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Great Moments in Classic Television from 2017

8 Jan

I watched approximately 765 episodes from over 100 different TV shows in 2017, spanning the years 1949 to 2017. And that doesn’t include specials, movie-spin-offs or TV movies. I watched more from the 1950s than any other decade (190), followed closely by the 2010s with 185. I watched four series in their entirety, as well as two entire seasons of “Perry Mason.” I watched mostly on DVD, but also on VHS, Blu-ray, Amazon Prime, YouTube and cable TV. I like to celebrate anniversaries so I watched a lot of shows from 1957, 60 years ago, and 1967, 50 years ago, and a good amount from 1997, but far fewer from 1977, 1987, and 2007.

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Our First TV Set: 1955-1962

24 Dec

This picture shows my older brother Dennis playing in front of the TV set in the living room on Christmas Day, 1955. This is the only picture I have of the family set that I did all my early watching on, from 1955 to the spring of 1962, when it broke down for good. We watched tons of movies on that set, as well as all manner of TV shows, from cartoons to the Mickey Mouse Club, the Three Stooges to Abbott & Costello, westerns, crime shows, adventure shows, sitcoms and assorted kiddie hosts. From about the age of five, I paid enough attention to remember the titles of most of what I saw, especially the movies, so I thought I’d reminisce about the viewing highlights of those years. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

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Perry Mason in Japan: “The Case of the Blushing Pearls” (1959)

24 Oct

Well, okay, he doesn’t go to Japan exactly, but rather to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles in an episode of “Perry Mason” called “The Case of the Blushing Pearls,” which had its premiere on Saturday night, October 24, 1959, 58 years ago today. It was Raymond Burr’s first on-screen encounter with Japanese characters since he’d shot scenes with Japanese-American actors three years earlier to be inserted into a re-edited version of the Japanese monster film GOJIRA (1954), to be called GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956) for its U.S. release, as seen here:

This was, of course, the film that turned a lot of young Baby Boomers into lifelong Japanophiles. Fortunately, the outcome of Burr’s encounter in Little Tokyo was a lot more pleasant for him than that with Godzilla.

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“Decoy” (1957): A Policewoman in New York

16 Oct

“Decoy” is a TV cop show that aired from 1957-58. There were 39 half-hour episodes and they were all filmed on location in New York City. There is only one recurring character in every episode and that’s Policewoman Patricia “Casey” Jones, played by Beverly Garland. Yes, this is the first of only a handful of cop shows with a central female protagonist. I knew very little about this series until I read J. Hoberman’s review of it in his Video column in the Sunday New York Times of Sept. 3, 2017. I had no idea it was filmed in New York, a full year before the much more celebrated and much longer-running “Naked City” TV series. I learned that the series was available on Amazon Prime, so I watched the first two episodes. I was so intrigued by them that I immediately ordered the complete series box set (for $11.99!) from One of the things that excited me in the first episode was the use of Times Square and 42nd Street and the generous views of some of the theater marquees in 1957.

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The Last Video Store in the Bronx

4 Sep

On May 27 of this year, my local video store, a branch of the once-thriving FYE (For Your Entertainment) chain, closed its doors for good. Construction began immediately on the site for a new business and just last week it opened, giving our neighborhood for the first time (shudder!), a Starbucks. I had been a regular customer of FYE for 15 years, starting in 2002 when it replaced a previous video franchise on the site, Coconuts, from which I only have one record of a purchase, in August 1999, of three VHS tapes—a Jackie Chan movie and two Godzilla movies, all dubbed in English. I’m sure I must have purchased more there, but I hadn’t noted down any others. I can’t prove there are no more family video stores left in the Bronx (as opposed to those in the X-rated business), but I’m betting this FYE was the last one. (There aren’t many video stores left in Manhattan either.) I used to go to a FYE in Manhattan, but I don’t remember where it was or when it closed. According to a news story on the Bronx FYE closing, there is still one branch open in Queens.

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Raymond Burr Centennial

21 May

Raymond Burr would have turned 100 today, May 21, 2017. He’s most famous for three roles, two on television and one in the movies. On television he first starred in “Perry Mason,” portraying the title character, a criminal defense attorney who won almost every case he took. The series premiered on CBS in 1957 (sixty years ago this fall) and ran for nine seasons (until 1966). He then returned to the role in a run of 26 TV movies that began in 1985 and continued until his death in 1993. (The final film aired after his death.)

Perry Mason 1957:

Perry Mason 1985:

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Classic TV Westerns: “Death Valley Days”

21 Apr

“Death Valley Days” was TV’s first and longest-running western anthology series. Every episode was based on a true story from western history and tried to stay as close to the facts as possible, although some compression was required for some of the more complicated narratives. Famous figures were often the subjects of these episodes, but more often the stories focused on ordinary people settling the west and some of the common problems and conflicts they would face. Only a handful of episodes took place in Death Valley, but the series took its name from that location because it was the source of the product manufactured by the company which sponsored the series, Pacific Coast Borax Company, which used the show to advertise its cleaning product, 20 Mule Team Borax. The show wasn’t the property of a single network (CBS, NBC or ABC), but was instead syndicated to stations across the country which aired it when and how often they deemed suitable. The series had begun as a radio program that ran from 1930 to 1945, before being revived as a TV series in 1952 and running until 1970. It started out in black-and-white, but shot some episodes in color in its 12th season in 1963 and went full color in its 13th season in 1964.

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