllis
Kirk at their best couldn't hope to compete with William Powell and
Myrna Loy, and I'm not sure we're getting their best in this show.
To begin with, the entertaining by-play in the dialogue between the two just isn't present in the TV show. In the movies, William Powell comes across as smart, both as a detective and in his turns of phrase. Peter Lawford only comes across as smart aleck. Myrna Loy's Nora has equally clever lines in the films, but in the TV show she is simply a pretty accessory.
The decision to format the show in 30 minutes guaranteed that the mystery plots would be "thin", the characters shallow, and every other element, most often, trite. I've never been a particular fan of Peter Lawford, and this series did not repair my opinion.
Never saw the original Thin Man until recently when I bought the set,
ALL of the William Powell and Myrna Loy films. I loved them but felt
oddly disappointed, and didn't know why. Also, the series that I
thought I loved seemed oddly unfamiliar.
There is ONE episode of the Lawford/Kirk TV Thin Man on the final disk, the one that includes a biography of Powell, another of Loy. Seeing this single episode made me realize that my nostalgia for The Thin Man was actually for the TV series, not the original. I had never before seen the original. Seeing that single episode of the Kirk/Lawford TV version REALLY brought it all back! It was light yet engrossing, with good production values for the day and a plot that really kept my attention.
Both versions have great charm, but I still like the TV series better. If Acorn or Movies Unlimited or some such company were to issue a set of the TV version, I'd buy it in a heartbeat! IF ANYONE READING THIS IS IN THE OLD MOVIE DVD INDUSTRY, PLEASE OFFER THIS!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've never seen this TV show until now and I'm in my mid-fifties.
Immediately I see the formula and I'm just minutes in. It's a simple
one built upon class, wealth, and crime. A lovely couple living in a
Manhattan high-rise with a cute dog. It's suppose to be glamorous to
the everyday viewer. The man is private eye, or was one and still
solves crime. The woman is a beautiful sophisticate with a bit of a
rebel spirit. The dog is not only cute but smart. Add fashionable cars
and some murder mystery and you've distilled MGM's Thin Man TV show
down to it's DNA.
I've already read it was a too-late attempt to get anything on TV that might raise MGM's faltering movie business. Why it didn't succeed may be the thin plots because the characters are good. Still, as proved by MGM's competitor Warner Brothers it wasn't rocket science. You just had to add either a wild west backdrop or a cool local bit of color. It would seem that the local color here was as thin as the plots. Peter Lawford may be a bit too stiff for the youthful Sherlock Holmes type he's attempting to channel too. I think the combination probably was too weak to compete with the Warner Brothers offerings with far more accessible and iconic characters, even the co-stars were often huge on the WB shows. Still worth a watch as a time capsule of how TV was transitioning into a more powerful media as movies were struggling to evolve from the golden era to a modern one.
Phyllis Kirk as Mrs. Charles was really great I might add. She grabs the viewer with her beauty, impeccable taste, and spunk. I think the show could have worked with a more versatile lead, better locales inserted, and just some writing that was more imaginative in the Hitchcock mode.
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