Tag Archive: Television


One to Watch, in 2015

Gotham TV series

In a week that saw Fox’s “Gotham” achieve its best-ever ratings on US television, here’s a link to my article at the Xtreme Entertainment Network, reviewing the show’s first season, for UK audiences.

Dark Nights, in “Gotham”

Oh, and best wishes for 2015. Hope it’s a good year, for all of us.

Peace.

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Lieutenant Columbo

Lieutenant Columbo is a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, and the central figure in a mystery television film series created by William Link and Richard Levinson.

The show popularized what’s come to be known as the inverted detective story format. There’s no “whodunit”, here; the perpetrator’s identity is already known to the audience. The plot revolves mainly around how he or she will finally be caught and exposed.

The Man

Columbo is a friendly, chatty, disheveled police detective who is consistently underestimated by his suspects. They’re initially reassured and distracted by his rambling speech, then increasingly irritated by his pestering behavior. Right up to the point where he nabs them, for murder.

Though the name “Frank” can often be seen relatively clearly on his police ID (badge number 416, if you’re interested), Columbo’s first name is never explicitly mentioned, during the series. When asked, he always emphatically answers “Lieutenant”.

The character first appeared in a 1960 episode of the television-anthology series “The Chevy Mystery Show”, entitled “Enough Rope”. This was adapted by Levinson and Link from their short story “May I Come In”. This teleplay is available in the archives of the Paley Center for Media, in New York City and Los Angeles.

The first man to portray Columbo, Bert Freed, was a stocky character actor with a thatch of gray hair. Freed’s Columbo wore a rumpled suit and smoked a cigar, but otherwise had few of the other now-familiar Columbo mannerisms.

In 1968, the same play was made into a two-hour television movie on NBC. The writers suggested Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby for the role of Columbo. Cobb was unavailable, and Crosby turned it down. Director Richard Irving convinced Levinson and Link that Peter Falk, who wanted the role, would be ideal – even though he was much younger than what the writers had in mind.

Columbo’s wardrobe was provided by the actor himself; they were Falk’s own clothes, including the high-topped shoes and the shabby raincoat which made its first appearance in 1968’s “Prescription: Murder”.

Columbo’s unsettling, uneven-eyed stare was due to Falk’s own visual impairment; he had a glass eye in his right eye socket. It remained a mystery for 25 years whether the character had one as well, until 1997’s “Columbo: A Trace of Murder”, where he jokes: “You know, three eyes are better than one.”

Falk would often ad lib stuff like fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence and discovering a grocery list, asking to borrow a pencil, or becoming distracted by something irrelevant in the room at a dramatic point in a conversation. He inserted these into his performance to keep his fellow actors off-balance, and to help make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo’s antics more genuine.

Here’s a YouTube compilation, to give you a bit of a character study:

His Method

Columbo reversed the format of the standard “whodunit”.

In almost every episode, the audience sees the crime unfold at the beginning, and knows the identity of the culprit. The murder isn’t always premeditated, but in each case the killer attempts to hide their crimes, creating a false scenario of how the death occurred, often trying to implicate a false culprit. The killer will drop numerous pieces of misleading evidence, and have a water-tight alibi for the murder.

The beauty of these tales lies in the way Columbo finds and follows the clues that lead him to the truth, and the tricks he uses to obtain information, or even a confession. The story unfolds in parallel, from the point of view of Columbo and the murderer, as they play cat and mouse.

In the first part of each episode, the soon-to-be murderer is introduced, and their professional or lifestyle setting is explored. Other characters (including the soon-to-be victim) are introduced through their relationship to the murderer.

As the premise and motivation for murder becomes apparent, the killer typically puts into motion a well-arranged plan, involving the death of the victim and the establishment of a viable cover story.

The second part begins with Columbo’s appearance after the discovery of the body, and usually opens at the scene of the crime, some time after the arrival of the police. So in some cases, Columbo doesn’t appear until halfway through an episode.

When he does, the murderer is usually keen to demonstrate a desire to assist Columbo in his investigations, and to be available for questioning. Which is the Lieutenant’s cue to pop up at all hours, with deceptively shrewd observations and follow-up questions.

Columbo generally maintains a friendly relationship with the murderer, apologizing repeatedly for taking up their time, even as his true suspicions become increasingly apparent.

As more and more evidence is revealed, Columbo shares with the killer his thoughts on the case, pointing out contradictions between the new evidence and the killer’s stated version of events in his bumbling, amiable style. Columbo’s formidable eye for detail and relentless approach, though apparent to the viewer, often become clear to the killer late – too late – in the story line.

During the final act, Columbo drops any remaining pretence of uncertainty, and shares with the killer details of his findings and his arrival at the conclusion of the killer’s guilt.

The killer’s reaction varies, with some conceding in a friendly manner the error that closed the case, and others becoming aggressive or despondent. After this, the episode generally ends, with no following or concluding scenes.

His Caseload

Originally a one-off TV-Movie-of-the-Week, 1968’s “Prescription: Murder” had Falk’s Columbo pitted against a psychiatrist (Gene Barry). Due to its success, NBC requested a pilot for a potential series be made, to see if the character could be sustained on a regular basis.

The 1971 film, “Ransom For a Dead Man” had Lee Grant playing the killer. The popularity of this second movie prompted a regular series on NBC. “Columbo” premiered in the fall of 1971 as part of the wheel series, NBC Mystery Movie rotations: McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and other whodunits.

The network arranged for the “Columbo” segments to air once a month on Wednesday nights, to allow for Peter Falk’s other commitments as a motion picture star.

“Columbo” aired regularly from 1971–78 on NBC. The series was revived on ABC between 1989 and 2003 for several new seasons, and a few made-for-TV movie “specials”.

His Legacy

Despite solving numerous murders over several decades, in Falk’s last appearance as Columbo in the 2003 cable-TV movie “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, the detective is still a lieutenant.

To his senior brass, Columbo is the preferred investigator for high-profile crimes – a dedicated case officer who’s something of a legend, and thus has a powerful position within the police force.

Obviously doing something right.

Peter Falk died on June 23, 2011, aged 83.

That’s it, for this one.

Hope you’ll join me, for our next installment.

Till then.

Peace.

The CW's The Flash
First: did you miss ME?

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been, the answer is: BUSY.

My world outside the blogosphere has been chock-full of writing assignments in the tech arena. In parallel to that, there’s developing my own brand of crime and suspense fiction, trying to sell my screenplays, and the whole “trying to have a life” issue.

One of the jobs I did recently was a preview / review of The CW’s “The Flash”, for the UK market. I put it out through the Xtreme Entertainment Network, a start-up based in London. Xtreme specializes in video games, movies, TV, and related media.

Could be an outfit worth watching. “The Flash” certainly is.

You can check out

My Review, Here…

Peace.

Detectives, Great and Good

Detectives, Great and Good

Cop. ‘Tec. Gumshoe. Shamus. Investigator. Private eye.

Many names. One mission.

When a heinous crime has been committed, you’ll find them.

The intrepid men and women of literature, movies, and television. Always at hand, to unmask the evildoer. With a brilliant deduction, a vital clue, or simply a smoking gun.

I’m talking fictional detectives, here.

And that’s what I’ll be discussing, in a series of blogs, during the coming days, and weeks.

Months. Years, maybe. Because there’s an awful lot of them, out there.

Now, a formal discourse might split the topic into logical classifications, like:

the amateur detective (Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Lord Peter Wimsey)
the private investigator (Holmes, Marlowe, Spade, Poirot, Magnum, etc.)
the police detective (Dalgliesh, Kojak, Morse, Columbo, Clouseau);
the forensic specialists (Scarpetta, Quincy, Cracker, CSI, John Thorndyke).

But me? I’m not that logical.

So, I’ll be going alphabetically.

And subjectively.

I’ll consider those characters who have influenced me over the years. Or generated a global following. Or made a notable impact, in some other way.

Spanning all kinds of media, and covering fictional investigators of all stripes.

There’ll be visual aids, too. Like this tribute to detectives and hired guns, from misterplasticman, on YouTube:

Just to get you in the mood.

Be kicking off, soon.

I hope you’ll join me.

Till then.

Peace.

Elementary’s Cool

Holmes and Watson - Elementary
Pretty much. And you won’t need a high school diploma, to understand it.

The History
Following hard on the heels of BBC television’s excellent updating of the Sherlock Holmes legend (“Sherlock”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, and Martin Freeman as Watson), it was only a matter of time before American TV jumped on the bandwagon.

“Elementary” is CBS television’s re-imagining of the adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous literary creation.

The Stars
Aidan Quinn, as New York Police Department Captain Tobias Gregson.

Jonny Lee Miller, as Sherlock Holmes.

Lucy Liu, as Joan Watson.

Hang on; JOAN??!?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, at first.

But, it works. Kind of.

The Premise
Burnt out, and drummed out on account of some as-yet-to-be-named addiction (Given that it’s Holmes, we presume that non-prescription drugs were involved), Sherlock Holmes leaves his job in London as a consultant to Scotland Yard, and moves to New York.

There, Holmes is given accommodation in one of his father’s apartments – on condition that he stick to a strict program of rehabilitation.

To enforce and monitor this state of affairs, Holmes’ father hires Joan Watson (a former surgeon) to act as Sherlock’s live-in “sober companion”.

Joan soon finds that she’ll need to be on her toes, as one of her ward’s conditions of service is that she accompany him on his new job – acting as a consultant to the NYPD.

Segue to scene of baffling crime. And Holmes deducing startling facts about the case, in classically quirky manner. Indulged all the while by NYPD Capt. Tobias Gregson – a man familiar with Sherlock’s methods from a previous encounter, in London.

The game is afoot. And all that.

The Trailer
By courtesy of YouTube:

The Verdict
Miller is a much better than adequate Holmes, for the modern era.

He’s more vulnerable, than narcissistic, the ravages of his addicition having presumably blunted his natural arrogance.

The intellectual vanity is still there. And the remarkable intellect.

His British accent, too. A deliberate choice, on the part of the producers – and a good one, I think.

Lucy Liu is fine, as Watson. Cool and demure, she nonetheless manages to convey some of the awe mere mortals feel, in the face of the great detective’s more startling deductions.

There’s the barest frisson of chemistry, between the two (Lucy Liu; she does that). But, that’s all there’ll ever be – or so the producers maintain.

Will they, or won’t they? They won’t. Also a wise choice.

Their initial murder case (I won’t spoil it, for you) is multi-faceted and puzzling, but a little low-key. I’m hoping that the proposed series will throw up some punchier and more expansive mysteries.

On the whole, not bad. Not bad at all.

Not as good as “Sherlock”, but it’ll do.

Peace.

Some manufacturer, who wants you to buy their product.
Or some politician, who wants you to buy into their message.
Or some government department, that wants you to think a certain way.
Or…

I’m talking advertorials and infomercials, here.

Advert– Wha–??

An advertorial is an advertisement, presented in the form of an editorial.
In print, (newspaper, magazine, Web page) it is usually tailored to resemble a legitimate and independent news story. Often, the advertorial is designed to look just like the other articles  which appear in the publication. Subtle differences may be added, to meet legal requirements – such as the inclusion of a disclaimer, like “special promotional feature”. Often in tiny print.

Infomercials are direct response television commercials, and often include an associated phone number or website. They are also known as paid programming, or teleshopping (in Europe).

Long-form infomercials range from 15 to 30 minutes in length, while short-form infomercials are typically half a minute to 2 minutes long.

The practice of showing infomercials began in the US, where they were often broadcast overnight (2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.), as an alternative to signing off.

The term infomercial is now also used to refer to any presentation giving out information intended to promote a specific point of view.

You Say Potato…

I say “King Edward’s”. Or “spud.”

Different words. Same product. Different emphasis.

Depends on how you look at it.

On 9th January 2012, headlines emerged about a scientific study which suggests that carbon dioxide emissions from global warming might prevent or delay the onset of the next Ice Age, due in a few thousand years.

Here’s how the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph pounced on the good news.
In an article entitled “Carbon emissions to block next ice age”, The Telegraph interpreted the findings with such gems as:

“Carbon dioxide emissions will delay the arrival of the next ice age,
according to a new study.

Researchers from Cambridge University who examined variations in the
Earth’s orbit and global climate patterns calculated that the next ice
age should begin within the next 1,500 years.

But the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on the environment means
that the global freeze which should be on its way will not be able to
take hold, they said.”

“The temperate stretch in between global freezes can be longer or
shorter depending on a number of factors, but with the last ice age
having ended 11,600 years ago the arrival of another already appears
overdue.”

“Dr Luke Skinner, who led the new study with colleagues from University
College London, the University of Florida and Bergen University in
Norway, said: “From 8,000 years ago, as human civilisation flourished,
CO2 reversed its initial downward trend and drifted upwards,
accelerating sharply with the industrial revolution.”

“The Global Warming Policy Foundation said the study demonstrated that
man-made carbon dioxide emissions were preventing a “global disaster”.

The think tank, set up by Lord Lawson, cited a controversial theory
proposed by Sir Fred Hoyle and Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe in
1999 which said we “must look to a sustained greenhouse effect to
maintain the present advantageous world climate.”

In the spirit of open-mindedness, the article did include this proviso:

“Dr Skinner told the BBC such an argument would be “missing the point”
that man-made climate change will heat the planet much more than
current temperatures, and that failing to slow the rate of carbon
emissions could have “huge consequences.”

A view more in keeping with the tone of the research itself, as originally reported on BBC television.

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9673000/9673997.stm)

Hmm.

And then, there are the (product) promotions.

Some of which are… well. Terrible.

Or for products that don’t actually work.
The Good Housekeeping website has a page dedicated entirely to a review of non-performing infomercial products.

(http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/video/infomercial-products-that-dont-work-video-42474344001)

Many of which are just plain dumb.

Actually, that last video was a parody. But, still.

Diss Information

And, yes. I did spell that correctly. At least, in the current context. When the advertorial goes adversarial.

I mean mud-slinging. Disrespect.

Political campaigns.

Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign set up an Obama Channel on satellite TV networks, to promote his views through a series of infomercial broadcasts. A week before the polls, Mr. Obama bought a 30-minute slot during primetime, on seven major networks – drawing a peak audience of some 33 million viewers.

Fast forward, to 2012.

With no clear front runner emerging for the Republican Party presidential nomination, the candidates have taken up the infomercial cudgel, in earnest. To beat each other over the head, with. So…

An ex-Romney aide disses Mitt Romney:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/06/new-anti-romney-video-attacks-bain-capital-work.html

Newt Gingrich disses Mitt Romney:

Mitt Romney disses Newt Gingrich:

And so it goes on.

And on. And on. And…

Look. All I’m saying is – what with election campaigns, sitting governments trying to sell painful austerity measures, and corporations looking to make a fast buck – you’re likely to be seeing a lot of this advertorial / infomercial stuff.

And, when you do, you should take it all with a hefty pinch of salt. Saxa, preferably. Or a similar name brand.

And, yes.

I am a professional writer. It’s how I make my living. So, if some wealthy client rolled up to me with a proposal to write an advertorial for them, I would seriously consider taking their money. Man’s gotta eat, after all.

BUT. I’d have to check them out, first.

Let The Reader / Viewer Beware…

Keep an open mind, when you read or view this stuff. But, not TOO open.

And look into the background. Read around the subject.

Due diligence, they call it. That’s what Google Search is for. Sorry. I mean Yahoo! Search. Or Ask.com. Or…

And keep a firm grip on your wallet.

Now, go forth and be skeptical.

Peace.