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Frank Lupo and Babs Greyhosky were two of the mainstays of the Stephen J. Cannell productions of the early 1980's. Frank Lupo's early work on "The Greatest American Hero" was brilliant. But his later stuff is often bland cop dramas. Most important later work: the pilot he wrote with Stephen J. Cannell for "Wiseguy".
Both Lupo and Mark Jones, two of the mainstays of Cannell productions in the early 1980's, were veterans of "Sheriff Lobo". As was Richard Christian Matheson, who contributed much to "The A Team". So was Thomas Chehak, of "Double Dare". I have no information on the origins of Babs Grayhosky, but purely irrationally I wonder if she might be part of the same crew.
Most of the "Remington Steele" group, those that started in the second year of that show and went on to the end, are veterans of "Hart to Hart". This group includes Brian Allen Lane, Jeff Melvoin, and Richard De Roy. Also passing through "hart to Hart" are such Spelling dramatic types as E. Duke Vincent ("Matt Houston", "Hollywood Beat"), "Hotel" writers Geoffrey Fisher & Ross Teel, and Bill & Jo LaMond; and the authors of the best "Tales of the Gold Monkey" episode, Stephen Katz & Pierre Elliot.
"The Incredible Hulk" contributed much of the sf writing talent of 1980's television. James D. Parriott, of "Voyagers" and "Misfits of Science", Jill Donner, of "Voyagers" and "Code Name: Fox Fire", Paul Belous & Robert Woltersdorff of "Street Hawk" and "Quantum Leap", Nicholas Corea of "Street Hawk", "Gavilan", "JOE and the Colonel" and "The Outlaws", Deborah Davis of "Street Hawk", and Sam Egan of "Automan" are all veterans of "The Incredible Hulk". Another Hulkster is Richard Christian Matheson, but his work is more closely allied to the Lobo alumni, his other affiliation. William G. Whitehead, of "Wildside" & "Simon & Simon", is also a Hulkster, but these shows did not involve him in science fiction.
Michael Gleason and Christopher Crowe seem to be alumni of the Glen Larson organization. Both worked on "Sword of Justice", and Crowe on "Nancy Drew" and "The Hardy Boys".
Deborah Pratt has spent her TV career on Bellisario shows, "Magnum, PI", "Airwolf", and "Quantum Leap".
David J. Burke ("Wise Guy") is an alumnus of the Michael Mann shows, "Miami Vice" and "Crime Story". Many of the writers and actors on "Wise Guy" were "Crime Story" alumni, including Eric , and actors Ray Sharkey, Anthony Dennison, and Stephen Hill. William Russ made a memorable preappearance on "Miami Vice", in a role similar to his Roger Loccoco character.
"Simon and Simon" seemed to develop new talent that never worked on other TV shows, before. These include Michael Piller, Thomas Perry & Michael Genelin.
Movie screenwriters who have come to TV include Henry Rosenbaum ("Hollywood Beat"), and the team of Glen Morgan & James Wong ("21 Jump Street", "Booker").
In the second half of the 1980's, Miami Vice became the principal influence on TV cop shows. This was felt in several ways. For one thing, shows became more serious and less humorous. Such witty comedy-mysteries as Remington Steele, Moonlighting and Riptide were replaced by grimmer works. There was also a great deal of emphasis on the characters being hip. After all, Crockett and Tubbs were the epitome of hip.
One can summarize Miami Vice's influence on specific works.
Crime Story. Produced by the same team as Miami Vice. Shares its emphasis on the visually spectacular.
L.A. Takedown. A pilot, also from Michael Mann. Attempts to do for L.A. what Vice did for Miami. Very snazzy clothes worn by the detective and bad guy. Unfortunately, never made it to a series, indicating that by 1989, cycle might have run its course, either ratings wise, or in terms of expense of production.
Houston Knights. Another attempt to focus on two cops in a semi-tropical city. Show focuses on Houston's lush vegetation. Cop from Chicago is very snappy dresser, like Don Johnson.
Hollywood Beat. Another direct imitation, this time from Aaron Spelling. Two cops in Hollywood. Instead of high fashion, cops spend a lot of time undercover in uniforms: Military police, Marines, airline pilots, bikers. Attempts to recreate military macho fantasy feel of such earlier Spelling hits as SWAT. Men have tough, former Marine Corps boss, whom they really respect. Just like boss Hondo Harrelson on SWAT. Boss is played by Ed Winter, no less, who always played macho authority figures on TV of the 80's. It was one of his rare chances to play a good guy.
Private Eye. A 1960's L.A. private eye, from the author of the pilot of Miami Vice. Attempts a visual "look" that is as lavish as Miami Vice. Despite high budgets, fails in ratings after one season.
Wiseguy. Cannell Productions abandon comedy approach under influence of Vice, come up with new paradigm. Show has a real edge, just like Vice.
The Dirty Dozen. Although technically this is a war show, not a cop show, the Dozen spend most of their time going undercover on various operations, just like the police characters of the period. They get to dress up in various costumes, assume new identities, carry out elaborate schemes, etc. The show is clearly in the tradition of the police dramas of the era. One frightening historical footnote: made in 1988 in Yugoslavia, the location photography in Dozen made that country looked like the most beautiful place on Earth. I always thought of the Balkans as a tourist paradise... Only on few years later, the horrible war broke out.
These shows form a separate tradition among TV dramas. They tended to have their own writers and especially directors, who followed them from series to series. They were much less violent than American TV cop shows, in part because they had lower budgets and were unable to afford the ritual car chases and stunts of the American action series.
The True Blue series dealt with a high tech rescue unit of the New York City police. It had the bit of a feel of a high tech CHiPs, but it also focused on the personal lives of the various cops. The scripts usually focus on a series of stories, and often are lively and intelligent. The technology, the rescue situations, and the eccentric characters the heroes meet place them continuously in environments different from conventional daily life. Like Moby-Dick, the shows often demonstrated that a life of adventure away from conventional daily reality has great interest.
True Blue was shot on location in New York City, and benefited greatly from it. Unlike such dippy shows as The Equalizer or Beauty and the Beast, which mainly concentrated on showing New York as a place of Menacing Crime, True Blue often depicted New York City as the awesome technological activity that it is. It visited the docks, the subway, the zoo, art galleries, TV studios and the Empire State Building. It is interesting that a show made by Canadians, like True Blue, should express admiration for New York, while shows made by Americans take the opposite view. Years ago, films always glamorized New York, but today many Hollywood filmmakers seem unable to see the wonder in anything.
Not that True Blue glossed over social problems. It especially looked at people who are at a disadvantage in our society: the homeless, the working poor, orphans, the deaf, and the mentally ill.
True Blue's pilot was poor, but the first two episodes kicked in with some good scripts
"Tunnel Vision" has a marvelous opening montage, clearly modeled on Koyaanisqatsi, showing fast motion film of people moving through the subway. It would be interesting to know who did this. The montage emphasizes the visual beauty of film shot from the moving train through the tunnel, and is one of the better visual scenes in modern TV. The rest of "Tunnel Vision" has some interesting commentary on the homeless. It focuses on one of the cops, who faces a dilemma on how to help a homeless family he encounters.
"Chinatown" shows Azzopardi's visual flair, including a fine fireworks finale.
Private Eye (1987) was the ultimate in private eye fantasies, at least in terms of clothes, cars and settings. Set in 1960's Los Angeles, itself a dream location in terms of Sun, glamour and easy money, our hero drove a black 1958 Cadillac convertible with tail fins a mile long. Our hero always dressed in dark, authoritative suits, making him the commanding figure in every gathering he participated in. His gigantic office, full of Art Deco and glass brick, symbolized success, wealth and power. Just sitting behind his desk made him look like he was holding court in a throne room.
His sidekick, a late fifties hot rodder type, always wore the uniform of the hot rodder: jeans, white T shirt, black leather motorcycle jacket, greased up hair. Except, of course, when he was dressed up in Elvis style clothes for his part time career as a rock and roller. 1987 was the dressiest year for TV cops. A large number of shows featured heroes who were always dressed up to the max, whose clothes suggested that they were part of a world of success. In more recent years TV styles have changed. The heroes are dressed down, dowdy or just plain ratty, and only the villains, big time crooks, are fashionably attired.
Private Eye's scripts were often not as upbeat (or as high quality) as its production values. Oftentimes the show ended tragically, with unearned disastrous outcomes for characters the audience sympathized with. This might have hurt its appeal in the ratings: it never clicked with the public at all. There was not much humor in the main stories either, although the agency secretary (Lisa Jane Persky) did a good job as comedy relief. I think Woods was excellent in the Private Eye role, and in the other parts I've seen him play as well - such as "Our Family Honor". But then, the networks never really support any of their action, adventure or science fiction shows. They put them on, but they don't really honor or respect them. At the first sign of trouble, they are off the air. By contrast, such sacred dramas as "Hill Street Blues" or "LA Law" are given forever to find audiences, while the networks issue mountains of press releases describing them as "Quality Television". Paradoxically, the action to sf continuum is what American TV does best - the only substantial part of 80's American TV that will be of interest to people in the future, other than its newscasts. Perhaps this is one reason why network TV is having such a hard time keeping audiences - it simply does not believe in its own product.
"Tales From the Hollywood Hills" was a PBS series that filmed classic short stories set in Hollywood - works by Fitzgerald, Faulkner, PG Wodehouse and Gavin Lambert, for example. It was an attempt to create an American version of the sort of fiction to film transition that Masterpiece Theater has done so successfully for British literature. The series was very interesting, and showed how successful such attempts could be. More American filmmakers should take up this challenge. There are mountains of interesting American novels and tales waiting to be filmed, and it would greatly encourage our public to be more familiar with our cultural background.
The glamorous settings and costumes of this series, usually set in historical periods in the L.A area, make an interesting supplement to "Private Eye"'s look at similar eras in LA.
Another major series of 1987 was Houston Knights. It starred Michael Pare and Michael Beck. Pare has had an interesting career. He started out as a juvenile delinquent (with a heart of gold) on The Greatest American Hero. He was especially affecting, with his finest hour being "Saturday Night on Sunset Boulevard", in which he learns to grow up from his teacher-role model. He got a plum role in the mystery film "Eddie and the Cruisers", which is one of the best films of the 80's. His rock singer in this film seems a natural outgrowth of his work on "The Greatest American Hero", and he seemed definitely to be a supporting player ready to graduate to bigger things. After these successes, he got leads in the films "The Philadelphia Experiment" and "Streets of Fire", seemed to undergo a complete on-screen personality change, and fell flat on his face. He seemed very dull as a leading man. His new, low brow, slob persona lacked glamour, and he didn't seem to radiate much personality and energy, unlike his earlier television appearances. This might not have been all his fault. "The Philadelphia Experiment" is a very dull movie by any standards, and would have defeated any leading man. In "Streets of Fire", a much better film, he was completely out-vavoomed by Willem Dafoe as the bad guy, who was a killer and kidnapper, but who otherwise seemed like a lot more fun to know that the hero. Pare was also given an Early Nothing wardrobe in this movie, unlike the bad guy, who swaggered around in Armani-designed black leather jump suits during the entire film. All in all, though, the bubbles had certainly gone out of Pare's champagne.
At this point Pare retooled. He went back to TV, and showed a new, third and completely different persona, a sharply dressed leading man with plenty of edge. No longer a juvenile, but very grown up, in Houston Knights he played a sophisticated Chicago cop, who had to transfer to Houston to get away from the Chicago mob. The clothes on this show were spectacular. Both Pare, and various bad guys always wore the last word in Italian fashion. Double breasted suits, fancy jackets, avante garde fabrics, all made this show the last word in high fashion. Even today, the clothes look more with it than most current shows. It is a high point of a certain kind of sharply dressed look on TV.
The Houston locations did not hurt this series, either. The series concentrated on areas of lush green semi-tropical vegetation, often near water, such as canals and rivers. The real Houston looks nowhere as fertile as this, usually, but it certainly made for an interesting show.
Pare's career has continued since Houston Knights went off the air. He has worked as leading man in a succession of low budget films. The most entertaining of these has been "Instant Justice" (1987), a melodrama where he played a U. S. Marine in Spain battling drug dealers.
Another 1987 TV show of high quality was "Wiseguy". I have seen virtually every episode of the series during its three year run. Unlike most of the other 1987 series, which didn't last beyond a single season, Wiseguy went on indefinitely, and still might be resurrected. The show became a critical if not ratings hit, at least, and went on to become a cult favorite among the big city tastemakers. Clubs sprang up to watch the show, and exchange videotapes of episodes they missed. CBS kept the program going as a success d'estime, if nothing else.
The first season (1987-88) of Wiseguy was its best, but there were many outstanding episodes later on, too. The first season falls exactly into two halves, each dealing with a different set of villains. At the end of the first half the viewer thought that he or she had never seen anything like this, and had reached the outer limits of weirdness for a TV detective show. Then the second half went on to develop far stranger characters and situations yet. The whole first year tried to develop innovative television, bringing fresh plot ideas into the tired TV mystery.
The later years could not keep up this pace of invention. Even when they were good, they did not have the same "paradigm shift" quality of the first season. Perhaps we viewers had absorbed the "world view" of the writers, and were no longer so suprizable. But several sequences of shows (or "arcs", as the producers called them) were very good. Notably the music business episode in the second year, and the Washington sequence in the third.
"The Oldest Rookie" had a good pilot, but it was followed by numerous very routine cop show episodes, and got canceled. It needed much better writing. The interesting characters of the pilot were not much further developed, and neither in fact was made very likable, between their whining and sarcastic backbiting. Neither showed any great skill as detectives, or heroic qualities, either. This is a pity, because the pilot has considerable charm, although not believability.
Rob Cohen's TV work has been gaining in visual beauty over the years. It is not usual to see a director start out to be fairly styleless, apparently, and gradually develop. His Miami Vice "Ethan" was a work of great dramatic power. William Russ' performance in the title role was a first full sketch of the character Roger Lococo he later portrayed on Wise Guy. (Russ is fully capable of playing many other roles; this is just the origin of one of his best.) Cohen then took full advantage of the spectacular production values of "Private Eye", one of the most beautiful looking TV shows of recent years. His "Fire and Ice" episode of "The Nasty Boys" has a beautiful finale in a neon junkyard.
Quinn is attracted to stories where the hero has a secret identity. (This is also the most persistent theme of Jonathan Demme's work). The TV preacher in Amen Send Money, the Rock Hudson-like movie star in Private Eye, and best of all, the cop on The Good, the Bad and The Nasty who is secretly member of the Nasty Boys. Our hero's secret is tracked down by a reporter clearly modeled on Lois Lane's persistent attempts to prove Clark Kent is Superman.
Gil Grant's first two series pilots have a great deal in common. "Detective in the House" deals with a successful, middle-aged engineer who drops out to become a private eye; "The Oldest Rookie" deals with a high ranking, middle-aged police official who goes back on the street as a rookie.
His "Hull High" seems to have no connection with this plot. It does share Marshall Fine as a comic villain; in the Oldest Rookie he was an obnoxious police detective; in Hull he is the sinister biology teacher. There might also be a connection between his teen hero in "Hull" and the hero's partner in "Oldest Rookie". Both are sensitive young men, somewhat worried about how to make progress in life. In "Hull", the hero showed memorable concern about asking a girl out for a date (this was the best scene in the show); in "Rookie" our hero seemed concerned about being stalled in his police career. For that matter, the teacher hero of "Hull" also seemed concerned about both dating and career.
The two pilots I've seen written by Olek, "Spraggue" and "The Ladies on Sweet Street", have much in common. In both, there is a focus on strong relations between mothers and grown kid detectives. This sympathetic treatment of senior citizens is unusual on TV. There is also a welcome vein of humor, and of intellectualism - these characters do not exist in a cultural or scientific vacuum. "Ladies" is the better work. For one thing, "Spraggue" wastes too much time with its creepy crawly villain, and not enough with its far more interesting hero, a convincingly brainy professor of marine biology. By contrast, "Ladies" focuses on its good guys. For another, "Ladies"' mystery plot is cleverer. It is good to see a writer growing, and playing more and more to his strengths as time progresses.
Miller's two principal TV works to date are "Student Exchange" and "The Closed Set". She is an expansive director, with a fondness for flamboyant characters, musical numbers and scenes crowded with many characters, not to mention motorcycles. Both works show intellectual figures going up against a social establishment. The intellectual characters are extremely lively, the establishment far more frozen and out of date, but with a great deal of social power. Her characters seem turbocharged with a good deal of energy, sexual, intellectual, social and moral. Whether engaging two by two or in her spectacular, polished ensemble scenes, they come alive in their social connections to each other.
Guy Magar's best work shows a rowdy humor. Many of the best situations in his work are eccentric to the max. His work is never sick, or really weird, however - he is a very upbeat personality. Unforgettable images abound, such as Mr. T. jumping out of a wedding cake in the "Holiday In the Hills" A Team. Other favorite Magar moment: Alex Karras & Bubba Smith trying to bail out of a crashing airplane in the Blue Thunder "Skydivers".
Shangri-la Plaza is also a musical film. It is full of both recitative and aria, if I can borrow terms from classical music. Its ideal is almost to have sung or recitative dialog throughout, but there are also many short passages of spoken text, often superimposed on a musical accompaniment. It is very different than most American musicals, and reminds one most of such French films as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy) or Le Million (Clair). The filmmakers are exploring unique ground here, because few if any films have been made in this style. This is a highly original work, and the filmmakers are continuously in the position of devising textural mixtures of spoken, recitative and sung dialogue, all accompanying patterns of dance and plot action. The complex pattern they have created is beautiful, and singularly fresh and effective, for such a pioneering work. If people are looking for "Quality Television", this is it.
The Last Starfighter also pioneered in computer designed "reality" in its space sections. Castle is an innovative filmmaker whose works should be more widely studied. In his combination of visual design, and sympathetic look at the poor, he reminds one of Sternberg, especially The Docks of New York.
Virgil Vogel's TV dramas tend to share a common structure. In them, the protagonist has to choose between two rival philosophies, or ways of life. The other characters are divided into two groups, each group being advocates of one of the two philosophies. The members of each group spend the hour trying to persuade the hero to join their side. Most of the dramatic action is carefully conceived to illustrate the two philosophies, especially their moral value and their impact on human life.
For example, the Street Hawk episode "A Second Self" presents two men who illustrate different life styles. One is the hero's former best friend, a macho man and daredevil cyclist. The other is his current best friend, an intellectual, nerdy, but caring scientist. Just as our hero has a secret identity as crime fighter Street Hawk, the macho man has a secret identity as a hit man. Neither man knows of the other's secret identity; the hit man has been hired by criminals to kill Street Hawk.
Our hero gets a lesson in two types of masculinity, represented by the two men. The macho man is relentlessly competitive, lacks concern for others, is mindless and purely athletic. His hit man career is a logical, if sinister, development of his philosophy of life. The scientist is intelligent and loving. He is concerned for his friends and tries to help them. He lacks the obvious macho looks of the other, but is a much better friend.
There are other paradoxes here, too. The hit man, being an athlete and stunt cyclist, is a mirror image of what the hero used to be - and to value. The scientist is someone very different from himself. The show suggests that when we are immature we can care only about people like ourselves, but as we are more mature we can learn to appreciate others who are different.
Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming are an interesting team of scriptwriters. Their works of the mid 80s deal with women who are dissatisfied with conventional life and who want to branch out into more adventurous lives. Mrs. King is a housewife who gets involved with spies; Blue Deville features an office worker who quits to go on the road. On one level, this is pure wish fulfillment fantasizing. On another level, it is based on some powerful home truths about the dullness of conventional living, and the desirability of most people using far more of their creativity and imagination than they do.
Blue DeVille is a little more moral than Mrs. King. In the latter show, the spies impress our heroine by having far more money than she does, and living a more glamorous lifestyle. Certainly money gives people a lot of exciting opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have. Also, it is wrong to tell poor people that the best things in life are free, and that they should be contented with their humble lot. But all these considerations aside, there is just a lot of plain snobbishness in the attitude in Mrs. King. Blue DeVille, made a couple of years later than Mrs. King, is more mature in its attitude of celebrating adventure for its own sake, regardless of money.
Kiersch is a young director, mainly of adventure movies. His Children of the Corn (1983) was terrible, his Tuff Turf (1985) was terrific; Gor (1987) is somewhere in between. Based on the science fiction novel by John Norman, Gor takes place on another planet, and deals with the sword and sorcery like adventures of a young Earthman who is transported there. There are plenty of barbarians, knife fights, evil slave dealers and desert journeys. The Gor novels are immensely popular, but are often cited by critics as among the worst sf novels ever written. The film manages to be a pleasant adventure story, not great, but not bad either it its ability to tell a story, stage an exciting action scene or bring in some welcome humor.
Kiersch's hero here bears some relation with that of his best film, Tuff Turf. In that film, James Spader played a once upper middle class, sheltered kid whose father had gone bankrupt and who now had to survive in a slum school. Here our hero is a college professor transported suddenly to a world of barbarians. In both, the hero has to grow and learn a whole new world of skills and situations. Kiersch is good at characterization, and he seems more interested in people than in action, a pleasant change in today's film scene.
In an early scene in Tuff Turf, the hero watches a Western about a sheriff who cleans up a crooked town. That's basically the plot of both movies. Kiersch shows his sympathy with old fashioned forms of story telling like the Western, too, in this scene. He shows great promise as a director for the nineties with the classical skills of a director of the old Hollywood.
Swamp Thing's pilot, The Emerald Heart, represents a fortunate confluence between writer Joseph Stefano and director Fritz Kiersch. The veteran Stefano, now in his late sixties, offers one of his most polished scripts yet. While some of the fire and dramatics of the earlier Stefano are gone, we have a very detailed contemplation of many of his traditional themes. The density of the script is compelling. Every few seconds some new insight, emotion or idea is presented to the viewer. Stefano works by his traditional method of emotional linkage: first one feeling is then expressed, then another, then another. The film ends, as is traditional with this writer, when Stefano runs out of feelings - there is no effort to build a Beethovean climax as so many writers attempt.
Kiersch has done nature horror before, in his less than wonderful debut film, Children of the Corn. Here he reveals a deepening personal feeling for the poetry to be found in nature. Stefano's script sets up the swamp as a reflector of the characters feelings, and a healing balm for their mental troubles and social anguish. This view of nature comes through loud and clear in Kiersch's camera, which links the characters to their natural environment most beautifully. Kierch's films are often closely linked with some environment - the corn fields in "Children of the Corn", the Spanish desert in "Gor", the Pacific Ocean in "Under the Boardwalk", the Florida wetland in "Swamp Thing". Only in "Tuff Turf" do we have a purely urban landscape, and even here there is a memorable reference to Huntington Gardens. The flow of nature images in "Swamp Thing" parallels the flow of emotions in Stefano's script. The feeling of "water -meditation", so strong in Moby-Dick, in "Swamp Thing" aids in the feeling of contemplative calm that the script engenders, a calm reunion with nature suitable for healing all of our civilization's deepest problems, from biological engineering to broken families.
This view of the power of Nature to heal us and inspire us is a dominant one in Romantic poetry. It is also relevant today to the environmental movement, a linkage almost certainly intended by the creators of "Swamp Thing". Both visually and spiritually, this is one of the Greenest films ever. Even the villain's black Porsche seems a mechanical intruder in this world of Green life.
It is good to see a young director and an elderly script writer work so well together. So much of Hollywood is dominated by the middle-aged. Other generations should have their chance.
"Psycho IV" is an interesting but uneven, made-for-cable sequel to the film series. "Psycho IV" is most interesting when it provides a roadmap into the writer's new concerns, especially a more conscious and analytical look at abnormal psychology and family relations than was present in his earlier films. "Psycho IV" lays bare many of Stefano's ideas on these subjects, and turns at time into almost an essay on these topics, albeit a very intense and emotionally powerful essay. I was glad I saw thing before "The Emerald Heart", because it helped me understand the latter film much better. It is also encouraging to see a veteran writer breaking so much new ground.
Stefano made his Hollywood comeback a couple of years ago with "The Kindred" (1988), to whose script he contributed along with other writers. I only watched part of the picture - gory horror films in the modern style give me nightmares, and I never watch them - but one of the early scenes seems particularly Stefanoesque. This is the scene where the hero's mother, a research scientist on her deathbed, tells our hero about his secret, monstrous twin brother, and begs him to destroy it. This scene has the old Stefano frisson of encounters with monstrous evils, that are so awful - and psychologically disturbing - they hardly can be real, but definitely are. These scenes truly give an audience a "funny feeling", and are a trademark part of Stefano's work.
Kiersch's first movie was a low budget adaptation of Stephen King's novel, Children of the Corn. This is a horror story set in the Kansas corn fields. It is not very good at all, but without it we probably wouldn't have Curse of the Corn People (1989).
This is not a horror movie at all, but a film about a bunch of young filmmakers struggling to make a low budget movie in Kansas called, "Curse of the Corn People". This entertaining comedy-drama (53 minutes long) is a pilot for a TV series that never got picked up by the networks. It is a fictional story, shot on location. I know nothing about its origins, but I suspect that that it was at least inspired by Kiersch's "Children of the Corn".
Curse of the Corn People was directed by another young director of promise, Michael Dinner. Dinner has specialized in comedy-dramas, including Heaven Help Us (1985), a film set in a Roman Catholic boys' high school in the 1950's, and Off Beat (1986), an inventive film about a librarian impersonating a tap dancing policeman. Corn People and Off Beat represent his best work to date.
Dinner is especially good at rich, complex character studies. His persistent theme is young adults finding their place in the world, trying to pick out a profession in which they can do meaningful work. In Heaven Help Us young men are preparing for college; in Off Beat the librarian is exploring worlds completely alien to his experience, police work and dancing.
Here the whole cast, young people in their twenties, all have to choose between their safe careers at the local spaghetti factory, and perhaps foolish, but fulfilling, dreams of filmmaking.
Seth Freeman's script has some good things to say about regional culture, and the importance of people in outlying areas respecting themselves enough to do first rate work. It is hard to remember that at the turn of the century, for example, the American midwest was a center of invention (the Wright brothers' airplane), industrial innovation (Henry Ford and the assembly line), architecture (Louis Sullivan and the skyscraper), poetry and publishing (Chicago and Indianapolis were major centers of publishing). Today we often settle for too little and lazily leave everything to people on the coasts.
The director of the film within the film is played by John Terlesky, who has spent his career so far mainly playing California surfing dudes. He had his first "adult" roles here and in last year's Agatha Christie film, Appointment with Death (1988). He does a good job here, and is especially fine with his concluding speech.
Parriott is a writer and producer whose TV series include Voyagers! (1982/83), Hawaiian Heat (1984/85) and Misfits of Science (1885/1986). None of these series was commercially successful, probably due to terrible time slots: the first was against 60 minutes, the last two against Dallas. Misfits, in fact was up against both Dallas and Miami Vice. After this, Parriott wrote and produced a pilot, Nick Knight (1989). Parriott got his start as a writer and producer on such Glen Larson productions as The Bionic Woman and the Incredible Hulk, and most of his TV work has been in the science fiction category. His one attempt at a non-fantasy, the cop show Hawaiian Heat, was fairly minor, although it had beautiful scenery shot in Hawaii's National Forests.
The two sf series, Voyagers! and Misfits, were the two most enjoyable sf series on American network TV in the 1980's. Parriott produced them and contributed occasional scripts, as did many other writers. The best other writing for Voyagers was done by Jill Sherman, who did episodes on Babe Ruth and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sherman is probably the same person as Jill Sherman Donner, who did the good script, "Pick a Hero, Any Hero", for the short-lived series Code Name: Foxfire.
Misfits of Science deals with a group of people who all have unusual powers (one can shoot lightening bolts, another can shrink to 3 inches tall). All are social outsiders and rejects who finally find friends when they are brought together at the foundation that is studying their talents. Misfits of Science is one of my favorite titles: I have often felt that I am a misfit of science.
Parriott's best work as writer for the two series were their pilots, the latter of which he also directed. The Misfits pilot has our heroes destroying a new nuclear weapons system, a powerful idea one rarely sees on television. This anti-war and anti-arms film builds up an elemental force. It deals with a basic issue facing our civilization in a logically direct, intelligent manner. In this it is similar to the plays of Aeschylus, my favorite of all the Greek dramatists, and is like them as well in the emotional excitement it eventually generates over its basic themes.
Nick Knight is a little film about an L.A. cop who is also a vampire. It is a minor film, but it shows plenty of the charm and humor with which Parriott laces his work. It logically constructs a whole world of modern vampires in L.A. and the attempt of some of them to become "normal people", who can stand sunlight and normal food. There is a clear metaphor of people trying to conquer drugs or other addictions. Like Misfits, it deals with a group of people who are rejects of modern society, and who form a subculture separate from the "conventional" world.