All Movie Talk, Special #4

Posted in Episodes at 9:19 pm by Sam

This episode is All TV Talk, as we recap the history of television, as it relates to the movie industry, and talk about how cinematic it’s become in the last few years.

Show contents:

  • The Early Days of Television
  • Competing With Movies
  • I Love Lucy
  • The Three Camera Setup
  • The Stigma of Working On Television
  • Art On Television Abroad: Scenes From a Marriage, Fanny and Alexander, The Decalogue.
  • Film Directors Who Started Their Careers In Television: Steven Spielberg, Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman.
  • Forerunners of Serialized Storytelling On Television: The Fugitive, The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • The Sopranos
  • The Wire
  • Why Television Had To Change
  • 24
  • House
  • Mad Men
  • Dexter
  • Lost

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  1. Sam (405) said,

    February 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Our friend Dave (who guest-starred in Episode 10) made some amusing comments in the RinkWorks chat room as he listened to this episode. I thought I’d replicate them here:


    Dave: So far this is All Sam Talk.
    Dave: I like how it starts with Stephen saying he had to talk Sam into this, and then the next 15 minutes is Sam talking. :-)
    Dave: “Stephen: Sam, let’s do a podcast about TVs. Sam: Hell no. Stephen: Come on man, The Wire is totally badass. Sam: Ok (talks about I Love Lucy for 15 minutes)”
    Dave: Whoa. I want to see that Spielberg episode of Columbo.
    Dave: Sounds like I gave up on TV right around the time it was changing.
    Dave: That’s typical.
    Dave: I think I agree with Stephen. I’d probably watch House if they didn’t have all the medical stuff.
    Dave: Hahaha
    Dave: “Stephen: Season 2 was better. Sam: No it wasn’t. Stephen: Yes it was. Sam: You liked season 1 better. Stephen: I did? Huh.”
    Dave: I like how you appear to Jedi mind trick him there, Sam.
    Dave: Actually, didn’t they cancel Babylon 5 *before* it’s fifth season?
    Dave: I thought they did what was supposed to be season 5 in made-for-TV movies because they got cancelled.
    Sam: Wikipedia is telling me it went for the five seasons, but then continued afterwards in the form of TV movies and a spin-off series.
    Dave: Ah, ok.
    Dave: I misremembered then.
    Sam: Me too, though, apparently.


    Me again. For Dave and whoever else is interested in the Spielberg episode of Columbo, it’s called “Murder By the Book” and is the first proper episode of the series (only two separate pilot episodes preceded it). It’s a good episode, but not really different from any other except for maybe the occasional funky camera angle. Also, since it’s such an early episode, the hallmarks of the character and the show aren’t yet fully mature.

  2. anhquan (4) said,

    February 3, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Fantastic Episode, the best on this subject anywhere. This one is “Criterion Collection” standard of podcasting

  3. joem18b (231) said,

    February 5, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Hi, guys. Enjoyed your podcast while jogging.

    WRT movies on TV, I was reminded of a biography of Samuel Goldwyn that I read a while ago. Toward the end of his life, he was asked if he’d sell the rights to his movies for viewing on TV (this was in the 50s, I think). He said that he’d sell the rights for single broadcasts on a per-movie basis, charging a lot for each movie. His associates tried to explain to him that the networks were buying up movies in job lots, to show in the afternoon and late at night, day after day. They weren’t interested in art; they needed fodder. Goldwyn never quite understood this and never sold.

    Up until the VCR, almost everything I knew about movies from the 30s and 40s, including those about WWII and about Tarzan, I learned by watching them on TV in the 50s. Of course, they were trimmed down to allow for a million commercials. I remember staying home from school with a cold and watching “The Major and the Minor.” My intro to Ginger Rogers. I think that Creature Features started back then as well.

    There were also a few Cinemascope epics on the tube later on, with everyone looking like El Greco figures, thin and tall.

    WRT movie actors appearing on TV and TV actors appearing in movies, as I jogged I tried to remember movie actors with ok film careers in the 40s, who moved over to TV anyway and then struck it rich there. William Bendix and Jack Webb and Raymond Burr, for sure, and Loretta Young. I don’t remember looking down on Johnny Weissmuller, either, when he showed up as Jungle Jim. Lucille Ball had 80 movie credits before her first TV work.

    There were also quite a few shows like Philco Television Playhouse, Armstrong Circle Theater, and Kraft Television Theatre in the 50s, that employed actors like E.G. Marshall and Lee J. Cobb, who made careers in the 50s working in both media. Alfred Hitchcock’s seven seasons on TV provided a lot of work for movie actors, too.

    A fun trivia game might be to try and name famous actors who have never appeared on TV. I checked John Wayne, but he was on Wagon Train. Then I tried Elizabeth Taylor, but she was on three episodes of General Hospital and an episode of the Simpsons.

    Finally, as I trotted along, I was thinking about radio, TV, and the movies. In the 40s there were all sorts of connections between radio and the movies, e.g., Bing Crosby. When TV came along, our favorite radio shows, like The Shadow, began drying up, but some well-known voices hopped over to TV, like Eve Arden and William Conrad (the voice of Matt Dillon, but also did a lot of movies) and The Great Gildersleeve. Amos and Andy weren’t so lucky, being white. TV was also good for a lot of comedians: Phil Silvers (lot of movie work in the 40s), Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Red Skelton. The 50s must have been the golden age of comedians, come to think of it, with all due respect to… to… who’s on SNL these days? Kirsten Wiig?

    It also occurred to me that some stars moved from silents to talkies but others didn’t, often because of their voice, whereas some radio stars moved from radio to TV but others didn’t, often in spite of their voice.

    Very interesting topic. Keep up the great work!

  4. Sam (405) said,

    February 6, 2010 at 1:12 am

    > …I tried to remember movie actors with ok film careers in the 40s,
    > who moved over to TV anyway and then struck it rich there. William Bendix
    > and Jack Webb and Raymond Burr, for sure, and Loretta Young. I don’t
    > remember looking down on Johnny Weissmuller, either. . . .
    > Lucille Ball had 80 movie credits before her first TV work.

    Most of the people you mention had iffy film careers. Bendix might be the only exception, but he was a character actor, not a star. He was a delight — one of my favorite supporting actors — but nobody was paying to see him. Playing the lead in one of the best mystery shows of the day was a step up for Raymond Burr, who really only got work as heavies in B movies. Lucille Ball, similarly, never broke into the leading roles she wanted, despite earning the title “Queen of the B’s,” and left film to see if she could do better elsewhere. Her TV show was actually not a step down from film but a step up from radio: I Love Lucy came out of her My Favorite Husband radio show. Some I Love Lucy episodes were even remakes of My Favorite Husband episodes.

    And Weissmuller was never going to make it as anything but a jungle man, so he had to go where the work was. Weissmuller played Jungle Jim in movies before the series moved to TV, which makes me realize we missed talking about a whole movement of B-movie series jumping to television, which was better suited to what they were doing. Besides Jungle Jim, Blondie, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, and the Lone Wolf all made that transition, usually with the cast intact. And that was fine: the production values of those films, despite their considerable charm, was nothing television couldn’t handle.

    What I was talking about was how you didn’t see the headliners — Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and John Wayne, and even those a tier down from them — starring in TV shows. (Wagon Train was a single episode.) Nor did you get Frank Capra, Fred Zinnemann, Douglas Sirk, or Howard Hawks doing TV movies, or Joseph L. Mankiewicz or Dalton Trumbo writing them.

    You make an interesting observation about the cross-over between radio and movies, though. I hadn’t realized, but you’re right: there was much more crossover there than there was with TV. One of the biggest radio shows, Suspense, had a different star every week, and they were mostly movie stars. Big ones, too, like Cary Grant, Danny Kaye, Humphrey Bogart, and Henry Fonda.

    Finally, I agree one thousand percent when you say that 50s television was a golden age of comedy. I meant to say so in the show but forgot: Lucille Ball is quite possibly the greatest comedian of all time, and I’ll take Jackie Gleason and the others you mention over the current crop any day.

  5. wintermute (157) said,

    February 6, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    In re: Stephen’s comment about no-one understanding the end of The Prisoner:

    For one reason or another (accounts vary) Patrick McGoohan was told on a Friday that they needed a finale to be filmed on the Monday, at a time when they hadn’t been planning to end the series. He’s said in interviews that after it aired, people gathered outside his house begging for an explanation, and he was unable to help them. And, as he is very much the auteur of The Prisoner (creator, writer, director, star and owner of several of No. 6’s props), if he doesn’t understand the ending, it’s probably literally true that no one does. Though there are people who find some meaning in it, I’m not sure that is the same thing.

  6. wintermute (157) said,

    February 6, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Oh, and on the subject of movie directors getting their start on TV, Ridley Scott first came to light directing commercials; his adverts for Smash (a brand of instant mashed potatoes) in the 70’s still top most lists of the best British adverts.

  7. Sam (405) said,

    February 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    wim: These?


    That last one reminds me of Lou Ferrigno for some inexplicable reason.

  8. wintermute (157) said,

    February 7, 2010 at 10:45 am

    That campaign, yes. I’m not sure if those specific ones were Ridley Scott’s work, though.

  9. Stephen (221) said,

    February 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Yeah, we didn’t really talk about all the directors who have had their start in commercials and music videos. Probably an oversight, especially considering my love for David Fincher and Spike Jonze.

  10. Stephen (221) said,

    February 15, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Also, being called “The Criterion Collection” standard is just about the highest compliment possible!

  11. anhquan (4) said,

    February 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    That’s the most I can do to support your great work ! Really it’s true. I’ve learned so much from you guys and very glad you’re back.

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