Gone (and mostly forgotten): The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Over the weekend, on a Facebook group, there interesting give and take about a television series that doesn’t get much attention these days: The Name of the Game.

The 1968-71 series consisted of 90-minute episodes dealing with three major figures at a magazine publishing company: its proprietor, Glenn Howard (Gene Barry); a top reporter/writer, Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa); and Dan Farrell, an FBI agent turned journalist (Robert Stack). Universal dubbed this the “wheel,” with rotating leads. Susan St. James as Peggy Maxwell would end up assisting all three.

The “wheel” concept would become a staple at Universal with the NBC Mystery Movie in the 1970s.

There’s a bit of spy connection. During the series, there was an episode that revealed Glenn Howard worked for the OSS during World War II. The episode concerned accusations by a Washington politician that Howard used an OSS operation to obtain the funds he’d use to start his publishing empire.

Essentially, Glenn Howard was a younger, handsomer version of Henry Luce (1898-1967), who founded Time, Life, Fortune and Sports llustrated. Like Luce, Glenn Howard was an influential man and traveled the globe.

The series had its origins with Fame Is the Name of the Game, a 1966 TV movie starring Franciosa as Jeff Dillon.

That TV movie also included George Macready as Glenn Howard, Dillon’s boss. But when NBC decided on a series, either Universal, NBC, or both, decided they needed a better known actor. As a result, Gene Barry, who had already done at least two Universal TV movies by this point, got the nod.

The Name of the Game attempted to deal with contemporary issues: the environment, race relations, corruption.

Over time, the 90-minute format fell out of favor for television syndication. The preferred formats are either 30 or 60 minutes or two hours. As a result, The Name of the Game is not seen very much these days. The show ran 76 episodes — hardly a flop, but syndicators usually prefer at least 100 episodes.

Nevertheless, a number of talented people worked on the show. Among them was Steven Spielberg, who directed a third-season Glenn Howard episode about environmental dangers. That episode, LA 2017, has a Twilight Zone quality. Did Howard really travel into the future or what it just a dream?

Other crew members included Norman Lloyd (producer of some Franciosa episodes), Dean Hargrove (a writer-producer who worked on Glenn Howard episodes), Steven Bochco (who was story editor for the Robert Stack episodes the last two seasons) and Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits who produced the first-season Franciosa episodes.

The show also featured a snappy theme by Dave Grusin, seen below:

Matt Helm project still kicking around at Paramount, THR says

Matt Helm: still waiting for another shot at the big screen

Paramount is still interested in a serious Matt Helm movie, according to Web site of The Hollywood Reporter.

In A STORY THIS WEEK, there was this nugget from an interview with Adam Goodman, president of Paramount Film Group:

Goodman faces his share of challenges as Paramount looks to make up for the defection of Marvel movies to Disney and the possible end of its relationship with DreamWorks Animation in December. Sitting down with THR recently in his spacious, bright corner office on the Melrose lot, he revealed that Tom Cruise likely is close to signing a deal to star in a Top Gun sequel and that Ehren Kruger has returned to write Transformers 4, even as Shia LaBeouf exits. He also disclosed that he’s moving ahead with franchise hopefuls Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Matt Helm, Earthseed, J.J. Abrams’ Micronauts and Without Remorse. (emphasis added)

No additional details about the Helm project, to be based on Donald Hamilton’s 27 published novels from 1960 to 1993. This is essentially the first whisper of any movement in three years. Back AT THAT TIME, there was talk that Steven Spielberg might be interested in producing, Gary Ross in directing and Bradley Cooper in starring.

None of that, obviously, happened. Spielberg has had multiple movies subsequently while Ross had a mega-hit with The Hunger Games. Cooper’s name surfaced as, for a time, the leading contender to play Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but that evaporated in the latest chapter of the U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Prospects for the first Helm movie since the four Dean Martin comedies of the 1960s? Personally, we suspect the new Titan Books editions of Hamilton’s novels will be out long before any film.

Ex-007 scribe Morgan tells NYT about near-death of his Hereafter screenplay

Peter Morgan, hired to write Bond 23 before production got shut down, got his newest screen credit this week when “Hereafter” hit theaters. It turns out his script for the movie directed by Clint Eastwoods went through some complications almost as severe as he has experienced in the world of 007.

Charles McGrath of The New York wrote about it in an Oct. 13 article, which included extensive quotes from both Morgan and Eastwood. A sample:

(Morgan’s) involvement in a project about the afterlife is in many ways even more remarkable than Mr. Eastwood’s, and his script, as it happens, underwent a near-death experience and then a resurrection.

“How did this come about? I have no idea, really,” Mr. Morgan said from his car while stuck in traffic in Vienna, where he lives part of the year and does almost all of his writing. “I am a person of the Enlightenment, as it were.”
(snip)

Normally an obsessive outliner and reviser, he began writing a screenplay without any clear idea of where it was going. “So much of what I usually do offers solution or explanations, but this time I wanted to write something open ended,” he said. “I didn’t want answers. I wanted to ask questions.”

To read the entire story, which goes on to describe how M. Night Shyamalan and Steven Spielberg got interested before Eastwood took over, just JUST CLICK HERE. You can also read Times movie critic A.O. Scott’s evaluation of the film BY CLICKING HERE.

The question for Bond fans is whether Morgan’s Bond 23 work fares as well as his efforts for Hereafter. In an interview with the Coming Soon Web site(which you can read by CLICKING HERE), Morgan indicated he hadn’t gotten past the outline stage when financial troubles at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. shut down production. Morgan also made it sound like he won’t return to the project:

CS: I don’t know how much you can talk about this, but as far as working on the James Bond script, how far had you gotten along before they pulled the plug? Did you have a finished script?
Morgan: No, no, no, I hadn’t gotten that far. I was working on an outline when they said, “We’re going to have to stop this process now,” and when it came to the point where I was going to commit to doing the Freddie Mercury film, I sort of discussed with my reps that it would probably take me out of all consideration and that’s what’s happened, and I wish them the best.

2006: film professionals describe Sean Connery’s impact as 007

Sean Connery turns 80 this week. There’s a lot that could be said — and is said everyday on James Bond fan message boards — about how the Scottish actor created the film 007. Four years ago, when the American Film Institute gave Sir Sean its lifetime achievement award, film professionals summed it all up pretty well.

Director Steven Spielberg provided an overview specifically about Connery’s impact as Bond:

Mike Myers provided the perspective of those who’ve made a pretty good living doing parodies of Sir Sean:

While Pierce Brosnan could speak from the standpoint of a 007 successor:

Spielberg interested in Matt Helm; is a faithful adaptation possible?

Variety reported on July 29 that Steven Spielberg was interested in directing a Matt Helm movie.

An excerpt: Spielberg’s camp said he is attached to produce, but it’s unclear if he’s going to direct. Clearly, Spielberg is excited about the project again after the rewrite that Paul Attanasio delivered last week.

A day later, reports on various web sites said Spielberg would only produce, not direct, such a movie.

In any case, this has gotten fans of Donald Hamilton’s 27 Helm novels, published between 1960 and 1993, wondering whether a faithful movie might get made.

The four Helm movies of the 1960s with Dean Martin were nominally based on the books and took an escapist bent. The trailer of the second film, Murderers’ Row demonstrates what we mean:

To get an idea of what a faithful Helm movie would be like, well, Helm would be played a lot like the Liam Neeson character in Taken: