1990: Columbo vs. Hugh Hefner (sort of)

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) conducts a con game with Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk).

Over the years, there have been many takeoffs based on Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine.

Hefner’s death this week reminded the blog of one of the most amusing versions from 1990 when Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) dealt with a Hefner-like character.

Columbo Cries Wolf did more than that. Writer William Read Woodfield (1928-2001) very much played with the normal Columbo formula. Years earlier, Woodfield, with his then-partner Allan Balter (1925-1984), had written key episodes of Mission: Impossible

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) is the founder of a Playboy-like magazine, Bachelor’s World. Instead of Playmates, there are “Nymphs.” Instead of the Playboy Mansion, there is the “Chateau.”

However, in this story, the Hefner figure has a business partner (Deidre Hall) who owns 51 percent of the enterprise. She appears to want to sell out to a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron. But the partner goes missing and Lt. Columbo is assigned the case as a possible homicide.

Woodfield even works in a reference to a British police detective played by Bernard Fox in a 1972 Columbo story, Dagger of the Mind.

The first three-quarters of Columbo Cries Wolf unfolds as a typical Columbo outing. But Brantley pulls a switch, basically begging for publicity as Columbo’s investigation proceeds.

Los Angeles officials (including a nervous mayor played by David Huddleston) aren’t sure. The Police Chief (Columbo veteran bit part player John Finnegan) assures the mayor that the department’s “best man” (Columbo, finally getting some recognition for a spectacular record) is on the case.

Woodfield pulls a big switch when it’s revealed that no murder actually occurred, with Brantley and his partner pulling a con game on Columbo.

Despite that, Brantley’s business partner still wants to sell to the media baron (albeit at a higher price). So Brantley kills her for real this time.

Columbo, with egg on his face from the first fiasco, takes another turn at bringing Brantley to justice. The climax depends on early 1990s tech (which new viewers wouldn’t recognize.

Still, it’s one of the best episodes of the Columbo revival on ABC that ran from 1989 to 2003. (The original Columbo series ran from 1971 to 1977 on NBC.)

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Stanley Kallis, M:I and Five-O producer, dies at 88

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Stanley Kallis, a veteran television producer whose credits included stints on Mission: Impossible and Hawaii Five-O, has died at 88, according to Variety.

Kallis had producing credits going back to the late 1950s, according to his IMDB.com entry.

Kallis joined M:I early in its third season. Producers William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter abruptly departed following clashes with creator-executive producer Bruce Geller. Kallis had joined Paramount as a producer following a job at CBS. Geller hired him to get M:I back on track.

The series was a grind on the producers responsible for day-to-day production. Kallis was no exception. “It was like riding a tiger by the tail,” Kallis told author Patrick J. White for his 1991 book The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. “The damn thing whacked me.”

Neverthless, Kallis, helped by his new hire, script consultant Paul Playdon, righted the ship. Kallis remained producer into the fourth season. During the time Kallis was producer, M:I had two two part episodes (The Bunker and The Controllers) and the show’s only three-part story (The Falcon).

Kallais handed off the M:I job to Bruce Lansbury, who had previously been producer of The Wild Wild West.

Kallis departed to be supervising producer of Hawaii Five-O’s third season, one of the best for that show. Kallis would oversee the production of three Wo Fat episodes and a pair of two-part stories.

The producer remained busy on other projects for years, including the series Police Story and the mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors. He was also a producer on Columbo when the character was revived on ABC in the late 1980s.

Changes made to home video of our favorite series

“I don’t understand these changes, Illya.”

Many of the blog’s favorite television series have made it to home video over the past decade — but not exactly as they appeared during their original run.

Some of this is a given. “Bumpers,” where we’re told the show will be back after a station break, and previews for coming episodes are usually clipped before going out for home video.

Still, sometimes changes are made for other reasons. Here’s a look at the differences between the shows as they appeared first run and what you get on home video.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68): When the series made its home video debut in 2007 some musical changes were made.

For example, some first-episodes use a different version of Jerry Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme. The Project Strigas Affair, the ninth episode aired, uses the version of the theme (arranged by Morton Stevens) utilized for most of the second half of the season.

There are similar substitutions in other first-season episodes, though why they were made isn’t apparent.

One plus, however, was the third-season set included one “bumper” (for The Abominable Showman Affair) in which veteran cartoon voice June Foray told the audience the show would return after station identification.

Another plus is how the first-season set included the original color version of the pilot, when the plan was to call the series Solo.

However, it doesn’t include another, black-and-white version of the plot which has a short presentation by star Robert Vaughn explaining the show and its format to network executive and potential advertisers. Bootleg versions of that have circulated among collectors for years.

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980): In the first season, James MacArthur’s title card read, “With James MacArthur as Danny.” Starting with the second season, it said, “With James MacArthur as Dan Williams.” However, in the home video versions of seasons two through four, the first-season title card remains.

The second-season set, meanwhile, doesn’t include the episode “Bored, She Hung Herself.” That episode aired only once and has never been repeated on CBS or shown in syndication. That ban has continued into the home video area.

The 11th season set has episodes that involve music clearance issues. The two-part story Number One With a Bullet involves the Kumu, the Hawaiian mob, trying to force its way into Hawaii’s disco business.

Both parts include disco hits of the late 1970s. In the home video version, the original hit songs are only heard in Part I while “generic” disco music is substituted for Part II.

Another episode, The Execution File, included a rendition of “If You Think I’m Sexy” performed by a Rod Stewart soundalike. But in the home video version, it gets cut in favor of generic disco music.

The FBI logo from the main titles.

The FBI logo from the main titles.

The FBI (1965-1974): For a number of seasons, lead sponsor Ford Motor Co. got its logo in the main titles. This was clipped when the show went into syndication.

As a result, most of the home video episodes also don’t include the Ford logo. However, there a few episodes in the season two, three and five sets that include the automaker’s familiar oval.

Another change occurs in the end titles, starting with the third-season set. During the 1967-68 season, Warner Bros. changed its logo from the familiar WB shield to a shield with a single W. In other seasons, Warners changed the logo a few times.

With the DVD release, all of those alternate Warners logos are gone, except for a couple of third-season episodes with the single W logo. Almost all of the alternative company logos were replaced with the old WB shield that the company went back to a number of years ago.

The biggest plus for the home video release is in the second half of the first season. It includes an episode never aired on ABC, The Hiding Place. According to Jonathan Etter’s book Quinn Martin, Producer, Ford didn’t want the episode aired for fear it would spur a boycott.

A few thoughts about Spider-Man 3.0’s trailer

Steve Ditko's cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

The official title is Spider-Man: Homecoming but a more accurate moniker might be Spider-Man 3.0.

The 2017 movie will be the sixth film, and third different version, of the Stan Lee-Steve Ditko character since 2002. It’s also the first Spider-Man movie produced by Marvel Studios, though it will be released by Sony Pictures, which made the five previous Spidey movies.

The latest actor to play Spider-Man, Tom Holland, 20, was introduced in Captain America: Civil War in May. Once again, Peter Parker is in high school. This time, his Aunt May (originally drawn by Ditko as elderly) is younger in the person of Marisa Tomei, 52.

The first trailer for Spider-Man homecoming was unveiled on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show on ABC Dec. 8.  What follows are a few reactions:

Hedging your bets: The Marvel-Sony combo isn’t taking any chances, making sure to include an appearance by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.

In Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker was already active as Spider-Man. Stark provided him an upgrade in his uniform and equipment. This, of course, is a major deviation from the original 1960s comic books but fit the plot of Civil War.

Downey is in the new trailer. Presumably, the actor will only have a cameo appearance. After all, the movie is supposed to highlight Spider-Man, not Iron Man.

What happened to Aunt May?: Tomei appears only fleetingly in the first trailer. The guess here is she’ll show up more in later trailers. One of the more amusing bits of Civil War was Downey’s Stark commenting how surprised he was by Aunt May being so hot.

Michael Keaton’s villain: Keaton, now 65, played Batman in Warner Bros. films released in 1989 and 1992. Here, he plays the Vulture, one of the earliest Spidey villains. The character was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man No. 2, published in 1963. The Vulture hasn’t yet made an appearance in the Spider-Man movies.

One tidbit not in the trailer: Spider-Man: Homecoming’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists six writers. That can be an indicator of scripting turmoil. It remains to be seen how many actually get a credit once the Writer’s Guild of America is consulted. WGA have a bearing on the final credit.

Anyway, here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it.

UPDATE (10:05 p.m. ET): Here’s the international trailer. While shorter, it has more Tony Stark footage, including an interesting shot toward the end.

Caribe: QM tries to cross Five-O and U.N.C.L.E.

Advertisement for Caribe's premiere in early 1975.

Advertisement for Caribe’s premiere in early 1975.

Producer Quinn Martin enjoyed a lot of success in the 1970s with Cannon, The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones. Caribe was not a high mark, however.

The veteran producer, in effect, was doing a cross of Hawaii Five-O (police drama in a tropical setting) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Caribe, like U.N.C.L.E. was multi-national, although Caribe’s  jurisdiction only extended throughout the Carribean).

Unfortunately for QM Productions (and ABC, the network which televised the show), it ran only for a half-season, from February through May of 1975. The show’s IMDB.COM ENTRY only has episode titles and no plot summaries.

The Spy Commander actually watched the series regularly. I can tell you it included international intrigue (the way Five-O did on CBS). I also have a vague memory of an episode where a military coup against the United States was foiled.

The problem is the show has rarely been seen since its original ABC run. The main source of information about the show is Jonathan Etter’s 2003 book Quinn Martin, Producer.

Martin assigned the project to producer Anthony Spinner, who was simultaneously producing the private eye drama Cannon. According to the Etter book, Spinner envisioned Robert Wagner in the lead. Martin sent word that Stacy Keach would be the lead instead.

“And my head was swiveling like in The Excorist,” Spinner told Etter. “I said, ‘Quinn, I’ve written nine shows for R.J. Wagner — all slick, sophisticated, superficial, wise-guy charm, with millions of girls. How does Stacy Keach play R.J. Wagner? I’ll have to rewrite every single script now.'”

Rounding out the cast was future director Carl Franklin as Keach’s sidekick and Robert Mandan as the boss who sent Our Heroes on their assignments. Mandan , up until this time, was primarily a dramatic actor (including guest star appearances on other QM shows), but he’d become most famous for the (deliberately) goofy 1977-81 series Soap.

Caribe was based out of Miami, similar to how Five-O was based out of Honolulu. The original plan, according to Etter’s book, was to actually film elsewhere in the Carribean but that proved logically impossible because of obtaining visas, etc.

That perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. Thirteen years earlier, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, had a difficult shoot in Jamaica that put the movie well behind schedule. And Caribe faced tighter deadlines than Dr. No had. In any case, Miami and vicinity would double for the whole Carribean.

Despite the efforts of Spinner and others, Caribe didn’t survive its only half-season. Today, it’s hard to find evidence of the show’s existence. Even a talented producer such as Quinn Martin has his off days.

Meanwhile, author and television writer-producer has posted an audio copy of a Caribe main titles, including voice work by QM announcer Hank Simms.

Noel Neill, first ‘live-action’ Lois Lane, dies at 95

Noel Neill and Kirk Allyn from a 1940s Superman serial.

Noel Neill and Kirk Allyn from a 1940s Superman serial.

Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in two Superman serials as well as most of the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman, has died at 95.

Her death was first posted by a friend on Facebook by a friend, Larry Ward. The news was put out on Twitter by Warner Archive, part of Warner Bros.

Superman was first adapted on radio (with Joan Alexander in the role) and in theatrical cartoons released by Paramount. Neill became the first live-action Lois in two serials, Superman (1948) and Atom Man Vs. Superman (1950), with Kirk Allyn as the Man of Steel.

In the 1950s, Neill got the call to replace Phyllis Coates as Lois in The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves in the title role for the show’s second season.

For Baby Boomers, the television version resonated, thanks in part to syndicated reruns in the 1960s shown on local television stations in the United States. The Neill version of Lois had a bit less of an edge compared with the Coates version.

Neill’s association with Superman extended to 1978’s Superman The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve, where she and Allyn had a cameo as the parents of Lois Lane. It was a “blink or you’ll miss it moment.” ABC showed an expanded version in the early 1980s that included the full scene.

In her later years, Neill appeared in numerous fan conventions and collectible shows. Those who saw her at such events came away charmed and impressed. She and Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s series, both had cameos in 2006’s Superman Returns.

UPDATE (6:45 p.m. ET): The Hollywood Reporter has now published A MORE DETAILED OBITUARY.

Benson post-007 character in development at ABC

Image for The Black Stiletto, a character created by former 007 continuation novel author Raymond Benson

Image for The Black Stiletto, a character created by former 007 continuation novel author Raymond Benson

The Black Stiletto, a character created in a series of novels by former 007 continuation author Raymond Benson, is “in development” at ABC, according to a story on THE DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD entertainment news website.

Here’s an excerpt:

Black Stiletto, based on the novels by Raymond Benson, follows a young woman’s evolution into a modern-day hero when a family secret from the past is revealed and puts the only family she’s ever known in imminent danger.

Benson wrote 007 continuation novels published by Ian Fleming Publications from 1997 to 2002, as well as three movie novelizations (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day) as well as a number of Bond short stories.

Benson also wrote The James Bond Bedside Companion, a reference book about the 007 novels and films, that was originally published in 1984 and updated in 1988.