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‘TV’ Category

  1. Space Angel

    February 6, 2012 by The Belated Nerd

    Space Angel, which debuted in syndication on February 6, 1962, was one of those bizarro productions that married the best and the worst of early Sixties television animation.  The “best” is the wonderful panel art drawn by the legendary Alex Toth. The “worst” is the stagnant animation and the use of the Clutch Cargo style Synchro-Vox method of animating the characters’ lips. Another cost-cutting move was to lift the music from Roger Corman’s War of the Satellites for the theme music. Each story was serialized over five 5-minute episodes which were intended to be shown one a day through the week, climaxing on Friday.

    The show featured the three-person crew of the spaceship Starduster: Captain Scott McCloud (“The Space Angel”), Electronics and Communications expert Crystal Mace, and Scottish born Engineer Taurus. You’re forgiven if you are compelled to think of these characters as precursors to Kirk, Uhura, and Scotty. The Starduster was part of an Interplanetary Space Force made up of squadrons detailed to the various planets of the solar system. The ISF’s primary foes were the “Athenians” whose dress and customs more closely resembled ancient Romans than Greeks. Another recurring threat was the Evil Queen of Space and her toadies The General and The Major. Although the Evil Queen sported an ancient Egyptian motif, she and her minions spoke with decidedly Eastern European accents.

    Although Space Angel and his crew could usually thwart an enemy on their own, sometimes they would have to call on the rest of the ISF whose ships were identifiable by the astronomical symbols of the planets they were responsible for.

    In 1963, Alex Toth drew a Space Angel comic strip that was published in Jack & Jill magazine.

     



  2. Channel Chuckles

    November 10, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In memory of Bil Keane who passed away on Tuesday, here are a few of his Channel Chuckles from 1961.


  3. A Different Kind of Introduction

    November 2, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    I don’t think I’m alone in the opinion that the Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life” (first aired 50 years ago on November 3, 1961) is the most terrifying and disturbing tale ever presented on the show. All the more impressive since it doesn’t rely on a twist ending or sudden revelations to make that impact. In fact, the premise in its entirety is laid out by host Rod Serling in the longest opening narration ever presented on the show.

     

     “Tonight’s story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there’s a little town there called Peaksville. On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines – because they displeased him – and he moved an entire community back into the dark ages – just by using his mind. Now I’d like to introduce you to some of the people in Peaksville, Ohio. This is Mr. Fremont. It’s in his farmhouse that the monster resides. This is Mrs. Fremont. And this is Aunt Amy, who probably had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. But one day she forgot. She began to sing aloud. Now, the monster doesn’t like singing, so his mind snapped at her, turned her into the smiling, vacant thing you’re looking at now. She sings no more. And you’ll note that the people in Peaksville, Ohio, have to smile. They have to think happy thoughts and say happy things because once displeased, the monster can wish them into a cornfield or change them into a grotesque, walking horror. This particular monster can read minds, you see. He knows every thought, he can feel every emotion. Oh yes, I did forget something, didn’t I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He’s six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you’d better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is the Twilight Zone.”

     

    Lesser storytellers would find such an introduction to be an insanely wasteful dump of valuable detail that should be slowly parceled out as the story unfolds. But instead of lessening the impact of the story itself, Serling’s introduction frees up the viewer’s attention so that it can focus not on the monster but on the fear and helplessness of its victims. The viewer isn’t asking himself what he would do if he himself had such powers but rather what he would do if put in the position of the conflicted and ultimately cowardly citizens of Peaksville.

     


  4. The Three Eyed TV Monster

    October 28, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In 1961, Chicago TV pioneer Ulises Sanabria tested the market for a three-screen television with a photo spread in LIFE magazine. I suppose the advantage it had over simply owning three individual TVs in different rooms of the house is that it kept the family together – at least, physically. A hi-fi record player is concealed behind the center speaker panel. Apparently, it was inconceivable that two or more members of a family would want to listen to different records at the same time.


  5. Top Cat

    September 29, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    This week marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Hanna-Barbera’s second prime time animated TV show, Top Cat. The previous year, the animation studio created The Flintstones for ABC and by the end of the year the network was begging for another half hour animated  sit-com. If The Flintstones was a ripoff of  The Honeymooners, then Top Cat was a ripoff of The Phil Silvers Show.  Joe Barbera makes no secret of this in an AP article published soon after the project was announced in April, 1961. The article is also of interest because it was written when it seemed that Hanna-Barbera Studios could never lose. Alas, Top Cat only lasted a single season before it was canceled.

    Huck Hound’s Masters Add ‘Top Cat’ To List
    By BOB THOMAS
    AP Movie-TV Writer

    HOLLYWOOD(AP) – Here is the cast of one of next season’s most promising TV series:

    Top Cat, Choo Choo, Brain, Benny the Ball, Spook and Fancy-Fancy.

    Sound like a strange bunch of cats? They are. But they will be adding more gold to the already booming cartoon firm of Hanna-Barbera, now the world’s biggest.

    The new series is titled after its star, “Top Cat,” and was snapped up in a hurry by ABC for showing in the prime time of Wednesday at 8:30.

    As described by Joe Barbera: “Top Cat lives in an alley behind a bowling center and next to a policeman’s call box. The policeman is Officer Dibble who is always admonishing him about using the phone. We see Top Cat as a kind of Sergeant Bilko. He’s always dreaming up outlandish schemes for his fellow cats.”

    The sale of the new series adds more strain to the bulging walls of the Hanna-Barbera studio, outgrown after six months of occupancy. “In TV you keep creating new shows, expecting your old ones to be dropped,” said Barbera. “Then we sell the new ones, but the old ones are renewed. So we have to keep expanding.”

    It’s a nice kind of problem. But the team has conquered others in the past, including what to do when they were abruptly dropped from MGM’s cartoon studio. They turned to TV and sold a show called “Ruff and Ready.” They still had something to learn.

    “We aimed the show at kids, and that was a mistake,” said Barbera. “We still haven’t gotten our money out of it after three years. For our next show, we took an adult approach.” After all, the kids are pretty hep nowadays. How many of them watched ‘I Love Lucy?’ They know what’s going on. So if you can hook their parents, you’ll get the kids, too.”

     

    The next show was “Huckleberry Hound,” and it drew a wide and rabid audience. It was followed by “Quick Draw McGraw.” Yogi Bear got so popular in “Hound” that he spun off in a show of his own. And this season Hanna-Barbera leaped into the top nighttime ratings with “The Flintstones,” a domestic comedy set in prehistoric times.

    “We wanted to do a cartoon with humans and we tried every kind of combinations,” said Barbera. “It was never funny until we put them in Stone Age clothes.”

    For all their bright ideas, the firm’s operation couldn’t have succeeded without a different approach to animation.

    “It’s something that goes back to the early days of cartoon,” Barbera said. “They used to be a caricature of human action. Then Disney began photographing live actors and copying the film to make the cartoon prince move like a real man. The result: Cartoons weren’t funny any more.

    “We’ve gone back to the caricature of human action. It’s cheaper—you don’t have to draw so many pictures. And it’s funnier.”

     


  6. The Adventures of Superboy: 1961 Pilot Episode

    September 23, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The Superman TV show no one has ever heard of was shopped around to local TV stations in 1961, but there weren’t enough takers to produce anymore episodes. I’m not sure what doomed this venture starring Johnny Rockwell as Superboy and Bunny Henning as Lana Lang. As silly as it was, The Adventures of Superboy was no worse than any of the other children’s shows at the time. Rockwell was clearly cast because he resembled a slightly younger George Reeves. Here is that pilot episode in three parts.

     

     

     

     

     

     



  7. Mike Mercury and Supercar

    September 20, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Yes! Another puppet post! This one is about a TV show that debuted in 1961 called Supercar. Supercar was produced by Gerry Anderson who, with his team of puppeteers and model builders, would later create Thunderbirds. Like Thunderbirds (1964) and  Four Feather Falls (1960), Supercar utilized Anderson’s signature “Supermarionation”.

    Supermarionation used marionettes suspended and controlled by thin wires. The fine metal filaments doubled as both suspension-control wires for puppet movement, and as electrical cables that took the control signals to the electronic components concealed in the marionettes’ heads. The heads contained solenoid motors that created the synchronised mouth movements for dialog and other functions. The voice synchronisation was achieved by using a specially designed audio filter which was actuated by the signal from the pre-recorded tapes of the voice actors; this filter would convert the signal into a series of pulses which then travelled down the wire to the solenoids controlling the puppet’s lips, creating lip movements that were precisely synchronised with the dialogue.

    The one flaw in the system was that its simulation of walking was rather ridiculous looking. This  weakness was likely the inspiration for a show where the hero spent most of his time sitting in a car. The hero is pilot Mike Mercury who lives in a secret base in Nevada with two scientists (Prof. Popkiss and Dr. Beaker), an orphan boy (Jimmy Gibson) and a weird monkey-like creature named Mitch.

    The show aired on ITV in the UK and was syndicated to local channels in the US. The show spawned a comic strip in the British magazine TV Comics that outlasted the show itself by two years. In the US Gold Key published a Supercar comic book  that lasted four issues.

    Here is episode one (in two parts) in which Mike and the Supercar rescue young Jimmy and his monkey Mitch. Even if you’re not inclined to watch the entire episode be sure to, at least, treat yourself to the opening titles and the theme song sung by Mike Sammes. 


     

     


  8. CBS 1961 Fall Sneak Preview

    September 4, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    This half-hour peek at CBS’s Fall lineup for 1961 is mostly of nerdly interest for the use of Rod Serling as corporate shill. We like to think of him as a crusader against the tripe that made up the bulk of TV broadcasts in the early Sixties, but here he is playing carnival barker for shows like Rawhide and Father of the Bride.  Besides The Twilight Zone, the only other fantasies on CBS that fall were two new shows featuring talking animals, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Mister Ed. There are a few whodunits like Perry Mason and The Defenders, but the only mystery I really care about is, how could a great concept like “Frontier Circus” not last more than one season?

     


     
     
     


  9. Reed Crandall in the Twilight Zone

    August 31, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Although Dell was quick to buy up the comic book rights to The Twilight Zone when the TV show was renewed for a second season in 1960, the first comic book didn’t appear until 1961 when only a single issue was published. Dell would publish three more issues in 1962 before turning the license  over to Gold Key.

    The inaugural issue compensated for its hefty 15-cent price tag with superior artwork and three relatively long stories, each with about a dozen pages. Art duties were shared by EC veterans Reed Crandall and George Evans who had spent the late Fifties collaborating on various editions of Classics Illustrated. The talents of both artists are well represented in this issue although I’m sure they would have been more comfortable drawing a host like the Crypt Keeper rather than Rod Serling.  The writer is not credited but I fancy the idea that these stories were found crumpled up at the bottom of  Serling’s waste-paper basket. The plots are a little predictable but the actual storytelling is impeccable. No crowded expository caption boxes here. These tales are written like teleplays, with the words and actions of the characters propelling the story.

    The first story, “Specter of Youth”  is a beautifully illustrated “Oh, the irony” type story that takes place in modern Greece. The depictions of local dress and antiquities display the kind of research and detail that George Evans usually reserved for his aviation covers for Aces High. Alas, the story itself is one of those where you know from the first page that the greedy antiquities fence will eventually receive a fitting comeuppance.

     

    The remaining two stories are better and appear to be solely the work of Reed Crandall. Below is the issue’s middle story and the one featured on the cover, “The Phantom Lighthouse”. Crandall’s sense of humor is on display in the middle panels of page four. If the hole in the ice outside the shack is for fishing, then the hole in the ice inside the shack must be for something else. Click the images for a reading view.

     


  10. Visual Thinking with Kermit and Harry and Jim

    August 25, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    For some reason I have puppets on the brain lately. I guess it started a few weeks ago when I first discovered Sid & Marty Krofft’s 1961 nudie puppet show, Les Poupées de Paris. The discovery was only enhanced by the fact that the Brothers Krofft would spend the rest of their careers creating product for children’s television programs. In fact (despite the “creepy” factor)  there has always been an association in my mind between puppets and children’s entertainment. Growing up with Sesame Street and the Muppet Show did little to disabuse me of that impression.

    Sure, Jim Henson‘s creations were always cool enough to appeal to adults but I would never have called the humor deep or sophisticated. My opinion changed as soon as I stopped reading about Henson’s early work and started watching it.

    Jim Henson was working in television before he even finished high school, creating puppets for a local station’s children’s show. By the time he was a freshman in college, he was producing a daily five-minute puppet show called Sam and Friends for Washington DC station WRC-TV.  The show ran from 1955 to 1961 and it was the birthplace to almost all of the revolutionary developments in televised puppetry that Henson is famous for.

    Equipped with the details in the previous paragraph and having grown up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, I assumed that Sam and Friends was a children’s show.  That assumption was either wrong or the kids of 1961 were a lot hipper than I’ve been giving them credit for.

    Here is a sketch from a 1961 episode starring a primordial Kermit and his friend Harry the Hipster: