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Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Heinz Ketchup 1968 TV Spot Storyboard

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Here’s a fascinating, at least to me, document, which is somewhat off the beaten path for this blog.

This is a storyboard for a 1968 TV spot for Heinz ketchup, which was presented at a company sales meeting as an alternative to the advertising the company had done up to that point. Created by DDB, the iconic advertising agency of the 1960s — and still a major force in the advertising world today — the ad emphasized the quality, texture, and taste of the product, as compared to other, cheaper brands. You can read the entire story behind the reasoning that led up to this spot here; sadly, the video of the commercial isn’t on the web, but I think this almost frame-by-frame analysis of the advertisement is much more enlightening than the finished version. This is how stuff is sold, folks; careful consideration, a lot of contemplation, and a desire to make all of us more effective consumers.

Federico Fellini’s Television Commercials

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Yes, Federico Fellini directed television commercials — click here, or on the image above, to see them!

Just posted by the website Open Culture, here are a series of television commercials (!!) that the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini directed shortly before his death. Perhaps the most interesting one is for the Bank of Rome, in which Fernando Rey appears as a sympathetic psychiatrist. As the Open Culture website notes, “in 1991 Fellini made a series of three commercials for the Bank of Rome called Che Brutte Notti or The Bad Nights. ‘These commercials, aired the following year,’ writes Peter Bondanella in The Films of Federico Fellini, ‘are particularly interesting, since they find their inspiration in various dreams Fellini had sketched out in his dream notebooks during his career.’

In the commercial The Picnic Lunch Dream, the classic damsel-in-distress scenario is turned upside down when a man (played by Paolo Villaggio) finds himself trapped on the railroad tracks with a train bearing down on him while the beautiful woman he was dining with (Anna Falchi) climbs out of reach and taunts him. But it’s all a dream, which the man tells to his psychoanalyst (Fernando Rey). The analyst interprets the dream and assures the man that his nights will be restful if he puts his money in the Banco di Roma.”

Really worth watching; you can see Fellini’s masterful touch in every image.

Just the Facts, Man: the Complicated Genesis of Television’s Dragnet

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

I have a new piece out in Film International on the genesis of the classic 1950s television series Dragnet.

Here’s the part of what I have to say on the subject: The 1950s version of Dragnet was in many ways an “outlier” in the contemporary televisual landscape; easily burlesqued and imitated, there was still nothing else like it in terms of hard-nosed stylization, grimly procedural story lines, and, for the period, grimy authenticity. Just a look at some of the plot lines demonstrates just how out of sync Dragnet was in a world populated by the likes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, and other enormously popular, family-oriented series of the era. Dragnet, in contrast, concentrated almost entirely on the downside of 1950s American existence; the misfits, psychos, drifters, conmen, and ne’er do wells who collectively comprised the series’ world. Dragnet’s world was the netherworld of American society; and every episode made it clear that only the LAPD was holding back the tide of scum that threatened to engulf Los Angeles, and by extension, the entire nation.

In “The Big Death” (January 17, 1952), an unsuspecting husband hires Joe Friday as a hit man to kill his wife; in “The Big Mother” (January 31, 1952), a newborn infant is abducted from a hospital by an unstable young woman, who is unable to have children herself; in “The Big Speech” (February 28, 1952), Friday delivers a lecture warning on the evils of drug addiction at his former high school, even as he tracks down a teenage hoodlum, who, seeking his next fix, beats up and robs a friendly druggist; in “The Big Blast” (April 10, 1952), which Webb both wrote and directed, a young mother is killed in her bed by a shotgun blast, as her infant son slumbers next to her; in “The Big September Man” (May 8, 1952), an unbalanced sociopath feels divinely inspired to kill “a sinner,” and his former fiancée is his most recent victim; in the justly infamous “.22 Rifle for Christmas” (December 18, 1952, Dragnet’s first “Christmas episode”), co-written by [James] Moser and Webb, a young boy prematurely opens a Christmas gift – a .22 rifle – and accidentally kills one of his friends while playing with the rifle, subsequently hiding the young victim’s body in the brush on Christmas Eve.

In “The Big Lay Out” (April 16, 1953), a high school honor student becomes strung out on heroin; in “The Big Hands” (May 21, 1953), a young woman is found strangled to death in a cheap hotel room; in “The Big Nazi” (November 25, 1958), Friday uncovers a high school neo-Nazi ring; and on and on it goes, a parade of beatings, stabbings, murders, rapes, robberies, and wanton brutality that seems to have no end in sight, an unstoppable tidal wave of human greed, violence, and corruption. Compared to the 1960s version of the series, which kicked off with an unintentionally risible episode on the dangers of LSD – the “Blue Boy” episode, actually titled “The LSD Story,” first broadcast on January 12, 1967 – the 1950s version of Dragnet bristles with menace, energy, and simmering social disruption; no one even thinks of “Mirandizing” suspects, because, of course, no such law existed.

You can read the entire essay by clicking here, or on the image above.

Capitalism Eats Itself: Gluttony and Coprophagia from Hoarders to La Grande Bouffe

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

You really are what you eat.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new article in the journal Film International, entitled “Capitalism Eats Itself: Gluttony and Coprophagia from Hoarders to La Grande Bouffe,” which examines a number of television programs and films that deal with excess consumption and wastage, seemingly a more and more popular topic in contemporary throwaway culture. Here’s the opening paragraphs:

“Consumption. Excess. Gluttony. Hoarding. Waste. Massive debt. The pathologies of capitalism are our greatest export. Endless examples of unproductive expenditure only add to our credibility as gluttons with little or no use-value. Americans consume recklessly in order to convince ourselves that we are not alienated, and that late-stage capitalism will provide for us, and fulfill our emotional needs. TV and media reflect and take part in insatiable hoarding, gluttonous consumption, and excessive production and dissemination of images that reify the very same pathologies and deadly sins they purport to expose – in a cyclical loop that I call ‘capitalism eating itself.’

The US has a long history of excessive gluttony and hoarding, starting with people, as one prime example. Human beings, slaves were hoarded and gluttonously exchanged for their value in capital and manufacture of products. Our historical pathology of gluttony is easily demonstrated by our origins; we are a stolen nation; a huge gobbled up land mass birthed from colonial theft, gluttony, and hoarding. America’s bloody legacy of greed, theft, and violence is one we obsessively and compulsively deny. By replacing our primal beginnings with a narrative of so-called patriotic struggle for freedom, we deny, (like hoarders deny their compulsions), our long complex history of thievery of capital, bodies, countries, vast amounts of land, commodities and wealth.”

You can read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above.

The Archive of American Television

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Here’s a fantastic site on the history of American television, with interviews, video clips, bloopers, inside stories and statistics, all of it thoroughly indexed.

While the main site for the Archive of American Television is here, I have linked to the interview site as the first stop for viewers, since it offers something like 700 interviews with actors, writers, directors, producers and others who created television programming — the good, the bad, and the indifferent — from the first 75 years or so of television history. It’s an invaluable resource for those who are interested in researching the medium, and highly recommended.

Another example of the value of digital archives. It’s all at your fingertips.

Embracing The Apocalypse: A World Without People

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new essay in the latest issue of Film International, “Embracing the Apocalypse: A World Without People,” examining visions of the future as imagined by various Dystopian films and television programs.

As she writes, “Human-centered popular folktales of Apocalypse and Doomsday narratives of every imaginable scenario are undeniably as powerful and plentiful as they have been from the beginnings of human narrative tradition. Indeed, apocalyptic events permeate a plethora of grand narratives from myriad cultures and textual sources that prominently, almost ecstatically, feature and carefully describe the gory details of our violent end times. They are set in the future, and almost all revolve around human-centered stories complete with often similarly violent narratives, inevitable tropes of conflict, judgment, drama, and resolution, the stops we require of any genre or tradition in human narrative form.

At the center of apocalyptic vision we find, perhaps predictably, a human-dominant form of speciesism, revealing a widespread, almost universally held belief in the dominance of human beings as a species. Human beings are placed at the center of events and narratives, even narratives that don’t involve human beings. This is something that often goes unnoticed, but it is especially notable in apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and depeopled futuristic visions.

The plethora of doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic narratives are far too numerous to list, from religious scripture and Revelations, to secular visions of end times, to the myriad, often bizarre and insane sounding predictions of the end by various individuals and groups. All are narratives of human-centered destruction; some invoke the end of the earth, and some portray the end of people and human civilization; but all embrace, and seem to enjoy visions of the end. We cannot agree on much, but people agree that the end is near, the end is coming, and the end is usually defined as the end of people and human civilization.”

You can read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above; fascinating work in an area that is largely unexplored.

Topper

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to watch a complete episode of Topper.

Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling, standing; Leo G. Carroll and Lee Patrick, seated, in this 1953 cast photo from the television series Topper.

The character of Cosmo Topper, a button down banker haunted by the ghosts of George and Marian Kerby, was originally created by novelist Thorne Smith in the late 1920s, and served as the springboard for several indifferent films, but found its most lasting fame as a television series that lasted from 1953 to 1955, racking up a total of 78 episodes, which were played and replayed in syndication forever after.

In the television series, Topper was played by veteran actor Leo G. Carroll, whose eternally befuddled character was the perfect foil for the ghostly Kerbys, played by real life husband and wife team Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling. Lee Patrick, who had been knocking around in movies in bit parts — she was Sam Spade’s secretary in The Maltese Falcon, for example — was superb in role of Henrietta, Topper’s somewhat scatterbrained spouse.

The plots usually revolved around the fact that only Topper, and the audience, could see the Kerbys, who had perished in an avalanche while on a skiing vacation. For everyone else, things seemed to float around the house of their own accord, unexplained noises would erupt, and the Kerbys in general delighted in putting Topper in uncomfortable situations, all in an effort to loosen him up.

Further, the Kerbys had an alcoholic pet St. Bernard, Neil, who spent most of his time lapping up one martini after another, while Cosmo’s Boss, the exquisitely corrupt Mr. Schuyler (magnificently played by veteran heavy Thurston Hall), president of the bank where Topper works, keeps testing Topper’s patience with a variety of schemes and threats designed to make his life at the office miserable.

With the aid of the Kerbys, however, Cosmo Topper triumphs over the mendacity and mediocrity of 1950s American suburban life, and the series, which long ago passed into the Public Domain, and is available on DVD from Alpha Video, is well worth seeking out – it’s a real gem. Leo G. Carroll’s droll timing is a wonder to behold, and Sterling and Jeffries, very much in love, have a ball with their roles. Everyone on the series had to work very quickly, but they make it seem so effortless that it’s a real delight to watch.

Scripts were handled by a variety of writers, including a young Stephen Sondheim and George Oppenheimer; directors included Leslie Goodwins, Leslie H. Martinson — who later worked on the Batman TV series — and Lew Landers, and all the episodes were shot in two days or less, including time for Bewitched-style special effects, at the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, Calif.

Topper — one of the most sophisticated, literate, and adult 1950s TV shows.

The Anger Management Assembly Line

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Charlie Sheen’s new sitcom Anger Management seems poised for a 90-episode pickup deal with FX.

You may or may not recall that Charlie Sheen has landed on his feet with a new series, Anger Management, which was launched on FX with a 10 episode commitment, and then, providing that the ratings were good enough, the series would get the green light for 90 additional episodes — an unheard of deal — to be shot over the course of two years, in order to reach the magic number of 100 episodes for syndication as rapidly as possible. That’s shooting an average of an episode a week with no breaks for two years, though of course there will be downtime, so it’s actually being shot faster than that.

Well, apparently, he’s pulled it off. As The Associated Press reported, “with the expected pickup, FX plans to bring aboard Sheen’s dad, Martin Sheen, as a recurring cast member. He will play the father of Charlie Goodson, the anger-management therapist played by Charlie Sheen [. . .] Adding Sheen’s father to the series ‘will give an extra dimension and make it a multi-generational family show,’ FX boss John Landgraf said in making the announcement.

The production schedule would call for filming a total of 100 episodes in just two years. This kind of cost-saving routine means no time for rehearsals, said executive producer Bruce Helford.’The actors get the lines, we see the scene, the writers make changes, the actors go to makeup, cameras are blocked, we come back together and shoot the scene,’ he explained. At first, the cast members ‘felt like basically they were on the ledge. But by the third episode, everyone found the characters to the point that the writers were following their lead,’ Helford said.”

As Sheen himself notes in the sneak peek below, “we’re [shooting] 49 pages [of script] every two days.” This is the fastest sitcom production schedule in history. But then again, with the speed everything else is moving at, it makes a lot of sense.

Here’s a peek behind the scenes.

Who on Earth Would Want To Work for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, for a video clip from Mad Men.

No one is denying that Mad Men is an excellent television show — I watch it faithfully, though not without apprehension given its increasingly downbeat plotlines — but who on earth would want to return to those times, or work at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? It’s not really an authentic vision of the ’60s anyway; take it from me — I was alive then, working at Life Magazine as a writer, and immersed in the whole ad/print culture of the era — but rather stresses the down side of everything, as though no one is having any fun at all.

Which they’re really not; Don Draper (Jon Hamm) seems tortured on all sides by regrets, conflicting loyalties, and his enigmatic past, while Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) has recently departed the agency for greener fields (and who can blame her?), and poor Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) has just committed suicide over a forged check, for which Don fired him. Great! Just the sort of television one wants to relax with on a Sunday night, right before the start of the work week. As Don Draper explodes in a meeting with a prospective client, “you’re not happy! You’re not happy with anything!” And with the absolutely unprincipled Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) as a rising star in the agency, well, look out. Things are going to get even uglier, I have no doubt.

Still, I DVR it, watch it while zipping through the commercials, and think it’s far and away the best thing on television right now — there’s just one more episode this “season” as I write this, and then — apparently — only two seasons more after that. But with a definite end date in mind for the series, I can’t help but think that Elisabeth Moss is happy to escape her role as the much-put-upon Peggy for the lead in a Jane Campion miniseries, Top of the Lake. And we’ll be seeing Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant in Steven Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln; that footage is already in the can, as his death in Mad Men was shot last summer, but amazingly, everyone managed to keep quiet about it.

But the question remains; given the utterly hostile and desperate workplace of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce so effectively depicted in each episode of the show, who on earth would want to work there?

1950s Children’s Television

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

I have an essay forthcoming in this volume, edited by Cynthia Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper from Palgrave/Macmillan.

The fourteen essays featured here focus on series such as Space Patrol, Tom Corbett, and Captain Z-Ro, exploring their roles in the day-to-day lives of their fans through topics such as mentoring, promotion of the real-world space program, merchandising, gender issues, and ranger clubs – all the while promoting the fledgling medium of television. The distinguished group of authors involved includes Henry Jenkins, J.P. Telotte, Roy Kinnard, Patrick Lucanio and many others. Should be out in late August, early September 2012.

You can read more by clicking here, or on the image above.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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