Last month, I stumbled across KCNS channel 38, a local San Francisco TV station that broadcasts Retro TV. The timing couldn’t be better. Just as summer re-runs begin, I get to enjoy TV shows from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Some of these series I watched growing up, like Daniel Boone and Starsky & Hutch. Others are old enough to be completely new to me, like Naked City and Route 66. I love watching these programs, then going online to look up the actors.
I guess Retro TV rotates their programming every now and again. I wish I knew exactly when. Just as I was settling into a groove with one set of shows, getting the schedule memorized, everything changed. I don’t know if this will happen every month or every six months. The Retro TV website doesn’t say. Since the latest set includes Daniel Boone, I can’t complain too much. I can’t even begin describe how much I love this show. I’ve seen every episode on DVD, because a few years ago Fess Parker started releasing them season by season. As much as I adore Fess as Daniel, I think Ed Ames (Mingo) is my favorite. Growing up, naturally I liked Darby Hinton (Israel Boone) the best. Fess Parker passed away recently, as did Jimmy Dean, who went from a frequent guest star to a series regular when Ed Ames left to pursue his singing career. Ed Ames just turned 84 last Saturday (July 9th), so happy belated birthday, Mr Ames. I have his greatest hits on mp3 player, and I listen to them all the time. He’s just the best.
A couple of years ago I had a marathon viewing of Starsky & Hutch on DVD. I know Starsky was the funny guy, but I always liked the blonde. This series was about guns and hot cars, but what made it special was the caring relationship between the two leads. There are certain episodes that stand out. There’s the one where Starsky is shot in an Italian restaurant by hit men waiting for a mob boss, and Hutch takes care of him. There’s also the one where Hutch is abducted and turned into a heroin addict. Starsky helps him through his withdrawal. The physical contact shared by these two straight characters is remarkable when you consider the show was made in the late 1970s. Actually, straight male characters don’t really touch now. Not that much has changed. Anyway, both Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul went through very difficult times after Starsky & Hutch ended. I’m still fascinated by these two actors. Yeah, I have The Best of David Soul on CD, and I just put the songs on my mp3 player. (Don’t Give Up on Us, Baby!)
One of the few shows on Retro TV that’s not that old is Da Vinci’s Inquest. This Canadian show really sneaks up on you, sucking you in. I have to confess, I turn on my TV’s captions when watching, because the actors talk fast and mumble a bit. I really like Ian Tracey, so I guess he’s the reason I keep tuning in. I remember the first time I noticed him, he was a guest star on The X-Files (season 3: The Walk). Of course, he was hard to miss, playing a soldier with no arms or legs, a brilliant display of special effects wizardry coupled with a standout performance. According to IMDb, Tracey appeared on 21 Jump Street years before. I loved that show because of Johnny Depp. Now there’s a series that should be on Retro TV! You can watch all of it on hulu, at least. Of course, 21 Jump Street was not an original concept, with young-looking cops going undercover in high schools. There was David Cassidy: Man Undercover, which was a spin-off of an episode of Police Story (also shown on Retro TV). Before Man Undercover, there was The Mod Squad, another series that I adore.
Some of the shows from the last schedule provided me with lots of happy googling. I was surprised to learn that Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H and Dragnet) is 96 and still with us, while Pete Duel (Alias Smith and Jones) committed suicide at the age of 31. Watching Dragnet last month, I spotted a very young John Rubinstein (Family and Crazy Like a Fox). The episode was called The Grenade, and it was his first TV role. I worked with Mr. Rubinstein at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1985, and I have such good memories from that experience. John Rubinstein is still really busy working in theatre and television. He’s looking great, too.
The strangest thing about Retro TV’s programming? The predominance of all male casts. Women are almost as rare as hen’s teeth. Sure, there are female guest stars, but very few women in regular recurring roles on these shows. I don’t know why. It’s a mystery!
Update: I wrote an email to the Retro TV website, but they haven’t answered, and now the website has been down for a couple of weeks. Very strange.
Speaking of old TV shows and female performers, a couple of nights ago I went to I Dream of Barbara Eden as the Castro Theatre. It was a rather odd show consisting of belly dancers, film clips, a Jeannie look-alike contest, and an onstage chat with Barbara Eden. She looks great, and she seems like a very nice lady. Most of the memories and anecdotes she shared were positive; Elvis Presley was a gentleman, Lucille Ball was lovely and down to earth, Marilyn Monroe just glowed. She did say that Ann Southern was mean. She also told us that Larry Hagman could act childishly when he felt threatened by the male guest stars on I Dream of Jeannie. I think I will have to read more in Barbara Eden’s new book.
Last week I read the book Brady, Brady, Brady by creator Sherwood Schwartz and his son Lloyd Schwartz, who went from dialogue coach to producer and director of the show. It was an entertaining behind-the-scenes book about The Brady Bunch. I was shocked to find out that Sherwood Schwartz died today. He was 94. He had a good long life, and he certainly made us laugh. Thank you, Mr. Schwartz.