Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A bolder one

The RTN affiliate in Atlanta (WSB-DT) has the 1969-73 dramatic anthology series The Bold Ones on its weekday schedule from 3-4pm, and I have to admit that I tune into the program on a fairly regular basis when I don’t have anything scheduled to tape off TCM. In the show’s debut season, viewers were introduced to the three series that rotated each week: The Lawyers, starring Joseph Campanella and James Farentino as brothers/attorneys who had a practice with veteran trial lawyer Burl Ives; The New Doctors, with E.G. Marshall, John Saxon, David Hartman and Robert Walden (who replaced Saxon’s character in the show’s last season) as dedicated medicos working at a combination hospital/research center; and The Protectors, starring Leslie Nielsen and Hari Rhodes as a deputy police chief and district attorney (respectively) reluctantly working together despite differing methods on how to enforce the law. This last segment was the weakest of the three, and was replaced in Bold Ones’ sophomore year with The Senator, an Emmy-winning drama starring Hal Holbrook as an idealistic politician dedicated to the betterment of society. Despite its raking in of Emmys, most viewers were reluctant to buy into what was clearly a fantasy premise (an idealistic politician? Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on it…) and in the third season, only The Lawyers and The New Doctors were featured…until the truncated final season, when only Doctors remained.

So I was kind of surprised when I tuned in an hour or two ago and found RTN showing in The Bold Ones’ time-slot a fairly forgotten crime drama entitled Sarge, which starred George Kennedy as a former homicide detective turned man of the cloth. It premiered in the fall of 1971 on NBC’s Tuesday night schedule at 8:30pm—but its competition (CBS’ Hawaii Five-O) was so formidable that the network moved it back an hour in November and it still got its ass kicked (by Glen Campbell, believe it or don’t). The inspiration for the series came from a TV-movie that had been shown earlier that year entitled The Badge or the Cross, which laid out the “origin” of Kennedy’s character (his wife having been killed, “Sarge” Swanson retires to the priesthood, and several years later discovers her killer at the parish to which he’s been assigned…only to learn that he was gunning for Swanson), and a week before the series’ official premiere there was a special entitled The Priest Killer which allowed Swanson (now christened Father Samuel Cavanaugh) to work alongside Chief of Detectives Robert Ironside (Raymond Burr) in the hunt for a serial killer croaking priests. (Ironside was to be the lead-in for Sarge, so NBC promoted the new series with this team-up that also featured Don Galloway and Don Mitchell in their Ironside roles as Det. Sgt. Ed Brown and Mark Sanger.)

The episode of Sarge that was shown today was one of the installments from the short-lived series’ “homestretch”: “A Bad Case of Monogamy” (11/23/71) stars Monte Markham as an ex-con who’s becoming a pain in the ass to his ex-wife (Arlene Golonka—and you know, now that I’ve found out that Sam Johnson can’t tell the difference between Golonka and Sue Ane Langdon, I don’t feel so bad about the Betsy Blair thing) and her new husband (David Sheiner) because he claims to be a strict Catholic and in the eyes of the Church, he’s still married to her (despite their divorce). Markham’s out to provoke Sheiner into a fist-fight, and Golonka—who only earlier expressed to “Sarge” that she was in fear of her life now that he’s out—isn’t helping much because she’s hooked back up with Markham, insisting “he’s changed.” I’m not quite certain how this constitutes a crime (not that Kennedy’s character could do anything about it in the first place) and I’m definitely flummoxed by the fact that Sheiner never considered getting a protection order to keep Markham from sniffing around—but the conclusion of this story is pretty hard to swallow, even if Sheiner’s character is a real toothache of a man. I don’t like to judge series on the basis of seeing one episode, but I’m starting to understand how this one drew its rations fairly early in its run.

The thing I’m curious about is—did Universal make Sarge part of The Bold Ones’ syndication package in an attempt to “beef up” the number of available episodes? (Bold Ones’ total output numbered eighty-six installments, and I’ve heard that one hundred shows is the ideal number to “strip” these series five days a week, which would allow Sarge to fit like a glove with its fourteen episodes.) It wouldn’t be the first time Universal did this; they took a chainsaw to some hour-long episodes of The Sixth Sense (a supernatural-themed series starring Gary Collins and Catherine Ferrar that had a brief run on ABC in 1972) and presented them along with the Night Gallery episodes they also hacked up into half-hour form; Paramount also burned off episodes of the short-lived Barefoot in the Park sitcom in their Love, American Style package. Perhaps Mike “Mr. Television” Doran or Brent “Child of Television” McKee can answer this one—I’m anxious to know whether or not I guessed correctly.


mike doran said...

You ask - I answer. Back in the day Universal had an executive named Harry Tatelman whose duties included prolonging the useful life of short-lived series episodes. Padding the BOLD ONES and NIGHT GALLERY syndication packages was one way; combining two or more episodes into a "movie" was another. Many of Universal's quick flops were "repurposed" (to use the current term) in this fashion. Tatelman's greatest achievement may have been "Confessions Of The D.A. Man", a 1971 loser from Jack Webb, with Robert Conrad and Harry Morgan as prosecutors. Since THE D.A. was a half-hour show, making it into a feature was tricky; what he did was to use one segment as a framing story and then edit in three other episodes to bring it up to length. It's a screwy thing of beauty in its way; you really ought to see it sometime. Tatelman must have been a whiz at jigsaw puzzles. I don't know the name of Tatelman's equivalent at Paramount, but I believe that if THE ODD COUPLE had been canceled after (or during) its first season, it would have found its way into the LOVE AMERICAN STYLE package. I'm pretty sure that several other companies used the Tatelman Method to give afterlife to their unsuccessful teleseries as well. And let me close by saying how truly elevating it is for me to unload all this arcanery on people like you who really enjoy it. I rest content.

Pam said...

Burl Ives has a bit of a Richard Attenborough look in that picture.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

And let me close by saying how truly elevating it is for me to unload all this arcanery on people like you who really enjoy it. I rest content.

Not nearly as content as I am to learn that my original suspicions were right on the money...thanks for the confirmation, Mike.

Oh, and as to arcanery...I eat three bowls of it every morning...part of a nutritious and balanced breakfast.

Marty McKee said...

Another Tatleman creation is DEATH FOLLOWS A PSYCHO, which isn't even in IMDb. It combines "Elephant in a Cage" and "Countdown to Terror" from GRIFF. One credited writer is Steven Bochco; another is "Victor Laszlo," obviously a pseudonym.