You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. - Rod Serling
Since this feature has proven much more popular than I expected, this month I’d like to share my favorite TV shows with you; today we’ll look at my favorite dramas, and tomorrow my favorite comedies. And when I say “look at” I mean that literally; instead of using still pictures I’ve embedded a YouTube video of the introduction to each show. Since it’s not unusual for shows to change the graphics or even the theme music in successive seasons, I’ve selected my favorite ones (when available). Since the entertainment industry has become obsessed with recycling of late, most of these series have been remade or turned into movies, but in each case the one I like is the original. The list is arranged alphabetically, and one thing that may strike you is that there’s a lot of British TV here (4 of 10 in each list) and a preponderance of 1960s shows (half of each list). The reason for that is, I was already becoming annoyed with the stupidity of American network television by the time I was 11 or 12, and stopped watching it entirely in 1980. After that it was nothing but public TV and cable through the entire ‘80s, which meant I saw a lot of British shows; I first saw the two post-1980 American shows on this list in the late ‘90s on cable.
1) The Avengers Though this series premiered in the UK years before the mid-‘60s spy craze, it was syndicated to American television from its fourth season on because of it; the video I’ve showcased here was a short introduction for American viewers which came just before the opening credits in that first syndicated season, so it may be new to my UK and Commonwealth readers. In its first three seasons (never seen in the US until the ‘90s) the show was a straight drama, but later seasons incorporated the unique style and comedic elements for which the show became known. I first discovered it in early ‘70s reruns, and Diana Rigg was the first woman I can remember being attracted to.
2) Batman (The Animated Series) Not the Adam West TV show, y’all; this was the first production from the revived Warner Brothers animation department in the early ‘90s, and it is widely considered the finest animated TV show ever made. The stories were scripted with adults in mind; they were complex, emotionally realistic and beautifully animated, and each episode was separately scored with a full orchestra. Perhaps best of all, the voices were provided by regular actors, not “cartoon voices”, and it shows.
3) Dr. Who This classic British science fantasy serial had been around for almost two decades before debuting on American public television in 1981, starting from the first story with the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. By the second week I was hooked, and by the third I no longer cared about the community-theater special effects because the stories, acting and everything else were so good. Our local PBS station eventually aired all the ‘60s episodes and new episodes as well until its cancellation in 1989, and if the BBC ever gets off its collective arse and packages the serials properly by season, I intend to buy all the first five Doctors. Since fans will want to know: my Doctor order of preference is 4, 3, 5, 2, 1, 7, 6.
4) Kolchak: The Night Stalker Because my mother never allowed me to watch “scary shows” I first heard of this from other kids, and saw it in syndication in the early ‘80s. Carl Kolchak is a hard-boiled reporter who investigates all sorts of supernatural occurrences, though much to his chagrin the stories are usually discarded by his long-suffering editor. The series has a strong current of black humor and has been named as an inspiration for a number of other shows, including The X Files.
5) Kung Fu Since we only had one television set and my parents weren’t interested, I had to wait until this acclaimed and groundbreaking series was syndicated in the mid-1980s to see it. It is impossible to overstate the influence of this “Eastern Western”, not only because it spurred a martial arts craze and awakened American interest in Asian philosophy, but more generally in pioneering techniques such as extensive use of flashback and presenting combat in slow motion.
6) The Outer Limits Though I had read about this series and even owned an episode guide, I never actually saw it until an independent TV station picked it up in 1984; even then I only saw a few until cable network TNT broadcast them as part of its Monstervision series in the early ‘90s. While not as consistently outstanding as The Twilight Zone, this series is still a lot of fun and there were a number of excellent and thought-provoking episodes.
7) The Prisoner By the end of his extremely popular Danger Man series (syndicated to the US as Secret Agent), Patrick McGoohan was the most highly-paid television actor in the world, and one of the most respected; he then used his clout to get this 17-episode series produced. It’s doubtful anyone else could’ve; the series is a strange, enigmatic and compelling dramatization of the right of the individual to be individual in the face of a totalitarian surveillance state. If you’ve never seen it, the three-minute introduction below will give you a good idea of the premise.
8) Sherlock Holmes England’s Granada television produced what I and many other Sherlockians consider the finest of all Holmes series. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ran for two seasons and was later followed by The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, though they are here considered all one series. Jeremy Brett was to me the perfect Holmes, and the series’ production values were impeccable; only a few of the adaptations strayed very far from the spirit and substance of Doyle’s stories.
9) Star Trek I’m sure everyone knew this would be here; is it really necessary for me to introduce this series? Anything I might say is probably already familiar to 95% of my readers. So let me just tell you that I was a really, really major Trekkie, and had every book and model (though I must confess I wasn’t all that good at putting them together and had to ask Jeff for help). Of the sequels I like the animated series best, followed by Enterprise; Next Generation and Deep Space Nine are good but not in my opinion up to the same level as the original, and Voyager was to me completely unwatchable. Of the movies, I only consider The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country truly worthy of the legacy; the former is in the second tier of my favorite movies.
10) The Twilight Zone Another obvious choice; I have loved this show since first seeing it in reruns as a child, and can remember excitedly repeating the plots to friends in second grade. When the local PBS station started rerunning them on Sunday nights in the early ‘80s, I actually wired up a kill switch on the ancient Motorola I had inherited from my great-grandmother so I could watch them from bed and instantly kill the picture if my mother came in. As with Star Trek, I doubt this show needs an introduction even to most international readers, so I’ll just say that I decided to showcase the first-season opening with the haunting Bernard Herrmann theme rather than the more familiar Marius Constant one.
Two Honorable Mentions
I decided to list these two separately due to issues of scale; the first is an incomplete series which was not renewed and therefore ends in a cliffhanger, while the second was a soap opera with 1225 episodes.
1) American Gothic This horror series was stylish, sexy and very daring, but upset and confused TV executives so much they did their best to kill it and eventually succeeded. It was moved around the schedule without warning and episodes were aired out of sequence or skipped entirely, making the intricate storyline literally impossible to follow. Fortunately I didn’t see it until it was broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel, complete and in order, in the late ‘90s. The show didn’t really have a traditional intro, but that’s OK because this trailer will give you an idea of the premise and plot.
2) Dark Shadows This soap opera premiered in 1966 as a gothic, but began to introduce supernatural elements about six months later and eventually featured witchcraft, werewolves, time travel, astral projection, Dorian Grey portraits and many other such ideas, often drawn from famous horror novels (including a confusing and not-very-good Lovecraft sequence). The tortured, all-too-human vampire Barnabas Collins eventually became the star of the show and paved the way for every humanized vampire that came after him, thus making this series the ancestor of everything from Anne Rice to Twilight, though IMHO better than any of them and deserving of a true homage instead of the mess Tim Burton recently served up.
I’ll close with a little game for y’all; though I find a number of the male stars of these shows attractive, there’s only one I will consistently name if asked to give examples of celebrities I find attractive. Let’s see how well y’all know me; I’ll give you the answer Friday.
One Year Ago Today
“Delicious Poison” reports on the abuse of a cattle steroid named Oradexon in the brothels of Bangladesh, and the predictable Western response to it.