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!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cedric, Lee & Jeff: Happy February 19th Birthdays to Terrific Actors!

It's a treat to look back at some amazing talents celebrating recent birth anniversaries.  Yesterday brought birthdays for an interesting trio of actors, all of different generations but all three carrying on the brilliant thespian tradition in their own unique way.  Two are no longer with us but the third is one of today's most versatile and likable actors.

First up, the classic and legendary actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke was born today in 1893; this is the 122nd anniversary of his birth.  Knighted in 1934 and perhaps most known for his roles in some of the best remembered movies of all time -- Becky Sharp, Things to Come, Stanley and Livingstone, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Miserables, Suspicion, The Lodger, I Remember Mama, Rope, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Ten Commandments, among many others -- Hardwicke was accomplished first on the stage then in movies and finally on television.  In his later years he turned up on TV a lot in many of the dramatic anthology series which began in the early 1950s; you could have seen the distinguished actor on Schlitz Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, TV Reader's Digest, Matinee Theatre, Climax! and many others.  He also made appearances on some of the shows which are still easily accessible today such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents (watch his episodes by clicking here and here), Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits (one of his last acting roles before his death in 1964).  Lest you think Sir H. never deigned to dabble in the comic arts, he was a repeat guest on The Red Skelton Hour and co-starred on comedienne Gertrude Berg's sitcom during the 1961 TV season.

Cedric Hardwicke's appearance on The Outer Limits was originally a one-off pilot entitled "The Unknown" which ultimately led to the famous series and was aired as "The Form of Things Unknown" during its run.  In order to read more about this unusual episode and to watch it in its entirety, please visit the We Are Controlling Transmission blog, click here.

You can also watch his Twilight Zone episode "Uncle Simon" on Hulu.  In order to fully appreciate the breadth of this acting giant's career, we recommend that you visit his IMDb page and also check out his bio.  Sir Cedric Hardwicke -- what a memorable acting career.

Our next Happy February 19th Birthday is Lee Marvin, the gravel-voiced veteran actor whose high-hat childhood belied his later image as a super tough guy and WW II veteran.  Born in 1924, he started his acting career in the early 1950s with roles in the movies -- The Wild One, The Caine Mutiny to name just a couple of his early roles -- and in early TV productions like the original Dragnet, Kraft Theatre, Medic and Climax!, moving easily between them and racking up impressive credits.  In 1957 he landed the starring role in the Chicago police detective TV series M Squad which lasted three successful seasons.  (Check out YouTube for more clips and episodes.)

His TV tenure seemed however to have interrupted his big screen momentum and for the next several years his acting work was mostly confined to TV guest star roles in popular series such as Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, Combat!, Twilight Zone and Route 66 though he did make some big theatricals like John Wayne's The Comancheros, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Donovans's Reef.  In 1965 Marvin landed his true movie breakout role with his Academy Award-winning starring role in Cat Ballou and after that point he was 100% movie star and enjoyed a varied career including favorites like The Dirty Dozen, Ship of Fools and Point Blank, among many others.  In addition to his acting credits -- and please do visit his IMDb page to peruse them all -- it was a Lee Marvin lawsuit with a former girlfriend which brought the term "palimony" to the dictionary.

Here is Lee Marvin guesting on Bonanza in 1962:

Lee Marvin died on August 29, 1987 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Our last birthday from yesterday is current favorite Jeff Daniels, talented musician -- check out his website -- and the popular star of stage, screen and a fair bit of TV who was born in 1955.  We're going to give this immensely talented and down-to-earth actor a special shout-out for his outstanding job portraying George Washington in the 1999 TV miniseries The Crossing and also for his Emmy-winning starring role in the recent 3 season run of HBO's The Newsroom.  Please visit his IMDb page for Jeff Daniels' full and extensive list of credits.

Happy Birthday, Gentlemen!

Monday, February 16, 2015

KTLA's Tribute to Stan Chambers

We want to share the KTLA Stan Chambers: Legendary Newsman special from last night with you:

Thank you for watching.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Stan Chambers, Giant of LA News is Gone

Stan Chambers
KTLA newsman
August 11, 1923 – February 13, 2015

Once there was a time when television newscasters reported the news.  They were not smarmy or ironic or stand up comedians.  They did not tweet.  They didn't have to do any of that to catch your attention because once there was a time when the news itself, coming through a small box in the corner of your living room was compelling enough.  It didn't need jokes.  Or posturing. Or self aggrandizing pundits.  It didn't need Howard Beale mad as hell or Ceasar Flickerman, the slick master of ceremonies on the Hunger Games.  It didn't need a nightly network news "star".  It just needed a story, well told.  For 63 years, Stan Chambers told that story for the city of Angels, on pioneer television station KTLA.

Stan Chambers got his start at KTLA in 1947, a time when TV was so rare it could still spark shock and awe. People would gather round the flickering tube outside a store window to see what was going on.  For over 60 years in Los Angeles, Stan was the guy who told you what was happening.  From the sad story of little Kathy Fiscus  who fell down a pipe well in San Marino, to the Watts riots, the Bel Air fires, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the Manson Family murders and the Northridge earthquake.  A sure and steady town crier, Stan told the people of Los Angeles about their city as it happened live.  He broke the story about the Rodney King police beating.  He was there for it all.

It hasn't been a great week for U.S. news reporters.  Some, like Stan, have passed away...generating pounds of print and posts about their important contributions.  Farewell to David Carr of the NY Times and Bob Simon (60 Minutes).  One reporter (Brian Matthews) has stepped away from his post at NBC nightly news in disgrace.  But Stan's long sojourn on the planet Earth embodies the life so well lived it is almost impossible to achieve anymore.  He worked in media for over 6 decades and was his large family, his co-workers, his friends and an entire city of grateful viewers.  He never sought the limelight but was at the center of it, painting a picture of life in Los Angeles and making friends of us all.

In the beautiful tribute below, Keith Olbermann relates the time he asked Stan why he stayed so long at KTLA, even after he had been demoted.  In true "everyman" style, Stan replied that he "liked the people".  I was fortunate enough to work at legendary TV station KTLA myself, many years ago.  It was my first job after college.  Unlike Stan, I didn't stay, but there were many times I wished I had.  I liked the people too.  Especially people like Stan Chambers.

Rest in peace my friend.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Catching Up on Some February Birthdays!

The past week or so has been a good one for TV birthdays!  We figure better late than never so here are a few highlights from last Thursday onward:

Actress Barbara Hershey was born on February 5, 1948, in Hollywood, California, the perfect birthplace for a woman who would grow up to become one of the most unique and hardworking actresses in the industry.  She began acting in television series while still a teen, appearing in popular series such as The Farmer's Daughter and Gidget, and in 1966 she landed a starring role in the ABC-TV western series The Monroes.  Barbara played the oldest daughter in a family of five orphans who struggled to live together in the Old West.  The show lasted only one season but it established Hershey as an actress to watch and led to many other guest roles in other classic series including Daniel Boone, Run For Your Life, The Invaders and The High Chaparral.

In 1968 Barbara made the leap into features where she made several films and in 1972 she landed the title role in Boxcar Bertha, Martin Scorcese's outlaw action film that changed Hershey's life in several important ways.  It got her an enormous amount of publicity and shot her into the spotlight, mainly due to her sensational romance with co-star David Carradine and the "did they or didn't they really do it?" passion in their sex scenes together. (Both say they did.)  Her relationship with Carradine was a major influence on her at that time and in 1974 she made a two-episode guest appearance on his hit TV show Kung Fu.  She also briefly changed her last name to "Seagull" around this time.

Hollywood's interest in Hershey was more than justified as she soon began a run of amazing feature films -- The Stunt Man, The Entity, The Natural, Tin Men, Hoosiers, The Last Temptation of Christ, Beaches,The Right Stuff -- which catapulted her to the top of her profession.  Please check out her list of credits on IMDb; click here to see the super-impressive totality of her career.  She also moved freely between movies and TV with roles in several big television miniseries and TV movies.

Currently TV audiences enjoy Barbara's starring role on ABC's fairy tale adventure series Once Upon a Time as the evil Cora.

Our second Happy Birthday girl is actress Laura Linney, born on February 5, 1964.  This supremely talented, lovely and utterly classy thespian has been all over the movie screen and on television sets since at least 1992.  Early works of note include the popular PBS American Playhouse adaption of author Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City and its two sequels, several TV movies (The Laramie ProjectRunning Mates for TNT and others) and series appearances including Frasier (Emmy win).  In 2008 she became a special favorite here for her award-winning role as Abigail Adams in HBO's multi-part miniseries John Adams starring Paul Giamatti in the title role.

Linney has kept continually busy with a full plate of critically praised roles in major films -- Kinsey, Hyde Park on Hudson among many others -- as well as her spectacular (more awards!) performance on Showtime's half-hour dramedy The Big C which ran for three years beginning in 2010.

Be sure to check out her impressive list of credits on her IMDb page -- click here -- and she also was involved in another production of equal importance when she gave birth at the beginning of last year at the age of 49.  Well-liked and uniformly praised -- check out this charming NY Times article, click here -- Laura Linney is a wonder and a gift to us all.  Be sure to also check out this article written by her playwright father about his talented and beloved daughter, click here.

Another February 5th birthday -- her 30th this year -- belongs to American Horror Story actress Jamie Brewer who has become a favorite for her work in three seasons of the FX series.

The talented actress and Downs Syndrome activist is an integral part of what makes American Horror Story so continually fascinating.  We hope to keep seeing her on this series and many others!

Also from last week, actor Patrick Macnee from the classic and oh-so-classy series The Avengers celebrated his 93rd birthday on February 6th.  Like so many talented veteran performers of his era, Macnee has amassed a huge list of credits over his long career; please check out his IMDb page for his movie and TV performances.  He also has a snazzy personal webpage filled with delightful information and features; click here to access.

On February 7th Little House on the Prairie author and TV character Laura Ingalls Wilder (played by actress Melissa Gilbert) would have celebrated her 148th birthday.  She was born in 1867 and passed away in 1957.

A newly-published autobiography from Wilder has become a bestseller, illuminating some of the less idyllic aspects of prairie life for her legions of fans.  The beloved TV series which was overseen by actor Michael Landon is one of American TV's classic family-friendly shows.

On Febuary 8th composer John Williams celebrated his 83rd birthday.  Best known for his long and impressive string of Oscar-winning movie scores, Williams cut his teeth in TV with some wonderful series theme songs, including our favorite 3rd season Lost in Space opening.

Veteran actress Mary Steenburgen also celebrated a birthday on February 8th.  This multi-talented actress moves easily between screen and TV appearances; check out her IMDb credits here. TV-wise she's appearing now on Justified and her past work includes 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Ink, Back to the Future and one of our particular favorites, her two seasons on Joan of Arcadia beginning in 2003.

February 9th was the 39th birthday of brilliant, adorable and hilarious Charlie Day, one of the stars and creators of  FX's trademark cult comedy hit It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and now co-star in the Horrible Bosses movie franchise. Here is one of our favorite moments as he composes the "Dayman-Nightman" song with Glen Howerton:

And on February 10th, actor Robert Wagner celebrated his 85th birthday!  The still-active long-time movie heartthrob has a wonderful career spanning nearly seven decades; definitely check out his IMDb credits -- amazing!  Along the way he's starred in several popular TV series including It Takes a Thief, Switch and Hart to Hart:

A sincere Flaming Nose Happy Birthday to all these talented performers!