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Series Formats

The background, characters, stars and behind-the-scenes personnel of CULT TV series.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The Truth Was Out There ...


USA - 1993-02 - 202 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Created by Chris Carter, The X-Files starred David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as two FBI agents, the true believer Fox Mulder and his sceptical partner Dana Scully, investigating unsolved cases that dealt with strange phenomena that defied rational explanation.

Inspired in part by Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The Invaders, whose stars Darren McGavin and Roy Thinnes would make guest appearances in the show, and shot with pseudo-documentary styling, The X-Files veered between monster-of-the-week shows and alien abductions. As the series progressed, Carter and the writers began to put together an extended mythology, triggered by Mulder's initial search for his abducted sister.

Involving alien hybrids, clones, relentless shape-shifting bounty hunters, sentient black oil and killer bees, as well as super-soldiers and numerous inside sources who had their own agenda for helping Mulder battle the Cigarette Smoking Man (who was the point man for a large multi-national syndicate working toward eventual alien colonisation), the ongoing storyline rarely segued into the continuing stand-alone episodes, giving the series a schizophrenic feel. Additionally, the growing cast of supporting characters were not fully utilised.

After Duchovny cut back on his appearances, before leaving the show in the final season, Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish were drafted in to help Anderson's Dana Scully, who also began to take a back seat role. Having created this large, far-reaching mythology, the various plot threads were either forgotten or abandoned, rather than seamlessly woven together, and the series never reached its full potential.

The often-talked about second big-screen movie has plenty of loose ends to tie up - not an easy task when they will also need to make the project stand on its own as a piece of fiction in its own right, for the audiences who were not beguiled for nine seasons on television.

David Duchovny as Special Agent Fox Mulder
Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully
Robert Patrick as Special Agent John Doggett
Annabeth Gish as Special Agent Monica Reyes
Mitch Pileggi as Asst Director Walter Skinner


Friday, 22 February 2008

Mr Chapel makes villains repent ...


USA - 1998-99 - 16 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Co-created by John McNamara who had produced a number of quirky, off-beat shows like The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and Spy Game, the short-lived Profit with David Greenwalt, and more recently Fastlane with director McG, Vengeance Unlimited put an eccentric spin on the established figure of the avenging angel.

Whereas Edward Woodward in The Equalizer and Danny Aiello’s Dellaventura had a well-known past and invariably resolved situations with guns blazing, Vengeance Unlimited’s Mr Chapel, played by Michael Madson, was a character with an elusive background who worked to the edict, let the punishment fit the crime, constructing elaborate, gleefully sadistic schemes to make the guilty confess to their misdeeds.

Like the Stephen J Cannell produced Stingray, in which Nick Mancuso’s Stingray asked for a favour in return for helping those that could not help themselves, Mr. Chapel offered a choice between paying him one million dollars or agreeing to a future favour. Once that had been repaid, his response “I’m out of your life forever,” would come as a blessed relief. The only person to stick around was KC, a former victim Chapel had helped out. Working in the District Attorney’s office she passed on information while trying to stop the chocoholic with a twisted sense of humour from going over the edge.

When it first screened in America, Vengeance Unlimited had the misfortune of being scheduled opposite Friends, ironically the title of the show’s final episode, where not even KC could save it from the comedy juggernaut.


Michael Madsen as Mr Chapel
Kathleen York as KC Griffin


Friday, 22 February 2008

Aliens have landed on Earth - and we're all potential unwilling donors for spare part surgery ...


UK - 1970-71 - 26 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's first foray into full live-action for TV, UFO used the same basic premise as Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, with the Earth threatened by aliens. This time however, their presence was physical and the tone of the show more adult than anyone expected: an autopsy of the green-skinned, liquid breathing aliens revealed they were coming to Earth to harvest human internal organs.

While the familiar Anderson inconography were very much in evidence - the UFOs were beaten back by the forces of the secret organisation S.H.A.D.O. (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) using sophisticated gadgetry that included Moonbase Interceptors as the first line of defence, with Sky Diver aerial fighters, launched from a conjoined submarine, and S.H.A.D.O. Mobiles ready to engage UFOs that made it through to Earth - although most episodes had their fair share of action and special effects, many stories concentrated on the pressures S.H.A.D.O. operatives were put under and the sacrifices they had to make in the line of duty.

For all its high production values, UFO was not networked in the UK, which meant ITV channels showed it at different times in a very haphazard way. Concerns over content meant some episodes were screened late at night. In the USA, it was syndicated to local TV stations, which meant it didn't get exposure on one of the three main networks - but ratings for early episodes in the major US markets were good.

As one of the most spectacular science fiction series produced at the time, it was also one of the most expensive. The positive reaction to the first few episodes looked like a further season would gain a newtork sale. Pre-production began on new episodes, which envisioned S.H.A.D.O. moving its operation to an enlarged moonbase to combat the continued threat. Unfortunately, when the American ratings tumbled financial backing was withdrawn and the revised format was recycled to create Space: 1999.

Ed Bishop as Commander Ed Straker
Michael Billington as Colonel Paul Foster
George Sewell as Colonel Alec Freeman
Wanda Ventham as Colonel Virginia Lake
Gabrielle Drake as Lt Gay Ellis
Grant Taylor as General Henderson
Vladek Sheybal as Doctor Jackson
Peter Gordeno as Captain Peter Carlin
Antonia Ellis as Joan Harrington


Friday, 22 February 2008

Quantum Leap on a far bigger historical canvas ...


USA - 1966-67 - 30 episodes (60 minutes) - colour

Having created the adventures of the Robinson family, Lost in Space, the year before, for his next series producer Irwin Allen turned his attention from being lost "where" to lost "when".

Deep below the Arizona desert in a top-secret government facility, scientists have built a tunnel that will connect the past, present, and future. Forced to test the untried invention in an attempt to keep their Federal funding, Dr Tony Newman finds himself thrown back in time, appearing on the deck of the Titanic. When it becomes clear that his colleagues are unable to retrieve him from the past, Dr Doug Phillips goes after his comrade and becomes trapped too.

Knowing the outcome of the event they had appeared in but unable to change history, it is left to the scientists back in the laboratory, able to watch Phillips and Newman's progress on the monitors, to contrive a way to save them. Rather than successfully bringing them home, their endeavours send them tumbling into another time. From episode to episode, each attempt throws them out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Using major historical settings allowed 20th Century Fox Television to raid the film division's vaults and use hefty amounts of stock footage to keep costs down, so that Newman and Phillips could find themselves hurled from the Trojan War to the Battle of Little Big Horn, and on to the D-Day invasion of Normandy by way of the French Revolution without giving the show's budget a seizure. More miraculously, the two intrepid scientists managed to survive each adventure without ruffling their hair or dirtying their polo neck sweaters.

James Darren as Dr Tony Newman
Robert Colbert as Dr Doug Phillips
Lee Meriwether as Dr Ann MacGregor
John Zaremba as Dr Raymond Swain
Whit Bissell as Lt General Heywood Kirk


Friday, 22 February 2008

For adults who don't feel grown up ...


USA - 1987-91 - 85 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Described by creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick as a show "about growing up, no matter how old you are", thirtysomething focused squarely on members of the 'Baby-Boomer' generation; still in the process of growing up, and finding themselves unexpectedly plagued by self-doubts and disaffection as they attempted to reconcile their once youthful idealism with the desires for success that shaped the 1980s.

Interweaving both the professional and personal lives of a group of upwardly mobile families and friends, thirtysomething portrayed characters whose self-absorption, emotional angst, and desires to fulfill their dreams irrespective of the cost, were traits familiar enough for the audience to identify with, if not always sympathize with. In contrast to the high-stakes risks portrayed in most other dramas, the show turned inwards to examine the minutiae of everyday life and personal emotions to a degree that had previously been excluded from television narrative. Sometimes self indulgent and a little sentimental, thirtysomething nevertheless boasted consistently excellent writing that expertly used an undercurrent of comedy to underscore the dramatic tensions, which the ensemble cast succeeded in delivering as perfectly judged performances.

Such self-examination wasn't to everyone's taste and while some critics praised the show, others dismissed it as the yuppie angst of a group of people sitting around whining. Audience reaction too was split between viewers who either saw it as an epiphany or a stomach-turning experience. Either way, thirtysomething cleverly portrayed an accurate reflection of the self-obsessed decade.

Ken Olin as Michael Steadman
Mel Harris as Hope Steadman
Timothy Busfield as Elliot Weston
Patricia Wetting as Nancy Weston
Melanie Mayron as Melissa Steadman
Peter Horton as Gary Shepherd
Polly Draper as Ellen Warren




Friday, 22 February 2008

The modern day Count of Monte Cristo ...


USA - 1978-79 - 13 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Created by Glen A Larson and Michael Sloan, Sword of Justice followed a Park Avenue playboy, and heir to a large industrial fortune turned avenging vigilante.

Jack Cole finds his carefree lifestyle shattered when tax evasion charges levelled at the family business lead to his father suffering a fatal heart attack and he is left to do the prison term. Schooled by his fellow cons, Cole learns the criminal tricks of the trade, becoming an expert in every non-violent crime. When his mother dies before his release, Cole swears vengeance on the men who framed him. Aided by his wise-cracking ex-cellmate, and covertly using the resources of Arthur Woods, formerly the family attorney, now a Federal agent fighting high-level crimes, Cole seeks out to punish the guilty.

Initially sends a playing card to his intended quarry; the Three of Clubs to signify the number of years he spent inside, Cole ultimately delivers a Three of Spades inscribed 'The Spade is the Sword of Justice - It's rapier marks the end,' leaving the criminal none the wiser as to who brought about their downfall.

Premiering during a shake-up of programming implemented by a new regime at the network, after the pilot aired, subsequent episodes were bounced around the schedules. Taken off the air for weeks at a time before eventually reappearing on a different night, Sword of Justice was never in one place long enough to gain the dedicated audience it so richly deserved.


Dack Rambo as Jack Cole
Bert Rosario as Hector Ramirez
Alex Courtney as Arthur Woods
Colby Chester as Federal Agent Buckner




Friday, 22 February 2008

British SF comedy sees the present defended by a starship from the future ...


Starhyke is a British Science Fiction comedy from creator and director Andrew Dymond. The show stars Claudia Christian (Susan Ivanova, Babylon 5) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett, "Star Wars"), along with a long list of talent well recognised in the world of SF TV, including Suanne Braun, Rachel Grant, Brad Gorton, Danny John-Jules and Mike Edmonds.

The show is set in the present day and revolves around a misfit starship crew from the year 3034. Captain Blowhard and her team on board the Dreadnought Nemesis are ordered to travel back in time to Earth in 2006. Their mission - stop the Reptid army from releasing a biological weapon that will change Earths history.

The Nemesis crew are from an Earth where all forms of human emotion are suppressed, which makes them cold and ruthless. During the time slip, an explosion unleashes their dormant emotions and then the real fun begins!

Captain Blowhard and her crew must find a way to complete their mission without changing up the entire human race, forever.

If they’re our only hope, we're all screwed!! A musical trailer can be found at Google Video.

Claudia Christian as Captain Belinda Blowhard
Jeremy Bulloch as Dr Yul Striker
Suanne Braun as Dotty
Brad Gorton as Commander William C Cropper
Rachel Grant as Wu Oof
Stephanie Jory as Sally Popyatopov
Wayne Pilbeam as Bull Ox
Gene Foad as S.E.R.C.H.
Sue Witheridge as Daphne (Nemesis Computer)
Simon Lewis as Reg Duck
Fiona Reynard as Vilma
Jason Bailey as Christian
Rebecca Nichols as Nurse Beach
Simon Gilvear as the Reptid Race & Dick Wang


Friday, 22 February 2008

A woman takes charge of bringing her crew home ...


USA - 1995-2001 - 172 episodes (60 mins) - colour

By the time Voyager arrived on screen to replace the recently retired Star Trek: The Next Generation, the challenge for its creators was to devise something different while remaining true to Gene Roddenberry's original vision. With the final frontier looking increasingly familiar as each series expanded the Star Trek universe their answer was to take Voyager out of the conventional environs and place it in the unknown Delta Quadrant, out of contact with Starfleet.

Stranded 70,000 light years from Earth, the crew of the USS Voyager, along with the Maquis freedom fighters they were sent to apprehend, found themselves closest of all the franchise's incarnations to it's original roots. Although their prime motivation was to return home, the route back still allowed them to "seek out new life and new civilizations" along the way.

Viewed by audiences with ambivalence, although Voyager enjoyed the novelty of a female Captain, Kathryn Janeway, once on its course the stories proved formulaic and repetitive. The Federation and Maquis crews settled in as allies too quickly and comfortably and attempts to create credible story arcs proved less than successful, while the Kazon, created as a continual thorn in Voyager's side, proved disappointing and were replaced by the always-reliable Borg.

Once again secondary characters became the most interesting, in particular the holographic Doctor with his dry sarcasm and curmudgeonly bedside manner reminiscent of the original series' Leonard McCoy, and Seven of Nine, the shapely Borg Drone, rediscovering her humanity after being separated from the Collective.


Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Biggs-Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as the Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim
Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
Jennifer Lien as Kes


Friday, 22 February 2008

Catching lightning in a bottle a second time ...


USA - 1987-94 - 178 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Eighteen years on from the demise of the original Star Trek, after the aborted Star Trek: Phase 2 painfully metamorphosed into the series of movies starring the original cast, a new, recognisable series was reborn with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Set 78 years after the original mission, with a new Enterprise and a new crew boldly going where no one had gone before, Star Trek: The Next Generation was still a hard sell. In America, with no network prepared to commit to more than a pilot and thirteen episodes, the show was sold straight into syndication. Finally on screen, it then had to overcome legions of die-hard fans of the original Star Trek who shared a common belief that a show without Kirk or Spock would never work, and the first year of episodes did little to alter that view, keeping too close to the mythos dictated by creator Gene Roddenberry, with stories reminiscent of, or directly recycled from, the original show.

It took until its third year for The Next Generation to find itself, all the while staying true to the Star Trek ethos, by which time the characters and universe they inhabited was properly defined, and worthy adversaries like John de Lancie's mischievous Q, and the relentless Borg, were established. By the end of its seven year run, overcoming all the odds stacked against it, The Next Generation even succeeded in superseding the original show as the flagship Star Trek series in the eyes of its increasingly loyal fanbase.

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as William Riker
Brent Spiner as Data
LeVar Burton as Geordi LaForge
Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi
Michael Dorn as Worf
Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher
Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar
Diana Muldaur as Katherine Pulaski



Friday, 22 February 2008

The original strapline for this series was "It Waits" ...


USA - 1993-99 - 176 episodes (60 mins) - colour

With the original Star Trek described as "Wagon Train to the Stars", Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was suggested as "The Rifleman in Space", rooted in place rather than traveling through the uncharted wilds.

In this instance the frontier settlement became a recently abandoned Cardassian space station, taken over by the Federation upon request of the Bajoran government after withdrawal of Cardassian Occupation. Put under the command of Benjamin Sisko, a Starfleet Captain damaged by his past and initially unenthusiastic of his new responsibility, DS9 is discovered to be at the mouth of a previously dormant wormhole allowing instant access to the distant Gamma Quadrant of space. As a consequence, Deep Space Nine soon became the most strategic outpost in Federation space.

Evolving over time into a darker, richly complex and adult side to Star Trek's optimistic view of the universe, the multi-cultural setting of Deep Space Nine, more importantly sidestepped Gene Roddenberry's binding restriction that humans had worked out their petty differences, allowing actual conflict amongst the characters to create better drama.

With the addition of the starship Defiant allowing the crew to extend their range, and Commander Worf (Michael Dorn) joining the crew from the Next Generation's Enterprise, Deep Space Nine established a number of lengthy and complex story arcs to create a welcome mix of political intrigue, power plays and galactic wars amongst alien races; the Klingons, Romulans and Cardassians inherited from previous shows, and the shape-shifting Founders and Jem'Hadar that made up the Dominion Empire from the Gamma Quadrant.

Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Nana Visitor as Kira Nerys
Alexander Siddig as Dr Julian Bashir
Colm Meaney as Miles O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Terry Farrell as Jadzia Dax
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Michael Dorn as Worf
Nicole deBoer as Ezri Dax


Friday, 22 February 2008

Opening the final frontier ...


USA - 1966-69 - 79 episodes (60 mins) - colour

One of the most successful concepts in television history, spawning a franchise that is still alive today with a new big screen movie in pre-production, this is the biggest American Cult TV series of them all.

Devised by Gene Roddenberry, a former LAPD officer and veteran scriptwriter of shows like Dragnet and Naked City while off duty, the pilot episode "The Cage" was rejected by network executives who deemed it too cerebral for the average viewer, and consequently unbroadcastable. Unprecedented at the time, the show was given another chance and, after extensive recasting, a second pilot was filmed, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" with the requisite dose of action added.

Charting the adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise, seeking out new life and new civilizations in the high frontier of outer space, Star Trek used science fiction properly, as a commentary on contemporary social issues and society's ills and gains. Amongst the action and adventure, many of the new worlds discovered in the wide range of thought-provoking stories were skewed reflections of our own world. That said, the triumvirate of charismatic Captain James T Kirk, inspired by C S Forester's Captain Horatio Hornblower, the loyal and coldly logical Vulcan First Officer, Mister Spock, and cantankerous Chief medical Officer Leonard 'Bones' McCoy, supported by their mixed gender, multi-racial crew, never lost touch with the human experience that became central to Star Trek's ongoing identity.

William Shatner as James T Kirk
Leonard Nimoy as Spock
DeForest Kelley as Leonard McCoy
James Doohan as Montgomery Scott
Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura
George Takei as Hikaru Sulu
Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov
Majel Barrett as Christine Chapel
Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand


Friday, 22 February 2008

Greater than the sum of his (bionic) parts ...


USA - 1973-78 - 103 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Developed for television by Harve Bennett, from the novel "Cyborg", six million Dollars was the sum total spent rebuilding NASA test pilot Steve Austin after he was recovered from a near fatal test-flight crash. Equipped with two bionic legs that would allow him to run at a top speed of 60 mph, a bionic arm and a left eye that allowed him to see over huge distances, all courtesy of cybernetics scientist Dr Rudy Wells, the enhanced Rogers was put to work for OSI, the Office of Strategic Investigations, under the command of Oscar Goldman to fight enemies, both foreign and domestic.

While the weekly threats facing The Six Million Dollar Man were usually routine, the bionic enhancements were easily the strength of the show, and storylines were written around Austin using them on a regular basis. With the special effects limited in their application, slow-motion was cleverly employed to illustrate everything from Austin tearing through metal with his bare hands and roughing up the bad guys to running at high speed. Coupled with familiar sound effects used when the bionics were put to work, the series became a runaway success.

Two years into production Jaime Sommers, played by Lindsay Wagner, was introduced as a love interest for Steve Austin. Although initially killed off, when she proved to be popular with audiences the character was resurrected so that a similar accident could befall her and Jamie Sommers was rebuilt around her own spin-off series The Bionic Woman.

Lee Majors as Colonel Steve Austin
Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman
Alan Oppenheimer/Martin E Brooks as Dr Rudy Wells




Friday, 22 February 2008

The original 1969 version of the ghostly detective format ...


UK - 1969-71 - 26 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Marrying the down-at-heel private detective genre with supernatural fantasy, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was created by Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman, who produced the show in tandem with Department S.

When Marty Hopkirk, one half of a detective agency, is murdered he returns in spirit to help his partner, Jeff Randall, to help track down his killer. Failing to return to his grave before sunrise, he violates an ancient curse that leaves him stranded on earth.

Balancing the supernatural and detective elements, Spooner and Berman keenly exploited the comic potential of the situation. Like I Dream of Jeannie, the spectral Marty can only be seen by Jeff. Although their investigations benefited from one partner not being bound by physical laws, his ghostly actions were blamed on the living partner, resulting in frequent beatings and even hospitalisation when he appeared to be talking, and more often arguing, with himself.

The scripting, mostly divided between Tony Williamson, who was more comfortable with the fantasy elements, and Donald James, whose work tended toward realism, meant that the series sometimes suffered from an inconsistency in tone. Although enjoyed by the public, negative reviews and the inability to attract an audience in America, where it was retitled My Partner the Ghost, meant that it failed to be recommissioned.

Remade in 2000, with the emphasis firmly on the comedic, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer took on the title roles, with the character of Jeannie, remodelled as Hopkirk's fiancée rather than wife, given a more pro-active role.

Mike Pratt as Jeff Randall
Kenneth Cope as Marty Hopkirk
Annette Andre as Jean Hopkirk


Friday, 22 February 2008

Building a legal reputation and a dream house ...


USA - 1974-6 - 47 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Although the series had sprung from the successful 1974 television movie, "Night Games", Barry Newman had first played the role of Anthony Petrocelli five years earlier in the Sidney J Furie directed film, "The Lawyer", based on the infamous Sam Sheppard murder trial which, in part, had inspired the long-running The Fugitive.

Harvard-educated, the Italian-American Petrocelli left the big-city rat race and headed west with his wife, Maggie, to start a law practice in the Arizona town of San Remo. Travelling around in a beaten-up old pickup truck and living in a trailer while he built his own house, one brick at a time, he found no end of murder suspects to defend. If they couldn’t afford to pay for his services, at least he earned the acceptance of the local townsfolk.

What made the show different from its contemporaries was each episode allowed the audience to see the crime from the different witnesses’ perspectives, a ploy that has recently been revived and developed by the LA-based drama Boomtown. Aided by Pete Ritter, an ex-cop and cowboy turned investigator, and the local police officer, John Ponce, Petrocelli had to decide which version of events was the truth.

Petrocelli ran for two years, unfortunately finding itself scheduled opposite Starsky and Hutch in its second season. The writer, producer and director, Leonard Katzman would take actress Susan Howard on to his next series, to play Donna Krebbs in Dallas.


Barry Newman as Tony Petrocelli
Susan Howard as Maggie Petrocelli
Albert Salmi as Pete Ritter
David Huddleston as John Ponce
Michael Bell as Assistant DA Frank Kaiser


Friday, 22 February 2008

Millionaire playboys hunting down action ...


UK - 1971-72 - 24 episodes (60 mins) - colour

The most ambitious of Lord Lew Grade's action adventure series, The Persuaders! also became his most expensive, as it ventured far beyond the studio backlot to film on location in Italy and the Cote d'Azur.

Devised by Robert S Baker, The Persuaders! saw English playboy aristocrat, Lord Brett Sinclair, and self-made American millionaire, Danny Wilde, brought together by a retired Judge who blackmails them into working for him to catch criminals the judicial system missed.

Originating from an episode of The Saint, "The Ex-King of Diamonds", produced earlier by Baker, which teamed the dapper Simon Templar with a brash Texan oil-millionaire (played by Stuart Damon) in a crime caper set on the French Riviera, The Persuaders! starred Roger Moore and Tony Curtis, who had become successful enough in their respective careers that the famous split-screen title sequence, accompanied by John Barry's theme tune, could simply bill them as CURTIS + MOORE. Their comfortable, odd-couple relationship redeemed the occasional formulaic plotting and condescending, sexist attitude toward women which seemed a reactionary backlash to growing feminism. Verbally sparring over the class and cultural divide, the performances of the actors, both excelling at light comedy, set the tone of the series and won the most plaudits.

Hugely successful in the many countries it had been pre-sold to, the show failed to make an impression in America, going up against a rampant Mission: Impossible in the schedules. With the United States growing increasingly lukewarm to their previous offerings, The Persuaders! became the last major 35mm film series produced by ITC.

Tony Curtis as Danny Wilde
Roger Moore as Lord Brett Sinclair
Laurence Naismith as Judge Fulton


Friday, 22 February 2008

An equal battle of the sexes ...


USA - 1985-89 - 67 episodes (60 mins) - colour

On the surface a typical romantic comedy drama, Moonlighting was built around the love-hate relationship between mismatched partners thrown together to run a down-at-heel detective agency. Bearing a passing resemblence to the earlier Remington Steele, which Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron had previously worked on as writer and supervising producer, what made this series different were the innovations it brought to the screen.

Conscious of its own formula, the ironic nods to television's predictabilites took in-jokes to a new level; referencing both high and low-brow culture, jamming contemporary dialogue into iambic pentameter in a Shakespearean parody in one episode, and shooting in black and white - in the style of MGM musicals and Warner Brothers gangsters movies - to solve a forty-year-old case in another. But more than anything, Moonlighting effectively demolished the Fourth Wall, which let the characters start episodes by reading viewer's letters, discuss ratings or even comment on the number of reruns between new episodes.

The meticulous nature of Caron's approach meant that Moonlighting never managed to produce the requisite 22 episodes per season. During its turbulent production it wasn't uncommon for the scripts, twice normal length for a one hour production to accomodate the fast paced, razor-sharp dialogue that harked back to Howard Hawks' "My Girl Friday" and "Bringing up Baby", having to be rewritten at the last minute, with locked copies of the episodes delivered only hours before airtime.

Of all the rules the show broke, the one that lead to its eventual downfall was the resolution of the "will-they-won't-they?" aspect to Maddie Hayes and David Addison's relationship. Caving in to audience pressure for the consumation of their romance, once the characters slept together the main source of narrative tension evaporated.

Cybill Shepherd as Maddie Hayes
Bruce Willis as David Addison
Allyce Beasley as Agnes Dipesto
Curtis Armstrong as Herbert Viola


Friday, 22 February 2008

A format hazardous for film adaptation ...


US - 1966-73 - 171 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Sanctioned by the US Government to undertake hazardous covert operations that could not be officially recognised, Mission: Impossible featured the Impossible Missions Force, IMF, facing an enemy, foreign at first but later in the series’ run growing more domestic, clever enough that only an intricate plan could defeat them.

Like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. before it, Mission: Impossible stuck to a rigid narrative format. Briefed on the mission, the IMF leader assembles his team and plots an elaborate deception to counter an enemy’s plan. Once put into practise, with the IMF members taking their assigned roles, unforeseen circumstances jeopardise the operation and, with no back-up plan, disaster is averted through the team’s initiative and quick thinking.

Created by Bruce Geller to be built around team work and ingenuity, the IMF team was assembled every week from a roster of potential operatives, depending on the skills needed to carry out the given assignment. Although Dan Briggs was replaced in the second year by Jim Phelps as IMF leader, for the first three seasons, Mission: Impossible roughly kept to the same team of Rollin Hand’s master of disguise, muscleman Willie Armitage, model Cinnamon Carter acting as the femme fatale, and technical expert Barney Collier.

In fact technical sophistication was a key element to the series, exemplified by the synonymous self-destructing tape-recorder that delivered the IMF briefing. Famous too for its montage title sequence that begins with a lit fuse, accompanied by Lalo Schifrin’s theme music, these were the only elements recognisable in the 1996 film adaptation, although "MI:III" did see a slight return to the format's roots.

Steven Hill as Dan Briggs
Peter Graves as Jim Phelps
Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter
Martin Landau as Rollin Hand
Peter Lupus as Willie Armitage
Greg Morris as Barney Collier
Leonard Nimoy as Paris
Lesley Ann Warren as Dana Lambert
Barbara Anderson as Mimi Davis
Lynda Day George as Lisa Casey

Friday, 22 February 2008

Détente heats up the Cold War ...


USA - 1964-67 - 105 episodes (60 mins) - B&W/colour

The most successful of many attempts to jump on the James Bond bandwagon in the Sixties, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was actually conceived during a meeting with 007's creator, Ian Fleming, and producer Norman Felton who was looking to bring the spy thriller format to television. Although Fleming bowed out before production, the initial ideas were adapted to create U.N.C.L.E., the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, located on New York's Lower East Side behind an innocuous tailor shop.

With the Cold War at its peak, pairing the smooth, stylish American Napoleon Solo with the quietly efficient Russian Ilya Kuryakin produced the détente the public was looking for. With the two countries now allied, a new villainy appeared in the form of T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technical Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity).

Played with tongue-in-cheek charm, the various 'Affairs' the duo were sent on by the direct orders of their superior Mr Waverly were essentially formulaic in execution with an innocent member of the public caught up in the plot, hindering then helping the U.N.C.L.E. agents. But the charm came in the outrageous nature of T.H.R.U.S.H.'s dastardly plans, the high calibre of guest stars, and the technical gimmickry and sometimes outlandish hardware Solo and Kuryakin had at their disposal.

By the third season the show had reached its peak and the humour became much broader, descending into outright comedy. It also came up against anti-violence pressure groups. But for a time, opening Channel D ushered in a thrilling diversion to a turbulent decade.

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo
David McCallum as Ilya Kuryakin
Leo G Carroll as Alexander Waverly




Friday, 22 February 2008

Played for drama in monochrome, for laughs in colour ...


USA - 1965-68 - 83 episodes (60 mins) - B&W/colour

With the space race between the Americans and the Russians reaching fever pitch, producer Irwin Allen looked to the stars for his follow up to the successful Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. A furturistic reworking of "The Swiss Family Robinson", Lost in Space charted the adventures of the Robinson family, selected to pilot the Jupiter 2 spacecraft from an overpopulated Earth to the new world of Alpha Centauri. When the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent who has been trapped onboard, the family find themselves marooned on an unfamiliar world, deep in uncharted space. Helped by their sophisticated robot, and hindered by the back-sliding Doctor Smith (Jonathan Harris), the crew set about exploring their strange new home.

After a successful first season, the show found itself up against Batman in the schedules, and thus Irwin Allen altered the original concept to emulate the opposition's format, taking Lost in Space from a suspenseful action adventure to camp comedy, moving away from focusing on the family as a whole to concentrate on the mismatched, comedic relationship between Doctor Smith, Will Robinson (Billy Mumy) and the Robot. For the third year, with the arrival of Star Trek, the once land-locked Jupiter 2 was again able to travel to new worlds, allowing the Robinson family to escape their planet and venture out amongst the stars once again.

The most successful of Irwin Allen's quartet of science fiction series, the show's demise came not from declining ratings but Allen's unwillingness to accept budget cuts for a fourth year, leaving the Robinson's lost in space for good.


Guy Williams as Professor John Robinson
June Lockhart as Doctor Maureen Robinson
Mark Goddard as Major Don West
Marta Kristen as Judy Robinson
Angela Cartwright as Penny Robinson
Billy Mumy as Will Robinson
Jonathan Harris as Doctor Zachary Smith
Dick Tufeld as the voice of the Robot

Friday, 22 February 2008

There's some little people in big trouble ...


USA - 1968-70 - 51 episodes (60mins) - colour

With the demise of Lost in Space, a fantasy reworking of "The Swiss Family Robinson", creator Irwin Allen turned his attention to a reimagining of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", in which it is the Lilliputians who find themselves abroad in a strange new world.

When the sub-orbital commercial ship Spindrift, captained by Steve Burton (Gary Conway) and Dan Erikson (Don Marshall), enters a space warp en-route to London, the craft crash-lands on a planet similar to Earth in all respects, except that the population and surroundings are twelve times normal size.

Menaced by monsterous animals and instects, captured by scientists ready to perform experiments upon them, and hounded all the while by a hulking police inspector, whilst trying to find the raw materials needed to repair their craft, the crew and passengers - which included an heiress, an engineering tychoon, and the requisite orphan boy - found their efforts further hampered by Kurt Kasznar's mysterious passenger Alexander Fitzugh, introduced to be the equivalent of the Jonathan Harris Zachary Smith from Lost in Space, in other words the show's resident villain.

With a budget of $250,000 per episode, most of which was directed to the special photographic effects and large scale props, Land of the Giants proved to be the costliest series made to date during its two-year run, and became the last show in Irwin Allen's science fantasy quartet that had begun with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.


Gary Conway as Steve Burton
Don Marshall as Dan Erickson
Stefan Arngrim as Barry Lockridge
Don Matheson as Mark Wilson
Deanna Lund as Valerie Scott
Heather Young as Betty Hamilton
Kurt Kasznar as Alexander Fitzugh

Friday, 22 February 2008

All the news that's unfit to print ...


USA - 1974-75 - 20 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Created by Jeff Rice in his novel "The Kolchak Papers", Carl Kolchak, a burnt-out reporter from the old school of print journalism, first appeared in the 1972 television movie "The Night Stalker", with Darren McGavin playing Kolchak, on the trail of vampires in Las Vegas. Returning the following year in "The Night Strangler", the star was quick to recognise the potential of both the character and situations, and soon a series was in production.

Executive produced by McGavin, Kolchak: The Night Stalker relocated to Chicago, with the rumpled reporter working for the crime desk at the city's Independent News Service. Not merely a pure horror show, which would have been unacceptable for network television at the time, the series aimed to titillate rather than terrify. Toning down the violence by exploiting the power of suggestion, and expanding on the character's mordant humour, Kolchak stumbled onto all manner of inexplicable happenings and things going bump in the night. From zombies and werewolves to rampaging robots and even Jack the Ripper, Kolchak's main dilemma was trying to convince his sceptical editor, the long suffering Tony Vincenzo, to print these startling revelations.

Missing the plot continuity that contemporary shows have embraced, Kolchak: The Night Stalker was perhaps doomed for the outset to being short-lived. Finding enough stories to fill the twenty episodes without repetition was a major achievement, although towards the end plots were already wearing a thin. Credited by Chris Carter as being the major influence for The X Files, the shadow Kolchak: The Night Stalker can still be seen in the supernatural adventures that have succeeded it. However, a recent attempt to reinvent the franchise has fallen flat on its face.


Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo
Jack Grinnage as Ron Updyke
Ruth McDevitt as Edith Cowles

Friday, 22 February 2008

Power games amongst the undead ...


USA - 1996 - 8 episodes (60 mins) - colour

A vampire show might have seemed an unusual choice for Aaron Spelling, American television's "Uberproducer", best known in the 1990s for the likes of Beverley Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, but created by John Leekley from the role-playing game "Vampire: The Masquerade", Kindred: The Embraced played like the Undead Dynasty.

Neither solely evil or unnatural, the Kindred of the title were five clans of vampires - the aristocratic Ventrues; thuggish Brujahs; handsome punk bikers, The Gangrels; more traditional and violent Nosferatu; and arty Toreadors.

Integrated into all walks of life in modern-day San Francisco, with deep ties in organised crime, the Kindred were ruled over by Julian Luna, Prince of the Ventures and "Boss of all Bosses", struggling to keep a tenuous peace amongst the clans as they competed between themselves for dominance. Luna's problems were further compounded by the activity of a intrusive homicide detective he has sworn to protect, and an investigative reporter threatening to expose the activities of the clans that he becomes romantically drawn to.

Kindred introduced a set of rules the clans had to abide by, or face "Final Death". The taking of life, and changing humans into vampires, was strictly forbidden - the individual had volunteered to be transformed. For a human to have blood taken from them by any clan member was to be "embraced", which was something the viewing public failed to do. Screened in America a year before the arrival of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kindred: The Embraced failed to make a significant impact in the ratings and after a handful of episodes was put to the stake.


C Thomas Howell as Detective Frank Kohanek
Mark Frankel as Julian Luna
Kelly Rutherford as Caitlin Byrne
Stacy Haiduk as Lillie Langtry
Erik King as Detective Sonny Toussaint
Patrick Bauchau as Archon Raine
Channon Roe as Cash
Jeff Kober as Daedalus
Peter Rocca as Nino
Brigid Conley Walsh as Sasha
Brian Thompson as Eddie Fiori

Friday, 22 February 2008

More than a massage in a bottle ...


US - 1965-70 - 139 episodes (30 mins) - B&W/colour

When astronaut Tony Nelson lands on a desert island after an aborted space flight he inadvertently releases a 2,000-year-old genie from a bottle who returns to Cape Canaveral with him to serve the new ‘Master’ that has set her free.

Created by novelist Sidney Sheldon at a time when America was forging ahead in the space race, and indebted to Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery as the home-making witch, Samantha, which had premiered the year before, I Dream of Jeannie turned an obvious male fantasy into a comedy of errors.

The over-zealous Jeannie caused mayhem trying to please her Master. Although his fellow astronaut, Roger Healey, discovered Jeannie’s magical powers, her refusal to appear to anyone else complicated Nelson’s life and led the station psyciatrist to believe he had gone crazy. Jealous at him dating other women, Jeannie disrupted his every attempt at romance before convincing him she was the one he loved and they were married in the final year. By then Nelson’s life had been turned upside down by an assortment of her crazy relations, which included Jeannie’s wicked twin sister, played by Barbara Eden in a dark wig, as well as her mostly invisible, magic pooch Djinn-Djinn.

After an animated version of the series, entitled Jeannie, ran for two years from 1973, Barbara Eden reprised the character in the 1985 reunion movie, "I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later", and 1991’s "I Still Dream of Jeannie", with first Wayne Rogers and then Christopher Bolton taking over the role of Tony Nelson.

Barbara Eden as Jeannie
Larry Hagman as Captain/Major Anthony Nelson
Hayden Rorke as Doctor Alfred E Bellows
Bill Daily as Captain/Major Roger Healey
Barton MacLane as General Martin Peterson
Karen Sharpe as Melissa Peterson
Emmaline Henry as Amanda Bellows
Vinton Hayworth as General Winfield Schaeffer
Farrah Fawcett as Tina

Friday, 22 February 2008

William Shatner fighting for law and order ...


US - 1965 - 13 episodes (60 mins) - B&W

Having followed his first television appearance in the 1956 Goodyear Television Playhouse episode All Summer Long with numerous guest roles, including The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, For the People brought William Shatner his first starring vehicle, prior to taking the role of James T. Kirk in Star Trek.

Created by producer Herbert Brodkin, the series evolved from the legal drama The Defenders starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as father and son lawyers, which had started life as a two-part Studio One drama in 1957 with Shatner in the role of the younger Kenneth Preston opposite Ralph Bellamy.

As a no-nonsense New York Assistant District Attorney, Shatner's David Koster finds himself up against not just the criminal underclass but also his superiors who found his single-minded dedication for justice abrasive. Only his immediate boss, Bureau Chief Anthony Celese, played by Howard Da Silva who was returning to regular work after being blacklisted in the 1950s, admires Koster’s zeal and offers sage advice, while Lonny Chapma'’s Detective Malloy helps seek out the criminals to prosecute. In private Koster's life was just as tumultuous, married to a string-quartet viola player whose priorities often conflicted with his own.

Although short lived, the series employed one of the first story-line cross-overs between different series as an episode of Brodkin's The Nurses, which followed the lives of two nurses working in a large New York hospital, concluded five days later in the fourth episode of For the People. Several episodes have recently turned up at Festivals around the world.


William Shatner as David Koster
Howard Da Silva as Anthony Celese
Lonny Chapman as Frank Malloy
Jessica Walter as Phyllis Koster



Friday, 22 February 2008

Holiday makers get the Bermuda Triangle Blues ...


USA - 1977 - 10 episodes (one 90 min pilot, 9 x 60 mins) - colour

Playing in the UK on BBC1 between March and May 1977, just weeks after it had screened for the first time in America, The Fantastic Journey was a mid-season replacement, brought in to pick up viewers where a cancelled series had failed. In fact, the pilot movie had been made the previous Summer, and the delay getting the green light to go into production meant massive cast changes for the nine episodes that followed.

The Bermuda Triangle has for decades been the source of conjecture. Dozens of ships and planes have vanished in the area since World War Two, a 100,000 square mile body of water in the South-Western quadrant of the North Atlantic. Its apexes join Bermuda on the North, Puerto Rico on the South-East, and a point in the Gulf of Mexico west of Florida. Unimposing coral islands, sun-soaked beaches and clear-blue waters do not calm the nerves of visitors to the area. Naturally, the believers in the phenomenon have their theories as to what may be hidden in the area. Is it inhabited by extra-terrestrial visitors? Could there be the remains of a giant prism left by a past civilisation that sends out focussed beams when particular lunar and astral conditions re-activate it? A great void that leads to the centre of the earth? Or is it, just possibly, as "The Fantastic Journey" leads us to believe, a space-time warp that traps its victims in another dimension?

The original premise involved a Professor Jordan (Scott Thomas), leading an archaeological expedition by boat into The Devil's Triangle (an alternative name for The Bermuda Triangle). He is accompanied by his son Scott, Eve (Susan Howard - before she went on to play Donna Krebbs in Dallas), medic Jill (Karen Somerville), and Doctor Fred Walters (Carl Franklin). They borrow Ben Wallace's boat for the trip (Leif Erickson - famous from starring as Big John Cannon in The High Chaparral), but all does not go to plan. Soon, they find themselves engulfed in an unexplained green cloud, a bell tolling in the distance, and they lose consciousness.

They awaken on a beach, some of them injured, but at least most of them are alive. It's not long before a figure dressed in a loincloth appears, armed with a magic crystal tuning fork which can miraculously heal the travellers' injuries. They have encountered Varian, an earthman stranded in this dimensional paradox too, having originated from the year 2230 AD.

Their first adventure sees them battle Ian McShane as a 16th Century villain called Sir James Camden. Desi Arnaz Jr is also on hand as a Second World War Navy pilot who's lost his marbles. With characters being killed off, and the party of survivors splitting up into two, we are left with just Varian, Fred and Scott to continue onwards into series television.

They are joined by Liana (Katie Saylor), a descendent from the civilisation that was Atlantis, whose mother was apparently from another solar system. She has a constant companion in the shape of a skilled and intelligent cat called Sil-L, with whom she can communicate telepathically (Sil-L was played by a trio of cats, collectively known as "The Felix Team"). Liana's reason for joining the travellers is to get back to her mother's home planet.

The ace up the producers' sleeves came in the form of the actor they brought in to join the ensemble in the third story, "Beyond The Mountain". Genre heavyweight Roddy McDowall played Dr Jonathan Willoway, a rebel scientist from the 1960s, who has created a hideaway where androids serve his every need.

Jared Martin as Varian
Ike Eisenmann as Scott Jordan
Carl Franklin as Fred Walters
Katie Saylor as Liana
Roddy McDowall as Jonathan Willoway

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