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Press Your Luck (1983)
How did this show miss TV Guide's list of the 50 best game shows?
How could a show like "Masquerade Party," which most people probably don't even remember, make TV Guide's list of the 50 greatest game shows and this one get overlooked? As everyone knows, "PYL" asks players four questions; a correct buzz-in answer gets the player 3 spins on the big board, while a correct multiple-choice answer gets the player 1 spin. After four questions in each round, they take those spins to the board, hoping to avoid the whammy, an animated gremlin that takes away all their winnings and forces them to start over, if they have any spins left. Four whammies puts a player out of the game, and a player can pass his or her whammies at any point.
It's in the second round, when the stakes go as high as $5000+1 spin, that every game becomes a nail-biter; say, for example, that two players have over $10,000. Does the player taking his or her turn gamble on hitting a whammy and losing everything, or pass the remaining spins to the player in second place and hope he or she whammies? And in the event of a pass, the other player has to take the spin(s). Will that player hit a whammy? The suspense literally goes up to the last spin of the game; the outcome is always in doubt until all the spins are used up (unless your name is Michael Larson and you've run up over $110,000 by memorizing the light patterns on the board).
I vastly prefer the original over the newer "Whammy!". Todd Newton seems to be a nice-enough guy but he lacks the late, great Peter Tomarken's enthusiasm (he really gets into the game, especially when it's close), and Gary Kroger is no Rod Roddy when it comes to announcing. In fact, given this show's cult status, I can't understand how it managed to last only three years on CBS.
But I'm a fanatic about this show; I just wish GSN would air the episodes from 1985 and '86.
It's really Sandra Bullock's show
I know--George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are billed as co-stars, and somehow one expects--from Hollywood clichés--them to develop some kind of romantic relationship as they are trapped in space following the destruction, on the part of the Russians' blowing up a satellite, of their space shuttle. It doesn't happen; Clooney keeps telling the undertrained-for-the-mission Bullock things to do, which she doesn't. Eventually they have to untether themselves, with Clooney drifting off to his death. Bullock then has to make it to a Russian skylab, then a Chinese one, and it's remarkable how she works the buttons on the control panels on each, considering that the labels are in the native tongues, not in English.
Then there's the issue of her keeping her sanity: laughing at some Chinese program she picks up on her two-way communication, talking to herself and trying--still--to get a grip on the death of her young daughter.
You can't but feel the helplessness of two people stranded several hundred miles (distances are given in metric in most cases) above Earth, the rest of the space-shuttle crew wiped out, and two--then one--person trying to get to a vehicle which will take her home--with no one, not even ground control in Houston--to help. Does she make it back? You'll have to see the movie.
This movie kept everyone in the theater where I saw it completely riveted. And I, too, will not be surprised if Sandra Bullock gets Best Actress in the 2014 Oscars. It's her movie--not Clooney's.
The Paper Chase (1978)
Please don't revive this show with a new cast
I spent a short time in law school about a year before the CBS version of "The Paper Chase" started. I'm not sure law school is as intimidating today as it was in the '70s, but it was pretty accurate at the time. Still, I would not care to see this show revived in a softer classroom environment, and for one reason: John Houseman. He actually did teach acting at UCLA drama school, and a student once told him he wasn't acting in "The Paper Chase," that that was really his classroom manner. And as for his character, Professor Kingsfield, yes, he can strike fear in his students, but at the same time, when he allows himself a small smile after a particularly good class, you know he's rooting for his students to make it into the legal world. Personally, I think that if there were more Kingsfields at real-world colleges (and even high schools), we wouldn't be talking about a crisis in education in this country.
I also want to single out James Stephens, who I thought was a more credible Hart, the Midwestern kid who idolizes Kingsfield, than Timothy Bottoms in the movie; Bottoms seemed to be the last of the hippies. I also liked the fact that the series rarely, if ever, got into the relationship between Hart and Kingsfield's daughter, the subplot of the movie. There are some shows ("Law & Order" was another) where viewers don't care about the characters' personal lives.
It's been noted that "The Paper Chase" was slotted against the two hottest shows of the era: "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley." CBS may have been hoping for an alternative audience, much as "The Waltons" achieved against Flip Wilson a few years earlier. Thus, some of the episodes were flashier than "The Paper Chase" should be; the nadir was the one where Hart escorts a visiting Russian gymnast; Houseman refused to appear in that episode.
Finally, like the similar "White Shadow," which was on CBS around the same time, these students do graduate! And as Houseman himself might say, they've won Kingsfield's respect the old-fashioned way: they've earned it.
Chain Reaction (2006)
Absolutely the most pointless game show I've ever watched
What, please tell me, is the point of connecting seven or eight words where one word simply leads logically into the next one? At least on "Password Plus" and "Super Password" each set of five passwords acted as a set of clues to a person, place, or thing. This one has two teams of contestants trying to make a "chain" of words with nothing to hold them together. The final round, where two team members are given answers and alternate forming a question for their blindfolded teammate, failed as a separate show, "GO!", back around 1984. And, typically for GSN, the payoffs are chintzy as well. Don't bother unless you're just desperate for something to watch between 3 and 4 PM Eastern.
Too Cute! (2011)
You can't help but love and laugh
The premise of watching three groups of puppies or kittens (or, sometimes, other species) learning about the world in the weeks between birth and adoption turns out to be an entertaining and amusing show. It proves, if nothing else, that animals are human after all.
It's always rather interesting to see how, for example, two siblings in a litter will form a friendship that excludes the other members of that litter. The ingenuity that some of these animals have is also fascinating and amusing, such as when a puppy or kitten tries to find a place to sleep away from the rest of the "family," which is invariably too big to allow him or her room.
Then there's the tension that exists when the real humans have a pet of a different species; will they hit it off? Sometimes a dog will take on to a litter of kittens, for example, while another one will be skittish...or maybe the kittens are afraid of the dog.
And you can be sure that if the infant is in distress the mother will always be there to rescue them.
Not only can the show be unintentionally funny, it always has a happy ending; not only do we see the animals going to their new homes, narrator Henry Strozier always tells us what they're doing now. And speaking of Strozier, he seems to be thoroughly enjoying telling these tales. (His voice reminds me of newscaster/narrator Jack Perkins, who I thought it was when I first saw this show.) The only thing I don't understand is why Animal Planet gives this show a TV-PG content rating. I've never seen anything I would not permit a child to watch. I try to catch one or two of these on Saturdays, and if you need a little emotional pick me up, you should too.
I'd turn to both Marshall and Welby if I were in trouble
A combination of whodunit a la "Perry Mason" and issue-oriented episodes a la "The Defenders," "Owen Marshall, Counselor At Law" is the legal profession's answer to "Marcus Welby, M.D.," as mentioned above. The similarities are obvious: Welby practices in Santa Monica, Marshall in Santa Barbara; both have an assistant with strong appeal to women (James Brolin with Welby; Lee Majors, Reni Santoni, and David Soul with Marshall); both have a female assistant (Elena Verdugo and Joan Darling); both of their wives are apparently deceased, although Marshall has a teenage daughter. And, again as noted above, there are crossovers between the two shows (both created and produced by David Victor), such as Marshall's defending Brolin's character, Dr. Steven Kiley, on a malpractice charge.
Arthur Hill was at somewhat of a disadvantage re Robert Young; Young was already an icon from "Father Knows Best," while the Canadian-born Hill was not well-known in the U.S. when "Marshall" debuted. Yet both actors exude authority and the knowledge of their professions that makes one wish they were real and could go to them if they were either sick or in trouble. And it's perhaps--no, it's the reason--that Young was often asked to speak at medical gatherings, and Hill at legal ones. If both shows get a little sticky at times, stick around: there's plenty of substance to be had, as both can deal with sensitive issues.
Hill is one of the classiest actors I've ever seen, and I have enjoyed him in made-for-TV movies made since "Marshall" was canceled. I also remember him in his later years doing commercials, urging viewers to call a lawyer when a problem arose; maybe he was just being Owen Marshall, but he certainly appeared to mean it.
By the way, Lee Majors is said to have hated this show, simply because it required him to wear a jacket and tie. He's obviously more comfortable when he's casually dressed, as on "The Six Million Dollar Man" or "The Fall Guy."
Uncomplicated with lots of action
"Mannix" is my all-time favorite crime drama. Yes, there is a lot of violence (there seems to be an obligatory fight scene in every show, and it's a wonder Joe Mannix lived through eight seasons), but for those of us who don't care about sifting through a slew of clues to figure out whodunit, this is the show to watch. Except for the computer angle of the first season (which Lucille Ball had eliminated because she didn't think the audience related to it), this show is--unlike most detective shows of its era--free of gimmickry; Mannix is not crippled or blind or fat or bald or old or sloppy. He's just a regular guy (and he's Armenian, by the way) who lives by his wits and his fists.
An added plus is Gail Fisher as Mannix's secretary Peggy Fair. True, she gets kidnapped a lot but she's also a lot of help to Mannix and it's also admirable that the show makes no big deal about the fact that she's African-American. She's a secretary, period.
Ward Wood and Robert Reed add extra flavor as Mannix's contacts on the LAPD, Lts. Art Malcolm and Adam Tobias, respectively. Reed, who was doing "The Brady Bunch" at the same time, often said he preferred doing this show to the sitcom.
And never to be forgotten are the split-screen graphics and that great Lalo Schifrin theme song which I find myself humming from time to time.
"Mannix" shows up occasionally on Cloo; I wish they'd show it more often.
Take a Good Look (1959)
Classic Kovacs, but don't even try to play along
NOTE: May contain spoilers
The format has already been described: a person who is not famous, but has been in a recent news event, appears before a panel consisting of Edie Adams, Hans Conried, Cesar Romero, and a few others; the panel then tries--and nearly always fails--to identify the contestant's secret because Kovacs and a group of actors provide obtuse clues previously taped.
I do remember one show where Cesar Romero automatically identified Mary Ann Mobley, who had just been crowned Miss America. But more typical was the steer-roping champion from either the Calgary Stampede rodeo or Frontier Days. The clues: Kovacs driving a car (steering), Kovacs and one of his female regulars in a rowboat (row), an actress imitating Doris Day (day), and Kovacs hitting his thumb with a hammer and yelling "Oh!". Add them up: Steer row-day-oh. No, the panel never came close.
Viewers often complained to Kovacs and to ABC about their inability to play along because of the weirdness of the clues; Kovacs would say, "I do this show for me."
Take my advice: if you catch this show, don't even try to play along. Instead, enjoy Kovacs' sense of the absurd which, by the way, the public didn't come to appreciate until "Laugh-In," created by George Schlatter, husband of Jolene Brand, one of "TAGL"'s troupe of actors. There's a sizable sampling of vintage Kovacs, and that's what really counts.
And don't forget the Dutch Masters commercials and, if you see one, Edie Adams for Muriel cigars.
By the way, just as comedy overshadowed the game on Groucho's show, it may be more than coincidence that ABC scheduled this show in the half-hour following Groucho's NBC show (Groucho aired from 10-10:30, Kovacs from 10:30-11, on Thursday nights).
Cape Fear (1962)
Somebody needed to look at a map
Cape Fear is in North Carolina, so how did this movie end up being set in Georgia? I know the exteriors were filmed in Savannah, but Wilmington would have worked just as well (it's a center for film production today and doesn't look radically different from Savannah). In the scene where Sam Bowden is supposed to fly to Atlanta for his disbarment hearing, he should be on a plane to Raleigh. The Bowdens' boat's license should begin with NC instead of GA.
On another note, don't forget that this was not the last time Robert Mitchum and Polly Bergen worked together; they would play husband and wife in "The Winds Of War" miniseries some two decades hence.
Quiz Show (1994)
A few points
Although Stempel did follow orders and miss the question about "Marty," the question that eliminated him was a three-parter about a famous editorial. He was told to answer the first two parts: the paper was the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, the editor was William Allen White; then he would "blank" on the name of the editorial: "What's The Matter With Kansas?" Ironically, his history class at CCNY had talked about the editorial just a few days earlier.
Rob Morrow is actually, as far as I'm concerned, the worst actor in the movie. He can't make up his mind if he should adopt a Kennedyesque accent or sound like Peter Falk as Columbo.
Finally, although Charles Van Doren wrote an article about "Twenty-One" in 2008, the first he'd said publicly about it since the hearings in 1959, he added nothing new. On the other hand, this movie brought Herb Stempel back into the spotlight and, despite what he did, I think the public now looks on him as the good guy in his encounters with Van Doren. And by the way, he doesn't look nearly as nerdy as he looked when he appeared on the show or as John Turturro played him; Dan Enright was trying to create the image of a nerd and Robert Redford obviously followed suit for authenticity's sake.