Saturday, November 22, 2014

Great post on Harry 0 from Classic Film & TV Cafe (a fantastic site)


MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2012

DVD Spotlight: David Janssen as "Harry O"

One of the most distinctive private eyes of the 1970s has finally made his DVD debut with Warner Archive's release of season 1 of Harry O. The series, which originally aired on ABC in 1974-76, starred David Janssen as Harry Orwell, a medically-retired police detective who moonlights as a private investigator. Filmed in San Diego and later Santa Monica, Harry O set itself apart from rivals with its world-weary protagonist, voice-over narration, and on-location photography. For Janssen, it marked a TV comeback after appearing in Jack Webb's glum flop O'Hara, U.S. Treasury (1971-72).

Harry spends each morning on the beach.
The DVD set includes the first of two pilot films, Such Dust as Dreams Are Made Of, which was broadcast in 1973. Martin Sheen co-stars as a former criminal who wants to hire Harry to find his ex-girlfriend and a former accomplice (Sal Mineo). Orwell has a personal interest in the case because, four years earlier, Sheen and Mineo were the culprits in a drugstore robbery that left Harry's partner dead and a bullet in Harry's spine. Forced to retire from the police department, Harry lives on his disability pension aboard his boat The Answer. Will Geer appears in a supporting role as a medical examiner who provides an in-depth explanation on how to make heroin. It's unlikely Geer would have been a regular had a TV series resulted--he was still playing Grandpa on The Waltons.

A second pilot movie (not included in the DVD set), Smile Jenny, You're Dead (with Jodie Foster) appeared the following year. Its ratings success convinced ABC to pick up the series. Harry O premiered in September 1974 on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. The show's only other regular was Henry Darrow (The High Chapparal), who played Detective Lieutenant Manny Quinlan. Harry now lived in a beachfront cottage, working occasionally on his boat (still called The Answer). As he explained in one of his trademark voiceovers: "A lot of cases I won't take. I don't have to."

Harry with San Diego in the background.
With his car frequently being repaired, Harry takes a lot of buses--which has its advantages when being followed ("It's hard to tail someone on a bus"). The first half of season 1 makes excellent use of its San Diego locale, highlighting both the flavor of the inner city and the stunning beaches. Even Harry emphasizes the importance of his surroundings: "You see, baseball teams win more games in their own ballpark. Now, San Diego is my ballpark. And if you name a street, I can close my eyes and tell you where the traffic lights are...that also applies to bus stops."

Linda Evans pre-Dynasty.
The guest stars included a bevy of newcomers and familiar faces to classic TV fans: Kurt Russell; Linda Evans (between The Big Valley and Dynasty); Leif Erickson (also from The High Chapparal); Stefanie Powers; Broderick Crawford; Anne Archer; Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn); Carol Rossen (a frequent guest star with Janssen on The Fugitive); and even Cab Calloway.

Farrah a year before
Charlie's Angels.
Despite modest success in its time slot, Harry O underwent signficant midseason changes. The location sadly switched from San Diego to Santa Monica and Farrah Fawcett had a recurring role as Harry's neighbor and sometime girlfriend Sue (whose Great Dane Grover wasn't a fan of Harry's). Anthony Zerbe replaced Henry Darrow as another police detective, although Darrow returned to give his character closure in "Elegy for a Cop," the next-to-last episode of the first season. The opening credits were tweaked, too, and even the theme music transitioned from a bluesy arrangement to a more uptempo one.

Anthony Zerbe.
Although Zerbe won a supporting actor Emmy for his performance in 1976, the changes had little impact on the series' popularity. Viewers watched Harry O to see Janssen, who remained a fan favorite from his days as man-on-the-run Richard Kimble in the TV classicThe Fugitive (1963-67). As HarryJanssen replaces Kimble's subtle intensity with a laid-back, cynical persona (though he still occasionally flashes his trademark quick smile, with one side of the mouth turned up). One senses that Harry's casual style and humorous quips hide a darker past.

Still, some of the best episodes were the more lighthearted ones, such as "Gertrude" with guest-star Julie Sommars as a young woman whose only clue to her brother's disappearance is a single shoe. The first season also introduced the character of Lester Hodges (Les Lannom), a young man who aspires to be a criminologist after meeting Harry. Lester appears in four episodes over the two seasons, with the last one--"Lester Hodges and Dr. Fong"--serving as a pilot for a spin-off series co-starring Keye Luke that never materialized.

Harry O faced an uphill challenge finding a regular audience amid a landscape cluttered with popular TV detectives  (e.g., The Rockford FilesCannonStarsky and HutchHawaii Five-OKojak, and Baretta). ABC cancelled Harry O after just two seasons. Though its demise came far too early, at least it didn't suffer the fate of overstaying its welcome. We're left with a quirky, entertaining detective series with a character perfectly matched to its star. We can only hope that Warner Archive releases season 2 of Harry O. It'd also be nice if someone would release the only season of television's other seldom-seen, quirky private eye series: The Outsider (1968-69) starring Darrin McGavin.

A review copy of this DVD was provided to the Cafe.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Questions & Answers from the great Ken Levine



First off, so sorry to hear about the passing of Mike Nichols.  I never met him personally and don't know what I could add to all the other heartfelt tributes, but he was a giant.  There damn well better be a special salute at the Oscars next year.   Anyway, I'm back from Atlanta with some Friday Questions.   

Marianne gets us started. 

I was watching Madam Secretary last night and I noticed that Bebe Neuwirth plays quite a similar character to that of Lilith. How difficult is it for actors to avoid falling victim to typecasting? 

Actors can certainly get pigeonholed. It’s up to them to not accept those similar roles (if they can), or break out and play something different.

One of the reasons Ted Danson took the role of BECKER was that he would play such a different character from Sam Malone.

This is why you see a lot of known actors doing independent films. They don’t get paid much but they get to show off other sides of themselves.

On the other hand, there are actors who don’t mind playing essentially the same part over and over. They’re working.

When I was showrunning and an agent said a certain actor I was inquiring about didn’t do episodic television I always asked, “Who else is paying him $5,000 this week?” You’d be surprised how often that worked.

On a similar note, Michael wants to know: 

Some supporting actors from TV shows disappear after their show ends while others continue to pop up in new shows in varying degrees. In your opinion, which factor is most important in determining this - talent, a good agent, simple luck? 

All of the above. How identified they were with their character is also a factor. How versatile they can be comes into play (again, Ted Danson).

An actor’s TV-Q becomes a factor. That’s research that determines how well-known an actor is and more importantly, how popular they are. Yes, it is pretty heartless and cutthroat. Welcome to Glitter City.

But there are some TV actors that the public just loves. Dylan McDermott is one of those guys. You’ll notice he gets a series every year. Chris Noth is another. Julia Louis-Dreyfus also tops that list.

And then there are actors from hit shows that just cash in their winnings and walk away from the table. They do theatre, they paint, the move away and live happy lives. David Schramm from WINGS would be an example of that. He’s quite content not guesting on television shows. Yes, there is life after sitcoms.

Lou H. asks:

When a multi-camera sitcom episode needs to use multiple sets, is it still shot in sequence, with everybody moving from set to set, or are things optimized a bit so that, say, all the scenes on one set are shot in a single batch, even if that makes the story a bit harder for the studio audience to follow? 

It’s shot in sequence so the audience can follow it. Yes, this causes delays due to costume changes, but if the audience can’t follow the story there’s really no point. And the time it takes for the cameras to roll from one set to another is maybe three minutes.

Single camera shows (shot like movies) will shoot out of sequence. They’ll film all the scenes in one location then move to the next. Not being an actor myself I’ve always felt that had to be difficult on actors – having to adjust their attitudes based on what the scene requires. “Okay, in this one you’re distraught.” “Now you’re hopeful.” I don’t know how they can just turn on and off emotions that quickly and still keep the whole piece in their heads. But that’s why they get the big bucks and their sex tapes go viral.

And finally, from Jim S: 

How do you know if an actor has "it" that x factor that makes actor A better than actor B?

There is no formula.  It's just a sense you have.  If two actors are auditioning and you can't take your eyes off of one of them, that's a good sign.

In some cases you just "know."  They have an ease, a charisma, a presence.  Almost instantly you can tell.

On the other hand, some X-factor actors can go unnoticed.   George Clooney knocked around for years.  NBC once passed on Tom Cruise for a pilot.  Madonna also got turned down.   I helped out on a short-lived series in the '80s (doing punch up one day a week).  The actress who starred in the show was God awful.  I later learned she was chosen over Annette Bening.

So the answer is:  you never know, but you do.

What’s your Friday Question? You know you have one.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My First Novel Fast Lane by Dave Zeltserman


































I wrote the first draft of Fast Lane in 1990, although the title back then was In His Shadow. This was the first piece of fiction I wrote with the intent of seeing it published. Before then I fooled around at times writing short stories, usually badly aping Ross Macdonald’s style. I knew the stuff I was writing then wasn’t any good, and it eventually all ended up in the trashcan. In fact, my first attempt at Fast Lane was writing it like a Lew Archer novel where it was written from the point of view of my white knight detective who uncovers the sins of the celebrity (and very psychotic) detective, Johnny Lane, and like all my other attempts back then to ape Macdonald, it ended up (rightfully) in the trash. Things changed, though, after I read Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson, followed quickly by Swell-looking Babe, Pop. 1280, and After Dark, My Sweet. These noir novels from Thompson opened my eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped me realize that you can do whatever you want as long as you can make it work. I now saw a new approach to Fast Lane and began finding my own voice, and by the time I was halfway through I started to get excited that I was writing something that could be published.
After the first draft, I started working on a second draft, which I finished in 1991. It was a different world back then, and editors actually responded to well-written query letters. I ended up getting about 10 invitations to send in my manuscript, and about half of them sent me back  encouraging rejections—telling me they liked the writing and the book, and encouraged me to send them my next, but that they didn’t think readers would accept a psychotic private eye. At the time I didn’t realize that selling true psycho noir to a major publisher would be only slightly easier than pulling one’s own wisdom teeth, and instead of wisely taking their advice and working on a new novel (which I wouldn’t do until 1997 with Bad Thoughts), I stubbornly started a third revision of Fast Lane—this time taking advice from several readers and pushing the start of the novel back so I could show Lane acting in a more normal manner with only hints of his psychotic tendencies showing. This required about 60 new pages, and just as I was finishing this, my early version of Microsoft Windows crashed and I lost these new pages. I doubt  I’d be able to do this now—and I can’t swear that I retyped those 60 pages exactly as I originally wrote them—but I’m pretty sure I did. Once I had this version finished, I tried again, and collected more rejections. Sometime around 1993, I had a couple of short story sales, but for the most part gave up writing (at least until 1997), and put Fast Lane away in a drawer.
I’ll jump ahead to 2001. I had two novels—Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts—and I was unable to sell either. I decided to sacrifice Fast Lane (still In His Shadow) to self-publishing in the hopes of getting enough people saying good things about it to get Bad Thoughts published, and so I self-published it on iUniverse. It somewhat worked—I was able to get enough generous writers like Vicki Hendricks, Bill Crider, Ken Bruen, and Gary Lovisi, to blurb it, which got noir readers on Rara Avis to discover it, which led to Luca Conti finding it. Luca was working as a translator with the Italian publishing house, Meridiano Zero, and he convinced the publisher to publish it—and so I had my first book deal—Fast Lane translated to Italian. Eventually, Allan Guthrie (whose first story I published on my webzine Hardluck Stories)  and JT Lindroos  would publish Fast Lane under their Point Blank Press imprint and Fast Lane’s long and tortuous road to publication would come to an end.
One final note. At one point I tried sending Fast Lane to the London publisher Serpent’s Tail, only to never hear from them. Years later after they published Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer, and Outsourced, I sent my editor a copy of Fast Lane, and he rather liked it, telling me if he had seen it years earlier he would’ve fought to get it published. C’est la vie.