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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Forgotten

Just a quick heads-up - tonight's story is one of mine:
The team investigates the killing of a John Doe found buried at a popular vacation destination; a stray dog standing vigil over the grave is the only clue in the case.
On ABC, right after Dancing with the Stars.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

A DVD Competition and a Trailer

Over at the Are You Screening blog, reviewer Marc Eastman writes about the Eleventh Hour DVDs and offers the chance for readers in the US and Canada to win a set simply by adding to the comments section.
"Starring Rufus Sewell, on the short list of most underrated actors, as one of the world’s leading scientists who works for the government tracking down criminals who abuse science in ways few other people would understand, Eleventh Hour is an order of magnitude beyond your typical crime show. There’s investigating using science, and then there’s investigating using science, and this show is simply off in another world. Whether it’s cloning, bizarre viruses, or people with two hearts, if Dr. Hood gets sent in, we’ve moved into realms no one else wants to be involved with."
Read the entry in full here.

Meanwhile Warner Bros has (have?) put out an online trailer for the release. I saw this on the Spike TV website, where the clip was preceded by a condom ad.

See, I told you it was a sexy show.

Don't worry if you happen to get the condom ad, it's quite tasteful. Although if you ask me, the mime has a rather exaggerated opinion of himself.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Avengers Guy

I had to miss last month's UK Fantasycon, but I'd already been asked to write an appreciation of Guest of Honour Brian Clemens for the Convention's programme book. Here's what I said.

It was one o'clock in the morning and I had stuff on my mind. I turned on the TV for distraction. In a '60s Geneva created from library footage and a crisply-photographed studio backlot, an international security agent who'd been missing for two days walked into his headquarters building and calmly shot one of his superiors. For the next hour, the stuff on my mind ceased to trouble me and the world was young again.

(Except, of course, when my world was young, there was no TV or much of anything else going on at one in the morning)

I hardly needed to look at the credits to know who'd written the episode. Brian Clemens was always the master of the arresting story hook, a Sensei among warriors in the screenwriting ranks. There's hardly a piece of classic British 'cult' TV that doesn't either have his fingerprints on it, or his DNA somewhere in it. Even The Prisoner, a show in which he had no actual hand, can be traced back to the Clemens-scripted Danger Man pilot in which both Patrick McGoohan's secret agent persona and the Portmeirion location made their first TV appearances.

For many people Brian Clemens will be, forever and above all else, the Avengers guy. But The Avengers is really just the most prominent peak in a career characterised by prodigious energy and inventiveness, coupled with an impeccable professionalism. In a field that can so easily be colonised by journeyman work, his writing always has a voice, an angle, an attitude.

Born in 1931, Clemens grew up in Croydon. After service in the army and work in advertising, he sold a single play to BBC Television which led to a stint as house screenwriter for the Danziger Brothers. Depending on your prejudice or your point of view, the Danzigers were low-rent exploitation producers or resourceful low-budget entertainment providers in the Roger Corman style. They supplied second features for British cinema bills and half-hour filmed series for UK and US television. While in their employ, Clemens developed a proficiency in writing to deadline around available resources, as the brothers seized opportunities to get some extra use out of sets, props and sometimes even paid-up performers from other, more expensive productions.

Those skills were widely used by Clemens in such series as Mark Saber and Richard the Lionheart for the Danzigers, while also moonlighting scripts for Sir Francis Drake, Ivanhoe and HG Wells' The Invisible Man. He once said, "At one time, all of British episodic television was written by about ten writers, and I was one of them." He credits the Danger Man pilot as his big break; renamed Secret Agent, the show was picked up for network screening in the US by CBS and blazed a trail for all of UK international production throughout the '60s.

Although Sidney Newman is often credited as the creative force behind The Avengers and other classic TV including Armchair Theatre and Doctor Who, his role was more accurately that of a godfather. Newman came up with the Avengers title, and the idea of doing something new with Ian Hendry's Police Surgeon character from an underperforming series. Clemens was again brought in at the pilot stage, and three seasons later took over full creative control of the series as it moved from electronic production to film. The mix that had been brewed up in the creaky and low-res live-action studio now exploded with the application of top-drawer production values. The result was unique and confident. It didn't so much mirror the swinging sixties, as play a major part in defining them.

Season four was the 1965 black-and-white season, with such classic episodes as The House that Jack Built, The Town of No Return, and the glorious and notorious A Touch of Brimstone. Season five went to colour and hit the same level of triumph with knobs on. But it's those episodes in 'sparkling black and white', as the American trailers described them, with their stark op-art world and King's Road sensibility, that made the first and deepest cut for me. There is a place forever in my heart where the door to Emma Peel's flat has a big eyeball on it.

Although Clemens freelanced scripts for just about every high-profile action show from Adam Adamant to The Persuaders, after The Avengers he was also a force as a producer. When he was making The New Avengers a TV Times profile made reference to "his sixth Ferrari" and "the exclusive privacy of his four acres in Bedfordshire". With the suspense anthology series Thriller he became that rare thing for a screenwriter, a marquee draw with his name linked to the title. The Professionals made as much of a mark on the '70s as The Avengers in the decade before it, and the sitcom My Wife Next Door brought him a BAFTA award.

When Brian Eastman's Carnival Films wanted a high-concept, pacy action show for BBC1 on Saturday evenings, they turned to Clemens for Bugs. The show ran for four series and gave me the opportunity to write the kind of TV I'd grown up on, and later to share the role of series consultant with one of my biggest professional heroes. Imagine that! Though we'd met at festivals by then, we never actually met on the show. I'm told that half the time our feedback was 100% in agreement, while the other half of the time our comments were in complete opposition. Which I suppose sounds kind of healthy.

But back to that late hour, a few nights ago. My one o'clock diversion did exactly as its author intended. It gave an hour's pleasure, and a valued respite from the ordinary. It was an episode of The Champions, the Heroes of its day. I understand that it was written during the brief period when Clemens was out of The Avengers (after Diana Rigg's last season, and before Linda Thorson's first) and before he had to go back in and sort out the mess they got into without him.

The Champions episode was typical of Clemens' contribution to other people's shows. It's as if he examined the underlying concept and set out to nail it just a little bit better than anyone else, in this case taking the main characters and setting them, Marvel-style, to use their powers against each other.

There's much I've missed out. I've said nothing about his sales to American TV and I've been skipping over feature work that includes See No Evil with Mia Farrow, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad for Ray Harryhausen, an excursion into writer/director territory with Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter for Hammer, The Watcher in the Woods for Disney. But check out his Internet Movie Database page; it lists over a hundred entries, many of them for multiple series writing credits, and it's still growing. The films are as eclectic a selection as the TV work, but all have the same stamp on them; Hitchcockian technique, with an irreverent light touch.

And if you were thinking of asking: no, he had nothing to do with that Avengers movie.

The loyal and eagle-eyed may have spotted a couple of paragraphs recycled from an earlier Avengers piece. And speaking of recycling, The Champions has been slated for a feature remake by Guillermo del Toro, and despite his current involvement with the Hobbit movie it's said to be still on the cards. Last I heard he was going to write, but not direct.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Eleventh Hour on UK Freeview

The show starts a run on the UK's Virgin 1 Freeview channel on October 28th.

Click here for screening times and details.

Look What Ships Today

All eighteen episodes, from Resurrection to Medea.

Here's the blurb:
Acclaimed film and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean, CSI) is back again in the nick of time with… ELEVENTH HOUR. Starring Rufus Sewell as Dr. Jacob Hood, a brilliant biophysicist and special science advisor to the government, the series follows the enigmatic doctor as he investigates scientific crises and oddities - everything from cloning to cryogenics. With absolute jurisdiction and a resolute pursuit of those who would abuse and misuse scientific discoveries and breakthroughs for their own gain, (Hood) is called in at the eleventh hour as the last line of defense. Marley Shelton co-stars as Special Agent Rachel Young, the decorated FBI protection officer assigned to watch his back. Based on the British miniseries by acclaimed writer Stephen Gallagher, the series follows this unlikely pair as they crusade to protect the substance of science from those with nefarious motives.
Available only from WBShop.com, the online store of Warner Bros Studios. If you do buy the set, why not go back to the site and give it a review and some stars?

Can't hurt.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Old Sitcoms Never Die...

These days, they surface on Hulu.

Gail Renard made the comment, "Speaking of star cars, I wonder what ever became of the one from the Smothers Brothers' TV epic, "My Mother The Car." A title and a pitch all in one."

Someone else in the UK remembers My Mother the Car! Were the Smothers involved? It's been lawd knows how many years and I still know all the words to the theme song. For anyone who doesn't know it, the show featured a guy (Jerry Van Dyke, brother of the more famous Dick) whose 1928 vintage car contains the reincarnated soul of his mother, who nags him accordingly.

Back in the 60s, much of what we in Britain knew of US culture came from imported sitcoms. Though we thought we were seeing a reflection of suburban American life, what we were probably seeing was America's reflected fantasy of itself.

Which shows reached our TVs depended on what the networks' buyers (ITV's, mostly) picked up and what your region's company chose to run. So in the Granada area we had Lucy in her various formats, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan's Island, F Troop... we saw No Time for Sergeants, but not Leave it to Beaver. The Dick Van Dyke Show, but no Andy Griffith.

You'd think that My Mother the Car would have to be the brainchild of someone strung-out on too many drugs, until you realise that it was probably an attempt to make a variant on the successful talking-horse comedy Mister Ed. Then it makes logical sense, kind of. Mister Ed was a TV recycling of the Francis the Talking Mule series of movies. Which were probably the brainchild of someone strung-out on too many drugs.

But it's far from the forgotten show I imagined it to be. Last week I discovered that there are complete episodes of My Mother the Car streaming online from Hulu (restricted to the US, as far as I can tell). The print was pin-sharp, the colours diamond-bright. By using 35mm film with feature-quality lighting, they made the shows technically future-proof.

As for the car itself... it was one of George Barris's creations, and has been spotted in a museum in Tennessee.

Now I'm wondering if anyone else remembers the dude ranch sitcom Guestward Ho!...

Friday, 16 October 2009

What I did on my Birthday

The night before my birthday, I had an idea for a way to mark it.

I'm spending a lot of time on my own here in Los Angeles, but it was no big deal being alone on my birthday. It's not like I'm twelve or anything.

But... one of the routes from my place to the studio takes me past George Barris's custom car workshop on Riverside.

The name should be familiar - he's the Batmobile guy. I've seen at least one of the fibreglass replicas that he built - it's in the Cars of the Stars museum in Keswick, Cumbria -- but the so-called 'number one Batmobile', the movie prop vehicle adapted from the Lincoln Futura concept car, is the one that was actually used in the 1966 TV show. And I'd heard that he keeps it there.

So I stopped by. I had to go through the yard to find the door to the office. There was a guy behind a desk. I introduced myself and asked if it was possible to see the Batmobile.

He explained that it was a private office, but I was welcome to take look around as long as I didn't touch anything. Three steps and there it was! Not only the #1 but, through a doorway in an inner workshop, one of the five replicas as well.

I was the only person in the place! No ropes, no barriers, nothing. A woman passed through and asked politely if I'd spoken to anyone, ie whether I'd just snuck in or if anyone knew I was there; I said I'd asked permission from the gentleman near the door, and she said, "Oh, that's Mister Barris."

I walked around and around and geeked for a solid fifteen minutes. I saw an ad for "Photo of the Batmobile, signed, $10" so I asked if they had any and we chatted for a while. Barris signed a picture to me with a 'happy birthday' and wouldn't take the money.

I mean, it's not like I'm twelve or anything.

Yeah, right.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

John Stroud

A shadow is cast across the day as I learn of the untimely death of John Stroud, a talented director and one of the most pleasant and engaging people I've had the honour of working with.

Many of John's achievements were in television comedy, so it was surely no coincidence that he brought a light and deft touch to drama.

I met him when he directed my Bugs episode Blaze of Glory back in 1997. I have vivid memories of a visit to our set in dripping tunnels just off London's Clink Street, made-over into a gothic nightmare complex with Leslie Ash hanging upside-down a wire harness...

John was a welcoming presence, and great company, and his death is a real loss.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

William S Hart

William S Hart was one of the biggest stars of the silent era. He made Westerns with the onscreen persona of a strong and silent hero, usually with a criminal past for which he'd earn redemption by displaying moral conscience in extreme adversity.

In his day, his drawing-power and earnings made him the equal of Fairbanks and Pickford. He's not so well-remembered as his peers. But he is remembered. Tumbleweeds in 1925 was his last (and many reckon his best) feature.

Last weekend I drove up to visit his retirement ranch in Newhall, just outside Santa Clarita. The hilltop house is preserved just as it was when Hart lived there, with all his memorabilia and the original furniture. He extended the house to give himself a new bedroom because his dogs took over the one he started with. They were Great Danes, so you can see why. His dogs are all buried on the ranch, as is Fritz, his movie horse.

The half-hour guided tour is free but there's a box for donations. After the tour I went for a walk on the nature trail behind the house. Along the way I saw warning signs about both rattlesnakes and mountain lions, basically to the effect that rattlers don't attack unless threatened or hurt, and most mountain lions will back off if you wave your arms and shout.

The addendum to that was, if you get a mountain lion that isn't scared off by a show of defiance, report it to the rangers.

Which to me seems to leap over a little gap of logic somewhere in the middle...

Okay, the following picture has nothing to do with anything. It's my parking space on the lot. Just wanted to share.

Hey, it's my birthday. Indulge me.