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Happy Birthday, Lisa Lu: The Veteran Actress Turns 95!

19 Jan

Actress Lisa Lu turns 95 today, January 19, 2022. I’ve written about her four previous times, the last one being a celebration on her 90th birthday five years ago. It’s great to celebrate someone’s career while they’re happily still with us. Since that last post, she had a major supporting role in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), marking her 60th year in the film/TV industry. In the film she played the mother of Michelle Yeoh’s character and the grandmother of the male lead played by Henry Golding, who struggles to get their approval of his marriage to a Chinese-American woman (Constance Wu) who is considered by his wealthy family to be beneath their station. Here’s what I wrote about her and Yeoh after I’d seen the film: “It’s great to see Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu onscreen together, but they’re so antagonistic to the poor heroine that I found it jarring. I’ve never seen them in roles like that before.”

Lisa Lu, Henry Golding in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

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Animated Literary Adaptations: From Robin Hood to the Moon

9 Dec

I have a box set of “Classic Adventures,” consisting of ten 48-minute animated adaptations of classic literary adventures, nine based on novels and one based on a true-life account. Eight of the ten were produced in the 1970s by an Australian company called Air Programs International (aka API Television Production) and share key creative personnel and voice actors, accounting for stylistic similarities among the eight.

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Dean Martin: King of Cool (2021)

24 Nov

“Dean Martin: King of Cool” is a new documentary about the celebrated actor, comedian, singer, movie/TV/recording star and member of the legendary Rat Pack. Directed by Tom Donahue, it offers a sympathetic and compelling 107-minute portrait of the entertainer that tries to find out what made the man tick and what he was guarding from the outside world. A “Rosebud” angle, drawing on CITIZEN KANE’s use of its subject’s deathbed utterance, is inserted tentatively at different points to try and find out what Dean’s “Rosebud” was and a plausible answer is provided late in the film by one of its main interviewees. The general consensus of the dozens of interviewees, some of whom knew and worked with him and many of whom didn’t, is that the façade he maintained was generally impenetrable. He did not want people to know him.

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Gamera, Hercules, Ninjas and Giant Robots: American International Television, 1964-1970

12 Mar

Screenshot_2021-02-26 Watch Voyage Into Space Prime Video(19)

I recently watched VOYAGE INTO SPACE (1970) on Amazon Prime, a feature compilation of episodes of “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot,” an English-dubbed live-action Japanese series that aired in syndication on American TV beginning in 1969. This compilation was never released to theaters but was sold to TV stations as a movie by American International Television, the TV distribution arm of American International Pictures (AIP), which ruled the drive-ins and grindhouses of the 1960s with all manner of low-budget genre and exploitation films.

I had seen VOYAGE INTO SPACE on television around 40 years ago and seeing the AI-TV logo again triggered a memory of quite a few other Japanese films I’d seen from that era that bypassed theaters completely and went straight to TV. Foremost among these were five Japanese movies featuring Gamera, the giant turtle, that had been retitled for American television, all of which I’d seen on TV back then, usually on Channel 7’s 4:30 Movie (WABC), with four of them completely omitting “Gamera” from the titles: WAR OF THE MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. BARUGON, 1966), RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. GYAOS, 1967), DESTROY ALL PLANETS (GAMERA VS. VIRAS, 1968), ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. GUIRON, 1969), GAMERA VS. MONSTER X (GAMERA VS. JIGER, 1970).

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Great Moments in Classic TV 2019

25 Jan

In 2019, I saw 425 TV episodes, 325 of them American and 100 Japanese. I will focus here on highlights from classic American TV that I discovered this past year.

The single series I watched the most episodes from was “Perry Mason,” for a total of 70. I’ve been going slowly, but methodically, through the nine-season box set I purchased in 2017 and I watched from “The Case of the Renegade Refugee” (Season 5 / #13, Dec. 9, 1961) to “The Case of the Simple Simon” (Season 7 / #24, April 2, 1964).

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Asians in TV Westerns: “The Virginian: Hour of the Tiger”

17 Dec

I recently stumbled across an episode about Chinese laborers in “The Virginian,” a long-running NBC western series that ran in a 90-minute time slot from 1962 to 1971 and is now running every weekday evening on the Starz Encore Western Channel. This particular episode was called “The Hour of the Tiger” (Season 3 / #16, airdate  December 30, 1964) and it turned out to be a suitable entry for my ongoing series on “Asians in TV Westerns.” Its chaste relationship between the title hero and a cultured Asian woman echoes those in other westerns I’ve written about here, including Laramie: “Dragon at the Door,” and two with Lisa Lu: Cheyenne: “A Pocketful of Stars” and Bonanza: “Day of the Dragon.” In all of these, the hero and the Asian character (Japanese in “Laramie” and Chinese in “Cheyenne and “Bonanza”) discuss their cultural differences at length, with the American suggesting that she doesn’t have to follow tradition, but can follow her heart and take advantage of the freedom possible in America. The Virginian episode shares a plot element with two of the others, in that the woman is promised to another man. In each case, respect is shown by the hero toward the other culture. He’s never condescending or critical, but simply offers the option of another way. (These episodes were made at a time when cold war tensions prompted frequent expressions of American values in popular culture to contrast the lack of basic rights in the Soviet Union and Communist China. Conversely, these episodes can also be seen as a way of inserting messages into network entertainment about racial prejudice and the civil rights battles of the time when TV executives were still timid about treating the topic directly. )

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD and the Art of Recreating an Era

29 Jul

Quentin Tarantino’s newest film offers a love-letter to the pop culture of the 1960s—films, television, music, celebrities, parties, etc. He takes the careers of three distinct individuals, two fictional, one real, employed in the film and TV industry in 1969 and uses incidents in their lives, including numerous flashbacks spanning the 1960s, to depict what it was like to live and work in the industry town of Los Angeles at the time. The key figure is Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a onetime star of a TV western now reduced to guest shots as “villain of the week” in assorted network TV dramas and faced with the dilemma of how to resuscitate his stardom or just settle for life as a working actor. The second figure is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton’s stuntman, who, when not doubling Dalton in a film or TV role, is acting as Dalton’s chauffeur, handyman and paid companion. (Dalton lives in a sprawling ranch house on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills, while Booth lives miles away in a trailer parked near an oil rig behind a drive-in theater in Van Nuys.)

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Power Rangers at 25: A Look Back

26 Jan

I was meaning to do a piece on the 25th anniversary of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but I got sidetracked around the time of the anniversary (last August) and then worried how I could tackle such a broad subject in a single entry. I’m glad I waited because I recently came across a long-buried file containing press coverage of the Power Rangers from 1993-95, when the franchise got its heaviest media exposure. I’ve scanned some of these articles (from TV Guide and other sources) and pasted them below. Also, I got to see the very last episode of the current and 25th season, “Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel,” which aired on the Nickelodeon cable channel on December 1, 2018.

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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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