Wednesday, July 16, 2008

“Albright—you’re fired!”

Here in Athens, I get an independent station on my CharredHer cable service that originates out of Atlanta—WATC-TV, channel 57. WATC’s programming is very heavy on religion, both local and from satellite (its claim to fame is that it produces more local non-news programming than any other station in Atlanta), with a bit of educational and family shows thrown into the mix…and of course, the inevitable in-the-middle-of-the-night, it-pays-the-rent infomercials.

I’ll confess I don’t watch WATC much, but on occasion I’ll drop in around the 3pm hour because they roll out of bunch public domain television favorites. For example—this being Wednesday—The Beverly Hillbillies is scheduled at 3:00 (and if those mooks over at HTF who complained about the quality of the MPI Hillbillies releases ever got an eyeful of these horrible prints they’d quit their bellyaching quicker’n you can say “Dash Riprock”) followed by The Lucy Show at 3:30. Tomorrow, it’ll be The Lone Ranger and Shotgun Slade taking over for the Clampetts and Lucy…and Fridays they really get wild with One Step Beyond and Four Star Playhouse.

Tuesdays are sort of odd because they run a Daniel Boone repeat in the 3-4 time slot…and to my knowledge (though this seems more like a case for BobH) Boone’s still under copyright. But since WATC does get some of their programming from World Harvest TV (which runs Daniel in a weekday slot at the same time...sister Kat gets it on her DirecTV), maybe they worked out a deal where they’re allowed to visit the good people of Boonesborough once a week.

Mondays are my particular favorite because WATC kicks off the PD proceedings with some of the 1951-59 episodes of Dragnet, and even though I’ve practically seen them all (or own them on DVD) there’s something reassuring about being able to kick back and watch good ol’ Joe and Frank violate civil liberties in black-and-white, the way the television gods intended. But after Friday and Smith wrap up their half-hour, Channel 57 makes an awkward segue into another oldie but goodie…My Little Margie.

I did a post on Margie about four years ago and while I touched on the television series my main concentration was on the radio version of the sitcom, which ran almost as long as the TV version…only the radio show was heard over CBS Radio (beginning December 7, 1952 and continuing until June 26, 1955). I watched an interview with star Gale Storm not too long ago, and she was just as perplexed as everyone else as to how the radio Margie stayed at CBS; true, the TV version began there (as a summer replacement for I Love Lucy), but then moved to rival NBC in October. (She observed that she and Charlie Ferrell, star of Seventh Heaven, were asked by CBS to do the radio series, so I guess the Tiffany network held no grudges.)

As a youngster, My Little Margie reruns seemed to run like tap water…so I guess it was appropriate that the station responsible for my indoctrination into life with the Albrights was WTAP-TV, the NBC affiliate in Parkersburg, WV. Margie is one of those shows where you really don’t have to devour the whole package…if you’ve seen one or two episodes; you’ve pretty much seen them all. But I caught one the other day on the Atlanta station that just…well, freaked me out is the most diplomatic way I can put it.

In “Vern’s Mother-in-Law” (02/02/55), Margie’s father, Vern (played by Charlie Ferrell, star of Seventh...all right, I'm stopping now), and his boss George Honeywell (Clarence Kolb) have once again had to rescue the headstrong Margie—this time before she caused a panic at her bank. Vern reminisces how his mother-in-law (who Margie was named after) was just like his impetuous daughter, and in flashbacks the two men tell Margie about “Grandma” and how she made it a bit rough on her future son-in-law by making him jump through a series of hoops so that she can be convinced he’s the right guy for her daughter.

Gale Storm not only plays Grandma in this outing (with some not-too-convincing age make-up) but she also takes a second role as her mother. There’s a scene where Vern comes a-courtin’, and he leans over to give his future wife a kiss…and I’m praying “Oh, ferchrissake…please…please…please don’t let him french her because she’s his freaking daughter!” Fortunately, he just gave her a peck on the cheek…but it was touch-and-go there for a minute.

To be honest, I’m not entirely certain why I’m willing to stop channel-surfing when I see My Little Margie on my TV screen. It certainly isn’t going to break any new ground in comedy (well, I suppose the episode I described might be the subject of a few dissertations...all of them disturbing) and though I thought Storm-as-Margie was cute (especially when she’d do the “Margie gurgle”: Gr-r-r-r-r-r-r…) Ferrell had a tendency to grate on me with his Boston accent. Plus: I never could see what she saw in her boyfriend Freddy (Don Hayden); he seemed like the type of guy for which “Employee of the Month” at Shoe World would be his greatest achievement in life. I guess it just brings back memories of dumb, simpler times when a successful sitcom format meant showcasing twenty-one-year-old girls (though Storm was 31 at the time) who had precious little to do than make trouble for their father; to paraphrase Neil Young: “Kitsch never sleeps.”

When Margie was cancelled in 1955, Storm went on the record as saying “enough is enough” as far as a regular TV series was concerned. She made quite a few appearances on television variety shows, including one in 1954 where she sang a song that caught the attention of Dot Records executive Randy Wood…who signed her to a recording contract that yielded pop hits like I Hear You Knockin’, Ivory Tower and Dark Moon.

Oh, and yes, she was a bit premature with the refusal to not star in another TV series. But I need to call recess, and this is as good a stopping point as any.


Bobh said...

To the best of my knowledge, the "Daniel Boone" series is not in the public domain. That said, it's always possible that an episode or two could be. I look at the case of "Sugarfoot," a Warner property. Warner has been among the most diligent of the studios to keep their copyright registrations up-to-date and you'll find very little of the Warner catalog in the public domain relative to the studio's film and television output. But sometimes, an episode like "The Return of the Canary Kid" from "Sugarfoot" can get lost in the shuffle and end up being PD. So while my belief is that the "Daniel Boone" series is not PD, perhaps an episode or two might be.

Bobh said...

Although VCI Entertainment has released 24 episodes of "My Little Margie" across two double-DVD sets and tiny Nostalgia Ventures has released three episodes of MLM (along with three eps. of Stu Erwin's "Trouble with Father"), I'm not convinced that MLM is in the public domain. A check at the US Copyright's online search engine indicates that all 126 episodes were initially registered and renewed (in 1982). I'd hazard a guess and say that VCI's release may be licensed, but I'm not so sure about Nostalgia Ventures. The fact that PD companies like Alpha Video and Mill Creek Entertainment have not released MLM (a natural for them), leads me to believe that this series is NOT in the public domain . . . . of course, I'm not an intellectual property attorney.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

of course, I'm not an intellectual property attorney.

But you do play one on TV.

In my newest post, I amended Margie's status to "partial public-domain" because even though, like you, I believe that the series may still be under copyright there are clearly episodes of MLM available in the PD. Otherwise, why would so many independent TV stations run the darn thing?

Its status is similar to say, Bonanza or The Beverly Hillbillies...the entire series may still be under copyright but a few segments have clearly slipped through the cracks.

Bobh said...

It may be that some of the independent television stations are under the impression that some episodes of MLM are in the public domain. But, based on my cursory research at the U.S. Copyright Office, I don't believe that any episodes from MLM are PD. The other barometer is the fact that Alpha Video has released no episodes from this series on DVD. I feel certain that if there were PD episodes of MLM, Alpha would have released them by now. Alpha is usually (though not always) good about releasing known PD titles. When they were getting started in the DVD business, they did release some alleged PD titles that were later found to still be under copyright and they pulled those titles from the market. It's that type of experience that leads me to believe that they have become more diligent in recent years about releasing material that is truly PD.

Bobh said...

Just as a further addendum to the question of "My Little Margie" having some of its episodes in the public domain, I checked the online catalogs of two large suppliers of public domain material, Desert Island Films, Inc. and Reel Media International. Neither of these companies list any MLM episodes among their holdings of public domain television episodes.

Bobh said...

I think I'm seeing the reason why some of these independent television stations are using episodes of "My Little Margie." There are a few other public domain suppliers, and that claim that some episodes of MLM are in the public domain; IconicStock even lists which episode numbers. So, depending on which source that a station might use for its programming, you get a different answer.

But I'm still using Alpha Video as my lithmus test, as well as my admittedly amateur sleuthing at the U.S. Copyright Office's web site. I don't believe that any MSM episodes are PD.

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