These are the Voyages

51ujI2AttuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_After nearly fifty years, I thought there wasn’t anything more to be said, or any more books that could possibly be mined, from the original Star Trek. Hasn’t that show been talked about, and examined to death, down to every last detail?

You’d think so. But then along came These Are The Voyages: Season One by Marc Cushman and it may be the best book yet about the production of the series and one of the best books ever written about any TV show. It’s a shame the book is presented as yet another fan-written curio for the diehard trekker…because it’s a must-read for students of television, and aspiring TV writers, regardless of whether they watched, or liked, Star Trek.

These Are The Voyages is an exhaustively detailed look at the writing and nuts-and-bolts production of every single episode, from the first, failed pilot onward. Everything in the book, like a TV series, starts with the scripts…and Cushman walks us through every draft and every change, whether they were prompted by creative issues, budgetary concerns, production issues, or network notes.

The author relies on extensive interviews with the show’s surviving writers, producers, directors, and actors (and archival interviews with those who have passed away) and never-before-released memos, budgets, shooting schedules, and other internal documents. Best of all, Cushman manages to remain, with only a few slips, remarkably objective and scholarly about his subject, leaving the book refreshingly free of the kind of cringe-inducing, fannish drool that usually typifies books about “cult” shows and Star Trek in particular.

These Are the Voyages is a treasure trove of information and a fascinating look at how a TV show is written and produced…and all of the forces that shape it. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next two volumes.

Remembering the Forgotten Laughs

forgotten laughs-500x500I really enjoyed Richard Irvin’s book Forgotten Laughs: An Episode Guide to 150 Sitcoms You Probably Never Saw and, as any regular reader of this blog knows, I am a sucker for TV reference books. This one hit particularly close to home, since Irvin picked a subject almost as narrow and obscure as my own book Television Fast Forward: Sequels and Remakes of Cancelled  TV Shows. So I had to know more about his book, why he wrote it, and how he did the research.
LEE : What is that’s so fascinating about short-lived, forgotten sitcoms that made you want to write a book about them?
RICHARD: I’ve been a lifelong TV fan and have always been interested in how series get on television.  While there has been a lot published about popular shows like Mary Tyler-MooreAll in the Family, and Seinfeld, not that much information exists about series that quickly disappeared from the air.  Even websites like and do not contain much information about such series.
How hard was it to research and write? How long did it take?
It took about two years to research the book.  The  biggest difficulty in doing research, particularly for the older series, was that many people contacted did not remember a lot about the series and videos for many series appear to no longer exist.  The best TV archive collection is held by the Library of Congress.  While they do not have videos of every series ever made, they do have many shows that are not available through other sources.
Did you have a hard time tracking down the writer/producers of the shows? And how did they react once you contacted them?
About half of the writers and producers I contacted did reply to my inquiries.  Using “people search” websites was very helpful in locating writers and producers.  For better or worse, the internet has made it fairly easy to find people’s addresses.
Most of the writers and producers who responded appreciated the fact that someone wanted to document their efforts with respect to these short-lived projects.  Only a handful said they were willing to talk about any other series they had worked on except the one I was profiling.  One writer/producer even said that working on the series was so frustrating that he no longer wanted credit for producing the series and that if I wanted the credit, I could take it (although I think the Producer’s Guild might object to that).
Did you also reach out to network executives to find out what they were thinking when the bought, shelved and canceled these series?
I didn’t attempt to contact network executives about these series.  Instead I relied on newspaper accounts at the time for the reasons they quickly axed a show.  Some of the writers and producers I contacted also didn’t want to be quoted directly about their experiences with the networks on a particular project saying words to the affect that “they still have to work with these guys.” File0917
How did your family and friends feel about you writing this book? It was obviously a passion project. A book like this is not something destined to be a bestseller…or particularly profitable (believe me, I know! I wrote the books UNSOLD TV PILOTS 1955-1989 ). What reaction did you get from publishers?
My best friend accompanied me on my many trips to Washington DC to view videotapes at the LOC.  While not every series profiled in the book is a lost gem, both he and I were happily surprised about how funny many of them were. I must confess that one of the funniest series I found was the never-aired sitcom The Grubbs starring Michael Cera and Randy Quaid. At the time, many critics who say the Fox preview of the series, called it the worst sitcom ever.  But I found that Randy Quaid’s performance was particularly hilarious.  In one episode, he was trying to get in the Guinness Book of World Records by holding his breath under water in a bucket.  The director filmed his efforts from the bottom of the bucket and Quaid’s reactions were priceless.
The book was one of my passion projects.  I don’t think anyone gets rich writing books anymore unless you write about vampires or wizards.  I know that many people think that Forgotten Laughs contains episode information about shows that you can get for free from the Internet not realizing that the Internet has little data about such short-lived series.
However, getting the book published was almost too easy.  The first publisher I contacted was BearManor Media, and they quickly agreed to publish it.
$T2eC16NHJHQE9nzE)jdZBQEV+1pFlQ~~60_35What is your background? Is this your first book? Do you have other books on the way?
As for myself, I have a Master’s degree from The Ohio State University in sociology with a focus in mass communications.  I worked for a state agency dealing with higher education for the past twenty-five years publishing newsletters and study guides, but now that I am retired, I am focusing on my avocation as a documentarian of TV history.  Currently, I’m working on a book about the various series and pilots the late actor-comedian George Burns produced in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
I’ll definitely be the first in line to buy that. You’ll be able to find lots of details on the George Burns stuff in my book, Unsold Television PilotsAny chance you might tackle Forgotten Dramas next?
That is a definite possibility.  I guess there must be at least 100 TV dramas that had very short runs on the different networks. Few probably remember George Clooney in Sunset Beat or Hugh Jackman’s attempt to produce a musical drama titled Viva Laughlin.

The Forgotten

forgotten laughs-500x500There are two great new books out that deal with forgotten entertainment: Richard Irvin’s Forgotten Laughs: An Episode Guide to 150 TV Sitcoms You Probably Never Saw and Brian Ritt’s Paperback Confidential: Crimes Writers of the Paperback Era.

Forgotten Laughs is a fantastic book from Bear Manor Publishing that focuses on comedies that lasted six episodes…or less. Many of the sitcoms were initially picked up for thirteen episodes but didn’t survive past their first or second week on the air. Some of the shows were cancelled before even one episode got on the air.  The book includes detailed episode guides for the aired, unaired or, in some cases, unproduced episodes of each series and gives the backstories on their development and cancellation. It’s a treasure trove of information and a fascinating glimpse into the world of network television scheduling and development. It’s an exhaustively-researched, smoothly written, must-have reference book for TV industry followers. I absolutely loved it. I hope Irvin will follow up with a sequel covering forgotten one-hour dramas.

images-3Paperback Confidential is an essential reference book for lovers of hard-boiled/noir paperbacks of the 1930s through the mid-1960s, most of them forgotten by most readers today. Ritt profiles 132 of the best loved, and also some of the most obscure, authors of the era. Authors include David Goodis, Norbert Davis, Marvin Albert, Dolores Hitchens, Fletcher Flora, Cornell Woolrich, Ann Bannon, Harry Whittington, and so many others. Ritt not only tells you all about them and their books, he also provides their pseudonyms and a selected bibliography of their work (some of these authors wrote dozens, if not hundreds, of books). Now whenever I pick up a vintage paperback from some author I’ve never heard of, this book will save me the hours I would have spent on the Internet searching for more information. It’s no surprise that this terrific book comes from Stark House Press, the people who’ve so lovingly republished “lost” and/or long out-of-print books by Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, Dan J. Marlowe, and James Hadley Chase among others. The people at Stark House are doing God’s work, as far as I’m concerned.

(For the record, I independently bought both of these books…there were not provided to me for review)


Wonderfully Brutal Review

The Have and Have Nots
The Have and Have Nots

Review Gleefully Decimates “The Haves and Have Nots”

I loved Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McCarthy’s brutal review today of Tyler Perry’s new series The Have and Have Nots. Her very funny comments brought back fond memories of the reviews written by famed Times critic Howard Rosenberg’s during his glory days in the early 1980s. Here are some choice snippets from her review:

Well, it’s official: The nine most frightening words to cross a television screen are: “Executive Produced, Created, Written and Directed By Tyler Perry.”

Whatever hopes Perry had for this overwrought, derivative story line are dashed almost immediately by acting that can only be described as uniformly terrible and an unrelenting background score the likes of which has not been heard since talkies were invented.

Characters utter meaningless sentences into the air in front of the camera and then just stare at each other while maddening mood music insists that we feel something.

The show may be crap, but it  scored record high ratings for Oprah’s struggling network. It will be interesting to see if those same viewers who sampled the show return for episode two…

“That Thing You Did With Your Mouth”


Virgin Jon Snow brings cunnilingus to the Wildings

I got a big kick out of GAME OF THRONES last Sunday…when virgin Jon Snow introduced the Wildings to cunnilingus and won the undying devotion of his lover, who was “amazed” at “that thing you did with your mouth.” It was hilarious, matched only by the ridiculous moment in Jean Auel’s novel VALLEY OF THE HORSES when blond Cro-Magnon cavewoman Ayla gave her astonished Neanderthal lover Jondalar a blowjob, demonstrating one of the ingenious reasons why Cro-Magnons would survive and Neanderthals wouldn’t. It was a rare GAME OF THRONES misstep, but entertaining nonetheless.


Coming Next Fall to a TV Near You

It's the time of year when networks start ordering pilots for proposed TV series for next year's fall schedule. The Hollywood Reporter has a wrap-up of what's been ordered so far. It looks like this is the first pilot season in years that doesn't include a "re-imagining" of an old TV show. Thank God. But there are plenty of adaptations of movies in the works (About a Boy, Bad Teacher, Beverly Hills Cop, etc.) and quite a few based on books.

Here are some of the more unusual concepts being considered…

The Returned
Logline: What happens when the people you have mourned and buried suddenly appear on your doorstep as if not a day's gone by? The lives of the people of Aurora are forever changed when their deceased loved ones return.
Team: W/EP Aaron Zelman (Criminal Minds)
Studio: ABC Studios, Brillstein Entertainment, Plan B

The Ordained
Logline: The son of a Kennedy-esque family leaves the priesthood and becomes a lawyer to prevent his politician sister from being assassinated.
Team: W/EP Lisa Takeuchi Cullen; EP Frank Marshall, Larry Shuman, A.B. Fischer; co-EP Robert Zotnowski
Studio: CBS Television Studios

Logline: Based on best-selling trilogy about a world where love is deemed illegal and is able to be eradicated with a special procedure. With 95 days to go until her scheduled treatment, Lena Holoway does the unthinkable: she falls in love.
Team: W/EP: Karyn Usher (Prison Break, Bones); EP Peter Chernin, Katherine Pope
Studio: 20th Television, Chernin Entertainment

The List
Logline: When members of the Federal Witness Security Program start getting killed, U.S. Marshal Dan Shaker leads the hunt for the person who stole “the list” – a file with the identities of every member of the program.
Team: W/EP: Paul Zbyszewski (Lost, Hawaii Five-0, Daybreak); EP Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad)
Studio: 20th Television

Girlfriend in a Coma
Logline: After almost two decades, a 34-year-old woman wakes up from a coma to find out she has a 17-year-old daughter from a pregnancy she was unaware of when her life was put on hold.  (Single)
Team: EP/W: Liz Brixius (Nurse Jackie); EP Dick Wolf, Danielle Gelber
Studio: Universal Television, Wolf Films
Format: Single-camera

Logline: A contemporary pulp thriller that revolves around an orphaned young girl named Bird Benson, who because of an accident of birth is caught in the struggle between two warring families of mercenaries and killers. Mentored by a Chinese man, Bird has to accept the quest to find and defeat her mother in mortal combat if she is to ever lead a normal life.
Team: W/EP David Granziano (Awake, Terra Nova), EP/D Peter Berg, EP Sarah Aubrey
Studio: Universal, Film 44


Transporter: The Series

Transporter-Ex-ElitesoldatFrankMartin-ChrisVance2I saw the first episode of the troubled TRANSPORTER tv series. And it's immediately obvious from the opening scenes why they've blown through two showrunners over just 11 episodes of what ened up being an aborted 22 episode order…and that the studios involved ended up putting their line producer and a director in charge. 

There's lots of European-shot 2nd unit car chases cut into a few scenes of Canadian-shot "drama." But beyond that, it's not a TV series as much as it is a TV adaptation of a co-production contract. Someone along the way forgot there's supposed to be characters and a story in a TV series. There's no creative vision whatsoever to the show, just deal points being honored, ticked off one by one without regard to whether any of it adds up to entertainment.

It doesn't.

 The only thing that's interesting about it, purely from a technical/editing standpoint, is studying how they matched their 2nd unit footage from Europe (which is 60% of the show) with the stuff they shot on streets and stages in Toronto. Sometimes it's very smooth, other times you can really see the rough edges. The actors (namely Chris Vance, stepping in for Jason Statham) clearly spent a lot of time acting with green screens. Watching the show reminded me of how Bill Rabkin and I built episodes of COBRA (syndicated 1993) around Steve Cannell's stock footage library to save money

The writing on the series is just atrocious and, since there is no human connection to the action, the stunts/chases lack any visceral impact. You just aren't invested in any of it. The martial arts sequences, though, are  cleverly done and well-staged.

But as Bill and I learned on MARTIAL LAW, that just isn't enough to sustain a series (at least Chris Vance speaks English and doesn't have to work with Arsenio Hall).


Macleans Magazine talked to me about retooling TV shows. I said, in part:

Lee Goldberg, a writer-producer for such heavily retooled shows asDiagnosis Murder (and creator of the novel series The Dead Man) says shows are revised for many reasons: “budget concerns, political issues, previous series commitments, lack of enthusiasm or support at the network.” But, he adds, the primary reason for a retool is summed up in two words: “pure desperation.”

[…]But most of the time, a retool changes a show nobody watches into another show nobody watches. “Perhaps the most startling case of retooling was a series called Klondike,” says Goldberg. “The network thought it was a chilly locale. The show went off the air for two weeks. When it came back it was Acapulco. Didn’t fare any better in a warmer climate.”

I also told the author, columnist Jaime Weinman, that often retooling is a desperate attempt to carry on a hit series after most of the cast has left (like MAYBERRY RFD, THE HOGAN FAMILY, GOLDEN PALACE, and SANFORD ARMS).

For other series, retooling was the norm. THE DORIS DAY SHOW was completely retooled every season for five years…on the drama front, OHARA, the show with Pat Morita as a detective, was retooled every season for three years.

Other examples of radical retooling include BURKE'S LAW, which became AMOS BURKE: SECRET AGENT its last year. THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE show entirely changed its cast and concept in year three. FRINGE has to be the most radical retooling ever (if you don't count the DALLAS season that was written off entirely as a dream).

Another, smaller retooling that usually spells the end of a series is when a series drops their opening theme music in favor of something entirely new to refresh the show — examples include BONANZA, EMERGENCY, KOJAK, SEAQUEST, LOST IN SPACE, CHICAGO HOPE, and 77 SUNSET STRIP. But there are exceptions, too — MONK, SIMON & SIMON, MAGNUM PI, and CHICAGO HOPE are big ones.

But I would say, by and large, that retooling usually fails. 

Evolution of a TV theme

I've been digitizing a bunch of my old audio cassettes this week and came across a dozen demos by the Canadian group Saga for the theme song to COBRA, the 1993 syndicated TV series starring Michael Dudikoff.  Ultimately, the producers scuttled the song and kept the instrumental.  Here are three of the demos, followed by the final main title sequence.