Cult shows of the 1960s

Batman [1966-1968]: This is a show that can be loved equally by adults and kids. The villains of course are the reason to watch. My favourites: Catwoman (as played by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt), The Joker, and Mr. Freeze (all three “Freezes”). You just have to love a show that features such characters as Penelope Peasoup, Lola Lasagne and Olga, Queen of the Cossacks! The quantity and quality of the stars that appeared on this show is staggering (see below), and the set designs, costumes and of course music, were the best of anything ever shown on TV (the film version truly drained the comic strip fable of all its vitality and camp, I don’t care what anyone says!). And of course you had great dialogue like “holy haberdashery!” and all of the “POW! BOINK! WHAM!” captions in the fight scenes.
Some of the stars who appeared in this series (mostly as villains): George Sanders, Edward G Robinson, Anne Baxter, Vincent Price, Art Carney, Tallulah Bankhead, George Raft, Roddy McDowall, Van Johnson, Shelley Winters, Edy Williams, Liberace, Otto Preminger, Cliff Robertson, Steve Allen, Michael Rennie, Bruce Lee, Seymour Cassel, Ethel Merman, Elisha Cook Jr., Joan Collins, Eli Wallach, Sonny and Cher, Phyllis Diller, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Francis X Bushman, Edward Everett Horton, Sammy Davis Jr. and Milton Berle, to (ha!) name but a few!!

Overall grade: 9

The Avengers [1961-1969]: During this series’ run, several different women played opposite of Patrick Macnee, including the lovely Honor Blackman. I’ve never seen anyone outside of Diana Rigg in the starring role, but I can’t imagine anyone being as beautiful, charming, witty, and intelligent as she is! I saw a little of the recent film adaptation of this series, and Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes were relatively like very flat, warm, watery champagne. Yeachh!   The series has three great things going for it. Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee, and plots for each show that are indescribably insane and outrageous. Rigg and Macnee play Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel: two British intelligence agents who promptly show up when some person is mysteriously murdered at the beginning of each show. That part of the formula is always pretty much the same, as well as the fact that we know with every show that we can count on some absurd scheme of murderous mischief by a warped member of the gentry. And usually two or three fight scenes that are almost comical in their terrible choreography (a shove will often knock someone out, and one can often clearly see that a stunt double is standing in for Macnee). But that’s part of the show’s charm. Its modesty, its dry wit, its fun styles of clothes, rooms and automobiles, and especially, the rapport between Peel and Steed, make each programme a joy to watch. It’s also refreshing to see a programme where the male and female leads have a purely platonic and respectful relationship. They are perfect equals, from their brainpower, to their physical strength (actually, Macnee relies more on his umbrella to fend off the bad guys than his muscles). And they both have to be the best-dressed characters in TV history!   Unfortunately, I don’t remember most of the episodes, but The Mystery Channel has been airing it apparently for some time, and hopefully, they will continue to. Perhaps when I catch up with several dozen shows, I’ll be able to pay the show a proper tribute.
Overall grade: 8

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Dark Shadows [1966-1971]: I think this was more exciting back in the sixties, since I loved it then but was bored to death when I tried watching it in a rerun a few years ago. It’s basically a soap opera with a Hammer horror setting, which makes for some nice cheesy superficiality, but I guess I was hoping for a few chills along the way. Perhaps I just caught the wrong rerun to watch.
Overall grade: 4

The Green Hornet [1966-1967]: Although this was made by the fine people who brought us Batman, this was not really a campy, comic book-style series. The Green Hornet is fashioned after the radio serials of the 1940s, in fact I think it had been a radio serial then! Which means that it’s only a bit over the top. It’s a fantasy show to be sure, but the edge is a little harder and grittier than most of the other fantasy fare of the day. Van Williams was enjoyable as the dual personalities of Britt Reid and The Green Hornet, but Bruce Lee, his sidekick and butler who was also a kung fu expert, was as I recall, the best reason for seeing the show. I didn’t care much for his fighting, I just thought he looked really cool! I haven’t seen this in over thirty years so I don’t know if it still holds up, but I still have fond memories.

Overall grade: 7

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Mission Impossible [1966-1973]: A landmark show that not only featured very complex plots and characterizations, but a tremendous amount of style both artistically and cinematically (and it had that great Lalo Schifrin score!). I was a bit young when the series started so I didn’t always know what the hell was going on, but I enjoyed watching it all going down anyway. I’d like to watch the series again to view it from a fully adult angle.
Overall grade: 7

The Mod Squad [1968-19]: A cop show is still a cop show even if the cops wear shades and colorful clothes and say “man” after every sentence. That was enough for young America to tune in though, so hungry they were for people on TV who didn’t look and sound “square”. It’s sort of fun to see what passed for cool thirty-plus years ago. Clarence Williams III is fun to watch with his super-hip attitude, but the leads, Michael Cole and Peggy Lipton are at least as dull if not more than all of the squares over thirty. What ever happened to them, anyway?
Overall grade: 3

The Monkees [1966-1968]: When America looked for an answer to The Beatles, a number of music and television execs placed an ad in Variety for actors and musicians (one of the execs was director Paul Mazursky). Over 400 people showed up and auditioned (including Stephen Stills and Charles Manson!), and the “pre-fab four” (ie: pre-fabricated) were born. They always made fun at the fact that they’d been manufactured (“we’re made of tin, the money’s in, we’re here to give you more”), but anyone who has watched their show (or has viewed their brilliant movie Head) knows that there was a strong subversive element buried in their pop appeal. On the surface, their TV show is enjoyable for its campy Marx Brothers-type antics, and of course some great songs (most of the Monkees’ music was very good and some of it was excellent). But occasionally, thanks to directors and writers like Bob Rafelson (director of Five Easy Pieces), Paul Mazursky (writer of I Love You Alice B Toklas) and James Komack (of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father TV series), they managed to get in swipes at the sponsors, at the government, and even at their fans. In fact, their film Head in 1968 was responsible for their popular downfall. The teenage girls who made up the bulk of their fans didn’t understand the humour or the open ridicule, which was really about their falling for a manufactured band. They openly had fun with the popular culture of the period, so their TV show really was one of the liveliest, most innovative shows on TV, if not (admittedly) one of the corniest (the perfect cover for their subversive antics). It probably won’t play as effectively now for today’s audiences who do not have direct memory of the era that is being parodied, but then one has the enjoyment of just watching something old and relating to it in comparison with contemporary culture. Either way, it’s a scream and will make you want to dance.
Overall grade: 9

Night Gallery [1969-1973]: I was so disappointed in this series in comparison with The Twilight Zone that I probably never gave it a sufficient chance. The Twilight Zone was more science fiction with an understanding that sci-fi isn’t just stuff about the future or space. It was a quietly eerie show with stunning B/W photography. Night Gallery was more of a horror show with the flavour of many of the Hammer films that were so popular in the sixties. In other words, it was sort of cheesy. But it also had that sort of eerie aftertaste that stayed with you for days, sometimes for years.
Like The Twilight Zone, this series had a huge stable of great guest stars. Some of them included: Edward G Robinson, Raymond Massey, Vincent Price, Dana Andrews, Ray Milland, Gilbert Roland, Virginia Mayo, Kim Hunter, Mickey Rooney, Geraldine Page and Leonard Nimoy, to name but a few. The biggest star of course was Joan Crawford, and her segment, Eyes is a cult classic mainly because of her, and for the fact that a young Steven Spielberg (he was just 22!) directed it. The paintings were also pretty cool, looking like the infamous painting in the film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. And of course you had Rod Serling. Another viewing is definitely in order.

Overall grade: 7

The Prisoner [1967]: This amazing British series only lasted one season, though I suppose it’s amazing that it ever aired at all. It has a Kafkaesque plot where the prisoner in question doesn’t really know why he is kept in prison (the prison, for those who haven’t seen the series, is actually a charming village with some very weird and sometimes very frightening features). On top of that, his captors are there to extract information from him, but his “crime” is more along the lines of the fact that the prisoner had used his free will, rather than any crime against the government or society.. So the plotline though convoluted, gives one a lot of food for thought. The interior and exterior sets are exquisitely unique and eerie, and the special effects (particularly the terrifying giant bubble that scared the socks off me as a kid) provide just the right amount of chills and thrills.

Star Trek [1966-1969]: I never really watched this series when it originally aired. And over the years I’ve caught only a few of the shows. Nimoy as Spock is great and Nichelle Nichols as Uhura is to die for. And I do love the cheesy sets and costumes. I’ve just never gotten around to giving myself the time that’s needed to make myself a certifiable fan. I’m looking forward to one day, but life is pretty short and it’s going by too fast for me to catch up!
Overall grade: 6

 

 



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