Thursday, January 29, 2009

Great TV Shows: Part 2 - The Dramas

Wow,this proved to be as hard as narrowing down the comedy category. So many good dramas aired in the past 50 years, but I was ruthless in making my selections. I kept telling myself that on my mythical desert island, I would be restricted to only these six shows. Here's my list.

The Twilight Zone made its debut in 1959 and, before the original series went off the air in 1964, it aired 156 episodes, 92 of which were written by the series' brilliant creator, Rod Serling. Each episode presented its own separate story involving people who face unusual or extraordinary circumstances, and therefore entering the "Twilight Zone". The show featured a "Who's Who" of great actors including Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Ida Lupino, Mickey Rooney, Agnes Moorehead, and William Shatner and dozens of others. Some plots were scary, others bizarre,and many were humorous....what they all had in common was quality. One extra-added treat of watching old episodes is spotting a now established actor playing a bit part early in his/her career.

"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" is well known for its opening title sequence. The camera fades in on a simple line-drawing caricature of Hitchcock's rotund profile. As the program's theme music plays, Hitchcock himself appears in silhouette from the right edge of the screen, and then walks to center screen to eclipse the caricature. He then always says "Good evening", in a rather sinister tone. The show premiered in 1955 and consistently delivered great drama in the Hitchcock tradition. Originally 30 minutes per episode, in 1962 the show was extended to a full hour and retitled "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" Like the Twilight Zone, many famous leading and character actors appeared on the program. It was a treat to watch.

Star Trek's opening narration: ..."to boldly go where no man has gone before" could be used to describe the way this show redefined the science-fiction genre for television audiences. Under the watchful eye of creator Gene Roddenberry, the series was not an immediate hit when it began on NBC in 1966. Interestingly, Desilu head Lucille Ball at that time single-handedly kept Star Trek from being dumped from the NBC-TV lineup. Eventually, with Scotty down in the engine room, Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant Uhuru and Mister Sulu became part of our lives. Patrick Stewart took over the helm from William Shatner in 1987 and, although creditable in the role, couldn't match Shatner's hammy but loveable Kirk.

"Playhouse 90" (it was 90 minutes long) moved live TV drama to another level, and established a reputation as television's most distinguished anthology drama series. The ambitious series frequently featured critically acclaimed dramas, and a parade of distinguished actors who carried the show for five seasons. Playhouse 90 received many Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards, and Golden Globe Awards, and it was ranked #33 on "TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list. Maybe my favorite show starred Jack Palance in "Requiem for a Heavyweight". Playhouse 90 was a heavyweight champ in the annals of TV drama.

My last choice is bit of a dark horse, an import called "The Avengers" featuring secret agents in 1960s Britian. Running from 1961 to 1969, it is the longest running espionage series produced for English-language television. Patrick McNee played John Steed, a dapper, cane carrying spy whose female partner from 1962 to 1964 was played by Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore in the James Bond films). In 1965 her role was taken over by the wonderfully cool and beautiful Diana Rigg, whose black, skin-tight costumes assured I would be a faithful viewer. The humor and tongue-in-cheek British dialogue made this show highly successful on both sides of the Atlantic.

My selections lean toward older shows I know, but some of the modern-day dramas that receive such acclaim like E.R. and West Wing just don't do it for me. I almost included "The Sopranos" and would have if not for that lame-ass ending!


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