Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pilots' License

Thanks to a discount chain recently deciding to offload a number of television series on DVD, I’ve been able to snatch up a nice little sampling of shows from one of the eras I treasure the most, the 1970s (and a tad from the lates '60s.) Having been born in ’67, I missed out on the bulk of these programs when they first aired, though some of them I was later able to see, if not always in the earliest parts of their initial runs. Today, I’ll be focusing on some amusing or otherwise interesting (to me, anyway!) tidbits from these and other shows that have caught my attention in the transition from the pilot episode to the regular series.

Most diehard fans of The Golden Girls are aware that the pilot episode for that show included a character never seen or heard from again after the pilot.
Coco, the resident cook/helpmate, was intended to be on site as a sort of smart mouth or a sounding board for the three leads Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan. Estelle Getty, who was also featured in the pilot, but in a different type of wig than would later be used, was initially only going to be a recurring character. Once it was discovered how magical the chemistry was between the four ladies, there was no longer any need for Coco (played by Charles Levin) and he was removed from subsequent episodes, with Getty promoted to permanent costar. (And she was given some wonderfully blunt and hilarious lines in the pilot almost stealing the show!)

Considering how many fun
moments in the show revolved around cooking, home repair and money problems, it’s clear that it was the right move to not have hired help on hand. Besides, the dynamic was just off with this person around. Whenever I see the pilot, I am struck by this big ol’ queen in the studio audience who is practically rupturing himself laughing and hooting uncontrollably, almost stopping the show at times. (It’s a miracle that Bea held it together.) It was clear that the show was going to appeal to a gay audience and it did, though Coco was not getting the same laughs as the other “girls.”

Also in the pilot, the hallway leading back to the lanai, in this episode only, actually leads to Blanche’s bedroom!
Blanche was still a bit of a work in progress at this time. She is referred to as Blanche Hollingsworth, not Devereaux as it would be from then on. She also has no real southern accent, the director of the episode disallowing McClanahan to affect one! Thankfully, this would be repaired in the very next episode. (McClanahan and White had switched roles only a short while beforehand, though they both soon found their respective grooves.)

Dorothy also relates to Rose that she was from Queens. Hereafter, she would always be a Brooklyn girl. For more about Bea, Betty and Rue and their careers overall, you can click on their names at the right and find little tributes to each of them!

Another show with female leads also had an additional male on board for the pilot. Did you know that Charlie’s Angels originally had another man in the cast besides Bosley (and the disembodied voice of Charlie?) Insulting as it may seem now, it was felt in 1976 that viewers would not accept the premise of three female private detectives doing all of their own dirty work and investigating without “help.” So David Ogden Stiers, truly a bizarre choice, was added to the mix as Scott Woodville, with the intention that Bosley would stick more to the office work and Woodville would be on hand as a backup in the field for the ladies. In retrospect, this is all quite jarring to see. It was more than obvious in watching the ninety-minute pilot (with commercials) that the character was superfluous and an unnecessary distraction from the capable and lovely ladies, so he was gone by the first “real” episode. You can see David (Bosley) Doyle's utter boredom here as Woodville even operated the slides and worked the speakerphone! The pilot featured electronically-closing drapes and a more grand-looking office area with a raised, virtual "stage" for the slide projector.

One fun thing about the pilot for Angels is the presence of Tommy Lee Jones in a very early role. Aside from a bit in Love Story (billed there as “Tom Lee Jones”) and a couple of very obscure movies, he had only done some TV acting; a stint on One Life to Live and primetime shows such as Barnaby Jones and Baretta. In a couple of years he would emerge as a motion picture leading man and eventually an Oscar winner for The Fugitive.

The ninety-minute inaugural episode didn’t have the traditional opening credits, but instead showed each of the ladies busy with some sort of sporting activity only to be interrupted by a phone call (from some amazingly well-placed phones!), by which Charlie would call them to work. The now famous silhouette of the three female P.I.s in an action pose had not yet been invented and instead the commercials were bumped with a shot of three individual day-glo silhouettes of the gals, each in her own outfit from the phone calls and each with her hands in prayer formation. (Kelly in a bikini, Sabrina in riding gear and Jill in tennis-wear.) By the way, if you're wondering why Kelly's silhouette has her legs crossed, it's because Jaclyn Smith (always lovely in my estimation) was declared bow-legged and, at least at first, care was often taken to cover this up via clothing or poses.

Police Woman, one of the series that many felt laid the foundation for the existence of such a show as Charlie’s Angels, was all about the experiences of a lady cop, played by Miss Angie Dickinson. The pilot for Police Woman was actually featured as a 1974 episode of the high quality anthology series Police Story, a great program that typically featured individual dramas that had no connection to each other from week to week. In the episode The Gamble,
we meet Dickinson (here named Lisa Beaumont, but in the subsequent series to be re-dubbed with the somewhat more vibrant Suzanne “Pepper” Anderson) and her fellow cops. Officers Styles (Ed Bernard) and Royster (Charles Dierkop) would continue on with her on Police Woman, but the primary costarring character of Crowley was not played by Earl Holliman in the pilot. Here, the role was essayed by none other than Bert Convy! Once the series was in preparation, it was decided that a slightly more physical and rough-edged type of actor be used rather than the urbane Convy, so western and crime movie veteran Holliman won the part.

Dickinson’s character Lisa/Pepper had a little autistic sister she visited, offering the opportunity for the character to show her nurturing, sensitive side, but this was quickly abandoned after only one more episode as Dickinson could convey this aspect of her role without such a device and the idea of forty-three year old Angie with a preteen sister seemed preposterous. (The girl in the part was the daughter of a producer! For once, nepotism lost out before too long.)

Ninety-minute pilots were a frequent method of introducing series in the 1960s and ‘70s. It gave the writers time to introduce all the characters and still have a fully fleshed-out story. A slightly longer running time also meant that audiences might begin to identify with or like the characters presented enough to warrant tuning in next time for a regular series episode. 1968’s The Mod Squad was introduced this way, with three once-wayward, now-upstanding young people fighting crime, mostly amongst the teen and twenty-something set. Their boss on the show, Captain Greer, was played by Tige Andrews (pronounced like “tie”, but with a hard g on the end, short for Tiger, believe it or not!) One of countless men to go prematurely bald, he was originally given a toupee that was swept back off the face, but only for that episode. By the time the regular series began, he’d been given a shorter and more youthful, combed forward wig. This series’ theme song, by the way, was a rousing, driving, brassy one, surprisingly composed by the same man (Earle Hagen) wrote the themes for the vastly different The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show!

Hart to Hart, a show that began in 1979, started things off with a two-hour pilot. This way the episode could be shown as a two-parter in syndicated reruns. The memorably energetic and dynamic theme music was nowhere to be found during the opening credits. Instead, there was a practically gag-inducing melody that was far more whimsical. Though, mercifully, they are never once heard during the program, there were actually lyrics written by Leslie Bricusse to this discarded theme song and we pray that they and it never see the light of day again.
Some chase music (written by Mark Snow) found later in the episode was turned into the opening theme song for the subsequent series.

In the pilot, Robert Wagner is depicted as a fabulously wealthy, self-made man, the head of Hart Industries. He must also be one of the thriftiest millionaires ever, because, in one scene, he is about to kick in a door and the camera reveals that the bottom of his shoe has a gnarly hole in it!!

This pilot has a very rare and unusual distinction to it. It features Stefanie Powers as Mrs. Hart, Wagner’s wife on the show, Natalie Wood (in a cameo as a southern belle on a studio lot), his real life wife at the time, and Jill St. John, the woman who would later become his wife after the untimely death of Wood! Even more bizarre is the fact that these three ladies, in real life, were students in the very same seven-person ballet class as little girls. Wagner’s TV wife and two of his real life wives had known each other since pre-puberty! (Nat is on the far left. Chubby-cheeked Stef is on the far right and Jill, in ponytails, is to her right.)

Powers shared remarkable chemistry with Wagner and, apart from the regular show which ran four five seasons, the two of them did the play Love Letters together and reunited in the mid ‘90s for eight Hart to Hart reunion TV-movies. Producers originally wanted Wagner to do the series with real life wife Wood,
but she was still enjoying a career in feature films and didn’t want to be tied down to the grind of a weekly show. Her walk-on role was merely for fun. St. John seems to have bought up all of the blush for miles around and is extremely heavily made up throughout the episode. Still, she and the other ladies were proud of the fact that not one female under thirty-five appeared in the pilot in a major role, rare for TV at that time (and now!)
Guest-starring as the operators of a mysterious and sinister
spa were none other than Roddy McDowall and Stella Stevens, seven years after their teaming in The Poseidon Adventure. (It shouldn't be hard, considering where you are and who the webmaster is, to figure out whether or not I find this casting fun!) Good friends, they had appeared in the 1973 film Arnold and worked together in things up to 1995 when they did the sci-fi cheapie Star Hunter. Sadly, he would be dead of lung cancer by 1998.

Most of us know about how All in the Family’s first two pilots had a different Mike and Gloria and how the first Star Trek pilot initially had Jeffrey Hunter
as the Enterprise’s Captain. But how about The Love Boat… Ever heard of Captain Ford, Doctor O’Neil or Gerry, your cruise director? These characters were played by Ted Hamilton, Dick Van Patten and Terry O’Mara along with “imposters” Teddy Wilson as Isaac the bartender and Sandy Helberg as Gopher, the yeoman purser in the very first 1976 TV-movie The Love Boat. In the second movie, The Love Boat II, Bernie Kopell (still called Dr. O’Neill, but now with an extra “l”), Ted Lange and Fred Grandy were on board, but Quinn Redeker was Captain Madison and Diane Stilwell was Sandy, the cruise director. It wasn’t until the third TV-movie The New Love Boat that the familiar team of staff was completely assembled and ready to sail the seas together. Incidentally, that second Love Boat movie featured an extra crewmember that was never seen or heard from again, Amy the lounge entertainer, played by Candice Azzara. In the cyclical, cannibalistic world of TV production, she happened to have been Gloria in the second pilot for All in the Family (when the family name was Justice, not Bunker!)

Some folks may be aware, though the vast majority
probably are not, that there was a spin-off of Bewitched produced in 1977 called Tabatha (that’s how it was incorrectly spelled in the first pilot.) The first attempt for that series was written and directed by Bewitched producer (and husband of Elizabeth Montgomery) William Asher. Somehow, in the span of just five years, the little girl from Bewitched was now a young woman living on her own in San Francisco! Played by Liberty Williams, she sought to live a normal live in the workforce while little brother Adam, a warlock, interfered. The format proved unacceptable to the network and so the project was completely retooled and recast!
The result was a short-lived series, now correctly called Tabitha, starring pert, perky Lisa Hartman and handsome Robert Urich.
This time, Tabitha was the younger sibling and somehow her baby brother Adam was older than her and already an established TV exec while she went to work as an intern at the same station. This poor tragic show (that virtually everyone involved with the original, including Asher this time, steered well clear of) limped along for eleven episodes before going “poof!” The Kravitzes did make an appearance in one episode and Dr. Bombay showed up, but it was hopeless. The opening credits for the series actually showed the original Tabitha (Erin Murphy) in some old snapshots.

Pilots often seemed to offer up just a tad more skin than the actual series would later reveal. Perhaps it stemmed from an effort to grab executives’ (or focus groups’) attention and make them take an interest in what was occurring on screen. Unless I’m mistaken, Uncle Bill (Brian Keith) never again took another visible bubble bath on Family Affair following the introductory episode. There was also a marked difference in his hair after the pilot, with his unkempt dishwater blonde and gray locks being replaced by unkempt bright golden blonde ones! Regarding nothing, one of the things I loved about this show was Keith's string of glamorous, sophisticated dates.
The first regular episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (the two-hour pilot having been released as a feature film) had Gil Gerard enjoying a spacious bath while visiting a wealthy planet. (I know that the first episode of the series isn’t always the same as the pilot,
but if you think a distinction like that is going to keep me from posting a shot of ol’ Gil in the tub, then this must be your first visit to The Underworld! LOL) Though he was often unzipped halfway during the first season, he was rarely shirtless and never again seen bathing. By season two, Mr. Gerard was experiencing a weight gain and began wearing a jacket over his snug costumes. Years later, his quest to lose the considerable weight he finally ended up gaining and reclaim his health became the subject of several news and entertainment programs.

Probably the biggest example of a pilot episode showing skin is Starsky and Hutch. The 1975 series kicked off with a ninety-minute pilot that found ways for the gentlemen to strip down several times. Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) was shirtless twice while Hutch (David Soul) stripped down three times. In fact, this is the episode in which the guys are shown wearing those gold-colored little towels along with their shoulder holsters and nothing else. That shot was used in the opening credits for years and was even parodied in the big screen, Ben Stiller-Owen Wilson remake, but ironically, because of the running time of the pilot, was very rarely shown in syndication. Most of the iconic shots to be found in the opening credits were from the rarely seen pilot! What’s funny is that as the detectives were about to shoot the scene with the towels, they began to strip down and are shown behind a piece of furniture, removing their jeans. Only, Glaser is accidentally shot from the side just before tossing some jeans in front of him as if having just removed them, but yet is clearly still wearing them! This set of pictures is from one continuous shot. Oops.

Less shy is Soul, who opens the pilot episode with a boxing sequence in a gym. Cut to the locker room and he is shown showering after his tete-a-tete with a punching bag. He shows, perhaps, a tad bit more hip than viewers were used to seeing then. No big deal except that as the camera moves to the changing area – in one continuous camera move – where Glaser is conversing with attendant Gordon Jump, it becomes quite clear in the background that Soul was ACTUALLY bare-assed naked in the shower. He (in an admittedly far away and unfocused shot) is seen crossing the doorway to get a towel and is quite obviously wearing NOTHING! Frontal nudity on America’s TV screens in 1976, ladies and gentlemen! (As long as one had a 60” high-contrast television! LOL) Once he makes it up to Jump and Glaser, he's even sporting a little tent for a few moments, obscured off and on for a while by Jump's handing of all the dirty towels. Must See TV, indeed!

Later in the episode,
the guys are drenched to the bone during a stakeout and go to a laundromat to dry their clothes, requiring them to wait it out wearing only some towels. At this rate, it’s no wonder that people began to sense homoeroticism in the series, though it was rare from here on in for the gentlemen to be this unclothed. Hutch was occasionally shirtless in the locker room and did take another couple of showers, but none this revealing. In any case, these scenes do help make the pilot easier to watch.

This pilot for Starsky & Hutch featured a different Captan Dobey, the superior officer of the detectives. Gravel-voiced Richard Ward initially played the role that would later be handled by the more familiar Bernie Hamilton. Antonio Fargas’ Huggy Bear was right there from the start, however, though he became a bit less criminally active as the program progressed.

I hope you got a little kick out of this trip down television’s memory lane. Leave a comment if you wish to recall any particular details of your own regarding a pilot and the series that followed. I’ll leave you with another image or two of Mr. Starsky and Mr. Hutch demonstrating their perfectly normal affection and man-love. (Even the stars later admitted that the series was about the love between these two gentlemen, albeit completely straight and aboveboard.)


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