Ken Tucker's TV Prime-Time TV commentary

Tag: In Memorium (21-30 of 40)

'Mad Men': And here's to you, Miss Blankenship...

“It’s a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are.” — Miss Blankenship to Peggy.

In a world gone mad — the turmoil of the ’60s, with its revolutions in manners, music, fashion, and war — there READ FULL STORY

One nation under a grieve: Mourning P-Funk guitarist Garry Shider

The great guitarist Garry Shider, a close collaborator with George Clinton for decades, has died at age 56. Recognized visually onstage as part of the Parliafunkadelicment Thang for his penchant for wearing a diaper, Shider had brain and lung cancer.

Shider’s condition had been known for some time. The extraordinary TV writer and Parliament-Funkadelic historian David Mills (Treme, The Wire), who himself died in March at age 48, wrote a beautiful tribute to Shider this past March, which you can read and listen to Shider music here.

Shider was a key contributor to P-Funk touchstones such as “One Nation Under A Groove” and the earth-shaking “Cosmic Slop.” Here’s a bit of footage prominently including Shider that appeared on Belgium television:

Shider was a marvelous vocalist as well as an innovative guitar player. Listen to his croon on Mills’ blog item as Shider sings “Sexy Ways.”

He’ll be missed immensely, but his grooves survive forever.

Follow: @kentucker

More: Funkadelic and Parliament guitarist Garry Shider dies at age 56

Jimmy Dean, not just sausage: He was the king of country music television

The-Jimmy-Dean-ShowImage Credit: Everett CollectionJimmy Dean, who died at age 81 on Sunday, had one gigantic hit single, “Big Bad John,” in 1961. It was a hypnotic story-song that made the most of Dean’s rumbling Texas drawl.

But Dean achieved equal fame via television, as the host of The Jimmy Dean Show, which aired on ABC in the mid-1960s. Pre-Hee-Haw and before The Johnny Cash Show, Dean’s variety hour (he’d had an earlier, less successful CBS show) was the best nationwide showcase for country music. It gave exposure to great country artists such as Roger Miller, Jim Reeves, and Ray Price.

Dean had an utterly beguiling, easygoing style, and unlike a lot of singing hosts of the era, he was able to duet with a guest in a way that didn’t call undue attention to himself. Just look at this charming performance with guest Buck Owens: READ FULL STORY

I'm already missing 'The New Adventures of Old Christine.' Are you?

Last night, The New Adventures of Old Christine should have been leading off CBS’ prime-time schedule. Instead, it was gone. Not even a rerun. Getting canceled will do that.

A few days ago, I lamented the cancellation of Better Off Ted. I liked Old Christine a lot, too. Completely different sorts of sitcoms, of course: Christine was more broad and slapsticky; in a strict sense, more conventional. But, boy, Julia-Louis Dreyfus was good, and Old Christine was an exceedingly clever show, with characters that grew in interesting ways.

Created by Kari Lizer, Old Christine took what could have been a terrible gimmick — the “old” Christine (Louis-Dreyfus) is replaced by her ex-husband (Clark Gregg) with a younger, “new” Christine (Emily Rutherfurd) — and the series proved once again that a TV premise is as good as the writing and performances make it.

The “old” Christine was self-centered, prone to panic, and she drank too much. She was no one’s idea of a good mother (poor little Ritchie), or a particularly good wife, although she and ex-hubby Richard always shared memories of good sex.

But Louis-Dreyfus’ portrayal of Christine Campbell made that woman not just lovable — there were times when you ached for Christine; her basic goodness combined with her loneliness and her hapless screwing-up to create a fully formed female hero, perfectly imperfect.

Christine was also terrific — terrifically blundering, that is — in all her various relationships, whether she was trading jokes and wine bottles with her pal Barbara (a flinty Wanda Sykes), crossing intimacy boundaries with her jittery therapist-brother (the wonderfully dolorous Hamish Linklater), sparring with Richard (Clark Gregg made him a marvelous creation: a horny dope), or finding ways to come to terms with the “new” Christine (Rutherfurd quickly found a way to transcend the dumb-blonde role her character could have remained).

And let’s not forget Christine’s epic battles with the “meanie moms,” Marly and Lindsay (Tricia O’Kelley and Alex Kapp Horner), who were also an excellent act all by themselves, a sort of Laurel and Hardy of the L.A. upper-middle-class. There were weeks when I could have watched a whole episode about Marly and Lindsay.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus won an Emmy for Old Christine in 2006, but CBS treated the show shabbily, putting it on hiatus and moving it around on its schedule.

It deserved a lot better, don’t you think?

Follow: @kentucker

John Cazale tonight: Was he one of the best, most neglected, modern actors?

John Cazale possessed a soulfulness and vulnerability that few actors are able to tap into; in the first two Godfather movies, in Dog Day Afternoon, The Deer Hunter, and The Conversation, Cazale glowed in the background. He wasn’t a scene-stealer — he READ FULL STORY

David Mills, a great TV writer and much more, has died

David Mills, an Emmy-winning writer and producer for TV shows including NYPD Blue, The Wire, Homicide: Life On The Streets, as well as the new HBO series Treme, has died. He was 48; the apparent cause of death was a brain aneurysm suffered while overseeing the shooting of an episode of Treme. Mills also created the short-lived, underrated READ FULL STORY

Robert Culp, 'I Spy' co-star and a suave, witty, articulate actor, has died

robert-culpImage Credit: Everett CollectionRobert Culp, who perfected a suave cleverness most famously as Bill Cosby’s partner in espionage in the TV series I Spy, died on Wednesday after a fall in his Hollywood home. He was 79. Culp in his prime had twinkling eyes, a sly smile, and a rapid, crisp way of delivering a line: he seemed READ FULL STORY

Remembering Fess Parker: Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and king of the wild frontier

Fess Parker, best known for portraying Davy Crockett, “king of the wild frontier,” died on Thursday of natural causes, according to The Associated Press. He was 85. He died on the 84th birthday of his wife of 50 years, Marcella.

In his prime, Parker was a big, rangy man who grew up in a small farm in Texas; his voice retained a warm Texas twang. He shot to a singular pop-culture fame in 1954, when Walt Disney’s Disneyland series broadcast “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter.” With his buckskin jacket, long rifle, slow drawl, and his coonskin cap, Parker was an immediate sensation. Kids could not get enough of his unique mixture of warmth, toughness, humor, and taciturn wisdom. Parker was only 29 when he filmed his first Crockett adventure, but he seemed like a very wise man.

Here’s the all-important Davy Crockett theme song, which became a 13-week, number-one hit single as recorded by vocalist Bill Hayes:

Kids really couldn’t get enough of that coonskin cap. They sold in the millions, an odd fad for a kid-America that had always been more interested in cowboy hats and baseball caps.

The Crockett tales were very loosely based on the real-life Crockett, replete with colorful villains such as Mike Fink, the glowering, slobbo riverboat keelhauler. Buddy Ebsen, the future Barnaby Jones, played Davy’s sidekick, George Russel.

Disney had filmed three of these prototypical TV-movies and killed off the character in the last of them, at the Battle of the Alamo, before the first one aired. Due to the tumultuous response of children and adults across the land, ol’ Davy had to be miraculously revived for a further series.

Parker repeated his TV success a second time, playing another real-life frontiersman in the title role of Daniel Boone, from 1964 to 1970. Parker had wanted to do a Crockett series, but Disney wouldn’t grant him the rights. So Parker’s Daniel Boone wore… a coonskin cap. Once again, never underestimate the power of a catchy theme song:

There had been other Western TV heroes before him, such as The Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy. But Fess Parker conveyed something new at the time: He invested Crockett with an authenticity that struck a chord in the national consciousness.

It was this distinctively American mixture: authenticity that could be marketed, so that kids could watch Davy and, donning their coonskin caps, be Davy, that made Parker a crucial figure in baby-boomer TV culture.

As the once-proud owner of a coonskin cap (and you can bet I wish I still had it), I doff it symbolically to Mr. Parker.

For more: Davey Crockett‘s Fess Parker dies

Follow @kentucker

An appreciation: How Peter Graves made his mission possible

Peter Graves, who died on Sunday at age 83, is being remembered this morning primarily for two achievements: As the star of Mission: Impossible and as a good sport spoofing himself in the Airplane! movies. But his story is more interesting than that.

Yes, Graves was the right actor at the right time to lead the motley crew of operatives on Mission: Impossible, a James Bond-era adventure series that aired at a time when such dramas could be presented without irony. Although not without flecks of light humor (mostly from the sparks provided by the slinky twosome Martin Landau and Babara Bain), M:I was even able to pull off the “Your mission, should you choose to accept it” shtick with a straight face because Graves was, well, a gravely serious hero as Jim Phelps, leader of a secret government organization.

When M:I first aired on CBS between 1967 and 1973, it was READ FULL STORY

Gene Barry: Deep-voiced, debonair TV and stage star, has died

Gene Barry, who died at age 90 on Wednesday, had a great voice: Deep and growly, but with a nice lilt to it when he wanted to put a playful spin on a tough-guy line. It was a voice he used to charm audiences first in the TV Western that made him a star, Bat Masterson (1958-61), then as Amos Burke, a rich guy who joined the L.A. police force in Burke’s Law (1963-66) and sped to crime scenes in a Rolls Royce. My mom had a crush on him when he starred in as a magazine tycoon in The Name of the Game (1968-71). His biggest movie role by far was in 1953’s George Pal version of War of the Worlds. And Barry carved out a career as a Broadway leading-man, winning particular praise for his turn as Georges in La Cage Aux Folles, and worked up a solid nightclub act in which his voice was used to sing rumbling versions of pop standards.

But it’s for his early TV days that he’ll probably be best-remembered. Bat Masterson was an unusual hero at the height of the Western’s television popularity, because he wasn’t a dusty, drawling hero in the manner of James Arness in Gunsmoke or Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive. Based on a real-life figure, Masterson was usually dressed in an impeccably tailored suit, vest, and derby hat. He didn’t bother, most of the time, with a gun — he had a gold-tipped cane to twirl and wield in a fight. Bat Masterson also featured one of the most memorable TV theme songs, which, in the manner of the era, told you everything you needed to know about the character in its lyrics:

If Barry’s Bat was a tough dandy, the actor’s move to contemporary, urban shows was a logical move. He was born to play a wealthy man with a curiosity about crime in Burke’s Law, an early Aaron Spelling production with all the Spelling trademarks: a handsome leading man, a bevy of attractive women, and a crime that could be solved within an hour with room for a chuckling final-scene fade-out.

No matter what role he took, Barry radiated crisp energy and sharp acuity — you never felt this was a man at a loss for the right word or the proper degree of charm. As a gentleman adventurer, he was hard to beat.

Barry’s cause of death has not yet been revealed.

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