Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Television (page 1 of 3)

“Sunday, Monday, Happy Days…”

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Forty years ago this week, January 15, 1974, the soon-to-be hit sitcom Happy Days premiered.

Soon, the Fonz and “sit on it” would become part of American pop culture.

Although the show’s initial appeal might have ridden the success of the hit movie American Graffiti, (that’s probably why the producers used Bill Haley and the Comets “Rock Around the Clock” for the theme music) the show itself was based on a segment of Love, American Style. It would turn out to be a fun show at a time when there was a sitcom renaissance which included other shows like M*A*S*H, Barney Miller, Laverne and Shirley, Welcome Back Kotter, as well as All in the Family and Sanford and Son.

Fall from grace

Life sometimes imitates art.

Lisa Robin Kelly who portrayed Eric Forman’s wild and loose sister, Laurie, on That 70’s Show probably wishes she was back playing the bad older sister instead of being the actress having run-ins with the law.

Talk about your fall from grace.

Journey to the Beginning of Time

Finishing up my last essay for Invaders from Mars… and remembering one of the segments that used to be part of Garfield Goose, the serialized 1960 movie, Journey to the Beginning of Time, which was actually a 1955 Czech movie.

 

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When Chester Died on Combat — Growing up with Television in the 1960s and 1970s

Another excerpt from my collection of essays about life in the 1960s/1970s I plan to release on Smashwords, Amazon, and Lulu later this week.

This excerpt is still a work in progress and is part of a two-part essay. Portions of this essay appeared as a flash fiction story in Orion headless.

One of my earliest recollections of some life-defining moment, which really put the zap into me, occurred on October 12, 1965 and had nothing to do with my family or elementary school, though in three months they would. Instead, it was the night when Chester died on Combat.

“Not Chester,” I sobbed when my mother tried to comfort me later that night. “I like him a lot.”

Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver), one of my favorite characters on Gunsmoke had been killed in this week’s episode of Combat. On the playground outside Cherry Grade School in Cherry, Illinois my grade school friends, Larry Corpus, Bill Waite and I used to pretend to be characters from TV shows to amuse some of the girls in our class, especially Valerie Schalhorn and Kim Moss. One week, I was pretending to be Chester, walking with the same limp his character had on Gunsmoke; the next week I was hamming it up pretending to be Corporal Randolph Agarn from F-Troop, a new show, which had debuted the month before.

Chester’s death shook me up a lot because when I went to bed that night, I couldn’t fall asleep. Although my mother tried to assure me it was all make believe and that Chester hadn’t really died, I wasn’t buying any of it.

“The army men shot him and he died,” I said, still pleading my case. “I saw it.”

I must have had some idea of war and death; perhaps hearing on the news about fighting in Southeast Asia (though it would be one more month before the devastating Battle of Ia Drang, the first major battle between US forces and the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) that led me to believe that Chester had gone off to war and died. I might have even heard about Vietnam from that avuncular and trusted veteran journalist Walter Conkrite who was beamed into our living room right after supper every night.

“It’s just acting son,” she said, leaning over and pulling up the blanket around my chest. “He didn’t really die. Get some sleep, okay?”

My mother kissed me on the forehead and turned off the light. She was right. Chester didn’t really die on Combat (though Weaver wasn’t faring too well on his new series Kentucky Jones, the show he starred in after leaving Gunsmoke, but he would be back again in two years with the more successful Gentle Ben and later McCloud). Still, it was enough to put the zap into me that I still remember it vividly, forty-six years later.

Whether or not I might have confused fiction with reality when Weaver’s character Noah was killed on that episode of Combat, what I hadn’t confused, albeit indirectly, was the power that television has in shaping one’s cognizance of the world through its programming. Just as Marshal McLuhan reasoned with “the medium is the message,” television in the 1960s and 1970s would impact us in many different ways taking in account cultural issues and historical happenings. A seven-year-old child’s confusion of war and death might seem innocuous, but as a microcosm of the influence television would have on a generation, it wasn’t.

I admit that I am a child of the television generation and not embarrassed that most of my formative years were spent in front of a television. There would be a steady diet of television programming that filled my life in the 1960s and 1970s, television shows that were just as much a part of the cultural landscape of America which ultimately defined the era against a historical backdrop fraught with war, assassination, revolution, and space exploration.

Although some may think of the 1950s as the Golden Age of Television with classic programs like The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, the 1960s had their golden moments as well. After all, the 1960s would give us everything from Star Trek and Lost in Space to The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres. These and other shows, like Batman, Dark Shadows, Gomer Pyle USMC, Julia, I Dream of Jeannie, Mission Impossible, The Monkees, Night Gallery, and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in, were the shows that I remember most, and shows that in some ways mirrored how radical, revolutionary, and culturally charged the 1960s would become.

To be sure, just how much television mirrored the decade manifested itself in many ways, from some of the expressions, which entered our vernacular like “groovy” or “sock it to me” (it is still strikes me as bizarre and surreal to this day, remembering the time Richard Nixon uttered this expression on Laugh-in) to groundbreaking shows like 1968’s Julia—the sitcom of a single, African-American woman (in a non-stereotypical role) who had to raise a child on her own after her husband was shot down over Vietnam.

When we were not being entertained, we were being informed. The Vietnam War invaded our homes and tore a nation apart. Funerals for John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy filled us with sorrow while rioting in Watts, Detroit, and Chicago made us cringe. We got to listen to Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and Jim Anders read from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve 1968 and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Television came of age in the 1960s and those of us who were growing up at this time would be deeply impacted by it.

Apart from the war in Vietnam and the cultural and political revolution taking place in America, one television show was as far away as you could get from all the turbulence of the decade. However, for many of us growing up in America’s Midwest served by cable, the show, which would begin many of our days, would impact our lives just as much as any other television show would.

Cue the Merrie Melodies music now.

Copyright © 2011 Jeffrey Miller

Bah! Humbug!

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Everyone knows one of the Christmas’ most famous quotable quotes, “Bah, Humbug,” but how about other memorable (but not always quotable quotes) from other films and TV specials?

These classic Christmas quotes will get you in the holiday spirit or better yet, get you in the mood for some classic holiday movies.

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Charlie Brown: “Rats. Nobody sent me a Christmas card today. I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”

A Christmas Carol

Scrooge: Bah! Humbug!

A Christmas Story

Ralphie: I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!
Mrs. Parker: No, you’ll shoot your eye out.

Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] “Aunt Clara had for years labored under the delusion that I was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl.”

Christmas Vacation:

Clark Griswold: “Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”

Clark: “We’re kicking off our fun old fashion family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols.”

Home Alone

Kevin McCallister: “This is extremely important. Will you please tell Santa that instead of presents this year, I just want my family back. No toys, nothing but Peter, Kate, Buzz, Megan, Linnie and Jeff. And my aunt and my cousins. And if he has time, my Uncle Frank. Okay?”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Narrator: “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

It’s a Wonderful Life

George Bailey: “Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!”

Clarence: “Remember, George no man is a failure who has friends.”

Zuzu Bailey: “Look, Daddy. Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

Clarence: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Nick: “Hey look, mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint “atmosphere”. Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?”

Miracle on 34th Street

Fred Gailey: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”

Alfred, the janitor at Macy’s: “Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it’s the same–don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck.”

The Simpsons

Bart Simpson: “Ah, come on, dad, this could be the miracle that saves The Simpson’s Christmas! If TV has taught me anything, its that miracles always happens to poor kids at Christmas. It happened to Tiny Tim, it happened to Charlie Brown, it happened to The Smurfs, and it’s gonna happen to us!”

Bart Simpson: “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?”

Thanksgiving with the gang from Cheers

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One of my favorite sitcoms back in the 80s and early 90s was NBC’s Cheers. I liked the ensemble cast and writing and it was a fun show to watch whether it was the ongoing love spats between Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), Carla Tortelli’s (Rhea Pearlman) acerbic wit and disdain for Diane or those lovable barflys Norm Peterson (George Wendt) and Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger) debating life’s foibles and troubles.

 

One of my favorite episodes that I never get tired of watching was the one entitled Thanksgiving Orphans. In this classic episode, Diane is the only one who has made plans for Thanksgiving, as such Carla invites the rest of the Cheers gang to her place. They come over, but get very impatient as the afternoon passes waiting for Norm’s turkey (affectionately called “birdzilla” as the day progresses and their patience begins to wear thin) to cook. When Diane’s plans fall through, she joins them, to Carla’s disgust. And what happens next is a classic moment on television.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

May the day be blessed with love and filled with warmth for you and your loved ones no matter where you are and how you celebrate this day.

 

 

When did it become okay to say “balls” on TV?

Back in the 1970s, I busted a gut laughing to George Carlin’s seven words you could not say on television. This comedic bit is just as hilarious now as it was when I first heard it.

In one part of the bit, he talks about how a baseball player can have two balls on him but it would be improper to say he hurt his balls on the play.

Obviously, after watching this week’s episode of Two-and-a-Half Men, it is okay to say “balls” now on TV. In one scene when Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) finally gives into his fiancée Chelsea’s (Jennifer Bini Taylor) plan to get a breast reduction (because her boobs are causing her back pain), he tells her not to get rid of her bras because he could use them for two egg-shaped appendages that might need a little support when he gets older.

Without question, these days television writers have a lot of creative leeway and freedom when it comes to their use of words like “boobs,” “balls,” and even “bitch.” Not that this makes television these days any better with the shock and comedic value these words might have within the context of a drama or a sitcom, it is interesting to see how much television has evolved.

Back in the 60s on the Dick Van Dyke Show, it was taboo to have Rob (Dick Van Dyke) and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) sleep in one bed or on I Dream of Jeannie for Jeannie (Barbara Eden) to show her belly button.

The times have definitely changed.

Thank you George Carlin.

Wilma and Fred lighting up?

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While surfing the internet the other day, I came across some rather bizarre, surreal and even disturbing videos of classic TV commercials, especially this one of Wilma and Fred Fintstone smoking as well as a very evil-looking Jolly Green Giant.

Check out my online article of classic TV commercials here.

MTV in Goose’s Basement — A work in progress

MTV-man-on-moonThere was a time when MTV was cool. I mean really cool, like a long, long, long time ago in another galaxy far, far, away cool. Back when the only thing you saw and listened to on MTV were videos. And if the videos programmed for any particular hour or block of time came up short, well there were some artsy video fillers to fill that block of time until the next hour when the process started all over again.

That was MTV in January 1982—at least the MTV we watched in Goose’s basement in LaSalle, Illinois when MTV was still not available in the Midwest, but by monkeying around with the rabbit ears on the top of some old B&W Zenith TV that Goose and his brother had in the basement and switching to VHF and ever-so-carefully adjusting the knob like some safecracker trying to get in a safe, we could, when the weather and atmospheric conditions were just right—fine tune that TV and watch MTV in all its primal glory and unadulterated magnificence.

It was Goose who had first come up to me in one of the bars that we frequented in the Illinois Valley—maybe it was Friday’s or Murphy’s, perhaps one of the bars we had not been banned from, we meaning The Libido Boys for causing a bit of a commotion when the boys played their “young, loud, and snotty” kind of rock and roll that more often than not antagonized the few patrons who found themselves trapped in the bar when the music started—and told me about this new TV phenomenon called MTV.

The Libido Boys was the brainchild of one Chris Vasquez who just so happened to be my best friend and included Goose on guitar and bass, Tony Innis on guitar and bass and Ray Joe Biagioni on drums. Although the band was sort of doomed from the beginning—it was hard to go up against heavyweights like The Jerks and Longshot, two bands that ruled the Illinois Valley in the early 80s—they broke the alternative barrier in a way that only someone like Chris and the boys could pull off. It was rather disheartening for the band when on some nights, the only people in attendance were the band’s girlfriends and the drunken patrons at the bar who were obligated to pay the one or two-dollar cover charge because they just so happened to be in the bar when the band started to play.

“Yeah, there are all these cool videos by groups like Devo, The Pretenders, The Ramones, Ultravox, The Clash, Oingo Boingo, The Buggles, Stray Cats, Madness, and XTC,” Goose said, rattling off a list of names of bands that pretty much defined the late 70s and early 80s New Wave scene—and bands that some of us had seen in concert and ones we liked a lot.

“Cool, I’d like to check that out,” I replied. There were some late night music shows that sometimes played videos, but it was nothing like the MTV that Goose was describing to me in that bar that night.

“It doesn’t come in all the time, though,” Goose added. “Sometimes the weather has to be just right.”

Well, I wasn’t too sure what that was supposed to mean but Goose was right: when the weather was just right, which usually meant when there was some storm front or cold front moving in, we were able to watch MTV in his basement. And of course, moving them rabbit ears around and fine tuning that VHF knob.

On one of the nights the weather and atmospheric conditions were just right and the band was not rehearsing at Chris’ house or playing out, not to mention when Goose’s mom, a registered nurse, worked the night shift at Illinois Valley Community Hospital, we all gathered around that ancient Zenith in Goose’s basement and had our MTV.

Goose was also right about the videos, too. It was one video after another by bands that we listened to a lot. There were some early commercials and even a contest—a chance to hang out with Devo in Hawaii.

MTV was definitely cool back then. We avoided becoming addicted to watching hour after hour of MTV because, well the weather and atmospheric conditions did not always coincide with our schedules, so it was hit and miss viewing until late that spring when MTV became available on the area’s cable provider.

My “Twilight Zone” within The Twilight Zone

Mr._Denton_on_Doomsday“Portrait of a town drunk named Al Denton. This is a man who’s begun his dying early—a long agonizing route through a maze of bottles. Al Denton, who would probably give an arm or a leg or a part of his soul to have another chance, to be able to rise up and shake the dirt from his body and the bad dreams that infest his consciousness. In the parlance of the times, this is a peddler, a rather fanciful-looking little man in a black frock coat. And this is the third principal character of our story. Its function? Perhaps to give Mister Al Denton his second chance.”

So, last night I am watching “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” from the first season of The Twilight Zone and I am really enjoying it a lot. It’s been years since I’ve watched an episode and I thought it would be nice to start from season one (1959) and watch them all again.

In this episode, a washed-up gunslinger Al Denton is given a second chance to right his life from a mysterious man named Henry J. Fate and once again become the fastest gunslinger in the West, but only for ten seconds. Well, I don’t want to give the rest of the story away, but what happened next was, well my own little Twilight Zone.

As soon as I saw the Al Denton character, I thought to myself, “he sure looks familiar. Who is the actor?” The name was right on the tip of my tongue, you know how that is when you really think you know the actor in an old movie or TV show, but you are just not too sure? Well, that was sort of the mental drill I was going through trying to come up with a name.

I thought it was Doug McClure—the actor’s name that I thought I had on the tip of my tongue—but then it turns out that another character in the episode, another gunslinger named Pete Grant was indeed, Doug McClure!

Cue the music: Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee…”

At the signpost up ahead, Jeffrey Miller, a.k.a. Papa Sparks has just entered The Twilight Zone.

Oh, and the actor’s name I didn’t know? Dan Duryea.

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