2017: Spielberg’s future arrives

Title card for The Name of the Game episode LA 2017

Title card for The Name of the Game episode LA 2017

Some time back, the blog examined the television series The Name of the Game, about a publishing empire.

It’s now appropriate to take a look at the show’s most unusual episode:  LA 2017, a dystopian tale about, what seemed in 1971, a far-off year in the future.

It was also one of the early directing credits for Steven Spielberg. LA 2017 originally aired Jan. 15, 1971, less than a month after the director’s 24th birthday.

The Name of the Game tackled current events as experienced by key personnel at Howard Publications, headed by Glenn Howard (Gene Barry).

For LA 2017, the production team decided to address the environment — but in a way the series hadn’t previously attempted.

Producer Dean Hargrove commissioned a script by science fiction writer Philip Wylie. As the episode begins, Glenn Howard is driving in Southern California. The publisher is planning a campaign across his magazines to highlight environmental issues.

As Howard drives, he uses a tape recorder to dictate a letter to the president. “Priorities have to be established or this may very well be the beginning of the end for Earth as we know it,” he says.

Howard has an accident, and ends up in a ditch. He also, seemingly, is now in 2017. An ecological disaster has forced people to live underground. National governments have been replaced by corporate ones.

Despite being a CEO, Glenn Howard doesn’t like what he sees and sides with those resisting the corporate order. The episode eventually ends with it being revealed that it (probably) was a dream. Spielberg’s last shot is of a dead bird. presumably not to let the audience off too easily.

The episode’s title card, primary actors and the writer, producer and director credits are in a font used a lot at that time because it seemed futuristic.

Wylie turned the story into a novel, Los Angeles: A.D. 2017. He died late in 1971 at the age of 69. Spielberg’s career, meanwhile, was still gearing up.

Mary Tyler Moore’s noir beginnings, role as TV mogul

Mary Tyler Moore's unusual title card for an episode of the Thriller TV series

Mary Tyler Moore’s unusual title card for Man of Mystery, an episode of the Thriller TV series

Mary Tyler Moore died Jan. 25 at the 80, The New York Times and numerous media outlets reported. Quite understandably, the obituaries focused on how she, in the words of the Times, “helped define a new vision of American womanhood” with The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1960s and ’70s.

That’s because a woman wearing pants (as her Laura Petrie did in Van Dyke) or being an independent career woman (as her Mary Richards was on her namesake show) were considered big deals at the time.

The purpose of this post is to highlight other parts of her lengthy career: Her start on black-and-white TV and her later role as television mogul.

Her early credits included Sam, the woman answering service during the third season of Richard Diamond, Private Eye. She also made the rounds in guest appearances on other detective shows of the era such as 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat and Checkmate. This was a time that television was almost entirely filmed in black and white.

The actress also appeared in two episodes of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology show, Thriller. She was more prominent in her second appearance, Man of Mystery. That episode ran during the 1961-62 season, which coincided with the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show. CLICK HERE for a review at a Thriller fan website.

Moore, in 1969, formed MTM Enterprises with her then-husband Grant Tinker. MTM produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show but it would quickly expand.

Initially it stayed with situation comedies (including Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoffs) but branched out into drama and other formats. Its hour-long shows included the medical drama St. Elsewhere and Remington Steele. The latter made Pierce Brosnan a star in the United States and put him in position to take the role of James Bond.

MTM would change ownership a number of times before eventually dissolving in the late 1990s. But it left a significant mark on U.S. television.

Tinker and Moore divorced in 1981. Tinker died in November at age 90.

 

Ringling Bros.’ demise and movies they don’t make anymore

Poster for The Greatest Show on Earth

Poster for The Greatest Show on Earth

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will shut down in May, The Associated Press reported. Its demise recalls the kind of movie you don’t see in the 21st century: The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

Greatest Show won the Best Picture Oscar, beating out High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge and The Quiet Man. It’s hard to imagine Cecil B. DeMille’s mix of spectacle, soap opera, comedy and other elements even being made today, much less nominated.

Gruff circus boss Charlton Heston tries to keep the circus rolling while circus acts Betty Hutton and Gloria Grahame are in love with him and new star attraction Cornel Wilde causes a lot of trouble. And there’s James Stewart’s mysterious clown who never takes his makeup off. DeMille himself is a presence, narrating the film.

The movie was also an early example of product placement. It was produced in cooperation with Ringling Bros, with circus executive John Ringling North playing himself. It also has cameos from the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby watching a circus performance and Edmond O’Brien as a midway barker at the end.

In real life, the circus already was facing changing times when Greatest Show was released. One of the plot points is how some circus management want to end circus big tops and keep to major cities. The circus ceased staging performances in tents in 1956.

The demise of the circus was also due to changing times, according to the AP story.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

Nothing lasts forever. Ringling Bros had a good run at 146 years.

For those who haven’t seen the 1952 movie, this extended trailer gives you a sense of what the film was like.

Sony says it won’t sell movie business

sonylogo

Sony Corp.’s chief executive officer said Friday that the Japanese electronics company is not selling its movie and entertainment business, according to a report in The New York Times.

The Times’ story is mostly about how Michael Lynton is stepping down as head of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Lynton is departing effective Feb. 2. Kazuo Hirai, the Sony Corp. CEO, will take a more active role at the entertainment unit, according to The Times, including keeping an office at Sony Pictures offices in Culver City, California.

Here’s an excerpt from The Times’ story:

Mr. Hirai also emphasized that the studio was not for sale — a persistent topic of Hollywood speculation — calling movies, television and music “essential parts of Sony.”

Here’s why James Bond fans should care: Sony has released the last four James Bond films. Its most recent two-picture deal expired with SPECTRE. The company has said it wants to continue its 007 relationship with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

For now, MGM has no distribution deal for Bond 25. Under terms of its most recent Bond deal, Sony’s profits were low compared with MGM and Danjaq LLC, parent company of Eon Productions.

The departing Lynton was embarrassed by the 2014 Sony hacks. But he survived, unlike studio executive Amy Pascal. Pascal, in turn, had a close relationship with Barbara Broccoli, the Eon boss. Pascal ended up with a producer’s deal at Sony.

Pascal was a producer of last year’s Ghostbusters movies, which Sony hoped would become a franchise. That’s now considered unlikely after generating worldwide box office of about $229 million.

William Peter Blatty dies at 89

Poster for 1967's Gunn

Poster for 1967’s Gunn

William Peter Blatty, best known as author and screenwriter of The Exorcist, has died at 89, according to an obituary by The Hollywood Reporter.

Blatty’s death was disclosed by Exorcist director William Friedkin on Twitter.

Blatty won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for The Exorcist. Prior to the 1971 novel and 1973 movie, Blatty was a collaborator with director Blake Edwards.

The two scripted 1964’s A Shot in the Dark, arguably the funniest of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau films, and 1967’s Gunn, a movie adaptation of the Peter Gunn series created by Edwards.

For the latter, Edwards and Blatty took the premise of the first Peter Gunn episode (a gangster who’s a friend of Gunn’s is murdered) and expanded it. One of the movie’s inside jokes was having composer Henry Manchini playing a piano at a bordello. The movie retained Craig Stevens as Peter Gunn while recasting supporting roles.

Here’s Friedkin’s post on Twitter:

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Author Stephen King also wrote a tribute:

 

Carrie Fisher, icon for Baby Boomers, dies at 60

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, an icon for Baby Boomers as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, has died at 60, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

Fisher suffered a “cardiac episode” during a London-to-Los Angeles flight on Dec. 23, the Los Angeles Times reported that day.

Fisher played Princess Leia for the first three Star Wars movies (but chapters IV, V and VI of the saga), released in 1977, 1980 and 1983. She again played the role of Leia, now a rebel general, in 2015’s Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. She had completed work on the untitled eighth episode, due out in December 2017, The New York Times said, citing Walt Disney Co.’s Lucasfilm unit.

In between, she emerged as writer as well as an actress. Her life was a public one. Fisher publicly discussed her bipolar disorder and addiction to cocaine. She was married briefly to singer Paul Simon.

Some of her writings, such as the novel Postcards From the Edge, were autobiographical. Fisher wrote the screenplay for the 1990 movie based on the Postcards novel.

Some of her non-Star Wars parts included a woman involved with an affair with a married man in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally.

“You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right,” Marie, Fisher’s character, would respond when her friends said she end the relationship. The line became a catch phrase.

Fisher, born Oct. 21, 1956, was exposed to entertainment publicity from an early age. She was the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher. Both of Fisher’s parents were big stars at the time. Eddie Fisher later left Reynolds for actress Elizabeth Taylor.

She became an actress herself with 1975’s Shampoo, followed by the original Star Wars (now Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope).

Tributes to Fisher were posted on media after her passing.

Batman v Superman: When being No. 1 isn’t enough

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice shows that these days being No. 1 isn’t enough — it’s by how big a margin and how you compare against expectations.

The Warner Bros. superhero movie was No. 1 at the U.S.-Canadian box office for the second weekend in a row. But its box office performance for the April 1-3 weekend plunged 68 percent to $52.4 million, VARIETY REPORTED.

Typically, movies fall off about 50 percent or so from their first weekend to the second. It should also be noted that Batman v Superman’s $166 million first weekend was fattened up with $27.7 million in Thursday night showings.

Still, a decline of almost 70 percent isn’t good news anytime it occurs. Pamela McClintock, senior film writer for The Hollywood Reporter, added more perspective in a tweet on Saturday:

So, yes, in its second weekend, Batman v Superman ($250 million production budget) didn’t do as well as the R-rated, much more modestly budgeted Deadpool ($58 million) did during the Feb. 19-21 weekend.

Variety’s Brent Lang explained why this is bad news for Warner Bros.

“The major problem facing the studio is it doesn’t just need “Batman v Superman” to be a hit, it needs it to be so fervently embraced that fans will show up to see sequels and spin-offs for years to come,” Lang wrote. “The film is intended to kick off an interconnected cinematic universe of DC Comics characters that Warner Bros. hopes will rival what Marvel has achieved with the Avengers films.”