Sunday, March 8, 2015

International Women's Day 2015: Saluting BBC's 1974 "Shoulder to Shoulder"

There is no better time than today, the important worldwide celebration of International Women's Day 2015, to doff our hat to the classic six-part BBC miniseries Shoulder to Shoulder from 1974.  Remembered by entranced viewers here in the U.S. from its run on Masterpiece Theatre at the beginning of the 1975 (its fifth) season., Shoulder to Shoulder was the harrowing tale of the groundbreaking campaign for women's suffrage in Great Britain which took place over several decades around the turn of the 20th century.  Riveting, sometimes shocking and completely unforgettable, Shoulder to Shoulder is one of the few times that this important historical period and issue has been subject matter for drama.  Astute viewers will also recall Hilary Swank in the much more recent 2004 HBO TV movie Iron Jawed Angels dealing with the suffragette movement here in America.

Compared to Shoulder to Shoulder though, Iron Jawed Angels is a tidbit. As good as it was to see the latter on HBO, no one who watched Shoulder to Shoulder came away unchanged.  In the tradition of so many superb BBC dramas, nothing was spared -- least of all the audience's comfort level -- in making Shoulder to Shoulder as gut-wrenching a six hours as is seldom seen on TV, then or now.

For instance, this scene about a real march in London which took place nearly 101 years ago --

The cast of Shoulder to Shoulder was superb; actress Sian Phillips (I, Claudius, Clash of the Titans, so many more) headlined as the doyenne Emmeline of the famous suffragette-filled Pankhurst family, with Patricia Quinn -- probably best known for her role as Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- as her daughter Christabel, as well as other tremendous performers such as Georgia Brown (she composed and sang the theme song above), Angela Down, Michael Gough, and an up-and-coming Bob Hoskins in one segment.

Episodes of the six-parter --The Pankhursts, Annie Kenney, Lady Constance Lytton, Christabel Pankhurst, Outrage (centering around the shocking death of Emily Davison and -- gulp -- brutal force-feeding), and Sylvia Pankhurst -- were mostly titled after the leaders of the movement.  If you've never heard of Davison, here is a short documentary on how she became famous in suffragette annals --

The production of Shoulder to Shoulder was a landmark undertaking for several reasons, among them the 1970s feminist movement which was in full force at the time and the fact that no one really knew if anyone wanted to watch a miniseries about suffragettes.  It turned out that audiences were very much interested in the subject and they embraced the series and also an accompanying book -- called a "documentary" but not a film -- by author and series story editor Midge Mackenzie.

The 40th anniversary of Shoulder to Shoulder celebrated last year brought renewed interest to this unjustly forgotten -- no DVD release! -- example of superb historical drama.

The Hub at The Centre for Media, Culture and Creative Practice held a fascinating symposium entitled "Shoulder to Shoulder: Female Suffrage, Second-Wave Feminism and Feminist TV Drama in the 1970s" in May of last year; click here for the introduction, click here for a report on the event, click here for another reporter from an attendee (and some great suffragette links), and click here for more info on the participants,

Here is another article on the importance of Shoulder to Shoulder, this one written by two of the women who took part in the above symposium.  Click here to read it.

The Television Heaven blog has a nice write-up on the importance of Shoulder to Shoulder, click here.

Here are links to two really great articles by a woman who leads historical walks through London on the continuing popularity of the suffragettes as evidenced by her clients; click here and here.

You may also enjoy this interesting article about the UK. suffragette movement as played out in popular postcards of the era; click here.

In the absence of an official release of the miniseries, we are pleased to report that at this time it appears to be available on YouTube thanks to a kind uploader.  We won't embed them here, but they are available as follows so you can click to watch: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five and Part Six.

Interestingly enough, there is a new theatrical movie in production right now for release sometime this year called Suffragette starring Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst along with actresses Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter.  The film was in active production last year; for a video of some of the filming click here.

One really terrific bit about today's International Women's Day 2015 is that Dr. Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, joined a cadre of women in London who marched yesterday in the city to commemorate today's event.  This current Pankhurst is still very much a crusader for equality and women's rights and particularly urges women to use their power to vote, something for which her great-grandmother, among many other brave women, fought so hard to secure.  Click here for a wonderful article about Dr. Pankhurst and click here for another one.  Well worth a read and well worth remembering her message.

Happy International Women's Day 2015!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Thanks for the Ride Mr. Nimoy

                                           Astronaut Terry Virts gives the Vulcan salute while 
                                          passing over Boston (where Leonard Nimoy grew up)
                                         on the International Space Station.

On Friday, February 27th, actor Leonard Nimoy passed away at the age of 83.  There has been a cacophony of grief on the Internet, as fans of his beloved Star Trek character Mr. Spock express their dismay.  The half human Vulcan who asked us to Live Long and Prosper is not gone, and never will be.  The man that created that amazing character, and made him real for all of us, has passed on to the stars.

What can I possibly write about this that hasn't been written already?  I don't believe I can really add much more to the conversation.  My favorite episode of Star Trek was "Amok Time".  There are probably a million people around the world who could say the same.

At the end of the day, I think our best tribute to mark Mr. Nimoy's passing, is to make it personal. So in this post I'll share my favorite Star Trek memories, so we can see what an impact the TV show, and by extension the man, had on my life.

The first appointment television show I ever had was Star Trek and it was because of my Dad.  He was fascinated by the space program and ST gave us a vision of what the future would be like when humans traveled to other galaxies.  Of course Spock was our favorite character.  His cool, dispassionate demeanor rose above whatever challenge the crew of the Starship Enterprise faced.  To a shy geeky kid in the 60's, Nimoy's Spock made me think anything was possible.  I remember watching with my Dad, so long ago I'm not entirely sure we even had a color TV yet.  We probably did, because I have a distinct memory of the brightly colored blue velour shirt Spock had.  I wanted one so bad. I remember fashioning a little phaser and communicator out of wood so I could recreate scenes from the show with my friend Sharon. By the way Sharon, I apologize for always making you be the "Gorn" while  I got to play Spock or Kirk.  Little did we know while we were playing, that one day we would all have our own real "communicators" in our purse.  Mine's an Apple 6+. Back when the original NBC Star Trek was still on the air, I bought Leonard Nimoy's strange and wonderful album (see below).  There was a spoken segment on the record that I read for a oration contest at Kings Elementary school next door.  I read it in a flat, emotionless voice just like Spock.  It must have been hilarious, but I won!  Anything can happen when you are inspired by Leonard Nimoy.

My First Job After College
What happens when you spend a life loving a TV show like Star Trek?  Why, you grow up to get a job at a television station, of course! In my case, it was the incredible independent station KTLA in Los Angeles.  It was there I met my dear friend, and fellow Star Trek addict, Lisa Mateas.  Some of you may know her as TV writer extraordinaire and the founder of The Flaming Nose.  Ms. Mateas and me bonded instantly over our shared adoration of all things TV, Star Trek and in particular Spock.  We were young, ambitious and very very weird when it came to our geeky sci fi passion.  This was before the Internet, back when Pterodactyls still flew through the smoggy skies of L.A.  We wrote pounds and pounds of silly scenes and imagined scenarios involving the crew of the Enterprise.  Spock was always the romantic lead.  We invented a new character called Bip the Space Boy.  I have an entire cardboard box filled with these shenanigans.  Jesus H. it was fun to work back in the day before email made slaves of us all.  We actually had time to let our imaginations roam free.  It didn't roam very far however,  as most of our passionate missives circled right back to Spock and what he could possibly like to eat for lunch. Also why he wanted to marry me. For some strange reason. :)

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Not the TV show....the son of Jane K.Collins.  So back when my only son Tommy was just a 5 year old kid, I decided I was going to initiate him into the Trek life.  What better way to do it than to travel to an actual Star Trek convention in nearby Pasadena with my older sister Georgette, who was on a mission to buy Tribbles.  It was a magnificent convention, with thousands of attendees dressed in full costume.  The Klingons were particularly realistic with their bony heads, leather uniforms and giant platform boots.  Tommy was absolutely terrified of the Klingons.  We watched a couple get married in full Star Trek dress uniform in one of the conference halls.  We saw and coveted a LOT of merchandise.  Right before it was time to leave, the young Tomster was given a choice between a huge inflatable Enterprise space ship or a Phaser.  He couldn't have both.  This Sophie's choice Star Trek conundrum resulted in a catastrophic meltdown that only ended when we threatened to give him to a Klingon.  Extreme parenting, I know.  But the important thing is, it didn't ruin Star Trek for him!  He's a fan to this day, thank God.

Best Mother's Day Weekend Ever
As living proof that the convention did not cause irreparable damage to my spawn, when he was older we planned a fabulous date for Mother's Day weekend in 2010 to go see the new J.J. Abrams move "Star Trek".  We saw it the day it opened at a Friday matinee.  Tommy brought a college classmate, a Korean guy who spoke very little English. We were all crazy with excitement.  I remember sitting in the dark theater as the opening credits started to roll.  Tom and I held our hands up to the screen in the classic Vulcan salute and whispered "Live Long and Prosper".  Oh yes, we were getting our Geek on big time.  I looked over at his friend and he was giving the LLAP salute too!  To this day I'm not entirely sure if the pal knew what he was doing, but OK fine, he was willing to play along.  A few days later Tommy came over to my place so we could hang out for Mother's Day.  As soon as he walked through the door he said, "Mom,want to go see Star Trek again?". My response, "I thought you'd never ask!".  Off we went.  Man, that was a great weekend!

So many memories, all spectacular.  I have a pair of plastic Vulcan ears in a storage container somewhere in Sunnyvale California.  Oh how I wish I was wearing them now. Over the past few days, I've read hundreds of beautiful tributes to Leonard Nimoy.  He touched so many lives.  His NY Times obituary has over 1,000 comments, and people are still writing in.  Most are personal, just like this post.  What Star Trek meant to them...what Spock meant to them...the time they met Leonard Nimoy and what a gracious lovely man he was.  

Thank you for your artistry Mr. Nimoy.  We are all changed for the better because of your creations.  From this point on, when we gaze up at the stars, we will think of you there.  We will never forget you.  

I'll end now with a challenge to everyone who ever loved Star Trek, Spock or Leonard Nimoy to keep the memories coming.  Post them online, email them to your friends.  We know this series changed the world.  Just ask NASA. Literally. Changed. The. World. Keep it alive forever everyone.

Saying good bye with my favorite picture of Shatner and Nimoy, chowing down on something delicious as they take a break on the set.  Even out of character, you can see the friendship they shared...on screen and off.  They were, and always will friends.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Remembering One of the Classiest Actors, Who Created one of the Classiest Characters, on THE Classiest TV Franchise Ever

It's been a long time since I've posted on The Flaming Nose.  Nothing can get me back here faster than the death of a beloved Star Trek actor.  Fewer characters have become more iconic than Mr. Spock.

I will try to make this brief.  Let's start with Star Trek being one of the first prime time television shows I remember seeing first-run.  I was six years old when it debuted and loved it from the first act of the first episode.  Spock was one of the main ingredients in a recipe that would turn out the most delicious television and movie franchises in modern entertainment.  Spock and Star Trek transcend Sci-Fi.

On to Leonard Nimoy.  A man who always embraced his Spock alter-ego without fear of it typecasting him for the rest of his career.  Every interview I've seen and article I've read indicate he was a class act.  His character no less classy - pure logic wrapped in the package of a loyal friend and commandant.  The actors who portrayed the main characters in the original series created magic, and although Star Trek Ruler-of-the-Universe Gene Roddenberry created them, and the writers put the brilliant words in their mouths, these superb actors literally created their personas.  Nimoy led the charge with a myriad of nuances and acting choices that turned Spock into the beloved Vulcan we came to know.

Nimoy was truly a gifted actor.  Beyond Star Trek, he was superb in Mission Impossible.  There in lies a huge connection to The Flaming Nose.  Both Trek and Mission were Desilu Productions - projects personally championed by Lucille Ball.  After those endeavors, Nimoy hosted a non-fiction (some would say) seventies TV classic, "In Search Of..."  

Nimoy was also a film director, poet and photographer.  
Leonard Nimoy, dead at age 83.  RIP.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Cagney & Lacey": Still Relevant -- and Entertaining -- After All These Years!

Welcome to The Flaming Nose TV Blog and our entry in the Classic TV Blog Association Classic TV Detectives Blogathon!  (Please click on the link to take you to the full line-up of participating blogs and their very fun line-up of subjects).  We're taking a look back at those iconic CBS-TV police detectives Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey, two women who first came to life in October 1981 as characters in a one-off TV movie called Cagney & Lacey.

Actress Loretta Swit who was co-starring in the network's hit M*A*S*H at the time played Cagney and talented actress Tyne Daly (daughter of Medical Center star James Daly) took on the role of Mary Beth Lacey.  The characters were a study in contrasts: Chris Cagney was single and an ambitious career cop and Mary Beth was no less ambitious but was a wife and a mother along with her career as a policewoman.  The two characters were far from the first lady police officers on TV to have a series revolve around them; among others, Angie Dickinson had played the glamorous eponymous Police Woman for NBC from 1974 - 1978 and let's not forget the intentionally imperatively gorgeous women of Charlie's Angels who were enormously popular during their 1976 - 1981 run.  What made Cagney & Lacey different from the rest and from the start was the sense that these were real working women, light on titillation and heavy on verisimilitude.  Their world was complicated, their relationships multi-dimensional and their work was serious stuff.  Their status as conflicted human beings was a reflection of the times, the 1980s being a decade well into the Women's Liberation Movement but also full of people still trying on the notion of women's equality.

The TV movie worked well enough to garner a series order to come back in mid-season 1982.  Loretta Swit was already committed to M*A*S*H and couldn't return for the Cagney & Lacey series.  Cue a recast:  the unique and very busy actress Meg Foster -- she of the wolf-blue eyes -- came onboard as the 2nd Christine Cagney with Tyne Daly continuing as Mary Beth Lacey.  The series hit the air in  March 1982 for six episodes airing Monday nights at 10pm.  Opening with hard-driving theme music which morphs into a female singing the bluesy "Ain't That the Way," Cagney & Lacey was on its way.

So far, so good.  No hit out of the box but at least Cagney & Lacey had a slot and they wanted to stick to it.  CBS wasn't of the same opinion and cancelled the nascent series, citing various factors such as the characters being too tough and also hinting that perhaps Foster didn't provide enough contrast to Daly's sober Mary Beth and was coming off as a little too butch.  I don't think CBS was being bigoted in this assessment but didn't express the intangible very well; they knew that the chemistry of the leads just wasn't there.  TV shows die from lack of onscreen chemistry -- that zing that makes us want to look at these characters week after week -- and that's what the network was looking for as the missing ingredient in their recipe for a successful series.

Cue a second recast:  Cagney & Lacey producers had originally cast their eye on actress Sharon Gless to play Christine Cagney.  Gless was the last of the Universal Studio contract actresses and therefore steadily working in all of Universal's TV series -- really, lots and lots of TV, check out her credits!  -- during the 1970s. The talented charismatic actress was a blonde -- an immediate contrast to Daly's brunette -- and though it was much deeper and complicated than just that, the physical difference between the actresses could provide a jumping off point from which the onscreen chemical magic could grow.  Finally the producers could get their perfect Cagney and so after much persuasion from exec producer Barney Rosenzweig et all behind the scenes, CBS brought the series back for the 1982 - 83 season with Gless replacing Meg Foster.  Also, the more downbeat series theme song from the first batch of episodes was ditched for a decidedly more upbeat Bill Conti ditty.  Conti explains exactly what he and the producers had been looking for in this interview from the Archive of American TV; click here.

This time the chemistry was right, the characters were compelling, the supporting cast was a terrific and still somehow Cagney & Lacey wasn't catching on in the ratings.  CBS and critics were happy with the show but it hadn't quite broken through with the public.  Lackluster performance prompted CBS to once again bring the ax down on Cagney & Lacey at the end of the 1983 season.  What could the producers do to help persuade CBS to change its mind?  Producer Rosenzweig started drumming up public awareness for the show, capitalizing on the small but rabid fan following that loved the show.  He also went after important major media coverage for the series and its position as one of the rare TV shows to portray independent females doing interesting things and taking their lumps alongside the rest of humanity.  (For a great interview with Daly and Gless at the time check out this video by clicking here.) The publicity campaign which resulted in increased summer ratings plus the recognition by the TV Academy when Tyne Daly won an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in September of 1983 worked.  CBS rescinded the cancellation and would bring Cagney & Lacey back in mid-season 1984.

For the next five years until the show's ultimate cancellation after the 1987- 1988 season, Cagney & Lacey became, if not exactly a chart-sizzling super hit like Dallas or Magnum P.I., at least a solid performer with particularly impressive Emmy credentials and a solid core of quality that turned Cagney & Lacey into a synonym for serious, entertaining, well-made TV that made a real difference.  Over the series' run from 1983 - 1988 Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless traded off taking home the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy Awards -- Tyne took a total of 4 and Sharon 2  -- and the series won as Outstanding Drama in 1985 and 1986.  (Be sure to check out the full list of Cagney & Lacey's award honors by clicking here).

(For more footage of other Cagney & Lacey Emmy moments, click here, and here and here and here.)

Almost more important than its initial network run was Cagney & Lacey and its lasting impact on the very idea of women working together, enjoying each other and their work, facing life and death as it comes.  No mere TV show, it was the Cagney & Lacey phenomenon that continues to keep C & L fans engaged and enthusiastic and also makes new fans for the show as the years go by.  The duo was officially brought back in 1994 for four TV Movies known affectionately as "The Menopause Years" and even though C & L celebrated its thirty year anniversary a few years back it is still a household name for TV lovers and culture scholars who note its significance in the pop culture landscape.  (Over in Britain they are exceptionally fond of Cagney & Lacey, too: click here to see Tyne and Sharon at a Royal Gala, click here for an appearance with Graham Norton, and click here for a BFI panel celebrating the show's 30th anniversary).

How does Cagney & Lacey hold up as entertainment?  It's clearly not super gore-graphic like most TV police shows today so maybe it's too tame for today's viewers.  What it does still deliver on is passionate performances, well-constructed storylines and a sense of where we all were back then.  Is it dated?  Less so than many other shows because it was less self-conscious and very much aware that entertainment was a part of its mandate.

Where can you watch Cagney & Lacey now?  True C &L devotees should pick up the definitive DVD collection, curated by Barney Rosensweig (who eventually married Sharon Gless, btw), available at the crazy low price of under $60 through Cagney & Lacey The Official Website. click here.  Though it long ago left active syndication in the U.S. -- it aired once upon a time on the Lifetime and TNN networks -- C & L is available on Hulu right now, click here to access.

(Going back to its syndication status, Cagney & Lacey was probably never going to be a show with a huge afterlife.  I was a cable TV exec and I never would have purchased it for mass viewing purposes, which has nothing to do with it being an incredible show or not.  C & L was maybe too intense for steady five-day-a-week schedling and it was viewed as a woman's show.  Just because women loved it didn't preclude its appeal to other audience groups, but it's not the first acclaimed show to poop out in syndication.  Other 1980s hits like St. Elsewhere and Hill St. Blues also languished in the doldrums.  It usually takes something with a bit more pizzazz and a bit less social significance to survive the strip wars.)

Cagney & Lacey deserves every bit of the attention it still gets.  Seldom have we seen such great chemistry onscreen between two so very talented actresses.  When you come right down to it, the friendship and support shown between Cagney and Lacey on the show and between Tyne and Sharon over the years is what may be the most impressive thing about the legacy of Cagney & Lacey.  Camaraderie is a given between men but it's not always understood as an important quality between women, at least not back then.  Rivalry and catfights were the order of the day -- see Dallas, Dynasty and other series contemporary with C & L to witness this paradigm -- but Christine and Mary Beth changed that. Getting along while you're getting through it all is never easy, but Cagney & Lacey showed us one way to make it happen.

If you crave more information about Cagney & Lacey there are many awesome web resources to delight in:

The ladies from The View tipped their hat to Cagney & Lacey in 2007:

The Museum of Broadcast Communications has a nice one page summary of Cagney & Lacey, click here to access.

Ms. Magazine has always been a staunch support of all things Cagney & Lacey, click here.

In 2011 UK's The Guardian had this great article about the show's 30th Anniversary, click here.

In 2013 The A.V. Club had a great appreciation of the show here, in their ongoing series about TV program which have reached the magic 100 episode threshold, click here.

The Archive of American Television has a great selection of interviews with various Cagney & Lacey participants, click here for their launch page about C & L which links to all interviews.

Super fans will want to locate Julie D'Acci's scholarly 1994 book Defining Women: Television and the Case of Cagney & Lacey, click here for a preview of the book.

How about producer Barney Rosenzweig's own amusing 2007 tell-all about the show, Cagney & Lacey...and Me: An Inside Hollywood Story OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde, click here for the Amazon page.

TV.Com has a lot of info including good episode descriptions, click here.

A nice interview with Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless and Barney Rosenzweig online here at Exclusive Magazine, click here.

I would always recommend Wikipedia for concise data, click here and click here.

Of course IMDb is another must-read for historic info and cast lists, click here.

On YouTube, user surfergirlCali has an impressive collection of C & L videos and historic footage, definitely worth checking out, click here.  Wonderful stuff!

Excellent Cagney & Lacey featurette:

Another great featurette:

It's always interesting to look back at the Los Angeles Times and its excellent coverage of TV including Cagney & Lacey, click here.

Cagney & Lacey was filmed on location at the L.A. Lacy Street Production Center, click here.

For a totally charming and hilarious Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless duet about their friendship and C & L performed at a 1999 live benefit bootleg recording, you will want to check out this link by clicking here.

An incredible resource for links to Cagney & Lacey vintage material is this website written and maintained by Darkchilde, a true fan of the show (and many other terrific TV subjects), click here to access.  She also has separate sections on Tyne Daly, click here, and Sharon Gless, click here, with links to an incredible array of articles. Most resources from 2000 and earlier but a real treasure trove!

We hope that you will be motivated to visit Cagney & Lacey again!  They are the kind of good friends that you never want to lose touch with.

Don't forget to check out the other great entries in the Classic TV Detectives Blogathon!